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The Hope That Flows From History


AFTER the grim economic developments of the last few weeks, it’s easy to lose hope. Could the Great Recession of 2008 drag on for years, just as the Great Depression did in the 1930s? Adding to the despair is the oft-repeated notion that it took World War II to end the economic nightmare of the ’30s: If a global war was needed to return the economy to full employment then, what is going to save us today?

Look more closely at history and you’ll see that the truth is much more complicated — and less gloomy. While the war helped the recovery from the Depression, the economy was improving long before military spending increased. More fundamentally, the wrenching wartime experience provides a message of hope for our troubled economy today: we have the tools to deal with our problems, if only policy makers will use them.

As I showed in an academic paper years ago, the war first affected the economy through monetary developments. Starting in the mid-1930s, Hitler’s aggression caused capital flight from Europe. People wanted to invest somewhere safer — particularly in the United States. Under the gold standard of that time, the flight to safety caused large gold flows to America. The Treasury Department under President Franklin D. Roosevelt used that inflow to increase the money supply.

The result was an aggressive monetary expansion that effectively ended deflation. Real borrowing costs decreased and interest-sensitive spending rose rapidly. The economy responded strongly. From 1933 to 1937, real gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of almost 10 percent, and unemployment fell from 25 percent to 14. To put that in perspective, G.D.P. growth has averaged just 2.5 percent in the current recovery, and unemployment has barely budged.

There is clearly a lesson for modern policy makers. Monetary expansion was very effective in the mid-1930s, even though nominal interest rates were near zero, as they are today. The Federal Reserve’s policy statement last week provided tantalizing hints that it may be taking this lesson to heart and using its available tools more aggressively in coming months.

One reason the Depression dragged on so long was that the rapid recovery of the mid-1930s was interrupted by a second severerecession in late 1937. Though many factors had a role in the “recession within a recession,” monetary and fiscal policy retrenchment were central. In monetarypolicy, the Fed doubled bank reserve requirements and the Treasury stopped monetizing the gold inflow. In fiscal policy, the federal budget swung sharply, from a stimulative deficit of 3.8 percent of G.D.P. in 1936 to a small surplus in 1937.

The lesson here is to beware of withdrawing policy support too soon. A switch to contractionary policy before the economy is fully recovered can cause the economy to decline again. Such a downturn may be particularly large when an economy is still traumatized from an earlier crisis.

The recent downgrade of American government debt by Standard & Poor’s makes this point especially crucial. It would be a mistake to respond by reducing the deficit more sharply in the near term. That would almost surely condemn us to a repeat of the 1937 downturn. And higher unemployment would make it all that much harder to get the deficit under control.

Military spending didn’t begin to rise substantially until late 1940. Once it did, fiscal policy had an expansionary impact. Some economists argue that the effect wasn’t very large, as real government purchases (in 2005 dollars) rose by $1.4 billion from 1940 to 1944, while real G.D.P. rose only $0.9 billion.

But this calculation misses two crucial facts: Taxes increased sharply, and the government took many actions to decrease private consumption, like instituting rationing and admonishing people to save. That output soared despite these factors suggests that increases in government spending had a powerful stimulative effect. Consistent with that, private nonfarm employment — which excludes active military personnel — rose by almost eight million from 1940 to 1944.

The lesson here is that fiscal stimulus can help a depressed economy recover — an idea supported by new studies of the 2009 stimulus package. Additional short-run tax cuts or increases in government investment would help deal with our unemployment crisis.

What of the idea that monetary and fiscal policy can do little if unemployment is caused by structural factors, like a mismatch between workers’ skills and available jobs? As I discussed in a previous column, such factors are probably small today.

But World War II has something to tell us here, too. Because nearly 10 million men of prime working age were drafted into the military, there was a huge skills gap between the jobs that needed to be done on the home front and the remaining work force. Yet businesses and workers found a way to get the job done. Factories simplified production methods and housewives learned to rivet.

Here the lesson is that demand is crucial — and that jobs don’t go unfilled for long. If jobs were widely available today, unemployed workers would quickly find a way to acquire needed skills or move to where the jobs were located.

Finally, what about the national debt? Given the recent debt downgrade, it might seem impossible for the United States to embark on fiscal stimulus that would increase its ratio of debt to G.D.P.

Well, at the end of World War II, that ratio hit 109 percent — one and a half times as high as it is now. Yet this had no obvious adverse consequences for growth or our ability to borrow.

This isn’t hard to explain. Everyone understood then why the nation was racking up so much debt: we were fighting for survival, and for the survival of our allies. No one doubted that we would repay our debts. We had done it after every other war, and raising taxes even before the attack on Pearl Harbor showed our leaders’ fiscal resolve.

Today, we can do much more to aid recovery, including a near-term increase in our debt. But we need to make the reasons clear and make concrete our commitment to deal with the debt over time.

In place of the tepid budget agreement now in place, we could pass a bold plan with more short-run spending increases and tax cuts, coupled with much more serious, phased-in deficit reduction. By necessity, the plan would tackle entitlement reform and gradually raise tax revenue. This would be the World War II approach to our problems.

Equally important, someone needs to explain to the nation and to world markets just why we must increase the debt in the short run. Unemployment of roughly 9 percent for 28 months and counting is a national emergency. We must fight it with the same passion and commitment we have brought to military emergencies in our past.


A real jobs agenda: Schackowsky

NYT Editorial:

[…] Without more jobs, both the economy and the budget will deteriorate further. It is past time for Mr. Obama to send a jobs plan to Congress that has popular appeal, one that he can use to try to shame Republicans. He will need cooperation from the Senate, which should bring one jobs-related bill after another to the floor, forcing its members to approve jobs initiatives or go on the record to show that they just don’t care.

Mr. Obama has begun to talk more about jobs, but his agenda is thin. Its main components — extending federal unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut beyond their expiration at the end of this year — are vitally important, but their extension will only maintain the status quo. His idea for an infrastructure bank to finance large-scale building projects is also good, but would take time, and would not address the immediate need for jobs. Ditto his push for patent reform and trade agreements.

There are other ideas worth fighting for. Take, for example, Fix America’s Schools Today, or FAST, an idea that has been incorporated into a House proposal to be introduced this fall by Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois. Public school buildings in the United States are on average over 40 years old and in need of an estimated $500 billion in repairs and upgrades. A $50 billion school renovation program would employ 500,000 workers (1.5 million construction workers are currently unemployed) and could be easily scaled up. The money could be disbursed through existing federal formulas to all 16,000 public school districts. The initial cost could be largely offset over 10 years by ending tax breaks for fossil fuels, as called for in Mr. Obama’s 2012 budget.

Other programs in the Schakowsky bill could employ an estimated one million young people for projects in federal parks, community centers and on college campuses, as well as 350,000 laid-off teachers, police officers, firefighters and health care providers.

Washington, in thrall to austerity, has abandoned one of the most immediate and powerful tools for supporting growth and jobs, namely, borrowing at today’s low rates to provide direct fiscal aid to states. But Mr. Obama can and should make the case for targeted new jobs today, to be paid for over time by closing tax loopholes.

Republicans are sure to howl that new programs will undo the debt ceiling deal, but it is surely possible over a 10-year period to tackle near-term action on jobs and long-term action on deficit reduction. The alternative is even slower growth and higher unemployment.

Corporate America’s Grand Failure

Kevin Drum:

I’m not sure what Steven Pearlstein had for breakfast this morning, but to misquote Abraham Lincoln, “Tell me what brand of cereal Pearlstein eats. I would like to send a case of it to my other columnists.”

Another great week for Corporate America!

The economy is flatlining. Global financial markets are in turmoil. Your stock price is down about 15 percent in three weeks. Your customers have lost all confidence in the economy. Your employees, at least the American ones, are cynical and demoralized. Your government is paralyzed. Want to know who is to blame, Mr. Big Shot Chief Executive? Just look in the mirror because the culprit is staring you in the face.

.…When it started out all you really wanted was to push back against a few meddlesome regulators or shave a point or two off your tax rate….Somewhere along the way, however, this effort took on a life of its own. What started as a reasonable attempt at political rebalancing turned into a jihad against all regulation, all taxes and all government, waged by right-wing zealots who want to privatize the public schools that educate your workers, cut back on the basic research on which your products are based, shut down the regulatory agencies that protect you from unscrupulous competitors and privatize the public infrastructure that transports your supplies and your finished goods. For them, this isn’t just a tactic to brush back government. It’s a holy war to destroy it — and one that is now out of your control.

….Please don’t tell me about your mealy-mouthed letter warning Congress not to play politics with the debt ceiling. By that point, the Frankenpols you created were not interested in your advice.The only thing that might have got their attention was a threat to cut off the flow of political money. You didn’t — and now they know they can ignore you with impunity.

The thing is, they won’t really care until all this chaos affects corporate earnings. So far it hasn’t, and America’s CEOs — who have never suffered noticeably from a lack of self-regard — probably think that if they can guide their companies to higher profits even through the Great Recession, they must be geniuses. And why should a genius have to worry about their minions on Capitol Hill getting a little friskier than they intended?

And if it all comes crashing down? It’ll be someone else’s fault. Something Obama did, probably. They’ll never learn.


How the Koch Brothers Funded Public-School Segregation

Andy Kroll, Mother Jones:

[…] In reality, there are deep connections between the Kochs and Wake County, and it’s all about the money. The latest installment in the left-leaning Brave New Foundation’s “Koch Brothers Exposed” video series reveals how a Koch-founded and funded outfit, Americans for Prosperity, fueled a campaign to “resegregate” the schools of Wake County, a prosperous area in central North Carolina that’s home to the cities of Raleigh and Cary, among others.

The story starts back in 2009, when elections were held for four of Wake County’s nine school board seats—enough seats to dictate the public school district’s agenda if all four board members wanted the same reforms. That’s where Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group, came into play. AFP swooped in to fund and organize on behalf of four candidates who sought to kill the district’s policy of busing to ensure diverse, desegregated public schools. The AFP-backed candidates ran against what they called “forced busing”—a phrase, the film points out, that dates back to George Wallace in the 1970s—and instead stressed that schools should educate only those who lived in the surrounding neighborhood.

Local reporters, some of whom are interviewed in the film, connected the push to eliminate busing with the philosophies of AFP and its funders. “They’re definitely pushing an agenda to resegregate these schools, but there’s also a real push toward privatization,” Sue Sturgis of the Institute for Southern Studies says in the film.

In the end, all four AFP-backed candidates won, and the school boardhas since begun to roll back its existing busing policies despite a wave of protest and outrage in the local community.

Robert Greenwald, president of Brave New Films, says he and his team zeroed in on the Wake County schools controversy as a way to illustrate just how powerful monied interests can be at the local level. “The fact that millionaires can put hundreds of thousands of dollars into a local election and essentially deprive people of their rights, in many ways, and mess with their school system,” he says. “It seems to us one of the strongest examples of the really incredible way money takes away our democracy.”

You can watch the video in its entirety below:

Interesting fact: Ed Dept says by 2030, 40% of US K-12 students will not be native English speakers


Analysis: Medicare, Liberals And The Lesser Of Two Evils

This analysis is a collaboration between Kaiser Health News and The New Republic

Why does the debt ceiling deal give liberals so much heartburn? Many reasons, obviously. But a big one is the possibility that it will trigger automatic cuts to Medicare, the jewel of the Great Society and the program on which virtually every senior citizen depends for health insurance.

Under the terms of the debt deal, which President Obama reached with Republican leaders in late July, a bipartisan “super committee” has until Thanksgiving to come up with at least $1.2 trillion, over 10 years, in deficit reduction proposals. But if this committee can’t agree on recommendations or if Congress fails to pass them – two very distinct possibilities – then a series of across-the-board spending reductions would take effect. Some of them would take money from Medicare.

The fear is that those cuts would leave the elderly without adequate financial protection or access to medical care. It’s a rational fear but, perhaps, not a necessary one. Talk to policy analysts, industry lobbyists, or advocates for the elderly, and you’ll detect an emerging, if tentative, consensus: The impact of automatic cuts would be relatively modest and, most likely, less severe than whatever that super committee would devise as an alternative.

By design, the actual benefit structure of Medicare would be exempt from the automatic cuts. That’s a critical distinction given some of the ideas under discussion in the past few months. At various points, negotiators from the administration and Congress talked about raising the age at which people become eligible for Medicare, charging higher premiums to beneficiaries with higher incomes, and forcing holders of supplemental Medigap policies to face bigger out-of-pocket charges for routine medical care. For better or for worse, or maybe for both, all of these changes would have meant less insurance coverage for seniors.

The automatic cuts, by contrast, would affect providers exclusively, by reducing what Medicare pays them by up to 2 percent. “Providers” is wonk-speak for the people, institutions, and companies that provide medical care – not just doctors and hospitals, but also skilled nursing facilities and the insurance companies that deliver Medicare benefits to some seniors. In 2013, the first year the automatic cuts would take effect, that 2 percent would work out to something in the neighborhood of $12 billion, according to estimates from the Bipartisan Policy Center.

By itself, and in the context of all U.S. health care spending, that’s not a ton of money. But it’d be in addition to Medicare cuts, roughly three times as large, that the Affordable Care Act is imposing. And unlike the cuts in the Affordable Care Act, many of which are in the form of payment reforms designed to penalize low-quality providers or reward high-quality ones, the automatic cuts in the debt deal would not make such fine distinctions.

That last part is important: Across the health care industry and even within particular parts of it, some providers can, and should, cope with reductions better than others. Paying less to specialists might be a good idea, for example, given all the data on excessive procedures in American medicine. But reducing income to family doctors could make an existing shortage of those physicians even worse. “Some see this as too blunt an instrument,” says Tricia Neuman, a vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation. (KHN is an editorially-independent program of the foundation.)

But, as Neuman also notes, scale is important. Even if the automatic cuts took effect, the total reductions in Medicare spending providers would face over the next decade would likely be smaller, relative to the size of the program, than the ones they faced a little more than a decade ago, thanks to the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Although Congress ultimately restored a portion of those 1997 cuts, by and large the health care industry adapted to the new reality, frequently by finding new ways to become more efficient. While automatic cuts from the debt ceiling deal could have a harsher effect, experts like Paul Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, agree they would likely be “indiscriminate but not severe.”

Of course, neither Ginsburg nor anybody else can be sure about that, in part because of some outside variables. Chief among them is the fate of separate, already-planned cuts to physicians under what is known as the Sustainable Growth Rate formula. In recent years, Congress has postponed the SGR cuts – the “doc fix.” If Congress doesn’t postpone them again, physicians would see much more dramatic declines in income – the kind that might discourage them from seeing Medicare patients, just as low Medicaid reimbursements presently discourage specialists from seeing people who get insurance from that program.

Still, the unknowns of leaving deficit reduction to the super committee loom larger. If Congress meets the deadline for approving the super committee’s recommendations, reductions could start taking effect a year earlier than automatic cuts, on Jan. 1, 2012. “For businesses that prefer to plan ahead,” Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn noted last week, “the trigger could seem more stable and predictable.”

And timing isn’t the only issue. According to Chris Jennings, president of Jennings Policy Strategies and longtime advisor to Democrats, both advocates and industry insiders are realizing that “any likely deal emerging from the super committee would include policies that are significantly bigger in size and scope than the fall-back sequester…they get that if this political environment produces anything, it would almost inevitably be new and large Medicaid cuts and a package of Medicare savings that would dwarf the 2 percent cap on Medicare spending, which the sequester limits to approximately $130 to $140 billion in savings.”

Not that the automatic cuts are ideal in anybody’s estimation. A frequent complaint about the Affordable Care Act was that it didn’t reduce health care spending quickly enough. As Tevi Troy, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and former Bush Administration official, notes, “the lack of severity may also coincide with a lack of significant impact on the budgetary side.” Even for progressives, the best possible outcome might be for Congress to head off the automatic cuts by enacting significant, but more carefully designed, Medicare reductions as part of a balanced deficit reduction plan that mixed spending cuts with new revenue.

Obama and his allies tried for such a deal a few weeks ago. They didn’t get one, primarily because Republicans refused to consider it. Unless that political reality changes, progressives may find that a set of automatic Medicare cuts are the lesser of evils, both as politics and as policy.



Medicare reimbursements slowed down since 2009, when AHCA was passed

The Political Carnival:

Believe me, I have no clue how all this stuff works, but if Zeke Emanuel thinks it’s good, I’m all for promoting it. Via Sullivan.

While our elected representatives wrangle over slicing entitlements, virtually no one seems to be paying attention to an eye-popping fact: Medicare reimbursements are no longer accelerating at a break neck-pace. The new numbers should be factored into any discussion about healthcare spending: From 2000 through 2009, Medicare’s outlays climbed by an average of 9.7 percent a year. By contrast, since the beginning of 2010, Medicare spending has been rising by less than 4 percent a year. On this, both Standard Poor’s Index Committee and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) agree. (S&P tracks healthcare spending with the help of Milliman Inc., an independent actuarial and consulting firm.) […]

Zeke Emanuel, an oncologist and former special adviser for health policy to White House Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag, is certain that this is what is happening. When I spoke to him last week, Emanuel, said: “This is not mere chance: this is directly related to the initiation of health care reform.” It is not the result of reform, Emmanuel emphasized. The reform measures that will rein in Medicare inflation have not yet been implemented. But, he explained, providers are “anticipating the Affordable Care Act kicking in.” They can’t wait until the end of 2013: “They have to act today. Everywhere I go,” Emanuel, added, “medical schools and hospitals are asking me, ‘How can we cut our costs by 10 to 15 percent?’


The SEC is Investigating S&P for Insider Trading on the Downgrade

The Atlantic:

The SEC is investigating whether there was any insider trading done by employees of Standard & Poor’s ahead of its credit downgrade of the U.S., the Financial Times reported late last week. The SEC’s examination staff, which oversees credit raters, has asked S&P to disclose who within the company knew about the downgrade before it happened. The commision indicated to FT that it is not aware of a leak from someone within the credit agency or an unusual trade. However, Market Watch reports that regulatory observers were calling for an investigation last week because of heavy trading volumes before the downgrade:

Regulatory observers are focusing, partly, on a heavy trading volume and a major sell off of equity securities at one point on Friday, responding to speculation rampant in the markets that S&P was going to downgrade the U.S. debt later that day. S&P did, in fact, lower the U.S. government’s top-tier credit rating late that day a notch to AA+.

The Wall Street Journal also notes that:

Remember, rumors of a post-bell downgrade were rampant on Wall Street very early on Friday, rumors that turned out to be true. It sure sounded like a leak, though the leak could have come from either S&P or Treasury. It seemed inevitable there would be an investigation, though it could be hard to find anything.

What they are looking for, securities law professor John Coffee tells Market Watch, is “significant trading activity such as attempts to short Treasury securities, in the period immediately before the downgrade.” But this information would be hard to hard to tie to illegal activity by the S&P. John Jay, analyst at the Aite Group in Boston, told Market Watch that, “When a rumor starts it doesn’t have to begin with a person explicitly whispering somewhere saying this is what we’re doing… Some can argue that S&P had been signaling their thought process a couple weeks prior to the downgrade.” Nonetheless, if any concrete evidence is found against the S&P, unlikely though that may be, based on a 2006 statute — the Credit Rating Agency Reform Act — the credit agency could have its license registration revoked if it leaked information before making the downgrade information public.


David Gregory Compares Perry’s Talk of Secession to Obama’s Health Care Law 

Crooks and Liars:

From this weekend’s coverage of the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa on MSNBC, another classic example of Villager, “both sides”, false equivalencies. […]

Yesterday, we saw a stunning example of how the traditional media types equate the views of Democrats and Republicans, even when the GOP idea is so extreme it would undermine the stability of the United States. NBC’s David Gregory equated Rick Perry’s treasonous call for secession with Obama’s effort to provide national health care. Perry first talked secession back in April of 2009. Gregory seems to think they’re equally extreme. This conversation occurred yesterday on MSNBC following the announcements that Michele Bachmann won the Ames Straw Poll and Rick Perry had entered the race. It’s painful enough to watch Chuck Todd and David Gregory. But, this analysis from Gregory really shows how warped the media is:

Chuck Todd: Perry-Obama would be a picture of sharp contrasts.

David Gregory: You know, Perry talked about potentially seceding from the union. You think that’s extreme. Well people on the other side think that introducing health care reform for the whole country is akin to European Socialism.

And as they noted, beyond just the ridiculous false equivalency, David Gregory just legitimized Perry’s wingnuttery and secession talk.




How health care rulings are covered

Steve Benen:

Regular readers may recall an ongoing feature in which I compare coverage of health care court rulings from several major media outlets. Given yesterday’s developments, it’s time to revisit the subject.

To briefly review, there were five major lower-court rulings that evaluated the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act on the merits, three sided with the Obama administration and two sided with ACA opponents. As I documented, rulings in support of the law generally received little to no attention from the Washington PostNew York TimesPolitico, and the Associated Press, while rulings against the law were literally treated as front-page news.

Indeed, it wasn’t even close. In every instance, conservative rulings received more coverage, longer articles, and better placement.

Now we have two federal appeals courts that have weighed in on the subject: the 6th Circuit sided with the health care reform law in June and the 11th Circuit ruled against it yesterday. So, once again, let’s put the media coverage in context:

Washington Post
* 11th Circuit ruling (against the ACA): article on page A1, 1059 words
* 6th Circuit ruling (upholding the ACA): article on page A5, 1053 words
* Steeh ruling (upholding the ACA): article on page A2, 607 words
* Moon ruling (upholding the ACA): article on page B5, 507 words
* Hudson ruling (against the ACA): article on page A1, 1624 words
* Vinson ruling (against the ACA): article on page A1, 1176 words
* Kessler ruling (upholding the ACA): no article, zero words

New York Times
* 11th Circuit ruling (against the ACA): article on page A11, 615 words
* 6th Circuit ruling (upholding the ACA): article on page A15, 853 words
* Steeh ruling (upholding the ACA): article on page A15, 416 words
* Moon ruling (upholding the ACA): article on page A24, 335 words
* Hudson ruling (against the ACA): article on page A1, 1320 words
* Vinson ruling (against the ACA): article on page A1, 1192 words
* Kessler ruling (upholding the ACA): article on page A14, 488 words

Associated Press
* 11th Circuit ruling (against the ACA): one piece, 1354 words
* 6th Circuit ruling (upholding the ACA): one piece, 832 words
* Steeh ruling (upholding the ACA): one piece, 474 words
* Moon ruling (upholding the ACA): one piece, 375 words
* Hudson ruling (against the ACA): one piece, 915 words
* Vinson ruling (against the ACA): one piece, 1164 words
* Kessler ruling (upholding the ACA): one piece, 595 words

* 11th Circuit ruling (against the ACA): one piece, 1099 words
* 6th Circuit ruling (upholding the ACA): one piece, 940 words
* Steeh ruling (upholding the ACA): one piece, 830 words
* Moon ruling (upholding the ACA): one piece, 535 words
* Hudson ruling (against the ACA): three pieces, 2734 words
* Vinson ruling (against the ACA): four pieces, 3437 words
* Kessler ruling (upholding the ACA): one piece, 702 words

In this case, the New York Times broke the trend — it’s the only outlet of the four that didn’t give yesterday’s ruling more attention than the comparable 6th Circuit ruling from June. The Washington Post, meanwhile, continues to be the most one-sided — the three conservative rulings were all treated as front-page news, while the four rulings in support of the law were either buried or ignored.

Overall, yesterday’s NYT coverage notwithstanding, the general trend continues, with conservative rulings receiving more coverage, longer articles, and better placement.

There are, to be sure, some possible explanations for this, but they’re not especially persuasive.

One could argue, for example, that rulings upholding the law maintain the status quo, which almost by definition, makes them less noteworthy. This is not without merit, but there are implications associated with this.

The news-consuming public doesn’t necessarily follow the details of these legal developments, and Americans find important what the media tells them is important. With that in mind, it seems very likely the public has been left with the impression that the health care law is legally dubious and struggling badly in the courts because that’s what news organizations have told them to believe — rulings the right likes get trumpeted; rulings the left likes get downplayed.

Several months ago, Greg Sargent explained the broader implications of this very well.

You could argue that if the Supreme Court will ultimately decide the fate of the law in any case, it doesn’t matter much if the public has a distorted picture of its legal predicament. But of course this does matter, because it’s unfolding in a political context. If people have an exaggerated sense of the law’s alleged unconstitutionality, it could contribute to the law’s unpopularity, which could in turn make the push for partial repeal or defunding of the law easier. That in turn could make it more likely that the law’s implementation could grow more chaotic. That could impact real people, and it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that it could impact the law’s fate before the highest court.

Again, it’s not hard to see why decisions against the Affordable Care Act are deemed more newsworthy. But it’s still unfortunate that the public is being left with a highly-distorted impression of what’s happening.

If it’s rowdy town halls and angry constituents you’re looking for, all you have to do is be there.

Digby and Dave Dayen did a great job yesterday covering the hidden anti-corporate rebellion brewing across the nation. It’s an interesting story to read, but it makes for even more interesting video.

For instance, watch below as Republican representative Nan Hayworth (NY-19) gets grilled about her quiet acquiescence to Verizon’s tax dodging and job offshoring, even as she defends the notion that America must race to the lowest common denominator in wages and corporate taxes:

Paging CNN and affiliates. If it’s rowdy town halls and angry constituents you’re looking for, all you have to do is be there. Of course, it’s not the Tea Party, so it doesn’t fit the corporatist agenda. But it’s compelling television nonetheless.
Something tells me we won’t be seeing the camera crews rolling in, though.




WSJ: U.S. Links Pakistani Aid to Performance

White House Is Basing Billions in Assistance Funds on Islamabad’s Ability to

Meet a “scorecard” of Security Objectives.






The new old Obama

E.J. Dionne Jr:

[…] The president’s loyalists still have faith in him and still love to criticize media narratives they think underestimate him. But this time, both he and they are expressing a level of frustration that may be the healthiest thing happening to Obama in what is an otherwise dismal moment in his presidency. A White House crowd often too sure of itself is fully aware of the ferocious fight Obama faces and the seriousness of the problems he confronts. Their mood and past experience suggests that a new Obama — or, in many ways, the old Obama of 2008 — is about to reappear.

The biggest factor is the end of the default threat. Make no mistake: The administration was petrified that conservatives in Congress really would push the country over the cliff in the debt-ceiling fight. GOP leaders may have realized the dangers involved, but Obama worried that if he miscalculated, House Republicans might not muster a majority to prevent the worst from happening.

Obama’s aides say he understood liberal anger over the Republicans’ irresponsibility in using the default threat to strengthen their own bargaining position. But while progressives wanted the White House to call the right wing’s bluff, Obama insisted that this was not a risk a president could take. He preferred to escape this box with the best flawed deal he could get, provided he could take the lethal debt-ceiling weapon out of Republican hands.

Having done so, the White House now sounds liberated. Even a government shutdown would be a day in springtime compared with the economic Armageddon that default might have let loose. Obama has a margin for maneuver and action he didn’t have before.

Then there is Obama’s own character. He is both conflict-averse andhighly competitive. On the one hand, he believes his old speechdeclaring there is neither a red America nor a blue America, and he trusted his capacity to bring left and right together — an imprudent presumption, given the nature of the current GOP.

Allowing this side of himself a much longer run than seems reasonable is what unleashed all the recent commentary describing him as weak and indecisive. But no sane human being (and sanity is still an Obama hallmark) can pretend anymore that today’s Republicans remain the party of Bob Dole or Howard Baker. The proof came in last week’sRepublican presidential debate, when every candidate on stage raised a hand to declare unacceptable even a deficit deal involving 10 times as many spending cuts as revenue increases. This provides a handy new definition of extremism: When 90.9091 percent purity is not good enough.

Obama knows he’s reaching the end of the line on negotiating. Now he has to win. This brings out his competitive side. The rules of an election are similar to those of the sporting contests Obama so enjoys. Candidates are expected to be tough, to go after their opponents, to push and shove and throw them off balance. If you doubt Obama can do this, ask Hillary Clinton or John McCain.

The president’s speech last Thursday in Holland, Mich., was the first sign that the competitive Obama is reemerging. His target, like Harry Truman’s in 1948, was an obstructionist Republican Congress. He condemned “the refusal of some folks in Congress to put the country ahead of party” and urged that it “start passing some bills that we all know will help our economy right now.”

With Obama, there is always the danger of a relapse into the passive, we’re-all-reasonable-people style. The fighting Obama has briefly appeared before, only to go back into hibernation. This time, the evidence suggests he’ll stick with it — and, in truth, he has no other choice.


Special Report: FreedomWorks and the John Birch Society Problem

[…] New research by the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights highlights how colossally wrong Armey was about the relationship between the Tea Party movement and the John Birch Society. The data in this report shows just how entangled FreedomWorks is with the Birchers.

FreedomWorks and the John Birch Society

As described in IREHR’s October 2010 special report, Tea Party Nationalism: A Critical Examination of the Size, Scope, and Focus of the Tea Party Movement and Its National Factions, FreedomWorks successfully turned Tea Party energy into additional political influence inside the Beltway. Nevertheless, the organization had lagged behind other national Tea Party factions when trying to harness the social networking power of the movement. At the end of 2010, FreedomWorks still had the second smallest online Tea Party membership, with only 19,274 members.

To remedy this failure and  expand their membership, bolster their online street credibility, and compete with the more successful Tea Party factions, FreedomWorks hired the web development firm TerraEclipse.  A new site, FreedomConnector, resulted, which used geo-targeting to help Tea Party activists identify nearby activists, groups and events. It also allows members to connect their FreedomConnector account to popular social networking tools likeFacebook and Twitter. Quietly the site went live in January 2011.

Then in February, FreedomWorks staged an elaborate public relations campaign to promote the site.  They had a splashy roll-out event for the new site at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference.  They sent emails to local Tea Party groups promoting site membership.  And far-right commentator Glenn Beck featured it on his Fox News program.

In one respect, the results have been remarkable. FreedomWorks online membership has shot up from 19,529 on February 9, the day before the CPAC launch, to 94,308 members as of June 1.  Such a marked growth rate in membership levels has not been seen since the earliest days of the movement. In fact, the rate for all the other factions has tended to slow down recently, although all groups are continuing to growing.

To attain this rapid expansion, however, FreedomWorks took down what little firewall it had constructed between itself and the farthest edges of the far-right. Indeed, they’ve left a gaping hole allowing the easy access for groups like the Birch Society to the FreedomWorks membership.

As noted in Tea Party Nationalism, of all the national Tea Party factions, FreedomWorks had been the organization least entangled with overt bigotry. For instance, FreedomWorks was the only faction who did not have a “birther” as a national staff member. It was the only group that had not jumped on to the nativist bandwagon and supported Arizona’s controversial SB 1070. It had steered clear of most of the outlandish conspiracy theories and far-right machinations that have consumed other Tea Party groups. Now, that has changed.

For a short-term bump in membership, the long-term costs to the credibility of the organization may be extraordinarily steep.

Dick Armey need look no further than the front-page of his FreedomConnector site to see John Birch Society (JBS) activism in Tea Party ranks. Numerous JBS events have shown up in “Latest Activities” section on homepage of FreedomConnector.  Most notably, the FreedomWorks staff has been busy promoting the Birchers on their social networking site.

Since the launch of the site, FreedomWorks staff and the FreedomConnector web team have posted at least fifty-nine different announcements that advertised John Birch Society events across the country. (See list in Appendix). Even a cursory look at this list of meetings, forums and protests demonstrates quite clearly that this is not an isolated incident or simple mistake that can be easily dismissed. FreedomWorks staff and the web team haveposted an average of ten Birch events a month since the launch of this site. They have advertised Birch events in California, Florida, Idaho, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

In addition to the fifty-nine added by FreedomWorks team members, another twenty-two Bircher happenings have been posted by FreedomConnector members like Dawn Epson, the Tucson facilitator for the John Birch Society.  Epson even has been allowed to create a Tucson Bircher “group”–a hub for area Birchers to gather on the FreedomConnector site.  In total, 80 different JBS events were advertised on the FreedomWorks FreedomConnector site between the site launch and June 1, 2011.




Fee meant for poor is used to aid GOP cause

Houston Chronicle:

AAhh, air-condition-ing! Is there anything quite so sweet as a frigid Freon-fluffed breeze on an August day in Houston?

The participants at the prayer vigil organized by Gov. Rick Perry were treated to arctic blasts of the stuff Saturday, with Reliant Stadium’s 12,000 tons of air-conditioning keeping temperatures nippy. But as historic temperatures scorch Texas for the third straight month with triple-digit misery, $650 million collected from Texas electricity consumers to assist poor elderly and disabled citizens with their utility bills sits idly in a state bank account.

Instead of serving its intended humanitarian purpose, the state’s $650 million System Benefit Fund now serves a political one — permitting Perry and other Republican leaders to keep their “no new taxes” pledge.

In February, the Perry-appointed Public Utility Commission voted to reduce aid distributed from the fund, allowing its corpus to grow ever bigger. The fund, a big positive entry in the state comptroller’s ledger of the state’s fiscal condition, is now an essential tool in “balancing” the state’s budget.

The SBF was the brainchild of Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, created when the Legislature deregulated electric utility companies in 1999. Turner, hoping to protect Texas’ most vulnerable consumers, proposed tacking a small monthly fee onto everyone’s utility bills to provide aid to the needy.

Over the years, the PUC has adopted rules limiting the number of citizens eligible for assistance, but about 500,000 Texans receive aid for their summer bills.

When lawmakers faced a budget crisis this year, the PUC reduced the percentage of assistance offered each consumer, from 17 percent of a monthly bill to 10 percent.

Money for the budget

Stiffing the old and disabled had the happy effect of freeing up a wad of cash that lawmakers could use to “balance” the state budget adopted in May.



The Morning Plum

Greg Sargent:

Over the weekend the Times published a much-discussed piece reporting that Obama and his advisers are persuaded that the way to win back independents and moderates is to opt for something approximating the latter approach. The Times claimed that advisers think emphasizing plans that have no chance of passage won’t appeal to moderates, who want “tangible results rather than speeches.”

I don’t know how much stock to put in the Times story, but if there’s something to it, I feel compelled to point out that this is a false choice. It’s not merely giving “speeches” for Obama to propose ambitious job creation measures, even if they don’t have a chance of passage. It’s laying out a stark contrast of visions and challenging the opposing party to defend its position.

Either way, this is the key dynamic to watch: What Obama’s post-debt ceiling rhetorical feistiness will translate into in terms of actual job-creation policy, and how aggressive Obama will be in using concrete policy proposals to challenge Republicans and to reveal them as unwilling partners in fixing the economy.

* No plans for big policy rollout on jobs tour: Reuters reports:

The White House says the president is on listening tour to hear from Americans about the economy and to talk about how to boost jobs and hiring. There are no plans for a major policy speech to roll out new initiatives for growth.

* It’s Romney versus Perry: GOP establishment types are increasingly convinced that Michele Bachmann will rapidly fade, turning the 2012 GOP primary into a standoff between two governors who have shown an ability to win Democratic and independent votes. The problem for Romney now is that he’ll have much more trouble casting the new anti-Romney in the race as less electable than himself in a general election.

Relatedly, the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Gigot declares that Romney is a “weak front-runner by historical standards” and is “about to get more serious competition” from Perry.


* Comparing the Romney and Perry records: Paul Krugman makes an important point: The small government approach Perry is proud of has left one in four Texans uninsured; by contrast, the health reform record that is Romney’s number one liability has left Massachusetts with near-universal coverage.

From the point of view of GOP primary voters, obviously Perry’s record is far superior.

* Perry already spewing distortions and falsehoods: No one will care, but as Post fact checker Glenn Kessler notes, Perry’s announcement speech trafficked in distortions of his own record and falsehoods about Obama, including the tired lie that Obama apologized for America.



Obama Shifts Gears From Coaxing G.O.P. to Swaying the Public


House Speaker John A. Boehner once explained conservatives’ hard line on the debt limit this way: “A lot of them,” he told a radio host, believe “enough chaos” would make opponents yield.

Chaos arrived in financial markets last week after Standard & Poor’s, citing Washington gridlock, stripped the United States of its AAA credit rating.

Whoever ultimately gains political advantage, the events of the last few weeks have opened a new phase of President Obama’s fight to advance his agenda and win a second term.

Ever since Democrats lost the House in midterm elections last year, the president has vacillated between conciliation and confrontation with ascendant Republicans. […]

But the failure of those talks and the deterioration of the country’s economic outlook have unsettled Mr. Obama and are now altering his approach.

He still wants Congress to pass stimulus and deficit reduction measures that his economic team is preparing to unveil as early as this month. But his strategy no longer turns on coaxing Republican leaders.

It turns, instead, on his ability to leverage public opinion through events like the town hall-style meeting planned for Monday here, kicking off his Midwestern bus tour. If he cannot apply enough public pressure to move Congress, he will try to move 2012 voters to give him a mandate.

Test for White House

White House aides saw the shift after handing the president his speech for last week’s appearance at a factory in Michigan, as economic advisers monitored post-downgrade gyrations on Wall Street and the full-blown debt crisis in Europe.

Mr. Obama thought the draft speech was too soft on the Republicans — and so he personally sharpened it. The result: a famously “cool” president delivered the hottest rhetoric of his tenure, blistering opponents for refusing “to put the country ahead of party” because they would “rather see their opponents lose than see America win.” […]

In addition to extending the current payroll tax cut for employees, Mr. Obama’s economic team is considering extending that cut to employers — doubling the $100 billion annual cost. In addition to a $50 billion infrastructure bank and a $45 billion extension of unemployment benefits, the administration is considering seeking a $75 billion tax break for companies hiring new workers.

Those steps would steepen the path for a special Congressional committee, created as part of the compromise over raising the debt ceiling, which seeks at least $1.2 trillion in new deficit reduction this fall. The White House is mulling whether to advance Mr. Obama’s deficit-reduction recommendations for that panel separately, or in an integrated package with job creation ideas.

Expectations remain low for anything beyond least-common-denominator accords — unless economic conditions and public pressure shift the political facts on the ground. At this point, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner said, the House has “no plans to take up” the president’s job creation ideas except for patent reform and pending trade deals.

The Deal-Averse

In 21st-century political culture, the presidential bully pulpit is far less powerful than it used to be.

Moreover, Republicans have a simple and powerful story to tell about Mr. Obama’s bottom line: 9.1 percent unemployment, economic growth below a 1 percent annual rate for the first half of 2011, trillion-dollar budget deficits. Mr. Obama’s explanations can offset, but not erase, an incumbent’s responsibility for results.

The compromise-averse House Republicans who share power with him have suffered blows, too — in the polls from independent voters, in private complaints from business leaders, in public warnings from veteran Republican politicians, pundits and intellectuals. The party’s accelerating 2012 nomination race may not help.

In the Iowa straw poll over the weekend, a candidate who opposes raising the country’s debt limit under any circumstances (Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota) edged out a candidate who supports abolishing the Federal Reserve (Representative Ron Paul of Texas). Every Republican candidate in a debate before the straw poll pledged to oppose any tax increase — even if paired with spending cuts 10 times as big.

That leaves even some of Mr. Obama’s fiercest critics helping him make the public argument he will sound again on this week’s bus tour.

“If taxes cannot be raised under any circumstances, then we have veered from economic policy to religious catechism,” Peter Wehner, a former deputy to Karl Rove in Mr. Bush’s White House, wrote for Commentary.

He continued, “There is something amiss when the political pressure in a party, any party, is so intense that it prevents a serious intellectual conversation from even taking place.”



With redistricting in Michigan, Rep. John Conyers seat is officially up for grabs after nearly 50 years



Perry Pundit Roundup:

Perry sets up an interesting contrast for Obama, reports Alec MacGillis: “Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s entry into the presidential race puts into especially sharp focus the clash of visions between Republicans and President Obama over the proper role of government. In Perry and the state he has led for more than a decade, Republican voters are being offered the Platonic ideal of the GOP model for economic growth — low taxes, scant regulation and limited public services. Texas has no income tax, ranks 46th overall for the taxes it collects per capita and has the strongest job growth in the country. The state has accounted for between 30 percent and half of the net new jobs in the country in the past two years, depending on who is counting. While Obama points to his universal health care law as a historic achievement, Texas is often cited as an example of the need for health-care reform.”

He can’t win, writes Kevin Drum: “Everyone looks good before they get into the race. Remember how great Tim Pawlenty was supposed to be? But just wait a few months for Perry to get beat up by his opponents, for the oppo research to kick in, for all the big profiles to start appearing, and for a gaffe or two to get some play…He’s too dumb. Go ahead, call me an elitist. I’m keenly aware that Americans don’t vote for presidents based on their SAT scores, but everything I’ve read about Perry suggests that he’s a genuinely dim kind of guy…Policywise, he’s too radical, even for Republicans. ‘Social Security is a Ponzi scheme’ goes over well with a certain segment of the tea party, but not with most of the country. Nor does most of the country want to get rid of Medicare and turn it over to the states…Despite conventional wisdom, about half of the GOP rank-and-file aren’t tea party sympathizers.”

Ross Douthat says nominating Perry would be like the Democrats nominating a Al Franken and Nancy Pelosi ticket:

Oh yes he can, writes Erica Greider: “I see no evidence that Perry is as stupid as his critics suggest. Quite the contrary. I wouldn’t seek his opinion about the new Derek Parfit but when it comes to politics, especially, he’s pretty shrewd. To give one example, at the beginning of the 2010 election cycle, most pundits were expecting a serious primary contest between Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison, the state’s senior senator…Perry suggested that he wasn’t even thinking much about the campaign, predicted that she didn’t really want the job, and anticipated a blowout. He called it right…On the second point, that Perry is a far-right ideologue, I would again disagree. It’s an comprehensible perception because he talks the talk, but his sizzle-to-steak ratio is rather high.”

He allowed the execution of an innocent man, and blocked attempts to investigate it, reports David Grann: “Yesterday, the Republican governor of Texas, Rick Perry, abruptly dismissed the chairman and two members of the Texas Forensic Science Commission investigating the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, which I wrote about last month in The New Yorker…Perry…had been governor at the time of Willingham’s execution. Before the execution, Willingham’s lawyer had asked Perry to grant a stay based on a report from Dr. Gerald Hurst, a leading fire expert, who had concluded that ‘there is not a single item of physical evidence in this case which supports a finding of arson.’ Willingham’s request, however, was denied…The ousted chairman, Sam Bassett, told the Houston Chronicle that he had heard from Perry’s staffers that they were ‘concerned about the investigations we were conducting.'”

He intuitively gets the GOP electorate, writes Paul Burka: “TAR is one of the largest and most politically active trade associations in the Austin lobby and one of the biggest financial contributors. Its members are exactly the kind of folks a Republican candidate for governor would want in his corner…And Rick Perry has them in his corner. As I watched him speak I could appreciate the skills that he has acquired during what is now nine years in office, foremost among which is his ability to connect with his constituency. Early in his remarks, he began an anecdote by saying, ‘I don’t know how many of you watch Fox News,’ before adding, in a knowing tone, “but I suppose most of you do.” Later in the speech, he interrupted himself to urge the people in the audience to take out their cell phones. In an instant he transformed himself into the Aggie yell leader he once was. ‘Put in that you’re fed up,’ he prodded them. ‘No, put in that you’re fired up. Then text it to 956-13. It comes directly to me.'”

Read the Texas Monthly’s full Perry coverage:

He wants to dismantle Social Security and Medicare, reportsAndrew Romano: “Perry hints that he would do more to limit the power of the federal government–or at least attempt to do more–than any president since Calvin Coolidge. His argument is basically that we should dismantle most of the last 75 years of national policy and relinquish even Washington’s least controversial responsibilities to the states. Perry believes, for example, that the national Social Security system, which he calls a ‘failure’ that ‘we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now,’ should be scrapped and that each state should be allowed to create, or not create, its own pension system. ‘I would suggest a legitimate conversation about let[ting] the states keep their money and implement the programs,’ he says. Perry also includes Medicare in his list of programs ‘the states could substantially better operate.'”

His fiscal record in Texas is extreme, writes Abby Rapoport:”Perry, along with the rest of the state, soon discovered that Texas’s budget gap–$27 billion short of what it would need to maintain its already lean services in the next biennium–was among the worst in the nation. Luckily, Texas did have a rainy day fund–over $9 billion saved up for ‘economic stabilization.’ Some lawmakers, including many Republicans in the state Senate, advocated using the fund to prevent or at least soften cuts to education and health care. But Perry, who had turned ‘preserving the rainy day fund’ into an applause line, stood firm in refusing to use it to plug holes in the budget for 2012-13. As a result, the budget cuts were draconian–initial proposals cut almost 20 percent from public schools and proposed 30 percent cuts to Medicaid providers. According to estimates from the nonpartisan state Legislative Budget Board, the initial proposal would have cost the state over 300,000 future jobs.”

The “miracle” is straight-up hogwash, writes Paul Krugman:”Does Texas job growth point the way to faster job growth in the nation as a whole? No. What Texas shows is that a state offering cheap labor and, less important, weak regulation can attract jobs from other states. I believe that the appropriate response to this insight is ‘Well, duh.’ The point is that arguing from this experience that depressing wages and dismantling regulation in America as a whole would create more jobs — which is, whatever Mr. Perry may say, what Perrynomics amounts to in practice — involves a fallacy of composition: every state can’t lure jobs away from every other state. In fact, at a national level lower wages would almost certainly lead to fewer jobs — because they would leave working Americans even less able to cope with the overhang of debt left behind by the housing bubble, an overhang that is at the heart of our economic problem.”


Obama jabs Congress at first stop of bus tour


Obama Opens Bus Tour With Town Hall



You Want Compromise? Sure You Do


THROUGHOUT the debt-ceiling debacle, poll after poll has shown that Americans want politicians in Washington to compromise.

“Americans Want New Debt Supercommittee to Compromise,” declared Gallup, the polling organization, which found that 6 in 10 Americans wanted members of a new bipartisan panel to find ways to cut the deficit, even if the resulting deal is one they personally disagree with. A majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents (though not Tea Party supporters) shared that view.

If so many people want compromise in Washington, why is compromise so hard to achieve?

The temptation is to blame life inside the Beltway. Politics is, after all, increasingly a blood sport, driven by extremes and special-interest money. Redistricting has left fewer moderates in the Capitol. […]

Yet a number of political analysts and social scientists say the intransigence has as much to do with Americans outside the capital as lawmakers within it. If Americans want to know why their elected officials can’t compromise, these scholars and pundits say, perhaps they ought to look in the mirror.

“Americans are self-segregating,” said Bill Bishop, author of “The Big Sort,” a 2008 book that examined, in the words of its subtitle, “why the clustering of like-minded America is tearing us apart.”

Mr. Bishop said Americans now choose “in their neighborhoods and their churches, to be around others who live like they do and think like they do — and, every four years, vote like they do.” He tested his thesis with an examination of the shifting geography of presidential politics, beginning in 1976, when Jimmy Carter won the presidency by the slimmest of margins, with 50.1 percent of the vote.

That year, 26.8 percent of Americans lived in “landslide counties,” which voted either Democratic or Republican by 20 percentage points or more. By 2000, when Al Gore and George W. Bush split the popular vote, 45.3 percent of Americans lived in landslide counties. In 2008, the figure was 47.6 percent.

Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University, reported the same phenomenon at the state level in his book “The Disappearing Center.” In the 1960s and 1970s, he said, big states like New York, California, Illinois and Texas were evenly split in presidential elections, making them battlegrounds. “Now,” Mr. Abramowitz said, “a lot of the big states are lopsided.”

Political clustering is reflected in religious participation and even shopping choices. David Wasserman, of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, recently calculated that 89 percent of the Whole Foods stores in the United States were in counties carried by Barack Obama in 2008, while 62 percent of Cracker Barrel restaurants were in counties carried by John McCain.

“If voters are seeking an explanation for hyper-partisanship and dysfunction, they ought to look down the street,” Mr. Wasserman said.

In 1980, Democrats and Republicans attended church at roughly the same rates. But Robert Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard who explores “the God gap” in his book “American Grace,” finds attendance has since gone up markedly for Republicans and declined among Democrats — a sign, he said, that “people are changing their involvement with religion as a function of their politics.”

All this adds up to a kind of political echo chamber, in which like-minded thinkers reinforce one other. Homogenous neighborhoods spawn political activism; diverse neighborhoods discourage it, if only because friends and neighbors don’t talk about politics when they disagree.

“Political activism is much easier when you’re surrounded by like-minded others,” said Diana Mutz, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “Hearing the Other Side.” “The very kind of environment that might be more likely to increase people’s exposures to different viewpoints and convince them that compromise is necessary is not the kind of environment that encourages them to speak out politically or get involved.”

It is no wonder, then, that the loudest voices reaching lawmakers are the most partisan, a dynamic that many say accounts for the rise of the Tea Party, whose adamant opposition to tax hikes is cited as the main stumbling block to political compromise in Washington.

Marketers, though, offer another explanation. Americans, they say, may profess an interest in compromise, as an abstract goal or principle. But they don’t want to make the trade-offs necessary to cut a deal.

Daniel Yankelovich, a market researcher, developed what he called the “mushiness index” to assess whether people truly understand the costs associated with the principles they express. (An example: People want to save the environment, but don’t want to drive less.)

J. Walker Smith, the chairman of the Futures Company, the successor to Mr. Yankelovich’s firm, draws an analogy between politics and the modern marketplace. In decades past, Mr. Smith says, consumers were forced to make trade-offs, buying goods that were not tailored specifically to their needs. Today, people can buy all sorts of products — from Converse sneakers to Dell computers — designed exactly as they want them. If Americans don’t want to compromise in buying sneakers, he reasons, why would they make trade-offs in politics?

“Every time I see surveys saying people want compromise, I just kind of chuckle,” Mr. Smith said. “To me a question like that is more a gauge of people’s frustration with the process than it is necessarily a true indication that people are willing to accept any sacrifice in order to come to some agreement.”

All of which does not bode well for the deficit-reduction panel, whose 12 members — six Republicans and six Democrats — have until Thanksgiving to come up with a plan to cut the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion. Michael Traugott, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, predicts the negotiations will go down to the last minute, just as they did on the debt ceiling debate.

And will the panel achieve compromise? “Well,” Mr. Traugott said with a long pause, “it depends on what you mean by compromise.”






Tea Party Movement Getting Americans Steamed


[…]”The Tea Party has become somewhat less popular over time, even before the current debt crisis,” said Carroll Doherty, Assistant Director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Pew itself had released some data showing as much: in April of this year there had been a fifteen point jump in the negative rating of the Tea Party amongst all voters in a Pew survey, up from a similar survey in March of 2010.

The Tea Party movement actually registered some decent favorability ratings when their associated members of Congress first arrived. There was a plurality in some polls that showed support for it when they were campaigning, which could mean a number of things. First, despite the conservative positions, the Tea Party presented an opportunity for people’s hope to break the traditional political orthodoxy. Partisan bickering is never popular. So when a group of people come along who don’t call themselves either Democrats or Republicans, why not give them a chance, and some people clearly did.

Doherty pressed that many Americans, except those who are most engaged, still don’t know what to make of the movement. “A lot of people still saying they have no opinion. Large percentages in these surveys are suggesting they don’t know much about it,” he said. “Because of its diffuse nature, there’s no single [Tea Party] leader, and it’s still not quite a familiar group to a lot of Americans.”

That certainly shows up in the numbers: the New York Times and CBS News ran a similar question in April of this year and in the first week of August, asking Americans if they had a favorable or unfavorable view of the Tea Party. The amount with “no opinion” changed little, as 43% were undecided in April, then 39% in August. But the negatives in the favorable/unfavorable pairing went up significantly in the same time period: it was 26 -29 in April, then 20 – 40 in August, directly after the debt deal was announced.

But in general, those who know the Tea Party are taking a more negative view. A CNN poll in January of 2010 showed that 33% of Americans had a favorable view of the Tea Party, against 26% who held an unfavorable view, and 24% who had never heard of it.A Washington Post/Pew poll from January of this year showed a small plurality 27%, thought the Tea Party supported candidates would have a positive effect on Congress, against 18% who thought they would be negative, and 39% who thought they wouldn’t make a difference.

As the Tea Party has actually effected policy (see: the debt ceiling showdown) those numbers have definitely changed. A new WaPo/Pew poll with the same question now finds that only 22% think the Tea Party is having a positive effect in Congress, and 29% think they’re having a negative effect, with 25% saying neither. The latest CNN numbers have shown a near doubling of those who have an unfavorable view of the Tea Partiers: from the 26% in January 2010, the unfavorable number has climbed to 51% in a poll conducted from August 5-7. And Gallup has tracked the popularity of the Tea Party movement, showing it with thelowest level of support since they’ve been polling the issue.

With the large plurality in these polls still saying they have no opinion about the Tea Party, there aren’t yet majorities of Americans saying they have a negative view of the movement. But the trend is certainly downward for the Tea Partiers, and with a little over seven months in office, it’s been a sharp fall.

Gallup: Obama’s Approval Hits New Low

For the first time since the president took office, his approval rating in Gallup’s “daily tracking poll” has dipped below 40 percent. It touched 39 percent on Sunday, the polling firm says. The president’s “disapproval rating” was 54 percent as of Sunday.


Bill Puts Ethics Spotlight On Supreme Court Justices

Common Cause, for instance, discovered that Justice Clarence Thomas failed to report his wife’s nearly $700,000 in income when she worked for the conservative Heritage Foundation. The failure was indeed a clear violation of the law, but it was also the kind of oversight that occurs routinely on disclosure forms, and Thomas quickly amended his filings for a 13-year period, saying that he had misunderstood the law’s requirements.

More incendiary in publicity terms was the very public role played by his wife as co-founder, president, and CEO of Liberty Central, a political group, which advertises itself as linked to the Tea Party movement.[…]

New York University law professor Steven Gillers, author of a leading text on legal ethics, notes that federal law bars judges from participating in any matter in which they or their family have a financial interest, but ideological issues are another matter entirely.

“A spouse of a judge can have a full political life and take positions on political issues and legal issues, even ones that come before his or her spouse,” Gillers says.

What did trouble legal experts about Virginia Thomas’ Liberty Central role was that she was being paid by an organization funded by secret donors. Liberty Central was started with two large gifts totaling $550,000, and under the tax law governing nonprofits, neither the identity of those or subsequent donors had to be disclosed.

“The crunch point comes if Mrs. Thomas’ [tax exempt nonprofit] gets substantial contributions from companies or trade associations that have interests in matters that are pending at the Supreme Court or headed for the Supreme Court,” Gillers says.

In the end, Virginia Thomas stepped down from her position at Liberty Central to take another job that was political in nature, but less visible.

There is every reason to believe that Justice Thomas’ colleagues, his fellow justices, or perhaps the chief justice, quietly made clear that Virginia Thomas’ activity could harm the Supreme Court’s credibility as an institution. Professor Gillers says the first line of defense should be self restraint.

“You don’t want to do something that’s unseemly because you can,” he says. […]

There are indications the justices also exerted pressure on Justice Antonin Scalia when he participated in a 2004 case challenging then Vice President Dick Cheney’s use of executive power.

Three weeks after the court agreed to hear the case, Scalia went on a long-planned duck hunting trip with Cheney. After a two month drumbeat of criticism in the press, and a formal request from the Sierra Club that he recuse himself, Scalia finally issued a 21-pagememorandum explaining that the trip was an annual event with his son-in-law, that he was one of 13 hunters on property owned by a friend in Louisiana, that he had never been alone with Cheney on the trip, and that “a rule requiring Supreme Court justices to recuse themselves from cases in which the official actions of friends were at issue would be utterly disabling.” […]

Justice Samuel Alito has also been the subject of ethics scrutiny — most prominently for his repeated attendance, and on one occasion his role as keynote speaker, at fundraising dinners for The American Spectator magazine, published and supported by conservative political activists.

The judicial code of conduct bars judges from fundraising activities because, as Professor Gillers puts it, the judicial mantel carries a lot of prestige, and “it’s very hard to say no to a judge.”

Even attendance at overtly political conferences has provoked criticism. Justices Thomas and Scalia were criticized for their attendance at dinners sponsored by Charles and Elizabeth Koch during what are widely billed as conservative political strategy events put on each year by the conservative Koch brothers.

Scalia and Thomas, however, have said they were invited to speak by the conservative Federalist Society, a legal group. Scalia’s speech was about international law and Thomas’ about his then recently published book. Thomas did say that he attended one panel at the Koch brothers’ conference, but that he could not remember which one. Scalia said he did not attend the Koch conference. Both Justices said their expenses were paid by the Federalist Society. […]

The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch has also suggested that Obama Supreme Court appointee Elena Kagan should recuse herself from participating in any of the upcoming challenges to the Obama health care law. But the documents that the group sought and obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show Kagan — who was already under consideration for the Court at the time — explicitly keeping herself out of the White House and Justice Department discussions about how to defend the law. […]

But many ethics experts believe the court is asking for trouble by not being formally bound by the same judicial code of conduct that applies to lower court federal judges.

“If the public begins to believe that there is a political agenda” rather than a legal one at the Court, says NYU’s Gillers, “the courts credibility — the willingness of the public to accept its decisions — will be harmed.”

The Constitution says only that Supreme Court justices shall hold their offices “during good behavior.”

As long as there has been a Supreme Court, each justice has decided for himself or herself when to recuse, when to step aside and when to not participate in a case. Yes, there are rules of the road, but at the end of the day, the decision rests with each individual justice.

And that, of late, has provoked a volley of criticism, not just from liberal groups, but also from many of the nation’s leading newspapers and scholars. NYU’s Gillers calls the justices “untouchable.”

More than 100 law professors from around the country signed a letter calling for a new ethics law that would be binding on the court. One of the signers, American University law professor Herman Schwartz, points to the maxim that “no person should be a judge in his or her own case.” […]

There are two sets of ethics rules that govern the federal courts. The first is a statute that applies to all federal judges, including Supreme Court justices. The statute has a general rule that bars a judge from participating in any case in which his or her impartiality might reasonably be questioned. The statute then spells out specifics — a judge must recuse himself if he has even one share of stock in a company that is a party to a case, or if a close family member has a financial interest, or if the judge participated in the case while a lawyer or government official. Again, these are legal requirements that apply to all federal judges, including Supreme Court justices.

Then there is the judicial Code of Conduct, which applies only to lower federal court judges. The code is described by experts as an advisory or aspirational set of guidelines. It says for example, that judges should not join discriminatory clubs, and should not fundraise. While the code is aspirational, judicial disciplinary committees can and do rely on it in admonishing judges when they step over the line.

The Code of Conduct, however, does not purport to apply to Supreme Court justices, a fact which has provoked much of the editorial page criticism. Many of the justices, nonetheless, have said that they do in fact feel bound by the code.

Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT) has 27 cosponsors on legislation to make the code of binding on the Supreme Court, and the bill has enforcement teeth.

“Without any real disclosure and transparency requirements, without any enforceability on the code of conduct, we are just left believing the word of the justices,” Murphy says.

But even those who agree that the code should be binding on the court see the Murphy bill as problematic.

American University’s Professor Schwartz calls the bill “clearly very flawed.”

What’s more, he says, “it can’t work.” There is no constitutional or practical way, he says to make the code enforceable on the justices “in the sense that someone would take action against them and slap their hands.”

First of all, he observes, “no lower court judge would dare say, justice so and so should have recused him or herself. Secondly, once a justice has made a judgment, the other justices are not going to publicly review that and say you done wrong.”

The Brookings Institution’s Wheeler notes that the Constitution provides for “one Supreme Court,” and if some other group of judges were designated to rule on Supreme Court ethical conflicts, he says it would “probably violate the constitutional mandate” for one Court.

A variety of experts, however, believe the lack of an enforceability mechanism should not prevent the code of conduct from being made binding on the court.

“Not everything depends on a sanction,” says American University’s Schwartz. “A lot of rules that we live by are because there are certain things that you don’t do, and it helps to have it laid out.”

Professor Gillers says the Supreme Court itself could solve the perception problem by announcing that the court as an institution has voted to apply the code of conduct to its members, possibly with some modifications dealing with the duty to sit. And he suggests that the court adopt some informal way for the justices to get advisory opinions from each other about prospective conduct.

Gillers points to the political activism of Justice Thomas’ wife Virginia as a case in point. If the court had an informal consultation mechanism in place, Justice Thomas might have consulted his colleagues about his wife’s role in as CEO of Liberty Central before she took the job. That way he could have gotten their input not only on whether her role would put his participation in cases in jeopardy under the Code of Conduct, but also whether her role would harm the court as an institution.

With the ethics rules clearly allowing her to do it, Gillers observes, the other justices might have said “she can do it, but we don’t think it’s good for us.”

Harvard’s Professor Feldman argues that no change in the court’s ethical procedures is necessary. The system set up by the founding fathers has served us well, he says. “Establishing any sort of supervisory body over the Supreme Court, even a supervisory body made of themselves, would fundamentally change the principle of judicial independence.”

Or, as the Brookings Institution’s Russell Wheeler puts it, “This may just be a situation we live with because any cure is worse than what we have now.”

Absent a headline case of abuse that truly inflames public opinion, that attitude is likely to govern the court for some time to come.





 VerizonWorkers Fight Back! 



 A leader of drive to unionize Target store In NY is fired for “hostile, disruptive” behavior 

She was the face of the failed campaign to make a Valley Stream, L.I., store the first unionized Target in the country. Again and again she told media outlets she was struggling to raise her daughter on what she earned as a Target sales floor team member.

Now, Tashawna Green, 21, of Jamaica, Queens, no longer has her $8-per-hour job. A Target supervisor fired her earlier this month, seven weeks after workers voted not to join United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500.

The union immediately filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging Ms. Green was fired “because of her activities in support of the union.” In a letter to the board, a union lawyer wrote that Ms. Green served as an observer for the election and gave statements to the board in support of charges the union filed against Target. The lawyer wrote that Ms. Green was fired after she was seen being dropped off at work by a union representative.

In a statement, Target said Ms. Green was fired because she “recently acted in an overly hostile, disruptive manner that is inconsistent with Target’s policies.”[…]

“I believe I was fired because of my participation in the union campaign,” Ms. Green said. “Because I’m for the union, they wanted to get rid of me.”

Ms. Green, who had complained of being scheduled for 20 hours or fewer a week, said she was picked on because of her age and influence on other young workers at Target. She said the firing would set her back because “I do have a 6-year-old daughter to take care of.”

Alvin Blyer, regional director of the labor board, said his office received the charge and is investigating. He said the labor board planned to rule soon on dozens of other unfair labor practice allegations brought both by the union and by Target.

Local 1500 issued a formal challenge to the election, alleging workers were bribed and intimidated into voting against the union, and is seeking a rerun election. And late last month, Target filed charges of its own, contending union representatives threatened and physically assaulted employees as they continued to seek support after the election loss.

All Target stores are nonunion. There are 10 in New York City.


Perry: “A big BLACK cloud” hangs over America

[…] If voters want a president who is “passionate about America” and who is “in love with America,” they may think twice about electing someone who flirted with seceding from America.


A Christian Plot for Domination?

The Daily Beast:

Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry aren’t just devout—both have deep ties to a fringe fundamentalist movement known as Dominionism, which says Christians should rule the world.

[…] If you want to understand Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, understanding Dominionism isn’t optional.

Put simply, Dominionism means that Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions. Originating among some of America’s most radical theocrats, it’s long had an influence on religious-right education and political organizing. But because it seems so outré, getting ordinary people to take it seriously can be difficult. Most writers, myself included, who explore it have been called paranoid. In a contemptuous 2006 First Things review of several books, including Kevin Phillips’ American Theocracy, and my own Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, conservative columnist Ross Douthat wrote, “the fear of theocracy has become a defining panic of the Bush era.”

Now, however, we have the most theocratic Republican field in American history, and suddenly, the concept of Dominionism is reaching mainstream audiences. Writing about Bachmann in The New Yorker this month, Ryan Lizza spent several paragraphs explaining how the premise fit into the Minnesota congresswoman’s intellectual and theological development. And a recent Texas Observer cover story on Rick Perry examined his relationship with the New Apostolic Reformation, a Dominionist variant of Pentecostalism that coalesced about a decade ago. “[W]hat makes the New Apostolic Reformation movement so potent is its growing fascination with infiltrating politics and government,” wrote Forrest Wilder. Its members “believe Christians—certain Christians—are destined to not just take ‘dominion’ over government, but stealthily climb to the commanding heights of what they term the ‘Seven Mountains’ of society, including the media and the arts and entertainment world.”

In many ways, Dominionism is more a political phenomenon than a theological one. It cuts across Christian denominations, from stern, austere sects to the signs-and-wonders culture of modern megachurches. Think of it like political Islamism, which shapes the activism of a number of antagonistic fundamentalist movements, from Sunni Wahabis in the Arab world to Shiite fundamentalists in Iran.

Dominionism derives from a small fringe sect called Christian Reconstructionism, founded by a Calvinist theologian named R. J. Rushdoony in the 1960s. Christian Reconstructionism openly advocates replacing American law with the strictures of the Old Testament, replete with the death penalty for homosexuality, abortion, and even apostasy. The appeal of Christian Reconstructionism is, obviously, limited, and mainstream Christian right figures like Ralph Reed have denounced it.

But while Rushdoony was a totalitarian, he was a prolific and influential one—he elaborated his theories in a number of books, including the massive, three-volume Institutes of Biblical Law. And his ideas, along with those of his followers, have had an incalculable impact on the milieu that spawned both Bachmann and Perry.

Rushdoony pioneered the Christian homeschooling movement, as well as the revisionist history, ubiquitous on the religious right, that paints the U.S. as a Christian nation founded on biblical principles. He consistently defended Southern slavery and contrasted it with the greater evils of socialism: “The law here is humane and also unsentimental,” he wrote. “It recognizes that some people are by nature slaves and will always be so … Socialism, on the contrary, tries to give the slave all the advantages of his security together with the benefits of freedom, and in the process, destroys both the free and the enslaved.”

Rushdoony’s most influential idea was the concept of Dominionism, which spread far beyond the Christian Reconstructionist fringe. “‘Dominion theologians,’ as they are called, lay great emphasis on Genesis 1:26–7, where God tells Adam to assume dominion over the animate and inanimate world,” wrote the scholar Garry Wills in his book Under God: Religion and American Politics, describing the influence of the ideology on Pat Robertson. “When man fell, his control over creation was forfeited; but the saved, who are restored by baptism, can claim again the rights given Adam.”

For believers in Dominionism, rule by non-Christians is a sort of sacrilege—which explains, in part, the theological fury that has accompanied the election of our last two Democratic presidents. “Christians have an obligation, a mandate, a commission, a holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ—to have dominion in civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness,” wrote George Grant, the former executive director of Coral Ridge Ministries, which has since changed its name to Truth in Action Ministries. “But it is dominion we are after. Not just a voice … It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time … World conquest.”

Bachmann is close to Truth in Action Ministries; last year, she appeared in one of its documentaries, Socialism: A Clear and Present Danger. In it, she espoused the idea, common in Reconstructionist circles, that the government has no right to collect taxes in excess of 10 percent, the amount that believers are called to tithe to the church. On her state-senate-campaign website, she recommended a book co-authored by Grant titled Call of Duty: The Sterling Nobility of Robert E. Lee, which, as Lizza reported, depicted the civil war as a battle between the devout Christian South and the Godless North, and lauded slavery as a benevolent institution. “The unity and companionship that existed between the races in the South prior to the war was the fruit of a common faith,” the book said.

One could go on and on listing the Dominionist influences on Bachmann’s thinking. She often cites Francis Schaeffer, the godfather of the anti-abortion movement, who held seminars on Rushdoony’s work and helped disseminate his ideas to a larger evangelical audience. John Eidsmoe, an Oral Roberts University professor who, she’s said, “had a great influence on me,” is a Christian Reconstructionist. She often praises the Christian nationalist historian David Barton, who is intimately associated with the Christian Reconstructionist movement; an article about slavery on the website of his organization, Wallbuilders, defends the institution’s biblical basis, with extensive citations of Rushdoony. (“God’s laws concerning slavery provided parameters for treatment of slaves, which were for the benefit of all involved,” it says.)

In elaborating Bachmann’s Dominionist history, though, it’s important to point out that she is not unique. Perry tends to be regarded as marginally more reasonable than Bachmann, but he is as closely associated with Dominionism as she is, though his links are to a different strain of the ideology.

The Christian Reconstructionists tend to be skeptical of Pentecostalism, with its magic, prophesies, speaking in tongues, and wild ecstasies. Certainly, there are overlaps between the traditions—Oral Roberts, where Bachmann studied with Eidsmoe, was a Pentecostal school. But it’s only recently that one group of Pentecostals, the New Apostolic Reformation, has created its own distinct Dominionist movement. And members see Perry as their ticket to power.

“The New Apostles talk about taking dominion over American society in pastoral terms,” wrote Wilder in the Texas Observer. “They refer to the ‘Seven Mountains’ of society: family, religion, arts and entertainment, media, government, education, and business. These are the nerve centers of society that God (or his people) must control.” He quotes a sermon from Tom Schlueter, New Apostolic pastor close to Perry. “We’re going to infiltrate [the government], not run from it. I know why God’s doing what he’s doing … He’s just simply saying, ‘Tom I’ve given you authority in a governmental authority, and I need you to infiltrate the governmental mountain.”

According to Wilder, members of the New Apostolic Reformation see Perry as their vehicle to claim the “mountain” of government. Some have told Perry that Texas is a “prophet state,” destined, with his leadership, to bring America back to God. The movement was deeply involved in The Response, the massive prayer rally that Perry hosted in Houston earlier this month. “Eight members of The Response ‘leadership team’ are affiliated with the New Apostolic Reformation movement,” wrote Wilder. “The long list of The Response’s official endorses—posted on the event’s website—reads like a Who’s Who of the apostolic-prophetic crowd, including movement founder C. Peter Wagner.”

We have not seen this sort of thing at the highest levels of the Republican Party before. Those of us who wrote about the Christian fundamentalist influence on the Bush administration were alarmed that one of his advisers, Marvin Olasky, was associated with Christian Reconstructionism. It seemed unthinkable, at the time, that an American president was taking advice from even a single person whose ideas were so inimical to democracy. Few of us imagined that someone who actually championed such ideas would have a shot at the White House. It turns out we weren’t paranoid enough. If Bush eroded the separation of church and state, the GOP is now poised to nominate someone who will mount an all-out assault on it. We need to take their beliefs seriously, because they certainly do.


Woody Allen Interviews Billy Graham (really!!)





Fascist Fashionista

The Daily Beast:

Coco Chanel: Fiercely anti-Semitic long before it became a question of pleasing the Germans, she became rich by catering to the very rich, and shared their dislike of Jews, trade unions, socialism, Freemasons, and communism.





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Cher, Maggie Mahar had a great blogpost about Medicare Reimbursement with some nifty analysis and charts:

KQµårk 死神

I think the president taking the debate to the people instead of debating the GOP is the right tact here. Face it little is actually going to get done in Washington.


Lots of Repub whiners out there (including Rick Perry) about Obama bringing the issues to the people in his town halls so you know it must be a good thing.


KQ, couldn’t agree more. The views of Obama we get while he is DC coming out of making sausage with the GOP is uninspiring (by definition).

He is much better and much more powerful away from hermetically- sealed DC.


Great Woody videos with Billy Graham. A great example of Woody’s wit. The questions about premarital sex remind me of a line by Nietzsche, “A man buys his wife still wrapped!” (my apologies ladies)


I’ve seen them a couple of times, really remarkable.

Thankfully, there isn’t such a single massive religious figure in the nation as Graham right now though there are a number of big ones.

Today, having someone like Jon Stewart do a long interview with Karl Rove or one of the Koch brothers would be in that vein.


Agreed, agrippa! Now, if we can just get the rethugs to read it and take it to heart.


That was not to slight the other articles. There is a lot of good stuff!

There is a lot of good material being written for people to inform themselves. If they look.


Romer’s piece is very good. I hope that many peope have a chance to read it.