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Chernynkaya On March - 25 - 2011

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.

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TAKE ACTION


US Uncut

Two things in life are certain: Death and taxes. Except for corporations.

Next National Action:THIS SATURDAY  March 26th!

 

Health Care for America NOW!

Take action here.

If you or anyone you know needs health coverage, see this great and helpful feature!

What Will Health Care Do For You.

 

We Are One

On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, where he had gone to stand with sanitation workers demanding their dream: The right to bargain collectively for a voice at work and a better life. The workers were trying to form a union with AFSCME.

Beginning with worship services over the April 1 weekend, and continuing through the week of April 4, unions, people of faith, civil and human rights activists, students and other progressive allies will host a range of community- and workplace-focused actions.

Join us in solidarity with working people in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and dozens of other states where well-funded, right-wing corporate politicians are trying to take away the rights Dr. King gave his life for: the freedom to bargain, to vote, to afford a college education and justice for all workers, immigrant and native-born. It’s a day to show movement. Teach-ins. Vigils. Faith events. A day to be creative, but clear: We are one.

FIND LOCAL ACTIONS

RESOURCES FOR ACTION

JOIN Working America here.

 

BUDGET


Romer: ‘You care about the deficit because it allows you to do things you need to do to help people who are suffering’

Ezra Klein:

Christina Romer served as the chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers from 2009 to 2010. She’s been back in the news recently arguing for a proposition that many find confusing: Washington, she says, needs to get serious about both stimulus and deficit reduction. We spoke earlier this afternoon, and a lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Ezra Klein: You said recently that 8.9 percent unemployment is a crisis and that we have tools we can use, and it’s “shameful” we’re not using them. What are those tools?

Christina Romer: I’d start with what the president talked about in the State of the Union, which is more public investment. He didn’t propose anything very bold, but another $50 billion of infrastructure spending would help. More funding for education programs and research and development tax credits and basic scientific research would be good, too. I would offer more state and local aid. Going further, we cut 2 percent off the payroll tax on the employee side in December and we could’ve done another 2 percent off the employer side. An economist will tell you it doesn’t matter if you cut the employee side or employer side, but in the short run, it doesn’t all come out in the wash. Making labor less expensive helps firms hire people.

Some people argue, though, that the unemployment we’re seeing is no longer about demand and is now about mismatched skills. If that’s the case, then these policies wouldn’t do much.

There’s this debate going on over what the source of the unemployment is: Do we not have enough aggregate demand, or is it structural? What frustrates me is the advocates of the structural theory go from saying it’s hard to turn construction workers into nurses to saying we should do nothing. If you think our problem is structural, there are things we should be doing: money for training, or helping people get out of their mortgages, or massive investment in Detroit. I don’t believe that skills are the problem here, but if that’s your point of view, there’s still a lot we can do. Saying it’s structural is not the same as saying it’s not our problem.

You’ve also criticized the Federal Reserve for not doing more. What would you like to see them doing?

I’m teaching a course this semester on macro policy from the Depression to today. One thing I had the class read was Ben Bernanke’s 2002 paper on self-induced paralysis in Japan and all the things they should’ve been doing. My reaction to it was, ‘I wish Ben would read this again.’ It was a shame to do a round of quantitative easing and put a number on it. Why not just do it until it helped the economy? That’s how you get the real expectations effect. So I would’ve made the quantitative easing bigger. If you look at the Fed futures market, people are expecting them to raise interest rates sooner than I think the Fed is likely to raise them. So I think something is going wrong with their communications policy. They could say we’re not going to raise the rate until X date. Those would be two concrete things that wouldn’t be difficult for them to do. More radically, they could go to a price-level target, which would allow inflation to be higher than the target for a few years in order to compensate for the past few years, when it’s been lower than the target.

Alan Greenspan recently published a paper (pdf) arguing that our high unemployment is the result of corporations choosing to sit on their cash, and that “a minimum of half and possibly as much as three-fourths” of why corporations are choosing to sit on their cash “can be explained by … the surge in government activism.” He says his argument is “buttressed by comparison with similar conundrums experienced during the 1930s,” and he concludes that “current government activism is hampering what should be a broad-based robust economic recovery.” What do you think of that argument?

He’s wrong about today and he’s wrong about the 1930s. What Milton Friedman explained about the 1930s is that financial institutions that have been through a terrible financial crisis tend to be quite cautious. Greesnpan could put that at his own doorstep: Letting a bubble build up and then having a meltdown in your system is what makes corporations and financial institutions gun-shy. That’s why they want to sit on huge piles of cash. It’s not because we had the audacity to strengthen some regulations, much less because we had the audacity to bail out the financial sector and have a huge fiscal stimulus.

The other criticism you frequently hear is that we’re simply broke, and thus we can’t afford to do more stimulus. You co-signed a statement with nine other past chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers calling for more deficit reduction, so how does that fit with your advocacy for more stimulus?

You care about the deficit because it allows you to do things you need to do to help people who are suffering.That’s the whole reason why I wish everybody would embrace the fiscal commission. If people do think we’re out of control of our budget, that surely can’t be good for investment. But how do we show we’re in control? House Republicans say it’s by cutting $61 billion out of this year’s budget. A more sensible view is that $61 billion won’t do anything, so why would anyone be reassured by that? The more sensible thing is we should have a package for short-term stimulus that also includes concrete policies that deal with the deficit, which means entitlements and taxes and defense spending and everything else.

There’s a joke in economics about the drunk who loses his keys in the street but only looks for them under the lightposts. When asked why, he says, ‘because that’s where the light is.’ That’s the problem with the deficit. Republicans want to bite off this little piece that they know how to deal with, not the broader problem, the one began long before this recession, that is much harder to deal with. The other thing with the Republicans is that their framework seems to be that you can’t increase spending on anything if you’re trying to move toward cuts in general. That’s odd. The idea we’ve got it just right and can’t rearrange spending doesn’t make any sense. We should be rearranging spending at the same time we’re dialing it down.

 

Students fight cuts nationwide

University of Nevada, Reno students rallied Monday against budget cuts at the Nevada Legislature in the largest rally ever in Carson City.

Student protests and lobbying are common in other states such as California and Pennsylvania, where education systems face cuts of up to 50 percent.

[…]

While student attendance at rallies is important in getting attention, the most effective way to mitigate cuts is to speak directly with state lawmakers, Johnson said.

“The first thing to do is to go to the source,” he said. “And that would be, first of all, the Legislature.”

Across the U.S., student lobbying at campuses has become one of the most prevalent means of influencing lawmaking in states facing drastic budget cuts. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett proposed a 50 percent cut to the state’s campuses earlier this year. California Gov. Jerry Brown proposed an 18 percent cut to higher education.

Pennsylvania State University Park is partnering with state schools in Temple, Lincoln and Pittsburgh to stave off the proposed cuts, said University Park Undergraduate Association President Christian Ragland.

“When you have four big schools collaborating, the effect is much greater,” Ragland said. “We’re going to the capitol with all our students, showing that we’re united.”

Pennsylvania student representatives are speaking at legislative committee meetings while promoting student phone calls to legislators, Ragland said. The schools have also organized several campus and statewide rallies to protest the cuts, he said.

The University of California Student Association, which represents 200,000 students at 14 UC schools, is working directly with legislators to find long-term revenue sources for education, UCSA President Claudia Magana said. The association is supporting California Assembly Bill 656 “Fair Share for Tuition,” which would impose a 12.5 percent severance tax on oil in California with direct proceeds to go toward higher education.

[…]

But rallies are not necessarily the most effective way to influence legislative decisions, said Brook Sebern, the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s student body president.

“I honestly don’t see how 500 students on the steps of the capital is going to save education,” he said. “We need to be collaborating with the Legislature. We need to be letting them know that we’re there to work with them.”

Sebern said communicating with lawmakers on a week-to-week basis has been part of the process that could help save education. In January, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed constitutional protection of Louisiana education. Louisiana universities have already been cut by about 40 percent throughout the past few years, Sebern said.

 

BUSINESS


AT&T Deal Raises Questions About Economy, Net Neutrality

Consumer advocacy groups and politicians from both sides of the aisle have begun to speculate on what the impending merger between AT&T and T-Mobile will mean for the country’s economy and the effect it could have on contentious policy issues, such as network neutrality.

The $39 billion deal was announced over the weekend. The sale will not officially close until the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Justice Department finish conducting regulatory reviews, which could take up to 18 months.

[…]

The acquisition would reduce the amount of national wireless providers from four to three and give AT&T approximately 130 million subscribers – about 43 percent of the market – making it the biggest mobile phone carrier in the United States. The FCC and the Justice Department could impose certain restrictions on AT&T/T-Mobile before approving the deal to ensure that the new entity gives up ownership of some of its airwaves and provides coverage in rural areas.

Critics of the deal warn that less competition could have a negative impact on the economy, particularly as mobile devices increase in popularity among average consumers.

“I think it has a number of implications for lots of different policies in the communications realm,” said Joel Kelsey, political director of media reform organization Free Press. When the FCC in December decided not to regulate wireless carriers to ensure net neutrality, “their justification was that you’re less likely to see some of the same types of anti-competitive actions for fear that a carrier would lose a large number of customers … looking at it through the lens of this merger, I think that justification has kind of gone out the window.”

Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of digital rights advocacy group Public Knowledge, said that consumers know “the results of arrangements like this – higher prices, fewer choices, less innovation … the US needs both strong network neutrality rules and a competition policy that requires dominant broadband providers to make their networks available to competitors.”

[…]

The Wall Street Journal predicted that if the deal is approved, several thousand jobs are likely to be lost through layoffs and attrition.

[…]

“The proposed AT&T and T-Mobile merger raises important questions about competition in the telecom industry and the effect on American consumers,” said Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which will hold a hearing to discuss the merger. “Congress must take a close look at the plan to ensure that the proposed merger promotes a healthy and competitive telecommunications market.”

Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-West Virginia), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, on Monday echoed Smith’s comments, stating, “With every passing day, wireless services are becoming more and more important to the way we communicate. So it is absolutely essential that both the Department of Justice and the FCC leave no stone unturned in determining what the impact of this combination is on the American people.”

 

Scott Walker: Bad for Wisconsin Business

His slogan during the Wisconsin gubernatorial campaign was “Wisconsin is open for business.” He put a premium on attracting new businesses to the state.

It just so happens that his method of bringing in new business aligns with longstanding conservative projects of deregulation and union-bashing. But how do they perform on their own terms? Simply put, is Wisconsin now “open for business?”

No. Right from the beginning, Walker’s cancellation of a high speed rail link between Madison and Milwaukee sent a rail car business out of Milwaukee, abandoning a large factory. The removal of collective bargaining rights from public employees may lead to a serious catastrophe for the state’s forestry industry, as they are likely to lose their third-party “certified market” status.

Now, his policies have sent other businesses throughout the state scurrying. A wind power project near Green Bay will be shuttered.

Chicago energy development firm Invenergy on Monday notified state regulators that it’s withdrawing plans to build a large wind power project south of Green Bay.

The company said it was concerned about moving forward because of the state of flux in Wisconsin’s regulatory climate when it comes to wind siting. Gov. Scott Walker has proposed a bill that would sharply curtail wind development.

In fact, since Walker has been sworn in, 19 plants have closed down for a variety of reasons. And as you can see, some of them are directly related to Walker’s policies on regulations, public employee unions, renewable energy and high speed rail. Without including Talgo (the rail car maker) and Invenergy (the wind power company), 2,207 workers in Wisconsin have lost their factory jobs since Walker’s inauguration. Even Walker’s one claim of “job creation” for Wisconsin is nonsense.

ECONOMY


The Austerity Delusion

Krugman:

Portugal’s government has just fallen in a dispute over austerity proposals. Irish bond yields have topped 10 percent for the first time. And the British government has just marked its economic forecast down and its deficit forecast up.

What do these events have in common? They’re all evidence that slashing spending in the face of high unemployment is a mistake. Austerity advocates predicted that spending cuts would bring quick dividends in the form of rising confidence, and that there would be few, if any, adverse effects on growth and jobs; but they were wrong.

It’s too bad, then, that these days you’re not considered serious in Washington unless you profess allegiance to the same doctrine that’s failing so dismally in Europe.

It was not always thus. Two years ago, faced with soaring unemployment and large budget deficits — both the consequences of a severe financial crisis — most advanced-country leaders seemingly understood that the problems had to be tackled in sequence, with an immediate focus on creating jobs combined with a long-run strategy of deficit reduction.

Why not slash deficits immediately? Because tax increases and cuts in government spending would depress economies further, worsening unemployment. And cutting spending in a deeply depressed economy is largely self-defeating even in purely fiscal terms: any savings achieved at the front end are partly offset by lower revenue, as the economy shrinks.

So jobs now, deficits later was and is the right strategy. Unfortunately, it’s a strategy that has been abandoned in the face of phantom risks and delusional hopes. On one side, we’re constantly told that if we don’t slash spending immediately we’ll end up just like Greece, unable to borrow except at exorbitant interest rates. On the other, we’re told not to worry about the impact of spending cuts on jobs because fiscal austerity will actually create jobs by raising confidence.

How’s that story working out so far?

More>>>

 

Fed chairman Bernanke to give press conferences

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke is to give regular press conferences. He will take questions four times a year, to coincide with the Fed’s quarterly economic forecasts, with the first due on 27 April.

The 98-year-old US monetary authority has never opened up in this way before, and until 1994 did not even announce its interest rate decisions. It comes after the Fed was criticised for its secretiveness about actions taken during the 2008 financial crisis. Earlier this week the central bank lost a court case, forcing it to disclose the names of banks that received emergency loans during the financial meltdown.

Mr. Bernanke’s decision brings him into line with other central bankers.

The European Central Bank president, Jean-Claude Trichet, gives a press conference after every committee meeting, while the Bank of England governor, Mervyn King, gives quarterly briefings to the press. The Fed chairman, whose words can move the markets, has a history of opening up the traditionally opaque institution. He has already given two in-depth television interviews, and has taken questions after speeches. He also arranged an unusual video-conference last autumn.

“The introduction of regular press briefings is intended to further enhance the clarity and timeliness of the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy communications,” it said in a statement on its website.

 

States Pass Budget Pain to Cities

The state budget squeeze is fast becoming a city budget squeeze, as struggling states around the nation plan deep cuts in aid to cities and local governments that will almost certainly result in more service cuts, layoffs and local tax increases.

The cuts are widespread. Ohio plans to slash aid to Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and other cities and local governments by more than a half-billion dollars over the next two years under the budget proposed last week by its new Republican governor, John R. Kasich. Nebraska passed a law this month eliminating direct state aid to Omaha and other municipalities. The governors of Wisconsin and Michigan have called for sending less money to Milwaukee, Detroit and other local governments.

And it is not only Republicans who are cutting aid to cities: Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, decided not to restore $302 million in aid to New York City that was cut last year, while Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, another Democrat, has called for cutting local aid to Boston and other cities by some $65 million.

Some mayors said the proposed cuts could force them to raise local property taxes, even as many homeowners complain that they are already overtaxed. Many are combing through their budgets, looking to wring out more savings where they can. Libraries may close. Garbage collection could be curtailed. Potholes might linger a bit longer. Some warned that they could be forced to lay off more city workers, including police officers and firefighters.

[…]

The reductions in state aid, along with falling property tax revenues that are finally catching up with lower home values, are major sources of fiscal stress for many cities. Ben S. Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, said in a speech this month that “many localities have been hard hit by reductions in state aid, which in 2008 accounted for about 30 percent of local revenues.” And Moody’s Investors Service, the ratings agency, said in a report last week that many states “are increasingly pushing down their problems to their local governments.” The Moody’s report warned that this would be “the toughest year for local governments since the economic downturn began.”

The cuts are a vivid illustration of a fact of fiscal life: budgetary pain flows downhill. Although state tax collections are finally improving again after the longest and deepest decline on record, they remain well below their prerecession levels. Stimulus money from Washington, which helped keep many states afloat over the last two years, is drying up. So states facing large deficits are proposing cuts in local aid.

[…]

Chris Hoene, the director of research for the National League of Cities, said that many states eliminated direct aid to cities — used to keep property taxes low, ease disparities among localities and help pay for general government services — after past recessions. Now, he said, most of the coming state cuts will be in the form of cuts to specific programs. Cuts to child health care, mental health programs, libraries or transportation will all have an impact on cities. On top of that, many states also have complex revenue-sharing programs with local governments, and a number of them are proposing to keep more of the money for themselves.

 

Eleven charts that explain everything that’s wrong with America.

How Rich are the Superrich?

A huge share of the nation’s economic growth over the past 30 years has gone to the top one-hundredth of one percent, who now make an average of $27 million per household. The average income for the bottom 90 percent of us? $31,244.

Note: The 2007 data (the most current) doesn't reflect the impact of the housing market crash. In 2007, the bottom 60% of Americans had 65% of their net worth tied up in their homes. The top 1%, in contrast, had just 10%. The housing crisis has no doubt further swelled the share of total net worth held by the superrich.

Winners Take All

The superrich have grabbed the bulk of the past three decades’ gains.

Out of Balance

A Harvard business prof and a behavioral economist recently asked more than 5,000 Americans how they thought wealth is distributed in the United States.Most thought that it’s
more balanced than it actually is. Asked to choose their ideal distribution of wealth, 92% picked one that was even more equitable.

Capitol Gain

Why Washington is closer to Wall Street than Main Street.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) $451.1 million
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) $435.4 million Rep.
Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) $366.2 million
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) $294.9 million Rep.
Jared Polis (D-Colo.) $285.1 million
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) $283.1 million
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisc.) $231.2 million
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) $201.5 million
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) $136.2 million
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) $108.1 million
Combined net worth: $2.8 billion

Congressional data from 2009. Family net worth data from 2007. Sources: Center for Responsive Politics; US Census; Edward Wolff, Bard College.

Who’s Winning

For a healthy few, it’s getting better all the time.

Your Loss, Their Gain

How much income have you given up for the top 1 percent?

 

EDUCATION


The Public Indoctrination System

Several possible Republican presidential candidates descended upon a home schooling rally in Iowa yesterday, including current favorite Ron Paul, and one thing they all had in common was that they all fear public education. They fear that if we don’t change things soon, we may find ourselves living in a world where children care about the environment, where they know the value of condoms, and where children are taught — family values! Holy shit!

(Reuters) – Three potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates expressed hostility toward the public school system at a home schooling rally on Wednesday in the early presidential caucus state of Iowa.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul told the crowd government wants “absolute control” of the “indoctrination” of children. Paul spoke along with Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Georgia businessman Herman Cain.

“The public school system now is a propaganda machine,” Paul said, prompting applause from the crowd of hundreds of home schooling families. “They start with our kids even in kindergarten, teaching them about family values, sexual education, gun rights, environmentalism – and they condition them to believe in so much which is totally un-American.” [...]

“More importantly, talking about our Creator – our rights that came from our Creator, acknowledging that and giving him the glory, folks,” said LaVan, who served as master of ceremonies at the rally.

Wait a minute. Teaching kids about family values and gun rights is now considered un-American among conservatives? Did I fall into a coma for an undisclosed period of time and wake up in the world where everything is backwards? What year is it!?

ENERGY


NO LESSONS LEARNED FROM GULF SPILL

The Rachel Maddow Show does an exclusive report on the new approvals for Gulf deep water drilling.

For the oil and gas drilling industry it’s something called a blowout preventer. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because you remember this image. This image that played out on tv screens across the country like a horror movie advertisement night after night, week after week, all last year. This image of crude oil flowing unabated into the Gulf of Mexico causing the worst oil spill in U.S. history. That image we have now learned was the result of that oil well’s proverbial air bag, as it were, not working. it was the result of the blowout preventer on that well not doing its job. What we are able to report tonight exclusively is that that is not just an explanation of what happened in the BP oil spill. It is not even just a scandal about the BP oil spill or about the oil industry. It is a fundamental, baseline screw-up in this industry that is continuing to put the country at risk right now. The government knows about it. The government could be stopping it. and they appear to be trying to let it slide without explanation. Let me explain.

Watch the video of the show here.

 

HEALTH


Why We May Not Learn Much New About Radiation Risks From Fukushima

When it comes to health effects from low radiation doses, scientists don’t know beans.

To be more precise, doses below 100 millisieverts are in a gray zone. Safety standards — such as the one that limits drinking water exposure for infants to less than about 2 millisieverts — are based on extrapolation from the best data scientists have. Those figures come mainly from a 60-year study of health effects of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

That was a unique research opportunity — and let’s hope it remains that way.

But some scientists think the Fukushima power plant disaster — the second-worst nuclear power accident in history — offers another precious opportunity to learn more about what happens to people exposed to radioactivity in the millisievert range.

An article posted Wednesday by The New Scientist quotes experts who say there’s no time to lose in setting up a study that would map radiation doses and monitor the health of those who’ve been exposed in the Japanese incident.

One of those experts points to the Hiroshima-based Radiation Effects Research Foundation as the obvious candidate to do the work. It has conducted the six-decade-long project following atomic-bomb survivors.

I called Evan Douple, RERF’s associate chief of research, to ask what he thought of the idea. What he said surprised me.

Here are the highlights from our conversation, edited mainly for length.

 

HEALTH CARE


Next to You– Take the checkup and find out how health reform helps:

Right now, the Affordable Care Act is helping millions of Americans like you, your friends, and family. Take a minute to answer the questions below and find out how health reform helps you and your nearest and dearest.

 

House GOP threatens to expand health reform probe to industry

Rep. Fred Upton, chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is threatening to press healthcare industry officials on the deals they made with the Obama administration during the health insurance reform process, expanding the probe beyond just the White House. But TPM’s Brian Beutler thinks that could backfire on the GOP.

As part of his quest to publicize all of the dealmaking that characterized the health care reform process, Upton says he’ll consider pressing industry leaders for details on their private negotiations with the Obama administration.

“It’s something that’s not off the table, in terms of what we may do,” Upton said at a recent press conference with House leadership….

Changing course would give him easier access to the information he seeks (or claims to seek), but might put him behind the eight ball politically. That’s because many of the stakeholders in question — drug manufacturers, hospitals, and other interested parties — either support the law, or entered a sort of non-aggression pact with the administration.

And if Upton drags those leaders — many of whom lean Republican — up to the Hill for a public hearing about their participation in the process, he may hear more about how they think it’s a good law, than about how shady the whole process was.

[…]

The deals were pretty public and subject to plenty of traditional media and blog reports, as well as official disclosure from the White House so the chances of Upton finding anything embarrassing to the administration—his chief aim—isn’t likely. It also might sour, a bit, relations between the GOP and some of their staunch supporters in the industry. And, ironically, the likeliest deal yet to be exposed would put the GOP in a public policy bind.

 

Incentives Don’t Work

From Baseline Scenario:

Driving home from school today, I listened to a Fresh Air interview from two months ago with Atul Gawande, by now perhaps the most famous doctor in the policy intelligentsia. The interview was based on a New Yorker article discussing how some doctors and even some health care payor organizations are trying to reduce health care costs for the most expensive people while improving outcomes. In Camden, New Jersey, one doctor found that one percent of people generate thirty percent of health care costs.

One refrain you heard incessantly during the health care reform debate was that we have high health care costs because of overconsumption and we have overconsumption because people don’t bear a high enough share of their marginal health care costs, so the solution is to increase copays and deductibles. This is what Economics 101 would tell you: people respond to incentives. But Gawande discussed one large company that tried this year after year, but only saw their costs going up. The problem was that while most members responded to the higher copays and kept their costs more or less steady, the 5 percent of members who generated 60 percent of the costs behaved differently. Or, rather, they also reduced consumption (of doctor’s visits and prescription medications), but as a result they often had catastrophic outcomes. These were people with heart disease on cholesterol-lowering medications, and when they went off their medications they ended up in the hospital with heart attacks and then with congestive heart failure.

If incentives worked on this level, we should have solved the problem already. Employers all want to bring health care costs down, so if any insurer could bring health care costs down they would have a competitive advantage, and so insurers should be trying to bring health care costs down. But it’s not working. One explanation is that insurers don’t have enough market power compared to providers (like large hospital chains); I believe Uwe Reinhardt has explained the situation this way.

Another way of looking at the problem is to note that there is no one who is trying to brings costs down directly. Sure, insurers try to do it, but they do it through the types of monetary incentives that economists love: higher copays, lower payments for various procedures, etc. But that’s not actually what most companies do when they have a cost problem. If you run an auto company and it’s costing too much to build a car, you don’t lower the transfer price that you pay to that factory and let incentives solve the problem. You go and figure out what the problem is and you engineer a solution, whether by redesigning the manufacturing process, reengineering the product to use cheaper parts, negotiating lower wage costs, negotiating lower input costs, or something else. That’s how you solve most problems in the business world — not by tweaking some clever incentive scheme.

This is a high-level analogy for what Gawande is talking about: doctors and health care organizations identifying their most expensive patients or members, figuring out what’s wrong with them, and getting them the right treatments. In the few examples that Gawande discusses, it results in cost reductions on the order of 20 percent with better outcomes. It seems that for the people who consume the most health care dollars, you can save money simply by focusing on giving them better care — because right now their big problems are things like coverage gaps that prevent them from getting basic care, not being on the right medications, and ending up in the emergency room for catastrophic problems. Maybe for most people you would not save money simply by providing better care, but for the few people who consume most of the system’s resources, maybe you would save money. The problem is that with few exceptions, no one is trying to do that. That’s what we need an incentive for.

 

IMMIGRATION


Census offers new proof that Hispanic, Asian growth skyrocketed in past decade

The nation’s racial and ethnic mix shifted sharply over the past decade, driven by soaring numbers of young Hispanics and Asians and an aging white population that was essentially stagnant.

The census statistics released Thursday from the 2010 count underscore the country’s rush toward a day, barely three decades from now, when non-Hispanic whites will be a minority.

Hispanics accounted for more than half the nation’s growth between 2000 and 2010, jumping to more than 50 million because of high birth rates and immigration. One in six Americans are now Hispanic.

The growth was most dramatic in states that have not traditionally had large Hispanic communities, particularly in the South. Their numbers more than doubled in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee, for example, and almost doubled in many other states, including Virginia. Seven states would have lost population if it weren’t for Hispanics.

Like Hispanics, Asians also experienced double-digit increases. In 25 states, including Virginia, Asians rose by a greater number of people than blacks did. Asians make up 5 percent of the nation’s 309 million residents, and African Americans account for 12 percent.

The black population remained stable, slightly outpacing the nation’s 9.7 percent growth rate, while whites who aren’t Hispanic barely inched up at all — just 1 percent — and diminished as a proportion of the population, from 69 percent to about 64 percent.

More>>>

 

Records: Haley Barbour lobbied for undocumented immigrants on behalf of Mexican government

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s assertion that he did not personally work for the government of Mexico when his lobbying firm represented the country a decade ago is contradicted by the firm’s own federal filings, which describe him as a leader of the team assigned to the account.

Barbour’s lobbying work revolved around easing immigration restrictions and creating path to legal residency for undocumented immigrants.

That position was once considered mainstream in the GOP, but today’s conservatives think you’re a communist if you even dare suggest that we might need immigration reform, so it’s no wonder that Barbour tried to paper over his work for the Mexican government. He’d probably rather be accused of lying than admit what the records show he did.

Also noteworthy: Barbour had initially denied his role on Saturday, while attending the state GOP convention in California, which last I checked isn’t anywhere near his homestate of Mississippi. That’s relevant because last week a homestate paper revealed that Barbour had asked taxpayers to foot the bill for over $300,000 on travel expenses in 2010, spending 175 days outside of the state he was elected to govern. Combined with the news that Barbour had asked taxpayers to cover the expenses of his recent campaign trip to CPAC, it’s fair to say that Haley Barbour is having a really bad week.

 

JUSTICE


US Soldier Gets 24 Years for Murders of 3 Afghans

A U.S. soldier who pleaded guilty Wednesday to the murders of three Afghan civilians was sentenced to 24 years in prison after saying “the plan was to kill people” in a conspiracy with four fellow soldiers.

Military judge Lt. Col. Kwasi Hawks said he initially intended to sentence Spc. Jeremy Morlock, of Wasilla, Alaska, to life in prison with possibility of parole but was bound by the plea deal.

The 22-year-old Morlock is a key figure in a war crimes probe that has raised some of the most serious criminal allegations to come from the war in Afghanistan. Army investigators accused him of taking a lead role in the killings of three unarmed Afghan men in Kandahar province in January, February and May 2010.

His sentencing Wednesday came hours after he pleaded guilty to three counts of murder, and one count each of conspiracy, obstructing justice and illegal drug use at his court martial at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle.

Morlock, the first of five soldiers from the 5th Stryker Brigade to be court-martialed in the case, will receive 352 days off of his sentence for time served and could be eligible for parole in about seven years, said his lead attorney, Frank Spinner. He will be dishonorably discharged as part of his sentence.

Under his plea deal, he has agreed to testify against his co-defendants.

[…]

Earlier this week, the German news magazine Der Spiegel published three graphic photos showing Morlock and other soldiers posing with dead Afghans. One image features Morlock grinning as he lifts the head of a corpse by its hair.

 

Feds Indict Ensign Staffer Whose Wife Ensign Slept With

Douglas Hampton is a former top aide to Senator John Ensign, and at this point he must really be hating his old boss. Federal prosecutors have hit Hampton with seven charges of conflict of interest, which were discovered during an investigation of whether Ensign tried to cover up his affair with Hampton’s wife. (Ensign’s parents gave the Hamptons $96,000 as a gift in April 2008. The Nevada senator admitted to the affair in June 2009.)

The charge against Hampton is connected to the fact that he left Ensign’s employ in April of 2008, but lobbied Ensign’s office on behalf of an “airline and energy company,” according to USA Today, before a year had passed; ethics rules require a one-year “cooling off” period for congressional staffers before they can lobby their old pals.

So Hampton has gotten caught up in a federal investigation of Ensign’s affair with his wife. In an additional bitter pill, the Feds announced late last year that they’re not planning to charge Ensign with anything. Hampton has called on Ensign to resign; Ensign has said he won’t see reelection next year.

 

Muslim Woman’s Right to Wear Hijab in Custody Upheld; DOJ Sues California to Protect Sikh Man’s Right to Wear Beard in Prison

Souhair Khatib, a practicing Muslim, in accordance with her religious beliefs, wears a hijab, or headscarf, covering her hair and neck when in public. Khatib and her husband pled guilty in Orange County Superior Court to a misdemeanor violation of California welfare law. The Khatibs were sentenced to three years of probation and ordered to complete 30 days of community service.

[…]

At the booking counter, a male officer ordered Khatib to hand over her belongings and remove her headscarf. According to her lawsuit, having her head uncovered in public, especially in front of men outside of her immediate family, is a “serious breach of Khatib’s faith and a deeply humiliating and defiling experience.”

[…]

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Southern California filed a complaint on behalf of Khatib against the county of Orange, the sheriff and courthouse officers alleging, among other things, violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) enacted by Congress to “protect … institutionalized persons who are unable freely to attend to their religious needs and are therefore dependent on the government’s permission and accommodation for exercise of their religion.”

The district court dismissed Khatib’s RLUIPA claims on the ground that the courthouse holding facility was not a covered institution under the act, because an inmate’s stay in a courthouse holding facility is generally temporary and transitory and constant movement within holding facilities makes “unlimited exercise of religious and expressive freedoms impractical. Staff at such facilities do not have the luxuries that make such freedoms feasible in longer term institutions, to which RLUIPA plainly applies.”

On March 15, sitting en banc, the entire panel of 11 Ninth Circuit judges reversed the district court and held that RLUIPA did apply. (Souhair Khatib v. County of Orange, 2011 DJDAR 3813.)

[…]

On March 15, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the state of California alleging that a Sikh inmate, who refused to trim his beard for religious reasons, was unfairly disciplined. Sukhjinder Basra said that guards told him he violated a rule prohibiting inmates from growing facial hair longer than a half inch. As punishment, Basra said he was ordered to perform extra prison duties and spend ten days confined to his bunk. He said he also lost 30 days of credit for good behavior. Sikhs are required by their religion to wear unshorn hair wrapped in a turban and a beard.

The ACLU of Southern California filed a lawsuit on behalf of Basra against the corrections department on similar grounds last month.

 

MEDIA


Huffington Post yanks Breitbart from front page

Last night, HuffPo was still sticking by Breitbart, arguing that the site was committed to airing a range of voices and maintaining that Breitbart’s posts on HuffPo had remained civil. But this morning, the Daily Caller published an interview with Breitbart in which he railed at Van Jones as a “commie punk” and a “cop killer-supporting, racist, demagogic freak.” This put HuffPo in a particularly awkward spot, and now HuffPo has had enough.

HuffPo spokesman Mario Ruiz emails me:

“The Huffington Post is committed to fostering a lively and often provocative debate about the issues of the day and encourages a wide range of voices from all perspectives to participate. Andrew Brietbart’s ad hominem attack on Van Jones in The Daily Caller violates the tenets of debate and civil discourse we have strived for since the day we launched. As a result, we will no longer feature his posts on the front page.

He is welcome to continue publishing his work on HuffPost provided it adheres to our editorial guidelines, as the two posts he published on HuffPost did — guidelines that include a strict prohibition on ad hominem attacks. Our decision today recognizes that placing posts on the front page is an editorial call that elevates some posts over others, and is an indication of how seriously we take these judgment calls.”

 

MILITARY


Soldier, Dad, Whistleblower: Atheist in a Foxhole Takes on Evangelistic Military Hierarchy

Justin Griffith is a twenty-eight year old active duty soldier, a sergeant at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He is also a new dad. Griffith likes what he does. He describes the military as a place that has structure, discipline, and opportunities. From his point of view, he has a full life, and a good one. And yet it was Griffith, as much anyone, who blew open the U.S. Army’s Spiritual Fitness program this winter. Why? Why make waves in a job you love among people you respect? Why risk the pariah status that is so often the lot of whistleblowers? Griffith agreed to let me ask him those questions.

[…]

Griffith: I was talking about the day-to-day, face-to-face perspective. The big stuff that’s coming down from the top, that’s different. There are existing rules in place that are being violated systematically. For instance, soldiers are very vulnerable when they come out of basic training, and evangelistic organizations take advantage of that to target them. Look at the picture of the five hundred soldiers being converted by the Billy Graham people. It’s 200 here, 150 there on stage in uniform. It’s epidemic, and I find it outrageous. The amount of money being spent by American citizens to support Evangelical proselytizing activities is substantial. The smokescreen about spiritual fitness having nothing to do with proselytizing is just that–smoke.

More>>>

POLITICS


The Obama Effect Abroad

According to Gallup polls in over a hundred countries, average global approval for the leadership of the United States is higher than for other obvious candidate countries. While there was a slight decline in 2010 compared to 2009, approval under the Obama administration is markedly higher than it was under the Bush administration. The trends are not even across the globe, with approval for the U.S. suffering especially in the Americas in 2010. Perhaps Obama’s recent trip has some effect in that regard. China appears to have lost some momentum.

Whether all of this matters is a matter of debate. Global politics is, after all, not a popularity contest where you lose if you are voted off the island (no matter how much Thomas Friedman may want that). There is some evidence that it can be important. For example, Alan Krueger and Jitka Maleckova found in an article published in Science that there is a greater incidence of international terrorism when people of one country disapprove of the leadership of another country.

 

Behind Michigan’s “Financial Martial Law”: Corporations and Right-Wing Billionaires

Dubbed “financial martial law” by one approving state GOP lawmaker and “disaster capitalism” by critics, Snyder and his bill have become a target for Wisconsin-like protests. Several thousand demonstrators marched on the Michigan Capitol in the days before Snyder signed the bill. But gone unmentioned is a little-known Michigan think tank that for years has been pushing for the most controversial provisions in Snyder’s bill—and that’s bankrolled by some of the same right-wing millionaires and billionaires that backed Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and his anti-union legislation.

Since 2005, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy has urged reforms to Michigan law giving more power and protection to emergency financial managers, state-appointed officials who parachute into ailing cities or school districts and employ drastic measures to fix budgets on the brink of collapse. In January, the free-market-loving center published four recommendations, including granting emergency managers the power to override elected officials (such as a mayor or school board member) and toss out union contracts. All four ended up in Snyder’s legislation.

“The Mackinac Center has been tied at the hip with the Republican Party establishment for years,” says Doug Pratt, public affairs director at the Michigan Education Association. “It goes to their funding sources; it goes to their ideology.”

Mackinac is part of a network of state-based groups associated with the Heritage Foundation, the influential right-wing think tank in Washington. Its past and present board members include Robert Teeter, a GOP strategist and ’92 campaign manager for George H.W. Bush; Margaret Rieker, a former vice chairwoman of the Republican National Committee; and Joseph Lehman, a former vice president at the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington.

The Mackinac Center does not disclose its donors. But a review of tax records shows that the group’s funders include the charitable foundations of the nation’s largest corporations and a host of wealthy conservative and libertarian benefactors. Between 2002 and 2009, the Mackinac Center’s donors included the Charles G. Koch Foundation ($69,151), founded by the chairman and CEO of Koch Industries, who, with his brother, David, is a major backer of conservative causes; the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation ($80,000), the charity tied to the son of the co-founder of Amway, the multibillion-dollar direct marketing company; the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, established by the parents of Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who serves as the foundation’s vice president ($195,000); and the Walton Family Foundation ($100,000), established by Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and his wife, Helen.

More>>>

 

Realistic look inside the competing pressures and concerns Reid and Boehner

Congressional leaders in both parties agree they have to stop putting off the inevitable and reach a deal to fund the federal government through September, the end of the fiscal year.

[…]

But there is one big obstacle in the way of a long-term deal, one that goes beyond the arguments over dollars and cents. The budget proposal the House Republican majority approved this year included a number of unrelated amendments — riders, in Congress-speak — that would impose restrictions on federal agencies.

One rider would prohibit federal money from going to Planned Parenthood. Another would curtail the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to monitor air and water, and restrict the use of funds to inspect coal mines.

For Democrats, these riders are deal-breakers, and they are the ideological fault line in talks taking place this week.

“We have to get beyond this political bumper-sticker museum,” Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said, accusing Republicans of reverting to the social-issue wars of the 1980s and 1990s.

House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), however, has delivered a much different message to Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and the Obama administration. “A bill without any riders cannot pass the House,” a senior House GOP aide said, requesting anonymity to discuss Boehner’s internal deliberations.

The two congressional leaders, Boehner and Reid, find themselves in a difficult situation. Both are skilled dealmakers, and they both know they must both find a way to claim partial victory — Boehner by persuading Reid to keep some of the Republican riders intact, and Reid by persuading Boehner to remove the provisions that most incense Democrats.

Boehner is in an especially tough spot. He oversees the largest Republican majority in more than 60 years. But it includes 87 newcomers who were elected in part because they railed against these kinds of backroom deals. So far, the Class of 2010 has been willing to follow Boehner’s lead, approving by wide margins two recent short-term spending resolutions that kept the government running in exchange for $10 billion in savings.

Yet their patience, as well as that of the nearly 100 other party conservatives emboldened by the freshmen, has run thin. One freshman, using this week’s congressional recess to hold town hall and community meetings, found himself undecided about whether he would demand a perfect bill, risking a shutdown, or settle for a compromise.

[…]

Boehner is said to be willing to pass a compromise bill that would appeal to most of the Republicans and attract some Democrats to clear the 218-vote hurdle for a majority. But it is doubtful that he would agree, in his first major deal as speaker, to anything that sharply divides his 241-member conference.

Meanwhile, Reid is shepherding a caucus whose ranks have shrunk by seven senators since January 2010, clinging to a majority of 53. He is loath to accept a compromise that would infuriate the liberal wing of his caucus.

“Not only no, but hell no,” Reid told reporters last week when asked whether his chamber’s Democrats would tolerate the rider eliminating Planned Parenthood funding.

Some Democrats admit that they are willing to support a final 2011 deal that makes steep cuts in federal spending, as long as the package is free of the policy riders, such as those restrictions on Planned Parenthood and the EPA.

“If the riders stay out, it becomes significantly more doable,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said.

House and Senate leaders are eager to get past the 2011 budget impasse — which is leftover from last year, when the Democrat-led House and Senate couldn’t agree on a budget — because it is diverting their attention from the larger and more difficult issues that await.

A contentious vote on whether to lift the debt ceiling above its current $14.3 trillion is slated for late spring. And a bipartisan collection of more than five dozen senators is demanding sweeping action on the most pressing fiscal issues facing the government: reforming entitlements such as Medicaid and Medicare, and simplifying the cumbersome federal tax code.

 

Bachmann 2012: Good for the Media, Bad for the GOP

Mike Murphy:

Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann is now threatening us with the idea of exploring a Presidential race, it was announced today. Well first, enough with the exploratory committees. They are a tired gimmick in Presidential races. Just admit you are running, or don’t run. As per a Michele Bachmann candidacy, this is good news for the media and bad news for the GOP. The press will be delighted, with a new gaff-prone carnival candidacy to snicker at. It is pure gold for the writers’ room at Saturday Night Live.

Luckily the Bachmann effect will be relatively small. Other more serious candidates will dominate the Republican primary process. But her candidacy will not be helpful to the larger Republican or conservative cause. I know it is a free country, Rep. Bachmann can certainly run for President if she wants to. But she is a sure-fire loser, both in the GOP nomination race and — should fearsome Martians invade the Earth and demand at ray-gun point that she be the Republican nominee — in a general election.

My guess is that she’ll get some real attention and potential a decent number of voters in the Iowa caucus, raise enough money through the mail and on the internet to have a basic campaign operation and steal some attention from the more serious candidates at the debates. The White House political staff will enjoy a few big belly laughs. That is about it. Her campaign, like Trump’s, is about ego and nothing else. There is no patriotism, of the Tea Party variety or any other, in that. There was a time in the Republican Party, before the chaos of the Internet, cable TV howlers and all the rest of the modern campaign circus when pragmatic political bosses would labor silently and effectively to prevent train wreck candidacies like Michele Bachmann from sprouting up and distracting attention from the very serious business of nominating the party’s Presidential candidate.

SCIENCE


Repeated stress produces long-lasting resistance to stroke damage in the brain

An innate protective response that makes the brain resistant to injury from stroke can be made to last for months longer than previously documented, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis report.

The inducible protective phenomenon, called tolerance, typically lasts only a few days. Washington University scientists have now induced tolerance lasting for at least two months in adult mice. Researchers say the results suggest that this new kind of tolerance, which they were studying for its potential to reduce brain injury from stroke, may actually be applicable to a variety of neurodegenerative conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

The key to turning on tolerance in the brain is positively stressing tissue without harming it, a process called preconditioning. Washington University scientists extended tolerance to two months by repeating the preconditioning stimulus — in this case, exposure to low oxygen — every other day for two weeks prior to a stroke. The results appeared online March 17 in Annals of Neurology.

“Stress has negative connotations for most of us, but the right kinds of stress, or stress patterns, can actually promote beneficial responses in cells and tissues without causing any harm,” says Jeffrey M. Gidday, PhD, associate professor of cell biology and physiology, of neurological surgery and of ophthalmology and visual sciences. “If we can learn how these positive effects are created by nature, we might be able to pre-treat patients who are at high risk of stroke, and thus significantly reduce brain injury if a stroke occurs. We might also be able to use tolerance to slow the advance of chronic neurodegenerative diseases.”

 

UNIONS


The Green Justice Coalition, Helping Labor and the Environment

According to Republican governors in places such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana, our states are in crisis and the only solution is to squeeze middle-class employees. Unions, in their view, are part of the problem. And if you point out that their attempts to seize power in the name of balancing budgets do little, if anything, to solve the real economic problems we face, they will insist that there is no alternative.

They are dead wrong. There is a better answer.

These governors could travel to Boston and the North Shore in Massachusetts to talk to Ana Perdomo about how we can create jobs, raise working standards and increase services for hard-hit communities – all while reinvesting public dollars in local taxpayers’ communities. The politicians might even learn a thing or two about protecting the environment.

A remarkable process has taken place around green jobs in the Boston area. It did not come easy, but rather took hard work and cooperation from local labor unions and community organizations. These are the groups that Perdomo encountered when she first became active in green justice organizing. Having been involved with a community organization known as Neighbor to Neighbor, Ana learned about training that was providing information about home weatherization. She was interested because she knew first-hand the financial hardship that inadequate insulation and drafty windows could cause in low-income communities. “My bills were so high that I often felt I would pay so much on my heating that it was almost like paying a second rent,” she explains.

Impressed by the workshop, Perdomo committed to help educate others. Together with another neighbor, she formed the Lynn Green Justice Committee. For the past two years, she has led community outreach efforts and joined in the actions of a broader network known as the Green Justice Coalition.

Founded in 2009, the Green Justice Coalition brought together labor activists, environmentalists and community groups to make sure the concerns of each of these constituencies would be heard. While Perdomo focused on making sure that green energy drives reached into low-income communities that often did not benefit from weatherization programs, other members of the region-wide coalition worked to make sure that public money used to support these programs resulted in the creation of decent jobs – and that these jobs would go to members of local communities. The result, Perdomo believes, is “a new way for us to push forward our economy, our communities and our country.”

More>>>


Buried Provision in House GOP Bill Would Cut Off Food Stamps to Entire Families if One Member Strikes

Much of the bill is based upon verifying that those who receive food stamps benefits are meeting the federal requirements for doing so. However, one section buried deep within the bill adds a startling new requirement. The bill, if passed, would actually cut off all food stamp benefits to any family where one adult member is engaging in a strike against an employer:


The bill also includes a provision that would exempt households from losing eligibility, “if the household was eligible immediately prior to such strike, however, such family unit shall not receive an increased allotment as the result of a decrease in the income of the striking member or members of the household.”

 

Indiana Official Reportedly Advised Scott Walker To Stage A Phony Violent Attack By Union Supporters

 

Drive to recall Wisconsin GOPers continues apace

Rachel Weiner has the latest from Wisconsin — Dems say they’ve gathered more than half the signatures they need to hold elections to recall GOP Senators, and are now flatly predicting they’ll take back the state senate:

Twenty days into a recall campaign spurred by the state’s rollicking budget fight, Wisconsin Democrats are now predicting that they will be able to take back control of the state Senate this summer.

Statewide, Democrats say they have over fifty percent of the number of petitions they need to recall eight Republican state senators, although they are not over the fifty percent threshold in every district.

“We’re well ahead of schedule,” said Graeme Zielinski, Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman. “I think in mid-summer, you will have a Democratic Senate.” The party would not release detailed percentages of where the party stood in each targeted seat.

Click the link for a detailed rundown of which GOP senators are in the most trouble.

 

Emails Show Scott Walker Misrepresented Voters’ Support For His Union Busting

Yesterday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) appeared on Fox Business to defend his union-busting crusade, claiming that a majority of his state’s residents were behind him. As evidence, he cited a new analysis from the Associated Press of emails to the governor’s office.

WALKER: And again today, the Associated Press went through the more than 150,000 emails that we have, and found the majority of them, as I’ve said, are people who support our reforms. Who support our reasonable measures.

[…]

Walker has repeatedly made the claim that emails coming to his office were overwhelmingly supportive. Most egregiously, at a February 18 press conference, Walker said, “The more than 8,000 emails we got today, the majority are telling us to stay firm.” But in doing so yesterday, he completely distorted what the AP actually found.

The AP analysis reported that, “for several preceding days, the emails of support Walker received had been vastly outnumbered by those opposed to his plan.” For example, on February 11, the day Walker formally outlined his “budget-repair bill,” emails sent to his office “ran more than 5-to-1 against his plan.” Eventually, the emails turned in his favor, but Walker ignores the nuance in his appearance yesterday.

The AP only obtained the emails through a legal settlement in which Walker was forced to pay $7,000 in legal fees. Under the state’s open record laws, the AP and a local newspaper had requested the emails Walker referenced in his press conference, but he refused to disclose them for sometime, before finally agreeing to the settlement.

And beyond the emails, numerous polls have shown that Wisconsin voters increasingly turned against Walker. In fact, polls show that Walker would lose if he were up for re-election now.

 

WEDGE ISSUES

 

 

Wave of Anti-Abortion Bills Advance in the States

Dozens of bills are advancing through statehouses nationwide that would put an array of new obstacles — legal, financial and psychological — in the paths of women seeking abortions.

The tactics vary: mandatory sonograms and anti-abortion counseling, sweeping limits on insurance coverage, bans on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. To abortion-rights activists, they add up to the biggest political threat since the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 that legalized abortion nationwide.

“It’s just this total onslaught,” said Elizabeth Nash, who tracks state legislation for the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-health research organization that supports abortion rights.

What’s different this year is not the raw number of anti-abortion bills, but the fact that many of the toughest, most substantive measures have a good chance of passage due to gains by conservative Republicans in last year’s legislative and gubernatorial elections. On Tuesday, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed into law a bill that would impose a longest-in-the-nation waiting period of three days before women could have an abortion — and also require them to undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers that discourage abortions.

[…]

In more than 20 states, bills have been introduced to restrict insurance coverage of abortion. In Utah, one such measures — affecting both private and public plans — has cleared both legislative chambers and been sent to Gov. Gary Herbert.

Of the various types of bills, the insurance bans could have the broadest impact, according to some abortion-rights activists.

[…]

Florida is a prime battleground. With a new Republican governor, Rick Scott, who touts his anti-abortion beliefs, conservative lawmakers have introduced at least 18 bills on the topic — including proposals to require ultrasound and to ban most insurance coverage of abortion.

“That could result in tens of thousands of women losing coverage,” said Stephanie Kunkel, executive director of the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.

 

Scapegoating-psychology and rising xenophobia in America

Rather, this is about age-old scapegoating-psychology and the political opportunities this crude dynamic opens up.

In a period of economic depression, with high unemployment and a pervasive sense that the nation is heading in the wrong direction, many Americans are experiencing a growing sense of powerlessness. Through scapegoating, they can foster the illusion that they are reclaiming control over our own lives. They can focus their animus on a clearly identifiable enemy — Islam.

In scapegoating, by definition, the enemy must be weaker than those on the attack — which is why even at the height of the financial crisis, popular anger at bankers never became as strong as current Islamophobia. It’s the same as the way a guy who’s treated as a drudge at work then finds his “strength” by abusing his wife.

The more that Muslims can be made to feel like outsiders, the more those who have defined them as other can feel empowered.

[…]

Much more significant in the current context is the fact that an event which two years ago was seen as a reflection of America’s political maturity — the election of an African-American president — is now serving as a opportunity for America to regress into some of the ugliest recesses of its past.

 

AND IN OTHER NEWS…


Animal welfare does not damage competitiveness

“We have investigated the connection between animal welfare regulation in the EU and competitiveness. We have seen that the impact on competitiveness and on trade is very minor, if it exists at all”, says Anna Andersson, researcher at the AgriFood Economics Centre.

The aim of the report is to investigate whether trade barriers for certain products can be economically justified in order to protect a society’s values. For example, should farmers who are required to comply with stricter animal welfare legislation be compensated so that consumers do not snub EU products?

“In the debate, it is often said that we cannot defend our own values at home, but the study does not support that view.”

The cost of protecting domestic products, for example by introducing higher tariffs, is very high.

“More trade barriers would increase prices, consumers would have less choice, the use of our agricultural resources would become less efficient and reduced competition would lead to a less dynamic industry when the pressure for improvements falls. EU protection of agricultural products already hits poor countries the hardest and increased trade barriers would risk further worsening the situation”, says Ms Andersson.

The EU has a negative trade balance, i.e. it imports more than it exports, and this is due to large imports of products such as bananas, coffee, salmon and prawns, which are not produced, or only produced on a small scale, within the Union.

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

It is strange that the years teach us patience; that the shorter our time, the greater our capacity for waiting.
~~Elizabeth Taylor

Categories: The Daily Planet

Written by Chernynkaya

I am an artist and have lived in Los Angeles all of my life, except for a brief hippie period when I lived in SF. I am currently (semi-unwillingly) retired, but have had several careers.

25 Responses so far.

Click here to leave a comment
  1. ADONAI says:

    The story of the soldier in Afghanistan makes me sick.

    “…three counts of murder, and one count each of conspiracy, obstructing justice and illegal drug use…”

    He was given 24 years with a possibility of parole?!!!? Are you fucking kidding me? Plus they’re giving him almost a whole year off for time served?

    This is a joke. A sad sick joke. He murdered 3 people. In cold blood. He’ll be out of prison in his mid forties. Hardly the end of his life.

    But what more can be expected from a gang of hired thugs we send around the world to kill for us I guess.

    • AlphaBitch says:

      Adonai and Cher: How do you think I feel? I have two families of my “kids” coming over to meet us. And there is a sorry SOB like this representing the United States. If it were up to me -- whether or not he testifies against others -- I would just turn him loose in Kandahar with a sign branded on him as to what he did.

      Want to end the wars? Restart the draft.

      • Chernynkaya says:

        AB, these atrocities make us ashamed to be Americans. But your actions with your kids cancels that evil out tenfold, IMO. I sure would like that kid at least in jail for life--he’s 22. But I want all of those guys convicted and I guess I’m being pragmatic: better to get them all and let one get a ridiculously easy sentence than to let the others walk.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Yeah, Adonai, I know. But they needed to make that deal so he would testify against the others. I hate it too.

  2. Truth says:

    Health Care For America Now is cool!!!

    • AdLib says:

      They are indeed very cool! They were part of the coalition that’s come together which we’re pleased to be apart of, that’s really taking on this corporate war on Americans.

      We organized the Uncloak the Kochs rally in Palm Springs with them and many other groups.

      The movement is growing and WI only energized it. Now with more GOP Govs and in The House showing the public their contempt for all but the wealthy, the tide is turning…as Cher illustrates with progress on the WI recalls of GOP legislators.

      • Truth says:

        Oh, interesting! And what is the movement called? (I probably should know, but since I don’t it may be a hint that the information flow was not as good as it should be….. )

        • bito says:

          Truth, The information is on the site and posted in the header marked “Take Action.” Take a look around.
          http://planetpov.com/category/take-action/grow-info/

          • Truth says:

            Ah GROW is the name… I saw some stuff in this section, but since there were only 3 items (one of it a draft!) it looked a bit of a flailing effort to me.
            Isn’t this the mistake of the libruls, they always think folks should find out everything for themselves? (And isn’t messaging a big problem in the Obama administration which we rightfully address time and again?)

            The advertisement and information should be in my face often enough that I can spell the statutes or the meme backwards….. That’s exaggerated of course, but I guess you know what I mean. If it didn’t even reach me, who is interested in the subject, how do you want to reach people who say: so what, they do what they want anyway.

            What I’m saying here is meant as a feedback from the ground, not as criticism.

    • KQuark says:

      They are a great organization that has been fighting all the right wing lies and giving people the cold hard facts on healthcare reform for a while.

  3. KQuark says:

    I see conservative ideology is failing in Canada too.

    Canada parliament begins no-confidence debate

    The vote stems from a ruling on Monday that the Conservative government was in contempt of parliament.

    A parliamentary committee judged that Mr Harper’s government had acted in contempt by failing to disclose the full costs of spending on programmes involving tougher crime legislation, corporate tax cuts and plans to purchase stealth fighter jets.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-12863818

  4. escribacat says:

    Wow — that story about no food stamps for family if a member is on strike is a stunner. How about this — no food stamps if anyone in the family watches Fox News.

    Oh, and Run, Michele Run! Please do. Please run for president.

  5. SequimBob2 says:

    Hi, Cher: LOVED the charts, graphs and stats on income, wealth and taxes. Great job!

    You’d think with all these facts out there that the Dems could convince folks that: (a)We’re not broke; we’re just subsidizing the super wealthy, and (b) that restoring sensible tax rates in this country will not kill jobs.

    We had the Bush Tax Cuts for eight years. The cuts didn’t create jobs, yet the myth remains stronger than steel.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Bob--thanks. One of the things the charts--along with other studies--have illuminated to me is that most people have no clue how vast the income disparity really is. I think that many journalists are finally making the case, slowly, to the public that there income disparity is a huge factor in what’s happening here. The more charts, the more it is repeated--until it can break through the noise--the sooner we will stop the onslaught of plutocracy. Or at least try.

      • Buddy McCue says:

        Cernynkaya -- I love those charts too.

        I’ve linked to the Mother Jones page with those charts more than a few times while arguing at HP.

        Usually the point I try to make is that we (the country) should stop pretending as though there was a “money shortage,” and instead we should realize where the money went.

        I like the way SequimBob put it better though: “We’re not broke; we’re just subsidizing the super wealthy.”

      • Truth says:

        Wouldn’t the charts be worth a separate post? That way it would be easy to find them in the archives as a reference.


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