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.
It didn’t get much attention, but this morning the latest NFIB small business optimism survey came in stronger than expected, as more and more corporations see good sales and decent business conditions on the way.
As always, the number that most people care about is jobs, and there the news is particularly good.
We’re still not close to the levels of a typical “recovery” but this number is clearly going in the right direction, suggesting that a crucial part of the economy is starting to join the comeback.
The U.S. Postal Service on Tuesday agreed to delay the closing of 252 mail processing centers and 3,700 local post offices until mid-May.
In a statement, the cash-strapped agency said it would hold off on closings by several weeks to give Congress more time to pass legislation that would give it more authority and liquidity to stave off bankruptcy. The Postal Service, which is expected to default Friday on a $5.5 billion payment to the Treasury, is forecast to lose a record $14.1 billion next year.
Last week, the Postal Service said it was moving forward on cutbacks. It had planned to begin closing processing centers as early as April, and shutter some post offices early next year.
“There continues to be extreme urgency, and our financial crisis continues,” said postal spokesman David Partenheimer. “But we’re hoping by working with senators and all members of Congress that they can pass comprehensive legislation that allows the Postal Service to return to profitability.”
The agreement by the Postal Service also means that cuts to first-class mail that would slow delivery and, for the first time in 40 years, eliminate the chance for stamped letters to arrive the next day, would not occur before May 15. Previously, the post office said it had hoped to implement the cuts to first-class service in April.
Last Thursday, a group of 21 senators from mostly rural states led by Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, signed a letter to congressional leaders asking them to add language to legislation that would halt closings for six months. The closures could cost 100,000 postal employees their jobs.
“What I feared very much is that the post office unilaterally would start making drastic cuts to processing plants, rural post offices and slow first-class mail service before Congress can pass postal reform,” Sanders said. “So it’s a step forward in terms of giving us time with certainty that rural post offices won’t be closed.”
In all, roughly 100,000 postal employees could be cut as a result of the various closures, resulting in savings of up to $6.5 billion a year.
The Postal Service, an independent agency of government, does not receive tax money, but it is subject to congressional control on major aspects of its operations.
Separate bills that have passed House and Senate committees would give the Postal Service more authority to reduce delivery to five days a week, raise stamp prices and reduce health care and other labor costs.
The Senate bill would refund nearly $7 billion the Postal Service overpaid into a federal retirement fund, encourage a restructuring of health benefits and reduce the agency’s annual payments into a future retiree health account. No other agency or business is required to make such health prepayments.
At a time when economists say U.S. manufacturing policy is in disarray, the Obama administration said Monday it has created a new cabinet-level Office of Manufacturing Policy to be co-chaired by the Commerce Department secretary and the director of the White House National Economic Council.
“At this make or break time for the middle class and our economy, we need a strong manufacturing sector that will put Americans back to work making products stamped with three proud words: Made in America,” President Barack Obama said in his announcement.
The new office expands on a previous appointment for a White House adviser on manufacturing, known as a “manufacturing czar.” Washington has had no fewer than three manufacturing czars in the course of two administrations. The most recent, Ron Bloom, resigned in August -- but only after he issued a report that found that “past manufacturing policies have largely failed.”
As one of the new co-chairs, Commerce Secretary John Bryson is meant to give the position cabinet-level influence for the first time. His co-chair will be National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, an economic pragmatist who helped negotiate China’s entry into the World Trade Organization as an adviser to President Bill Clinton.
From Milwaukee’s factory floors to Washington’s think tanks, there is broad consensus that policy-makers have long neglected the manufacturing economy, even though manufactured goods account for 57% of the nation’s exports.
“U.S. manufacturing is in crisis,” according to a study this year from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Last week, the Washington-based Council on Competitiveness issued a plea for a comprehensive strategy, saying manufacturing policy is in disarray. Critics at the National Association of Manufacturing complain that Washington devotes far more time and resources to the farm lobby, even though U.S. agricultural exports are only one-tenth the size of manufactured exports.
“The Germans invest 20 times what the U.S. does to promote manufacturing innovation and technology, while Japan spends 40 times more, and neither of those nations have lost manufacturing,” said Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in Washington.
In Wisconsin -- the state with the nation’s largest share of its workforce employed in manufacturing -- industry is hobbled by an outdated image that manufacturing is “dumb, dirty, dangerous and disappearing,” according to the Milwaukee 7 economic planning consortium.
Among U.S. metro areas with a minimum of a half-million nonfarm jobs, metro Milwaukee consistently shows up with the second-highest share of its workforce in manufacturing, behind San Jose, Calif.
Economic policy is dominating election-year politics. The prospect of a viable manufacturing policy has potential to resonate in perennial swing states in the industrial Midwest.
Whether the initiative amounts to political window dressing or not, it comes at a time of rapid restructuring in the global manufacturing economy.
As China, Korea and India undercut the United States on production costs and labor rates, Germany and Japan have taken a strong lead in next-generation automation, leaving the U.S. squeezed by competition on both ends of the global spectrum, according to a consensus of manufacturing analysts.
Milwaukee-based Rockwell Automation Inc., which outfits factories with systems that increase productivity and lower costs, has taken a lead in pushing for a national manufacturing policy. Rockwell and others argue that advanced automation has opened a new front in the global technology race as nations aspire to build high-technology “smart factories.” Rockwell maintains that the U.S. has the “world’s oldest industrial base with no strategy to help American businesses construct or modernize factories.”
Advanced automation means fewer jobs on the factory floor and diminishes the competitive significance of labor costs between nations, which in theory levels the playing field with low-cost nations. The opportunity for job creation, advocates argue, comes in the slew of ancillary suppliers and services that support thesmart factories.
Welcoming the new policy team, Rockwell said in a statement that Obama needs “to pursue policies that encourage U.S. manufacturers to invest in advanced or ‘smart’ manufacturing technologies to increase competitiveness.”
To kick off the White House initiative, Bryson is expected to give a speech Thursday saying that America cannot afford to allow next-generation advanced automation to go the way of low-skill manufacturing, according to his aides.
Manufacturing policy cannot reside within any single agency, said Atkinson of the Information Technology Association. It needs to focus on a gamut of issues that Atkinson calls the four Ts: taxes, trade, technology and talent -- the last meaning immigration.
Those suggest why manufacturing policy can be so divisive and contentious, he said.
To compete in 21st-century manufacturing means the nation needs the engineers and computer scientists to build and operate sophisticated automation networks, which in turn means that the U.S. must either increase the number of engineering graduates dramatically or reform its immigration laws to allow more engineers from China and India into the U.S. to hold those jobs. Immigration, in turn, is one of the most emotionally divisive issues in American politics.
The White House has shown an evolution in its economic thinking, Atkinson said. It has gone from advisers who were sanguine about the loss of the nation’s manufacturing base -- along the lines that America would do fine as long as it had a base of innovators -- to realizing that its quality of life is at stake if it cannot compete in an age of advanced manufacturing, he said.
“They increasingly realize that a robust national recovery in the long term is impossible without a manufacturing sector,” he said. “It’s taken a while for them to come to that conclusion, but I give them credit for getting this far.”
One in 45 children in the USA — 1.6 million children — were living on the street, in homeless shelters or motels, or doubled up with other families last year, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness.
The numbers represent a 33% increase from 2007, when there were 1.2 million homeless children, according to a report the center is releasing Tuesday.
“This is an absurdly high number,” says Ellen Bassuk, president of the center. “What we have new in 2010 is the effects of a man-made disaster caused by the economic recession. … We are seeing extreme budget cuts, foreclosures and a lack of affordable housing.”
The report paints a bleaker picture than one by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which nonetheless reported a 28% increase in homeless families, from 131,000 in 2007 to 168,000 in 2010.
Dennis Culhane, a University of Pennsylvania professor of social policy, says HUD’s numbers are much smaller because they count only families living on the street or in emergency shelters.
“It is a narrower standard of homelessness,” he says. However, Culhane says, “the bottom line is we’ve shown an increase in the percentage of homeless families.”
The study, a state-by-state report card, looks at four years’ worth of Education Department data. It assesses how homeless children fare based on factors including the state’s wages, poverty and foreclosure rates, cost of housing and its programs for homeless families.
The states where homeless children fare the best are Vermont, Minnesota, Nebraska,North Dakota and Maine.
It finds the worst states for homeless children are Southern states where poverty is high, including Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas, and states decimated by foreclosures and job losses, such as Arizona, California and Nevada.
At the First Light shelter in Birmingham, Ala., the fastest-growing group is women with children, executive director Ruth Crosby says. She says the emergency shelter, which houses about 125 women and children, is full every night. An overflow room with mats on the floor fills up every night, too.
“We try not to turn people away,” Crosby says. “Poverty in Alabama is severe at best. We were already in dire straights, and then you get the economy. It’s kept us on the bottom.”
Shelly Jordan, a case manager for the homeless in Hattiesburg, Miss., says it has become common for two-parent households or families headed by professionals to turn to the city’s lone homeless shelter.
“People had savings or unemployment and that’s run out,” she says. “This is their last resort.”
A small portion of homeless households with children, 4,355, are headed by veterans. That’s less than 5% of the veterans who are homeless.
The number of homeless veterans fell 12% from 76,329 in 2010 to 67,495 this year, according to a report released Tuesday by HUD and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan credits the decline to more rental assistance and programs to get veterans into permanent housing.
As the saying goes: “It’s hard to make predictions. Especially about the future.” Thirty years ago, it was obvious to everybody that oil prices would keep going up forever. Twenty years ago, it was obvious that Japan would own the 21st century. Ten years ago, it was obvious that our economic stewards had mastered a kind of thermostatic control over business cycles to prevent great recessions. We were wrong, wrong, and wrong.
So, how wrong are economic forecasters about their big predictions today? Fortunately, we have a way to measure that sort of thing — the gap between expectations and reality. It’s called the Citigroup Economic Surprise Index.
A high Surprise Index indicates that economic figures have been stronger than analysts projected. A low Surprise Index indicates that the economy is doing much worse than analysts predict.
Today, economic data are outperforming predictions by the most in almost a year, Bloomberg reported this week. Compare with this summer, when experts thought the economy should be slowly improving, whereas indicators suggested we were in fact nearing a recession.
Here is your roller coaster on the Surprise Index for the last three years:
There are a few lessons to glean from the Surprise Index, which I was only made aware of this week. First, predictions are often reported as news. They’re not. They’re predictions, and they’re almost always wrong. Full disclosure: I’ve been as guilty as anyone for breathlessly passing along predictions without the qualifying them as conjecture. Second, to be fair to the analysts, sometimes the first draft of the economic figures aren’t any better than the predictions. A great example: We initially estimated GDP falling 3.8% in the last three months of 2008. Instead, it fell nearly 9%. That’s a horrible miscalculation that had a real impact on decisions made by Congress and the Federal Reserve to fix the economy. I wonder what the Economic Surprise Index would say about first readings of GDP and unemployment numbers.
[…] Would it surprise you to learn that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently gave more than $300,000 to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a shadowy right-wing organization that has inordinate power in state legislatures across the country.
In November, the foundation announced that it has awarded the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) (http://www.alec.org/) a grant of $376,635 earmarked for ALEC’s work on an assortment of education projects, over a 22-month period. The Gates Foundation’s official description of the grant reads: “to educate and engage its membership on more efficient state budget approaches to drive greater student outcomes, as well as educate them on beneficial ways to recruit, retain, evaluate and compensate effective teaching based upon merit and achievement.”
Robin Rogers is an associate professor of sociology at Queens College and the Graduate Center at the City University of New York (CUNY), and the author of “Why Philanthro-policymaking Matters” in The Politics of Philanthrocapitalism, Society 2011, The Welfare Experiments: Politics and Policy Evaluation (Stanford University Press, 2004). In a recent piece at The Education Optimists titled “Billionaire Education Policy,” Rogers pointed out that the Gates Foundation’s grant to ALEC was aimed at “influenc[ing] state budget making -- where the rubber hits the road on education policy.” Rogers noted that after the grant’s announcement, “Twitter was buzzing with the news” and the debate revolved around “whether this constituted a Republican takeover of the state budget process, a Gates Foundation takeover of ALEC or both. No one suggested it was a victory for democracy.”
Since its’ founding nearly 40 years ago, the raison d’etre of the American Legislative Exchange Council (http://blog.buzzflash.com/node/12551) has been to influence state legislatures on behalf of corporations and so-called family values advocates, but mostly corporations. As The Center for Media and Democracy’s “ALEC Exposed” (http://www.alecexposed.org/wiki/ALEC_Exposed) project points out, the organization is “not a lobby” and “not a front group”: “It is much more powerful than that.”
Primarily funded by corporations, corporate trade groups, and corporate foundations,” and populated mainly by Republican office holders, ALEC is a non-profit organization made up primarily of a “who’s who’ of the extreme right.”
As I reported in late March of this year, “while the Washington, D.C.-based ALEC may not be responsible for all of the mayhem going on in such states as Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana, Florida, and Michigan (with more states certain to follow), it has historically played an extraordinary role in shaping pro-corporate legislation in a number of states.”
Several new problems have been found at a Nebraska power plant that suffered flood damage earlier this year, federal regulators said Tuesday, so inspectors will be watching the plant north of Omaha even more closely as repairs from flooding are made.
The tougher oversight for the Omaha Public Power District plant in Fort Calhoun will likely further delay its restart from early next year until sometime in the spring as it makes repairs from the summer flooding. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said none of the new issues represents a public safety threat, but the growing number of problems, combined with the prolonged shutdown, requires more scrutiny.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and other groups will argue in a New York federal court today that the federal government acted unconstitutionally in holding the morning-after pill to a “different and nonscientific standard,” just days after HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the Food and Drug Administration to limit access to the medication for women under the age of 17.
During an event in New York yesterday, Sebelius defended her ruling, telling reporters, “Actually, it isn’t about politics.” I did not feel that the science supported [making the contraceptive readily available to all ages, because there was a large missing piece of the puzzle,” she insisted.
But Judge Edward Korman “was highly critical of the government’s handling of the issue when he ordered the FDA two years ago to let 17-year-olds obtain the medication” and may be tempted to agree with women’s health advocates who have harshly criticized Sebelius’ decision. They argue that “the science has been solid that the drug is safe and should be available to anyone who needs it” and note that “worries about the use of medicines by teenagers, have not been applied to other products” “such as acetaminophen, and others with known and serious risks, over the counter.”
Teva, the manufacturer of Plan B, has already presented data showing it tested the drug in 11-to-16-year-old girls and has submitted evidence in support of its over-the-counter application at least three separate times.
Kaiser Health News:
Dr. Donald Berwick, who oversaw Medicare and Medicaid until earlier this month, defended the programs Monday, but said they are trapped in a U.S. health system that promotes wasteful spending and inefficient care.
"Health care is broken," Berwick said in an interview with Kaiser Health News. "… We have set up a delivery system that is fragmented, unsafe, not patient-centered, full of waste and unreliable. Despite the best efforts of the workforce, we built it wrong. It isn't built for modern times."
Berwick said the 2010 federal health law is changing how doctors and hospitals are paid and deliver care through such new arrangements as accountable care organizations, which are designed to improve coordination and lower costs.
But he said it is unclear whether such efforts would produce results quickly enough to hold off critics, including most Republicans, who want to make more radical changes that would shift more of the burden to beneficiaries. "That is the central question, the nub…whether that will happen fast enough, I just don’t know."
Despite being considered one of the foremost authorities on health quality and safety, Berwick was a controversial pick as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services after Republicans accused him of supporting rationing care. Berwick denies the charge, but noted both private insurers and government programs impose limits on what they will cover.
After Republicans said they would not confirm his appointment, President Obama appointed him during a congressional recess in July 2010, which meant he could serve only for 18 months. His last day was Dec. 2.
Attorney General Eric Holder is venturing deeper into a political thicket over how individual states run elections, saying discrimination based on race or ethnicity still prevents people from voting.
"The reality is that - in jurisdictions across the country - both overt and subtle forms of discrimination remain all too common. And we don't have to look far to see recent proof," Holder is expected to say on Tuesday night in a speech in Austin, Texas, according to a draft released in advance.
The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in January involving a complaint by minority groups that the redrawn maps illegally disadvantage Hispanics. The Justice Department also has objected to the maps.
Holder says in his speech that his department is still reviewing state laws, supported by Republicans, that require voters to show photo identification. He says the review will be "thorough" and "fair," though it discusses the laws in the context of voter disenfranchisement.
Responding to Holder's comments, Republican Senator John Cornyn said the identification laws are a constitutional way to prevent fraud. "Facing an election challenge next year, this administration has chosen to target efforts by the states to protect the democratic process," Cornyn said.
Holder, a Democratic appointee, is scheduled to deliver the speech at a library named for President Lyndon Johnson, who signed the 1965 voting law. Holder is the first ever black U.S. attorney general.
Washington Mutual’s implosion in 2008 was the biggest bank collapse in U.S. history—are the executives who ran it getting off easy? The FDIC charged three WaMu executives with gross negligence in a civil lawsuit; however, according to The Wall Street Journal, the FDIC is now willing to settle with them for less than 10 percent of the $900 million it originally sought—less than $75 million. Most of that money will be paid not by the executives themselves but by WaMu’s insurers and estates. The Journalsays it’s a “setback” for the FDIC. Still, it is one of the largest settlements since the financial crisis began.
What in God’s name is wrong with the SEC? The Securities and Exchange Commission—spoken of as though it has the power to destroy entire economies with a single question—continues to engage in settlement talks with banks caught red-handed defrauding investors and who know that the $285 million or so they’ll have to pay to the federal government as result would barely register on their books.
And yet this persists. Late last month, as we all prepared to stuff ourselves with turkey, U.S. District Court Judge Jed Rakoff threw out another kind of turkey presented by the SEC to his court. Citigroup, which like many other banks regularly created “investment vehicles” for clients that it then bet on to fail, had agreed to pay $285 million to avoid these practices being dragged through the courts, which would not only be embarrassing (though at this point, could shame really matter?) but also potentially expose senior executives to criminal charges.
There it is! “Criminal Charges.” Imagine that. Yes, I know, attorneys regularly cut such deals to save court costs or, perhaps, because they worry the charges might not stick at trial. But let’s face it, the American public—right, left and center—has had it with white-collar criminals being treated as “overzealously creative” while teenage shoplifters are threatened with jail. The SEC’s response—to petition Congress for the right to raise the fines—is not enough. These cases should not be settled; the settlements send a message of impotence that will come back to haunt us.
The reforms of banking regulation and securities law in the United States and Europe have been uncoordinated and, while sometimes useful, often blunted and sidestepped by the financial industry. Amazingly, the market for over-the-counter derivatives— the SIVs (structured investment vehicles) and MBSs mortgage-backed securities and CDSs (credit default swaps) that dragged the world towards the abyss in 2008—remains almost entirely unregulated. Thirteen years after Brooksley Born, then-chairwoman of the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, warned that this market concealed a ticking timebomb, and four years since it detonated, trillions of dollars worth of transactions that tie American banks to their counterparties around the world remain opaque. She was shutdown by Wall Street’s Clinton-era guardians of the day—Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers.
Similarly, efforts to reimpose the Glass-Steagal separations of commercial and investment banking after the 2008 debacle also failed. This, for now, appears to be the state of play—American democracy, entangled in the political complexities of legislative wrangling, has chosen to cross its fingers rather than put up its dukes.
But the Obama administration can still do a great deal of good by simply rediscovering its stomach for prosecution. The Justice Department in the United States should pursue broad charges against those who led America’s leading investment banks and other financial institutions to the brink of collapse in 2008. Focusing on fraudulent claims about the performance of complex securitizedfinancial products—products sold as AAA risks—should be possible, particularly if the Justice Department employs the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) statutes that helped bring the U.S. mafia down to size two decades ago.
Astoundingly, when Goldman Sachs was found to have sold subprime mortgage products that it specifically designed to fail—in part so that a major client, Paulson & Company, could be against it—the government accepted a 2010 settlement offer rather than continue with a criminal case. The settlement was a record $550 million. That’s a rounding error on Paulson’s balance sheet (though they had a miserable 2010, it must be said, as karma apparently has finally taken a hand).
But pursuing such cases to their legal end, even if the prosecution somehow failed, would restore credibility to U.S. regulators and ultimately have a much more profound effect on the financial sector. Instead, the government sent a message that, yes, it may pursue charges in egregious cases, but the option to pay it off will remain.
Clearly, RICO was not designed for Wall Street. But then, back in the mid-1980s, the National Organization for Women used RICO to file suit against radical anti-abortion groups that had gone beyond protesting and actually physically blocked women from entering clinics providing abortion services (not to mention those that simply existed in order to blow them up). The case went to the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled in 1994 that RICO could be applied to a political organization. It’s worth noting that the entire case rested on whether RICO could be applied to an entity, like the anti-abortion movement, which wasn’t in business to make a profit. I highly doubt that issue presents much of an obstacle with Wall Street.
Wisconsin’s voter ID law imposes the equivalent of a poll tax on individuals with out-of-state drivers licenses and discriminates against the poor, students and the elderly, according to a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday.
ACLU lawyers argue in a 54-page lawsuit that the law “imposes a severe and undue burden on the fundamental right to vote under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution; violates the Twenty-Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution as an unconstitutional poll tax; and violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in arbitrarily refusing to accept certain identification documents.”
The suit argues that the law would force individuals to “choose between surrendering their driving privileges to obtain a free Wisconsin state ID card, paying a fee for a Wisconsin driver’s license, or losing their right to vote.” They argue that the requirement to surrender an out-of-state driver’s license “constitutes a material requirement imposed on an eligible voter who refuses to forfeit his/her right to vote without paying an unconstitutional poll tax.”
Notably, Wisconsin is not covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act which requires certain states to get changes to their voting laws pre-cleared by the Justice Department.
In making their case, the ACLU gathered 17 voters — from a 84-year-old woman without a certified birth certificate to a 52-year-old homeless Army veteran to a 20-year old without a Social Security card to a 19-year-old college student who doesn’t want to give up his California driver’s license — to demonstrate the effect the law could have.
The suit comes ahead of Attorney General Eric Holder’s speech on protecting access to the polls.
This short clip (starting at 3:20) from last night's Daily Show with Jon Stewart is so telling. David Gregory gets Ron Paul on the hotseat, and instead of questioning him on his insane policy proposals (privatizing the Transportation Safety Administration and cutting food programs for children, not to mention huge cuts in Social Security and Medicare) Gregory pushes the beltway frontrunner narrative.
It's close to "Well, enough about Gingrich and Romney, what do YOU think of Gingrich and Romney?"
Or, as Stewart puts it, "Would you like to go out Saturday night? I know this quiet little place where I can tell you which one of your friends I'd like to [expletive].”
I’m absolutely no fan of Ron Paul or his Libertarianism, but it would serve everyone in the beltway media right if he won in Iowa.
Of course, if Gingrich comes in second, he’ll still be the frontrunner for David Gregory. Douche.
[…] Sarcasm, which depends heavily on its bearer’s delivery, can be easily misconstrued online. Sarcasm in the real world is emphasized with facial gestures and inflection. On Gchat and Twitter, though, sarcastic quips are often taken seriously — and can cause real problems.
Melissa Bell wrote about one Twitter user, frustrated that the media automatically looked to the Muslim community for a culprit during a Norwegian shooting spree earlier this year, who started the sarcastic hashtag #blamethemuslims. But many people took it seriously, and when it spread, it had the opposite effect that the user intended — especially when translated to other languages.
Several people have tried in vain to invent a written indication of sarcasm. The irony mark, a backwards question mark, has been used for statements that aren’t supposed to be taken seriously — for example, “Yeah, Kim Kardashian really married Kris Humphries for love؟” But even an inverse question mark can make us read the sentence as a question, rather than a statement of irony.
Others have invented sarcasm fonts (which look like a slightly-dopier Comic Sans),and sarcasm marks (which look sort of like an upside-down @ with a dot in the middle). The latter was marketed by SarcMarc, a company that soldthe punctuation as a $2 download — angering many Internet users who argued that all punctuation should be free. A group called Open Sarcasm, formed in opposition to SarcMarc, advocates for the Ethiopic sarcasm mark, which is free, and looks like an upside-down exclamatiom mark:¡ And the geeks who want to indicate sarcasm often use faux-html code, like this: <sarcasm> great idea </sarcasm>.
Dave Barry, likely sarcastically, pointed to one sarcasm communication method that he notes is just brilliant. But I think it could work. The sarcastic font style that would designate sarcasm with a backwards italic left-slant. It will not work on our CMS — <sarcasm>so yeah, it’s got a great chance at succeeding</sarcasm> — but if it were widely adopted, compatible with all systems, and easy to use with just a keyboard shortcut, we’d be able to prevent sarcasm-related fights online easily. It’s also not too similar to any other punctuation or font styles we already use that could muddle its meaning — italics already mean emphasis, so backwards italics could easily be interpreted as sarcasm.
Why would a bunch of rich fat-cats be pushing their own candidate into the presidential election? And why would the media treat it as anything other than just that?
Adam Serwer, Mother Jones:
The version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that emerged from a House-Senate conference meeting Tuesday morning contains many of the same provisions that administration officials and national security experts have warned would harm national security. But while earlier incarnations of the detention provisions were confusing and harmful, now they’re confusing and largely symbolic.
“Those who were big supporters of this provision, well, this doesn’t accomplish what they wanted. Their enthusiasm is misplaced,” said Robert Chesney, a national security law expert who teaches at the University of Texas School of Law. “Those who are decrying this as the militarization of domestic law enforcement, it doesn’t have to be that either.”
The new bill still mandates military detention without trial for any non-citizen terrorism suspect apprehended in the US who is determined to be a member of al Qaeda or an “affiliated group.” The administration now has several ways to get around that requirement, however. It could issue a national security waiver—a letter from the administration authorizing a trial in civilian court. Alternatively, the FBI could simply detain a suspect up until a determination is made that he can be detained by the military. Even after that, if the administration decides to try the suspect in civilian court, there’s still no need to put him in military custody. Under the latest version of the law, someone like underwear bomber Umar Abdulmutallab could still go from interrogation to trial without ever passing through military hands—and without the need for a national security waiver. (The national security waiver option that has been a part of the Senate bill since the earliest drafts, although the authority to grant the waiver now rests with the president instead of the secretary of defense—a change a Senate aide said was requested by the administration.)
The question is why the detention provisions remain in the bill at all. It looks like Congress, in responding to concerns raised by national security officials, essentially made the ”mandatory” military detention optional. The new bill still shifts the presumption towards military custody, and in doing so, sets up a potential controversy every time a non-citizen terror suspect is apprehended in the US. The changes allow members of Congress to claim they’re not hampering counterterrorism operations while still leaving them room to slam the president should he decide to forgo military detention. Republicans have seized on previous incidents to criticize the president for not being “tougher” on terrorism by extending the military’s role. At least in a symbolic sense, this bill gives them more ammunition in case another underwear bomber type situation occurs, because they would be able to accuse the president of ignoring the law. Perhaps, convinced of the danger of micromanaging the president in advance, Congress has made it easier to do so after the fact.
“Now there’s something more concrete for the critics to point to and say, Congress expressed its will and you exploited your lawyers to do something that’s contrary to the spirit of the bill,” Chesney said. “It does ramp up political costs.” During Tuesday’s White House press briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney did not say whether the new bill would force the White House to make good on its veto threat, remarking instead that administration officials were still looking at the new bill.
Civil liberties and human rights advocates were less convinced that the bill’s mandatorydetention provisions could be so easily circumvented. A coalition of human rights, civil liberties advocates and national security experts held a conference call on Tuesday morning to warn that the NDAA still carves out a hypothetical role for the military to enforce the law on American soil. Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) comment that “the homeland… is that battlefield”—made during the December 1 debate after which the Senate approved its version of the NDAA—applies equally now, said Raha Wala, a lawyer at Human Rights First. And ACLU legislative counsel Chris Anders argued that the NDAA could set up a jurisdictional conflict between the military and theFBI similar to those that exist between state and federal level law enforcement authorities.
The latest version of the bill bill maintains transfer restrictions on the transfer of Gitmo detainees that were passed last year. It also retains the language of the Senate “compromise” on indefinite detention without trial of American citizens apprehended on US soil, leaving the issue an open question for the courts to resolve. The way the compromise is worded, however, could be construed as authorizingmilitary detention of American citizens who are captured abroad, even if they’re not apprehended fighting on a hot battlefield such as Afghanistan.
The “reaffirmation” of the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force, however, did not survive the conference. Civil liberties advocates had criticized the provision, which was part of the House’s version of the bill, as authorizing an endless worldwide war against terrorism. But given everything else left in the compromise bill, they don’t consider the demise of the AUMF reauthorization much of a victory. ”The House worldwide war provision was killed off,” said Anders, who described the change as merely going from “worse to bad.”
According to Senator Carl Levin, however, Americans should be a bit more concerned about what the president’s actual intentions are. Levin, who sits on the Armed Services Committee as chairman, has revealed to Congress that the Obama administration influenced the wording of the act and shot down text that would have saved American citizens from the indefinite imprisonment and suspension of habeas corpus.
(Click image above for video of Senator Levin’s speech)
Senator Levin told Congress recently that under the original wording of the National Defense Authorization Act, American citizens were excluded from the provision that allowed for detention. Once Obama’s officials saw the text though, says Levin, “the administration asked us to remove the language which says that US citizens and lawful residents would not be subject to this section.”
Specifically, the section that Obama asked to be reworded was Section 1031 of the NDAA FY2012, which says that”any person who has committed a belligerent act” could be held indefinitely.
“It was the administration that asked us to remove the very language which we had in the bill which passed the committee…we removed it at the request of the administration,” said Levin. “It was the administration which asked us to remove the very language the absence of which is now objected to.”
John Wood of Change.org writes that President Obama proposed a veto of Section 1032 of the NDAA, which does not pertain to the detention of American citizens. Rather, that section deals with the use of the US military in taking custody of suspected criminals. Section 1031, which actually deals with the indefinite imprisonment of Americans, remains not only unopposed by the Obama administration, but the president has made sure that the law specifically includes Americans, urging Congress to redraft the legislation with increasingly confusing wording that makes the legalization detrimental to America.
For the second time in a month, the Occupy movement called for mass action to shut down port operations. This time, the occupiers targeted the entire West Coast.
The Occupy Oakland General Assembly unanimously adopted a proposal November 18 calling for the “blockade and disruption of the economic apparatus of the 1% with a coordinated shutdown of ports on the entire West Coast on December 12.” (General assemblies are meetings, open to all, that make decisions for Occupy groups, using consensus.)
The motion declares solidarity with Longshore Union (ILWU) members in Longview, Washington, in their struggle against grain terminal operator EGT. The company has refused to hire ILWU members and is now in a drawn-out battle that could shape the future of the 4,000 union members who work the Pacific Northwest’s grain elevators.
Occupiers planned the shutdown without consulting with the union, and the ILWU put out a statement December 6 to its members and supporters disclaiming support for the action and claiming its prerogative in the fight against EGT. “The ILWU has a long history of democracy,” wrote ILWU President Bob McElrath. “Part of that historic democracy is the hard-won right to chart our own course to victory.”
Members of the Occupy movement interpreted the union’s distancing itself as, at best, a legal safeguard against the fines that could result from a work stoppage that violates the contract’s strike bar. At worst, they saw it as a product of the union movement’s timidity, born of decades of retreat and identification with employer interests.
ILWU members and officials expressed alarm at how the port shutdown was called and questioned why the Occupy movements called for action without consulting the people that action would affect most.
Occupy spokespeople responded that they reached out to union members after the shutdown call was made. Kari Koch of Occupy Portland said they have been flyering at shift changes at the port for a week. “We would not be doing this action if we didn’t have any support from the rank and file,” Koch said.
But occupiers didn’t call ILWU Local 8 there, she said. (They sent an email.) Occupiers were worried the local could be legally liable if it coordinated with protesters.
Huge numbers showed up at the gates this morning in Oakland and shut three port gates. Occupiers, who plan to disrupt the afternoon shift as well, reported no animosity from ILWU members and port truckers.
While it’s certainly the case that the union movement needs a kick in the pants, and the occupiers have done a lot to aim the shoe, ILWU members and officers say democracy in movements—union and Occupy alike—means giving say to the people affected, not assuming their participation or support because an action is just.
But Mike Parker, a retired UAW activist in the Bay Area and co-author of Democracy Is Power, said most strikes are inconvenient for someone, including other workers. Their success relies on all workers affected by an action honoring the line, whether or not they felt appropriately warned.
Other unionists involved in the occupy movement say the ILWU should recognize the need for tactical flexibility.
“The Occupy movement is simply taking from labor history,” said Robbie Donohoe, an Electrical Workers member who has been active in organizing for the shutdown. “We’re making it safer for workers to challenge the boundaries of laws that were created to secure the reins of power firmly in the hands of the 1%.”
HERE WE GO
Regardless of whether ILWU leaders support the shutdown, union and community members have done person-to-person outreach to make it succeed.
The Oakland Education Association’s executive board backed the call; President Betty Olsen Jones has been leaftleting port truckers at 6 a.m. along with occupiers and union activists.
A largely immigrant workforce of “independent contractors” that move cargo in and out of the ports, the truckers are legally prevented from unionizing. Some criticized the November 2 port shutdown in Oakland because the truckers were unprepared for the huge march that succeeded in shutting down the port, which trapped many of them for hours. Lacking a union, they have few structures to appeal to for support.
Anthony Levierge of the Bay Area’s ILWU Local 10 and a half-dozen active rank and filers have been passing out flyers and explaining the rationale for the shutdown to fellow members. “It’s been a mixed bag of attitudes,” he said, adding that he believed members would “honor the history and legacy of social justice unionism that ILWU members have fought hard for.”
The West Coast longshore union has a history of honoring community picket lines for good causes, but the question of how those actions are decided—and actually brought to bear against multinational employers who move billions of dollars of goods through the ports—is a complicated matter.
Samantha Levens, a Bay Area member of the Inland Boatmen’s Union, an ILWU affiliate, said education and preparation among the members should have been a first priority. She noted that some previous shutdowns took months to prepare—like a May Day work stoppage in 2008.
When confronted with a picket line at port gates, ILWU members have the right under their coastwide contract to stop work and call an arbitrator to rule on possible safety threats or the validity of the picket line.
Success in shutting down ports along the coast depends upon presenting a credible safety threat to longshore workers. If emergency vehicles cannot make it into the port, or if the workers feel threatened by mass pickets and police presence, they will call an arbitrator to decide whether the action presents a bona fide risk. The decision to call an arbitrator can delay the beginning of work, and if the workers are sent home they may not be paid, depending on the circumstance.
Port bosses warned the ILWU that the 2008 May Day stoppage against the military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan was “unauthorized” but members went through with it regardless.
“Because the members had discussed and debated it before they voted on it and had been building support amongst the ranks heading towards the vote, the buy-in and ownership of the action was firmly in the hands of the members,” Levens said.
THUMBS UP AND DOWN
The Alameda Central Labor Council had a lively debate December 5 when Port Commissioner Victor Uno, who is also an Electrical Workers (IBEW) business manager, moved that the council “does not endorse a Port Shutdown.”
The council’s executive committee approved the motion, but some delegates argued that the Occupy movement deserved labor’s support, others that it deserved at least neutrality. The ILWU Local 10 president’s motion to table passed overwhelmingly.
Eric Larsen, member relations secretary for AFSCME Local 444 and labor liaison with Occupy Oakland, said council leaders wouldn’t let him address the council about the port action.
“I pleaded with them to let me speak,” he said. “They would not.”
He said council leaders claimed the reason for rejecting him, and for their lack of support for the shutdown, came from Occupy’s failure to communicate.
On December 9 the building trades council took a position against the shutdown.
ORIGIN: LOS ANGELES
Originally, the idea of a December 12 protest was initiated by Occupy Los Angeles, to coincide with immigrants’ rights activities around Our Lady of Guadalupe Day.
Sarah Knopp, a 12-year member of the Teachers union (UTLA) in Los Angeles, said occupiers decided to target SSA Marine, a terminal operator owned by Goldman Sachs with container terminals in North and South America and in Vietnam.
SSA Marine is notorious for its environmental, labor, and human rights abuses and its exploitation of port truck drivers paid piece rates to move cargo containers on and off the docks. Occupiers were also motivated by the firing of 27 port truckers who work for a separate firm, Toll Group. Those fired had worn Teamster shirts, part of a long-running campaign to beat the legal prohibitions on organizing.
After Oakland Occupy expanded the call to all ports on the West Coast, Occupy L.A. decided to stay with its original plan—a march from Harry Bridges Park to an SSA terminal, and a community picket to block a gate. The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles take up 25 miles of coastland and handle 85 percent of all traffic on the West Coast, an operation too vast to blockade with the numbers the protesters expected.
Knopp and fellow occupiers stood outside a recent ILWU Local 13 meeting and flyered the workers to build support for the SSA action. They received a “totally friendly reception,” Knopp said. “Everyone thinks it’s a great idea.”
“We’re initiating a process where the Occupy movement can build a base in the labor movement,” said Michael Novick, a UTLA retiree.
Saying that L.A. occupiers recognize the ILWU is not a position to act today (and its leadership was not solicited to participate), Novick added that the port truckers may be better placed to carry out the action in this crucial port. With no union contract, they face no sanction except loss of a day’s pay.
A loose association of port truck organizers who helped to shut the port on May 1, 2006, when immigrants rights protests shook the country, met December 9 to decide whether to attempt a similar action December 12.
Ernesto Nevarez, a port truck organizer, said truckers at the Los Angeles-Long Beach port stayed away for hours Monday morning as nearly 1,000 marchers rallied at port gates.
Every ILWU officer and international staffer reiterates the union’s solidarity with the Occupy movement and its goals. But the December 12 action has annoyed many.
Cameron Williams, president of Local 19 in Seattle, said, “It’s kind of like if I planned a party at your house and didn’t ask about it.” Local officers say occupiers circumvented the union’s democratic process.
“The occupiers have been understandably confused by mixed signals from individuals in the ILWU,” said Craig Merrilees, communications director for the international. He believes some members are speaking to occupiers without the backing of the organization’s internal democratic process.
President Scott Mason of Local 23 in Tacoma, Washington, said he hasn’t “felt much movement either way” from the members.
“Local 8 officers aren’t in support of it,” said Jeff Smith, president of the Portland longshore local. “If it went to a rank-and-file vote I don’t know what would happen.”
Rank and filers won’t get a chance to have their say. Local 8’s next membership meeting is December 14.
Occupiers leafleted the dispatch hall but members say they might have succeeded in convincing more of the Portland rank and file if outreach had started before the action was set.
Levens expressed support for the Occupy movement’s goal—to confront corporate power—but not its approach in this action.
“The lack of communication with the members and union officials leaves the Occupy activists and union members without the benefit of sharing our [earlier] Oakland experience with shutting down the port and community pickets,” said Levens, who has been active in Oakland general assemblies.
Parker said the constraints on unions are too great to expect a better process.
“Even if Occupy Oakland were the best, most democratic it could be, there is no way that they could consult with elected leaders of the ILWU,” he said. “Unions are faced with a choice of gambling everything [by openly supporting a strike] or of protecting themselves by disclaiming responsibility and honoring lines by using loopholes.”
It doesn’t help that the institutions assessing liability—right-wing courts—are not on labor’s side.
Parker says the occupiers may have to look for new ways to hit the 1%.
“The continued focus on the docks, because it is easy and takes advantage of the solidarity traditions of the dock workers, makes the dock workers themselves the targets and the targets start resenting it,” Parker said.
SOLIDARITY WITH LONGVIEW
Occupy Oakland said a big part of the reason for today’s action was solidarity with ILWU Local 21 in its struggle against grain shipper EGT. Some in the movement say the ILWU officialdom, which badly needs to beat EGT, is merely covering its legal bases by distancing itself from the action.
But leaders of locals up and down the coast say a coastwide work stoppage for Local 21 could actually harm its struggle, by uniting employers to support EGT.
A more immediate fear could be legal reprisals resulting from an injunction and contempt charges leveled by a federal judge against Local 21 and the international. Fines for the local’s disruptions, blockades, and grain-dumping this summer have already totaled $315,000.
If a federal judge determines that occupiers are acting on the union’s behalf, Mason said, “we can be charged $5,000 for every incident.”
Still, Local 21 President Dan Coffman, who gave a speech about EGT to Occupy Oakland the day after its general assembly adopted the shutdown call, does not conceal his enthusiasm for the movement.
Coffman cited the November 2 port shutdown as an inspiration to his members, who have been on the picket line for six months.
Supporters of Occupy and ILWU Local 21 are preparing for January, when a ship headed for Asia is scheduled to retrieve grain from the disputed elevator in Longview. An independently organized action could allow the ILWU to circumvent the legal minefield set in front of its own membership.
“We’re going to do whatever we can to stop that ship from being loaded,” Coffman vowed.
President Obama’s top campaign strategists said Tuesday that the increasingly heated Republican primary battle between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich is helping to shift the national political landscape back to Obama’s advantage.
Their comments reflected growing confidence among Democrats, who only months ago worried that the sputtering economy and a lack of enthusiasm among core voters would doom Obama’s reelection bid. Even some Republicans are starting to express concern that the GOP’s nominating process could leave Obama in a stronger spot than his weak polling numbers might suggest.
That view has come about in recent weeks with the rise of Gingrich, viewed by Obama strategists as a weaker general-election foe, and the struggles of Romney, whose ability to garner support from independent voters could be challenged as he is forced to shift rightward to win the nomination.
“I think a couple of months ago, we saw it as a much more difficult race,” said Gerald W. McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which endorsed Obama last week and has already spent $25 million toward his reelection. “A lot of people didn’t realize yet what the Republican lineup was going to look like, and what they were going to talk about and stand up for. Recently, with the debates the Republicans have had among themselves, people understand more.”
Republican strategist Mike Murphy said the changing political dynamic has given Obama’s team reason for new optimism. He described a Gingrich nomination as a “train wreck” for Republicans.
“At a minimum and maybe most meaningfully now is the psychological boost to the Obama guys,” Murphy said. “After being pounded for so long and being in the precarious situation they’ve been in, at least they can close their eyes now and see a credible chance of a Gingrich nomination, which would make life so much easier for them.”
Obama aides concede that the new political terrain is anything but ideal, but they sought to project an air of confidence on Tuesday with a presentation to reporters at the Democratic National Committee headquarters, arguing that the prospect of a long and bloody primary fight between Romney and Gingrich is helping the president.
The aides argued that Romney’s hard-line stances on immigration and his missteps — such as his attempted $10,000 bet during a candidates debate Saturday — are turning off general-election voters, while the extra time is giving Obama’s campaign unfettered space to build its grass-roots machinery in swing states.
“The longer this [Republican] race goes, the more you’re going to see these Republican candidates mortgage their general-election campaign to try and win the nomination,” said David Axelrod, the Obama campaign’s senior strategist.
Until recently, analysts and Obama supporters alike were wondering whether the president could overcome the dismal economic landscape to win reelection.
Obama’s overall standing in national public polls has improved slightly since hitting new lows earlier this fall, but on the economy — the major focus of the campaign — he remains at or near record lows. A CBS News poll released Friday shows just 28 percent of Americans saying Obama has made things better.
People who apparently actually read transcripts of Mitt Romney’s as-brittle-as-they-are-vacuous stump speeches noticed that he has been promising lately to “keep America American,” which is a creepy enough little nonsense phrase on its own presumably meant to ingratiate good ol’ boy Mittens with the feverish crowd of wingnut olds whose general political philosophy rests on the willful insistence that enough twangy repetitions of the word “MURIKA” will convince the Good Witch (Jesus) to magically transport them back home to a nice movie version of pre-civil rights Kansas. But because he is Mitt Romney and he isn’t quite creative enough to come up with these sorts of pandering slogans on his own, he seems to have “borrowed” it from some old KKK campaigns.
From Booman Tribune:
Here’s the title of a pamphlet published in 1920 by the United Klans of America, as found in the catalog of Yale’s Beinecke Library:
Why you should become a klansman : of interest to white, protestant, native born Americans who want to keep America American.
And on the eve of World War II, a group called the American Coalition, using the slogan “Keep America American,” pressured the U.S. government not to admit Jewish refugees.
AMERICABlog also notes that Mittens has been using the phrase in campaign ads.
We would “hope” that Mitt Romney used this terrible phrase by mistake, but last we heard “hope” died somewhere in the course of 2009, so… probably not. [Booman Tribune/ AMERICABlog]
Mitt Romney’s campaign is responding to this video of himself in 2002 saying “I am not a partisan Republican” and “my views are progressive” …
… by blaming Democrats:
The very last thing the Democrats want to do is run against Mitt Romney. That is why they are focused on his campaign and not on the economy. The Democrats are continuing their campaign of deception in their strategy to ‘kill Romney.’ If anyone has a question of how Mitt Romney will govern as president, take a look at his record of creating jobs, cutting spending, and protecting the sanctity of life and traditional marriage. That was his record as Governor and that will be his record as president.
Of course, nothing in that statement explains why Mitt Romney declared himself to be a “progressive” and I’ll bet you $10,000 that it won’t convince a single conservative Republican to vote for Mitt Romney. This isn’t some slice-and-dice O’Keefe editing job … this is Mitt Romney in Mitt Romney’s own words.
Pointing the finger at Democrats would be absurd even if they had uncovered the clip, but it was posted on YouTube by Andy Kaczynski, a 22-year-old college student whose hobby is finding old video clips of today’s politicians. He’s says he’s a Republican, and he’s found plenty of stuff critical of Romney’s opponents in both the Republican and Democratic parties, so he’s certainly not picking on Romney. Moreover, the first big media outlet to feature the clip was Fox News through it’s foxnation.com website.
But the key point is that blaming Democrats doesn’t come close to explaining how Mitt Romney could go from calling himself a progressive to calling himself a conservative in the space of just 27 months.
Romney can’t plausibly square those two statements without admitting he was lying in at least one of them. And because it’s so damn near impossible for him to explain the quote, you can damn well be sure that during Thursday’s debate his Republican rivals are going to give him every opportunity to try. In fact, I’ll bet they’d be happy to give him the full 90 minutes to try to explain himself, because there’s really no way he can.
11:16 AM PT: Dave Weigel unearths a Romney quote from November 10, 2002 in which he again refers to himself as a progressive. This time, however, Romney explicitly modifies progressive to mean “progressive-on-social-issues,” suggesting at least the possibility that when Romney called himself a progressive he was referring to himself being pro-choice and a supporter of gay rights. Romney’s point was that a governor like himself might not do well in a future national campaign because of his positions on social issues, which makes his flip-flops all the more dramatic. And don’t forget that just over two years later, he was calling himself a conservative. It was a remarkable transformation indeed.
11:23 AM PT: And Greg Sargent finds a 1994 pledge by Romney to seek “full equality for America’s gay and lesbian citizens.”
As we’ve been documenting in our ongoing series, political parties and other powerful players use the once-a-decade redistricting process to advance their own goals—often at the expense of voters.
A recently released trove of e-mails from Ohio offers a rare inside glimpse into how it works.
The e-mails, sent from June to September, show collaboration between the national GOP and state Republicans to re-draw Ohio’s map and thus cement control of both the statehouse and a majority of congressional districts.
In one of the emails, a Republican consultant working on redistricting for the state suggested that the new political maps could save the GOP “millions” of dollars in campaign funds by making districts safer for Republican candidates.
The maps, approved by the Republican-run state legislature in September, favor Republicans in 12 of Ohio’s 16 congressional districts. And they strengthen the majority of likely Republican supporters in at least 17 state house districts, according to the mapping consultants’ own calculations.
The Congressional map also splits voters in the city of Toledo into three separate districts, a move the city’s mayor said would make it “politically irrelevant,’’ and took two longstanding Democratic congresspeople who lived 110 miles apart and drew them into the same district, a tactic redistricting experts called “hijacking.” (See our rundown of the various underhanded techniques of redistricting, from packing and cracking to hijacking, or watch our redistricting music video.)
A spokesman for Ohio’s House of Representatives said that the e-mails and the accompanying report released by the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting were an attempt to garner “salacious” and “malicious” headlines. According to Mike Dittoe, director of communications for the Ohio House of Representatives and for Republican Speaker Bill Batchelder, Ohio’s redistricting was “a fully transparent process that yielded a fair and legal map.”
Redistricting is supposed to benefit voters by equalizing districts as the nation’s population shifts. But with few strict requirements for how to shape districts–they must have roughly equal populations and not discriminate against minority voters– political parties often can draw political lines largely to their own benefit.
Much of the time, the toughest balancing act in the map-drawing process is how to please multiple incumbents at once.
In the e-mails obtained by the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting, these kinds of partisan concerns are central. In one e-mail, the president of the state senate, Republican Thomas Niehaus, noted that “I am still committed to ending up with a map that Speaker Boehner fully supports,” even though, as a spokesman said in November, Boehnner “has no official role in the redistricting process.”
Among those in close consultation over the district lines in the e-mails was the executive director of Team Boehner, a group created to help Republican House candidates across the nation, and the redistricting coordinator from the National Republican Congressional Committee. Rather than work in the state house, the state’s redistricting staffers rented a hotel room for three months.
Dittoe, the House spokesman, said the state received redistricting input from many stakeholders, including all 18 of Ohio’s current congresspeople and Ray Miller, a former Democratic state politician.
The redistricting consultants also pushed through an eleventh-hour change to the maps that switched the location of the Timken Corporation back into the district of U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci. Timken is one of Renacci’s top donors. Members of the Timken family, company officials, and a company PAC have given at least $210,000 in total to Renacci in the past two years, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.
“Thanks guys. Very important to someone important to us all,” Tom Whatman, the executive director of Team Boehner, wrote after the change was completed.
Donald Trump, America’s leading advertisement for burning all rich people to death in vats of poison waste oil, has bravely decided to follow all the GOP candidates for president by dropping out of the clown-show Republican debatehe was scheduled to host. This is an unmitigated tragedy for political comedy and the “post-Xmas doldrums,” but Trump hates America and he obviously hates comedy, so these are the breaks. According to the Fox News Twitter Channel (?), Trump just put out this statement: “I have decided not to be the moderator of the Newsmax debate.” NOOOOOOOOOO.
Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman, “the candidates with some kind of basic standards,” immediately refused to participate in the idiot Newsmax/Home Shopping Channel reality show when it was first announced, on December 2. Even Michele Bachmann said no, despite this being the perfect platform for a delusional pill-popping idiot like Bachmann. And, we can only assume, Mitt Romney eventually “changed his position” as he does about everything and decided not to take part, because nobody else was taking part. Newt Gingrich heard there would be two bathrooms just for him and his poop, so he signed on. (Plus, he was probably offered some gift cards to Applebee’s and maybe a lucrative consulting contract with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.) Eventually, there was no choice for Trump but to refuse to appear on the debate that he himself was hosting.
Anyway, the dream is over. Who will host the Newsmax debate instead? Let’s just say if it’s not elderly wingnut superhero Chuck Norris, then they can just cancel the motherfucking debacle already. [Twitter?]
The Monkey Cage:
Alex Lundry and I have a new post up at Model Politics. In a YouGov survey from last week, we included an experiment. After GOP voters had been asked which candidate they supported in the primary, we randomly assigned them to see Intrade probabilities for the GOP nomination, for the general election, or both. Then we asked them a second time which candidate they supported. The goal was to see whether knowing something about electability would change their preferences. Indeed, it did:
In the graph we examine all respondents, regardless of which probabilities they saw. In total, 35% of them changed their preference. And unsurprisingly, they moved to the two candidates who did best on Intrade: Gingrich and Romney.
Our post has further details, such as:
- Romney is helped by his general election probability much more than his nomination probability.
- About 25% of Gingrich supporters defect to Romney after they’ve seen the general election numbers from Intrade.
- Paul and Johnson voters tend to move to Romney. Bachmann, Perry, and Santorum voters tend to move to Gingrich.
Ultimately, our results suggest that GOP voters are indeed willing to change their votes. Moreover, they suggest that strategic considerations like electability can be persuasive.
See more in the post.
President Obama’s re-election team is keeping a wary eye on a group pledging to put an independent ticket on the ballot in next year’s elections, top Democratic strategists hinted Tuesday.
In a meeting with reporters, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina and top strategist David Axelrod said they expected the group, Americans Elect, to be on the ballot in most states next year. And though the group says it will use the most open, democratic process possible to select a nominee, Obama’s campaign is questioning both their means and motives.
Americans Elect will allow any registered voter to cast a ballot in an online national primary. But those candidates must be approved by a Candidate Certification Committee, which will judge each applicant’s capability of performing the duties of office. That got the Obama campaign’s attention.
“You have to get approved by a council of elders deal,” Messina told reporters Tuesday. Added Axelrod: “It’s like uber-democracy meets backroom bosses. An amalgam of both.”
The problem for the Obama campaign could get very real, very quickly. If Americans Elect comes up with a well-known, well-financed candidate, they have the potential to throw a major monkey wrench in both parties’ plans. The group has already gained ballot access in ten states, including in swing states like Colorado, Florida, Michigan and Ohio.
“What’s clear is they will be on the ballot in most states,” Messina said. “And that’s just something we have to deal with.”
Liberal bloggers have raised questions about the sources of the group’s money. They’ve already raised $22 million, according to the Washington Post, though because the group is organized under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Service code, they don’t have to disclose the identities of their donors. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman has reported the group has close ties to, and receives financial support from, the hedge fund industry. Salon’s Justin Elliott last week detailed many of those ties, along with complaints some outside observers have over the Candidate Certification Committee.
The last time the mood of the country was as sour as it is today, a third-party candidate took 19 percent of the vote and, in the process, cost an incumbent president his job. Obama’s team is aware of the threat, and they have no interest in falling prey to the same fate George H.W. Bush suffered at Ross Perot’s hands in 1992.
The Republican primary may be a circus, but it’s not making lots of swing-state voters feel better about President Obama. According to a new CBS/Gallup poll, the two leading GOP candidates, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, would beat Obama in every swing state, including Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Romney leads by 5 percent, and Gingrich by 2 percent. But do polls matter this far out? An NBC/Marist poll shows Obama with a comfortable lead over both GOP candidates in Florida and South Carolina.
A University of Iowa poll that came out yesterday showed Newt Gingrich sliding precipitously over the last several days:
Yesterday, we posted an Iowa poll from the University of Iowa. It showed Gingrich with a nine and a half point lead (29.8 to 20.3) over Romney, who was in second place. However, there was an aspect of the poll that wasn’t reported here: the decline in Gingrich’s support that the poll captured.
The poll was conducted over a one week period. According to Reuters, who co-sponsored the poll, during the first half of the survey Gingrich clocked in at a whopping 37.7%; however, during the last three days of polling, he had fallen to 24.4% — a decline of 13.3% in a matter of days.
And today a new PPP poll also has Gingrich’s lead falling, and his favorability ratings plunging from +31 to +12. What has caused this? Everybody is ganging up on Newt in Iowa. Mitt Romney is ponying up for a $3.1 million ad buy, and that money goes pretty far in Iowa. Ron Paul has decided, for reasons known only to Ron Paul, to unleash his moneybomb in the form of a brutal advertising assault on Gingrich, also in Iowa. Meanwhile, the entire Republican Establishment is justifiably freaking out about the possibility of a Gingrich nomination, and just about every conservative columnist is channeling their angst.
The interesting question will be if Gingrich has, or can obtain, enough money to punch back.
[…] I had been at the WTO protests. I had watched hundreds of UPS Teamsters wearing shirts that said “Kicking Ass for the Working Class” march into the pepper spray and concussion grenades. The people I knew seemed unable to organize in groups larger than twenty-five, so the organization union actions made an impression.
I don’t know precisely what’s going to come out of the Occupy protests of the last few months. But I know what I did after the “Battle for Seattle.” I decided to get a job working in the Amazon warehouse solely for the purpose of unionizing it. No one asked me to do it. No one paid me. I took the task on out of a newfound zeal and a belief in what unionizing could do.
Up until then my ideas about unions were vague. I was pro-union in orientation, not experience. I had seen John Sayles’ Matewan and knew that “Solidarity Forever” was a song, but that was about it. What ideas I did have were steeped in nostalgia and rooted in a desire for working class authenticity. I found ethical simplicity of a world in which the boss is the guy in the office, and the worker is the guy in the coal pit very appealing, but it wasn’t all that relevant.
But the Teamsters and the Longshore had something we didn’t, the mystique of the blue-collar worker. Like most of my generation, I made my living in the service industry. We worked, sure, but we weren’t ‘workers.’ Somehow, our shiny tech world was exempt from class struggle. Our economy depended on market speculation. It revolved around saleable ideas, stock options and vesting. People at Microsoft and Amazon were walking away with hundreds of thousands of dollars after two or three years. By fall of 1999, though, fewer and fewer people were getting lucky and jobs were growing scarce. If you wanted in to Microsoft, you had to spend years temping with rolling layoffs. And if you did get in, you better not complain. ‘Be grateful you have a job’ became the new mantra. Besides, your manager probably listens to Sonic Youth and won’t care if your hair is green-isn’t that enough?
For some it wasn’t. A nascent tech workers union called WashTech had sprung up and was trying to organize contract employees out at Microsoft. The campaign failed, but not before it sparked off a union drive within the customer service side of Amazon. Down in Oregon, the Powell’s Books workers had just unionized and a whole crew of them up had come up for WTO. Discussion between unions and environmentalists, affinity groups and student anti-sweatshop organizers was heady, the kind of cross-pollinating going on now through the Occupy movement.
I remember a Powell’s worker saying that Powell’s supplied 40 percent of Amazon’s used books. And the Teamsters said they loaded and shipped them. And of course, the orders were processed by the very customer service center that was organizing with WashTech. Since Amazon’s whole business model was built on speed, accuracy, and convenience, it was easy to see the potential for leverage. Because what I had seen at WTO was power. The Longshore workers and UPS had the power to shut something down. Amazon was a bookseller and the warehouse was where they kept the books. Moreover, I needed a job and was tired of waiting tables. I was also tired of the way we all lived, unsustainably and bridging the gap with credit cards. Here we were, a generation of workers fueling the largest expansion of business since the transcontinental railroad and we didn’t have living wage jobs or benefits. The bigger these companies got, the more we were asked to give. The start-up model where everyone worked 72 hours a week and got paid nothing had become the new standard of productivity and wage rates.
Standing on an overpass on New Year’s Eve 2000 I looked out over Seattle. Midnight hit and the only sign of Y2K was that the PEMCO bank clock started blinking the wrong time. The apocalypse and its convenient organizing strategy of dystopian collapse, apparently wasn’t coming. So when the roar of WTO diminished, I got a job at the Amazon warehouse.
Right about the time Nike-town was being smashed to bits by anarchists , Timemagazine named Jeff Bezos “Person of The Year.” Yet Amazon had failed so far to show a profit and stockholder pressure was on. In January, five days before fourth-quarter earnings were to be published, Bezos laid off around 150 workers, nearly 2 percent of its workforce, and posted its first-ever gains.
I was hired the following week.
Having run similar campaigns targeting companies who advertise on objectionable shows, I know how formidable a challenge it is to get a profit-focused company to take a stand on anything perceived as remotely politically controversial. Businesses have an inherent and driving incentive to appeal to as many potential customers as possible, and any move they make in this space risks making news that alienates customers on one side of the issue or the other. Successful campaigns generally either spend months painstakingly establishing a clear pattern of abhorrent behavior on a show, or successfully capitalize on specific indefensible remarks by one individual. The campaign against Glenn Beck for instance, did both, and eventually resulted in a demonstrable loss of hundreds of advertisers and hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue. But this kind of action required almost two years and the mobilization of multiple organizations with millions of members to document and publicize dozens of instances of Glen Beck’s making racist, anti-Semitic and even violent statements.
Neither the content of All-American Muslim or the strength of the campaign against it rise anywhere close to the levels of other successful advertiser campaigns. In place of Glenn Beck’s claim that the president is a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred for white people,” last week’s sixty-minute episode of AAM depicted a newlywed adjusting to her non-Muslim spouse’s dog and new parents grappling with having an infant in the house. In place of many prominent African-American and Jewish groups and leaders calling Beck out for his race-baiting, we have the Florida Family Association and its modest list of members—hardly a political powerhouse—to be reckoned with. That equation just doesn’t seem to add up.
Unless, that is, we take a hard look at the cultural context we’re dealing with. To understand the shifts in our country that create the toxic foundation for the Lowe’s decision, consider this disturbing report issued in September by the Brookings Institute and the Public Religion Research Institute on American attitudes towards Muslims. Among the top-line findings:
§ nearly half of Americans would be made uncomfortable by a woman wearing a burqa in their presence, a mosque being built in their neighborhood or Muslim men praying at an airport;
§ 41 percent would be uncomfortable if a teacher at the elementary school in their community were Muslim;
§ 47 percent said the values of Islam are at odds with American values.
This shows a clear, if passive, bias against public displays of Muslim identification in American society. While these numbers do not represent a clear majority of opinion, the number of people openly expressing discomfort with Muslims is enough to create fertile ground for the growth of a more potent strain of bigotry.
There was good news in the survey too:
§ 88 percent agreed that “America was founded on the idea of religious freedom for everyone, including religious groups that are unpopular”;
§ 95 percent said all religious books should be treated with respect;
§ two-thirds said there should be strict separation between church and state.
This shows a near-universal commitment to generic religious tolerance. But in a matchup between acute and targeted hatred and generic tolerance with passive bias, hatred will prevail.
Expressions of outrage, holding Lowe’s to account and calling out the haters by name are all important components of beating back the tide of bigotry already widespread across our country. But without a parallel strategy to combat the more pervasive and insidious passive bias, we risk a whole generation’s becoming “carriers” of bigotry. Once these attitudes are openly accepted as the cultural norm, the groundwork is laid for escalating anti-Muslim fanaticism that could seriously jeopardize the American experience for all citizens.
A second (and even more marginal) group, the American Decency Association, has also weighed in support of FFA’s pressure campaign against Lowe’s. Bill Johnson, its president, stated that the show is designed to make the Muslim community “appear attractive.” “And that’s what makes it so dangerous,” he told the right-wing news site OneNewsNow. “We’ve been watching it over these several weeks that it’s been broadcast, and they stay very conveniently away from [mentioning] jihad or anything of that nature.” It apparently never occurred to him that that might be because these families have no relationship to jihad, or anything of that nature.
What we really need to combat passive anti-Muslim bias is exactly what All-American Muslim is doing—exposing non-Muslim Americans to the utterly normal lives of our Muslim neighbors. Ideally this would not require special shows but would be done in the context of the mainstream shows and media that define “normal” America. For now, that will have to wait. But here’s hoping that this controversy brings All-American Muslim some new viewers.
Congressman Chris Murphy on Lowes: “This is a major American company rubberstamping basic, foundational bigotry”
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
The News IQ Quiz
FIRST, spritz the kitchen’s stainless steel counters with disinfectant. Scrub vigorously.
Next, wrap counters in tinfoil, tight, tight, tight.
Now stretch plastic wrap over the foil and seal with masking tape.
Then repeat for every surface that could possibly come into contact with food — yes, even the hanging pot rack.
And so began the fastidious frenzy to make the White House’s kitchen kosher last week, a nearly four-hour drill that started at 10 p.m. Wednesday. A deadline approached: a truckload of kosher food was due Thursday at 10 a.m.
The Obama administration’s holiday reception season was in full swing. Leftovers from a party earlier Wednesday evening had already been removed.
The following night would bring the Hanukkah party for 550 guests, politicians and Supreme Court justices among them. Rigorous koshering (sometimes called kashering) would ensure that the kitchen would be in compliance with Jewish dietary laws. Guests could eat without qualms, knowing their religious commitment had been respected.
“We do the basic cleaning,” says the White House’s executive sous-chef, Tommy Kurpradit, as he directs five workers (he learned about koshering from Bush White House Hanukkah celebrations). “Then the rabbis do the super-cleaning.”
Imagine the earnest anxiety of non-Jews eager to please the observant; the exacting scrutiny of the observant, dedicated to ancient laws; a ticking clock; and a soupçon of Marx Brothers.
Into the kitchen rushes a Lubavitch SWAT team of three rabbis and an intern. Three men, wearing aprons and industrial-strength rubber gloves, take on the ovens and burners. The fourth, in a suit and a black hat, is Rabbi Levi Shemtov, director of the American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad). He is the supervisor-in-chief.
He takes a long look around. He frowns.
[…] On Saturday, in conjunction with UN Human Rights Day, thousands of activists and concerned citizens in New York City held a march and rally to protest these restrictive new laws. The march began outside the New York headquarters of the Koch brothers, who have given more than $1 million to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the shadowy conservative advocacy group that has masterminded the push for new voter ID requirements this year. Protesters held signs that read “Koch Bros & The 1%: Undermining Democracy.”
The march then continued to the UN for a rally with civil rights leaders, good-government activists and voting rights experts. One organizer told me that 20,000–25,000 people participated in the march, which, if true, would be a very good turnout on a chilly December morning. (The AP, on the other hand, said that “hundreds” protested, though the numbers seemed significantly larger to me). Groups sponsoring the march/rally included the NAACP, SEIU1199 and the United Federation of Teachers.
The purpose of the march was both practical and symbolic. “The march on Saturday was an indication that Americans will not go backwards,” said Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project. “We will keep up the momentum to end voter suppression by taking to the streets, to the legislatures and to the courts. We won’t be silenced by those who want to undermine democracy.”
The Advancement Project has helped gather 120,000 signatures asking the Justice Department “to oppose any discriminatory laws that will disenfranchise voters.” The Justice Department has that authority under the Voting Rights Act. DOJ has sent pointed questions to states like Texas and South Carolina about their new laws, but we still don’t know how aggressively they will enforce the existing laws on the books. Perhaps Holder’s speech tomorrow will shed some light.
Lowe’s may have bowed to God’s will and pulled advertising from TLC’s “All-American Muslim,” a show with the gall to depict Muslimolibs as human beings, but the hardware/appliance chain still promotes the Islamuninistoprog agenda. They do so by using Arabic numerals in their pricing.
Arabic numerals (e.g. 1, 2, 3…) were designed by a Muslim named Al-Khwarizmi in DCCCXXV A.D. They were then imposed on the West by the Great Whore of Babylon, Pope Sylvester II, a man who constantly fingered his astrolabe, in the late Xth Century.
Please write Lowes, today, and ask them to stop exposing our children to Arabic Islamonumbers.
Here’s a sample letter:
We’re not fooled by your paternalistic attempt to silence our righteous whining by pulling ads from the teevee show, “All-American Muslim.” You are still exposing our children to the Islamuninistoprog agenda through your use of Arabic numbers in your pricing and measurement systems.
We demand that you cease using these Islamonumbers immediately and replace them with good, old fashioned, American Roman numerals.
The change should not be difficult to make. For example, you’d simply change something currently priced at $1,783.84 to $MDCCLXXXIII.LXXXIV. Nothing to it.
Please make the change immediately. We’re watching you.
Here’s Lowe’s email address,and phone number, 1-800-445-6937. Get ‘er done.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Beware how you take away hope from another human being.
~~Oliver Wendell Holmes