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Chernynkaya On April - 2 - 2011

 

This edition has the featured stories of the week. You can 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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BUDGET

How to halve the deficit by doing nothing

Ezra Klein:


Even better, because expiration is the legislative status quo, you wouldn’t need to break a filibuster to do it. Quite the opposite, in fact: You’d need to break a filibuster in order to keep it from happening. More ideas here.

 

A Winning Progressive Strategy for Social Security: Refuse to Do Anything – Ever

Looking at the current political environment and gaming out the possible actions that could be taken it seems abundantly clear that progressives best course of action on Social Security is to simply refuse to even think about allowing any changes in the program. Progressives should also follow Harry Reid’s advice by sticking to this “just say no” position for decades to come.

Obviously, if and only if Republican agree to total ideological surrender and follow the will of the American people by just lifting the cap on the payroll tax to give the program solvency forever, progressives should agree. But the Republicans care more about tax cuts than anything, so this theoretical option isn’t on the table, leaving the best game plan as totally refusing any changes.

The worst-case scenario if progressive refuse to allow anything to happen

To understand why just saying no to anything short of full GOP surrender is a good strategy, you need to examine the worst-case scenario. If progressive refusal results in truly nothing being done for the next three decades, by around 2040, just the trust fund will have run dry. The program won’t go bankrupt or disappear. It will still be bringing in a large amount of revenue, but only enough to cover 80% of benefits. According to the CBO (PDF), “benefits would need to be cut by about 20 percent in 2040 to equalize outlays and revenue,” and benefits will remain basically at this slightly reduced level for decades afterwards.

While this is bad, remember this is the absolute worst case floor we are dealing with. The fact that most of the so-called bipartisan “compromises” being floated to “fix” Social Security would end up gradually cutting benefits to almost this same level by 2040 is a perfect reason why they should be rejected out of hand.

Future Congresses will never allow a sudden sharp cut in benefits

The political reality is that the worst case just won’t happen. If progressives do prevent any changes to Social Security, in 2040, that future Congress is highly unlikely to allow a sudden 20% cut. Just imagine the devastating political backlash against the party that let that happen to millions of seniors.

If we get to 2040 with no changes, most likely, Congress will pass a series of “temporary” or permanent extensions that will keep benefits intact. The overall Social Security shortfall in 2060 will only be 1.1% of GDP. That is a relatively modest price tag a future Congress is unlikely to have a problem approving. It is less than half of what the Bush tax cuts cost when passed, and 1.1% GDP is about what we spent last year on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Don’t allow the frog to be boiled slowly

The worst thing, politically, progressives can do is agreed to a “deal” that allows the frog to be boiled slowly with very gradual annual cuts. It allows the enemies of social insurance to hide a massive slashing of the social safety net in a thousand yearly cuts and to buy off the current senior vote by promising them all the pain will only be felt by young people.

The closer to the 2040 any change to Social Security is made, the more likely voters will demand the benefits are kept strong because they will be directly affected. It is easy to get people to accept a big cut for people 40 years in the future, it is hard to get them to accept big cut to their own benefits four years in the future.

Time is on the progressives’ side

Social Security is on a great financial footing for decades and the closer we get to 2040, the more likely any “fix” will be less focused on benefit cuts. There is absolutely no reason progressive should even entertain any changes to the program unless they are 100% progressive changes.

 

How EVERYONE Benefits From Social Security –(Video)

Richard Wolff is Professor of Economics Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and currently a Visiting Professor at the Graduate Program in International Affairs of the New School University in New York. He has a PhD in Economics from Yale University as well as degrees from Harvard University (history BA) and Stanford University (economics MA).

 

The pro-Social Security case for Social Security reform

Ezra Klein:

Nothing unites Democrats like Social Security. No program has worked so well, for so many, for so long. But what about making changes to Social Security? Well, that’s harder. On Thursday, my colleague Lori Montgomery reported that “Democrats are sharply divided over whether to tackle popular but increasingly expensive safety-net programs for the elderly, particularly Social Security.” They shouldn’t be.

I’m on record saying Social Security is the last place in the federal government we should look for cuts. It’s a lean, efficient program that, if anything, is too spartan. In 2009, the average monthly benefit was slightly more than $1,000 — hardly lavish. That makes it one of the stingiest national-pension programs in the developed world, actually. And once we finish phasing in the cuts passed in the ’80s, it’ll only replace about 31 percent of the average beneficiary’s income. In a time of underfunded 401(k)s and high unemployment, that’s just not enough for many retirees. Saying Social Security is too generous is like saying a Mini Cooper is too roomy.

But the program’s problems don’t end there. It’s underfunded, ill-designed for certain features and facts of the modern world, and — probably most important — overused. Beyond Social Security, America’s retirement system is, in general, patchy and insufficient, which leaves retirees too reliant on Social Security. They then learn the hard way that the program is not what they’d hoped. We should do better. And we can.

Gene Sperling is now the director of President Obama’s National Economics Council. But in 2005, he was just another Clintonista-in-exile with a desk at the Center for American Progress, watching in horror as the Bush administration tried to privatize the crown jewel of the New Deal. In response, he released his own proposal for “a true bipartisan agreement on Social Security reform that increases national savings, individual ownership and ultimately retirement security.” Perhaps predictably, Bush ignored it. Obama should not.

Sperling correctly sees that there are two separate problems in our retirement system: Social Security has too little money, and so, too, do most retirees. Fixing the former, as it happens, is the easier task. Sperling suggests a 3 percent surcharge on all income over $200,000, which would wipe out half of Social Security’s shortfall. He suggests the rest could be made up through bipartisan agreement on benefits cuts or tax changes. A simpler solution perhaps would be to uncap the payroll tax that funds Social Security. Right now, income over $106,000 is protected, meaning someone making $80,000 pays payroll taxes on every dollar of income while someone making $1 million pays on barely one of every 10 dollars. Does that make sense to you? Yeah, me neither.

Uncapping it would pretty much wipe out the shortfall on its own. Add in some changes to the benefit itself — perhaps benefits for the wealthy could grow more slowly, as they rely on it less — and you’re done. Social Security is fully funded.

But Sperling then ventures beyond Social Security and into the broader world of retirement security. He suggests a universal 401(k) that would be layered on top of Social Security. Every American would get one, and for low-income Americans, the government would provide a 2-to-1 match for the first $2,000 every year, while moderate-income Americans would get a 1-to-1 match to the same amount. This would give families a strong incentive to start saving for retirement early and aggressively, all but ensuring that they approach old age with a substantial cushion. As he notes, you could more than pay for this by reinstating the estate tax on those worth multiple millions of dollars.

If there’s a flaw in Sperling’s proposal, it’s that aside from closing the funding gap, he pretty much leaves Social Security alone. As Christian Weller, also of the Center for American Progress, points out in a new report, the program itself has developed flaws over time: It’s not set up to handle extreme old age, by which point many Americans have depleted their savings and need a bigger benefit to stay afloat; its rules for dealing with the divorced are archaic; the minimum benefit often leaves seniors beneath the poverty line; and the rich are a lot richer than when we last looked at how the program divides its payouts. Many of Weller’s reforms would complement Sperling’s by fixing these problems.

Too often, however, the folks most resistant to reforming Social Security are also those most committed to its mission. Many of the program’s defenders are so concerned that conservatives will slash benefits — now or down the road — that they are afraid to open the pension plan to any reforms at all. I think they’re wrong. This country is better than that. A political party that tries to tell ordinary Americans their retirements are too secure and too long will quickly learn its lesson when the election rolls around. Poll after poll shows the vast unpopularity of cutting Social Security benefits, and Republicans can read those surveys as easily as Democrats can. A politician may as well burn a flag on the Capitol’s lawn.

At the heart of Social Security is a simple vision: The richest country the world has ever known can guarantee its citizens a decent retirement. That’s vastly truer now than it was in 1935. Adjusting for inflation, our gross domestic product that year was $865 billion. In 2009, it was more than $12 trillion. And Social Security itself has proven an extraordinarily popular and efficient program. But today, the vision doesn’t just need to be defended. It needs to be completed.

 

Eric Cantor Admits Republicans Want to Kill Social Security

Eric Cantor: 50% of beneficiaries under the Social Security program use those moneys as their sole source of income. So we’ve got to protect today’s seniors. But for the rest of us? Listen, we’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that these programs cannot exist if we want America to be what we want America to be.


GOP Is Demanding Budget Riders That Would Increase Federal Spending

The ongoing budget negotiations between the House Republican leadership and Senate Democrats has broken down, as Republicans continue to insist that their spending bill — H.R. 1 — “serve as a starting point for all negotiations.” House Republicans “have demanded everything: not just some of their cuts but almost all of them, and not just a reduction in spending but a reduction only in the programs they don’t like,” the New York Times notes today. In fact, many are “insisting Democrats also agree to nonbudgetary riders, like ending the financing of Planned Parenthood or health care reform.”

But a closer examination of the at least 81 riders from OMB Watch reveals that many would have the opposite of the GOP’s intended effect and actually increase federal spending. For instance, a CBO analysis of Sec. 4017 of H.R. 1 — which would strip funding for any provisions in the Affordable Care Act — argues that partially defunding the law increases costs “by $3.1 billion in fiscal year 2012 and by smaller amounts in each of the fiscal years 2013 through 2021.” The same may be true for the following riders:

Sec. 4013 — Prohibits funds to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America…

Sec. 1591 — Prohibits funding for needle exchange programs…

Sec. 4020 — Prohibits funds to take any action to effect or implement the disestablishment, closure or realignment of the US Joint Forces Command…

Sec. 4051 — Prohibits funds for implementing a provision specific to the State of Texas in the “Education Job Fund…

Sec. 4012 — Bans funding for the Department of Education regulations on Gainful Employment…

More>>>

 

BUSINESS


Facebook May Hire Robert Gibbs, Former Obama Aide

Facebook is seeking out Mr. Gibbs ahead of an initial public offering planned for early 2012, these people said.

Robert Gibbs left the White House in February after two years on the job.

The talks are still at an early stage and no formal offer has been made, these people said, adding it remained possible that the discussions could collapse.

Mr. Gibbs, who left the White House in February after two years on the job, had been planning to help establish President Obama’s re-election campaign before taking a private sector job, these people said.

Facebook, however, is pressing Mr. Gibbs to consider the job more quickly, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the conversations were supposed to remain confidential.

A job for Mr. Gibbs at Facebook could be worth millions of dollars. While details of his potential compensation package have yet to be discussed, people briefed on the talks said that he would receive a cash salary as well as shares ahead of the initial offering. Facebook is being valued by some investors at more than $60 billion and could be the largest offering in history.

In recent weeks, Mr. Gibbs has consulted several of his former White House colleagues about whether he should take the job, including David Axelrod, President Obama’s former senior adviser, who is helping to head a re-election team, these people said.

Mr. Gibbs and a spokesman for Facebook declined to comment.

Facebook is increasingly in the public eye and is looking to build its communications team ahead of an initial offering.

 

ECONOMY

 

Household wealth down 23% in 2 years – Fed

The average American family’s household net worth declined 23% between 2007 and 2009, the Federal Reserve said Thursday.

[…]

Titled “Surveying the Aftermath of the Storm,” the report offers a broad look at how the financial crisis impacted individual households.

It is widely known that the 2008 financial crisis resulted in the vaporization of trillions of dollars in household wealth. But Federal Reserve officials said Thursday the new report offers a look at exactly how hard the recession hit families, and how they reacted.

The numbers paint a stark picture.

Families that owned stock saw their portfolios drop by more than a third to $12,000 from $18,500, on average. The value of primary real estate holdings decreased by an average of $18,700.

And families took on more debt, pushing median total debt levels to $75,600 from $70,300. They also made less money. Median household income dropped from to $49,800 from $50,100.

 

What 52 Years Of Tax Cuts For The Wealthy Looks Like

To download the full report, click here.
CONTENTS

Executive Summary
1. The Great Tax Shift: Asking Less from Those With More
2. Undoing the Damage: An Economic Recovery Tax Program
3. Why We Should Pay Our Fair Share: A Statement by Wealth for the Common Good

Over the last half-century, America’s wealthiest taxpayers have seen their tax outlays, as a share of income, drop enormously, by as much as two-thirds for the highest-income grouping the IRS tracks. Meanwhile, the share of their household income that middle class  Americans pay in federal taxes has increased slightly.

Our nation has borrowed money to pay for the tax cuts that have gone and continue to go to America’s wealthy, a reality that will have future generations of mostly middle income taxpayers footing the bill — with interest — for these tax cuts.

The “Economic Recovery Tax Program” this report proposes would collect $450 billion in new revenue through tax increases only on the very wealthy. This program would also discourage financial speculation, strengthen the overall economy, and introduce greater transparency, fairness, and simplicity to the tax code.

The Key Statistics

Between 1960 to 2004, the top 0.1 percent of U.S. taxpayers — the wealthiest one in one thousand — have seen the share of their income paid in total federal taxes drop from 60 to 33.6 percent.

America’s highest income-earners — the top 400 — have seen the share of their income they pay in federal income tax alone plummet from 51.2 percent in 1955 to 16.6 percent in 2007, the most recent year with top 400 statistics available.

If the top 400 of 2007 paid as much of their incomes in personal income tax as the top 400 of 1955, the federal treasury would have collected $47.7 billion more in revenue from just these 400 taxpayers.

In 2007, if the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers — Americans with incomes that averaged $7,126,395 — had paid total federal taxes at the same rate as the top 0.1 percent paid these taxes in 1960, the federal treasury would have collected an additional $281.2 billion in revenue.

Tax cuts for the wealthy between 2001-2008 cost the U.S. Treasury $700 billion, with all of these billions added directly to the national debt. Retaining these tax cuts will cost $826 billion over the next decade.

In 1960, the middle 20 percent of U.S. taxpayers paid 15.9 percent of their incomes in total federal taxes. That total included not just income taxes, but payroll and other federal taxes as well. These same Americans, according to the most recent figures, are now paying 16.1 percent of their incomes in total federal taxes.

Federal taxes, even after three decades of tax cuts for America’s most affluent, remain somewhat progressive. The higher the income, the higher the tax rate. But state and local taxes remain decidedly regressive.  This offsets, to a significant extent, our residual federal tax progressivity. Taxpayers in America’s middle fifth paid 9.4 percent of their 2007 incomes in total state and local taxes. Top 1 percent taxpayers that year saw only 5.2 percent of their incomes go to state and local taxes.

 

GOP Prescription: Spending Cuts and Lower Wages Equal More Jobs

Here is the GOP economic report distributed by the office House Speaker John Boehner last week. The paper makes the party’s anti-Keynesian case that fiscal consolidation (read: spending cuts) can spur immediate economic growth and reduce unemployment. But in making that case, the Republicans may also have given Democrats some political ammunition.

Ultimately, the argument comes down to what policymakers see as the key problem in the economy. Is growth slow because businesses and consumers fear higher taxes or because businesses don’t have enough demand for their products to expand? Republicans are arguing the former, but many economists — and the bond market — believe the latter is closer to the truth. Moody’s bond-rating agency warned on Thursday that the U.K. is in danger of having its debt downgraded due to worries about slow growth resulting from consolidation.


Something 81% Of Americans Agree On

And in fact, Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s (D-IL) new bill, the Fairness in Taxation Act, proposes to do just that. Because the richest 1 percent of Americans shouldn’t own 34 percent of the nation’s wealth. The numbers are shocking.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vYqde-wtoYM&feature=player_embedded

 

Ten giant U.S. companies avoiding income taxes: Sen. Bernie Sanders list

The Bernie Sanders Ten

With Congress returning to Capitol Hill on Monday to debate steep spending cuts, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the wealthiest Americans and most profitable corporations must do their share to help bring down our record-breaking deficit.

Sanders renewed his call for shared sacrifice after it was reported that General Electric and other major corporations paid no U.S. taxes after posting huge profits. Sanders said it is grossly unfair for congressional Republicans to propose major cuts to Head Start, Pell Grants, the Social Security Administration, nutrition grants for pregnant low-income women and the Environmental Protection Agency while ignoring the reality that some of the most profitable corporations pay nothing or almost nothing in federal income taxes.

Sanders compiled a list of some of some of the 10 worst corporate income tax avoiders.

1) Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009. Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings.

2) Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion.

3) Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS.

4) Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.

5) Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year.

6) Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.

7) Goldman Sachs in 2008 only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.

8) Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury.

9) ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.

10) Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent.


Foreclosure Aid Fell Short, and Is Fading

Last summer, as President Obama’s premier plan to save millions of Americans from foreclosure foundered, the administration tossed a new life preserver to homeowners.

Officials unveiled a $1 billion program to offer loans to help the jobless pay their mortgages until they could find work again. It was supposed to take effect before the end of the year, but as of today, the program has yet to accept any applications.

“We wait and wait, and they keep saying it’s coming,” said James Tyson, 50, a Philadelphia homeowner who lost his job a year ago.

That could be an epitaph for the administration’s broader foreclosure prevention effort, as tens of billions of dollars remain unspent and hundreds of thousands of homeowners have been rejected. Now the existence of the main program, the Home Assistance Modification Program, is in doubt.

Saying it is a waste of money, the Republican-controlled House voted on Tuesday night to kill the foreclosure relief program. The Senate, which the Democrats control, will pursue a rescue. But Democrats, too, consider the program badly flawed.

The effort has failed to stanch a wave of foreclosures and a decline in home prices, which have fallen for six consecutive months and are now just barely above their recession low, according to a key index updated on Tuesday. All of this threatens the fragile economy, which is also being buffeted by foreign crises.

“The banking industry fought us tooth and nail, and we ended up with a program that is failing homeowners,” said Representative Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from California. “The administration doesn’t give us real enforcement or answers; we just get the old yokey-doke.”

Yet the need remains great. There were 225,000 foreclosure filings in February, according to RealtyTrac. About 145,000 homeowners are in trial modifications under the Obama program. An examination of federal documents and lawsuits, and interviews with legislators, state attorneys general, housing counselors, homeowners and regulators, reveal a federal mortgage modification program crippled by weak oversight, conflicts of interest, mind-numbing complexity and poor performance by many participating banks.

Much More>>>

 

EDUCATION


I’m shocked, shocked, there is cheating in this establishment

It turns out that those glorious gains in D.C. might just have been the source of cheating. A recent story in the USA Today tells of massive irregularities in those exceptional gains under Michelle Rhees direction. While I am not breaking any news here, I would like to juxtapose the reported facts with Rhee’s response on Tavis Smiley

Here is Rhee’s response:

Mr. Smiley: Are you suggesting that this story is much ado about nothing? That this story lacks integrity.

Rhee: Absolutely. If you look at the story overall, it absolutely lacks credibility

See the money quotes after the break. You decide who lacks credibility.

Oh yeah, Rhee also said the story only dealt with mostly one school. How about a fact from the story:

Among the 96 schools that were then flagged for wrong-to-right erasures were eight of the 10 campuses where Rhee handed out so-called TEAM awards “to recognize, reward and retain high-performing educators and support staff,” as the district’s website says. Noyes was one of these.

So, 8 of 10 schools identified as exemplary by Rhee were flagged by the test makers.

What exactly does it take to get flagged? Is it easy to be flagged?

McGraw-Hill’s practice is to flag only the most extreme examples of erasures. To be flagged, a classroom had to have so many wrong-to-right erasures that the average for each student was 4 standard deviations higher than the average for all D.C. students in that grade on that test. In layman’s terms, that means a classroom corrected its answers so much more often than the rest of the district that it could have occurred roughly one in 30,000 times by chance. D.C. classrooms corrected answers much more often.

So, they only flagged 1 in 30,000 irregularities. How often did those 1 in 30,000 happen in a given Rhee school?

6 out of 8 classrooms at one of Rhee’s prized schools were flagged. Remember, these 6 classrooms all beat a 1 out of 30,000 irregularity.

How rare is this?

The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA TODAY.

“This is an abnormal pattern,” says Thomas Haladyna, a professor emeritus at Arizona State University who has studied testing for 20 years.

Who lacks credibility?

 

“Government-Run Schools”

“Just call them what they are,” Santorum said. “Public schools? That’s a nice way of putting it. These are government-run schools.”

He’s not alone. Reuters reported yesterday that several other Republicans considering presidential runs blasted public schools at a home-schooling rally in 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.”

Bachmann said home schooling is the “essence” of freedom and liberty. “It’s about knowing our children better than the state knows our children,” she said.

For his part, Cain said there should be no government involvement in education at any level. He wasn’t kidding.

To be sure, Bachmann, Paul, and Cain are not exactly the top tier of the 2012 GOP field, and strange, borderline-fringe candidates can be expected to take radical positions.

But Santorum is also blasting the existence of public schools, and this talk is picking up in right-wing media. CNSNews’ Terry Jeffrey argued a few weeks ago, “It is time to drive public schools out of business.” Townhall columnist Chuck Norris has begun calling public schools “indoctrination camps.” Townhall columnist Bill Murchison argued last week that the American middle class has pulled its support for public education.

Keep in mind, polls show that the American mainstream considers the public education system one of the nation’s most cherished institutions. When asked what areas of the public sector most deserve budget cuts, schools invariably come in last.

Indeed, Republican pollsters have advised GOP candidates repeatedly in recent years to avoid calling for the end of the federal Department of Education, largely because it gives the appearance of hostility towards public education, which is thought to be an electoral loser for Republicans.

And yet, here we are. Republicans aren’t just criticizing public schools, they’re overtly calling for the institution’s complete elimination. This isn’t something they’re embarrassed about; these GOP voices are stating the goal plainly, as if there’s a genuine appetite among voters to scrap the entirety of the American public education system.

All of this, by the way, comes against the backdrop of Republican governors slashing funds for public schools, and even the reinvigoration of the school voucher movement, which has been largely dormant for years.

This seems like an important opportunity for Democrats — labeling the GOP as the party that’s explicitly hostile towards public schools would hurt Republicans, and it happens to be true.

 

ENERGY

 

Obama Sets Goal of One-Third Cut in Oil Imports

The president told about 1,000 students that the United States cannot continue to consume a quarter of the world’s oil while producing barely 2 percent of global supplies. Acknowledging that presidents going back to Richard M. Nixon had issued similar challenges, Mr. Obama nonetheless pointed to the continuing upheaval in the oil-rich Middle East to argue that the nation must end the long political bickering that has stymied progress toward energy independence.

“Now here’s the thing — we’ve been down this road before,” Mr. Obama said. “Remember, it was just three years ago that gas prices topped $4 a gallon. I remember because I was in the middle of a presidential campaign.”

“You had all kinds of slogans and gimmicks and outraged politicians — they were waving their three-point-plans for $2-a-gallon gas,” he continued, singling out the Republicans’ “Drill, baby, drill” cry. “And none of it,” he added, “was really going to do anything to solve the problem.”

But Mr. Obama’s own prescriptions, while comprehensive, were neither wholly new nor, as he conceded, quick fixes to oil addiction. And while his address was largely intended to counter critics and growing calls for expanded domestic oil and gas production, Republicans in Congress were lambasting his policies even before he began speaking.

In this speech and an event on Friday to promote fuel-efficient vehicles, Mr. Obama is trying to get in front of the politically volatile issue after a time of intense focus on turmoil in Libya and elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East. Even his audience reflected the political calculations: He is increasingly reaching out to young and first-time voters, much as he did in 2008.

Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster, said Mr. Obama could escape most blame for now. “People are exceedingly unhappy about high gas prices,” he said, “but they’re seeing on their TV screens every night why those gas prices are going up, and in their newspapers every day.”

Still, given the power of pocketbook issues to hurt incumbents at election time, Mr. Mellman said Mr. Obama and Democratic officeholders are smart to address the issue. He predicted that other Democrats would increasingly “go after the oil companies” when they are reporting record profits, but he added, “The president does a bit less of that.”

Indeed, Mr. Obama devoted a chunk of his speech to boasting of newly approved drilling permits and countering charges from Republicans and oil industry executives that his administration had choked off domestic oil and gas production with costly new regulations and blocked exploration on millions of acres of potentially oil-rich tracts onshore and off.

Mr. Obama emphatically took ownership of some new safeguards for deepwater drilling intended to prevent repeating last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But he said that the administration had begun to reissue drilling permits where companies showed that they could safely resume operations. “So any claim that my administration is responsible for gas prices because we’ve shut down oil production — any claim like that is simply untrue,” Mr. Obama said.

The administration is not prepared to open additional public lands and waters to drilling, officials said, but will propose incentives and penalties to prod the industry to develop resources where they already have access.

The Interior Department on Tuesday reported that more than two-thirds of leases in the Gulf of Mexico and more than half of leases on federal lands were unused. Industry officials dismissed the report as a smokescreen for what they view as the administration’s stingy approach to drilling permits.

Alluding to the crisis in Japan, Mr. Obama said nuclear power must remain an important source of electricity in the United States because it does not add climate-altering carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. But, he said, “I’m determined to ensure that it’s safe.”

Most of Mr. Obama’s speech focused on his long-term strategy to save fuel by relying more on alternative and renewable energy sources. The one-third reduction in oil imports he has set as a target, which would be roughly three million to four million barrels a day at current levels of imports, corresponds roughly to the total the United States now gets from the Middle East and North Africa.

The president called for producing more electric cars, converting trucks to run on natural gas, building new refineries to brew billions of gallons of biofuels and increasing fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles. Congress has been debating these measures for years.

“The only way for America’s energy supply to be truly secure is by permanently reducing our dependence on oil,” he said.

 

Less than 50 Years of Oil Left, HSBC Warns

The world may have no more than half a century of oil left at current rates of consumption, while surging demand from the developing world threatens to create “very significant price rises” before substitutes like biofuels can serve as viable alternatives, the British bank HSBC warns in a new report.

[…]

The bank, the world’s second largest in assets, further cautioned that growth trends in developing countries like China could put as many as one billion more cars on the road by midcentury. “That’s tremendous pressure on oil to power all those resources,” Ms. Ward said.

Substitutes, such as biofuels and synthetic oil from coal, could fill the gap if conventional supplies fall short, but only if average oil prices exceed $150 per barrel, the report notes. Increasingly tight global supplies, meanwhile, are likely to cause “persistent and painful” price shocks, it says.

Some oil industry observers take a more optimistic view of future supplies, arguing that further development of Canadian tar sands, offshore discoveries in the Arctic and an expected surge in supply from Iraq will keep oil markets well-supplied for decades. Shale drilling has also managed to boost domestic oil production in the United States after years of decline.

[…]

The HSBC report further notes that even without a shortage in oil supplies, the uneven distribution of remaining energy resources will probably shift the balance of economic power globally in the coming decades. It estimates that the biggest loser in this regard will be Europe, where energy scarcity may significantly hinder economic growth by midcentury.

“They could be losing their influence on the world stage just at the time when they are most vulnerable,” the report says.

 

ENVIRONMENT

 

Billion-Plus People to Lack Water in 2050: Study

More than one billion urban residents will face serious water shortages by 2050 as climate change worsens effects of urbanization, with Indian cities among the worst hit, a study said Monday.

The shortage threatens sanitation in some of the world’s fastest-growing cities but also poses risks for wildlife if cities pump in water from outside, said the article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study found that under current urbanization trends, by mid-century some 993 million city dwellers will live with less than 100 liters (26 gallons) each day of water each — roughly the amount that fills a personal bathtub — which authors considered the daily minimum.
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Adding on the impact of climate change, an additional 100 million people will lack what they need for drinking, cooking, cleaning, bathing and toilet use.

“Don’t take the numbers as destiny. They’re a sign of a challenge,” said lead author Rob McDonald of The Nature Conservancy, a private environmental group based near Washington.

“There are solutions to getting those billion people water. It’s just a sign that a lot more investment is going to be needed, either in infrastructure or in water use efficiency,” he said.

More>>>

 

Warm water causes extra-cold winters in northeastern North America and northeastern Asia

This image, taken by NASA’s Terra satellite in March 2003, shows a much colder North America than Europe‑‑even at equal latitudes. White represents areas with more than 50 percent snow cover. NASA’s Aqua satellite also measured water temperatures. Water between 0 and ‑15 degrees Celsius is in pink, while water between ‑15 and ‑28 degrees Celsius is in purple. Credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio; George Riggs (NASA/SSAI).

For decades, the conventional explanation for the cross-oceanic temperature difference was that the Gulf Stream delivers warm water from the Gulf of Mexico to northern Europe. But in 2002, research showed that ocean currents aren’t capable of transporting that much heat, instead contributing only up to 10 percent of the warming.

Kaspi’s and Schneider’s work reveals a mechanism that helps create a temperature contrast not by warming Europe, but by cooling the eastern United States. Surprisingly, it’s the Gulf Stream that causes this cooling.

In the northern hemisphere, the subtropical ocean currents circulate in a clockwise direction, bringing an influx of warm water from low latitudes into the western part of the ocean. These warm waters heat the air above it.

More>>>

 

HEALTH CARE

 

Rasmussen pushing group trying to dismantle Affordable Care Act

Rasmussen apparently isn’t even trying to appear non-partisan, any more.

The national group (with Texas roots) backing efforts to replace federal health care programs with interstate “health care compacts” is the newest sponsor of the “Daily Update” from polling firm Rasmussen Reports — with Monday’s email containing survey results critical of federal policies and ‘Obamacare.’

Advertisements for the Health Care Compact Alliance, whose leadership includes Houston construction mogul Leo Linbeck III, are plastered all over Monday’s email from Rasmussen, containing the results of two surveys, one showing that nearly 70 percent of respondents are “Still Angry At Government’s Current Policies” and one showing that 58 percent “Now Favor Health Care Repeal.

What a shock. The polling is done by Rasmussen, apparently for the Alliance, and are certainly outliers. The majority of major polling done in the past month shows a much more even split between support for the law and support for repeal, including a KFF poll. The same poll found that, rather than anger being the predominant reaction to the law, confusion is the most common response.

 

MEDIA


Obama a Socialist? Fox News Exec Said So, but Didn’t Believe It

Bill Sammon, who’s responsible for the network’s Washington coverage, linked Obama to socialism many times during the 2008 campaign, but didn’t believe the allegation, he acknowledged.

Now it turns out he didn’t really believe what he was saying.

Bill Sammon, now the network’s vice president and Washington managing editor, acknowledged the following year that he was just engaging in “mischievous speculation” in raising the charge. In fact, Sammon said he “privately” believed that the socialism allegation was “rather far-fetched.”

These remarks, unearthed by the liberal advocacy group Media Matters, raise the question of whether Sammon, who oversees Washington news coverage for Fox News, was deliberately trying to sabotage the Democratic presidential candidate. He has come under fire before for memos he sent to the network’s staff that have seemed less than fair and balanced.

Sammon’s admission came on a 2009 Mediterranean cruise—cabin rates ranged as high as $37,600 per couple—sponsored by conservative Hillsdale College. Here is what he said, according to an audio recording here.

 

Alert the media: the American people aren’t completely stupid after all

Americans have decided that Fox News isn’t a reliable source:

In the space of one year, Fox News has lost its perch as the most trusted TV news network in the US and is now average at best, a new survey has found.

A poll gauging public trust in TV news has found that PBS is the most trusted name in news, while trust in Fox News has dropped significantly.

According to a survey from Public Policy Polling, “a year ago a plurality of Americans said they trusted Fox News. Now a plurality of them don’t.”

In a survey taken a year ago, PPP found that Fox was the most trusted news network, with 49 percent saying they trusted the network, and 37 percent saying they did not. In the new poll, 42 percent said they trusted the network while 46 percent disagreed.

PPP notes that trust in the network declined only marginally among conservatives, from 75 percent to 72 percent. “But moderates and liberals have both had a strong increase in their level of distrust for the network — a 12-point gain from 48 percent to 60 percent for moderates and a 16-point gain from 66 percent to 82 percent for liberals,” the institute reported.
What was the tip off, do you suppose?

 

AOL-Huffington Post: the virtual picket line | Bill Lasarow

Last week, when the US journalists’ union, the Newspaper Guild, acted to officially join a strike-that-was-not-a-strike on the part of a handful of non-unionised freelance art writers – paid for their work with our publishing enterprise but not for their contributions to the Huffington Post – something changed. My February strike notice was, in essence, a statement of principle, an act of illumination rather than aggression. Some dimly perceptive critics promptly pointed out that this was not really a strike, and where were the strikers to be seen anyway?

Delighted as I was with such misinterpretations, I was content to turn my attention back to publishing deadlines and cutting modest checks to the writers whose work and talent I believe are far more valuable than the pin money they earn from me. I was pleased that a few media outlets memorialised the ethical framework I had offered – and with that, “see ya later”. We could all move forward with the business of visual art that we love, now feeling unsullied by an association that had finally come to smell just too, well, stinky.

My return to that comfortable womb of moral integrity was disrupted, however, when Arianna Huffington responded to a question in exactly the wrong way: “The idea of going on strike when no one really notices. Go ahead, go on strike.” Oops. Suddenly, it seemed, everyone noticed.

Enter the Newspaper Guild, a national union of writers and journalists: with 26,000 members, it is the nation’s largest and, unbeknownst to this backwater publisher, in the throes of addressing the most existentially threatening crisis to the journalistic profession in well over a century. Hardly a Johnny-come-lately to this issue, they have been calling for journalists, employed or otherwise, to refrain from providing free writing for more than just the Huffington Post since well before it was bought by AOL. This has been a growing problem over the last decade as newspapers have noticeably shrunk or gone into bankruptcy in droves. Staff writers have been laid off by the thousands. The internet has inadvertently wreaked havoc on the economic models that had driven not only industry profit, but a structure of news dissemination that was conducted by a highly-educated and well-compensated class of professionals. To the horror of many in the business, the ranks of member writers crumbled like the Maginot Line.

The AOL/Huffington Post deal has, at last, provided an unlikely rallying point.

The ethical dissonance sounded by Huffington prompted a reaction, so now we really do have a strike. Or perhaps it’s a boycott. Or maybe it’s something else. But we quibble. A report posted on TechCrunch by Alex Alvarez last week suggests that AOL/Huffington Post is working on an internal solution that distinguishes “professional journalists” from “bloggers”. This is a start, but not good enough – given that a large number of these “bloggers” are, in fact, professional journalists. If one part of the answer is to hire select individuals to an expanded paid staff, another part is to compensate many others who are effectively working freelance right now. There remains an equal need to distinguish between editorial content and press releases. And then, it is entirely possible that this is a response with no more purpose than to defang the Newspaper Guild, to negotiate without formally sitting down while preserving the plausible deniability that they have given in to any demands whatsoever.

Meanwhile, Ann Belser’s recent story at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette named labour leaders Richard Trumka of the AFL-CIO and Leo Gerard of the United Steelworkers as Huffington Post bloggers who may or may not honour the “virtual picket line”. Communications Workers of America spokesperson Candice Johnson is quoted: “This [action] doesn’t include organisations or people from an organisation who are advocating for a particular cause.” Squirrelly spin on why these good men should be an exception to the rule is not very helpful to anybody. Permit me to suggest that their cause is intertwined with that of the Newspaper Guild, and they need to start by acknowledging that. Yes, they should certainly be permitted to cross that virtual line … as long as they are willing to help apply the pressure.

Both the Newspaper Guild and these labour leaders must recognise that theirs is a natural alliance from which both parties stand to benefit. This is not about whether public spokespersons should be denied access to their preferred megaphones, nor is it about their use of online or social media overshadowing the legitimate interests of a professional constituency. These parties must put their heads together to provide the best ideas for fairly structured compensation in an environment of robust free speech. The Newspaper Guild’s strategy can no more be to restrict access to new digital media to paid professionals only, than the AFL-CIO’s labour strategy can be limited to their own members’ pay scale and benefits exclusively. Each party must ask the other how best to further the greater interests of both, and be willing to take steps to bolster one another.

The more difficult question is how to apply this principle of mutual benefit to AOL/Huffington Post and other companies that regard themselves as natural adversaries to organised labour. That is exactly where my own appeal intersected, because Arianna Huffington has so publicly and frequently voiced her solidarity with the working and middle class. I have argued, and will continue to assert, that appropriate labour agreements made with properly authorised negotiating partners such as the Newspaper Guild are good for both parties, particularly within a progressive framework. Not just morally, though Huffington herself has made the moral case, but because both workers and company come out ahead.

Let us cease accepting the case for easily replaceable parts, even if there are 100 workers prepared to be exploited for every single one who refuses to play along. It is wrong. The calibre, morale and dignity of the workplace is not only better for the people in it, but it also improves the company’s prospects for success.

 

POLITICS


FiveThirtyEight: Poll Shows More Americans Have Unfavorable Views Tea Party

CNN has a new poll out showing their highest-ever level of unfavorable views for the Tea Party movement. According to the poll, 47 percent of Americans now have an unfavorable view of the Tea Party, as compared to 32 percent with a favorable one.

Let’s keep this simple: is the poll some sort of outlier or part of a trend?

In the chart below, I’ve plotted all polls from the PollingReport.com database that asked people for their impressions on the Tea Party, and then plotted a smoothed regression line on top of them. Favorable or positive views are shown in blue; unfavorable or negative ones in red.

The trend looks reasonably clear: unfavorable views are on the rise. Although the CNN poll may have exaggerated them slightly, they now register at about 44 percent, according to the trendline.

[…]

If you squint your eyes and stare at the chart for long enough, you can argue that the rate of increase has been more rapid since roughly the 1st of the year — which could coincide with a post-midterm hangover, the Tucson shootings, or some combination thereof — but the data is not quite robust enough to provide strong evidence for that conclusion.

I’ve long been of the view that the Tea Party, despite nominating poor candidates in a couple of key races, was a significant net positive for the G.O.P. in 2010, both because it contributed to the “enthusiasm gap” and because it helped an unpopular Republican Party to re-brand itself in never-out-of-style conservative draping. But if the Tea Party ain’t over yet, the point in time at which it was an electoral asset for Republicans soon may be.

 

Pawlenty: A Tax Holiday For Multinational Corporations ‘Makes Perfect Sense’

Potential 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney earlier this month endorsed a lobbying push by multinational corporations that are trying to cajole Congress into granting them a big tax break. These corporations — many of which already have very low effective tax rates — want Congress to enact a tax repatriation holiday, allowing them to bring money they have stashed offshore back to the U.S. at a dramatically lower tax rate. Usually, money brought back to the U.S. is subject to the statutory corporate tax rate of 35 percent.

[…]

Pawlenty is right that, currently, money that U.S. corporations have stashed offshore is untaxed. But that’s because the U.S. tax code has the incentives completely backwards, allowing corporations to stow money offshore while still claiming domestic tax credits. This enables them to dramatically lower their effective tax rate by stashing money in tax havens.

The solution to this problem is not, as Pawlenty and Romney claim, allowing corporations to repatriate the money tax free. The corporations claim that allowing a repatriation holiday would enable them to invest in domestic operations and job creation. But Congress approved a tax repatriation holiday in 2004, and the result was corporate executives lining their own pockets and then increasing the amount of money they moved offshore, in the hopes that they could sucker Congress into approving another tax holiday sometime down the line.

The data shows that the corporations benefiting the most from the tax holiday actually cut jobs in the subsequent two years. So while a tax holiday may make “perfect sense” for Pawlenty, in terms of tax policy, it makes absolutely no sense at all.

 

The Midwest’s new class politics

E.J. Dionne Jr.:

The battle for the Midwest is transforming American politics. Issues of class inequality and union influence, long dormant, have come back to life. And a part of the country that was integral to the Republican surge of 2010 is shifting away from the GOP just a few months later.

Republican governors, particularly in Wisconsin and Ohio, denied themselves political honeymoons by launching frontal assaults on public employee unions and proposing budgets that include deep cuts in popular programs.

Democrats in the region are elated at the quick turn in their fortunes. A few months ago, they worried that a region President Obama dominated in 2008 was turning against him. Republican triumphs in Wisconsin and Ohio, as well as in Indiana, Michigan and Iowa, all pointed to trouble for the president.

Now, for reasons having more to do with decisions by GOP governors than with anything the president has done, many voters, particularly in the white working class, are having second thoughts.

“We certainly addressed the issue of Reagan Democrats,” said Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee, referring to the blue-collar voters who began drifting Republican in 1980. Barrett lost to Gov. Scott Walker in November by 52 percent to 46 percent, but recent polls suggest he would defeat Walker if the election were rerun. In Ohio, the approval rating of Republican Gov. John Kasich, who won narrowly in 2010, has fallen to as low as 30 percent in one poll.

In telephone interviews last week, Democratic politicians across the Midwest avoided premature victory claims. “I don’t think we’ll know until November of 2012,” Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota replied when asked if the Republican moves against public employee unions would turn out to be a major error.

It’s a political irony that Republicans clearly believed unionized public employees were so unpopular that taking them on would play well with voters.

“It was part of an intentional strategy on the part of the right-wing Republican ideological machine to split private-sector workers from public-sector workers,” said Dayton, a Democrat who beat back the 2010 Republican tide. After decades involving “a giant transfer of wealth to the very top,” Dayton said, the campaign against public unions was “a way to distract attention” by creating “a fight over who is getting a dollar an hour more or less.” The effort, he added, “has not worked as well as they thought it would.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, said that even union sympathizers were surprised at the degree to which the Republicans’ approach “blew up in their faces” and that “the poll numbers of support for collective bargaining for public-sector workers are stronger than even most labor supporters expected.”

Another surprise: the extent to which Democrats, long wary of being accused of “class warfare,” are now more eager than ever to cast the GOP as the party of the privileged.

Barrett recounted a parable making the rounds among Wisconsin Democrats, telling of a room in which “a zillionaire, a Tea Party person and a union member” confront a plate of 12 cookies: “The zillionaire takes 11 of the cookies, and says to the other two, ‘That guy is trying to steal your cookie.’ ”

Still, Democrats are aware that the flight from the Republicans is also a reaction against ideology. Dayton saw the GOP’s heavy-handed methods in Wisconsin as playing badly in a region proud of its tradition of consensus-building and good government.

And Brown said that while joblessness was the most important issue in last year’s election, one of the most effective Republican arguments was the claim that “Obama was governing by ideology.” That charge has been turned on its head because “now, they are so overdoing governing by ideology.”

Sen. Al Franken said he saw this reaction against ideology playing out in Washington’s budget battle as well, citing the example of leading Minnesota business people, including Republicans, who have been appalled at cuts in effective job-training programs.

 

REPORT: From Poll Taxes To Voter ID Laws: A Short History of Conservative Voter Suppression

ThinkProgress reported that the Ohio House had approved the most restrictive voter id law in the nation — a bill that would exclude 890,000 Ohioans from voting. Earlier this week Texas lawmakers passed a similar bill, and voter id legislation — which would make it significantly more difficult for seniors, students and minorities to vote — is now under consideration in more than 22 states across the country

Conservatives have said voter id laws are necessary to combat mass voter fraud. Yet according to the Brennan Center for Justice, Americans are more likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning than commit voter fraud. And the Bush administration’s five-year national “war on voter fraud” resulted in only 86 convictions of illegal voting out of more than 196 million votes cast. Instead conservatives are employing an old tactic: using the specter of false voting to restrict the voting rights of minorities and the poor.

Below, ThinkProgress examines the history of conservatives anti-voter agenda:

JIM CROW SOUTH: In the Jim Crow South, historian Leon Litwack writes, “respectable” Southern whites justified their support for measures to disenfranchise African-Americans “as a way to reform and purify the electoral process, to root out fraud and bribery.” In North Carolina for example, conservatives insisted that literacy tests and poll taxes — which disenfranchised tens of thousands of African-Americans — were necessary to prevent “voter fraud.”

1981 RNC VOTER CAGING SCANDAL: According to Project Vote, in 1981 the Republican National Committee mailed non-forwardable postcards to majority Hispanic and African-American districts in New Jersey in an effort to accuse those voters of false voting. The 45,000 returned cards were then used to create a list of voters whose residency the GOP could challenge at the polls. The Democratic National Committee sued, winning a consent decree in which the RNC agreed not to engage in practices “where the purpose or significant effect of such activities is to deter qualified voters from voting.” Similar initiatives were undertaken by the Arizona GOP in 1958, the RNC in 1962 and again, despite the decree, in Louisiana in 1986.

RECENT VOTER CAGING EFFORTS: During the 2004 election GOP state parties, along with dozens of unidentified groups, launched similar “voter caging” efforts designed to challenge the eligibility of thousands of minority voters by accusing them of voter fraud. And in 2008, the Obama campaign sued the Michigan Republican Committee for collecting a list of foreclosures in an effort to challenge the residency, and eligibility, of voters who had lost their home in the housing crisis.

US ATTORNEY DAVID IGLESIAS FIRING SCANDAL: In an unprecedented politicization of the Justice Department, in 2006 the Bush White House fired US Attorney David Iglesias for refusing to prosecute voting fraud cases where little evidence existed. The New Mexico political establishment asked for Iglesias’ dismissal after he refused to cooperate with the party’s efforts to make voter id laws “the single greatest wedge issue ever.”

US ATTORNEY TOM HEFFELFINGER DISMISSAL: In Minnesota, US Attorney Tom Heffelfinger lost his position when he ran afoul of GOP activists for “expressing deep concern about the effect of a state directive that could have the effect of discouraging Indians in Minnesota from casting ballots.”

WISCONSIN, THE KOCHS AND THE 2010 ELECTION: Last fall ThinkProgress reported that a coalition of Wisconsin Tea Party and Koch-funded groups, in an effort to stop “voter fraud” and prevent “stolen elections,” was planning a sophisticated voter caging effort that would use GOP lawyers and Tea Party volunteers to challenge the eligibility of voters at polls in the state. Earlier that year, the same groups were instrumental in defeating a voter protection law that would have criminalized any attempt to use force or coercion to “compel any person to refrain from voting.” One prominent Tea Party member behind the voter caging effort that “since the voter law did not get passed this year… we can still do this.”

As statehouses across the country move forward on voter identification bills, ThinkProgress will continue to track conservatives latest efforts to advance their century-old anti-voter agenda.

 

REPUBLICANS TAKE AIM AT AARP

Newly empowered House Republicans are getting ready to renew their attacks against AARP over its support for the healthcare reform law, The Hill has learned.

The Ways and Means health and oversight subcommittees are hauling in the seniors lobby’s executives before the panel for an April 1 hearing on how the group stands to benefit from the law, among other topics. Republicans say AARP supported the law’s $200 billion in cuts to the Medicare Advantage program because it stands to gain financially as seniors replace their MA plans with Medicare supplemental insurance — or Medigap — policies endorsed by the association.

The hearing will cover not only Medigap but “AARP’s organizational structure, management, and financial growth over the last decade.”

[…]

Given the larger context, the hearing makes quite a bit of sense. AARP supported passage of the Affordable Care Act — which, among other things, made it tougher for Republicans to argue that the reform measure was bad for seniors and Medicare — so the new House majority finds it necessary to target the massive organizations. It’s retribution politics at its most obvious.

But also note that these same House Republicans intend, very soon, to launch a crusade against entitlements, including Medicare, as part of a larger budget strategy. With the AARP all but certain to oppose the GOP schemes, it also stands to reason that Republicans would want to undermine the credibility and standing of the powerful group that stands in the party’s way.

It’s thuggish behavior on the part of congressional Republicans, but it’s also predictable.

Update: For the record, the notion that the AARP supported the Affordable Care Act in the hopes of financial gain appears to be baseless — Republicans are grasping at straws — and by all appearances it’s just a pretext to harangue the organization at a public hearing.

 

SCIENCE

 

Satellites Offer New Window Into Documenting, Preventing Genocide (Video)

Transcript from PBS NewsHour:

Satellite Sentinel says it shows a fresh wave of violence in the hotly contested region between South Sudan, which just voted for independence, and the government in the north. Some of these areas are effectively off-limits to journalists, and sometimes the public never sees ground-level footage of what’s happening in places like this.

In this case, however, Satellite Sentinel managed to obtain this video confirming that parts of two villages overflown by the satellite were indeed burned. The hope is that distributing these images might prevent the violence from escalating.

Jonathan Hutson is the communications director for the Enough Project, one of several activist groups supporting Satellite Sentinel.

JONATHAN HUTSON, Enough Project: Well, for the first time outside the national security sector, non-profits are now making use of high-resolution satellite imagery to track the buildup and movements of troops near a border.

We can keep an eye on it and give some early warning to the world, and give people a chance to get involved, to pressure policy-makers, to press for quick and immediate responses.

TOM BEARDEN: Hutson says actor George Clooney came up with the idea to keep an eye on Sudan last year after he toured the southern region while people were voting for independence.

The ongoing fear is that the Sudanese military will try to use force to prevent the separation that voters approved overwhelmingly. Clooney and other Hollywood figures provided $750,000 to operate the surveillance project for the first six months.

Hutson says the Sudanese government has taken notice.

View the slide show/listen

 

More Tools For Thinking

In Tuesday’s column I describe a symposium over at Edge.org on what scientific concepts everyone’s cognitive toolbox should hold. There were many superb entries in that symposium, and I only had space to highlight a few, so I’d like to mention a few more here.

[…]

Here though, are a few more concepts worth using in everyday life:

Clay Shirkey nominates the Pareto Principle. We have the idea in our heads that most distributions fall along a bell curve (most people are in the middle). But this is not how the world is organized in sphere after sphere. The top 1 percent of the population control 35 percent of the wealth. The top two percent of Twitter users send 60 percent of the messages. The top 20 percent of workers in any company will produce a disproportionate share of the value. Shirkey points out that these distributions are regarded as anomalies. They are not.

[…]

A few of the physicists mention the concept of duality, the idea that it is possible to describe the same phenomenon truthfully from two different perspectives. The most famous duality in physics is the wave-particle duality. This one states that matter has both wave-like and particle-like properties. Stephon Alexander of Haverford says that these sorts of dualities are more common than you think, beyond, say the world of quantum physics.

Douglas T. Kenrick nominates “subselves.” This is the idea that we are not just one personality, but we have many subselves that get aroused by different cues. We use very different mental processes to learn different things and, I’d add, we have many different learning styles that change minute by minute.

Helen Fisher, the great researcher into love and romance, has a provocative entry on “temperament dimensions.” She writes that we have four broad temperament constellations. One, built around the dopamine system, regulates enthusiasm for risk. A second, structured around the serotonin system, regulates sociability. A third, organized around the prenatal testosterone system, regulates attention to detail and aggressiveness. A fourth, organized around the estrogen and oxytocin systems, regulates empathy and verbal fluency.

This is an interesting schema to explain temperament. It would be interesting to see others in the field evaluate whether this is the best way to organize our thinking about our permanent natures.

Finally, Paul Kedrosky of the Kauffman Foundation nominates “Shifting Baseline Syndrome.” This one hit home for me because I was just at a McDonald’s and guiltily ordered a Quarter Pounder With Cheese. I remember when these sandwiches were first introduced and they looked huge at the time. A quarter pound of meat on one sandwich seemed gargantuan. But when my burger arrived and I opened the box, the thing looked puny. That’s because all the other sandwiches on the menu were things like double quarter pounders. My baseline of a normal burger had shifted.  Kedrosky shows how these shifts distort our perceptions in all sorts of spheres.

 

SCOTUS

 

Justices to hear appeal over Wal-Mart gender pay lawsuit

 

Wal-Mart Sex-Discrimination Case Being Closely Watched

It could be, as USA Today says, “the largest employment class-action case in history.”

If the Supreme Court, that is, allows a case brought by women who work for Wal-Mart and claim they have been discriminated against because of their gender to go forward. The group they represent, according to The Associated Press, could wind up including 500,000 to 1.6 million women.

The High Court will hear the case Tuesday. NPR’s Nina Totenberg is due to preview the legal issues on tomorrow’s Morning Edition. In advance, here are few more stories to help bring us all up to speed on the case:

The New York Times: “Supreme Court to Weigh Sociology Issue In Wal-Mart Discrimination Case.”

Forbes‘ She Negotiates blog: “Wal-Mart Discrimination Case Grapples With Implicit Biases Against Women.”

ABA Journal: “Corporate Giant Wal-Mart Faces A Huge Class Action By Female Workers.”

As SCOTUSBlog has explained, the legal issues the court is taking up do not include whether Wal-Mart actually discriminated against the women. But the case is being closely watched because of the precedent it could set for other such actions in coming years. Here’s how SCOTUSBlog has put it:

“The outcome will not decide whether the company did engage in discrimination, but only whether the lawsuit may proceed as a class-action. Potentially, billions of dollars are at stake.”

 

What’s at Stake for Women in Wal-Mart v. Dukes

No matter how available wage data is sliced and diced, a single truth remains: a wage gap exists between male and female workers. On average, full-time female workers make 23 percent less than male full-time workers… Set against the backdrop of widespread disparities in pay, there is a tremendous amount at stake in the pay and promotions discrimination class action that will be argued in the Supreme Court on March 29th. In Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the Supreme Court will determine whether a nationwide class of women workers challenging alleged sex discrimination by Wal-Mart in pay and promotions can proceed.

 

Does the Supreme Court care more about free speech for the wealthy than about political corruption? Stay Tuned.

Imagine you want to run for office, say for a seat in the state legislature, and you are deciding whether to opt into a voluntary public financing system: accepting a pot of money from the government in exchange for giving up the right to raise funds from private individuals. If you opt in, you would be free from the burdens of fundraising, and the chances of corruption (or the appearance of corruption) would be minimized because you wouldn’t be dependent on others to fund your campaign. But there’s a danger: What if your opponent, or an outside group, is determined to spend lots of money against you? To deal with this problem, states like Arizona give you additional matching funds, to a point, to make it viable for publicly financed candidates like you to compete.

[Today], the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in McComish v. Bennett, a case from Arizona in which those wealthy opponents and outside groups have complained that this additional spending violates their First Amendment rights. And once again, just a year after the court in Citizens United turned on the corporate-money spigot by allowing unlimited corporate spending in elections (and the FEC allowed corporations to hide much of their donations), the court appears poised to side with the wealthy in a campaign finance case.

[…]

So what could be motivating the five conservative justices—John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Anthony Kennedy—likely to be in the majority in an opinion striking down the Arizona scheme? The argument is that the matching scheme looks like an unconstitutional attempt on the part of Arizona to “level the electoral playing field.” In the Supreme Court arena, so-called equality arguments in campaign-finance cases are the kiss of death. In 1976, in Buckley v. Valeo the court ruled that “the concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society in order to enhance the relative voice of others is wholly foreign to the First Amendment.” It reached a similar conclusion in striking down the corporate spending limits in Citizens United. An earlier court case had upheld such limits based upon the “corrosive and distorting effect” of corporate spending on the political system. But in Citizens United the court overruled that case on grounds it relied upon an impermissible equality rationale.

Perhaps most on point is a 2008 case, Davis v. Federal Election Commission. In this 5-4 decision, the court declared unconstitutional a provision of the McCain-Feingold law that allowed congressional candidates running against self-financed wealthy opponents to collect campaign contributions larger than would be normally allowed. The court, in an opinion written by Alito, said this law was an impermissible attempt to level the playing field between wealthy and nonwealthy candidates. Challengers in the Arizona case are putting great weight on the Davis precedent, helped by the fact that Alito planted a little “time bomb” for future litigants in his Davis decision: an approving citation to an Eighth Circuit case striking down a public-financing matching scheme on similar equality grounds.

But Davis shouldn’t carry the day here. Arizona did not enact its system to “level the playing field,” and that is not its effect. Instead, Arizona adopted a public financing system to deal with well-publicized corruption scandal, AzScam, and it incorporated matching funds into the system because it is one of the only ways to create a viable campaign finance system. Rational politicians simply won’t opt into public financing if they expect to be vastly outspent by their opponents.

If you are looking for a common thread between the “more speech is better” theory underlying Citizens United and an expected “more speech is unfair” ruling for the challengers in McComish, it is this: Five conservatives justices on the Supreme Court appear to have no problem with the wealthy using their resources to win elections—even if doing so raises the danger of increased corruption of the political system.

 

UNIONS

 

‘Have You No Sense of Decency?’ The Wm. Cronon Story

James Fallows:

I don’t mean to keep butting in and have just a minute to type this out, but I think it’s important to direct attention to a new abuse of power underway in Wisconsin.

William Cronon, whom I know very slightly, is as good as the American academic establishment can now produce. He is president of the American Historical Association; he is the Frederick Jackson Turner professor of history at the University of Wisconsin; his Nature’s Metropolis and Changes in the Land are books any writer would be proud to claim.

Because Cronon dared write an op-ed piece in the New York Times* pointing to Wisconsin’s long tradition of bi-partisan, “good government”-minded support of collective bargaining rights, and criticizing Gov. Scott Walker for his campaign against organized labor and collective bargaining, the Wisconsin Republican Party is launching a legal effort to look through his email archives to see if he has been involved in the recent protests in the state. The putative rationale is that Cronon’s messages were sent on the University of Wisconsin’s email system and therefore are covered by the state’s open-records law.

Cronon gives a very, very detailed description of the case here, with an impassioned and, to me, convincing argument about why this should be seen as a flat-out effort at personal intimidation, in the tradition of Wisconsin’s own Sen. Joe McCarthy. I encourage you to read that, and Josh Marshall’s explanation of the case here. I hope to say more about this later.

The reason this strikes me particularly hard at the moment: I am staying in a country where a lot of recent news concerns how far the government is going in electronic monitoring of email and other messages to prevent any group, notably including academics or students, from organizing in order to protest. I don’t like that any better in Madison than I do in Beijing.
____
* UPDATE and correction: In earlier haste I misread Cronon’s chronology. The Republican request to see Cronon’s email records actually came on March 17, before the NYT op-ed but two days after he had made a blog post about the situation in Wisconsin, including the role of a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council in promoting anti-public sector union efforts in several states. That post is here. The attempt to intimidate is the same. But Cronon’s “offense” came a week earlier than I said, and in a far less visible venue, which if anything makes the bullying reaction worse.

And, as several readers have noted, I should have made clear that this kind of intimidation is less acceptable in Madison than it would be in Beijing, since in Wisconsin such concepts as “academic freedom” and “the First Amendment” are supposed to apply.

 

The Cronon original article:

 

Related:

NYTs: Editorial: A Shabby Crusade in Wisconsin

 

WEDGE ISSUES

 

Horrifying Number: Three-Hundred Fifty-One Anti-Abortion Bills This Year So Far

NARAL, an abortion-rights group, tries to track each piece of abortion-related legislation making its way through state legislatures. Last year they tracked 174 bills. This session’s count is already up to 351.

…Those on the anti-abortion side have little to lose by throwing whatever bills they can at the wall and seeing what sticks. Even if their measures conflict with Roe v. Wade, a subsequent court battle provides opportunities to publicize their position. And there’s always the next session to revise the language and have another go.

Three hundred and fifty one pieces of legislation designed to subvert the autonomy and agency of more than half the population, and our “pro-choice” and “feminist” Democratic president cannot be arsed to give a national address protesting this legislative assault on a guaranteed right

 

The GOP’s Plan to Fund Anti-Abortion Activists

A bill that Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) introduced in January would provide federal funds for the purchase of sonogram machines at organizations that counsel women against having an abortion (the American Independent reported on this bill last week). These crisis pregnancy outfits, sometimes called “pregnancy resource centers,” are often run by religious groups; many have been found to provide women with false and misleading information to dissuade them from having an abortion.

The preamble of Stearns’ bill makes it sound as though any nonprofit, tax-exempt organization could apply to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for grants to purchase ultrasound equipment. But the bill comes with stipulations. To be eligible for this grant, a facility would have to show every woman seeking services the ultrasound image and describe to them the “general anatomical and physiological description of the characteristics of the fetus.” The facility would be required to provide women with “alternatives to abortion such as childbirth and adoption and information concerning public and private agencies that will assist in those alternatives.” It also must offer its services free of charge. That last condition would disqualify abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, which charges on a sliding scale based on a woman’s income.

[…]

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who challenged the GOP’s efforts to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and other family planning programs in a floor speech last month, called Stearns’ measure “hypocrisy in its most obvious form.” “As Republicans seek to defund Planned Parenthood and deny vital health care services to American women most in need, they want to spend taxpayer dollars to support crisis pregnancy centers, which have become anti-choice groups’ sneaky alternative to legitimate reproductive health clinics,” said Speier via email. “These deceiving clinics entice women who are seeking abortions and then subject them to ultrasounds—with the explicit goal of convincing them not to have an abortion.”

Crisis pregnancy centers—often run by religious groups—received $30 million from HHS between 2001 and 2006 for abstinence-only programs and other projects, according to a 2006 House Energy and Commerce Committee report. The HHS grant database indicates another $9.3 million in grants were given to CPCs since 2007.

More>>>

 

AND IN OTHER NEWS…

 

Is a dirty mind a sharper mind?

The next time someone admonishes you for having a dirty mind, consider the case of Ed Cooke. He became a Grand Master of Memory at the age of 23 in part by harnessing his sexual imagination. It isn’t just him, either: Cooke used this technique to coach Joshua Foer, author of the buzzy new book, “Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything,” to become the U.S. Memory Champion in under a year.

[…]

Why do sexual thoughts and images help with memory?

Most of the difficulties people have with memory are not that they forget completely, but that they find memories difficult to find. The key to finding a memory is to make it bright and attention-grabbing in the first place. Sex, of course, tends to grab our attention.

In this way, it can very useful to add a little bit of sexual imagery to whatever one is trying to remember, since it will make the resultant memories more attention-grabbing, and easier to find.

As an example, if you are trying to remember that the French word “interloque” means “taken aback”, it may be useful to imagine being taken aback when your dining companion interlocks her fingers round your thigh. The link between the French word and what it sounds like in English is given just enough personality by the hint of sexuality here, that it will stick in one’s mind far better than a mere repetition.

How would you go about training someone to incorporate sexual images in their memorization routine?

Shockingly, it doesn’t take a lot of training to get people to have dirty thoughts. That said, reminding yourself that your imagination is a zone without laws or restrictions can be liberating: no-one else knows or cares about the details of your mental life, so you may as well let your imagination go while learning things, especially if it helps you have fun, learn faster, and remember longer.

The trick is to notice when what you are trying to learn is boring you and to re-inject interest with the choice addition of some sexual imagery. Find chemical formulae difficult? Re-imagine them as elaborate sexual configurations. Find your pin number — for example, 3198 — difficult to grasp? Re-imagine it as a 31 year old man with his 98 year old lover. With a little bit of freedom of mind, almost any piece of information can be recast in sexual form, greatly increasing its chances of being remembered.

More>>>

 

TAKE ACTION

 

WE ARE ONE

April 4, 2011 is shaping up to be one of the most important progressive days of action in nearly a decade.

It’s the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who was killed 43 years ago while traveling to Memphis to stand in solidarity with striking sanitation workers demanding their chance to attain the American Dream.

Now, in response to the new wave of Republican attacks on unions and working people, the entire labor movement has called for a massive national day of protests, vigils, and work site events on April 4. Virtually the entire progressive movement has joined in.

Can you help make next Monday an overwhelming day of solidarity for working people by attending an event in your area? Click here to find the April 4 event closest to you.

Working people in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana have inspired an activist spirit that’s spreading across the country, and this is our chance to keep the momentum going. This is our chance to stand up to the Republicans and demand protection for workers’ rights and the restoration of the American Dream for all of us.

The events are part of “We Are One,” a grassroots effort led by a broad coalition of unions and progressive allies committed to realizing Dr. King’s goal of economic justice for all. The events include actions, teach-ins, work site discussions, vigils, faith events, and more.

You can simply attend an event in your area or if you have creative ideas for an event in a public place like a park, in your work site, a teach-in at a college near you, or even something at your house, you can volunteer to host your own.

We need to keep building our strength until the American Dream can finally be attained by everyone. On April 4, we will keep the momentum going. And we will not stop.

Will you join us?


TAKE ACTION Defend Reproductive Health Care on Thursday, April 7

On Thursday, April 7th, thousands will descend on Washington, D.C. to defend women’s health. Why? Anti-choice forces in Congress are determined to roll back women’s access to reproductive health care.

From eliminating the Title X family planning program and funding for Planned Parenthood… to taking away private insurance coverage for abortion … to letting emergency rooms turn their backs on pregnant women who need lifesaving abortions… the attacks have been coming fast and furious.

Stand with the ACLU and dozens of other groups to send a loud and clear message to Capitol Hill: Enough is enough!

Sign up now to learn more and attend our critical April 7th Pro-Choice Lobby Day and Rally!

 

 

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.

4 Responses so far.

Click here to leave a comment
  1. KQuark says:

    Cher thanks for the updates they particularly help when I’m a bit under the weather to get credible info from one spot.

  2. Pepe Lepew says:

    Man, that crap about “schools indoctrinating our children?” Where is that coming from?

    I know it USED to come from the John Birch Society, because my dad used to rail about that crap 30-35 years ago. It was all code for schools teaching kids not to be racist. It just INFURIATED him that schools were teaching us that MLK Jr. and Lincoln were heroes and the Civil War was about slavery.

    To me, the whole “public school is indoctrinating our kids” is code for something very dark.

    • KillgoreTrout says:

      These neo-Birchers want to indoctrinate people all over the country with their hatred and suspicion. The “something very dark,” is their desperate motivation to keep America in the hands of rich white men. It’s their concept of patriotism.

  3. agrippa says:

    I do not know how the politics will play between now and 2012. The GOP geographic base is the South; it is the same conservative faction that was in the Democratic Party, and the faction that FDR and JFK had to deal with. Those people are faithful GOP voters. Outside that region, the GOP has their faithful there; almost half will vote GOP whatever the situation. For the whole country, neither party has a working majority.

    Economically, this is the most serious recession since WW2. To make matters worse, neither the washington politicians nor the professional economists have any solutions. The economists who do have good ideas that will work are outside the mainstream and largely ignored.


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