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Weekly Obama Address: Deficit-reduction Plan– April 16, 2011

Weekly Address: When Are We Going To Work Together? –July 9, 2011

Boehner Abandons Grand Bargain, Can’t Sway Caucus on Taxes

The New Republic:

Does anything matter to Republicans more than protecting tax cuts for the very wealthy? Developments of the last 18 hours suggest very strongly that the answer is no.

As you have probably heard by now, House Speaker John Boehner on Saturday evening informed President Obama that he was no longer interested in pursuing a “grand bargain” on deficit reduction. It was a major turning point in the debate. For the past week, Obama has made clear that he hoped to use ongoing negotiations over the debt ceiling to put in place a massive, potentially historic deal to reorder the nation’s spending priorities – a deal that would reduce deficits by as much as $4 trillion cumulatively over the next decade.

Boehner indicated that he shared that goal. And the deal, if completed, was likely to reflect Republican priorities far more than Democratic ones. Although Obama has insisted he wants a “balanced” approach to reducing the deficit, the deal was likely to involve far more in spending reductions than in new revenue.

To achieve this deal, Democrats had indicated a significant and serious willingness to sacrifice their own goals and their own constituencies. Reductions in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security were all on the table – not to mention reductions in discretionary spending that would have seriously weakened, if not crippled, government programs on which poor people, in particular, depend. President Obama had made it clear he was willing to accept such cuts, if it meant putting together a far-reaching package. More liberal Democrats were more skeptical, but rhetoric from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, among others, made it clear they were willing to entertain most of these ideas, depending on their structure and what Republicans were offering in return.

But that last part proved to be the problem. Such a large deal would have required Republicans to agree to new revenue, in some form. And at least some of that money would have come from higher taxes (in terms of total collections, if not rates) on the very wealthy. Boehner hinted that might be acceptable, as part of a compromise. New York Times columnist David Brooks urged Republicans to go along, calling the still-lopsided proposal “the deal of the century.”

But other Republican leaders, like Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and certain conservative agitators, like the writers of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, made very clear they disagreed. No matter how big the Democratic concessions, no matter how risky the prospect of postponing a deal on the debt ceiling, they were not willing to embrace a package that meant higher taxes, particularly taxes on the wealthy. And according to reports in this morning’s papers, those voices finally prevailed.

Here’s Politico’s account, by David Rogers and Jake Sherman:

Tax policy disputes were at the center of the collapse, including differences with the White House over President Barack Obama’s demand that future tax reforms must maintain or increase the progressivity of the tax code. But for days Boehner has been under relentless pressure from conservatives to step away from the deal, which Saturday’s Wall Street Journal editorial writers dubbed “Boehner’s Obama Gamble.”

Boehner had effectively agreed to decouple the high-end tax rates of the Bush era from the middle and lower income rates favored by Democrats. But before anything changed in 2013, he was promised enactment of broad reform — covering personal and corporate taxes — with the goal of lowering rates by establishing a more efficient code. …

Nonetheless, it was a tall order given the assumption that the deal would also yield close to $1 trillion in new revenues over 10 years. Ending oil and gas tax breaks, as well as the favorable “carried interest” capital gains rates used to shelter investor income, would be part of the picture. But reform also would have to contribute its share of new revenues.

That passage in italics (mine) is really important. Assuming the account is correct — and David Rogers usually knows what he’s talking about — the deal would have extended Bush tax cuts that apply to lower and middle incomes. But the deal wouldn’t have extended the tax cuts that apply to higher incomes, at least right away. And that was more than the Republicans were willing to contemplate.

In case there’s any doubt about the GOP’s priorities, here’s the Washington Post’s account, written by Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane:

The sweeping deal Obama and Boehner had been discussing would have required both parties to take a bold leap into the political abyss. Democrats were demanding more than $800 billion in new tax revenue, causing heartburn among the hard-line fiscal conservatives who dominate the House Republican caucus. Republicans, meanwhile, were demanding sharp cuts to Medicare and Social Security, popular safety net programs that congressional Democrats have vowed to protect.

Obama, at least, was willing to make that leap and had put significant reductions to entitlement programs on the table. But on Saturday, Boehner blinked: Republican aides said he could not, in the end, reach agreement with the White House on a strategy to permit the Bush-era tax cuts for the nation’s wealthiest households to expire next year, as lawmakers undertook a thorough rewrite of the tax code.

I can’t say I’m entirely disappointed to see the prospects of the grand bargain diminish. (I say “diminish” because Obama apparently hasn’t given up.) The likely terms of the deal seemed way too skewed in the conservative direction for my taste.

For what it’s worth, I’ve actually gained some respect for Boehner. Based on the reports and what I’ve heard from people close to the negotiations, Boehner was genuinely interested in negotiating a deal even if that meant agreeing to some compromises, albeit pretty modest ones from my perspective.

But as the skeptics, like my colleague Jonathan Chait, were predicting all along, Boehner isn’t really in charge of the House Republican caucus. The lunatics are. And it looks like they’ve won.


GOP Walks Away From Long-Sought Priorities

Roll Call:

Speaker John Boehner’s decision Saturday to jettison ambitions for a grand $4 trillion debt deal had both parties scrambling for an alternative plan to avoid defaulting on the nation’s debt.

The Ohio Republican shored up his right flank by standing firm against any hint of increased tax revenue, which would be required to strike a deal with Democrats at the $4 trillion range. But in doing so, he walked away from something that has seldom been in Republicans’ grasp: a Democratic president’s agreement to major changes to Social Security and Medicare — a political rarity and a top GOP priority.

And while the White House planned to keep pushing a larger package encompassing cuts to entitlements and a tax code reform, without Boehner, there won’t be one.

Heading into Sunday evening’s negotiations at the White House, Republicans led by Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) were pushing a more modest package in the range of $2.4 trillion or so in cuts. […]

Both parties’ rank and file are under tremendous pressure not to make the kinds of compromises necessary to achieve a deal of any kind, and a smaller package could run up against some of the same competing pressures — and without the long-term payoff deficit hawks have demanded. […]

Geithner said a deal would be necessary by the end of next week at the latest, and House sources have indicated that Members do not want to vote at the eleventh hour, like they did to avert a government shutdown in April.

Geithner said President Barack Obama would continue to push the largest deal possible, and he said Obama still wants a balanced package that includes revenue.

Indeed, taxes have been the toughest part of the negotiations for months.

Boehner was trying to find a way to sign on to a broad package that would include revenue but still allow him to claim it did not raise taxes. He wanted the package to only generate net tax revenue from economic growth spurred by a simpler tax system, not from tax code changes themselves, according to a Republican source. Such a move would be in keeping with Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge.

The White House, meanwhile, wanted to extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the middle class beyond their expiration in 2012, but not the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. According to Democratic aides, that was combined with a commitment from the president to do tax reform that would lower overall rates. Democrats also were eyeing a payroll tax cut upfront, as well as relief from the alternative minimum tax.

But the GOP spent the better part of last year arguing that allowing the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy to expire amounted to a tax increase, and there was little trust that the Democrats would deliver on tax reform.

Boehner insisted on a trigger that would generate more spending cuts if tax reform wasn’t enacted, which was also a no-go for Democrats.

Democratic aides pinned the blame for the deal’s collapse less on Boehner and more on other Republican leaders, and on the pressure from Boehner’s right flank against any kind of deal at all.

McConnell put the blame squarely on Democrats in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”[…]

White House Chief of Staff William Daley emphasized that the president’s intent is to persuade Congressional leaders of both parties to “send a statement to the world” about America’s fiscal stability by focusing on the $4 trillion deal that looked possible as recently as Saturday morning. […]

Boehner’s walking away from the larger deal, though, preserves a political line of attack for Democrats: that they are the guardians of the social safety net in difficult economic times. Such positioning, particularly in the runup to the 2012 elections, would have taken a hit if they would have agreed to Obama’s deal to alter Social Security and Medicare.

Obama, meanwhile, can argue to the public that he tried to rise above the fray by asking all sides to sacrifice, but couldn’t find a willing partner.


The White House’s tactical victory

Steve Benen:

With House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) no longer willing or able to pursue his own debt-reduction goals, it’s worth pausing to appreciate how the politics have played out in the White House’s favor. Jay Newton-Small’s take sounds right to me.

[T]he collapse of the grand bargain leaves President Obama in a more favorable political position. If both parties agree to cut $2 trillion from the budget with minor tax increases, he’ll notch a bipartisan accomplishment. But he can also say he tried something more ambitious in putting cuts to Social Security and Medicare on the table without facing the political fallout of actually slashing those programs.

[Obama] went big and congressional Republicans — not to mention the noticeably silent 2012 Republican presidential candidates — didn’t. It will be Republicans who will have to justify bowing to the extreme wing of their party and walking away from a deal that included some ten times more spending cuts than revenue increases.

All things being equal, this certainly looks like a tactical win for the White House, at least at this point. From the perspective of the political establishment, the president was willing to do something ambitious, even risking the ire of his party’s base. Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, have now said they don’t want a massive debt-reduction package if it means asking the rich to sacrifice even a little.

Put it this way: as of this morning, which side of the political divide appears more concerned with fiscal responsibility*? The president with the plan to cut the debt by $4 trillion or the House majority that cares most about tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, none of which are paid for?

Did President Obama deliberately present GOP leaders with an ambitious solution, knowing they’d blink and he’d end up looking better in the end? We may never know, but if Boehner isn’t asking himself that question this morning, he’s not paying close enough attention.

  • I realize this gets repetitious, but I feel compelled to point out that prioritizing fiscal responsibility is a mistake under the current circumstances. With weak growth and rising unemployment, officials should be borrowing more, investing more, generating demand and creating jobs. Within the context of a debate about fiscal issues, I think the White House has won a tactical victory, but in the larger context, what I want to see is policymakers forget fiscal issues and focus on the economy.


Sanders: Obama proposal would impoverish 250,000

The Social Security Administration estimates that a proposal floated by the Obama administration would put 245,000 people into poverty, according to an analysis released by liberal senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Saturday.

That level of impact would be felt by 2050 if a proposal to change the way inflation is measured is adopted, Sanders announced. The change to the way SSA would calculate the Consumer Price Index has been floated in debt ceiling talks between Congress and the White House. The White House has suggested revising CPI for both the tax code, in order to generate more revenue, and for benefits.

Social Security Administration’s Office of Retirement Policy estimated that by 2030, according to the report prepared for Sanders, there would be 173,400 more people living in poverty in the United States.

Benefits for those who are 80-89 would drop by $960 a year. Benefits for women would fall by 3.5 percent overall while men’s benefits would drop by 2.9 percent.

By 2050, seniors in the 80-89 age bracket would see benefits fall by $1,200 a year.

“I am especially disturbed that the president is considering cuts in Social Security after he campaigned against cuts in 2008,” Sanders said. “The American people expect the president to keep his word.”

This week Sanders demanded that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) join House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in flatly ruling out any benefit cuts to Social Security as part of the debt deal.

Reid in the past has said Social Security does not need to be reformed for decades. While Social Security is expected to be unable to pay full benefits by 2036, it is not a major driver of the budget deficit. Republicans want the program reformed now because they fear otherwise that as 2036 approaches massive tax hikes that could stall the economy would be demanded by senior citizens.


The Case for Not-Quite-So-High-Speed-Rail

The Washingon Monthly:

Advocates of passenger rail in America were understandably depressed earlier this year after several newly-elected Republican governors rejected billions of dollars in federal stimulus grants for high speed rail. But in the months since, the Obama administration has done something interesting with the money the GOP governors turned down. It has diverted those dollars to other states, not for high speed rail projects but for upgrades to boost the speed, frequency, and on-time performance of conventional passenger lines.

In the latest issue of the Washington Monthly, Phillip Longman argues that this new strategy of building “fast enough” rail turns out to be exactly what the country needs. Cheap, reliable, and politically feasible passenger trains, the kind that are still the backbone of Europe’s superlative rail system, could transform inter-state travel in America, boost the fortunes of “flyover” cities, and build the public constituency that will be needed to make faster, more expensive bullet trains a reality in the future.


Senate Democrats’ deficit plan

Senate Democrats have drafted a sweeping debt-reduction plan that would slice $4 trillion from projected borrowing over the next decade without touching the expensive health and retirement programs targeted by President Obama.

Instead, Senate Democrats are proposing to stabilize borrowing through sharp cuts at the Pentagon and other government agencies, as well as $2 trillion in new taxes, primarily on families earning more than $1 million year, according to a copy of the plan obtained by The Washington Post.

With debt-reduction talks under way between Obama and congressional leaders, Senate Democrats are unlikely to adopt the blueprint. However, it has gained broad support among those eager to chart a path to solving the nation’s budget problems without making politically painful cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

“The very strong feeling was we needed to get this into the conversation, because it provides an alternative view,” said a Senate Democrat familiar with the blueprint, who spoke on condition of anonymity because it has not been publicly released. “What’s striking is how modest the changes need to be to get us back on track.”

On Friday, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) visited the White House to brief Obama and Vice President Biden on the blueprint, which differs significantly from the framework under discussion with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and other leaders.

“I explained to the President and Vice President how the Senate Budget Committee Democrats developed a plan that achieves $4 trillion in deficit reduction in a balanced and fair way,” Conrad said in a statement. “It is my hope the plan will help influence the bipartisan negotiations and help them reach a comprehensive and balanced deficit reduction agreement.”

Republicans dismissed the Democratic blueprint, saying higher taxes would be devastating to an economy already weighed down by a 9.2 percent unemployment rate. In their spending plan, House Republicans proposed to save $4 trillion entirely through spending cuts; they would also eliminate Medicare as an open-ended entitlement after 2021.

“If they’re calling for $2 trillion in tax hikes in the middle of a jobs crisis, it’s little wonder that it’s been 800 days since Senate Democrats passed a budget,” said McConnell spokesman Don Stewart.

Since early this year, Senate Democrats have struggled to draft a spending plan. Moderates refused to endorse any blueprint that included big annual budget deficits or big tax hikes. Liberals, meanwhile, opposed sharp cuts to social programs. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the senior Budget Committee Republican, has relentlessly hammered Democrats for their failure to adopt a budget.

Although the new document is unlikely to be officially adopted, it was embraced by a majority of Senate Democrats when Conrad presented it at a closed-door luncheon earlier this week, aides said.

Under the blueprint, the top income tax rate would rise to 39.6 percent for individuals earning more than $500,000 a year and families earning more than $1 million. That group, which constitutes the nation’s richest 1 percent of households, would also pay a 20 percent rate on capital gains and dividends, rather than the 15 percent rate now in effect.

In addition to raising rates for the very wealthiest families, the blueprint proposes to obtain fresh revenue by targeting offshore tax havens and corporate shelters. It would also scale back the array of tax breaks and deductions known as tax expenditures, perhaps by focusing on the wealthiest households, which claim an average of $205,000 in tax breaks each year on average income of $1.1 million.

The blueprint would take nearly $900 billion from the Pentagon over the next decade — the same amount recommended by Obama’s fiscal commission. It would slice more than $350 billion from domestic programs. And it would produce interest savings of nearly $600 billion attributable to reduced borrowing.

Only about $80 billion would be cut from Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health programs, and nothing from Social Security. But even without touching those programs, the plan would stabilize borrowing by 2014 and begin pushing the national debt down as a share of the economy.




NYT Op-Ed: How to Promote a Merger

It seems surprising that organizations dedicated to advocating for gays and lesbians, African-Americans or teachers could take such a burning interest in telecoms that they would endorse AT&T’s $39 billion plan to buy T-Mobile, which is under review by the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department.

Yet since it announced the deal in March, AT&T’s proposed megamerger has garnered the support of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the National Education Association, among others.

It’s hard to tell how much consideration they gave to the impact the merger would have on wireless communications, eliminating the No. 4 player in the market and shackling the cellphone network to a de facto duopoly that would have enormous power.

The N.A.A.C.P. highlighted that AT&T hired members of minorities, contributed to minority groups and bought from minority businesses.  Glaad said AT&T had a good track record on issues that matter to gays and lesbians. All three noted that AT&T was a union shop and T-Mobile was not. These are all positive things, for sure, but what have they to do with the cellphone market?

What makes this picture murkier is the money involved. The N.A.A.C.P. got at least $1 million from AT&T in 2009. The N.E.A.’s foundation got $75,000 from AT&T’s foundation last year, according to The Columbia Urban League in South Carolina, which supported the merger, got a $25,000 grant from the foundation.

The groups said their enthusiasm for the merger was not driven by AT&T’s money. AT&T said, too, there was no quid pro quo. But AT&T can certainly use support from left-leaning groups to influence Democrats holding the regulatory levers. And the money is causing discomfort within some of the organizations.

The president of Glaad, Jarrett Barrios, resigned last month as controversy grew over the organization’s support of the merger after it received $50,000 from AT&T. Mr. Barrios also disavowed a letter sent from his office to the F.C.C. last year supporting AT&T’s opposition to the agency’s proposed net neutrality rules, which would bar telecom companies like AT&T from blocking or discriminating against rivals’ data flowing through their wires.

AT&T, by the way, also is the third-biggest donor to federal elections since 1989 — donating more than $41 million. In the 2010 elections, AT&T and its executives made donations of $10,000 and more to 100 candidates for Congress. It spent more than $15 million in lobbying in 2010.

AT&T has the right — as a huge corporation, indeed, the duty — to make philanthropic donations. They are just not a good basis to decide the future of the nation’s telecommunications.




The Worst Time to Slow the Economy

NYT Editorial:

[…]The Labor Department report showed virtually no job growth in June, with the unemployment level edging up to 9.2 percent from 9.1 percent the month before. It seemed to confirm last month’s indication that the economy had stalled. After the report came out, the president went to the Rose Garden and said he hoped that a conclusion to the current debt-ceiling talks would give businesses “certainty” that the government had its debt and deficit under control, allowing them to start hiring again. […]

There is plenty of evidence, in fact, that the spending cuts already imposed by Republican intransigence are responsible for a great deal of joblessness. Although the private sector added 57,000 jobs in June, that tiny progress was reduced by the 39,000 jobs shed by federal, state and local governments, much of which came from education. As David Leonhardt noted in The Times on Friday, cutbacks in state and local spending have cost the economy about a million public-sector jobs over the last two years, in part because the federal stimulus program, bitterly opposed by Republicans, ended too soon.

That has led to the bizarre spectacle of Republicans condemning the crisis that they helped to create and are refusing to fix. Speaker John Boehner said the poor job numbers were actually the result of the stimulus, regulations and the debt. Mr. Romney, who has been waffling over whether Mr. Obama has made the economy worse or has failed to make it better, chose to say on Friday that the White House was indifferent to high unemployment.

The president may have a nebulous approach to unemployment, but he is hardly indifferent to it. His re-election hinges on reducing it. It is hard to understand, though, why Mr. Obama has adopted the language of his opponents in connecting the economy to the debt. To his credit, he talked about the one step that would work — investing money in rebuilding the country. But the debt-ceiling ideas he is now considering would make that investment much less likely by pulling hundreds of billions of dollars out of the economy at precisely the moment when the spending is needed most.

There is still time for the president to insist that the debt talks include a substantial program to put people to work now, while reducing the deficit over a longer period. To do otherwise is to ignore Friday’s ugly reality.


Barack Obama’s Dangerous Embrace Of Economic Fatalism

Matt Yglesias:

Even as the Obama administration continues to defend the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act from its critics, the White House appears to have sincerely pivoted away from the idea that a higher level of aggregate demand would reduce unemployment and instead embraced the notion that there’s basically nothing that can be done in the short-term. You can see this in Obama’s Today Show interview where he appeared to suggest that unemployment is primarily attributable to technological change:

There are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to be much more efficient with fewer workers. You see it when you go to a bank and you use an ATM, you don’t go to a bank teller. Or you see it when you go to the airport and you use a kiosk instead of checking at the gate. What we have to do now, and this is what the jobs council is all about, is identifying where the jobs for the future are going to be, how do we make sure that there’s a match between what people are getting trained for and the jobs that exist, how do we make sure that capital is flowing in those places with the greatest opportunity.

Now obviously this is true. One thing that people do is they try to invent machines such that they can then go to businessmen and say, “Buying my machine would be cheaper than paying a worker.” This causes job losses. The invention of the answering machine reduced the need for secretaries. Advances in electronic filing further reduced the need. Cell phones and email have even further reduced the need. ATMs reduce the need for bank tellers. Self-serve checkout machines reduce the need for grocery store clerks. And this is, indeed, one reason why people are unemployed. It’s also the source of progress over the long term. But technological change is a constant. Firms were seeking to adopt labor-saving technology in 1998 and 2006 and 1967 just as much as they are today in 2011. And yet the unemployment rate was much lower in 1998 and 2006 and 1967 than it is today. Indeed, it seems to me that firms probably try harder to find ways to economize on labor when the unemployment rate is low. The fewer unemployed workers there are, the more expensive it is to hire an extra worker and the more desirable labor-saving technology is.

Maybe Barack Obama has some reason to believe that the pace of technological change accelerated in some unaccountable way during his time in office. But above I’ve illustrated my alternative theory of the recession. It shows that the housing crisis and the problems in the banking sector led to a historically unprecedented drop in personal consumption. It also shows that while consumption has ticked back up, it hasn’t returned to its pre-recession trend level. All else being equal, if households spend fewer dollars, then fewer people will be employed in providing them with goods and services. One strategy would be to ensure that all else is not equal and that government spending fills the gap opened up by the collapse in private spending. But that hasn’t happened. Federal spending has continued roughly at trend levels, and state/local spending has also fallen below trend. The result is mass unemployment.



4 people, less than 320 sq. feet. No mortgage.



Feds: Pot Isn’t Medicine

It only took them nine years, but the U.S. federal government has finally announced it will not legalize marijuana for medical purposes and that the drug should remain classified as highly dangerous—despite research proving its effectiveness in treating diseases like multiple sclerosis and improving appetite for chemotherapy patients. The state of California, which legalized the drug’s medical use and opened a “Walmart of Weed” in June, will likely be unhappy about the new ruling. The decision was made two months after advocates of the drug asked a repeals court to push the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to address their petition to approve its medicinal use.




Mitch McConnell Doesn’t Want Terror Suspects Tried In U.S. Courts

Insists enemy combatants don’t have constitutional rights.

Hungry for Californian prison reform


Thousands of prisoners in the US state of California have refused meals for more than a week as part of a hunger strike against the use of “group punishments” and for authorities to follow legal requirements for maintaining their mental and physical health.

Prisoners housed in the notorious Security Housing Unit of California’s Pelican Bay State Prison started the strike on June 1, but it has since spread to at least a third of the state’s 33 prisons.

Their demands include an end to the interrogation process which is used to claim prisoners’ gang affiliation, an end to long-term isolation along the recommendations of a US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons report, and access to healthy food, programmes and privileges.

“The basis for this protest has come about after over 25 years, some of us 30, some up to 40 years, of being subjected to these conditions. Of our 602 appeals, numerous court challenges have gotten nowhere,” Pelican Bay hunger strike leader Todd Ashker said, in a statement released by lawyers of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition.

“A lot of us are older now, we have serious medical issues coming on … And there’s a core group of us who are committed to taking this all the way to the death, if necessary.”

A key concern for advocates and lawyers working on the strikers’ behalf is their access to medications during the strike. Reports are coming in from prisoners to the solidarity coalition and to family members that medication is being denied.

Inmates can issue a directive which stops prison doctors from force-feeding them at any point. If there is no directive, the doctors are expected to use their best judgment.

The California Department of Corrections (CDCR), the administrator of the state’s prison system, said that in the first weekend of July, 6,500 prisoners in ten prisons participated in the strike.

CDCR spokesperson Terry Thornton told Al Jazeera that the number has since decreased, as “intelligence now shows 2,100 [strikers] in nine prisons”.

But advocates working in solidarity with the prisoners say CDCR is downplaying the numbers, and that thousands of prisoners are participating in the hunger strike, and have been for different periods of time, depending on their health concerns.

“What’s important to note,” Molly Porzig of the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity coalition told Al Jazeera, “is that whatever their participation, these prisoners are in solidarity with each other across hundreds of miles, in situations where basic communication is denied, and across racial lines often used to divide prisoners.”





Bill Moyers: Rupert Murdoch, the Antichrist

The Post’s Jihad Against Social Security

Center for Economic and Policy Research:

The Post continued its Jihad against Social Security by trying to take the poor hostage. The subhead of its lead editorial told readers:

“The never-cut liberals insist that Social Security grow forever — and thereby would hurt the poor.”

There is nothing in this piece that connects the opposition to Social Security cuts to hurting the poor. In the event that nothing is ever done to change the program and it begins to face a shortfall in a quarter century, the amount of additional revenue needed to fully fund the program would be far less than the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is not clear why the Post thinks that at a time when the elderly’ share of the electorate is roughly 50 percent larger than it is today, Congress would not come up with the funds to maintain benefits. It is certainly hard to understand why Congress would no maintain funding for poor.

The Post is also badly misleading readers when it says that “Social Security grow forever.” The main reason that Social Security is projected to grow is that the economy is projected to grow. Benefits actually are being cut as the age for full benefits is being raised from 65 to 67. After the 2035 Social Security benefits are projected to remain almost constant as share of GDP for the rest of the century.


Shirky: Cheap, free, chaotic news is better than all-the-same news businesses

News has to be subsidized because society’s truth-tellers can’t be supported by what their work would fetch on the open market. However much the Journalism as Philanthropy crowd gives off that ‘Eat your peas’ vibe, one thing they have exactly right is that markets supply less reporting than democracies demand. Most people don’t care about the news, and most of the people who do don’t care enough to pay for it, but we need the ones who care to have it, even if they care only a little bit, only some of the time. To create more of something than people will pay for requires subsidy.

News has to be cheap because cheap is where the opportunity is right now. For all that the Journalism as Capitalism people can sound like Creflo Dollar mid-sermon, they are right to put their faith in new models for news. If for-profit revenue is shrinking and non-profit funding won’t make up the shortfall, we need much cheaper ways of gathering, understanding, and disseminating news, whether measured in information produced or readers served.

And news has to be free, because it has to spread. The few people who care about the news need to be able to share it with one another and, in times of crisis, to sound the alarm for the rest of us. Newspapers have always felt a tension between their commercial and civic functions, but when a publication drags access to the news itself over to the business side, as with the paywalls at The Times of London or the Tallahassee Democrat, they become Journalism as Luxury. In a future dominated by Journalism as Luxury, elites will still get what they need (a tautology in market economies), but most communities will suffer; imagine Bell, California times a thousand, with no Ruben Vives to go after the the politicians.*

The thing I really want to impress on my students is that the commercial case for news only matters if the profits are used to subsidize reporting the public can see, and that civic virtue may be heart-warming, but it won’t keep the lights on, if the lights cost more than cash on hand. Both sides of the equation have to be solved.

Why We Need the New News Environment to be Chaotic




U.S. Suspends Pakistan Military Aid

The U.S. is suspending up to $800 million in military aid to Pakistan after the country expelled American military trainers. The move also serves to pressure Pakistan’s army to fight militants more seriously. The suspended aid includes $300 million that would have reimbursed Pakistan for deployments along the Afghan border; the rest would have come in the form of training assistance and expensive military equipment. “When it comes to our military aid, we are not prepared to continue providing that at the pace we are providing it unless and until we see certain steps taken,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.




Principles of real-life hostage negotiations

One of the things the left has done pretty well is to characterize the Republicans as “hostage-takers.” Whether they are threatening to…

1. End tax breaks for the middle class
2. Shut down the government
3. Cause a global economic crisis

…we’ve seen a pretty consistent strategy and have named it well.

What we haven’t done is take a look at what we can learn from real life hostage negotiators about what to do in these circumstances. I’ve always doubted that a tactic they would recommend is drawing a line in the sand for the hostage-taker. That seems pretty destined to fail.

So today I googled to see what we can find on-line about the principles of hostage negotiations. And I came across this. Its from the web site of the “Program on Negotiation” at Harvard Law School (hmmmm, you mean those elitists? LOL).

They identify 5 lessons we can learn from hostage negotiators:

1. Gain control of the situation by insisting on one-on-one talks.
2. Explore the feelings underlying the other side’s demands.
3. Allow heated emotions to defuse through the passage of time.
4. Collaborate on solving the other party’s short-term problems.
5. Help your counterpart save face when you come out ahead.

Now that’s interesting! Sounds exactly like what President Obama does with the Republicans, doesn’t it? And yet, the standard critique of him from both the left and right is that he’s a lousy negotiator. What I’ve thought for a long time is that assumption comes – not from professional negotiators – but from ideologues who want to dominate the conversation and are willing to risk calamity to do so.

Those tips also sound a lot like the reflections contained in one of my favorite diaries ever written on Daily Kos by Aikidopilgrim in which he compared Obama’s style with the Aikido Way. He explains that change requires four things from us:

1] We must maintain our own balance while taking theirs
2] We must react fearlessly
3] We must enter into the very center of the conflict
4] We must understand our opponent’s intentions in order to achieve resolution

Eleven-dimensional chess? I suppose that’s what it sounds like to those who don’t know how to learn from the experts.


Warren Looks More Like a Senate Candidate

Elizabeth Warren’s calendar “sure looks like the schedule of a woman considering a Senate bid, or at least someone being courted by power players in Massachusetts and the Senate Democrats’ campaign operation in Washington,” Roll Call reports.

In recent weeks, Warren has met in person or spoken on the phone with DSCC Chairwoman Patty Murray, David Axelrod, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and a variety of Massachusetts lawmakers.


The Untransformational President

Liberals thought they were getting a transformational president. Instead, they’re saddled with someone who cares far more about being the most reasonable guy in the room, says Michael Tomasky.


Chart: The do-nothing Congress

To Ezra Klein’s point about how Congress could and should do more about unemployment, a graph from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office about the number of bills that have passed the House since Republicans won the majority and she handed over the Speaker’s gavel.

The Senate has also stalled out. Last week, rookie Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-New Hampshire) told the Chicago Tribune, “I thought that we would vote on a lot more bills.”




You’ve see the sunrise—now, the Earthrise

In November 2007, Japan’s Kaguya spacecraft orbited the moon with a high-def camera onboard. You can see the first HD footage of an “earthrise” and “earthset” by checking out these still images (Earthrise and Earthset). The video above gives you a good look at what an “Earthrise” looks like from outer space.



The Supreme Court closes the door to justice

Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean UC Irvine School of Law:

Has the Supreme Court lost faith in the American court system? That is a strange question to ask about the justices who sit at the top of the country’s judicial hierarchy. But in case after case in the just-completed term, the court, usually in 5-4 decisions with the conservatives in the majority, denied access to the courts.

Consider just a few of the examples:

The court ruled that patients who suffer devastating injuries from generic prescription drugs cannot sue the manufacturers for failing to provide adequate warnings even when drug companies making the non-generic versions of the same drugs can be sued on the same basis.

• The court held that standard clauses in consumer contracts calling for arbitration preclude consumers from joining class-action suits even when the effect almost surely would be that no individual lawsuits would be filed because the amount involved was too small.

• The court decided that employees who claim to be victims of sex discrimination cannot sue in class actions when the employer has a policy that prohibits discrimination.

• The court concluded that a man who spent 18 years in prison for a murder that he did not commit could not sue the prosecutors who hid key evidence.

• The court said that taxpayers cannot bring an action in federal court arguing that a state impermissibly established religion by giving tax credits that go almost entirely to religious schools.

• The court held that prisoners convicted in state court cannot obtain a hearing in federal court even when they have new evidence that calls into question their convictions — because of matters such as ineffective defense counsel or failure of prosecutors to turn over evidence — notwithstanding a federal statute that expressly authorizes such hearings.

One way of interpreting these decisions, and others like them, is that the conservative justices are simply pro-business and pro-prosecutor and are denying access to the courts to consumers, employees and criminal defendants. That certainly explains the rulings. But something else that is even more disturbing seems to underlie these rulings: distrust of the courts. […]

The distrust of the judiciary is not limited to this term and not limited to the Supreme Court’s justices. In prior years, for example, the Supreme Court has dramatically limited the availability of punitive damages based on distrust of juries and on the ability of trial judges to control their awards. In a very different area, the desire to use military tribunals, rather than federal courts, to try those accused of terrorist acts is based on a lack of faith in federal judges to handle such matters and come to the desired results.

This trend, and the decisions of this term, are disturbing on so many levels. The conservatives on the high court have uncritically accepted the attacks on the courts with little evidentiary support or foundation. At the same time, they have failed to recognize that civil suits for money damages, including class actions, are essential to ensure that injured individuals gain recovery and that future misconduct is deterred. People wrongly convicted should have access to federal courts to gain redress. Constitutional rights are meaningless if there are no courts to enforce them.

What can be done about this? A first step is to acknowledge the troubling pattern and realize that these decisions in so many disparate areas share a common theme: The Supreme Court is closing the courthouse doors to those who have claims that should be heard.

Next, Congress can and must act to remedy many of these injustices. Many of the rulings from this term involved the Supreme Court restrictively interpreting federal statutes and rules. These decisions, since they are not interpreting the Constitution, can be fixed by new federal laws. For example, Congress can restore access to class actions, allow suits by those injured by generic drugs and make clear that federal courts may hear additional evidence for those who claim to have been unconstitutionally convicted.

No principle is more basic to our constitutional system than that a person who has been hurt deserves his or her day in court. The Supreme Court needs to believe this again, and to act accordingly.




The Unexamined Society

[…] Fortunately, today we are in the middle of a golden age of behavioral research. Thousands of researchers are studying the way actual behavior differs from the way we assume people behave. They are coming up with more accurate theories of who we are, and scores of real-world applications. Here’s one simple example:

When you renew your driver’s license, you have a chance to enroll in an organ donation program. In countries like Germany and the U.S., you have to check a box if you want to opt in. Roughly 14 percent of people do. But behavioral scientists have discovered that how you set the defaults is really important. So in other countries, like Poland or France, you have to check a box if you want to opt out. In these countries, more than 90 percent of people participate.

This is a gigantic behavior difference cued by one tiny and costless change in procedure.

Yet in the middle of this golden age of behavioral research, there is a bill working through Congress that would eliminate the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences. This is exactly how budgets should not be balanced — by cutting cheap things that produce enormous future benefits.

Let’s say you want to reduce poverty. We have two traditional understandings of poverty. The first presumes people are rational. They are pursuing their goals effectively and don’t need much help in changing their behavior. The second presumes that the poor are afflicted by cultural or psychological dysfunctions that sometimes lead them to behave in shortsighted ways. Neither of these theories has produced much in the way of effective policies.

Eldar Shafir of Princeton and Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard have recently, with federal help, been exploring a third theory, that scarcity produces its own cognitive traits.

A quick question: What is the starting taxi fare in your city? If you are like most upper-middle-class people, you don’t know. If you are like many struggling people, you do know. Poorer people have to think hard about a million things that affluent people don’t. They have to make complicated trade-offs when buying a carton of milk: If I buy milk, I can’t afford orange juice. They have to decide which utility not to pay.

These questions impose enormous cognitive demands. The brain has limited capacities. If you increase demands on one sort of question, it performs less well on other sorts of questions.

Shafir and Mullainathan gave batteries of tests to Indian sugar farmers. After they sell their harvest, they live in relative prosperity. During this season, the farmers do well on the I.Q. and other tests. But before the harvest, they live amid scarcity and have to think hard about a thousand daily decisions. During these seasons, these same farmers do much worse on the tests. They appear to have lower I.Q.’s. They have more trouble controlling their attention. They are more shortsighted. Scarcity creates its own psychology.

Princeton students don’t usually face extreme financial scarcity, but they do face time scarcity. In one game, they had to answer questions in a series of timed rounds, but they could borrow time from future rounds. When they were scrambling amid time scarcity, they were quick to borrow time, and they were nearly oblivious to the usurious interest rates the game organizers were charging. These brilliant Princeton kids were rushing to the equivalent of payday lenders, to their own long-term detriment.

Shafir and Mullainathan have a book coming out next year, exploring how scarcity — whether of time, money or calories (while dieting) — affects your psychology. They are also studying how poor people’s self-perceptions shape behavior. Many people don’t sign up for the welfare benefits because they are intimidated by the forms. Shafir and Mullainathan asked some people at a Trenton soup kitchen to relive a moment when they felt competent and others to recount a neutral experience. Nearly half of the self-affirming group picked up an available benefits package afterward. Only 16 percent of the neutral group did.

People are complicated. We each have multiple selves, which emerge or don’t depending on context. If we’re going to address problems, we need to understand the contexts and how these tendencies emerge or don’t emerge. We need to design policies around that knowledge. Cutting off financing for this sort of research now is like cutting off navigation financing just as Christopher Columbus hit the shoreline of the New World.


Stephen Hawking and the Theory of Everything

All videos now free on line.

Useful site: The American Presidency Project 

The American Presidency Project (, was established in 1999 as a collaboration between John Woolley and Gerhard Peters at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Our archives contain 90,595 documents related to the study of the Presidency.

I’ve had whole days like this [weeks, even]:

And some days like this:



Minnesota Shutdown Rally

Sign up to host a VoteReg11 event in your community & be part of our day of action on 7/16:




We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are. – Anais Nin


The President held a presser and answered several questions. I urge you to watch and listen. Whether we agree with President Obama’s stance pr not, I for one beleive he tells us the truth as he sees it; he has not ever lied to the American public. I found his statements today very informative. Here is the video form CSPAN:

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Remember when?


Dayyum, we’re beautiful. The Earth I mean.


“Those who thought that there was no news in this press conference missed a strategic gamesmanship that Obama put on display today. Obama stayed in the middle, turned the heat up on Boehner, and exploited the fracture within the Republican Party.

As long as Obama holds his ground, the Republicans paralyzed by their own internal warfare will be left with two choices. They can either compromise which would both anger their base and help reelect this president, or they can hold their ground and watch their political fortunes go down the drain.

Obama is playing head games with the GOP now. The best way for this president to overcome the Republicans do nothing agenda is to divide and conquer his ideologically fractured foes.”


Sabreen he did challenge the Republican leadership during the presser and yet I read from so many firebaggers that HE is the one caving. He has the the best interest for the the most and for the country IMHO.

Obama said of the Republicans specifically the tea partiers in Congress, “I don’t see a path to a deal if they don’t budge, period. I mean if the basic proposition is it’s my way or the highway then we’re probably not going to get something done because we’ve got divided government. We’ve got Democrats controlling the Senate. We’re probably going to need Democratic votes in the House for any package we are going to pass, and so if in fact John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are sincere, and I believe they are that they don’t want to see the US government default, then they are going to have to compromise.”

It is quite amazing that so few, 86 TeaParty house members are allowed the ability to bring so much harm to the country.

KQµårk 死神

We both know why that is by definition ideologues are rigid in their beliefs which means their perception of reality is based more on their beliefs than what is actually happening. FBs are stuck in a different reality now and will never accept any differences to their preconceived notions about Dems and Obama.


1.)John Boehner appears to the only adult on the Republican side in the House. I am very, VERY surprised that he caved to agitators in his Party. It’s usually Democrats doing that. They must think Boehner is weak. If he wants to remain Speaker, he better go “Howard Dean” on some people.

2.)I’m kinda glad to see that “deal” dissipate too. Obama basically bent over backwards to please them and they refused. Now he can make the deal he wants to make. The Republicans will eventually negotiate a deal on it and both Parties will begin planning how to exploit it politically.

3.)GOD bless ya Bernie. You keep the message alive. I think Obama is listening and he will hear you.

4.)I agree that going straight to high speed rail isn’t the current solution. Use the money to strengthen our existing system while expanding for the future implementation of high speed rail. It’s the best idea I’ve heard.

5.)”Good idea” or not, I don’t trust the Senate.

6.)The FEDS wanna keep pot illegal? You mean the guys who make BILLIONS of dollars off our bullshit drug war want to keep their most golden goose on the table? I. Am. Shocked! Suppose you’ll tell me next that the prison system, which also benefits in the high 9 figures from our ungodly crusade, wanna keep it illegal also. Sorry ’bout your chemo pain grandma. A judge in Florida needs to make payments on his Ferrari.

7.)Mitch MConnell does not speak for all of Kentucky. Bring your “terror trials” here. We’re not pussies. I want a front row seat as person after person is found innocent and set free. Listen to fools on both sides talk about how “justice was served”. We caged you, beat you, dehumanized you, all without any legal reasons. But now we give you a trial you had no business ever being in, and we call it “justice served”. Most sane people would call it a monstrous sideshow and a slap in the face to human dignity. But we call it “justice”. Hooray!! U.S.A! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

8.)Stephen Hawing is the man. Love his books.

9.)”I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done.” ~Buddha

Great stuff Cher. Loved the Earthrise video.


Sic ’em ADONAI!!


Having to hack my way through today’s latest edition of Palin Porn on MSNBC today (She’s on the cover of Newsweek! We have the director of her propaganda film for his third interview on our network to ask what he thinks of Palin, I wonder what he’ll say?!) I saw an interview with a Boehner adviser who squawked like a good parrot and repeated all the BS phrases.

There are two phrases repeated by Repubs I would like to see the Dems (or someone!) hammer repeatedly. Every time they call the wealthy “job creators”, they should call that BS and call them “job destroying billionaires”.

And this self-righteous excuse the Repubs are using to justify their greed, “We’re not going to go against our profound belief that raising taxes kills jobs.” should be met with, “And Democrats believe that cutting people’s medical benefits cuts their medical benefits and cutting school lunch programs cuts school lunches for children, which of our propositions can be proven and which are just phony excuses for paying back the wealthy for financing your political party?”

At the very least, I would like Dems to counter this BS by saying, “Whatever you believe, it is only a belief. We have our beliefs too. Politics is compromise and both of us will have to concede on our beliefs to get a deal. You control one house of government, you can’t get a deal by insisting you get everything you want and the Dems get nothing they want. It’s the mentality of a five year old child. Grow the fuck up and show a shred of maturity and responsibility, you’re a US Congressperson, at least act like an adult.”


The SS COLA issue is one that bears watching very closely. Right now it is linked to core inflation which strips out food and energy prices, as they are too volatile to include.

The fed has been busily trying to stimulate real inflation for the last two years (fear of deflation) while trying to keep core inflation low.

If I not wrong 🙂 the COLA can be manipulated in a way to show savings to the program and therefore savings to the budget without actually changing anything structurally to the program itself.

Like the budget negotiations earlier in the year, I see a GOP “win” on SS being in reality a math tweak that ultimately nets them nothing.


Here is another view- perhaps a bit severe, but makes a few good points:


I think Bernie Sanders is wrong – Obama is not cutting Social Security as far as ANYONE can tell. He is reducing the amount of the COLA of which there has been NONE over the past three years. Sanders has no facts – there have been no facts anywhere – to say what “cutting entitlements” means. We’ve known for years that Obama wants to cut out the ‘middleman’ of privatization for Medicare. If that is done, it will save billions. But unless and until we here precisely what “cuts” are on the table, it seems irresponsible to sound the klaxon of alarm. Without specifics, we cannot responsibly make suggestions or demands about what we want. Sanders and the other Dems have to give us information, not scare stories. Those paralyze us with anger. Facts empower us to make our views known.


cl- if Sanders and the other Dems haven’t given us facts- how do you conclude he is wrong?


It appears that the White House simply leaked the general proposition that SS is on the table and news channels, pundits, political organizations and Congresspeople have projected onto that what it means.

The White House hasn’t given out any details at all on what changes it would accept on SS so anyone who comes out railing against what this will mean appears to be constructing it from their own imagination.

Does Bernie Sanders have a WH source on this? I would doubt it, he’s not the closest to the Obama Admin.

KQµårk 死神

I’m not surprised. Sanders is an ideologue ergo part of the problem. Ideologues always hyper spin numbers to make any changes they don’t like sound worse than they are.

Andrew Sullivan again had the best perspective I read on this. Of course he blames TB Repubs first for their rigidity and not deal because he thought Dems would compromise some. But the Dem base is more left leaning than it has been in the past as well so no grand bargains can be made.


It looks to me that the GOP cares, mostly, about one thing: taxes.
Basically, they do not believe in taxes.

That means that they do not, in fact, actually care anything about the either the debt or the deficit.
I have to wonder if they actually have any ideas or values at all. It is hard to negotiate with someone who believes nothing and thinks nothing.

Basically, I am watching and waiting to see how this all works out.


Republicans have proven that they only care about being in power and keeping the corporate campaign dollars flowing.

Why is this not apparent to many independent voters? Maybe because the MSM is dedicated to obscuring this and attributing “principles” to Republicans who are just acting as corporate puppets.


Troubling news with Boehner pulling out, Cantor appears to be singing the same tune he always has and coming out looking like a tool, just like the NYT op-ed said he would.

I hope Elizabeth Warren is trying to set herself up for a presidential run in 2016. She would be better off going for a house seat and then going for a foreign policy spot on the next administration. Or if she could go for both foreign policy and a governorship in Vermont or New Hampshire as the governorship is two years in those states.

You know who would be the best “President of the Senate” with Mrs. Warren, Debbie Wasserman-Shultz.
I know she is unelectable for President, but maybe she has a shot as VP.


It would be very cool for Elizabeth Warren to win the White House in 2016, a real long shot and I don’t know if she would have any interest in that but she is so principled and a real fighter.

And I do like Debbie Wasserman-Schultz too though the Senate is a dinosaur when it comes to seniority and leadership, right now the most likely Dems who are “owed” the right to fill Harry Reid’s shoes in the Senate are Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin.


I’d be very happy with Warren or Schultz (or both!)