You can now access all the past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV.
Two things in life are certain: Death and taxes. Except for corporations.
Next National Action: March 26th!
Andrew Breitbart is a liar and a race-baiter. His method is to pose as a journalist, and then use deceptive tactics to gin up race-based fears, protect racists, and demonize Black political leaders and institutions.1 This is the man caught peddling deceptively edited video of Shirley Sherrod — the Black USDA official who was dismissed as a result of Breitbart’s hateful propaganda. No credible news outlet has had Breitbart on since. ABC News rescinded its invitation for him to be a part of its election night coverage (after hearing from ColorOfChange members),2 and even Fox has turned its back on him since the Sherrod episode.3
So why is The Huffington Post giving him a platform? Just over a week ago, editors at The Huffington Post gave Breitbart a top spot on their home page, where he again spewed widely debunked lies.4 Then yesterday they did it again. We reached out to Arianna Huffington and other leaders at The Huffington Post to ask why they’d give him cover. Their response? Silence.
Join us in condemning The Huffington Post’s actions and demanding that Arianna Huffington and The Huffington Post agree to not elevate Breitbart again given his unfailing race-baiting attacks on our community. This is critical and it takes only a moment. And please invite your friends and family to do the same:
The Koch Brothers
We should be trying to put Americans back to work, not trying to put public radio out of business.
Attacking labor unions…waging war on women’s rights…defunding NPR…repealing health care reform. The anti-worker, anti-woman, anti-Obama Republican agenda just proves that their priorities are seriously out of whack. How is any of this supposed to create jobs?
Senate Democrats are fighting back each and every day. But with only a slim four-seat majority, we have no margin for error. If Republicans can knock just a few bricks free from our firewall, they’ll force through their extreme agenda faster than you can say “Koch brothers.” With the GOP on the attack and with 23 Democratic-held seats to defend, we have no time to spare. We must act now to keep our majority standing strong. I need your help!
The DSCC must raise $150,371 by our March 31 FEC deadline to keep the Republicans at bay. Our March Match means you’ll be matched dollar for dollar – your $10 contribution will only cost you $5. Please click here right now to contribute!
Senate Democrats are standing up strong against the GOP’s backward priorities. But we can’t stand alone, not with Republicans and their special interest allies pouring more resources into breaking down our firewall every day.
And with just 8 days to go until the March 31 deadline, a $150,371 goal to meet, and a dangerous Republican agenda to defeat, we need you now more than ever.
[I have never put a plea for donations on Take Action, but I did so today because I have never recieved a letter from Harry Reid before. And the fact that he mentioned the Koch brothers means that we have been successful at exposing them!]
More than nine in 10 Americans call the federal budget deficit a serious problem, the poll shows – as many as seven in 10 call it very serious. However, just 7 percent named the deficit as the most important problem facing the country today. Most Americans, 51 percent, called the economy and jobs the most important problem, and most Americans agree Washington is not doing enough to create jobs.
I can’t remember the last time there was a greater disconnect between public demands and policymakers’ priorities. It’s almost comical in its ridiculousness.
To hear congressional Republicans tell it, Americans are desperate to see sweeping cuts to public spending and an unwavering commitment to deficit reduction. Indeed, this assumption has served as the basis for two months of heated debate in Washington, with GOP leaders boasting about how they, and only they, are delivering on what the public wants.
And yet, the evidence to the contrary remains overwhelming.
More than nine in 10 Americans call the federal budget deficit a serious problem, the poll shows — as many as seven in 10 call it very serious. However, just 7 percent named the deficit as the most important problem facing the country today. Most Americans, 51 percent, called the economy and jobs the most important problem, and most Americans agree Washington is not doing enough to create jobs.
Asked specifically which is more important, cutting spending or creating jobs, 63% said job creation should be the top goal, with 26% saying spending cuts should be the priority. As absurd as this seems, congressional Republicans are desperate to side with the 26% minority over the 63% majority, even after promising for two years to focus on jobs.
Indeed, 68% of Americans don’t agree on much, but they agree that lawmakers aren’t spending enough time focused on bringing down unemployment.
And yet, one-sided results like these still won’t change the debate. Policymakers and the very-serious media voices will continue a foolish debate — whether to cut a little or cut a lot — while the public clamors for a jobs policy that isn’t even on the table.
Let me say this plainly: most folks just don’t care about cutting spending or the deficit. They care about growing the economy and creating jobs. It’s not just one poll; every poll says the same thing.
Why did the electorate vote in a bunch of Republicans with the opposite priorities? Because folks were frustrated with the status quo, and didn’t realize the GOP that kept asking “where are the jobs?” would immediately start working on plans to make the jobs crisis worse.
But because our political system is so often exasperating, White House and congressional leaders will nevertheless sit down fairly soon, and to avoid a government shutdown, begin talks on just how many unpopular cuts it will take to make Republicans happy enough to end their hostage strategy. Dems should have leverage in these talks — what the GOP wants is the opposite of what the American mainstream wants — but that will almost certainly make no difference whatsoever.
Just as rigid pacifists aren’t credible on national defense and dogmatic Christian Scientists are rarely consulted on health-care policy, a politician who has made an ideological vow to refuse to even consider tax increases is not interested in reducing deficits — and that’s true no matter how often they say the word “deficits.” So if Grover Norquist has really gotten ironclad assurances from both Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that they will not permit tax increases as part of a deficit deal, then the only sensible conclusion is that Boehner and McConnell are not interested in deficits.
One politician making it a priority, however, is Sen. Tom Coburn. The play that Coburn and the other “Gang of Six” members want to run is to shut down loopholes in the tax code and reform expenditures such that the code is flatter and broader and raises more money. Norquist (and his organization, Americans for Tax Reform, or ATR) considers that a tax increase, and he’s technically correct — it will mean more taxes get paid. But Coburn’s office is undeterred.
It’s worth noting how far the goalposts have moved on this issue: rather than courage on the conservative side denoting a willingness to straightforwardly raise taxes to reduce deficits, it’s now a willingness to argue that closing tax loopholes, reforming expenditures and ending some tax breaks should not be defined as raising taxes — even if doing so means more revenues. This may end up being a distinction without much difference: Given that the tax code includes more than $1 trillion in these breaks and expenditures annually, it’s entirely possible that we could find serious money there and never need to raise taxes in the traditional manner. But that’d mean taking on popular policies like the mortgage-interest deduction and the deduction for employer-provided health-care insurance. Raising taxes in the traditional manner might actually prove easier. And if that’s the case — if it’s a straightforward tax increase or no balanced budget — will the self-styled deficit hawks in the Republican Party step up and do what we all know needs to be done?
Statement from the U.S. Department of the Treasury:
[O]ver the years, a parade of lobbyists has rigged the tax code to benefit particular companies and industries. Those with accountants or lawyers to work the system can end up paying no taxes at all. But all the rest are hit with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. It makes no sense, and it has to change.
So tonight, I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years – without adding to our deficit. It can be done.
–President Barack Obama, 2011 State of the Union Address
The President has called upon us all – Republicans and Democrats, his Administration and Congress, businesses and other stakeholders to come together to enact comprehensive tax reform that lowers our high statutory corporate tax rate and improves the tax system for the U.S. corporate community as a whole.
Comprehensive, long-term reform has the potential to benefit businesses across the United States, and make our economy more competitive. That is why a broad range of businesses have expressed a willingness to answer the President’s challenge and come together to make our principal focus an overhaul our corporate tax code. A narrow group of businesses has suggested that instead, our primary focus should be a temporary repatriation tax holiday – an idea tried a few years ago that gave a select group of U.S. multinational corporations a temporary, substantial tax break on their overseas profits. However, letting our eye off the ball of comprehensive tax reform in favor of a temporary measure of this kind would be a mistake.
In 2004, when the U.S. enacted a repatriation tax holiday, the goal was to encourage U.S. multinationals to pay bigger cash dividends from their overseas subsidiaries and use the cash to make investments in the United States. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that it increased U.S. investment or jobs, and it cost taxpayers billions.
We are in the process of trying to build consensus among lawmakers, the public, and the private sector, including a broad section of the business community to do just that. The tax treatment of overseas earnings could be considered as a part of broader corporate tax reform, but as Secretary Geithner has said, it would not be sensible to consider a repatriation holiday outside of that context.
Comprehensive reform can be done. We should not allow ourselves to be distracted from that goal.
The White House will not prominently inject itself into congressional negotiations on Social Security reform until after key legislators in both the House and Senate unveil their plans to reduce projected long-term deficits, according to administration officials.
That won’t please Republican leaders on Capitol Hill, who have attacked Obama for remaining silent in this debate. And these 64 Senate Republicans and Democrats won’t be too happy either. But it’s part of a broader political and policy strategy the administration is employing to keep Obama’s powder dry while Republicans struggle to reduce deficits without increasing revenues in any meaningful way.
But while opinions vary within the administration his advisers are united in the belief that achieving a workable deal with congressional Republicans will be difficult, and that it would be foolish for Obama to speak up now.
At a roundtable meeting earlier this month, a senior Treasury official described the landscape to about a dozen reporters and bloggers. The optimal moment for President Obama to substantively weigh in on Social Security reform proposals, the official said, will come when House Republicans unveil their budget resolution for fiscal year 2012 and a bipartisan working group in the Senate unveils its deficit reduction package, assuming they reach an agreement.
Those two proposals will force Republicans to grapple with the tensions between their broad opposition to increasing federal revenues and their professed goal in these discussions of reducing the deficit. It’s put them in a bit of a box, the official said, and it’s possible they may abandon their efforts, and lay the blame at Obama’s feet, before unveiling anything. But if their efforts are serious, Obama’s economic team sees an opening — to take pressure off the non-defense discretionary portion of the budget, and to send a signal to markets that the U.S. government isn’t so paralyzed that it can’t address larger, looming fiscal challenges.
So what constitutes a serious effort? Basically a recognition that Social Security revenues and general revenues have to rise, if the administration is going to accept anything that cuts benefits, even modestly.
President Obama laid out a comparable framework in his State of the Union address.
“[W]e should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations,” Obama said. “We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.”
The administration has been purposefully evasive about what constitutes “slashing,” but the senior treasury official made it clear that the White House will only consider plans that harm their progressive interests if revenues are on the table in a significant way. Indeed, as something of an opening bid, Obama’s OMB director Jack Lew has recently, and prominently argued that Social Security is not driving current or medium-term deficits.
Neither outcome would surprise a key member of Obama’s economic team. In his book, The Pro-Growth Progressive, Gene Sperling, who recently replaced Larry Summers as chief economic policy adviser, wrote, “There is no historical precedent for addressing a major entitlement challenge — whether to Social Security or Medicare — well in advance of a crisis.”
The nation’s large banks have made major progress rebuilding capital levels that had been depleted during the financial crisis, the Federal Reserve said Friday, as it gave many of the firms the green light to pay dividends to their shareholders.
Fed regulators applied a “stress test” to the 19 largest U.S. banks, similar to the one performed in the spring of 2009, to establish whether they would continue to have enough capital even if the economy went back into recession. The Fed examined what would happen to the banks’ finances if unemployment rose to 11 percent by the end of this year, up from 8.9 percent last month.
Updated Bank of America revealed on Wednesday that the Federal Reserve had rejected the bank’s plan to increase its dividend in the second half of 2011, even as the government has permitted dividend increases at several other big banks.
Regulators raised objections as part of the second round of bank stress tests, the results of which came out on Friday. Bank of America, the nation’s largest bank holding company, says it will take a second stab at persuading the Fed to ease its grip on the firm.
The Small Business Administration last week took a step toward redefining what it means to be “small” for information technology, engineering and consulting-services companies, among others, marking another change in a tumultuous period for federal contractors.
The contracting field has faced a more unpredictable market in recent months as federal officials have halted and reworked dozens of federal IT projects so they can be executed in smaller pieces. The government is pushing for greater use of more cost-conscious contract structures, such as fixed-price contracts that cap the total price, and is trying to bolster its procurement workforce to better oversee projects.
The threat of a federal government shutdown also has kept contractors apprehensive.
The SBA is proposing new definitions for what qualifies as small in professional and technical services as diverse as accounting and computer programming. The rules would affect some fields more than others.
For instance, for an environmental consulting company, qualifying as a small business – making it eligible for designated contract opportunities and loan programs – would require revenue of no more than $14 million, as compared with $7 million previously. But the revenue ceiling for a computer programming firm increased only a small amount, to $25.5 million from $25 million.
The agency expects the proposed changes to make as many as 9,450 more companies eligible for SBA programs.
That would boost the number of eligible firms – 761,150 based on a 2007 survey – by only a little more than 1 percent. Still, proponents say the proposal would create a more competitive marketplace for small-business-designated opportunities.
Public discussions on foreign trade sometimes convey the impression that China and the rest of the world make everything, as the United States sits idly by, importing their stuff and going to hell in a handbasket, to use the vernacular.
The chart below demonstrates that this is simply not so. Goods and services produced here still represent the great bulk of gross domestic product in the United States.
In plain English, Americans have become used to spending more on themselves than their own gross domestic product year after year and enjoying themselves as they’ve done that.
When net exports are negative, how do Americans pay for the excess imports?
Ultimately, they pay with financial paper, namely, I.O.U.’s in the form of Treasury bonds, corporate bonds sold to foreigners, ownership claims on American corporations (stock certificates) or legal titles to real estate sold to foreigners.
Americans have taken full advantage of this external financing facility in the last several decades. Until about 2008, American households saved less and less of their disposable income, falling to 1 percent of gross domestic product by 2006, although recovering somewhat thereafter (see next chart).
Through the politicians they have elected, Americans have granted themselves a series of generous tax cuts, all the while driving up government spending. Unable to finance the resulting federal deficits fully from domestic savings, borrowing from foreigners, as described above, was used to fill the gap.
Thus, the much lamented trade deficit — more accurately, the current account deficit — enabled Americans to spend more than their own gross domestic product.
The tax-cut theme still sells well among the electorate and undoubtedly will be dangled before voters again in 2012, abetted no doubt by some economists, while even cuts of $100 billion (or about 2.5 percent) of a federal budget of close to $4 trillion face serious political hurdles.
Home-grown fiscal mismanagement at many levels, however, does not make the case against the benefits of free trade. It merely cries out for more responsible fiscal management at home –- which, at some point, might come. In principle, a nation can both be fiscally responsible and enjoy the overall benefits of free trade.
Criticism of unfair trade restrictions do have validity, especially in periods of global recession, during which trade restrictions imposed by one nation can help it export its unemployment to other nations. The proper policy response to trade barriers, however, is not the abandonment of free trade but efforts to eliminate these barriers.
After all, imagine what life would be like in the United States in the absence of foreign trade, with all products we use daily made domestically –- many would be far more expensive than they currently are, and many would be likely to be of inferior quality to those now available.
One can only imagine what American cars would be like if domestic auto makers had not been exposed to stiff price- and quality competition from Europe and Asia.
Suppose the Jones family is hurt financially by low-cost imports from abroad, while the Smith family is hurt equally by home-grown disruptive innovation – such as the displacement of travel agents by online booking of airlines and hotels or of airline ticket-counter personnel by online check-in. Should only the Jones family be compensated for its loss because it involves foreign trade?
A far better approach would be to have in place a solid, general economic safety net that helps all families whose economic base is disrupted through forces beyond their control, whether such disruptions originate in foreign trade or domestic developments.
Unfortunately, too many economists decry that approach as a welfare state –- and that makes selling the case for free trade that much harder.
“Some have asked if there aren’t conservative sites I read regularly. Well, no. I will read anything I’ve been informed about that’s either interesting or revealing; but I don’t know of any economics or politics sites on that side that regularly provide analysis or information I need to take seriously. I know we’re supposed to pretend that both sides always have a point; but the truth is that most of the time they don’t. The parties are not equally irresponsible; Rachel Maddow isn’t Glenn Beck; and a conservative blog, almost by definition, is a blog written by someone who chooses not to notice that asymmetry. And life is short…”
The first ever International Summit on Teaching, convened last week in New York City, showed perhaps more clearly than ever that the United States has been pursuing an approach to teaching almost diametrically opposed to that pursued by the highest-achieving nations.
It was the first time that government officials and union leaders from 16 nations met together in candid conversations that found substantial consensus about how to create a well-prepared and accountable teaching profession.
Evidence presented at the summit showed that, with dwindling supports, most teachers in the United States must go into debt in order to prepare for an occupation that pays them, on average, 60% less than the salaries earned by other college graduates. Those who work in poor districts will not only earn less than their colleagues in wealthy schools, but they will pay for many of their students’ books and supplies themselves.
And with states’ willingness to lower standards rather than raise salaries for the teachers of the poor, a growing number of recruits enter with little prior training, trying to learn on-the-job with the uneven mentoring provided by cash-strapped districts. It is no wonder that a third of U.S. beginners leave within the first five years, and those with the least training leave at more than twice the rate of those who are well-prepared.
The contrasts to the American attitude toward teachers and teaching could not have been more stark. Officials from countries like Finland and Singapore described how they have built a high-performing teaching profession by enabling all of their teachers to enter high-quality preparation programs, generally at the masters’ degree level, where they receive a salary while they prepare. There they learn research-based teaching strategies and train with experts in model schools attached to their universities. They enter a well-paid profession – in Singapore earning as much as beginning doctors — where they are supported by mentor teachers and have 15 or more hours a week to work and learn together – engaging in shared planning, action research, lesson study, and observations in each other’s classrooms. And they work in schools that are equitably funded and well-resourced with the latest technology and materials.
How poignant for Americans to listen to this account while nearly every successful program developed to support teachers’ learning in the United States is proposed for termination by the Obama administration or the Congress: Among these, the TEACH Grants that subsidize preparation for those who will teach in high-need schools; the Teacher Quality Partnership grants that support innovative pre-service programs in high-need communities; the National Writing Project and the Striving Readers programs that have supported professional development for the teaching of reading and writing all across the country, and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which certifies accomplished teachers and provides what teachers have long called some of the most powerful professional development they ever experience in their careers.
These small programs total less than $1 billion dollars annually, the cost of half a week in Afghanistan. They are not nearly enough to constitute a national policy; yet they are among the few supports America now provides to improve the quality of teaching.
University of Minnesota researchers are a key step closer to making renewable petroleum fuels using bacteria, sunlight and dioxide, a goal funded by a $2.2 million United States Department of Energy grant.
“There is enormous interest in using carbon dioxide to make hydrocarbon fuels,” Wackett says. “CO2 is the major greenhouse gas mediating global climate change, so removing it from the atmosphere is good for the environment. It’s also free. And we can use the same infrastructure to process and transport this new hydrocarbon fuel that we use for fossil fuels.”
The potential and peril of hydraulic fracturing
A widely used oil-and-gas drilling technique, hydraulic fracturing, is spreading rapidly to develop vast reserves of natural gas trapped in deep underground shale formations. Hydraulic fracking, however, is coming under more rigorous oversight by the press and state and federal agencies because of its contribution to air and water pollution. This attention is welcome, both to ensure that health and safety will be protected if gas is to be more widely used as a cleaner replacement for coal in electric plants and foreign oil as a transportation fuel. We must also more accurately measure carbon dioxide and other pollution from the combustion of gas compared to coal and oil.
This issue brief explores the ecological and economic issues of “fracking,” as it is increasingly coming to be known in the areas of the country where natural gas is tapped due to the technology. Cutting to the chase, our conclusion is this—hydraulic fracturing needs to be done carefully and be well-monitored, with particular attention paid to the full scope of carbon dioxide released into our atmosphere to gauge accurately the consequences of global warming due to the expanded use of natural gas.
The Affordable Care Act’s first anniversary comes as a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll tells us that public opinion on the law remains pretty much where it was a year ago, with 42 percent viewing it favorably, versus 46 percent who view it unfavorably. Dems have not succeeded in selling the law to the public.
And yet, this has not translated into strong support for repeal: The poll finds that 51 percent favor keeping the law as is or expanding it, versus only 39 percent who favor repealing and replacing the law with an unspecified alternative or doing away with it completely. And as always, the poll also finds that many of the law’s individual provisions — aside from the mandate — remain very popular.
In other words, a year later, nothing has changed: Both sides still have every incentive to keep this fight going. Though the law remains unpopular in a general sense, Dems have every reason to keep doing everything they can to try to change people’s minds. And that’s exactly what they are going to do.
Mark Blumenthal highlights one of the more remarkable aspect of the new Kaiser Family Foundation poll I wrote about earlier. In addition to the remarkably consistent and intense opposition among Republicans to the reform, people remain very confused about the law.
First, roughly half of Americans (53 percent on their most recent survey) continue to say that they are “confused” about the health reform law. A similar percentage (47 percent this month) say they lack sufficient information about the law to know how it will impact them personally.
The Kaiser analysis also reports that the greater intensity of feeling among Republicans remains “essentially unchanged,” with 59 percent now expressing a very unfavorable opinion.
So why no change?
The main provisions of the bill have not gone into effect and so Americans are neither experiencing its benefits nor dissuaded from the fears raised by opponents of the law.
Taking that lesson, Blumenthal expects attitudes on the Affordable Care Act to remain fairly negative until the program really starts to kick in in 2014.
While some of the more popular elements of it have gone into effect—ending exclusion of children for pre-existing conditions, allowing adult children to stay on their parents policies until age 26—the parts of it that will affect the most people are still hanging out there as unknowns, easy targets for opponents.
So now, in what is being billed as the biggest legal action taken by a regulator against executives of a financial institution involved in the great crash, the FDIC is suing WaMu’s three top corporate officers for, among other things “gross negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraudulent conveyance.” The gist of the case: CEO Kerry Killinger and his two right-hand men knew that they were taking big risks by putting people in homes they couldn’t afford. They were warned countless times of the danger they were exposing the bank to. But they went ahead and did it anyway, continuing their reckless gambling even as the housing boom collapsed around them.
Safoorah Khan had taught middle school math for only nine months in this tiny Chicago suburb when she made an unusual request. She wanted three weeks off for a pilgrimage to Mecca.
The school district, faced with losing its only math lab instructor during the critical end-of-semester marking period, said no. Khan, a devout Muslim, resigned and made the trip anyway.
Justice Department lawyers examined the same set of facts and reached a different conclusion: that the school district’s decision amounted to outright discrimination against Khan. They filed an unusual lawsuit, accusing the district of violating her civil rights by forcing her to choose between her job and her faith.
As the case moves forward in federal court in Chicago, it has triggered debate over whether the Justice Department was following a purely legal path or whether suing on Khan’s behalf was part of a broader Obama administration campaign to reach out to Muslims.
The lawsuit, filed in December, may well test the boundaries of how far employers must go to accommodate workers’ religious practices — a key issue as the nation grows more multicultural and the Muslim population increases. But it is also raising legal questions. Experts say the government might have difficulty prevailing because the 19-day leave Khan requested goes beyond what courts have considered.
“It sounds like a very dubious judgment and a real legal reach,” said Michael B. Mukasey, who was attorney general in the George W. Bush administration. “The upper reaches of the Justice Department should be calling people to account for this.”
His successors in the Obama administration counter that they are upholding a sacred principle: the right of every American to be free of religious bias in the workplace. “This was a profoundly personal request by a person of faith,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights, who compared the case to protecting “the religious liberty that our forefathers came to this country for.”
Kevin Harpham, the man suspected of planting a bomb in a backpack along a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parade route in Spokane, Wash., was indicted on federal charges yesterday, Reuters reports.
A U.S. District Court jury indicted Harpham on one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and one count of knowingly possessing an improvised explosive device.
Harpham was arrested earlier this month in connection with the bomb, which officials have said was “viable.”
Last week, Harpham’s father told reporters that his son is a racist and interacted with other racists online — but maintained that he didn’t plant the bomb. TPM has reviewed online postings at a forum for white supremacists that appear to have been written by Harpham.
Read TPM’s full coverage of the case here.
Well, this was bound to happen: On the heels of its $315 million Huffington Post deal, Aol has announced that it will shut down 30 of its blogs, electing to absorb some of these into other brands, including a few existing HuffPost verticals.
The blogs impacted by the change include Politics Daily, which will become part of HuffPost Politics (thus confirming Matt Lewis‘ fear), and Urlesque, which now becomes part of HuffPost Comedy. Some blogs, like PopEater, will exist as their own entities within the Huffington Post.
Several Aol blogs were left without a staff following its recent wave of layoffs, including, as Business Insider helpfully listed, Holidash, Pawnation, Health, Healthy Living, That’s Fit, KOL, Parentdish, Travel, Kitchen Daily, Aisledash, Royal Wedding, Stylelist and Luxist. Other Aol blogs, like Asylum and Lemon Drop, were previously shut down.
Media Access Project is a non-profit, public interest law firm and advocacy organization working in communications policy. For over 38 years, MAP has promoted the public interest before the Federal Communications Commission and the U.S. Courts, fighting for an open and diverse communications system that protects freedom of expression, promotes universal and equitable access to media outlets and telecommunications services, and encourages vibrant public discourse on critical issues facing our society.
In the words of the Supreme Court:
“It is the purpose of the First Amendment to preserve an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will ultimately prevail, rather than to countenance monopolization of that market, whether it be by the Government itself or a private licensee…”
MAP is the only Washington-based organization devoted to representing listeners’ and speakers’ interests in communications and technology issues before the Federal Communications Commission, other policy-making bodies, and in the courts. MAP’s staff attorneys provide guidance and representation to scores of national and local non-profit groups annually. They appear frequently at academic, legislative, and professional meetings to ensure that the needs of the public are not forgotten as policies are established for the next generation.
MAP grew out of the movement that began with the landmark United Church of Christ litigation of the 1960s. Those cases, involving the failure of a Mississippi TV station to serve the African American community, established that members of the viewing and listening public have the legal right, derived from the First Amendment, to participate in FCC proceedings.
MAP is at the forefront of efforts to develop media policies which will, quite literally, govern the terms of voter participation and public discourse in the next generation. MAP works to ensure that current and future media and telecommunications technologies promote, and do not impede, democratic values.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently held up Al Jazeera as a paragon of objective journalism, asserting that the network provides “real news,” in contrast to its would-be cable news competitors. “It is real news instead of a million commercials and … arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news,” she said as she stood before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March. “Like it or hate it, it is really effective.” But the network remains shut out in America — including areas with large Arab populations such as Los Angeles, New York and Detroit — largely because cable operators have no interest in carrying it.
The station has managed to secure carriage in only three U.S. markets: Washington, Burlington, Vt., and northwest Ohio. (Several major operators including Comcast, DISH Network and DirecTV reversed earlier plans to carry the channel in 2007.) It streams content on a dedicated YouTube channel, its own website and a smattering of other satellite and Internet channels. And in the wake of the uprisings in Egypt, streaming player Roku added it to its Newscaster channel.
Cable and satellite providers in the U.S. have received more than 40,000 e-mails from customers urging they carry Al Jazeera English, according to AJE managing director Al Anstey. The network’s website traffic shot up 2,500 percent in the wake of the ongoing revolts, with half of that originating in the U.S.
Viewership for CNN, Fox News and MSNBC was down 13.7 percent in aggregate during 2010 for a sharper decline than in any other sector, according to PEJ’s annual State of the News Media report. And for the first time in the dozen years since PEJ began monitoring cable news networks, every channel was down (spikes such as the current ones for Japan coverage are fleeting). CNN, with its well-publicized primetime woes, was off the most in 2010: 37 percent, to 564,000 viewers. Fox News, the No. 1 cable news network, declined 11 percent, and MSNBC — which finished 2010 ahead of CNN — was down 5 percent. Any objective measure of AJE’s ratings potential must be weighed against what might be a downward trend in cable news.
But Al Jazeera English also offers the possibility of a highly targeted niche audience. The network does not specifically target Arab-Americans; it is presented in English, after all. But with more than 4 million Americans identifying themselves as of Arab descent, according to the nonprofit American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, AJE has a measure of built-in brand recognition.
“I do believe it’s a question of when, not if, we strike a deal,” he says. “We discussed the fact that AJE is increasingly being described by people in the United States as a journal of reference.”
But unless you’re Oprah Winfrey, it’s difficult to maneuver onto increasingly crowded cable and satellite systems at a time when companies are scrutinizing ratings for niche channels in an effort to reduce costs. “Even if the cable operator doesn’t have to pay, he’s indirectly paying in the sense that he’s providing real estate, and real estate has value,” says Jon Swallen, senior vp research at Kantar Media. “And all that he’s going to recoup is local ad revenue. So you’ve got to assume that a cable operator is looking at this and saying, ‘What’s the revenue potential to me for giving up this slice of real estate?’ ”
The availability of video-on-demand channels that don’t suck up precious linear bandwidth also is a complicating factor.
And while Al Jazeera has received public support in high places, it’s courting controversy-averse U.S. cable and satellite carriers as the country is mired in a public debate about Islam and radicalization. In December, Houston radio station KPFT drew protests from the community when it began airing an AJE-produced news hour. “The anti-Muslim, anti-Arab hysteria is beyond comprehension,” says Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Muslim advocacy group.
Still, many believe it’s only a matter of time before wider distribution comes. “The Gulf Region has become a tourist destination, a stopover travel hub and a media center,” Tyndall says. “Really the Las Vegas and the Singapore of the Middle East — Al Jazeera is part and parcel of that push. It’s establishing itself as a modern face of the Arab world. People around the world know about that. The U.S. is really the last to discover it.
By LAKHDAR BRAHIMI and THOMAS R. PICKERING:
Neither side of the conflict can hope to vanquish the other through force. Meanwhile, public support in Western countries for keeping troops in Afghanistan has fallen. The Afghan people are weary of a long and debilitating war.
For their part, the Taliban have encountered resistance from Afghans who are not part of their dedicated base when they have tried to impose their stern moral code. International aid has improved living standards among Afghans in areas not under Taliban control. That has placed new pressure on the Taliban, as has an increasing ambivalence toward the Taliban in Pakistan.
The stalemate can be resolved only with a negotiated political settlement involving President Hamid Karzai’s government and its allies, the Taliban and its supporters in Pakistan, and other regional and international parties. The United States has been holding back from direct negotiations, hoping the ground war will shift decisively in its favor. But we believe the best moment to start the process toward reconciliation is now, while force levels are near their peak.
For the insurgents, the prospects for negotiating a share of national power are not likely to improve by waiting until the United States withdraws most combat forces by the end of 2014; on the contrary, the possibility that Americans might find a way to maintain an enduring military presence past 2014 suggests that perhaps the only way they can truly get the Americans out is with a negotiated settlement.
A peace settlement would require a domestic element — a political order broadly acceptable to Afghans — and an international element: severing Taliban ties to Al Qaeda and containing rampant drug production and trafficking in Afghanistan. Both elements would need to be negotiated along parallel tracks.
Contrary to popular view, Pakistan cannot unilaterally dictate the outcome. Pakistanis told us they were finding it increasingly difficult to prevent the Afghan conflict from fueling extremist violence in their country. Pakistani security officers who have provided long-time support for the Taliban run the risk of events getting beyond their control.
A neutral international facilitator is needed to begin explorations with all potential parties toward negotiation. The United Nations could appoint a facilitator. Or a facilitator could be a group, an international organization, a neutral state or a group of states. A settlement would require international guarantees, aid, peacekeeping and enforcement of the agreement.
The international community has confronted equally intractable conflicts in Cambodia, Bosnia and elsewhere and, with unity of purpose, resolved them. Afghanistan is a particularly challenging case, but it is not hopeless.
One of the most impressive accomplishments of the modern right is its ability to generate plausible technical papers to justify conservative tropes that are basically ridiculous. For example, during last year’s campaign it was popular to claim that our economy was weak because of regulatory uncertainty. This made no real sense at all. Our economy is weak because of economic uncertainty: businesses don’t have enough customers to make it worth investing in new capacity or hiring new workers, and they aren’t sure when or if new customers will appear in the future.
It never really caught on outside of campaign stump speeches, though, because — well, because it was ridiculous. What to do? Answer: find someone to write a technical paper demonstrating that regulatory uncertainty really is holding back the economy. But who could they get for this job?
Paul Krugman provides the answer: none other than Alan Greenspan. Krugman’s comment after reading the paper:
I could go through the weak reasoning, the shoddy econometrics that ignores a large literature on business investment and ignores simultaneity problems, etc., etc.. But never mind; just consider the tone.
Greenspan writes in characteristic form: other people may have their models, but he’s the wise oracle who knows the deep mysteries of human behavior, who can discern patterns based on his ineffable knowledge of economic psychology and history.
Sorry, but he doesn’t get to do that any more. 2011 is not 2006. Greenspan is an ex-Maestro; his reputation is pushing up the daisies, it’s gone to meet its maker, it’s joined the choir invisible.
Yep. Brad DeLong does the dreary work of taking down Greenspan in detail here. Past posts on this site about the uncertainty meme are here, here, and here. Conservative economists piling on the uncertainty bandwagon here. And the chart below shows what small businesses are really afraid of right now: low sales, not the specter of the federal jackboot.
But all that aside — which is to say, aside from the actual truth of the uncertainty meme — it’s impressive, as usual, that the conservative movement managed to find such a big name to put his name to defending the indefensible. After all, news reporters almost have to take the uncertainty meme seriously now, and that’s really all that matters. Mission accomplished!
But just months after election day, three new Midwestern governors — Wisconsin’s Scott Walker (R), Ohio’s John Kasich (R), and Michigan’s Rick Snyder (R) — have seen their approval ratings fall to the point that polls show them losing hypothetical do-over elections with the candidates they beat last year.
Yglesias says, correctly, that the only way we’ll get any budget deal now — or, I’d say, any time in the next several years — will be if conservatives come up with an offer. And they won’t.
The key point is that conservatives are insisting that no tax be raised on anyone — yet they have not been willing to embrace the only policies that could balance the budget given that insistence, namely very large cuts in defense, Medicare, and Social Security.
Think of its this way: over the 2001-2007 business cycle, the United States ran persistent deficits; so revenue wasn’t enough to cover expenses even then. In the future, even if we manage to limit cost growth in Medicare, the aging of the population will raise costs by several percent of GDP. If no revenue can be added from any source, that means that there must be huge cuts in the big-ticket items.
But what Republicans want is for Obama to propose those cuts– and therefore to take the political heat — while they give up nothing whatsoever.
Not going to happen.
The poll, released Tuesday, indicates 48 percent of voters said they approve of Brown’s job performance while only 16 percent said they approved of the job the Legislature was doing, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reported.
Among other things, Brown has proposed extending higher taxes on incomes, sales and vehicles to address a $26 billion shortfall. Voters would consider the tax extensions in a special election if they make it out of the Legislature.
The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a Republican lawsuit challenging limits on party spending.
The lawsuit, brought by former Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.) and the Republican National Committee against the Federal Election Commission, argued that a rule limiting the amount that parties could spend in coordination with its candidates violated their First Amendment rights. The suit was part of a sustained assault on campaign finance restrictions by conservatives.
Election law experts had considered it likely that the court would at least agree to hear the case, given that its conservative majority has been skeptical of rules restricting the flow of money into politics, as borne out most significantly in its sweeping 5-4 decision last year in a case called Citizens United v. FEC allowing corporations to fund election ads.
More recently, though, the court had refused to hear another case brought by the RNC challenging the prohibition on unlimited contributions to parties – the so-called soft money ban.
Rick Hasen, an election law professor who runs the influential Election Law Blog, speculated that the court’s rejection of Cao’s case could signal a reluctance to make more major changes to campaign finance rules, at least on the part of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito – both of whom were in the Citizens United majority but were unwilling to green light the RNC’s soft money challenge.
“Does this mean that Justice Alito and the Chief Justice are a bit gun-shy about wading back into the McCain-Feingold waters, or is something else at work?” he wondered in a Monday blog post.
The court is, however, scheduled to hear arguments March 28 in a case challenging Arizona’s public financing system, which could have major implications for federal and state campaign finance laws.
The Campaign Legal Center, a group that works to diminish the influence of money in politics and filed a brief defending the challenged spending rules, praised the court for heading off a case that “would have blown huge loopholes in the federal campaign finance laws and enabled large-scale circumvention of the individual contribution limits.”
But Tara Malloy, a lawyer for the center, warned “there remains a lengthy list of challenges making their way through the courts hoping for a sympathetic audience from the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts.”
Workers who complain to their employers about wage violations are protected from retaliation whether the complaints are oral or written, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday in a 6-to-2 decision.
The question in the case, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote for the majority, was whether the phrase “filed any complaint” in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 applied only to written complaints.
The case arose from complaints Kevin Kasten said he made to his former employer about where it kept the time clocks that recorded the hours he worked at a Wisconsin manufacturing plant. Though workers had to wear protective gear that took time to put on and take off, the time clocks were in an area beyond the changing area.
That was, a federal judge later found in a related case, a violation of the 1938 law.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Sonia Sotomayor joined Justice Breyer’s opinion. Justice Elena Kagan did not participate in the case.
Justice Breyer declined to address a second argument made by the company — that the law applies only to complaints made to the government and not to private employers — because the company had failed to assert the argument adequately when the case first reached the Supreme Court.
In a dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia said he would have ruled for the company on the ground that the majority would not consider.
The recent revival of the labor movement as result of the Republican assault on public employee unions is a welcome sign. But labor cannot simply rely on protests and petitions. Those are helpful and necessary, for sure. But for labor to truly recapture the full momentum of the public behind its fight for the middle class, labor has to rediscover the strike. Additionally, only when all unions join together behind their brothers and sisters who are striking and strike with them will the fight for the middle class begin to turn the tide against the forces seeking to destroy the American dream.
This country had a heritage and history of great strikes.
Make no mistake, a large strike is a high-risk move. They aren’t enjoyable, neither for the workers, nor for the greater population who has to suffer the decrease in goods and services resulting from it. In many, many cases they are illegal. Many of the workers may lose their jobs. If the past is any guide, people will be beaten and unfortunately killed in the fight for their rights. I can guarantee that many of the politicians who profess their strong support for labor around election time will turn solidly against the strikers. The media will almost certainly be solidly on the side of management and proclaim their messages loud and clear. There will be liberal bloggers who will call for the strikers to return to work. And there will be those poor souls desperate for work who will cross the line and do the work for less than what the strikers would be fighting for. There is nothing pleasant about a strike.
But when I see hundreds of billions of dollars added to the public debt to benefit no more than a few hundred bankers and hedge fund managers; when I see millions of people lose their life savings in a futile attempt to keep their families from falling into desolation with little to no help from their government; when I see millions of people losing their homes—their homes—because of the malfeasance and villainy of a noblesse oblige that controls government, media, finance; millions homeless; infant mortality rising; education overpriced and in decline; teachers being demonized; retirements disappearing and people in their sunset years being forced to work for minimum wage, all maintained by a political elite in Washington and New York that is either incapable or unwilling to do anything about any of it… I can’t help but believe that it is time to send a fundamentally tough message to the political and economic elite of this country: THIS MUST STOP. And I can’t think of anyone else who should be at the forefront of standing up for the middle class than unions. The political system as it stands will never change the status quo unless the people demand it in the strongest possible terms.
Strike are hard, but strike we must. And those of us who have lives of comfort but understand the suffering of the people at large must be ready to sacrifice for those willing to risk it all. I don’t know what it will take to finally bring American labor to understand that at some point the powers that be need to feel it where it hurts most, but when it does I’ll stand with them with heart, soul, time and money.
We don’t have to win every battle to win the war. Sometimes it is better to pick a fight and lose than to have never fought at all. Protest, petition, organize, and yes, vote. But if the American middle class really wants to send an unmistakably clear message to the political and economic elite, it is time to call for more and bigger labor strikes.
This is the second major affiliation with the Montana state federation in three years. In 2008, the Montana State AFL-CIO welcomed 2,400 newly affiliated members of the Montana Nurses Association.
“When workers stand together on the job, in our communities, and at the voting booth we can do great things,” said Montana State AFL-CIO President Jim McGarvey.
Move over Scott Walker, there’s a new sheriff in town. Rather than claiming we need to end collective bargaining because public employee pensions are the cause of all our budget woes, which is a complete lie, Senators Richard Burr and Tom Coburn are sponsoring legislation to simply do-away with pensions for public employees all together.
Liar, liar. Pants on fire.
The “Public-Private Employee Retirement Parity Act.” Isnt that cute?
Of course, the notion that pensions for public employees are vastly superior to pensions for private employees is complete horseshit. Also, public employees fund their own pensions through investment returns. If a pension fund is under-water, it’s because it was invested and it sank into oblivion when Wall Street and the mortgage industry killed the economy in 2008. The perfect case against privatizing public pensions.
Who needs a retirement anyway?
The Idaho Senate on Wednesday approved a measure that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and subject abortion providers who violate the ban to criminal prosecution and lawsuits.
The bill now heads to the state House of Representatives, where passage is expected. And a representative with the National Right to Life Committee, which is behind the legislation, predicted the ban will find favor with Idaho’s Republican governor.
The legislation is patterned after a law adopted last year in Nebraska and is pinned to some medical research suggesting a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks.
The measure is part of a broader push this year by National Right to Life to tighten restrictions on abortion in many states after conservatives gained legislative and gubernatorial seats in elections last November.
Idaho is one of 17 states considering bills that would outlaw abortion after 20 weeks of gestation unless it could be proved the pregnancy endangered the woman’s life.
The God Machine this week focuses on one specific faith-related trend, specifically the often-overlooked element of the renewed culture war following Republican gains in 2010.
GOP efforts, on the federal and state level, related to restricting abortion and gay rights are well documented, but less well known is the Republican drive to undermine modern biology. The National Center for Science Education reported this week that, so far this year, nine states have begun work on anti-evolution measures — a record high so early in the calendar year. (thanks to D.J. for the tip)
In Texas, for example, GOP policymakers are moving forward with a measure to protect creationists from “discrimination,” especially creationists who hope to spread their beliefs in classrooms. From the bill:
“An institution of higher education may not discriminate against or penalize in any manner, especially with regard to employment or academic support, a faculty member or student based on the faculty member’s or student’s conduct of research relating to the theory of intelligent design or other alternate theories of the origination and development of organisms.”
Just to provide a little context here, in Texas, it would be legal to fire workers for being gay or a single parent, but if science teachers refused to stick to science, they’d be protected.
An effort in Florida is nearly as ridiculous.
Florida GOP State Senator Stephen Wise is drawing fire with a legislative proposal that would require schools in the Sunshine State to dramatically change the way evolution is addressed in the classroom, primarily by requiring the teaching of an alternative he calls “non-evolution.”
According to his legislation, public school teachers would have to “teach a thorough presentation and critical analysis of the scientific theory of evolution” to students.
“Why would you not teach both theories at the same time?” Wise, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said, according to the Tampa Tribune.
Yes, the chairman of the education committee doesn’t understand why teachers can’t just provide students with facts and pseudo-facts simultaneously. No word yet on whether he expects science teachers to teach heliocentricism and geocentrism “at the same time,” or whether it’d be a good idea to teach gravity and “non-gravity.”
And in the larger context, it’s also worth noting that the GOP intention to focus primarily on the economy appears to have been quickly and completely forgotten.
Update: I neglected to mention that in the nine states in which anti-evolution measures are advancing, all nine have Republican majorities. It’s not a coincidence.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
As if coffee and dogs weren’t already two of my favorite things in the world, along come a couple of studies that make me love them both all the more.
One, published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke, finds that women who drink less than a cup of coffee per day are at increased risk of stroke; read another way, the study found that women who drink a cup of coffee or more daily have as much as a 25 percent lower risk of stroke than those who consume less.
The other, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, shows that people who own — and walk — dogs are far more likely than others to tally 150 minutes or more of leisure-time physical activity per week.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“The Holy Land is everywhere”
— Black Elk
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