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Chernynkaya On May - 20 - 2011

 

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


What does Dr Tom Really Want?

digby:

So, according to Lil’ Luke on Dylan Ratigan earlier it’s all the Democrats’ fault that Coburn left the Gang ‘o 6 because they refused to cut Social Security and Medicare when the Republicans Coburn and Chambliss were willing to raise taxes. This is nonsense. The Republicans want to cut Medicare and Social Security in exchange for pretending to raise taxes (and even that is off limits apparently.)

Remember this?

Yellin: Senator Chamblis do you believe that Senate Republicans will agree to a package that includes any sort of tax changes?

Chambliss: Well, the fact of the matter is that you can’t solve this debt problem just with reductions in discretionary spending. You can’t solve it just by attacking and reforming entitlements. You’ve got to look at the revenue side also.

What we are looking at proposing is actually a reduction in corporate rates and personal individual income tax rates, which will put more money in people’s pockets and we’re going to do that with the reduction in tax expenditures. Every time we’ve done that in years past whether it was under President Reagan or president Bush we have seen revenues increase. And we’ve got to have an increase in revenues if we are going to retire this debt… revenues have to be on the table if we’re serious about attacking that debt.

I think you can see the bait and switch there, can’t you?

Furthermore, it appears at this point that the Democrats have been willing to cut Medicare and Medicaid and go along with that “revenue” nonsense, but Coburn wouldn’t take yes for an answer. He came back and demanded more. Greg Sargent reports on what the Democrats are saying happened in the Gang:

“Coburn came in on Monday and said, `I want $130 billion,’” the aide says. “The conservation was heated. There was yelling. Durbin said, `I am not doing this. That destroys Medicare. That goes even further than Paul Ryan. We’re not doing it.’”

The conversation went on for three hours or so, the aide says, but the senators could not break the impasse. “Because Coburn couldn’t get his way, he walked,” the aide says. Coburn called Durbin on Tuesday to tell him he was pulling out.

Now that account doesn’t say that they have already agreed to 400 million in cuts as other accounts have, so it makes Durbin sound much more like he’s taking a hard line.And even if he isn’t, I still have to think this is a poison pill.

And again, here’s that notion of “releasing the plan” from Coburn’s aide this time:

I’m not going to comment on his private conversations with his colleagues. Dr. Coburn had numerous concerns with the state of the Gang of Six proposal. As the Trustees recently concluded, Medicare is going bankrupt and will be destroyed if we do nothing. If the group wants to release their proposal to save Medicare and achieve long-term deficit reduction they are certainly welcome to do so.

And yes. I still love the the logic that say because Medicare will not have enough money in the future we need to cut it. I seem to be the only one who finds that odd, so I guess it’s just me.

Obviously, I have no real idea what’s going on. But it isn’t just a straight-up disagreement about suddenly slashing more of Medicare than previously agreed. Coburn has a reason for doing this. Maybe that Ensign thing is more of a problem than we know.

 

Republican Governors Use Budget Woes To Wage War On The Arts

After Republican proposals to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities died in Congress this year, it might have seemed like there was a momentary lull in the fight over public funding for the arts. But at the state level, Republican governors and Republican-dominated legislatures are using difficult economic times as an excuse to slash the budgets of arts agencies and public broadcasters, or to try to eliminate them entirely.

In five states, Republican governors or legislatures have proposed either dismantling arts agencies or entirely eliminating some of their funding streams:

KANSAS: The most pitched battles are in Kansas, where in February, Gov. Sam Brownback signed an executive order dismantling the Kansas Arts Commission to make way for its replacement by a privately-funded group. […]

SOUTH CAROLINA: Gov. Nikki Haley said in her State of the State address in January that “the role of South Carolina’s government in the year 2011 can no longer be to fund an Arts Commission that costs us $2.5 million. … When you release government from the things it should not be responsible for, you allow the private sector to be more creative and cost efficient.” […]

ARIZONA: Gov. Jan Brewer entirely eliminated funding for the Arizona Commission on the Arts’ general fund, though the agency still gets some money through its Trust Fund, which is supported by businesses filing fees in the state.

FLORIDA: Gov. Rick Scott initially proposed keeping the Division of Cultural Affairs alive, but declined to fund its grant programs; the state legislature sent him a budget with $2.5 million in grant funding. Scott’s still considering line-item vetoes to trim the budget further.

NEW HAMPSHIRE: The Republican-dominated House of Representatives moved to dissolve the state’s Department of Cultural Resources in March, but the Senate Finance Committee has stood behind the Department’s continued existence, though it has proposed $530,000 in cuts.

[…]

And state-level public broadcasting also remains vulnerable:

VIRGINIA: Gov. Bob McDonnell used a line-item veto to eliminate $424,000 in funding for public broadcasters to develop educational materials for the state’s public schools, efforts he said were “not core services of government.”

MAINE: Last week, Gov. Paul LePage proposed cutting all state funding for the Main Public Broadcasting Network.

NEW JERSEY: In December, Gov. Chris Christie moved to privatize the formerly public New Jersey Network—WNET, another public television outlet, may acquire NJN.

The sums of money involved in these fights are minuscule: at $11 million, New Jersey’s subsidy to the New Jersey Network is the largest appropriation at stake. Cutting funds for arts agencies and public broadcasters won’t balance state budgets. But it does give Republicans an excuse to strike a blow in the culture wars that it will be very hard for arts organizations to recover from.

 

BUSINESS


Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Claims It’s Unconstitutional For States To End Company’s Multimillion Dollar Tax Dodging

One way states are looking to raise revenues is to close what has become known as the “Amazon Loophole.” Currently, online retailers like Amazon.com set up subsidiary corporations in states and then argue that the subsidiary corporation doesn’t obligate the parent company to collect sales taxes in that state.

Lawmakers in numerous states, like South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, and others are tackling this loophole by mandating that Amazon customers in their states pay sales taxes, which would both provide revenue for their states and deny Amazon and other online retailers an unfair advantage over local retailers whose customers do have to pay sales taxes.

Responding to these legislators, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos remarkably claimed today that state efforts to close the loophole and have Amazon behave like any other retailer are actually unconstitutional:

Now, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is saying that some U.S. states’ tax demands are violating the U.S. Constitution. […] “First of all, most of where we do business – Europe, Japan, some of the states here in the United States – we collect sales tax. More than half our business,” said Bezos. “We do collect sales taxes, the European equivalent of value-added tax. And in the U.S., the Constitution prohibits states from interfering in interstate commerce. And there was a Supreme Court case decades ago that clarified that businesses – it was mail-order at the time because the internet did not exist – that mail-order companies could not be required to collect sales tax in states where they didn’t have what’s called ‘nexus.’”

Bezos is referring to a 1992 Supreme Court decision that said “that retailers who lack a physical presence in a state, or ‘nexus,’ cannot be required to collect tax.” Yet states aren’t claiming extraordinary powers to tax Amazon transactions. Rather, they are expanding the definition of “nexus” to “include affiliate programs, such as when Amazon pays a commission for links that result in sales.”

But the Amazon CEO should know that his constitutional argument is bunk. After all, his company lost a constitutional challenge to New York when it sued to stop that state’s efforts to close the Amazon loophole (Overstock.com lost a similar case). “Amazon should not be permitted to escape tax collection indirectly, through use of an incentivized New York sales force to generate revenue, when it would not be able to achieve tax avoidance directly through use of New York employees engaged in the very same activities,” said Judge Eileen Bransten.

It’s crucial that states are able to excise their powers of taxation to get revenue from transactions occuring within their territory, given that state governments are losing millions of dollars thanks to tax dodging by big online retailers. As just one example, in “2011 alone, Wisconsin will lose an estimated $127 million in uncollected sales tax on purchases made online.” Unfortunately, Amazon hasn’t reacted to these state efforts just by challenging them in court. When Texas tried to close its Amazon Loophole, the retailer announced that it would end all business there.

 

ECONOMY


Will the US Have a “Debt Crisis”?

Simon Johnson:

John Boehner, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, is leading the Republican Party’s charge on fiscal policy, arguing that his side needs to see ‘trillions of dollars’ in spending cuts in order for Congress to approve an increase in the US government’s debt ceiling. But framing the issue this way creates a major problem for Boehner: it will directly, completely, and quickly antagonize one of the Republicans’ most important constituencies – the US corporate sector.

 

Regressive Ideals Have Made America A Third World Country [H/T bito]

In economics the definition of a third world country is a nation that exports more raw materials, and imports more finished goods. Now we know that this country has an exporting problem, in fact the only major exports we have are financial instruments and finished war materials and raw materials.

The American government has allowed corporations to turn their backs on the American workers since era of Ronald Reagan. In 1979 Reagan campaigned on open borders, free markets and free trade. His vice president George H.W. Bush signed NAFTA, and Bill Clinton signed that treaty into American law. Since the American government cannot impose tariffs on goods to equalize labor costs, corporations are free to leave this country in order to escape the high American standard of living.

Now after 30 years of free markets and free trade, our manufacturing base has been gutted. A country that doesn’t manufacture anything does not create or add wealth to the economy. A service economy, which is essentially what we have today, just moves money around without adding value to a product.

As I pointed out in a previous article, China is now beginning to feel the pressure of outsourcing as factories close and move to even lower wage countries like Philippines and Vietnam.

America used to be the manufacturing capital of the world. Now according to a report by the Port of L.A. our top five imports are,

Furniture- 401,967 TEUs
Footwear- 164,889 TEUs
Toys- 156,227 TEUs
Auto parts- 140,969 TEUs
Apparel- 136,188 TEUs

FYITEUs The twenty-foot equivalent unit is an inexact unit of cargo capacity often used to describe the capacity of container ships and container terminals.

Top five Exports are,

Wastepaper- 269,335 TEUs
Cotton- 102,658 TEUs
Grains Product- 98,437 TEUs
Animal Feed- 97,321 TEUs

The conservative ideals have driven the United States from a world manufacturer to a third world country in 30 years. Sure you will hear the regressive conservatives blame our taxes, but they would have to explain China and the outsourcing happening there also. China is where the United States was 30+ years ago, the top manufacturer, until the working class began demanding higher wages and the corporations and the shareholders demanded higher profits, guess who won? It wasn’t the American worker, that’s for sure.

 

Reasons to Break America’s Addiction to Foreign Oil: A Play in Three Cool Charts

From US Commerce Dept:

When oil prices go up, Americans pay … and we pay a lot (See Figure 1). We pay directly at the pump; we pay as businesses pass higher fuel costs on to their consumers (think airline fares); and, as a country, we pay foreign countries to support our fuel habit.  Wouldn’t it be far better if we could keep the hundreds of billions of dollars that we currently spend on foreign oil every year instead of shipping our hard-earned money overseas?

High oil prices are a burden on all of us, but price fluctuations are usually outside of our control. While prices may eventually return to lower levels, history shows they will inevitably rise again, and we’ll again hear the cries for relief. But let’s not wait for them to come back around; it makes dollars-and-cents sense to wean ourselves off foreign oil now. […]

Consumers clearly see the direct costs of higher gas prices, but there are indirect costs as well. Businesses feel the pinch too, and they often pass additional fuel costs on to their customers.  Unlike the gasoline prices we see every day, these indirect costs are stealthier, but no less harmful to the pocketbook.  We can’t say with certainty just how much (or when) prices for other goods and services will go up when oil prices rise, but we can gauge how significant these indirect costs would be by considering how much businesses rely on gasoline relative to consumers.  For instance, if consumers purchased 90 percent of all gasoline, then the pain at the pump (the direct costs) would overshadow any indirect costs.

Input-output tables are designed by the Bureau of Economic Analysis to answer this question – and 43.8 percent of motor and jet fuel is purchased directly by consumers, while 41.4 percent is purchased by businesses. (Government purchases the remaining 14.8 percent to help fuel ambulances, police cars, and F-18’s.)  Since businesses purchase almost as much fuel as consumers, indirect costs can be considerable.  One of the most prominent examples as we head into the summer travel season is passenger airlines.  Fuel is a major cost component for airlines, so it’s quite likely that they will quickly pass their cost increases to customers in the form of higher airfares.  Figure 2 shows a price index for passenger airline fares based on the Consumer Price Index and the price of crude oil.  While these series don’t follow in nearly as close lock-step as gas prices and how much we spend on gas, we still see a strong relationship.  When crude oil prices rise, or decline, airfares follow.  From last October through April, passenger airfares have increased 12.1 percent.

The last cost, and perhaps one of the most important for our nation, is what we pay directly to other countries around the world for foreign oil – that is, the billions of dollars we ship out of our country every month to feed our oil habit.  In 2010, our trade deficit in petroleum-related products (we don’t say “oil” because we import and export some refined products as well) totaled $265 billion.  That translates to $855 for every American and almost $2,400 for every American household in 2010.  That’s a lot of money!

What’s happening so far this year?  Not surprisingly, the situation is even worse. As shown in Figure 3, the most recent official data show that the petroleum deficit per household averaged $746 and $268 per person in the first quarter of 2011.  So if oil and gas prices remain anywhere near where they are today through the remainder of 2011, our petroleum-related deficit for the year could easily reach close to $3,000 per household and more than $1,000 per person.  That’s just wrong.  Adding fuel to the fire, not only are these numbers large, but petroleum-related products account for a huge chunk of our overall trade deficit. In the first quarter of 2011, petroleum-related products accounted for 59.5 percent of the total U.S. trade deficit.

These points show us the American reality that results from a dependence on foreign oil.  And we only touched on some of the consequences – there are others, such as businesses hesitating to hire additional workers when facing higher energy costs, or consumers becoming less optimistic and spending less as a result of sticker shock at the pump, and so on.  So what can we do?  Clearly, the only real answer is to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and we can do that by increasing safe and responsible oil production here at home and supporting investments in a clean energy economy that create new jobs and new industries of the future.  Only then can we protect our families from soaring oil costs, keep more of America’s hard-earned dollars in America, and ensure greater economic security for our country in the years to come.


Statement from the Press Secretary on S. 940

It is disappointing that at a time when oil companies are posting near record profits, Republican Leadership in the Senate led an effort to protect billions of dollars in tax breaks for the oil and gas industry that even oil and gas CEO’s in the past have admitted are unwarranted and unnecessary. The bottom line is that there are more responsible ways to spend tens of billions of federal dollars, including investments that will help protect American consumers from high gas prices. The vote today – with support from over half the U.S. Senate – is an important step towards repealing these unwarranted subsidies for the oil and gas industry. The  Administration will continue to pursue this important reform.

 

Fox Business Rebukes Poor People For Not Being Ashamed Of Their Poverty

Fox Business maligned essential anti-poverty programs, deriding food stamps, unemployment insurance, and the Earned Income Tax Credit as “a form a welfare, income redistribution” and evidence that America now has an “entitlement mentality.”

Host Stuart Varney’s attack on these programs came just as a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research showed just how essential these and other government programs are to keeping tens of millions of Americans out of poverty.

Arloc Sherman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted that “public programs keep one in six Americans out of poverty — primarily the elderly, disabled, and working poor — and that the poverty rate would double without these programs.” The CBPP included a graph to show just how important these programs are for reducing poverty amongst millions of Americans:

[…]

Varney completely ignored the need for such programs to keep millions of Americans out of poverty. After guest and Democratic strategist Krystal Ball defended the social safety net, Fox’s Charles Payne castigated poor people for not being embarrassed enough about their situation:

PAYNE: Krystal, there’s no doubt that these are good programs. I think the real narrative here, though, is that people aren’t embarrassed by it. People aren’t ashamed by it. In other words, the there was a time when people were embarrassed to be on food stamps; there was a time when people were embarrassed to be on unemployment for six months, let alone demanding to be on it for more than two years. I think that’s what Stu is trying to say, is that, when the president says Wall Street is at fault, so, you are entitled to get anything that you want from the government, because it’s not really your fault. No longer is the man being told to look in the mirror and cast down a judgment on himself; it’s someone else’s fault. So food stamps, unemployment, all of this stuff, is something that they probably earned in some indirect way.

Maybe it’s Fox Business who should be ashamed of themselves.

 

NATION PAYS STEEP PRICE FOR HIGH RATES OF UNINTENDED PREGNANCY

Two new studies taking different methodological approaches arrive at the same conclusion: Unintended pregnancy costs U.S. taxpayers roughly $11 billion each year. Both estimates are conservative in that they are limited to public insurance costs for pregnancy and first-year infant care, and both studies conclude that the potential public savings from reducing unintended pregnancy in the United States would be huge. A related new study provides first-ever estimates of unintended pregnancy for each state, and a starting point for future efforts to monitor states’ progress toward reducing unintended pregnancy.

MORE>>>


EDUCATION

 

California Governor Puts the Testing Juggernaut On Ice

California Governor Jerry Brown has taken a big step towards reducing the testing mania in the nation’s most populous state. Up until his administration we have been on an accelerated path towards the comprehensive data-driven system that test publishers and corporate reformers have convinced leaders is needed to improve schools. But in the May budget outline from Brown’s office, he makes it clear he is putting on the brakes.

From the Thoughts on Public Education blog comes this:

Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing to suspend funding for CALPADS, the state student longitudinal data system, and to stop further planning for CALTIDES, the teacher data base that was to be joined at the hip with CALPADS.

What is even more encouraging is the explanation Brown offers, which shows a great deal of understanding of these issues. The document states:

A number of problems have been identified with California’s state testing, data collection and accountability regime. Testing takes huge amounts of time from classroom instruction. Data collection requirements are cumbersome and do not provide timely – and therefore usable – information back to schools. Teachers are forced to cub their own creativity and engagement with students as they focus on teaching to the test. State and federal administrators continue to centralize teaching authority far from the classroom.

The (Brown) Administration proposes to deal with these issues by carefully reforming testing and accountability requirements to achieve genuine accountability and maximum local autonomy. It will engage teachers, scholars, school administrators and parents to develop proposals to

(1) reduce the amount of time devoted to state testing in schools;

(2) eliminate data collections that do not provide useful information to school administrators, teachers and parents; and

(3) restore power to school administrators, teachers and parents.

The goal is to improve the learning environment in every classroom, thereby encouraging the demanding pursuit of excellence. The May Revision proposes to suspend funding for CALPADS in 2011-12 pending this continued review of data collection requirements.

Praise be!

Jerry Brown is unusual among our nation’s governors. He got a bit more involved than most in on-the-ground school reform while he was serving as mayor of Oakland. He learned the hard way how schools are a reflection of deeper social issues. In a statement he wrote to respond to Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top a year and a half ago, while he was California’s Attorney General, he said:

You assume we know how to “turn around all the struggling low performing schools,” when the real answers may lie outside of school. As Oakland mayor, I directly confronted conditions that hindered education, and that were deeply rooted in the social and economic conditions of the community or were embedded in the particular attitudes and situations of the parents. There is insufficient recognition in the draft regulations that inside and outside of school strategies must be interactive and merged.

Even more revealing was what he wrote about federally-driven education “reform”:

The basic assumption of your draft regulations appears to be that top down, Washington driven standardization is best. This is a “one size fit all” approach that ignores the vast diversity of our federal system and the creativity inherent in local communities. What we have at stake are the impressionable minds of the children of America. You are not collecting data or devising standards for operating machines or establishing a credit score. You are funding teaching interventions or changes to the learning environment that promise to make public education better, i.e. greater mastery of what it takes to become an effective citizen and a productive member of society. In the draft you have circulated, I sense a pervasive technocratic bias and an uncritical faith in the power of social science.

We all know that Secretary Duncan did not heed Jerry Brown’s thoughtful advice, and still has not. But Brown’s proposed budget takes on the testing machine from the top, and that is a very hopeful sign.

 

ENERGY

 

Senate blocks GOP bid to speed offshore drilling

The Senate has rejected a GOP bid to speed up and expand offshore oil drilling in the face of $4-a-gallon gasoline prices.

A procedural vote failed Wednesday, 57-42, on a GOP bid to speed decision-making on drilling permits and force the government to conduct previously scheduled lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and off Virginia’s coast. The sales were suspended after the BP oil spill.

The vote comes days after President Barack Obama directed his administration to ramp up U.S. oil production by extending existing leases in the Gulf and off Alaska’s coast and holding more frequent lease sales in a federal petroleum reserve in Alaska.

Both parties say they want to allow responsible oil and gas drilling, but they appear far apart on details.

 

Eric Cantor Promises Oil Speculators That Republicans Will Block Financial Regulations

Yesterday morning, House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) visited the Chicago headquarters of the CME Group, ‘the world’s largest owner and operator’ of private exchanges for derivatives products. CME Group specializes in a number of markets, including trading futures contracts for various blends of crude oil and food commodities. Cantor met with executives, and at one point, gave brief remarks before CME Group employees and various commodity speculators.

MORE>>>

 

VIDEO: GOP Carries Water For Big Oil CEOs

[Tuesday], Republicans reaffirmed their commitment to preserving the subsidies enjoyed by Big Oil even as these companies raked in over $30 billion in profits in just the first three months of 2011. Despite gaining a majority of votes, a bill that would have eliminating the subsidies could not gain the necessary 60 votes yesterday to break a filibuster. 44 Republicans were joined by three Democrats and one Independent in voting against it.

[It]was the third failed attempt to end Big Oil’s tax breaks this year. It followed a May 12 hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, in which the top Republican on the committee — Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) — played a tag-team defense of the subsidies with Big Oil’s major CEOs, employing talking points echoed by the oil execs. Watch it:

 

Cantor Promises Oil Speculators That GOP Will Block Financial Regulations

Currently, energy speculation is at an all time record high. In 2008, according to many analysts, oil speculation — which took place on unregulated private exchanges owned by the CME Group and a set of international exchanges — spiked gas prices to unprecedented levels. Now, excessive oil speculation is again driving the pain at the pump. While Goldman Sachs has claimed that at least $25 of the current price of crude oil is due to speculation, financial experts contacted by ThinkProgress say the Goldman Sachs number is probably very conservative.

Although the Dodd-Frank reforms passed last year included a new mandate for regulators to curb rampant oil speculation, these regulations have not yet been implemented. Republicans, under Cantor’s leadership, are working furiously to ensure that they never will be. For instance, Cantor’s caucus has proposed massive budget cuts to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission — the regulatory body charged with overseeing oil speculators at the CME Group. As the New York Times has reported, CFTC regulators literally do not have enough money even for staplers, and can barely enforce laws on the books before even getting to new Dodd-Frank rules. In addition, Republicans are also pushing a separate bill to delay Dodd-Frank derivatives reforms for at least eighteen months.

 

Senate GOP Moving To Immunize Oil Companies From Lawsuits After They Screw Up

Yglesias:

Lefty green stalinist types think we need more regulation of oil companies to prevent them from destroying the Gulf of Mexico with their drilling. But that’s nuts. Everyone knows America’s the most lawsuit happy country in the world. Any oil company is going to invest plenty of money in safety procedures to avoid the massive damages they’re sure to be hit with in the event of a big spill. Right? Right? Well, Kate Sheppard reports that Senate Republicans are working to eliminate that safeguard. Welcome to the “Offshore Production and Safety Act of 2011″:

The measure would deem the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, located in New Orleans, the “exclusive venue” for all civil suits dealing with energy projects in the Gulf. That’s a problem because the court is stocked with judges who have financial holdings or other ties to the oil and gas industry. That means lawsuits would be relegated to a particularly sympathetic court, no matter what jurisdiction the company is based in or where the incident that prompted the suit occurred.

I feel protected and safe already.

 

ENVIRONMENT


Sacred. Time-Lapse Video: Acorn to Oak Seedling in 8 Months

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZK4LjURtaDw&feature=player_embedded

 

Mississippi River Floodwater Could Create Long-Term Toxic Impact

NPR:

DENNIS DEMCHECK, U.S. Geological Survey: So, right now, what I’m going to do is, I’m going to get some profiles of temperature, dissolved oxygen and salinity.

TOM BEARDEN: They’re taking water samples to test for things like pesticides and petrochemicals. They’re also looking for the level of salt in the water.

DENNIS DEMCHECK: The salinity, it is about 1.5. Normally, it would be double or triple that.

TOM BEARDEN: Pontchartrain is really an enormous lagoon connected to the Gulf, and normally, the water is brackish, a mixture of fresh and sea water.

DENNIS DEMCHECK: For the next couple of months, the character of the lake is going to change. It’s going to go from a brackish water lake to a freshwater lake. And so the fish — some of the fish that are normally in the lake, the saltwater fish — they are prized by sportsmen — they’re going to swim away. They’re not going to die, but they will swim away. And they will come back.

TOM BEARDEN: Demcheck says another concern is that all that fertilizer will provide food for a huge algae bloom later this summer. That will deplete the oxygen in the water.

DENNIS DEMCHECK: So, there could be a minor or transient dead zone, really, oxygen depletion at the bottom of the lake. The saving grace for this is that the lake will flush itself out eventually.

JOHN LOPEZ, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation: It will probably take at least a year or two, some of the impacts.

TOM BEARDEN: John Lopez runs an environmental organization called the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation. He says past algae blooms led to health warnings.

JOHN LOPEZ: During the summer, we will start to see some algal bloom in the lake. Those algal bloom can be — have some health risks associated with them. They can produce neurotoxins. So, this is something we would monitor over the summer.

TOM BEARDEN: A lot of refineries along the river. Petrochemicals in the water?

JOHN LOPEZ: Yes, there are always some, benzene and some other volatile compounds, almost certainly. These are — once again, they are diluted. The — some of them are volatile, so they would be evaporated. The high discharge in the river right now is basically diluting those normal industrial pollutants. So, we don’t see those of a concern as long as those plants are working properly within current regulations.

RICHARD CAMPANELLA, Tulane University: We’re at 17 now. Typical for this time of year would be eight or nine feet.

TOM BEARDEN: Richard Campanella is a professor at Tulane University, where he teaches about interactions between people and the environment.

RICHARD CAMPANELLA: I think it’s convenient to think of this Mississippi River flooding in the system right now as having both benefits and costs.

TOM BEARDEN: He says short-term losses, like the thousands of acres of crops that will be flooded, will be mitigated by long-term gains.

RICHARD CAMPANELLA: It’s a jolt to the system. So, the crops that are growing there right now are probably going to be lost. There might be a little stability in next year’s crop. But, in the long run, make no mistake that this is very rich sediment that gets deposited here. And again, this is how this entire region was built, and the areas that were built up by highest, closest to these flood-prone freshwater waterways is the most arable land.

TOM BEARDEN: That sediment helps build up land that had been lost to coastal erosion.

RICHARD CAMPANELLA: The river built this land. It built it with flood cycles and sediment. So, here you have a flood cycle getting that water out of the river. And it also pushes back that saltwater wedge and in certain areas builds new land. And this is a good thing.

TOM BEARDEN: But Brad Robin sees no benefits at all.

BRAD ROBIN, oyster fisherman: Fat, healthy.

TOM BEARDEN: His family has been in the oyster business since 1947.

BRAD ROBIN: Delicious.

TOM BEARDEN: Oyster boats are still docking in some of the tiny ports in Saint Bernard Parish southeast of New Orleans, but already two fishing areas have been closed because of the flooding.

BRAD ROBIN: We did not have no time to move any crop we had, because we never thought that they were going to shut it down that fast. And so now we’re here, sitting here, waiting. We’re praying for the best.

TOM BEARDEN: He says Hurricane Katrina six years ago killed huge swathes of oyster beds. He says they were just beginning to recover when BP’s Macondo oil well blew out last spring, and that killed 90 percent of his oyster beds.

BRAD ROBIN: What is coming down that river? We don’t know.

TOM BEARDEN: Robin believes that the fresh Mississippi River water that will flow out of Lake Pontchartrain and over his remaining beds will destroy what little is left.

BRAD ROBIN: In the oyster business, we need both. We need — too much saltwater, the oysters die. Too much freshwater, oysters die.

TOM BEARDEN: And it’s not just the water itself.

BRAD ROBIN: The problem with what’s coming down the river is more sand, silt that comes in and settles on top of everything. And then we have got to go out there and move it out. It will kill the oysters within two weeks.

TOM BEARDEN: The state has asked the federal government to declare a fisheries disaster and send aid.

BRAD ROBIN: Hurricane Katrina was bad, but we recovered. We haven’t recovered from BP. And now this here is just, you know, saying, where we go next? I ask myself, do I think it’s worth it? I really don’t know.

TOM BEARDEN: Many scientists believe Louisiana’s marine ecosystem will recover in just a few years, and ultimately will be healthier for the experience. But Robin says he thinks it will take five years or longer for his oyster beds to come back, and he’s not sure the industry can survive that long.


Koch Industries’ Toxic Gifts to Wisconsin

.It’s Raining Sulfuric Acid: #1 Worst Emitter of All Paper Facilities in Wisconsin […]

Deadly Dioxins: #4 Worst Emitter of All Wisconsin Facilities […]

Nickel Compounds: #1 Worst Emitter of All Wisconsin Facilities[…]

Cancer-Causing Benzene: Koch’s Subsidiary Was One of Top Ten Worst Emitters of All Wisconsin Facilities […]

This data demonstrates that Koch Industries generates significant pollution in Wisconsin. It is important to keep in mind that the TRI data are self-reported and do not cover all discharges in an area or to a watershed. Nor does this information indicate all of the possible effects of all the possible mixtures of chemicals that could occur with these discharges and the resultant risks to ecosystems as well as to reproductive health or other effects on disease or lifespans of people in the state and region.

According to Dr. Zaber, “It is expected for industrial facilities to generate some toxic emissions. However, at a time when good technology exists to reduce pollution, when operating in a place as environmentally sensitive as the Great Lakes basin, and at the scale of a conglomerate as large as Koch Industries, what comes out of their stacks and pipes has a lasting impact on Wisconsin.” Plainly, further examination of the impact of Koch Industries in Wisconsin and elsewhere is warranted.

 

HEALTH CARE

 

What Medicaid Cuts Will Mean For Seniors And Others With Disabilities

Kaiser Health News:

Much of the heated debate over the fate of Medicaid is focused on health care for poor mothers and kids. But as you listen to pols argue about how deeply to cut the program think about Natalie — an 85-year-old widow with heart disease and memory problems. Or Lisa — a 50-year old mother of two who has been battling multiple sclerosis since she was 20. […]

Families, already the backbone of the care system, will take on greater burdens. But many frail elderly people have no children and their spouses are unable to care for them. As government’s role shrinks, community groups and nonprofits will have to take on more responsibility as well. But some care requires skills beyond the ability of relatives and neighbors. How will it be funded in an era of budget constraints?

While Medicaid was created mostly to provide medical care to low-income moms and their kids, two out of every three Medicaid dollars is spent on the elderly and disabled. Last year, the program spent one-third of its budget — more than $100 billion federal dollars — on long-term care, either in nursing facilities or in the community. States, which share the program’s cost, spent tens of billions more.

Overall, Medicaid pays more than 40 percent of all long-term care costs. The advocacy group FamiliesUSA estimates that more than 6 million seniors and nearly 10 million younger people with disabilities rely on the program for assistance. […]

Now both Medicaid and many non-Medicaid programs for the frail elderly are in the fiscal cross-hairs. The House-passed 2012 budget would cut the projected federal share of Medicaid by nearly $800 billion over the next decade — mostly by turning the program into a block grant. In April, President Barack Obama suggested cutting planned Medicaid spending by $100 billion. And lawmakers of both parties are considering a blanket cap on all federal spending — a scheme that also would lead to deep reductions in elder and disability care under Medicaid.

More immediately, cash-strapped states are urging Congress to give them new flexibility in how they manage the program. Currently, federal “maintenance of effort” rules curb a state’s ability to limit enrollment. House Republicans would eliminate those restrictions, a move supported by at least 28 governors.

Individual states would respond to this new flexibility in different ways, but many frail seniors will have less access to Medicaid. In addition, states are likely to cut benefits themselves, especially for home and community programs — the services most popular among the elderly and disabled. For instance, states may cut the number of hours a home health aide may assist a Medicaid beneficiary. Already, even blue state governors such as Andrew Cuomo of New York and Jerry Brown of California have proposed deep reductions in programs such as adult day care, which are optional under current Medicaid rules.

At the same time, a wide range of non-Medicaid government programs for seniors such as transportation, home delivered meals programs (such as Meals on Wheels), information services and subsidized housing also face an uncertain future. Last month, Congress froze or cut spending for all those programs for the remainder of 2011. With House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, demanding $2 trillion in additional spending reductions, even deeper cuts are on the horizon. And they will create an enormous gap in long-term care.

In the face of a shrinking government role, community efforts such as senior villages and elder care programs based in churches, synagogues, and mosques need to step up. But who will pay for those services that require care workers, or for nursing facilities?

And that leaves me with one more question. Many lawmakers who would cut Medicaid would also repeal the CLASS Act that would create a national, voluntary long-term care insurance system. If they oppose direct government spending for personal care, and oppose a transition to an insurance-based system, I wonder how they propose to assist those elderly and disabled who do not have the means to care for themselves.

 

Senate GOP gives up on Ryan Plan

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) is leaving Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget plan to its own fate in the Senate by not whipping his GOP colleagues on the vote.

Republican senators say McConnell has made it clear he will vote for the House Budget Committee chairman’s plan, but has said rank-and-file members should vote as they want on the 2012 budget proposal.

Sens. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), the second- and third-ranking members of the Senate Republican leadership, say they will also vote for Ryan’s plan.

But as for the rest of the GOP conference, “every senator will have to decide that for himself,” Alexander said.

House GOP Leaders whipped the vote on the Ryan budget, and it was approved with only four GOP defections. Every House Democrat voted against it.

The decision to let GOP senators vote their conscience means there might be more “no” votes on the budget plan from Republicans in the Senate. […]

The lawmaker, who did not want to be quoted on the record criticizing a fellow Republican, said that by laying out specific Medicare reforms, Ryan gave Democrats political ammunition.

“The only people talking about Medicare are Republicans, and we’re just arguing with ourselves,” said the lawmaker.

Indeed, it is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) who has insisted on bringing Ryan’s plan to the floor next week for a vote, not McConnell.

 

IMMIGRATION

 

Children, immigration and the American dream

As a 17-year-old high school junior, I vividly recall reading in my American history textbook about our nation’s development as a great “melting pot.” I was taught the story of the United States, a nation built on the strength that comes from the blending of many peoples and many cultures, from greatly varied backgrounds. I remember reading the story with great pride, understanding intuitively our strength as a nation was an outgrowth of this indescribably powerful process.

Now, Oklahoma and the entire country once again struggle with issues of immigration and the integration of new cultures. If this sounds familiar, it is the story of these United States.

I cannot begin to tell you how we will ultimately solve this, but as a mental health professional who has dedicated my life to caring for children and families, I can unequivocally declare to you that people are suffering in the process.

Lost in the yelling of public demonstrations and political wrangling are our youth. These children tell stories of the struggle to concentrate while at school, worried they will return home to find their parents gone, while they are abandoned. Innocent teens report hate and vitriol directed their way, resulting in depression, trauma and fear.

Undocumented children who have lived in the U.S. their entire lives tell us of the bonds they feel for this country. They only want to be good citizens, become educated and grow up in a society that will give them a chance to give back.

We as a country must find a way forward that can provide opportunities for those who yearn to breathe free. The crossroads dilemma is whether this great country will address immigration with abusive tactics devised to divide – threat of arrest, intimidation, and confiscation of property.

Or will we choose an approach meant to build up? The Oklahoma Compact, which embraces five principles of immigration reform – addressing federal solutions, law enforcement strategies, supporting healthy children and strong families, economic growth and development for all and a humane approach in a free society – is a road map forward.

We must choose to be proactive, fair and reasonable in our approach to immigration reform. We cannot allow ourselves to pass laws to keep Hispanic youth from making the contributions to our country that they desire.

Will our country choose to be a beacon of hope for freedom and liberty or will our leaders score cheap political points on the backs of those who fight for a better life? What will future history books teach the next generation of children regarding this latest chapter of the American melting pot and pursuit of the American dream?

Each of us has a responsibility in helping write this next chapter in our great American history.

 

When foreigners were good

The Weekly Standard reported back then:

On July 10, 2003, Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, took action against what he calls “an anachronism that is decidedly un-American.” He introduced a bill that would allow a person who has been a U.S. citizen for 20 years and a resident for 14 years to run for president.

It was called the “Equal Opportunity to Govern Amendment,” and it proposed changing the Constitution to allow those born abroad to run for president. (Full text here.)

The bill is still listed deep in the archives of Hatch’s website as the “Presidential Eligibility Amendment.” Hatch, who is trying to hold on to his seat in the face of a potential Tea Party challenge, apparently hasn’t talked about the measure in recent years. It is missing from the “Constitution” section of his website’s issues page. (I’ve asked Hatch’s office whether he still supports the amendment, and I will update this post if I hear back.)

The measure, which never got out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was known colloquially as the Arnold Amendment because it was seen as targeting the Austrian-born Arnold Schwarzenegger, then a GOP rising star. (It won support from his wife, Maria Shriver, among others.)

When the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the amendment in October 2004, Hatch waxed patriotic:

Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, who was born in Canada, also supports this amendment. She explained: You cannot choose where you are born, but you can choose where you live and where you swear your allegiance. And I think if she has 20 years of living in this country, she ought to have the privilege of running for President if she so chooses.

This is also true for the more than 700 immigrant recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor—our Nation’s highest decoration for valor—who risked their lives defending the freedoms and liberties of this Nation, many of whom gave their lives. But no matter how great their sacrifice, leadership, or love for our country, they remain ineligible to be a candidate for President. Now, this amendment would remove this unfounded inequity.

The entire transcript of the hearing, in which Republicans like Don Nickles and Dana Rohrabacher also testified in support, makes for interesting reading (.pdf) today.

 

An Artist’s Performance: A Year as a Poor Immigrant

But now she is sharing a tiny apartment in Corona, Queens, with five illegal immigrants and their six children, including a newborn, while scraping by on the minimum wage, without health insurance.

She has not fallen on hard times. Ms. Bruguera is performing a yearlong art piece meant to improve the image of immigrants and highlight their plight. And she is bringing her high-concept brand of provocation to a low-wattage precinct of taco stands and auto-body shops, where the neighbors have responded with varying degrees of curiosity, amusement and befuddlement. […]

Ms. Bruguera (pronounced brew-GAIR-a) has turned the space, a former beauty supply store, into the headquarters for her new advocacy group-cum-art project, Immigrant Movement International, using about $85,000 from Creative Time, a nonprofit arts group, and the Queens Museum of Art.

She seeks to blend politics and art to empower immigrants through English classes, legal help and impromptu performances. She has held workshops to write slogans — like “I am today what your grandparents were yesterday” — that she plans to print on bumper stickers and T-shirts. And she intends to live like her working-class Latino neighbors; she has vowed not to tap her credit cards, personal bank account or assistants in Italy and Cuba.

“I don’t want to hear things in the office — I want to live them,” said Ms. Bruguera, 43, who is from Cuba but spent the last year in Paris. “I want to have the anxiety.”

She added, “Those are things I have to feel on my skin.”

She has already learned a thing or two. After finding her apartment and roommates in January through a flier on the street, she was surprised that the local gym did not offer yoga. The apartment had no heat through the winter, and her minimum-wage salary, which she wrote into the project description, offers little leeway.

“One week I saved $8,” she said, standing in her spartan bedroom, which can barely fit the dresser she found on the street.

Her roommates, especially an out-of-work Ecuadorean laborer, do not know what to make of her. “I explained to them four times what I’m doing already,” she said. “They don’t get it. They’re not very excited.”

But people have begun trickling into the storefront. They ask for English classes, jobs and legal help — services outside her training. “They don’t want any art at all,” Ms. Bruguera said. They want “very concrete and mundane things,” she said. “This is what their life is.”

She plans to address those needs — with a twist. Artists will teach English “in a more creative way, where people can learn English but also learn about themselves,” Ms. Bruguera said. A lawyer will offer advice informed by artists, who “are very good at looking at loopholes and seeing where the system has a failure.”

If it all sounds a bit vague, Ms. Bruguera means it to be.

She wants immigrants to shape her work by telling her what they want to achieve here. “You work with people’s hope,” she said. “That’s the material of my work.”

The project has skeptics. Some see her as an artistic carpetbagger; before moving to Queens, she had never visited the borough, except for her own shows at MoMA PS1. Others say that her plans for social change sound naïve, and that her unusual living arrangement can be dismissed as a stunt.

“Being able to hit the eject button at any time changes the experience in a dramatic way,” said Andrew Friedman, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, an immigrant advocacy group in Queens. “I tend to be kind of allergic to the heroics of it.”

Still, Mr. Friedman’s group has sent immigrants to Ms. Bruguera’s workshops, and he, like some other critics, respects her passion. Ms. Bruguera contends that commuting from Manhattan would have felt artificial, and that the Corona apartment has allowed her to experience immigrant life viscerally.

Besides, she said: “Do I care what people think? Nothing I’ve done is popular at the moment. Later, everyone says it’s great.” […]

On a recent Sunday, three dozen young people from places like Jamaica, Russia and Mexico gathered at the storefront before taking the subway to a workers’ rights rally in Manhattan. But Ms. Bruguera was most excited for the commute on the No. 7 train, which she planned to turn into her theater.

For the performance, each volunteer was to sit next to a stranger and recount his or her immigrant experience.

As the train hurtled above the Queens streets, the show began. Ms. Sehovic and a dapper Armenian man riding to Times Square shared stories of horrors in their homelands, but then shifted sharply into a debate about illegal immigrants.

“If you are illegal, you have no rights!” the man shouted. Ms. Sehovic argued for compassion, but the man shook his head. “This is a country of laws. Otherwise it is a jungle!”

Ms. Bruguera watched the exchange. She left the man in his three-piece suit, holding a sticker that read, “Everyone is an immigrant at some point.”

Exiting the train, she smiled and said, “This is exactly what I wanted.”

 

MEDIA


Ed Schultz tells David Sirota to “go to hell” over questions about Osama bin Laden hit

AM 760 host David Sirota recently said his growing ratings were due in part to the fact that “when we do politics, it’s not just ‘Democrats are great and Republicans are terrible'” — and he proved it today during a fiery on-air disagreement with Ed Schulz, a progressive favorite (and MSNBC staple) whose radio program airs on AM 760 immediately after Sirota’s. The spat, over whether questions should be raised about the legality of Osama bin Laden’s killing, included Schultz telling Sirota, “Go to hell.” […]

To listen to the exchange, click here. You can fast-forward to Schultz’s appearance, which begins just past the eight-minute mark.


Chuck Todd suggests Obama wants to raise debt ceiling for the sake of his personal fortune

Chuck Todd not only decided to take a cheap shot at the Obama’s this morning on MSNBC, but also managed to trivialize just who would be harmed if the Republicans continue their hostage taking on the debt ceiling.

TODD: The Obama’s are millionaires according to new financial disclosure forms released yesterday. The forms show the President and First Lady Michelle Obama hold assets between $2.8 million and $11.8 million and are you ready for this? Almost all of their investments are in T-bills. So nobody would be hurt more by the debt ceiling not being raised than the President.

Really, Chuck? No one else would be hurt more? If the Republicans put us into another recession or worse yet a depression, I think there are going to be a lot of other people who will come out that a lot worse than the President of the United States. I think somehow the Obama’s would manage to recover. I can’t say the same for the millions of people who are just getting by now and for whom it might mean life and death if our country’s economy gets thrown into a tailspin.

Watch it here.


Western media fraud in the Middle East

Aljazeera:

In discussing the manners in which the Western intelligentsia and media depict the Middle East, the French intellectual and scholar Francois Burgat complained that two main types of intellectuals tasked with explaining the “other” to Westerners dominate. Firstly, there is what he and Bourdieu, another philosopher, describe as the “negative intellectual” who aligns his beliefs and priorities with those of the state, and centres his perspective on serving the interests of power and gaining proximity to it. And secondly, there is what Burgat terms as “the facade intellectual”, whose role in society is to confirm Western audiences with their already-held notions, beliefs, preconceptions, and racisms regarding the “other”. Journalists writing for the mainstream media, as well as their local interlocutors, often fall into both categories. […]

Framing the ‘other’

[…]

The working class has no networks, that applies too to Hollywood and television entertainment and series; it is all the same intellectuals producing them. Even journalists with pretentions of being serious usually only serve elites and ignore social movements. Journalism tends to be state centric, focusing on elections, institutions, formal politics and overlooking politics of contention, informal politics, social movements.

Those with reputations as brave war reporters who hop around the world, parachuting into conflicts from Yemen to Afghanistan, typically only confirm Americans’ views of the world. Journalism simplifies, which means it de-historicises. Journalism in the Middle East is too often a violent act of representation. Western journalists take reality and amputate it, contort it, and fit it into a predetermined discourse or taxonomy.

The American media always want to fit events in the region into an American narrative. The recent assassination of Osama bin Laden was greeted with a collective shrug of the shoulder in the Middle East, where he had always been irrelevant, but for Americans and hence for the American media it was a historic and defining moment which changed everything. Too often contact with the West has defined events in the Middle East, but the so-called Arab Spring with its revolutions and upheavals evokes anxiety among white Americans. They are unsettled with the autogenetic liberation of brown people. However, the Arab Spring may represent a revolutionary transformation of the Arab world, a massive blow to Islamist politics and the renaissance of secular and leftist Arab nationalist politics.

But the American media has been obsessed with Islamists, looking for them behind every demonstration, and the uprisings have been often treated as if they were something threatening. And all too often, it just comes down to “what does this mean for Israel’s security?” The aspirations of hundreds of millions of freedom-seeking Arabs are subordinated to the security concerns of five million Jews who colonised Palestine.[…]

Arab culture and Islam are spoken of the way race was once spoken of in India and Africa, and it is difficult to portray Arabs and Muslims as the good guys unless they are “like us” as in Google executives and other elites who speak English, dress trendy and use Facebook. So they are made to represent the revolutions while the poor, the workers, the subalterns, the majority who don’t even have internet access let alone twitter accounts, are ignored. And in order to make the revolutions in Tunisia and especially Egypt seem non-threatening, the nonviolent tactics are emphasised while the many acts of violent resistance to regime oppression are completely ignored. This is not just the journalists’ fault. It is driven by American discourse which drives the editors back in New York and Washington.

I’ve spent most of the last eight years working in Iraq, and also in Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen and other countries in the Muslim world. So all my work has taken place in the shadow of the war on terror and has in fact been thanks to this war, even if I’ve laboured to disprove the underlying premises of this war. In a way my work has still served to support the narrative. I once asked my editor at The New York Times Magazine if I could write about a subject outside the Muslim world. He said even if I was fluent in Spanish and an expert on Latin America, I wouldn’t be published if it wasn’t about jihad.[…]

In principle, there is nothing wrong with staying in a secure compound. Foreigners are often targeted in conflict zones and authoritarian countries. You want to go to sleep at night without wondering whether men will kick down your door and drag you away, or whether you should go to sleep with your clothes on so that if a car bomb hits you wont be caught sleeping naked under a pile of rubble. You want to eat decent food and have running water, constant electricity, internet access, conversations with colleagues. A journalist doesn’t have to live like an impoverished local. But the less local life you experience, the less you can do your job, and this is what readers need to understand. The average person anywhere in the world goes to work and comes back home. He knows little about people outside his social class, ethnic group, neighbourhood or city. As a journalist, you are making judgements on an entire country and interpreting it for others, but you don’t know the country because you don’t really live in it. You spend 20 hours a day in seclusion from the country. You have no basis for judgement because to you, Iraq is out there, the red zone, and the pace of filing can make this even harder.[…]

American reporting is problematic throughout the third world, but because the American military/industrial/financial/academic/media complex is so directly implicated in the Middle East, the consequences of such bad reporting are more significant. Journalists end up serving as propagandists justify the killing of innocent people instead of a voice for those innocent people.

There are many brave and dedicated journalists working in the Middle East whose work deserves attention and praise. Some even work for the mainstream media. Too often their independent voices are drowned out by the mass of writers who justify power instead of opposing it. Our job should not be about speaking truth to power. Those in power know the truth, they just don’t care. It’s about speaking truth to the people, to those not in power, in order to empower them.

This article is based on a speech given at a conference sponsored by Jadaliyya on teaching the Middle East at George Mason University.

Nir Rosen is an American journalist who writes on current and international affairs. He has contributed to The New Yorker and Rolling Stone, among others. His latest book is Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy

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Fox’s “Straight News” Anchor Martha MacCallum Regularly Advocates GOP Positions

Fox News defends its credibility as a legitimate news outlet by claiming that there is a dividing line between its news and opinion programming. Purported “straight news” anchor Martha MacCallum, however, has a long record of echoing GOP talking points to advocate for conservative policies. […]

MacCallum Says Flat Tax Is “A Better Idea”[…]

MacCallum Says We “Need” To Raise Retirement Age […]

MacCallum Says Obama Should Call For Consideration Of Social Security “Investment Accounts” […]

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Yes, the Republicans really did vote to end Medicare

This, from Salon’s War Room is just kind of dumb.

The DCCC stepped up Medicare-centric campaigning Monday, launching the Medicare Action Center, DontEndMedicare.com. The website provides information on GOP town hall meetings and a stirring graphic comparing proposed GOP Medicare cuts ($165 million) to the amount of money lost on oil subsidies, offshoring, and tax breaks for the wealthy ($175 billion). You can also print out your very own protest sign, which reads, “Vote Republican, End Medicare.”

It’s a forceful message. The problem is that it’s not quite true. Of course, a more nuanced slogan like, “Vote Republican, precipitate a restructuring of Medicare that would cost seniors a lot more money” would be a less effective rallying cry. However, the DCCC’s current Medicare message unnecessarily opens them to criticism….

A Democratic campaign focused on Republicans choosing to end Medicare — when the Republicans would still maintain a program at least called Medicare — is just asking to be ripped apart in the war of words that is campaign politics.

Don’t tell the truth about a policy because PolitiFact, or the Washington Post might criticize you for it? Because it is the truth. While the Republicans might still want to call their voucher program “Medicare,” that ain’t what it is. Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s Krugman:

I know that serious people are supposed to be shocked, shocked at the Democrats calling the Ryan plan a plan to dismantle Medicare—but that’s just what it is. If you replace a system that actually pays seniors’ medical bills with an entirely different system, one that gives seniors vouchers that won’t be enough to buy adequate insurance, you’ve ended Medicare. Calling the new program “Medicare” doesn’t change that fact.

And Matty Yglesias:

“Medicare” refers to a single-payer universal health insurance program instituted by the Social Security Act of 1965. If a political movement committed to having that program “wither on the vine” and die puts forward a bill to abolish that program and replace it with a system of private vouchers, then it doesn’t matter whether or not the voucher program is still called Medicare. That’s what House Republicans voted to do, and there’s nothing even slightly misleading about calling this an effort to end Medicare. What’s misleading is the effort to use nomenclature to obscure the nature of the change.

Politico, yes, you can expect to say that the DCCC campaign is “misleading,” and to start pearl-clutching over the possibility that Democrats are taking a hard-line—completely truthful—stance on an important issue.  But Salon really should do better.

 

MILITARY


The Secret Sharer: Is Thomas Drake an enemy of the state?

Jane Mayer, The New Yorker:

Drake, a former senior executive at the National Security Agency, faces some of the gravest charges that can be brought against an American citizen.


On June 13th, a fifty-four-year-old former government employee named Thomas Drake is scheduled to appear in a courtroom in Baltimore, where he will face some of the gravest charges that can be brought against an American citizen. A former senior executive at the National Security Agency, the government’s electronic-espionage service, he is accused, in essence, of being an enemy of the state. According to a ten-count indictment delivered against him in April, 2010, Drake violated the Espionage Act—the 1917 statute that was used to convict Aldrich Ames, the C.I.A. officer who, in the eighties and nineties, sold U.S. intelligence to the K.G.B., enabling the Kremlin to assassinate informants. In 2007, the indictment says, Drake willfully retained top-secret defense documents that he had sworn an oath to protect, sneaking them out of the intelligence agency’s headquarters, at Fort Meade, Maryland, and taking them home, for the purpose of “unauthorized disclosure.” The aim of this scheme, the indictment says, was to leak government secrets to an unnamed newspaper reporter, who is identifiable as Siobhan Gorman, of the Baltimore
Sun. Gorman wrote a prize-winning series of articles for the Sun about financial waste, bureaucratic dysfunction, and dubious legal practices in N.S.A. counterterrorism programs. Drake is also charged with obstructing justice and lying to federal law-enforcement agents. If he is convicted on all counts, he could receive a prison term of thirty-five years.

The government argues that Drake recklessly endangered the lives of American servicemen. “This is not an issue of benign documents,” William M. Welch II, the senior litigation counsel who is prosecuting the case, argued at a hearing in March, 2010. The N.S.A., he went on, collects “intelligence for the soldier in the field. So when individuals go out and they harm that ability, our intelligence goes dark and our soldier in the field gets harmed.”

Top officials at the Justice Department describe such leak prosecutions as almost obligatory. Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General who supervises the department’s criminal division, told me, “You don’t get to break the law and disclose classified information just because you want to.” He added, “Politics should play no role in it whatsoever.”

When President Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he championed the cause of government transparency, and spoke admiringly of whistle-blowers, whom he described as “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government.” But the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness. Including the Drake case, it has been using the Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined. The Drake case is one of two that Obama’s Justice Department has carried over from the Bush years.

Gabriel Schoenfeld, a conservative political scientist at the Hudson Institute, who, in his book “Necessary Secrets” (2010), argues for more stringent protection of classified information, says, “Ironically, Obama has presided over the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history—even more so than Nixon.”
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After Two Months, No End in Sight to Libyan Air Campaign

McClatchy Newspapers:

On March 19, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s army had quashed weeks of anti-government protests and was poised for an all-out assault on Benghazi, the opposition’s stronghold, when the U.N. Security Council authorized coalition forces to step in and protect civilians. Two months and nearly 7,000 air sorties later, the international military campaign has stopped a potentially devastating massacre in Benghazi, allowed humanitarian aid into besieged civilian areas and helped the rebels keep their hold on eastern Libya.

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POLITICS


Obama stands up to Netanyahu

Obama couldn’t let Netanyahu dictate the terms of the debate while in Washington, where the prime minister will address AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and Congress in the next few days. Nor could Obama wait until he spoke to AIPAC himself on Sunday, and miss the opportunity of a global audience that he had today.

He didn’t break new ground, but he did seem to be suggesting that the Israelis and Palestinians should try to hammer out a deal on territory and security while setting aside the poisonous issues of the fate of Jerusalem and of the Palestinian refugees.

It’s worth restating what Obama said about the principles for such a deal, which he said should be based on 1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps, and that the Palestinians should have a “sovereign and contiguous” state. But he also warned the Palestinians that the “symbolic” action they plan at the U.N. General Assembly in September to seek statehood would fail.

So Bibi will now have to respond to Obama, who throughout this week had let the rumors fly that the resignation of his envoy George Mitchell meant that the peace process was dead. Netanyahu did not mention 1967 borders in his speech this week to the Knesset.

Some will think Obama naïve for trying to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, and he will probably gain little credit in the region, where the overriding view is that the United States is weak. But at least he is prepared to give it one more shot. When he says the status quo is unsustainable, he is right.

In responding to the Arab Spring, Obama has had to contend with Israel resisting change among its neighbors, first Egypt and now Syria. But Israel is not the only conservative force in the region; Saudi Arabia and Iran are also fearful of the turmoil’s effects. What particularly struck me in Obama’s speech was how he listed by name every single state with a potential for change except for one glaring omission — that longstanding U.S. ally, oil-rich Saudi Arabia.

 

Power Shift on Obama’s Foreign Policy Team

When President Obama lays out his vision for the Middle East in a speech today, the Wall Street Journal notes “he will also be tacitly drawing attention to another upheaval: Tumult in the Arab world has accelerated a shift in the standing of Washington’s foreign-policy power players.”

“The Obama White House has moved to exert greater civilian control over the military, challenging the views of the top brass in some areas, officials say. At the same time, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s State Department, together with a more assertive White House National Security Council, has taken a lead in crafting America’s response to the greatest geopolitical challenge since the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

Underscoring this shift: Obama’s choice of venue to deliver the address: the State Department.

 

[Shocker .~] Emerging right wing line: Obama `has thrown Israel under the bus’

The line that the 2012 GOP hopefuls are going to take on Obama’s big speech on the Arab Spring is that he “threw Israel under the bus,” if Mitt Romney’s statement is any indication:

President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus. He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace. He has also violated a first principle of American foreign policy, which is to stand firm by our friends.

Romney’s statement doesn’t tell us how Obama did any of these things, so we’re left to assume that this is a reference to Obama’s comments today about the 1967 lines, which the right is jumping up and down about today.

Obama said: “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”

Conservative media are widely treating this as if it’s a call for Israel to move back within 1967 borders and represents something overwhelmingly hostile to Israel. But virtually all observers of this process who actually know what they’re talking about are dismissing this as nonsense. As Jeffrey Goldberg explained:

This has been the basic idea for at least 12 years. This is what Bill Clinton, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat were talking about at Camp David, and later, at Taba. This is what George W. Bush was talking about with Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. So what’s the huge deal here? Is there any non-delusional Israeli who doesn’t think that the 1967 border won’t serve as the rough outline of the new Palestinian state?

Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs, hardly an Obama sycophant, also dismissed the right’s anger about this as “fake outrage”:

Note: He didn’t say “1967 borders,” he didn’t “side with the Palestinians,” and he absolutely did still insist on mutually agreed swaps and secure borders for both countries. It’s nothing but a rewording of the same position the US has taken for many years.

Indeed, the most credible argument I’ve seen out there today that this represents anything new actually comes from administation supporters. who want Obama’s speech to be seen as bold. Yet as Ben Smith notes, even they are implicitly acknowledging that the idea itself isn’t new — they claim that articulating it the way he did, Obama turned it from semi-official to official administration policy. What’s more, the whole notion of ”mutually agreed swaps” is so vague that Obama’s statement doesn’t really break new policy ground in any case.

But even if you accept that Obama’s articulation of this makes it new — which many observers are rejecting — it’s simply impossible to argue that it represents a major escalation of hostility towards Israel. No matter: Sarah Palin’s tweets making this case will be getting widespread media attention any second now.

UPDATE: Tim Pawlenty’s statement makes a similar suggestion, albeit in language far more restrained than Romney’s:

“President Obama’s insistence on a return to the 1967 borders is a mistaken and very dangerous demand. The city of Jerusalem must never be re-divided. To send a signal to the Palestinians that America will increase its demands on our ally Israel, on the heels of the Palestinian Authority’s agreement with the Hamas terrorist organization, is a disaster waiting to happen. At this time of upheaval in the Middle East, it’s never been more important for America to stand strong for Israel and for a united Jerusalem.”

 

Throwing the Tea Party Under the Bus

In any case, I actually see this as a bigger problem for the tea party than it is for Boehner. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a huge pain in the ass for Boehner because, in the end, he’ll have to defy the tea partiers and do what Wall Street wants — which, on the bright side, also happens to be the right thing to do. In the longer term, though, this is just another sign of the tea party wearing out its welcome. It was a handy force for rousing the voters in the 2010 election, but there’s only so much idiocy that even Republicans can put up with. Talk radio is one thing. Fox News is one thing. For the most part, they talk big but don’t actually demand that politicians commit suicide. Tea partiers, conversely, do want them to commit suicide, and if they get their way the only real result is going to be more Democrats in Congress and the reelection of Barack Obama. The adults in the party understand this perfectly well, and they’re going to throw the tea partiers under the bus if it looks like they’re seriously screwing things up for GOP hopes next year.

So, yeah, Boehner is going to take this down to the wire. He’s going to try to extort some spending cuts out of the White House. He might as well do what he can to appease the tea partiers, after all. But in the end, he’ll vote to raise the debt ceiling, he’ll get enough Republican votes to make it stick, and the Republican establishment is going to finally decide it’s tired of the tea party if they make too much trouble about it. They already (arguably) lost a chance to take control of the Senate in 2010 because of the tea party, and they’re not going to take that chance again in 2012. Either the tea partiers start playing ball with the millionaires or they’re history. The history of the Republican Party is crystal clear on this point.

 

Paging Rick Perry: How a Southerner Could Sweep to the G.O.P. Nomination

Nate Silver:

Since 1980, a Southerner has finished first or second in every Iowa Republican presidential caucus.

More than 40 percent of John McCain’s voters in 2008 were from the South. Thirty-six percent of Republican National Convention delegates will come from the region.

And yet the Republicans, despite the party’s most wide-open field in the modern primary era, may lack a single Southern candidate with a realistic chance at the nomination.

There’s no Mike Huckabee. There’s no Haley Barbour. Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, once thought to be a viable candidate, walked the Appalachian Trail into infamy a long time ago.

There’s Newt Gingrich, a candidate who might have had a shot if all the stars aligned. But instead, Mr. Gingrich’s campaign is off to an awful start, while the Republican establishment — rightly worried about his chances against Barack Obama — is prepared to vote him off the island for his momentary lapse from G.O.P. fiscal orthodoxy. (And Mr. Gingrich — having spent much of his professional life in Washington, D.C. — is more a miso-glazed teriyaki chicken drumstick than anything Southern-fried.)

There’s Ron Paul of Texas and Herman Cain of Georgia. The bettors at Intrade seem to think they have a chance. I’ll keep an open mind — particularly about Mr. Cain, who is viewed favorably by Republicans that have gotten to know him. But the Intrade bettors also thought of Mr. Trump as a plausible nominee.

Package all the current Southern candidates together — you can throw in Roy Moore and Buddy Roemer and a Sham Wow or two — and I’d still need something like 20-to-1 odds to take a bet on one of them winning the nomination. […]

The White House has been occupied by a Southerner — counting the Massachusetts-born and decidedly patrician George H.W. Bush, who resided in Texas at the time he ran for office — in 30 of the past 46 years. I’m not sure this is entirely a coincidence. One reason behind the success of Southern candidates may be that, in competitive primary elections, the region offers a larger home-field advantage than the other parts of the country.

We can divide the United States into four basic regions: Northeast, South, Midwest and West. Although definitions of the regions differ and there is room to debate about the placement states like Missouri, the definition that I’ve used for some time — which is expressly designed for political analysis — considers the ‘political South’ to consist of 15 states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia:

Since 1972, there have been 15 competitive presidential nominating battles — excluding occasions on which an incumbent president ran against only token opposition. Southern candidates have won 38 percent of the states overall in these years.

But they are much more likely to win Southern states — which they have won 50 percent of the time — than they are to win states outside the South, which they have won 33 percent of the time:

[…]

Southern candidates are more likely to win Southern states, in other words, than Midwestern candidates are to win Midwestern states, Northeastern candidates are to win Northeastern states, and so on. Southern candidates have also done pretty well outside the South — in part because the South is the nation’s most populous region and 32 percent of presidential candidates since 1972 have come from there. Nevertheless, the ‘home-region advantage’ for a Southern candidate seems to be somewhat larger — perhaps even about twice as large — as those of their peers from other parts of the country:

[…]

If a candidate dominates the South — and it’s much easier for a Southern candidate to do that — he’ll have made a lot of headway into winning the votes and delegates that he’ll need to secure his party’s nomination. Certainly there have been regional and factional candidates — think George Wallace, for example — who did well in the South but poorly elsewhere. But a candidate like Mr. Perry, who would have advantages like fundraising and establishment support that would extend to all corners of the country, might be more like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, doing very well in the South and still well enough outside of it to win his party’s nomination.

For a Republican candidate, in fact, this advantage may be especially powerful because of a demographic quirk related to Iowa, the first and most important state in the nominating process. Some 60 percent of Iowa Republican voters are born-again Christians — about the same fraction as in many Southern states. That’s why Southern Republicans have done so well in the state.

Now we can imagine an even more advantageous path for a candidate like Mr. Perry. He’d stand a good chance at doing well in Iowa, and if he did, he’d probably follow it up with a win in South Carolina, and possibly also Florida. And then he’d pick up plenty of delegates in the Southern states that voted on Super Tuesday and beyond — including of course Texas, which itself accounts for 140 delegates.

So don’t sell the Southern Republicans short yet — the advantages the primary system offers to candidates like Mr. Perry could be more than enough to make up for a late start.

 

Is our government fundamentally defective?

Joel Achenbach:

If true, kicking out the bums and sending Mr. Smith to Washington won’t solve our biggest problems.

I was thinking specifically of the fiscal issue. Although liberals and conservatives have very different ideas of where the source of the problem can be found, there’s a general consensus that we’re on an unsustainable fiscal path, that we’ve committed ourselves to spending more money than we’re willing to supply in tax revenue. Normally we could rely on economic growth to bail us out, except that, thanks to an aging population and rising health care costs, spending will outpace economic growth.

William Gale of Brookings summarized the problem when I talked to him last week:

“The entire social contract, regarding what individuals pay, what corporations pay, how we structure government spending…the collective set of assumptions that we’ve developed as a society are not sustainable.”

So I threw out the idea that maybe the system doesn’t work, that we’re always just a year or two away from the next election, and no one wants to absorb a short-term political cost even if it solves a long-term problem.

(Another example right now involves energy policy and climate change: It’s easier to talk about drilling more oil wells and how we need to lower the price of gasoline than it is to say we need to put a tax on carbon as a starting point in preventing potentially catastrophic climate change.)

Gale disagreed: He said that our system has actually managed, over the decades, to solve major problems, just rather slowly sometimes. He cited the civil rights movement as one that took many decades but ultimately proved triumphant.

“The great strength of the country is the democratic processes that underlie political decision-making. But that stuff takes a long time to work its way through,” he said.

He added: “Fiscal policy is almost like an economic civil war. It’s precisely because it’s us against us that it’s a problem.”

Yeah: We need to decide, collectively, small-d democratically, what we want to do, what we believe, what we think is the correct social contract between generations, between workers and non-workers, between the rich and poor, between the federal government and the states, and so on.

It’s us against us.

(For the record, I’m rooting for us.)

 

In disheartening display, Senate blocks Goodwin Liu vote

Steve Benen:

As of two weeks ago, it seemed as if the chamber had finally turned a corner on dealing with judicial nominees. We finally saw a Republican contingent willing to give jurists an up-or-down vote, even if they intended to vote against the nomination, suggesting some sanity had returned to the chamber.

It didn’t last. […]

The Republicans who said they’d never filibuster a judicial nominee? They filibustered a judicial nominee. The Republican “moderates” who said they found these tactics distasteful? They filibustered Liu, too. When the dust cleared, how many GOP senators were willing to give this nominee an up-or-down vote? Just one: Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski.

The issue isn’t qualifications. Liu is a respected constitutional law scholar who teaches at Berkley, a graduate of Yale law school, and was a Rhodes Scholar. He’s also the son of Taiwanese immigrants, who would have brought some much-needed diversity to the bench.

So, what’s the problem? Liu criticized Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court nomination, and Republicans have decided to punish him for it. […]

If brought to the floor, Liu would have been confirmed. So Republicans refused to allow a vote.

Even by the standards of the modern, dysfunctional Senate, this was a pathetic display.

 

Flashback: GOP Senators Claim Filibusters of Judicial Nominees are Unconstitutional

Senator Saxby Chambliss (GA): “I believe [filibustering judicial nominees] is in violation of the Constitution” (4/13/05).

Senator John Cornyn (TX): Judicial filibusters are “offensive to our nation’s constitutional design…. [S]eparation of powers principles strongly suggest that the Senate may not—and especially not by mere Senate rule—enhance its own power in such a manner without offending the Constitution” (2004).

Senator Mike Crapo (ID): “[T]he Constitution requires the Senate to hold up-or-down votes on all nominees” (5/25/05).

Senator Jim Demint (SC): “[D]enials of simple votes on judicial nominees” are “unconstitutional” (5/22/05).

Senator Lindsey Graham (SC): “I think filibustering judges will destroy the judiciary over time. I think it’s unconstitutional” (5/23/05).

Senator Orrin Hatch (UT): Filibustering judicial nominees is “unfair, dangerous, partisan, and unconstitutional” (1/12/05).

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX): “[T]he Constitution envisions a 51-vote majority for judgeships…. [Filibustering judges] amend[s] the Constitution without going through the proper processes…. We have a majority rule that is the tradition of the Senate with judges. It is the constitutional requirement” (4/28/05).

Senator Johnny Isakson (GA): “[T]he Constitution require[s] an up-or-down vote” on judicial nominees. “I will vote to support a vote, up or down, on every nominee. Understanding that, were I in the minority party and the issues reversed, I would take exactly the same position because this document, our Constitution, does not equivocate” (5/19/05).

Senator Jon Kyl (AZ): “The President was elected fair and square. He has the right to submit judicial nominees and it is the Senate’s obligation under the Constitution to act on those nominees” (4/10/08).

Senator Jeff Sessions (AL): “[The Constitution] says the Senate shall advise and consent on treaties by a two-thirds vote, and simply ‘shall advise and consent’ on nominations…. I think there is no doubt the Founders understood that to mean … confirmation of a judicial nomination requires only a simple majority vote” (7/27/03).

Senator Richard Shelby (AL): “Why not allow the President to do his job of selecting judicial nominees and let us do our job in confirming or denying them? Principles of fairness call for it and the Constitution requires it” (11/12/03).

Senator John Thune (SD): Filibustering judicial nominees “is contrary to our Constitution …. It was the Founders’ intention that the Senate dispose of them with a simple majority vote” (4/21/05).

 

Tech Executive Hosts Boehner Fundraiser in Silicon Valley [Don’t buy H/P]

 

Constituents Laugh At GOP Rep. Quayle For Denying Existence Of Billions In Special Oil Subsidies

 

Daniels vs. Daniels

Why people are curious about the Indiana governor’s marriage.

WSJ:

There’s been a lot of talk recently about Daniels’s marriage to First Lady Cheri Daniels–or rather, about his marriages to her. The Washington Post explains:

The couple has a complicated personal history. They divorced in 1994, and Cheri Daniels moved to California, where she remarried. The future governor, then a senior executive at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, raised the couple’s four daughters, who at the time spanned the ages of 8 to 14. Cheri Daniels later returned, and the couple remarried in 1997.

The Post spends a long but inconclusive paragraph trying to explain why this would matter, noting that “officials at potential rival campaigns to Daniels disagreed about whether the personal history of Cheri Daniels would ever be a vulnerability or even germane to the race.”

There has been no suggestion that Mr. Daniels behaved wrongfully in private, much less in public. Mrs. Daniels’s actions back then are reminiscent of Meryl Streep’s character Joanna Kramer, the villain in “Kramer vs. Kramer.” But since the Indiana first lady is a private citizen who appears to have no political ambitions of her own, her past indiscretions are none of anyone’s business.

Yet there’s a curiosity around this story, which we suppose comes down to the question: What does it tell us about the character of a prospective president? Or, to put it more pointedly: If a man would take back a woman after such a betrayal, is he tough enough to lead the country?

On the information available, that question is unanswerable, and the compression of the narrative is probably deceiving. The story jumps ahead three years, from betrayal to reconciliation, but the only clue about the middle of the story is a quote noted by the New York Times:

[Mr. Daniels] has discussed [the marital drama] only once publicly, telling The Indianapolis Star in 2004: “If you like happy endings, you’ll love our story. Love and the love of children overcame any problems.”

“The love of children” certainly speaks well of the governor’s maturity and leadership. Perhaps that will prove sufficient to assuage whatever doubts voters have about the story. The Times adds that “it is a topic that Mr. Daniels does not relish delving into,” and we must admit the past few years have made a reluctance to talk about oneself into a very attractive quality in a president. […]

And after calling for a “truce” on social issues, Daniels signed a bill banning state funding to Planned Parenthood. The Times’s Gail Collins quoted abortion advocate Nancy Keenan: “He called a truce on social issues, and he was the first to fold.” Keenan had evidently construed “truce” to mean “surrender” (or “switching sides”), a mistake that more than a few social conservatives made as well. Conservatives who like happy endings could do worse than to give Daniels a second look.

 

Photo ID Laws: Changing the Face of the Electorate for Republican Gain

In USA Today this week, Donna Brazile, DNC vice chair of Voter Registration & Participation, calls out Republican lawmakers for their efforts to push election laws that will cost taxpayers millions — and disenfranchise countless voters. She writes:

Across America, Republican lawmakers have talked a big game about cutting budgets, but they also are seeking reductions to something much more fundamental: Americans’ voting rights. From coast to coast, the GOP is engaged in what appears to be a coordinated, expensive effort to block voters from the polls… In more than 30 states, GOP legislators are on the move, from a sweeping rewrite of Florida’s election laws to new rules for photo identification in Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina and more than 20 other states.

The DNC Voting Rights Institute today released a report highlighting the burdensome cost states would incur implementing photo ID laws. The report found that not only has the underlying argument in support of such laws been found to be completely baseless, but states can ill afford the extraordinary costs of their implementation. You can read the report, The Real Cost of Photo ID, here.

The consequences of these laws can’t be overstated. As Brazile writes of photo ID laws, 11 percent of Americans – more than 21 million citizens of voting age – don’t have the type of ID they would be required to present before voting. And, she notes, those without photo identification are disproportionately low-income, minority voters, young voters, older voters and the disabled.

Brazile also highlights the fiscal impact of photo ID – and writes that Republican legislators have ignored their high cost. Indiana spent more than $10 million dollars in the first four fiscal years of implementation, to provide free ID cards – just one of many costs associated with photo ID laws.

Brazile concludes:

…[T]hese voting hurdles won’t improve the integrity of our elections, but they will change the face of the electorate….  In my career, I have felt the elation of a hard-fought, successful campaign and the crushing defeat of an equally grueling loss. I’ve learned that campaigns are about which side makes the more compelling case to the electorate. This is what makes our democracy great. What the GOP is attempting to do is change the rules of the game, leaving only their players on the field.

You can read the rest of Brazile’s article here.

 

Video- President Obama’s remarks at DNC fundraiser in Boston

Short version—worth the watch.

No matter what we look like, where we come from, what God we worship to, no matter whether our ancestors landed on Ellis Island or came here on a slave ship or crossed the Rio Grande, we believe that we are all connected and we rise and fall together. And that is a strength.  That is the strength of America.  That’s the heart of the idea of America.  That’s the heart of the idea of our campaign.  (Applause.)

That’s why I’m going to need your help now more than ever.  This campaign is still in its early stages, but now is the time you can help shape it, make sure it gets out of the gate strong.
And I know there are times where some of you, over the last two-and-a-half years, you’ve been frustrated because we haven’t gotten everything done exactly how you wanted it, as quickly as you wanted it.  I know.  I know all your conversations.  (Laughter.)  Why did Obama compromise with the Republicans on that?  Why did health care take so long?  Where’s our public option?  (Applause.)  Why?  Why?  (Laughter.)  Maybe he’s changed.  (Laughter.)  Although somewhere you still got that poster.  (Laughter and applause.)

Look, there are times where I felt frustrated, too.  But we knew this would not be easy.  This is a democracy.  This country is big and diverse and full of different ideas, and power is diffuse, which is part of what preserves our liberty.  And it means sometimes we compromise.  And it means sometimes we don’t get our way.  And it means that things that are so obvious to us, so self-apparent to us, may be completely anathema to somebody else, and we’ve got to persuade them and argue it out, and win folks over, one mind and heart and vote at a time.  And, yes, that’s sometimes frustrating.

We knew, on a journey like this, there were going to be setbacks, there were going to be detours.  And there would be times where we stumble.  I love when I hear people say, well, he ran such a perfect campaign.  What campaign were you on?  (Laughter.)  It didn’t feel perfect to me.  (Laughter.)  I’ve got the scars to prove it.  (Laughter.)  We screwed up all the time.

But what we knew was that at every juncture in our history, when our future was on the line, when our country was at a crossroads like we are now, we figured it out.  We somehow managed to transform ourselves from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy, and then to an information economy.  We somehow managed to absorb new waves of immigrants.  We managed to take on the stain of slavery.  We managed to figure out how to make sure women were full participants in our democracy.  We managed to move forward not as Republicans or Democrats, but as Americans, as one people, as one nation.  (Applause.)

So when you hear people say that our problems are too big, when you hear people say we aren’t going to bring about the changes that we seek, I want you to think about all the progress that we’ve made.  I want you to think about all the unfinished business that lies ahead.  And I want you to remember and remind everybody else those three simple words that we talked about in 2008 that apply right now as much as they did then:  Yes, we can. (Applause.)

FULL TRANSCRIPT HERE.

 

Some Dems Press Obama To Recess Appoint Elizabeth Warren To Run Consumer Bureau

With Senate Republicans committed to blocking all potential directors of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, congressional Democrats are pressing President Obama to accept reality and offer Elizabeth Warren a recess appointment to head the agency she conceived of.

“Regretfully, Republicans in the Senate have now made it clear that they oppose reform,” reads a letter from House Democrats that will be delivered to President Obama. […]

The CFPB was created as part of the recently enacted Wall Street reform bill, over significant opposition from Republicans and influential industry players, to protect consumers from predatory financial practices. President Obama appointed Warren to stand up the agency in an advisory capacity ahead of the 2010 election. But it will soon migrate from the Treasury Department to be housed within the Federal Reserve, and will need Senate-confirmed director to officially run the show. Because of objections from Republicans, financial services lobbyists, and even some Democrats, Warren was thought to be unconfirmable, and thus not a likely candidate for the nomination.

However, Senate Republicans recently gave Obama a way out. Almost every one of them signed a letter vowing to block any nominee — even a Republican one — until Democrats agreed to weaken the bureau by statute.

Because of Senate filibuster rules, Obama won’t be able to confirm even a consensus director without undermining the central mission of the bureau. That leaves a recess appointment as his only option — he can pick whomever he wants, and Warren is a popular choice among progressives and reform advocates.

 

POLLS


So much for the great white hope Obama (D) 51, Christie (R) 34 Zogby


Ohio Poll: Sherrod Brown Leads Potential Rivals for Re-Election [by a LOT]

 

SCOTUS

 

Sen. Sanders calls for constitutional amendment to overrule Citizens United

 

WEDGE ISSUES

 

The War on Contraception Goes Viral

As those of us who’ve been following the anti-choice movement for years can attest, the biggest stumbling block for them has been finding a way to make a move towards restricting access to contraception while still trying to keep something like a decent reputation with the public. Attacking sexual liberation and women’s rights has always been at the heart of the anti-choice movement, but in order to sell such a radical agenda as mainstream, they’ve had to make sentimental and often bad faith claims about simply wanting to protect fetal life. While making frowny faces in the direction of pregnant women who want to terminate has been an effective strategy for restricting abortion rights, however, it has its limits when it comes to attacking women’s ability to prevent pregnancy in the first place.

 

Abstinence-Only Ed $1.5billion Failure

 

Pastor Hagee’s rapture ready congregation confronted on nakba day. “How many children have you killed w/your tithes?”(VIDEO)

 

Rapture Prediction Spurs Donations for Evangelical Group

Family Radio, the nonprofit broadcast network that has proclaimed Saturday the beginning of the end of the world, has seen contributions rise as the predicted Judgment Day nears, writes the Contra Costa Times.

Tom Evans, a board member of the Oakland, Calif., evangelical group, said contributions “have picked up, but not enough to offset the amount of money we’re spending” on thousands of billboards and message-bearing RV’s that are spreading the apocalyptic word.

Family Radio’s 66 stations worldwide have long espoused the views of its founder, Harold Camping, that  based on biblical calculations,  the rapture–the day when believers are raised to heaven and nonbelievers left behind to suffer the convulsive end of the world–will take place on Saturday.

“If we have any money left [on Saturday], and we will because we have to pay bills up to the very end,” it will be destroyed because of Judgment Day, Mr. Camping said.

Family Radio has raised more than $100-million in the past seven years. In 2009, the most recent year for which its tax filings are public, the group reported collecting $18.4-million in donations and spending $36.7-million.

 

AND IN OTHER NEWS…

 

White America’s collapsing birth rate is changing the face of the country

AMONG America’s three-year-olds, a revolution is afoot. Children of that age are turning the country’s demographics on its head. According to a recent study from the Census Bureau, the majority of them are now from groups normally considered minorities, chiefly Hispanics and blacks. The latest release of data from last year’s decennial census confirms that whites still constitute a slender majority, 54%, of those under 18, and a larger one, 64%, of the population as a whole. But America’s transformation into a much browner, more suburban, more southern and western place is rapid and relentless.

Over the past decade America’s population has grown by 9.7%, to 309m. Minorities accounted for 92% of that growth. The ranks of Hispanics swelled by 43%, to 51m. The Asian population grew at the same rate, to 15m. Blacks increased in number by 11%, to 38m. All minority groups put together jumped by 29%, to 112m. Minorities now form the majority in America’s two most-populous states, California and Texas, as well as in Hawaii, New Mexico and Washington, DC. They account for the majority of children in six more: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi and Nevada. And their numbers are growing particularly fast in previously lily-white places such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

Meanwhile America’s white, non-Hispanic population grew by only 1.2% from 2000 to 2010. In 15 of the 50 states, it shrank. California lost 5% of its whites; New Jersey and Rhode Island both shed 6%. The number of white children fell in 46 states, for an overall decrease of 10%. Whites, explains Bill Frey of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, are older, have fewer children anyway and make up a relatively small proportion of immigrants, so their share of the population is destined to go on falling.

The giant sucking sound emanating from the South and West, another leitmotif of American demographics, continues unmuffled. Both regions grew by 14%, while the north-east and the Midwest managed just 3% and 4% growth respectively. People are fleeing the cold: there is a strong correlation between the average temperature in January and population growth, notes Edward Glaeser, a professor of economics at Harvard University. He also attributes the rapid expansion of cities like Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston to their cheap, abundant housing.

Even in the sunbelt, however, many rural areas are losing population. The trend is particularly acute in the plains states, but also pertains in much of the Midwest and the South. The proportion of Americans living in urban areas rose from 93.2% in 2000 to 93.7% last year, with big cities growing faster than small ones. Most of this growth occurred in the suburbs rather than the inner cities, Mr Glaeser adds, with the more prosperous metropolitan areas and those with better educated residents growing especially fast. Areas with lots of manufacturing grew more slowly.

Michigan, with its long-suffering car industry, was the only state to see its population shrink over the decade, albeit by less than 1%. (Puerto Rico, an American territory with economic troubles of its own, lost 2% of its inhabitants.)

What all this means for politics is the subject of some dispute. Right-wing analysts herald the ballooning population of the Republican-leaning states in the South and West and the relative stagnation of the Democratic bastions in the Midwest and north-east as proof of the superiority of Republican policies. What is more, they crow, faster growth is bringing more seats in the House of Representatives to Republican states, which could help to cement their current majority. Conservative Texas, for example, is gaining four seats in the reapportionment set in train by last year’s census; liberal New York is losing two.

But Democrats counter that the growth the Republicans are celebrating comes from natural Democratic constituencies. Minorities, they point out, tend to vote Democratic, whereas the dwindling white, rural population is largely Republican. By this logic, Democratic infiltrators are gradually undermining Republicans’ control over their territory from within. Barack Obama, after all, carried previously Republican-leaning western and southern states such as Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia on his way to the White House in 2008. If he can maintain his share of the vote among blacks and Latinos, he will be hard to beat in 2012.

 

Following on from the Kill Bill section of episode 2 of Everything is a Remix, this video contains what feels like an exhaustive look at the movies that Tarantino referenced in Kill Bill.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/19469447[/vimeo]

 


TAKE ACTION


Isn’t That Nice? Elderly Protesters Against JPMorgan Chase Maced By Ohio Police

Police maced several elderly protesters Tuesday at JPMorgan Chase’s annual shareholder meeting in Columbus, Ohio, according to activists present at the event.

Hundreds of people from dozens of community organizing groups swarmed the Tuesday meeting to demand the company overhaul its widely criticized foreclosure policies. JPMorgan Chase has improperly broken into the homes of its borrowers in order to pursue foreclosures and has been accused of robo-signing thousands of key foreclosure documents. Federal regulators slapped the company with a consent order over foreclosure problems earlier this year, and the federal government is currently contemplating filing charges that the company defrauded taxpayers with its foreclosure policies on government-backed loans.

In telephone interviews with HuffPost, multiple protesters complained of an overly aggressive police presence.

George Goehl, Executive Director of National People’s Action, which helped organize the protest, said he and several elderly protesters were maced as police attempted to move protesters back from the building.

“There must have been 10 police for every banker,” Goehl told HuffPost. “JPMorgan Chase, they don’t only own the government. They own the Columbus police department.”

The Columbus Department of Police did not respond to phone calls for comment on this story.

“It was insane,” said Robin Acree, Executive Director of Grass Roots Organizing, a social justice group based in Missouri, who said she was still in pain several hours after the protest from being maced.

[It was this event, posted here yesterday:]


Pennsylvanians Rally Against Education Cuts–and New Video of Epic Rally in Harrisburg

The crowd had overwhelmed Third Street in front of the Capitol, carrying signs such Corbett’s budget = All Children Left Behind, Stop the Attacks on the Middle Class, Corbett Voters: How’s that Trickle Down Taste, and “Close Loopholes–Not Public Schools.”

We doubt these actions will be the last we hear from Pennsylvania American Dreamers, especially considering Gov. Corbett’s trip to Washington last week wherein he blamed teachers’ unions for Pennsylvania’s poorly performing schools.

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all. ~Eleanor Roosevelt

 

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.

10 Responses so far.

Click here to leave a comment
  1. KillgoreTrout says:

    cher, thanks for posting the time lapsed video of an acorn into a seedling. The wonders of Nature are seemingly endless. Here is a quote by Henry David Thoreau that I really like;

    “My profession is to be always on the alert to find God in nature—to know his lurking places.”

  2. Chernynkaya says:

    HAH! Just found out that the aggregated Daily Planet is now being aggregated by the aggrigator site Stumbledupon. I think this is called a circle jerk? :-)

  3. agrippa says:

    I do not see any practical solutions to the Israel/Palestine problem. A two state solution, which is the best idea available, will be very hard; due to Israel creating “facts on the ground” by having settlements all over The West Bank. It is not a coincidence that Israel has done that.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      I see no easy solutions but there are some--all involving some sort of decree from outsiders, i.e., neither the Israelis or the Palestinians. Which, as I guess means no solutions. If the US stopped supporting Israel financially, it would be politically untenable for whomever proposed that, but that is the only way, coupled with strong international protection of Israel’s borders, like from the UN. The alternative will only lead to war eventually between Israel and some Arab country. And if Israel were to lose that war, well, they have nukes. Why doesn’t the UN have any vision or united principles. (Because humans are proving to be not up to the tasks--look at climate change.)

  4. agrippa says:

    Good post about regressive ideals.

    Free trade is an ideal or doctrine. It is based upon the notion of “comparative advantage”. That is, it is a trade off amoung countries. It was an idea that came from Britain when it exported manufactured products and imported food products. Britain, also, transported these products in both directions. A net gain for GB.

    Free trade amoung equal countries does work out to be pretty equal in the long run. But, with rich/poor it is not equal.

    The doctrine of free trade has not worked well for the USA.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Agrippa, I don’t know much about trade, but it seems to me that the game has changed due to multinational corporations. In other words, free trade only benefits the corps. and no longer the countries that used to trade; there is no nationalism involved. Used to be, trade ensured work and profits for a nation, but now jobs are outsourced to the poorest countries and do not benefit the country of origin of the corporation. Yet they use our resources while returning little to the US. Anyway, that’s how it seems to me. On the other hand, since we import so much, tariffs are what impact us the most--as consumers. And the public can never be expected to think strategically or long-term when buying things. So we give up our jobs so that we can buy more, cheaply. Insane.


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