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Chernynkaya On October - 19 - 2011

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

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BUDGET

Pentagon’s accounting shambles may cost an additional $1 billion

iWatch News:

The Pentagon, which previously warned that reliable military spending figures could not be produced until 2017, has discovered that financial ledgers are in worse shape than expected and it may need to spend a billion dollars more to make DOD’s financial accounting credible, according to defense officials and congressional sources.

Experts say the Pentagon’s accounting has never been reliable. A lengthy effort by the military services to implement new financial systems at a cost so far of more than $6 billion has itself been plagued by overruns and delays, senior defense officials say. The Government Accountability Office said in a report last month that although the services can now fully track incoming appropriations, they still cannot demonstrate their funds are being spent as they should.

The issue of poor bookkeeping has taken on particular political salience as lawmakers more closely scrutinize the $671 billion annual military budget for waste, fraud and abuse amid soaring federal deficits. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, responding in part to bipartisan pressures, announced Tuesday that DOD does not intend to wait six more years — as agreed in 2009 — to put in place long-awaited accounting reforms that advocates say will increase efficiencies and reduce mismanagement.

“The ability to audit our books ought to be something we do on a faster track, and we will,” Panetta said in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. At a House Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday, Panetta announced a new deadline of 2014 for one major financial audit, covering the status of the department’s funds at the end of the fiscal year. Three other major financial audits, covering its assets and liabilities, net costs and  aspects of the financing of operations, still will not be ready before 2017, department officials said. The details of how the new target date is to be met will not be known for another 60 days.

Panetta’s acceleration of even a single deadline may nonetheless stoke new tensions with the military services, which by many accounts ignored accounting requirements for years and are only now moving unsteadily to fix their books, arguing that many accounting rules are inappropriate for warfighters. Some top service officials have said that even the 2017 deadline was too soon.

Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who chairs a House Armed Services Committee panel examining DOD’s financial management, said that Panetta’s pledge to meet an earlier deadline would be helpful in forcing others in the department to make “hard choices” about devoting time and resources to audit compliance.

“Forcing this deadline,” Conaway said, “will cause the system to police itself.”

But the new deadline will also increase expenditures, sources say. Above the $6 billion already committed, Pentagon officials say they were already budgeting $300 million a year for new accounting systems and other preparations for 2017, or a total of $1.5 billion in additional expenses. Several said that any aceleration in the deadlines would cause that spending to rise.

An essential fix

The debate is not an abstraction; senior defense officials and experts on Capitol Hill say that until the military’s books are fixed, the Pentagon — responsible for more than 43 percent of all discretionary spending— will remain unable to determine what its operations and weapons systems really cost; will be unaware of how many spare parts it has or needs and will be stymied in attempts to find savings from duplication and inefficiencies.

Panetta is not the first defense secretary to express frustration over the department’s attempts to modernize byzantine accounting systems, which still consists partly of hand-written ledger entries that independent experts contend are frequently fictional.

Then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates last May memorably described the Pentagon’s efforts to account for its expenditures as a “semi-feudal system” — “an amalgam of fiefdoms without centralized mechanisms to allocate resources, track expenditures and measure results.” Gates said that in nearly five years at the department’s helm it was “nearly impossible to get accurate information and answers to questions such as ‘how much did you spend’ and ‘how many people do you have.’ ”

A report to Congress by the Pentagon comptroller that same month documented remaining obstacles to DOD compliance with accounting requirements set by law for all federal agencies in 1994. Eleven internal deadlines for partial compliance by the military services – mid-points on the road to 2017 — had slipped over the previous year, the report said, while only three were accelerated. And more such deadlines have slipped since then.

The comptroller, undersecretary Robert Hale, told the House Armed Services committee in July that “we don’t really fully understand, in the Department of Defense, what you have to do to pass an audit for military service, because we’ve never done it.” He said in testimony last month that significant progress has been made, but that “once we, you know, jump into the pool, we discover there are things we didn’t know that were – we didn’t expect to have to fix.”

MORE>>>

 

 

 

 

BUSINESS

What May be the Most Commonly Misunderstood Fact About the Job Market

Jared Bernstein:

I was listening to this Diane Rehm show today when the guy from the small business lobby (NFIB) was asked whether most workers were employed by small firms.  He misleadingly said they did.

This is widely misunderstood, but the fact is that most businesses are small, but most employees work in large firms (the figure below focuses on “establishments” rather than firms—the former is a single physical place of business; firms can incorporate numerous establishments; the main result is insensitive to this difference).

The figure shows that most businesses employ few workers.  Just about 50% employ four or fewer workers, and 80% of businesses employ fewer than 100 workers.


Source: Census, Table 2a, data are for 2008

But as the second bar in each group—number of employees—shows, about half of all employees work in firms of 500 or more workers and two-thirds work in firms of at least 100 workers.

Payroll (total compensation) is even more skewed: 57% is paid out by firms of 500 or more workers; only 30% of payroll is paid by firms of less than 100 workers.

Nor is it the case that small businesses, per se, are the engine of job growth their advocates claim. Research like this finds that “once we control for firm age there is no systematic relationship between firm size and [job] growth.” As I stress here, that research shows that it’s surviving startups that are particularly important in terms of generating new jobs.

So, summing up, small businesses, say those with 100 workers or less, account for a minority of both workers and payrolls, and are not the primary engine of job growth.

Why then all the favoritism in policy circles, which is especially problematic if you listen to the one-sided agenda of their guy on the Diane Rehm show (e.g., his organization is against extended unemployment benefits because their members allegedly report that recipients won’t take jobs until their benefits run out; Larry Mishel, along with a bunch of folks who called into the show, did a good job of calling him out)?

In part, because they need and deserve help.  Larger firms have fewer credit and cash flow challenges, nor do they operate on such tight margins.  It’s easier for larger firms to sell into and expand foreign markets, which is especially useful to them right now, as that’s where the growth is.

But the political clout of small businesses and the misrepresentations of folks like the guy on this show are a big problem in our politics.  In this regard, small is not beautiful.

ECONOMY

Why Wall Street Hates Obama

Slate:

The explanation is surprisingly simple.

[…]  Perhaps Wall Street hates Obama because Wall Street is doing terribly—and everybody blames the incumbent when the economy turns sour. The big investment banks are hardly broke—they remain, for the most part, profitable enterprises. But they are not thriving in the way they were a year or even six months ago, and they are dropping employees and slashing bonuses as profits tumble.

Consider the data provided in an analysis of New York’s financial industry by Thomas DiNapoli, the state comptroller. This week, he wrote that profits “declined 10.8 percent in the first half of 2011 to $12.6 billion. [This office] forecasts that profits are unlikely to reach$18 billion for the entire year.” Eighteen billion sounds like a lot! But, he notes, it is just one third of the profits the banks were making back in 2010.

Financial firms are, not surprisingly, throwing employees overboard, DiNapoli reports. “The securities industry could lose an additional 10,000 jobs” in the next year, he writes. Add that to job losses in the banking sector, and the overall industry will have eliminated one in five of its New York-based jobs since 2008. Looking beyond New York, the numbers get even worse. Bank of America is sheddinga whopping 30,000 positions. Even Goldman Sachs—the same Goldman Sachs boasting about its all-time record profits 18 months ago—is shedding 1,000 workers. The investment banks are also cutting compensation for the workers who remain. The Wall Street Journal reports that consultants expect bonus checks to drop 30 to 40 percent, depending on the bank. […]

What gives? First and foremost, the economy just caught up with the banks. America’s consumers are not consuming much, which means that American businesses are not thriving. Mergers and acquisitions have slowed as companies prefer to hang onto their cash, or spend it to survive. The flurry of tech-sector-fueled initial public offerings we saw at the beginning of the year is now over. The European debt crisis and the months-long political impasse around it are weighing on the financial world. That means trouble for the investment banks’ bottom lines. J.P. Morgan, for instance, reported this week that its fees from investment-banking fell nearly half in the third quarter. And investors have noticed. The KBW Bank Index, a composite of banking stocks, has fallen about 30 percent this year.

This month, Citi performed a survey of a large number of investors, asking them about where they see the markets going and current sentiment. The proportion who foresee a recession has tripled to 30 percent since July, Business Insider reports. A majority now believe that Obama will lose the next election. And the thing that has investors most worried, more so than debt and housing and declining profits? “Government policy missteps.”

The antipathy towards Obama, of course, is not new, and is certainly multidimensional. Plenty of financiers loathed the president before their profits turned south, back when their only complaint was that he kept calling them fat cats and wanted to regulate them. But Wall Street has gone from seeming cautiously ungrateful to angrily opposed. Some of that may actually be their renewed strength and the president’s increasing weakness. But some of it is doubtlessly that Wall Street is, all of a sudden, suffering a bit, and like so many Americans, they blame the president.

 

Now Less Than Ever

Matt Yglesias:

Here’s an important idea from Adam Ozimek. It’s all too easy for pundits and politicians to engage in “now more than ever” thinking about the recession. Here’s my great idea for all times, and with unemployment at 9.1 percent we need to implement it now more than ever. A more useful idea, he suggests, is for people to talk about their “now less than ever” policy views. Ideas that you would normally support, but that would be bad to implement in the middle of a recession.

I have two on this score. One has to do with energy taxes. I’m enthusiastic about taxing greenhouse gas emissions, and I would support a large increase in gasoline taxes even over and above a carbon tax. But the midst of a severe labor market recession would be a terrible time to implement a policy of $8/gallon gasoline. That would suck money out of consumers’ pocketbooks, reducing spending on other things (and thus reducing the incomes of people who make non-gasoline goods and services), and all it would do is create extra revenue for a federal government that’s not currently in need of revenue. If anything, we should be suspending the gas tax and filling the Highway Trust Fund with freshly printed dollars.

The other is downsizing the military-industrial complex. I think our high level of spending on the national security state is very wasteful. We should have many fewer people designing and building military robots and many more working on household and industrial applications. We should have fewer soldiers and more police officers. But the good time to try to shift people out of one sector into another is when unemployment is low. When unemployment is low, firms are looking for new workers and they say things like “well this guy is clearly hard-working and competent, let’s get him up to speed in a new field.” When unemployment is sky-high, they say he doesn’t have experience and he just adds to the ranks of the unemployed with knock-on consequences for the rest of the community.

Basically, while the slogan “never let a crisis go to waste” makes sense as a legislative strategy, you don’t actually want to implement much in the way of big shifts until you first get people into some kind of jobs.

Millions of homes lurk on bank inventories, casting doubts of rebound
McClatchy:

Officially, there are 3.5 million homes for sale nationwide. But there are millions more lurking in the shadows — hidden neatly away on banks’ balance sheets, stalled in foreclosure court proceedings or simply occupied by nonpaying owners as lenders wait months or years before taking action.

The housing market’s ballooning shadow inventory — buoyed by a yearlong foreclosure slowdown — stands as the most menacing obstacle to the recovery of the residential real estate market.

Clustered mostly in hard-hit cities and states, there are more than 4.5 million homes either owned by lenders or headed for foreclosure. In Miami, for example, there are about 200,000 shadow homes, dwarfing the 30,000 properties that are listed on the active market. Even as prices in Miami have shown signs of stability this year, an impending wave of foreclosures threatens to keep real estate values deflated.

“A lot of people don’t understand how much inventory is set to come on line in the next 18 to 24 months,” said Jack McCabe, the CEO of McCabe Research & Consulting in Deerfield Beach, Fla. “When you compare what the Realtors show as inventory to what’s out there, you realize we have a long way to go.”

A McClatchy analysis of four years of foreclosure data and thousands of property records found record-high levels of shadow inventory in several housing markets across the nation.

Though real estate trade groups routinely leave these shadow properties out of monthly reports, their influence on home values has grown sharply in recent years.

In the supply-and-demand-reliant real estate market, the national supply of homes is officially listed at about 3.5 million, or about nine months’ worth; sales are on track to reach about 5 million this year. But once shadow inventory is added, that supply more than doubles, to at least 7.5 million. A healthy housing market has about a six-month supply of properties, which would be about 2.4 million.

The wave of homes yet to hit the market consists of discounted distressed properties, which tend to drag down neighborhood values. Economists say the housing industry will not normalize and recover until most of the foreclosures work their way through the system — a process that probably will last several more years.

WHAT IS SHADOW INVENTORY?

Shadow inventory can be broken into three categories:

  • Properties that lenders have repossessed but haven’t put up for sale. These homes are referred to as real-estate owned, or REOs.
  • Properties that are caught in the clogged foreclosure process.
  • Properties that are severely delinquent in loan payments and almost certainly headed for foreclosure, but haven’t yet entered the process.

Calculating the size of the shadow market has proved difficult, and estimates range from 1.6 million to 7 million homes.

For its analysis, McClatchy determined the number of bank-owned homes by calculating the difference between the number of homes lenders have repossessed since 2007 and the number of homes they’ve sold to new owners over the same period.

McClatchy also calculated the number of homes in the foreclosure pipeline: properties that have begun the process or are so far behind on payments that foreclosure is virtually inevitable. The analysis didn’t include homes that are currently listed for sale. […]

A WORSENING OUTLOOK

In recent years, the government has directed billions of dollars toward curbing the massive foreclosure crisis, pitching programs that facilitate mortgage modifications and low-stress refinances. While the various measures have had some success, all have fallen far short of expectations, and the growth of the shadow inventory has been virtually unabated.

The outlook for shadow inventory has worsened considerably over the last year because of lender paperwork problems that have gummed up the foreclosure system.

A year ago, major mortgage servicers discovered that employees were systematically cutting corners in the foreclosure process, often signing thousands of false or incomplete legal documents each day.

As details of the “robo-signing” scandal began to spread, lenders hit the brakes on all foreclosures, setting off a yearlong slowdown that continues today.

Banks are struggling to prove that they have legal standing to foreclose, and it now takes them an average of nearly two years to repossess a property, according to Lender Processing Services. In states such as Florida and North Carolina, where foreclosures are handled in court, the timeline is even longer.
Read more>>>

ENVIRONMENT

AP: Challenges loom as world population hits 7 billion

She’s a 40-year-old mother of eight, with a ninth child due soon. The family homestead in a Burundi village is too small to provide enough food, and three of the children have quit school for lack of money to pay required fees.

“I regret to have made all those children,” says Godelive Ndageramiwe. “If I were to start over, I would only make two or three.”

At Ahmed Kasadha’s prosperous farm in eastern Uganda, it’s a different story.

“My father had 25 children – I have only 14 so far, and expect to produce more in the future,” says Kasadha, who has two wives. He considers a large family a sign of success and a guarantee of support in his old age.

By the time Ndageramiwe’s ninth child arrives, and any further members of the Kasadha clan, the world’s population will have passed a momentous milestone. As of Oct. 31, according to the U.N. Population Fund, there will be 7 billion people sharing Earth’s land and resources.

In Western Europe, Japan and Russia, it will be an ironic milestone amid worries about low birthrates and aging populations. In China and India, the two most populous nations, it’s an occasion to reassess policies that have already slowed once-rapid growth.

But in Burundi, Uganda and the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, the demographic news is mostly sobering as the region staggers under the double burden of the world’s highest birthrates and deepest poverty. The regional population of nearly 900 million could reach 2 billion in 40 years at current rates, accounting for about half of the projected global population growth over that span.

“Most of that growth will be in Africa’s cities, and in those cities it will almost all be in slums where living conditions are horrible,” said John Bongaarts of the Population Council, a New York-based research organization.

Is catastrophe inevitable? Not necessarily. But experts say most of Africa – and other high-growth developing nations such as Afghanistan and Pakistan – will be hard-pressed to furnish enough food, water and jobs for their people, especially without major new family-planning initiatives.

“Extreme poverty and large families tend to reinforce each other,” says Lester Brown, the environmental analyst who heads the Earth Policy Institute in Washington. “The challenge is to intervene in that cycle and accelerate the shift to smaller families.”

Without such intervention, Brown says, food and water shortages could fuel political destabilization in developing regions.

“There’s quite a bit of land that could produce food if we had the water to go with it,” he said. “It’s water that’s becoming the real constraint.”

The International Water Management Institute shares these concerns, predicting that by 2025 about 1.8 billion people will live in places suffering from severe water scarcity.

According to demographers, the world’s population didn’t reach 1 billion until 1804, and it took 123 years to hit the 2 billion mark in 1927. Then the pace accelerated – 3 billion in 1959, 4 billion in 1974, 5 billion in 1987, 6 billion in 1998.

Looking ahead, the U.N. projects that the world population will reach 8 billion by 2025, 10 billion by 2083. But the numbers could be much higher or lower, depending on such factors as access to birth control, infant mortality rates and average life expectancy – which has risen from 48 years in 1950 to 69 years today.

“Overall, this is not a cause for alarm – the world has absorbed big gains since 1950,” said Bongaarts, a vice president of the Population Council. But he cautioned that strains are intensifying: rising energy and food prices, environmental stresses, more than 900 million people undernourished.

“For the rich, it’s totally manageable,” Bongaarts said. “It’s the poor, everywhere, who will be hurt the most.”

The executive director of the U.N. Population Fund, former Nigerian health minister Babatunde Osotimehin, describes the 7 billion milestone as a call to action – especially in the realm of enabling adolescent girls to stay in school and empowering women to control the number of children they have.

“It’s an opportunity to bring the issues of population, women’s rights and family planning back to center stage,” he said in an interview. “There are 215 million women worldwide who need family planning and don’t get it. If we can change that, and these women can take charge of their lives, we’ll have a better world.”

But as Osotimehin noted, population-related challenges vary dramatically around the world. Associated Press reporters on four continents examined some of most distinctive examples:

THE ASIAN GIANTS

It’s 6 p.m. in Mumbai, India’s financial hub, and millions of workers swarm out of their offices, headed to railway stations for a ride home. Every few minutes, as a train enters the station, the crowd surges forward.

For nearly 7 million commuters who ride the overtaxed suburban rail network each work day, every ride is a scramble. Each car is jam-packed; sometimes, riders die when they lose their foothold while clinging to the doors.

Across India, the teeming slums, congested streets, and crowded trains and trams are testimony to the country’s burgeoning population. Already the second most populous country, with 1.2 billion people, India is expected to overtake China around 2030 when its population soars to an estimated 1.6 billion.

But even as the numbers increase, the pace of the growth has slowed. Demographers say India’s fertility rate – now 2.6 children per woman – should fall to 2.1 by 2025 and to 1.8 by 2035.

More than half of India’s population is under 25, and some policy planners say this so-called “youth dividend” could fuel a productive surge over the next few decades. But population experts caution that the dividend could prove to be a liability without vast social investments.

“If the young population remains uneducated, unskilled and unemployable, then that dividend would be wasted,” says Shereen Jejeebhoy, a Population Council demographer in New Delhi.

Population experts also worry about a growing gender gap, stemming largely from Indian families’ preference for sons. A surge in sex-selection tests, resulting in abortion of female fetuses, has skewed the ratio, with the latest census showing 914 girls under age 6 for every 1,000 boys.

Family planning is a sensitive issue. In the 35 years since one government was toppled for pursuing an aggressive population control program, subsequent leaders have been reluctant to follow suit.

For now, China remains the most populous nation, with 1.34 billion people. In the past decade it added 73.9 million, more than the population of France or Thailand.

Nonetheless, its growth has slowed dramatically and the population is projected to start shrinking in 2027. By 2050, according to some demographers, it will be smaller than it is today.

“It’s like a train on the track that’s still moving but the engine is already off,” says Gu Baochang, a professor of demography at Beijing’s Renmin University.

In the 1970s, Chinese women had five to six children each on average. Today China has a fertility rate – the number of children the average woman is expected to have in her lifetime – of around 1.5, well below the 2.1 replacement rate that demographers say is needed to keep populations stable in developed countries.

Three decades of strict family planning rules that limit urban families to one child and rural families to two helped China achieve a rapid decline in fertility but the policy has brought problems as well.

Before long, there will be too few young Chinese people to easily support a massive elderly population.

Also, as with India, there’s a gender gap. The United Nations says there are 43 million “missing girls” in China because parents restricted to small families often favored sons and aborted girls after learning their unborn babies’ gender through sonograms.

“China is always so proud of how quickly we brought down fertility from high to low, and how many births were avoided but I think we did it too quickly and reduced it to too low a level,” says Gu. “I wish that India can learn this: `Don’t make it too quick.'”

WESTERN EUROPE AND THE U.S.

Spain used to give parents 2,500 euros (more than $3,000) for every newborn child to encourage families to reverse the country’s low birth rate. But the checks stopped coming with Spain’s austerity measures, raising the question of who will pay the bills to support the elderly in the years ahead.

It’s a question bedeviling many European countries which have grappled for years over how to cope with shrinking birth rates and aging populations – and are now faced with a financial crisis that has forced some to cut back on family-friendly government incentives.

Spain and Italy, both forced to enact painful austerity measures in a bid to narrow budget deficits, are battling common problems: Women have chosen to have their first child at a later age, and the difficulties of finding jobs and affordable housing are discouraging some couples from having any children at all.

In 2010, for the fourth consecutive year, more Italians died than were born, according to the national statistics agency. Italy’s population nonetheless grew slightly to 60.6 million due to immigration, which is a highly charged issue across Europe.

Italy’s youth minister Giorgia Meloni said earlier this year that measures to reverse the birth rate require “millions in investment” but that the resources aren’t available.

Unlike many countries in Europe, France’s population is growing slightly but steadily every year. It has one of the highest birth rates in the European Union with around 2 children per woman.

One reason is immigration to France by Africans with large-family traditions, but it’s also due to family-friendly legislation. The government offers public preschools, subsidies to all families that have more than one child, generous maternity leave, and tax exemptions for employers of nannies.

Like France, the United States has one of the highest population growth rates among industrialized nations. Its fertility rate is just below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman, but its population has been increasing by almost 1 percent annually due to immigration. With 312 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country after China and India.

AFRICA

Lagos, Nigeria, is expected to overtake Cairo soon as Africa’s largest city. Private water vendors there do a brisk business in the many neighborhoods that otherwise lack access to potable water.

The drone of generators is omnipresent, at offices and markets, in neighborhoods rich and poor, because the power grid doesn’t produce enough power. Periodic blackouts extend for hours, days, sometimes weeks.

Such is daily life in Nigeria’s commercial capital, where the population is estimated at 15 million and growing at 6 percent or more each year. Problems with traffic congestion, sanitation and water supplies are staggering; a recent article in UN-Habitat said two-thirds of the residents live in poverty.

The rest of Nigeria isn’t growing as fast – estimates of its growth rate range from 2 percent to 3.2 percent. But it’s already Africa’s most populous country with more than 160 million people. […]

 

“The environment is being destroyed by the growing population. Trees are being cut down in big numbers and even now we can’t get enough firewood to cook food,” he said. “In the near future, we will starve.”

Another of the fastest-growing countries is Burundi. With roughly 8.6 million people, it’s the second most densely populated African country after neighboring Rwanda.

Omer Ndayishimiye, head of Burundi’s Population Department, said continued high growth coincides with dwindling natural resources. Land suitable for farming will decline, and poverty will be rampant, he said, noting that 90 percent of the population live in rural areas and rely on farming to survive.

The government has been trying to raise awareness about the demographic challenges among the clergy, civic leaders and the general public.

“We are suggesting couples to go to health clinics to get taught different birth control methods,” Ndayishimiye said. “But we are facing some barriers … Many Burundians still see children as source of wealth.”

At her modest house in Gishubi, Godelive Ndageramiwe ponders the changes that have made her regret her large family.

“Children were a good labor force in the past when there was enough space to cultivate,” she said. “Today I can’t even feed my family properly. My kids just spend days doing nothing.”

After her fourth child, she began to worry how her family could be cared for.

“But my husband was against birth control and wanted as many children as possible,” she said. “It was delicate because he could marry another wife.

“My friends advised me to go to a nearby clinic, but I was told I must come with my husband. Now I have laid the issue in the hands of God.”

HEALTH

Experimental malaria vaccine protects many children, study shows

For the first time, an experimental vaccine has been shown to safely protect large numbers of children against malaria, one of the world’s most devastating scourges and one that has long evaded medicine’s most potent weapons.

An eagerly awaited analysis of data being collected on more than 15,000 newborns and babies in seven African countries found that the vaccine cut the risk of being infected with the malaria parasite by about half and reduced the chances of getting the most serious, life-threatening form of the disease by more than a third.

Controlling malaria has long been a top goal of international public-health authorities. Caused by parasites transmitted by infected mosquitoes, malaria annually sickens more than 200 million people and kills nearly 800,000, mostly children in Africa. Because children are the most vulnerable to the disease, efforts to develop a vaccine have focused on them.

While far less protective than vaccines used against other diseases, the results of the test vaccine were hailed as a major advance.

 

 

 

 

HEALTH CARE

California Medical Association calls for legalization of marijuana

Administration Seeks to Roll Back Hospital Rules

NYT:

The Obama administration moved Tuesday to roll back a number of rules governing hospitals and other health care providers after concluding that the standards were obsolete or overly burdensome to the industry.

Among other things, the proposals would allow hospitals to save money by sometimes using qualified nurse practitioners and physician assistants in place of better-paid doctors, allowing doctors to focus more on patients and helping address “impending physician shortages.”

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said the proposed changes would save providers nearly $1.1 billion a year without creating any “consequential risks for patients.”

The proposed rules would apply to more than 6,000 hospitals.

Other proposals would roll back rules for doctors’ offices, kidney dialysis centers, organ transplant programs, outpatient surgery centers and institutions for people with severe mental disabilities.

In January, President Obama ordered his appointees to modify or repeal rules that were outmoded, ineffective or “excessively burdensome.” Republicans in Congress have demanded such cutbacks, arguing that many rules issued by federal agencies have stifled economic growth and job creation.

Many of the new proposals deal with Medicare and Medicaid rules that have not been altered in decades. In general, the proposals do not affect the large number of rules issued under the new health care law, which set detailed standards for coverage offered by insurance companies and employers.

One of the new proposals would allow hospital patients to take certain drugs on their own, with the approval of hospital officials.

A hospital may allow a patient to “self-administer both hospital-issued medications and the patient’s own medications brought into the hospital,” the proposal says.

This proposal would give patients “access at the bedside to urgently needed medications, such as nitroglycerine tablets and inhalers, and selected nonprescription medications,” the administration said. In the past, hospitals have often restricted patients’ ability to give medications to themselves. Another proposal would relax requirements for hospitals to notify the federal government immediately after the death of any patients who had been confined with wrist restraints like those used to prevent agitated patients from harming themselves by yanking out intravenous tubes and the like.

Under current rules, each hospital must have its own governing body, which is legally responsible for its operations. Under the proposal, a multihospital system could have a single governing body for all its hospitals.

Other proposals would eliminate requirements for hospitals to keep detailed logs of infection control problems and would relieve certain organ transplant centers of the need to certify the blood type of organ donors. Hospitals would still have to investigate outbreaks of infections, and other health care specialists would check on donors’ blood types.

The administration said it was proposing this change “in an effort to reduce the administrative burden for transplant centers and the surgeons” who obtain organs for transplants. “The change also would produce cost savings because the ‘extra’ verifications will no longer be conducted,” it said.

The administration also proposed eliminating fire safety standards for certain kidney dialysis centers. The federal standards duplicate state and local standards and would require some dialysis centers to make costly structural changes, it said.

In the event of fire, patients can be rapidly disconnected from dialysis machines and make “a quick exit,” the administration said.

Federal officials would also eliminate a detailed list of emergency equipment that must be available in the operating rooms of outpatient surgery centers. Such clinics would have leeway to decide what type of equipment was most suitable for the procedures they perform.

Not all the rules are aimed at saving money. One proposal would discontinue use of the term “Medicaid recipients” to refer to low-income people receiving medical assistance. In the future, the government will refer to them as Medicaid beneficiaries, just as it speaks of Medicare beneficiaries.

The administration will accept public comments on the proposals for 60 days and will review the comments before issuing final rules with the force of law.

A Setback for Obamacare? Or Vindication? How About Both

Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic:

The Obama Administration is pulling the plug on CLASS, the long-term insurance program within the Affordable Care Act. The announcement came late Friday, most likely because administration officials hoped to bury the news. They did not succeed, as Republicans and their supporters were all over it.

Here, for example, was Senator John Thune of South Dakota:

After ignoring repeated warnings from my Republican colleagues and me about the fiscal solvency of the CLASS Act, the Obama Administration jammed Obamacare through Congress in order to score a political win. Now, over a year later, the administration is finally admitting the CLASS Act entitlement is unsustainable and cannot be implemented. Simply setting aside the program for the near-term is not enough. Repeal is the only solution to ensuring American taxpayers will not be on the hook in the future for this disastrous entitlement.

Thune has a point – in part. The official budget estimates for CLASS suggested it would save money in the first ten years, accounting for about half of the deficit reduction that the Affordable Care Act was supposed to yield during that time. But the estimates for CLASS were never that reliable. More important, after those first ten years, CLASS was likely to pay out more in benefits than it collected as premiums. For these reasons, conservatives like Peter Suderman who criticized CLASS as unsustainable were right to raise alarms, while liberals like me were wrong to ignore them.

But does that mean the Affordable Care Act as a whole is full of gimmicks? Does it prove, as Thune and others have suggested, that Obamacare is fatally flawed? Hardly. If anything, it strengthens the case for the rest of the law, starting with the provision that conservatives claim to hate most: The individual mandate.

“LONG-TERM CARE” IS A WONKY PHRASE, so let me put it in some terms you might recognize more easily: Nursing homes. Rehabilitation for serious injuries or disabilities. Home health assistance. Basically, it’s any kind of lengthy medical care – typically for the disabled, seriously injured, or very old – that regular insurance does not cover.

If you or a loved one has needed long-term care, you know this already — and you probably know what a crushing burden the bills for such care can impose. That’s because, if you’re like most Americans, you don’t have private long-term insurance. The only way for you to get such coverage is through the government, via Medicaid. To qualify for that you have to be poor or become  poor, by “spending down” your assets.

There’s a whole legal industry devoted to helping people do just that. And, yes, it’s created all sorts of opportunities for fraud. But it’s not like the private sector will, or can, do any better.

Long-term care is expensive. Very, very expensive. The policies that pay for it will only work if people pay premiums for many years before collecting benefits — and if, ideally, most of them are healthy when they do so. But nobody thinks to buy this kind of insurance when they are in the 20s or 30s and precious few do when they are in their 40s or 50s. They wait until they’re near the age when they might need it – unless they have to deal with a disability and need it right away. Knowing this, insurers can’t offer a product that’s worth buying.

“If you want to talk about failure, look at the long-term insurance market over the 25 years and its failure to meet the needs of the vast majority of Americans,” says John McDonough, the former Senate staffer and author of Inside National Health Reform. And he’s not the only one who feels that way. The Urban Institute’s Howard Gleckman, who wrote Caring for Our Parents and knows the subject better than almost anybody, agrees:

Too often, seniors pay for this care—either at home or in an assisted living or nursing facility—until they go broke. Then, they go on to Medicaid—a safety net program that too often provides the wrong care, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Or, they rely on adult children who struggle with the enormous financial, emotional, and physical stress of caregiving. Or, they get no care at all and either end up in the hospital or die alone. As a society, we are simply unprepared for the crushing financial burden of long-term care services.

The architects of the Affordable Care Act, in particular the late Senator Ted Kennedy, understood all of this, including the actuarial realities. But making long-term care insurance a mandatory part of the Affordable Care Act would have made the health care reform bill even more complicated and, potentially, controversial. So the law’s sponsors decided to make the program voluntary — and called it the Community Living Assistance Service and Supports (CLASS) Act.

They hoped to boost enrollment (and attract younger, healthier people) by selling policies through the workplace and using extensive outreach, among other things. But early on, Richard Foster, the official actuary for Medicare and Medicaid, warned that the plan was unlikely to work – that the enrollment would still be too low to sustain the program.

The administration did not squelch these predictions, as some conservatives would later allege (and as the Bush Administration did with Foster’s cost estimates in 2003, when creating the Medicare drug benefit). Foster got to air his concerns, repeatedly. But nor did the administration follow his advice. Instead, they pointed to other estimates suggesting the program would attract enough people to remain stable. (Foster, whom I interviewed for this story, agrees that he was ignored but not silenced, as he had been during the Bush Administration.)

It’s worth noting that, behind the scenes, the administration was never wild about CLASS. Internally several officials argued against including it, precisely because they were worried about the finances and sustainability. But some supported it, partly because the case for action was so unambiguous. Harold Pollack, the University of Chicago professor and regular TNR contributor, put it well when he said “CLASS seeks to address a huge need – helping disabled men and women live with dignity in their own homes.”

And skeptical administration officials took solace in the fact that, thanks to a provision inserted by Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the Secretary of Health and Human Services had discretion to modify the program if, upon further consideration, it appeared unlikely to remain stable. It’s precisely that authority that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius exercised last week. (For more details on the administration’s thinking, see Sarah Kliff’s account in the Washington Post.)

SO DOESN’T THIS CALL INTO QUESTION THE REST OF THE LAW? It shouldn’t. For one thing, the estimates on long-term care always involved unusually high uncertainty, because the evidence on how such policies work is relatively thin and the insurance product itself was unusual. There’s just wasn’t that much experience on which to base actuarial models. Foster’s projections looked awful but other credible ones, like those from the Congressional Budget Office, did not. (The two had substantially different estimates of how many people would enroll.) Even now, it’s possible that Foster’s estimates were wrong, although he was hardly the only expert who was skeptical. “Probably no one is exactly right,” Pollack observed not long ago, writing for Kaiser Health News. “The uncertainties are just too great.”

Projections for the rest of the Affordable Care Act have a much firmer foundation. When it comes to the purchase of regular insurance, and how various inducements affect people, we have decades of data – from employers, from states running Medicaid programs, and so on. Plus we have the experience of Massachusetts, which has implemented a very similar scheme for expanding coverage. (The best models include data from Massachusetts, as a matter of fact.)

But if the CLASS Act had a potentially fatal design flaw, shouldn’t we assume the Affordable Care Act has the same one? No – precisely the opposite is true. The sustainability of CLASS would not have been in such question if everybody had to sign up for it. In other words, if long-term care insurance were subject to an individual mandate, old and sick people would not have been the only people enrolling.

Of course, the rest of the Affordable Care Act has such a requirement, as conservatives like Thune know better than anybody. And that raises an interesting question.

We know conservatives don’t like universal health insurance if it means government coverage. We know conservatives don’t like universal health insurance if it means a private coverage with a mandate. And, based on their reaction to CLASS, we know conservatives don’t like universal health insurance if it means a private coverage without a mandate.

But if they don’t like any of those options, what’s left? Could it be that conservatives just don’t like universal health insurance at all?  That they simply don’t believe it’s possible or worthwhile to make sure everybody can pay their medical bills, the way every other developed country does?

It sure seems that way.

IMMIGRATION

Report: Majority of Deportees Last Year Were Criminals

National Journal:

The majority of the nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants deported last year were convicted criminals, according to figures to be released by the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday, USA Today reports.

The number of deportations has been on the rise in the last decade, with 396,906 illegal immigrants deported in fiscal year 2011—the highest number yet, according to the report. In 2000, the number of people deported was 116,782.

When Obama assumed office, the percentage of criminal deportations was at 31 percent, but with a policy of prioritizing the deportation of convicted criminals, that number has risen. In 2010, 55 percent of those deported were convicted criminals, which is the highest percentage in nearly a decade.

“In the face of limited resources, we have to prioritize, and that starts with criminal offenders,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said, according to USA Today.

“We are making sure that people who game the system face the consequences.”

POLITICS

Whose side is the GOP on, yours or Wall Street’s? 

Greg Sargent:

With Occupy Wall Street snowballing, it’s looking increasingly like that question will be at the center of the Obama/Dem message in 2012. Republicans plan to build their campaign around the question Ronald Reagan famously posed — are you better off now than you were four years ago? If the answer to that question is “No,” as Obama himself has admitted, Obama and Dems are increasingly embracing a sharp populist argument that directly faults Wall Street for that state of affairs, unabashedly positions Wall Street as the antagonist, and charges that the GOP is Wall Street’s number one enabler.

Obama is set to take his jobs tour to North Carolina and Virginia this week, and the early word is that he may align himself with Occupy Wall Street a bit more directly than he has in the past. At a minimum, he seems likely to reiterate his identification with the frustration of protestors in a high profile campaign-style setting — and to link that frustration to his demand that Congress act to alleviate mass economic suffering.

This comes after White House adviser David Plouffe spelled out plans to draw a sharp contrast in 2012 by arguing: “I’m pretty confident 12 months from now, as people make the decision about who to go vote for, the gut check is going to be about, ‘Who would make decisions more about helping my life than Wall Street?’” The challenge for Dems: To manage the delicate balancing act of embracing the protests while acknowledging that some of the anger is directed at, well, them and their own coziness with Wall Street.

Only six months ago, Dems seemed unlikely to embrace such a starkly populist message. Indeed, one reason many on the left embraced the Wisconsin fight was that labor and Dems were adopting a bare-knuckled message about inequality and GOP fealty to corporations and the rich that seemed a bit too hot for the national party. But then came Obama’s post-debt-ceiling-debacle jobs push; Warren Buffett’s tax crusade; Elizabeth Warren’s Senate candidacy; the protests themselves; and the right-wing “class warfare” backlash to all of these things. The result: A distinct shift in the national conversation, with unforeseen consequences for 2012.

* Dem allies continue populist offensive against GOP: Relatedly, the House Majority PAC, which is raising and spending to elect Dems to Congress, is going up with a new six figure buy targeting four House GOPers for aiding and abetting tax cuts for millionaires and corporations.

The spot targeting GOP Rep Sean Duffy of Wisconsin, which slams him for claiming he’s “struggling” on a $174,000 salary while cutting taxes for “Wall Street,” is only the latest sign that the White House, Dems and their outside allies are reading from the same populist script as the Occupy Wall Street protests grow. […]

* Mitt Romney’s unexplored vulnerability: With Dems embracing a strategy of leveraging anger at Wall Street, Steve Benen points out that Romney’s background, in addition to his opposition to Wall Street reform, makes him a particularly ripe target for this kind of approach:

He not only wants to lift any measure of accountability for the financial industry, he’s also from that industry — Romney got very wealthy heading up a vulture capitalist fund, which made money by breaking up companies and firing their American workers.

As I’ve been saying, there’s an added dimension to this: Because of his income from investments, Romney pays a lower tax rate than middle class taxpayers, rendering him a rather imperfect messenger for criticism of Obama’s push for the “Buffett Rule,” which would undo an unfair tax code that personally benefits him. Fair taxation is expected to be central to Campaign 2012.

* Elizabeth Warren’s “informed and measured populism”: The Times perfectly captures the source of Elizabeth Warren’s appeal: She’s found a voice that makes the populist critique of income inequality and excessive corporate influence accessible to a wide swath of the public, and she has articulated an effective antidote to the right’s anti-government demagoguery.

* Occupy Wall Street and wealth inequality, made simple: Nick Kristof likens Occupy Wall Street to “America’s primal scream,” and explains that the movement is all about these factoides:

¶ The 400 wealthiest Americans have a greater combined net worth than the bottom 150 million Americans.

¶ The top 1 percent of Americans possess more wealth than the entire bottom 90 percent.

¶ In the Bush expansion from 2002 to 2007, 65 percent of economic gains went to the richest 1 percent.

 

Romney’s ‘Middle Class Tax Cut’ Would Provide No Benefits To Most Of The Middle Class

Think Progress:

During this week’s GOP primary debate, Newt Gingrich asked Mitt Romney why he has proposed eliminating capital gains taxes for only those making less than $200,000 annually (which is a key component of Romney’s economic plan). “If I’m going to use precious dollars to reduce taxes, I want to focus on where the people are hurting the most, and that’s the middle class,” Romney said. “The people in the middle, the hard-working Americans, are the people who need a break, and that is why I focused my tax cut right there.”

Romney may think he focused his tax cut on the middle-class, but according to a ThinkProgress analysis of Tax Policy Center data*, nearly three-fourths of households that make $200,000 or less annually would get literally nothing from Romney’s tax cut, due to the simple fact that most of those households have no capital gains income

To be exact, 73.9 percent of the households upon which Romney “focused” his tax cut will see zero benefit from it. The table below shows how few households in each income bracket would be affected by Romney’s cut:

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Obama Takes Jobs Tour to Swing States

Daily Beast:

On Monday, President Obama embarked on a three-day bus trip through North Carolina and Virginia, both states he carried in 2008. Later he will travel west to Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico. Though he’ll be pushing his jobs plan on the trips, the sites also coincide with a new electoral strategy for 2012. Focusing on these regions is meant to reduce Obama’s need to win Ohio and Florida, both states that may prove difficult for him to carry this time around. Campaign manager Jim Messina said, “We’re going to run a series of very focused, local campaigns. We’re going to run a different kind of campaign in Nevada than we do in Florida.”

 

 

 

 

Supercommittee: For Democrats, Choice Between No Deal or Bad Deal?

Rollcall:

[…] From the Democratic perspective, $1.2 trillion in cuts will happen regardless of whether the super committee succeeds, according to sources tracking the issue. But if sequestration kicks in, top Democratic priorities such as Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and unemployment insurance — which were exempt from the trigger — would be left untouched. Approximately half of the mandatory cuts would come from defense spending. It’s a prospect that concerns the GOP so much that top Republicans such as Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) have said they would work to nullify the sequestration agreement.

Kyl, who sits on the super committee and is a top ally of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has made it clear he would not support further defense cuts, which would make it very difficult for the panel to include them in any final package. Meanwhile, Republicans are pushing hard for Democrats to make good on their professed willingness to rein in social safety-net programs.

Those close to Pelosi insist that House Democrats are not rooting for the super committee to fail, pointing to her many public statements and noting that the Caucus would like the panel to include economic stimulus proposals. With the 2012 elections near full-throttle, many view a potential super committee deal as the last legislative train out of the station. House Democrats last week pushed for the panel to take up jobs initiatives such as those President Barack Obama has proposed.

“She has never said that House Democrats want sequestration,” a Democratic leadership aide said. “These are all ridiculous accusations from people who are unaware of the Democratic Caucus position, which she clearly spelled out.”

Even if Pelosi hasn’t publicly said so, Democrats are clearly weighing whether sequestration is a better option for them.

In a briefing book submitted to Democratic super committee members, a left-leaning Washington think tank tackled the issue of how serious failure would be if the 12 members of the bipartisan, bicameral panel could not get the seven minimum votes necessary to approve a plan.

“If the [committee] deadlocks or its bill is defeated, is that a ‘failure’ that will have serious adverse effects on the economy? No,” the memo from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities reads.

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Why Mitt Romney is not a moderate

Steve Kornacki, Salon:

In an appearance on CNN on Sunday, Newt Gingrich faulted the “establishment media” for failing to understand Mitt’s Romney’s “huge problem”:

He’s a very likable person. He works very hard. He’s very smart. And he is a Massachusetts moderate Republican. It is the Nelson Rockefeller problem. I mean, there is a natural ceiling.

This is not actually an original observation. Others have drawn parallels between Romney’s current effort and Rockefeller’s failed bid for the GOP nomination in 1964, when he lost out to Barry Goldwater, and there’s plenty of superficial appeal to this thinking: Two men from the Northeast, each with a gubernatorial background, each personally wealthy, and both widely perceived as moderates. And there is a chance that Gingrich will ultimately be proven correct, that this perception will make it impossible for Romney to win over the GOP’s Tea Party base and capture the nomination.

Nonetheless, it should be emphasized: Comparisons between the 2012 and 1964 GOP races completely miss the mark, and treating the current contest as a repeat of Goldwater vs. Rockefeller is a poor way to understand the evolution of the Republican Party since the 1960s and how Romney fits into it today.

The most important thing to realize about the Nelson Rockefeller who ran for president in 1964 is that he was an authentic political liberal, a believer in the power of government to fix the nation’s biggest problems, and he made essentially no effort to hide it. He favored strong civil rights laws, expansive anti-poverty programs, and major investments in education, healthcare and conservation. And the most important thing to realize about the Republican Party of 1964 is that to many of its leaders and rank-and-file members there was nothing at all alarming about Rockefeller’s liberalism. It was common in a party that was littered with Northeast moderates and liberals and light on conservative white southerners. […]

The Goldwater-Rockefeller race, in other words, represented a clash of seriously conflicting ideologies, with each man promising to lead the party in a fundamentally different direction. In victory, Goldwater crafted the most conservative platform the Republican Party had ever seen; had Rockefeller prevailed, that document would have looked far different. This is nothing like the situation today. The great ideological battle within the Republican Party is over (and it has been for a while), with Goldwater-style conservatism prevailing — and with Tea Party absolutism taking hold in the Obama era. The party’s convention next summer will be filled with very conservative delegates who will approve a very conservative platform no matter which candidate emerges from the primaries. And if that candidate is elected president, he or she would be risking a debilitating intraparty mutiny by straying too far from the platform.

[…]

So why is Romney frequently portrayed as a moderate? There are three reasons. The first is that he absolutely was a moderate — or at least presented himself as one — in his Massachusetts days. The second is that it’s in the interest of his opponents, like Gingrich, to claim that he still is one. And the third is that he’s adopted a more restrained style in this campaign; four years ago,Romney missed no opportunity to toss red meat at the base, but this time he’s played the role of November-minded front-runner and held back.

The key, though, is that he’s shown almost no interest in antagonizing the GOP base’s Tea Party sensibilities. About the closest he’s come is on healthcare with his refusal to claim that his own Massachusetts law was a mistake and to beg forgiveness for it. But it’s easier to read this as a practical consideration than a Rockefeller-like stand of ideological defiance: Suddenly claiming that his biggest single achievement in Massachusetts (one that he bragged about as recently as 2008) was one giant mistake would make his image as a flip-flopper much worse and carry potentially serious general election consequences. Short of saying he was wrong, though, Romney is doing everything else imaginable to convince the Tea Party right that he’s as committed to dismantling ObamaCare and doing nothing to replace it as they are.

And if you put healthcare aside, there really aren’t any big spots where post-Massachusetts Mitt is out of step with his party — which explains why Rush Limbaugh felt comfortable pronouncing Romney the embodiment of “all three legs of the conservative stool” just three years ago.

The comparisons to 1964 just don’t compute. Back then, Republicans were asked to choose between two completely different directions for their party. But today, the direction is already set. The GOP is a deeply conservative party that will nominate a candidate for president who publicly commits himself or herself to a deeply conservative agenda. This isn’t to diminish Romney’s problems within the party; there is clearly a strong sense among conservatives that he secretly clings to moderate beliefs and that he’d betray them as president. But a different parallel is probably more apt: It’s not so much Nelson Rockefeller from 1964 whom Romney is channeling; it’s George H.W. Bush from 1988.

 

2012: The road to a House majority goes through California

The newly-created independent redistricting process, carried out by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, has put California squarely on the map again when discussing the balance of power in the House.

While the big story when the maps were revealed in August focused on the fact that the Congressional map favored the Democrats to some extent, an often overlooked aspect of the California remap is the sheer volume of competitive races created. No less than a dozen seats in the Golden State could flip hands, with competitiveness all over the map to varying degrees. And it isn’t just Republicans that are under the gun—several Democrats will find themselves fighting for their seats like never before.

What follows is an examination of those potentially competitive seats. While several of these, perhaps even the majority of these, will stay in the same hands after 2012, all bear watching to some extent (all links to districts are PDF files of the new district maps).

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What Republicans hope the public doesn’t notice

Smartypants blog:

Seven years ago Republican guru Grover Norquist telegraphed the strategy.

During his presentation, Norquist explained why he believed that there would be a permanent Republican majority in America.

One person interrupted, as I recall, and said, “C’mon, Grover, surely one day a Democrat will win the White House.”

Norquist immediately replied: “We will make it so that a Democrat cannot govern as a Democrat.”

The specifics of how they’re implementing that strategy now that we have a Democratic president are clear…they’ve become the “party of no.” As an example, take a look at this history of the use of filibusters.

As Steve Benen points out:

Consider this tidbit: cloture was invoked 63 times in 2009 and 2010, which isn’t just the most ever, it’s more than the sum total of instances from 1919 through 1982. That’s not a typo.

In other words, Republicans did what they could to make governing impossible in 2009-2010. Now, with a Republican House combined with the use of the filibuster, we’re at a total standstill.

As Transportation Secretary Lahood said last week about his fellow Republicans:

“A big percentage of the Republicans that were elected this time came here to do zero, and that’s what they’ve done,” he said. Those lawmakers, he said, have obstructed other people who are trying to get things done.

Even former Defense Secretary Robert Gates is sounding alarms.

“I do believe that we are now in uncharted waters when it comes to the dysfunction in our political system–and it is no longer a joking matter,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates told an audience two weeks ago at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, where he received the Liberty Medal for national service. “It appears that as a result of several long-building, polarizing trends in American politics and culture, we have lost the ability to execute even the basic functions of government much less solve the most difficult and divisive problems facing the country. Thus, I am more concerned than I have ever been about the state of American governance.”


This is nothing new to those of us who have been paying attention. But as retired Republican Congressional staffer Mike Lofgren noted a few weeks ago, the Republicans are counting on low-information voters not noticing.

A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that “they are all crooks,” and that “government is no good,” further leading them to think, “a plague on both your houses” and “the parties are like two kids in a school yard.”

Ignorance on the part of the public is the card the Republicans are playing. THAT’S the message we need to get out there when it comes to tackling the dominance of the 1%.

 

 

 

Obama’s ‘Campaign’ for the Jobs Bill

Time:

Arizona Senator and 2008 GOP presidential nominee John McCain took to the Senate floor Monday to lambast the President’s listening tour this week on jobs. […]

Setting aside the fact that, as White House Communication director Dan Pfeiffer pointed out to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, McCain’s Straight Talk Express bus was made by the same company, there are two interesting points here.

1)   This, as McCain notes, is something we’ve seen before – though not in the way he means. I covered George W. Bush’s reelect in 2004. No one used the power of the incumbency better than Bush. We used to go to 15-minute official “speeches” that were then followed up by a fundraiser and a campaign rally. The rally often entailed the Bush campaign renting out a minor league baseball field. Marine One would land in the outfield – gassed up at the taxpayer’s expense – and Bush would come striding out to the theme song from the movie Air Force One.

Thinly veiled non-campaign campaign events are par for the course with any reelection effort, presidential or otherwise. And, to be fair, a lot of the expense incurred is Secret Service-mandated. The President can’t fly in anything but Air Force One or Marine One; the Secret Service would never allow him to rent a campaign plane. During Bush’s reelect, Democrats had similar gripes about the cost to taxpayers. This is a perennial and predictable complaint invoked by the other side during every campaign.

2)   Finally, Obama is learning: you have to sell your platform! Why wasn’t he out in the states selling health care reform or financial re-regulation or the stimulus? When Bush tried for Social Security reform, he did 50 speeches in 50 cities (Pelosi even offered to pay for an additional 10 cities). Bush, and his cabinet, sold the heck out of the Iraq war, No Child Left Behind and Medicare Part D – crisscrossing the country. I’ve always wondered why Obama sat in Washington for much of his first term, waiting for Congress to act, with his cabinet twiddling their thumbs. In fact, his cabinet is still twiddling. But, the fact that he’s finally actually trying to sell a policy is a good thing – never mind it’s one doomed to failure – even if it’s too little too late.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obama campaign ties Mitt Romney to Wall Street and corporate greed

The Hill:

Obama senior political strategist David Axelrod tied Mitt Romney to corporate greed on Tuesday as the president’s reelection campaign sought to play to the surging Occupy Wall Street protests.

Axelrod hit Romney as a flip-flopper in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” before moving to his argument that Romney is Wall Street’s candidate in the presidential race.

“I think there’s some question as to what his core convictions are,” Axelrod said Tuesday on “Morning Joe.” “I think, also, he says he represents business, but he really represents the Wall Street side of business in ways — you know, he stripped down companies and outsourced jobs in ways that I think reflect people’s concerns about the  economy.”

Obama’s campaign is expected to use Romney’s history as a founder of the Bain Capital private-equity firm as a weapon against the GOP front-runner. Democrats have previously gone after Romney by attacking Bain, which they said had a history under Romney of slashing jobs as it obtained and sold private companies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tea Party Nation Urges Businesses To Stop Hiring In Order To Hurt Obama

Right-Wing Watch:

Tea Party Nation sent to their members today a message from activist Melissa Brookstone urging businesspeople to “not hire a single person” to protest the Obama administration’s supposed “war against business and my country.” Brookstone writes that business owners should stop hiring new employees in order to stand up to “this new dictator,” the “global Progressive socialist movement,” Hollywood, the media and Occupy Wall Street.

Brookstone writes:

Resolved that: The Obama administration and the Democrat-controlled Senate, in alliance with a global Progressive socialist movement, have participated in what appears to be a globalist socialist agenda of redistribution of wealth, and the waging of class warfare against our constitutional republic’s heritage of individual rights, free market capitalism, and indeed our Constitution itself, with the ultimate goal of collapsing the U.S. economy and globalizing us into socialism.

Resolved that: President Obama has seized what amount to dictatorial powers to bypass our Congress, and that because the Congress is controlled by a Progressive socialist Senate that will not impeach one of their kind, they have allowed this and yielded what are rightfully congressional powers to this new dictator.

Resolved that: By their agenda and actions, those in our government who swore oaths to protect and defend our Constitution have committed treason against the United States.

Resolved that: The current administration and Democrat majority in the Senate, in conjunction with Progressive socialists from all around the country, especially those from Hollywood and the left leaning news media (Indeed, most of the news media.) have worked in unison to advance an anti-business, an anti-free market, and an anti-capitalist (anti-individual rights and property ownership) agenda.

Resolved that: Our President, the Democrats-Socialists, most of the media, and most of those from Hollywood, have now encouraged and supported “Occupy” demonstrations in our streets, which are now being perpetrated across the globe, and which are being populated by various marxists, socialists and even communists, and are protesting against business, private property ownership and capitalism, something I thought I’d never see in my country, in my lifetime.

I, an American small business owner, part of the class that produces the vast majority of real, wealth producing jobs in this country, hereby resolve that I will not hire a single person until this war against business and my country is stopped.

 

 

 

 

Barney Frank to Occupy Wall Street: Vote, darn it

Rachel Maddow:

Congressman Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) had this message last night for Occupy Wall Street:

[S]imply being in a public place and voicing your opinion in and of itself doesn’t do anything politically. It is the prerequisite, I hope, for people getting together and voting and engaging things.

And I understand some of the people on Occupy Wall Street are kind of critical of that. They think that’s conventional politics.

Well, you know, the most successful organization in America in getting its views adopted is the National Rifle Association. They are in many cases a minority. But in addition to everything else they do, they very effectively identify who the members of the Congress are, the legislatures and vote for them.

So, as I said, I welcome the Wall Street energy. I don’t agree with everything some of the people say. I agree with the general thrust of it. But it’s not self-executing. It has to be translated into political activity if it’s going to have the impact. And — you know, I would just say, the last thing, we had an election last year in which people who disagree with them, and disagree with me and with you, got elected.

I want to be honest again here. I don’t know what the voting behavior is of all these people, but I’m a little bit unhappy when people didn’t vote last time blame me for the consequences of their not voting.

I wonder if sometimes we search for the mechanism of transferring fervor to action when really it’s happening all along, in millions of personal, private decisions that we don’t see. I wonder.

Watch here>

SCOTUS

From OWS to OSCOTUS

Dahlia Lithwick, Slate:

As Occupy Wall Street protesters look to the Supreme Court, they’ll find more to be outraged about than the Citizens United case.

The protesters at Occupy Wall Street and all the mini-occupations that have sprung up around the country in recent days have started to connect two important dots. Blaming Congress for the corporate takeover of American democracy is only half the fun; blaming the Supreme Court is almost better. So when Cornel West was arrested Sunday at an impromptu protest on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, his message was a simple one that may be starting to resonate: If you don’t like big corporations buying and selling your government, you may want to go talk to the five-justice majority who gave us the Citizens United decision.

There is only one small problem with this argument. The corporate takeover of government predates the Citizens United ruling, issued in 2010, by many, many years. Moreover, while the ruling certainly opened up the possibility that future elections will be affected by the flood of corporate money into political campaigns, most empirical studies of the 2010 elections still show that the actual impact of Citizens United was actually quite limited. Many of the worst aspects of our money-saturated campaigns (like the role of 501(c)4’s) were already legal before Citizens United, and the holding in the case didn’t change them. The stuff you want to really worry about with big money and elections, such as the failure to disclose who you’re buying, is unaffected by Citizens United. Things may well get much uglier in future elections. But they’d have been ugly with or without the court’s intercession.

So if you want to get mad at the Supreme Court for the role it has played in insulating and empowering American corporations, realize that Citizens United is largely a symbolic target. It is not the most important aspect of the Roberts court and its affinity for big business. Step back further: If you want to get mad about the “minimalist” legal jujitsu that affords corporations the same free speech rights as people, you’re in good company. Former Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin concurs. Don’t forget: Congress passed campaign finance reform; it was the humble, minimalist Supreme Court that struck it down.

Now step back even further still: If you want to get mad at the elaborate fraud that brought the issue of “corporate personhood” to the high court in the first instance, I’m still right there with you. But there is so much better stuff to be angry about. The legal fiction of speech rights for corporations is a paper tiger that draws attention away from the real sins of the Roberts court: a systematic dismantling of existing legal protections for women, workers, the environment, minorities and the disenfranchised. Protesters at OWS who care about growing inequality need look no further than last term at the high court (i.e., not the Citizens United term) to see what happens when—just for instance—one’s right to sue AT&T, one’s ability to being a class action against Wal-Mart, and one’s ability to hold an investment management fund responsible for its lies, are all eroded by a sweep of the court’s pen.

Of course, if you want to focus the blame somewhere for big business growing ever richer at your expense, by all means start with Citizens United. But trust me, that’s not even the interesting part of the story. The paradox is that the little cases we’ve all missed will hurt the little guy far more. Either way, if OWS expands to become an attack on the legitimacy of the high court, it may have real implications in a term that is already shaping up to be one of the most momentous in recent memory.

So what is the Supreme Court going to do about it? Recall that Citizens United was a surprisingly unpopular decision, even when it came down, and that nobody was more surprised at that outcome than the court itself. Recall that it started as a tiny little petit four of a case about a bad movie-hit on Hillary Clinton. Recall also that it was the court itself that decided to have the case rebriefed and reargued to reach beyond the narrow facts off the case and strike down provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. The court seemed blind to the fact that giving big corporations a big golden ticket just as the economy was circling the drain was plain old bad timing and—immersed as the majority must have been in arcane questions about free speech—the court was blindsided by polls that showed that 85 percent of the public disliked the outcome of the case and 65 percent “strongly” opposed it.

Those numbers reflected bipartisan agreement at that time that the court had simply blown it. It’s hardly a surprise, then, that as the economy stagnates, and the gap between rich and poor expands, that the public still bears a grudge. Polls taken earlier this month show that the high court’s approval rating is at a near-historic low, and the 46 percent approval rating has dropped by 15 points in two years. So some court-watchers are suggesting, not inconceivably, that Citizens United is partly to blame. I’m not as comfortable tacking huge polling swings to single cases. But I’m not above saying there more be some correlation here.

My friend Robert Barnes at the Washington Post writes about the paradox of a high court being clobbered by the left and the right at the same instant. Just as Newt Gingrich is proposing that the court be made subordinate to, well, him, the left seems to be waking up the fact that “equal justice under the law” comes a lot more readily if you happen to be named Mr. Wal-Mart or Sir AT&T. Barnes notes that while its always true that the court gets special attention in election years, “somewhat surprisingly for a court that is moving to the right and where Republican appointees hold sway, the heavy fire is coming from those who want the GOP nomination.” How can the court be so conservative, he wonders, if all the conservatives think it’s not conservative enough?

One possible answer is that the Supreme Court has always been used as a dog whistle on the right to talk about election issues that matter deeply to social conservatives, including abortion, religion, and race. Criticism of the “activist” or “elitist” courts has become such a staple of GOP barnstorming that it almost doesn’t matter that the renegade activist court has recently upheld partial-birth abortion bans and allowed tax dollars to go to parochial schools. In other words, when Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry screeches about the court, they’re just reusing a Meese-era talking point. Nothing to see here.

Barnes also explores the theory that, because it is made up of four liberals, four conservatives and Anthony Kennedy, the court will always be disappointing someone. We all hate the court because we all just want Kennedy to pick a side. This too has some merit. But here’s one more explanation: The court now represents the overlap—that sweet spot in this brilliant Venn diagram—where the complaints of the Tea Partiers and the Occupy Wall Streeters can be focused on one spot. Complaints about the court perfectly echo blogger James Sinclair’s observation that the left and the right have a common enemy. The left hates big corporations, the right hates big government, and both sides forget that the problem is big corporations lobbying big government to enact laws favorable to big corporations.

Yes, it’s an oversimplification. But it does explain why public sentiment may be beginning to harden against the Supreme Court in general and Citizens United in particular. From a purely symbolic standpoint, Citizens United is a powerful statement: Big government is now in the control of big money. In an act of reverse statesmanship that still boggles the mind, the high court, with Citizens United briefly united both sides of a very polarized electorate around the idea that the court let big business to buy Congress.

That makes the upcoming term doubly interesting now. The court will face an array of questions about whether government is too crazy powerful: Can the cops stick a GPS device on your car without a warrant? Can the feds force Arizona out of the immigration-law game? Can the government force you to buy health insurance if you are hellbent on a slow and painful death? It will also face a host of questions about whether corporations can further immunize themselves against ordinary people: Can consumers sue credit repair companies for excessive fees? Can investors bring securities fraud suits for insider trading? Can oil and gas workers injured on the job sue to receive workers’ compensation? And because many of these cases scramble right/left ideology in much the way Sinclair’s Venn diagram does, the court may find itself in a minefield of debates it would rather sit out, debates it’s just agreed to referee this term.

If Americans begin to suspect that the Roberts court has been complicit in the conspiracy to make ordinary Americans less safe, less free, and less protected by the law—just as big corporations have become bigger, richer, and more immune from suit—there may also be a few more arrests on the steps of the court in coming months. As my friend Barry Friedman has argued, the court is hardly immune from this type of popular backlash and may conform its behavior this year in an effort to quiet it. The last time we saw the American people revolt against the court, it was in response to the “nine old men” who couldn’t do quite enough to gild the Gilded Age. The more people learn about what lurks under Citizens United, the more frustrated they may become.

I confess that I’m not quite sure how any of that will play out in any one case this term, though it may mean the court decides not to add the most controversial case about Obama’s health care law to this year’s docket, if it can kick things down the road until the American people have a chance to cool off. But if Americans become—and stay—focused on some of the ways the courts have actually contributed to their problems in recent years, I have no doubt the Supreme Court will sit up and take notice, and maybe just cool off a bit as well.

[NOTE: Please click on the original article ot see all the many links provided.]

WEDGE ISSUES

Herman Cain: My position is clear: Yes. But also no. My position is YesNo.

 

 

 

The Heartbeat Bill

 

 

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

“Our work is not done. And so on this day, in which we celebrate a man and a movement that did so much for this country, let us draw strength from those earlier struggles. First and foremost, let us remember that change has never been quick. Change has never been simple, or without controversy. Change depends on persistence. Change requires determination. It took a full decade before the moral guidance of Brown v. Board of Education was translated into the enforcement measures of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, but those 10 long years did not lead Dr. King to give up. He kept on pushing, he kept on speaking, he kept on marching until change finally came.” ~~ President Barack Obama at the MLK Memorial

Written by Chernynkaya

I am an artist and have lived in Los Angeles all of my life, except for a brief hippie period when I lived in SF. I am currently (semi-unwillingly) retired, but have had several careers.

6 Responses so far.

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  1. Khirad says:

    Very interesting about Lagos. There’s generally two places with amazingly large cities that no one has heard of. China and Africa.

    News that Makes you Go ‘Hunh’?
    http://www.juancole.com/2011/10/news-that-makes-you-go-hunh.html

  2. funksands says:

    Wow, too much to eat in one sitting, I’m going to have to come back at lunchtime.

    I would have been surprised if CLASS had stayed as part of the law.

    Most Americans are reluctant to purchase private long term care insurance regardless of cost because of the uncertaint­­y around a couple of issues:

    1) Premiums can and have gone up significan­­tly on LTC policies over the last several years as nursing home and home health care costs have skyrockete­­d

    2) Insurers (like MetLife) are bailing out of the industry because of the their inability to forcast their liability and costs accurately

    3) The fact is that you only have a 50% chance you’ll ever collect on the Long Term Care policy, which turns people off.

    Chronic illness is the number 1 cause of bankruptcy (voluntary or involuntar­­y) in our country, and family caregivers currently provide $19 billion dollars of unpaid care per year.

    THIS is the issue that will sink Medicaid. We are now much healthier as a populace, which mean we tend to NOT pass away when chronic illness strikes, but rather it lingers for years and years.

    Crowing/Ob­­struction by the GOP and wishful thinking by the Dems will not solve this issue.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Funk, I have no ideas whatsoever about what to do about rising medical costs. Obama’s plan to restructure hospital rules is a good idea in that regard (and also to improve the level of care). But that is really small potatoes. Our society is just not set up for us to care for our elderly relatives at home without help. And that’s really the only thing I can think of to keep costs down. Besides, it’s also the most humane.

      Excellent medical care in general has become something that only the wealthy can afford. I think about this a lot--why do Supreme Court Justices seem to live forever? Or look at Dick Cheney for Gawd’s sake! Sure, there are a few uber-rich like Steve Jobs who die young anyway (although his life was no doubt prolonged, I’m sure.) Look at the evil Koch brothers too. They are still kicking and look to last many more years, dammit. My grandmother would say that only the good die young, but we know that all the expensive medical miracles are only for the rich.

  3. javaz says:

    Not sure if it’s appropriate to place this here, but regarding immigration and specifically the accusations flung at Romney by Perry during last night’s “debate” --

    Remember when Governor Perry signed (?) immigration legislation that exempted maids and landscapers?

    Texas is weighing several immigration proposals modeled on Arizona’s strict (and controversial) law, but one in particular is drawing nationwide “jest and jeers.” A bill from state Rep. Debbie Riddle (R) would fine or jail anyone who employs undocumented immigrants — unless it’s to clean the house, mow the lawn, or do other work “performed exclusively or primarily at a single-family residence.” Riddle aide Jon English says exempting maids and nannies is a “clumsy” way to keep from “stifling the economic engine” in Texas. So, is that a nod to reality, or a wink to the wealthy?

    http://theweek.com/article/index/212785/texas-proposal-to-kick-out-all-illegal-immigrants-except-the-maids

    I am unable to find whether or not Perry signed the bill.

    Excellent compilation again, Cher.

    Of particular interest is the SCOTUS.
    If I recall correctly, SCOTUS has changed their tune over the years when people protest certain decisions made by the court.
    It’s unusual, but it does seem that SCOTUS under Roberts is pro-corporate as are the Republicans.

    Never before that I can remember have the Corporatist Republicans and Blue Dogs and SCOTUS been so “honest” about who they favor and work for, and they are not working for the average American.

    I think that’s part of OWS, too.
    That average Americans are not being heard by the Corporatist electorate.
    The longer OWS continues, and the more Americans that join in the movement, sooner or later our Corporatist leaders will get the message.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Hey javaz! I always like it when people add news items to my blog and your’s today is a good one. I had no idea about that exception to Perry’s immigration plan. It’s disgustingly elitist.

      About SCOTUS--I can’t remember where I read it, but I have also heard the the Supremes are NOT immune to public opinion. That is hard to prove, I guess, but I remember reading the piece and it showed instances where they were swayed. In any case, I really think that Occupying the SCOTUS is an awesome idea for an offshoot of OWS.


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