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House GOP Suicide Squad gets bigger

Steve Benen:

By late yesterday, the political world seemed to be feeling optimistic about the debt ceiling again. The Gang of Six had made a lot of senators happy; President Obama seemed upbeat causing a sudden spike on Wall Street; and the House was wrapping up work on a pointless vanity project, clearing the way for real work. Maybe, folks thought, we’ll avoid that catastrophe after all.

This afternoon, that optimism is evaporating again.

On Monday, Rep. Joe Walsh, a radical GOP freshman, began circulating a letter among his House Republican colleagues drawing a line in the sand: they won’t accept the McConnell/Reid plan. Period. Full stop.

Senate Republicans figured if the letter picked up no more than 50 signatures, the Senate’s “Plan B” could pick up some Democratic support, get through the House, and offer a way out of this mess. If Walsh’s effort picked up 100 signatures, we’re all in big trouble.

Greg Sargent reports today on the Suicide Squad’s progress. The news isn’t good.

…Some eighty House Republicans have now signed a letter calling on GOP leaders not to even let the McConnell plan get to the floor for a vote, a GOP aide tells me.

As I noted here yesterday, one key metric for judging whether the McConnell plan can get through the House is a letter that Tea Party-backed Rep. Joe Walsh is distributing among colleagues. He’s hoping to amass 100 members on the letter, which would be a strong statement of opposition that would call into question whether the McConnell plan has any chance of passing.

The GOP aide tells me he’s roughly 20 signatures away from that goal. The letter with final signatories will be released tonight.

Let’s do a little arithmetic. It will take 217 votes to pass a bill in the House right now (it would ordinarily be 218, but there are a couple of vacancies). There are 240 House Republicans. If 80 GOPers refuse to even consider the McConnell/Reid compromise, Plan B would need 57 House Democrats. That’s a pretty large number for a center-right agreement that includes zero new revenue.

If Walsh succeeds and the Suicide Squad reaches the 100-signature goal, Plan B would 77 House Dems for a bill Democrats really aren’t going to like.

What about the Gang of Six plan? Even if it could be crafted and passed in the Senate quickly — I suspect that’s literally not possible — a growing number of House Republican leaders are concluding it’s just not right-wing enough to pass the lower chamber.

So, where does that leave us? The House won’t pass a clean bill; it won’t pass a Grand Bargain; it won’t pass the Gang of Six proposal; and at least 80 House Republicans are prepared to try to kill the Plan B compromise.

And the clock runs out in just 13 days.

Maybe someone can talk some sense into the Suicide Squad. Maybe there will be a temporary extension (there are some whispers to that effect coming out of the White House today). Maybe President Obama will give that “Constitutional Option” a second look after all.

But at this point, if you’re not nervous, you’re not paying attention.




Gang Of Six Has Last Gasp

Jonathan Chait:

[…] The question I have here is the same question I’ve had all along: How do they think this plan will get through the House of Representatives? Every article I’ve read over the last half a year asserting that there’s a strong desire among members of Congress to pass a bipartisan deficit bill focuses entirely on the Senate. And, indeed, there do seem to be quite a few Senators interested in bipartisan compromise on the deficit. I have yet to see any evidence of such a desire on the House side, save John Boehner’s brief hypnotic spell from which he was rudely awakened with the discovery that no members of his caucus would support him.

The thing to understand about the House Republican caucus is that it’s riven between anti-government fanatics and anti-tax fanatics. The anti-government fanatics either oppose any increase in the debt ceiling, or will only do so in return for President Obama offering complete and unconditional surrender in the form of accepting the Paul Ryan budget or a Cut, Cap and Balance constitutional amendment. This faction wants to hold the debt ceiling hostage until its demands are met, and tends to express skepticism toward warnings that a failure to raise the debt ceiling might have adverse economic effects.

The opposing faction is the anti-tax fanatics. This group favors the Mitch McConnell plan to raise the debt ceiling without a deficit agreement, because it fears that any such agreement will include tax hikes. That those tax hikes would come in the form of closing tax expenditures, with the cost offset by lower tax rates, mollifies them not one iota. That’s why the McConnell plan has the support of such normally staunch partisans as the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Grover Norquist.

Neither of these factions is a plausible candidate to support a Grand Bargain.



Can the Gang of Six’s plan pass?

Ezra Klein:

There are two answers to that question. The first is “not before the debt limit comes due.” The second is, “probably not after that, either.”

How the GOP’s Balanced Budget Amendment Would Work




American Airlines Places ‘Largest Aircraft Order In Aviation History’

The purchases are to be split between Boeing and Europe’s Airbus, the company says.

“No company has done more to reduce the wages and benefits of American workers than WalMart.”

The American Prospect:

[…] Hansen, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents the nation’s unionized supermarket workers, is dismayed that when First Lady Michelle Obama meets tomorrow at the White House with representatives of retailers who have markets in underserved areas, Wal-Mart will be in attendance.

“We’ve been fighting Wal-Mart in New York, Chicago and here in D.C.,” Hansen told me this afternoon. “They take jobs away from workers in unionized chains – jobs that pay decent wages and have decent benefits. No company has done more to reduce the wages and benefits of American workers than Wal-Mart.”

“I’m a supporter of the president and his efforts to create good jobs,” Hansen continued, “but they’ve got to get their act together here. I give the first lady all the credit in the world for promoting nutritious food, but Wal-Mart employees often can’t afford to buy that food.”

With its sales and share value stagnating, Wal-Mart is pushing harder than ever to enter the big-city markets from which liberals have until recently blocked its expansion. As historian Nelson Lichtenstein documented in the May issue of the Prospect, one way Wal-Mart is endeavoring to win city council approvals for opening urban stores is to announce its intent to build stores in underserved minority communities. That’s the exception, though, to the Wal-Mart rule. In cities where it’s encountered no resistance – Memphis, Houston, Atlanta, Cleveland, St. Louis – it has built just one or two inner-city stores in each. “More than its competitors,” Lichtenstein writes, “Wal-Mart builds its stores largely in white, middle- and lower-middle-class neighborhoods, and in recent years, increasingly in more affluent exurbs.”

Even if it does open inner-city stores and hires inner-city residents to staff them, those employees (or as Wal-Mart calls them, “associates”) will not exactly be thriving. Pollster Celinda Lake recently conducted a survey of full-time Wal-Mart workers that revealed a work force that’s little short of desperate. Asked what their biggest economic concern was, fully 60 percent of Wal-Mart workers answered, “Not making enough money to pay the bills” – dwarfing the number who answered “losing your job” (which came in second at 27 percent); paying off debt (third, at 23 percent); and rising health care costs (fourth, at 18 percent).

Wal-Mart’s strategically-driven discovery of the inner city is surely worthy of White House notice. But it’s a cause more for concern than celebration.



US businesses don’t succeed in spite of government. They succeed because of it.

Big business complains about corporate tax rates. But corporate taxes fund the infrastructure that the private sector depends on. Try starting a business without it.






Heritage Foundation poverty report: being fat means you can’t be poor.

Executive Summary: Air Conditioning, Cable TV, and an Xbox: What Is Poverty in the United States Today?





Are You Smarter Than a 12th Grader?

Mother Jones:

The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress results in geography were released today. So how did the youth of America do? You know the drill:

Geography Report Card Finds Students Lagging

Roger that. But with the pro forma wailing out of the way, how did our kids really do? Answer: Fourth-graders did better than in the past and 8th- and 12th-graders did about the same. But I gotta tell you: I went through the five sample questions for 12th-graders, and they were pretty damn hard.

This was not “identify France on a map” stuff. I ended up getting them all right, but I was half guessing on some of them.

After I went through the samples, I checked out a wider variety of questions from the latest test, and they want you to identify continents by cross section, explain why Amazon deforestation is bad, understand how the Great Lakes were formed, pick out the probable result of poor irrigation practices, explain why Libya and Australia have a population density of six people per square mile, and then my favorite of all: “You are forming a United Nations committee to study the world crisis of desertification and what to do about it. List four different professions from which you will select your experts. Explain why you selected those specific professions and what each expert will be expected to contribute.”

(Plus my favorite question from the 4th-grade test: “Identify two ways that helicopters are able to help people in a city.” What exactly does this have to do with geography?)

You know what? I’m a pretty smart guy, and I read a lot and I keep up with things better than most people, but this was tough stuff. What’s more, I can say with high confidence that I would have been clueless about at least half these topics when I was in high school. For one thing, I never took a geography course in high school. I took math, physics, German, history, English, and one elective. How could I have taken geography even if I’d wanted to? And of those other classes, only history even came close to teaching any of this stuff.

So I’m not really sure what to make of all this. People will read the headlines about these scores and think that kids can’t read a map. And maybe they can’t. But that’s not what’s being tested. They’re asking some pretty sophisticated questions for a bunch of 17-year-olds, and frankly, I’m sort of surprised they do as well as they do.



We receive $13 in social benefits for every $1 invested in childhood education and development

Center for American Progress:

The strength of the American economy depends on a well-educated workforce. And yet the United States struggles with persistent achievement gaps facing minority and low-income students. Smart and efficient federal investments in education will improve student achievement and put our economy on the path to sustained and robust growth. Here’s how:

Don’t spend scarce federal money where it’s not needed

  • Federal education funds should go to students with extra needs, including low-income students, students with disabilities, and English language learners.
  • That money should be used to close vast disparities in educational achievement between low-income and minority students, and their more affluent peers.
  • We should use federal taxpayer dollars to encourage states to direct more money to school districts with many low-income students.

Education funding should be efficient and effective, emphasizing returns on investment

  • We should require districts to report real expenditures at the school level, rigorously evaluate state and local results on that spending—and make future funding decisions accordingly.
  • Some ineffective or outdated federal programs were already eliminated in the 2011 budget, and President Obama is right to want to consolidate overlapping programs.
  • We should explore innovative funding strategies that reward performance, such as pay-for-success contracts or social impact bonds.

Investing in education now will pay off in the future, many times over

  • Our economy would be as much as $2 trillion bigger if we had closed the international achievement gap between the United States and higher-performing countries.
  • Consider: If 50 percent of 2008 high school dropouts in the largest metro areas had graduated, they would earn a combined $4 billion more every year.
  • We receive $13 in social benefits for every $1 invested in early childhood education and development, studies show.






NRC Chief: U.S. nuclear plants safe despite age and needed upgrades




Chart of the Day

Bob Cesca:

Ezra Klein posted the following chart showing the most popular animal proteins and their contribution to greenhouse gasses and, subsequently, the climate crisis.

Lambs are killing the world! Seriously, I never would have guessed lambs and cheese were so destructive.

In Montana, ranchers reel from oil spill on the iconic Yellowstone River.

[…] Bonogofsky and her partner have found it hard to track down information about how to mitigate the oil damage on their property. The county’s emergency response office told them to call Exxon’s hotline. Exxon asked for information but had little to provide. When they finally got ahold of someone from the company, Bonogofsky said, “they told us ‘off the record’ to get our livestock away from the oil.” They were handed a brochure put out by the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying group for the oil industry, on how to protect livestock from crude oil. Crews have come in and cut down some plants covered in oil and dropped large cloths that resemble diapers over other patches. But the water that sits in their slough is a sickly brown color, and you can still see oil sheens atop puddles in the low-lying areas.

The spill came at a time when pipeline politics were already on many Montanans’ minds. Just 160 hundred miles downstream from the spill site is where the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would also cross the Yellowstone. Three times larger and many miles longer than the Silvertip, the Keystone would transport up to 21.4 million gallons of tar-sands oil every day from Alberta to Texas. It would cross more than 70 rivers and streams—including the Yellowstone—in addition to the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides nearly one-third of the groundwater used to irrigate US crops.

A recent study on the proposed pipeline found that a single spill on the Yellowstone could release up to 5.8 million gallons—140 times more than the spill earlier this month. Dena Hoff, a farmer who lives farther downstream along the river in Glendive, Montana, has been active in the debates over the Keystone XL through the regional environmental group Northern Plains Resource Council. She references the recent study as she sits with me last Saturday afternoon, taking a few minutes away from a bridal shower for her granddaughter to talk about the spill and the proposed pipeline.

Monitoring of pipelines in general is “a real joke,” says Hoff, who worries about what a spill from the Keystone XL pipeline could mean for the nearly 500 acres of farm and ranch land she owns and relies on the river to irrigate. Federal law requires fewer than half of all lines that carry liquid fuels to be inspected regularly, focusing on those that run through “high consequence” areas—or those with large populations. Federal inspectors only check those pipelines every five years, leaving the rest up to industry to maintain. “Pipeline lore holds that there are two kinds of pipelines,” Hoff says. “Those that are leaking, and those that are going to leak.”






Are “good bacteria” really good for you? The pros and cons of probiotics






Free contraceptives as part of health care reform: another big effing deal.

The American Prospect:

Today’s IOM report basically repudiates their view:

Women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to receive delayed or no prenatal care and to smoke, consume alcohol, be depressed, and experience domestic violence during pregnancy. Unintended pregnancy also increases the risk of babies being born preterm or at a low birth weight, both of which raise their chances of health and developmental problems.

Now that IOM has weighed in, it’s up to the administration to make a final decision. It may seem strange that such details are still being ironed out more than a year after the health-care law was passed. But the delay is part of an effective political strategy by Senator Barbara Mikulski and the Obama administration.

During health-care-reform deliberations in December 2009, the Senate approved the Women’s Health Amendment (known as the Mikulski Amendment), which requires private health insurance plans to provide preventative services for women free of charge. But to avoid a political storm over contraception, the law wisely punted the decision of what would be covered off to HHS, which in turn asked for guidance from the IOM. What this has done is take the decision out of the political realm and left it up to medical experts. This not only makes it more likely that contraception will be covered but makes it harder for an anti-abortion, anti-contraception president to come along and strip it from the law.

That such a maneuver was necessary is a testament to how anti-abortion activists have succeeded in making something as popular as contraception a political lightning rod. Contraception is extremely popular, and polls show broad support for making it affordable. But that hasn’t stopped them for successfully cutting off access. In a stroke of genius, the anti-choice movement has managed to repackage their resistance to contraception by folding it into their opposition to abortion. And what better way to do that than to name-drop Planned Parenthood?

Yesterday, the flagship anti-abortion publication, Life News, ran a story titled “Will Obama Admin Add Planned Parenthood Bailout to Obamacare?”—an apparent reference to the fact that Planned Parenthood would be fully reimbursed by health insurers for providing contraception. But of course Planned Parenthood isn’t receiving any more or less money. By eliminating out-of-pocket expenses for preventative services, the law simply shifts the cost burden from the patient to the insurance company. The government is not paying for these services, and they are not paying Planned Parenthood a dime. But everyone knows that Planned Parenthood is the anti-choice cause’s deus ex machina, a bogeyman they haul out to turn any conversation about reproductive health into a conversation about abortion.

Beyond invoking Planned Parenthood, anti-choicers warn that including contraception among free services for women would “spell doom for rights of conscience.” This argument hinges on the fact that those opposed to contraception would be forced to pay into insurance plans that cover contraception, therefore violating their “conscience rights”—a right that the movement entirely made up. Insurance plans already cover contraception; they just force individuals to pick up a larger portion of the tab. The Life News story concludes with a rallying cry: “There is no issue in DC more important than this, neither the ‘debt ceiling’ nor anything else. Americans must not allow pro-abortion fanatics to impose their beliefs on the majority.” It is one of the great achievements of the evangelical and anti-abortion movement that they have convinced both society and the courts that they are an oppressed minority whose taxpayer dollars must be protected from funding abortion with more dedication than we protect a woman’s right to chose.

Women’s health advocates remember with horror how the Bush administration attacked reproductive rights with a plan to classify forms of contraception as abortion in order to cut off access to family planning. The episode goes to show that reproductive care is accessible largely at the whim of the sitting president and his administration. Under the Mikulski Amendment, HHS determines what services count as preventative care, and in theory HHS could remove contraception from that list under an anti-abortion president. But it will be harder. Once women begin receiving cost-free contraception, reversing this decision becomes politically difficult.

This is all contingent on the administration’s willingness to make the final push for cost-free contraception. Chances are, after taking the long road to make sure these guidelines were based on science and not politics, they won’t back down now. Today, 14 million women do not use contraception—or use it sporadically and ineffectively—because of the costs; women of reproductive age pay 68 percent more in out-of-pocket health costs than their male counterparts, due mostly to reproductive care. It’s hard to stress just how big a deal these changes will be. Advocates have been fighting for universal contraceptive access for decades, and in a year when access to preventative care has been severely rolled back, it’s a rare and important win for women.



Trends To Watch For In Trying To Curb Health Costs

Kaiser Health News:

Emerging models include vigorous consolidation, better coordination of care, new financial arrangements among health care providers, and greater use of medical data to identify practices that lower costs.

In recent interviews with Kaiser Health News, policy experts and industry leaders identify some of the most intriguing trends to watch. The following are edited excerpts of the interviews.





How to jumpstart job creation? Stop forcing smart immigrants to leave the country.

The Atlantic:

The United States needs a policy agenda that defines immigration as a way to improve job creation, economic competitiveness, and national innovation. In other words, we need to apply an “Einstein Principle” in our approach to immigration and technology innovation. Using this perspective, national leaders would elevate brains, talent, and special skills to a higher level of consideration in setting policy.

It can’t happen fast enough. There is substantial evidence that the United States is falling behind on innovation. An analysis of patents granted shows that our country’s longterm dominance has come to an end. In 1999, American scientists were granted 90,000 patents, compared to 70,000 to those from all other countries. By 2009, though, non-US innovators earned more patents (around 96,000) compared to Americans (93,000).

The United States also is falling behind in nurturing home-grown science and engineering expertise. Whereas 38 percent of Korean students earn degrees in science and engineering, compared to 33 percent for Germany, 28 percent for France, 27 percent for England, and 26 percent for Japan, only 16 percent of American graduates have backgrounds in these crucial areas.

Right now, only 15 percent of annual temporary visas are set aside for employment purposes. Of these, some go to seasonal agricultural workers, while a small number of H-1B visas (65,000) are reserved for “specialty occupations” such as scientists, engineers, and technology experts. The number reserved for scientists and engineers is drastically below the 195,000 figure allowed between 1999 and 2004. We need to reexpand the number of these high-skill visas to at least that level to enable US companies to attract top workers.

Another little-known visa program called EB-5 offers temporary visas to foreigners who invest at least half a million dollars in American locales officially designated as “distressed areas.” If their financial investment leads to the creation of 10 or more jobs, the temporary visa automatically becomes a permanent green card. Without much media attention, there were 945 immigrants in 2008 who invested over $400 million through this program. There is public accountability for this policy program because entry visas are granted on a temporary basis and become permanent only after at least ten jobs have been created. It is a terrific way to create jobs and spur investment through a targeted policy intervention. We need to find more initiatives like this that attract the talent we need while expanding opportunities for all Americans.






What Murdoch teaches us about policing global corporate abuse.

Robert Kuttner:

Rupert Murdoch and News Corp may end up being prosecuted in the US under a 1977 US law known as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for their illegal bribes to officials in Britain. The law prohibits American companies from bribing foreign public officials overseas. I had a hand in both drafting the law and conducting the investigative hearings that led to it, in my prior life as chief investigator for the Senate Banking Committee under the superb Sen. William Proxmire.

At the time, there was an epidemic of bribery by American corporations overseas. What brought the issue to a head were revelations that Lockheed had paid bribes to several foreign governments to buy its military aircraft, including Japan, Italy, the Netherlands, West Germany and Saudi Arabia. To add insult to injury, Lockheed had been bailed out by the US government in 1971 to the tune of $195 million.

Conventional wisdom had it that you could not do business in much of the world without paying bribes. We were warned by business lobbies that if the US passed such a law, American business would lose out to less naively idealistic competitors; and that the law was probably unconstitutional because it was “extra-territorial” – meaning that it tried to apply US law overseas.

But the hearings by both the Banking Committee and by Sen. Frank Church’s subcommittee on multinationals sparked outrage. Congress, then safely in the hands of progressives, duly passed the law and President Carter signed it. Over the years, it has been used repeatedly, as the Prospect’s former executive editor Michael Tomasky explains in a fine piece for Daily Beast/Newsweek, and foreign bribery by multinational actually diminished.

Fast forward to this decade. Today’s conventional wisdom is that multinational corporations and banks are too big and too stateless to be effectively regulated. But as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act demonstrates, that’s self-serving nonsense. A company does not even need to be based in the US, if it does substantial business or banking here. The most notably bribery prosecution under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was of Siemens, which had a billion dollar slush fund to pay bribes. Siemens, a German corporation, was prosecuted both in Germany and in the US under the FCPA, and paid an $800 million fine to the US Treasury.

Two candidates for US regulation of global activity are tax evasion and financial fraud. According to Senator Carl Levin, we could easily collect at least $100 billion yearly in taxes owed but illegally evaded via offshore evasion by US-based individuals and corporations. That’s a trillion dollars over a decade, and surely a lot less painful than cutting Social Security and Medicare.

We could also put a stop to the kind of financial speculation that is putting the economy on the verge of a second financial collapse. If a corporation does business in the US, or has a bank account here, you can regulate it.

There is a lot of well meaning argument about how “regulatory arbitrage” – the search by companies for more friendly regulatory climates – makes meaningful regulation of corporations impossible in a global economy. The FCPA proves that this is not so. The problem is not that business is too global to regulate. It’s that business has too much political influence–and that today’s legislators are a lot less public-minded than those whom I served in the 1970s.



DOJ Charges Pakistani-Americans With Conspiracy

[…] The DOJ alleges that Syed Ghulam Nabi Fai and Zaheer Ahmad have spent over two decades working as agents of a foreign entity (in this case, Pakistan) without registering as required under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). According to an affidavit filed in federal court on Tuesday, Fai serves as the director of the Washington, DC-based Kashmiri American Council (KAC), an NGO that supposedly lobbies Congress on the issue of self-determination for the region. The group’s purported aim was to target members of Congress and draw media attention to the issue of the Kashmir, the disputed region between India and Pakistan that has been wracked by bloody violence and served as a hotbed for insurgency for decades. But the US government doesn’t buy that.

The DOJ claims that KAC is nothing more than a front group for the Pakistani government and its spy service, the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI). Witnesses told investigators that, since the mid-1990s, KAC has helped launder some $4 million through Fai to lobby for Pakistani interests. That money, the affidavit alleges, was transferred to Fai via Ahmad and his networks in Pakistan.

ProPublica reports that Fai himself has donated $23,000 to congressional candidates, including $7,500 to Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), and $2,000 to Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Penn.), Both men are frequent critics of India’s Kashmir policy. (The DOJ says there’s no evidence that any elected officials who received money from Fai or KAC knew that it came from Pakistan.)



Wells Fargo fined $85million over subprime loans



Bank Of America Paying Out $410 Million For Reordering Your Transactions To Maximize Overdraft Fees






NYT: Scandal Stirs U.S. Debate on Big Media

[…] The scandal, they say, is an opportunity to raise awareness of — and, they hope, objection to — media consolidation at a time when the American government is reviewing the rules that govern how much companies like News Corporation, Comcast and the Walt Disney Company can own.

“For those of us who’ve been warning about the dangers of too much media power concentrated in too few corporate hands, this scandal is a godsend,” said Jeff Cohen, the founding director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College.

The scandal is also giving Democratic lawmakers an opportunity to call for more attention to the practices of such companies.

Representative Bobby Rush, a Democrat of Illinois and a past critic of Mr. Murdoch, questioned in an interview whether the media mogul had been allowed to amass too much media power. “We can’t forget the fundamental tenet of media ownership in the United States. It’s not a right, it’s a privilege. And it’s a privilege based on trust and responsibility,” he said.

Representative Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat of Wisconsin, said that along with media consolidation, the scandal raised questions about “privacy expectations in the digital world” and about how “we support freedom of the press while ensuring the integrity and truthfulness of the press.”

There are few if any immediate threats to Mr. Murdoch’s American portfolio, which includes the Fox network, two dozen local television stations, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post and the 20th Century Fox movie studio. The Federal Communications Commission signaled last week that it regarded the hacking scandal as isolated to Britain.

But the scandal in Britain could influence the F.C.C. review of media ownership rules, especially if there is perceptible public discord about powerful media moguls like Mr. Murdoch.

The discord is already evident in Britain, where politicians have talked openly about considering new laws that would lead to a breakup of the News Corporation, which owns 39 percent of British Sky Broadcasting as well as numerous newspapers there.

In the United States, politicians have called for investigations into whether News Corporation entities hacked into the phones of Americans, including the victims of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is now investigating; on Tuesday, Mr. Murdoch said that he was aware of no evidence that any 9/11 American victims had been affected.

But media reform groups like Free Press, which advocates for more diversity in media ownership, say their interest extends far beyond any single investigation.

“I think this is the moment to contend with the serious damage the Murdoch empire has done to our media system over the past few decades,” Craig Aaron, the head of that group, said last week.

The 2004 book “The New Media Monopoly” by Ben H. Bagdikian found that more than half of the radio and television stations, daily newspapers, magazines, publishers and movie studios in the United States were owned by five companies. In January, in the most recent case of consolidation, the government approved a bid by Comcast to take control of NBC Universal.

Proponents of media mergers say such combinations improve consumer access to news, information and entertainment. They say the Internet has fostered competition, creating new choices for consumers.

Groups like Free Press say the opposite — that such combinations reduce the country’s journalistic corps and decrease the diversity of voices in print and on the air. Mr. Aaron said he sensed that most Americans were aware of big media brands like Fox and NBC but unaware that their owners also controlled dozens of other brands. Media companies present an obstacle to awareness: “Most media outlets don’t like to cover themselves.”

But “when people find out just how much those companies own, they are worried about it and want to know more,” he said, adding that the who-owns-what chart was the most popular feature on the Free Press Web site.

This week, the F.C.C. declined to comment on the status of its ownership review, which is supposed to assess whether the existing rules are effectively promoting diversity, localism and competition. Earlier this month, an appeals court upheld most of the steps that the commission took in 2007 to loosen ownership rules, but it rejected on procedural grounds one rule that enabled more companies to own a newspaper and a station in the same local market.

Cable outlets like Fox News — the scourge of liberals and a symbol of Mr. Murdoch’s political power — are not under the purview of the F.C.C. or its ownership review, but the News Corporation’s 27 local stations are, because each is dependent on a federal license for use of the public airwaves.

License revocations are extremely rare, and analysts said they did not anticipate problems for the stations as a result of the hacking scandal. But an F.C.C. provision assessing the character of a station owner could be invoked by the News Corporation’s opponents when the company’s licenses for Fox and MyNetwork stations come up for renewal.

The broader problem for Mr. Murdoch, Mr. Aaron suggested, is that he “had an air of invincibility” before the scandal became one of the most talked-about news stories in Britain and the United States. “Whatever happens now, that’s gone,” he said.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman of the public interest group Media Access Project, said he doubted that loyal viewers of Fox News, a News Corporation property, would change their views.

But, he added, “a much larger group of people have an instinctive mistrust of powerful media, and they understand that consolidation of media ownership is not good for democracy.”

“For better or worse,” Mr. Schwartzman said, “News Corporation’s misdeeds will fuel that skepticism.”


Identifying Bad Influences On Children, Fox’s Monica Crowley Lists Obama Alongside O.J.



Media getting it right on the debt ceiling

Jon Chait points today to an example of one of my pet peeves, the “politicians in Washington” dodge. When news outlets report that “the Senate” did something or that “politicians” are in denial, they mask who’s really responsible. William Cohan did that today in a column about the debt ceiling fight, and Chait ain’t happy about it:

It’s not “the politicians in Washington” who don’t understand the risks of failing to raise the debt ceiling. It’s the Republican Party. It was the Republican Party’s idea to turn the debt ceiling vote from a symbolic opportunity for the opposition party to posture against deficits into a high-stakes negotiation over budget policy. It’s the Republican Party, and only the Republican Party, which has numerous elected officials dismissing the dangers of failing to lift the debt ceiling….The problem is that various reporters, pundits, and business types appear intent on blurring that reality. That’s an important reason why Republicans are playing debt ceiling chicken.

But now Wall Street is finally reacting and (most) reporters are finally telling the story pretty straight: gambling with the debt ceiling is really dangerous and it’s the GOP that has its fingers on the button. Put all this together, and even Republicans in the heartland are starting to figure out that screwing around with the financial integrity of the country is a little more serious than filibustering a judge or holding symbolic votes on abortion funding. As we get closer to August 2nd, and the consequences become even clearer, I expect the polls to continue shifting. After all, Armageddon only looks interesting from a distance.



Video- The Daily Show: Fox News and Rupert Murdoch






How the DoD Allows Contractors to Grade Themselves and Write Their Own Contract Terms

The Department of Defense (DoD) Inspector General’s (IG) office recently found that the Marine Corps allowed their contractors for a vital troop protection system to act as government employees, including directing and evaluating government employees’ work, grading their own work and writing up requirements for the follow-on contract. The contractors then bid on those requirements and won multimillion-dollar contracts.

The IG issued a report this month with the mundane title, “Contract Management of Joint Logistics Integrator Services in Support of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles Needs Improvement.” The report points out, in glaring examples, how the Marine Corp allowed two companies to infiltrate and control two very important logistics and maintenance contracts.

The program where this abuse occurred could not be more crucial to the troops. The program does maintenance support and logistics for the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles program (MRAP). MRAP is a $17.6 billion program to build or modify military vehicles with a V-shaped hull to prevent or reduce troop injuries and death from IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). MRAP was a rushed program because it had the potential to save lives and prevent severe injury at a time when IEDs were wreaking havoc on American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

From the report:

On May 2, 2007, the Secretary of Defense designated the MRAP program as the highest priority DoD acquisition program and stated that all options to accelerate the production and fielding of the MRAP capability to the theater should be identified, assessed and applied where feasible. To reduce the burden on units receiving MRAP vehicles, JPO [Joint Program Office] MRAP established a forward presence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Qatar and Kuwait. According to the Joint Supportability Plan, the JPO MRAP Forward includes personnel from the JPO, JLI [Joint Logistics Integrator] and MRAP vehicle original equipment manufacturers to form an integrated team to stand-up, coordinate and execute JPO MRAP operations in theater.


One of the most egregious actions in this report was to allow the contractors to write up the requirements of the follow-on contract and then allow them to bid and win the contract. From the report:

The contractor also performed functions that FAR [Federal Acquisition Regulations] 7.503 lists as approaching inherently governmental, such as participating in the development of the SOW [Statement of Work, i.e. what is required to be done on the contract] and situations where contractor employees may be assumed to be DoD employees or representatives. For example, on December 7, 2009, the audit team met with the ACC-Warren Chief of Armaments Contracting Group, contracting officer and contracting specialist, where the contracting specialist stated that the contractor and JPO MRAP officials worked together to prepare the contract requirements for the JLI 02 SOW and the contracting officer agreed. Furthermore, on December 7, 2009, we asked the Product Manager for Logistics and Sustainment, JPO MRAP, about the contractor’s involvement in the preparation of the SOW and he confirmed that JPO MRAP officials discussed the contract requirements in the SOW with the contractor. Therefore, contractor personnel participated in the preparation of the requirements for the contract that they bid on and were awarded.






First Thoughts: Disconnect


The Tea Party vs. everyone else: This disconnect is also evident in our brand-new NBC/WSJ poll. When provided arguments from both sides on whether or not to raise the debt ceiling, 49% support increasing it — including 66% of Democrats, 50% of independents, and even 50% of non-Tea Party Republicans. Meanwhile, 43% oppose raising the debt ceiling — including 62% of Tea Party supporters. Moreover, 58% say they favor Obama’s mixed approach to reduce the deficit (through spending cuts, tax increases, and changes to entitlements), including 88% of Democrats and 54% of indies. On the other hand, 36% back the House Republican plan (spending cuts only), including 70% of Tea Party supporters (!!!). House Republican leaders now find themselves caught between their Tea Party base and independents. In 2010, these groups were largely on the same page. That’s not true anymore.

The White House is winning the PR battle: The poll also shows that Obama is clearly winning a legislative argument — in terms of public opinion — for the first time in his presidency. In addition to having a 22-point lead on his deficit proposal vs. the House GOP’s, a plurality in the poll (by a 38%-31% margin) says the debt ceiling should be raised, which is a sharp reversal from June when a plurality (39%-28%) opposed the move. When told that failing to raise the debt ceiling could jeopardize payments to Social Security recipient and military personnel, 49% support increasing it. And 43% oppose it when told that an increase would make it harder to reduce the deficit. “You are watching opinion shift as people are learning more about the debate,” says NBC/WSJ co-pollster Bill McInturff (R). By the way, one smart Republican said to one of us yesterday: If only his party hadn’t gotten themselves trapped by the debt ceiling, they MIGHT have a better shot at winning the LARGER argument.



Rumsfeld Advising Perry on National Security

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld helped organize Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s foreign policy and national security briefing in Austin last week, according to Ben Smith.

“Perry’s aides have been tight-lipped about the gathering, which National Review reported included former Rumsfeld aides Doug Feith, Daniel Fata, and William Luti, as well as the magazine’s Andrew McCarthy and others . But I’m told Rumsfeld helped steer Perry’s staff to the low-key advisory group.”



Doug Feith Advising Rick Perry On Foreign Policy

The National Review Online reports that Texas GOP governor Rick Perry appears to be getting serious about running for president because apparently he is “brushing up on foreign policy.” And who is helping Perry with the brushing? None other than Doug Feith, whom Gen. Tommy Franks famously referred to as the “stupidest guy on the face of the earth.” Feith is also well known for leading the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (a.k.a “The Lie Factory“) that cooked up faulty intel on Iraq’s WMD program before the invasion.



Pledging Allegiance to the Special Interests: Margaret Carlson


Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman may be trailing the pack in the Republican presidential primary, but he is a leader in one important regard: Unlike his colleagues, Huntsman has refused to sign any of the special- interest pledges that are increasingly turning political office into an ideological straitjacket.

Huntsman has been joined by Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty in rejecting one particularly odious pledge — the Marriage Vow put forward by the Family Leader, a conservative values group run by Bob Vander Plaats, a power player in the Iowa Republican caucuses. Those who sign the Family Leader pledge — including Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum — promise to oppose “intimate unions which are bigamous, polygamous, polyandrous, same-sex, etc.”

Although the pledge is largely devoted to the Godzilla-like terrors associated with all things gay and lesbian, it doesn’t stop there. It also demands that signatories oppose the deployment of women in forward combat roles and commit to protect women and “the innocent fruit of conjugal intimacy” — otherwise known as children — “from seduction into promiscuity” and other instances of “stolen innocence.” […]

Yet critics who argue that Bachmann lacks the judgment to be president are missing a key point. If Bachmann, a serial pledge signer, were to become president, she wouldn’t have a prayer of thinking for herself. She’d be locked into special- interest pledges for every occasion. She has also signed the Susan B. Anthony List pro-life pledge, which imposes an anti- abortion litmus test on virtually all of a president’s federal appointments, and the Cut Cap Balance pledge, a pet project of Senator Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, and former House majority leader Dick Armey.

The Cut, Cap and Balance bill, which the House passed yesterday, proposes to cut federal spending in the next fiscal year by $111 billion, eventually cap spending at less than 20 percent of gross domestic product, amend the Constitution to require a balanced budget every year and make it almost impossible to raise taxes.

As policy, it has no chance of ever being enacted. But in order to curry favor with its ideological champions, including the powerful anti-tax group Club for Growth, which eagerly attacks Republicans who don’t fall in line, Republican presidential candidates have pledged to support the fantasy. […]

The mother of all pledges is Grover Norquist’s Tax Protection Pledge. First issued in 1986, it has been signed by countless Republicans over the past quarter century, including 236 current House members and 41 current senators. Yet Norquist’s success is perhaps the best argument against rigid pledges, which infantilize officials, giving them no leeway to exercise judgment.

Republicans had a miracle deal in their grasp earlier this month, but like children they rejected the ice cream cone they would have otherwise devoured — $3 trillion in federal spending cuts — because it had the wrong kind of sprinkles on top — $1 trillion in revenue increases. In effect, Republicans passed on the conservative deal of the century — huge spending cuts with no increase in tax rates — in part because they had signed pledges to Norquist, who views every increase in government revenue as a personal affront.

To enforce his pledge, Norquist threatens free-thinking Republicans with political ruin, a threat he backed in 2010 with $7.5 million in campaign spending. But where are all the dead bodies? Norquist did help to defeat a few state legislators last year, along with California Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado, who had offended Norquist by supporting Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2009 budget. Norquist takes credit for the defeat of President George H.W. Bush, who broke his no-new-taxes promise, but the claim is patently ridiculous. […]

Republicans looking to escape their straitjackets would do well to emulate Coburn. He has upheld the only pledges that any member of Congress should ever make: to his conscience, his constituents and the Constitution.



POLITICS: Minnesota is now set to end 19-day government shutdown.



Elizabeth Warren Makes It Personal

The Atlantic:

“Let me put it this way,” said Warren on yesterday’s call. “I’m saving all the rocks in my pockets for Republicans. And if that’s too partisan for you, then shame on me.” Other officials drone. But Warren, an Oklahoma native and once-and-future Harvard Law School professor, never mastered the Washington monotone. She speaks with passion. It’s not too much to say that it’s that sort of thing that didn’t help her case all that much. You’ll hear talk in Washington that Warren was too anti-bank, too anti-Wall Street. And there’s something to that, by her own admission. “We’re not here to serve banks. We’re not here to serve Wall Street. We’re not here,” she emphasizes that last bit, “to serve Congress. We’re here to serve American families.” But there’s a real way in which Warren just seemed, well, too invested in her cause — creating a powerful Washington presence that would bring transparency, structure, and some measure of sanity to the consumer credit market.

“I have become con-tro-ver-see-uhl,” she says, “which I think is code for getting something done.”



White House threatens veto of GOP bill curbing Consumer Bureau powers

Elizabeth Warren is out, but not beaten; Richard Cordray is in, but not confirmed; and President Obama is challenged, but not yielding.

Via The Hill:

The White House announced Wednesday it would veto Republican attempts to curb the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). […]

If Congress passes any legislation that undermines “the core reforms included in the Dodd-Frank Act,” President Obama’s senior advisors would recommend a veto.The CFPB, set to begin work Thursday, was created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.



Would GOPers kill an idea, just because Obama likes it? Yep

Steve Benen:

The political world probably made a little too much of President Obama’s comments yesterday about the Gang of Six framework. Most of the coverage said he endorsed the bipartisan agreement, but a closer look shows that’s not quite what happened. This was more an example of him using the blueprint to pressure intransigent House Republicans, not backing the details of a plan he hasn’t seen.

Reality notwithstanding, the conventional wisdom was apparently set very quickly — Obama is on board with the Gang of Six plan. Mike Allen talked to a Republican on the Hill yesterday who responded with an important perspective.

A Senate Republican leadership aide emails with subject line “Gang of Six”: “Background guidance: The President killed any chance of its success by 1) Embracing it. 2) Hailing the fact that it increases taxes. 3) Saying it mirrors his own plan.” [emphasis added]

Again, just to clarify, Obama didn’t really embrace the plan and didn’t say it mirrors his own plan.

But the larger point is worth remembering for the next year and a half: if there’s even a perception that Obama likes an idea, Republicans will reject that idea. Merit doesn’t matter; ideology doesn’t matter; even the source of the idea doesn’t matter. If the president wants something — if it even looks like he wants something — congressional Republicans will reflexively oppose it. This has already happened many, many times, even in instances in which the president has thrown his support behind Republican proposals.

Following up on an item from the weekend, I’d again draw your attention to a smart piece from Matt Yglesias:

[H]ere we get to the problem that’s recurred throughout Obama’s time in office. If members of Congress think like partisans who want to capture the White House, then the smart strategy for them is to refuse to do whatever it is the president wants. The content of the president’s desire is irrelevant. But the more ambitious his desire is, the more important it is to turn him down.

After all, if the President wants a big bipartisan deal on the deficit, then a big bipartisan deal on the deficit is “a win for President Obama,” which means a loss for the anti-Obama side.

In theory, if Republicans were eager to get something important done, this knee-jerk response wouldn’t matter. In 1996, for example, Gingrich & Co. really wanted to get welfare reform done, even if it became “a win for President Clinton.” The goal was policy oriented, but had a political component, too — congressional Republicans wanted to run for re-election pointing to a meaningful accomplishment.

Those motivations have since disappeared, and congressional Republicans now perceive governing as something to avoid, especially if it makes the White House look productive.

If any important legislative initiatives are going to pass during over the next 18 months, the president would be wise to express skepticism on any proposal he actually likes.



Common Sense


Michael Moore’s site has posted this speech by FDR at Forbes Field in 1936. It certainly has resonance today. I’ve just excerpted a piece of it here:

When the new management came to Washington, we began to make our plans—plans to meet the immediate crisis and plans that would carry the people of the country back to decent prosperity.

You and I and everybody else saw the millions out of work, saw the business concerns running in the red, saw the banks closing. Our national income had declined over 50 percent—and, what was worse, it showed no prospect of recuperating by itself. By national income I mean the total of all income of all the 125,000,000 people in this country—the total of all the pay envelopes, all the farm sales, all the profits of all the businesses and all the individuals and corporations in America.

During the four lean years before this Administration took office, that national income had declined from eighty-one billions a year to thirty-eight billions a year. In short, you and I, all of us together, were making forty-three billions—spelled with a “b,” not an “m”—forty-three billion dollars less in 1932 than we made in 1929.

Now, the rise and fall of national income—since they tell the story of how much you and I and everybody else are making-are an index of the rise and fall of national prosperity. They are also an index of the prosperity of your Government. The money to run the Government comes from taxes; and the tax revenue in turn depends for its size on the size of the national income. When the incomes and the values and transactions of the country are on the down-grade, then tax receipts go on the down-grade too. If the national income continues to decline, then the Government cannot run without going into the red. The only way to keep the Government out of the red is to keep the people out of the red. And so we had to balance the budget of the American people be-fore we could balance the budget of the national Government.

That makes common sense, doesn’t it?

The box score when the Democratic Administration came to bat in 1933 showed a net deficit in our national accounts of about $3,000,000,000, accumulated in the three previous years under my predecessor.

National income was in a downward spiral. Federal Government revenues were in a downward spiral. To pile on vast new taxes would get us nowhere because values were going down-and that makes sense too.

On top of having to meet the ordinary expenses of Government, I recognized the obligation of the Federal Government to feed and take care of the growing army of homeless and destitute unemployed.

Something had to be done. A national choice had to be made. We could do one of two things. Some people who sat across my desk in those days urged me to let Nature take its course and to continue a policy of doing nothing. I rejected that advice because Nature was in an angry mood.

To have accepted that advice would have meant the continued wiping out of people of small means—the continued loss of their homes and farms and small businesses into the hands of people who still had enough capital left to pick up those homes and farms and businesses at bankruptcy prices. It would have meant, in a very short time, the loss of all the resources of a multitude of individuals and families and small corporations. You would have seen, throughout thpre Nation, a concentration of property ownership in the hands of one or two percent of the population, a concentration unequaled in any great Nation since the days of the later Roman Empire.

And so the program of this Administration set out to protect the small business, the small corporation, the small shop, and the small individual from the wave of deflation that threatened them. We realized then, as we do now, that the vast army of small business men and factory owners and shop owners—together with our farmers and workers—form the backbone of the industrial life of America. In our long-range plan we recognized that the prosperity of America depended upon, and would continue to depend upon, the prosperity of them all.

I rejected the advice that was given to me to do nothing for an additional reason. I had promised, and my Administration was determined, to keep the people of the United States from starvation.

I refused to leave human needs solely in the hands of local communities—local communities which themselves were almost bankrupt.

To have accepted that advice would have been to offer breadlines again to the American people, knowing this time, however, that in many places the lines would last far longer than the bread. In those dark days, between us and a balanced budget stood millions of needy Americans, denied the promise of a decent American life.

To balance our budget in 1933 or 1934 or 1935 would have been a crime against the American people. To do so we should either have had to make a capital levy that would have been confiscatory, or we should have had to set our face against human suffering with callous indifference. When Americans suffered, we refused to pass by on the other side. Humanity came first.

No one lightly lays a burden on the income of a Nation. But this vicious tightening circle of our declining national income simply had to be broken. The bankers and the industrialists of the Nation cried aloud that private business was powerless to break it. They turned, as they had a right to turn, to the Government. We accepted the final responsibility of Government, after all else had failed, to spend money when no one else had money left to spend.

I adopted, therefore, the other alternative. I cast aside a do nothing or a wait-and-see policy.

As a first step in our program we had to stop the quick spiral of deflation and decline in the national income. Having stopped them, we went on to restore purchasing power, to raise values, to put people back to work, and to start the national income going up again.

In 1933 we reversed the policy of the previous Administration. For the first time since the depression you had a Congress and an Administration in Washington which had the courage to provide the necessary resources which private interests no longer had or no longer dared to risk.

This cost money. We knew, and you knew, in March, 1933, that it would cost money. We knew, and you knew, that it would cost money for several years to come. The people understood that in 1933. They understood it in 1934, when they gave the Administration a full endorsement of its policy. They knew in 1935, and they know in 1936, that the plan is working.

…And now a word as to this foolish fear about the crushing load the debt will impose upon your children and mine. This debt is not going to be paid by oppressive taxation on future generations. It is not going to be paid by taking away the hard-won savings of the present generation.

It is going to be paid out of an increased national income and increased individual incomes produced by increasing national prosperity.”

It’s a great speech, filled with all the rhetoric a lot of us would love to hear today.I particularly enjoyed the explanatory pieces, which speak to the people like adults and doesn’t use improper metaphors.

There is one little problem with all this, however. Under pressure from the fiscal hawks of the day, FDR cut the budget in his second term and the country went back into recession.

The Recession of 1937–1938 was a temporary reversal of the pre-war 1933 to 1941 economic recovery from the Great Depression in the United States. Economists disagree about the causes of this downturn, but agree that government austerity reversed the recovery from the 1929 Crash. Keynesian economists tend to assign blame to cuts in federal spending and increases in taxes at the insistence of the US Treasury, while monetarists, most notably Milton Friedman tended to assign blame to the Federal Reserve’s tightening of the money supply in 1936 and 1937.



California’s next election means danger for Republicans



The paradox of presidential leadership

Ezra Klein:

Here’s the problem with being president: Everyone thinks that if you want to get anything done, you need to lead the public. As the presidential scholar Richard Neustadt famously wrote, “presidential power is the power to persuade.” And persuasion, as Washington understands it, means taking strong positions, giving speeches, getting out on the campaign trail and forcefully making your case.

But you know that every time you do that, you make it impossible for members of the other party to support you. Maybe you’ve seen this graph, and maybe you haven’t. But you know full well that presidents polarize. That you polarize. If you take a strong position, the other side will immediately take the opposite position. And in the American political system, you need the other side.

This is what I’ve come to think of as the Paradox of Presidential Leadership, and it’s in full display with the Gang of Six. When, in the State of the Union and the 2012 budget, the Obama administration didn’t fully embrace the Simpson-Bowles framework or release an alternative proposal of their own, commentators on both sides of the aisle were furious. “He punted to a fiscal commission and then he just didn’t even embrace the Fiscal Commission,” Paul Ryan told Fox News, conveniently ignoring that he had served on the fiscal commission and then voted against the final report.

White House officials protested that they had signaled in every way they knew how that they wanted to begin bipartisan talks leading to a grand bargain. “If you look at the history of how these deals get done,” Obama said in press conference on his budget, “typically it’s not because there’s an Obama plan out there; it’s because Democrats and Republicans are both committed to tackling this issue in a serious way.” But this was taken as a lame cop-out. If the White House wanted to address the issue, it would have come out with a plan, or endorsed someone else’s plan.

So now, a bipartisan group of senators has emerged with a grand bargain and the White House has voiced its support. It’s exactly what everyone in Washington said they should do. And how it’s playing out? Well, here’s what led Mike Allen’s Playbook this morning:

— A Senate Republican leadership aide emails with subject line “Gang of Six”: “Background guidance: The President killed any chance of its success by 1) Embracing it. 2) Hailing the fact that it increases taxes. 3) Saying it mirrors his own plan.”

I see no reason to believe that Senate Republican leadership aide is wrong. But if Obama hadn’t announced his support for the Gang of Six, that aide would be e-mailing: “Background guidance: Leaks from White House negotiations aside, the President has now dismissed every actual budget proposal that’s been put in front of him. Tell me again how serious the White House is on the debt?” And all the D.C. sages would be nodding sagely.

In the end, the problem for the president is that though the public sees him as the player with the responsibility to make a deal, there’s not much he can do to persuade the opposition party to cut a deal it doesn’t want to cut. In the words of Allen’s Senate aide, going public “kills the deal” because it becomes associated with the president, and the opposition party is not supposed to associate with the president. Not going public kills the deal because it doesn’t create any pressure on the opposition party to bargain. But the reality is that nothing here is killing a deal. The deal was never alive to begin with.






Ha-ha: Gallup chief puzzled by Obama’s approval numbers

Smartypants blog:

This is just too amusing on so many levels:

Compared with other recent presidents, President Obama’s approval numbers are “overperforming,” given the struggling economy and Americans’ low levels of satisfaction with the direction of the country, says Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll…

“Looking at history, particularly Clinton and Reagan, it is somewhat surprising that [Obama] has never yet fallen into the 30 percent range in our approval rating,” Newport said. “And yet both Reagan and Clinton, in their first terms when the economy was perceived as bad … both fell into the 30s.”

Newport noted, “Satisfaction with the way things are going is … correlated with economic perceptions fairly strongly.” At the same time, Obama “is overperforming. Based on where every president has been, his approval rating now is higher than we would predict it to be based on” how satisfied American adults say they are…

Gallup, he added, will be conducting research to get a more definitive answer to the question.

Perhaps some of us in the pragmatic progressive blogosphere could help you with that Frank. Could it be that a lot of people recognize that we have an over-performing President and an under-performing Congress? Could it be that some folks see who is “the only adult in the room?” Could it be because the opposition party that finally gained control of the House hasn’t passed one jobs bill since getting elected – while the President goes all over the country doing everything he can alone on that front? Could it be that the “party of no” strategy combined with a willingness to take the entire global economy hostage in order to protect tax cuts for the wealthy does not fare very well up against a President who is willing to compromise with a balanced approach? Could it be that Americans are aware that this President walked into the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression and has worked tirelessly to do everything he can to reverse that – while the opposition has only one goal: make him a one-termer.

In other words, could it be that the American public still has an ounce of sense left?

Not to mention that this President has been kicking butt in terms of communicating with the public over these debt ceiling negotiations. Take a look…he’s had 5 press conferences/speeches in the last 2 weeks to explain things to the American public. Tell me when another President did that.

Do your polling Frank. Some of us already know what the results will be.



Analysis of recent polls: Roundup



Pollsters are not sure why Obama has fared better than expected in the polls. [Frank] Newport offered two possibilities. “One theory has to do with personal characteristics of the man,” the Gallup executive said. “The other has to do with the nature of politics today.” Under that theory, Obama has “kind of a rock-hard coalition that are never going to abandon him in approval ratings, and therefore that is why his approval ratings will be propped up no matter what happens.” […]

ABC’s Gary Langer offers a theory:

The perception that Obama’s looking out for average folks looks to be a key element of his comparative durability. His approval rating exceeds 75 percent among people who think he cares more about protecting their economic interests, as well as those of the middle class and small businesses alike. Views on who’s better for Wall Street and corporate America, by contrast, don’t interact nearly as strongly with the president’s approval rating.

More on that ABC/WaPo poll here.


Fifty-five percent of all respondents — including 63 percent of Democrats, 59 percent of independents and 47 percent of Republicans — believe that not raising the ceiling would be problematic.

That’s compared with just 18 percent who say it wouldn’t be a real and serious problem. But that number jumps up to 33 percent among self-identified Tea Party supporters.

More on that NBC/WSJ poll here. Taken together with the CBS and Gallup polls, the public is swinging away from House Republicans, and that includes non-tea party Republicans.

NY Times:

And Republicans increasingly are showing signs of splintering. Some conservatives within Congress and outside have become increasingly vocal in asserting that the party is at risk of putting ideological purity ahead of the chance for a major deficit reduction that includes substantial Democratic concessions, including cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid spending.

Chris Cillizza/Aaron Blake:

Cutting through all the numbers, the reality for many Republicans is that they simply don’t believe that we are on the verge of crisis, and it’s virtually impossible — given their distrust of the country’s major institutions — for anyone or anything to convince them otherwise.

So don’t try.


The poll also makes clear that the public is more open to raising taxes to balance the budget than it is making cuts and changes to entitlement programs.

Sixty-two percent support raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy if that’s the only way to get a debt-ceiling agreement in Congress. But 52 percent say they oppose making changes and cuts in Social Security and Medicare if that’s the only way to get an agreement.

Dan Balz/Jon Cohen:

Majorities of Americans see both President Obama and congressional Republicans as not willing enough to compromise in their budget negotiations, but the public views the GOP leaders as particularly intransigent, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

There is also growing dissatisfaction among Republicans with the hard-line stance of their congressional representatives: Fifty-eight percent say their leaders are not doing enough to strike a deal, up from 42 percent in March.



Kasich Sinks Further, Ohio Voters Want To Repeal Union Busting Law

[…]Kasich’s approval rating registered at a paltry 35% in the latest Quinnipiac poll of Ohio voters, with 50% disapproving of the Governor’s performance, directly in line with the current TPM Poll Average. Ohio was one of the major flash points in the fight between newly elected Republican governors and public employee unions over collective bargaining rights, compensation and benefits. Much of the poll shows a public resistance to Kasich’s policy in the area, but agreement that public employees should pay more of their health insurance and pension contributions.

The Quinnipiac poll showed that 56% of Ohioans think that SB 5, the new anti-union law passed by the Ohio Legislature and signed by Kasich, should be repealed, with 32% saying it should be kept. Independent voters favor repeal 52% to 33%, and even a little more than a third of Republicans want it scrapped. State residents may have that chance this November, as pro-union forces delivered more than five times the needed amount of signatures to force a ballot referendum. The key here seems to be how the electorate viewed Gov. Kasich’s new policy personally, rather than on the Governor’s general argument that it would help the state avert fiscal disaster.



Trying. Not. To. Explode. With. Schadenfreude

The Political Carnival:

Chris Christie’s popularity has declined significantly over the first half of 2011 and he would have a very difficult time winning reelection if voters in New Jersey went to the polls today.

Only 43% of voters in the state approve of the job Christie is doing to 53% who disapprove. That -10 approval spread represents a 13 point decline from when PPP last polled the state in January, when Christie’s standing was 48/45. Christie’s numbers are steady with Republicans. But independents have really turned on him, going from approving by a 55/39 margin to disapproving by a 54/40 margin. And his crossover popularity with Democrats is on the decline as well- where 23% approved of him in January now only 16% do.



59% Of Americans Support Repealing Fossil-Energy Subsidies To Reduce Deficit






The Top 10 Psychology Studies of 2010

The end of 2010 fast approaches, and I’m thrilled to have been asked by the editors of Psychology Today to write about the Top 10 psychology studies of the year. I’ve focused on studies that I personally feel stand out, not only as examples of great science, but even more importantly, as examples of how the science of psychology can improve our lives.

Each study has a clear “take home” message, offering the reader an insight or a simple strategy they can use to reach their goals, strengthen their relationships, make better decisions, or become happier. If you extract the wisdom from these ten studies and apply them in your own life, 2011 just might be a very good year.


  1. How to Break Bad Habits […]

  2. How to Make Everything Seem Easier […]

  3. How To Manage Your Time Better […]

  4. How to Be Happier […]

  5. How to Have More Willpower […]





The medium chill

[…] About a year ago, I was visiting with an old friend of mine who lives in Portland now. He’s helping to run a tech startup, working 80-hour weeks, half that on the road, with barely enough time at home to maintain a relationship with his dog, much less a romance. The goal, he said, is to grow like crazy, get bought out by Google, and retire at 40. “It’s the big chill, man!” (No, Boomers, not the movie.)

I shook my head and laughed. “I’ll take the medium chill!”

Ever since then I’ve been mulling that concept over. By way of approaching it, I’m going to talk a little about personal experience, so if that kind of thing bugs you, skip on down, there’s some social science geekery below.

Personal chill

“Medium chill” has become something of a slogan for my wife and me. (We might make t-shirts.) We’re coming up on 10 years married now, but we recognized our mutual love of medium chill within weeks of meeting, about the time we found ourselves on her couch watching scratchy bootleg VHS tapes of The Sopranos I ordered off eBay, drinking Two Buck Chuck, and loving life. We just never knew what to call it.

We now have a smallish house in a nondescript working class Seattle neighborhood with no sidewalks. We have one car, a battered old minivan with a large dent on one side where you have to bang it with your hip to make the door shut. Our boys go to public schools. Our jobs pay enough to support our lifestyle, mostly anyway. If we wanted, we could both do the “next thing” on our respective career paths. She could move to a bigger company. I could freelance more, angle to write for a bigger publications, write a book, hire a publicist, whatever. We could try to make more money. Then we could fix the water pressure in our shower, redo the back patio, get a second car, or hell, buy a bigger house closer in to town. Maybe get the kids in private schools. All that stuff people with more money than us do.

But … meh. It’s not that we don’t think about those things. The water pressure thing drives me batty. Fact is, we just don’t want to work that hard! We already work harder than we feel like working. We enjoy having time to lay around in the living room with the kids, reading. We like to watch a little TV after the kids are in bed. We like going to the park and visits with friends and low-key vacations and generally relaxing. Going further down our respective career paths would likely mean more work, greater responsibilities, higher stress, and less time to lay around the living room with the kids.

So why do it? There will always be a More and Better just beyond our reach, no matter how high we climb. We could always have a little more money and a few more choices. But as we see it, we don’t need to work harder to get more money to have more choices because we already made our choice. We chose our family and our friends and our place. Like any life ours comes with trade-offs, but on balance it’s a good life, we’ve already got it, and we’re damn well going to enjoy it.

That’s the best thing about the medium chill: unlike the big chill, you already have it. It’s available today, at affordable prices!

Medium but difficult chill

The medium chill involves what economists call satisficing: abandoning the quest for the ideal in favor of the good-enough. It means stepping off the aspirational treadmill, foregoing some material opportunities and accepting some material constraints in exchange for more time to spend on relationships and experiences.

It turns out, though, that satisficing doesn’t come easy to us human beings. We have an extremely hard time saying, “okay, this is good enough.” Why?

Part of the reason is that we hate closing off opportunities, and that’s what satisficing feels like. We like to keep our options open in case something better comes along.

But will a better thing make us happier? We’re inclined to think, “of course it would!” But that’s because, as social psychologists have come to understand quite well, we’re not very good at predicting what will make us happy. In fact, we suck at it.

Most of all, we radically overestimate the impact of external events, both positive and negative. We think winning the lottery would vault us into bliss and losing a limb in an accident would leave us permanently depressed, but neither is true. Experiments and surveys show that within a year, a lottery winner and an amputee will be roughly as happy as they were before events struck. We drift back to our natural equilibrium fairly quickly. This is counterintuitive and difficult to accept at first, but the implications are profound.

We also underestimate the significance of our internal resources. We cannot control events, but we can, at least to some degree, control our reactions to events. It is possible to become more positive, open, and empathetic, to cultivate a resilient wellbeing that weathers changing circumstances. It’s been done! For an exhaustive account, see Martin Seligman’s Flourish.

To sum up: the bad news is that it’s unlikely any job advance, material acquisition, or singular event will make you durably happier; the good news is that it’s possible to make yourself durably happier without any new job, material acquisition, or singular event.

In the video above, Dan Gilbert calls the kind of happiness we find through external events “natural happiness” and the kind we generate for ourselves “synthetic happiness.” As he says, we tend to disdain synthetic happiness, as though it’s a species of delusion. People who are happy that way are “fooling themselves.” Their happiness is not as authentic as happiness that arises in response to events. But Gilbert’s (and others’) work has shown pretty clearly that synthetic happiness is more accessible and durable than “natural” happiness and just as, well, happy. Your brain doesn’t know the difference.

Money vs. chill

The U.S. economy is built on our error about what will make us happy. In fact, the error is built right into economics. To an economist, the economic actor finds happiness through the satisfaction of preferences, and the more choices we have, the more likely we are to be able to satisfy our preferences. That’s why economists use money as a rough stand-in for wellbeing; wealth represents choices.

That’s what consumer culture forever tells us: more money/stuff/status means fewer constraints, more freedom, more choices, thus more happiness. The entire economy runs on spending and debt, and for that to work everyone needs to think they’re not happy but could be happy if they just had more sh*t or a better job or a better house. Every “consumer” needs to be running on the treadmill, working toward the next thing.

But social psychologists tell a different story. They point out that there’s very little evidence that, once a certain base level of material security is achieved, more money and stuff make us happier. Gilbert offers one explanation: having fewer choices is often more conducive to synthetic happiness. (Watch the video — he’s got some fascinating experiments to back this up.) Piling up choices can make contentment impossible.

If that’s true, the implications for consumer culture are fairly profound.

Connected chill

Consider: Why do we always remember our childhood friends? Why do so many people look back on college with fondness? Why are so many married couples nostalgic for those hardscrabble early years, with the crappy jobs and tiny apartment and borrowed baby clothes? It’s because, while those environments were materially constrained (we had fewer choices), they yielded powerful relationships. We made the best of what we had, which is an intense psychosocial process that leads to deep bonds and enduring memories.

On this point, social scientists are all but unanimous: social connections are at the heart of wellbeing. We’re happier, and our happiness is more resilient, when we are woven into a social fabric: when we have a devoted life partner, supportive networks of family and friends, and larger communities of which we are a valued part. Even having a pet helps. The good life is a life rich in relationships.

Yet millions of Americans devote themselves to making more money, buying more stuff, accruing more status, dissolving more constraints, and having more choices, even at the expense of social connections. It’s not making us happier, so why do we do it to ourselves?

The rat race vs. chill

The answer lies in what’s called social proof: we look to our peers, our tribe, for cues on how we ought to behave. Status and wealth are comparative; we judge ourselves not by how we’re doing but how we’re doing compared to the Joneses. If our peers are buying big houses and second cars and private schools, our strong instinct is to want to signal our status by doing the same.

And in America, no matter how much you’ve got, someone next to you has more. This is what Chris Hayes once described to me as “fractal inequality.” America’s top 10 percent are far, far better off than the other 90 percent, but the top 1 percent is far, far better off than the 10 percent, and the 0.01 percent is far, far better off than the 1 percent. And so on. The U.S. is slowly dividing into two nations, one that can’t get what it needs and one that has everything and always wants more.

That’s how you get people in the U.S. making $200,000 a year — unquestionably rich relative to the median — whining that they’re just humble middle class. They look with bitter envy on those making a million, just as those making a million aspire to the tens of millions, and so on. That’s how you get a media and political class at once privileged and put-upon, swimming in wealth relative to the average American but forever rubbing shoulders with those who are even richer.

There is no plateau, no place to stand where you’re not looking up at your next-door neighbors. And thanks to the magic of television, every family in the country gets to compare themselves to the richest of the rich every single night.

Getting to medium chill

Whatever policy or technological advances we may see in coming decades, some part of getting to sustainability is going to be voluntarily living with less space and stuff. We’re going to have to scale down our material expectations and get off the aspirational treadmill. So how can we do that? How can we make satisficing a respected choice, even a source of status itself? How can we make it okay to prioritize social connections over money and choice hoarding?

Good questions! I sure wish more people were thinking and talking about it. This post is already way too long, but I’ll conclude with two tentative thoughts about the answers.

First, we won’t get there through shame and guilt. We won’t get there by morally bullying people into giving up stuff they love. People will only downscale materially if they are also upscaling in social connections and positive experiences. So rather than focusing on the former, let’s focus on the latter. We have all sorts of infrastructure and institutions available for people who want to learn how to get a better job or make more money. But we have lamentably little for people who want to know how to foster more and better relationships, how to find meaning and a sense of accomplishment.

Second, if you’re going to de-emphasize the material in favor of the social, you’re going to be talking about places. If we want people to own and consume less privately, we need to provision safe, accessible, pleasant public spaces and resources. But you probably knew I’d say that.

Anyway, that’s the medium chill. I’d love to hear your thoughts and, best of all, your stories about what the medium chill looks like in your life.




Impeach Clarence Thomas


Under a forehead roughly comparable to that of Javanese and Piltdown man are visible a pair of tiny pig eyes, lit up alternately by greed and concupiscence.”

~~ S. J. Perelman

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Interesting bit about happiness. A very abstract emotion, susceptible to various influences and circumstances, both internal and external. I don’t think happiness should be seen as a possible constant state of being. No matter if it’s synthetic or derived from fortuitous events.
I think, a balance of highs and lows is the best to be expected, or possible. Also a balance between healthy states of mind, body and spirit. I don’t believe anybody experiences continuous happiness. At least, I have never met such a person. And I have met and known hundreds of people in my life so far.
I do think desire is the biggest contributor to unhappiness. Or at least, unfulfilled desire. Human beings are subject to some very negative emotions, that arise from many different factors. Hatred, jealousy, covetous feelings (desire again) loss and disappointment. I am always wary of the “gurus” of happiness. I’ll take a prolonged contentedness over a desired continuation of happiness, any day.


A crosspost, as this gets into lobbying and Congress, and it is an important issue I think.

Why Do We Need to Stand Up to the MEK?

A vote is coming before the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week on whether to endorse removing the Iranian Mujahedin from the U.S. foreign terrorist organizations lists. This would enable it to operate freely and even receive U.S. funding for renewed attacks in Iran.

And John Bolton and Daniel Pipes, who have openly called for the U.S. to bomb Iran, have recently ratcheted up their calls for the MEK to be taken off the terrorist list.

Supporters of the Mujahedin don’t care that the group has no support in Iran. They favor the Mujahedin because it uses violence and terror.

And yes, this is not only a Republican problem. Democrats are included in delisting the MEK from the terrorist list.

And by the way, that “so what” was in response to a very respected Iran expert, whom I have read.


KQµårk 死神

Well the end of DADT will finally be certified to end tomorrow by all reports then comes a 60 day procedural review and it will some day be a WTF where we thinking back then issue.

By all indications the repeal of DOMA is next on the menu and hopefully the Respect for Marriage Act will pass in the not too distant future.


Finally it will be clarified as you say, great news.

Pentagon set to certify repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy


1.)Being able to pass a standardized test in America is no sign of your intelligence. More of a test of your short term memory. Best question? How much of this semi-trivial information will you ever need to know once you leave school? Answer: Not much. Unless you’re going into a specialized field. Kids need to learn reading, writing, and some basic math. Everything after that is 50/50 as far as whether it matters or not. It’s not bad that you forgot most of this crap after school. It has nothing to do with your life. It’s great to know history but you don’t have to be steeped in it. It’s sometimes useful to know basic biology but not enough to matter. Am I making a case for stupidity? I don’t think so. Just a case that education is not a one size fits all, cookie cutter industry

2.)The Onion says it better than I could:,20977/

3.)You ever notice that when food goes up in price American cheese kinda stays where it is? At least here it does. Turns out that America drinks so much low fat milk that we have way too much cheese left over. So it’s cheaper. Individual slices are a little thicker than they used to be. The Dairy Association is pushing it hard on every restaurant and fast food chain.

4.)Private military companies are the future. Howe does this government not see that? What happens when every rich prick with a chip on his shoulder has his own private army? The Iraq Invasion is a foreshadowing of what is to come. America will use PMCs to fight their wars and the PMCs will quietly use that money to shore up their numbers. Think abut the rebels in Libya hiring a private army larger than Gadaffis. Sounds silly but it’s not that far away. They fight your war, you fill their pockets.

5.) “We’re not here to serve banks. We’re not here to serve Wall Street. We’re not here,” she emphasizes that last bit, “to serve Congress. We’re here to serve American families.”

She doesn’t belong in Washington. Her time will be severely wasted. She’s meant for better things.

6.)”Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
~Walt Whitman

KQµårk 死神

It’s become very apparent the big reason the GOP does not want the grand bargain now or ever. It has nothing to do about revenue increases either. It’s about preventing Obama’s second term in office. They will drag the budget issue and the nation down with it just for a better chance to win in 2012.


Wow, I got 4/5 on that geography quiz. And yeah, those were kinda hard. But this was among kids that took the class. When asked basic geography questions, most kids don’t take it. I wish there were a way to integrate just basic, basic, basic World History or Current World Events (there was such an elective when I went to High School, but I took Government) – which itself would be a gargantuan task to distill, and in that learn just where countries are at the very least, not where a certain lake above a certain elevation is in what mountain range and what that’s called. I’m torn, ’cause I recognize the value of geography as a subject, but as he said, there’s only so many periods in a school day. At least have it as an elective.


“If Reagan was the teflon President, Obama may be the kevlar President.” From TPM to go along with smartypants blog. Seems so apt–kevlar.

Hate to keep rushing. I feel a little like “Alice in Wonderland” without being nearly as perky!

KQµårk 死神

I think it’s more like the situation with FDR not Reagan. Everyone knows Bush was like Herbert Hoover and is responsible for the country’s economic woes. Even current polls show that. Obama did big things his first two years in office for working people despite what AOLHP tells people, especially with the stimulus and the ACA.


Good morning Cher! I love the Perleman quote: he’s “Crazy Like a Fox” 🙂


It will be very difficult to talk sense into those radicals; they are on a mission to sort out Washington with willful disregard for the consequences.

That leaves two options:
invoke the 14th Amendment; or, allow the default.

Those people were voted into office; elections have consequences.


It is a suicide squad all right. There are consequences that none of them would care anything about if they knew about them.
One of them: if the USA defaults, one consequence may be the US dollar no longer being the world’s reserve currency. Oil, for example, would no longer be priced in dollars.
Another more difficult to assess consequence: The USA would lose most of the status/prestige that remains. The USA can no longer be relied upon as a rational actor in international affairs.

The USA is an empire in decline; it has been ever since our enemy – the USSR – was taken away from us. A credit default would accelerate that decline.