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After months of partisan wrangling and GOP threats to let the U.S. default for the first time in history, Democrats and Republicans reached a budget deal in August to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. As Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) himself conceded, the deal was a lopsided victory for Republicans, consisting entirely of cuts with no revenue increases. “I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy,” Boehner said afterward.
But apparently 98 percent is no longer good enough, and the Republican House leadership is gunning for the last 2 percent. Politico reports that the GOP is considering reneging on the compromise to force even deeper budget cuts:
In a surprising bit of hardball, House Republicans confirmed that they had been actively considering a plan to tamper with the August budget agreement by cutting even more from 2012 spending in order to put pressure on Senate Democrats to come to terms faster on domestic bills for the coming fiscal year.
Instead of the agreed-upon appropriations target of $1.043 trillion, a stopgap continuing resolution or CR this week would be calibrated at a lower $1.035 trillion level. The idea – promoted by Speaker John Boehner — was to effectively withhold about $8 billion for the first two months of the fiscal year, with the money becoming available only as Senate Democrats come to terms with the House on the dozen annual spending bills that cover government operations.
This GOP strategy is driven by the party’s desire to prevent further defense cuts and use the budget to advance its anti-regulatory agenda. Whatever the justification, their reckless decision to go back on their word risks yet another government shutdown.
Republicans’ reneging on the deal could still be averted: Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the chief architect of the August deal, is said tobe strongly opposed to tampering with the $1.043 trillion target. Final decisions by the House Appropriations Committee are expected Wednesday or Thursday, so Boehner and his cohorts will reveal by then whether they will honor their agreement with President Obama or once again hold the country hostage to get what they want.
The notable thing about the current standoff over Obama’s jobs bill is that the White House seems to be aggressively trying to reset a dynamic that has repeatedly bedeviled the President in the past.
Yesterday Republicans came out against Obama’s plan to fund his proposal largely by raising taxes on the rich, and signaled a willingness to entertain passing only parts of his jobs bill. But Obama and his advisers continue to rebuff the GOP’s overtures, such as they are. Rather than signaling a willingness to compromise at the outset, as Obama and Dems repeatedly have done previously, Obama advisers continue to insist the GOP must pass his whole jobs package.
The exchange this morning on ABC News between Obama senior adviser David Axelrod and George Stepanopoulos is notable:
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it all or nothing?
AXELROD: The President has a package. The package works together. We need to do many things to get this economy moving and people back to work, not just one thing. Tokenism isn’t enough. We want them to pass the plan. The American people want them to pass the plan. We don’t want to play games. We don’t want to engage in brinkmanship. We want to put people back to work. This package will do that. They ought to act now.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So it’s all or nothing?
AXELROD: We want them to act now on this package. We’re not in a negotiation to break up the package. It’s not an a la carte menu. It is a strategy to get this country moving.
Stephanopoulos is echoing the GOP framing of the debate here, but Axelrod isn’t taking the bait. Even if Obama advisers don’t expect the plan to pass in its current form, and are staking out this hard line only to strengthen their leverage, that alone is notable, and represents an effort to try a new approach, one rooted in a more accurate reading of the current political reality than the one that drove Obama’s approach in past standoffs. Make no mistake: If this approach holds, it’s a major reset.
* White House insists things will be different this time: Relatedly,here’s Eugene Robinson:
A senior White House official told me last week that this time is different. The official said Obama will continue to push for the whole enchilada — the tax cuts, the infrastructure bank, the targeted assistance for veterans and teachers, all of it. Such resolve, if Obama follows through, is music to the Democratic base and good news for the economy.
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:
The Census Bureau issued data this morning on poverty, incomes, and health coverage in 2010.Below are some charts to show how the new figures look in historical context, and here’s our statement with analysis.
The People’s View:
It’s definitely full of all kinds of goodness, but above all else:
The President’s plan calls for legislation that would make it unlawful to refuse to hire applicants solely because they are unemployed or to include in a job posting a provision that unemployed persons will not be considered.
2. Putting Workers Back on the Job While Rebuilding and Modernizing America A “Returning Heroes” hiring tax credit for veterans: This provides tax credits from $5,600 to $9,600 to encourage the hiring of unemployed veterans. Preventing up to 280,000 teacher layoffs,while keeping cops and firefighters on the job. Modernizing at least 35,000 public schools across the country,supporting new science labs, Internet-ready classrooms and renovations at schools across the country, in rural and urban areas. Immediate investments in infrastructure and a bipartisan National Infrastructure Bank, modernizing our roads, rail, airports and waterways while putting hundreds of thousands of workers back on the job. A New “Project Rebuild”, which will put people to work rehabilitating homes, businesses and communities, leveraging private capital and scaling land banks and other public-private collaborations. Expanding access to high-speed wireless as part of a plan for freeing up the nation’s spectrum.
That right there is huge. The goal, as it was the first time Obama tried this, is to get broadband coverage to 98% of the country. It would be done by auctioning off bandwidth to be used for broadband, with some of the proceeds going to the expansion of broadband infrastructure and the rest paying down the debt. I’m assuming that’s part of how the plan is already paid for, so that there’s no reasonable explanation to justify GOP opposition. Not that that will stop them, but maybe this will:
Because research shows that wireless equals jobs. “Recent data shows that making additional spectrum available for wireless will lead to 500,000 new jobs in America,” said Jonathan Spalter, chairman of the non-profit wireless industry think tank Mobile Future, in a written statement. A report that Mobile Future released in August spelled it out: “Building on previous studies, we estimate that the reassignment of 300 MHz of spectrum to mobile broadband within five years will spur $75 billion in new capital spending, creating more than 300,000 jobs and $230 billion in additional Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Awwww…who am I kidding?! They will stomp and pout and still say no; then they will gnash and wail and snivel when they’re voted out on their arses come 2012. Come to think of it, I double-dog dare them to say no! Care to join me? I’m going to call Boehner and ask point-blank when the vote on the bill will be. It is now with the relevant committees in each chamber of Congress.
More people are living with family amid high unemployment rates and a slow economy, but while the phenomenon is keeping the poverty rate lower, it has wider negative economic consequences.
In a presentation as part of its wider report on income, poverty and health insurance, the Census Bureau noted a big jump in the number of individuals and families doubling up. Census says 69.2 million, or 30%, were doubled-up in 2011, up from 61.7 million adults, or 27.7%, in 2007. “Doubled-up” households include at least one person 18 or older who isn’t enrolled in school and isn’t the householder, spouse or cohabiting partner of the householder.
Much of the increase comes from young people, ages 25-34, living with their parents. Some 5.9 million, or 14.2% of 25-to-34 year olds, lived with their parents in 2011, up from 4.7 million before the recession.
“These young adults who lived with their parents had an official poverty rate of only 8.4%, since the income of their entire family is compared with the poverty threshold,” David Johnson chief of the Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division at the U.S. Census Bureau said. “If their poverty status were determined by their own income, 45.3% would have had income falling below the poverty threshold for a single person under age 65.”
Fewer households means fewer consumers for businesses desperate for demand. (You don’t need to buy a new TV if you can just use mom and dad’s.) At the same time, it continues to drag on a housing market that needs to burn off excess supply.
Meanwhile, the struggles of young adults can have a broad economic impact. Parents supporting adult children have less money to spend on themselves, not to mention less income to save for retirement.
To be sure, there is a silver lining if the broader economy can improve. Necessity is likely the primary driver of the increase in doubling-up. Many of these families and children living at home may want to make the jump out on their own as soon as their economic standing improves. That could represent a strong shadow demand for housing, as well as a potential jump in household formation with a resultant boost in consumption.
Republicans won’t back the tax increases President Barack Obama has proposed to pay for his job-creation bill and the issue may not be resolved until after the 2012 elections, a top Republican in the House of Representatives said on Tuesday.
This morning, the group American Family Voices filed a formal ethics complaint against Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, regarding the “symbiotic relationship” the congressman has established between his business interests and public responsibilities. Listing Issa’s many conflicts of interest, the letter, sent to the Office of Congressional Ethics, heavily cites a New York Times piece as well as original ThinkProgress investigations:
– The letter notes that Issa purchased millions of dollars worth of high-yield Goldman Sachs mutual funds at the same time the congressman pressured the Securities and Exchange Commission to drop a lawsuit against Goldman Sachs for allegedly defrauding investors.
– The letter highlights Peter Haller, a former Goldman Sachs VP, who went to work for Issa on the Oversight Committee and used his power to pressure bank regulators to ease new Dodd-Frank rules on banks like Goldman Sachs.
– The letter revisits a controversial earmark made by Issa near property he owns in Vista, California. As ThinkProgress first reported, the taxpayer project would have enhanced the value of several lucrative office buildings purchased by Issa.
While testifying before a joint congressional intelligence committee hearing, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said domestic terrorists influenced by Al Qaeda have emerged as a serious threat in the 10 years since 9/11.
“A great and growing concern to all of us in the intelligence community… is the growth of the homegrown variety of extremists fed by, motivated by, engaging online with Al Qaeda and other extremist forms,” Clapper said during the hearing. “The reason that’s such a critical challenge to us is the homegrown variant often doesn’t use signatures if you will, behavioral signatures that are detectable by classical intelligence means. So this is a great concern to us.”
n his prepared statement, Clapper said Al Qaeda’s “increasingly sophisticated” English-language propaganda that provides guidance on how to carry out domestic attacks “remains easily available via the Internet.”
The Internet has been used to offer instructions on how to use weapons and make explosives, in addition to offering up target ideas, Clapper said.
And online, English-language web forums “foster a sense of community and further indoctrinate new recruits,” he added.
An added concern stems from individuals who may independently plan attacks based on “a variety of personal rationales,” Clapper said.
“Such individuals, who may independently plan attacks with no guidance from associates in the U.S. or overseas, are difficult to detect and disrupt, and could carry out attacks with little or no warning,” he said in his prepared statement.
One in 31 Americans is lost in the criminal-justice system. As his senate career winds down, Webb is determined to change that.
[…] As Republicans in Washington waste yet another summer afternoon whining about Democrats, and Democrats play rubber to their glue, Webb has skipped town and driven west, 30 minutes down I-66, to Fairfax County’s juvenile detention center. There are no TV crews to dazzle. No local leaders to praise. And no voters to persuade. Just Webb doing what he’s been doing for nearly three decades now: touring a prison and asking a lot of questions.
Webb is as much a hero as any nonfictional person can be. In 1969, he shielded a fellow soldier from a grenade and caught a back full of shrapnel as he singlehandedly destroyed three Viet Cong bunkers, earning a Navy Cross for his valor. (He later wrote several novels about the war.) But what Webb has accomplished over the past two years has been as brave, in its own quiet way, as what he did that day in the An Hoa Basin: he has transformed criminal-justice reform from a fringe concern—an issue his own advisers called “political suicide,” he tells Newsweek—into a real possibility. “Once a kid is incarcerated, that’s it for him,” Webb says. “We need smarter ways of dealing with people at apprehension, and even whether you decide to arrest. The types of courts they go into—drug courts, as opposed to regular courts. How long you sentence them. How you get them ready to return home.”
[I] in 2009, the senator introduced legislation that would create the first comprehensive national review of crime policy in 45 years—legislation that he has been fighting, with plenty of “stress, insanity, and gnashing of teeth,” as one aide puts it, to pass, in vain, ever since. Now Webb, who recently announced that he will not seek a second term in 2012, thinks he may have finally found his moment. “The timing is right,” says Jeremy Travis, president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “We have millions of people in prison when states are struggling to balance their budgets, and, for the first time, a vibrant, nonideological middle ground on crime policy. This is a moral and fiscal problem now..” […]
“Ever been to the Richmond city jail?” he asks, referring to Virginia’s most notorious (and notoriously overcrowded) prison, where one inmate recently died of heat exposure and others were busted dealing heroin. “This is the same state. But I have visited at least a dozen prisons in my life, and I’ve never seen anything as bad. Go from there to here, and it’s like two different countries.”
There are two types of people in America: those, like Webb, who think the criminal-justice system desperately needs to be fixed, and those who haven’t been paying attention. In 1980, fewer than 500,000 Americans were in prison; today, the number is 2.3 million. To put that statistic in perspective, the median incarceration rate among all countries is 125 prisoners for every 100,000 people. In England, it’s 153; Germany, 89; Japan, a mere 63. In America, it’s 743, by far the highest in the world. Include all the U.S. residents currently on probation or parole, and our country’s correctional population soars to about 7.2 million—roughly one in every 31 Americans. All told, the U.S. incarcerates nearly 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, even though it’s home to only 5 percent of the world’s inhabitants.
It’s often claimed that the Solyndra loan guarantee was “rushed through” by the Obama Administration for political reasons. In fact, the Solyndra loan guarantee was a multi-year process that the Bush Administration launched in 2007.
You’d never know from the media coverage that:
- The Bush team tried to conditionally approve the Solyndra loan just before President Obama took office.
- The company’s backers included private investors who had diverse political interests.
- The loan comprises just 1.3% of DOE’s overall loan portfolio. To date, Solyndra is the only loan that’s known to be troubled.
Because one of the Solyndra investors, Argonaut Venture Capital, is funded by George Kaiser — a man who donated money to the Obama campaign — the loan guarantee has been attacked as being political in nature. What critics don’t mention is that one of the earliest and largest investors, Madrone Capital Partners, is funded by the family that started Wal-Mart, the Waltons. The Waltons have donated millions of dollars to Republican candidates over the years.
With a stagnant job market and Obama sinking in the polls, the media has decided on a narrative that matches right-wing talking points but not the facts. For instance, Bloomberg had this incredibly misleading headline yesterday, “Obama Team Backed $535 Million Solyndra Aid as Auditor Warned on Finances.” If you replace “backed” with “touted,” that would be accurate. But the headline makes it seem like the White House had decided to give $535 million to a company after an auditor had said it was financially troubled.
You have to read half the story to learn that the loan guarantee was made in 2009 and the audit was done in 2010 after market conditions had sharply worsened! And the Bloomberg story never explains that the company itself raised $250 million from private investors after the supposedly devastating audit!
To set the record straight, Climate Progress is publishing this timeline — verified by Department of Energy officials — that shows how the loan guarantee came together under both administrations. In fact, rather than rushing the loan for Solyndra through, the Obama Administration restructured the original Bush-era deal to further protect the taxpayers’ investment:
July 2005: The Bush Administration signs the Energy Policy Act of 2005 into law, creating the 1703 loan guarantee program.
February 2006 – October 2006: In February, Solyndra raises its first round of venture financing worth $10.6 million from CMEA Capital, Redpoint Ventures, and U.S. Venture Partners. In October, Argonaut Venture Capital, an investment arm of George Kaiser, invests $17 million into Solyndra. Madrone Capital Partners, an investment arm of the Walton family, invests $7 million. Those investments are part of a $78.2 million fund.
December 2006: Solyndra Applies for a Loan Guarantee under the 1703 program.
Late 2007: Loan guarantee program is funded. Solyndra was one of 16 clean-tech companies deemed ready to move forward in the due diligence process. The Bush Administration DOE moves forward to develop a conditional commitment.
October 2008: Then Solyndra CEO Chris Gronet touted reasons for building in Silicon Valley and noted that the “company’s second factory also will be built in Fremont, since a Department of Energy loan guarantee mandates a U.S. location.”
November 2008: Silicon prices remain very high on the spot market, making non-silicon based thin film technologies like Solyndra’s very attractive to investors. Solyndra also benefits from having very low installation costs. The company raises $144 million from ten different venture investors, including the Walton-family run Madrone Capital Partners. This brings total private investment to more than $450 million to date.
January 2009: In an effort to show it has done something to support renewable energy, the Bush Administration tries to take Solyndra before a DOE credit review committee just one day before President Obama is inaugurated. The committee, consisting of career civil servants with financial expertise, remands the loan back to DOE because it wasn’t ready for conditional commitment.
March 2009: The same credit committee approves the strengthened loan application. The deal passes on to DOE’s credit review board. Career staff (not political appointees) within the DOE issue a conditional commitment setting out terms for a guarantee.
June 2009: As more silicon production facilities come online while demand for PV wavers due to the economic slowdown, silicon prices start to drop. Meanwhile, the Chinese begin rapidly scaling domestic manufacturing and set a path toward dramatic, unforeseen cost reductions in PV. Between June of 2009 and August of 2011, PV prices drop more than 50%.
September 2009: Solyndra raises an additional $219 million. Shortly after, the DOE closes a $535 million loan guarantee after six months of due diligence. This is the first loan guarantee issued under the 1703 program. From application to closing, the process took three years – not the 41 days that is sometimes reported.
January – June 2010: As the price of conventional silicon-based PV continues to fall due to low silicon prices and a glut of solar modules, investors and analysts start questioning Solyndra’s ability to compete in the marketplace. Despite pulling its IPO (as dozens of companies did in 2010), Solyndra raises an additional $175 million from investors.
November 2010: Solyndra closes an older manufacturing facility and concentrates operations at Fab 2, the plant funded by the $535 million loan guarantee. The Fab 2 plant is completed that same month — on time and on budget — employing around 3,000 construction workers during the build-out, just as the DOE projected.
February 2011: Due to a liquidity crisis, investors provide $75 million to help restructure the loan guarantee. The DOE rightly assumed it was better to give Solyndra a fighting chance rather than liquidate the company – which was a going concern – for market value, which would have guaranteed significant losses.
March 2011: Republican Representatives complain that DOE funds are not being spent quickly enough.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI): “despite the Administration’s urgency and haste to pass the bill [the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] … billions of dollars have yet to be spent.”
And House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Cliff Stearns (R-FL): “The whole point of the Democrat’s stimulus bill was to spend billions of dollars … most of the money still hasn’t been spent.”
June 2011: Average selling prices for solar modules drop to $1.50 a watt and continue on a pathway to $1 a watt. Solyndra says it has cut costs by 50%, but analysts worry how the company will compete with the dramatic changes in conventional PV.
August 2011: DOE refuses to restructure the loan a second time.
September 2011: Solyndra closes its manufacturing facility, lays off 1,100 workers and files for bankruptcy. The news is touted as a failure of the Obama Administration and the loan guarantee office. However, as of September 12, the DOE loan programs office closed or issued conditional commitments of $37.8 billion to projects around the country. The $535 million loan is only 1.3% of DOE’s loan portfolio. To date, Solyndra is the only loan that’s known to be troubled.
Meanwhile, after complaining about stimulus funds moving too quickly, Congressmen Fred Upton and Cliff Stearns are now claiming that the Administration was pushing funds out the door too quickly: “In the rush to get stimulus cash out the door, despite repeated claims by the Administration to the contrary, some bets were bad from the beginning.”
What critics fail to mention is that the Solyndra deal is more than three years old, started under the Bush Administration, which tried to conditionally approve the loan right before Obama took office. Rather than “pushing funds out the door too quickly,” the Obama Administration restructured the original loan when it came into office to further protect the taxpayers’ investment.
After the ten-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the intelligence community, consisting of everything from the CIA to the Homeland Security Department, is outsourcing too much of its work to private contractors and is breaking a pledge to reduce the number of private contractors hired to help conduct, collect and analyze information.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Intelligence Committee, pointed out the broken promise at a hearing Tuesday, noting that the intelligence community is not living up to a commitment to reduce private contractors by 5 percent a year.
“We had an agreement in 2009 to reduce [intelligence community] contractor numbers by 5 percent a year, but it’s clear that progress has not been maintained and sufficient cuts are not being made,” Feinstein told a joint-hearing of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to assess progress in U.S. intelligence gathering and analysis over the last ten years.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence reported that “core contractors,” meaning those who directly augment the government’s intelligence staffs, accounted for 23 percent of the total intelligence community workforce, down only 1 percent from the year before, Feinstein pointed out.
“The overall number of contractors is in the tens of thousands – and the number across intelligence, defense, and homeland security is in the hundreds of thousands,” she said.
In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the intelligence community hired thousands of contractors as a matter of convenience and expediency. However, contractor abuses, typified by Blackwater’s infamous actions in Iraq, demonstrated just how dangerous it can be to outsource military and intelligence-gathering functions, especially capturing and interrogating detainees.
Feinstein argued that the crucial parts of intelligence operations – the collection, exploitation and analysis of information – are “inherently governmental functions that should be done by government employees at one-third less the cost per employee.”
One week into his new role as CIA director, David Petraeus testified Thursday that contractors are at the top of his list of potential cuts in the new era of belt-tightening.
“Contractors – we’re looking very hard at that as one of the areas we can achieve some savings,” Petraeus said, recognizing the fact that many contractors have been devoted partners and have died in service to their country.
The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan in late August issued a report recommending that the Pentagon phase out its use of private security contractors or find a way to ensure that their presence on the battlefield does not put soldiers in harm’s way.
The Dish covered the remarkable web essay of Mike Lofgren, but I didn’t comment myself because it so closely follows my own argument in “The Conservative Soul” and on this blog, that it felt somewhat superfluous. But I want to draw attention to the crux of the piece, because if we are to understand how the right became so unmoored from prudence, moderation and tradition and became so infatuated with recklessness, extremism and revolution, we need to understand how it happened.
It is, of course, as my shrink never fails to point out, multi-determined. But here is Lofgren’s attempt at a Rosebud:
How did the whole toxic stew of GOP beliefs – economic royalism, militarism and culture wars cum fundamentalism – come completely to displace an erstwhile civilized Eisenhower Republicanism?
It is my view that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism (which is a subset of the decline of rational problem solving in America) may have been the key ingredient of the takeover of the Republican Party. For politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes – at least in the minds of followers – all three of the GOP’s main tenets.
That too is my view: that the GOP, deep down, is behaving as a religious movement, not as a political party, and a radical religious movement at that. Lofgren sees the “Prosperity Gospel” as a divine blessing for personal enrichment and minimal taxation (yes, that kind of Gospel is compatible with Rand, just not compatible with the actual Gospels); for military power (with a major emphasis on the punitive, interventionist God of the Old Testament); and for radical change and contempt for existing institutions (as a product of End-Times thinking, intensified after 9/11).
Lofgren argues that supply-side economics attaches to the fundamentalist worldview purely by coalition necessity. The fundamentalists are not that interested in debt or economics (they sure didn’t give a damn as spending exploded under Bush) but if their coalition partners insist on a certain economic doctrine, they’ll easily go along with it, as long as it is never compromised. If it’s presented as eternal dogma, they can handle it – and defend it with gusto. If it also means that Obama is wrong, so much the better. Most theo-political movements need an anti-Christ of some sort; and Obama – even though he is the most demonstrably Christian president since Carter – fills the role.
And so this political deadlock conceals a religious war at its heart. Why after all should one abandon or compromise sacred truths? And for those whose Christianity can only be sustained by denial of modern complexity, of scientific knowledge, and of what scholarly
studies of the Bible’s origins have revealed, this fusion of political and spiritual lives into one seamless sensibility and culture, is irresistible. And public reminders of modernity – that, say, many Americans do not celebrate Christmas, that gay people have human needs, that America will soon be a majority-minority country and China will overtake the US in GDP by mid-century – are terribly threatening.
But all these nuances do not therefore vanish. The gays don’t disappear. China keeps growing. The population becomes browner and browner. Women’s lives increasingly become individual choices not social fates. And this enrages and terrifies the fundamentalist even more. Hence the occasional physical lashing out – think Breivik or McVeigh – but more profoundly, the constant endless insatiable cultural lashing out at the “elites” who have left fundamentalism behind, and have, on many core issues, science on their side. So within this religious core, and fundamentalist mindset, you also have the steely solder of ressentiment, intensified even further by a period of white middle and working class decline and economic crisis.
That’s how I explain the current GOP. It can only think in doctrines, because the alternative is living in a complicated, global, modern world they both do not understand and also despise. Taxes are therefore always bad. Government is never good. Foreign enemies must be pre-emptively attacked. Islam is not a religion. Climate change is an elite conspiracy to impoverish America. Terror suspects are terrorists. When Americans torture, it is not torture. When Christians murder, they are not Christians. And if you change your mind on any of these issues, you are a liberal, an apostate, and will be attacked.
f your view of conservatism is one rooted in an instinctual, but agile, defense of tradition, in a belief in practical wisdom that alters constantly with circumstance, in moderation and the defense of the middle class as the stabilizing ballast of democracy, in limited butstrong government … then the GOP is no longer your party (or mine).
Religion has replaced all of this, reordered it, and imbued the entire political-economic-religious package with zeal. And the zealous never compromise. They don’t even listen.
Think of Michele Bachmann’s wide-eyed, Stepford stare as she waits for a questioner to finish before providing another pre-cooked doctrinal nugget. My fear – and it has building for a decade and a half, because I’ve seen this movement up-close from within and also on the front lines of the marriage wars – is that once one party becomes a church with unchangeable doctrines, and once it has supplanted respect for institutions and civility with the radical pursuit of timeless doctrines and hatred of governing institutions, then our democracy is in grave danger.
If you ask why I remain such a strong Obama supporter, it is because I see him as that rare individual able to withstand the zeal without becoming a zealot in response, and to overcome the recklessness of pure religious ideology with pragmatism, civility and reason. That’s why they fear and loathe him. Not because his policies are not theirs’. But because his temperament is their nemesis. If he defeats them next year, they will break, because their beliefs are so brittle, but will then reform, along Huntsman-style lines. If they defeat him, I fear we will no longer be participating in a civil conversation, however fraught, but in a civil war.
David Corn, Mother Jones:
Let’s cut to the chase: The GOP presidential field is a pack of liars.
That sounds like a rather intemperate assessment, the sort of statement that is motivated by bitter partisanship or blinding ideology. But taking a clear-eyed look at both the false statements hurled at Monday’s Republican debate (brought to you by the odd merger of CNN and the Tea Party Express) and those deployed at other times in this still burgeoning primary race, it’s difficult to reach any other conclusion. Most of these presidential wannabes are shoveling lies—and forcing fact-checkers to work overtime.
Glenn Kessler, who writes the Washington Post’s Fact Checker column,spotted numerous whoppers at Monday’s debate. (It was easy work). Some examples:
- Texas Gov. Rick Perry repeated the conservative trope that Obama’s stimulus package “created zero jobs.” Zero? The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says the bill lifted employment levels—by creating or saving jobs—by up to 3 million jobs. Politifact.com, a Pulitzer Prize-winning site,previously awarded Perry a “pants on fire” verdict for making this untrue claim in September.
- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney claimed that President Barack Obama “cut Medicare by $500 billion,” and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), more provocatively (of course) contended that the president “stole over $500 billion out of Medicare to switch it to Obamacare.” Not so. Obama’s health care plan calls for saving $500 billion over 10 years, to be squeezed from payments to health care providers. The amount of Medicare spending will continue to rise. Moreover, the House GOP budget this year calls for the same level of cuts (even though Republican candidates ran against Democrats in the last election, accusing Obama and the Dems of slashing Medicare).
- Newt Gingrich boasted that he “helped balance the budget for four straight years” when he was the House Speaker. Actually, the budget was only balanced for two of the years covered by his speakership. And it was balanced partly because revenues were increased by President Bill Clinton; Gingrich opposed Clinton’s tax hikes.
- Bachmann threw out another one of her favorite fake charges: By trying to raise the debt ceiling, Obama was seeking a “$2.4 trillion blank check.” There’s nothing true about this charge. Raising the debt ceiling only permitted the federal government to pay its bills for spending already approved; it did not provide the president with any ability to spend. (Note to Bachmann: Per the Constitution, Congress controls spending.)
Politifact.com found other big lies hiding in plain sight:
- Under attack from Romney, Perry defended his claim that Social Security is a “Ponzi scheme,” noting, “It has been called a Ponzi scheme by many people before me.” Politifact.com declares, “the analogy does not hold up.”
- Perry was bashed by Bachmann for issuing a 2007 executive order requiring all Texas girls to receive a vaccine against the human papillomavirus (a vaccine produced by Merck, which had retained Perry’s former chief of staff as a lobbyist and donated to his campaign). Perry, admitting he had erred in how he had imposed this requirement, repeatedly asserted that he had allowed an opt-out for parents who didn’t want their daughters to receive this vaccine. According to Politifact Texas, this claim is “mostly false.”
Oh, and there have been so many more falsehoods flung during the fledgling campaign. At the previous week’s debate at the Reagan presidential library, ex-Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania claimed that Obama was forced to take action in Libya by the United Nations. Not even close. Obama’s ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, had pushed the Security Council for a very forceful resolution endorsing military intervention in Libya. During this debate, Romney, according toFactcheck.org, “misleadingly claimed that the Massachusetts health care overhaul [he enacted] affected just 8 percent of the state’s residents, while the federal law will affect ’100 percent of the people.’” Both plans compelled everyone to obtain insurance or pay a penalty.
Perry was not speaking the truth when he called Obama an “abject liar” for claiming that overall crime rates in towns on the US-Mexico border had declined. Crime rates had dropped. Perry also sidestepped the truth when he blamed the high rate of uninsured Texans on the federal government’s refusal to grant his state flexibility for its various health care programs. It was the Bush administration that rejected the state’s request for a waiver, because its application was shoddy and incomplete. Then Texas never resubmitted the application.
Bachmann, for her part, dropped one false bomb after another. She claimed the CBO had found that “Obamacare is killing jobs.” (Nope. The CBO had said that under Obama’s health care overhaul a small number of people who are only working to obtain health care insurance would leave their jobs because they would be able to receive health care through other means.) She maintained that “Obamacare took over one-sixth of the American economy.” (It was no government takeover.Politifact.com branded this contention the “lie of the year” in 2010.) And she falsely asserted that Obama has told Israel that “they need to shrink back to their indefensible 1967 borders.” (Obama said that the 1967 borders should be a starting point for the Israeli-Palestinian talks.)
All told, this is a big pile of collective bull. (And we’re only considering two debates.) But this heap of untruths poses a problem to political journalists: Should they take serial liars seriously? Given that one of them might end up in the White House, they must.
The mainstream media tends to shy away from describing candidates as liars. It can be seen as a qualitative judgment, and they like to stick to the facts. Media outlets do provide fact-checking features, such as Kessler’s excellent column. But they don’t see it as their job to call out the candidates. After all, did CNN’s Wolf Blitzer press any of the GOPers on their false statements?
The L-word is heavy artillery—ammo that’s tough to deploy. Lying suggests willfully peddling information known to be false. And who can read the mind of a politician? Yet in many of the instances cited above, the perps are repeat offenders—restating false statements that had already been demonstrated to be untrue. So though one cannot see what a candidate is thinking—perhaps Bachmann truly believes that Obama “stole” $500 billion from Medicare—a public figure who willfully (and repeatedly) neglects facts warrants being branded a liar. If not a liar, there’s another choice: delusional.
Politicians on all sides do tend to mug the truth. But the GOP race has amounted to a crime spree. And that’s as much of a story as who’s up and who’s down.
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones:
My Virginia readership must have had a mind meld this morning. Here’s Virginia friend #1:
Subj: Lord help us
Is it just me or does it seem like there is not one leader in the Democratic Party who has Obama’s back? Every day is like watching eleven members of the Republican team beat the crap out of a one-man Obama “team.” Why aren’t our leading Democrats out there every day slugging it out on Obama’s behalf?
The optics alone feed the growing idea that the Republicans are the much stronger Party and we really just ought to go ahead and put them in charge of everything in 2012. What the hell is going on?
And here’s Virginia friend #2:
Subj: Any Democrats wanna speak out?
Anyone, anyone (other than the President), anyone? Republicans putting party before country, Republicans standing in the way of recovery, Republicans’ same old tricks, no ideas on the right for economy, no need for quick action, say Republicans, as country falls back into recession? Anyone? Jesus, anything other than a grab bag of purely Republican quotes about how socialist the bill is?
Can someone say something? Do Democrats even support the bill?
Or are we back to the Days of Pique I remember from pre-Lewinsky Clinton where Democrats would let the president hang in the breeze due to some slight disagreement with him?
Nobody’s obliged to back up the president out of party loyalty if they have a genuine disagreement with him. But my Viriginia crew is right: Obama’s jobs bill really ought to be something the party can rally behind. Even if you think it’s too small, you can still support it. But the Democratic response has been pretty tepid. They must really be looking forward to a Rick Perry presidency or something.
Rep. Steve King (R-IA) wants to bring President Obama’s uncle, Onyango Obama, before Congress to testify on whether he received preferential treatment after he was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol.
“We have to bring drunken ‘Uncle Omar’ in front of the House Judiciary Committee, drill down into this, and tell America what’s going on,” King told Fox News, referring to Obama’s uncle, who is in the country illegally.
He also took a shot at Obama’s aunt, who was granted asylum in the country by a Republican-appointed immigration judge because her immigration status was leaked just ahead of the 2008 presidential election.
A FEMA funding bill stalls in the Senate despite attracting a majority of the vote, to the surprise of no one
Did you know that a vote to fund FEMA failed in the Senate yesterday?
It failed, of course, with a majority of the vote. Fifty-three voted to proceed with the bill, and 33 senators voted no. The $6.9 billion in funding was attached to a non-controversial bill renewing sanctions on the government of Burma. Only one senator bothered to argue against the bill before a small minority quietly blocked it.
“Has anybody given any serious thought to that? “asked Sessions. “Seven billion dollars? The state of Alabama’s general budget is $2 billion. Seven billion is a lot of money. We have not looked at it, we have not thought about it.”
“I strongly oppose adding another debt spending bill that we haven’t carefully examined every penny of it to make sure it’s all necessary and appropriate,” Sessions continued.
You hear it every four years: This is the most important election in a generation. So if I say it to you about 2012, you’ll probably tune me out as just another hyperbolic pundit. Which is why I’ll make it more specific: For the future of America’s two political parties, this is the most important election in a generation.
The 2008 election was consequential, of course. It decided which president would respond to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, which led to a lot of comparisons between the 2008 election and 1932. Most famously, Time magazine photoshopped President Obama’s face onto an iconic shot of a grinning Franklin Delano Roosevelt, with the headline: “The New New Deal.” Today, a similar cover might put Obama in a tent city and ask, “The next Hoover?”
In reality, Obama didn’t enter office at the right time to be FDR or Hoover. FDR was inaugurated in 1933 — more than three years into the Great Depression. The year before he took office, the country’s economy contracted by more than 13 percent and unemployment reached 23.6 percent. The suffering was pinned on his predecessor, and it had gone on long enough that a boom was in the offing — a boom that came, right on schedule, in 1934, when the economy grew by more than 10 percent. No wonder FDR was grinning.
Obama, by contrast, entered office as the crisis was peaking. The worst period of the crisis would prove to be the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009, which mostly passed before Obama assumed the presidency, but which only showed up in the unemployment numbers months later. By the end of 2009, the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve had the economy growing again. But the damage done in 2008 and early 2009, which shot unemployment to 10 percent, nevertheless manifested on his watch.
So the administration is betwixt and between: According to an August Associated Press poll, a majority of Americans still blame George W. Bush for the economic crisis. So Obama isn’t Hoover. But according to every poll conducted in recent months, a majority of Americans don’t think Obama has turned this thing around, so he’s not FDR, either. The next president, however, might be.
The pat story behind FDR’s victory and the ensuing decades of mostly Democratic dominance is that the president got the policy right and the politics followed. Whatever you believe about FDR’s policies, a more international perspective will disabuse you of the notion that the golden age for the Democratic Party was an ideological triumph rather than an accident of history. As Larry Bartels, a political scientist at Vanderbilt University, has written, globally, the pattern is clear: Whichever party was in power when the Great Depression hit was booted out of office, and whichever party was in power when the global recovery took hold reaped huge political benefits.
“In the U.S.,” wrote Bartels (pdf), “voters replaced Republicans with Democrats and the economy improved. In Britain and Australia, voters replaced Labor governments with conservatives and the economy improved. In Sweden, voters replaced Conservatives with Liberals, then with Social Democrats, and the economy improved.
“In the Canadian agricultural province of Saskatchewan, voters replaced Conservatives with Socialists and the economy improved. In the adjacent agricultural province of Alberta, voters replaced a socialist party with a right-leaning funny-money party created from scratch by a charismatic radio preacher . . . and the economy improved.
“In Weimar Germany, where economic distress was deeper and longer-lasting, voters rejected all of the mainstream parties, the Nazis seized power, and the economy improved. In every case, the party that happened to be in power when the Depression eased dominated politics for a decade or more thereafter.”
The 2008 economic crisis was not nearly so deep as the Great Depression — in part because of an aggressive policy response — and so the recovery is not likely to be so remarkable, nor the political benefits so dramatic. But they’re still likely to be present. And because a recovery is likely within five years — if it doesn’t happen, we’re sunk — whichever party wins the White House in 2012 is likely to get the credit, and so too will its policy agenda.
“Imagine someone like Rick Perry gets in and makes very dramatic changes in policy, like repealing health-care reform,” says Seth Masket, a political scientist at the University of Denver, “and then the next year the economy improves for reasons not related to the policies. Those policy shifts will nevertheless get the credit. And Obama’s approach will be discredited for a very long time.”
The 2008 election was crucial for enacting economic and social policy. The 2000 election reshaped U.S. foreign policy for a decade. But the 2012 election is likely to be the one that matters for ratifying policy and for gaining the majorities needed to make it for a long time to come — comparable, perhaps, to the 1980 election, when Ronald Reagan and the GOP benefited dramatically from Fed chief Paul Volcker’s success in crushing inflation.
Does that make 2012 the most important election in a generation? For the country, it’s hard to say. For the two political parties, yes. Yes, it does.
Greg Sargent, WaPo:
*This seems kind of important: Dan Eggen does the digging and finds Rick Perry took in at least $30,000 from Merck in the years before ordering young girls to use Merck’s HPV vaccine — far more than the mere $5000 Perry claimed could not buy him.
* Interesting piece by Dee Dee Myers, who says the battle is on for the hearts and minds of the American people on jobs, and to win it, Obama has to find a way of making an emotional pitch for the plan as crucial to fixing people’s lives.
* Brian Beutler on how the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office chief — who is not supposed to declare allegiance — has effectively endorsed Obama’s strategy to give the economy a boost.
* As Steve Benen keeps tirelessly pointing out, Obama’s basic approach is the consensus preferred by a wide variety of economists, market analysts and business leaders, but this somehow keeps getting lost in the discussion.
* As Jed Lewison notes, there’s really no percentage in the White House addressing what it will do if the House GOP hypothetically passes parts of the jobs bill, because it hasn’t happened yet and going that way steps on the larger message.
* Elizabeth Warren will rapidly vault to frontrunner status in the Dem primary, and she’s already polling only nine points behind Scott Brown, better than any Dem rival.
* With Dems likely to lose Anthony Weiner’s seat tonight, Politico’s Glenn Thrush counters the GOP interpretation:
Not to dismiss the NY special: But any race that includes David Weprin — for a seat that will soon disappear — is a bellwether of nuthin’
* But it does appear that some national Dem strategist types will interpret a loss as a very bad omen for 2012.
* And the incredible shrinking Michele Bachmann: She repeated the ridiculous “blank check” debt ceiling falsehood yet again last night. Remember when Bachmann’s debt ceiling demagoguery seemed to be making her a real contender? Memories.
Jim Messina, Campaign Manager Obama for America
f you’re someone who cares about seeing a campaign focused on substance between now and November 2012, I need you to become a part of one of our most important teams.
It’s called AttackWatch.com, and it launches today.
Here’s the deal: We all remember the birth certificate smear, the GOP’s barrage of lies about the Affordable Care Act, and the string of other phony attacks on President Obama that we’ve seen over the past few years.
There are a lot of folks on the other side who are chomping at the bit to distort the President’s record. It’s not a question of if the next big lie will come, just when — and what we’re prepared to do about it.
AttackWatch.com is exactly what it sounds like: a resource that allows us to nip these attacks in the bud before they show up on the airwaves and in emails — and then fight back with the truth.
By signing up, you’ll be on the front lines — you’ll hear about false claims as soon as they come up, and we’ll count on you to spread the truth to your friends and personal networks and let us know about new smears whenever you hear them.
Will you sign up now to be a part of AttackWatch.com?
I remember the smears from 2008 well, and I’m sure you do, too.
They didn’t just attack Barack Obama and Joe Biden. They went after everything this movement is built on, and everyone who supports it.
This time, they’re not just out to personally attack the President — they’re also out to mislead Americans about the record of accomplishments that he’s compiled. Just the other day, a Republican financier actually quoted Saddam Hussein in telling a group of millionaire donors that defeating President Obama will be “the mother of all wars.”
We’re launching AttackWatch.com today to make sure we’re ready for the attacks we know are coming — and armed with the ability to fight back quickly.
Sign up for AttackWatch.com now, and let’s get the facts out:
There’s no suger-coating the fact that Obama’s approval numbers on the economy are terrible, or that there’s widespread public pessimism that he can turn it around.
But polls that drill a bit deeper into public attitudes suggest an interesting disconnect: Despite all the disapproval and pessimism, Americans approve of the actual fiscal policies Obama is proposing.
We now have two national polls showing this dynamic. Today’s National Journal Congressional Connection poll shows that the public prefers Obama’s ideas on the economy to those of the GOP. Of the top five ideas preferred by respondents to the poll, four of them have been proposed by Obama, with large majorities thinking that cutting taxes on employers who hire new workers; providing funds to municipal governments to prevent public employee layoffs; helping homeowners refinance; and increasing spending on schools and roads all would be very or somewhat effective at creating jobs.
As Ronald Brownstein put it: “With some exceptions, those polled saw more promise in the ideas that Obama offered in his speech than proposals Republicans are touting.”
But this same poll also shows that the percent of Americans who say Obama’s policies have made their economic problems worse has doubled, and only a small minority expects his efforts to make a big overall difference.
This disconnect also turned up in last week’s NBC/WSJ poll. It found that majorities or pluralities support a range of Obama’s individual ideas — raising taxes on the wealthy; more federally funded road construction; and extensions of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits. At the same time, it also found high disapproval of Obama on the economy, and high overall pessimism that Obama will succeed in fixing it.
All this suggests disapproval of Obama on the economy may be more a referendum on the actual state of the economy and the overall failure of government to fix it, and less a referendum on Obama’s current suggested policies. It also suggests that as President, Obama will continue to bear the brunt of public disapproval even if Republicans block job-creation ideas that the public thinks would help ease unemployment.
If you want to understand why Obama and his advisers are taking the American Jobs Act to the people, this is why. Despite public skepticism about the Recovery Act, they believe the individual ideas in his new jobs package have public support. Short of getting some of them passed, the only way to break the current dynamic — in which the GOP reaps political dividends from blocking policies Americans say they approve of — is to drive home to Americans who is preventing them from passing.
Though voters’ views of the ideologies of the political parties have shifted little since the summer of 2010, an increasing number see the Republican Party as very conservative, while slightly fewer see the Democratic Party as very liberal.
In 2010, somewhat more, on balance, viewed the Democratic Party as very liberal than said the GOP was very conservative (26% vs. 18%). Currently, nearly identical percentages view the Democratic Party as very liberal and the Republican Party as very conservative (22%, 23% respectively).
This trend notwithstanding, many Republicans’ own ideological assessments fall to the right of the assessments they give to the GOP. Nearly four-in-ten (38%) Republican voters rate own ideology as more conservative than their impression of the Republican Party’s ideology.
Overall, perceptions of the parties’ ideologies are little changed from June 2010. Six-in-ten (60%) say the Republican Party is either very conservative or conservative, while 54% say the Democratic Party is either very liberal or liberal. In June 2010, 56% saw the GOP as conservative or very conservative and 58% saw the Democrats as liberal or very liberal.
Many Republicans Place GOP to the Left of Their Own Views
Voters were asked to rate their own political views – and the parties’ political views – on the same scale, from very conservative to very liberal. This makes it possible to compare voters’ own views with their assessments of the parties’ ideologies.
As in June 2010, about half of registered voters (52%) rate their own political views as more conservative than the rating they give the Democratic Party. Fewer voters (42%) see their own ideology as more liberal than the Republican Party’s.
Many Republican voters – particularly those who agree with the Tea Party – place themselves to the right of the GOP ideologically. Nearly four-in-ten Republican voters (38%) rate their own views as more conservative than the Republican Party’s. Just 19% see the GOP’s views as more liberal than their own, while 42% say the Republican Party’s ideology is about the same as their own.
Among Republicans and Republican-leaning voters who agree with the Tea Party, half (50%) place the GOP’s political views to the left of their own. Just 11% see the GOP as more conservative while 37% view the Republican Party’s views as similar to their own. By contrast, just 23% of Republicans and Republican leaners who do not agree with the Tea Party rate the GOP’s ideology as more liberal than their own, while 42% say the party’s views are about the same as their own and 33% see the GOP’s ideology as more conservative than their own.
Democratic voters are about as likely as Republican voters to say their own views are similar to their party’s (38% of Democrats, 42% of Republicans). Comparable percentages of Democrats say their own views are more liberal (31%), or more conservative (24%), than the party’s.
[Margins of error are pretty big.]
Ross has noted that this really will be the fundamental choice Republicans make these next few months: will they vote for a true believer or someone they think can beat Obama? Perry’s current strength in the polls, reiterated in the new one by CNN, comes from the fact that he wins on both scores. Perry has a 42 percent “electability” rating, and a 26 percent “true believer” rating. Romney, despite creaming Perry in the last debate (I’ll be liveblogging the next one tonight to see if Perry’s game improves) has 26 percent electability, and 17 percent true believer.
If we call this the viability index, Perry has 68 and Romney has 43. Palin, I should note since the MSM is intent on assuming she no longer exists, has 24. Ron Paul, whom the MSM insists has never existed as a viable candidate, has 19. Bachmann has 13. Palin, interestingly, beats Romney on true-believer status.
But on the core, simple “Who do you support?” question, there are four clear leaders: Perry, Romney, Palin and Paul. I’d throw Bachmann in for good measure. I don’t think the pundit class should narrow it down any more than that at this time. No votes happen this year. Let the field debate; lets watch these people react to events and to each other. And bide our time.
Crooks and Liars:
Don’t kid yourself that this is “just” Mississippi. The Christian right is going after birth control in every state:
Mississippi voters will be allowed to decide on a ballot measure that defines “personhood” from the moment of fertilization, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled last week. The measure could potentially outlaw abortions, birth control, in vitro fertilization and stem cell research across the state.
Measure 26, which will bypass the legislature and go straight to a popular ballot vote, redefines the term “person” as it appears throughout Mississippi’s Bill of Rights to include “all human beings from the moment of fertilization, cloning or the functional equivalent thereof.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit against the proposal earlier this year, not based on its content or constitutionality, but because Mississippi state law says a ballot initiative cannot be used to change the Bill of Rights.
The Mississippi Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit in a 7-2 ruling, saying that it had no power to review any ballot initiative before the actual vote takes place.
Let’s look at some of the interesting legal ramifications. If you go through in vitro fertilization, and it doesn’t work, you’d have to report that as a death. Same thing would go for very early miscarriages. How do we know you didn’t try to abort your pregnancy? Women would have to prove they didn’t murder their blastocyst/zygote/embryo/fetus.
Your blastocyst/zygote/embryo/fetus would have the right to inherit, naturally, so if you have a miscarriage, that could certainly tie up some estates — not to mention that Social Security would be paying survivors benefit if you’re pregnant and your spouse dies. Could be a little more costly!
And if people get illegal abortions, as people will when you make them impossible to get, that means the woman and her doctor can be charged with homicide. Of course, having a drink or a smoke during pregnancy is contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Geez, I just thought of something else — if you have sex while you’re pregnant, is that child sexual abuse?
The mind reels at the possibilities!
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
Will Shortz has served as the crossword puzzle editor for the New York Times since 1993. The only known person to hold a degree in enigmatology, the study of puzzles, he has been the puzzle master for NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday since the program’s inception in 1987. In 1978 he founded the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, a competition which became the subject of the 2006 documentary Wordplay. In that film, aficionados such as Jon Stewart and Bill Clinton attest to their love of Shortz’s puzzles, which are in fact only partly his. Each crossword is drawn from a pool of freelance submissions—roughly 75 to 100 per week—with the accepted puzzles edited and often heavily revised by Shortz. Accepted puzzles are arranged in ascending difficulty throughout the week, with the Saturday puzzle the most daunting and the Sunday edition the largest. Here Shortz shares a submission from Elizabeth Gorski, along with his edits and his thoughts on what makes a good puzzle.
This puzzle came from Elizabeth Gorski, one of the pros. Liz is great at putting fresh entries at the short spaces of a grid. That’s very hard to do. There was one thing about the construction I didn’t like, and that was at 35 Down. The answer was LORELAI, and the sirens on the Rhine are of course “Lorelei,” with an “e-i.” Liz’s clue was Rory’s mom on Gilmore Girls, and I didn’t think solvers should have to know that. Sometimes I’ll do little fixes myself. But this was big enough that I asked her to revise the grid. You can see the new letters in blue, where I’ve amended the manuscript. Then the puzzle was accepted. I earmarked it for a Wednesday, because the theme consists of straight-forward English, but it’s a little playful.
[…] Believe it or not, the green and the blue in this spiral is the same color.
I couldn’t believe it either, but I just measured the value in Photoshop: Red 0, Green 255, Blue 150 on both. Crazy. How could this be possible?
The reason why we are perceiving one color as different colors is because of the other colors surrounding the stripes. Each eye has six to seven million cones, which are concentrated in a central yellow spot known as the macula (I recently got mine lasered to fix some leaking blood vessels). These cones measure color in different wavelengths, overlapping in some of them. Our brain then compares those signals in an antagonistic manner, measuring differences in wavelengths between them. When some colors are combined, the brain can’t process the info from the cones correctly and we simply get confused. [gsu and Techi]
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
I used to take the view — and I think I’ve been pretty consistent about this — that special elections to Congress, while interesting on their own merits, should more or less be ignored in terms of their national implications.I still probably err toward that side now. The campaign press is likely to exaggerate the impact of special elections (as it does with most day-to-day events). If I were interviewed on television and had the time for just one five-second comment, it might be spent on pointing this out.
If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.
A Guide to Cutting Through Special-Election SpinBy NATE SILVER:
But that’s an oversimplified position. Special elections, unlike polls, are “hard” data — real people voting on real candidates and real issues — and can provide us with some insight if we look at their results very carefully.
Since we have the luxury of space here, let me make several quick points that pertain both to the contests in New York and Nevada on Tuesday night, and to the spin that you’re likely to hear from Republicans and Democrats afterward, depending on the results.
1. Blaming the candidate is often a poor excuse, as it appears to be here for Democrats.
Candidates can matter: Would Republicans have lost the Senate race in Delaware last year — they lost it in a landslide, in fact, by 17 points — had they nominated Michael N. Castle rather than Christine O’Donnell? Polls before the race suggested that Mr. Castle would have won.
Harry Reid ran a brilliant campaign to save his Senate seat in Nevada, but with an approval rating only in the high 30s, he probably would not have accomplished that had he been up against a better candidate than Sharron Angle.
Even in the case of the Massachusetts special election in 2010, there was room to assign some of the blame — certainly not all of it — to the Democratic candidate, Martha Coakley, as well as to give some of the credit to the strong personal qualities of Scott Brown.
But these are exceptional cases: Ms. O’Donnell and Ms. Angle were inexperienced candidates who were far outside the political mainstream in their states. Ms. Coakley insulted the Red Sox — in a race in Massachusetts.
I don’t think Assemblyman David I. Weprin, the Democratic candidate in the New York race, comes all that close to that bright-line test.
The grievances against him are fairly petty: for instance, that he misstated the size of the national debt — a gaffe, to be sure, but one of a minor magnitude that most candidates would expect to make at least once or twice over the course of a campaign. Or that Mr. Weprin is a bad dancer. (The Republican candidate, Bob Turner, made a couple of gaffes as well).
Mr. Weprin is not a world-beating candidate, but he’s been elected to other offices several times before and he holds positions on the issues that square well with his district. And it’s not as if Mr. Turner — a 70-year-old who has never held elected office before, who raised very little money and who lost by 20 points in 2010 — is the Queens equivalent of Scott Brown.
The polls did show that Mr. Weprin had favorability ratings inferior to those of Mr. Turner — but sometimes that’s a symptom of a losing campaign rather than one of its causes.
2. New York’s Ninth Congressional District has highly unusual demographics, with a set of local issues that are unlikely to extrapolate well to the rest of the country.
On the other hand, while all Congressional districts have their quirks, New York’s Ninth is especially unusual.
First, there are the local issues — Barack Obama’s positioning toward Israel, Mr. Weprin’s endorsement of a plan to build a mosque and Muslim cultural center in Lower Manhattan, and possibly gay marriage — that will resonate more in Queens than they will in the rest of the country.
Roughly 40 percent of voters in the Ninth District are Jewish, 20 times the rate in the country as a whole. Moreover, and perhaps more important, many of those voters are Orthodox Jews, who often have starkly different political viewpoints than Reform or secular Jews, and who are extremely rare in the United States outside a few spots in the New York region.
There’s also the fact that the district was already behaving unusually in 2008. Despite having a 37-point edge in party registration, Mr. Obama won the election by only 11 points there — barely better than the seven-point edge he had nationwide. I doubt that there was any district in the country, perhaps outside a few remnants of the “Solid South,” where so many enrolled Democrats voted against Mr. Obama.
Mr. Obama’s unpopularity is no doubt a huge factor in this race. But certain types of critiques are likely to be disproportionately resonant in this particular district compared with others.
3. If the polls are right, the result in Nevada should be as troubling to Democrats as the result in New York.
Although the special election in Nevada has gotten less attention, in some ways it might be the more appropriate race for drawing national implications.
Sure, Nevada’s Second Congressional District has a few oddities: it’s had fast population growth and crashing housing prices. But its demographics are otherwise fairly “normal” and heterogeneous. And in contrast to the New York district, it seems to be a place where Democrats were making a lot of progress: Mr. Obama lost it by less than a full percentage point in 2008, whereas John Kerry was beaten there by 16 points in 2004.
Democrats probably weren’t going to be favored in this district, which is still somewhat Republican-leaning. But a double-digit loss, as seems possible based on the polls, is a decidedly subpar result for them.
In addition, the national implications notwithstanding, Nevada is a pivotal state in both the presidential and Senate elections next year.
4. Academic studies find that special elections do have some predictive power, especially taken as a group.
A study by David Smith and Thomas L. Brunell on special elections to the House since 1900 finds that they do anticipate general election results to some extent: there is a modest, but statistically significant, correlation between how many seats change hands during special elections and which party does best in the next midterms.
The connection does not always work. In advance of the 2010 elections, Democrats won seven of the nine special elections to the House, with an even score as far as seats changing parties. (Democrats lost Hawaii’s First Congressional District to Republicans, but won New York’s 23rd, both under somewhat unusual circumstances with multicandidate fields.) Then they lost 63 seats in November.
Nor is it clear that special elections have predictive power above and beyond other factors, like economic performance and generic ballot polls. Still, they seem to provide kernels of useful data.
5. Special elections have more predictive power if you look at the margin of victory and not just the result.
Mr. Smith and Mr. Brunell have another finding that echoes something I’ve frequently said about special elections: They have more predictive power for national elections if you look at the margins of victory rather than the winners and losers. If Mr. Weprin pulls out a victory by 1,000 votes, we should basically draw the same implications as if he had lost by 1,000 votes, even though the headlines will be much different.
6. Special elections can also affect the behavior and morale of the parties, and they may do so here.
But that assumes that parties are as cool-headed about the results as we’re attempting to be here. And they aren’t. A loss in New York’s Ninth District, after a rough couple of months for Democrats, will only worsen their morale. It could discourage other Democrats from running.
And it could affect campaign strategy in other races. Republicans might conclude that Israel is a vulnerability for Mr. Obama, for instance, and make it a bigger part of their campaigns. That may or may not be a good strategy for them — but it could affect the landscape of the campaign all the same.
7. Special elections won’t provide us with much insight into the degree of anti-incumbent sentiment.
This is axiomatic: Barring unusual cases, incumbents aren’t on the ballot in special elections. So their results are likely to tell us more about how open-seat races might play out than those in which there is an incumbent on the ballot.
In some ways, in fact, a poor result for Democrats might tell us more about the Senate picture, where there are a number of key open-seat races (including in Nevada), than it would about the House, where the Democrats have dozens of fertile Republican incumbent targets. A “throw the bums out” mentality could still produce some gains there even if Democrats were having a rough night otherwise.
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