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Chernynkaya On June - 24 - 2011

You can access all the past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV.

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BUDGET


The Debt Limit Option President Obama Can Use

BRUCE BARTLETT, The Fiscal Times:

The vast majority of those commenting on raising the federal debt limit are certain that Congress will act in time to forestall a debt default, which would occur if the Treasury lacked sufficient cash to pay interest due that day or to redeem maturing securities. The smart money says that Congress could not possibly be so stupid as to permit a default and will raise the debt limit just in time. Americans would likely agree, however, that some members of Congress really are that stupid. But here’s the good news: An arcane provision in the U.S. Constitution gives the president the edge.  […]

Republicans are playing not just with fire, but the financial equivalent of nuclear weapons. Perhaps at one time when the federal debt was owned entirely by Americans we could afford to take a chance on debt default because the consequences would only be internal. But today, more than half of the privately held public debt is owed to foreigners; the Chinese alone own more than $1.1 trillion of Treasury securities. Moreover, many countries use Treasury securities as backing for their own currencies. Thus the impact of default would be felt internationally, disrupting finances and economic policies throughout Asia, Europe and Latin America.

Therefore, a potential debt default is far more than a domestic consideration; it is a matter of foreign policy. This is why Secretary of State Clinton and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen have warned that the public debt represents an important threat to national security. As attorney Thomas Geoghegan recently put it, “Where the validity of the debt is concerned, our national security is at stake.”

Preventing default is no less justified
than using American military power
to protect against an armed invasion
without a congressional declaration of war.

The president would be justified in taking extreme actions to protect against a debt default. In the event that congressional irresponsibility makes default impossible to avoid, he should order the secretary of the Treasury to simply disregard the debt limit and sell whatever securities are necessary to raise cash to pay the nation’s debts. They are protected by the full faith and credit of the United States and preventing default is no less justified than using American military power to protect against an armed invasion without a congressional declaration of war.

Furthermore, it’s worth remembering that the debt limit is statutory law, which is trumped by the Constitution which has a little known provision that relates to this issue. Section 4 of the 14th Amendment says, “The validity of the public debt of the United States…shall not be questioned.” This could easily justify the sort of extraordinary presidential action to avoid default that I am suggesting.

Some will raise a concern that potential buyers of Treasury securities may be scared off by a fear that bonds sold over the debt limit may not be backed by the full faith and credit of the United States. However, given that the vast bulk of Treasury securities are 3-month bills that will turn over many, many times before this issue ever reaches the Supreme Court, it is doubtful than anyone will be concerned about that. And the Federal Reserve could assure investors that it will always be a buyer for such securities.

People smarter than I am tell me that the Treasury has an almost infinite ability to avoid a debt crisis. I hope they are right. But I am hypothesizing a situation in which the Treasury reaches the end of its rope and a day comes when it needs $X billion to pay interest and it has less than $X billion in cash. Under those circumstances, when default is the only possible alternative, I believe that the president and the Treasury secretary would be justified in taking extraordinary action to prevent it, even if it means violating the debt limit.

Constitutional history is replete with examples where presidents justified extraordinary actions by extraordinary circumstances. During the George W. Bush administration many Republicans defended the most expansive possible reading of the president’s powers, especially concerning national security. Since default on the debt would clearly have dire consequences for our relations with China, Japan and other large holders of Treasury securities, it’s hard to see how defenders of Bush’s policies would now say the president must stand by and do nothing when a debt default poses an imminent national security threat.

Given that the Supreme Court in recent years has been unusually deferential to executive prerogatives –I feel certain President Obama would be on firm constitutional ground should he challenge the debt limit in order to prevent a debt default. Should the Court rule in his favor, the debt limit would effectively become a dead letter. Is that really the outcome Republicans want from a debt limit showdown?

 

Republicans pull out of debt talks, demand Obama meet directly with GOP over taxes

On Thursday morning, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) announced that he was removing himself from the ongoing debt reduction talks with Vice President Joe Biden, citing the unwillingness of Democrats to take tax increases off the table as his primary motivation.

“Each side came into these talks with certain orders, and as it stands the Democrats continue to insist that any deal must include tax increases,” Cantor said in a statement. “Regardless of the progress that has been made, the tax issue must be resolved before discussions can continue.”

Cantor was immediately backed up by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip Jon Kyl. “President Obama needs to decide between his goal of higher taxes or a bipartisan plan to address our deficit,’ the duo said in a joint statement. “He can’t have both.”

The decision by Cantor was greeted with shock — or at least surprise — by the political world. But, it shouldn’t have been.

Why? Because of a hard but simple political truth: there is absolutely NO constituency within the Republican party that is even modestly open to tax increases as the only way to solve the budget deficit.

The latest Washington Post/ABC poll proves it out.

Fifty two percent of Republicans in the survey said that “cutting federal spending” is the best way to reduce the federal budget deficit while just one percent chose the “increasing taxes” option and 46 percent said a “combination of both” would be the best way to go.

Those numbers stand in stark contrast to how Democrats and independents view the best course for solving the debt problem. Two thirds of Democrats and nearly six in ten (59 percent) of independents said that the best way to shrink the debt was a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

The Republican aversion to tax increases — of any sort — as a sole solution to the debt problem shines through in another data point from the poll.

Asked if debt reduction had to come from a combination of cuts and tax increases, 71 percent of self-identified Republicans said it should come more from spending cuts while just three percent said increasing taxes and 25 percent chose half coming from each source.

The fact is that it would amount to political death for Cantor to be seen as a major player in a deal that increases taxes of any sort without the gaining heavy concessions on the spending side. (Not to mention the difficulty of selling a debt reduction plan that increases taxes to the large GOP freshmen House class that was elected in large part on a pledge to drastically curb spending in the nation’s capitol.)

(For another perspective on why Cantor did what he did, check out Ezra Klein’s take.)

 

Republican Sen. Kyl also drops out of White House-led deficit talks, joining House Majority Leader Cantor


Debt talks on hold while top leaders decide: Biden

Reuters:

Vice President Joe Biden said on Thursday the debt talks he has led had gone into “abeyance” and made clear the next phase of the process is in the hands of President Barack Obama and congressional leaders.

“The bipartisan debt talks have made significant progress on a blueprint for putting America’s fiscal house in order,” Biden said in a statement after Republicans walked out of budget negotiations.” Biden said that from the outset the goal was to report the findings back to “our respective leaders,” meaning Obama and top Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

“The next phase is in the hands of those leaders, who need to determine the scope of an agreement that can tackle the problem and attract bipartisan support. For now the talks are in abeyance as we await that guidance. We stand ready to meet again as necessary,” he said.

 

A Congress problem, not a deficit problem

Ezra Klein:

[…] On Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Office released its latest long-term budget outlook. As always, the scorekeepers offered up two scenarios: In the first, Congress does nothing, follows the laws currently on the books — which means the tax cuts expire, the Medicare cuts from the 1997 Balanced Budget Act go into effect, and the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented — and the debt stabilizes. In the second, Congress extends most of the tax cuts, ignores the Medicare cuts and repeals various cost controls in the Affordable Care Act. Debt, of course, explodes.

We have a congress problem, not a deficit problem. The deficit only explodes if the next few congresses vote to detonate it. Congress doesn’t have to extend the Bush tax cuts without offering offsets, or put off the Medicare cuts without paying for them in other ways, or do the easy parts of the health-care law without doing the hard parts. The answer to this, however, is not a high-stakes negotiation over the debt ceiling, where one false move could bring down the American economy, but a much-strengthened version of PayGo, where deficit-increasing deviations from current policy need to be offset with spending cuts or tax increases elsewhere.

Politicians are constantly talking about the need to signal seriousness to the markets, but what could be more serious than saying that they will work from the baseline in which America’s deficits are much more under control, and though they intend to change those policies, they do not intend to deviate from the manageable deficit path they’ve already agreed to? That must be preferable to saying that Congress chooses to believe it will vote to increase the deficit by trillions over the next 10 years, but that the market shouldn’t worry as the two parties plan to stop the government from paying its bills and throw the financial system into chaos if the other party doesn’t agree to the deficit-reduction strategies they prefer.

 

Cantor and Kyl just threw Boehner and McConnell under the bus.”

“This move is an admission that there will be a need for revenues and Cantor and Kyl don’t want to be the ones to make that deal.”

That’s the spin from a senior Democratic aide on the abandonment of the debt reduction talks by the last two remaining Republicans.

The issue is whether we are going to have this huge attempt at cutting the deficit without any raising of revenues at all, at a time when taxation is at its lowest as a percentage of GDP in fifty years and when marginal rates are lower for everyone but the poor than they were under Ronald Reagan. In my view, that is as irresponsibly ideological as it is unfair.

I favor very sharp cuts in Medicare – including means-testing where we can and every cost-control experiment that works. I favor ending corporate welfare, agricultual subsidies and the myriad tax breaks that make the code beyond the reach of most tax-payers. I support gradual, structural defense cuts to bring down the percentage of GDP we spend on defense to be similar to our NATO partners.

But if we are to make these sacrifices, we simply have to ask for balance – and some contribution from those who have done so well in an era where so many have done so poorly.

The Tories in Britain have enacted unprecedented cuts in public spending. But they also raised taxes, as Reagan did five times, to target the debt from the revenue angle as well. Why cannot the US Republicans be as pragmatic as the British Tories? Why can they not accept that under the current circumstances, avoiding default and cutting the debt are more important that ideological purity on taxes, especially in such a relatively low-tax environment?

 

BUSINESS

 

Private prisons spent over $1 Million in just three months lobbying to put more people in jail.

 

A Brief History of the Corporation: understanding what an attention economy is and where it comes from

Venkatesh Rao’s tour-de-force blog-post, “A Brief History of the Corporation: 1600 to 2100,” is an attempt to synthesize several accounts of economic trends and the institutions that fuel and benefit from them, primarily corporations. Beginning with the age of mercantilism and the East India Company’s many bubbles and busts (not to mention ruthless conquests and brutal consolidations); Rao moves onto the “Schumpeterian” era where growth was driven by innovation and the “colonization of time” in the form of “labor-saving” devices that let corporations capture more value from their workers. Rao concludes with a brief section on the current era, the “Coasean” period in which individuals, coordinating among each other, are at center stage — basically, maker culture. Part history lesson, part economic speculation, Rao’s essay is provocative, a little esoteric, well-written and challenging.

Take an average housewife, the target of much time mining early in the 20th century. It was clear where her attention was directed. Laundry, cooking, walking to the well for water, cleaning, were all obvious attention sinks. Washing machines, kitchen appliances, plumbing and vacuum cleaners helped free up a lot of that attention, which was then immediately directed (as corporate-captive attention) to magazines and television.

But as you find and capture most of the wild attention, new pockets of attention become harder to find. Worse, you now have to cannibalize your own previous uses of captive attention. Time for TV must be stolen from magazines and newspapers. Time for specialized entertainment must be stolen from time devoted to generalized entertainment.

Sure, there is an equivalent to the Sun in the picture. Just ask anyone who has tried mindfulness meditation, and you’ll understand why the limits to attention (and therefore the value of time) are far further out than we think.

The point isn’t that we are running out of attention. We are running out of the equivalent of oil: high-energy-concentration pockets of easily mined fuel.

The result is a spectacular kind of bubble-and-bust.

 

FTC to launch antitrust probe against Google

 

ECONOMY


The Fed acknowledges the economy is slowing down

The economic recovery is slowing and the outlook for next year has gotten worse, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said Wednesday, backing away from the view that the slowdown of the past few months was merely temporary. The central bank released new economic projections that showed weaker growth in both 2011 and 2012 than had been forecast just two months ago. Despite the slowdown, the Fed said it will end a program of buying vast sums of Treasury bonds at the end of June as scheduled and gave no sign it is contemplating new action. But Bernanke, whom markets turn to as a purveyor of economic wisdom, said the Fed had no solid answers as to why, two years into an economic recovery, growth keeps disappointing.

 

Jobless Claims Rose By 9,000 Last Week

 

Flashback: in Dec, Obama was amazed at idea that GOP would have “leverage” on debt limit.

Here was one of the first exchanges about a debt fight, back in December, in the form of a question posed by Marc Ambinder.

AMBINDER: How do these negotiations affect negotiations or talks with Republicans about raising the debt limit?  Because it would seem that they have a significant amount of leverage over the White House now, going in.  Was there ever any attempt by the White House to include raising the debt limit as a part of this package?

OBAMA: When you say it would seem they’ll have a significant amount of leverage over the White House, what do you mean?

We pause now to slap our foreheads. They’ll have leverage because no one wants to raise the debt ceiling. When you were a senator, you didn’t want to!

AMBINDER: Just in the sense that they’ll say essentially we’re not going to raise the — we’re not going to agree to it unless the White House is able to or willing to agree to significant spending cuts across the board that probably go deeper and further than what you’re willing to do.  I mean, what leverage would you have —

OBAMA: Look, here’s my expectation — and I’ll take John Boehner at his word — that nobody, Democrat or Republican, is willing to see the full faith and credit of the United States government collapse, that that would not be a good thing to happen.  And so I think that there will be significant discussions about the debt limit vote.  That’s something that nobody ever likes to vote on.  But once John Boehner is sworn in as Speaker, then he’s going to have responsibilities to govern.  You can’t just stand on the sidelines and be a bomb thrower.

 

ENERGY

 

Obama releasing 30M barrels from US oil reserve to offset Mideast turmoil, high gas prices

Wary of a new surge in gas prices, the Obama administration said Thursday it is releasing 30 million barrels of oil from the country’s emergency reserve as part of a broader international response to lost oil supplies caused by turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, particularly Libya.

The release from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve will be the largest ever, amounting to half of a 60 million-barrel international infusion of oil planned for the world market over the next month.

“We are taking this action in response to the ongoing loss of crude oil due to supply disruptions in Libya and other countries and their impact on the global economic recovery,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said.

The move comes as retail gasoline prices dropped for the 20th consecutive day, down a penny from Wednesday, to $3.61 per gallon, according to AAA, Wright Express and Oil Price Information Service. That’s about 21 cents lower than a month ago.

The timing brought criticism from business groups and Republican lawmakers, who accused President Barack Obama of playing politics with the country’s oil reserves, which are intended to address emergencies.

“The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is an emergency lifeline to protect our nation against critical shortages in our oil supply and shouldn’t be used as a Strategic Political Reserve to boost the popularity of elected officials,” said Charles Drevna, president of the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association.

The administration’s action will do little to benefit consumers while leaving the nation vulnerable to hurricanes or other natural disasters, or a foreign crisis that causes a real supply shortage, Drevna said.

Even some Democrats were puzzled by the move.

“This decision would have been more timely if made when the disruption in Libyan oil supplies first occurred” early this year, said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Still, Bingaman said he hopes the move helps deflate “speculative froth in the markets” and drives prices back to levels where most experts believe they should be.

The administration said the uprising in Libya has resulted in a loss of about 1.5 million barrels of oil a day. The release comes as the United States approaches a period of high energy use in July and August.

High oil prices and the resulting increase in the cost of gasoline have contributed to an economic slowdown and have put increased political pressure on Obama. […]

A senior administration official said the president determined in a meeting with top economic advisers on April 26 that the oil supply disruptions in Libya were severe and would have a significant impact on oil prices. Obama asked aides to come up with options for opening the strategic petroleum reserves and to consult with international partners, most notably Saudi Arabia.

The official said Obama is deeply concerned about the impact the disruption in oil supplies could have on the U.S. and global economies. Obama is open to releasing more oil from U.S. reserves, the official said, though no decision on doing so has been made.

Because the U.S. oil reserves are at historic highs, holding 727 barrels, the administration felt there would be no negative long-term impact to releasing 30 million barrels at this time.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss internal administration deliberations.

 

Senators Want Probe on Nuke Safety

The Associated Press:

Three U.S. senators, alarmed by findings of an Associated Press investigation about aging-related problems at the nation’s nuclear power plants, are asking for a congressional investigation of safety standards and federal oversight at the facilities. The three said the ongoing AP series raises questions about whether the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has worked with the atomic power industry to allow aging reactors to keep operating by weakening safety standards or not enforcing them at all. The request came Wednesday in a letter to the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, from Democrat Barbara Boxer of California. Boxer chairs the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. The letter also was signed by independent Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

 

ENVIRONMENT

 

Fracking and Water: E.P.A. Zeroes In on 7 Sites

The Environmental Protection Agency has chosen seven natural gas drilling sites where it will conduct case studies to evaluate the impact of hydraulic fracturing on local drinking water.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves freeing of natural gas trapped in shale rock by injecting copious amounts of water at very high pressure. It has become increasingly controversial as companies have turned to drilling horizontally at significant depths. Communities fear that this form of drilling may cause serious environmental damage, particularly if the chemicals enter the drinking water supply. Yet companies, arguing that natural gas is a cleaner energy source than coal, are eager to tap these bountiful underground reserves.

Last year Congress mandated that the Environmental Protection Agency study whether the drilling is damaging the environment and to what extent. After a public review process in which 40 places were considered, the agency chose the case study sites by considering the proximity of drinking water supplies to the fracking activity and by striving for geographic diversity. The E.P.A. says the results will be peer-reviewed and made public, and that the data will be contribute to computer modeling and other efforts to evaluate the drilling’s impact.

MORE>>>

 

HEALTH


Expert on Mental Illness Reveals Her Own Fight

NYT’s:

Are you one of us?

The patient wanted to know, and her therapist — Marsha M. Linehan of the University of Washington, creator of a treatment used worldwide for severely suicidal people — had a ready answer. It was the one she always used to cut the question short, whether a patient asked it hopefully, accusingly or knowingly, having glimpsed the macramé of faded burns, cuts and welts on Dr. Linehan’s arms:

“You mean, have I suffered?”

“No, Marsha,” the patient replied, in an encounter last spring. “I mean one of us. Like us. Because if you were, it would give all of us so much hope.”

“That did it,” said Dr. Linehan, 68, who told her story in public for the first time last week before an audience of friends, family and doctors at the Institute of Living, the Hartford clinic where she was first treated for extreme social withdrawal at age 17. “So many people have begged me to come forward, and I just thought — well, I have to do this. I owe it to them. I cannot die a coward.”

No one knows how many people with severe mental illness live what appear to be normal, successful lives, because such people are not in the habit of announcing themselves. They are too busy juggling responsibilities, paying the bills, studying, raising families — all while weathering gusts of dark emotions or delusions that would quickly overwhelm almost anyone else.

Now, an increasing number of them are risking exposure of their secret, saying that the time is right. The nation’s mental health system is a shambles, they say, criminalizing many patients and warehousing some of the most severe in nursing and group homes where they receive care from workers with minimal qualifications.

Moreover, the enduring stigma of mental illness teaches people with such a diagnosis to think of themselves as victims, snuffing out the one thing that can motivate them to find treatment: hope.

“There’s a tremendous need to implode the myths of mental illness, to put a face on it, to show people that a diagnosis does not have to lead to a painful and oblique life,” said Elyn R. Saks, a professor at the University of Southern California School of Law who chronicles her own struggles with schizophrenia in “The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness.” “We who struggle with these disorders can lead full, happy, productive lives, if we have the right resources.”

These include medication (usually), therapy (often), a measure of good luck (always) — and, most of all, the inner strength to manage one’s demons, if not banish them. That strength can come from any number of places, these former patients say: love, forgiveness, faith in God, a lifelong friendship.

But Dr. Linehan’s case shows there is no recipe. She was driven by a mission to rescue people who are chronically suicidal, often as a result of borderline personality disorder, an enigmatic condition characterized in part by self-destructive urges.

“I honestly didn’t realize at the time that I was dealing with myself,” she said. “But I suppose it’s true that I developed a therapy that provides the things I needed for so many years and never got.”

‘I Was in Hell’

She learned the central tragedy of severe mental illness the hard way, banging her head against the wall of a locked room.

Marsha Linehan arrived at the Institute of Living on March 9, 1961, at age 17, and quickly became the sole occupant of the seclusion room on the unit known as Thompson Two, for the most severely ill patients. The staff saw no alternative: The girl attacked herself habitually, burning her wrists with cigarettes, slashing her arms, her legs, her midsection, using any sharp object she could get her hands on.

The seclusion room, a small cell with a bed, a chair and a tiny, barred window, had no such weapon. Yet her urge to die only deepened. So she did the only thing that made any sense to her at the time: banged her head against the wall and, later, the floor. Hard.

“My whole experience of these episodes was that someone else was doing it; it was like ‘I know this is coming, I’m out of control, somebody help me; where are you, God?’ ” she said. “I felt totally empty, like the Tin Man; I had no way to communicate what was going on, no way to understand it.”

Her childhood, in Tulsa, Okla., provided few clues. An excellent student from early on, a natural on the piano, she was the third of six children of an oilman and his wife, an outgoing woman who juggled child care with the Junior League and Tulsa social events.

People who knew the Linehans at that time remember that their precocious third child was often in trouble at home, and Dr. Linehan recalls feeling deeply inadequate compared with her attractive and accomplished siblings. But whatever currents of distress ran under the surface, no one took much notice until she was bedridden with headaches in her senior year of high school.

Her younger sister, Aline Haynes, said: “This was Tulsa in the 1960s, and I don’t think my parents had any idea what to do with Marsha. No one really knew what mental illness was.”

Soon, a local psychiatrist recommended a stay at the Institute of Living, to get to the bottom of the problem. There, doctors gave her a diagnosis of schizophrenia; dosed her with Thorazine, Librium and other powerful drugs, as well as hours of Freudian analysis; and strapped her down for electroshock treatments, 14 shocks the first time through and 16 the second, according to her medical records. Nothing changed, and soon enough the patient was back in seclusion on the locked ward.

“Everyone was terrified of ending up in there,” said Sebern Fisher, a fellow patient who became a close friend. But whatever her surroundings, Ms. Fisher added, “Marsha was capable of caring a great deal about another person; her passion was as deep as her loneliness.”

A discharge summary, dated May 31, 1963, noted that “during 26 months of hospitalization, Miss Linehan was, for a considerable part of this time, one of the most disturbed patients in the hospital.”

A verse the troubled girl wrote at the time reads:

They put me in a four-walled room

But left me really out

My soul was tossed somewhere askew

My limbs were tossed here about

Bang her head where she would, the tragedy remained: no one knew what was happening to her, and as a result medical care only made it worse. Any real treatment would have to be based not on some theory, she later concluded, but on facts: which precise emotion led to which thought led to the latest gruesome act. It would have to break that chain — and teach a new behavior.

“I was in hell,” she said. “And I made a vow: when I get out, I’m going to come back and get others out of here.”

MORE>>>

HEALTH CARE

 

HHS scales back its rules on health insurance appeals, will provide more time for compliance.

The Obama administration announced Wednesday that it is scaling back some of its earlier rules under the 2010 health law that governed consumers’ right to appeal denials by health plans, disappointing patient advocates and earning praise from industry groups.

The health overhaul gives members in group and individual health plans the right – many for the first time — to appeal the denial of coverage to an independent review panel. But the administration’s new rules provide beneficiaries less time to prepare their appeal, less information about why their claim was denied and limit what type of denials can be challenged.

However, some important consumer protections that advocates were concerned about remain intact. Decisions by external review panels are binding and patients can still appeal if their insurers cancel their coverage. Employer-sponsored plans that are self-insured will have to use at least two independent review organizations to help assure impartial decisions.

Since states do not regulate self-insured health plans, there has been no requirement allowing those beneficiaries to appeal denials to an independent review panel. The health law extends that right to more than 44 million Americans covered by self-insured plans that have lost their “grandfathered” or exempt status this year.

“The right to an external appeal is considered one of the most important consumer protections that you can have,” said Steve Larsen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the Department of Health and Human Services. “Consumers do not want insurance companies making medical decisions for them or for their families.”

 

IMMIGRATION

 

Senate Dems introduce comprehensive immigration reform bill

Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Harry Reid, D-Nev., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., John Kerry, D-Mass., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., have reintroduced comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the Senate. […]

This bill won’t pass. It wouldn’t be likely to get floor time in the Republican-controlled House. But it keeps the conversation going and the heat on what can be done on immigration: for example, an executive order by President Obama to relieve the burden on DREAM students by stopping the deportations.

 

Pulitzer Prize winner: OUTLAW: My Life As an Undocumented Immigrant

 

GA law driving undocumented workers out of state leads to crops now rotting in fields

Thanks to the resulting labor shortage, Georgia farmers have been forced to leave millions of dollars’ worth of blueberries, onions, melons and other crops unharvested and rotting in the fields. It has also put state officials into something of a panic at the damage they’ve done to Georgia’s largest industry.

Barely a month ago, you might recall, Gov. Nathan Deal welcomed the TV cameras into his office as he proudly signed HB 87 into law. Two weeks later, with farmers howling, a scrambling Deal ordered a hasty investigation into the impact of the law he had just signed, as if all this had come as quite a surprise to him.

And you know, here’s where the chickens really come home to roost. Politicians act as if undocumented immigrants contribute nothing to the nation’s economy, when the truth is, they do damned hard and dirty work that Americans consider beneath them:

The first batch of probationers started work last week at a farm owned by Dick Minor, president of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. In the coming days, more farmers could join the program.

So far, the experiment at Minor’s farm is yielding mixed results. On the first two days, all the probationers quit by mid-afternoon, said Mendez, one of two crew leaders at Minor’s farm.

“Those guys out here weren’t out there 30 minutes and they got the bucket and just threw them in the air and say, `Bonk this, I ain’t with this, I can’t do this,'” said Jermond Powell, a 33-year-old probationer. “They just left, took off across the field walking.


JUSTICE

 

Two arrested in alleged Seattle terror plot

Two men intent on attacking a military recruiting station to inspire Muslims to defend their religion from U.S. actions abroad were snared by FBI agents in a terror plot sting, authorities said Thursday.

Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, also known as Joseph Anthony Davis, of Seattle, and Walli Mujahidh, also known as Frederick Domingue Jr., of Los Angeles, were arrested Wednesday night after they arrived at a warehouse garage to pick up machine guns to use in the attack, an FBI agent wrote in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court.

The machine guns had been rendered inoperable by federal agents and posed no risk to the public.

The two suspects appeared in federal court Thursday in tan prison garb and listened as prosecutor recited the charges against them. Detention hearings were set for Wednesday.

Their court-appointed defense lawyers declined to comment. The suspects could face life in prison if convicted.

Authorities learned of the plot early this month when a third person recruited to participate alerted the Seattle Police Department, the complaint said. Investigators immediately began monitoring the men, and the confidential informant continued to string them along by promising to obtain weapons.

The building, the Military Entrance Processing Station on East Marginal Way in Seattle, also houses a daycare. Recruits for all military branches are screened and processed there.

The Homeland Security Department said in a May 31 assessment with other organizations that it did not think it likely there would be coordinated terrorist attacks against military recruiting and National Guard facilities.

The agencies agreed, however, that lone offenders or groups would continue to try to launch attacks against these facilities.

“Our review of attempted attacks during the past two years suggests that lone offenders currently present the greatest threat,” according to the assessment, marked “for official use only” and obtained by The Associated Press.

Recently, terror supporters have encouraged their followers to focus on simple attacks and not complex, elaborate ones like those on Sept. 11, 2001.

“Unlike hardened facilities such as active duty military bases and installations, soft targets such as recruiting stations are more likely to be deemed a feasible target due to their easy, open access to the public,” the assessment said.

The agencies also predicted that successful, non-elaborate attacks overseas, such as those where crude car bombs were used, could inspire similar tactics in the U.S.

In audio and video recordings, the suspects in the Seattle case discussed the plot at length, discussing how to time their attack at military recruits, such as by tossing grenades in the cafeteria, the complaint said.

“The key thing to remember here is, is we are not targeting anybody innocent — that means old people, women out of uniform, any children,” Abdul-Latif is quoted as saying. “Just people who wear the green for the kaffir Army, that’s who we’re going after.”

The agent wrote that they also fantasized about the headlines the attack would generate — “Three Muslim Males Walk Into MEPS Building, Seattle, Washington, And Gun Down Everybody” — and speculated that if they got control of the building, television news crews would arrive to cover them.

Mujahidh, 32, voluntarily spoke with investigators after the arrests and confessed, the complaint said
Read more:

 

MEDIA

 

Jane Hamsher really is a ratfucker

 

Pew Research Center : 13% of online adults use Twitter, up from 8% in November 2010.

 

Change the Channels — Stop Newsroom Consolidation

What does it look like when one newsroom produces all the reporting for multiple stations in one city?

 

MILITARY

 

How to view troop withdrawals from the White House: remember who started this

White House Blog:

Last night, the President spoke to the American people about the way forward in Afghanistan, and outlined his plan to remove 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, and a total of 33,000 by next summer, with reductions continuing after that at a steady pace. He also put the drawdown in the broader context of the last decade, and our effort to wind down these wars while keeping America safe. As President Obama said:

Yet tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding. Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way. We’ve ended our combat mission in Iraq, with 100,000 American troops already out of that country. And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance. These long wars will come to a responsible end.

Take a look at this infographic that lays out how we’re winding down these wars.

 

CAPAction: The BinLaden Aftermath: Business as Usual Won’t Do

After the death of Osama bin Laden, the key question to address is — what’s next? Bin Laden’s death presents an opportunity to fundamentally reassess U.S. policy in Pakistan and Afghanistan. It also creates the possibility for a second strategic shift in America’s overall national security approach on President Obama’s watch.

Read more here.

 

Maddow: Questions for President Obama

“After 13 minutes on why the killing of Osama bin Laden means no real substantive change in the plan for three and a half more years of American war in Afghanistan, after those 13 minutes of hearing from the president — mostly what I have is a list of questions,” Rachel said. Including:

  • Will there be an announcement that combat operations in Afghanistan has ended, like we saw in Iraq?
  • If so, how soon might that happen?
  • When the president says the goal now is that extremists should not be able to launch attacks from Afghanistan on us or on our allies, does he include Pakistan on the list the allies?
  • Does the president care that the public is uniformly in favor of getting U.S. troops out, and fast? And if he doesn’t, why doesn’t he?

 

The Pakistani Elephant in the Room

Max Fisher, The Atlantic:

In his speech Wednesday night announcing the beginning of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Obama mentioned only three times the country that, in a November 2009 Oval Office meeting, he said was the source of the “cancer” that had spread into the Afghan war: Pakistan. Though the U.S. has spent much of the last year expanding its assault on the Taliban across the border into Pakistan, sending drones and special forces teams against the militants based there (recently, Osama bin Laden, who appeared to be living in relative comfort with support from Pakistani military elements), Obama took a slightly softer tone toward this ostensible U.S. ally.

Of course, our efforts must also address terrorist safe-havens in Pakistan. No country is more endangered by the presence of violent extremists, which is why we will continue to press Pakistan to expand its participation in securing a more peaceful future for this war-torn region. We will work with the Pakistani government to root out the cancer of violent extremism, and we will insist that it keep its commitments. For there should be no doubt that so long as I am President, the United States will never tolerate a safe-haven for those who aim to kill us: they cannot elude us, nor escape the justice they deserve.

Since escalating the war in Afghanistan, violence against the U.S. has increasingly come from across the border in Pakistan, where many militant groups are based, supported and at times outright shielded by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), a powerful branch of the military. Because the U.S. cannot send its troops en masse into Pakistan where the “cancer” is, and because increasing its fighting in Afghanistan only seems to provoke further militancy in Pakistan, Obama was faced with a dilemma: how to combat Pakistani militancy without simply making the problem worse. His only hard words for Pakistan — a warning that he “will never tolerate a safe-haven” — seem to suggest that, even though the war will be winding down, the drone strikes and special forces raids into Pakistan’s many safe havens will not.

As counterterrorism expert and former Obama administration adviser Bruce Reidel put it to the New York Times after bin Laden’s death, his discovery  “demonstrated more vividly than ever is that we need a base to strike targets in Pakistan, and the geography is simple: You need to do that from Afghanistan.” The Obama administration’s recent shake-up of national security staff, putting Afghan war leader General David Petraeus in charge of the CIA and Director of Central Intelligence Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, suggest that even if Obama is ending the war, he is not planning for peace in South Asia. The quiet war against Pakistani militants and rogue ISI elements has escalated rapidly under his guidance, establishing a not-quite-CIA, not-quite-military clandestine campaign that shows no signs of waning.

As Obama noted, neither the Pakistani nation as a whole nor the Pakistani people are threats or enemies to the U.S. But an anti-American trend has grown in Pakistan in recent years; as the war has escalated, so have U.S. drone and special forces strikes inside of Pakistan, something that enrages many citizens of a country that has been unusually nationalist and concerned about territorial sovereignty ever since splitting with India in 1947. Earlier this week, Pakistani member of Parliament Marvi Memon resigned, publicly listing as one of her reasons the fact that the Pakistani military had not declared open war against the U.S. and other NATO forces:

To be associated with a government, which has not followed parliament’s joint resolution mandating action against NATO forces in case of drones, has bartered Pakistan’s sovereignty, has not protected Pakistan’s sensitive locations, has not kept our territory protected from foreign forces, would be a travesty.

A Pew survey taken after bin Laden’s killing found that 69 percent of Pakistanis see the U.S. as “more of an enemy,” with only 6 percent calling the country that largely funds Pakistan’s military “more of a partner.” But militant groups are also unpopular, if less so: 55 percent view al-Qaeda unfavorably, 63 percent say the same about the Taliban. Only Lashkar-e-Taiba, an anti-Indian terrorist group, scrapes by with 37 percent unfavorability. The only two things that Pakistanis seem unified and certain about is that they like the military, which enjoys 79 percent approval, and fear India, which 57 percent call the greatest threat to India (three times the response rate for the second most popular choice, the Taliban).

Pakistanis are also getting understandably tired of their country’s costly war against militants, much as the Obama administration seems to be tiring of a 100,000-plus-troop war in Afghanistan that has done little to erode the Taliban’s hold or to remove the safe havens in Pakistan. By withdrawing much of the massive and and disruptive American presence from Afghanistan, the U.S. will be less of an irritant to the Pakistanis who are increasingly unhappy with our presence. But the long war against militants in both countries appears nowhere near a de-escalation.

 

Clinton on working with Pakistan: “Frustrating, frankly sometimes very outraging kind of experience”

 

Why Do The Republicans Hate America?

WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders will bring a bill to the floor as soon as Friday to defund U.S. military operations in Libya, a much stronger course of action than the non-binding resolution originally set to come up.

Just to recap, if anyone opposed the $1 trillion war in Iraq, they were branded as unpatriotic America-haters. But our limited assistance in a NATO mission is worthy of defunding.

Mitch McConnell, on the Senate side, admitted that it’s only because the president is a Democrat.

“There’s more of a tendency to pull together when the guy in the White House is on your side,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the minority leader. […]

“A lot of our members, not having a Republican in the White House, feel more free to kind of express their reservation, which might have been somewhat muted during the previous administration,” McConnell said during a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

So, according to the Republican leader, patriotism in wartime is entirely dependent upon the the party in the White House? Good to know. Selective, convenient patriotism.

Just to be clear, there’s nothing wrong with opposing the president. Nothing. As long as it’s consistent and factual. And there’s nothing wrong with patriotism, just as long as it’s not kneejerk patriotism exploited for political expedience.

 

McConnell: GOP Would Not Voice Opposition To Libya Campaign If Obama Was A Republican

[…] Speaking with reporters at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast yesterday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) acknowledged that there are “clearly divisions” in the GOP over the “constitutionality” and “cost” of the Libyan campaign. However, in a moment of rare candor, McConnell noted that his colleagues might not be so quick to denounce the president if he were a Republican. Asked if he was concerned about “the isolationist streak of some in the Republican Party,” McConnell said, “There is more of a tendency to pull together when the guy in the White House is on your side”:

MCCONNELL: The only thing I can tell you at this point is that there are differences. I’m not sure that these kind of differences might not have been there in a more latent form when you had a Republican president. But I do think there is more of a tendency to pull together when the guy in the White House is on your side. So I think some of these views were probably held by some of my members even in the previous administration, but party loyalty tended to mute them. So yeah, I think there are clearly differences and I think a lot of our members, not having a Republican in the White House, feel more free to express their reservations which might have been somewhat muted during the previous administration.

 

10 stories representing each year of the Afghanistan war


POLITICS


Van Jones: liberals, start our own tea party

At last weekend’s Netroots Nation gathering in Minneapolis, liberal activists expressed frustration that they lacked the political power or media focus given to the conservative tea-party movement. Former White House environmental official Van Jones is hoping to change that with a new political effort dubbed “The American Dream Movement.”

Organizers are hoping to emulate the the success of the tea party, which became a significant force in the 2010 midterms, uniting like-minded people across the country who were previously uninvolved in politics or participating locally but not at the national level.

They hope to motivate unemployed veterans, struggling homeowners and other alienated Americans who are angry at Republicans’ desire to drastically cut government spending in Washington and collective bargaining rights for state employees in places like Wisconsin. And to lure those people simply struggling to find a job while worried about their unemployment benefits ending.

“We think we can do what the tea party did,” Jones said in an interview with The Fix. “They stepped forward under a common banner, and everybody took them seriously. Polls suggest there are more people out there who have a different view of the economy, but who have not stepped forward yet under a common banner.”

Jones is a former Obama environmental adviser who resigned from the White House in 2009 amid controversy over his past activism. But he’s lauded in liberal circles for his charisma and organizing abilities.

“There’s a lot of organizational muscle behind the initiative, and Van is one of the most inspiring figures in the progressive movement, so I’m looking forward to these efforts, and they certainly come at a time when Republican overreach has primed progressives to take action” said Markos Moulitas, the founder of the liberal blog network Daily Kos.

Jones’ “Dream” movement will launch Thursday night with a rally in New York City. The Roots are performing; MoveOn.org, a well known liberal advocacy group, is co-sponsoring the gathering.

After the rally, the group will hold house meetings around the country in a bid to crowd-source the group’s platform, asking for ideas and collecting input from economists and activists. It will then use those contributions to form a “Contract for the American Dream” that will serve as an agenda to rally support and pressure politicians in Washington, riffing off the 1994 “Contract with America” that swept Republicans into the House majority.

While the tea-party movement gained clout in part through successful primary challenges to establishment politicians in 2010, Jones said the “Dream” movement is not “about primaries.”

However, should their efforts succeed, MoveOn.org’s executive director Justin Ruben says that the movement will push back against Democrats who don’t adhere to its goals.

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean argued that the idea of an interactive “Contract” is an improvement on the tea-party methods.

“The tea party has got technical dominance in their ability to put together a leaderless group that is in the political cloud, so to speak, and what [Jones] does is take the next step after that.”

There is some reason to believe that it’s the right time for a progressive movement modeled on the tea party. Some of the GOP actions taken since capturing control of the House majority in 2010 appear unpopular with voters, including passage of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget plan, which would turn Medicare into a voucher program by 2022.

Washington Post polling shows that voters don’t want cuts to entitlement spending. A majority of Americans think spending cuts and tax increases should both be part of any deficit-reduction plan, while Republicans have opposed any tax increases.

Jones predicted that the public winds were shifting against drastic government spending cuts like the ones enacted by new Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who moved this spring to end collective bargaining rights for most state employees.

Thousands have also protested similar moves in Indiana., Ohio and New York, and smaller protests have occurred all across the country. In a general sign that people are fed up with the economy, some activists have banded together under the term ‘99ers,’ to stand up for the rights of people who have been unemployed so long, their government benefits have run out.

As for the “American Dream” movement specifically, the unifying theme is disaffection with the economy and with the debate in Washington over how to fix it. Specifics are lacking at this point, as Jones plans to solicit activist input. One plank advanced by Jones is the idea of a transactional tax that would slap a levy on the sale or transfer of stocks, bonds and other financial assets.

This isn’t the first attempt at a “liberal tea party.” A coalition of liberal and civil-rights groups united under the “One Nation” banner last year and held a rally on the National Mall in October. After the election, the group — in which Van Jones was involved — fizzled.

Unlike One Nation, in which long-standing liberal groups agreed to collaborate, Jones’ movement is hoping to attract people who are ideologically aligned but not politically active. Those people will define their own goals. But Jones is also in conversations with many of the labor and civil-rights groups that were involved in the One Nation effort. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka recorded a web video for the campaign.

Institutional involvement does not go against the tea-party model. The tea-party movement has its own benefactors — Americans for Prosperity, Our Country Deserves Better PAC, and other groups backed by longtime Republican donors and strategists. Those groups capitalized on disparate protest movements around the country, many of whom say they have no connection to the political battles fought in their name.

Still, it will likely be hard to get liberals and supporters of more progressive economic policy to rally in the same way. Tea-party activists tend to be wealthy and well-educated; Jones is hoping to reach unemployed veterans, struggling homeowners, and other groups who likely have less time to organize and grow more politically active,

A year from now, will the “American Dream Movement” be on everyone’s lips the way the tea party is? It seems unlikely. But it’s a sign that liberals are making a more concerted effort to organize outside groups in ways that don’t rely on the power or personality of President Obama.

Want to get fired up? YES! Van Jones Speech:

 

Four Reasons for Hope in the Next Election Cycle – and One Reason Progressives Must Do More to Win

Just a few months ago, conservatives had the momentum, emerging victorious from the midterm elections and claiming a sweeping mandate for their policies. In states across the country, newly elected Republican governors launched a radical drive to roll back workers’ rights and gut social programs.

While many states are still trying to stave off deep and harmful cuts to our social safety net, Republicans can no longer pretend that they are acting on the basis of popular will.

Having seen the true agenda being promoted by officials such as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, voters have discerned several key truths: that conservatives’ proposals in no way offer real solutions to the problems we face, that they merely try to scapegoat immigrants and public employees for public woes and that the measures right-wingers wish to enact represent an assault on our rights – whether it is our civil liberties or our right to form collective organizations in our workplaces.

In recent weeks, several promising signs for the next election cycle have emerged. The following are four of my favorite reasons for hope that backlash against conservative overreach will carry into the next elections:

1) Buyer’s Remorse Sweeps the Country

As pollster Margie Omero has reported, voters who may have supported Republicans in the midterm elections are having serious second thoughts. Having seen the true face of the conservative agenda, they are more than a little taken aback. As Omero writes:

Polls show voters in battleground states regret having voted for their new Republican Governors. Since February, [the] Democratic firm PPP released surveys in eight states asking voters “if you could do last fall’s election for Governor over again, how would you vote?” In seven of the eight, the Democrat now would win, with all seven showing double-digit improvements in their margin. (Only Rory Reid in Nevada still trails.)

2) Govs. Scott Walker, John Kasich and Chris Christie Face Disapproval

In particular, three of the governors leading the conservative crusade are now paying a price. Polls show Wisconsin’s Scott Walker with a current disapproval rating of 54 percent (compared with an approval rating of only 43 percent). Half of Wisconsin residents would like to see him recalled.

Likewise, in Ohio, Gov. John Kasich faces a 49 percent disapproval rating (with only 38 percent of those polled approving of his performance). Moreover, as a local news station reports, “Voters say 52 to 38 percent that limiting collective bargaining for public employees is not needed to balance the budget.”

Finally, in New Jersey, right-wing hero Chris Christie is proving far less popular among residents of his own state than with his national Republican admirers. His disapproval rating has increased nine percentage points since February, with 47 percent of residents now critical of his actions as governor.

3) Heavily Republican Jacksonville Elects Its First Black Mayor, a Democrat

Jacksonville, Florida, is a city that leans heavily Republican. But, in a good sign for progressive prospects in that pivotal state, the city has just elected its first African-American mayor, a Democrat. Blogger Joy Reid writes about the significance of this shift:

[I]t appears that the doubters such as myself were wrong, and [Democratic] party chairman, Rod Smith, was right to pour money into J-ville, where an African-American Democrat and former Clinton administration official Alvin Brown, is leading by just over 600 votes in the mayor’s race in the red, red city, after Tuesday night’s election, pending a recount. The guy he’s beating, for now at least, is a tea party favorite and Jacksonville’s current tax collector, Mike Hogan….

To be clear, this is a big deal.

Jacksonville is so Republican, most of the city council races are Republican vs. Republican (in the city’s electoral system, the top two candidates of either party to emerge out of a primary face off in the general.)

Reid continues:

… [I]f it holds, it would seem to indicate the kind of anti-Republican backlash that could portend good things for Democrats in 2012…. And it would also make it clear than when they’re ready, Florida Democrats do know how to organize and get out the vote.

4) New Yorkers Stand Up to Defend Medicare

In a final hopeful development, a special election in upstate New York (a fight known as “NY26,” in reference to the electoral district in question) became a referendum on conservative efforts to undermine Medicare. Standing up for essential public services, voters rejected plans by national Republicans to privatize health care for the elderly, putting a Democrat into office in a come-from-behind victory.

As The Hill reported:

Medicare proved a winning issue in the New York special election, giving the [Democrats] a campaign theme for next year’s election. The party hammered Republican nominee Jane Corwin for her support of [Paul] Ryan’s budget plan and its proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher-like system for those under the age of 55. She lost to Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.) by four points in a Republican-leaning district.

Almost immediately after the race was called for Hochul, Democrat after Democrat put out statements crediting Hochul’s win to the Republicans’ plan “to end Medicare.” Polling seems to support the Democrats’ strategy.

Why We Still Need an Agenda

All these things are genuinely positive. But while it is hopeful to see that the conservative agenda is backfiring and that Democrats are winning over voters, ultimately, gains at the polls do not substitute for having a real progressive agenda.

No doubt, voting is important. In the wake of Republican attacks in the states, we need to come out and send a strong message that public policy which strips away fundamental rights takes our country backward, not forward.

But, more than anything, the conservative maneuvers of recent months show what a truly desperate predicament we are in. Although they are now facing backlash, the Republicans came all too close to being able to successfully use their deceptive tactics. They may lose this round, but Republican actions of recent months should make us realize how vulnerable we have become.

When people in our country are in severe economic distress, it makes us increasingly susceptible to scapegoating and demagoguery. Democratic enfranchisement is based on people having some measure of economic stability. People cannot be full participants in our democratic system without it.

Recognizing the negative affect of divisions wrought by scapegoating and narrow special-interest appeals, our agenda must be based on rebuilding a common sense of purpose among Americans. The Democrats can no longer be a party representing a loosely knit collection of interest groups. If we are serious about building a majority party, we must advance a program that not only increases the number of jobs available, but that also improves the quality of existing jobs by expanding people’s rights at work.

What does it mean to have a true progressive agenda? At its core, it means revitalization of key New Deal institutions such as the labor movement and an activist public sector – retooling these institutions so that they are relevant in a new economy. Recent weeks have offered signs of hope that conservatives will be punished for their overreach. But for us to truly be the beneficiaries of their decline, our support for elected officials should not be based merely on candidates’ party affiliation, or on shallow promises to stand with working people. Instead, it should be based on their concrete actions taken in support of this agenda.

 

DCCC Boasts 43 New Recruits

Pennsylvania Rep. Allyson Schwartz, chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s recruitment and candidate services, said Thursday the committee signed up 43 recruits in May and is expecting to have another 10 to 15 by the end of next month.

This is the groundwork for capturing the 24 seats necessary to win back the House, which is “doable,” Schwartz said at a breakfast hosted by the Third Way think tank.

“Victory is 24,” Schwartz said. “It will be geared toward 50 or 60 seats … maybe 70 seats will be in play. But none of this is easy.”

 

Leading From Behind

Andrew Sullivan:

Ezra Klein endorses my understanding of how Obama sees his presidency:

When presidents succeed in presiding over great change, they do so by recognizing an existing opportunity, not squeezing one from the stone of existing opposition. Obama correctly saw that 60 Democrats in the Senate and 240 in the House had cleared the way for health-care reform. Bush realized that 9/11 opened the door for the Iraq War. Clinton understood that the preferences of the Republican Congress and the economic growth of the ’90s created space for a Democrat to balance the budget and reform welfare. Reagan sensed that stagnation had prepared the American people for a radically different economic philosophy. FDR knew to push America’s intervention into World War II by incrementally moving forward with arguments based on new events.

This is temperamental conservatism as Burke would understand it. You peruse the existing intimations, to use Oakeshott’s formula. You guide what’s emerging; you do not impose an ideological vision – like Paul Ryan’s. Again this is why an old school conservative can see a lot of good in Obama. Compare his handling of Iraq and Afghanistan with Bush’s. Bush was pure ideology and achieved modest results only when he dropped the ideology and addressed reality in 2006. Obama has been almost pure pragmatism – militarily and politically – on both. David Remnick says that Obama believes that “the price of getting too far ahead of the majority of the country would be politically ruinous and lead to the election of a conservative Republican”:

At a fundraising dinner in 2008, in Montclair, New Jersey, Obama told one of his favorite stories about F.D.R. (He told the story apropos of the Israeli-Arab dispute, but it also pertains to gay marriage.) Obama recounted how when F.D.R. was confronted by the civil-rights leader A. Philip Randolph about the racial injustices in the country and the need for the President to use his powers and his bully pulpit, F.D.R. said he agreed but he would only take action when he was forced to do so by a popular movement. “Make me do it,” he told Randolph.


NYT’s: As Politics of War Shift, Risks for Obama Ease

When President Obama expanded the Afghanistan war a year after taking office, Republicans fiercely criticized his deadline to bring troops home. But his decision on Wednesday to accelerate their withdrawal came with few reprisals, a sign of a remarkable shift in the politics of war.

The president, who addressed the nation in a prime-time speech from the White House, stopped short of declaring victory, but he suggested that the mission had been a success and that it was time to turn to a new foreign policy and to place a greater focus on domestic concerns.

A debate inside the Republican Party over Afghanistan, along with larger questions about American military engagement, has changed the political dynamic facing Mr. Obama as he prepares for re-election. He made clear that he would not be haunted, like many Democrats before him, by being cast as weak on national security. But he pledged to “chart a more centered course,” a phrase that could well serve as a metaphor for how he has sought to reset his presidency after Democrats were soundly defeated last fall.

Mr. Obama is benefiting from a confluence of factors — a rising strain of Republican isolationism, the killing of Osama bin Laden and deep concerns about spending and the deficit — which provide unexpected flexibility for dealing with Congress and selling his decision to the nation. He will test whether the post-Sept. 11 politics have changed enough to allow a Democratic president to wind down a war with little or no political peril.

“These long wars will come to a responsible end,” Mr. Obama said. “As they do, we must learn their lessons. Already this decade of war has caused many to question the nature of America’s engagement around the world.” […]

The aggressive posture adopted by the president, particularly in pulling out troops faster than Pentagon advisers recommended, could open a discussion in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail. Republicans now hold an array of positions, from the budget-minded focus of the Tea Party movement to the stay-the-course view of the party’s 2008 nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona, to other internationalist Republicans who fear the party has lost its way. […]

“It is time we move to a focused counterterror effort, which requires significantly fewer boots on the ground than the president discussed tonight,” Mr. Huntsman said. […]

Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster who has conducted focus groups to gauge public opinion of the war, said the multiple messages among Republicans would benefit Mr. Obama.

For Mr. Obama, his prime-time announcement was the latest in a series of defining moments in his presidency. Four years ago, in the early stage of his political rise, he positioned himself as a strong opponent of the Iraq war. After he took office, he began delivering on his pledge to end the war. But he chose to build up efforts in Afghanistan, infuriating many Democrats by sending 30,000 more troops.

On Wednesday night, the president found himself in a position where he could announce what has always been a priority of Democrats — and of Mr. Obama himself when he first took office: “America,” he said, “it is time to focus on nation-building here at home.” It is something that is surely going to help him with Democratic base voters who had been concerned that he had strayed too far from his promises since passing a new health care law.

Now the position is harder for Republicans to attack, since they, too, are describing the fighting in Afghanistan as an expense the country can no longer afford. […]

While predicting what will influence a presidential election is dicey more than a year in advance, the slow recovery and persistently high unemployment suggest that the 2012 election will be focused on the economy, not war. But the complicating dynamic for Mr. Obama is that the nearly decade-old war in Afghanistan has become an economic issue for many Americans. […]

Barring another major terrorist attack, Democrats say, Mr. Obama has to show at least a significant reduction in troops overseas by Election Day.

“Today’s announcement is a start, but not enough. Retaining most of our 100,000 troops in Afghanistan is simply delaying the inevitable,” said Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon. “Given the recent death of Osama bin Laden, our budgetary constraints and the questionable effectiveness of our nation-building efforts in Afghanistan, now is the time to begin a significant withdrawal of U.S. troops.”

 

Should Jon Huntsman Run as an Independent?


EJ Dionne: Or is Huntsman another David Cameron?

Here are the key questions about Jon Huntsman’s presidential candidacy: Is he the American version of David Cameron? And is the Republican Party ready for a Cameron moment?

What does a British prime minister have to do with the 2012 Republican primaries? If Huntsman is lucky, quite a lot. The British Conservative Party chose Cameron as its leader in 2005 because it was sick of losing elections and realized it could no longer present itself as an old, cranky, right-wing party. Cameron was Mr. Nice, Mr. Modern, Mr. Moderate and Mr. New. And now he’s in power.

It might be good for the GOP, but in my view, Huntsman has no shot in this GOP primary season unless a completely different electorate than the one we expect shows up. It’s one thing to trail in the polls, it’s another thing to trail (yawn) Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum. Two out of three “serious” candidates are in the process of being rejected by GOP voters. Soon enough, when it’s time to vote, we can stop pretending it’s not true.

The Republican Party needs a Cameron-style correction, and the country needs a less doctrinaire, less extreme and less angry GOP. Huntsman is betting that enough people who vote in the primaries believe this, too.

EJ is right. The question, however, is whether the GOP is ready for that.

This is from Gallup. The more GOP voters get to know Huntsman (and 34% now know who he is) the less they like him. I don’t see how that translates as a sudden surge of support, not with constant carping from the GOP noise machine:

Club for Growth was blunt in its assessment of Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman Jr. As governor of Utah, Mr. Huntsman compiled a “spending record that is inexcusable,” the small-government group said Wednesday.

 

Moody’s: Political Ad Revenue To Smash Records In 2012

 

No one ever said leading a radicalized, pathological political party in a time of multiple crises was easy.

Steve Benen:

[…] As of this morning, it appears the weeks of bipartisan debt-reduction talks are now dead. Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the leading House Republican in the talks, quit. Soon after, Minority Whip Jon Kyl, the leading Senate Republican negotiator, walked away, too.

But that’s just Phase One coming to an end. Phase Two will feature President Obama sitting down with House Speaker John Boehner’s court — and Boehner’s not especially happy about it. […]

It’s gone largely overlooked in recent weeks, but Republican leaders know there has to be a deal, but don’t necessarily want to be the one to strike the deal. National Journal reported recently that Boehner put Cantor in the room to give the Speaker some cover: “The debt deal must have Cantor’s fingerprints on it.”

But Cantor doesn’t want his fingerprints on a controversial measure, especially when he has the option of making Boehner do the hard work. Ezra Klein had a good post on this today. […]

Cantor seemed the most obvious choice [to cut a deal] because he has the most credibility with the Tea Party. But that very credibility with the Tea Party is why Cantor won’t cut the deal. They support him because he’s the guy who won’t cut the deal. He can’t sign off on tax increases without losing his power base. But if he’s able to throw it back to Boehner, and Boehner cuts the deal, that’s all good for Cantor: Boehner becomes weaker and Cantor becomes stronger. Which is why Boehner will also have trouble making this deal. It’ll mean he made the concessions that Cantor, the true conservative, didn’t. That’s not how he holds onto the gavel in this Republican Party.

If you had to write a plausible scenario for how America defaults on its debt, or at least seriously spooks the market, this is how it would start. After insisting on using the debt limit as leverage for a budget deal, the Republican leadership finds they can’t actually strike a deficit-reduction deal, but nor can they go back on their promise to vote against any increase in the debt limit that isn’t accompanied by a deficit-reduction deal. Cantor is putting personal power before country here, and in a very dangerous way.

Daniel Gross added, “And now John Boehner must decide if he wants to govern or be Speaker. In this climate, with his party, he can’t do both.”

Keep in mind, there’s no turning back. Boehner was inclined to do the right thing months ago, before he realized that his right-wing party wouldn’t tolerate it. Now he has to strike a deal that can pass, or his party will crash the economy on purpose. Those are the options.

 

Romney-Rubio in 2012? [I toldja so!]

Almost everyone agrees Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) will be on the ultimate Republican presidential nominee’s short list for vice president and Stephen Moore says his contacts in Mitt Romney’s campaign are boasting: “Doesn’t a Romney-Rubio ticket sound great?”

Said one senior Romney advisor: “We think that could be a dream ticket.”

Moore asked a close Rubio advisor what he thought of the idea of Rubio for veep. “I’ve heard that rumor too. But he may not think he’s ready yet,” the consultant said. But then he quickly added: “There’s always 2016.”

 

We Are Wisconsin is launching our first television ad of the recall campaigns

 

Mitt Romney’s backers quietly launch a super PAC to spend unlimited sums, another sign the GOP money establishment is putting its chips on Romney.

 

[Fat Pig Bully]Christie Mocks Protesters

After protesters were removed by security from a townhall event, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) noted, “Well, for those of you who are standing, there are some seats now available.”

Here’s the video:

 

POLLS

 

CHART OF THE DAY: New GOP Governors Tanking Nationwide

 

Poll: Americans unsure about Paul Ryan but sure about his plan

Bloomberg leads its latest poll with the news that Paul Ryan is polling worse than anyone in the Republican Party save Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin. Looking closer, that’s a bit misleading: A majority of Americans dislike Palin and Gingrich, and a majority are unsure what they think of Ryan. But they’re not unsure what they think of Ryan’s Medicare plan.

Bloomberg’s pollers asked this question in three different ways. First, they asked whether respondents were more worried that Republicans would take Congress and “implement their proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and many other domestic programs” or Democrats would hold onto power and “continue their current spending policies.” Republicans proved scarier by eight points. Then they asked about whether a proposal “to replace traditional Medicare so that individuals buy their own private insurance with the help of government subsidies” would make you better or worse off. Worse off led by 23 points. Then they asked whether knowing a Republican candidate “wants to change Medicare to a private pay system with government subsidies” would make him or her more or less attractive. Less attractive took it in a 14-point landslide. So whether you speak about the plan vaguely or specifically, whether you mention its Republican roots or not, it’s very, very unpopular.

Which perhaps explains why, elsewhere in the poll, the Democratic Party easily outpolls both the tea party and the Republican Party, and President Obama remains by far the most popular major political figure in the country. All in all, it’s not a very cheering survey for the GOP.

 

TIME Poll: 62% of Americans say the 14th Amendment should not be revised

 

POLL: Tea Party pandering could burn Florida GOP

 

Thanks, Dems: New poll finds rise in the number of Americans who prioritize the deficit over job creation

Greg Sargent:

I know you’re sick of hearing me say this. But today’s Pew poll offers some of the clearest evidence yet that Dems helped Republicans win the argument over the deficit and government spending by acquiescing to the GOP’s austerity/cut-cut-cut frame at the outset:

In terms of the public’s priorities for economic policy, more Americans (52%) say they would place a higher priority on reducing the budget deficit rather than on spending to help the economy recover. In February, opinion was more closely divided (49% reduce deficit vs. 46% spend to help the economy recover).

While there are wide ideological and partisan gaps on this issue, independents view deficit reduction as the higher priority. More than half of independents (54%) say this should be a higher priority for the federal government, compared with 39% who prioritize spending to help the economy recover.

This comes after yesterday’s Bloomberg poll found that the public broadly agrees with key GOP arguments: That deficit reduction is necessary to spur “economic confidence” (the “confidence fairy” argument) and that government regulation and taxes create “uncertainty” that harms job creation.

The key in today’s Pew poll, though, is that there’s been clear movement in the direction of prioritizing the deficit over spending to create jobs. The public was roughly divided on this question in February (49-46), but now the public prioritizes deficit reduction by 10 points (52-42).

As I noted here yesterday, there’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation going on here. Perhaps the polls are telling us that the public has internalized the idea that government is a drag on the economy and can’t create jobs — and that Dems were right to conclude early on that more spending would be too tough a sell. Or perhaps the polls show that Dems reinforced the GOP frame by effectively endorsing Republican arguments about the necessity of immediate deficit reduction. The fact that the Pew poll finds movement towards prioritizing deficit reduction would suggest that the latter interpretation has something to it — bipartisan prioritization of the deficit over job creation has led the public to place a higher priority on the deficit over job creation.

There does seem to be a real pivot towards jobs among Dems now, judging by their insistence that job-creation measures be included in the now-imperiled debt ceiling talks. But it’s hard not to look at these numbers and wonder what might have been if this pivot had occured much earlier — without the White House and Dems effectively endorsing conservative arguments about the economy at the outset.

 

Pew Research Center: Percentage of Americans who think economy will be better in a year falls, number thinking it will be worse rises

 

Pew Research Center: About as many approve (46%) as disapprove (45%) of Barack Obama’s performance as president.

 

SCOTUS

 

Supreme Court Hands Drug Companies Twin Wins

In one case, a First Amendment decision, the court, by a 6-to-3 vote, struck down a Vermont law that barred the buying, selling and profiling of doctors’ prescription records — records that pharmaceutical companies use to target doctors for particular pitches. And in a second, the court ruled 5 to 4 that the makers of generic drugs are immune from state lawsuits for failure to warn consumers about possible side effects as long as they copy the warnings on brand-name drugs.

The court’s decision in the Vermont case was a sweeping one, sending ripples that almost surely will go beyond the marketing of pharmaceuticals.

It also marked the court’s first excursion into data-mining — the practice of collecting and processing vast amounts of information.

The case arose in the context of federal and state regulations that require pharmacies to keep records of all doctors’ prescriptions. Pharmacies can, and do, sell those doctor prescription records to data-mining companies, with patient identifiers removed. And the data-mining companies, in turn, sell the information to drugmakers for use in targeting sales pitches at doctors, in an effort to get them to prescribe more brand-name drugs — drugs that are more expensive than generic drugs.

Background[…]

In a second win for the pharmaceutical industry, the high court ruled that generic drug manufacturers cannot be sued for failure to warn consumers about side effects as long as the generic drug labels track the labels on their brand-name counterparts. The five-justice majority acknowledged that its opinion creates a double standard, with users of brand names retaining the ability to sue, and users of generic drugs unable to sue for injuries resulting from inadequately labeled drugs.

Writing for the five-member court majority, Justice Clarence Thomas acknowledged that the decision dealt what he called an “unfortunate hand” that “makes little sense” to those who are harmed by generic drugs and are unable to sue. But the court nevertheless said that the federal law requiring generics to have the same warnings as their brand-name equivalents trumps state laws that require all drug manufacturers to provide warnings about side effects to consumers.

The decision could affect millions of Americans, given that three-quarters of all prescriptions dispensed in the United States are generics.

The court’s decision came in cases brought by two women, one in Minnesota and one in Louisiana. Each developed a neurological condition known as tardive dyskinesia as a result of taking a generic version of the drug Reglan for acid reflux. They sued the generic manufacturer under state laws, contending that the generic manufacturers had a duty to strengthen their warning labels as problems related to use of the generic became apparent. […]

Justice Sotomayor, writing for the four dissenters, said that as a result of the decision, “whether a consumer harmed by inadequate warnings can obtain relief turns solely on the happenstance of whether her pharmacist filled her prescription with a brand-name or generic drug.

“The court gets one thing right. This outcome makes ‘little sense’ “

MORE>>>

 

Rep. Louise Slaughter Calls On Justice Thomas To Explain Relationship With GOP Donor Harlan Crow

As ThinkProgress has chronicled at length, Justice Clarence Thomas is caught in a series of ethics scandals concerning his and his wife’s close relationships with major right-wing donors and organizations. A central figure in these scandals is real estate mogul Harlan Crow, a leading conservative donor who has provided several lavish gifts and other favors on Thomas and his family, including $500,000 to allow Thomas’s wife to start a Tea Party group and a $19,000 Bible that belonged to Frederick Douglass.

Today, Rep. Louise Slaugher (D-NY) became the first member of Congress to weigh in on the controversy with an e-mail calling upon Justice Thomas to explain the details of his relationship with Crow:

Despite the ethically questionable actions uncovered by the Times, Justice Thomas refuses to provide details about his relationship with Mr. Crow. The report from The New York Times is the latest in a long line of troubling actions taken by Justice Thomas, yet he refuses to share the necessary information to ensure that his service on the Supreme Court is fair and free from conflict of interest.

It is time we demand full answers from Justice Thomas.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that Justice Thomas failed to report six years worth of income from his wife’s work with the Heritage Foundation — a right-wing think tank that is often involved with issues that appear before for the Supreme Court.

It has also been revealed that Justice Thomas attended a Palm Springs retreat hosted by the Koch brothers — Republican donors who are among the main beneficiaries of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Citizens United.

Finally, despite his wife’s work with the group Liberty Central to oppose the Affordable Care Act, Justice Thomas has given no indication that he will recuse himself from any future case that may appear before the Supreme Court regarding the health care reform law.

Slaughter is also collecting online signatures for a petition demanding that Thomas reveal just what influence Crow has exerted over him.

 

Clarence Thomas Must Go

[…] As has been stated, Supreme Court Justices are exempt from following the judicial code of conduct, but Mr. Thomas’ behavior has been so egregious as to create a groundswell towards changing that. Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice recently penned an editorial for the Washington Post which argued:

The behavior of Supreme Court justices has come under increasing scrutiny. Questions have been raised, for instance, about the propriety of Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas appearing at political strategy conferences hosted by the conservative Koch brothers. Other justices’ activities have also prompted concerns that the line between justice and politics is increasingly blurred.

Regardless of whether one shares fears of politicization, disputes are inevitable so long as the nation’s highest court operates with almost no compulsory ethics rules to guide – or constrain – behavior. The Supreme Court, whose members are shielded with lifetime appointments, is the only entity in our government that is not subject to mandatory ethics requirements. That is why reformers are calling for the Code of Conduct that governs all other federal judges to apply to the justices. Surely it makes no sense to have lesser standards for the highest court than those in place for lower courts.

The Code of Conduct doesn’t frown on ideological activity but does prohibit political activity, and that’s where Scalia and Thomas crossed the line. The fact that they did so with seeming impunity demonstrates that voluntary adherence to ethical standards doesn’t always work. How to enforce such a code would be the hardest question, but there are options – possibilities include adjudication by other sitting justices, retired justices, lower court judges, the judicial conference or some combination of these. Exact methods could be explored in congressional hearings.

The bottom line is that if the judicial Code of Conduct becomes mandatory the number of events that would be placed off-limits is small. Meanwhile, the effect on the integrity of the court would be large. Some suspect this is an effort by progressives to tweak justices they don’t like. But the Supreme Court itself effectively answered that charge in 2009. In Caperton v. A.T. Massey Coal Co., a case that dealt with a West Virginia Supreme Court justice who ruled in favor of a corporation that had made large contributions to his campaign, the high court said that “codes of conduct serve to maintain the integrity of the judiciary and the rule of law.”

The lifetime appointment for a Supreme Court Justice is not set in stone, as Justice Abe Fortas found out to his woe forty years ago. Fortas, who was appointed to the bench by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, was found to have taken large sums of money from litigants who appeared before the high court, including Phillip Morris. After a second pay-for-play arrangement benefiting Fortas was discovered, he was forced to resign in disgrace. As Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress argues:

It is difficult to distinguish Fortas’ scandal from Thomas’. Like Fortas, Thomas accepted several very valuable gifts from parties who are frequently interested in the outcome of federal court cases. One of Thomas’ benefactors has even filed briefs in his Court since giving Thomas a $15,000 gift, and Thomas has not recused himself from each of these cases.

Of course, Thomas is also the least likely Justice to actually follow the command of precedent. Thomas embraces a discredited theory of the Constitution which would return America to a time when federal child labor laws were considered unconstitutional. His fellow justices criticize him for showing “utter disregard for our precedent and Congress’ intent.” Even ultra-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia finds Thomas’ approach to the law too extreme – in Scalia’s words, “I am a textualist. I am an originalist. I am not a nut.”

But Thomas’ disregard for what has come before him changes nothing about the precedent he faces. If Abe Fortas had to resign his seat, so too should Clarence Thomas.

MORE>>>


Supreme Court rules against Anna Nicole Smith heirs


Supreme Court Rules For Accused in Crime Lab Case

The Supreme Court says that the lab analyst who testifies at a criminal trial must be the one who performed or witnessed the lab tests in question, the latest decision bolstering the constitutional requirement that defendants be able to confront witnesses against them.

In a 5-4 decision Thursday, the court ruled in favor of a New Mexico man convicted of drunken driving who objected when the lab analyst who testified about lab tests had no role in performing them.

The ruling reversed a New Mexico Supreme Court decision in the state’s favor.

 

WEDGE ISSUES

 

Wisconsin on its way to defunding abortions

 

Conservatives who oppose legal gay marriage want Big Gov’t to continue imposing discriminatory vision

What’s really remarkable is that these self-described conservatives bemoaning this pending “government takeover” of marriage actively want government to continue imposing legalized descrimination on an institution that is currently not available to all citizens — simply because it comports with their definition of marriage. These self-described conservatives want government to continuing enforcing their discriminatory vision forever.

This is Albany, so you never know: At the last minute, the initiative could fail. But there’s no getting around it at this point: Opponents of gay marriage have simply run out of arguments. The American public is ready to embrace the inevitable. And the increasingly desperate opposition is destined to lose the larger war.

 

AND IN OTHER NEWS…


Dumpster diver says: Trader Joe’s must stop wasting food

For many years now, I have fed my family food from the dumpster. It’s not because I can’t afford to shop at grocery stores like other, normal folks. It’s because supermarkets across the nation toss perfectly good meats, cheeses, eggs, and produce into the trash every single day.

So I dumpster dive, which is exactly like it sounds: I jump into dumpsters, pull out not-yet-expired food, and bring it home to my family. Yes, you could say we eat trash—but it’s delicious! It used to be that nearly every meal we ate contained some “trash” in it, like a head of broccoli, fresh ahi tuna, or strawberries. With three kids and a busy life, it’s been harder to keep up the practice, but the food is there, waiting to be salvaged before being carted off to the landfill. Dumpster diving is the subject of a new documentary I made, Dive!, which will be released on July 19.

Grocery stores dumping their goods provide me with a free lunch, and the film was certainly a fun project. But the documentary showcases a huge problem—food waste. Every year in the United States, we throw away 96 billion pounds of food. That’s 263 million pounds a day, 11 million pounds an hour, 3,000 pounds per second!

All in all, Americans throw out a whopping one-half of the food we produce and import. This wastefulness coexists with a devastating recession and record numbers of Americans dependent on food stamps—one in eight of us, to be exact. Our propensity to waste has now reached beyond our means to do so, and yet we keep up the bad habit even while our neighbors go hungry.

As for the environmental impacts, a 2009 study found that food waste in our country accounts for 300 million barrels of oil and 25 percent of our freshwater supply every year. That oil and water are used to produce food that winds up in landfills, rots, and produces methane, a greenhouse gas 24 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And if you know anything about meat production, genetically modified crops, pesticides, soil degradation, and global warming, you undoubtedly have an unsettling picture of how destructive wasting food is—because you know how destructive producing it is.

Supermarkets stand out as some of the country’s worst offenders, but you wouldn’t know it because they don’t have to report their food waste. Most of the major chains crush their garbage in giant, bus-sized compactors, making it impossible to dive in for a late-night snack.

Some of the smaller stores, however, ditch perfectly edible food into dumpsters. The one I’m most familiar with is Trader Joe’s since it is, as the company’s motto says, my “friendly neighborhood store.” On many nights, my friends and I have filled cars with bags and bags of sprouted-wheat Ezekiel bread, fresh loaves of sourdough, packages of baby lettuce, cartons of eggs, whole chickens, and even a 12-pack of Irish Stout with only one broken bottle.

I enjoyed the fruits of my labor (literally), but think of how many hungry people could have benefited from that food if Trader Joe’s donated it instead of throwing it away. It’s why I started a campaign on Change.org asking Trader Joe’s to adopt a company-wide policy to end food waste at all of its 350+ stores. I hope you’ll join the more than 30,000 people who have already signed my petition.

You see, Trader Joe’s and countless other supermarket chains don’t need to throw out all that food. Rather than ditching soon-to-expire goods, stores could donate food to local charities, homeless shelters, and food pantries. In fact, some individual stores are already doing this.

In many respects, Trader Joe’s is better than most grocery chains out there, and that’s part of the reason I’m starting my food-waste campaign with them. It seems appropriate to start with a company that people assume is already doing the right thing. Trader Joe’s needs to take a leadership role on food waste. If it does, my hope is that other national chains—like Whole Foods, Von’s, and Safeway—will follow suit.

People are literally aching from hunger in our country. The soil and air are gasping and withering, good water is disappearing. Food waste is a serious issue, an issue of ethics and justice that can no longer be ignored.

As we knock on Trader Joe’s door and gradually move on to other grocery chains with far worse practices, we must also visit our own kitchens and learn what it means to value food and one another. Household food waste can cost nearly $600 a year—a damning statistic that shows how we’re all part of this culture of consumerism and waste.

This is something that we can change in our lifetime. Imagine a world of empty dumpsters, good food in full bellies, and regular people leading sustainable lives. We can make it happen.


TAKE ACTION


Marching on the White House to Protest Keystone XL

Back in September, the writer and climate activist Bill McKibben joined with other leaders in the environmental community in a call for ideas on direct actions the climate movement could take to jostle Americans into caring about climate change. Now he’s inviting like-minded people to come to Washington in mid-August for a protest against the Keystone XL pipeline, which will bring tar sands oil from Canada to Texas oil refineries. McKibben explains:

[T]he Keystone Pipeline would also be a fifteen hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet, the one place to which we are all indigenous.

How much carbon lies in the recoverable tar sands of Alberta? A recent calculation from some of our foremost scientists puts the figure at about 200 parts per million…As the climatologist Jim Hansen (one of the signatories to this letter) explained, if we have any chance of getting back to a stable climate “the principal requirement is that coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground.”

Protests in Washington haven’t had much of an impact in recent years, but it does sound like this one will strike a different note. It won’t be a one-day party: McKibben says he and the other organizers plan on continuing the protest for “several weeks, till the administration understands we won’t go away.” He asks people to dress “as if for a business meeting.” He also warns anyone look for a “smash up” to stay away.

Yesterday, I was cranky about Al Gore’s newest piece on climate change, and I suggested that there must be something else he could do. And actually, I think one of the more powerful things he could do at this point would be to join this protest. Imagine Al Gore marching on—getting arrested in front of—the White House where he once served and once hoped to sit in as president. I think that image could have an impact. Half of the country did once vote for him, after all.

 

Maine voters push to repeal restrictions on voting rights


JOIN THE “REBUILD THE DREAM” MOVEMENT

“The slogan was never ‘Yes, HE can, it was “Yes, WE can.’ ”

In the coming weeks, people all across the country will come together for American Dream house meetings. Let’s talk about what a new American Dream looks like and commit to stand together to make it happen.

Find an American Dream house meeting near you. We want YOU to be part of this movement, from the very beginning.

 

Millionaires should pay their fair share! 151 groups call on Congress to pass Fairness in Taxation Act


8,000 Protest NJ bill

The New Jersey Assembly passed landmark legislation Thursday that requires public employees to pay sharply more for pension and health benefits, driving a wedge through the Democratic caucus that controls the chamber but was deeply divided on the bill. […]

About 8,000 union protesters jammed the street outside the Capitol before debate got under way. It was their third Statehouse rally since the bill was introduced 10 days ago. On Thursday, they staged a New Orleans-style funeral procession, complete with a brass band and a black hearse with a sign draped on it reading “The Soul of Democratic Party.”

“We’re going to keep fighting,” said Andrea Rastello, who teaches second grade in Wayne. “We are dedicated in our opposition, but we’re going to have to make a lot of sacrifices in our families.”

Rastello said she has already started looking for tutoring jobs to augment her income, and she will have to scramble to find family members to replace paid child care once she’s forced to pay more for benefits.

Most Democrats opposed the bill because it imposes new health care contributions on a half-million government workers through legislation and suspends collective bargaining over health benefits. Opponents called the bill union-bashing; proponents insist higher contributions from workers are needed to shore up the state’s retirement systems, which are underfunded by $110 billion. The bill is meant to bring public employee benefits more in line with the private sector, then restore bargaining after a four-year hiatus.

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do.

– Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart

 

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.

15 Responses so far.

Click here to leave a comment
  1. cher, I too really appreciate you posting Marsha Linehan’s story. It IS a sad thing that so many suffering from mental illness are afraid to talk about it in front of others, who are not therapists. Even in the 21st century, there is still a real stigma attached to mental illness. America is a country that really has no time for sick people, except those in the medical field. American “ideals,” of strength and perfect health, hard work and the extreme emphasis on “success,” shuns those who somehow don’t measure up. I am speaking in general and realize that not all Americans feel this way, but being #1, being a winner, climbing the corporate ladders and reaching for the very top and a disdain for losing and “losers,” is hammered home again and again starting at a very early age in our schools, homes and society in general.
    To admit a mental illness far too often is mistaken for weakness and being somehow less than others who do not suffer from such illnesses. When others know you are sick, even a physical sickness, they look at you differently than they do healthy individuals. But this is especially true of mental illness. So many people go untreated and DO commit suicide because that at one point in their lives, it seems better than being seen as “crazy,”, or “mentally weak.” It’s the old bootstrap mentality, that one really should pull one’s self up by their bootstraps and get on with their lives. But for thousands and thousands of people, they have no boots, let alone bootstraps. Mental illness is one of the worst illnesses a person can have. This is one very big reason that a lot of returning veterans do not seek psychiatric help. They feel, and in someways are trained to feel that such help indicates a weakness in their character.
    I say bless Dr. Linehan for undertaking the work that she does, and for finding ways to continue living and thriving.

  2. kesmarn says:

    Cher, thanks so much for posting the article on Marsha Linehan and her bravery in “coming out” about her suicidal past. God bless her.

    There have been two attempted and two “successful” suicides in my family, all under different circumstances. Like many of us on the Planet, Lord knows, I’ve had my own dark and/or panicky days. The abyss never seems so terribly far away, even after years of working at achieving equilibrium.

    I think Linehan’s on to something with her “radical acceptance,” combined with behavioral adjustments. I think it helps when therapists deeply care about their clients, too.

    I’d also love to hear more about that golden moment in the Chicago chapel…

  3. ADONAI says:

    1.) O.K., so we don’t default on our debts. We raise the debt ceiling. Again. How long we gonna keep doing that? I can’t believe that isn’t going to lead to problems just as bad. Either way we’re not actually addressing the debt issue. China owns less than 3% of our debt. I still don’t understand why everyone is afraid of them. Let them call ti in. Not like we couldn’t pay it. See, that’s my point. We CAN pay this. We just won’t until we’re forced to.

    2.)“President Obama needs to decide between his goal of higher taxes or a bipartisan plan to address our deficit,’ the duo said in a joint statement. “He can’t have both.”

    Here is our problem. We can’ really address deficit issues UNTIL we raise taxes. On the upper AND middle class. Permanent on the former and temporary on the latter. But many Democrats won’t support a middle class tax increase. So we’ll get a compromise that destroys tons of programs people rely on to survive and call it a victory.

    3.)This whole country is just prisons and churches.

    4.)Manufacturing jobs are disappearing yet manufacturing output is rising. WTF?!

    5.)Release all the “strategic oil” you want. You’re only delaying the inevitable. But fixing it would cost too much money. Money better spent arming people who hate us.

    6.)Speaking of wasting money, open the border. “immigration reform” is a pipe dream. You tell someone watching their family starve to wait in a line. You tell someone running from hit squads to chill and fill out the paperwork. We do not own this land, we are merely it’s caretakers. It’s wealth should be available to anyone who wants to contribute. You wanna stabilize Medicare and SS for the next 100 years or more? Open the border.

    7.)2014 is all I care about. Promising to take a year to remove the troops you just sent there last year does not excite me. I’m gonna go ahead and say that 2014 comes and goes and we’re still there. Most of what he is removing is non combat troops. Combat troops are staying.

    8.)We could literally feed the world. Unfortunately there’s no profit in it. Thank GOD technology will soon change all that. In the coming decades we will be on the cusp of a great technological boom, and the nature of the world will change drastically. I hope we make it that far.

    • KQuark says:

      AD you still keep on making the debt ceiling sound like running deficits. The money needed to increase the debt ceiling has already been budgeted. Not raising the debt ceiling is like defaulting on your mortgage. Then expecting to squat in your home and ask for new home financing the next day.

      It’s not about being afraid of China. It’s about paying much higher interest rates for the debt we need in the future.

    • SallyT says:

      Adonai, here is an article by Ellen Brown. She is President of the Public Banking Institute. She explains why the debt is not a bad thing but we should turn the debt into a Public Utility. Read it, it is very interesting and educational. I think you will find it that way.

      http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=24516

      Let me know what you think.

      • ADONAI says:

        Thanks Sally! I have read other articles similar to this one. And we have pretty much always operated at a loss. Sometimes you get so bogged down in current economic talk you don’t really think of the past.

        I’ve always thought and always said America will be just fine. Articles like this make me even more confident of that fact. Spending is what we do. It keeps our economy going, increases it’s size, and is basically the instrument behind our entire economic system.

        But I do worry a little about the future. She said Japan’s key was taking quality of life over quantity of goods. I don’ think we’d make that choice. I believe we think our quality of life is based on our quantity of goods. I think we can make our debt work for us but I am just as confident we an screw that up too. But I think we’ll be o.k. in the long term.

        Thanks again for the article. It was very educational. :)

        • SallyT says:

          Adonai, I know, we are to much into quantity. But, maybe through all this we might learn quality is better. With my illness I have learned that. We have much less now but we have so much more, too.

          How about the national bank and paying interest to ourselves? My state, Oregon, is looking into having its own state bank. Some people are misinformed and thinks that means each state would have its on currency but that isn’t it at all. Your state bank loans to your state’s businesses and citizens only and pays interest back to itself. ND has done that and is doing very well. A way to get away from the big banks.

          Anyway, thanks for getting back to me. I am glad you found it interesting.

  4. Khirad says:

    The mental health one resonated. I live with those figurative and literal scars too. That’s all I’m gonna say ’bout that. Taboos and all.

  5. agrippa says:

    This is long, but it is a tour de force.

    It fits the state of american politics!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGBXA1tBiLw&feature=related

    Totentanz / dies irae

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Agrippa, I started to watch it and then my wireless router (if that’s what you call that thing) keeps going off and I lose my connection. But I will try to get back to that once we figure out the problem. Thanks!

  6. agrippa says:

    “does not work well with others” basically describes the GOP


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