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Walmart (WMT) revolutionized consumers’ lives for decades. It built a successful retail empire across the country, powered by its low prices.
But Walmart has failed to keep up with the innovation, and now other companies are successfully changing consumers’ behaviors in a way that is slowly killing the world’s most famous retailer.
Look no further than its most recent quarterly earnings report. Although it marked its second full quarter of positive same-store sales growth (albeit a measly 1.5%) after nine consecutive quarters of declining same-store sales, overall earnings still declined 13%.
So what’s happening?
It’s Not Them, It’s You
Shopping behavior has changed. And even though the recession forced many Americans to “trade down” to cheaper items like the ones Walmart is famous for, consumers sought out new ways to do so. In many cases they traded even further down and headed right for the Dollar Generals (DG) of the world.
More frightening for the company is that even Walmart’s core customer base of low-income households is now a significant part of this epic shift in shopping behavior.
The change, of course, is that traffic has shifted from physical stores to online stores. In fact, a startling 50% of Walmart’s customers now shop on Amazon.com (AMZN), versus just 25% five years ago.
Amazon’s low prices (thanks to its low overhead expenses and no sales tax in most states) and unbeatable selection (thanks to the acquisition of companies like Diapers.com and Zappos), combined with the convenience of online shopping, have attracted a growing fan base of customers — stealing more and more customers away from Walmart.
Even Jeremy King, the chief technology officer of Walmart, admits Walmart.com is “playing a catch-up game” with Amazon. And yet it’s pretty clear that any attempts to compete with Amazon online will be futile.
That’s because Amazon’s reach will only continue to expand as it builds out its Kindle platform. The ease of purchasing with just one click from virtually whatever device you choose (your computer, phone, Kindle, or even Apple’s iPad) will continue to attract a growing number of consumers — again, spelling bad news for Walmart.
It’s Not Just Web Retailers Eating Walmart’s Lunch
On the physical front, the most revolutionary Walmart killer is Costco (COST).
Costco, a members-only warehouse chain, targets a more affluent demographic than Walmart but similarly prides itself in offering heavily discounted items. Even though Walmart has a similar arm of its business, Costco is light years ahead of Walmart’s Sam’s Club.
Costco’s charm permeates many levels.
- Markups on products are heavily controlled. Items can never be sold for more than 15% of cost (whereas supermarkets will mark up items by 25%, and department stores mark items up by as much as 50%). This means consumers always know they’ll find unbeatable bargains. And that keeps them coming back for the majority of their shopping needs.
- Stores require little upkeep. They are bare bones in design, meaning they require less maintenance capital than its more posh (by comparison) competitors. Plus, Costco only stocks around 4,000 items. Walmart’s stores, by contrast, often carry more than 100,000 different items, which constantly need shelf attention.
- Shopping is easier. The smaller scope of products makes the purchase decision easier for customers. But it also generates higher sales volumes, which enables Costco to sell items quicker than they have to pay their suppliers for them — and allows them to negotiate even lower deals with these suppliers.
- Costco has a secret ingredient. The stores have an additional element that Walmart will likely never be able to replicate: the “treasure hunt.” Costco constantly stocks shelves with new items available for just a short time. Customers return excited to see new offerings, and they often leave with items they hadn’t intended to purchase.
- Returns are never a problem. Even if shoppers later decide their impulse buys were unwise, Costco has the most consumer-friendly return policy out there, accepting returns on most products without a receipt and with an infinite timeframe.
Given all this, it’s little surprise that Costco’s retention rate for members hovers around 90%. This means that once a customer gets a taste for the savings — and experience — Costco offers, he or she will likely be a customer for life. Again, bad news for Walmart.
So How Much Is Walmart Hurting?
It is unlikely Walmart will completely disappear anytime soon. But as more of its customers switch to Amazon for online purchasing and Costco for physically purchasing cheap items in bulk, it will become increasingly difficult for Walmart to grow — and survive.
Which brings me to an important point for investors in the retail sector: Even though Walmart is often touted as an all-weather stock — capable of gaining in both boom and bust economies — the real all-weather stocks of today are Amazon and Costco.
Better yet, Amazon and Costco are a fraction of the size of Walmart, meaning their stocks have much more potential to double and triple, especially as an ever-growing number of consumers continue to kill Walmart with their shifting spending habits.
Greg Sargent: Romney’s big pivot: Yes, the economy is improving, but…
Over the weekend, Mitt Romney attacked President Obama’s stewardship of the economy. He allowed that things are getting better, but said they are only improving in spite of Obama, and added a handful of claims I hadn’t heard before:
“We know that under Barack Obama, 800,000 jobs have been lost,” said Romney, a candidate in the Wisconsin presidential primary on Tuesday. “We know that under Barack Obama, 2.3 million homes have been foreclosed upon. We know that under this president, chronic unemployment is the worst it’s been in American history.”
Chronic unemployment is the worst it’s been in American history? Worse than during the Great Depression?
I asked Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul for substantiation. She pointed to a recent Congressional Budget Office report that said this:
“Compounding the problem of high unemployment, the share of unemployed people looking for work for more than six months — referred to as the long-term unemployed — topped 40 percent in December 2009 for the first time since 1948, when such data began to be collected; it has remained above that level ever since.”
So by the Romney campaign’s own accounting, this claim can only be verified as far back as 1948. Indeed, when RNC chair Reince Priebus made another version of the assertion Romney makes here, Politifact ruled it “false.” As Politifact put it: “today’s numbers aren’t anywhere near high enough to `rival’ those that prevailed for more than a decade during the Great Depression.”
Of course, it doesn’t greatly help Obama’s case that you have to reach all the way back to the Depression for chronic unemployment numbers that are worse than the ones we’ve seen on Obama’s watch. And no doubt the Romney campaign doesn’t mind getting into an argument over whether chronic unemployment during Obama’s term is the worst in American history or merely the worst since the Depression. But that doesn’t change the fact that this claim is unsubstantiated at best and false at worst. And all this becomes less meaningful when you recall that Obama inherited the worst crisis since the 1930s, which Romney wants you to forget.
Along these lines, the claim that 800,000 jobs have been lost on Obama’s watch is yet another use of that “net” jobs loss statistic: It factors in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of jobs lost while the economy was in free fall during his first months in office, before his policies kicked in, in order to pass judgment on those policies. But if the monthly jobs numbers keep registering good news, even this number — which is largely meaningless to begin with — could conceivably edge into positive territory before the election.
Romney has gone from claiming Obama made the economy worse, to claiming that if the economy is improving, it’s despite Obama’s policies, to (most recently) claiming that Obama “failed to lead the recovery,” which means that the recovery is underway. All of which is to say that it’s not easy to pivot from making the case that an incumbent made the economy worse to acknowledging that, yes, things are improving, but things would be better still if someone else had been in charge.
Below the fold, you can read Mitt Romney’s address to the people of Appleton, Wis. There is no point being contrarian: This is the post-Rubio, post-Ryan, out-of-my-way general election speech he has wanted to give before every Gingrich or Santorum upset. This is the pivot. What you get:
- Extra patriotic cornpone. “America” or “Americans” is uttered 46 times. “If the hill is a little steeper before us,” says Romney, “we have always been a nation of big steppers.”
- A statistic that will have to change. “Since Barack Obama became President, over 800,000 Americans have lost their jobs.” If job growth chugs along at 200,000 per month — possible, if oil shocks don’t stop it — there is a chance that the job loss record recedes as a solid talking point.
- Some candidate-thievery. “Forty-six and a half million Americans are now on food stamps, another record.” That’s Gingrich’s line, but there’s none of the wink-wink politicking that Gingrich uses when he says it. The stuff about why America fell for Obama: Hey, that’s Santorum’s material!
[…] But don’t expect Obama to launch a full-blown campaign against the Court. Instead, expect a more subtle case: The decision againt Obamacare highlights the power the Court has over American life — and how much more power the conservative bloc would have if Romney were elected and replaced one or more liberal Justices.
Obama’s current situation is often compared to that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who saw several New Deal initiatives struck down by the High Court. But though Roosevelt did try and fail to stack the Court in his favor, he actually didn’t wage an aggressive public campaign against the Court during the 1936 reelection campaign, according to Jeff Shesol, the author of “Supreme Power,” a book about Roosevelt and the Court.
Roosevelt did have sharp words for the Court after it struck down one major initiative, but they provoked a huge backlash from the right, and he subsequently kept quiet about it, before launching a surprise attack in the form of his court-packing scheme after reelection.
Shesol predicts that Obama will refrain from direct assaults on the Court in the wake of Obamacare being struck down. “The argument the right has been making is that Obama attempted a wild unconstitutional overreach, and the Court will have just validated this view,” Shesol tells me. “To get out there and attack the Supreme Court gives Republicans an opportunity to stay on the side of the Court and the Constitution.”
What’s more, there’s little indication in Obama’s career or public statements that he has any appetite for Supreme Court reform.
All that said, Obama will likely point to the Court’s decision to strengthen his case against Romney. The polling on repeal is mixed — while one recent poll found support for striking down the mandate, others have found little support for repeal of the whole law. So it’sunclear how the public will react if the Court’s decision ends up doing away with the law — and if the reaction is negative, Obama can perhaps use it to his advantage.
Obama can argue that in the next four years, one of the liberals could retire, and get replaced by President Romney, which would mean the Court’s “deck will be stacked for a generation” in favor of conservatives, Shesol points out. “That will be a powerful argument .”
So expect Obama to strike an important balancing act: He’ll refrain from directly attacking the Court, while drawing attention to what the Court’s action reveals about just high the stakes of the election really are.
Mitt Romney is not only lying more often as the primary draws to close, he’s also telling bigger lies.
“We know that under Barack Obama, 800,000 jobs have been lost,” said Romney, a candidate in the Wisconsin presidential primary on Tuesday. “We know that under Barack Obama, 2.3 million homes have been foreclosed upon. We know that under this president, chronic unemployment is the worst it’s been in American history.”
No, it is not the worst it’s been in American history.
I expect the general election will be filled with one lie after another, because there is no credible way for Romney and the Republicans to attack the president without lying or without saying things that a majority of Americans disagree with.
A majority of Americans approve of same-sex marriage, a majority of Americans approve of raising taxes, a majority of Americans favor comprehensive immigration reform, a majority of Americans approve of providing birth control, and a majority of Americans agree with ending our wars.
That leaves such a tiny space for Republicans to occupy that they will inevitably invent new spaces by conjuring them straight out of their asses. Or in other words, lie.
As the big names of the GOP jump on the Mitt Romney train, a new move by the Romney camp and the Republican National Committee shows the GOP establishment finally coalescing around the expected nominee.
Romney plans to begin raising money jointly with the Republican National Committee this week in anticipation of an expensive November battle against President Barack Obama, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The agreement will allow top donors to write individual checks as large as $75,000 to support the former Massachusetts governor – far more than the $2,500 ceiling that individuals may donate directly to a presidential candidate.
“Our donors are ready to mobilize for November,” Andrea Saul, a Romney spokesperson, wrote in a statement. For the candidate to be able amass the funds to compete with Obama’s massive fundraising machine by the general election, she added, “they need to get started now.”
The RNC also invited the three remaining candidates to participate in joint fundraising, according to officials. But the campaigns of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich told The Journal they had no plans to join forces with the RNC. Ron Paul’s campaign declined to comment, according to The Journal.
Last December, Mitt Romney claimed that he had never heard of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, an Iranian dissident group that’s drawn prominent American defenders despite being labeled by the State Department as a terrorist organization.
Romney’s ignorance was surprising: Mitchell Reiss, his foreign policy adviser and a known Mujahedin-e-Khalq supporter, had spoken at a MEK rally just the previous weekend. Now it’sanother adviser to his campaign, Michael Mukasey, who’s voicing his support for the MEK. At an event in Paris last week, the former Attorney General spoke passionately against a recent Treasury Department investigation into the terrorist group.
Last month, Treasury delivered subpoenas to speaking agencies that count several high-profile figures and MEK advocates as clients,including former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, former FBI director Louis Freeh, former Department of Homeland Security head Tom Ridge, and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton. The subpoenas demand payment records from speeches given by the figures—records which might detail MEK payments to its backers.
MEK’s supporters have included Andrew Card, Howard Dean, John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, Bill Richardson, Wesley Clark, and many others. And the MEK has treated some of them very nicely. According to a March report by NBC’s Michael Isikoff, pro-MEK speakers can earn up to “$30,000 or more per talk and first-class flights to European capitals.” (The office of former Pennsylvannia Governor Ed Rendell, just one such speaker, told Isikoff that he’d earned $160,000 in 2011 for speaking at MEK-sponsored events.)
But the money might come with a very big string attached: if the feds were to contend that someone’s public support of the MEK was tied to payment, the speaker could run afoul of U.S. laws prohibiting material support to terrorist organizations.
The MEK, which has directed bombing campaigns in Iran, has spent the last year pushing the State Department to take their name off its terrorism list. The campaign included a visit to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit where the MEK attempted to get the Court to order the State Department to remove them.
At last week’s Paris event, Mukasey said he and his fellow MEK supporters in attendance would not back down despite the government’s investigation: “The people here aren’t afraid. Rudy Giuliani, John Bolton, Patrick Kennedy, Tom Ridge, they’re all sitting up there behind placards that have their names on them. We all use our names.”
While the government has not commented on suggestions that the supeonas are related to MEK’s lawsuit, earlier in his speech, Mukasey insinuated that the State Department asked the Treasury Department to get the speech records as a means to intimidate prominent MEK supporters from filing briefs on the group’s behalf. “I stopped believing in coincidences like that when I stopped believing in the Tooth Fairy, and that was a long time ago,” Mukasey joked.
Isikoff’s report last month quoted an Obama administration officialexplaining the reasoning behind the investigation: “This is about finding out where the money is coming from. This has been a source of enormous concern for a long time now. You have to ask the question, whether this is a prima facie case of material support for terrorism.”
At the end of his speech, Mukasey, who has brought in former Solicitor General Seth P. Waxman to defend the officials under investigation, delivered a polemic against the US government.
“Let me repeat the words of a famous American industrialist, a man named Henry Kaiser who was once confronted by the U.S. government. And people asked him, ‘Do you think that you can prevail against the U.S. government?’” Muskasey began. “His response was, ‘You know what? There’s no such thing as the U.S. government. They’re just a bunch of people.’ Some of them are smart and dedicated and some of them are stupid and lazy. And we know who’s on which side in the current dispute.”
Mitt Romney is not doing well with women voters. A new USA TODAY/Gallup poll shows that President Obama is faring much better than Mitt Romney in the swing states that will likely decide the next President of the United States – and women are part of the reason why. Of women under 50 years old, only 30 percent support Romney, while over 60 percent back the President.
The lack of support is mutual. Romney’s record on women’s health is hardly strong, and women voters, especially the young voters who tend to be pro-choice and pro-contraception, are likely responding to Romney’s affront on these issues. But it hasn’t always been this way. Over the course of his 2008 and 2012 campaigns for the presidency, Romney has moved significantly to the right on almost all women’s health issues. He calls it “evolving,” but, to many women, the “etch a sketch” candidate is just leaving them behind.
Need proof? Here are Mitt Romney’s top five attacks on women’s health:
1. He’s going to ‘get rid of’ Planned Parenthood. In his most blatant attack on basic women’s services, Romney made this claim: “Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that.” Of course, as a Presidential candidate Romney surely knows that Planned Parenthood provides essential medical services, primarily to low-income women, including mammograms and pap smears, as well as important family planning services. Romney has pledged to defund Title X, a program that provides family planning services.
2. Romney supports the Blunt Amendment which would allow employers to deny health insurance coverage on the basis of moral objections — a rule aimed at allowing employers to opt out of providing benefits that undermined their consciences, including contraceptive coverage. But as governor of Massachusetts, Romney required all health care providers– including Catholic hospitals — to offer emergency contraception to rape victims.
3. Romney is fighting a covert battle against contraception, even if he is doing his best not to call it that. While Romney used to be firmly pro-choice and pro-contraceptives, he has positioned himself in the campaign to be a fighter of morality, saying that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) imposes a “secular vision on America” by requiring employers to provide contraceptives in their insurance coverage. He is also misleading the public on what the ACA will do for women.
4. Romney failed to condemn Rush Limbaugh’s characterization of Sandra Fluke as a “slut.” Romney said “it’s not the language I would have used,” but refused to go any further in condemning Limbaugh’s attacks on the Georgetown Law student who testified in support of the ACA’s contraceptive rule. In not standing up for basic women’s rights, Romney’s complacency is as good as consent.
5. Romney supports restricting access to abortions. He has called Roe v. Wade “one of the darkest moments in Supreme Court history.” He’s even said thathe’d support state constitutional amendments to define life at conception, which would effectively outlaw abortions under any circumstance.
We’ve known that Mitt Romney helped bankroll California’s anti-gay-marriage campaign in 2008. But on Friday, Huffington Post’s Sam Stein presented new details—specifically that Romney’s $10,000 donation (did he lose a bet?) to National Organization for Marriage, the nation’s leading stop-gay-marriage outfit, came via his network of state PACs that we reported on last July:
Records filed by Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC with the Federal Election Commission did not include details of that $10,000 donation. Nor did NOM’s public 990 form. In fact, record of the payment was only uncovered Friday when the pro-gay rights Human Rights Campaign was sent a private IRS filing from NOM via a whistleblower. The Human Rights Campaign shared the filing with The Huffington Post.
Asked for comment, an aide to Romney said that the donation was made through the Alabama chapter of the Free and Strong America PAC. State records confirm this. However, the 990 NOM filed lists the donation as having come from PO Box 79226 in Belmont, Massachusetts.
Belmont, of course, is where Romney maintains his nominal address, in the basement of his son’s house.
The NOM donation is particularly dicey given another recent development. On Tuesday, Buzzfeed reported on an internal NOM document detailing the group’s aim to “drive a wedge between gays and blacks” in order to knock down gay marriage efforts. Those documents date back to 2008. Put another way, Romney donated $10,000 to an effort geared at “fanning the hostility” between gays and black voters.
The misleading assault on the president’s energy policies continues.
- A conservative group’s TV ad claims “we will all pay more at the pump” because the administration “blocked” the Keystone XL pipeline.
- Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell claims that the pipeline “could have brought 700,000 barrels of oil to the market each day.”
- The TV ad also claims that Obama “opposed exploring for energy in Alaska,” which is only half true.
All those claims are false or misleading. Regarding the pipeline, as we’ve reported, there’s nothing stopping more Canadian oil from coming into the U.S. right now. Existing cross-border pipelines could carry perhaps 1 million additional barrels of oil per day, and surplus capacity is projected to persist for years to come even without the Keystone project.
Furthermore, Obama hasn’t “blocked” it. The Keystone’s sponsor says it expects the White House to approve the northern leg, from Hardisty, Alberta, to Steele City, Nebraska, in 2013, after it submits an application for a new route around Nebraska’s environmentally sensitive Sandhills region. Meanwhile, it is going ahead with the southern portion, which Obama has endorsed, ordering agencies to expedite permitting.
As for the claim that Obama “opposed exploring for energy in Alaska.” The truth is that Shell Oil days ago said it expects to begin drilling exploratory wells this summer in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off Alaska’s Arctic coast, now that the Interior Department has granted approvals for the company’s oil spill response plans.
Nine Dollar Gas
The latest TV ad to heap blame on Obama is “Nine Dollar Gas” from the American Energy Alliance, an advocacy group that does not disclose the sources of its money. It is a “subsidiary” of the industry-funded Institute for Energy Research. Thomas J. Pyle, a one-time aide to former Texas congressman Tom Delay, is president of both groups. Politico reported that both groups are funded in part by brothers Charles and David Koch and their donor network.
AEA announced that it was spending $2.5 million to air the ad for two weeks in eight states: New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Michigan. The ad first started airing in Jacksonville, Fla., March 30, according to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group. The group said it would later spend another $1.1 million on the buy, and include “radio, Internet, and print media advertising” as well as “grass roots education and mobilization.”
The 30-second spot makes a number of incorrect or misleading assertions, but we’ll take the pipeline claim first. It says Obama “blocked the Keystone pipeline, so we will all pay more at the pump.”
That echoes a common Republican refrain, which Sen. McConnell has just repeated in an opinion piece circulated to home-state newspapers in Kentucky. (Thanks to Al Cross, of the University of Kentucky’s Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, for alerting us to this.)
Mitch McConnell, March 30: His [Obama's] consent to that single project could have brought 700,000 barrels of oil to the market each day and created thousands of new America jobs. Yet President Obama blocked the pipeline, despite an exhaustive three-year review.
The truth, however, is that the pipeline has been delayed, not “blocked.” And it could not possibly bring in more Canadian oil until many years in the future.
Ann Romney suggested today that the “real” version of her husband “is not” out yet, telling a radio program, “we better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out.”
Though billed as a measure to create jobs by aiding small businesses, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) proposal for a 20 percent tax deduction in 2012 for businesses with fewer than 500 employees would benefit many high-income taxpayers — including many affluent doctors, lawyers, and stockbrokers — while failing to generate the promised economic benefits. The Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center estimates that nearly half — 49 percent — of the $46 billion tax cut that the measure would provide would go to people with incomes over $1 million a year.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) rated this general approach as one of the least cost-effective ways that policymakers were considering to encourage growth or create jobs in a weak economy. For one thing, the tax benefits would flow disproportionately to high-income people who would spend a relatively small share of their additional income; thus, CBO estimated that the deduction would generate just 0 to 20 cents in economic growth for every dollar in budgetary cost. Foranother, firms would receive this tax break whether they hired new workers or not; thus, CBO estimated that in 2012 it would create one job or fewer per $1 million of budgetary cost.
The Cantor proposal is even more troubling than his earlier version of it in 2010. Whereas the earlier version did not provide tax breaks for high-paying businesses that one would not ordinarily view as “small businesses” — such as stock brokerage firms and professional sports teams — the new proposal contains no such exclusion and lets these firms, as well, enjoy lucrative tax cuts.
The Cantor proposal also ignores the emerging consensus among economists that young small firms, not small ones in general, are particularly important “job creators.” As a recent study concluded, “policies targeting firms based on size without taking account of the role [of] firm age are unlikely to have the desired impact on job creation.”
Tax Cut Would Benefit Many of the Nation’s Wealthiest People
The Cantor proposal would provide a 20 percent deduction for various types of business income for firms with fewer than 500 employees, including income flowing from partnerships, S Corporations, and C Corporations. To qualify for the deduction, the income must be “active.” That is, to qualify for the tax break, a taxpayer must not merely invest in the firm but also materially participate in its operation during the year. The deduction would be limited to 50 percent of certain wages paid. The Joint Tax Committee estimates that the proposal, which would be in effect for 2012, would cost $46 billion.
Why contraception is an economic issue
It’s not just the cost of contraception. Family planning allows women to control the timing of when they have children, which in turn allows them to pursue their education and career. Indeed,women now make up half of the nation’s workforce, and 60 percent of women are breadwinners for their family—in large part because of greater access to contraception. A recent study showed that birth control played a critical role in reducing the gender pay gap because of the investments it allowed women to make in their education and careers.
Because family planning enables women to plan their pregnancies, it also leads to healthier mothers and babies. As a result, it reduces costs to individuals and families, to our health care system, and to society.
Finally, a woman’s economic circumstances can strongly influence whether and when she chooses to have children and therefore whether and when she needs to use contraception. For instance, a woman whose job provides no paid family leave might not be able to afford time off from her job to bond with her newborn and to recover from childbirth. The same is true for a woman without health insurance who has to choose between taking her child to the doctor and paying the rent. Even worse, a woman whose local Planned Parenthood clinic gets shut down is squeezed between no choices at all. She can’t afford to have more children, nor can she afford the birth control she needs to avoid getting pregnant.
Conservatives should support access to contraception and other family-supporting policies
All women live somewhere on the economic ladder. So you would think pro-family conservatives would do whatever they could to promote women’s economic security, since it is so crucial to their families’ and their own well-being.
Unfortunately, you would be wrong.
From affordable health care to paid sick days, from equal pay to affordable housing, conservatives are fiercely opposing the very structures families need in order to grow strong. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) fiscal year 2013 budget proposal, which just passed the House, offers a striking case in point. It would raise taxes on middle-class families, increase unemployment, shred the health care safety net, shortchange education, increase the national deficit, and more.
The Ryan budget would cripple America’s families. Its draconian cuts would strip away the economic stability women and their families need, even as its supporters proclaim their love of family. These supporters need to either put basic family protections in their budget or quit pretending they’re on the side of mothers, fathers, and children.
Bottom line: Pundits and politicians need to realize that contraception is not just a hot-button issue. It and other policies such as paid sick days and equal pay are integral to women’s economic security.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics has a fascinating new report out that compares consumer budgets in the United States, Canada, Britain and Japan. As the graph below shows, there’s a huge amount of variation in what people in each country are spending their money on:
In short: Americans appear to spend more than their peers on housing, transportation, and health care — and we spend far less on clothes, food, and booze.
At this point, it shouldn’t come as a shock that American consumers devote a far bigger fraction of their budgets to health care than their peers abroad. That’s partly because Canada, Japan, and Britain all have more comprehensive taxpayer-financed nationalized health systems that curtail out-of-pocket expenses. (Though, as Catherine Rampellpoints out, when you add up both taxes and out-of-pocket expenses, the United States is still paying significantly more for health care than other countries.)
Also noteworthy is the fact that Americans spend a much bigger chunks of their budgets on housing, and far less on food. As the BLS report’s detailed breakdown here shows, Americans spend more money eating out than their peers, but they spend a significantly smaller portion of their budgets on cooking at home than Canada, Britain, or Japan.Here’s an old article by Derek Thompson looking at why food in the United States is so cheap — the story starts with corn subsidies — and how that might be fueling rising obesity rates.
The transportation numbers, meanwhile, suggest that owning a car can be costly. Residents of the two most auto-dependent countries, Canada and the United States, pay the most to get around. (Canadians pay more to drive than Americans do because gas prices are about $1 per gallon higher in Canada, thanks to steeper fuel taxes.) The British and Japanese spend more for public transit, including buses and subways, but they pay less for transportation overall.
Meanwhile, it’s curious that Americans spend the smallest portions of their budgets on clothing, alcoholic beverages, tobacco products and “culture/entertainment, and recreation.” Is that because our booze and clothes are just cheaper or do we just not value those things as much?
The burden of paying for college is wreaking havoc on the finances of an unexpected demographic: senior citizens.
New research from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York shows that Americans 60 and older still owe about $36 billion in student loans, providing a rare window into the dynamics of student debt. More than 10 percent of those loans are delinquent. As a result, consumer advocates say, it is not uncommon for Social Security checks to be garnished or for debt collectors to harass borrowers in their 80s over student loans that are decades old.
That even seniors remain saddled with student loans highlights what a growing chorus of lawmakers, economists and financial experts say has become a central conflict in the nation’s higher education system: The long-touted benefits of a college degree are being diluted by rising tuition rates and the longevity of debt.
Some of these older Americans are still grappling with their first wave of student loans, while others took on new debt when they returned to school later in life in hopes of becoming more competitive in the labor force. Many have co-signed for loans with their children or grandchildren to help them afford ballooning tuition.
The recent recession exacerbated this problem, making it harder for older Americans — or the youths they are supporting in school — to get good-paying jobs. And unlike other debts, student loans cannot be shed in bankruptcy. As a result, some older Americans have found that a college degree led not to a prosperous career but instead to a lifetime under the shadow of debt.
“A student loan can be a debt that’s kind of like a ball and chain that you can drag to the grave,” said William E. Brewer, president of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys. “You can unhook it when they lay you in the coffin.”
Sandy Barnett, 58, of Illinois thought she was doing the right thing when she decided to pursue a master’s degree in clinical psychology in the late 1980s. She had worked her way through college but said she took out a loan of about $21,000 to pay for graduate school so she would have more time to focus on her studies.
But even after earning her master’s, Barnett struggled to find a job that paid more than $25,000 a year and soon fell behind on her payments. She suffered through a layoff, a stretch of unemployment and the death of her husband — while her student loan ballooned to roughly $54,000.
Barnett filed for bankruptcy in 2005, but she couldn’t get out from under her student loan debt. She said a collection agency began garnishing the wages from her full-time job as a customer service representative a year ago, and now money is so tight that she must choose between buying gas and buying food. An air conditioner for her mobile home is an unimaginable luxury.
“I shake my head every day at the thought that I’m working for nothing,” Barnett said. “It’s really a black hole because there’s no end in sight.”
Women having children at older ages and the growing availability of fertility treatments has led to a marked increase in the birth of twins: In 2009, one in every 30 babies born in the United States was a twin compared with one in every 53 in 1980. […]
“Prior to 1980, the incidence of U.S. twin births was stable at about 2 percent of all births, but it has risen dramatically in the past three decades,” said Luke, noting twin births increased for women of all ages, with the largest increases among women aged 30 and older. “Older maternal age accounts for about one-third of the rise, and two-thirds is due to the increased use of fertility treatments.”
Those fertility-enhancing therapies include both assisted reproductive technologies and ovulation stimulation medications. About 12 percent of U.S. women have had fertility therapies.
Infantilization of America–notion that a 26 year old is a kid needing Daddy’s insurance
— @jpodhoretz via web
Complete or d-transposition of the great arteries was uniformly lethal until the advent of the atrial switch procedures (Mustard, Senning). However, these procedures opened up a Pandora’s box of long-term problems, including failure of the systemic RV, baffle leaks and obstruction, pulmonary hypertension, and dysrhythmias.
—Report of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Working Group on Research in Adult Congenital Heart Disease
Thirty-three days ago, my 22-year-old daughter had an eight-hour open heart surgery at one of the top cardiac care facilities in the world. On my employer’s health insurance.
Thank you, President Obama.
Her Pandora’s Box of problems began opening in September 2010. She worked full time, went to college part time. She was doing all the “get ahead” go-go-go moves conservatives love to laud—paying taxes, working, going to school—all the while keeping her regular cardiology check-ups. With a heart pumping in reverse, a pacemaker, strong beta-blockers, an internal cardio-defibrillator, and a terrific cardiologist specializing in adults with congenital heart defects, she was able to function at a level that made her indistinguishable on the surface from any other young adult.
But then a cascade began, a not uncommon one with her correction. Tachycardia, fibrillation, fatigue, dizziness. Treadmill tests, catheterizations, ablations, electo-physiological studies. A couple of months were spent trying to pin down what turned out to be two separate issues. Months and months ensued of failed mild interventions, further diagnostics, tweaks, all trying to avoid a risky open heart surgery that would remove all the device leads that had become embedded over the years in her heart wall tissue and her mitral valve, obstructing flow and triggering heart rhythms in excess of 250 beats per minute. Multiple firings of her ICD left her shaky and weak with one foot planted in the land of PTSD.
While she was insured as an adult through work, it was not an ideal plan for someone with her condition—high deductibles, high co-pays, high out-of-pocket on a salary set right at living wage. Her employer hires lots of young, healthy adults and for those workers, it serves. For my daughter, not so much. Until Obamacare, it was the best she could do. My employer, on the other hand, had a great insurance plan. The moment adult children under 26 became eligible, I moved her onto my insurance, and with zest and thankful prayers, I paid the extra premium. Just in time, as it turns out, for the downward spiral of hospitalizations.
You want to know what it’s like to hear your daughter is at high risk for something calledsudden cardiac death syndrome? No, you don’t. Really.
(Continued below the fold)
Understand this, though: The last thing you want to be inflicted with, on top of every other worst case scenario playing out in your panicked brain, is concern about whether the good news is that you’ll have to help your daughter figure out how to declare medical bankruptcy from a hospital bed at age 22.
Again, thank you, President Obama.
This population of individuals is particularly vulnerable because they suffer from conditions they have had all or most of their lives. They have received coverage and treatment as children, only to have it taken away at a time in their lives when they are expected to become self-sufficient. To complicate matters, these patients, who are generally capable of working, often have difficulty finding employment because of their health history.
Her employer kept her on the books under the Family Medical Leave Act for 12 weeks, and then—God bless them—voluntarily extended that three more months. They wanted her back, but no end was in sight. She went on disability during the long, long wait. Will her job still be there when she’s fully recovered this summer from her surgery? Maybe, maybe not. There’s no guarantee. And I suspect in this job market, without a college degree, with the need for time off from work for extensive surgical follow-ups, with new restrictions on activity because of a new porcine mitral valve, any job search is going to be a tough one.
Many of these individuals may not realize that they should be receiving regular care, and even for those who seek care, access may be limited by insurance considerations…. Because the prevention of secondary disability is an important part of ACHD management, this lost opportunity translates into increased human suffering, reduced productivity, and societal cost.
Increased human suffering, reduced productivity, societal costs. That’s a bunch of cardiologists talking, not bleeding heart commie liberals. We pay a cost as a society for these lost young people—the hundreds of thousands of them saved in infancy through mind-blowing (and expensive) medical advances, extensive interventions, the most cutting-edge medical technology, who are abandoned to a Darwinian free market, uninsurable, in their 20s.
All the care wasted over the years! My God, it’s mind-boggling, all the cardiac specialists and facilities, our family agony, the burden put on my daughter herself as she became a teen, to follow to a T complex instructions: make every follow-up appointment, avoid contact sports, no weight lifting, take your beta blockers every 12 hours, stay away from caffeine, track your palpitations, get enough sleep, don’t forget your medical ID bracelet, carry your device card and ask for a pat down when you go through TSA checkpoints. Then the scores of echocardiograms, the half-dozen catheterizations, the two ablations … and even earlier: the first major heart surgery at two days old, the second at 10 months, the closed heart surgery at three months, the blown-for-life femoral vein, the lifelong scars, the pacemaker in the abdomen, the pacemaker moved to the shoulder, the Holter tests, the blood tests three times a week for the first nine months of life ….
All of that, building entire lives around these absolutely essential instructions and tasks to keep a child thriving, growing toward productive and meaningful adulthood, all of that just tossed out. Forget the human cost for a minute and calculate the waste of financial investment in these children-turned-adults suddenly told to knock themselves out trying to find an insurer willing take them on.
Before this week, we already were worrying about her 26th birthday, the confusion of entering the nobody-in-their-right-minds-wants-to-insure-you arena. Face it, what we have here is the mother of all pre-existing conditions. But we figured we had a couple of years to learn the bureaucratic ins and outs. Our talisman has been the pre-existing conditions clause of the health care act; we’ve been hanging on for dear life to that, whispering it to ourselves as we fall asleep at night: “No discrimination due to pre-existing conditions.” In 2014, the year my daughter turns 25, that life-saving prohibition goes into effect.
Thank you, again and again and again, President Obama.
But now my daughter’s entire future is in the hands of nine black-robed jurists, and we are terrified.
If the politics of this were merely personal, I wouldn’t be discussing this. As much as I admit obsessively reading about the health care nightmares of others, I’m not comfortable laying ours out there for all the world to see.
But as special as my daughter is to me, she is not unique.
Congenital heart defects are the most common group of birth defects, occurring in approximately 8 in 1,000 newborns. The improvements in diagnostic, interventional, and critical care skills have resulted in survival of approximately 90% of these children to adulthood. [...]
Now, for the first time in history, these estimates suggest that more adults than children are living with congenital heart disease, and this population is estimated to be growing at 5% per year.
No, she’s certainly not alone—in fact, she’s in a cardiac cohort now of more than one million, one that’s growing larger with every year and each medical advance. And remember, we’re only touching on heart defects here. Combine that group with the number of kids born with other organ abnormalities and conditions they wouldn’t have survived a generation ago and you’re talking millions and millions of children who should be dead, but expensively and inconveniently grow into adults who are not.
Perhaps this daily reality colors my reaction to this:
Yes, jpod. But some people are born with bodies of kindling, and more and more of them are catching fire as adults every year, through no fault of their own except getting premier surgical intervention at birth, following doctor’s orders, seeking medical attention when necessary and flooding your precious free market by staying alive. And they are astoundingly, astonishingly, astronomically expensive. (We had one out-patient procedure that was billed at nearly $150,000. That’s no overnight hospital stay. In that morning, out in the late afternoon, with a new ICD implanted that cost in the neighborhood of $125,000.)
The problem goes so far beyond “infantilization” of adult children that it’s laughable. When you’re 22, with chronic illness that will likely require millions of dollars of medical treatment over your lifetime—and when there are millions and millions more just like you—it points to deep, real, systemic problems, ones that we uncomfortably avoid throughout this political debate: Who dies? (No one!) Who lives? (Everyone!) At what cost life? (The sky’s the limit!) Who pays? (The 10-hour-old baby who gave “informed consent” to agree to pay millions over a lifetime for a reconstructed heart! Wait …)
What’s the point of all the medical breakthroughs if no individual or society can ultimately afford them? Why save children if we’re going to abandon them as adults?
It comes down to this: We either let these children die at birth or we as a society agree to spread the cost among all of us. There really is no other way, no matter what fancy conservative “private solution” claptrap is dressed up and churned out by Heritage next week. No one family and no one individual can possibly shoulder the medical cost of “miracle” lives.
That’s what’s at stake for our family and my daughter at this point in our mucked-up political process. It’s what we’re avoiding, too, as a society or a silly pundit when we focus on whose name is primary on the health insurance plan. The current health care law is a baby step in the direction of having more universal cost sharing. Lose that, and we’re screwed, both as a society and in my family.
One thing is certain: No single case before the U.S. Supreme Court will ever get the degree of attention from my 22-year-old that this one has.
The rest of her life depends on it.
The attorney for Martin’s parents sent a letter on Monday to the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division asking officials to expand their probe to include the decision-making in the State Attorney’s Office run by Norm Wolfinger.
The attorney for Martin’s family, Benjamin Crump, wrote: ”Within hours of the shooting, Sanford Chief of Police Bill Lee met with State Attorney Norm Wolfinger. We also believe that family members of the shooter, George Zimmerman, were present at the police department.”
Wolfinger recused himself from the case and a special prosecutor is now investigating the shooting.
Martin’s parents want to know why Wolfinger’s office made the decision not to charge Zimmerman after the Feb. 26 fatal shooting.
Zimmerman told police he was attacked and fired in self-defense.
In a statement, Wolfinger expressed outrage by what he called, “outright lies” in the letter by Crump.
Also, he encouraged the Department of Justice to investigate and to document that no such meeting or communication occurred.
The Department of Justice is also looking into the Sanford Police Department’s handling of the case.
Last week I spun off an excellent article by TNR’s Tim Noah about the tendency in MSM to let conservative evanglicals have a sort of implicit copyright on the word “Christian.” I generally agreed with Tim’s unhappiness at the unrepresentative nature of this practice, and differed from him mainly because I blamed secular media ignorance of and indifference toward religion as much as evangelical intimidation for the phenomenon. And Kevin Drum added value to the discussion by arguing that “Christian” had become short-hand for cultural offerings of an overtly Christian character, which mostly came from conservative evangelicals, so other Christians had little standing to complain.
Now, interestingly enough, NPR’s ombudsman, Edward Schumacher-Matos, has taken the occasion of this discussion to deal with listener complaintsabout the unreflective use of the term “Christian” in Morning Edition host David Greene’s interview of the director of a “Christian” anti-abortion film titled October’s Baby.
Greene argued, much as Kevin Drum did, that this is a recognized cultural usage:
“‘Christian’ is a well-established modifier when describing a genre in filmmaking, as well as a genre in music,” he wrote me. “There’s an award for Christian music at the Grammys, for example. Amazon and other retailers classify Christian movies as a category for sales.”
We absolutely accept the point that ‘October Baby’, with its message on abortion, could have been classified in other ways – perhaps as a socially conservative film, for example,” he added. “But this was a piece about a very broad genre.”
Greene’s self-defense, however, is pretty obviously circular: conservative evangelicals have appropriated the term “Christian” for themselves successfully, so that success justifies its perpetuation.
Schumacher-Matos is more direct:
Everyone, of course, has a right to name themselves what they want. It is up to us, however, in the broader public and the news media to decide whether to go along.
This is a particularly touchy subject for me not just because I am a mainline Protestant, but because I happen to belong to a denomination—the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)—whose individual churches typically go by the simple name “Christian.” That usage in turn dates back to the desire of the group’s founders to be as inclusive as possible and resist inter-denominational conflict.
Now it’s an unfortunate but inescapable fact that many (though hardly all) conservative evangelicals use the term in an exclusive as opposed to an inclusive sense, rejecting in particular the idea that mainline Protestants are authentically “Christian” because we do not typically embrace biblical inerrancy or treat involvement in conservative cultural and political causes as matters of doctrinal orthodoxy. While conservatives are free to make that aggressive and divisive claim, but it is historically inaccurate and morally dubious.
It kind of reminds me of the incident during the McCarthy era when some conservative Member of Congress called on the Cincinnati Reds baseball team to change its knickname because it was associated with “godless Communism.” One of the player replied: “Let the Communists change their name. We had it first.”
Mainline Protestants (and Catholics, and Orthodox) are generally happy to share the term “Christian” with evangelicals, who hardly “had it first.” If they must distinguish themselves, an adjective or two is not too much to ask, and the same is true of journalists talking to or about them.
[...]New York filmmaker David Sauvage is cofounder of Occupy.com, a nonprofit multimedia and news-aggregation site that launches today with financial backing from Hollywood, lots of complicated internal politics, and a plan to become a must-read for a new generation of activists. “There is so little in the media that the vast majority of people engage with that is alive, or powerful, or truthful, or messy, or complicated, or real,” says Sauvage, 31, whose last project before joining Occupy Wall Street was a TV commercial for WSJ, the glossy magazine of the Wall Street Journal. “I would like to see the makers of content emerge as the shakers of the world.”
That might sound like a tall order, but Sauvage has already seen the movement reward his ambitions. In October, he made a slickpromotional video about Occupy Wall Street, then raised $7,000 on a crowd-funding website to air it on several cable channels, including a segment of Fox News’ The O’Reilly Factor. The spot caught the attention of Larry Taubman, a 61-year-old African-American film producer, who wanted to work with Sauvage on other Occupy-themed videos.
“I’d been waiting for when that next generation was going to arise and basically reclaim their future,” says Taubman, who splits his time between a Seattle law practice and his Beverly Hills film production company, which has worked with celebrities such as Danny Glover and Morgan Freeman. At the time, Taubman was buying pizzas and raincoats for Occupy Seattle but was eager to do more.
Instead of another commercial, however, Sauvage pitched him on going in together to acquire Occupy.com. Taubman’s jaw dropped at the domain name’s asking price, but he eventually snatched it up for a large confidential sum and kicked in another $130,000 in seed money. “It was very clear that the Occupy movement needed a way in which it could speak for itself, and without having to do it through the lens of other media,” says Taubman, who has given Sauvage’s crew of six editors total control over the site’s content. “The reason that we are in existence is that we want to show the world who we are.”
I learned of the impending launch earlier this month courtesy of a public relations firm that has also represented Dolce & Gabbana, Dona Karan, and Bergdorf Goodman. The following week, I met Sauvage and his partners at the Awareness Experiment, an event at New York’s uber-hip Bowery Hotel that brought occupiers together with a crowd of supermodels, socialites, and celebrities including Sean Lennon; Penn Badgley of Gossip Girl; and Zoe Kravitz (daughter of Lenny and a star ofX-Men First Class). The event felt far removed from the heady days of Zuccotti Park. But that was the point: Organizers wanted to expose Occupy to a different crowd.
Sauvage foresees Occupy.com performing similar kinds of outreach. While sites such as OccupyWallSt.org, NYCGA.net, and the soon-to-launch Occupy.net primarily speak to occupiers, Sauvage wants to target “the millions of people who are interested in the movement but haven’t been able yet to engage with it.”
Like the The Huffington Post, Occupy.com will publish and link to stories, videos, music, and photography from across the internet, though it will put more emphasis on artsy and documentary-style content than news. Sauvage has organized the site by type of media (video, audio, text etc.) as opposed to subject matter. “It feels flat to put these things into topics,” he says. For content, the editors have reached out to sympathetic filmmakers and photographers, citizen journalists, and media groups associated with dozens of occupations, including “Occupied” publications in cities from London to Los Angeles.
But can Occupy.com develop a significant following? On the day Occupy Wall Street was evicted from Zuccotti Park, 500,000 people visited OccupyWallSt.org to see what the movement was saying about itself. Sauvage believes that Occupy.com can attract similar numbers during Occupy’s forthcoming “American Spring” protests by offering a more accessible format and wider range of content. “When big events happen,” he says, “people will naturally gravitate towards Occupy.com.”
A Star-Ledger analysis of hundreds of documents shows that ALEC bills are surfacing in New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie is trying to remake the state, frequently against the wishes of a Democrat-controlled Legislature.
Drawing on bills crafted by the council, on New Jersey legislation and dozens of e-mails by Christie staffers and others, The Star-Ledger found a pattern of similarities between ALEC’s proposals and several measures championed by the Christie administration. At least three bills, one executive order and one agency rule accomplish the same goals set out by ALEC using the same specific policies. In eight passages contained in those documents, New Jersey initiatives and ALEC proposals line up almost word for word. Two other Republican bills not pushed by the governor’s office are nearly identical to ALEC models.
As a resident of New Jersey, yeah, I got a problem with that.
Via The Hill, Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois last week turned the Republicans’ love of citing the Bible against them in some clever Passover-inspired jujitsu:
Schakowsky noted that at Seder, the feast marking the beginning of the Jewish holiday Passover, the youngest person asks four questions in an effort to understand the holiday. In keeping with that format, Schakowsky suggested four questions that could be asked of Republicans to describe their budget.
See, it’s not just Republicans and conservatives who can quote Biblical passages for the “authority” to hate gay people, deny health care to women, or give tax cuts to the rich. Democrats can play that game too:
First, Schakowsky suggested asking Republicans, “Why does your budget resolution protect and indeed increase the wealth of the already wealthy at the expense of everyone else?” She then implied that the GOP budget goes against Proverbs 22:16, which says, “He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich — both come to poverty.” [...]
Secondly, Schakowsky asked, “Why does your budget resolution take away the Medicare guarantee?” and then quoted Leviticus 19:32, “You shall give due honor and respect to the elderly.”
She said Republicans failed to live up to that passage by proposing $810 billion in cuts to Medicaid over the next decade.
Thirdly, she asked, “Why does your budget resolution increase defense spending while cutting investments in our children and families?” Here, she relied on Proverbs 16:11, “A just balance and scales are the Lord’s.” [...]
And last, she asked, “Why does your budget resolution take away food from the poor?” To back up this question, she quoted 1 John 3:17 18, which states, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”
Schakowsky isn’t alone, of course, in suggesting that the Republican budget does not comply with Biblical law. In March, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called on Congress to pass a budget that addresses “the needs of the hungry, the homeless and the unemployed first” and “reflect[s] the shared responsibility of government and other institutions to promote the common good of all, especially ‘workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.’” Further:
The bishops voiced support for moves to strengthen programs that help the poor and vulnerable, such as Pell Grants and improved workforce training and development. They also opposed moves negatively impacting poor families such as increasing the minimum rent that can be charged to families receiving housing assistance and a proposal to eliminate funding for the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. The bishops also made the case for protecting programs that help the poor internationally.
Hmm … so in other words, the Republican plan to eliminate Pell Grants and “programs that help the poor and vulnerable” is in direct violation of what the bishops have argued is a moral obligation.
And no, Republican Rep. (and theater producer) Darrell Issa has not yet invited the bishops to appear before Congress to discuss whether the government is violating the bishops’ religious liberty by ignoring these clearly defined priorities.
It is utterly absurd to suggest that our government should be writing its laws according to religious doctrine. We’re not a theocracy, after all, no matter how much conservatives love the idea of Christian Sharia. But if that’s the game Republicans want to play, picking and choosing their favorite portions of the Bible to support their agenda, Democrats should follow Schakowsky’s lead to show that two can play that game.
After House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released his Medicare-ending budget last spring, he and his fellow Republicans faced tough questions and protests attown hall meetings across the country. Protesters slammed Republican representatives for voting to end Medicare and cut vital safety net programs while slashing taxes for the rich.
The House passed Ryan’s newest iteration of the “Path to Prosperity” budget last week, and immediately, multiple Republicans faced backlash from their constituents. Voters gathered outside the Duluth, Minnesota office of Rep. Chip Cravaack (R), calling for a budget that preserves vital safety net programs like Medicare and raises taxes on the wealthiest Americans to help pay down the debt.
Protesters also gathered outside the office of Pennsylvania Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick and chastised his support for a budget “only the 1 percent could love,” MSNBC reports:
Outside the office building by the Oxford Valley Mall, members of Pennsylvania Working Families, held signs and chanted: “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.” [...]
“The Ryan budget, which Fitzpatrick fully supports, is all about cuts to the poor and middle class and tax breaks for billionaires and corporations,” said Steve Nathan of Sellersville, one of Tuesday’s protesters. “There’s nothing in it about job creation.”
The House GOP budget is likely to face even more protests as members return to their districts for the spring recess, considering that Republicans ignored Americans’ opposition to last year’s budget and have shown, repeatedly, that they favor raising taxes on the wealthy and preserving programs like Medicare. The Republican budget does neither, instead gutting Medicare while giving the richest Americans a massive tax break.
The Republican Medicare plan, which does indeed end Medicare as we know it (just a little bit slower than the Paul Ryan budget they adopted last year) isn’t finding much support outside the party, despite the fact that the “premium support” Ryan included in the budget is derived partly from a plan he cooked up with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).
The effort until now had focused mainly on Clinton administration officials and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who co-authored a Medicare reform proposal with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) last year. This past week, however, the Ways and Means Committee changed tactics after unearthing a 2003 vote in favor of premium support by the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Wyden has said that he doesn’t support this iteration of the plan, that the caps it places on growth in Medicare spending are too drastic, and he’s opposed to raising the eligibility age for Medicare, as the Republican budget would. So they can’t really get away with using him any more. So what they’re trying to do now is equate Democratic votes for the Medicare prescription drug bill to what they’re calling “premium support” in their plan. The originator of premium supports, Harry Aaron from the Brookings Institute, says that’s not what this plan is.
Aaron said Republicans are free to use the term “premium support” now that it’s in the public domain, but stresses that what he had in mind when he coined it was far different. He said his model had three characteristics to distinguish it from vouchers, which would lose their value over time: linking the premium support to a health cost index; limiting plan offerings to a small number, “so that beneficiaries could have a shot at rational choice”; and “rigorous regulation of sales together with effective risk adjustment to minimize competition based on risk selection.”
Those characteristics are not in this plan, which is essentially vouchers that do lose their value over time while reducing government spending on Medicare and shifting costs to Medicare enrollees, while setting up a system that will create adverse risk selection with older and sicker people siloed into the traditional Medicare. Others the Republicans are trying to co-opt, including former Clinton officials, who have been previous premium support champions, essentially say this is just cost-shifting that will hurt the elderly.
Which is the message a current Republican congressman, running a high profile race for the Senate in Montana, sent by voting no on the budget plan.
U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg was one of 10 Republicans voting “no” Thursday on the GOP leadership’s budget proposal, saying he couldn’t support a proposal that might put the Medicare program in jeopardy.
That’s actually the mostly telling reaction to the plan. Rehberg knows the fodder that this vote would have provided Sen. Jon Tester against him, because he knows it puts Medicare in jeopardy and wants no part of that. So good luck to the Republicans in finding support outside the party, when they can’t consolidate it inside.
Most voters in the United States say issues such as healthcare, unemployment, the federal deficit, international issues, and gas prices are important to their presidential vote, but less than half say the same about federal birth control policies.
The government’s policies on birth control have received a great deal of visibility in recent months as part of a dispute over the Affordable Care Act’s provisions requiring some religious institutions to offer birth control as part of their health insurance plans. Republican presidential candidates and Catholic leaders have criticized the provision, while President Obama has defended it, albeit while making some adjustments designed to make it more palatable to Catholic institutions.
The 44% of registered voters who say that federal government policies on birth control will be important to their vote is substantially lower than the 73% to 80% of voters who say that about the five other issues tested in the poll.
Democrats are significantly more likely than independents or Republicans to say birth control policies will be important to their vote, but even among Democrats, the issue comes in last on the list.
Eating McDonald’s is sad. Or, rather, it will make you sad. But being sad is sad, isn’t it? A study of 9,000 fast food eaters found that those who ate the junk on the regular were 51 percent more likely to develop depression than those who abstained for healthier options. “Even eating small quantities is linked to a significantly higher chance of developing depression,” explains researcher Almudena Sanchez-Villegas. These fast-food eaters also had less fun sounding lives in general, the research finding them to be more likely to be single, less active, smoke, and work more than 45 hours a week. [The Telegraph]
- Preventing cancer is easy. Alright hypochondriacs, get ready for this: Over fifty percent of cancers are preventable. Of the estimated 1,638,910 new cancer cases that will be diagnosed this year in the United States, more than half could have never happen. How? “Only, After working in public health for 25 years, I’ve learned that if we want to change health, we need to change policy,” says researcher Sarah J. Gehlert. A lot of cancer development has to do with our poor lifestyle choices. (Like, eating McDonald’s.) Unlike DNA or luck, that’s easy-ish to change. ”Stricter tobacco policy is a good example. But we can’t make policy change on our own. We can tell the story, but it requires a critical mass of people to talk more forcefully about the need for change,” she continues. [Wash U]
- The Earth’s clock is all wrong. Some events in history happened more recently than science had originally thought by up to 700,000 years! Woops. The uranium dating process just wasn’t that accurate. But, science now has a new better method. ”This new determination will not only improve the accuracy of each U-Pb age but ultimately our understanding of events in Earth history,” explains researcher Blair Schoene. We imagine, it’s like upgrading to clocks from sundials. [British Geological Survey]
Would a decision invalidating the Affordable Care Act, in part or in whole, damage the Court’s legitimacy? As I wrote on Friday, I’m among those who thinks the answer is “yes,” although I was thinking primarily in the moral, substantive sense of the word. In other words, such athinly reasoned, narrowly won decision should erode the Court’s authority.
You have to go back almost a century, to the cases of the Lochner era, to find examples of the Supreme Court doing something as audacious as it seems to be contemplating now. As Jeffrey Toobin notes in theNew Yorker,
As the Justices have said repeatedly, the courts should overrule the work of Congress only on the rarest occasions. “Conclusory second-guessing of difficult legislative decisions,” Chief Justice William Rehnquist once observed, “is not an attractive way for federal courts to engage in judicial review.” In recent years, the Justices have intervened in these matters solely to protect the rights of minorities shut out of the legislative process.
But whether the public will see things the same way, now or in the future, is a lot more difficult to say.
Who, after all, is going to lead the charge against the Court? Liberal journalists like Linda Greenhouse and Dahlia Lithwick, whose human capital is invested in covering the Court? The fraternity of elite liberal lawyers who served as Supreme Court clerks, for whom undermining the Court’s legitimacy means undermining the value of their own prized credential? Liberal constitutional law professors, who are as invested as anyone in the Court’s significance? … At most, a ruling against the ACA will have the same effect as Bush v. Gore or Citizens United, or Roe v. Wade and Boumediene for that matter; a fair amount of caterwauling, with the Court as an institution remaining unscathed.
Bush v. Gore, a decision just as nakedly partisan and even less legally defensible than a decision striking down the ACA would be, did not undermine popular support for the Court or lead to a rash of executive officials refusing to obey its orders (Democrats liked the Court less … but Republicans thought better of it). Nor would striking down the ACA be the first politically controversial decision the Supreme Court has issued. Some landmark liberal rulings have created a semi-permanent Republican apoplexy about liberal “judicial activism” that becomes more remarkable as we go past four decades without a consistently liberal median vote on the Court. And yet, this selective outrage has comfortably coexisted with a willingness to both use the courts for conservative ends and ongoing public support for the Court.
Andrew Koppelman, the Northwestern Law School professor who followed the hearings for Salon, disagrees. Via e-mail, he writes:
A decision invalidating the mandate would paint Obama into a corner, forcing him to make the Supreme Court a big issue in his reelection campaign. Bush v. Gore didn’t make the Court look good, but it didn’t lead to millions of dollars worth of television ads trying to persuade the American public that the Republicans on the Court are a bunch of despicable political hacks. Look what millions of dollars in negative ads have done to Mitt Romney’s poll numbers. Does the Court really want to subject itself to that?
Bernstein, Lemieux, and others who agree with them may be right. As always, I’m more comfortable saying what should happen than whatwill happen.
But keep in mind that the effect of narrow, seemingly partisan decisions can be cumulative. A decision striking down the health care law might seem more alarming precisely because it’s part of a pattern that started with Bush v. Gore and Citizens United. The liberal base will certainly see it that way. And although the mandate itself has always been (highly) unpopular, the benefits of insurance reform—in particular, the availability of insurance to people with pre-existing conditions—has always been (highly) popular. If the Court throws out those provisions, or causes them to fail, the public might take more notice, particularly if Democrats frame the issue that way.
This brings me to my last point. Public perceptions of this case, and the Supreme Court, are not some static reality. How people react to the final ruling will depend a great deal on what they hear and read, directly and indirectly. And that’s true no matter what the Court decides.
WAR ON WOMEN
Police are looking for a suspect after a bomb went off Sunday night outside a Planned Parenthood clinic in Grand Chute, Wisc.
WGBA, the NBC affiliate in Green Bay, reported the explosion did only a small amount of damage to the building. The television station did not report any injuries.
Juan Williams offers a meme that we are seeing repeated in response to the widespread protests around Trayvon Martin:
But what about all the other young black murder victims? Nationally, nearly half of all murder victims are black. And the overwhelming majority of those black people are killed by other black people. Where is the march for them?
This is an interesting question. It’s also one that Juan Williams, who’s been writing about race for almost three decades, should be able to answer. Moreover, Williams is an award-winning journalist. Should he not know the answer, it would suit him to do his job and find out.
HARLEM — New York public leaders, community organizations and residents gathered Sunday to celebrate the 42nd annual African American Day Parade in Harlem. One focal point of the march was to attenuate the looming violence in neighboring and citywide communities.
The march took place on Adam Clayton Powell Blvd., extending from 111th St. to 135th St., summoning New York dignitaries such as Rev. Al Sharpton, U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel, New York Police Department Commissioner Kelly Raymond, city council members Robert Jackson, Inez Dickens, and assemblyman Keith Wright. The NAACP, the National Action Network, and other organizations joined leaders in celebrating the achievements of the African American community, and reflect on its culture in the 21st century America…
The stream of consciousness regarding violence in the community permeated the street. A banner from State Senator Bill Perkins read, “Drop The Guns! Stop The Violence”–which evoked passionate responses from onlookers.
This is Pittsburgh last September:
[The] Stop the Violence rally was a peaceful, entertaining and uplifting event that felt like a family reunion. The message of stopping the violence was loud and clear throughout the whole day and the Thomas family wants everyone to take that message home every day, not just for one day out of the year.
This was the 10th annual rally Loaf and Cynthia Thomas have sponsored and hosted every September 11 in response to the attack on America and the senseless acts of violence that occur in the Hill District and other “hoods” in the city of Pittsburgh and throughout the country.
A year after his death, the memory of 9-year-old Devin Elliott and other victims of violence in Saginaw continues to motivate residents to take back their streets, the Rev. Larry D. Camel says.
“We’re not going to tolerate kids getting killed in our streets any longer,” said Camel, co-founder of faith-based anti-violence community organization Parishioners on Patrol. Camel said he hopes at least 500 people participate in a second Stop the Violence March at 10 a.m. Saturday in Saginaw.
Last fall, Parishioners on Patrol organized a Stop the Violence rally and march that attracted 150 people, a response to 22 shootings in Saginaw resulting in three deaths.
Dorie Miller Housing Development residents were reluctant to join a protest march Saturday afternoon, but eventually, more than 50 people congregated in front of a makeshift memorial where 19-year-old Andre Blissitt of Indianapolis was shot and killed Tuesday night.
Blissitt was visiting his mother, Timiko Blissitt, and sister, Nakita Muex, when he was caught in a shooting spree in the complex. Muex, 21, didn’t have the words to describe the pain she and her mother feel.
“This was my only brother,” she said quietly into the megaphone. “Now, it’s just me and my momma, and it hurts.”
Hundreds of protestors marched through Fort Greene on Palm Sunday to protest three shootings in the Ingersoll and Whitman Houses that resulted in two deaths last month. “It needs to stop,” said Linda Simpson, resident of the nearby Farragut Houses, and one of the marchers.
Residents of the housing developments blame drugs and disconnected youth for a body count in the 88th Precinct that’s already equal to the number of murders reported in all of 2011. “It’s black-on-black crime,” said Monique Richardson, who grew up in the Farragut Houses. “It’s been a downfall for the past 15 years. Now, you have to be in doors by 5 p.m. [to be safe].”
That’s just a sample.
I came up in the era of Self-Destruction. I wrote a book largely about violence in black communities. The majority of my public experiences today are about addressing violence in black communities. I can not tell you how scared black parents are for their kids, and whatever modest success of my book experienced, most of it hinged on the great worry that black mothers feel for their sons.
There is a kind of sincere black person who really would like to see even more outrage about violence in black communities. I don’t think outrage will do it at this point, but I respect the sincere feeling.
And then there are pundits who write more than they read, and talk more than they listen, and prefer an easy creationism to a google search.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
So she describes in the midst of a long, fascinating interview with Terri Gross, which I had the pleasure of listening to during a rare long drive last week. (The video above is from Jon Stewart; quite entertaining.) The entire Terri Gross interview is splendid. But a high point — an unexpected stretch amid a conversation with many small surprises — is Maddow’s description, during a short, remarkably chipper exchange about her depression, of several of the black dog’s most defining features. A lucid, engaging concision seems to come naturally to her.
Essentially ever since puberty, every since I was 11 or 12, I guess, I’ve had cyclical depression. That’s, you know, something that has been a defining feature of my life as an adult. And it’s manageable, but it’s real. And doesn’t take away from my joy in my work or my energy, but coping with depression is something that is part of the everyday way that I live and have lived as long as I can remember.
Maddow loves her job, and she’s clearly a confident person. Yet she sometimes labors under the imposter syndrome that many depressive types have — the feeling, as she put it,
that [her success] is going to go away at any moment. People are going to realize that I’m a great fraud and it’ll end, so I better make sure this is a good show because it’ll be my last. Part of me feels that way every day.
GROSS: Does the focus that you need and the adrenaline surge that you get doing your show help with depression when you have it?
MADDOW: No. Depression for me is you can’t distract your way out of it, and I think people can understand the difference, if you’ve never been depressed, you can still understand the difference between sadness and depression. It’s like the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. And the opposite of happiness isn’t necessarily sadness, it’s disconnection. And you know, when you are depressed, it’s like the rest of the world is the mothership and you’re out there on a little pod and your line gets cut, and you just don’t connect with anything, you sort of – you sort of disappear.
This sense of disconnection she describes is a central feature of depression, in many ways its essence, along with the feeling of deadness: a sense of isolation from your own life and from others. You’re cut off even if you’re surrounded by people who care about you. This amazes those around you; they can’t believe you can’t feel their sometimes desperate wish they wish to help you.
That said, Maddow is clearly a pretty high-functioning depressive; she gets the job done (with help from a staff) even when she’s down.
GROSS: Does it affect your performance when you’re depressed?
MADDOW: It affects my ability to focus and my preparation. So because I tend to know sort of – I can tell it’s coming – my depression isn’t all the time, so if I’m coming up on a bout of depression, a few things happen, so I can tell it’s happening. Like I just – I’m used to it. I lose my sense of smell and some other things like that happen. And… you know it’s coming; it has nothing to do with anything else in your life. It’s like a train and you just ride until it slows down enough that you can get off. And if I know it’s coming I will try to schedule my work life around not having to, for example, read a complete book. Because it will be hard for me to – with my schedule I will often need to read a book, as I’m sure you know, in a day and getting a book read plus a show done on a day where I’m pretty low and I can’t focus is a hard row to hoe. And so I try to adjust my schedule around it to accommodate.
GROSS: Well, you would never know watching you.
MADDOW: Oh, good.
GROSS: Never. Never know.
MADDOW: I’m not embarrassed. I’m not embarrassed by it. You know, I mean, it’s no – I don’t see it as having any moral component. I’m not embarrassed by it and I know that a lot of people live with it and cope with and treat depression in different ways. And I’ve been able to be a high-functioning person with depression all my life. And I expect that – I don’t expect it to ever go away. It would be great if it did but in the meantime, I can make a life around it.
I don’t watch any TV, and very little streaming video. But this interview makes me want to make time to watch Maddow work. She comes across not just as highly intelligent but as someone with an extraordinary level of deep empathy and — something really hard to summon — a social and moral courage: the courage to confront people and differ with them, including some people I find intolerable and don’t feel I could be civil with, and treat then respectfully, all in front of an audience of millions. Really quite something. This is a great listen.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: