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Gang Crack-up


Who knows what’s really going on with Tom Coburn’s departure from the Gang of Six. For all we know he’s about to be indicted in the Ensign scandal. But the reports sound right to me. Basically, he’s demanding that the Democrats agree to immediately slash Medicare spending in what I assume to be an exchange for some elimination of “tax expenditures.” (At least that’s what’s been reported as the source of his disagreement with Norquist who’s calling all such eliminations tax hikes.) […]

Who knows why he really dropped out? The article does give at least one hint:

Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) — one of the six members — announced he’d start moving ahead with his own proposal. Conrad said Tuesday he’d announce plans to proceed soon.

Coburn’s departure could all-but deep-six the Six, since Conrad’s budget plan could overtake it. And Vice President Biden also has been leading bipartisan talks aimed at conquering the deficit impasse, talks that Senate Republican leaders think are more likely to lead to Democratic concessions, said a Democratic aide close to the talks.

(Gee, I wonder where they’d get that idea?)

Coburn may have realized that he was about to go out on a limb with what Norquist will call a tax increase when the Biden group would probably get Republicans a lot more for a lot less. Why take that kind of risk?

Andrea Mitchell wondered earlier if the Gang would release some sort of report that would form a baseline for other negotiations. (Sound familiar?) If so, this would have to be somewhat alarming:

Coburn asked for an immediate $130 billion in cuts to Medicare, on top of the $400 billion that had already been agreed to.

Good to know.

Here’s a little reminder, which I’m sure is unnecessary, about the campaign the Republicans ran just six months ago:

It is truly a sick and dysfunctional political system that allows a party to run on that message and just six months later insist on even more cuts and nobody calls them on it. But that’s where we are.

The Republicans still insist that they want to repeal the ACA which made “half a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts” and are now trying to make another half a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts. I’m guessing the bipartisan hope among the deal-makers was to cut just shy of a trillion dollars total from the program. (You’ll recall how they arbitrarily insisted on 900 billion in the stimulus debate — perhaps this is the magic number here as well.) But they have to “jump over the cliff together” in order to get it done. Maybe they think Biden has the clout to make that happen.

The Democrats will pay the political price for doing this, however, since their only real rationale for existence at this point is protecting the safety net from the rapacious Randroid Republican vision. Republicans are just being Republicans, doing what’s expected. Many people will actually admire them more for sticking with their principles. I guess the Democrats think they’ll get credit for making the hard decisions and demanding sacrifice from their own constituents.

Is that how the world really works?



You Can’t Make A Deal If People Don’t Want A Deal


The new “gang of six” group negotiating a bipartisan budget deal in the Senate is falling apart with Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn pulling out. Philip Rucker and Lori Montgomery explain that Coburn’s withdrawal was prefigured by his decision to start acting more like a spoiler than a dealmaker:

Those close to the talks said trouble has been brewing for weeks. Earlier this month, the group appeared to be tantalizingly close to an agreement. But then, Democratic sources said, Coburn started bringing up new issues at every meeting, or demanding that old ones be reconsidered.

For example, Coburn began pressing for sharper cuts to Social Security than had been previously agreed to, according to sources familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the negotiations. And during a three-hour session late Monday, the sources said, Coburn demanded deep and immediate cuts to Medicare that went beyond anything previously proposed.

This is a familiar pattern in the Obama administration. Bipartisan talks begin on the Hill. They make progress. Sometimes a little progress, and sometimes a lot of progress. Then at some point during the progress-making, the conservative participants in the talks realize that they have a problem—the talks are making progress! So then they start casting around for new demands or new reasons to break off the talks. Eventually, Lucy yanks the football away and we’re back to square one.

You can critique the motives or behavior of Tom Coburn (debt) or Lindsey Graham (immigration, climate) or John McCain (Gitmo, climate) or Bob Corker (financial regulation) or Chuck Grassley (health care) on some individual deal or particular gang. But the repetition of the story strongly suggests a structural issue. A short description of the structural issue would be “Mitch McConnell doesn’t favor making bipartisan deals with the White House” and that’s why there can’t be a bipartisan health care bill or a bipartisan climate bill or a bipartisan immigration bill or a bipartisan deficit bill or a bipartisan financial regulation bill or anything else. A longer description of the structural issue would be that objectively speaking if the Republicans’ goal is to pick up Senate seats and beat Barack Obama in 2012, it’s not in their interests for the 112th Congress to resolve major national issues in a bipartisan way.


The Rust Belt shows some luster

In a part of the country hurting long before the latest recession, manufacturers are finally hiring. But factory pay isn’t what it used to be. […]

The nation’s factories have added 250,000 jobs since the beginning of last year — about 13 percent of what was lost during the recent recession — marking the first sustained increase in manufacturing employment since 1997.

But the new hiring also reflects another emerging reality of U.S. manufacturing: Many of the jobs don’t pay anything close to what they used to. Assembly-line workers who will be making the EdenPure products under the auspices of Suarez Corp. Industries will start at $7.50 an hour.

That’s a far cry from the $20 an hour that most workers made with Hoover, which shifted its century-old production lines to Mexico and El Paso in 2007 after concluding that it was too expensive to make its products in the industrial Midwest.

“The communities and workers in Ohio have been devastated over the past decade and are grateful for the opportunity to earn a living,” said Robert Baugh, executive director of the AFL-CIO’s Industrial Union Council. “But this is tempered by reality. One is that the jobs at Suarez, with wages and benefits well below the middle-class ones that were there before, are not a replacement for the ones that left.”

Behind the recovery

The Rust Belt’s nascent recovery is being fueled by a host of factors, including a revitalized auto sector, innovations that have made workers more productive, and a weakened dollar, which makes American products more appealing for export.

Lower labor costs are also a critical factor. But many of the prospective workers who braved a cold rain Monday outside the old Hoover plant for a shot at a job with benefits did not complain. […]

The Rust Belt’s fortunes have been one of the bright spots of a mostly shaky recovery. Nationally, manufacturing output grew at an estimated annual rate of 9.1 percent in the first three months of the year, while the overall economy expanded by just 1.8 percent, according to Federal Reserve figures.

“Everybody had written off the manufacturing sector and the Rust Belt, but now the manufacturing sector is the shining star of the U.S. recovery,” said Mark J. Perry, a professor at the University of Michigan at Flint and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

The recovery has been a long time coming. The nation lost nearly 6 million factory jobs, almost a third of its total, between 2000 and 2009. Those losses came on top of a long slide that started in 1979, when the nation’s manufacturing workforce peaked at 19.5 million. Currently, the nation has 11.7 million manufacturing workers, according to the Labor Department.

“What we are experiencing is first and foremost a recovery from the depths of a terrible recession,” said Robert E. Scott, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute. “We have a long way to go before we climb out of this hole.”


Montano Intermodal Center will help connect
Albuquerque residents, communities

Secretary Ray LaHood:

By 2030, the fast-growing Albuquerque, New Mexico, region expects automobile travel times to double.  When you couple that with soaring gas prices, area residents badly need transportation options.

The Department of Transportation understands that need, and yesterday, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff was in Albuquerque to award the Rio Metro Regional Transit District $6.7 million to help construct the Montano Intermodal Center. By providing new transit connections in a safe facility with real-time rider information and wi-fi access, the new center will soon become a centerpiece of the region’s transportation network.


ATLANTA — A Channel 2 investigation revealed thousands of Georgia jobs being given to foreign workers.

The companies told the federal government they couldn’t find workers in Georgia despite the state’s 10 percent unemployment rate. Instead, they’re getting visas to bring in workers from other countries.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer dug through thousands of pages of records to see how hard those companies really looked for Georgians first.

In one instance, a company only placed an ad in the Marietta Daily Journal, even though the available jobs were in Douglasville, Atlanta and Dallas.

“The enforcement is lacking to see exactly what’s happening with these employers. Are they truly trying to find American workers first to hire?” asked Phil Kent, a consultant on immigration issues.

The program, called H2B, allows companies to bring in foreign workers for full-time jobs up to 10 months each year. In the past three years, more than 7,000 Georgia jobs went to workers in the state on visas. Kent said it’s better than hiring illegal workers, but not much.

Channel 2 showed the list of employers to job-seekers at a DeKalb County employment fair.

“If they tried to find people, they would have found people,” said Terry Fields, an unemployed job-seeker. “I’d be willing to do anything right now; I just want to get paid and pay bills and get to work.”

One in 10 Georgians who want to work are unable to find a job. Georgia’s Labor Department referred more than 7,000 workers to those companies in the last two years.


Geithner: Republicans will be responsible for U.S. default

USA Today:

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is openly talking about the prospect of a federal government default — and saying the Republicans will be at fault it happens.

Referring to Republican demands for deep budget cuts in exchange for an increase in the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, Geithner said last night: “If Republicans try to impose that plan on this country as a condition for raising the debt limit, then they will own the responsibility for the first default in our history, with devastating damage to the nation.”[…]

Here is an extended excerpt of Geithner’s comments about the Republicans:

The essential contribution of the House budget is to show that if you try to deliver fiscal sustainability with no contribution from tax reform, then you have to make drastic cuts to critical government functions. According to the CBO, these cuts would, by 2022, raise costs for an average Medicare beneficiary by $6,500 a year, and would eventually reduce the total amount the government spends as a share of the economy, aside from interest and Social Security, to a lower level than at any time since World War II.

America can do better. And if Republicans try to impose that plan on this country as a condition for raising the debt limit, then they will own the responsibility for the first default in our history, with devastating damage to the nation.

Yesterday, we reached the debt limit, and because Congress had not acted, we were forced to deploy a series of extraordinary measures to prevent default.

These measures will give us until August 2 before we will no longer be able to meet our obligations securely. As I have said before, Congress must meet its responsibility to protect the Nation’s full faith and credit by increasing the debt limit.

Paul Ryan: The Wall Street I Know Is Totally OK With Debt Default For A Few Days

Stan Collender, a veteran of many Capitol Hill budget fights and a budget policy expert, said talk that that could be very dangerous.

“There’s obviously no way to know for sure because we’ve never really been in that situation,” he said. “But it’s far more likely that there would be relatively immediate negative repercussions in financial markets if there was even a hint of bond holders not being paid.”

He explained:

The problem would be the virtually immediate lost confidence in the political system’s willingness to raise the debt ceiling to meet existing obligations. While some investors might be willing to wait, others would sell just to eliminate the risk. That could easily start a financial panic.

Collender also rejected Ryan’s idea of a three-day default as “ridiculous.” If Congress did make a deal on the debt limit before the Aug. 2 deadline, they’d pass it quickly and make sure to cover all the time the kinks were being worked out with short-term increases, much as it did during the government shutdown battle last month.

But “if there was no deal,” Collender said, the short default Ryan’s talking about “wouldn’t make any difference because few would assume that, after months of talk, something would happen 3 days later. ”

Ryan’s not the only Republican suggesting that Wall Street would be just fine with the US at least flirting with default this summer. The White House had said that a chance of the country not paying what it owes investors could lead to economic catastrophe. But increasingly Republicans are saying the idea might not be so bad.

Last week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) told reporters that Wall Street told him basically the same thing it told Ryan. And House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has dismissed worry about default as “panic and hysteria” intent on scaring the Republicans away from the deep cuts they demand in return for the increase in the debt ceiling.


The deeply flawed `gov’t must tighten its belt’ analogy

Greg Sargent:

Jared Bernstein, who was probably the most liberal voice on economic policy inside the White House, has started a blog that’s devoted to countering the rightward drift of our discourse and the ever-present falsehoods that enable it.

Today he makes good on his vow by deftly skewering the deeply flawed analogy — a staple of conservative rhetoric — which holds that government must tighten its belt with massive spending cuts because families are doing the same:

it’s almost always used as an argument for cutting everything to the bone right away, and in that sense it’s wrong.

First of all, it’s bass-akwards: when families are tightening their belts, the federal government is the one institution that can actually help the economy — and these belt-tightening families — by loosening its belt and running a deficit.

That deficit should be temporary and should come down when the private economy climbs up off the mat — which again tweaks the analogy: when families start to loosen, gov’t should eventually start to tighten…

But there’s another fundamental way in which this family budget analogy gets misused. Families borrow to make investments and to get over rough patches. They run deficits too. I went into pretty deep debt to finance college and grad school and I’m glad I did.

That last bit is good stuff. It’s folksy, easy to understand, and tackles the analogy on its own terms — flipping it back on itself, rather than letting it define the debate.

The problem, of course, is that Obama and Democrats cannot make use of this sort of rhetorical Jiu-Jitsu, because they’ve already endorsed the “government must tighten its belt” analogy themselves by using it again and again. As Bernstein shows, however, there are pretty decent counterarguments Dems could make — if they had not decided to cede a sizable chunk of the argument over government spending and the economy to the right and get themselves caught in a Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop as a result.

Yes, I know, Dems think the key to winning back independents is to move to rein in some spending to undermine the chief GOP arguments about “tax and spend liberals,” while striking a sensible balance between spending cuts and targeted investment that makes the GOP look extreme in comparison. They may be right about this. And to his credit, Obama has gone out of his way to supplement this strategy by frequently making an expansive case for liberal governance and the safety net. But in a general sense, the Democratic Party really has given up on the idea that the argument Bernstein joins here is a winnable one. And that’s too bad.


This Just In: Wars Are Expensive

Jared Bernstein:

But what I do know is what we’re spending on the Mideast wars.  The President’s budget includes the numbers (see Table S-3), as shown in the chart below.  2010-2012 sums to about half-a-trillion, and the “out years” include a placeholder of $50 billion per year, which is likely to prove highly optimistic, at least for the next few years, unless we quickly change gears.   (Stiglitz/Bilmes’ estimates of these costs, which are much more inclusive, are in the trillions.)

With everyone in this town clamoring for spending cuts, this one looks a lot better to me than most of the others




58% of college presidents say students arrive at college less well prepared than students a decade ago.

Teachers’ Union Sues to Stop School Closings

The United Federation of Teachers announced on Wednesday that it would file a lawsuit to challenge two key elements of the New York City Department of Education’s effort to overhaul the city’s school system: closing schools for poor performance and giving charter schools space in buildings occupied by traditional public schools.

The lawsuit, to be filed in State Supreme Court, opposes the city’s plans to shutter 22 schools, including 15 that were part of similar litigation filed in February 2010 by the union and the N.A.A.C.P., also a plaintiff in the current litigation.

The new lawsuit asserts that the Education Department ignored an agreement — reached as a result of last year’s case — to help the schools it was then trying to close. The suit also alleges that the city ignored its legal obligation to seek approval from the state’s Commissioner of Education before it elected to close a number of the schools.

In objecting to the city’s strategy of placing charter schools in the same buildings as traditional public schools, the lawsuit argues that the Education Department hasn’t followed a state law enacted last May that requires the department to create a plan specifying how the schools would share the space — the plan would guarantee that both schools would have access to the building’s common spaces, like gyms, cafeterias, auditoriums and libraries, in proportion to the size of their student bodies.



You’ve Got to Start Somewhere: A Climate Prescription

Hoping to find a way around the current political impasse on climate change and energy policy, a former top adviser to President Obama has devised a policy proposal to drive down greenhouse gas emissions from the utility industry over the next 20 years.

The plan, “Promoting Clean Energy in the American Power Sector,” borrows from a range of policy proposals, including President Obama’s latest clean energy policy, the cap and trade plan that foundered in Congress last year, and state-level clean electricity mandates. The proposal sets goals based on emissions intensity — the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of electricity generated — an idea pursued both by the Chinese government and by former President George W. Bush.

The plan’s author, Joseph Aldy, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a former White House staff member on energy and economic issues, said that his proposal could help untie the political knot that has doomed all previous attempts at a comprehensive energy and climate policy.

It would give utilities incentives for converting to cleaner forms of electricity without top-down mandates from the federal government or penalties for failure to comply.

It would require Congressional action and would take the place of Environmental Protection Agency regulation of power plant emissions, a program that has generated intense opposition from Republicans in Congress, utility companies and manufacturers. It would also pre-empt the clean energy mandates adopted by 29 states and the District of Columbia. […]

The proposal would set progressively stricter standards for clean electricity, eventually reaching 0.2 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per megawatt hour by 2035. (The current emissions intensity is nearly three times as high.) Companies that exceed their targets would be allowed to bank their credits or trade them to utilities having trouble meeting their goals.

As a last resort, high-emissions operators would be able to buy credits from the federal government, with the proceeds used to finance clean energy research or pay down the deficit.

“These goals are stretch goals,” Mr. Aldy said. “We would actually need innovation in clean energy technology to bring down the cost to reach them.” […]

“We’ve been trying to get the perfect system for too long,” Mr. Aldy said. “We’ve got to get the ball rolling in the right direction.

“This is clearly not sufficient to deal with the problem of climate change in the long term, and it just focuses on one sector,” he said. “But it allows us to start sending the right signals for investment and innovation in the power sector and provides a stepping stone to a more comprehensive approach down the road.”



TEDTalks: Elliot Krane: The mystery of chronic pain

We think of pain as a symptom, but there are cases where the nervous system develops feedback loops and pain becomes a terrifying disease in itself. Starting with the story of a girl whose sprained wrist turned into a nightmare, Elliot Krane talks about the complex mystery of chronic pain, and reviews the facts we’re just learning about how it works and how to treat it.

About Elliot Krane :At the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, Elliot Krane works on the problem of treating pain in children. Full bio and more links



New-style providers courted for Medicare

The Obama administration is trying to hasten the spread of new arrangements to coordinate and pay for the health care of older Americans, even as major groups of hospitals and doctors are skeptical of the government’s plans.

Administration health officials announced a program Tuesday under which medical teams and health systems could begin the arrangements, known as “accountable care organizations,” for Medicare patients by the fall.

The program is intended as a way to move forward quickly with a small group of ACOs within Medicare, while officials finish writing rules for a broader effort to foster these organizations. The early version will try to find 30 teams of doctors, hospitals and other providers of care across the country who are experienced at working as an ACO with younger patients on private insurance.

ACOs are a recent form of managed care run by medical groups, rather than insurers. Teams take responsibility for almost all of a patient’s care and try to save money by coordinating treatment. The idea has become a darling of many health policy experts, who regard it as a salve for two major thorns in the U.S. health care system: the fragmentation of medicine and the rapidly escalating cost of care.

The 2010 federal law to overhaul the nation’s health care system calls for ACOs to become part of Medicare, the insurance program for the elderly that, because of its size and influence, often has been a harbinger of changes in the rest of the health care system.

Early this spring, the Department of Health and Human Services proposed specific rules for Medicare ACOs under the law. Basically, the government would give monetary rewards to teams that prove they can deliver high-quality care at lower costs. Government officials are inviting comments on the proposal until mid-June, then they must shape the rules into final form by the end of the year.

In recent days, several leading health-care groups have criticized the proposal.

They include a group of 10 respected physician-run organizations that took part in an experiment at coordinating care in Medicare that started in 2005. In a letter to Donald M. Berwick, administrator of HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the leaders of the 10 groups wrote that “we ALL have serious reservations about the economics and the complexity” of the ACOs as they are proposed.

Specifically, the group said the rules would place ACOs at too much financial risk and not consider enough patients’ varying need for care. In addition, the letter said, the proposal would require organizations to meet too many measures of quality. “[I]f left unaddressed,” the group said of the proposed rules, “we will not be able to participate.”

The American Medical Group Association, an organization of nearly 400 physician groups and health systems, wrote to Berwick last week that a survey had found that more than 90 percent of its members would not sign up as an ACO. The proposed rules, it said, are “overly prescriptive, operationally burdensome, and the [financial] incentives are too difficult to achieve to make this voluntary program attractive.”

Meanwhile, the American Hospital Association released a study it commissioned that concluded the financial investment needed to create an ACO under the proposal — including for information systems — would be six to 14 times as high as what federal officials envision.

During a phone call with reporters Tuesday, Berwick did not address the specific criticisms but said, “Of course, we are listening to their concerns. We are going to come up with a way to work together. . . . We will produce a better final rule. That we know.”

The new program announced by Berwick and his staff members — for an early start to Medicare ACOs by teams experienced enough to move ahead quickly — would borrow some, but not all, the rules envisioned for the broader program.

It would require the early ACOs to meet the same quality measures — 65 of them, under the proposed rules. But it would allow organizations to suggest different arrangements for sharing savings — and for bearing financial risks if they spend too much on care.

The deadline for applying for the early program is mid-July, months before the full rules will be finished. Richard Gilfillan, acting director of the Medicare agency’s Innovation Center, said that early ACOs will be allowed to drop out if they do not like the final version.

Robert E. Nesse, chief executive of the Mayo Health System, said the organization of 18 hospitals and 900 doctors in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin is committed to the model of accountable care. But he said he does not know whether Mayo would be able by the July deadline to make the series of complex decisions about the early program. “We will engage and transform our practice,” he said. “It is just a question of how we do it and who we do it with.”



New charge filed against Massey security chief

We’ve just learned that a federal grand jury has filed a new indictment against Hughie Elbert Stover, the security director for Massey Energy’s Performance Coal Co. subsidiary, which runs the Upper Big Branch Mine.

The new indictment, posted here, adds a charge alleging that Stover lied to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration investigation team that is looking into the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.

Specifically, the indictment alleges that during an interview on Nov. 30, 2010, Stover:

… State and represented to and in the presence of representatives of the Department of Labor and MSHA that Performance had a practice and policy that forbade personnel at the Upper Big Branch Mine from giving advance notice of an inspection by prohibiting the security guards from notifying anyone at the mine site of the presence of MSHA inspectors at the Upper Big Branch Mine.

But, the indictment alleges:

These statements and representations were false …

And, it alleges that Stover:

… Had himself directed and trained security guards at Performance’s Upper Big Branch Mine to give advance notice by announcing the presence of MSHA inspectors on the mine property over the radio.

Stover had already faced charges that he lied to federal agents and tried to destroy evidence. Stover has pleaded innocent and a trial for those charges is scheduled for July 18.

The new charge is especially interesting. The previous charges were based on allegations made by FBI and MSHA agents about what Stover told them an an interview. But that interview wasn’t recorded or transcribed. The new charge involves statements Stover made to the MSHA investigation team under oath, with a court reporter taking down every word …


U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said:

The MSHA investigators probing the UBB explosion are doing vitally important work — work that promises to save many lives in the years ahead. Anyone who tries to deceive those investigators dishonors the memories of the men lost at UBB and puts every miner in America at risk. We have zero tolerance for that kind of callous, criminal behavior.

How’s Obama doing on court vacancies?

Obama’s judicial appointments will make an imprint that will endure long after he leaves the White House.

In addition to his two Supreme Court picks, the Senate has confirmed 18 of Obama’s appeals court nominees. That compares with 23 of George W. Bush’s appeals court nominees confirmed at the same point in his first term as president.

“There’s been a definite improvement; it was somewhat slow start for the administration in focusing on judicial nominations. That’s clearly attributable to the very heavy legislative load they had in the first couple of years,” said Caroline Frederickson, the head of the American Constitution Society, a progressive advocacy group.

“The president has been reasonably successful in confirming circuit court (appeals court) nominees and is on par with his predecessors,” said Nan Aron, head of the Alliance for Justice, a liberal advocacy group. “He’s lagging significantly in the district (trial) courts, though, leaving gaping holes in the judiciary and hampering the ability of Americans to receive justice.”

Obama’s most controversial appeals court nominee, Goodwin Liu, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, faces a vote on his nomination Thursday.

Sixty votes are needed to end debate on the Liu nomination and bring it to a final vote.

Republican senators – some of whom fought hard against Democratic filibusters of Bush’s judicial nominees six years ago – will decide whether to block a vote on Liu. […]

Worth watching Thursday will be four GOP senators who signed a bipartisan accord in 2005 to not use filibusters to block votes on judicial nominees except in undefined “extraordinary circumstances.” The four are: Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, both of Maine. […]

Now some court watchers see Liu as a potential high court nominee, looking ahead to possible retirements for Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 78, Antonin Scalia, 75, and Anthony Kennedy, who turns 75 in July.

As for the effect of the Obama appeals court judges who has been confirmed so far, Aron said, “It’s way too early to make definitive statements about the impact of Obama nominees, but we can get a hint from the health care cases being heard, for instance, in the 4th Circuit, where the Obama-nominated judges seemed to approach the arguments differently from the Republican appointees.”


Court lets Minn. corporate disclosure law stand

A federal appeals court has affirmed a judge’s decision to let stand Minnesota’s law requiring the disclosure of corporate political donations, saying the state’s rules are similar to laws upheld by the Supreme Court and the groups who want them blocked are unlikely to prevail.

In an opinion filed Monday, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with claims that Minnesota’s disclosure requirements effectively prohibit corporate independent expenditures and impose burdensome regulations that ban free speech.

“The burden on corporations appears light, and the reporting requirement greatly facilitates the government’s informational interest in monitoring corporate independent expenditures,” the appeals court found. The judges wrote that rather than banning contributions, the law provides a way to disclose certain information. […]

“The provisions manifestly discourage corporations, particularly corporations with limited resources, from engaging in protected political speech, and hinder their participation in the political debate and their access to the citizenry and the government,” Chief Judge William Jay Riley wrote. “Under Minnesota’s scheme, a corporation is compelled to decide whether exercising its constitutional right is worth the time and expense of entering a long-term or even perpetual morass of regulatory red tape. Some corporations will decide the exercise is simply not worth the trouble.”

James Bopp Jr., an attorney for the various groups seeking to block the disclosure requirements, said he was surprised and disappointed in the appeals court opinion and will recommend an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. […]

Common Cause Minnesota, a government watchdog group, called the appeals court decision a huge victory because it protects the public’s right to know when special interest groups spend money on campaigns. Mike Dean, the organization’s executive director, said the ruling is a blow to special interest groups who “can no longer operate in the shadows.”

Bopp, though, said the Supreme Court already made it clear that a corporation making independent expenditures could not be required to form a political action committee, “but that’s what the Minnesota law does.”

The plaintiffs had argued that the state is still banning corporate independent expenditures because corporations can only contribute to political funds, which are separate entities, instead of directly to campaigns. But the appeals court wrote that under state law, a corporation does not need to be a separate association from a political fund it sets up, and it can have full control of operating the fund.

Unlike PACs, a corporation can contribute an unlimited amount to its political fund, and the fund can use these contributions to make expenditures, the appeals court said.

The appeals court also said that collectively, Minnesota’s rules on corporate independent expenditures are less burdensome than federal regulations on PACs, with fewer reporting requirements.




Q&A: David Plotz, Editor of Slate, on Aggregation

Columbia Journalism Review:

I do think that every news operation has to focus on what it does better than other people. So I do think there’s a lot of comparative advantage happening. The people at Politico are great on a particular subject matter and a particular area, Washington, D.C. In the case of The Huffington Post, there’s a comprehensiveness, an insistence that they will be faster than anyone else. It’s not as if everyone is doing exactly the same thing—everyone is covering the same news subjects, but in different ways, doing what they do best. Part of all this is, obviously, all web journalists have the goal of keeping people on our sites. We know that they’ll be more likely to stick around if the environment is richer and more comprehensive. So part of it is that everyone wants to be “sticky.”

Even the primary news sites, even The New York Times does things which are effectively aggregation. They don’t call it aggregation—no one calls it “aggregation,” actually—but there are blogs that round up things other people have written, and quote heavily from them, and attempt to benefit from the work that other journalists have done. What they’re doing is applying their intelligence to it. They’re saying, “The New York Times can make sense of what this blog is getting at, and frame it for you in a different way, even though this blog has done the primary work on it.”

That’s similar to what Slate is doing, and that’s, I’m sure, what Arianna says The Huffington Post is doing, is that you’re providing something that’s more useful to your readers than the original source material may have been.




U.S. Imposes Sanctions on Syrian Leader and 6 Aides

Targeting Assad personally with sanctions, which the United States and European Union have so far avoided, is a significant slap at Damascus and raises questions about whether Washington and the West may ultimately seek Assad’s removal from power. […]

The move, announced by the Treasury Department, freezes any assets of the Syrian officials that are in the United States or otherwise fall within U.S. jurisdiction and it generally bars U.S. individuals and companies from dealing with them.

In addition to Assad, the Treasury said the sanctions would target Vice President Farouq al-Shara, Prime Minister Adel Safar, Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar, Defense Minister Ali Habib as well as Abdul Fatah Qudsiya, the head of Syrian military intelligence, and Mohammed Dib Zaitoun, director of the political security directorate.

While it was not immediately clear what practical effect the sanctions would have or whether the seven had significant assets that would be captured by the U.S. move, the symbolic gesture was profound.

“The actions the administration has taken today send an unequivocal message to President Assad, the Syrian leadership, and regime insiders that they will be held accountable for the ongoing violence and repression in Syria,” said Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said in a written statement.

“President al-Assad and his regime must immediately end the use of violence, answer the calls of the Syrian people for a more representative government, and embark upon the path of meaningful democratic reform,” he added.


Rachel guts Santorum Video: Rick Santorum: “McCain Doesn’t Understand How Enhanced Interrogation Works”


Democrats’ plan for millionaire surtax intended to soften up GOP

Senate Democrats are using their proposal to raise taxes on millionaires as a stalking-horse to force Republicans to accept other tax increases.

Democratic officials privately acknowledge that raising personal income tax rates on the wealthy has little chance of passing this Congress. However, the politically popular idea is a key part of the Democrats’ strategy to attack the deficit and gain concessions from Republicans.

Democrats are mulling two proposals to include in their budget plan: ending the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for families earning more than $1 million a year or imposing a surtax of 3 percent or 5.4 percent on millionaires and billionaires.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) included a 3 percent surtax in a draft budget plan he circulated last week. That plan also called for a relatively even split of spending cuts and tax increases to reduce the deficit, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who described the breakdown as 50-50.

But Democrats say both positions are primarily intended to bolster the party’s negotiating leverage with Republicans. They see the proposed surtax on millionaires as more of a rhetorical weapon than a proposal likely to be included in any broad bipartisan compromise. […]

A Democratic senator on the Finance Committee said Republicans are more likely to agree to ending corporate loopholes than allow a surtax on millionaires.

The senator, who requested anonymity, said that “the politics is going to be difficult” to pass a millionaires surtax. “The Republicans will really fight this. They believe in maintaining low rates for high-income people.”[…]

Six months later, the Democratic playbook has changed, with a key goal: get Republicans to violate the Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) pledge not to raise taxes, which most congressional Republicans have signed.

Democratic strategists hope that after the GOP officials receive a pummeling over millionaires’ tax rates, they’ll be more willing to accept ending tax breaks for major oil conglomerates and companies that relocate factories to foreign countries. ATR says both proposals would violate the pledge. […]

Forty Senate Republicans have signed the ATR pledge to oppose “any and all” increases to personal and business marginal income tax rates, as well as “any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits” unless it is matched by other tax-rate decreases.

The Taxpayer Protection Pledge, Democrats charge, is standing in the way of a grand bargain on raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

On Tuesday evening, Senate Democrats urged passage of their bill aimed at repealing tax subsidies for oil companies. The roll call fell mostly along party lines as the measure fell short of the necessary 60 votes.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), a lead sponsor of the measure, said late last week that Democrats will “insist” on addressing the oil tax issue in broader budget talks. And Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), a member of the Democratic leadership team, said Menendez’s view is widely held in the conference.

Reid said Tuesday that he expects a final agreement on the debt ceiling to include repeal of tax breaks for major oil companies.


Analysis: Healthcare ills infect 2012-bound Republicans

Reuters :

The troubled healthcare industry, recently a problem for Democrats facing voter anger over President Barack Obama’s overhaul law, is now plaguing Republicans hoping to take the White House in 2012.

Opinion polls show a broader problem for Republicans is the party’s push for cuts in Medicare, particularly a proposal by Congressman Paul Ryan to turn the fee-for-service plan into a program of vouchers that the elderly would use to purchase subsidized health insurance from private insurers.

The Republican budget plan passed by the House of Representatives last month would repeal the Obama healthcare law, scale back spending on the state/federal Medicaid healthcare program for the poor and implement the plan from Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee.

With polls showing two-thirds of Americans prefer to keep Medicare in its current form, Democrats have been rushing to take political advantage.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has begun making automated calls about the Medicare plan in 20 districts. And party leaders are seeking to make a special congressional election in New York on May 24 a referendum on the Republican Medicare plan.

“Candidates already are capitalizing on this issue and using it to say Republicans are outside the mainstream,” said Darrell West of the Brookings Institution think tank.

The issue has caused a rift among Republicans. Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who launched his bid for the presidency last week, called Ryan’s plan “right-wing social engineering” and said there were other ways to save money from a program struggling with skyrocketing healthcare prices.

Ryan and other Republicans have struck back at Gingrich, saying he misunderstood the Ryan plan.

Gingrich also expressed support on a Sunday television show for the individual mandate, a core provision of the Obama healthcare law that requires individuals to purchase health insurance. The

mandate has enraged Tea Party activists and has drawn legal challenges from opponents who say the government has no right to force Americans to buy insurance.

But in an about-face on Monday, Gingrich’s campaign issued a statement saying he is committed to completely repealing “Obamacare.”

Democrats have responded with glee to the Republicans’ infighting, but they still face a tough fight convincing the public to embrace Obama’s healthcare law, well over a year since it passed, apart from the pending legal challenges.

Public opinion is split, with 41 percent of Americans favoring the law and 41 percent opposed, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll.

Morone said that if Democrats want to win the healthcare debate, they must convince Americans they will benefit from plan provisions, such as the ability to keep their children on their health policies until they are 26.

“Republicans want to say ‘This is big government run amuck.’ That has always worked for them, and unless the Democrats get very specific, it will always work for them.”


Ohio Tea Party Leader To Boehner: ‘I Am Sick Of The Tears’

Boehner, along with much of the GOP, is “stuck between the Tea Party and a hard place.” But, he only has himself to blame for bringing the activists into the fold and over-promising what he could deliver with control of a single chamber of Congress. Boehner has already been hammered by his hometown Tea Party leaders for trying weaken Congressional ethics laws. In March, an activist infamously told GOP leaders to “take off your lace panties.” Yesterday, the national group Tea Party Nation set an email to supporters saying, “It is time to replace Boehner now.”


New PAC May Test Finance Rules

Republican campaign law guru James Bopp Jr. is trying to pioneer a new way to fund political campaigns by having federal lawmakers, candidates and parties encourage donors to make unlimited contributions to a new group that can spend the money in their elections. He says his new group is operating within recent legal interpretations of campaign finance regulations, but his critics say he is breaking the law.

Two campaign finance reform watchdogs took aim at Bopp’s new Republican Super PAC fundraising group Tuesday, saying its fundraising strategy violates the ban on unlimited soft money established in 2002.

The Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 say political action committees are not allowed to use federal candidates and parties to raise unlimited funds.

“We consider this a violation of the soft money ban on national parties,” said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21. “We believe it would also violate the ban on federal officeholders soliciting unlimited monies.”

But Bopp shot back that those making these allegations do not understand campaign finance law.

“Look, I am the treasurer,” he said. “I am the one that is going to be held responsible, and I’m an expert and I guarantee you this is legal. My wife insisted upon it.”

Bopp’s group plans to raise unlimited individual and corporate contributions for independent expenditures in support of federal and state candidates. What makes the group different from other independent expenditure organizations such as American Crossroads is how it will use Congressional candidates to raise the organization’s money: by asking federal lawmakers and parties to direct surplus donations to the Republican Super PAC and directing the PAC to spend it for those candidates.

“What they will do is ask donors to max out to them,” Bopp said, “and then if you have more money to elect a president or elect one of these Senators, then give it to the Super PAC and earmark it for those particular candidates.”

Paul S. Ryan, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center who works on election law issues, said the PAC’s premise not only violates the specifics of the law under the statute but also undermines the spirit of the law when it comes to corruption.

“The threat of corruption arises from the successful solicitation of money from a supporter,” Ryan said, “not from the specific type of bank account it is deposited in.”

Bopp explained that the Republican Super PAC would be unlike other PACs because it would give individuals a way to affect a candidate’s race even after giving the maximum contributions to that candidate.

For instance, an individual can donate a maximum total of $5,000 to a candidate for his or her primary and general elections. But that candidate could tell the donor that he may contribute another $100,000 to Republican Super PAC, which will earmark and spend his money on independent expenditures to help elect that same candidate.

The groups also allege Bopp’s money-raising strategy violates the soft money ban enacted by the McCain-Feingold reform laws enacted in 2002.

“It’s really ignorant to call this soft money,” Bopp said in response. “That’s someone who does not understand what they are talking about.”

“The term ‘soft money’ is not defined anywhere in federal law so using that term may be a convenient way for Bopp to avoid addressing the real issue,” Ryan said. “He can say whatever he wants about what soft money is in the aftermath of Citizens United or SpeechNow, but soft money is not a defined term.”

Privately, other Republicans expressed concern about the legality of Bopp’s new group — and whether his true aim is another high-profile court case.

“Their proposed activity is well beyond the established m.o. of outside groups — activity most groups wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole,” said one senior GOP operative who has worked with outside groups. “This activity will almost certainly end them up in court, which suggests that a new court case is likely their aim.”

In addition to Bopp, Republican Super PAC is led by two officials of the Republican National Committee. PAC Chairman Roger Villere works on promotion and client relations for the organization, while Vice Chairman Solomon Yue is in charge of the organization’s expenditures. The three of them plan on holding a meeting Wednesday in Dallas with the RNC to discuss the new organization.

Other campaign finance experts speculated that Bopp was using the group to create a new legal challenge. But the lawyer who launched the landmark Citizens United Supreme Court case and filed nearly 100 campaign finance lawsuits over his career rejected this idea.


Palin: Still A Threat, Ctd

Politico wakes up. Jonathan Martin’s piece after Huckabee’s exit managed to avoid any mention of Palin – entrenching the Village’s insistence that she is over as a candidate. McGinniss notes:

Let’s not ignore what Rachel Weiner reported in the Washington Post: [Palin] just sent out 400,000 solicitations seeking donations to SarahPAC. She entitled her pitch letter “2012 Can’t Come Soon Enough.” Does this sound like someone who’s not planning to enter the race?


Newt Gingrich: ‘Any Ad Which Quotes What I Said On Sunday Is A Falsehood’

Make sure not to read a transcript of Gingrich’s appearance on Meet the Press. That would be dishonest.

This isn’t the first time Newt has complained about political ads taking his words out of context. Heck, this isn’t the first time Newt has complained about political ads taking his words about Medicare out of context. In 1996, Gingrich gave a speech where he said, much like on Meet the Press, that seniors should be given an option of a private health insurance or Medicare, and that he believed that, as a result, Medicare would “wither on the vine” because seniors would choose to abandon it. Democrats pounced and ran ads that quoted Gingrich’s “wither on the vine” comment. Gingrich, thin-skinned as ever, went ballistic. But Democrats were quoting him accurately then. And they would be quoting him accurately now. Gingrich wants to degrade Medicare by offering privatization, narrowing the risk pool, and encouraging the destruction of the government-run program. And despite his protestations, Gingrich still believes this.

But this effort to put a fence around comments before the ads get cut is a new wrinkle.


Can The Most Liberal Congresswoman Win A Senate Seat?

Since Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) announced last Friday that he will retire at the end of his term, among the names immediately floated by operatives was Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). Baldwin, a liberal member of the House who was first elected in 1998 is likely to launch a bid, sources familiar with her thinking confirm.

Baldwin would certainly be formidable in a Democratic primary, thanks to her strong support with core elements of the Democratic base – progressives, gay activists and college students. She’s always been a top fundraiser, and would be the first openly gay senator, if elected. That virtually guarantees a lot of outside money for her campaign.

Baldwin represents Wisconsin’s 2nd District, which includes Madison and surrounding Dane County, known for its activist liberal politics. In the past, EMILY’s List has supported Baldwin and she’d be expected to attract strong out-of-state support.

According to National Journal‘s 2010 vote rankings, Baldwin finished in a tie for first as the most liberal Member of Congress. President Obama won Baldwin’s district 69 percent of the vote in 2008; Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won 62 percent of the vote there in 2004.

Can a candidate as liberal as Baldwin win statewide? And in Wisconsin, which does not have a history of electing many women statewide officials? Baldwin’s allies note that in a down year for Democrats in Wisconsin in which the GOP netted two House seats, won the governor’s race and unseated former Sen. Russ Feingold, Baldwin was re-elected with nearly 62 percent of the vote. They also note that she also represents rural areas as well as urban centers in her district.



Political Carnival: Secret Service: “Can’t. Deal. With. The. Blathering”



The ‘Not Intended To Be A Factual Statement’ Club gets a new member

Steve Benen:

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) surprised many political observers last week when, in response to a question about the right-wing House Republican budget plan, he declared publicly, “The leaders will bring forward (Paul Ryan’s) budget, and I will vote for it, and it will fail.”

Yesterday, the senator’s office explained that when Brown said, “I will vote for it,” he didn’t mean he will vote for it.

The Massachusetts Republican said in a statement that he favors the overall direction Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget takes toward reducing spending.

But Brown declined, through a spokesman, to say if he backs Ryan’s proposed Medicare overhaul, or if he would vote for the Ryan budget plan. […]

A Brown aide said the senator on Friday was using the Ryan budget as an illustration of how political games are being played in Washington, and he was not saying how he would vote on the bill.

Remember when Jon Kyl said 90% of Planned Parenthood funding goes to abortions, when the actual number is 3%? Kyl’s office also said it was an illustration, and wasn’t “intended to be an factual statement.”

Brown apparently is learning valuable lessons from his Republican colleagues.

I’d remind the oft-confused senator of the “no backsies” rule. Brown not only said publicly that he’d vote for the House GOP agenda — which, among other things, ends Medicare — he went on to “thank God” that Paul Ryan’s radical plan had been introduced.

It’s a little late in the game to reverse course.

When Boston’s conservative paper characterized Brown as “Dan Quayle in a barn coat,” it was an apt description.


Why the conservative elite’s not satisfied with Tim Pawlenty

I think to understand the answer you need to start with the premise (probably unfamiliar to most liberals) that the George W Bush administration was a failure. Social Security spending increased on autopilot. Medicaid spending increased on autopilot. Medicare spending increased on autopilot and increased even more thanks to programmatic increases. No significant anti-union legislation was adopted. No significant environmental regulations were repealed. K-12 education spending went up. Pell Grant spending went up. Then, inevitably, a recession hit, the left came to power, and we got Kenyan-inspired Sharia Socialism. And all this time when George W Bush was running an accommodationist White House, we had Tim Pawlenty in somewhat left-of-center Minnesota positioning himself slightly to Bush’s left (on, e.g., climate change) and mostly lacking in any signature badass policy accomplishments.

Compare that to the fact that Paul Ryan and John Boehner got the median House Republican to vote to abolish Medicare, massively cut Medicaid, and then cut all other federal domestic programs even more drastically! Scott Walker as governor of an upper midwest state jabbed a knife through the heart of public sector labor. In Indiana and Ohio anti-labor measures that are arguably even more far-reaching are being implemented. Even states like Maine and New Jersey now have conservative governors whose policy ambitions extend beyond anything associated with the Pawlenty era. To me, the sensible conclusion to be drawn from all this is that the circumstances make the man and that the political opportunities available to state level conservatism in 2011 are just different from the ones available in 2005. But I think the way it looks to conservative elites is that Pawlenty is depressingly lazy, cowardly, politically inept, or something similar.


102 Things NOT To Do If You Hate Taxes

  1. Do not use Medicare.
    2. Do not use Social Security
    3. Do not become a member of the US military, who are paid with tax dollars.
    4. Do not ask the National Guard to help you after a disaster.
    5. Do not call 911 when you get hurt.
    6. Do not call the police to stop intruders in your home.
    7. Do not summon the fire department to save your burning home.
    8. Do not drive on any paved road, highway, and interstate or drive on any bridge.
    9. Do not use public restrooms.
    10. Do not send your kids to public schools.
    11. Do not put your trash out for city garbage collectors.
    12. Do not live in areas with clean air.
    13. Do not drink clean water.
    14. Do not visit National Parks.
    15. Do not visit public museums, zoos, and monuments.
    16. Do not eat or use FDA inspected food and medicines.
    17. Do not bring your kids to public playgrounds.
    18. Do not walk or run on sidewalks.
    19. Do not use public recreational facilities such as basketball and tennis courts.
    20. Do not seek shelter facilities or food in soup kitchens when you are homeless and hungry.
    21. Do not apply for educational or job training assistance when you lose your job.
    22. Do not apply for food stamps when you can’t feed your children.
    23. Do not use the judiciary system for any reason.
    24. Do not ask for an attorney when you are arrested and do not ask for one to be assigned to you by the court.
    25. Do not apply for any Pell Grants.
    26. Do not use cures that were discovered by labs using federal dollars.
    27. Do not fly on federally regulated airplanes.
    28. Do not use any product that can trace its development back to NASA.
    29. Do not watch the weather provided by the National Weather Service.
    30. Do not listen to severe weather warnings from the National Weather Service.
    31. Do not listen to tsunami, hurricane, or earthquake alert systems.
    32. Do not apply for federal housing.
    33. Do not use the internet, which was developed by the military.
    34. Do not swim in clean rivers.
    35. Do not allow your child to eat school lunches or breakfasts.
    36. Do not ask for FEMA assistance when everything you own gets wiped out by disaster.
    37. Do not ask the military to defend your life and home in the event of a foreign invasion.
    38. Do not use your cell phone or home telephone.
    39. Do not buy firearms that wouldn’t have been developed without the support of the US Government and military. That includes most of them.
    40. Do not eat USDA inspected produce and meat.
    41. Do not apply for government grants to start your own business.
    42. Do not apply to win a government contract.
    43. Do not buy any vehicle that has been inspected by government safety agencies.
    44. Do not buy any product that is protected from poisons, toxins, etc…by the Consumer Protection Agency.
    45. Do not save your money in a bank that is FDIC insured.
    46. Do not use Veterans benefits or military health care.
    47. Do not use the G.I. Bill to go to college.
    48. Do not apply for unemployment benefits.
    49. Do not use any electricity from companies regulated by the Department of Energy.
    50. Do not live in homes that are built to code.
    51. Do not run for public office. Politicians are paid with taxpayer dollars.
    52. Do not ask for help from the FBI, S.W.A.T, the bomb squad, Homeland Security, State troopers, etc…
    53. Do not apply for any government job whatsoever as all state and federal employees are paid with tax dollars.
    54. Do not use public libraries.
    55. Do not use the US Postal Service.
    56. Do not visit the National Archives.
    57. Do not visit Presidential Libraries.
    58. Do not use airports that are secured by the federal government.
    59. Do not apply for loans from any bank that is FDIC insured.
    60. Do not ask the government to help you clean up after a tornado.
    61. Do not ask the Department of Agriculture to provide a subsidy to help you run your farm.
    62. Do not take walks in National Forests.
    63. Do not ask for taxpayer dollars for your oil company.
    64. Do not ask the federal government to bail your company out during recessions.
    65. Do not seek medical care from places that use federal dollars.
    66. Do not use Medicaid.
    67. Do not use WIC.
    68. Do not use electricity generated by Hoover Dam.
    69. Do not use electricity or any service provided by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
    70. Do not ask the Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild levees when they break.
    71. Do not let the Coast Guard save you from drowning when your boat capsizes at sea.
    72. Do not ask the government to help evacuate you when all hell breaks loose in the country you are in.
    73. Do not visit historic landmarks.
    74. Do not visit fisheries.
    75. Do not expect to see animals that are federally protected because of the Endangered Species List.
    76. Do not expect plows to clear roads of snow and ice so your kids can go to school and so you can get to work.
    77. Do not hunt or camp on federal land.
    78. Do not work anywhere that has a safe workplace because of government regulations.
    79. Do not use public transportation.
    80. Do not drink water from public water fountains.
    81. Do not whine when someone copies your work and sells it as their own. Government enforces copyright laws.
    82. Do not expect to own your home, car, or boat. Government organizes and keeps all titles.
    83. Do not expect convicted felons to remain off the streets.
    84. Do not eat in restaurants that are regulated by food quality and safety standards.
    85. Do not seek help from the US Embassy if you need assistance in a foreign nation.
    86. Do not apply for a passport to travel outside of the United States.
    87. Do not apply for a patent when you invent something.
    88. Do not adopt a child through your local, state, or federal governments.
    89.Do not use elevators that have been inspected by federal or state safety regulators.
    90. Do not use any resource that was discovered by the USGS.
    91. Do not ask for energy assistance from the government.
    92. Do not move to any other developed nation, because the taxes are much higher.
    93. Do not go to a beach that is kept clean by the state.
    94. Do not use money printed by the US Treasury.
    95. Do not complain when millions more illegal immigrants cross the border because there are no more border patrol agents.
    96. Do not attend a state university.
    97. Do not see any doctor that is licensed through the state.
    98. Do not use any water from municipal water systems.
    99. Do not complain when diseases and viruses, that were once fought around the globe by the US government and CDC, reach your house.
    100. Do not work for any company that is required to pay it’s workers a livable wage, provide them sick days, vacation days, and benefits.
    101. Do not expect to be able to vote on election days. Government provides voting booths, election day officials, and voting machines which are paid for with taxes.
    102. Do not ride trains. The railroad was built with government financial assistance.


Obama, Made in the USA

President Obama’s re-election campaign in selling “Made in the USA” t-shirts which feature his long-form birth certificate.


Sharpton: We Can Push Agenda Without Undermining Obama

“We must be able to be strategic enough to push our agenda in front of him [President Obama] without undermining him at the same time…” — Rev. Al Sharpton, March 17, 2011

Last night, the Rev. Al Sharpton, President of the National Action Network, held a reception celebrating the opening of their new Washington DC office. Valerie Jarret’s assistant, Michael Strautmanis, was in attendance along with a number of other black policy kingpins and queenpins.

Sharpton fits three key traits the Administration favors:
1. He does not criticize the President,
2. He uses his radio show and public appearances to promote what the Administration does, and
3. He doesn’t have the burden of an actual constituency to answer to..

Sharpton used a short speech, which can be seen in the video at top, to remind everyone of the specialness of being alive during the first term of the first black President of the United States.  “There is no model for this,” Sharpton reminded the crowd of about 100 gathered in a small room in an office building adjacent to the Willard Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. But Sharpton was in no way avoiding the hard issues the President must confront and mentioned a few. “In some cities black men are 52% unemployed. In some areas we have almost 3/4 of black men dropping out of school,” Sharpton said, adding “but you must be stategic in dealing with this.” Just last month on April 7, President Obama attended and spoke the National Action Center Gala in New York.  Last night, he was introduced by Valerie Jarrett’s assistant Michael Strautmanis.

“The Washington Bureau is set to monitor what is going on at the Supreme Court, the White House and Congress,” Sharpton said.  The office will be up and running and fully staffed on Monday, May 23rd and will be located at 818 H Street NW between H and I.




Romney Becomes Clear Frontrunner

With Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump not running, a new Suffolk University poll finds Mitt Romney has become the clear frontrunner among Republican primary voters nationwide with 20%, followed by Sarah Palin at 12%, Newt Gingrich at 9%, Rudy Giuliani at 7% and Ron Paul at 5%.

Romney was the closest of the Republican challengers tested to catching President Obama, but trails by three points, 46% to 43%.


New poll shows Ohio strongly favors repealing SB 5

Among many other heinous provisions, SB 5 strips collective bargaining rights for public employees.

Quinnipiac, 5/10-16, 1,379 registered voters, MoE 2.6, no trendlines:


Additionally, Public Policy Polling surveyed Ohio in mid-March, and found a 54%-31% margin in favor of repeal. This is another indication that those opposing repeal might be picking off undecided voters at a faster rate than those in favor of repeal. So, while we remain in a very strong position in Ohio, we must also remember that this campaign is not yet won. We have work left to do.


“More Americans actually believe in UFOs and ghosts than blame Obama for causing their pain at the pump.”

A POLITICO-George Washington University battleground poll released Monday found 28 percent of survey respondents blamed the oil and gas companies for the gas price spike. An additional 22 percent called out oil exporting nations, while the Obama administration came in at 12 percent — just above 11 percent for economic cycles.

The Washington Post and Pew Research Center earlier this month had similar findings, with just 9 percent of Americans putting the blame on Obama and the U.S. government.

Still, Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll, said Obama shouldn’t take too much solace in those numbers, explaining that they may just suggest the public is distracted by a myriad of other topics.

“Throughout history, people always blame the oil and gas companies,” he said. “That’s not new.”

Obama’s own response to the energy crisis has been all over the map. He’s called for a Justice Department investigation into oil market speculation and pressed for the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department to get moving on new fuel efficiency measures for cars and trucks.

On Saturday, the president even stole a page out of the Republicans’ playbook by using his executive power to allow for more offshore production in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and possibly even along the Atlantic seaboard.

With the American public more supportive of drilling compared with a year ago during the height of the BP oil spill, Obama seemed to be threading a needle between his liberal base and conservative-minded independents whom he’ll need in key swing states come 2012.

“What he’s doing is not overreacting but covering the flank,” Zogby said. “This gives the appearance of doing something as opposed to talking trash or talking ideology. It shows some flexibility.”

Obama’s drilling moves also undercut Republicans on their own turf.

The House last week passed a package of three bills aimed at speeding up the drilling-permit process and limiting citizen-driven lawsuits that challenge energy exploration. But just like the oil industry tax breaks being voted on Tuesday in the Senate, the GOP-written measure is unlikely to become law.

“He’s playing it well and boxing them into a corner,” Zogby added.


High Gas Prices Cause Lifestyle Changes for Many Americans

Slight majority report making major lifestyle changes, 67% experiencing hardship

Although employed Americans are more likely to report driving an above-average amount — and are thus greater consumers of gasoline — they are less likely than non-employed Americans to have made major lifestyle changes to deal with rising gas prices, 49% vs. 58%. This likely reflects the higher average income of employed Americans, but may also indicate they have less flexibility in their lives to cut back on driving.

These findings come from a USA Today/Gallup poll conducted May 12-15, in which 67% of Americans say the recent high gas prices have caused them financial hardship, including 21% who say they have caused them severe hardship. This is among the highest levels of reported hardship Gallup has seen on this measure since 2000, and is similar to the 71% found when average gas prices nationwide topped $4 per gallon in 2008 and the 72% when they first exceeded $3 per gallon in 2005. […]

Americans Driving Less, Steering Toward Cars That Are More Fuel Efficient

Among the 53% of Americans who report having made major changes in their lives to deal with gas prices, the most common strategy, mentioned by a third of them, is simply driving less. Additionally, 16% specifically report they are cutting back on vacation travel, 15% are being more careful in planning errands and other local trips, and 15% have either purchased a more fuel-efficient vehicle or are looking into it. Smaller segments are doing less “leisure driving,” carpooling, using public transportation, walking more, biking more, and driving more slowly.

Rather than driving less, 12% of those making major changes due to gas prices say they are cutting back on groceries, clothes, and other expenses to absorb the higher gas costs.



Thom Hartmann: Indiana Guts the 4th Amendment…what gives?





Kloppenburg complains about ‘one anomaly and irregularity after another’ in Waukesha Co.

Supreme Court candidate JoAnne Kloppenburg, who’s in the middle of a recount against Justice Davide Prosser, told she expects the final results this weekend and will decide whether to pursue a legal challenge after that.

The recount, she said at the annual Wisconsin Women in Government dinner on Tuesday, is a test of our electoral system. “Our elections will be better as a result. People will be more confident that their votes will be properly counted. Clerks will know what to do better than they’ve known before. At a time when we’re having so many elections, it’s really important that our electoral process runs well.”

Kloppenburg said most of the clerks in the state do a good job. “They have learned a lot from this recount. They have uncovered things that need to be fixed, improvements that need to be made, but people can be confident that, in most parts of Wisconsin, elections are run fairly. Waukesha, however, has been one anomaly and irregularity after another —- bags completely open, seals completely torn apart, numbers written over. There are reasons for all those requirements to preserve votes, and those requirements are not being met in Waukesha.”


Republican NLRB Threats Part of Bigger War on Workers

The Republican “outrage” machine has been operating in high-dudgeon mode since the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint against the Boeing Co. in April.

But as David Madland of the Center for American Progress Action Fund points out, the manufactured Boeing outrage is “part of a long-running, highly orchestrated right-wing campaign against workers and their unions that has now reached a fevered pitch.”

This is not, of course, the conservative movement’s first attempt to prevent the Obama administration from trying to protect workers’ basic rights to join a union and collectively bargain.

Earlier this year, Madland writes, 176 House Republicans (75 percent of the caucus) voted to eliminate all funding for the NLRB and while that failed to pass, a continuing resolution previously passed by the House included a $50 million reduction in the NLRB’s budget and would have forced NLRB staff members to be furloughed for 55 days, causing a backlog of cases to pile up.

Madland points out that congressional Republicans also are fighting to overturn the National Mediation Board’s (NMB) new rule that says air and rail union elections should be decided like any other election—including congressional elections—by a majority of votes cast. Previously each worker who did not cast a vote in a representation election was automatically counted as a “No” vote.

Senate Republicans also attempted to attach an amendment to the FAA reauthorization bill that would have blocked workers at the Transportation Security Administration (TAA) from voting to join a union. Madland writes these congressional actions are in addition to the state attacks on workers’ rights being waged in Wisconsin, Ohio and other states. He says the attacks on the NLRB over the Boeing case are part of the

conservative movement’s campaign to weaken workers’ rights. Sadly, conservatives have shown they want to eliminate laws protecting workers’ rights to join a union and collectively bargain, and when they can’t get rid of the law, they seek to prevent its enforcement.

Click here for his full article.

Keep in mind that when the NLRB issues a complaint, it’s only the first step in a long process of determining whether the company violated the law, a process in which Boeing will have ample opportunity to present its side of the case.




Steven Levitt’s [Freakonomics]Morality

Steven Levitt is taking a lot of online abuse for this passage on his blog a few days ago:

I’ve never really understood why I personally come down on one side or the other with respect to a particular gray-area activity. Not that my opinion matters at all, but despite strong economic arguments in favor of drug legalization, the idea has always made me a little queasy. Conversely, although logic tells me that abortion as practiced in the U.S. doesn’t seem like such a great idea (see the end of the abortion chapter in Freakonomics for our arguments on this one), something in my heart makes me sympathetic to legalized abortion.

It wasn’t until the U.S. government’s crackdown on internet poker last week that I came to realize that the primary determinant of where I stand with respect to government interference in activities comes down to the answer to a simple question: How would I feel if my daughter were engaged in that activity?

If the answer is that I wouldn’t want my daughter to do it, then I don’t mind the government passing a law against it. I wouldn’t want my daughter to be a cocaine addict or a prostitute, so in spite of the fact that it would probably be more economically efficient to legalize drugs and prostitution subject to heavy regulation/taxation, I don’t mind those activities being illegal.

This is, logically, pretty lame. If I had a daughter, I probably wouldn’t want her to get a tattoo, play videogames all day, or pursue a career in the WWF. But neither I nor Levitt would think even for a moment that tattooing, videogame playing, or WWF wrestling should be outlawed.

Still, I think Levitt performs a valuable service here. Chattering class types tend to intellectualize morality, but the vast majority of people view it through a lens much closer to Levitt’s “would I mind if my daughter did it?” heuristic. And one of the reasons for this is that ordinary people often have a clearer view of human nature than chatterers do. There are lots of activities we AP-class types find acceptable — drug use, gambling, etc. — because we sort of assume that everyone has the same level of impulse control that we do. And if you have good impulse control, then drugs and gambling are just pleasant ways of filling in your free time. And even if you don’t have good impulse control, you probably have a decent support network to help you if things turn pear shaped. These things may have their problems, but they’re manageable problems.

But if you’re not part of the AP-class cohort, there’s a pretty good chance that your impulse control isn’t quite as good as all that, and an excellent chance that even if it is, you’re keenly aware that good impulse control isn’t exactly universal. And that means your view of things like gambling and drug use are considerably dimmer. You’d just as soon your daughter didn’t get involved with that stuff because you’ve seen too often the effect it has on people with moderate education, moderate to poor impulse control, moderate to low incomes, and non-great support networks. Logically there might be a case for a lenient attitude, but your real-life experience tell you that it’s a ticking time bomb best kept under tight control.

This is just something to think about, not some grand pronouncement about moral calculus. But it’s worth keeping in mind sometimes that the broad working and middles classes often have different moral sentiments than us well-off, highly verbal types, and it’s not always because they go to church more than us or anything like that. It’s because they live in different communities and this stuff affects them differently than it does us. As always, where you stand depends on where you sit.



Should newsstands censor topless men?

The image: While some magazines may be comfortable blurring the lines between male and female identities, it became clear this week that some retailers who sell those magazines are not. The fashion magazine Dossier Journal‘s latest cover features a photo of androgynous male model Andrej Pejic, his blond hair in curlers, taking off a white shirt to reveal his bare chest. (See the cover below.) The problem, say Barnes & Noble and Borders, is that Pejic looks too much like a topless woman. They have reportedly asked Dossier‘s publishers to cover the magazine in the opaque plastic usually reserved for pornographic content, so as not to make customers uncomfortable.
The reaction:
We’re glad the cover made people uncomfortable, says Dossier co-founder Skye Parrott, as quoted by Jezebel. That’s kind of why we chose it. But censoring it is ridiculous. “Guys are shirtless on magazine covers all the time.” Well, apparently shirtless men are only acceptable when they’re buff, says Danica Lo at Racked. How many times have you felt “besieged by the countless covers featuring oiled-up topless beefcakes flexing their pecs?” Clearly, this is “about keeping a clear divide between male and female,” says Elizabeth Flock at The Washington Post. When it comes to accepting any blurring of that line, “retailers like Barnes & Noble still have a long way to go.” Judge for yourself:


Middle-Class Warriors Storm JP Morgan Chase Meeting

Hundreds of protesters greeted JP Morgan Chase bank shareholders at their annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday to tell the big bank that it’s time for Wall Street pay up for its part in the financial and foreclosure crisis that has cost residents in Ohio cities $1.6 billion in property values since 2009. The protest was held as regulators and state attorneys generals continue to investigate the lending practices of big banks like Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America that are suspected of committing foreclosure fraud during the economic and housing crisis.

The protest was held as regulators and state attorneys generals continue to investigate the lending practices of big banks like Chase, Wells Fargo and Bank of America that are suspected of committing foreclosure fraud during the economic and housing crisis.

Organizers say 800 clergy, homeowners and union members from across Ohio and the Midwest gathered to protest the Chase shareholders meeting at corporate park outside Columbus. Heather McMahon, an organizer with the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, said 15 people entered the Chase building and held the floor during the shareholders meeting for 20 minutes despite a heavy police presence. […]

Last week, a coalition of state attorneys general met with five of the nation’s largest banks to negotiate terms of a settlement. Some federal agencies and attorneys general pushed the banks to reduce the balance on homeowners’ loans and pay $20 billion in penalties that would benefit struggling Americans, but the banks resisted the settlement and floated a proposal to pay only $5 billion.

Liz Ryan Murray, a policy analyst with National Peoples Action (NPA), one of the groups that organized the Ohio protest, said a settlement demanding anything under $60 billion from the banks would not go far enough to bring relief to working Americans.



Crossing the Moat and Storming the Castle at the JP Morgan Chase Shareholder Meeting”


From Anthony Weiner: Clarence Thomas wants a fight about his lying to the American people. So let’s give it to him.

Clarence Thomas wants a fight about his lying to the American people. So let’s give it to him.

Here are the facts. Thomas’ wife earned $700,000 from half the radical right-wing ideologues in Washington. Opposing health care reform was her specialty.

For 13 years, Clarence Thomas didn’t disclose a penny of that income, even though he was legally and ethically obligated.

Thomas is trying to conceal a blatant conflict of interest. His family is getting rich off an issue that’s very likely to come before the Supreme Court.

So 250,000 of us demanded he recuse himself from cases about health care. We must have struck a nerve because Thomas went apoplectic, accusing you and me of “undermining” the Supreme Court because we dare question a single justice’s impartiality.

This week was another big financial disclosure deadline — and the beginning of the next round of our fight.

These financial forms are a matter of public record, typically made available within 30 days of the filing deadline. But when a Supreme Court justice has broken the public trust repeatedly for over a decade, we deserve to know right away what conflict he has.

Stand with me to force Clarence Thomas to release his disclosure ASAP. We need to know how big a conflict Thomas is bringing every day to our Supreme Court.

Click here to pressure Clarence Thomas to make his financial disclosure public as soon as he files. We deserve the whole truth — immediately — about his conflicts of interest.

There’s clearly something fishy going on when a U.S. Supreme Court justice claims his wife’s income was “inadvertently omitted due to a misunderstanding of the filing instructions” — especially when those instructions are, “Spouse’s Non-Investment Income — If you were married during any portion of the reporting year, complete this section.”

Already there are questions about Mrs. Thomas’ 2010 earnings at Liberty Central, a right-wing action group she founded in 2009. She claims she had no salary — the COO of the organization says otherwise.

Clarence Thomas shouldn’t hide the truth behind stalling tactics. Stand with me today and demand he publicly release his financial disclosure immediately.

Click here to pressure Clarence Thomas to do the right thing and make his financial disclosure public right away. It’s long past time for him to come clean.

Thanks again to the 250,000 people who are already standing with me to hold Clarence Thomas accountable. Our work has been a great success so far.

But Thomas is gearing up for a fight. And, as a guy from Brooklyn, there’s no way I’m backing down. I need you in my corner one more time.


It’s time to drop Fox

Fox News can’t keep the lies going alone. The network relies on the support of a wide range of advertisers who, through their financial support, help Fox News maintain a full-time operation promoting deception, provoking anger, and serving as the Republican Party’s mouthpiece all under the guise of news.

Because this has gone far enough, we’ve launched a new campaign to show advertisers just what they’re sponsoring when they partner with Fox News and to inform the public about which companies are supporting Fox’s dishonest and divisive agenda.

Join us today at Drop Fox.

It’s time for advertisers to decide. Will they continue to put their brand on the line by spending money to associate their products with bigotry, political attacks, and deliberate misinformation? Will they risk their reputation by helping to perpetuate Fox’s toxic effect on civil discourse? Or will they act responsibly and pull their ads from the so-called news network?

The hundreds of advertisers who refused to support Beck’s nightly hour of hate and paranoia put much-needed pressure on Fox News to get him off the air. As the rise and fall of Glenn Beck shows, Fox News and its parent company News Corp. will only respond when their bottom line is threatened. Together, we can change the incentives for News Corp. and end the destructive effect Fox News has on our national conversation.

Get involved in this important effort!

Join us today at Drop Fox.

Matt Butler
CEO and President
Media Matters for America

Tell local Republicans to keep their hands off Medicare. Attend a Congressional town hall in your area

YIKES: Anti-Ryan budget ad: Granny (Medicare) literally gets thrown off a cliff

[H/T GottaLaff]


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Then join our campaign to push Koch money out and bring democracy back in – sign up below to join The Other 98% as we fight Koch money wherever it shows up – and maybe take part in some more awesome creative agitation.

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It dseno’t mtaetr in waht oerdr the ltteres in a wrod are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. ~ Connor Traut

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KQµårk 死神

Great roundup Cher. When I lived in the NYC metropolitan area years ago I thought Sharpton was a complete joke. But I’ll tell you through the years he really has gotten much more reasonable and dare I say wise in some instances. I know it’s a fine and difficult line to keep between supporting the president and criticizing and even fighting what we don’t like about what he is doing but a wise person who wants progress should know undermining his support is the worse possible choice.

Senate Dems need to force more votes on Republicans and conservadems like they did with forcing them to filibuster ending oil subsidies. Next Reid should make them vote on the Ryan budget and next vote on taxing the rich. People are obviously starting to get it about the GOP with congressional Dems finally leading in the polls again but they need to keep the pressure on for sure. I think the final bridge too far will be the vote on the debt ceiling. I don’t see Dems and Repubs reaching a deal on the budget in time and the GOP will definitely get the blame if they let the US default.

BTW gotta love the jujitsu the Dems pulled on this years budget that will actually be $3 Billion HIGHER than last year. Of course this shows how false memes on the right and in this case the left that the Dems “lost” the fight was so ridiculous.