Back from my month’s hiatus. I made a few small changes too. Please let me know what you think about this: Do you prefer that I add the site for each item, or doesn’t it matter? Hope you enjoy! 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.
Apple cash staying overseas because of taxes, company says
Apple is planning to spend an estimated $45 billion of its cash reserves in the next three years, as part of a program the company announced Monday that includes the first dividend for shareholders since 1995.
But not one penny of that is slated to come from the roughly $64 billion the company has stashed overseas. That’s because Apple, like other corporations, is loath to pay the heavy tax hit for repatriating that money.
Along with Google and Microsoft, Apple is among a bevy of tech giants pushing for a tax holiday on more than $1 trillion in foreign profits.
The issue has been a hot topic on the Hill. A bill on the subject by Texas Republican Kevin Brady has 109 co-sponsors. But critics say repatriation is a bad tax policy that rewards the biggest U.S. multinational firms for not paying their fair share of taxes.
The Obama administration has said it would support a tax holiday on foreign earnings only as part of a broader overhaul of the tax code. But Obama’s tax reform blueprint, rolled out last month, shunned the idea. It’s an issue that’s sure to come up again as tax reform discussions heat up on Capitol Hill.
The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision opened up the way for unlimited corporate spending on politics and has led to the proliferation of non-profit political groups that do not have to disclose the identities of their donors. But it turns out corporations may be getting another benefit from anonymous donations they give to these groups: a break on their taxes.
It all starts with the so-called “social welfare” groups that have become bigger players in the political world in the wake of Citizens United, which knocked down restrictions on campaign activity by such groups.
Tax experts say it’s possible that businesses are using an aggressive interpretation of the law to wring a tax advantage out of their donations to these groups.
It’s almost impossible to know whether it’s happening, partly because the groups— also known by their IRS designation as 501(c)(4)s—aren’t required to disclose their donors. (That’s why the contributions have been dubbed “dark money.”)
This state of affairs is not entirely new; social welfare groups have long been involved in politics. In 2000, for example, the NAACP National Voter Fund, which is a social welfare group, ran hard-hitting ads just days before the election criticizing George Bush for his opposition to hate-crimes legislation. What’s new is the scale of involvement of such groups in elections, which has expanded dramatically in the wake of Citizens United and is part of the increasing flood of money in elections.
The most prominent of a new crop of the groups is the Karl Rove-affiliated Crossroads GPS – which raised $43 million in the 2010 midterm elections and is expected to become an even bigger force this year after pledging to raise and spend $300 million with its sister super PAC, American Crossroads. Democrats are also expanding their use of the groups, led by pro-Obama Priorities USA, which raised $2 million last year.
Precisely because they offer anonymity, such groups may be attractive vehicles for companies that want to spend money electing a favored candidate or pushing an issue. In 2010, Target generated a national backlash after giving $100,000 to a Minnesota group that ran ads supporting a candidate who opposed gay marriage. Liberal activists seized on the donation after it was revealed in state filings. If Target – or any other public or private corporation – gave to Crossroads GPS or Priorities USA, the public would never know.
Companies may also be deducting from their taxes the undisclosed donations they give to these groups.
“There has always been this suspicion, but I can’t prove it,” says Frances Hill, a tax law professor at University of Miami who first floated the concept in a brief mention in the New York Times earlier this month. “It could be put into the advertising budgets, which for many companies are very large dollar amounts.”
This is where the aggressive interpretation of the tax code would come into play.
Corporations are allowed wide latitude in deducting business expenses from their taxes – everything from workers’ salaries to marketing expenses of all kinds. But one thing they’re explicitly barred from deducting is political expenditures.
As the law puts it, companies are not allowed to deduct money spent on “intervention in any political campaign” or “any attempt to influence the general public, or segments thereof, with respect to elections, legislative matters, or referendums.”
But tax experts say a company could argue that money given to “social welfare” groups isn’t political spending at all and that the donations are instead “ordinary and necessary” business expenses.
The company might argue, for example, that ads run by a social welfare group would favorably influence opinion on a public policy issue that affects the company’s business. Thus, say, an oil company would claim a business expense deduction on a donation to a social welfare group that was running ads criticizing President Obama’s policies on domestic drilling.
The company would also have to argue the money isn’t being used by the groups on political expenditures. So it comes down to where the IRS draws the line on what is a political expenditure, and whether ads run by such groups as Crossroads GPS or Priorities USA would cross the line.
Determining what is and is not a political expenditure is a matter of intense dispute. The IRS has historically looked at various factors in assessing nonprofit spending – things like whether an ad mentions a candidate for public office or whether it’s aired close to an election. But wiggle room remains.
“It’s a smell test,” says Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a Notre Dame professor who specializes in election and tax law. Donor corporations’ lawyers “could take the position that unless an ad is express advocacy, it’s not across the line for tax purposes.” Under this argument, an ad praising Obama’s stance on foreign policy wouldn’t be classified as political unless it explicitly told viewers to “vote for Obama.”
The social welfare groups themselves also have an interest in classifying their work as issue-based or educational since they risk losing their tax status if their primary purpose is political campaign activity. Campaign finance reformers have beenpressing the IRS to crack down on the new social welfare groups that, they argue, are abusing their tax status.
“The organizations themselves may be arguing that their expenditures are not political, they are issue advocacy. If you accept that characterization, you would get a deduction,” says Marcus Owens, a partner at Caplin & Drysdale and former director of the IRS’ Exempt Organizations Division.
Crossroads GPS and Priorities USA did not respond to requests for comment about what proportion of their work they classify as political. The proportion matters because if corporations are in fact deducting donations as business expenses, they cannot deduct the part of the donation that was used for political purposes.
So where does all this leave us? If a company gave $1 million to Crossroads GPS or Priorities USA and claimed the donation was a business expense, that would be $1 million of the company’s revenue not subject to taxes. If the company was paying a 30 percent tax rate, that would mean savings of $300,000.
But this is entirely hypothetical because we can’t be sure whether this tax strategy is occurring. First, the social welfare groups don’t reveal their donors. So we don’t know which companies to ask about the deduction issue. Second, if companies are taking the deduction, it would be detailed in tax returns to the IRS that are confidential.
Mitt Romney, delivering a mouthful of spaghetti logic in lieu of a campaign message:
“I believe the economy is coming back, by the way,” Romney said. “We’ll see what happens. It’s had ups and downs. I think it’s finally coming back. The economy always comes back after a recession, of course. There’s never been one that we didn’t recover from. The problem is this one has been deeper than it needed to be and a slower recovery than it should have been, by virtue of the policies of this president. Almost everything he’s done has made it harder for this economy to recover.”
When Mitt Romney launched his campaign, he said the reason he was running was that the economy was in dire straits and America needed his skills as a job creator to get back on track. Then Newt Gingrich challenged his skills as a job creator and he said anybody who attacked his business experience was an enemy of free enterprise. Now he says the economy is coming back, but it’s President Obama’s fault that it took so long.
According to Romney, the reason the economy is coming back is that it “always comes back after a recession”—no matter what the president does. How does he square that with his claim that America needs a president with his (claimed) experience as a job creator? He doesn’t. He simply makes the vacuous claim that if it weren’t for President Obama, the economy would have recovered more quickly, as if he took a bad situation and made it worse.
Actually, President Obama took an extraordinarily bad recession and stopped it from becoming a second Great Depression. When he took office we were losing nearly one million jobs per month. We’ve now had the best year of private sector job growth in the past five years. In fact, President Obama in just three years has a better private sector job growth record than George W. Bush had in eight years. (And under Mitt Romney, Massachusetts ranked 47th.)
There’s only one way we could have had a stronger recovery and that’s if we’d had a bigger stimulus. Perhaps President Obama should have asked for a bigger one, but the one thing we know is that it was congressional Republicans—particularly in the Senate—who led the effort to block the stimulus. Don’t forget, they filibustered it and it only passed when three Republicans crossed party lines to vote for it.
Before President Obama took office, Mitt Romney himself called for a stimulus. The only major difference between what he wanted and what ultimately passed is the final stimulus included aid for states and local governments in addition to tax cuts and infrastructure spending, both of which Romney endorsed. But as Romney has also argued on the campaign trail, cutting spending during slow economic times is bad for the economy. In other words, if he’d had his way, growth would have been even slower.
Given all this, if you’re confused as to what Mitt Romney’s rationale is for why he should be president, then join the club. As far as I can tell, Mitt Romney is running to be president because it’s something he wants to be. I can discern no other consistent explanation for his candidacy. Sure, he’s pretty good at attacking his opponents, but that isn’t enough to qualify someone for the presidency. If he wants Karl Rove’s job, he’s more than qualified. President of the United States of America? I think not.
As Greg Sargent, Steve Benen, and others have amply demonstrated, Mitt Romney has a problem with the truth. Throughout his campaign, he has openly lied about his previous positions, his beliefs, and the records of his opponents, Republican or otherwise. In a speech today on economic freedom at the University of Chicago, Romney continued the trend, building a mostly substanceless case against President Obama on the basis of half-truths and falsehoods. You can read the whole speech if you’d like. For now, I’d like to highlight a few passages that sum up Romney’s case against Obama in fact-free aplomb. First, there’s this:
For three years, President Obama has expanded government instead of empowering the American people. He’s put us deeper in debt. He’s slowed the recovery and harmed our economy.
There are a few things missing from this account. First is the fact that the Great Recession began in 2008 and was already on its way to reach its nadir by the time Obama took office. By the time the stimulus began to take effect, the economy was well on its way to the bottom, and independent analyses agree that the administration’s policies kept the country out of a depression, even if it wasn’t enough to juice the recovery.
What’s more, neither the stimulus nor the administration’s later policies were responsible for the deficit explosion of 2009 and 2010. The recession—and the drastically reduced tax revenues it produced—was responsible for a good portion of the deficit. The rest was the result of Bush-era policies like tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As economist Mark Thomas points out, government spending under Obama has increased at a lower rate than under Reagan, George H.W. Bush, or George W. Bush. The only president to have a lower rate of spending was, you guessed it, Bill Clinton.
On to the next passage, which is brazen in its disregard for the truth:
President Obama has proposed raising the marginal tax rate from 35% to 40%. He has proposed special breaks for his favorite industries, further increases for businesses he dislikes, and endless credits and subsidies intended to shape our behavior in this society. […]
If you invest your savings in a new business and are one of the fortunate few who see success – and make a profit – President Obama wants to take 40% of it.
President Obama wants to restore marginal tax rates on the rich to where they were before George W. Bush took office. While the American public might not understand marginal tax rates, it’s almost certainly true that Mitt Romney has a handle on the concept. Which means that the former Massachusetts governor is lying to his audience when he says that “President Obama wants to take 40 percent” of your income. An increase in marginal tax rates, or even a millionaire’s surtax, would only apply to income over a certain point. If the Bush tax cuts were repealed, and the top marginal rate went up to Clinton-era levels for income over $250,000, then it’s only the $250,001st dollar that would be affected.
Beyond that, the claim that Obama has proposed tax increases for “businesses he dislikes” only makes sense if you include policies designed to lower rates and broaden the tax base. “You could portray the president’s call to remove subsidies for oil and gas companies that way, and also his call to end the carried-interest loophole, which benefits hedge funds and investment companies,” says Michael Linden, director for tax and budget policy at the Center for American Progress. You might disagree with those policies, but Obama isn’t playing favoritism.
On that note, here is how Romney concludes his speech:
But, now, after spending three years attacking business, President Obama hopes to erase his record with a speech. In a recent address, he said that, “We are inventors. We are builders. We are makers of things. We are Thomas Edison. We are the Wright Brothers. We are Bill Gates. We are Steve Jobs.”
The only thing that’s true here are the quotes from Obama. The rest? False. Here are some excerpts from speeches the president has given over the last three years (all emphasis mine).
All across America, even today, on a Saturday, millions of Americans are hard at work. … They are the more than half of all Americans who work at a small business or own a small business. And they embody the spirit of possibility, the relentless work ethic, and the hope for something better that is at the heart of the American Dream.
Government can’t guarantee success, but it can knock down barriers that keep entrepreneurs from opening or expanding. […] This is as American as apple pie. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. They are central to our identity as a nation. They are going to lead this recovery. The folks standing beside me are going to lead this recovery.
The point is simply to say that the only Barack Obama who has spent his presidency criticizing business is the Barack Obama that exists in Mitt Romney’s head. Indeed, the same goes for this speech, and his entire campaign—Romney is running against policies that haven’t happened and an Obama that doesn’t exist. Exaggeration is normal in politics, but this goes beyond garden-variety embellishment—Romney’s speech, along with much of his rhetoric, is a remarkable work of staggering dishonesty. So far, he hasn’t really suffered for it.
Because there are liars, damn liars, and Mitt Romney
I’ve said this before, but in light of Mitt Romney’s economic speech today, it bears repeating: Virtually his entire case against Obama’s economic record rests on the assumption that the American people have developed a case of mass amnesia about the depth and severity of the economic crisis the President inherited.
A few months ago, Romney liked to claim that Obama made the economy “worse.” But the good economic news forced Romney to revise that argument, and he took to claiming that, yes, okay, the economy is getting better, but only in spite of Obama’s policies, which are slowing down the natural recovery.
Today Romney upped the ante yet again, offering still another explanation for why Obama should be denied a second term, even though the economy is recovering: It’s all about freedom! From the prepared remarks:
The Obama administration’s assault on our economic freedom is the principal reason why the recovery has been so tepid — why it couldn’t meet their projections, let alone our expectations. If we don’t change course now, this assault on freedom could damage our economy and the well-being of American families for decades to come…
The proof is in this weak recovery. This administration thinks our economy is struggling because the stimulus was too small. The truth is we’re struggling because our government is too big.
Relatedly, this morning, Romney said: “The economy always comes back after a recession, of course. There’s never been one that we didn’t recover from. The problem is this one has been deeper than it needed to be and a slower recovery than it should have been, by virtue of the policies of this president.”
The common thread here is obvious, and it’s important. The pace of this recovery, according to Romney, is sluggish compared to that of previous ones — proving that Obama’s policies, or his “assault on freedom,” are the reason why. Missing from this telling, of course, is the most important reason this recovery is different from previous ones: It came after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
Romney’s argument that the recovery’s pace would otherwise have been normal if not for Obama’s polices rests on a bet that the American people will forget about this, or won’t factor it into their decision this fall. Perhaps some enterprising reporter will ask Romney the obvious follow-up questions: What would you have done as president in early 2009? Is it really your contention that the economy would have recovered at a typical pace from the worst financial crisis since the 1930s if government had done nothing at all?
Republicans always say they want to get the federal government out of education. This comes in many forms, but usually they say something like “education should be returned to local control” or “I’ll eliminate the Department of Education.” They always avoid talking about union-busting because union-busting is not always especially popular. Wisconsin’s Governor Walker can attest to that.
Romney, in a rare moment of transparency, told Bret Baier that the reason for returning control of education to the states is for one reason: to union-bust.
But the role I see that ought to remain in the president’s agenda with regards to education is to push back against the federal teachers unions. Those federal teachers unions have too much power, in some cases, they overwhelm the states, they overwhelm the local school districts. We have got to put the kids first and put these teacher’s unions behind.
Mitt Romney offered up a broad philosophical condemnation of President Obama’s handling of the economy Monday in a speech at the University of Chicago. But he once again avoided dwelling on specifics, instead framing a general-election choice between his free-market approach, and Obama’s policies, which he called an “assault on our economic freedom.”
“Instead of expanding the government, I will shrink it,” he told the audience, outlining his own alternative plan. “Instead of raising taxes, I will cut them. Instead of adding more regulations, I will reduce them with an overriding concern: Do they help or do they hurt jobs?”
While Romney’s campaign sent out a press release attacking Rick Santorum’s plan to help the manufacturing sector as a distortion of the free market earlier in the day, he kept his entire speech focused on Obama. […]
But Obama’s campaign noted afterward that many of Romney’s biggest economic proposals, including a reorganization of Medicare and a 20 percent rate cut for all taxpayers, are still only vague blueprints without any specific numbers attached to them. On the campaign trail, Romney has swung between citing his detailed policy plans and then insisting that it’s impossible to judge them yet, depending on the situation. After an independent analysis of his tax plan concluded it would either blow up the deficit or require tax increases on low-income Americans, Romney responded that it “can’t be scored” until he works out key details with Congress.
“He says his tax plan can’t be scored,” Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told reporters in a conference call after Romney’s speech. “He hasn’t outlined how he intends to pay for it, he needs to work that out with Congress. So is he going to increase the deficit by $5 trillion, or is he hiding who he want to raise taxes on?” […]
“The Obama administration’s assault on our economic freedom is the principal reason why the recovery has been so tepid — why it couldn’t meet their projections, let alone our expectations,” Romney said.
During an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney said there is “no question” that President Obama is to blame for rising gas prices and called for the president to fire the “gas hike trio” of cabinet members.
Romney went on to say that once Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson submit their letters of resignation, Obama should “start drilling for energy here,” and pursue development of oil, natural gas, and coal resources.
Romney, who first called for their firing at a town hall meeting Saturday night in Collinsville, Ill., is talking more and more about gas prices and their impact on families across the country. He said the gas prices are pinching middle class families, who now struggle to fill up their tanks.
“I’m seeing more and more people, particularly women for instance, that say to me, ‘You know, it’s hard getting kids to school and to soccer practice when you don’t know if you can afford to fill up the car,’” Romney said.
A TV commercial released this week by the pro-Mitt Romney “super PAC” looks much like an ad released about four years ago by the official Romney campaign, raising suspicions among watchdog groups of improper coordination between the super PAC and the GOP presidential candidate’s current campaign.
The commercial, which is running in Arizona and Michigan in advance of Tuesday’s primaries, tells the tale of Romney’s former Bain Capital colleague Robert Gay, whose then-teenage daughter had run away in New York City for three days. In the ad, Gay recounts how Romney took the lead in coordinating search efforts for the girl.
The positive spot is identical to one run by the candidate himself in 2007. The only difference? The tag line at the end indicating that the ad was produced by the super PAC, Restore Our Future.
The question raised by campaign finance watchdogs is how the super PAC came to possess the old campaign’s material for the ad.
“Super PACs are prohibited from making coordinated communications,” Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Centertold the Huffington Post on Thursday. “Super PACs are also prohibited from making payments to candidates.”
Fred Wertheimer of the campaign finance reform group Democracy 21 said in a statement: “Under federal law, any such re-broadcast of a Romney campaign ad by the Super PAC would be a contribution by the Super PAC to the Romney campaign and, if more than $5,000 was spent, it would be an illegal in-kind contribution by the Super PAC.”
Restore Our Future, the “super PAC” supporting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, doesn’t have language on its website warning federal contractors not to make donations but has accepted $890,000 from companies that receive taxpayer money, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The U.S. has had a prohibition on donations from individuals and corporations with federal contracts since 1940, but the question of whether such a ban is constitutional has been up in the air since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. The Los Angeles Times reports that other “super PACs” like American Crossroads and Priorities USA Action (which supports President Obama) have warnings on their websites that say federal contractors cannot make donations.
Five different companies with federal contracts have given to Restore Our Future, but one of the companies, M.C. Dean, said it would be asking for a refund of the $5,000 it gave to Restore Our Future back in October after the Los Angeles Timesstarted asking questions.
One company that is standing firm is Oxbow Carbon, a major coal and petroleum company founded by billionaire William Koch (of Koch Brothers fame), which gave $750,000 to Restore Our Future last year.
A primary goal of a presidential campaign is to incrementally increase margins of support among volatile and persuadable demographic groups like single women angered by attempts to restrict access to contraception or voters with long commutes worried about gas prices.
A second goal is increase turnout among supportive voting blocs — conservative whites in the case of Republicans, African-Americans in the case of Democrats. This goal is accomplished most often with polarizing tactics like the exploitation of wedge issues.
The target constituencies can be huge — white men, Hispanics, seniors – or, with the emergence of sophisticated micro-technology, smaller slices of the electorate, ranging from laid-off manufacturing workers to women golfers.
This is not news, but how does such a strategy actually work? A source who was willing to be identified only as a Republican strategist with extensive experience in national campaigns described to me in an e-mail how he looks at an election in which there are no significant independent candidates:
White Independents. G.O.P. needs to win by double-digits.
Moderates. G.O.P. loses by 20 or less, you win, lose by 30 or more, you lose.
Latinos — what percent of the electorate do they represent? What’s the margin? Nationally, if Latinos are 8 percent of the electorate, and the Democratic-Republican spread is within 25 points [37.5 Republican – 62.5 Democratic], that’s good. If in 2012, it’s Latinos are 10 percent of the electorate, and the Democratic-Republican spread is voting Democratic 35 points or more [32.5 R – 67.5 D], that’s serious trouble.
White women. Win by 5 to 9 percentage points, you win. Break even or lose, serious trouble. Overall, in 2012, we are looking at the G.O.P. having to win white voters by +19 points if Latino composition is unusually high.
That actually means white men over 60 have to be huge for Republicans — and you can’t let Dems make serious inroads among white women over 60.
Downscale whites — Obama approval has to be roughly in the mid-30s and he has to get whomped — while white college grad job approval cannot be higher than the low 40s.
Whites age 18-29 — you have to carry them. McCain lost by them 10 percentage points and he got totally swamped.
While the thinking of professional operatives may seem cynical or excessively calculating, it is a key element of election preparation by both Democrats and Republicans.
Democrats, for example, consistently seek to raise turnout among union members, urban voters, Hispanics and, since the emergence of the gender gap in the 1980 election between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, female voters.
In the 2004 election, the Bush-Cheney campaign explicitly sought to polarize voters to increase turnout among potential supporters.
Matthew Dowd, who ran polling and much of the planning for Bush, explained the 2004 Republican strategy to me just after the election. “Most voters looked at Bush in very black-and-white terms,” he said. “They either loved and respected him, or they didn’t like him.” In the face of this reality, “we systematically allocated all the main resources of the campaign to the twin goals of motivation and persuasion. The media, the voter targeting, the mail — all were based off that strategic decision.”
Politically, the 2004 strategy was a striking success. Four years earlier, in 2000, when Bush campaigned as a “compassionate conservative” with the goal of minimizing polarization, he had not been so fortunate, losing the popular vote by a margin of 500,000, and taking the ballots of voters calling themselves “independent” by only 2 points. He won the Electoral College by a slim 271-266 margin (or 5-4, as some liberals like to say).
In 2004, Bush did much better, losing independent voters by one point, but carrying the Electoral College by 286-251 and winning the popular vote by 3 million. In other words, polarizing tactics that divide the opposition party, pitting pro-gay-rights Democrats against anti-gay-rights Democrats, for example, may have contributed to Bush’s diminished support from independent voters. Those losses, however, were more than made up for by gains among voters already inclined to cast a ballot for Bush, but who needed stronger motivation to go out and do it.
The Bush 2004 campaign and its allies made heavy use of wedge issues — from stem cell research to attacks on John Kerry’s Vietnam war record — to raise Republican turnout and depress Democratic voting.
The basic approach of building support among key demographics does not, however, always require divisive maneuvers. There are multiple ways to deal with diverse constituencies, including raising the numbers of ballots cast by members of reliable groups, suppressing turnout among hostile groups and keeping margins of defeat, where possible, to a minimum.
It is almost certain that President Obama will not carry a majority of white voters without college degrees, a basically Republican bloc. He can, however, try to keep his losses among these voters to, say, 42-58, instead of a more damaging 33-67 margin. The possibility of making gains with this group has been improved for Obama by the prospect of running against Mitt Romney, whose campaign has struggled in the primaries with this sector of the electorate.
The Obama campaign’s attempt to cut into the Republican advantage among white working-class voters was on display last Thursday when Vice President Biden appeared at a United Auto Workers rally in Toledo. “Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich — these guys have a fundamentally different economic philosophy than we do,” Biden told the cheering crowd. “In 2009, no one was lining up to lend General Motors or Chrysler any money or, for that matter, lend any money to anybody. That includes Bain Capital. They weren’t lining up to lend anybody money.”
Over the past decade, campaigns have been taking giant steps forward in their use of technological advances like microtargeting, improved analytical and statistical models and other data-heavy mechanisms, which they use to identify and locate key supporters and persuadable voters. Micah Sifry, co-founder of the Personal Democracy Forum,argues that Obama’s aggressive development of predictive modeling, data mining, social networking and other fine-grained techniques may prove crucial. “If the 2012 election comes down to a battle of inches,” Sifry writes, “where a few percentage points change in turnout in a few key states, making all the difference, we may come to see Obama’s investment in predictive modelers and data scientists as the key to victory.”
The power of campaigns to create and motivate new swing voters dovetails with the political strategy of driving polarization. Information science has geometrically improved the ability of campaigns to accurately identify specific voters who are angry or threatened and most easily motivated by hard-edged, divisive messages, on such issues as race, taxes, welfare and other hot-button subjects.
The key is that this technological innovation is taking place within the larger context of increased ideological consistency across the two parties. “Since 1960, the two parties have evolved from miscellaneous coalitions of regional interests spanning the ideological spectrum into two unified and ideologically coherent political parties, on the European model,” Michael W. McConnell, a professor of law at Stanford University, writes. The Democratic Party was formerly made up of “two distinct and ideologically incompatible elements: a white, conservative, largely racist Southern Democratic Party, and a mixed-race, more progressive Northern Democratic Party,” McConnell points out. Motivated by the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the two parties began to reconstitute themselves as consistently left and right, a process that continues to this day.
Bitter social, moral and cultural conflict has driven up turnout: as voters become more ideological, they develop a stronger interest in the outcome of elections, and a greater likelihood of going to the polls on election day. “Those Americans whose attitudes and behavior most closely reflect the ideals of democratic citizenship are the most partisan and the most polarized. In contrast, it is among the uninterested, uninformed, and uninvolved that moderation and independence flourish,” Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University, wrote in his recently published book, “The Polarized Public.”
At the same time, the percentage of the electorate that canaccurately be described as independent — without partisan allegiance — has shrunk to about 7 percent, according to Ruy Teixeira of the Brookings Institution. While the importance of such voters has diminished, in a closely balanced contest these relatively uninvolved men and women have the power to determine the outcome: in the 12 presidential electionsfrom 1964 to 2008, four – 1968, 1976, 2000 and 2004 – have been decided by 2.5 percentage points or less.
Perhaps the most important factor going into the 2012 general election will be the most difficult to gauge: the degree to which the candidates themselves motivate or turn off voters. A detailed analysis of the 2008 presidential turnout by Arthur Lupia, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, concluded that “when considering whether or not to support John McCain in 2008, a number of Bush voters decided, ‘No We Can’t.’ The number of 2004 Bush voters who decided to stay at home, or to support a Democrat, in 2008 did not grab the same kinds of headlines as new voter stories, but they were a sufficient condition for Obama’s Electoral College victory.”
Democratic voter enthusiasm has been running well below2008 levels, indicating that this time around, Obama faces a substantial hurdle in replicating the surge in turnout that helped propel him into the White House four years ago – although there has been some improvement recently. Conversely, Mitt Romney, the odds-on favorite to win the Republican nomination, has so far demonstrated little abilityto inspire Republican loyalists, showing weaknesses similar to those that characterized Bob Dole’s 1996 and McCain’s 2008 campaigns.
The strategic choices facing both Obama, who has moved to the left in recent months, and Romney, who is well to the right of where he was in 2008, are not easy. Every approach presents significant dangers.
In each of the 12 to 15 battleground states, from New Hampshire to Nevada, the campaigns will have to make a decision. If they choose to focus on the small fraction of independent or swing voters, then a more centrist strategy wins out; if they choose to galvanize the base, then a more ideological and polarizing strategy will dominate, putting their standing with independents at risk. But if they focus on their core voters, independents may be repulsed.
As the electorate itself becomes more and more polarized, the balancing act gets harder and harder. In this sense, as each candidate seeks to incrementally increase margins of support among key constituencies and to intensify participation not only among “pure” independents but also among loyal voting blocs, Obama and Romney face the same problem.
The campaign’s February numbers, which include several joint DNC accounts, outpace their January haul of $29.1 million — and indicate that the campaign is may be entering a new phase of more aggressive fundraising.
Chicago is also boasting of the level of small donors: noting that 97.7 percent of last month’s contributions were $250 or less, with an average donation of $59.04. In addition, 105,000 of their donors were first-time donors.
Still, Obama’s fundraising pace is lagging far behind where it was in 2008 — especially given that he was bound by far more stringent campaign maximums during the primary process. In February 2008, Obama took in $56.78 million alone — without being able to capitalize on joint DNC fundraising.
And small donors are not where the cash is for the campaign. Breaking down Obama’s fundraising numbers, big donors giving the maximum $35,800 are generally where the bulk of Obama’s campaign cash comes from. But the success of the Dinner with Barack contest — where donors are automatically entered to win a sit-down with the president — has bolstered the overall number of small donations, and my colleagues Ken Vogel and Robin Bravender have previously reported that the campaign is spending up to one-third of their budget just to keep small donors coming back.
Palatte Cleanser: Obama Signs to Deaf Support at Fundraiser
Santorum has made this argument many times, as Dave Weigel points out at Slate, but the soundbite and the message convey his campaign’s lesser focus on the economy.
It’s a good thing Rick Santorum is so very concerned with our First Amendment right to freedom of religion. He says so every day! Which is why it might come as a surprise to some (it will not come as a surprise to anyone) that maybe Rick Santorum only believes in First Amendment rights for Christians and not any of those godless Buddhists, Mooslims, Mohommedans, or Other? The heathen infidel lesbian witches at RightWingWatch bring you this not at all terrifying video of some heehaw preacher screamin’ and a-shriekin’ at all us to git out his cuntry before laying his hands on the smiling, smegma-slicked puss of Mr. Senator Rick Santorum.
Here is the touching benediction.
[I don’t know what to make of this.] We Challenge The DCCC To Take On Paul Ryan– For Real This Time
The DCCC loves using Republican cartoonish arch-villains as whipping boys. They’re always sending out press releases and even putting together ads attacking the worst GOP figures, particularly Cantor, Boehner and Ryan. But they don’t actually do anything about defeating any of them at the polls. The DCCC so discouraged Boehner’s last opponent, Justin Coussoule, and were so disinterested in finding an opponent for him this year that Boehner can deploy the entire $12,944,563 he’s raised this far in the cycle– an amount that could easily double– against Democrats nationally, without having to worry about a Democratic candidate back in Ohio (where only 28%of voters approval of the way he’s doing his job) rousing voters against him. The DC Democrats have spent a dozen years allowing Paul Ryan the same “courtesy,” never once– yes, not one time, seriously challenging him.
And this year, when Ryan finally does have a serious opponent, Rob Zerban, what does the DCCC do? Kick back and issue press releases about how awful Paul Ryan’s Medicare-killing plans are– to the media everywhere in America. But take on Ryan directly? Or even help Zerban go after Ryan? Don’t be silly. Ryan gets his cash and power from the same corporate criminals who have funded the sleazy careers of Steve Israel, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Joseph Crowley, Steny Hoyer and the other corruptionists running the DC Democrats. Ryan’s a protected species.
Last cycle they did absolutely nothing to go after Ryan, Boehner or Cantor– NOTHING. Zilch! Zippo! Instead they put millions of dollars of contributions into ineffective, lame ads like the one below to protect Blue Dogs who vote half the time with the GOP anyway. Not a single nickel or even a courtesy call to the Democrats running against Boehner or Ryan, but tens of millions on garbage like this:
And this year… here they go again. Ryan and his plan want to take away your Medicare– apparently everywhere but Racine, Kenosha, Janesville and the southern Milwaukee suburbs. For the last two weeks, the DCCC has urged candidates to found Ryan’s anti-Medicare budget. That’s fine. But do they do anything for Rob Zerban? Not that I’ve seen. And when I speak to DCCC-connected major donors, they tell me Steve Israel discourages them from donating to Zerban’s campaign.
Last week dozens of Democratic candidates all over the country sent out DCCC-written e-mails like this:
Medicare, along with Social Security and Medicaid, are the foundation of the middle class. I was outraged when I heard that Republicans like Paul Ryan were suggesting ending Medicare as we know it, and I’m sure you were too. Now Republicans are starting to revive those plans, but our Republican opponents haven’t let the public know whether they support this vital program.
Tell [insert Republican candidate’s name here] in the [insert district number here] CD to oppose the Ryan plan to destroy Medicare as we know it. [Turn this into a hot link to the fundraising page.]
The Republicans need to hear from us how important Medicare is and that it is more important to [insert state here] families than tax breaks for millionaires or subsidies to Big Oil. So I’ve written a letter to the Republican running to represent the [insert district number again] CD, asking them to stand with the families and seniors of [insert state again] and oppose the Ryan plan to decimate Medicare. And I’d love for you to sign it as well.
[another link to capture names of potential donors:] Click here to sign the letter and let the Republicans know that we stand with [insert state again]’s families in supporting Medicare.
If they hear from enough of us, they’ll know that destroying Medicare isn’t just wrong, isn’t just bad policy, but is also incredibly unpopular. My campaign will deliver the letter, with all of our signatures, to our Republican opponent – Can you help us meet our goal of delivering 2,500 signatures?
Together, we will tell the Republicans, “I support the 48 million seniors who rely on Medicare. Please publicly oppose the Ryan plan to end the Medicare program as we know it.”
Very nice! I challenge the DCCC to help Rob Zerban actually beat Paul Ryan and put an end to the gravest threat facing the American middle class. If the DCCC writes a check to Zerban’s campaign this week for $5,000, Blue America will match it, dollar for dollar. Come on, big shots. What about you, Israel? Crowley? Wasserman Schultz? Let’s see a DCCC check for Rob Zerban’s campaign to actually put an end to Ryan’s career instead of all the bullshit sending petitions to Republicans so they have something to laugh about.
And what can you do? You can contribute directly to Rob Zerban here at the Stop Paul Ryan ActBlue page. No phony baloney petitions there, just a place for concerned Americans to actually try to do something to stop Ryan before his financiers on Wall Street make him president and doom us all.
Zerban, in marking the one-year anniversary of Ryan’s “Path to Peril” budget, signed a “Protect Medicare Now” pledge to show his support for preserving Medicare — and challenged Ryan to do the same. “Medicare,” said Zerban, “is a trust with our seniors that cannot and should not be broken. Through his despicable budget last year– that he has already announced he will repeat again this year– Paul Ryan is keeping his promises to his corporate donors, Washington lobbyists and Wall Street, but breaking his promises to the seniors of Wisconsin. We can no longer afford Paul Ryan’s out-of-touch, divisive ‘Path to Peril.’”
The DCCC is wasting their time and resources again this year bolstering reactionary Blue Dogs like Mike McIntyre (NC), Tim Holden (PA), John Barrow (GA), Jim Matheson (UT) Ben Chandler (KY), Nick Lampson (TX), Clark Hall (AR). Rob Wallace (OK), and Leonard Bembry (FL). Here’s the video Rob made for us when Blue America formally endorsed him last month.
It seems like only yesterday when House Budget Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin introduced a federal budget that would change Medicare as we know it.
Actually, it was a year ago when Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, offered, controversially, a federal spending blueprint that would transform Medicare from a single-payer health insurer for seniors into a program that would give them money to purchase insurance on the private market, so-called premium support.
House Republicans rallied around the budget while President Obama, congressional Democrats and progressives ceaselessly attacked Ryan, sometimes with well-reasoned arguments, but not always. Their core argument was that Ryan would turn Medicare into a voucher system.
In any event, Ryan’s proposal allowed Democrats to raise voter concerns that Medicare would be gutted, contributing to a Democratic victory in an upstate New York special election in a traditionally Republican congressional district.
Undeterred, Ryan and House Republicans are expected to make public Tuesday their latest budget proposal. And while full details aren’t out, the expectation is that it will once again propose that Medicare become a premium-support program for people under a certain age.
Last Thursday, Ryan released a video meant to seize the high ground from Democrats who accused him of being irresponsible for producing that first budget. It was his critics who were the irresponsible ones, Ryan argued. […]
National Journal’s Nancy Cook reports that the budget is expected to cut domestic programs while leaving defense spending largely untouched:
“If the debt crisis is predictable in Ryan’s mind, than so too are the contours of the House Republican budget to be released early this week. Pivoting off Ryan’s plans from 2011, this budget is expected to emphasize lower spending for domestic programs, which could mean financial hits to everything from protecting the environment to agencies that regulate banks or programs that offer job training.
“The budget will propose a change in the structure of Medicare and Medicaid, and it will offer absolute protection of defense spending, a move Democrats call politically disingenuous because it flies in the face of the sequester laboriously agreed to last year that mandates across-the-board spending cuts for both defense and discretionary spending beginning in 2013.
“The details of how the Republicans plan to pay for delaying the sequestration remain unclear, as does the topline figure for spending.”
Meanwhile, progressive groups were spinning up to take on Ryan II, a somewhat modified proposal that has a Democratic ally, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. Paul N. Van de Water, a senior fellow with the left-leaning Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote:
“The Ryan-Wyden plan would shift substantial costs to Medicare beneficiaries rather than protect them from cost increases, in part because the payment that beneficiaries would receive to help them buy coverage would likely fail to keep pace with health care costs. The plan also would likely lead to the gradual demise of traditional Medicare by making the pool of Medicare beneficiaries smaller, older, and sicker — and increasingly costly to cover. Finally, the plan would produce few budgetary savings beyond those that the health reform law calls for, since both plans have the same target growth rate for Medicare costs. The Ryan-Wyden plan is similar to Newt Gingrich’s 1995 proposal that, according to Gingrich, would have caused traditional Medicare to ‘wither on the vine.’ “
Worth noting is that Ryan isn’t punting during an election year. He and House Republicans are clearly showing a tolerance for the risks that come with campaigning on a controversial proposal at a time of superPACs.
In a way, it’s not unlike Obama’s decision to run on his controversial health care law, which polls poorly among many voters.
What seems safe to say is that while the positions taken by both Ryan and Obama will rile their committed critics, their bases are likely to be encouraged.
The Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS) had everything going for it. It garnered more than 400 votes in the House of Representatives last week. It had the backing of Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and was fast-tracked onto the Senate calendar by majority leader Harry Reid. President Obama, he of the veto pen, publicly expressed his support.
And, of course, it had a politically bulletproof acronym: After all, who could vote against jobs?
But after a group of Democratic senators – and the Securities and Exchange Commission – scrutinized the bill, its race to the president’s desk has been impeded.
Democrats ultimately want the JOBS Act to pass, they insist, but they’re looking for assurances that investors will be protected, especially those financing new businesses using social media and the Internet, or “crowdfunding.”
“We’re not trying to kill the bill,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) of Louisiana on the Senate floor Thursday. “If [the bill is] not done right, it’s going to ruin the best chance we’ve had in decades to get capital into the hands of businesses.”
Sens. Landrieu, Carl Levin (D) of Michigan, and Jack Reed (D) of Rhode Island are co-sponsoring an amendment to the bill, which will be up for debate when the Senate returns from recess on Monday. That represents at least a small delay for the JOBS Act, which Senator Levin said could be voted on as early as Thursday.
But Democrats’ rhetoric doesn’t sound like they’re out to institute a few constructive tweaks. In fact, they liken the JOBS Act to a regulatory rollback that all but ensures another round of fraud on a par with some of America’s biggest financial debacles.
The first shots were fired by Senate majority whip Richard Durbin (D) of Illinois in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday.
“This half-boiled concoction of ill-conceived ideas skirts, evades, and nullifies investor protection in market transparency standards that were enacted in response to the dot-com crash, the Enron debacle, and the litany of bubbles and bursts that have cost legions of unsuspecting Americans their savings, their jobs, and their retirement,” Senator Durbin said.
Problems with investor protections and market transparency were laid out in a letter from SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro to the Senate Banking Committee.
While many organizations, including AFL-CIOand the Council of Institutional Investors – the nation’s largest labor union and its largest group of pension plans – lodged concerns about the legislation, Levin said that the letter from the SEC “was perhaps the most powerful of all.”
Among other concerns, Ms. Schapiro’s letter says that the JOBS Act would:
• Undo regulations instituted after the dot-com crash that separate stock research analysts from bankers underwriting an initial public offering (IPO), a division meant to keep analytical advice given to investors untainted.
• Unnecessarily loosen auditing restrictions for some small companies heading toward IPOs.
• Fail to provide adequate consumer safeguards for crowdfunding.
“We all should have learned from the painful recent past that reducing investor protections against fraud and abuse will not build a strong economy and create jobs – quite the opposite,” Levin said on a conference call with reporters.
Tucked at the end of Democrats’ amendment to the bill, however, are two items with nothing to do with investor protections – but that have heavy Democratic support.
First, Democratic senators seek an expansion of credit for the Export-Import Bank, which helps finance the sale of US goods abroad where credit is unreliable or unavailable. In addition, they’re seeking a $1 billion expansion of a venture capital program administered by the Small Business Administration.
Senate Republicans, who had been publicly urging the rapid adoption of the bill from nearly the moment it moved between ends of the Capitol, scorched Democrats for standing in the way of bipartisan legislation.
“They want to pick a fight rather than get this bill to the president’s desk,” Senator McConnell said in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday. “If you’re looking for the reason this Congress has a 9 percent approval rating, this is it.”
Democrats, of course, see things differently.
“Instead of trying to scuttle the bill, we’re trying to make sure that investors are on board,” Senator Reed said in a conference call with reporters. “In some place other than steerage.”
If amendments are added to the House bill, the two chambers would have to reconcile their differences in a conference committee before the bill could become law.
House Republicans on Tuesday will propose a dramatic reshuffling of the tax code that would collapse the range of individual tax brackets into just two, with lower rates, and slash the top tax rate for corporations.
Under a budget plan that will be unveiled by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), Republicans will propose replacing the current structure of six brackets for individuals with just two tax levels, with a 10 percent marginal tax rate for lower income earners and 25 percent for upper income earners.
That would be a reduction from a top marginal rate of 35 percent currently.
The plan would also lower the top corporate income tax rate to 25 percent and virtually eliminate taxes on corporate profits brought back from overseas. And it would do away with the alternative minimum tax, which was designed to hit the wealthiest taxpayers but increasingly also affects middle-income earners.
Republicans have been urging an overhaul that would make the tax code simpler while lowering rates, which they think will spur economic growth and provide them with a politically potent election-year message. Ryan’s proposal is similar to ones by GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.
Democrats have been gearing up to tackle other aspects of Ryan’s budget proposal — notably efforts to reshape Medicare and to slash federal agency spending beneath the $1.047 trillion level agreed to during the summer’s hard-fought battle over raising the debt ceiling.
Ryan plans to unveil his plan Tuesday morning during a Capitol Hill news conference and will later deliver a speech at the American Enterprise Institute.
Ahead of Tuesday’s release, theDemocratic Congressional Campaign Committee launched a campaign called “Medicare Madness” targeting 41 House Republicans who Democrats hope to defeat in November. The effort includes robo-calls to constituents and a Web site that urges visitors to sign an online petition in support of the current Medicare system.
“Republicans are choosing between millionaires and Medicare,” the site reads. “Slashing Medicare to pay for multi-millionaire tax cuts? That’s madness!”
And on Monday, two key Democrats warned that deep spending cuts for agencies could lead to renewed threats of a shutdown. Ignoring the deal reached last summer “represents a breach of faith that will make it more difficult to negotiate future agreements,” Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) wrote House GOP leaders.
Conrad said he also plans to file a resolution saying the Senate wants to stick with the spending levels set in the summer.
Democrats file bill to repeal oil tax incentives
Senate Democrats have offered up their second stab this Congress at repealing tax incentives for major oil companies.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced a bill Monday eliminating incentives for the big companies and using revenue to help renewable energy sources — a senior Senate GOP aide told POLITICO. A Menendez spokeswoman confirmed he is the lead sponsor, but said more details would not be available until Tuesday.
The bill — if it indeed targets just the big oil companies — would essentially mirror a similar effort this past May that would repeal about $2 billion in industry incentives, and would not go quite as far as President Barack Obama has advocated.
Last year’s Democratic bill in the Senate fell to a filibuster amid opposition from Republicans and oil-state Democrats. That 52-48 vote saw party switching from three opposing Democrats, Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Begich of Alaska, and two supporting Republicans, Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine. Sixty votes were needed to pass.
Obama has highlighted the need to eliminate the industry incentives and has been calling on Congress to take up the cause in recent high-profile energy speeches. In his weekly address, Obama on Saturday said he expected Congress in the next few weeks to consider ending $4 billion in annual tax incentives, and said the vote would put lawmakers on record on why they “stand up for oil companies” or “stand up for the American people.”
Public universities in California may have been dethroned as being cheaper than private schools for middle-income students. According to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, schools like Harvard and Princeton provide a cheaper alternative to schools like San Jose State and University of California, Berkeley.
Private schools are generally even cheaper than Cal State Fullerton. To go to Harvard, it costs $4,000 for a family with an annual income of $30,000. At CSUF, it costs $16,331 for a full-time student.
According to the Bay Area News Group, a family of four making $130,000 a year would have to pay $24,000 for tuition, room, board and other expenses to send one child to a CSU. Harvard costs $36,000, but financial aid makes it the cheaper option.
Financial aid drops Harvard tuition costs down to $17,000 a year, under San Jose State’s $23,557 and even under the $19,500 it costs to go to UC Berkeley. […]
Harvard’s financial aid program provides assistance to a majority of students.
“More than 70 percent of students receive some sort of financial aid,” Neal said. “More than 60 percent receive aid directly from Harvard.”
Public schools generally receive money from state and federal governments, though sometimes they receive private donations. Private schools, however, receive most of their money through private donations. […]
Still, according to Bay Area News Group, UC schools are trying to help families of students making less than $80,000 per year. However, they are only covering tuition, not room and board.
“Low-income students already get need-based financial aid, and so I think the trend is more geared to middle-income students,” Krupnick said.
California State Universities, on the other hand, are close to becoming too expensive for middle-income students, though CSUs are a better value compared to private schools, said Rhonda Johnson, director of Cal State East Bay Financial Aid.
The Obama Energy Agenda: Gas Prices (H/T AdLib)
Global greenhouse gas emissions could rise 50 percent by 2050 without more ambitious climate policies, as fossil fuels continue to dominate the energy mix, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Thursday.
“Unless the global energy mix changes, fossil fuels will supply about 85 percent of energy demand in 2050, implying a 50 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions and worsening urban air pollution,” the Paris-based O.E.C.D. said in itsenvironment outlook to 2050 .
The global economy in 2050 will be four times larger than today and the world will use around 80 percent more energy. But the global energy mix is not predicted to be very different from that of today, the report said.
Because of such dependence on fossil fuels, carbon dioxide emissions from energy use are expected to grow by 70 percent, the O.E.C.D. said, which will help drive up the global average temperature by 3 to 6 degrees Celsius by 2100 — exceeding the warming limit of within 2 degrees agreed to by international bodies.
Global carbon dioxide emissions from energy reached an all-time high of 30.6 gigatons in 2010 despite the economic downturn, which reduced industrial production.
The financial cost of taking no further climate action could result in up to a 14 percent loss in world per capita consumption by 2050, according to some estimates.
Human costs would also be high as premature deaths from pollution exposure could double to 3.6 million a year, the O.E.C.D. said.
Demand for water could rise by 55 percent, increasing competition for supplies and resulting in 40 percent of the global population living in water-stressed areas, while the number of plant and animal species could decline by a further 10 percent, according to the report.
To prevent the worst effects of global warming, the report said, international climate action should start in 2013, a global carbon market be set up, the energy sector transformed to low-carbon and all low-cost advanced technologies should be explored, including biomass energy and carbon capture.
A new international climate deal might not come into force until 2020, however, and carbon markets might not be linked until then, making it more difficult to meet the 2 degree limit and requiring very rapid rates of emissions cuts after 2020 to catch up.
Current international pledges to cut emissions fall short of what is required to limit temperature rises to safe levels, so decisive action at the national level is needed, the O.E.C.D. said.
Putting a clear and long-term price on carbon emissions through market-based mechanisms such as emissions trading programs or carbon taxes will encourage investment in low-carbon technologies, the report said.
The cheapest policy response to climate change would be to set a global carbon price, which would require linking various national and regional emissions trading programs. Scrapping inefficient fossil fuel subsidies would also encourage energy efficiency and renewables growth — increasing global real income by 0.3 percent in 2050, the report said.
For the nearly 5 million people who live along the U.S. coasts from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico and the West Coast, rising seas fueled by global warming have doubled the risk of so-called once-a-century floods, according to a trio of environmental reports released Wednesday.
These new reports — one from the non-profit group Climate Central and two others published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters — offer a detailed picture of where the most severe risks are along coastlines of the contiguous 48 states.
Based on 2010 U.S. Census population data and a fresh analysis of high tide lines by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Climate Central report’s findings can be seen online at surgingseas.org.
South Florida may be ‘indefensible’
South Florida may be “indefensible” against floods caused by higher seas and the bigger storm surges that are expected to result, according to Ben Strauss, an expert on ecology and evolutionary biology who is chief operating officer of Climate Central. He co-authored the two journal reports and the online report.
“Sea level rise is like an invisible tsunami, building force while we do almost nothing,” Strauss told The New York Times. “We have a closing window of time to prevent the worst by preparing for higher seas.”
An estimated $30 billion in taxable property is vulnerable in southeast Florida alone, according to a preliminary independent analysis cited in the report.
In California, some places that have never seen severe floods could be vulnerable to them in the next decade or two, Strauss said.
Climate scientists maintain that people, businesses and infrastructure in low-lying coastal areas of the contiguous 48 U.S. states are vulnerable to sea level rise, and world sea levels have risen by 8 inches since 1880.
More than 2,200 warm temperature records have been set so far in March. Take a look at the map above to see where temps are crazy departures from normal.
This isn’t your average heat wave. Its duration, set against more than a century of record keeping, makes it one for the climate change chronicles. Here’s what some meteorologists are saying:
From the National Weather Service in Chicago: Chicago and Rockford have now both broken high temperature records 5 days in a row. There is even the potential they could tie or break record highs for up to an unbelievable 8 days in a row depending on how warm temperatures get Monday through Wednesday. It is extraordinarily rare for climate locations with 100+ year long periods of records to break records day after day after day.
From Jeff Masters’ Wunderblog: The ongoing March heat wave in the Midwest is one of the most extreme heat events in US history. With so many records being shattered, it is difficult to cover in detail just how widespread, long-lasting, and extreme the event is.
According to the CapitalClimate blog (HT Climate Central) warm weather records this month are outpacing cold records by a whopping 19-to-1.
As the Supreme Court prepares to consider the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, opponents of the law continue to lie about its consequences.
Just last week, Republicans misrepresented a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reportwhich said that the Affordable Care Act was expected to cost $50 billion less than they anticipated a year ago while extending coverage to 30 million Americans. In spite of what the report actually found, many Republicanshave claimed that the cost of the bill would double. As FactCheck.org points out, Republicans appear to have reached their conclusion by distorting the math:
So, where did Republicans get their $1.76 trillion cost figure? That’s the gross cost for 11 years ending in 2022. Republicans inappropriately compare that figure to the original estimate of $938 billion for the 10-year period ending in 2019.
The 11-year figure is much higher because it includes three additional years of full implementation of the coverage provisions of the law. The federal subsidies and expansion of Medicaid, which are by far the most costly elements of the coverage provisions, don’t go into effect until 2014. So, that 2010-2019 estimate includes four years of very low coverage costs (relatively speaking), and the 11-year estimate only includes two years of very low costs, plus three extra years of full implementation costs.
It is worth noting that Republican attempts to repeal either the whole bill or parts of it are projected to increase the budget deficit, suggesting that Republicans are more interested in delivering a blow to President Obama than lowering the national debt. At least one conservative justice has also noted the potential for “economic chaos” if the law was struck down and health care costs rose as a result.
More to the point, however, this is not the first time that a CBO report on the health care law has been misrepresented by its opponents to make it seem like they reached a different conclusion. Nor is it the first time that claims about the law have turned out to be inaccurate. Even the suggestion that millions of Americans will lose workplace health insurance ignores the reality: While employer coverage will vacillate — as it has before the ACA was enacted — the vast majority of businesses say they will continue to offer coverage to employees when the law’s insurance exchanges start up. In fact, if Massachusetts’ health reform is any indication, employers are highly unlikely to dump employees into the exchanges.
With most legal observers believing the Court will ultimately uphold the Affordable Care Act, and few compelling legal arguments available for its opponents, it appears the only way they see fit to attack the law is to lie about it.
If you want to know why the health-care debate has been so pathological, take a moment to read William Kristol’s editorial in the Weekly Standard. The theme of the editorial is that Mitt Romney is undesirable because he is a technocrat. “What Republican primary voters sense,” Kristol editorializes, “is that a technocratic and managerial mindset could prove an obstacle to coming to grips with the situation we face.” Romney seeks — or once sought — through data and detailed analysis. This, according to esteemed conservative intellectual William Kristol, is bad.
This hostility to empiricism has defined the conservative approach to health care. How else could a concept developed by a conservative think tank, implemented by a Republican governor, and largely uncontroversial within the conservative world suddenly become the death of freedom? Because the conservative movement’s understanding of concepts like “freedom” is a hazy ideological abstraction, unmoored from factual grounding, that can attach itself to nearly any partisan position. If you’re uninterested in the details (or even, like Kristol, actively hostile to the very idea of being interested in the details) then your disposition toward one idea can easily lurch from mildly supportive to hysterically in opposition.
A telling case in point came last week. The Congressional Budget Office issued an update on the costs of the Affordable Care Act. Congress (stupidly, I think) designed the law to phase in slowly, so that its provisions took several years to take effect. When CBO first scored the budgetary effects of the law in 2010, it included the first few years in which not much was happening. Its revised ten-year score two years later now loses two years of nothing on the front end, and includes two more years on the back end in which the law is in full effect.
The CBO update prompted a new round of conservative frenzy. “The CBO foresees 87 percent overrun, not even 24 months into this boondoggle,” cries National Review’s Deroy Murdock. “The Congressional Budget Office has extended its cost estimates for President Obama’s health-care law out to 2022, taking in more years of full implementation, and showing that the bill is substantially more expensive — twice as much as the original $900 billion price tag,” reports Fox News. Nearly every corner of the conservative media worldrepeated the story.
The outcry was so widespread that the CBO took the unusual step of releasing a second update to explain to outraged conservatives that they were completely misreading the whole thing:
Some of the commentary on those reports has suggested that CBO and JCT have changed their estimates of the effects of the ACA to a significant degree. That’s not our perspective. …
Although the latest projections extend the original ones by three years (corresponding to the shift in the regular ten-year projection period since the ACA was first being developed), the projections for each given year have changed little, on net, since March 2010.
That is CBO-speak for: “Go home. You people are all crazy.”
The CBO even included a helpful chart showing how its latest cost estimate had barely changed — indeed, it was now projected that the law would reduce the deficit by slightly more than it had originally forecast:
This is hardly a unique episode. The health-care debate has been driven by flamboyant cries over death panels, or more wonky claims that the cost estimates had been “cooked” by using mythical savings from reducing physician pay. (Another totally bogus, endlessly recycled right-wing talking point, which you can read up in if you’re interested.) The conservative media have created an echo chamber in which nonsensical claims reverberate endlessly, and those few conservative intellectuals who know better refrain from correcting their teammates. If you want to know how a moderate Republican health-care plan can become, in the right-wing mind, a devious socialist plot, this is how the process happens.
The budget that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) will unveil tomorrow is expected to include a Medicare “premium support” proposal that he and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) announced last year. Our new paper explains the serious problems with the Ryan-Wyden plan.
Premium support would replace Medicare’s guarantee of health coverage with a flat payment, or voucher, that beneficiaries would use to buy private health insurance or traditional Medicare. Although billed as a kinder, gentler form of premium support, the Ryan-Wyden plan has the same basic features as earlier proposals. It is similar to a 1995 proposal from then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich that Gingrich said would have caused traditional Medicare to “wither on the vine.”
The Ryan-Wyden proposal would:
Shift substantial costs to Medicare beneficiaries rather than protect them from cost increases — in part because the value of the voucher would likely fail to keep pace with health care costs.
Likely lead to the gradual demise of traditional Medicare by making the pool of Medicare beneficiaries smaller, older, and sicker — and increasingly costly to cover.
Produce few budgetary savings beyond those that the health reform law already calls for, since both plans have the same target growth rate for Medicare costs.
Some advocates of premium support falsely claim that it is necessary to keep Medicare from going bankrupt. In reality, health reform has significantly improved Medicare’s long-term financial outlook, and the program is not on the verge of shutting down. Medicare’s trustees estimate that, even without any changes to the program, Medicare’s Hospital Insurance trust fund can pay 100 percent of the program’s hospital insurance costs through 2024; at that point, the payroll taxes and other revenue deposited in the trust fund will be sufficient to pay 90 percent of those costs.
The American people — a large majority of whom oppose premium support, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll — shouldn’t let scare tactics frighten them into supporting radical and harmful Medicare changes.
In shift from Bush, Obama’s DOJ is aggressively investigating police departments accused of civil rights violations
In a marked shift from the Bush administration, President Obama’s Justice Department is aggressively investigating several big urban police departments for systematic civil rights abuses such as harassment of racial minorities, false arrests, and excessive use of force.
In interviews, activists and attorneys on the ground in several cities where the DOJ has dispatched civil rights investigators welcomed the shift. To progressives disappointed by Eric Holder’s Justice Department on key issues like the failure to investigate Bush-era torture and the prosecution of whistle-blowers, recent actions by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division are a bright spot.
In just the past few months, the Civil Rights Division has announced “pattern and practice” investigations in Newark, New Jersey and Seattle. It’s also conducting a preliminary investigation of the Denver Police Department, and all this is on top of a high-profile push to reform the notorious New Orleans Police Department — as well as criminal prosecutions of several New Orleans officers.
The “pattern and practice” authority comes from a 1994 law passed by Congress after the brutal beating of Rodney King by white Los Angeles police officers, who allegedly yelled racial slurs as they hit him. The law allows the DOJ to sue police departments if there is a pattern of violations of citizens’ constitutional rights — things like an excessive use of force, discrimination, and illegal searches. Often, after an investigation, the police department in question will enter into a voluntary reform agreement with the DOJ to avoid a lawsuit and the imposition of reforms.
“Under the Bush administration, the Justice Department disappeared here in terms of federal civil rights enforcement. You could see the shift to counterterrorism at the ground level after Sept. 11,” says Mary Howell , a New Orleans civil rights attorney who has been working on police misconduct cases for more than three decades. “Now they’re back doing criminal prosecutions of police and the civil rights investigation, which is huge.”
Many of the New Orleans officers being criminally prosecuted — several of whom have been convicted — were involved in grisly killings of innocent city residents in the chaotic days after Katrina. A separate civil rights investigation by the DOJ recently concluded that the New Orleans Police Department has engaged in excessive use of force, unconstitutional arrests and racial profiling. An independent monitor is expected to be appointed to make sure the department follows through with reforms in training, policies on the use of force, and accountability to the public.
The allegations of civil rights violations being investigated by the DOJ are often quite brutal but do not make the news outside the cities where they occur.
In one case in Seattle last year, an officer investigating a robbery was caught on video stomping on the head of a Hispanic detainee lying on the ground on the street after yelling, “I’m going to beat the fucking Mexican piss out ofyou, homey!” The detainee turned out to have nothing to do with the crime under investigation and was later let go.
In Newark, the state chapter of the ACLU last September asked the DOJ to intervene, citing the city police department’s failure to respond to hundreds of misconduct complaints in the past few years.
In one case described in the ACLU’s petition, two Newark officers allegedly threatened to throw a juvenile over a bridge when he refused to confess involvement in a crime. “Told by a supervisor to take [the boy] home, they instead took him to a secluded location, beat him, urinated on him, and left him there,” according to the ACLU’s letter. The department’s internal affairs unit later claimed to have lost the soiled T-shirt the boy had brought in as evidence.
Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the ACLU of New Jersey, tells me that an official in the Civil Rights Division actually called her group a few weeks before it submitted its petition to seek more information about a misconduct case that had been reported in the media. “I had never before gotten a call from the DOJ asking about a police misconduct case,” says Jacobs, who has worked at state-level ACLU chapters since the early 1990s.
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a rising star in the Democratic Party, dismissed the ACLU’s report on civil rights abuses back in September, accusing the group of “casting unnecessary aspersions on the police department through the distortion of facts.” But when the DOJ announced its formal investigation earlier this month, Booker stood at a press conference with federal officials and said he welcomed the move. Given that many of the alleged violations — and the failure of the police department to respond to complaints — happened on Booker’s watch, the episode will likely be seen as a blot on his record.
The man who is at least partly responsible for crackdown on police misconduct is Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. In the 1990s, Perez, the son of Dominican immigrants, was a prosecutor in the division working on police misconduct cases; he later served as special counsel to Ted Kennedy on civil rights issues. The DOJ declined my request to interview Perez. But he has made it publicly clear that things have changed since the Bush years.
“In case you haven’t heard, the Civil Rights Division is once again open for business,” Perez told a police oversight association last September, pointedly adding, “There were very few [pattern and practice] cases during the prior administration.”
He also offered a window into his thinking when I interviewed him last year about the situation in New Orleans, home to the most notorious police department in the country. “Criminal prosecutions alone, I have learned, are not enough to change the culture of a police department,” Perez said then.
Jennifer Shaw, deputy director of the ACLU of Washington, tells me Perez came to Seattle last fall to meet informally with civil rights attorneys in the city and seek feedback and input. “My sense is that when Tom Perez came in, the entire attitude and approach changed,” Shaw says.
According to the Justice Department, 22 pattern-and-practice investigations were opened during the Bush administration, and eight have been opened during Obama’s presidency. But the Bush-era investigations largely involved quite small departments. Perez has been leading the Civil Rights Division for about 18 months (his confirmation was blocked by Republicans for six months), and high-profile investigations of three big-city departments have already been opened, with another probe in Denver possibly on the way.
The DOJ’s investigations of troubled large departments “sends a message to the whole field,” says Sam Walker, an emeritus professor at the University of Nebraska who studies police accountability.
“The primary victims of police misconduct are African-Americans and Latinos. The Bush administration simply wasn’t interested in this,” Walker says. “The Obama-Holder DOJ puts a very high priority on this.”
How did a kid armed with Skittles and an ice tea get gunned down by an overeager neighborhood watch captain? And why didn’t police detain shooter George Zimmerman?
[Please see original for numerous links.]
On the evening of February 26, Trayvon Martin—an unarmed 17-year-old African American student—was confronted, shot, and killed near his home by George Zimmerman, a Latino neighborhood watch captain in the Orlando, Florida, suburb of Sanford. Zimmerman has not been charged with a crime. Since Martin’s death and the release of more details, the case has garnered national media attention and sparked a host of public debates over racial tensions, vigilantism, police practices, and gun laws.
What happened to Trayvon?
Martin, a Miami native, was visiting his father in Sanford and watching the NBA All-Star game at a house in a gated Sanford community, the Retreat at Twin Lakes. At halftime, Martin walked out to the nearby 7-Eleven to get some Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea. On his return trip, he drew the attention of Zimmerman, who was patrolling the neighborhood in a sport-utility vehicle and called 911 to report “a real suspicious guy.”
“This guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something,” Zimmerman told the dispatcher. “It’s raining, and he’s just walking around looking about.” The man tried to explain where he was. “Now he’s coming towards me. He’s got his hand in his waistband. And he’s a black male…Something’s wrong with him. Yup, he’s coming to check me out. He’s got something in his hands. I don’t know what his deal is…These assholes, they always get away.”
After discussing his location with the dispatcher, Zimmerman exclaimed, “Shit he’s running,” and the following sounds suggest he left his vehicle to run after Martin.
“Are you following him?” the dispatcher asked. Zimmerman replied: “Yep.”
“Okay, we don’t need you to do that,” the dispatcher warned.
Several minutes later, according to other callers to 911 in the neighborhood, Zimmerman and Martin got into a wrestling match on the ground. One of the pair could be heard screaming for help. Then a single shot rang out, and Martin lay dead.
Are the 911 recordings available to the public?
Yes. After public pressure, the city of Sanford played the tapes for Martin’s family, then released the audio recordings. LISTEN HERE.
What happened to the shooter?
So far, not much. Zimmerman told police he’d acted in self-defense. ABC News reports that he had wanted to be a police officer, and Sanford police didn’t test him for drugs or alcohol after the shooting (such tests are standard practice in homicide investigations). He was licensed to carry his gun, and policeinitially told Martin’s father that they hadn’t pressed charges because Zimmerman was a criminal justice student with a “squeaky clean” record.
That wasn’t entirely true, however; in 2005, Zimmerman was arrested for “resisting arrest with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer”; those charges were dropped. Media investigations and Martin family attorneys suggest that Zimmerman was a vigilante with “a false sense of authority” in search of young black men in his neighborhood. Police records show Zimmerman had called 911 a total of 46 timesbetween Jan. 1 and the day he shot Martin. (Florida guidelines for licensed gun owners state: “A license to carry a concealed weapon does not make you a free-lance policeman.”)
How are Florida’s self-defense and “stand your ground” laws key to this case?
Zimmerman may have benefited from some of the broadest firearms and self-defense regulations in the nation. In 1987, then-Gov. Bob Martinez (R) signed Florida’s concealed-carry provision into law, which “liberalized the restrictions that previously hindered the citizens of Florida from obtaining concealed weapons permits,” according to one legal analyst. This trendsetting “shall-issue” statute triggered a wave of gun-carry laws in other states. (Critics said at the time that Florida would become “Dodge City.”) Permit holders are also exempted from the mandatory state waiting period on handgun purchases.
Even though felons and other violent offenders are barred from getting a weapons permit, a 2007 investigation by the South Florida Sun-Sentinelfound that licenses had been mistakenly issued to 1,400 felons and hundreds more applicants with warrants, domestic abuse injunctions, or gun violations. (More than 410,000 Floridians have been issued concealed weapons permits.) Since then, Florida also passed a lawpermitting residents to keep guns in their cars at work, against employers’ wishes. The state also nearly allowed guns on college campuses last year, until an influential Republican lawmaker fought the bill after his close friend‘s daughter was killed by an AK-47 brandished at a Florida State University fraternity party.
Florida also makes it easy to plead self-defense in a killing. Under then-Gov. Jeb Bush, the state in 2005 passed a broad “stand your ground” law, which allows Florida residents to use deadly force against a threat without attempting to back down from the situation. (More stringent self-defense laws state that gun owners have “a duty to retreat” before resorting to killing.) In championing the law, former NRA president and longtime Florida gun lobbyist Marion Hammer said: “Through time, in this country, what I like to call bleeding-heart criminal coddlers want you to give a criminal an even break, so that when you’re attacked, you’re supposed to turn around and run, rather than standing your ground and protecting yourself and your family and your property.”
Again, the Sunshine State was the trendsetter: 17 states have since passed “stand your ground” laws, which critics call a “license to kill” or a “shoot first” law. The law has been unpopular with law enforcement officers in Florida, since it makes it much more difficult to charge shooters with a crime and has regularly confounded juries in murder cases; many Orlando-area cops reportedly have given up investigating “self-defense” cases as a result, referring them to the overloaded state Attorney’s Office for action. A 2010 study by the Tampa Bay Timesfound that “justifiable homicides” had tripled in the state since the law went into effect.
Slate’s Emily Bazelon has more background on the evolution of “stand your ground,” its predecessor (the “castle doctrine”), and why Zimmerman hasn’t yet been arrested and charged.
Why is the history of the Sanford Police Department in question?
Sanford PD’s officers have suffered a series of public missteps in recent years, according to local reporters. In 2006 two private security guards—the son of a Sanford police officer, and a volunteer for the department—killed a black teen with a single gunshot in his back. Even though they admitted to never identifying themselves, the guards were released without charges. In 2009, after an assailant allegedly attempted to rape a child in her home, the department was called to task for sitting on the suspect’s fingerprints, delaying identification and pursuit of the attacker.
Perhaps the most significant incident occurred in late 2010: Justin Collison, the son of a Sanford PD lieutenant, sucker-punched a homeless black man outside a bar, and officers on the scene released Collison without charges. He eventually surrendered after video of the incident materialized online. The police chief at the time was ultimately forced into retirement. “Bottom line, we didn’t do our job that night,” a Police Department representative told WFTV of the incident. The TV stationlater learned that the Sanford patrol sergeant in charge on the night of Collison’s assault, Anthony Raimondo, was also the first supervisor on the scene of Trayvon Martin’s shooting death.
As a result of these incidents and their initial handling of Martin’s death, the Sanford Police Department has been under increased scrutiny. Martin’s parents have suggested they might call for Police Chief Bill Lee to resign.
What has been the reaction to the case?
The case garnered national attention thanks in large part to the reporting of Huffington Post’s Trymaine Lee, who kept on the story since it broke. It caught major national media attention last week, when the police tapes were released, and the New York Times’ Charles M. Blow and The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates argued that the case deserved greater scrutiny. Celebrities like Russell Simmons, John Legend, and Jamelle Monae have taken to social media to comment on the case. Apetition at Change.org was recently posted demanding that Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, the local state attorney, and Sanford Police Chief Bill Lee prosecute Martin’s killer. The petition currently has more than 350,000 signatures, and had been averaging more than 10,000 signatures per hour.
The local state Attorney’s Office, which has the option of pursuing a case against Zimmerman, said this weekend that it received so many emails—more than 100,000—demanding prosecution, that the office’s servers temporarily shut down.
Has anything like this happened before?
The case bears faint echoes of the death of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson, whose case gripped Florida for nearly a year in 2006. Anderson, an African American who was attending a boot-camp-style detention center run by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office, died during physical training that January; the initial autopsy said he’d died of complications from sickle-cell anemia. But after civil rights groups alleged bias by the white officers running the camp, further investigation revealed Anderson had been physically abused and forced to inhale ammonia.
The boot-camp officers were eventually acquitted of manslaughter at trial, but Florida lawmakers shut down the boot camps, and incoming Gov. Charlie Crist signed an order paying $5 million to Anderson’s family. The commissioner of Florida’s top law enforcement agency, was ultimately forced to resign after making racially insensitive remarks in connection with the case.
Could the federal government step in?
That’s a distinct possibility. Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the Martin family, has written a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder requesting federal involvement. “I feel betrayed by the Sanford Police Department and there’s no way that I can still trust them in investigating this crime,” said Martin’s father, Tracy Martin, said in a Friday news conference.
ABC News contacted an FBI spokesman who said, “We are aware of the incident, we have been in contact with local authorities and are monitoring the matter.” A representative of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, which usually investigates police matters, declined to comment on the case to Reuters Sunday.
If the state attorney’s office declines to file charges against Zimmerman, that means federal authorities might step in to file any number of charges, including a hate crime. They might also investigate allegations of police misconduct, including a charge by one eyewitness that an officer on the scene of Martin’s shooting told her to change her story. The witness says she stated that Martin had been screaming for help before he was shot, but that the officer “corrected” her and insisted it was Zimmerman who’d called for help, according to ABC News.
Have the governor or attorney general said what they’ll do?
So far, neither Gov. Rick Scott nor Attorney General Pam Bondi, both pro-Second Amendment conservatives, have referred publicly to Martin’s death. Nor has Jeb Bush, the ex-governor who signed the controversial stand-your-ground law, gone on record about the case. But Bush isslated to appear with the Rev. Al Sharpton on an upcoming episode of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and it’s likely he’ll be asked his thoughts on Trayvon Martin’s killing then.
UPDATE 1, 12 p.m. EDT, Monday, March 19: More details on Florida’s self-defense laws
Many readers have asked whether, given the 911 recordings, a case against Zimmerman would be easier than most homicides in which “self-defense” is cited by a defendant. In Florida, the answer probably is no: The courts’ interpretation of the stand-your-ground law has been extremely broad—so broad that, to win an acquittal, a defendant doesn’t even have to prove self-defense, only argue for it, while to win a conviction the prosecution has to prove that self-defense was impossible.
Numerous cases have set the precedent in Florida, with the courtsarguing that the law “does not require defendant to prove self-defense to any standard measuring assurance of truth, exigency, near certainty, or even mere probability; defendant’s only burden is to offer facts from which his resort to force could have been reasonable.” When a defendant claims self-defense, “the State has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense.” In other words the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt never shifts from the prosecution, so it’s surprisingly easy to evade prosecution by claiming self-defense.
This has led to some stunning verdicts in the state. In Tallahassee in 2008, two rival gangs engaged in a neighborhood shootout, and a 15-year-old African American male was killed in the crossfire. The three defendants all either were acquitted or had their cases dismissed, because the defense successfully argued they were defending themselves under the “stand your ground” law. The state attorney in Tallahassee, Willie Meggs, was beside himself. “Basically this law hasput us in the posture that our citizens can go out into the streets and have a gun fight and the dead person is buried and the survivor of the gun fight is immune from prosecution,” he said at the time.
One of those defendants ended up receiving a conviction for attempted voluntary manslaughter for an unrelated case, in which he shot indiscriminately at two people in a car.
UPDATE 2, 4 p.m. Monday, March 19: White House weighs in
In a press conference today, White House spokesman Jay Carney answered a question about the Martin shooting for the first time. “We here in the White House are aware of the incident, and we understand that the local FBI office has been in contact with the local authorities and is monitoring the situation,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Trayvon Martin’s family, but obviously we’re not going to wade into a local law enforcement matter.”
Meanwhile Monday, demonstrators gathered in support of Martin at the Seminole County courthouse and the Tallahassee campus of Florida A&M University, a historically black institution. Groups at the Seminole County rally reportedly chanted “Do I look suspicious?” and “Arrest Zimmerman now.” George Zimmerman’s father wrote in a letter theOrlando Sentinel that his son has moved out of the neighborhood where he shot Trayvon Martin. “The media portrayal of George as a racist could not be further from the truth,” he wrote. “He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever.”
But Martin’s mother and her attorney disputed that assertion on TV Monday morning. “[Zimmerman] was reacting to the color of his skin,” the mother, Sybrina Fulton, told NBC’sMatt Lauer. “I just don’t understand why this situation got out of control.” Her lawyer, Benjamin Crump, added: “Trayvon had a bag of Skittles. [Zimmerman] had a nine-millimeter gun. He was almost 80 pounds more weight than Trayvon Martin…Everyone in America is asking, ‘When are they going to arrest Zimmerman for killing this kid in cold blood?'”
UPDATE 3, 9:30 p.m. EDT, Monday, March 19: Where is Trayvon Martin’s cellphone?
When Trayvon Martin was killed, all he had were Skittles, iced tea…and a cellphone, authorities told the L.A. Times. The phone has been mentioned in multiple reports in recent days, and journalists and concerned citizens are starting to ask: Where is Trayvon’s phone? Why did the police on the scene of the shooting not use it to identify Martin, or contact his next of kin? “Trayvon’s body was bagged and taken to the morgue, where he was tagged as a John Doe,” writes African American affairs blogger Sandra Rose. “No one contacted Trayvon’s family even though police had Trayvon’s cell phone in their possession.”
The lack of information about Martin’s phone is feeding further skepticism about the police’s conduct, and it’s led New York Timescolumnist Charles Blow to start a new meme on Twitter:
UPDATE 4, 10:56 p.m. EDT, Monday, March 19: US Department of Justice, FBI, and Florida state detectives to investigate
The Miami Herald reports that the Department of Justice’s civil rights division will investigate the Martin case. The paper quotes a DOJ statement (apparently not online yet) noting that the bar for such federal probes is high:
“With all federal civil rights crimes, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acted intentionally and with the specific intent to do something which the law forbids – the highest level of intent in criminal law. Negligence, recklessness, mistakes and accidents are not prosecutable under the federal criminal civil rights laws.”
Florida, too, is moving forward with a state-level investigation. Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (the state’s FBI equivalent) requesting the move, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The letter states:
The circumstances surrounding the death of Trayvon Martin have causead significant concerns within the Sanford community and the state..I understand an investigation was initiated by the Sanford Police Department and referred to the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office. I believe it is appropriate the the Florida Department of Law Enforcement provide any assistance necessary to fully investigate this matter. Accordingly, please ensure that FDLE offers and provides the appropriate resources to the State Attorney’s Office as they continue their investigation.
These moves may suggest that state- or federal-level charges in Trayvon Martin’s death could come soon
UPDATE 5, 11:45 p.m. EDT, Monday, March 19: Zimmerman violated neighborhood watch rules; traumatized teen witness speaks
Via Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic, who tweeted “There are 22,00 registered neighborhood watch programs. Zimmerman’s was not one of them”:
Zimmerman also blatantly violated major principles of the Neighborhood Watch manual, ABC News has learned.
The manual, from the National Neighborhood Watch Program, states: “It should be emphasized to members that they do not possess police powers, and they shall not carry weapons or pursue vehicles. They should also be cautioned to alert police or deputies when encountering strange activity. Members should never confront suspicious persons who could be armed and dangerous….”
According to Chris Tutko, the director of the National Neighborhood Watch Program, there are about 22,000 registered watch groups nationwide, and Zimmerman was not part of a registered group—another fact the police were not aware of at the time of the incident.
In another development, the Orlando Sentinel has a video interview with a 13-year-old identified as Austin who witnessed part of the confrontation between Martin and Zimmerman. (Austin and his sister are audible on one of the 911 recordings embedded in this post.) “I just think that sometimes people get stereotyped, and I fit into this [same] stereotype as the person who got shot,” Austin worries.
The Miami Herald’s Marc Caputo relates how, during the debate over Florida’s passage of the controversial “stand your ground” law seven years ago, one state senator offered “eerily prescient” concerns about the bill that echo the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Democrat Steve Geller of Hallandale Beach, south of Fort Lauderdale, criticized the law as an unreasonable extension of the well-known “castle doctrine”:
…Geller fretted it was going too far.
“We never said . . . that the street is your castle,” he said on the Senate floor.
“I don’t think you ought to be able to kill people that are walking toward you on the street because of this subjective belief that you’re worried that they may get in a fight with you.”
Florida’s self-defense laws have left Florida safe for no one—except those who shoot first.
[…] How did we get to a place where Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense, which seems barely plausible, could prevent his arrest? The answer starts with the “Stand Your Ground” law that Florida passed in 2005. The idea was to give people who think they are being threatened the right to use force: They can protect themselves without first trying to retreat. The history behind that controversial idea is actually about gender, not race. It involves the intersection between the fight against domestic violence and the agenda of the National Rifle Association.
Let’s back up, with the help of Jeannie Suk, a Harvard law professor who wrote an article in 2008 that I’ll rely on for the next few paragraphs. In the 17th century, English common law held that people whose lives were threatened in a public place could use deadly force to defend themselves only after retreating as far as possible. It was up to the king and his men to keep the peace, and everyone else was supposed to stand aside. There was only one exception: If someone broke into your house, you could kill him without retreating.
This is called the Castle Doctrine, after the old saying that a man’s house is his castle. It makes intuitive sense—a limited exception to the duty to retreat that leaves the rule in place. But when the Castle Doctrine made its way to America, Suk says, some courts expanded it. Now someone under attack could “repel force by force” if he was attacked “in a place where he has a right to be.” That’s how the Supreme Court put it in 1895. This is amazingly called the “true man” doctrine, from a line in an 1876 case: “A true man, who is without fault, is not obliged to fly from an assailant, who by violence or surprise, maliciously seeks to take his life or do him enormous bodily harm.”
Not all the states adopted the true man doctrine. And 100 later, courts and legislatures faced a new problem: What to do with women who said they were victims of domestic violence and had killed their husbands to save themselves? Did you have a right not to retreat if the person coming after you lived under the same roof? At first, the answer was no, to the fury of feminists. Then in 1999, the Florida Supreme Court said a woman who shot and killed her husband during a violent fight at home could successfully call on the Castle Doctrine to argue self-defense. “It is now widely recognized that domestic violence attacks are often repeated over time, and escape from the home is rarely possible without the threat of great personal violence or death,” the court wrote.
Suk calls this revision of the true-man rule to encompass domestic violence transformative, and you can see why. The new rules made for more shooting and less retreating. And they set the stage for Florida to ditch the duty to retreat entirely, which the legislature did in passing the nation’s first Stand Your Ground law in 2005.
Florida’s new law did three things: It further loosened the restrictions on using deadly force at home. It scrapped the duty to retreat inpublic places. And it gave people who use self-defense civil and criminal immunity. Pushing for these changes, NRA President Marion Hammer focused on women and their need to protect themselves. “You can’t expect a victim to wait and ask, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Criminal, are you going to rape me and kill me, or are you just going to beat me up and steal my television?” she said.
Prosecutors opposed the Stand Your Ground law, and they still complain about it. “It is an abomination,” former Broward County Prosecutor David Frankel told the Sun Sentinel in January. “The ultimate intent might be good, but in practice, people take theopportunity to shoot first and say later they had a justification. It almost gives them a free pass to shoot.” The quote comes from a story about a former sheriff’s deputy, Maury Hernandez, who killed an unarmed homeless man in a Haagen-Dazs shop on a Saturday afternoon. Hernandez, who was with his children, said the man aggressively asked for money and then tried to assault him. Witnesses said Hernandez warned the man several times before taking out his gun and firing multiple times. The police said they wouldn’t charge Hernandez for the shooting because he claimed he was under attack.
It’s that decision not to press charges that makes Stand Your Ground laws, which a bunch of other states have adopted, a crazy departure from the past. It’s one thing to raise self-defense at trial. It’s another to have what the Florida Supreme Court calls “true immunity.” True immunity, the court said, means a trial judge can dismiss a prosecution, based on a Stand Your Ground assertion, before trial begins.
At least there’s supposed to be a hearing before that happens, at which the defendant has the burden of proof. And yet as the Hernandez and Martin’s case shows, Stand Your Ground laws often lead prosecutors to decide against so much as bringing charges. According to the Sun Sentinel, “In case after case during the past six years, Floridians who shot and killed unarmed opponents have not been prosecuted.”
Now the death of Trayvon Martin is the latest in that line. Maybe this is the kind of case that is so sad and so tinged with racism that Florida will think hard about the very scary place where their self-defense laws have taken them. Maybe.
New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Sanford, Fla., police chief Bill Lee have both “come out” as victims of insidious prejudice. Speaking to New York Daily News sports columnist Mike Lupica, Kelly had a bit of a laugh athow upset people get over his department’s policy of constant harassment of black men.
The other day, Kelly started to hear it from City Council members about his department’s aggressive efforts to reduce the ridiculously high numbers of minorities in the city being victimized by gun crimes. You probably know that fight ended quickly when Kelly went back at them asking for their own solutions.
Talking about all of it Sunday, he said, “Sometimes it sounds sometimes like people are more comfortable stereotyping me.”
Haha, it’s funny because the NYPD has a policy of specifically targeting, stopping, interrogating and frisking black and Latino New Yorkers, many of whom are then arrested for petty drug crimes. And I guess liberals think Ray Kelly thinks that is OK because he is a rich and privileged white man who doesn’t have to deal with that constant harassment, which is “stereotyping” him as an officious prick on a raging decade-long power trip.
But Kelly’s slightly acerbic statement is small potatoes compared to the incredible claim made by Sanford police chief Lee. Lee’s force has been the target of some criticism lately, because it appears that they don’t consider shooting unarmed young black men a crime. Seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin was walking home from the store when a 28–year-old self-proclaimed “neighborhood watch” captain named George Zimmerman chased him and shot him for being suspicious. The police did not arrest Zimmerman or check and see if he was maybe high or drunk or anything, because they took his word for it that it was “self-defense” when he chased and then shot this kid.
A Ta-Nehisi Coates reader highlighted this amazing line from Lee:
Our investigation is color blind and based on the facts and circumstances, not color. I know I can say that until I am blue in the face, but, as a white man in a uniform, I know it doesn’t mean anything to anybody.
Oh, woe is Bill Lee. No one — no one! — ever takes the word of a white man in uniform at face value. The claims of white men in uniform are never — absolutely never! — accepted without question as the gospel truth by local news stations and newspapers and politicians.
As we all know, in 2012 America, white men in positions of authority are constantly the victims of racially motivated abuse, like when people criticize them in blogs. It has been proven again and again that the only racism that still exists is the racism of accusing white people of racism, and this racism plagues our once-great nation.
I hope all of you people are ashamed of yourselves for being so racist against Bill Lee and Ray Kelly.
CBS and News Corp.’s Fox are among broadcasters fighting a plan to post names of campaign-ad buyers and purchase prices on the Web as record election spending raises concerns over anonymous political contributions.
The information is maintained in desk drawers and filing cabinets at television stations, and the Federal Communications Commission wants to bring the data to a Web site the agency would run.
The proposal would “impose significant new administrative burdens,” CBS and Fox stations told the agency Jan. 17 in comments joined by Comcast’s NBCstations and Walt Disney Co.’s ABC. The National Association of Broadcasters told the FCC recently that the agency lacks power to make the change.
A Supreme Court decision in 2010 allowed unlimited spending by corporations and labor organizations. The ruling helped clear the way for super-PACs, political action committees that spend independently of candidates.
“We desperately need openness,”’ Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), said March 6 at a meeting of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “We’ve got a bunch of billionaires and millionaires who are pouring millions of dollars into the elections of this country, and to these super-PACs, with nobody having the vaguest idea of who they are, what they’re up to, what they want or what would be the consequences of it.’’
Putting files online would help researchers “reveal the true interests behind the purchases,” said a Dec. 22 filing by a coalition including the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington group working for campaign-finance disclosure and backing the FCC proposal, the nonprofit open-government advocate Common Cause and policy groups Free Press and Media Access Project.
The current rules require traveling to stations and contending with limited business hours, staff cooperation and photocopying costs, the coalition said.
“This notion of someone walking in and looking at pieces of paper — in the 21st century — it’s ridiculous on its face and it merely is meant to obfuscate,’’ Meredith McGehee, the Campaign Legal Center’s policy director, said in an interview.
The FCC made its proposal in October as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and groups supporting him were on their way to raising more than $100 million. President Obama has since embraced unlimited contributions as his campaign lost its fundraising edge after reaping $128 million for 2011.
About three-fourths of campaign funds go to ads and most is spent on local TV stations, Ken Goldstein, president of New York-based Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group, said in an interview.
Campaign spending on local TV stations may climb to about $3 billion this year, up from $2.3 billion in 2008, Goldstein said.
FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, the agency’s sole Republican, said in a Feb. 10 speech that the proposal is “likely to be a jobs destroyer” because stations will devote resources to complying.
Television station records include the rates paid for political ads. Gathering and distributing that information may result in price collusion “and would put the government’s thumb on the scale during advertising negotiations,” McDowell said.
Other critics go further. Because stations’ practices vary, placing the files online “would ultimately lead to a Soviet-style standardization of the way advertising should be sold as determined by the government,” Jerald Fritz, senior vice president of Allbritton Communications, which owns ABC-affiliated stations in six markets including Washington, said in a Jan. 27 filing.
The television station groups say it is unfair that cable operators who must keep similar records aren’t being asked to post the information online.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, a Democrat, has no deadline to set a vote on the proposal that’s moved forward with backing from him and Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.
“Making this information easily accessible will let the public see the large number ofbroadcasters that are doing a strong job of meeting their public-interest obligations, and also those that are not,” Genachowski said in October as the FCC voted to publish the proposal for comment.
Neil Grace, an FCC spokesman, declined to comment. The five-member agency has two open seats after one member quit to join Comcast and another’s term expired.
Broadcasters are required to offer candidates the lowest rate customarily charged, and disclosure “ensures that candidates are not gouged” as they rush to buy air time before an election, McGehee said. Some broadcasters manipulate the system, she said.
“They know if they put this stuff where it’s easily accessed, the game they’re playing will be more revealed,” McGehee said.
Broadcasters reject that assertion, Dennis Wharton, a spokesman for the Washington-based broadcasters’ association, said in an interview. He said that “broadcasters take seriously our obligations to afford discounted time to candidates.”
[…] According to the Pew Research Center’s Project For Excellence in Journalism’s The State of the News Media 2012 report, viewership for all cable news was up 1% in daytime and 1% in primetime. CNN saw their ratings rise by 16%. Despite the loss of Keith Olbermann, MSNBC’s prime time audience grew by 3%. The network’s daytime audience was up 20%. The ratings surge at CNN was a temporary blip caused by the tsunami in Japan and the Arab Spring. Without breaking news, CNN sinks to third place.
Fox News continues to lose viewers, but remains highly profitable. How can a network lose viewers, but increase profits? The answer is that Fox News demands the highest licensing fee from carriers in all of cable news. All subscribers pay an additional seventy eight cents a month to have Fox News carried on their system. This was an 11% increase in 2011 and one of the main reasons why Fox News can lose viewers, but set a record for profits. […]
There are three warning signs on the road ahead for Fox News. It is likely that Fox News will continue to lose viewers in the future because they have the oldest audience on television. The average age of a Fox News viewer is 65 years old. Younger people aren’t replacing the older viewers that the network is losing on a yearly basis, which means that if things stay as they are, the network is fighting a losing battle against Father Time.
The Internet is also posing a big threat to Fox News’s bottom line. A 2011 study by Credit Suisse, found that 25% of cable/satellitecustomers plan to cancel their service in the next five years. Subscribers are threatening to cancel because they are realizing that they can get much of the programming that they receive on their televisions right now on the Internet for less. If 25% of subscribers canceled, it would be a big blow to all three cable news networks, but it would hurt Fox News the most.
The biggest dilemma facing Fox News is a problem that they created for themselves. After years of moving to the hard right and making inflammatory rhetoric a staple of their programming, Roger Ailes is trying to move the network back to the middle. The problem is that the core part of the network’s audience still resides on the far right. To put this in political terms, Fox News wants to be Mitt Romney, but their audience craves Rick Santorum.
The far right audience may not react well to the new moderate Fox News. In fact, the door may be opening for a bit of competition for the conservative viewership. The same battle that is playing out for control of the Republican Party among the far right and the party establishment could replicate itself on the cable news landscape.
There are only 1.9 million daily Fox News viewers, but Fox News is available in 102 million homes. This means that 100 million American households are subsidizing the right wing hate of Fox News. If the American people ever wake up and realize that they are paying for a network that many of them disagree with, and demand to be given the ability to financially support only the channels that they watch, the future of Fox News will be in doubt.
Unchastened by Iraq misinformation, the media are passing on pro-war statements as fact again. This time, it’s Iran.
The Iraq War debate was not among American journalism’s finest hours. Despite, or perhaps because of, the media’s incessant coverage of the run-up to war, the public ended up wildly misinformed. An August 2003 Washington Post poll found that 69 percent of Americans thought it either “very likely” or “somewhat likely” that Saddam Hussein had been involved in the 9/11 attacks. Eighty percent of Fox News viewers believed either that Iraq and al Qaeda were closely linked, that the U.S. had found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or that world public opinion favored the war. Even among Americans who got most of their information from print, a majority fell for one of these mistruths. The New York Times ultimately apologized for not showing more “skepticism” about pre-war claims of Iraqi WMD.
Now, with Israel, or America, or both, potentially headed for war with Iran, the press is being tested again. And it’s mostly failing again. On the narrow question of whether Iran has decided to seek a nuclear weapon—as opposed to mere nuclear capacity—the elite media are trying hard to convey skepticism. On Saturday, The New York Times ran a front-page, above-the-fold story explaining that U.S. intelligence agencies don’t really know whether Iran is building a bomb.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that beyond the specific issue of whether the Iran is pursuing a nuke, the media are still doing what they did during the Iraq debate: passing off pro-war arguments as fact.
Two examples. Again and again, the Times has called a potential Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities “preemptive.” But that’s wrong. A “preemptive” attack is an attack you launch when the other side is about to attack you. It’s the equivalent of shooting a guy reaching for his holster. What the Israeli government is considering is a “preventive” attack: the equivalent of shooting a guy you think may soon procure a gun. During the Iraq War debate, the Bush administration thumbed its nose at these definitions and called its impending invasion of Iraq “preemptive,” thus implying that Saddam was on the verge of attacking the U.S. Now the media are picking up where Bush left off, using the wrong term for an Israeli strike on Iran and therefore implying, with no evidence, that Iran is on the verge of nuking Tel Aviv.
How could the Times, America’s best newspaper, and a paper clearly trying to learn from its Iraq mistakes, commit such similar ones again? The answer, I think, is that when politicians and government officials from different parties and different corners of government seem to agree on something, journalists often take it as fact. That’s part of what happened on Iraq. Because the intelligence agencies and congressional Democrats mostly agreed with the Bush administration’s claim that Saddam had WMD, journalists could safely assert it, too. And in a Washington culture that relies heavily on official sources, even journalists willing to think unconventional thoughts about Saddam’s WMD had trouble finding credible sources willing to say so.
Today as well, politicians from both parties simply assume that Iran is pursuing a nuke. The intelligence agencies’ willingness to challenge this assumption has helped journalists do the same. But beyond this particular question, the dynamic resembles the one preceding war with Iraq. Democrats and Republicans both use the term “preemptive.” The leaders of both parties insist that Iran represents a mortal threat to Israel, which cannot possibly be deterred. And so establishment journalists, who instinctively play between the yard lines established by the two parties, find it easy to repeat those assertions, too.
The Washington press is part of Washington culture. To challenge pro-war narratives, it usually needs establishment figures to lead the way. And when the left-of-center party won’t challenge those narratives—as the Democrats refused to do on Iraq, and are refusing to do again on Iran—the press isn’t likely to either.
Friends, relatives and his lawyer say they have an idea of what that horrible thing was: war.
Three deployments in Iraq, where he saw heavy fighting, and a fourth in Afghanistan, where he went reluctantly, left him struggling financially, in danger of losing his home.
And there were more direct impacts. During his deployments, Sergeant Bales, 38, lost part of a foot and injured his head, saw fellow soldiers badly wounded, picked up the bodies of dead Iraqis, was treated for mild traumatic brain injury and possibly developed post-traumatic stress disorder, his lawyer and military officials said.
But there are also glimpses of a darkness in his personal life. Sergeant Bales’s past includes an arrest on a misdemeanor charge of assault on a woman, which was dropped after he completed anger-management counseling; an accident in which he overturned his car, something he attributed to falling asleep at the wheel; and an accumulation of rejections and disappointments.
A year ago, according to a blog written by his wife, he was denied a promotion to sergeant first class, a rank that would have brought not just added responsibility and respect but also money at a time when his finances seemed stretched.
Neighbors remember him, in between earlier deployments, as a gung-ho solider, eager to get back to the fight. But that seemed to have changed. He trained to become a recruiter, a job that would have allowed him to skip Afghanistan, but the Army kept him in the infantry. And though he felt that his injuries were significant enough to keep him out of combat, his lawyer said, Army doctors said he was fit to deploy. Weeks later, he arrived in one of the roughest precincts of Afghanistan.
A long legal process — starting with the formal filing of charges in the coming weeks and ending, most likely, in a court-martial — will sort out whether Sergeant Bales was guilty of atrocities and may shed light on which, if any, of these factors played a role.
From dozens of interviews with lawyers, friends and military officials, competing legal narratives are already starting to emerge.
A military official, speaking anonymously, has said Sergeant Bales had marital problems, felt stressed by the Afghanistan deployment and snapped after drinking alcohol before the shootings.
Sergeant Bales’s lawyers contend that he had a solid marriage and no drinking problems. If he cracked, they said, it was because he probably had P.T.S.D. that the Army failed to diagnose, had been dispatched to a war he did not want to fight and had seen a friend gravely wounded just before the killings.
Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist and retired brigadier general who was an adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that after a decade of combat, where hundreds of thousands of troops have sustained traumatic brain injury and P.T.S.D., those syndromes by themselves seem inadequate to explain how a seemingly normal and widely admired sergeant might have single-handedly committed one of the worst war crimes of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
With his multiple deployments and wounds, Dr. Xenakis said, Sergeant Bales seems emblematic of bigger problems: an overstretched military battered by 11 years of combat; failures by the military to properly identify and treat its weary, suffering troops; and the thin line dividing “normal” behavior in war from what later is deemed “snapping.”
“This is equivalent to what My Lai did to reveal all the problems with the conduct of the Vietnam War,” Dr. Xenakis said. “The Army will want to say that soldiers who commit crimes are rogues, that they are individual, isolated cases. But they are not.”
By November 2001, he had joined the Army.
“It wasn’t really anger when he joined,” said Michael Blevins, 35, a childhood friend. “It was — they had hurt something,” he added, referring to the Sept. 11 terrorists.
Ms. Caddell said that she had worried about his decision, but that he had assured her, “Nothing’s going to happen to me.” The decision made sense to Ms. Caddell’s son Mark, who had idolized Mr. Bales since he was a toddler.
He has to join, Ms. Caddell recalled her son saying. “He takes care of everybody.”
Introduction to Warfare
After basic training, Sergeant Bales was assigned to what was then known as Fort Lewis, near Tacoma, which would become the Army’s Western deployment hub for the wars. For the next 11 years, he would spend his career with the Second Battalion, Third Infantry Regiment in a Stryker brigade.
In 2002, the criminal assault occurred in a Tacoma-area hotel room, but he paid his fine and completed court-mandated anger-management counseling, court records show.
Not long after, he married Karilyn Primeau, a woman he had met online, his lawyer said, and they went on to have two children, a daughter named Quincy and a son named Bobby.
The Third Brigade deployed to northern Iraq from November 2003 to November 2004, a time when the country was quickly devolving into looting, insurgency and chaos. But it was Sergeant Bales’s second tour, from June 2006 into September 2007, that was particularly eventful.
By then, Iraq was in the throes of sectarian civil war, and American troops were dying at a rate of about 80 a month. David Hardt, a Third Brigade soldier who wrote a blog about the deployment, said that the enemy had almost always been invisible and that soldiers had grown bitterly frustrated at their inability to fight back.
“You sort of got used to seeing dead bodies, seeing things blow up in front of you,” said Mr. Hardt, who did not know Sergeant Bales but was in Iraq at the same time. “We wanted to get insurgents, but it’s so rare that we succeeded.”
In one extraordinary battle in January 2007, however, Sergeant Bales’s battalion encountered as many as 600 Shiite militia fighters while trying to recover a downed Apache helicopter in Najaf. In a pitched two-day battle that included airstrikes and mortar exchanges, the American forces claimed to have killed 250 enemy fighters while losing none of their own.
“The cool part about this was, World War II-style, you dug in,” Sergeant Bales, then a team leader, was quoted as saying in a recounting of the battle by the Fort Lewis newspaper. “You’re taking a shovel and digging as fast as you can.”
“I’ve never been more proud to be a part of this unit than that day,” he added.
Somewhere during that deployment, Sergeant Bales injured his foot, though his lawyer said he did not know how. The Army has declined to provide details about the sergeant’s record.
But the injury did not seem significant enough to remove him from Iraq, and he seems to have finished the tour, which was extended to 15 months from 12 in what became known as the surge.
Mr. Hardt said most soldiers he knew were angry about the extension because they were exhausted by the continuous fighting and the threats of roadside bombs. But if Sergeant Bales was upset, he did not seem to complain. When he returned to the Tacoma area, he was limping, neighbors said, but also working hard to rehabilitate his foot because he wanted to return to full duty.
“He was a gung-ho Army guy,” said Tim Burgess, 59, a retired trucker and warehouse worker who lived next door to Sergeant Bales at the time. “He still wanted to see action even though he had been wounded.”
Neighbors remembered his wife as an avid bicyclist but not particularly sociable. Records show that she worked as a project manager at now-defunct Washington Mutual, then became an associate technical project manager at Amaxra, a business communications company in Redmond.
Sergeant Bales was home for nearly two years after his second deployment. Mrs. Bales, also an avid blogger, cheerfully recounted baking cookies, reading books and visiting her parents in Bellingham with their daughter.
By August 2009, he was gone again. It was a quieter tour, with more nation building than combat. In a Facebook exchange with a childhood friend, Steven Berling, Sergeant Bales called the deployment “boring” and “pretty dumb,” then lamented the lack of fighting.
“Giving money to Hagji instead of bullets just don’t seem right,” he wrote, apparently misspelling Hajji, a term used by soldiers, often pejoratively, in referring to Arab people.
Before deploying, Sergeant Bales would have undergone physical exams, including on his foot, and a computer-based survey for traumatic brain injury intended to measure attention, memory and thinking ability. The survey is not well regarded among many specialists, but it remains the Army’s chief screening tool for traumatic brain injury. Sergeant Bales was declared fit to deploy.
Little is known about his time in Afghanistan, other than that he and others in his battalion were assigned to work alongside Army Special Forces soldiers in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province, a longtime hotbed of Taliban activity that has grown more secure in recent years. Sergeant Bales would probably have provided security for the Green Berets while they carried out night raids, built relations with village leaders and organized local militias.
A Green Beret who has spent time in Panjwai in the past year said the combat outpost would have been relatively small, protected by dirt-filled containers known as Hesco barriers, with guard towers and perhaps a blimp with a high-powered camera capable of capturing images more than a mile away. It would have been difficult, but not impossible, for Sergeant Bales to slip away at night unnoticed, as the Army says he did.
Supervision in the outpost might also have been more lax than at larger bases, which could explain the presence of alcohol. Sergeant Bales might have even been among the more senior noncommissioned officers on his team. Special Forces teams typically have 12 members, sometimes fewer, and Sergeant Bales’s unit might have been as small as a platoon of two dozen soldiers.
In the days following the rogue US soldier’s shooting spree in Kandahar, most of the media, us included, focused on the “backlash” and how it might further strain the relations with the US.
Many mainstream media outlets channelled a significant amount of energy into uncovering the slightest detail about the accused soldier – now identified as Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. We even know where his wife wanted to go for vacation, or what she said on her personal blog.
But the victims became a footnote, an anonymous footnote. Just the number 16. No one bothered to ask their ages, their hobbies, their aspirations. Worst of all, no one bothered to ask their names.
In honoring their memory, I write their names below, and the little we know about them: that nine of them were children, three were women.
Mohamed Dawood son of Abdullah
Khudaydad son of Mohamed Juma
Shatarina daughter of Sultan Mohamed
Zahra daughter of Abdul Hamid
Nazia daughter of Dost Mohamed
Masooma daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Farida daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Palwasha daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Nabia daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Esmatullah daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Faizullah son of Mohamed Wazir
Essa Mohamed son of Mohamed Hussain
Akhtar Mohamed son of Murrad Ali
Haji Mohamed Naim son of Haji Sakhawat
Mohamed Sediq son of Mohamed Naim
On Saturday, hundreds of protesters marked the six-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street by attempting to retake Zuccotti Park. By the end of the night, 73 had been arrested and the park forcefully cleared. In scenes that recalled the early days of the movement last fall, citizen journalists captured the New York City Police Department roughing up dozens of apparently peaceful activists. One of them, Craig Judelman,posted a bloody photo of himself on Facebook with the caption, “just got punched in the face like 5 times by NYPD.” Journalists J.A. Myerson andRyan Devereaux have good summaries of other alleged brutality, including officers throwing punches, “rubbing” a boot on someone’s head, dragging a woman by the hair, and breaking a guy’s thumb. Many other incidents were caught on tape. Here are some of the most disturbing:
Since its beginning, Occupy Wall Street and the protests it spawned across the country have faced critics who say it has no goals and wouldn’t achieve any substantial accomplishments. “In fact, the sum total of what Occupy Wall Street has accomplished is zero,” a New York Post columnist wrote in November. “Inspiring chat around the national watercooler is not an achievement.”
The movement turned six months old last Saturday, and a closer look at its record of achievement reveals that it has done more than spark conversation around Wall Street’s watercoolers. Occupy groups have shifted the national debate on taxes and inequality, helped homeowners stay in their homes, forced major policy issues to the forefront of debate at the state and federal level, and gotten the attention of the institutions they’ve challenged most forcefully. With that in mind, ThinkProgress compiled a brief list of Occupy Wall Street’s accomplishments over its first six months:
Income Inequality: The 99 Percent movement refocused America’s political debate, forcing news outlets and eventually politicians to focus on rising income inequality. While debt and deficits were the primary focus of the media before the movement started, their attention after the movement began shifted to jobs, Wall Street, and unemployment. By the end of October,even Republicans were talking about income inequality, and a week later, Time Magazine devoted its cover to the topic, asking, “Can you still move up in America?”
Occupy Our Homes: The movement has drawn attention to many of the predatory, discriminatory, and fraudulent practices perpetrated by banks during the foreclosure crisis, and across the country, Occupy groups, religious leaders, and community organizations have helped homeowners prevent wrongful foreclosures on their homes. Activists in Detroit are working to save their fifth home, and similar actions have taken place in cities like Minneapolis,Los Angeles, Cleveland, and Atlanta. The movement has drawn so much attention that local political leaders and even members of Congress have stepped in to help homeowners facing foreclosure.
Move Your Money: On Bank Transfer Day, activists helped more than 40,000Americans move their money from large banks to credit unions, and more than650,000 switched to credit unions last October. Religious groups have taken up the cause as well, moving $55 million before Thanksgiving. This year, a San Francisco interfaith group moved $10 million from Wells Fargo and other groups marked Lent by moving more money from Wall Street. As a result, analysts say the nation’s 10 biggest banks could lose $185 billion in customer deposits this year “due to customer defections.”
Fighting For Positive Policies: Occupy groups have pushed for positive policy outcomes at both the state and federal levels. Occupy The SEC submitted a 325-page comment letter on the Volcker Rule, a regulation to rein in big banks. Pressure from protesters forced New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to reverse his opposition to a millionaire’s tax, and activists fought Indiana Republicans’union-busting “right-to-work” law, and have pushed big banks to stop financingdestructive environmental practices like mountaintop removal mining in coal states.
Though many of the camps across the country have been disbanded, the 99 Percent Movement isn’t going away. Organizers have continued fighting at the state level, pushing back against banks on fraudulent foreclosures and other issues, and have now turned their attention to the 2012 presidential elections. Movement leaders in New York, meanwhile, are developing high-tech ways to organize protests and keep the movement going. Occupy is starting to assert a political influence, pushing multiple candidates and even running for office themselves — in both Maine and Pennsylvania, former Occupy activists are running for public office.
“It’s changed the language,” one protester told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s brought out a lot of issues that people are talking about. … And that’s the start of change.”
[Thought you’d enjoy these comments to the above question. ]
As a life-long republican, I am finding it more and more difficult to support the party. It used to be that republicans stayed out of personal issues, but the party was hijacked by the Christian right at the grass-roots level during the GHWBush era. I am Christian, but I don’t support legislating morality.
My republican party would never have run up such a huge deficit under GWBush, it would never have voted unanimously to break into the Shivo marriage and tell a husband what he could and couldn’t do, it would not have turned down a 4 Trillion dollar deficit cut offer from a seated president just to be obnoxiously unwilling to compromise. And that is after not having anything to offer regarding solutions to the financial crisis other than cutting taxes (something we can now see does not do what Laffer thought) and this is supposed to be the fiscally responsible party.
Stay out of the bedroom, recognize rights issues like gay-marriage, admit that some legislation is necessary to keep greedy business owners and corporations from doing the wrong thing and polluting our air and water. Compromise!
Rory in LB:
I grew up in a GOP household. My father was a GOP legislator and my mother a GOP appointed judge and they were both Ford delegates in the 1976 election. We left the party shortly thereafter due to the rising and not almost totally dominant influence of the Christian Conservatives. Reagan brought in this part of the party, and they have dominated the stage ever since. I am for personal privacy and small government, but it appears that the GOP wants small government on financial issues and big brother on social issues.
Tim in Irvine:
I am a Republican. I voted for the President. I was going to vote for McCain until he chose his running mate. Barring a miracle (Ron Paul), I will vote for the President again.
What I really have a problem with is the party that forgot what the word yes is… Time after time the same bills the republican brought up previously is now no longer good.
The main focus is to destroy the country for 4 years so the President can’t be elected.
Absolutely! The shame is that a whole spate of young voters are dying to embrace fiscal conservatism, but the Republican focus on social issues alienates them. I’d be happy to vote Republican if it meant lower taxes and less spending. I just don’t want any part in campaigns against abortion or gay marriage.
Jack in Ventura:
I’m a “decline to state” voter, consider myself “conservative”, and have tended to vote Republican in the past. Gen X, reasonably affluent, and work in an industry that is generally considered a bastion of support for the GOP…..
But after what I’m seeing this year, from the candidates and the talking heads – if that is what it means to be conservative & christian then I wish to be considered neither. To quote someone from a few years go – “I didn’t leave the Republican Party, the Republican Party left me”.
So go forth, party of old scared white people – strap on that Santorum suicide sweater vest and ride forth to jihad without me. I’ll be on the sidelines setting up the fiesta to celebrate your (deserved) demise. THEN, maybe, we’ll get a sane, moderately conservative, entity that I can get behind. Until then – good-bye and good riddance.
I am a 60 year old white female that has been a registered Independent since I first registered to vote. Over the years, I have voted for both Republican and Democratic candidates. However, over the past several years the Republicans have swung so far to the right, that they are completely out of touch with the mainstream general public. I used to view myself as a moderate but in comparison to today’s Republican party, I would be viewed as a strong liberal! Their stance on social issues is a portrait in intolerance and myopic. They view anyone with a moderate stance as something evil and a traitor to the cause!
But back to the Glastris piece and Drum’s reaction. While Glastris wrote an extended list of accomplishments, Drum tried to condense the list down to 10 really important items, but found the exercise to be impossible so the list ended up being 13 items.
1.Passed Health Care Reform
2. Passed the Stimulus
3. Passed Wall Street Reform
4. Ended the War in Iraq
6. Eliminated Osama bin Laden
7. Turned Around US Auto Industry
9. Repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”
12. Reversed Bush Torture Policies
14. Kicked Banks Out of Federal Student Loan Program
16. Boosted Fuel Efficiency Standards
18. Passed Mini Stimuli (July 22, 2010; December 17, 2010; December 23, 2011)
22. Created Conditions to Begin Closing Dirtiest Power Plants
27. Achieved New START Treaty
I’ll take it one step further in terms of simplicity. There’s a single major accomplishment that transcends list-making and it ought be the centerpiece of every discussion about the president’s first term. And here it is. Nine words.
President Obama rescued the economy from another Great Depression.
And he did so despite considerable opposition and with the calm, cool leadership required in such precarious times.
That’s huge. It’s impossible to highlight it enough. The president prevented what might have been a global financial collapse. At the very least, his actions on, 1) the stimulus, 2) Wall Street reform (aka. “Dodd-Frank”), 3) the rescue of the auto industry and 4) healthcare reform, along with the “Mini Stimuli” in July, 2010, have all contributed to a significantly stronger American economy in the long run while mitigating and reversing a deepening economic disaster in 2009. We can see it illustrated on every economic chart available from the CBO.
If the president did nothing else with his time in office and was only able to, you know,rescue the economy from another Great Depression, I believe his presidency would be counted as a successful one given this one very serious accomplishment.
Not to compare apples to supremely incompetent oranges, but the meme about how we’d be living in shanty towns using a Mad Max barter system if McCain-Palin had won in 2008 isn’t too far off the mark. Such an administration might have passed something similar to the Bush stimulus from early 2008, which only included tax rebates, tax incentives and, strangely, anti-immigrant language. Who knows what the hell brand of nonsense would have been produced from the McCain administration. Maybe another war? Maybe nothing at all.
In terms of the Obama agenda on the economic meltdown, it’s ultimately academic whether a larger stimulus would have been better or if there should’ve been fewer middle class tax cuts in the stimulus. The fact remains that the stimulus reversed a very destructive path into economic oblivion. Had McCain-Palin won the day, it’s quite likely that a world of destruction would have ensued. Likewise, who knows if Hillary Clinton or John Edwards would have been able to pass a larger stimulus given the McCarthyite screeching from the Republican Party and the stubborn votes of the conservadems. It’s safe to say the outcome would have been about the same (and it’s worth noting that Edwards would have also been dealing with a presidency-poisoning sex/cancer/baby scandal during his first several months in office — smack in the middle of that economic ground zero).
Regardless of the finer points, and to repeat, President Obama’s policies turned a steep economic decline into steady long-term growth which, by the way, isn’t based around quick-fix bubble economics.
All of his other accomplishments, while vitally important, are gravy in comparison to the magnitude of this one thing.
In the last few weeks, ThinkProgress has been documenting studies by political science professors Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal that show Republicans are both beholden to the 1 percent and responsible for the hyper-polarization of Congress. A new study by Poole has found that Republicans have moved so far to the right that the House is now the most conservative it has even been in the last 133 years.
Note on the graph: The closer to 1.0, the more conservative the party’s votes were that year. The black line in the middle represents the median location of the overall chamber.
Poole’s graph shows that when the Republican Party gained a majority in 2010, they brought the median of the House into a realm of ideological extremism not seen before. For comparison, when the Democratic Party held a majority from 2006 to 2010, the House median made a small move to the left (-0.2) — equal to the level of a moderate Democrat. But when the Republican Party took over in 2010, the House median more than tripled (.43) along the ideological scale.
If you don’t hate Alexandra Pelosi, you hate America. A week ago, Pelosi delivered a micro-documentary to Real Time With Bill Maher about angry, dentally challenged Mississippi Republicans who mistook Barack Obama for Satan. Maher’s audience, which offers up Pavlovian applause to any joke about Republicans, ate it up. The pundit class reached for the sick bag. Pelosi, obviously taken aback, filmed a new documentary about arrogant, lazy black people outside a New York welfare office. That made people even sicker. “I thought liberals were against the dehumanization of the powerless,” wrote Ta-Nehisi Coates, the sharpest of the anti-Pelosis. “Since when did shitting on poor and working people become worthy of self-congratulation?”
Since last week. After Pelosi and Maher’s silly video came a much more serious study of the same question: a Politico article about, basically, voter stupidity. According to reporter Alexander Burns, voters believed in a “litany of contradictory, irrational or simply silly opinions,” and were “wandering, confused and Forrest Gump-like” through a campaign that was too complex for their tiny brain pans. “A lot of times,” explained Politico editor-in-chief John Harris, introducing and defending the piece, “stories generate from the editors’ rants.” Mea maxima culpa; they were angry, and they forgot to hold their breath and count to 10.
Pelosi should probably say some rosaries for the idiotic fiddle music that played over her original video, an attempt to make the footage more Deliverance-ready. But she doesn’t have much else to apologize for, and Burns has nothing to apologize for. Few or none of the Alexandra/Alexander critics have spent time in primary states, talking to voters. If they did, they would have to choose: Print what voters actually say, or edit out the ones who say stupid things. Because stupid voters exist. Stupid Democrats exist. Stupid Republicansexist. Go ahead, point it out! If you draw it out and study the whole electorate, the stupidity is—thankfully—not the kind of problem that distorts an election.
We arrived at this current round of stupidity-skepticism because of where the Republican primary ended up. Last week’s big contests were in Alabama, Mississippi, and Hawaii. The candidates, for unselfish reasons, opted to skip the last state and campaign in the Deep South. Pollsters and reporters, dutifully covering the race, discovered voters who believed that Barack Obama was a Muslim and that he was born in some foreign terrorist hotbed.
Nobody should have been surprised. Mississippi’s primary voters, some of the most conservative in the lower 48, are also some of the poorest. That wasn’t new. Sixty-three years ago, in Southern Politics in State and Nation, V.O. Key observed that “every other southern state finds some reason to fall back on the soul-satisfying exclamation, ‘Thank God for Mississippi.’ ” Public Policy Polling didn’t goose its results. It pointed out that most Mississippi Republicans believed untrue things that confirmed their suspicions about Barack Obama.
I trekked to Mississippi and Alabama last weekend for a few stories about the primaries. The only way I could have avoided hearing some confirmation biases was by locking myself in a leftover sensory depravation chamber from the Altered States set. While they were waiting for Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum or Jeff Foxworthy to start talking, I asked why they thought Barack Obama had won in 2008. Sometimes a voter would go on a tangent and talk about the president’s unfamiliarity with John 3:16; sometimes they’d riff on how Mormonism wasn’t really Christianity. Some of what they said wound up in a slide show. The rest of it informed how I read Tuesday’s election results—Mitt Romney, who’d outspent everyone in both states, coming in third place.
Voters aren’t saints. When primaries get to certain parts of the country, they get disturbing, fast. In 2008, anybody with a digital camera could interview white Democrats who feared Barack Obama for the wrong reasons. One of the videos that went viral pitted a shocked reporter from the Real News against West Virginians who would have none of his logic.
“Why do you think he’s Muslim?” asked the reporter in one scene. “He wasn’t raised Muslim.”
“I don’t agree with that,” shrugged his subject.
What are you supposed to do with quotes like that? Well, why not report them? There’s a big difference between these random voter interviews and “nutpicking,” when only the craziest, most bigoted clowns at some event are photographed and quoted. Maybe Pelosi plays some tricks with editing that makes her subjects look stupider. Surely, the video gave Maher and his viewers some clip-and-save proof that “Southerners” are as bad as they think they are. We shouldn’t read too much into what she found. But she found it.
The question then becomes, “How much should we worry about it?” We’re in luck: Worrying about it is futile. In his story, which was much better-reasoned than the critics admitted, Politico’s Burns asked Republican strategists if voter ignorance actually mattered. He summarized their wisdom: “As voters take stock of public events, there’s often tension between their feelings about granular policy topics and the overarching principles that encompass those issues.”
And there is. When I’ve dug in with voters who are convinced that Barack Obama is a Muslim, they respond in one of two ways. They might know that an Indonesian school form listed his religion as Muslim. (True, just not something you’d use to extrapolate the next 40 years of his life.) More often, they offer evidence of him doing something that they think a Muslim would do, like scolding Israel, or pulling out of Afghanistan too quickly. If we climb a little deeper, we inevitably get to a discussion of how, at heart, Obama hates America and wants to destroy it.
It’s not healthy for voters to think those things. It’s just not new, either. Most voter ignorance, if it was cured by logic and reason and long sessions of NPR, would be replaced by the same voter preferences, justified in different ways. There are Mississippi Republicans who hate Obama because they think he’s a Muslim. Take that away, and they’ll hate him because they’re conservatives and he isn’t. Only 11 percent of Mississippi whites voted for Barack Obama, but only 14 percent voted for John Kerry. These aren’t people who’ll change their minds if they fully grokked the president’s bio.
That is why ignorant voters don’t get to swing a presidential election. The conservative who rules out all new information, who has “silo’ed” himself with talk radio news, has a party he can vote for reliably. The Bill Maher TiVo-er has a party he can vote for, too. Voter ignorance, like a cold, can be controlled without being cured. There’s no shame, no journalistic crime, in finding the ignorance and pointing it out.
Nevertheless, Rasmussen’s finding is consistent with other polls showing that Americans increasingly believe that, despite the fact that the justices’ very legitimacy stems from their ability to apply the law fairly and independent of partisan concerns, the Court’s decisions are driven in large part by politics.
Iowa’s experience with its right-to-work law could foreshadow events in Ohio as a possible battle brews over establishing a right-to-work law here.
Right-to-work laws bar mandatory union membership and payment of union dues as a condition of employment. Proponents say the laws make a state more attractive to business. Opponents say the laws restrict freedom of association, drive down wages and penalize unions. Twenty-three states have such laws, including Indiana, where Gov. Mitch Daniels signed his state’s bill just six weeks ago.
In recent weeks, Ohioans for Workplace Freedom pledged to gather signatures to place before voters a proposed constitutional amendment.
The group said the amendment would “guarantee the freedom of Ohioans to choose whether to participate in a labor organization as a condition of employment.”
On the opposite side, We Are Ohio, the organization that successfully led last year’s campaign against Senate Bill 5 — which would have restricted the ability of public sector unions to collectively bargain — has promised to fight any right-to-work initiative in the Buckeye State.
Iowa, which like Ohio is a Midwestern state with a mix of farmland, cities and big manufacturing employers, has had a right-to-work law on its books for more than 60 years. The Dayton Daily News talked with proponents, opponents and observers of right-to-work in Iowa to get a sense of how the issue could play out here.
Battle lines are clearly defined
“It’s fundamentally a tool that was implemented to hamstring any union’s abilities to fund themselves,” said Ken Sagar, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor. “And it works.”
Large unions aren’t always willing to seek new members in right-to-work states, which keeps labor’s overall numbers down, Sagar said. Unions are required to “take care of everybody” under collective bargaining agreements, whether workers are dues-payers or not, he said. Failure to do so risks being charged with what Sagar called “duty of fair representation,” a union’s responsibility to be a worker’s representative whether that worker is an active member or not.
Labor leaders sometimes call those who enjoy collective bargaining benefits without paying union dues “freeloaders.”
“If people don’t join the union, they get accustomed to not paying their fair share,” Sagar said.
But Bob Wersen, founder and president of Oskaloosa, Iowa-based electrical products manufacturer Interpower, called Iowa’s right-to-work laws the “knockout reason” why he moved his company from California to Iowa nearly 20 years ago. He insists that he needs the “flexibility” that he feels he can get only with a nonunion work force.
He founded his company in Santa Rosa, north of San Francisco, but in time found navigating bureaucratic regulations too burdensome. The cost of real estate also became an issue. Interpower production workers could not afford to live in Santa Rosa at wages Wersen could afford to pay them, he said.
As he explored moving to another state, he considered a variety of issues: cost of living, location of suppliers and customers, openness to new business, and whether a state had right-to-work laws. Wersen said he became convinced that nonunionized workers were more responsive to the needs of customers.
“A lot of the companies that we used to compete against were ones with unions,” Wersen said.
He argues that he competes against not just nonunionized U.S. employers, but offshore companies that don’t shoulder U.S. wage and environmental laws.
Since he moved Interpower to Iowa in 1993, the company has almost quadrupled in size, while his profit has more than quadrupled, Wersen said. With 82 employees, Interpower sees annual sales of about $20 million, he said.
“I understood that to be successful, my business was becoming increasingly global,” Wersen said.
Iowa’s fight over law continues
Iowa’s well-established law became the subject of a recent statewide fight.
In 2010, Democrats passed a bill in the Iowa Senate that would have allowed unions to receive a “fair share” payment for representing workers, whether those workers were active dues-paying members or not.
However, the bill failed in the House and never reached the desk of then-Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat.
For Michael Ralston, president of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, that was too close for comfort. His association was a lead player in the fight against the bill, and he believes the governor would have signed the legislation had it reached him.
Ralston believes passage would have hurt Iowa, making it tougher than it already is to create jobs in a slow economy. He points to what he calls a “basic issue of fairness.”
“No one should be forced to join any organization they don’t want to join,” he said.
Labor leaders like Sagar are dismayed the bill failed.
“It should have passed,” said Jerry Messer, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 431, which represents about 7,000 workers in Iowa and parts of Illinois.
WAR ON WOMEN
The controversy over “forcible rape” may be over, but now there’s a new Republican-sponsored abortion bill in the House that pro-choice folks say may be worse: this time around, the new language would allow hospitals to let a pregnant woman die rather than perform the abortion that would save her life.
The bill, known currently as H.R. 358 or the “Protect Life Act,” would amend the 2010 health care reform law that would modify the way Obamacare deals with abortion coverage. Much of its language is modeled on the so-called Stupak Amendment, an anti-abortion provision pro-life Democrats attempted to insert into the reform law during the health care debate last year. But critics say a new language inserted into the bill just this week would go far beyond Stupak, allowing hospitals that receive federal funds but are opposed to abortions to turn away women in need of emergency pregnancy termination to save their lives.
The sponsor of H.R. 358, Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) is a vocal member of the House’s anti-abortion wing. A member of the bipartisan Pro-Life Caucus and a co-sponsor of H.R 3 — the bill that added “forcible rape” to the lexicon this week — Pitts is no stranger to the abortion debate. But pro-choice advocates say his new law goes farther than any other bill has in encroaching on the rights of women to obtain an abortion when their health is at stake. They say the bill is giant leap away from accepted law, and one they haven’t heard many in the pro-life community openly discuss before.
Pitts’ response to the complaints from pro-choice groups? Nothing to see here.
“Since the 1970s, existing law affirmed the right to refuse involvement in abortion in all circumstances,” a spokesperson for Pitts told TPM.
“The Protect Life Act simply extends these provisions to the new law by inserting a provision that mirrors Hyde-Weldon,” the spokesperson added, referring to current federal law banning spending on abortion and allowing anti-abortion doctors to refrain from performing them while still receiving federal funds. “In other words, this bill is only preserving the same rights that medical professionals have had for decades.”
A bit of backstory: currently, all hospitals in America that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding are bound by a 1986 law known as EMTALA to provide emergency care to all comers, regardless of their ability to pay or other factors. Hospitals do not have to provide free care to everyone that arrives at their doorstep under EMTALA — but they do have to stabilize them and provide them withemergency care without factoring in their ability to pay for it or not. If a hospital can’t provide the care a patient needs, it is required to transfer that patient to a hospital that can, and the receiving hospital is required to accept that patient.
In the case of an anti-abortion hospital with a patient requiring an emergency abortion, ETMALA would require that hospital to perform it or transfer the patient to someone who can. (The nature of how that procedure works exactly is up in the air, with the ACLU calling on the federal government to state clearly that unwillingness to perform an abortion doesn’t qualify asinability under EMTALA. That argument is ongoing, and the government has yet to weigh in.)
Pitts’ new bill would free hospitals from any abortion requirement under EMTALA, meaning that medical providers who aren’t willing to terminate pregnancies wouldn’t have to — nor would they have to facilitate a transfer.
The hospital could literally do nothing at all, pro-choice critics of Pitts’ bill say.
Another day, another abortion bill.
The Tennessee House will be considering a bill on Wednesday of this week that requires the names of doctors who perform abortions, and details about the women they treat, be posted online for everyone to see.
Tennessee lawmakers will consider a controversial measure on Wednesday that could intimidate women seeking abortions by requiring that the names of doctors who perform the procedures be published online. […]
The state’s Department of Health already reports information on the age, race, education, and number of children of women who receive abortions, and aggregates the data by region, “making it impossible for others to figure out who underwent an abortion procedure.” This bill, however, would require the department “to release patient data broken down by county” and could “reveal the identities of some women who receive abortions, particularly in small, rural communities.” “I think in some small communities that woman would be identified,” State Rep. Gary Odom (D) warned when a subcommittee advanced the measure earlier this month. “I think that by publicizing this, it would have serious consequences. … We know what has happened to physicians who perform abortions that there has been violence. … There could be violence against the women. … This is a dangerous piece of legislation. … I think this is full of meanness.”
The bill, HB3808, is ironically named the Life Defense Act. Ironic because this would undoubtedly lead to the targeted killing of doctors who perform abortions and possibly even the women who are summarily identified.
The Obama administration notified Texas yesterday that it was officially stopping funds to the Texas Women’s Health Program because of the state’s decision to block abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood, from participating in the program. About half of the participating clinics were cut off by the new state rule that went into effect this week, affecting 130,000 women in the health program:
Twenty-nine states participate in the Medicaid’s Women Health Program, which extends Medicaid coverage for reproductive health services to lower-income women who do not qualify for the rest of the entitlement program’s benefits. […]
“We very much regret the state’s decision to implement this rule, which will prevent women enrolled in the program from receiving services from the trusted health care providers they have chosen and relied on for their care,” Medicaid director Cindy Mann wrote in a Thursday letter to Texas officials.
While nine states have passed legislation to end abortion provider’s government funding, Texas is the first to lose federal dollars over it. Other states’ laws have only affected state spending, or have been held up by court challenges.
Federal law prevents states from banning specific providers from Medicaid programs, leading to the Women’s Health Program showdown. Mann said that while they try to give as much flexibility as possible, “on this case, federal law precludes us from doing so.”
Last year, the federal government gave $39 million for the program. The state pays $1 for every $9 Medicaid puts into the program, but Gov. Rick Perry (R) has insisted the state will fill the gap to keep the program going without including Planned Parenthood. Texas Democrats areseeking alternate federal funds to continue the program through a different route.
A poll earlier this month showed that a majority of Texans disagreed with the Republican push to cut off Women’s Health Program funds to clinics simply because they also provide abortions. Fifty-nine percent of voters opposed the new rule, while 38 percent agreed with it.
The Republican National Committee is out with a new ad aimed at returning serve after Democrats made hay over Rush Limbaugh’s recent inflammatory comments about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke.
The new ad, entitled “Obama’s War on Women” (and embedded below), focuses on two main fronts: the first is centered on the fact that Bill Maher, who once described Sara Palin as a “cunt,” has donated $1 million to the super PAC backing President Obama’s re-election; the second is a section in Ron Suskind’s book Confidence Men, which described the White House as a boys’ club that often left female staffers on the sidelines.
The main attraction of the 90-second spot is probably an exchange between CNN’s Erin Burnett and Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod, during which the anchor questions whether there is a double standard at play given how the president’s backers reacted to the controversy over Limbaugh’s controversial remarks.
The Obama camp has distanced itself from Maher of late—with Axelrod reportedly backing out of a planned appearance on his HBO show—but the president and his advisers have not called on their super PAC to return the $1 million donation.
Here’s the video:
Ed Kilgore writes a post today mocking right-wing fear of betrayal by an insufficiently dedicated conservative, a brand of paranoia that got its start with Eisenhower’s appointments of Earl Warren and William Brennan to the Supreme Court:
These disasters (from a conservative point of view) were hardly isolated. Richard Nixon appointed Roe v. Wade author Harry Blackmun; Gerald Ford’s brief presidency produced long-time Supreme Court liberal John Paul Stevens, and Poppy Bush put the ultimate Stealth Liberal, David Souter, on the High Court, an act for which the later nomination of Clarence Thomas was a very loud apology. Worse yet, St. Ronald Reagan was responsible for Sandra Day O’Conner, and depending on where Anthony Kennedy lands on a series of big upcoming cases, his appointment, too, could wind up earning a conservative Day of Infamy.
You’d have to say everything about Mitt Romney makes him suspect as the kind of Republican president who might make an insufficiently right-wing Court appointment. And this is precisely why I’d bet the farm (if I had one) that by the time November rolls around the Federalist Society wing of the conservative movement will have extracted so many private and public blood oaths from Romney on the subject that should he even think about a less-than-orthodox nominee, Satan would appear in the West Wing and snatch Mitt right down to hell.
It’s actually sort of unfair to ridicule this. The truth is that by 1990 conservatives had very good reason to be tired of “conservative” Supreme Court nominations that turned out to be either moderate or downright liberal. Souter was the last straw, especially since his nomination was viewed as caving in to liberal attacks on a genuine conservative, Robert Bork. If the shoe were on the other foot, liberals would feel the same way. I would, anyway.
In a way, though, that’s why I think Ed is wrong in his conclusion. The Bork/Ginsburg/Thomas trifecta, combined with a long history of moderate appointments, came to a head in the early 90s. Since then, there’s been no daylight among Republicans on the need to nominate only absolutely reliable conservatives to the Supreme Court. Romney may indeed make both public and private promises on this score, but he won’t need any coaxing. Even moderate Republicans are pretty much on board with the movement conservative agenda on Supreme Court nominees.
There is, in a way, a broader unfairness here too. We tend to mock conservatives for endlesslykeeping the culture war alive, but the truth is that it was we liberals who started it. We’re the ones who, among many, many other things, banned school prayer, legalized abortion, fought for gender equality, and are currently pressing to legalize gay marriage. You’ll be unsurprised to learn that I think we were right to do all these things and right to keep fighting for them. But make no mistake: we’re the ones demanding change, and we’re the ones who keep fighting for it. Every time I hear some liberal complaining about the way that conservatives keep turning everything into a new front in the culture war, I feel a twinge of chagrin. Why are we complaining? We’re the ones who really own the culture war, and we should be proud of it. It was a war worth starting and a war worth winning.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Don’t forget that most men with nothing would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor.” ~~ The musical “1776”