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Beneath the surface of American government lurks a system of social programs for the wealthy that is consuming the federal budget. It’s time for progressives to do battle with tax expenditures.
[…] The G.I. Bill’s transformative effects on the lives of men like Marchesi have become legendary, but just as striking in hindsight is the clearly visible role that government played as the source of those opportunities. In more recent decades the federal government has expanded its efforts to provide college aid to all Americans. But instead of delivering a straight benefit, like the original G.I. Bill, most of that aid has come through roundabout means, like payments to banks to provide students with loans, or loopholes in the tax code to subsidize families to save for or pay for college. Generations of Americans have now graduated with the help of these costly-though-indirect programs. Yet over the years, in conversations with my own students, I’ve noticed that, unlike Marchesi, few of them recognize that they’ve received benefits from government. It’s hard to imagine them reflecting on their HOPE Tax Credits, or their 529 and Coverdell college savings plans and saying, “Thank God the government had the door open for us.”
And it’s not just my students. In 2008, I conducted a survey to gauge the degree to which Americans who had received various government social benefits recognized them as such. Not surprisingly, most beneficiaries of the G.I. Bill who took part in the survey acknowledged that they had been given a leg up by the government. But of the respondents who made use of tax-advantaged Coverdell or 529 education savings accounts, 64 percent said they had “not used a government social program,” as did 59.6 percent of those who used HOPE and Lifelong Learning Tax Credits.
This disparity has far less to do with some inherent difference in character between the Greatest Generation and their grandchildren than it does with a fundamental change that has taken place in the relationship between citizens and the welfare state. Over the past few decades, while many standard social benefits have atrophied in real value, those packaged as “tax expenditures”—the formal name in federal budgeting parlance for subsidies provided through the tax code—have flourished, growing rapidly in value and number. These tax expenditures for individuals and families represented 7.4 percent of GDP in 2008, up from 4.2 percent in 1976. (Tax expenditures for business, such as those for the oil and gas industry, made up another 1 percent.) By way of comparison, Social Security amounted to 4.3 percent of GDP in 2008; Medicare and Medicaid, 4.1 percent.
These social tax expenditures comprise a major part of what I call the “submerged state.” By that I mean that they are public policies designed in a manner that channels resources to citizens indirectly, through subsidies for private activities, rather than directly through payments or services from government. As a result, they are largely hidden from the public: through them, government benefits people, providing them with opportunities and relieving their financial burdens, often without them even knowing it. Appearing to emanate from the private sector, such policies obscure the role of the government and exaggerate that of the market.
What’s more, the vast majority of Americans garner only modest assistance, if any, from the submerged state. In the case of social tax expenditures, that’s because the most expensive of these subsidies shower their largest benefits on the most affluent Americans.
The great drama now unfolding in Washington over how to deal with the government’s deficits and growing debt tends to be framed in conventional ways. Conservatives aim to use this moment to reduce the size of “big government” while liberals find themselves on the defensive, hoping to limit the damage and furious at the president and Democratic congressional leaders for not fighting harder. But these negotiations can actually be an important opportunity to advance progressive goals, if—as the Bowles-Simpson Commission and others have recommended— we scale back tax expenditures. Doing so could improve the nation’s balance sheet and restore some fairness to the tax code. Even more, it could address the real if inchoate sense many Americans have that government has been “growing,” as measured by deficits and new programs, but in ways that don’t benefit them. Saying good-bye to the submerged state could reconnect citizens with government and reinvigorate our democracy.
If you look closely at the news today, you can see the Democrats’ political strategy on the debt deal: Bend over backward to make a deal with a Republican Party that can’t agree to anything, setting Republicans up for blame when their continued refusal — or, perhaps, inability — to make a deal starts having real-world consequences.
Both the New York Times and Politico have led with big stories about Democrats pushing Medicare and Medicaid cuts onto the table. It’s not at all clear that these stories carry news of new concessions the Democrats are willing to make. Medicare and Medicaid have been on the table since at least April, when the president’s deficit speech called for hundreds of billions in savings across the two programs. What you’re seeing, rather, is the White House emphasizing its willingness to cut Medicare and Medicaid as a way to highlight the GOP’s unwillingness to raise taxes.
In addition to being true, it’s working. Head over to David Brooks’s column, where you’ll read, “If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern. And they will be right.” Or check in with Megan McArdle, who runs through the terrifying consequences of defaulting on either our debt or our major federal obligations and frets that she’s hearing from Republicans who prefer both outcomes to “raising one thin new dime in taxes.”
This gets to the central difference between the two parties’ mindsets, which also goes to the difference in their negotiating postures: Democrats have spent the past few months warning one another how bad default will be. Republicans have spent the past few months warning one another that the consequences of default are overstated, and that what would really hurt the economy are tax increases of any size, kind or color. You can take that as strategic — it gives them credibility in the negotiations — or simply foolish. But it’s driving the Republicans as surely as fear of the debt ceiling is driving Democrats.
On this, Democrats are right and Republicans are wrong. Take a long look at the report the Bipartisan Policy Center did laying out a day-by-day on what happens if we don’t raise the debt ceiling in time. You’re looking at calling a chaotic, immediate and unprecedented halt to 40 percent to 45 percent of federal spending. You’re looking at companies that contract with the federal government essentially shutting down. You’re looking at seniors and other Americans who rely on federal transfers going into hoarding mode. You’re looking at world in which a decision to fund interest on the debt, Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, defense suppliers and unemployment insurance means you can’t pay military or FBI salaries, you have to stop food inspection and close the Centers for Disease Control, you halt all funding for food stamps and education, you shut down air control, everyone at NASA goes home, tax refunds stop, offshore oil rigs go uninspected, etc.
In other words, it’s going to hurt. Democrats are preparing for that world. Republicans are stuck in a world where too few of their members believe this will hurt for them to build political strategy around the immense pain a default is likely to bring.
Of course, every political strategy has its drawbacks. Democrats might win this one. But the cost of occupying the center was dangling a deal so good that even conservative columnists eventually had to admit Republicans are fools for refusing it. Democrats won’t be able to take that deal back. So though Democrats have done a good job setting Republicans up to take the hit when the debt ceiling caves in, they’ve also done a good job setting Republicans up to get the better end of the deal when they’re finally willing to come to the table.
Today, President Obama delivered remarks to discuss the status of efforts to find a balanced approach to deficit reduction. The President stated that progress has been made, and though we still need to work through some real differences, that even greater progress is within reach.
However, he also stressed that we can’t afford to do the bare minimum to avoid defaulting on our debt in the short-term, and we must seize the opportunity to make substantial progress reducing the deficit:
Now, I’ve heard reports that there may be some in Congress who want to do just enough to make sure that America avoids defaulting on our debt in the short term, but then wants to kick the can down the road when it comes to solving the larger problem of our deficit. I don’t share that view. I don’t think the American people sent us here to avoid tough problems. That’s, in fact, what drives them nuts about Washington, when both parties simply take the path of least resistance. And I don’t want to do that here.
I believe that right now we’ve got a unique opportunity to do something big — to tackle our deficit in a way that forces our government to live within its means, that puts our economy on a stronger footing for the future, and still allows us to invest in that future.
Most of us already agree that to truly solve our deficit problem, we need to find trillions in savings over the next decade, and significantly more in the decades that follow. That’s what the bipartisan fiscal commission said, that’s the amount that I put forward in the framework I announced a few months ago, and that’s around the same amount that Republicans have put forward in their own plans. And that’s the kind of substantial progress that we should be aiming for here.
President Obama also reiterated his believe in the importance of a balanced approach to reducing the deficit:
To get there, I believe we need a balanced approach. We need to take on spending in domestic programs, in defense programs, in entitlement programs, and we need to take on spending in the tax code — spending on certain tax breaks and deductions for the wealthiest of Americans. This will require both parties to get out of our comfort zones, and both parties to agree on real compromise.
I’m ready to do that. I believe there are enough people in each party that are willing to do that. What I know is that we need to come together over the next two weeks to reach a deal that reduces the deficit and upholds the full faith and credit of the United States government and the credit of the American people.
In a piece today, the Wall Street Journal reports that Cisco Systems Inc. will help China build a massive surveillance network in the city of Chongqing. The technological part of it is impressive, as it will “cover cover a half-million intersections, neighborhoods and parks over nearly 400 square miles, an area more than 25% larger than New York City.”
But the bigger question that the piece is concerned with is whether that equipment will be used by the Chinese government to crackdown on dissent and what responsibility does a Western company bear when it does business with a government like China?
The Journal did not talk to Cisco, but it did get a hold of Hewlett-Packard, which expects to make a bid on the project dubbed Peaceful Chongqing:
The people familiar with the matter said H-P may be looking to supply servers or storage equipment for Peaceful Chongqing.
Asked about concerns about political use of the system, Todd Bradley, an executive vice president who oversees H-P’s China strategy, said in an interview last week in China, “We take them at their word as to the usage.” He added, “It’s not my job to really understand what they’re going to use it for. Our job is to respond to the bid that they’ve made.”
Jena McGregor, at the Washington Post, thinks about the issue and says that, indeed, questioning the motive of every potential client does not a sale make. Plus, there’s also no way for a company to really know how their products will ultimately be used. Then she throws a caveat:
Still, at potentially 500,000 cameras, the system would be exponentially larger than the 8,000 or 10,000 the American Civil Liberties Union estimates exist in cities like New York or Chicago. And even if crime in Chongqing is a problem that the surveillance system could help to address, China has a history of using video footage to target political protestors, the story says human-rights advocates claim. At the very least, it seems that any company involved with such a project would want to make its best faith effort to understand what their products would be used for, even if they can’t entirely control the end use.
[…] The rich have enjoyed staggering run-ups in their incomes and net worth in recent years, while average Americans have barely treaded water. Yet the effective tax burdens on the wealthy are lower now than at almost any time in the past fifty years, thanks to past rate cuts and a proliferation of tax exemptions which, as Suzanne Mettler makes clear in this issue, shower most of their benefits on the affluent. The idea that the economy will suffer if we modestly raise taxes on upper-income Americans is belied by recent history: we increased tax rates on the rich in 1993 and the economy created more than twenty-two million jobs; we cut them in 2001 and the economy created fewer than seven million jobs. Of course, to put our long-term fiscal house in order, we also need to get control of Medicare spending—which, as Sebastian Jones explains, means not letting Congress kill off a powerful but little-known cost containment board called for in the new health reform law. Other cuts in government and tax hikes that hit the middle class may also be necessary eventually. But wouldn’t Americans be more willing to accept such shared sacrifice if they knew the rich were first in line?
Of course, GOP leaders have refused to even consider tax increases, especially on the rich—or, as conservatives like to call them, the “wealth producers.” […]
As it happens, the willingness of the rich to defend their wealth from taxation to the point of national ruin is nothing new in world history, as Francis Fukuyama recounts in his magisterial new book The Origins of Political Order. The Han dynasty in China fell in the third century AD after aristocratic families with government connections became increasingly able to shield their ever-larger land holdings from taxation, which helped precipitate the bloody Yellow Turban peasant revolt. Nearly a millennium and a half later, the great Ming dynasty went into protracted decline in part for similar reasons: unable or unwilling to raise taxes on the landed gentry, the government couldn’t pay its soldiers and was overrun by Manchu invaders.
In the fifteenth century, the Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus persuaded his reluctant nobles to accept higher taxes, with which he built a professional military that beat back the invading Ottomans. But after his death the resentful barons placed a weak foreign prince on the throne and got their taxes cut 70 to 80 percent. When their undisciplined army lost to Suleiman the Magnificent, Hungary lost its independence.
Similarly, the cash-strapped sixteenth-century Spanish monarchy sold municipal and state offices off to wealthy elites rather than raise their taxes—giving them the right to collect public revenues. The elites, in turn, raised taxes on commerce, immiserating peasants and artisans and putting Spain on a path of long-term economic decline. This same practice of exempting the wealthy from taxation and selling them government offices while transferring the tax burden onto the poor reached its apogee in ancien regime France and ended with the guillotine.
By contrast, in England during the same period, the nobility and gentry didn’t conspire with the crown to exempt themselves from taxation. Instead, thanks to a number of factors—greater social solidarity, a keener sense of foreign threats, reforms that made the government itself less corrupt, and the principle of taxation only with the consent of Parliament—the wealthy of England willingly accepted higher taxes on themselves. As a result, government spending in England rose from 11 percent of GDP in the late seventeenth century to 30 percent during some years in the eighteenth century. That’s higher than U.S. federal spending today. These higher taxes on the wealthy in England, Fukuyama notes, “did not, needless to say, stifle the capitalist revolution.”
Higher taxes on the rich won’t stifle America’s economy either. Nor, I think, would most wealthy Americans object to paying more if they truly understood that the fate of the country is on the line. Unfortunately, the GOP may now be too ideologically rigid to see the real interests of its own wealthy constituents. History shows that the rich sometimes make suicidal decisions. The challenge of American democracy right now is to somehow keep ours from doing so.
New budgets from 24 states will impose severe cuts, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
To make ends meet, Arizona will drop Medicaid coverage for 130,000 childless adults. Michigan will slice public school funding by $470 per student. New York will reduce education aid by $1.3 billion. Wisconsin plans to chop into the Earned Income Tax Credit, which hurts household budgets of the working poor.
And Minnesota? Its government shut down after state lawmakers failed to pass a budget.
Those cuts can reverberate through the private sector, since contracts with vendors and payments to businesses also get slashed.
More important, reduced school funding can “undermine a state’s long-term economic competitiveness by reducing the quality of its workforce,” the center warned.
Remember that this dismal scenario could be worse. Cuts are occurring even though state revenues are projected to increase for the second straight year, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.
The main reason for the latest round of cuts involves the winding down of money made available by the 2009 Recovery Act. States will receive $66 billion less in Recovery Act funds this fiscal year compared with the year prior, according to association estimates.
This has major repercussions for the monthly job reports, said Steve Kreisberg, director of collective bargaining for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
At least 178 teachers and principals in Atlanta Public Schools cheated to raise student scores on high-stakes standardized tests, according to a report from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
Just as the ear has two purposes — hearing and telling you which way is up — so does the eye. It receives the input necessary for vision, but the retina also houses a network of sensors that detect the rise and fall of daylight. With light, the body sets its internal clock to a 24-hour cycle regulating an estimated 10 percent of our genes.
The workhorse of this system is the light-sensitive hormone melatonin, which is produced by the body every evening and during the night. Melatonin promotes sleep and alerts a variety of biological processes to the approximate hour of the day.
Light hitting the retina suppresses the production of melatonin — and there lies the rub. In this modern world, our eyes are flooded with light well after dusk, contrary to our evolutionary programming. Scientists are just beginning to understand the potential health consequences. The disruption of circadian cycles may not just be shortchanging our sleep, they have found, but also contributing to a host of diseases. […]
Any sort of light can suppress melatonin, but recent experiments have raised novel questions about one type in particular: the blue wavelengths produced by many kinds of energy-efficient light bulbs and electronic gadgets.
Dr. Brainard and other researchers have found that light composed of blue wavelengths slows the release of melatonin with particular effectiveness. Until recently, though, few studies had directly examined how blue-emitting electronics might affect the brain.
So scientists at the University of Basel in Switzerland tried a simple experiment: They asked 13 men to sit before a computer each evening for two weeks before going to bed.
During one week, for five hours every night, the volunteers sat before an old-style fluorescent monitor emitting light composed of several colors from the visible spectrum, though very little blue. Another week, the men sat at screens backlighted by light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. This screen was twice as blue.
“To our surprise, we saw huge differences,” said Christian Cajochen, who heads the Center for Chronobiology at the University of Basel. Melatonin levels in volunteers watching the LED screens took longer to rise at night, compared with when the participants were watching the fluorescent screens, and the deficit persisted throughout the evening.
The subjects also scored higher on tests of memory and cognition after exposure to blue light, Dr. Cajochen and his team reported in the May issue of The Journal of Applied Physiology. While men were able to recall pairs of words flashed across the fluorescent screen about half the time, some scores rose to almost 70 percent when they stared at the LED monitors.
The finding adds to a series of others suggesting, though certainly not proving, that exposure to blue light may keep us more awake and alert, partly by suppressing production of melatonin. An LED screen bright enough and big enough “could be giving you an alert stimulus at a time that will frustrate your body’s ability to go to sleep later,” said Dr. Brainard. “When you turn it off, it doesn’t mean that instantly the alerting effects go away. There’s an underlying biology that’s stimulated.”
Why is the Huffington Post helping a big-time lobbyist’s efforts to gut Obamacare?
Earlier this week, former Democratic congressman Dick Gephardt penned an op-ed for the Huffington Post that attacked a key pillar of President Obama’s healthcare reform bill. What the online publication didn’t disclose is that Gephardt is a lobbyist representing the very corporate interests gunning to kill the program.
In the piece, Gephardt said he was concerned the program in question, an important Medicare cost-cutting panel called the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), was “unelected” and “unaccountable” and would “have devastating consequences for the seniors and disabled Americans who are Medicare’s beneficiaries.” These arguments are cut directly from the talking points of industry groups that pay Gephardt—like PhRMA, which is now engaged in a full-throated campaign to kill IPAB.
The arguments also happen to be inaccurate. In addition to his hand-wringing about the payment board’s unaccountability, Gephardt also makes the bizarre claim that IPAB will prevent delivery reforms in Obamacare from being implemented. In reality, the board’s recommendations can be overruled by Congress, and its members are subject to Senate confirmation. Moreover, many believe that IPAB represents the best hope of spreading the most effective pilot programs and delivery reforms included in the healthcare bill—much to the consternation of the industry status quo. (More on all these policy questions can be found in my latest piece for the Washington Monthly, which takes stock of IPAB and the various groups now scrambling to smother it, including a coalition of Democrats with heavy ties to the healthcare industry who are working to repeal the measure.)
All of this brings up some uncomfortable questions for the Huffington Post, which initially ran Gephardt’s article with the minimal (and mostly meaningless) disclosure that he is “CEO of Gephardt Government Affairs”: why would the Huffington Post run Gephardt’s op-ed? Why would it not disclose his status as a lobbyist (explicitly, as in, “Dick Gephardt is a lobbyist”)? Why would it not mention his vested financial interest in the very topic he is writing about? Why would it allow a lobbyist to use the publication as a conduit for industry propaganda?
Whatever the reasons, the Huffington Post has helped one of Washington’s smoothest operators score a public relations coup for his corporate clients—by helping them reach a quadrant of the left that normally wouldn’t give them the time of day.
Even in a town as full of mercenaries and shills as Washington, Dick Gephardt is a special case. Just a handful of years ago, the then-Congressman touted himself as a friend of unions and a universal healthcare crusader. During his failed 2004 presidential bid, he was a man who stood against “the status-quo apologists” and “the special interest lobbyists running amok.” Today, he’s at the helm of his very own lobbying firm, working for the likes of PhRMA, Goldman Sachs and the coal company Peabody Energy. Even when compared to his many peers who have made trips through the revolving door, the list of issues on which Gephardt has been paid to reverse his position is very long indeed. […]
When we talk about lobbying, it is easy to forget that when someone like Gephardt signs up to represent a client his job is not simply to show up in Congressional offices or make pit stops at political fundraisers. His task is to try and shape the broader political conversation on an issue, and this means trying to get quotes and op-eds into newspapers, making appearances on cable news, and coordinating and participating in roundtables and conferences. The less information is provided about Gephardt’s actual stake in the issue at hand, the better for his clients. That way the lobbyist seems more like a concerned elder statesman and Democratic loyalist than the hired gun he is.
After I contacted the Huffington Post yesterday, Gephardt’s op-ed was amended with an editor’s note saying he “has clients in the healthcare industry.” A link was also provided to his firm’s website, where “highlighted” clients are listed. Sorry guys, but that’s just not nearly good enough. Your readers deserve to know that Gephardt is a lobbyist and that he is paid to lobby against the specific issue he is writing about. Giving people a link to a site that lists PhRMA as a client does not in any way explain that PhRMA is a leading opponent of IPAB, and that we are in the midst of a highly organized campaign by groups like PhRMA to repeal IPAB.
It is a pity the Huffington Post is allowing itself to be a tool for K Street, making its job all that much easier. Scanning the comments below the piece, it’s clear that Gephardt’s muddying of the waters is working, primarily, I would guess, because those readers have not been informed of his vested financial interest in the program’s demise. It’s even more of a pity when you consider that the Huffington Post’s reporters have produced some of the finest pieces about lobbying and influence in Washington. I asked the Huffington Post for an explanation of why the editors posted the piece and whether they would take it down given the facts I’ve listed above. I’ve yet to hear back from on those questions, and will update you if and when I do.
At a cost of about $88,000 per year, the cancer-fighting Avastin will still be available to eligible senior citizens for breast cancer treatment. The same goes for Provenge, a new “therapeutic vaccine” that boosts the immune system to fight prostate cancer for about $93,000 per course.
Even the staunchest number-crunchers are hesitant to argue against effective cancer medications. But in this economic climate, the high costs and limited benefits of the two drugs make them a target for health care analysts on both sides of the health care debate. Given the circumstances, they wonder, can Medicare afford it?
An advisory committee to the FDA unanimously voted last week to rescind Avastin’s approval for breast cancer patients, citing recent studies that show it is ineffective at combating the disease. But because Avastin maintains its FDA blessing to fight other cancers — and because so many women swear it saved their lives — doctors can continue to prescribe it “off label” for breast cancer and Medicare will continue to fit the bill.
Also last week, the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced its conclusion that Provenge “improves health outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries” and is “reasonable and necessary.” Only men with advanced prostate cancer that has spread throughout the body and does not respond to hormone therapy or radiation are eligible for the treatment.
Medicare’s coverage decision will greatly expand access to the drug, extending the lives of thousands of elderly men by an extra four or five months.
When CMS began studying whether to pay for the new Provenge treatment several months ago, critics of health care reform swiftly joined outcry from prostate cancer sufferers who accused the agency of “rationing care” based upon costs.
That argument echoes the criticism that care will be rationed even further in the years ahead after the establishment of the Independent Payment Advisory Board — a panel created by the health reform law to cut costs in the Medicare system.
Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., recently reignited the debate by saying that under the presidentially appointed IPAB, “a bunch of bureaucrats decide whether you get care, such as continuing on dialysis or cancer chemotherapy.”
“I guarantee you when you withdraw that, the patient is going to die,” he said. “It’s rationing.”
Neera Tanden, chief operating officer for the Center for American Progress, a liberal advocacy group, said Republicans have been too quick to vilify the administration’s attempts to find savings in the current Medicare model — including comparative effectiveness research for expensive drugs.
“When the White House offers up ideas for comparative effectiveness, it’s really just about funding research that would show if they work or if other drug are more effective. Republicans attack that as rationing,” said Tanden, a former member of the president’s health reform team. “I’m concerned that discourse makes CMS intimidated when it comes to these decisions — and that drives up premiums and costs for everyone in the private and public sector.”
It’s still unclear whether treatments like Avastin and Provenge might be targeted for cost-saving in the years ahead. But Joseph Antos, a scholar of health care and retirement policy at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank, said there is already overwhelming pressure on Medicare to pay for these drugs, and that won’t change.
“From the patient side, there is an awful lot of expectation that these drugs should be provided and that translates into political pressure,” he said. “It’s really hard to tell a doctor who firmly believes this could help someone that they can’t use the fancy stuff.”
They likely won’t have to do that, said Gail Wilensky, a senior fellow at the international health group Project HOPE. If political buzz words like “rationing” and “death panels” keep flying around the nation’s capital, Medicare is unlikely to discontinue coverage for cancer drugs — no matter how limited their effectiveness.
“Whether or not this is sensible outside of a trial environment is a question we should be discussing as a society,” Wilensky said. “If we’re going to pay for these medications that other countries don’t, it would be nice to have a more rational discussion about all of this.”
The Federal Election Commission has fined a Luxembourg subsidiary of Kansas-based Koch Industries Inc. $4,700 for making illegal foreign campaign contributions.
A limited liability company organized in Luxembourg, INVISTA, made a dozen illegal contributions totaling $26,800 to nonfederal candidates and committees from 2005 to 2009, according to recently released FEC documents.
The largest was a $15,000 donation to the Democratic Governors Association, FEC records show. The rest went to state candidates in Virginia and Delaware and to Phill Kline, a prominent abortion opponent who served as Kansas attorney general from 2003 to 2007.
The Democratic Governors Association contribution stands out because Charles and David Koch, the principal owners of Koch Industries Inc., are better known for helping to underwrite conservative causes, including the tea party movement.
Foreign nationals, including overseas subsidiaries of U.S. companies, are barred from making campaign donations to any political campaigns or committees, whether federal, state or local. INVISTA acknowledged its error upfront, according to the FEC, and paid a relatively small fine in an expedited process. INVISTA’s actual headquarters are in Kansas, but it was organized under the laws of Luxembourg and operated an administrative office there, the FEC found.
Brett Kappel, a Democratic election lawyer with Arent Fox LLP, said the ban on foreign campaign contributions is “the broadest provision of the Federal Election Campaign Act.”
The FEC doled out a handful of similar fines last year.
By Steve Benen
Al Gore’s new essay in Rolling Stone, about impending climate disasters, is mainly about the failure of the media to direct adequate attention to the issue, and to call out paid propagandists and discredited phony scientists. That’s where the essay starts, and what it covers in its first 5,000 words. The second part, less than half as long, and much more hedged in its judgment, is about the Obama Administration’s faltering approach on climate change. But of course the immediate press presentation on the essays has been all “OMG Gore attacks Obama!” For instance at Slate, TPM, NY Mag, the AP, and the Atlantic’s own Wire site. […]
Yes, the news value here is Gore-v-Obama; yes, that’s part of the story. But the theme I tried to lay out in that essay is that the media’s all-consuming interest in the “how” and “who’s ahead” of politics, and “oh God this is boring” disdain for the “what” and “why” of public issues, has all sorts of ugly consequences. It makes the public think that politics is not for them unless they love the insider game; it makes the “what” and “why” of public issues indeed boring and unapproachable; and as a consequence of the latter, it makes the public stupider than it needs to be about the what and why.
After writing several thousand words on the crisis itself, Gore actually praised President Obama, lauding the fact that the White House “included significant climate-friendly initiatives in the economic stimulus package he presented to Congress during his first month in office. With the skillful leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and committee chairmen Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, he helped secure passage of a cap-and-trade measure in the House a few months later. He implemented historic improvements in fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles, and instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to move forward on the regulation of global-warming pollution under the Clean Air Act. He appointed many excellent men and women to key positions, and they, in turn, have made hundreds of changes in environmental and energy policy that have helped move the country forward slightly on the climate issue. During his first six months, he clearly articulated the link between environmental security, economic security and national security — making the case that a national commitment to renewable energy could simultaneously reduce unemployment, dependence on foreign oil and vulnerability to the disruption of oil markets dominated by the Persian Gulf reserves. And more recently, as the issue of long-term debt has forced discussion of new revenue, he proposed the elimination of unnecessary and expensive subsidies for oil and gas.”
In the next paragraph, however, Gore wrote, “But in spite of these and other achievements, President Obama has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change.”
On CNN’s political page right now, well below a top-of-the-page piece about Bristol Palin’s memoir, CNN’s headline reads, “Gore: Obama has ‘failed.’”
As Fallows put it, “The reaction to Gore’s essay illustrates the pattern: from his point of view, it’s one more (earnest) attempt to say ‘Hey, listen up about this problem!’ As conveyed by the press, it’s one more skirmish on the ‘liberals don’t like Obama’ front, and one more illustration of the eyes-glazing-over trivia and details about melting icebergs and scientific disputes.”
The difference between Obama’s Libya policy and Bush’s torture policy.
By Dawn Johnsen:
[…]From the right, Eric Posner provocatively describes Koh and Yoo as “two peas in a pod.” To Posner, the pod is good. Both Yoo and Koh, he argues, acted properly as government lawyers to advance their presidents’ policy preferences, through legal interpretations that were appropriately driven by desired results. Posner’s defense of Koh’s stance on Libya thus seeks to rehabilitate Yoo for his stance on torture. From the left, Bruce Ackerman—a fierce critic of Yoo’s—suggests that the Obama precedent might actually be worse than the “torture memos.” Ackerman argues that at least the right office—the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice—issued the flawed torture interpretations.
Yoo’s infamous memos on torture and other subjects, you’ll recall, made sweeping claims of presidential authority to act contrary to clear federal statutory commands, based on a radical view of the president’s constitutional war powers. This view denies Congress the ultimate authority to prohibit torture, no matter how clearly defined, where the president as commander-in-chief deems it warranted. More, Yoo’s legal claims—and the Bush administration’s executive actions—were kept hidden from the public and ultimately were revealed only through government leaks.[…]
Whatever its flaws, the Obama administration’s interpretation of the War Powers Resolution is plain for all to see. It’s high time for Congress to exercise its own constitutional authority, as encouraged by the War Powers Resolution, and authorize the Libya operation with whatever conditions it sees fit—conditions that this administration, in contrast to the last, recognizes its constitutional obligation to honor.
Congress should also codify its understanding of the terms of the War Powers Resolution. A pending Senate resolution, which as amended by Sen. Richard Lugar specifies that hostilities have been ongoing, would accomplish both goals. Both houses of Congress should approve that resolution with dispatch, and the Obama administration, and successive administrations, should welcome it. The separation of powers depends on a responsible, constructive dialogue between the president and Congress.
David Brooks is getting lots of hosannas today for a column that forthrightly calls the Republican Party nuts for its unwillingness to accept a debt ceiling compromise that’s weighted something like 5:1 in favor of spending cuts and doesn’t raise marginal tax rates a dime in order to generate its modest revenue increases. The GOP, he says, should grab a deal like this with both hands:
But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.
The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise….The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities….The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency….The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name.
….If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.
And they will be right.
I’ve avoided commenting on this today because I didn’t want to seem churlish. But on second thought, there’s nothing wrong with some occasional churl, is there?
So here’s my churlishness for the day: I’ll believe that Brooks has seen the light when he actually keeps this up for a few consecutive weeks. I’ve never been a Brooks hater, but the fact is that he occasionally writes columns like this. Normally, though, having done it, he then devotes his next five or six columns to nitpicking at Democrats and pretending that they are, when all’s said and done, just as bad as Republicans after all.
They aren’t, of course. They’re just a normal party with all the virtues and all the pathologies of any broad-based political party. That means it’s easy to find a laundry list of things to criticize and then add them up to make it seem as if everyone’s equally to blame for the insanity of our current political impasses. But it’s not true, and it’s long past time for non-insane conservatives to give up on this kind of faux Olympianism. As Brooks says, the GOP is no longer a normal political party and they are not fit to govern. The question is, will Brooks still believe that in a couple of weeks when — and it’s bound to happen — Democrats do something he dislikes? I’ll wait and see.
Washington Post, Richard Cohen:
Someone ought to study the Republican Party. I am not referring to yet another political scientist but to a mental health professional, preferably a specialist in the power of fixations, obsessions and the like. The GOP needs an intervention. It has become a cult.
To become a Republican, one has to take a pledge. It is not enough to support the party or mouth banalities about Ronald Reagan; one has to promise not to give the government another nickel. This is called the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” issued by Americans for Tax Reform, an organization headed by the chirpy Grover Norquist. He once labeled the argument that an estate tax would affect only the very rich “the morality of the Holocaust.” Anyone can see how singling out the filthy rich and the immensely powerful and asking them to ante up is pretty much the same as Auschwitz and that sort of thing.[…]
Yet another pledge concerns abortion. It is called the “Pro-Life Leadership Pledge,” and it was conceived by the Susan B. Anthony List, an antiabortion group. Once again, most — but not all — of the GOP presidential candidates have signed it. In general, it demands a complete antiabortion position, not just personal opposition but opposition to judges, health officials and others who might, totally inexplicably, permit abortion. The pledge is silent about the usual exceptions — rape, incest, etc. — but Marjorie Dannenfelser, head of the Susan B. Anthony List, tells me the intent is to prohibit all abortions — even, say, the early termination of a 12-year-old’s pregnancy caused by incest. This, in other words, is the Pro-Hypocrisy Pledge.
Excuse me if I skip over other pledges and move to other matters. The hallmark of a cult is to replace reason with feverish belief. This the GOP has done when it comes to the government’s ability to stimulate the economy. History proves this works — it’s how the Great Depression ended — but Republicans will not acknowledge it.
The Depression in fact deepened in 1937 when Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to balance the budget and was ended entirely by World War II, which, besides being a noble cause, was also a huge stimulus program. Here, though, is Sen. Richard Shelby mouthing GOP dogma: Stimulus programs “did not bring us out of the Depression,” he recently told ABC’s Christiane Amanpour, but “the war did.” In other words, a really huge stimulus program hugely worked. Might not a more modest one succeed modestly? Shelby ought to follow his own logic.
Something similar has happened with global warming. It has become a conviction of much of the GOP that you and I, with our cars and factories and leaf blowers and barbecue pits, are off the hook — innocent of cooking the atmosphere. That being the case, it therefore is not the case that anything has to be done about it. Only much of science, common sense and your average walrus differ, but the GOP soldiers on. This is a version of Nancy Reagan’s pledge: Just say no.
Not every GOP candidate adheres to all of these cockamamie beliefs. Mitt Romney has not signed the antiabortion pledge (he has some quibbles), and in the Senate, Tom Coburn has broken with Norquist about raising revenue. But the net effect is to establish an intellectual barrier for admittance to the presidential race: Independent thinkers, stop right here! If you believe in global warming, revenue enhancement, stimulus programs, the occasional need for abortion or even the fabulist theories of the late Charles Darwin, then either stay home — or lie.
This intellectual rigidity has produced a GOP presidential field that’s a virtual political Jonestown. The Grand Old Party, so named when it really did evoke America, has so narrowed its base that it has become a political cult. It is a redoubt of certainty over reason and in itself significantly responsible for the government deficit that matters most: leadership. That we can’t borrow from China.
David Brooks: “If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred million dollars of revenue increases… But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.”
“The struggles of the next few weeks are about what sort of party the G.O.P. is — a normal conservative party or an odd protest movement that has separated itself from normal governance, the normal rules of evidence and the ancient habits of our nation.”
“If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern. And they will be right.”
Ben Smith, Politico:Rick Perry spurs Bushie resentment.
“This is something everyone should see to understand what changed with Reagan.”
[…] Not surprisingly, this insubordination has earned Lugar significant scorn within the Republican base, which now seems to value blind obedience over principled independent decision-making. In a New York Times profile of Lugar published today, former GOP Sen. John Danforth feared that the backlash against Lugar from his own party signals that the GOP has gone “far overboard” with no hope of turning back:
“If Dick Lugar,” said John C. Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri, “having served five terms in the U.S. Senate and being the most respected person in the Senate and the leading authority on foreign policy, is seriously challenged by anybody in the Republican Party, we have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption.”
Mr. Danforth, who was first elected the same year as Mr. Lugar, added, “I’m glad Lugar’s there and I’m not.”
Danforth’s fears are not unfounded. Lugar, who is up for reelection in 2012, has already been targeted by tea party groups. “If I was Dick Lugar, I would certainly expect a challenge,” noted veteran political analyst Stuart Rothenberg. As Diane Hubbard, a spokeswoman for the Indianapolis Tea Party, told the Times, removing Lugar “will be a difficult challenge. But we do believe it’s doable, and we think the climate is right for it and we believe it is a must.”
Indeed, asked about a potential tea party challenge motivated by his breaks with the GOP on START and other issues, Lugar suggested the party has drifted to the right while he has stayed steady, saying, “These are just areas where I’ve had stances for a long time.”
[…] But to hear Republicans tell it, they are doing the country a favor by letting the banks go back to business as usual. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), for instance, said a few weeks ago that “the less we fund” financial system regulators, “the better America will be.” And the Associated Press noted today that Rep. Nan Hayworth (R-NY) called the GOP assault on Wall Street reform, “entirely practical” and even “compassionate”:
“What we are doing is rational, it is sensible, it is entirely practical, it is compassionate,” said Rep. Nan Hayworth, R-N.Y., a tea party-backed freshman on that panel. “So we are doing the right thing, and it behooves the Senate and the administration to follow suit.”
U.S. household wealth fell by about $16.4 trillion due to the financial crisis, of which only about half has been recovered. Home equity is so low “that homeowners on average still own only 38.1 percent of their homes, with the rest owed to banks. This is the lowest share on record going back to 1952.”
At the same time, banks have gone back to making sky-high profits. But Republicans are still attempting to undermine Dodd-Frank using every tool at their disposal, and have evidently convinced themselves that allowing Wall Street to run wild is not only in the best interest of the country, but the best way to help American families as well.
According to a new CBS/New York Times poll, “53 percent say the federal government should be helping people who are having trouble paying their mortgages compared to 40 percent who disagree.” Also, 45 percent of Americans believe the government should be doing more to help the housing market improve, while just 16 percent say it should be doing less.
he “munchies” may be triggered not only by marijuana hitting the brain, but also by its effects on the gut, according to new research that suggests intriguing possibilities for the development of new drugs to fight obesity.
It turns out that, biologically, the effect of marijuana on the gut mirrors that of eating fatty foods. Studying the digestive tract of rats, researchers led by Daniele Piomelli, professor of pharmacology at the University of California, Irvine, teased out why that first bite of fatty food spurs increased craving.
The taste of fatty food hitting the tongue sets off a cascade of cellular effects. Initially, it sends a message to the brain. The brain then sends a message to the gut, where intestinal receptors are stimulated to produce endocannabinoids. In turn, these chemicals affect hunger and satiety and ramp up your appetite for even more fat-laden foods. That’s why you can’t eat just one French fry.
The intestinal receptors, known as CB1 receptors, are the same type of receptors that interact in the brain with THC, the main active ingredient in cannabis. That helps explain why marijuana notoriously triggers the “munchies:” a desire to eat high-fat or sweet foods. But, until now, scientists had thought all the action was in the brain.
Piomelli’s group designed a clever experiment in rats to study where the munchies arose. The rats were given various liquid diets: a health shake, a sugar solution, a protein-heavy liquid and high-fat drink made with corn oil. The food was surgically prevented from staying in the rats’ stomachs; it was drained through a tube before it could reach the intestines. That allowed the researchers to figure out whether the signal to keep eating came from the brain based on the taste of fatty foods on the tongue, or whether the gut was somehow involved.
Since the food never reached the gut, the researchers expected to find that the signal occurred only in the brain. “We were looking everywhere and we were sure that somewhere in the brain CB1 would be activated,” says Piomelli. “Very much to our surprise, we saw nothing of the sort.”
Fortunately, after the feeding experiment, researchers had saved frozen organ tissues from the rats. By going back and examining them, they discovered that fatty food activated CB1 receptors in part of the upper intestine, the jejunum. Further investigation revealed that this occurs because tasting fat triggers the brain to want more — and this signals the gut to increase activity at CB1 receptors, making craving stronger.
The intestinal area affected was not a surprise. “The gut’s got a brain of own and that’s one of the very important regions,” says Piomelli. Indeed, the gut has more nerves than any other area of the body outside the brain (and even more of the mood-associated neurotransmitter serotonin than the brain does).
Piomelli notes that evolutionarily speaking, it would make sense for animals to gorge on as much fat as possible. You never know whether famine is around the corner. But the researchers were also surprised to find that it was only fat — not the sugar- or protein-laden liquids — that activated gut CB1 receptors. “Sugar and protein had no effect,” Piomelli says, noting that there must be other mechanisms aside from CB1 involved in the appetite pathway, because smoking marijuana can also produce sugar cravings.
Hey, it’s the day after the 4th of July, and the President is hanging out in the afternoon with his Chief of Staff and his Press Secretary…patriotism is in the air, so what do you expect them to be talking about, if it’s not the blacks and the Jews:
President Nixon: All of the Jewish families are close, but there’s this strange malignancy now that seems to creep among them. I don’t know, the radicalism. I can imagine how the fact that [Daniel] Ellsberg is in this must really tear a fellow like [National Security Adviser] Henry [A. Kissinger] to pieces, or [Consultant Leonard] Garment, you know. Just like the Rosenbergs and all that. That just has to kill him. And you feel horrible about it.
Ronald L. Ziegler: Couldn’t be guy by name of Snyder.
President Nixon: There ain’t none.
H.R. “Bob” Haldeman: [chuckling] It would’ve been a Rosenstein that changed his name.
Ziegler: [Laughs.] It is. Right. It’s always an Ellsberg or [unclear–”overlapping voices].
President Nixon: They’re all Jews. Every one’s a Jew. [Former Director of Policy Planning and Arms Control for International Security Affairs Leslie H.] Gelb’s a Jew. [former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Morton H.] Halperin’s a Jew. But there are bad–[Alger] Hiss was not a Jew. So that proves something. Very interesting thing. So few of those who engage in espionage are Negroes. Very lucky that way. [Unclear] As a matter of fact, very few of them become Communists. If they do, they either, like, they get into Angela Davis, they’re more of an activist type, and they throw bombs and this and that. But the Negroes, have you ever noticed? There are damn few Negro spies.
Haldeman: They’re not intellectual enough. Not smart enough.
President Nixon: It may be.
Haldeman: They’re not smart enough to be spies, they’re not intellectual enough–
President Nixon: The Jews are born spies. You notice how many of them are? They’re just in it up to their necks.
Haldeman: Well, got a basic devious abil–deviousness that–
President Nixon: Well, also, an arrogance, an arrogance that says–that’s what makes a spy. He puts himself above the law.
President Nixon: Other than spies for the pay. I’m talking about the spies that do it because of idealism.
I hate to add anything to that, but a few other notes. Elsewhere in that same conversation, Nixon continues talking about declassifying and releasing materials from World War II and episodes from the Kennedy Administration in order to embarrass Democrats; he’s pretty focused on that, and it is soon to become a main assignment for the Plumbers.
Earlier that day he was at Camp David, and we have Haldeman’s notes for a call between them. The Watergate-relevant bit is that Nixon is again upset about economic news, and (in Haldeman’s words) says that “we’ve really got to put the screws on the bad guy at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.” So more on the Yids, there.
Also, just for fun…Nixon wants Haldeman to start organizing the administration’s “major accomplishments.” The funny part of that is that Nixon tells Haldeman that on the economy, it’s the results that count
I though many of you would enjoy a couple of them (again in Haldeman’s words): “we’re launching successfully a war on drugs…we’ve ended the era of permissiveness.” Hey, they only said they launched the war successfully, right? And as for permissiveness…well, I’ll let you all fill in your own jokes on that one.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“Aging is very rude. It makes no small talk. It just starts slamming doors in your face, whether you’re rich or poor.” ༄ John Jerome