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Chernynkaya On December - 21 - 2011

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

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ECONOMY

The Apartment Construction Boom

Slate:

Economic recoveries are normally led by construction booms, and while single-family home-building remains in the doldrums there’s growing evidence that a boom in construction of multi-family units is well under way. Karl Smith has the chart based on census data showing that “5 unit or more starts are up 16% from last month and up 80% year over year.”

Something important to note about this is that “the economy” is all about rates rather than levels. The United States in 2011 is much richer than it was in 1998 but slow growth leaves us with high joblessness, stagnating incomes, and a generally bad feeling. By the same token, a very rapid increase in the rate of homebuilding portends growth, even if that’s a rapid increase from a low level.

Now why is multifamily booming in particular? Some of this is probabaly a change in preferences, but some of it must reflect changes in credit conditions. It’s obviously possible to rent a single-family home (I’ve done it) and it’s possible to own in a big building (I do it now) but in general multi-family is more rental friendly and single-family is more ownership friendly. Greater reluctance to loan to people with impaired credit implies more reliance on rental housing which implies more construction of multi-family homes. In general, I try to avoid Now More Than Ever policy recommends which imply that the best path to giving the economy the short-term boost it needs is identical to my preferred strategy for long-term growth, but I do make an exception for this. Across huge swathes of the United States, the ability of developers to construct multi-family units is severely curtailed by zoning rules. This a harmful to the environment and the economy in general, but it’s a particular problem at a time when construction is slumping and credit conditions suggest that we really need a bunch of rental apartments.

 

 

 

 

NYT’s EDITORIAL: The Middle-Class Agenda

Earlier this month, President Obama delivered his first unabashed 2012 campaign speech. Unlike his opponents, Mr. Obama acknowledged the ravages of income equality, the hollowing out of the American middle class. There is no hyperbole in the urgency he conveyed about “a make-or-break moment for the middle class, and for all those who are fighting to get into the middle class.”

The challenge for Mr. Obama is to translate the plight of the middle class into an agenda for broad prosperity. Congress’s inability to cleanly extend even emergency measures though 2012 — including the temporary payroll tax cut and federal unemployment benefits — underscores the difficulty. The alternative is continued decline.

Recent government data show that 100 million Americans, or about one in three, are living in poverty or very close to it. Of 13.3 million unemployed Americans now searching for work, 5.7 million have been looking for more than six months, while millions more have given up altogether. Even a job is no guarantee of middle-class security. The real median income of working-age households has declined, from $61,600 in 2000 to $55,300 in 2010 — the result of abysmally slow job growth even before the onset of the recession.

Economic growth alone, even if it accelerated, would not be enough to restore the middle class. Mr. Obama refuted the Republican notion that market forces alone can ensure broad prosperity, when the economic health of American families also depends on government action.

It was a speech that called out for a plan. Here are the elements that matter most:

CREATING GOOD JOBS Despite Republican obstructionism, Mr. Obama must continue to offer stimulus bills that include spending for public works, high-tech manufacturing and an infrastructure bank. He must stress that obstruction costs jobs — the bill recently filibustered by Republicans would have created an estimated 1.9 million jobs in 2012. The Republican stance also endangers future prosperity by denying needed infrastructure upgrades and making it likely that international competitors will outstrip America in jobs and technology.

In particular, Mr. Obama needs to debunk the notion that job creation is at odds with environmental protection. Republicans have portrayed opposition to the Keystone XL oil pipeline as a job killer. The truth is, oil addiction and the failure to invest in new energysources will be far bigger job killers. What’s needed is a plan to create millions of clean energy jobs and to link those jobs to workers in fossil fuel industries who otherwise would be displaced. The climate bill that died in 2010 would have begun that transformation; the need to try again only becomes more pressing with each passing year.

At the same time, Mr. Obama cannot ignore that most of the fast-growing occupations in America are lower-paying service jobs, like home health care and food service, in which it’s all but impossible to make a living. To lift wages requires generous tax credits for low earners, a higher minimum wage, and guaranteed health care so that wages are not consumed by medical costs. Job training efforts must also focus on the service sector, helping to build so-called career ladders, say, from home health aid to licensed vocational nurse.

STOPPING FORECLOSURES In his Kansas speech, Mr. Obama said banks “should be working to keep responsible homeowners in their homes.” That’s too weak. The banks have never made an all-out effort to help homeowners and unless compelled to do so, they never will, because, in many cases, they can make more by foreclosing rather than by modifying troubled loans.

Federal agencies can keep working with some state attorneys general and try to settle with banks over foreclosure abuses in exchange for a commitment from them to modify some $20 billion worth of troubled loans, or they can conduct a thorough federal investigation into the banks’ conduct during the mortgage bubble, looking for a far bigger settlement. The market is beset with $700 billion of negative equity; potential bank abuses are unexplored; the public is demanding accountability. Mr. Obama should opt for a thorough federal inquiry.

In the meantime, an antiforeclosure plan that is up to the scale of the problem would include unrelenting political pressure for principal write-downs of underwater loans, expanded refinancings for borrowers in high-rate loans, and forbearance for unemployed homeowners.

REGULATING THE BANKS Mr. Obama said banks are fighting the Dodd-Frank reform “every inch of the way.”

The question is what he will do to fight back. A good start would be for him to tell the American public whether the law is capable of performing as intended. Is he confident that a major bank on the verge of failure could be successfully dismantled? Is he sure that risky bank trading will be sufficiently curtailed? If he is not confident that the law can work as intended, he must ensure better implementation or call for a revamp of the statute itself.

He can also personally advance specific Dodd-Frank provisions. Republicans are intent on destroying the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; Mr. Obama should try to recess appoint his nominee to lead the bureau, Richard Cordray, whom Republicans recently filibustered. Mr. Obama must make clear that he supports a strong Dodd-Frank disclosure rule on the ratio of the pay of chief executives to that of rank-and-file employees. Such disclosure is crucial to changing the corporate norms that have allowed for unjustifiably vast pay discrepancies.

RAISING TAXES, REDUCING THE DEFICIT Tax reform is essential. But there is no way to build public consensus for broad reform without first reversing the lavish tax breaks for the rich. In addition to letting the high-end Bush-era tax cuts expire at the end of 2012, Mr. Obama could call for all forms of income to be taxed at the same rates, rather than allowing lower rates for investment income, which flows mostly to wealthy Americans. Income tax rates also need to be adjusted at the top of the scale, so that the affluent, say, couples with taxable income of $400,000 a year, are not paying the same top rate as multimillionaires.

Mr. Obama should also drop his opposition to a financial transactions tax. That stance may have made sense when the banks were reeling from the financial crisis, but it is now at odds with a stated desire to rein in the financial sector and raise needed revenue.

Mr. Obama has more than established his willingness to cut the deficit, agreeing to spending cuts that, in fact, are too deep for the weak economy. Now he needs to dominate the deficit debate, not by trying to meet Republican demands for ever more spending cuts, but by explaining that more cuts would undermine the recovery. In the near term, high-end tax increases are a better way to control the deficit. They are less of a drag on economic activity than broad tax increases or federal spending cuts.

More jobs. Fewer foreclosures. Less financial risk. Progressive taxation. Those policies will give the middle class a fighting chance. But the list is not exhaustive. The pillars of a healthy middle class also include public education, Social Security, unions, child care, affirmative action and, not least, campaign finance reform, since inequality is reinforced by the political power of the wealthy.

 

 

 

 

Bankers Join Billionaires to Debunk ‘Imbecile’ Attack on Top 1%

Bloomberg:

Jamie Dimon, the highest-paid chief executive officer among the heads of the six biggest U.S. banks, turned a question at an investors’ conference in New York this month into an occasion to defend wealth.

“Acting like everyone who’s been successful is bad and because you’re rich you’re bad, I don’t understand it,” the JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) CEO told an audience member who asked about hostility toward bankers. “Sometimes there’s a bad apple, yet we denigrate the whole.”

Dimon, 55, whose 2010 compensation was $23 million, joined billionaires including hedge-fund manager John Paulson and Home Depot Inc. (HD) co-founder Bernard Marcus in using speeches, open letters and television appearances to defend themselves and the richest 1 percent of the population targeted by Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.

If successful businesspeople don’t go public to share their stories and talk about their troubles, “they deserve what they’re going to get,” said Marcus, 82, a founding member of Job Creators Alliance, a Dallas-based nonprofit that develops talking points and op-ed pieces aimed at “shaping the national agenda,” according to the group’s website. He said he isn’t worried that speaking out might make him a target of protesters.

“Who gives a crap about some imbecile?” Marcus said. “Are you kidding me?”

Feels Lonely’

The organization assisted John A. Allison IV, a director of BB&T Corp. (BBT), the ninth-largest U.S. bank, and Staples Inc. co- founder Thomas Stemberg with media appearances this month.

“It still feels lonely, but the chorus is definitely increased,” Allison, 63, a former CEO of the Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based bank and now a professor at Wake Forest University’s business school, said in an interview.

At a lunch in New York, Stemberg and Allison shared their disdain for Section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires public companies to disclose the ratio between the compensation of their CEOs and employee medians, according to Allison. The rule, still being fine-tuned by the Securities and Exchange Commission, is “incredibly wasteful” because it takes up time and resources, he said. Stemberg called the rule “insane” in an e-mail to Bloomberg News.

“Instead of an attack on the 1 percent, let’s call it an attack on the very productive,” Allison said. “This attack is destructive.”

Income Tripled

The top 1 percent of taxpayers in the U.S. made at least $343,927 in 2009, the last year data is available, according to the Internal Revenue Service. While average household incomeincreased 62 percent from 1979 through 2007, the top 1 percent’s more than tripled, an October Congressional Budget Office report showed. As a result, the U.S. had greater income inequalityin 2007 than China or Iran, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook.

Not all affluent Americans are on the defensive. Billionaire Warren Buffett, 81, chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., has called for increasing taxes on the wealthy, as has Patriotic Millionaires, a group whose supporters include Ask.com co-founder Garrett Gruener and Peter Norvig, director of research at Google Inc., according to its website.

“Rich businesspeople like me don’t create jobs,” Nick Hanauer, co-founder of aQuantive Inc., an online advertising company he sold to Microsoft Corp. for about $6 billion, wrote in a Dec. 1 Bloomberg View article. “Let’s tax the rich like we once did and use that money to spur growth.”

Two out of three Americans support raising taxes on households with incomes of at least $250,000, according to a Bloomberg-Washington Post national poll conducted in October.

Schwarzman, Paulson

Asked if he were willing to pay more taxes in a Nov. 30 interview with Bloomberg Television,Blackstone Group LP (BX) CEO Stephen Schwarzman spoke about lower-income U.S. families who pay no income tax.

“You have to have skin in the game,” said Schwarzman, 64. “I’m not saying how much people should do. But we should all be part of the system.”

Some of Schwarzman’s capital gains at Blackstone, the world’s largest private-equity firm, are taxed at 15 percent, not the 35 percent top marginal income-tax rate. Attacking the banking system is a mistake because it contributes to “a healthier economy,” he said in the interview.

Paulson, the New York hedge-fund manager who became a billionaire by betting against the U.S. housing market, has also said the rich benefit society.

“The top 1 percent of New Yorkers pay over 40 percent of all income taxes,” Paulson & Co. said in an e-mailed statement on Oct. 11, the day Occupy Wall Street protesters left a mock tax-refund check at its president’s Upper East Side townhouse.

Going to Vomit’

Tom Golisano, billionaire founder of payroll processer Paychex Inc. (PAYX) and a former New York gubernatorial candidate, said in an interview this month that while there are examples of excess, it’s “ridiculous” to blame everyone who is rich.

“If I hear a politician use the term ‘paying your fair share’ one more time, I’m going to vomit,” said Golisano, who turned 70 last month, celebrating the birthday with girlfriend Monica Seles, the former tennis star who won nine Grand Slam singles titles.

Ken Langone, 76, another Home Depot co-founder and chairman of the NYU Langone Medical Center, said he isn’t embarrassed by his success.

I am a fat cat, I’m not ashamed,” he said last week in a telephone interview from a dressing room in his Upper East Side home. “If you mean by fat cat that I’ve succeeded, yeah, then I’m a fat cat. I stand guilty of being a fat cat.”

Job Creators

Wilbur Ross, 74, another private-equity billionaire, said in an e-mail that entrepreneurship and capitalism didn’t cause the financial crisis.

“Tearing down the rich does not help those less well- off,” said the chairman of New York-based WL Ross & Co. LLC. “If you favor employment, you need employers whose businesses are flourishing.”

That view is shared by Robert Rosenkranz, CEO of Wilmington, Delaware-based Delphi Financial Group Inc., a seller of workers’-compensation and group-life insurance.

“It’s simply a fact that pretty much all the private- sector jobs in America are created by the decisions of ‘the 1 percent’ to hire and invest,” Rosenkranz, 69, said in an e- mail. “Since their confidence in the future more than any other factor will drive those decisions, it makes little sense to undermine their confidence by vilifying them.”

Persecuted Minority’

Peter Schiff, CEO of Westport, Connecticut-based broker- dealer Euro Pacific Capital Inc., is delivering the message directly. He went in October to Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, where Occupy Wall Street protesters had camped out, with a sign that said “I Am the 1%” and a video camera.

“Somebody needs to do it,” Schiff said in an interview.

Schiff, 48, disclosed assets of at least $64.7 million before losing the 2010 Republican primary for a Connecticut U.S. Senate seat, according to filings. He’s wealthier now, even though his taxes are “more than a medieval lord would have taken from a serf,” he said.

A clip from Schiff’s video was used in a Nov. 1 segment of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” in which comedian John Hodgman, wearing a cravat, called the wealthy a “persecuted minority.” He asked that the phrase “moneyed Americans” replace “the 1 percent.”

Neither term appeared in a Nov. 28 open letter to President Barack Obama from hedge-fund manager Leon Cooperman, the Omega Advisors Inc. chairman and former CEO of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS)’s money-management unit. Capitalists “are not the scourge that they are too often made out to be” and the wealthy aren’t “a monolithic, selfish and unfeeling lot,” Cooperman wrote. They make products that “fill store shelves at Christmas” and provide health care to millions.

Cooperman, 68, said in an interview that he can’t walk through the dining room of St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton, Florida, without being thanked for speaking up. At least four people expressed their gratitude on Dec. 5 while he was eating an egg-white omelet, he said.

“You’ll get more out of me,” the billionaire said, “if you treat me with respect.”

 

 

 

 

WaPo: Some business lobbyists are starting to panic about the expiring payroll tax

The business community has stayed relatively quiet on the payroll tax cut fight. Though businesses support the tax break, they’ve avoided getting caught up in a bloody political fight. “We’ve just got our heads buried in the sand on this one,” one industry lobbyist told Roll Call earlier this month.

But now that political brinksmanship has imperiled even a two-month extension of the tax cut, some industry players are trying to make themselves heard amid the din on Capitol Hill.

The International Franchise Association warned that a failure to extend the payroll tax would “jeopardize the creation of 168,000 new jobs” for franchise small businesses in 2012, citing new estimates from research firm IHS Global Insight. Both employers and employees benefit from the payroll tax extension, but the franchise lobby said the industry was particularly concerned about the impact of a two percent tax hike on consumers.

“Franchise businesses are deeply reliant on consumer spending,” IFA president and chief executive Steve Caldeira said in a statement. “If Congress does not extend the payroll tax holiday, Americans will have less discretionary income, increasing an already high level of uncertainty amongst franchisees about sales and thereby hindering their ability to create new jobs.”

On Monday, the House rejected a bipartisan Senate bill to extend the payroll tax break for two months. House Republicans had revolted, arguing that voting for the extension would be “causing massive uncertainty to those struggling in the Obama economy” and demandingbig policy extensions behind the payroll tax cut itself.

The franchise lobby would also prefer a year-long extension to a shorter one. But in the end, “any extension is better than no extension,” says IFA spokesman Matthew Haller.

 

 

HEALTH CARE

Autopsies, the ultimate medical audit, are conducted on just 5% of patients. Why that’s harmful

ProPublica:

When Renee Royak-Schaler unexpectedly collapsed and died on May 22, no one ordered an autopsy.

Not the doctors at Howard County General Hospital in Columbia, Md., where the 64-year-old professor and cancer researcher was pronounced dead.

Not the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, which passed on the case because no foul play was involved.

And not Royak-Schaler’s physicians at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who had diagnosed cancer in her hip two days beforehand but acknowledged they didn’t know what had caused her unforeseen death.

A half-century ago, an autopsy would have been routine. Autopsies, sometimes called the ultimate medical audit, were an integral part of American health care, performed on roughly half of all patients who died in hospitals. Today, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show, they are conducted on about 5 percent of such patients.

As Royak-Schaler’s husband, Jeffrey Schaler, discovered, even sudden unexpected deaths do not trigger postmortem reviews. Hospitals are not required to offer or perform autopsies. Insurers don’t pay for them. Some facilities and doctors shy away from them, fearing they may reveal malpractice. The downward trend is well-known — it’s been studied for years.

What has not been appreciated, pathologists and public health officials say, are the far-reaching consequences for U.S. health care of minuscule autopsy rates.

Diagnostic errors, which studies show are common, go undiscovered, allowing physicians to practice on other patients with a false sense of security. Opportunities are lost to learn about the effectiveness of medical treatments and the progression of diseases. Inaccurate information winds up on death certificates, undermining the reliability of crucial health statistics.

It was only because of Royak-Schaler’s connections that her case ended differently. Her colleagues at the University of Maryland School of Medicine urged her husband to authorize an autopsy and volunteered to conduct it for free.

In her case, as in so many, the autopsy revealed a surprise: Royak-Schaler, the renowned cancer researcher, had cancer ravaging her body — in her lungs, kidneys, abdomen and the marrow of her bones. A blood clot, likely related to the tumors, caused her sudden death.

Jeffrey Schaler has wrestled with anger that his wife wasn’t diagnosed sooner but said knowing how she died was better than not.

“There’s a sense of peace that accompanies that knowledge,” he said.

For the last year, ProPublica, PBS “Frontline” and NPR have probed America’s deeply flawed system of death investigation, focusing primarily on forensic autopsies, which are conducted by coroners’ offices and medical examiners when there is suspicion of an unnatural death. State laws vary, but the preponderance of deaths that occur in hospitals are considered natural. When deaths are unexplained, unobserved or within 24 hours of admission, hospitals may be required to report them to local coroners or medical examiners, but such  agencies rarely take hospital cases.

Hospital physicians, with consent from patients’ next of kin, may order a clinical autopsy to explore the disease process in the body and determine the cause of death. That was the norm 50 years ago, when the value of the autopsy was considered self-evident.

“Much of what we know about medicine comes from the autopsy,” said Dr. Stephen Cina, chairman of the forensic pathology committee for the College of American Pathologists. “You really can’t say for sure what went on or didn’t go on without the autopsy as a quality assurance tool.”

Yet, autopsy rates at teaching hospitals, which are typically run on a nonprofit basis and have an educational mission, hover around 20 percent today. At private and community hospitals, which constitute 80 percent of facilities nationwide, rates can be close to zero.

“I know new hospitals are being built these days without a place to do an autopsy,” said Dr. Dean Havlik, the Mesa County, Colo., coroner, who estimated that the overall hospital autopsy rate in his area is less than 1 percent.

Hospitals have powerful financial incentives to avoid autopsies. An autopsy costs about $1,275, according to a survey of hospitals in eight states. But Medicare and private insurers don’t pay for them directly, typically limiting reimbursement to procedures used to diagnose and treat the living. Medicare bundles payments for autopsies into overall payments to hospitals for quality assurance, increasing the incentive to skip them, said Dr. John Sinard, director of autopsy service for the Yale University School of Medicine.

“The hospital is going to get the money whether they do the autopsy or not, so the autopsy just becomes an expense,” Sinard said.

Since a 1971 decision by The Joint Commission, which accredits health-care facilities, hospitals haven’t had to conduct autopsies to remain in good standing. The commission had mandated autopsy rates of 20 percent for community hospitals and 25 percent for teaching facilities, but dropped the requirement. Many hospitals were performing autopsies “simply to meet the numbers” and not to improve quality, said Dr. Paul Schyve, the commission’s senior adviser of health-care improvement.

Doctors, too, have gravitated away from autopsies because of growing confidence in modern diagnostic tools such as CT scans and MRIs, which can identify ailments while patients are still alive.

Still, in study after study, autopsies have revealed that doctors make a high rate of diagnostic errors even with increasingly sophisticated imaging equipment.

A 2002 review of academic studies by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that when patients were autopsied, major errors related to the principle diagnosis or underlying cause of death were found in one of four cases. In one of 10 cases, the error appeared severe enough to have led to the patient’s death.

“Clinicians have compelling reasons to request autopsies far more often than currently occurs,” the agency concluded.

Schyve called the findings of such studies flawed because cases in which autopsies are performed are typically the most complex, making diagnostic errors more likely. The overall error rate is far lower, he said.

But Sinard said so few autopsies are being conducted — one survey found that 63 percent of hospitals in Louisiana performed none in a given year — that doctors and hospitals can’t say for certain how patients are dying. “They’ve never checked,” the Yale pathologist said.

Pathologists interviewed by ProPublica said they often find diagnostic errors. “We often identify things that the imaging study could not,” said Dr. Debra Kearney, director of autopsy pathology at Texas Children’s Hospital.

Autopsies can also be a crucial tool for evaluating and improving medical care.

MORE>>>

 

 

 

JUSTICE

Victory for Animal Rights

Bob Cesca:

Sullivan reports some good news for chimpanzees:

The National Insitute of Helath, in response to an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, has suspended any new research using the animals, allowing it in the future only “when absolutely indispensable, and when no other alternatives exist.”

There are a variety of animal species that ought to be off limits, including dogs and primates. I’m glad we’re at least starting with our closest relative in the known universe.

 

 

 

 

MEDIA

Paul Ryan stuffed the ballot box

digby, Hulaballoo:

It’s adorable that Politifact’s “lie of the year” is being touted as some kind of overwhelming proof that the Republicans didn’t vote to end Medicare when they all voted to replace it with an inadequate voucher program. Does everyone know that the Republicans stuffed the ballot box in their online poll?

Dave Weigel flagged this back on December 7th:

Paul Ryan emails his PAC, complete with a video that really emphasizes how windy it is outside on certain D.C. winter nights.

Dear Friend –

I need your vote.

Politifact, a non-partisan, fact-checking website, is now taking votes for the 2011 “Lie of the Year,” and one of the nominees is the Democrats’ “Pants on Fire” lie about Republicans voting to “end Medicare.”

Click here to vote now and ensure the Democrats’ lies about thePath to Prosperity are exposed.

Remember, our budget is the only plan that actually saves Medicare. We know the stakes are high in 2012 – it’s a chance to take our country back and get us back on a path to prosperity. We can’t let lies by Democrats about our conservative solutions go unchecked.

Help me fight the lies, falsehoods, and attacks of the Left by casting a vote to show the Democrat’s lie that Republicans voted to “end Medicare” is the worst political lie of 2011.Click here to cast your vote now atPolitifact.

It was, incidentally, the only Democratic “lie” on the list of finalists.

I certainly hope the rigid literalists who work for Politifact don’t ever have to make any decisions about anything important. They obviously don’t do nuance. And they don’t know how the internet works either.

Unfortunately, the Villagers will be gleefully using this as proof that their dreamy young idol Paul Ryan is a good guy after all but it’s probably a good idea to demand another source for anyone who cites Politifact on the veracity of any claim going forward. This will make it easier on the Republicans in the beginning, since they actually make a profit at their lying, but in the long run it will be for good. Clearly Politifact can’t tell the difference between a lie and and a fact and is subject to the most obvious right wing manipulation.

Update: Paul Waldman called this a couple of weeks ago.

Update II: I should have been clearer. I’m not saying that Ryan’s ballot box stuffing made the decision, Politifact did. They merely did the poll as an addition to their own decision.

 

 

 

 

UGH, Factcheck.org is no better…

[…] Democratic Whopper:
Republicans Would ‘End Medicare’

First the truth: The budget plan that Republicans pushed through the House in 2011 would have radically changed Medicare in the future — for workers now under age 55.  Starting in the year 2022,  the GOP plan called for new Medicare beneficiaries to purchase private insurance with the help of federal subsidies.

But the plan would have continued the present Medicare system indefinitely for those now getting benefits, and also for all those who reach age 65 during the next decade.

But the truth didn’t stop Democrats from misrepresenting the proposal shamelessly to scare senior citizens and win election votes. They tested this tactic in a May 26 special House election in New York state, running ads accusing the Republican candidate of endorsing a plan that would “essentially end Medicare” and amount to “cutting benefits for seniors,” claims that were far from the truth.

It worked: Democrat Kathy Hochul won in a district that normally leans Republican. So the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rolled out even more misleading robotic telephone calls in 13 other House districts to soften up the Republican incumbents for 2012. These calls claimed the GOP House members cast a “vote to end Medicare.”

One independent liberal group even posted a widely seen Internet video of a man pushing a white-haired woman in a wheelchair (apparently well over age 55) to the edge of a scenic cliff and dumping her over it. It ends by asking, “Is America Beautiful without Medicare?”  That bogus claim is being satirized by our new sister site, “FlackCheck.org,” which found it to be among the “Worst of the Worst” of 2011.

The truth is that not all Democrats think that changing Medicare in the way Republicans proposed is tantamount to murdering grannie. In fact, Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon joined Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin on Dec. 14 to offer a bipartisan plan that is a modified version of the GOP plan Ryan authored earlier. And the New York Times noted Nov. 28 that there is growing support among some Democrats for reining in Medicare costs through a “premium support” system similar to the GOP plan if accompanied by enough safeguards.

But falsely claiming that any such change is an “end” to Medicare has already helped win one election for Democrats. So we suspect this whopper may be making our list again a year from now.

 

 

 

If I can trust you to tell me what’s going on, then I don’t care if you work out of a newsroom or out of your garage.

Neiman Journalism Lab:

[…] We know that Content is King. There is no doubting this concept. If you don’t have ‘it,’ no one is going toengage with you.

We know that Distribution is Queen. In this modern age, what’s the point of having ‘it’ if no one will find it?

My prediction is that this ruling monarchy will be augmented by… a prince. Perhaps a duke? Whatever. And it’s called Credibility.

In the age that we live in, content is relatively cheap. Anyone can create it. If not through their computer, everyone’s phone can basically do live shots, record newsworthy sound clips and file stories. Some can do interactive 360 videos or augmented reality presentations. Really cool stuff.

And everyone can distribute their content in 140 characters, their own livestream network or their blog (how traditional).

With technology empowering everyone with the ability to create and to distribute, I predict — and wish — that in 2012 the new dominating factor will be Credibility. Actually, earned Credibility.

What will stand out from the sea of content will be the voices we turn to time and time again. Trusted sources of news and information will transcend their mastheads and company brands…and become their own brand. Brands that are solely based on being known for the quality and reliability of their work.

Just to make Gene Weingarten angry, brands brands brands brands brands. Look, that’s all marketing speak for the most important quality journalists have to offer: Credibility.

And, sure, some of us get a head start by being associated with the Washington Post, NPR, CNN, etc. But I predict — hope — that in the coming year, individual journalists will be valued more than their distribution companies. More than the media format of their story.

Judged by the content of their character. (Wait, that’s a different dream.)

Many news consumers are tired of the political left and the political right fighting, and making journalism — or I should actually say “journalism” — the fight’s platform. Hell, I’m tired of it, too.

We want people who will cut through the spin and tell us what’s going on, how it will affect us and what can we do about it. We want transparent news. We want news that, while it may not always achieve that goal, honestly strives to be objective.

We want to trust journalism. And to do so, we need to trust journalists.

And bypassing the blogger-vs-tweeter-vs-media company-vs-journalist debate, it is going to come down to one thing: Credibility.

Can I reliably trust you to tell me what is going on? If the answer is yes, then I don’t care if you work out of a newsroom or out of your garage.

Let’s see what the new year brings, but that is my predication…that is my wish.

Okay, roll your eyes. Or post a comment. Share your thoughts.

 

MILITARY

Important for the record: Lie by Lie: A Timeline of How We Got Into Iraq | Mother Jones 

 

 

 

POLITICS

honest, i tried to find some bad news….

The Obama Diary:

CNN: President Barack Obama’s approval rating is on the rise …. In a CNN/ORC International Poll out Tuesday 49% of Americans approve of the job Obama’s doing in the White House, up five points from last month, with 48% saying they disapprove, down six points from mid-November …. The 49% approval rating is the president’s highest since May, when his number hit 54% thanks to a bounce following the killing of Osama bin Laden.

More here

****

Greg Sargent: Yesterday the Washington Post released some new poll data …. it showed President Obama holds a 15 point advantage over Republicans on helping the middle class, and a 17 point edge among independents on the traditional GOP signature issue of taxes.

It would be premature to place too much stock in one poll. But CNN has just released a new survey with equally striking findings – ones that suggest that Obama’s new populist offensive, including the pressure on Republicans over the payroll tax cut, is working, and winning back middle class voters in big numbers.

More here

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Chris Cillizza: President Obama’s resurgence in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll is built in no small part on a growing sentiment in the electorate that he is fighting for the middle class. Asked who they trust more to protect the middle class, 50 percent of respondents chose Obama while just 35 percent named “Republicans in Congress”.

That’s the widest margin the President has enjoyed in Post-ABC polling on that question since December 2010 and is a vast improvement from an early November survey in which Obama had just a four-point edge over Republicans on the “protecting the middle class” question.

Dig deeper into the numbers and it’s clear that the President’s middle class messaging is resounding in the critical center of the electorate. Among independents, 49 percent trust Obama more to look out for the middle class while 32 percent side with congressional Republicans. Self described moderates opt for Obama by a wide 58 percent to 26 percent margin.

More here

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CNN: President Barack Obama’s numbers are on the rise in two important indicators of his reelection chances …. A CNN/ORC International Poll out Tuesday indicates the president’s margins have increased against five possible Republican presidential challengers in hypothetical general election matchups….

…..  Obama leads Mitt Romney 52%-45% …. Romney held a 51%-47% margin over the president in last month’s survey….

…… Newt Gingrich doesn’t fare as well against the president with Obama up by 16 points, 56% to 40%. Last month Obama led Gingrich 53%-45%.

More here

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The Jewish Daily Forward: Top-level Jewish fundraisers from President Obama’s 2008 campaign are sticking with the president in 2012.

Despite reports that President Obama faces a loss of Jewish funders due to his Middle East policy, analysis of a list of elite bundlers from his 2008 race shows no defections among the president’s top Jewish supporters in 2012.

In 2008, Obama’s elite “bundlers” – fund raisers who collected more than $500,000 each for the president’s campaign – included many prominent Jews …  all of them have returned on the 2012 campaign’s list of volunteer bundlers, or are confirmed to be fundraising for the campaign. And a handful of new prominent Jewish bundlers has joined the elite group this year for the first time.

More here

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Business Insider

Business Insider

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Washington Post: Unemployment rates fell in 43 states in November, the most number of states to report such declines in eight years.

The falling state rates reflect the brightening jobs picture nationally. The U.S. unemployment rate fell sharply in November to 8.6 percent, the lowest since March 2009. The economy has generated 100,000 or more jobs five months in a row – the first time that’s happened since 2006 …. The drop in unemployment rates in 43 states marked the most number of states to show declines since October 2003.

More here

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WSJ: The Obama administration has approved a pair of renewable energy projects being developed on public lands in Arizona and California.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday his department has approved a 300-megawatt solar farm southwest of Phoenix and a 186-megawatt wind farm east of San Diego.

….. The latest projects are the 24th and 25th renewable energy projects on public lands approved in the past two years….

More here

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White House: House Republicans are refusing to extend the payroll tax cut, whichexpires on December 31. If it does, taxes will go up for 160 million working Americans. Nearly everyone – from President Obama to Congressional Democrats to Republicans in the Senate – is committed to making sure that doesn’t happen, but a faction in the House is dragging their feet….

…. What does $40 mean to you? What will you and your family have to cut or go without if Congress refuses to pass the payroll tax cut? Here are some of the stories we’ve collected so far. Tell us your own story here, or tweet @WhiteHouse with the hashtag #40dollars, to help us add to the list.

 

 

 

 

Who is Your Americans Elect Ticket?

Booman Tribune:

I’m tempted to simply mock Americans Elect as another stupid Friedmanesque effort to pretend that what the country needs is for the right and left to pretend that they don’t have irreconcilable differences. But I now realize that they’ve already gained ballot access in twelve states and that they will probably succeed in gaining ballot access in most, if not all, of the other states. Even if their ticket only gets 1% of the vote, that can be enough to change the outcome in some of our more evenly divided states. I think we need to start thinking about some minutiae. In somewhat breaking news, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson has told his supporters that he is dropping out of the Republican race and will seek the nomination ofthe Libertarian Party. Gov. Johnson has a lot of the same appeal as Rep. Ron Paul, and he could become a magnet for Paul’s supporters if he winds up on Libertarian ballot line. We’ll probably also see a Green Party candidate who will leech votes from Obama. And then there will be a couple of other right-leaning parties on most ballots, including the Constitution Party.

Each proposed candidate must be certified by the group’s Candidate Certification Committee as capable of performing the duties of office. According to the bylaws, this is done using criteria of demonstrated achievements (developed by the committee) that are based on qualifications of past presidents and vice presidents. The members of the Candidate Certification Committee are appointed by the Board of Directors.

A decision of the Candidate Certification Committee can be nullified by a two-thirds vote of all registered delegates. Other than that, the bylaws do not provide any mechanism for direct or indirect representation of members or delegates in the certification of proposed candidates.

AE’s rules say any nominee must be “considered someone of similar stature to our previous presidents.”

In any case, in a close election, any ticket that can attract any percentage of votes has the potential to change history. So, how will Americans Elect select its ticket? The answer is that they will have an internet poll. Before the vote, though, they will have a vetting process.

So, presumably, you have to be at least as accomplished as Geraldine Ferraro, Dan Quayle, and Sarah Palin in order to have a chance to win the internet poll. What happens then?

When a candidate chooses a running mate, they must choose someone from a party different from their own…

…The organization intends to narrow down its field of candidates in April 2012, after which the remaining six candidates must choose their running mates. Then, in June 2012, Americans Elect will choose its final candidate through an internet based convention, a process open to all voters, regardless of party affiliation. The intent is to provide a more open nominating process, resulting in better choices during the election.

So, in April, six candidates will be announced. Those six candidates will then have to find running mates from some other party before the big online convention in June.

Now, it’s possible for a Democrat to pick a Green Party member or a Republican to pick a member of the Constitution Party, but that runs counter to the spirit of Americans Elect which wants to blur ideological differences.

This is a really easy way to get on the ballot for president all across the country without doing any legwork. It’s a quite attractive prize. So, who would want to pursue it? Can you think of six tickets?

You could have a left-leaning ticket of Russ Feingold and Lincoln Chafee. Or a right-leaning ticket of Pat Buchanan and Chuck Baldwin. Or, maybe, Evan Bayh could link up with Colin Powell.

I think the whole idea is moronic, but I suppose there will be six tickets to choose from.

Personally, I think CNN had it right when they teamed Eliot Spitzer with Kathleen Parker.

 

 

 

 

Americans Elect gets on presidential ballot in California…

 

 

 

Ezra Klein: The ‘payroll tax cut’ debate is not about the payroll tax cut

The single most important thing to understand about the ongoing debate over the payroll tax cut is that it’s not about the payroll tax cut. This has gotten somewhat confused in the current contretemps over whether the extension should be for two months or one year, but if this were actually about the payroll tax cut, there would be no argument over the length of the extension.

Consider a negotiation in which both sides agreed on extending the payroll tax cut: Republicans would propose extending it for a year, every Democrat in the House and Senate would vote “aye,” and President Obama would sign the legislation into law before the week is out. But that’s not the negotiation we’re having.

Rather, Democrats and Republicans are arguing over the price Democrats are willing to pay and Republicans are willing to accept in order to extend the payroll tax cut for a full year. Republicans want, among other things, the Keystone XL Pipeline and further cuts to discretionary spending. Neither of those things, you’ll notice, is “a payroll tax cut.” Democrats oppose resolving big environmental questions through a rider to a must-pass tax bill, andthey’re against some of the cuts Republicans are proposing. Neither of those concerns, you’ll notice, are concerns about a payroll tax cut.

What’s happening right now is that Senate Democrats and Senate Republicans came up with a mutually acceptable bill to kick the can down the road for two months, but House Republicans are saying that’s unacceptable to them. So now the two sides are negotiating over how best to negotiate over the non-payroll tax cut elements of this deal.

But make no mistake: If Republicans and Democrats both supported an extension of the payroll tax cut, this deal could get done tomorrow. Republicans don’t support an extension of the payroll tax cut absent substantial policy concessions beyond the payroll tax cut, and that’s what’s holding up an agreement.

 

 

 

Obama directly calls out Boehner: Stop the games

Greg Sargent:

This afternoon, after House Republicans voted to “disagree” with the Senate compromise extending the payroll tax cut, the brinksmanship took a sudden and dramatic turn. Obama made a surprise appearance before reporters and called out John Boehner in the most direct terms yet to stop the games and pass the Senate proposal. He said:

House Republicans say they don’t dispute the need for a payroll tax cut. What they are holding out for is to wring concessions from Democrats on issues that have nothing to do with the payroll tax cut — issues where the parties fundamentally disagree. A one year deal is not the issue…

The clock is ticking. Time is running out. And if the House Republicans refuse to vote for the Senate bill, or even allow it to come up for a vote, taxes will go up in 11 days.

I saw today that one of the House Republicans referred to what they’re doing as “high stakes poker.” He’s right about the stakes. But this is not poker….This is not a game for the average family who doesn’t have 1,000 bucks to lose. It’s not a game for somebody who’s out there looking for work right now, and might lose his house if unemployment insurance doesn’t come through. It’s not a game when the millions of Americans take a hit when the entire economy grows more slowly because these proposals aren’t extended…

I’m calling on the Speaker and the House Republican leadership to bring up the Senate bill for a vote. Give the American people the assurance they need in this holiday season.

If Obama is to be believed, there will be no more negotiations. No more discussions. No move to “conference.” Either the House GOP supports the Senate compromise, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, or taxes go up on 160 million Americans. As a Dem aide told me earlier today, if it’s absolutely necessary, Dems are willing to allow the payroll tax cut to expire, and hammer House Republicans until they come back and pass the Senate extension. Obama implicitly seconded that just now.

MORE>>>

 

In 2009, Republicans pushed a payroll tax holiday that would have lasted … two months, and they even suggested at the time that it would stimulate the economy.

 

Jonathan Chait on a genuine shift in GOP thinking about taxes: Republicans are opposing the payroll tax cut extension because they want everyone (other than the rich) to start paying more of the tax burden.

 Dems go on offense over GOP payroll tax cut opposition: The DCCC will begin pumping robocalls today into the districts of 20 vulnerable House Republicans, hitting them over the House GOP’s opposition to the payroll tax cut compromise.

DCCC chair Steve Israel released statements in the districts of dozens of Republicans, hitting them for “risking a $1,000 tax hike on the middle class, rather than stand up to Tea Party extremists.”

The effort to use the Tea Party to tar the GOP failed miserably in 2010, But voters have now seen what happens when the Tea Party is allowed to govern — what’s happening now is a perfect case in point — so the strategy might be more effective this time around.

 

 

 

 

Why Romney’s casual falsehoods may work

Greg Sargent:

As I’ve noted here, what’s striking about Romney’s nonstop falsehoods, big and small, is not just their frequency, but how casual and effortless they are. Paul Krugman adds more: Romney is cheerfully aware that he can count on the media not to call him out for them, or to pretend that there’s an equivalent on the Dem side, when there just isn’t.

 

 

 

Romney: If You Don’t Like Bain Layoffs, Go Back To Moscow

TPM:

Mitt Romney, under fire from his Republican rivals for laying off workers as CEO of Bain Capital, says critics of his jobs record are flirting with communism.

“If someone thinks they can find a way that every enterprise that one invests in becomes… all are successful, why they’re not living in a free enterprise system, they’re living in a system like the old Soviet Union where the government insists that everybody adds employment every year and ultimately the economy suggests that the people become poorer,” Romney said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on Tuesday. “I believe that free enterprise works and that the other models have been proven to be failures time and time again, and I was surprised to have Newt Gingrich pick up the story line that came from Barack Obama and the DNC and go on the attack against free enterprise.”

It’s the toughest defense Romney’s offered yet and comes as critics from both parties areincreasingly highlighting the private equity firm’s history of buying up companies and downsizing workers, sometimes profiting even as the company goes bankrupt. A new Iowa adfrom Rick Perry tells viewers that Romney “made millions buying companies and laying off workers.” As Romney mentioned, Newt Gingrich mockingly suggested last week that he “give back all of the money he’s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over his years at Bain.”

 

 

 

 

Ron Paul’s Shaggy Defense

Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic:

http://cdn.theatlantic.com/static/mt/assets/tanehisicoates/Ron%20Paul.jpg

The Times notes that Ron Paul’s racism newsletters are, again, becoming an issue. The standard defense has generally been Paul didn’t write the newsletters. I think an honest reckoning with that defense would have someone question the faculties of an adult who would allow a newsletter filled–by Paul’s own admission–with bigotry to be published under one’s name. Had I spent a decade stewarding an eponymous publication steeped in homophobia and anti-Semitism, I would not expect my friends and colleagues to accept an “I didn’t write it”excuse. And I have no (present) designs on the launch codes. It is a peculiar thing when the basic standards of honesty and decency are lowered in direct proportion to the power one seeks to wield. This is especially true of our friends. One has a hard time imagining a President Barack Obama who had done a stint writing for, say, for The Final Call lambasting gays and Jews.

Be that as it may, I think it’s extremely important that the discerning consumer understand that the problem isn’t merely that Ron Paul claims that the newsletters are a bizarre forgery, but that when initially asked about them Paul actually defended the letters.

As Matt Welch reported back in 2008, In 1992, Paul published a newsletter in which he claimed:

Given the inefficiencies of what DC laughingly calls the criminal justice system, I think we can safely assume that 95 percent of the black males in that city are semi-criminal or entirely criminal.

Paul defended this statement citing criminal justice stats and saying, “These aren’t my figures,” Dr. Paul said Tuesday. “That is the assumption you can gather from” the report.

In that same column, Paul noted that:

If you have ever been robbed by a black teenaged male, you know how unbelievably fleet of foot they can be.

Challenged on this assertion Paul said in his defense:

“If you try to catch someone that has stolen a purse from you, there is no chance to catch them,” Dr. Paul said.

That same year Paul asserted that,

“Opinion polls consistently show that only about 5 percent of blacks have sensible political opinions.”

Paul defended the comment through his spokesman:

Sullivan said Paul does not consider people who disagree with him to be sensible. And most blacks, Sullivan said, do not share Paul’s views. The issue is political philosophy, not race,

Sullivan said. “Polls show that only about 5 percent of people with dark-colored skin support the free market, a laissez faire economy, an end to welfare and to affirmative action,” Sullivan said. […]

 “You have to understand what he is writing. Democrats in Texas are trying to stir things up by using half-quotes to impugn his character,” Sullivan said. “His writings are intellectual. He assumes people will do their own research, get their own statistics, think for themselves and make informed judgments.”

You can make what you will of that defense. But the point I am driving at is that Paul not only did not disown the opinions at the time, he actively claimed them as his own and then disparaged anyone who questioned his words:

“If someone challenges your character and takes the interpretation of the NAACP as proof of a man’s character, what kind of a world do you live in?” Dr. Paul asked.

In 2001, Paul found himself in a new millennium, and a new country, and in due course, came upon a different tune. Confronted with the newsletters in 2001 (before The New Republic story) and particularly his brutal attack on Barbara Jordan as “Barbara Morondon,” the “archetypical half-educated victimologist” whose “race and sex protect her from criticism” Paul explained:

When I ask him why, he pauses for a moment, then says, “I could never say this in the campaign, but those words weren’t really written by me. It wasn’t my language at all. Other people help me with my newsletter as I travel around. I think the one on Barbara Jordan was the saddest thing, because Barbara and I served together and actually she was a delightful lady.” Paul says that item ended up there because “we wanted to do something on affirmative action, and it ended up in the newsletter and became personalized. I never personalize anything.”

His reasons for keeping this a secret are harder to understand: “They were never my words, but I had some moral responsibility for them … I actually really wanted to try to explain that it doesn’t come from me directly, but they [campaign aides] said that’s too confusing. ‘It appeared in your letter and your name was on that letter and therefore you have to live with it.'”

Note Paul’s language: It “ended up” in the newsletter. “Other people” wrote the words. “Campaign aids” said that honesty was too confusing. No actual named person did anything.

Racism, like all forms of bigotry, is what it claims to oppose–victimology. The bigot is never to blame. Always is he besieged–by gays and their radical agenda, by women and their miniskirts, by fleet-footed blacks. It is an ideology of “not my fault.” It is not Ron Paul’s fault that people with an NAACP view of the world would twist his words. It is not Ron Paul’s fault that his newsletter trafficked in racism. It is not Ron Paul’s fault that he allowed people to author that racism in his name. It is anonymous political aids and writers, who now cowardly refuse to own their words. There’s always someone else to blame–as long as it isn’t Ron Paul, if only because it never was Ron Paul.

This is not a particular tragedy for black people. The kind of racism which Paul trafficked is neither innovative nor original. Even his denials recall the obfuscations of Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens. But some pity should be reserved for the young and disgruntled, for those who dimly perceive that something is wrong in this country, for those who are earnestly appalled by the madness of our criminal justice policy, for those who have watched a steady erosion of our civil liberties, and have seen their concerns met with an appalling silence on the national stage. That their champion should be, virtually by default, a man of mixed motives and selective courage, is sad.

MORE: Scans of Ron Paul’s newsletters can be seen here. Also, I want to urge people to read Matt Welch’s piece.

 

 

 

Report: Gingrich Banks $42K Selling Email List to Campaign

Mother Jones:

[…] On Monday, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) alleging that Gingrich’s campaign bought his highly lucrative mailing list for $42,000 during the third quarter of 2011—from Gingrich himself. And that payment wasn’t noted on recent FEC disclosures, the Washington Post reports:

Gingrich declared in disclosure documents filed in July that he was owed $47,005 by the campaign for “direct mail list/travel.” Campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond told The Post that the campaign then paid Gingrich $42,000 for the mailing list during the third quarter, although the expense was not declared on FEC disclosure documents as required.

Hammond said that Gingrich himself—not any of the firms he previously headed—owned the list and that failing to note the payment had been an oversight.

But CREW notes in its complaint that the mailing list was not included as an asset in Gingrich’s financial disclosure records, which are filed by presidential candidates. Therefore, the group argues, the list appears to be owned by Gingrich Productions, which is the name of the holding firm now headed by Gingrich’s wife, Callista.

Lists like the commodity in question are typically owned by political committees or groups, rather than candidates. As the Post reports, it’s nothing new for these lists to be bought and sold by these entities, who use the information to build ever-more extensive networks of supporters and potential donors. What makes the Gingrich case different is that the campaign paid him directly for that prized list—potentially running afoul of federal laws that prohibit candidates from using campaign resources for personal profit. But this is all old hat for Gingrich, who’s a seasoned veteran when it comes to dodging charges like this.

 

 

 

 

Vander Plaats Asked Bachmann To Quit Race, Endorse Santorum

Politico reports that over the weekend, Iowa evangelical Bob Vander Plaats, who today endorsed Rick Santorum, called Michele Bachmann over the weekend to ask her to drop out of the race and endorse her opponent. Bachmann refused, and later commented that she was just as worthy of the endorsement.

 

 

 

Two More Ways Republicans Are Undermining Financial Regulations

ThinkProgress:

After Republicans took over the House of Representatives in November 2010, the incoming House Financial Services Chairman, Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), said he believes Washington’s role is to “serve the banks.” And the GOP has done its best this year to follow that directive, by denying regulators the money they need to implement the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, trying to repeal or water down some of the law’s key provisions, and blocking Obama administration nominations to regulatory posts.

In the budget deal that averted a government shutdown last week, the GOP kept it up. While the Securities and Exchange Commission was granted a desperately needed increase in funding, the Commodity Futures and Trading Commission, which is given the Herculean task of policing the derivatives market by Dodd-Frank, was not so lucky:

Under the new deal, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission will get $10 million more for staffing, thus making layoffs for the agency less likely in 2012. But that money won’t come through a funding increase: In the end, Republicans refused to budge on the overall funding level for the agency, which will stay at $205 million. Instead, $10 million for staffing will be shifted out of the agency’s budget for information technology. The overall level of funding falls significantly short of President Obama’s own request for the CFTC — $308 million, which would be an increase of almost 50 percent — as well as the Senate Democrats’ request for $240 million.

Senate Republicans have also put a hold on a slew of nominations to fill financial regulatory positions, ostensibly to ensure that President Obama doesn’t make recess appointments:

Several of Obama’s picks are waiting to be confirmed by the Senate, including Martin Gruenberg to be chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp, Thomas Hoenig to be the FDIC’s vice chair and Thomas Curry to lead the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

But Republicans refused to sign off on the list, complaining that the White House did not give them assurances Obama would not use a long congressional recess to make temporary appointments.

These kinds of actions have the effect of undermining Wall Street reform and preventing regulators from ensuring that the 2008n financial crisis doesn’t have a sequel. The end result is that Bachus’ marching order gets fulfilled, as the GOP helps the banks go right back to the same practices that brought down the economy in the first place.

 

 

 

Ron Paul’s 15 Most Extreme Positions

[…]

1. Eviscerate Entitlements: Believes that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are unconstitutional, and has compared the failure of federal courts to strike them down to the courts’ failure to abolish slavery in the 19th century.

2. Lay Off Half His Cabinet: Wants to abolish half of all federal agencies, including the departments of Energy, Education, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, and Labor.

3. Enable State Extremism: Would let states set their own policies on abortion, gay marriage, prayer in school, and most other issues.

4. Protect Sexual Predators’ Privacy: Voted against requiring operators of wi-fi networks who discover the transmission of child porn and other forms online sex predation to report it to the government.

5. Rescind the Bin Laden Raid: Instead of authorizing the Navy Seals to take him out, President Paul would have sought Pakistan’s cooperation to arrest him.

6. Simplify the Census: The questions posed by the Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey, which collects demographics data such as age, race, and income, are “both ludicrous and insulting,” Paul says.

7. Let the Oldest Profession Be: Paul wants to legalize prostitution at the federal level.

8. Legalize All Drugs: Including cocaine and heroin.

9. Keep Monopolies Intact: Opposes federal antitrust legislation, calling it “much more harmful than helpful.” Thinks that monopolies can be controlled by protecting “the concept of the voluntary contract.”

10. Lay Off Ben Bernanke: Would abolish the Federal Reserve and revert to use of currencies that are backed by hard assets such as gold.

11. Stop Policing the Environment: Believes that climate change is no big deal and the Environmental Protection Agency is unnecessary. Most environmental problems can be addressed by enforcing private-property rights. Paul also thinks that interstate issues such as air pollution are best dealt with through compacts between states.

12. Not Do Anything, but Still…: Would not have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it was a “massive violation of private property and contract, which are the bedrocks of a free society.”

13. Let Markets Care for the Disabled: “The ADA should have never been passed,” Paul says. The treatment of the handicapped should be determined by the free market.

14. First, Do Harm: Wants to end birthright citizenship. Believes that emergency rooms should have the right to turn away illegal immigrants.

  1. Diss Mother Teresa: Voted against giving her the Congressional Gold Medal. Has argued that the medal, which costs $30,000, is too expensive.

 

 

 

 

Pres. Obama signs Executive Order establishing a National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security 

The Peoples View:

This morning, President Obama signed an Executive Order establishing a National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security. You can read the Executive Order HERE (pdf) and the comprehensive plan itself HERE (pdf). This is the part of the Executive Order that is most compelling for me:

Sec. 2. National Action Plan. A National Action Plan shall be created pursuant to the process outlined in Presidential Policy Directive 1 and shall identify and develop activities and initiatives in the following areas:

(a) National integration and institutionalization. Through interagency coordination, policy development, enhanced professional training and education, and evaluation, the United States Government will institutionalize a gender-responsive approach to its diplomatic, development, and defense-related work in conflict-affected environments.

(b) Participation in peace processes and decisionmaking. The United States Government will improve the prospects for inclusive, just, and sustainable peace by promoting and strengthening women’s rights and effective leadership and substantive participation in peace processes, conflict prevention, peacebuilding, transitional processes, and decisionmaking institutions in conflict-affected environments.

(c) Protection from violence. The United States Government will strengthen its efforts to prevent — and protect women and children from — harm, exploitation, discrimination, and abuse, including sexual and gender-based violence and trafficking in persons, and to hold perpetrators accountable in conflict-affected environments.

(d) Conflict prevention. The United States Government will promote women’s roles in conflict prevention, improve conflict early-warning and response systems through the integration of gender perspectives, and invest in women and girls’ health, education, and economic opportunity to create conditions for stable societies and lasting peace.

(e) Access to relief and recovery. The United States Government will respond to the distinct needs of women and children in conflict-affected disasters and crises, including by providing safe, equitable access to humanitarian assistance.

I’m particularly enamored of these parts:

 The goal is as simple as it is profound: to empower half the world’s population as equal partners in preventing conflict and building peace in countries threatened and affected by war, violence and insecurity. Achieving this goal is critical to our national and global security (from the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security.)

 The U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security embodies and sets forth the United States’ commitment to ensuring that women around the world play an equal role in promoting peace and achieving just and enduring security. Today and in the years to come, the Obama Administration dedicates itself to bringing the ideas behind the National Action Plan to life in pursuit of this essential goal (from the Fact Sheet.)

This is more than just words or simple pandering to a specific group. This meaningful action and the Obama administration is to be commended for it.

 

 

POLLS

New CNN poll shows Obama holds double digit leads over GOP among independents and moderates on major issues

 

 

Obama’s job-approval rating is highest since summer, Post-ABC poll finds

Pew finds that 57 percent of Americans think the wealthy don’t pay their fair share in taxes, and an identical number of independents agree, still more evidence that “class warfare” may not scare off the “center.”

 

 

A new CBS poll finds that six in 10 Americans favor higher taxes on millionaires — including 43 percent of Republicans.

 

 

National polls are a lagging indicator: Four years ago they showed Clinton with a 22 point lead over Obama…

 

 

 

CNN Poll: Obama gains strength in 2012 matchups

President Barack Obama’s numbers are on the rise in two important indicators of his reelection chances, according to a new national survey.

A CNN/ORC International Poll out Tuesday indicates the president’s margins have increased against five possible Republican presidential challengers in hypothetical general election matchups and that Obama’s approval rating is up five points since mid-November.

Read full results (pdf).
According to the poll, Obama leads former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 52%-45% in a possible 2012 showdown. Romney, who’s making his second bid for the GOP nomination, held a 51%-47% margin over the president in last month’s survey. Obama also holds the same 52%-45% advantage over Rep. Ron Paul of Texas. Last month the president had a 51%-47% margin over Paul, who’s making his third run for the White House.

The survey indicates that Newt Gingrich doesn’t fare as well against the president in a possible general election matchup, with Obama up by 16 points, 56% to 40%. Last month Obama led Gingrich 53%-45%. The president holds an 18 point advantage over Texas Gov. Rick Perry, up from a seven point margin in November. And he leads Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota by 19 points, up from a 12 point advantage last month.

“Bill Clinton and George W. Bush – the last two presidents who won reelection – had roughly this same amount of support in December of the year before the election, but so did Bush’s father in December of 1991. He ended up losing in the general election,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “Polls taken this far in advance of an election are not meant to be predictions of the ultimate outcome.”

The survey also indicates that the partisan battle over extending the payroll tax cut may be partially responsible for the jump in the president’s approval rating numbers.

According to the poll, 49% of Americans approve of the job Obama’s doing in the White House, up five points from last month, with 48% saying they disapprove, down six points from mid-November. The 49% approval rating is the president’s highest since May, when his number hit 54% thanks to a bounce following the killing of Osama bin Laden. Since then, in CNN polling, Obama’s approval rating has hovered in the mid-40s.

“President Barack Obama’s approval rating appears to be fueled by dramatic gains among middle-income Americans,” adds Holland. “The data suggest that the debate over the payroll tax is helping Obama’s efforts to portray himself as the defender of the middle class.”

Obama’s gains have come at the expense of the Republicans in Congress and the GOP in general. By a 50% to 31% margin, people questioned say they have more confidence in the president than in congressional Republicans to handle the major issues facing the country. Obama held a much narrower 44% to 39% margin in March.

And the GOP’s overall favorable rating has dropped to six points, to 43%, since June, while the Democrats’ positive rating remained steady at 55%.

“The Democrats do particularly well among middle income Americans, while the Republicans win support only from the top end of the income scale,” adds Holland.

Overall, only 16% say they approve of the job Congress is doing, with 83% giving lawmakers from both parties the thumbs down. The Congressional disapproval rating has topped 80% since August in CNN polling.

The survey indicates that Obama remains personally popular, with three-quarters saying they approve of him as a person.

“Overall, it’s not a bad position for an incumbent to be in as the calendar turns to an election year, but there are many months to go,” says Holland.

 

 

 

SCIENCE

Scientists Discover Earth-Size Planets

Scientists have discovered the first planets that are similar in size to the Earth, located 950 light years away. Rocky like the Earth rather than gaseous, the two planets orbit a star much like the sun, but so quickly and closely that their surfaces stay at incredibly high temperatures. “They’re way too hot to be anything like our own Earth,” one MIT planet hunter said. The planets are named Kepler 20e and Kepler 20f after the Kepler telescope, through which they were first seen. Scientists said that because of their heat, there was little chance anything like life as we know it would be able to survive on the new planets.

 

 

 

 

AP: Details of lab-made bird flu won’t be revealed

The U.S. government paid scientists to figure out how the deadly bird flu virus might mutate to become a bigger threat to people – and two labs succeeded in creating new strains that are easier to spread.

On Tuesday, federal officials took the unprecedented step of asking those scientists not to publicize all the details of how they did it.

The worry: That this research with lots of potential to help the public might also be hijacked by would-be bioterrorists. The labs found that it appears easier than scientists had thought for the so-called H5N1 bird flu to evolve in a way that lets it spread easily between at least some mammals.

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious diseases chief at the National Institutes of Health, which funded the original research.

The scary-sounding viruses are locked in high-security labs as researchers at the Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands and the University of Wisconsin-Madison prepare to publish their findings in leading scientific journals. That’s the way scientists share their work so that their colleagues can build on it, perhaps creating better ways to monitor bird flu in the wild, for example.

But biosecurity advisers to the government recommended that the journals Science and Nature publish only the general discoveries, not the full blueprint for these man-made strains. Tuesday, the government announced that it agreed and made the request.

In statements, the two research teams say they’re making some changes, if reluctantly. The journals are mulling what to do, and the government didn’t say precisely what should be left out.

But Science editor-in-chief Dr. Bruce Alberts said his journal pushed the U.S. government to set up a system where certain international researchers will be able to get the full genetic recipe for these lab-bred strains – especially those in bird flu-prone countries like China and Indonesia.

“This is a sort of watershed moment,” said Alberts, noting it’s believed to be the first time this kind of secrecy has been sought from legitimate public health research.

He doesn’t want to publish an abbreviated version of the findings unless he can direct scientists how to get the full, if confidential, details.

“It’s very important to get this information out to all the people around the world who are living with this virus and are working on it,” Alberts said.

NIH’s Fauci said the system should be working very soon, so that international public health officials, scientists and drug companies with “a legitimate need to know can have access to that information.”

Nature’s editor-in-chief, Dr. Philip Campbell, also called the recommendations unprecedented.

“It is essential for public health that the full details of any scientific analysis of flu viruses be available to researchers, he said in a statement. The journal is discussing how “appropriate access to the scientific methods and data could be enabled.”

H5N1 has caused outbreaks in wild birds and poultry in a number of countries around the world. But it only occasionally infects people who have close contact with infected poultry, particularly in parts of Southeast Asia. It’s known to have sickened nearly 600 people over the past decade. But it’s highly deadly, killing about 60 percent of the time.

The concern is that one day, bird flu might begin spreading easily between people and cause a pandemic. The NIH wanted to know what genetic changes it should monitor for, as a warning.

In surprise findings, the two teams of researchers separately re-engineered bird flu to create strains that can spread easily between ferrets. That animal mimics how humans respond to influenza.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the new lab-bred flu strains could infect people, Fauci cautioned.

Still, the viruses are being kept under special conditions along with other so-called “select agents” for security and to guard against a lab accident, as researchers try to learn more about just how risky the H5N1 that circulates in the wild really could become.

“There is clearly a public health threat that has been lingering and smoldering with regard to H5N1 for several years,” said Fauci, who adds that a naturally occurring flu pandemic is much more likely than any man-made one.

“Nature is the worst bioterrorist. We know that through history,” he said.

More information on the two research projects isn’t being released until the journals decide what to publish.

But in a statement last month, Dutch lead researcher Dr. Ron Fouchier said his discovery showed what mutations to watch for so “we can then stop the outbreak before it is too late.”

Tuesday, Erasmus Medical Center said researchers were complying with the U.S. request to change their scientific report. But, “academic and press freedom will be at stake as a result of the recommendation. This has never happened before,” the statement said.

The University of Wisconsin said virologist Yoshihiro Kawaoka’s team likewise would comply.

“While recognizing the potential for misuse of scientific discovery, the research described by UW-Madison researchers is essential for public health, global influenza surveillance activities and the development of vaccines and drugs to counter any potential pandemic,” said a university statement.

An independent biosecurity expert called Tuesday’s announcement a good middle-ground but said scientists should think twice about re-engineering influenza given the potential global consequences of an accident. The two labs involved are highly regarded, but more and more labs around the world can try similar work, noted Dr. D.A. Henderson of the Center for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“Influenza is certainly a unique beast in its capability to spread,” said Henderson, who played a key role in the eradication of a different killer, smallpox. “The question is how can we assure experiments like this really aren’t done in ways that the organism is apt to escape.”

 

 

 

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

War is God’s way of teaching Americans geography.”
― Ambrose Bierce

Written by Chernynkaya

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

7 Responses so far.

Click here to leave a comment
  1. Poll shows overwhelming support for President Obama on ending war in Iraq

    ORC for CNN (PDF). December 16-18, 2011. American adults. ±3%.

    Do you approve or disapprove of the decision to remove all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of this year?

    Approve: 78
    Disapprove: 21

    And by a wide margin, Americans believe the Bush administration deliberately misled us into war:

    Do you think the Bush administration deliberately misled the American public about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, or not?

    Yes, deliberately misled: 57
    No, did not: 41

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/12/21/1047646/-Poll-shows-overwhelming-support-for-President-Obama-on-ending-war-in-Iraq?via=blog_1

    I guess the neocon GOP base is now at 21%.

  2. Ezra Klein did miss something on the payroll tax debacle. The most under reported story because of the payroll tax hike is how Reid outmaneuvered the GOP in the Senate on the omnibus. Reid made the Senate have to vote for closure on all the poison pill riders that the Republicans wanted to add to the omnibus including all the programs they wanted to defund. Only the silly efficient light bulb thingy passed. The GOP House was counting on some of those passing so that’s another reason they are pissed at the Senate. Yes this Congress that promise the Teabaggers a $100 billion/year reduction in the deficit actually passed small increases in the budget for fiscal years 2011 and now 2012. Save for the temporary census workers, not many federal workers’ jobs have been cut. Most government jobs that have been cut are State and Local cuts.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      You are right--very good points. I think Harry Reid is pretty masterful at using Senate rules. The one thing--and it’s the biggest mistake--Reid did wrong is not whipping up support for a change in the filibuster threshold. We would be living in a different world if we didn’t need 60 votes.

  3. The Obama Diary story was very encouraging. For the first time I feel pretty positive about the elections next year and that includes getting the House back which is still a huge challenge for Dems.

    As I said yesterday the GOPTEA House shot their first hostage and don’t understand how much that hurts them. Like Ezra Klein said this is not about the payroll tax cut extension. This is about the fact that on any piece of legislation the Dems want they want to put enough poison pills in it to push their agenda most and help working families the least. It really is big news that Americans now agree with Dems more on taxes.

    We talk about messaging allot and for the first time in a long time, probably since the Iraq War fiasco, Dems are winning the message war and this time on Republican turf.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Cheers KQ-I’m with you. I am letting myself feel optimism. And when I think about it, it is actually very surprising considering how much is against the odds. After the 2010 elections I was in real despair for this country. I have no illusions though--the forces against us will never give up. In fact, I think that is one of the reasons things are starting to turn in our directions—they overreached massively, and I think they will continue to do so. I look at Wisconsin as the template of what they will do, and see how it has backfired. Still, what makes me so depressed is how many still buy into their noxious agenda.

  4. AdLib says:

    For what are supposed to be genius businessmen, these ignorant greed merchants sure come off as clueless.

    They want to mount a full fledged campaign for, “Stop oppressing the billionaires!” Really?! Great! Please keep it up, dimwits and remind more people out there who are barely making it on their salaries or unemployment insurance about how unfair life is for billionaires.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      AdLib, that was one of the stupidest--both morally and from an optics standpoint--articles ever written. Poor them! I’d say how tone deaf it was, but they wouldn’t see it that way because it’s how they really feel. It reveals how sickeningly entitled they think they are. I hope they keep giving interviews and that they keep getting published. I am all for a class war!


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