You can access all the past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV.
We have a serious revenue problem. And the recent Congressional Budget Office report on the country’s long-term fiscal outlook makes this crystal clear. If we continue our current policies, debt will soar, approaching 200 percent of gross domestic product by 2036. On the other hand, if we follow current law, debt will never crack 90 percent. And the biggest difference by far between these two alternatives is revenue. In fact, reduced revenue is responsible for fully three-quarters of the higher debt level in the current policy scenario compared to just one-quarter from increased spending.
The CBO makes its budget projections under two different sets of assumptions. In the first—the “baseline” scenario—the CBO assumes that future budgets will follow current law, meaning the Bush tax cuts expire as scheduled, the alternative minimum tax grows, the new health care law is implemented, and payments to Medicare doctors are cut.
In this future our debt burden is very manageable. It rises from just under 70 percent of GDP this year to 85 percent by 2036 and 87 percent by 2040. But from there it stabilizes and actually begins to decline.
But under the other set of assumptions—the “alternative” scenario—the debt quickly explodes into disastrous levels. The alternative scenario roughly mirrors current policies, rather than current law. This scenario assumes that the Bush tax cuts are extended, the AMT is indexed to inflation, the formula requiring big cuts to Medicare doctors is overridden, and the reforms of the Affordable Care Act aren’t implemented. These assumptions mean that this scenario has both more spending and less revenue than the baseline.
The result is much larger deficits and much more debt. By 2036, debt under the alternative scenario would be 195 percent of GDP. The CBO doesn’t even project the debt past that year because it would exceed 200 percent.
Here’s an idea: Even if they can’t come up with a deal by Aug. 2, lawmakers should raise the debt ceiling anyway. Then they should make a pot of coffee and go back to hammering out a debt-reduction plan.
Fiscal responsibility isn’t a one-off proposition; it’s an ongoing process.
If Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling by Aug. 2 — the day when the Treasury Department estimates it will no longer be able to pay all the country’s bills — any number of damaging and utterly preventable scenarios could occur.
Deadbeat nation: For starters, the United States would look ridiculous. The debt ceiling needs to be raised because of obligations that Congresses past and present chose to incur.
Not raising the ceiling would signal to the world that Americans are willfully choosing not to pay their bills. The message won’t be “We can’t pay.” It will be “We could pay, but we’ve decided not to. Sorry.”
Market mayhem: To date, investors have been trading on the assumption — the rock-solid belief, actually — that there is just no way Congress would fail to raise the debt ceiling in time.
If Congress dashes those expectations, no one can know exactly how the markets will react. But most think markets will react, and not well.
Some bond experts expect that contrary to popular belief, Treasury rates won’t rise but stocks may tank. In other words, there will be a move out of risk-based assets and a flight to safety in bonds.
Dems have focused in on a package of revenue increasers they want: Higher taxes on “carried interest” earned by hedge fund managers; an end to a perk for owners of corporate jets; and limiting deductions for households earning more than $500,000 a year. […]
The White House pushed back Friday, saying the administration is seeking fresh revenues that target corporations and the wealthy, not small businesses and the middle class.
People familiar with the discussions said the White House has offered a menu of revenue raisers that would generate between $200 billion and $300 billion over the next decade. They include a variety of corporate provisions, such as an adjustment in the way inventory is taxed that would generate about $70 billion, higher tax rates on what is known as “carried interest” earned by hedge fund managers that would generate about $20 billion, and an end to a perk that saves the owners of corporate jets about $3 billion over 10 years.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will demand a seat in the table for the final talks on the national debt limit, putting a strong liberal voice in the room.
Pelosi and House Democrats were left out of the negotiations between President Obama and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last year that extended nearly all of the Bush tax rates though 2012.
Pelosi didn’t participate in the final high-level talks over fiscal 2011 spending levels either.
But now she’s demanding her say at a time when many of her House Democratic colleagues are disappointed in Obama’s level of consultation with their caucus. […]
Although she is the minority leader in a chamber that gives the minority party few powers, Pelosi believes she has leverage in the debt-limit debate.
“We know that they do not have 218 votes for any package that increases the debt limit,” said the Democratic leadership aide of House Republican leaders.
Flexing her muscle, Pelosi asked for and got a meeting with Obama on Thursday morning to discuss the next phase in the negotiations.
A last-minute defection of conservative Tea Party-affiliated lawmakers forced Boehner to rely on Democratic help in April. Pelosi believes it will be only tougher for him to round up his conference to support a compromise on the debt limit. […]
House Democrats are skeptical over Obama’s willingness to take a hard-line in the end-stage talks, especially after how negotiations of the Bush tax rates played out last year.
They felt jammed by Obama and Republican leaders when forced in December to vote on a package extending major tax cuts for the nation’s wealthiest families. Their anger over that deal has only intensified after Republicans have used the budget deficit as a justification to chop spending social programs across the board, including Medicare.
The Dodgers says owner Frank McCourt has obtained $150 million in interim financing. If the bankruptcy court approves the financing at a hearing Tuesday in Delaware, McCourt could meet payroll and remain in charge of the team. But Major League Baseball is expected to challenge McCourt’s move. […]
Under the MLB constitution, the act of filing for bankruptcy enables the commissioner to strip McCourt of ownership. But bankruptcy court proceedings generally override MLB rules. If McCourt secures a favorable decision, he could keep the team and attempt to secure a lucrative, long-term television contract that would allow him to pay his bills.
Three historical examples of tax cuts paying for themselves, and how they undercut the GOP claim that tax cuts always do that.
[…] In all three cases, the tax cuts likely helped to increase tax receipts. How do lower taxes raise the amount the government takes in? Three answers are commonly given. First, tax cuts encourage businesses and individuals to be more honest about their earnings. Rather than hiding income, taxpayers just fess up and pay their share. Second, lower taxes encourage businesses and individuals to move money from lower-productivity, tax-free investments and shelters to more productive, taxable investments. Third, most importantly, perhaps, tax cuts goose growth. The government might be taking a smaller piece of the pie, but the tax cuts make the pie bigger. (In Ireland’s case, of course, there’s a fourth: The country became a kind of tax haven.)
The problem, according to most economists, is that Republicans now apply that dogma to all taxes, in all situations, even though there are few times when tax cuts actually pay for themselves. And even the case studies that do argue for supply-side economics are more ambiguous than they seem at first blush. […]
Moreover, economists stress that tax cuts (and increases, for that matter) hardly work in a vacuum to bring about changes in receipts. Income-tax payments tend to naturally increase year-on-year because of population growth, GDP growth, and inflation. Monetary policy, government spending, and the business cycle also have a major impact. Thus, showing causation becomes a tricky exercise when it comes to taxes. Receipts often climb after tax cuts, but not necessarily because of them.
The Irish case also offers little support for the idea that tax cuts always pay for themselves by goosing growth. The cut in the corporate tax rate did not aid Irish companies’ bottom lines so much as it attracted extraordinary amounts of foreign capital. International firms like Pfizer relocated their European headquarters to the country to take advantage of the low tax rates. All those new companies contributed to an expanded corporate tax base. (Now, Ireland, suffering from crippling debts, is scared to raise the tax rate, which might encourage the companies to leave.)
In short, those who say that every tax cut pays for itself are simply wrong. President Bush, for instance, insisted, “You cut taxes, and the tax revenues increase.” GOP presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty thinks the same (but adds a wan caveat): “As people look back to the historical examples, there’s been other chapters where tax cuts have been enacted, and almost always they raise revenues if you just isolate the effect of the tax cuts.” Sorry, governor. A few examples hardly prove the rule.
As Congress bickers over how to cut the deficit, some economists warn that cuts too deep too soon would endanger the recovery. Unfortunately, spending has already declined on the state and local government levels. As a result, we’re seeing weaker results in the two economic indicators that matter the most: hiring and economic growth. Without the headwind created by the state and local governments, the recovery would look significantly stronger.
First, let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. The objection is not that state and local governments should have done more to stimulate the economy than they had in, say, 2009. The criticism is that if they hadn’t done less, then the economic recovery would be on firmer footing.
A Recovery With 326,000 More Jobs
In March 2010, the U.S. economy finally began to add jobs again. Every month since then, private sector employment has grown. Yet almost every month since then, state and local governments have cut jobs. Without those layoffs, the U.S. labor market would have 326,000 more people employed through May 2011. Here’s a chart showing job growth with and without the impact of state and local government cuts:
You can see that the jobs picture looks better if you exclude the effect of state and local government layoffs. The only real outlier was October 2010, when state and local governments added 31,000 jobs. If no government jobs had been shed since March 2010, the unemployment rate in May would have been 8.8% instead of 9.1%. That might not seem like a huge change, but surely there would be some positive benefit to consumer sentiment if the headline rate was below 9% at this time, instead of having ticked back above it over the past few months. Moreover, those 326,000 more people who would still have jobs would have spent more money to stimulate the economy.
[…] It’s time for the political class to stop acting so small and embrace a way to rebuild our nation. It’s time to face the fact that we have a twentieth-century infrastructure at the beginning of the twenty-first century. But building new high-speed transit, offshore wind power, solar power arrays and new energy transmission grids is hugely expensive. Who will pay the cost?
Public infrastructure is a common good and must be financed as such. We can borrow financing models from the private sector but we must look more creatively for solutions. The first and most obvious place to look for public funding is from the defense budget. Diverting part of the money spent on wars to develop alternative energy infrastructure would allow us to begin to break our dependence on foreign oil. This crushing addiction has kept us involved in wars and nation-building in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, among other places.
The other place to look for infrastructure funding is the $1 trillion of profits U.S. corporations are storing overseas. American companies are lobbying Congress to repatriate profits earned in overseas subsidiaries at tax rates as low as 5%. Perhaps Congress could legislate a compromise and tax half of returning profits at 0% if corporations loaned the other half of profits to a national infrastructure bank for a term of 10 years and at an annual interest rate of 5%.
This nation needs jobs, new energy infrastructure and, most importantly, a spirit of hope and belief in the future. We can achieve these goals but our political class must turn to the needs of the people and the future. Our international competitors are aligning their nations for the future. We must do the same.
Wikipedia: National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank
Wall Street Journal: The Case for an Infrastructure Bank
Business Insider: 108 Giant Chinese Infrastructure Projects That Are Reshaping The World
[…] When a team from the environmental nonprofit Clean Water Action surveyed litter in four cities in the San Francisco Bay Area, it found that trash from four restaurants (McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, and Starbucks) and one convenience store (7-11) made up more than half of the litter it collected.
Miriam Gordon, Clean Water Action’s California director, was careful to note that the survey was “not comprehensive; it was just a snapshot of trash in four communities.” But its implications are big, since McNuggets boxes and Big Gulp cups dropped in the Bay Area often find their final resting place in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the giant gyre of trash that floats in North Central Pacific, between California and Hawaii. According to Gordon, 80 percent of the patch’s trash comes from land-based sources. And it’s growing: In 1999, a researcher who surveyed the patch found six times more plastic than plankton. By 2009, there was 40 times more plastic than plankton.
Some communities are wising up to the litter problem. Several cities in California and a few in DC’s Potomac Basin are aiming to get rid of litter before it enters creeks and storm drains by installing trash capture devices in the storm drains and ramping up litter collection. But “this will be costly from a taxpayer perspective, ” says Gordon. “The real environmental solutions come from reducing trash at the source.” Clean Water Action estimates that as much as 31 percent of the trash it collected could have been eliminated if restaurants allowed customers to bring in reusable food and drink containers.
Easier said than done. I asked McDonald’s whether it allows customers to bring in reusable food and beverage containers. No dice. “[A customer’s container] could introduce a risk of cross-contamination by accepting items back across the counter and it being in contact with our kitchen equipment and employees,” wrote Jill Scandridge, McDonalds’ director of public affairs, in an email. “There is no way to ensure that it meets necessary sanitation standards for being in contact with food.”
This week, House Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield, R-Ky, announced that House Republicans planned to release legislation in August that would slow the implementation of a proposed EPA rule to regulate hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants.
Whitfield’s reasoning? To examine “whether or not technology is really available” to meet the guidelines.
Nonsense, of course. Whitfield knows perfectly well that the technology is available. Many CEOs of utilities nationwide have already installed modern–and made in the USA–technology to scrub smokestacks, in expectation of new EPA rules, some of which have been in the works for twenty-one years. These utility leaders signed a group letter to the Wall Street Journal supporting the EPA’s new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. How many more decades do Whitfield’s polluting cronies need? Perhaps the polluters need to learn some lessons from their clean coal colleagues.
Apparently Whitfield is interested in reassessing the Clean Air Act. But that’s exactly what EPA has been doing. It’s job is to implement the Clean Air Act, and that’s why EPA is proposing new standards to protect people from Mercury and Air Toxics coming from some coal plants.
Polls show that the American public supports the Clean Air Act. Hundreds of medical organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Lung Association, have formed a coalition to support tougher restrictions on mercury and air toxic emissions. Apparently Whitfield does not agree with the public or medical professionals.
The American Lung Association released a report on the State of the Air. Kentucky’s rankings were abysmal–and should be an embarrassment for anyone representing that fine state.
The Texas legislature has passed an omnibus health reform bill that’s a cacophony of regressive conservative polices: 1) it establishes an illegal health care compact that would “allow Texas to partner with other states to ask the federal government for control — both fiscal and governmental — over both Medicare and Medicaid,” 2) block grants the Medicaid program, 3) prevents hospital districts that use tax revenue to finance an abortion from receiving state funding, and 4) denies funds to Planned Parenthood clinics that offer abortions. If signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry (R), Texas will become the largest state to defund Planned Parenthood.
Below is the relevant abortion language:
The department shall ensure that money spent for purposes of the demonstration project for women s’ health care services under former Section 32.0248, Human Resources Code, or a similar successor program is not used to perform or promote elective abortions, or to contract with entities that perform or promote elective abortions or affiliate with entities that perform or promote elective abortions.
The final Medicaid language would task the state with privatizing the program and shifting the costs of coverage to individuals in the form of greater cost sharing:
(3)encourage use of the private health benefits coverage market rather than public benefits systems;
(4)encourage people who have access to private employer-based health benefits to obtain or maintain those benefits;
(5)create a culture of shared financial responsibility, accountability, and participation in the Medicaid program by:
(A)establishing and enforcing copayment requirements similar to private sector principles for all eligibility groups;
(B)promoting the use of health savings accounts to influence a culture of individual responsibility; and
(C)promoting the use of vouchers for consumer-directed services in which consumers manage and pay for health-related services provided to them using program vouchers;
(6)consolidate federal funding streams, including funds from the disproportionate share hospitals and upper payment limit supplemental payment programs and other federal Medicaid funds, to ensure the most effective and efficient use of those funding streams.
The DREAM Act is dead in Congress, but the White House is quietly moving to limit deportations of certain undocumented immigrants.
[…]Unable to move this legislation through the Republican-controlled Congress, the Obama administration has used its executive authority to shape immigration policy in line with the DREAM Act. This month, in a little-noticed move, Obama’s immigration chief advised Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to use discretion when considering whether to deport certain undocumented immigrants who are particularly vulnerable or have strong community ties to the country. That is, go easy on the sort of undocumented immigrants that the DREAM Act could benefit, among others.
Since taking office, Obama has prioritized the deportation of undocumented immigrants who have committed serious crimes and threaten public safety. Now his administration has moved to ensure that federal immigration agents and attorneys are following such guidelines in the field—while empowering them to take their focus off certain undocumented immigrants who meet a host of criteria. In a June 17 memo to ICE employees, the agency’s director, John Morton, outlined 19 factors that could warrant the use of “prosecutorial discretion” and prevent certain immigrants from being deported, on a case-by-case basis. […]
Pro-immigration advocates have cheered the administration for using executive authority to address immigration, while Congress remains at a standstill on the issue. The memo could help “ameliorate some of the harshest consequences of immigration law on a case by case basis,” says Mary Giovagnoli, director for the Immigration Policy Center.
“It’s a paradigm shift…it’s the first memo I’ve seen by an ICE director written in plain English so that a field officer and trial attorney can understand it,” says David Leopold, an immigration attorney and president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “What he’s really saying is, look at the people you run across in the scope of your enforcement work as human beings, not merely as statistics and targets—have they developed ties, have they added to the social fabric and culture, do they have children that depend on them? I applaud him for that.”
Republican and Democratic administrations have previously supported the use of prosecutorial discretion in immigration law. Just over ten years ago, Bill Clinton’s Immigration and Naturalization Services commissioner Doris Meissner issued a similar memo instructing agents to factor in an immigrant’s age, health, military service record, and humanitarian concerns. She emphasized the “finite resources” available to the federal government. “Prosecutorial discretion has been exercised by virtually every law enforcement agency in the world… There’s not any special consideration being given to a new group,” says Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, who considers the memo more of a “reminder” of the Obama administration’s priorities than a significant policy shift.
But with this memo, the Obama administration has provided much more comprehensive and detailed criteria than the Meissner directive of 2000—singling out immigrants with high school diplomas and those who are pursuing higher education. What’s more, the Obama administration is flipping the burden. Under Meissner’s memo, Leopold explains, “you’ve got to have a really, really good reason” not to pursue an immigrant for deportation. The Obama administration’s memo establishes a different standard: officials should only pursue cases that “meet the agency’s priorities” for immigration enforcement.
Immigration hawks and restrictionists have seized upon the ICE memo as evidence that Obama has granted amnesty to undocumented immigrants and passed the DREAM Act through a backdoor maneuver. “President Barack Obama’s administration is quietly offering a quasi-amnesty for hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants,” wrote The Daily Caller. The memo was “like a stealth DREAM Act enforcement through non-enforcement,” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach told the website.
Dissent has also surfaced within the ranks of ICE. On Thursday, the National ICE Council, a union representing 7,600 ICE employees issued a new memo, calling it a “law enforcement nightmare” and accusing the Obama administration of going out of its way to “protec[t] foreign nationals illegally in the US.”
“Any American concerned about immigration needs to brace themselves for what’s coming,” Chris Crane, the president of the council, said in a statement. He contended that the memo creates “a means for every person here illegally to avoid arrest or detention, as officers we will never know who we can or cannot arrest.” The National ICE Council further accused the Obama administration of keeping its new policies “secret from us” and forcing ICE agents who questioned the policies to “turn in their badges and file for retirement.”
The memo was meant to “prioritize the agency’s limited resources on targeting criminal aliens and those that put public safety at risk,” ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen told Mother Jones. “The directive clearly states that the exercise of discretion is inappropriate in cases involving threats to public safety, national security and other agency priorities.”
In its defense, the Obama administration fired back that the memo was meant to “prioritize the agency’s limited resources on targeting criminal aliens and those that put public safety at risk,” ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen told Mother Jones. “The directive clearly states that the exercise of discretion is inappropriate in cases involving threats to public safety, national security and other agency priorities.”
Members of the National ICE Council—who are typically career employees rather than political appointees—have long been at war with ICE director Morton, having issued a similar no-confidence votes regarding various Morton policies. But the union’s position could make it harder for the Obama administration to put the memo into effect if agents in the field are dragging their heels.
Having pressed the Obama administration to use its executive authority, pro-immigration advocates note they’re heartened by the move. The memo doesn’t eliminate the legal limbo for undocumented immigrants who remain in the country; they still won’t have a pathway to citizenship. But within a dysfunctional immigration system, it could provide a measure of breathing room. “It has become clearer and clearer that [comprehensive immigration reform] isn’t going to happen any time soon,” says Giovagnoli. “This tries to help eliminate unnecessary removal…and gives people more time.”
The jury found Blagojevich guilty on ten counts of wire fraud, four of extortion, and three of bribery. He was found not guilty on one of the other bribery counts and the jury deadlocked on two counts of extortion. From the Ward Room blog of NBC Chicago:
They spared the former governor on count 17, however, saying that he never shook down the Illinois Tollway. The jury didn’t come to an agreement on counts 11 and 16, which dealt with the Illnois Tollway and trying to get favors for releasing funds for an elementary school.
Before the verdict was announced, Blagojevich told reporters “it’s in God’s hands” on his way to the courthouse. He also quoted the Elvis song “All Shook Up,” ABC7chicago reports, saying: “My hands are shaking, my knees are weak. I can’t seem to stand on my own two feet.”
The counts he was convicted on carry a combined sentence of up to 350 years.
Over the weekend, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that Justice David Prosser “grabbed fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley around the neck in an argument in her chambers last week, according to at least three knowledgeable sources.” Bradley later confirmed the report:
Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley late Saturday accused fellow Justice David Prosser of putting her in a chokehold during a dispute in her office earlier this month.
“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,” Bradley told the Journal Sentinel.
Prosser has made a blanket denial but refuses to discuss the incident. Other anonymous sources are claiming that Prosser grabbed Bradley’s neck in self defense.
In response, Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren has called for the resignation not of Prosser but Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson:
And while I have no idea who is off the wall (Justice Prosser or Justice Walsh or both), I do know one thing, CHIEF JUSTICE SHIRLEY ABRAHAMSON sure is not doing her job to lead the court and to give confidence to the people of Wisconsin. She needs to step aside and let someone else attempt to run that zoo.
Abrahamson is a previous victim on Prosser’s abusive behavior. In March, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, “Justice David Prosser exploded at Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson behind closed doors, calling her a ‘bitch’ and threatening to ‘destroy’ her.” While Prosser admitted he “probably overreacted,” he also said his outburst was “entirely warranted.” Bradley, Prosser’s latest alleged victim, wrote an email to the other justices complaining of his behavior.
Two Long Stories about HP/AOL “PATCH”
So there’s a point in here that’s bigger than my insistence on sticking up for the Greenwich Time’s listings people. It’s that you can’t just jump into a crowded local news market with a product that’s about as good as the existing ones. Even marginally better won’t get the job done. It’s got to be so much better that you can eat the lunch of legacy outlets.
Judging Patch on the basis of one of its founding planks, Armstrong & Co. aren’t there yet. “We’re getting closer every day” to his ideal, Armstrong said.
[…] Prudence went on vacation during the administration of the second President Bush, but it’s back as the hallmark of President Obama’s approach to foreign policy. And it was the underlying theme of Obama’s speech on Afghanistan last week.
You would think this would be popular. But it turns out that Obama finds himself almost alone in his effort to define a broad new middle ground in international affairs. It’s not that the center isn’t holding. It’s that most politicians don’t seem to want to go near it.
Here is the most important passage of Obama’s address: “We must chart a more centered course. Like generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events. But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute. When threatened, we must respond with force — but when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas.”
Obama is trying to get out of Afghanistan, carefully. He’s trying to put “a difficult decade” of war behind us. If he is reelected, he would chart a new course freed from the two enormous military engagements that George W. Bush undertook.
The problem for Obama is that what he sees as a grand revival of bipartisanship in foreign policy is being dismissed widely as an improvised set of split-the-difference tactical choices.
His withdrawal schedule from Afghanistan is too slow for the doves, too quick for the hawks. In the case of Libya, he’s too aggressive for those weary of American military intervention and not bold enough for those who think the United States has a moral obligation to bring down the Gaddafi dictatorship. The fact that almost all our troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year goes unheralded.
Politically, says Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., a longtime advocate of a withdrawal from Afghanistan, Obama risks being in the same position as Democrats were in 1968. Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey were held accountable for the Vietnam War while Republican Richard Nixon could seek votes by promising to end it without offering details as to how.
With so many Republicans moving to the dovish side, Obama could find himself caught in a weird pincer movement between these newly antiwar Republicans and those who will say that he squandered a chance to “win” in Afghanistan by not giving the generals time to use our surge troops during one more “fighting season.”
The administration is stuck making a case whose only virtue is that it might turn out to be right. The United States has done what it could to improve the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. We have to decide whether this commitment will end or whether there will be an endless series of “fighting seasons” in which we need to give it one more try. A political settlement is the only way out, and it’s not obvious that one more round of fighting would substantially improve the outcome of those discussions.
It’s easy, for me at least, to identify with those who want to move out faster. But Obama is not being excessively prudent to worry that a quicker withdrawal could disrupt our alliances, undo our achievements on the ground and weaken our efforts to leave a relatively stable situation behind when we do get out. Yes, wars are harder to end than to start, especially when no clean and clear victory is possible. Other people’s civil wars are like that.
There are times when Obama’s obsession with finding some sensible middle ground is deeply frustrating. In the budget talks, he has made a variety of concessions to Republicans only to have them walk out and insist on defining bipartisanship as getting whatever it is they want. Obama’s conflict avoidance has led him to default on making a case for his own domestic policies.
But his effort to find a more stable middle ground in foreign policy deserves more support than it’s getting. There are worse things than to deserve comparisons with George H.W. Bush, Dana Carvey’s brilliant barbs notwithstanding.
America’s wars are forcing Afghans and Iraqis to flee their homes in greater numbers. According to a recent U.N. High Commission for Refugees study, nearly one half of the world’s refugees are from Afghanistan and Iraq, 3.05 million and 1.68 million, respectively. But neither the United States nor much of the developed world bears the burden of the 10.55 million refugees under the UNHCR’s purview globally. Instead, Pakistan, Iran, and Syria serve as the top host countries. The Economist has charted the numbers.
KBR, the Army’s largest contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan, is linked to “the vast majority” of suspected combat-zone fraud cases that have been referred to investigators, as well as a majority of the $13 billion in “questioned” or “unsupported” costs, the Pentagon’s top auditor said yesterday.
n testimony before the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, April G. Stephenson, director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency, said investigators have sent to the inspector general a total of 32 cases of suspected overbilling, bribery and other violations since 2004.
“I don’t think we’re aware of a program, contract or contractor that has had this number of suspensions or referrals,” Stephenson said. KBR’s work accounts for 43 percent of the Pentagon’s audited Iraq contracting dollars, according to the agency’s data.
Stephenson’s disclosures come as the Pentagon prepares to draw down forces in Iraq, requiring major support from contractors, while ramping up reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. Lawmakers are pushing the government to introduce more competition in its procurement programs. […]
President Obama has made contract reform a top priority. Shortly after taking office, he vowed to end no-bid contracts that he said “have wasted billions” of dollars in Iraq.
The hearing focused on contracts for logistics in war zones, which involves housing and feeding troops, washing their clothes, providing their recreation. Costs soared to $5.7 billion in 2008 from $55 million in 2001.
While KBR won the 2001 logistics contract in a competitive process, all task orders for that work, some worth billions of dollars apiece, were not competitively bid. Some commission members yesterday said they believed that contributed to overbilling and waste. They wanted to know why the Army had not moved faster to award logistics orders competitively two years after creating a program to do so.
[…] First, it was taxes. Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Republican Senate Minority Whip John Kyl petulantly abandoned debt negotiation talks with Democrats because the Republicans are firmly opposed to any repeal of tax breaks for the super rich. Here were are, a nation that has always relied on those who get the most out of America to give the most back — now at a time when, as the profits of the rich continue to reach record levels, unemployment and economic stagnation for the rest of us remains. All the Democrats want to do is restore the upper tax rates to the levels under President Clinton, then the economy was thriving — not even to the much, much higher levels under past Republican presidents like Reagan or Eisenhower. And almost two-thirds of Americans agree that we should raise taxes on the rich to address the deficit.
Yet the Republicans continue to push irresponsible and unpopular cuts to Medicare and Medicaid. It should now be apparent to every American that the Republican agenda in these respects does not prioritize the economic health and well-being of the hardworking American middle class but, rather, the greedy interests of wealthy campaign donors and Wall Street. The GOP would rather create even richer billionaires than create more jobs for working people. The GOP would rather give handouts to insurance companies than make sure our seniors can keep affording their health care.
Meanwhile, in an historic vote on the right side of history and basic human decency, New York has enacted marriage equality for same-sex couples. Four — count ‘em, four! — Republicans in the state senate voted in support of the law. Meanwhile, 53% of Americans — a majority — support same-sex marriage. And, as we know from the history of comparable civil rights struggles, public opinion will only grow more favorable. And, unless they do something, the Republicans will grow even further out of touch.
In the short term, this doesn’t bode well for Republicans in 2012. Apart from the fact that they don’t seem to have a candidate who possesses both a genuine smile and a genuine knowledge of American history, the Republicans are quickly losing public opinion on every political issue on which they’ve sought to demagogue in the past. It will get harder and harder to gin up fear about gay marriage and divide voters as public opinion tips further toward marriage equality. And despite having successfully elevated the deficit as a political issue in 2010, the Republicans are showing a pathetic lack of leadership in seriously solving the problem — meanwhile, putting our entire nation at risk of default. In fact, the very same deficit crisis Republicans played up to win in 2010 will likely be their downfall in 2012.
But in the long term, I worry about the health of our democracy, such as it already was, when one of the two major political parties is so beholden to special interests that it increasingly ignores the interests of not only all voters but even its own base. The Tea Party, albeit entertaining, has meant that Republican figures like Michelle Bachmann hold greater sway than someone like John Huntsman or Gary Johnson who, while I may not personally agree with their politics, I can objectively state they are more in line with the American mainstream than Ms. Bachmann could ever dream to be.
Which makes the surge of Bachmann and the pro-rich petulance of Cantor and Kyl a dream for the Democrats in 2012 — but, ultimately, a nightmare for our collective political future.
Relying on a counterfactual, or alternate history, evokes a world that never was instead of a world that could yet be
Democratic Congressman Barney Frank recently captured the problem with Obama’s reelection message: “‘It would have been even worse without me’ ain’t much of a bumper sticker.”
Obama doesn’t have a factual problem, so much as a counterfactual problem. A counterfactual is an alternate history, where we imagine what would have happened if someone had made a different choice. A recent piece in Time pointed out that a big part of the Obama pitch relies on counterfactuals. In other words, if the president hadn’t acted, things would have been even worse. Without the stimulus and the bailouts, unemployment would have been even higher. Without the intervention in Libya, Gaddafi would have destroyed Benghazi.
Counterfactual thinking is perfectly reasonable. A president is a success if his choices produced better results than the alternative options. After all, Washington might not have passed the stimulus. America would then be a different place — for better or worse. And it is the gap between the world we live in now, and this counterfactual world, that represents the true “Obama effect.”
But here’s the problem. As a sell to the public, counterfactuals have all the rhetorical power of an Anthony Weiner press conference. The road untraveled just doesn’t resonate. By definition, counterfactuals didn’t occur and are therefore difficult or impossible to prove. A counterfactual scenario also lacks emotional intensity because it never happened. Pondering what America would have been like in 2010, absent the stimulus, with 12 or 13 percent unemployment, is a parlor game — not an exercise to get the heart racing.
Consider the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Many have criticized the United States for failing to stop the killing. But imagine that we rewind the tape of history, and this time Bill Clinton does send in the Marines and the massacres never happen. Just like today in Libya, the president would have defended the mission with a counterfactual — we averted genocide. And just like today in Libya, the intervention would probably be unpopular because the genocide would only exist as a counterfactual, not as a lived reality.
Paradoxically, if the United States had waited to intervene in 1994 until the genocide was well underway, Washington would have saved fewer lives, but Clinton would have received more credit. His pitch would no longer rely on a counterfactual — the United States was actually stopping evil in its tracks.
So what can Obama do about his counterfactual dilemma? The obvious solution is to stick to the facts, and base his reelection pitch on tangible progress. There is a world of difference between selling a Libyan campaign that prevented worse massacres from happening, and selling a Libyan campaign that ended in Gaddafi’s removal.
So does this mean that Obama should give up imagining alternate worlds? Not at all. As the saying goes, politicians campaign in poetry not in prose. We like visions of a different reality. It’s just that we get excited by alternate futures — not by alternate pasts. Obama’s poetry needs to evoke worlds that could yet be, not worlds that never were.
Revolution Messaging/Democracy Corps commissioned a straw poll for attendees at Netroots Nation. I hasten to underscore that I’m not criticizing Netroots Nation or the people who attended. I wish I could have been there myself. That said, Steve Singiser at Daily Kos wrote a piece about it yesterday and drew some odd conclusions. First the section of the poll Steve referenced:
Q.3 Please indicate if you approve or disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as president?
Strongly Approve: 27
Somewhat Approve: 53
Somewhat Disapprove: 13
Strongly Disapprove: 7
All things considered, 80 percent approval among hardcore progressive blog people is pretty damn good, considering the prevalence and influence of Glenn Greenwald and the firebaggers. However, Steve took a very different posture:
If that doesn’t make the Obama re-elect team nervous, it probably should.
Look, the simple fact is that the NN11 attendees are going to vote for Obama. There is little doubt about that. A total of 96% of them identified themselves as “almost certain” to vote in November of 2012. And given some other stats in the poll dealing with the “cool/warm” spectrum, we can be reasonably certain that they aren’t voting for the GOP (a stout 4.71 out of 100 on the temperature gauge).
But team Obama has to be concerned about more than just that. They have to be concerned about spit on envelopes, legs pounding pavement, fists knocking on doors, and dollars being stuffed in envelopes or exchanged online.
I seriously doubt the Obama campaign is nervous — clearly because the Netroots Nation crowd is not the base. Progressive bloggers aren’t the base. The people who knocked on doors and “spit on envelopes” were predominantly first-time volunteers. Ordinary Americans who don’t know (or care) who Markos or Jane or Atrios or Greenwald are. They’re people who will now qualify for Medicaid due to the president’s healthcare reform bill. They’re people who received the president’s middle class tax cut in the stimulus.
They’re people who will probably return to the campaign as volunteers in 2012.
Maybe not with the electricity of 2008 — but only because incumbent campaigns are never as electric as a first-time campaign. The president doesn’t have that underdog quality we find so attractive in an insurgent campaign. That’s just the way incumbent campaigns work. It doesn’t have anything to do with the enthusiasm or lack of enthusiasm (80 percent is still quite strong) of progressive bloggers.
It has receded from the national headlines, but this interesting Syracuse Post-Standard look at the plight of GOP Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, who is facing serious heat in her New York district over her embrace of the GOP Medicare plan, shows that the issue continues to simmer.Note the calls her office has received from “sobbing seniors.”
The question is whether persistence of these GOP difficulties will make Dems involved in the deficit talks more determined not to give ground on Medicare.
Texas, economists note, has long been a low-tax, loose-regulation state, but it hasn’t always thrived — between 2008 and 2010, after the U.S. economy collapsed, the state’s unemployment rose faster than in high-tax Massachusetts. In May, Texas’s unemployment rate, at 8 percent, ranked twenty-fourth in the country, slightly worse than liberal New York’s. What’s more, not all of those vaunted jobs are great jobs: Texas has the highest percentage of minimum-wage workers in the country, and its per-capita income still sits below California’s.
What is clear is that Texas’s population has been exploding, leading to disproportionate job growth. In the past decade, the state added more people than anywhere else, partly due to fast-growing Hispanic families, but due also to migration from other states. So why are people flocking to Texas? It could be the state’s lower taxes, though that probably isn’t a big driver: As Brad DeLong of University of California, Berkeley, has noted, Texans pay, on average, 26 percent of their income in taxes, not much lower than the 28.5 percent average in California.
More likely, people are moving to Texas because housing is so affordable. In a 2006 survey by the Census Bureau, Texas ranked forty-second in the cost of housing. Conservatives can take some credit—by and large, it’s easier to build houses in Texas’s biggest cities, with fewer land-use and zoning hassles, according to Harvard economist Edward Glaeser.
But conservatives shouldn’t be too triumphal. Texas didn’t suffer from a ruinous housing bubble like nearby Arizona and Nevada, thanks to regulations that limited debt on homes and restricted “cash-out” refinancing (a common practice in states like Florida and California, in which people got free cash for refinancing their homes). As a result, Texas didn’t fare as badly when the housing market cratered this time: Only 6 percent of Texas borrowers were in or near foreclosure, versus a national average of nearly 10 percent. Two cheers for intrusive regulations.
Other aspects of Texas’s success come down to sheer luck. The state is home to large oil and gas reserves. As oil prices have climbed over the past decade, new rigs have sprouted up like toadstools, while the natural-gas craze has led to economic booms in North Texas and the Eagle Ford Shale near San Antonio. The Dallas Fed has found that, every time oil prices rise 10 percent, Texas gets a 0.5 percent GDP bump. That’s hardly something other states can replicate.
Then there’s the uglier side of Perry’s rule. The state is looking at a staggering $27 billion deficit for 2012-2013. Perry managed to paper over Texas’s last budget shortfall by taking $6.4 billion in Obama stimulus money, more than all but two governors. (At the same time, he was suggesting Texas should secede from the union.) Now, without Democrats in Congress to bail him out, Perry and other Republicans in Austin are proposing big cuts to Medicaid and education — this in a state where 26 percent of people are uninsured, the highest percentage in the United States.
That’s a rather different picture than Texas governor — and possible 2012 contender — Rick Perry is painting in his campaign speeches, of course.
When the House membership read the Constitution aloud in January, where did it find the part that gives Congress the power to default on the nation’s debts?
Nothing justifies the claim that Congress has the power to cause a default on the national debt — or put a cap on expenditures that Congress duly authorized.
Indeed, Article I, Section 10, prohibits states from impairing the obligation of contracts. Nowhere in Article I does it give Congress the power to do what is forbidden to the states. Congress has never had the power to set a debt ceiling or trigger a default to get out of paying its debts.
If there is even the slightest question, the 14th Amendment denies anyone — including Congress — the power to default on the debt or ruin the credit of the United States.
The tea party usurpation would destroy the original point of the Constitution. The Founders would be shocked — though I suppose they long ago stopped rolling in their graves.
At the beginning, the Constitution of 1787 was a compact of creditors, sharp business types like Abigail Adams, holding state bank notes and fretting that the states might default.
This fear led to Article I, Section 10: “States shall not impair the obligation of contracts” — i.e., the public debt bought up by Adams and her friends. That’s what triggering a default would do. Of course, the Treasury has the discretion to pay the bondholders first — though it would mean stiffing our troops in the field.
Because Article I forbids the states from defaulting by legislative fiat, it is stunning to think Congress might try the same stunt — even worse, to do it by default, as a matter of whim, for no reason but tea party pique.
It would be all the dumber to do so after we ran up this debt to save the credit of Goldman Sachs. Now, having saved Wall Street’s credit, we’re going to destroy the credit of the United States?
“Oh, but Article I expressly gives Congress the right to borrow.” So it does. But it does not give Congress the power to default — which is not a lesser implied power but a vastly greater, doomsday one. Note that in 1787, the Founders expected and planned for a national government that would start with a massive public debt.
Even today, most state constitutions require a balanced budget. It’s no accident that the U.S. Constitution has no such requirement. George Washington’s first big act as president was the bold assumption by the federal government of all state debts — on which Adams and others expected defaults.
[…] To extend the counter-factual, imagine a United States Senate with the rules of its New York counterpart in the 111th Congress. Without the constant threat of a Republican filibuster making a supermajority necessary for most legislation, North Dakota Democrat Byron Dorgan becomes the marginal vote in February 2009, and Barack Obama can safely ignore the moderate Republicans (Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Arlen Specter) as well as the most conservative Democrats (Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh and Blanche Lincoln). Congress passes a $1 trillion stimulus, and we hail Obama’s impressive leadership.
Repeat for each major initiative in the 111th Congress. With Republicans, Blue Dogs and Joe Lieberman no longer needed to pass health care, reform passes in August 2009; Obama is hailed as visionary for pushing through the public option. Financial reform avoids a similar hurdle; the president signs a bill that combines tough regulations with powerful regulators. In addition, despite their division on comprehensive immigration reform and climate change, Democrats muster enough unity to pass the DREAM Act and a modest tax on emissions. Democrats also pass the Employee Free Choice Act, with Vice President Joe Biden as the deciding vote on the latter.
There’s no doubt that Andrew Cuomo exercised impressive leadership on gay marriage, but institutional rules matter too, and this story would have been very different had Cuomo faced a supermajority requirement in the New York state Senate. The same goes for political barriers. As the Times details, conservative activists failed to mobilize against this push for same-sex marriage: The Catholic Church was nearly absent from the fight; and Senate leadership was mostly hands off, leaving GOP lawmakers to their own devices. The opposite has been true for the Obama administration. In addition to motivated conservative activists, the administration faced a highly disciplined Republican minority, led by John Boehner in the House and Mitch McConnell in the Senate. Without that, the administration could have been much stronger on everything from health care to economic relief.
[…] Though her party lost a staggering 63 House seats in last year’s midterms — a defeat Pelosi blames on the economy, not the aggressive agenda she set — she insisted it is primed for 2012.
“A presidential year— that’s a completely different story,” she said.
Instead of having to defend Democratic seats in Republican territory, her party will be playing offense, Pelosi argued, zeroing in on the 60 GOP members who represent districts that Obama carried in 2008.
And in the GOP efforts to revamp the program that provides health benefits to the elderly, Pelosi thinks she has been handed a gift. “Our three most important issues: Medicare, Medicare and Medicare,” she said.
The speakership used to be a post with job security. But that is no longer true in an era in which voters are more restive and the political culture is rougher on those who hold power. In the past 21 years, five speakers have been forced out, either by scandal or by political upheaval.
What makes Pelosi different is not that she lost that cherished gavel — but that she didn’t head for the exit when she did. Pelosi is the first former speaker since Sam Rayburn, more than half a century ago, to remain in the House as the head of her party and to fight to get her majority back.
She calls it her “faith-based initiative,” and it is indeed an endeavor to make her fellow Democrats believe again.
The obstacles are formidable. In many parts of the country, Pelosi is seen as the embodiment of liberal government overreach, which is why she is rarely invited to make public appearances in moderate districts.
The then-speaker had a starring role in 72 of the 112 campaign ads the GOP produced last year. The party hung a big red banner that said “FIRE PELOSI” from Republican National Committee headquarters. Her name remains an applause line — and not in a good way — in Republican campaign speeches. […]
But if Pelosi wears her scars as a badge of honor, her closest allies don’t hide their feelings of grievance on her behalf. In their view, their party — and their president — should have done a better job defending a speaker who had delivered so much.
“It was a wide-open season on her,” Miller said. “A lesser person would not have survived with the ability to rally her caucus and move forward. Given her accomplishments and what she achieved, from the president on down, people could have done something.”
Pelosi conveys no grudges.
“I have absolutely no problem with my relations with the White House,” she said. “I have complete access on any subject that I want to talk to them about. I understand why they have to do certain things, and they understand why I have to do certain things. We give each other room.”
The main reason she stayed as leader, Pelosi said, was to protect her caucus’s accomplishments — chiefly, the passage of health-care overhaul — from Republican efforts to dismantle them. But Pelosi was also mindful of the signal it might have sent to other women if she had quit.
“It’s important to me that women young in politics — they’re coming out of the kitchen as I did — are not deterred because of sexism or chauvinism [or the idea that] you can say or do anything about a woman and people will believe it,” she said.
Pelosi remains popular with the party’s liberal base, perhaps even more so amid anxiety that the president is tacking centrist to gird for a tough reelection fight.
After her announcement in December that she intended to remain as leader of her battered party in the minority, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised a record $1 million in three weeks, said Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), whom Pelosi recruited to take over the committee.
“I wouldn’t have taken the job unless she was the Democratic leader,” Israel said, adding that he and Pelosi talk by phone at least two or three times a day, including on weekends.
A punishing schedule
At 71, she maintains a punishing schedule: She has done 129 fundraisers in two dozen cities since the election, bringing in nearly $11 million for House Democrats.
In the first quarter, the out-of-power House Democrats’ campaign committee hauled in a record $19.6 million and outraised its Republican counterpart by $1.6 million. In April and May, however, House Democrats fell behind the GOP. The challenge is likely to grow as the election season kicks into gear and they are forced to compete with the presidential reelection campaign and Senate Democrats, whose majority is in danger.
When Congress is in session, Pelosi frequently hosts breakfasts and dinners in Washington for major donors. Many lunch hours find her a few blocks away from the Capitol in a conference room at the DCCC headquarters, where she has aides dialing two phones at once.
Pelosi has become a big fan of social networking as a political tool — and is working to make herself more tech-savvy as well.
In February, she got her first iPhone and followed that with the purchase of an iPad. Although her favorite use for it is viewing pictures of her grandchildren, she has been known to play a game or two of Angry Birds.
She recently urged her members to get the word out through Twitter on the Republican Medicare plan. “What does a 500-lb. canary say? Tweeeeet!” she told a reporter, flapping her arms.
Pelosi grew up in politics as the daughter of the mayor of Baltimore, and she has been building and nurturing her network of supporters since her days as a wealthy housewife and Democratic activist in San Francisco. She makes a point of getting in touch on their birthdays and their children’s graduations.
She knows which donors want to talk politics and which Middle East policy. Every August, she hosts a two-day “issues conference” in Napa Valley, bringing together high-dollar contributors for briefings with leading Democratic officials and experts, including economists; when she discovered that this year’s gathering would conflict with the wedding of a longtime donor’s daughter, she moved the date to July.
Still, Pelosi argued, “the reason I’m successful at what I do in terms of fundraising is I really believe in something. It’s not just about having a Rolodex. It’s about the case that you make.”
On the heels of the $20 million economic-themed ad blitz by Karl Rove’s political money machine this week, Democrats are taking to the air with their own attack ad campaign targeting Republicans over the budget.
The six-figure campaign by House Majority PAC, a Super PAC which can take in unlimited amounts from donors thanks to the Citizens United ruling, launches Monday with ads taking on eight Republican members of Congress across the country.
The targets: Reps. Rick Crawford (AR), Tim Griffin (AR), Scott Tipton (CO), Steve King (IA), Bobby Schilling (IL), Chip Cravaack (MN), Charlie Bass (NH) and Joe Heck (NV).
House Majority PAC is designed to help Democrats retake the House in 2012. Once again, as the ads confirm, Democrats hope to accomplish that goal by reminding voters over and over again about the budget designed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) which the House GOP passed earlier this year — and, more specifically, its dramatic changes to Medicare.
“Scott Tipton voted for the Republican Budget that includes another trillion dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy,” reads one radio ad script, in part. “You pay Medicare taxes on every dollar you earn, but the budget Scott Tipton voted for ends Medicare as we know it. Seniors would have to pay sixty four hundred dollars more each year.”
The ads also include more targeted attacks. The television ad House Majority PAC is running against Cravaack, for example, takes aim at the $1,000/month cost of his taxpayer-funded SUV, which has raised eyebrows back in his home district.
[…] In a statement OFA fired back,
“Congresswoman Bachmann talks about reclaiming the American Dream but her policies would erode the path to prosperity for middle class families. She voted for a budget plan that would extend tax cuts for the richest Americans on the backs of seniors and the middle class while ending Medicare as we know it. Congresswoman Bachmann introduced legislation to repeal Wall Street oversight – risking a repeat of the financial crisis — and while she voted to preserve subsidies for oil and gas companies she opposes making the investments necessary to enhance America’s competitiveness and create the jobs of the future.”
Short, sweet and to the point. Michele Bachmann may be a tea party darling and she is beloved by the hard right, but she would be surgically dissected by the Obama team in a fall campaign. Her voting record is chocked full of goodies that are 30-60 second attacks ads waiting to happen.
Oh that voting record:
Bachmann voted NO on food safety. She voted NO on extending unemployment benefits, and she voted NO on extending the flood insurance program. She also voted NO on financial reform, and NO small business lending. She voted YES to abolish the practice of federal funding of presidential elections. She voted NO on the repeal of DADT. She voted NO on the expansion of hate crimes legislation. In 2007, she voted NO on the establishment of the Office of Congressional Ethics, and she voted a big fat NO on pay as you go. (As you know only a true fiscal conservative would reject the idea that programs actually have to be paid for before they are passed).
The paragraph above isn’t even the big stuff. Bachmann wants to cut veterans benefits and their Social Security disability. She is all for the Ryan budget and the killing of Medicare, and she supports making the Bush tax cuts permanent.
E. J. Dionne:
An attack on the right to vote is underway across the country through laws designed to make it more difficult to cast a ballot. If this were happening in an emerging democracy, we’d condemn it as election-rigging. But it’s happening here, so there’s barely a whimper.
The laws are being passed in the name of preventing “voter fraud.” But study after study has shown that fraud by voters is not a major problem — and is less of a problem than how hard many states make it for people to vote in the first place. Some of the new laws, notably those limiting the number of days for early voting, have little plausible connection to battling fraud.
These statutes are not neutral. Their greatest impact will be to reduce turnout among African Americans, Latinos and the young. It is no accident that these groups were key to Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 — or that the laws in question are being enacted in states where Republicans control state governments.
Again, think of what this would look like to a dispassionate observer. A party wins an election, as the GOP did in 2010. Then it changes the election laws in ways that benefit itself. In a democracy, the electorate is supposed to pick the politicians. With these laws, politicians are shaping their electorates.
Paradoxically, the rank partisanship of these measures is discouraging the media from reporting plainly on what’s going on. Voter suppression so clearly benefits the Republicans that the media typically report this through a partisan lens, knowing that accounts making clear whom these laws disenfranchise would be labeled as biased by the right. But the media should not fear telling the truth or standing up for the rights of the poor or the young.
The laws in question include requiring voter identification cards at the polls, limiting the time of early voting, ending same-day registration and making it difficult for groups to register new voters.
Sometimes the partisan motivation is so clear that if Stephen Colbert reported on what’s transpiring, his audience would assume he was making it up. In Texas, for example, the law allows concealed handgun licenses as identification but not student IDs. And guess what? Nationwide exit polls show that John McCain carried households in which someone owned a gun by 25 percentage points but lost voters in households without a gun by 32 points.
Besides Texas, states that enacted voter ID laws this year include Kansas, Wisconsin, South Carolina and Tennessee. Indiana and Georgia already had such requirements. The Maine Legislature voted to end same-day voter registration. Florida seems determined to go back to the chaos of the 2000 election. It shortened the early voting period, effectively ended the ability of registered voters to correct their address at the polls and imposed onerous restrictions on organized voter-registration drives.
In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court, by 6 to 3, upheld Indiana’s voter ID statute. So seeking judicial relief may be difficult. Nonetheless, the Justice Department should vigorously challenge these laws, particularly in states covered by the Voting Rights Act. And the court should be asked to review the issue again in light of new evidence that these laws have a real impact in restricting the rights of particular voter groups.
“This requirement is just a poll tax by another name,” state Sen. Wendy Davis declared when Texas was debating its ID law early this year. In the bad old days, poll taxes, now outlawed by the 24th Amendment, were used to keep African Americans from voting. Even if the Supreme Court didn’t see things her way, Davis is right. This is the civil rights issue of our moment.
In part because of a surge of voters who had not cast ballots before, the United States elected its first African American president in 2008. Are we now going to witness a subtle return of Jim Crow voting laws?
Whether or not these laws can be rolled back, their existence should unleash a great civic campaign akin to the voter-registration drives of the civil rights years. The poor, the young and people of color should get their IDs, flock to the polls and insist on their right to vote in 2012.
If voter suppression is to occur, let it happen for all to see. The whole world, which watched us with admiration and respect in 2008, will be watching again.
Banning the sale of violent games to minors is a violation of free speech, justices say in a victory for the entertainment industry.
A 5-4 Supreme Court in Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett just struck down an Arizona public financing law that enables candidates to fight back against onslaughts of corporate-funded attack ads. More coverage of this decision will follow this afternoon.
In 2007, the state of Vermont passed a law forbidding the data mining of prescription drug records (i.e., which drugs are being prescribed and how frequently) for marketing purposes. But earlier today, the Supreme Court ruled that the Vermont law interferes with drug makers’ right to free speech.
The law had been intended to protect the privacy of doctors and patients, but six of the Supremes said Big Pharma’s right to hone its marketing pitches is more important.
Writes Justice Kennedy for the majority:
Speech in aid of pharmaceutical marketing… is a form of expression protected by the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment… As a consequence, Vermont’s statute must be subjected to heightened judicial scrutiny. The law cannot satisfy that standard.
Justices Breyer, Bader Ginsburg and Kagan dissented.
[ How they see it] Weekly Standard: Unionized States Of America?
How far will President Obama go to advance the interests of organized labor? Awfully far. We know this not only from the effort to keep Boeing from building a plane in a right-to-work state, South Carolina, but also from the way Delta Airlines is being railroaded into recognizing unions its employees have repeatedly rejected.
In June alone, the Obama administration adopted rules likely to discourage employers from hiring law firms that specialize in thwarting union organizing drives, and moved to shorten union certification campaigns, long a goal of organized labor.
But the targeting of Delta stands out. Following Delta’s merger with Northwest Airlines in 2008, its flight attendants voted against joining the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), and other employees decided against signing on with four separate unions of the International Association of Machinists and Aero-space Workers (IAM).
That didn’t end what has become a union crusade against Delta, abetted by Obama. Now, from all appearances, the fix is in — against Delta. It starts with the National Mediation Board, which governs labor relations in the airline and railroad industries. Obama stacked the NMB deck by putting two former union senior executives on the three-member board, Linda Puchala of the AFA and Harry Hoglander of the Air Line Pilots.
That tilted the board sharply against Delta. At the urging of the AFL-CIO, the NMB changed the rule for airline and railroad union elections. For 75 years, a majority of the entire cohort of workers was required in a vote to unionize. The board reduced it to a majority of those voting.
And the two unions were tipped the change was imminent. They had filed for elections under the old rule. Then, just before the NMB’s decision, they withdrew those requests, only to reinstate them later in order to have the more union-friendly new rule apply to the Delta elections.
The unions lost anyway. In the case of the flight attendants, it was the third time they had voted against the AFA. But the AFA and the IAM have doggedly refused to take “no” for an answer.
There are three reasons for their persistence. First, the vote was an embarrassing defeat for organized labor, already shrunken to the point of representing only 6.9 percent of the private sector workforce. Union leaders were unwilling to give up on what has been, at Delta, the biggest organizing drive since 70,000 workers at Ford Motor Company were unionized in 1941.
Second, 17,000 Northwest employees, inherited in the merger, had been union members. But they will become nonunion if the rejection of unionization by Delta employees is certified by the NMB. (Delta pilots have been union members for years.)
Third — and most important — the unions know they now have an indispensable ally, the pro-union majority on the National Mediation Board. To take advantage of this, both the AFA and IAM have accused Delta of illegally interfering in the union elections and asked the board to overturn the results and order a new election.
The board took the first step in June when it announced it would investigate whether Delta had acted improperly in opposing the unions. Should it decide Delta had, the NMB would call for still another election.
This could go on and on. Unions routinely accuse employers of using coercive tactics in elections, insist employees were denied a free choice, and demand a new round of voting. The AFA and IAM are counting on the board to go along.
The unions haven’t made it easy for the NMB. Their formal complaints make an exceptionally weak case. Their argument boils down to the fact that Delta vigorously opposed unionization and made the case that both the airline and employees would be better off without the unions. Nothing illegal about that.
The unions argue that Delta went beyond simple opposition and committed “gross interference.” But their detailed complaints are flimsy, some of them downright absurd.
The first offense cited in the IAM complaint was that Delta told employees they “must vote.” Indeed they must, Delta said, if they want to vote against the union. This was to distinguish the old rule, under which employees not voting were counted as having voted “no,” from the new rule in which only an actual “no” vote will count, the airline said.
That wasn’t the only allegedly wrongful conduct the IAM cited on this issue. Delta CEO Richard Anderson, in an audio message to employees, “sounded very militaristic,” the IAM said. Maybe so, but it’s not illegal either.
This was another IAM objection: “Delta engaged in a massive and omnipresent anti-IAM campaign designed to so overwhelm employees that their free choice was suppressed.” Is the IAM oblivious to how stupid and impressionable this makes Delta employees look? Chances are, the Delta workers noticed that unionized Northwest employees made less money.
The AFA took up this matter as well, saying Delta “transformed” the election into a “mandatory directive to vote ‘no’ against AFA.” The airline “so overwhelmed the atmosphere that one flight attendant thought the election was a ‘company sanctioned event.’ ”
With such dubious arguments, the unions have put the National Mediation Board to the test. If it’s open-minded and unbiased, as the board claims to be, it’s bound to reject the bid for new elections. If it’s a tool of organized labor, it will go along.
Obama won’t play a direct role in the decision. But he created the pro-labor majority on the NMB, just as the folks who run the Department of Labor and control the National Labor Relations Board are his people. So he’s responsible for elevating unions to a privileged status.
You might suspect he aims to change the Democratic party into the Labor party. If that’s the end he has in sight, he’s taking all the right steps. There’s an alternative explanation: Obama is just kowtowing to one more liberal pressure group.
The next big labor brawl, ctd.: Conservatives and pro business groups are escalating their attacks on the National Labor Relations Board for proposing reduced ligitation and other union representation election reforms. In so doing, they are attacking the NLRB for doing exactly what it’s supposed to do. We’ll be digging into this story here.
In one sense, as many news outlets are reporting, Obama did sidestep the issue at the gay-themed fundraising event last night. But it seems to me that Sam Stein is the only one who noticed the really newsworthy quote from the President:
“Yes we have more work today. Yes we have more progress to make. Yes I expect continued impatience with me on occasion,” said the president. “With your help, if you keep up the fight, if you will devote your time and your energies to this campaign one more time, I promise you we will write another chapter in that story.”
Given the context — he was in New York, where gay marriage is on the verge of becoming legal, and he alluded directly to his audience’s impatience with him — the most plausible interpretation here is that he is appealing for gay support in 2012 in exchange for the tacit assurance that he’ll come out for gay marriage in his second term.
Amid the continuing controversy over his “evolving” position on gay marriage, this seems like a pretty clear effort to convert a problem that had been dampening the enthusiasm of gay advocates into another reason to work for his reelection.
Kansas has long been a frontline in the abortion wars, so it isn’t much of a surprise that anti-abortion crusaders there have pioneered one of the newest tactics for limiting access to legal abortion procedures: developing onerous regulations that specifically target clinics. And this strategy—which could lead to shutting down all of the state’s abortion clinics by the end of this month—is being embraced by abortion foes in other states as a way to end abortion in practice if not in law.
This is how it works: anti-abortion legislators pass what are often called “TRAP” laws, or “targeted regulation of abortion providers.” That is, regulations that only apply to abortion clinics, setting compulsory standards that are often difficult to meet, like mandated sizes for waiting and recovery rooms, reconfiguring of exits and entrances to facilities, and additional bathrooms. In Kansas, abortion providers last week were handed a long list of new regulations and told they must comply by July 1. Virginia and Utah have signed similar measures into law this year, joining states like South Carolina and Indiana that have previously targeted providers with stricter regulations, and a number of other states have been considering bills like these.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
Constitutional Myth #5: Corporations Have the Same Free-Speech Rights as Individuals
[…] There’s another way to look at it. In his dissent in Citizens United, Justice John Paul Stevens–a moderate-conservative Republican–spoke for many citizens when he said, “While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”
The problem is not that corporations are “persons” under the law. That’s been the law for more than a century. And the problem is not the mere idea that corporate “persons” have free speech rights. Of course they do; otherwise the government could prohibit the New York Times Co. or MSNBC from engaging in news coverage.
The problem is the kind of simple-minded interpretation of the Constitution I have discussed elsewhere. The current Court in Citizens United claimed to be choosing between a system in which corporations would have no free-speech rights and one in which corporate “persons” must have precisely the same free-speech rights as natural persons do. There surely is a middle position. In fact, our laws treat many kinds of “persons” differently for various purposes–citizens differently from non-citizens, minors differently from adults, members of professions differently from non-members. Each group’s rights–even important rights like free speech–are treated differently for some purposes. High-school students do not have the right to criticize their school administrations; college students do. Minors do not have the right to purchase sexually explicit entertainment; adults do. Non-citizens cannot contribute to federal political campaigns; citizens can.
That a corporation is a “person” does not mean that its participation in politics has to be completely free of regulation. Any sane system of laws would take into account the facts that corporations control vastly more money than individuals; that they never “die,” and thus can influence events indefinitely; and that, by law, they must (and do) concern themselves with one thing and one thing only–making profits for their shareholders.
Over the past generation, the conservative majorities on the Court have systematically destroyed any idea that the First Amendment relates to democratic self-government, or civic equality. Earlier this year, when the Court considered Arizona’s Clean Elections Act, Chief Justice Roberts asked the lawyer for Arizona this remarkable question:
I checked the Citizens’ Clean Elections Commission website this morning, and it says that this act was passed to, quote, “level the playing field” when it comes to running for office. Why isn’t that clear evidence that it’s unconstitutional?
The First Amendment exists, in the new logic, only to protect the right of those with money to drown out those without. This is such an obtuse reading of the Constitution that anyone can be forgiven for thinking it was a self-interested, overtly partisan decision by a five-Justice majority of conservative Republican appointees deeply disappointed that their party had been roundly defeated in the 2006 and 2008 decisions.
Having said that, Barack Obama and the Democratic Party bear their share of the blame for this sorry mess. By wrecking the public-finance system in the presidential election of 2008, the Democrats did a lot to convince reasonable people that their concern about money in politics was as self-serving as the Republicans’ concern for corporate “liberty.”
The proper vision of corporate “personhood” would consider the meaning of the First Amendment not as a simple on-off switch but as a provision that protects a key ingredient in democratic self-government–speech to and about politics by ordinary people.
As Judge Cacheris’s decision demonstrates, the rot has progressed almost to the terminal stage. But remember the worlds of Miracle Max in The Princess Bride: “It just so happens that your friend here is only mostly dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.”
Equality and self-government, as ideas in the law, are mostly dead–but not all dead. The battle is not over. Sustained popular pressure may force right-wing courts and activist groups to back off from their continuing demands for special political rights for corporations and the rich.
This last week Maine residents began an all out war in their state to prevent a new Voter ID bill and stop the Governor’s attempts at changing a 34 year old law giving voters the right to register to vote on Election Day. The result has been efforts to mobilize Maine residents to stand up to elected officials who are playing politics with their Constitutional right to vote.
Following Thursday’s press conference of a nonpartisan coalition announcing a people’s veto of LD 1376, Maine GOP Chair Charlie Webster waged new false accusations against the Maine Democratic Party. Last week, Webster was in the news for claiming Democrats ‘steal elections.’ Today, he alleged that every attorney general and secretary of state in Maine for the past 30 years have been accomplices.
Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant released this statement:
“This is ridiculous. The Republicans are making a mockery of our political system. First it was the Maine Democratic Party busing people in to ‘steal elections.’ Now he says it’s us and every attorney general and secretary of state in the past 30 years. What next? Is he going to claim that aliens are in on it too?
“This issue is about Maine people and our democratic right to vote. So far, we’ve seen no real evidence of why taking away Election Day voter registration is a good thing and plenty of why it’s a bad thing. Let’s stop the fear mongering and lies and talk about the facts.”
Seventeen organizations have joined the coalition so far, along with hundreds of individuals who are committed to protecting voter rights.
“Voting is fundamental to democracy,” said Barbara McDade, President of the League of Women Voters of Maine in a press release. “Government works best when it represents all people. We should work to find ways to expand voter participation, not reduce it. This bad legislation is unnecessary and will mean eligible voters are turned away on Election Day.”
A petition to begin the process was filed on Tuesday, June 21, the same day that Governor Paul LePage signed the bill.
Along with the petition, organizers submitted the following suggested wording of the question to the Office of the Secretary of State: “Do you want to reject the new law that prevents voters from registering to vote on Election Day?”
To place the People’s Veto on the ballot, the coalition will need to collect more than 57,000 signatures in the 90 days after the Maine Legislature adjourns.
“Election day registration is part of Maine’s vibrant democratic tradition.” said Charlotte Warren, Associate Director of the Maine Women’s Lobby. “Why make it harder for these folks to register and vote now? What’s the purpose? While our Country is 235 years old, and our great state of Maine is 191 years old, women have only possessed the right the vote for 91 years. That’s why Maine women take voting rights seriously.”
Across the country conservative activists have been working tirelessly in state legislatures to try to place additional barriers to voting access.
New Hampshire’s new Republican Speaker of the House went so far to say that young people can’t be trusted to vote because they won’t vote along with him in efforts to justify why voting rights should be taken away from young voters.
“Voting as a liberal. That’s what kids do,” he added, his comments taped by a state Democratic Party staffer and posted on YouTube. Students lack “life experience,” and “they just vote their feelings.”
Legislation is pending in states that barely voted for President Barack Obama or large states that are critical for electoral vote in the last election including North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida,
“Young people have been at the forefront of expanding the right to vote in this country for over 200 years” said Nicola M. Wells of the Maine League of Young Voters. “By repealing same day registration, Governor LePage shows disregard for that tradition- squarely endorsing a program of voter disenfranchisement. Young people care about voting. Our frequent moves and multiple jobs can make it difficult to ensure we are registered in the right district by the right date. We are committed to continuing Maine’s tradition of helping more people exercise their right to vote on election day, and we’re proud to be a part of this People’s Veto effort. To join us in signature collection, visit maine.theleague.com/veto2011“
If you’re in Maine – join the fight in protecting your right to vote.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” -Abraham Lincoln