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AOL shares got hammered on Tuesday after the company released its latest earnings, falling by as much as 30 percent from the previous day. That decline put the stock more than 50 percent lower than it was earlier this year whenthe web giant acquired The Huffington Post for $315 million. Why such a beating? Because while the company showed some revenue growth, it lowered its forecasts for the coming year, in effect telling investors and analysts that the much-promised turnaround they have been waiting for is still a long way off. […]
As we’ve described before, the acquisition of Arianna Huffington’s empire effectively amounted to a transplant operation, which saw many of AOL’s core editorial properties get shut down or gutted — a move that led to more than 900 layoffs — and replaced with HuffPo assets under the control of Arianna Huffington. The other big bet that AOL has been making in an attempt to turn its fortunes around is the estimated $100 million or so that it has spent on building out its hyperlocal Patch.com news operation, which is now up and running in almost 900 towns across the United States.
AOL’s two biggest bets have yet to pay off.
Neither of those large bets has paid off yet in any kind of significant way, however. While Huffington Post has been benefiting from the traffic that AOL can send it from its other properties, and Armstrong gave it credit for some of the ad-revenue improvement, its contribution has been relatively small — and Patch has not produced much in terms of advertising either. The network recently launched a Huffington Post-style “blog aggregation” platform in what appears to be an attempt to lower costs for the unit while still appealing to readers and advertisers with local content.
Does somebody actually advise the chief executive officer of Delta Air Lines or does he just wing it when he talks tough like he did recently on Fox News?
In a fawning interview earlier this summer with anchorman, Neil Cavuto, Anderson sounded an awful lot like he was threatening to take his big ole Atlanta-based airline out of the country if those Obama liberals didn’t stop messin’ around with his nearly-non-union shop.
Anderson is grumpy because of a change in labor policy that makes it easier for union organizers to win elections.
To understand what’s changed you need to know that in the past, when employees were presented with the option of joining a union it wasn’t just the “yes” votes and the “no” votes that were counted. The number of people who did not vote was tallied too and those non-votes were considered “no” votes. The philosophy behind this somewhat odd practice is to make sure that a majority of all employees vote for the change, giving a voice even to those workers who don’t want one enough to actually cast a vote. […]
This ladies and gents, is the issue behind the two week suspension in FAA funding that saw workers laid off and progress on aviation projects like Next Gen, put on hold. The Delta boss was cited specifically by Sen. Jay Rockefeller as being the force putting the fiber in the Republicans. “I wish I understood why the policy objections of one company — Delta Air Lines — mattered more than the livelihoods of thousands of people,” the senator said during the dust-up last week.
Certainly Delta is not alone in opposing anything that will increase the likelihood of unionizing. Fed Ex and UPS are also said to be lobbying hard to overturn the new National Mediation Board policy on union elections.
But it’s only Delta’s top dog who decided to go on national television and threaten the nation with its exodus.
[…] But Franken is so exercised about Standard & Poor’s that he spoke to National Journal on Tuesday about what he considers to be one of the biggest outrages to come out of the financial crisis of 2008: the continuing and unjustified dominance of a few giant ratings agencies such as S&P, which last week downgraded the U.S. government for the first time to an AA+ rating from AAA.
“I think the ratings-agency issue should live on its own merits,” said Franken. “But this event does help in one respect: It shows the incompetence of S&P.”
To little notice, Franken took on the ratings agencies almost single-handedly in the spring of 2010 when he added an amendment to the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. Building on an earlier proposal from Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., Franken came up with a way of breaking the near-monopoly that firms S&P, Moody’s, and Fitch had on the ratings field. He sought to create an intermediary board that would rotate credit-rating agencies among firms issuing securities.
To his surprise, Franken encountered resistance from then-Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., who was ushering the bill, as well as the Treasury Department. “I don’t have any fruit baskets from them,” Franken said. Dodd and Obama administration officials wanted the Securities and Exchange Commission to study the issue further. Franken fought back and won compromise language making his plan go into force automatically if the SEC couldn’t come up with a better alternative. “We turned ‘may’ into ‘shall.’ A big victory,” Franken said. […]
Because the big ratings agencies earn their revenues by taking fees from the investment banks for rating their securities—the so-called “issuer-pay model”—critics allege they are motivated to give better ratings to dubious securities. The ratings agencies did this to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars during the credit bubble, delivering up AAA assessments to securities that were often based on junky subprime mortgages. “That’s what led to the whole meltdown as far as I was concerned,” said Franken. “The main thing is to reward accuracy and not to create incentives to give AAA ratings to junk—because if we don’t give them a AAA, we won’t get the next meeting.”
Although S&P did not seem to have that conflict of interest when downgrading U.S. debt last week, Franken said that “corruption breeds incompetence.… This underscores the importance of having the initial ratings agencies be selected by an independent board. Issuer pay is in and of itself a huge problem and we should eliminate it. If my bill had been implemented, what would happen is that different rating agencies emerge and have different areas of expertise. After a certain amount of time, you would establish a track record.”
S&P, Moody’s, and Fitch have largely escaped whipping for their performance during the subprime bubble. They continue to be anointed by the government as “Nationally Recognized Statistical Rating Organizations,” in other words as arbiters of what banks, pension funds, and others restricted to “safe” investing can buy. Until recently they have even been given First Amendment protections afforded to journalists to protect them against liability for erroneous assessments.
[…] While Chinese goods seem ubiquitous, especially given America’s economic woes, the reality is that imports from the country are a relatively small part of the economy: A total of 88.5 percent of consumer spending in the United States is on items made here, with only 2.7 percent spent on “Made in China” goods, according to new researchfrom the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco:
When you exclude the services sector, which naturally advantages the U.S.—you’re not going to Beijing for a Big Mac or a doctor’s appointment—China still takes a relatively small share, about 20 percent of household equipment and furniture spending and 35.6 percent of clothing and shoe sales.
Even that doesn’t entirely reflect the amount of money spent on Chinese goods that stays in the United States. Chinese goods need to be transported, sold and marketed here, and so it turns out that for every dollar spent on products made in China, 55 cents go to services produced in the United States.
The San Francisco Fed studied whether rising prices in China will affect prices of goods here in the United States, and concluded it’s not likely because the amount of spending on Chinese goods is already so low. Manufacturers in China—like FoxConn, a Taiwanese company that makes electronics, including many Apple products—are increasingly addressing workers’ demands for higher wages by seeking even cheaper locales for their plants and replacing people with robots. But it’s not clear that major shifts in price would affect U.S. Consumers.
The chart is a timely reminder of how much of our economic activity is right here at home, not just abroad.
That’s why consumer spending is so important in the United States—we’re our own biggest market—and why the drop in consumer confidence has made the Great Recession so much worse. But if the lack of consumer spending is a problem, it’s also an opportunity to figure out how to leverage our own buying power to pull the country out of an economic ditch.
[…]What’s more, the phenomenon certainly isn’t limited to Bachmann — all kinds of right-wing lawmakers who swear public investments are fundamentally evil, including plenty of this year’s radical freshman class, have spent a fair amount of time pleading for more public investment in their states and districts, insisting the spending would be good for the economy. Rachel Maddow did a segment on this last year that still stands out as devastating.
The easy observation is to mock the GOP hypocrisy, but Bachmann gave me a new idea: how about a new stimulus package focused on granting Republicans’ requests for public investments?
Here’s the pitch: have the White House take the several hundred letters GOP lawmakers have sent to the executive branch since 2009, asking for public investments, and let President Obama announce he’ll gladly fund all of the Republicans’ requests that have not yet been filled.
This is especially important when it comes to infrastructure, a sector in which GOP members have pleaded for more investment in their areas. When pressed, these same Republicans will offer an explanation that “sounds like something out of the mouth of a Keynesian economist, rather than the musings of a congressman who proudly touts his support from the Tea Party movement.”
So, how about it? If these Republican lawmakers have identified worthwhile projects in need of government spending, which they themselves insist will boost the economy, why not start spending the money GOP officials want to see spent?
[…] Spoilage bacteria turn last week’s roast chicken into a scene from Zombie Flesh Eaters. Like the undead, they’re everywhere (air, soil, water, plants, and animals), so the invasion of your groceries is pretty much inevitable. Evolved to consume corpses and dead plants, which are customarily served cool, they’re the dominant bacteria in your 35-40-degree fridge. (Conversely, temperatures above 85 degrees enervate them.) The stench is from the breakdown of amino acids into amines, which include the evocatively named cadaverine, putrescine, and spermidine. As repulsive as they are, only one, histamine, has been linked to negative health effects, and that’s just for people who have allergies to it or who eat certain kinds of improperly stored fish. Spoilage bacteria are harmless.
Pathogenic bacteria make you wish you could exchange your Caribbean bungalow for a hospital room with an IV drip and a bedpan. The preferred habitat of salmonella, E. coli, and campylobacter—three moderately serious foodborne illnesses—is the nutrient-packed guts of warm-blooded animals, but these also do well at room temperature. The journey to your plate usually starts at the slaughterhouse or meat processing facility, where a minute amount of animal poop gets on your future burger. So long as the meat’s under refrigeration, that’s no big deal, since cold inhibits the proliferation of pathogens (most people can fight off low doses). But then—maybe at home, more likely at a food-service establishment—the ground beef sits out for several hours, allowing the bacteria to multiply. As a finishing touch, you order your patty medium rare, so the center doesn’t get hot enough to kill its microscopic passengers. It smells good, looks good, tastes good. (Pathogenic bacteria provide no sensory clues as to their presence in food.) But hours to days later: stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea, or worse.
The more the debt “supercommittee” takes shape, with nine members now named, the less likely it seems that we’ll see a “grand bargain” on health care, with sweeping entitlement reforms. […]
There is some worry, though, about what the health sector could get instead: another version of the much-maligned “doc-fix” problem, where cuts written into law never actually take effect.
A bit of background: As part of the Balanced Budget Act back in the late 1990s, Congress created a new formula — called the Sustainable Growth Rate, or SGR — to contain costs in Medicare. The goal was to keep down Medicare spending by chaining it to GDP growth.
That hasn’t exactly worked out. Medical spending has grown much faster than inflation. And since 2002, Congress has consistently passed “doc-fixes,”or legislation to deliver the necessary money to ensure that Medicare doctors’ pay isn’t slashed. Right now, the gap between how much the SGR says doctors should be paid and how much it takes to keep their pay stable is in the neighborhood of $20 billion a year, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates.
Now there’s some thought that any new health cuts that come out of the supercommittee could play out similarly.The supercommittee can write all the payment reductions it wants into law. There’s no requirement, however, that future Congresses have to let those cuts take effect. They could pass a pay-patch, as they do on Medicare doctor payments, tweak new formulas or just flat out delay them.
The outcome of all those months in which the Republicans were blocking judicial nominations and Barack Obama and the Senate Democrats didn’t seem to care very much, from Emily Bazelon in the NYT Magazine this past Sunday (yeah, yeah, I’m a little behind):
Since 1981, Epstein says, Republicans have appointed 41 federal appellate judges under age 45 to the Democrats’ 10. Bush placed 13 judges in this group. Obama, so far, has zero.
Zero. Wow. I did not realize that one.
Obama so far has had 19 appellate judges confirmed. Let’s see…16 of them were born in 1957 or earlier, two in 1960, and one outlier in 1965. So it’s not just none under 45; it’s that only one of them is (now) under 50, and all but three will turn at least 55 next year.
There are currently 18 vacancies for Circuit Court spots, and Obama hasn’t even nominated anyone for seven of them. The Senate is scheduled to take up one of the nominees as soon as they get back from August recess. She was born in 1951.
A little context here…Sam Alito was born in 1950, reached the Supreme Court in 2006 after 15 years at the federal appeals level; John Roberts was born in 1955, and joined SCOTUS in 2005 after a couple of years on a Circuit Court. Sonia Sotomayor was born in 1955 and had 12 years as an appeals judge before her elevation, while Elana Kagan was born in 1960, and of course had not been a judge before joining the Supremes.
The obvious conclusion is that we should expect more varied paths to the Supreme Court in future Democratic picks, at least for now. Well, that, and that the combination of GOP obstruction and Obama’s apparent indifference has really had significant consequences even beyond the obvious ones.
Two weeks ago, the Chicago city council passed a new statute that “will make lenders liable for the upkeep of vacant homes even when the borrower still holds the title.” The law was passed unanimously and will take effect in September. The importance of this new law came into focus last week when two firefighters wereinjured battling a fire that sprung up in a vacant home in the Englewood neighborhood on the south side of Chicago.
As Aaron Krager notes, this outraged activists from Action Now, a local community group. Marsha Goddard, who is a board member of the organization, led a group of five people to a local branch of Bank of America, which owned the vacant property, to inform the bank about code violations that it would be liable for when the law goes into effect.
The megabank responded by having Goddard arrested. Action Now explains that it was not engaging in a civil disobedience action and simply wanted to share the code violations with Bank of America:
Marsha Godard, 52, a Westside mother and account holder at Bank of America, is a board member of Action Now. She led a group of five people into the Bank of America headquarters at LaSalle and Jackson today with copies of complaint forms filled out by community residents who want the bank to clean up and maintain the thousands of vacant properties the bank owns in neighborhoods across the city. Bank of America had refused to accept the complaints, and Marsha had said she wasn’t leaving until they did. They had her arrested immediately. […] This was not a planned civil disobedience action. We had no intention of taking arrests. In fact, we thought we had gone out of our way to do Bank of America a favor by doing the research for them on code violations.
Goddard and her fellow activists are not deterred by the arrest. They plan to hold rallies outside the bank branch every day for the rest of the week and will continue to call attention to dangerous vacant properties that it will soon be liable for maintaining.
When Charles Shultz received an absentee ballot application form in the mail on Thursday, July 28, it didn’t take long before he found something fishy with it.
The mailer, sent by conservative advocacy groupAmericans For Prosperity (AFP) to his North Hudson home, included directions to mail the application to Madison instead of his village clerk.
“It seems to me like it was an effort by this organization to delay the process or make the process more complicated,” Shultz said. “And, of course the date of when it should be returned was wrong.”
That set off red flags for Shultz.
The AFP mailer clearly states that he should return the absentee ballot application by Aug. 11, but the 10th Senate District recall election between challenger Shelly Moore (D) and Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R) takes place on Aug. 9.
On Saturday, after consulting with We Are Wisconsin workers based in Hudson and St. Croix County Clerk Cindy Campbell, Shultz officially filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB).
Shultz wrote the following on the complaint form:
I received an absentee ballot request form from Americans For Prosperity. It intentionally listed to return up to Aug. 11. The date of the election is Aug. 9. If I followed their instructions, my ballot would not be legal. I think they purposely intended to discount my vote. I understand such activity to be against the law. I believe I was targeted by this group because I am a Democrat and a senior citizen.
“It is interesting to me that I would receive it from the Republican organization, because I’m a Democrat,” Shultz said.
Matt Seaholm, director of the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity, could not immediately be reached by Hudson Patch for comment. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Seaholm said ‘no (mailing) list is perfect,’ and he blamed the error on a typo.
“I have no way of knowing what’s inside people’s intentions, but you would think if there’s anything you would proofread, it would be the date that you return it,” Shultz said.
Hannah Ledford, a spokesperson for the Wisconsin Democratic Party based in Hudson, said “this is voter suppression,” and that Harsdorf, not Seaholm, is responsible for putting a stop to it.
“Sheila Harsdorf and her radical special interest friends are trying to lie, cheat, and steal their way to victory in this election because they know that voters are rejecting Senator Harsdorf’s radical agenda—an agenda that raises taxes on the middle class and seniors while giving tax breaks to corporations. Senator Harsdorf must immediately put a stop to this cynical scheme to suppress voter participation in these recall elections.”
The AFP mailer with the incorrect date was spotted in at least one other district with an Aug. 9 recall election.
The statewide confusion brought on by this mailer, and others, has prompted the GAB to issue a statement about unofficial absentee ballot applications. In the statement, Kevin Kennedy, Wisconsin’s chief election officer, said, “If you need or want to vote absentee, contact your municipal clerk directly and request a ballot.”
Negative views of economic news have risen sharply since last month and now stand at their highest level in well more than two years.
Fully 67% say they are hearing “mostly bad” news about the economy, up 18 points in the last month alone and more than 40 points since the start of 2011.
The public’s current views of economic news are now as bleak as they were shortly before Barack Obama took office in January 2009. At that time, 67% also said they were hearing mostly bad news about the economy, but that number fell sharply during the first few months of Obama’s presidency.
The latest weekly News Interest Index, conducted Aug. 4-7 among 1,001 adults by the Pew Research for the People & the Press, finds increasingly downbeat views of news about individual economic sectors – from the financial markets to jobs to real estate.
Nearly three-quarters (74%) say they are hearing mostly bad news about the job situation, while more than six-in-ten say they are hearing mostly bad news about financial markets (69%), gas prices (66%), real estate values (63%) and the prices of food and consumer goods (62%).
Evaluations of news about the job situation are as negative as at any point since the Pew Research Center first began tracking them in June 2009. Perceptions of news about financial markets are now clearly more negative than at any point during this period.
The survey finds the public closely tracked news about the economy last week, but the top story by far is the agreement by the president and Congress to cut federal spending and raise the debt limit. Nearly half (46%) followed news about the last-minute debt deal very closely; the same percentage followed news about the economy very closely. However, 45% say the debt limit agreement was the story they followed most closely; the economy was a distant second, at 19%.
The debt limit agreement by political leaders in Washington also garnered the media’s attention, accounting for about a quarter (26%) of news coverage, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ).
Other economic news filled 19% of the newshole. News about the Federal Aviation Administration’s partial shutdown, violence following political uprisings in Syria, the candidates for the 2012 presidential elections, and the food shortage in Somalia accounted for much smaller portions of the newshole and garnered less attention from the public.
Following a week of grim economic news from both Wall Street and Washington, majorities in nearly every demographic group now say they are hearing mostly bad economic news. More than six-in-ten Republicans (71%), Democrats (62%) and independents (69%) say that the news they are hearing about the economy is mostly bad.
Since July, negative impressions of news about the job situation have increased far more among Democrats (up 22 points) and independents (up 25 points) than among Republicans (seven points), who expressed more negative views in previous surveys.
Majorities across all age and income groups also say they are hearing mostly bad news about the economy. And while 72% of those who have been following news about the economy very closely see the news as mostly bad so too do 63% of those who have been following the news less closely.
As negative perceptions of economic news have grown to near record highs, so too have views of news about specific economic sectors. The jobs report released by the government on Aug. 5 showed a modest uptick in employment, but the public’s perceptions of news about the job situation have turned much more negative.
Nearly three-quarters (74%) now say that the job news they are hearing is mostly bad, up from 58% in early June. The percentage saying they are hearing mostly bad news about jobs is at its highest point in more than two years.
Yet there has been even a larger increase in the percentage saying they are hearing mostly bad news about financial markets. Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) say they are hearing mostly bad news about financial markets, up from just 40% two months ago.
Negative perceptions of news about real estate values also have increased substantially since spring. Currently, 63% say they are hearing mostly bad news about housing, while 27% say the news is a mix of good and bad. In May, perceptions of the real estate market were far less negative: 45% said they were hearing mostly bad news while 35% said news was mixed.
An exception to this trend is the public’s perception of news about gas prices. The percentage hearing mostly bad news about gas prices is unchanged from in June. Still, 66% say news about gas prices is mostly bad. That is well below the high point in March of this year, when fully 90% reported hearing mostly bad news about gas prices.
Nearly half of all Americans (46%) say they paid very close attention to news that Congress and President Obama reached an agreement last week to cut federal spending and raise the debt limit. The public followed this news as closely as the budget battle in early April that nearly led to a federal government shutdown. About half (47%) followed those negotiations very closely.
The debt limit agreement was the week’s top story in terms of both interest and coverage: 45% say it is the news they followed most closely. For its part, the media devoted 26% of all coverage to the debt deal.
Broader economic news, including reports about the plunging stock market and the new jobs report, was followed very closely by 46% of the public. For two-in-ten (19%) the economy was the week’s top story and it accounted for the same share (19%) of the newshole, according to PEJ.
The public was far less attentive to the other top stories of the week. Just 3% each say that the candidates for the 2012 presidential elections, the food shortage in Somalia or a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) was their most closely followed story. The 2012 elections and the famine in Somalia each received 2% of news coverage, while the FAA shutdown accounted for 6% of the newshole. Congress approved a measure late Friday allowing the FAA to resume operations and bring furloughed employees back to work. Close to two-in-ten (17%) tracked this news very closely.
The percentage following news about 2012 presidential candidates very closely (18%) has changed little in the last several months, and is on par with interest in election news in early 2007. Republicans and Democrats are just as likely to report following news about the 2012 candidates very closely (20% and 16%, respectively).
An American airstrike in Afghanistan killed the Taliban insurgents responsible for shooting down a NATO helicopter and taking the lives of 30 U.S. service members, including 22 Navy SEALs, officials say.
The Los Angeles Times reports that the attack – which occurred in the Chak district of Afghanistan’s Wardak province on Tuesday – killed both the man who was determined to have been the shooter and Mullah Mohibullah, the Taliban leader in the area, as well as a number of other insurgents. According to a NATO official, Mohibullah was a “key facilitator” of the Taliban insurgency in the region.
Mohibullah and the man responsible for shooting down the helicopter on Saturday (who was not identified by name) were tracked down after an “exhaustive manhunt,” NATO said.
The attack against the helicopter on Saturday marks the worst loss of U.S. military lives in Afghanistan since the start of the war in 2001.
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones:
Centrist moderate balanced nonpartisan independent columnist Matt Miller on his irritation with President Obama right now:
Here’s the thing. I know Tea Party Republicans were behind the debt-ceiling standoff that wreaked needless damage on confidence in the United States. I wrote weeks ago of Standard & Poor’s outrageous nerve in threatening a downgrade when America’s ability to pay its debts can’t possibly be in doubt. In short, I know who the real villains are at this volatile moment.
So why am I so mad at Barack Obama?
Feel free to click the link if you want to read more. I didn’t much feel like bothering myself.
Honest to God, Republicans must all be sitting in their back rooms and just cackling like hell right now. Think about it. They developed a strategy to hamstring the president completely — a strategy that’s bulletproof thanks to our country’s Constitution — knowing that it would rally their base but also hoping that it would cause moderates and lefties alike to become disgusted with Obama’s weakness even though we all know who’s really responsible for what’s going on. And it worked! In fact, it’s worked better than they could possibly have imagined. They can probably barely keep from spitting up their beers right now.
We are such chumps.
The Democratic Strategist:
Katrina vanden Heuval’s recent WaPo op-ed sketches a disturbing picture of Republican voter suppression in a number of state legislatures, an important story that has been bounced to the back pages of the MSM by the debt ceiling controversy. From her op-ed:
In states across the country, Republican legislatures are pushing through laws that make it more difficult for Americans to vote. The most popular include new laws requiring voters to bring official identification to the polls. Estimates suggest that more than 1 in 10 Americans lack an eligible form of ID, and thus would be turned away at their polling location. Most are minorities and young people, the most loyal constituencies of the Democratic Party.
The i.d. campaigns are based on a particularly flimsy excuse, the myth of “voter fraud” as a significant problem in the U.S. As vanden Heuval explains,
…Voter fraud, in truth, is essentially nonexistent. A report from the Brennan Center for Justice found the incidence of voter fraud at rates such as 0.0003 percent in Missouri and 0.000009 percent in New York. “Voter impersonation is an illusion,” said Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center. “It almost never happens, and when it does, it is in numbers far too small to effect the outcome of even a close election.”
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) disagrees. He argues that voter fraud is a serious problem that requires serious action. But as proof, Kobach cites just “221 incidents of voter fraud” in Kansas since 1997, for an average of just 17 a year. As a Bloomberg editorial points out, “During that same period, Kansans cast more than 10 million votes in 16 statewide elections. Even if the fraud allegation were legitimate . . . the rate of fraud would be miniscule.”
The suppression initiatives appear tweaked to fit demographics of different states. As vanden Heuval notes,
In Ohio, for example, a recently signed law to curb early voting won’t prevent voter impersonation; it will only make it more difficult for citizens to cast their ballot. Or take Florida’s new voter registration law, which is so burdensome that the non-partisan League of Women Voters is pulling out of Florida entirely, convinced that it cannot possibly register voters without facing legal liability. Volunteers would need to have “a secretary on one hand and a lawyer on the other hand as they registered voters,” said Deirdre MacNabb, president of the Florida League of Women Voters…This year Texas passed a voter ID law, but wrote in a provision that explicitly exempts the elderly from complying with the law. The law also considers a concealed handgun license as an acceptable form of ID, but a university ID as insufficient.
At the annual NAACP convention in Los Angeles, President Benjamin Jealous underscored concerns about the deliberate disenfranchisement of people of color leading up to the 2012 elections, reports Alexandra Zavis in the Los Angeles Times:
He cited new laws in 30 states that require voters to present approved photo identification at the polls. “Simply put, people who are too poor to own a car tend not to have a driver’s license,” he said…In Wisconsin alone, he said, half of black adults and half of Latino adults are now ineligible to vote because of this requirement.
Jealous also took issue with laws in Georgia and Arizona that require voters to attach a copy of their driver’s license, birth certificate or passport to their registration forms. And in Florida, he said, the establishment of a five-to-seven-year waiting period before felons can vote would disqualify more than 500,000 voters, including 250,000 blacks.
In addition to the i.d. requirements, shrinking of early voting periods and felon disenfranchisement expansion, the GOP is also suppressing voting power of people of color through redistricting. In North Carolina, for example, the Republicans are twisting the intent of the Voting Rights Act to dilute minority voting, as WRAL’s Laura Leslie explains:
According to Republicans, the VRA and resulting case law require lawmakers to create districts with majority populations of minority voters that can elect the candidate of their choice. They argue the creation of such districts will protect the state from potentially costly civil-rights lawsuits.
But Democrats disagree. They say the VRA does not require lawmakers to create such districts, except in truly exceptional cases. They’re accusing the GOP of using the VRA to justify “packing” minority voters into a handful of districts to reduce their influence elsewhere.
In the Senate, where the Senate and congressional map votes were strictly partisan, Democrats accused Republican mapmakers of drilling down to precinct-level caucus data to separate black voters from white ones…Senator Josh Stein, D-Wake, asked why the GOP Senate map splits 40 voting precincts in Wake County alone. “The only possible explanation is that you want to reach out and grab every black person you can find and put them in Dan Blue’s district. And for what purpose?”
The Republican voter suppression initiatives are not unconnected in purpose or timing, as vanden Heuval points out:
What’s worse is that these aren’t a series of independent actions being coincidentally taken throughout the country. This is very much a coordinated effort. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a corporate-funded organization that works with state legislators to draft model legislation. According to The Nation’s John Nichols, “Enacting burdensome photo ID or proof of citizenship requirements has long been an ALEC priority.” It’s not surprise then, that the Wisconsin state legislator who pushed for one of the strictest voter ID laws in the nation is also ALEC’s Wisconsin chair.
Vanden Heuval quotes Alexander Keyssar, a top voting rights scholar and author of “The Right to Vote”:
…“What is so striking about the wave of legislation for ID laws is that we are witnessing for the first time in more than a century, a concerted, multi-state effort to make it more difficult for people to exercise their democratic rights…It is very reminiscent of what occurred in the North between 1875 and 1910 — the era of Jim Crow in the South — when a host of procedural obstacles were put in the way of immigrants trying to vote.”
This is the first part of what will almost certainly be a three-stage voter suppression program. Call it the pre-election suppression campaign, likely to be followed by election-day shenanigans at the polls and then ballot-counting “irregularities” in Florida and Ohio, among other states.
It’s tough to challenge voter suppression campaigns in Republican-controlled state legislatures and state and federal courts. But Democrats should keep demanding that the Justice Department review these laws for compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and have legal teams in place to monitor election-day suppression and ballot counting.
Jonathan Chait, The New Republic:
This morning, listening to Diane Rehm, I heard the host ask her guest what President Obama should do to fix the ailing economy. Her guest expert tried to answer, but did not point out that any proposal to address the economy would require passage by the House and Senate. It struck me, again, that our political discourse is consumed by magical thinking.
Two large economic problems have dominated the discourse — the Great Recession, and the long-term deficit. Now, one problem right off the bat is that much of the discussion weirdly fails to distinguish between these two problems, or treats any solution to one as mutually exclusive with the other, when in fact we can pursue policies that increase the deficit in the short run while decreasing it in the long run.
But the greater impediment is that we’re roadblocked by political disagreement between different bodies that must agree in order to produce any action. On the long-run deficit, President Obama favors a fiscal adjustment based on a mix of spending cuts and higher revenue, ideally through a tax reform that produces lower rates. Republicans believe that a fiscal adjustment is only desirable if it consists entirely of spending cuts.
On the Great Recession, Obama favors a variety of short-run policies to increase consumer demand, while the Republicans advocate short-term fiscal contraction. They will approve of some policies that increase short-term deficits, but only if those policies contribute permanently reduce effective tax rates for businesses or high-income individuals. Temporary payroll tax cuts no, but maybe yes if they’re paired with longer-term reductions in business taxes or extensions of the upper-bracket Bush tax cuts that increase the probability of making those tax cuts permanent.
I personally have some strong opinions on the merits of those positions. But I’m not trying to argue right now about the merits. I’m merely attempting to describe the scope of the disagreement. This disagreement is the key source of gridlock on both issue. You don’t have to conclude from this that any progress between now and November 2012 is impossible (though I do personally believe that progress is impossible.) It does not require magical thinking to argue for some innovative strategy to break down or evade the gridlock problem. Yet the vast reams of commentary urging action do not do this. They simply ignore the existing impediments to legislative action.
Part of the issue here is the cult of the presidency. We hold the president responsible for everything that happens. The notion that the president and both houses of Congress must agree on most actions in instinctively dissatisfying. And so we think of every problem as a question of “what should the president do.” Layered on top of that is a failure to recognize the deep-seated disagreement between Obama and the Republicans over what we should do.
In the New York Times today, the lead news analysis frames a “A Test for Obama”:
The Federal Reserve’s finding on Tuesday that there is little prospect for rapid economic growth over the next two years was the latest in a summer of bad economic news. One administration official called the atmosphere around the president’s economic team “angry and morose.”
There was no word on the mood of the president’s political team, but it was unlikely to be buoyed by the Fed’s assertion that the economy would still be faltering well past Mr. Obama’s second inauguration, should he win another term.
“The problem for Obama is that right now, the United States is either at a precipice or has fallen off it,” said David Rothkopf, a Commerce Department official in the Clinton administration. “If he is true to his commitment to rather be a good one-term president, then this is the character test. In some respects, this is the 3 a.m. phone call.”
Mr. Obama, Mr. Rothkopf argues, has to focus in the next 18 months on getting the economy back on track for the long haul, even if that means pushing for politically unpalatable budget cuts, including real — but hugely unpopular — reductions in Social Security, other entitlement programs and the military.
We have a couple problems here. First, an apparent blurring between the response to the Great Recession and the long-term deficit. And second, a framing of the question of the long-term deficit as an issue of presidential character. Obama has repeatedly endorsed proposals to reduce the long-term deficit via revenue-enhancing tax reform and spending cuts. Republicans oppose these plans. What else should Obama do? Should he agree to cut the deficit by $4 trillion entirely through spending reductions? Find some previously-unused method to persuade Republicans to alter their most sacred principle? Nobody says.
(Incidentally, we have former Clintonite Steve Rothkopf promoting this “3 a.m. phone call” business. The reference, in case you’ve forgotten, is to Hillary Clinton’s claim during the primary that Obama would be unprepared to deal with a sudden foreign policy crisis that occurs at a moment when he can’t lean on his advisers. The long-term deficit challenge is actually the precise opposite of this scenario — a domestic question that unfolds over an excruciatingly long period of time. The closest actual equivalent of the 3 a.m. phone call was the tip about Osama bin Laden.)
Meanwhile, Tom Friedman writes a column today envisioning a world in which both parties come together. Republicans agree to endorse Obama’s policy agenda, and Obama agrees to admit that he could have explained his agenda more clearly. I share Friedman’s enthusiasm for such an outcome, but I fail to see how this relates to the current impasse.
This is one way in which conservative journalism is actually far more sophisticated than mainstream news journalism. Conservative pundits, while usually slanting their account in highly partisan and often misleading terms, do a fairly good job of grasping and explaining the fact that the two parties fundamentally disagree on the causes of and solutions to the economic crisis and the long-term deficit. In this sense, a Rush Limbaugh listener may well be better informed about the causes of the impasse than listener of NPR or other mainstream organs. The former will have in his mind a wildly slanted version of the basic political landscape, while the latter’s head will be filled with magical thinking.
They all show heavy majorities (most in the mid-60s) in favor of raising taxes on the wealthy as part of a deficit reduction plan. Yet this is the one issue on which Republicans seem determined to take a stand. If the Democrats cannot marshall 2 – 1 support for their policies into actual legislation, they really need to pack it in as a viable party (although one could argue they packed it in years ago).
The top Republicans in the House and the Senate appointed six more lawmakers on Wednesday to the bipartisan committee that is supposed to recommend steps to reducefederal budget deficits by at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years.
Speaker John A. Boehner chose three senior Republican House members: Jeb Hensarling of Texas, and Dave Campand Fred Upton, both of Michigan.
Mr. Hensarling, who is chairman of the House Republican Conference, will be co-chairman of the new panel, along with Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington.
The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, chose Senators Jon Kyl of Arizona, Rob Portmanof Ohio and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania for the 12-member panel.
The panel, the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, is supposed to come up with recommendations by Nov. 23
Mr. Kyl, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, is known as a staunch conservative who likes to delve into the details of legislation and policy. He is a member of the Senate Finance Committee and participated in deficit-reduction talks with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in May and June.
Mr. Portman, a House member from 1993 to 2005, was White House budget director under President George W. Bush. Throughout his time in Congress, he has worked well with Democrats even as he voted consistently with other Republicans.
Mr. Toomey served three terms in the House, from 1999 to 2005, and later became president of the Club for Growth, which champions low taxes, free markets and limited government.
Mr. Camp is chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, which has authority over taxes and Medicare.
Mr. Upton, a House member for almost 25 years, had a moderate voting record on some issues, but turned to the right in his successful effort to become chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
The announcements came a day after Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, appointed Ms. Murray and two other Democratic senators, Max Baucus of Montana and John Kerry of Massachusetts, to the panel.
There are different ways to see what happened last night. Legislative recalls are extremely, extremely uncommon in the United States. Winning two of them last night was a big victory. Both senators won in 2010 and in the big Obama year of 2008. And the Democrats came very close to knocking off two more. Still, let’s be honest: they wanted to steal away the GOP’s unitary hold on the state government. And they didn’t. They came up short. And there’s a lot of very real and merited disappointment over that.
But it’s wrong to see political energy and resources as finite and something to be marshaled. It’s not a zero sum game. This kind of effort doesn’t take away from something else. It adds to it. It builds organizational muscle. In fact, it’s like muscle. You build it by exercising it. I don’t lose part of my allotment of muscle by doing some bench presses. I build it up. And the exercise itself demonstrates that a political movement can bite back.
In the recent budget and debt battle I saw numerous readers write in to say, Hey, how’d this Norquist guy get all this power? Or, Why is it that every time they can get every last member of their caucus to toe the line? Yes, Norquist’s got tons of cash from various moneyed interests. But his power is based on working this issue for literally decades in out of the way races across the country. Again, building muscle through the exercise of muscle. How do Republicans enforce such crazy amounts of party discipline? Because they have a record of primarying people. And over time people get that message. So yes, the Dems and the unions in Wisconsin came up short. But two Republican senators already lost their jobs over this. And people will remember that.
Politics ain’t bean bag and it also ain’t easy. It takes time. It would be a mistake to see this as a distraction, a big mistake.
[…] But nonetheless, what they failed to accomplish does not diminish what they did successfully accomplish. The fact that all these recall elections happened at all was itself a genuine achievement. The sudden explosion of demonstrations in opposition to Walker’s proposals, followed by activists pulling off the collection of many thousands of recall signatures in record time, represented an undiluted organizing triumph. At a time of nonstop media doting over the Tea Party, it was a reminder that spontaneous grassroots eruptions of sympathy and support for a targeted constituency are still possible and can still be channeled effectively into a genuine populist movement on the left. At a time when organized labor is struggling badly and GOP governors earn national media adulation by talking “tough” about cracking down on greedy public employees, what happened in Wisconsin, as John Nichols put it, amounted to “one of the largest pro-labor demonstrations in American history,” one that carried echoes of the “era of Populist and Progressive reform in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”
What’s more, no matter how many times conservatives falselyassert that labor and Dems subverted the popular will by fighting Walker’s proposals, in reality precisely the opposite happened.
By staging a fight that drew national attention, labor and Wisconisn Dems revealed an unexpected level of national sympathy for public employees, and, yes, for unions and their basic right to exist. This alone was an important achievement, flummoxing pundits who had confidently predicted that public employeees would make easy public scapegoats for the national conservative movement in dire economic times.
Even if Dems fell short of their objective in Wisconsin, what happened was, in fact, a referendum on Walkerism — one that conservatives lost in the mind of the broader public. Nate Silver Tweeted last night: “Dems would be silly not proceed with Walker recall based on tonight. The results project to a toss-up if you extrapolate out statewide.” I don’t think Dems will go through with it, but Silver’s larger point is intact: Walkerism triggered a strong public backlash that can’t be dismissed and will remain a factor. As Markos Moulitsas noted, the Wisconsin battle enabled Dems to hone a class-based message about GOP overreach that is showing some success in winning back white working class voters, with potential ramifications for 2012. The national outpouring of financial support for the Dem recall candidates showed that there’s a national liberal/Dem constituency that can be activated by Dems who don’t flinch from taking the fight to opponents with unabashedly bare-knuckled populism.
Will the national support for public employees in polls slow the drive of conservatives and GOP governors to roll back bargaining rights nationally? Probably not. Conservatives will point to yesterday’s events, with some justification, as proof that governors might not suffer direct electoral consequences in response to radical union-busting policies. But what Wisconsin showed us is that the broader public simply isn’t on their side. Let’s hope national Dems take heart.
The events in Wisconsin were a blow to organized labor. But the simple fact is that labor and Dems came within a hair of realizing an objective that was dismissed at the outset of this fight as a delusional lefty pipe dream. Wisconsin won’t chasten the left; Wisconsin will embolden it. And those who poured untold amounts of time and energy into the Wisconsin effort shouldn’t regret their efforts for a second.
“I think [Perry] will put Romney in the microwave and turn it up to high. Romney’s been avoiding the heat so far, but not when Perry gets in,” – Mark McKinnon in an interesting piece by Dan Balz.
I find it fascinating that the youngest and brownest of the Bush scions has now endorsed Huntsman. Perry is no George W. He is far further to the right. That’s why one senses he could win this, unless Palin gets in the race. Given their ideological, stylistic and theocratic closeness, she would certainly be a permanent campaign fixture for him. And he is a perfect fit for the current GOP:
“Bush by nature, in Texas, wanted to be a conciliator,” said one Texas strategist, who requested anonymity to give a candid assessment of Perry. “I think he wanted to be somewhat bipartisan. I don’t think Perry’s particularly interested in those things. I don’t think he’s afraid to be partisan. I don’t think he’s afraid to be tough and mean when he has to.”
For these reasons, Perry would be toast in a fairly normal economy. But what we now know is that this will be an election in hard times, with populism and resentment and religious fundamentalism on the rise everywhere. My hunch is that in a Perry-Obama match, Obama would wipe the floor among Independents and those who remember the last president from Texas. But the wild card of recession makes me leery of any conviction about this.
20 percent of the US House of Representatives will be on tours of Israel in the next three weeks. Staggering.
Though Democrats failed to gain enough state Senate seats to retake the majority in Wisconsin’s recall elections, there were hopeful signs for the party even in one of the districts they lost. Returns from the recall elections suggest that Democrats have begun to recover blue-collar support in Wisconsin, which cratered in 2010 and will be key to President Obama’s chances across the Upper Midwest next November.
The six state Senate districts that held elections last night broke down simply along one economic measure: according to Census Bureau estimates, the median household income is above $50,000 per year in three districts and below that mark in the other three. Above the $50,000 level, the Democratic state Senate candidates made no gains against the Republican incumbents. But Democrats captured two of the lower-income districts last night (the 18th and 32nd) and lost narrowly in the third (the 14th), vastly improving on Democratic performance in those districts last November, and suggesting the party and its union allies successfully targeted working-class whites in the recall race.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tom Barrett and now former-Sen. Russ Feingold each ran at about 40 percent in the 14th and 18th districts in 2010. But Democrats running in those districts’ recall elections Tuesday carried 48 and 51 percent of the vote, respectively. Barrett and Feingold did better in the 32nd district, winning close to half of the votes last November, and Democrat Jennifer Shilling also improved there, gathering 55 percent of votes cast. The Democratic Senate candidates all pulled close to Obama’s rates of support when he narrowly carried their districts in 2008.
There were no exit polls conducted in the recall election. But no more than a quarter of residents are college-educated in any of those three districts, and each is at least 90 percent white. Democratic gains could hardly have come from anywhere else but blue-collar whites. By contrast, the Democrats running in the more affluent state Senate districts yesterday failed to improve on the 2010 performance of Barrett and Feingold.
Poor support from non-college whites doomed Feingold, among others, to defeat in 2010. He actually won narrowly among Wisconsin’s white college graduates in 2010, according to exit polls, but now-Sen. Ron Johnson beat him badly, and sealed his overall victory by winning the state’s non-college whites 58-40 percent.
If these signs of recovery among non-college whites are more than fleeting, they will prove important to Democrats’ chances in the Upper Midwest in 2012. A real recovery among non-college whites will be welcome news for Obama and his party this cycle.
David Atkins, Hullabaloo:
In case anyone was wondering if there would come a point at which basic reality would send a wake-up call to blinkered Tea Party conservatives, you have your answer in the Great State of Texas. Specifically, the town of Kemp, population 1,133:
Water is flowing again from faucets in the town of Kemp.
Now, city leaders hope prayer will provide them with rain.
Water had been cut off in this Kaufman County town of 1,200 since Saturday. On Tuesday night, residents assembled at a local park to pray for rain — a vigil organized by town leaders.
“In Jesus’ name, we will have water and rain, and that all our problems here in Kemp will be solved and managed,” said one Kemp resident in prayer.
Jeff Culber works for the Kemp Housing Authority. In his prayer, he actually offered gratitude for the problems that caused the water shutdown.
“I want to thank You that these water lines have busted,” he said. “It has brought this circle of unity together to come to You and ask You for the resources to fix it…”
“I know that the answer is prayer. And that’s where the rain comes from… He’s the rainmaker,” said Kemp resident Nancy Schoenle.
[…]Thank God John Thorpe has some earthly answers for the town:
Their infrastructure dates back to the 1930s. Most of the water system’s 30 miles of pipes haven’t been updated in decades.
It was these old, shoddy pipes that led directly to the water shortage and shutdown in Kemp. The heat wave that has gripped the southern United States for a month now taxed the system, and the pipes, which should have been updated recently but were not, burst. In the past three weeks, there have been fourteen separate water main breaks in Kemp.
[…] The city is currently spending $350,000 to replace 4,000 feet of pipe. That’s hardly going to make a dent in the problem today, and there may not be funding available for more repairs just yet. The city is represented in Congress by a Tea Party favorite, House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling.
Meanwhile, Kemp’s residents are without water in the middle of a non-stop, 100-degree-plus heat wave. While they wait and wonder when they’ll be able to drink again, Kemp’s residents have had plenty of time to reflect on what they learned by the circumstances.
Or will they? The town ran out of water last year, too. They spent three days with the water shut off as officials, once again, prayed for help.
There is no reality that will wake these people up. They will dance to the Tea Party tune right back to the Middle Ages if they’re given a chance, without once even looking back to see what alternatives actual civilization might provide.
If the town of Kemp wants to revert to the era of witch burning and dowsing rods, that’s ultimately their business in a democracy. At this point I’m inclined to say “go for it” and encourage anyone with half a lick of sense to get out of Dodge. The problem is that these people want to shove Rick Perry down our throats, and force the rest of us to jump off the ledge with them while our tax dollars support their unsustainable lifestyle.
There is no compromise with these people. You either defeat them, or separate political ties with them. Compromise isn’t an option.
[…] SEIU is launching a $1.5 million campaign, including TV and radio ads and direct mail, that’s designed to shift the conversation to jobs, and away from austerity, in six key swing states where unemployment is running very high.
The campaign, an SEIU official tells me, is meant to counteract ads being run by high profile conservative groups that are pushing an austerity agenda among voters who are struggling economically — and will pressure House Republicans to prioritize job creation over tax breaks for corporations and the rich.
Here’s the TV spot, to run in Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and Virginia:
[…] Davis acknowledged that Democrats in Congress, too, had been complicit in steering the conversation away from jobs and towards deficit reduction, but said Republicans should bear the brunt of the blame. He said Republicans should be the focal point of the campaign because they control the House and the Republican austerity vision is dominant in Congress right now.
“Rather than creating jobs by cutting taxes on the wealthy and hoping that it trickles down to the rest of us, we want to reframe and present an alternative theory that is more likely to create jobs,” he said. “Record low approval ratings for Congress speak to the fact that folks feel like there’s nothing of value going on here. We want to move whatever needs to move to get jobs created.”
The campaign reflects a sense among liberal groups and labor that deficit mania has hijacked the conversation to a truly alarming extent — lowering expectations for government action on the economy to the point where officials have essentially given up.
A new CNN/Opinion Research poll finds lot of that anger directed toward the Republican party.
Key findings: Favorable views of the Republican party dropped eight points over the past month to 33%. Meanwhile, 59% say they have an unfavorable view of the Republican party, an all-time high dating back to 1992 when the question was first asked.
In contrast, views of the Democratic party have remained fairly steady, with 47% saying they have a favorable view of the Democrats and an equal amount saying they hold an unfavorable view.
[…] Tea Party Support Dips to New Low
At 25%, overall support for the Tea Party among U.S. adults is similar to the previous low of 26% found in October 2010. Support increased to 32% last November — immediately after the 2010 midterm elections — and held at 30% in January and April of this year before dropping to the current new low.
Overall opposition to the Tea Party movement, now 28%, is about average for where it has been since early 2010, while the 42% saying they are neither supporters nor opponents is a new high.
The national Tea Party movement appears to have lost some ground in popular support after the blistering debate over raising the nation’s debt ceiling in which Tea Party Republicans in the U.S. House and Senate fought any compromise on taxes and spending. Fourteen percent of Americans consider themselves strong supporters of the Tea Party movement, and, perhaps not coincidentally, 12% of the public consists of conservative Republicans who wanted members of Congress who shared their views on the budget to hold out for a deal they could agree with. That is according to a July 15-17 Gallup poll on the debt ceiling debate.
Along with the decline in overall support for the Tea Party from 30% to 25% in recent months, Gallup finds more Americans holding intensely negative feelings toward the movement than intensely positive feelings. It thus appears that, to date, the Tea Party’s leadership and activities may have been more successful at galvanizing the movement’s opponents than expanding its base of passionate supporters.
Economic fears are weighing heavily on Americans, with a large majority saying the United States is on the wrong track and nearly half believing the worst is yet to come, a Reuters/Ipsos poll said on Wednesday.
The poll reflected growing anxiety about the economy and frustration with Washington after a narrowly averted government default last week, a credit rating downgrade by Standard & Poor’s, a stock market dive and a stubbornly high 9.1 percent jobless rate.
President Barack Obama came out bruised but relatively intact from the brutal, weeks-long debt debate. His approval rating dropped to 45 percent from 49 percent from a month ago, according to the poll conducted from Thursday to Monday.
The survey found 49 percent of Americans held a negative view of Republicans after the deal was reached and 42 percent held a negative opinion of the conservative Tea Party movement. Tea Party conservatives stuck closely to their demand that deficit reduction be handled solely through spending cuts and were willing to risk a default to achieve their aims.
lame for the debt deal negotiations,” Clark said.
Americans held mixed views on the best way to stimulate economic growth. Cutting spending, 49 percent, and taxing the wealthy, 46 percent, came highest, followed by investment in infrastructure, 34 percent.
A key number from the new Post poll: Only 26 percent are confident the Federal government can solve economic problems, which could help explain why the idea of further government spending to create jobs has essentially vanished from the conversation.
Still: It’s also worth noting that only 18 percent are confident in Republicans to make the right decisions for our economic future, versus 33 percent who are confident in Obama.
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times:
There are vertical prayers and horizontal prayers. Vertical prayers are directed heavenward. Horizontal prayers are directed sideways at others.
It fills me with misgivings when a possible Presidential candidate warms up by running a “prayer rally” in a Texas sports stadium.
A prayer “rally?” I can think of words like gathering and meeting that might more perfectly evoke the spirit. Prayer rallies make me think of pep rallies. Their purpose is to jack up the spirits of the home team and alarm the other side.
Of course the other side has its own pep rallies, presumably leaving it to God to choose sides. That is why team prayers before a game strike me as somewhere between silly and sacrilegious. No infinite being can possibly care if Illinois beats Michigan. No God worthy of the description intervenes in the drift of a field goal kick.
It is sometimes said America was founded as a Christian nation. It was specifically not founded as a Christian nation, or the nation of any other religion. The founding European settlers were refugees from Christian nations, and had experienced quite enough at the hands of state religions. The separation of church and state is central to our democracy. It is impossible to conceive of any of the Founding Fathers approving of prayer rallies in connection with political campaigns. That is equally true of Fathers who were Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, atheist, deist or agnostic.
The rally convened by Texas Gov. Rick Perry was, like many such meetings, a free concert featuring rock and C&W singers. If prayer and only prayer has been offered, the attendance, I suspect, would have been smaller. Its purpose was achieved not so much inside the stadium as outside–so that they could pray horizontally at us.
Such prayer strikes me as unseemly. Your religion is a matter between you and the god of your definition. The eagerness to convert outsiders strikes me as one of the aspects of a cult. I believe the low emphasis placed on conversion by Jews is admirable. If you want to become a Jew, you go to them. I believe religions should convert by attraction, not promotion. Respect for other beliefs, or the lack of beliefs, should be at the heart of religions.
The separation of Church and State has rarely seemed more threatened. Many political leaders seem opposed to it. Some would translate their religious beliefs into the law of the land. Candidates are being asked to sign a “pledges” designed primarily to embarrass those who do not sign them. A self-respecting candidate would explain that he will make his own pledges, for himself, by himself.
I have not taken a liberal or a conservative position. I have not spoken as a believer or a non-believer. What I’ve written is Civics 101. I wonder that no political leaders of either party have had the nerve to question the rally in Texas.
There are not two sides to the separation of Church and State. There is only this: They must be separated for the health of our democracy. Americans are of many faiths and none. Our laws must apply equally to all. If your God doesn’t agree, does that mean He accepts instructions from you? Are you content with such a God?
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
In 1980, Stanley Kubrick shot The Shining, the classic horror film based on Stephen King’s novel. During production, the director allowed his daughter Vivian, then 17 years old, to shoot a documentary called Making The Shining, which lets you spend 33 minutes being a fly on the wall. The film originally aired on the BBC and gave British audiences the chance to see Jack Nicholson revving himself up to act, and Shelley Duvall collapsing in the hallway from stress and fatigue. Minutes later, we watch Mr. Kubrick exert some directorial force on the actress, and we understand her predicament all the more.
As Americans face the economic fallout of the recent debt deal in Washington, members of the burgeoning American Dream Movement on Tuesday announced the Contract for the American Dream, a new agenda for economic recovery supported by a grassroots movement that progressive leaders say will rival the Tea Party in size and impact.
The contract is a list of ten sweeping policy proposals drawn from suggestions made by 131,203 Americans who gathered online and in neighborhood meetings to discuss solutions to the nation’s economic woes. The contract demands what Democrats conceded in the recent debt deal: investment in jobs, education and infrastructure and higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans.
MoveOn.org Director Justin Ruben told reporters that most Americans want jobs instead of spending cuts, and the people who contributed to the American dream contract are frustrated with both parties. He said the American Dream Movement has spread from the demonstrations in Wisconsin to a dozen other states where “people are fighting against Republican attacks on the middle class.”
“We’ve been critical of both parties, including the president,” Ruben said. “There is a an enormous opportunity for politicians to step up … because people are desperate.
The American Dreamers are already being compared to the divisive Tea Party that made countless headlines and shook up the GOP in recent years. Like the Tea Partiers on the right, promoters of the American Dream contract said Washington is out of touch with the views and needs of the rest of America.
“Too many people in Washington are giving up on the American dream, but the American people are not,” Ruben said.
Rebuild the Dream President Van Jones said the American Dream Movement is “real,” unlike the Tea Party, which was created with the help from “Fox News and Koch Brothers.” Jones said the American Dreamers are starting out with twice as many numbers as the Tea Party had in its early days, and the broad grassroots movement could “help DC as a whole do a major reset.”
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) said that she is working with members of the House progressive caucus to advance the contract’s agenda. Schakowsky recently introduced legislation that would increase spending on new jobs and raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans, but the bills are expected to face strong opposition in a divided Congress.
Schakowsky said the Obama administration has not indicated if it will support the legislation during the next Congressional session.
These are very tough times and I am starting to see a lot of depression and fatalism and anger from people everywhere. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the left so despondent — and nights like last night in Wisconsin, although heartening in some respects, often make us feel worse because it takes so much energy just to move an inch. But I have to remind myself that it’s about more than just achieving the goal — it’s the process itself that makes you strong.
Here’s a note I got from reader Don P, who sent me the Stagecoach quote last week:
I know we are in dark times and the nature of the quote was not bright, however seeing that happen was very satisfying and put a bounce in my step. Saturday, when the item appeared in Krugman’s column my union voted to approve a contract with Santa Clara County.
I was one of the negotiators and though contract contains cuts to the workers, I feel proud of what the negotiators accomplished. We negotiated from April 29th until 6:30 AM on August 3rd. It was grueling but we kept the worst pain from the lowest paid employees and tried to make the cuts as temporary as we could. We also avoided impasse and a strike.
I felt so incredibly proud that day of both achievements (contributing to your BLOG and successfully settling).
I also wish more people understood how democratic, ethical and downright American union work can be. We worked so hard to get all the voices heard, to discuss all the angles and represent the stated interests of the workers. The negotiation team practically tore itself apart but the sum of all this messy, difficult process was a contract that was as fair as possible under the circumstance. It felt like democracy in action and it gives me hope even in this dark time.
I want to galvanize people and get them involved civically with the kind of passion that the Tea Party has but oriented towards working on constructive solutions to the problems we face.
As long as people like Don are out there doing what they can for average working people, I figure I can’t succumb to the malaise that threatens to drag me under. I imagine there was some disappointment in Wisconsin last night that they didn’t take back the Senate. But they won two races — a very difficult task — and I doubt even one of the people who worked so hard to make that happen would give up having had the experience. As Don says, it’s difficult and exhausting, but the real fulfillment is in the doing of it. (And, by the way, practice makes perfect.)
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“It is better to be hated for what you are
than loved for what you are not.”
— André Gide