Each morning, Bill Scher and Terrance Heath serve up what progressives need to effect change on the kitchen-table issues families face: jobs, health care, green energy, financial reform, affordable education and retirement security.
Morning Message: Satan Speaks to Santorum – and Has Some Words For Sarah Palin, Too
OurFuture.org’s Richard Eskow: “You already talk about me like you know me. Have we met? You do look familiar, but I meet so many guys in your line of work – lobbying, that is. Oh, right, you’re a politician too. When it comes to politicians, let’s just say we’ve always got a quorum down here! Talk about your “smoke-filled rooms” … I especially appreciate it when folks like you and the Half-Governor talk about me, because let’s face it: We’re working the same demographic. I’m after their souls and you’re after their campaign cash, but it’s the same crowd I’ve been running with since the dawn of time…”
The American religious right becoming increasingly Catholic “both literally and metaphorically,” writes Howard Schweber, a constitutional law associate professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School. “There is nothing new about Catholic conservative intellectuals – think John Neuhaus, William F. Buckley, Jr. What is new is the prominence that these Catholic thinkers and leaders have come to have within the domains of American politics that are dominated by evangelical Protestants. Catholic intellectuals have become to the American Right what Jewish intellectuals once were to the American Left. In the academy, on the Court, Catholic intellectuals provide the theoretical discourse that shapes conservative arguments across a whole range of issues. Often these arguments have identifiable Thomistic or Jesuitical sources, but most of the time they enter the mainstream of political dialogue as simply “conservative.”"
University of Tennessee’s Jay Rubenstein on Rick Santorum’s “Augustinian theology”: “Few modern statements sound more like Augustine than this one, taken from an editorial Santorum penned in 2007: “Our Constitution granted unprecedented liberty to the individual. But liberty without virtue devolves into license; and license, into chaos.” The diction is John Locke’s, but the spirit is pure Augustine. … What does this mean for a nation of free men and women? If citizens of such a place reject their liberty, rooted in virtue, then it is the duty of government, be it American or Roman, to force freedom upon them.”
Several religious leaders defended President Obama during a conference call Thursday [Urban Faith]. “No one who knows the president would question his Christian faith, Florida mega-church pastor Joel Hunter said today on a press call that was designed to counter “escalating attacks on President Obama’s faith and engagement with the faith community.” “I’m very saddened by that kind of evaluation because it’s obviously coming from a political stance rather than a personal stance,” Hunter said. … Other religious and non-profit leaders on the call talked up the good works they’ve been engaged in with the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.”
Republican Plans Make The Deficit Worse
AP: Huge tax cuts in the budget plans of Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum would produce the kinds of trillion-dollar-plus deficits that the GOP candidates are blaming on President Barack Obama. That’s the finding by the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a Washington-based budget watchdog group. The study also says the more modest tax and spending plans of Mitt Romney wouldn’t make a dent in deficits that are on track to average $800 billion or so a year over the coming decade under current trends and policies – and could add to them considerably.
Republican proposals panned at New America Foundation panel. Former Congressman Vic Fazio had troubling thoughts about the responsibility of the GOP’s candidates’ proposals: “We have a historically low rate of taxation at 15% of GDP . Spending is at 23% of GDP . We have to move to close that gap. All of these proposals would widen it.” … The GOP’s Norquistism remains the greatest sticking point to garnering good scores from impartial, non-partisan arbiters like this.
Howard Gleckman at TaxVox: “Except for [Ron] Paul, each of the candidates has the same problem. They have enthusiastically promised to cut taxes in very specific ways—sometimes by vast amounts. But when it comes to offsetting spending reductions or cuts in tax breaks, they mostly offer little more than platitudes.”
Meanwhile, a host of business tax breaks favored by both conservatives and progressives may hang in limbo until after the 2012 elections. [Bloomberg Businessweek]: “Business-backed efforts to extend dozens of expired U.S. tax breaks including those for corporate research, teachers’ out-of-pocket expenses and energy-efficient appliances probably won’t be considered until a post-election session of Congress, lawmakers and lobbyists said. Lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus, tried to include some of the breaks in pending legislation to extend an expiring payroll tax cut. That effort didn’t succeed, and the intense politics surrounding U.S. tax policy may discourage lawmakers from acting until the end of 2012.”
Gas Pains and Transportation Indigestion
USA Today: “The USA is at a critical juncture in how it pays for roads, bridges and transit. That’s because the federal tax on gasoline, the primary method since 1956, has lost one-third of its buying power since it was last raised in 1993. States add their own tax on top of that, but the federal tax accounts for about 45%-50% of capital spending for transportation. The federal gas tax — 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline, 24.4 cents for diesel — is growing anemic because of more fuel-efficient vehicles, Americans driving fewer miles and the growth of electric and alternative-fuel vehicles. The tax rate on gasohol and most other special fuels is much less. “It no longer works as our primary source,” says Jim Burnley, a Washington, D.C., transportation attorney who was Transportation secretary for President Reagan. “We’re going to have to figure out, as a country, other mechanisms.” … Grover Norquist, a prominent tax foe and president of Americans for Tax Reform, says the federal gas tax should be reduced “to near zero” and the states should determine how to build and repair roads and bridges within their borders, even interstate highways.”
But the public is resisting raising state-level gasoline taxes, according to Stateline: Two out of three Iowans say they oppose the increases, according to The Des Moines Register. Iowa is not the only state where the public remains unconvinced of the need to hike gas taxes. Recent polls from Michigan and Maryland show similar levels of opposition, an obstacle for governors in both states.
The Battle Over Mortgage Relief
Bank of America, the second-largest U.S. lender by assets, will stop selling new home loans to Fannie Mae after a dispute over faulty mortgages. Bloomberg: “The bank is cutting off Fannie Mae from loans starting this month, except for modifications and some refinancings, because of the U.S.-controlled company’s stance on repurchases, Bank of America said yesterday in a filing. The firms are in talks to end the disagreement, the bank said. … In November, the lender said it refused to cooperate with what it deemed a new Fannie Mae policy that required loan repurchases if an insurer drops coverage. … Fannie Mae typically requires a borrower to buy mortgage insurance if the loan exceeds 80 percent of the home’s value. The coverage guards against losses when borrowers default and foreclosure fails to recoup costs. Mortgage guarantors, including MGIC Investment Corp., Radian Group Inc. and American International Group Inc.’s United Guaranty, have been voiding policies for errors including inflated appraisals or borrower incomes.”
Yves Smith’s take at Naked Capitalism: “BofA is trying to blame Fannie, when in fact it appears the mortgage insurers have changed policies while nothing may have changed at Fannie. Is it just easier to blame the GSEs as one of the least loved brands in America? And the other bit that is open to question is the actions of the mortgage insurers. Even though they are not exactly an upstanding bunch, if BofA really is presenting loans to be insured with bogus appraisals, even scummy guys can be in the right now and again.”
The right-wing line that the housing crisis was caused by irresponsible homeowners living beyond their means doesn’t hold up. Kevin Drum explains: “Josh Mason and Arjun Jayadev recently decided to take the standard formula for decomposing public-sector debt changes and apply it to household debt over the past century or so. What they discovered was that although households did increase their borrowing during the housing bubble era (2000-06), that hasn’t been a general trend over the past few decades. It’s the other stuff that’s changed: “If interest rates, growth and inflation over 1981-2011 had remained at their average levels of the previous 30 years, then the exact same spending decisions by households would have resulted in a debt-to-income ratio in 2010 below that of 1980… As a practical matter, it seems clear that, just as the rise in leverage was not the result of more borrowing, any reduction in leverage will not come about through less borrowing. To substantially reduce household debt will require some combination of financial repression to hold interest rates below growth rates for an extended period, and larger-scale and more systematic debt write-downs.” “
Bloomberg Businessweek’s “best recovery story” comes from Iceland: “Since the end of 2008, the island’s banks have forgiven loans equivalent to 13 percent of gross domestic product, easing the debt burdens of more than a quarter of the population, according to a report published this month by the Icelandic Financial Services Association. … “You could safely say that Iceland holds the world record in household debt relief,” said Lars Christensen, chief emerging markets economist at Danske Bank A/S in Copenhagen. “Iceland followed the textbook example of what is required in a crisis. Any economist would agree with that.” … The island’s households were helped by an agreement between the government and the banks, which are still partly controlled by the state, to forgive debt exceeding 110 percent of home values. On top of that, a Supreme Court ruling in June 2010 found loans indexed to foreign currencies were illegal, meaning households no longer need to cover krona losses.”
Ridicule helped doom extreme Virginia anti-abortion bill [AP]: “Once the word “transvaginal” became a big joke on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” it wasn’t long before Virginia’s conservative Republicans realized they had overreached on abortion. … At issue was a bill pushed by anti-abortion lawmakers that would have required women seeking an abortion to undergo a transvaginal sonogram, in which a wand is inserted in the vagina to yield an image of the fetus.”
Marriage equality wins in Maryland, but McClatchy reporter Curtis Tate reminds that at this rate “it could be years before gay and lesbian couples can marry in all 50 states. No current court case will result in same-sex marriage nationwide, legal experts say, and the best near-term outcome for supporters will be that some states allow it, and the federal government will defer to each state on the question of who is married and who isn’t. And in the meantime, opponents of gay marriage vow to take the issue directly to voters — and the ballot box is the one place where they haven’t lost.”
Russ Feingold takes on Obama on SuperPACs even as he signs on as an Obama re-election co-chair. Amy Goodman interviews Feingold: “I asked him if he was an odd choice for the position. Feingold responded: “How about a co-chair that’s proud of him for bringing us healthcare for the first time in 70 years? How about a co-chair who thinks that he has actually done a good thing with the economy and helped with the stimulus package, and we’ve had 22 months of positive job growth? … And finally, how about a co-chair of a president who I believe will help us appoint justices who will overturn Citizens United?”"