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Time to get scared about debt limit armageddon

Jonathan Bernstein:

Yes, I’m starting to get more than a little scared about the debt limit showdown.

Not because of the breakup of talks last week, or the posturing this week … that sort of thing is normal. Not because the sides are far apart, either. We’re talking budget here; these sorts of differences have been bridged before. The two sides hurtling towards each other in a high-stakes game of chicken? Old hat.

No, what scares me is the strong possibility that a large percentage of Republicans in Congress have come to believe their own rhetoric about the debt limit: that somehow it just doesn’t matter. That default is an acceptable option. What scares me is that epistemic closure among Republican leaders is very real, and very difficult to puncture.

What scares me is the possibility that it’s not a game of chicken at all. Republicans — at least some of them — aren’t thinking that they’ll win because Barack Obama and the Democrats will veer off and capitulate at the last second. They’re thinking that there is no crash ahead.

That’s the message from an excellent article today from Susan Davis, reporting about freshman House Republicans who seem to really buy what Michele Bachmann and others are selling: that there is no real debt limit deadline, and that default isn’t a big deal anyway. Veteran Washington observer Norm Ornstein is also worried, as is budget expert Stan Collender.

Several weeks ago, former Obama Administration OMB Director Peter Orszag predicted that it would take a financial market panic to get this done. I guess what scares me now is: what happens if the Dow drops 2000, 3000 points…and House Republicans take it as a signal that they’re on exactly the right track? What if Rush Limbaugh and Fox News interpret a market panic as a sign that it’s time to double down on tax cuts and Medicare cuts?

Now, I don’t think for a second that John Boehner or Mitch McConnell believe this nonsense (and as I’ve said, they realize that sooner or later, before or after the damage is done, eventually the debt limit will go up — and Boehner at least almost certainly will have to support it). And you never know — it’s very hard, in the middle of these sorts of confrontations, to know what is posturing and what is real. So perhaps they’ll still figure out a way to muddle through. But at this point, color me scared.


WSJ: The Day the Law Left Town

ALTO, Texas—People here are bracing for a spike in crime after the city put its police force on furlough.

“Everybody’s talking about ‘bolt your doors, buy a gun,’ ” said Monty Collins, Alto’s mayor, who was against the measure.

City Council members sent the police home when they decided they couldn’t afford them. On June 15, the police chief and his four officers secured the evidence room, changed the passwords on their computers and locked the department’s doors for six months—longer if local finances don’t improve by then.

For now, the Cherokee County sheriff’s office, based 12 miles north in Rusk, is policing Alto, a city of about 1,200. Sheriff James Campbell said the extra load would strain his 25 deputies and reservists, who oversee a 1,000-square-mile territory. The sheriff is already responsible for the nearby city of Wells, which has a population of about 800 and earlier this year shed its only police officer. Crime went up initially, he said, but has stabilized.

“I’m going to try, but I can’t guarantee you there will always be an officer in the town,” Sheriff Campbell said of Alto.

With city budgets tight across the country, police departments are under the gun to cut costs. Some are disbanding special units. Some are shedding other personnel. And some small jurisdictions are doing away with their police forces altogether.

Half Moon Bay, Calif., is now patrolled by the San Mateo Sheriff’s Office after city government earlier this month dissolved the local department to save more than $500,000 a year. Nazareth Borough, Pa., is negotiating a contract for public-safety services with a regional force. In Wenonah, N.J., voters will decide in November whether to eliminate its seven-officer force and have another municipality assume its policing. The move has the potential to slash around $300 to $400 from the average property tax bill of $9,000, in part by reducing employee insurance costs, according to the mayor. […]

Last year in Alto, where the per-capita crime rate exceeds the statewide level, there were 39 larcenies, 23 burglaries, two assaults, one robbery and one auto theft, or 66 crimes, compared to 51 the year before, though that year included a rape and four aggravated assaults.

“Why did they totally throw public safety to the wind?” said Mr. Barron. “If the city is broke as they say, I would think they can’t afford anybody else either.”

Mr. Flowers said the council was looking at cuts in other departments and would try to reinstate the police department after the furlough, although he thinks it should employ fewer officers.

Residents are circulating a petition demanding the city restore the force. Some business owners said they had removed valuable objects they don’t use regularly from their places of work in preparation for the furlough. Others worry that the absence of local police could dissuade businesses and visitors from coming to town.


The “nuclear option” for the debt ceiling?


This Week’s Blaze of Notoriety for Constitution: Bad for the Republic

But the fact is that we are having this discussion only because the Republic may be in serious trouble.  And the Section Four issue, which I was one of the first to advance, is only on the table because it begins to look as if the alternative is the unthinkable: U.S. default. On Wednesday, President Obama told a press conference, “”Nobody wants to put the creditworthiness of the United States in jeopardy. Nobody wants to see the United States default. So we’ve got to seize this moment, and we have to seize it soon.” (Obama wisely refused to respond to a question about Section Four.)

I hope he is right that nobody wants it; I have my doubts.  I think it is very possible that future historians may mark the summer of 2011 as the moment in which the decline of the United States became irreversible.  And if that happens, it will be because–as in every declining nation–elements of the ruling elite decided that they would prefer calamity for the nation as a whole to the loss of any shred of their share of the nation’s wealth.

I first put forward the Section Four argument as a thought experiment.  Who in April really thought that Republicans would be willing to crash the nation’s credit rather than discuss any revenue increase whatsoever?

But it is not, as Weigel calls it, a gimmick; even constitutional lawyers who think I am wrong don’t call it that.  The command in Section Four is strongly worded.  Ask yourself how we’d be conducting this discussion if the provision (“The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law,  . . .  shall not be questioned . . . . “) appeared in the body of the Constitution instead of in an obscure section of an Amendment.  That really shouldn’t make any difference–Article V states that amendments once adopted “shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution.” The Constitution says that default is forbidden; where it says it isn’t really relevant.  […]

In 2011, as in 1866, the most tawdry and ordinary politics may be on the verge of wrecking the nation. I honestly wish that Section Four were still an obscure provision, discussed only by academics at scholastic pigtail pulls. God knows I don’t want President Obama to use it.  The politics and the economics of doing that are unknowable.

But Section Four is there, like the fire axe on the wall.  If the House majority continues to fiddle, Obama just might conclude he has no choice but to break the glass.




Amazon, Overstock say they’ll fight California sales tax


The uber-rich are stealing California’s water (“Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”)

A group of water oligarchs in California have engineered a disastrous deregulation and privatization scheme. And they’ve pulled in hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars without causing much public outrage. The amount of power and control they wield over California’s most precious resource, water, should shock and frighten us — and it would, if more people were aware of it. But here is the scary thing: They are plotting to gain an even larger share of California’s increasingly-scarce, over-tapped water supply, which will surely lead to shortages, higher prices and untold destruction to California’s environment.

California is in year three of a fairly nasty dry spell. And some very powerful forces are not letting this mini-crisis go to waste, fiercely lobbying Governor Schwarzenegger and Senator Dianne Feinstein, paying off corporate shills like Fox News’ Sean Hannity and capitalizing on people’s fear of drought to push a massive waterworks project that will pump more water, build more dams and keep sucking the state’s rivers dry. The fearmongering schtick goes like this: California is on the brink of a water crisis of cataclysmic proportions, with a life-or-death struggle just around the corner, pitting small farmers who want to save their livelihood against big city elitists who care more about the environment than they do about American jobs. But in reality, this drought hysteria is nothing more than political theatrics, a scare tactic backed by big agribusiness to strong-arm California voters into building a multi-billion dollar system of dams and canals that would not really help small farmers — of which there are very few anyway — but would deliver more water to corporations, subsidize their landholdings, fuel real estate development and enable large-scale water privatization. At its core, it is a war waged for water by California’s megarich on everyone else.

The leader of these recent water privatization efforts in California is a Beverly Hills billionaire named Stewart Resnick. Stewart and his wife, Lynda Resnick, own Roll International Corporation, a private umbrella company that controls the flowers-by-wire company Teleflora, Fiji Water, Pom Wonderful, pesticide manufacturer Suterra and Paramount Agribusiness, the largest farming company in America and the largest pistachio and almond producer in the world. Roll Corp. was ranked #246 on Forbes’ list of America’s largest private companies in 2008 and had an estimated revenue of $1.98 billion in 2007.



Since 2009, 88% of national income growth went to corporate profits, 1% to wages

The New York Times adds, “According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average real hourly earnings for all employees actually declined by 1.1 percent from June 2009, when the recovery began, to May 2011, the month for which the most recent earnings numbers are available.”

So as average wages fall, and nearly 14 million people remain unemployed, America’s economic recovery has almost entirely benefited corporations. This development adds another chapter to the decline of the middle class, whose incomes are shrinking and wages are stagnating. Last year, top executives’ salaries increased 27 percent, while workers’ salaries increased only 2 percent. At the moment, income inequality in America is the worst it’s been since the 1920s, as the richest 1 percent make nearly 25 percent of the country’s income.


Schumer Lays Out Senate Dems’ Jobs Plan

A bill to create construction jobs and fund new highway infrastructure. A clean-energy jobs program. Reforming the immigration system for high-skilled workers. And a variety of tax cuts and credits.

None of them are new ideas, but they’re all part of Senate Democrats’ jobs agenda Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) laid out in greater detail Thursday as he portrayed his party as proactively trying to spur economic growth and accused the GOP of deliberately trying to undermine the recovery for political gain.

“We have now been playing entirely on the Republicans‘ field for six months and the recovery has only slowed. We have seen enough to know that their approach is not working,” Schumer, who heads policy and messaging for Senate Democrats, said at a speech to the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

“And we need to start asking ourselves an uncomfortable question – are Republicans slowing down the recovery on purpose for political gain in 2012? … [N]ow it is becoming clear that insisting on a slash-and-burn approach may be part of this plan – it has a double-benefit for Republicans: it is ideologically tidy and it undermines the economic recovery, which they think only helps them in 2012.”



US food prices may ease later this year because farmers have planted the 2nd largest corn crop in 67 yrs.

The estimated price tag for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq could cover California’s budget for the next 4 decades



How wallaby farts could save the atmosphere

Scientists have long known that cows are big contributors to global warming. Livestock produce more than a quarter of the world’s global methane emissions every year, and 20 percent of methane emissions in the U.S. It’s a side effect of ruminant digestion, and aside from strapping your entire herd into carbon-filter diapers, there’s no quick fix — to cut emissions, you have to carefully manage cattle nutrition so they don’t offgas as much. Or so we thought. That was before we discovered wallaby farts.

See, the Tammar wallaby has a digestive system similar to ruminants (i.e. animals that chew their cud). Like cows, wallabies have compartmentalized stomachs, including a sort of gastric antechamber where their tough plant diet gets pre-digested. But Tammar wallaby farts produce surprisingly little methane — 80 percent less per unit of digestible energy, when compared to livestock animals. That’s because one of the bacteria the wallaby hosts in its gut lets it digest food without producing methane — with the added bonus that the wallaby gets more from its food than a cow does, because less energy is lost in creating greenhouse gases for it to poot out into the wild. (The extra-energy part is actually the main goal here; it’s a lot easier to get funding for science that will make cows more nutritionally efficient than for science that will save the planet.)

Scientists have now isolated the bacterium in the wallaby gut that keeps its butt music eco-friendly. The next step is figuring out how to put that to use in cows. We recommend “here, eat this wallaby fart germ.” Cows don’t speak English anyway.



HHS Announces New Data Collection Plan To ‘Fully Understand And Meet The Needs’ Of The LGBT Community

Sexual orientation and gender identity questions are not currently asked on most national or state health surveys, and that lack of standardized data collection makes it “difficult to estimate the number of LGBT individuals and their health needs” and severely “hampers both government and community-based efforts to identify, track, and address health disparities among LGBT people.” But today, the Department of Health and Human Services unveiled a plan to change all that. For the first time, the federal government will start to “integrate questions on sexual orientation into national data collection efforts by 2013 and begin a process to collect information on gender identity.” The new effort is the result of section 4302 of the Affordable Care Act:

The proposed standards for collection and reporting of data on race, ethnicity, sex, primary language and disability status in population health surveys are intended to help federal agencies refine their population health surveys in ways that will help researchers better understand health disparities and zero in on effective strategies for eliminating them. […]

“These new data standards, once finalized, will help us target our research and tailor stronger solutions for underserved and minority communities,” added HHS Director of the Office of Minority Health, Dr. Garth Graham. “To fully understand and meet the needs of our communities, we must first thoroughly understand who we are serving.”

“Data really drives everything. You can’t have a conversation about priorities, about funding, about where attention should be about, about what we should be working on unless we have the data to show what the issues are,” CAP’s Kellan Baker told the Metro Weekly’s Chris Geidner. Baker will offer a comprehensive analysis of the proposed rules in this space tomorrow. To read his report on LGBT health and the Affordable Care Act click here.

LGBT advocates and health organizations have long lobbied for comprehensive data collection. Professional bodies such as the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, and the American Psychological Association have all “issued statements in support of standardized data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity.”


As stimulus ends, state healthcare on life support


Happy Birthday Medicare!

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the implementation of Medicare (July 1, 1966), following President Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the landmark health care program on July 30, 1965.  Despite Medicare’s great run, House Republicans voted almost unanimously to end it in order to pay for tax more breaks for Big Oil, hedge fund billionaires, huge corporations, and corporate jet owners.  And every single GOP presidential candidate also supports this disastrous plan to end Medicare.  Here are some fast facts on the beloved program that the GOP has devoted itself to destroying:

47 MILLION…the number of Americans for whom Medicare provides comprehensive health care

51 PERCENT…the number of Americans 65 or older who did not have health care before Medicare was passed, while today virtually all elderly Americans have health care thanks to Medicare

30 PERCENT…the number of elderly Americans who lived in poverty before Medicare, a number now reduced to 7.5 PERCENT

72 PERCENT…the number of Americans in a recent poll who said that Medicare is “extremely” or “very” important to their retirement security




The Real Dickishness Problem

James Fallows, The Atlantic:

Of course Mark Halperin should not be fired for saying on MSNBC that President Obama had been “kind of a dick” when sounding angry at Republicans during his press conference yesterday. I say that notwithstanding the certainty that if some other “mainstream” journalist had said the same about George W. Bush on MSNBC or CNN, the outrage would never have been allowed to ebb on Fox and the Limbaugh show. (Angry Obama picture yesterday, via CBS)

The real problem is the dickishness of our mainstream political analysis, especially from the “savviest” practitioners. Back during my days as media critic, I argued in Breaking the News and a related Atlantic cover story that the laziest and ultimately most destructive form of political coverage came when journalists seemed to imagine that they were theater critics or figure-skating judges. The what of public affairs didn’t interest them. All they cared about was the how.

In this case, the “what” of Obama’s press conference — the unbelievable recklessness of mainly House Republicans in inviting the largest self-inflicted economic wound in American history — deserves every bit of frustration Obama showed, and lots more. In the long run we’ll have some sense of whether Obama’s typical surreal unflappability, whatever its origins (I have my theories, but for another time), was the wisest long-term response to today’s Republican party — and whether this unusual flash of emotion worked in directing public attention to a looming and entirely unnecessary blow to America’s wellbeing.

But the real news of the press conference, of course, was the economic, financial, political, and Constitutional showdown Obama was discussing. Not to understand that, and to act as if this was a free-skate program where a contestant should be judged on poise, costume, and sticking the landings, is just dickish.

UPDATE: Harder-edged version of similar analysis from Greg Sargent of the WaPo.

ALSO: a strong point from Andrew Sullivan on the “economic terrorism” of the Republican stance.
>>For the GOP to use the debt ceiling to put a gun to the head of the US and global economy until they get only massive spending cuts and no revenue enhancement is therefore the clearest sign yet of their abandonment of the last shreds of a conservative disposition. A conservative does not risk the entire economic system to score an ideological victory. That is what a fanatic does.<<



Our Sadly Lowered Standards for Dickitude

Kevin Drum:

Mark Halperin is one of my least favorite political analysts, a reliably unimaginative weathervane of conventional wisdom. Today, on Morning Joe, he gave his considered opinion of Barack Obama’s press conference performance on Wednesday: “I thought he was kind of a dick yesterday.”

Halperin didn’t quite realize he was on the air when he said this, and when he did he immediately apologized and was later suspended by MSNBC. However, this is of zero interest to me. If Halperin thinks Obama is a dick, it’s fine with me if he says it publicly. In fact, I’d rather he say it publicly. A mild reproach from MSNBC management for offending the delicate sensibilities of Morning Joe viewers would have been sufficient apology.

Needless to say, what’s actually interesting here is that Halperin, in fact, thinks Obama is a dick for getting slightly combative yesterday. And this is interesting precisely because Halperin is an unimaginative weathervane of conventional wisdom. It presumably means that a fair sized chunk of the DC press corps also thinks Obama was a bit of a dick yesterday.

If this is the case, all I can say is that the standards for dickitude have become alarmingly low in Washington DC these days. I mean, Republicans have spent several consecutive months holding the country hostage to their tea party base, pretending to negotiate a budget deal when they obviously had no intention of ever agreeing to any kind of compromise, all but chortling publicly at their own cleverness, and dressing down Obama in front of the TV cameras at every opportunity. But after putting up with this for months, it’s Obama who’s a dick for finally pushing back a bit against these guys? Seriously?

As I was writing this, I knew I’d shortly hear from one of my regular readers who’s a close student of Halperin. His comment just popped into my inbox:

In many ways, Obama really is in a box with the Republicans and the media right now. Part of it, I’m sure, is his press operation’s lack of messaging. But by far the most significant part of it is the right’s mastery of the media. It’s not just John Boehner vs. Obama, by which the playing field would be more fair, but it’s virtually every conservative senator, congressman, pundit or voter who cares to spout something outrageous or inciteful vs. Obama. Not vs. the Democrats. Obama.

….If Obama cannot get past this, if provocation of the right is forbidden, then Obama has no option other than to deal — and according to Halperin, that means cave and move on. If this really is the view, then Obama’s re-election is doomed as are those of liberal Democrats.

Yes indeedy. And Republicans are keenly aware of this. Whatever else you can say about Obama’s performance or lack thereof over the past few months, it would be nice if his Democratic colleagues in Congress figured this out and started to fight back too.


[Believe me, this is a BFD] Fearing ‘Carmageddon,’ Los Angeles Police Ask Celebs To Tweet


With some predicting there will be “carmageddon” when 10 miles of the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles are shut down from the evening of Friday, July 15 until 5 a.m. local time on Monday the 18th, the Los Angeles Police Department is reaching out for help in urging folks to avoid the area.

Officials are asking “celebrities with large Twitter followings” to spread the word, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to the newspaper:

“The LAPD said it is making contact with representatives for Lady Gaga (nearly 11.3 million followers), Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore (7 million and 3.7 million respectively) and Kim Kardashian ( 8 million followers). None of the celebrities have sent out warning tweets yet, but officials hope they will do so closer to the closure dates.”

There’s lots of information about what’s going to be happening at the website of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, where the message is to “plan ahead, avoid the area or stay home July 16-17.” The reason for the closing is the planned demolition of the Mulholland Bridge. The work is part of a $1 billion “Sepulveda Pass improvements project.” About 281,000 cars pass through the area each day, LA Weekly says.


Republicans Are Intentionally Sabotaging the Economy


During the Bush administration the debt ceiling had to be raised several times. Note the difference in how it was covered from 2001-2008. The Beltway media was certainly willing to report an increase as a ‘painful vote’, but not one in question. There was never any question that the debt ceiling would be increased then. The only question then was whether the debt ceiling would be raised while the Bush tax cuts were cemented in at the same time. They were.

If we could possibly get the media to actually report what Republicans are doing — bankrupting the country, stalling any economic growth for short-term Republican gains, keeping unemployment rates high by decimating the ranks of government employees, and more — maybe there would be an opportunity to move past the stupid finger-pointing into some thoughtful debate about how wrong it is to keep tax rates low while the entire country suffers as a result.


[Anyone hear about this?] Google Ideas Summit Against Violent Extremism

After more than a dozen panels and testimonials and many hours of working groups at the Google Ideas Summit Against Violent Extremism, several former extremists and survivors will attempt to recap the four days in a presentation Thursday to a couple hundred Google employees at their Dublin offices. The presentation is meant to summarize the events of the conference, what they’ve learned, what their ideas are and what action they are taking going forward.

That’s a tall order, after bringing together 80 former extremists and survivors and another 120 representatives from the academic, non-profit, business and government worlds.

“I’m still trying to digest what happened on the first day,” said Google Ideas director Jared Cohen.

In what may have been the most tearful segment, former State Department Director of Policy Planning Anne-Marie Slaughter led a ”mother-to-mother” talk with Aicha el-Wafa, whose son, Zacarias Moussaoui, is the “20th hijacker” of the 9/11 attacks.

El-Wafa, who was forced to marry at 14 and withstood her own share of hardships, saying, “Sadly I was born in a country where a woman is a woman, a second-class citizen.” It was a condition that transferred even when the family moved to France.

Eventually, el-Wafa found housing, left her abusive husband and worked as a seamstress, doing the best she could to support herself and the four children, while not realizing her son was becoming radicalized.

“I never really looked further. I wish I had,” el-Wafa told the audience. “I’m cross with myself. I didn’t know.”

Gill Hicks, who lost her legs below the knee in the London July 7, 2005 bombings, moderated a panel with a former neo-Nazi, a former gangster and a former Muslim extremist.

Former Irish extremists sat on a panel with IRA survivors. And former President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe Valez, led a panel that included a former member of FARC.


The Idea Behind Fox News Channel Originated in the Nixon White House


Gawker has a great story out today, so take a look. Here’s the tease:

“A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News” (read it here) is an unsigned, undated memo calling for a partisan, pro-GOP news operation to be potentially paid for and run out of the White House. Aimed at sidelining the “censorship” of the liberal mainstream media and delivering prepackaged pro-Nixon news to local television stations, it reads today like a detailed precis for a Fox News prototype… And though it’s not clear who wrote it, the copy provided by the Nixon Library literally has Ailes’ handwriting all over it—it appears he was routed the memo by Haldeman and wrote back his enthusiastic endorsement, refinements, and a request to run the project in the margins.

Paying it backward.




Justice Department Launches Criminal Probe Into Deaths During CIA “Interrogations”

A.G. Holder’s statement:

“Mr. Durham [Bush prosecutor] and his team reviewed a tremendous volume of information pertaining to the detainees. That review included both information and matters that had never previously been examined by the department. Mr. Durham has advised me of the results of his investigation, and I have accepted his recommendation to conduct a full criminal investigation regarding the death in custody of two individuals. Those investigations are ongoing… The Department has determined that an expanded criminal investigation of the remaining matters is not warranted.

Of course, there is no guarantee that charges will be brought. And further investigation into other cases? “Not warranted.” No need, look forward, not backward… BushCo skates. I can’t imagine why other “remaining matters” don’t also deserve deeper probes.

In a way, it’s reminiscent of the way the John Ensign matter was handled, and how the Senate dug up more than the Justice Department did, which caused DoJ to renew its own investigation. Come on, DoJ, you can do better.

There may be all kinds of reasons, both political and legal, why investigating the Bush Torture Corporation might cause problems for a lot of public officials, but breaking the law is wrong, as is setting the wrong precedent. We are a nation of laws, so let’s abide by them.



How Wal-Mart Swiped JPMorgan in $16 Billion Debit-Card Lobbying Battle [but really, this is about how government REALLY works]


[This is the full reporting –by a real journalist– about how merchants defeated the banks on the credit card swipe fees. It involves small business owners, giant retailers, lobbyists, Congress, the Fed—in short, all the players. It is very instructive about our system. No opinions either; just the facts and the stages of legislation.]


FEC allows Colbert to form “super PAC” for 2012 elections


Senate won’t take 4th of July vacation: Unlike Boehner, Reid cancels recess

Politico: Dysfunctional Congress ‘worse’ than ever?

After three straight lopsided elections, Congress still can’t — or won’t — function.

Just 18 bills have become law through the first half of 2011, and 15 of those named a building after someone, temporarily extended expiring laws or appointed an official to the board of the Smithsonian Institution. Congress can’t decide what to do on critical issues like Libya, spending or the nation’s debt limit, and no compromise is in sight on a host of other issues.

President Barack Obama even mocked the congressional schedule during a Wednesday news conference, noting that the House’s two-weeks-on, one-week-off rotation — implemented by the GOP to give its 87 freshmen more time back home — means at least one of the two chambers is out of session at any given time for much of the summer.

Not that it matters substantively. When Congress is in, all it does is bash Obama. […]

Even on an individual level, members of Congress are casting wary glances at each other — as the newly elected bash the institution and veteran lawmakers say they can’t fathom what motivates their junior colleagues.

“This is the first time that I can remember being confronted by members of the Congress, my colleagues, who say, ‘I don’t care if I get reelected or not, I want to cut the budget by $100 billion or whatever,’” said a bewildered Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who was first elected to Congress in 1964. “I’ve never seen that kind of a member before. … It’s a dangerous point of view from my perspective.” […]

The American public has seen what is happening on Capitol Hill, and so far, it doesn’t like it.

Approval ratings for Congress are at 17 percent, up slightly from the low point of 13 percent in December — right after the November elections — but down significantly from the spring.

Most of the time, it seems Republicans and Democrats aren’t even speaking the same language. House GOP leaders are working feverishly to appease a party base that wants the president’s health care law repealed, Medicare and Medicaid benefits slashed, business regulations overturned and income tax rates frozen or lowered — although most of their agenda will never be implemented with Democrats running the Senate and the White House. Democrats, for their part, are trying to motivate their own base, which is unhappy with Obama and any moderates who want to cut deals with GOP leader


Dennis Kucinich’s Syria Problem


Daily Kos: Abbreviated Pundit Round-up

NY Times:

President Obama pressured Republicans on Wednesday to accept higher taxes as part of any plan to pare down the federal deficit, bluntly telling lawmakers that they “need to do their job” and strike a deal before the United States risks defaulting on its debt…

But the president’s combative remarks on the budget commanded most of the attention, signaling that he had fully entered the fray. On Monday, he took over stalled talks led by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., meeting with Senate Republicans and Democrats, and on Wednesday he met with the Democrats…

“You’ll still be able to ride on your corporate jet,” Mr. Obama said. “You’ll just have to pay a little more.”

EJ Dionne:

At his news conference Wednesday, President Obama put a question to congressional Republicans that should be asked over and over and over until they blink: Are they really willing to risk the nation’s credit and economic turmoil in order to preserve tax breaks for corporate jets, outlandishly low tax rates for hedge fund managers and loopholes for the oil companies?

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

When House Majority Leader Eric Cantor walked out of the debt-ceiling negotiations last week in a hissy fit, he once more dramatized the simple truth that cannot speak its name. This Republican Party is addled by an extremist ideology and cankered by a vengeful partisanship. In a time of national crisis, it is locked into ideological litmus tests — no new taxes — and opposed to anything the “Kenyan, socialist” president might propose.

This makes the routine difficult and the necessary impossible. Republicans threaten to blow up the world economy by refusing to lift the debt limit without getting drastic cuts in the deficit. Puffed up with locker-room bravado, they set a high bar — more than $2 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years, a dollar or more for every dollar hike of the debt limit.

Greg Sargent:

The primary goal of President Obama’s presser, which just wrapped up, was obvious: He was clearly out to pick a major public fight with Republicans over tax cuts for the rich. Obama mounted a surprisingly aggressive moral case for ending high end tax cuts, casting it as a test of our society’s priorities, and argued — crucially — that anyone who fails to support ending them is fundamentally unserious about the deficit.

Clearly, the media heard the message. Let’s see if that helps Republicans hear it.

National Journal:

A GOP lobbyist with close ties to the financial industry said that fears are growing that some kind of drama—a stock-market drop, a downgraded bond rating, a failed vote—may have to happen for the freshmen to understand the stakes: “They may need something terrible to happen to prove a point.”

Philosophically, sentiment is growing among the freshman Republican class, and generally within the House Republican Conference, that the negotiations over the debt limit are what they came to Washington to do—fundamentally change the way Washington spends its money. They are apprehensive about the negotiations being handed off to Boehner, Obama, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., the same trifecta that negotiated a deal on spending cuts to head off a government shutdown earlier this year that were later met with disappointment by the GOP freshmen.

This skepticism is working against Boehner’s ability to get the votes he needs to approve a debt-ceiling increase, unless he relies on House Democrats, who face their own divisions over the debt ceiling but without the governing pressure.


And in MN:

Minnesota would face a massive government shutdown under a court ruling released Wednesday, with all but critical services stopping by Friday.

Schools and many health care services would continue under Ramsey County District Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin’s order, because closing them would violate basic constitutional rights or jeopardize lives. Prison guards also would remain on the job, as would state troopers.

But services to the deaf, child care assistance to low-income parents, help lines for seniors, state parks at the height of summer, the Minnesota Zoo and a multitude of projects on state roads and highways would all grind to a halt, along with a host of other services. And tens of thousands of state employees would join the ranks of the unemployed as of Friday.



Romney backtracks on argument that Obama made economy worse

Over the last few weeks, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has argued that President Obama’s policies have made the economy worse.

Here was Romney in New Hampshire on Monday:

The people of New Hampshire have waited long enough. They want to see good jobs. They want to see rising incomes. They want to see an economy that’s growing again, and the president’s failed. He did not cause this recession, but he made it worse.

And he said something similar at the New Hampshire debate earlier this month:

He didn’t create the recession, but he made it worse and longer.

But at his press conference today in Allentown, PA — where he was highlighting a company that had closed, after President Obama touted it benefitting from the stimulus — Romney backtracked on the he-made-it-worse line.

When NBC producer Sue Kroll asked the former Massachusetts governor why he believes that Obama’s policies have made the economy worse — when the economy is now growing (and not shrinking like it was in 2009), when the Dow is climbing (and no longer in a free-fall like it was in ’09), and when the unemployment rate is down a full percentage point from where it was in Oct. ’09 — Romney gave this answer:

I didn’t say that things are worse.


California Voters Ask: What Happened to Our State?


[…] The assumption might be that Golden State voters are also at each other’s throats, as divided as are their elected leaders. But at that remarkable gathering this past weekend in Torrance, Calif., near Los Angeles, some 400 men and women — a carefully chosen representative sample of the state’s registered voters — convened to try to better understand the nature of the problems facing their state and to discuss how state government can address them.

They were old and young, Caucasian, Latino, African-American and Asian-American, a true cross section, coming from as far north as near the Oregon border and as far south as close to Mexico to read up on taxation and the initiative process, to meet in small groups, and to pose questions to experts and government officials.

The event, “What’s Next California?” was sponsored by the California Forward organization and several other non-profit foundations, and was organized by MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, which produces the PBS NewsHour.

Woven in was a “deliberative poll,” which measures voters’ attitudes before and after they are given information on a set of issues. At their first gathering, the co-chair of the event, Lenny Mendonca, told them “never before have groups come together like this … we want the rest of the state to listen to you.”

I was asked to moderate the large plenary sessions, where voters posed questions to experts, and I took the opportunity to sit in on a number of the 25 small groups into which the crowd divided, where they hashed out dense topics of governance: taxation, the realignment of state and local government, and California’s infamous initiative process, which allows citizens to take the lead in changing laws.

I asked scores of attendees why they had decided to participate, and to a person, they said they love their state and want to do whatever they can to help it fix its problems. On the first evening, one man from Los Angeles told his fellow group members that he loses sleep over the state’s plight: “We used to be number one. I don’t know what happened.” […]

After listening to almost two days of Californians talk about how to make their state government work better, the overriding impression was that they want their leaders to work together, to compromise when necessary, to solve problems. This sample of citizens who span the partisan spectrum repeatedly asked questions about finding common ground, especially on tough issues like spending and taxes. It’s clear they don’t understand why their elected representatives can’t work things out.

So, where will their efforts lead? The “What’s Next California?” movement, and the organizations behind it, say they will keep pushing for positive change. Keep an eye on their website for results of the deliberative poll. And find updates on their Facebook page.

And a note: This September, PBS stations in California and elsewhere will air a report by MacNeil/Lehrer Productions on the movement and this weekend’s deliberative poll.


The Jews Aren’t Going Anywhere

American Prospect:

For what must be the hundredth time, Politico warns that Jews are getting ready to abandon Barack Obama: […]

Oh, please. We hear this every few months: This is the year Republicans are going to make inroads with Jews! And they do try. The other day, Tim Pawlenty gave a speech in which he located the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “We must recognize that peace will only come if everyone in the region perceives clearly that America stands strongly with Israel.” I guess that despite what you might think, the Arabs don’t perceive America as being sufficiently supportive of Israel. Problem solved!

We’ve been hearing this ever since Obama became the Democratic nominee in 2008. Jews don’t trust him! He had Palestinian friends! There’s that Reverend Wright! Here’s an article from May 2008: “As Obama Heads to Florida, Many of Its Jews Have Doubts.” And guess what: Obama won 78 percent of Jewish votes anyway. John Kerry got 74 percent in 2004, and Al Gore got 79 percent in 2000. In other words, Obama did pretty much exactly as well as other Democrats.

It’s never hard to write this article. Just ask around, and you can find Jews to grumble about this or that. You don’t exactly have to be Nellie Bly to get Jews to complain. It’s kind of what we do.

And in the end, Obama will have no trouble raising money, and getting votes, from Jews. It’s mostly ideological (most Jews are very progressive), but perhaps just as important, it’s cultural. All the time Republicans spend talking about who’s “one of us” resonates strongly with Jews. When they talk about how small towns are superior to cities, and the “heartland” is the “real” America while the coasts are fake, and how book learnin’ is for elitists, and how important it is that politicians be religious (read: Christian), Jews hear it loud and clear. That message of cultural affinity with a certain kind of person sends a simultaneous message to Jews: This party is not for you and your kind. Sarah Palin can put on a Star of David necklace, but that’s never going to convince Jews that they’re part of the Republican family. GOP candidates can talk about their love of Israel all they want, but it won’t be enough.

[note: 80% of the Jewish vote is Democratic.]

White House chief of staff Bill Daley to Republicans: Stop whining about how Obama’s tough tone hurt your feelings and start thinking about how to save the country from default.

“I find it ironic that at times people who continually attack the president, beat him up on not only on policy, personality, a whole bunch of things, the minute he takes a tone that is a little more direct, and it was not personal, it was direct in that the leaders of Congress in both parties and especially those who are saying that revenue are off the table period in trying to solve this problem, that somehow that’s going to hurt the feelings of people. This is not a time to worry about feelings, this is a time to get results,” Daley told me.

But despite the tough talk Daley would not threaten a veto if Congress doesn’t meet the president’s demand for a balanced package. Instead the chief of staff said that informal talks continue and he’s “optimistic” that the leaders will do the “people’s business, not the Parties’ business.” […]

After all, Daley said, it was Congress that “passed all the legislation that created the deficit that we are in and they must solve this problem and the president is, has been and continues to be the force of trying to bring people together.”


Chuck Schumer again accuses the GOP of sabotaging the economy on purpose, and interestingly, Republicans don’t seem eager to respond.

“Now it is becoming clear that insisting on a slash-and-burn approach may be part of this plan — and it has a double-benefit for Republicans,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “It is ideologically tidy and it undermines the economic recovery, which they think only helps them in 2012.”

As proof, Schumer referenced remarks by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said last year his main aim was to make Obama a one-term president. […]

[I]t’s an entirely defensible and legitimate question under the circumstances, and the only way to have a larger discussion about whether Republicans would actually hurt the country on purpose for purely partisan reasons is for prominent officials to raise the question. Kudos to Schumer for having the guts to do just that.

I’d also note that Schumer made these highly provocative remarks, and as best as I can tell, has faced no pushback whatsoever. One of Congress’ most prominent Democrats has effectively accused Republicans of trying to sabotage the nation’s economy, and Republican officials aren’t expressing any outrage, and aren’t even calling for an apology. No shrieks, no cries, no apoplexy.

And why not? Because to do so would be to engage in the very debate the GOP is desperate to avoid.

The lesson for congressional Democrats, then, is to follow Schumer’s lead.



The Enthusiasm Gap

Democrats often have problems with voter apathy and lackluster levels of enthusiasm, but nothing compared to this!

According to a new NYTimes/CBS poll, 71% of Republicans would like to see someone new enter the Republican presidential race, and only 23% are satisfied with the current crop of candidates.

The numbers for enthusiasm are even more wild.

When looking at these numbers, it leads me to question whether or not the Republican nominee is even in the race yet. If he or she is, the enthusiasm gap between Republicans and Democrats in 2012 is likely to be astonishing.

Recent polling shows that President Obama’s approval rating among Democratic voters may be as high as 80%.


Romney Still Leads the Pack

A new Fox News poll finds Mitt Romney leading the GOP presidential primary with 18%, followed by Rick Perry at 13%, Michele Bachmann at 11%, Rudy Giuliani at 10%, Sarah Palin at 8%, Ron Paul at 7% and Herman Cain at 5%.

All other candidates get less than 5% of the vote.

However, a new New York Times/CBS News poll finds Republican “voters remain entirely un-enthused by their current options — they’re still waiting for one of the field to step up and shine, or for a new face to spring from the shadows.”





[Brilliant!] Wisconsin union leaders promise action + free I.D. for voters offered by WI Dep’t. of Transportation

Wisconsin unions aren’t exactly lollygagging around nursing their wounds after being assaulted by Governor Scott Walker. Walker, in the short time he’s been in office, has done everything he can to eliminate major segments of the population, right along with democracy itself; he has done everything in his power to obliterate unions, a major source of funding for the Democratic party; and he and his thugs have publicly treated regular people like dirt.

And the unions are fighting back.

Via JSOnline:

As the state’s new collective bargaining law took effect Wednesday, public employee union representatives said they would become more visible in their communities, speaking out on workplace issues at school board, city council, village and county board meetings, now that the law allows certified unions to negotiate only wages.

Prohibiting public unions from helping to resolve disputes over safety, seniority, hours, working conditions and other issues with human resources departments will move the discussion to public meetings, said Rick Badger, executive director of AFSCME Council 40, the union representing about 33,000 members of nearly 600 locals throughout the state outside Milwaukee County.

And here’s a special bonus, by way of the Maddow Blog: The Wisconsin Department of Transportaion will begin to issue FREE Wisconsin ID cards for voting:

A free ID card is available under Wisconsin law to anyone who:

  • will be at least 18 years of age on the date of the next election and;

  • requests an ID card for the purpose of voting.

A free ID card is NOT available under the following circumstances:

  • If you currently have a valid, unexpired  driver license (DL), you are not eligible under Wisconsin law to obtain an ID.

  • If you will not be at least 18 years of age on the date of the next election.

  • If you already have a Wisconsin ID card that is not eligible for renewal (you may renew your ID card up to one year prior to its expiration date).

  • If you are not eligible to vote in Wisconsin.

Those recall elections can’t come soon enough. Well, after everyone is in possession of a valid I.D. that is.



Don’t kill the Oxford comma!

The university hands down a new edict about punctuation — but the world’s grammar nerds will never back down

Grammar lovers today were saddened, shocked, and mightily displeased at the news that the PR department of The University of Oxford has decided to drop the comma for which it is so justly famed. As GalleyCat reported, the university’s new style guide advises writers, “As a general rule, do not use the serial/Oxford comma: so write ‘a, b and c’ not ‘a, b, and c’.” Cue the collective gasps of horror. The last time the nerd community was this cruelly betrayed, George Lucas was sitting at his desk, thinking, “I shall call him Jar Jar.”

The serial comma is one of the sanest punctuation usages in the written language. It gives each element of a series its own distinct place in it, instead of lumping the last two together in one hasty breath. Think about it — when you bake, you gather up your eggs, butter, sugar, and flour; you don’t treat sugar and flour as a pair. That would be insane. That is why, like evangelicals with “John 3:16” bumper stickers on their SUVs, punctuation worshippers cling to CM 6.19 – the Chicago Manual of Style’s decree that “in a series consisting of three or more elements, the elements are separated by commas. When a conjunction joins the last two elements in a series, a comma is used before the conjunction.” So valuable is that serial comma that it’s on frickin’ page 2 of Strunk and White, right after the possessive apostrophe. And it is good.

There are those who disagree. The AP and New York Times eschew it, and everyone knows what a bunch of hacks that lot is. Here at Salon, meanwhile, I can now reveal that for years one of our great roiling internal tumults was over the serial comma. Our house style, imposed largely by the recently departed despot King Kaufman, was opposed to it. I am, clearly, violently in favor of it, and have spent the better part of the last fifteen years enduring the pain of watching our editors systematically remove it from my stories. Oh, how it burns!


This totally fascinates me: KONAPUN

There are hundreds of these videos:


I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.
~~Dr. Seuss


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