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The economy has probably picked up speed in the last few months and will grow moderately in 2012, staving off the need for additional stimulus from the Federal Reserve, a Reuters poll showed on Wednesday.
The euro zone’s sovereign debt crisis is one of the biggest threats to growth next year as economists fear credit lines may freeze up. But the odds of the United States sliding into another recession were seen unchanged from last month.
“It’s still this very gradual recovery, picking up a little bit more steam, but not really making up a lot of the ground that was lost in the labor market,” said Scott Brown, chief economist at Raymond James.
While a moderate pace of growth will not offer much relief to U.S. President Barack Obama ahead of an election year, it is not as dire as some had feared earlier in 2011 when the chances given of another recession rose to one in three.
Economists in the Reuters poll sharply raised their forecasts for U.S. fourth-quarter gross domestic product to an annualized rate of 2.9 percent, up from expectations of 2.3 percent seen in a similar Reuters poll last month.
Growth of 2.9 percent would be the fastest of any quarter in 2011 after Japan’s earthquake and tsunami hit supply chains for manufacturers and a spike in oil prices in the early part of the year hurt growth.
According to Census data released this week, 1 in 2 Americans is now either living in poverty or close to living in poverty.
A record number of Americans, nearly 50 percent, are either in poverty or considered low-income, according to Census data released this week. The data show a shrinking middle class beset by years of stagnant wages, high unemployment, rising health care and living costs, and a fraying government social safety net. “The reality is that prospects for the poor and the near poor are dismal,” Sheldon Danziger, a public policy professor at the University of Michigan, told the AP. “If Congress and the states make further cuts, we can expect the number of poor and low-income families to rise for the next several years.”
And the federal poverty level is low-balled in my opinion. A family of four living off of less than $30 thousand per year is more than likely struggling paycheck-to-paycheck even if they aren’t technically under the federal poverty level which is $22 thousand.
Of course the obvious solution is to slash $1 trillion from the federal budget, shutter multiple federal agencies, fire 10 percent of the federal workforce, dismantle the social safety net, privatize what’s left, and clutch our copies of Atlas Shrugged in our arms as the world collapses.
At least, that’s what the Republican candidates for president will tell you. Each of them has proposed one or more, or all, of those things.
On Sunday Steve Kroft asked President Obama on “60 Minutes” whether unemployment could get down as low as 8 percent by Election Day 2012. “I think it’s possible,” Obama said. “But, you know, I’m not in the job of prognosticating on the economy.” Fair enough. But someone’s got to do it. So how many jobs would it take to get unemployment down to 8 percent next year? Answer: Probably between 167,000 and 260,000 jobs created each month according to analysts — though it all depends on how many more people start looking for work. Which means it’s a pretty tall order.
A lot comes down to the labor force participation rate. At the beginning of the recession in 2007, 66 percent of Americans were either employed or actively looking for work. Two years later, that’s dropped to 64 percent, as workers have become discouraged by the gruesome job market and simply dropped out altogether. That affects the official unemployment rate, which only measures the number of people who have actively sought out work in the past four weeks. As Ezra wrote Monday, if there were as many people answering ads and dressing up for job interviews today as there were in 2007, the official unemployment number would be closer to 11 percent.
That brings us to the prognostication part. Calculated Risk crunches the numbers and concludes that if the participation rate stays at 64 percent, then the economy will need to create an average of 167,000 jobs each month to get down to 8 percent unemployment by Election Day next year. In 2011, we’ve hit that level in only four months out of 11thus far. And, remember, many economists expect the U.S. economy to wade through a sticky patch next year, thanks to Europe’s woes. In other words, it won’t be easy.
Meanwhile, if the economy perks up and some of those disheartened workers started looking for work again, then the participation rate would nudge upward — say, to 64.5 percent. If that happens we’d need to add 260,000 new jobs each month to get the unemployment rate down to 8 percent by Election Day. And, apart from the one-time Census bump in 2010, the economy has never created that many new jobs since the recession started. Even the best year in the past decade (2005) didn’t average that many new jobs over the year. Which means we could very well see the official unemployment rate go up even if companies are hiring at a modest clip.
That’s not a terrible thing. The actual state of the job market is much more important than a headline stat. But people (and the media) mostly focus on the headline stat. And while an 8 percent official unemployment rate by Election Day is possible, it seems fairly unlikely at this point.
The New Yorker:
We normally say that a company “went bankrupt,” implying that it had no choice. But when, recently, American Airlines filed for bankruptcy, it did so deliberately. The airline had four billion dollars in the bank and could have kept paying its bills. But it has been losing money for a while, and its board decided that it was foolish to keep throwing good money after bad. Declaring bankruptcy will trim American’s debt load and allow it to break its union contracts, so that it can slim down and cut costs.
American wasn’t stigmatized for the move. Instead, analysts hailed it as “very smart.” It is now generally accepted that when it’s economically irrational for a company to keep paying its debts it will try to renegotiate them or, failing that, default. For creditors, that’sjust the price of business. But when it comes to another set of borrowers the norms are very different. The bursting of the housing bubble has left millions of homeowners across the country owing more than their homes are worth. In some areas, well over half of mortgages are underwater, many so deeply that people owe forty or fifty per cent more than the value of their homes. In other words, a good percentage of Americans are in much the same position as American Airlines: they can still pay their debts, but doing so is like setting a pile of money on fire every month.
These people have no hope of ever making a return on their investment in their homes. So for many of them the rational solution would be a “strategic default”—walking away from the mortgage and letting the bank take the house. Yet the vast majority of underwater borrowers keep faithfully paying their mortgages; studies suggest that perhaps only a quarter of all foreclosures are strategic. Given how much housing prices have fallen, the question is why more people aren’t just walking away.
Part of the answer is practical. Defaulting (even in so-called non-recourse states) is still a lot of trouble, and to most people it’s scary. In addition, homeowners are slow to recognize how much the value of their homes has dropped, and have inflated expectations of how much it will rise in the future. The biggest hurdle, though, is social: while companies get called “very smart” for restructuring their contracts, there’s a real stigma attached to defaulting on your mortgage. According to one study, eighty-one per cent of Americans think it’s immoral not to pay your mortgage when you can, and the idea of default is shaped by what Brent White, a law professor at the University of Arizona, calls a discourse of “shame, guilt, and fear.” When the housing bubble burst, the banking industry was terrified by the possibility that homeowners might walk away en masse, since that would have stuck lenders with large losses and a huge number of marked-down homes. So strategic default was portrayed as the act of dishonorable deadbeats. David Walker, of the Peterson Foundation, waxed nostalgic about debtors’ prisons, and John Courson, the head of the Mortgage Bankers Association, argued that defaulters were sending the wrong message “to their family and their kids and their friends.”
Paying your debts is, as a rule, a good thing. But the double standard here is obvious and offensive. Homeowners are getting lambasted for doing what companies do on a regular basis. Walking away from real-estate obligations in particular is common in the corporate world, and real-estate developers are notorious for abandoning properties that no longer make economic sense. Sometimes the hypocrisy is staggering: last winter, the Mortgage Bankers Association—the very body whose president attacked defaulters for betraying their families and their communities—got its creditors to let it do a short sale of its headquarters, dumping it for thirty-four million dollars less than the value of the building’s mortgage.
When it comes to debt, then, the corporate attitude is do as I say, not as I do. And, while homeowners are cautioned to think of more than the bottom line, banks, naturally, have done business in coldly rational terms. They could have helped keep people in their homes by writing down mortgages (the equivalent of the restructuring that American Airlines’ debt holders will now be confronting). And there are plenty of useful ideas out there for how banks could do this without taxpayer subsidies and without rewarding the irresponsible. For instance, Eric Posner and Luigi Zingales, of the University of Chicago, suggest that, in exchange for writing down mortgages in hard-hit areas, lenders would take an ownership stake in a house, getting a percentage of the capital gain when it was eventually sold. Lenders, though, have avoided such schemes and haven’t done mortgage modifications on any meaningful scale. It’s their right to act in their own interest, but it makes it awfully hard to take seriously complaints about homeowners’ lack of social responsibility.
Of course, many borrowers made bad decisions and acted irresponsibly. But so did lenders—by handing out too much money and not requiring sensible down payments. So far, banks have been partially insulated from the consequences of those bad decisions, because Americans have been so obliging about paying off overinflated mortgages. Strategic defaults would help distribute the pain more evenly and, if they became more common, would force lenders to be more responsible in the future. It’s also possible that a wave of strategic defaults—a De-Occupy Your House movement—would get banks to take mortgage modification more seriously, which would be all for the better. The truth is that banks have been relying on homeowners to do the right thing. It might be time for homeowners to do the smart thing instead.
[…] Just 51 percent of all adults who are 18 and older are married, placing them on the brink of becoming a minority, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census statistics to be released Wednesday. That represents a steep drop from 57 percent who were married in 2000.
What Solyndra? Despite the unfortunate high-profile bankruptcy of the Freemont, California solar company and several other major U.S. solar firms, the third quarter was the best yet in the history of the American solar industry, at least so far as total power generation was concerned.
Over 449 megawatts-worth of photovoltaic solar energy facilities, enough to power 90,000 homes, were installed across in the country between July and September, according to a report published Wednesday by market research company GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
That’s a 140 percent increase from the same quarter last year and a 39 percent increase over the second quarter of 2011. It’s also more solar power than was installed during the entirety of 2009.
“The U.S. solar industry is on a roll, with unprecedented growth in 2011,” said Rhone Resch, President and CEO of SEIA, in a press release. “Solar is now an economic force in dozens of states, creating jobs across America.”
At least 42 lobbying firms, associations and companies have lobbied on the Keystone XL pipeline since 2009, Senate records show.
Lobbying on the controversial project accelerated this year as the pipeline became a hot-button political issue. Of the 42 entities that have lobbied since 2009 on Keystone, at least 33 of them lobbied on the issue in the most recent quarter, records indicate.
The pipeline began to draw widespread attention earlier this year when environmentalists staged a series of protests at the White House to try and stop the pipeline, which would carry oil sands crude from Canada to Texas.
The Obama administration eventually delayed a final decision on Keystone until 2013, angering many lawmakers and business groups.
Labor unions, environmental groups, Canadian and American oil companies and corporate ethics group are just a few of the sects represented in the lobbying battle.
From companies like Exxon Mobile Corp. to grassroots groups like Americans for Tax Reform — not to mention lobbying and law firms like Bryan Cave — the fate of the pipeline has been a top concern for many in Washington.
The administration has tabled the pipeline decision until 2013 to make time for extensive analysis of alternative routes for the $7 billion crude oil sands pipeline.
But supporters of the project are pressuring the administration to act now, keeping opponents on their toes.
“I think we were going under the assumption that the president’s word was never going to be the final word,” said National Wildlife Federation (NWF) spokesman Tony Iallonardo, whose group is lobbying on the pipeline.
Republicans, oil companies, and some labor unions support the project, arguing it would bring jobs to the United States and make the country more energy independent.
But the State Department put the option to create the pipeline on hold last month when it announced that it needed to look into alternative routes through 2013.
The issue resurfaced this week when the GOP tied a provision on Keystone to payroll tax legislation. The provision gives the administration 60 days to issue a permit for TransCanada Corp.’s $7 billion project unless President Obama determines that the pipeline is not in the national interest.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of the powerhouse groups advocating for approval of the Keystone project.
“I’m not surprised to see members of Congress concerned about this, and they have every right to be,” Chamber spokesman Matt Letourneau told The Hill.
The Chamber created a coalition of pro-Keystone XL Pipeline partners across the United States. The alliance has more than 200 members, including state chapters of the Chamber, local businesses and statewide associations for a number of industries.
The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), another top business group, plans to continue pressing the administration, Congress and the State Department for quick approval on the pipeline, according to an association spokesman.
“We’re educating the members of Congress about the importance of this and urging the State Department to move forward,” NAM spokesman Jeff Ostermayer told The Hill.
Iallonardo of the NWF said the lobbying from industry on the pipeline has been intense.
“What’s very clear is that the oil lobby has a lot muscles that it’s flexing right now and it’s putting a lot of resources in. We have to be prepared accordingly,” Iallonardo said.
One lobbyist said the move by Republicans to embrace the pipeline has done more for the issue than K Street ever could.
“Hill activists have inspired additional lobbying instead of the other way around. The lobbyists are following the action on the Hill,” the lobbyist said.
But Iallonardo said “the polluters lobby” has pulled strings in the House to get its way.
“This is the product of the oil industry capturing a lot of members of Congress. We’ve seen it over and over in the last year,” Iallonardo said, citing the slowing of the mercury act and the president’s carbon efforts as examples.
Labor unions are split over the pipeline issue. The GOP has put labor, typically Obama supporters, in an awkward position by leveraging the Keystone XL Pipeline as a labor vote issue and pushing for earlier approval.
The Laborers’ International Union of North America, who has previously come out in support of the pipeline and was registered to lobby on the issue in the third quarter, was unavailable to comment for this article.
The Canadian government, who has expressed its interest in the pipeline being built, has also interacted with the administration on the matter. Most recently, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper discussed the issue with President Obama in a meeting Wednesday at the White House.
The American Petroleum Institute likes to share what average Americans think about Big Oil, except when they express real opinions. Unsurprisingly, despite API’s claims to feature Americans in favor of oil, their “authentic” commercials are entirely scripted, with castersfeeding participants’ every word.
An e-mail from API advertised an open casting call for “all ages and races to express their views” in a commercial spot. The basic qualifications read: “You are willing to go on camera and state your beliefs” and “You are comfortable portraying YOURSELF! They want REAL PEOPLE not Actors!”
But when Gabe Elsner of the watchdog Checks and Balances Project attended the commercial’s open casting, he wasn’t even allowed to finish his sentence about clean energy jobs:
Elsner is escorted to the sound stage and asked to repeat the following lines:
“I vote,” he is prompted.
“I vote,” he repeats.
“I vote!” more emphatically this time.
“I vote!” Elsner repeats.
“For American Jobs,” he is told.
“For American Clean Energy Jobs,” he responds.
“Just, ‘For American Jobs,’” the staffer says.
“For American Clean Energy Jobs,” Elsner repeats. “I’d like to add that…”
“Just deliver the line. That we have. Just, because, just cut for a second,” the staffer says. “Are you…I want to make sure that you are okay with what we are doing as far as the script goes.”
Elsner says, “Well I didn’t see the script. I was told that I was going to be able to deliver my views on camera.”
Elsner never finished his thoughts on camera; he was simply escorted away from the set. API tells an altered version, where it claimed in a followup blog post that “some activists” decided “not to spend their Saturday hanging around a bunch of other people who do support oil and natural gas.” But it is more likely API spoon-fed those supporters with favorable “views” just as they treated Elsner.
There is an inevitability that a Big Oil commercial must resort to insincerity and imaginary people’s opinions. The industry is sitting on enormous profits, even as 74 percent of Americans want to end the industry’s subsidies.
This isn’t the first time API has misled on its commercials. In 2009, API doctored the race of two iStock models in a promotional pamphlet. And while the newest API ad won’t be released until January, here is an older commercial with equally under-enthused, overly scripted Americans talking about oil:
When it comes to tackling climate change, a few years’ delay can make a huge difference. TheInternational Energy Agency, for instance, has argued that global emissions need to peak by around 2017 if the world wants to keep global warming below 2°C. By contrast, the recently concluded U.N. talks at Durban set a goal of reaching a new climate agreement by 2020. That doesn’t sound like ahuge difference — what’s a mere three years between friends? — but it actually makes the task much, much harder.
To see why, check out the graph below from David Hone. One way to think about avoiding drastic climate change is that we need to keep the total accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere at below 1 trillion tons in order to have a 50-50 shot at avoiding 2°C. We’re about halfway there right now. Think of it like a bathtub — the longer the faucet runs, and the higher the water level gets, the more quickly you’ll have to turn off the tap to avoid overflow. And with carbon, too much dithering can greatly affect how quickly the world will have to turn off the tap:
The green line shows what would happen if all of the world’s nations agreed to start curbing greenhouse gases tomorrow. In that case, carbon-dioxide emissions would have to decline at about 1.7 percent per year. That’s difficult, but hardly surreal: As Hone notes, this is the same rate of reduction as under the European Union’s cap-and-trade system, which has managed to steadily cut greenhouse-gas pollution. By 2100, we’d come near that one-trillionth ton, but global emissions would be extremely low, and so we’d have a decent shot at avoiding 2°C. The tub would be nearly full, but the faucet would have slowed to a trickle.
By contrast, the red and blue lines show what would need to happen if a new legal agreement on carbon doesn’t come into effect until 2020. If that new agreement is extremely aggressive and starts cutting immediately, then the world would suddenly have to start cutting emissions at 3 percent per year to avoid 2°C (the red line). If the new post-Durban treaty delayed cutting global emissions until 2030, then we’d need to cut emissions by 4.5 percent per year (the blue line).
And both of those scenarios would prove quite arduous. As Dave Roberts has noted, the Stern Review and other studies have found that “emissions reductions of 3 to 4 percent a year are the maximum compatible with continued economic growth.” (Indeed, the only time we’ve seen truly drastic emissions cuts came after the Soviet Union collapsed — the former communist countries saw their emissions fall some 43 percent between 1990 and 2000, or about 5 percent per year.) Meanwhile, there are scientists like Tyndall’s Kevin Anderson who are even less optimistic than Hone and think that further delay would entail even sharper cuts.
In any case, that’s not an argument that avoiding drastic climate change is possible. There are plenty of smart people thinking through how this task can be done. But as the IEA found, every year of delay makes the task a lot harder and more expensive, especially as the world keeps building coal plants and other energy infrastructure that are expected to operate for decades.
San Jose Mercury News:
A scenic coastal landscape between San Francisco and Half Moon Bay — home to mountain lions, peregrine falcons and stunning mountaintop views of San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean — has become the newest addition to America’s national park system.
The National Park Service announced Monday that ownership of the 3,858-acre Rancho Corral de Tierra has officially transferred to the federal government, 10 years after a nonprofit Silicon Valley land trust purchased the property for $29 million, ending developers’ plans for luxury homes and a golf course.
The property is now added to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, an 82,000-acre park that includes Alcatraz, Muir Woods, the Presidio, Marin Headlands and other world-famous properties visited by 17 million people a year.
“This is the largest piece we’ve acquired in a generation,” said Frank Dean, superintendent of the San Francisco-based Golden Gate National Recreation Area. “It’s a game changer for us. It’s a southern gateway to the park.”
Local residents already hike and ride mountain bikes and horses on the property — a bucolic expanse of chaparral, row crops and rolling hills overlooking the Highway 1 towns of Moss Beach and Montara. Formal trail heads and national park signs will be installed next summer, Dean said, adding that uniformed national park rangers are already patrolling the property.
The property is home to varied wildlife, including bobcats, coyotes,
black-tailed deer and two species of plants known to exist nowhere else in the world: Montara Mountain blue bush lupin and Montara manzanita.
Although sometimes draped in fog, its highest point, near the 1,898-foot peak of Montara Mountain, is one the most breathtaking spots, said Paul Ringgold, vice president for stewardship of the Palo Alto-based Peninsula Open Space Trust, which purchased the land in 2001.
“It’s phenomenal,” said Ringgold. “From the top of the property you have 360-degree panoramic views of the entire Bay Area. You can see the Farallon Islands, Mount Hamilton, Mount Tamalpais. I’ve even seen the Sierra on clear winter days.”
Monday’s news was a long time coming.
Before California became a state, the property was part of an 1839 Mexican land grant to Francisco Guerrero, an early mayor of San Francisco. Since then, the ranch has had many owners, including Westinghouse Corp. and developers in the 1960s and 1970s who hoped to build shopping centers, golf courses and thousands of homes.
Dramatic and unprecedented plumes of methane – a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide – havebeen seen bubbling to the surface of the Arctic Ocean by scientists undertaking an extensive survey of the region.
The scale and volume of the methane release has astonished the head of the Russian research team who has been surveying the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf off northern Russia for nearly 20 years.
In an exclusive interview with The Independent, Igor Semiletov of the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who led the 8th joint US-Russia cruise of the East Siberian Arctic seas, said that he has never before witnessed the scale and force of the methane being released from beneath the Arctic seabed.
“Earlier we found torch-like structures like this but they were only tens of metres in diameter. This is the first time that we’ve found continuous, powerful and impressive seeping structures more than 1,000 metres in diameter. It’s amazing,” Dr Semiletov said.
“I was most impressed by the shear scale and the high density of the plumes. Over a relatively small area we found more than 100, but over a wider area there should be thousands of them,” he said.
Scientists estimate that there are hundreds of millions of tons of methane gas locked away beneath the Arctic permafrost, which extends from the mainland into the seabed of the relatively shallow sea of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf.
One of the greatest fears is that with the disappearance of the Arctic sea ice in summer, and rapidly rising temperatures across the entire Arctic region, which are already melting the Siberian permafrost, the trapped methane could be suddenly released into the atmosphere leading to rapid and severe climate change.
Dr Semiletov’s team published a study in 2010 estimating that the methane emissions from this region were in theregion of 8 million tons a year but the latest expedition suggests this is a significant underestimate of the true scale of the phenomenon.
In late summer, the Russian research vessel Academician Lavrentiev conducted an extensive survey of about 10,000 square miles of sea off the East Siberian coast, in cooperating with the University of Georgia Athens. Scientists deployed four highly sensitive instruments, both seismic and acoustic, to monitor the “fountains” or plumes of methane bubbles rising to the sea surface from beneath the seabed.
“In a very small area, less than 10,000 square miles, we have counted more than 100 fountains, or torch-like structures, bubbling through the water column and injected directly into the atmosphere from the seabed,” Dr Semiletov said.
“We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some of the plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal,” he said.
Dr Semiletov released his findings for the first time last week at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. He is now preparing the study for publication in a scientific journal.
The total amount of methane stored beneath the Arctic is calculated to be greater than the overall quantity of carbon locked up in global coal reserves so there is intense interest in the stability of these deposits as the polar region warms at a faster rate than other places on earth.
Natalia Shakhova, a colleague at the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said that the Arctic is becoming a major source of atmospheric methane and the concentrations of the powerful greenhouse gas have risen dramatically since pre-industrial times, largely due to agriculture.
However, with the melting of Arctic sea ice and permafrost, the huge stores of methane that have been locked away underground for many thousands of years might be released over a relatively short period of time, Dr Shakhova said.
“I am concerned about this process, I am really concerned. But no-one can tell the timescale of catastrophic releases.There is a probability of future massive releases might occur within the decadal scale, but to be more accurate about how high that probability is, we just don’t know,” Dr Shakova said.
“Methane released from the Arctic shelf deposits contributes to global increase and the best evidence for that is the higher concentration of atmospheric methane above the Arctic Ocean,” she said.
“The concentration of atmospheric methane increased unto three times in the past two centuries from 0.7 parts per million to 1.7ppm, and in the Arctic to 1.9ppm. That’s a huge increase, between two and three times, and this has never happened in the history of the planet,” she added.
Each methane molecule is about 70 times more potent in terms of trapping heat than a molecule of carbon dioxide. However, because methane it broken down more rapidly in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, scientist calculate that methane is about 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a hundred-year cycle.
In their zeal to crack down on undocumented immigrants, federal immigration officials have accidentally arrested and tried to deport thousands of U.S. citizens in the past year alone. Americans who find themselves in this nightmarish situation say their protests to the police fall on deaf ears, and they are denied any opportunity to communicate with immigration agents to clarify the situation.
Some citizens are held for a few days while the situation is resolved, but others have been locked in prison for months. Take the case of Anthony A. Clarke, a Minneapolis man who was arrested and illegally detained for 43 dayswhile federal agents tried to deport him:
Clarke’s case is the apparent fallout of an aggressive ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] campaign to deport illegal immigrants who also have criminal records that show up during cross-checks of federal databases.
While those efforts have resulted in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of dangerous criminals, thousands of U.S. citizens have been snagged along the way, in part because agents operate in a secretive judicial environment where detention hearings are held out of public view.
After a detailed examination of federal immigration records, Prof. Jacqueline Stevens of Northwestern University estimated this year that about 4,000 American citizens were illegally detained or deported as aliens in 2010. In a study published last summer, she found that as many as 20,000 citizens may have been wrongly held or deported since 2003.
FBI records show that immigration agents were aware of Clarke’s legal status at the time he was arrested, and detained him anyway. The New York Times notes that “Any case where an American is held, even briefly, for immigration investigation is a potential wrongful arrest because immigration agents lack legal authority to detain citizens.” Clarke has filed a lawsuit in federal court.
In another horrifying case, a mentally-disabled citizen was actually deported and sent to prisons in Honduras and Guatemala before he was finally able to convince authorities there that he was an American.
The reason for the rising number of mistaken arrests appears to be ICE’s rapid expansion of Secure Communities, a deportation program, which has ballooned under President Obama and is widely criticized for eroding the trust between local police and immigrant communities and making it less likely that people will report crimes. Under the program, the fingerprints of every person booked at local jails are checked against Department of Homeland Security immigration databases. But the database is riddled with errors and routinely flags citizens as undocumented immigrants.
The administration’s harsh enforcement practices have resulted in 1.1 million deportationssince the beginning of President Obama’s term, the highest numbers in six decades.
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune observes that these stories “raise disturbing questions about the tactics of immigration agents and the adequacy of checks and balances in a parallel court system overseeing the…ICE agency.”
Hey, guess what? Debtors’ prison is back! Not the fetid and dreary kind from Dickens novels, of course, but a shiny, impersonal, high-volume, 21st century variety. It all revolves around something called “in personam” debt collection, which has two stages: discovery and collection. Mike Konczal explains:
The court orders the debtor to disclose information about his property, location of his assets, etc. to help creditors track down those assets. Then the court orders certain payments to be made, which allows for collection. This court order is enforced through the court’s authority to hold debtors in contempt, which in turn is enforced through threats of imprisonment.
.…So how does this go wrong? The most obvious way is that this in personam debt collection method — which should be reserved for “extraordinary” situations — is used regularly by today’s collectors. Given that a debtor’s liberty is at stake, it seems very important that there are strict rules for this practice and that these actions are used only when appropriate. But as Shepard finds, “in personam remedies are often initiated and executed on a high-volume basis and with a striking degree of informality.”
….In many jurisdictions, bail posted to get out of being jailed for contempt of the discovery process is used to pay creditors. Besides being a great deal for creditors — as noted above, people often pay a huge economic penalty to get out of jail — it functions as a de facto debtors’ prison. As law professor Alan White described this process, “If, in effect, people are being incarcerated until they pay bail, and bail is being used to pay their debts, then they’re being incarcerated to pay their debts.”
You will be unsurprised to learn that the targets of this practice seldom have lawyers, seldom know their rights, and get no help from judges. Creditors, needless to say, suffer from none of these handicaps. Read the whole thing for more.
Federal investigators are probing allegations that Carrier IQ software found on about 150 million cellphones tracked user activity and sent the information to cellphone companies without informing consumers, according to government officials.
Executives from Carrier IQ traveled to Washington on Tuesday and met with officials at the Federal Trade Commission, which is responsible for protecting consumers and enforcing privacy laws. The executives also met with Federal Communications Commission officials.
The controversy over the software company, based in Silicon Valley, erupted a few weeks ago when security researcher Trevor Eckhart discovered evidence that a piece of software developed by the company and found on smartphones captured every keystroke and text message written by users and sent the information on the handsets to carriers.
The FTC inquiry was confirmed by officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because it is private. An FTC spokeswoman said she could not confirm or deny whether the agency wasinvestigating Carrier IQ. But a spokesman for Carrier IQ said company executives were cooperating with federal agencies.
“This week Carrier IQ sought meetings with the FTC and FCC to educate the two agencies . . . and answer any and all questions,” said Andrew Coward, the senior vice president for marketing, adding that he was “not aware of an official investigation.”
ThinkProgress: [Please read original for links.]
Last night, Attorney General Eric Holder traveled to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library to give the most comprehensive explanation of the Obama Administration’s voting rights policy to date. The venue was certainly well chosen. Sixty years ago, when Holder was born, southern men who shared his skin color enjoyed no real access to the ballot box. Today, Holder himself is the chief guardian of America’s voting rights. In the America Holder grew up in, men and women faced fire hoses, endured beatings, bled under the blows of billy clubs wrapped in barb wire and spent night after night in jail as part of a decades long struggle to cast a vote. A few decades later, many of those same veterans of peaceful protest marched into the polling booth and elected Barack Obama president. What changed between now and then was the Voting Rights Act, Lyndon Johnson’s signature accomplishment and probably the most important civil rights law in American history.
Yet, as Holder explained, the very voting rights that he is now charged with enforcing are endangered by an all-too-common pattern of voter suppression laws in the states:
As Congressman John Lewis described it, in a speech on the House floor this summer, the voting rights that he worked throughout his life – and nearly gave his life – to ensure are, “under attack… [by] a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, [and] minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.” Not only was he referring to the all-too-common deceptive practices we’ve been fighting for years. He was echoing more recent concerns about some of the state-level voting law changes we’ve seen this legislative season.
Since January, more than a dozen states have advanced new voting measures. Some of these new laws are currently under review by the Justice Department, based on our obligations under the Voting Rights Act. Texas and South Carolina, for example, have enacted laws establishing new photo identification requirements that we’re reviewing. We’re also examining a number of changes that Florida has made to its electoral process, including changes to the procedures governing third-party voter registration organizations, as well as changes to early voting procedures, including the number of days in the early voting period.
Although I cannot go into detail about the ongoing review of these and other state-law changes, I can assure you that it will be thorough – and fair. We will examine the facts, and we will apply the law. If a state passes a new voting law and meets its burden of showing that the law is not discriminatory, we will follow the law and approve the change. And where a state can’t meet this burden, we will object as part of our obligation under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
It is both significant and reassuring that the nation’s top lawyer acknowledges the dire threat state voter suppression laws present to our democracy. Yet the sad irony is that, through no fault of his own, America’s first African-American Attorney General may see the worst contraction of voting rights since the Jim Crow era — and the threat comes from a much more powerful place than a handful of state governments.
Make no mistake, voter ID laws are unconstitutional. If the Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and equal voting rights mean anything, they must mean that laws intended solely to disenfranchise particular kinds of voters — including many racial minority voters — must not be allowed to stand. Yet, in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, the Supreme Court largely abdicated it’s responsibility to strike these laws down.
Of course, as Holder notes, Section Five of the Voting Rights Act provides him with an important tool that can be used to block these racially discriminatory laws from going into effect in many states. Sadly, the Supreme Court probably has a plan to remove this tool as well. Conservative lawmakers are begging the courts to declare Section Five unconstitutional, and Roberts has strongly hinted in the past that he wants to give them what they want.
Indeed, forty years from now, it is likely we will look back on John Roberts and some of his colleagues on the Court and remember them for doing more to stand in the way of voting rights than nearly any person since Lyndon Johnson drove the knife into Jim Crow more than four decades ago.
Republicans justify their vote suppressing “voter ID” laws by raising imagined fears of in person voter fraud. In their mythology, armies of votes arrive at the polls every year to stuff the ballot box with extra ballots cast under false names. In truth, of course, a voter is 39 times more likely to be struck by lightning than to actually commit fraud at the polls.
Yet, as Attorney General Holder explained in last night’s speech, this does not mean that election fraud is entirely a myth. Another, much more virulent form infects American democracy:
Over the years, we’ve seen all sorts of attempts to gain partisan advantage by keeping people away from the polls – from literacy tests and poll taxes, to misinformation campaigns telling people that Election Day has been moved, or that only one adult per household can cast a ballot. Before the 2004 elections,fliers were distributed in minority neighborhoods in Milwaukee, falsely claiming that “[I]f anybody in your family has ever been found guilty [of a crime], you can’t vote in the presidential election” – and you risk a 10-year prison sentence if you do. Two years later, 14,000 Latino voters in Orange County, California, received mailings, warning in Spanish that, “[If] you are an immigrant, voting in a federal election is a crime that can result in jail time.”Both of these blatant falsehoods likely deterred some eligible citizens from going to the polls.
And, just last week, the campaign manager of a Maryland gubernatorial candidate was convicted on election fraud charges for approving anonymous “robocalls” that went out on Election Day last year to more than 100,000 voters in the state’s two largest majority-black jurisdictions. These calls encouraged voters to stay home – telling them to “relax” because their preferred candidate had already wrapped up a victory.
To his credit, Holder’s boss, President Obama, has a long history of fighting against these very real forms of election fraud. In 2006, Maryland gubernatorial and Republican Senate candidates Bob Ehrlich and Michael Steele hired hundreds of people to pass out misleading flyers in African-American precincts which falsely suggested that Ehrlich and Steele were actually Democrats and that they were endorsed by three leading black politicians. Then-Senator Obama responded by joining with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) to introduce the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007. One of the big pieces of news in Holder’s speech last night is that this bill is making a come back:
In an effort to deter and punish such harmful practices, during his first year in the U.S. Senate, President Obama introduced legislation that would establish tough criminal penalties for those who engage in fraudulent voting practices – and would help to ensure that citizens have complete and accurate information about where and when to vote. Unfortunately, this proposal did not move forward. But I’m pleased to announce that – tomorrow – Senators Charles Schumer and Ben Cardin will re-introduce this legislation, in an even stronger form. I applaud their leadership – and I look forward to working with them as Congress considers this important legislation.
This is excellent news. It is not enough for supporters of voting rights to combat anti-voter laws by simply trying to keep them from passing. Protecting the right to vote means playing offense, and that means passing new legislation designed to protect each voter’s most important civil right. Moreover, while Cardin & Schumer’s legislation is unlikely to pass so long as John Boehner is Speaker, there is no reason why similar legislation cannot be taken up by state lawmakers who share their concern for American democracy.
Political scientists (with some exceptions) are confident that political parties have grown stronger over thelast few decades. One development that makes the parties stronger is the revival of the partisan press. Very quick summary: in the 19th century political information was generally controlled by partisan newspapers. In the 20th century, the partisan press faded and was replaced by mass media that valued neutrality and objectivity, reaching its zenith in the network news era of the 1950s through the 1970s in which most people got information from a source that didn’t even have an editorial page to wall off news reporting from. Then, from about the 1970s on, we’ve had a revival of the partisan press in several forms, probably beginning with op-ed pages and syndicated partisan columnists, but featuring (OK, you know this part) such things as Fox News and MSNBC, talk radio, and the partisan blogosphere.
Here’s the question, however: what are the incentives governing the partisan press? How does it fit in with the rest of the party — that is, both formal party organizations and the larger party network?
There are basically three plausible stories. One is that the partisan press, just like the 20th century objective press, follows professional journalist norms and financial incentives, each of which creates biases which are (roughly speaking) outcomes of other processes rather than deliberate ideological choices. For example, we can expect that if a candidate wins a huge landslide in Iowa in three weeks that the neutral, objective media will play up the chances of the #2 or #3 candidate, rather than declaring the nomination contest over — even if the contest appears to be over by all objective standards. That’s because everyone involved — reporters and correspondents, editors and producers, and upper management — has incentives to keep the battle going on and appearing competitive for as long as possible. So: does Fox news have the same incentives? Will that drive its actions?
A second story is that the partisan press serves as the PR wing of the parties, and takes its marching orders from them. This can be complicated, of course, when the parties themselves are split over something, but when party actors agree on something, then we can see whether the partisan press takes their lead from them.
And then a third story is that the partisan press are party actors, but that they are freelancers — that no one tells Beck and Rush and Hannity and the rest (and their Democratic counterparts) what to say, and so the most successful ones become independent, important party actors in their own right.
The problem is that these are extremely difficult stories to untangle empirically, especially if (as I think is the case) each story is partially true. Fortunately, the next couple of months should prove highly useful, if indeed we have a situation in which the bulk of Republican party actors (“establishment” and otherwise) strongly oppose Newt Gingrich, but his act continues to play well in the polls and then with Republican voters in the early states.
Indeed, the entire election cycle will be interesting. How did Fox News cover, and therefore contribute, to the demise of Herman Cain? How is it treating Newt right now? To what extent does the Republican partisan press move in unison? What happens to those who appear to be opposing the bulk of party actors?
Party and media scholars are getting plenty of data to work with. If I see any interesting results, I’ll pass it on (and if I’m missing any important findings from what’s out there so far, please let me know; I try to keep up with the party literature, but not so much with the media literature).
As I’m sure you’re aware by now, the National Defense Authorization Act was passed by the House last night and the president is expected to sign it into law. Activists on the left are accusing Congress and the president of subverting civil liberties by signing the law due to the indefinite detention language in the bill. Mainly, the concern is that U.S. citizens could be indefinitely detained.
However, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, says the language explicitly prevents the indefinite detention of U.S. citizens.
First, the AUMF (Authorization for Use of Military Force) section in our bill, Section 1021, merely codifies current law. It specifically states, “nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities, relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.” Quite simply, our courts will decide what the law is regarding detention of U.S. citizens.
Second, any U.S. citizen detained under Section 1021 has the right under habeas corpus to have the legality of any such detention determined by our courts. The courts have also held that anyone detained under the AUMF at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, also has habeas rights. We do not change these rights.
Third, Section , entitled, “Military Custody For Foreign al-Qaeda Terrorists” specifically excludes US citizens. It states,“the requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.” It also states the requirement to detain under Section  “does not extend to a lawful resident alien of the United States on the basis of conduct taking place within the United States, except to the extent permitted by the Constitution of the United States.”
Fourth, we also codify periodic review for those being detained at Guantanamo Bay, now and in the future, which is an important procedure for those detained indefinitely as a threat to the United States under the law of war.
Habeas rights for any detainee irrespective of citizenship will remain intact (and backed up by the Supreme Court),and citizens can’t be held in military custody. The reason the president decided to sign the bill and reversed his previous decision to veto the bill was because he wanted the discretion to hold civilian trials for suspected terrorists. The bill in its current form allows him to do that, hence the non-veto.
The bottom line here is the law merely codifies the current policy, which, admittedly, is ugly and questionable. If you really want to kill this thing, contact your senator. Tweeting impeachment threats at the president is tilting at windmills.
High up in a Manhattan conference room on Sunday, a group of investment gurus discussed Occupy Wall Street. Should they support a set of tough-sounding financial reforms just proposed on the campaign trail by presidential candidate Jon Huntsman? Or was it reasonable to demand even deeper reforms? “This isn’t enough,” argued Cathy O’Neil, a former hedge fund quant who organizes the group, a branch of Occupy Wall Street known as the Alternative Banking Group. She proposed that the gathering of financial experts come up with improvements to Huntsman’s plan and present them to Occupy Wall Street’s General Assembly. Another OWS supporter, whose day job involves consulting for private equity firms, looked up from his laptop and smiled. “That’s an excellent idea!”
As unlikely as it may have seemed when protesters first descended on New York’s financial center this fall, an increasing number of Wall Street insiders are now returning the favor, you might say, by occupying Occupy Wall Street. Sympathetic to the movement’s critiques of the banking system, they’ve been quietly lending their expertise to Occupy efforts to develop real ideas for revamping the industry.
“What I want is to influence the conversation,” says O’Neil, who worked for two years with Lawrence Summers, the former US treasury secretary, at the hedge fund D.E. Shaw.* “It’s about education and outreach and just the message that the financial system is too complicated—that you are not dreaming this.”
Founded in early October by former British diplomat Carne Ross, the 60-person Alternative Banking Group has become a repository for OWS-friendly financial insiders. It includes current and former investment bankers, traders, and lawyers for the securities industry, but also many laymen—including housewives, people who used to sleep in Zuccotti Park, and guys with piercings who wear Che Guevara T-shirts. The group shares Occupy Wall Street’s website, its nonhierarchical structure, and its distaste for partisan politics. “I’d say the one thing that everybody agrees on is that the system isn’t working,” O’Neil says. “And there is nothing about being a Republican or a Democrat in that statement.”
The Alternative Banking Group’s meetings can get contentious. At the confab on Sunday, which took place at Columbia University, members squared off over the NEED Act, a bill by Congressman Dennis Kucinich that would put the Federal Reserve under the control of the Treasury Department and allow it to print money without issuing new debt. The bill could be “a third way that I think would satisfy libertarians as well as people on the left,” said Jamal Mahmood, an independent retirement planner. A group of white-haired Kucinich fans were onboard, but a Harvard-educated high-frequency trader worried that the plan “would turn America into Greece, basically.”
O’Neil sees the group’s diverse views as one of its biggest strengths. “It keeps us from making our own little universe of assumptions, which was one of the causes of the crisis to begin with,” she says.
The belief within the party — and this appears to be a rare moment of strategic agreement between the House, Senate and White House — is that focusing on inequality, particularly as it relates to the middle class, is the path to winning the economic argument in 2012. And now they have some polling data to back up that belief.
In the new NBC-Wall Street Journal national poll, respondents were asked which party would do a better job of “looking out for the middle class”. Forty four percent named Democrats while 24 percent opted for Republicans. Seventeen percent said neither party was looking out for the middle class and 12 said both were doing so about equally.
As interesting as Democrats’ current edge on the question is the steadiness of the party’s advantage over time. In an October 1996 NBC-WSJ survey, Democrats enjoyed an identical 20-point margin over Republicans. Ditto an October 1993 NBC-WSJ poll. Go all the way back to November 1989…and Democrats had a similar 23-point edge on the “looking out for the middle class” question.
What does the persistence of Democrats’ lead on the middle-class question tell us heading into 2012?
That when they are talking about the middle class (and rising inequality more generally), Democrats are playing the equivalent of a home game with voters. That is, voters have a lasting image of Democrats as the party looking out more for the middle class. Therefore when the two parties fight over who is truly fighting for the vast middle, it’s more likely that the Democratic argument wins out. […]
Republicans have a home field advantage, typically, on issues like national security and taxes. In the NBC-WSJ poll, Republicans are favored by two points over Democrats on which party deals better with the economy and have a 13-point edge on dealing with terrorism.
Given how large a proportion middle-class voters are likely to be in the 2012 electorate — much more (and a chart!) on that here — winning them is central to both party’s winning math.
The NBC-WSJ numbers suggest Democrats would do well to continue to push the inequality argument and use it as a wedge to cast themselves as the true defenders of the middle class.
[…] So will the economic argument in the 2012 election be centered on inequality or the growing national debt? Answer that and we’ll tell you who will win.
On Tuesday morning, the braintrust of President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign gathered a select handful of reporters to make a simple case: the incumbent has a number of different paths — five, to be exact — he can follow to win the 270 electoral votes necessary to secure a second term.
Since we’ve spent lots and lots of time breaking down the electoral map — and making the case that Obama is stronger than his job approval ratings indicate — we thought it might be fun to look at each of the paths laid out by his team to see how likely each might be.
We do that below. One important point before we start: The Obama team used as its baseline for each of these five scenarios the 246 electoral votes that Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) won in his 2004 loss to President George W. Bush. That means that Obama could lose none of the states he and Kerry carried in 2004 and 2008 — including swing states like New Hampshire and Wisconsin — and have the numbers add up. The paths are ranked from most likely to least likely for Obama.
1. Florida path: If Obama wins the 29 electoral votes in Florida, he’s at 275 and a winner. Florida moved hard to Republicans in 2010 — the party elected Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio — but there are signs that the Sunshine State electorate is trending back to the ideological middle. Scott is among the least popular governors in the country, which won’t help the eventual GOP presidential nominee, and Florida has a large Hispanic community that should vote overwhelmingly for Obama. But if the GOP nominee decides to put Rubio on the ticket as the vice presidential pick, that could complicate this path for Obama.
2. West Path: This scenario requires Obama to sweep Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada and then also take Iowa, where he won overwhelmingly in 2008 but Kerry lost narrowly in 2004. (Add those four states up, and Obama is at 272 electoral votes.) Democrats have had a number of successes in the southwest of late, and each of the trio of states has two communities where Obama tends to do very well: Hispanics and young people. Of the three, New Mexico is the likeliest to go to for Obama, and Colorado, which still has large pockets of conservatism, is the toughest. Iowa seems likely to go Obama’s way, although it will be a far tougher fight than it was in 2008.
3. Midwest path: The industrial Midwest has turned against Democrats in a major way since Obama carried every state in the so-called Rust Belt three years ago. But, if Obama wins only Ohio and Iowa, he’s at 270 electoral votes and a winner — albeit by the thinnest margin possible.
As we mentioned above, Iowa seems likely to go for Obama, but Ohio is a much tougher state to win. The state is populated by older, white voters who have traditionally been the demographic group most resistant to Obama.
Ohio favored Republicans in 2010, but Democrats are hoping Gov.John Kasich’s (R) aggressive conservative agenda — including his now-repealed attempt to drastically limit public employee collective bargaining rights — proved to Buckeye State voters that the GOP agenda is too radical for them.
Still, if this is an economic referendum on Obama nationwide, winning Ohio — which had 9 percent unemployment in October — will be tough.
4. South path: In 2008, Obama was the first Democrat to carry North Carolina since 1976 and to win in Virginia since 1964. If he repeats that feat in 2012, he gets to 274 electoral votes.
Democrats put the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte as a sign of his commitment to winning the Tarheel State, and the large number of young and well-educated voters helps his cause — especially when combined with the significant minority population in the state. But, North Carolina has conservative tendencies and Democrats will need to minimize their losses in the more rural parts of the state to keep it close.
Virginia will be a battle of the suburbs and exurbs in Northern Virginia. In recent elections, Democrats’ winning formula is to run up the score in the close-in suburbs to Washington, D.C., fight to even in the rapidly growing exurbs and not lose too badly everywhere else. The 2009 and 2011 statewide elections in the Commonwealth both favored Republicans — the former far more than the latter — which raises questions about whether Democrats’ formula doesn’t add up anymore.
5. Expansion path: Three years ago, Democrats were confident that they would have won Arizona had Republicans not nominated homestate Sen. John McCain. And, with no prospect of an Arizonan on the national ticket this time around — sorry Jan Brewer — the Obama team sees the possibility of turning Arizona blue.
But, the politics of immigration may make that an impossibility. When Brewer signed the nation’s most stringent immigration bill into law in 2010, she effectively ended Democrats’ hopes of defeating her as she became a hero to Republicans and to the many conservative-minded independents in the state.
Democrats are drawn to the possibility that the Arizona immigration bill will fire up the state’s large Hispanic community, and they’re probably right. But to win in Arizona, Obama needs to figure out how to win over some significant chunk of the white vote. And that seems very unlikely at the moment.
Politico weighed in today with a bombshell revelation: Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is set to hand $20 million to a “Super PAC” backing Newt Gingrich. Such a sum could have a major impact on the GOP primary, enabling him to ward off the barrage of negative ads currently pummeling him daily — meaning that one extremely wealthy man could play an extraordinarily outsized role in helping decide the GOP nominee for president. […]
Thanks to Citizens United and a subsequent court decision, Super PACs can raise unlimited sums, and spend it all advocating directly for or against a candidate, as long as there’s no coordination between the Super PAC and the candidate’s campaign. But this prohibition against coordination doesn’t really have much signficance in the real world.
Consider that one of the pro-Gingrich Super PACs that may receive this $20 million, Winning Our Future, is headed by Becky Burkett, who was the lead fundraiser for Gingrich’s main political operation for years, American Solutions. That group raised a total of $54 million.
What this means: Someone who has been closely consulting with Gingrich for years, and has spent years in direct contact with all his donors and advisers, is suddenly in a position to raise unlimited sums to put behind his candidacy — including $20 million from one man.
“People who have worked directly for Newt Gingrich, know how the man thinks, and have had access to the people who have supported him over the years, can now raise unlimited amounts from them,” Donnelly says. “She’s a bigger benefit to Gingrich outside his campaign because there are no limits to what she can raise.”
And, of course, imagine how much influence Adelson will wield if his $20 million helps secure the nomination for Gingrich. It’s another way that Citizens United and other court decisions have blown away whatever sanity once reigned over our campaign finance system, replacing it with an absolute fundraising free-for-all that maximizes the influence of the wealthy to untold degrees, with untold consequences for the future.
Politico: Newt Gingrich and Arianna Huffington: A ’90s story
[…] “Her accusing him of opportunistic flip-flopping is like being called ugly by a frog.”
If you think wealth is concentrated in the United States, just wait till you look at the data on campaign spending.
In the 2010 election cycle, 26,783 individuals (or slightly less than one in ten thousand Americans) each contributed more than $10,000 to federal political campaigns. Combined, these donors spent $774 million. That’s 24.3% of the total from individuals to politicians, parties, PACs, and independent expenditure groups. Together, they would fill only two-thirds of the 41,222 seats at Nationals Park the baseball field two miles from the U.S. Capitol. When it comes to politics, they are The One Percent of the One Percent.
A Sunlight Foundation examination of data from the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics reveals a growing dependence of candidates and political parties on the One Percent of the One Percent, resulting in a political system that could be disproportionately influenced by donors in a handful of wealthy enclaves. Our examination also shows that some of the heaviest hitters in the 2010 cycle were ideological givers, suggesting that the influence of the One Percent of the One Percent on federal elections may be one of the obstacles to compromise in Washington.
The One Percent of the One Percent are not average Americans. Overwhelmingly, they are corporate executives, investors, lobbyists, and lawyers. A good number appear to be highly ideological. They give to multiple candidates and to parties and independent issue groups. Theytend to cluster in a limited number of metropolitan zip codes, especially in New York, Washington, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
In the 2010 election cycle, the average One Percent of One Percenter spent $28,913, more than the median individual income of $26,364
At the top of this elite group are individuals such as Bob Perry, CEO of Perry Homes, who gave $7.3 million to Karl Rove’s American Crossroads in 2010 and $4.4 million to Swift Vets and POWs for Truth in 2004, and Wayne Hughes, owner and chairman of Public Storage Inc., who gave $3.25 million to American Crossroads in 2010, and Fred Eshelman, CEO of Pharmaceutical Product Development who spent $3 million in 2010 on his own group, RightChange. Sunlight’s Ryan Sibley writes more about the top donors here.
Unlike the other 99.99% of Americans who do not make these contributions, these elite donors have unique access. In a world of increasingly expensive campaigns, The One Percent of the One Percent effectively play the role of political gatekeepers. Prospective candidates need to be able to tap into these networks if they want to be taken seriously. And party leaders on both sides are keenly aware that more than 80% of party committee money now comes from these elite donors.
Political scientists Wendy K. Tam Cho and James G. Gimpel have called these elite donor networks “campaign gold”after discovering just how much big contributors tend to flock together, making it easy for candidates to raise substantial sums of money at a single event.
We find that in the 2010 election cycle, 74 federally registered candidates relied on The One Percent of the One Percent for at least half of all of their itemized (over $200) contributions (of those running in that election, 25 won, and 15 lost – the other 34 were not up for election; mostly they were Senators preparing for a future campaign). Only in 2008 did more elected officials (109) rely on The One Percent of the One Percent for half of their itemized contributions. (Candidates and parties do not need to disclose to names of contributions under $200. In the 2010 election cycle, the average congressional campaign got 84% of its money from donations of $200 or more. See our methodology section for more details.)
Congressional candidates are also increasingly relying on contributions from people who do not live in their districts, according to research Professor Gimpel has conducted along with Frances Lee and Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz. In a paper entitled “The Check is in the Mail,” they find that candidates are increasingly calling on what the scholars call “political A.T.M.s” – the small number of zip codes that are home to the concentrated communities of high-spending donors.
In short, The One Percent of the One Percent are becoming more important to candidates. While technology may have expanded the possibilities of raising more money through small contributions over the Internet, The One Percent of the One Percent have remained just as important as ever. And with new campaign vehicles for unlimited funding, they are poised to play an even more important role.
What follows are more details about who The One Percent of the One Percent are, and their changing role in elections. (For more on how we define this population, please see our methodology section at the end.)
[You might want to click to the site and enlarge this beauty.]
The Supreme Court and the U.S. Department of Justice are on a political collision course over how Texas — and possibly other states — are drawing the congressional district lines affecting 2012 House races across the country, raising the prospect that the Roberts court will insert itself into partisan politics to a degree not seen since the 2000 Florida recount, which installed George W. Bush as the nation’s 43rd president.
The Supreme Court agreed to rule on the constitutionality of several Texas congressional redistricting maps this Friday, one favoring Republicans and another Democrats. It set a court date for Jan. 9, 2012. Meanwhile, the Justice Department’s case against the maps drawn by Texas Republicans is headed toward a trial in another D.C. federal courtroom in January.
On Tuesday night in Texas, Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech defending the Obama administration’s commitment to voting rights. Speaking at the presidential library of Lyndon Baines Johnson, who signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act that gave the DOJ power to take states to court to reject racially biased redistricting, Holder called on “our political parties to resist the temptation to suppress certain votes in the hope of attaining electoral success and, instead, achieve success by appealing to more voters.”
Holder’s speech referred not only to the redistricting fights but also to laws passed in more than a dozen states since 2010 to toughen voter ID laws, a move complicating voting for students, minorities, and the elderly — all key Obama
Civil Rights groups, such as the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, have issued reports detailing how newly restrictive voting rules — almost all proposed and adopted by GOP state lawmakers — could deter or block as many as 5 million people from voting for president in 2012.
But the big fear is what the Supreme Court will do to the Voting Rights Act, because if the high court revises the act, or weakens the legal basis for the DOJ to take states to court over districts that dilute minority representation, it will be changing the nation’s political landscape in dramatic ways in a presidential election year.
“Power protects power,” said Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, which works to elect Democrats and expand minority representation in Texas. “The first thing that the Republicans did after winning majorities in many states in 2010 was consolidate their power. They know all about the demographic changes, with Anglos becoming a lower percentage of the electorate. They are trying to push the future forward.”
According to Angle, Texas’ Republican attorney general, Greg Abbott, has been positioning himself and the case as the “spear tip” in a nationwide attempt to undermine the Voting Rights Act, including the redistricting provisions. There are many scenarios for what the Supreme Court could do, but any watering down of the Voting Rights Act would serve Republicans in many states where redistricting fights are ongoing in state or federal court, Angle said, because there would be less incentive to follow the law. Or given the approaching 2012 primary season, courts could simply rule that states had to implement highly partisan maps, because it was too late to do anything else.
“They could take a chunk out of it, or they could take a piece,” Angle said, speaking of the Supreme Court review. “And that kicks you in the teeth in a state like Texas.”
Anyone who has existed above ground in America for the past several decades cannot fail to recognize the on-going phenomenon of the celebration of idiocy in supposed leaders and candidates for leadership in the Republican party. Recent examples, of course, abound. Feel free to insert your own relevant examples here, but a mere mention of the names Perry, Cain, Palin or Bachmann should suffice to prove the point. (Gingrich, the faux intellectual, is a variant.) How can it be that these people are being considered for high office by the Republican electorate? It’s not a question, really, about the candidates themselves. Idiots abound in any society; idiots with pretensions to greatness are practically inevitable. But what moves ordinary people to support these idiots, even after they’ve been exposed as dolts and hypocrites?
If you want the long answer to that question, I recommend Richard Hofstadter’s book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. It’s nearly 50 years old now, but still rings true. He uses the tools of the historian to trace America’s love affair with ideas and people who are simple, powerful, and totally moronic. But for my money the work of Max Weber, one of the founders of sociology, comes closest to giving a satisfying explanatory theory of dolt-dom.
More below the fold.
Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is justly famous as an analysis of how religion, particularly the sort of religion that arose from the brand of Christianity associated with American Protestantism, was fabulously well suited to modern capitalist societies. Today, when people think of the Protestant Ethic at all they usually think in terms of the admirable qualities of hard work, diligence, good-old-American-stick-to-it-iveness and so on. But Weber’s theory was not simply acelebration of hard work and goodness; it was an explanation of how one gets from a particular, theologically-grounded view of the nature of social reality to a particular complex of behaviors. At the center of this theory is what he calls inner-worldly Protestant asceticism. Even by the time of his writing in the early 20th century, he said that in the United States this quality was pretty much divorced from its theological roots yet it still exerted a powerful influence on all kinds of social realities, including those we might associate with “anti-intellectualism.” In other words, even when the theological stuff had evaporated, the ways of thinking and acting that it inspired remained, for good and ill.
What Weber called “inner-worldly Protestant asceticism” was born out of the theology of Calvinism. It starts with an idea about God. God is all-powerful. God is above every human thing. He is so powerful, so beyond our comprehension, so beyond our puny attempts at goodness, that he is mysterious, inscrutable. It follows, then, that those who are saved receive that salvation not by doing anything in particular but as a free gift from God. It follows fromthat that there are two classes of people, those who are chosen by God for salvation, and those who are not. Since their choosing had nothing to do with their own actions, all that the chosen ones can do is to humbly accept that wonderful gift and try to live up to it. However, even when they don’t live up to it, it doesn’t negate God’s choosing of them. They are therefore immune to all “normal” considerations about morality or intellectual fitness; nothing can un-do their chosen-ness.
Is that beginning to sound at all familiar? For a George W. Bush, for instance, there is really no sense in doing a lot of soul-searching or second guessing. Because he is a conduit of God’s special purpose it doesn’t matter what he knows or doesn’t know or even what he does or doesn’t do, it’s all out of his hands, as it were. It’s all up to God and he’s just an instrument on which God’s destiny is played. There is a need for diligence and method and application, but it is not application to a search for truth that is tortured by the realization that one could be wrong or that there might not be some ultimate truth to be found, it is a search for God’s truth, that is, for that state of mind and state of being that conforms to God’s all-knowing will. It is a search for worthiness of the already-conferred gift, not a search for facts.
As such the essence of the “quest” that such individuals are on is not really about the world “out there,” it is about finding and expressing the self that is in harmony with God’s intentions — a self that is, as it were, God’s hero. Therefore, paradoxically, what Weber describes as “asceticism” is an inward journey of self-transformation that ultimately gets expressed in self-aggrandizing heroism. As Weber says of this sort of “ascetic,” “For him it suffices that through his rational actions in the world he is personally executing the will of god, which is unsearchable in its ultimate significance.” When it comes time to act “within the world,” Weber says that the ascetic “must become afflicted with a sort of happy stupidity regarding any question about the meaning of the world, for he must not worry about such questions.” The ascetic knows that “the world” is just a place of sham and pretense, that his or her ultimate judge is God and that her or his only task is to fulfill his God-ordained, heroic destiny.
For those viewing and judging these gifted ones (and who are also formed by the Protestant Ethic), the question is often not about such minutia as policy positions, prior qualifications, or discrete actions in the moral or political realm – or, for that matter, ascriptive characteristics like gender or race — the one and only question is whether or not this person feels “chosen” to fulfill a particular destiny. One evaluates that not through rational means – tallying up this vote or that credential – but through intuitive means. Does this person talk and act and think like a chosen one? For starters, does he/she claim to be chosen and special, maybe not in so many words but in the way he/she approaches the task of running for office and the expectation of taking on the mantle of leadership (Newt Gingrich territory, to be sure)? Even when it’s not done in reference to a particular religious or theological system, this is the sort of calculation that Weber would expect voters to be making when they assess the charisma of a candidate. Voters, as well as candidates, engage in their own form of “happy stupidity.”
The importance of this sort of analysis is that it clarifies a way of thinking about public matters that is deep in our American DNA. We are not a society that is inclined to make its big decisions based on a technocratic distance. Perhaps it is because we are so big and so diverse that we need to fall back, especially in times of crisis, on charismatic figures that can move us in emotional ways that are essentially religious in substance and tone and character.
The good thing about happy stupidity is that it can break through Gordian knots, as Roosevelt did during the Depression and the Second World War, and as Martin Luther King, Jr., did during the Civil Rights era. Any civic, or, for that matter, business leader worth her salt knows that an appeal to charisma or a positive founding myth, no matter how contrived, can do more to move people and situations than mounds of facts.
The bad thing about happy stupidity is that, like many other technologies of the soul, it is essentially devoid of moral content. An appeal to a country’s destiny or to the greater good of the firm taps into our tribal brain and can cause people in groups to do things that people as individuals would find abhorrent. Perhaps this is one reason that Weber found this willful ignorance induced by the Protestant Ethic as being so amenable to capitalism. A religiously-inspired notion that delegates the consequences of one’s actions to God is extraordinarily useful and inevitably feeds the bottom line, which can be construed as the ultimate arbiter of right-ness and justice, let the other costs be damned. What is the American corporation, after all, but a social device that enshrines this principle and reduces the complexity of moral calculation to mere financial profit or loss? God’s will, reduced to a balance sheet. The corporation as a false person-hood is an extraordinarily useful morality-avoidance machine.
Weber helps us to see that our current rash of political idiocy is not really new and that it is not just an aberration. It is part of who we are as a people. It’s been there since we declared, out of the blue of some sort of faith, that there were truths that were self-evident. That was a sort of divine idiocy on which our revolution was built. But there are other forms of idiocy that can run riot and plunge us into fruitless warfare or profligate budgetary nonsense.
What is needed is a greater appreciation for the constant appeal of happy stupidity, and for it to be checked by principled and persistent critique.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
This past Saturday, tens of thousands of civil rights activists marched on the New York offices of Koch Industries to protest the Koch brothers’ support of restrictive voting laws that disenfranchise millions. In dozens of states, Republican politicians have pushed laws that disproportionately keep Democratic voters, including blacks, Latinos, students, and the poor, from the polls. U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) was among the lawmakers and labor leaders who locked arms and led the march on Madison Avenue. The billionaire Koch brothers help fund the shadowy corporate front groupALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) that has modeled restrictive voting legislation.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.