News and opinion from around US-opolis for Wednesday, March 16, 2011.
A people’s movement for overturn Cititzens United.
Next National Action: March 26th!
Video of US Uncut in Mississippi:
David Corn Tweets:
My PoliticsDaily column is a casualty, it seems. @DavidCornDC Curious, what is going to happen to you as a result of the AOL/Huff Post deal?
The finding signals a growing challenge for President Obama as he decides how quickly to pull U.S. forces from the country beginning this summer. After nearly a decade of conflict, political opposition to the battle breaks sharply along partisan lines, with only 19 percent of Democratic respondents and half of Republicans surveyed saying the war continues to be worth fighting.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans say Obama should withdraw a “substantial number” of combat troops from Afghanistan this summer, the deadline he set to begin pulling out some forces. Only 39 percent of respondents, however, say they expect him to withdraw large numbers.
Amid signs of deepening war weariness among Americans, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said Tuesday he will soon recommend a plan for beginning troop reductions, while embracing President Barack Obama’s goal of pursuing a long-term military partnership with the Afghan government.
In a four-hour Senate hearing that was his first since taking command in Kabul last summer, Army Gen. David Petraeus said the tide is turning in the war despite persistent questions about the durability of the Afghan government led by Hamid Karzai and the commitment of neighboring Pakistan to keep militants at bay.
Petraeus cautioned that security progress is still “fragile and reversible,” with much difficult work ahead as the Taliban launch an expected spring offensive. With tougher fighting ahead this spring and summer, it seems likely that the first troops to be withdrawn in July will be support forces like cooks and clerks, not combat troops.
Petraeus said he has not yet decided how many troops he will recommend that Obama withdraw in July. The U.S. has about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan and its international partners have about 40,000.
Andrea Mitchell reports from Cairo that there is “no U.S. support” from the State Department for a no-fly zone over Libya, with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton instead saying that the proposal must go to the United Nations, where it is expected to face opposition from Russia and China.
Meeting with Clinton last night in Paris, Libyan rebels asked the Secretary to launch airstrikes against three airfields, to offer military aid, and to implement a no fly-zone, Mitchell reports.
But the United States is not going to meet those demands, according to an off-camera read out after that meeting — the highest-level contact to date between the administration and the Libyan rebels.
NATO is expected to discuss options for intervention today.
Recent developments in Michigan and its new Republican administration are so astounding, I literally didn’t believe the reports when they first came out. And yet, shocking though they may be, those reports are true and represent a genuine assault on a credible system of government.
Newly elected Republican governor, Rick Snyder, is set to pass one of the most sweeping, anti-democratic pieces of legislation in the country — and almost no one is talking about it.
Snyder’s law gives the state government the power not only to break up unions, but to dissolve entire local governments and place appointed “Emergency Managers” in their stead. But that’s not all — whole cities could be eliminated if Emergency Managers and the governor choose to do so. And Snyder can fire elected officials unilaterally, without any input from voters. It doesn’t get much more anti-Democratic than that.
Except it does. The governor simply has to declare a financial emergency to invoke these powers — or he can hire a private company to declare financial emergency and take over oversight of the city. That’s right, a private corporation can declare your city in a state of financial emergency and send in its Emergency Manager, fire your elected officials, and reap the benefits of the ensuing state contracts.
You might be thinking, “C’mon, that can’t be right.” I’m afraid it is. Michigan’s new Republican governor is cutting funding to municipalities, and if they struggle financially as a consequence, he will have the power to simply take over those municipalities if he believes he should.
Michigan progressive activists are planning to take over the Capitol building in Lansing today, and keep the building open over night to protest Gov. Rick Snyder’s radical budget.
This follows today’s protest by more than 1,000 seniors whose pensions Snyder wants to tax, and previews tomorrow’s rally that’s likely to bring out thousands more.
Snyder’s far-right, radical budget proposal would raise taxes on the middle class and working poor 31% while cutting taxes for corporations a whopping 86%. It would decimate services, cutting state aid to schools, universities and local governments.
Steven Aftergood directs the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists. He also writes a popular blog on secrecy issues.
“Expectations were raised so high at the beginning of the administration that some disappointment was almost inevitable,” Aftergood said in an interview.
Aftergood said the Obama administration has made some huge breakthroughs, such as sharing for the first time the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal.
We still have continuing backlogs. We have obstruction. We have a lack of cooperation or commitment or even implementation of explicit instructions from the president.
– Steven Aftergood of the Project on Government Secrecy
There are some numbers buried in the internals of today’s Post poll that raise this question. To wit:
* A big majority, 64 percent, thinks the best way to reduce the federal budget deficit is through a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes, while only 31 percent think the best way is through only spending cuts. The former position is the one held by most Dems, while the latter is the one held by many Republicans.
* Far more think that Republicans have been not willing enough to compromise on the deficit (71 percent) , than think the same about Obama (52 percent) or Democrats (56 percent).
* The public trusts Obama over the GOP to handle the deficit by nine points, 45-36, even though Republicans are widely presumed by commentators to be the ones more deserving of the mantle of “fiscal hawk,” as it has been arbitrarily defined.
* More Americans agree with the Democratic argument that budget cuts will cause job loss (45 percent) than agree with the GOP argument that it cuts will create jobs (41 percent), though that spread is within the margin of error.
But, a look at exit polling data going all the way back to 1992 suggests that 2012 is far less likely to exhibit such a wide margin among independent voters as 2010 and 2006 did.
Let’s take a look at the data.
There were five presidential elections between 1992 and 2008. The largest margin for either presidential nominee among independents was eight points — in 2008 (President Obama) and 1996 (Bill Clinton).
The 2000 and 2004 elections are more typical when it comes to independents in presidential cycles, however. Then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush won independents by two points in 2000; four years later, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry carried them by a single point.
Taken together, the average margin among independents in those five elections is five points, with the Democratic nominee winning among that electorally critical group four of those times.
There have been five midterm elections since 1992, but there is exit polling in only four of them. (The exit polling in 2002 proved too unreliable to be cited.) The average margin in those four elections is more than 13 points, and three times — 2010, 2006 and 1994 — one party won independents by a double-digit margin, a phenomenon that has never happened in a presidential election.
So what explains the discrepancy between presidential and midterm election voting among independents?
The most obvious explanation is that most independents are not, in their hearts of hearts, genuinely independent. (Any number of poll breakdowns and studies have been dedicated to the idea that some portion of independents are essentially partisans-in-disguise. Although, for our money, the one the Post did a few years ago is the gold standard.)
While these nominal independent voters tend to swing from party to party in midterm contests where the stakes seem smaller and the media coverage is considerably less, they tend to revert to their natural partisan tendencies in the high-profile, big stakes world of presidential elections.
If that theory is right — and it makes good sense to us — that means that the true independent voters in a presidential election are not the 29 percent (or so) of people who identify themselves as such in recent exit polls, but in fact a far smaller contingent that rates in the high-single or low-double digits.
That reality means that independents are not as up for grabs as some might believe. It also puts a premium on identifying and targeting them heading into 2012. Obama, thanks to his demonstrated success among independents and what will almost certainly be a vast political organization nationwide, likely starts with an edge over whoever Republicans ultimately nominate.
Confidence in the U.S. system of government has dropped to a new low in more than 35 years, with public attitudes burdened by continued economic discontent, soaring gasoline prices, record opposition to the war in Afghanistan — and a letdown in hopes for political progress after a bout of bipartisanship last fall.
Only 26 percent of Americans in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll say they’re optimistic about “our system of government and how well it works,” down 7 points since October to the fewest in surveys dating to 1974. Almost as many, 23 percent, are pessimistic, the closest these measures ever have come. The rest, a record high, are “uncertain” about the system.
The causes are many. Despite a significant advance, more than half still say the economy has not yet begun to recover. And there’s trouble at the pump: Seventy-one percent in this poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, report financial hardship as a result of rising gas prices. Forty-four percent call it a “serious” hardship.
I just finished a short piece for the next issue of the magazine about Republican efforts to push through structural changes that either permanently defund the left or reduce its voting strength. In the past, that included efforts to defund public interest law groups, ongoing battles to degrade the power of private sector unions, promotion of “pack and crack” redistricting that limited the influence of minority voters, and support of tort reform rules that hurt trial lawyers. More recently, it’s included their assaults on public sector unions, the defunding of ACORN, and tenacious efforts to pass voter ID laws aimed at making it harder for minorities, the young, and the poor to vote.
One question my editors had when I turned in the piece was an obvious one: don’t liberals do this too? And if they don’t, why not?
As near as I can tell, the answer to the first is no, they don’t. The closest equivalent would be serious campaign finance reform that reduced the power of rich people and corporations, but there’s never really been a ton of support for that among working politicians on the left. What’s more, really hardcore campaign finance reform would hit hard at a lot of Democratic donors too, not just Republican ones. Even in the best case, it would probably tilt the playing field only modestly.
As for the second question, I don’t have a clue.
If you listen to congressional Republicans, you’ll hear plenty of proud boasts about how their fiscal and economic priorities reflect the will of the American electorate.
And if you listen to the American electorate, you’ll hear something else entirely. Take the new Washington Post/ABC News poll, for example.
When it comes to dealing with issue No. 1, the economy, Obama has an advantage: 46 percent say they put more faith in the president, 34 percent say so about congressional Republicans. Obama has a similar 12-point lead on the question of who better understands the economic problems people face, and a nine-point edge on dealing with the deficit.
Among those who say a government shutdown would be harmful, about twice as many say they would hold the GOP, rather than the president, responsible. A similar question two weeks ago showed that about as many said they would blame Obama as the congressional Republicans for such a stoppage.
On the economy, trust in the GOP among independents dropped from 42 percent in January to 29 percent in the new poll.
For all of the Republicans’ messaging, Americans trust President Obama more on the economy and the deficit, and for those who believe the economy is recovering, they’re inclined to credit the president over the GOP, 39% to 6%.
What’s more, a plurality of Americans believe large cuts in federal spending — the Republicans’ raison d’etre — would cause job losses, while a large majority (64%) want to reduce the deficit by combining spending cuts and tax increases, a compromise today’s GOP refuse to even consider.
In other words, those who claim to represent popular will are doing the exact opposite.
Republican claims about public attitudes are patently false, and the American mainstream still isn’t buying what they’re selling. Ideally, this would help stiffen Democratic spines — and give Dems some added leverage in budget talks — since they’re the ones with the edge when it comes to popular will.
Lovable old Paul — whose probable entrance into the 2012 field will steal the thunder of all the other wacky libertarian candidates — raised $1.1 million for his PAC. On Presidents’ Day. According to the Atlantic, “Paul will use the money to travel to Iowa and New Hampshire next week.” (What expensive trips! Is he traveling in a first-class sleeper on the Taggart Transcontinental?)
Paul’s 501(c)4 — the group that isn’t subject to the same onerous fundraising restrictions as the PAC — raised $6.5 million last year, which beats the PACs of Palin and Pawlenty. So it seems like Paul is serious about running again, which is good news for the blimp rental industry.
Of course, Ron Paul has always been quite good at raising money and getting attention. He does rather less well at winning primaries. But maybe an early start would help, because it looks right now like all the primary elections will happen next February.
Oh, and apparently the RNC “quietly adopted rules” saying that states holding primaries before April 2012 have to allocate their delegates proportionally instead of winner-take-all. I think they designed these rules just to make the process as lengthy and painful as possible. As Byron Tau said yesterday:
Such a rule change could mean that candidates who win the early states could nevertheless have trouble assembling the necessary delegates quickly enough, dragging on the primary process.
Speaking of people the Republican Party establishment hates, Politico exclusively reported yesterday that the Republican “elite” all think Sarah Palin is stupid and dangerous and vain and shallow. Well, they all use other words but the basic point is that everyone is conceding that liberals were right about her all along.
Charles Krauthammer, George Will, Peter Wehner — all of these people would be embarrassed about the monster that their years of culture-based populist class warfare against “the elites” created, if they were capable of feeling shame. Instead they are just embarrassed that Palin exists, basically.
Congressional Republicans last week joined the banking industry in decrying a settlement — proposed by the nation’s attorneys general — that would involve the banks modifying about $20 billion in mortgages in order to avoid litigation over the “robo-signing” scandal and other mortgage abuses. Multiple bank CEO’s took their complaints public, while Republicans called the settlement proposal a “shakedown” by regulators.
And now, a few far-fight Republican attorneys general have broken with their counterparts in order to carry water for the banking industry. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) said that he opposes the settlement because modifying mortgages to keep troubled homeowners out of foreclosure amounts to “welfare”:
Cuccinelli said he opposes principal reductions. “That sounds like a welfare discussion, not a regulatory discussion,” he said. “That’s not the appropriate role for attorneys general.”
• $1,000,000 from David Koch, $25,000 from Koch Industries
• $625,000 from Exxon Mobil
• Over $150,000 from Chevron
• $50,000 from Shell
• $25,000 from ConocoPhillips
Further, while Republicans like Barbour blame Obama for higher gas prices – pointing to the Gulf drilling moratorium – the numbers show that U.S. domestic oil production has actually risen to its highest level since 2002.
Even with increased domestic production, the Financial Times reports that the rise “would still not be enough to end America’s dependence on imported oil.” And a 2009 report from the Energy Information Administration found that offshore drilling would have an “insignificant” impact on prices at the pump.
But while Americans continue to pay higher prices for gas, oil-funded Republicans protect generous subsidies to oil companies. And fluctuations in gas prices in the past few years have shown that when gas prices increase, so do Big Oil’s profits.
The former head of America’s most powerful and secretive intelligence agencies thinks the U.S. government classifies too much information on cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
“Let me be clear: This stuff is overprotected,” writes retired four-star Gen. Michael Hayden, in the new issue of the Air Force’s Strategic Studies Quarterly. “It is far easier to learn about physical threats from U.S. government agencies than to learn about cyberthreats.”
The statement is part of Hayden’s introduction to the spring edition of Strategic Studies Quarterly, which explores the strategic issues of cyberwar.
Kasich’s approval rating now appears to be deeply underwater. In the poll, only 35% of respondents said they approve of his job performance, while 54% said they disapprove. In a University of Cincinnati poll released Monday, 30% approved of Kasich’s job performance, compared to 52% who disapproved.
If there was any doubt that Kasich’s showdown with unions irked his constituents, the PPP poll also addressed that issue, finding that voters overwhelmingly sided with the unions.
Nearly six in ten said they supported the unions in the budget battle, while 37% said they backed Kasich. And specifically, 54% said they would support repealing S.B. 5 — the union-busting budget bill — if it comes up for a vote next fall.
GOP members of the Energy and Commerce Committee rejected three amendments today that would have required Congress to accept that climate change is real, created by humans and hazardous to human health.
Today, Republicans in the House energy committee voted not once, not twice, but three times, against amendments recognizing that climate change is real, despite the broad scientific consensus that “climate change is happening and human beings are a major reason for it.” They then unanimously voted in favor of the Upton-Inhofe bill to repeal the EPA’s scientific endangerment finding on greenhouse pollution. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) succinctly expressed the day’s proceedings:
This is a war on science.
The 31 Republicans and three Democrats who voted in favor of H.R. 910 have received a grand total of $343,750 from Koch Industries, an average of more than $10,000 each. Freshman Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS), Koch’s special man in Congress, tips the scales at $79,500.
The Supreme Court struck a major blow for political democracy a half century ago by establishing the “one person, one vote” rule for electoral districts. In the past decade, however, the court has failed to finish the job by leaving the time-dishonored practice of partisan gerrymandering effectively immune to judicial oversight.
The Warren Court started the reapportionment revolution with its 1962 decision, Baker v. Carr, despite the warning from dissenting justice Felix Frankfurter against venturing into a “political thicket.” After retirement, Chief Justice Earl Warren said he considered the reapportionment decisions the most important of his 15-year tenure — outranking even Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark school desegregation case.
The Supreme Court entered the political thicket in the 1960s because the political process was broken.
With no Supreme Court standard, partisan gerrymandering is all but certain to proceed apace in the current redistricting cycle.
Last night as Republicans sought to pass a “right to work” bill in Missouri, over 500 workers packed the state Senate gallery, reminding lawmakers of the 5000 anti-union bill protesters who filled Kiener Plaza last week. Republicans were unable to even gather enough support to bring their anti-union bill to a vote.
Clogging the Wisconsin Capitol grounds and screaming angry chants, tens of thousands of undaunted pro-labor protesters descended on Madison again Saturday and vowed to focus on future elections now that contentious cuts to public worker union rights have become law.
“This is so not the end,” said protester Judy Gump, a 45-year-old English teacher at Madison Memorial High School. “This is what makes people more determined and makes them dig in.”
The suit claims the bill contains substantial fiscal items that would have a detrimental impact on Dane County and its citizens, and that there were public meeting violations by the Joint Conference Committee that passed the bill Wednesday.
Defendants in the case include Secretary of State Doug La Follette, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Senate President Mike Ellis, and Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder.
Opponents of a planned mosque near Ground Zero have filed a suit saying New York wrongly failed to give landmark status to the building that will house it.
Lawyers for a conservative advocacy group founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson are preparing to argue before a Manhattan judge the city erroneously did not give landmark status to a 152-year-old warehouse at 45-47 Park Place, two blocks north of Ground Zero, the New York Daily News reported Monday.
Plans called for the site, known as the Park51 project, to house a community center and Muslim prayer space. The project was given the go-ahead by the Landmarks Preservation Commission in August.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
In a recent issue of The New York Times Magazine, Sam Anderson wrote about the delights of writing and reading marginalia in books by and for grownups. But what about children, champion scribblers and their own literary possessions?
According to a new book “The Child Reader: 1700-1840,” by Matthew Grenby, just published in Britain and due here this spring from Cambridge University Press, as early as the 18th century, children practiced the composition of formal invitations, wrote about their friends and families and even drew themselves into the stories that they were reading.
Mr. Grenby, a reader in children’s literature at the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics at Newcastle University, spent 10 years poring over thousands of children’s books from the 18th and 19th centuries, mostly from four library and university collections, three of them in the U.S.
The study of marginalia is well established among literary enthusiasts, as H. J. Jackson noted in his book “Marginalia” (2002). Whether the scribbles themselves will disappear in the era of e-readers or will take an entirely new form is something for the next generation to determine.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
The party of Lincoln and Liberty was transmogrified into the party of hairy-backed swamp developers and corporate shills, faith-based economists, fundamentalist bullies with Bibles, Christians of convenience, freelance racists, misanthropic frat boys, shrieking midgets of AM radio, tax cheats, nihilists in golf pants, brownshirts in pinstripes, sweatshop tycoons, hacks, fakirs, aggressive dorks, Lamborghini libertarians, people who believe Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk was filmed in Roswell, New Mexico, little honkers out to diminish the rest of us, Newt’s evil spawn and their Etch-A-Sketch president, a dull and rigid man suspicious of the free flow of information and of secular institutions, whose philosophy is a jumble of badly sutured body parts trying to walk.