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The $113 Billion Hole: Ten Things America Gave Up This Year To Pay For The War In Afghanistan

President Obama is expected to announce within a week if and how many combat troops he plans to withdraw from the war in Afghanistan. Some of those who will be most impacted by the decision are U.S. soldiers and their families and Afghans who have been dealing with the ramifications of the war for nearly a decade.

Yet the war is affecting more than just Western soldiers and their families and Afghan citizens. It has become a costly drain on our nation’s treasury; the money that is being spent on the war represents resources that are being drained away from important domestic priorities in a nation with sky-high unemployment and crumbling infrastructure.

Using data from the National Priorities Project, ThinkProgress calculated ten investments America could’ve afforded if it didn’t spend $113 billion — the allotment made in Fiscal Year 2011 — on the war in Afghanistan. Each one of these policy options represents an equivalent $113 billion cost:

Provide 57.5 Million Children With Low-Income Health Care For 2011

– Provide 23 Million People With Low-Income Health Coverage In 2011

– Give 20.2 Million $5,500 Pell Grants To Students In 2011

– Provide 14.35 million Military Veterans With VA Medical Care In 2011

– Give 14.7 million Children Head Start Funding In 2011

– Give 14.26 Million Scholarships To University Students In 2011

– Employ 1.93 million Firefighters In 2011

– Hire 1.75 Million Elementary School Teachers In 2011

– Hire 1.65 Million Police Officers In 2011

– Equip 67.8 Million Households With The Ability To Use Wind Power In 2011

– Equip 25.39 Million Households With The Ability To Use Solar Photovoltaic Energy In 2011

Of course, none of this accounts for the human cost of losing our sons and daughters in war. 177 American soldiers have died in combat in 2011, and countless Afghans lost their lives as well.

As decision-makers plot their next steps in Afghanistan, they should weigh these costs as they determine the fate of a war that most Americans oppose and that even Republicans are beginning to back away from.


For Want of a Word, Arizona’s Jobless Lose Checks

Arizona’s legislature has resisted making a small word change, from “two” to “three,” in its statutes. Only if it does will Mr. Ballesteros continue to receive jobless benefits through November, allowing him to pay his mortgage and medical bills.

Otherwise, his checks stop next week.

“It is almost 100 degrees out there, and I am walking door to door handing out résumés,” said Mr. Ballesteros, who worked for 21 years at a nonprofit group in Tucson before getting laid off when funding dried up. “Now Arizona decided to kill the benefits extension from the federal government because some legislator decided we’re just sitting around on our butts waiting for a check.”

That last extension of unemployment benefits — typically received in weeks 80 through 99 of unemployment — is paid for entirely with federal money and does not affect state budgets. But because of ideological opposition and other legislative priorities, Arizona and a handful of other states, like Wisconsin and Alaska, have not made the one-word change necessary to keep the program going.

Right now about 640,000 jobless Americans are receiving this last tier of benefits, according to the National Employment Law Project. The money, appropriated in the 2009 federal stimulus package, was initially intended for states with jobless rates higher than they were two years earlier. Since the recovery has been much slower than predicted, though, Congress decided last December to allow states to continue receiving the money if their unemployment rates were higher than they were three years earlier. States simply needed to change “two” to “three” in the relevant state law.

Some economists say that cutting off the long-term unemployed from extended federal assistance could backfire by putting further strain on state economies instead. Indeed, most states were quick to make the one-word change, counting on the federal money not only to support ailing families but also to serve as a strong stimulus (jobless benefits are normally spent more quickly than, say, tax refunds). Nearly every state — Arizona included — had opted into the extended benefits program when it was introduced.

But now Arizona is reluctant. When Gov. Jan Brewer called a special session to address the issue last week, legislators didn’t introduce a bill. Republican legislators said they would consider the change only if it were packaged with other provisions, including tax cuts and stricter rules for receiving unemployment benefits in the first place.

“We prefer to look for long-term solutions so when the Obama administration money runs out Arizonans will have jobs,” said Andy Tobin, the Republican speaker of the house.

Some Arizona lawmakers expressed discomfort with the prospect of accepting more federal money.

“This is not free money,” said Al Melvin, a Republican state senator representing Tucson. “This is America’s money. We have a $14 trillion debt that has to be paid, and we need to stop spending money we don’t have.”

The last tier of federal benefits injects about $2.3 million a week into Arizona, and Mr. Melvin says he believes “every dollar’s important.”

Arizona’s deadline for continuing the federal benefits passed on June 11, though they could be reinstated retroactively. In the meantime, 15,000 workers have stopped receiving checks, and 30,000 more will most likely lose out on these benefits later this year, said Matthew Benson, a spokesman for Governor Brewer.

Mr. Ballesteros, who is on his 78th week of unemployment, is one of those workers. He receives $240 a week in benefits, or about $5 an hour for a full-time worker.

“These politicians just don’t realize how important that one $240 check is,” he said.

When he worked at a nonprofit managing a microloan program, Mr. Ballesteros earned $73,000 annually; now, he says, he is getting rejected — or worse, ignored — by employers who pay minimum wage.

“A grocery store here announced it had 100 positions available, and then they had 1,500 applying for the job,” he said. “I got there about 4:30 that first day but by that time it was too late. They told me they’d call me. That was a month ago.”

Five states — Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana and Utah — never accepted these federally funded benefits. Of those that did, some fought for months over whether to extend the program before finally acting as the deadline approached, including Florida, Pennsylvania and Nevada just this week. In North Carolina, the governor issued an executive order forcing the change after a long standoff with legislators.

Besides Arizona, two other states have not yet made the one-word change required to continue receiving the money. In Wisconsin, for example, the advisory council that refers bills on unemployment insurance to the state legislature has not even taken up the issue. The council comprises representatives from business and labor; the labor side has been too busy fighting back attacks on public unions.

“The management side is not inclined to approve this anyway absent concessions on their part,” said James Buchen, the lead management representative on the council. “The real question is whether there is still a need for extended benefits. We are increasingly hearing from people that they are having trouble hiring workers who are on unemployment because they want to wait until their benefits are exhausted.”

In Alaska, the issue has fallen by the wayside as well, and the state’s legislature has already adjourned for the year. In separate moves, five states — Illinois, Michigan, Florida, Arkansas and Missouri, according to the National Employment Law Project — have cut the first 26 weeks of unemployment benefits, which are paid by the state rather than the federal government. Labor leaders have argued that cutting jobless benefits — particularly money provided by the federal government — may be self-defeating.

When the unemployed stop receiving federal money they will cut back on spending, which means less income for local businesses. Many of them may also start relying more heavily on state services like Medicaid and homeless shelters, which are already strained for cash.

“I hate the idea that I’d become indigent if I can’t even get unemployment anymore,” Mr. Ballesteros said, fighting back tears as he described his unpaid medical bills and his struggles to afford his cholesterol medication. “I’m already afraid to get sick. I don’t want to be standing in a stupid line waiting for food, too.”

“I’m physically fit, and there’s no reason I don’t have another five years in me where I’ll be able to work,” he said. “For now I just need that stopgap.”




Tree rings record changing snowpack, research finds

Greg Pederson sees the recent publication of his research on snowpack declines in the West as a prime opportunity to reiterate the difference between climate and weather in this record-setting wet spring.

Pederson, an ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Bozeman, was the lead author of a paper published last week in Science magazine detailing the decline in snowpack observed by examining tree rings from the watersheds of the Columbia, Missouri and Colorado river basins dating back more than 800 years.

His findings: Not only has snowpack declined compared to past climate fluctuations, but there’s also been a “decoupling” of precipitation in the Colorado River basin and that of the Northern Rockies.


Climate change and rain

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, climate change is contributing to heavy rain and flooding. Warmer temperatures associated with climate change evaporate more ocean water and soil moisture, so that when storms do occur, there’s more moisture in the atmosphere to fall as rain.

Although Montana’s wet May is well known, parts of Wyoming got doused, too. Lander, Wyo., had its wettest May on record with 6.79 inches of precipitation. This beat the old record of 6.13 inches set in 2008. Newcastle, Wyo., also recorded its wettest May on record — 8.29 inches — which was 325 percent of normal. This crushed the old record of 6 inches, which was recorded in 1991.

Climate change doesn’t mean that temperatures don’t dip, as they did in Montana in May when Glasgow did not warm above 70 degrees for the first time since 1902. Lewistown beat that, with the town always having a temperature in the 70s in May going back to 1896 — but not this year.


Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning

The new captain jumped from the deck, fully dressed, and sprinted through the water. A former lifeguard, he kept his eyes on his victim as he headed straight for the couple swimming between their anchored sportfisher and the beach. “I think he thinks you’re drowning,” the husband said to his wife. They had been splashing each other and she had screamed but now they were just standing, neck-deep on the sand bar. “We’re fine, what is he doing?” she asked, a little annoyed. “We’re fine!” the husband yelled, waving him off, but his captain kept swimming hard. ”Move!” he barked as he sprinted between the stunned owners. Directly behind them, not ten feet away, their nine-year-old daughter was drowning. Safely above the surface in the arms of the captain, she burst into tears, “Daddy!”

How did this captain know – from fifty feet away – what the father couldn’t recognize from just ten? Drowning is not the violent, splashing, call for help that most people expect. The captain was trained to recognize drowning by experts and years of experience. The father, on the other hand, had learned what drowning looks like by watching television. If you spend time on or near the water (hint: that’s all of us) then you should make sure that you and your crew knows what to look for whenever people enter the water. Until she cried a tearful, “Daddy,” she hadn’t made a sound. As a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, I wasn’t surprised at all by this story. Drowning is almost always a deceptively quiet event. The waving, splashing, and yelling that dramatic conditioning (television) prepares us to look for, is rarely seen in real life.

The Instinctive Drowning Response – so named by Francesco A. Pia, Ph.D., is what people do to avoid actual or perceived suffocation in the water. And it does not look like most people expect. There is very little splashing, no waving, and no yelling or calls for help of any kind. To get an idea of just how quiet and undramatic from the surface drowning can be, consider this: It is the number two cause of accidental death in children, age 15 and under (just behind vehicle accidents) – of the approximately 750 children who will drown next year, about 375 of them will do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult. In ten percent of those drownings, the adult will actually watch them do it, having no idea it is happening (source: CDC). Drowning does not look like drowning – Dr. Pia, in an article in the Coast Guard’s On Scene Magazine, described the instinctive drowning response like this:

  1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary or overlaid function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs.

  2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.

Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe.

  • Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment.
  • From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.


What the White House gets wrong on Medicaid

Ezra Klein:

When I asked various experts how much you could realistically save in Medicaid over the next 10 years without doing immense damage to beneficiaries, they offered sums ranging from $10 billion to $50 billion. The White House is promising savings of $100 billion. And there are two main policies that get them there: cutting payments to doctors and cutting taxes on providers. And both of those policies are likelier to shift costs than to control them.

The administration doesn’t say they’re cutting payments to doctors, of course. They say that “the President’s framework would replace the current complicated Federal matching formulas with a single matching rate.” In wonk-speak, this is called a “blended rate,” and it’s a good idea as an administrative reform. Simpler is better, and Medicaid is not simple. But the policy only gets you big savings if the blend is lower than the average of the various rates that Medicaid would otherwise pay. The problem is that Medicaid is too cheap now. Doctors frequently refuse to accept it. The care is often skimpy. We’ve cut those payments to the bone. There’s no way to cut them further without hurting beneficiaries.

The tax cuts for providers are a more complicated story. The way Medicaid works is that the federal government matches state contributions. So the more a state spends on Medicaid, the more the federal government will spend. Some states, such as Texas, have very stingy Medicaid programs, which is why fully a quarter of their population is uninsured. Other states are more generous. But a few states have figured out a way to work with providers to game this system.

By taxing providers on the state level, they increase the amount of money they can spend on Medicaid, and that money gets matched by the federal government. That’s good for the state, obviously. And it’s pretty good for the providers, as they get more patients. Ultimately, though, the people it’s really good for are individuals who are getting insurance coverage because of this scheme.

The federal government, however, doesn’t like it. It raises their costs. Providers often get a bit of a kickback. And so the Obama administration proposes to “clamp down on States’ use of provider taxes to lower their own spending while not providing additional health services through Medicaid.” Ultimately, this’ll either make Medicaid stingier or it won’t really cut costs. Since the administration is saying it will sharply cut costs, then beneficiaries are going to take a hit.

The administration argues that the Affordable Care Act is dramatically increasing the federal support that states get for their Medicaid populations. This just ratchets back a bit of that money to deal with the deficit. That may be true. But even post-Affordable Care Act, Medicaid is trying to do its job on the cheap. That, after all, is why the Affordable Care Act used Medicaid for half of the coverage expansion. It kept the policy’s price tag down.

In a world where we absolutely had to cut Medicaid’s spending right now, perhaps these policies would be more appealing. It’s easy to talk about the savings we might be able to get by delivering better care to the sickest patients, but if you need to cut the deficit right now, you need policies that are less speculative. But given how much less the administration is doing on taxes and defense cuts than even the bipartisan fiscal commission, it’s hard to argue that we need to lift this money out of Medicaid. The administration could add $200 billion to their tax increases and still be below the Simpson-Bowles report. Now, it’s true that the Republicans don’t want to raise taxes, even if that’s what we need to do. But that doesn’t mean the Obama administration should accept — much less be proposing — deep cuts in Medicaid when they’re not strictly necessary.


When government takes the scenic route

Gridlock is supposed to stop the government from acting. That’s what Republicans are hoping will happen, for instance, if they prevent the administration from ever confirming a director for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But often, that’s not quite what gridlock does. Like a car forced to take side streets, gridlock can reroute government action, force it to get where it’s going less efficiently, with more waste, and more chance of accidents. Take, for instance, the directorless Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Josh Boak has a great story today explaining that, since the agency can’t make rules without a director, “the bureau most likely will set policy by conducting investigations.” He quotes a report by Jaret Seiberg, an analyst for the brokerage firm MF Global, in which Seiberg explains that “the ability of the CFPB to investigate financial firms and then bring enforcement actions for violating existing laws is the most potent weapon the agency has absent a director. It is also one that will garner politically attractive headlines.”

That’s not good for banks. Jeremiah Buckley, a former Republican staff director on the Senate Banking Committee, tells Boak that “it’s very hard to fight an enforcement action. Usually, financial firms with their reputations on the line will settle.” Which suggests that the banks might want to prevail on their friends in the Republican Party to let a director be confirmed lest the CFPB turn into a headline-hungry bureau that works in public, with investigations and individually tailored punishments, rather than in private, through rules written in consultation with the financial sector.

The rerouting of government isn’t limited to consumer protection, of course. As I argued in this article, you can see it in energy policy, where the EPA is taking over carbon regulation because Congress couldn’t act, and the economy, where the Federal Reserve is stepping into a larger role because Congress won’t act, and health-care reform, where the Independent Payment Advisory Board is set to take over much of Medicare reform because Congress historically doesn’t act. Neither liberals nor conservatives should cheer these outcomes: It’s the substitution of less democratic, less accountable, and in many cases, less effective forms of governance. But in a situation where the majority wants to govern and the minority won’t let it, this is what you get: not gridlock, but the scenic route.




How MSNBC is surviving after Olbermann

Keith Olbermann essentially invented the present-day MSNBC, but he didn’t take it with him when he left.

As Olbermann prepares for his debut on Current TV on Monday night, the MSNBC he left behind has survived; its boss says it has thrived. The prime-time focus on left-of-center political talk show hosts that began with Olbermann’s transformation to on-air activist remains. Rachel Maddow, once Olbermann’s protege, has taken over as the network’s marquee name.

So far this year, MSNBC’s average weekday prime-time audience is 965,000 viewers, or 10 percent more than last year over the same period, the Nielsen Co. says. Fox, easily the market leader with 2.4 million viewers, is down 12 percent in the same comparison, and third-place CNN is up 10 percent, with 770,000 viewers.

“I was surprised that we did not dip at all,” said Phil Griffin, MSNBC’s chief executive. “I was prepared for a 10 percent dip.”

Dig deeper into the numbers and the picture isn’t quite as clear. Viewership at 8 p.m. following Jan. 24, when Lawrence O’Donnell took over following Olbermann’s abrupt departure, is down 6 percent from last year, Nielsen says. Ed Schultz’s 10 p.m. hour is up 29 percent over last year, but MSNBC in early 2010 aired an Olbermann rerun at that hour, meaning Schultz’s audience of 884,000 is being compared with recycled material a year earlier.

There’s nothing uncertain about Maddow’s ascension. She has 1.05 million viewers, on average, this year, a bump of 100,000 over a year before.

“She really has elevated the discussion and is in many ways the model that we want for cable news,” Griffin said.

Maddow has been the constant in MSNBC’s prime-time lineup. O’Donnell, who had gotten his own show after delivering strong ratings as a guest host for Olbermann, moved from 10 p.m. Eastern to 8 p.m. after Olbermann left. Schultz had been working earlier in the evening and got his shot in prime time.

Each man has attracted attention in recent months for some overheated commentary. In O’Donnell’s case, he went hard after “Celebrity Apprentice” star Donald Trump during the real estate mogul’s flirtation with a presidential candidacy. O’Donnell called Trump “the most deranged egomaniac” in NBC entertainment history.

Schultz was suspended for a week in May after referring to conservative host Laura Ingraham as a “right-wing slut” while on his radio show. He apologized for the remark.

MSNBC is still a destination for liberal viewers, but there’s some disappointment that network personalities aren’t more challenging to the Obama administration and Democratic orthodoxy, said Jeff Cohen, an Ithaca University journalism professor and liberal activist. He said there hasn’t been enough debate about military action in Afghanistan and Libya.

“I would argue that it was more independent when Olbermann was there,” Cohen said. “His charm, if you can call it that, is that he’s uncontrollable. He’s not a party-line guy.”

MSNBC is facing the same issue that Fox News had during the Bush administration: It’s not as exciting being on defense when the party you support is in power as it is being on the outs and on the attack, said Tim Graham of the conservative Media Research Center.

“Now it’s, `Let’s not make trouble for these people. They have enough to handle with angry conservatives,'” he said.

Griffin said that analysis is flat-out wrong. He said there was extensive debate among MSNBC hosts about the extension of President George W. Bush’s tax cuts, for example. Network personalities also harshly criticized the Obama administration for not fighting Wisconsin legislation that unions considered harmful, he said.

“We are not a rubber stamp, and it would be wrong for anybody to imply otherwise,” he said.

Even if he hasn’t been on the air, Olbermann has been critical of the Obama administration. He released a video on Current’s website in April saying the administration’s decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a military procedure instead of civilian court was wrong.

The big test for MSNBC comes this week as Olbermann begins competing head-to-head against the man who was once his substitute host. MSNBC has an advantage in reach because the network is available in more than 95 million of the nation’s nearly 115 million homes with television. Current TV is in some 60 million, often hidden way up the network dials.

Griffin won’t talk about Olbermann or his Current show.

He’s bullish on MSNBC, though, and predicted that within a couple of years his network would even be able to seriously challenge ratings leader Fox in certain hours.

“MSNBC has established a sensibility, a position, a platform,” he said. “MSNBC stands for something and MSNBC is really the place to go for progressives and people who are looking for smart, thoughtful analysis. We’re growing, and we’re putting real effort behind it.”


For Those Who Do NOT Have Access to CurrentTV….

You do NOT have to subscribe to any premium channel service or tier in order to have access to COUNTDOWn with Keith Olbermann…..

It is available FREE through Apple’s iTunes Store.

Here’s the procedure:

1. If not already a member, go to the Apple iTunes Store and set up an account. (You will need to download iTunes software from if you do not already have it. It is available for both PCs and MAcs).

2. Click on iTunes Store.

3. Click on TV Shows.

4. Do a search for ‘Olbermann’. Several options will appear, one of them being his new COUNTDOWN program on CurrentTV.

5. Click on ‘SUBSCRIBE”. It is free – and will download each broadcast automatically on a daily basis.

Just wanted to let everyone know that you do not have to fork over additional monies (or any money at all) to have access to our Keith!!!!



The ‘most consistently misinformed media viewers’(VIDEO)

Steve Benen:

I’d remiss if I didn’t also flag this gem from Jon Stewart’s appearance on “Fox News Sunday” this morning. He was explaining that he, as a comedian, doesn’t deserve credibility in political media, and it’s ultimately the result of “the disappointment the public has in what the news media does.”

Chris Wallace rejected the premise, arguing that Fox News viewers “aren’t the least bit disappointed” with what their preferred network does. Stewart’s response was an important one.

“In polls,” Stewart said, in a surprisingly angry tone, “who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers? The most consistently misinformed? Fox. Fox viewers. Consistently. Every poll.”

Wallace then changed the subject.

I suppose I can’t blame the host for that, because what Stewart said happens to be true. Fox News’ minions “aren’t the least bit disappointed” with what the Republican news network provides, but they’re not actually learning anything about current events or the world around them.

The quantifiable evidence is overwhelming. Eight years ago, just six months into the war in Iraq, the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland found that those who relied on the Republican network were “three times more likely than the next nearest network to hold all three misperceptions — about WMD in Iraq, Saddam Hussein was involved with 9/11, and foreign support for the U.S. position on the war in Iraq.”

As Ben Armbruster noted a while back, “An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll out [in 2009] found that Fox News viewers were overwhelmingly misinformed about health care reform proposals. A 2008 Pew study ranked Fox News last in the number of ‘high knowledge’ viewers and a 2007 Pew poll ranked Fox viewers as the least knowledgeable about national and international affairs.”

The problem is actually getting worse.




White House gets grilled at Netroots


Firebagger Panel Disconnected with Reality

Several members of the firebagger high command appeared on a panel at Netroots Nation to beat their myopic unrealistic mythological drum about how President Obama is the worst president ever, etc, etc.

The panel was called “What to Do When the President is Just Not that Into You.” Yeah. Clever — two years ago. Ugh. Anyway, it was Dan Choi, John Aravosis of AmericaBlog and, naturally, Jane Hamsher collectively lying about the president’s record on, among other things, LGBT rights.

Dan Choi appeared on Lawrence O’Donnell last night to repeat all of the hyperbolic silliness about how the president has broken all of his promises to the gay community — an accusation that simply is not true. Here’s the video:

Here’s Aravosis during the panel:

“I would probably vote for the president in the end, but I’d also do everything that I can to shame him,” said Aravosis, who writes about gay rights issues. “But I don’t think they realize how damaging that is.” […]

“We always say we simply expected what he promised,” Aravosis said “The White House would rather not engage at all — at least with the big stuff. We were told he’d be a fierce advocate, and he’s been not fierce at all and not much of an advocate.”

Not a fierce advocate? Not that into you? Horseshit. Utter horseshit. In addition to the Obama administration deciding not to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act because, in in the view of the Obama Justice Department, the law is unconstitutional, the president has also racked up the following LGBT achievements:

Signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded existing United States federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability – the first positive federal LGBT legislation in the nation’s history

Signed repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell

Signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act

Reversed an inexcusable US position by signing the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Extended benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees in 2009 and, further, in 2010

Lifted the HIV Entry Ban effective January 2010

Issued diplomatic passports, and provided other benefits, to the partners of same-sex foreign service employees

Committed to ensuring that federal housing programs are open to all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity

Banned job discrimination based on gender identity throughout the Federal government (the nation’s largest employer)

Eliminated the discriminatory Census Bureau policy that kept gay relationships from being counted

Instructed HHS to require any hospital receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds (virtually all hospitals) to allow LGBT visitation rights

Required all grant applicants seeking HUD funding to comply with state and local anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBT individuals

Adopted transgender recommendations on the issuance of gender-appropriate passports that will ease barriers to safe travel and that will provide government-issued ID that avoids involuntary “outing” in situations requiring ID, like hiring, where a gender-appropriate driver’s license or birth certificate is not available

Extended domestic violence protections to LGBT victims

Extended the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover employees taking unpaid leave to care for the children of same-sex partners

Issued guidance specifically to assist LGBT tenants denied housing on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity

Check that out. That’s a long, long list for someone who “just isn’t that into” same-sex rights. Oh — correction. That’s only HALF the list. The rest of the list is here.

And, and, AND the administration announced this late last week:

The Obama administration is set on Friday to issue policy guidance to states expanding their ability to offer same-sex couples the same protections afforded to straight couples when they receive long-term care under Medicaid, the Washington Blade has learned exclusively.

Worse than Bush!

I hope Lawrence O’Donnell hosts a realistic, rational progressive (or several) to enumerate the truth about the Obama administration’s LGBT record.

Meanwhile, the firebaggers need to ditch this fiction about the president and embrace reality — or, better yet, people simply need to stop buying into their ridiculous whining, lying and undermining of a realistic progressive agenda.


Netroots Nation 2011 And How President Obama Has Led!

I kept thinking about going to Netroots Nation 2011 this year because I knew that the organizers are very anti-Obama and I really wanted to get in their faces. I’m sure it would not have been a pleasant scene, not that I care, but unfortunately, I was not able to attend. I would have been that guy being dragged out of the session, singing a protest song or screaming “don’t taze me bro”. I probably would have screamed “Real progressives care about progress, not their fucking egos” or “You’re sore losers, get over Hillary’s loss” or maybe “How is hurting the Democratic Party going to help progressives?”. But like I said, it probably wouldn’t have been a pleasant scene, because I would have been a heckler at the Aravosis, Choi and Hamsher bitchfest. I would have made the biggest fucking scene, oh man.

When checking out the Netroots Nation 2011 website and seeing the agenda, it occurred to me once again, that President Obama is definitely the leader they should be rallying around. They have many panels and discussions about topics that President Obama has been a fierce leader on. It proves that President Obama is the most progressive president we’ve ever had. Here is a description of one panel on their schedule, followed by the many things President Obama has done on each topic.

Our Progressive History (The Historical Roots of Many Issues We Fight on Today)

Thu, 06/16/2011 – 4:30pm, M100 H

The issues progressives work on today have long and storied histories–ones that provide valuable lessons for today’s modern progressive movement. In this panel, progressive historians and scholars will explore brief histories of the key issues of our time, including labor, Social Security, the welfare state and safety net, women’s rights, immigration, the religious right, voting rights and equality.

So of course I immediately thought of all the great things that Obama administration has accomplished in those areas. Google President Obama and accomplishments and you will find many of them.


Established POWER Initiative – protects government workers, ensures reemployment, reduces worker’s comp claims and payments. ref

  • Restored funding to the EEOC and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. ref
  • Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; Instituted equal pay for women. ref, ref, ref

Social Security

  • Social Security Disability Applicant Access to Professional Representation Act of 2010. ref
  • President Obama has been emphatic about his support for Social Security, here, here and here.

Welfare State and Safety Net

  • Expanded eligibility for Medicaid. ref
  • Provided $20 billion increase for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. ref
  • Increased funding to expand community based prevention prog: rams. ref
  • Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act // Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (March 2010). ref , ref
  • Expanded eligibility for State Children’s Health Insurance Fund (SCHIP). ref, ref

Women’s Rights

  • Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act; Instituted equal pay for women. ref, ref, ref
  • Presidential Memorandum extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. ref , ref , ref , ref
  • Established White House Council on Women and Girls (Executive Order 13506 ). ref
  • Financial agencies must establish Offices of Women and Minorities to promote more diverse hiring.
  • Established a New Patient’s Bill of Rights. ref
  • Increased funding to expand community based prevention prog: rams. ref


  • Requested emergency funding of $600 million for Border Security. ref
  • Has supported and continues to support passage of the Dream Act which the congress has dropped the ball on.
  • President Obama continues to meet with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to get the Dream Act passed.


  • Presidential Memorandum extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees. ref , ref , ref , ref
  • Presidential Memorandum protecting gay and lesbian partners’ visitation/healthcare decision-making rights (4/15/2010). ref
  • Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act to include gender, sexual orientation and disability. ref
  • Used the proper procedure for the permanent repeal of DADT, ending the Clinton era program that continued discrimination against GLBT service members.
  • Financial agencies must establish Offices of Women and Minorities to promote more diverse hiring.
  • Increased minority access to capital. ref
  • Signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. ref
  • Increased Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities (Exec Order)(celebrating 20th anniversary of the ADA). ref, ref
  • Civil Rights History Project Act of 2009. ref, ref
  • Tribal Law and Order Act. ref, ref, ref, ref

So as you can see, the President has been a great leader on all of those issues that were discussed in that panel at Netroots Nation 2011. I wasn’t there, but I’m sure they spent much of the time talking about all the great things the Obama administration has done and how they can help him continue to fight for those issues. I just know that is how the panel went, but like I said, I wasn’t there.


In New Orleans, Republicans debate the best way to sell their message and defeat Obama.

The Republican Party is intense, fed up and worried. But until the primary process sorts itself out, activists sitting in the meat-locker temperatures of the New Orleans Hilton are frustrated in limbo: Desperate to take up the cause against President Obama, but determined not to pick someone who yells “2012” but tells it so wrong no one votes for the Republican.

Two different approaches for success in next year’s election emerged during the first two days of the conference, highlighting the central fault line in Republican politics between pragmatism and principle. This is not a new story—in politics or the Republican Party—but some of the players are new, and the stakes are high for a country whose voters are worried about the future. “In my 42 years in presidential campaigns, this is the first time I’ve heard this statement,” said Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi. “I’m afraid my children and grandchildren are not going to inherit the country I inherited.”

Barbour and other Republicans could be accused of hyperbole. The out-of-power party always tries to make the situation seem as dire as possible. But the fear he articulates animates both parties. 62 percent of the country thinks America is on the wrong track according to the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. An astounding 78 percent of the public is dissatisfied with the direction of the country, according to the Gallup poll. It’s just that the two parties put the blame in different places: China, corporations, unions, Obama.

Addressing this underlying worry will be the key task of the president elected in 2012. In the GOP there is agreement on the villain, but not quite on the method of deposing him. Barbour made the pragmatic case you’d expect from a former chairman of the national party. “Don’t get hung up on purity,” he said. “In politics, purity is a loser.” He reminded the crowd of Ronald Reagan’s saying that someone who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is your friend and ally—”he’s not a 20 percent traitor.” The message was clear: Don’t let a few disagreements prevent you from picking a presidential nominee who can beat Obama.

Barbour was well received. So was his speech, which was full of the witticisms and the slow-rolling jokes that are his trademark. Barbour gives voters jokes they can take home in their pocket, a key skill for any successful politician. Anyone who ran their business like the federal government “could write a book,” Barbour said. “And it would start with Chapter 11.” Unlike other speakers at the conference, who tended to grind the humor in with the heel of their shoe, Barbour’s is merely needling: “Obama’s policy of driving up the price of energy seems to be the only policy that works.”

As if to bring the opposing viewpoint in the GOP field into stark contrast, Barbour was followed by Rep. Tom McClintock of California, who argued the party would lose in 2012 if it compromised on principles. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina spoke an hour later and sounded the same theme, reminding voters of what he said last fall: “I’d rather have 30 Republicans that believe in the principles of freedom than 60 Republicans who don’t believe in anything at all.” Some in the crowd stood to applaud. DeMint noted that Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Rand Paul of Kentucky had all been elected on this theory.

Barbour would agree with DeMint in principle, but might argue that where the line falls between pragmatism and principle has yet to be determined. Rep. Michele Bachmann thinks she knows. A crowd favorite, she was surfing off of the positive reviews of her New Hampshire debate performance where one poll shows she got a bump. In an era of no compromise, Bachmann presents herself as a fighter in the arena. For certain candidates it might be a liability to be a Washington politician. It isn’t a liability when your message is that you are a constant irritant to business as usual.

Much of the first two days of the conference were spent railing at Obama’s policies. Health care reform and financial regulatory reform were the two main targets, with a big dose of irritation that Obama has not allowed sufficient exploration of domestic sources of energy. Even amid this constant stream of hyperbole, however, Bachmann stood out. “You survived Katrina and you survived President Obama’s oil-drilling moratorium,” she said. “There’s nothing you can’t survive.”

Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana warned the audience late Friday to avoid too much bile. Recalling the “shrill, absurd and negative rhetoric” of those who hated George Bush, he said, “We must not mimic their shallow approach.” Later, in an interview with Politico‘s Jonathan Martin, Jindal was more pointed: “I think It’s hypocritical to say, ‘Well, it’s not patriotic when they do that to President Bush but it’s OK for our side to [do] it to President Obama.”

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich offered the most actual ideas. Gingrich had a five-point plan for everything from taxes to energy. He would eliminate the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, considered the nation’s most liberal, allow businesses to expense all the new equipment they would buy and replace the EPA with the ESA: the “environmental solutions agency.” Leaving aside for the moment whether any of his ideas are plausible or good, he does distinguish himself from the rest of the Republican field. He has spent time thinking (maybe that vacation was actually worth it). He has a notion of how to proceed, and some idea of how the presidency actually works. He is not timid about laying out what he wants to do with some specificity. This should be encouraged in every presidential candidate. Most are timid, waddling onstage in a Michelin Man suit of bromides and poll-tested phrases.

When you’re running against an incumbent, this is safe politics. House Republicans, now in the majority, proved this in the last election. Too much specificity gives people details to be unhappy about. Herman Cain knows this very well. He promises common-sense solutions, but his policy prescriptions are not deep dish. However, he does have lots of pleasing aphorisms and sayings that you can imagine would look nice on one of those motivational posters. Comparing himself, as he often does, to the aerodynamically challenged bumble bee that “didn’t get the memo” that it wasn’t supposed to be able to fly, he says: “I didn’t get the memo that I’m not supposed to run.”

And then there is Rep. Ron Paul. A few minutes before taking the stage, the empty spaces in the ballroom were filled up with young, sign-wielding followers. When Cain said an attack on Israel should be considered an attack on the United States, the isolationist Paul forces booed. The establishment Republicans in seats stood to cheer and drown them out. Knowing the Paul was due to speak next, the men in blazers and women with elaborate pins trickled out of the VIP section.

The hall, which had already been pretty lively, erupted into a roar. “End the Fed!” was the first loud chant, but it was hard to keep track as the message of personal freedom and liberty excited his crowd. (They applaud with a practiced enthusiasm that could pulverize a walnut). Paul was a roving abolitionist, singling out for elimination government regulations on milk, hemp, drugs, and abortion. He got a little wound up. Federal bureaucrats even “get involved in education,” he said. “The TSA tells you what your kids can do. ”

The VIP section grew very still while he talked about drug legalization and a highly limited U.S. foreign policy. When he cited Reagan to support his argument that U.S. foreign policy should be based on the simple rule that we wouldn’t do anything to another country we wouldn’t want done to us, it was almost too much for them.

After two days filled with talk of freedom, Paul seemed like the pure form of the argument. Quoting from Samuel Adams, he defined his cause and followers as the “irate tireless minority willing to start the brushfires of freedom in the minds of man.” Then he noted with a wry smile that “others who are running for leadership are starting to use our language.” As if to prove his point, when DeMint took the stage he couldn’t help but comment on Paul’s speech. “I used to think you were crazy, Ron,” he said. “But I’m starting to think I’m a little crazy myself.”


The Focus Now Shifts to 2012

Charlie Cook:

It is hardly unusual for the party holding the White House to incur midterm election losses; indeed, such defeats for the president’s party are the norm, having lost congressional seats in 15 out of 17 post-World War II midterm elections. The only exceptions were in 1998, after the ill-fated attempt to

impeach and remove President Clinton from office, and in 2002, the election 14 months after the 9/11 tragedy. But when the majority party of the U.S. House suffers the greatest loss of congressional seats by either party in 62 years, the most in a midterm election in 72 years, plus net losses of six U.S. Senate seats, six governorships, and almost 700 state legislative seats the largest decline in state legislative seats in more than a half century obviously something big was going on. Voters were trying to say something. […]

What appears to have happened is that in the lower profile races, it was almost a parliamentary election voters casting their ballots on the basis of party more than anything else. In the higher profile senatorial and gubernatorial contests, where candidates are better defined and the elections tend to get more news coverage, the strengths and weaknesses of individual candidates and their campaigns mattered more, and voters were more discriminating in their choices of who they threw out and who they retained. […]

Why Did Voters Change Tack?

Political scientists have several theories about the strong propensity for midterm election losses for the party holding the White House. One is that midterm elections are referenda on the president, a preliminary verdict of whether voters are happy or not. Almost invariably, two and six years into a presidency, voters are unhappy about something. With unemployment just barely under 10 percent, not to mention the ambitious and controversial legislative agenda pursued by President Obama and congressional Democrats, there certainly were plenty of reasons for voters to want to express their displeasure.

A second political science theory is ‘‘surge and decline.’’ When presidents are elected or re-elected, the most pressing issues of the year, the particular voter turnout characteristics that year, and other dynamics that work to benefit many of that party’s candidates are often referred to as the presidential candidate’s ‘‘coattails.’’ Two years later in the next midterm election, when circumstances are different and there are no presidential coattails to cling to, many of that party’s candidates lose.

The third theory is restoration of balance. Upon capturing their party’spresidential nomination, candidates for the White House run toward the ideological center where presidential elections are usually won. The victorious candidates often (and erroneously) then interpret their victory as an ideological one and begin to govern for their party’s natural-inclination, Republicans from the right and Democrats from the left. Two years later, voters, having cast their ballots for the candidate perceived as most centrist, become resentful with more than a light case of buyer’s remorse setting in, and then seek to restore balance, voting for the opposition party in order to bring things back over to the middle.

The 2010 midterm elections appear to contain The 2010 midterm elections appear to contain elements of each of these theories. […]

After the lame-duck session of Congress, when Obama moved back to the middle in several highly-publicized compromises with Congress, the president saw his job approval numbers rise. From mid-June 2010 through the election, President Obama’s weekly job approval ratings in the Gallup Poll never exceeded 46 percent. In the four weeks following the lame-duck session, his approval rating never dropped below the level of 48 percent.

What To Expect Heading Toward 2012

President Obama’s turn toward the center seemed to match up well, at least stylistically, with the approach of newly-elected House Speaker John Boehner. While certainly a conservative, Boehner above all else is an institutionalist, not given to histrionics, bombast, or rhetorical excesses. Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have studied the mistakes made by then speaker

Newt Gingrich and congressional Republicans in 1995-1996 and seem determined not to repeat them. Nevertheless, Boehner pushed through the House a measure that sought to repeal President Obama’s health care reform act, and Republicans were obliged to push for repeal in the Senate. Republicans owed their base a good-faith effort to overturn the controversial law, even though the votes to repeal it did not exist in the Senate. Republican leaders saw a need to ‘‘check the box’’ on attempting repeal before moving on to making more realistic changes in the law and other issues.

In the aftermath of the tragic shooting in Tucson that badly wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), killed six and wounded a dozen others, there seems to be a determination on the part of leaders in both parties to dial down the partisan rhetoric and seek some restoration of civility to the political process. While few expect these changes to be permanent, it does mean that 2011 will begin with a new and different tone and at least an effort to make things different.

The year 2011 is a transitional one, with House Republicans having to make the change from being an opposition party to one with a role in governing, having to shoulder responsibility rather than just being on the attack. Meanwhile, their colleagues on the Senate side are all but measuring for drapes as they are widely expected to pick up a majority in 2012 when Democrats, currently with a narrow 53—47 seat edge, have 23 seats to defend compared to only 10 that Republicans have to worry about. More than just a quantitative level of vulnerability, the 23 Democratic Senators with seats up for re-election were last elected in 2006, a great year for Democrats, while the 10 Republicans who won are a hardy breed, having prevailed in a very hostile environment for their party.

Things are hardly better for Democrats in 2014, when they have 20 seats up, compared to only 13 for the GOP. With 43 seats up in 2012 and 2014 combined to only 23 for Republicans, it is very hard to see how Democrats can retain their edge in the upper chamber.

President Obama must reposition himself for re-election this year after a calamitous first two years in office. Having seen his job approval ratings improve after his move toward the center and compromising with Republicans in the lame-duck session, any see this as a roadmap for Obama, just as a move toward the center in 1995 and 1996 provided President Clinton with a pathway to re-election.

But unlike the situation that Clinton found himself in after devastating losses for his party in 1994, Obama has a very difficult economic climate and is trying to extricate the country from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In comparison, some would argue that Clinton was in an easy situation. President Obama will have a difficult balancing act, leaving sufficient troops in place in Afghanistan to help stabilize the troubled nation while heeding demands from liberals in his party to remove as many troops as quickly as possible. How he juggles this problem could decide whether his surge in Afghanistan will be seen as successful or folly, and could determine whether he draws a challenge to his re-nomination from anti-war elements in the Democratic Party.

His other challenge is the economy, where the shape of this recovery is far different from the post-World War II norm. In the past, housing has led ‘‘V-shaped’’ recoveries, where elastic economies snapped back into place like rubber bands. With the housing market shaken to the core by millions of ‘‘underwater’’ mortgages, where homeowners owe more than the diminished value of their homes, and an industry going through a painful deleveraging process, real estate and housing will likely be a drag rather than a leader of this recovery.

President Reagan was able to rebound from tough 1982 midterm election losses with a period of robust growth that enabled him to win a 49-state reelection victory. But few, if any, economists expect that kind of growth over the next two years, bringing an enormous amount of uncertainty regarding President Obama’s re-election prospects. If unemployment were to drop from the December 2010 level of 9.4 percent down to eight percent or lower by November 2012, his re-election prospects would brighten significantly. On the other hand, if unemployment is close to or higher than nine percent, it is much harder to see how he can prevail over any but the weakest GOP challenger.

Arguably the state of the economy is of greater consequence than who Republicans nominate. If the economy bounces back strongly, even the most formidable Republican would have a hard time winning. But if the unemployment rate remains high and the economy weak, a less than impressive GOP nominee would have a very good chance. Presidential elections are, more than anything else, a referendum on the incumbent president, and few things matter more than the state of the economy and the public’s assessment of their own pocketbooks.

The final thing to watch for is whether Americans continue to view the role of government skeptically, s they have increasingly over the last two years, or if they revert to being nominally pro-interventionist. Historically, somewhat more Americans have indicated to pollsters that they favored government ‘‘doing more to solve the problems facing our country’’ compared to ‘‘doing too many things better left to business or individuals’’ (the actual wording varies from one pollster to another). Starting early in 2009, the balance shifted from pro-interventionist to one more skeptical about the role of government, with independents voters shifting sharply. Democrats pretty reliably support more government, while Republicans are against more government; independent voters have historically sided slightly more with Democrats for more government. By the time the 2010 midterm election occurred, independents were opposing more governmental involvement by almost two to one.

How those numbers sort out over the next two years will determine to a large extent whether voters are inclined toward Democrats or Republicans in 2012.


ABC News: Huntsman, Perry Test GOP’s Limits

The rightward march of the Republican Party is about to face a dash toward the center.

And then it just might get a shove back toward the right.

Jon Huntsman’s announcement of a presidential campaign on Tuesday, after months of anticipation and behind-the-scenes preparation, will test the limits of a Republican Party that’s been trending more conservative in the tea party era.

Meanwhile, if Texas Gov. Rick Perry joins the presidential fray, he’ll do so while urging the party back in the direction of its conservative roots.

“Our loudest opponents on the left are never going to like us, so let’s quit trying to curry favor with them,” Perry said Saturday at a gathering of conservative activists in New Orleans, in a speech that marked his growing interest in 2012.

Both men have much to prove before they can challenge for the Republican nomination against a field of established Republicans who’ve been plotting runs for years.

Yet while they would come at the race from very different directions, both Huntsman and Perry could shape a fluid nominating contest where candidates are charting much different paths to the presidency.

First comes Huntsman, whose quirky campaign videos — featuring a man who isn’t Huntsman riding a motocross bike across a desert, and not much else — only hint at the varied record of the candidate himself. […]

His service to Obama is itself disqualifying to some conservatives. Add to that his past support for cap-and-trade energy legislation, the Democrats’ stimulus law, and the concept of an individual mandate for health care, and you’ve got a confirmed moderate in a Republican Party that’s proven hostile to them in recent years.

While he’s still a virtual unknown nationally, Huntsman’s candidacy seems poised to have its most significant impact on frontrunner Mitt Romney, whose shared Mormon roots, family lineage in politics and political pragmatism are also key to the identity he’s presenting to voters.

Both men plan strong plays for New Hampshire, where the lack of a competitive Democratic primary frees the state’s large crop of independents to vote in the first-in-the-nation Republican primary.

With his non-confrontational style — he has vowed to mostly avoid criticizing his rivals, or even the president, by name — Huntsman presents a particular match-up problem to the president’s reelection campaign, since he’ll be difficult to paint as an extremist.

That’s one reason that the president and his top aides are showering Huntsman with the type of praise they know will only hurt him in the primaries.

“I think he’s a very bright, fluent person,” David Axelrod, the president’s top political adviser, said on CNN today.

As recently as fall 2009, Axelrod said of Huntsman, “He was encouraging on health care. He was encouraging on the whole range of issues. He was a little quizzical about what was going on in his own party. And you got the strong sense that he was going to wait until 2016 for the storm to blow over.” […]

For his part, Perry has not been one to want to signal an aversion to the current political climate in his party.

Though he’s the longest-serving governor in the nation — he took over after serving as George W. Bush’s lieutenant governor, when Bush became president — he won a third term last year only after embracing tea party enthusiasm in a hard-fought primary race.

Perry advisers have indicated that he’s roughly 50-50 on whether to run. That’s a significant change for a man who has previously disavowed interest in a national run.

If he does jump in, Perry would be trying to fill a much different void in the field than Huntsman. He’d be the only southerner among top-tier contenders.

He could answer a yearning for a dynamic and solid conservative, with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour among the long list of non-candidates.

Neither Huntsman nor Perry has so far registered strongly in public-opinion polls. But together they could wind up squeezing from opposite ends a party that’s hungry to gain back the White House, in what promises to be a fractious primary season.




Think Big: Choosing the fights that build progressive power

Do you ever wonder why, despite resounding Democratic victories in the 2008 elections, there was so little legislative movement on so many progressive causes from 2009-2010? There is a lot of dispute about how much was actually accomplished during the two years of the Dem trifecta, but consider this partial list of ways progressives were either frustrated or defeated entirely:

Congress passed no significant legislation on climate change or immigration. The Bush tax cuts for the wealthy were extended. Even a watered down version of the Employee Free Choice Act went nowhere. The public option was defeated. The laws passed on reproductive rights were actually regressive. Congress accomplished nothing in response to a Supreme Court ruling that sent campaign finance law backward, and no progress was made on the partisan composition of judicial appointments to the federal bench. Expanding overseas military deployments went unchecked, as did the reduction of civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism.

Why did wide Democratic majorities in Congress fall so far short of progressive policy goals? Some cite the 60-vote culture of the Senate, and given our extensive past activism on filibuster reform at Daily Kos we obviously think there is real merit to that argument. Some cite tactical flaws, such as Democratic negotiation methods, and there is definitely something to be said for that argument as well. Some believe Democratic leaders simply opposed some or all or the progressive causes, but I don’t have access to the hearts and minds of Democratic leaders and as such I don’t pretend to know what they really believe.

Whatever the accuracy of these various rationales, underneath them there is a more fundamental problem thwarting progressive public policy goals. Specifically, a majority of legislators and candidates believe their electoral chances suffer more if they oppose conservative policy goals than if they oppose progressive ones. That was even the case in 2009-2010, when Democrats held massive majorities in Congress. As long the majority of candidates and members of Congress continue to believe that veering to the left hurts them electorally, progressives will continue to see their public policy goals go largely unachieved even when Democrats are governing. (Although, obviously there is still a big difference between what progressives can accomplish under Democratic and Republican administrations.)

What’s worse, the belief that it’s electoral damaging to support policies liberals advocate is actually quite credible. Consider the following statements, none of which is generally considered particularly controversial:

Pro-choice Republicans are much more likely to lose primaries than pro-life Democrats. Further, Democrats are more likely to lose general elections for being pro-choice than Republicans for being pro-life, because there are significantly more voters who will oppose any pro-choice candidate than there are voters who will oppose any pro-life candidate.

  • Democrats who voted for the Affordable Care Act fared worse than Democrats who voted against it. By contrast, outside of Blanche Lincoln, no members of Congress were seriously threatened with losing an election because they opposed the public option.
  • Even though ending the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy is popular, candidates are still better off electorally if they favor extending them, given the monetary forces that will line up to support those who advocate extending them and to thwart those who oppose.
  • Democrats who failed to support comprehensive immigration reform have never been replaced by candidates who are more progressive on that issue. By contrast, right-wing demagoguery on immigration has been at least moderately successful in both primary and general elections since 2006.
  • No member of Congress has ever lost an election for not doing enough to combat climate change. However, Rep. Bob Inglis was crushingly defeated in a Republican primary last year at least partially because of his real support for action on climate change.

The sad truth is that it is reasonable for candidates and elected officials to believe they have more to fear for supporting progressive causes than for supporting conservative ones. Even when polls show progressive causes to be popular, the forces opposing those causes still make a disproportionate impact on electoral outcomes.

Not everyone reading this, and maybe not even most people reading this, will agree with the idea that there are few electoral repercussions for elected officials who do not support progressive legislative causes. Probably the most common counter-argument is that the Democratic base becomes depressed when Democrats oppose progressive causes, resulting in less activism for Democratic candidates and lower turnout among Democratic voting groups. Thus, the argument concludes, opposing progressive causes actually does carry a serious risk of electoral defeat.

However, there are two problems with this argument:

  • First, it’s not supported by any evidence. Self-identified liberals formed identical shares of the electorate in the last two midterm elections, the only real apples-to-apples comparison available. In both 2006 and 2010, liberals composed 20% of the electorate. Further, they were actually slightly more pro-Democratic in 2010 (90%) than 2006 (87%).
  • Second, the argument itself is a tacit admission of progressive weakness. Saying that progressives will just stay home acknowledges that progressives cannot defeat bad Democrats with better candidates. Instead, the only option for progressives in the face of betrayal or legislative defeat is to just withdraw from politics itself. Since that state of affairs will actually increase right-wing power, one has to wonder why those who oppose progressive causes would be worried about it happening. Progressives staying home poses no threat to those who oppose progressives.

A more credible counter to the belief that pushing progressive policy damages candidates is that most swing voters don’t make decisions based on the perceived ideological orientation of the legislation that candidates have supported. Instead, when times are getting worse, the governing party gets booted from swing districts. When times are getting better, the governing party wins swing states and districts. So, if progressive policy can result in more voters feeling their lives were improving, then Democrats who oppose that policy do real electoral damage to themselves.

Now, I actually accept that rebuttal, so I’m not going to spend time arguing against it. But it is a very abstract and academic argument that will not be persuasive to candidates and operatives whose lives are filled with the concrete experience of standing for office. Political science papers disputing causality in electoral outcomes are not going to overcome generations of institutional belief that appealing to the left will cause you to lose elections. So if we are going to convince decision-makers that there are serious political repercussions to opposing progressive causes, then we are going to have to do something much more than engage in abstract argumentation.

We have to start winning elections in ways so that the majority of political observers believe the defeated candidate lost because s/he opposed one or more progressive legislative priorities. Just defeating someone who opposes progressive legislation with someone who supports it is not enough. A wide array of pundits, candidates and political professionals must believe that opposition to progressive policies was the primary reason an elected official was removed from office. That is the only way we are going to start convincing people that opposing progressive legislation is truly bad idea for someone’s political career. As such, it’s also the only way we’re going to start getting progressive legislation passed on a regular basis.

If political observers think we won an election because our opponent had corruption issues, it won’t build progressive power. If political observers think we won because the other side had crazy candidates, it won’t change legislative outcomes. If people think we won because we were well-organized or because we used clever new tactics, then they will come to our seminars about how to run a campaign–but they will not pass our desired public policy into law. Hell, even if we win because the country is in the dumps and we get a wave election, that will give us a brief shot at power but nothing over the long-term (see 1977-1980, 1993-1994, and 2009-2010).

From this perspective, the best fight the netroots ever picked, at least before 2011, was the Lamont vs. Lieberman primary in Connecticut in 2006. Every political observer in the country knew—and admitted!—that fight was about Lieberman opposing withdrawal in Iraq. As such, when we won the primary, a meaningful blow was struck against the idea, widespread in professional political circles, that pissing off liberals has no meaningful electoral consequences. It delivered the netroots the credibility that had escaped us when candidates who opposed the war in Iraq failed in the 2004 presidential primaries.

Sadly, losing the 2006 Connecticut general election to Lieberman might have set back our efforts on this front even further than winning the primary advanced it. Even so, Lamont vs. Lieberman is exactly the type of fight progressives need to be picking, and pouring a disproportionate amount of our resources into, in order to build real legislative power. Right now, there are at least two fights that fit this mold:

  • The first is the recall campaign in Wisconsin. The vast majority of political observers know and admit that this campaign is about Republicans stripping collective bargaining rights. As such, winning the recalls has real potential to strike a blow against the idea that pissing off the left has no electoral consequences. We can show that stripping collective bargaining rights can and will result in the people supporting it being removed from office. This will have a major impact on other states.

The second campaign that currently fits this model is the battle over Medicare. This is because it isn’t really that hard to get candidates, pundits and political professionals to believe campaigns can be lost for favoring cuts to Medicare and/or Social Security. After all, the reason why politicians are labeled “courageous” for proposing cuts to Medicare and Social Security is because entitlement programs are one of the very few areas where politicos never stopped doubting that opposing the poor and middle class would result in severe electoral consequences. Further, the NY-26 special election, even though it featured a semi-major third party candidate, was an important step in cementing that belief. Imagine how deeply ingrained that belief will become if we retake in the House in 2012 while defeating Paul Ryan!

If tactics are how you fight a battle, but strategy is the rationale behind what battles you choose to fight, then the strategy to building lasting progressive power is to choose to fight battles like Lamont vs. Lieberman, the Wisconsin recall elections, and going explicitly after Republicans—or anyone—on Medicare and Social Security. We can’t just win elections, and we can’t just win elections with Better Democrats. We have to win elections in which people believe the outcome was determined by popular support for progressive policies, and a backlash against those who opposed them. That’s the only way politicians will believe they have to support progressive policies in order to stay in office, and thus the only way progressives are going to stop being thwarted and disappointed even when Democrats are the party in power.


Email From the First Lady:

Alex is the father of two boys and two girls, ages six to 13. During the week, he works the 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift as a front-desk supervisor at a Seattle hotel. After work and on the weekends, he devotes his time to a summer organizing program that’s giving more than 1,500 first-time organizers the training they need to help build this movement in their communities.

He says he hopes this organizing work will help teach his kids the power one person can have — that if “they see something that needs to be changed, they know they can make a difference.”

I wanted to share a video of Alex explaining what prompted him to join this program and devote his summer to this work.

I was really moved by what he had to say. Take a look, and share it with a dad you’re thinking about today:


Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.

Oscar Wilde


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“This is not free money,” said Al Melvin, a Republican state senator representing Tucson. “This is America’s money. We have a $14 trillion debt that has to be paid, and we need to stop spending money we don’t have.”

Cap’n Al has huge fans in Bito and I. One day he might even be allowed on the grown up rides with less safety regulations too. 😛

God, saw some of that Firebagger panel. I was really disappointed in Choi. As to the rest of the regular offenders? They would foist a Michele Bachmann on me? You cannot measure the rage that makes me feel. They said categorically that they would not vote for Obama unless he gave them their pony now!

99, eh? I have a pic for you tomorrow I think. 😉


Meanwhile, Cap’n Al is receiving his pension and HC in Arizona from the Coast Guard Reserve. Wonder if he patrols the Riallto in his Cruiser with a bullhorn condemning school teachers.


That’s a great image. I can totally see that happening. Now, what’s the Arizonan equivalent of a bullhorns hood ornament?