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How to Save a Trillion Dollars


Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, China is putting the final touches on a new class of DF-21 missiles expressly designed to sink the Ford and its sister ship as well as their 5,000-person crews. China’s missiles, which will likely cost about $10 million each, could keep the Navy’s carriers so far away from Taiwan that the short-range aircraft they bear would be useless in any conflict over the tiny island’s fate.

Aircraft carriers, born in the years before World War II, are increasingly obsolete platforms of war. They feature expensive manned aircraft in an age when budgets are being squeezed and less expensive drones are taking over. While the U.S. and its allies flew hundreds of attack missions against targets in coastal Libya last month, cruise missiles delivered much of the punch, and U.S. carriers were notable only for their absence. Yet the Navy, backed by the Pentagon and Congress, continues to churn them out as if it were still 1942.

“It’s just tradition, the industrial base and some other old and musty arguments” that keep the shipyards building them, says Thomas Barnett, a former Pentagon deep thinker and now chief strategist at Wikistrat, a geopolitical-analysis firm. “We should scale back our carrier design to something much cheaper and simpler. Think of mother ships launching waves of cheap drones — that would actually be more frightening and intimidating.” Even Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned last year of “the growing antiship capabilities of adversaries” before asking what in Navy circles had long been the unaskable question. “Do we really need 11 carrier strike groups for another 30 years when no other country has more than one?” […]

It may seem strange to talk about defense cuts while the U.S. is waging one war in Afghanistan, is mopping up a second in Iraq and has just launched a half war in Libya. But those conflicts have made it easy to forget the warning of Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that “the single biggest threat to our national security is our debt.” Which points to an almost tragic irony of Washington’s $700 billion annual appetite for military stores: we are borrowing cash from China to pay for weapons that we would presumably use against it. If the Chinese want to slay us, they don’t need to attack us with their missiles. They just have to call in their loans.

Diminishing Returns
Numbers alone tell much of the story: we are now spending 50% more (even excluding the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) than we did on 9/11. We are spending more on the military than we did during the Cold War, when U.S. and NATO troops stared across Germany’s Fulda Gap at a real super-power foe with real tanks and thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at U.S. cities. In fact, the U.S. spends about as much on its military as the rest of the world combined.

And yet we feel less secure. We’ve waged war nonstop for nearly a decade in Afghanistan — at a cost of nearly a half-trillion dollars — against a foe with no army, no navy and no air force. Back home, we are more hunkered down and buttoned up than ever as political figures (and eager defense contractors) have sounded a theme of constant vigilance against terrorists who have successfully struck only once. Partly as a consequence, we are an increasingly muscle-bound nation: we send $1 billion destroyers, with crews of 300 each, to handle five Somali pirates in a fiberglass skiff.

While the U.S.’s military spending has jumped from $1,500 per capita in 1998 to $2,700 in 2008, its NATO allies have been spending $500 per person over the same span. As long as the U.S. is overspending on its defense, it lets its allies skimp on theirs and instead pour the savings into infrastructure, education and health care. So even as U.S. taxpayers fret about their health care costs, their tax dollars are paying for a military that is subsidizing the health care of their European allies.

In January, Gates proposed cutting $78 billion from Pentagon accounts over five years. President Obama trumped that April 13, calling for $400 billion in cuts by 2023. He offered no specifics beyond saying he and Gates would lead a “fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities and our role in a changing world.”
Read more

GOP Cuts Disaster Preparedness Funds By $1.5 Billion



John Boehner’s Pathetic 10-Page Jobs Plan

On Thursday, House Republicans finally unveiled their grand plan for tackling America’s jobs crisis and creating jobs for the unemployed. It clocks in at a mere 10 pages, in large type, chock full of slick images. What’s missing is, well, any legitimate solutions to lowering the nation’s 8.6 percent jobless rate. The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein wrote, “It looks like the staffer in charge forgot the assignment was due on Thursday rather than Friday, and so cranked the font up to 24 and began dumping clip art to pad out the plan.”

The criticism is well deserved. Reading the “House Republican Plan for America’s Job Creators” (PDF), released by the House GOP leadership, is an exercise in wonderment: you wonder what the GOPers actually propose. Several of the “Republican Solutions” are a bit vague. “After a systematic review of our visa system, the Congress should undertake prudent reforms,” reads one “solution.” Another “solution”: “We will work to control the federal deficit to assure investors and entrepreneurs that our nation’s elected leaders are finally getting serious about paying off the debt over time.” Details? Apparently, the GOP view was, why bother?

The GOP plan boiled down to its essence is rather retro: Roll back regulation, lower taxes, pass free trade agreements, shrink the US debt, and boost energy production. In other words,  the GOP’s overall agenda for the past three decades. There’s nothing in this plan that is specific regarding the current jobs crisis, nothing to address such key issues as long-term unemployment, skyrocketing youth unemployment, the war on unemployment benefits in the states (PDF), the use and efficacy of job retraining for laid-off workers, or the polarization of the American work force. It’s empty rhetoric, recycled talking points, and campaign slogans.

Klein zeroed in on the fundamental flaw:

[T]he document doesn’t admit the existence of a particular unemployment crisis that might require a tailored response. The only problem it admits is, well, Democrats. “For the past four years, Democrats in Washington have enacted policies that undermine these basic concepts which have historically placed America at the forefront of the global marketplace,” the document explains on its first page. “As a result, most Americans know someone who has recently lost a job, and small businesses and entrepreneurs lack the confidence needed to invest in our economy. Not since the Great Depression has our nation’s unemployment rate been this high this long.”

You don’t have to admire the Democratic policy agenda to wonder if someone in Speaker Boehner’s office shouldn’t have raised his hand and pointed out that George W. Bush was president four years ago and he was a Republican, and perhaps there should be a pro forma mention of Wall Street and the financial crisis somewhere in this narrative. Sadly, the most significant employment crisis in generations has stopped generating new thinking and has become simply another opportunity to bash the other party while pushing your perennial agenda. That’s a shame, because with 15 million unemployed and the recovery sputtering slight, we really do need new thinking and a sense of urgency on behalf of both the unemployed and the economy. In fact, we need it now more than ever.

That new thinking isn’t coming from the Republican Party. But the Democrats now have a chance to make hay out of the GOP jobs plan, like they did with Rep. Paul Ryan’s attack on Medicare. With the economy the most pressing issue for American voters, this this puny plan provides more political ammo for the Ds. Yet if they attack the GOPers on jobs, they’ll have to be able to present a strong case that they can do better, and the last election shows how much of a challenge that can be.

Here’s the complete GOP plan:



U.N. sees risk of crisis of confidence in dollar


The United Nations warned on Wednesday of a possible crisis of confidence in, and even a “collapse” of, the U.S. dollar if its value against other currencies continued to decline.

In a mid-year review of the world economy, the U.N. economic division said such a development, stemming from the falling value of foreign dollar holdings, would imperil the global financial system.

The report, an update of the U.N. “World Economic Situation and Prospects 2011” report first issued in December, noted that the dollar exchange rate against a basket of other key currencies had reached its lowest level since the 1970s.

This trend, it said, had recently been driven in part by interest rate differentials between the United States and other major economies and growing concern about the sustainability of the U.S. public debt, half of which is held by foreigners.

“As a result, further (expected) losses of the book value of the vast foreign reserve holdings could trigger a crisis of confidence in the reserve currency, which would put the entire global financial system at risk,” it said.

The 17-page report referred at another point to the “still looming risk of a collapse of the United States dollar.”

Rob Vos, a senior U.N. economist involved with the report, said if emerging markets “massively start selling off dollars, then you can have this risk of a slide in the dollar.

“We’re not saying the collapse is imminent, but the factors are further building up that we could quickly come to that stage if other things are not improving quickly on other fronts — like the risk of the U.S. not being able to service its obligations,” he told Reuters.

U.N. economists have for some time queried whether the dollar should continue to be the world’s sole reserve currency. Others have also expressed concerns about U.S. finances.

Standard & Poor’s threatened on April 18 to downgrade the United States’ prized AAA credit rating unless the Obama administration and Congress found a way to slash the yawning federal budget deficit within two years.

A downgrade would erode the status of the United States as the world’s most powerful economy and the dollar’s role as the dominant global currency.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said on Wednesday the U.S. government would “never default on its obligations.”


Assessing the broader global economy, the U.N. report said recovery from the 2008 financial crisis continued to be led by China, India and Brazil, but that their growth outlook was moderating due to fears of inflation and domestic asset price bubbles.

It took a slightly more optimistic view of world growth prospects than it did six months ago, forecasting 3.3 percent expansion this year and 3.6 percent in 2012, compared with 3.1 percent and 3.5 percent respectively.

The United Nations uses a different exchange rate calculation than the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, making its global growth figures slightly lower.

It boosted its forecast for U.S. gross domestic product growth this year from 2.2 percent to 2.6 percent but kept next year’s estimate steady at 2.8 percent.

The report cut Japan’s growth outlook this year by more than a third to 0.7 percent following March’s catastrophic earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant crisis. It put damage to buildings and infrastructure at about 25 trillion yen ($305 billion) or 5 percent of GDP.

Despite a recent surge in oil prices, it predicted that barring major disruptions from political unrest in the Middle East, they would level off at an average $99 a barrel this year — close to the price of U.S. crude on Wednesday — and fall to an average of $90 next year.

“Supply and demand conditions do not warrant a continued upward trend,” it said.

Food prices have also been soaring but the report said better harvests were expected to moderate them in the second half of this year.



Obama is committed to permitting new renewable projects. So far, it’s working

The Bush administration issued more than 40,000 permits for oil and gas drilling on public lands, but approved zero solar projects (even though they received 300 applications). In contrast, in 2010 alone the Bureau of Land Management approved 9 solar projects representing 3,682 megawatts of electric power, reports Climate Central.

Why the difference? According to Chase Huntley of the Wilderness Society, the Obama administration is committed to permitting new renewable projects: “This administration is taking action, not just tap dancing on process.”

Giant government bureaucracies are hard to change, though, so it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to get permitting for renewables anywhere near where it is for oil and gas.

Interestingly, because extraction of conventional energy sources including coal, gas and oil has been occurring on public lands for a century and the permitting processes are so well established, proposals for such projects may face easier journeys through the bureaucracy compared to renewable energy endeavors.


REPORT: Public Lands Ripe for Renewable Energy Development, Report Says




Extreme Weather Driving up Food Prices

It’s not just gas prices that are skyrocketing – it’s also the cost of food.  The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s World Food Price Index, which tracks 55 food-commodity items, rose nine times in the past 10 months. Why? A big reason is the extreme weather we’re seeing around the globe, which scientists have long predicted would be one of the most obvious  consequences of our failure to cut greenhouse gas pollution.  Drought in China has affected 6.5 million hectares of farmland, with potentially devastating impact on the country’s rice production.  In the U.S., floods along the Mississippi River have damaged 3.6 million acres of cropland (mostly wheat).  And it is the poor, of course, who are taking the hit. Since last June, the World Bank estimates that higher food prices have pushed 44 million people into poverty. [Bloomberg]

Global warming could be twice as bad as forecast


Global warming’s effects this century could be twice as extreme as estimated just six years ago, scientists reported on Tuesday.

Earth’s median surface temperature could rise 9.3 degrees F (5.2 degrees C) by 2100, the scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found, compared to a 2003 study that projected a median temperature increase of 4.3 degrees F (2.4 degrees C).

The new study, published in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate, said the difference in projection was due to improved economic modeling and newer economic data than in previous scenarios.

Earlier climate warming may also have been masked by the global cooling effect of 20th-century volcanoes and by the emission of soot, which can add to warming, the scientists said in a statement.

To reach their conclusions, the MIT team used computer simulations that took world economic activity as well as climate processes into account, they said in a statement.

These projections indicate that “without rapid and massive action,” this dramatic warming will take place this century, the statement said.

The outcome looks much worse if nothing is done to combat climate change, compared to earlier projections. But there is less change if strong policies are put in place now to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Without action, said study co-author Ronald Prinn, “there is significantly more risk than we previously estimated. This increases the urgency for significant policy action.”

The study was released as U.S. President Barack Obama announced a plan to set national emissions standards for cars and trucks to cut climate-warming pollution and as a bill to institute a cap-and-trade system to curb greenhouse gases was debated in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.




Pssst. Health Care Reform Is Moving Forward.

You hear a lot about state officials trying to fight the Affordable Care Act, whether by challenging it in the federal courts or refusing to implement its provisions. But plenty of states officials are enthusiastic about the law. And perhaps none are moving as quickly, or effectively, to follow through on the law as Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley.

Maryland has, in some ways, flown under the radar on implementing the Affordable Care Act. It has always been a leader but hasn’t racked up any first-in-the-nation accomplishments. It was the third to pass legislation enabling a health exchange, the second to set up an exchange board and one of six states participating in HHS’s Early Innovator grant program, for states leading the way on exchange information technology.

But don’t count Maryland out – the state has quietly begun moving at a breakneck pace to lay the foundation for a health exchange, movement that has caught the attention of the Obama administration. …

Gov. Martin O’Malley signed the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange into law in late April and, just a month later, filled out its board with six-appointments, announced here Thursday morning.

The board will host its first meeting June 3 and follow with a second meeting later in the month. The state also plans to apply for additional funding, in the form of a health exchange establishment grant, by the end of the month.

“This is not an announcement and pause for the next step event,” Joshua Sharfstein, director of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said Thursday. “It’s an announcement and we’re meeting next week. There are places in the country that are not quite amenable to that, but that’s not what we’re dealing with in Maryland.”

In retrospect, Maryland was an obvious candidate to move aggressively on health care reform. It has the right political profile, repeatedly electing liberal officials to both statewide and national office. And it has a history of health care innovation. Its system for regulating hospital prices has gotten a lot of praise from experts who believe it has held down costs without reducing quality or access.

Still, it helps to have the right people in the right place. O’Malley, who is chairman of the Democratic Governor’s Association, is a star on the rise. Anthony Brown, the lieutenant governor, has made health care reform something of a personal crusade, giving a series of well-received speeches about it. Sharfstein, the new secretary of health, was deputy commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and, before that, an advisor to Congressman Henry Waxman. (Note: Sharfstein is also an old personal friend.)

Of course, other states are moving forward on health care reform. Among them is California, which I visited earlier this month and about which I will be writing shortly. It’s a good case study in what can happen when state officials work with the law rather than against it, although it’s also a reminder of just how challenging implementation is even for officials who want reform to work–whether they be in California, Maryland, or any other state. Stay tuned.

Note: Speaking of states working on health care reform, the governor of Vermont just signed a single-payer plan into law. Actually, it’s not exactly a single-payer plan, but it’s still a really interesting idea. I’ll write about that, too, when I get the chance. Yes, there’s too much news happening right now–and I’m too slow to write about it all.


Despite What Boehner Says, Republicans Have Voted To Cut Medicare, Repeatedly—the whole history here.




Republican Judge Strikes Down Ban On Corporate Contributions Directly To Candidates

Reagan-appointed federal Judge James Cacheris just ruled that corporations have a constitutional right to contribute money directly to political candidates:

In a ruling issued late Thursday, U.S. District Judge James Cacheris tossed out part of the indictment against two men accused of illegally reimbursing donors to Hillary Clinton’s Senate and presidential campaigns.

Cacheris says that under last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court case, corporations enjoy the same right as people to contribute to campaigns.

The ruling is the first of its kind. The Citizens United case had applied only to independent corporate expenditures, not to actual campaign contributions.

Today’s decision extends beyond the egregious Citizen United decision because Citizens United only permits corporations to run their own ads supporting a candidate or otherwise act independently of a candidate’s campaign. Cacheris’ opinion would also allow the Chamber of Commerce and Koch Industries, for instance, to contribute directly to political campaigns.

If today’s decision is upheld on appeal, it could be the end of any meaningful restrictions on campaign finance — including limits on the amount of money wealthy individuals and corporations can give to a candidate. In most states, all that is necessary to form a new corporation is to file the right paperwork in the appropriate government office. Moreover, nothing prevents one corporation from owning another corporation. Thus, under Cacheris’ decision, a cap on overall contributions becomes meaningless, because corporate donors can simply create a series of shell corporations for the purpose of evading such caps.


Just the Facts: It’s a Locking-People-Up Problem

The American problem with mass incarceration is less about crime than it is about how—and who—we lock up.

The crime rate has been dropping for 15 years. But the majority of people believe it goes up every year.

U.S. Census Bureau "Crimes and Crime Rates by Type of Offense: 1980-2008" and Gallup Poll Social Series: Crime (2010)


In the past 30 years, the number of people in the penal system increased much more rapidly than the population.

Bureau of Justice Statistics: Correctional Populations in the United States (2009) and U.S. Census Bureau National Population Estimates


The United States imprisons more people than any other country.

King's College London International Centre for Prison Studies: World Prison Population List (eighth edition)


And we don’t imprison fairly, especially when it comes to drug laws.

Bureau of Justice Statistics, and U.S. Census Bureau National Population Estimates


Fixing the prison problem could solve our money problems.

US Census Bureau 2010 Census: Total Corrections Expenditures




WaPo: Lawrence O’Donnell hits his marks as Keith Olbermann’s successor on MSNBC

Now here’s something you don’t see every day. Actually, you don’t see it any day: a cable-news host shredding his own employer for aiding and abetting a national “charade.”

“NBC has created a monster and it is called Donald Trump,” began Lawrence O’Donnell on his MSNBC show, “The Last Word,” last month. For nearly 15 minutes, O’Donnell hammered away, calling Trump “the most deranged egomaniac in the history of the NBC Entertainment division” and denouncing his would-be presidential run and “birther” allegations against President Obama as a “sleazy” publicity stunt for his NBC show, “The Celebrity Apprentice.” O’Donnell demanded that NBC executives disclose — “tonight, before you leave your offices” — whether Trump had already committed to another season of “Apprentice,” a disclosure that would have exposed his campaign as a sham.[…]

After his very public broadside against his employer, he waited for a reaction. And waited. But there were no angry calls from NBC executives, no take-him-to-the-woodshed meetings at 30 Rock, MSNBC’s home. “We didn’t get a single call” from the brass, O’Donnell says, a sly smile breaking across his lips.

The non-reaction bespeaks either the network’s tolerance for self-embarrassment or O’Donnell’s critical importance to MSNBC. A frequent commentator and former fill-in host for MSNBC star Keith Olbermann, O’Donnell was awarded his own prime-time program at 10 p.m. on MSNBC only last September. Just four months later, after Olbermann’s stormy relationship with the network finally blew apart, MSNBC hustled O’Donnell into Olbermann’s plum 8 p.m. spot.

And just like that, O’Donnell became the leadoff man for MSNBC’s prime-time lineup of reliable libs and a key part — maybe the key part — of the network. Olbermann proved that the right host (and the right issue: opposition to the Iraq war) could draw in like-minded viewers and have a halo effect on the whole channel. Cable-news rival CNN has shown exactly the opposite: A weak program at 8 p.m. can be quicksand for the entire nightly slate.

Since his battlefield promotion, the 59-year-old O’Donnell has settled in. Though he can’t quite match Olbermann’s verbal pyrotechnics, he has connected with Olbermann’s audience. In the head-to-head battle between cable talkers, Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly out-draws O’Donnell by roughly 3 to 1 each night (just as he regularly trounced Olbermann). Nevertheless, O’Donnell has largely retained Olbermann’s million-plus nightly viewers, a tactical victory for MSNBC.

O’Donnell sounds almost as surprised as anyone by this turn of events. “I’m here for one simple reason,” he says after doing his show one night, his makeup still in place. “I subbed for Keith and the ratings did not go down. No one can explain to me how the ratings stayed the same.” He adds, knowingly: “This is entirely a luck business. William Goldman [the eminent screenwriter] said it best: ‘No one knows anything.’ ”

While Olbermann was plainly left of center, O’Donnell has described himself on air as a “socialist.” He’s in favor of banning handguns (or more accurately, controlling ammunition sales). He’s against the death penalty, for raising taxes and in favor of universal government health care. “Liberals amuse me,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program after the election last fall. “. . . I live to the extreme left of you mere liberals.”

On air, O’Donnell can bring the heat — he has called O’Reilly “a joke” and “a liar” — but he’s also wary of engaging in too much mud wrestling. His discussions about politics with Olbermann holdovers such as Richard Wolffe and The Post’s Dana Milbank tend to be mostly sober and only mildly inflammatory.

O’Donnell also dabbles in lighter fare, such as Charlie Sheen’s looniness or Lindsay Lohan’s wayward ways. One of his segments on a program last week was a debate between Jon Stewart and O’Reilly about Obama’s decision to invite the rapper Common to the White House. He ran a clip of the discussion — lifted from “The O’Reilly Factor,” no less — that rambled for nearly four minutes. “At least I didn’t have to talk,” he quipped afterward.

O’Donnell says he’d like to do a more in-depth work, with a broader range of topics, but it’s not in the cards.

“If it were up to me, we’d be doing a PBS show,” he says. “I’m trying to train my show instincts to what works in this environment. There are things that deserve better conversations than we’re capable of having in eight-minute blocks. But a Jim Lehrer show or a Charlie Rose can’t happen here. Mostly, it’s me talking to people who agree with me . . . It’s not ‘Crossfire’ anymore. It turns out what works is op-ed TV, like the op-ed page of a newspaper [rather] than a debate.”

O’Donnell says he never planned to be on TV, let alone become one of its more prominent talking heads. But his varied career seems like perfect preparation for the gig.[…]

Married to the actress Kathryn Harrold, O’Donnell started acting, too, with bit parts in “Monk” and “The Practice” and a recurring role as a lawyer on HBO’s “Big Love.” Despite his day job, O’Donnell hasn’t completely sworn off fictional TV; he has a series under consideration at HBO, which he has described as a sitcom “about rich people in the age of [convicted con artist Bernie] Madoff.” […]

An evolving pundit […]

“The Last Word’s” senior executive producer, Izabella “Izzy” Povich, says O’Donnell has quickly warmed to the faster pace of an 8 p.m. program after his brief run at 10 p.m. “I think he’s really coming into his own,“ says Povich, who was Olbermann’s producer (and is the niece by marriage of trash-talkmeister Maury Povich). “He’s a smart, sharp political analyst, because he’s lived it and worked it. What you’re seeing is him translating that into television.”

What matters in cable, Povich says, “is what gets the anchor ticking, what makes them emotional and wanting to fight. Any good cable show on TV has that common thread.”

O’Donnell can certainly get feisty and exude righteous vigor. On the few occasions when he’s had conservative guests, he’s tended to interrupt and argue. Watch his interview with Condoleezza Rice earlier this month for a vivid example. No doubt, as O’Donnell points out, Rice was stuck in auto-response mode, but O’Donnell barely let her respond, drawing several increasingly testy let-me-finish complaints from the usually composed former secretary of state.

Sometimes he goes even further. On the day Obama released his long-form birth certificate last month, O’Donnell had kooky birther Orly Taitz as a guest. O’Donnell tried to beat a mea culpa out of Taitz, repeatedly asking her if she accepted the “veracity” of the document. Taitz declined and instead tried to open a new line of attack on the president’s origins.

“Get her off this show!” O’Donnell sputtered in frustration. “Get her off. You’re fired. Go play with Donald Trump!” At which point Taitz disappeared from the screen.

It made for an electric confrontation, but it also raised a few questions, not least of which was: Why have on a widely discredited fringe figure like Taitz in the first place?

‘Shouting and tantrums’

“On paper, O’Donnell might seem to have more actual experience in Washington than a former ESPN shouter like Keith,” says Tim Graham, the director of media analysis for the conservative Media Research Center in Alexandria. “But he’s done some very weird shouting and tantrums.”

Graham says O’Donnell tends to find “racism around every Republican corner,” such as his denunciation of a recent Republican National Committee ad that he said contained “a racist message” because it suggested that white union bosses were telling a black president what to do.

O’Donnell has enough detachment and self-awareness to acknowledge that some of what gets on cable is amped up for effect, that part of it is an act and that, to a certain extent, he’s playing a character. Real life, and actual governing, he says, bears little resemblance to what you see on a talk show. “Working with Republicans was never like that,” he says of his time in government. People on opposite sides of the aisle, he says, tended to address each other reasonably, respectfully and usually honestly, even when they sharply disagreed.

“My weakness is I don’t take a lot of this [incendiary rhetoric] seriously,” he says after his show. “It’s hard to get me outraged. I hate the yelling stuff. I hate the way interruptions look.”

Really? So why does he do it himself at times? Where’s the integrity in that?

O’Donnell smiles to himself at the mention of integrity and tells a story about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s days as a Hollywood screenwriter. Struggling to complete his first script, Fitzgerald watched as a far-less-talented colleague produced one commercial success after another.

“I don’t understand it,” one of America’s greatest writers said to a studio boss. “I do everything you ask me to do and fail. He’s a success and he writes [bleep].”

“Ah,” responded the boss, “but even [bleep] has its own integrity.”


Zombie Lie Laboratory Creates 62 Percent Tax Rate Plan

The Wall Street Journal editorial page at work

Columbia Journalism Review:

Stephen Moore of The Wall Street Journal editorial board hacks out an instant classic on how to mislead people with numbers.

The question-as-headline is your second red flag that this just might be a deeply disingenuous op-ed (the first is that it’s on The Wall Street Journal op-ed page):

A 62% Top Tax Rate?

The top marginal tax rate is just 35 percent now, of course. So how does Moore come up with the idea that Obama and the Democrats are pitching a 62 percent tax rate for the rich? Disingenuously.

First, here’s a classic example of misleading readers with an apples and oranges comparison:

If the Democrats’ millionaire surtax were to happen—and were added to other tax increases already enacted last year and other leading tax hike ideas on the table this year—this could leave the U.S. with a combined federal and state top tax rate on earnings of 62%. That’s more than double the highest federal marginal rate of 28% when President Reagan left office in 1989. Welcome back to the 1970s.

For Moore’s headline purposes he includes state taxes to get to 62 percent, but when he compare it to rates under Reagan, he doesn’t include state taxes.

The comparison is much more misleading than that, really. Moore is also including things like payroll taxes to come up with his fake 62 percent number, while not including them in that 28 percent Reagan figure. You can’t do that, boss.




Why you should ignore most of what you’re hearing about the presidential race

Jonathan Bernstein :

Let’s start by running through all the things that don’t matter — even though they are talked about endlessly by political reporters. First: Don’t bother looking at head-to-head matchups between Barack Obama and various Republican contenders. That’s the message from an excellent graph from political scientist Chris Wlezien, posted over at the Monkey Cage. It turns out that such polls this early in the process have basically no predictive value at all. As time goes on, that changes gradually. But this far out, nothing.

Second, ignore the endless speculation about who will run for the Republican nomination. I wouldn’t pay a lot of attention to the out-party nomination process. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it makes no difference at all who challenges the president, but the effects are probably very small. Perceived ideological extremism in a candidate might cost a few points, and other effects are certainly possible, but mostly what drives presidential election voting is a combination of partisanship and assessments of how the president is doing — assessments that are most heavily influenced by economic factors, although other things can come into play.

Meanwhile, state-level head-to-head polling is going to be especially meaningless. I recommend totally ignoring those until after the party conventions next year. No matter what state level polls say now, what happens in the states really just generally reflect national events and trends. It’s only in the last few weeks that state polls really start to matter — and that’s only if the race is so close that a slight shift in a state’s electorate, and in the electoral college overall, can make the difference.

So: ignore all those things. The only two things to watch, this far out, are: Indicators about the state of the economy, especially how it will likely look next year; and Obama’s approval ratings, which incorporate both economic factors and anything else that matters to people. When it comes to predicting who’s going to win in the end, nothing else really counts.


FEC Commissioner Laments: We’re Not Even Considered ‘Toothless’

The most senior member of the Federal Election Commission criticized the agency at a meeting on Thursday, saying it has become “less aggressive” in enforcing campaign finance laws, and pointed to statistics that show big drops in the average size of fines levied against campaigns, parties and political action committees.

“Back in ’06 and ’07, they said we were ‘feckless’ and ‘toothless,'” Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub said, according to Roll Call. “I am not sure what the adjective would be today.”

Weintraub’s comments came moments before the commission voted 4-2 to require FEC officials hand over any evidence that could clear up possible violations, a rule Weintraub said would hurt the agency’s “ability to build cases and to go after the most culpable parties.”

“The notion that we are a fierce investigative agency that people are quaking in their boots about is probably not the case,” she also said. “If it ever was the case, it certainly is not today.”

As evidence, Weintraub brought up statistics she heard at a recent staff briefing. From Roll Call:

From fiscal 2006 to 2010, the average fine levied against campaigns, parties and political action committees for violating campaign finance law dropped from $180,000 to $42,000, Weintraub said. Similarly, the number of conciliation agreements, deals on penalties hammered out between the FEC and those under investigation, fell from 91 in fiscal 2007 to 29 in fiscal 2010, which Weintraub called a “pretty sharp drop.”

After the meeting, Republican Commissioner Donald McGahn argued against Weintraub’s conclusions.

“Everyone can give speeches,” McGahn said. “But what she never mentioned was that law has changed considerably.

Read the rest here.


Groveling GOPers Get In Line on Global Warming

Rolling Stone:

Time was, you could sign on to the overwhelming scientific consensus that climate change is real and man-made and still have a shot at the GOP presidential nod. No longer. Today, unless you believe (or say you believe) global warming is a liberal hoax ginned up to justify higher taxes and tyrannical government, you might as well not apply. “Republican presidential hopefuls can believe in man-made global warming as long as they never talk about it, and oppose all the so-called solutions,” Marc Morano, a former aide to environment-loathing Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, tells AP. This puts the several 2012 contenders who once supported fighting climate change in a tough spot. And they’ve responded to the pressure by … taking it all back and begging for forgiveness?

• Tim Pawlenty: As governor of Minnesota he signed a law to cut greenhouse gas emissions and appeared in a radio ad where he said, “If we act now, we can create thousands of new jobs in clean energy industries before our overseas competitors beat us to it.” As a presidential contender, he said, “I don’t duck it, bob it, weave it, try to explain it away,” he said. “I’m just telling you, I made a mistake.”


• Mitt Romney: As Massachusetts governor, Romney introduced a Climate Protection Plan in 2004, requiring state agencies and large businesses to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. As a presidential candidate in 2008, he was willing to concede the reality of man-made climate change. He now says he’s unsure if human activity is responsible for climate change, that cap-and-trade would be “disastrous” for the U.S. economy, and that “we should not take extreme measures when we are unsure of human role in global warming.”

• Jon Huntsman: As governor of Utah, he appeared in an ad for an environmental group in which he said, “Now it’s time for Congress to act by capping greenhouse gas pollution,” and signed an agreement with seven other Western states and four Canadian provinces to reduce greenhouse gases. He now says that while he still believes in global warming, “much of this discussion happened before the bottom fell out of the economy, and until it comes back, this isn’t the moment,” to do anything about it.


Democrats Beware: GOP 2012 Field Stronger Than You Think

But the GOP contenders aren’t as bad as all that, the New York TimesMatt Bai argues today. For one thing, they’re all former governors, “and governors generally make far more compelling presidential candidates than senators, who tend to speak like parchment scrolls.” Moreover, governers tend to be pragmatic “in a way that voters appreciate,” and that’s especially true of two of the serious candidates – Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty – who had to win in Democrat-leaning states – Massachusetts and Minnesota, respectively. Also to consider: it’s early days yet. “[T]he best presidential candidates don’t start out as fully formed national figures …. They evolve to meet the moment by listening to voters in depressing banquet halls and cramped living rooms. They sharpen arguments through endless repetition and find their voices when no one in the press is really listening.” Finally, factor in that the economy, unless it comes roaring back pre-election, could to pull the president down all by itself, and it starts to look like Obama will have a fight on this hands.


Medicare Folly


Ezra Klein systematically dismantles Paul Ryan’s phony arguments in defense of his health care plan. It’s an excellent post and one that shows just how dishonest the Republicans are. (There’s no point in excerpting it, just read it.)

I only wish that Ezra had been as clear on Hardball today when Michael Smerconish was going on and on about the need to cut Medicare and Ezra replied that because Mitch McConnell is insisting on cuts in order to raise the debt ceiling, it will be done. That’s probably technically true. But the fact is that the debt ceiling will be raised whether Mitch McConnell holds his breath and turns blue or not. He knows which side his campaign contributions are buttered on and so does everyone else. Medicare will only be cut because the Democrats allow it.

It’s hard for me imagine that any good policy can come of this nonsense, but I’ll leave it to the wonks to sort it our later. But on the politics it’s very foolish. Right now you have a nice clean contrast and muddying it destroys the Dem advantage. But Ezra seems to be in the know so I guess at this point the only question seems to be how it will be cut. If that’s the case, anyone want to bet on the return of the Obama Death Panel boogeyman in 2012?


Rachel Maddow & Anthony Weiner: ‪GOP eager to leave May behind


Kimmel: Sarah Palin for President




Poll: Paul Ryan In Wisconsin

The survey finds Ryan with a personal favorability rating of 41%, with 46% unfavorability. […]

In the previous poll from three months ago Ryan’s favorability was at 36%-35%, and six months ago it was at 38%-30%.


Poll Shows Giuliani Leading GOP Pack


Herman Cain mini-surge continues!



The science of how dogs drink

Move over, cats. It turns out that dogs are (relatively) sophisticated drinkers, too, according to Harvard University zoologists. Last year, a viral video showcased cats’ deft ability to lap up a gravity-defying column of liquid with their tongues. Dogs’ tongues, meanwhile, were dismissed as “crude ladles.” But a new study, and a “mesmerizing” x-ray video (watch it below), illustrates that dogs drink the same way cats do: Reaching into the liquid with the tips of their tongues, pulling up a long column of liquid, and opening their mouths to capture it before it falls. The main difference: A dog dips its tongue farther into the bowl than a cat does, thus the extra slop.

The reaction: The battle between cats and dogs is far from over, says Ed Young at Discover. But for now, let’s call it “a draw.” And to think, for all these years, we’ve been wrong, says Esther Inglis-Arkell at io9: “The dog has been just as much a master of physics as the wily cat .” That said, the cat’s neatnik reputation remains intact: “A dog bowl usually looks like the aftermath of a localized rainstorm.” Watch the canine slurp process:





Republicans Use Abortion To Distract From Their Broken Jobs Promise

During the lead-up to the 2010 midterm elections, Republicans repeated two slogans that invariably swept them to victory and control of the House. Keeping their word, they immediately held a ceremonial sham vote to repeal the new health law pleasing their supporters and seemingly fulfilling one campaign promise.  Their other promise to create jobs has been mysteriously ignored and instead, Republicans proposed spending cuts that will cost the American people nearly a million more lost jobs. When the media informed Speaker John Boehner of the job losses, his flippant remark, “so be it,” demonstrated that the Republicans never intended to create jobs and didn’t care if they killed jobs with their spending cuts. Instead of creating jobs or helping the economy, the Republicans have spent four months on an issue that has been settled since 1973, and in the process have exposed themselves as misogynists who are pandering to the Religious Right. […]

The list of Dominionists’ attacks on women’s reproductive rights and jobs is never ending and it is questionable how dedicated the Republicans in Congress and state legislatures are to the Religious Right’s agenda. There is little doubt that there are religious fanatics in Congress and state houses who are sincere in their effort to turn America into a theocracy as well as ban abortion, and the danger to America is real. However, Republican pandering to evangelical fundamentalists is not so different than wealthy industrialists and oil magnates Charles and David Koch pandering to ignorant anti-government teabaggers. Both teabaggers and fundamentalists are being played by neo-conservatives whose goal is turning the government into a private corporate enterprise.

A 2010 survey reported that 80% of teabaggers identified themselves as Christians, and 57% “consider themselves part of the conservative Christian movement” and it explains the drive to deny women’s rights among teabags. Republicans and conservative think-tanks have ignored or whitewashed the religious zealotry that underlies the GOP’s legislative agenda because mainstream supporters are reticent to endorse radical fundamentalists’ agenda. It is easier for them to manipulate separate groups like teabags with promises of small government, fiscal responsibility, and lower taxes than to come out and propose privatizing the government. The pushback against eliminating Medicare is proof that the conservative privatization agenda is not going to endear teabaggers or religious fanatics to the Republican agenda.



Cat mom hugs baby kitten


Life Explained:


Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo

…is a grammatically correct sentence.


Whole Foods Market Plays Dumb on Activists’ Arrests, Unlabeled Frankenfoods

As OCA activists Alexis Baden-Mayer and Mike Durschmid await a June 7 court appearance resulting from their arrests at a Whole Foods GMO Food Dump in Chicago, the debate over whether food retailers should label genetically modified foods is heating up.

On May 24, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times published Monica Eng’s report, “Consumer Activists Seek Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods: They Have Become So Common That Even Organic Retailer Whole Foods Says It Can’t Avoid Stocking Some.”

Eng writes:

“Used in an estimated 70 percent of all American processed food, genetically modified crops make up 93 percent of all soy, 86 percent of all corn and 93 percent of all canola seeds planted in the U.S., which makes stocking only non-GMO products difficult, said Joe Dickson, quality standards coordinator for Whole Foods Market.

“‘Until there’s federal government mandated labeling of GMO ingredients, there’s no way to tell if packaged products contain GMO ingredients,” Dickson said. “Our approach is to work in the spirit of partnership with our suppliers to encourage them to take active steps to avoid GMO ingredients.'”

The idea that Whole Foods has no control over the unlabeled genetically modified foods sold in their stores is as credible as their initial claim that no anti-GMO activists had been arrested at their Chicago store. (Once they gave up pretending there was no arrest, they insisted they had nothing to do with it, even though police were on site before the GMO Food Dump began and could only have been alerted by Whole Foods employees or executives.)

We can’t let the “world’s leading natural and organic foods supermarket” continue to play dumb. It’s time Whole Foods’ took responsibility for the Frankenfoods in their stores and for trying to stifle anti-GMO activists!

Tell Whole Foods to respect consumers’ right to know about GMOs and stand up for activists’ right to free speech.

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“Complex problems have simple, easy to understand, wrong answers.” ~ H.L. Mencken


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Hi Cher at the tag end of the day. Thanks for the great posts. I do have to ponder the Buffalo buffalo construct – I believe it’s accurate and do understand it, but overall it says too little about Buffalo and how it’s buffaloed regularly. While not nearly so elegant, I vastly prefer a more direct analysis of that shopworn city’s fates, to wit: “Every city, sooner or later, shoots itself in the foot. Only Buffalo goes back and reloads.” Now THAT is a proper analysis of Buffalo! Keep your bison and befuddlement. Buffalo’s woes have nothing to do with buffaloes.

That said, have a great Memorial weekend everybody!