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HamdenRice, Daily Kos:
I like to read and write about economics and finance but hesitate to do so because (1) it’s hard to explain anything without explaining everything, and the draft diaries just get too long until I have to abandon them, (2) a lot of DKers have a lot invested in certain views about economics and finance that are not really open to empirical (ie factual) analysis, but instead are based on political commitments and emotion, and (3) despite how crazy the Republican Party is, once in a while Democrats, Republicans, technocrats and policy wonks actually agree on something, and even if the most credible progressive policy wonk institute says a particular assertion is true, if a Republican also says it’s true, and someone on DK finds a link to said Republican saying such rare sane assertion, it becomes automatically discredited.
But today’s hysteria over the “cuts” to Social Security on the proverbial political table and the even wilder assertion that the Obama administration is committing political suicide by discussing them, let along enacting them, has persuaded me to provide a dollars and sense (as well as economic theory) explanation of what’s going on.
If you don’t like economics, public finance or numbers, then let me not bury the lede and explain exactly what’s on the table. If enacted, the average social security recipient would get 14 cents less of an increase per month, but only in a month in which the social security benefit actually went up by about $34. So the assertion being made in several diaries is that social security recipients will revolt because their average monthly benefit went up from $1,044 to $1,078.31 instead of $1,078.45. Of course someone would have to point out some highly technical macro economic measuring theory first, and then get them riled about about that monthly dime at a time when they are actually getting a net of more money. So yes, it does look like 11 dimension chess (offering the Republicans nothing of substance).
The so called “cuts” being discussed are not cuts in actual benefits, but cuts in how increases are to be measured based on the consumer price index.
The consumer price index is a measure of inflation, that is, the decline in the value of the dollar which is an almost constant in economic history (except during periods of deflation). Because the value of the dollar goes down, people on fixed incomes see the amount they can purchase with the same dollars go down.
To prevent people on social security from suffering a declining standard of living, the social security administration uses a measure of inflation to increase the cash amount distributed to each social security beneficiary. The idea is that we want seniors who depend on social security to be able to buy the same amount of goods and services regardless of what the value of the dollar is. The amount by which social security payments go up each year with inflation is called the “cost of living adjustment” or cola for short.
The consumer price index is a basket of goods and services that the average urban consumer buys. The federal government makes it a lot more complicated than that because they have tried over the years to make it accurate. So it reflects many different baskets of goods and services in many different urban locations. There are several different consumer price indexes to measure the effect of inflation on different segments of society.
Since the mid 1990s, economists have worried that the consumer price index generally used by the federal government slightly over estimates inflation.
Because so many revenue and spending issues depend on the consumer price index, this means that benefits and burdens of tax payers and benefits recipients are generally not being accurately measured.
Everyone knew that the CPI was wrong, but we continued to use it for many reasons. For example the federal government knew that many, many businesses use the CPI for contracts between each other, and changing the CPI would basically affect tens of thousands of private transactions. The CPI, as some economists noted, is one of the many economic number the government continued to publish even though they knew it was wrong.
Because social security is sacred, because seniors vote in disproportionate numbers, and because, as Michael Moore’s, “Sicko” so ably demonstrated, even Republicans love their momas, the cola increases to social security were generally accepted to be actually a little bit higher than inflation. In other words, social security recipients get not only an increase in cash payments, but a tiny annual increase in their actual standard of living or purchasing power. But as pointed out, this is primarily symbolic because the amount is really small. This is what’s “on the table.”
One of the ways that the consumer price index overestimates inflation is that it is not dynamic — that is, it does not have a feed back measurement of how consumers change their behavior as prices change between substitutes. The classic example is beef and pork — both red meats. If there is a sale on beef at the supermarket, then the amount of beef consumers purchase relative to pork goes up.
The chained consumer price index that is being discussed makes complicated mathematical adjustments to the basket of goods and services that consumers buy in order to reflect this “substitution” effect caused by price changes. […]
So how much will using the chained CPI affect recipients of social security?
The typical different between the current CPI and the chained CPI is about .3%-.4%.
In other words, the difference in the increase in benefit would be about 30 cents to 40 cents per $100.
But keep in mind that this is not a cut in benefits. It is a decrease in the amount of increase in the benefit.
The change from CPI to chained CPI would never result in a senior’s benefit going down; only in years in which the senior receives an increase in benefit as a result of a cola, their increase would be less than would be expected under the old CPI.
Now I think we should have a policy debate about whether social security should be designed not just so that seniors maintain their standard of living but have a constant increase in that standard of living. But if you want to make that argument, then the chained CPI isn’t really the place to make it. There have been some interesting statistical experiments with a proposed CPI-E — that is a consumer price index calculated for what the elderly purchase, which would, for example, be weighted toward medical expenses and excessively colorful polyester shirts (just kidding about the last item).
So what do these numbers mean in concrete terms?
Because of deflation resulting from the recession, recent cola’s and CPIs are not useful (there have actually been no increases in some recent years).
But in a typical year before the recession, let’s posit an average monthly social security payment of $1,044 (this is based on a google search of payouts in 2007). That meant an annual benefit of $12,528.
The cola for 2007 was 3.3 %.
This increased the benefit by $413.42 per year, or $34.45 per month.
Remember, the difference between the old CPI and chained CPI is about 30 cents to 40 cents per $100, and you begin to get the drift here. We’re talking a few dollars a year adjustment.
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones:
Every major newspaper is reporting tonight that Barack Obama has been holding secret post-golf meetings with John Boehner and is now pushing for a much larger budget deal than anyone has been talking about so far. Here’s the Washington Post:
At a meeting with top House and Senate leaders set for Thursday morning, Obama plans to argue that a rare consensus has emerged about the size and scope of the nation’s budget problems and that policymakers should seize the moment to take dramatic action.
As part of his pitch, Obama is proposing significant reductions in Medicare spending and for the first time is offering to tackle the rising cost of Social Security, according to people in both parties with knowledge of the proposal. The move marks a major shift for the White House and could present a direct challenge to Democratic lawmakers who have vowed to protect health and retirement benefits from the assault on government spending.
….Rather than roughly $2 trillion in savings, the White House is now seeking a plan that would slash more than $4 trillion from annual budget deficits over the next decade, stabilize borrowing, and defuse the biggest budgetary time bombs that are set to explode as the cost of health care rises and the nation’s population ages.
The Wall Street Journal reports that means testing of Medicare is one proposal on the table, while the New York Times reports that Boehner might agree to $1 trillion in revenue increases in return for the bigger deal, possibly including an end to the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. A few comments:
- Unlike a lot of liberals, I’m open to deals on Medicare and Social Security. Obviously the details matter, but means testing of Medicare has always been a reasonable policy option, while small changes to Social Security’s inflation calculations have a lot of support from both liberal and conservative analysts. This isn’t necessarily a disaster.
- I think it’s now finally time to stop pretending that Obama has miscalculated, or blundered, or been out-negotiated, or somehow forced into a bad position. Rather, everything he’s done for at least the past six months is consistent with the idea that he considers the long-term deficit a problem, he wants to address it, and he views the debt ceiling talks as an ideal opportunity to do so with bipartisan cover. Obama isn’t doing this because he has to. He’s doing it because he wants to.
- Jon Chait argues that Obama would be a fool to allow the Bush tax cuts to be part of this deal. Instead, “If Obama wins election, he needs the ability to use the GOP’s opposition to any middle class tax cut extension without an extension for the rich as leverage to let Republicans kill the whole thing for him.” But this assumes that Obama secretly wants to kill the whole thing. I don’t think he does. He’s said all along that he wants to let the high-end tax cuts expire but keep the middle-class cuts, and it’s time to take him at his word. That’s what he wants to do.
A friend emails a question about all this: “Obama can survive 2012 without my vote and even with my working actively for his GOP opponent, which I will do if he does this, suicidal as it may be. But do you think he can survive, can the Democratic Party survive, if he actually does this?”
Answer: yes I do. This isn’t what I want, and it’s not what the progressive wing of the party wants. But the plain fact is that deficit cutting is pretty popular across the board, modest reductions in Social Security and Medicare will probably go over fine with independents, and anyway, liberals have nowhere else to go. A few might actually do what my friend threatens to do, but in the end it won’t be many — especially after the Republican Party settles on a candidate and we’ve all had a year or so to get to hate him (or her). And Obama will raise a fantastic amount of money from wealthy donors who are OK with this kind of dealmaking regardless of whether the progressive blogosphere is happy with him. Like it or not, the sad fact is that Obama doesn’t need us. We’re mostly going to vote for him regardless of what he does, and he’s going to get all the money and organization he needs without us. Lefties simply don’t have much leverage these days.
So not only can the Democratic Party survive if Obama does this, it will probably flourish, electorally speaking. That’s not a happy conclusion, but I think it’s likely an accurate one.
But needless to say (again), details matter. So before we get too hot under the collar in either direction, let’s wait and see what kind of deal Obama and Boehner really make.
Talking Points Memo:
The White House is playing down a report that the President is willing to consider cuts to Social Security as part of a deal to raise the debt-ceiling and reduce the nation’s long-term deficits.
White House spokesman Jay Carney several times during Wednesday’s press briefing criticized a report in the Washington Post, saying the reporter “overwrote” it and questioning the motives of the story’s sources.
Insisting the President has not changed his position on whether Social Security should be included in the debt-ceiling negotiations, Carney pointed to Obama’s January remarks in the State of the Union that he wants to engage in a bipartisan process to strengthen Social Security in a “balanced way” that preserves the promise of the program and does not “slash benefits.”
Obama wants to create a dialogue “where every participant feels that he or she can bring to the room issues that they think are important,” Carney said. “That doesn’t mean that the President’s position has changed at all.”
Since discussions began about raising the debt-ceiling earlier this year, Obama and his administration officials have insisted that Social Security is not driving the nation’s debt problems and any overhaul effort should not be included in a broad deal to increase the nation’s borrowing power.
When asked what Carney and the President mean when they say the White House is opposed to “slashing” Social Security benefits, Carney would not characterize their interpretation of what level of cuts or modifications would be acceptable.
“The President is interested in strengthening Social Security in the long term in ways that preserve the promise of the program and don’t slash benefits…,” Carney said. “I’m not going to get into line items and how you achieve that.”
“Slash it’s like that,” Carney said, bringing down his arm in a downward movement, “A significant whack…I think slashing is pretty sharp. It’s not the same thing as cut, it’s a slash…and I don’t mean the guitarist.”
[…] The fact that Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Reid both embraced the largest deal was viewed as significant by senior aides, since it suggested that entitlement cuts were inevitable. Democrats would be likely to push for changes in Medicare to focus on providers rather than patients.
“The cuts on the table to Medicare and Medicaid are things the Democrats could live with,” said Jared Bernstein, a former chief economist to Mr. Biden who is now a senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner seemed united in the desire to pursue as big a deal as possible. In the meeting, aides said, Mr. Boehner declared that he took the job of speaker to get things accomplished, not just to latch on to the title.
Mr. Geithner appeared to be playing a role not unlike that of Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, who warned lawmakers in the fall of 2008 that unless Congress voted to bail out the banking system, the credit crisis threatened to plunge the United States into a depression. Stunned by Mr. Bernanke’s dire depiction, the lawmakers undertook measures that were until then unthinkable.
In addition to his warnings about the cost of a default, officials said, Mr. Geithner told the lawmakers the White House did not believe it had the authority, under the Constitution, to continue issuing debt if it reached the debt ceiling. Nobody in the room disputed Mr. Geithner’s bleak assessment, the officials said.
“Republican priorities are completely out of whack and Orrin Hatch’s comments prove that point,” DSCC’s Shripal Shah told TPM.
It might be the ad that ate the Internet.
“1 Tip for a Tiny Belly” reads the headline, rendered in what appears to be hand-lettered type and positioned above a crudely animated drawing of a woman’s bare midriff. Try as you might to concentrate on something else, the midriff distracts your eye by shrinking and reinflating — flabby to svelte, svelte to flabby. […]
The ad is so broadly distributed that it’s likely you’ve seen it not just once or twice but hundreds of times. The accumulated number of “impressions” — the number of times it has flashed by someone on the Internet over the past 18 months— runs into “the tens of billions,” estimates Steve Wernikoff, a government lawyer who has tracked it. “It’s just a tremendous amount.”
The innocent-seeming “1 Tip” ad is actually the tip of something much larger: a vast array of diet and weight-loss companies hawking everything from pills made from African mangoes to potions made from exotic acai berries. Federal officials have alleged that the companies behind the ads make inflated claims about their products and use deceptive means to market them.
The take so far: at least $1 billion and counting.
The “1 Tip” ads are the work of armies of “affiliates,” independent promoters who place them on behalf of small diet-product sellers with names such as HCG Ultra Lean Plus. The promoters profit each time someone clicks through to the product seller’s site and orders a free sample. The sample, however, isn’t always so free.
A 3-step scheme, FTC says
In lawsuits filed over the past year, the Federal Trade Commission has alleged that the ads are the leading edge of what amounts to a three-step scheme that has conned millions of people.
Much like a barker outside a carnival tent, “1 Tip” is merely a come-on, a lure to start the process. People who click on the ad are directed to a second site, which looks like a diet or health-news page. The sites go by names such as Consumeronlinetips.com and Weeklyhealthnews.com.
The sites typically feature an article in which an attractive young TV reporter “investigates” the benefits of a diet involving a series of products. Sometimes the products are made from mangoes or acai berries, a fruit grown in South and Central America. In other cases, the products come from human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), a hormone produced by developing embryos and the pituitary gland.
In an action aimed at Internet promoters of acai berry products in April, the FTC filed 10 lawsuits against some of the companies and individuals behind the ads. The agency’s allegations are nearly identical in each case: that sites such as Consumeronlinetips.com aren’t legitimate news organizations, that the defendants can’t substantiate the claims of dramatic weight loss (“25 pounds in only four weeks!”) and that the sites’ operators don’t disclose that they have financial ties to the diet-product merchants they’re linking to.
This year, the Georgia legislature considered a bill that would require women to prove their miscarriages “occurred naturally” and weren’t secret abortions. In a similar vein, the Guardian reports that states including Mississippi and Alabama are charging dozens of women with murder or other serious crimes who have miscarried or had stillbirths:
Across the US more and more prosecutions are being brought that seek to turn pregnant women into criminals.[…]
In Alabama at least 40 cases have been brought under the state’s “chemical endangerment” law. Introduced in 2006, the statute was designed to protect children whose parents were cooking methamphetamine in the home and thus putting their children at risk from inhaling the fumes. Amanda Kimbrough is one of the women who have been ensnared as a result of the law being applied in a wholly different way.[…]
The baby was delivered by caesarean section prematurely in April 2008 and died 19 minutes after birth. Six months later Kimbrough was arrested at home and charged with “chemical endangerment” of her unborn child on the grounds that she had taken drugs during the pregnancy – a claim she has denied.
“That shocked me, it really did,” Kimbrough said. “I had lost a child, that was enough.”
Kimbrough is now facing a 10-year sentence if her case is not reversed on appeal — a 10 year sentence that will deprive her three other children of their mother.
A common tactic by prosecutors is singling out a group of women who are unlikely to draw public sympathy — women who may have used drugs while pregnant — to blur the line between abortion and homicide. Rennie Gibbs, for example, was 15 when she became pregnant and lost her baby in a stillbirth. Prosecutors charged her with a “depraved heart murder” after they discovered she had used cocaine, although there was “no evidence that drug abuse had anything to do with the baby’s death.” She now faces life in prison in Mississippi.
Targeting women who use drugs while they are pregnant is exactly the wrong policy for protecting the health of their future children. When a woman who is addicted to drug becomes pregnant, she needs immediate treatment to ensure that her addiction does not lead to serious birth defects for her child. But the threat of criminal prosecution — especially for a crime as serious as murder — will only drive her into the shadows. For this reason, dozens of public health organizations including the American Public Health Association have all denounced these prosecutions as harmful to both woman and child.
Other prosecutors are twisting laws designed to protect pregnant women and their unborn children into attacks on childbearers themselves. At least 38 states have introduced fetal homicide laws that were intended to be used against violent attacks by third parties like abusive male partners. But in South Carolina, only one case has been brought against a man for assaulting a pregnant woman, while up to 300 women have been arrested under the law, according to the National Advocates for Pregnant Women.
These prosecutions are part of a much broader assault on women’s reproductive rights. Indeed, it’s been a banner year for the right’s war on women, with state legislatures passing a slew of restrictive legislation across the country that not only impede women’s constitutional right to abortions but also jeopardize their access to basic health care. Four states have defunded Planned Parenthood so far, a new Ohio law bans abortions as early as six weeks without exceptions for rape or incest, and Texas is one of several states that now forces women seeking abortions to undergo waiting periods and mandatory sonograms. Some groups and lawmakers are even pushing to outlaw contraceptives like birth control pills.
The Daily Beast:
The choice to try a Somali terror suspect in a U.S. court is the first step toward ending Bush-era detention policies. Karen Greenberg on Obama’s latest progress.
In the internet age, transparency may count for more than objectivity
With the professionalisation of journalism in the early 20th century came a more detached style of reporting. In effect, a deal was struck between advertisers, publishers and journalists, says New York University’s Jay Rosen. Journalists agreed not to alienate anyone so that advertisers could aim their messages at everyone. That way the publishers got a broader market and the journalists got steady jobs but gave up their voices. Objectivity is “a grand bargain between all the different players”, says Mr Rosen. When radio and television emerged, America’s private broadcasters embraced impartiality in their news reporting to maximise their appeal to audiences and advertisers and avoid trouble with regulators.
These days different countries have different preferences. In Europe overt partisanship in newspapers is widespread and state-run television channels often have partisan allegiances: Italy’s three state channels are each aligned with specific parties, for example. The political independence of the BBC in Britain is unusual, and is in any case contested by critics who complain that it is too left-leaning. In India 81 of the 500 satellite-TV channels that have sprung up in the past 20 years are news channels, most of them catering to specific political, religious, regional, linguistic or ethnic groups. Only a few take an objective, pan-Indian approach, says Daya Thussu of the University of Westminster.
If impartiality is already the exception rather than the rule, the internet is now eroding it further. In America it undermines local news monopolies by reducing advertising revenue and providing access to a wide range of alternative sources, thus undoing Mr Rosen’s grand bargain. In Britain and other countries where news broadcasters are required to be impartial, at least in theory, the convergence of television and the web makes such rules seem outdated. Mark Thompson, the director-general of the BBC, said at a seminar last December that he thought the case for polemical, opinionated news channels was “persuasive”, though the BBC’s own news coverage would remain impartial. The internet has also compressed the news cycle, with headlines delivered instantly by smartphone or Twitter, creating a demand for immediate analysis and opinion. […]
This does not mean that all news organisations should take overtly political positions. Mr Rosen is just one of many media watchers who think it is time to release journalists from the straitjacket of pretending that they do not have opinions—what he calls the “view from nowhere”. Journalists signal their impartiality by quoting people on opposing sides of an argument and avoid drawing conclusions, even when the facts are clear. “There have been times in the past when CNN has been criticised for being neutral—not only non-partisan, but not really having positions,” says Mr Whitaker. But lately, he says, “we have been stronger in taking a point of view when we think it is supported by our reporting and by facts.”
One way forward, suggests Mr Rosen, is to abandon the ideology of viewlessness and accept that journalists have a range of views; to be open about them while holding the reporters to a basic standard of accuracy, fairness and intellectual honesty; and to use transparency, rather than objectivity, as the new foundation on which to build trust with the audience. He cites the memorable phrase coined by David Weinberger, a technology commentator, that “transparency is the new objectivity”. In part, this involves journalists providing information about themselves. For example, on AllThingsD, a technology-news site owned by Dow Jones, all the journalists provide an “ethics statement” with information about their shareholdings, financial relationships and, in some cases, their personal life (two journalists are married to employees at large technology companies). “People are more likely to trust you if they know where you are coming from,” says Mr Rosen.
Transparency also means linking to sources and data, something the web makes easy. Bloggers have long used the technique to back up their views. Ezra Klein, a blogger at the Washington Post, has suggested that news organisations should publish full transcripts of interviews online. WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, a fan of radical transparency if ever there was one, makes a similar argument. “You can’t publish a paper on physics without the full experimental data and results. That should be the standard in journalism,” he said last year. Mr Weinberger has observed on his blog that transparency prospers in a linked medium: “Objectivity is a trust mechanism you rely on when your medium can’t do links. Now our medium can.”
In an Orlando courtroom this morning, it was revealed that ABC News has paid $200,000 to the family of murdered toddler Caylee Anthony, with the money going to Casey Anthony‘s legal defense.
The bombshell was dropped as the judge in the case weighs whether to declare Casey Anthony indigent, which would mean the state of Florida would have to pick up much of the tab in the death penalty case against her.
Anthony’s defense team disclosed it has spent $275,000 so far, including $200,000 paid by ABC News.
An ABC News spokesperson tells TVNewser, “In August 2008 we licensed exclusive rights to an extensive library of photos and home video for use by our broadcasts, platforms, affiliates and international partners. No use of the material was tied to any interview.”
Last February, court documents showed ABC News paid for a three-night hotel stay at a Central Florida Ritz-Carlton for Casey’s parents George and Cindy Anthony.
The House on Thursday rejected a measure that would have withdrawn funding for U.S. military operations in Libya, although the amendment drew broad bipartisan support, including from a majority of Republicans.
The measure, which was offered as an amendment to a defense appropriations bill, failed on a 199 to 229 vote. It was sponsored by Reps. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 13 other vocal critics of the U.S. involvement in Libya.
The language of the measure states that “none of the funds made available by this Act may be used for the use of military force against Libya.”
The vote gave members of the House their latest opportunity to register their growing dissatisfaction with U.S. participation in the NATO-led effort against Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi’s regime, although, as was the case with previous measures, Thursday’s message from the House was somewhat muddled.
In a surprising and totally unexpected move today, President Obama declared his intention to commit political suicide. According to the President he has chosen Social Security and Medicare cuts as his preferred method of accomplishing this [refer to the NY Times Article below].
Mr. Obama, who is to meet at the White House with the bipartisan leadership of Congress in an effort to work out an agreement to raise the federal debt limit, wants to move well beyond the $2 trillion in savings sought in earlier negotiations and seek perhaps twice as much over the next decade, Democratic officials briefed on the negotiations said Wednesday.
The president’s renewed efforts follow what knowledgeable officials said was an overture from Mr. Boehner, who met secretly with Mr. Obama last weekend, to consider as much as $1 trillion in unspecified new revenues as part of an overhaul of tax laws in exchange for an agreement that made substantial spending cuts, including in such social programs as Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security — programs that had been off the table.
Wait a second? It sounds like a nice rumor mill but did President Obama actually say he is cutting SS and Medicare?
Forget about the President, did anyone from his Administration dealing with the debt ceiling negotiation say he is cutting SS and Medicare? If so, please somebody, anybody, name names?
HuffPost apparently had gotten an email from the White House as it reports:
The Obama administration is pushing back against a Wednesday night report that the president is prepared to offer cuts to Social Security as part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling.
“The story overshoots the runway,” said a senior administration official. “The President said in the State of the Union that he wanted a bipartisan process to strengthen Social Security in a balanced way that preserves the promise of the program and doesn’t slash benefits.”
“While it is definitely not a driver of the deficit,” the official added, “it does need to be strengthened.”
The response, sent via email to The Huffington Post, provides a measure of assurance to Democrats who were taken aback by the abrupt news, broken by the Washington Post, that Social Security reform was now on the debt-ceiling table. Still, the devil is in the details, and the idea of “strengthening” the entitlement program remains the vague standard for reform.
What is wrong with this picture you ask? Well, Dilbert can answer that for you:
[Last night] Michele Bachmann became the first presidential candidate to sign a pledge created by THE FAMiLY LEADER, an influential social-conservative group in Iowa. By signing the pledge Bachmann “vows” to “uphold the institution of marriage as only between one man and one woman” by committing herself to 14 specifics steps. The ninth step calls for the banning of “all forms” of pornography. The pledge also states that homosexuality is both a choice and a health risk. You can read all the details of the pledge here. [ And there are items in here much worse than banning porn.]
From The PCTC Blog:
[…] Lesson #1: We live in a democratic republic, in which the person who gets the most votes wins and gets to make policy.
[…]Every government in this country runs by majority rule; he or she who gets the majority of votes gets to make the rules. If you want the government to enact laws, regulations and policies that help working people, the poor and downtrodden, or if you want a universal health care plan that covers everyone 100%, you absolutely have to see to it that the person elected in each race is one who is oriented to listen to what the people want, and do as much as they can. Of course, there is a second part to that equation:
Lesson #2: In order to get a progressive government, you need a progressive populace.
Again, this should have been part of the Civics curriculum in everyone’s fourth grade class. Majority rules, so if you want progressive laws passed, you need a progressive majority. That means changing the hearts and minds of the people out there. That doesn’t mean screaming at them and telling them what they should believe and writing them off as “stupid” when they don’t think exactly the way you do. It means listening to them, then framing the issues in such a way that makes them want to be on our side. “Climate change” is an abstract concept to most people, and the fact that it is does not make everyone who thinks of it that way “stupid.” And the fact that they take an abstract view of “climate change” doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like to drive a vehicle that is safe for them and their children and gets 200 miles per gallon, or one that doesn’t use gas at all. Most people would willingly switch their electricity provider to a clean energy company, as long as it didn’t mean the cost would double. On other issues, even if they’re against abortion in principle, most folks aren’t in favor of the government forcing a woman to stay pregnant against her will. And let’s clear up one thing; most swing voters don’t care about anyone’s stance on most individual issues.
It’s this simple, folks. If you want the politics in this country to move left, you have to move the electorate left. Which leads us to:
Lesson #3: Until there are at least 218 progressive districts in this country, ousting “Blue Dogs” is not a source of pride; it’s just plain stupid.
Many on the far left seem to be enormously immature, in that they want their political change to happen immediately. they’re like the rich kids who “only” got a Mercedes for graduation, when they wanted the Jaguar. Real people have to earn their reward, folks; no one gets anything without tons of blood and sweat.
After more than 30 years of neocon-driven politics, why would anyone be surprised that there are a large number of conservative-leaning districts out there? Yet, a large number of far-left “progressives” were actually crowing at the “silver lining” in the 2010 election results; that about half of all “Blue Dog” Democrats lost. Yes, that’s right; they were HAPPY. Nancy Pelosi was replaced by an orange Boner, the committee chairs all went from being progressive Democrats to being right wing Republicans. We went from having a House of Representatives that passed hundreds of relatively progressive bills to one that has repeatedly tried to kill Medicare and damage Social Security.
And do you know WHY this happened? In part, it’s because about 25 “Blue Dogs,” almost all of whom voted with Democrats at least 80% of the time, were replaced by right wing Republicans and teabaggers.
Does that sound like “progress” to you? Really? If you do, then you must be one of those geniuses who thinks both major parties are the same. And that leads to:
Lesson #4: No matter how many times you tell yourself this, there is NO SIMILARITY between the two political parties at this point in time.
if you can’t see a difference between how Republicans and Democrats run things right now, then sit down and shut up, because you’re not paying attention. if you can even imagine Democrats proposing gutting Medicare, trying to kill unions, repealing health insurance reform, and cutting programs for the poor to pay for tax cuts for the rich, then you belong under a doctor’s care. If you can imagine Republicans restoring regulations on Wall Street financial activities, demanding that executives limit their pay as long as they were under obligation to the federal government for bailout money, or even demanding that Wall Street even pay back the funds, then have the doctor up your meds.
Lesson #5: Politics is a game of strategy, but some strategies simply don’t work, like “fighting.”
It’s important to get the right people elected, but it’s just as important to get the wrong people out of government. While governing affects the average person’s life in profound ways, politics itself is a game, and requires a very distinct, and very long-term strategy.
A lot of left wingers think political strategy is really complicated, and involves something really elaborate, but it’s really not. In fact, if it’s too complicated, it’s destined for failure. Personally, I think some lefties like to think of it as complicated because they think it makes them seem smarter. They would be mistaken. If you’re running a campaign, politics is complicated. If you’re not doing that, then my advice for you is to relax. The issues many far lefties consider to be important issues are only a minor consideration to the majority of voters who will decide any election. The vast majority of swing voters are struggling to get by every day, and they want to know the people in charge won’t make things worse; that’s pretty much it. Therefore, the number one strategy of any political endeavor begins with the classic “KISS,” or “Keep It Simple Stupid.
And while you’re at it, stop itching for a “fight.
I know many far lefties LOVE the idea of a “fight,” but the fact of the matter is, most “fighting,” at least as the left wing envisions it, is really bad strategy. Much of the far left thinks the definition of a politician “fighting for them” means shouting, grandstanding and making pointed speeches and calling the opposition “poopy-heads.”
The problem is, that’s not how real politicians “fight” in a democracy. The purpose of electing politicians is to pass laws designed to make our lives better. That means writing a bill, then getting a majority to vote for that bill. Now, seriously; how far do you think they’d get in doing that if they were running around making fools of themselves by grandstanding and making the opposition party look bad? You may imagine that most voters sit around staring at C-SPAN all day, waiting for something great to cheer about, but trust me on this; YOU lefties are the only one doing that. […]
I’m sick of hearing the words “bully pulpit” used as an example of how the President could “fight” for the people. That phrase is even older than the irrelevant Truman quote. It was coined by Teddy Roosevelt more than a century ago, and if you haven’t noticed, our political discourse is dominated, in part, by the far right wing, who use bribery and intimidation against those in their own party to keep them in line. We need to develop strategies to keep them from doing that.
Watch President Obama’s RESULTS, not his methods. As long as he’s not sacrificing animals or children in the process, there’s no reason to examine the details of every step of the methods he uses to get results; look at the results themselves. The far left is nearly psychotic in its obsession with every single detail of everything Obama does, and it’s getting a little tiresome.
For example, if you want to know why we lost the “public option” (and a few other, more important features that lefties barely notice), look in the mirror. Because of the nature of his opposition, Obama actually kept the “public option” alive longer by NOT advocating for it. For Chrissakes, folks; he single-handedly revived health care reform, after even the far left had declared it dead and buried.
Overall, his strategy on health care was nothing short of perfect, which is why it passed for the first time ever. I know a large portion of the left was devoted to the notion of a “public option,” but reality is, if the Republicans had Obama on record as saying “The public option is a must” for a health insurance reform bill in the current climate, the GOP would have gathered the troops together and used that statement to launch a billion-dollar campaign against Obama’s attempt to force “socialized medicine” down our throats. It would have made it even more difficult to pass than it was, and it might have killed any sort of reform for at least another 10-15 years.
President Obama realizes that he has to pick and choose his battles, and that HOW he fights the battles matters. He’s getting more stuff done than anyone in the last 40 years or more, and the far left in this country is sitting around with their thumbs up their asses, waiting for someone else to “lead them” to where they need to go. Which is how we get to:
Lesson #6: “We are the ones we have been waiting for” is not just a cute slogan; it’s how the system works, and how we win at politics.
If you’re waiting for a savior to come along and bring the left out of the desert into the political system, then you’re part of the problem.
The fact of the matter is, politicians do not lead us, WE lead THEM. I understand why people on the right don’t get that, because they’re politically brain-dead. But a lot of far lefties seem to miss out on that concept, too.[…]
Now you know why politicians don’t take the far left seriously at all. They’re constantly whining, they don’t vote reliably, and their support is based on what politicians say, not what they do. Politicians are looking for support, not a constant shrill whine. Which brings us to
Lesson #7: The far left’s concept of “principle” is downright bizarre and often detrimental to progressive politics.
This will be a short one.
It’s really simple; it’s been 32 years, and the neocons are still in office, and still dismantling the mechanisms we built back in the first quarter-century after the war. Despite the fact that we know how to fix the economy, because we did it before, the wingnuts are still pushing the same tired crap they’ve been pushing for 30 years. And they get away with it because a large portion of the left side of the political debate likes to SAY they have principle, but they really don’t. The fact of the matter is, supporting someone who says everything you want to hear, when that person has neither the intention nor the ability to actually get into office and do what he or she is saying makes you gullible, not principled.
If you want to claim to be a principled progressive, then you will do anything to move us in the direction of achieving social justice. That doesn’t mean backing Dennis Kucinich, who apparently has to move to Washington to continue in Congress because of redistricting, and who has less than a snowball’s chance in hell of ever sitting in the Oval Office. It means doing whatever you can to see to it that as many politicians as possible are amenable to working toward making this country better, and then working to make sure they have the support they need to do that. If you have actual principles, stop screaming at the politicians, and start educating (without screaming) their constituents. If you’re not doing everything you can to make sure progressive policies are put in place, you’re not principled
Which brings us to:
Lesson #8: The overall meme if the debate is far more important than playing micro-politics.
Imagine you’re about the leave work, and you’re wondering whether or not you should take your umbrella. So you ask a co-worker if they think it might rain. Which answer are you likely to consider most helpful?
“According to the weather service, it’s not supposed to rain until Friday.”
“I don’t know, but I do know the air is dirtier now than it was 20 years ago, the sun is much harsher than it used to be, and the world will probably become uninhabitable in 10 years.
The first one is how the left SHOULD answer. Unfortunately, the answers to political questions coming from our side usually sound like the second. Many on the far left tend to be news junkies, which is a stupid idea in and of itself. You don’t become smarter by watching nothing but news all of the time. But worse, they seem to think everyone else is, or should be, a news junkie as well. So they neither answer political questions nor give political answers that actually matter to people.
The average voter doesn’t have time to sit and watch news all day, because he or she is working for a living. They are struggling to get by. They don’t sit and watch every single bloody thing the government does, because they trust the government to do what it needs to do. You aren’t smarter because you don’t trust the government, and you watch and analyze every move they make. If you were smarter, you would know that the majority of the voters who matter only pay attention to the overall meme in any election. they responded by voting for Barack Obama because of his positive message and his promise to reverse the incompetence of the Bush years. And they stayed away from the polls in droves in 2010, because the overall message of that election was “Democrats suck.” They don’t vote for the right wing, for the most part, because they see them as dipshits. But when both sides are screaming “Democrats suck!” what message do you imagine these folks take away from the “debate,” such as it is?
How many elections do we have to lose before we get this? The far left was negative about Carter in 1980, and we got Reagan. The far left was negative about Dukakis in 1988, we got Bush 41. We were positive about Clinton in 1992, he won. The far left bashed Gore mercilessly in 2000 and refused to get behind Kerry in 2004, leaving us with a double dose of the worst president in history. In 2008, the left finally seemed to shed its stupidity and got behind a moderate, and we elected Obama overwhelmingly. Since then, it’s been quite clear that many on the far left voted for “the black guy,” and attributed a level of far left politics to President Obama that was never actually apparent during the campaign. Because of these fantasy expectations, they’ve branded him as a “disappointment,” and that played a major part in depressed turnout that led to a right wing win in 2010. Again.
Lesson #9: The people who are elected will (almost) always represent the political center.
It has always been the case, and it will always be the case, that the majority of voters anywhere will choose someone they perceive as between the extremes. The only exception to that rule comes when one side of the political spectrum trashes mercilessly the candidate to whom they are closest, ideologically speaking. We saw this exception in both 2000 and 2004, when the far left sabotaged the campaigns of Al Gore and John Kerry, and essentially handed the elections to Bush. (And please, don’t talk to me about Bush stealing the two elections, because they shouldn’t have been that close in the first place.)
But most of the time, the person elected will represent the political center, especially when it comes to president. FDR didn’t run or govern as a political liberal at all. In fact, with the exception of reforming banking and instituting a few jobs programs, he took a relatively conservative approach to getting out of the Depression. Even he admitted that later, when the massive deficit spending to pay for World War II finally brought us into recovery mode and sent unemployment down below 10% for the first time in more than a dozen years. Lincoln didn’t run for election promising to make the Emancipation Proclamation and amend the Constitution to be anti-slavery. Likewise, Kennedy didn’t run on promising the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts would pass. As is always the case, moderates are forced by circumstances and politics to become progressives.
That’s why the constant demeaning of the “Blue Dogs” last year was without a doubt the most politically tone-deaf thing the far left has championed in many, many years. I’m still working on a post on this, but suffice it to say, if you’re one of those politically idiotic fools who praised the loss of about half of all Blue Dogs in 2010, then you are part of the problem. All of the Blue Dogs who lost last year voted with Democrats most of the time – the lowest percentage I found was 67%, and only two of them voted with Democrats less than 80% of the time – and they were ALL replaced by Republicans who will NEVER vote with the Democrats. EVER
In what way is that “progressive?
I would also point out that even the most progressive politicians in our history lack ideological purity. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. FDR refused to even consider civil rights or abolishing Jim Crow. Even Dennis Kucinich was anti-choice for many years, based on his Catholicism. If not for Ted Kennedy’s ego, we probably would have had the beginnings of universal health care before 1980, instead of 30 years later, precisely because he killed a bill in order to try to get a leg up on Carter in the 1980 election.
The main complaint most left wingers have about Democrats has to do with their relative “impurity.” For some reason, they have gotten it into their little brains that all Democrats should represent the progressive side of things, and that any variation whatsoever is unacceptable. That’s a fantasy, folks. No one is always “left” or always “right” on every single issue, unless he or she is incapable of thought. Expecting everyone to adhere to your standard of what a “true progressive” should be is unrealistic and frankly, politically suicidal.
NATE SILVER, 538:
The chart that I’m going to show you is one of the more important ones that we’ve presented at FiveThirtyEight in some time. It helps explain a lot of what’s going on in American politics today, from the negotiations over the federal debt ceiling to the Republican presidential primaries. And it’s pretty simple, really, although it took me some time to track down the data.
Here’s what the chart will show: The Republican Party is dependent, to an extent unprecedented in recent political history, on a single ideological group. That group, of course, is conservatives. It isn’t a bad thing to be in favor with conservatives: by some definitions they make up about 40 percent of voters. But the terms ‘Republican’ and ‘conservative’ are growing closer and closer to being synonyms; fewer and fewer nonconservatives vote Republican, and fewer and fewer Republican voters are not conservative.
The chart, culled from exit poll data, shows the ideological disposition of those people who voted Republican for the House of Representatives in the elections of 1984 through 2010. Until fairly recently, about half of the people who voted Republican for Congress (not all of whom are registered Republicans) identified themselves as conservative, and the other half as moderate or, less commonly, liberal. But lately the ratio has been skewing: in last year’s elections, 67 percent of those who voted Republican said they were conservative, up from 58 percent two years earlier and 48 percent ten years ago.
This might seem counterintuitive. Didn’t the Republicans win a sweeping victory last year? They did, but it had mostly to do with changes in turnout. Whereas in 2008, conservatives made up 34 percent of those who cast ballots, that number shot up to 42 percent last year. Moderates, on the other hand, made up just 38 percent of those who voted in 2010, down from 44 percent in 2008 (the percentage of liberals was barely changed). The 2010 election was the first since exit polls began in 1976 in which a plurality of the voters said they were conservatives rather than moderates.
This was fortunate for Republicans, because they lost moderate voters to Democrats by 13 percentage points (and liberals by 82 percentage points). Had the ideological composition of the electorate been the same in 2010 as in 2008 or 2006, the Republicans and Democrats would have split the popular vote for the House about evenly — but as it was, Republicans won the popular vote for the House by about 7 percentage points and gained 63 seats.
Many of the G.O.P. victories last year were extremely close. I calculate that, had the national popular vote been divided evenly, Democrats would have lost just 27 seats instead of 63. Put differently, the majority of Republican gains last year were probably due to changes in relative turnout rather than people changing their minds about which party’s approach they preferred.
Some care is called for here: Political ideology is not an immutable characteristic, and some people who called themselves conservative in 2010 might have called themselves moderate in 2008. Most polls have found a modest increase in the number of people in the broader electorate (not just those who voted) who say they are conservative.
But this only explains a small part of the difference in 2010. For the rest, we need to look toward the so-called enthusiasm gap.
That gap is commonly understood as the average Republican having been more likely to cast a vote in 2010 than the average Democrat. That’s true as far as it goes. But on top of the gap between Democrats and Republicans, there was a another enthusiasm gap within the Republican party, cleaving conservatives, who were very likely to turn out, from moderate Republicans, who were no more likely to vote than Democrats were.
The data for this assertion comes from a Pew Research poll conducted just a few days before the election. The poll was quite accurate — it predicted a 6-point Republican margin in the popular vote for the House, almost exactly in line with what actually happened.
Pew is among the most transparent polling organizations, and their entire data set for this particular poll is available for public consumption. I looked at the percentage of people from various groups who were given at least 6 points on Pew’s 7-point scale of voting propensity — who I defined as “likely voters.”
Among conservatives who are either registered as Republicans or who lean toward the Republican party, about 3 out of 4 were likely to have voted in 2010, the Pew data indicated. The fraction of likely voters was even higher among those who called themselves “very conservative:” 79 percent.[…]
The G.O.P. can turn out its base but it has not converted many other voters to its cause, and President Obama’s approval ratings remain passable although not good. The Republicans will need all their voters to turn out — including their moderates — to be an even-money bet to defeat him.
If a relatively moderate candidate like Mitt Romney is nominated, that probably won’t be a major problem. But there is a significant chance that the party will nominate a someone like Michele Bachmann instead.
Imagine that Ms. Bachmann has won the Iowa caucuses while Mr. Romney has taken the New Hampshire primary, and the nomination is essentially up for grabs between them. As the contest shifts to a key state like Ohio or Pennsylvania, suppose that conservative Republicans split 60-30 in Ms. Bachmann’s favor (with a few voters opting for a hanger-on like Ron Paul), while moderate Republicans go 80-15 for Mr. Romney. Who is going to win?
Turnout would be decisive. If two conservative Republicans cast ballots for every moderate Republican — roughly the ratio in 2008 — Mr. Romney would prevail by a couple of points. But if the turnout looks more like 2010, and there are three conservative Republicans at the polls for every moderate Republican, Ms. Bachmann would win by about six percentage points:
Greg Sargent, WaPo’s The Plum Line:
Orrin Hatch comes right out and says it: The wealthy already do too much, and the poor do too little, towards deficit reduction.
Friendly reminder: Hatch is the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.
* The labor-backed group We Are Wisconsin is going up with a new spot targeting GOP state senator Alberta Darling for supporting Scott Walker’s education cuts.
Darling has long been considered a tough one to dislodge, so the fact that labor is going up on the air against her — coming after Dems reported having more cash on hand yesterday — is a sign that the recall playing field is widening for Dems.
* Bruce Bartlett demolishes the ubiquitous myth that the debt ceiling is a good way to hold down deficits and spending.
* Warning shot from the base: MoveOn surveys its members and finds large numbers would be less likely to work for or support Obama if Social Security gets cut.
* Obama and Nancy Pelosi will meet privately tomorrow, and the key thing to watch is whether they emerge with a unified strategy on entitlements.
* If Dems draw a firm line on benefits cuts but agree to other entitlements cuts they can tolerate, it could be an effective way of calling the GOP’s bluff.
* Fareed Zakaria debunks the criticism that Obama lacks a “consistent” foreign policy approach to the Mideast, since it’s made up of a range of profoundly different countries, and tells folks to stop hunting high and low for an “Obama doctrine.”
* Just brutal: Matt Lewis on how Mitt Romney’s new sincere, casual, everyman shtick is heavily scripted from top to bottom.
* Laughable right wing grievance mongering of the day: Conservatives are actually claiming that the White House “bullied” them because Obama online guru Jesse Lee had the temerity to respond to their arguments on Twitter.
* And Mike Bloomberg, a longtime marriage equality proponent, will celebrate New York’s breakthrough by officially presiding over the City Hall nuptials of two gay aides.
President Obama doesn’t need to officially file his initial 2012 FEC fundraising report until July 15, but when he does it will almost certainly show that he outraised not just Mitt Romney but the also entire Republican field—and Republican insiders say they are worried:
Republicans have long anticipated being out-gunned by Obama on the fundraising front, but the breadth of the disparity is now coming into plainer sight—and it has some party veterans worried about what they see as a lack of urgency over the cash gap.
“There’s not any doubt that Obama is going to raise more money than anybody has ever raised running for president,” said Henry Barbour, RNC committeeman for Mississippi and the governor’s nephew. “Is that sobering? Sure it is. It’s a wake-up call.”
Leading the list of GOP concerns: Mitt Romney. As Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns write:
The likelihood of a canyon-sized money gap with Obama was driven home most vividly by Romney’s less-than-anticipated take. After claiming to raise over $10 million during an all-day call-a-thon in May, his campaign reported raising less than twice that for the entire quarter. If the former Massachusetts governor – who has effectively been running for president for five years and has a network of donors in the financial community, the Mormon church and in the ranks of regular Republican givers who believe he’s their strongest candidate – can’t even raise $20 million, how will he ever match a sitting president?
The simple answer is, Mitt Romney won’t be able to match Barack Obama—because he won’t be the nominee. Republicans who are worried about his fundraising totals are wasting their time. Money isn’t their problem, especially in the wake of Citizens United. They’re going to have more than enough to compete effectively in 2012.
The only question is whether they are going to have an electable candidate. So far, the signs point to no. And nothing makes that more clear than the fact that the only candidate with any momentum on the GOP side is Michele Bachmann.
As policymakers at the state and national level struggle with rising entitlement costs, overwhelming numbers of Americans agree that, over the years, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid have been good for the country.
But these cherished programs receive negative marks for current performance, and their finances are widely viewed as troubled. Reflecting these concerns, most Americans say all three programs either need to be completely rebuilt or undergo major changes. However, smaller majorities express this view than did so five years ago.
The public’s desire for fundamental change does not mean it supports reductions in the benefits provided by Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. Relatively few are willing to see benefit cuts as part of the solution, regardless of whether the problem being addressed is the federal budget deficit, state budget shortfalls or the financial viability of the entitlement programs.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted June 15-19 among 1,502 adults, finds that Republicans face far more serious internal divisions over entitlement reforms than do Democrats. Lower income Republicans are consistently more likely to oppose reductions in benefits — from Medicare, Social Security or Medicaid — than are more affluent Republicans.
On the broad question of whether it is more important to reduce the budget deficit or to maintain current Medicare and Social Security benefits, the public decisively supports maintaining the status quo. Six-in-ten (60%) say it is more important to keep Social Security and Medicare benefits as they are; only about half as many (32%) say it is more important to take steps to reduce the budget deficit.
Half (50%) of Republicans say that maintaining benefits is more important than deficit reduction; about as many (42%) say it is more important to reduce the budget deficit. More independents prioritize maintaining benefits over reducing the deficit (by 53% to 38%). Democrats overwhelmingly view preserving current Social Security and Medicare benefits as more important (by 72% to 21%).
The public also opposes making Medicare recipients more responsible for their health care costs and allowing states to limit Medicaid eligibility. About six-in-ten (61%) say people on Medicare already pay enough of their own health care costs, while only 31% think recipients need to be responsible for more of the costs of their health care in order to make the system financially secure.
When it comes to Medicaid, just 37% want to allow states to cut back on who is eligible for Medicaid in order to deal with budget problems, while 58% say low-income people should not have their Medicaid benefits taken away. And most say it is more important to avoid future cuts in Social Security benefits than future increases in Social Security taxes (56% vs. 33%).
On Social Security and Medicare, there are substantial differences of opinion by age. People age 65 and older are the only age group in which majorities say these programs work well; seniors also overwhelmingly say it is more important to maintain Social Security and Medicare benefits than to reduce the budget deficit. Those 50 to 64 also broadly favor keeping benefits as they are. Younger Americans support maintaining Social Security and Medicare benefits, but by smaller margins than older age groups.
Lower income people are more committed to maintaining benefits across all three major entitlement programs. This income gap is particularly wide when it comes to allowing states to cut back on Medicaid eligibility: 72% of those with family incomes of less than $30,000 oppose allowing states to limit Medicaid eligibility to deal with budget problems, compared with 53% of those with higher incomes.
The public is roughly split on how the Supreme Court should interpret the Constitution when determining their rulings. Half of Americans (50%) say the Supreme Court’s rulings should be based on its understanding of what the U.S. Constitution means in current times, while about as many (45%) say rulings should be based on the Court’s understanding of what the Constitution meant as originally written. The question, however, produces sharp ideological divisions. While 70% of Republicans say the Constitution should be interpreted as originally written, two-thirds of Democrats (65%) say the Supreme Court should base its rulings on what the Constitution means today. Fully 79% of Tea Party supporters say the Constitution should be interpreted as originally written. Younger Americans (ages 18-29) are more likely to say the Constitution should be interpreted with reference to current times while adults ages 65 and older are more likely to say it should be interpreted as it was originally written. College graduates are also more likely than others to say the interpretation should be based on the Constitution’s modern-day meaning as 57% say this, compared with 49% of those with some college experience and 46% of those who have not attended college. Read more
This highlights the dilemma faced by our Western society: For a society that values respect for and tolerance of different religions, how and where do we draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not? I agree with you, and I think it’s the easiest case, that we don’t want to allow immigration of Moslems—or adherents of any other religion—that believe in killing homosexuals.
But what about members of religions that believe women shouldn’t be educated or shouldn’t be allowed the same freedoms as men? Do we practice toleration or seek to preserve our own value system? The issue is complicated by the fact that, within Western societies, there continue to be fundamentalist religious groups—Christians and Jews–that have similar viewpoints that we would consider out of synch with the dominant cultural views.
These are extremely difficult issues and require a constant weighing and balancing of interests. One reason that the Michele Bachmanns of the political world scare me is that they have a worldview that appears almost entirely to be based on religious doctrine and belief. Religions are, by their nature, largely intolerant of differing beliefs. And while our society’s general inclination to tolerance does require tempering and some restraint, we certainly don’t want to move in the opposite direction towards a narrow-minded, intolerant religious culture.
Agreed. One footnote: Yes, religions – fundamentalist ones, anyway – are indeed largely intolerant of one another. But one thing I’ve observed in Europe is that certain Christian parties and sects have sought to enhance their political and cultural clout by making common cause with reactionary Islamic groups, on the basis that they share a devotion to “family values.” What at least some of those Christian parties and sects don’t seem to realize, of course, is that the “family values” of their new friends include such things as forced marriage, female genital mutilation, honor killing, etc.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
By Roger Ebert:
I’ve revealed many personal details here, but the other day I discovered something I didn’t much want to share. I am shrinking. During a routine test of my bone density, a nurse backed me up against a wall and used a built-in device to measure me.
“Five feet, five and a half inches,” she said. If this was true, I had lost two and a half inches.
It could not be true, I reasoned. I must not have been standing up straight. My shoulders and back were damaged during surgery, and it’s harder for me to do the ramrod routine. My head tends to lean forward. And so on and so forth.
Okay, so let’s say I only lost two inches.
Whatever it was, this was a sign of mortality. I was never tall, but I was always tall enough. In church on Sunday mornings as we stood up to sing a hymn, I noticed I could easily look over the heads of most of the congregation. Of course in those days people were shorter. The whole population has been growing taller, in large part because of more (if not better) nutrition. The same thing is going on everywhere. Japan has a young generation that dwarfs its grandparents.
In Stockholm once, I visited a reconstructed medieval village and banged my head, hard, on the top of a doorway. In Venice, I visited the prison where Casanova was held, and observed that the prisoners couldn’t stand upright. Oh, yes they could, I was told. That’s how tall they were then. Suits of armor nearby in the Ducal Palace looked designed for children.
That documents that people are taller now. It doesn’t explain why I am shorter. Or why I feel bad about it. I have many more serious problems, but this one is strange in the effect it has on me. I know people who are very tall and very short, but whatever they are, they are certainly themselves. The short people might be happy to grow three inches, the tall ones might be unhappy to shrink three inches, but most everybody is accustomed to being as tall as they are.
I am less of a person. Don’t talk to me about self-esteem. My self-esteem is just fine. I’m shorter, damn it all. In the last few years I’ve noticed a trend among the young woman who work as movie publicists in Chicago; many of them are quite tall. Now I am forced to wonder if this is because I am shorter. Yes, I must be, because I’ve been sitting in the same seat in the Lake Street screening room for at least 16 years, and only since my illness have I become aware of people’s heads sometimes blocking the subtitles. Is this because the younger movie critics are taller? Not entirely.
I saw a movie today titled “How to Live Forever.” It’s by Mark Wexler, who visits some old people, some very old people and various scientists and other experts on aging. He finds remarkable people. A Brit named Buster Martin is 101 years old and runs in a marathon, pausing for five rest breaks during which he has a pint of beer and a smoke. A former Disney animator named Tyrus Wong is 98 and builds and flies beautiful kites of astonishing complexity on the beach at Santa Monica.
Apparently aging is programmed into our cells. You’ve read the articles. If the aging process could be arrested, we’d theoretically live longer–assuming we stayed in good health. That’s a big assumption, since fast food is poisoning us with fats and sugars. Apparently long life depends on keeping active, staying interested, and eating a diet high in volume but low in calories, which means mostly grains and vegetables. So many of us, me included, know that in theory but don’t always follow it in practice. For a time I followed the Steak n Shake diet, which meant: Be a vegetarian except when at Steak n Shake.
Wexler asks some of the people in his film: “If there was a pill that allowed you to live to 500, would you take it?” One very old woman shakes her head and says, “No, that would be too long.” I feel the same way. What would I do with all the accumulating memories? How would it feel to remember my best friend of four centuries ago? If everyone could live to 500, would we grow tired of one another? How many centuries do I really want to listen to Justin Bieber? How many Presidential debates do I need?
Nevertheless, today I am a shorter man. I am dealing with this by following the Kubler-Ross model:
1. Denial. I wasn’t standing up straight. Besides, my surgery changed my posture. Also, the nurse was shorter than I am, so how could she see the markings behind me?
2. Anger. Damn it, I’ve been through enough. Now I’ve been on a healthy controlled diet for five years and my blood numbers are better than ideal, so why do I need more problems?
3. Bargaining. I’ll take up yoga and buy a shoulder brace. I’ll have Chaz measure me with a pencil mark up against the wall.
4. Depression. My decrepitude is gaining on me. I’ll be 69 at the end of the week. That’s almost 70. I can’t even comprehend being this old. This is the last straw. Before long I’ll be looking Danny DeVito in the eyes.
5. Acceptance. Hey, there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s a fact. I stand five feet, five and a half inches tall. Case closed. Look on the bright side. I’ve wasted the last three days trying to figure out something to say about Alpha Male Disease and its female counterparts, Obsessive Shopping and Shoplifting. I kept getting stuck on the appalling banality and shabbiness of Weiner’s behavior. Nobody needs to be told more about that. Maybe I can get a column out of my shrinking. I know! I’ll find that movie poster. And then, in the comments, readers will tell me that it’s better to shrink than to send random women on Facebook cell phone photos of my body.
Especially the way it looks now.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
We are never so helplessly unhappy as when we lose love. ~ Sigmund Freud
President Obama is talking about making a deal with the Republicans and Democrats in Congress on a budget plan, and anonymously-sourced articles are appearing in the major political newspapers, and on the basis of statements from a “Democratic official familiar with the administration’s thinking“, the EmoProgs are losing their shit.
And they’re sending you emails about it.
“President Obama: If you cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits for me, my family, or families like mine, don’t ask for a penny of my money or an hour of my time in 2012. I’m going to focus on electing bold progressive candidates who will fight to protect our Democratic legacy.” Click to add your name.
We can’t be silent and allow President Obama to cave to Republicans, and put some of the most important and successful programs in our country on the chopping block.
House Democrats and most Democratic Senators have already said they will not go along. It is not too late.
Tell President Obama: Protect Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Click here to automatically sign the petition.
Can you sign our emergency petition to Democrats in Congress and tell them to stand up and tell the President they will not vote for Social Security and Medicare benefits cuts?
Add your name here.
President Obama is making a huge mistake that will cost our country dearly.
Follow me below the fold for a some thoughts about these emails, what they represent and what opportunities they miss.
Now don’t get me wrong. The use of online petition signing as an organizing tactic is perfectly valid. But you must appreciate it for what it is – a data collection and fundraising exercise.
The request for funds may be tastefully buried in fine print at the bottom of the email, and you may not be asked for a contribution until after you sign their petition, but the most valuable thing you give them is demographic information about you — and the kind of political message to which you will respond.
As for effecting change, well, nothing’s been accomplished. No matter how the PACs and petition-generators crow about the gigantic number of responses they receive, political leaders know perfectly well how easy it is to generate those results with effective online marketing, because they do it themselves.
But the more pernicious message that these emails drive is that all feedback must be aimed directly at the president, that it is somehow up to the president alone to respond to the will of the petitionees, regardless of the issue and the degree to which other parties, especially Congress, have a say in the ultimate outcome.
Granted, of the three examples I cite, one of them, from MoveOn, is actually targeted at Congress. However, it generates a letter only to Congressional Democrats, and demands that they… stand up to Obama.
No mention of where the debt and deficit came from. No mention of the political party that is standing in lockstep to prevent Congress from partnering with the White House. No mention of the abject failure of the GOP-led House and Jello-led Senate to solve the fiscal gridlock without Presidential intervention.
As you might imagine, my response to receiving some of these emails was to click on the “unsubscribe” link at the bottom and disconnect my inbox from the associated organization’s list. Turns out I’m not alone in that reaction, at least based on what I saw on the Twitters last evening:
15 hours ago
By allanbrauer with …
Content from Twitter
Excellent work, CREDO Action, Bold Progressives and MoveOn! Looks like you’re doing a bang-up job purging your database of persons who support the actions of their incumbent Democratic President.
When a pragmatist talks about how ineffective or counter-productive this strategy is in the context of current political affairs, one is met with shrieks of “Obot! Obamalover! Veal Pen! Clap Louder!” and stern remonstrations that one is stifling dissent, perhaps even violating the critic’s First Amendment rights. (Um, no.)
I am not saying to the critic, “Don’t dissent,” but rather, “Exercise smart dissent.”
Smart dissent is effective dissent. Dissent that builds toward positive outcomes. Dissent that is grounded in current political reality, and with an appreciation of the role each branch of federal and state government plays regarding the issue under discussion. Dissent that makes life hell for your political enemies, and gives your allies space in which to operate.
Memo to progressives: the Democrats hold the White House. If you’re going to make life hell for someone, why not make life hell for the asshats preventing them from governing in a more progressive fashion instead? Remember the elected officials, mostly Republican, that the American people empowered at the state and federal level? (It was on all the blogs way back in November, 2010.) Those asshats? The ones who are trying to shrink government to a size where it will fit inside every woman’s uterus? Give them hell. Tell the world the kinds of regressive policies they support, and why putting them into office has been so disastrous for our country. Explain to anyone who will listen what they voted for in the Ryan budget, and how much worse our country would be if even parts of it come to pass.
We need to drive as many Republicans out of elected office in 2012 as possible, at all levels of local, state and federal government. Each of us needs to focus on a few races where we’re directly involved as a constituent, find Democrats who can win, and get them elected. If you live in a liberal paradise with good safe incumbents, look around your immediate area for the districts where your support could make the most difference.
As the blog team at Angry Black Lady Chronicles continues to grow, you’ll be hearing more about local, state and regional issues, government conduct, candidates and elections. We’ll be sending dispatches from the front lines and letting you know what trends we’re observing.
And a little organization called the AFL-CIO, about which one hears very little in the progressive veal pen, has a handy organizing campaign called We Are One, which offers an online tool to find and add events where you can make your voice heard to your local representatives.
There are many more such resources out there online. They may not be inserting themselves into your inbox on a daily basis, but they hold the key to bringing about the conditions wherein a liberal president like Obama can achieve liberal legislative results.
Wesley Clark said, on the topic of war as an instrument for imposing democracy:
Most certainly, the same can be said of the PAC operators and email list owners who harvest new marks by stirring the public’s passions, then channeling those emotions into symbolic acts that may ultimately line a few peoples’ pockets but are unlikely to bring forth any actual political change. When situations turn out better than their dire warnings, they quickly take credit for “forcing” a better outcome due to their intervention, and pronounce themselves “effective and influential” “a force to be reckoned with” blah blah blah.
Yes, the rooster thinks his crowing caused the dawn.