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Chernynkaya On May - 25 - 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


Cantor: No disaster relief for Missouri without budget cuts.

Firefighters and rescue workers who arrived in Joplin, MO, found that the deadly tornado that hit the state Sunday had left a “barren, smoky wasteland” in its path. Rescue workers worked through more storms in an effort to find potential survivors, even as the death toll rose to at least 119. President Obama pledged full support to the state Monday, telling survivors, “We’re here with you. We’re going to stay by you.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), however, said that before Congress approved federal funds for disaster relief, it had to offset the spending with cuts to other programs. The Washington Times reports:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Monday that if Congress passes an emergency spending bill to help Missouri’s tornado victims, the extra money will have to be cut from somewhere else.

If there is support for a supplemental, it would be accompanied by support for having pay-fors to that supplemental,” Mr. Cantor, Virginia Republican, told reporters at the Capitol. The term “pay-fors” is used by lawmakers to signal cuts or tax increases used to pay for new spending.

In 2005, Republicans criticized then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) for his willingness to fund relief in the wake of Hurricane Katrina by adding to the deficit. “It is right to borrow to pay for it,” he said at the time, explaining that cuts could “attack” the economy.

Meanwhile, as Climate Progress reports, the government’s tornado forecasting service faces cuts in the GOP Congress, including cuts to NOAA weather satellite that “could halve the accuracy of precipitation forecasts.” Accurate and early forecasting is tremendously important, as “tornado deaths in the United States have gone from 8 per 1 million people in 1925 to 0.11 per 1 million people today — a trend largely attributed to early-warning systems fed by advanced meteorology and the introduction of Doppler radar.”

 

The Ryan Mistake

Krugman:

Politico has an interesting piece about how the lemmings came to jump off the cliff — how the GOP came to stake everything on the Ryan plan. But there are a couple of points that I don’t think come clear in the story. […]

What I hope regular readers of this blog understand by now is that the Ryan plan is, in fact, a self-serving piece of junk. It doesn’t add up — in fact, it would probably make the deficit bigger not smaller. And far from representing some kind of sacrifice of political interests in the service of the greater good, it’s a right-wing wish-list on steroids: sharp tax cuts for corporations and the rich, savage cuts in aid to the poor, and a gratuitous privatization of Medicare. And again, it’s technically incompetent along the way.

So nobility and seriousness had nothing to do with it.

But what about that political misjudgment? How could they have thought this piece of junk would fly?

What I think Politico misses is that while the ideas in the Ryan plan poll terribly with the general public, there was very good reason to expect them to poll well with the punditocracy. For a year before the plan was unveiled, Ryan was the absolute darling of Beltway insiders; any suggestion that he was in fact a flim-flam man was greeted with anger. And let’s remember that for about two days after the plan was unveiled, it was greeted rapturously, even by some alleged liberals.

So what I suspect is that Ryan and his colleagues expected to float through on a cloud of pundit love, which would allow them to bypass the public’s fundamental dislike of everything they were proposing.

Exactly why they thought this could happen despite the very similar story of Bush’s attempt to dismantle Social Security is another question.

 

BUSINESS


Cisco sued for helping China monitor Internet

A lawsuit filed in US federal court in the northern California city of San Jose calls for the computer networking gear giant to pay damages and stop helping China find Falungong supporters.

Cisco “designed, supplied and helped maintain a censorship and surveillance network known as Golden Shield” used by Chinese officials to identify Falungong practitioners who were detained, tortured and sometimes killed, a lawyer for the group said in court documents filed last week.

“Cisco does not operate networks in China or elsewhere, nor does Cisco customize our products in any way that would facilitate censorship or repression,” the California-based firm told AFP.

“Cisco builds equipment to global standards which facilitate free exchange of information, and we sell the same equipment in China that we sell in other nations worldwide in strict compliance with US government regulations.”

Cisco established a China Network Technology Corp. subsidiary in Beijing in 1998 that went to work on Golden Shield, referred to internally as “Policenet,” according to the suit.

“Cisco’s specific intent to meet the requirements of the Chinese Communist Party’s purpose to identify, track and thereby abuse and eliminate Falungong practitioners… was expressed in marketing presentations,” court papers charge.

 

Chrysler Announces Loan Repayment, Another Payoff of President Obama’s Investment

In a wire transfer [Tuesday] morning, the Chrysler Group paid back $7.5 billion in government loans it received from the U.S. and Canadian governments.

It’s a success story few expected. In 2008, the auto industry was on the brink of collapse and the jobs of thousands of Americans were at stake. President Obama chose an alternate outcome, directing the federal government to back the loans that gave America’s car companies the lifeline they needed.

Many people, including several of the current gaggle of Republican presidential candidates, argued that the government shouldn’t meddle in the auto industry. If Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, and Jon Huntsman had their way, these jobs wouldn’t exist and America’s automakers would be living a much different reality. […]

But because of the President’s involvement, hundreds of thousands of jobs still exist, parents are able to continue providing for their families, and American industry is growing stronger.

 

ECONOMY

 

Geithner was right and Krugman and Stiglitz were wrong [?]

The basic Krugman/Stiglitz argument was that the financial markets had correctly priced bank assets as junk and so the biggest banks owed more money than they could ever repay and the government should “nationalize” them. The Administration, on the other hand, said that the financial markets were in the grip of a panic and that arranging for temporary government and government/private finance would calm things down at less cost to the taxpayer. Obviously, Geithner, Obama, and Bernanke were correct and the critics from the left were incorrect – the banks have stabilized, the “toxic assets” purchased by government have turned out to be a great investment, and the economy is recovering slowly, not smoldering in ruins. But the strangest thing about the incorrect analysis of the “left critics” is that it’s based on a fundamentally right wing view of the economy wrapped up in a bunch of pseudo-populist signifying. The right insists that that market price is value. The right insists that financial markets are rational. And the right is contemptuous and derisory about reformers. […]

All the elements of right wing economics are in play here including the ridiculous emphasis on “confidence” because the right wing always wants the government to soothe the troubled nerves of the market and the conspiracy theory beloved of John Birchers. Joe Stiglitz is a smart guy and a good liberal at heart, but this argument is very much like the argument that Ron Paul made – and for a reason. Here’s Krugman a week earlier. […]

To answer the question of why these bright and well informed people were so wrong, we have to understand how strange it is to see a supposedly “left wing” critique based on financial market valuation. The administration said that while there were bad loans and bad mortgage bonds, investors were not making a rational assessment of the state of the market and were caught into the domino effect of debt during these kinds of crisis. During the Bush/Greenspan bubble, investors borrowed money so they could get more valuable bonds and stocks. But when the prices started to fall, some of them had to sell right away to pay their bankers back – and this made prices drop even more which forced more investors to sell in a panic to pay back their loans and so on.

MORE>>>

 

America’s Housing Shortfall

Matt Yglesias:

An excellent chart from Brad DeLong’s talk at the Urban Land Institute conference makes a point that few people realize—the net impact of the housing boom and the housing bust is that we now appear to have a substantial housing shortage in America:

Part of what’s needed to turn this around is an overall healthier economy. And part of what’s needed is for more land to be zoned so as to permit the construction of multi-family rental units, which would allow people to have places to live without requiring a renewed boom in mortgage lending. Alternatively, some kind of conceptual breakthrough in how to efficiently manage large blocs of single-family homes as rental properties would do the trick.

 

EDUCATION



NJ Court Orders State to Spend $500M More on Poor Schools

The New Jersey Supreme Court has rebuked Gov. Chris Christie and ordered the state to increase spending on poor schools by an estimated $500 million.

The 3-2 ruling came Tuesday in a long-running court battle over funding for the state’s poorest schools.

The court has consistently ruled the state needs to do more for a group of its poorest school districts. But Christie and his administration argued the state can’t afford to pay more now.

Christie has warned that ordering the state to give more to schools could mean dire consequences for other government spending _ such as aid to hospitals.

 

The United Gates of America

In the New York Times, we finally see coverage of a phenomenon some of us have been writing about for year.  The piece begins by telling about a small committed group of apparently grass roots organized teachers  who testified before the Indiana legislature and wrote an op ed asking to eliminate seniority-based layoff policies.

They described themselves simply as local teachers who favored school reform — one sympathetic state representative, Mary Ann Sullivan, said, “They seemed like genuine, real people versus the teachers’ union lobbyists.” They were, but they were also recruits in a national organization, Teach Plus, financed significantly by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

To see how pervasive the influence of the money of Bill Gates is, I strongly urge you to read Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates

And remember this:

In some cases, Mr. Gates is creating entirely new advocacy groups. The foundation is also paying Harvard-trained data specialists to work inside school districts, not only to crunch numbers but also to change practices. It is bankrolling many of the Washington analysts who interpret education issues for journalists and giving grants to some media organizations. […]

It is paying the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Fordham Institute to help in the promotion of those Common Core Standards.

Let’s stop on the CCS for a moment.  When the committees were established to draft them, there were people from think thanks, people from curriculum/testing firms, people from advocacy groups, but something was missing – no one was a teacher, no one was from the professional organizations of teachers dealing with the content –  National Council of Teachers of English, International Reading Association, or National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.  Nor of course were either teachers union represented – after all, Gates has been consistent in his opposition to unions.

It goes further.  Gates was involved in promoting the horrid “Waiting for Superman” which demonized one teachers union president, Randi Weingarten, and which sought to blame teachers unions for the presence of bad teachers even distorting the data to make its points.

Before that we would find Gates – and Broad – funding Teach for America.  Their money was behind New Leaders for New Schools.  The New Teacher Project which was led by Michelle Rhee before she went to DC Public Schools was another recipient.[…]

What we are seeing is a distortion of the policy making process.  Where the public is still included, it is often through what some would describe as a process already distorted or perveted, because the media which should provide accurate and unbiased information does not.

We have seen this in other areas of American life.  There was little criticism in the traditional organs of media of the rush to war in Iraq.  There were few questions at the move to strip civil liberties in the name of national security.  Media outlets have continued to be concentrated into fewer and fewer hands, such as but not limited to those of Rupert Murdoch.  Now we have Comcast, which has been in violation of net neutrality, taking control of NBC Universal.  When media organizations are owned by industrial interests, as NBC was by GE, can those organizations properly cover their parents?  When major economic interests are the source of revenue for such organizations, will the public receive honest reporting about the misdeeds and abuses of such interests?

MORE>>>


Diane Ravitch: My reaction to NYTimes story about Gates Foundation
:

 

ENERGY

 

Do NRC Inspectors Have the Training and Expertise to Do Their Jobs?

A host of inconsistencies in the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC’s) oversight of spent nuclear fuel storage is leading to increased public health and safety risks, according to a new report issued by the Commission’s Inspector General (IG).

The report, released May 19, found that the training and expertise of NRC staff who inspect independent spent fuel storage installations (ISFSIs) is mixed:

Current ISFSI safety inspector training does not provide inspectors with a consistent understanding of NRC’s inspection requirements. Specifically, NRC staff do not have a consistent understanding of the agency’s requirements relating to ISFSI inspections, the use of enforcement at ISFSIs, and the role of resident inspectors at sites with ISFSIs.

As the IG points out, this lack of consistent training seems to contradict the Commission’s own policies:

“Although it is NRC’s policy to assign only trained and qualified individuals with the knowledge and aptitude to perform onsite inspection activities consistent with agency expectations, there is no formalized agencywide training program for ISFSI safety inspectors.”

The IG goes on to suggest that all this means folks like you and me are less safe:

When training requirements vary among staff, compromised oversight of ISFSI safety inspections can occur. Specifically, there is an increased potential that inspections will overlook discrepancies, resulting in an increased risk to public health and safety.

But training inconsistencies aren’t the only thing that may be leading to greater risks to the public:

The period between routine ISFSI inspections varies among regions from 1 to almost 6 years. Although NRC expects a level of consistency in the performance of ISFSI inspections, inspection frequencies vary because the frequency required to conduct routine ISFSI inspections is not clearly defined. Routine ISFSI safety inspections could be delayed indefinitely without clearly defined inspection frequency guidance, potentially increasing the risk to public health and safety.

The IG reported that NRC management “stated their general agreement with the findings and recommendations” in the report.

For the uninitiated, the IG offers this definition of ISFSI:

An independent spent fuel storage installation (ISFSI) is an NRC licensed  facility designed and constructed for the interim storage of spent nuclear  fuel and other radioactive materials associated with the spent fuel.  An  ISFSI typically consists of a concrete storage pad, storage containers (casks), and any support facilities. The majority of ISFSIs are located at operating reactor sites

Read the NRC IG’s report, “Audit of NRC’s Oversight of Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installations Safety.”

 

ENVIRONMENT


El Cielo de Canarias / Canary sky – Tenerife from Daniel López.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/23205323[/vimeo]

 

Heeding an Oil-Spill Lesson, 2 Agencies Team Up

One of the lessons painfully learned from the Deepwater Horizon blowout and spill was that the federal officials responsible for regulating offshore drilling lacked adequate input from government agencies with expertise in shorelines, ocean science and toxic spills. One of the key recommendations of the presidential commission that studied the disaster was that federal agencies talk to each other about potential environmental hazards before granting permits to drill offshore.

On Monday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement, the main agency responsible for policing offshore drilling, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, home of the nation’s ocean science experts, announced that they would work more closely in reviewing applications for drilling on the outer continental shelf.

The agreement is supposed to provide more complete and timely coordination on scientific and environmental issues surrounding offshore oil exploration and development.

The presidential spill panel noted that federal oil and gas regulators were required to seek input from NOAA and other scientific agencies but were not required to act on their comments or recommendations.

“As a result,” the presidential commission said in its final report, “NOAA — the nation’s ocean agency with the most expertise in marine science and the management of living marine resources —  effectively has the same limited role as the general public in the decisions on selecting where and when to lease portions of the O.C.S.”

The memorandum of agreement is designed to fix that, according to Monday’s announcement.

“This agreement improves how we coordinate and collaborate to ensure energy resources are developed in an environmentally sound manner that protects marine life and ecosystems under our respective authorities,” said Jane Lubchenco, a marine ecologist who is NOAA’s administrator. “We look forward to continuing to work with BOEMRE to ensure NOAA science informs offshore energy development and oil spill response.”


HEALTH CARE


Real world making health-care reforms

While the politicians continue with their posturing and hair-splitting, however, the rest of the world is actually making some progress by improving quality and slowing the growth in health-care spending.

One of the rituals in the health-care industry is annual arm wrestling between private health insurers and hospitals over how much hospital rates will go up the next year. Over the years, the hospitals have gotten the upper hand in these negotiations, particularly as they have organized themselves into regional and national chains that are “must haves” in terms of insurers’ provider networks. So it’s not uncommon that the hospitals have won rate increases well in excess of inflation, which of course are passed on to thee and me in the form of higher premiums.

Rates, however, aren’t the only driver of spending. Just as important as the cost of MRI or a night in a hospital is how many MRI and hospital nights are utilized. And decades of research have revealed that a surprising amount of that use is unnecessary because it results from avoidable medical errors or failure by doctors and nurses to follow best medical practices.

This insight — that better quality leads to lower cost — has become the focus of the effort to slow the growth in health-care spending.

Medicare kicked things off by requiring that all hospitals begin to collect data on various quality measures. The hospitals screamed and complained the metrics were unfair, but they eventually complied. Now the results are published on the Medicare Web site and are widely used by insurers and private groups to rate the quality and cost-effectiveness of individual hospitals.

For taxpayers, the payoff to all this was written into the new health reform law. Starting in October, Medicare will launch a program it calls “value-based purchasing” in which hospitals can see that their reimbursement rates will rise or fall by one percentage point based on how they do on their quality measures, both in absolute terms and relative to their score the year before. In 2017, the stakes will double, with a two-percentage-point variation allowed in each direction. And because of the way the incentives are structured, there will be a competitive dynamic that drives the benchmarks higher every year — a “race to the top” in hospital quality.

Private insurers are also getting in on the act. Over the past few years, most of the big insurance companies have begun to collaborate with willing hospitals to link annual rate increases to quality improvement. This year WellPoint took all of this one step further by announcing that its contracts will not allow for any increase for any hospital that fails to reach an agreed-upon set of quality benchmarks, with bonuses for hospitals that exceed them. Given that annual rate increases have averaged 8 percent, we’re talking real money here. […]

Paying for quality is a big first step on the road to genuine reform of the health-care system, but in terms of bending the cost curve, it takes you only so far. The bigger and more important step is to change the financial incentives for doctors, hospitals and other providers so that they have a financial interest in holding down costs by eliminating care that isn’t necessary or offers little benefit relative to its cost.

Forty years ago, health reformers thought they figured out how to do that when they pioneered the first health maintenance organizations, which were networks of hospitals and salaried doctors that received a fixed amount of money every year for taking care of the medical needs of each of its patient members, irrespective of how many tests they did or procedures they performed. Rather than some insurance company like WellPoint or Aetna taking the financial risk of paying for an unknown amount of health care for a premium set at the beginning of the year, the hospitals and doctors would, in effect, become their own insurance company. That would give them the legal and financial incentive to work together to provide all the care that is necessary, but not more.

In theory, it is possible to construct an “open” HMO in which patients are free to mix and match doctors and hospitals as they choose, and rely on an insurance company to manage care and hold down costs. In fact, we did it briefly in the 1990s when many employers moved to HMOs, and insurance premiums increased hardly at all for a few years. But when doctors and patients recoiled at being told by insurance clerks what services could and could not be provided, the managed-care revolution fizzled.

MORE>>>

 

OB/GYNs Turn Away Obese Women

According to South Florida’s Sun Sentinel, 15 of 105 OB/GYN practices in the area have created weight limits for new patients starting at 200 pounds. Overweight women want to lose weight for many reasons, but having to shed pounds to get an appointment with a gynecologist is preposterous. Whether or not these policies are illegal, they smack of discrimination. The American Medical Association states that doctors cannot decline patients based on their race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or “any other basis that would constitute invidious discrimination.” Refusing to see obese patients, particularly at a time when one in three Americans are obese, sounds pretty invidious to me. No one should be punished for being overweight—not those with limited access to healthy food options and safe places to exercise, not those with medical conditions that make it hard to lose weight, not those who take medications that trigger weight gain, and not the rest of them, either. If anything, gynecologists (and all doctors) should be welcoming these patients with open arms: It’s an opportunity to make a dent in the obesity epidemic.

Some of the doctors interviewed in the article opted not to care for obese women because of inadequate equipment. That’s pathetic: As I’ve said here before, they should buy larger exam tables, longer speculums, and bigger blood pressure cuffs, and do their best. Another reason for the ban, according to one of the office managers: The doctors weren’t “experts in obesity” and didn’t want to have to send patients to specialists if problems occurred. My take: Doctors should be adept at caring for patients of all sizes. Gynecologists don’t only do pelvic exams; a big part of their job is counseling. There’s no reason any should shy away from counseling overweight women, whether that entails diet and exercise recommendations or referrals to dieticians and bariatric surgeons. One of the doctors rationalized his decision as a way to decrease potential surgical complications and lawsuits; while this might make his work easier, what if all doctors in this part of Florida followed suit?

Doctors have the right to superspecialize, in effect turning away certain patient populations. But it doesn’t seem right to be sneaky about it.

MORE>>>


Shouldn’t your state insurance commissioner review premium increases to make sure they’re fair?

Maine’s insurance superintendent has granted Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield a 5.2 percent average increase in premiums for its individual health insurance customers, starting this summer. The company had requested a 9.7 percent increase.

The final ruling Wednesday means Anthem’s 11,000 individual policy subscribers will pay nearly $3 million more in premiums next year, instead of about $6 million more.

Anthem, the state’s largest health insurance company, has appealed similar rate limits in the past two years. The company is reviewing the latest decision, a spokesman said.

It may be the last time Maine’s Bureau of Insurance gets to review and limit such a rate increase.

Republican-backed health insurance reforms that were signed into law by Gov. Paul LePage this week will let insurance companies avoid state reviews if rate increases are less than 10 percent a year and they are using at least 80 percent of the premiums to pay claims.

The law, intended to inject more competition into the markets for individual and small-group health insurance, will bring Maine closer in line with new federal standards for rate reviews, said Lance Dutson, spokesman for House Speaker Robert Nutting, R-Oakland. The insurance commissioner still will have adequate oversight to prevent excessive rate hikes, he said.

The solution to rising rates is competition to eliminate “this Anthem monopoly,” Dutson said. “Obviously, it’s not working for anybody.”

But critics say the latest rate decision shows that the new law will make insurance more expensive.

 

GOP continues push to let states cut their Medicaid rolls.

Kaiser Health News:

With their proposal to turn Medicaid into block grants all but dead, Republicans now are pushing legislation to let states tighten eligibility rules for the health program for the poor and disabled.

The move, which would affect Medicaid as well as the Children’s Health Insurance Program, would help cash-strapped states save money but could also cause hundreds of thousands of people to lose health coverage.

While Democrats strenuously oppose the proposed Medicaid change, some advocates and physician groups worry that the issue could wind up as a bargaining chip in the partisan wrangling over the debt limit.

The Obama administration says the limit has to be raised by early August, and coming months will be marked by intense negotiations – and horse-trading – between the two parties to reduce the deficit and secure a debt-limit agreement. Republicans have signaled they’ll likely press hard for the Medicaid change during those talks.

“I would be concerned about that for sure,” said Joan Alker, co-executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University. “Medicaid is clearly a big part of the negotiations.”

GOP lawmakers are targeting a health-law provision barring states from scaling back Medicaid coverage between now and 2014, when the program expands sharply under the health law.

President Obama and congressional Democrats say eliminating the “maintenance-of-effort” provision would increase the challenge of expanding Medicaid in 2014; an additional 16 million people will qualify, with the federal government picking up most of the cost. If people lose coverage in the meantime, Democrats say, they may come into the program in worse health, driving up costs.

The House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee voted along party lines earlier this month to repeal the Medicaid “maintenance of effort” requirement. The legislation is expected to pass both the full Energy and Commerce panel and the GOP-controlled House. A vote on similar standalone legislation in the Democratic-controlled Senate is unlikely but the measure could end up in a debt-limit package.

“We are worried about bunch of things being attached to the debt ceiling bill,” said Nevena Minor, a lobbyist for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The GOP legislation is backed by many state officials. The National Conference of State Legislatures said, “During these tough economic times, states cannot afford to have their hands tied by the federal government.”

To be sure, many Democrats say the odds are against President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats capitulating on an issue of such importance to the liberal base.

“It would be hard to imagine that happening,” said Larry McNeely, health care advocate for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, a consumer group. “It would be a major defeat for the advocacy community.”

But liberals have at times been disappointed by Obama’s concessions, including last year’s deal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts. They worry that the president will ultimately feel compelled to trade away the “maintenance-of-effort” requirements. The White House declined to comment.

Governors Object To Health Law Provision

Medicaid covers about 56 million Americans, with states sharing the costs with the federal government. States have been barred from cutting eligibility for the program since 2009 when economic stimulus legislation gave states billions to prop up their Medicaid program on the condition they didn’t tighten eligibility standards. The 2010 health law extended this requirement until 2014.

According to a Congressional Budget Office analysis, the House Republican proposal to repeal the requirement would save $2.1 billion from 2012 through 2021. If it became law, approximately 400,000 people – about two-thirds of whom are children – would lose their Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program coverage in 2013. About 100,000 of those people would enroll in employment-based insurance, according to CBO.

Many governors, who say they are under extreme budgetary pressure due to the sluggish economy, argue that they need more flexibility to manage their budgets and rising Medicaid costs.

The maintenance-of-effort rules “curtail state authority to control their own budgets and fiscal systems and over time discourage investment in state-federal programs,” the National Governors Association wrote to Congress in January.

The maintenance-of-effort requirements have blocked states from imposing or increasing costs on Medicaid recipients. They also have stopped states from making it easier for people to get home- and community-based services, rather than resorting to nursing homes, said Matt Salo, executive director of the National Association of Medicaid Directors. The group has asked the Department of Health and Human Services to develop a process to allow states to apply for waivers of the maintenance-of-effort rule.

Democrats counter that lifting the requirements would cause people to lose health coverage just as the health law is aiming to expand it.

“To me, it’s absolutely essential with the framework of universal coverage for the states to maintain” current Medicaid coverage requirements, said Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md. “I think you can make a very strong case that this is in your state’s best interest.”

 

Forbes magazine offers “more solid evidence” that the Affordable Care Act is working

 

IMMIGRATION


Breaking with GOP, Huntsman says idea of border fence “repulses” him

[But he says these are special times.]

 

JUSTICE


Massey Energy Guilty: WV Probe Finds Coal Giant Systemically Failed to Comply with Law

 

Bloomberg: Prosecutors Faulted on Failure to Charge ‘Bandits’ in U.S. Market Collapse

In November 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder vowed before television cameras to prosecute those responsible for the market collapse a year earlier, saying the U.S. would be “relentless” in pursuing corporate criminals.

In the 18 months since, no senior Wall Street executive has been criminally charged, and some lawmakers are questioning whether the U.S. Justice Department has been aggressive enough after declining to bring cases against officials at American International Group Inc. (AIG) and Countrywide Financial Corp.

Prosecutions of three categories of crime that could be linked to the causes of the crisis — corporate, securities and bank fraud — declined last fiscal year by 39 percent from 2003, the period after the accounting scandals at Enron Corp. and WorldCom Inc., Justice Department records show.

Check out the rest here…

 

MEDIA


Are we done with Rush Limbaugh yet?

Crains reported yesterday that the April Arbitron report showed the conservative movement’s most powerful mouthpiece — and Sean Hannity, his much-dumber distant rival — slumping in the ratings after the midterms:

Top-rated Mr. Limbaugh has taken the biggest fall. He had a 3.0 share of listeners for his WABC-AM midday slot — a 33% slide from October and from last April. Mr. Hannity’s afternoon show was down 28% from its fall peak, as was fellow conservative Mark Levin’s evening program.

Rush isn’t the only right-wing radio shouter with a declining audience. Glenn Beck was dropped by stations in New York, by a chain of stations in Connecticut, and by a station in Madison, Wis.; Hannity and Beck were both dropped in Philadelphia.

The News Beast’s John Avlon suggested in March that right-wing talk radio’s worst enemy may be the Portable People Meter, which measures audiences and demographic numbers much more accurately than the old surveys. It turned out that a shrinking number of old white people listen to conservative talk radio — which is such a coincidence, because the Republican Party has a very similar problem! […]

Or maybe people are just tired of Rush’s shtick? We’re still suffering from mass unemployment after decades of wage stagnation, and while it seems like no one in the press particularly cares anymore (they’ve all moved on to THE DEFFY-CIT), it also seems like the multimillionaire jerk-off radio shouter aggressively doesn’t care, as Digby pointed out with a recent Rush transcript. “Sorry, I don’t participate in recessions,” he said. Would you really want to listen to that for much longer if, say, you did participate in recessions, unwillingly? […]

Unfortunately, having the Democrats back in charge and a black man in the White House made Limbaugh’s constant, giddy stoking of racial resentments “newsworthy” and his willingness to “go there” made him an irresistible sound-bite source. Most annoyingly, Democrats decided that Rush was good for them. Because he was and is one of the least liked people in America. He polls about as bad as Michael Lohan. And his numbers are now reflecting the fact that most of America really does not like this guy.

He won’t truly go away any time soon, of course. Rush will still be on the air daily in most of the nation until he finally retires to his giant, tacky home with his lovely new wife (or to a bigger, tackier home, with a lovelier, newer wife). Lots of small- and mid-market stations are given his show for free, making it a very cost-effective way to fill three hours of airtime.

 

Dr Newt Frankenstein

digby:

I highly recommend this Jonathan Zasloff post in which he responds to James Fallows’ urging that the press ignore the Gingrich candidacy.

The essential nature of Gingrich’s insurgency in the House and his conduct as Speaker was the destruction of the informal institutions of American governance. By “informal institutions,” I mean those habits and customs outside of formal, written law that make democracy work. Some things are simply not done; everyone agrees to resist the temptation for political advantage in order to make the system work.

Gingrichism is the philosophy that all means short of illegality are fair game in the struggle for political power. He came to the fore in the House minority by personal attacks on other members’ patriotism; he stirred up the Republican base with the argument that the Democrats were not merely wrong, but evil and a threat to the Republic. As Speaker, he destroyed the existing committee structure and bill mark-ups, did away with Congressional institutions to educate members (such as the Office of Technology Assessment or the Administrative Conference of the United States), and centralized power in the leadership. When he did not get his way with Clinton, he cavalierly shut down the government. Not cowed by the political disaster that ensued, he used the House’s impeachment power for political purposes and put the House Oversight Committee in the hands of Dan Burton with the express mandate to harass and cripple political opponents. Gingrich broke institutions not by accident, but on purpose. (Read on, it’s all good.)

Yes, yes and yes. Gingrich’s candidacy is obviously a sideshow. And it’s clear that the GOP establishment, such as it is, doesn’t want to deal with what he represents. But as Zasloff says:

His campaign, with all of its narcissism, mendacity, intellectual incoherence, and duplicity is the Republican Party in its purest, least adulterated form. By looking at Gingrich we are not avoiding how the Republicans will choose their issues, or even their candidate: we are looking at their methods, ideology, goals, and tactics in their ultimate nature.

He is their Dr Frankenstein.


Why Is The Media Ignoring Tom Coburn’s Role In Ensign Scandal?

But note what wasn’t mentioned: Coburn’s role in the Ensign sex scandal:

Contained in the 67-page report {written by the Senate Ethics Committee investigating John Ensign’s conduct}, however, is troubling evidence of the central role that current Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) played in trying to keep Ensign’s mistress and her husband quiet — evidence that contradicts Coburn’s previous public statements on the matter. In July 2009, Coburn said he was consulting with Ensign “as a physician and as an ordained deacon” and he considered it a “privileged communication that I will never reveal to anybody.” Asked about the claim from Doug Hampton, the husband of Ensign’s mistress, that he “urged Ensign to pay the Hamptons millions of dollars,” Coburn said, “I categorically deny everything he said.”[..]

Coburn eventually agreed to cooperate with the Ethics Committee; their findings on the level of his involvement are startling. According to the committees report, Coburn actively assisted in the discussions of a hush money package, negotiating a proposed package from $8 million down to $2.8 million. […]

Ensign left office the day before the report came out and had the unbelievable luck to do so just before Osama bin Laden was killed, so the entire event flew under the radar of the media. But Coburn continues his luck that no one in the media bothers to ask him about his role whatsoever.

 

MILITARY


Mullah Omar killed in Pak: Afghan TV [Maybe]

Taliban spokesman denies report
Kabul—Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar was killed in Pakistan, a private Afghan television channel reported on Monday. “Mullah Omar was killed on his way from Quetta to North Waziristan,” TOLO television said in its news bulletin. However, it did not provide details on how he was killed and by whom.

The channel also quoted an Afghan security official confirming the killing, saying, “It is correct that Mullah Omar has been killed.” The official emphasized that Mullah Omar was killed inside Pakistan.

Mullah Omar has survived massive U.S. military manhunt since the collapse of Taliban regime by U.S-led invasion in late 2001 for sheltering Al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden. Meanwhile, a spokesman of Taliban denied the Afghan TV channel report and said that the Taliban leader Mullah Omar is alive. “Reports regarding the killing of Amir-ul-Moemineen (Omar) are false. He is safe and sound,” Afghan Taliban spokesman Qari Muhamad Yousaf told an Afghan news agency.—INP


Gates Warns Against Big Cuts in Military Spending

Most notable for Mr. Gates — a longtime advocate for diplomacy and development, along with military power, to protect American global interests — was his reminder of the long-term requirement for the United States to sustain an armed force superior to any adversary.

“The problems we as a nation are grappling with are well-known: steep fiscal imbalances and mounting debt, which could develop into a deep crisis for our country,” Mr. Gates told graduating seniors at the University of Notre Dame.

As the Pentagon’s chief under Presidents Obama and George W. Bush, Mr. Gates has been a leading advocate of expanding non-military efforts to secure America’s national interests abroad. But in his commencement address, he noted the limits of so-called soft power. Mr. Gates is expected to step down next month, after about four and a half years.

“More than any other secretary of defense, I have been a strong advocate of soft power — of the critical importance of diplomacy and development as fundamental components of our foreign policy and national security,” Mr. Gates said. “But make no mistake, the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators and terrorists in the 21st century, as in the 20th, is hard power — the size, strength and global reach of the United States military.”

 

U.S. cable ties Saudis to Pakistan jihad: KARACHI, Pakistan

 

Breaking: Lawmakers Ask Hillary Clinton to Explain Erik Prince’s Mercenaries in the UAE

Five members of Congress have called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to clarify if Blackwater founder Erik Prince’s recently disclosed deal to provide a small mercenary army to the United Arab Emirates complies with US law and export regulations. “We question whether private US citizens should be involved in recruiting and assembling forces, as well as providing military training and support to foreign governments and militaries,” wrote the lawmakers, led by Representative Jan Schakowsky, a member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “The implications of allowing a US citizen to assemble a foreign legion in any foreign country, and especially in a combustible region like the Middle East, are serious and wide-ranging.”

On May 14, the New York Times revealed that Prince was leading an effort to build an army of mercs 800 strong—including scores from Colombia—in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. They would be trained by US, European and South African special forces veterans. Prince’s new company, Reflex Responses, also known as R2, was bankrolled to the tune of $529 million from “the oil-soaked sheikdom,” according to the Times, adding that Prince was “hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi” Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

According to the lawmakers, under US law, Prince’s company is exporting a defense product and therefore falls under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), requiring him to “first seek the approval of the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls before the defense services are provided.” The DDTC is controlled by the State Department. “Has Mr. Prince, or any of the other Americans involved in the training contract, received such approval from DDTC?” the lawmakers ask Clinton in the May 23 letter [PDF], a copy of which was obtained by The Nation. Past attempts by The Nation to obtain certain DDTC records on Blackwater-affiliated companies have been rejected by the State Department.

They further ask Secretary Clinton for “any clarification as to US policy toward private US citizens who recruit, assemble, or train foreign militaries, and toward foreign countries that hire private US citizens to train their militaries.” They add: “We have long expressed concerns about the US government continuing to do business with Blackwater, despite that company’s growing list of misconduct, and we are concerned that Mr. Prince is now exporting his services. In addition, the Emirati regime’s use of an American-created and trained force of foreign troops has the potential to introduce further instability and suspicion into an already volatile region (and at a particularly sensitive time).” In addition to Schakowsky, the other signers of the letter are: John Conyers, Maurice Hinchey, James Moran and Peter Welch.

 

POLITICS

 

Democrat Kathy Hochul Wins Upset In NY-26, Medicare Vote Key To Victory

Republicans are going to have plenty of questions about their plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program tomorrow morning after Democrats romped to an improbable victory in a special election focused almost entirely on the issue.

Democrat Kathy Hochul lead 48-43 with over 83% of the votes counted and her victory looks to be a strong one — the Associated Press called the race within an hour of the polls closing. Corwin underperformed in key GOP counties while Hochul’s margins in Democratic areas were in line with the party’s high water mark in the district from 2006, a wave year that swept the Republicans out of the majority in the House and Senate. The district is normally a safe seat for Republicans and few considered it vulnerable when Rep. Chris Lee (R-NY) resigned over topless photos he posted in a Craigslist personal.

Hochul’s message focused relentlessly on the Paul Ryan budget, which she highlighted in ads, public statements, and debates at every opportunity. Her attacks on its cuts to Medicare benefits and its tax cuts for the wealthy proved impossible for Corwin to overcome, who tried her best to defend the GOP budget cuts before eventually giving in and falsely accusing Hochul of seeking similar cuts while muddying her own position on the plan.

National Democrats are giddy over the results, crowing that they’ll use the same formula in swing districts across the country in 2012.

“We served notice to the Republicans that we will fight them anywhere in America when it comes to defending and strengthening Medicare,” DCCC chair Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) said in a statement. “Even in one of the most Republican districts, seniors and independent voters rejected the Republican plan to end Medicare.”

Republicans sought to spin the race beforehand as an exceptional situation due to the appearance of Tea Party independent Jack Davis, who was ironically the Democratic candidate in 2006. NRCC chair Pete Sessions (R-TX) repeated the claim on Tuesday night in a statement to reporters and added that past special elections had failed to prove predictive of the general election results.

“Republican Jane Corwin ran a hard-fought campaign against two well-funded Democrats, including one masquerading under the Tea Party name,” Sessions said. Obviously, each side would rather win a special election than lose, but to predict the future based on the results of this unusual race is naive and risky. History shows one important fact: the results of competitive special elections from Hawaii to New York are poor indicators of broader trends or future general election outcomes. If special elections were an early warning system, they sure failed to alert the Democrats of the political tsunami that flooded their ranks in 2010.”

But Hochul appears to have won solidly even while Davis’ support collapsed from his earlier polling numbers in the mid-twenties. With over 66% of the vote in, he took only 8% of the vote while Hochul’s numbers were strong compared to past Democratic performances. Corwin and Republican-allied groups significantly outspent Democrats in the race, making her victory that much tougher.


Recent voter suppression efforts in Florida, Wisconsin, and elsewhere

Just in Wisconsin, listen to the list of who doesn’t have state-issued photo IDs that will be needed to cast a ballot under legislation that Gov. Scott Walker signed: 23 percent of elderly Wisconsinites; 59 percent of Latina women; 55 percent of African American men overall; and 78 percent of African American men who are 18 to 24 years old.


Democrats Try to Recruit Elizabeth Warren for Senate Race


It’s All About Paul Ryan

Five months ago, who could have predicted that Paul Ryan would become one of the biggest forces American politics? We all knew that John Boehner would play one of those roles. So, too, would Eric Cantor. And Darrell Issa was the committee chairman we all thought would dominate the Sunday shows. But in the past week, let us count the ways that Ryan — with his budget plan and Medicare phase-out — has impacted the political debate: 1) a GOP presidential candidate was forced to reverse himself and apologize to Ryan after disagreeing that his plan went too far; 2) the Democratic-led Senate plans to vote on his budget this week simply because Democrats smell political blood; 3) Sen. Scott Brown — potentially the GOP’s most vulnerable incumbent senator in ’12 (though he doesn’t look that vulnerable right now) — said he wouldn’t vote for it; and 4) the Ryan plan has become a top storyline in today’s special congressional election in NY-26.

 

When Did “Compromise” Transform Into A Negative Idea?

“Compromise” is one of the foundations of democrazy (that was originally a typo, but I like it). Somehow, since the election of President Obama, the word is being redefined by some on both sides of the isle, with the help of the media who just follow along like lemmings. It’s a word that is often said with disdain, as if the mere act of compromising is somehow wrong. This is a very disturbing trend because it basically increases polarization, hatred and gives people a reason to throw up their hands in disgust. It is part of the scorched earth strategy being employed by like I said, both the right and some on the left.

I can almost understand the right’s obsession with not compromising, it’s politics man. But for those on the left who claim to be progressive and care about changing things for the better, it flies in the face of reason to oppose it on principle. The Republican’s don’t want to compromise because they perceive any bills passed and signed by President Obama as a win. And we can’t have that now. …We can only hope that it does have an impact on moderates, who are the folks that swing elections one way or the other. […]

In the 8 years of President Bush’s term, a cottage industry sprung up that was fueled by anger, hatred and indignation towards the Bush Administration and the many rights and liberties that were taken from us or trampled on. Blogs became all the rage during this time and the idea of the internet as a way to organize and mobilize people around a cause became very real. But a lot of it was rooted in and fueled by anger towards Bush. […]

Many of the “progressive”  bloggers that came to prominence during the Bush years, who clearly played to the anger towards Bush and gang, were actually Republicans turned angry. In their disgust towards Bush, they built a following of people who didn’t necessarily agree with them very much, besides hating Bush. Here is a brief list of some of those folks.

Arianna Huffington, worked for Newt Gingrich and is the former wife to Republican candidate Michael Huffington. We all know how she has cashed in and is turning back towards her true party, the GOP.

John Aravosis, former staffer to Sen. Ted (bridge to nowhere) Stevens.

Cenk Uygur, who has apparently admitted that he “used to be” a Republican on his show, he sure keeps attempting to play to the left but his roots help explain his attacks on the President.

Dylan Ratigan has landed a couple of different time slots on MSNBC and is trying to play to the left, although he clearly has a hard time of it. He built his brand on the back of populist rhetoric.

And I would add Glenn Greenwald to the mix too, although he claims to be an independent. He supports Gary Johnson, a Republican, as a third party candidate. He still gets trotted out as a left-leaning blogger or as a representative of the left blogosphere, when he clearly is not. Many volumes have been written about that man and his tactics.

The other group of bloggers and pundits that are fighting against the President and don’t seem to understand the nature of compromise are rooted on the liberal end of the spectrum. It is sad to see this group let their entrenched principles and ideals influence their perceptions of the progress that has been made with President Obama at the helm. They can’t even give the President credit when it is due. My short list of these folks include Michael Moore, Adam Green, Bill Maher, David Sirota, Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Markos Moulitsas, Jane Hamsher and Keith Olbermann. We expect the right to have crazy notions about our President and suffer from Obama Derangement Syndrome, but it isn’t just a right-wing disease. From The Hand That Feeds Me…[…]

To me, these people are extremely deluded. They’ve built a false narrative within their own minds and in the process have abandoned any pretense that people matter in the equation. […]

I also think that many of these so-called progressive bloggers, who seem to be fighting progress, have fallen victim to the “right wing paid troll program” where the GOP and their supporters pay people to comment on progressive blogs, either posing as liberals dissatisfied with the President or simply attacking liberal ideas with right-wing talking points. It’s a copy and paste operation that I think has overtaken many of the comment sections of these blogs. I think a lot of these bloggers are naive and think that there is a lot more dissatisfaction with the President and the Democratic Party than there actually is. […]

The most often heard refrain from these folks is that President Obama gives up too much in the beginning of negotiations. They claim he gives in before the negotiations even begin. But these pundits who say this have no idea what the behind the scenes vote counting is or what preconditions may have been talked about in advance. But a lot of their criticism is because they think the President should start where they would, way to the left, whether it pollutes negotiations or gives the right-wing the fuel they need to either walk away, or try to paint the left as extreme. And of course, most of these people did absolutely nothing to help the president. More from The Hand That Feeds Me…(emphasis mine)

Throughout Obama’s first two years, we the people who did elect him largely sat on our hands expecting to be saved. Perhaps we had become so inured to the imperial nature of the Presidency within the Bush years that we forgot that there are other requirements of citizenship between ballots. As we continued to do nothing and the opposition used slick, manipulative marketing to energize hundreds of thousand of idiots, the Washington Post asked “Is Obama Betraying The Left?” The New Statesman published “Obama: The Betrayal?” It goes on and on and on.

The “betrayal meme” is picking up steam again. This is frankly getting out of hand. Most recently, Cornel West, a great man whom I adore, has had a full blown freak-out. Chris Hedges is loving every minute of it. It’s nifty copy. It’s also representative of a dangerous and elitist abdication of citizen responsibility. It’s becoming the bread and butter of the establishment Left to accuse President Obama of essentially not rescuing us while we wait like little children.

The President has had to attempt to stand his ground in a position of weakness the base helped create. When the rabble on the right was out-calling our Representatives at a ratio of four or five to one to oppose the AFA, where were we? When Tea Partiers were being duped by their masters into showing up by the busload, where were our counter-protests? By the way, much as I do love Colbert and Stewart, they can suck it on that count. Like Bill Maher said at the time, rallies should really “be about something.”

This liberal group of pundits often make grandiose claims that President Obama is abandoning his base and losing support from them, yet every single poll that breaks it down, shows solid support for the President. The small amount who are unsatisfied are more than likely people who have not fared well in the economy and have only heard the media’s filtered version of who is to blame for it. Some are extreme pacifists who expected a Democratic president to just pull our troops out of every conflict that Bush handed to President Obama, immediately. People like Glenn Greenwald, David Sirota, Jane Hamsher and others try hard to further that perception as some sort of betrayal, even though candidate Obama made clear what he was going to do when he took office. I read recently, I wish I could find it, one of those folks basically say that nothing has changed in Iraq, the President isn’t getting us out of there. Except the facts are much different. Unfortunately, the following is from the Huffington Post on August 10, 2010…

In Massachusetts, where the president was on vacation, White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan called the drawdown in U.S. troops a “truly remarkable achievement.” He noted that the milestone had been reached a week ahead of schedule and represented a drop of 94,000 troops on Obama’s watch.

You can imagine my disbelief upon reading the characterization that nothing has changed in Iraq. Combat operations were declared over on August 31, 2010 and the last combat troops drove out of Iraq and into Kuwait. Now a lot of people just denied that it was true, poo pooed it and said we will never leave Iraq. And you can’t play with my ball, either. I’m taking it home. So nah! The reality is that President Obama is doing exactly what he said he would do and ahead of schedule. That has to piss of the people most intent on making sure our president doesn’t get credit for a damn thing.

MORE>>>

 

Good read from Andrew Sullivan: The Bibi-Barack Chess Game

 

EU Backs Obama’s Mideast Offensive: ‘Netanyahu’s Rejection Is Self-Important and Arrogant’

 

THIS> The Ryan Budget Tipping Point

Nate Silver:

Perhaps this is obvious, but Republican strategy on Rep. Paul Ryan’s controversial budget plan represents a classic tipping point scenario — enough so that it could be a case study for Malcolm Gladwell’s next book.

The vote on the proposal in the House last month was unusual in the degree of party unity it displayed. Despite warnings that some provisions of the bill were liable to become unpopular, nearly every Republican in the House voted for it, and the tiny handful who dissented did so mostly for idiosyncratic reasons; the Democrats were unanimously opposed. As several other observers have noted, the vote was more in line with what would be expected in a parliamentary system — where party discipline tends to be strong and parties often vote unanimously on many issues — than with the more individualistic and tactical voting that we are used to in the United States Congress.

Still, the Republicans had a sound strategic rationale for voting the way they did. One of the many problems with the Democrats’ health care overhaul, enacted last year, was that almost from the start, there were fractures within the party over what the bill ought to accomplish and how to go about it. It was no surprise that essentially every undecided voter wound up disliking a bill that initially had plurality support: Republicans opposed the bill from the beginning, while Democrats spent as much time arguing against it as for it. A swing voter would have heard much more about the bill’s faults than its virtues. […]

If you enforce party discipline on a vote, though, you can, by and large, avoid that problem. That does not necessarily mean that a bill will be popular: sometimes a party concludes that it’s worth taking some short-term risk for longer-term gain, and gets squarely behind a measure that voters do not love. But unity in the party can make a bill less unpopular than it would have been if there were significant internal dissent.

The problem with this approach is that you’re counting on some legislators to take one for the team, and cast a vote against their narrow best interest. Voting for Mr. Ryan’s bill probably did not help many of the 60 or so Republican representatives whose districts were carried by Barack Obama in 2008. Still, if the public regarded the vote as more or less the usual partisan posturing on the budget — Democrats vote one way, Republicans the other — the down side of backing the Ryan plan might have been limited.

Once some Republicans start to defect, though, the public may come to view the bill in a different way. Instead of seeing it as a division between Republicans and Democrats — neither of whom are trusted much on budget issues — voters may instead start to see it as a division between moderate Republicans and extremely conservative ones. Voters who are not steeped in the bill’s particulars may well take that as a signal that it is too extreme, and that the “reasonable” majoritarian position is to oppose the plan.

The bigger problem for the Republicans, though, is a snowball effect: each Republican lawmaker who comes out against the bill makes it a bit less popular — and that in turn increases the incentive for other Republicans to break ranks too. Some Republican House members might be willing to stomach voting for a bill that has the support of 45 percent of the voters in their districts, but if popular support is just 40 percent, or 35 percent, they may throw in the towel. So a feedback loop develops, and one defection begets another.

That’s why many Republicans were apoplectic when, for reasons that are still hard to understand, Newt Gingrich denounced the bill on “Meet the Press,” referring to it as “right-wing social engineering.” Though Mr. Gingrich has since tried to walk back the remark, you can be certain that the sound bite will be revisited ad nauseam by Democratic congressional candidates on the eve of next year’s elections.

More recently, Senator Scott Brown, the Massachusetts Republican who faces an intrinsically tough re-election battle next year despite his strong personal popularity, made a show of coming out against the bill with a long commentary in Politico yesterday. I don’t know why Mr. Brown chose that particular forum; it is among the most important reads of the morning for thought leaders on Capitol Hill, but is less important for the voters who will actually decide his race next year. (For some reason, candidates seem compelled to draw attention to their most challenging decisions — another example is Blanche Lincoln and her health care vote.) Even so, Mr. Brown’s announcement will make some Republican chiefs of staff very nervous.

Furthermore, Republicans have to confront an unhappy set of circumstances this week. The special election in New York’s 26th Congressional District today will be regarded, with some justification but also to a degree that is liable to be exaggerated, as a referendum on Mr. Ryan’s budget plan. Then, on Thursday, Harry Reid may compel the Senate to vote on the bill, where it is all but certain to fail. So far, only three Republican senators — Mr. Brown, Susan Collins of Maine and Rand Paul of Kentucky (because he thinks the bill doesn’t go far enough), have said that they will vote against the bill, but several others from among the 14 who represent states carried by Barack Obama may join them.

Nor will that be the end of the issue: Republican candidates for president in 2012 will be asked to clarify their position. The two leading candidates, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, have had some nice things to say about Mr. Ryan’s budget plan, but have also left themselves enough wiggle room to revise their positions later.

There are two pieces of good news for Republicans. First, they hold only 10 of the 33 Senate seats that will be contested in 2012, and several of those incumbents are retiring, leaving only a handful who must face the voters next year. Senators whose current terms last until 2014 or 2016 might vote for a bill that they would be nervous about backing if they were up in 2012. Second, since almost all House Republicans have already voted in favor of the measure, they may not gain much by reversing their positions now. It’s one thing to oppose a bill from the outset, quite another to flip-flop; a higher threshold is demanded. Even after Mr. Brown’s election last year made manifest how unpopular the Democrats’ health care bill had become, the Democrats mostly avoided defections from members of Congress who had voted for the bill.

Republican members of Congress are probably past the point where they could hope that their yea vote was noticed more by their supporters than by swing voters. This is among the foremost reasons that control of the House — along with the Senate and the presidency — will probably be in play next year.

 

Secret Donors Multiply in U.S. Election Spending

“It’s the worst economy in decades,” the ad intoned, “and the folks in Washington are living it up, spending our tax dollars like there’s no tomorrow.”

That ad and a second one mocking Spratt appeared at least 723 times between Sept. 25 and Election Day and were paid for by a group called the Commission on Hope, Growth and Opportunity, according to ad trackers at Campaign Media Analysis Group, a unit of WPP Plc. Spratt, a 14-term Democrat, saw a seven-point lead in an early poll vanish and lost the election.

Commission on Hope and four other Republican-leaning groups spent at least $4.05 million attacking candidates in the run-up to the November voting, according to Campaign Media estimates and TV station records obtained by Bloomberg News. None of that spending can be found searching the public database of the Federal Election Commission, and FEC spokeswoman Mary Brandenberger said the commission has no record of it.

Federal law requires FEC disclosure of money spent on ads mentioning or depicting a candidate in the 60 days before a general election. The five groups whose spending wasn’t reported either declined to comment, were unreachable, or said they deemed the spending not reportable under the law.

Secret Donors

The five are among the outside, or non-party, organizations that have played a growing role in federal elections. They include trade groups, unions and nonprofits started by political operatives that raise and spend money for advertising. The $305 million they reported spending in the 2010 elections was more than four times the amount such entities paid out in the midterm elections in 2006, according to the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics, a research group that tracks FEC filings.

Growing more sharply is a subset that keeps secret the identities of donors who bankroll the ads. These outside organizations told the FEC they spent $137 million in the 2010 cycle — 25 times the 2006 level. Commission on Hope represents an even more secretive type that has taken itself off the radar of federal regulators entirely — by reporting neither spending nor donors to the FEC.

Unlimited Donations

Non-party groups, including the secretive ones, are already planning to raise more money in the 2012 elections. They received a boost from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case last year, which for the first time allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts on ads advocating the election or defeat of a candidate.

The organizations face little scrutiny from the FEC, where split votes between Republican and Democratic commissioners have stymied enforcement in case after case for almost three years.

As a result, voters may find themselves choosing the next U.S. president knowing less about those trying to shape their views of the candidates than they have since secret money helped finance the Watergate burglary and re-elect President Richard Nixon in 1972. Watergate led to his resignation and ushered in the law that created the FEC. Investigators found more than $20 million had been given behind the scenes to Nixon’s campaign.

In the 2010 election, donors tested how secret spending through outside groups works, and used it on a small scale, according to Linda Fowler, a government professor at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. “There will be more next time,” she said.

Watergate Looking ‘Quaint’ […]

Avoiding Disclosure Requirements

In the Citizens United decision, the high court expressed confidence that interested voters could easily discern the identities of those paying for campaign ads. […]

The Supreme Court didn’t reckon with political operatives who quickly turned toward tax-exempt non-profits to avoid disclosure requirements. […]

Effectiveness Magnified […]

And the effectiveness of the outside money was magnified by coordination efforts by the Republican-leaning groups. Leaders of about 15 met regularly to discuss where to concentrate their firepower, said Collegio, the Crossroads spokesman. […]

Coordinated Effort

Eleven other groups with secret donors bought ads taking on one or more of the 11 Democrats that Commission on Hope targeted, spending $5.87 million, according to CRP data and Campaign Media estimates.

One, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, spent $1.13 million in five of the 10 races, according to CRP. Another, the 60 Plus Association, which has favored steps toward privatizing Social Security, spent $1.09 million in six of the races.

Eight of the groups joined Commission on Hope in attacking Democrat John Salazar, who was defeated in Colorado. In the Florida panhandle, vanquished Democrat Allen Boyd was hit by ads bought by Commission on Hope and at least seven others. Spratt lost to state Representative Mick Mulvaney, the first Republican congressman from the district in 127 years. […]

Advantages of Anonymity

The biggest of the groups that kept its donors secret in 2010 was the U.S. Chamber, which reported $32.9 million in campaign spending to the FEC. After the chamber, the largest were American Action; Crossroads GPS; and the American Future Fund, an Iowa-based group founded with seed money from an ethanol executive.

For donors, one of the advantages of anonymity is insulation from controversies — such as challenges about the accuracy of political attacks.

In 2010, one of these erupted in Colorado over ads bought by American Action that claimed Representative Ed Perlmutter had endorsed Viagra for rapists and pedophiles. The ad ran 178 times, at a cost of $215,402, according to Campaign Media.

Perlmutter, it turns out, had done no such thing. During the debate over the health-care law, the U.S. Senate had voted on a proposed amendment seeking to restrict federal health spending for the erectile dysfunction drug. The House never took a vote on the question.

‘False And Misleading’

Taxpayer Network, the California group, spent more than $300,000 to finance anti-Boxer ads, according to four Sacramento TV stations. The spending wasn’t reported to the FEC. One of the ads asked, “Would you deny our veterans ongoing health care when they’re wounded defending us?”

“Boxer did,” it declared.

The ad featured a small text reference, which remained on the screen for four seconds, identifying an amendment discussed during the health-care overhaul law passed last year. Boxer, who was re-elected, joined the majority in voting to table the amendment, which proposed a tax exemption on medical devices provided to military veterans. In the debate, the Senate never voted on any measure that would have denied veterans health care benefits under federal law.

“This is the worst kind of false and misleading attack,” said Boxer spokesman Zachary Coile.

Taxpayer Network’s donors remain undisclosed. On its website, the group says that it “does not endorse or oppose candidates for election.”

‘Spending Spree’

Its address is a UPS mailbox in the small California town of Rocklin. Two of its three directors, Bruce and Lisa Hughes, are divorce lawyers from Orange County, California. The third is former Indiana Representative David McIntosh, a lawyer with the firm Mayer Brown LLP. None of the directors responded to repeated calls and emails.

The NFIB spent $1 million for ads urging viewers to vote for 17 Republicans, all but three of whom won, and reported this spending to the FEC as required by law.

NFIB spokesman Kipp Maloney acknowledged not reporting $1.53 million to the commission. The money, according to Campaign Media, paid for 3,683 showings of ads that ran between Oct. 13 and Nov. 2 and accused seven incumbent Democrats of engaging in a “spending spree.” […]

FEC Deadlock

Based on its recent history, the FEC as constituted won’t be in a hurry to bring any enforcement actions. Inaction has been its usual course since July 2008, when three Republicans — Caroline Hunter, Donald McGahn and Matthew Petersen — attended their first meeting of the six-member commission, which also has three Democrats. Four votes are needed to take action.

Since then, there have been 14 party-line votes on enforcement cases in which the Republicans disregarded the FEC general counsel’s recommendation and voted not to investigate alleged campaign-law violations. In four other cases, partisan splits caused the FEC to reject proposed settlement agreements negotiated by its general counsel.

An early deadlock came when the new Republicans rejected a settlement FEC lawyers had negotiated after a previous commission concluded that the November Fund had broken the law. The settlement would have penalized the group, which received $3 million from the U.S. Chamber and ran ads attacking Senator John Edwards, the 2004 Democratic candidate for vice president. […]

‘Rendered Irrelevant’

McGahn took issue with the extent of FEC’s enforcement actions and fines before he and his Republican colleagues arrived and said lower penalties the last few years are historically “much more in line” with past commissions.

He rejected the idea that the Republicans aren’t enforcing the law. “The core of the agency is doing just fine,” he said.

“I feel bad for” the reform groups that call the agency dysfunctional, he said. “Much of their life’s work has been rendered irrelevant by a series of stinging court cases.”

The agency can do a lot to promote disclosure even with a deadlocked commission, said FEC Chairwoman Cynthia Bauerly, a Democrat.

“While I’d prefer that we could find a way to get those votes through, we still do a lot of work here.” Her staff, she said, can ask groups for information via letters and can issue public reports.

MORE>>>


If you missed it, do yourself a favor & watch President Obama’s speech in Ireland.

 

Rep. Darrell Issa Promised Tough, but So Far Oversight Isn’t

 

Republicans Aiming to Take Away Voting Rights in 36 States

 

The DNC’s Voting Rights Institute looks at the real cost of implementing Republican-led photo ID laws

The suppressive effects of these bills are well-documented: 11 percent of Americans—approximately 23 million citizens of voting age—lack proper photo ID and, as a result, could be turned away from the polls on Election Day. Those without photo ID are disproportionately low-income, disabled, minority, young, and older voters. Numerous non-partisan organizations have debunked claims of widespread voter fraud, the purported basis for these laws. […]

It concluded that if each of these 36 states enacts a photo ID law, they collectively will spend at least $276 million, and possibly as much as $828 million, in the first four years. At a time when states are experiencing huge budget shortfalls, it would be an enormous waste to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to disenfranchise voters.

Here’s the pdf Report.

 

Proposals to take away right to vote from young adults pop up in Iowa presidential race

Exiting Things About Tim Pawlenty… check them out:

 

POLLS


“GOP “No New Taxes” Position Is Rapidly Crumbling”

Although Republicans insist that the Obama administration’s policies are largely, if not exclusively, responsible for the deficit, the American people know better. According to an April New York Times/CBS News poll, 41 percent of people primarily blame the Bush administration for today’s deficit; only 14 percent blame Obama. That same poll found that an overwhelming 72 percent of people support raising taxes on couples making more than $250,000 in order to reduce the deficit. The House Republican budget plan would slash taxes for the rich by reducing the top income tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent, in exchange for limiting or eliminating longstanding tax breaks. The plan would still require larger budget cuts to achieve budget balance.

Polls show that Americans support higher taxes as part of a deficit reduction program and that only a small minority of Americans believe that the budget can be balanced with spending cuts alone.

  • A May 11 Ipsos/Reuters poll found that three-fifths of people favor raising taxes to reduce the deficit.
  • A May 4 Quinnipiac University poll found that 69 percent of people, including 49 percent of Republicans, support raising taxes on those households making more than $250,000.
  • An April 29 Gallup poll found that only 20 percent of people say the deficit must be reduced only with spending cuts; 76 percent say that taxes should play a role.
  • An April 20 Washington Post/ABC News poll found that by a 2-to-1 margin people favor a combination of higher taxes and spending cuts over spending cuts alone to reduce the deficit. It also found that 72 percent of people favor raising taxes on the rich to reduce the deficit and this is far and away the most popular deficit reduction measure.
  • An April 18 McClatchy/Marist poll found that voters support higher taxes on the rich to reduce the deficit by a 2-to-1 margin, including 45 percent of self-identified Tea Party members.

Republicans are working hard to enforce their no-tax-increase-ever orthodoxy, but there are signs that the dam is beginning to break. On April 7, former Reagan budget director Dave Stockman said, “It is simply unrealistic to say that raising revenue isn’t part of the solution. It’s a measure of how far off the deep end Republicans have gone with this religious catechism about taxes.”

MORE>>>


Still in OH Obama leads Romney by 4, Gingrich by 9, Palin by 10

 

Obama Job Approval: Approve 51% (+1)/Disapprove 42% (–) Get the full trend


Christie Faces Sluggish Support at Home

A new Fairleigh Dickinson PublicMind poll in New Jersey finds voters souring on Gov. Chris Christie (R) with 40% having a favorable opinion of him and 45% having an unfavorable opinion.

This is a reversal from the 47% to 41% favorable rating he had just last month.

Key factor: 55% say the state is “on the wrong track,” up from 47% in April. Just 36% say the state is headed in the right direction, a decrease of 8 percentage points from April.


Even Texans Don’t Support a Rick Perry Presidential Campaign


Post-Bin Laden Spike in U.S. Economic Confidence Persists

Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index remained at -25 in the week ending May 22, the level at which it has been since improving 10 percentage points in the week after Osama bin Laden’s death. This is the highest weekly confidence reading since mid-February.

 

Daily Kos/SEIU State of the Nation Poll: Jobs is #1 issue

 

Poll: More Americans pro-choice; only 22% want it illegal

 

New Hampshire: Romney 32%, Paul 9%, Gingrich 6%, Giuliani 6%, Palin 5%.


SCOTUS


PBS: ‘It’s homestretch time at the Supreme Court’

What exactly are the justices working on between now and the end of June?

Marcia Coyle: It’s homestretch time at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court will be in serious opinion-writing mode. And anxious businesses, states, prisoners and consumers will be engaging in some serious nail-biting as they await outcomes to their cases. The justices finished hearing arguments on April 27 in the 79 cases on their argument docket. Although they have been issuing rulings in those cases since about mid-November, they still have 39 pending decision, and, as typical, some of those involve the most complex and divisive issues of the term.

Walk us through some of the biggest cases to watch. Let’s start with the much-anticipated decision on who can buy violent video games. What is at stake in Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association?

Marcia Coyle: A First Amendment challenge to California’s ban on the sale or rental to minors of violent video games now holds the dubious record for the longest pending case. The video game case was argued last November and the justices intensely questioned the lawyers before them. The Court has been extremely reluctant to carve out categories of speech from the First Amendment’s protection and that could mean bad news for California’s law. But the long wait for a decision in this case has everyone wondering what may happen.

Are there other free speech cases for the Court to decide this term?

Marcia Coyle: In Arizona Free Enterprise Freedom PAC v. Bennett and McComish v. Bennett, the Court is examining whether Arizona’s matching funds trigger in its public financing system for candidates running for state offices violates the First Amendment by chilling the speech of candidates who don’t participate in the system. And in Sorrell v. IMS, data mining companies and drug manufacturers contend that a Vermont law violates their speech rights by prohibiting pharmacies from selling information in prescription drug records to data mining companies without the prescribing physician’s consent.

Do you see any other themes emerging?

Marcia Coyle: The rights of parents and minors figure in two important cases. The justices have been asked in J.D.B. v. North Carolina whether the age of a minor should be a factor in determining whether a juvenile is in custody, a requirement for law enforcement to give the well-known Miranda warnings before questioning. The juvenile here was questioned on school grounds about some neighborhood burglaries and admitted his involvement. They also will answer whether a police officer and a social worker violated the Fourth Amendment when they questioned a minor on school premises without a warrant and without parental consent. The officials, who were sued by the minor’s mother, suspected that the minor was a victim of abuse. Those cases are Alford v. Greene and Camreta v. Greene.

And there are two cases with potentially major ramifications for the nation’s prisons and courts. In Brown v. Plata, the justices will decide* whether a federal judge in California properly ordered the state to reduce its prison population as a remedy for longstanding unconstitutional conditions in those prisons. A child support fight is the background in Turner v. Rogers. Does an indigent parent have a Sixth Amendment right to counsel if he or she could go to jail for contempt of court after failing to pay court-ordered child support?

Some media reports have characterized the Roberts Court as being “business-friendly,” though there is disagreement. What business cases should NewsHour viewers look for to judge for themselves?

Marcia Coyle: The Court has some major business-consumer cases still undecided. In only their second case to involve global warming, the justices will decide whether a group of states can sue five large utilities for relief from the utilities’ emissions. The issue is the kind of lawsuit that the states are pursuing. They are using a very old type of suit known as a public nuisance action and they claim the utilities’ emissions contribute to the public nuisance of climate change in American Electric Power v. Connecticut.

Workers and employers are keeping a close eye out for Wal-Mart v. Dukes, the largest employment discrimination class action in history. The justices will not decide whether Wal-Mart discriminated against its female workforce in pay and promotions. They will decide whether the women can join in a class action as the vehicle for their lawsuit.

There have been no blockbuster rulings so far like last term’s controversial campaign finance decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Sometimes, however, there is a sleeper case in the wings that produces the most significant decision. Stay tuned. The answers are coming.

*This case was ruled on Monday, after this interview was conducted.

 

UNIONS

 

California Fighting Back on Colombia Free Trade Act

Since 2005, more than half the trade unionists murdered in the world have been killed in Colombia. That’s more in Colombia alone than in the other 190+ countries combined. Just last year, 51 more trade unionists were murdered bringing the total since 1986 to over 2700. Unfortunately, President Obama is ignoring these facts to push for the long-stalled Colombia Free Trade Agreement, a relic of the Bush Administration, in a move that can only be seen as an affront to his union base.

Not only is Colombia the most dangerous place in the world for union activity, an implied complicity with Colombia’s government, in particular the Department of Administrative Security (DAS), has led to an approximate 96% impunity rating. Could you imagine the U.S. response if over the course of 2010, there were one CEO murder per week in Colombia with little investigation and few convictions or punishments? It certainly wouldn’t be to liberalize trade rules. […]

Since then, nothing has changed in Colombia, with 47 union assassinations in 2009 in addition to the 51 from 2010, more than even in 2007 when the FTA was initially negotiated (ironically, some view FTAs as incentives for good behavior). The President shouldn’t support a corporate-first FTA with Colombia, while glossing over the violence he lamented during the election.

That’s why the AFL-CIO, the California Labor Federation, the California Democratic Party, and most major unions are calling on their members to stand up and fight to stop the President’s free trade expansion plans. Along with FTAs with South Korea and Panama, the Colombia FTA constitute the President’s extension of the Bush-era trade agenda which is poised to cost more American jobs, and endanger the lives and livelihoods of our brothers and sisters around the world.

 

Frustrated that Dems aren’t fighting harder on labor issues, unions cut financial support

Some of the nation’s largest labor unions are cutting back dramatically on their financial support to the Democratic Party, saying they are highly frustrated with the failure of Democrats to put up stronger resistance to Republican proposals opposed by labor.

The unions have cited what they see as Democrats’ tepid response to Republican efforts to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public sector workers, cut Medicare funding and require voters to show identification at the polls.

“It doesn’t matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking ball or simply standing aside,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, in a speech Friday. “The outcome is the same either way. If leaders aren’t blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families’ interests, working people will not support them.”

MORE>>>

 

Prosser To Be Verified as WI Supreme Court Winner

 

AND IN OTHER NEWS…


More Sunday morning at the movies — Chayefsky edition

digby:

The NY Times features a piece about Paddy Chayefsky’s notes on the creation of Network which, as you might imagine considering my paean to Howard Beale to the left, I found fascinating.

 

I watched the film again recently and was struck by just how perfectly he captured the essence of what was just beginning to come into focus and which is now obvious to everyone.

Dan Chayefsky, the author’s son, wrote in an e-mail that “Network” “was always intended as a metaphor for society at large,” and its subtext “was always about human/corporate accountability, rather than newscasters or any specific industry.”

Even if a Cronkite-like character had been the seed that “Network” grew from, Dan Chayefsky said, “the ideas my father uncovered at the concept stage rarely maintained their shape or form at the conclusion of each work.”

Mr. Colbert said that while “Network” did not directly inspire “The Colbert Report,” the film influenced the outspoken media personalities that he lampoons. (Noting interviews in which the conservative commentator Glenn Beck compared himself to Gandhi, Jesus and Howard Beale, Mr. Colbert said, “I thought, wow, none of those stories end well.”)

What “Network” correctly anticipated, he said, “is news as entertainment, a man wandering a set as opposed to sitting behind a desk,” though Mr. Colbert tended to read “Network” as a drama about relationships and the tragedy of Beale.

Mr. Sorkin, however, spoke for “Network” fans who respond to it as a devastating media-industry critique — one whose author never saw television devolve into a vast wasteland of reality programming and political partisanship, but who after 35 years is still shouting just as loudly about the dangers of crass, pandering content.

“If you put it in your DVD player today you’ll feel like it was written last week,” Mr. Sorkin said. “The commoditization of the news and the devaluing of truth are just a part of our way of life now. You wish Chayefsky could come back to life long enough to write ‘The Internet.’ ”

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.

~John Wooden

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.

13 Responses so far.

Click here to leave a comment
  1. ADONAI says:

    The Robert Gates story is what caught my attention the most.

    I don’t get the defense he’s giving. Our “failures” in Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t an indication that our Army is weak. It’s definitely not an indication that they are underfunded. Undersupplied sometimes? Yes. But that’s a different corrupt problem.

    Mr. Gates said. “But make no mistake, the ultimate guarantee against the success of aggressors, dictators and terrorists in the 21st century, as in the 20th, is hard power — the size, strength and global reach of the United States military.”

    Lord knows I understand the need for people who will kill on command, but we have A LOT of them already. And fuck manpower anyways. China and Russia have us beaten on that. We are the most technologically advanced military on the planet. And not by a little bit. Many people play down our military superiority but every great advance that countries like China,Korea, and Russia have made has been from co-opting advanced tech we have long since moved past. I bow to Japan’s robotic and technical wizardry, but DARPA gives them a run for their money. And they are ONLY concerned with military applications.

    We lose when it’s a long war that devolves to guerrilla tactics. It’s the only way to beat a superior force. So the military is not a good fit for the “war on terror”. Soft force got us Bin Laden. Soft force is rallying change around the Middle East. I think the military gets more than enough money to do what they need to do.

    Honestly, if WW3 broke out tomorrow, is anyone really banking on the other side? No matter who that would be. Carthage was NEVER going to beat Rome. The South NEVER had a chance to win the Civil War.

    These aren’t absolutes. The American Revolution has shown that a smaller, less advanced force can repel a far superior one. Same with the Mujaheddin and Russia in Afghanistan and the ancient Greeks and Persians. This all speaks to will. The will to outlast and survive. Armies. Break. Wills. That is not how America will “win the world”. You know what happened after the American Revolution? The British came back. In 1812 they came back, whipped the piss out of us, and burnt Washington. And they just left. Sure, if hey hadn’t accepted peace, it would have been a hard battle but they would have won. No more America. Again, thank France.

    We have a strong military, we have strong allies. Gates worries too much.

    (i apologize for the rambling. I was high)

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Adonai, stoned or not, you are right. It’s an absurd worry by Gates and I don’t even know why he thinks he needs to worry--it’s not as if there is a great outcry in Congress to really, seriously cut the military spending. Maybe he’s smoking that paranoid shit.

      • bito says:

        I find Secretary Gates speech interesting, was it a bit of closing the barn door from his previous speeches, congressional hearings and interviews? Over the last year he has been more amiable to cuts and reducing the military footprint, albeit not huge cuts and far from what the country needs, but cuts nevertheless.
        I don’t know why he now is taking a harder line, but I do find it interesting.

        Some excerpts from his speech that may take the hard edge off:

        To be sure, a strong military cannot exist without a strong economy underpinning it. At some point fiscal insolvency at home translates into strategic insolvency abroad. As part of America getting its financial house in order, the size of our defense budget must be addressed. That means culling more bureaucratic excess and overhead, taking a hard look at personnel levels and costs, and reexamining missions and capabilities to separate the desirable or optional from the essential.

        ~~~~
        We live in such a time of “great necessities.” For my entire life the United States has been the most economically dynamic, powerful country and government in the world. The indispensible nation. It still is all those things, and indeed, as I’ve traveled the world over the last four and a half years, I have been struck by the number of countries – from Europe to Southeast Asia – who want to forge closer ties with our military, and want the United States to play a bigger, not smaller, role as partners providing stability, security and prosperity across the globe. But there is no question that our ability to lead, and our economic strength – a given for nearly three quarters of a century – are being tested by fiscal problems at home and rising powers and emergent threats abroad. Your lives will be defined by how we respond to these challenges.

        And I will add he did not stop the publication of “A National Strategic Narrative.”

        • Chernynkaya says:

          I think Gates is a good guy. He is certainly among the most thoughtful--and that’s why I guess his message here seems contradictory. Maybe it’s an “I come to bury Caesar not to praise him” strategy. But what I think he is doing here is making the case against isolationism and for the case of the US being the premier military. It’s a tough one for me--I am not at all a pacifist and see many times when I want us to intervene especially for humanitarian reasons. I think we should have gone into Somalia big time--there us a holocaust going on there. But I also feel we have to get our house in order first--there is way too much needed here right now. And we have [plenty of fat to cut in the military. But I also think that the military is on one level a jobs program-- a huge and expensive one. If we closed most of our bases, where would all those men and women work?

    • agrippa says:

      A problem arises when you apply a military solution to a political problem. That, in a way, is what occured with Iraq and Afghanistan. Countries have made that error ( if you can use the word, “error”) in the past, and paid a high price for it.

      This, too, goes back to the old Roman aphorism, “if you want peace, prepare for war”. Many people have felt that a strong military was needed -- maintain a “military option” -- in order to resolve an international dispute. I expect that Gates would agree with that. At the end of the day, I think that Obama agrees with it as well.

  2. KQuark says:

    I remember during the who nationalize the banks debate no one could ever answer the question I asked. Ok you nationalize the banks and scare the hell out of the markets even more and then what? Who was going to run all these huge banks? Progressives never answered these question in any reasonable way to me. For jeebus sake if Obama had decided to run the banks, he would never have time to implement any of his agenda for the future. The worse part is even if they did nationalize the banks it was only temporary and they would sell all the banks assets back to Wall Street at a bigger discount anyway. I eventually summed it up this way if you blew up the banks the government would have to fix them. Isn’t that what we did in Iraq? In the long run I think it was always best to play it out instead of causing a big bang. The fact is if the Fed did what it should have under Hoover and acted like Bernake did there was no need for the GD to be as bad as it was.

  3. KQuark says:

    Once in a while Andrew Sullivan’s work is completely inspired. Everyone should read the his article about the conflict between President Obama and Netanyahu. It’s truly a dark game between a visionary versus a nihilist.

  4. kesmarn says:

    Cher, thanks so much for the link to the Sullivan article. I especially wanted to highlight this paragraph:

    And no one seems to appreciate Obama’s political courage in all this. Obama seems to understand that an equitable two-state solution is a key crucible for the change he is seeking with respect to the Muslim world, the minimum necessary to advance US interests in the region and against Jihadism abroad. With each month in office, he has pursued this, through humiliation after humiliation from the Israelis, who are openly trying to lobby the press, media, political parties and Congress to isolate this president and destroy his vision for peace and the historic and generational potential his presidency still promises. To achieve this, he has to face down the apocalyptic Christianist right, the entire FNC-RNC media machine, a sizable chunk of his party’s financial base, and the US Congress. And yet on he pushes -- civilly, rationally, patiently.

    I have to say that I was sorry to read about the unions’ decision to cut back on financial support for Dems because of their disappointment with what they perceive as tepid efforts to support labor causes. While I understand this line of thought, in an era in which we’re battling deep-pocket guys like the Kochs, it’s gonna hurt.

  5. escribacat says:

    If we can’t help the people in Missouri without cutting elsewhere, how about we cut the many billions in foreign aid that we hand out to purchase cooperation from various dictators around the world. Oh, and let’s cut Cantor’s salary and cushy retirement while we’re at it.

    PS: Cher, that’s a great quote.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      E’cat, I can’t believe that Cantor’s threat will not cost him. It represents in stark relief just how low we have sunk. I never thought I would live to hear a Congressman say out loud, Fuck you, Americans. I think the only thing that will save him is the apparent fact that no one is paying attention.

    • bito says:

      What the US spends on foreign aid (non military) is a tiny drop in the budget. .63 cents of the tax dollar. Now if you want to cut the military budget, 56% of the budget, I’m all for that. We spend 500,000 dollars a week a week, every week, in Afghanistan on bottled water.


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