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Chernynkaya On March - 27 - 2012

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

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BUSINESS

Happy 100th Birthday to Life Savers, Quietly Tolerated Candy

It is not only the 100th anniversary of Oreo, it is also the centennial of Life Savers, a candy whose presence is always a welcome addition to large stashes of much better candies.

MORE>>>

 

CAMPAIGN 2012

The Renegade Republicans

For nearly three decades, South Carolina served as the bulwark of the Republican establishment. The state has been the killing ground of insurgent presidential bids again and again: John Connolly’s 1980 challenge to Ronald Reagan, who finally had the backing of the party establishment; Pat Buchanan’s attempt to oust George Bush in 1992; John McCain’s bid to push aside George W. Bush in 2000; and most recently Mike Huckabee’s 2008 assault on McCain.

This year, tradition went out the window. South Carolina cast a plurality of votes for bomb-thrower Newt Gingrich, rejecting Mitt Romney, the candidate of the lobbying community, campaign operatives and party officials.

The results in South Carolina and in other states suggest that major segments of the normally compliant Republican primary electorate have run amok and that the party’s powerbrokers are no longer able to control the anger and resentment released by the Tea Party movement, the mobilization of the Christian right or the realignment of white working class Southerners.

Until now, presidential strategists had a basic rule of thumb: Democrats kill their crown princes — Edmund Muskie in 1972, Hillary Clinton in 2008 — while Republicans consistently honor the next in line, the candidate with the most seniority. Romney, the next-in-line candidate of 2012, remains the favorite to win, but he is running into stronger head winds than any of his recent predecessors.

In past years, Gingrich and Rick Santorum would have been knocked off early in the process, dismissed as marginal candidates. This year, Santorum has won Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, Colorado, Tennessee, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Kansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. Gingrich, in turn, took Georgia and South Carolina.

There are a number of additional, well-publicized factors behind these outsider victories. The most talked about is the emergence of super PACs whose multi-million dollar contributions have lengthened the lifespan of normally peripheral candidates. Second, the Republican Party has largely abandoned the winner-take-all primaries that tended to swiftly force out second and third place finishers. Now proportional delegate allocation rules encourage losers to keep on fighting. Third, Romney’s Mormon faith has created a major hurdle to winning the votes of Southern Baptist and evangelical Christian voters.

The Jan 21 upheaval in South Carolina was most revealing:

Exit poll data show that the percentage of South Carolina Republican primary voters identifying themselves as born-again or evangelical shot up between 2008 and 2012, from 55 to 64 percent.

It was hard for the South Carolina Republican turnout to get any whiter than it was in 2008, when 96 percent of the voters were white, but it did. In 2012, 98 percent of Republican primary voters in South Carolina were white.

The share of voters over the age of 45, in turn, grew from 65 to 72 percent and the share of those 65 and over grew from 24 to 27 percent.

By these measures, South Carolina is on the cutting edge of a national Republican primary trend.

In an analysis of the contests so far, the Faith and Freedom Coalition found that evangelicals are now a majority, 50.53 percent, of all Republican presidential primary voters. The ascendance of the religious right has produced “the highest percentage recorded in a presidential nominating process, 4.29 million votes out of 8.49 million cast,” according to the coalition.

This represents a significant increase from 2008, when 44 percent of Republican turnout was made up of evangelical Christians. According to Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition:

Conservative people of faith are playing a larger role in shaping the contours and affecting the trajectory of the Republican presidential nomination contest than at any time since they began pouring out of the pews and into the precincts in the late 1970s.

A plurality of Christian evangelical voters, 32.85 percent, has backed Santorum, while Romney is second with 29.74, a tiny fraction ahead of Newt Gingrich, 29.65.

The race issue goes beyond South Carolina: Ron Brownstein described in the National Journal what he called “an epic failure by the G.O.P. contenders to attract and engage minority voters. White voters, especially older ones, are routinely casting 90 percent or more of the votes in G.O.P. contests this year.”

These trends, while not predictive of the outcome in November, are problematic for the Republican Party. As the general public becomes more tolerant on issues like gay rights and premarital sex, it is moving farther and farther from the cultural and moral agenda of the religious right. The party’s dependence on whites runs counter to a trend in which this demographic is expected to be a minority by 2050, or possibly as early as 2040. And a party dependent on older voters must worry about the fact that its supporters are dying off.

In addition to the partisan vulnerabilities signaled by the changing composition of the Republican primary electorate, a long season of divisive primaries has taken its toll on the candidate who is still expected to win the nomination, Romney.

Surveys tracking Romney versus President Obama show the Democratic incumbent pulling ahead as the primaries progress. The process can be seen in the following chart put together by RealClearPolitics:

The immediate test facing both Romney and the power brokers behind his bid is whether the former Massachusetts governor can capitalize on a strong win last week in Illinois and the endorsement of the quintessential establishment Republican, Jeb Bush. The Bush endorsement apparently was of little importance to Louisiana Republicans, who backed Santorum over Romney on Saturday by nearly two to one, 49 to 27. Gingrich trailed at 16 percent.

The long-range question facing Romney and the Republican Party is whether the ultra conservative primary electorate has pushed presidential candidates past the point of no return.

Last June, for example, Romney staked out a position on global warming in clear defiance of Republican orthodoxy, playing down its importance and the role of human beings in causing it:

I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world’s getting warmer. I can’t prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that. I don’t know how much our contribution is to that, because I know that there have been periods of greater heat and warmth in the past but I believe we contribute to that. And so I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you’re seeing.

Romney’s stance was clearly geared to the general election, when a major focus will be on winning support from independent voters, many of whom are anxious about global warming.

Four months later, in October 2011, with the first primaries and caucuses fast approaching, Romney switched positions, taking a stand far more in accordance with the opinions of hard-right Republican voters:

My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.

Republican strategists are acutely aware that their party must maintain a delicate balance between an intensely conservative primary constituency and a more moderate general electorate.

Last October, Tea Party favorite Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina described to Neil Cavuto of Fox News the kind of presidential candidate he feels the Republican Party needs:

I want to see the one who’s appealing to independents; I want to see the one who’s gonna win the general election, because 2012 might be the last chance we get to turn this thing around.

Assuming Romney is the 2012 nominee, renegade primary voters are doing their level best to submarine general election appeals to independents. There are signs that base Republican voters won’t turn out for Romney. Gallup found that only 35% of such voters would “enthusiastically” back Romney in the election, far fewer than the 47% percent who said they enthusiastically supported McCain at this time in 2008.

These lukewarm Republican primary voters are, in effect, threatening to abandon the nominee after forcing him to pass ruthless ideological litmus tests.

The core of the party, then, the men and women who cast primary ballots and attend caucuses, has become a liability in much the same way that the liberal wing of the Democratic Party pushed presidential candidates off the deep end from the late 1960s through the 1980s.

If Romney is going to have a chance of winning the general election, he cannot get caught in the ideological trap set by the Republican primary electorate.

Much of the battle in November will be over corralling independent voters, especially the large bloc that Third Way, the moderate pro-Democratic think tank, calls “Obama Independents.” Half of these 2008 Obama backers did not vote for John Kerry in 2004, either backing George W. Bush or not voting at all, and one in four voted for Republican House candidates in 2010, according to American National Elections Studies data compiled by Third Way.

Centrist voters have hostile views towards partisan orthodoxies and candidates beholden to them. Romney will have roughly five months before the general election to persuade these voters of his own independence, a tough sell after his performance over the past year.

Romney purposefully avoids listing specific government programs he’d eliminate

In an interview with the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney said that talking specifics about what government programs he’d like to eliminate during a campaign has hurt him in the past, which is why he’s sticking to generalities this time. He also acknowledged that his religious beliefs and his history with health care are hurting him with hard-core conservatives.

Romney explained, in an article entitled “Risk-Averse Romney,” that when he said he’d eliminate the Department of Education during his Senate run against Edward M. Kennedy in 1994 it allowed Democrats to portray him as anti-education. This time around it’s different: “So I think it’s important for me to point out that I anticipate that there will be departments and agencies that will either be eliminated or combined with other agencies,” he said, without naming them specifically.

He continued, by way of example, saying that under his administration, housing vouchers would be administered at the state rather than the federal level, creating opportunities for consolidation. “So will there be some that get eliminated or combined? The answer is yes, but I’m not going to give you a list right now,” he told The Weekly Standard.

He acknowledged that some conservatives are disenchanted with him because of the Massachusetts health plan passed when he was governor, and because of his Mormon beliefs: “There are some—the health care plan in Massachusetts they can’t get over. There are others for whom religion is an issue.” He said he expects those conservatives to come home to him in November, should he win the nomination.

 

 

Is Mitt Romney underrated?

[…] But consider the following:

●Romney is a Mormon in a party where evangelical voters hold considerable sway. Although no one in Romney world will admit it, it’s clear that the skepticism with which evangelical voters view Mormonism has complicated Romney’s path to the nomination. In any state where evangelicals have composed more than half of the Republican primary or caucuselectorate, Romney has lost.

●Romney is a moderate (tonally, at least) in a party that wants red-meat conservatism. The rise of less-than-serious candidates such as reality TV star Donald Trump and businessman Herman Cain was built on their willingness to channel the anger that the base feels toward President Obama. Even Texas Gov. Rick Perry sought to tap into that sentiment, accusing the incumbent of being a “socialist” who is prosecuting a “war on religion.” Contrast that with Romney, who has avoided the sort of dog whistles to the base that would say “I am one of you.”

●Romney has a Northeastern base in a Southern party. Romney has used the four years he spent as governor of Massachusetts in the middle of the last decade as a punch line in his speeches for years. But it’s no laughing matter in a Republican party that has been dominated by the South over the past two decades or so. The 1994 Republican majority was built on gains in the South, and it’s no accident that the last GOP president’s prior job was governor of Texas.

●Romney’s signature legislative achievement is health care. The single most unifying force within the Republican Party over the past three years was opposition to Obama’s health-care law. And although Romney insists that the federal law and the state law he shepherded to passage have little resemblance, it’s still the most well-known accomplishment of his four years as governor. That Romney has been able to escape without significant blood-letting on the issue is something just short of a political miracle.

Imagine a generic candidate with the four problems listed above. Could you find five smart GOP strategists who would predict that the candidate would end up as the Republican nominee? No way.

And yet, here we are. His Louisiana defeat Saturday night notwithstanding, Romney is the near-certain Republican nominee — although when he will officially wrap up the race remains indeterminate.

“Romney has a good team, and he stuck with them,” said Ralph Reed, a Republican strategist. “In terms of organization, money and political team, he’s built a formidable operation that has weathered a lot of storms. He’s a better candidate than four years ago.”

That Romney finds himself in the pole position is due to a series of factors. First, he has focused relentlessly on raising money for the campaign rather than dipping deep into his own personal wealth to fund the operation. (In his 2008 bid, Romney gave his campaign $44.6 million; he has yet to make a single personal donation this time around.) Second, he has used his financial might to build state and national political organizations unparalleled in the field. And third, Romney has benefited from a deeply flawed set of opponents, none of whom has been able to put together a sustained challenge to him.

“He was the best, best-funded and most-organized of the group, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a world-class candidate,” said Fred Davis, a media consultant who helped guide former Utah governor Jon Huntsman’s presidential campaign this year.

Davis is right. Romney is no world-beater as a candidate. He is awkward and somewhat tin-eared, and can seem aloof. And yet, when you scan the hurdles — demographic and ideological— that Romney has overcome to emerge as the all-but-certain Republican nominee, it’s clear that he doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s accomplished.

“There comes a time when voters are looking for more than spirited speechmaking and grand promises and seek a leader who actually has clearly proven an ability to get something done,” said Fred Malek, a GOP strategist and major donor. “The fact that Romney has demonstrable and significant accomplishments in three diverse fields is starting to sink in and build confidence.”

 

 

Jonathan Bernstein: “Obamaville”

If you haven’t yet seen Rick Santorum’s amazing “Obamaville” ad, you really should…I’ll send you over to Paul Waldman’s nice take on the apocalyptic video to watch it. Come back when you’ve seen it.

Ready?

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Rep. Paul Ryan says he’d ‘consider’ a vice presidential candidacy

 

 

Santorum Open to Veep

Rick Santorum told David Brody he would consider being Mitt Romney’s running mate if he doesn’t become the Republican presidential nominee.

Said Santorum: “Of course. I mean, look. I would do in this race as I always say, this is the most important race in our country’s history. I’m going to do everything I can. I’m doing everything I can. I’m out there. In the last 10 months, I’ve had five days off. Two forThanksgiving, and three for Christmas. I’ve been working every single day. My wife and my kids, we’re just busting our tail, because we know their future and all of our childrens’ future is at stake in this election and I don’t want to be the guy who has to sit with my granddaughter, 20 years from now, and tell stories about an America where people once were free. I don’t want to have that conversation.”
Of course, Mitt Romney seemed to rule out the possibility earlier this month.

 

 

California GOP sues to block Jose Hernandez – who flew on Discovery in 2009 – from using “astronaut” on ballot.

 

 

Reporters Stop Following Gingrich

Newt Gingrich “has lost his last embedded print reporters,” reporters on the trail confirm toPolitico.
“The last two print reporters covering Gingrich full-time on the trail — from Politico and theAtlanta Journal Constitution — pulled out on Friday. The Associated Press pulled its embed after Tuesday’s Illinois primary.”

 

 

Rove-Linked Crossroads GPS Launches $650,000 False Ad Campaign On Gas Prices

 

 

 

 

 

CONGRESS

Center on Budget: Ryan Gets 62% of His Huge Budget Cuts from Lower-Income Americans 

 

 

How Darrell Issa and the Right Are Planning to Kill the U.S. Post Office

After a stopgap measure last year, Congress will once again debate whether the United States Postal Service as we know it can survive.  The better question is: Will Congress let it?

The U.S. Postal Service is at risk of defaulting on healthcare obligations or exceeding its debt limit by the end of the year. Last month,USPS management unveiled a “Path to Profitability” that would eliminate over a hundred thousand jobs, end Saturday service and loosen overnight delivery guarantees. The Postal Service also proposes to shutter thousands of post offices.  “Under the existing laws, the overall financial situation for the Postal Service is poor,” says CFO Joe Corbett.  Republicans have been more dire, and none more so than Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, who warned of a “crisis that is bringing USPS to the brink of collapse.”

Listening to Issa, you’d never know that the post office’s immediate crisis is largely of Congress’s own making.  Conservatives aren’t wrong to say that the shift toward electronic mail – what USPS calls “e-diversion” – poses a challenge for the Postal Service’s business model.  (The recent drop-off in mail is also a consequence of the recession-induced drop in advertising.)

But even so, in the first quarter of this fiscal year, the post office would have made an operational profit, if not for a 75-year healthcare “pre-funding” mandate that applies to no other public or private institution in the United States.

Warren Gunnels, aide to Sen. Bernie Sanders, calls that mandate “the poison pill that has hammered the Postal Service … over 80 percent of the Postal Service deficit since that was enacted was entirely due to the pre-funding requirement.”

This death hug was part of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which was passed on a voice vote by a lame duck Republican Congress in 2006.  As I’ve reported, the mandate required the Postal Service, over 10 years, to pre-fund healthcare benefits for the next 75.  This unique burden costs USPS $5.5 billion a year. The new law also restricted the Postal Service’s ability to raise postage rates, or to provide “nonpostal services” that, in an e-diversion era, could be key to its future.  American Postal Workers Union president Cliff Guffey says the bill was designed “by those people who hate government … to destroy the Postal Service.  And that’s what they did.”

The Postal Service has long been required to provide “universal service”: delivering to all 151 million addresses in the United States. Conservatives promise that private companies could serve the Postal Service’s function more efficiently, but when it’s their money on the line,the private companies themselves aren’t always so sure. Some of the packages sent through UPS or FedEx are actually delivered by the Postal Service, because those companies save money by contracting with USPS to serve more remote customers.

The Postal Service fulfills its mandate without direct government funding.  Faced with right-wing warnings about bailouts, the postal worker union this week is running a new round of TV ads reminding taxpayers that USPS is funded entirely by fees, not taxes.  Guffey says the union — the largest of four representing post office workers — will likely hold rallies on next month’s Tax Day to drive home the same point.

Issa and other Republicans have been insisting for years that to stay solvent, USPS needs to make big cuts. In 2010, Issa told the postmaster general at a congressional hearing that the Postal Service has “more or less a third more people than you need. He  warned in an Op-Ed that “Allowing USPS to postpone billions in obligations just makes a bailout easier.” In a December Op-Ed, Issa compared continuing Saturday mail service to “asking us to revive the Pony Express.”

MORE>>>

 

 

ECONOMY

The Rich Get Even Richer

NEW statistics show an ever-more-startling divergence between the fortunes of the wealthy and everybody else — and the desperate need to address this wrenching problem. Even in a country that sometimes seems inured to income inequality, these takeaways are truly stunning.

In 2010, as the nation continued to recover from the recession, a dizzying 93 percent of the additional income created in the country that year, compared to 2009 — $288 billion — went to the top 1 percent of taxpayers, those with at least $352,000 in income. That delivered an average single-year pay increase of 11.6 percent to each of these households.

Still more astonishing was the extent to which the super rich got rich faster than the merely rich. In 2010, 37 percent of these additional earnings went to just the top 0.01 percent, a teaspoon-size collection of about 15,000 households with average incomes of $23.8 million. These fortunate few saw their incomes rise by 21.5 percent.

The bottom 99 percent received a microscopic $80 increase in pay per person in 2010, after adjusting for inflation. The top 1 percent, whose average income is $1,019,089, had an 11.6 percent increase in income.

This new data, derived by the French economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez from American tax returns, also suggests that those at the top were more likely to earn than inherit their riches. That’s not completely surprising: the rapid growth of new American industries — from technology to financial services — has increased the need for highly educated and skilled workers. At the same time, old industries like manufacturing are employing fewer blue-collar workers.

The result? Pay for college graduates has risen by 15.7 percent over the past 32 years (after adjustment for inflation) while the income of a worker without a high school diploma has plummeted by 25.7 percent over the same period.

Government has also played a role, particularly the George W. Bush tax cuts, which, among other things, gave the wealthy a 15 percent tax on capital gains and dividends. That’s the provision that caused Warren E. Buffett’s secretary to have a higher tax rate than he does.

As a result, the top 1 percent has done progressively better in each economic recovery of the past two decades. In the Clinton era expansion, 45 percent of the total income gains went to the top 1 percent; in the Bush recovery, the figure was 65 percent; now it is 93 percent.

Just as the causes of the growing inequality are becoming better known, so have the contours of solving the problem: better education and training, a fairer tax system, more aid programs for the disadvantaged to encourage the social mobility needed for them escape the bottom rung, and so on.

Government, of course, can’t fully address some of the challenges, like globalization, but it can help.

By the end of the year, deadlines built into several pieces of complex legislation will force a gridlocked Congress’s hand. Most significantly, all of the Bush tax cuts will expire. If Congress does not act, tax rates will return to the higher, pre-2000, Clinton-era levels. In addition, $1.2 trillion of automatic spending cuts that were set in motion by the failure of the last attempt at a deficit reduction deal will take effect.

So far, the prospects for progress are at best worrisome, at worst terrifying. Earlier this week, House Republicans unveiled an unsavory stew of highly regressive tax cuts, large but unspecified reductions in discretionary spending (a category that importantly includes education, infrastructure and research and development), and an evisceration of programs devoted to lifting those at the bottom, including unemployment insurance, food stamps, earned income tax credits and many more.

Policies of this sort would exacerbate the very problem of income inequality that most needs fixing. Next week’s package from House Democrats will almost certainly be more appealing. And to his credit, President Obama has spoken eloquently about the need to address this problem. But with Democrats in the minority in the House and an election looming, passage is unlikely.

The only way to redress the income imbalance is by implementing policies that are oriented toward reversing the forces that caused it. That means letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthy and adding money to some of the programs that House Republicans seek to cut. Allowing this disparity to continue is both bad economic policy and bad social policy. We owe those at the bottom a fairer shot at moving up.

 

 

More Americans move to cities in past decade-Census

More Americans are living in cities now than a decade ago, according to U.S. Census data released on Monday.

The most urban state is California – one that dominates the popular imagination as a land of empty deserts, open beaches and thick redwood forests – the Census numbers showed.

In 2010, a total of 80.7 percent of Americans lived in urban areas, up from 79 percent in 2000.

Conversely, 19.3 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas in 2010, down from 21 percent in 2000.

At the same time, the population of urban areas grew by 12.1 percent, much faster than the country’s growth rate of 9.7 percent from 2000 to 2010.

More people residing in urban areas could drive up demand for housing, public transportation, road repairs and social services such as schools and healthcare, at a time when city budgets are starving from cuts in state aid and lower property-tax revenues.

In some places, the growth rate was more than 50 percent, including Charlotte, North Carolina, where the population increased by 64.6 percent over the decade.

Altogether, there are 486 urbanized areas in the United States. They have an overall population density of 2,534 people per square mile.

CROWDED IN CALIFORNIA

Almost all Californians, 95 percent, live in urban areas, and the state has the largest urban population, 35.4 million. Out of the 10 most densely populated areas in the entire country, seven are in the Golden State, the Census found.

The area made up of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Anaheim is the second-most populated in the country, with more than 12.1 million residents. It is also the most densely populated.

“Even though you think of the West as these wide open spaces, many of these people are living in highly dense urban areas,” said William Frey, a Brookings Institution senior fellow who specializes in metropolitan demographics.

One reason for such density is simply that much of the land in western states is off-limits, used by the federal government for national parks, defense, and other endeavors, Frey said.

NEW YORK STILL NO. 1

The New York and Newark area is still the most populous, with 18.4 million residents, a position it has held since the U.S. Census first defined urbanized areas in 1950.

Chicago is third.

Among urbanized areas with populations of 1 million or more, Charlotte grew at the fastest rate, followed by Austin, which increased 51.1 percent, and the part of Nevada encompassing Las Vegas and Henderson, which rose 43.5 percent over the decade.

Charlotte and Austin also had the highest rates of land area change, with Charlotte’s geography increasing by 70.5 percent and Austin’s by 64.4 percent, the Census found.

“It isn’t just migration,” Frey said. “It’s that urbanized areas are bigger in size.”

For example, the population of Houston increased by 29.4 percent over the decade and its land area by 28.2 percent, the Census found, speaking to a high rate of development.

As a result of the growth in population and geography, the Census identified 36 new urbanized areas, which it defines as “densely developed residential, commercial and other nonresidential areas” with populations of 50,000 or more.

The Midwest dominated the birth of new major cities, with Cape Girardeau, Missouri; Grand Island, Nebraska; Manhattan, Kansas, and Midland, Michigan, all joining the ranks. Arizona’s Lake Havasu City and Sierra Vista are also now considered urbanized areas.

Meanwhile, Williamsburg, Virginia, grew enough to be split from the larger Virginia Beach area.

 

 

HEALTH

WaPo: Stomach surgery more effective than medicine for diabetes, studies find

Stomach surgery can reverse Type 2 diabetes even in people with severe disease, reducing or eliminating their reliance on insulin and other medicines, two highly anticipated studies reported Monday.

Surgery or surgery combined with medication helped patients more than medicine alone, the studies also found.

With the number of diabetes patients soaring in the United States, physicians are searching for new ways to combat the expensive, chronic disease that can lead to strokes, foot amputations, blindness and other problems that can reduce life expectancy by a decade or more.

The studies tested three types of surgery that reduce the size of the stomach and bypass part of the small intestine.

In the first study, conducted at the Cleveland Clinic, some 40 percent of patients who had surgery had much better control of their blood sugar, while just 12 percent of patients who did not have the operation obtained that good outcome.

The second study, conducted in Italy, achieved even better results. Gastric bypass surgery put 75 percent of patients into full remission from diabetes, while a more extreme type of surgery that bypasses more of the intestines, biliopancreatic diversion, led to a 95 percent remission rate.

“With these operations, we could take people with diabetes who are just barely obese … and put diabetes in full remission,” said surgeon Thomas Magnuson of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, who was not involved in either study.

Some surgeons began offering stomach surgery for diabetes in the mid-1990s, but the two new studies are the first high-quality studies that compared surgery with medical therapy. Patients in the studies were randomly selected for surgery — a hallmark of a high-quality study.

“There’s been reluctance for diabetes thought leaders to embrace surgery,” said Philip Schauer, a surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic who led one of the new studies, published online Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

For instance, the American Diabetes Association did not list surgery as an option in their treatment guidelines until 2009.

Schauer said surgery is now becoming more common, and that the new studies highlight the best candidates: patients who try dieting, exercise and drug therapy but still have out-of-control blood sugar. “More than 50 percent of patients with Type 2 [diabetes] are not in good blood sugar control,” said Schauer. “The current strategy is not working well for them.”

The ADA now lists surgery as an option for obese patients, as do guidelines from the National Institutes of Health. “People who have quite marked obesity who have diabetes that fails to respond to lifestyle [changes] and medication should be considered for surgery,” said Vivian Fonseca, president for medicine and science at ADA. “But it’s not for everyone.”

Heather Britton of Bay Village, Ohio, is one success story. The 57-year-old computer programmer watched relatives succumb to early deaths from the disease. And as her own diabetes progressed, her physicians heaped on medications for high cholesterol and high blood pressure on top of her diabetes pills. And yet, her blood sugar stayed high, wrecking the mental focus she needed at her job.

“It was raging out of control,” she said of her diabetes. “I felt like I was going down a predetermined path like mother and grandmother, just waiting for my stroke to happen.”

Britton had never heard of surgery for diabetes until her physician told her about the Cleveland Clinic study. Her body-mass index of 35, which is considered obese, made her eligible.

Britton had gastric bypass surgery in January 2009. By April, her doctors had taken her off all of her medications. She also began walking five days a week and eating less. She lost 80 pounds. “It was awesome. I was feeling much better,” she says.

The downside: For Britton, certain foods, including milk, peanut butter and yeast, triggerunpleasant symptoms, like hot flashes and diarrhea — a potential side effect of the surgery.

The complication rates for surgery were low in the two studies, but a few patients did need to be reoperated on, and some suffered anemia and osteoporosis, a sign that certain nutrients were being poorly absorbed by the digestive track.

Insurance coverage of surgery for diabetes is not universal. Most plans offer it, but others don’t. Medicaid will cover it if deemed “medically necessary,” but definitions of that vary by state. Schauer said he turns down 1,000 patients a year who could benefit from surgery but who have no way of paying the $20,000 to $25,000 the operation costs.

The studies are continuing to follow the patients for five years to see whether the benefits of surgery are sustained.

Besides reducing calorie intake and helping patients drop weight, stomach surgery also triggers hormonal changes that help patients better control blood sugar, Magnuson said.

“Some people will say it’s an extreme solution,” said Steven E. Nissen, a Cleveland Clinic cardiologist involved in the study there. “But it’s extreme problem.”

 

 

HEALTH CARE

Check out the White House’s new state map detailing what health care reform means to your state 

 

 

Health Reform, Part 2: A Look Ahead: 4 things to look forward to

Part 1 of this series looked at some of the benefits that the Affordable Care Act — that is, health reform — has delivered in just its first two years.  But some of the law’s most dramatic improvements to both the health care system and the lives of tens of millions of people lie ahead.

  1. Health coverage for tens of millions of the uninsured.

    Thirty-three million uninsured people will have health coverage by 2022 because of health reform, according to the Congressional Budget Office (see chart).   Research studies consistently show that having health insurance enables people to get more health care services and improves their health.

More affordable insurance for those who already have it.

Starting in 2014, many people who now struggle to afford health insurance will get help paying for premiums and out-of-pocket costs (like co-payments for doctor visits).  This help will come in the form of tax credits and help with cost-sharing for private coverage that people buy through the new health insurance marketplaces, called exchanges, that health reform will establish for each state.

Many states are forging ahead with setting up their exchanges and are well-positioned to have their exchanges operating by the January 1, 2014 target launch date.

  1. More protections for consumers.

    Health reform has already banned some of insurance companies’ worst practices.  But, more protections are on the way.

    Starting in 2014, it will bar insurance companies from denying coverage toanyone with pre-existing health conditions (the law’s current ban applies only to children).  This means that people who previously couldn’t buy health insurance at any price because they had cancer or had had a relatively common procedure such as a c-section will be able to buy insurance and get the care they need.

    Insurers also won’t be able to charge higher premiums to women or sicker people and will face restrictions on their ability to charge older people more.

  2. Steps to begin slowing the growth in health care costs across the economy.

    Rising health care costs are putting pressure on the budgets of families and businesses, as well as public programs like Medicare and Medicaid.  Health reform makes important progress in this critical area by significantly improving Medicare’s long-term financial outlook and taking a number of steps to lower costs and improve the quality of care by beginning to change the way providers deliver health care.

 

 

 

Obama campaign reclaims ‘Obamacare’

[…]

Most mainstream journalists have tended to shy away from ‘Obamacare’, considering it mildly pejorative. But the Obama campaign today has decided to ‘own’ the most popular term for the law. […]

In an email to supporters on the second anniversary of the law, campaign manager Jim Messina writes to supporters “Here’s to two years of making the lives of millions of Americans better every single day. If you’re tired of the other side throwing around that word like it’s an insult, then join me in sending a message that we’re proud of it.”

“Let everyone know: ‘I like Obamacare,'” Messina writes. “What’s not to like? Obamacare means you won’t have to pay out of pocket for preventive care like cancer screenings and birth control, insurance companies can no longer drop people when they get sick or refuse coverage for “pre-existing conditions,” and women won’t have to pay more just for being women.”

Messina’s full email and some Obama staffer tweets after the jump.

MORE>>>

 

 

Want to know everything about the individual mandate before the Supreme Court case? Look no further

 

 

 

JUSTICE

 

[I meant to post this days ago!] CNN Isolates Audio On Alleged ‘F*cking C**ns’ Trayvon Martin 911 Call

The 911 call that has many people convinced thatGeorge Zimmerman grumbled the phrase “f**kin’ c**ns” moments before shooting and killing 17 year-old Trayvon Martin could loom large when it comes to determining whether the federal government can prosecute the case. CNN, who often takes guff from critics for their sometimes pointless use of whiz-bang technology, put their state-of-the-art tech to good use on Wednesday night’s AC360, isolating and enhancing the audio from that call. The result is, at the very least, more convincing than the raw audio.

On Tuesday, Current TV’s The Young Turks became the first news show to air the 911 call uncensored, which was convincing enough on its own, in my view. However, for those who are still skeptical, Anderson Cooper had CNN reporter Gary Tuchman put audio design specialist Rick Sierra through the paces of cleaning up, enhancing, and isolating the phrase in question at CNN Atlanta’s Audio Suite 31.

Here’s the result

Given the emotional punch of this story, Tuchman’s presentation is a bit clinical, but that detachment doesn’t blunt the impact of hearing that phrase over and over again. As Cooper pointed out, the Sanford Police are saying that they didn’t hear the slur, not that they “missed it,” as has been reported. Although reporter Tuchman maintains that the recording is not definitive, this should help clear things up a lot for the police. It’s also an example of CNN putting its technological resources to excellent journalistic use.

Although the cable news media didn’t cover Martin’s killing for several weeks after his death, once the coverage did begin, it ramped up quickly. After Current’s The Young Turks, who aired their first Trayvon Martin segment on their March 8 web show, CNN was one of the first networks to cover the Trayvon Martin story, beginning on March 13. MSNBC’s Rev. Al Sharpton also ran a segment, including an interview with Martin family attorney Benjamin Crump, on the 13th. The following day, the Martin story became part of both networks’ news rotations. Fox News ran their first Trayvon Martin segment on March 19, following the release of the 911 tapes, according to the TV Eyes Transcription database.

 

 

Police: Zimmerman says Trayvon decked him with one blow then began hammering his head

With a single punch, Trayvon Martin decked the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who eventually shot and killed the unarmed 17-year-old, then Trayvon climbed on top of George Zimmerman and slammed his head into the sidewalk several times, leaving him bloody and battered, authorities have revealed to the Orlando Sentinel.

That is the account Zimmerman gave police, and much of it has been corroborated by witnesses, authorities say.

Zimmerman has not spoken publicly about what happened, but that night, Feb. 26, and in later meetings he described and re-enacted for police what he says happened.

In his version of events, he had turned around and was walking back to his SUV when Trayvon approached him from behind, the two exchanged words then Trayvon punched him in the nose, sending him to the ground, and began beating him.

[The POLICE are now telling Zimmerman’s side of the story?!]

 

 

Sanford PD Has Trayvon Killer’s Gun

 

 

What Everyone Needs To Know About The Smear Campaign Against Trayvon Martin (1995-2012)

Over the last 48 hours, there has been a sustained effort to smear Trayvon Martin, the 17-year old African-American who was shot dead by George Zimmerman a month ago. Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, said, “They killed my son, now they’re trying to kill his reputation.”

Thus far these attacks have fallen into two categories: false and irrelevant. Much of this leaked information seems intended to play into stereotypes about young African-American males. Here’s what everyone should know:

1. Prominent conservative websites published fake photos of Martin. Twitchy, a new website run by prominent conservative blogger Michelle Malkin, promoted a photo — purportedly from Martin’s Facebook page — that shows Martin in saggy pants and flipping the bird. The photo, which spread quickly on conservative websites and Twitter, is intended to paint Martin as a thug. As Twitchy later acknowledged, it is not a photo of Trayvon Martin. [Examiner]

2. The Sanford Police selectively leaked irrelevant, negative information about Martin. The authorities told the Orlando Sentinel this morning that Trayvon was suspended from school for ten days “after being found with an empty marijuana baggie.” There is no evidence that Martin was under the influence of drugs at the time of his death, nor would prior possession of marijuana be a reason for killing him. It’s unclear what the relevance of the leak was, other than to smear Martin. [Orlando Sentinel]

3. On Fox News, Geraldo said that Martin was dressed “like a wannabe gangster.” Bill O’Reilly agreed with him. The sole evidence is that Martin was wearing a hoodie. Geraldo added that “everyone that ever stuck up a convenience store” was wearing a hoodie. [ThinkProgressThe Blaze]

4. Without any evidence, prominent right-wing bloggers suggested that Martin was a drug dealer. Right-wing blogger Dan Riehl advances the theory, also advanced in a widely linked peice on a site called Wagist. There does not appear to be any evidence to support this claim whatsoever. [Riehl World View]

5. Without any evidence, a right-wing columnist alleged that Martin assaulted a bus driver. Unlike Zimmerman, Trayvon has no documented history of violence. This allegation continues to be advanced by a blogger on the Examiner even after the real reason was leaked to the police and confirmed by the family. [Miami HeraldExaminer]

6. Zimmerman’s friend says Martin was to blame because he was disrespectful to Zimmerman. Zimmerman’s friend Joe Oliver said that Martin would not have been shot to death if Trayvon had just said “I’m staying with my parents.” Of course, Zimmerman was not a police officer, and Trayvon had no duty to tell him who he was or where he was going. [NBC News]

The final part of the effort to smear Trayvon Martin is to link him and his supporters to irresponsible fringe groups like the New Black Panthers and marignal provocateurs like Louis Farrakhan. Threats by these groups are serious and should be investigated, but they have nothing to do with Martin or his supporters. The leader of the effort to associate Martin with these groups is Matt Drudge. You can see how he is framing the story today here.

Ultimately, whether Martin was a perfect person is irrelevant to whether Zimmerman’s conduct that night was justified. Clearly, there are two different versions of the events that transpired on February 26, the night Trayvon was killed. There are conflicting statements by witnesses and conflicting evidence as to who was the aggressor. Zimmerman has the right to tell his side of the story. But his opportunity to do this will come in a court of law after he is charged and arrested. In the meantime, Zimmerman’s supporters should stop trying to smear the reputation of a dead, 17-year-old boy.

 

 

BREAKING: ABC7 Chicago Acknowledges Existence of 9-1-1 Call by Travyon Martin During Attack

And the Feds have it. [That’s all we know for now.]

 

 

NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg Bans Feeding the Homeless

 

 

For Pennsylvania’s Doctors, a Gag Order on Fracking Chemicals

Under a new law, doctors in Pennsylvania can access information about chemicals used in natural gas extraction—but they won’t be able to share it with their patients. A provision buried in a law passed last month is drawing scrutiny from the public health and environmental community, who argue that it will “gag” doctors who want to raise concerns related to oil and gas extraction with the people they treat and the general public.

Pennsylvania is at the forefront in the debate over “fracking,” the process by which a high-pressure mixture of chemicals, sand, and water are blasted into rock to tap into the gas. Recent discoveries of great reserves in the Marcellus Shale region of the state prompted a rush to development, as have advancements in fracking technologies. But with those changes have come a number of concerns from citizens about potential environmental and health impacts from natural gas drilling.

There is good reason to be curious about exactly what’s in those fluids. A 2010 congressional investigation revealed that Halliburton and other fracking companies had used 32 million gallons of diesel products, which include toxic chemicals like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, in the fluids they inject into the ground. Low levels of exposure to those chemicals can trigger acute effects like headaches, dizziness, and drowsiness, while higher levels of exposure can cause cancer.

Pennsylvania law states that companies must disclose the identity and amount of any chemicals used in fracking fluids to any health professional that requests that information in order to diagnosis or treat a patient that may have been exposed to a hazardous chemical. But the provision in the new bill requires those health professionals to sign a confidentiality agreement stating that they will not disclose that information to anyone else—not even the person they’re trying to treat.

“The whole goal of medical community is to protect public health,” said David Masur, director of PennEnvironment. He worries that the threat of a lawsuit from a big industry player like Halliburton or ExxonMobil for violating a confidentiality agreement could scare doctors away from research on potential impacts in the state. “If anything, we need more concrete information. This just stifles another way the public could have access to information from experts.”

The provision was not in the initial versions of the law debated in the state Senate or House in February; it was added in during conference between the two chambers, said State Senator Daylin Leach (D), which meant that many lawmakers did not even notice that this “broad, very troubling provision” had been added. “The importance of keeping it as proprietary secret seems minimal when compared to letting the public know what chemicals they and their children are being exposed to,” Leach told Mother Jones.

The limits on what doctors can say about those chemicals makes it impossible to either assuage or affirm the public’s concerns about health impacts. “People are claiming that animals are dying and people are getting sick in clusters around [drilling wells], but we can’t really study it because we can’t see what’s actually in the product,” said Leach.

At the federal level, natural gas developers have long been allowed to keep the mixture of chemicals they use in fracking fluid a secret from the general public,protecting it as “proprietary information.” The industry is exempt from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory—the program that ensures that communities are given information about what companies are releasing. In 2005 the industry successfully lobbied for an exemption from EPA regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act as well, in what is often referred to as the “Halliburton Loophole.” The Obama EPA has pressed drillers to voluntarily provide more information about fracking fluids, but the industry has largely rebuffed those appeals.

The latest move in Pennsylvania has raised suspicions among the industry’s critics once again. As Walter Tsou, president of the Philadelphia chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, put it, “What is the big secret here that they’re unwilling to tell people, unless they know that if people found out what’s really in these chemicals, they would be outraged?”

 

 

 

MEDIA

Ed Kilgore: Election Optics

One of the more remarkable phenomena of U.S. politics is the relatively low utilization rate of the findings of political scientists by practitioners and journalists in the field. Until fairly recently, as a matter of fact, there was astonishingly little interaction between the two worlds of the academic study of politics and its day-to-day analysis and operations. One reason for the rise of the ubiquitous think tank industry was this gap between the thinkers and doers, which extended to a host of public policy areas.

That’s changed a fair amount in the very recent past, and today political scientists are a robust minority in the chattering classes, some via conventional news outlets and some in blogs (prototypically The Monkey Cage, which we regularly cross-post from here).

But the gap remains pretty large. Today Nate Silver fired a shot across the gap with a strong empirical challenge to the “economic fundamentalists” of the political science community: those who believe that for all the noise, campaign activity, money, advertising, and partisanship involved, presidential elections are essentially decided by economic conditions in the country, and careful scrutiny of key economic indicators makes it possible to predict electoral outcomes with some precision.

I won’t attempt to summarize Nate’s massive post, which he appears to have generated as a byproduct of his upcoming book on electoral forecasting. But his bottom-line is pretty harsh:

The “fundamentals” models, in fact, have had almost no predictive power at all. Over this 16-year period, there has been no relationship between the vote they forecast for the incumbent candidate and how well he actually did — even though some of them claimed to explain as much as 90 percent of voting results.

He goes on to made a less damning statement about economic models that take into account some empirical campaign-dependent factors like polling data, and concedes, of course, that economic conditions are generally an important factor in presidential elections, if only as a strong headwind or tailwind for incumbent and opposition parties.

You should read the whole thing for its intrinsic merits, but I bring it up here mainly to make a point about the wildly varying assumptions that people bring to political discussion and analysis. Many, many people are election “determinists” to one degree or another, believing that factors beyond the framework of actual campaigning, candidates, issues, messages, and events largely control outcomes. Some are like the academics that Nate critiques, holding very strong views based on “models” of past elections; others believe that shadowy forces, usually financial, control politics and elections; still others believe that relatively immutable factors like demographics are all-important. Determinists of every stripe tend to be impatient or even angry at people who pay attention to “ephemeral” factors, events and people in the election process, often accusing them of deliberately lying about such factors to keep themselves employed, provide something controversial to talk about, or even to hide “fundamental factors” from the public.

At the other end of the spectrum, particularly in political journalism, we have people who pretty much ignore fundamentals, and treat the character and abilities of candidates and their staffs, the thrust-and-parry of campaigns, the salience of particular issues, and the battle for persuasion of voters, as essentially non-determined phenomena that can only be understood and assessed via close “insider” inspection. At the extremes, such observers often seem to behave as though they think all voters are swing voters, every day of a presidential campaign is potentially critical, and that candidacies are highly purposeful and relatively autonomous operations that “win” or “lose” according to “rules” derived from military conflict, sports history or game theory.

I’d guess an impressive percentage of the unproductive arguments in politics come from dialogues of the deaf between observers holding different positions along the spectrum of assumptions about the basic nature of politics, and the very different optics these assumptions encourage or even dictate.

This is all to say that regular examination of our assumptions should be a regular feature of political talk. The best way to do that is to acknowledge our biases about what matters most and to subject them whenever possible to empirical verification and adjustment. I try to do that here, but probably ought to do it more. I’d encourage readers to do the same. At some point, if you really do believe politics are essentially controlled by iron laws that rarely bend, then political discussion becomes pretty much an exercise in expressing contempt for anyone who hasn’t read the right textbooks or examined the right indicators. If, on the other hand, you think presidential campaigns are like sports playoffs or video games or battles between roughly equal military forces, you should at least be aware why the whole spectacle is a lot less engaging and fun to people who don’t look at them that way at all.

There’s certainly room for widely varying perspectives, but we’ll all get along better if we try to show our cards—or if you prefer, our paradigms.

 

 

 

MILITARY

Obama for ‘world without nuclear weapons’

Barack Obama, the US president, has said that he is pushing for “a world without nuclear weapons” and is committed to deterring nuclear proliferation, while on a visit to Seoul for a two-day 53-nation nuclear summit that is under way.

“The danger of nuclear terrorism remains one of the greatest threats to global security. That is why in Seoul we need to keep at it,” he said before the summit focussing on reducing access by terror groups to radioactive material to build a nuclear bomb.

Obama also assured that the United States can further reduce its nuclear weapons stockpile while maintaining its strategic deterrent and international commitments.

Speaking at Hankuk University before the summit on Monday, Obama reiterated the commitment of the US as ”the only nation to have ever used nuclear weapons” to reducing its nuclear arms stockpile.

Obama told students that he is confident the United States and Russia can jointly reduce their stockpiles of nuclear weapons, building on the successful extension of arms control agreements known as START.

The White House said nuclear weapons reduction continued to be a priority in US relations with Russia, and that Obama would raise it with President-elect Vladimir Putin when they meet in May.

Obama would seek to follow on from the New Start (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) pact he struck in 2010 with outgoing Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, he said.

Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Seoul, said: “This was a speech by President Obama to unify the big themes of his visit; he used the speech to help achieve his dream of a nuclear free world.”

‘Sanctions and condemnation’

But Obama’s strongest terms were directed toward North Korea: “By now it should be clear: Your provocations and pursuit of nuclear weapons have not achieved the respect you seek, but undermined it.”

The US President said North Korea needed to change its ways because continuing down the same path would lead to “more broken dreams” and “more isolation”.

“Instead of earning the respect of the world, you’ve been met with sanctions and condemnation. There will be no rewards for provocations. Those days are over, Obama said.

“To the leaders of Pyonyang, I say, this is the choice before you: Have the courage to pursue peace and give a better life to the people of North Korea.”

Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, has expressed “serious concern” about North Korea’s planned rocket launch during a meeting with US counterpart Barack Obama on the sidelines of the summit, a US official said on Monday.

“The two leaders agreed to co-ordinate closely in responding to this potential provocation and registering our serious concern to the North Koreans and, if necessary, consider what steps need to be taken following a potential satellite launch,” Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, said.

Warning to Tehran

Obama echoed similar sentiments towards Iran.

“There is time to solve this diplomatically. It is always my preference to solve these issues diplomatically,” he said.

“Iran’s leaders must understand that there is no escaping the choice before it. Iran must act with the seriousness and sense of urgency that this moment demands,” Obama said. “Iran must meet its obligations.”

Iran insists there is no military element to its programme, but Western powers fear it is constructing nuclear weapons.

Obama ended his speech by praising South Korea’s handling of nuclear technology in a peaceful and productive way.

Neither Iran or North Korea are participating in the 53-nation summit.

The summit agenda is to be expanded to include a wide variety of radiological materials which terrorists could use to make a dirty bomb – one that spreads radiological contamination rather than initiating a nuclear explosion

Obama flew on Sunday by helicopter to a US base on the edge of the Korean Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) to meet troops and take a first-hand look at one of the world’s most heavily fortified frontiers.

Obama’s visit to the DMZ also coincided with the end of the 100-day mourning period for the North’s long-time leader, Kim Jong-il, who died in December.

 

 

Afghan Shootings Carried Out in 2 Operations, Inquiry Finds

[…] The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation, said that the investigators believed that the soldier, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, left his Afghanistan base and carried out the first set of killings, returned to the combat outpost and then, sometime later that evening, went out and attacked a second village.

It was on his return from the second trip from the base that Sergeant Bales was detained, the official said.

MORE>>>

 

 

OCCUPY

Meet Professor Occupy

Lisa Fithian is the streetwise radical who’s teaching kids who want to be badass to be smart.

IN HER MAKESHIFT classroom in lower Manhattan, Lisa Fithian turns to a group of several dozen students, squares her shoulders, and issues a challenge: “Does someone want to be a cop and come get me?” A tall redhead abruptly breaks out and lunges at her, but Fithian, a petite, den-motherish 50-year-old, head fakes and bolts away. Cheers erupt from her pupils, Occupy Wall Street protesters intent on shutting down the New York Stock Exchange the following morning. Another pretend cop moves in, and this time she drops to the ground, flopping like a rag doll as the officer struggles to drag her away. Fithian stands to deliver her lesson. “Of the two choices, running away or going limp, what does running away communicate?” she asks.

“Guilt,” several people say.

She smiles and nods. “Guilt.”

When it comes to civil disobedience, there’s often a right and wrong way to break the law, and one of Fithian’s jobs is to teach the right way to hundreds of newly minted Occupy activists. Call her Professor Occupy. With somewhere between 80 and 100 arrests under her belt (she’s lost count) over nearly four decades of rabble-rousing, Fithian may be the nation’s best-known protest consultant. Unions and activist groups pay her $300 a day to run demonstrations and teach their members tactics for taking over the streets. But for much of the past six months Fithian has been dispensing free wisdom to the young radicals who took over parks from New York City to Los Angeles last fall, everything from proper tear gas attire to long-term protest strategies. “When there is some conflict, or things aren’t going the way that we want them to go, or people don’t have a good long-term plan,” says 27-year-old Jason Ahmadi, an early arrival at Zuccotti Park, “I have heard others and myself say, ‘Dammit, where is Lisa Fithian?'”

Fithian, who lives in Austin, Texas, but spends most of her time on the road, dresses like Mark Zuckerberg and swears like Tony Soprano. She grew up in Hawthorne, New York, a Big Apple bedroom community where she developed a reputation for trouble—police might knock on her door to inquire about, say, a suspicious fire in a neighbor’s front yard. In middle school, she once got busted for bringing a knife to class. But she was smart and earnest, and as a high school sophomore she founded The Free Thinker, an underground newspaper that tackledsubjects like littering in the cafeteria. Her classmates voted her “Most likely to do things for the school.” They also voted her “Most likely to do things to the school.”

In 1983, after graduating from Skidmore College, Fithian spent a year following Abbie Hoffman, founder of the anti-war Youth International Party (a.k.a. the Yippies), tending his garden and “picking his brain.” Three years later, a coalition of activists outraged by the CIA’s covert wars in Central America hired her to organize a blockade of the agency’s Langley, Virginia, headquarters that ended with 600 arrests. She hit the streets with fellow protesters—including the black-clad anarchist kids she calls “the smashy smashies”—to disrupt the World Trade Organization’s 1999 meeting in Seattle. And in 2005, she teamed up with fellow radicals and former Black Panthers to launch Common Ground Relief, a group that rebuilt houses while clashing with police in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward of post-Katrina New Orleans. “When people ask me, ‘What do you do?’ I say, ‘I create crisis,'” Fithian told me. “Because crisis is the leading edge where change is possible.”

Fithian’s résumé has made her a target for people hoping to discredit the nascent Occupy movement. In a single week this past October, conservative activist Andrew Breitbart ran nine stories on his website painting her as an anarchist bent on “the total annihilation of the American political and economic system.” In fact, Fithian has a long history working with mainstream groups such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). But Max Berger, an organizer of Occupy’s moderate wing who cut his teeth working for Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign, sees her credibility with young radicals as crucial. “Nobody is going to say that what Lisa does is not badass,” he says, “so she is in a very strategically important position of teaching kids who want to be badass to be smart.”

Case in point: On September 17, the first day of Occupy Wall Street, police told the protesters they couldn’t affix their cardboard “Liberty Plaza” street signs to utility poles around Zuccotti Park. Many people wanted to give the cops the middle finger, but Fithian offered a compromise: They would take down the signs and find new ways to display them. The important thing, she stressed, was to keep occupying.

On Day Two of Occupy, Fithian left New York to coordinate anti-bank protests in multiple cities on behalf of a coalition of religious and community groups. The overlap of her consulting gig with the birth of the Occupy movement was sheer coincidence, but Fithian made the most of it.She shuttled around to the encampments popping up in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago, schooling the fledglings in protest tactics and enlisting them to help her occupy banks or defend foreclosed homes. “It showed a lot of us how it is important to connect the larger message of inequality and corporate control of politics to more local issues,” says Kelvin Ho, an organizer with Occupy Chicago.

In late October, Fithian was called back to Manhattan to help the movement catch its stride. While Occupy Wall Street was succeeding beyond its organizers’ wildest dreams, its internal politics were a mess, and meetings of its quasi-governing body, the Spokes Council, often devolved into shouting matches. Fithian, an old pro in dealing with nonhierarchical groups, agreed to help facilitate. “We are not going to be making tons of decisions but streamlining our work, making this a more functional process,” she announced, kicking off a Spokes Council meeting a few days after police razed the protesters’ encampment in Zuccotti Park. As each ofthe committees known as “working groups” voiced their needs and concerns, Fithian took notes on a sheet of construction paper, but she stopped writing when Sage, a homeless occupier in fatigues, began rambling. When she tried to cut him short, Sage protested loudly about “a line between the haves and have-nots of language.” Fithian cut him off again, holding out her palms as though blocking a pit bull and offering a quick summation: “How about, ‘Respect for diversity of expression’?” With Sage appeased, the meeting could proceed. “I heard a ton of people mention afterwards, ‘Oh my God, I wish that we had a facilitator like that before,'” recalls Logan Price, a movement organizer. “She helped the Spokes Council get to the point where people felt comfortable about continuing it.”

MORE>>>

 

 

POLITICS

Krugman: Lobbyists, Guns and Money

Florida’s now-infamous Stand Your Ground law, which lets you shoot someone you consider threatening without facing arrest, let alone prosecution, sounds crazy — and it is. And it’s tempting to dismiss this law as the work of ignorant yahoos. But similar laws have been pushed across the nation, not by ignorant yahoos but by big corporations.

Specifically, language virtually identical to Florida’s law is featured in a template supplied to legislators in other states by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed organization that has managed to keep a low profile even as it exerts vast influence (only recently, thanks to yeoman work by the Center for Media and Democracy, has a clear picture of ALEC’s activities emerged). And if there is any silver lining to Trayvon Martin’s killing, it is that it might finally place a spotlight on what ALEC is doing to our society — and our democracy.

What is ALEC? Despite claims that it’s nonpartisan, it’s very much a movement-conservative organization, funded by the usual suspects: the Kochs, Exxon Mobil, and so on. Unlike other such groups, however, it doesn’t just influence laws, it literally writes them, supplying fully drafted bills to state legislators. In Virginia, for example, more than 50 ALEC-written bills have been introduced, many almost word for word. And these bills often become law.

Many ALEC-drafted bills pursue standard conservative goals: union-busting, undermining environmental protection, tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. ALEC seems, however, to have a special interest in privatization — that is, on turning the provision of public services, from schools to prisons, over to for-profit corporations. And some of the most prominent beneficiaries of privatization, such as the online education company K12 Inc. and the prison operator Corrections Corporation of America, are, not surprisingly, very much involved with the organization.

What this tells us, in turn, is that ALEC’s claim to stand for limited government and free markets is deeply misleading. To a large extent the organization seeks not limited government but privatized government, in which corporations get their profits from taxpayer dollars, dollars steered their way by friendly politicians. In short, ALEC isn’t so much about promoting free markets as it is about expanding crony capitalism.

And in case you were wondering, no, the kind of privatization ALEC promotes isn’t in the public interest; instead of success stories, what we’re getting is a series of scandals. Private charter schools, for example, appear to deliver a lot of profits but little in the way of educational achievement.

But where does the encouragement of vigilante (in)justice fit into this picture? In part it’s the same old story — the long-standing exploitation of public fears, especially those associated with racial tension, to promote a pro-corporate, pro-wealthy agenda. It’s neither an accident nor a surprise that the National Rifle Association and ALEC have been close allies all along.

And ALEC, even more than other movement-conservative organizations, is clearly playing a long game. Its legislative templates aren’t just about generating immediate benefits to the organization’s corporate sponsors; they’re about creating a political climate that will favor even more corporation-friendly legislation in the future.

Did I mention that ALEC has played a key role in promoting bills that make it hard for the poor and ethnic minorities to vote?

Yet that’s not all; you have to think about the interests of the penal-industrial complex — prison operators, bail-bond companies and more. (The American Bail Coalition has publicly described ALEC as its “life preserver.”) This complex has a financial stake in anything that sends more people into the courts and the prisons, whether it’s exaggerated fear of racial minorities or Arizona’s draconian immigration law, a law that followed an ALEC template almost verbatim.

Think about that: we seem to be turning into a country where crony capitalism doesn’t just waste taxpayer money but warps criminal justice, in which growing incarceration reflects not the need to protect law-abiding citizens but the profits corporations can reap from a larger prison population.

Now, ALEC isn’t single-handedly responsible for the corporatization of our political life; its influence is as much a symptom as a cause. But shining a light on ALEC and its supporters — a roster that includes many companies, from AT&T and Coca-Cola to UPS, that have so far managed to avoid being publicly associated with the hard-right agenda — is one good way to highlight what’s going on. And that kind of knowledge is what we need to start taking our country back.

 

 

Benen: When presidents meet a ‘hot mic’

Some of my favorite moments of George W. Bush’s presidency were “hot mic” moments, in part because they offered rare peeks behind the curtain. When Bush was accidentally overheard on live microphones, we learned that he didn’t know what the Mexico City Policy was, even after he signed an executive order on it; he didn’t understand 2006 developments in Lebanon, though he thought he did; and he talked to world leaders in a strikingly unsophisticated way behind closed doors.

But President Obama is not without hot-mic moments. One of the big political stories of the day is the interest in comments Obama made to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev on missile defense. [VIDEO]

The revelations aren’t exactly shocking here. Obama, in Seoul for a nuclear security summit, told the Russian leader, “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this can be solved, but it’s important for him to give me space.” In this context, “him” appears to refer to Vladimir Putin. When Medvedev noted that he appreciates the larger context, Obama added, “This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.”

Medvedev responded, “I understand. I will transmit this information to Vladimir.”

Mitt Romney is feigning outrage, and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), who’s often confused about U.S. policy in Russia but likes to pretend otherwise, is looking for the fainting couch, but Obama’s comments aren’t exactly scandalous.

The president believes the election season restricts his foreign policy options? Well, sure, but that isn’t exactly breaking news. The administration, if given a second term, plans to have additional talks with Russia on missile defense, and would like Russia to be patient until after the election? Yep, we knew that, too.

Ultimately, Obama didn’t say anything we didn’t already know, or echo remarks he’s already made publicly. He was a little more candid in his delivery with Medvedev in Seoul, but it’s not unusual for U.S. presidents to seek some election-season “space” from negotiating partners, especially when it’s an election year in both countries.

For those who are paranoid about Obama becoming some entirely new person in a second term — paranoia that even some conservatives consider ridiculous – then I suppose any new evidence will be seized on as important and shocking.

But for everyone else, today’s revelations offer more heat than light.

 

 

Can Drinking Make You Conservative? (and Other Questions About the Political Brain)
[…] Let’s get the record straight here: The researchers were actually outside the bar – a bar in New England – where they flagged down exiting patrons with quite the request: Would they get their blood alcohol level tested and fill out a short questionnaire on their political views? Eighty-five of them consented to share their level of agreement with statements like “Production and trade should be free of government interference” and “Ultimately, privately property should be abolished.” Then came the breathalyzer.

When the scientists collated the results, it turned out that, on average, the higher the subject’s blood alcohol level, the more likely he or she was to express conservative opinions. This was true of liberals and conservatives alike; both groups appeared to shift to the right. (Study here.)

Now, I already know what some people are thinking: This is what our scientists are up to now? This is what liberal academics are wasting time and money on?

People are going to joke and joke about this. Fair enough. But there’s a larger point here that risks getting lost in all the hilarity. The study in question, while certainly not definitive, is actually pretty intriguing. For it suggests, in line with a large body of research that I survey in my new book The Republican Brain, that political ideology isn’t really what we tend to think it is. It’s not just about ideas and philosophies; it’s also about psychological traits and cognitive style – about how people think as much as what they think.

Let’s back up: What the researchers (psychologists from the Universities of Arkansas, Kansas, and Wisconsin, Eau Claire) actually did was run four separate studies to test the idea that political conservatives tend to engage in different styles of thinking than do political liberals. In particular, they were testing the idea that conservatives are inclined towards quick thinking and directness – think George W. Bush and his all-knowing “gut” – whereas liberals favor nuance and complexity.

In other words – so the argument goes – thinking like a liberal takes more effort, more focused concentration. (And this isn’t just another case of liberals being smug; this is serious research.) Consider, for example, the conservative belief that the unemployed are out of work mainly because they’re lazy. It’s simple and easy – low effort – to make poverty the fault of the individual person, who failed to work hard and take responsibility for his or her actions. It’s much harder and more complicated to consider the large array of situational and institutional factors that create poverty in our society, that make it difficult or impossible for poor people to get out of poverty – considerations that might point to the need for, say, safety nets, minimum-wage laws, welfare systems, progressive taxation, and so on.

Or consider how people think about the status quo. It’s easy and natural to do things in the way they’ve always been done – to follow routines, default to existing systems, stick with the familiar, the tried-and-true. By contrast, it takes effort to contemplate changes, to model what their outcome is likely to be – to crunch the economics on the cost, to write a new law, or design a new constitution.

Or think about global warming. It’s easy and, in a sense, natural to dismiss the reality of climate change whenever there’s a big snowstorm. (“See, it’s getting colder, not warmer!”) It takes more effort to understand that climate is the statistical average of weather, to model the climate system and consider different greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, and to try to craft policy that will stave off a future risk, while fully admitting there’s some lingering uncertainty about how quickly and strongly it will manifest itself.

So, liberals, on this theory, gravitate towards more complex and nuanced ideas that require effort. But here’s the twist: They do when they can afford to; related research suggests that liberals, if they’re distracted or overwhelmed – that is, under what psychologists call “cognitive load” – tend to think much more like conservatives. And it follows that, as a prior study memorably put it, “It is much easier to get a liberal to behave like a conservative than it is to get a conservative to behave like a liberal.”

Such is the hypothesis, at least; and that’s why it made sense to test it at a bar. Because if you want to shut down complex thinking, then alcohol is certainly your friend.

The eighty-five people in the current study are not, admittedly, a very large number – so the latest research should not be thought of as the last word on this. That being said, its conclusions are in line with previous findings; and the psychologists also ran several other related tests, finding that it wasn’t just alcohol consumption that shifted people to the political right. So did being under time pressure, being under cognitive load (once again), and simply considering of a variety of words in a cursory, rather than a careful and deliberative, fashion. So it’s important not to get too hung up on the booze angle; blood alcohol was really a proxy for something else.

Many liberals will be tempted to cite the latest research to argue that they’re in some way superior, while conservatives may feel insulted by this new assault from academics (who, they’re already convinced, are radical socialists). But in truth, neither interpretation seems to be the correct one. The real upshot, it seems to me, may be that conservatives have a built-in political and communications advantage, simply because human beings, in their busy lives, cannot be expected to be in “liberal” mode all the time, or even most of the time. Or as the study authors conclude: “Our findings suggest that conservative ways of thinking are basic, normal, and perhaps natural.”

In other words, you could argue that liberals are really the outliers here. They’re the ones in the position of having to spin out complex, nuanced explanations for their views – explanations that, to much of the populace, feel like so much fancy-pants posturing. And while this may work for academia and wonkland, it can also get in the way of political effectiveness and leadership.

No wonder another recent study finds that liberals, on average, drink more alcohol. Perhaps they just need to escape from their liberal brains sometimes. To me, that sounds pretty understandable.

[Long Read] The New Yorker: THE MANDATE MEMO: HOW OBAMA CHANGED HIS MIND

Barack Obama was not always in favor of a mandate requiring individuals to have health insurance—an element of his Affordable Care Act that is being challenged, today, before the Supreme Court. During his long primary campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2007 and 2008, one of the few significant policy disagreements between the two candidates was whether or not to include such a mandate in a health-care plan. In fact, Obama attacked Clinton mercilessly on the issue. Before the Pennsylvania primary, candidate Obama ran a television ad pillorying Clinton for her mandate proposal: “It forces everyone to buy insurance, even if you can’t afford it, and you pay a penalty if you don’t.”

As the Court begins three days of hearings on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, it’s worth asking when exactly Obama changed his mind. Some answers can be found in a memo to President Obama from his top health-care adviser Nancy-Ann DeParle, which I’m posting in full (below). The entire memo is worth reading—it reveals, among other things, that the Administration’s early estimate for its plan was $1.4 trillion and that it debated partially paying for health care with “a 10-cent excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages”—but of particular interest are passages that include one of the earliest discussions with the President about how he would have to reverse the position he took during the campaign.

[Memo here.]
DeParle begins by summarizing for Obama the status of legislation in Congress. She notes that Democrats in both chambers are pro-mandate, meaning that Obama’s campaign position now makes him an outlier in the debate. Perhaps to nudge him in the mandate direction, she also reminds him that late in the campaign he started to make some pro-mandate noises:

Individual requirement (i.e., mandate): Both the Senate and House include an individual requirement. Your campaign plan included a mandate for parents to cover their children, but not adults; toward the end of the campaign, you expressed a willingness to consider an individual requirement if necessary to achieve universal coverage.

Later in the document, there are two more notable items. One is that DeParle does not frame the case for the mandate strictly on the merits of the idea. Instead, she points out—somewhat grudgingly—that Obama would almost have to reverse his campaign position because of the way the Congressional Budget Office would treat a health-care bill without an individual mandate:

Based on our policy analysis, we believe that a weak requirement for all Americans to have insurance may come close to achieving the maximum coverage that can be achieved through aggressive outreach and auto-enrollment. Unfortunately, however, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) will likely take the position that without an individual responsibility requirement, half of the uninsured will be left uncovered. This reduces federal costs—by roughly $270 billion over 10 years—but also reduces coverage (insuring that only 28 of the projected 56 million uninsured in 2014). Those left uninsured tend to be either low cost (e.g., young adults) or have high income.

This was not the last time that the C.B.O., which “scores” all legislation and has a major influence on how issues are framed in Washington, would force Obama’s hand on a significant aspect of health-care policy. In fact, Obama became so frustrated with the C.B.O. that at one point during the health-care debate he banned his aides from using the term “C.B.O.” in his presence. Instead, the President called the C.B.O. “banana.”

The second notable part of DeParle’s discussion of the mandate is that she specifically mentions Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan as a model:

Because of concerns about the impact of the individual requirement on middle income families, we have explored coupling an individual requirement with an exemption process for those for whom coverage remains unaffordable. In Massachusetts, taxpayers are exempt from the mandate-associated penalties if the lowest premiums available to them exceed a certain fraction of income (for example at $60,000 of family income, families are excused from penalties if premiums exceed $4,400—about 7 percent of income). There is an additional waiver process that allows people to claim a hardship exemption from the penalty on a case-by-case basis if they have special circumstances.

DeParle’s memo makes clear that the Obama White House remained skeptical of the mandate as late as the spring of 2009.
MORE>>> 

 

 

POLLS

Only 37% want to see Health Reform repealed. Majority want to see how it works

It’s the second birthday of the Affordable Care Act, the landmark bill that reformed our health care system. Since the day it was signed, however, conservatives have unanimously denounced it as a heinous socialist takeover of health care that must be repealed immediately, if not sooner. Two years in, they have made little progress in convincing the American public of their viewpoint.

Consider first the results of a new Bloomberg poll. Respondents were asked whether we should either repeal health care reform, see how it works and then perhaps make small modifications, or leave it alone. A solid majority (57 percent) said we should either see how it works (46 percent) or leave it alone (11 percent). Only 37 percent favored repeal.

The latest Pew Research Center poll has a very similar result. Fifty-three percent of respondents said the health care law should either be expanded (33 percent) or left as is (20 percent), compared to only 38 percent who thought it should be repealed.

These data suggest that the American public does not share conservatives’ appetite for repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Two years in, the public is more interested in keeping—and perhaps expanding—health care reform than getting rid of it.

 

 

Obama up 10 on Romney nationally

 

 

SCOTUS

Wonkbook: Absolutely everything you need to know about health-reform Supreme Court debut

Anti-Injunction Act
What it is: The Court opens its oral arguments with a debate over whether it can even issue a ruling on the Affordable Care Act since its penalties for not carrying insurance have not come into effect yet. Under a law passed in 1867, the Anti-Injunction Act, a tax cannot be challenged until someone has actually had to pay it. Health reform’s penalties don’t start until 2015.

What they’ll argue: One weird quirk of this provision is that neither the defendants or plaintiffs think it applies: Both sides think the Court should be able to rule right now . So the court appointed an outside lawyer, Robert Long, to argue on their behalf. Long will likely look to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals for precedent. It ruled, in September, that the Anti-Injunction Act prevented it from issuing a ruling on the health law.

When it happens: Monday, March 26, 10-11:30 a.m.

Why it matters: The Anti-Injunction Act gives the Supreme Court an opportunity to put off its decision for at least three years, potentially diffusing the law slightly as a 2012 election year issue. This could be a mixed-bag for health care supporters: On the one hand, it gives the law three more years to be implemented. On the other, it would still make the law’s fate seem uncertain, and likely extend the national debate around the Affordable Care Act.

The individual mandate
What it is: The most-contested part of the health reform law, the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate requires nearly all Americans to carry health insurance. The legal question centers on whether such a regulation is permissible under the Commerce Clause, which allows the federal government to regulate interstate activity.

What they’ll argue: Health reform opponents contend that the decision not to do something — namely, not buy health insurance — is economic inactivity, rather than activity, and therefore not a behavior the federal government can regulate. Health reform supporters argue that the decision to not purchase health insurance has an economic effect. An individual without coverage, for example, may not have the money to pay for an emergency room visit, sticking hospitals or taxpayers with the bill.

When it happens: Tuesday, March 27, 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.

Why it matters: With no penalty for not purchasing health insurance, but a requirement for insurers to accept anyone still standing, many expect the costs of insurance would skyrocket. Congress could, theoretically, replace the individual mandate with another policy that doesn’t run afoul of the activity-inactivity distinction but it is unlikely that congressional Republicans would permit such a fix, at least in the near term.

Severability
What it is: The question of whether the health reform law can stand without the individual mandate — in legal parlance, whether the individual mandate is “severable” — is a pretty crucial one. The Supreme Court will hear arguments on if it could strike down that part of the law, while letting the rest of it stand.

What they’ll argue: The Department of Justice says that if the court strikes down the mandate, it should also repeal the health reform law’s guaranteed issue provision, which requires insurers to accept all customers regardless of their health-care status. The argument there is that the mandate is so integral to making insurance work – by getting the healthy people to sign up – that, without it, insurance markets could no longer accept all applicants. Opponents of the law go even further. They contend that because of how the law was written – without a clause that specifically noted that individual provisions could be severable – that the whole thing should fall with the mandate.

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals came to an opposition conclusion: It overturned the mandate, but allowed the rest of the law to stand, even the parts that the Justice Department says should have fallen.

When it happens: Wednesday, March 28, 10 – 11:30 a.m.

Why it matters: If the Court finds the individual mandate unconstitutional, then severability will become a key issue in determining how much of the law falls with it. It could decide that just the mandate falls, leaving the insurance industry with a pretty big challenge. Or it could rule that the mandated purchase of health insurance is so critical to the health reform law that if it goes down, it takes other key parts of the Affordable Care Act with it.

Medicaid Expansion
What it is: The health reform law expands Medicaid to cover everyone under 133 percent of the federal poverty line (about $14,000 for an individual) in 2014. Medicaid is run as a state-federal partnership and, right now, states are only required to cover specific demographics, groups like low-income, pregnant women and the blind or disabled.

What they’ll argue: The states contend that this provision is too onerous: They’ll be responsible for footing part of the Medicaid expansion’s bill, and say they can’t afford the costs. The federal government, for its part, has centered its argument on the fact that states voluntarily participate in Medicaid. If they don’t like the new expansion, they could pull out of the program.

When it happens: Wednesday, March 28, 1-2 p.m.

Why it matters: Since states’ participation in Medicaid is voluntary, Supreme Court watchers widely expect the justices to find this part of the law constitutional. There is worry though, that if they were to strike down this part of the law, it could set sweeping new precedent for how state-federal partnership programs function.

MUCH MORE>>>

 

 

ACA, Day 1: Justices Skeptical That Health Care Mandate Is A ‘Tax’

The Supreme Court kicked off oral arguments over President Obama’s health care law Monday by dedicating 90 minutes to the one issue on which the White House and the Republican challengers agree: The justices should hand down a speedy ruling on the constitutionality of the law this summer, rather than punt it to 2015 or beyond.

Lawyers for the Obama Justice Department and for the 26 Republican-led states challenging the law agreed that an old statute called the Anti-Injunction Act — which forbids people from challenging taxes in court unless they’ve already been assessed by the government — does not apply in this case. The Supreme Court enlisted outside counsel to make the opposite case.

The justices appeared broadly skeptical that the law’s fine imposed on Americans who fail to carry health insurance qualifies as a “tax.”

Justice Antonin Scalia voiced this skepticism early, pointing out that in order for the Anti-Injunction Act to be triggered, the statute would need to clearly identify the penalty as a tax, which it does not. The Affordable Care Act describes the fine not as a revenue-raising mechanism but as a backstop penalty.

“Congress has nowhere used the word tax. What it says is penalty,” said Justice Stephen Breyer. “It’s collected in the same manner as a tax. But that doesn’t automatically make it a tax.” The law, he added, “doesn’t use the word tax once, except as a collection device.”

Scalia said that in order for it to be decreed a tax, it must very clearly be identified as one. “I find it hard to think that this is clear,” he said.

Obama-appointed Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan questioned the limits and exceptions under the Anti-Injunction Act. They pressed the counsel tasked with defending the AIA argument to cite where it’s clear in the statute that Congress intended for the mandate to be a tax.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed clearer in her view. “This is not a revenue-raising measure,” she said, “because if it is successful, nobody will pay the penalty, and there will be no revenue to raise.”

The justices called on the lawyers for the White House and the Republicans to make the case that the Supreme Court has the requisite jurisdiction. Justices John Roberts, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy were less vocal than the liberal-leaning justices. Justice Clarence Thomas, as expected, did not speak.

Notably, Roberts — who some court watchers believe may want to punt the ruling beyond an election year, to shield the Supreme Court from political attacks — only asked a handful of questions and did not seem to indicate that he believes the mandate is a tax.

“The mandate is a command,” Roberts said at one point.

 

 

Audio and Transcript of Monday’s Supreme Court Hearing Posted Online 

 

 

Citizens Gather As Supreme Court Begins Review Of Health Law

 

 

Lawyers Opposing Health Care Law Cite Kids-With-Pre-Existing-Conditions-Can-Go-Fuck-Themselves Clause (The Onion)

WASHINGTON—As the Supreme Court hears oral arguments today on President Obama’s health care reform law, plaintiffs aiming to strike down the legislation are citing the U.S. Constitution’s Kids-With-Pre-Existing-Conditions-Can-Go-Fuck-Themselves clause, which decrees that children who suffer from debilitating illnesses prior to acquiring health insurance “should just go straight to hell.” “It explicitly states in Article 4, Section 9 that ‘children with extant disorders unable to pay exorbitant premium fees can just fucking die for all we care, especially the ones with leukemia.'” attorney Paul D. Clement told the nine jurists during his opening statement. “Thus the current law is on its face unconstitutional. The Founding Fathers clearly wanted to force doctors to turn away youth with acute asthma so the nation’s children would turn blue in the face, go into cardiac arrest, and die in their own homes.” Legal experts noted that if this argument fails, plaintiffs would undoubtedly cite the 24th Amendment’s If-You-Don’t-Have-Health-Insurance-Already-You-Must-Be-A-Poor-Fuck-Who-Doesn’t-Deserve-It-Anyway provision.

 

 

WAR ON WOMEN

[Long Read] Frank Rich: Stag Party

[…] As we know now, Santorum, flaky though he may sound, is not some outlier in his party or in its presidential field. He was an advance man for a rancorous national brawl about to ambush an unsuspecting America that thought women’s access to birth control had been resolved by the Supreme Court almost a half century ago.

The hostilities would break out just weeks after the New Hampshire debate, with the back-to-back controversies of the White House health-care rule on contraceptivesand the Komen Foundation’s dumping of Planned Parenthood. Though those two conflicts ended with speedy cease-fires, an emboldened GOP kept fighting. It had women’s sex lives on the brain and would not stop rolling out jaw-dropping sideshows: an all-male panel at a hearing on birth control in the House. A fat-cat Santorum bankroller joking that “gals” could stay out of trouble by putting Bayer aspirin “between their knees.” A Virginia governor endorsing a state bill requiring that an ultrasound “wand” be inserted into the vagina of any woman seeking an abortion.

It’s not news that the GOP is the anti-abortion party, that it panders to the religious right, and that it’s particularly dependent on white men with less education and less income—a displaced demographic that has been as threatened by the rise of the empowered modern woman as it has been by the cosmopolitan multiracial male elites symbolized by Barack Obama. That aggrieved class is, indeed, Santorum’s constituency. But, as Stephanopoulos was trying to get at when he challenged Romney, this new rush of anti-woman activity on the right isn’t coming exclusively from the Santorum crowd. It’s a phenomenon extending across the GOP. On March 1, every Republican in the Senate except the about-to-flee Olympia Snowe—that would be 45 in total—voted for the so-called Blunt Amendment, which would allow any employer with any undefined “moral” objection to veto any provision in health-care coverage, from birth control to mammograms to diabetes screening for women (or, for that matter, men) judged immorally overweight.

After the Blunt Amendment lost (albeit by only three votes), public attention to the strange 2012 Republican fixation on women might have dissipated had it not been for Rush Limbaugh. His verbal assault on a female Georgetown University law student transformed what half-attentive onlookers might have tracked as a hodgepodge of discrete and possibly fleeting primary-season skirmishes into a big-boned narrative—a full-fledged Republican war on women. And in part because Limbaugh pumped up his hysteria for three straight days, he gave that war a unifying theme: pure unadulterated misogyny.

[…]

At the very top of the Washington GOP Establishment, however, there was a dawning recognition that a grave danger had arisen—not to women, but to their own brand. A month of noisy Republican intrusion into women’s health and sex organs, amplified by the megaphone of Limbaugh’s aria, was a potentially apocalyptic combination for an election year. No one expressed this fear more nakedly than Peggy Noonan, speaking, again with Stephanopoulos, on ABC’s This Week. After duly calling out Rush for being “crude, rude, even piggish,” she added: “But what he said was also destructive. It confused the issue. It played into this trope that the Republicans have a war on women. No, they don’t, but he made it look that way.”

Note that she found Limbaugh “destructive” not because he was harming women but because he was harming her party. But the problem wasn’t that Limbaugh confused the issue. His real transgression was that he had given away the GOP game, crystallizing an issue that had been in full view for weeks. That’s why his behavior resonated with and angered so many Americans who otherwise might have tuned out his rant as just another sloppy helping of his aging shtick. It’s precisely because there is a Republican war on women that he hit a nerve. And surely no one knows that better than Noonan, a foot soldier in some of the war’s early battles well before Rush became a phenomenon. In her 1990 memoir about her service in the Reagan administration, What I Saw at the Revolution, she recalls likening Americans who favored legal abortions to Germans who favored killing Jews—a construct Limbaugh wouldn’t seize on and popularize (“feminazis”) until Reagan was leaving office and Anita Hill and Hillary Clinton emerged on the national stage.

[…]

For much of its history, misogyny was not the style of the party of Lincoln. For most of the twentieth century, the GOP was ahead of the curve in bestowing women’s rights. When the Nineteenth Amendment granting suffrage was ratified in 1920, roughly three-quarters of the 36 state legislatures that did so were controlled by Republicans. In 1940, the GOP mandated that women be equally represented in its national and executive committees—a standard not imposed by the Democrats until more than three decades later.

Barry Goldwater’s wife Peggy, inspired by a Margaret Sanger lecture in Phoenix in 1937, would help build one of the nation’s largest Planned Parenthood affiliates. Her husband favored abortion rights. “I think the average woman feels, ‘My God, that’s my business,’ and that’s the way we should keep it,” he said late in his career. Prescott Bush, the Connecticut senator who sired a presidential dynasty, was another Sanger enthusiast and treasurer for the first national Planned Parenthood fund-raising campaign. His son George, when a congressman in the sixties, was an ardent birth-control advocate and the principal Republican author of the trailblazing Family Planning Act of 1970. Capitol Hill colleagues jokingly nicknamed him “Rubbers.”

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War On Women: Anti-Contraception Lit Handed Out At Conservative Conference Headlined By Paul Ryan

MILWAUKEE, Wisconsin — Republicans have gone to great lengths to cast the war on contraception and women’s health as a matter of religious liberty, but literature handed out at a key conservative conference this weekend had an unambiguous message for women: don’t use birth control.

Americans For Prosperity (AFP), a conservative Koch-funded organization, held its Defending The American Dream Summit in Milwaukee on Saturday with a few major headline speakers: Rick Santorum, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI). All three insisted that the Obama administration’s rule requiring insurance companies to cover contraception actually had nothing to do with contraception, but rather was an attack on religious liberty.

The next room from where they spoke, however, featured a bevy of literature warning women about the supposed dangers of birth control and telling them that “Chastity is the best choice for single people.” One handout explained that contraception is unnecessary because “Saving yourself for your future spouse is guaranteed to prevent pregnancy before marriage.” Another answered the question “Is it safe?” with a simple “No.” The literature on emergency contraception warned that it could cause cancer before telling women simply, “Be good to yourself. Don’t use the morning-after pill.” […]

The literature in question was not produced by AFP — the American Life League did the honors — but the Koch-backed group allowed space to hand it out to the 1,000 conservative activists in attendance.

A week ago, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) pleaded with those in his party to “get off” the war on women. If a major conservative group disseminating literature attacking women’s reproductive health at its star-studded convention is any indication, the former GOP presidential nominee’s call is being completely ignored. With 70 percent of women agreeing that President Obama’s contraception requirement is a matter of women’s health, continuing to attack birth control could spell disaster for Republicans in the fall.

 

 

WEDGE ISSUES

Iraqi Immigrant Beaten to Death in California

Dear God, how many “isolated incidents” do there have to be before we start pushing back against this awful, deceptive trope and start demanding an end to hate speech? WaPo:

A 32-year-old woman from Iraq who was found severely beaten next to a threatening note saying “go back to your country” died on Saturday.[..]

[Shaima] Alawadi, a mother of five, had been hospitalized since her 17-year-old daughter found her unconscious Wednesday in the family’s house in El Cajon, police Lt. Steve Shakowski said. [..]

A family friend, Sura Alzaidy, told UT San Diego that the attack apparently occurred after the father took the younger children to school. Alzaidy told the newspaper the family is from Iraq, and that Alawadi is a “respectful modest muhajiba,” meaning she wears the traditional hijab, a head scarf.

Investigators said they believe the assault is an isolated incident.

“A hate crime is one of the possibilities, and we will be looking at that,” Lt. Mark Coit said. “We don’t want to focus on only one issue and miss something else.”

The family had lived in the house in San Diego County for only a few weeks, after moving from Michigan, Alzaidy said. Alzaidy told the newspaper her father and Alawadi’s husband had previously worked together in San Diego as private contractors for the U.S. Army, serving as cultural advisers to train soldiers who were going to be deployed to the Middle East.

Oh cruel irony, that poor Shaima’s husband is charged with helping Americans understand the Iraqi people. Sadly, something in far too short a supply. And for that, I blame wholly and completely the Republican Party.

That’s right. Clutch those pearls and grab those smelling salts. Newt Gingrich, Pam Geller, every talking head at Fox News, this tragic, awful, hate-filled death lies at your feet. And if I ever see any of their ugly, bigoted, hate-spewing mugs, I’ll say it right to their face: you are creating hate and death, and not one of you deserves to be heard from again.

Like Trayvon and his hoodie, Shaima’s hajib did not make her an enemy. A 32-year-old mother of five is no terrorist, simply because she honored the tenets of her faith. She had lived in this country for almost 20 years. Her children were American. Her husband worked to foster better relationships between his native country and his adopted one.

But all these right wing voices, on the radio, on television, in syndicated columns and high-trafficked blogs have made Shaima Alawadi the enemy, for the accident of her birth, her faith. They fill the ears and the empty brains of angry, disaffected people looking to blame anyone for their own crappy lives and they robbed five children of their mother.

 

 

 

AND IN OTHER NEWS…

Word of the Day. Backpfeifengesicht (German)

Means:
“A face badly in need of a fist.”

 

 

 

Great Photos From the Real Mad Men Era

[The above pic looks exactly like my first job as a graphic artist in the late 70’s!]

MORE>>>

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.” – Thomas Pynchon

Written by Chernynkaya

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

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  1. kesmarn says:

    Cher, that “Obamaville” vid from the Santorum people would be funny, if it weren’t so totally, creepily paranoid. It’s almost impossible to believe that it wasn’t created by the folks at the Onion. It’s so completely over the top. I may be over-reacting, but it seems to me that no sane candidate would ever approve of that ad. I’m really beginning to think that Santorum is way beyond merely eccentric. I think he’s diagnosably whacked.

    Or he’s been drinking. Loved the article that indicated that everyone gets just a little more conservative when he/she is drunk. Why? In a nutshell, because that’s when lazy lizard-brain thought processes elbow those higher brain functions (like empathy and the desire to seek innovative and creative solutions for society’s problems) right out of the way. And the almighty Id reigns SUPREME!

    Not that I’m biased in any way. I couldn’t be. I’m sober at the moment. :wink:

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Kes, since seeing the Sanatorium video, I’ve been reminded that there have been a few other instances when campaigns went a bit over the top in fear mongering--the anti- Goldwater “Daisy” ad most often cited. I could be wrong, but I’ve never seen an ad essentially accusing an incumbent President of treason. That ad’s message goes beyond the “normal” fears of the direction the country is headed into insane paranoia. It says our President is Ahmadinejad--a terrorist enemy of America. And of course Santo approved it.

      • kesmarn says:

        I’m sure he did, Cher. And as the article suggested, the Santorum people don’t make even the slightest attempt to indicate exactly what the Prez has done to date to set us on this alleged path to destruction. In fact, if anyone had a look at the other article you posted on the tremendous gains in income that the top 1% have made over the past two years, he might conclude that exact opposite: that Obama has helped to create a capitalist’s paradise.

        How does Santorum (or Romney for that matter) plan to run against that?

        • Chernynkaya says:

          How does Santorum (or Romney for that matter) plan to run against that?

          Good question.

          For the base, I actually believe that the Repub candidate could literally say anything or nothing at all and win their vote; that’s how much they despise Obama. Like that other article, the base is pure reptilian id, so all the lies, flip-flops, extremism--none of that matters.

          As for the general? I heard a germ of a platform from Willard once: Vote for me because, although the economy is improving, I will make the recovery move faster and stronger. And yes, I’m filthy rich--so what? Don’t YOU want to be rich too? I’ll show you how.” While I don’t think that line will work, it does tap into that “aspiration” fantasy so many Americans tell themselves and it’s part of our mythology, right?

          • kesmarn says:

            Willard has always reminded me of an Amway salesman, Cher. That company is based in Michigan — where the trees are just the right height — and the de Vos clan who started it has always been big on pulling political strings.

            So the notion of his peddling a big, fraudulent pyramid scheme fits right into that “aspiration” fantasy.

            I’m sure you recall the toothless, white Mississippi Repub in Alexandra Pellosi’s film who, when confronted with the fact that voting Repub hadn’t done much for him to date, responded: “But it might…it might!”

  2. Wow cher, I wonder where Santorum’s people filmed that Obamaville video, Chernobyl?

    This would be Santorumville;



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