Hi, guys! I hope these items are still fresh—I haven’t been following the news closely. Thanks to those of you who have posted news here while I was away. (And I love the anarchy from the rest of you!) 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.
Yesterday, John Boehner outlined his list of demands for raising the debt ceiling, saying that unless the Obama administration and Senate Democrats accept trillions of dollars in Republican spending cuts, the House GOP would not increase the federal debt limit, even if that leads government default, a collapse of global financial markets, and another severe recession.
Today, the White House compared his proposal to economic terrorism:
White House spokesman Jay Carney said both Democrats and Republicans agree on the need for deficit reduction. But it would be tantamount to holding the U.S. economy “hostage” by tying the debate over the debt limit to budget cuts, he said.
“To hold one hostage to the other remains extremely unwise,” Carney told reporters on Air Force One as Obama flew to Texas.
And now Boehner is saying that unless House Republicans get their way on fiscal policy, they will intentionally tank the economy by refusing to lift the debt ceiling. It’s one thing to negotiate in good faith, but that’s economic terrorism. Republicans need to find a way to walk back from the ledge. They don’t realize how close they are to letting this get out of control.
Steve Benen and Digby both have posts up wondering why Beltway commentators are treating John Boehner’s demand for trillions in cuts seriously when he’s already agreed that the debt ceiling must be raised and has completely taken any tax hikes off the table.
Both Benen and Digby point out that if Dems adopted a similarly intransigent position in exchange for an outcome that we’ve already agreed is inevitable, they’d be laughed out of town. As Digby says:
Picture this. The roles are reversed. The Democrats have the House and the Republicans have the Senate and the Presidency. The debt ceiling vote looms. And suppose the Democrats admitted publicly that they would, of course, agree to raise the debt ceiling but also insisted that the Republicans agree to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations by the same amount that would be borrowed. And under no circumstances would they agree to even a penny in spending cuts. And everyone in Washington and on Wall Street treats this absurd “marker” seriously.
I know. It’s unimaginable on every level.
The Speaker reminded us last night that he considers one penny in new revenue entirely unacceptable. I’ll look forward to all the pundits questioning his “seriousness.”
I think this goes back to a problem that has afflicted the debate over spending and government from the beginning: The discourse is badly distorted by the fact that the meaning of standard Washington terms like “fiscally hawkish” and “fiscally serious” are entirely arbitrary. These terms, as commonly employed in Beltway parlance, simply don’t mean what liberals think they should mean, i.e., “fully committed to reducing the deficit and debt by any means necessary, tax hikes and new revenues included.” Rather, they mean approximately: “fully committed to reducing the deficit and debt through spending cuts, entitlement reform and a rock-ribbed adherence to general hostility towards expansive government.”
This isn’t intended to be glib. I submit that this is quite literally what many commentators mean when they employ these phrases.
It’s a matter of tone. Cutting things (spending, entitlements) sounds hawkish, stern, and serious. Raising things (taxes, revenues) to cover costs somehow smacks of a failure to control those costs — it sounds lax and undisciplined. Dems in some ways reinforce this dynamic by continually acceeding to the right’s austerity/cut-cut-cut frame. The result is a debate that’s shifted so far to the right that the GOP approach — trillions in cuts, no new taxes — doesn’t sound extreme or lopsided. If anything, it sounds like an overdose of sternness and austerity. That’s a position Republicans are happy to be associated with, and they get rewarded by commentators for it.
Annual military spending has risen more than 70 percent in inflation-adjusted terms since 2001. With the drive to reduce the deficit, the current $700 billion Pentagon budget is considered by budget cutters to be a good place to find savings.
Which areas of the Pentagon budget should Leon Panetta, the next defense secretary, target for savings? What kinds of spending could most easily be cut back? How big a peace dividend might be expected from withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan?
Which of course, is not true. And Ryan Grim does an excellent job in this piece showing that, and exposing Simpson for the fraud that he is.
HuffPost suggested to Simpson during a telephone interview that his claim about life expectancy was misleading because his data include people who died in childhood of diseases that are now largely preventable. Incorporating such early deaths skews the average life expectancy number downward, making it appear as if people live dramatically longer today than they did half a century ago. According to the Social Security Administration’s actuaries, women who lived to 65 in 1940 had a life expectancy of 79.7 years and men were expected to live 77.7 years.
“If that is the case—and I don’t think it is—then that means they put in peanuts,” said Simpson.
Simpson speculated that the data presented to him by HuffPost had been furnished by “the Catfood Commission people”—a reference to progressive critics of the deficit commission who gave president’s panel that label.
Told that the data came directly from the Social Security Administration, Simpson continued to insist it was inaccurate, while misstating the nature of a statistical average: “If you’re telling me that a guy who got to be 65 in 1940—that all of them lived to be 77—that is just not correct. Just because a guy gets to be 65, he’s gonna live to be 77? Hell, that’s my genre. That’s not true,” said Simpson, who will turn 80 in September….
The second prong of the Social Security critique relies on the coming wave of Baby Boomer retirements. This flood of retirees will tip the ratio of workers to pensioners out of whack, the argument goes.
“The statistics right now show a totally unsustainable program that cannot possibly function when 10,000 a day are coming into the Social Security system at 65,” Simpson explained to HuffPost. “Was that ever planned [for]? That 10,000 a day would suddenly coming into the system?”
In fact, it was planned for: The Social Security Administration tracks births every year and knew by 1947 that 1946 had been a boom year. When the system was reformed in 1983 by the Greenspan Commission, the Baby Boom was specifically taken into account…..
Simpson said that questioning his data wasn’t helping to solve the underlying problem.
“This is the first time, the first time—and Erskine [Bowles, the deficit commission co-chair,] and I have been talking for a year and many months—that anyone’s going to sit around and play with statistics like this,” he told HuffPost. “Anything I tell you, you repudiate. You’re the first guy in a year and a half who’s stood out here with a sharp pencil playing a game that doesn’t have a damn thing to do with: ‘What the hell are you going to do with the system?'”
The former senator enjoys a pension for his service in Congress, which lasted fewer than 20 years.
Senate Democrats announced a plan Tuesday to eliminate federal tax breaks to the five biggest oil companies and use those savings, estimated at $21 billion over the next 10 years, to help cut the deficit.
Facing pressure from cash-strapped voters to do something about surging gas prices, Democrats want to put a spotlight on highly profitable oil companies and to cut off taxpayer subsidies to the firms.
The proposal, which the Democratic Senate leadership endorsed, would close several longtime tax loopholes, such as the domestic manufacturing tax deduction that could yield roughly $2 billion a year in savings to be applied to lowering the deficit.
“We should all agree: The answers to fairness are in saving taxpayers money, and we cannot continue with this corporate welfare to big oil companies,” Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said from the floor. He said removing those subsidies is “a no-brainer.”
Republican leaders quickly dismissed the Democrats’ plan, saying it amounts to a tax increase on oil companies and would do nothing to alleviate the pain at the pump. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in a floor speech Monday, called the proposal “completely counterproductive.”
President Obama and some congressional Democrats initially said they wanted to steer the savings from ending tax breaks toward clean energy projects. But Senate Democratic leaders believe using the savings to reduce the deficit would make the proposal more politically viable for Republicans.
“To those members on both sides of the aisle who’ve given impassioned speeches on reducing the deficit, here’s your chance,” Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said from the floor Tuesday. “It’s a put up or shut up moment.”
McCaskill called the plan “the essence of low-hanging fruit.”
In the boardroom, it’s as if the Great Recession never happened.
CEOs at the nation’s largest companies were paid better last year than they were in 2007, when the economy was booming, the stock market set a record high and unemployment was roughly half what it is today.
The typical pay package for the head of a company in the Standard & Poor’s 500 was $9 million in 2010, according to an analysis by The Associated Press using data provided by Equilar, an executive compensation research firm. That was 24 percent higher than a year earlier, reversing two years of declines.
Executives were showered with more pay of all types—salaries, bonuses, stock, options and perks. The biggest gains came in cash bonuses: Two-thirds of executives got a bigger one than they had in 2009, some more than three times as big.
CEOs were rewarded because corporate profits soared in 2010 as the economy gradually got stronger and companies continued to cut costs. Profit for the companies in the AP analysis rose 41 percent last year.
Among the other findings in the AP analysis:
—The highest-paid CEO in 2010 was Philippe Dauman of Viacom, the entertainment company that owns MTV, Nickelodeon and Paramount Pictures. He received a pay package valued at $84.5 million, two and a half times what he made the year before. He signed a contract in April 2010 that included stock and options valued by the company at $54.2 million when they were granted.
—Six of the 10 best-paid CEOs come from media or entertainment, industries helped by a recovery in advertising and innovations in digital distribution. Besides Dauman, they are Leslie Moonves of CBS , $56.9 million; David Zaslav of Discovery Communications $42.6 million; Brian Roberts of Comcast $31.1 million; Robert Iger of Walt Disney, $28 million; and Jeff Bewkes of Time Warner , $26.1 million.
To calculate CEO pay, the AP adds an executive’s salary, bonuses, perks, any interest on deferred pay that’s above market interest rates.
Over the past five years Exxon has paid at a 3.6% rate (federal tax as a percentage of total pre-tax profits). Chevron was little better at 5.6%. Marathon paid 12%, Conoco Phillips 17%.
They use American research, infrastructure, and national security to make record profits. ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips realized a combined 42% increase in profits in the first quarter of 2011. Together, the five biggest oil companies made almost $1 trillion in profits over the past decade.
Goldman Sachs noted that speculation on oil prices is causing the price at the pump to go up. But according to the Huffington Post, the resulting oil company profits “are not finding their way back into the communities from which they came; are not being used to create more jobs; and are not being invested in new equipment and exploration.” Instead, the money is going to dividends and stock buybacks. “They’re basically enriching themselves,” said Daniel J. Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
The big profits are certainly not being used to create jobs and stimulate the economy, or to pursue alternative energy research. The Wall Street Journal reports that the big five oil firms are holding $70 billion in cash. Meanwhile, they’re paying an average of $15 million apiece in annual salaries to their CEOs. Occidental and Chesapeake each paid over $100 million to their CEOs in 2009.
And then we have the continued flow of taxpayer subsidies to the oil industry, totaling about $4 billion a year. We just awarded a $42 million no-bid contract to BP to supply fuel to the Air Force, even as a criminal investigation continues over its Gulf of Mexico ineptitude. Why no-bid? Because the contract was called “an unusual and compelling urgency,” which made it a national security issue.
Adding insult to gougery is the attitude of oil company executives, who have apparently convinced themselves of their righteous ways. An Exxon VP referred to his company as “a leading U.S. taxpayer.” An American Petroleum Institute spokesman said that “everyday Americans,” including teachers and firefighters, benefit from oil industry profits.
What they’re saying, in effect, is that it’s good not to pay taxes, because that leaves more money to invest in America. Gouging us again, in doublespeak.
The past three years have been a disaster for most Western economies. The United States has mass long-term unemployment for the first time since the 1930s. Meanwhile, Europe’s single currency is coming apart at the seams. How did it all go so wrong?
Well, what I’ve been hearing with growing frequency from members of the policy elite — self-appointed wise men, officials, and pundits in good standing — is the claim that it’s mostly the public’s fault. The idea is that we got into this mess because voters wanted something for nothing, and weak-minded politicians catered to the electorate’s foolishness.
The fact is that what we’re experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. The policies that got us into this mess weren’t responses to public demand. They were, with few exceptions, policies championed by small groups of influential people — in many cases, the same people now lecturing the rest of us on the need to get serious. And by trying to shift the blame to the general populace, elites are ducking some much-needed reflection on their own catastrophic mistakes.
In a key indicator of economic security, the percentage of Americans who report living paycheck to paycheck all or most of the time was up five points over 2010 to 49 percent. But the increase among low-income women is especially staggering: 77 percent report living paycheck to paycheck, a 17-point jump from last year. Other highlights include:
- Seventy-one percent of women and 65 percent of men say the economic downturn had some or a great deal of impact on their families.
- Nearly half of Americans (46 percent) remain concerned that they or someone in their household could be out of a job in the next 12 months.
- Low-income women continue to feel the greatest impact from the downturn, with 80 percent saying it has had some or a great deal of impact compared with 73 percent of low-income men. Other groups experiencing a particularly strong impact are: Latinas (74 percent); single mothers (73 percent); and women without a college degree (74 percent).
From the William Kristol rag:
I have noticed something unsettling in my own life lately: I know a lot of people who are on food stamps or some kind of extraordinary government assistance. The count right now stands around 10 people, which is a lot for a small town denizen such as myself.
What we see in this graph is one example of a persistent feature of the recovery to date. On the top-line of the economic data, it often appears as though we have filled in the hole that was dug by the Great Recession. Check out this graph of personal income per capita to appreciate that. However, it is largely an illusion, a product of deficit-financed government spending – in the form of things like food stamps, extraordinary unemployment benefits, and the relatively stable federal employment situation.
Call it the American “food stamp recovery:” take away the government supports, and the economic picture looks very bleak indeed. Two sobering features stand out.
Foreclosure practices lift the veil on a broader set of interlocking efforts to exploit those hardest hit by the endless economic hard times, citizens who become financially desperate due medical conditions. A 2007 study found that medical expenses or income losses related to medical crises among bankruptcy filers or family members triggered 62% of bankruptcies. There is no underground conspiracy. The facts are in plain sight.
ForeclosureGate represents the sum total illegal and unethical lending and collections activities during the real estate bubble. It continues today. Law professor and law school dean Christopher L. Peterson describes the contractual language for the sixty million contracts between borrowers and lenders as fictional since the boilerplate language names a universal surrogate as creditor (Mortgage Electronic Registration System), not the actual creditor. Other aspects of ForeclosureGate harmed homeowners but the contractual problems that the lenders created on their own pose the greatest threats.
[…]Foreclosure and Bankruptcy
Foreclosure is the down side of the ownership society. When you’re sold a bill of goods, a property that you were told you were qualified to buy, and you lose it, you are evicted from ownership island.
Before Congress passed the 2005 bankruptcy reform act, homeowners could avert foreclosure in many states by filing for bankruptcy. Not just anyone could qualify. The process of qualifying was difficult and, oftentimes humiliating. But homes were saved and families were preserved with a chance to start over.
A myth emerged of the bankruptcy abuser, a high-class sort of welfare cheat. These reckless people worked the system to rack up large debts that were subsequently wiped clean through bankruptcy. The alleged abuse of the system became the excuse for a major overhaul of bankruptcy law. The legislation passed the Senate with 74 yes votes and soon became law.
The changes since the 2005 legislation provide substantial benefits to creditors. Morgan et al summarized the direct benefits to creditors in a forthcoming publication in the New York Fed’s Economic Policy Review. Before bankruptcy reform, the filer of a bankruptcy claim used to determine Chapter 7 or 13 filing status. That makes a difference in the amount and type of debt relief. The legislation imposes means test that determines precisely which chapter (7 or 13) filers must use. Significantly, chanter 13 filers retain more debt from medical and other unsecured credit.
Legal costs ranged from $600 to $1500 before bankruptcy reform. Legal fees now range between $2800 and $3700. Previously, there was no requirement for credit counseling prior to filing.
Filers must now document approved credit counseling six months before filing or face dismissal of their case (Morgan et al.). This counseling requirement can lead to unwarranted dismissals or inordinate delays in filing at a time when filers need relief.
Under the old law, only bankruptcy trustees appointed by the federal court could file claims of abuse by the filer. Under the new legislation, anyone can file a claim of bankruptcy abuse, which can lead to a dismissal of the cause. This is a huge benefit to lenders who wanted to keep citizens from realizing debt relief.
The Real Benefit for Big Money – Delayed Bankruptcy Filings
The new law makes it harder to file a claim, doubles costs, and gives the creditors a say in claiming fraud on the part of those who file claims. Significant delays in filing for bankruptcy became the norm.
What Causes Bankruptcy – Financial Shocks from Medical Expenses
Prior to the new law, the major cause of bankruptcy stemmed from medical care expenses and the resulting disruptions to families. Rather than the mythical big spender contrived by Congress, for nearly half of filers, major medical expenses, family tragedies, were the tipping point to a loss of financial viability.
The Consumer Bankruptcy Project audited a representative sample of bankruptcy filers in 2001. The audit found that 46% cited a “major medical cause” for bankruptcy. This includes the direct cost of uncovered medical bills for major illness or injury, lost work due to the same, and the need to mortgage the family home to cover medical costs.
Did Congress review this data? Were they intent on making it harder to file bankruptcy as a result of illness? When bankruptcy is delayed or simply not attainable, less money is available for needed medical care. Were the members supporting bankruptcy reform indifferent to the suffering compounded by their thoughtless legislation?
The situation is worse now. A comprehensive survey of those who filed bankruptcy in 2007 showed the increasing desperation of those faced with medical problems. When individuals or family members are in dire need of medical care, do they just sit home and suffer?
Vouchers have always been a staple of the right-wing agenda. Like previous efforts, this most recent push for vouchers is led by a network of conservative think tanks, PACs, Religious Right groups and wealthy conservative donors. But “school choice,” as they euphemistically paint vouchers, is merely a means to an end. Their ultimate goal is the total elimination of our public education system.
The decades-long campaign to end public education is propelled by the super-wealthy, right-wing DeVos family. Betsy Prince DeVos is the sister of Erik Prince, founder of the notorious private military contractor Blackwater USA (now Xe), and wife of Dick DeVos, son of the co-founder of Amway, the multi-tiered home products business.
Whatever they may say about giving poor students a leg up, their real priority is nothing short of the total dismantling of our public educational institutions, and they’ve admitted as much. Cato Institute founder Ed Crane and other conservative think tank leaders have signed the Public Proclamation to Separate School and State, which reads in part that signing on, “Announces to the world your commitment to end involvement by local, state, and federal government from education.”
But Americans don’t want their schools dismantled. So privatization advocates have recognized that it’s not politically viable to openly push for full privatization and have resigned themselves to incrementally dismantling public school systems. The think tanks’ weapon of choice is school vouchers.
Vouchers are funded with public school dollars but are used to pay for students to attend private and parochial (religious-affiliated) schools. The idea was introduced in the 1950s by the high priest of free-market fundamentalism, Milton Friedman, who also made the real goal of the voucher movement clear: “Vouchers are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a free-market system.” The quote is in a 1995 Cato Institute briefing paper titled “Public Schools: Make Them Private.”
Joseph Bast, president of Heartland Institute, stated in 1997, “Like most other conservatives and libertarians, we see vouchers as a major step toward the complete privatization of schooling. In fact, after careful study, we have come to the conclusion that they are the only way to dismantle the current socialist regime.” Bast added, “Government schools will diminish in enrollment and thus in number as parents shift their loyalty and vouchers to superior-performing private schools.”
The DeVoses are top contributors to the Republican Party and have provided the funding for major Religious Right organizations. And they spent millions of their own fortune promoting the failed voucher initiative in Michigan in 2000, dramatically outspending their opposition. Sixty-eight percent of Michigan voters rejected the voucher scheme. Following this defeat, the DeVoses altered their strategy.
Instead of taking the issue directly to voters, they would support bills for vouchers in state legislatures. In 2002 Dick DeVos gave a speech on school choice at the Heritage Foundation. After an introduction by former Reagan Secretary of Education William Bennett, DeVos described a system of “rewards and consequences” to pressure state politicians to support vouchers. “That has got to be the battle. It will not be as visible,” stated DeVos. He described how his wife Betsy was putting these ideas into practice in their home state of Michigan and claimed this effort has reduced the number of anti-school choice Republicans from six to two. The millions raised from the wealthy pro-privatization contributors would be used to finance campaigns of voucher supporters and purchase ads attacking opposing candidates.
The strategy in Pennsylvania in 2010, like efforts in other states, benefited from years of previous efforts to build alliances in the voucher movement. The conservative policy institutes have limited reach in the general public. In order to win the battle for hearts and minds, a larger public relations effort is required. The Religious Right fills this role with their tremendous broadcast capability and growing access to churches and homes. The partnership between free market fundamentalists and social conservatives is often contentious, but they share a common goal — to end secular public education. The free marketers object to the “public” aspect while the Religious Right objects to the “secular” component of public education.
A significant forum that brings together free-market power brokers and Religious Right leaders is the Council for National Policy (CNP), a secretive group that has met several times annually behind closed doors since 1981. Richard DeVos described CNP as bringing together the “donors and the doers.” This partnership gives the Religious Right access to major funders, including Richard Mellon Scaife, who are not social conservatives.
Many of the free-market think tanks are secular, but there is a trend toward merging free-market fundamentalism with right-wing religious ideology. The Acton Institute is described by religious historian Randall Balmer as an example of the merging of corporate interests with advocates of “dominion theology.” Dominionism is the belief that Christians must take control over societal and government institutions. The Acton Institute funds events featuring dominionist leaders including Gary North, who claims that the bible mandates free market capitalism or “Biblical Capitalism.”
Board members canceled their meeting after the nine students, all members of the local youth group United Non-discriminatory Individuals Demanding Our Studies (UNIDOS), made it clear they would not get up until they were guaranteed that the Mexican-American classes they love wouldn’t be downgraded to voluntary electives that could be lost all together in the coming waves of state budget cuts. The action was a temporary victory for UNIDOS. The group postponed a vote on a resolution that they say would put their heritage second to a whitewashed version of history that so often ignores the achievements and struggles of immigrants and people of color.
But here’s the good news: The world’s top scientific body concluded that renewable energy in the coming decades will be widespread and could one day represent the dominant source for powering factories and lighting homes, according to a draft report obtained by The Associated Press Thursday…”It is likely that renewable energy will have a significantly larger role in the global energy system in the future than today,” said the report.
“The scenarios indicate that even without efforts to address climate change, renewable energy can be expected to expand.”…That growth will continue through 2050 with 164 different scenarios predicting the use of renewables significantly increasing as the world shifts to a low-carbon economy…The most ambitious projected it will represent 77 percent of global energy sources in 2050. (AP Climate change panel: renewable energy to be key)
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has issued the summary of its first report on the potential role of renewable forms of energy, from dams to wind turbines and solar panels, in cutting emissions of greenhouse gases in coming decades.
The document doesn’t take readers much beyond what is already well established: that without sustained and focused climate and energy policies by governments around the world, the potential of renewable energy technologies to compete with fossil fuels remains deeply limited.
The report, as with all output from the climate panel, is incredibly constrained by the mandate of the organization, which is to be policy relevant, but policy neutral. The result is a suite of 160 clean and neat “what if” scenarios, but very little (at least if the summary reflects what’s coming in the full 900-page report at the end of the month) on how the more aggressive scenarios for cleaning up the global energy supply might actually be achieved in the real world of competing and conflicting national, corporate and personal interests.
The summary, for example, barely mentions natural gas, even though it is hard to find an energy analyst these days who does not see low natural gas prices, now foreseen for decades to come, as deeply undercutting prospects for expanded deployment of renewable energy sources (let alone nuclear power).
This is not the fault of the authors; it’s just the reality of how the countries that chartered this effort set up the ground rules.
Here are the core findings, as listed in the summary:
– Of the around 300 Gigawatts (GW) of new electricity generating capacity added globally between 2008 and 2009, 140 GW came from renewable energy.
– Despite global financial challenges, renewable energy capacity grew in 2009—wind by over 30 percent; hydropower by three percent; grid-connected photovoltaics by over 50 percent; geothermal by 4 percent; solar water/heating by over 20 percent and ethanol and biodiesel production rose by 10 percent and 9 percent respectively.
– Developing countries host more than 50 percent of current global renewable energy capacity.
– Most of the reviewed scenarios estimate that renewables will contribute more to a low carbon energy supply by 2050 than nuclear power or fossil fuels using carbon capture and storage (CCS).
– The technical potential of renewable energy technologies exceeds the current global energy demand by a considerable amount—globally and in respect of most regions of the world.
– Under the scenarios analyzed in-depth, less than 2.5 percent of the globally available technical potential for renewables is used—in other words over 97 percent is untapped underlining that availability of renewable source will not be a limiting factor.
– Accelerating the deployment of renewable energies will present new technological and institutional challenges, in particular integrating them into existing energy supply systems and end use sectors.
– According to the four scenarios analyzed in detail, the decadal global investments in the renewable power sector range from 1,360 to 5,100 billion US dollars to 2020 and 1,490 to 7,180 billion US dollars for the decade 2021 to 2030. For the lower values, the average yearly investments are smaller than the renewable power sector investments reported for 2009.
– A combination of targeted public policies allied to research and development investments could reduce fuel and financing costs leading to lower additional costs for renewable energy technologies.
– Public policymakers could draw on a range of existing experience in order to design and implement the most effective enabling policies–there is no one-size-fits-all policy for encouraging renewables.
If America wants more innovation, why on earth is it cutting the budget of its Patent Office?
Researchers from Duke University say they have found a clear link between gas drilling in Pennsylvania and Upstate New York and high levels of flammable methane in drinking water — a situation that became a prominent talking point in the drilling debate after flaming faucets were featured in the documentary “Gasland.”
The summary of their paper, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says it all:
In aquifers overlying the Marcellus and Utica shale formations of northeastern Pennsylvania and upstate New York, we document systematic evidence for methane contamination of drinking water associated with shale-gas extraction.
But the research detected no trace of the chemicals injected into or removed from wells during the drilling process called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking.” Here’s some detail from a news release issued by Duke University:
The study found no evidence of contamination from chemical-laden fracking fluids, which are injected into gas wells to help break up shale deposits, or from “produced water,” wastewater that is extracted back out of the wells after the shale has been fractured….
“We found measurable amounts of methane in 85 percent of the samples, but levels were 17 times higher on average in wells located within a kilometer of active hydrofracking sites,” says Stephen Osborn, postdoctoral research associate at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. The contamination was observed primarily in Bradford and Susquehanna counties in Pennsylvania. Water wells farther from the gas wells contained lower levels of methane and had a different isotopic fingerprint.
There’s a lot more on the research and its implications in a fresh piece from Abrahm Lustgarten of ProPublica.
1) “Medicare is socialist” (often asserted by pre-Medicare age Tea Party members and the vestige of the John Birch Society right wing). Medicare is not socialist. It is a government insurance program that cuts the cost of senior health care by cutting out the profit of private insurers. No health care providers are employed by the federal government for Medicare, as is the case in England, where health care is socialized.
2) “Medicare is not run by the government, so it is not socialized” (sometimes claimed by Republican seniors, who then can argue against “socialized medicine” for the rest of Americans). Medicare is an insurance program administered by the American government through a fund paid into by workers and employers. There are private supplementary insurance policies available for gaps in coverage.
3) “Members of Congress receive the same benefits as Medicare recipients” (occasionally used by supporters of Paul Ryan’s Medicare voucher program to “prove” that Republicans in Congress will receive the same care that they are proposing for seniors). Members of Congress receive generous health care insurance through private providers and most of the coverage is paid for by the taxpayer. It is similar to being an employee in a company that provides private health care insurance. It has nothing to do with Medicare coverage.
4) “Medicare is a waste of taxpayer dollars on the poor” (at times used by “poorly informed” Republicans, who don’t know the difference between Medicare and Medicaid.) Medicaid is a government insurance program for the very poor; it has nothing to do with Medicare and is funded through the general federal budget, not through employee/employer contributions.
5) “Medicare costs can only be reduced through a voucher program” (frequently used by advocates of Ryan’s budget). As Eric Cantor recently admitted, any savings that a voucher program would have would come from rationing care through private insurance. Medicare is not currently rationed. Medicare costs can be reduced through eliminating supplementary private insurance (thus saving seniors money) ; cutting payments to providers, hospitals, medical equipment vendors and pharmaceutical companies (big pharma is making billions from taxpayers because the Bush Administration ensured that Medicare could not negotiate for prescription costs in Medicare Part D); reducing Medicare fraud; raising employer and or employee premium contributions; and raising taxes on for-profit health corporations among other possibilities. None of these would likely lead to rationing, but a voucher program would, according to Cantor, as a result of the inability of less wealthy seniors to pay for supplemental insurance (because the vouchers would cover only a small portion of private insurance premium costs for an elderly person) and, thus, be denied needed care.
These are only five of the Republican message points on Medicare that are factually wrong or misleading. Imagine if Congress and Americans were debating Medicare and health care as a whole based on fact instead of manufactured partisan “factoids.”
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., is introducing a plan to balance the budget in nine years. It’s co-sponsored by eight Senate conservatives, including Jim DeMint and the freshman trio of Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, and Ron Johnson.
It also doesn’t privatize or voucherize Medicare. While the Toomey plan would block grant Medicaid, it does not feature Paul Ryan’s long-term Medicare plan of making the system voluntary and means-based, with future senior citizens getting vouchers to pay for health care from private insurers. From the short form of the plan:
This budget doesn’t reduce Medicare spending; it actually spends more on Medicare than either the president’s budget or the House-passed budget. The results from the fact that this budget permanently reforms the so-called “sustainable growth rate” so doctors do not face the prospect of devastating cuts each year. This plan also calls for medical malpractice reform.
UPDATE: When I asked, Toomey explained that his budget plan doesn’t touch Medicare because “we were focused exclusively on the next 10 years.”
“His goal is different than the goal we set in this budget,” said Toomey, explaining that the Ryan plan makes structural changes because it focuses on long-term budget deficits, not just the next decade. “If [Paul Ryan’s] bill comes to the Senate floor, I expect to vote for it. This bill has a different focus.”
Marco Rubio took a more blunt question, about whether Senate conservatives were tacitly admitting how risky Ryan’s bill is.
“I think you’re comparing apples and oranges,” said Rubio.
From the White House:
Over the last several weeks, the President has met with and heard from leaders and stakeholders from a variety of sectors, including faith, business and law enforcement officials, as well as current and former elected officials and others. Like many Americans, these leaders know that the generations of immigrants who have braved hardship and great risk to reach our shores have made America what it is today – a strong and prosperous nation, engine of the global economy and a beacon of hope around the world.
We have already made significant progress securing the borders, enforcing the law, and improving the legal immigration system. Over the last two years, the Obama Administration has dedicated unprecedented resources to these efforts. There are more boots on the ground on the Southwest border than at any time in our history. The buildup began under the previous administration, and has continued. We have also tripled the number of intelligence analysts, deployed unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles, and nearly completed the fence that was demanded back in 2007. These efforts have helped to make our country more secure. But we cannot solve the problems of our broken immigration system through enforcement alone.
Unscrupulous businesses have to be held accountable, and cannot continue to exploit undocumented workers, undermining American workers and those businesses who want to play by the rules. Those that are here illegally have a responsibility too. They must register and get right with the law, pay their respective taxes and fines, learn English and submit to background checks before they can get in line to apply for a legal status. Finally, we need to make changes to our immigration system so that it better meets our diverse needs.
We should be making it easier for the best and the brightest to study here, start businesses and create jobs. We should stop punishing innocent young people by denying them the chance to earn an education or serve in the military so they can contribute to the country where they’ve grown up. We must finish the work Congress started last year, and pass the DREAM Act. We must respect families following the rules – reuniting them instead of splitting them apart. And, we need to provide farmers a legal way to hire workers and a path for those workers to earn legal status.
The President wants to have a civil and constructive debate on this issue so that we can fix our broken immigration system. To help us reach this goal, the Obama Administration is releasing a Blueprint for Building a 21st Century Immigration System (pdf). The Blueprint summarizes the progress we have made in securing our borders, enforcing our laws, and improving our legal immigration system; discusses the economic benefits of immigration reform; and outlines the President’s vision of a 21st century immigration policy.
Download the Blueprint (pdf).
On April 18th, a thousand people marched to the Dept. of Interior in an unpermitted march, organized by Rising Tide North America and Peaceful Uprising, singing “We Shall Overcome.” Hundreds stormed the building’s lobby for a multi-hour occupation which resulted in 21 arrests.
Today was their arraignment. All 21 were in court for our arraignment from all over the country. Some planned on going to trial.
But then there was a strange turn. The Dept of Interior essentially dropped all charges.
Our lawyer afterwards said that in 20 years of experience he knows of only one case where someone who was “no papered” was later prosecuted for the charge.
The 21 of us went outside the courthouse and after exchanging hugs we sang “If I Had a Hammer” together. We also talked about the next big action for many of us, the March on Blair Mountain. We were all juiced!”
Was it the threat of taking it to court, the sheer number of arrestees, or the upcoming presidential election that swayed them? Maybe all three.
A federal judge on Monday sided with environmental pranksters behind a media hoax targeting Koch Industries Inc., upholding First Amendment protections for anonymous political speech on the Internet.
U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball in Utah tossed out a lawsuit filed by Koch Industries stemming from a bogus website and fake news release issued in December that falsely announced that the Wichita-based company was changing its financial commitments on climate change to fund more environmentally friendly groups. Koch’s lawsuit had sought monetary damages as well as the identities of the pranksters.
Kimball also issued an order prohibiting Koch – one of the nation’s largest privately held companies – from using any identifying information it may have already obtained from an earlier subpoena on the company that had unwittingly hosted the fake website for a few hours before it was taken down.
EFF recently received documents from the FBI that reveal details about the depth of the agency’s electronic surveillance capabilities and call into question the FBI’s controversial effort to push Congress to expand the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) for greater access to communications data. The documents we received were sent to us in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request we filed back in 2007 after Wired reported on evidence that the FBI was able to use “secret spyware” to track the source of e-mailed bomb threats against a Washington state high school. The documents discuss a tool called a “web bug” or a “Computer and Internet Protocol Address Verifier” (CIPAV),1 which seems to have been in use since at least 2001.2
The Drudge Report outranks social media when it comes to driving news traffic to top Web sites, according to a new study from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. In a comprehensive examination of online traffic data provided by Nielsen, Pew found that only “three sites ever account for more than 10 percent of the traffic to any [major news Web site]: Google (search and news combined), the Drudge Report and Yahoo (search and news combined).”
The chart below plots referral traffic to top news brands from the Drudge Report, Facebook and Twitter.
Pew researchers analyzed the traffic behind 25 of the Internet’s biggest news Web sites. Their report reveals new insights into online behavior among news consumers and compares the data from traditional online venues with new trends emerging in social media. The report provides a valuable profile of types of online news audiences and their behaviors — data that is highly-prized by publishers. Among the report’s chief findings:
- News Web sites’ audiences are mostly made up of “casual users” — visitors who only visit a few times a month, and only spend minutes on a site. For instance, USAToday’s casual user base makes up 85% of its audience.
- Many sites also attract a smaller group of loyal users who visit more than 10 times per month.
- Google is the primary driver of traffic online, but social media, specifically Facebook, is growing fast. However, Twitter “barely registers as a referring source.”
The Department of Homeland Security has requested that Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox browser, remove an add-on that allows web surfers to access websites whose domain names were seized by the government for copyright infringement, Mozilla’s lawyer said Thursday.
But Mozilla did not remove the MafiaaFire add-on, and instead has demanded the government explain why it should. Two weeks have passed, and the government has not responded to Mozilla’s questions, including whether the government considers the add-on unlawful and whether Mozilla is “legally obligated” to remove it. The DHS has also not provided the organization with a court order requiring its removal, the lawyer said.
“One of the fundamental issues here is under what conditions do intermediaries accede to government requests that have a censorship effect and which may threaten the open internet,” Harvey Anderson, Mozilla’s lawyer, wrote Thursday on his blog.
Neither Homeland Security nor Anderson immediately responded for comment.
The add-on in question redirects traffic from seized domains to other domains outside the United States’ reach. Since last year, the U.S. government has seized at least 120 domains in an antipiracy assault known as “Operation in Our Sites.” The domains are taken under the same federal statute used to seize drug houses.
Many of the seized sites have been redirected by their owners to domains being hosted where the United States cannot legally touch them The United States controls so-called top-level domains like .com, .net and .org.
Conservative media claim that recent proposals to repeal tax breaks for the five largest oil companies will “make gasoline more expensive.” However, energy experts say that cutting the tax incentives will have little to no effect on prices at the pump.
Pakistani officials say the Obama administration has demanded the identities of some of their top intelligence operatives as the United States tries to determine whether any of them had contact with Osama bin Laden or his agents in the years before the raid that led to his death early Monday morning in Pakistan.
The officials provided new details of a tense discussion between Pakistani officials and an American envoy who traveled to Pakistan on Monday, as well as the growing suspicion among United States intelligence and diplomatic officials that someone in Pakistan’s secret intelligence agency knew of Bin Laden’s location, and helped shield him.
Obama administration officials have stopped short of accusing the Pakistani government — either privately or publicly — of complicity in the hiding of Bin Laden in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. One senior administration official privately acknowledged that the administration sees its relationship with Pakistan as too crucial to risk a wholesale break, even if it turned out that past or present Pakistani intelligence officials did know about Bin Laden’s whereabouts. […]
Already, Pakistani news outlets have been speculating that General Pasha, one of the most powerful figures in Pakistan, may step down as a consequence of the Bin Laden operation.
The increasing tensions between the United States and Pakistan — whose proximity to Afghanistan makes it almost a necessary ally in the American and allied war there — came as Al Qaeda itself acknowledged on Friday the death of its leader. The group did so while vowing revenge on the United States and its allies.
NYT Editorial: The Torture Apologists
The killing of Osama bin Laden provoked a host of reactions from Americans: celebration, triumph, relief, closure and renewed grief. One reaction, however, was both cynical and disturbing: crowing by the apologists and practitioners of torture that Bin Laden’s death vindicated their immoral and illegal behavior after the Sept. 11 attacks.
[Audio and transcript from Democracy Now!]
I don’t want closure. There is no closure after tragedy.
I want memory, and justice, and revenge.
When you’re dealing with a mass murderer who bragged about incinerating thousands of Americans and planned to kill countless more, that seems like the only civilized and morally sound response.
There was the bad comedy of solipsistic Republicans with wounded egos trying to make it about how right they were and whinging that George W. Bush was due more credit. Their attempt to renew the debate about torture is itself torture.
W. preferred to sulk in his Dallas tent rather than join President Obama at ground zero in a duet that would have certainly united the country.
Whereas the intelligence work that led to the destruction of Bin Laden was begun in the Bush administration, the cache of schemes taken from Osama’s Pakistan house debunked the fanciful narrative that the Bush crew pushed: that Osama was stuck in a cave unable to communicate, increasingly irrelevant and a mere symbol, rather than operational. Osama, in fact, was at the helm, spending his days whipping up bloody schemes to kill more Americans.
In another inane debate last week, many voices suggested that decapitating the head of a deadly terrorist network was some sort of injustice.
Taking offense after Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, said he was “much relieved” at the news of Bin Laden’s death, Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, posted the Twitter message: “Ban Ki-moon wrong on Osama bin Laden: It’s not justice for him to be killed even if justified; no trial, conviction.”
I leave it to subtler minds to parse the distinction between what is just and what is justified.
When Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said she was “glad” Bin Laden had been killed, a colleague called such talk “medieval.”
Christophe Barbier, editor of the centrist French weekly L’Express, warned: “To cry one’s joy in the streets of our cities is to ape the turbaned barbarians who danced the night of Sept. 11.”
Those who celebrated on Sept. 11 were applauding the slaughter of American innocents. When college kids spontaneously streamed out Sunday night to the White House, ground zero and elsewhere, they were the opposite of bloodthirsty: they were happy that one of the most certifiably evil figures of our time was no more.
The confused image of Bin Laden as a victim was exacerbated by John Brennan, the Obama national security aide who intemperately presented an inaccurate portrait of what had happened on the third floor in Abbottabad.
Unlike the president and the Navy Seals, who performed with steely finesse, Brennan was overwrought, exaggerating the narrative to demonize the demon.
The White House had to backtrack from Brennan’s contentions that Osama was “hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield” and that he died after resisting in a firefight.
It may be that some administration officials have taken Dick Cheney’s belittling so much to heart that they are still reluctant to display effortless macho. Liberal guilt may have its uses, but it should not be wasted on this kill-mission.
The really insane assumption behind some of the second-guessing is that killing Osama somehow makes us like Osama, as if all killing is the same.
Only fools or knaves would argue that we could fight Al Qaeda’s violence non-violently.
President Obama was prepared to take a life not only to avenge American lives already taken but to deter the same killer from taking any more. Aside from Bin Laden’s plotting, his survival and his legend were inspirations for more murder.
If stealth bombers had dropped dozens of 2,000-pound bombs and wiped out everyone, no one would have been debating whether Osama was armed. The president chose the riskiest option presented to him, but one that spared nearly all the women and children at the compound, and anyone in the vicinity.
Unlike Osama, the Navy Seals took great care not to harm civilians — they shot Bin Laden’s youngest wife in the leg and carried two young girls out of harm’s way before killing Osama.
Morally and operationally, this was counterterrorism at its finest.
We have nothing to apologize for.
I am grateful for something else: that Bin Laden has been humanized. He thought he carried the Prophet’s message and was able, through a charisma pornographic in its worship of death, to channel an immense Muslim frustration. In taking on America, and staging his own mega-production one September day, he turned himself into myth.
Yet, here he is, hunched, gray-bearded, channel surfing with his remote in search of images of himself. And here he is, with his beard dyed black, betraying the very vanity of the black-haired Arab gerontocracy he professed to loath. Bin Laden is very human here — in his boredom, his ego, his foibles and his weariness.
That is an important reminder. Bin Laden was not the devil. He was a human being. What happened to him, this gentle-eyed killer, can happen: His transformation into a demon is banal. That is why all of our collective vigilance is needed.
Speaking of vigilance, I have to say one word on Pakistan’s blindness. If the country were not nuclear-armed, America would not give it another dime. But it is and America must. Before then, however, Congress is right to demand an answer to this question: Why, of all the places on earth, would Bin Laden choose to live in the very town that houses the elite military academy that is Pakistan’s West Point?
His advisers must have told him that was not a problem. They must have had a reason for saying it was not a problem. Their reason is America’s and the world’s problem. Until it is resolved it will do harm.
I must end with the deed. It was also Obama’s. He’s the guy who said: “It’s a go.” In the duel of Obama with Osama, there was something of fate. The president kept coming back to him. There is strength in humility. Sometimes you have to keep coming back.
Rilke, in a far different context, had this to say of Cézanne’s abiding obsession with apples and wine bottles: “And (like Van Gogh) he makes his ‘saints’ out of such things: and forces them — forces them — to be beautiful, to stand for the whole world and all joy and all glory, and he doesn’t know whether he has succeeded in making them do it for him. And sits in the garden like an old dog, the dog of his work that is calling him again and that beats him and lets him starve.”
For America, long starved of the satisfactions sustained purpose brings, the decade-old work is done.
It was a tremendous week in these United States. A segment of the population reveled in unabashed frenzy over the death of Bin Laden. A segment of the population celebrated in more restrained fashion. A segment of the population called into question the cold-blooded manner of the terrorist mastermind’s dispatch, and, of course, a segment of the population simply refused to believe it had happened at all. Through it all, however, was a sense that the terrible drift we have been experiencing as a nation came to a sudden stop. Something had been done, and it felt like we were once again in control of events, instead of events being in control of us. The manner in which we arrived at the moment may have been unworthy, as some have suggested, but the facts of aftermath remain for all to see.
As the GOP got ready for its first primary season debate in South Carolina, one question stuck out: Why was Tim Pawlenty even participating?
A lobbying battle is raging largely behind the scenes over a seemingly obscure executive order that could — if signed by President Obama — make public the political spending that many corporations can now keep secret.
Under the proposed order, all companies bidding for federal contracts would be required to disclose money spent on political campaign efforts, including dollars forwarded through associations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other private groups.
Election spending by such organizations soared to new heights in 2010, thanks in part to the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case, which allowed corporations and unions to make direct political expenditures. The majority opinion endorsed disclosure of the new political spending, but many groups have formed as nonprofits, which do not have to reveal their funding sources.
Since then, campaign finance reform advocates and their Democratic allies have sought to unmask the secret contributions fueling the groups, arguing that such spending allows wealthy individuals, corporations and other special interests to have an outsized influence on elections without voters knowing who is behind the effort.
At stake are tens of millions of dollars in donations provided by corporations to trade associations and other not-for-profit groups that use the money for independent campaign expenditures. In the last election cycle, most of the money spent by the groups benefited GOP candidates. Democrats, worried about that advantage, sought to restrict this kind of undisclosed independent spending. When that effort failed, some prominent party members began forming their own not-for-profit organizations to compete with the GOP.
If Obama issued the draft executive order, he would effectively discourage previously undisclosed donations to groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which — with some exceptions — have been generally helping Republican candidates. It would also give the president a chance to quiet critics who want him to be more outspoken in demanding disclosure of large contributors.
But business interests are trying to quash the measure.
The chamber is pressing top White House officials, including Chief of Staff William Daley, who worked closely with the group when he was an executive at JPMorgan Chase, to push Obama to drop the executive order.
More than 138,000 companies are prime federal contractors and could fall under the measure, according to government data. That includes Fortune 500 companies such as Apple, Southwest Airlines, Coca-Cola and FedEx. It would also affect some unions that have federal contracts to provide services, such as worker training.
But Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor who is trying very, very hard to win the Republican presidential nomination, reminded us last week of another type of politician’s remorse: the pander disguised as an apology.
“I was wrong, it was a mistake, and I’m sorry,” Pawlenty said during a debate last Thursday. He was talking about his previous insistence that greenhouse gas pollution is a serious problem worth tackling with cap-and-trade legislation. When Pawlenty first articulated this view a few years ago, it was a thoroughly mainstream sentiment, even within the Republican Party. Now it isn’t. Why? Because with a Democrat in the White House, the GOP base now demands reflexive, unyielding opposition to any and all “Democratic” policies. Obama and his fellow Democrats support cap-and-trade — therefore, the Republican base hates it. (This phenomenon is hardly new.) Thus, Pawlenty is now furiously apologizing for admitting that global warming is a serious, man-made problem that demands action.
What’s more, he’s betting that his willingness to say “I’m sorry” will provide a favorable contrast to Mitt Romney, who has thus far refused to apologize to Republican primary voters for the universal healthcare law he signed in Massachusetts five years ago — which included an “individual mandate.” Instead, Romney has framed the Bay State’s program as an “experiment” that produced some good results and some bad.
On Monday morning, tea party leaders from around the country gathered at the National Press Club for a news conference denouncing Boehner and Ryan in terms normally reserved for that most loathsome of creatures, the Democrat.
“Instead of a fighter for U.S. taxpayers, Mr. Boehner has been a surrenderist, if that’s a word,” proclaimed William Temple, chairman of the Tea Party Founding Fathers. “It seems House Speaker John Maynard Boehner and his fellow RINOs — Republicans In Name Only — like to spend other peoples’ money just as much as the Democrats.”
Temple mocked the “tearful” speaker and vowed to give him “something really to cry about” this fall: “As the GOP primary season opens, if House freshmen and others elected by the tea party caved to Obama, we will find replacements for them.”
A recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center reported that a million more Latinos voted in 2010 than did so in the 2006 midterm election.
This is partly due to the young population coming to voting age. Every year, more than a half million Latinos turn 18, and in the four years between those two elections, one and a half million immigrants became citizens. In total, an additional 3.5 million Latinos were eligible to vote in 2010 than in 2006.
And those numbers are probably on the low side: a Texas civil rights group has just filed a lawsuit in federal court charging that the 2010 Census failed to count as many as one-tenth of the Latinos living in the state.
As a share of the electorate, Latinos made up 6.9 percent of the 96 million voters in 2010, up from 5.8 percent of the 96.1 million voters four years earlier.
Though this increase is significant, it also reveals a continuing problem, given that the increase in voters doesn’t equal the increase in voting-age population. Latino voter turnout still lags far behind that of whites and African Americans: while almost half of white eligible voters turned out in 2010, and 44 percent of black voters, only 31 percent of Latinos went to the polls. (A similar gap exists for presidential elections).
Another problem in terms of the potential power of the Latino population is that only 42 percent are eligible to vote, compared with 77 percent of whites, 67 percent of African Americans and 53 percent of Asians.
Facebook has asked the Federal Election Commission to confirm that advertisements on the social networking website shouldn’t have to abide by campaign regulations which require a disclaimer on who paid for the ads.
Federal regulations require that public communications identifies the person or persons who paid for that communication as well as the person or persons who authorized the communication. But the FEC has allowed for exceptions in certain types of communications including pens, bumper stickers, campaign pins, campaign buttons, skywriting, clothing and water towers.
“In the vast majority of these mediums – e.g. television, radio, billboards, magazines, newspapers, and e-mail – it is not inconvenient or impracticable to include a disclaimer,” lawyers for the company argue. “With some mediums, however – e.g. bumper stickers, buttons, pens, t-shirts, concert tickets, and text messages – it is inconvenient or impracticable to include a disclaimer.”
They also note that the FEC concluded last October that political committees that purchased Google search ads would not violate the law or section 110.11 of FEC regulations by failing to include a disclaimer within the ad since including the candidate’s full name, the commission found, “could require more characters for the disclaimer than are allowed for the text ad itself.”
“Just as manufacturers of bumper stickers, buttons, and concert tickets made a business decision to sell these items in a small size, Facebook has made a business decision to sell small ads,” Facebook’s lawyers write. “The purpose of the ‘small items’ exception is to allow political committees to speak through mediums, like Facebook ads, that consumers actually use.”
Staunch Conservatives: 9% OF ADULT POPULATION /11% OF REGISTERED VOTERS
Main Street Republicans: 11% OF ADULT POPULATION /14% OF REGISTERED VOTERS
Libertarians: 9% OF ADULT POPULATION /10% OF REGISTERED VOTERS
Disaffecteds: 11% OF ADULT POPULATION /11% OF REGISTERED VOTERS
Post-Moderns: 13% OF ADULT POPULATION /14% OF REGISTERED VOTERS
Basic Description: Well-educated and financially comfortable. Post-Moderns are supportive of many aspects of government though they take conservative positions on questions about racial policy and the social safety net. Very liberal on social issues. Post-Moderns were strong supporters of Barack Obama in 2008, but turned out at far lower rates in 2010.
Hard-Pressed Democrats: 13% OF ADULT POPULATION /15% OF REGISTERED VOTERS
Basic Description: This largely blue-collar Democratic group is struggling financially and is generally cynical about government. Nearly half (47%) expect that they will not earn enough to lead the kind of life they want. Socially conservative and very religious.
New Coalition Democrats: 10% OF ADULT POPULATION /9% OF REGISTERED VOTERS
Basic Description: This majority-minority group is highly religious and financially stressed. They are generally upbeat about both the country’s ability to solve problems and an individual’s ability to get ahead through hard work.
Defining values: Generally supportive of government, but divided over expanding the social safety net. Reflecting their own diverse makeup, they are pro-immigrant. Socially conservative, about as many say homosexuality should be discouraged as say it should be accepted.
In the poll, 52% of Americans said they approved of Obama’s job performance, compared to 41% who disapproved. That’s an improvement from last month when 49% of respondents gave Obama good marks on his job performance, compared to 45% who gave him negative marks.
However, the poll also found that only 37% of Americans now aprove of Obama’s handling of the economy, the lowest level ever recorded by NBC, and an eight-point drop from one month ago. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they disapproved of Obama’s economic stewardship in the latest poll, also a record.
That furthers a downward trend that dates back to roughly the start of the year. After last year’s midterm elections, Americans steadily began feeling better about Obama’s economic management. But come 2011, that quickly reversed, and Obama’s approval rating on the issue has generally declined since then.
The current TPM Poll Average shows that 57% of Americans give Obama a negative score on the economy, versus 38.2% who say the opposite.
Full results (pdf)
According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday, the Democrats have a four-point margin over the Republicans in the battle for control of Congress. The poll indicates that 50 percent registered voters say if the election for Congress was held today, they would vote for the Democrat in their district, with 46 percent saying they would cast a ballot for the Republican in their district. The Democrats’ four-point margin is within the poll’s sampling error.
“Now the Democrats are seeing some of their natural constituencies coming home,” says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “In the latest generic ballot, Democrats have a ten-point lead among women, and a nine-point lead among voters who never attended college. But the Republicans still have a plurality of the Independent voters, 47 percent to 43 percent.”
The poll also indicates a geographic split that may favor the Democrats, with Democratic candidates pulling a majority in the Northeast, Midwest and West. Republicans win a majority in the generic ballot only in the South.
“It’s far too early to use these results to accurately forecast the 2012 congressional elections,” Holland notes. “But it does indicate that some of the shifts that swept the GOP into power in 2010 may be shifting back.”
The generic ballot question asks respondents if they would vote for a Democrat or Republican in their congressional district, without naming any specific candidates. It’s used by many polling organizations, including CNN/Opinion Research Corporation surveys.
Retired Justice John Paul Stevens said Supreme Court decisions have given local prosecutors impunity for violating constitutional rights, and urged Congress to respond by authorizing victims of misconduct to sue.
In a speech Monday night to the Equal Justice Initiative, which advocates for indigent defendants, Justice Stevens criticized the court’s March decision overturning a jury’s $14 million award to an innocent man who spent 14 years on death row after prosecutors concealed evidence that could have cleared him. (Click here to see the full text of Stevens’ speech.)
The case of Connick v. Thompson saw the court split 5-4 along its conservative-liberal divide. Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas rejected the freed man’s theory that the New Orleans district attorney’s office was negligent for failing to train its staff to comply with longstanding precedents requiring prosecutors to disclose exculpatory evidence to defendants.
Lawyers for the wrongly imprisoned man, John Thompson, made that argument because Supreme Court precedent requires proof that it was the local government’s policy to violate constitutional rights before it can be held liable.
Thompson’s lawyers “did not prove a pattern of similar violations” that was “the functional equivalent of a decision by the city itself to violate the Constitution,” Justice Thomas wrote.
Stevens said Monday that the nature of the American criminal justice system—where most local prosecutors are elected—“creates a problem of imbalanced incentives that ought to be addressed at the state and national level.”
From The Washington Monthly:
Why organized labor should join with entrepreneurs to bust the corporate monopolies threatening them both.
Last August, on a blazing-hot Nebraska evening, I sat in a cool hotel bar in downtown Omaha and listened as a team of Dockers-clad union organizers joked, drank, and argued their way into an alliance with a group of southern and western ranchers. The organizers, from the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), made a simple argument: Meat-packing houses like JBS and Smithfield— their already immense power swelled from years of mergers—are using their dominance of cattle markets to hammer down what they pay for beef and for in-house unionized meatcutters. So rather than “scrap over nickels,” perhaps the ranchers and workers should lock arms and fight for bigger stakes.
Cowboys and labor? Plotting together? Polo shirt and bolo tie? In recent years, the two groups have, on occasion, signed the same statements against foreign trade. But closer to home, ranchers and unions have tended to view one another as rivals for the same wafer-thin slice of the retail dollar— and as parties on opposite ends of a gaping cultural divide. “It wasn’t easy,” one union organizer summed it up recently. “In recent years, we have not been friends.”
Yet half a year on, it’s evident that the alliance was no momentary fling, no mere “enemy of my enemy” excuse to clink a few beer bottles before stumbling back to opposite ends of the political corral. When the Justice Department held a series of hearings last year on concentration in agriculture markets, including cattle, the UFCW helped to pack the room for the cattlemen’s testimony, one of the only times in recent decades that an American labor union has promoted stronger enforcement of anti-monopoly law.
The question, then, is not whether the Democratic Party—or progressives in general—can survive without organized labor. The question is whether labor can radically change its thinking. More specifically, will organized workers notice that many other groups of American workers and entrepreneurs are also fighting for survival against the same powers that have fingered labor for extinction? And if so, will labor have the savvy to link up with these other groups to form a broad political alliance that can fight back effectively, over the long run?
The first big challenge is intellectual. The idea that labor should attack big business for being big strikes many in the movement as hypocritical, and potentially dangerous. After all, the basic premise of labor law is that workers can earn a license to cartelize some particular labor market. And among labor leaders, the standard response to the mere mention of the word “antitrust” tends to be “big is better for us.”
Indeed, labor leaders for decades have generally assumed it is easier to organize workers after they have been lined up in rows by capitalists using giant corporations. And labor leaders have also tended to assume that bosses who enjoy sufficient market power to charge higher prices for their products will also be willing to share some of this booty with their employees.
Yet it doesn’t take much sifting through America’s political economy to realize that far bigger dangers are posed by labor’s complete failure to account for the effects of the radical changes in the enforcement of anti-monopoly law over the last generation.
For 200 years, Americans used various forms of antimonopoly law—at the local, state, and federal levels—to disperse power, foster productive competition, and protect open markets. Americans used these laws, in essence, to extend the system of checks and balances into the political economy. Then, beginning in the late 1970s, an odd coalition of the consumerist (and Democratic Socialist) left and laissez-faire right—led by such Chicago School stalwarts as Robert Bork—imposed a new “consumer welfare” test for anti-monopoly enforcement.
Assess vulnerability to union messaging in market.
Monitor impact of change initiatives.
Advises HR and Operations leadership in positive employee relations practices that support continued union-free workplace and business mission in a complex labor environment.
Leads company response to local and market organizing campaigns.
Coordinates continuous labor education for supervisors to ensure compliance with labor laws.
Assists in developing associate relations strategies and initiatives aligned with business initiatives, including but not limited to urban market entry plans.
With the help of 16 Democrats, House Republicans passed a bill the other day with the narrow-seeming title of the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.
The measure, which came just weeks after the furor over failed Republican attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, is a slightly modified version of a terrible bill proposed last year by Representative Christopher Smith, a Republican of New Jersey. It is far more sweeping than its title suggests.
In fact, the bill is not really about federal financing for abortion or even preventing insurers from offering any abortion coverage on the insurance exchanges created as part of federal health care reform. The federal Hyde Amendment has long barred federal financing of abortion, and the burdensome rules for segregating an individual’s premium payments from government subsidies already seems destined to discourage insurers from offering abortion coverage on the exchanges.
The Smith bill imposes new limitations on abortion access by driving to end abortion insurance coverage in the private market using the nation’s tax system as a weapon. A provision would deny tax credits to small businesses that offer private health plans that cover abortion services, as some 87 percent of private plans now do. The bill imposes no such restrictions on large corporations.
The measure also eliminates the medical-expense deduction for most abortions and ends the availability of reimbursement for abortion costs from medical savings accounts – changes that could invite intrusive inquiries from IRS auditors trying to confirm whether an abortion procedure fell within exceptions for rape, incest or when the life of the woman is endangered.
Over all, the bill treats tax benefits as the equivalent of public expenditures for abortion. This equivalency is at odds with a reality in which individuals can deduct donations to religious institutions without running afoul of the constitutional bar of government support of religion.
Beyond the insurance realm, the Smith bill would permanently extend the prohibition on the District of Columbia from using locally raised revenue to provide abortion care that was imposed through fiscal 2011 as part of the budget compromise struck last month. The bill also would eliminate the yearly renewal of the Hyde Amendment’s denial of abortion services for poor women and others who rely on the federal government for their health care.
The administration has signaled it would veto the Smith bill. It should be on guard for attempts to sneak parts of it into the debt limit talks.
The walkout was a statement to a broader audience – America. I think this whole episode fits within the thesis of Minnesota Law Professor Dale Carpenter’s recent New York Times Op-Ed about King & Spaulding’s withdrawal from defending DOMA: The legal profession has simply moved past the point where LGBT rights are just another political issue, instead recognizing that discriminating against any group of people based on who they are is simply unacceptable in today’s society. This walkout, like the Op-Ed, like the Justice Department’s refusal to defend DOMA, is another data point for this observation. Here, even more specifically, we were saying that the for the next generation of lawyers, this is not even a debatable issue.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
Refractorium – Knights’ Hall – – Akko (Acre), Israel
Sat May 21st 2011
TEACH THE BANKS A LESSON
Saturday May 21st 11 AM
CHASE Bank 1919 North 45th Street, Seattle, WA 98103
(Corner of N. 45th St & Meridian Ave N.)
CHASE pays no state taxes through a loophole that allows banks based in WA to avoid paying taxes. Though CHASE is not based in WA, WAMU whom they acquired during the bailouts was and thus they are still given the credit.
CHASE acquired billions of dollars during the bailout at a zero % interest rate, money that they are now loaning back to the Government at a 5% interest rate—they are actually making money off taxpayers.
Teachers in Seattle are already facing layoffs that are likely to increase as the state balances the over $5 billion budget shortfall. In addition to this the legislature is considering a pay freeze for teachers.
This is not a spending crisis. It’s a revenue crisis that is caused when entities like CHASE and wealthy individuals like Bill Gates pay little to no taxes on their vast fortunes. The money to pay for social services is there. We are being asked to sacrifice but this sacrifice is not shared and is not equal. Teachers and other public employees are not the cause of the crisis, and should not pay for it!
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Democracy for America
An endless war in Afghanistan is not in America’s best interest.
This October will mark the 10-year anniversary of the start of Operation Enduring Freedom. I believe it’s time to start bringing our troops home. It’s time to put the future and security of Afghanistan in the hands of its own leaders, and focus America’s national security on the emerging and more imminent threats from al Qaeda in other regions.
After nearly a decade at war, with still no equal commitment from the Karzai government, and after all the lives sacrificed and the billions we’ve spent on this war, it is my strong view that it is time to negotiate a Strategic Redeployment Agreement with Afghanistan that would mandate a date certain for the withdrawal of all United States combat forces.
This is why Senators Barbara Boxer, Sherrod Brown, Dick Durbin and I are co-sponsors of the Safe and Responsible Redeployment of United States Combat Forces from Afghanistan Act of 2011. The bill is simple and straight forward and I believe absolutely essential. So today, I’m asking you to stand with us as citizen co-sponsors.
Please add your name as a citizen co-sponsor and help demonstrate the vast support of Americans nationwide who believe it’s time to bring our combat troops home and end the war in Afghanistan.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided to allow the pesticide methyl iodide to be used in 47 states as a replacement for the ozone-destroying methyl bromide.
But, methyl iodide is considered to be one of the most toxic and destructive pesticides on the market. Even though attempts are being made to limit exposure to people and wildlife, the proposed use will likely adversely affect species like the California tiger salamander that lives on and around farm lands.
The plan for methyl iodide is to apply it to bare soil prior to planting crops, followed by tarping the soil to limit its spread. The problem is though that some species, including the endangered California tiger salamander, often seek out warm, damp, and dark places, the exact environment that these tarp applications would create.
Just take a look at what the EPA said about methyl iodide earlier this year:
“It is not expected that there would be any major use by wildlife of the soil under the tarp. However, some wildlife (e.g. amphibians) may possibly seek dark, warm, moist areas such as the area under a tarp which might result in a lethal exposure.”
Interesting, isn’t it? Even though California tiger salamanders are listed under the Endangered Species Act and EPA acknowledges that the proposed use could expose amphibians, EPA has once again failed to consult, as required by law, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
If that’s not bad enough, methyl iodide also can have very serious impacts on humans. The state of California considers it a human carcinogen because of its mutative properties. And the animal studies show that it causes fetal death late in pregnancy at levels that are typical in the air near a fumigation site.
The EPA is collecting public comment on the use of methyl iodide until this Friday, May 13th. Despite earlier rulings, they are actually considering banning methyl iodide, so we need you to speak up now.
We are up against some major forces on this. Arysta, the largest pesticide producer in the world and a manufacturer of methyl iodide is putting intense pressure on the EPA to continue to allow this deadly toxin.
The Senate is expected to vote soon on whether or not to end subsidies for Big Oil. Help make that a reality by asking your Senators to vote to eliminate subsidies for Big Oil. Remember, your letter has more impact when you personalize it in some way.
Students around the country have been taking the message of Wisconsin to heart–and occupying buildings in support of fair labor practices.
In the meantime, you can check out this 2004 interview by Fresh Air with Yes Man Mike Bonanno.
Oh, and if you’d like more information on the rising prevalence of asthma — nearly 1 in 12 Americans has the respiratory condition — see this Shots post.
Update 3:17 p.m.: The hoaxers have come clean. A group called Coal is Killing Kids, which support strengthening of the Clean Air Act, has taken responsibility for the prank. In a statement, the group said that it had worked with Yes Lab, a project of The Yes Men.
“People may laugh at our sick jokes,” group spokeswoman Janet Bellamy said in the statement, “but they also understand the real health impacts of burning coal.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
A good vacation is over when you begin to yearn for your work.