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What are Dems prepared to trade away?

Greg Sargent:

The House is set to vote [Tuesday] on a proposal for a debt ceiling hike without any spending cuts attached. It will be rejected — the GOP is unified against it, and even some Democrats will vote No. This is the “clean” vote Dems originally sought, but it’s now clear that Dems think it’s politically impossible not to accede to the GOP demand for deep cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

And so, with the Biden-led deficit negotiations set to resume this week, Mitch McConnell has now begun insisting that big Medicare cuts will be necessary in exchange for GOP support for the debt ceiling hike. Thanks to their willingness to draw a hard line at the outset, Republicans now appear poised to win big concessions in exchange for supporting something that they and everyone else have already said is inevitable.

As I reported on Friday, some Dems are insisting that there will be no Democratic support for any reductions in Medicare benefits in the Biden-negotiated compromise. But it may be too late for Dems to draw any hard lines. It’s unclear whether Dems will hold fast behind this vow and how it can be squared with the GOP’s insistence on deep cuts in exchange for the debt ceiling hike and with the obvious Dem eagerness to reach a deal. This is the dynamic to watch this week.

  • Is it a hostage situation, or a “grand bargain”? Relatedly, Jon Chait on the absurdity of McConnell’s demand for deep Medicare cuts or else even as he’s asking Obama to join him in a grand bargain for the good of both parties.


After gutting education and health care program, TX Gov. Rick Perry vetos bill to end tax dodging by Amazon

Boxer, Casey Urge Secretary Geithner To Back ‘No Budget, No Pay’ Bill As House Prepares To Vote On Debt Limit

In the letter, the Senators point out that their legislation – S. 388, which prevents lawmakers from being paid during a government shutdown or if the government defaults on its debts – was unanimously approved by the Senate months ago, but has since been blocked by House Republicans.

The Senators wrote, “There is no reason that Members of Congress and the President should be free from the pain that would be felt by our nation if the government were to default on its obligations, and if we cannot do our jobs and protect the full faith and credit of the United States, we should not get paid.”

In the House, Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) has introduced a similar bill. Prior to the 1995 government shutdown, Congressman Boehner expressed his support for this same legislation.



US Labor Department announces about $20 million to fund state-run programs aimed at improving employment outcomes for people with disabilities

The U.S. Department of Labor today announced the availability of approximately $20 million to fund programs that will improve education, training and employment opportunities for adults and youth with disabilities. A solicitation for grant applications is published in today’s edition of the Federal Register.

The Disability Employment Initiative is a joint project of the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration and its Office of Disability Employment Policy. Programs to be funded will serve individuals who are unemployed, underemployed and/or receiving Social Security disability benefits. The goals of the project are to improve coordination and collaboration across multiple service delivery systems, build effective partnerships that leverage public and private resources to better serve people with disabilities and, ultimately, improve employment outcomes of people with disabilities.

“Workers with disabilities suffer from one of the lowest employment rates of any group in the American population, even in times of prosperity,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “It is vital that state and local agencies work together with private sector partners to improve these statistics. Through this second round of funding, we are expanding the Disability Employment Initiative to include programs in additional states.”

Grantees under the Disability Employment Initiative are state workforce agencies. Nine — in Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, New Jersey, New York and Virginia — received grants through a first round of funding awarded in September 2010 for a period of three years.


The poor pay no taxes? That’s a big surprise to them

On the April 9 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, after co-host Gretchen Carlson stated that “yesterday we were reporting a story that 47 percent of all Americans don’t pay any taxes,” Fox Business host Stuart Varney stated: “Yes, 47 percent of households pay not a single dime in taxes. And some of those households actually make a profit from the Treasury.” Co-host Steve Doocy asked, “Is that fair.”

The message was clear: They’re freeloaders. Just a new version of “welfare queen.”[…]

The reality is that the income tax is one of a number of types of taxes that individuals pay, both over the course of their lifetimes and in a given year, and it makes little sense to treat it as though it were the only one that matters. Some 86 percent of working households pay more in payroll taxes than in federal income taxes. In fact, low- and moderate-income people pay a much larger share of their incomes in federal payroll taxes than high-income people do: taxpayers in the bottom 20 percent of the income scale paid an average of 8.8 percent of their incomes in payroll taxes in 2007, compared to just 1.6 percent for taxpayers in the top 1 percent of the income distribution. …

Low-income families also pay substantial state and local taxes. Most state and local taxes are regressive, meaning that low-income families pay a larger share of their incomes in these taxes than wealthier households do. The bottom fifth of taxpayers paid 12.3 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes in 2010, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) model. That was well above the 7.9 percent average rate that the top 1 percent of households paid.



Cellphone Radiation May Cause Cancer, Advisory Panel Says

A World Health Organization panel has concluded that cellphones are “possibly carcinogenic,’’ putting the popular devices in the same category as certain dry cleaning chemicals and pesticides, as a potential threat to human health.

The finding, from the agency’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, adds to concerns among a small but growing group of experts about the health effects of low levels of radiation emitted by cellphones. The panel, which consisted of 31 scientists from 14 countries, was led by Dr. Jonathan M. Samet, a physician and epidemiologist at the University of Southern California and a member of President Obama’s National Cancer Advisory Board.

The group didn’t conduct any new research but reviewed numerous existing studies that focused on the health effects of radio-frequency magnetic fields, which are emitted by cellphones. During a news conference, Dr. Samet said the panel’s decision to classify cellphones as “possibly carcinogenic” was based largely on epidemiological data showing an increased risk among heavy cellphone users of a rare type of brain tumor called a glioma.

Last year, a 13-country study called Interphone, the largest and longest study of the link between cellphone use and brain tumors, found no overall increased risk, but reported that participants with the highest level of cellphone use had a 40 percent higher risk of glioma. (Even if the elevated risk is confirmed, gliomas are relatively rare and thus individual risk remains minimal.)




HHS to Reduce Premiums, Make it Easier for Americans with Pre-Existing Conditions to Get Health Insurance

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today announced new steps to reduce premiums and make it easier for Americans to enroll in the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan. Premiums for the Federally-administered Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) will drop as much as 40 percent in 18 States, and eligibility standards will be eased in 23 States and the District of Columbia to ensure more Americans with pre-existing conditions have access to affordable health insurance. The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan was created under the Affordable Care Act and serves as a bridge to 2014 when insurers will no longer be allowed to deny coverage to people with any pre-existing condition, like cancer, diabetes, and asthma.

“The Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan changes lives, and in many cases, literally saves lives,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “These changes will decrease costs and help insure more Americans.”

In 23 States and the District of Columbia, the PCIP program is Federally-administered. The remaining States operate their own PCIP programs using Federal funds provided by the Affordable Care Act.

Under the changes announced today, PCIP premiums will drop as much as 40 percent in 18 States where the Federally administered PCIP operates. These premium decreases help bring PCIP premiums closer to the rates in each State’s individual insurance market; in the six States where PCIP premiums were already well-aligned with State premiums, premiums will remain the same.

The changes announced today will make enrolling in the Federally-administered PCIP in 23 States and the District of Columbia easier. Starting July 1, 2011, people applying for coverage can simply provide a letter from a doctor, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner dated within the past 12 months stating that they have or, at any time in the past, had a medical condition, disability, or illness. Applicants will no longer have to wait on an insurance company to send them a denial letter. This option became available to children under age 19 in February, and this pathway is being extended to all applicants regardless of age. Applicants will still need to meet other eligibility criteria, including that they are U.S. citizens or residing in the U.S. legally and that they have been without health coverage for six months.

HHS also sent letters today to the 27 States running their own programs to inform them of the opportunity to modify their current PCIP premiums.

To further enhance the program, beginning this fall, HHS will begin paying agents and brokers for successfully connecting eligible people with the PCIP program. This step will help reach those who are eligible but un-enrolled. Several States have experimented with such payments with good success. This is a part of continuing HHS outreach efforts with States, insurers, providers, and agents and brokers to reach more eligible people and let them know that coverage is available. HHS is also working with insurers to notify people about the PCIP option in their State when their application for health insurance is denied.

Congress created the temporary PCIP program as part of the Affordable Care Act to help uninsured Americans with a variety of medical conditions get affordable coverage rather than be locked out of the system by insurance companies. In 2014 and beyond, insurers will be prohibited from denying coverage to anyone with a pre-existing condition and new competitive marketplaces called Health Insurance Exchanges will give people the opportunity to shop for the policy that best suits their needs. Millions of Americans also will receive tax credits to help make coverage affordable.

Enrollment in PCIP programs has begun to grow rapidly. In the period between November 2010 and March 2011, enrollment in all programs rose 129 percent to more than 18,000 Americans enrolled in PCIP.

“These changes will get more people covered,” said Steven Larsen, the Director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight. “We’re encouraged by recent increases in enrollment and we’re excited to build on these efforts and reach even more people.”

PCIP provides comprehensive health coverage, including primary and specialty care, hospital care, prescription drugs, home health and hospice care, skilled nursing care and preventive health and maternity care. It limits annual out-of-pocket spending and does not carve out benefits the people need. Eligibility is not based on income and people who enroll are not charged a higher premium because of their medical condition.

To find a chart showing changes to PCIP premiums in the States with Federally-administered PCIP programs, visit

For more information, including eligibility, plan benefits and rates, as well as information on how to apply, visit and click on “Find Your State.” Then select your State from a map of the United States or from the drop-down menu. The PCIP Call Center is open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern Time. Call toll-free 1-866-717-5826 (TTY 1-866-561-1604).


Is someone snooping your health records? New rule will tell you who

Health care patients will have a broad new tool to keep their personal information under wraps if a proposed Department of Health and Human Services rule is adopted.  The update to federal health care privacy laws proposed on Tuesday by the Department of Health and Human Services would give patients the right to see the name of any person who accessed their electronic health records, and what he or she did with them. The so-called “access report” would be available from some health care providers as soon as Jan. 1, 2013.  It would function much like a free credit report — consumers would have the right to ask for one such report for free every year.

The change comes as scrutiny over hackers and data leaks is at an all-time high, following high-profile electronic attacks on Lockheed Martin, Sony and the security firm RSA.

Protection of health care information is seen as particularly critical, but efforts to keep it safe have often fallen short. In the past two years, health care providers have leaked personal information belonging to nearly 8 million patients; many of the leaks are listed on this government Web site.

Earlier this year, Massachusetts General Hospital was fined $1 million for a serious data leak. Meanwhile, the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services issued a report this month detailing dozens of security vulnerabilities at large hospitals around the country.

The proposed new “access report” right stems from a provision included in the 2009 stimulus package passed by Congress in an attempt to jump start the economy. That legislation included $30 billion to encourage development of electronic health care records, a provision called the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH). To alleviate concerns about the security of online health records, Congress instructed the Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to beef up consumer disclosure rights included in the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Access report requests would apply to electronic records only; paper records would be excluded.

“This proposed rule represents an important step in our continued efforts to promote accountability across the health care system, ensuring that providers properly safeguard private health information,” OCR Director Georgina Verdugo said in a statement. “We need to protect peoples’ rights so that they know how their health information has been used or disclosed.”

It’s unclear how industry groups will react to the change. A spokeswoman for the American Hospitals Association said the organization did not have a comment “since we are still in the process of reviewing the changes.”

In the proposed rule, however, the Health and Human Services Department said most providers opposed the change, saying it would be costly to implement and provide little consumer benefit.

Tena Friery, a HIPAA expert with the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse advocacy organization, disagreed. She said the potential to identify a specific person who accessed a health record would be a tremendous deterrent to would-be snoops.


FLASHBACK: GOP Supported Individual Mandate To Prevent ‘Government Takeover’ Of Health Care

The Los Angeles Times’ Noam Levey looks at the history of the individual health insurance mandate and discovers that not only was the provision designed by Republicans as an alternative to President Bill Clinton’s health care reform plan in the 1990s, but it was specifically seen as a way to prevent a “government takeover” of health care:

“We were thinking, if you wanted to achieve universal coverage, what was the way to do it if you didn’t do single payer?” said Paul Feldstein, a health economist at UC Irvine, who co-wrote the 1991 plan with Pauly. […]

Levey notes that fully a third of Republicans supported a bill that included a national individual requirement, introduced by then-Senator and current Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee. Sens. Bob Dole (R-KS), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Richard Lugar (R-IN) all backed that measure. The National Federation of Independent Business, a conservative small-business group, even “praised the bill ‘for its emphasis on individual responsibility.’”

And this wasn’t some fluke of the ’90s either. As recently as 2007, “[t]en Republican senators — including Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, now a GOP leader — signed on to a bill that year by Bennett and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to achieve universal health coverage.” The legislation penalized individuals who did not purchase insurance coverage.

Listing all of the GOP presidential candidates who have previously supported the mandate (Romney, Gingrich, Huntsman, Pawlenty) would only belabor the point, which is that the GOP’s new-found religion on the mandate and its constitutionality is driven by the political need to unravel the Democrats’ crowning social achievement, not any great concerns about policy, constitutionality, or freedom.


Report: Wisconsin’s GOP Plot Will End Senior Prescription Drug Coverage

A new analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office shows that the effort joined by Wisconsin’s Republican Congressional delegation to repeal health care reform will result in the end of prescription drug coverage for seniors.

Sean Duffy, Reid Ribble, Paul Ryan and Ron Johnson have led the charge to repeal the reforms, without proposing any alternatives, and doing so would force Medicare to end the effort to close the “doughnut hole” for seniors, as well as lead to runaway costs because it would strip the government of any powers to negotiate lower drug fees.

Read more about the consequences of the Republican plot here.


This is what cost control looks like.


Robert Pear has an interesting report today about how reforms in Medicare payments under the Affordable Care Act, designed to provide incentives for more cost-effective care, are drawing opposition from hospitals:

For the first time in its history, Medicare will soon track spending on millions of individual beneficiaries, reward hospitals that hold down costs and penalize those whose patients prove most expensive.

The administration plans to establish “Medicare spending per beneficiary” as a new measure of hospital performance, just like the mortality rate for heart attack patients and the infection rate for surgery patients.

Hospitals could be held accountable not only for the cost of the care they provide, but also for the cost of services performed by doctors and other health care providers in the 90 days after a Medicare patient leaves the hospital.

This plan has drawn fire from hospitals, which say they have little control over services provided after a patient’s discharge — and, in many cases, do not even know about them. More generally, they are apprehensive about Medicare’s plans to reward and penalize hospitals based on untested measures of efficiency that include spending per beneficiary.

A major goal of the new health care law, often overlooked, is to improve “the quality and efficiency of health care” by linking payments to the performance of health care providers. The new Medicare initiative, known as value-based purchasing, will redistribute money among more than 3,100 hospitals.

I’m all in favor of this proposal — it’s part of what must be done.

But here’s my thought: I do believe that many people in the commentary business can manage to read stories like this, tut-tut about the difficulties, and then — in the very next breath — complain that Obama is doing nothing to limit the growth of health care costs.

The point is that this is what cost control looks like. Things like the Ryan plan, which just shift the cost of care onto seniors, are fake; this is the real thing.

And it gets no credit at all.



Alabama Tornado Victims Fear Immigration Crackdown

After the tornado struck Tuscaloosa on April 27, the Latino Knights of Columbus, a Catholic service group, set out to rescue Spanish-speaking survivors. Wearing neon green vests, members of the group’s emergency responder team headed into hard-hit neighborhoods. But most victims who were still alive hid in the shattered skeletons of their homes.

“They didn’t trust us,” recalled Fernando, one volunteer. “They thought we were with the police because of our vests, and they were worried the police would take them back to their home countries. They were even afraid to get food.” An undocumented immigrant himself, Fernando said his community lives in heightened fear of Alabama’s pending immigration bill.

Janet Sosa, an outreach worker with the Southern Poverty Law Center, met similar apprehension when she tried to help Latino Tuscaloosans the day after the tornado. As she combed “blocks that looked like junkyards, where you couldn’t even tell houses existed,” she offered relief services to people she found walking around. Most listened hesitantly and then continued on, unwilling to go to shelters or accept aid. She attributed the suspicion, in part, to Alabama House Bill 56 and Senate Bill 256—Arizona-style bills to crack down on illegal immigration.

Both bills would require that police check the status of anyone who might be undocumented, and make it illegal to rent to, hire, or give rides to illegal immigrants. The House version would also require all employers to use E-Verify to check employment status, while the Senate version would ban undocumented immigrant children from participating in extracurricular activities at school. A compromise is in the works. […]

Struggling to help wary tornado victims, Fernando said he and and his compatriots finally coaxed them outside with bags of groceries. Many people were crying and holding children in their arms. “That’s when we began to earn their trust,” he said.

To serve their needs, Fernando’s group opened a shelter at the Holy Spirit Catholic Church that helped 3,500 people over two weeks. “It was all very spontaneous,” he said, explaining that his group had completed their emergency response training just eight days before the tornado. “We wanted to help the Hispanic community because they don’t have sufficient resources. But we never thought we’d use our training so soon.” Word got out in the Latino community that the shelter was a safe space, and even police officers said they wouldn’t check people’s papers.

But by mid-May, just two and a half weeks after the storm, the shelter was already closing. Victor Tlapanco, leader of the Knights of Columbus, said the church needed the space, but he lamented that the shelter’s work felt incomplete.




FEC says Rep. Buchanan’s former Hyundai firm violated law

The Federal Election Commission is asking a federal court to impose a $67,900 fine on a company formerly co-owned by Rep. Vern Buchanan that it says engaged in an “extensive and ongoing scheme” to reimburse employees who made contributions to the Sarasota Republican’s congressional campaign.

In a motion for default filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Florida, the FEC says Hyundai of North Jacksonville – which Buchanan once partially owned — violated federal campaign finance law by making contributions in excess of the legal limit and by reimbursing employees who made the contributions.

Buchanan is not named as a defendant in the suit. The owner of the company said Tuesday he has acknowledged the company reimbursed employees, but said it was a “directive” issued by Buchanan.


List of Breitbart Scams


Memo to Very Serious media about Sarah Palin

The dozen or so Very Serious reporters from such Very Serious outlets as CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time, and The Times of London are “grumbling” because, in the words of Time‘s Jay Newton Small, Sarah Palin has “turned the Washington press corps into a bunch of paparazzi stalking your every move.”

Also, they are “hot and sweaty, sitting in 100-degree weather at the Gettysburg battlefield.”

These Very Serious reporters from Very Serious media outlets are cranky because Sarah Palin has them following her around like a bunch of dopes, while refusing to give an interview to anyone but Greta Van Susteren—the most influential journalist ever!—because only Greta is part of the “the new social media — fair-and-balanced reporters who will just allow the facts to get out there.”

Meanwhile, Very Serious reporters like Michael D. Shear of The New York Times have stalked her for days so they can Very Seriously report to us that Sarah was “dressed in workout shorts and wearing sunglasses.” Ooooh, relevant!

Look, Mr. Shear et al., let me help you out. I know that writing about Sarah Palin is a lot of fun. I’ve done it myself, more than a few times. I enjoy coming up with semi-clever new and interesting ways to describe her stupidity, mock her faux folksiness, or just quote her exact words.

But you don’t have to say “how high” every time Sarah says, “Jump also!” Sarah isn’t “forcing” you to follow her PAC-sponsored, fund-raising road trip, to sit in the 100-degree heat, to anxiously await three whole minutes of her time, during which she can berate you for being part of the “lamestream media,” which you can then dutifully report in your Very Serious papers.

So you can all hop off the Palin Paparazzi Tour of 2011, go back to your air-conditioned offices, sit back, and let her show off her savvy “new social media” skills on Twitter and Facebook—and Fox “News”—and then mock the holy hell out of her for being a fucking idiot. That’s all. That is the sum total of the amount and kind of attention she deserves. You don’t have to treat her like a serious presidential candidate, or even a serious person. Despite her protestations that she doesn’t want media attention, she’s starving for it. Hell, she quit her job as governor just so she could devote herself full-time to getting you to give her attention in the pages of your Very Serious papers.

And frankly, if you’re dumb enough to be outsmarted by a “clever” bait-and-switch by Sarah Palin, you just might be in the wrong line of work.




Cost of war in Afghanistan will be major factor in troop-reduction talks

Of all the statistics that President Obama’s national security team will consider when it debates the size of forthcoming troop reductions in Afghanistan, the most influential number probably will not be how many insurgents have been killed or the amount of territory wrested from the Taliban, according to aides to those who will participate.

It will be the cost of the war.

The U.S. military is on track to spend $113 billion on its operations in Afghanistan this fiscal year, and it is seeking $107 billion for the next. To many of the president’s civilian advisers, that price is too high, given a wide federal budget gap that will require further cuts to domestic programs and increased deficit spending. Growing doubts about the need for such a broad nation-building mission there in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death have only sharpened that view.

“Where we’re at right now is simply not sustainable,” said one senior administration official, who, like several others interviewed for this article, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations.

Civilian advisers, who do not want to be seen as unwilling to pay for the war, are expected to frame their cost concerns in questions about the breadth of U.S. operations — arguing that the troop surge Obama authorized in 2009 has achieved many of its goals — instead of directly tackling money matters. When the president’s war cabinet evaluates troop-withdrawal options in the next few weeks presented by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top coalition commander, “it’s not like each of them will have price tags next to them,” the official said. But “it’s certainly going to shape how most of the civilians look at this.”

The question of cost will have a far greater impact on the eventual decision than it did during the White House debate about the Afghan surge in late 2009. The heightened fiscal pressures, coupled with bin Laden’s killing four weeks ago, could shift the balance of power in the Situation Room toward Vice President Biden and other civilians who had been skeptical of the surge and favor a faster troop drawdown than top commanders would prefer.

“Money is the new 800-pound gorilla,” said another senior administration official involved in Afghanistan policy, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It shifts the debate from ‘Is the strategy working?’ to ‘Can we afford this?’ And when you view it that way, the scope of the mission that we have now is far, far less defensible.”

Military and civilian officials agree that the cost of the Afghan mission is staggering. The amount per deployed service member in Afghanistan, which the administration estimates at $1 million per year, is significantly higher than it was in Iraq because fuel and other supplies must be trucked into the landlocked nation, often through circuitous routes. Bases, meanwhile, have to be built from scratch.[…]

Concern about war costs is putting new political pressure on Obama, much of it from fellow Democrats. On Thursday, the House narrowly defeated an amendment calling for an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan and a fixed timetable for turning over military operations to the Kabul government. The vote, 204 to 215, was far thinner than last year’s 162-to-260 tally on the same issue.

In the Senate, influential members have said recently that the cost of the war merits a reexamination of the overall U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. “It is fundamentally unsustainable to continue spending $10 billion a month on a massive military operation with no end in sight,” Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said this month. […]

An initial indication of the White House’s view on the costs occurred this month when the National Security Council rejected the military’s request to expand Afghanistan’s security forces by 73,000 personnel. […]

Although troop reductions will almost certainly begin in July — the month Obama promised to start a drawdown — military engineers and contractors continue to expand bases across southern Afghanistan.

At Camp Leatherneck, the main Marine outpost in Helmand province, workers recently finished building a second runway that can accommodate the Air Force’s largest cargo jet, even though some military officials deemed the existing runway sufficient. The base also has been outfitted with paved streets, complete with American-style signs.

Recent supplemental appropriations to fund the war, which have included billions of dollars for construction and equipment, “have been like crack” cocaine for the military, said one officer in southern Afghanistan.“We’ve become addicted to building.”

But moving too aggressively to control that spending could open the White House to criticism that it is depriving troops of necessary supplies and infrastructure. As a consequence, administration officials have concluded that the only practical way for them to bring down costs is by reducing troops.

“The head count is the only variable that we can control,” said a civilian official involved in war policy.



House rejects Republican debt limit ploy, Chamber calls GOP bill a ‘joke’

The House just now overwhelmingly rejected a politically-motivated measure offered by House GOP leadership to unconditionally extend the debt limit. The final vote was 97 to 318, with all 97 votes in favor of the debt limit increase coming from Democrats.

As Nancy Pelosi argued in a speech before the vote, we do need to raise the debt limit, and we need to do it without getting blackmailed by Republicans into accepting draconian cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs, but today’s vote was nothing more than an attempt by Republicans to score political points and should not be taken seriously.

Republicans had hoped their legislation would embarrass Democrats while demonstrating their willingness to force the United States into default on its fiscal obligations, but because the legislation included a partisan attack blaming President Obama for the debt accrued under President Bush and because Republicans privately assured their corporate backers that the vote was a charade, nobody is taking the vote seriously. For example:

And for all the talk of economic crisis should Congress fail to raise the debt ceiling by August, the financial markets are likely to yawn at this vote — if only because Republican leaders have privately assured Wall Street executives that this is a show intended to make the point to Mr. Obama that an increase cannot pass absent his agreement to rein in domestic programs.

“Wall Street is in on the joke,” said R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Actually, however, the joke is going to be on Josten and and the Chamber of Commerce if they can’t figure out a way to talk Republicans off the ledge.

Democrats have a habit of agreeing to deals that seem like caving, but especially after NY-26 there is no way they are going to agree to any sort of fiscal deal that relies entirely on cutting programs like Medicare for middle-class and poor Americans without asking any sort of sacrifice from top earners. Given the veto power Grover Norquist has over Republican tax policy, there’s no chance the GOP will agree to any tax hikes. That means unless Republicans back down, we’re not going to be raising the debt limit, and the country will be heading towards default. Whether that’s where we end up is entirely up to the Republican Party and their financial sponsors.


Hoyer Asks Democrats to Vote Against Debt Limit Kabuki

The Debt Ceiling as a Bargaining Chip

Paul Krugman:

“The direct effects of hitting the ceiling would be bad enough – sharp cutbacks in spending, which would undermine essential services, not to mention derail the economy. It’s not clear to me whether there would be some wiggle room through the accumulation of arrears – say, not actually paying workers and contractors, but promising to make it up when sanity returns. But it would be ugly indeed. What might make it even worse would be indirect effects, of two kinds.

Read the Article

Good Cop/Bad Cop


…Collander does allude to an end game that seems to be making its way into the beltway ether:

Many Members publicly insist that a big “no” vote on a clean bill will have little to no effect on financial markets. But here’s another dirty little secret: There is a growing suspicion that, like what happened the day after the House rejected the Troubled Asset Relief Program in September 2008 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by almost 7 percent, such a vote could quickly change market perceptions of the situation and have a substantial negative effect on interest rates and equity prices.

It’s even possible that’s part of the plan. Former Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag said last week that it is going to be difficult to get Members of Congress to agree to increase the debt ceiling without some kind of “turbulence” in the bond market. A big “no” vote on a debt ceiling increase bill could easily accelerate that type of disturbance in the financial force. Indeed, it might be what’s needed to precipitate it and the leadership may be counting on that happening.It’s even possible that’s part of the plan. Former Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag said last week that it is going to be difficult to get Members of Congress to agree to increase the debt ceiling without some kind of “turbulence” in the bond market. A big “no” vote on a debt ceiling increase bill could easily accelerate that type of disturbance in the financial force. Indeed, it might be what’s needed to precipitate it and the leadership may be counting on that happening.

I don’t know what kind of sick nihilism makes a scenario like that remotely possible, but again, I don’t believe it. We are talking about Big Money here and there are a lot of things that aren’t working right in this country right now, but the greed mechanism isn’t one of them. I don’t believe “the markets” are going along with that plan. And I don’t think even the Republicans are going to take that kind of risk going into an election year.

But if these people are actually planning a financial panic in order to destroy the safety net, can someone explain to me just how it is they can possibly be considered anything but criminals? This isn’t a joke. Panics have a way of getting out of hand — it’s not like you can wave a magic wand and it stops. At the very least can we at least admit that every single sentence they’ve ever uttered about the desperate need for market “confidence” and “uncertainty” was unadulterated rubbish? (If this happens keep an eye on the short sellers because somebody’s going to make money on it and you have to assume the people who caused it are among them …)

The Democrats can turn this clean vote against the Republicans if they want to. The polls may say that the people don’t want the debt ceiling raised, but they also don’t want the government shut down, Medicare to get privatized and the economy to get worse. If the Democrats have even a modicum of guts they’ll relentlessly hammer this vote home for the next two months as a sign of the Republicans’ willingness to do anything to destroy Medicare, even destroy the economy. There are several months of negotiations ahead and they could tie this albatross around their necks right along with the dead Ryan plan if they want to. The real question is whether they want to.


Drop in Consumer Confidence Complicates Obama’s Re-Election Chances


The drop in U.S. consumer sentiment from already low levels may be a bad omen for President Barack Obama‘s re-election chances.

Compiled by The Conference Board, a private research group, the index is normally used to gauge where the economy is heading. But Steve Blitz, economist at ITG Investment Research, notes the report has been a better predictor of the politics to come.

“There is plenty of time for the national mood to change, but the decline in income expectations is particularly telling,” he wrote in a research note.

Recent polls have shown Obama enjoys strong likability ratings, boosted in part by foreign-policy successes like the killing of Osama bin Laden, while Republicans have yet to announce their candidate for the November 2012 presidential elections. But the consumer morale report may be a warning sign that the weak economy could still hurt the president’s chances.

A soft economy kept the U.S. consumer sentiment index low prior to former president Jimmy Carter‘s failed re-election bid in the early 1980s and George H.W. Bush‘s failed bid in the early 1990s (Eighteen months before each election it stood below 100: at 76.4 in May 1991 and at 96.0 in May 1979).

Just like Carter and Bush senior, Obama is likely to face an unemployment rate that’s higher than 7.5% in the months before the next elections. The jobless rate currently stands at 9.0% and the Federal Reserve predicts it will be between 7.6% and 7.9% at the end of 2012.


Blue Dogs Draw The Line At Ending Medicare

The Blue Dog Democrats, a group of “socially conservative, fiscally conservative” Dems who have often been known to jump ship on their party in order to join forces with the Republicans — most recently to try and block health care reform — have found the one policy that even they are too timid to cross the line for:

Dismantling Medicare.

According to the Hill, the Blue Dog Coalition had been heavily courted by Rep. Paul Ryan and the House Budget committee to try and garner some extra support for the Ryan Budget Plan, where Republicans hope to remove the social safety net, end Medicare and replace it with a voucher program and keep the Bush Tax breaks for millionaires in place.

And although the coalition often supports many of those missions, they aren’t having anything to do with Ryan.

[Arkansas Rep. Mike] Ross, communications chairman for the Blue Dog Coalition, told The Hill that Ryan “met with us, but we quickly realized that the difference were too great” to support Ryan’s plan.

“I’ll never vote to privatize social security or Medicare,” Ross added.

Ross released a statement in the immediate aftermath of the April 15 vote on the Ryan budget, saying “deficit spending must be stopped, but it should be done in a way that is fair to all.  These vouchers will force seniors to buy private health insurance when, because of their age, it is often very difficult for the elderly to find insurance that is both affordable and adequate.”

Not a single member of the Blue Dogs voted in favor of the Ryan plan, according to the report.

A fiscal idea so poisonous even the Blue Dog Democrats are running from it?  That’s a sign of some pretty awful policy.


Florida GOP’s electoral reform sparks ire, could add hurdle for Obama in ’12

Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) could face a rebellion from local elections officials, as well as lawsuits over a controversial law that tightened restrictions on voter registration.

A sweeping bill passed by the GOP-controlled State Legislature and signed recently by Scott makes it harder for third-party groups such as unions and the League of Women Voters to launch voter registration drives.

Critics say the law, which also cuts the number of days for early voting, will hinder the ability of students, African-Americans and Hispanics to cast their ballots. These groups traditionally favor Democrats, which could mean the law will undercut President Obama’s reelection effort in the Sunshine State.

“This law has created, really, a draconian, very broad, ambiguous bureaucracy that is going to make it impossible for volunteers to continue our voter registration work,” said Deirdre Macnab, who heads the Florida branch of the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan group that advocates for political participation.

“Something that’s as American as apple pie,” Macnab said in reference to voter registration drives, “is now going to be encumbered with so much red tape and regulation, and the potential for civil charges from the attorney general, that it is going to have a really vast impact on the registration of new voters.”

Under the new law, volunteers must return any voter registration cards they collect to elections officials within 48 hours or face a fine. The League of Women Voters has conducted registration drives in Florida for 72 years, said Macnab. “Upon implementation of this law, we will cease doing voter registration in the state of Florida.”

The law also prevents voters from making outside-of-county address changes at the polls. They can cast a provisional ballot in those instances, although those ballots can be challenged. Some experts believe that portion of the law will hinder students, who went overwhelmingly for Obama in 2008, from voting. The bill also cuts the early voting window from 14 days to eight, though it extends the hours during those eight days.

Lee Rowland, an attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice who specializes in voters’-rights cases, called the law “incredibly restrictive” and noted her group has successfully sued Florida twice before to stop similar laws from going into effect.

Under this new law, Rowland said, “you get a smaller, more restrictive electorate.”

She added in an email: “We are consulting with our clients and assessing all available next steps to protect voting rights in Florida, including litigation if necessary.”

The League of Women Voters is also considering suing the state, according to Macnab.

Observers say the law is directed at groups such as the now defunct-ACORN, which boasted of registering some 150,000 voters in Florida in 2008. […]

Obama bested Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in Florida in 2008 by fewer than 250,000 votes. While the state’s electoral votes wound up as the icing on the cake of Obama’s landslide victory, they could prove crucial in 2012.

Meanwhile, the elections supervisor in Scott’s home county was one of five local officials who said they wouldn’t implement the law. Collier County Elections Supervisor Jennifer Edwards wrote to Scott last week saying she was waiting on the Department of Justice’s “preclearance” before implementing the changes.

Collier is one of five counties in Florida governed by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which means it needs the Justice Department’s approval before it makes changes to any voting laws. Supervisors from Hillsborough, Monroe, Hendry and Hardee counties — the other four governed by the act because of a history of discrimination — joined Edwards in refusing to implement the law.

Chris Cate, a Florida Division of Elections spokesman, told the St. Petersburg Times that those counties were already set to get permission to delay implementing the new procedures.

The Justice Department must render a decision on the voting changes within 60 days.

While a potential legal battle brews over the reforms, Steve Schale, a Florida-based Democratic consultant, sought to tamp down suggestions the law would be a disaster for his party.

The new procedures will add a layer of complication but not eliminate registration drives, said Schale, who was the Obama campaign’s 2008 state director.

“Just because they make it harder to register people to vote, doesn’t mean you have to stop registering voters. Republicans and Democrats, if they want to win Florida in 2012, they’re going to have to grow the size of their base. I don’t think it changes the blocking and tackling to get to 50 percent-plus-one.”

The new law will make registering voters more expensive, he predicted.

“You’re going to have to spend a lot more money on compliance and tracking things.”


44 GOP Senators Already Have Pledged To Filibuster John Bryson’s Commerce Department Nomination

That’s because even though Bryson’s record is completely uncontroversial, there are 44 Republican Senators who have pledged to block the confirmation of any Commerce Secretary “until Obama submits for ratification trade agreements with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea.”

The Obama administration favors those agreements, but has pledged not to ratify them until Congress reauthorized the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, a flawed but valuable initiative designed to mitigate the problems trade deals can cause for incumbent workers. Opponents of TAA, such as Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), have taken to arguing that it can’t be reauthorized “at a time when this country is basically broke.” But not only is the country not broke, the essence of the case for free trade is that it’s positive sum. Any given deal has an adverse impact on some people, but the gains should be large enough to make it possible to compensate them.


Rep. Steve Israel: ‘We will not negotiate the end of Medicare’ (video)


Obama’s Replacements in Administration

The White House announced May 31 that President Obama would nominate businessman John Bryson to head the Department of Commerce, replacing Gary Locke. Obama previously nominated Locke as the U.S. ambassador to China.

This is just the latest in a string of personnel moves in the Obama administration. We take a look at who is leaving, the new blood stepping in, and the familiar faces asked to fill new roles.

The White House announced May 31 that President Obama would nominate businessman John Bryson as secretary of the Department of Commerce, replacing Gary Locke. If confirmed, he would take over the department at a time of considerable ferment.

President Obama plans to nominate CIA Director Leon Panetta to head the Pentagon. The administration had lobbied Robert Gates to stay on as Defense secretary through the end of the summer, but Gates told the president in late April that he was ready to go.

President Obama plans to nominate Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, to lead the CIA. A White House official said that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a key backer of Petraeus, had been privately lobbied to support the nomination. Petraeus would replace Leon Panetta, who has been nominated to be the next Defense secretary.

Secretary of State of Hillary Clinton told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on March 16 that she is not interested in serving a second term as secretary of state, nor as secretary of defense, nor does she plan to run for the presidency again.

President Obama nominated Commerce Secretary Gary Locke to replace Jon Huntsman as U.S. ambassador to China on March 9. The 61-year-old Locke–who served two terms as governor of Washington–would be the first Chinese-American to hold the position.

President Obama named Jay Carney as his new press secretary. Carney, who had served as press secretary for Vice President Joe Biden, is replacing Robert Gibbs, who announced in January that he would step down. Carney, a former journalist for Time magazine, has had the sometimes unenviable job of keeping Biden on message and explaining away the times when his boss would step out of line.

President Obama picked General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt to be chairman of the new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. The creation of the new panel coincides with the early-February dissolution of the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, chaired by Paul Volcker. PERAB was tasked principally with fixing the financial markets and restoring the American economy to equilibrium. Immelt was one of 17 members of the board.

Rob Nabors is the new White House legislative affairs director, replacing Phil Schiliro, who stepped down in February. Nabors had been acting deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget. He also worked as counselor to the OMB director; senior adviser to the White House chief of staff; and OMB deputy director. Schiliro will remain at the White House as a senior adviser to President Obama.

Gene Sperling became the new director of the National Economic Council, reprising a role he played during the boom years of the Clinton administration. Sperling is currently counsel to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. Referring to Sperling, Obama said: ‘Few people bring the level of intelligence and sheer work ethic that Gene brings to every assignment he’s ever taken, and few do so with such decency and integrity.’ Sperling is replacing Larry Summers, who announced his plans to step down from the NEC late last year. Along with Sperling, Obama announced that economic aid Jason Furman would be promoted to principal deputy director of the NEC and assistant to Obama for economic policy. Obama also announced the nomination of University of Maryland professor Katharine Abraham to the Council of Economic Advisers. She will fill the seat previously held by Austan Goolsbee, who was elevated to chairman of the CEA. Abraham’s nomination requires Senate confirmation.

President Obama named William Daley, the JPMorgan Chase executive and former Commerce Secretary, as his new chief of staff, in a signal that the administration is retooling to face the challenges of a Republican-controlled House and a reelection bid in 2012. Daley is replacing Pete Rouse, who has held the position on a temporary basis since Rahm Emanuel left the administration to run for Chicago mayor—a job that Daley’s older brother, Richard Daley, has held since 1989. Rouse will become a counselor to the president and, Obama said, has agreed to stay another two years.

In November 2010 Jacob Lew was confirmed as Director of the Office of Management and Budget, a position he previously held from 1998 to 2001. Lew replaced Peter Orzag who stepped down in July of 2010.

David Plouffe, who served as campaign manager for President Obama’s 2008 run, will replace senior adviser David Axelrod in the White House. Axelrod told National Journal that he plans to leave Washington in the spring and return to Chicago to work on Obama’s reelection campaign. Plouffe currently serves as a senior advisor for Chicago-based AKPD, the consulting group founded by Axelrod.

Thomas Donilon, former deputy national security adviser, replaced Jim Jones as national security adviser in October 2010. Donilon joined the White House as a member of the transition team for State Department review. Before that Donilon was one of the staffers who prepped candidate Obama for his debates with John McCain and was a senior aide to Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. Denis McDonough was appointed to Donilon’s former post of deputy national security adviser.

Austan Goolsbee, a member of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, was promoted to head of the council in September 2010 after the departure of former CEA head Christina Romer. Previously, Goolsbee was an economic adviser to Obama’s 2004 Senate and 2008 presidential campaigns.

Stuart Levey, Treasury’s under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, will step down and be replaced by his deputy, David Cohen(bottom right). Levey was confirmed by the Senate on July 21, 2004, and was the first person to hold his position. White House officials told The Wall Street Journal that Levey’s departure “doesn’t signal a shift in U.S. policy or a slackening of Washington’s financial campaigns against Tehran, Pyongyang, and international terrorist groups.”


One Person, One Vote? Not Exactly

Two economists, Brian Knight and Nathan Schiff, set out a few years ago to determine how much Iowa, New Hampshire and other early-voting states affected presidential nominations.

Mr. Knight and Mr. Schiff analyzed daily polls in other states before and after an early state had held a contest. The polls tended to change immediately after the contest, and the changes tended to last, which suggested that the early states were even more important than many people realized. The economists estimated that an Iowa or New Hampshire voter had the same impact as five Super Tuesday voters put together.

This system, the two men drily noted in a Journal of Political Economy paper, “represents a deviation from the democratic ideal of ‘one person, one vote.’ ”

A presidential campaign is once again upon us, and Iowa and New Hampshire are again at the center of it all. On Thursday, Mitt Romney will announce his candidacy in Stratham, N.H. Last week, Tim Pawlenty opened his campaign in Des Moines. The two states have dominated the nominating process for so long that it’s easy to think of their role as natural.

But it is not natural. It’s undemocratic, in fact. It is unfair to voters in the other 48 states. And it distorts economic policy in several damaging ways. […]

Above all, Iowa and New Hampshire lack a single big city, at a time when large metropolitan areas are crucial to lifting economic growth. Big metro areas are where big ideas most often take shape and great new companies are most often born. The country’s 25 largest areas are responsible for 52 percent of the country’s economic output, according to the Brookings Institution, and are home to 42 percent of the population.

Yet metro areas are also struggling with major problems. The quality of schools is spotty. Commutes last longer than ever. Roads, bridges, tunnels and transit systems are aging.

You don’t hear much about these issues in the first year of a presidential campaign, though. No wonder. Iowa, New Hampshire and the next two states to vote, Nevada and South Carolina, do not have a single city among the country’s 25 largest. Las Vegas, the 30th-largest metro area, and the Boston suburbs that stretch into New Hampshire are the closest these states come. […]

A more democratic system would allow more voters to see the candidates up close for months at a time. The early states could rotate each year, so that all kinds — big states and small, younger and older, rural and urban — had a turn. In 2016, the first wave could include states that have voted near the end recently, like Indiana, North Carolina, Oregon and South Dakota.

A rotation along these lines would enliven the political debate. Investments in science and education, which are the lifeblood of future economic growth, might play a bigger role in the campaign. You could even imagine — optimistically, I know — that the deficit might prove easier to address if Medicare and Social Security recipients did not make up such a disproportionate share of early voters.

The issues particular to small-town America would still receive extra attention because so many of the 50 states are rural and sparsely populated. It’s just that Iowa and New Hampshire would no longer receive the extreme special treatment they now do.



Rand Paul, Supposed Defender Of Civil Liberties, Calls For Jailing People Who Attend ‘Radical Political Speeches’

While discussing profiling at airports, Paul called for the criminalization of speech:

PAUL: I’m not for profiling people on the color of their skin, or on their religion, but I would take into account where they’ve been traveling and perhaps, you might have to indirectly take into account whether or not they’ve been going to radical political speeches by religious leaders. It wouldn’t be that they are Islamic. But if someone is attending speeches from someone who is promoting the violent overthrow of our government, that’s really an offense that we should be going after — they should be deported or put in prison.

Paul’s suggestion that people be imprisoned or deported for merely attending a political speech would be a fairly egregious violation on the First Amendment, not to mention due process. What if someone attended a radical speech as a curious bystander? Should they too be thrown in prison? And who defines what is considered so “radical” that it is worth imprisonment?

But Paul’s suggestion is especially appalling coming from someone who fashions himself as a staunch defender of civil liberties. Since coming to Congress, Paul has received praise from libertarians and liberals alike for supposedly being consistent on the issue, and he often speaks of civil liberties in speeches and TV appearances.

Made all the more interesting by the fact that Rand Paul attended, even spoke at, a rally where militia members holding assault rifles advocated the violent overthrow of the government and execution of liberal journalists. You know, the same militia that is good buddies with the Hutaree out of Michigan that where arrested for plotting just that.

The $7 Trillion Lie: Palin Falsely Claims Debt Has Grown More Under Obama Than ‘All Other Presidents Combined’

WI Supreme Court challenger Joanne Kloppenburg concedes defeat


CNN Poll:Seniors and Republicans

Obama’s overall approval rating among independents and Democrats is virtually unchanged since late April, but among Republicans it is up 12 points, to 27 percent,” Holland says. “That 27 percent sounds pretty anemic, but it’s Obama’s highest approval rating among Republicans in over two years.”

The same pattern holds among age groups. “Bin Laden’s death has not made much difference in Obama’s approval rating among people under the age of 65, but among senior citizens, positive views of his track record are up nine points, to 51 percent,” Holland adds.


Republicans May Need ‘Exit Strategy’ From Medicare Plan

Nate Silver:

The question about whether Mr. Ryan’s plan is popular right now, however, is not terribly important. Instead, what matters is the impact it could have with voters next November — after both sides have exhausted their opportunity to make arguments about it. When viewed in this way, the budget could be problematic for Republican candidates.

Take last month’s poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation, for example. It asked about a plan which, like Mr. Ryan’s, would change Medicare to a system of private insurance plans, with the government providing a voucher toward the purchase of care. Initially, support for the plan split about evenly, with 46 percent preferring the changes and 50 percent preferring to keep Medicare as it is. That’s not such a bad result for Republicans.

The problem is what happened when Kaiser read different arguments about the plan, arguments which resemble those which voters will hear over the next 18 months. To the 50 percent who were opposed to the plan originally, Kaiser recited a series of arguments that resemble those that Mr. Ryan himself is making: That the plan would reduce the deficit, that the plan would increase choice and that it would save Medicare from fiscal insolvency. Some respondents, 17 percent of those who were originally opposed to the plan, changed their mind after hearing these arguments.

Meanwhile, to the voters who originally supported the plan, Kaiser read another set of arguments, those which resemble the ones that Democrats are making. They said that the plan would increase health care costs and reduce benefits, would do too much to empower private insurance companies, and would “eliminate traditional Medicare.” Upon hearing these arguments, 42 percent of voters who originally supported the plans changed their minds and said they were no longer in favor of it.

Democrats, in other words, seem to have the more persuasive side of the argument — their case was more than twice as likely to change a voter’s mind.

The Kaiser poll is not an isolated example. A poll last month from Democracy Corps, a Democratic firm, inquired about Mr. Ryan’s overall approach to the budget (not just the Medicare provisions) in somewhat the same fashion. Initially, a 48-33 plurality of likely voters supported the plan. After being read a set of arguments both for and against it, however, a number of voters changed their mind and the plan was opposed 51-44.

Republican polling on the plan, according to Politico’s Glenn Thrush and Jake Sherman, shows the same pattern:

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.

If these poll results are right, they represent a lot of danger to Republicans because they suggest that voters’ assessments of the Medicare proposal are not yet fully “priced in” to their views of the parties more broadly. Right now, most people aren’t paying all that much attention to the budget debates or to domestic politics more generally. But they will tune in at some point between now and next November, and when they do they may find that the Republicans’ approach to the budget is not to their liking.


NEW PPC IOWA POLL: Romney 21%, Cain 15%, Palin 15%

PEW: Just one-in-ten Americans (9%) have a positive reaction when they see the Confederate flag displayed.

Drinking The Pseudo-Poll Kool-Aid

Chait announces, with some glee, that Republican leaders have fully “convinced themselves of their own pseudo-polls” on the Ryan budget:

Advocacy groups for every cause under the sun like to commission polls that show that the public agrees with them, and it can almost always be done if the wording is just right. If that somehow fails, the pollster-for-hire can present the respondents with arguments that are designed to push them toward the desired result.

This trick can gin up the appearance of public support. But it’s not an actual tool for measuring public opinion, because in real life political debates, you can’t control the arguments your opponent decides to make. New York Times blogger Nate Silver recently joked, “Our plan to cut deficit by selling nukes to Afghan warlords will be VERY popular once voters get to hear both sides of the argument.” And, of course, if you worded it just right – Would you approve of a plan to simultaneously reduce the deficit and arm anti-communist freedom fighters who have strong religious values? – you could probably get a result like that.



US Supreme Court rules Ashcroft can’t be held responsible in case of detention and abuse of innocent Muslim-American

The Supreme Court ruled today that former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft cannot be personally sued over his role in the arrest of an innocent American citizen, a Muslim man who was never charged with a crime. From the Associated Press:

By a 5-3 vote, the court said Ashcroft did not violate the constitutional rights of Abdullah al-Kidd, who was arrested in 2003 under a federal law intended to make sure witnesses testify in criminal proceedings. Al-Kidd claimed in a federal lawsuit that the arrest and detention violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

He was held for 16 days, during which he was strip-searched repeatedly, left naked in a jail cell and shower for more than 90 minutes in view of other men and women, routinely transported in handcuffs and leg irons, and kept with people who had been convicted of violent crimes.

The ACLU’s response to the ruling is here.


Scalia Invents a New Meaning for “Suspicion” while Letting Ashcroft Off the Hook

SCOTUS has just ruled unanimously that John Ashcroft can’t be sued by Abdullah al-Kidd for using a material witness warrant to incarcerate him. The 8 justices (Elena Kagan recused herself) all agree there was no law explicitly prohibiting this kind of abuse of material witness warrants, so Ashcroft has immunity from suit.

Where the decision gets interesting is in the justices’ various statements about whether material witness warrants are valid under the Fourth Amendment. The court’s swing justice, Anthony Kennedy, basically invited a constitutional challenge of the material witness warrants themselves. […]

In other words, Scalia wants to broaden the Fourth Amendment to sanction searches (and arrests) of people suspected of knowing something or doing something (throwing a birthday party!), rather than just those suspected of doing something illegal.

Not only does Scalia’s novel interpretation of the word “suspicion” pre-empt future challenge to material witness warrants’ constitutionality, but it also lays a novel groundwork for sanctioning all the domestic surveillance the government has been conducting. After all, the government is wiretapping (or tracking the geolocation of) people who may or may not have committed a crime, but are suspected solely of talking to or hanging out in the vicinity of a suspected terrorist.

And because Kennedy didn’t tip his hand in either direction, that’s the kind of interpretation the government will use–no doubt in its secret interpretations of the laws–to claim it can surveill even those of us suspected of no crime.

Because suspicion doesn’t mean what it used to mean.



Harvard academic starts initiative to boost accuracy of Wikipedia’s psychology articles

Pete Seeger on youth, careers, and social movements

Part 2 of a 3-part interview

David Kupfer visited with Pete Seeger just before his 90th birthday in the spring of 2009, on a warm afternoon. The home he shares with his wife Toshi overlooks the Hudson River and Denny’s Point near Beacon, New York. This is the second installment of a three part series based on the interviews. (The first part: Pete Seeger on the power of songs, an interview.)

Growing up

David Kupfer: Didn’t Ernest Thompson Seton have a big influence on you as a young man?

Pete Seeger: He boosted the idea of learning about the North American Indians. I learned that they shared everything that they had. If somebody shot the deer, everything was shared with the rest of the tribe. There was no such thing as one person in the tribe going hungry and others having full bellies. If there was hunger, everybody was hungry. The chief was hungry, and his wife and children were hungry. That seemed to me to be a sensible way to live.

Now today I know that anthropologists call that tribal communism. So I say that I was a Communist ever since I was age seven, when I first started reading about Seton. So these teenagers, they argued with me and said, “you’re going to be nice and let the rest of the world go to hell. That’s your idea of morality?”

DK: When you were a teenager?

PS: I was about 13, I was going to prep school at the time. I decided they were right. They posed their Jewish traditional sense of social consciousness against my more New England, Thoreau way of thinking. I decided they were right, so I got more involved. The following year I joined the Harvard student union, and I have been more involved, in one way or another ever since.


Actor Peter Fonda Said He’s Training His Grandsons to Shoot President Obama



All six recall petitions against Wisconsin GOP approved while three against Dems put on hold

All six recall petitions against Republican state Senators in have now been found sufficient by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB). In addition to the three petitions the GAB approved last week against Dan Kapanke, Randy Hopper, and Luther Olsen, this morning they approved the petitions against Sheila Harsdorf, Robert Cowles, and Alberta Darling.

Further, the GAB has delayed the determination of sufficiency or insufficiency on the three recall petitions filed against Democratic state Senators, due to the stronger challenges filed against those petitions:

In an announcement sure to shake up the drive to recall politicians from both parties, the Government Accountability Board said Friday that its members would not be able to consider the recall petitions of three Democrats when they meet on Tuesday.

This might push the recall elections against Democrats back a week to July 19, push all recall elections to that date, or possibly prevent any recall elections against Democrats from taking place. More detail on the still fluid schedule:[…]

The bottom line here is that all six of the vulnerable Republicans will face recall elections, while it remains uncertain if any Democrats will face such elections. That’s a big win.

In addition to Daily Kos and the two relevant Wisconsin Democratic Party committees, all six of the Democrats challenging Republicans in the recall elections are on the Orange to Blue page. Please, chip in $9, or $1 each, and prove that the new uprising against Republicans on the ground translates into success at the ballot box.



“Action is the antidote to despair.” – Joan Baez


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Abbyrose86ChernynkayaKQµårk 死神 Recent comment authors
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Hey Cher….I’m getting so TIRED of it all…what the hell is wrong with our nation?????????

I know I say this often…but I can’t understand how it has gotten so out of control…and how any somewhat decent and intelligent human being can take ANYTHING the GOP says or does seriously??? I mean WTF???

SIGH….I just can’t stand it!

I am doing all I can on my end, to stay involved, inform those around me, keep people motivated and paying attention, as well as taking the leap into the foray of political life myself …as I know many around here are doing as well..but seriously, it’s getting a tad disheartening lately. Sometimes it truly feels like we are on the Titanic and trying to bail it out with a spoon.

KQµårk 死神

Nice roundup. It’s amazing how the GOP works by pure extortion from the budget ceiling to the commerce secretary.

There will be many “experiments” in cutting Medicare that all will try to break from fee-for-service that will bankrupt the system. Setting fees by beneficiary and illness codes is one way to do it which sounds like the plan they are trying with hospitals. Most people would not believe the over testing that is done on patients especially when their prognosis is not good near the end of life.