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How our debt happened [for the umpteenth time]

Ezra Klein:

Are you a fan of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ deficit chart, but you wish it focused on public debt instead? Well, wish no more. The Washington-based holding tank for superwonks has remade its deficit chart into a debt chart.

The takeaway hasn’t changed. “The Bush-era tax cuts and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — including their associated interest costs — account for almost half of the projected public debt in 2019.” If you’ve been reading this blog, you knew that already. What you might not have known is this: After you add the financial crisis and associated rescue packages to the total, “public debt due to all other factors fell from over 30 percent of GDP in 2001 to 20 percent of GDP in 2019.”

In other words, cut the financial crisis and the major initiatives from the Bush-era out of the picture, and we’d be in pretty good shape. In fact, we’d be in great shape. “Without the economic downturn and the fiscal policies of the previous Administration, the budget would be roughly in balance over the next decade. That would have put the nation on a much sounder footing to address the demographic challenges and the cost pressures in health care that darken the long-run fiscal outlook.”

But if wishes were fishes, the seas would be full. So what now? CBPP recommends letting the Bush tax cuts expire or paying for their extension. This step alone would arrest the rise in debt over the next decade. But neither the Republicans nor the Obama administration have shown any interest in paying for further tax cuts. Republicans, in fact, replaced a House rule saying that both new spending and new tax cuts had to be paid for with a rule saying new spending had to be paid for, but new tax cuts didn’t. So that’s that.

Further wonkery: If you want to examine the recent contributors to our fiscal deterioration in more detail than the above chart allows, CBPP also included a table with the underlying numbers. If the version I’ve embedded is too small to read, a larger image can be found here. Enjoy!



Corporate Tweet Vents




The economic well-being of the broad middle class is not simply a function of macroeconomic growth

Jared Bernstein:

Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post can be a pretty gloomy scold, so when he veered toward some optimism on the economy this AM, I took notice.

His assessment that the economy is doing better, at least in a macro sense—consistent GDP growth, payrolls expanding (slowly), household balance sheets moving from the red to the black—sounds right to me, and he plugs in the right caveats too.  The price of oil slid back a bit but is still eating up paychecks, and the housing market, typically a key power-booster in an early economic expansion, is still stuck in the doldrums.

But a few points to add:

First, he doesn’t stress enough the caveat that growth, while reliably positive, is still too slow.  To generate the number of jobs needed to bring the unemployment rate down more quickly, we need some GDP quarters well above the recent average of about 3%.

But most importantly, anyone thinking about the nature of this recovery needs to be very clear about this: the economic well-being of the broad middle class is not simply a function of macroeconomic growth.  Such growth is, of course, necessary and welcomed.  It is not sufficient.

The question is whether the growth is reaching the middle class and lower-income families.   The data on where growth is ending up arrive with a lag so we can’t fully answer this question yet, but some indicators are clearly worrisome.  For example, corporate profits have been doing a lot better than average wages (the former has made up most of the ground lost over the downturn; the latter are recently declining in real terms).

Now, profits often lead more broadly shared gains—that certainly was the story of the 1990s expansion, which ultimately did reach the middle class and the poor, at least for a New York minute in the latter half of the decade.

But it was demonstrably not the case in the 2000s, the first recovery on record where the typical household’s real income went nowhere despite years of GDP and productivity growth.  In stark contrast to the 1990s, poverty was actually higher at the end of the 2000s expansion than at the beginning.

And as long as we’re worrying about the distribution of growth, as opposed to just its creation, let’s not make things worse by extending budget-bashing tax cuts that enrich those who already appear to have climbed out of the hole and are outpacing the rest.  If one goal of the nascent economic expansion is to achieve more broadly shared prosperity than the last one, to renew the high-end Bush tax cuts, as in the Republican budget plan, is to start the race with an anvil around our necks.

Finally, Samuelson should give some credit where it’s due here: he celebrates the handoff of growth from the government to the private sector, but in a world where the stuff the administration (and the Fed) did gets far too little credit—policies that helped to break that awful recession and hasten the arrival of the recovery—touting stories like this are incomplete without that acknowledgement.



What to do about ‘plastic soup’ in the ocean

The New York Times Green blog reports on what happens to plastic in the oceans — it turns into a soup of seawater and plastic particles — and what we can do about it. The answer, basically: Try to stop putting so much plastic in the ocean, jackholes.

The canonical image of ocean debris involves bags clogging waterways, fish trapped in six-pack holders, and other visible trash. But in fact, even a major trash nexus like the Atlantic garbage patch looks mostly like clear water until you trawl it. The debris, buffeted by the ocean, turns into a sort of floating plastic sand called “microplastics.” That’s just as bad for fish as six-pack rings, but way harder to get rid of.

Unfortunately, a lot of ocean cleanup programs are modeled on terrestrial litter-control ideas: spot garbage, then pick it up (or, ideally, send someone serving community service to pick it up). For instance, NOAA has an app that allows people to report garbage they spot in waterways, and the EU is considering offering fishermen compensation for aiding the cleanup effort when they catch garbage in their nets. All of this is geared towards macroscopic junk.

But at least it keeps that macroscopic junk from turning into microplastics, which might be the best option available. Microplastic is so hard to remove from the water that our only option might be trying to keep plastic out of the ocean in the first place. As for the plastic soup we’ve already got — we may be stuck with leftovers.


Survey reports 2010/2011 winter honey bee losses

Total losses from managed honey bee colonies nationwide were 30 percent from all causes for the 2010/2011 winter, according to the annual survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA).

This is roughly similar to total losses reported in similar surveys done in the four previous years: 34 percent for the 2009/2010 winter, 29 percent for 2008/2009; 36 percent for 2007/2008, and 32 percent for 2006/2007.

“The lack of increase in losses is marginally encouraging in the sense that the problem does not appear to be getting worse for honey bees and beekeepers,” said Jeff Pettis, an entomologist with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) who helped conduct the study. “But continued losses of this size put tremendous pressure on the economic sustainability of commercial beekeeping.” Pettis is the leader of the Bee Research Laboratory operated in Beltsville, Md., by ARS, the chief scientific research agency of USDA.


UN food agency stunner: World loses one-third of total global food production

“2% of all US energy goes to food we’re throwing away.”

Figure 2 shows that the per capita food loss in Europe and North-America is 280-300 kg/year. In Sub- Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia it is 120-170 kg/year. The total per capita production of edible parts of food for human consumption is, in Europe and North-America, about 900 kg/year and, in sub-Saharan Africa and South/Southeast Asia, 460 kg/year.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released a study on food production last week that concluded 1.3 billion tons of food is lost each year.  That’s one third of total global production.  This inefficiency in food production and consumption reflects wasted energy and consequently unnecessary GHG emissions.

According to FAO, food loss in developing countries has multiple causes:

The causes of food losses and waste in low-income countries are mainly connected to financial, managerial and technical limitations in harvesting techniques, storage and cooling facilities in difficult climatic conditions, infrastructure, packaging and marketing systems. Given that many smallholder farmers in developing countries live on the margins of food insecurity, a reduction in food losses could have an immediate and significant impact on their livelihoods.

Food waste is rampant in the developed, rich nations of the United States and Western Europe, driven by overwhelming consumption demands on all levels of the supply chain (See the FAO graph above).

Farmers are forced to throw out produce that is not up to supermarket’s aesthetic standards and plow under whole fields of ripe produce if market prices aren’t sufficient to cover labor expenses.  Produce farmers will often plant a secondary field in case the yields are not as high as expected.  If yield requirements are met sufficiently with the primary field, the secondary field is simply plowed under.

Manufacturers dump whole pallets of food when supermarkets decline a purchase. Supermarkets throw out shelves of food when they’ve passed “best use by” dates, even though the food is still perfectly safe for consumption.  In 1995, the USDA found that 5.4 billion tons of food were thrown out by retailers.

Finally, consumers in the developed world notoriously throw out tons of unconsumed food they let rot – approximately 210-255 lbs per person.  Food is viewed as an endless luxury to those who can afford it.

Climate Progress spoke with Jonathon Bloom, author of American Wasteland, who pointed out that America actually exceeds the global average of one third and wastes about 40% of its total food production.  This food production is highly resource intensive.  As Bloom pointed out, “We are so removed from the agricultural process.  Most people have no idea how many resources are used in farming.”

What does food waste mean in terms of climate change?  “When we throw away 40%, 40% of resources invested goes for naught, for nothing” said Bloom.  He estimates that “2% of all US energy goes to food we’re throwing away.” The vast amount of water, oil, and other resources that go into farming are squandered, and the gears of industrial agriculture spin with no purpose.

The FAO study on food waste calls for consumer patterns to drastically change in the U.S. and Western Europe.  Bloom had several ideas that could shift our understanding and use of food.

  • The federal government should outlaw organic matter in landfills altogether.  This will require us to re-think food’s value and role and how wasteful we can be with our food.  Bloom quips, “We’ll have to ban it eventually, why not now?” Norway and Nova Scotia have already banned organic matter in landfills.
  • More incentives for farmers to harvest all they grow and not plow under crops like a more streamlined tax deduction process for food donations from farmers and retailers.
  • A stronger government gleaning programs that could bypass some of the economic barriers preventing farmers from harvesting all their produce.
  • Public awareness campaigns showing people ways to reduce waste and reconnecting them with agriculture

Changing food consumption patterns here and now in the United States and abroad will help reduce the inevitably rising pressure on food prices from climate change, peak oil, and changing diets.  It would also have a significant impact on mitigating climate change.  Bloom concluded that right now we are “aiding climate change from our kitchen trashcans.” Each of us can start by being more careful with what we eat, and most importantly, what we don’t.


The Global Extinction Crisis is Indeed Very Serious

Last week I was surprised to come across a paper published in Nature [which I posted on The Daily Planet] that claims species extinction rates have been overstated. According to many prominent ecologists, the authors’ calculations are outrageous and terribly flawed, but I’m most concerned that their conclusion will be misused by special interest groups and policymakers who want to minimize conservation efforts.

As for the paper itself, Michael Rosenzweig at the University of Arizona makes this analogy in The New York Times:

[The authors] focus was solely on the immediate extinction of endemic species — an important point for conservation estimates, perhaps, but only part of the story, Rosenzweig said. Endemic extinctions are like money borrowed from a loan shark, but the species-area relationship also describes, say, your car loan and 30-year mortgage, he said.

“In essence, they say if I can estimate the money that I owe the loan sharks, then I can say forget about those mortgage and car payments,” Rosenzweig said.

In other words, there’s far more to consider in the equation. Over at National Geographic, Duke’s Stuart Pimm has dissected the paper’s conclusion, explaining in detail just how they went wrong:

It took me eight seconds to know the paper was a sham — and I am slow reader. So let me explain why this paper fails so obviously to get at the truth. Along the way, I’ll tell you about those “species-area relationships.”

He goes on to explain that authors He and Hubbell used an extremely simplified version of the species-area relationship, ignoring recent research and making many inaccurate assumptions. Of particular importance:

Wording matters. It always does.

In writing to me about the fuss his paper had caused, author Fangliang He, an ecologist at Sun Yat-sen University in China, said:

“I have followed up some of the media and felt there is a danger of misinterpreting our work, which I would like to clarify here. … All we have said is that the backward SAR is flawed and overestimates extinction rates, not anything more than that.”

Well, of course, that wasn’t what the paper said and it wasn’t what the authors said to the media. If the paper had had “backward SAR” in the title, the media wouldn’t have commented. And one wonders whether Nature would have published it.

I checked the websites that carried this story.  Most allow comment, except the ones in China.  Professor He had not bothered to provide them with the clarification he provided me.

Go read the entire post and don’t believe the hype.



CDC: Developmental Disabilities Affect 1 In 7 U.S. Kids

Fifteen percent of American children have a developmental disability, including autism and ADHD, according to a new report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s an increase of almost 2 percentage points from 1997 to 2008, or almost 2 million kids. But that number may be squishier than it sounds.

The new figure comes from the National Health Interview Surveys, which ask parents if their children have ever been diagnosed with a variety of behavioral and developmental problems. That can include assessments by teachers or counselors, so the number is less than airtight. The number also could reflect increasing awareness of autism, and decreasing stigma.

The results were published online by the journal Pediatrics.

The question of how many children have autism has become a huge political issue, used to argue for more funding for early intervention, special ed classes, and insurance coverage. The numbers have also been used in battles over possible causes of autism.

Various studies have put the number of American children with autism as between 1 in 80 and 1 in 240. (The CDC has a good explainer on the varied numbers in the U.S., and in other countries.)

As with all things epidemiological, the autism numbers may also be influenced by how hard you look. Earlier this month, researchers reported on an exhaustive effort to identify children with autism spectrum disorders in Goyang, South Korea.

They found that 2.64 percent of the children in the community had an ASD. That’s one-and-a-half times the almost 1 percent often used as an average in the U.S. and in Europe. Two-thirds of the children identified in the Korean study were in regular schools, and were diagnosed only by the use of screening tests.

In the new CDC report, the autism rate as reported by parents rose from .02 percent to 0.7 percent. The number of children with an ADHD diagnosis rose from 5.7 percent to 7.6 percent. Boys were twice as likely as girls to be reported as having a developmental problem.


The Scientific Roots of the Zombie Threat

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Preparedness, the federal agency that bills itself as “your online source for credible health information” released a guide to preparing for the zombie apocalypse.

The point, for the CDC, was to raise awareness about the upcoming hurricane season, and encourage people in vulnerable areas to have flashlights and food and water on hand. As one spokesman told Reuters: “If you prepare for the zombie apocalypse, you’ll be prepared for all hazards.”

But is there any scientific foothold for the idea of a zombie apocalypse?

The zombies of popular culture have their roots in vodou (or voodoo). In his somewhat sensational The Serpent and the Rainbow, the Canadian anthropologist Wade Davis wrote about the case of Clairvius Narcisse who was put into a drug-induced coma-like state, easily mistaken for death, and later brought “back to life,” but without full self-awareness. The right combination of drugs have, in the past, created zombie-like behavior.

Merely ingesting psychotropic flora and fauna, though, might not be enough to set off a mass zombie apocalypse. This requires the power of belief—and words and symbolic actions can and do have measurable effects on our bodies. Or, as the nocebo expert Clifton Meador told the New Scientist, “Bad news promotes bad physiology. I think you can persuade people that they’re going to die and have it happen.”

And a zombie apocalypse could certainly be facilitated by a food-borne brain-wasting prion, or proteinaceous infectious particle. As Ryan Bradley explains on PopSci:

The first famous prion epidemic was discovered in the early 1950s in Papua New Guinea, when members of the Fore tribe were found to be afflicted with a strange tremble. Occasionally a diseased Fore would burst into uncontrollable laughter. The tribe called the sickness “kuru,” and by the early ’60s doctors had traced its source back to the tribe’s cannibalistic funeral practices, including brain-eating.

We generally don’t eat the brains of fellow humans (and there’s even some debate about cannibalism as the source for kuru), but what about other flesh? Infectious agents in the animals we raise for chicken wings, pork chops, and hamburgers sometimes jump to humans, as SARS, swine flu, and mad cow disease have shown.

Theoretically, a viral prion could make its way into the brain and, provided we were administered some baking soda to prevent the prion’s spread, make us very hungry:

So there is a region of the brain that’s responsible for letting you know when your stomach’s full. We ignore it all the time, you know, on Thanksgiving and things like that. But the ventromedial [VNM] hypothalamus, which is a region of the brain that sits below the thalamus, basically receives signals from your stomach and from your GI tract that tells you that you’ve had enough and it’s time to stop eating… So in mice that have had the anterior ventromedial hypothalamus ablated surgically, they’ll just eat and eat and eat and eat until they die, basically.

All of this is, of course, very unlikely, but taking steps to prevent a zombie apocalypse might have some real public-health benefits. There are implications here for obesity research, the perils of feeding cattle the processed remains of other animals, and the future of food-borne pathogens.

More importantly, it demonstrates how simply believing that something will be good for you can make it genuinely good for you, which certainly plays an intrinsic role for labeling foods that actually changes our habits. So perhaps when it comes to eating (and not just eating brains), a seemingly nonsensical post should be taken seriously.




GOP presidential hopefuls walking a fine line on Medicare

Adam Serwer:

The 2012 GOP presidential hopefuls criticize Ryan’s plan at their peril, as Newt Gingrich discovered last week. It’s worth revisiting what he actually said:

I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering. I don’t think imposing radical change from the right or the left is a very good way for a free society to operate. I think we need a national conversation to get to a better Medicare system with more choices for seniors.

He later added that while there are things you can do to “improve Medicare,” he believes the Ryan plan is “too big a jump.” In an ideological sense, this is a small-c conservative answer, skeptical of radical change and biased towards the status quo.

The key here is that this is just not the kind of “conservatism” the Republican Party is looking for right now — and the 2012 candidates will have to adapt.

Tellingly, the blowback Newt faced came from inside the conservative movement. Why? Mainly because conservatives were worried that if someone identified as conservative (like Newt) criticizes the Ryan plan, there’s a chance that the base might start to doubt the plan too. That’s why Newt had to be chastized so quickly.

And yet, it’s not even clear that much of the Ryan plan will end up being in the 2012 presidential platform. The signs of its growing toxicity are everywhere. Having voted to end Medicare as we know it, Republicans have grown desperate in a special election in New York’s 26th congressional district, accusing the Democrat leading in the polls of wanting to cut Medicare. Meanwhile, two of the 2012 contenders who seem best positioned to win the nomination at the moment, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty, have both approached the Ryan plan carefully. They’ve both refrained from criticizing Ryan, but they’ve also said they’ll offer their own budget plans.

So while conservatives have continued to rally behind the Ryan plan, there is no longer any concealing the political peril it holds for 2012 GOP hopefuls. For the time being, the GOP contenders are stuck walking a fine line: They have avoided embracing the Ryan plan completely, even as they carefully avoid criticizing it.



6 Crazy, Unconstitutional Laws Right-Wingers Are Blowing Your Money On

Arizona has already spent $1.5 million defending SB 1070, the so-called “papers, please” law, but with several suits ongoing, that’s just the beginning. According to the Arizona Capital Times, “more than 251 attorneys have worked on more than a half dozen lawsuits against the bill, and the federal courts hearing the cases have received more than 2,000 filings and 56 amicus briefs.” Arizona may face a huge legal bill at the end of the road, but the good news for Governor Jan Brewer is that anti-immigration hardliners across the country have donated millions to a special fund to help defray the state’s costs.

But that’s not the case in South Dakota, which had raised less than $20,000 through the end of March for a similar fund to defend its latest abortion restrictions, according to the Rapid City Journal. The state’s Attorney General estimated that defending the law could cost South Dakota up to $4.1 million if it loses, including $1.7 million in legal fees for Planned Parenthood. That’s nothing new; according to RH Reality Check, “the state is still in the process of defending its last unconstitutional anti-abortion bill…The 2005 law, which is still being heard in the 8th circuit, has currently run up $1.7 million just in attorney’s fees for Planned Parenthood…”

The costs of violating citizens’ rights can really add up. And yet, after promising to slash government spending, conservatives in a dozen state houses across the country are apparently willing to break the bank defending their fringe policies in court. In some cases, they believe they might get an activist conservative majority on the Supreme Court to overturn decades of precedent and support their laws, but in others they’re simply prepared to waste millions of tax dollars to litigate wacky legislation that has zero chance of being upheld. […]

They rode into power on a wave of conservative populism, vowing to rein in spending, slash deficits (remember how the Tea Partiers swore they weren’t focusing on those “wedge” social issues anymore?), and above all, restore our fealty to the Constitution, a document they claim to hold an almost religious reverence for.

Then, in a development as easy to predict as the sun rising in the east, they set themselves to passing outrageous legislation designed to appeal to their far-right base – much of it legislation that, on its face, is blatantly unconstitutional. And passing gimmicky, unconstitutional laws isn’t free – under federal law, states can be ordered to pay the fees of the lawyers who bring winning civil rights suits against them, so they usually end up picking up the tab for both sides of the litigation when they lose.

Arizona has already spent $1.5 million defending SB 1070, the so-called “papers, please” law, but with several suits ongoing, that’s just the beginning. According to the Arizona Capital Times, “more than 251 attorneys have worked on more than a half dozen lawsuits against the bill, and the federal courts hearing the cases have received more than 2,000 filings and 56 amicus briefs.” Arizona may face a huge legal bill at the end of the road, but the good news for Governor Jan Brewer is that anti-immigration hardliners across the country have donated millions to a special fund to help defray the state’s costs.

But that’s not the case in South Dakota, which had raised less than $20,000 through the end of March for a similar fund to defend its latest abortion restrictions, according to the Rapid City Journal. The state’s Attorney General estimated that defending the law could cost South Dakota up to $4.1 million if it loses, including $1.7 million in legal fees for Planned Parenthood. That’s nothing new; according to RH Reality Check, “the state is still in the process of defending its last unconstitutional anti-abortion bill…The 2005 law, which is still being heard in the 8th circuit, has currently run up $1.7 million just in attorney’s fees for Planned Parenthood…”

The costs of violating citizens’ rights can really add up. And yet, after promising to slash government spending, conservatives in a dozen state houses across the country are apparently willing to break the bank defending their fringe policies in court. In some cases, they believe they might get an activist conservative majority on the Supreme Court to overturn decades of precedent and support their laws, but in others they’re simply prepared to waste millions of tax dollars to litigate wacky legislation that has zero chance of being upheld.

Here then are six seemingly unconstitutional state laws proposed or passed in recent months. You might want to don a tricorner hat while enjoying them.

  1. Anti-Sharia Laws […]
  2. Abortion Bills Conflicting with Roe […]
  3. Nullification Laws […]
  4. States Regulating Immigration […]
  5. Don’t Say This or That Laws […]
  6. Financial ‘Martial Law’ […]

Of course, these are all pathetic exercises in “governance,” but, barring some very egregious judicial activism – not out of the question with this Supreme Court – these silly and dangerous laws will not stand.




Conservative Talk Ratings Slide

“Right-wing talk radio may have worn out its welcome, at least for now,” reports Crain’s New York Business.

A new Arbitron report shows Rush Limbaugh’s ratings down 33% from a year ago and Sean Hannitty down 28% over the same time period. Meanwhile, more centrist personalities — Don Imus in the morning and John Batchelor at night — were both up from a year earlier.


He’s Back: Michael Steele Joins MSNBC As A Political Analyst


Aaron Koblin: Artfully visualizing our humanity

TED Talk:

Artist Aaron Koblin takes vast amounts of data — and at times vast numbers of people — and weaves them into stunning visualizations. From elegant lines tracing airline flights to landscapes of cell phone data, from a Johnny Cash video assembled from crowd-sourced drawings to the “Wilderness Downtown” video that customizes for the user, his works brilliantly explore how modern technology can make us more human.

About Aaron Koblin

Aaron Koblin is an artist specializing in data and digital technologies. His work takes real world and community-generated data and uses it to reflect on cultural trends and the changing relationship… Full bio and more links

If you click here, you’ll see that nothing remains of the 39 articles I’ve written for Arianna Huffington. Not a title, sentence, or tag is left. My author bio now reads:

Matt Osborne has deleted all his posts from this site as part of Operation HuffPuff and encourages other bloggers to do the same.



Ailes’ many frustrations

Steve Benen:

I’ll give Roger Ailes one thing: he makes for great magazine copy.

The Fox News chief has already been the subject of some terrific profile pieces, but as Gabriel Sherman helps prove, there’s still more story to tell. […]

Ailes also apparently thinks Sarah Palin is “an idiot.”

Indeed, the New York piece is filled with interesting tidbits. Ailes, for example, threatened to quit if Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post endorsed Obama in 2008. The same year, a Fox News producer complained that the McCain campaign was limiting access to Palin, so Ailes banished the producer from Fox News airwaves until she quit.

This anecdote was also fascinating:

Going back to the 2008 campaign, Axelrod had maintained an off-the-record dialogue with Ailes. He had faced off against Ailes in a U.S. Senate campaign in the early eighties and respected him as a fellow political warrior and shaper of narrative. But early on, Axelrod learned he couldn’t change Ailes’s outlook on Obama. In one meeting in 2008, Ailes told Axelrod that he was concerned that Obama wanted to create a national police force.

“You can’t be serious,” Axelrod replied. “What makes you think that?” […]

Later, Axelrod related in a conversation that the exchange was the moment he realized Ailes truly believed what he was broadcasting.

And given that Ailes appears to be mad as a hatter, that’s not encouraging.




Huntsman–Truth outweighs consistency

Steve Benen:

Jon Huntsman was asked on Friday about his support for the Recovery Act, and the fact that in 2009, he wanted the stimulus to be bigger, not smaller.

Huntsman said his problem with the Recovery Act had to do with taxes. “[M]y take was, let’s stimulate business,” he told George Stephanopoulos. “Let’s look at tax cuts, let’s look at payroll tax deductions.”

Was that actually his take? Actually, no. Here’s a video of Huntsman talking about the stimulus two years ago.

[S]tarting at around the 3:15 mark in this video, Huntsman said of the stimulus, “Too little focus on meaningful and relevant infrastructure that would have enhanced our entire nation and our ability to compete. Whether delivering products or moving people from point A to point B — in other words, the overall enhancement of needed infrastructure in our country which is desperately needed.

“So you had maybe 25% infrastructure [in the stimulus], 75% all other categories — it should have been reversed to my mind, so that coming out of the stimulus phase, we actually could have maybe achieved a better, stronger, more 21st-century infrastructure in our country. […]

“That is my one gripe…. Stimulus, to be sure, that was needed. We needed to kick-start the economy and infuse it with some liquidity. It was sort of the targeted end-points that I would question.”

This is critically important to understanding Huntsman. His line on stimulus wasn’t just progressive; it was arguably to the left of many Democrats. Faced with the economic crisis, Huntsman’s argument was that Democrats weren’t spending enough money.

For the record, I imagine the Obama White House would have loved to pursue a similar approach to the one Huntsman outlined, but it was conservatives in Congress who refused. In the context of the 2012 campaign, though, it’s worth remembering that his “one gripe” with the stimulus two years ago had nothing to do with wanting more tax cuts — it was that he wanted more government spending, especially on infrastructure, not less.

Obviously, that’s the exact opposite of the Republican Party’s approach to economic policy, but just as important, it’s also the opposite of what Huntsman said about his position last week.

The political discourse puts quite a bit of weight on politicians’ “flip-flops,” in large part because we’re sensitive to candidates reinventing themselves in the name of political expediency. Voters want to know what they’re going to get when the vote for someone — especially at the national level — and those with records filled with inconsistencies are held suspect.

But flip-flops aren’t always fatal. Sometimes, candidates simply change their minds, sincerely, based on new and different information. Occasionally, a politician’s thinking on an issue really will evolve. For that matter, we’ve seen plenty of reversals come with compelling explanations.

What politicians have to be careful about is lying about flip-flops. Changing one’s mind is forgivable; misleading the public is far more problematic.

On a health care mandate, for example, Huntsman not only appears to have flip-flopped, he also appears to have given misleading answers about his reversal. And now on the stimulus, Huntsman is not only changing his position, he’s not telling the whole truth about the evolution.

This is a very bad habit for a politician to pick up.


Obama Team Watches Christie: Report

Despite repeated claims that he won’t seek the GOP nomination for president in 2012, the Obama campaign team has begun to dig up dirt on popular New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie just in case, according to the New York Post. Obama’s team is covertly gathering up material that could damage him should he choose to run, the Post claims. “Short of suicide,” Christie has said, “I don’t really know what I’d have to do to convince you people that I’m not running.” Still, party leaders from Henry Kissinger to Speaker Boehner have encouraged him to run, and, according to the Post, top GOP donors in New York have been whispering that Christie has considered it.


Lecturing Americans To ‘Reread’ Constitution, Herman Cain Confuses It With Declaration of Independence

CAIN: We don’t need to rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America, we need to reread the Constitution and enforce the Constitution. … And I know that there are some people that are not going to do that, so for the benefit of those who are not going to read it because they don’t want us to go by the Constitution, there’s a little section in there that talks about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

You know, those ideals that we live by, we believe in, your parents believed in, they instilled in you. When you get to the part about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” don’t stop there, keep reading. Cause that’s when it says “when any form of government becomes destructive of those ideals, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.” We’ve got some altering and some abolishing to do!


Walkback Complete: Scott Brown Now Attacks GOP Medicare Plan He Recently Praised


Facing A Potential Upset Over Medicare, Jane Corwin Flip-Flops On Ryan Plan

As voters in New York’s 26th congressional district prepare to go to the polls tomorrow, many observers are predicting an upset in this heavily-Republican district. The special election has been viewed as a referendum on the House Republican plan to privatize Medicare, with polls showing Republican Jane Corwin’s support for the plan dragging her down significantly in a district that has elected only three Democrats since 1857. According to a recent Siena poll, 21 percent of voters say Medicare is their top issue, and Democrat Kathy Hochul leads by 29 points among those voters. A new PPP poll shows Hochul up six points.

Facing this grim reality, Corwin backed off her support for the GOP plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) just two days before the election: […]

She calls Ryan’s plan “a terrific first step” but makes clear that she will never support controversial vouchers for Medicare.


Why are [Some] Dems misrepresenting Obama’s Israel stance?

Greg Sargent:

It’s a point that’s gotten a bit lost: Some Congressional Democrats are also attacking Obama’s 1967 lines proposal.

Intra-Dem differences over policy are to be expected. But what makes this particularly galling, as Matthew Yglesias notes, is that they’re misrepresenting it in precisely the same fashion conservatives are, insisting that Obama called for a return to the 1967 borders (which he didn’t) and obscuring or downplaying the fact that Obama made longstanding U.S. policy official (which he did):

It’s noteworthy that these attacks not only involve misrepresenting what Obama said, but that many of them are coming from members of Barack Obama’s party. So in sum what we saw this week is that the President of the United States made it clear that he disagrees with the regional policy of the Israeli government, but despite that disagreement intends to keep Israel as the number one recipient of U.S. foreign aid and that he also intends to put America’s diplomatic clout at Israel’s disposal in the coming controversy over a Palestinian declaration of statehood. Meanwhile, despite Obama’s lack of desire to shift U.S. policy, he’s subject to opportunistic political attacks from members of the opposition party, attacks which are echoed rather than rebutted by members of his own political coalition.

It’s one thing for Congressional Dems to have a principled disagreement with Obama over his Mideast policies. It’s quite another for them to, unwittingly or not, actively aid and abet efforts to distort those policies. These Democrats — who include Reps. Eliot Engel and Steve Rothman — should be asked why Holocaust survivor Abraham Foxman is wrong to disagree with the widespread characterization of Obama’s speech as a “return” to 1967 borders.

What’s more, after those Democrats put out their statements faulting Obama’s proposal, the President gave a speech to AIPAC in which he spelled out his policies even more clearly. He said:

Let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means. By definition, it means that the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967.

I think one could make a fair case that Obama could have saved himself a great deal of criticism if he had spelled his plan out in these terms during his Friday speech. Dems might not have responded as they did if he had. But still, now that he has done so belatedly, surely those Democrats will be retracting their criticism of his proposal, or at least their characterization of it. After all, failing to do that will only help spread more misinformation, sow more confusion, and make further dialog about this very complex, emotional and difficult topic even harder. They wouldn’t want to do that, would they?

Will Obama’s Israel stance really cost him Jewish support?



What a bald-faced liar Bibi is; and how pathetic that so many fell for his hissy fit yet again.

From last November 11. Money quote:

The Prime Minister and the Secretary agreed on the importance of continuing direct negotiations to achieve our goals. The Secretary reiterated that “the United States believes that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state, based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.”


Obama visits family roots in Irish village


President Barack Obama sipped a pint of stout and cuddled babies Monday as a tiny Irish village Monday welcomed home “a long lost cousin” with an outpouring of affection.

Hoisting a glass of Guinness at Ollie Hayes pub as fiddle music played, Obama thus began a four-nation tour of Europe with a celebration of his ancestral roots.

Roars of delight from thousands of rain-lashed people lining the street greeted the president and his wife, Michelle, as their motorcade pulled to a stop in Moneygall.

The sleepy village of 300 was the birthplace of Obama’s great-great-great grandfather, Falmouth Kearney, a shoemaker who left in 1850 to begin a new life in the United States.

This makes Obama, the son of a Kenyan father and Irish-American mother, one of 37 million Americans who claim Irish ancestry, and he was greeted like a long lost son. The powerful images could help his 2012 re-election campaign.


Well, more like 100,000 (Updated)


DOA: Pawlenty presidential announcement on hometown paper obit page

Tim Pawlenty’s presidential campaign is Dead On Arrival, according to his hometown newspaper.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press hilariously ran the announcement of T-Paw’s presidential campaign on the Obituary page this morning.

Any other day, it would have made the front page. But that’s what he gets for making his big publicity push the day after a deadly tornado rips through his home state.


FACT CHECK: Pawlenty’s ‘Truth’ Campaign Is Already Littered With Lies

“I am going to tell you the truth. The truth is, Washington’s broken,” Pawlenty declared. “It’s time for new leadership. It’s time for a new approach. And, it’s time for America’s president – and anyone who wants to be president – to look you in the eye and tell you the truth.”

From there, Pawlenty preceded to list various “truths” about the state of the nation, many of which appear — on closer examination — to be either completely untrue or grossly exaggerated:

T-PAW TRUTH: Health care reform has added to the national debt. Social Security is in peril. “Our national debt, combined with Obamacare, have placed Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid in real peril. I’ll tell young people the truth that over time and for them only, we’re going to gradually raise their Social Security retirement age.”

ACTUAL TRUTH: Health care reform reduced health care spending. According to the Congressional Budget Office, enacting the Affordable Care Act “will produce a net reduction in federal deficits of $143 billion over the 2010-2019 period.” Similarly, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) concluded that Medicare spending will decline $86.4 billion and that by 2019, it is projected to grow 7.7 percent—0.9 percentage point more slowly” than if the law had not passed.

ACTUAL TRUTH: Social Security is not in real peril. It can pay full benefits through 2036 and close to full benefits for decades after that, according to the latest trustee’s report. Moderate tweaks to the system, including raising the cap on the payroll tax can more than make up for the program’s long-term shortfall. Raising the retirement age is not only unnecessary, but is a hugely regressive change. Furthermore, the Affordable Care Act and the national debt have nothing to do with the financial health of Social Security.

T-PAW TRUTH: Block granting Medicaid will “solve problems.” “And, we need to block grant Medicaid to the states. There, innovative reformers closest to the patients can solve problems and save money.”

ACTUAL TRUTH: Millions of lower-income Americans will lose health coverage. As a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report pointed out, converting the existing matching rate formula into a block grant would give states less money that they would have otherwise received and force local governments to cut eligibility to the program. Kaiser examined different scenarios for state responses to reduced federal Medicaid spending and estimated 31 to 44 million Americans could lose their health insurance coverage.

T-PAW TRUTH: Reformed health system in Minnesota. “I know how to do health care reform right. I’ve done it at the state level. No mandates, no takeovers. and it’s the opposite of Obamacare.”

ACTUAL TRUTH: Number of uninsured increased under his governorship. Pawlenty did experiment with different methods of bundling payments to providers — creating baskets for certain conditions — and implemented pay-for performance initiatives, but as Minnesota Public Radio has reported, it’s unclear if his small efforts have actually saved the state any money. But most importantly, as David Frum has pointed out, the number of Minnesotans without health care actually increased during his time as governor from 395,000 citizens without health insurance in 2003, to 446,000 in 2008, the last year before the recession struck.

T-PAW TRUTH: The United States is broke. “Our country is going broke.”

ACTUAL TRUTH: The United States isn’t broke. As the Center for American Progress’ Michael Linden and Michael Ettlinger note, “The notion that the United States is ‘broke’ is a popular talking point for conservative lawmakers…But we’re not broke. Not at all. If we were, it would mean that we were out of money, unable to pay our bills, or meet our financial obligations. We are none of those things.” Bloomberg’s David Lynch has more.

T-PAW TRUTH: Against bailouts and “too-big-to-fail”. “I’m going to New York City, to tell Wall Street that if I’m elected, the era of bailouts, handouts, and carve outs will be over. No more subsidies, no more special treatment. No more Fannie and Freddie, no more TARP, and no more “too big to fail.”

ACTUAL TRUTH: Pawlenty would preserve too-big-to-fail and has flip-flopped on bailouts. The Dodd-Frank financial reform law signed by President Obama last year includes important powers for the government to dismantle large, failed financial firms without resorting to ad-hoc bailouts; Pawlenty opposes those powers. Pawlenty was also for TARP before he was against it, saying in 2008 that TARP “is an imperfect solution, but, like has been said, [the banks] are too big, the consequences are too severe for innocent bystanders to allow them to fail.”

T-PAW TRUTH: The NLRB can dictate to companies where to move. “It especially means the National Labor Relations Board will never again tell an American company where it can and can’t do business.”

ACTUAL TRUTH: The NLRB has not told an American company where it can and can’t do business. Pawlenty has been criticizing a decision by the NLRB that would prevent mega-manufacturer Boeing from shifting a production line from Washington state to South Carolina as retribution against workers who engaged in strikes. Under labor law, it is illegal to retaliate against striking workers by shifting production, but the NLRB has made it abundantly clear that Boeing is free to open new facilities wherever it pleases, provided it complies with the law.

T-PAW TRUTH: Against energy subsidies. “As part of a larger reform, we need to phase out subsidies across all sources of energy and all industries, including ethanol. We simply can’t afford them anymore.”

ACTUAL TRUTH: For oil and gas subsidies. Just a few weeks ago, Pawlenty said that cutting subsidies to oil and gas companies is “ludicrous.” “I mean the worst thing we could do is raise the cost burden on costs on energy and oil…It’s preposterous,” he said.


DNC Video on Pawlenty:



POLITICO: GOP divisions run deep over Medicare, budget plan

There’s a lot to unpack in this POLITICO story about the infighting within House Republicans over the radical “Path to Prosperity” plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan, and leadership’s embrace of it. While the focus of the story is on the Medicare debacle, the story really reflects the struggle the party is having over whether to follow the Tea Party down the political rabbit hole.

No matter how favorably pollsters with the Tarrance Group or other firms spun the bill in their pitch—casting it as the only path to saving the beloved health entitlement for seniors—the Ryan budget’s approval rating barely budged above the high 30s or its disapproval below 50 percent, according to a Republican operative familiar with the presentation.

The poll numbers on the plan were so toxic—nearly as bad as those of President Barack Obama’s health reform bill at the nadir of its unpopularity—that staffers with the National Republican Congressional Committee warned leadership, “You might not want to go there” in a series of tense pre-vote meetings….

The outward unity projected by House Republicans masked weeks of fierce debate, even infighting, and doubt over a measure that stands virtually no chance of becoming law. In a series of heated closed-door exchanges, dissenters, led by Ryan’s main internal rival—House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.)—argued for a less radical, more bipartisan approach, GOP staffers say.

At a fundraiser shortly after the vote, a frustrated Camp groused, “We shouldn’t have done it” and that he was “overridden,” according to a person in attendance.

A few days earlier, as most Republicans remained mute during a GOP conference meeting on the Ryan plan, Camp rose and drily asserted, “People in my district like Medicare,” one lawmaker, who is now having his own doubts about voting yes, told POLITICO….

“The tea party itch has definitely not been scratched, so the voices who were saying, ‘Let’s do this in a way that’s politically survivable,’ got drowned out by a kind of panic,” a top GOP consultant involved in the debate said, on condition of anonymity….

On several occasions, Boehner has seemed squishy on the Ryan budget. In talking to ABC News, Boehner said he was “not wedded” to the plan and that it was “worthy of consideration.”

Still, even if Boehner had opposed the plan—and his top aide, Barry Jackson, expressed concerns about the political fallout to other staffers—he probably couldn’t have stopped the Ryan Express anyway, so great was the push from freshmen and conservatives.

That’s not to say some of the speaker’s allies from the Midwest didn’t try. Camp and Ryan hashed out their differences in a series of private meetings that, on occasion, turned testy, according to several GOP aides. Camp argued that the Ryan plan, which he backed in principle—and eventually voted for—was a nonstarter that would only make it harder to reach a bipartisan framework on real entitlement reform.

Apparently still believing that their problem isn’t a draconian and hugely unpopular plan to end Medicare, but all in how they are presenting the plan, the GOP is gamely sticking to it: “The GOP message team is already scrambling to redefine the issue as a Republican attempt to ‘save’ Medicare, not kill it.”

“We have a message challenge, a big one, and that’s what the polling is showing,” conceded Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), a former Karl Rove protégé who enthusiastically backed the Ryan plan. “There’s no way you attack the deficit in my lifetime without dealing with the growth of Medicare. Do we get a political benefit from proposing a legitimate solution to a major policy problem? That’s an open question.”

That’s where the messaging is going to attempt to focus, and where Dems have to fight back. The GOP will try to frame the entire debacle as a reflection of their seriousness about the deficit. Never mind that, as Digby points out, “they sure put out a crappy plan. That’s one of the problems that Politico fails to address—the plan itself was debunked over the course of the first week and Ryan’s reputation for seriousness and ‘brio’ took a major hit.”

Steve Benen echoes that:

It’s worth noting that the Politico article reports, simply as a matter of fact, that that the House Republican leaders intended to “boldly position their party as a beacon of fiscal responsibility.” What the article doesn’t note is that this is absurd—there’s nothing fiscally responsible about the House GOP plan. The numbers don’t add up; the finances are fraudulent; and even the Medicare “savings” would be applied to tax cuts, not deficit reduction. The media really needs to start understanding this.

The media needs to start understanding that, but Dems also need to hammer that point, over and over. We already know that there are going to be plenty of squeamish Dems who will feel the only response to the GOP’s cries of “fiscally responsibility” will be to demand more and dumber cuts (case in point, Sens. Claire McCaskill and Joe Manchin). Following the GOP into political oblivion on slashing Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security wouldn’t prove “fiscal responsibility,” just political weakness.

This is a huge political problem for the Republicans. It’s time for Dems to throw them another anchor or two.


Democrats Push Senate Budget Vote On GOP Medicare Plan (Video)

KHN’s Mary Agnes Carey talks with Jackie Judd about Democratic efforts to get Senate Republicans on the record on an increasingly unpopular GOP budget that includes big changes to Medicare by scheduling a vote this week. The move is seen by some as a strictly political move that won’t bring lawmakers closer to agreement on a budget.


KUCHINICH, Losing District, Looks Very Far Afield

“Run, Dennis, run,” urged Karen Pooley, a 48-year-old sales representative as Mr. Kucinich addressed her and other chanting protesters who were outside a Chase bank to rally against government policies that favor financial institutions while teachers are being laid off.

Mr. Kucinich is indeed thinking about running, but it would not be another try for president and maybe not even an eighth House race back in Ohio. Instead, the 64-year-old Mr. Kucinich, who first gained fame as the “boy mayor” of Cleveland in the 1970s, is delicately examining the idea of running for Congress here in Washington State next year. Given Ohio’s loss of two House seats, his district is likely to disappear when new map lines are drawn.

Washington, on the other hand, is gaining a seat and Mr. Kucinich figures his aggressive brand of antiwar, pro-working class politics could sell well in a solidly blue state where he has ideological allies and was popular during his unsuccessful White House bids in 2004 and 2008. It is a somewhat novel idea that could be summed up as: Have seniority, will travel.

“I think the issues that I speak about in terms of economic and social justice and peace and environmental quality are things that concern people all over the country, and I am grateful to be here with people of like mind,” said Mr. Kucinich on Saturday as he joined the crowd outside the bank in the heavily Democratic neighborhood of Wallingford.

While Mr. Kucinich’s case may be the most extreme example, he is not the only member of the House examining alternative options for 2012. As happens every 10 years, the post-census redistricting is causing political dislocation for many incumbents as they watch state legislators chop up their districts.

In Iowa, Representative Tom Latham is planning to move into a nearby county to make a race against a Democrat rather than challenge a fellow Republican, Representative Steve King, after the two were thrown together in a redrawn district. Representative Joe Donnelly, Democrat of Indiana, has already entered his state’s Senate race after his district strength was diluted. In Missouri, Representative Russ Carnahan, a member of a powerful Democratic family, saw his district vanish in what he viewed as blatant gerrymandering by state Republicans. He is now eying a run for a new neighboring district that he said is about a five-minute drive from his St. Louis home.

“I am very confident that at the end of the process, I am going to have a good district to run in and continue to serve and fight for the people I represent in Missouri,” he said.

No one else in the House appears to be weighing the kind of cross-country move that Mr. Kucinich is exploring. And he, ever mindful that he still represents Ohio and could end up running there in the end, says only that he is trying to find a way to remain a voice in Congress even if his district is dissolved as he expects.

“My district appears to be on the block, so I am looking at options, and I am not limiting those options to Ohio,” Mr. Kucinich said.

Mr. Kucinich’s attempt would certainly be unusual. In the early days of Congress, a few House members won election years apart in two different states. But Ed Foreman, now a motivational speaker, was the last to do so more than 40 years ago; elected as a Republican from Texas in 1962, he lost his re-election attempt  in 1964, then won one term in New Mexico in 1968.

The idea that Mr. Kucinich would relocate to the Pacific Northwest before 2012, when his current term in Ohio ends, is not going over well with everyone in Democratic circles.

“Washingtonians are not going to be receptive to a sitting congressman from Ohio filing for office in our state,” said Dwight Pelz, chairman of the state Democratic party. Mr. Pelz said that while Washington is strongly Democratic, the new district would most likely be centered in the Seattle suburbs and be home to swing voters who might not take to Mr. Kucinich’s liberal politics.

“If Dennis Kucinich is our candidate, we could easily lose that district,” said Mr. Pelz, who said he had made his views known to the congressman. […]

Others noted that Mr. Kucinich was not the first political figure with a national following to go shopping for friendly political territory, pointing to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s successful Senate run in New York.

“If New York can welcome a national figure to the state, we can welcome a national figure to Washington,” said David Spring of North Bend, a former candidate for the state legislature who encouraged Mr. Kucinich to run during the visit to Woodinville.

Should he decide to go ahead, Mr. Kucinich is certain to face charges of carpetbagging and confront questioners like a woman on Saturday who pressed him on whether political candidates should be homegrown or not. He had a ready answer.

“Where people live is always interesting,” Mr. Kucinich said. “Where they stand is quite instructive.”


GOP majority leader says Paul Ryan should run for president




What if anything NY 26 can tell us

Nate Silver has a really good post up today about the NY-26 special. Silver, I think, gets it right: it’s important not to read too much into the results of any special election, but it is worth assessing the data and getting what we can out of it — even while being very careful not to extrapolate too much.

To be more specific: what everyone wants to know about NY-26 is how Medicare plays. And, if the polling is good enough, it should be possible to get at least a bit of information about that. But Silver is also right that it’s really easy to read way too much into those data (for example, as he points out, those who would have supported the Democrat anyway may say that it was because of Medicare because that’s what she’s talking about). And what Silver doesn’t mention is that knowing how Medicare plays in one place in spring 2011 doesn’t necessarily predict how it will play elsewhere in November 2012. It’s information, and you always want to add information, but you also have to be careful not to pay more attention to the data you happen to have than to the (potentially far more important) data you don’t happen to have.

Silver is also quite right that for questions such as “how is Medicare playing?” the actual W/L election result isn’t important at all — what’s important is to get good estimates of how that issue affected the margin. On the other hand, as I said before, the result can matter if it changes expectations about fall 2012, because those expectations then affect important decisions by political actors. Although, again, be cautious: we’re all going to pay a lot of attention to NY-26 right now, but we can’t tell in advance how important it will be to expectations a few months down the road. For all we know, there might be some other special that goes the other way in a few months, and that one will be on the minds of on-the-fence politicians when they decide whether to run for Congress.


GOP: Wisconsin is Ground Zero for 2012 as They Double Down on Crazy

Governor Walker warned Wisconsin Republicans at their annual state convention that they face a huge threat in the looming recall elections, but the Republicans were focused instead on whom to run for a US Senate seat that’s been in Democratic control for over 50 years. Referring to Wisconsin as “ground zero” for 2012, the Republicans stressed the importance of sustaining the radical changes they’ve initiated. In order to do that, they want to take that senate seat, but they’re torn on whom to run: a moderate Republican or double down on the crazy.

Looks like they might not have much of a choice with Club for Growth already weighing in to attack the moderate Republican, former Governor Tommy Thompson, whose great sins include working with unions, pushing for the high speed rail Republicans thumbed their noses at, and saying some good things about the Democratic healthcare reform law (which only makes sense as it implements Republican principles of free market competition).

Meanwhile, it looks like the challenges to the recall campaigns are mostly being rejected, with state election officials recommending that an elections board throw out most challenges to recall efforts against three Republican state senators. If you are a conservative, you would call this “Republican court activism”, but if not, you would simply call it an attempt to stop the bleeding via using the courts to stop democracy. Let us not forget that many of the ways the Republicans attempted to get their agenda passed were not exactly legal. The people don’t like that. It’s not a partisan thing, it’s a democracy thing. Sigh. The recall elections are set for July 12, 2011.

I’m placing my bets on crazy, after all, they admitted that Wisconsin was “ground zero” for the 2012 race (it’s their own analogy, but one has to ask, are they are the terrorists and Wisconsin is the shattered destruction after their attack?) and the GOP seems hell bent on purging itself of any sane moderates. Goodness, if anyone who is for progress and against corporate tax subsidies can no longer be a Republican, if Republicans must repeat the Club for Growth Koch brothers lines about healthcare reform knowing they have no better solution, then the party might as well open the doors to the lunatic asylum and let it rip.

Open the doors, boys. Let Ground Zero attacker Scott Walker to run for President. He’s their perfect puppet: he’s actually uneducated (as opposed to just playing ignorant zealot), he’s a demagogic Dominionist who believes he’s The Chosen, he’s a known serial cheater with no ethics to speak of, he’s clearly not a reality seeker, and he’s got a sociopath’s penchant for lying.

Let us not forget that while Republicans used the shock and awe of a fake financial crisis to support their politically motivated attacks on unions, Wisconsin is actually facing a 600 plus million dollar surplus, even accounting for Governor Walker’s corporate welfare handouts. Now, we all remember the nice surplus Clinton left Bush and we know how quickly such surpluses are drained down the trickle down toilet of modern day Republican Party ideology, so act fast Wisconsin. Use the Peter Principle to get rid of Walker if you have to; urge him run for President.

By the time the vetting process is done with him, “pallin around with terrorists” will seem like an invitation to Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and Wisconsin will be one cooked demagogue down. Maybe he can run with Paul Ryan as his VP. They can run on killing Medicare, attacking the middle class, giving huge corporate tax breaks to their puppet masters and saying no to progress. If Ryan won’t run with Walker, I know his soul mate Sarah Palin would deign to allow him to run as her VP. Together they can dodge the lamestream media and the people as they issue mandates from the castle, calling it God’s will for you to starve. And think of the crowns! Haven’t we always been seeking a King and Queen to replace our silly democratic process?

I’m betting on the crazy. This is the modern day Republican Party, after all. A few too many teabags short of sane, they’ll run on the economy and jobs, and then implement the same old tax breaks to the “job creators” fiscal failure they’ve been conning American with for too long.

But back to “Ground Zero” in Wisconsin, Governor Walker says those recalls are vital to his agenda. I think y’all know what to do.


Robert Creamer: When You’ve Got Republicans on the Run, It’s Time to Chase Them

But the Medicare issue doesn’t just move swing seniors.  The Republican Budget – coupled with President Obama’s response – has drawn clear lines between the Democratic and Republican visions for our society.  That clear distinction has already reinvigorated the Democratic Party base and will serve to rally Democratic turnout in 2012.

Paul Ryan has given Democrats the gift that will keep on giving right through November, 2012.

But the second great conflict in the Republican Party will have an impact in just a few months.  That’s the conflict between the real base of the GOP – Wall Street and America’s corporate elite — and the Tea Party bomb throwers who are willing to risk allowing America to default on its debts to advance their ideological goals.

Now don’t get me wrong — much of the Wall Street/corporate CEO crowd would love to abolish Medicare and force draconian cuts in the Federal budget so they could have yet another round of tax cuts and free themselves of “meddlesome” government “regulation.” They would love to be freed to devise exotic trading schemes, sell worthless mortgage securities, decertify unions and slash middle class salaries, defund public education and all of the rest.

But they’re not interested in risking the collapse of the economy, and the markets to get it.  They are smart enough to prefer the billions they have in their hot hands,  to the risk that their portfolios will plummet in value once again as they did in 2008.  And that is exactly what might happen if their erstwhile Tea Party allies force House Speaker John Boehner to play chicken with the nation’s debt limit in order to pressure the Democrats to scrap big portions of the New Deal.

Wall Street is terrified by guys like Illinois’ Republican Congressman Joe Walsh who said that default wouldn’t be so bad – that we should be thinking “outside of the box.”  Or Congressman Devin Nunes who thinks that a default would benefit America by forcing politicians to go through a “period of crisis”.  These “default deniers” just scare the bejezus out of the investor/CEO class.

But Boehner has a whole flock of these folks in his caucus, and before the default battle is over he may look like a pancake – squeezed by Wall Street on the one side, and by his Tea Party crew on the other.

It is likely that whatever deal to avoid default ultimately emerges from the Biden talks, will ultimately pass with more Democratic than Republicans votes in both houses.  That means that the deal cannot contain poison pill proposals that are completely unacceptable to most mainstream Democrats.  But that, in turn, may very well be unacceptable to the right-wing ideologues who see the debt-ceiling vote as their one chance to make big changes in the federal budget.

If Boehner allows a vote on such a proposal – and it does indeed pass with more Democrats than Republicans – he is afraid there may be a mutiny and he may no longer swing the big House gavel when the smoke clears.

This kind of division massively weakens the Republican’s bargaining position.  As the prospect of default barrels toward us, looming larger and larger in the weeks ahead, the pressure from the Wall Street/CEO gang will grown unbearable.

The fact of the matter is that the Party’s big dogs will not allow Boehner to pull the plug on the grenade that sends the economy back into a major recession and causes markets to plummet.  And of course, if they did, the political consequences for the GOP in 2012 would be catastrophic.

Had the Republicans simply continued to scream about deficits (as hypocritical as that may seem) they would have had a much stronger hand. Instead they handed Democrats a politically iconic example of exactly what the world would be like if they had their way – abolishing Medicare.

Now the Party’s candidates and its legislative leadership are divided, confused and in disarray.

In this situation, Democrats and Progressives need to remember one important axiom: when you’ve got them on the run, that’s the time to chase them.



Senate battleground polling shows imperative of protection Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid

Public Policy Polling was in the field in four Senate battleground states this month (Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, and Ohio) on behalf of Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy For America, and CREDO Action, testing on key safety net programs, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. These states are key for the Dems, with the reelection of Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (OH), Claire McCaskill (MO), John Tester (MT), and Amy Klobuchar (MN) in the offing next year.

The findings should shore up Democratic support of key safety net programs. On Medicare and Medicaid, PPP found:

McCaskill’s Missouri shows the largest divide in surveys done by the Democratically friendly Public Policy Polling, especially on Medicare. When asked, “In order to reduce the national debt, would you support or oppose cutting spending on Medicare, which is the government health insurance program for the elderly?” just 19 percent of respondents said they would, while an overwhelming 77 percent said they would oppose cuts.

Similarly, 20 percent back cuts in Brown’s Ohio, while 76 percent oppose them. In Tester’s Montana, it’s 24 percent favoring cuts and 71 percent against. Just 26 percent of Minnesotans would want Klobuchar to vote to cut Medicare, while 69 percent say to vote against.

The numbers are almost as sharp on support for cutting Medicaid in all four states: Ohio is 33 percent in favor to 61 percent against; Missouri is 32 percent to 63 percent; Montana is 36 percent to 59 percent; and Minnesota 33 to 62 percent.

The Social Security numbers are just as sharp:

In order to reduce the national debt, would you support or oppose cutting spending on Social Security, which is the retirement program for the elderly?

Ohio: 16% support, 80% oppose
Missouri: 17% support, 76% oppose
Montana: 20% support, 76% oppose
Minnesota: 23% support, 72% oppose

Tester shouldn’t be tempted to get all deficit peacocky on this one. His opponent in 2012, Rep. Denny Rehberg, was one of just a few House Republicans to vote against the Ryan budget, presumably because he knew what a toxic proposal it is. It would be foolish in the extreme for Tester to try to run to the right of Rehberg on that one. For Sherrod Brown, this polling shows that his strong and ongoing support of safety net programs is right where he needs to be.

Klobuchar and McCaskill, however, might have some problems. Klobuchar has been making noises about tying the debt ceiling to deficit reduction, a scenario that has thus far been all about cutting those programs.

But by far the Dem who is the most potential trouble on these issues is Claire McCaskill, co-sponsor of a disastrous spending cuts bill that would destroy Social Security and Medicare. She has since vowed to protect Social Security, but also hasn’t dropped her support for the very bad spending cap bill, a bill that doesn’t exempt these programs.

It’s pretty clear that the national mood matches that found in these states: the American public doesn’t want to see Medicaid, Medicare, or Social Security sacrificed to the deficit gods. Dems need to keep that in mind, but they also need to remember that when Republicans are talking about the deficit, they’re not actually talking about the deficit. They don’t care about the deficit, they care about privatizing anything that isn’t nailed down. The added bonus for them would be finally destroying these programs that have kept a strong, Democratic coalition together for generations.




Electricity from microbes a step closer: study


Microbes may be harnessed more easily to generate energy after a finding about how they naturally let off tiny electrical charges, scientists said on Monday.

The bacteria, found to have microscopic “wires” sticking through their cell walls, might also be used to clean up oil spills or uranium pollution, according to the report in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The discovery about the exact structure of the bacteria and their atom-sized wires would permit researchers to design electrodes with better contacts to pick up the charges, let off by the microbes to avoid a build-up of electricity.

“We should be able to use this finding to harvest more electricity from the bacteria,” lead author Tom Clarke of the University of East Anglia in England told Reuters by telephone.

“Until now it’s been a bit like trying to build a radio when you don’t know what type or size of battery you are going to put into it,” he said.

“Now we have a blueprint of what the battery looks like,” he said of the study, also involving scientists at the U.S. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

“All living things generate electricity, it’s not the stuff of science fiction,” he added. Humans, for instance, use electricity to keep their hearts pumping and brains thinking.

And the bacteria use their wires to discharge excess electricity. “If they get a build-up of charge then everything else stops,” from feeding to respiration, he said.


Still, it could take perhaps a decade to develop use of the bacteria, a type called Shewanella oneidensis that live in oxygen-free environments, as an attractive power source for everything from lights to mobile phone chargers.

Before that, existing uses of such bacteria needed to become 100 or 1,000 times more efficient, he said.

The findings could also help speed development of microbe-based agents to clean up oil or uranium pollution, as well as use of fuel cells powered by sewage or compost.

“These bacteria don’t need energy-rich fuels. They can take in oil slicks, waste oil … degrade it and at the same time produce energy,” he said of the research, funded by the British Biotechnology Council and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Or in stricken nuclear plants, bacteria could separate uranium from waste water, he said. Microbes might in future be enlisted to clean up any accidents such as Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi disaster in March.




Calif. prisons may have to free thousands

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday that federal judges had the right to order California to drastically reduce its overcrowded prison population.

The state had complained the order would force it to release up to 46,000 inmates from its correctional facilities.

California, which has the largest state prison system in the United States with 165,000 inmates, has the nation’s worst overcrowding problem and has been fighting a budget crisis for years. Lawyers for state inmates argued inadequate medical care is “cruel and unusual” punishment banned by the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Relying on a special master’s report and other studies, a three-judge panel in San Francisco found the “current level of crowding far exceeds even the maximum safe and reasonable capacity of the California prison system, which, by [the system’s] own determination, is [at] 179 percent design capacity for prisons holding male prisoners.”

The panel said it concluded, “The constitutional deficiencies in the California prison system’s medical and mental health system cannot be resolved in the absence of a prisoner release order.”

The three-judge panel’s order gave the state 45 days to “provide the court with a population reduction plan that will in no more than two years reduce the population of the … adult institutions to 137.5 percent of their combined design capacity.”

Most analysts said that meant California would have to release at least 46,000 inmates, about a fourth of its prison population, unless the Supreme Court reversed.

But Monday the narrow court majority affirmed the lower court’s ruling. Justice Anthony Kennedy, a key swing vote, joined the court’s four liberals in the ruling.

“The court-mandated population limit is necessary to remedy the violation of prisoners’ constitutional rights and is authorized by the federal [1995 Prison Litigation Reform Act],” Kennedy’s opinion said. “If a prison deprives prisoners of basic sustenance, including adequate medical care, the courts have a responsibility to remedy the resulting Eighth Amendment violation.”

Document: Read the Supreme Court’s decision


Wisconsin Orders Recall Election For Three GOP State Senators




Anti-Choice Groups Oppose Anti-Terrorism Legislation

Unfortunately for the anti-choice movement, it doesn’t work that way.   Stomping your feet and playing the victim doesn’t mean that you get special dispensation to break the law.

The FACE Act was signed into law by Bill Clinton in response to the rising tide of right wing terrorism during his administration, especially since so much of it was aimed at abortion clinic employees and patients.  Despite anti-choicers pretending that there’s no relationship between rising levels of harassment and overt terrorist acts, the ugly fact of the matter is that clinics that are targeted for harassment campaigns are far more likely to be targeted for terrorism.  In fact, some of the assassinations and assassination attempts were the direct result of clinic harassment, as the shooters were part of the ugly mobs that gather around abortion clinics to abuse women seeking abortion care.  Dr. David Gunn was shot by a so-called protester in 1993, and in the same year, Dr. Tiller was shot in both arms by a woman who jumped out of the mob with the intent to murder him.  Since then, anti-choicers who escalate from harassment to terrorism have grown savvier, putting a little more physical distance between themselves and the anti-choicers who haven’t escalated past harassment, but the connections between harassment campaigns and violence aren’t some fantasy dreamed up by pro-choicers.

It’s more than a little alarming to see the anti-choice movement mindlessly defend minor violations of the FACT Act, even though by their own reporting, the accusations are pretty cut-and-dry in terms of anti-choicers veering towards violence against patients and clinic workers: threatening to murder, blocking doors, and getting into altercations with women entering clinics who don’t want to listen to your misogynist, Bible-thumping blather.  Defending minor acts of abuse and violence sends a signal, especially to the unhinged (who are well-represented in the ranks of people whose obsession with controlling women rules their lives), that they are supported and encouraged in their desires to be violent.  People who escalate to shooting doctors and bombing clinics often spend months and even years testing the waters—vandalizing clinics, making death threats, flinging themselves at patients and employees, stalking clinic workers and threatening them at home—and if they’re nabbed early in their evolution, perhaps acts of violence can be stopped.  If anti-choicers cared one whit about “life”, they would support the DOJ’s attempts to stop murders before they happen.

Instead, you get the strong impression from many anti-choice publications that they believe that the government should only get involved after it’s too late.

The good news is there’s not much they can do at this point to stop the DOJ from doing their job and enforcing the FACE Act. You can write a million articles where you refuse to offer a single detail of the DOJ’s case but you quote the defense extensively, but that doesn’t mean the DOJ won’t present the evidence when it actually comes up in court.




Ginger or Maryanne?

Sometimes there’s choices in life that define you as a human being.  Whether it’s Yankees vs. Mets, Betty vs. Veronica, or Jm. J Bullock vs. Richard Simmons, you’re either strongly passionate for one or the other.  Perhaps no choice has divided mankind more than Ginger vs. Maryann.  Some prefer the sultry redheaded Tina Louise, who’s Marilyn Monroesque sexiness made a nation of millions wish they were stranded with her instead of Gilligan.  While others were more smitten with the girl next door charms of Dawn Wells as Maryann.  We had a poll here not too long ago, and after over 8,000 votes it was 65% for Maryann and 35% for Ginger. But the debate may never truly end.

I was lucky enough to get an email from Brian Anderson who pointed out a great point/counterpoint piece he and his pal Bill Furlow did on the whole Ginger vs. Maryann debate.  I was going to link it up, but since it was on Geocities, they let me reprint it here.  Enjoy.  All of the pictures below will link to a bigger version, so enjoy the trip!

A Handmade Camera And A Vintage Trailer: On The Road To A Lost America

“Sister Reiddie was a Pentecostal minister who was just amazing. When I photographed her, she couldn’t decide whether she should be holding a Bible or a shotgun.”

Read story from NPR here.


VIDEO: Tell Secretary Clinton to Say No to the Kochs

From Robert Greenwald:

Tell her HERE!

“We are Michigan” Capitol Protest Rocks Lansing

A least 10,000 Michigan teachers, students, and other activists rallied at the Capitol in Lansing on Saturday to protest both past and future budget cuts to public education. Gov. Rick Snyder proposed cutting $300 in per-pupil funding for the fiscal year starting on Oct. 1 on top of the $170 in per-pupil funding that was already slashed this fiscal year.

Some of the activists in the crowd were calling for Gov. Rick Snyder to be removed from office for this and other recent policies, particularly his passage of the Emergency Financial Manager bill we told you about earlier.

“Citizen Veto” of SB 5 on track

Two positive updates on the battle to repeal Ohio’s Senate Bill 5 and restore collective bargaining rights to 350,000 public employees.

First, the signature gathering efforts over the last month have been wildly successful. The group We Are Ohio announced that they have over 214,000 signatures out of the 231,149 required to get SB 5 on the ballot – that’s 93 percent!

“This is an unprecedented level of support from communities all across the state,” Fazekas said. “We continue to struggle to keep up with demand for petitions.”


With more than 350,000 public workers impacted by the bill, even supporters have said they anticipate the opposition coalition will collect enough names to make the ballot. Fazekas said the group is confident it will meet its goal of 450,000 to 500,000 signatures, which must be gathered in at least 44 of 88 counties.

Given that the deadline is June 29, 2011, or ninety days since the effort was approved, it’s safe to say that the Citizen Veto is well on track.

In addition, despite the efforts of Gov. John Kasich and his allies to demonize public employees and convince voters that stripping rights is necessary to balancing the budget, Senate Bill 5 is fairly unpopular. A Quinnipiac poll from May 10-16 showed that 54 percent were in favor of repealing SB 5, while only 36 percent want it kept.

The challenge will be from those 10 percent who remain undecided – they are the ones who will be crucial once the Citizen Veto is on the ballot.


Tell HUD & Louisiana to fix the discriminatory Road Home!

In 2008, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center (GNOFHAC) filed a lawsuit against the State of Louisiana and HUD because the design of the Road Home program, the program designed to help people recover from Hurricane Katrina, is inherently racially discriminatory. A few weeks ago GNOFHAC was engaged in promising settlement talks with Louisiana and HUD, but now that a federal appellate court has lifted an injunction against them they have walked away from settlement negotiations. Last week, Louisiana announced an Action Plan Amendment designed to address some of our concerns, but it just won’t provide enough resources to fix the problem.

We’ve all had a difficult road home after Katrina.  In fact many of the people we represent still aren’t back in their homes. And for many of us the discriminatory effect of the Road Home Program made it even more difficult.

Sign our petition telling HUD and Louisiana officials to come back to the settlement table and finish hammering out a solution that helps homeowners who were hurt by the discriminatory design but who haven’t yet been helped.




Charity is no substitute for justice withheld. ~ Saint Augustine

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