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If America were to finally get its act together and address the fiscal situation, it would have a lot of room to make things better in a relatively easy fashion. America’s tax system is woefully inefficient. Improvements to the efficiency of the tax code would allow relatively small tax increases to generate substantial amounts of revenue. Other parts of the budget look hugely bloated relative to peer nations. American military spending dwarfs the spending of its allies and rivals alike. America spends a fortune on health care without doing much better on health outcomes. Its budget fixes would be painful in the sense that established interests hate to see change, but they would not be painful in the sense that there’s no fat to cut.
Remember that great scene in the 1980 film classic, “The Shining,” when the wife comes upon the typewriter of the Jack Nicholson character, who’s supposed to have been working night and day for months on his novel? To her horror, she finds thousands of pages on which Jack has typed, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” formatted in countless, crazy ways. Suddenly his suspected madness becomes all too frighteningly real.
Well, debt limit mania has driven me to a similar frenzied state. If my wife came across my manuscript it would read, “The House Republican budget adds $6 trillion to the debt in the next decade yet the GOP is balking at raising the debt limit. The House Republican budget adds $6 trillion to the debt in the next decade yet the GOP is balking at raising the debt limit.”
I thought about making this week’s column that one sentence printed over and over 30 times. It would have been the opinion page equivalent of a Dada-esque protest against the inanity of the debate — and a cry for every news outlet to focus on this simple, clarifying fact.
The supposedly “courageous,” “visionary” Paul Ryan plan — which already contains everything Republicans can think of in terms of these spending cuts — would add more debt than we’ve ever seen over a 10-year period in American history. Yet Ryan and other House GOP leaders continue to make outrageous statements to the contrary.
Without blushing. And without anyone calling them on it.
Yes, I know: The Democrats’ plans are no better on the debt (though it must be noted that the Congressional Progressive Caucus plan wins the fiscal responsibility derby thus far; it reaches balance by 2021 largely through assorted tax hikes and defense cuts). But at least Democrats aren’t rattling markets by hypocritically holding the debt limit hostage while planning to add trillions in fresh debt themselves.
It’s amazing how some memes, once established as conventional wisdom, are almost impossible to dislodge, however at odds they are with the facts. Griping about this to a Prominent Media Figure the other day, I suggested that maybe if I set myself on fire in Times Square while spouting the truth about Republican debt, the truth would break through.
“Maybe,” he said. “But then you’d be seen as the radical.”
The new definition of chutzpah is Republicans who vote for the Ryan plan that adds trillions in debt and who then say the debt limit goes up only over their dead bodies!
If I were Barack Obama, my mantra on this week’s debt tour and in the months ahead would be that we should lift the debt limit only by as much debt as is needed to accommodate Paul Ryan’s budget. The president and his team should say this every time they’re asked about the debt limit until people can’t stand hearing it any more. All I know is somebody better start saying this soon or I may be forced to do something desperate.
Spending by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce dropped in the first quarter of the year to $10.9 million, according to a lobbying report filed Wednesday. That compares with more than $100 million last year, including millions of dollars on election ads and lobbying on two huge pieces of legislation on health care and financial regulation. The Chamber spent $25 million in the first quarter of 2010 as the health-care bill was finalized. Chamber officials said the lobbying activity ‘remained consistent with previous non-election years.’..The Blackstone Group, a financial services company…reported a 40 percent increase in lobbying spending in the first quarter compared with a year earlier. The company disclosed $1.3 million in spending on the implementation of the new financial regulation law, as well as tax issues.”
A weak dollar, ongoing troubles in the Middle East and North Africa and rising demand from strengthening economies could combine this summer to push average gasoline prices in the U.S. not just above $4 or $5 a gallon, but all the way to $6, energy strategist Richard Hastings tells CNBC.
The Associated Press reports that nationally, the average price for a gallon of regular gas was $3.84 on Wednesday, according to AAA — though (since that is an average, after all) it’s already higher in some places.
The wire service also notes that other analysts don’t buy into Hastings’ prediction, in part because there are already signs that Americans are curbing the number of miles they drive — which should temper demand for gas. “I don’t think we’ll get to $4 per gallon nationally,” says Fred Rozell, the retail pricing director at OPIS.
The unemployment rate fell in two-thirds of the nation’s states last month, the latest evidence that the strengthening economy is encouraging many employers to boost hiring.
The Labor Department said Tuesday that the unemployment rate dropped in 34 states in March. That’s the largest number of states to record a decline since June. The rate rose in seven states and was unchanged in nine and Washington, D.C.
Employers hired more workers in 38 states. A government survey of employer payrolls found only 12 states plus Washington, D.C. lost jobs last month, the fewest since October.
Nationally, the unemployment rate fell in March to a two-year low of 8.8 percent, and private employers added more than 200,000 jobs for the second consecutive month. That’s the largest two-month hiring total in four years.
Most in the GOP have concluded — rightly, I think — that the debt limit debate won’t offer the time or the space for a comprehensive deficit deal. So the question is how the budget process could be remade going forward such that the next comprehensive deficit deal — or everything that happens in the absence of a comprehensive deficit deal — is more to their liking.
Many on the Hill and in the White House expect that the debate will ultimately come down to two alternatives: the McCaskill-Corker spending cap, which would hold federal spending at 20.6 percent of GDP — more than three percentage points lower than it is now, and much lower than it’s projected to be later — and the deficit-reducing trigger that the president included in his budget.
I’ve spent some time looking at the McCaskill-Corker cap and haven’t come away impressed: it focuses on spending rather than debt, sets unrealistic targets given the aging of the population and rising health-care costs and poses a substantial risk of creating a strong incentive for politicians to shift their spending into the tax code, where it wouldn’t count against the cap. But the GOP has repeatedly shown itself more interested in attacking spending than in attacked debt (see “Bush tax cuts, the”) and would like budget strictures that lead to policy being driven through tax credits rather than through direct spending. In a way, the McCaskill-Corker cap forces an approach much like Paul Ryan’s, where the government saves money not by making reforms so much as by shedding obligations.
Obama’s deficit trigger works quite differently: it’s focused on how much debt we have rather than how much spending we’re doing, and when triggered, it makes automatic cuts in both a variety of categories of spending (though with some major exemptions, like Medicare and Social Security) and a variety of tax expenditures. In that way, one of its solutions to debt is to raise taxes, which is a reason Republicans don’t much like it. But a lot of the Democrats I speak to aren’t particularly confident about winning this debate. The case for a spending cap or balanced budget amendment is intuitive, while the case against, though ultimately more persuasive, is technical, relating to the need for macroeconomic flexibility, the dangers of prizing indirect spending over direct spending, etc. And as you’ll see in Wonkbook today, the GOP is organizing on this early, while Democrats are still milling around, and in some cases, finding themselves accidentally on the other side, as in Claire McCaskill’s support for a spending cap that she didn’t realize would get attached to the debt-ceiling debate.
Republicans have started laying down specific demands in exchange for a debt ceiling hike, mostly focused on changing procedure so they can get a good deal on spending cuts later.
Liberal Dems continue to demand a “clean” debt ceiling bill. But it remains unclear how committed the White House is to this approach. And it appears that Dems may again be failing to unify behind a hard enough line, even as Republicans harden their position.
Result: The position in the “center” is now a deal on the debt ceiling, despite the fact that everyone agrees that not raising it would be catastrophic for the country.
Rather, as the ransom note starts to get filled in with specifics, we’re talking about structural and procedural changes. Republicans, in other words, will shoot the hostage (the economy) unless Democrats agree to make it all but impossible to make investments, not just now, but also in the future.
Yesterday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), whose comments on this issue in recent weeks have bordered on idiotic, went even further, declaring that Republicans “will not grant their request for a debt limit increase” unless the party’s structural demands are met, even if that means deliberately destroying the economy.
What might structural changes look like? Republicans are floating a variety of radical ideas, including “statutory spending caps, a balanced budget amendment and a two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases and debt limit increases.”
All of these ideas are hopelessly insane. The caps represents one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard; a balanced budget amendment is the dumbest proposed constitutional change since Prohibition; and requiring supermajorities is so breathtakingly irresponsible, it’s unsettling that Republicans aren’t kidding.
The point, though, is that Republicans aren’t just looking for a few cuts. The debate about whether to cut $33 billion or $39 billion is clearly over. GOP officials are now looking at doing long-term damage to the political and budget process, making changes that would tie policymakers’ hands, be hard to undo, and make it impossible for the nation to respond to future challenges.
And if they don’t get at least some of these changes, Republicans will do irreparable harm.
Remember, Democratic leaders, GOP leaders, the Federal Reserve, Treasury officials, economists of all stripes, Wall Street, and Big Business lobbying powerhouses all say the same thing: Congress has to raise the debt ceiling, very soon, or we’ll all face dire consequences.
As of yesterday, Eric Cantor, in effect, declared, “I don’t care.”
Just a couple of years after Democrats helped drag the economy out of the ditch the GOP drove into, the new House GOP majority is threatening to drag us right back down. This time, they’re willing to do so on purpose.
An awesome couple of days in the earnings world continues with behemoth GE smashing expectations.
Revenue of $38.4 billion came in WAY ahead of estimates of $34.6 billion.
As The Associated Press notes, the decline partly reverses “a sharp jump in applications the previous week,” when claims rose by 31,000. It also writes that “applications near 375,000 are consistent with sustainable job growth. Applications peaked during the [2007-2009] recession at 659,000.” That happened in March 2009.
Many of the largest corporations in the country, such as Oshkosh Truck Corp in Wisconsin, move profits made in the United States offshore in order to avoid paying federal taxes — to the tune of $100 billion per year. The cost of this is passed along to the rest of us. This year, according to a new Wisconsin Public Interest Group report, “Tax Shell Games: How Much Did Offshore Tax Havens Cost You in 2010?” the average tax bill is $434 higher as a result of offshore tax havens. For Wisconsin, the total tax burden shifted to tax filers as a result of tax havens is over $1.5 billion ($372 for each Wisconsinite).
In both the media and in Congress, far too little attention has been paid to the fact that many of the largest and most profitable corporations have quietly shifted their tax burden onto the tax-paying public.
It is outrageous that large and profitable companies like General Electric are allowed to pay less in federal income taxes than many individuals and households are likely to in 2010. Nearly two-thirds of corporations doing business in the U.S. pay no income taxes at all. Large corporations take advantage of and benefit from the many services and public structures provided by our tax dollars. These services include an education system that prepares their work force, government-funded research that helps them remain competitive globally, a publicly funded infrastructure system including roads and public transit that allows them to move their products around the country and the world, and the protection and security that our military provides. Despite the benefits these corporations receive, they do not contribute their fair share like others do.
McDonald’s Corp (MCD.N) forecast higher prices for beef, dairy and other items and said it would cautiously raise prices to keep attracting diners, who are grappling with higher grocery and gas bills.
McDonald’s and other restaurant operators are getting squeezed by accelerating food costs and must figure out how to raise prices without scaring away already skittish diners.
“It’s very hard to pass through price increase right now,” said Stifel Nicolaus analyst Steve West.
McDonald’s now expects food costs to rise between 4 percent and 4.5 percent in the United States and Europe this year. That is up from its prior call for a rise of 2 percent to 2.5 percent in the United States and an increase of 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent in Europe.
Analysts remain worried that high gas prices could force fast-food restaurant patrons to cut back. But Jankovskis said McDonald’s was better equipped than others to cope.
McDonald’s has roughly 32,700 restaurants around the world. The United States alone has 14,000 units, which means customers do not have to travel far to get to one.
On the first anniversary of the explosion that triggered the giant Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the well operator BP has gone to court to force two other companies to share the blame — and the costs.
On Wednesday, BP sued Cameron, the maker of the blowout preventer that failed, and in a separate case cited faults by Transocean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that caught fire and sank. BP is seeking payments to help cover the environmental fines and damage payments that are expected to run up to $40 billion.
The London-based oil giant has asserted in court that “negligence” on the part of Cameron and Transocean caused the accident that killed 11 men and caused widespread environmental damage. BP said that Cameron’s “faulty design” of the blowout preventer was one key reason for the disaster.
BP cited a recent federal investigation that found that the blowout preventer, which rested on the sea floor, was unable to fully close and secure the well, in part because the drill pipe was not centered in the place where the blind shear ram — the most powerful of the blowout preventer’s devices — was supposed to cut and seal the pipe.
The Transocean statement added that “BP set the stage for this disaster,” and called the oil company’s assertions “the latest desperate bid by BP to turn its back on” an agreement with Transocean to “assume full responsibility” for the costs of pollution and environmental damage caused by the spill.
Once the decision to drill has been made, it cannot easily be unmade. But that does not mean the only choices are either to drill now or never: waiting to decide is also an option. Because safer drilling techniques and more effective cleanup technologies continue to be developed, the costs associated with drilling should decline over time—perhaps in fits and starts, but following a generally downward trend. Meanwhile, future market prices for the extracted oil are uncertain, jumping one day and falling the next. Given this uncertainly, it only makes sense for the American public to wait to cash in the value of their finite oil reserves until the price is right: when the oil can be sold high, but environmental costs are low.
Unfortunately, the government’s analysis has consistently failed to take into account the option value associated with waiting to drill, even though the methodology to do so has existed for decades. Because of this analytical failure, the government risks the possibility of selling the American public short to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars.
This wouldn’t be such a big deal if oil and gas companies were fully liable for the harms caused by drilling mishaps. But as we’ve learned, they’re not. Liabilities are strictly capped at a preposterously low rate. And on this front as on every other the very same conservative politicians who oppose stringent ex ante prudential safety regulation also oppose stringent ex post legal liability.
China indeed invests more than any other nation in environmentally friendly energy production: $34 billion in 2009, or twice as much as the United States. Almost all of its investment, however, is spent producing green energy for Western nations that pay heavy subsidies for consumers to use solar panels and wind turbines. China was responsible for half of the world’s production of solar panels in 2010, but only 1 percent was installed there. Just as China produces everything from trinkets to supertankers, it is exporting green technology — which makes it a giant of manufacturing, not of environmental friendliness. In wind power, China both produces and consumes. In 2009, it put up about a third of the world’s new wind turbines. But much of this has been for show.
“There are climate change deniers in Congress and when the economy gets tough, sometimes environmental issues drop from people’s radar screens,” Obama told about 200 guests at the Pacific Heights residence of internet billionaire Marc Benioff, according to an official transcript.
“But I don’t think there’s any doubt that unless we are able to move forward in a serious way on clean energy that we’re putting our children and our grandchildren at risk. So that’s not yet done.”
Left unsaid here is that those climate change deniers are all Republicans. And, of course, his environment and energy agenda was scuttled by an alliance those climate change deniers forged with Democrats in fossil fuel states. For a third thing, it’s one thing to be so unvarnished at a tony Bay Area dinner party, and quite another to take that line on the campaign trail at major public rallies.
But the remark was nonetheless unusual for a President who often avoids the frank language his sympathetic advocates use.
But you can now look that information up online at http://yellowpagesoptout.com, a site launched this month by two trade groups, the Yellow Pages Association and the Association of Directory Publishers.
In the past few years, the Fish and Wildlife Service has been overwhelmed with hundreds of petitions to add plants and animals to the federal endangered species list. Conservation groups say they have had to barrage the agency because climate change and rapid habitat destruction are pushing many more species closer to extinction.
But the agency has been unable to process the backlog of threatened species and now faces hundreds of lawsuits under the Endangered Species Act. The agency is asking Congress to cap the amount of money that it can spend to process petitions.
How should federal regulators address the claims of potential harm to species and habitats from global warming? Is there an approach that would make more sense?
Thousands of gallons of potentially toxic hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” liquids spilled across pastures and into a stream in rural Pennsylvania early this morning, after a natural gas well suffered a blowout at 11:45 p.m. Tuesday night.
Francis Roupp, a deputy director of the Bradford County emergency services, said “many thousands” of gallons of fracturing liquids were released after a blowout near the well head. Roupp was unsure how much liquid was released, but he said it is possible that hundreds of thousands of gallons could have been released and have spilled across acres of pasture and into a small tributary to a local river.
A blowout in a Pennsylvania fracking well last June was found to be potentially “catastrophic” by state officials because of the large amount of liquid and natural gas that was released after a “blowout preventer” in the well failed.
Pennsylvania sits atop the Marcellus Shale, a natural gas-rich underground formation that has become ground zero for new fracking operations in recent years. The Marcellus Shale stretches from northern West Virginia to New York, and a broad grassroots movement in that region of the country has mobilized to oppose fracking.
A report recently released by Democrats in Congress shows that between 2005 and 2009, top fracking companies used fracking liquids containing 29 chemicals that are known or possible carcinogens. Components of fracking liquids, long kept secret by the industry, ranged from harmless substances like salt to dangerous pollutants like methanol, lead and benzene.
The EPA began a comprehensive review of fracking last year after public outcry prompted the agency to reconsider a 2004 report that stated fracking did not pose a threat to the water supply. The 2004 report prompted Congress under the Bush administration to exempt fracking from regulation under the Clean Water Act, and gave the green light for thousands of fracking wells to be established with little federal oversight. The results of the current EPA study are expected next year.
Even people who show a clear treatment response with antidepressant medications continue to experience symptoms like insomnia, sadness and decreased concentration, researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found after analyzing data from the largest study on the treatment of depression.
According to a consumer update issued Wednesday by the FDA, none of the sanitizing gels, wipes or creams available over the counter have FDA approval for killing that potentially deadly pathogen. The update was issued on the same day the agency sent warning letters out to four companies who claim their products combat MRSA.
The FDA’s message to consumers notes that no over-the-counter products have been approved for killing the E. coli or Salmonella bacteria or the H1N1 influenza virus, either. Still, it doesn’t outright advise avoiding hand sanitizers altogether, just those that make unsubstantiated claims about the pathogens they can kill. Here’s the agency’s advice to consumers:
Don’t buy over-the-counter hand sanitizers or other products that claim to prevent infection from MRSA, E. coli, Salmonella, flu, or other bacteria or viruses.
Ask your pharmacist or other health care professional for help in distinguishing between reliable and questionable information on product labels and company Web sites.
In general, wash hands often, especially before handling food, to help avoid getting sick. Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds. For children, this means the time it takes to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice.
Have you ever wondered – Where did my legislator get that idea about Medicaid funding? Why is my Congressman / Senator introducing that bill in relationship to Medicaid funding?
Well – in some cases, it may very well be related to the “education” they have received and continue to receive from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
For those of you with little knowledge of ALEC there are links at the bottom of this diary for a full discussion. But to give you a quick overview – approximately 1/3 of all state legislators go to ALEC meetings every year where they meet with private-sector companies. While at these ALEC meetings your legislator and the corporations review and vote on “model legislation” that your legislator brings back to your state and tries to implement – whether or not you want it or need it. Remember, your legislator has been sitting and talking with corporations for three days about what the corporations want. And, based on my research of ALEC, it is my opinion (and I have supported in other diaries with verifiable ALEC content) [also see Bob Sloan’s diaries on ALEC legislation] that what ALEC members want more than anything is to privatize everything in the state government, so their corporations, at those meetings your legislator goes to and participates in, can make more money.
In an archived screen shot of the ALEC 2003 web page called “Talking Points” they have a section on Medicaid. The first sentence is
Medicaid should be privatized.
In an archived screen shot of the ALEC 2003 web page called “Talking Points” they have a section on Long-term Care (specifically in relation to Medicaid spending). On this web page they state:
The program should be removed from the realm of government and be allowed to enter the market place.
The two first viable options (solutions) for Medicaid long-term care costs listed are:
“Allow consumers to access the equity in their homes for use in paying for long-term care.”
“Wholly transfer the issuance of long-term coverage to private insurance companies.”
BTW: Throughout ALEC literature Medicaid = “welfare entitlement”
New research explores how mobile networks are revolutionising multiple aspects of healthcare in both developing and developed countries. The report also highlights how mobile network operators are well placed to help overcome existing gaps in medical care.
Working with China Mobile, the largest mobile network provider in the world, University of Cambridge researchers found that mobile health (“mHealth”) applications are being used in all aspects of healthcare – including diagnosis, patient administration, drug delivery assurance, aftercare, chronic monitoring and health education – in China and around the world.
The report also examines the implications of mHealth for the developing world. The smallest global infrastructure gap – the difference between the richest and poorest nations – is in mobile communications. Many healthcare applications that are based on mobile communications, therefore, will transfer readily to regions with unserved or underserved populations.
Simon Sherrington, research co-author, said: “mHealth is revolutionising how we can provide universal access to safe, effective healthcare. In low-income economies, mobile communications will be able to deliver training to clinicians and remote decision support using either automated analysis of data or real-time contact with specialists.
“Additionally, medical staff will be enabled to diagnose and treat conditions locally without patients needing to travel large distances to specialist centres, and disease outbreaks will be handled more efficiently through better communication.”
In developed economies, mHealth can also address the challenges of ageing populations by replacing expensive resources with automated processes; provide support for carers outside the health system; improve the take-up of testing for socially stigmatised diseases; and support monitoring and self-help responses relevant to long-term conditions.
A new Dartmouth Atlas study shows a trend for seniors to die at home, but even so they’re seeing more specialists and spending more time in intensive care during their last months of life.
Obama [held] a meeting at the White House on Tuesday with current and former elected officials along with business and faith groups to discuss the “importance of fixing our nation’s broken immigration system for our 21st-century economic and national security needs,” according to his schedule.
“The question is going to be, are we going to be able to find some Republicans who can partner with me and others to get this done once and for all, instead of using it as a political football?” he told Dallas-based WFAA-TV during one of four local television interviews on Monday.
The president’s renewed focus on immigration reform comes as Latino advocates are demanding that he do more to achieve comprehensive immigration reform, a goal he touted during his 2008 presidential campaign.
Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.), the head of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s immigration task force, is on a countrywide tour promoting the issue. He has repeatedly said he could refrain from supporting Obama next year if he does not seriously take on immigration reform.
Immigration reform has largely sat on the shelf ever since Republicans took control of the House and made significant gains in the Senate. The House last year passed the DREAM Act, which would establish a pathway to legal residency for some children of illegal immigrants, but it failed to advance past the Senate and its future prospects appear bleak in the current Congress. Some sort of compromise measure would likely be the only piece of legislation that could pass through the GOP House and the Democratic Senate.
In addition, the still-fragile economic recovery and the pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle East this year have drawn attention away from the issue. A Gallup poll released last week showed immigration at the bottom of a list of issues the public feels are most important. Only 4 percent ranked it as the top issue, compared to 45 percent who named either the economy in general or unemployment.
But at the same time, Obama needs to mobilize Latino groups and liberals, who favor comprehensive reform, to win reelection in 2012. Latino voters helped Obama win in a handful of key swing states three years ago, including Florida, New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada.
Obama and the Democrats are looking to put other states with large minority populations into play in 2012, like Arizona and Texas, both typically GOP strongholds.
It appears that for the first time in the life of the Obama administration, the White House will not face the all-consuming task of choosing a Supreme Court nominee and navigating the Senate confirmation process.
That means, it seems to me, that there are no excuses either for the administration or for the Democratic leadership in the Senate not to get down to the business of filling the 92 vacancies that now exist on the federal district courts and courts of appeals (up from 54 vacancies when President Obama took office, or from six percent to more than 10 percent of the 857 authorized judgeships).
In his state of the judiciary message on New Year’s Day, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. gave a welcome shove to both parties and both branches when he said there was “an urgent need for the political branches to find a long-term solution” to filling the vacancies. Since then, though, not much has happened but a lot of finger pointing, a surprising amount of it between Senate Democrats and the White House. Each accuses the other of not making judicial nominations a sufficient priority. There is some kind of seriously baffling and dysfunctional shadow play going on here, which of course helps no one except the Republicans.
It is the Republicans who have their priorities in order, and their strategy is perfectly obvious: to deprive President Obama and any future Democratic president of a bench of highly qualified judges who can be tapped when future Supreme Court vacancies occur. In other words, it’s not about anything that the Republicans say or imply that it’s about: not “judicial activism,” nor about which nominee disrespected which Republican Supreme Court nominee at a confirmation hearing, nor about a nominee’s insufficient commitment to permitting every man, woman and child in America to carry a gun.
It’s about the bench. The judges named by President Bill Clinton during the 1990’s are either approaching or have passed 60, the magic age at which Supreme Court prospects effectively disappear. It is their prospective replacements, those with clear Supreme Court potential, who are the current hostages. Goodwin Liu, the Berkeley law professor, Rhodes Scholar and former Supreme Court law clerk, nominated 14 months ago to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, is the poster child for this strategy. He has been approved by the Judiciary Committee three times on a party-line vote but has yet to receive a vote on the Senate floor because of a threatened Republican filibuster.
While the Liu nomination has received a fair amount of attention, another nomination that is perhaps even more telling of the current state of affairs has remained largely under the radar. Last September, President Obama nominated a New York lawyer, Caitlin Halligan, to the seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit formerly occupied by John Roberts. The D.C. Circuit, to which judges are traditionally appointed from anywhere in the country, is a famous incubator of Supreme Court justices. In addition to Chief Justice Roberts, three other current justices, Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas, are D.C. Circuit veterans. So filling a vacancy on that court is a high-stakes matter, and the Obama administration took its time. Ms. Halligan’s nomination occurred on the fifth anniversary of the vacancy.
The administration is simply not nominating judges at an acceptable rate or making a public push for those it has nominated. For the current 17 vacancies on the federal appeals courts, there are only eight nominees. For 75 district court vacancies, there are 34 nominees. It’s possible to come up with explanations for some of these missing nominees — recalcitrance on the part of home-state senators, tardiness by the American Bar Association committee that vets potential nominees — but these numbers are huge. As of this month, President Obama is 33 judicial nominations behind where President George W. Bush was at the comparable point in his presidency, and 41 nominations behind President Bill Clinton.
That judges are among a president’s most important legacies is an observation so obvious as to be platitudinous. So here’s another observation: you can’t confirm someone who hasn’t been nominated.
The Justice Department recently concluded that a deal by Google to buy a travel search firm would ‘substantially’ reduce competition, stifle innovation and leave consumers with fewer choices. Then it approved the merger — after adding limits on Google’s behavior that will require years of monitoring by the department’s antitrust division. In two other high-profile mergers, involving Comcast and Ticketmaster, the government threatened to take the cases to court but instead greenlighted the deals after laying out rules for the companies, which the Justice Department will now have to watch…Some experts worry that the agency, now reviewing the blockbuster deal between AT&T and T-Mobile, is trying to regulate complex businesses when it should instead be blocking controversial mergers in court.
Maryland Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen is suing the Federal Election Commission in an effort to force disclosure of anonymous donations to the types of independent groups that during the midterm elections spent millions of dollars on advertising that largely favored Republicans.
Van Hollen’s lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court in Washington, challenges FEC regulations that allow nonprofit groups to shield their donors while airing ads known as “electioneering communications,” which don’t expressly urge votes for or against a candidate.
The regulations in question were written in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United vs. FEC in January 2010, which struck down laws barring corporate-funded election ads and prompted a deluge of advertising by independent groups.
The decision, nonetheless, upheld disclosure provisions, and Van Hollen’s suit contends that FEC regulations fail to enforce such provisions on nonprofit groups registered under certain sections of the tax code that do not compel donor disclosure, particularly sections 501(c)4 and 501(c)6.
The most notable groups registered under those sections – Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, respectively – aired tens of millions of dollars worth of ads boosting Republicans in 2010, and drew the ire of Van Hollen and other Democrats.
Van Hollen on Thursday also filed a petition asking the FEC to tighten its regulations to require the disclosure of donors for so-called “independent expenditures” that explicitly urge a vote for or against a candidate.
“The absence of transparency will enable special interest groups to bankroll campaign initiatives while operating under a veil of anonymity,” Van Hollen said in a statement.
He vowed to continue to fight for greater disclosure through the courts and in Congress but said “the requirements in existing law have been significantly loosened by the FEC’s interpretation.” If the agency had interpreted it correctly, he added, “much of the more than $135 million in secret contributions that funded expenditures in the 2010 congressional races would have been disclosed to the public.”
Van Hollen’s efforts come as the Obama administration is taking a variety of steps using its executive power to blunt the impact of the Citizens United case.
And there’s recent precedent for members of Congress successfully suing the FEC over its interpretation of campaign finance laws, with Democracy 21, in particular, teaming with former Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.), on a pair of lawsuits alleging that the agency failed to write sufficiently strict rules to implement the 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance overhaul, of which Shays was the House sponsor.
Pew Research Center:
The overwhelming majority of Americans (92%) use multiple platforms to get their daily news, according to a new survey conducted jointly by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Project for Excellence in Journalism.
The internet is now the third most-popular news platform, behind local and national television news and ahead of national print newspapers, local print newspapers and radio. Getting news online fits into a broad pattern of news consumption by Americans; six in ten (59%) get news from a combination of online and offline sources on a typical day.
The internet and mobile technologies are at the center of the story of how people’s relationship to news is changing. In today’s new multi-platform media environment, news is becoming portable, personalized, and participatory:
- Portable: 33% of cell phone owners now access news on their cell phones.
- Personalized: 28% of internet users have customized their home page to include news from sources and on topics that particularly interest them.
- Participatory: 37% of internet users have contributed to the creation of news, commented about it, or disseminated it via postings on social media sites like Facebook or Twitter.
In addition, people use their social networks and social networking technology to filter, assess, and react to news. And they use traditional email and other tools to swap stories and comment on them. Among those who get news online, 75% get news forwarded through email or posts on social networking sites and 52% share links to news with others via those means.
Despite all of this online activity, the typical online news consumer routinely uses just a handful of news sites and does not have a particular favorite. And overall, Americans have mixed feelings about this “new” news environment. Over half (55%) say it is easier to keep up with news and information today than it was five years ago, but 70% feel the amount of news and information available from different sources is overwhelming.
About the Survey
The results in this report are based on data from telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research International between December 28, 2009 and January 19, 2010, among a sample of 2,259 adults, 18 and older. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points. For results based internet users (n=1,675) or “online news users” (N= 1,582), the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.7 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting telephone surveys may introduce some error or bias into the findings of opinion polls. This survey was conducted on landline telephones (N=1,697) and cell phones (N=562) and is meant to be representative of all adults in the continental United States.
If Democrats proposed to turn Medicare into a system that only provided free veterinary services to seniors, would Republicans be lying to say Dems wanted to “end Medicare,” without including the caveat “as we know it”?
Of course not. But that’s more or less the charge PolitiFact is leveling at Democrats over a new DCCC ad (below) which flatly charges Republicans with proposing to “end Medicare.” The House GOP budget, which passed with all but two GOP votes over unanimous Democratic opposition, would over time replace the single-payer, government-run Medicare program with a different system that subsidizes private insurance plans for beneficiaries. Those subsidies would work like vouchers — they would increase in value year-on-year at a much slower pace than the rate of the rise of health care costs, thus leaving seniors exposed to increasing costs as time goes on.
Republicans call this new health insurance system “Medicare.” But it’s a completely different program from today’s Medicare. PolitiFact doesn’t see it that way.
Meet the most influential people in the world. They are artists and activists, reformers and researchers, heads of state and captains of industry. Their ideas spark dialogue and dissent and sometimes even revolution. Welcome to this year’s TIME 100
David and Charles Koch
But to some tender-minded activists, the Kochs and their millions are alarming and reassuring, all at once. The brothers provide a unified field theory to explain the otherwise inexplicable: Where did all these Tea Partyers come from — denouncing President Obama, lacerating policies that were designed for their benefit? With the Kochs “uncovered,” the answer was clear. The Tea Partyers were being used. They weren’t heartless, just dumb.
Ferguson is an editor at the Weekly Standard
But when you’re assessing the actions of political leaders it’s important to think about issues of credibility. We were told this was a humanitarian intervention, but it swiftly became clear that it was in fact a political operation designed to produce rebel victory in a civil war. We were told this was a “no-fly zone” but it swiftly became clear that it was in fact a tactical air support operation designed to produce rebel victory in a civil war. And of course while policymakers certainly have the right to be optimistic about the ability of air power to produce favored outcomes on the ground there are no guarantees in this sphere. Once you’re committed to rebel victory in the Libyan civil war, you’re sort of committed. If air power isn’t enough, maybe you send in the advisors? Maybe the CIA puts boots on the ground. Maybe in strict humanitarian terms prolonging the conflict proves counterproductive (just ask Misrata) and maybe you return to the fact that there seemed to be something fish about this operation from the beginning.
A document describing efforts to bomb-proof a new Pentagon annex in Alexandria was posted on a public government Web site, according to Reuters.
The 30-page plan details structural design features, which are aimed at thwarting an attack on the Mark Center office complex. Around 6,400 Defense Department personnel are slated to move into the facility later this year.
The document, which has since been removed from the Web, was posted on a site maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, Reuters reported. Experts quoted in the story said the plan is a “recipe for an attack” and would allow terrorists to potentially find weaknesses in the building’s design.
There had been some question over whether Obama would keep speaking in the same voice he found in his deficit reduction speech last week, but if anything, he is ramping up his efforts to draw a sharp contrast with the GOP vision as his deficit road show continues:
I think it’s fair to say that their vision is radical. No, I don’t think it’s particularly courageous…Nothing is easier than solving a problem on the backs of people who are poor or people who are powerless or don’t have lobbyists or don’t have clout.
Republicans and some non-partisan commentators say this type of talk will only alienate independents. If Obama sticks with this voice and narrative, it will be very interesting to see what the numbers look like among them down the road. Obama’s deficit tour continues today in Nevada.
With the overwhelming majority of Americans saying they oppose Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) budget, Steve Benen has a good post reminding us that it was just last year “when Republicans decided that opinion polls are the single most important factor policymakers should consider, especially when dealing with controversial changes to the status quo.” Here they were arguing that President Obama should drop reform because the American people oppose it:
– SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): “The American people don’t want this bill, but our Democrat friends seem determined to jam it down their throat regardless, and I think there are going to be some very serious consequences.”
– SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN): “The American people thoroughly reject it. So, if [President Obama] is listening to the American people, they’ve said no to his bill.”
– SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ): “The American people are very smart. That’s why two thirds of them want either stop or start over.”
– REP. ERIC CANTOR (R-VA): “What we are trying to do is find out why the president wants to continue to ignore the American people.”
Now they’re ignoring public opinion that’s far harsher than the opposition to the Affordable Care Act:
– 80 percent oppose cuts to Medicare or Medicaid, including 73 percent of Republicans and 75 percent of Independents. [McClatchy-Marist poll]
– 68 percent of Americans say the proposed GOP cuts unfairly favor some groups more than others. And seven in ten also believe the Republican budget will affect their families. [CNN]
– 65 percent oppose turning Medicare into a voucher program and if they’re told that the cost of private insurance for seniors will increase, 84 percent of Americans oppose the plan. [Washington Post/ABC News poll]
Recall that after the election, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) outlined his party’s priorities in the aftermath of a strong showing in the midterm elections. “Republicans have a plan for following through on the wishes of the American people,” he said in a speech titled “Listening To The People Who Sent Us Here.” It starts with gratitude and a certain humility for the task we’ve been handed. It means sticking ever more closely to the conservative principles that got us here. It means learning the lessons of history. And, above all, it means listening to the people who sent us here. If we do all this, we will finish the job.”
Obama earlier told supporters he understands their frustration over the compromises he’s made with Republicans, while preparing them for more to come.
‘It’s a big, complicated, messy democracy’
During a raucous fundraiser focused on young people in San Francisco Wednesday night, Obama said his supporters are not alone in their frustration with progress in the nation’s capital.
“There are times when I’ve felt the same way you do. It’s a big, complicated, messy democracy,” he said. “We knew this wouldn’t be easy.”
Obama’s three-day West Coast swing — his most extensive travel since announcing his re-election bid — offered a glimpse of how Obama will seek to re-energize the independents and first-time voters who carried him to victory in 2008. Obama argues that more work must be done to make the vision of America he promised a reality, and that he is the only one who can see those hopes through.
“It is going to take more than a couple of years,” Obama said. “It’s going to take us more than one term to finish everything that we need to do.”
Obama senior adviser David Plouffe told the hundreds of young supporters gathered for the nighttime rally: “This is going to be a close campaign. … The one thing we better assume is that it’s going to be closer than the last one.”
From 2008 until now, Barack Obama has moved from one high-wire act to another. Back in ’08, Maureen Dowd even compared his presidential campaign to Hercules’ 12 Labors: He had to slay Hillary Clinton, embark on an exhausting trip to the Middle East and Europe, survive Sarah Palin, cope with an economic collapse, and defeat John McCain in the general election. None was easy, each featured setbacks, but all were ultimately successful. And since his time in the Oval Office, the labors have kept coming. Indeed, on this one-year anniversary of the BP spill, Obama’s presidency has been largely defined by moving from one crisis or challenge to the next. Stabilizing the economy. Rescuing the auto industry. Passing health care. Stopping the BP spill. Responding to Egypt and Libya. Avoiding a government shutdown. And now trying to raise the debt ceiling.
*** Respond, survive, and move on: What all these crises have in common: The White House responded (sometimes slowly), did everything it could do withstand the crisis and criticism (deliver an Oval Office address, host marathon negotiations), and then moved on when it could. These crises and challenges also share this trait: Outside of the health-care fight, they didn’t bring them on themselves. As Obama has admitted, 90% of a president’s job is dealing with events outside of your control. And then there’s this: The crises have taken away their focus on the economy.
I wrote about this earlier in the specific context of Grover Norquist, but Elise Foley’s account of the Obama administration’s rapidly unraveling deficit reduction initiative is another illustration of the fact that at the moment the right is big government’s best friend:
The White House’s proposed deficit talks with Congress appear to be unraveling before they’ve even begun.
House and Senate Republican leaders announced Tuesday that their sole appointees to the May 5th meeting would be House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)–neither of whom are budget leaders and both of whom function largely as political mouthpieces for their party. GOP leaders also each opted to send only one appointee, instead of the requested four, to the meeting.
You have a government set to steadily increase spending on autopilot as a result of demographic change and rising health care costs. And you have a Democratic President urging congress to enact spending cuts. But you have conservative politicians refusing to make a serious effort to reach an agreement out of some blend of taxophobia and fear of giving the President a win. The result, again, whether the right realizes it or not, is a gift to the wing of the Democratic Party that disagrees with Obama about the desirability of enacting spending cuts.
During the 2010 election, conservative and GOP groups anonymously financed millions in attack ads against Democratic candidates, who went on to lose control of the U.S. House and see their majority shrink in the Senate. Democrats are loathe to let that happen again.
Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel reports that the Obama administration, criticized for not doing enough to stop the anonymity of funding sources, is now circulating a draft executive order that requires companies seeking government contracts to reveal their contributions to groups that air political ads.
Supporters hail the order as a necessary step ahead of the 2012 election. They expect it to help blunt the impact of the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which permitted unlimited corporate funding of independent political ads and made other deregulatory changes.
Democrats have been looking for ways to push back against Citizens United since it was handed down but have failed on several fronts, including their effort to pass the DISCLOSE Act in Congress.
Vogel notes that the White House isn’t the only entity pushing to enact disclosure changes ahead of 2012: The Securities and Exchange Commission last month moved to allow shareholders more say in corporate election spending; and Democrats on the FEC are advocating moves to make anonymous corporate contributions public.
I don’t have complete details at this time but it appears that there is an organized effort afoot to start a recall effort against Michigan State Congressman Al Pscholka.
Who is Al Pscholka? In addition to being the state Representative from the area that includes Benton Harbor, Pscholka is a former aide to Congressman Fred Upton, a man who has deep ties into shoreline development efforts all along Lake Michigan including in Benton Harbor. I wrote about this complicated web yesterday.
Pscholka himself was the president of the Board of Directors of the Cornerstone Alliance in 2008, the group that developed the Harbor Shores golf course and luxury residential development that snagged some of Benton Harbor’s public park for its own use. This is a fact he conveniently left off his campaign site’s About page when he ran for Congressman.
Pscholka is also the author of the Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) legislation signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder and that has allowed the Benton Harbor government to be taken over the “The Czar of Benton Harbor”, Joseph Harris. The first use of the new EFM law to take over a city’s government was right in Benton Harbor, the area that Rep. Pscholka represents and where he has deep financial interests. And the first thing Harris did after dismissing the City Council was to rejigger the Planning Commission and Brownfield Redevelopment Authority, the two groups who make crucial decisions regarding shoreline development in Benton Harbor. Harris replaced some of their members with new members selected by him.
(UPI) — Real estate tycoon, television reality show star and potential presidential candidate Donald Trump is worth an estimated $7 billion, sources told Politico.
That’s more than twice the amount Forbes Magazine estimated Trump’s wealth at, Politico said Wednesday. Forbes said last month Trump’s net worth was around $2.7 billion.
“Change is not simple. It’s hard,” Obama said at the Masonic Center event.
When he listed his accomplishments such as the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” rules for sexual orientation for military members, he received a standing ovation from the estimated 2,500 attendees .
“Our work is not finished,” Obama said.
In response, a man called from the audience “Gay Marriage!”
After applause from the audience, Obama paused briefly before repeating: “Our work is not finished.”
E.J. Dionne Jr.:
Handicapping an election 19 months away seems relevant only to political junkies except for this: Expectations, as shrewd investors know, affect actions.
The Republican presidential field might be more formidable if President Obama were less strongly favored. And over time, what Congress does will be shaped by the presidential campaign’s direction.
Obama’s camp loves 1984. President Ronald Reagan’s popularity plummeted during the economic downturn of his first two years, and Republicans did badly in the 1982 midterms. Then the economy roared back and so did Reagan. He won the landslide Obama’s handlers dream about.
Republicans like 1992. In the year before the election, the smart money was on President George H.W. Bush’s reelection. But out of nowhere came a young Democratic governor named Bill Clinton. He took advantage of economic discontent and the way Ross Perot’s independent candidacy shook up the campaign. Bush lost, with only 37.5 percent of the popular vote. Republicans want to believe Obama is as invisibly vulnerable now as Bush was then.
I like 1988 (the year the first President Bush defeated Democrat Michael Dukakis) as a metaphor for the Republicans’ stature problem. That year, the Democratic hopefuls came to be known as “the seven dwarfs.” This wasn’t fair to them, and it may not be fair to this year’s Republican field, whatever its eventual size. But the dwarf line speaks to an image deficit shared by both fields.
Of the current GOP bunch, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty is the Dukakis of 2012. I say this as someone who is fond of Dukakis and believes he was an excellent governor of Massachusetts. He just wasn’t a great presidential candidate. The strength Pawlenty and Dukakis share is the absence of any glaring shortcomings. Dukakis was the remainder candidate, the guy most likely to be left standing. That looks like Pawlenty’s role this year. But it’s also hard to see Pawlenty escaping Dukakis’s eventual fate in a general election.
Mitt Romney, the sort-of, kind-of front-runner, is intelligent and well organized. But his lack of constancy on certain issues and the Massachusetts health-care plan (which he should be proud of fathering but has had to disown) hurt him with primary voters. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is the guy you would most want to have a drink with, but that’s not necessarily the key to winning a nomination. Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana is bright and substantive. He should run, but I don’t think he will.
For the election, here’s the math: With the new census, the states Obama carried last time (plus the lone elector he won in Nebraska) start him with 359 electoral votes. From his original states, Obama can lose Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Virginia and North Carolina and still win exactly the 270 electoral votes he needs — as long as he holds his other states, notably Pennsylvania and Florida, and that single elector from Nebraska. Under this scenario, if he also lost the one Nebraska vote, the Electoral College would be tied, 269-269.
This gives Obama a lot of maneuvering room, but note that Pennsylvania and Florida both trended Republican last year. So Obama is certainly the favorite, but I’m not in the camp that sees the election as over before it starts.
And in the congressional races, something could happen in 2012 that’s never happened before: Both houses could switch parties, but in opposite directions. The Democrats could take back the House — the GOP is defending a lot of Democratic-leaning seats — while Republicans could take over the Senate, given the difficult array of states Democrats must win. If this happens, remember, you read it here first.
Gov. Brian Sandoval of Nevada is expected to appoint Dean Heller, currently the Republican incumbent in the state’s Second Congressional District, to replace Senator John Ensign, who is resigning.
Mr. Heller was already expected to run for Senate next year, as Mr. Ensign had previously announced his intentions to retire at the end of his term. I noted last month that Mr. Heller is an above-average candidate and should be considered a slight favorite in this race:
There’s not much evidence, however, that the incumbency advantage applies to an appointed rather than elected senator. Instead, appointed senators who run for re-election win it only about half the time (counting defeats in both the primary and general election) — much lower than the 88 percent re-election rate for normal incumbents. Essentially, these elections still follow the dynamics of an open-seat race.
One slight advantage is that Republicans in the Senate, where Mr. Heller will now bide his time, probably won’t have to take as many potentially risky votes as those in the House, where they are pushed more by the Tea Party caucus — although Mr. Heller has already voted for Paul Ryan’s budget, which Democrats will try to turn into a liability.
Although the district is probably still more Republican-leaning than the country as a whole — it voted for Sharron Angle last year rather than Harry Reid — it is probably not so by more than a couple of percentage points. While the district won’t exist next year in its present form — Nevada is getting a new seat in Congress in 2012, and the existing districts will have their lines re-drawn significantly — it is an example of the sort of district that Democrats would need to win if they are going to take back the House.
The reason is that, to get back to par next year in the House, Democrats would have to win some combination of open seats and those with Republican incumbents. Incumbent seats are the tougher of those two to win, so the minority party has to overperform slightly in districts like these when there is an open race instead.
On March 23, 2011 a group called Revere America issued a dire-sounding PRNewswire press release titled, “Americans Fear Loss of Freedom on Anniversary of Health Care Reform Law.” It warned that “a majority” of Americans view health care reform as “a threat to their freedom” and cited a poll by Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies to prove it. The release came well after Revere America had spent $2.5 million on attack ads in the 2010 mid-term elections to defeat Democratic candidates in two states — New York and New Hampshire — who had voted in favor of health care reform. Just prior to the mid-term elections, in the autumn of 2010, Revere America ran a a slew of false and misleading attack ads against the health care reform bill that erroneously called health reform “government-run healthcare” (a Republican and insurance industry buzz-phrase). The ads said that the new law will result in higher costs and longer waits in doctors’ offices. In another false claim aimed at inducing fear, the ads told viewers that “your right to keep your own doctor may be taken away.”
But who, or what, is Revere America? And how did it pull together enough money in less than a year to run a multi-million-dollar attack ad campaign, engage an expensive, professional polling firm and pump their message out on PRNewswire?
On tackling the deficit, voters by a margin of 2-to-1 support raising taxes on incomes above $250,000, with 64 percent in favor and 33 percent opposed.
Independents supported higher taxes on the wealthy by 63-34 percent; Democrats by 83-15 percent; and Republicans opposed by 43-54 percent.
That’s right — even 43 percent of Republicans support raising taxes on rich people. But because the Tea Party Republicans make loud noises, no one is brave enough to do it.
By the way, person-on-the-street reactions like this that piss me off:
“He’s got our country in the biggest debt that we can ever get in,” countered Jack Millwood, a retired insurance agent in Gaffney, S.C. “I just think he’s overspent on too much.”
He spent less — $122 billion less! — in his first year (2010) than Bush spent in his last year. But why would Jack Millwood know that? The press doesn’t talk about it, and the Democrats don’t brag about it. So Jack doesn’t now. It’s a goddamn shame.
Pew: 9 of 10 – The 90% Test
A March Pew Research poll found that fully 90% of Americans said they were hearing mostly bad news about gas prices. Since public opinion surveys typically focus on current issues with considerable disagreement, getting nine-in-ten Americans on the same page is a rare occurrence. So what else crosses this high threshold? Fully 90% of Americans agree that citizens have a duty to vote, people who get rich by working hard are admirable, and that it’s best for the future of our country to be active in world affairs. The proportions saying they are very patriotic (88%) and interested in national affairs (88%) come close, but don’t pass the test. President approval very rarely comes close. George W. Bush’s job approval briefly passed 80% in the months after 9/11, but George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton never even broke 80%. Acceptance of interracial dating may one day cross the 90% threshold. What once was a divisive issue is now approved of by 83%, and overwhelmingly so among younger adults. Read more
Disapproval of Barack Obama’s handling of the situation in Libya has grown sharply in the past month, with the president facing criticism from Americans who oppose U.S. military involvement – but also from some of those who say the mission’s aim is too limited.
Fifty-six percent support the U.S. military involvement overall, but many fewer, 42 percent, approve of Obama’s handling of the situation. While his approval has held nearly steady, disapproval has grown by 15 points in the past month, with fewer undecided.
The disconnect relates to the mission; the poll, produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates, finds that among Americans who support U.S. military participation, most say it should be aimed at ousting Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, not just protecting civilians.
In effect, the poll divides Americans into three groups:
Forty percent of Americans oppose U.S. military participation; in this group, just 27 percent approve of Obama’s handling of the situation, while 65 percent disapprove.
An additional 32 percent support U.S. involvement, but say the aim should be to remove Gadhafi from power, not only to protect civilians. Obama gets a higher approval rating for handling Libya in this group, but hardly a robust one – 49 percent.
The third and smallest group, 22 percent, supports the current policy – military involvement limited to protecting civilians. In this group Obama’s approval rating for handling the situation grows to 61 percent.
The Monkey Business Illusion
It’s the bizarre video that has attracted more than 1.8 million hits on YouTube.
Unsuspecting viewers are invited to count how many times basketball players pass the ball to each other. But – halfway through – a person in a gorilla suit walks through the middle of the players.
Incredibly, scientists discovered that of the people who watched the video who were able to count how many times the basketball was passed, as much as 40 per cent failed to see the person in the gorilla suit.
Today, a bit less than a week before the deadline, recall petitions are being filed against three Wisconsin Democratic senators. State Democratic party spokesman Graeme Zielinski has given me the party’s response to the petitions, which can be summed up as “ha, ha.”
Let’s call it what it is: The Republican effort to recall Democratic senators who stood up to Scott Walker is RACKET, run from afar, fraudulently pursued, deliberately hidden and dangerously unethical. We therefore doubt the integrity of the signatures filed and the methods used to collect the signatures. The practices underlying the Republican recall racket are rotten at their core and taint the entire process. We have been collecting actionable evidence to support our claims, some of which we will release, and which all will be released by our legal team to the Government Accountability Board.
At the end of the day, the sloppy, disorganized, dispirited and fraudulent efforts of the Republican recall racket and its corporate sponsors means a very high likelihood that the challenges will fail. Ultimately, however, the senators they seek to challenge stood up to Scott Walker instead of endorsing his anti-Wisconsin agenda and will prevail in any recall election.
Here’s how the Democrats back this up.
Without any real enthusiasm on the part of the citizens of the districts to support the anti-Wisconsin Walker agenda, the Republican recall racket was forced to rely on road agents from a Colorado firm and elsewhere, mercenaries from out-of-state who came in and were paid money per recall signature. The only real press that this practice got was the reporting on a Colorado canvasser with a dangerous felony record who was was preying on visitors to Lambeau Field and taking stolen items to a motel room paid for by Republicans. But that dangerous Colorado felon employed by the Republican Party was just the tip of the iceberg. At the heart of the Republican effort from the start was a mercenary spirit that naturally used deception and fraud to gain signatures.
In the coming days, you will see affidavits from citizens in these targeted districts who were deceived into signing petitions by Republican road agents who often refused to identify themselves with their real names. One example is circulators who would ask citizens who supported Democratic Sen. Dave Hansen, asking whether they’d like to see him on the ballot. They were deceived.
The Republican recall racket used unethical practices to gain signatures. In Burlington, for instance, a Republican canvasser offered patrons of a tavern shots of liquor in exchange for recall signatures against Sen. Bob Wirch. And in Green Bay, Republicans left recall signatures unattended with a sign that said, “Out to lunch,” an unethical and forbidden practice.
While the efforts to recall the Republican senators followed campaign finance laws to the “t,” the Republican recall racket refused to abide by Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws and kept their activities covert and their campaign finances hidden. Even after the Government Accountability Board granted extensions to the various Republican recall groups, they refused to submit their campaign finance reports. This leaves only two possibilities: Either this was done as a deliberate strategy to deceive the authorities and the citizens of Wisconsin. Or it is a measure of the disorganization and lack of enthusiasm for the Republican recall efforts. In either case, the failure calls into question the entire Republican recall racket. If citizens who wish to understand and even challenge the methods and practices of the racket, they must have available a complete picture of the operation. That is the basis for Wisconsin campaign finance law-to transparently show corporate influence. That Republicans have chosen to flaunt the law and conceal their activities calls into question their entire effort.
The Republican recall racket shows once and for all that Scott Walker has lost all momentum. To have to rely on fraud, deception and unethical behavior shows that the Walker machine has lost moral authority and enthusiasm. Our recall effort has lapped the Walker machine not merely because our side has had more enthusiasm, has worked harder and is better organized, but because we possess the moral authority of an energized population who want to see a fair and free Wisconsin that creates opportunities for everyone, not to see power concentrated in the hands of the likes of the Koch Brothers. And that, more than anything, is why the Republican recall racket has failed.
Democrats have 10 days to contest petitions once the state accepts them. If absolutely everything submitted as of today is accepted, there would be five recall attempts against Republicans and three against Democrats. Every recall that gets aborted frees up that much more money and volunteer time to work on the other team’s recall.
Before voting to dismantle Medicare and Medicaid, House Republicans voted to codify vote fraud when they passed a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill that includes a provision overturning a National Mediation Board ruling governing union elections in the airline and railroad industries. Under the rule, only votes cast in a union election will be counted, just like regular democracy. Under the old rules, which the Republican House is attempting to reinstate, any eligible voter who didn’t cast a vote would be counted anyway as having voted “no.” That blatantly undemocratic rule was opposed by a handful of House Republicans, and the White House has issued a veto threat should the bill pass.
Minorities instinctively understand the authority of a lie like this one, especially when it appears in print. Multiplied by mass media amplification and reportorial acquiescence, these types of fictional responses are meant mostly to absolve the perpetrator of any moral offense within their ingroup.
So I was glad to come across Not Yet Human: Implicit Knowledge, Historical Dehumanization, and Contemporary Consequences , a study by researchers from Stanford University, Pennsylvania State University and the University of California-Berkeley which “reveals that many Americans subconsciously associate blacks with apes.”
Co-author Jennifer Eberhardt, a Stanford associate professor of psychology who is black, said she was shocked by the results, particularly since they involved subjects born after Jim Crow and the civil rights movement. “You have suspicions when you do the work—intuitions—you have a hunch. But it was hard to prepare for how strong [the black-ape association] was—how we were able to pick it up every time.”
“Despite widespread opposition to racism, bias remains with us,” Eberhardt said. “African Americans are still dehumanized; we’re still associated with apes in this country. That association can lead people to endorse the beating of black suspects by police officers, and I think it has lots of other consequences that we have yet to uncover.”
Our new, continually updated list of the most egregiously anti-Muslim pronouncements from the White House field
Fear of Islam among the Republican Party’s base — the very voters GOP White House candidates will be wooing during the 2012 primary season — has been primed for years by the so-called anti-jihad industry. It was further inflamed by 2010’s “ground zero mosque” controversy, and the subsequent wave of anti-sharia legislation. Also lurking in the background, crucially, is the false rumor that President Obama is a Muslim — a rumor that, according to one August 2010 poll, 46 percent of Republicans believe.
All of this is forcing Republican presidential hopefuls into a game of Islamophobic one-upmanship in which crossing the line is inevitable. As the primary field takes shape and the race unfolds, we’ll be keeping tabs on how the candidates try to differentiate themselves from each other — and stand out in the eyes of their target voters — on this issue with a regularly updated list that ranks the most extreme instances of campaign trail Muslim-baiting. So make sure to bookmark this page and check back frequently. (And if you see an example that belongs on the list, send an email to [email protected].)
1. Herman Cain […]
2. Newt Gingrich […]
3. Mike Huckabee
In March, Huckabee said President Obama views the world differently than most Americans because, “Most of us grew up going to Boy Scout meetings and, you know, our communities were filled with Rotary Clubs, not madrassas.” [3/2/11]
4. Rick Santorum[…]
5. Mike Huckabee
On Fox in February, Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister, complained about reports that a pair of Protestant churches had allowed local Muslims to use church facilities. Said Huckabee: “If the purpose of a church is to push forward the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then you have a Muslim group that says that Jesus Christ and all the people that follow him are a bunch of infidels who should be essentially obliterated, I have a hard time understanding that.” [2/21/11]
6. Donald Trump[…]
7. Sarah Palin […]
8. Tim Pawlenty
When the American Prospect reported in March that a Minnesota agency under then-Gov. Pawlenty had created a sharia-compliant mortgage program, team Pawlenty went into panic mode. Despite the fact that the initiative was a mundane attempt to help Muslim home-buyers, Pawlenty’s spokesman quickly spread word to reporters that the governor was horrified by the program. “As soon as Gov. Pawlenty became aware of the issue, he personally ordered it shut down,” his spokesman said. “Fortunately, only about three people actually used the program before it was terminated at the governor’s direction.” [3/25/11]
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
More than a year ago, I wrote here on TheNation.com that progressive opinion leaders should consider more seriously and consistently engaging in biblical and religious discussions as part of our political discourse. The goal is not to create half-hearted or cynically manipulative religious justifications for political or ideological positions but instead to take seriously the role of religion in the lives of so many Americans and to better understand how moral lessons gained from those religious traditions influence our political ideas.
Halfway through the holiest week in the Christian calendar, I am reminded again of the dangers and possibilities inherent in such a strategy.
Palm Sunday begins the Christian Holy Week with celebratory enthusiasm. As an adult I learned to love this Sunday best because it temporarily intervenes in the self-denial of Lent. Shaking off the mournful watchfulness of the month, it lets loose with joyful worship. It is a Sunday marked by Hosanna and Hallelujah! This year’s Palm Sunday was the first that I worshipped at my husband’s Catholic church in New Orleans where they observe the day with a brass band, enormous palms, a parade into the church and a spirit of enthusiastic reverence. There is no denying that Palm Sunday is fun.
But for all the excitement of the day, it is also the beginning of a speedy descent into the most meaningful, but also most painful, days of the Christian calendar. Christianity is all about this week that begins with remembering the enthusiastic crowds that welcomed and embraced Jesus of Nazareth and ends with the painful betrayal and bloody crucifixion of the same man. It is these seven days and the faith claims about what happens during these days and why it happened that defines Christian belief. Many lessons can be drawn from interpreting of the miracles, sermons and life of Jesus, but this week is the critical nexus of belief that defines the religion. So understanding how various Christian communities and individuals understand this week is central to understanding what the faith teaches about the world.
Which brings me back to the political possibilities of open, religious conversations.
Our country is in a precarious economic and political moment. News media tend to emphasize partisan divisions as pre-eminent concerns in political action: Republicans are pitted against Democrats in an epic battle taking the country to the brink of economic ruin and full shutdown. With our entrance into the Libyan conflict, it feels to many that we are deepening the attachment to international warfare into which we too hastily entered a decade ago. Neither the President nor the Congress inspires much confidence among most Americans. Neither the populist enthusiasm of the 2008 “Obama for America” campaign nor the 2010 Tea Party backlash appears sustainable. No one is singing “Hosanna” or waving palms for anybody in Washington these days, and it would be pretty tough to wring a “Hallelujah!” out of anyone making less than about $250,000 a year. How we understand our current political moment is informed by individual dispositions, by interpretations of political and economic history, by ideology and partisanship, but for some Americans it is also interpreted through the lens of their Christian beliefs.
Holy Week can be read as a justification for political quietism. For many, a faith in the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus means that no political or social occurrences of this life are particularly important when compared with the focus on an eternal afterlife. This reading of the Christian story asks believers to simply meet their minimum obligations as citizens (pay taxes dutifully, follow the laws) but not to engage in politics because the only meaningful rewards are related to the eternal soul. Part of the challenge for political leaders is to overcome that quietism and encourage Americans not to disengage from the state in hopes that God will simply fix everything without human effort. In a crisis that might lead some to put down their voter registration cards and instead focus solely on other-worldly solutions, progressives would do well to acknowledge and address the interconnections between human action and concepts of salvation.
For others, this is a week of lessons suggesting that persecution is evidence of righteousness. The Gospels emphasize that Jesus was betrayed by a trusted ally, abandoned by most of his initial supporters and brutally beaten, publicly humiliated and viciously murdered by powerful leaders. Thus many Christians read into the current political moment a lesson that sustained attack on an individual is potentially evidence of that person’s inherent righteousness. The more outsized the attack on an individual, the more innocent that person may begin to appear. This is worth considering as the left shifts into high-gear attack of potential GOP presidential contenders.
For yet other Christians, Holy Week is a reminder to be optimistic even in the most hopeless of circumstances. For me, this is the lesson with the most exciting potential for our collective national lives. The daybreak of Easter is ever-present for Christians even as we descend from the celebration of Palm Sunday to the agony of Good Friday. One the most exciting elements of Christian theology is the idea that no defeat is necessarily permanent and that no suffering is without redemptive possibility. I suspect that harnessing the optimism of Easter is critically important to political progressives at this moment. In this story there is the possibility that with faith in something larger than ourselves, with willingness to forgive and with determination to hold together our community despite bitter defeat there is victory waiting just on the other side of suffering.
Strengthen Social Security is a coalition comprised of 270 state and national groups, united around the goal of protecting Social Security from cuts, and strengthening it for future generations.
On April 27 and 28, events will be taking place in 53 cities/18 states. The theme of these events is, Don’t Make Us Work Till We Die, focusing on the intent to raise the Social Security retirement age. This link will take you to the website that shows the event map, so that you can find events near you. For those who don’t have an event in their state, there’s also a virtual rally being held online, which can also be seen at the website.
Everyone who has worked in a physically demanding job knows what increasing the retirement age will mean. It’s one thing to preach the necessity of this from behind a desk in a cushy office. It’s another thing to be a miner, nurse, truck driver, cook, carpenter, janitor, or a waiter at age 67 – if our bodies last that long. For those who are among the still unemployed/underemployed, and over the age of 55, the promise of Social Security in the future is what keeps us going. We can’t let them pull the rug out from under seniors who have worked long and hard, and paid in to the Social Security Trust Fund.
Please join an event if you can, or the virtual rally if you can’t – and as always, make your feelings known to your elected officials.
Stand up against media bias, distortions, and lies.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for something you are not. ~ Andre Gide
- The only responsible budget in town | Michael Tomasky (guardian.co.uk)
- “Ryan-Republican Plan Requires Debt Ceiling To Be Raised” (economistsview.typepad.com)