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Chernynkaya On January - 9 - 2012

Hello all! Back from a glorious and long vacation in Oahu. Did I miss anything? As always, 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

AP: In an election year, the unemployment trend can be more important to voters than the precise jobless rate

Unemployment is higher than it’s been going into any election year since World War II.

But history shows that won’t necessarily stop President Barack Obama from reclaiming the White House.

In a presidential election year, the unemployment trend can be more important to an incumbent’s chances than the unemployment rate.

Going back to 1956 no incumbent president has lost when unemployment fell over the two years leading up to the election. And none has won when it rose.

The picture is similar in the 12 months before presidential elections: Only one of nine incumbent presidents (Gerald Ford in 1976) lost when unemployment fell over that year, and only one (Dwight Eisenhower in 1956) was re-elected when it rose.

Those precedents bode well for Obama. Unemployment was 9.8 percent in November 2010, two years before voters decide whether Obama gets to stay in the White House. It was down to 8.7 percent in November 2011, a year before the vote. It fell to 8.5 percent in December and is expected to fall further by Election Day.

Even so, the unemployment rate is still at recession levels. And former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is contending with other Republican candidates to challenge Obama in November, has made the weak economy the centerpiece of his campaign.

In a statement Friday, Romney said Obama’s policies “have slowed the recovery and created misery for 24 million Americans who are unemployed, or stuck in part-time jobs when what they really want is full-time work.”

An Associated Press-GfK poll of American adults last month found that 60 percent of American adults disapprove of Obama’s performance on economic issues.

Obama can take comfort in President Ronald Reagan’s experience. In November 1982, the economy was in the last month of a deep recession, and unemployment was 10.8 percent, the highest since the Great Depression. A year later, unemployment was down to 8.5 percent. By November 1984, it was still a relatively high 7.2 percent, but the downward trend was unmistakable. Reagan was re-elected that month in a 59-41 percent landslide.

“A sense that things are on the mend is really important to people,” says Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center. Three examples:

– President Richard Nixon got a boost from falling unemployment, which dropped from 5.9 percent in November 1970 to 5.3 percent when voters went to the polls in November 1972.

– President Jimmy Carter was hurt by rising unemployment – from 5.9 percent in November 1978 to 7.5 percent in November 1980.

– President George H.W. Bush, who seemed invincible after the U.S. drove Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces out of Kuwait in early 1991, wound up losing in November 1992. The unemployment rate was 7.4 percent that month, up from 6.2 percent two years earlier.

The trend holds up even when the changes in unemployment are slight. President Bill Clinton was re-elected handily even though the unemployment rate was only 0.2 percentage points lower in November 1996 than it had been two years earlier and was the same as it had been a year before.

Under Obama, unemployment peaked at 10 percent in October 2009, nine months into his presidency, before it began coming down in fits and starts. Along the way it stayed above 9 percent for 21 straight months.

But unemployment has now dropped four months in a row. And the economy added 1.6 million jobs in 2011, the most since 2006.

Of course, unemployment isn’t everything.

Obama’s prospects could be changed by the strengths or weaknesses of whoever emerges as his Republican opponent or by a triumph or setback in foreign policy, perhaps in Afghanistan or the Middle East.

Eisenhower no doubt benefited from having an opponent, the high-brow former Illinois Gov. Adlai Stevenson, who had trouble connecting with ordinary voters. Ford may have been sunk by his unpopular decision to pardon former President Nixon. President Jimmy Carter’s prospects were surely dimmed by the lengthy hostage crisis in Iran – and a failed attempt to end it with a military rescue.

The third-party candidacy of billionaire Ross Perot – not just an increase in unemployment – may have torpedoed President George H.W. Bush’s re-election campaign in 1992 by dividing his supporters and giving an edge to challenger Clinton.

And there’s no guarantee that unemployment will continue to slide through Election Day. “We’ve seen this before … periods when it seemed like things were getting better only to see them grind to a halt,” says John Challenger, CEO of the staffing company Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “I’m not yet convinced.”

Americans who have given up looking for work don’t count as unemployed in the official tally. But if they get more optimistic, they might re-enter the job market and join the ranks of the officially unemployed, pushing the rate back up, says Republican strategist Rich Galen.

Galen says what matters is how the economy looks in late summer when undecided voters start making up their minds. “What people perceive in August is what they take to the polls with them.”

Three dozen economists surveyed by The Associated Press in December see an 18 percent chance that Europe’s debt crisis will cause the U.S. economy to slip back into recession. If 2012 brings a recession, Obama would surely lose, writes Yale University’s Ray Fair, who feeds economic forecasts into a computer model to predict elections.

Pew’s Kohut also warns that voters are wary after seeing the economy fail to achieve liftoff two and a half years after the Great Recession officially ended in June 2009. “The public is going to be in a show-me mood,” he says.

Still, the online betting market Intrade on Friday put the chances of an Obama victory in November at 52.5 percent.


What Is Austrian Economics?

Slate:

As he declared quasi-victory in Iowa following a third-place finish, Ron Paul puzzled cable news watchers across the country by proudly proclaiming, “We are all Austrians now.” The average Republican presidential candidate would sooner officiate a gay marriage than praise Europe, yet here was Paul pledging allegiance to Vienna. What did he mean? Why would we all be Austrians?

Paul’s statement was crystal clear to those familiar with the internecine controversies of the libertarian movement. He was referring to so-called “Austrian economics,” an idiosyncratic passion of his and a set of beliefs that put him at odds with the vast majority of well-known economists of all ideological inclinations.

[…]

But “Austrians” in Paul’s sense refers to something narrower, specifically the thought of Ludwig Von Mises and his student Murray Rothbard. It is a form of capitalism that is even more libertarian and anarchic than that espoused by many libertarians. Rothbard‘s followers, most prominently longtime Paul associate and founder of the Mises Institute Lew Rockwell, have beenwaging a decades-long war against the Koch brothers and the more mainstream form of libertarianism the Kochs represent.

“Austrian economics,” in this sense, goes beyond standard-issue free market thinking in a number of ways. Most notably, it seeks to build a strong ethical case for strict libertarianism without admitting that this would lead to any practical problems whatsoever. Therefore, along with rejecting the legitimacy of any intervention to protect the poor or regulate anything (a position much more extreme than even the Hayek of Road to Serfdom), Austrians reject the idea that there is anything at all the government can do to stabilize macroeconomic fluctuations. This, to be clear, is different from the mainstream Republican view that the stimulus bill enacted by Congress in 2009 and signed into law by President Obama was wasteful or ineffective. Austrians also believe that cutting taxes to boost economic activity doesn’t work either. And they disagree with Milton Friedman that appropriate monetary stimulus by the Federal Reserve could have prevented the Great Depression. Indeed, they disagree with even the least controversial of all stabilization measures, the ordinary tweaking of short-term interest rates that all modern central banks use to try to prevent either inflation or deflation. In the view of the Austrians, practically every economic policy pursued by the federal government and Federal Reserve is a mistake that distorts markets. Rather than curing recessions, claim Austrians, stimulative policies cause them by producing unsustainable bubbles.

The way this works, according to the Austrians, is that artificially low interest rates spur “malinvestment” in unworkable enterprises that inevitably crash when the stimulus is withdrawn. This is an emotionally appealing idea, positing that the suffering of a bust is a kind of cosmic payback for the boom. But it doesn’t make much logical sense. For one thing, as George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan, who’s ideologically sympathetic to the Austrians, points out, it’s hard to understand why businesspeople would be so easily duped in this way. If Ron Paul and Ludwig von Mises know that cheap money can’t last forever, why don’t private investors? Why wouldn’t firms avoid making the supposedly dumb investments? Ironically, the Austrians have replicated an error from the crudest forms of postwar Keynesianism—the failure to consider the role of expectations feedback in macroeconomic policy.

More broadly, the Austrian story of investment booms and busts doesn’t actually explain recessions and unemployment. Spending patterns shift all the time without sparking a recession. People stop buying BlackBerrys and they buy iPhones instead. Or people stop buying boot-cut jeans and buy skinny jeans instead. Across sectors, maybe people go see fewer movies and with the money they save they eat out at nicer restaurants. A business that curtails its investment spending should have extra money to pay out as dividends. Or if they want to horde the cash, it sits in a bank for someone else to lend out.

MORE>>>

 

 

 

The top reasons Wall Street and Republicans are scared of Richard Cordray 

The Raw Story:

After months of pushback from Republicans in Congress, President Obama has finally decided to go over their heads and appoint former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau without them.

So who is he?

We’ve written a lot about him at Business Insider. Partly because, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on, there’s no denying he’s incredibly impressive. Cordray is an undefeated, five-time Jeopardy! champion (he won $45,303), has a masters in economics from Oxford University, and was also editor-in-chief of the University of Chicago Law Review.

After law school he clerked for Supreme Court for a Reagan appointee, and represented the U.S. government before the Supreme Court there three times — once for George H.W. Bush and twice for Bill Clinton. That was all before running for AG of Ohio (a swing state) as a Democrat.

So what’s the problem with Cordray? There are two, one is an old Washington problem, and the other is purely Wall Street’s:

  1. Republicans said they would never support anyone to head the CFPB — Period —that is, unless the White House made serious changes to the agency. (Politico)

  2. He doesn’t just go after Wall Street Institutions. He goes after individual executives as well.

Let’s expand on point 2 with some more examples of how Cordray fought Wall Street as Ohio AG:

  • In 2009, representing several state public pension funds, he reached a settlement with Hank Greenberg and other AIG execs that blew the SECs settlement out of the water. Cordray got $115 million, the SEC got a mere $15 million.

  • The following year he settled another suit against AIG itself (also for Ohio) for $750 million. Some reports said the insurance company would actually be paying out $1 billion.

  • And then there was the Bank of America Merrill Lynch merger. Cordray sued on behalf of Ohio pensions on the grounds that BofAS concealed billions of dollars of Merrill Lynch losses from their clients before the merger. The case settled for $475 million.

When we talked to him about the Merrill/BofA case in 2009, he, of course, explained the why he was suing, but also revealed why he’s such a threat:

My understanding of a bonus is that it’s a special reward for superior performance. There wasn’t any superior performance for special reward; nonetheless, they (BofA and Merrill execs) wanted the bonuses. They ultimately, as best we know, got approval to pay out somewhere between $3 and $4 billion in bonuses, which was a very material element to the value of the merger. That was not disclosed to investors.

…we’ve also pursued some of the top executives — not just the corporations themselves. We do think that they bear their share of the blame — we think that they need to be held accountable as well. We think that that’s a principle that sends a message to other corporate executives on Wall Street that is a further disincentive for this kind of thing in the future.

There’s your new sheriff, Wall Street. As we reported earlier today, it’s likely Republicans will fight Obama’s appointment in Court. In the meantime, Cordray will be able to nice and comfy at the CFPB.

 

 

 

ENERGY

Oil Industry Warns Obama: ‘Huge Political Consequences’ if Pipeline Rejected 

The Hill:

A top oil industry official delivered a clear warning to President Obama Wednesday: approve the Keystone XL pipeline or face “huge political consequences.”

American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard urged Obama to quickly approve the pipeline, which would carry oil sands crude from Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Gulf Coast.
A payroll tax cut package signed into law by Obama last month includes a GOP-backed provision requiring the president to make a final decision on the pipeline within 60 days.

“I think it would be a huge mistake on the part of the president of the United States to deny the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline,” Gerard said during the powerful oil industry trade association’s annual “State of American Energy” event Wednesday.

“Clearly, the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest. A determination to decide anything less than that I believe will have huge political consequences.”

Gerard’s comments Wednesday marked the latest attempt by proponents of the pipeline to pressure Obama to approve the project.

Republicans, who secured inclusion of the Keystone provision in the broader payroll tax cut extension package, are also turning up the political heat on Obama to greenlight the project.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans unveiled a countdown clock Wednesday that keeps track of the number of days since the president signed the bill requiring a speedy Keystone verdict.

The push by Republicans and the oil industry highlights the increasingly aggressive messaging war over the pipeline, which poses huge political risks – and potential rewards – for both the GOP and the White House.

Obama risks backlash from key union supporters if he rejects the project, but faces the ire of environmental groups if he approves it.

MORE>>>

 

 

 

Daily Kos: Obama has Nearly Quadrupled Renewable Energy on Public Lands 

With two years of the Obama administration, almost four times as much clean energy has been approved on public lands as in all the previous 40 years.

All the renewable energy ever permitted on public lands totaled 1,800 MW by the end of 2008. In the last two years, the Department of the Interior has approved 6,600 MW of new projects.

This marks a real change in course. Public lands have traditionally been approved for oil and gas leases, not solar or wind. Why did this administration make this radical departure from tradition?

MORE>>>

 

 

 

ENVIRONMENT

Obama To Protect Grand Canyon With 20 Year Mining Ban

National Confidential:

President Obama is expected to permanently enact a 20 year ban on mining 1 million acres near the Grand Canyon.

Currently there is a temporary moratorium on mining put in place by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar while the issue is under study for its environmental impact.

Republicans have pushed for allowing mining in the area, even though it could endanger the Colorado River, a source of drinking water for 26 million Americans. This health concern did not stop the Bush administration from approving the mining claims, a decision reversed by President Obama in 2009.

 

 

 

JUSTICE

Citizens United Backlash Grows from Cali. to NYC Urging Congress to Overturn Corporate Personhood | Truthout

Adding to a growing nationwide backlash against the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, California lawmakers have introduced a resolution that calls on Congress to “propose and send to the states for ratification a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.” The New York City Council has just passed a similar resolution, echoing measures passed in Los Angeles, Oakland, Albany and Boulder. We speak to Public Citizen President Robert Weissman; California Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski, who introduced the state’s Citizens United resolution; and New York City Council Member and measure co-sponsor Melissa Mark-Viverito. “I think it taps into the sentiment that we’re seeing around the country growing, regarding Occupy Wall Street, where people really feel that government is disconnected from the vast majority of the population, and because of this influence that corporate interests have,” Mark-Viverito says.

MORE>>>

 

 

 

Cordray issues warning to financial institutions on first day as consumer watchdog

Richard Cordray said Thursday that the new federal consumer protection agency he heads will aim to make “sure that financial institutions are playing by the rules,’’ warning the industry that “there are real consequences’’ for violating the law.

In a speech to the Brookings Institution just one day after President Barack used a recess appointment to name Cordray the bureau’s director, the former Ohio attorney general said he has “examiners on the ground today with broad authority’’ to inspect loan documents and ask “tough question’’ of financial institutions.

“The consumer bureau will make clear that there are real consequences to breaking the law,’’ Cordray said. “We have given informants and whistleblowers direct access to us. We took over a number of investigations from other agencies in July and we are pursuing some investigations jointly with them.’’

By outlining such a tough approach, Cordray is likely to win support from consumers across the country. But his speech could send a shiver through the nation’s financial industry, which has looked with dread upon the new bureau with its broad regulatory authority.

Congress created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau when it approved a sweeping overhaul in 2010 of the nation’s banking regulations. The new bureau will regulate a wide array of consumer financial products, such as home mortgages and credit-card offers while encouraging financial institutions to write easy-to-understand terms.

Last summer, Obama tapped Cordray to head the new bureau, but Sen. Rob Portman and 44 other Senate Republicans used a filibuster to block the nomination last month.

Portman and other Republicans insisted they would oppose confirming any director until Obama agreed to modify the bureau’s powers. In particular, they wanted Congress to have the power to approve the bureau’s budget instead of it being financed by the Federal Reserve Board.

In an appearance Wednesday in Shaker Heights, Obama used a recess appointment to bypass the Senate. Cordray took the oath of office Wednesday evening.

Because of Obama’s move, Cordray said “for the first time, we can exercise the full authorities granted to us under the new law. That is the specific difference that having a director makes.’’

Cordray said the bureau will immediately begin supervising what he called non-banks, such as payday lenders, mortgage services, private student lenders and “other firms that often compete with banks, but have largely escaped any meaningful federal oversight.’’

“With our full authorities in hand, we now have a variety of tools to address the problems facing consumers,’’ Cordray said. “We will succeed in our job if financial markets become more fair, more transparent, and more competitive.’’

Cordray made clear his belief that the financial industry had a major role in the 2008 collapse of the U.S. financial system. He said that “hidden fees and exploding interest rates have infected more products and services. Novel and exotic mortgages battered housing markets and triggered the financial crisis that wrecked the economy and hurt millions.’’

 

 

 

Three charged in John Doe investigation of Walker aides 

Political Carnival:

The soon-to-be-recalled Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is looking at more bad press today. Tim Russell was arrested this morning as part of the John Doe investigation. He has a history of helping Scott Walker on campaign matters.

Via JSOnline: (UPDATED here)

Three individuals – including a former top aide to Gov. Scott Walker – were charged Thursday with felonies as part of the ongoing John Doe investigation into Walker staffers.

Tim Russell, a longtime Walker campaign and county staffer, was charged with two felony and one misdemeanor count of theft. […]

In August 2010, authorities seized Russell’s county computer just weeks before the gubernatorial primary.

This may have something to do with Operation Freedom, an annual military appreciation day. Walker set up the event at the Zoo for veterans, who got free admission and food, and it was run through the county executive’s office.

Back in September, I posted that a slew of law enforcement officers, including FBI agents, popped in on one of his former top aides, removing boxes of evidence. The raid was due to that “growing John Doe investigation in Milwaukee County, started [in 2010] after the disclosure that a Walker staffer at the county had posted political commentary on websites while on her job in the county executive’s office.”

Then Walker’s spokesman and two others were granted immunity in the corruption investigation.

And now this.

Tim Russell used to run former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s Milwaukee office, then joined up with Scottie when he ran for county executive back in 2002.

The financing setup for the event drew ethics scrutiny in 2006, when two county Ethics Board members questioned the practice of county officials asking private companies for money for public programs, saying it raised conflict-of-interest questions. Walker said then that he was trying to save taxpayer dollars and that he’d resolve ethics concerns by asking a veterans organization to solicit funds for the event.

Walker got legal advice that the fundraising should be handled by a separate charitable entity.

For all the details, go here.

 

 

 

Raskin says Fed will fine mortgage servicers

Reuters:

Federal Reserve Governor Sarah Bloom Raskin on Saturday said the Fed must impose monetary penalties on banks who entered into an April agreement with regulators over how to fix problems in their mortgage servicing businesses.

“The Federal Reserve and other federal regulators must impose penalties for deficiencies that resulted in unsafe and unsound practices or violations of federal law,” Raskin said in remarks to the Association of American Law Schools. “The Federal Reserve believes monetary sanctions in these cases are appropriate and plans to announce monetary penalties.”

Raskin did not say when the penalties will be announced.

She said that “appropriately sized” penalties would “incentivize mortgage servicers to incorporate strong programs to comply with laws when they build their business models.”

Mortgage servicers, many of which are large banks, collect home loan payments and manage issues like foreclosures.

The servicing issue burst into public view last year when government agencies began investigating bank mortgage practices, including the use of “robo-signers” to sign hundreds of unread foreclosure documents a day.

In April, 14 mortgage servicers, including Bank of America (BAC.N) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM.N), entered into a settlement with the Fed, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the now defunct Office of Thrift Supervision on steps that have to be taken to correct and improve their servicing practices, such as providing borrowers with a single point of contact for questions.

As part of the agreement, these mortgage servicers have hired consultants to review foreclosures that took place in 2009 and 2010 to see if any were improper.

REVIEWS ONGOING

Regulators have said these reviews, which are ongoing, will help determine the size of any penalties the servicers will have to pay.

When asked by an audience member whether regulators may as part of the enforcement action seek to have banks reduce mortgage balances for some borrowers in an effort to keep them in their homes, Raskin said it is an option that should “stay on the table.”

“The notion of how we can bring principal reduction into an enforcement action I think is a good question and one that as we think through what remedies and tools that we have is one that should stay on the table,” she said.

Reducing borrowers’ principal has been controversial with critics charging it could create a “moral hazard” – the concept that rescue efforts breed further behavior that exacerbates the existing problem – prompting other borrowers to stop making timely loan payments.

Some consumer groups and congressional Democrats have criticized the use of consultants to do the “look-back” review of mortgage servicers, questioning how independent they will be since their core business is working with banks.

Regulators have defended the decision, saying the consultants, while hired by the banks, report to the agencies.

In her speech Raskin acknowledged the issue is “the subject of much debate” and said regulators would be able to “monitor and judge the completeness of the look-back.”

Democrats have also called for the agencies to publicly release the specifics of what the consultants find and servicers do in response.

On Saturday Raskin endorsed the idea of releasing information publicly but did not get into the specific details of what should be made available.

“The corrective actions that the mortgage servicers are undertaking pursuant to the enforcement actions in an appropriate format also need to be shared with the public,” she said.

 

 

 

MEDIA

First Lady Of The Nation, Last Resort Of A Scoundrel

Angry Black Lady Chronicals:

It seems that if there’s something the Clown Car Right and the Manic Progressive Left can agree on, it’s how much they dislike Michelle Obama behind the scenes.

Republican First Ladies are all saints, and Democratic ones are all cast iron bitches, apparently.  Two stories indicate that 2012 as an election year means Michelle Obama is fair game.  First, we get one step closer to the n-word…

Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal on Thursday apologized for an email that made fun of first lady Michelle Obama’s hair style and mockingly called her “Mrs. YoMama.”

The emails featured pictures comparing Mrs. Obama to the Grinch, a Dr. Seuss character, because of their similarly wind-blown hair.

Sorry, just had to forward this latest holiday message,” O’Neal reportedly wrote in the email he shared with fellow Republican lawmakers. “I’ve had worse hair days, but this is pretty funny.”

According to The Lawrence Journal World, O’Neal forwarded from his personal computer the email that said, “I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing Mrs. YoMama a wonderful, long Hawaii Christmas vacation – at our expense, of course.

Boy, I remember all the horribly racist emails about Laura Bush.  Oh wait, never happened.  And they’ll keep doing it and apologizing only when they get busted as long as they can keep getting away with it.

But the story that shows that the GOP absolutely knows that President Obama and his wife are likeable people?  Michelle and Barack getting the Clinton Second Term treatment a year early with a new “White House insider” book by Jodi Kantor.

The dramatics that surrounded the passage of health care reform — culminating in Emanuel’s near-resignation — reflect the type of struggles that routinely pitted Emanuel against the first lady during the first two years of the Obama administration. The two jockeyed for influence over the president even before he formally took office.

Kantor, who interviewed for the book 33 White House staffers (many on several occasions) but not the president or the first lady, reports that Michelle Obama had “doubts” about the choice of Emanuel as chief of staff. Emanuel, in turn, had been opposed to bringing Valerie Jarrett, the Obamas’ longtime mentor, into the White House as a senior adviser.

Once the administration began, the frictions only escalated. Emanuel rejected an effort on the part of Michelle Obama’s chief of staff, Jackie Norris, to be part of his 7:30 a.m. staff meeting. The administration did not outfit her with a speechwriter for some time. And the first lady’s office grew so isolated from the rest of the presidential orbit that aides there began, as Kantor writes, “referring to the East Wing as ‘Guam’ — pleasant but powerless.”

Sam Stein, who really ought to know better, gleefully buys the portrayal of the First Lady as pretty much every awful stereotype ever associated with successful black women:  mean-spirited, arrogant, overly controlling, petty and disdainful of her “betters”.  Michelle Obama is an asset to the President and to the country, and just a few days into 2012 it seems the plan is to completely trash her in an effort to sink her husband.

Where have we heard this story before?

It just gobsmacks me to see that as much as folks like Stein complain that Democrats aren’t given a fair shake in the Village media (and they aren’t most of the time) we have Stein guilty of breathlessly pushing this gossipy “Michelle Obama’s really an awful person” nonsense.  I thought the Manic Progressive crew wanted Rahm out of the White House anyway.  Instead, we see that Michelle’s a insecure screamer and the return of The Democrat In Charge Is An Emasculated Wuss from that “bastion of liberalism”, FDL.

And I shake my head as I realize there’s now a concerted effort at the top to lower Michelle Obama’s likeability ratings as low as possible because she is such an amazing asset to the President.  Yes, official Washington hated Hillary Clinton when she was in the White House.  But they absolutely despise even the thought of an accomplished PoC in the position.

HuffPo is definitely pushing the notion that all that matters is “Democrats in Disarray!” with the First Lady vs. Rahm (and so will the Breitbart types on the right).  Kantor’s NY Times excerpt on the other hand makes it seem like Michelle was the only one who knew that Rahmbo was a purely political creature and she was the brave resistance, protecting her husband.

Both views miss the point.  The issue here is that Kantor’s book and the manufactured political spectacle it creates undermines the First Lady’s role in the White House only when a Democrat is in it.  The greater point is that this is permissible way to treat Michelle Obama (and yes, Hillary Clinton as well) when Laura and Barbara Bush and Nancy Reagan were seen as heroines.  Keeping kids off drugs was apolitical common sense when Nancy Reagan championed it, Laura Bush, librarian, wanted to improve child literacy rates, a truly noble cause.  Getting kids to eat right makes Michelle Obama the most horrible nanny state harridan on Earth who gets booed at NASCAR events.  There’s a component to the attacks on the First Lady that exceed even the hell Hillary Clinton was put through, and it’s that I’m objecting to, specifically the Village playing along like that component doesn’t exist.

2012 is going to be an unremittingly slimy year for the Obamas.  And the worst part is I truly believe part of the reason this is being done is to get Hillary 2012 folks off the hook.  It’s not racism if it happened to the Clintons too, you know.  Patriotism really is the last resort of a scoundrel, and that goes for the asshats in both parties.

And as the top of the post recounts, what Michelle Obama is going through is much worse.  I know how difficult it can be to be taken seriously as an intelligent PoC in America that breaks a number of stereotypes on a daily basis.  I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to have gender bullshit thrown in on top of all that.  Then again, judging from the crazy that’s happened around here in the last week plus, I’m getting a very clear picture as to what all that entails.

I’m thinking I know who Melissa Harris-Perry should have on as her first guest on her new show next month if it were up to me.  (Second of course would be ABL.)  More power to all three of them.

 

 

Here is the NYT profile mentioned above: Michelle Obama and the Evolution of a First Lady

 

 

 

Keith Olbermann’s Takes Another Shot At Current TV, Lawyers Now Involved

Mediaite:

It appears that the situation between Keith Olbermann and Current TV that led to the “Chief News Officer” there being excluded from primetime Iowa caucus coverage has taken a turn for the worse. Olbermann’s lead attorney spoke to The Hollywood Reporter today confirming that lawyers are discussing the matter, while the host himself tells THR: “I was not given a legitimate opportunity to host under acceptable conditions.”

The strife appears to have begun sometime earlier in the week, with the New York Times reporting that Olbermann would not be covering Iowa with the assembled team for the night– an update that was, apparently, news to Olbermann. He later tweeted that he would not host Countdown last night and, as our Tommy Christopher reported, Current TV explained that “Current asked Keith to be the sole anchor and exec producer of our primary and caucus coverage beginning tonight. Unfortunately, he declined to anchor or participate,” which seemed incongruous with Olbermann’s tweets and previous statements.

Now Olbermann tells The Hollywood Reporter that he was not given a “legitimate” opportunity to host, which is why he declined. His attorney added:

Patricia Glaser, the Hollywood litigator who represented Olbermann during his exit from MSNBC and his subsequent hiring by Current, tells THR that conversations between the Olbermann camp and Current have begun over his role with the network.

“Keith’s lawyers and Current’s lawyers are communicating,” Glaser says. […]

“I was not given a legitimate opportunity to host under acceptable conditions,” Olbermann said in a statement to THR on Wednesday. “They know it and we know it. Telling half the story is wrong.”

Olbermann also took another shot at Current for what he apparently perceives as too low-budget an enterprise for his program:

On Monday, Olbermann sent THR an e-mail defending the editorial integrity of Countdown while sardonically referencing the technical glitches that have plagued his show. “The team I’m fortunate enough to be a part of has produced — in my opinion and that of the veterans of the old show — the best editions of Countdown we’ve ever had,” Olbermann wrote. “The studio lights might go off, but the editorial illumination is better than ever.”

It is as yet unclear how this ends, but if it becomes a lawyer situation, it may lead to another difficult situation between Olbermann and his bosses. THR reports that “Olbermann also has expressed his displeasure with the level of influence he has been given over the hiring of other Current hosts,” but that they were unable to receive legal specifics on the case.

Update: Tommy Christopher spoke with a source close to the network earlier this evening, prior to the Hollywood Reporter report, and here’s what he says:

According to a source close to the network, Keith Olbermann was kept appraised of the Iowa Caucus plans at every turn, and acknowledged as much, in at least four or five emails dating back to mid-November. In those emails, Current executives tried to secure Olbermann’s participation in the program, as they have previously stated, but he refused. While Olbermann now disputes the acceptability of the conditions under which such a program would be produced, he hasn’t explained why he told his staff and his viewers that he was unaware there would be no Countdown on Tuesday night. The emails that this source saw contradict that notion.

According to the same source, the network is eager to have Keith Olbermann anchor their New Hampshire primary coverage. However, this was all prior to the THR report that Olbermann’s attorney is now involved.

Keith Olbermann is Current TV’s franchise player, so it’s hard to imagine they want anything other than a speedy, friendly resolution to this matter. Based on his actions, it looks like Olbermann might not. It’s worth noting that the URL to that Hollywood Reporter item (URLs often contain earlier versions of the eventual headline) reads “Keith Olbermann Quits Current TV Lawyers,” which could indicate that a source on the Hollywood Reporter story walkedsomething back before publication.

 

 

 

 

President Obama’s pivot: Narrative “Journalism” at The Nation

The People’s View:

The Nation editorialized about the Presidents  Osawatomie talk given December 6 2011 (emphasis added).

 The president called out the Republicans, whose deregulatory, anti-tax mania brought us the “you’re on your own” economy and whose solution to the crisis is more of the same. Perhaps most important, he made an argument about inequality—not just on moral terms, although there was plenty of that, but on economic ones as well. As long as middle-class Americans can’t buy the goods and services that businesses are selling, he explained, the entire economy will drag. It was the speech Obama should have given years ago; it took the Occupy movement to make him do it. The Nation January 2012

The President, September 15 2009.

 But here’s the problem. Even before this last financial crisis, the economy had problems. Just last week, a Census report came out showing that in 2008, before the downturn, family income fell to its lowest point in over a decade, and more families slid into poverty. Folks at the top 1 percent did pretty good. Everybody else saw their wages and income flat. That’s unacceptable. And I refuse to let America go back to the culture of irresponsibility and greed that made it possible — (applause) — back to aneconomy with soaring CEO salaries and shrinking middle class incomes; back to the days when banks made reckless decisions that hurt Wall Street and Main Street alike. (Applause.) We’re not going to go back to those days. It would be bad for unions, bad for the middle class, and bad for the United States of America. We’re not turning back. We’re moving forward. (Applause.) The President, September 15 2009.

There are many other examples that can be found by intrepid researchers who will bother to look at the list of speeches at  www.whitehouse.gov.

 

 

 

As Major Companies Plan Blackout Protest, Where Has The Mainstream Media Been On Coverage Of SOPA?

Mediaite:

Congress is set to return later this month, and one of the most hotly contested pieces of legislation it will be facing is the Stop Online Piracy Act. The bill was authored by Republican Lamar Smith, and has received bipartisan support and opposition in the House. There has been a lot of talk about internet- and technology-based companies that support the bill, including GoDaddy (up until recently) and the video game industry.

But what about the giant media conglomerates? Well, we know where they stand. OpenCongress lists all the big companies that support the bill, including the following:

  • NBC Universal
  • Comcast
  • News Corporation
  • Time Warner
  • Disney
  • CBS Corporation

Et cetera. The list goes on. But what’s particularly notable about these companies is that they own news organizations. And with SOPA being the big story that it is, one would expect news organizations to start picking up on it. And to a certain extent, you could say they have.

A CNN.com search for SOPA reveals the site has run two stories about the bill, and the bill is mentioned in a third one titled “Doh! The top 10 tech ‘fails’ of 2011.” But in none of these stories is it disclosed that Time Warner, parent company of CNN, supports the legislation. MSNBC.com covered the bill in a November article, which did not disclose its parent companies’ support of the bill. FoxNews.com features more coverage of the bill than its two rivals, and in one article it does mention News Corporation’s support of SOPA.

Now, it’s quite possible the authors of these articles were not aware they had any such disclosure to make. But all the media companies listed above attached their names to a letter sent to members of Congress in September, urging them to pass the SOPA bill into law. And what about the on-air presence on these networks? Surely this important piece of legislation must have warranted at least one story on the nightly news.

Well, apparently not, because according to a study conducted by Media Matters, there has been a virtual media blackout on the airwaves over the past few months in regards to SOPA. The study used LexisNexis figures to calculate just how many times the bill has been reported in the primetime hours on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, ABC, CBS, and NBC. None of these networks gave any nightly news coverage to the bill, with the exception of CNN, where it was brought up briefly during a segment on The Situation Room. Media Matters notes the study does not, however, take into account these networks’ daytime programming, nor is Shepard Smith‘s nightly broadcast factored in.

A quick perusal of statistics from the website TVeyes also finds that in the past week, the biggest networks to give any mention to SOPA were Bloomberg and CSPAN. In fact, the co-founder of Reddit (a website that has quickly mobilized SOPA opposition) was interviewed on Bloomberg just a few days ago. But still, the major news networks are silent on the issue.

And before you start crying foul that this is a Media Matters study, keep in mind that SOPA not only has bipartisan support, but bipartisan opposition. In fact, RedState’s Erick Erickson proposed a bipartisan coalition to take out any member of Congress who supports the bill. As Erickson succinctly put it:

This battle is so important — and is one of those rare fights where the left and right are united against Congress — that I suggest the left and right unite and pledge to defeat in primaries every person named as a sponsor on H.R. 3261, the Stop Online Piracy Act.

Normally, this is the kind of legislation that might rile up Rachel Maddow or Bill O’Reilly, so why is there such a deafening silence on this issue that both liberals and conservatives have found common ground in hating?

There are one of two possibilities at play here. Either the network brass is pressuring the news division to not cover the legislation at all (the more conspiratorial point of view), or news anchors are simply avoiding their stories so as not to put their jobs on the line. Some will argue that, perhaps, news anchors are avoiding the story because there is so much more on their platter– why spend an entire segment explaining the serious consequences of a convoluted bill when you have a ten-second soundbite of Rick Santorum maybe saying the work “black“? Whether the possibility exists or not, it does not exonerate reporters from their responsibility to report. And so, of the first two, the latter seems to be the more realistic one. As Eric Boehlert explained to The Register on Media Matters’ findings:

“I don’t think there’s been a top-down edict on this, but the data is interesting… People are smart when it comes to their careers, and may feel that raising the story isn’t a good way to get along with their parent companies.”

Fox News’ lack of coverage is particularly remarkable, because last week Rupert Murdoch personally came to Capitol Hill last week to lobby members of Congress to pass SOPA and its Senate counterpart, PIPA. One might then, logically, expect Fox News to cover SOPA with the best positive spin since, as its critics say, the network gets its marching orders and sticks to it. But what we’re witnessing here is complete silence on the issue. I suspect the networks are smart enough to understand that no matter how much you try to put a smiley face on it, alarm bells go off in people’s heads when they hear the phrase “regulate the internet.”

Luckily for those of us who care about media dissemination of critical information, several big websites are considering a one-day complete blackout to raise awareness about the bill so more people can be informed about it. Now, you might be asking yourself, “Well, what are the chances a few websites are going to make a big impact on public opinion?” Actually, quite large. Here are the companies on board for a possible blackout:

  • Google
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Wikipedia
  • PayPal
  • Zynga (creators of Farmville, Mafia Wars, etc.)
  • eBay
  • LinkedIn
  • IAC, which owns these websites:
    • Dictionary.com
    • Ask.com
    • Dictionary.com
    • Match.com
    • CollegeHumor
    • Dorkly
    • Dictionary.com
    • Vimeo

If all those sites were taken away from people for a 24-hour period, you’d better believe there will be riots in the streets to stop SOPA from passing.

But I’d bet that if the mainstream media had been doing their jobs on this from day one, there would be zero talk of a blackout. Earlier today, I wrote about Rick Santorum‘s comments on the SOPA bill and online piracy. The YouTube video of Santorum was posted two days ago. A Google News search shows Santorum’s remarks were picked up by only two websites: NewsOK.com, which only mentioned SOPA in passing, and Death & Taxes, which uses over half the article to connect the story somehow to Santorum’s Google problem.

Media organizations no longer have the luxury of pretending certain stories don’t exist. More and more people get their news via online news sources, and avoiding a story because the people that own you wouldn’t like it gets noticed these days. Absence makes the heart grow more pissed off, basically. These people in the media who gladly embrace controversy on a regular basis (hell,Lawrence O’Donnell hasn’t had a problem with ruffling a few executive feathers before) need to explain why they’re staying so silent on this issue. There’s nothing wrong with having an honest debate on a topic like this.

But then, perhaps you have better things to do, like insulting people you disagree with and laughing at viral videos of confused animals. You know, news.

 

 

 

MSNBC Ousts Contributor Pat Buchanan Over Racist Book 

 

 

 

Melissa Harris-Perry To Host MSNBC Weekend Show Starting In February 

 

 

 

Casual allegations of treason

Steve Benen:

Rick Santorum argued earlier this week, with a straight face, that President Obama has “sided with our enemies.” The same day, Santorum also accused the president of engaging in “absolutely un-American activities.”

The New Yorker’s George Packer raised an excellent observation about the way in which these allegations were covered. (thanks to D.K. for the tip)

[T]his kind of gutter rhetoric is so routine in the Republican campaign that it’s not worth a political journalist’s time to point it out. In 2008, when Michele Bachmann suggested that Barack Obama and an unknown number of her colleagues in Congress were anti-American, there was a flurry of criticism; three years later, when a surging Presidential candidate states it flatly about a sitting President, there’s no response at all.

Certain forms of deterioration … become acceptable by attrition, because critics lose the energy to call them out. Eventually, people even stop remembering that they’re wrong…. How many times and ways can you say that the Republican Party has descended into unreality and extremism before you lose your viewers and readers?

There was a point not too long ago when the standards of our discourse included more meaningful norms. Accusing the president of the United States, leading during a time of war and crisis, of “siding with our enemies” and engaging in “un-American activities” was just about the most extreme accusation imaginable.

Indeed, the phrases themselves suggest that the accuser believes the president is literally a traitor, guilty of treason.

The idea that a leading major-party presidential candidate would throw around such rhetoric without proof was, up until very recently, madness. The idea that such a candidate would face no pushback whatsoever, with journalists barely finding it worth mentioning at all, was unthinkable.

But as the Republican Party has become radicalized, such rhetoric has become routine. GOP officials and their allies have no qualms about using labels like “socialist,” “communist,” and even “fascist” — without any regard for what those words actually mean — and after a while, we just roll our eyes. There they go again, accusing Americans they don’t like of sedition, disloyalty, and national betrayal for no apparent reason. It must be a day that ends with “y.”

But here’s hoping that the tide will eventually turn, that ridiculous accusations will stop being acceptable by attrition, and that Americans will start remembering that they’re wrong.

 

 

 

MILITARY

 

 

 

Obama’s Leaner, Meaner Military

MotherJones:

In an announcement long on ambition and short on specifics, President Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta rolled out a new national security strategy Thursday that aims to drastically downsize the military. “[W]e have the opportunity and the responsibility to look ahead to the force we need for the future,” the president said. His plan, “Sustaining US Global Leadership,” aims to slash troops, fighter jets, and $450 million from the Pentagon bureaucracy. “Whenever possible, we will develop innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approaches to achieve our security objectives,” the 16-page plan states.

If the strategy takes hold—and that’s hardly a given, considering how heavily the defense industry lobbies Congress—progressives may like a lot of what they see in the military’s newer, leaner look. Still, the plan leaves open the possibility that drones, contractors, and reservists will take over any gaps left in the mammoth, post-9/11 national security complex.

The strategy continues to focus on some perennial areas, like combating Al Qaeda, tracking WMDs, and maintaining a big presence in the Middle East (i.e. around Iran). But its updates would be significant:

Nukes: Cuts to the country’s bloated nuclear weapons complex could become a reality: “It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy.”

  • China and North Korea: The US will “of necessity rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region.” In lay terms, that means going back to pre-9/11 basics: keeping a robust Navy close to China and North Korea. Obama reportedly nixed a Pentagon proposal to reduce the number of aircraft carriers from 11 to 10, a sure sign the US plans to flex its maritime muscle.
  • Europe: The last remnants of America’s Cold War-era role in protecting Europe will probably be handed off to its regional allies. “Most European countries are now producers of security rather than consumers of it,” the strategy states. That could mean downsizing big US bases in Germany and removing old missiles from the landmass.
  • Global policing: “U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.” Even small overseas incursions will be rarer, since “with reduced resources,thoughtful choices will need to be made regarding the location and frequency of these operations.”
  • Foreign invasions: On the big-picture level, say goodbye to the long-held goal of a unilateral US force that can fight two simultaneous major ground wars. This strategy will be replaced with a “fight and deter” objective: “Even when U.S. forces are committed to a large-scale operation in one region,” the plan states, “they will be capable of denying the objectives of—or imposing unacceptable costs on—an opportunistic aggressor in a second region. U.S. forces will plan to operate whenever possible with allied and coalition forces.”
  • Personnel and benefits: While cuts to personnel and administration are likely, the president says he’ll “keep faith with our troops, military families and veterans.” This could mean the administration is backing away from a controversial corporate-friendly plan to privatize soldier pensions that gained currency in the budget debate last year.

While the Pentagon presentation didn’t offer specifics on what cuts might come, the New York Times reported that the Army will lose nearly 100,000 troops, and the Air Force’s aircraft fleet will be reduced significantly—including delays on future orders of the F-35 fighter jet,one of the most expensive programs in US military history.

But the new strategy could also augur boom times ahead for contractors, spies, and drones: “In adjusting our strategy and attendant force size, the Department will make every effort to maintain an adequate industrial base and our investment in science and technology,” the plan states. “We will also encourage innovation in concepts of operation.” Such science could include unmanned aerial surveillance, which has been a favorite tool of the Obama administration; such innovations could include the expansion of contractor-managed military logistics overseas, a trend that started in the ’90s and was a hallmark of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then there’s the issue of reserve and National Guard soldiers. Since 9/11, many of these part-time servicemembers were used overseas to take the strain off America’s overstretched active-duty troops in what came to be known as the “back-door draft.” Despite the pain this imposed on weekend warriors and their families, the National Guard brass were rewarded recently with a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Since their newfound relevance comes directly out of their usefulness in war, they might become advocates of future interventions. The new DOD strategy addresses this possibility in a cryptic line, saying that “the Department will need to examine the mix of Active Component (AC) and Reserve Component (RC) elements best suited to the strategy.”

So it appears that the plan is to shrink the military significantly—but as always, the Pentagon is hedging its bet. “Wholesale divestment of the capability to conduct any mission would be unwise,” the strategy warns, “based on historical and projected uses of U.S. military forces and our inability to predict the future.”

[Please see original article for links. The tone of this piece is dubious.]

 

 

 

Karzai demands handover of US detention center to Afghan control; security contractors arrested

Army Times:

President Hamid Karzai demanded Thursday that the U.S. detention center at Bagram Air Base be handed over to Afghan control within a month, along with all Afghan citizens held by the coalition troops across the nation.

Meanwhile, three NATO service members were killed in an explosion in the south of the country, the coalition said. It did not provide any other details about the incident.

A presidential statement said that keeping Afghan citizens imprisoned without trial violates the country’s constitution, as well as international human rights conventions.

The prison, inside the sprawling U.S. base at Bagram north of Kabul, abuts a well-known public detention center known as Parwan, which is run jointly by Afghan authorities and the U.S. military.

It’s unclear how many high-value detainees are being held at the U.S. facility. Human rights groups have claimed that detainees were menaced, forced to strip naked and kept in solitary confinement in windowless cells.

A statement from Karzai’s office said he issued instructions to a commission consisting of the ministers of defense, interior and justice, as well as other top government and judicial officials, “to complete their job regarding the handing over of the [Bagram] prison and other prisoners who are held by foreign forces.”

“The work should be completed within a month,” it said.

The U.S.-led NATO coalition is gradually handing over responsibility for security to the Afghan police and army. The process is due to be completed in 2014, when most foreign troops are scheduled to be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

Karzai’s demands are the most recent in a series of exercises in political brinksmanship by the president, as he tries to bolster his negotiating position ahead of renewed talks for a Strategic Partnership Document with America that will determine the U.S. role in Afghanistan after 2014.

Among the conditions that Karzai has set is an end to night raids by international troops and complete Afghan control over detainees.

Karzai is walking a tightrope. Although he routinely plays to anti-American sentiment in Afghanistan by denouncing the U.S., he needs America’s military and financial strength to back his weak government as it battles the Taliban insurgency.

The CIA’s infamous secret network of “black site” interrogation centers is now gone, but suspected terrorists in Afghanistan are being held and interrogated for weeks at temporary sites, including one run by elite special operations forces at Bagram Air Base. The detainees include those suspected of top roles in the Taliban, al-Qaida or other militant groups.

Also Thursday, Afghan police said they arrested two British private security contractors and two Afghan colleagues after finding a cache of weapons in their vehicle. They are being held for investigation into illegal arms transport.

Karzai has ordered all the protection companies shut down by March and replaced by a unified government-run protection force, although recruitment is proceeding at a slow place.

Authorities ordered the immediate shutdown of Afghanistan operations of their company, the international security consulting firm GardaWorld, and are questioning other company employees.

In the latest violence, attackers gunned down a local government official on his way to a mosque in southern Afghanistan in another hit on a government figure. Hundreds of Afghan government officials have been killed in recent years as the Taliban pursue a sweeping assassination campaign seeking to weaken confidence Karzai’s administration and discourage people from joining the government.

Haji Fazel Mohammad was shot on his way to evening prayers Wednesday in the volatile district of Sangin in Helmand province, the governor’s office said. The attackers escaped.

The Taliban’s assassination campaign has also hit senior figures.

In September, a suicide attacker with a bomb in his turban killed former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who led a government council seeking a political settlement with the insurgents. The assassin was posing as a Taliban peace emissary.

 

 

 

President Obama speaks about the Defense budget

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=JddOpPkcnh4

 

 

 

AP: US Army investigating soldier who spoke in uniform at rally for presidential candidate Ron Paul

An Army reservist who took the stage at a political event for Ron Paul and expressed his support for the Republican presidential candidate could face legal troubles, the military said Thursday.

Cpl. Jesse Thorsen, 28, stood at a podium at the Paul rally in Iowa on Tuesday night wearing his military fatigues and said meeting the Texas congressman was like “meeting a rock star.”

“His foreign policy is by far, hands down better than any other candidate’s out there,” Thorsen told the cheering crowd.

Army Reserve spokeswoman Maj. Angel Wallace said participating in a partisan political event in uniform is a violation of Defense Department rules and the military is reviewing whether Thorsen could face legal ramifications. Soldiers are permitted to vote, participate in some political activities and express opinions about candidates as long as they are not in uniform and speaking in an official capacity, she said.

She said Thorsen was not on active duty at the time of Tuesday’s rally, but it was not immediately clear if that would have any bearing on the case.

Thorsen “stands alone in his opinions regarding his political affiliation and beliefs, and his statements and beliefs in no way reflect that of the Army Reserve,” Wallace said in a statement.

A telephone number for Thorsen could not immediately be found.

At Tuesday’s rally at Paul’s headquarters Ankeny, Iowa, Paul called Thorsen to join him on stage. Thorsen then shakes his hand before he steps to the podium.

Drew Ivers, a spokesman for Paul’s Iowa campaign, said the Thorsen’s appearance at the rally was spontaneous and not planned by the campaign.

In a separate interview with CNN on Tuesday, Thorsen said he had served in the military for the past decade.

“I’m really excited about a lot of his ideas, especially when it comes to bringing the soldiers home,” he told CNN. “I’ve been serving for 10 years now and all 10 years of those have been during wartime. I would like to see a little peace time Army.”

Paul, who finished third in Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses, has said if he is elected, he would bring all or nearly all troops home from Afghanistan and other foreign posts.

While he billed himself as serving for 10 years, it was unclear if that service was continuous, and it appears to be punctuated by at least one criminal case.

According to the military, Thorsen had deployed once to Afghanistan in 2009 after first joining the Florida National Guard in July 2001 and the Army Reserve in 2009. The military said he is with an engineer company out of Des Moines, and his unit falls under the 416th Theater Engineer Command out of Darien, Ill.

Court records show that Thorsen was arrested in Lee County, Fla., in December 2004 for three felonies: burglary, theft of a firearm and possession of burglary tools. Details were not available late Thursday.

He pleaded guilty to all three charges the following July but adjudication was withheld, meaning he would have no record. He was sentenced to probation and ordered to pay $660.50 He made regular payments through April 2006 totaling $630.50 but then stopped, the records show. In May 2006, he was ruled in violation of his probation and was arrested three weeks later in Tampa, spending three days in jail. In August 2006, he appeared before a judge in Lee County, who reinstated his probation. His probation ended in March 2007.

Wallace said the military was looking into the arrests. They were first reported by http://www.militarycorruption.com .

 

 

 

OCCUPY

Three Complaints About OWS

Technology Operations Group:

What can we say about a movement whose first public action was successfully hijacked by the Workers World Party? A lot of things to be sure. But we can’t accuse ourselves of being well organized. And this lack of organization, championed by so many as a key ingredient of Occupy Wall Street’s success, continues to trip us up.

In this (overly long and badly in need of more editing) article, three key problems are identified:

  • The rate at which interested people (veteran activists and newcomers alike) interact with OWS but walk away without finding a place is too high and higher than it should be.

  • Newcomers and participants in a movement need to find their place. Unfortunately, our ladder of engagement offers too few footholds.

  • The combination of a high bounce rate and the lack of a well-designed ladder of engagement form an activist filter that attracts too few of the right kind of people.

A number of colleagues at Occupy Wall Street from the Tech Ops and Outreach Working Groups read a draft of this and encouraged me to post it. (Thank you!) If attracting, engaging and developing more leaders in our movement is important to you, please read on and comment below.

The Bounce Rate Is Too Damn High
On September 17th after a hard day’s marching around, I stood on Broadway and looked down into Zuccotti Park. The protesters were arranged in circles and holding conversations. This meant that passerby interested in the protest were looking at people absorbed in their own, difficult to hear conversations. What an excellent visual metaphor. Hey hey, ho ho, turning your backs on the people has got to go!

In the coming weeks and months, this pattern remained somewhat consistent, with a surprising twist. More and more people came down to the park to check it out, attracted because it felt important. They wanted to be part of it all. And the vast majority of them bounced.

Systems did emerge to engage newcomers. But those systems (the info tables and Info Working Group, for example) were not nearly as effective as the moment demanded. I’ve learned that some of the email addresses floated around as a primary point of contact were left unchecked, accumulating more than 11,000 unanswered emails. There is still no general OWS email list. Meetings would be announced at a particular location and then held somewhere else. Newcomers would show up for working group meetings, add their name to a list passed around for future contact, and never hear from anyone again. It’s nearly four months since the occupation and there still isn’t a clearly labeled sign up page. Hell, there isn’t even an official public facing website that represents OWS.

That said, many did find the OWS compelling enough to overcome the obstacles and stick around. Or perhaps the obstacles were part of what made the experience compelling. Either way, what we can call the ‘user experience’ for many of the activists drawn into the movement wasn’t very positive. Large numbers came for a meeting or two, never to return. Our collective strategy for attracting people worked wonderfully; the second part, keeping them around and meaningfully engaged, did not. It still doesn’t.

Just to give one example of how poorly we dealt with the ‘user experience,’ let’s look at the drummer’s circle. It was the subject of many complaints from an overwhelming majority of the active participants in the movement, generating bad press, ill-will from otherwise friendly neighbors, and complaints from OWS organizers suffering from the near constant elevated decibel levels. My impression was that in the competition for attention, newly recruited supporters got the least when they should have been getting the most.

How strong would we be if the bounce rate had been lower? The NYCGA website has around 8k registered users. Perhaps 15% show up to a meeting in a normal week, and roughly 200 form the backbone of our working groups system. What if we had 500 of those people? Or 1000? Well we don’t. Blame the bounce rate. At the peak of OWS popularity, thousands of well-meaning citizens reached out to us and then walked away, disappointed. Most of them will not be back. Thousands more might show up in the spring. Are we ready?

MORE>>>

 

 

 

POLITICS

The President’s Weekly Address: a ‘make or break moment’ for middle class

 

 

 

 

Barack Obama: Best President Ever (Updated with Caveats)

Daily Kos:

[…] We all know how great a Democratic President can be when Congress does whatever it’s told (e.g., FDR) and has a highly disciplined, motivated public; and how diabolical a Democratic President can be under the same Congressional climate with a divided public (LBJ); but what about a Democratic President who is literally tested in every way: What about a Congress so hostile they question your very legitimacy as an American on a daily basis, threaten impeachment as many times as there are hours in the day, and obstruct every single appointee and piece of legislation on your agenda as a matter of course even if they had previously supported it?  What about managing to endure and thrive in the glare of a deranged, lying media controlled by an oligarchy of your enemies that spreads 24/7 propaganda against your administration and party?  What about an opposition that has unlimited, unregulated funding not only from corporations that have accepted trillions of dollars in no-strings-attached public bailouts, but from hostile foreign countries (e.g., China and Saudi Arabia) that have a vested interest in controlling American politics through Republican corruption?

Without meaning to belittle the past, frankly Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the Soviet Union don’t seem nearly as insurmountable in comparison – at least from the perspective of the White House.  When taken in the context of political hyper-corruption, the transmogrification of the GOP into an ultra-malignant, treasonous crime syndicate, the disfigurement of news media into an engine of lunatic partisan propaganda, and the total domination of petty corporate tyranny over every aspect of our lives, the problems we confront today come to seem like the greatest challenges this nation has ever faced.  I’m sure a G.I. storming Omaha Beach would disagree about the relative hardships, but as an overall republic, we at least had each other – we had a rational faith that The Enemy was Over There, not surrounding us and poisoning our children’s food and minds while stealing their future.  The closest President to have faced comparable conditions to Obama would be Lincoln, and frankly Lincoln had it easier.

[…]

And yet even without that context, I have little trouble stating the following conclusions – Barack Obama is…

1.  The most liberal President ever.
2.  The most accountable President ever.
3.  President of the most transparent administration ever.
4.  The most committed to civil rights and equality ever.
5.  The most committed to science and technology ever.
6.  Either the most, or tied with the most, competent and intelligent President ever.
7.  The hardest-working President ever.
8.  The most globally-respected, loved, and feared (by our enemies) President ever.
9.  Either the most, or tied with the most, politically courageous President ever.
10.  Most, or tied with the most, honorable and honest President ever.

[…] [Discussion of other Democratic presidents—worth a read.]

Barack Obama is a shockingly great President.  Regardless of their group politics and his never have been in the military, soldiers strongly respect him; despite their distrust of his progressive fiscal outlook, businessmen generally respect him; despite his race, accentless English, and aristocratic intellectualism, he nonetheless manages to command an unusual level of respect in the South and Midwest, in areas that are full of wingnuts, and is fearless about visiting them and engaging with the people of those regions; and wherever he goes in the world, he is treated like a rock star because he remains a symbol of America’s promise, and an eloquent leader who speaks universal truths while acknowledging universal realities in action.

There is no one I can name whom I would rather have in the White House at this time in American history, and no contemporary figure in politics who I think would do even a remotely comparable let alone superior job.  Everyone else would, as far as I can tell,  either be a by-the-numbers political hack, a helpless Carter archetype making plaintive appeals and pedantic fiats his subordinates ignore, or an impotent, raging Naderite banging his shoe on the table when moral authority alone fails to cause his agenda to magically succeed.  Instead we have this guy, who has the befuddling habit of harvesting useful progress from even the most desolate political wastelands.  Obama’s values are the same as mine, his perceptions seem to track or even exceed mine, and I consider him my intellectual superior.  I find his Presidencyeducational rather than galling or remedial, and that is what leadership should be.  It’ssupposed to be a stronger-than-average example of what is good in a country, and I can say without reservation Barack Obama is definitely that: He exhibits the best qualities of what an American of good nature strives to be, and only truly low individuals would resent that.   So, basically…FOUR MORE YEARS!

8:25 AM PT: Honestly, I hadn’t intended for this to become a pie fight.  Given my experience, I should have known better, but most of the area of contention seems to be the title, so let me put it this way: Insofar as it is legitimate to hold any President as “best,” despite the circumstances of presidencies differing so widely, I consider it equally legitimate to say that Barack Obama is best as it would be to say it of Lincoln, Washington, or FDR.  That isn’t to belittle any one of them, just to place them in the same league and say that I consider Obama a legitimate candidate for best.  Because, seriously, you can’t really judge a President with any certainty unless you could have them all preside over each other’s circumstances and see how they do.  Maybe James K. Polk would have been a Great Leader in 1968, maybe FDR would be dogshit in the 1990s, who knows?  The best we can do is judge on personal qualities and how they respond to what comes their way.

 

 

 

All those emails? DCCC and DSCC killing it year-over-year in small dollar donations

Open Secrets:

One of the biggest may be the success the Democrats’ congressional fundraising arms have had with small donors. Contributors of $200 or less gave a total of $21.5 million to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) through November 2011, up from $13.2 million during the same period in2009, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s a gain of 62 percent. And the DCCC overall has actually raised more than $4 million more this year than it did two years earlier.
Its Republican counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee, saw an increase from small donors of just 18 percent, from $10.7 million through the first 11 months of 2009 to $12.6 million during the same period in 2011.

The DCCC’s numbers are no accident, of course, but the response to the committee’s fundraising efforts has exceeded expectations, according to spokesman Jesse Ferguson.

“We’ve focused on expanding our online and grassroots base of supporters,” Ferguson said in an email to OpenSecrets Blog, “and the response has been better than we could have anticipated.” He cited flash points such as Republican votes on Medicare and the recent tangle over extending the payroll tax cut as times when small donors have been particularly responsive.
The Democrats’ U.S. Senate campaign arm, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has also seen a big jump in small gifts since the last election cycle, from $9.1 million to $13.4 million — a gain of 46 percent. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, however, saw its donations of that size drop 31 percent.
Maybe the Dems have learned something from President Obama’s proven track record with small donors, in 2008 and again this time around. So far in this cycle, donations of $200 and under to his campaign have amounted to more than $41 million — or nearly half of all the money he’s raised.

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ABC NEWS: Mitt Romney avoids U.S tax by using Offshore bank accounts

 

 

 

Is Mitt Romney Dodging Taxes?

Bob Cesca:

[…] Additionally, the FBI now appears to be investigating Bain Capital, as a recent FOIA request denial would seem to suggest.

Is the FBI Going After Bain Capital?
The answer to the headline question is yes. About two weeks ago, the FBI evoked FOIA exemption 7(a) and denied access to all Bain Capital records on the grounds that “there is a pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding relevant to these responsive records; and that release of the information contained in these responsive records could reasonably be expected to interfere with the enforcement proceedings.”

What this all means is anyone’s guess, but it seems perfectly clear now that the more “safe” and “electable” Mitt Romney may have more skeletons in the closet than any of the other candidates.

What we do know for sure is that Mitt Romney’s economic record is atrocious, and there’s plenty to scrutinize irrespective of what any ongoing investigation turns up.

 

 

 

New DNC video goes after Romney on contradiction over SuperPAC ad 

 

 

 

Romney Suggests Only Wealthy People Should Run For Office

ThinkProgress:

During Sunday morning’s Meet the Press debate, GOP front-runner Mitt Romney suggested that people who need a job to pay to their mortgage shouldn’t run for office. Recalling something his father, who served as governor of Michigan, told him, Romney said, “He had good advice to me. He said, ‘Mitt, never get involved in politics if you have to win an election to pay a mortgage. If you find yourself in a position when you can serve, why you ought to have a responsibility to do so if you think you can make a difference, you oughta have a responsibility to do so.’”

A few moments later, Romney bragged about making former senator Ted Kennedy take out a mortgage on his house when Romney ran against him. “I was happy that he had to take a mortgage out on his house to ultimately defeat me,” Romney said. Watch it:

 

 

 

Romney says that he has feared the “pink slip” — But four hrs later his campaign can’t cite a single example

NYT:

Mitt Romney told a New Hampshire crowd on Sunday afternoon that he knew what it was like to fear a pink slip — but so far, his campaign has not been able to provide any examples of a time when Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who spent more than two decades in the private sector, truly feared for his job.

I know what it’s like to worry whether you’re going to get fired,” Mr. Romney said. “There were a couple of times I wondered whether I was going to get a pink slip.”

On the heels of two debates less than 24 hours apart, Mr. Romney took to the trail Sunday and sought to cast himself as just another regular guy who somehow found himself running for the presidency for the second time in as many cycles.

I have to tell you: This chance to run for President of the United States, I never imagined I’d do it,” he said. “This is just a very strange and unusual thing to be in the middle of.”

He added: “I mean, I was just a high school kid like everybody else with skinny legs. And, you know, I imagined that I’d be, you know, in business all my career. And somehow I backed into the chance to do this.”

In a debate Sunday morning, Newt Gingrich accused Mr. Romney of “pious baloney” when Mr. Romney — who has sought public office four times since his first failed bid, in 1994, against Edward M. Kennedy for a Massachusetts Senate seat — claimed not to be a career politician. Mr. Gingrich is poised to intensify his criticism of Mr. Romney, including a scathing attack of Mr. Romney’s time at Bain Capital, which his “super PAC” plans to unleash in South Carolina.

The pro-Gingrich PAC bought a 30-minute film that, using Mr. Romney’s career at Bain Capital, casts him as a greedy titan who saw his own wealth rise as companies that Bain acquired were forced to lay off workers and close factories. The PAC also accuses Mr. Romney of not being a true conservative, and of being unable to beat President Obamain November.

Mr. Romney, flanked by three of his five sons and five of his 16 grandchildren, seemed to offer an early rebuttal for the onslaught of attacks he knows are coming when he heads to South Carolina on Wednesday.

“For a while I worked in what’s called venture capital — what is that?” he told the crowd, trying to demystify an industry that still seems to be a foreign concept to many Americans. “Well, we got money from other people and we would use that to help start businesses or sometimes acquire businesses that were in trouble or not doing so well and then try and make it better or get the businesses to grow. And, and when you have other people’s money and your own invested in something, you’re very careful with it.”

Mr. Romney talked about Staples, the office-supply store that Bain first invested in that now has 90,000 employees, explaining: “We opened the very first store. I was there the night we opened the first store. We helped stock the shelves.”

Contrasting himself to the government, Mr. Romney recalled a lean and efficient operation: their office (“in the back of an old, empty shopping mall”), their thrifty chairs (“Naugahyde”), and their board table (“an old table”).

“Because it was the private sector and we were pulling ourselves up in some respects by our bootstraps, we were careful,” he explained.

 

 

 

DNC Memo: Romney’s Rationale for Candidacy Unravels Over Bogus Jobs Claims, Record in Public and Private Sectors

From:    Brad Woodhouse, Democratic National Committee

To:        Sunday Show Producers

Date:     January 7, 2012

RE:       Romney’s Rationale for Candidacy Unravels Over Bogus Jobs Claims, Record in Public and Private Sectors

From day one, we’ve heard Mitt Romney say that the basis of his campaign for president is that he has the business experience and economic know-how to create jobs and improve our nation’s economy.  With that in mind, it’s only fair that the American people get a chance to take a closer look at his record.

Upon doing so, they’ll find a number of misleading statements by Romney: his false claim this week that he was responsible for creating 100,000 jobs at Bain Capital and that he had a strong job creation record as Massachusetts Governor, the notion that he’s interested in helping working and middle-class families, and his dishonest attacks on the President’s economic record.  And when those claims are held to even the most basic level of scrutiny, Mitt Romney’s rationale for his candidacy simply doesn’t hold up.

ROMNEY MISLEADS ON HIS OWN JOB CREATION RECORD

During an interview with “Fox and Friends” with FOX News on January 3 this week, Mitt Romney said: “And I’m very happy in my former life; we helped create over 100,000 new jobs. By the way, we created more jobs in Massachusetts than this president’s created in the entire country.  So if the President wants to talk about jobs, and I hope he does, we’ll be comparing my record with his record and he comes up very, very short.”

While Romney boasts about the jobs he created as Governor of Massachusetts, the reality is that those were mostly government jobs.  In fact, despite Romney’s near-constant references to his private sector business experience, for every one private sector job that was created in Massachusetts, there were 6 government jobs created.  Under Romney’s leadership, the state actually ranked 47th out of 50 in job creation, badly trailing the rest of the country with manufacturing jobs falling by more than double the national average.

With regard to Romney’s claim that that during his tenure as the head of Bain Capital, he created over 100,000 new jobs, a fact-check conducted this week by the Washington Post found that Romney’s story just doesn’t add up.  First of all, by the admission of Romney’s own spokesperson, while this figure stems from the sum of job gains at three companies that Romney “helped to start or grow” – Staples, The Sports Authority and Domino’s – it is based on current employment figures, not the period when Romney worked at Bain.  In other words, Mitt Romney is trying to bolster his own economic credentials by talking about jobs he wasn’t even there to create.

What’s more, in 1994, following his claim that he created 10,000 jobs at Bain, Romney even backed away from that statement – acknowledging in an interview with the Boston Globe that there was no way to determine whether jobs had been lost or gained economy-wide on account of his ventures at Bain.  Now Mitt Romney wants to argue he was responsible for creating 100,000 jobs?

The other problem with Romney’s math is that it does not factor in for the thousands of workers Bain laid off under his leadership, not to mention the American jobs he outsourced.  Let’s remember that as the head of Bain Capital, Mitt Romney made any number of profit-based business decisions that led to firing thousands of workers, closing plants, bankrupting American companies and outsourcing jobs overseas.

That includes companies like GS Technologies, which was profiled this week in a Reuters story.  GS Technologies was a steel mill in Kansas City that was acquired by Bain Capital, leading to the layoffs of roughly 750 workers.  Thanks to Mitt Romney and his business partners, the employees at GS Technologies lost severance pay and health insurance that had been promised to them, and their pension benefits were slashed.  A federal government insurance agency had to swoop in and bail out the company’s pension plan – all while Bain raked in millions of dollars in profits.

But apparently when it comes to this fantasy figure of 100,000 jobs, Mitt Romney wasn’t about to let the facts get in the way.

ROMNEY’S TAX PLAN HURTS MIDDLE CLASS AND WORKING FAMILIES BUT GIVES A HEFTY TAX CUT TO THE WEALTHIEST FEW

Mitt Romney likes to say that his tax plan is written for middle-class families. “The wealthy are doing just fine,” he recently told Chris Wallace at FOX News.  “The people that have been hurt are the people in the middle class so I focus those precious dollars that we have, I focus that on the middle class.”

The truth is that Romney’s tax plan would actually increase the federal budget deficit and give more tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans while providing little or no relief to the middle class and those still working to get there.

Under Romney’s plan, people making more than $1 million would get an average tax cut of $146,000, while many middle class and working families would actually see their taxes increase.  This plan is just the latest example of how phenomenally out of touch Mitt Romney really is.  Whether he is betting $10,000 without batting an eye, calling a $1,000 payroll tax cut a “little Band-Aid,” or advocating for a plan that gives more tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires while working families foot the bill, Mitt Romney just doesn’t seem to get it.

CONCLUSION

With such deeply misguided policies and a distinct history of sending hardworking Americans to the unemployment line, you’d think that Mitt Romney would be hesitant to throw punches at the President on economic grounds.  But that’s exactly what Romney has tried to do.  So while Romney continues to launch misguided attacks on President Obama, we’ll let the numbers do the talking: under the President’s leadership, we have now seen 22 straight months of private sector job growth.  We have also increased manufacturing job growth for the second straight year – prior to the Obama Administration, the last year the country saw manufacturing job growth was 1997.  Those are numbers Mitt Romney would have loved to see when he was Massachusetts Governor and manufacturing jobs plummeted in his state.

When push comes to shove, Romney’s story just doesn’t hold up.  His job-creation claims are factually inaccurate, and his plan to double down on the same failed policies that caused the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression is enough to send America’s working families running in the other direction.  The American people deserve to know the truth – and as we continue to see, Mitt Romney is terrified to give it to them.

 

 

 

 

Romney’s Net Worth [that we know about]

 

 

 

 

 

MUST SEE! The Boffo Awfulness

Josh Marshall, TPM editor:

In the preceding post I referenced this swift-boat-style ‘documentary’ on Mitt Romney and Bain Capital which the Gingrich-backing SuperPAC (Winning Our Future) has bought and will use as the battering ram against Romney in South Carolina. They’ve put up a trailer for it now which you can see after the jump. It really is right out of the Swift Boat witch’s brew, the camp lighting, rumbling black clouds, the cinematography of 30 second hit ads expanded out longform.

Just watch …

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_evS-T-c35M&feature=player_embedded

MORE>>>

 

 

 

Debbie Wasserman Schultz: “Mitt Romney, I think, is more of a job cremator than a job creator.”

 

 

 

Axelrod on Romney: He’s Not A Job Creator, He’s A Corporate Raider 

 

 

 

Why Mitt Romney doesn’t want to release his tax returns

TPM:

Mitt Romney still says he’s unlikely to publicly release his tax information, even if he clinches the Republican presidential nomination, and Democrats have a pretty good idea why.

Romney is a privileged poster child for the “Buffett Rule” — President Obama’s principle that the tax code should make it impossible for a person of great wealth to pay a lower share of their income in taxes than ordinary people. The DNC knows it, policy wonks know it, Romney certainly knows it. But the reasons why are technical and illustrate just how different Romney is from the vast majority of Americans who will cast votes for him — in either the GOP primary or the general election.

One tax expert told TPM of “fairly sophisticated tax strategies” that would be “not available to ordinary tax payers.” A technique that puts you in a position that’s “like having an unlimited 401k account” sounds very attractive. But maybe not if you’re running for office, for Pete’s sake.

When Romney jokes that he’s been unemployed for years, he’s obscuring the fact that he’s still collecting millions of dollars of investment income, which is taxed at a much lower rate than it would be if he, like most taxpayers, took home a regular paycheck. He’s also obscuring the fact a great deal of that same income is only vaguely connected to his own underlying investments, and yet benefits from a key loophole in the tax code that allows him and other wealthy finance veterans to more than halve their effective tax rate.

In private equity, fund managers are typically compensated with both a fee (two percent of assets) and substantial share (20 percent) of the fund’s profits. Those profits are called “carried interest” and they’re classified as long-term capital gains, which are taxed at 15 percent — much lower than wage income, on which the top marginal rate is 35 percent. But unlike the fund’s main investors, the manager typically doesn’t put up more than a nominal share of the fund’s actual capital. In other words, this so-called “carried interest loophole” allows private equity fund managers to treat the money they make in exchange for their labor as if it was a return on an investment — even though they haven’t made such an investment at all.

“They’re performing services to these funds, they’re not putting in their own money except to a nominal extent,” says Vic Fleishcer, a tax law professor at the University of Colorado. “When Mitt Romney was working at Bain he received a share of the profits from the Bain funds and continues to do so today and that’s all being taxed at the long-term capital gains rate.”

Among fund managers, “the capital interest is typically very small compared to their stake in the profit,” says one tax expert in Washington who represents private-equity clients. In other words, a fund manager might have a tiny stake in the investment he’s managing, but nonetheless recoup a great deal of its profit, and then pay very little in taxes on that profit. This loophole puts huge downward pressure on the the effective tax rate people like Romney pay.

Until recently, too, they were allowed to set up offshore corporations in places like the Cayman Islands, which allowed them to avoid paying U.S. taxes until they return the profits home.

“That allowed Romney to defer his income taxes until he repatriated his income to the U.S.,” Fleischer said. “It [was] like having an unlimited 401k account…. These kinds of techniques are not available to ordinary tax payers. Because of the nature of his work he’s able to take advantage of some fairly sophisticated tax strategies and that highlights how different he is from your normal tax payer.”

There’s nothing illegal here — it’s all on the level, and the tax code doesn’t technically reserve these benefits for rich people alone. But in practice, high net-worth tax payers are the only ones who can really avail themselves of them.

“Very high income people have lots of investible income and we have a tax system that is preferential to investment income,” says Clint Stretch, a top tax lawyer at Deloitte. “If you have capital gains or dividends, under current law they have a 15 percent rate, it’s going to be very hard to get your effective tax rate up as high as a comparably wealthy wage earner…. If you layer on a group of high-income people who have tax exempt income — municipal bonds and so forth — it gets harder.”

In practice this means wealthy Americans can reduce their tax liabilities, and a lucky few in the investor class can really limit theirs.

“I looked at tax return data from 2008 and for taxpayers that earned more than half a million dollars — that’s six-tenths of one percent of all taxpayers — they had 72 percent of long-term capital gains,” Stretch said. “Taxpayers over $5 million had over 43 percent of capital gains…. That’s the magic of high income — and anybody with investments can do it, high income doctors and lawyers and accountants and celebrities and athletes can do it.” As Stretch notes, though, you can’t do it if you don’t have enough disposable income to make long-term investments.

Because the tax code is complex, and rife with benefits and deductions, it’s impossible to use Romney’s publicly available income figures to reverse engineer his particular tax burden exactly. But you can ballpark it pretty easily, as Michael Scherer at Time Magazine did way back in October.

In 2010 he and his wife made between $1.1 million and $2.8 million in royalties, salary, speaking fees and interest, most of which was likely taxed at a marginal rate of 35%, after accounting for deductions. The Romneys made an additional $5.5 million to $37.3 million from dividends and capital gains, which is generally taxed at a much lower rate of 15%….

Assuming that Romney declared roughly the same number of deductions as others in his income level and that his dividend and capital gains income qualified for the 15% bracket, Romney would have paid roughly 14% of his gross income in taxes to the federal government in 2010 according to Bob McIntyre, who crafts tax policy at the left-leaning Citizens for Tax Justice.

People who earn as much money as Romney typically make most of it in capital gains and often deduct more than they earn in royalties, salary and interest. In other words, they never pay the 35% rate that their income would be subject to if they just got a paycheck like most Americans.

That’s roughly the same as the effective tax rate for a married couple making $60,000 jointly.

On Romney, a Washington tax expert took a stab at it, “If I had to guess, you would find a very large charitable contribution deduction [based on Romney’s affiliation with the Mormon church] and then I’d think you’d see a lot of capital gains…. It’s likely to show a pretty low effective rate — but the same thing would happen if you saw Warren Buffett’s tax return.”

 

 

 

Ezra Klein — Why is Obama making four recess appointments rather than 200?

To recap this morning’sWonkbook, the reason President Obama moved to recess appoint his nominees to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board is that if he didn’t fill those positions, the underlying agencies would whither and die. The CFPB would never get its powers and the NLRB would be barred from making legally binding rulings. Obama wasn’t fighting Republican obstruction. He was fighting nullification.

But that doesn’t explain why Obama limited his appointments to agencies threatened with obstruction-induced obsolescence. The underlying legal theory allows recess appointments for any reason. And there are a lot of empty chairs around the federal government right now.

There are two empty seats on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors. There’s an acting director running Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac who has foiled many of the administration’s more ambitious ideas to heal the housing market. There are empty spots atop the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. In a year when the Obama administration is unlikely to get much through Congress, these vacancies make it harder for them to do more through executive action, too. In some ways, then, the question isn’t why they’re making these controversial recess appointments, but why they’re limiting themselves to appointing four of the 202 nominees languishing in the confirmation process.

One answer is that it can be hard to persuade good candidates to accept recess appointments — particularly when the appointments are made under unusual, controversial circumstances, as is the case here. This is, frankly, somewhat difficult to believe: Is there really no qualified housing-policy expert in the nation who would be interested in spending two years atop Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in a bid to better the worst housing market since the Great Depression? That seems unlikely. But, to be fair, I’ve not actually tried to recruit any takers for the job.

Another is that bipartisanship matters more in some areas than others. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke opposes recess appointments to the Federal Reserve Board, as the body has traditionally been nonpartisan and noncontroversial, and the Fed would like to keep it that way. Plus, the administration holds out hope that their Noah’s Ark strategy will lead to quick confirmations here.

A third is that confirmed nominees are worth much more than recess appointees in certain positions. A recess appointee can only stay till the end of the next Senate term — in this case,the end of 2013. A traditionally confirmed appointee to the Federal Reserve’s board gets 14 years, and a judge gets a lifetime appointment.

And there’s some hope that the Obama administration can have it both ways. By aiming their recess appointments at institutions threatened with effective nullification, they simultaneously show that they can overcome Republican obstruction but confine their new precedent to a narrow application. Perhaps, knowing that the administration can appoint who they want if they so choose, Senate Republicans will prefer a deal to a hundred recess appointments being made atop their objections.

But it seems at least as likely that Republicans retaliate by refusing to move any and all nominations. That leaves hundreds of unconfirmed nominees sitting in the cold. And, though the Obama administration might argue that they’re working under a narrow view of when you can and can’t recess appoint over congressional objections, it is unlikely that the next Republican administration will resist the urge to follow the White House’s new precedent to its natural endpoint.

 

 

 

DCCC: 14: Votes to repeal patient health care protections in Republican Congress’s first year 

 

 

 

New Hampshire Republicans To Require All Bills To Cite English Magna Carta 

Addicting Information:

800 years ago, England drafted the Magna Carta, known as the first declaration of rights in the country. The Magna Carta is so famous in fact, that the Founding Fathers used pieces of it to inspired their drafting of the Constitution which is the basis of our law today. The Republican Party in Congress is obsessed with requiring that all bills cite the Constitution to justify passing them. This is a ploy designed to kill any law that Republicans deem unconstitutional, such as everything passed since the Civil War. But New Hampshire Republicans are taking it a step further and bypass the Constitution entirely. They want to require all bills to cite a sentence from the Magna Carta itself.

According to the Concord Monitor,

“House Bill 1580 is the product of such a brainstorming session this summer between three freshman House Republicans: Bob Kingsbury of Laconia, Tim Twombly of Nashua and Lucien Vita of Middleton. The eyebrow-raiser, set to be introduced when the Legislature reconvenes next month, requires legislation to find its origin in an English document crafted in 1215.

“All members of the general court proposing bills and resolutions addressing individualrights or liberties shall include a direct quote from the Magna Carta which sets forth the article from which the individual right or liberty is derived,” is the bill’s one sentence.”

Essentially, Republicans in New Hampshire literally want to take the state back to Medieval times. They want American lawmakers to cite outdated English documents, which the Founding Fathers only drew inspiration from. They wrote the Constitution so that Americans would have their own governing document which unlike the Magna Carta, has more flexibility. Basically, the Constitution is too liberal for Republicans now, so they’re looking for any arcane and ridiculous way to kill legislation they don’t agree with.

 

 

 

Pandering to the Rich, Now in Handy Chart Form

Mother Jones:

As a public service, I’ve collected charts showing all the Republican tax plans to date in one convenient place. (The Tax Policy Center hasn’t yet tried to score plans from Santorum, Huntsman, or Paul.) It’s really pretty spectacular seeing them all together like this. It’s not just theamount of pandering to the super-rich that’s so breathtaking, it’s the lockstep unanimity. At all costs, every single Republican candidate knows that he has to promise the ultra-wealthy a huge tax break as the price of staying in the race. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the modern Republican Party in a nutshell.

 

 

 

The president’s underappreciated, undersold success stories

Foreign Policy:

Perhaps the greatest weakness of the Obama administration is its inability to own its successes. While this is hardly a weakness that will be cited by the president’s opponents in the upcoming campaign, or even one that they will acknowledge, perhaps, it will impact the outcome next November. Because the Obama track record on many fronts is much better than the administration gives itself credit for.

They could be doing much, much more to tout what is an impressive litany of successes.

While the list of those successes is long and compelling-defeating Bin Laden, getting out of Iraq, helping to oust Qaddafi, restoring our reputation internationally, resetting our international priorities to better coincide with our long term interests (the “pivot” to a focus on Asia), producing meaningful healthcare reform, producing significant financial services reforms, stopping the downward spiral in the economy and laying the foundations of recovery, etc. — let me focus on three areas that deserve much more attention and appreciation.

The first of these is our international economic policy. I worked for President Clinton on these issues and during our tenure there was always a sense they were front and center among the administration’s priorities. But during the first year’s of the Obama administration, the domestic economic crisis dominated and beyond the international repercussions of the market meltdown other econ issues couldn’t seem to wedge their way up to being front of mind for the president or his top advisors.

That has changed. A couple years ago the president made a bold-seemingly out of the blue-call for the U.S. to double it’s exports over the next five years. With growth averaging over 16 percent a year since then, they are on the path to do so. The U.S. Export-Import Bank has broken all records in terms of financing of U.S. exports. Three trade deals got through a divided Congress-against substantial opposition from within the president’s own party. The TPP process is moving forward. Trade laws are being enforced more aggressively. U.S. pressure on China regarding its currency is beginning to have an effect. U.S. active involvement in European debt discussions has been forceful and played a meaningful role in moving them forward (admittedly working against strong internal EU headwinds). The U.S. has actively begun a program to attract foreign investment in the U.S., a long-overlooked area of great importance. Exports are contributing heavily to recent growth. The president’s Export Initiative is working beyond what anyone had any reason to hope was possible.

So where’s the party? Why isn’t the president celebrating each of these landmarks and sending his surrogates across America with this message of success? He can prove he is creating jobs and growth and making material progress at getting globalization to work for the U.S. He should be shouting it from the rooftops. (I know we would have been during the Clinton years. Indeed, we celebrated much smaller accomplishments much more aggressively.)

The next of these is our policy with regard to Iran. In recent days it has become clear that the sanctions against Iran are working vastly better than anyone should have expected. The Europeans are now tightening them further with a planned oil embargo against the Iranians — a display of unity and shared purpose within the Atlantic Alliance that might at one time have seemed as far-fetched as the idea that sanctions could work in the first place.  I know I was betting against them having real traction. Perhaps more surprisingly, the Chinese have joined in constructively. Admittedly, they’re doing it to finagle lower oil prices. But whatever their motivation, this is the first major Mideast issue that has required their involvement and they have played a useful role. Further, this is no accident. All of these moves have come thanks to purposeful, tireless behind the scenes diplomacy by the United States.

Further, the pressure brought on the Iranians has not just been economic. From Stuxnet to covert attacks on their nuclear facilities and personnel, the U.S. and our allies have demonstrated that there are useful forms of pressure that fall between toothless soft power and over-the-top applications of “shock and awe” type force. […]

The third of these is the president’s new policy with regard to resetting defense priorities.  Admittedly, the Panetta plan for cutting spending was just unveiled today during the president’s trip to the Pentagon. But it has been percolating for weeks.  More importantly, it should be seen in the context of the current political environment. Imagine, a president running for re-election is willing to argue for substantial defense spending cuts ($450 billion over a decade) even though he knows it will bring him an onslaught of criticism and constant attacks from his opponents that he is “soft” on defense. There is nothing soft about being willing to take such heat in order to do what is right for the country.

MORE>>>

 

 

 

NYT: Political Memo: President Obama Unveils Aggressive Re-election Strategy Against G.O.P. Rivals 

Just three hours after President Obama announced that he was defying Congressional Republicans to fill a high-level regulatory position while lawmakers were out of town, Mitt Romney sent out the obligatory news release ripping the president. “Chicago-style politics at its worst,” Mr. Romney fumed, accusing the president of “circumventing Congress.”

The statement was just what the White House wanted. It put the Republican presidential front-runner squarely on the side of the Republicans in Congress, a group with toxic poll numbers that the president’s campaign hopes will hurt his rivals for the White House.

“Our presidential election campaign is not a campaign against Congress,” a senior administration official said on Thursday. “We know we’ll run against a person.” But insofar as Mr. Obama has decided to target Republicans in Congress — a body with historically low approval ratings after a year of jousting with the president — he will also be seeking to twin his opponent, to any extent he can, with the 112th Congress.

Upon the president’s return from Hawaii, the Obama campaign this week unleashed a carefully scripted and deliberately aggressive strategy that showed a White House in combative re-election mode as the president and his advisers sought to ensure that the Republicans did not get all the political limelight. Mr. Obama inserted himself into the media blitz of what was supposed to be an all-Republican show, the Iowa caucuses, when his campaign took out a huge advertisement on the home page of The Des Moines Register on caucus day and he spoke by video conference to Democrats gathered in the state.

“The Republican candidates are leaving Iowa. But their terrible plans are here to stay,” was the declaration that greeted readers who went to the newspaper’s Web site to get caucus updates.

On Wednesday, after waiting until the dust in Iowa had settled, clearing out space in newspapers and on television, Mr. Obama delivered another jab, announcing four recess appointments, including that of Richard Cordray as head of a new consumer protection agency, despite Republican opposition. On Thursday, the president went to the Pentagon and outlined a new military strategy that embraces hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to what is a Republican sacred cow, and made it clear that American ground forces would no longer be large enough to conduct prolonged, large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns like those in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Friday, he will take a victory lap with Mr. Cordray in a visit with the staff of the new Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.

White House and administration officials insist that all of Mr. Obama’s actions this week — with the exception of the advertisement — are policy decisions made for the good of the country. But fromMarine One — the helicopter where Mr. Obama and Mr. Cordray revved up on Wednesday for the forthcoming fight — to the West Wing corridors to his campaign offices in Chicago, the president’s battle for re-election is quickly escalating as he sets out to use the advantages of his office to full effect.

The president’s move last fall to take his jobs plan on the road to try to sell it to the American public, an effort that culminated in the payroll tax extension battle that is now widely perceived as a win for Mr. Obama and a debacle for Congressional Republicans, was just the beginning, administration officials and Mr. Obama’s advisers say.

David Plouffe, one of Mr. Obama’s senior political advisers, has argued in meetings at the White House that Republicans will overreach in their efforts to oppose the president’s initiatives. And administration officials believe that is what House conservatives did in the case of the payroll tax cut, with the Tea Party wing of House Republicans initially balking at a compromise deal that Senate Republicans had signed on to and sparking a backlash in the public. The refusal of Senate Republicans to allow many of Mr. Obama’s nominees to be confirmed, White House officials believe, could also end up hurting the Republicans, if it feeds the notion that they are standing in the way of the business of government.

“It is a matter of fact that the contenders for the Republican nomination have all endorsed and adopted the position espoused by the House Republicans” in the recess appointment battle, a senior administration official said on Thursday. And that, administration officials have concluded, puts Mr. Obama at an advantage as he seeks to establish a narrative this year of him as the defender of middle-class Americans and the Republicans in Congress of the rich.

So in the next few weeks, there will be more executive initiatives that will portray the president as refusing to wait on a hostile Congress to take action to help Americans, officials say.

And there could be more recess appointments, if not in the coming days, then next month, when Congress is expected to recess over the Washington’s Birthday Day holiday. Some Senate Republicans, furious over the recess appointments, said they would retaliate by not approving any more Obama nominees. But since so many of Mr. Obama’s nominees have been held up anyway, the president may simply continue the precedent he established Wednesday, and use the break in February to appoint another batch of people, administration officials said.

There will also be announcements of more “We Can’t Wait” projects — the term the White House has adopted for executive action initiatives, like a plan to provide summer jobs to young people, which the White House announced on Wednesday.

 

 

 

 

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Mitt Romney?

Kevin Drum:

Mitt Romney has a win in Iowa under his belt and is now headed to the friendlier environs of New Hampshire, where he’s got a good chance of all but wrapping up the Republican nomination. Turns out, though, that this poses a problem for the Obama campaign: they aren’t sure yet how best to trash the guy:

President Obama and his campaign aides are facing a conundrum as they decide how to tarnish the man they see as their likely opponent in the battle ahead.

Do they go the flip-flopper route? Or do they go the out-of-touch, protector-of-Wall-Street route?

Hmmm. Today’s shiny new conventional wisdom is that the GOP primary campaign has already forced Romney so far to the right that he’ll have trouble tacking to the center for the general election. This is nonsense. The fact is that Romney has reserved almost all of his most extreme rhetoric for laughably over-the-top denunciations of Barack Obama, and

that’s not really a problem for him. By contrast, most of his issue positions have remained relatively tolerable. The truth is that Romney is unusually wellpositioned to moderate his image by summer, which is when people actually start paying attention.

I don’t think the Republican primary season is going to last nearly as long as most people seem to think. Bachmann has already dropped out, Huntsman is going nowhere, Paul is a novelty candidate, Perry is fatally wounded and may leave the race soon, and Gingrich looks all set to self-destruct in typically bitter, spectacular fashion. That leaves Santorum. I guess it’s barely possible that if, say, Bachmann and Perry both drop out and endorse Santorum, he might give Romney a good run. But I doubt it. Santorum is just like all the others: a weak candidate who’s going to wilt as soon as the spotlight is on him. He’s avoided serious attacks so far simply because no one really took him seriously, but does anyone doubt that there’s a huge trainload ofhighly effective negative advertising that Romney can unload on him whenever he wants to? I mean, come on. This is Rick Santorum.

I’ll be surprised if the GOP primary race goes much beyond the end of February, and I’ll be shocked if Super Tuesday on March 6 doesn’t end it completely. This means that the Republican base will have six months to resign themselves to their fate and come to the conclusion that Romney is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being ever to run for president. And they will. When Job 1 is beating the anti-Christ, learning to love Mitt Romney will be a piece of cake.

So what does this mean for Team Obama? My guess: the flip-flopper charge probably won’t get much traction. It’s mostly a problem for conservatives, who don’t fully trust that Romney is one of them, but by the time summer rolls around they’re going to be his most fire-breathing supporters. They’ll have long since decided to forgive and forget, and independents won’t care that much in the first place as long as Romney seems halfway reasonable in his current incarnation. It’s possible that Obama can do both — Romney is a flip flopper and a right-wing nutcase! — but if he has to choose, my guess is that he should forget about the flip flopping and simply do everything he can to force Romney into the wingnut conservative camp. That’ll be his big weakness when Labor Day rolls around.

 

 

 

Iowa post-mortem

Kos:

[…] Iowa will say that they’re worthy of this monopoly on the process because they are better at vetting candidates via retail politics. Well, the only two candidates who spent serious time campaigning in Iowa—Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum—didn’t win.

  • Of course, Rick Santorum almost won. And in the expectations game, he did win. But that has less to do with him campaigning in the state, and more to do with the fact that he wasn’t targeted in the GOP ad wars.
  • In fact, it’s no coincidence that the top two candidates, Santorum and Mitt Romney, were the only two candidates in the field who didn’t face a barrage of negative advertising.
  • Which brings up another interesting point—the not-Mitt-Romney candidates were so fixated on being the not-Mitt-Romney, that they gave Mitt Romney a complete pass. Meanwhile, Romney’s Super PAC engaged in scorched earth tactics against any candidate who seemed to get traction. They simply ran out of time before they could train their guns on Santorum.
  • Let’s be clear—Rick Santorum sucked as a candidate. He just happened to be the last man standing at exactly the right moment. The dude raised less than a million dollars over the course of an entire year, and only took over the not-Mitt-Romney mantle after the epic collapses of Donald Trump, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich.
  • Incidentally, the supposed bastion of retail politics—Iowa—gave all those candidates top marks in the polls at one point or another, despite them (except for Bachmann) all but ignoring the state. Why are they first again?
  • Mitt Romney couldn’t improve on his absolute vote total from 2008, which is particularly pathetic—more proof that Republicans simply don’t like him, and will never like him.
  • Ron Paul supporters aren’t Republicans. And the issues that attract them to Ron Paul (foreign policy, stuff about the Fed) are anathema to the mainstream GOP. Those issues won’t be adopted by the GOP in the general election, and those Paul supporters won’t vote Republican in November. They’ll go third party or sit things out.
  • Take out Paul’s vote, and Republican turnout last night was worse than it was in 2008. The 123,000 people who caucused with the GOP last night was was nearly half of those who caucused for the Democrats in 2008: 239,000. Turns out, Republicans aren’t much motivated by their field.
  • So the new dynamics are: Romney versus the two-headed Gingrich/Santorum hydra. Romney’s Super PAC will now unload on Santroum (let’s see how much the teabaggers likeCitizen’s United now), while Gingrich will go nuclear on Romney, letting Santorum try and keep the high ground (with the $28 he has in his pocket).
  • Santorum will be hard pressed to withstand the scrutiny he’s about to receive, not just from Romney, but also from the media. The big question is whether conservative Republicans, seeing no other alternatives or saviors in the horizon, decide to give a shit. If the worse that can be said about Santorum is that he was a fan of earmarks (and that’s his biggest sin among conservatives), then he has a chance. In the primary.

 

 

 

 

Obama Calls Giffords On Anniversary Of Shooting

The White House released this statement on Sunday:

Today, President Obama called Representative Gabrielle Giffords to offer his support in advance of the candlelight vigil commemorating the anniversary of the tragic shooting in Tucson. The President told Rep. Giffords that he and the First Lady keep her, the families of the fallen, and the whole Tucson community in their daily thoughts and prayers and, along with the entire nation, continue to join her in mourning those lost. The President expressed amazement at the courage and determination Rep. Giffords has shown along her incredible road to recovery, calling her an inspiration to his family and Americans across the country.

 

 

 

POLLS

[Good Longread] What the Great Recession Wrought: The State of the U.S. in 3 Years of Polls

The Atlantic:

More than three years into the deepest economic downturn since the Depression, Americans are resilient, wary, and divided.

That’s a central message from the 11 Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor polls conducted each quarter since April 2009. Across an array of questions, the polls show Americans to beresilient in their enduring conviction that their economic fate will turn primarily on their own efforts, rather than on large forces beyond their control; wary in their deepening skepticism that they can rely on any large institution, from banks and major corporations to Congress and the federal bureaucracy, to protect their interests; and deeply divided along partisan, ideological, and racial lines over Washington’s proper role in national life.

With more than 12,000 cumulative interviews, the surveys paint a portrait of a nation struggling to maintain faith in old beliefs about opportunity, self-sufficiency, and the rewards of hard work amid a nagging fear that the economy’s new dynamics expose average Americans to far more financial insecurity than earlier generations–and sentence the nation to more disruptive cycles of boom and bust. By overwhelming margins, those polled consistently have expressed faith that they can still achieve the American Dream, defined as the opportunity to advance as far as their talents will take them, and to live better than their parents. And yet, the surveys also find ominous cracks in that conviction, with many Americans, especially whites, growing pessimistic that their children will exceed, or even equal, their own standard of living.

This uneasy mix of anxiety and determination infuses all 11 surveys, which examined American attitudes toward a variety of economic trends and financial challenges from opportunity and risk to demographic change, global competition, the millennial generation’s prospects, homeownership, public and private debt, and the changing nature of retirement. The polls make clear that the recession landed in the center of American life with the force of a natural disaster, even rattling groups usually sheltered from economic instability and shaking beliefs that have persisted for generations on issues ranging from the nature of retirement to the value of a college education.

One theme consistently winding through the polls is the emergence of what could be called a “reluctant self-reliance,” as Americans look increasingly to reconstruct economic security from their own efforts, in part because they don’t trust outside institutions to provide it for them. The surveys suggest that the battered economy has crystallized a gestating crisis of confidence in virtually all of the nation’s public and private leadership class–from elected officials to the captains of business and labor. Taken together, the results render a stark judgment: At a time when they believe they are navigating much more turbulent economic waters than earlier generations, most Americans feel they are paddling alone. Shawn Kurt, an unemployed lumber-mill worker in Molalla, Ore., who responded to one survey, spoke for many when he plaintively declared, “I myself don’t see no one trying to help me.”

This complex set of opinions creates a turbulent political climate for both parties as the 2012 campaign intensifies. Most immediately, the surveys point to a closely fought presidential contest. In Heartland Monitor surveys over the past two years, President Obama has maintained an equivocal but remarkably stable position, recently facing a narrow plurality of disapproval on his performance, while consistently holding a narrow majority of hope on the direction he has set for the nation. After successive sharp swings toward the Democrats in 2006 and 2008 and the Republicans in 2010, a broad array of the surveys’ findings indicate that the 2012 presidential race will once again divide the country almost in half, as did the 2000 and 2004 campaigns that inspired talk of the “50-50 nation.” No matter which side emerges from 2012 with an edge, the attitudes captured in the polls point toward years of sustained electoral volatility.

The Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor surveys have explored American attitudes on the changing economy each quarter since April 2009. The 11 polls, conducted by Ed Reilly, Brent McGoldrick, and Jeremy Ruch of FTI Strategic Communications, a communications-strategy consulting firm, have surveyed between 1,000 and 1,200 adults each time, with a margin of error ranging between 2.8 and 3.1 percentage points. To provide more detailed data, several surveys oversampled specific populations, such as young people, retirees, and racial minorities.

POLLS and ANALYSIS HERE

 

 

 

President Obama’s base of support remains solid heading into 2012 

WaPo:

Everyone knows that President Obama has a problem with his political base heading into 2012. Except that he doesn’t.

One of the most persistent story lines for the president has been that the liberal left has grown increasingly dissatisfied with his actions (or inaction) on some of its priorities — including single-payer health insurance, the extension of the George W. Bush tax cuts and whether to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But an examination of the polling data among key subgroups that constitute Obama’s base makes clear that he has as much support from them as any modern president seeking a second term.

“There is one immutable fact about President Obama’s reelection chances: Nobody has a more solid 44 percent base than he does,” Democratic pollster Peter Hart wrote in a not-entirely-uncritical memo assessing the state of political affairs a year out from the election.

As evidence, Hart noted that in the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, Obama takes 44 percent in a three-way race with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney as the Republican nominee and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) running as an independent; has a 44 percent job approval rating; and has a 45 percent positive personal rating. In the same survey, 45 percent said they “probably” will vote for Obama in 2012.

At the heart of the president’s enduring strength among his base are African Americans who have never wavered in any meaningful way after 95 percent of black voters opted for the Illinois senator in 2008.

In Gallup’s latest weekly tracking polling, Obama’s job approval rating stands at 43 percent among the general public but is nearly double that — 84 percent —among African Americans. In the November NBC-WSJ poll, Obama’s approval rating among black voters stood at a stratospheric 91 percent.

Given that African Americans made up 13 percent of the overall electorate in 2008 — and, hence, a much larger chunk of the Democratic base vote — Obama’s continued support among that key demographic makes any sort of widespread base erosion in 2012 unlikely.

That’s a reality that even Republicans acknowledge.

“Anyone who thinks African Americans are not going to turn out and vote in numbers similar to 2008 are fooling themselves,” said Glen Bolger, a leading GOP pollster. “There is no way they are going to say, ‘Well, we didn’t get everything we wanted from making history, so let’s sit on our hands.’ ”

Although African Americans remain the base group most broadly supportive of Obama, liberals and Democrats are very much in his camp as well. In Gallup’s most recent data, Obama’s job approval rating stood at 78 percent among Democrats and 70 percent among liberals.

Those numbers are similar to where President Bill Clinton stood in November 1995, when 78 percent of Democrats in Gallup polling approved of the job he was doing. (Bush had the support of 87 percent of Republicans in the fall of 2003, but those numbers were the result of the boosts he received from the start of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

MORE>>>

 

 

 

Romney slips but still crushing GOP field in New Hampshire

 

 

Obama starts 2012 at 46% job approval in Gallup. 

 

 

Poll: Comments on homosexuality hurt Santorum in N.H.

 

 

Dem Poll: Stabebow leads by double digits in Michigan 

 

 

 

SCIENCE

Pentagon Scientists Use ‘Time Hole’ to Make Events Disappear

Wired:

Soldiers could one day conduct covert operations in complete secrecy, now that Pentagon-backed physicists have figured out how to mask entire events by distorting light.

A team at Cornell University, with support from Darpa, the Pentagon’s out-there research arm, managed to hide an event for 40 picoseconds (those are trillionths of seconds, if you’re counting). They’ve published their groundbreaking research in this week’s edition of the journal Nature.

This is the first time that scientists have succeeded in masking an event, though research teams have in recent years made remarkable strides in cloaking objects. Researchers at the University of Texas, Dallas, last year harnessed the mirage effect to make objects vanish. And in 2010, physicists at the University of St.Andrews made leaps towards using metamaterials to trick human eyes into not seeing what was right in front of them.

Masking an object entails bending light around that object. If the light doesn’t actually hit an object, then that object won’t be visible to the human eye.

Where events are concerned, concealment relies on changing the speed of light. Light that’s emitted from actions, as they happen, is what allows us to see those actions happen. Usually, that light comes in a constant flow. What Cornell researchers did, in simple terms, is tweak that ongoing flow of light — just for a mere iota of time — so that an event could transpire without being observable.

The entire experiment occurred inside a fiber optics cable. Researchers passed a beam of green light down the cable, and had it move through a lens that split the light into two frequencies, one moving slowly and the other faster. As that was happening, they shot a red laser through the beams. Since the laser “shooting” occurred during a teeny, tiny time gap, it was imperceptible.

Sure, the team’s got a ways to go before they’re able to mask 30 seconds of action, let alone several minutes. But the research certainly opens up new possibilities. For one, masking super-quick events, like those that occur with data transmission, could help conceal covert computer operations.

In the words of Nature editors, the research marks “a significant step towards full spatio-temporal cloaking.” But it could be decades before military personnel will basically be able to zap history, as it happens: According to Cornell scientists, it’d take a machine 18,600 miles long to produce a time mask that lasts a single second.

 

 

 

SCOTUS

The DOJ’s Affordable Care Act Filing: 5 Quick Takes

The Atlantic:

[Very wonky]

SCOTUS expected to hear Montana campaign finance appeal

Politico:

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to wade into the hot-button debate over corporate cash in politics again, just in time for the 2012 election season.

The conservative group American Tradition Partnership announced plans Thursday to appeal a Montana Supreme Court ruling that upheld a state law banning corporations from spending to directly support or oppose candidates.

Campaign finance experts predict that the court will almost certainly address the ruling, since it’s seen as a direct challenge to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision that allowed corporations, unions and other special interests to use their treasury funds to make or fund political ads that support or oppose political candidates.

Proponents of the Citizens United decision say they expect the high court to swiftly strike down the Montana law. The court could issue a summary reversal of the Montana court ruling without hearing arguments on the case.

“We, and impartial legal scholars, are confident these unbiased courts will uphold the First Amendment rights of Montanans to speak freely about powerholders,” American Tradition Partnership Executive Director Donald Ferguson said Thursday in a statement.

At least one justice on the Montana court isn’t expecting the state law to stand.

“Citizens United is the law of the land, and this Court is duty-bound to follow it,” said Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson, one of the two dissenting judges in the 5-2 ruling issued on Dec. 30. “When this case is appealed to the Supreme Court, as I expect it will be, a summary reversal on the merits would not surprise me in the least,” he wrote.

But campaign finance reform advocates see opportunity in re-opening the contentious debate at the federal level.

“We believe there’s a win-win situation here,” said John Bonifaz, the co-founder and director of Free Speech for People. If the high court refuses to address the decision, he said, it could give a green light to other states to limit corporations’ political spending.

“If they take it up, there will be a new opportunity to push forward all the arguments as to why the court got it wrong,” he said. And if they reaffirm their prior decision, “that will only fuel the efforts further to allow a constitutional amendment,” he said, noting that he would expect the court to make a decision by late June or early July.

 

 

 

WEDGE ISSUES

 

 

New Hampshire House Passes Fetal Homicide Bill 

ThinkProgress:

New Hampshire’s GOP-controlled House approved a bill that allows authorities to criminally chargeanyone who causes the death of a fetus. Advocates claim the legislation would protect pregnant women from attackers who wish to harm them or their fetuses, but opponents say it’s a transparent back-door attempt to outlaw abortion by redefining personhood. If the bill becomes law, New Hampshire will join 37 other states that also recognize fetuses as victims in violent crimes. The bill’s main sponsor, Rep. Kathleen Souza (R), tried unsuccessfully to reverse changes to the bill that restrict fetal homicide to fetuses more than 24 weeks, and require the perpetrator to “knowingly or purposely cause the death and also know that the woman is pregnant.”

 

 

 

Santorum: John Wayne Gacy is a better parent than Elton John and David Furnish combined. 

 

 

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

 

“Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly — it reminds us that we know we can do better.”  ~~Katherine Schultz

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.

12 Responses so far.

Click here to leave a comment
  1. Khirad says:

    Fine, I’ll add my own weird stuff.

    Japanese Department Store May Want to Look Up the Word ‘Fucking’
    http://gawker.com/5874304/japanese-department-store-may-want-to-look-up-the-word-fucking

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Khirad that’s terrific! I confess to loving bad translations too. BTW, I was going to post some weirdness, but the post was too long already. Anyway, here’s a good one too (but not nearly as good!)

      [img][/img]

  2. Hi Cher the best part about today is that it was a terrible day for Romney and much of it self induced with his continued lies and lack of real genuineness.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      KQ-- it was a really fantastic day, wasn’t it! I love how the Repubs are doing the heavy lifting on calling out Romney in Bain and his vulture capitalism. (Did you catch Newt’s PAC ad? And the ABC News video about the offshore taxes? I never could have expected it. Cheers to another ten months of them!

  3. Chernynkaya says:

    Hey, C’Lady! We had a great time off--full of “west and wewaxation!”

    The basic premise of Libertarianism always (or rather once I got past age 20) struck me as incredibly unrealistic. They seem to have the notion that people are all basically fair and reasonable and self-sufficient and ethical about all issues, all the time. Seriously? In what world has that ever been true? Therefore, left to their own devises, in some mythical Eden, everyone would take perfect care of themselves and others if those others were so accursed as to be unsound in body or mind. Businesses would look out for the common good.

    Since I really cannot believe that Libertarians actually believe this BS, I can only conclude that they just don’t give a shit about anybody but themselves and actually all belong on a mountain somewhere away from civilization. There they can live in small tribes and circle the wagons. And inbreed. They want to be left alone and take no responsibility for society and humanity. A pox on ’em.

    • Now that’s what I would call “going Galt.” Why Ayn Rand would feel the need to encourage selfishness is beyond me. Far too many people are selfish by nature. They really don’t need any encouragement. Maybe she felt they needed approval to assuage their guilt, if they have such emotions. I don’t think they do though.

  4. choicelady says:

    OK -- I have to question why NH legislators want a line or two from the Magna Carta in every bill. I DEMAND we go to the real origins: Cite a line from the Code of Hammurabi!!! In the original. You want fundamentals? Go to fundamentals. None of the wishy-washy halfway stuff.

  5. choicelady says:

    Welcome back, Cher -- hope you’re rested and ready for the New Year? We surely did miss you! This is an excellent compilation of LOTS of news, all of it helpful. I’ve not yet gone through it all, whew!

    Did wish to ask one question of the Austrian School -- how’d that Tulip Craze and South Sea Bubble work out for ya? Government was no way involved in either, and… The missing element is the suffering and harm done to people who, at the micro level, were not the cause of but suffered horrendous consequences from, free markets excess. Why is state corporatism horrible but private corporatism wonderful? Who looks out for those who put one foot in front of the other and sustain the day-to-day economy but who can be crushed by the few who ruin it at the top? Only way -- ONLY way -- to make this fair is to turn all production over to those who produce. You don’t have a skill -- you don’t have a say. Finance wheeler dealers -- OUT of production, OUT of businesses that make real things, OUT of agriculture. Only those who produce get a say. Oh -- you can play the market, but it’s with the proviso that it’s YOYO time -- you’re on your own. Then you have a truly “libertarian” economy base.

    But this view of yours is infested with the problem that you don’t think ordinary people are smart enough to run their own lives, Mr. Libertarian. So your elitism skews your entire argument. I ask you again -- how’d that South Sea Bubble work for ya? You have a choice -- participatory economics, government mediation for all people, or Social Darwinism with HUGE social control. If you opt for the latter -- I will definitely not opt for YOU.

    • Our economic policy was close to the Austrian School up to when the Fed was created. The result was a system that had financial collapses every 8-12 years, we had corruption that made today look like nursery school and the US was a backwater agrarian nation with nominal industrial growth.


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