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The Solution to the Deficit Debate

Bob Cesca:

Do nothing.


If Congress decided to do nothing about the deficit beginning right now, the budget would be balanced by the end of the president’s would-be second term. According to the CBO, if Congress allowed the Bush tax cuts to expire and refused to further cut taxes, while also discontinuing the “doc fix” for Medicare — no more deficit. In convenient chart form:

The top chart represents the “do nothing” approach, while the bottom chart shows expenditures with tax cuts in the mix.

Of course, doing nothing isn’t an option. All things considered, Congress has to do something about the economy at this point, preferably more stimulus spending. But continuing to cut taxes is obviously a mistake because it won’t be stimulative and it won’t reduce the deficit. Hence the Republican sabotage, etc, etc. The Republicans simply aren’t interested in reducing the deficit or fixing the economy. At all.


Republicans firm on taxes ahead of Obama meeting


The Senate’s top two Republicans on Sunday stood firm against including tax increases in any deal to raise the debt limit and shrink budget deficits one day before a meeting with President Barack Obama, but said the showdown need not go down to the “11th hour.”

Obama is to meet separately with Senate Democratic and Republican leaders on Monday to try to revive negotiations that collapsed on Thursday when Republicans walked out over Democrats’ demands for tax increases.

Sending a message to Obama in appearances on Sunday news interview shows, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl, his deputy in the leadership, presented a unified front demanding spending cuts and opposing tax hikes.

“We have a spending problem. We don’t have a problem because we tax too little,” McConnell said on the ABC program “This Week.”


Tax-Cut Religion and Republican Crybabies

[…] Let’s get this straight: There is not enough spending to cut to bring us back to fiscal balance. While cuts in spending in unnecessary and ineffective programs are indispensable, the structural problem of our budget is the spending in our tax code – or the revenue that we lose thanks to gaping loopholes in our tax code that are geared to help the ultra wealthy. Tax expenditures amount to $1.2 trillion each year – and the right wing whackjobs in Congress still don’t think we have a revenue problem. Not each tax expenditure is independently bad, of course, but generally those are regressive in nature, benefits the wealthy more than the middle class and the poor and economically speaking, a bad way to lower the effective tax (instead, one may consider simply lowering the marginal rates and letting consumer choices rather than tax expenditures determine consumer spending).

In today’s political world, we will not be able to get rid of all tax expenditures. Even restructuring tax expenditures so that the middle class can still take advantage of them while limiting their effect on the amazingly wealthy – ideas such as capping the amount on which mortgage interest deductions can be taken (perhaps varied by area and income distribution), eliminating offshore tax shelters and oil subsidies, etc. – can have a significant impact.

But anything that would tinker with the tax code in a way to make it more fair will necessarily increase the effective taxes on the ultrawealthy (individuals and corporations). Why? Because the current tax code is skewed so far in favor of the rich and away form everyone else that any reform to it must reverse that trend. It would be the right thing to do for the American people, but it would not please Grover Norquist. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) put two and two together, and figured out just where the interest of the Republicans lie: what Grover Norquist is saying, not what the American people need.
So where does this leave us? It leaves us with President Obama, Speaker Crybaby Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Reid to pick up the ball and get a deal done that will make it possible for us to raise the debt limit so that we do not have to default on our country’s obligations (yes, that includes your social security government check, Mr. Teabagger).

One thing is for sure though: Joe Biden and Democrats in these negotiations have shown the guts to insist on doing something right for this country. What does that mean? It means President Obama is not in a mood to “roll over” as our whiny friends on the Purity Left might fantacize. President Obama knows that the ultimate chip here is that the debt limit has to be raised, and the Republicans know it. They want to use it as an opportunity to end Medicare and Social Security. Their problem is that the party that created those programs has a President right now who is looking out for the interest of ordinary people, not extraordinary thieves (this, incidentally is also the problem with PL’s Obama-rolls-over falsehood). A big part of it is also that Republicans want to use the debt limit vote to take away the most potent weapon they handed Democrats by voting to eliminate Medicare. It looks like Democrats are also having none of that.

That puts Congressional Republicans between a rock and a hard place. Or worse, between their own Medicare vote and President Obama. Politically, there is no win here for them – except possibly by agreeing to a reasonable deal with the President and coming out looking half reasonable int he process. But that’s only a political win in the long term for them; in the shorter term, the whackjobs inspired by Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Palin and Bachmann will eat them alive.

Sometimes, I almost feel sorry for the poor bastards. Almost.


Obama has already endorsed raising taxes

Ezra Klein:

The talking point that most confuses me right now is the Republican demand that President Obama formally endorse tax increases. “We need to hear from him,” say Sens. Mitch McConnell and Jon Kyl. From what I’m hearing, the theory is that the president won’t dare endorse higher taxes during a weak economy and an election year. Which is an odd hypothesis, because he already did:

This is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy. Think about it. In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined. The top 1 percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. And that’s who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m president.


The fourth step in our approach is to reduce spending in the tax code. In December, I agreed to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans because it was the only way I could prevent a tax hike on middle-class Americans. But we cannot afford $1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society. And I refuse to renew them again.

Beyond that, the tax code is also loaded up with spending on things like itemized deductions. And while I agree with the goals of many of these deductions, like homeownership or charitable giving, we cannot ignore the fact that they provide millionaires an average tax break of $75,000 while doing nothing for the typical middle-class family that doesn’t itemize.

My budget calls for limiting itemized deductions for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans — a reform that would reduce the deficit by $320 billion over 10 years. But to reduce the deficit, I believe we should go further. That’s why I’m calling on Congress to reform our individual tax code so that it is fair and simple — so that the amount of taxes you pay isn’t determined by what kind of accountant you can afford. I believe reform should protect the middle class, promote economic growth, and build on the Fiscal Commission’s model of reducing tax expenditures so that there is enough savings to both lower rates and lower the deficit.


Of course, there will be those who disagree with my approach. Some will argue we shouldn’t even consider raising taxes, even if only on the wealthiest Americans. It’s just an article of faith for them. I say that at a time when the tax burden on the wealthy is at its lowest level in half a century, the most fortunate among us can afford to pay a little more. I don’t need another tax cut. Warren Buffett doesn’t need another tax cut. Not if we have to pay for it by making seniors pay more for Medicare. Or by cutting kids from Head Start. Or by taking away college scholarships that I wouldn’t be here without. That some of you wouldn’t be here without. And I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me. They want to give back to the country that’s done so much for them. Washington just hasn’t asked them to.

In a separate set of remarks, McConnell asked, “What does [the president] propose? What is he willing to do to reduce the debt and avoid the crisis that is building on his watch?” I’d refer him to the same speech quoted above. I get why McConnell doesn’t like Obama’s plan, but why does he want him to repeat it? What does he think will sound different this time?


What welfare cutbacks say about the wisdom of block grants

Welfare isn’t a big item in state budgets, but it’s an easy one to go after because the states are in charge. Trimming Medicaid is much more complicated: The federal government has a veto.


Chris Christie’s Democratic helpers

Why would a Democratic legislature in a very blue state join the war on public unions?

[…]The explanation has a little to do with policy. The state Senate president, Stephen Sweeney, a former union ironworker, was a leading critic of public employee benefit plans long before Christie became governor. And there is also wide recognition in the state’s political and media world that when it comes to pension and healthcare costs, New Jersey is in worse shape than just about every other state and that the status quo just won’t do.

But it’s hard to ignore that the Democratic votes for the plan were not spread out geographically. Instead, they came from two very specific areas of the state: South Jersey and Essex County (which encompasses Newark and the areas around it). This is a testament to a cross-party political alliance that Christie developed and cultivated years ago, before he became governor and before he launched his war on public unions.

The thing to remember about South Jersey is that there’s really only one name you need to know: George Norcross, an insurance executive and political boss who essentially runs the Democratic Party south of Interstate-195. Over the last two decades, Norcross has unified the county and local Democratic organizations in the region, mixing business and politics to transform them into lavishly funded machines. Norcross was instrumental in Sweeney’s rise (he ousted a 28-year Republican incumbent to win his seat in 2001) and in the rise of just about every prominent Democrat from South Jersey.

A good friend of Donald Trump’s, Norcross is not exactly an FDR Democrat, and neither are his protégés. He’s not averse to cutting deals with Republicans. He had, by most accounts, a terrible relationship with Jon Corzine, Christie’s gubernatorial predecessor, and his distaste for Corzine’s Democratic predecessor — Richard J. Codey — is well-known in New Jersey. But he has a much better relationship with Christie. In fact, suspicions remain that Norcross and his operation went to sleep on Corzine in the 2009 election, producing underwhelming margins for the governor in key Democratic areas of South Jersey. Whether it’s true or not, more than a few people in Christie’s orbit believe this.

All six Democratic state senators from South Jersey — including Norcross’ bother, Donald — voted “yes” on the pension and healthcare bill this week. Similar loyalty was evident among the region’s Democratic Assembly delegation. […]

What this all means is that we ought not to read too much into what happened in Trenton this week. Yes, the reforms are significant — there’s no question about that. And yes, it’s interesting that they’re being enacted in such a heavily Democratic state, one that hasn’t sent a Republican to the Senate in nearly 40 years. But the fact that Christie was able to score this victory tells us a lot more about the vagaries of New Jersey politics than about the national scene.

UPDATE: As an emailer notes, the Essex County Democratic delegation was not nearly as unified as South Jersey’s. Whereas all of the Democratic senators from South Jersey voted “yes,” only one of the four from Essex did — Teresa Ruiz, who has close ties to DiVincenzo and Adubato. And only four of the ten Assembly Democrats from Essex were “yes” votes. This doesn’t change the fact that Essex was a significant source of Democratic support for the benefits overhaul and that the Norcross/Essex alliance is a powerful force. But it does underscore that the Essex Democratic universe is more diverse than South Jersey’s; DiVincenzo may be the biggest fish in the county, but there are other power centers with different agendas, too.



Failing Upward, Version 3,452,227 (aka the Wages of Nearly Bringing Down the Global Economy)

Corporate America, and apparently important agencies, much prefer to hire people who’ve had Big Jobs no matter how poorly they’ve performed in them, that are very similar to the one at hand, rather than hire someone who relevant skills and experience but for whom a Big Job would be a step up.

You cannot make this up. From the Banking Times, “Ex-Lehman chief risk officer appointed World Bank treasurer,” hat tip Richard Smith:

The World Bank has appointed Madelyn Antoncic as its new vice president and treasurer.

Ms Antoncic served as Lehman Brothers’ chief risk officer from 2002 to 2007 and following the collapse of the bank, stayed on for a year as managing director and senior advisor at the Lehman Estate, helping to maximise value for creditors…

In her new role, Ms Antoncic will be responsible for maintaining the World Bank’s standing in financial markets and for managing an extensive client advisory, transaction, and asset management business.

She will also lead seven Treasury business lines as follows: the Capital Markets Department; Investment Management Department; Pension & Endowments; Quantitative Risk Analytics; Treasury Operations Department; Banking & Debt Management, and Sovereign Investment Partnerships.

Commenting on the appointment, World Bank Group president Robert B Zoellick, says: “Known for her forthrightness, I am delighted Madelyn is taking up this important role.”


The Shirky Principle

“Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution.” — Clay Shirky

I think this observation is brilliant. It reminds me of the clarity of the Peter Principle, which says that a person in an organization will be promoted to the level of their incompetence. At which point their past achievements will prevent them from being fired, but their incompetence at this new level will prevent them from being promoted again, so they stagnate in their incompetence.

The Shirky Principle declares that complex solutions (like a company, or an industry) can become so dedicated to the problem they are the solution to, that often they inadvertently perpetuate the problem.

Unions, or example. Unions were a brilliant solution to the problem of capital management which tended to exploit uncapitalized workers. But over time as capital increased in complexity, unions complexified as well, until unions needed management. The two became one system — union/management. So now the problem with unions is that they are locked into the old framework, the old system. They inadvertently perpetuate the continuation of the problem (management) they are the solution to because as long as unions exists, companies feel they need management to offset them, and so the two became co-dependent. In effect problems and solutions tend become a single system.

In his brilliant, classic book The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clay Christensen demonstrates how disruptive technologies almost always arise from the margins of an industry, where they start out as insignificant, or toy, solutions. Honda’s hobbyist electric bicycles were no threat to the big four automobile companies, until electric bikes become motorcycles and motorcycles became small efficient cars. Cheap crumby dot matrix printers were no threat to big offset printing companies until dot matrix became injet printers and injects became the HP Indigo 5000 on-demand printers. In each case, the solutions were marginal, barely working, at first, and therefore ignored. I think what Clay Shirky is pointing out is that many problems, too, are marginal at first, and therefore ignored. Established industries like to focus on established problems.

Shirky made his quote in a recent talk, a bit from his upcoming book Cognitive Surplus. Shirky also referred to a similar idea in a recent blog posting about the ways in which media companies and the media industry are often constitutionally incapable of changing because they are still solving the last problem.

In a strong sense we are defined by the problems we are solving. Yin/Yang, problem/solution, both sides form one unit. Because of the Shirky Principle, which says that every entity tends to prolong the problem it is solving, progress sometimes demands that we let go of problems. We can then look to marginal solutions and ask ourselves, what marginal problem is this solving that might be a more appreciated problem later on?



Wrong Wrong Wrong


Bruce Bartlett points out something I had forgotten: the 1993 Clinton tax increase wasn’t the first time conservatives predicted doom from any rise in tax rates. They did the same in response to the Reagan tax hike of 1982 — and yes, the sainted Reagan, after cutting taxes at the beginning, raised them repeatedly thereafter.

What actually happened, of course, was a V-shaped recovery — Morning in America — which was mainly due to Fed policy, but got credited to the 1981 tax cut. And the 1982 tax hike got sent down the memory hole.

The story I knew was about that Clinton tax hike, which was supposed to send the economy into a tailspin.

Let’s also mention the Bush tax cuts, which were supposed to produce a vast boom, and ended up being followed by the weakest recovery of modern times.

The point is that these people have been wrong about everything — and yet tax-cut magic is the official religion of the GOP.


Obama’s Tax Trump Card?

Like Dickerson, Douthat suspects a debt ceiling deal will get hammered out:

[I]f they do work out a deal — and this is the crucial part — it doesn’t have to include nearly as much in the way of revenue increases as a liberal president would normally prefer, because taxes are already scheduled to go up. Republicans are being intransigent on taxes in these negotiations for ideological reasons, but also because they know that if Obama is re-elected (which is more likely than not), they won’t be able to block tax increases: With a non-stroke of the pen, he can just let the Bush tax cuts expire — for the rich, or even for the middle class as well.



NYT’s Documents: Industry Privately Skeptical of Shale Gas

Over the past six months, The New York Times reviewed thousands of pages of documents related to shale gas, including hundreds of industry e-mails, internal agency documents and reports by analysts. A selection of these documents is included here; names and identifying information have been redacted to protect the confidentiality of sources, many of whom were not authorized by their employers to communicate with The Times.


Signs of Trouble

Industry Doubts on Shale Gas Economics

Stoking Excitement About Shale Gas

Questioning Company Claims




Obama’s focus on visiting clean-tech companies raises questions [by Republicans]


[…] In all, Obama has visited 22 clean-tech projects on 19 separate trips, all emphasizing economic recovery and a $90 billion stimulus program to promote energy independence. The president has underscored his support by singling out specific companies in speeches and White House radio addresses.

Obama’s unwavering focus has helped him fulfill a campaign pledge to push clean tech, from solar energy and wind power to electric vehicles. But it also has come with political exposure: By emphasizing a sector in which the risks are high, the president has prompted questions on Capitol Hill and from industry about the wisdom of his singular strategy and his political ties to some of the companies chosen for federal attention.

The oil and gas industry, for example, has invested billions in energy innovation and job creation and could benefit from similar presidential attention, said Martin J. Durbin, executive vice president of the American Petroleum Institute.

“He’s missing an incredible opportunity he has to join with us to make a difference in economic growth, job creation, national security and clean technology,” Durbin said. “If you went and added up the number of jobs at these clean-tech companies he visited, in all honesty, I think you’re going to find a very modest number of jobs.”

This month, a congressional energy subcommittee chairman accused the administration of picking clean-tech “winners and losers” by pouring government money into a sector best determined by free-market forces.


Biggest Power Drain: Cable Boxes … Often eats more power than refrigerator or AC units.


More birth defects in mountaintop removal mining areas



Diabetes becoming alarmingly common worldwide, new study finds

Nearly 10 percent of the world’s adults have diabetes, and the prevalence of the disease is rising rapidly. As in the United States and other wealthy nations, increased obesity and inactivity are the primary cause in such developing countries as India and in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East.

That’s the sobering conclusion of a study published Saturday in the journal Lancet that traces trends in diabetes and average blood sugar readings in about 200 countries and regions over the past three decades.

The study’s findings predict a huge burden of medical costs and physical disability ahead in this century, as the disease increases a person’s risk of heart attack, kidney failure, blindness and some infections.

“This study confirms the suspicion of many that diabetes has become a global epidemic,” said Frank Hu, an epidemiologist at Harvard’s School of Public Health who was not involved in the research. “It has the potential to overwhelm the health systems of many countries, especially developing countries.”

Worldwide, the prevalence of diabetes in men older than 25 rose from 8.3 percent in 1980 to 9.8 percent in 2008. For women older than 25, it increased from 7.5 percent to 9.2 percent.

“This is likely to be one of the defining features of global health in the coming decades,” said Majid Ezzati, an epidemiologist and biostatistician at Imperial College London, who headed the study. “There’s simply the magnitude of the problem. And then there’s the fact that unlike high blood pressure and high cholesterol, we don’t really have good treatments for diabetes.” […]

Among high-income countries, the United States had the steepest rise over the past three decades for men and the second-steepest rise for women (behind Spain). In 2008, 12.6 percent of American men and 9.1 percent of women had the disease.




Senior Hunger: Sanders vs. Paul


The “Socialist” Welfare State

George Watson reminds us that compulsory health insurance began with Bismark’s Prussia in 1883:

That created a sudden panic on the left. Karl Marx had died weeks before, so the socialist leader August Bebel consulted his friend Friedrich Engels, who insisted that socialists should vote against it, as they did. The first welfare state on earth was created against socialist opposition.

Watson extrapolates a larger lesson:

The forgotten truth about health provision is that socialism and state welfare are old enemies, and welfare overspending is a characteristic of advanced capitalist economies. Nobody doubts that California is capitalistic, and its public debt is notorious; the People’s Republic of China, by contrast, is a major creditor in international finance. When the two Germanies united after 1990, the social provision of the capitalist West was more than twice that of the socialist East, and the cost of unification to West Germany proved vast.




Federal judge blocks contested portions of Indiana’s new immigration law

A federal judge blocked parts of Indiana’s new immigration law Friday, saying the law was the latest failed effort of states to deal with a primarily federal issue. […]

Barker wrote in the ruling that Indiana’s law — as well as laws enacted in several other states — is an attempt to deal with what is seen as a failure of the federal government to deal with illegal immigration. She said the two provisions of Indiana’s effort to deal with immigration “have proven to be seriously flawed and generally unsuccessful.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and the National Immigration Law Center sued the state in May, contending the law gives police sweeping arrest powers against immigrants who haven’t committed crimes.

“We are gratified that the court recognized that Indiana has no place in making immigration policy and we are happy that the constitutional rights of Indiana residents have been vindicated,” said Ken Falk, an attorney with the ACLU of Indiana. […]

The ACLU has said the law’s wording would allow the arrest of anyone who has had a notice of action filed by immigration authorities, a formal paperwork step that affects virtually anyone applying to be in the U.S. for any reason. Barker had previously noted that it can take up to two weeks to get answers from federal immigration officials on specific cases — time a person arrested under the law could spend in jail waiting for immigration officials to bring law enforcement up to date on their case.

The other portion of the law that was blocked was a measure making it illegal for immigrants to use ID cards issued by foreign consulates as proof of identification. The ACLU estimates the Mexican consulate in Indianapolis has issued about 70,000 such ID cards, and said the state law would interfere with foreign treaties allowing the cards.

The National Immigration Law Center, based in Los Angeles, said the ruling prevented discriminatory elements of the law from taking effect.


Immigration and the Culture of Solidarity

One indispensable part of education and solidarity is greater contact between Mexican union organizers and their U.S. counterparts.  The base for that contact already exists in the massive movement of people between the two countries.

Miners fired in Cananea, or electrical workers fired in Mexico City, become workers in Phoenix, Los Angeles and New York.  Twelve million Mexican workers in the U.S. are a natural base of support for Mexican unions.  They bring with them the experience of the battles waged by their unions.  They can raise money and support.  Their families are still living in Mexico, and many are active in political and labor campaigns.  As workers and union members in the U.S., they can help win support from U.S. unions for the battles taking place in Mexico.

This is not a new idea.  It’s what the Flores Magon brothers were doing for the uprising in Cananea.  It’s why the Mexican left sent activists and organizers to the Rio Grande Valley in the 1930s, and to Los Angeles in the 1970s.  All these efforts had a profound impact on U.S. unions and workers.  The sea change in the politics of Los Angeles in the last two decades, while it has many roots, shows the long-term results of immigrants gaining political power, and the role of politically conscious immigrant organizers in that process.

Today some U.S. unions see the potential in organizing in immigrant communities.  But most unions in Mexico, in contrast to the past, don’t see this movement of people as a resource they can or should organize.

What would happen if Mexican unions began sending organizers or active workers north into the U.S.?   In reality, active members are already making that move, and have been for a long time.  Yet there is no organized way of looking at this.  Where, for instance, will the people displaced in today’s Mexican labor struggles go?   In 1998, almost 900 active blacklisted miners from Cananea had to leave after their strike that year was lost.  Many came to Arizona and California.  In Mexico City, 26,000 SME members took the indemnizacion and gave up claim to their jobs and unions.  Many of them will inevitably be forced to go to the U.S. to look for work.





Republicans reward business with lawsuit limitations

[…]At least 18 states have passed legislation in 2011 changing the rules of the civil justice system to favor businesses, according to the American Tort Reform Association, a Washington, D.C.-based group that lobbies for such changes. The new laws run the gamut, from changes in the way class-action suits can be filed to new rules freeing property owners from liability for accidents or injuries that occur to people trespassing on their land.

Though legislators from both parties supported many of the new laws, the most sweeping and controversial policies have been passed in states where Republicans recently have come into power. That is no accident. Many leading conservative organizations — from state chambers of commerce to the American Legislative Exchange Council — have been pushing lawsuit limitations for years. Business groups, meanwhile, have contributed generously to Republican campaign accounts while making no secret of their distaste for expensive lawsuits. The result is that they are now finding a much more receptive audience in statehouses where Democrats previously dominated.

In Alabama, where Republicans control the governorship and took the Legislature from Democrats for the first time since Reconstruction, lawmakers approved several major changes, including a ban on liability lawsuits against those who sell faulty products but did not manufacture or cause any defect in them. In Tennessee, where Republicans took complete control of state government for the first time since 1869, Governor Bill Haslam last week signed legislation that in most instances places a $750,000 cap on non-economic damages and a $500,000 cap on punitive damages.

In Wisconsin — which, along with Maine, was one of just two states to go from all-Democratic to all-Republican control in November — Governor Scott Walker and the Legislature wasted no time in passing a lawsuit-limitation measure that a local radio station described at the time as “the most controversial bill of the current session” (though the state’s collective bargaining law took over that label a few weeks later). The lawsuit measure caps punitive damages at $200,000, or twice the amount of compensatory damages for economic loss, whichever is greater.

In South Carolina and Texas, where the GOP increased its command of state government, lawmakers also approved significant lawsuit limitations this year. Pennsylvania, another state that is now run entirely by Republicans, is pressing forward with its own legislation.

“No news here: Republicans tend to be more pro-business and the Democrats tend to be pro-trial lawyers,” says Darren McKinney, a spokesman for the American Tort Reform Association. “All of it boils down, not surprisingly, to campaign contributions.” […]

The assumption that tort changes have boosted hiring is “just not true,” he says. “Texas is doing well in this economy for the same reason that Oklahoma is: they’re very dependent on agriculture and oil, and agriculture and oil are riding high.”




Is the media stiffing America’s economic recovery?

The Atlantic:

Americans are becoming more pessimistic about the future, despite not seeing their own economic situations worsen

One practical economic problem is that perception can sometimes dictate reality. Even if the economy is moving along well, if consumers get spooked — whether for a legitimate reason or not — it can take a step back. Of course, the reverse is also true: that’s what causes bubbles. Irrational optimism about some asset, like houses, causes too much economic activity, which leads to a painful correction. Because perception matters, the media plays an important role. If it pushes the public in the wrong direction, then their sentiment about the economy could be skewed with a counterproductive result.

A new survey from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press suggests that Americans are becoming more pessimistic about the future — even though the present situation hasn’t worsened. The results can be seen to the right.

Let’s ignore the middle column and just focus on October 2010 and June 2011. Over this period, the U.S. economy appears to have slowed due in large part to consumers pulling back. So sentiment really matters here.

For starters, most people’s view of the current economy remained the same (first question). Their financial situation (third question) also barley changed over these eight months. So people don’t actually see the economy having worsened and aren’t personally doing much better or worse than they were in October.

Yet the second and fourth questions are telling. Americans are much more pessimistic about what the future holds a year from now. Now, net 6% of respondents see the economy being worse a year from now. About the same margin see their finances getting worse in a year as well.

This is a little bit perplexing. Even though their present hasn’t changed — according to their own responses — Americans now expect things to look worse a year from now. If they have no experience to suggest that the economy will worsen, then what are their expectations based on? One potential explanation is the increasingly negative media reports.

There are other possibilities as well, however. Perhaps people expected the economy to improve more than it has. That could shift their view of the future, if they no longer believe the recovery will endure. But again, since these people haven’t seen their present situation worsen, an external factor may be affecting their expectations.

If the media has caused consumer perception of the economy to darken, then that’s a problem. At this time, all of the obstacles that have slowed the economy appear to be transitory. Commodity prices haven’t risen in recent weeks like they had in the spring. Japan is beginning to recover from its terrible earthquake. Even Greece appears to have found a temporary band-aid that should stop its bleeding for a few years as the global economy gets back on its feet. While the economic reports haven’t been particularly encouraging since April, they need to be understood within the broader economic picture.

It may already be too late for sentiment to reverse course, however. Even if Japan bounces back, Europe stabilizes, and commodity prices recede, it might not matter. If the American consumer has become pessimistic and pulls back spending this summer as a result, then economic growth will be anemic. And of course, if spending and hiring slow, then this will serve to validate what those consumers had come to believe. But in that case, they didn’t accurately assess the economic situation; they just gave into a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Drudge Is An Awful, Awful Liar

Bob Cesca:

Here’s a provocative red-letter link posted on Drudge yesterday:

Oh no! The First Lady is thanking the media for being so kind to the Obama administration! The goddamn liberal media are Obots!

But, sorry. No. That’s not what she said. The link leads to this story.

CNN reporter: “How’s the family ready for this [the election]? It’s going to be quite vicious, isn’t it? How do you prepare for that?”

First Lady Michelle Obama: “You know, it’s … we’re ready, you know. Our children, you know, could care less about what we’re doing. We work hard to do that. Fortunately, we have help from the media. I have to say this: I’m very grateful for the support and kindness that we’ve gotten. People have respected their privacy and in that way, I think, you know, no matter what people may feel about my husband’s policies or what have you, they care about children and that’s been good to see.”

Right. She was thanking the media for protecting the privacy of the president’s children. And, naturally, there’s nothing wrong with that. Whatsoever.


CBS’ ‘Face The Nation’ Forgets Herman Cain

Former Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain did surprisingly well in a new Des Moines Register poll of Iowa Caucus goers, coming in third in the widely-watched poll. But when CBS’ “Face the Nation” discussed the poll today, their graphic completely ignored Cain, yet made room for candidates who did much worse, including Tim Pawlenty. Why did they leave out Cain?


While Trying To Deny Fox News’ Bias, Chris Wallace Uses Conservative Term ‘Obamacare’


Wallace slams Jon Stewart, says Fox viewers who don’t believe in climate change are not misinformed



Among The Costs Of War: $20B In Air Conditioning

The amount the U.S. military spends annually on air conditioning in Iraq and Afghanistan: $20.2 billion.

That’s more than NASA’s budget. It’s more than BP has paid so far for damage during the Gulf oil spill. It’s what the G-8 has pledged to help foster new democracies in Egypt and Tunisia.

“When you consider the cost to deliver the fuel to some of the most isolated places in the world — escorting, command and control, medevac support — when you throw all that infrastructure in, we’re talking over $20 billion,” Steven Anderson tells weekends on All Things Considered guest host Rachel Martin. Anderson is a retired brigadier general who served as Gen. David Patreaus’ chief logistician in Iraq. […]

The 30,000 troops who will return home by the end of next year were sent to Afghanistan in 2009, at a cost of about $30 billion. That comes out to about $1 million a solider.

But the savings of withdrawing those troops won’t equal out, experts say.

“What history has told us is that you don’t see a proportional decrease in spending based on the number of troops when you draw them down,” Chris Hellman, a senior research analyst at the National Priorities Project, tells Martin.

“In Afghanistan that’s going to be particularly true because it’s a very difficult and austere environment in which to operate,” he says.

That means most war expenditures lie not in the troops themselves but in the infrastructure that supports them — infrastructure that in some cases will remain in place long after troops are gone.

“We’re building big bases,” American University professor Gordon Adams tells Martin. The costs of those bases are, in economic terms, “sunk” costs, he says. […]

“The realm of war and peace exists separately apart — and justifiably so — from the economic realm,” says Lawrence Kaplan, a visiting professor at the U.S. Army War College, who says critics like Manchin are looking for “economic answers to a non-economic question.




Weekly Address: Strengthening America by Investing at Home

We can’t simply cut our way to prosperity.”


If the US Senate had the NY Senate’s voting rules, we’d be hailing Obama as a genius

Matt Yglesias:

Nate Silver writes of the marriage equality issue that “the type of leadership that Mr. Cuomo exercised — setting a lofty goal, refusing to take no for an answer and using every tool at his disposal to achieve it — is reminiscent of the stories sometimes told about with President Lyndon B. Johnson, who had perhaps the most impressive record of legislative accomplishment of any recent president.” He notes that this is very much “a brand of leadership that many Democrats I speak with feel is lacking in President Obama.”

This is all true. Still, I would say that the bigger difference isn’t so much about the leadership style as it is that Cuomo won. Suppose that the New York State Senate operated according to the rules of the United States Senate and a bill failed unless it secured a 60 percent supermajority. What would people be saying about Andrew Cuomo now? Well, it seems to me that many people would be castigating his failed leadership. Instead of Michael Barbaro’s account of his behind-the-scenes leadership reading like a virtuouso performance it would be reading like a story of a failed inside game. The meeting with high-dollar pro-equality Republican donors would seem not savvy, but naive and weak. Conversely, if the US Senate operated on a 50 vote rule, then both the Affordable Care Act and the Dodd-Frank bill would have gone further in advancing progressive priorities, there would have been more economic stimulus in the 111th Congress, the DREAM Act would have passed, and it’s conceivable that some kind of nationwide carbon pricing scheme would be in place.

Which is just to say that political institutions matter, a lot. Getting concurrent majorities in two legislative houses, as Cuomo did, is very hard. Getting a 60 percent supermajority is harder.


I Obot?


It’s time to address this once and for all. Here are a couple of things about me that you can count on. First, when I criticize the President, I endeavor to do so in a constructive way. Second, I will give this administration the benefit of the doubt. Third, there is never going to be a time where I will grunt and say that Obama is just like Bush. This is because that would be a lie of the highest magnitude.

I understand that it’s all the rage these days to take anger at Republican obstruction and project it onto the President. I also understand that it’s all the rage, and I do mean rage, to take disappointment that he hasn’t moved whatever heaven and earth he should have moved for your personal pet issues quickly enough.

Gay rights? Yes, despite his DOJ making the decision that DOMA is unconstitutional and despite signing DADT’s repeal into law last year, despite setting policies for government employees that allow same sex partners to be covered by employees’ health insurance, and despite the fact that this president is undoing much of what our last Democratic president did, it’s not enough for some. It’s not fast enough, it’s not right enough, it’s not enough. Period. Fair enough. It’s your right to be peeved, but don’t project that onto me or suggest I’m some kind of robot-being for not shaking my fist hard enough. I prefer to fight that battle on the state level, thankyouverymuch.

Guantanamo? Let’s all repeat after me: Congress killed the Guantanamo closure, not the President. But he didn’t fight hard enough, you say? To which I reply, choose your battles. This was one he desperately wanted to win for a number of reasons which transcend the disgruntlement of some of his left-leaning (former) supporters. But alas, he has an intransigent Congress with a bunch of wingnuts in the House. Everything is a battle. And to be fair, there were some conservadems willing to join hands to block that closure, so he was more or less out of ammo before he loaded the gun. Pick your battles, I say.  Anyone who has raised kids knows by the time the second one can talk that every disagreement can’t be a battleground, no matter how much you want it to be.

Tax cuts? Okay, here’s a legitimate gripe. I’ll join in this one. I wanted the tax cuts to expire rather than a deal. On the other hand, it’s difficult for me to toss unemployed folks under the bus when the tradeoff was 13 months of extended UI benefits, which is stimulative to the economy and which makes a huge difference to the long-term unemployed. Still, I hate that the tax cuts were extended to 2012.

Wars? Going back to the campaign promises, which were also part of the overall Democratic platform. I see where he promised to ramp up Afghanistan, hunt down Bin Laden, and end Iraq (Also see this WaPo article with specific numbers. All but 147 out of Iraq by 12/31 unless Iraq requests otherwise). Check, check and check. And now, just as was promised when he agreed to the troop surge, those troops are being drawn down and the transition to Afghan control planned by 2014. Am I happy that we have a presence in Afghanistan? Hell, no. Do I think he’s doing the best he can to unwind that presence responsibly? Yes, I think I do.

Libya? Hate that we have any involvement, like that NATO is lead on it, hate Gaddafi with a passion and have for years, hope that it ends soon. I’m not sure there is a graceful way to decline to participate in a NATO action, nor do I have all of the information at my fingertips to know what led to the decision, but honestly, I wish it would have been a different one.

I could go on and on with this list, but you get the idea. We liberals seem to warm to oppositional positioning and it would appear that we’re not altogether comfortable with having our guy in the Oval office. So when he doesn’t do things exactly the way we think they should be done, the circular firing squad lines up and takes full aim at our side. It happens with every single issue. Forget the fact that we didn’t have the votes in Congress, he should’ve used his bully pulpit! Forget the fact that we have a 100% dysfunctional opposition party; he should just steamroll them and get what he wants however he wants. Like magic, that.

It amazes me — truly amazes me — that we’re having debates about how this president isn’t liberal enough while Republicans are planning to let the economy go to hell in a handbasket by playing chicken with the debt ceiling. You’d think there would be plenty to criticize with that. You’d think watching them walk away from budget negotiations not because they’re not getting the spending cuts they want, but because Democrats won’t take tax cuts off the table would offer a clue as to who the real enemy is.

But no. I know people — good, honest, well-meaning, passionate, intelligent people — who will call you a fascist for suggesting that maybe on a political level it’s a bad idea to take aim at our own when we have so many who stand between us and our aspirations. When corporations and Republicans are colluding to keep the economy stagnant, we have bigger problems than Guantanamo Bay, and it’s really time to quit the self-indulgence and get a clue on that.

Whenever I counter self-immolating arguments with a reminder that President Pawlenty or President Bachmann will surely bow in lockstep to our heart’s desire, scoffs follow, with yet another accusation of Obotics afoot.

To which I reply: If you are really blind enough not to realize that there is a very real possibility that a GOP victory in 2012 could happen, and if 2010 midterms were not enough to convince you, then please, do continue on but understand this about me: You will not convince me, nor will I join the chorus. To do so truly would be robotic behavior, akin to following an online gangbang on a hedonistic and self-destructive pathway to hell on earth for 8 years or so. I refer anyone who might take issue with this pronouncement to have a look at what Republican governors are doing in Ohio, Wisconsin, New Jersey and Florida. If you remain unconvinced that such goings-on could be a reality in 2013, look again. Harder. I decline to choose that road.

Like it or not, this guy in the White House right now is the best hope you’ve got. You can batter him or you can back him. I choose the latter. That isn’t OBotic. It’s simply reality.

I’m done apologizing for my support for this President, who has worked hard since the day he took office, done his best, isn’t a slacker, and can’t please everyone. I support him unapologetically and wholeheartedly. That’s my right, just as it is the right of others not to. I respect that right, but will no longer waste time or give attention to self-indulgent complaints. It’s time to be strategic rather than spewing scattershot criticism. If you can’t do that, then really, I’m probably not going to help your cause anyway because I will assume your goal is to elect a Republican, and I will oppose you with all the might I can muster.

We have a Senate at risk, a House that’s winnable, and a President who is strong against the current Republican field. I’m aiming for the big battles, which are with Republicans, not those to the left of me.

Now excuse me while I go make a donation and buy the T-shirt. I’ll see the circular shooters on the other side, hopefully after another win.

“…don’t hurt your human…”


Obama’s 2012 Game Plan


How can the president rev up and mobilize his demoralized liberal base?

It was a rare confessional moment for Barack Obama. At a Miami fundraiser in mid-June, the president acknowledged that it’s “not as cool” as it was in 2008 to support him. It isn’t just a matter of fewer hip posters and viral videos. It’s a matter of votes. Rekindling the enthusiasm of African-Americans, educated white liberals, Latinos, young people, and union members—the Democratic Party’s most loyal and progressive members—will be a huge challenge. After all, you can only elect the first African-American president once, and the past two and a half years have deeply disappointed many liberals. “I know a lot of the kids who worked hard in 2008,” says Hodding Carter III, adviser to the last one-term Democratic president (Jimmy Carter) and now a professor at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. “They walk around like cattle who’ve been hit with stun guns between their eyes. This isn’t how it was supposed to be.”

Obama and his people have heard this sort of thing so often that they no longer bother to take umbrage. When I asked chief Obama reelection guru David Axelrod about this sense of disillusionment, he patiently ticked off a list of accomplishments: health-care reform, repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” financial regulatory reform, the drawdown from Iraq, student-loan reform. “Did we keep faith with the things that the president said he would do when he ran?” asks Axelrod. “There is a long list of things he said he’d do that we in fact did.”

It’s a solid inventory. But it’s countered by the undeniable reality that the country hasn’t noticeably moved in a more liberal direction (quite the opposite), and by the widely held perception among progressives that Obama will never wage fierce battle on behalf of liberal ideals. When I interviewed Justin Ruben, the executive director of, whose 5 million members (many in swing states) must be revved up and mobilized if the president is to be reelected, he gave me four or five variants of the line “People need to feel like the president and the Democrats are really going to fight for their side.” […]

The base vote can still emerge in large numbers, but the dominant factor this time won’t be hope and change. Instead, the factors will be fear of the other side, state and local political conditions (think of how motivated Democrats are to regain control of their politics in Wisconsin), and demographic changes that are still redounding to the Democrats’ benefit. And because we elect presidents by states, the place to assess Obama’s prospects is on the ground. […]

And then there’s Ohio. Big numbers in Franklin County—home to the state capital of Columbus, Ohio’s largest city—are crucial to Democratic hopes. Again, the trend is evident: Al Gore won the county 49–48 in 2000, when 414,000 votes were cast. Kerry won it 53–45, with 517,000 total votes. Obama: a 59–40 blowout on the strength of 575,000 total votes.

It’s pretty difficult to imagine another nearly 20-point win. But Greg Schultz, the county’s Democratic chairman and the state director for OFA, says an on-the-ground network exists today in a way it didn’t even in 2008. “There’s a structure that remains in place today that is self-organizing,” he boasts, even in Republican-leaning parts of the county like Westerville.

Another factor that might motivate Democrats in Franklin, and across Ohio: the unpopular Republican governor, John Kasich. He won a narrow victory over Democratic incumbent Ted Strickland in 2010, when base Republican voters turned out and their Democratic counterparts did not. Now Kasich and his public-employee-union-bashing bill (S.B. 5) are targets of rage. “If the Democrats are smart,” says Herb Asher of the Ohio State University, “here and in Wisconsin they’ll have a very simple theme: Elections have consequences. Look at what happened in your states.”

That’ll be about the strongest argument Obama can make to base voters: it could, and will, be a lot worse if you don’t vote for me. That’s true, and fear is usually a pretty good motivator in politics. But it still isn’t what people were hoping for, and it seems inevitable that some percentage of the most loyal Democrats will stay home. In these three counties and others like them, that percentage will be the difference between reelection and retirement.


The new ‘bipartisanship’

Traditionally, a bipartisan plan has meant a plan in which both parties give a little to get a little. You give me spending cuts and I’ll give you tax hikes, for instance. But one of Mitch McConnell’s great insights is that what makes a plan bipartisan is votes, not ideas. Thus, with a Democrat as president, a bipartisan plan is a plan that Republicans vote for. And because Republican Party discipline is such that Republicans don’t vote for plans that McConnell and John Boehner tell them to vote against, a bipartisan plan is, well, whatever they say it is.

That’s how McConnell can say, with a straight face, that “President Obama needs to decide between his goal of higher taxes, or a bipartisan plan to address our deficit. He can’t have both.” According to the various negotiators, the administration has already agreed to $2 trillion or so in spending cuts. So the White House began by giving a lot. But now that it’s time for them to get a little, McConnell and Boehner are officially informing them that the only path to bipartisanship in the current Congress is for them to agree to get nothing at all. A simpler restatement of his point is that you can have your ideas or you can have our votes, but you can’t have both. That’s not bipartisanship. It’s a ransom note.

But it should be no surprise. Back in January, McConnell sat down with Politico’s Mike Allen for an interview. Asked by Allen about the prospects of working with the White House, McConnell said, “If the president is willing to do what I and my members would do anyway, we’re not going to say no.” Allen was, understandably, a little confused. “But that’s not much of a concession.” he said. “That’s not bargaining, to just give you what you want.”

You can almost hear the smirk in McConnell’s reply. “I like to think I’m a pretty good negotiator,” he said. And indeed he is.


What the GOP Really Means by ‘Shared Sacrifice’

Center for American Progress (CAP):

Yesterday, we covered the GOP’s temper tantrum, as the New York Times called it, in which Republican leaders bailed on negotiations to avert a default on our obligations — a default that is only on the table as a result of the GOP’s willingness to keep paying the bills we started racking up as a result of Bush-era policies. While GOP infighting certainly played a role in yesterday’s shenanigans, the core issue is the GOP’s unwavering devotion to protecting (and even expanding) tax giveaways for the wealthy, Big Oil, and other special interests. These giveaways have been put on the national credit card, and now the GOP wants to forward the bill to the rest of us or simply not pay it at all. (Good luck getting a decent loan for a new house, a car, or a student loan if they go down that road.)

We thought we’d keep it real simple and break down who gets to sacrifice and who gets off easy if the GOP gets its way.

ON the GOP’s chopping block:

NOT on the GOP’s chopping block:

In one sentence: The GOP is willing to risk another economic calamity when we can least afford it if that’s what it takes to protect tax breaks for the wealthy, Big Oil, and huge corporations — tax breaks paid for by ending Medicare, slashing Medicaid and Social Security, and cutting the government programs and services we depend on each and every day.


Texas Republicans To Perry: Stop Lying About Preserving Our Rainy Day Fund


In the second of a two-part series, POLITICO’s Charles Mahtesian explains why you shouldn’t dismiss Jon Hunstman


Buzzkill: The problem with Jon Huntsman Hype


From afar, it’s easy to get swept up by the hype: Jon Huntsman is accomplished, handsome, smart, and his civility message has appeal beyond the meat-eaters who dominate this early phase of the Republican presidential campaign.

This is the reason his small base, largely in the media — the select group of pundits like Mark Halperin and the “Morning Joe” stars, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski — have been unabashed in their Huntsman swooning. We have our share of swooners here at POLITICO, too.

They see in the former Utah governor someone with the potential to remake Republican politics, and dislodge the Washington conventional wisdom that the main variable regarding President Barack Obama’s re-election is the state of the economy rather than the opposing candidate. But there is a problem: Up close, Huntsman’s challenges as the supposedly “electable” candidate for the GOP nomination are unmistakable — and, by all measures of modern Republican politics, likely insurmountable. 

Pelosi says Cantor ‘can’t handle the truth’

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Sunday that debt ceiling talks were derailed in part by Republican leeriness over ending special interest tax deals.

The California congresswoman had particular scorn for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who last week pulled out of talks amid a flap with Democrats over taxes.

“Leader Cantor can’t handle the truth when it comes to these tax subsidies for big oil, for corporations sending jobs overseas, for giving tax breaks to the wealthiest people in our country while they’re asking seniors to pay more for less, as they abolish Medicare,” Pelosi said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) this week are stepping into the debt ceiling morass with a series of high-level meetings aimed at working out a deal before an Aug. 2 deadline.

Pelosi said Republican determination to fix the deficit with tax cuts is a non-starter. “In the Bush years the Republicans said that tax cuts will produce jobs,” she said. “They didn’t. They produced a deficit.”


Bradley says Prosser choked her

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley issued a statement late Saturday saying that fellow Justice David Prosser choked her and disputing claims that she attacked him first.

“The facts are that I was demanding that he get out of my office and he put his hands around my neck in anger in a chokehold,” she said. “Those are the facts and you can try to spin those facts and try to make it sound like I ran up to him and threw my neck into his hands, but that’s only spin.

“Matters of abusive behavior in the workplace aren’t resolved by competing press releases,” she said.

“I’m confident the appropriate authorities will conduct a thorough investigation of this incident involving abusive behavior in the workplace.”


Christie “Not A Fan” Of Gay Marriage: Bloomberg reports


Why the Right-Wing Is Frantic: More Minority Babies Than White Babies Now Born in America

It’s white, Christian America’s race against what they see as a demographic time bomb.

That is why this Associated Press (AP) headline strikes an anxious fear in so many US citizens who believe in white “American Exceptionalism”: “Census Shows Whites Lose US Majority Among Babies.”

BuzzFlash at Truthout has commented about this trend before and why it is part of the frenetic offensive against democracy that we see taking place, including an onslaught of state efforts to restrict voting in a way that will disproportionately disenfranchise the elderly, the disabled, the poor, minorities and students.

Many BuzzFlash critics have emailed us about this subject over the years. Most often, their contention is that America is a republic not a democracy. Although this has some implications in the argument over states’ rights versus the federal government, it usually is offered in the context of asserting that only certain Americans should elect the government.

“Certain Americans” in this context, we infer, means white, Christian voters with a relatively good income.

That is why the Republicans are trying to offload government programs and power into the hands of “white wealth” as quickly as possible. Otherwise, they will face the power shift implied in the opening of the AP article:

For the first time, more than half of the children under age 2 in the U.S. are minorities, part of a sweeping race change and a growing age divide between mostly white, older Americans and fast-growing younger ethnic populations that could reshape government policies.

… Demographers say the numbers provide the clearest confirmation yet of a changing social order, one in which racial and ethnic minorities will become the U.S. majority by midcentury.

For the hardcore older, white, Christian Republican, democracy that is inclusive of all Americans must be dismantled as quickly as possible, both politically and economically.


“Dramatic increase in the number of small donors to the Obama campaign”

You can’t scare us, and you can’t discourage us and don’t mess with us:

President Obama’s next major fundraising filing will show a dramatic increase in the number of small donors so far this year compared with 2008, his campaign said Saturday.

“We had 180,000 contributors at this point in the last campaign; now it’s well over 300,000,” said spokesman Ben LaBolt in an email previewing the upcoming filing. LaBolt declined to elaborate except to say in his note that the filing will show “small dollar contributors back in greater numbers.”


Obama set a high bar in 2008, raising nearly $750 million. Back then, the campaign boasted of the number of small donors who were participating.

The public won’t have a good sense of the fundraising by Obama or other presidential candidates until after the campaigns file their reports with the Federal Election Commission. Those documents are not released publicly until mid-July, but campaigns doing well tend to leak their numbers early.

In advance of the end-of-the-month deadline for the upcoming report, all of the campaigns are hustling. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina sent an email to supporters Saturday saying, “A lot of people out there are wondering whether this campaign can inspire the kind of grass-roots support that has been the foundation of our success. A lot of people out there are already saying we can’t. So we’ve got something to prove.”


Billionaires give big to new ‘super PACS’


Time to hold feet [of the Left] to the fire and demand accountability

For too long, critics have been shouted down or shut out, but that has to change. It’s well past time for us to hold the feet of our self-appointed leaders to the fire and demand some answers.

  • Where are the results? During the two and a half years of the Obama administration, hell, during the previous 20 years – where are the victories for the environmental and progressive movements? Civil rights? Anti-poverty? Feminists? Any wins? Any concrete results?
  • When are you going to fight for us? Since January 20 2009, which progressive or pro-environmental actions of the Obama administration have you supported and assisted to become stronger? We don’t want to know about all the times you attacked the President, we want to know when have you ever supported something positive that they did?
    • Coal mine safety regulation? The Department of Labor has been in a pitched battle against Massey for years, what are you doing to help?
    • Coal burning regulation? EPA regulation? Other than EDF, have any of you tried to build public support?
    • Nuclear power safety – the head of the NRC is under attack by NRC staff and Republicans for emphasizing safety and cutting off the Yucca mountain fiasco. What have you done to support this and push back against the nuclear industry?
    • Labor – what are you doing to support the NLRB against Boeing and for quicker union elections?
    • Wall Street Regulation – the Senate GOP is blocking consideration of ANY chair for the financial regulation bureau. What are you doing about it?
    • Anything? Electric cars? Smart grid? Pesticide regulation? Civil rights enforcement? Any one single thing? Nothing at all?
  • What about building public pressure to push for ending the wars? Maybe trying to get a peace movement going so that the Administration pace of ending the war is not the far end of the public debate? No? Too hard?
  • Local and state elections. Where are the progressive candidates? Training for candidates? Is there a single US city with a mayor like Laguardia or even blue state where there is strong progressive legislative caucus? Not one. Not a single one.
  • Re-evaluation of tactics? The Bold Progressives of the PCCC were all over twitter claiming credit for the defeat of Wisconsin Bad Impulse Control Judge Prosser until the recount. Have we
    missed the careful reappraisal of whether the money PCCC spent on advertising was well spent? How about for the Arkansas debacle? The appalling loss in New Hampshire? The replacement of terrible Arlen Specter with the wingnut looney tunes Toomey? Was that a good idea in retrospect? Any thoughts bout, you know, how to win elections instead of losing them?
  • Media. Independent media reaching more than a few tens of thousands already in the choir? No?
  • New and appealing economic proposals that are help build a coalition for reform?
  • Old and still good economic proposals appealing explained for a wide audience?
  • Hello? Hello? Are you there?

So, where’s the progress?

Well, that’s kind of depressing summary. Let’s look at a few case studies.

When the Obama administration came into office, the National Labor Relations Board was essentially inactive. The NLRB sets rules for worplace and union activities. The Republicans in the Senate blocked all Obama appointees to the NLRB for over a year – paralyzing it. During that time, we got some coverage in the progressive media about the cowardice of the Obama administration in refusing to use recess appointments. However, the Obama administration did finally make recess appointments good ones. Suddenly, the whole issue of the NLRB became uninteresting to “progressives” and it has remained that way even as Republican attacks on the NLRB have reached a fever pitch. Here’s a prediction, if the Obama administration gives way before Republican complaints and does not reappoint recess members – at that moment, the progressives will return because there will be a defeat to bewail.

Ok, what about EPA regulations? When the Obama administration’s EPA started the process of regulating carbon and mercury in coal burning it tangled with one of the most powerful lobbies in DC. Fortunately, the Environmental Defense Fund supported the Administration as did .. um … – well, nobody else. Nobody was interested. But but when the Republicans and some Democrats tried to extort EPA restrictions in exchange for passing the 2011 budget, a lot of “environmentalists” woke up and began loudly explaining that the Obama administration was going to cave and betray us and so on. There was a defeat, even just a prospective defeat to bewail. But the administration did not, in fact they were absolutely hard line – amazingly, the “environmentalists” forgot about the issue again.

What about choice? During the Health Care Reform debate there was a moment when all seemed lost when the Republicans found a bunch of Democrats who were willing to help kill health care reform to prevent women from exercising their right to choose. Naturally, all the progressive pro-choice organizations that had meekly let the cruel Hyde Amendment be renewed year after year, were incensed that the Administration was not standing up for choice aggressively. But after HCR passed and the administration absolutely refused to negotiate on defunding Planned Parenthood in the 2011 budget and when the Administration reacted strongly to try to stop state bans on Planned Parenthood funding in medicare, suddenly one could hear the crickets in the fields again. Because – there was no new defeat to bewail.

It appears that our professional “progressives”, “civil rights” activists, “environmentalists” and “feminists” are good at only one thing: indignation based fundraising. But winning is so counter-productive to indignation.




Pervious concrete is awesome, kind of zen

Pervious concrete is, basically, just concrete that allows water to flow through it. This has some benefits and detriments for urban environments, as explained on NPR’s Science Friday. Frankly, though, it’s kind of pleasant to just sit back and watch this patch of pervious concrete absorb 1500 gallons in five minutes.




Rep. Murphy Says Thomas’ Actions Call Into Question Whether He ‘Can Continue To Serve As A Justice’

In an exclusive interview with ThinkProgress, Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT) — the lead sponsor of a bill which would strip Supreme Court justices of their immunity from a code of ethical conduct that applies to other federal judges — suggests that an investigation may be necessary to determine whether Justice Clarence Thomas’ many ethics scandals rise to the level where Thomas is no longer fit to serve on the nation’s highest Court:

QUESTION: Do you think what Thomas has done is as serious as what forced [disgraced former Supreme Court Justice Abe] Fortas off the bench?

MURPHY: I think our problem is we don’t know the full extent of Justice Thomas’ connections to [leading GOP donor] Harlan Crow, or, frankly, to a further network of right-wing funders. What he’s done is incredibly serious. I think, at the very least, his actions should disqualify him from sitting on any cases in which Crow-affiliated organizations are parties to or have attempted to influence [the Court]. But this is starting to rise to the level where there should start to be some real investigations as to whether Clarence Thomas can continue to serve as a justice on the Supreme Court.

Justice Thomas has sat on at least 11 cases where a Harlan Crow-affiliated group filed a brief — adopting the group’s preferred outcome in all but one case. Moreover, Thomas has yet to explain the full extent of his connections to Crow, despite news reports that Crow lavished gifts and other expensive favors on Thomas and his family. Nor has Thomas explained how his gifting scandal differs from the very similar gifting scandal that brought down Justice Abe Fortas.

There is one way, however, in which this scandal is quite different from the Fortas resignation. Fortas was a liberal justice, but many of the clearest calls for his resignation came from progressives such as Sen. (and future Vice President) Walter Mondale (D-MN) and Brown v. Board of Education author Chief Justice Earl Warren. As Murphy explains, however, Thomas’ ethics scandals have been met with “deafening silence from Republicans.” Unlike Mondale and Warren, who understood that the integrity of the judiciary must trump ideology, Murphy suggests Republicans have the opposite values:

One of the most shocking speeches that a Supreme Court justice has ever made was one that Justice Thomas made just a few months ago to a group of Virginia law students, in which – with his wife in the audience – he admitted, plainly, that his cause on the Supreme Court as a justice was the exact same cause that his wife was pursuing as the chief organizer of one of the nation’s most prominent Tea Party groups.

Republicans are silent on Thomas for a simple reason. He’s doing their bidding on the Supreme Court today, and they don’t want to do anything that compromises his ability to enforce a political agenda in the United States judicial system.

Murphy has few kind words for Thomas, but he also notes that he is not holding Thomas to a standard that is any higher than the one he must follow as a member of Congress. If a member of Congress were caught in a similar scandal, Murphy concludes, “there would be calls from across this country for them to resign, and, frankly, they would have violated the laws of this nation.”




200 Methodist clergy in Illinois defy church on same-sex unions


Michele Bachman calls for criminalization of same-sex marriage during speech in Iowa

According to website, Target is largest corporate donor to Bachmann campaign.




Shyness: Evolutionary Tactic?

A BEAUTIFUL woman lowers her eyes demurely beneath a hat. In an earlier era, her gaze might have signaled a mysterious allure. But this is a 2003 advertisement for Zoloft, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (S.S.R.I.) approved by the F.D.A. to treat social anxiety disorder. “Is she just shy? Or is it Social Anxiety Disorder?” reads the caption, suggesting that the young woman is not alluring at all. She is sick.

But is she?

It is possible that the lovely young woman has a life-wrecking form of social anxiety. There are people too afraid of disapproval to venture out for a job interview, a date or even a meal in public. Despite the risk of serious side effects — nausea, loss of sex drive, seizures — drugs like Zoloft can be a godsend for this group.

But the ad’s insinuation aside, it’s also possible the young woman is “just shy,” or introverted — traits our society disfavors. One way we manifest this bias is by encouraging perfectly healthy shy people to see themselves as ill.

This does us all a grave disservice, because shyness and introversion — or more precisely, the careful, sensitive temperament from which both often spring — are not just normal. They are valuable. And they may be essential to the survival of our species.

Theoretically, shyness and social anxiety disorder are easily distinguishable. But a blurry line divides the two. Imagine that the woman in the ad enjoys a steady paycheck, a strong marriage and a small circle of close friends — a good life by most measures — except that she avoids a needed promotion because she’s nervous about leading meetings. She often criticizes herself for feeling too shy to speak up.

What do you think now? Is she ill, or does she simply need public-speaking training?

Before 1980, this would have seemed a strange question. Social anxiety disorder did not officially exist until it appeared in that year’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the DSM-III, the psychiatrist’s bible of mental disorders, under the name “social phobia.” It was not widely known until the 1990s, when pharmaceutical companies received F.D.A. approval to treat social anxiety with S.S.R.I.’s and poured tens of millions of dollars into advertising its existence. The current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the DSM-IV, acknowledges that stage fright (and shyness in social situations) is common and not necessarily a sign of illness. But it also says that diagnosis is warranted when anxiety “interferes significantly” with work performance or if the sufferer shows “marked distress” about it. According to this definition, the answer to our question is clear: the young woman in the ad is indeed sick.

The DSM inevitably reflects cultural attitudes; it used to identify homosexuality as a disease, too. Though the DSM did not set out to pathologize shyness, it risks doing so, and has twice come close to identifying introversion as a disorder, too. (Shyness and introversion are not the same thing. Shy people fear negative judgment; introverts simply prefer quiet, minimally stimulating environments.)

But shyness and introversion share an undervalued status in a world that prizes extroversion. Children’s classroom desks are now often arranged in pods, because group participation supposedly leads to better learning; in one school I visited, a sign announcing “Rules for Group Work” included, “You can’t ask a teacher for help unless everyone in your group has the same question.” Many adults work for organizations that now assign work in teams, in offices without walls, for supervisors who value “people skills” above all. As a society, we prefer action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. Studies show that we rank fast and frequent talkers as more competent, likable and even smarter than slow ones. As the psychologists William Hart and Dolores Albarracin point out, phrases like “get active,” “get moving,” “do something” and similar calls to action surface repeatedly in recent books. […]

The same might be said of humans, 15 percent to 20 percent of whom are also born with sitter-like temperaments that predispose them to shyness and introversion. (The overall incidence of shyness and introversion is higher — 40 percent of the population for shyness, according to the psychology professor Jonathan Cheek, and 50 percent for introversion. Conversely, some born sitters never become shy or introverted at all.)

Once you know about sitters and rovers, you see them everywhere, especially among young children. Drop in on your local Mommy and Me music class: there are the sitters, intently watching the action from their mothers’ laps, while the rovers march around the room banging their drums and shaking their maracas.

Relaxed and exploratory, the rovers have fun, make friends and will take risks, both rewarding and dangerous ones, as they grow. According to Daniel Nettle, a Newcastle University evolutionary psychologist, extroverts are more likely than introverts to be hospitalized as a result of an injury, have affairs (men) and change relationships (women). One study of bus drivers even found that accidents are more likely to occur when extroverts are at the wheel.

In contrast, sitter children are careful and astute, and tend to learn by observing instead of by acting. They notice scary things more than other children do, but they also notice more things in general. Studies dating all the way back to the 1960’s by the psychologists Jerome Kagan and Ellen Siegelman found that cautious, solitary children playing matching games spent more time considering all the alternatives than impulsive children did, actually using more eye movements to make decisions. Recent studies by a group of scientists at Stony Brook University and at Chinese universities using functional M.R.I. technology echoed this research, finding that adults with sitter-like temperaments looked longer at pairs of photos with subtle differences and showed more activity in brain regions that make associations between the photos and other stored information in the brain.




AP: Conservatives gathering prompts liberal protest

A prominent closed-door conservative conclave is set to begin this weekend in the Vail area, and liberal protesters are planning a rally in response.

The billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch of the privately held energy giant Koch Industries are playing host to a semiannual retreat near the resort town of Vail starting Sunday. The retreats are closed to the public and the press, but news of the meeting leaked out when Virginia’s Republican governor, Gov. Bob McDonnell, listed the gathering on his schedule.

The full invitation list for the upcoming retreat hasn’t been released. Previous guests at Koch retreats include Rush Limbaugh and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint. A retreat in Aspen last summer included conservative commentator Glenn Beck and Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz.

A spokeswoman for Koch Industries declined to tell The Associated Press on Friday who would be attending this year’s retreat.

In an emailed statement from spokeswoman Nancy Pfotenhauer said “the purpose of this conference is to develop support for the kind of free market policies and initiatives that can get our country back on the path to economic prosperity and sustained job creation.”

The gathering prompted several left-leaning groups in Denver to plan a protest rally in nearby Avon on the first day of the retreat. Organizers say they hope several dozen people will join to demonstrate against what they call undue influence on politics by deep-pocketed donors such as the Koch brothers, who are prominent funders of tea party efforts through their group Americans for Prosperity.

“We’re protesting this mass infusion of millions of dollars into our political system without it being transparent,” said Kjersten Forseth, executive director of ProgressNow Colorado.

A similar protest held near the last Koch retreat near Palm Springs, Calif., in February drew several hundred picketers.

Common Cause, the political watchdog group that organized that rally, later apologized after hateful comments made by some attendees were videotaped by a conservative activist and circulated online.

Common Cause Colorado director Jenny Flanagan promised her group’s rally this weekend will be civil.

Colorado AFL-CIO sent members an email Thursday asking them to join to protest.

Another Koch brother with property in Western Colorado, William Koch, is not participating in the retreat. William Koch owns mining and energy company Oxbow Corp. and is a prominent donor to mostly Republican politicians, but does not participate in the political activities of his brothers.

Can’t make it to Vail to protest the Koch bros secret confab. Follow along at #uncloakkoch & #copolitics.

Thousands of marchers silently protest new Alabama immigration law in downtown Birmingham



CREDO Action:Tell American Public Media: Report the facts, not anti-organic propaganda paid for by Monsanto.

Millions of Americans who demand a higher standard of news reporting turn to public radio because it’s supposed to present information that isn’t bought and paid for by corporate interests.

Unfortunately, American Public Media may be making an exception for GMO giant, Monsanto.

Marketplace, a program of American Public Media, has provided a soapbox to opponents of organics with a recent report titled “The Non-Organic Future.” This poisoning of public radio programming — and news that’s assumed to be unbiased and fair — aired on a program that has received substantial sponsorship from Monsanto, the corporation responsible for producing roughly 90% of genetically modified seeds around the globe.

Tell American Public Media: Report the facts, not anti-organic propaganda paid for by Monsanto.

In a recent report entitled “The Non-Organic Future” Marketplace featured several outspoken proponents of industrial agriculture who presented as fact the false notion that organics are not a scalable, or even viable option for feeding the planet. Not one counter-argument or undisputed proponent of the organics industry was presented.1

Marketplace’s one-sided reporting hasn’t gone unnoticed. Renowned author Anna Lappé is quick to point out that Marketplace failed to acknowledge the 2009 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science, and Technology for Development (IAASTD) Report — a critical study by the U.N. and multiple other international groups that required 400 experts and nearly 5 years to complete.2

The results from the IAASTD study couldn’t be farther from what was presented in the Marketplace report.

According to Lappé: “Business as usual is not an option, was the radical consensus. Instead, small-scale and mid-scale agroecological farming holds our best hope for feeding the world safe, healthy food, all without undermining our natural capital.

Marketplace airs on 486 public radio stations nationwide and is no stranger to controversy surrounding its financial ties to Monsanto. Despite the fact that Monsanto is perhaps best known for pesticides and genetically engineered agricultural products, in 2009, the program ran frequent underwriting announcements touting the company as “committed to sustainable agriculture.”3

Public media is beholden to serve the public interest, not press for the corporate interests of those who make donations to underwrite their programming. In a media landscape that is dominated by for profit, corporate news, it’s vital that we fight to keep public radio free from such clear conflicts of interest. American Public Media has responded to criticism about Monsanto in the past. We need to make sure they know that we’re listening and that we will hold them accountable when they uncritically promote anti-organic propaganda.

Tell American Public Media: Report the facts, not anti-organic propaganda paid for by Monsanto.



Anyone who knows history, particularly the history of Europe, will, I think, recognize that the domination of education or of government by any one particular religious faith is never a happy arrangement for the people.
~~Eleanor Roosevelt

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Can You Pass The US Inequality Quiz?


Libya? Hate that we have any involvement, like that NATO is lead on it, hate Gaddafi with a passion and have for years, hope that it ends soon. I’m not sure there is a graceful way to decline to participate in a NATO action, nor do I have all of the information at my fingertips to know what led to the decision, but honestly, I wish it would have been a different one.

I’m so tired of this. I hate that you hate NATO preventing slaughter, I hate that you hate the UN (please, just join the John Birch Society already you so-called progressives), I hate that you hate those that also hate Gaddafi and are willing to do something about it. Honestly, I wish the whining on this would stop. My problem isn’t about declining NATO action, it’s about asking other members to step up to their own obligations. Now, whining in about six months will be fair, but their was a tempest in a teapot over this from the very beginning, with all the huffing and puffing and hyperbole… so sorry if I feel all these people have already cried wolf. But hey, at least you aren’t an Obot, right? {{{rant over}}}


On the Shyness article. Again, you’re totally feelin’ me. I hate the bias against introversion. Trust me, we don’t get you extroverts, either, but we don’t discriminate against you or judge you inferior.


So, you’re welcome:

Woman Arrested After Allegedly Spraying Deputies With Breast Milk

Woman ditches her bikini on Highway 17 as CHP officer tries to arrest her for flashing passing motorists


Cher, thanks again for another great collection of articles.

I really enjoyed the Bernie Sanders vs. Rand Paul vid. Sander was wonderful, but just as wonderful was Al Franken in the cameo role!

Paul asks a silly question (“If you need 2 billion for this Senior Nutrition program and you claim it will end up saving the government money by keeping people out of nursing homes, who’s to say you wouldn’t save even MORE money if we gave you 20 billion?) Paul adds: “At what point do you become ridiculous?” Off to the side we hear Franken pipe up:

“I think you just did.”


Love the story on introversion. As a born introvert, I love any article that concludes that I am not nuts….just the quiet, meditative type. (That is less likely to run a bus off the road…)