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WRAPUP 1-Obama, lawmakers aim for “big” things in debt talks


After weeks of impasse, President Barack Obama and top congressional leaders are aiming for “something big” as they resume budget talks on Thursday to avert an imminent default.

With Republicans showing new flexibility on taxes, Democrats say Obama will push negotiators to double their target to $4 trillion in budget savings over 10 years.

That would be an ambitious goal, but there have been a few hints of progress since talks hit a brick wall two weeks ago.

The meeting, which takes place at the White House, is due to start at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT) and last about an hour.

Negotiators are trying to craft a deal that would allow lawmakers to say they are taking steps to keep the national debt under control even as they sign off on further borrowing.

Failure to raise the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling by Aug. 2 could force the country to default on debt service and other obligations, a move that could push the country back into recession and send shock waves through financial markets across the globe.

A small team of U.S. Treasury officials are discussing options to stave off default if Congress fails to raise the debt limit by the Aug. 2 deadline, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. [ID:nN1E76522Z]

Senior officials, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, have repeatedly said there are no contingency plans if lawmakers do not give the U.S. government the authority to borrow more money.

But the sources said the Treasury was looking at a number of options, including whether the administration can delay payments to try and manage cash flows after Aug. 2.


By the end of last week, lawmakers were weighing a scaled-back deal that would cover the country’s borrowing needs in the short term but force Congress to confront the issue again in a few months, when the 2012 election season will make politically painful decisions even more difficult.

Obama dismissed that idea on Tuesday, two days after he met secretly with the top Republican in Washington, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner.

“We’ve got a unique opportunity to do something big,” he said at a news conference, where he invited top congressional leaders to Thursday’s White House meeting.

Obama’s goal of $4 trillion in savings matches the figure that budget experts say is needed to keep the debt at a sustainable level. It is not clear how he would get there when the two sides have had trouble reaching half of that goal.

In earlier sessions, negotiators identified roughly $2 trillion in spending cuts that could form the basis of a deal. Republicans walked out of those talks after Democrats called for an additional $400 billion in budget savings by ending a range of tax breaks that benefit wealthy people and certain businesses, like the oil and gas industry.

On Wednesday, the two Republicans who were involved in those talks indicated that they could accept some “revenue raisers” in a deal.

Senator Jon Kyl, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, said his side had backed measures that would generate between $150 billion and $200 billion in new revenue generated by selling assets such as broadband spectrum and raising user fees.

His counterpart in the House, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, said Republicans could support ending some of the tax breaks that Democrats have proposed in return for tax cuts elsewhere.

Obama has proposed extending a payroll-tax cut that expires at the end of this year, which would add about $100 billion to budget deficits over the next 10 years. That cost could be offset by repealing tax breaks for ethanol producers, hedge-fund managers and oil and gas companies, or other elements Democrats have proposed.

“This would allow Democrats to get some tax hikes in the deal and extend the payroll tax cut, but Republicans could say they didn’t vote for a net tax increase,” analysts at International Strategy & Investment wrote in a research note.

Aside from Cantor and Kyl, the meeting will include Boehner, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Democrats believe a deal needs to be in place by July 22 in order to ensure that Congress can raise the debt limit by Aug. 2. Thursday’s meeting could determine whether that is possible.


Senate Dems rally around Conrad’s left-leaning budget proposal, tax raises

The Hill:

Senate Democrats on Wednesday embraced a budget proposal that is significantly to the left of President Obama’s plan on raising new tax revenues.

The prospects of the blueprint passing the Senate are bleak, but its emergence after months of negotiation is aimed at countering GOP criticisms that Democrats haven’t passed a budget in two years. Democrats believe some of the proposal could be merged into a bipartisan agreement on raising the debt ceiling.

The budget plan would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years, according to the baseline used by its author, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). Using the benchmark assumptions of Obama’s fiscal commission, Conrad said his budget would reduce the deficit by nearly $5 trillion.

Roughly half of that total would come from raising government revenues through new taxes and the closure of special tax loopholes, according to Senate sources familiar with the plan.

That would put the total amount of additional tax revenues called for by the Conrad budget in the neighborhood of $2 trillion over 10 years, significantly more than what Obama has proposed.

In April, Obama called for a ratio of $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases, according to a White House fact sheet released at the time.

Conrad appears to have the votes to clear his measure through his panel, though he will need two GOP targets in 2012 — Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) — to back the plan. Both senators sit on the Budget Committee, which comprises 12 Democrats and 11 Republicans. Budget panel member Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) now supports Conrad’s plan after criticizing an earlier draft of it.

Other vulnerable Democratic members who are up for reelection, such as Sens. Ben Nelson (Neb.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio), might not have to vote on the resolution.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Wednesday that leaders are weighing the “pros and cons” of holding a floor vote.

In a release issued Wednesday, Ben Nelson signaled he is wary of Conrad’s plan, calling for debt reduction to focus on spending cuts.

Other Senate Democrats rallied around Conrad’s new proposal during a private lunch meeting Wednesday, where the retiring senator unveiled his long-delayed plan.

“I like it,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). “I don’t have all the details, but it’s clear to me that the Budget Committee and the leadership of Sen. Conrad has put together a very careful budget.”

Another Democratic senator who attended the meeting said: “Nobody spoke against it. Nobody.”

Some Democratic senators have reservations about the sprawling plan, but they have decided to set their qualms aside for the sake of party unity. Many have realized that the internal disputes that had stymied their ability to produce a budget blueprint were becoming a political liability.

“Everyone’s got problems with it,” said one Democratic senator. “Hell, I have problems with it. But the reaction was very positive.”

Conrad had opted to keep the details of his blueprint under wraps while he works over the next several days to address some of those concerns.

Democratic senators who requested anonymity said Conrad’s plan also calls for significant cuts to Pentagon spending and sets up a sizable fund for infrastructure spending.

Sen. Kay Hagan (D), a centrist from North Carolina, said she wants spending cuts to make up a larger percentage of the proposed savings over the next decade.

Hagan said she would like to see a ratio similar to what the fiscal commission chaired by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles proposed.

The fiscal commission suggested $2.2 trillion in discretionary and mandatory spending cuts and $785 billion in new revenues from reforming the tax code and other measures, a ratio of roughly 2.8 to 1.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) in recent weeks has argued that tax increases should be taken off the table because Democrats can’t even bring themselves to vote for them. He has noted that Democrats voted to extend virtually all of the Bush tax rates last year, when they controlled the Senate and House.

The Senate Democratic budget is designed to make a strong statement that tax revenues should be increased substantially by requiring wealthy families to pay more into federal coffers and closing special corporate tax breaks. The plan includes a tax increase for couples making more than $1 million per year.

Senate Republican leadership aides said Wednesday they were eager to see the details of Conrad’s plan, while wasting no time in blasting Democrats for raising taxes by $2 trillion.

Democrats argued the Conrad resolution provides a sharp contrast with the House-passed budget plan sponsored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), which would replace Medicare with what Republicans call a “premium support” plan. Democrats say Ryan would turn Medicare into a voucher system costing seniors an additional $6,400 per year.

Durbin said Conrad’s budget proposal does not touch Social Security and has a “very small,” 10-year effect on Medicaid. “It does not savage it,” he said. The Illinois Democrat also noted that the House-passed budget cuts Medicaid spending in half.

Durbin said that the plan’s cuts to Medicare are only $29 billion over 10 years, but later expressed some doubt about the accuracy of that number.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (Conn.), an Independent who caucuses with Democrats, said he was worried about the size of cuts to national-security spending and questioned if the proposed Medicare cuts would do enough to extend the program’s solvency.


Happy Hour Roundup [on debt talks]

A lot of people are viewing it as big news that Eric Cantor seemed to say the GOP could accept tax loopholes as part of a deficit deal.

But he also said they would have to be offset with tax cuts elsewhere, meaning they’d be “revenue neutral.”

* Chuck Schumer gives it the thumbs down, claiming Dems won’t accept any revenue increases that don’t actually increase revenues.

* Senate Dems rush out a new video that attempts to portray Senate GOPers as being in disarray over whether they can accept new revenues.

* The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is pushing the hugely counterintutive notion that raising taxes on the rich just might also be popular in key swing states.

* Steve Benen on the farcical nature of tomorrow’s Senate vote on whether the wealthy should make more “meaningful” contributions to deficit reduction:

In 2011, we have Republicans demanding 100% of what they want or they’ll crash the economy on purpose, and Dems have been reduced to asking GOP senators to agree that the wealthy should give up something when dealing with the debt Republicans built up in the first place.

* Obama keeps saying he wants a “balanced” approach to deficit reduction, but as Jonathan Cohn notes, the plain fact is that the emerging solution is anything but balanced.

* Which may explain why Obama today used some of his strongest language yet on the debt ceiling, excoriating Republicans for using it “as a gun against the heads of the American people” to extract tax breaks for Big Oil and — he said it again! — corporate jet owners.

* Sam Youngman, on why Obama should not cave in the deficit talks:

If he stares down the GOP and comes up with a deal that makes his base happy, Obama will be showing that he remembers two of the first rules of politics: Dance with the one who brought you — and don’t go to war without your army.

* The Campaign for America’s Future, on Kent Conrad’s deeply controversial plan for an even deficit-reduction split between revenues and tax cuts:

No deal without the rich and big corporations sharing in the sacrifice. No deal that would harm the essential programs of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. No deal that takes more out of the programs for middle income and poor Americans than it takes from tax breaks, loopholes and havens for the rich and the big corporations, and no deal that undermines the economic recovery.

But as Joan McCarter notes, any plan that calls for roughly equivalent concessions on both sides is by definition doomed.


The Debt Deal Trojan Horse, And The Elephant In The Room

Do you hear a noise like power saws cutting away at your Social Security benefits? That’s the sound of the politicians working on the “Chain Gang.”

They’re promoting the “chained CPI,” Washington’s latest gimmick for tricking voters and cutting their hard-earned benefits to protect the wealthy. That may sound like inflammatory rhetoric, but the numbers don’t allow for any other conclusion. People retiring today could lose more than $18,000 in benefits over their lifetimes – and people who are already retired will feel the pain too.

What’s wrong with this idea?

1) It’s an underhanded way to cut Social Security benefits (its true intent). 2) It’s unnecessary. 3) It’s unfair to women, the poor, minorities, and the very elderly. 4) It reflects a un-American political culture of pessimism and lost faith in the future.

Any politician who signs onto a “chained CPI” approach to Social Security will feel the wrath of the voters – and deserves to.

What’s a “CPI,” you ask? And what’s the benefit of chaining it up? The Daily Money’s Carla Fried explains:

Right now the government uses two different Consumer Price Indexes (CPI), one for figuring out changes to the tax code (income tax brackets are adjusted in line with inflation) and other federal programs, and a separate measurement that is used specifically to set Social Security and federal pension COLAs. What’s under consideration is indexing all these changes to a different measurement called Chained CPI. I’ll spare you all the wonky explanations for why the chained CPI is seen as a better model than the other indices. (You can read more here). But the basic idea is that it will supposedly better reflect our buying habits when we experience rising prices. Rather than assume we will just keep buying more of the same (more expensive) items, the chained CPI factors in the likelihood that we will change our buying habits. The classic example: if apples skyrocket in price, we don’t just keep buying the same amount of apples, and instead look for other less expensive fruit as apple substitutes.

The important upshot is that the chained CPI doesn’t increase as much as the current inflation measurements we’re using. A bipartisan analysis concluded that since 2000, the chained CPI has been on average 0.25 to 0.30 percentage points lower each year than standard CPI measures. Add in the effect of compounding and since 2000, the CPI we use today shows that inflation is up 30 percent. Chained CPI, however, shows a 26 percent increase.

Back to Richard:

As a government agency explains, “Pork and beef are two separate CPI item categories. If the price of pork increases while the price of beef does not, consumers might shift away from pork to beef.” So if people can no longer afford pork, they’re spending less. Under a chained-CPI approach cost of living adjustments (COLAs) would then go down.

There’s beef in cat food, right? Let’s hope so, give the consequences those abstract-sounding percentage points Fried mentioned: “…the chained CPI has been on average 0.25 to .030 percentage points lower each year than the standard CPI.” That doesn’t sound like much, right? Less than a whole percentage point? Who’s even gonna feel that?

Grandma. That’s who. According to the folks at Strengthen Social Security, the chained CPI would scale back benefits more and more each year, cutting benefits for today’s beneficiaries and hitting older seniors and the long-term disabled hardest.

Lawmakers and the Obama administration are reportedly considering switching to a “chained” Consumer Price Index. According to the advocacy group Strengthen Social Security, the chained-CPI could lead to annual Social Security benefit cuts of $560 for those aged 75, $984 for those aged 85 and $1,392 for those aged 95.

“The proposal to shift to the chained-CPI is actually a stealth attack on Social Security,” said Joan Entmacher, director of family economic security at the National Women’s Law Center, during a Friday conference call with reporters. Her comments were echoed by Strengthen Social Security Campaign co-chair Nancy Altman. She said, “The chained-CPI is poor policy, and given that seniors vote in disproportionately high numbers, it is equally poor politics.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the chained CPI “employs a formula that reflects the effect of substitution that consumers make across item categories in response to changes in relative prices.” Such a system estimates a lower cost of living for Americans, especially during recessions, by assuming that consumers buy less during tough economic times. This approach has been touted by some economists and lawmakers as a more accurate way to measure cost of living.

So, wait a minute. The older you are the more your benefits are going to be cut? What is this? Policy Negotiation or a brainstorming session for a sequel to Logan’s Run?

And the cat food connection? Well, the chained CPI is (surprise) tougher on women than it is on men.

“This proposal is a stealth attack on the economic security of older women,” Joan Entmacher of National Women’s Law Center in Washington said in a statement. “That is a shameful way to solve our nation’s deficit problem.”

Older women are already more economically vulnerable than older men — they often spend fewer years in the workforce because they take care children, the elderly and spouses — and these cuts would leave many of them unable to meet basic needs, Entmacher said.

For example, for a woman who gets a benefit of $1,100 at age 65 — the median monthly benefit of all single women 65 and older — replacing the current COLA with the chained CPI would mean $56 less per month and $672 less per year at age 80, the report said.

That may not sound like a big cut to some members of Congress — but it translates to a loss of more than a week’s worth of food per month or 13 weeks of food in a year,” Entmacher said in a statement. “At age 90, that would mean $87 less per month and more than $1,000 less that year so a woman with an initial benefit of $1,100 a month will lose more than $6,300 by age 80 and more than $15,000 by age 90.”

[…]Meanwhile, things are getting a bit crowded around the negotiating table. In addition to the “chained CPI” Trojan horse that no one recognizes, there’s a huge elephant in the middle of the room that no one even sees. As Dave Johnson pointed out, it’s the same elephant sitting in the middle of every room.

Ten years ago we were on a path to paying off the country’s debt. In fact, if we had stayed on the same trajectory the debt might be paid off already. But then we cut taxes even more, and raised the military budget even more, and the deficits and resulting debt exploded. This sequence — debt-payoff trajectory to deficits caused by tax cuts and military spending increases — should be stated clearly at the start of every meeting that discusses deficits and debt.

I am in Chicago to cover the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) – America, which is discussing practical, scalable projects to create jobs here. I will write more about the meeting but wanted to hit a few of the points right now.

Obama: President Obama gives a press conference today and talks about how taxes have to be part of the deficit equation. Republicans scream.

Clinton: Here at CGI-America, former President Clinton carefully says that we need taxes to be higher, and the crowd of millionaires and billionaires breaks out in spontaneous applause.

Peterson: Also at CGI “deficit hawk” Pete Peterson says that “our long-term debt threatens our long-term economic future,” and he’s right. (I wish he would get off of Social Security because it doesn’t contribute a dime to the debt, but otherwise he is right.) He also says the defense budget is “unchecked.” Wow is he right about that.

But ten years ago we were paying off the debt. Then came the Bush tax cuts and the huge increase in military spending. We need to get the money from where the money went.

The thing is, we know where the money went. We know there the money is. We know where it isn’t.

And what’s more, a majority of Americans are in favor of getting some of it back. As Bruce Bartlett very effectively illustrated, in poll after poll after poll after poll Americans support raising taxes for the wealthy. Meanwhile, an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose Social Security cuts.

So, why are America’s seniors now in line to take a $300 billion hit for sake of reducing a deficit that has nothing to do with Social Security? (Even the chair of the president’s own deficit commission admits as much.) Why are tax increases and defense cuts off the table?

Because nobody involved in the debt deal negotiations recognizes the Trojan horse in the room, and nobody even sees the elephant in the room.




Blackwater’s New Director: Bill Clinton’s Lawyer

Blackwater’s rebranding continues at a torrid pace. Danger Room has learned the latest Washington greybeard hired to spruce up the image of the world’s most infamous private security firm is Jack Quinn, a top Washington lobbyist and former White House counsel to President Bill Clinton.

Now renamed Xe and owned by an investor consortium called USTC Holdings, the company is bringing Quinn — pictured left, with Rep. Joe Crowley — onto its board as an “independent director.” He’ll focus on “governance and oversight,” keeping the company out of trouble, especially with the government. USTC Holdings’ Jason DeYonker says that Quinn’s reputation for “commitment to the highest ethical standards of conduct in both the public and private sectors” makes him a great fit.

To be cynical about it, a man who gave legal advice to Clinton knows a whole lot about crisis management. Which is important, since Xe intends to keep providing security to U.S. diplomats in dangerous places – activities that, under its old leadership, led its guards into a shooting debacle that killed 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.

Quinn is one of a string of board members and executives Xe brought on to draw a bright line between the old Blackwater and the new. All of them are powerful people, like ex-Attorney General John Ashcroft. Quinn’s lobbying clients include AT&T, old-folks association AARP and Visa.

But the real thread running through most of the hires is that they have experience dealing with scandal, like former AIG bigwig Suzanne Folsom, now Xe’s senior regulatory and compliance officer and new CEO Ted Wright, most recently of military services giant KBR.

You’ll recall that the Xe had extensive ties to the Republican Party under founder Erik Prince. Consider the Quinn hire a step toward political diversity. It’s something Quinn knows a great deal about: he started his lobbying firm with Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman.


NYT: F.D.I.C. Rule Puts at Risk 2 Years of Executives’ Pay

Federal regulators will be able to take back up to two years of Wall Street executives’ pay if they are found responsible for the collapse of a major financial firm, under a plan approved Wednesday.

The provision is part of a broader Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation rule laying out the order in which creditors will be paid during a government liquidation of a large, failing financial firm.

The Dodd-Frank financial oversight law gives financial agencies the power to recoup executives’ pay, but bankers were complaining that regulators were taking it too far.

The F.D.I.C.’s final rule provided some relief by clarifying “negligence” as the standard. The agency was careful to point out that it was not using the more narrow standard of “gross negligence.”

John Walsh, the acting comptroller of the currency, who had raised concerns about the standard being too broad, said he was pleased with the changes.

“I was concerned that it seemed to focus more on job titles than the actual actions that people had taken,” he said.

The liquidation authority is a major part of the Dodd-Frank law. The idea is to preserve economic stability by unwinding troubled firms, but in a way that is less politically explosive than taxpayer-financed bailouts and less traumatic to the markets than bankruptcies like the Lehman Brothers collapse of 2008.

At the top of the list of what will be paid off first under the new resolution system are any debts the F.D.I.C. or receiver took on as part of the cost of seizing a firm, administrative expenses, money owed to the Treasury and money owed to employees for things like retirement benefits.

Further down the list are general creditors.

Banks and financial services companies have complained that the framework gives the F.D.I.C. too much latitude to treat some creditors differently. F.D.I.C. leaders played down these concerns again on Wednesday, saying their rules were based as much as possible on the bankruptcy code.


It’s More Likely You Will Survive A Plane Crash Or Win The Lottery Than Click A Banner Ad

One reason the online brand advertising industry hasn’t been able to catch up offline brand advertising – despite how much time consumers spend on line these days – is that many ad-buyers are trained to believe that if Web users aren’t clicking on their banner ads, then their banner ads are being ignored.

This is stupid because people are very unlikely to click on banner ads. The people who do tend to be poorer and less educated.

A company called Solve Media – which places ads in CAPTCHAs – has put together showing just how rare  clicks on banner ads actually are.




HUD to give away $1 billion to struggling homeowners

In June, a potential lifeline opened up. The newly launched $1 billion Emergency Homeowners’ Loan Program, or EHLP, is targeting homeowners who are among the most difficult to help: those who fell behind on their payments because of job loss or unexpected medical bills. For many of them, it might be the last chance to save their homes. […]

EHLP is the latest government program targeting the nearly 1.8 million homeowners like Allwine facing foreclosure. It is going to have to move fast: The program was supposed to start last year, but implementation delays mean that the Department of Housing and Urban Development must spend all its $1 billion by the end of the federal government’s fiscal year, Sept. 30.

That gives homeowners in 27 states, including Virginia, until July 22 to complete their applications. If demand outstrips available funds, HUD will run a lottery to pick successful applicants. Five additional states, including Maryland, are subject to slightly different rules, which gave them more time to spend the funds, because they started taking EHLP applications earlier under similar state-run programs.

Terri Ware of Greenbelt applied for the program in May after she was unable to get her bank to modify the $238,000 mortgage on her condominium. Her daughter Micah was born last year with a heart defect that requires around-the-clock care. So Ware, 43 and a single mom, left her job as an emergency room nurse at Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly so she could care for her. But with her income shrinking and medical expenses escalating, she quickly burned through all her savings and her 401(k) and fell five months behind on her mortgage. Foreclosure loomed.

“I said, ‘I can’t be homeless — my baby needs help,’ ” Ware recalled.

Within a month, Ware was approved for $29,608 in aid through EHLP. The interest-free loan will repay $8,636 worth of mortgage payments that she owes in arrears to J.P. Morgan Chase and then pay about half her $1,727 mortgage payment for the next 24 months. […]

Nationwide, HUD is hoping to help 30,000 homeowners through the program, including 1,120 in Maryland and 1,223 in Virginia, which received $46.6 million in funding. The District is hoping to assist as many as 1,000 homeowners under a separate program for which it has $20 million, said D.C. Housing Finance Agency Executive Director Harry Sewell.


U.S. recovery bypassing women, who have lost 218,000 jobs since the recession while men gained 768,000

Women have been worse-off than men through the past two years of sluggish economic recovery, according to this report by the Pew Research Center. The trend is a reversal from the recession itself, which due to of big declines in construction and manufacturing employment was much rougher on men than women. The discrepancy is partly due to the nature of the recovery, which has been led by the male-dominated manufacturing sector, but that doesn’t explain all of it.

From the end of the recession in June 2009 through May 2011, men gained 768,000 jobs and lowered their unemployment rate by 1.1 percentage points to 9.5%, according to the Pew Report. Women — who still have a better jobs situation — lost 218,000 jobs and their unemployment rate increased by 0.2 percentage points to 8.5%, according to Pew’s analysis of Labor Dept. statistics.

“The recovery from the Great Recession is the first since 1970 in which women have lost jobs even as men have gained them,” Pew writes in the report. “It is not entirely clear why men are doing better than women in the current recovery.”




School’s out for summer, school’s out forever

Sam Dillon’s piece this morning on local school systems cutting class time is worth highlighting. Everyone acknowledges that systems that, say, go from five-day school weeks to four-day weeks are probably going to see worse outcomes, but more benign-seeming changes, like longer summer breaks, could have an even greater impact:

For two decades, advocates have been working to modernize the nation’s traditional 180-day school calendar, saying that the languid summers evoked in “To Kill a Mockingbird” have a pernicious underside: each fall, many students — especially those who are poor — return to school having forgotten much of what they learned the previous year. The Obama administration picked up the mantra: at his 2009 confirmation hearing, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared, “Our school day is too short, our school week is too short, our school year is too short,” but its efforts in this realm have not been as successful as other initiatives.

The administration is pushing schools to shorten summer break and move to a year-long school year, but local budget crunches are overwhelming whatever good that’s doing. This is a prime example of losing the future. […]

There are number of ways we could tackle this. Longer school years are one option. There’s some evidence to suggest that offering summer school programs for disadvantaged students can prevent learning loss and stop the achievement gap from widening. Alan Krueger and Molly Fifer’s proposal for “Summer Opportunity Scholarships” offers a promising way of implementing programs like that nationally. But if nothing else, we should stop moving in the opposite direction.




At U.S. Nuclear Reactors, Crews Train For The Worst


[…]One recent morning, reactor operators who would normally report to work at the plant instead showed up for work in a building outside the fence, overlooking the plant’s iconic cooling tower. They step into a room that looks exactly like the control room where they spend most of their working days.

“What you’re seeing is a physical replica, down to the books on the shelves and where the trash cans are located, of what the operators will use on a day-to-day basis in the plant,” says Pat Berry, who heads training for Entergy, the plant’s owner.

He’s here today to watch as the plant’s crew is put to the test, with a simulated “bad day at the plant.”

(Simulated) Crises Unfold

Lights start flashing almost immediately.

“We have a CRD malfunction, due to bravo CRD pump trip,” calls out Roger Bond, who’s in charge of the faux control room.

In other words, a pump has failed. And just as the crew checks to be sure a backup pump is working properly, they’re hit with another barrage of alarms.






Killing the zombie lie that ‘we’re all living longer’

You hear this one all the time when it comes to Social Security and Medicare. “We have to raise the retirement age because we’re living longer.” We’ve been arguing against that one for a year now.

The fact is, men are living less than three years longer, women about five. Yes, there are more people living longer because they didn’t die at age 3 of whooping cough or polio, but the life expectancy for an individual has not been extended very much at all once age 65 is reached. Disturbingly, pushing the retirement age out five years as is currently proposed actually means an individual male retiree today is at risk of being cheated of two years more retirement than our supposedly drastically shorter-lived forebears received more than half a century ago.

The latest available information is demonstrating that the gains in life expectancy that led to this zombie lie in the first place are now being reversed. This weekend, Laura Clawson wrote about a University of Washington study showing a significant drop in life expectancy for both women and black men in the past decade.

From 1987 to 1997, there were 227 counties where female life expectancy dropped. From 1997 to 2007, the number of counties where women’s life expectancy dropped exploded to 737…. Besides the precarious state of women, life expectancy for black men in two-thirds of the nation’s counties is no better than what it was in other rich countries in the 1950s.

Hang on, though, because it’s an even bigger story than just that. Via Ezra Klein:

In December, the Los Angeles Times reported — very briefly — that from 2007 to 2008, life expectancy in the United States declined by 0.1 year. It should have been the lead story of every newspaper in the country with the largest possible headlines (“LESS LIFE“). Did 9/11 reduce life expectancy this much? Of course not. Did World War II? Not in a visible way — American life expectancy rose during World War II. I can’t think any event in the last 100 years that made such a difference to Americans. The decline is even more newsworthy when you realize: 1. It is the continuation of trends. The yearly increase in life expectancy has been dropping for about the last 40 years. 2. Americans spend far more on health care than any other country. Meaning vast resources have been available to translate new discoveries into practice. 3. Americans spend far more on health research than any other country and should be the first to benefit from new discoveries.

The lessons? The “best health care system in the world” only actually applies to the people who can afford to use it. More importantly, the policy-makers who advocate for making us work longer and wait longer before receiving benefits from Social Security or Medicare are completely divorced from the reality of the part of America than can’t afford to use the “best health care system in the world.”

Additionally, forcing more people to wait to receive these benefits will result in a sicker older population, even more money spent on health care when they do finally qualify for Medicare, and earlier deaths for many. And in the long run, shorter life expectancy. For the average working schlub, that is. Not for the people Alan Simpson knows.




Ninth Circuit Reinstates Court Order Striking Down Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

A three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit just issued a brief order lifting its stay of a decision striking down Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell:

Appellee/cross-appellant’s motion to lift this court’s November 1, 2010, order granting a stay of the district court’s judgment pending appeal is granted. In their briefs, [the United States] do[es] not contend that 10 U.S.C. § 654 is constitutional. In addition, in the context of the Defense of Marriage Act, the United States has recently taken the position that classifications based on sexual orientation should be subjected to heightened scrutiny. [The United States] state[s] that the process of repealing Section 654 is well underway, and the preponderance of the armed forces are expected to have been trained by mid-summer. The circumstances and balance of hardships have changed, and [the United States] can no longer satisfy the demanding standard for issuance of a stay.

Perhaps most significantly, today’s order shows that the Department of Justice’s recent recognition that anti-gay laws are highly constitutionally suspect is producing results. The court expressly relied on this determination by DOJ in reinstating the injunction against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

At the same time, however, it does not necessarily follow that the panel would have also struck down DOMA or otherwise resolved a gay rights question on the merits. Today’s order dealt with the narrow question of whether or not a trial court decision striking down DADT must be stayed while the decision is still under appeal. Before issuing a stay, a court must consider factors such as whether a stay will “substantially injure” other parties and whether a stay is “in the public interest.” Today’s order concludes that these factors no longer weigh in favor of a stay now that DADT repeal is imminent and DOJ concedes its unconstitutionality.

Nevertheless, today’s decision is an important sign that the Obama Administration’s recognition that gay people are entitled to the same equal protection of the law as all other Americans is paying dividends, and it could be a sign of things to come on the Supreme Court. Today’s panel included Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, a former law clerk to Justice Kennedy who remains very influential with his former boss.


Fort Hood suspect to face military trial, face death penalty

[…] Galligan had urged Fort Hood’s commander at a meeting in May not to seek the death penalty against his client, saying such cases were more costly, time-consuming and restrictive. In cases where death is not a punishment option for military jurors, soldiers convicted of capital murder are automatically sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

Galligan has declined to say whether he is considering an insanity defense for his client. He has refused to disclose results of a military mental health panel’s evaluation of Hasan.

The three-member panel determined whether Hasan is competent to stand trial and his mental state during the shootings. It also determined if he had a severe mental illness that day, and if so, whether such a condition prevented him from knowing at the time that his alleged actions were wrong.

Hasan, 40, was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot by police the day of the rampage. He remains jailed in the Bell County Jail, which houses defendants for nearby Fort Hood.

Hasan has attended several brief court hearings and an evidentiary hearing last fall that lasted about two weeks. He sometimes took notes and showed no reaction as 56 witnesses testified, including more than two dozen soldiers who survived gunshot wounds. […]

The gunman was identified as Hasan, an American-born Muslim who was scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan the following month. Before the attack, Hasan bought a laser-equipped semiautomatic handgun and repeatedly visited a firing range, where he honed his skills by shooting at the heads on silhouette targets, witnesses testified during the hearing.




The First -Ever Tweet by a President


whitehouse The White House

in order to reduce the deficit,what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep – bo


[email protected] has gained 25K followers since yesterday, is 3K shy of 9 million:


What Twitter users asked the president


Chris Hedges admits the motivation behind cynical left punditry

Chris Hedges did everyone a favor by admitting his true agenda at truthdig. We now understand why he, and those of similar ilk, are just as fair and balanced about Obama as Fox News. The reason they spread so much cynicism is to convince people that elections are a waste of time and that the Democratic Party must be destroyed.

If elections were that effective, as the anti-war activist Phil Berrigan used to say, they would be illegal. We must follow the path Nader forged, attempting to sway enough people with conscience to sever themselves permanently and unequivocally from the mainstream and especially the Democratic Party.

This is different than working on progress toward progressive issues. Progress is happening on many issues, and often without the help of ankle-biting pundits who have done nothing but attack.

In the mind of Hedges, Progress = destroying the Democratic Party.
Therefore, spreading cynicism against Obama and Democrats = Progress.

But, what if a Democratic President does something very positive that liberals like? Well, that would disprove Hedges’ core belief system so Obama’s progressive accomplishments must always be ignored or downplayed as inadequate. And that’s what we’ve seen from a sizable chunk of left pundits. They spread disingenuous cynicism about Obama because admitting his accomplishments would invalidate their belief that destroying the Democratic Party is a necessary precursor to making progress.

One consequence of this is that the left blogosphere doesn’t get an accurate picture of what Obama and Congress are doing. And if the left blogosphere isn’t writing about something progressive Obama does, then I can guarantee the corporate-owned press won’t either.

Since most people can see that the Green Party has nothing to show after 20 years of effort, the campaign to spread cynicism about Democrats hasn’t brought more people to any third party or direct action movement. Oddly, convincing people that everything they’ve done for Democrats amounts to nothing doesn’t convince them to do even more. It simply encourages hopelessness and inaction. The effort to convince the left that voting is a waste of time really paid off in 2010.

We have to admit that a significant portion of left pundits/bloggers have an ideological, dogmatic approach that is effectively sabotaging the efforts of many others on the left. I’m happy to support the kind of direct action effort that Hedges’ writes about, but I disagree with his belief that the only way to build support for direct action is to tear down and insult the tangible progress that many others on the left are already making every day. It’s dishonest and counterproductive.




VIDEO: President Obama White House Twitter Town Hall Meeting

President Obama kicked off his first Twitter town hall meeting with a tweet.  The president’s tweet was “In order to reduce the deficit, what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep?”  It set the tone for the town hall focusing on jobs and the economy.

Twitter “curators” selected questions for the president that were representative of the most popular topics submitted online.  President Obama answered verbally in front of a live audience in the White House East Room.


Bill Clinton likens GOP effort to Jim Crow laws


[…] “I can’t help thinking since we just celebrated the Fourth of July and we’re supposed to be a country dedicated to liberty that one of the most pervasive political movements going on outside Washington today is the disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time,” Clinton said at Campus Progress’s annual conference in Washington.

“There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today,” Clinton added.

Clinton mentioned Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s move in March to overturn past state precedent — including under former GOP governors — that allows convicted felons to vote once they’ve served they’ve finished probation periods.

“Why should we disenfranchise people forever once they’ve paid their price?” Clinton said. “Because most of them in Florida were African Americans and Hispanics who tended to vote for Democrats. That’s why.”

He also cited the New Hampshire proposal — which is currently stymied by a veto from Democratic Gov. John Lynch – that would stop college students who are from other states from registering to vote where they go to school.

Other states with powerful new GOP majorities have also drawn fire for their recent proposals to change voting laws.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich is expected to sign a bill that eliminates several early voting options and also eliminates a week-long period when voters could register and cast ballots at the same time. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a law in May requiring voters to show identification at the polls and to have lived in their ward 28 days before the election.

And Maine Gov. Paul LePage last month approved a bill that negates a 38-year old law allowing same-day registration.

“Why is all of this going on? This is not rocket science. They are trying to make the 2012 electorate look more like the 2010 electorate than the 2008 electorate,” Clinton said. […]

Carolyn Fiddler, communications director for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, welcomed Clinton’s remarks on an issue her organization has been closely tracking. “It’s such a serious issue, and it’s exciting to know Clinton is speaking out on it,” she said.


Why the GOP Loves the Debt

Micheal Tomasky:

Republicans portray themselves as champions of fiscal responsibility. But as Michael Tomasky argues, they need the debt to push through their radical and unpopular agenda.


How to Understand the ‘Invisible Primary’

The 2012 Iowa caucuses are still seven months away, but Republican presidential hopefuls are already well into the “invisible primary”—a tumultuous time of speechmaking, fundraising, coalition-building and constant travel, as they seek to boost their name recognition, stand out from the field, and secure the GOP nomination once the voting begins.

This part of the campaign looks very different than it did in an earlier era, when party bosses huddled behind closed doors at the convention to pick a nominee. But a 2008 book, The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform, argues that for all the changes, the real action during the invisible primary is still in the exchanges between party leaders. CJR contributor Greg Marx spoke last week with Hans Noel, a co-author of the book and an assistant professor of political science at Georgetown University about that argument, and what it means for reporters covering the campaign. An edited transcript of their conversation is below.

Let’s start with the claim made in the title of your book, which is “the party decides” who the nominee is going to be. At one level, that sounds almost banal. Is there something about your findings that is controversial, or contrary to conventional wisdom?

I think that there’s a fair amount that’s contrary to conventional wisdom. You see a lot of analysis of primary campaigns, both from political scientists and in the media, that orients everything around how this candidate is going to win in this state or build this result into winning later, and it’s all about these individual candidates who are competing.

The key insight of the book is to look at presidential nominations not from the point of the view of the people trying to get the nomination, but from the point of view of the party that’s trying to bestow it. There are only a handful of people in the party that are running for office. Most of the people in the party are not running for office, but they really care about who wins the nomination and who wins the general election. And so we should tell the story from the point of view of the players in the party who have an opinion about who the nominee should be and can do something about it.


Texas lawmakers fail to solve big budget problems, punt tough decisions down the road


Gov. Rick Perry signed a budget that was balanced only through accounting maneuvers, rewriting school funding laws, ignoring a growing population and delaying payments on bills coming due in 2013.

It accomplishes, however, what the Republican majority wanted most: It did not raise taxes, took little from the Rainy Day Fund and shifted any future deficits onto the next Legislature.

Those are key talking points for Perry, as he speaks to the conservative faithful around the country and considers a run for president in 2012. Many Republican lawmakers have complained privately, and Democrats publicly, that Perry has heavily influenced the session to make sure nothing passed that would hurt a potential campaign.

States across the nation faced major budget shortfalls this year, but none as big as Texas. While most legislatures chose to raise taxes and fees along with making cuts, Texas tea party activists put enormous pressure on the Republicans, who control every branch of state government, to manage the $27 billion shortfall through cuts alone. That included $7.8 billion to health and human services.

Texas Republicans crowed about their budget accomplishment. Perry, who has touted his budget-cutting prowess as he flirts with running for president, declared victory.

“I am proud Texas will continue to live within its means while encouraging job creation and maintaining essential services,” said Perry, who claims that keeping taxes low helps create jobs.

Critics, who see things differently on what services are truly essential, say it underfunds the state’s needs by $10 billion beyond that.

Democrats also derided the GOP’s claim that it was truly a balanced budget.

“It’s all smoke and mirrors and misdirection,” said state Rep. Garnett Coleman, D-Houston. “There’s no way this is a balanced budget. It’s billions short of where Texas is supposed to be on Medicaid and education.”

Much of the overall savings came through cuts to university and state agency budgets, but the bulk of it came from accounting sleight-of-hand and putting off the biggest problems until lawmakers come back in 2013. At that point, lawmakers will be bound by the balanced budget law to tap the Rainy Day Fund to cover any existing deficit and House rules will require fewer votes to do it.


Obama’s re-election: 5 reasons he’s ‘unbeatable’

The Week:

1. The Republican Party is a divided mess
A “competent and focused opposition” could probably beat Obama in 2012, says Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times. But the Republican Party is in disarray. Presidential hopefuls will have to “cater to all the crazies” in the Tea Party, meaning that the eventual GOP nominee will likely be “committed to an agenda that is far to the right of the average American voter.” With such hamstrung opponents, “Obama is a hot favorite to win re-election.”

2. Independents are still up for grabs
Obama may be sagging in the polls, says Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic, but independent voters are not “particularly enamored” with Republicans either. And those Americans whose “votes are switchable” tend to be motivated less by “social issues” than by fresh ideas. “This is a plus for Democrats.” Independents will decide this election like they do every other. Obama still has a “chance at winning them over.”

3. He will have serious money behind him
Obama is expected to raise as much as $1 billion, says Patricia Zengerle at Reuters, a figure “unprecedented in U.S. politics.” Although he will likely lose many of the grassroots donors who backed him in 2008, the president will benefit from “the kind of big-money donations he has criticized in the past.” His campaign war chest is “likely to dwarf that of his eventual Republican opponent.”

4. The polls aren’t that bad
Obama’s numbers, while poor, are comparable to those of George W. Bush in 2003, says a Pew Research Center poll. His “personal favorability” rating is still strong, with 58 percent of voters saying they view him favorably. And while Obama’s job approval rating of 47 percent is “hardly stellar,” says Eli Lehrer at Frum Forum, it’s “in the same ballpark” as those of Clinton, Reagan and Nixon at the same point in their first terms. “And all three won in landslides.”

5. The demographics favor Obama
Obama’s base may be “disgruntled,” says Konrad Yakabuski at The Globe and Mail, but he’ll have “demographics on his side” in 2012. A record 28 percent of the electorate will be made up of black, Hispanic and minority voters, and Obama won nearly 80 percent of these demographics’ votes last time around. If he can marshal them again, he can win the election with only a “stunningly small percentage of the white vote.”


Romney Calls Dodd-Frank An Overreach, Then Admits He’s Not Sure What’s In It

According to Romney, who had previously indicated support for repealing the law and has attacked it repeatedly in the early stages of his campaign, tightening regulations on Wall Street financial firms is akin to “pouring molasses” on the economy.

But when a reporter asked him to name what he opposed in Dodd-Frank, Romney failed to offer any specifics, saying only that the bill was “massive” and repeating the claim that it is causing uncertainty:

REPORTER: Do you oppose all the provisions in the Dodd-Frank bill, or just specific aspects of it, and would you try to repeal Dodd-Frank if you were president?

ROMNEY: It’s 2,000 pages, I’m sure there’s something in there that’s good. I’ll be happy to take a look and perhaps line-by-line at some point lay out the provisions that I think are unfortunate. But it is so massive that many of the people in the financial industry simply don’t know what it will entail when all the regulation is completed. These kind of massive reworks of major industries cause those industries to retrench, and at the very time we need them to step forward, they have pulled back. So I’ll give you more detail as the campaign goes on, but this bill was too overreaching and too massive and has contributed to a slowdown in lending.


Obama’s Twitter townhall: A win-win for the White House

Chris Cilliza:

President Obama’s Twitter townhall today amounts to a win-win proposition for a White House looking to hone its message on the still-struggling economy and woo young voters back to the incumbent ahead of the 2012 election.

The event, which is being touted as historic, first-of-its-kind gathering, is already drawing considerable press attention and will be all the buzz of cable news in the runup to the 2 p.m. townhall. (And, yes, the Fix will be live-blogging the proceedings in this space — so stay tuned.)

“We’ve entered a difference information age where people get news and information in a different way then they did in the past,” explained White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer. “That’s why we’re doing this … its similar to what previous presidents did with the more traditional outlets.”

Pfeiffer is right. But the real reason to do an event like this one is that it affords the President nearly-unfettered message control with a young, national audience watching.


Romney Not Even Close to Fundraising Goal

Mitt Romney disclosed that he raised $18.25 million last quarter, but his goal for the first half of 2011 was $50 million, Politico reports.

An email shows that Don Stirling, a Utah-based Romney finance consultant, sent a message in late-December to another western GOP strategist outlining compensation plans and fundraising targets. The $50 million goal was the same figure that other Romney fundraisers bandied about for their first-quarter target as late as March.


White supremacists gearing up for campaigns. There goes another slice of GOP votes.

The Daily Beast:

Add to the growing list of candidates considering a bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012 America’s most famous white-power advocate: David Duke.

A former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, member of the Louisiana House of Representatives and Republican executive-committee chairman in his district until 2000, Duke has a significant following online. His videos go viral. This month, he’s launching a tour of 25 states to explore how much support he can garner for a potential presidential bid. He hasn’t considered running for serious office since the early ’90s, when he won nearly 40 percent of the vote in his bid for Louisiana governor. But like many “white civil rights advocates,” as he describes himself to The Daily Beast, 2012 is already shaping up to be a pivotal year.

Former (and current) Neo Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Confederates, and other representatives of the many wings of the “white nationalist” movement are starting to file paperwork and print campaign literature for offices large and small, pointing to rising unemployment, four years with an African-American president, and rampant illegal immigration as part of a growing mound of evidence that white people need to take a stand.

Most aren’t winning—not yet. But they’re drawing levels of support that surprise and alarm groups that keep tabs on the white-power movement (members prefer the terms “racial realist” or “white nationalist”). In May, the National Socialist Movement’s Jeff Hall hit national headlines in a bizarre tragedy: his murder, allegedly at the hands of his 10-year-old son. But before his death, he had campaigned for a low-level water board position in Riverside, California. The swastika-wearing plumber who patrolled the U.S. border paramilitary-style walked away with almost 30 percent of his community’s vote. “That’s a sizable amount of the vote for a person running openly as a Neo Nazi,” says Marilyn Mayo, co-director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.  While Hall’s political future—and life—has been cut short, Mayo points out that we should expect more white supremacist hopefuls next year.


Mitt Romney’s “Moderate” Cover Blown By Endorsement of Christian Conspiracy Theorist | AlterNet


Devastating new ad against Republican candidate in first Wisconsin recall general election




Even Repubs want higher taxes

Poll after poll shows that the American people want higher taxes. That’s not the same as liking higher taxes. The people have simply concluded that higher taxes are preferable to the alternative — so vividly portrayed in the Republican plan to do away with government guarantees in Medicare.

And Republicans don’t even have that ugly option to offer anymore. After voters in western New York rioted over it by handing a formerly safe GOP congressional seat to a Democrat, many Republicans have been jumping ship. Odd that House Speaker John Boehner continues to sail on with nothing in the hold but a vague threat to let America default on its debt if … if what? If Democrats refuse to make the drastic spending cuts Republicans are afraid to push.

What do the American people think? A Quinnipiac poll found that 69 percent, including nearly half of Republicans, want taxes raised on households making more than $250,000. A later Ipsos/Reuters polls shows three-fifths wanting to raise taxes to cut the deficit.

The Real Deal: Polls Show Bachmann Surge In New Hampshire

According to Democratic pollster PPP, Bachmann is polling at 18% among Republican voters, second only to Romney at 25%. Not only that, non-candidate Sarah Palin is third at 11%, suggesting Bachmann may have more socially conservative and Tea Party votes up for grabs. The rest of the field are in single digits: Ron Paul at 9%, Rick Perry and Herman Cain each at 7% Jon Huntsman and Tim Pawlenty at 6%, and Newt Gingrich at 4%.

Bachmann has gained 14 points in PPP’s polling over the last three months and other polls confirm heavy movement as well, even if she’s farther back from Romney. A University of New Hampshire poll and a Suffolk University poll each showed her gaining 8% since her debate performance in the state, but they peg her total support at 12% and 11% respectively, versus 35% and 36% for Romney.

For Romney, who governed nearby Massachusetts and vacations in the state, New Hampshire is a crucial firewall that he’s counting on to protect him from a potentially surging opponent coming out of the Iowa caucuses. Bachmann has become a top-tier contender in Iowa, where she was born, but the state’s socially conservative GOP has raised questions about whether she could appeal to more moderate races. If she keeps up her momentum in New Hampshire, that conventional wisdom could be turned on its ear and the path to victory for Romney may be that much harder.




These spectacles could destroy social life as we know it. And diplomacy.

ROSALIND PICARD’S eyes were wide open. I couldn’t blame her. We were sitting in her office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab, and my questions were stunningly incisive. In fact, I began to suspect that I must be one of the savviest journalists she had ever met.

Then Picard handed me a pair of special glasses. The instant I put them on I discovered that I had got it all terribly wrong. That look of admiration, I realised, was actually confusion and disagreement. Worse, she was bored out of her mind. I became privy to this knowledge because a little voice was whispering in my ear through a headphone attached to the glasses. It told me that Picard was “confused” or “disagreeing”. All the while, a red light built into the specs was blinking above my right eye to warn me to stop talking. It was as though I had developed an extra sense.

The glasses can send me this information thanks to a built-in camera linked to software that analyses Picard’s facial expressions. They’re just one example of a number of “social X-ray specs” that are set to transform how we interact with each other. By sensing emotions that we would otherwise miss, these technologies can thwart disastrous social gaffes and help us understand each other better. Some companies are already wiring up their employees with the technology, to help them improve how they communicate with customers. Our emotional intelligence is about to be boosted, but are we ready to broadcast feelings we might rather keep private?

We project many subtle facial expressions that mirror our feelings. In the 1970s, US psychologist Paul Ekman identified a basic set of seven: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, contempt and surprise. They became the foundation for a theory of lie detection, which posited that involuntary micro-expressions can briefly unmask deception before the liar restores a facade of honesty to their face. Though the theory was later debunked, the principle wasn’t entirely unsound.

In conversation, we pantomime certain emotions that act as social lubricants. We unconsciously nod to signal that we are following the other person’s train of thought, for example, or squint a bit to indicate that we are losing track. Many of these signals can be misinterpreted – sometimes because different cultures have their own specific signals.

More often, we fail to spot them altogether. During a face-to-face conversation, thousands of tiny indicators on a person’s face – arching the brow, puckering or parting the lips – add up to a series of non-verbal hints that augment our verbal communication. Blink, and you’ll miss them.

The idea that technology could amplify these signals was first explored by Rana el Kaliouby at the University of Cambridge, UK. She wanted to help autistic people, who find it particularly hard to pick up on other people’s emotions.

El Kaliouby realised that the “Ekman seven” would not be particularly helpful for enhancing the average conversation: after all, how often do you expect to see expressions of contempt or disgust? So in 2005, she enlisted Simon Baron-Cohen, also at Cambridge, to help her identify a set of more relevant emotional facial states. They settled on six: thinking, agreeing, concentrating, interested – and, of course, the confused and disagreeing expressions with which I had become so uncomfortably familiar in my conversation with Picard. To create this lexicon, they hired actors to mime the expressions, then asked volunteers to describe their meaning, taking the majority response as the accurate one.




Union Workers Replaced With Prison Labor Under Scott Walker’s Collective Bargaining Law

While Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) law dismantling collective bargaining rights has harmed teachers, nurses, and other civil servants, it’s helping a different group in Wisconsinites — inmates. Prisoners are now taking up jobs that used to be held by unionized workers in some parts of the state.

As the Madison Capital Times reports, “Besides losing their right to negotiate over the percentage of their paycheck that will go toward health care and retirement, unions also lost the ability to claim work as a ‘union-only’ job, opening the door for private workers and evidently even inmates to step in and take their place.” Inmates are not paid for their work, but may receive time off of their sentences.

The law went into effect last week, and Racine County is already using inmates to do landscaping, painting, and another basic maintenance around the county that was previously done by county workers. The union had successfully sued to stop the country from using prison labor for these jobs last year, but with Walker’s new law, they have no recourse. […]

The Washington Examiner called Racine’s move “another success story” and “all great news for Wisconsin taxpayers. Hopefully, we’ll see more of it.” So far, it appears no other jurisdiction has followed Racine’s example — for now. It may just be a matter of time to allow existing union contracts to expire. The spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office of Dane County, which includes Milwaukee, said, “Nobody in our jail will be benefiting…at this time” from the new law, but the left the door open for future changes.

While giving prisoners more work and activity options is generally positive, using free inmate labor to replace public sector workers is a disturbing trend.


Michigan’s largest teachers union joins gubernatorial recall effort

Michigan’s largest teachers union is formally supporting efforts to recall the governor and members of the state House following last week’s passage of bills that reduce job security and limit collective bargaining rights.

In a message to members on Friday the Michigan Education Association said that it will support existing recall efforts and will also consider backing some efforts to recall state senators.

“Our elected leaders need to know that we will not sit idly by as they try to dismantle public education, destroy the middle class, and defeat MEA and other public sector unions!” the group said as it urged teachers to use their summer break to become politically active.

The package of bills that cleared the Legislature on Friday creates a new system for evaluating educators and makes it easier for them to be fired. It also prohibits teachers from collective bargaining over placement and personnel policies, the evaluation system, discipline/discharge policies, classroom observation decisions, merit pay, and decisions about how schools will communicate with parents about teachers.

A House Fiscal Agency analysis of the package is here.


HELL YES! Joe Biden tells Union Members who vote GOP they are screwing themselves




POTUS Appoints Openly-Gay Activist to West Point

President Obama has appointed openly-gay Knights Out co-founder Brenda Fulton as an adviser at West Point.

To quote the infamous Joe Biden, “this is a big fuckin’ deal.”

An openly gay co-founder of Knights Out, Brenda S. ‘Sue’ Fulton, has been named to the Board of Visitors of the United States Military Academy on Tuesday.

The board advises President Barack Obama on the West Point military academy.

Fulton’s appointment was announced in a White House press release. Her presidential appointment does not require Senate confirmation. […]

In addition to serving as the executive director of Knights Out, an organization of LGBT West Point graduates and allies, she’s also a founding board members of OutServe, the nascent group dedicated to LGBT people serving in the military. She graduated from West Point in 1980 and currently lives in New Jersey.

Clearly we are living under the worst president ever for gay rights.


Kentucky Tea Party Sells ‘Yup, I’m A Racist’ Fourth of July T-Shirts



The Harvard Classics, first published in 1909, available online. Vintage DIY education now free.

During his days as Harvard’s influential president, Charles W. Eliot made a frequent assertion: If you were to spend just 15 minutes a day reading the right books, a quantity that could fit on a five foot shelf, you could give yourself a proper liberal education. The publisher P. F. Collier and Son loved the idea and asked Eliot to assemble the right collection of works. The result was a 51-volume series published in 1909 called Dr. Eliot’s Five Foot Shelf. Later it would simply be called The Harvard Classics.

You can still buy an old set off of eBay for $399. But, just as easily, you can head to the Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg, which have centralized links to every text included in The Harvard Classics (Wealth of Nations, Origin of Species, Plutarch’s Lives, the list goes on). Please note that the previous two links won’t give you access to the actual annotated Harvard Classics texts edited by Eliot himself. But if you want just that, you can always click here and get digital scans of the true Harvard Classics. Please note that the first two volumes appear at the bottom of the page. And, in case you want to deepen your liberal education yet further, don’t forget to check out our collection Free Online Courses — 385 in total, all from top universities.




Moving The Political Center

Sally Cohn:

[…]This struck me while reading a great article by NYU Professor of Sociology Jeff Manza (h/t John Jost for pointing it out to me).  The piece, “Liberalism’s Inevitability?” which appeared in the Society journal last year, unpacks the comforting and commonly held assumption that, despite setbacks of conservative backlashes, our nation is marching consistently toward liberal ideals.  In fact, Manza argues, the past successes of liberalism may impede on future success rather than facilitate it.  Specifically, Manza notes that conservatives have effectively co-opted much of the framing of the left — using, for instance, concepts like “freedom” and “choice” to try and unravel Civil Rights legislation and undermine public schools.  In addition, Manza raises very real concerns that liberal programs to alleviate poverty and injustice may not have been as successful as we like to imagine — that the failure of the New Deal and public assistance programs to fix our nation’s deep problems let alone achieve utopia casts a cloud of skepticism on liberal proscriptions in general.

But what I most took away from Manza was the observation that the crisis of liberalism in America may have most to do with the lack of a vibrant, vocal left flank — thus rendering liberalism as the “vital center” of American politics, as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. once put it.  Historically, Manza writes:

In the moments of grand reform, such as the 1930s/40s and again in the 1960s, liberalism could plausibly stand between the forces of conservative traditionalism and the demands of social movements from below (or resurgent left-wing thought from the intelligentsia). In the New Deal era from the 1930s to the late 1940s, the presence of strong unions, a visible Communist and other left organizational presence, and open public debate over the relative virtues of left-wing ideas in the face of a sea of trouble, gave liberalism a powerful source of centrist purpose. Similarly, in the 1960s, the civil rights movement brought pressure from below that emboldened liberals positioned in the center. To be sure, the growing tensions between older liberals and an increasingly militant student left in the late 1960s would eventually tear the Democratic Party apart, but not before some of the most sweeping and important expansions of the public sector took place, spearheaded by liberals.

But now?  We can see Manza’s point in the way the Tea Party has exerted profound gravitational force not only on the Republican Party but, arguably, on the President and the Democratic mainstream — as the Tea Party can be given the credit for the fact that we’re debating the federal deficit and spending cuts at all in this moment, rather than spending more money to create jobs and stimulate the economy.

As activist and thinker Amy Dean notes in writing about the need for a labor movement functionally and ideologically independent from the Democratic Party, union activists — like progressive activists in general — that we are “charmed by access”.

We are invited to sit on White House roundtables, or we are impressed that top officials will answer our calls. But what has this gotten us?

Instead, Dean argues, we have to “give up our current illusion of influence” and re-imagine not only the labor movement but the left in general as a strong, independent and, yes, left-wing force for change in America.

For starters, that means some on the left not attacking others on the left when they seem “unreasonable” or “out-there” or “overly anti-corporate” or whatever barb you want to hurl.  The Tea Party wasn’t concerned with seeming reasonable or legitimate.  It was concerned with building real power and influence.  We on the left need to stop expecting so much from the President and instead appreciate the need for a broad progressive ecosystem that includes radical voices, ideas and actions that create the political space to increasingly liberalize the mainstream establishment.

Yeah, I’ve certainly joined the chorus in critiquing President Obama and trying to hold his feet to the fire.  But the larger reality is, if radical activist forces and grassroots social movements were ten times larger and more visible, then that fire would be all the larger as well — and Obama’s feet couldn’t avoid it.


Investigate and Enforce Ethics on the Supreme Court! 

Impeach Clarence Thomas 


“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” ~ Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

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ADONAIfunksandsAdLibChernynkayaKQµårk 死神 Recent comment authors
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I think that many like Chomsky, Hedges or Nader are purists. They want to speak the “truth” and not worry about practical politics. I think that those three are purists. And,they excoriate those who are not.

Others like Huffington or Hamsher are not so pure. I think that those two are partly purist and partly ‘out for what they can get’.

We do not have viable third parties. And, we will not have viable third parties until we have proportional representation.

So, we have the Democratic Party – which is a fractious coalition. We have to live with the art of the possible.


1.)I’d like something resembling the Japanese school system. 6 days a week, shorter days, little 1 or 2 week breaks here and there through out the year, all year long.

2.)Life expectancy is up but, if people don’t take care of themselves, of course they won’t make it that far.

3.)The Twitter town hall was retarded. Sorry. I just saw no point in it other than a stage show to woo young voters. And I could have sworn he said we didn’t have time for that kind of shit.

4.)”Romney Calls Dodd-Frank An Overreach, Then Admits He’s Not Sure What’s In It”

Well, that’s my favorite sentence of the week.

5.)”So anyway the moral of the story is we are sorry for whoever lives in Lexington, Kentucky.” ~Kirsten Boyd Johnson

Don’t be honey. I’m sure we’re a lot better off than the shit hole you live in. Can’t believe I missed that T-shirt giveaway. I want one. BAD!


1) I like the structure, but I’d also add that they should start later. Study after study says learning improves later in the morning. I mean, I’m not a morning person and I was in a haze the first two periods, but this applies to all teens, even if they’re more awake than I was. Also, none of that rote learning – except for learning multiplication tables and the elements and historical dates. That’s where the Japanese system still lags behind IMO. Sure, they’re great at math and science, but life’s not all math and science (math and science nerds are so mad at me now).

3) I agree. I didn’t think it was so much painfully pandering as it could have come across, as much as it seemed pointless and lame. The best question I saw was about Gandalf and Dumbledore.

5) I call that Ivyleagueitis. Even when making a good point, they can’t stop themselves from sounding like elitist douches.


Regarding those Tea Party bumper stickers.


I believe the shirt looks better in white though. You can find it there.

Just a reminder on that Psalms reference.

KQµårk 死神

All I know about all this budget talk is that don’t believe anything until the deal is done. In fact the last budget squabble taught me that you don’t find out the details until far after the deal is made. I’m sure the new progressive reactionary crowd won’t heed my advice but it’s still correct.


Oh wow, I clicked on that Hill article and made the mistake of glancing at the comments. I thought I’d waded into Yahoo’s comments. Nothing but Limpball’s mean-spirited inanity.

Also, not until I clicked on the Harvard Classics link and saw the picture did I realize I have a couple of those! You can pick up whole sets at second-hand book fairs relatively cheap. I only bought a couple Sacred Writings ones. I love the idea.

Joseph Campbell said his greatest education was not at Columbia, but when he spent months in a cabin reading.

So true about the banner ads. I’ve never understood the effect of being more annoying = more clicks.


In regard to Hedges: It is easier to deal with open enemies that “friends’; their intentions are, for the most part, clear. The intentions of people like Hedges or Nader may not be so clear. And, they may not, by any means, be a “friend”.

“Speaking the truth to power.” That phrase is not heard very any more; but, some “pundits”/apparent activists believe it.

The problem with politics is that it is corrupting; it is, after all, the art of the possible. This can make for some difficult and unpleasant compromises in order to accomplish (part of) your objectives.

Accepting the reality that politics is the art of the possible is something that Hedges or Nader do not want to do. If you want to get anything done at all, that is what needs to be done.


Good points, Agrippa. I am a firm believer in pressure but this isn’t pressure — it’s endless attempts to destroy the only viable progressive platform we have (the Democratic party). In the case of someone like Huffington, the motivation seems to be self-promotion (generating outrage gets attention). These other people — if it’s not the same motivation, then I don’t understand it. To me it’s just as “logical” as an Islamic extremist who has concluded that all “infidels” must be murdered. It’s insane. I don’t trust any of these clowns.