Five Best Wednesday Columns
Tea Party flip-flopping, rating agencies' extortion, and more
Dana Milbank on Tea Party Hypocrisy Rep. Austin Scott introduced his first bill in Congress last week, which proposed a repeal of the Legal Services Corporation Act, writes Dana Milbank in The Washington Post. This came shortly after the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined, thanks to Legal Services, that Hamilton Growers, a company in Scott's district, denies hours and favorable assignments to U.S. workers in favor of guest workers or fires U.S. workers to make room for guest workers. The Tea Party-affiliated congressman's bill is thus "a transparent attempt by the young lawmaker to defend a company in his district that discriminates against U.S. citizens in favor of Mexican migrant workers," writes Milbank. This speaks to a larger issue, which is that though the Tea Party started as a populist movement, it has been "hijacked." "Well-intentioned Tea Party foot soldiers demand that power be returned to the people, but then their clout is used to support tax cuts for millionaires. They rally for tougher immigration laws, but then their guy in Washington helps corporations to fire U.S. workers and hire foreign nationals." Scott ran his campaign saying he is tough on immigration. Scott suggested to Milbank that the poor can use state and local governments or private pro bono aid to fund legal costs, and that Legal Services is a redundant agency, hence his attempt to cut it. But Milbank says his timing suggests he was doing a favor to the growers who were being sued. "If Scott were true to his Tea Party roots," Milbank says, "he would have told the growers to get lost."
Sen. Joe Lieberman on Syria To support the Syrian protestors who continue to demonstrate in the face of government violence, the United States must take a stronger stance against Assad writes Senator Joe Lieberman in The Wall Street Journal. "First, President Obama should finally say unequivocally that Assad must go," Lieberman writes. "The administration should also redouble efforts to persuade key countries and companies to ratchet up the pressure on Assad--in particular by sanctioning the Syrian energy sector and by seeking tough action at the United Nations Security Council." Obama should also work with Syria's neighbors to ensure humanitarian aid reaches cities now being isolated by the regime. The Senate, too, can act by reappointing Robert Ford as ambassador to Syria. When Obama chose to send an ambassador five years after the last one had been withdrawn, the Senate objected, so Obama made Ford a recess appointment. The Senate should change its stance since the ambassador's job description has shifted to dealing not with Assad but with the Syrian people. The Senate should also pass a bill co-sponsored by Lieberman to sanction energy companies working with the Syrian regime. All this should be done, he says, because "in Syria today our values and our interests are truly in alignment."
Ed Kilgore on Rick Perry's Appeal In the past few weeks, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has flip-flopped on some important Republican issues. First he took the hard-line Tea Party stance that the states should work out positions on gay marriage and abortion. Later, though, he switched to supporting Federal Constitutional amendments. Such calculations are typical for Perry, who has often come close to alienating influential Republicans, writes Ed Kilgore in The New Republic. "So why is it virtually certain that Perry will be instantly launched into the very top tier of the 2012 presidential nominating contest the moment he announces his candidacy?" Kilgore asks. "Rick Perry seems to perfectly embody the Republican zeitgeist of the moment, appealing equally to the GOP’s Tea Party, Christian Right, and establishment factions while exemplifying the militant anti-Obama attitude that holds it all together." He has aligned himself with the Tea Party and the Christian Right, but unlike Michele Bachmann, he does not give the impression that he flirts with "extremist thinkers." For those who want a Republican to stay away from social issues and run on a simple candidacy of fixing the economy, Perry can point to the strong record in Texas. So can Mitt Romney, but Kilgore says Perry is more charismatic and Romney's record in Massachusetts is more problematic for Republicans. "No wonder" then, Perry has been able to convince Republicans, without so much as launching an exploratory committee, that he is the unity candidate for the GOP nomination.
Jeffrey Manns on the Rating Agencies' 'Extortion' "The credit rating agencies are taking advantage of the country’s financial problems to increase their own political power," argues GWU law professor Jeffrey Manns in The New York Times. Moody's and S&P are playing a "good cop bad cop" strategy that has the U.S. "over a barrel." "If politicians ignore rating agencies' warnings, they risk a withering assault of additional downgrades that could undercut confidence in the government and inflict soaring interest rates." Since the 1970s, federal regulations have required debt issuers to obtain a credit rating, which has set the agencies up as an "oligopoly" with enormous power. This power was threatened when they sat idly by before the 2008 financial crisis. The Dodd-Frank law threatened to subject them to unprecedented oversight and regulation. "But the rating agencies struck back, first through civil disobedience. To evade potential liability, they threatened to freeze the markets for asset-backed securities by refusing to allow their ratings to be quoted in S.E.C. filings. The S.E.C. quickly caved and suspended the rule," Manns writes. They stepped up their resistance with S&P's downgrade. In the face of such "extortion," Mann says, the government should continue their task of getting "America's house in order" by implementing the regulations called for in the Dodd-Frank law.
Gordon Brown on Global Coordination "In a world economy driven by global, not national, flows of finance and by global, not local, sourcing of goods, what happens to the richest citizen of the richest country can instantaneously affect the poorest citizen in the poorest country," writes former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in The Washington Post. But global consensus on international issues can sometimes be hard to find. Both the U.S. and Europe have taken measures that will only guarantee low growth for years to come. Their only strategy now can be to export their way to growth, but this being the strategy of countries like China and Brazil, that seems to be "a zero-sum game." The Group of 20's 2009 pledges to create a financial stability regime and a compact for growth ended up "paper promises," Brown writes. "We calculated that by cooperation we could have deficit reduction in the West that did not destroy growth and that world growth could rise 3 percent and upwards of 25 million jobs would be created... The world outlook would be transformed if Asia were confident it has a long-term market for its products, if the West were confident it could sell abroad and pay for gradually improving standards of living at home, and if the rest of the world were confident there would be strong growth to reduce unemployment and poverty." The next G-8 and G-20 summits must revive these pledges to create worldwide growth, Brown says. In the short term, coordination on exchange rates and global policy must be taken to prevent a further slide in the current crisis.