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.
That means that as Republicans get more desperate to cut a deal, they might get more interested in revenues, particularly revenues that come from capping or closing tax breaks rather than raising rates. Which’d be ironic. The one thing the Ryan plan refused to do was raise taxes. But there’s at least a slim possibility that in showing the draconian measures you’d have to take if you didn’t raise taxes and then testing them in an election, it conducted the political experiment needed to force the GOP to accept new revenues as part of a deal.
The parties are about $1 trillion apart in debt negotiations, reports David Rogers: “Even after concessions made last month, the White House and Republicans in Congress are more than $1.1 trillion apart over how much to devote to domestic appropriations over the next 10 years, according to a POLITICO analysis of new numbers collected from the administration and the House GOP. Proposed Medicare changes have gotten more attention, dividing the Senate’s Gang of Six last week and provoking a backlash felt by Republicans in a nationally watched special election for a House seat in upstate New York. But as deficit talks resumed Tuesday afternoon, appropriations remained the 800-pound gorilla in the back of the room — given the immense gap between the two sides and the more immediate impact on government services.” [...]
5) Americans are more worried about the debt than default, report Lori Montgomery and Peyton Craighill: “The debate over whether to raise the legal limit on government borrowing has riveted Americans, with a large majority worried about the potential consequences regardless of whether Congress votes to allow the national debt to keep increasing. But when pressed to name their biggest concern, nearly half of respondents say they are alarmed by the prospect that the debt could grow beyond its current limit of $14.3 trillion, according to a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll. Only 35 percent say they are more worried about the risk of default and economic destabilization if Congress does not raise the debt limit.”
Let’s also posit that if the Dems give up anything as big as actual Medicare cuts in these negotiations, they’ll pretty much have given up the whole ball of wax on negotiating anything with the GOP from here on out. When they should actually be adding weight to the anvil that’s already hanging around the collective Republican neck, they’re making noises about conceding that critical ground. As Beutler notes in this article, not every means of “fixing” Medicare involves benefits cuts, but many of them that have been floated thus far do.
We already know that Republicans are planning on attacking Democrats over the Medicare Advantage cuts in the Affordable Care Act. If they’ll attack on that, of course they’ll turn around and attack on any cuts. As Beutler, “If Democrats sign on broadly to more Medicare cuts in the Biden talks, it’ll give the guys who want to privatize Medicare plenty of ammunition.”
Very soon, the Republican Study Committee will send an open letter to Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Cantor laying out what its members — a majority of the GOP conference — want in order to move ahead on a debt ceiling vote. The draft text doesn’t actually say these concessions will guarantee their support. In fact, it argues that Republicans should “limit the extension of borrowing authority as much as possible, in order to demand accountability from Senate Democrats and the Obama Administration.” But here are the three key demands:
- “Discretionary and mandatory spending reductions that would cut the deficit in half next year.”
- “Statutory, enforceable total-spending caps to reduce federal spending to 18% of GDP.”
The last demand: for Congress to “send to the states a Balanced Budget Amendment with strong protections against federal tax increases and including a Spending Limitation Amendment.”
“I’m afraid the Democrats will draw the conclusion that because Congressman Ryan’s proposal is not the right one, that we shouldn’t do anything. I completely disagree with that,” – Bill Clinton.
As of a few weeks ago, things looked quite good. Macroeconomic Advisers projected that the U.S. economy was on track to show 3.7% growth in the second quarter, which would be very encouraging.
Soon after, Macroeconomic Advisers lowered that projection to 3.5%, Then 3.2%. As of this morning, it’s down to 2.8%.[...]
I realize it’s fallen out of fashion to talk about things such as economic growth and job creation, but I’m curious: does anyone still give a damn about the economy? Anyone at all?
The recovery is fragile and weak — and apparently getting weaker. The European debt crisis is once again growing more serious. The U.S. unemployment rate is 9%. Under sane circumstances, one would expect American policymakers to respond to developments like these with a renewed focus on improving the economy, giving it a much-needed boost. [...]
The GOP is convinced we’ll all be better off after they’ve taken money out of the economy, made unemployment worse, and pursued a monetary policy that makes it harder for the world to buy American products. Democrats would like to respond to the weak economy with an ambitious economic agenda, but they don’t bother because they know it wouldn’t pass.
The best — the very best — we can hope for is a president who’ll stop Republicans from making matters much worse, and maybe a reluctant Federal Reserve that might choose to play a more constructive role. But really, that’s it. The White House can’t act without Congress, and Congress doesn’t want to act at all. We’re left to simply hope the economy continues to improve on its own.
And it’s not improving on its own.
In the meantime, countries like England are shrinking their economies to focus on the debt, which in turn, is making the debt worse.
It doesn’t have to be this way, and we know what we should do. The country needs the wisdom and courage to do the right thing, but as of today, with the recovery faltering, the right thing isn’t even on the negotiating table.
Nearly half of Americans are living in a state of “financial fragility,” a new paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research reveals. To determine this statistic, researchers from the George Washington School of Business, Princeton University, and Harvard Business School asked survey participants whether they would be able to come up with $2,000 for an “unexpected expense in the next month.” 22.2 percent predicted they would be “probably unable” and 27.9 percent said they’d certainly be unable to foot the unplanned bill. The hypothetical cost “reflects the order of magnitude of the cost of an unanticipated major car repair, a large co-payment on a medical expense, legal expenses, or a home repair.” But, it was the participants’ method of coping that really determined their fragility:
Taken together with those who would pawn their possessions, sell their home, or take out a payday loan, 25.7% of respondents who were asked about coping methods (equal to 18.6% of all respondents) would come up with the funds for an emergency by resorting to what might be seen as extreme measures,” the authors write. “Along with the 27.9% of respondents who report that they could certainly not cope with an emergency, this suggests that approximately 46.5% of all respondents are living very close to the financial edge.
President Obama announced recently that $8 billion in Recovery Act grants are going to the development of America’s first nationwide high-speed intercity rail service program.
The grants will, according to the White House, lead to the development of groundwork for 13 new high-speed rail corridors across the U.S. According to Policy Innovations, these corridors are part of a total of 31 states receiving investments, which include smaller projects and plans that are all intended to culminate in providing exemplary rail service in the country’s future.
Religious schools across the nation are receiving public funds through voucher and corporate tax credit programs. Many hundreds, if not thousands, of these schools use Protestant fundamentalist textbooks that teach not only creationism, but also a religious supremacist worldview. They offer a shocking spin on politics, history and human rights.
In 12 states and the District of Columbia, almost 200,000 students attend private schools with at least part of their tuition paid with public funds. The money is taken from public school budgets to fund vouchers or by diverting state tax revenues to tuition grants through corporate tax credit programs. An interconnected group of non-profits and political action committees, led by the wealthy right-wing school privatization advocate Betsy DeVos and heavily funded by a few mega-donors, is working to expand these programs across the nation. The DeVos-led American Federation for Children hosted Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and Michelle Rhee at a national policy summit earlier in May. […]
In 2003, Dr. Frances Paterson, a specialist in education law, published Democracy and Intolerance: Christian School Curricula, School Choice, and Public Policy, summarizing her extensive study of the curricula of the three most widely used Protestant fundamentalist textbook publishers in the nation: A Beka Book, Pensacola, Florida; Bob Jones University Publishing, Greenville South Carolina; and Accelerated Christian Education, Lewisville, Texas.
Her research included surveys in Florida, including one of private schools receiving public funding in the Orlando area. Of those that responded, 52 percent used A Beka textbooks, 24 percent used Bob Jones and 15 percent used ACE. A Beka publishers reported that about 9,000 schools nationwide purchase its textbooks.
In 2003, the Palm Beach Post conducted its own survey of Florida’s voucher schools, and of the religious schools that responded, 43 percent used either A Beka or Bob Jones curriculum. The percentages may be higher in Florida than some other states; however, these three curricula series are used by thousands of private schools across the country.
Unsurprisingly, the textbooks are fiercely anti-abortion and virulently anti-gay, similar to the ideology of Religious Right organizations (heavily funded by Betsy DeVos and family) that have been labeled hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. A Bob Jones current events text argues against legal protection for gays, stating, “These people have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists.” The text uses an often-repeated phrase that homosexuals and abortion-rights supporters are “simply calling evil good.”
They also teach a radical laissez-faire capitalism. Government safety nets, regulation, minimum wage and progressive taxes are described as contrary to the Bible. Many of these textbooks were first published in the 1980s, evidence that the merging of Religious Right ideology with extreme free-market economics predates the Tea Party movement by many years.
The textbooks exhibit hostility toward other religions, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, and traditional African and Native American religions, and other Christians are also targeted, including non-evangelical Protestants and Roman Catholics. […]
The A Beka civics text states, “God’s original purpose for government was to punish the evil and reward the good.” The same text describes the ideal form of government. “All governments are ordained by God, but none compare to government by God, theocracy.”
Predating today’s “tenther” movement, the texts consistently accuse the federal government of exceeding its constitutional authority as described in the 10th Amendment and taking powers that belong to the states. The 14th Amendment, passed during Reconstruction to give citizenship to African Americans, is criticized as taking away state’s rights.
The skills of a journalist mirror those of today’s media consumer which is why news literacy is a critical skill for all students. Like journalists, students today are gathering information; however, unlike journalists they do not have the skills for analyzing it, or writing about it. They should be taught these skills in school; we need to teach kids how to critically examine their research and make intelligent decisions about it. We need to teach them how to write for the web so they can feel empowered to participate. Many kids are connected to their Facebook account and their phone, but they do not comment on blogs or even write blogs.
The film chronicles the fight against coal mining across Appalachia and Massey Energy’s devastating practice of mountaintop removal to extract layers of coal. “They have to break the law to do this. They cannot survive in the marketplace without violating the law. They violate labor laws. They violate health and safety laws. And by their own records, they’ve had some 67,000 violations of just one of the environmental statutes,” says Kennedy of the coal giant that has tremendous political influence at the state and federal level. “It’s not just about the environmental destruction, it’s also about subverting democracy.” [includes rush transcript]
This Administration has taken unprecedented steps to protect consumers at the gas pump. In March, the President announced a plan to reduce our oil imports by a third by 2025–leveraging domestic resources while reducing the oil we consume. Since the beginning, this Administration has been making investments and taking smart steps that are already helping us move towards this important goal. You can see it in our investment in alternative fuels and our support of electric vehicles–creating jobs while decreasing costs for consumers. […]
Today, I’m excited to join Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson in introducing new fuel economy labels that will empower car buyers with better information about what they will spend or save on fuel costs when looking to purchase a new vehicle. This is one part of President Obama’s plan to provide Americans with relief from high gas prices and break our dependence on foreign oil.
These labels offer consumers more information in a more usable format. When shopping for a new vehicle, you’ll be able to see your expected savings over a five-year period, a fuel economy comparison to other vehicles in the same class, and easy-to-understand guidance about each car or truck’s environmental impact. The bottom line is that these labels will help people make informed decisions when they’re buying a car, so that they can save money at the gas pump.
The new labels also feature a QR code that allows car buyers to comparison shop on the go. Shoppers can scan the QR code with their smartphones to store that vehicle’s information, compare it to other vehicles, and access www.fueleconomy.gov for even more information.
While the Davis Besse case focuses on singular allegations of influence, critics say the industry routinely exercises its muscle in a more pervasive way: through contributions to NRC regulatory guides that advise nuclear companies about how to best follow the agency’s rules.
Large parts of the guides, issued by NRC, incorporate or endorse material written by the industry’s trade group, the Nuclear Energy Institute. The guides – containing detailed technical procedures and reference materials – are a key part of NRC’s oversight. They provide the nuts and bolts advice that nuclear operators follow to stay in compliance but often refer to even more detailed industry guides.
The NRC’s guide on fatigue, for example, details how many hours employees in key jobs can work, how to respond when a worker is too tired, and how many days off employees in certain jobs need. It officially incorporates, with a few exceptions, another 60-page guide compiled by the industry group.
In an e-mail, Thomas Kauffman, a spokesman for NEI, passed along responses to ProPublica’s questions from the trade group’s director of engineering, John Butler. “NRC endorsement, with or without exceptions, of industry guidance is a common practice,” Butler said. […]
The NEI said its role in contributing to NRC’s guides does not mean the nuclear industry has too much influence. Kauffman said the NRC has final say on what NEI adds and frequently makes changes.
“They review them completely,” Kauffman said. “It is one thing to draft something and put it out there; it is quite another for the NRC to decide to accept it.”
NRC spokesman Eliot Brenner said in an e-mail that the NEI is not the sole source of information in agency regulatory guides and that NRC accepts comment from a broad array of sources.
“If any stakeholder – company, industry organization, individual or public group – backs up a request with appropriate information, the NRC will consider it,” Brenner said. “The NRC regularly denies industry requests that lack proper support, and we’ve taken properly supported rulemaking requests from non-industry sources on many occasions.”
“The NRC is the final arbiter of what becomes a regulation,” he said, “with safety the total focus of our effort.”
But others said the reliance on the industry creates a potential conflict of interest.
The stats on tornadoes so far this year are horrifying. A record-breaking 482 people (and ABC News reports 1,500 are unaccounted for in Joplin, Missouri) have been confirmed killed as of 24 May.
We know that spring’s a bad season for tornadoes. We know that La Niña years fuel stormy Aprils. But 2011 is redefining even those parameters. […]
Leading up to April’s extreme tornadoes were some extreme temperatures, noted Stu Ostro, Senior Meteorologist at the Weather Channel:
The temperature in Laredo reached 111 degrees the day prior to the peak [April] outbreak, the hottest on record at that location for so early in the season. Precipitation extremes have been extreme even by extreme precipitation standards, with April rainfall upwards of 20″ in Arkansas and record levels on some rivers in the central US, juxtaposed with an exceptionally large amount of Texas being classified in extreme or exceptional drought.
Now May is racing to catch up to and maybe even pass April. Here’s what NOAA finds so far:
- The National Weather Service’s preliminary estimate is more than 100 tornadoes have occurred during the month of May 2011.
- The record number of tornadoes during the month of May was 542 tornadoes set in May 2003.
- The average number of tornadoes for the month of May during the past decade is 298.
- May is historically the most active month for tornadoes. […]
And then there are sea surface temperatures.
Unusually warm surface waters in the Gulf of Mexico—about 2 degrees Fahrenheit/3.6 degrees Celsius warmer than normal—may be a factor in this season’s tornado frequency and strength, according to National Weather Service director Jack Hayes. Add that to an uncommonly southward jet stream track, reports Scientific American, and you’ve got a recipe for the kinds of disasters we’ve been seeing so far this year.
Warmer sea surface temperatures are also one of three reasons NOAA is forecasting a 65 percent chance of an above normal season—characterized as 13 or more named storms, 7 or more hurricanes, and 3 or more major hurricanes—in the Atlantic this year.
The Centers for Disease Control released a report this week on the measles outbreaks that have happened in the United States since the beginning of 2011. The report covers 19 weeks, and 118 cases of measles, which group into clusters that speckle a map of the U.S. like, well, like a case of the measles.
Let’s remember, getting the measles is not like catching a cold. There are serious risks of serious complications. Seth Mnookin—whose book, The Panic Virus, is something you really should read—says measles has killed more children than any other disease in recorded history. In a post at his blog, Mnookin looks at the CDC report, and what we can learn from it. [...]
In other words, choosing to not vaccinate some children affects the health of other children whose families haven’t made that choice.
* Forty percent of the infections recorded so far this year have resulted in hospitalization—and 98 percent of the people who were hospitalized were unvaccinated. In its typically understated manner, the CDC noted that “nine [of the hospitalized patients] had pneumonia, but none had encephalitis and none died”—which is another way of saying that encephalitis and death are potential complications of serious cases of pneumonia.
And all of that is expensive. Containing a single outbreak—caused by an intentionally unvaccinated patient—with just 12 cases, cost us $150,000. That’s not much money in the grand scheme of public health, but it is money that we shouldn’t have had to spend. And endemic transmission, at the scale of what is happening in France, would be a lot more costly. There’ve been 6400 measles infection cases in France this year, Mnookin says. In the U.S., with our larger population, an outbreak of that size would have meant 28,000 cases here. With a transmission rate of 90%, measles cases, and the costs to contain them, can stack up very quickly.
And that’s where the Independent Payment Advisory Board comes in. It’s the most promising of the many new cost-cutting initiatives created by President Obama’s health care law. IPAB will be tasked with implementing new ways to reduce Medicare spending, and, though its powers are limited in several key ways — for instance, it’s explicitly forbidden to “ration” health care — its recommendations take effect almost automatically.
There’s just one problem: Each of the board’s 15 members has to be confirmed by the Senate. That means filibusters and 60 vote requirements stand in the way of staffing a panel that Republicans decry as a government rationing board. And months ahead of the nominations, they’re telling Obama “good luck with that!” [...]
Complicating matters is that Obama’s own debt reduction plan involves vesting the panel with more power, not less.
This is all reminiscent of a recent Republican tactic on a different federal entity. Earlier this month the overwhelming majority of the Senate GOP caucus vowed not to confirm any nominee, Republican or Democrat, to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unless the agency’s powers are first weakened by statute. Getting around that will require Obama to make a recess appointment. Getting around a similar threat vis-a-vis the IPAB would require him to make 15 of them. [...]
The nominations are a long way off — the four party leaders in the House and Senate each get a say over three nominees, and the White House hasn’t begun consulting with them on potential candidates. But it’s hard to imagine House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) playing nice in those talks — particularly given the large appetite in their caucuses for repealing the board all together.
A Democratic aide familiar with IPAB’s progress paints a rosier picture. “Republicans and Democrats share the goal of reducing Medicare cost growth. We aren’t thrown off by the politics of the moment – if we were, health reform never would have happened. We’re confident IPAB will ultimately be able to do its work.”
The potential dustup over IPAB is another indication that when it comes to reforming Medicare — inarguably one of the key contributors to long term deficits and rising national debt — the two parties are as far apart on the fundamentals of how to tackle the issue as they’ve ever been. Top Congressional aides claim Medicare will be part of the ongoing debt talks led by Vice President Joe Biden, but it’s difficult to conceive of those talks resolving these foundational differences.
“Right now I don’t see any bipartisan agreement because the Democrats don’t want to talk about it,” Hatch said.
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the architect of his party’s radical plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program, gave a lesson Sunday in stating the obvious: ‘I don’t consult polls to tell me what my principles are or what our policies should be.’ I’d suggest that Republicans with less disdain for public opinion might want to check out the height of the cliff from which Ryan would have them leap.
Peter Orszag may be an ex-Obama aide, but his cost control bona fides are pretty widely acknowledged. And he says that last month’s CBO is right: Paul Ryan’s plan to voucherize Medicare wouldn’t reduce healthcare spending, it would raise it:
On the critical metric of whether the Ryan plan would reduce total health-care costs  the CBO conclusion is shocking: The plan would not only fail to decrease health-care costs per beneficiary, it would increase them — by an astonishingly large amount that grows over time. By 2030, health spending on the typical beneficiary would be more than 40 percent higher under the Ryan plan than under existing Medicare, according to the CBO report.
….How could this possibly be, when the point of reform is to reduce costs? The CBO points to two factors: Private plans have higher administrative costs than the federal Medicare program, and less negotiating leverage with providers.
Everything in life is relative. The CBO’s analysis of the health-reform act that was passed last year was, well, lukewarm on its potential to reduce costs. Compared with the Ryan plan, though, the health reform act comes across as an efficient cost- containment machine.
The main goal of Medicare reform isn’t to reduce federal healthcare spending. That’s only a side effect. The main goal is to reduce healthcare spending, full stop. If, instead, your plan increases the cost of healthcare but reduces the federal share of that spending, all you’re doing is making things worse. The cost of healthcare goes up and more and more patients no longer have the means to pay for it. There’s literally no upside to a plan that does this.
In other words, there’s no upside to Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan. It’s bad news across the board. What we need isn’t ideological nostrums, it’s actual ideas for controlling costs. Paul Ryan is entirely silent on that.
Health care plans that fit your needs
Under our reforms, you choose your insurance from competing plans. You have the security of knowing you can keep your coverage regardless of your job status. Premium costs are defrayed by a tax credit based on your income and family status.
Tax policy that gives you greater freedom to invest in yourself
Build for your future with savings that aren’t taxed until you spend them. The current tangle of higher-ed tax incentives is replaced by a simple deduction. Pell grants provide comparable benefits for low-income students and their families. And the student loan program remains intact to help you pay for college.
Cut government spending we don’t need
Our plan combs through the federal budget and ends outdated programs that waste your tax dollars. Social Security and Medicare reforms take huge entitlement debt out of your future. And “non-defense discretionary spending” is ultimately cut by more than half.
A path to retirement with real income and health care security
Social Security currently taxes all workers and sends payments to all retirees, regardless of income. Our plan exempts low-income workers from this tax and pays predictable, retirement benefits based on income, with a guarantee against poverty. Only the wealthiest 9 percent of retirees see any reduction in benefits.
Regulators have launched one of the biggest ever crackdowns on oil price manipulation.
The feds are suing two well-known traders and two trading firms owned by Norwegian billionaire John Fredriksen for allegedly making $50 million by squeezing markets in 2008.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said traders James Dyer of Oklahoma’s Parnon Energy, and Nick Wildgoose of Europe-based Arcadia Energy, amassed large physical positions at a key U.S. trading hub to create the impression of tight supplies that would boost oil prices.
John Edwards, the once-ascendant trial lawyer who became a senator and twice ran for president, indicated Wednesday that he would fight any criminal charges that he misused his campaign funds to cover up an extramarital affair. […]
The Justice Department is planning to charge Mr. Edwards with violating campaign finance laws; prosecutors say he used money that should have been reported as campaign donations to cover up the affair, which produced a child, wrecked his marriage and ended his political career.
The American trend toward forced arbitration is bad for consumers. Basically, most commercial transactions you go through today — buying a house, buying a car, seeing a doctor, etc. — include contracts that demand resolution of all disputes not in a court of law, but via arbitration. And, unsurprisingly, the arbitrator is chosen by the business person, not the consumer. You can, of course, refuse to sign a contract with anyone who insists on arbitration, but there are whole industries where this has become so pervasive that you hardly have a choice. If you refuse to sign, you just don’t get your teeth cleaned. See Stephanie Mencimer for chapter and verse on this.
Now, via Matt Yglesias, I see that things are going even further. Here’s Tim Lee writing at Ars Technica:
When I walked into the offices of Dr. Ken Cirka, I was looking for cleaner teeth, not material for an Ars Technica story. I needed a new dentist, and Yelp says Dr. Cirka is one of the best in the Philadelphia area. The receptionist handed me a clipboard with forms to fill out. After the usual patient information form, there was a “mutual privacy agreement” that asked me to transfer ownership of any public commentary I might write in the future to Dr. Cirka. Surprised and a little outraged by this, I got into a lengthy discussion with Dr. Cirka’s office manager that ended in me refusing to sign and her showing me the door.
….The growing use of censorious copyright assignments recently caught the attention of law professors Jason Schultz and Eric Goldman, who created a site called Doctored Reviews to educate doctors and patients about the phenomenon.
When Ars asked Schultz about medical professionals who ask their patients to sign these agreements, he was scathing. “It’s completely unethical for doctors to force their patients to sign away their rights in order to get medical care,” he said. He pointed out that patients seeking treatment can be particularly vulnerable to coercion. Patients might be in acute pain or facing a life-threatening illness. Such patients are in no position to haggle over the minutia of copyright law.
We bought a new car this weekend, and the sales contract included the usual arbitration clause. We signed it. What choice did we have? But if the car is a lemon or the dealership screws us over, at least I can write about it without worrying over whether I’m violating some kind of gag clause. The experts Lee interviewed said these clauses are probably unenforceable, but how many ordinary citizens are willing to bet on that if they get a threatening letter on legal letterhead threatening to ruin them? Not too many, probably.
As near as I can tell, businesses in the United States increasingly think that basic constitutional rights are mere annoyances to be swatted away. Before long they’re going to demand the right to search your house without your permission anytime they think you’ve done something they don’t like. And why not? The United States government increasingly seems to view the constitution the same way.
Following a six-month investigation triggered by a 63-page memorandum written by a former deputy chief who accused high-ranking employees of the MCSO of misconduct, mismanagement and criminal behavior, two of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s top deputies — David Hendershott (who Arpaio previously referred to as his alter ego) and Larry Black — were forced to resign. The investigation found that Hendershott falsely tripled statistics, misused county resources, berated and intimidated employees, and abused his power. The investigation also accuses him of using taxpayer dollars to cover his personal legal fees. Last week, news broke that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is also investigating allegations that the Maricopa County Attorney’s and Sheriff’s Office engaged in prosecutorial misconduct by knowingly filing charges against county Supervisor Don Stapley although the statute of limitations had expired. Stapley, who believes he has been the “target of a corrupt sheriff and county attorney,” has delivered a letter to President Obama, pleading for the DOJ to get behind the criminal investigation into the Sheriff’s office. Around the same time news broke about Hendershott’s dealings, a federal judge ruled that Arpaio’s deputies violated the civil rights of two Latino men who were arrested without reasonable suspicion.
MCSO INCOMPETENCE: In September 2010, a financial review of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office records revealed that his office misspent at least $50 million in taxpayer dollars on fishing trips and Disneyland vacations. It turns out that those estimates were just the beginning. Arizona budget officials recently discovered a second jail account which brings the total of misspent funds up to $99.5 million over the last eight years. County officials are struggling to figure out how to repay the misused detention funds, without financially hurting other county departments. “At this point, no one can say for sure where the money will come from, how long it will take to pay back or how it could affect other county operations,” writes the Arizona Republic. Today, the Associated Press broke the news that three of Arpaio’s own employees were arrested on drug and human trafficking charges. This past weekend, a local newspaper reported that the MCSO failed to adequately investigate more than 400 sex-crime cases over a two-year period. “Poor oversight and former Chief Deputy David Hendershott’s desire to protect a key investigator from bad publicity led to delays for victims of serious crimes who waited years for the attackers to be brought to justice,” reported the Arizona Capitol Times. ABC15 reported that “children who had the courage to come forward and say they were molested, raped or abused were simply ignored” by MSCO detectives. The conservative Goldwater Institute has long accused the MCSO of declaring unsolved crimes solved.
Writing on behalf of the court’s five-vote majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that this unprecedented measure had become the only way to remedy the “serious” and “uncorrected” constiutional violations against inmates in the state’s correctional facilities, particularly the sick and mentally ill. “For years the medical and mental health care provided by California’s prisons has fallen short of minimum constitutional requirements and has failed to meet prisoners’ basic health needs. Needless suffering and death have been the well-documented result,” he wrote. “Short term gains in the provision of care have been eroded by the long-term effects of severe and pervasive overcrowding.” His decision included vivid examples of the problem, from open dorms so packed they can’t be effectively monitored, to suicidal inmates “held for prolonged periods in telephone-booth sized cages without toilets.
CNN’s Dana Loesch: “Anyone Else See Any Difference Between Harold Camping And Al Gore? Neither Do I.” In a May 24 Twitter post, CNN contributor Dana Loesch wrote: “Anyone else see any difference between Harold Camping and Al Gore? Neither do I.” [...]
WSJ‘s Taranto: “Camping Is Merely The Christian Al Gore.” In his May 23 Wall Street Journal column, James Taranto wrote: “Nonbelievers are no less susceptible to doomsday cults than believers are; Harold Camping is merely the Christian Al Gore.” [...]
Limbaugh: “The Global Warming People” Are “Almost Identical” To Rapture Believers. […]
In a last ditch effort to win support from lawmakers for their merger back in January, Comcast and NBC promised to forge partnerships between NBC stations and at least five local nonprofit news organizations. The move was heralded by some in the nonprofit journalism sector, while others, including me, raised questions about how serious Comcast and NBC were in their commitment to local nonprofit journalism.
Last week we got an answer to those questions when Comcast threatened to pull $18,000 of funding from Reel Grrls, a Seattle based youth documentary organization, because they tweeted about FCC Commissioner Meredith Baker becoming a lobbyist for the cable company just months after voting to approve their merger.
In an earlier post, I outlined Comcast’s long and problematic history with free speech, but at its most basic, Comcast’s threats against Reel Grrls will have a chilling effect on all nonprofits that get money from Comcast. It’s clear that taking funding from Comcast has strings attached, strings can be used to strangle those groups that accept it. […]
If Comcast is willing to threaten a local youth media organization over a tweet, what would stop it from pulling funding from a local nonprofit journalism website over a story? For news organizations looking to get out from underneath the thumb of commercial media pressures that have gutted newsrooms and shaped coverage, these two are too close for comfort. And for the public looking for independent, watchdog journalism, be cautious if there’s a Comcast logo in the corner.
A new study, published in The Journal of Consumer Research, helps explain both the success of this marketing strategy and my flawed nostalgia for Coke. It turns out that vivid commercials are incredibly good at tricking the hippocampus (a center of long-term memory in the brain) into believing that the scene we just watched on television actually happened. And it happened to us.
The experiment went like this: 100 undergraduates were introduced to a new popcorn product called “Orville Redenbacher’s Gourmet Fresh Microwave Popcorn.” (No such product exists, but that’s the point.) Then, the students were randomly assigned to various advertisement conditions. Some subjects viewed low-imagery text ads, which described the delicious taste of this new snack food. Others watched a high-imagery commercial, in which they watched all sorts of happy people enjoying this popcorn in their living room. After viewing the ads, the students were then assigned to one of two rooms. In one room, they were given an unrelated survey. In the other room, however, they were given a sample of this fictional new popcorn to taste. (A different Orville Redenbacher popcorn was actually used.)
One week later, all the subjects were quizzed about their memory of the product. Here’s where things get disturbing: While students who saw the low-imagery ad were extremely unlikely to report having tried the popcorn, those who watched the slick commercial were just as likely to have said they tried the popcorn as those who actually did. Furthermore, their ratings of the product were as favorable as those who sampled the salty, buttery treat. Most troubling, perhaps, is that these subjects were extremely confident in these made-up memories. The delusion felt true. They didn’t like the popcorn because they’d seen a good ad. They liked the popcorn because it was delicious.
The scientists refer to this as the “false experience effect,” since the ads are slyly weaving fictional experiences into our very real lives. “Viewing the vivid advertisement created a false memory of eating the popcorn, despite the fact that eating the non-existent product would have been impossible,” write Priyali Rajagopal and Nicole Montgomery, the lead authors on the paper. “As a result, consumers need to be vigilant while processing high-imagery advertisements.”
At first glance, this experimental observation seems incongruous. How could a stupid commercial trick me into believing that I loved a product I’d never actually tasted? Or that I drank Coke out of glass bottles?
The answer returns us to a troubling recent theory known as memory reconsolidation. In essence, reconsolidation is rooted in the fact that every time we recall a memory we also remake it, subtly tweaking the neuronal details. Although we like to think of our memories as being immutable impressions, somehow separate from the act of remembering them, they aren’t. A memory is only as real as the last time you remembered it. What’s disturbing, of course, is that we can’t help but borrow many of our memories from elsewhere, so that the ad we watched on television becomes our own, part of that personal narrative we repeat and retell.
This idea, simple as it seems, requires us to completely re-imagine our assumptions about memory. It reveals memory as a ceaseless process, not a repository of inert information. The recall is altered in the absence of the original stimulus, becoming less about what we actually remember and more about what we’d like to remember. It’s the difference between a “Save” and the “Save As” function. Our memories are a “Save As”: They are files that get rewritten every time we remember them, which is why the more we remember something, the less accurate the memory becomes. And so that pretty picture of popcorn becomes a taste we definitely remember, and that alluring soda commercial becomes a scene from my own life. We steal our stories from everywhere. Marketers, it turns out, are just really good at giving us stories we want to steal.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, an accomplished veteran of the Iraq war, would succeed Navy Adm. Mike Mullen as the president’s top military adviser when Mullen’s term as chairman ends Sept. 30. Dempsey would have to be confirmed by the Senate.
Two people familiar with the choice, who spoke on condition of anonymity because it has not been announced by the White House, said it is scheduled to be made public on Tuesday.
Dempsey is a surprise choice because he just began a four-year term as Army chief of staff on April 11.[...]
It is not unusual for a service chief like Dempsey to be promoted to chairman of the Joint Chiefs, but rarely, if ever, has one been elevated so quickly. Mullen was selected after serving as the Navy’s chief for a little over two years.
Cartwright, the current vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has been a close adviser to the president, routinely shuttling back and forth to the White House, often as a stand-in when Mullen was traveling. Mullen’s term began in 2007 under President George W. Bush, and Obama nominated him for a second two-year term in 2009.
Cartwright’s chances were hurt by private criticism of his management style and the public release of a Pentagon investigation into claims of misconduct with a young female aide. [...]
Army Gen. Ray Odierno is said to be a top candidate to replace Demspey as Army chief. Odierno is currently commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command, which is being dismantled in a Pentagon reorganization.
Dempsey fits the bill as among the most battle-tested of today’s four-star generals, with two tours of duty in Iraq and a stint as acting commander of Central Command, which covers most of Central Asia and the Middle East. Not well known publicly, he has a reputation inside the Army for forthrightness and innovative thinking. [...]
By law, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs is the senior military adviser to the president and the defense secretary but does not command any troops. As its top officer, the chairman serves as the public face of the military and frequently interacts with foreign military leaders. Most chairmen serve two terms of two years each, although Gates in 2007 decided not to recommend a second term for Gen. Peter Pace, who was the first Marine to be chairman.
Last week the House Armed Services Committee approved language to the defense funding bill that, in the eyes of critics, would indefinitely expand the “war on terror.” Republicans countered that the bill would provide greater legal authorization for operations the administration is effectively conducting. House Democrats were moving to strike the new language related to an expanded authorization to use military force against terrorists, but until now, the White House has largely stayed silent.
No longer–they just released a statement saying they’d be willing to veto the bill if the provisions remain, stating, “The Administration strongly objects to section 1034 which, in purporting to affirm the conflict, would effectively recharacterize its scope and would risk creating confusion regarding applicable standards. At a minimum, this is an issue that merits more extensive consideration before possible inclusion.” The statement adds, “If the final bill presented to the President includes these provisions that challenge critical Executive branch authority, the President’s senior advisors would recommend a veto.” 1034 refers to the new AUMF language.
The Senate Judiciary met to consider legislation to expand the ability to prosecute government contractors and employees for crimes committed overseas. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced such a bill in the last Congress and is expected to do so again this year. Witnesses include Lanny Breuer, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, as well as a former White House National Security Council legal adviser and a former member of the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
The GOP continued its bloody walk into the Medicare buzzsaw on Wednesday, when 42 out of 47 Senate Republicans voted for the House GOP budget, and its plan to phase out and privatize the popular entitlement program.
The budget failed by a vote of 57-40. But the roll call illustrates that Medicare privatization — along with deep cuts to Medicaid and other social services — remains the consensus position of the GOP despite the growing political backlash against them.
Voting with all of the Democrats were Sens. Scott Brown (R-MA), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) — both 2012 incumbents — along with Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Rand Paul (R-KY) voted against it because it wasn’t radical enough.
Democrats intentionally scheduled the vote less than 24 hours after a Democrat won a special election in New York’s 26th — and heavily Republican — congressional district, on the strength of defending Medicare from a GOP onslaught.
To shelter GOP dissidents from the vote to privatize Medicare, but also to shore up their bona fides on the right, the Senate also held a test vote on an equally austere alternative budget authored by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA). The key difference? The Toomey plan remains vague on the question of how to reduce Medicare spending.
President Obama’s grassroots army, Organizing for America, played a significant supporting role in efforts to amp turnout for Kathy Hochul in yesterday’s big special election win, according to Democratic sources.
OFA’s New York chapter – joining other national groups like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – manned phone banks and dropped campaign lit, and some even went door-to-door in the heavily Republican upstate district. OFA has helped other candidates and causes (including a controversial effort to ferry protesters to the Wisconsin State House this year), but this was no charity mission.
Tuesday’s win is critical for Obama’s 2012 narrative: That reckless Republicans are intent on wrecking Medicare – and can be stopped if Democrats band together. Just like in ’08.
THIS explains at all: Lawrence O’Donnell To Pro-Israel ‘Hysterics’
Florida will be critical in next year’s presidential election. So it seemed like a real coup when Republicans held the governor’s race in November. But now that freshman Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) approval rating has dropped to a jaw-dropping 29%, it may not turn out to be such an advantage.
Then the hearing got really ugly. At around 2:15 p.m., Warren said her time was up and she had to go, based on what McHenry’s staff had told her staff. McHenry said that wasn’t the case, and then accused Warren of lying again, this time about the hearing schedule.
Here’s the exchange:
Now McHenry’s facing some blowback for his specious attacks on Warren. Just take a look at his official Facebook page. You’ll find comment after comment demanding McHenry apologize and ripping him for calling Warren a liar. Here are just a few:
“Mr. McHenry, you should be ashamed for your behavior. You are a disgrace to NC, the House of Representatives, and human kind in general.”
“Just because you don’t agree with someone politically, does not allow you to treat them disrespect. Ms. Warren carried herself with dignity and showed you respect. You, on the other hand, treated her with hostility and disrespect.”
“Your treatment of an incredibly smart and strong woman was reprehensible. Ms. Warren represents the interests and people of this country better than you do. I despise that I had to “like” your page so I could tell you off. I’ll be happy to financially contribute to your opponent this cycle.”
“This is your ‘macaca’ moment, Congressman. Enjoy!”
David Frum: “The GOP will run on a platform crafted to be maximally obnoxious to downscale voters. Some may hope that Tim Pawlenty’s biography may cushion the pain. Perhaps that’s right, at least as compared to Mitt Romney, who in the 2008 primaries did worst among Republicans earning less than $100,000 a year. And yes, Pawlenty is keeping his distance from the Ryan plan. But biography only takes you so far. The big issues of 2012 will be jobs and incomes in a nation still unrecovered from the catastrophe of 2008-2009. What does the GOP have to say to hard-pressed voters? Thus far the answer is: we offer Medicare cuts, Medicaid cuts, and tighter money aimed at raising the external value of the dollar.”
“No candidate, not even if he or she is born in a log cabin, would be able to sell that message to America’s working class.”
Karl Rove, his American Crossroads, its affiliates and all their undisclosed money may be in undisclosed hot water.
Dan Froomkin has a lengthy piece of at HuffPo. Here’s the bottom line:
In one scenario, groups like Rove’s Crossroads Grassroots Political Strategies could find themselves subject to massive fines, ranging as high as 35 to 70 percent of the money they received in secret donations.
In another scenario, their deep-pocket donors could be hit by a 35 percent tax on their contributions.
Rove may well have found a way around the nation’s federal election laws. But now the key question is whether the Internal Revenue Service is willing to be assertive. Because if it is, then just like with Al Capone, it could be the IRS that gets him. [...]
[C]ontrary to popular belief, Rove’s group has not formally attained 501(c)(4) status. The group’s application, requesting the IRS to classify it as a “social welfare” group, is still pending. [...]
[W]ithout its 501(c)(4) status, the group would find itself in real trouble.
Experts say the most likely scenario is that the IRS would classify Crossroads GPS as a “527″ organization instead…. Section 527 also explicitly requires political groups to publicly disclose from whom they got their money and how they spent it.
My stars and garters, you mean to tell me that Rove may have actually done something illegal? Why, the very idea!
Since he managed to evade Team Valerie Plame’s grasp, it would be wonderfully ironic if the long-awaited nabbing of this slime ball came by way of Big Bad Government intrusion into his Big Deep Pockets. Oh please make it so. Ohpleaseohpleaseohplease.
Then go after all of BushCo for war crimes.
For decades, mainline Protestants have been beset by bad news: declining numbers, aging membership, waning cultural influence.A new study from Duke University Medical Center, however, gives these Protestants one reason for cheer: they seem to have larger brains than born-again Christians, Roman Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated.
The study, which examined the hippocampus region of the brain, found that Protestants who did not have a “born again” experience had significantly more gray matter than either those who reported a life-changing religious experience, Catholics, or unaffiliated older adults.
It found an association between participants’ professed religious affiliation and the physical structure of their brain. Specifically, those identified as Protestant who did not have a religious conversion or born-again experience — more common among their evangelical brethren — had a bigger hippocampus.
Amy Owen, a psychologist who did a post-doctoral fellowship at Duke and was the main writer for the study, said she hoped others would try to reproduce the study or offer other reasons for the association.
“There may be more factors responsible for the correlation,” she said of the study published on March 30 in “PLoS One,” a peer-reviewed, open-access, online publication.
Participants, all 58 or older, were initially recruited for a larger study on the effects of depression in the elderly. That study is ongoing. For this study, researchers ruled out depression or lack of social support as reasons for the smaller brain size, or hippocampal atrophy.
The hippocampus is an area buried deep in the brain that helps regulate emotion and memory. Atrophy or shrinkage in this region of the brain has long been linked to mental health problems such as depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
So why would born-again Protestants, Catholics and those with no religious affiliation have a smaller hippocampus?
Researchers speculate it may have something to do with the stress of belonging to a minority group. Chronic stress floods the brain with hormones that, over time, may damage the hippocampus.
Sociologists of religion, meanwhile, aren’t buying it. They say the researchers’ theory flies in the face of U.S. religious demographics. While it’s true that evangelicals are a minority, they’re a sizable one — 40% of the U.S. population, according to Gallup Polls — and not exactly a stressed-out minority, especially in the South.
“There are probably more born-again Protestants than non-born-again Protestants, and just about as many Catholics as either born-again or non-born- again Protestants,” said David Roozen, sociologist of religion at Hartford Seminary.
“It’s a year that took us by surprise,” says Jeanne Mejeur, who follows labor legislation for the National Conference of State Legislatures.
She says the number of bills introduced into state capitals this year seeking to restrict or eliminate collective bargaining rights of public workers is staggering — 820 in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
In past years, she says, there have rarely been more than 100 such proposals nationwide.
And there’s been another unusual thing, she adds. “The breadth of the bills. Far-reaching, groundbreaking types of bills that we were seeing was quite different from anything we’d seen in the past.”
Naomi Walker, director of state government relations for the AFL-CIO, says it’s been an incredibly rough and rocky year for workers.
“The legislatures have been introducing bills that really attack the middle class and attack workers in ways that we have not seen in recent history,” Walker says.
A Matter Of Perception
But where some see an attack on workers’ rights, others see a new era of fiscal restraint.
“It’s incredibly encouraging for organizations like ours,” says Barney Keller, spokesman for the conservative group Club for Growth.
“Many Americans believe that record debt and record deficits just cannot be sustained anymore,” Keller says. “Because of record debt and record deficits, they see teachers and firefighters and all other local things that impact them directly … and they feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick.”
Labor leaders say many of these anti-union measures go far beyond cost-cutting and attack the very existence of unions.
But that may not be the case everywhere — take Nebraska. This week, lawmakers there are expected to pass changes to the state’s collective bargaining system, worked out with the union. Jess Wolf, president of the Nebraska State Education Association, says the two sides reached a compromise, avoiding a bitter public fight.
“We don’t tend to like to do those types of things in Nebraska. We don’t tend to want to get into everybody’s face and make major arguments,” he says. “We tend to like to try to see if we can solve our differences, and that’s sort of what took over in this particular case, as well.”
Wolf says he hopes Nebraska can serve as a model of compromise for other states. But with recall election campaigns that are sure to be nasty in Wisconsin this summer and a bitterly partisan tone to the battles over collective bargaining rights in other states, that may be unlikely.
A state-by-state breakdown tells us even more. The states that appear to have the highest rate of unintended pregnancies carried to term also just happen to be the anti-choice, forced child birth movement hotspots.
Via the actual study by Guttmacher,
The median proportion of unintended pregnancies ending in birth was 58%, and the median proportion ending in abortion was 29% (the remainder ended in fetal loss). States where relatively low proportions ended in birth included New York (33%), New Jersey (36%), Connecticut (37%), Maryland (41%) and Massachusetts (41%). The states with the highest proportions of unintended pregnancies ending in birth were South Dakota (72%); Louisiana and Utah (71% each); and Arkansas, Kentucky and Nebraska (68% each).
As Irin points out, it is hardly a coincidence that South Dakota would have the highest rate of forced childbirth when there have been full scale attacks on abortion there, access is frighteningly limited and wait times absurd.
The public health implications and emotional costs put on women to have to carry unintended pregnancies to term notwithstanding the cost to the country is absurb. Guttmacher estimates that unintended pregnancies cost tax payers approximately 11.1 billion dollars annually.
Haven’t learned enough about the devastating economic and social implications of lack of access to reproductive health technology?
Despite ongoing racial disparities in America, whites believe they are victims of racism more than blacks, a new study finds.
According to the researchers, the study contradicts the notion of a “post-racial” society ushered in by President Barack Obama’s election.
“It’s a pretty surprising finding when you think of the wide range of disparities that still exist in society, most of which show black Americans with worse outcomes than whites in areas such as income, home ownership, health and employment,” study researcher Samuel Sommers, a psychologist at Tufts University, said in a statement.
Sommers and his colleagues asked a nationwide sample of 208 blacks and 209 whites to complete questionnaires asking how much racial discrimination each group experienced from the 1950s onward. While both groups agreed on the amount of racial discrimination in the 50s, whites believe that racism against blacks decreased faster than blacks do. (Read: Rare Individuals Have No Racial Biases)
The biggest difference, however, was that whites believe that anti-white bias has increased as anti-black bias has decreased. On average, the researchers found, whites rated anti-white racism as more prevalent in the 2000s than anti-black bias by more than a full point on a 10-point scale. Eleven percent of whites said whites are currently “very much” targets of discrimination, compared with 2 percent of blacks who said blacks are “very much” discrimination targets.
The study suggests that whites see racial equality as a zero-sum game, in which one group wins at the other’s expense.
“These data are the first to demonstrate that not only do whites think more progress has been made toward equality than do blacks, but whites also now believe that this progress is linked to a new inequality — at their expense,” Sommers and his colleagues wrote in May in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.
But that’s not all: Koch Industries also profits from Cordura nylon, and Lycra fabric is produced by the Koch-owned textile company Invista. From ranching to fertilizers to chemicals and energy, the Koch brothers have their hands in a very wide range of goods and services. But though these products may seem bland, they’re putting billions of dollars into the coffers of one of this country’s most politically destructive corporations.
Sen Patrick Leahy: Protect your right to privacy on the internet.
Urge Congress to support the Electronic Communications Privacy Amendments Act of 2011.
Click here to take action.
Sen Al Franken: Join the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, academics, and top progressive groups and ask President Obama to appoint Elizabeth Warren
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.” Plato