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Chernynkaya On June - 7 - 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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ECONOMY


House GOP unveils plan to cut federal workforce

The estimated $127.5 billion proposal, unveiled by House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and colleagues Dennis Ros s (R-Fla.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), comes after President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission suggested cutting the federal workforce by 10 percent, an idea adopted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as part of his wide-ranging budget plan. […]

If passed, the legislation would require the Office of Management and Budget to track the size of the federal workforce on a quarterly basis and report to Congress in writing if the number of employees exceeds 90 percent of its size in fiscal 2011. No agency would be permitted to fill job vacancies once the limit was exceeded. Agency employees would be tallied on a full-time equivalent basis, according to the legislation.

The president would be able to permit hiring above the legal limit in cases of war, national security concerns, or other national emergencies, according to the bill.

And in a key concession to federal worker unions concerned that curtailing federal hires would lead to a new wave of government service contracts, the bill would prohibit agencies from signing new service contracts because of the workforce limitations unless cost comparisons demonstrate the government would save money.

Ross, who chairs a House subcommittee on the federal workforce, said government statistics suggest about 400,000 federal workers are eligible for retirement. “As these workers leave, we cannot let this opportunity to save taxpayer money pass,” he said Monday.

But Colleen M. Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, called the plan “a short-sighted proposal that would only undermine the federal government’s ability to deliver vital services.”

In a statement, she said any exemption for new contracts that might save taxpayer funding is “an enormous loophole” that shouldn’t be permitted.

Though the federal government employs more people than it did about 40 years ago, the federal workforce is at its lowest level since then as a percentage of the U.S. population, according to government statistics.

In 2010, federal agencies employed an estimated 2.65 million workers — including Postal Service employees and temporary U.S. Census Bureau hires — providing an estimated 8.4 federal employees for every 1,000 Americans.

In 1970, the government employed 2.94 million people — including census workers — accounting for 14.4 of every 1,000 Americans.

 

Chronic Unemployment Higher Than Great Depression

CBS News notes that about 6.2 million Americans, 45.1% of all unemployed workers in this country, have been jobless for more than six months — a higher percentage than during the Great Depression.

 

The Economic Rebound: It Isn’t What You Think

As the US economy slowly rebuilds and the smoke from four years of charred capital starts to dissipate, we can discern the shape of the next 20 years of job growth. What we see is an economy unlike any we’ve ever known.

The recovery needs to be revolutionary, because our most recent financial meltdown laid bare a fundamental change in the US economy. Since sometime in the 1970s—economists generally agree on the trend, if not the exact date—the US has been increasingly divided into two groups: those whose economic fortunes grow and those whose wages stay stagnant. This divide has many potential causes, including the rise in global trade, technological advances, the decline in unions, and slowing growth in education. But the full impact of these shifts was long masked, first by the stock market bubble and then by a massive credit and housing bubble, which flooded the economy with money we hadn’t really earned. For nearly 20 years we felt richer than we were.

Now, as the economy slowly rebounds, it is doing more than just gaining jobs. By looking closely at data from both government and academic sources, we can see the gradual emergence of a whole new category of middle-class jobs: a realm of work that (given time and luck) could begin to close the chasm in American employment. These new middle-class jobs are what you might call smart jobs. They’re innovative and high tech, but most of them are located far from Silicon Valley or New York. They’re specialized, but that doesn’t mean you need a PhD or even (in some cases) a college degree to get them or to do them well—though they do require some serious training, whether on the job or in a vocational program.

Smart jobs tend to scramble the line between blue-collar and white-collar. Their titles tend toward the white (technician, specialist, analyst), but the underlying industries often tend toward the blue, toward the making of physical stuff. Smart jobs can involve factories and machines, plastics and chemicals, but operating those instruments and manipulating those materials demands far more brains than brawn. Even though some of these jobs are nominally in old-fashioned industries, visit the factories and shops and fields and you’ll find that these industries are in the process of being utterly transformed.

These new, innovative middle-class jobs are cropping up all over the country, in regions where you’d never expect to find them. Dayton, Ohio, is a hot spot for radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, while Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, has become a hub for PVC and synthetic rubber. In information technology, job growth is flourishing from Richmond, Virginia, to Provo, Utah. Once these pockets of innovation gain a foothold, they can grow; the employers subdivide, multiply.

MORE>>>

ENVIRONMENT


How climate change is starving the world [but we’re not doomed yet]

Prices had already doubled or even tripled for some staples before the recession, and they’re on their way back up. World hunger is poised to increase at a speed not seen in decades. And climate change is to blame.

Changes in weather have a big effect on crops even when they’re not as showy as a deadly snowstorm or hurricane. Rain and heat at the wrong time can mean water shortages or flash floods. Changes in weather conditions have also led to new pest and disease threats. The growing seasons have gone all cockeyed: There’s too much rain in the dry season, too much dryness in the rainy season, and not enough cold season at all. Meanwhile, plants do grow a little better with extra CO2, but not as much as previously thought — and not enough to offset all the other negative effects of climate change.

All this means that food prices are projected to double again, from already high levels, by 2030. And as many as 940 million people in the world went hungry last year. In the mid-90s, that figure had been muscled down to 800 million.

So, this is awesome! Are we totally doomed? Not yet, apparently:

Agronomists emphasize that the situation is far from hopeless. Examples are already available, from the deserts of Mexico to the rice paddies of India, to show that it may be possible to make agriculture more productive and more resilient in the face of climate change. Farmers have achieved huge gains in output in the past, and rising prices are a powerful incentive to do so again.

But this will take new farming techniques and new kinds of crops (like flood-tolerant rice), and that takes research funding and time. Alternately, I hear great things about this stuff called “Soylent Green” …

 

JUSTICE


Judge orders California to boost foster payments

A federal judge has ordered California to increase payment rates immediately to thousands of foster parents, noting that it has been more than 2 1/2 years since he ruled that the state’s reimbursement levels failed to cover the costs of raising a child.

State officials “have now had a full and fair opportunity to come into compliance with federal law. They have not done so,” U.S. District Judge William Alsup of San Francisco said Friday.

 

MEDIA

 

AOL INSIDER: Here Are 12 Reasons Why The AOL-Huffington Post Merger Is Going Down In Flames (AOL)

It is the Peter Principle on a grand scale. None of AOL’s senior editors (Huffington, Roy Sekoff, and Nico Pitney) have ever managed more than a few people.  Now they have hundreds and lack the experience to manage a team this big.  Behind the scenes, long time Huffposters say that Jai Singh’s departure has eliminated the key adult in the room.  Now they need to grow HuffPost and save AOL – not possible.

Dissension in edit. The editorial team is miserable and views Arianna as unpredictable and her leadership unsteady.  Several editors are racing to close book deals to be write the “Devil Wears Prada” of the digital age.  Others are aggressively pitching unflattering profiles to New York Magazine, Vanity Fair, and the LA Times.   The lack of maturity and loyalty among editors is stunning – even those close to her are extremely negative behind her back – which is surprising because she has done a great job taking care of her people.

Hasty launches. New site launches, like AOL Healthy Living, are little more than Huffington Post channels and very poor quality  The real URL is www.huffingtonpost.com/aolhealthyliving – it is a joke.

Dissension in tech. CTO Paul Berry is miserable in his new role and refuses to create an org chart.  Most of the tech team is miserable that they have to do things that large, complicated, advertising based sites require.  They would prefer to focus on huffingtonpost.com.

No product function. Huffington Post effectively eliminated AOL’s product function – design and development of the sites is handled by editors via email list serves, creating enormous amounts of churn.

Unclear lines of authority. Editors are turning down sponsorships – refusing to allow McDonald’s or K-Mart sponsor AOL’s fashion week coverage.

Traffic is down. The integration is likely destroying the Huffington Post.  The sales demands and content over-reach are destroying huffpost’s focus while the org is trapped trying to save AOL when the huffpost team should be focused on building huffpost.  Traffic on huffpost is up – but only due to the redirects from aol sites…. Net net, aol plus huff post traffic is in decline and the situation is not improving.

Imperial over-reach. AOL will eliminate Popeater and Parentdish this month and roll them into the Huffington Post.  Arianna’s people are plotting to eliminate all non huffingtonpost.com websites and redirect all traffic to the huffingtonpost.com.  No one thinks consolidating to huffingtonpost.com is a good idea from a consumer or an advertiser perspective, but no one will stop Arianna.

Fear and paranoia. Large parts of the org recognize the strategy is bad for the business but everyone is afraid to speak out.   Arianna is rumored to have created an enemies list across the company and has directed her loyalists to collect dossiers on other managers across the company and report back on conversations.  Her list includes several key business, sales, technology, and marketing executives she wants to eliminate and replace with her people.  Anyone who disagrees, even if backed by data and clear rationale’s – goes on the enemies list.  Facts don’t matter.

Nepotism. Huffington is also quietly positioning several of her senior folks, in particular, Chris Davis, to take over the business, marketing, and distribution functions of the Huffington Post Media Group, do away with the business edit split, and eliminate COO John Brod.   Davis, like the rest of the team, has never managed a business of this size or complexity.

Lack of exec buy in. Several senior execs are actively positioning themselves and their businesses for the eventual private equity takeover – few have confidence this will work.

Waiting for Tim. CEO Tim Armstrong remains enamored with the Huffpost team and has created a double standard – huffposters can launch poor sites, create low quality articles, and and launch low quality video programming it and get away with it.  He believes they can do no wrong and that the integration is going fantastic.

Strange bedfellows.

How important is net neutrality to preserving the American way of life?  So important that MoveOn.org and—are you sitting down?—the Christian Coalition have teamed up (pdf) to ensure that the speed of internet access isn’t compromised by the phone and cable companies.  (A House vote could happen this week).  Meanwhile, Jerry Falwell and Michael Moore are teaming up to protest the rising cost of Twinkies.  Well Kum-By-frickin’-Yah.

 

MILITARY


Steeper Pullout Is Raised as Option for Afghanistan

President Obama’s national security team is contemplating troop reductions in Afghanistan that would be steeper than those discussed even a few weeks ago, with some officials arguing that such a change is justified by the rising cost of the war and the death of Osama bin Laden, which they called new “strategic considerations.”

These new considerations, along with a desire to find new ways to press the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, to get more of his forces to take the lead, are combining to create a counterweight to an approach favored by the departing secretary of defense, Robert M. Gates, and top military commanders in the field. They want gradual cuts that would keep American forces at a much higher combat strength well into next year, senior administration officials said.

The cost of the war and Mr. Karzai’s uneven progress in getting his forces prepared have been latent issues since Mr. Obama took office. But in recent weeks they have gained greater political potency as Mr. Obama’s newly refashioned national security team takes up the crucial decision of the size and the pace of American troop cuts, administration and military officials said. Mr. Obama is expected to address these decisions in a speech to the nation this month, they said.

A sharp drawdown of troops is one of many options Mr. Obama is considering. The National Security Council is convening its monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan on Monday, and although the debate over troop levels is operating on a separate track, the assessments from that meeting are likely to inform the decisions about the size of the force.

In a range of interviews in the past few days, several senior Pentagon, military and administration officials said that many of these pivotal questions were still in flux and would be debated intensely over the next two weeks. They would not be quoted by name about an issue that Mr. Obama had yet to decide on.

MORE>>>

 

POLITICS

 

How the GOP Became the Party of Norquist

The germ of the pledge came to Norquist, he said, when he was 14 and thinking about a teacher’s comment that no one knows who his or her congressman is. If Republicans were known as the party that never raised taxes, he recalls thinking, they would be spared spending “millions of dollars explaining to you who they are and what they stand for.” They could just “stand up and say, ‘I’m the Republican.’ And you go: ‘He won’t raise my taxes and he won’t steal my guns. Got it.’ ”

At the time, Richard M. Nixon had just been elected president, and Republicans had a reputation as the party of fiscal responsibility: Dwight Eisenhower maintained wartime tax rates throughout his eight-year presidency, dramatically reducing the national debt. Congressional Republicans objected to Kennedy’s tax cut, arguing that any reduction in revenue should be pared with spending cuts to avoid ballooning deficits. Nixon supported extending a surtax to pay for the Vietnam War. And his successor, Gerald R. Ford, opposed a permanent tax cut in 1974, fearing budget deficits, according to historian Bruce Bartlett, a “lapsed Republican” who has written extensively about GOP fiscal policy. […]

In the late 1970s, key Republicans concluded that lower tax rates would boost the flagging economy. The new theory of supply-side economics held that such a tax cut would spur so much growth that it would actually generate more revenue. And the Proposition 13 tax revolt hit California, demonstrating the power of tax cuts as a political issue.

Ronald Reagan capitalized on growing anti-tax sentiment in his campaign for president and quickly pushed a tax package that slashed rates, a move credited with energizing the long-sluggish economy. Reagan went back to Congress in 1986 with a sweeping overhaul of the tax code that pushed the top rate down to 28 percent. At Reagan’s request, Norquist founded Americans for Tax Reform and the pledge was born.

In his race to succeed Reagan, George H.W. Bush famously embraced the pledge, saying “read my lips, no new taxes.” But as president, he raised tax rates as part of a balanced-budget deal with Democrats. Bush’s loss to Bill Clinton in 1992 “proved for all time, that even though tax increases may be justified economically, they are never justified politically if you’re a Republican,” Bartlett said.

“Since then it’s been Republican dogma that deficits don’t matter and the only thing that matters for the economy is cutting taxes,” he said. “And Grover Norquist has become the enforcer of this dogma.”

The rise of the anti-tax tea party movement in 2008 further hardened the party’s stance against taxes. How is the pledge enforced? Typically, Republican candidates sign the pledge to avoid attack in the primary. Once in office, violators might find that Norquist has contacted Republican voters in their state or district to inform them that their senator or representative is having “impure thoughts,” as he put it.

Norquist has “these amazing mailing lists. Just tens of millions of people,” said Gregg, who has been a target.

At the state level, a vast network of foot soldiers stands ready to discipline local politicians who fail to walk the no-tax line. One of the most high-profile battles is being waged in Sacramento, where Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is trying to persuade GOP lawmakers to join Democrats in extending the largest tax increase in state history, which is set to expire this month.

Last month, Norquist spent several days in the state, urging Republicans to stand firm. His argument is likely to be pretty compelling: In 2009, after enacting deep spending cuts, six GOP lawmakers helped then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) raise sales, income and auto taxes to close a $42 billion budget gap.

All six paid a price. The Republican leaders in both the House and Senate were deposed. The other four either retired or lost bids for higher office.

MORE>>>


NYT’s Op-Ed: GOP plans to Politicize the Fed

Peter A. Diamond:

LAST October, I won the Nobel Prize in economics for my work on unemployment and the labor market. But I am unqualified to serve on the board of the Federal Reserve – at least according to the Republican senators who have blocked my nomination. How can this be? […]

The leading opponent to my appointment, Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the committee, has questioned the relevance of my expertise. “Does Dr. Diamond have any experience in conducting monetary policy? No,” he said in March. “His academic work has been on pensions and labor market theory.”

But understanding the labor market – and the process by which workers and jobs come together and separate – is critical to devising an effective monetary policy. The financial crisis has led to continuing high unemployment. The Fed has to properly assess the nature of that unemployment to be able to lower it as much as possible while avoiding inflation. If much of the unemployment is related to the business cycle – caused by a lack of adequate demand – the Fed can act to reduce it without touching off inflation. If instead the unemployment is primarily structural – caused by mismatches between the skills that companies need and the skills that workers have – aggressive Fed action to reduce it could be misguided. […]

But we should all worry about how distorted the confirmation process has become, and how little understanding of monetary policy there is among some of those responsible for its Congressional oversight. We need to preserve the independence of the Fed from efforts to politicize monetary policy and to limit the Fed’s ability to regulate financial firms.

 

Letting a Diamond slip away

Steve Benen:

Last year, the Senate Banking Committee twice approved Peter Diamond’s nomination to the Federal Reserve. And twice, the Senate wasn’t allowed to vote on Diamond because Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and a handful of his far-right colleagues threw tantrums for unknown reasons.

So, this year, President Obama resubmitted the Diamond nomination. And once again, the petulant Republican from Alabama led a small contingent that decided they’re entitled to veto power over the process.

After more than a year of waiting for a simple vote, Diamond has given up. […]

It’s important to understand the significance of these developments. Diamond’s withdrawal offers a jarring reminder of the ways in which our political process, with increasing frequency, simply doesn’t work.

Diamond is among the most accomplished economists of his generation, and last year, was awarded a Nobel Prize in economics. And yet, there was Richard Shelby & Co., insisting that Diamond lacked the qualifications to join the board of governors of the Federal Reserve.[…]

Cohn and Bernstein suggest the Obama White House deserves some of the blame, because the West Wing didn’t push the Diamond nomination as hard as it could have. Perhaps. But recent history suggests right-wing lawmakers generally don’t care about presidential pressure, and besides, the Senate should be able to function and complete its most basic tasks without constant reminders from Obama.

This is no way to run an advanced democracy in the 21st century. The result of this fiasco isn’t just the loss of a qualified nominee to an important post; it’s also a lost opportunity to have the Fed take actions to bolster the economy.

We can only hope that this wasn’t part of a larger campaign by Republicans to hurt the economy on purpose.

 

A guide to the stumbling blocks on the way to implementing Dodd-Frank:

 

Santorum says he will run for president

 

Santorum attacks Ryancare

Here’s a new one: Santorum kicked off his presidential run by claiming that Ryan’s Medicare plan wasn’t bold enough because it didn’t also take on Social Security.

 

Dems to broaden case against GOP on Medicare:

The DCCC’s new Web video features news footage of Lyndon Johnson signing Medicare into law as an elated newscaster proclaims that it passed “both houses of Congress by an overwhelming vote,” a reminder that the GOP plan would radically transform a program that has been the stuff of bipartisan consensus for over 50 years.


Does Obama Need to Change His Economic Message?

With poor job numbers last week, USA Today says  President Obama “is moving to refurbish a political brand that has been defined for the worst by his Republican opponents, dented by the realities of governing and battered by a faltering economy.”

The Wall Street Journal notes Obama and many advisers “are largely sticking with his longtime economic message: that he inherited a crisis, adopted unpopular policies that kept it from getting worse and has pointed the economy in the right direction.”

However, other advisers “argue that the president should do more to acknowledge the pain people are feeling.”

First Read: “Expect the president to stop touting AS MUCH about pulling the car out of the ditch and instead try and soothe folks who are still, well, in rehab (In fact, these are the metaphors he HAD used and has now ditched).”

 

Lousy Economy Won’t Sink Obama

So why do I still think Obama will win in 2012? Because if the Ronald Reagan analogy may not exactly hold, the George W. Bush analogy just might. Unemployment wasn’t particularly high when Bush sought reelection in 2004, but Americans were in a sour mood nonetheless. Throughout the summer and fall of 2004, a clear majority of Americans said the country was on the wrong track. The numbers, in fact, were only marginally better then than they are now. So how did Bush win? For one thing, people’s feelings about him outpaced their feelings about the state of the country. Despite saying the country was on the wrong track, a slight majority of Americans approved of his job performance, and he was reelected by essentially that margin.

One explanation is that some portion of Americans simply liked Bush personally, even though they didn’t think America was faring very well on his watch. For some, it may have been his personal rectitude after Bill Clinton. For others, it was his religiosity. For others, it was the sense that he was a regular guy. Obama enjoys a similar dynamic. Maybe it is intelligence and eloquence. Maybe it is the fact that he, like Bush, seems comfortable in his own skin. Maybe it is his own reputation for rectitude, a reputation buttressed by the lack of scandals in his administration. Maybe it is a lingering pride in what his election says about America. This isn’t true for all presidents. Americans never thought very highly of Bill Clinton as a person even as they acknowledged that the country was thriving under his leadership. But for whatever reason, Americans seem a little softer on Obama than the hard economic realities would suggest.

The second thing that helped Bush was a weak opponent. From the beginning of the race, Bush’s advisers insisted that the 2004 election was a choice between him and his opponent, not a referendum on his presidency. And they succeeded in making John Kerry’s alleged flip-flopping a dominant factor in the race. We don’t know who the Republicans will nominate in 2012, but a strong candidate will need to appear: 1) up to the job, 2) like a person of conviction, 3) able to relate to ordinary Americans and 4) ideologically mainstream. Right now, Mitt Romney struggles with numbers 2 and 3. Tim Pawlenty struggles with number1. Newt Gingrich struggles with number 3. Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman and Herman Cain struggle with numbers 1 and 4.

Perhaps one of them will overcome those deficiencies, and perhaps Jon Huntsman will turn out to have none of the weaknesses, but as of now, it looks like a field of substantially flawed candidates. And by 2012, they may look even more flawed. In a party as ideologically charged as today’s GOP, it’s enormously difficult to win over base voters—and bring them to the polls in November—while also appearing ideologically mainstream. Obama will exploit that. The happier Rush Limbaugh is with the Republican nominee, the easier it will be for Obama to galvanize Democrats to go to the polls. Yes, liberals are not as passionate about Obama as they once were. But conservatives were not as passionate about Bush either, and he got a larger base turnout in 2004 than 2000, largely because in this hyper-polarized age, it’s not hard to scare your core voters about the other side.

Perhaps one of them will overcome those deficiencies, and perhaps Jon Huntsman will turn out to have none of the weaknesses, but as of now, it looks like a field of substantially flawed candidates. And by 2012, they may look even more flawed. In a party as ideologically charged as today’s GOP, it’s enormously difficult to win over base voters—and bring them to the polls in November—while also appearing ideologically mainstream. Obama will exploit that. The happier Rush Limbaugh is with the Republican nominee, the easier it will be for Obama to galvanize Democrats to go to the polls. Yes, liberals are not as passionate about Obama as they once were. But conservatives were not as passionate about Bush either, and he got a larger base turnout in 2004 than 2000, largely because in this hyper-polarized age, it’s not hard to scare your core voters about the other side.

Many things could upend this analysis. It depends on Obama running as good a campaign as he did last time and performing as well in debates. And it depends on the economy merely stagnating, not collapsing. But in this moment of sudden pessimism about Obama’s chances, it’s worth remembering that presidential elections are not exercises in econometrics. Candidates matter, and so far, at least, it looks likely that the better one will be the guy occupying the White House right now.

 

President Obama, DNC Mobilize 2012 Campaign Volunteer Army

A legion of 1,600 newly-recruited Democratic campaign volunteers, armed with Tweet-producing smartphones and a contagious spirit of enthusiasm, are fanning out across 40 states today to begin laying the groundwork for the reelection of President Barack Obama.

The forces — college students, recent graduates, teachers, and retirees — will work unpaid through August, aides say, to grow and re-energize Obama’s grassroots volunteer network that had remarkable success in 2008, and gather troves of voter data in the process.

Obama campaign managers hope the effort will give the president something of a head start over his yet-to-be-determined Republican rival, in what is expected to be a tough campaign.

The operation kicked-off Saturday at boot-camp-style training sessions held jointly by the Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee in conference rooms and community centers across the country.

ABC News received exclusive access to one of the two-day sessions held at DNC headquarters, where 15 volunteers received a briefing on campaign strategies and ground operations for the summer ahead.

“As summer organizers, we’re the face of the president,” Jenn Brown, a DNC staffer leading the training, told attendees. “So, whether it’s here or in our lives, we represent the president 24 hours a day, and that’s a really big responsibility we take on.” […]

Campaign aides emphasized a goal of running a “different campaign” than 2008, but stressed the renewed importance of using personal relationships and one-on-one conversations to drive participation.

It’s also clear they believe 2012 will be defined by Twitter.

“This summer is about trying new things and testing our organizing methods,” said campaign spokeswoman Katie Hogan. “But these volunteers are not just guinea pigs; they will be having real conversations that are laying the groundwork.” […]

With 8.4 Million followers on Twitter, Obama has more than any other American politician. He added more than 162,000 in the last week alone. […]

Many volunteers also seemed more inclined to blame Congress and Republicans than the president for any shortcomings in reform legislation related to education, immigration, and the environment.

“It’s not him [Obama], it’s Congress,” said Valentina Pereda, 22, who said she joined the organizing effort because of desire to see the DREAM Act enacted.

 

It Only Took 5 Months

In a mere five months, new Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and likeminded lawmakers have recast the social and fiscal landscape of Kansas and made the state a laboratory for conservative ideas.

Kansas will soon become one of the most difficult places in the country for a woman to obtain an abortion. Its public schools will have much leaner budgets. Its government workers will have smaller pensions or pay more to keep what they have. Several state agencies have been closed or merged. The state will look for ways to spend less on health care for the poor in the Medicaid program. And Kansas will be first state to eliminate funding for the arts.

The legislative session that ended this month will have shoved Kansas away from the socially moderate climate of the Midwest, with Iowa and Illinois, and toward the sharply conservative Southwest of Texas and Oklahoma.

“The ground was very fertile. There hadn’t been a conservative governor in maybe 50 years,” Brownback said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s a center-right state. On top of it, you’ve got a revulsion to what’s taking place in Washington.”

Brownback, a conservative Catholic and strong abortion opponent who served 14 years in the Senate, took office in January and moved briskly through a wish list of conservative priorities while new Republican leaders in other states were caught up in legislative fights with similar measures.

Voters’ anger over the recession and government spending set the stage. Democrats and other moderates found themselves overwhelmed. In Kansas, the number of GOP lawmakers grew by 10 percent, making the Legislature three-quarters Republican. Many of the new members were strong conservatives.

 

Rudy Giuliani Rips Mitt Romney On Healthcare: ‘A Mandate Is A Mandate’

 

Politics as Treason: Rep. Paul Opposes Raising Debt Ceiling Even If We Default Because It Will Show We’re ‘Serious’ And Could Be ‘Positive’

When Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) proposed a similar idea in April, Washington Post writer Ezra Klein called it “The scariest thing I’ve ever heard on television.” The result would be an “economic death spiral” of skyrocketing interest rates and the end of the dollar “as the world’s reserve currency.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a leading voice on the right, told CNN that failing to raise the debt ceiling would result in “financial collapse and calamity throughout the world.” Even House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) told ABC News today that he doesn’t “question the Secretary of the Treasury” on his August 2nd deadline to raise the debt ceiling in order to prevent catastrophic economic consequences.

An analysis by Michael Ettlinger at the Center for American Progress found that “failing to raise the debt limit for two months could cause a bigger GDP drop than that experienced during the Great Recession of 2008.” Last week, the rating agency Moody’s threatened to downgrade the United States’ credit rating if the debt limit isn’t increased.

 

Pawlenty Has Significant Money Ties To Mega-Bank Morgan Stanley

Center for Public Integrity notes that, “in the last election cycle, Morgan Stanley executives donated $79,500 to [2012 GOP hopeful Tim] Pawlenty’s Freedom First PAC, more than any other company’s executives except for Federated Insurance, according to the Center for Responsive Politics…Morgan Stanley executive Bill Strong, co-chair of Pawlenty’s GOP presidential campaign, has been spearheading much of the fundraising.” Pawlenty, like most of the financial industry’s biggest players, has been a skeptic of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.


POLLS


America the Angry

As unemployment hits 9.1 percent, Americans are losing their cool. A Newsweek/Daily Beast poll finds rising anger levels affecting everything from work to sex drive. […]

Gas and grocery prices are soaring, the housing market is crashing to new lows, and yet another dismal jobs report has confirmed a stubbornly high unemployment rate. Could the anger fueling the Arab Spring soon bring club-wielding protesters to America?

According to an exclusive poll by Newsweek and The Daily Beast, reality is beginning to break down Americans’ normally optimistic attitude. Three-quarters of our respondents think the country is on the wrong track. A majority say the anxiety wrought by this recession has caused relationship problems and sleep deficiency. Two-thirds even report being angry at God. See the results of our poll below.

[…]

By almost four to one, Americans say our economy is not delivering the jobs we need, 81 percent to 12 percent.

And Obama isn’t helping. 50 percent of respondents think the president has no real plan to balance the budget; 40 percent say he does.

Republicans aren’t getting any love, either. Our poll respondents say the GOP is just laying the blame on Obama rather than making their own positive proposals, 58 percent to 29 percent.

Over half (52 percent) say their personal economic situation makes them nervous. Forty eight  percent say it makes them anxious, 44 percent say it makes them upset, and 30 percent say it makes them angry.

[…]

Americans are even losing sleep over this: 56 percent are so angry about their personal economic situation that they have lost sleep.

Thirteen percent say their anger has affected their sex life. Of those, 63 percent say they experienced a lower sex drive at least some of the time.

Listen up, Republicans: Our respondents overwhelmingly say they support increasing taxes on the wealthiest as a means of balancing the budget, 68 percent to 27 percent.

Seventy percent of Americans are nervous about their retirement because of their personal economic situation; 45 percent are nervous about being able to put their children through college; 31 percent are nervous about starting a family; and 29 percent are nervous about being able to afford to buy a home.

Twenty seven percent say their family’s economic situation has affected their health, and 26 percent of those married say it has affected their marriage.

Of those who say their family’s economic situation has affected their marriage, 57 percent say their relationship with their spouse has become worse, while 34 percent say it has become stronger.

 

Obama’s Ratings Rise to Near-2008 Levels

Ron Brownsten, The Atlantic:

Among favorable and unfavorable groups alike, President Obama’s approval ratings in the latest Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll are returning to the levels of support he attracted in his 2008 election, though the headwinds of economic slowdown will challenge his ability to hold those gains.

 

In the survey, Obama’s approval rating reached 51 percent. That’s his best showing in the quarterly Heartland Monitor poll since September 2009, and a level just below the nearly 53 percent of the vote he won in 2008.

As this chart shows, Obama is tracking back toward his 2008 number not only in his overall level of support, but in his standing among key demographic groups–including both those who supported and resisted him last time. In most instances, this convergence reflects a steady increase from Obama’s nadir in the Heartland Monitor survey last August, when his overall approval rating dipped to 46 percent. That was his lowest showing since the poll began in April 2009.

That modest but steady recovery has been equally evident among several of Obama’s best and worst groups. For instance, his approval rating among college-educated white women–who gave him a 52 percent majority of their votes in 2008–has revived from 46 percent last August to 56 percent in the latest survey. Likewise, he’s recovered among independents from 43 percent then to 54 percent now, and among Hispanics from 53 percent last summer to 65 percent in the latest poll. Each of those results returns him close to his 2008 showing with those groups.

Obama has seen comparable improvements in the poll among groups more dubious of him. His approval rating among white men without a college education–one of his toughest audiences since his emergence as a national candidate–has improved from 30 percent last August to 38 percent now, essentially even with the 39 percent of them he carried in 2008. He has recorded similar gains among whites aged 30-44–families in their prime child-rearing years–also placing him back at his vote level with them in 2008.

Obama’s approval ratings now lag his 2008 vote only among a few major groups. His approval rating among self-identified Democrats in the latest survey ran 13 percentage points below his showing among them in 2008. Given the historically high levels of party loyalty evident for both sides in recent presidential elections, that gap isn’t likely to persist through 2012. (In the same vein, Obama’s 17 percent approval rating among Republicans isn’t likely to translate into nearly that much support from them next year.)

Perhaps more worrisome for the president is his slipping numbers among young people, who continue to suffer elevated unemployment rates as the economy trudges toward recovery. In 2008, Obama won 66 percent of all voters under 30; his approval rating with those young people sagged to 56 percent in the latest survey. Among whites under 30, Obama’s approval rating now stands at 44 percent–also down 10 percentage points from his 54 percent share of the vote with them in 2008.

Another worrisome sign for Obama: Assessments of his agenda haven’t seen as much improvement as judgments about his job performance. In the survey, just 22 percent of whites, for instance, said that Obama’s agenda was increasing opportunity for people like them. That’s the lowest figure for Obama among whites on that question the Heartland Monitor survey has ever recorded.

All of those results suggest Obama’s job performance gains might have been heavily influenced by the successful raid last month that killed Osama bin Laden. And that means his improvement may be highly vulnerable to shifts in economic attitudes. In the survey, almost twice as many adults said they expected the economy to improve than to worsen over the next year. Sixty-nine percent of the optimists said they approved of Obama’s job performance–compared to just 20 percent of the pessimists. If the downpour of disappointing economic news in recent weeks shrinks the former group and increases the latter, the approval gains the president enjoyed in the latest Heartland Monitor may quickly dissolve.

 

Massive Partisan Divide

No governor in 39 states where PPP has polled dating back to last year has generated such a
massive partisan divide.

The chart below is based on surveys the firm has done on 28 governors so far in 2011. It shows the percentage of Republican voters who approve of their governor’s performance, the percentage of Democratic voters who approve, and the gap in approval by party:

 

 

SCIENCE


Drug Suppresses Recall of Bad Memories, Leaves Non-Bad Memories Intact

At the University of Montreal, researchers have found a drug that seems able to decrease a person’s recall of a bad memory. It’s not exactly Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but it’s a pretty remarkable step down the road to active memory modification. And it worked out so well in the movie, right? I haven’t watched the whole thing but it really did seem like Jim Carrey was going to be happy with his new memories.

The drug is actually not a new creation: Metyrapone is often used to diagnose adrenal insufficiency, but these researchers found that its effect on stress hormones might be its most useful attribute. Metyrapone decreases the levels of cortisol, which is a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal gland in response to stress. These early trials suggest that by messing around with the levels of cortisol in a person’s body at the time of a stressful event, memories of that event might be impaired–possibly permanently. It’s a very different technique than the neurological manipulations we explored a few years back. There is a sort of reverse of this process that’s used to increase memory–at least, in elderly mice.

The researchers conducted a trial in which men were given a dosage of metyrapone and taught a story with both neutral and negative elements. The subjects were then asked to remember as much of the story as possible at two separate occasions: immediately after they learned it, and four days later. They found that the men who received a dose of metyrapone were unable to remember the negative elements of the story in as much detail as the neutral elements, while the placebo group could remember both neutral and negative elements equally well.

While these tests are certainly in the very early stages, the research shows serious promise, especially as they might provide the ability to treat post-traumatic stress syndrome–though with metyrapone no longer being manufactured, it may be tricky to continue the research.

 

SCOTUS

 

Supreme Court allows California to grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants

The high court rejects an appeal to California’s policy of giving in-state college tuition to state high school graduates who are in the country illegally. The action leaves in place laws in 11 other states that permit illegal immigrants to obtain in-state tuition.

MORE>>>


Top 4 Victories Handed to Corporate America by the Supreme Court — So Far

Jim Hightower:

To comprehend the depths of this court’s mendacity, we have to start with a rude fact: John Roberts lied.

When nominated by George W in 2005 to be America’s top jurist, Roberts had to convince skeptical Senate Democrats that he would not be a partisan hack and/or a corporate shill who’d use his judicial gavel to hammer the law into shapes favored by the moneyed powers. The skepticism was richly deserved, for Roberts had long served corporations as a Washington lawyer (making him a millionaire) and had been a faithful GOP team player (including his legal work in 2000 to help George W wrest Florida and the presidency away from Al Gore).

Thus, to soothe the senators and charm the media, Roberts began his Senate confirmation hearing by drawing a folksy, Norman-Rockwellesque sports analogy to his judicial philosophy: “Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules. They apply them… They make sure everyone plays by the rules. But it’s a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.” He added that the distinguishing mark of his court would be one of “modesty and humility.”[…]

1. Lilly Ledbetter, 2007. For decades, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. had quietly been stiffing this longtime, loyal employee on her paycheck. A manager in the tire giant’s Alabama plant, Ledbetter was unaware that she was being paid substantially less than her male counterparts — a clear violation of federal anti-discrimination laws. Only learning of this maltreatment late in her career, Ledbetter sued Goodyear for the back pay she was owed. The corporation fought her all the way to the Supreme Court.

No go, ruled Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas. Under the statute, they sniffed, employees must file any bias suit within 180 days after the discrim-ination begins, and Ledbetter’s suit had come 21 years after Goodyear started cheating her, so… tough luck, lady.

Forget heartless, this ruling was mindless. And needlessly picayune. Obviously, your honors, Ms. Ledbetter could not have filed within 180 days, since she didn’t know she was being shorted! The honest way to interpret the statute would be that the 180-day limit begins after she became aware of the violation. But the Roberts Five were not looking for rationality, much less justice — they were on a deliberate mission to rewrite and restrict the pay discrimination law for the benefit of corporate discriminators.

This decision sparked genuine public outrage, making it a flashpoint issue in the 2008 presidential race. Upon taking office in January 2009, Obama and the Democratic Congress pushed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law, shoving the justices’ corporate bias right back in their faces.

2. Making up law to help polluters, 2008. The catastrophic environmental and economic disaster caused in Alaska by the Exxon Valdez supertanker in 1989 resulted in a jury award of $5 billion to the local people who were harmed. The oil behemoth’s battalion of lawyers, however, stalled pay- ment for years with various legal maneuvers, before getting a federal court of appeals to cut the sum in half. Still, despite the corporation’s egregious malfeasance, Exxon pushed for an even sweeter deal, finally steering the case to the safe harbor of the Roberts Court.

In 2008, nearly 20 years after the disaster, another five-man majority led by Roberts slashed the damage award to $500 million, a mere tenth of the original jury assessment — and less than two days worth of Exxon profits.

Actually, four of the justices tried to eliminate the award altogether, arguing that a corporation should not be responsible for the reckless acts of its own managers! They fell only one vote short of imposing this creative rewrite of corporate law on us. Nonetheless, the Roberts Court satisfied its impulse to legislate from the bench by dictating a new, corporate-pleasing formula for determining punitive damages under maritime law — a formula not found in the statute and not intended by Congress — thus making up a law to benefit polluters.

  1. Binding the EPA, 2009. The fearless five took up their legislative pens once again in two cases involving the Clean Water Act. Under this law, electric power companies must use “the best technology available” to keep from harming fish and other aquatic life when they draw from the public waterways to cool their generators. […]

4. The grandest giveaway of all, 2010. In January of last year, these five potentates of plutocracy issued a ruling that has caused a massively destructive tectonic shift in America’s political process, thrusting mountains of corporate money high above the people’s democratic power. The Lowdown has covered the impact and import of the now infamous Citizens United decree by the Court (see Lowdown issues September 2009 and March 2010). But it’s important to add here that the Court’s edict, which magically turned inanimate corporations into “persons” (with constitutionally protected electioneering ‘rights’ that make them politically superior to actual persons), is not only an absurd and intolerable overreach in logic, but also in process.

“Judicial activism” is way too tame a phrase for what Roberts & Company did here. This was a coup — a plotted overthrow of the orderly judicial process in order to enthrone corporate political interests over all others.

In June 2009, the Court quietly reached into its caseload and plucked out an obscure case brought by Citizens United, a corporate-funded political front that was challenging a mundane point in federal election law. After hearing oral arguments in this ordinary case, the Roberts majority did something extraordinary: the justices arbitrarily altered the case that had been brought to them, completely rewriting Citizens United’s complaint.

Instead of addressing the group’s minor question, the Court issued an order for the parties to address whether unlimited and unreported sums of corporate money should be allowed in all US elections. In other words, these scoundrels in robes created their own case proposing a sweeping change in America’s democratic system.

They then rushed to judgment, giving the lawyers involved only a single month to prepare arguments on this entirely new, momentous question. They also hurried the case to the front of the line, scheduling oral arguments on it in September, before the Court would normally be in session.

In January 2010, only seven months after they’d sprung their Citizens United surprise, the five issued their constitutional rewrite. It imposes their will (i.e., egos and personal ideological bias) over: (1) the clear intention of our Constitution’s framers to keep corporations out of politics; (2) a century of settled congressional law banning corporate funds in elections; (3) the laws of 22 states that prohibit corporate spending in their elections; (4) many decades of the Court’s own precedents affirming the wisdom of outlawing corporate electioneering cash; and (5) the overwhelming belief of the American people, that only humans, not corporations, should be election participants.

So, exercising exquisite judicial imperiousness, five judges decided that they’re wiser than all of the above, unilaterally pulling off a sneak attack that, in the words of People For The American Way, amounts to the “constitutionalization of corporate political power.”

MORE>>>


Supreme Court: Halliburton Class-Action Lawsuit Can Proceed

he Supreme Court ruled Monday that Halliburton Co. shareholders can pursue a class-action lawsuit claiming the oil services company inflated its stock price.

The high court overturned a lower court ruling against the shareholders, who want to represent all investors who bought Halliburton stock between June 1999 and December 2001.

The lawsuit argues that Halliburton deliberately understated the company’s liability in asbestos litigation, inflated how much money its construction and engineering units would bring in and overstated the benefits of a merger with Dresser Industries. When Halliburton made corrective disclosures, it made the stock price drop and caused investors to lose money, the lawsuit said.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans refused to let the lawsuit go forward as a class-action, saying to get class-action certification, the shareholders needed to prove “loss causation, i.e., that the corrected truth of the former falsehoods actually caused the stock price to fall and resulted in the losses.”

But the Supreme Court said that ruling was incorrect.

“The Court of Appeals erred by requiring EPJ Fund to show loss causation as a condition of obtaining class certification,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the court’s unanimous opinion.

The case now goes back to the lower court.

 

UNIONS

 

AFL-CIO: Nurses To Rally for New National Agenda

More than 1,000 nurses will be joined by union and community allies in a rally outside the White House, Chamber of Commerce and Congress tomorrow to call for a new agenda to heal the nation.

After addresses by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Washington, D.C., Mayor Vincent Gray, the nurses will rally at 10:45 a.m. in Lafayette Square Park in front of the White House. The crowd will then march across the street and picket the Chamber. At 12:15 p.m., they will rally in the Upper Senate Park outside the Capitol.

The nurses, members of National Nurses United (NNU), have put forward “The Main Street Contract for the American People,” a plan destined to stop economic decline and protect American families. The contract calls for jobs at living wages, guaranteed health care for all and equal access to quality education, schools, good housing, protection from hunger, a secure retirement for everyone, a clean and safe environment and a fair and just tax system in which Wall Street and those with the most wealth pay their fair share.

“Every day patients call me to say they are putting off a procedure, like a colonoscopy, because they cannot afford the co-pay,” says NNU Co-President Deborah Burger, RN.

Employers change the terms of health insurance coverage, raising costs to workers, and many do not know it’s happened until they show up in need of care and are shocked and unable to pay.

“People are going without care at a time when stress-related illnesses are up,” says Jean Ross, RN, a NNU co-president. “Mental illness is enormous and largely untreated.”

“Stress-induced illnesses are growing—gut disorders” in people of all ages, even kids,” said NNU Co-President Karen Higgins, RN. It is all stress from economic circumstances.”

 

AND IN OTHER NEWS…


Why Can’t More Poor People Escape Poverty?

A radical new explanation from psychologists.

In the 1990s, social psychologists developed a theory of “depletable” self-control. The idea was that an individual’s capacity for exerting willpower was finite—that exerting willpower in one area makes us less able to exert it in other areas. In 1998, researchers at Case Western Reserve University published some of the young movement’s first returns. Roy Baumeister, Ellen Bratslavsky, Mark Muraven, and Dianne Tice set up a simple experiment. They had food-deprived subjects sit at a table with two types of food on it: cookies and chocolates; and radishes. Some of the subjects were instructed to eat radishes and resist the sweets, and afterwards all were put to work on unsolvable geometric puzzles. Resisting the sweets, independent of mood, made participants give up more than twice as quickly on the geometric puzzles. Resisting temptation, the researchers found, seemed to have “produced a ‘psychic cost.’

Over the intervening 13 years, these results have been corroborated in more than 100 experiments. Researchers have found that exerting self-control on an initial task impaired self-control on subsequent tasks: Consumers became more susceptible to tempting products; chronic dieters overate; people were more likely to lie for monetary gain; and so on. As Baumeister told Teaching of Psychology in 2008, “After you exert self-control in any sphere at all, like resisting dessert, you have less self-control at the next task.”

In addition, researchers have expanded the theory to cover tradeoff decisions, not just self-control decisions. That is, any decision that requires tradeoffs seems to deplete our ability to muster willpower for future decisions. Tradeoff decisions, like choosing between more money and more leisure time, require the same conflict resolution as self-control decisions (although our impulses appear to play a smaller role). In both cases, willpower can be understood as the capacity to resolve conflicts among choices as rationally as possible, and to make the best decision in light of one’s personal goals. And, in both cases, willpower seems to be a depletable resource.

This theory of depletable willpower has its detractors, and, as in most academic topics studied across disciplinary fields, one finds plenty of disputes over the details. But this model of self-control is now one of the most prominent theories of willpower in social psychology, at the core of what E. Tory Higgins of Columbia University described in 2009 as “an explosion of scientific interest” in the topic over the last decade. Some skeptics correctly emphasize the vital role of motivation, and some emphasize instead that “attention” is limited. But the core of the breakthrough is that resolving conflicts among choices is expensive at a cognitive level and can be unpleasant. It causes mental fatigue.

Nowhere is this revelation more important than in our efforts to understand poverty. Taking this model of willpower into the real world, psychologists and economists have been exploring one particular source of stress on the mind: finances. The level at which the poor have to exert financial self-control, they have suggested, is far lower than the level at which the well-off have to do so. Purchasing decisions that the wealthy can base entirely on preference, like buying dinner, require rigorous tradeoff calculations for the poor. As Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir formulated the point in a recent talk, for the poor, “almost everything they do requires tradeoff thinking. It’s distracting, it’s depleting … and it leads to error.” The poor have to make financial tradeoff decisions, as Shafir put it, “on anything above a muffin.”

Last December, Princeton economist Dean Spears published a series of experiments that each revealed how “poverty appears to have made economic decision-making more consuming of cognitive control for poorer people than for richer people.” In one experiment, poor participants in India performed far less well on a self-control task after simply having to first decide whether to purchase body soap. As Spears found, “Choosing first was depleting only for the poorer participants.” Again, if you have enough money, deciding whether to buy the soap only requires considering whether you want it, not what you might have to give up to get it. Many of the tradeoff decisions that the poor have to make every day are onerous and depressing: whether to pay rent or buy food; to buy medicine or winter clothes; to pay for school materials or loan money to a relative. These choices are weighty, and just thinking about them seems to exact a mental cost.

In a paper in April 2010, Harvard behavioral economist Sendhil Mullainathan (for whom, full disclosure, I once worked) and MIT’s Abhijit Banerjee applied this same notion to decisions requiring self-control. If a doughnut costs twenty-five cents, they wrote, then that “$0.25 will be far more costly to someone living on $2 a day than to someone living on $30 a day. In other words, the same self-control problem is more consequential for the poor.” And so, in addition to all the structural barriers that prevent even determined poor people from escaping poverty, there may be another, deeper, and considerably more disturbing barrier: Poverty may reduce free will, making it even harder for the poor to escape their circumstances.

All of this suggests that we need to rethink our approaches to poverty reduction. Many of our current anti-poverty efforts focus on access to health, educational, agricultural, and financial services. Now, it seems, we need to start treating willpower as a scarce and important resource as well.

Some promising approaches have already been tried. Starting in 2002, economists Nava Ashraf, Dean Karlan, and Wesley Yin created and analyzed a unique type of savings account at a small rural bank on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. The Green Bank of Caraga’s SEED accounts (Save, Earn, Enjoy Deposits) let clients place restrictions on when they could access their money. SEED clients could set either a date before which or a minimum savings amount below which they couldn’t access their own funds. Twenty-eight percent of existing bank clients who were offered the accounts enrolled in them, and, after one year, the economists found, customers saved over 300 percent more with SEED accounts than they would have without them. The accounts offered an opportunity to circumvent self-control failure, in the same way Ulysses bound himself to the mast to resist the Sirens’ call.

The developed world offers numerous such “commitment products”: certificates of deposit, pension plans, government savings bonds, and education savings accounts, to name a few. But, in the developing world, institutional supports for flagging willpower are far fewer. To make use of these new discoveries, similar products that explicitly attempt to reduce willpower costs could be developed in numerous fields, from health to education to agriculture to financial management.

This brings up a second, similar point: Comfort goods like washing machines and dishwashers free up valuable time and attention. Think of all the things the wealthy do to spend more time focusing on what’s important. They can pay bills automatically, they can hire babysitters and have food delivered, they can have their homes and clothes cleaned for them. But, in the developing world, cost-effective time savers have come much more slowly to those who most need them. Five-dollar, energy-efficient stoves can cut firewood usage, improving children’s health and halving the amount of time it takes to gather enough firewood to cook. Small solar panels systems, too, as The New York Times recently reported, can play “an epic, transformative role” in homes off the electrical grid, saving families time and money on kerosene. Broadly distributed, such simple innovations would allow the poor to avoid difficult tradeoff decisions about how they spend their time or even their money.

Third, money itself can go a long way toward altering the dynamic that leads to willpower depletion among the poor. Government transfers of money have proven successful in Mexico and Brazil, for instance. In particular, attaching conditions to these transfers—such as requiring school attendance, regular clinic visits, and savings behavior—may allow for an end-run around the kind of willpower-based poverty traps that too frequently seem to end with the poor making unwise decisions.

Finally, what about the possibility of strengthening the willpower “muscle”? Here, the research is complicated. While one line of research has found reason to think that drained willpower can be restored in the short term—by taking a walk in nature or watching a humorous video, for instance—studies on how to strengthen the willpower muscle in the long term are far less conclusive. This second line of research seems to be more promising in children than in adults. As Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota, who has done extensive research on willpower, put it, “There might be something of a developmental sweet spot.” In twelve U.S. states, a program called Tools of the Mind is explicitly aimed at improving willpower functions in prekindergarten and kindergarten children. While some of the strategies would be quite difficult in much of the developing world, many are not, or could be adapted.

Of course, to argue that stressful decisions can exhaust precious mental resources is not to suggest that the decisions of the poor can’t be attributed to human agency. Still, while free will is real, it is also subject to complications. The economist Amartya Sen, in his well-known volume Development as Freedom, notes how an individual’s “freedom of agency” is “constrained by the social, political and economic opportunities” available to them. He’s right: Fewer options do reduce freedom. But now, we may need to grapple with a new possibility: that poverty doesn’t simply reduce freedom by constraining an individual’s choices, but that it may actually alter the nature of freedom by reducing an individual’s willpower.

 

World’s most mortifying dad: The father who dressed in COSTUME to send his son to school – every day for a year!

Luckily, his schoolmates had a sense of humour.

A Utah high school student has endured a year more mortifying than most after watching his dad wave goodbye to his school bus dressed in a different costume every morning.

Dale Price said treating the daily send-off like a one-man Halloween party was his unique way of ‘saying I love you’ to his son.

Sixteen-year-old Rain Price, of American Fork, thought he was in the clear when his dad stepped out on the front lawn for his first day of school, dressed quite normally. Soon, that all changed.

Heads turned as he donned a San Diego Chargers helmet to wave goodbye on day two, sparking the beginning of a wild trend that has turned him into a local celebrity.

“I’m not going to reward him for this. His reward is seeing my embarrassment,’ he said.

Mr Price, who refused to wear the same costume twice, admitted he made a big effort to keep up the daily ritual.

He explained: ‘No recycling of costumes, that’s the rule. I managed to adhere to that and for better for worse, we have some interesting costumes.’

Luckily for Rain, the last day of school came on June 2.

Mr Price waved him off in a pirate costume he had stored from a previous Halloween.

He hopes his son appreciates his dedication to the daily costume party, which has been chronicled in a photo blog by a nearby relative called Wave At The Bus.

Rain’s dad is glad the photos will give him something to look back on and remember.

‘I hope this lives with him for the rest of his life,’ he said.

‘He can use it against his kids and tell them, “If you think you are embarrassed by me, you should have seen your grandfather.”‘

 

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Maids in Uniform Stand Outside Strauss-Kahn Courtroom

About 50 hotel workers bused in by their union gathered outside the courthouse to jeer Strauss-Kahn, many wearing their work uniforms. They shouted “shame on you” as he arrived, and again as he left in a black sport-utility vehicle.

The accuser “is a hard-working woman who was just doing her job,” said Wendy Baranello, a hotel union organizer. “It’s outrageous.”

The protesters wanted to send the message that “New York is the wrong place to mess with a hotel worker,” said Aissata Bocum, a Ramada Inn housekeeper.


QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“The rich should contribute to the public expense in proportion to their revenue and more than that,” Adam Smith “Wealth of Nations”

 

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.

19 Responses so far.

Click here to leave a comment
  1. ADONAI says:

    The mind control drug story concerns me. We don’t yet know enough about the brain to be fucking around with it like that.

    Other than that, this was a pretty optimistic edition of the Planet. President Obama turning the country around? Who could have guessed?

    Other than the 70 million people who voted for him.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      AD-- it’s really in the sci-fi realm now. It’s amazing to me how so many novels I’ve read are now prescient.

      • ADONAI says:

        That’s the thing about science fiction Cher. It’s most often based on real science. Some of our greatest science fiction authors could almost be considered prophets.

  2. Haruko Haruhara says:

    Wow, that HP story might explain why the moderators are always so grumpy. 😛

  3. AdLib says:

    The course of HPAOL is pretty much what I think most here predicted it would be. AS KQ says, they have interpreted lucky timing for brilliance in being the reason for their original success and continue to undermine their own business with their small mindedness. Just desserts, I’d say.

    The article about depletable self control and the one about the chemical that can reduce negative memories are fascinating to me in combination. Add to that the article about anger in America and it’s quite an interesting cocktail.

    As for the anger issue, Obama is the right president at the right time for so many things but not for being the populist, anti-corporate leader that’s also needed right now.

    With his background as a community organizer, Obama comes at things trying to find ways of bringing people together, through respect and compromise. I’m glad that such a man is our president. At the same time, 99% of Americans are being pounded by the top 1% and are getting very upset. They want someone who is angry like them to voice their frustration, attack their adversaries and lead them as a movement.

    Unfortunately, Obama isn’t the guy who can do that. So, it may be a mutually exclusive situation, the person who could lead those who are upset may not be the leader who could get the other party to work with him to pass bills and vice versa.

    I do think that Obama will be re-elected and if so, in 2016, I think there will be a hunger for an un-Obama, a Dem candidate that is aggressive and itching to take on the corporate forces that have the majority under siege.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      AdLib, for years I have been saying that more than anything, people (especially on the Left)are itching for a fight. Whether or not that is the most effective way to govern is another question, but that itch cannot be denied. After 8 years of Bush, after all the outrage we have witnessed, impotently, many who elected Obama wanted a fighter. We wanted that, I think, even more than we wanted results--which we got. We NEEDED someone who would finally, loudly, repudiate the Right. I am not saying that this is effective, only that it is a real emotional yearning. At some point it must be fulfilled--for our psychic health, really. And also so that we can settle down to really hearing what is going on and to get re-energized for the long haul. There is only so much reason we can muster--and that’s where I see that story about will power dovetail. We can restrain ourselves only so long before it takes its toll. We either opt out altogether or we take to the streets blindly. And also, during times of anxiety, voters will vote strong and wrong over quiet and right--Bill Clinton said that and I think he gets it. I ache for the President to come out stronger--as he has on occasion--against the Reeps. I want him to flat out tell America exactly who is doing what to the economy in no uncertain terms. If he feels his back is against the wall, I think he will, particularly towards the end of the campaign. We’ve seen how amazing he can be, as he was in his economic speech right after the Ryan plan to destroy the country was introduced. He may not be ready to accept the truth of the matter, but this country in in the midst of a civil war, and how ironic that a black man is at the helm now. He admires Lincoln for keeping the union together so maybe he DOES see the facts of our disunion and is striving for kumbaya. Once re-elected, I look forward to him telling us all kinds of inconvenient truths, and then, as you so rightly say, the next president will be a real take-no-prisoners type.

      • agrippa says:

        cher, adlib:
        “No mortal man can, at the same time, serve his passions and his best interests”. That line by Julius Caesar remains true today. We know what history records when leaders serve their passions.

        It takes a lot of wit and wisdom to distinguish possible from impossible; which is what Obama is trying to do.

        You neither opt out nor lash out. You do what mortal humans have great difficulty doing: master yourself.
        Passion can provide the energy needed to act in a logical and determined way; provided that it is harnessed.

  4. agrippa says:

    In the GOP today, taxes seem to be what matters; the budget deficit does not seem significant at all. I doubt if people such as Norquist care anything at all about the deficit.

    The geographic and political base of the GOP is the “old Confederacy”. If you look at those eleven staes, the GOP wants the rest of the country to look like those states. If people donot start paying attention, the country will look like those states.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Agrippa and those states take the most federal money--we essentially support them with our taxes because they are so poor and backwards. Those states also see the biggest rise in population, but from people moving there from the North--many snowbirds, I guess. And it’ll be interesting to see how in the future that changes their politics.

      • agrippa says:

        Quite true, cher. Those states do get money federal money than they send to Washington. They are poor and backward; that is what the political elite there wants.

  5. KQuark says:

    Reading the HPAOL story all I can think about is if the president ran the country the way Aryanna ran her business. HP is only successful because it was the right idea at the right time and shows it’s success has little do do with how it was run. Obviously the future has caught up with them during the AOL merger and the hypocrisy of Aryanna will all be out there for public consumption.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      KQ--spot on. I can’t wait for those “devil wears prada” tell-alls. They’re coming and they will be delicious. And I notice I haven;t seen hide nor hair of her highness since she sold out to AOL. Not on any cable show, anyway.

  6. escribacat says:

    Another great round-up today, Cher. And I’m so pleased to see those maids out there!! Also, re: the HPAOL story, I don’t want to see folks, especially writers, lose their jobs, but I sure would enjoy seeing Arianna flop big time. I look forward to reading any of the exposes mentioned in the article by disgruntled editors!

    • Chernynkaya says:

      E’cat, those maids inspired me. They work harder than many, probably have precious little free time and few resources, yet they took the time and energy to join together --in uniform yet!--to stand outside the courthouse. Huge kudos to them!

  7. invient says:

    Chernynkaya, you gave me some ammo with the quote of the day… next time I get into a tax argument with my brother in law I am going to use it :).

    I may have to read the Wealth of Nations now!


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