You can access all the past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV and in the Speaker’s Corner.
There are still plenty of details to be worked out with the budget deal, but based on what we know about its top-lines, I put together the following chart to show the impact it will have on overall federal spending in FY2011:
Notice that spending actually goes up in FY2011 compared to FY2010? That’s because despite cuts in discretionary programs, increases in mandatory programs will drive spending higher. In fact, excluding TARP, spending will go up by 2.9%—about $103 billion. Yay, tea party!
You may wonder how I came up with the numbers in these charts. Well, the historical numbers are from CBO’s Budget And Economic Outlook of January 2011. The 2011 numbers used CBO’s figures as a baseline, but took into account what we know about the deal:
- The overall package of cuts amounts to $38.5 billion.
- Defense spending will increase by about $4 billion, so foreign and domestic spending will actually drop by $42.5 billion.
- Foreign and state department funding will go down $8 billion.
- Of the $34.5 billion in remaining cuts, $17 billion will be so-called CHIMPs—changes in mandatory programs—meaning $17.5 billion will come from domestic discretionary programs.
Based on the above details, I simply adjusted the defense, foreign, and domestic discretionary numbers from 2010 levels by the appropriate amounts (+4, -8, and -17.5, respectively). I used CBO’s projection for FY2011 mandatory spending, less TARP, as a baseline and subtracted the budget deals $17 billion in cuts from CHIMPs.
You’ll also notice that I excluded TARP from the chart. If I had included it, FY2011 spending would have gone up by even more relative to FY2010, but not for the reason you think. Because TARP is a credit program, loan repayments in FY2010 made spending levels seem lower than they were, while the loans, when made in FY2009, made spending seem higher than it actually was. So while TARP actually added to the deficit in FY 2009, it reduced the deficit in FYs 2010 and 2011. See this CBO document for more detail.
So with all the boring stuff out of the way, for amusement’s sake, let’s compare what things would have looked like had we simply frozen FY2010 discretionary spending levels (and not had the $17 billion in CHIMPs).
Looks an awful lot like the first chart, doesn’t it? (If you’re really sick, check out this overlay I did of the two charts. It’s sure to drive a teahadist nuts.)
Bottom-line: $38.5 billion is real money, but it’s still a 1% decrease in what we would have otherwise spent in FY2011, and overall, spending is still increasing. It’s not exactly a great day for Keynesian economics, especially given some of the rhetoric Democrats are throwing around, but it’s worth remembering that if tea partiers really set out to actually cut government spending, they’ve already failed in their first test.
Step 1 for Congressional Republicans, in pursuing their perceived election mandate, was the new spending-cut compromise with
President Obama, reached Friday.
Step 2 comes with a radically higher degree of difficulty.
Because it involves a threat to resist increasing the federal debt limit, this phase could jeopardize Republicans’ relations with business donors who help finance their campaigns. Because it involves cuts in Medicare, it endangers the votes of older Americans who helped fuel their midterm victories.
Even more problematic: Medicare cuts appeared nowhere in House Republicans’ 2010 Pledge to America. To the contrary, it attacked Democrats for cutting Medicare.
Indeed, Step 2 presents a supreme test of a party’s ability to claim, define and enact an electoral mandate — which is never easy. No wonder Rep. Paul D. Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, acknowledged that his budget plan would hand Democrats a political weapon.
“They’re right to be nervous about it,” said James A. Stimson, a University of North Carolina political scientist and a co-author of the recent book “Mandate Politics.” By his measure, the resistance of Democrats who still control the White House and Senate means Republicans cannot claim a mandate any more than Mr. Obama could upon taking office in 2009.
“The history of parties that pursue ambitious policies without a mandate is, they get in trouble,” he said. “Look no further than Obama and health care.”
The Elusive Mandate
Mandates are elusive because voters cast ballots for people, not policies. As fluctuating polls demonstrate, public preferences represent an ephemeral composite of considerations — some contradictory, like the simultaneous desire for minimal taxes and robust services.
Mr. Obama, running in 2008, promised “affordable, accessible health care for every American.” He won 53 percent of the vote.
But Mr. Obama promised many things and watched as economic conditions deteriorated drastically during his campaign. Republicans ferociously contested his mandate on health care — and made political gains even while failing to block the legislation.
In practical terms, … policy mandates exist only when both parties embrace common interpretations of an election’s results. Since World War II, that has happened only three times, by the authors’ reckoning.
One was 1965, after President Lyndon B. Johnson’s landslide election over Barry Goldwater. Moderate Republicans, battling Goldwater conservatives for party control, joined Democrats to create Medicare.
Another was 1981, after Ronald Reagan won the presidency. Conservative Democrats, convinced that their party had moved too far to the left, joined Republicans to cut income tax rates.
The third was 1995, after Newt Gingrich led the successful effort to break the Democrats’ 40-year grip on the House. President Bill Clinton conceded, “The era of big government is over.”
Even so, Mr. Clinton ultimately outmaneuvered Mr. Gingrich as he pursued the Republican mandate. The fact that Mr. Clinton outlasted Mr. Gingrich in office represents a cautionary tale for SpeakerJohn A. Boehner.
Flirting With Danger
After the 2010 elections, Mr. Boehner asserted, “It’s pretty clear the American people want us to do something about cutting spending.” Mr. Obama, in signing a 2011 budget for domestic discretionary programs that is far below what he proposed when Democrats ran the House, accepted that point.
But the White House has not accepted the Republicans’ point on how to cut Medicare. And history suggests that Republicans risk a backlash by seeking to pare that program or the Social Security system that Franklin D. Roosevelt established after his 1932 Depression-era victory.
As popular as he was in 1981, Mr. Reagan was forced to quickly back off his administration’s proposal to curb Social Security benefits.
In 1995, Mr. Gingrich pursued Medicare cuts that were not part of his Contract With America. That proved crucial to Mr. Clinton’s comeback and 1996 re-election.
President George W. Bush in 2004 pledged to overhaul Social Security. Frightened Republicans killed the idea — and lost Congress in 2006 anyway.
What makes Republicans’ current effort an even bigger high-wire act is that they have effectively made it a condition of cooperation on the debt limit. Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase warned recently that failing to raise the limit could produce a “catastrophic” reaction from investors.
So 2010 victors like Senator Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania face difficult choices. Last year, Mr. Toomey said, “I haven’t read” Mr. Ryan’s plan. Last week, Mr. Toomey said Mr. Ryan deserved “a great deal of credit” for his plan. But he reserved judgment on its contents.
At a fundraiser this weekend, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said that there’s “not a chance” that President Obama will get “a clean bill” to raise the debt ceiling “without something really, really big attached to it.” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) concurred, insisting Obama’s “going to have to meet Congress halfway” or “we’re not going to have any changes” to the debt ceiling.
When home furnishing giant Ikea selected this fraying blue-collar city to build its first U.S. factory, residents couldn’t believe their good fortune.
But three years after the massive facility opened here, excitement has waned. Ikea is the target of racial discrimination complaints, a heated union-organizing battle and turnover from disgruntled employees.
Workers complain of eliminated raises, a frenzied pace and mandatory overtime. Several said it’s common to find out on Friday evening that they’ll have to pull a weekend shift, with disciplinary action for those who can’t or don’t show up.
Some of the Virginia plant’s 335 workers are trying to form a union. The International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said a majority of eligible employees had signed cards expressing interest.
In response, the factory — part of Ikea’s manufacturing subsidiary, Swedwood — hired the law firm Jackson Lewis, which has made its reputation keeping unions out of companies. Workers said Swedwood officials required employees to attend meetings at which management discouraged union membership.
The dust-up has garnered little attention in the U.S. But it’s front-page news in Sweden, where much of the labor force is unionized and Ikea is a cherished institution. Per-Olaf Sjoo, the head of the Swedish union in Swedwood factories, said he was baffled by the friction in Danville. Ikea’s code of conduct, known as IWAY, guarantees workers the right to organize and stipulates that all overtime be voluntary.
Laborers in Swedwood plants in Sweden produce bookcases and tables similar to those manufactured in Danville. The big difference is that the Europeans enjoy a minimum wage of about $19 an hour and a government-mandated five weeks of paid vacation. Full-time employees in Danville start at $8 an hour with 12 vacation days — eight of them on dates determined by the company.
What’s more, as many as one-third of the workers at the Danville plant have been drawn from local temporary-staffing agencies. These workers receive even lower wages and no benefits, employees said.
Swedwood’s Steen said the company is reducing the number of temps, but she acknowledged the pay gap between factories in Europe and the U.S. “That is related to the standard of living and general conditions in the different countries,” Steen said.
Bill Street, who has tried to organize the Danville workers for the machinists union, said Ikea was taking advantage of the weaker protections afforded to U.S. workers.
“It’s ironic that Ikea looks on the U.S. and Danville the way that most people in the U.S. look at Mexico,” Street said.
After dipping during the recession, CEO salaries at major corporations are growing again at record rates. The median CEO pay in 2010 rose to $9.6 million, a 12 percent increase over 2009, as American businesses turned profits at the fastest rates in 60 years. The nation’s unemployment rate, meanwhile, is at 8.8 percent.
But very few of them capture what’s happened over the last 30 years or so as well as this image:
One can argue about why this is happening. Some say it’s the result of a decline in workers’ bargaining power as labor unions have weakened, while others blame the rise of offshoring and outsourcing. But despite the best efforts of some commentators, there’s really no serious debate about the overall realignment of income in our age: The already super-rich have vastly increased their share of the pie–at the expense of everyone else.
Contrary to the idea of charters as small, locally run schools, approximately a third of them now rely on management companies — which can be either for-profit or non-profit — to perform many of the most fundamental school services, such as hiring and firing staff, developing curricula and disciplining students. But while the shortcomings of traditional public schools have received much attention in recent years, a look at the private sector’s efforts to run schools in Ohio, Florida and New York shows that turning things over to a company has created its own set of problems for public schools.
Government data suggest that schools with for-profit managers have somewhat worse academic results than charters without management companies, and a number of boards have clashed with managers over a lack of transparency in how they are using public funds.
“I cannot say for certain—not with the certainty of a Bill Gates or a Mike Bloomberg who pontificate with utter certainty over a field in which they know absolutely nothing—but more and more I suspect that a major goal of the reform campaign is to make the work of a teacher so degrading and insulting that the dignified and the truly educated teachers will simply leave while they still retain a modicum of self-respect,” he added. “In less than a decade we been stripped of autonomy and are increasingly micromanaged. Students have been given the power to fire us by failing their tests. Teachers have been likened to pigs at a trough and blamed for the economic collapse of the United States. In New York, principals have been given every incentive, both financial and in terms of control, to replace experienced teachers with 22-year-old untenured rookies. They cost less. They know nothing. They are malleable and they are vulnerable to termination.”
The truly educated become conscious. They become self-aware. They do not lie to themselves. They do not pretend that fraud is moral or that corporate greed is good. They do not claim that the demands of the marketplace can morally justify the hunger of children or denial of medical care to the sick. They do not throw 6 million families from their homes as the cost of doing business. Thought is a dialogue with one’s inner self. Those who think ask questions, questions those in authority do not want asked. They remember who we are, where we come from and where we should go. They remain eternally skeptical and distrustful of power. And they know that this moral independence is the only protection from the radical evil that results from collective unconsciousness. The capacity to think is the only bulwark against any centralized authority that seeks to impose mindless obedience. There is a huge difference, as Socrates understood, between teaching people what to think and teaching them how to think. Those who are endowed with a moral conscience refuse to commit crimes, even those sanctioned by the corporate state, because they do not in the end want to live with criminals—themselves.
Cornell University professors will soon publish research that concludes natural gas produced with a drilling method called “hydraulic fracturing” contributes to global warming as much as coal, or even more.
The conclusion is explosive because natural gas enjoys broad political support – including White House backing – due to its domestic abundance and lower carbon dioxide emissions when burned than other fossil fuels.
Cornell Prof. Robert Howarth, however, argues that development of gas from shale rock formations produced through hydraulic fracturing – dubbed “fracking” – brings far more methane emissions than conventional gas production.
Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years,” states the upcoming study from Howarth, who is a professor of ecology and environmental biology, and other Cornell researchers.
Howarth and Cornell engineering Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, who also worked on the study, acknowledged uncertainties in the nexus between shale gas and global warming in a presentation last month.
“We do not intend for you to accept what we reported on today as the definitive scientific study with regard to this question. It is clearly not. We have pointed out as many times as we could that we are basing this study on in some cases questionable data,” Ingraffea said at a mid-March seminar, which is available for viewing on Howarth’s website.
“What we are hoping to do by this study is to stimulate the science that should have been done before, in my opinion, corporate business plans superceded national energy strategy,” he added.
If Democrats allow Republicans to frame the upcoming debate over Paul Ryan’s proposals as a debate over whether dramatically changing Medicare in isolation is or isn’t necessary to salvage our fiscal situation, Dems will be in a weak position at the outset.
The Associated Press talked to voters on Paul Ryan’s home turf, and discovered that even they are uneasy about his Medicare proposals. But take a look at why they’re uneasy:
“I think that’s one of the things they should probably leave alone — you know — unless it’s absolutely necessary,”
These folks are worried about doing away with Medicare as we know it, but they are grappling with whether or not this will be necessary to put the nation on firmer fiscal footing. This suggests that they are not aware of the full Democratic case against Ryan’s proposals — that they also contain tax cuts for the rich, and that those cuts are what would make it necessary to reshape Medicare dramatically, in order to pay for them. In other words, they are proceeding from the premise that Ryan’s Medicare proposal is about fixing our fiscal situation in a way that would spread the pain around evenly — and not aware that it would shift the burden for fixing our fiscal situation downward, in keeping with conservative tax-cutting ideology.
From the outset, it’s been clear that the key to Ryan’s sales pitch would be twofold: Persuade folks that there’s a severe crisis that needs addressing, and more crucially, that his solution to the problem would involve spreading sacrifice around evenly to everyone. This is why it’s so important for Obama to draw a sharp line and insist that high end tax increases must be part of the discussions, period, full-stop. It’s a good way to force Republicans to defend the priorities at the core of their proposals. If this becomes just a debate over whether we have a problem and how far we should go in overhauling “entitlements” to fix it, rather than a debate over who would bear the brunt of fixing our fiscal problem under the proposed overhauls, then Dems will already be in a weak position and will have a tougher time drawing a hard line against any major entitlement changes, presuming that’s what they are still hoping to do.
Interesting investigation into cost of healthcare. Standout point: to establish cost-effectiveness of treatments requires putting a monetary value on life. And this has been done: “a year of life is worth $50,000 in medical bills”
A federal appeals court ruled Monday that the most contested provisions of Arizona’s immigration law will remain blocked from taking effect, handing the Obama administration a victory in its efforts to overturn the legislation.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a lower court ruling that put on hold key provisions of the Arizona law, which empowers police to question people whom they have a “reasonable suspicion” are illegal immigrants. The measure has triggered a fierce national debate.
In the 2-1 decision, the court found that U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton “did not abuse” her discretion in blocking parts of that law that would, among other things, require police to check immigration status if they stop someone while enforcing other laws.
The court ruled only on whether Bolton’s order should be upheld, not on whether the Arizona measure is legal, and the Justice Department’s move to have the entire law declared unconstitutional will proceed. But the judges gave strong indications that they accept the administration’s argument that the legislation is unconstitutional and would rule that way in the end.
In her July ruling, Bolton blocked provisions of the Arizona law that would require police to check immigration status if they stop someone while enforcing other laws, would allow for warrantless arrests of suspected illegal immigrants and would criminalize the failure of immigrants to carry registration papers. Civil rights groups and federal lawyers had objected to those provisions in particular, while Arizona officials defended them as necessary to fight a tide of illegal immigration.
Bolton allowed other provisions to take effect, including one making it a crime to stop a car to pick up day laborers.
The Justice Department lawsuit, filed in July 2010, was a rare assertion of federal power that sets up a clash with a state on one of the nation’s most divisive political issues. The lawsuit said the Arizona measure conflicts with federal law, would disrupt immigration enforcement and would lead to police harassment of those who cannot prove their lawful status.
Lawmakers across the country had vowed to copy Arizona’s strict crackdown, but state budget deficits coupled with the federal challenge and the political backlash at the law, have made passage of such statutes uncertain.
Major progressive media stars have recently lost their platforms, while the Huffington Post eschews progressivism — both worrying developments in the media war with the right.
[P]rogressives are perpetually put on the defensive by the right-wing media, and so are Obama and the Democrats, for that matter. The relentless conservative propaganda machine dominates the public discourse more than ever. The alarming result is that, according to a number of polls, the constant repetition of conservative disinformation results in many Americans increasingly denying reality.
We have reached this point over a 30- to 40-year process in which conservatives built and funded an infrastructure that is now so well entrenched it operates seamlessly. We are being overrun by a relentless, orchestrated, coordinated machine that hammers away with propaganda and obvious lies, shaped by conservative values and pro-business and corporate talking points. These are woven into conservative narratives delivered by big personalities in every corner of the media where they dominate the discourse and have the largest and most active audiences. It is, in a word, a juggernaut.
So it’s particularly troubling that a bunch of bold-face progressive voices and talents, the most prominent being Keith Olbermann, have left their media perches for far less visible, and in some cases unknown, futures. Meanwhile, the Huffington Post has married AOL in a $315 million deal, and its editor-in-chief, Arianna Huffington, has gone out of her way to say that Huff Po hasn’t been a “left” publication for more than three years, and actually, of all that huge traffic to the site, only 15-20 percent has been to the political content. Tell that to all those progressive bloggers who thought they were sitting atop the Mount Rushmore of political visibility.
Right-Wing Propaganda Breeds Denial
Take climate change and Obama’s country of birth, for just two obvious examples… Only 57 percent of Americans now believe this inconvenient truth — down from 77 percent in 2006, when Al Gore’s film was released… On the question of Obama’s birth, the results of a Public Policy Polling’s survey on the attitudes of likely Republican primary voters are extraordinary. Fifty-one percent of likely 2012 primary voters said they believe President Obama was not born in the U.S. Birthers make up a majority of those voters who say they’re likely to participate in a Republican primary next year. The GOP birther majority is a new development. The last time PPP tested this question nationally, in August of 2009, only 44 percent of Republicans said they thought Obama was born outside the country while 36 percent said that he definitely was born in the United States. If anything, birtherism is on the rise.
And then the biggie — the Huffington Post was bought by AOL for $315 million, leading to a huge public debate about what the sale means and the future impact of an AOL/Huffington Post. A lot of hand-wringing about the role of its progressive blogging corp., ensued, including an effort by the National Writers Union to persuade bloggers to withhold their copy.
The message from Arianna as she positioned the new merger is that the Huffington Post has not been left for a while. “The tag line we have used a lot is ‘beyond Left and Right,’ ” she insisted. Huffington noted that “her Web site was already shedding its political identity, providing more celebrity news and scandal stories, including a newish section devoted to divorce. While about half of the traffic was on politics a couple of years ago, she said, that is now down to about 15 percent with only one of two dozen “sections” centered on politics.
Media Reformers Gather in Boston: Why Do Conservatives Dominate Media and What Can be Done?
The main reasons for the huge media discrepancy have to do with how the right has invested its money in building a media and propaganda infrastructure and how progressives have failed to do so. Conservative money has always been more radical and political than liberal and and progressive money, which, for the most part, never has been comfortable with media or with political propaganda. In the end, the overall failure of progressive media to gain a serious foothold involves missed opportunities, myths and delusions. And when all is said and done, large wealth — even big progressive dollars — is unlikely, with some rare exceptions, to act to fundamentally undermine the capitalist system that produced it.
The right’s current powerful propaganda machine got started in the early 1970s when the conservatives and the Chamber of Commerce freaked out over the prospect of student and progressive protests taking over the country. This led to a famous memo by Lewis Powell, before he was appointed to the Supreme Court by Richard Nixon, which is credited for laying the framework for a comprehensive and vast long-term investment in an array of think tanks, astroturf groups, right-wing media figures and their books, and the building of a media infrastructure.
Of course, the picture is not all bleak. The progressive media constellation — mostly on the Internet — reaches far more people than ever before. There are half a dozen or more Web magazines and blogs that get 1-2 million unique visitors a month. Added up, excluding overlap, that’s an activist audience of 10 million or more. The progressive blogosphere is energetic, creative, enthusiastically supported by its readers, and in targeted ways can create havoc and win small battles. Amy Goodman reaches the most people with the most consistently powerful news and analysis. There is plenty of progressive media talent looking for an audience, and progressive programing that is worth watching and listening to. But there is no large-scale investment with marketing money or savvy to bridge the giant gap between progressive and conservative media.
In fact, it could be argued that all of us in the progressive media, in part because we are often so shocked at the endless crazy things right-wingers say, are too preoccupied with the right’s messaging. Whether we want to admit it or not, we spread their inanities beyond their base, to millions of others who would likely never have heard of them if they were confined to right-wing media. Of course the corporate media loves to do this too, but when we do it, why should they not?
As progressives media reformers and mediamakers met and talked in Boston at the Conference for Media Reform this past weekend, many celebrated the importance of independent media and applauded the progressive media heroes in their midst, pointing to modest victories and hopes. But there was no avoiding the general pall over the proceedings — the reality of how bad things are, with the double whammy of the power of right-wing media and the overwhelming influence of corporate power over our everyday lives. This dominance was perhaps best symbolized by discussion of the Supreme Court’s appalling decision in Citizens United, which confirmed that corporations are persons and can thus spend unlimited amounts of money to influence political campaigns.
In the conversations in the halls, some wondered, as they have over the past 20-30 years, when will it be our turn? How can we get political media better funded, and not have to spend half of our time fundraising (it seems the right never has to do that.) And how can we better work together? The multitude of smallish, often overlapping progressive media, unfortunately do not add up to more than the sum of our parts. These are questions have been asked hundreds of times before, and as I left Boston, they remained unanswered.
Media erred in assuming public shared their distaste for unions.
The New York Times’ Matt Bai (2/27/11) recommended that “taking the fight to the unions is a good way to bolster your credentials as a gutsy reformer with voters who have been losing faith for years in public schools and government bureaucracies.”
In the March 7 Time, Amanda Ripley wrote that hating public workers is a historical fact: “Since the beginning, Americans have resented government workers’ asking for money. The distrust ebbs and flows, but the less financial security we have, the angrier we get.”
And CBS’s Jim Axelrod (2/18/11) declared, “Unions don’t have any sort of upper hand when it comes to public opinion these days.”
But those assumptions took a hit when a Gallup Poll, reported on the front page of USA Today (2/23/11), found a surprising tilt in public opinion:
Americans strongly oppose laws taking away the collective bargaining power of public employee unions, according to a new USA Today/Gallup Poll. The poll found 61 percent would oppose a law in their state similar to such a proposal in Wisconsin, compared with 33 percent who would favor such a law.
The U.S. spent an astounding $698 billion on the military last year, an 81% increase over the last decade.
U.S. spending on the military last year far exceeded any other country. We spent six times more than China — the second largest spender. Overall, the world expended $1.6 trillion on the military, with the United States accounting for the lion’s share:
And the crowd erupted, lustily and joyfully: “Shut it down! Shut it down!”
As the shouting persisted, it became clear that the government of the most powerful country in the world was being held hostage by a band of fanatics who (1) represent a very small proportion of our population; (2) hate government so much that they relished the idea of closing its doors, no matter the cost; and (3) have neither respect nor patience for the normal democratic give-and-take between competing parties and points of view.
In no serious country do threats to shut down the government become a routine way of doing business. Yet in our repertoire of dysfunction, we are on the verge of adding shutdown abuse to abuse of the filibuster in the Senate.
True, the administration and Senate leader Harry Reid pushed Boehner toward more sensible cuts, protected important programs such as Head Start, and beat back the GOP’s proposed policy changes on family planning, the environment and other issues. But notice that these victories were largely defensive. Republicans, with control of just one house of Congress, defined the terms of debate. “Concessions we can believe in” was not the slogan Obama ran on.
At the heart of Obama’s “Win the Future” State of the Union address was an argument that government action is essential in making the United States more competitive and innovative, and in expanding opportunity for Americans who are being left behind. By distancing himself from this round of the budget debate, the president forfeited an opening to challenge the anti-government assumptions embedded in Republican arguments that are shaped far more by the Tea Party than the movement’s numbers in the country (or its falling poll ratings) would justify.
Of both big policy battles since the 2010 elections, Obama insisted that the most important thing was to get them behind us so we could move on to the main act. But when, exactly, will the main act begin? When will he fully engage? When will he challenge the idea that government’s central obligation is to shrink itself?
The vast majority of Americans oppose shutdowns. They do not share the aggressive antagonism toward government that is distorting our politics. Unless Obama gives voice to this sensible sentiment, we will face more episodes like this one. For if government is turned into something evil, no one has an obligation to stewardship of its institutions. Recklessness in pursuit of political victory becomes a virtue. Indifference to those who are served by or work in government becomes a badge of honor.
In those Tea Party shouts of “Shut it down,” the “it” drips with contempt. We cheer when drug dens or terrorist havens are shut down. There should be no glee over shutting down our government. Threatening the functioning of the public sphere is not an acceptable tactic in a democracy.
For Obama, it is not good enough to cast himself as the school principal scolding competing congressional gangs. He needs the courage to defend the government he leads. He needs to declare that he will no longer bargain with those who use threats to shut down the government or force it to default on its debt as tools of intimidation. We’re all a bit weary of Obama telling everyone to be grown-ups, but this would be the grown-up thing to do.
Congressional Republicans are using fear of the national debt as an opportunity to push through a series of radical and far-reaching policy changes that have nothing to do with addressing the national debt. Run that through your mind a few times. It’s the key understanding everything we’re going to see this year. If nothing else you know the Ryan plan isn’t focused on reducing the national debt since it actually includes a big new tax cut — a cut in revenues. Indeed, Ryan’s plan is the equivalent at the federal level of what his ally Gov. Walker (R) did in Wisconsin — use the short-term budgetary shortfall as an excuse to end collective bargaining rights. Similarly, Ryan’s plan does nothing to rein in medical costs for seniors or even reduce the benefit levels of Medicare. It simply abolishes it outright.
As long as the president just focuses on dollars, he loses. He also helps misinform the public about what’s actually happening. He deprives his supporters and the public at large of any real understanding of what if anything he and congressional Republicans even disagree about other than their wanting to cut a ton of spending on various programs and his wanting to cut 2/3 a ton of spending on various programs.
You’ll know he’s serious when he says he won’t let Republicans abolish Medicare.
* Will Obama draw any hard lines in big deficit reduction speech? The just-resolved budget fight is now pivoting to an even bigger battle over entitlements and the debt ceiling, and the White House’s announcement yesterday of a big Wednesday speech on the deficit appears to be a bid to seize the initiative in that fight and frame it to the President’s advantage.
The general consensus so far is that Obama will offer a target number for deficit reduction, articulate parameters within which he thinks the negotiations should unfold, and reiterate his call for the tax cuts for the rich to expire. What remains to be seen is how clearly — or whether — he’ll articulate core principles he’s unwilling to budge from and whether he’ll articulate a baseline vision that’s non-negotiable.
Will the President indicate that even if he’s willing to entertain Medicare adjustments, the program’s core mission is sacrosanct — period, full stop — and that any talk to the contrary is a conversation-ender? Will he signal firmly enough that any talks that don’t include tax hikes on the rich are a non-starter? Or will the thrust of the speech merely serve to telegraph a willingness to strive for compromise as a goal for its own sake? At bottom, the question is whether Obama will go on the offensive, or whether the speech will put Dems on a weak footing going into this next battle.
* Did Obama really entertain “major changes” to Social Security? The New York Times explains the White House’s thinking on the defict reduction speech as follows:
Several presidential advisers interviewed in recent weeks said Mr. Obama has been torn between wanting to propose major budget changes to entice Republicans to the bargaining table, including on Social Security, and believing they would never agree to raise revenues on upper-income Americans as part of a deal.
It’s hard to imagine that anyone could conclude that it would be a good idea to signal a willingness to entertain major changes to Social Security at the outset, on the theory that it could induce Republicans to make concessions on tax cuts for the rich. So let’s presume this isn’t an indicator of what’s to come in the speech even in the most general sense.
* Plouffe: Tax hikes must be part of discussion: The closest we’ve seen to a hard line so far is when White House adviser David Plouffe said: “Revenues are going to have to be part of this.”
* Pfeiffer vows stark contrast in visions: Also, with Dems increasingly nervous about how Obama will handle the upcoming battles, White House comm director Dan Pfeiffer promises that Obama’s vision will be “starkly different” from the Ryan vision, and strongly rejects any suggestion that Obama’s philosophy has changed.
* Liberals won’t accept any mushy compromise talk: Also in the above link, a good formulation from Bob Borosage of the Campaign for America’s Future:
“They will expect the president to come out right away and expose how preposterous Ryan’s plan is. It’s bald and brazen and incredibly indefensible, and the president better make that clear.”
* But Cantor predicts Obama will “capitulate” in spending battles to come: The House Majority leader, on Fox News Sunday, says the debt ceiling fight will serve as “one of those leverage moments, a time when the President will capitulate to what the American people want.”
Relatedly, Cantor also draws a line against tax hikes, claiming the debate over that topic was already “settled” when Obama presided over a deal on temporary extensions of the tax cuts for the rich.
* Boehner reiterates Medicare is next target: Relatedly, the House Speaker says the budget fight is only a jumping off point for the main event to come: The battle to realize Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal, which Boehner calls a “powerful buleprint for economic growth and fiscal responsibility.”
The coordinated push by the two top House Republicans to pivot from their previous victory to the next fights to come signal that the Dem willingness to fight out the spending wars mostly on GOP turf is only emboldening Republicans further.
* Obama won’t negotiate with himself: A senior adminstration official assures a skeptical Jonathan Cohn that Obama won’t cede any ground to Ryan in his speech.
Also note Cohn’s friendly reminder:
Ryan has proposed something truly radical. He wants to end Medicare and Medicaid as we know it, while taking health insurance away from 30 million people.
This requires a big response from the President.
* And is Paul Ryan the foil Obama badly needs? Glenn Thrush on why it would be in Obama’s interests to run hard against the GOP’s budget point man and his plan to end Medicare as we know it, giving Obama an antagonist he has thus far lacked. And note Paul Begala’s interesting simile:
“I hope every Republican in Congress signs on to the Republican plan to kill Medicare, because we will beat ‘em like a bad piece of meat.”
That’s assuming, of course, that Obama is going to take the gloves off.
Americans for Prosperity
Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity
American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC )
Citizens for a Stronger America
John Birch Society
Institute for Justice
Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies
American Legislative Exchange Council
Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment
Media Research Center (MRC) – Koch Industries Climate Denial Front Group
The Bradley Foundation
Tea Party Toolbox
The Heartland Institute
Hot Air Tour
Citizens for a Sound Economy
Citizens for the Environment
I realize that with hostile Republicans controlling the House, there’s not much Mr. Obama can get done in the way of concrete policy. Arguably, all he has left is the bully pulpit. But he isn’t even using that — or, rather, he’s using it to reinforce his enemies’ narrative.
His remarks after last week’s budget deal were a case in point.
Maybe that terrible deal, in which Republicans ended up getting more than their opening bid, was the best he could achieve — although it looks from here as if the president’s idea of how to bargain is to start by negotiating with himself, making pre-emptive concessions, then pursue a second round of negotiation with the G.O.P., leading to further concessions.
And bear in mind that this was just the first of several chances for Republicans to hold the budget hostage and threaten a government shutdown; by caving in so completely on the first round, Mr. Obama set a baseline for even bigger concessions over the next few months.
But let’s give the president the benefit of the doubt, and suppose that $38 billion in spending cuts — and a much larger cut relative to his own budget proposals — was the best deal available. Even so, did Mr. Obama have to celebrate his defeat? Did he have to praise Congress for enacting “the largest annual spending cut in our history,” as if shortsighted budget cuts in the face of high unemployment — cuts that will slow growth and increase unemployment — are actually a good idea?
Among other things, the latest budget deal more than wipes out any positive economic effects of the big prize Mr. Obama supposedly won from last December’s deal, a temporary extension of his 2009 tax cuts for working Americans. And the price of that deal, let’s remember, was a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts, at an immediate cost of $363 billion, and a potential cost that’s much larger — because it’s now looking increasingly likely that those irresponsible tax cuts will be made permanent.
The House budget proposal that was unveiled last week — and was praised as “bold” and “serious” by all of Washington’s Very Serious People — includes savage cuts in Medicaid and other programs that help the neediest, which would among other things deprive 34 million Americans of health insurance. It includes a plan to privatize and defund Medicare that would leave many if not most seniors unable to afford health care. And it includes a plan to sharply cut taxes on corporations and to bring the tax rate on high earners down to its lowest level since 1931.
The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center puts the revenue loss from these tax cuts at $2.9 trillion over the next decade. House Republicans claim that the tax cuts can be made “revenue neutral” by “broadening the tax base” — that is, by closing loopholes and ending exemptions. But you’d need to close a lot of loopholes to close a $3 trillion gap; for example, even completely eliminating one of the biggest exemptions, the mortgage interest deduction, wouldn’t come close. And G.O.P. leaders have not, of course, called for anything that drastic. I haven’t seen them name any significant exemptions they would end.
You might have expected the president’s team not just to reject this proposal, but to see it as a big fat political target. But while the G.O.P. proposal has drawn fire from a number of Democrats — including a harsh condemnation from Senator Max Baucus, a centrist who has often worked with Republicans — the White House response was a statement from the press secretary expressing mild disapproval.
What’s going on here? Despite the ferocious opposition he has faced since the day he took office, Mr. Obama is clearly still clinging to his vision of himself as a figure who can transcend America’s partisan differences. And his political strategists seem to believe that he can win re-election by positioning himself as being conciliatory and reasonable, by always being willing to compromise.
But if you ask me, I’d say that the nation wants — and more important, the nation needs — a president who believes in something, and is willing to take a stand. And that’s not what we’re seeing.
The U.S. government has prevented more than 350 people suspected of ties to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups from boarding U.S.-bound commercial flights since the end of 2009, The Associated Press has learned.
Hundreds of people linked to al-Qaida, Hamas, Lashkar-e-Taiba and other terror groups have been kept off airplanes under the new rules. They include what U.S. officials described as a member of a terrorist organization who received weapons training, recruited others, fought against American troops and had a ticket to fly to the U.S. Another traveler prevented from boarding a U.S.-bound flight was a member of a terrorist organization whom intelligence officials believe had purchased equipment for terrorism.
A third case, in January, involved a Jordanian man booked from Amman, Jordan, to Chicago, who was considered a threat to national security, according to a law enforcement official. The State Department had already revoked his visa. He was on the terrorist watch list but not the no-fly list. He was not considered a threat to aviation.
After U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers performed the now-routine check, the man was kept off the flight. Before the change, he would have arrived in Chicago, where he would have likely been stopped at customs, questioned and sent home.
Throughout the United States, pro-labor activists are beginning to realize that the right to collective bargaining – currently under assault – is intertwined with the right of employees to choose their union, free from fear and intimidation. That’s why a long-overdue trial is taking place in the NLRB hearing room in downtown Oakland, where the Kaiser Permanente union election (October 7, 2010), the largest private-sector election in 70 years, faces a well-documented challenge from NUHW (National Union of Healthcare Workers).
Gingrich and Bachmann will speak to anti-gay organization that thinks it’s “a badge of honor to be called a hate group”
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
There are certain popular diversions — television, video games, the Internet — that we pursue so deliriously we end up hating ourselves for loving them. Others we brightly recast as the duties of citizenship: newspapers, public radio, sports.
All the while, cottage industries crop up to freak us out about our every last cultural pursuit. In recent years, it’s Internet use that’s been styled as potentially sick, and “Internet addiction” a new reason for self-hatred.
If you’re inclined to worry about your habits, you may have already stumbled onto a strange and influential self-evaluation questionnaire by Dr. Kimberly Young, a professor of business at St. Bonaventure University. Though Dr. Young developed the test in 1998, early in Web life, it still dominates the Google returns for “Internet addiction” and steadily stirs up anxiety.
Dr. Young told me she believes the Internet is addictive in part because it “allows us to create new personalities and use them to fulfill unmet psychological needs” — which sounds worrying except that art, entertainment and communications systems are designed explicitly to permit self-exploration and satisfy psychological needs.
The way the test loads the cultural dice in favor of reality over fantasy should make hearts sink. In the hierarchy of the test, any real-world task or interaction, no matter how mundane or tedious, is more important — and, worse, ought to be more fulfilling — than online fantasy, research or social life.
Can this really be science? (And might another psychologist find something to admire in a person who quiets his mind with mere thoughts of the Internet?) I wondered whether other habits of cultural consumption were considered pathological enough to inspire tests. The Web carries a few tests for television addiction, and none for movies. Over on operaddiction.com, there are no tests, only recordings to order.
In general, if a pastime is not classy, those who love it are “addicted.” Opera and poetry buffs are “passionate.”
This kind of Internet use isn’t usefully described as an addiction, even if there’s some shirking of chores and insomnia to it. Fantasy life and real life should, ideally, be brought into balance — but no student who’s making decent grades needs to get off the Internet just because it would look more respectable or comprehensible to be playing chess, throwing a Frisbee or reading a George Orwell paperback. The Internet as Gabriela uses it simply is intellectual life, and play. She’s just the person I’d want for a student, in fact — or a friend, or a daughter.
It’s no accident that “search” is the dominant metaphor of the Internet. And it’s no accident that the Internet attracts a certain kind of young, dreamy mind at some liberty to find itself — the type that in earlier eras might have been drawn to novels or movies. As Binx Bolling puts it in “The Movie goer”: “What is the nature of the search? you ask. Really it is very simple; at least for a fellow like me. So simple that it is often overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life.”
Event: Direct action against a corporate tax cheat on their doorstep. Bring your chants! Bring your signs! Bring IT ON! This is going to be a good time.
Target: Shhh… it’s a secret. Hint: Can you hear us NOW? Pay your taxes.
Location: Union Station, meet up at the Center Cafe in the Main Hall.
Meet-up: 11:30 a.m. Time of Action: 12:00 p.m.
Bonus: Author Nick Shaxson, who recently wrote a book on tax dodging and tax havens, may be participating in a “guerilla book signing” at this event. Check out Nick Shaxson’s website: http://treasureislands.org/
Theme: Full on creative action. If you can sing, sing! If you play a musical instrument, play a musical instrument! If you can get your hands on a pirate outfit (i.e. ‘treasure islands’), then definitely dress up like a pirate (not required).
US Uncut Demonstration * Friday April 15 * Important Information
• This is a non-violent, non-destructive demonstration. It is also supposed to be light hearted, fun, and creative. We will not verbally or physically confront any employees or customers, they are not our enemies.
• There will be an “action” group that participates in an action inside the location and a “support” group with signs, banners, and music to demonstrate outside of the location.
• If there are security guards, police, or employees blocking the entrance to the location, we will not enter the location and instead sit-down outside.
• We will not comply with requests from employees to exit the location. However, we will comply with any requests from law enforcement.
• The support group outside of the location will have a large banner, signs, posters, etc. This group will play music, hand out flyers, sing and chant, etc.
• The support group will not block free access to the location doors and will not block free pedestrian access to the walkway.
• Each person must determine the level of her or his involvement and participation. There are risks involved with participation in either the action or support group. We have no leaders, no structure, no support lawyers, and no network to get bail money if you are arrested.
Rising Tide North America invites all residents, students and youth to join the Reclaim Power.
WHAT: Reclaim Power March & Creative Direct Actions
WHERE: Lafayette Square (H St NW & Jackson Pl NW); Washington D.C.
WHEN: April 18th at the end of the Powershift rally (scheduled from 10am-1pm)
CONTACT: [email protected]
From April 15th through the 18th, thousands of students and youth will be attending Powershift 2011. This conference has been billed as another opportunity to do something about climate change. Throughout the conference, Democratic politicians from Al Gore to Lisa Jackson will tell us the solution is to lobby, vote and work within the corporate-owned political system to stop climate change. They will tell us that supporting the existing leadership’s policies and the creation of carbon markets will stem the rising tide of carbon emissions slowly destroying our planet.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: