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[...]But Cuban is also proving somewhat prophetic in a much more unsettling way. In the spring of last year, only three days after the harrowing May 6 “Flash Crash” that temporarily plunged the Dow Jones Industrial Average more than 1,000 points within minutes, he wrote a blog post that seems chilling today. He titled it, “What Business is Wall Street In?” And toward the end, he wrote in bold,”There will be another crash.”
Granted, there are a lot of doomsayers out there. But Cuban is not that. He’s a successful businessman — he sold his Internet start-up in 1999 for $5.9 billion in Yahoo! stock — and he says he’s been involved in the stock market for the better part of a decade. But what makes his post stand out even more is that he named a specific reason for the predicted “crash” — professional traders.
“The only people who know what business Wall Street is in are the traders,” Cuban wrote on May 9, 2010. “They know what business Wall Street is in better than everyone else. To traders, whether day traders or high frequency or somewhere in between, Wall Street has nothing to do with creating capital for businesses, its original goal. Wall Street is a platform. It’s a platform to be exploited by every technological and intellectual means possible.” […]
Cuban went on to make another point, about how entire nations are now bought and sold within seconds and even nanoseconds:
“It’s hard to believe,” he wrote, “but evaluating countries as an investment is now easier than evaluating companies.”
Lo and behold, the current malaise on Wall Street is tied not to the earnings of public companies — which are largely strong — but to the debt load of national economies.
But Cuban came back again to the traders, whom he called “hackers” because, he said, they look for weaknesses in the system to exploit for short-term gain.
“The Government needs to create incentives for this business,” he wrote, “and extract compensation from the traders/hackers for the systemic failure level of risk they introduce.”
He concluded again in bold text with a scary forecast that, although not completely unique to him, now looks more and more accurate:
“There will be another crash, because there are too many players looking for the trillion dollar score.”
As of this writing, the Dow Jones sits at 10,719, within 200 points of the 10,520 price at the close of trading on May 6, 2010, the day of the Flash Crash. The Dow has dropped almost exactly 2,000 points in the last month.
Christopher Hayes, The Nation:
[…] Given what a close call it was for those on that top deck, you would think the most important lesson they would take away from the near miss is this: you ignore the fate of those on the bottom deck at your peril. An economy divided into “subprime” and “prime” is dangerously precarious. The predations tolerated in the former will, sooner or later, come to wreak havoc on those who inhabit the latter.
And yet, astonishingly, four years later this lesson has gone almost entirely unheeded. Our governing institutions responded with nearly unprecedented swiftness and force to save, and then revive, the pillars of the prime economy—the banks and corporate America. Yet they are leaving the subprime economy to fend for itself, to suffer through the worst privation in seventy years. “If your personal wealth is predominantly in capital markets,” says Damon Silvers, a lawyer at the AFL-CIO who served on the TARP Congressional Oversight Panel, “well, then, you had a hell of a scare, but you’re 70 percent of the way back to where you were in 2007. If your personal wealth is predominantly in your home, you’re fucked. And approximately 80 percent of people in the US, their only asset is in their home.”
The bet that those who run the prime economy are making is the same one they made during the years that preceded the crash: that they can continue to profit enormously even as the broader economy fails to deliver for the majority of its participants. The last time around, this produced a housing and credit bubble that ended in ruin and almost took the financial elite with it. It’s very difficult to imagine this latest iteration producing a better result.
In fact, it was precisely this ominous thought that largely drove the panicked August selling on Wall Street. Even financial markets and the investor class are waking up to the fact that there’s only so much that corporate profits can grow if American consumers don’t have jobs or assets and are still neck deep in debt. Much as they may wish to finally and definitively detach the prime economy from the subprime one, the two remain stubbornly tethered.
The market panic was the first inkling of what, for our elites, is a long-overdue realization, one they’ve done everything in their considerable power to avoid in the postcrisis age: that extreme inequality isn’t just bad for those on the bottom; in the long run, it’s ruinous for those on the top as well.
Yesterday a member of the S&P credit rating board said for the first time that politicians suggesting a temporary US default might not be so bad was a key reason in itself for the S&P’s downgrade of US debt. In response congressional Republicans are today pressing the point that they never doubted the seriousness of the US going into default. And some other publications are accepting that claim at face value. But there are actually numerous examples of top congressional Republicans openly doubting whether a temporary US default would really be such a big deal.
Standard & Poors has a specific justification fordowngrading the U.S. bond rating, and it’s deadly for Republicans. It wasn’t just that Congress showed itself to be reckless and dysfunctional, or that the GOP shows no sign of ever ending their anti-tax jihad. It’s that for a period of weeks, some lawmakers (read: Republicans) were quite literally shrugging off the risks of blowing past the August 2 deadline, running out of borrowing authority, and missing payment obligations.
“[P]eople in the political arena were even talking about a potential default,” said Joydeep Mukherji, senior directior at S&P. “That a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable,” he added. “This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns.”
This is unambiguous, and leaves little room for obfuscation. S&P’s original, lengthy statement explaining the downgrade cited political dysfunction in Congress quite broadly, but did not mention this specific element of the debate. For weeks, high-profile conservative lawmakers practically welcomed the notion of exhausting the country’s borrowing authority, or even technically defaulting. Others brazenly dismissed the risks of doing so. And for a period of days, in an earlier stage of the debate, Republican leaders said technical default would be an acceptable consequence, if it meant the GOP walked away with massive entitlement cuts in the end.
Of course, that doesn’t mean the GOP won’t try to sweep the mess they’ve made down the memory hole. Here’s Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), who sponsored legislation that would’ve forced the Treasury to prioritize interest payments on U.S. debt in the event of a lapse in borrowing authority. “No one said that would be acceptable,” he said of a default. “What we said was in the event of a deadlock it was imperative that bondholders retain their confidence that loans made to the United States be repaid on schedule.”
That may be true for McClintock. Others were much more relaxed about the consequences of ignoring the August 2 deadline.
House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan said if “a bondholder misses a payment for a day or two or three or four,” it’s preferable so long as “you’re putting the government in a materially better position to be able to pay their bonds later on.” (Video below)
Ryan and others, including Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), were echoing hedge-fund manager Stanley Druckenmiller, who was quoted in a widely cited Wall Street Journal article. Here’s Toomey: “The most high-profile advocate for this was Stanley Druckenmiller … one of the world’s most successful hedge-fund managers, extraordinarily wealthy from his knowledge of the markets, a big money manager now, and a big holder of Treasury securities — and he has said that he would actually accept even a delay in interest payments on the Treasuries that he holds. And he would prefer that if it meant that the Congress would right this ship.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) warned against default, but for a time was willing to go past August 2.
“The markets are not fooled by some date imposed to say that that is the trigger for the collapse,” he said at a Virginia jobs forum in May. “I think the markets are looking to see that there is real reform.”
The People’s View:
[…] On Tuesday, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced a $28.8 million grant under health reform to establish new community health center access points that will serve an additional 286,000 patients in 67 communities. These grants are not to build new CHC’s but to build new access points of existing community centers that already serve underprivileged communities. A full list of awardees is available here.
The grants will eventually be expanded to 350 new centers and $250 million. The National Association of Community Health Centers pointed out in their press release about these grants that CHCs do not simply provide access to quality health care, but also to jobs for hard-hit communities:
“We deeply appreciate today’s announcement by HHS, which comes as we celebrate National Health Center Week,” said Tom Van Coverden, President and CEO of the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC)… [T]his announcement does mean that we can continue to bring quality, cost-saving primary care services to more communities that are ready and waiting to serve patients… Additionally, health centers bring valuable jobs to hard-hit communities across the country. Investing in health centers is a good prescription for both our nation’s health and the economy.”
The NACHC also points out the incredibly good investment that community health centers are both for health care and economically:
- Health centers bring a unique, comprehensive approach that has delivered proven cost-savings, improved patient health and reduced visits to hospital emergency rooms for over 45 years;
- Today, health centers generate $24 billion in annual savings to the health care system, and every dollar invested in health centers generates $11.50 in potential savings; and,
- Health centers employ 190,000 Americans and generate $20 billion in annual economic activity for poor rural and urban communities.
President Obama issued a proclamation for National Health Center Week, highlighting the investments his administration has made in health centers, both in the Recovery Act and in health reform. Here are a few other highlights of what is happening in community health care thanks to health reform:
- $727 million in CHC grants for centers across the country to expand services to 745,000 additional underserved patients to 143 locations across the country. October 2010.
- Secretary Sebelius made $335 million available for community health centers to expand services to provide more comprehensive care in mental health, behavioral health, pharmacy, vision and enabling services (i.e. transportation, financial counseling, language, education, case management services that help patients access care and make sense of the system). October 2010.
- A $95 million investment in 278 school based health centers, expanding their current capacity of about 800,000 by over 50%, or an additional 440,000. July 2011.
In addition to the $11 billion that is provided in the Affordable Care Act ($1.5 billion for major construction and renovation projects at existing centers and $9.5 billion for expansion and medical services), the Recovery Act made another $2 billion investment in health centers.
As I had pointed out on multiple occasions during the health reform debate, the total capacity of community health centers, when health reform is fully implemented, will for the first time ever exceed the total number of uninsured. That has real implications. This means even those who cannot obtain insurance even with health reform will still be able to get health care - all of them. In fact, if you factor this in, it’s the community health centers that will fulfill the age old progressive mission of health care for all. Additionally, the extra capacity will mean that CHC’s will be able to see patients who have the ability to pay and have insurance, thereby setting up direct competition with the for-profit provider industry.
I simply cannot emphasize the importance of the health centers enough. Presidents after presidents and Congresses after Congresses have talked about providing access to quality health care for everyone. Health reform, with CHCs an integral and essential part, might actually finally get us close to that. This is no small feat.
Finally, let us all remember something Speaker Pelosi said on the passage of health reform: we could not have been here without the leadership of President Obama. We could not be expanding access to community health centers and building new centers and expanding the range of services they offer without the leadership of President Obama. When everyone wanted to give up -- and some wanted to tear down -- President Obama insisted that we get it done. Not for political expediency but for the common good. Not for point-scoring but for the lives that community health centers save, for the people who are priced out of the market and for the caring principle that in America, health care is a right.
[…] The Affordable Care Act is heading to the Supreme Court. The ruling, which declared the individual mandate unconstitutional but the rest of the law constitutional, makes it somewhat easier for the Supreme Court to overturn the individual mandate, as there’s now plenty of precedent for that, and somewhat harder for them to overturn the whole law, as that would be a very radical move. But either way, it makes it necessary for them to weigh in.
If they decide to follow the 11th Circuit Court and strike the mandate without touching the rest of the law, they will have effectively thrown the law back into Congress’s lap. Congress will then be left with three options:
Do nothing: If Congress neither repeals nor repairs the law, it will simply limp along, covering fewer people at a higher cost. Health economist Jon Gruber estimated that under this scenario, the law will “cover fewer than 7 million people in 2019 rather than the 32 million projected to be newly covered. … Federal spending, however, would decline by only about a quarter under this scenario since the sickest and most costly uninsured are the ones most likely to gain coverage under the Affordable Care Act.” The irony of this outcome is that the law would look more like Obama’s campaign proposal, which did not include an individual mandate.
Repair: The individual mandate isn’t specifically necessary for the bill to work. But there needs to be something to discourage free riding and make sure there’s a mixture of healthy and sick, young and old, signing up for insurance. A recent report (pdf) from the Government Accountability Office laid out a number of possible alternatives, including open enrollment periods combined withpenalties for late enrollment, as we see in Medicare’s prescription drug benefit; autoenrollment through workplaces; conditioning other government services on proof of health coverage; a tax to pay for uncompensated care, and more. Another option would be to strengthen the state waiver program and allow states to implement whatever fix they deem appropriate, ranging from an individual mandate of their own to nothing at all.
Repeal: If there’s no law, there’s no need for an individual mandate.
Congress’s decision will most likely be governed by its composition. If a Republican wins the presidency in 2012 and Republicans take the Senate, repeal, or at least a radical scaling back of the bill, becomes a virtual certainty. If President Obama wins reelection and Democrats take hold the Senate and make gains in the House, some sort of fix is plausible, if not assured. But in a world of divided government, the likeliest outcome is that we don’t do anything. At least for now.
Instead, both parties wait until 2014, when the law goes into effect, and hope that the problems created by the absence of an individual mandate — or some alternative to the individual mandate — puts pressure on the other to buckle. That’s not a very good way to make policy, but it’s the path of least compromise, which seems to be Congress’s preferred roadway in recent years.
This analysis, by the way, extends beyond just the individual mandate. Even if the Supreme Court upholds the law in its entirety, there will be policies that work and deserve expansion and policies that fail and require removal. No sweeping legislation survives first contact with reality unscathed, and the Affordable Care Act will be no different. If the law is to be successful, Congress is going to have to be willing to revise, rework and reform it over time. If Republicans refuse to allow such updates, but also find themselves unable to muster the votes for repeal, we will be stuck with a policy that is never quite allowed to succeed and never quite forced to fail.
Voice of America:
The governor of of Arizona has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that blocked key provisions of the state’s immigration enforcement law.
Governor Jan Brewer appealed to the nation’s highest court Wednesday after a lower court barred certain provisions of the law she signed last year. Those include requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone they questioned or detained and suspected of being in the country illegally.
Brewer says Arizona faces the most problems caused by illegal immigration, and that federal authorities have not done enough to enforce immigration laws along the state’s border with Mexico.
Opponents of the law say it is unfair and could lead to racial profiling.
The lower court decision sided with the Obama administration, which says the measure is unconstitutional and that only the federal government has the power to enforce immigration laws.
The Supreme Court must choose whether to accept the case, and will likely decide after it begins its new term in October.
Barbara Ehrenreich, Mother Jones:
How the Safety Net Became a Dragnet
The most shocking thing I learned from my research on the fate of the working poor in the recession was the extent to which poverty has indeed been criminalized in America.
Perhaps the constant suspicions of drug use and theft that I encountered in low-wage workplaces should have alerted me to the fact that, when you leave the relative safety of the middle class, you might as well have given up your citizenship and taken residence in a hostile nation.
Most cities, for example, have ordinances designed to drive the destitute off the streets by outlawing such necessary activities of daily life as sitting, loitering, sleeping, or lying down. Urban officials boast that there is nothing discriminatory about such laws: “If you’re lying on a sidewalk, whether you’re homeless or a millionaire, you’re in violation of the ordinance,” a St. Petersburg, Florida, city attorney stated in June 2009, echoing Anatole France’s immortal observation that “the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges…”
In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalization of poverty has actually intensified as the weakened economy generates ever more poverty. So concludes a recent study from the National Law Center on Poverty and Homelessness, which finds that the number of ordinances against the publicly poor has been rising since 2006, along with the harassment of the poor for more “neutral” infractions like jaywalking, littering, or carrying an open container.
The report lists America’s 10 “meanest” cities—the largest of which include Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Orlando—but new contestants are springing up every day. In Colorado, Grand Junction’s city council is considering a ban on begging; Tempe, Arizona, carried out a four-day crackdown on the indigent at the end of June. And how do you know when someone is indigent? As a Las Vegas statute puts it, “an indigent person is a person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive” public assistance.
That could be me before the blow-drying and eyeliner, and it’s definitely Al Szekeley at any time of day. A grizzled 62-year-old, he inhabits a wheelchair and is often found on G Street in Washington, DC—the city that is ultimately responsible for the bullet he took in the spine in Phu Bai, Vietnam, in 1972.
He had been enjoying the luxury of an indoor bed until December 2008, when the police swept through the shelter in the middle of the night looking for men with outstanding warrants. It turned out that Szekeley, who is an ordained minister and does not drink, do drugs, or cuss in front of ladies, did indeed have one—for “criminal trespassing,” as sleeping on the streets is sometimes defined by the law. So he was dragged out of the shelter and put in jail.
“Can you imagine?” asked Eric Sheptock, the homeless advocate (himself a shelter resident) who introduced me to Szekeley. “They arrested a homeless man in a shelter for being homeless?”
The viciousness of the official animus toward the indigent can be breathtaking. A few years ago, a group called Food Not Bombs started handing out free vegan food to hungry people in public parks around the nation. A number of cities, led by Las Vegas, passed ordinances forbidding the sharing of food with the indigent in public places, leading to the arrests of several middle-aged white vegans.
One anti-sharing law was just overturned in Orlando, but the war on illicit generosity continues. Orlando is appealing the decision, and Middletown, Connecticut, is in the midst of a crackdown. More recently, Gainesville, Florida, began enforcing a rule limiting the number of meals that soup kitchens may serve to 130 people in one day, and Phoenix has been using zoning laws to stop a local church from serving breakfast to homeless people.
For the not-yet-homeless, there are two main paths to criminalization, and one is debt. Anyone can fall into debt, and although we pride ourselves on the abolition of debtors’ prison, in at least one state, Texas, people who can’t pay fines for things like expired inspection stickers may be made to “sit out their tickets” in jail.
More commonly, the path to prison begins when one of your creditors has a court summons issued for you, which you fail to honor for one reason or another, such as that your address has changed and you never received it. Okay, now you’re in “contempt of the court.”
Or suppose you miss a payment and your car insurance lapses, and then you’re stopped for something like a broken headlight (about $130 for the bulb alone). Now, depending on the state, you may have your car impounded and/or face a steep fine—again, exposing you to a possible court summons. “There’s just no end to it once the cycle starts,” says Robert Solomon of Yale Law School. “It just keeps accelerating.”
The second—and by far the most reliable—way to be criminalized by poverty is to have the wrong color skin. Indignation runs high when a celebrity professor succumbs to racial profiling, but whole communities are effectively “profiled” for the suspicious combination of being both dark-skinned and poor. Flick a cigarette and you’re “littering”; wear the wrong color T-shirt and you’re displaying gang allegiance. Just strolling around in a dodgy neighborhood can mark you as a potential suspect. And don’t get grumpy about it or you could be “resisting arrest.”
In what has become a familiar pattern, the government defunds services that might help the poor while ramping up law enforcement. Shut down public housing, then make it a crime to be homeless. Generate no public-sector jobs, then penalize people for falling into debt. The experience of the poor, and especially poor people of color, comes to resemble that of a rat in a cage scrambling to avoid erratically administered electric shocks. And if you should try to escape this nightmare reality into a brief, drug-induced high, it’s “gotcha” all over again, because that of course is illegal too.
One result is our staggering level of incarceration, the highest in the world. Today, exactly the same number of Americans—2.3 million—reside in prison as in public housing. And what public housing remains has become ever more prison-like, with random police sweeps and, in a growing number of cities, proposed drug tests for residents. The safety net, or what remains of it, has been transformed into a dragnet.
It is not clear whether economic hard times will finally force us to break the mad cycle of poverty and punishment. With even the official level of poverty increasing—to over 14 percent in 2010—some states are beginning to ease up on the criminalization of poverty, using alternative sentencing methods, shortening probation, and reducing the number of people locked up for technical violations like missing court appointments. But others, diabolically enough, are tightening the screws: not only increasing the number of “crimes,” but charging prisoners for their room and board, guaranteeing they’ll be released with potentially criminalizing levels of debt.
So what is the solution to the poverty of so many of America’s working people? Ten years ago, when Nickel and Dimed first came out, I often responded with the standard liberal wish list—a higher minimum wage, universal health care, affordable housing, good schools, reliable public transportation, and all the other things we, uniquely among the developed nations, have neglected to do.
Today, the answer seems both more modest and more challenging: If we want to reduce poverty, we have to stop doing the things that make people poor and keep them that way. Stop underpaying people for the jobs they do. Stop treating working people as potential criminals and let them have the right to organize for better wages and working conditions.
Stop the institutional harassment of those who turn to the government for help or find themselves destitute in the streets. Maybe, as so many Americans seem to believe today, we can’t afford the kinds of public programs that would genuinely alleviate poverty—though I would argue otherwise. But at least we should decide, as a bare minimum principle, to stop kicking people when they’re down.
The Republican obstruction of President Obama’s judicial nominees could reshape the federal courts for a generation.
It’s not just that Obama has the lowest judicial confirmation rate of any president in the last forty years, or that many of the more than one hundred vacancies have been classified as judicial emergencies. It’s that of the judges Obama has confirmed, few of them are young, which means that they’ll need to be replaced sooner rather than later. As Emily Bazelon wrote last week, “Republicans have appointed 41 federal appellate judges under age 45 to the Democrats’ 10. Bush placed 13 judges in this group. Obama, so far, has zero.”
This leaves Democrats with a shallow bench for picking future Supreme Court nominees. But that is the least of the problem. With economic growth weak, and the president having no better than an even shot at being reelected, it’s very possible that the judiciary, which is already skewing right because of Bush’s eight years in office, might end up getting pushed further in a conservative direction. Not just by the vacancies that remain, but by the ones that will occur as a result of the Obama administration failing to get young judges confirmed.
If Bush v. Gore didn’t convinced liberals of the importance of the judiciary, the legal precariousness of the Affordable Care Act should get liberals to wake up about its importance. But as Jonathan Bernstein points out, the Obama administration has shown little appetite for a fight over judicial nominations, and has even failed to put forth enough nominees for the vacancies that remain.
Most of the time, we’re focused on elections as determinative of important political outcomes. But political majorities are fleeting, and judges are lifetime appointments. The American system has a built-in status quo bias that makes big changes difficult to achieve. However, if Republican obstruction and administration indifference continue, the conservative domination of the federal bench could dramatically alter the country for years to come.
A northeastern Pennsylvania judge was ordered Thursday to spend nearly three decades in prison for his role in a massive bribery scandal that prompted the state’s high court to toss thousands of juvenile convictions and left lasting scars on the children who appeared in his courtroom and their hapless families.
Former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. was sentenced to 28 years in federal prison for taking a $1 million bribe from the builder of a pair of juvenile detention centers in a case that became known as “kids for cash.”
Ciavarella, who denied locking up youths for money, had no reaction as the sentence was announced. From the gallery, which was crowded with family members of some of the children he incarcerated, someone shouted “Woo hoo!”
In the wake of the scandal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned about 4,000 convictions issued by Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008, saying he violated the constitutional rights of the juveniles, including the right to legal counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea. […]
In court, Zubrod said Ciavarella had “verbally abused and cruelly mocked children he sent away after violating their rights.” He called the ex-judge “vicious and mean-spirited” and asked U.S. District Judge Edwin M. Kosik to punish Ciavarella’s “profound evil” with a life sentence.
“The criminal justice system (in Luzerne County) is ruined and will not recover in our lifetimes,” Zubrod added.
Federal prosecutors accused Ciavarella and a second judge, Michael Conahan, of taking more than $2 million in bribes from Robert Mericle, the builder of the PA Child Care and Western PA Child Care detention centers, and of extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from Robert Powell, the facilities’ co-owner.
Ciavarella, known for his harsh and autocratic courtroom demeanor, pocketed the cash while filling the beds of the private lockups with children as young as 10, many of them first-time offenders convicted of petty theft and other minor crimes. Ciavarella often ordered youths he had found delinquent to be immediately shackled, handcuffed and taken away without giving them a chance to say goodbye to their families.
“Frankly, I don’t think Ciavarella or Conahan themselves really personally cared where the juveniles went, as long as they could use their power to place the juveniles as leverage or control over Mericle and Powell,” U.S. Attorney Peter Smith said Thursday.
Speaking of Ciavarella, Smith added: “There’s no true remorse and there’s a blind unwillingness to admit the overall seriousness of his conduct.”
Transit officials blocked cellphone reception in San Francisco train stations for three hours to disrupt planned demonstrations over a police shooting.
Officials with the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, better known as BART, said Friday that they turned off electricity to cellular towers in four stations from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday. The move was made after BART learned that protesters planned to use mobile devices to coordinate a demonstration on train platforms.
The tactic drew comparisons to those used by the former president of Egypt to squelch protests demanding an end to his authoritarian rule. Authorities there cut Internet and cellphone services in the country for days earlier this year.
“BART officials are showing themselves to be of a mind with the former president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said on its website.
The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the tactic, saying on its blog that it was the “wrong response to political protests.”
BART officials were confident the cellphone disruptions were legal. They said in a statement that it’s illegal to demonstrate on the platform or aboard the trains, and that it has set aside special areas for demonstrations.
The demonstration planned Thursday failed to develop. “We had a commute that was safe and without disruption,” said BART spokesman Jim Allison.
The demonstrators were protesting the July 3 shooting of Charles Blair Hill by BART police, who claimed Hill came at them with a knife. Several people were arrested when a July 11 demonstration disrupted service during the rush-hour commute and prompted the closing of BART’s Civic Center station.
The Police Chief of Long Beach has confirmed that his department’s policy is to detain photographers who do nothing more than take pictures in public places, and that he neither has, nor plans to implement, any guidelines for these detentions. He classes photography with other “suspicious activity” such as “attempts to acquire illegal or illicit biological agent (anthrax, ricin, Eboli, smallpox, etc.)” and “In possession, or utilizes, explosives (for illegal purposes).”
Dday has a very interesting post today with some news you have undoubtedly not heard about on CNN or any other national news network. It turns out that we have another Townhall uprising on our hands. But it doesn’t seem to be featuring people wearing tri-corner hats and carrying guns so nobody’s interested. Or rather it doesn’t have a full fledged publicity campaign financed by wealthy wingnuts and news network feeding a smooth diet of Tea flavored BS to the public:
If this organic movement were happening on the right, it would be front-page news in every national newspaper in the country. We know because the distinctly non-organic movement in 2009 was front-page news.
In order to find out about this movement, you have to go to local news sites.
The Dickinson Press, Dickinson, North Dakota:
(North Dakota Republican Rep. Rick) Berg said he voted for the (debt limit) package because of one provision added in the final hours of debate: a requirement that both houses of Congress vote on a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Berg said he believes it “is the one thing out there that can get our country back on track.”
However, several residents criticized Berg’s position, saying the amendment won’t solve immediate problems — like getting unemployed Americans back to work.
“The balanced budget amendment is like trying to drain a lake to save a drowning person,” West Fargo resident Darrel Lund said. “People are in trouble now.”
Lund said Congress ought to have just raised the debt ceiling as they were tasked to do, instead of adding to the problem through political deadlock.
“That’s what’s caused uncertainty — that Congress can’t even do one thing,” Lund said to applause. “They had to make a political statement.”
The Duluth News Tribune, Duluth, Minnesota:
(Republican Rep. Chip) Cravaack said he wanted to bring down the tax rate to 25 percent for small businesses because higher taxes are passed on to consumers or result in layoffs.
Audience member Dave Garshelis of Cohasset said President George W. Bush tried that plan and it didn’t work.
“Is this an experiment or a concept or do you have information from somewhere that shows this works?” he asked. “I’m wondering when the jobs are going to happen.”
Cravaack said he wants reduced taxes with the addition of tax reform. He said jobs went to places like Mexico and China because of high taxes in the U.S.
Kevin Kooiker of Pequot Lakes wasn’t so sure of Cravaack’s answer and said the tax rate today is lower than it’s been in years. He said major corporations are known to be sitting on sizeable amounts of money instead of creating new jobs.
“People need to get more money in their pockets,” he said. “The stimulus bill was way too small.”
Silver City Sun-News, Silver City, New Mexico:
A woman stormed out of Congressman Steve Pearce’s town hall meeting Tuesday night at the Silver City Senior Center, after calling Pearce a liar and saying “You’re just (BSing) everyone and we don’t buy it.”
“He got off on the wrong foot with me because he started to lie because he said the reason we got downgraded by S&P was because of our deficit,” said Anne Nitopi of Silver City. “That’s not the reason. Those very credit agencies approved junk bonds that turned out to not be worth the paper they were printed on, which created a financial collapse. The government’s inability to compromise is the reason they downgraded us. He took the debt ceiling debate and linked it to the debate about a budget and our deficit. They allowed the Tea Party extremists to threaten our country with default.” [...]
A person before her had said that he heard the 400 wealthiest families in the U.S. had more money than 90 percent of the population and that 80 percent of Americans support a balanced approach to balancing the budget – meaning cutting spending and raising taxes – but Pearce said he vowed that he would never raise taxes.
Despite the wingnuts’ febrile imaginings, the all-powerful Move-on with it’s billions in terrorist dollars is not making this happen. This is happening because average people are spontaneously trying to make their voices heard. And these politicians should be listening. But once again, we are all obsessed with the right wing freak show (they ownAugust apparently) this time fetishizing the Ames Cholesterol Poll and Rick Perry.
I’ll let dday have the last word:
These Americans are coming forward without a compelling, overriding narrative to draw from. They’re picking up bits and pieces of information and comparing it to their everyday lives. But the overall message is remarkably similar. It says that government has a role to play in fixing the economy, that increased revenues on the rich to reduce their political economy as much as their share of national wealth would be a positive step, that people are seeing their labor and livelihoods extracted by the top 2% and they cannot stand it. This is a message about inequality, about fairness, about the need for a priority on job creation. It’s representative of a very basic and fundamental set of values that have been endemic to America for a long time. And it’s representative of a frustration that nobody in Washington shares those values.
If only this sentiment could be concentrated, if only these people organized, if only their voices heard!
Journalistic standards and modern political norms place some restrictions on what a reporter can and will say in a news article. It’s what too often leads to unhelpful he-said-she-said reporting (“Eric Cantor today said two plus two equals five; Democrats and mathematicians disagreed”).
But the New York Times’ Jackie Calmes has a terrific piece in which she comes very close — as close as is possible in our contemporary media construct — to simply drawing the public a picture the country urgently needs to see, but usually doesn’t. In a measured tone, the NYT article effectively makes clear that when it comes to economic policy, Republicans plainly have no idea what they’re talking about.
The boasts of Congressional Republicans about their cost-cutting victories are ringing hollow to some well-known economists, financial analysts and corporate leaders, including some Republicans, who are expressing increasing alarm over Washington’s new austerity and antitax orthodoxy.
Their critiques have grown sharper since last week, when President Obama signed his deficit reduction deal with Republicans and, a few days later, when Standard & Poor’s downgraded the credit rating of the United States.
But even before that, macroeconomists and private sector forecasters were warning that the direction in which the new House Republican majority had pushed the White House and Congress this year — for immediate spending cuts, no further stimulus measures and no tax increases, ever — was wrong for addressing the nation’s two main ills, a weak economy now and projections of unsustainably high federal debt in coming years.
Instead, these critics say, Washington should be focusing on stimulating the economy in the near term to induce people to spend money and create jobs, while settling on a long-term plan for spending cuts and tax increases to take effect only after the economy recovers.
Republicans respond to all of this by … not caring at all. Some may want a weaker economy on purpose, some are too blinded by ideology to consider objective information, some aren’t terribly bright, and some, as David Brooks recently noted, simply “do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities.”
But the bottom line remains the same: nearly everyone who understands economic policy at any level is convinced Republicans — in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail — are spewing gibberish. And in this case, “nearly everyone” includes veterans of the Reagan and Bush administrations, making opposition to right-wing Tea Party nonsense bipartisan.
Also note the scope of the concerns. Current GOP officials aren’t just wrong about stimulus, the timing of budget cuts, taxes, debt reduction, or monetary policy — they’re wrong about all of them at the same time.
In fairness, the article does note one economist — Stanford’s John Taylor — who’s willing to defend the Republican line (as he always does,regardless of merit). But to appreciate the credibility of the GOP’s go-to economist, swing by Krugman’s blog and type Taylor’s name into the search engine.
Regardless, it’s an important article about the nation’s most pressing crisis. Take the time to read it, save it, and send it around.
[…] This year the straw poll is an outright disaster which may well hurt the party in the eyes of the voters (fortunately, the disaster was mitigated by Governor Perry’s presidential candidacy announcement drawing away a lot of media attention). Both the winner and the close runner-up are extremists, and nobody else won even half as many votes as either of them. Not only do the two top vote getters profess crazy views, but neither of them has any chance of winning the nomination. If nominated, neither of them has any chance of winning the election (even if the Democrats reciprocated by nominating Dennis Kucinich, the election would be won by a sane independent candidate). And if elected, neither of them is capable of governing. And yet they won a combined total of over 56% of the vote. What does this say about the party to a casual observer (e.g. an independent voter in a swing state)?!
If we define a “serious candidate” as someone who 1) is capable of governing and 2) has a realistic chance of winning either the nomination (Romney and Perry) or the general election (Romney and Huntsman), then all the serious candidates together received fewer votes than the joke candidacy of Herman Cain. If, to be charitable to Pawlenty, we replace the word ‘realistic’ in this definition with ‘plausible’, then all serious candidates still received well under a quarter of the total vote (this still holds true even if we implausibly expand the definition of a “serious candidate” to include Newt Gingrich). Let’s face it: the Ames Straw Poll may have been a serious political event back in the last millennium, but now it has become a freak show.
[...]Obama For America hit back hard against Perry’s claims,
Governor Perry’s economic policies are a carbon copy of the economic policies of Washington Republicans. He pledged to support the cut cap and balance plan that would preserve subsidies for oil and gas companies and tax cuts for the wealthiest while ending Medicare as we know it, eroding Social Security, eliminating hundreds of thousands of jobs and erasing investments in education and research and development. That’s the same approach he took in Texas, where middle class families know his economic record is no miracle – it’s a tall tale. Governor Perry allowed special interests to write their own rules, hired corporate lobbyists to oversee corporations, and cut funding for programs that would create opportunity for middle class families. In a Republican field that has already pledged allegiance to the Tea Party and failed to present any plan that will benefit the middle class or create the jobs America needs to win the future, Governor Perry offers more of the same.
Paul Krugman has written about the myth of Rick Perry’s Texas miracle. Krugman noted that Perry’s policies have left the state facing a $25 billion shortfall in each of the next two years, and that Texas’ fast booming economy is more due to high oil prices than any sort of conservative ideology tax cut miracle. Texas ranks 49th out of 50 states in per capita tax burden. The problem the state faces is that there is no more room to cut taxes, so the only option left is to gut the few social services that remain.
When Obama For America called Perry a carbon copy of Washington Republicans, they were not kidding. Perry advocates the exact same policies that almost took the nation into default, and caused our debt to be downgraded. Under Rick Perry, Texas covers the smallest percentage of unemployed workers in the country. Perry has carried out a full assault on education and the middle class. Just for good measure, Perry has also met with the Koch Brothers and taken their money too.
Gov. Perry is also the same politician who once spoke of secession, but then quietly turned around and begged the Obama administration for stimulus money. Perry’s Texas miracle required some government funds so that the state could pay unemployment benefits.
Team Obama has not been giving Bachmann, Romney, and now Perry a free pass. They have been very aggressive in countering the attacks on the president from each of these candidates. Obama For America is sending the message that they aren’t about to sit on the sidelines and wait until the fall of 2012 to get involved.
If I was to take a wild guess, I’d bet that the Obama campaign would love to face Perry next fall. The similarities between Perry and George W. Bush would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Since Perry holds almost all of the same positions as the Congressional Republicans, it would be easy for Obama to run against him and the Washington GOP at the same time.
Rick Perry’s announcement read like a Fox News script, and Team Obama wasted no time doing a straight talk rewrite.
W.E.E. See You:
I don’t know Tom, but his comment on The Washington Monthly is a keeper:
The predominately white progressive intelligentsia don’t see Obama clearly because of our racial blind spot. We don’t see the role of race in how he seems to understand himself and how other perceive him.
First of all, we think that he understands himself as one of us. A progressive activist, heir to the radical and New Left movements most of us were raised in. He is not; I think that he understands himself (and certainly his real base understands him) as the first African American President. We’re thinking Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. We should be thinking about Harold Washington, the first African American mayor of Chicago. Washington was elected and immediately faced a solid wall of opposition from most white aldermen in the city. Washington understood his role as breaking down that wall of opposition and assembling a governing majority, which he finally did after his re-election. Unfortunately, he died shortly thereafter. By the way, one of Washington’s political strategists was David Axelrod.
How does Obama break the iron unity of the GOP opposition to assemble a governing majority in the US Congress?
If we progressives were not blinded by our own assumption that our history is the only history, we might see how Obama may be seeing his situation.
White progressives often think that African American elected officials are politically naive. We will far more credit to Cornel West, who has never been elected to anything, than to an elected state senator, or even the President of the United States. We think that Obama does not understand the nature of John Boehner, Mitch McConnell or Eric Cantor, as though he has not sat across the table from them. He doesn’t understand how mean they are, we think.
Obama acts entirely within the tradition of mainstream African American political strategy and tactics. The epitome of that tradition was the non-violence of the Civil Rights Movement, but goes back much further in time. It recognizes the inequality of power between whites and blacks. Number one: maintain your dignity. Number two: call your adversaries to the highest principles they hold. Number three: Seize the moral high ground and Number four: Win by winning over your adversaries, by revealing the contradiction between their own ideals and their actions. It is one way that a oppressed people struggle.
Obama has taken a seat at the negotiating table and said “There is no reason why we cannot work out solutions to our problems by acting like responsible adults. That is what people expect us to do and that is why we have entered into public service.” That is the moral high ground.
Honestly, I have been reminded more than once in the last few months of those brave college students sitting in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter, back in the day. Obama sits at that table, like they did at the counter. Boehner and McConnell and Cantor clown around, mugging for the camera, competing to ritually humiliate Obama, to dump ketchup on his head.
I don’t think those students got their sandwiches the first day, but they won in the end.
Obama is winning. Democrats are uniting behind him, although some white progressives think that they could do the job better. Independents are flocking to him. Even some Republicans are getting disgusted with their Washington leaders. Obama is not telling us about lack of seriousness of the Congressional GOP; he is showing us the vivid contrast between what we expect of our leaders and their behavior. The last two and half years have been a revelation of the essential conflicts in our society and politics.
If white progressives understood much about the politics of the African American struggle in the United States, we would see Obama in the context of that struggle and understand him better. And you don’t have to be African American to know something about the history of the African American struggle. The books and the testimony is there. It’s not all freedom songs. But you have to be convinced that it is something that can teach you something you don’t already know.
With President Obama’s reelection on the line, Democrats are increasingly anxious about what they see as his failure to advance a coherent and muscular strategy for addressing the nation’s economic ills.
Growing numbers of Obama’s allies, beyond the liberal activists who have expressed disappointment in the past, contend that he has trimmed his sails too much since the party’s electoral defeats last fall. This sentiment has sharpened in the wake of the negotiations over the debt ceiling, when the president accepted Republican demands for spending cuts without obtaining guarantees of tax revenue increases, which he said were necessary for a “balanced approach.” […]
Polling indicates that Republicans are taking the brunt of the blame for bringing the country to the brink of default, but the president has come out of that fight looking weaker, as well. Recent polls have shown Obama’s job approval at or near the lowest of his presidency — and the public’s view of how he is handling the economy is lower still.
As a result, more Democrats are saying it is time for him to scrap his more cautious, conciliatory approach and advocate bolder programs that would generate jobs and economic growth, even though many of those ideas would have no chance of passing Congress.
“The market has called us out, and you have to rethink under these circumstances,” said Andy Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union and a close White House ally.
Of the relatively modest initiatives that the White House is currently advocating, Stern added: “Patent reform, trade, unemployment insurance, cutting taxes — that doesn’t generate the jobs we need.
Added Neera Tanden, a former Obama and Clinton administration official who is now chief operating officer at the liberal Center for American Progress: “He can take his ideas to the Republicans and use the House Republicans’ intransigence on his ideas as a foil. And by having a fight on jobs, he will communicate to the American people that he understands their challenges and he’s on their side.” […]
If there is a hallmark of Obama’s campaign and governing style, however, it is an aversion to second-guessing, making it unlikely that the White House will respond to the unrest with any major overhaul. His aides note that his unconventional 2008 presidential campaign also faced plenty of naysaying but ultimately proved successful.
But back then, Obama was running as an agent of change. Next year, his challenge will be to defend his record and to prove that his approach to governing is superior to what the Republicans are offering. And although polls show that Americans are far more approving of Obama’s job performance than that of GOP lawmakers, those lawmakers won’t be on the presidential ballot. […]
White House officials say the president has a broad set of challenges: to prove that he can tame the deficit, to push for what is actually achievable under a divided government and to lay out a more ambitious vision of what he would try to accomplish in a second term. They dismiss the suggestion that these goals present any contradiction as they map their electoral and legislative strategy. […]
Obama’s aides say the president has a responsibility to explore policies that have a chance of passage, rather than merely making a political statement. They add that he will roll out additional ideas in the coming weeks geared toward creating jobs, helping the middle class, and guiding lawmakers on a “balanced” way to cut deficits, raise taxes on the wealthy and adjust entitlements.
But the aides also signaled Obama’s intention to try to hold the GOP accountable: If those measures fail to win passage in Congress, said senior adviser David Plouffe, “we’re going to make it clear to the American people why that is.”
The White House Blog:
David Atkins, Hullabaloo:
Democrats have a few pieces of good news to cheer about, from an electoral standpoint. First, Dems are polling very well for the House, courtesy PPP via the DCCC:
A new poll released today by Public Policy Polling shows that House Republicans are paying the price with voters for their extreme agenda to end Medicare in order to protect subsidies for Big Oil and tax breaks for billionaires, and for playing games with debt limit.
- Democrats lead Republicans in the generic ballot by 7 points (47-40).
- Democrats lead Republicans with critically important independent voters by 3 points (39-36).
- Independent voters overwhelming disapprove of the Republican Majority in the House (68 disapprove/20 approve).
- Speaker Boehner’s approval rating dropped 31 points since January (28-52).
Public Policy Polling’s conclusions: “…if there was an election today I think that they’d take back the House… There’s little doubt that Democrats are winning the fallout of the debt debate… Last year independent voters were the driving factor behind the GOP retaking the House majority. Now they give it a 20/68 approval rating.”
And again via the DCCC, Republican House members are facing major anger from constituents back at home. Meanwhile, a Marist poll shows Obama leading all GOP contenders:
Obama does have an advantage over several potential Republican rivals:
- He leads Romney 46-41, a 5-point lead.
- He leads Pawlenty 49-36, a 13-point lead.
- He leads Bachmann 52-35, a 17-point lead.
- He leads Perry 52-33, a 19-point lead.
Smart money at this point says that Obama probably gets re-elected, Dems have a good chance of retaking the House, and GOP will likely take over the Senate due to the difficult time Dems will have holding onto their 2006 pickups. It’s early of course, and things can change dramatically in short order. But right now Democrats are looking in fairly good shape, from an electoral point of view.
Strong supporters of Administration, of compromise and the Grand Bargain take these numbers as vindication of the success of their approach, and the rejection of both the conservative hostage-takers by the public at large, as well as frustrated progressives.
But that would be foolish. Even if Democrats do hold onto the White House and put the Speaker’s gavel back in Pelosi’s hands, the damage will already have been done. Austerity is the name of the game in Washington, and social security and Medicare are irrevocably on the negotiating block in a way that would have been unthinkable just five years ago. And the Super Committee is likely to make things even worse.
The point of politics is not to win elections for their own sake, or to prevent the other team from doing damage. The point of politics is to advance one’s preferred legislative agenda. What bipartisan compromise advocates on the left seem not to understand is that the Tea Party agenda will not have failed, even if Democrats do win victories in 2012. It will have succeeded in marvelous fashion.
Conservatives understand that they won’t win every election. They understand that politics is an ebb and flow. They also understand that when you do win, you have to make hay while the sun shines, and advance your legislative agenda as far as possible while you have power. They understand that you have to do everything in your power to stop the other side from doing likewise when you’re in the minority.
Sports metaphors are overused in political reporting from an electoral standpoint, but if anything underused from a public policy standpoint. Due to the two-party system in America, public policy looks very much like a game of American football: whether the question is taxes, regulation, environment or social policy, governance is essentially a zero-sum battle for field position on the gridiron, issue by issue.
Republicans know they won’t always have the ball. They’ll toss a few long passes, and sometimes their playbook will fail. Sometimes the American people will get fed up and force them to punt. But their objective is to tilt the playing field as much as possible in their favor, injure and batter as many members of the opposing team as possible, score as many points as possible and drive the ball as far down the field as possible until they have to give it up. (The analogy fails only in the sense that in football, a team has to give up the ball after they score. Not so in politics. But that’s a minor point.)
Democrats, meanwhile, rejoice whenever it looks like they’re about to get the ball back because Republicans went for too much ground, too fast. And when they do get the ball, they “learn from Republican mistakes”, and run careful plays along the ground to pick up a yard here and there. Nothing too fancy. Nothing too aggressive. Nothing too dangerous. Maybe we score a field goal here and there, particularly on social issues.
But, of course, eventually the GOP will get the ball back again. It’s a two-party system. Nobody stays in power forever. And when they do, they’ll again advance their agenda far more aggressively than Democrats and put more points up on the board.
The point of politics isn’t just to hold power, any more than a team wins a football game by having a longer time of possession than your opponent. The GOP has run up the score, and backed the Democrats up to their own economic 10-yard-line because of the Democrats’ soft defense.
The fact that we may yet get the ball back should hardly be cause for celebration, or an endorsement of the brilliance of our coaching staff. Over the last 30 years, we’re way behind on the scoreboard, and the other guys still have all the momentum.
The People’s View:
On Saturday, the President chose to focus on jobs like a laser beam in his weekly address to the American people (hey, people constantly complaining about why the President won’t use the bully pulpit, pay attention):
While the political media loves to lament Congress and the President for “not focusing on jobs”, far be it from them to actually examine what either the President or Congress is doing for jobs. They constantly keep telling us that the President needs to “show” that he’s working on jobs, but they run from covering the actual things the president is doing to work on jobs like the plague.
So, it falls on us, once again, to cover what the national media will not. The White House laid out the the ideas:, and I intent to expand on those. Here are the ideas:
Eisenhower II: Let’s re-build American roads, bridges and railways: Create One Million Jobs Right Now
With the Recovery Act, President Obama made the most significant investment in infrastructure since Eisenhower and the freeways. But that investment included both broadband development in rural areas as well as road construction. The President is now proposing we double down on road construction and finally bring America up to a 21st century system of roads, bridges and railways.
The president’s proposal -- which was first a part of his 2012 budget (so much for “President not talking about jobs!!!!” meme) is now being renewed, would immediately begin putting a million out-of-work construction workers back to work. That’s right, it’s a plan that frontloads with $50 billion in the first year that Congress could come back to town and pass tomorrow and cut the unemployment rolls by 1 million in a very short period of time. And it would keep people employed while rebuilding America. It would provide, over six years (remember, it’s front loaded with $50 billion in the first year):
- $53 billion to continue high speed rail construction.
- A national infrastructure bank leverage $30 billion in federal funding with private capital to multiply that investment. Has this sort of thing worked before? Yes. A similar investment was made in the small business jobs bill last year as loan guarantees that sent small business borrowing shooting up this year (which is good news for jobs since small businesses create about two-thirds of new jobs).
- $32 billion in Transportation Leadership Awards to incentivize state and local governments to adopt critical reforms and leverage federal dollars to make more critical investments and create more jobs.
Among other things, that is. Until Republicans became the opposed-to-everything-simply-because-Obama-supports-it party, infrastructure investment used to be a nonpartisan issue. Sen. Kerry has already introduced an infrastructure bank bill along with Texas Republican Sen. Hutchinson and Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner. Yet Republicans are holding it up.
Unprecedented national fuel efficiency standards and clean energy jobs
The new fuel economy standards announced by the administration with the cooperation of automakers (once again, people who are addicted to conflict only as a way to get things done, please pay attention) would almost double the average fuel economy by 2025 to 54.5 miles per gallon. By 2025, this will save consumers $1.7 trillion, which they can use, oh, I dunno, to buy things! The administration has also set standards -the first of their kind -- for commercial vehicles like trucks and buses. That will save businesses $50 billion,which they can use to hire additional employees.
But the implementation of these standards and the economic activity coming from those savings is still at least a few years away. What isn’t a few years away is the building of the technologies that will make it possible for manufacturers to meet those standards. The President has been highlighting clean energy jobs created especially by battery manufacturers - good paying jobs that are being created right now. Let;s just be thankful the President did not need Congress’ cooperation on this, or you know the GOP Jobs Blockade would try to stop this too.
Extend the Payroll Tax Cut enacted last December
During the deal last December that kept taxes from going up on working families, President Obama was able to get a payroll tax cut for every working American. Regardless of whether you make enough to pay income taxes (and thus get income tax cuts), if you work for a living, you pay payroll taxes -- taxes that go to fund Social Security. The President got a 2-point cut for every American without impacting the Social Security trust fund (as Treasury was required to reimburse the lost revenue to the trust fund from its general fund).
With this law and its predecessor, the Making Work Pay tax credit that was part of the Recovery Act in 2009, President Obama is the first president to deliver targeted tax relief to the working poor in many of our lifetimes. Also, given that social security taxes extend to about $107,000 of one’s income per year, this tax cut is targeted to the working poor and the middle class without resulting in a boondoggle for the ultra-rich.
Why is the targeting so important? Because people who benefit the most from it are also the most likely to spend any additional dollars in their pocket. Not to buy luxuries, but to buy everyday necessities -- like shoes for the kids, getting their broken oven fixed or clothes they need for work. That’s the spending that also helps our economy going. I would say that the payroll tax cut is in no small part responsible for the strong retail sales growth throughout the year. Driven by that sales growth, retail jobs growth has also been an essential part of the recovery, with retailers adding 26,000 jobs last month alone.
Extend unemployment benefits
The right wing politicians who constantly block jobs measures in Congress are also the first to try to block unemployment benefits. Contrary to the Republican mantra, however, the unemployed are not lazy. They are unemployed. Unemployment benefits give the unemployed the resources they need to stay afloat while they look for a job in a very tough economy, and every dollar in unemployment benefits adds $1.60 to the economy. This is even more effective than the payroll tax cut, because of the same principle -- that people who really have nothing spend the money they get in unemployment benefits. That spending creates economic activity -- businesses get to stay open, new employees can be hired (or the old ones kept) and it keeps the bottom from falling out of the economy.
What with all the talk of “uncertainty,” let’s make sure that this badly needed -- and hard-earned -- benefit for working Americans is not taken away at the end of this year. Let’s extend it. This is an incredibly important injection of stimulus into the economy at the same time it is a lifeline for those who are hanging on by a thread.
Put returning war heroes back to work
The President has proposed a returning heroes tax credit for companies to hire veterans and disabled veterans who have so much still to give our country. Here is the summary of the president’s plan, asoutlined by Iraq and Afghan veteran Matt Flavin:
- Returning Heroes and Wounded Warrior Tax Credits: A new Returning Heroes Tax Credit for firms that hire unemployed veterans (maximum credit of $2,400 for every short-term unemployed hire and $4,800 for every long-term unemployed hire) and a Wounded Warriors Tax Credit which will increase the existing tax credit for firms that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been unemployed long-term (maximum credit of $9,600 per veteran) and continue the existing credit for all other veterans with a service-connected disability (maximum credit of $4,800).
- A Challenge to the Private Sector to Hire or Train 100,000 Unemployed Veterans or Their Spouses by the End of 2013: The President will challenge businesses to commit to hire or provide training to unemployed veterans or their spouses. Joining Forces will lead this work with businesses and industry.
- Presidential Call for a Career-Ready Military: The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, working closely with other agencies and the President’s economic and domestic policy teams, will lead a new task force to develop reforms to ensure that every member of the service receives the training, education, and credentials they need to transition to the civilian workforce or to pursue higher education. These reforms will include the design of a “reverse bootcamp,” which will extend the transition period to give service members more counseling and guidance and leave them career-ready.
- Transition to the Private Sector: The Department of Labor will establish a new initiative to deliver an enhanced career development and job search service package to transitioning veterans at their local One-Stop Career Centers. The Office of Personnel Management will create a “Best Practices” Manual for the private sector to help businesses identify and hire veterans.
Our veterans are our best. They not only deserve the support of a grateful nation, but these credits will speed up hiring and training of people who are already skilled and are agile learners, adding both cash flow and innovation to our economy. This is so much of a no-brainer that it is absolutely dumbfounding that Congress wouldn’t just make it it town for a day -- hell, a couple of hours -- and pass this and then go back to their vacation.
Pass President Obama’s trade agreements
The president has worked hard and won trade agreements from our trading partners that not only protects environmental and labor standardsas core parts of the agreements but actually creates jobs in the United States.
The South Korea agreement, for example, can significantly expand jobs in the American auto industry. The agreement with Panama could boost US exports by $1 billion a year and support thousands of American jobs. The agreement with India would increase American exports by $10 billion a year and support 50,000 jobs.
Yet, we have Republicans in Congress dragging their feet, and some liberals decrying any and all trade deals as a horrible terrible thing without paying attention to the details. Of course, our media is no less callous about covering the actual details of the agreement, either. But if we got serious about this, we could start bringing serious investments into the United States right now as well as selling our products abroad in growing markets which would support, you know, jobs!
Cut the patent hold-up red tape
I have heard plenty of people who are supposedly on the “Left” poo-poo and make fun of patent reform. Regardless, the truth is that right now, it takes three years to get a patent. Most things patented hardly need to be put through lead-toothpaste safety tests. But patents are one of the core things innovative companies rely on to bring a product to market and create jobs. Intellectual property rights are important in a country dependent on a private sector economy.
Bills to do patent reform have already passed the House and the Senate. Maybe Congress can get their behinds back in town and actually reconcile the two versions and pass it?
Concluding thoughts: The GOP Jobs Blockade
A recent report found that the Great Bush Recession was not only the worst economic downturn in this history of the United States save the Great Depression, but that it was much worse than we even previously thought. No effort at job creation and helping the economy can be spared when we are trying to come back from that type of a deep hole.
It was kind of interesting to watch the Republican debate on Thursday night as their presidential third-classers lamented that if they were president, they would call Congress back in session to work on jobs. It being a Fox-sponsored debate, no one bothered reminding them that the Speaker of the House comes from their party and maybe they should pick up the phone and give him a call.
The President has been trying from his first day in office to put through measures to boost job creation. Again and again, he’s been met with Republican obstruction -- or what I like to call the GOP Jobs Blockade. During the first two years of Obama’s presidency, the GOP Jobs Blockade took the form of undemocratic and unprecedented number of filibusters in the US Senate, slowing down the government’s response, and blocking needed action on job creation. And since the Republicans took over the House in last November’s elections, the GOP Jobs Blockade turned into active efforts to kill 3 million jobs.
So maybe it’s time for the media -- on the Left and the Right, both traditional and “new” -- to wake the hell up and start covering the actual story on jobs. The actual story on jobs is not that Washington has been ignoring it. The actual story on jobs is that the President has been putting his ideas out there -- ideas that are solid, time-tested and real, while the GOP has been mounting a jobs blockade against the American people for the past three years after causing the economy to fall off the cliff in the first place. That’s the truth; you people in the media might try telling it for once.
Mitt Romney boasted this week that when he Massachusetts governor “he presided over an increase in the state’s bond rating, a contrast to President Obama, who saw Standard & Poor’s downgrade U.S. debt,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
But Romney had an advantage that Obama sorely wanted but could not get from Congress: tax increases and the closing of tax “loopholes.”
Documents show the Romney administration’s pitch to S&P in late 2004 included the boast that “The Commonwealth acted decisively to address the fiscal crisis” that ensued after the terrorist attacks of 2001. Bulleted PowerPoint slides laid out the actions taken, including legislation in July 2002 to increase tax revenue by $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion in fiscal 2003 and $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion in fiscal 2004; tax “loophole” legislation that added $269 million in “additional recurring revenue,” and tax amnesty legislation that added $174 million. The final bullet: “FY04 budget increased fees to raise $271 million yearly.”
Maureen Dowd: Power to the Corporation!
[...]In the debate in Ames on Thursday, Romney replied to a question from Fox’s Bret Baier about the debt deal by saying, “Look, I’m not going to eat Barack Obama’s dog food, all right?”
He was trying to be tough, but unfortunately may have reminded people of the infamous time he put Seamus, his Irish setter, in a dog carrier strapped to the roof of the family station wagon for a 12-hour drive from Boston to Ontario.
At the fair, Romney — whose net worth is between $190 million and $250 million — once again went manly by flipping a pork chop on a grill and facing down hecklers worried about cuts in Social Security. When a man in the audience yelled that corporations should be taxed more, Romney replied, “Corporations are people, my friend.”
Give “The Stormin’ Mormon,” as Neil Cavuto approvingly called him on Fox News, credit: never has the traditional Republican doctrine been so succinctly explained.
Of the corporation, by the corporation, for the corporation. We the corporation. Corporations who need corporations are the luckiest corporations in the world. Power to the corporation!
Romney may not have realized that he was articulating the same fundamental concept of the American right that Justice Antonin Scalia propounded in the Citizens United case, when the Supreme Court opened the way to Super PACs and a flood of surreptitious new donations in politics. (A former official at Bain Capital, Romney’s old private equity firm, admitted recently that he was the one who anonymously gave $1 million to a pro-Mitt Super PAC.)
The association of individuals in a business corporation, Scalia wrote in his concurring opinion, “cannot be denied the right to speak on the simplistic ground that it is not ‘an individual American.’ ”
The back-door money infused by Karl Rove, the Chamber of Commerce, the Koch brothers and others elected a slew of radical Republicans. Thanks to that Congressional wrecking crew, America’s credit rating has been downgraded and its economy has been hurt.
At least Republicans are getting most of the blame for that, my friend.
When Texas Gov. Rick Perry kicked off his Republican presidential campaign yesterday, his speech buried the needle on the Cliche-O-Meter, offering up one generic, predictable GOP theme after another. There was, however, one line in particular that stood out as interesting.
“We’re dismayed at the injustice that nearly half of all Americans don’t even pay any income tax. And you know the liberals out there are saying that we need to pay more.”
In this context, “we” refers to Perry and everyone who shares his worldview.
The oddity, of course, is that the governor seems to be arguing that Americans don’t pay enough in income taxes. Or more accurately, it’s unjust that more Americans aren’t paying income taxes.
This is an increasingly popular argument in right-wing circles — Michele Bachmann, one of Perry’s presidential rivals, has pushed the sameline — thought it’s entirely counter-intuitive. The argument isn’t even subtle: far-right Republicans are annoyed that most Americans don’t make enough money to be eligible to pay income taxes, so they believe it’s important to get more of these lower- and middle-income Americans paying more to the government.
In case anyone’s forgotten, the relevant details matters here: millions of Americans may be exempt from income taxes, but they still pay sales taxes, state taxes, local taxes, Social Security taxes, Medicare/Medicaid taxes, and in many instances, property taxes.
It’s not as if these folks are getting away with something — the existing tax structure leaves them out of the income tax system because they don’t make enough money to qualify.
Perry considers this an “injustice,” one which he apparently intends to fix, and which he feels strongly enough about to include in his closely-watched kick-off speech.
This should make for quite a 2012 debate, shouldn’t it? Some of the most far-right candidates wants Americans with less to pay more in taxes. Seriously.
(Every unhappy Dem just needs to play this daily.)
But if the right wing platform is so devoid of logic, the left side of the aisle has been historically pedestrian in its alleged disapproval.
The 2001 Bush tax cuts easily passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 240-154 and 58-33 in the Senate with bipartisan support. The Democrats didn’t filibuster what they now consider an unjust handout to the rich and force the GOP to use reconciliation; instead they just complained on Sunday talk shows with breathtaking indifference, putting on a well orchestrated show of opposition.
Where was the indignation when President Clinton signed the Commodities and Futures Modernization Act of 2000 that deregulated derivatives, paving the way for the reckless trading in credit default swaps that almost collapsed the stock market? Phil Graham authored the legislation, but 181 out of 208 House Democrats voted for it. One could easily reach the conclusion that backbones were out of season.
The Graham-Leach Bill abolished the Glass Steagall Act that separated commercial and investment banking activities, altering the landscape of the capital markets through deregulation. Bill Clinton defenders accurately point out that his veto would have been overridden, but the act passed the Senate on a 90-8 vote, with notable left wing stalwarts John Kerry, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer and Tom Daschle all supporting the initiative.
The Democrats have repeatedly acquiesced on GOP initiatives, from the war in Iraq to the Patriot Act, from No Child Left Behind to Welfare Reform, only to label President Obama as spineless. It strikes as odd, if not altogether treacherous, that after years of caving in to one conservative demand after another, President Obama’s own party would accuse him of lacking the intestinal fortitude to fight for the middle class.
For what it’s worth, of the $858 billion tax cut compromise, only $81 billion can be attributed to families making more than $250,000 -- another $68 billion went to estates valued at over $5 million. The legislation offered $463 billion in income tax cuts to middle class households, $56 billion in unemployment benefits and $111 billion for a payroll tax holiday. Who could imagine that procuring over 80 percent in middle class benefits from an $858 billion bill would be so perilous for a Democratic president?
Lost in the senseless examination of President Obama’s manhood is the inconvenient fact that not since the Great Society legislation of the 1960′s has any Congress passed more laws affecting more Americans than in Obama’s first two years of office, that while steely eyed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton failed to pass health-care reforms in the early 1990s, the current president got it done.
The merits of the GOP’s policies are not on trial; they could very well be the elixir of working class woes. To pretend, however, that the Republican and the Democratic parties have different objectives, or that their representatives maintain opposing interests, is inconsistent with their respective voting records on important pieces of legislation. By all accounts, the Democrats abetted many of the GOP policies with a familiar process described by Malcolm X as “sticking a knife in a man’s back nine inches, pulling it out six inches and calling it progress”.
The debt ceiling debate was a false argument, meant to distract the American public from a two party political system, who like the right and the left hand, serve the exact same purpose, albeit from a slightly different angle. Progressives would be wise to ignore their political soothsayers and recognize that everyone has a hustle, time seldom keeps secrets and the mainstream Democrats sold them out a long time ago.
Newly released state-by-state approval numbers for President Obama suggest that in 2012 he could face fewer options for assembling an Electoral College majority and increased pressure to capture racially diverse states. As a result, Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida, among others, appear to be evolving into critical battlegrounds on the campaign map.
The polling results, released earlier this week by Gallup, underscore both the stability of each party’s Electoral College base and the shifting roster of swing states that could decide the 2012 contest.
In all, the compilation shows that Obama’s approval rating exceeds his disapproval rating in states with 301 Electoral College votes--well down from his 365 total in 2008 but still enough to win. That total, however, includes North Carolina, where Obama’s approval and disapproval ratings are virtually even, and Georgia, where Republicans remain skeptical that he can seriously compete, despite signals from his reelection campaign that it intends to. If those two are removed from the list, the states in which Obama’s approval number exceeds his disapproval rating provide exactly 270 Electoral College votes, the bare majority needed to win. […]
Bill Burton, the former deputy White House press secretary who is now directing a pro-Obama independent-expenditure campaign, agrees that the numbers point toward a close election, but he argues that they portray a more durable floor of support for Obama than many analysts now assume. “The bottom line here is what we already knew: Which is that it’s going to be really close,” Burton said. “In a cycle where there are going to be pretty stiff headwinds [for the president], it should be a small breeze of fresh air to know that there is a [stable] structure to the map.”
Today, Obama would be in a slightly weaker position almost everywhere than the Gallup numbers indicate. The state-by-state approval numbers are based on the aggregated results of Gallup’s nightly tracking poll from January to June — some 90,000 interviews in all. Gallup divided the results by state, and reweighted the findings so that they are demographically representative of each local electorate. In the interviews used to generate the state-level results, Obama’s overall national approval rating averaged 47 percent; in the most recent weekly Gallup average, Obama had fallen to 42 percent. That decline is reflected in some more recent state polls showing Obama in a more vulnerable position than the Gallup findings, for instance Quinnipiac University surveys in Florida and Pennsylvania.
If Obama’s national approval rating next fall remains around its current 42 percent, it’s almost inconceivable that he could win enough states to assemble an Electoral College majority. But if the president manages to restore his national approval rating to at least the 47 percent level reflected in the Gallup results, the state-level breakdown offers a preview of what the map might look like in a competitive race.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
Steve Lopez, L.A. Times:
The email from a reader in Westwood was short, to the point and disturbing.
“My life has been very full,” wrote Polly Berger. “But now it is getting very bad, and I want to go to that other world.”
Berger also said she wished there were more Dr. Jack Kevorkians around. I responded immediately, worried it was a cry for help.
“If you are concerned I will do harm to myself, rest assured that is not where I am going,” she said, but she took me up on my offer to visit.
Berger was waiting for me at the end of a long hallway in her apartment building. She was nicely coiffed, wore an apron and opened her door to the smell of fresh-baked cookies.
I wasn’t exactly expecting to find half-completed suicide notes and hemlock potions scattered about a neglected hovel. But neither had I expected an impeccably maintained apartment, filled with color and light and dozens of family photos. There was nothing to suggest that the 86-year-old Berger was alone in the world or ready to leave.
We began to talk.
Berger said she had read my July column about my father’s deteriorating health and about our national obsession with fighting the inevitable, no matter the cost, and no matter how diminished the quality of life.
“I just bawled like a baby when I read that,” said Berger, who lives alone. “I went straight into my room and wrote to you.”
But while there’s nothing pleasant about the subject, she said, death is not something anyone can avoid.
“I don’t live in denial. I live in the here and now.” And, she says, when her time comes, she doesn’t want to prolong life with medical interventions. “I’m full of aches and pains.”
Berger then backed up to tell the story of a Chicago girl who married a jewelry dealer at 17 and moved to Florida and later California. Early in his life, she said, her husband fell into depression after a business failed, and he never recovered. They separated in the year 2000, after 58 years together, and he later died.
At 75 and glamorous still, Berger found herself dating men she met at temple and getting advice from her overprotective daughter. The daughter insisted that Berger drive her own car to meet her first date, in case he was a beast and she wanted to flee. Ridiculous, said Berger, telling her daughter that on a proper date, the gentleman picks up the lady.
“My daughter told me to take my cellphone,” Berger said, “and if I didn’t like him, to go to the bathroom and call, and she’d come pick me up.”
Berger enjoyed reliving her 20s in her 70s, and loved impressing dates with her touch in the kitchen. One fawning suitor quoted Shakespeare to her and told Berger she was “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
She still zips around town in a red Volkswagen bug, keeps a journal and takes a current events class. Her greatest joy, though, is to spend time with her four children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Her eyes are young when she talks about them, how good they’ve been to her, and how lucky a life she’s led.
But wouldn’t she want to hold on to that for as long as possible, then?
“You can’t dance at every wedding,” Berger said. She wants to be with her family in full form, not some diminished state. And never as a burden.
These kinds of thoughts began a few years ago, when physical problems first threatened the independence she so values. Berger saw several doctors for lower back pain that at times is still so severe she can barely walk. Two years ago, a surgeon told her she was too old to handle an operation.
“So I’m stuck with it,” Berger said, and she refuses to pop heavy-duty painkillers.
1943 Disney Malaria Prevention Cartoon (starring the Seven Dwarves)
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.”
— Albert Camus