• RSS
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
Chernynkaya On April - 2 - 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.

__________________________

CAMPAIGN 2012

If you missed Obama’s speech last week in Vermont, you missed a barn burner!

 

 

A Quantum Theory of Mitt Romney

THE recent remark by Mitt Romney’s senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom that upon clinching the Republican nomination Mr. Romney could change his political views “like an Etch A Sketch” has already become notorious. The comment seemed all too apt, an apparent admission by a campaign insider of two widely held suspicions about Mitt Romney: that he is a) utterly devoid of any ideological convictions and b) filled with aluminum powder.

The imagery may have been unfortunate, but Mr. Fehrnstrom’s impulse to analogize is understandable. Metaphors like these, inexact as they are, are the only way the layman can begin to grasp the strange phantom world that underpins the very fabric of not only the Romney campaign but also of Mitt Romney in general. For we have entered the age of quantum politics; and Mitt Romney is the first quantum politician.

A bit of context. Before Mitt Romney, those seeking the presidency operated under the laws of so-called classical politics, laws still followed by traditional campaigners like Newt Gingrich. Under these Newtonian principles, a candidate’s position on an issue tends to stay at rest until an outside force — the Tea Party, say, or a six-figure credit line at Tiffany — compels him to alter his stance, at a speed commensurate with the size of the force (usually large) and in inverse proportion to the depth of his beliefs (invariably negligible). This alteration, framed as a positive by the candidate, then provokes an equal but opposite reaction among his rivals.

But the Romney candidacy represents literally a quantum leap forward. It is governed by rules that are bizarre and appear to go against everyday experience and common sense. To be honest, even people like Mr. Fehrnstrom who are experts in Mitt Romney’s reality, or “Romneality,” seem bewildered by its implications; and any person who tells you he or she truly “understands” Mitt Romney is either lying or a corporation.

Nevertheless, close and repeated study of his campaign in real-world situations has yielded a standard model that has proved eerily accurate in predicting Mitt Romney’s behavior in debate after debate, speech after speech, awkward look-at-me-I’m-a-regular-guy moment after awkward look-at-me-I’m-a-regular-guy moment, and every other event in his face-time continuum.

The basic concepts behind this model are:

Complementarity. In much the same way that light is both a particleand a wave, Mitt Romney is both a moderate and a conservative, depending on the situation (Fig. 1). It is not that he is one or the other; it is not that he is one and then the other. He is both at the same time.

Probability. Mitt Romney’s political viewpoints can be expressed only in terms of likelihood, not certainty. While some views are obviously far less likely than others, no view can be thought of as absolutely impossible. Thus, for instance, there is at any given moment a nonzero chance that Mitt Romney supports child slavery.

Uncertainty. Frustrating as it may be, the rules of quantum campaigning dictate that no human being can ever simultaneously know both what Mitt Romney’s current position is and where that position will be at some future date. This is known as the “principle uncertainty principle.”

Entanglement. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a proton, neutron or Mormon: the act of observing cannot be separated from the outcome of the observation. By asking Mitt Romney how he feels about an issue, you unavoidably affect how he feels about it. More precisely, Mitt Romney will feel every possible way about an issue until the moment he is asked about it, at which point the many feelings decohere into the single answer most likely to please the asker.

Noncausality. The Romney campaign often violates, and even reverses, the law of cause and effect. For example, ordinarily the cause of getting the most votes leads to the effect of being considered the most electable candidate. But in the case of Mitt Romney, the cause of being considered the most electable candidate actually produces the effect of getting the most votes.

Duality. Many conservatives believe the existence of Mitt Romney allows for the possibility of the spontaneous creation of an “anti-Romney” (Fig. 2) that leaps into existence and annihilates Mitt Romney. (However, the science behind this is somewhat suspect, as it is financed by Rick Santorum, for whom science itself is suspect.)

What does all this bode for the general election? By this point it won’t surprise you to learn the answer is, “We don’t know.” Because according to the latest theories, the “Mitt Romney” who seems poised to be the Republican nominee is but one of countless Mitt Romneys,each occupying his own cosmos, each supporting a different platform,each being compared to a different beloved children’s toy but all of them equally real, all of them equally valid and all of them running for president at the same time, in their own alternative Romnealities, somewhere in the vast Romniverse.

And all of them losing to Barack Obama.

 

 

 

NY Times Op-Ed Warns Unaccountable Super-PACS Likely to Be Used for Voter Suppression in 2012

In today’s New York Times, Jim Arkedis and Lindsay Mark Lewis of the Progressive Policy Institute (Lewis also previously worked for the DNC), warn that Super-PACS aren’t just perverting the electoral system through millions in deceptive ads for or against the candidates they are secretly funded to support, but they may also pose an even more direct, more insidious threat to our democracy.

After acknowledging that even President Obama is now embracing the same shadowy-funded PACs he once claimed to eschew, as he refuses to “unilaterally disarm”, there is a different between inclinations of left and right, in that one side generally works to increase voter turnout, while the other hopes to suppress it. The lack of accountability and the supposed “firewall” of separation between Super PACs and candidates creates a situation rife for the worst kind of dirty tricks and voter suppression in an atmosphere which is even more difficult to regulate than in the past (when such dirty tricks were already pretty easy to pull off without paying a price — or, at least, without a price that could be paid before it was far too late).

MORE>>>

 

 

 

Palm Beach Elections Overturned After Hand-Count Reveals Op-Scans Mistallied Results

The computers got it wrong. The losing candidates were declared and certified as the “winners”. But they didn’t actually receive more votes than their opponents. This time, we happened to find out.

As long-time readers of The BRAD BLOG know, there’s a reason we routinely slam election officials and media for announcing wholly-unverified computer-reported results of elections before any of the ballots are actually examined by human beings.

So called, post-election “random audits” of a tiny number of paper ballots — where paper ballots exist, where officials even bother to do that much — are almost always useless, easily gamed, and, at any rate, almost always poorly carried out. Post-election spot-checks are no substitute for actually, ya know, counting actual ballots.

Nonetheless, election officials and media simply presume that optically-scanned ballots have been correctly tallied on Election Night because, after all, “computers are more reliable than human beings”, as they like to say, and any result, apparently, is far more important than an accurate result reflecting the actual will of the voters.

The situation is made still worse in states like Florida where horrible election laws actually prohibit human beings from examining paper ballots to assure they’ve been tallied accurately after they’ve already been processed by a computer system. And it’s all made even worse than that in Florida as the state has turned election results verification on its head by requiring results be certified just six days after the election, long before results can actually be canvassed by officials for any type of accuracy.

With all of that in mind, and all of the warnings The BRAD BLOG has long offered about optical-scan tallying systems, guess what’s just happened in Palm Beach County, Florida — one of the absolute most disastrous counties for elections in the entire country?…

From the Palm Beach Post:

The supplier of Palm Beach County’s voting and tabulating equipment says a software “shortcoming” led to votes being assigned to the wrong candidates and the elections office declaring the wrong winners in two recent Wellington council races.

County Elections Supervisor Susan Bucher, who insisted a computer glitch rather than human error was to blame for the fiasco, claimed vindication after Dominion Voting Systems released its statement.

Wellington and 15 other municipalities held elections on March 13. In Wellington, the ballot was set up with the mayor’s race first, the Seat 1 council race second and the Seat 4 council race third.

Unbeknownst to elections officials, the vote totals for the mayor’s race ended up being reported and later certified as the results of the Seat 1 race. The Seat 1 vote totals were certified as the Seat 4 results and the Seat 4 vote totals were certified as the mayoral results.

Yes, it’s true that Palm Beach County simply cannot carry out an election properly on any type of voting system. It’s true that…

But the problem in Palm Beach this time out was not the fault of Palm Beach. It was the fault of the same computerized optical-scan systems used all over the country. The systems which will once again be used this November, and which have been used throughout the primary cycle. The systems which failed in Palm Beach were made by Sequoia Voting Systems, which was recently purchased — along with Diebold’s Election Division — by a private Canadian company named Dominion Voting.

With those two acquisitions — and immediate lies about them both — Dominion became the second largest e-voting system vendor in the country.

Is it any wonder then, with New York state as the last in the country to force all of its counties to move to computerized voting (many of them opting to go with Dominion-made scanners), that folks like Columbia County, NY’s Democratic Election Commissioner Virginia Martin joined with her Republican counterpart, Jason Nastke, to insist on only 100% hand-counted paper ballots in their elections, as we detailed this past Wednesday?

“The most accurate and reliable method is a 100% visual audit,” Nastke noted earlier this week. In 2010 Martin opined in an editorial that her state “handed us a $50-million lemon when it required that we use computers to count votes.” She went on to explain: “Since I, as election commissioner, have to certify to the accuracy of any election run under my watch, that steers me in the direction of a more elemental process — a hand count under the watchful gaze of individuals who are invested in its accuracy.”

No, the real wonder then is how it can be that more states and counties across this nation have yet to follow Martin and Nastke’s lead in actually looking out for their voters, rather than relying on often-inaccurate, easily-gamed computer systems for the most central part of our electoral democracy: counting the vote.

 

 

 

Romney: No more tax returns unless Obama releases transcripts of all meetings with foreign leaders

n the wake of a report raising questions about whether Mitt Romney exploited a tax shelter in the 1980s, the Obama campaign is calling for the release of Romney’s tax returns during those years.

Instead of simply saying no, Romneyland attempted to sidestep the issue with what might just be the dumbest deflection ever:

The Obama campaign is playing politics, just as he’s doing in his conduct of foreign policy,” Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul wrote. “Obama should release the notes and transcripts of all his meetings with world leaders so the American people can be satisfied that he’s not promising to sell out the country’s interests after the election is over.”

I cannot even begin to comprehend the delusions that Romneyland must be under to think that this is a reasonable response. Never mind the false equivalency—President Obama has already released his own tax returns despite Mitt Romney’s refusal to do so—it’s absurd to think that any president would be wise to publicly release the transcripts of every conversation he ever has with any foreign leader. If that were the policy, it wouldn’t result in more transparency, it would simply mean that presidents would no longer have meaningful conversations with foreign leaders, because no foreign leader in their right mind would agree to such terms. And can you imagine the diplomatic fallout from retroactively and unilaterally breaking confidentiality across the board for past conversations?

There’s been no shortage of stupid ideas to come out of Romneyland, but this is one of the stupidest. But even if we cut them some slack and say that it’s so stupid that they couldn’t possibly really mean it, it still doesn’t change this fact: Unlike President Obama, and unlike his father, Mitt Romney is unwilling to release his tax returns. So, what’s he hiding?

 

 

 

CONGRESS

Obama’s Recess Appointments Shift The Balance Of Power In Senate Back To The Majority

The Hill reports that, in return for a promise that President Obama will not make any recess appointments in the upcoming Senate break, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) agreed tostop obstructing several of the president’s nominees:

As the result of a successful discussion among the minority leader, the White House and myself there will be no recess appointments during the coming adjournment,” said [Majority Leader Harry] Reid, speaking from the Senate floor.

In return, Republicans allowed passage by unanimous consent of several of President Obama’s noncontroversial nominees and allowed Reid to set up a vote on the confirmation of Stephanie Thacker to be a circuit judge for the Fourth Circuit for April 16, the day the Senate returns from its break.

It is, of course, unfortunate that Reid needs to strike a deal at all before the caucus that controls less than half the seats in the Senate will deign to allow completely noncontroversial nominees to move forward. Nevertheless, this incident proves the wisdom of Obama’s decision to make several recess appointments earlier this year despite McConnell’s objections. Prior to Obama’s actions, he and Reid had few bargaining chips they could use to prevent McConnell’s obstructionism in a Senate ruled by the filibuster. Now, Obama and Reid can use the threat of future recess appointments to ensure that the party that voters did not want to control the Senate does not have a total veto power over the president’s nominees.

ECONOMY

6 in 10 Older Women Can’t Pay Basic Living Expenses
In 2011, Republicans were in an uproar over an ad that compared Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan to “
throwing grandma over a cliff.”  Now, in 2012, Ryan and his colleagues in the House are introducing a budget that is nearly identical to the one panned in 2011 — one that will cut Medicare, Social Security and other social safety net programs in order to extend tax breaks to the richest Americans and to corporations.

The Republican party is no longer trying to throw Grandma off a cliff.  That would be much quicker.  Instead, they are trying to freeze, starve and neglect her until she dies.  And sadly, it appears to be working.

The latest figures out from a Wider Opportunities for Women study shows that 60 percent of elderly women are unable to pay for basic living expenses.  As WomenENews reports, the average elderly woman is living on less than $15,000 a year, about half of what an elderly man is living on.  “Using the Elder Economic Security Standard Index, which defines the basic expenses facing retired adults over the age of 65, the organization’s researchers found that an older adult required from $19,100 to $29,000 a year, depending on the individual’s housing situation. Forty-nine percent of white women and 61 percent of older Asian women were unable to meet their monthly expenses for housing, food, health care and other necessities. Three out of four African-American and Hispanic women had insufficient funds.”

There are a number of reasons why elderly women are fairing so badly.  Because they tend to outlive their partners, they shoulder more living expenses alone.  And due to time off in the workplace and lower pay over their careers they tend to have less in their retirement and pension accounts and receive less in Social Security.  Due to their longer lives they are also subject to more health expenses that increase as they grow older, and lose more wealth earlier on caring for sick partners.

As more elderly women fall into poverty — especially minority women — it is a reminder of the increased importance of programs like Medicare and Social Security.  And those are two programs that Republicans want to drastically change in order to keep providing disproportionately lower taxes to the wealthy.

It would be kinder just to throw grandma off the cliff than starve her to death.

 

 

 

Medicare, Social Security Mandates Dwarf Affordable Care Act 

As the New York Times suggested last week, the fate of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act in general and its mandate that Americans obtain health insurance in particular may hinge on Justice Anthony Kennedy’s notion of “liberty.” While Solicitor General Donald Verilli posited “a profound connection” between health care and liberty, his opponent Paul Clement argued, “that it’s a very funny conception of liberty that forces somebody to purchase an insurance policy whether they want it or not.”

Of course, that very conception of liberty has been the law of the land for decades. Today, tens of millions of Americans must purchase health insurance and a pension plan for their golden years. And as it turns out, the Medicare and Social Security mandates for individuals and employers dwarf anything required by the dreaded Obamacare.

MORE>>>

 

 

EDUCATION

Colleges Withhold Transcripts From Grads in Loan Default

More than ten years ago, Pedro Rodriguez, a talented keyboard musician, came from his colonial homeland of Puerto Rico to go to Temple University. From a low-income family, he depended heavily on student loans to finance his four-year undergraduate study. Graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor’s of music, he went on to earn a master’s degree in music from Temple and then was hired for three years to teach there as an adjunct. By the end of college, he was $62,000 in debt but was making payments regularly until Temple laid him off, allegedly because of budget cuts. That’s when his problems began. (Pedro Rodriguez is a pseudonym to protect his identity.)

Unable to find a job as a music teacher in the current economic crisis, he eventually went into default on his loans, which included Stafford,Perkins and private bank loans. Then this year, he decided to go on to earn a PhD, which would make it possible for him to get hired in his field. He applied to a top-rated university in the Northeast, but when it was time to send his school transcripts, Temple froze him out. “They said as long as I was in default on my loans, they would not issue a transcript!” says Rodriguez.

A spokesman from Temple confirms that it is school policy to withhold official transcripts from graduates who are in default on their student loans. As it turns out, the school is not alone; this is the position taken by most colleges and universities, though there is no law requiring such an extortionate position. They do this despite the fact the colleges themselves are not out the money. They have received the students’ tuition payments in full and are in effect simply acting as collection agencies for the federal government.

The US Department of Education says only that it “encourages” colleges to withhold transcripts, a tactic which the department, in a letter to colleges, claims coldly “has resulted in numerous loan repayments.” But particularly in a time when the real unemployment rate is stuck at over 15 percent, or, if long term unemployed who have given up looking for work are included, at 22 percent, it seems not just heartless, but counter-productive for schools to block their own graduates from obtaining a document they need to move on to a higher degree or to get hired in their chosen field.

“It’s worse than indentured servitude,” says NYU Professor Andrew Ross, who helped organize the Occupy Student Debt movement last fall. “With indentured servitude, you had to pay in order to work, but then at least you got to work. When universities withhold these transcripts, students who have been indentured by loans are being denied even the ability to work or to finish their education so they can repay their indenture.”

The growing tsunami of student loan defaults is more than a series of personal tragedies. It is killing the dream of many low-income students who saw college as the best chance to rise out of poverty, only to find that after borrowing heavily to pay for school, they cannot get the paper needed to document their accomplishments, cannot get a job and cannot even declare bankruptcy to escape their plight. Congress, after pocketing wads of bank lobbying cash, made it all but impossible to use bankruptcy to escape student loans, requiring a court finding of “undue hardship”—an almost impossibly high legal hurdle.

As Rodriguez says, “Temple likes to boast that they are the most diverse campus in the country, but the reason is that they have a lot of poor students from Philadelphia and from other parts of Pennsylvania. But with these policies, they aren’t really helping these students. They are helping to crush them, because they will graduate and then end up with debt that they can never repay.”

Student loans pose a crisis for the economy too. Outstanding student loan debt last October topped the $1 trillion mark, easily surpassing total credit card debt. Last year alone, as tuitions have soared and scholarship aid has plunged, college students borrowed a record $100 billion for tuition and expenses. The default rate on that all that student debt is just under 9 percent, meaning nearly one in eleven student borrowers has fallen more than nine months behind on monthly payments. Many more students are chronically months behind in their payments but haven’t hit the default point yet. (Some schools, like Hunter College in New York City, which is part of the City University of New York, withhold transcripts even from students who are four months late in their payments on certain loans and not in default yet.)

Students who are struggling with their debt payments or who are in default are not spending money on houses, cars or consumer goods. “If the federal government wanted to stimulate this economy,” suggests Rodriguez, “an easy way to do it would be to cancel some or all of the student debt.”

He’s right, and it’s a demand being made by students in the Occupy Movement. Last October, activists with Occupy Wall Street proposed a mass refusal by former and current students to make their loan payments.

Student debt has long been a racket. With the government guaranteeing 80 percent of the outstanding loans (and 90 percent of the loans taken out in 2011), the interest rate on these risk-free loans should be 1 percent or even 0 percent, but instead the rates are set at 3.4-6.8 percent and in the case of bank loans, as high as 12.75 percent. Forgiving some or all of those loans would immediately inject hundreds of billions of dollarsinto the economy and would increase tax revenues as students unable to get good jobs suddenly get their transcripts released and are able to apply for the jobs they trained for.

Most students have no idea when they take out loans to attend college that they will be held hostage by their own schools if they fall behind later in their repayments. Loan documents typically say nothing about a policy of withholding transcripts, which after all is a policy set by the school, not by the federal government that issues and guarantees the loan.

Meanwhile colleges across the country continue to extort their own graduates. A spokesman from Temple explained that it receives a certain allocation of funds each year to lend to its students and that if it doesn’t aggressively pursue repayment by graduates and students who withdraw from school, it could lose some of that money for lending to new students. But whether that is a real or imagined threat, it leaves unanswered the question of how denying transcripts to students during an unprecedented economic crisis is going to help encourage loan repayment.

“If I cannot get my transcript, how can I get a job and pay back my loans?” asks Rodrguez. “If I cannot obtain an official transcript, how can I apply for and earn a PhD so I can eventually get a job and earn enough to repay my student debt? The answer is I cannot. I will have to spend my life working for minimum wage and I’ll never get out of debt.”

“It’s a vicious cycle,” says Stephen Dunne, an attorney in Philadelphia who handles a lot of student loan default cases for former students being hounded by their alma maters. “They get wages garnished, get bank accounts attached, and have their credit records ruined so that they cannotget hired anywhere, cannot buy a car, and if they wanted to start a company, cannot even do that. And they can never escape because the banks have lobbied to have all these loans exempted from the bankruptcy laws!”

As Dunne points out, the consequence of this bank-funded corruption of the bankruptcy laws is perverse. “If you have a deadbeat who runs up $100,000 in credit card debt buying expensive cars, fancy clothes and vacation trips, he can just declare bankruptcy and discharge all that debt. But if a diligent student borrows $100,000 to get an education, and then can’t get a job because there are no jobs, that debt cannot be forgiven or reduced.”

MORE>>>

HEALTH CARE

The skyrocketing cost of U.S. health care: By the numbers

No matter what the Supreme Court decides regarding the constitutionality of President Obama’s health-care overhaul, this much is clear: Health-care costs are rising, and will keep rising, so Americans aren’t getting much bang for their health care buck. Health consulting firm Milliman Inc. expects 2012 to be the fifth year in a row that U.S. health-care costs will jump about 7 or 8 percent, and while people who pay out of pocket generally are the hardest hit, even Americans with employer-sponsored plans have increasingly seen the costs eat up their salaries. Here, a numerical guide to how expensive it is to be healthy in the U.S.:

$2.6 trillion
Annual public and private spending on health care

$8,402
Amount that works out to per American

17.9
Percentage of GDP the $2.6 trillion constitutes

$9,235
Cost, in 2002, to cover a family of four under an employer plan

$20,000
Estimated cost to cover a family of four under an employer health plan in 2012, 
according to Milliman 

113
Percent increase in employer-sponsored premiums since 2001

$7,102
Cost, in 2010, for a typical family not enrolled in a group or employer health plan

6.6
Percentage of a household budget spent on health care in 2010

$950
Annual per capita spending on pharmaceutical expenses 

78.2
Average U.S. life expectancy

$5,352
Annual per capita cost of health care in Norway, the second-most expensive nation in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) 

$800
Annual out-of-pocket expenses per person in Norway 

81
Average life expectancy in Norway 

$4,478
Annual per capita cost of health care in Canada, No. 6 in the OECD

80.7
Average life expectancy in Canada 

$3,978
Annual per capita cost of health care in France, No. 10 in the OECD

$290
Annual out-of-pocket expense per person in France

81.5
Average life expectancy in France

 

 

 

 

Yglesias: The Promise and Peril of A Single-Payer Comeback

With it looking like there’s a decent chance the Supreme Court will strike down the Affordable Care Act, there’s increasing buzz around the fact that this would in effect force progressives to choose between a push for a “single-payer” health care system (i.e., cover non-elderly people with something like Medicare) and giving up on universal health care altogether.

The great virtue of a single-payer system is that all the evidence suggests it would be cheaper. The problem with a single-payer system is that in my experience a lot of progressives are confused about why single-payer saves money. But think about what it means to have a single payer for health care services? It means that there’s only one buyer of health care services. And guess how you would feel if there were only one buyer of the services you or your firm provides? You’d hate it! Because that one buyer would have all the bargaining power. Medicare pays doctors and hospitals and other providers less than what big insurance plans pay which is less than what individuals pay. A Universal Medicare system would have even more bargaining power than existing Medicare. The presence of multiple payers/buyers is one of the main reasons that American doctors are paid so much more than Canadian or British doctors. This is perhaps a good idea, but it highlights the fact that the politics of a serious single payer push are more complicated than a simple poll asking people how they feel about Universal Medicare. Doctors and other health care professionals have very high status in the United States and the public trusts them. A policy initiative that reaps budgetary savings by taking a bite out of their income will face a major challenge over and above the fact that health insurance companies and their thousands of employees would struggle mightily to avoid being put out of business.

 

JUSTICE

Al Sharpton Declares Civil Disobedience Will Escalate If Zimmerman Remains Free

In an interview with Orlando Sentinel reporter Arelis Hernández this morning, the Rev. Al Sharpton warned that an escalation in civil disobedience and economic sanctions would be imminent unless Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman was apprehended immediately. “I will speak about how the National Action Network will move to the next level if Zimmerman isn’t arrested,” Sharpton told Hernández, adding that he will “elaborate on this plan Saturday” when thousands are expected to demonstrate.

“Whether he [Zimmerman] had a swollen or broken nose, neither one means he had to take a 9mm and kill someone,” Sharpton observed. “It’s not about saying Zimmerman is innocent or guilty, this is about whether there was probable cause to arrest him.”

Sharpton also revealed to Hernández that “it was the Martin family and lawyers who first asked him to get involved and nationalize this story.”

 

 

 

MEDIA

Bill Moyers: Let’s Stop Big Media’s (B)AD Behavior

Over the years we’ve been reporting on how power is monopolized by the powerful. How corporate lobbyists, for example, far outnumber members of Congress. And how the politicians are so eager to do the bidding of donors that they allow those lobbyists to dictate the law of the land and make a farce of democracy.  What we have is much closer to plutocracy, where the massive concentration of wealth at the top is protects and perpetuates itself by controlling the ends and means of politics.  This is why so many of us despair over fixing what’s wrong: we elect representatives to change things, and  once in office they wind up serving the deep-pocketed donors who put up the money to keep change from happening at all.

Here’s the latest case in point. The airwaves belong to all of us, right? They’re part of “the commons” that in theory no private interest should be able to buy or control. Nonetheless, government long ago allowed television and radio stations to use the airwaves for commercial purposes, and the advertising revenues have made those companies fabulously rich. But part of the deal was that in return for the privilege of reaping a fortune they would respect the public interest in a variety of ways, including covering the local news important to our communities. If they didn’t, they would be denied their license to use the airwaves at all.

Alas, over the years, through one ruse or another, the public has been shafted.  We heard the other day of a candidate for office in a Midwest state who complained to the general manager of a TV station that his campaign was not getting any news coverage. “You want coverage?” the broadcaster replied. “Buy some ads and then we’ll talk!”

That pretty well sums up the game. But hold your nose: it gets worse. The media companies and their local stations – including goliaths like CBS and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp – stand to pull in as much as $3 billion this year from political ads. Three billion dollars! And most of that money will pay for airing ugly, toxic negative ads that use special effects, snide jokes and flat out deception to take us to the lowest common denominator of politics.

The FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, which is supposed to make sure the broadcasters don’t completely get away with highway or, rather, airwave robbery has proposed to the broadcasting cartel that stations post on the Web the names of the billionaires, and front organizations – many of them super PACs — paying for campaign ads. It’s simplicity itself: give citizens access online to find out quickly and directly who’s buying our elections. Hardly an unreasonable request, given how much cash the broadcasters make from their free use of the airwaves.

But the broadcasting industry’s response has been a simple, declarative “Not on your life!” It would cost too much money, they claim. Speaking on their behalf, Robert McDowell, currently the only Republican commissioner on the FCC – the other one left to take a job with media monolith Comcast — said the proposal is likely “to be a jobs destroyer” by distracting station employees from doing their regular work. The party line also has been sounded by Jerald Fritz, senior vice president of Allbritton Communications, who told the FCC that making the information available on the Internet “would ultimately lead to a Soviet-style standardization of the way advertising should be sold as determined by the government.” We’re not making this up.

Steven Waldman, who was lead author of the report that led to the FCC’s online proposal, quotes a letter from the deans of twelve of our best journalism schools: “Broadcast news organizations depend on, and consistently call for, robust open-record regimes for the institutions they cover; it seems hypocritical for broadcasters to oppose applying the same principles to themselves.”

Hypocritical, but consistent with a business that values the almighty dollar over public service. The industry leaves nothing to chance. Through its control of the House of Representatives, it got a piece of legislation passed this past week euphemistically titled the FCC Process Reform Act. George Orwell must be spinning in his grave – this isn’t reform, it’s evisceration.

Not only does the bill remove roadblocks to more media mergers – further reducing competition – it would  subject every new rule and every FCC analysis of that rule to years of paper work and judicial review, enabling the industry’s horde of lawyers and lobbyists, “to throw sand in the works at every opportunity” as one expert puts it.  There was a noble attempt by California Congresswoman Anna Eshoo to include in this bill an amendment that, like the FCC proposal, called for stations to post on-line who’s putting up the big bucks for political ads. Shocker — it was rejected. Score another one for the plutocrats.

There is some good news. The White House opposes this latest bid by the broadcasting oligarchy to further eviscerate the public interest. And the fate of the House bill in the Senate is uncertain at best.  In the meantime, as far as those political ads go, we’re not totally helpless. Here’s what you can do: Under current law, local television stations still have to keep paper files of who’s paying for these political ads, and they have to make those files available to the public if requested.   You can even make copies to take away with you. So just go down to your nearest station, politely ask for the records, and then send the data online to the New America Foundation’s Media Policy Initiative or to the organization of investigative journalists called ProPublica. Both have mounted campaigns to get the information online.

Each is pulling together all the information on political ads they get from you and others — crowdsourcing  — and making it available to the entire country via the Internet. If you’re a high school teacher or college professor of journalism, have your students do it and maybe give them classroom credit for collecting the data democracy needs to work.

In other words, here’s a way citizens can take action even against the plutocrats who run Big Media and Congress.

Addendum:  The media reform advocacy organization Free Press is also conducting station file inspections, and has just published an easy-to-follow guide to how it’s done.

 

OCCUPY

VICTORY: Tea Party-Occupy-Labor Coalition Kills Georgia’s Corporate Assault On The First Amendment

Republic Report was one of the first outlets to tell you about a dangerous bill in Georgia being pushed by a Waffle House executive and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce that would’ve outlawed picketing outside of private residences — a law that would’ve put the Founding Fathers themselves in jail.

After we filed our report, Georgia activists took action. In direct response to our piece, Georgia Jobs With Justice started leafletting outside Waffle Houses to inform the patrons what one of the company’s most senior executives was proposing. The Tea Party also joined with Occupy Atlanta and the state’s labor unions to protest against the bill.

Finally, last night, after the Senate had already passed the bill and it sailed through a House committee, the full House body failed to take up the bill as the Georgia legislative session drew to a close — effectively killing the bill and ending this corporate assault on the First Amendment.

While many people contributed to this victory, it would not have been possible if Americans of all ideologies were able to unite and reject corporate influence over our democracy. It is a tale of how ordinary people were able to resist perversion of their laws by giant corporations, and should be an inspiration to activists everywhere.

POLITICS

Five myths about Obama’s foreign policy

Barack Obama campaigned as a visionary on foreign policy. He vowed to repair the breach with the Muslim world, make a major dent in global poverty, establish detente with dictators, arrest climate change and work toward global denuclearization. But since he reached the Oval Office, pragmatism has won the day more often than not, rendering the president a reluctant realist more than an idealist. Now, as Obama seeks reelection at a moment of major challenges on the global stage, let’s lay to rest some myths about his successes and failures.

1. Obama is “leading from behind.”

This phrase, made famous in a 2011 New Yorker article by Ryan Lizza, was attributed to an anonymous White House staffer in explaining the Obama administration’s approach to the international operation in Libya. “Leading from behind” soon became a popular shorthand for Obama’s supposed approach to foreign policy.

But to the extent that the president does “lead from behind,” it is mainly where American interests are secondary or, in cases such as Egypt’s revolution, where Washington’s role cannot be too great lest it delegitimize local allies. With Libya’s revolution, for instance, Europe’s oil flow was directly affected, while no vital U.S. interest was at stake. So it made sense for British and French forces to take the lead after the initial U.S.-led suppression of Libyan air defenses — and the result was a relatively cheap and rapid overthrow of a brutal dictator.

When America’s core security interests have been on the line and the United States has had the power to do something about it, Obama has usually been decisive and led from out front. That’s true for the campaign against al-Qaeda as well as the administration’s increased focus on Asia over the past 18 months, designed to reassure regional allies and remind China of U.S. interests in its neighborhood.

2. Obama apologizes for America.

This charge is a popular refrain on the GOP presidential primary trail. It has its origins in Obama’s tendency during the 2008 campaign to sound at times as if he blamed President George W. Bush’s policies as much as Iranian and North Korean leaders for the breakdown in U.S. dealings with those states. Critics have also cited the president’s June 2009 speech in Cairo, addressing U.S. relations with the Islamic world, as another instance of apology.

While there is plenty to debate in Obama’s foreign policy record, this particular allegation does not hold up. For every Cairo speech acknowledging past mistakes, there has been another — such as the one in Oslo later that year, when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize — in which Obama has reminded the world that his top responsibilities are to protect the American people and unapologetically command the nation’s military forces in the wars they are fighting.

His Cairo speech was a recognition that mistakes had been made on all sides, rather than an apology for America. This approach made the defense of American values and interests that were central to the speech all the more compelling.

MORE>>>

 

 

 

E.J. Dionne: The right’s stealthy coup

Right before our eyes, American conservatism is becoming something very different from what it once was. Yet this transformation is happening by stealth because moderates are too afraid to acknowledge what all their senses tell them.

Last week’s Supreme Court oral arguments on health care were the most dramatic example of how radical tea partyism has displaced mainstream conservative thinking. It’s not just that the law’s individual mandate was, until very recently, a conservative idea. Even conservative legal analysts were insisting it was impossible to imagine the court declaring the health-care mandate unconstitutional, given its past decisions.

So imagine the shock when conservative justices repeatedly spouted views closely resembling the tweets and talking points issued by organizations of the sort funded by the Koch brothers. Don’t take it from me. Charles Fried, solicitor general for Ronald Reagan, told The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein that it was absurd for conservatives to pretend that the mandate created a market in health care. “The whole thing is just a canard that’s been invented by the tea party. . .,” Fried said, “and I was astonished to hear it coming out of the mouths of the people on that bench.”

Staunchly conservative circuit judges Jeffrey Sutton and Laurence Silberman must have been equally astonished, since both argued that overturning the law would amount to judicial overreach. Yet moderate opinion bends over backward to act as if this is an intellectually close question.

Similarly, House passage of Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget, with its steep cuts in the tax rates on the wealthy and sweeping reductions in programs for the poor, is an enormous step rightward from the budget policies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Faced with growing deficits, Reagan and Bush both supported substantial tax increases.

A small hint of how this push to the right moves moderates away from moderation came in an effort last week to use an amendment on the House floor to force a vote on the deficit-reduction proposals offered by the commission headed by former Sen. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff to Bill Clinton.

You learned only in paragraphs buried deep in the news stories that the House was not even asked to consider the actual commission plan. To cobble together bipartisan support, sponsors of the ersatz Simpson-Bowles amendment kept all of the commission’s spending cuts but slashed the amount it prescribed for tax increases in half. See how relentless pressure from the right turns self-styled moderates into conservatives? If there’s a cave-in, it’s always to starboard.

Note how many deficit hawks regularly trash President Obama for not endorsing Simpson-Bowles while they continue to praise Ryan — even though Ryan voted to kill the initiative when he was a member of the commission. Here again is the double standard that benefits conservatives, proving that, contrary to establishment opinion, Obama was absolutely right not to embrace the Simpson-Bowles framework. If he had, a moderately conservative proposal would suddenly have defined the “left wing” of the debate, just because Obama endorsed it.

This is nuts. Yet mainstream journalism and mainstream moderates play right along.

A brief look at history suggests how far to the right both the Republican Party and contemporary conservatism have moved. Today’s conservatives almost never invoke one of our most successful Republican presidents, Dwight D. Eisenhower, who gave us, among other things, federally guaranteed student loans and championed the interstate highway system.

Even more revealing is what Robert A. Taft, the leader of the conservative forces who opposed Eisenhower’s nomination in 1952, had to say about government’s role in American life. “If the free enterprise system does not do its best to prevent hardship and poverty,” the Ohio Republican senator said in a 1945 speech, “it will find itself superseded by a less progressive system which does.” He urged Congress to “undertake to put a floor under essential things, to give all a minimum standard of decent living, and to all children a fair opportunity to get a start in life.”

Who can doubt that today’s right would declare his day’s Mr. Republican and Mr. Conservative a socialist redistributionist?

If our nation’s voters want to move government policy far to the right, they are entirely free to do so. But those who regard themselves as centrist have a moral obligation to make clear what the stakes are in the current debate. If supposed moderates refuse to call out the new conservatism for the radical creed it has become, their timidity will make them complicit in an intellectual coup they could have prevented.

AlJazeera: The Koch Brothers

Charles and David Koch are each worth about $25bn, which makes them the fourth richest Americans. When you combine their fortunes, they are the third wealthiest people in the world. Radical libertarians who use their money to oppose government and virtually all regulation as interference with the free market, the Kochs are in a class of their own as players on the American political stage. Their web of influence in the US stretches from state capitals to the halls of congress in Washington DC.

The Koch brothers fueled the conservative Tea Party movement that vigorously opposes Barack Obama, the US president. They fund efforts to derail action on global warming, and support politicians who object to raising taxes on corporations or the wealthy to help fix America’s fiscal problems. According to New Yorker writer Jane Mayer, who wrote a groundbreaking exposé of the Kochs in 2010, they have built a top to bottom operation to shape public policy that has been “incredibly effective. They are so rich that their pockets are almost bottomless, and they can keep pouring money into this whole process”.

Koch industries, the second largest privately-held company in the US, is an oil refining, chemical, paper products and financial servicescompany with revenues of a $100bn a year. Virtually every American household has some Koch product – from paper towels and lumber, to Stainmaster carpet and Lycra in sports clothes, to gasoline for cars. The Koch’s political philosophy of rolling back environmental and financial regulations is also beneficial to their business interests.

The Kochs rarely talk to the press, and conduct their affairs behind closed doors. But at a secret meeting of conservative activists and funders the Kochs held in Vail, Colorado this past summer, someone made undercover recordings. One caught Charles Koch urging participants to dig deep into their pockets to defeat Obama. “This is the mother of all wars we’ve got in the next 18 months,” he says, “for the life or death of this country.” He called out the names of 31 people at the Vail meeting who each contributed more than $1m over the past 12 months.

In the 2010 congressional elections, the Kochs and their partners spent at least $40m, helping to swing the balance of power in the US House of Representatives towards right-wing Tea Party Republicans. It has been reported that the Kochs are planning to raise and spend more than $200m to defeat Obama in 2012. But the brothers could easily kick in more without anyone knowing due to loopholes in US law.

The Kochs founded and provide millions to Americans for Prosperity, a political organisation that builds grassroots support for conservative causes and candidates. Americans for Prosperity, which has 35 state chapters and claims to have about two million members, has close ties to Tea Party groups and played a key role in opposing Obama’s health care initiative.

Last year, Americans for Prosperity spent at least half a million dollars supporting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to cut social spending and roll back collective bargaining rights for public employee unions. The legislation passed by Walker makes it more difficult for unions, which are major backers of Democratic candidates, to secure funds for political purposes. Americans for Prosperity is also very active in a battle against unions in Ohio, another important 2012 presidential state. Its president, Tim Phillips, says that the organisation is winning in Wisconsin and around the country “because on the policies of economic freedom, we’re right”. He refused to tell People & Powerreporter Bob Abeshouse how much the organisation is spending to combat the unions.

The Kochs have also poured millions into think tanks and academia to influence the battle over ideas. According to Kert Davies, the director of research for Greenpeace in the US, the Kochs have spent more than $50m since 1998 on “various front groups and think tanks who … opposethe consensus view that climate change is real, urgent and we have to do something about it”. As operators of oil pipelines and refineries, the Kochs have opposed all efforts to encourage alternative sources of energy by imposing a tax on fossil fuels.

Patrick Michaels, a senior fellow at the CATO Institute, often appears in the media to contest global warming science. CATO was founded by Charles Koch, and the Kochs and their foundations have contributed about $14m to CATO. Since 2009, there has been a sharp drop in the percentage of Americans who see global warming as a serious threat according to Gallup polls. Davies argues that the change can be attributed in large measure to the efforts of scientists like Michaels and others who are funded by the fossil fuel industry.

The Kochs have also promoted their free market ideology and business interests through aggressive lobbying in Washington DC, and financial support of political candidates. Greenpeace has tracked more than $50m that Koch Industries has spent on lobbyists since 2006, when Cap and Trade and other legislation to combat global warming was being considered. The Kochs have been the largest political spender since 2000 in the energy sector, exceeding Exxon, Chevron, and other major players.

The Kochs contributed to 62 of the 87 new members of the US House of Representatives in 2010. Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that the Kochs supported have taken the lead in opposing US Environmental Protection Agency efforts to reduce global warming emissions. Other members backed by the Kochs belong to the right-wing Tea Party bloc that took the US to the brink of default in July by refusing to consider a budget deal that would include tax increases.

Since People & Power’s report on the Kochs aired last fall, supporters of the Tea Party movement have complicated the Republican presidential primaries. Tea Party supporters have shifted from candidate to candidate and failed to coalesce around Mitt Romney. Given the divisions, the Kochs have not come out publically for any candidate. They are setting their sights instead on defeating Barack Obama and expanding their influence in the US House and Senate.

According to Ken Vogel of Politico, who appears in the Koch Brothers update, one of their more ambitious new projects is setting up a national voter database called Themis to expand their fundraising and mobilising machinery. Vogel says that the effort is unprecedented, and reveals the Kochs determination to develop capabilities reserved for the major political parties in the past.

Americans for Prosperity has already spent $6m on campaign ads attacking Obama for his support of renewable energy projects. Davies of Greenpeace says the Kochs influence on the campaign debate is clear. Republicans like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich who favored climate change legislation in the past now oppose it. President Obama, he says, is “even bragging about drilling more oil than Bush at this point.”

Americans for Prosperity is also laying the groundwork for reigniting the Tea Party to defeat Obama. In March, Americans for Prosperity and Tea Party groups are staging protests at the US Supreme Court while it considers the constitutionality of the health care law the Obama administration pushed through in 2010. The health care debate fueled the rise of the Tea Party in the first year of the Obama presidency.

Meanwhile, the Kochs are rounding up hundreds of millions of dollars for the 2012 elections. In January, they held another of their secret meetings with wealthy conservatives at a lush resort in Palm Springs, California. New attendees included the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who with his family has given $16.5m to the Super PAC backing Newt Gingrich, and Foster Friess, a wealthy financier supporting Rick Santorum in the Republican primaries.

Obama is doing his best to raise a billion dollars for the presidential race, and break all fundraising records. But Lee Fang, an investigator with the Republic Report, told reporter Bob Abeshouse that the “Kochs will have a tremendous impact. On a larger scale this election will come down to a few billionaires: a couple on the left supporting the Democrats, and a lot on the right supporting the Republicans. I think in 2013 people will look back on this election as the greatest one bought and sold.”

 

 

 

Diagnosing the Republican Brain

Fact: Conservatives deny science and facts. But there’s a reality check that liberals need too.

We all know that many American conservatives have issues with Charles Darwin, and the theory of evolution. But Albert Einstein, and the theory of relativity?

If you’re surprised, allow me to introduce Conservapedia, the right-wing answer to Wikipedia and ground zero for all that is scientifically and factually inaccurate, for political reasons, on the Internet.

Claiming over 285 million page views since its 2006 inception,Conservapedia is the creation of Andrew Schlafly, a lawyer, engineer, homeschooler, and one of six children of Phyllis Schlafly, the anti-feminist and anti-abortion rights activist who successfully battled the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. In his mother’s heyday, conservative activists were establishing vast mailing lists and newsletters, and rallying the troops. Her son learned that they also had to marshal “truth” to their side, now achieved not through the mail but the Web.

So when Schafly realized that Wikipedia was using BCE (“Before Common Era”) rather than BC (“Before Christ”) to date historical events, he’d had enough. He decided to create his own contrary fact repository, declaring, “It’s impossible for an encyclopedia to be neutral.”Conservapedia definitely isn’t neutral about science. Its 37,000 plus pages of content include items attacking evolution and global warming, wrongly claiming (contrary to psychological consensus) that homosexuality is a choice and tied to mental disorders, and incorrectly asserting (contrary to medical consensus) that abortion causes breast cancer.

The whopper, though, has to be Conservapedia’s nearly 6,000 word, equation-filled entry on the theory of relativity. It’s accompanied by a long webpage of “counterexamples” to Einstein’s great scientific edifice, which merges insights like E=mc2 (part of the special theory of relativity) with his later account of gravitation (the general theory of relativity).

“Relativity has been met with much resistance in the scientific world,” declares Conservapedia. ”To date, a Nobel Prize has never been awarded for Relativity.” The site goes on to catalogue the “political aspects of relativity,” charging that some liberals have “extrapolated the theory” to favor their agendas. That includes President Barack Obama, who (it is claimed) helped published an article applying relativity in the legal sphere while attending Harvard Law School in the late 1980s.

“Virtually no one who is taught and believes Relativity continues to read the Bible, a book that outsellsNew York Times bestsellers by a hundred-fold,” Conservapediacontinues. But even that’s not the site’s most staggering claim. In its list of “counterexamples” to relativity, Conservapedia provides 36 alleged cases, including: “The action-at-a-distance by Jesus, described in John 4:46–54, Matthew 15:28, and Matthew 27:51.”

IF YOU ARE AN AMERICAN LIBERAL or progressive and you just read the passage above, you are probably about to split your sides—or punch a wall. Sure enough, once liberal and science-focused bloggers caught wind of Conservapedia’s anti-Einstein sallies, Schlafly was quickly called a “crackpot,” “crazy,” “dishonest,” and so on.

These being liberals and scientists, there were also ample factual refutations. Take Conservapedia’s bizarre claim that relativity hasn’t led to any fruitful technologies. To the contrary, GPS devices rely on an understanding of relativity, as do PET scans and particle accelerators. Relativity works—if it didn’t, we would have noticed by now, and the theory would never have come to enjoy its current scientific status.

Little changed at Conservapedia after these errors were dismantled, however (though more anti-relativity “counter-examples” and Bible references were added). For not only does the site embrace a very different firmament of “facts” about the world than modern science, it also employs a different approach to editing than Wikipedia. Schlafly has said of the founding of Conservapedia that it “strengthened my faith. I don’t have to live with what’s printed in the newspaper. I don’t have to take what’s put out by Wikipedia. We’ve got our own way to express knowledge, and the more that we can clear out the liberal bias that erodes our faith, the better.”

You might be thinking that Conservapedia’s unabashed denial of relativity is an extreme case, located in the same circle of intellectual hell as claims that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS and 9-11 was an inside job. If so, I want to ask you to think again. Structurally, the denial of something so irrefutable, the elaborate rationalization of that denial, and above all the refusal to consider the overwhelming body of counterevidence and modify one’s view, is something we find all around us today.

Every contentious fact- or science-based issue in American politics now plays out just like the conflict between Conservapedia and physicists over relativity. Again and again it’s a fruitless battle between incompatible “truths,” with no progress made and no retractions offered by those who are just plain wrong—and can be shown to be through simple fact checking mechanisms that all good journalists, not to mention open-minded and critically thinking citizens, can employ.

What’s more, no matter how much the fact-checkers strive to remain “bi-partisan,” it is pretty hard to argue that, today, the distribution of falsehoods is politically equal or symmetrical. It’s not that liberals are never wrong or biased; in my new book,  The Republican Brain, The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality, from which this essay is excerpted, I go to great lengths to describe and debunk number of liberal errors.  Nevertheless, politicized wrongness today is clustered among Republicans, conservatives, and especially Tea Partiers. (Indeed, a new study published in American Sociological Review finds that while overall trust in science has been relatively stable since 1974, among self-identified conservatives it is at an all-time low.)

Their willingness to deny what’s true may seem especially outrageous when it infects scientific topics like evolution or climate change. But the same thing happens with economics, with American history, and with any other factual matter where there’s something ideological—in other words, something emotional and personal—at stake.

As soon as that occurs, today’s conservatives have their own “truth,” their own experts to spout it, and their own communication channels—newspapers, cable networks, talk radio shows, blogs, encyclopedias, think tanks, even universities—to broad- and narrowcast it.

Insanity has been defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome, and that’s precisely where our country stands now with regard to the conservative denial of reality. For a long time, we’ve been trained to equivocate, to not to see it for what it is—sweeping, systemic. This is particularly true of reporters and others trained to think that objectivity will out. Yet the problem is gradually dawning on many of us, particularly as the 2012 election began to unfold and one maverick Republican, Jon Huntsman, put his party’s anti-factual tendencies in focus with a Tweet heard round the world:

To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.

The cost of this assault on reality is dramatic. Many of these falsehoods affect lives and have had—or will have—world-changing consequences. And more dangerous than any of them is the utter erosion of a shared sense of what’s true—which they both generate, and perpetuate.

Consider, just briefly, some of the wrong ideas that have taken hold of significant swaths of the conservative population in the U.S:

The Identity of the President of the United States: Many conservatives believe President Obama is a Muslim. A stunning 64 percent of Republican voters in the 2010 election thought it was “not clear” whether he had been born in the United States. These people often think he was born in Kenya, and the birth certificate showing otherwise is bunk, a forgery, etc. They also think this relatively centrist Democrat is a closet—or even overt—socialist. At the extreme, they consider him a “Manchurian candidate” for an international leftist agenda.

Obamacare Many conservatives believe it is a “government takeover of health care.” They also think, as Sarah Palin claimed, that it created government “death panels” to make end-of-life care decisions for the elderly. What’s more, they think it will increase the federal budget deficit (and that most economists agree with this claim), cut benefits to those on Medicare, and subsidize abortions and the health care of illegal immigrants. None of these things are true.

Sexuality and Reproductive Health. Many conservatives—especially on the Christian Right—claim that having an abortion increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer or mental disorders. They claim that fetuses can perceive pain at 20 weeks of gestation, that same-sex parenting is bad for kids, and that homosexuality is a disorder, or a choice, and is curable through therapy. None of this is true.

Next Page: They twist history in myriad other ways, including Michele Bachmann’s claim that the Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly” to put an end to slavery.

 

 

 

Greg Sargent: Romney-Ryan radicalism, ctd.

One remarkable thing about the battle over Paul Ryan’s new budget — and the larger agenda it represents — is how utterly convinced both sides are that it plays in their favor.

Now that Ryan has endorsed Mitt Romney, the DNC is circulating a new Web video highlighting their closeness and Romney’s full-on embrace of Ryan’s Medicare and fiscal agenda.

But Republicans don’t see Ryan as a liability in any way. The Romney campaign just circulated a quote Ryan gave to a Wisconsin radio station that doubled down on just how tight they are with each other on economic matters. Ryan confirmed that both men’s staffs have been consulting with each other for weeks over their respective fiscal plans:

Who has the best chance of winning the presidency? I think that’s Romney. Here’s why: I spent a good deal of time with Mitt Romney and his staff over the last number of weeks going through the kind of problems we have in this country. The fiscal problems, the economic problems. And just what it’s going to take to get this country back on track next year with a new president, new Senate and a House. And I’m convinced he’s got what it takes to do this. Now here’s why: we need to go the country with a real sharp contrast … from which to choose. We can’t just run against Obama and win by default.”

Now, obviously this is happening in the context of GOP primary politics: The Romney campaign is eager to advertise Ryan’s testament to Romney’s fiscal seriousness to end the GOP nomination battle.

But it goes well beyond this. Romney and other Republicans have fully embraced the Ryan agenda as their main offering in the great argument that will decide the general election and future direction of the country.

As my Post colleague Jennifer Rubin put it recently, Romney’s embrace of Ryan underscores the “degree to which the GOP is united on a bold reform agenda.”

I’m sure Dems would wholeheartedly agree.

Ryan fires up the base on both sides like nothing else, which is why Republicans like Romney want him in the role of hero, and Dems want him in the role of villain. But what about swing voters? Dems seem confident that the Ryan vision is absolutely toxic among them. And yet,as Jed Lewison notes, Republicans seem equally confident that Ryan’s radical vision — or “bold,” if you prefer — is a political winner this fall.

Nonpartisan observers say Ryan’s plans amount to a huge giveaway to the rich at the expense of exploding the deficit. Polls suggest that huge majorities favor preserving Medicare’s traditional function, and reject Ryan’s reforms. And yet the amount of influence Republicans have accorded to Ryan over the GOP’s fiscal policies, worldview, ideology, vision, priorities and direction is really kind of extraordinary. They’re going for it.

 

POLLS

POLL: 65 PERCENT OF AMERICANS FAVOR U.S. HEALTHCARE OVERHAUL 

 Forty-four percent of Americans are supportive of President Obama’s health care reform law, and 21 percent reportedly only oppose it because they think the reforms do not go far enough, according to a new poll conducted by Reuters/Ipsos. When combined, the numbers reveal that a whopping 65 percent of Americans are in favor of an overhaul of the U.S. health care system. The remain 35 percent of respondents were against the law and changes to health care in general. Naturally, 72 percent of Democrats said that they supported the law, while 86 percent of Republicans said that they opposed it. Independents remain split on the issue, with 55 percent in opposition and 45 percent in favor.

 

 

Obama Opens Up Lead in Swing States

A new USA Today/Gallup poll in a dozen battleground states finds President Obama leading Mitt Romney, 51% to 42%.

Key finding: “The biggest change came among women under 50. In mid-February, just under half of those voters supported Obama. Now more than six in 10 do while Romney’s support among them has dropped by 14 points, to 30%. The president leads him 2-1 in this group.”

 

 

Obama takes back the lead in Florida

President Obama has regained the lead over Mitt Romney in Florida, a crucial swing state that has seen a drop in unemployment.

Two polls released this month give Obama the edge in Florida, which has the third-most Electoral College votes of any state in the presidential election.

Winning Florida would give Obama a large share of the swing-state delegates he would need to hold the White House, if voting patterns from the 2008 election carry into 2012.

The president will likely need to win about half the electoral votes in 12 battleground states — Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire — if he is to secure a second term.

The president won all of those states in 2008, and has been trending upwards in Florida in 2012.

According to a Quinnipiac University poll released this week, Obama leads GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney 49 percent to 42 percent in Florida. The two were tied at 45 percent in January, according to the same poll, and Romney led the president 47 percent to 40 percent last September.

Obama’s favorability ratings in Florida have also improved, with 51 percent telling Quinnipiac they have a favorable view of the president, compared to 44 percent unfavorable. In January, those numbers were reversed, at 45 percent favorable and 50 percent unfavorable.

A survey from conservative polling outlet Rasmussen also gives Obama the edge over Romney in Florida, 46 percent to 43 percent. Romney led the same poll last November by 4 percent.

Susan MacManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida, says the reversal is predominantly due to an improving economy. The Quinnipiac poll found that the top issues for Florida voters are the economy, with 90 percent calling it “extremely important” or “very important,” and unemployment, with 81 percent saying the same.

While 68 percent of Floridians said they believed the country was still in a recession, 57 percent said they believed the economy was beginning to recover.

“The economy is turning around,” MacManus said. “I have graphics that show over time that the president’s favorability goes up every time there’s even a glimmer of improvement in the economy.”

Florida’s unemployment rate remains well above the national average of 8.3 percent, but has fallen at a quick pace recently, from 10.6 percent last summer to 9.3 percent in February.

In addition, a Bloomberg Economic Evaluation released on Friday put Florida in the top 10 states for economic growth for the fourth quarter of 2011, in part because of a drop in mortgage delinquencies — a sign that the Sunshine State’s housing market may finally have turned a corner after being among the hardest hit by the 2008 housing crisis.

Romney will have his work cut out for him if he hopes to reclaim the lead he held in Florida only a few months ago, and the drawn out GOP primary isn’t helping, according to MacManus.

“The Obama campaign has been up and kicking here for a long time,” MacManus said. “Republicans are just getting started.”

Aubrey Jewett, the assistant director of Political Science at the University of Central Florida, said the elongated Republican primary explains the reversal in the polls more than the gains in the economy.

“I think it’s two-fold,” he said. “The economy has gotten a little bit better, but I think it has more to do with Romney’s numbers beingdriven down. We’ve seen Romney’s popularity declining because of the nasty Republican primary.”

While Florida is one of the few states where Romney enjoys a positive favorability rating, he and the president have been moving in opposite directions in 2012.

Romney logged his worst favorability numbers to date in Florida this month, with 41 percent favorable and 36 percent unfavorable. While that’s still in the black, in January, when he won the state’s GOP primary, Romney’s favorability was at 47 percent favorable, versus 29 percent unfavorable.

“This prolonged primary has been damaging [to Romney],” MacManus said. “It’s why you’ve seen major Republican Party leaders like [former Florida governor Jeb] Bush and [Florida Sen. Marco] Rubio come out and say, ‘let’s move this on.’ The last thing they want is a headline saying that Obama is in the lead in Florida as the Republican convention hits Tampa.”

MacManus also pointed to the attention paid to social issues in the Republican primary, and particularly those that involve women, such as birth control and abortion, as a reason the Republican candidates have faded in Florida.

While Romney carried women strongly in his victory against his then-lead challenger Newt Gingrich in the Florida primary, Obama leads Romney 52 percent to 38 percent among women voters in the state.

Obama also holds a healthy lead among another key demographic in Florida, Hispanics, topping Romney 54 percent to 40 percent with those voters. The Latino vote could eventually tilt even more in favor of Democrats, McManus said, because the younger generation of Cubans is shifting away from the older generation’s tendency to vote Republican.

“The oldest generation of Cubans have historically gone Republican because they focus on foreign policy,” MacManus said. “That’s not so much the case among younger Cubans, who tend to focus on domestic issues. That’s what Republicans are worried about — Florida’s younger Cuban voters are attracted to Obama when the issue is the economy.”

Of course, Republicans may have an ace in the hole in Rubio, the rising GOP star, son of Cuban immigrants, and potential vice presidential candidate.

“He’s popular in Florida,” MacManus said. “He could do a lot in terms of mobilizing the Latino vote, because they’re not strongly in support of one party or another. It’s soft support in favor of Democrats.”

MacManus also noted that there’s a “path-breaking element” to a potential Rubio vice presidency, in which Florida Latinos would be drawn to his ethnicity, similar to how Obama was able to mobilize the youth vote in 2008.

Obama only won Florida by 1 percentage point in 2008, or about 200,000 out of the 8 million ballots cast, so a swing among any small voting bloc could sway the outcome.

Despite the president’s lead in the polls, MacManus said not to expect anything different from Florida in 2012.

“It’s going to be close,” she said.

 

 

 

SCIENCE

33 Stunning Photos Of Our Amazing Planet Earth Taken By A Guy In Space

The Richat Structure in Mauritania.


Denmark with Copenhagen, Norway with Oslo, Sweden with Stockholm in the distance, northern Germany and beyond. And the Aurora Borealis of course.


Over the Southern Lights between Antarctic and Australia.


 

 

SCOTUS

Steven Pearlstein: Eat your broccoli, Justice Scalia

If the law is an ass, as Mr. Bumble declares in “Oliver Twist,” then constitutional law must surely be the entire wagon train.

Like most Washington policy wonks, I spent too much of last week reading transcripts of the Supreme Court arguments over the constitutionality of the new health reform law. This was to be a “teaching moment” for the country, an opportunity to see the best and the brightest engage in a reasoned debate on the limits of federal power. Instead, what we got too often was political posturing, Jesuitical hair-splitting and absurd hypotheticals.

My first thought on perusing the briefs filed in the combined cases was to notice what wasn’t there: any involvement on the part of Corporate America.

For the past 20 years, big business has complained endlessly about escalating health-care premiums, which they correctly blamed on “cost-shifting,” including paying indirectly for the free care provided to the workers at firms that did not provide health benefits. They wanted an end to fee-for-service medicine that rewarded doctors for providing more care than necessary. Some even talked of reforms that would begin to move the country away from an employer-based insurance system.

Yet despite the fact that “Obamacare” did all of those things and more, there was not a single brief in support of the law from an organization representing big business.

Small businesses have spent the past two decades complaining that the reason they don’t offer coverage is that it’s too expensive because they don’t get the large-group and community rating advantage. So how did the National Federation of Independent Businesses respond to a law that assured small businesses the benefits of large-group purchasing and community rating and threw in billions of dollars in subsidies to boot? It signed up as one of the named plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of the new law.

It’s hard to know what the business community will demand if the Supreme Court overturns the health-care law. At that point, however, it will hardly matter, since they will have lost all political credibility on the issue, particularly with the Obama White House and anyone who happens to be a Democrat.

That said, I don’t agree with the conventional wisdom that, in light of last week’s oral arguments, it’s a sure thing that the court will overturn the law or its individual mandate.

Judging from their blatantly partisan bleating from the bench, it is certain that Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito will join Clarence Thomas in doing whatever it takes to impose their conservative, free-market, nothing’s-changed-since-1788 agenda on the country.

An essential element of the Republican strategy these days is that, whenever confronted with an obvious failure of the free market, the correct response is always to try to turn the tables and blame it on misguided government policy. So it was this week when the solicitor general and several justices tried to make the obvious point that one reason so many Americans lack health insurance is that the market is inherently unlike any other in that we don’t deny medical care to sick people who can’t pay for it. It is from this anomaly that springs the “individual mandate,” a requirement that all citizens buy health insurance, to prevent them from becoming free-riders on a system paid for by others.

Rather than wrestling with this obvious anomaly, however, Scalia and Alito simply gave it the old Republican razzmatazz, blaming the government for creating the problem in the first place by obligating hospitals to treat the sick even if they are uninsured and cannot pay for the care. It was the kind of sophomoric logic you’d expect from high school debaters — or a Republican presidential candidate at a tea party rally — not from members of the highest court in the richest country on Earth.

Michael Carvin, the lawyer representing the NFIB, was clever enough to see that this was not going to be a winning constitutional argument. The proper constitutional solution to that dilemma, he explained, was not to shut the emergency room door on the uninsured, but simply require them to buy insurance when they show up seeking emergency care.

Ah, I get it! An insurance market in which nobody has to sign up for coverage until they’re ready to make a claim. Why didn’t Aetna and Kaiser think of that? And if it works for health insurance, why not extend it to fire, auto and flood insurance as well? Scalia and Alito, of course, wasted no time in taking up this brilliant idea.

Another of Scalia and Alito’s cute debating tricks was to latch on to an opposing argument and take it to its illogical extreme in order to show how silly it is. By this technique, the individual mandate suddenly became the first step on the proverbial slippery slope to government requiring that all Americans buy broccoli or a gym membership because those, too, will make us all healthier and thereby lower health-care costs.

It is axiomatic, of course, that the power to regulate, or to tax, or to criminalize is the power to regulate, tax or criminalize stupidly. The power to require you to buy airbags for your car is also the power to require you to buy leather seats and a surround-sound stereo. The power to levy a fee for buying a handgun is the power to levy a fee for not buying a handgun. The power to criminalize abortions is the power to criminalize condoms and birth-control pills.

But for some reason, when it comes to requiring Americans either to buy health insurance or pay a fee, we are now supposed to believe that “all bets are off,” according to Chief Justice John Roberts, or that “a fundamental shift” has occurred in the relationship between the individual and government, according to Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Really?

For starters, the Constitution already limits the “abuse” of such power by subjecting those who wield it to regular elections in which citizens are free to decide what is going too far and what is not.

And as justices know all too well, there are already in the case law scores of judicial tests that have been successfully applied to a wide range of congressional actions and powers to assure that they are reasonable and rational, that they are not arbitrary, that they are necessary to achieve a legitimate or compelling state interest. Surely Justices Roberts and Kennedy and their legion of summa cum laude law clerks can conjure up a workable criteria to distinguish a law requiring the purchase of health insurance from a law requiring the purchase of pomegranate juice.

If there is a legitimate challenge to the law, my hunch is that it is likely to come over the question of whether the individual mandate is as narrowly drawn as possible to achieve its objective. If regulating the interstate market for health care requires regulating health insurance, and if assuring a healthy insurance market requires solving the problem of free-riders who drive up premiums and taxes for everyone else, then isn’t the solution to require everyone to buy “catastrophic” insurance?

Roberts asked that question twice, but got no satisfactory answer, either from the solicitor general or any of the other justices. The reason is that there is no good answer. The safer ground for health reform was always to base it, at least initially, on policies that cover major medical events such as a heart attack, a premature birth, or treatment of cancer or a serious chronic condition. Yet such an approach has always been rejected out of hand by liberal Democrats and powerful “disease lobbies” who were intent on finally achieving health-care coverage that was both universal and comprehensive. Now their over-reaching has not only driven up the cost of health reform and made it difficult to win broad political support, but has also put the entire law in constitutional jeopardy.

In the end, Roberts will see the institutional peril in overturning the most significant piece of domestic legislation in a generation, particularly in the wake of the overtly partisan decisions of Bush v. Gore and the Citizens United. With Kennedy in tow, the chief is likely to articulate a modest new limit on Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce that would allow health reform to proceed in some fashion. Or, as he hinted in oral arguments, he may duck the commerce clause altogether and simply uphold the individual mandate as a legitimate exercise of Congress’s taxing power. The cacophony of accompanying dissents and concurring opinions will make it difficult to figure out who won, who lost and exactly what precedent was set.

The law, in other words, remains an ass.

 

 

 

L.A. Times: Signs of Supreme Court activism worry Reagan administration lawyers

Advocates of judicial restraint say conservative justices should be wary of the impulse to strike down the healthcare law passed by Congress.

MORE>>>

 

 

NYT EDITORIAL: The Roberts Court Defines Itself

For anyone who still thought legal conservatives are dedicated to judicial restraint, the oral argumentsbefore the Supreme Court on the health care case should put that idea to rest. There has been no court less restrained in signaling its willingness to replace law made by Congress with law made by justices.

This should not be surprising. Republican administrations, spurred by conservative interest groups since the 1980s, handpicked each of the conservative justices to reshape or strike down law that fails to reflect conservative political ideology.

When Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy were selected by the Reagan administration, the goal was to choose judges who would be eager to undo liberal precedents. By the time John Roberts Jr. and Samuel Alito Jr. were selected in the second Bush administration, judicial “restraint” was no longer an aim among conservatives. They were chosen because their professional records showed that they would advance a political ideology that limits government and promotes market freedoms, with less regard to the general welfare.

There is an enormous distinction to be made between the approaches of the Roberts court and the Warren court, which conservatives have long railed against for being an activist court. For one thing, Republican-appointed justices who led that court, Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justice William Brennan Jr., were not selected to effect constitutional change as part of their own political agenda.

During an era of major social tumult, when the public’s attitudes about racial equality, fairness in the workings of democracy and the dignity of the individual proved incompatible with old precedents, those centrists led the court to take new positions in carrying out democratic principles. Yet they were extremely mindful of the need to maintain the court’s legitimacy, and sought unanimity in major rulings. Cooper v. Aaron, the 1958 landmark case that said states are bound by Supreme Court rulings, was unanimous. So was Katzenbach v. McClung, the 1964 case upholding the constitutionality of parts of the Civil Rights Act under the commerce clause.

The four moderates on the court have a leftish bent, but they see their role as stewards of the law, balancing the responsibility to enforce the Constitution through judicial review against the duty to show deference to the will of the political branches. In that respect, they and the conservatives seem to be following entirely different rules.

That difference is playing out in the health care case. Established precedents support broad authority for Congress to regulate national commerce, and the health care market is unquestionably national in scope. Yet to Justice Kennedy the mandate requiring most Americans to obtain health insurance represents “a step beyond what our cases have allowed, the affirmative duty to act, to go into commerce.” To Justice Stephen Breyer, it’s clear that “if there are substantial effects on interstate commerce, Congress can act.”

Likewise, Justice Scalia’s willingness to delve into health care politics seems utterly alien to his moderate colleagues. On the question of what would happen if the mandate were struck down, Justice Scalia launched into a senatorial vote count: “You can’t repeal the rest of the act because you’re not going to get 60 votes in the Senate to repeal the rest.” Justice Breyer, by contrast, said firmly: “I would stay out of politics. That’s for Congress; not us.”

If the conservatives decide that they can sidestep the Constitution to negate Congress’s choices on crucial national policies, the court’s legitimacy — and the millions of Americans who don’t have insurance — will pay a very heavy price. Chief Justice Roberts has the opportunity to avoid this disastrous outcome by forging even a narrow ruling to uphold the mandate and the rest of the law. A split court striking down the act will be declaring itself virtually unfettered by the law. And if that happens along party lines, with five Republican-appointed justices supporting the challenge led by 26 Republican governors, the court will mark itself as driven by politics.

 

 

 

UNIONS

Wis. Federal Court Strikes Down Parts of Union Law

A federal judge upheld most of Wisconsin’s contentious law curbing collective bargaining rights on Friday, but he sided with unions in at least one key area by ruling that union dues could automatically be withdrawn from public workers’ paychecks.

The ruling keeps the majority of the law pushed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker in place, though it overturns the ban on automatic dues as well as a requirement that all union members, not just those voting, approve staying organized in votes every year.

A coalition of unions filed the lawsuit last summer, shortly after the Republican-controlled Legislature approved the plan following months of bitter debate and protests that drew tens of thousands of people to the Wisconsin Capitol.

One of the lawsuit’s primary arguments was that the law violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution because it stripped collective bargaining rights from most – but not all – public employees in Wisconsin.

U.S. District Judge William Conley rejected that argument, saying the unions didn’t show that only some public workers were being targeted. But he agreed with unions that other elements of the law were unconstitutional, and he ordered that automatic dues withdrawal be reinstated no later than May 31.

Walker’s spokesman had no immediate comment on the ruling.

Union attorney Tim Hawks said the unions were disappointed they didn’t win on the broader argument but happy with their success in fighting the other two issues. He said whether the ruling will be appealed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals needed to be discussed with the seven unions that sued.

Most major unions did not hold votes last year asking members whether they wanted to stay unionized, as required by the new law, because of the difficulty and expense of such an election. Even if unions stayed organized, the law limited their right to collectively bargain on only wage increases that were no greater than the rate of inflation.

Walker’s pushing of the law last year spurred massive protests and sparked a recall petition drive that resulted in the collection of nearly 901,000 signatures. Earlier Friday, the state elections board ordered that a recall election take place against Walker later this year.

Organizations that filed the lawsuit include councils of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the Wisconsin State Employees Union and the Service Employees International Union-Health Care Wisconsin.

 

 

 

WEDGE ISSUES

Ed Kilgore: “Special Favors”

Jamelle Bouie bums himself out today by evaluating a YouGuv survey that tells you, he says, “everything you need to know about contemporary race relations.”

On the first disturbing question, 66% of white people (and only 15% of blacks) agree with the statement: “Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.”

I can perhaps rationalize that one as being less alarming than it might at first appear to be, since the question is very loaded, inviting many white people to identify with former minority groups, and also leaving open how one defines “special favors.”

But then there’s a second question that shows only 30% of white folks (compared to 64% of blacks) agreeing that “Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class.” Since this is basically a statement of uncontroverted historical fact, it’s unpleasant to find a majority of whites—and even a minority of blacks—having issues with it, though again, the definition of “lower class” and its relevance to general questions of social mobility could confuse people.

And then there’s the clincher: 51% of whites (and 18% of blacks) agree that: “It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites.”

Yeah, that’s a bummer on multiple grounds. It is a peculiarly American belief that economic success and hard work are directly and inflexibly related, which always in my mind raises the question of whether people who are suddenly unemployed and/or impoverished in economic depressions have just lost their work ethic overnight. This belief, moreover, seems to disregard the empirically observable reality that a system where people are denied opportunities commensurate with their efforts does not exactly encourage a strong work ethic.

But I do suspect the wording of these questions and their comparative nature strongly influence the answers. I doubt seriously that middle-class white people think rich white people work harder than they do or even necessarily deserve success more than they do. But when the premise of aquestion suggests that their own relative success is unearned, well, that’s another matter.

It’s probably a hopeless and even counter-productive exercise to convince white folks of relatively modest means that they are beneficiaries of some sort of “white skin privilege”—or, to use the pollster’s terms, “special favors.” That’s particularly true if they are not old enough or southern enough to remember, as I do, Jim Crow laws that gave me, a resolutely hard-working southern middle-class white kid, huge “special favors” as compared to virtually every single African-American in my environment.

But we can teach better history so that people who didn’t experience Jim Crow (or for that matter, slavery) can have a basic grasp of American history, and understand that while the Italians and the Irish and the Jews did indeed suffer from discrimination, no one ever sold them at auction, barred them from public areas, made them attend separate schools (if any were even available), or denied them the right to vote (well, white women did suffer that indignity, but that’s another story!).

In the meantime, all we can do is to overcome the abstractions of race and class and ask Americans to look at each other as presumptive equals in worth and merit, particularly at a moment in our history when the rewards of hard work are being so abundantly harvested by a very small group of people who indeed enjoy “special favors.”

 

 

Payback Is a Bitch for Abortion Clinic Protestors, Thanks to a Brilliant Landlord

Todd Stave has the unenviable position of being the landlord of a building in Germantown, Maryland, which he leases to an abortion provider called Reproductive Health Services Clinic. So he knows a little something about dealing patiently with anti-abortion protesters. But when they started calling him at home at all hours and harassing his family, he got fed up and came up with a very clever solution: Do unto others as they have been doing unto you.

Problems really began for Stave at the end of 2010, when he leased his building to LeRoy Carhart, one of the only doctors in the U.S. who openly acknowledges that he performs late-term abortions. As you can imagine, he’s a controversial man, and protesters come from far and wide. There is a constant group of them parked outside, praying and holding up signs, many of which have pictures of mangled fetuses. That’s pretty much a landlord’s nightmare, and yet Stave has a very calm attitude about it. He told Petula Dvorak of the Washington Post this week,

It’s their right. They are protected by the First Amendment. And outside the clinic is probably the most appropriate place for them to express their views.

If you’re wondering how Stave can remain so relaxed about the situation, he explains, “I’ve been a member of this fight since Roe v. Wade. Since I was 5 years old.” You see, the clinic used to belong to his father, and then his sister ran it. When he was younger, the office was firebombed, and protesters were often gathered outside his dad’s house. So he’s used to a certain level of harassment and he’ll tolerate it — but only up to a point. And recently, the usually calm, cool, and collected Stave was pushed to his limit.

It’s common practice for anti-abortion protesters to disseminate doctors’ personal information and urge people to harass them—and it can clearly go far beyond that, as with the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas. LeRoy Carhart, who’s now in Stave’s clinic, had his Nebraska farm burned to the ground back in 1991. But protesters in Maryland figured out they could start targeting Stave for owning the clinic’s property. He was largely unfazed by this campaign, until last fall when they took it too far. On his daughter’s first day in middle school, a large group of people protested outside her school, and then they showed up again for back-to-school night. They were naturally carrying signs with his name and contact info and those nasty pictures of fetuses.

Stave was furious, and then it got even worse. Dozens of the protestors began calling him at home, around the clock. His friends wanted to help him fight back; that’s when Stave had the brilliant idea of turning the tables on his tormentors. He began recording the names and numbers of the assholes who called, and then he gave the list of info to his friends and asked them to call these people back on his behalf. Shazam! And the really smart part was that when someone from Team Stave called, they always took the high road. He explains,

In a very calm, very respectful voice, they said that the Stave family thanks you for your prayers. They cannot terminate the lease, and they do not want to. They support women’s rights.

Genius. While it was initially only a few friends doing the calling, the group quickly expanded. Soon, he was up to having 1,000 callers at his disposal. And they got crafty too. They’d look up information on the people who’d placed unwanted calls to Stave, and then when they called, they’d drop the names of the person’s children or their school into the conversation. They’d also, said Stave, “tell them that we bless their home on such and such street,” and then name their address. Are you getting shivers up you’re spine yet? Stave’s calling force became so powerful that sometimes he was able to hammer an unwanted caller with up to 5,000 calls in return. Looks like two can play at this game, stalkers.

Stave’s approach was so appealing that he was flooded with people from all over wanting to help. So he organized Voice of Choice, which now has about 3,000 volunteers. They don’t just fight back for Stave anymore. They’ll make calls on behalf of whoever is being bullied by anti-abortion protesters, whether it’s a doctor or a landlord or their family.

When asked if he thought this method of payback was harsh, Stave said no: “We gave them back what they gave us.” Actually, not even. You gave back a mild, family-friendly version of what they gave to you. You proved to them that you know where they live and who their children are, but you didn’t show up at their homes and schools and threaten them. You didn’t come onto their lawn with posters detailing terrible imaginary things that they’ve done. You’re serving up Revenge Lite™: Tastes great, less killing.

What’s more, Stave is strict about who Voice of Choice will make calls for. If it’s just run-of-the-mill protests outside clinics, he won’t help them because he believes in people’s First Amendment right to be out there saying what’s on their mind. Protestors must be personally harassing doctors or landlords in order for Stave to step in. If only abortion opponents had the same respect for people doing what they were allowed by law to do. Ahem.

So this is the part where the evil bullies who’ve plagued him (and others) at all hours of the day or night learn their lesson after having a taste of their own medicine, right? Yep, yep. They all realized they were being horrible, and now every anti-abortion protester is treating their pro-choice opponents with the utmost respect. HA. No. Actually this is the part in the story where it gets much worse. Ready?

Since Voice of Choice has been such a success, Stave was honored by NARAL in California last week. Knowing that he was going to be out of town receiving the award, his personal band of haters chose that moment to canvass his neighborhood with fliers that had a photo of Stave in a Nazi uniform, photos of Holocaust victims, and bloody fetuses. [Pause for a brief rage-stroke intermission.] Of course, the fliers had Stave’s contact information—and all of the phone numbers and addresses for other members of his family.

This goes without saying but, nevertheless: This is so incredibly fucked up. First of all, the guy owns a building, not a concentration camp. Second of all, what kind of person picks up a flier like that and thinks, “I need to get in touch with this Nazi!” God help us all.

Obviously Stave’s daughter and all of his neighbors saw the fliers, but the contact information for Stave’s family members must have been spread around. Because on Monday an abortion protestor showed up at the dental office owned by Stave’s brother-in-law and began doing his abortion-protestor routine outside. That’s such a great idea — I’m sure the random patient walking in for a cleaning is totally going to make the connection that the dentist’s brother-in-law owns a building where there’s an abortion clinic, and therefore abortion is wrong. At this point, Stave was back in town, so he went over to confront the protestor. And when he got there, the creep said, “How was your trip to San Francisco?” Deep inhale, slow exhale.

It is amazing that people like Stave have fortitude to stand up to psychos like this coming at them from every direction, but thank heavens they do, because, honestly, the thought that these protesters get away with so much is sickening. It’s hard to know where these nutcases will end when it comes to making Stave’s life a living hell—but it’s probably not going to get any better now that he’s getting more and more national media attention.

At least we know he’s got plenty of backup from Voice of Choice. The worse these people get, the longer VoC can keep them on the phone, telling them all about the many “blessings and prayers” they’re sending to their home addresses and to the locations of their children’s daycare centers. Then everyone will be so busy making and receiving calls that they’ll have less time to spend protesting outside clinics. And maybe in the future, we’ll get to a magical place where both sides are talking to each other 100 percent of the time, and a woman will be able to walk right up to the front door of an abortion clinic without being harassed—because everyone will be so busy talking on the phone to their enemies to notice or care what she’s choosing to do with her body.

 

 

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

This life’s journey is like crossing a very narrow bridge; the main thing is not to give in to fear.”

~~Rabbi Nachman of Breslov

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

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.

One Response so far.

Click here to leave a comment
  1. Romney is Mr. Etch-a-Sketch until it comes to foreign policy. Romney is a true believer neocon like Cheney worse than even Bush. From two Gitmos, to bombing Iran and claiming China then Russia are American enemies Romney is severely neocon.

    Wow those images of earth are fascinating as Spock would say.

    VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
    Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Leave your Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.


Back to top
PlanetPOV Tweets
Sponsors
Features