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Google’s plans to buy Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion might seem like a lot of money, but the Web giant can easily afford it. At the end of last year, Google was sitting on nearly $35 billion in cash.
And it’s not alone. The U.S. economy may be slowing to a crawl, but a lot of individual companies are richer than ever. They’re being cautious about how they spend their cash, though.
“Companies are generating and maintaining more cash than they have aggregate uses for,” says Rick Lane, a senior vice president at Moody’s.
In a recent report, Moody’s said the 1,600-plus U.S.-based companies it rates had $1.2 trillion in cash at the end of 2010 — 11.2 percent more than they did a year earlier. Companies that have a lot of cash can use it to invest and hire. That’s what Caterpillar is doing, says spokesman Jim Dugan.
“In 2011, our plan for [capital expenditures] is $3 billion, which would be an all-time record for us,” he says. The heavy equipment manufacturer plans to spend about $1.5 billion in the United States, Dugan says, “and the focus of cash for Caterpillar is growth.”
But a lot of other companies right now are sitting on their cash — using it sparingly, if at all.
Apple, Cisco and Microsoft had each amassed $40 billion or more in cash by the end of last year, according to Moody’s.
Reluctant To Invest
Lane notes that many companies were unable to get credit during the last financial crisis, and they’re trying to be more prudent about how they spend money now.
“So I think one of the reasons that is contributing to many companies holding onto cash would be the very vivid memories of the severity of the downturn that commenced in mid-2008,” he says.
Companies can borrow money very cheaply right now, so instead of paying off their debts, they can sit on cash as long as possible. But there’s a more basic reason companies are hoarding money: The U.S. economy simply isn’t growing enough.The labor market is weak, which hampers consumption, notes Charles Biderman, chief executive officer of the research firm TrimTabs. “So without growing income, where’s the money to buy more stuff?” he says. “Absent a change in demand, the fact that companies have all this cash, well, good for them. It’s not going to help us.”
And with the economy limping along, companies are simply reluctant to invest and hire.
“The bottom line is that a large number of very successful U.S. companies are on a wait-and-see mode with the U.S. economy in particular,” says Anant Sundaram, who teaches at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business.
He says that during recessions, companies usually try to rebuild their balance sheets. They lay people off, they pay off their debts, and they emerge healthier and ready to invest their money again. But not this time.
“That is something we’re not seeing a great deal of, and that is leading to the cash increase,” Sundaram says.
And this means companies are also not hiring, at least in the United States. Moody’s Lane says a lot of American companies make more and more of their profits overseas in fast-growing places like China, Brazil and India.
“What we’re finding is a higher percentage in dollar amount of cash across many parts of the corporate universe is being generated and maintained overseas,” Sundaram says.
And U.S. companies that earn profits abroad have to pay taxes when they bring it home, so they tend to like to keep money overseas as long as possible.
Business leaders in the U.S. regularly complain that this discourages domestic investment. But even if tax laws were changed, more and more companies are earning a growing part of their income overseas.
And when they get ready to spend the cash they’re holding onto, that’s where a lot of it will go.
Los Angeles, which recently saw its $7-billion investment portfolio downgraded by Standard & Poor’s, has decided to no longer hire the rating company to rate the soundness of the city’s investments.
“We have really lost faith in S&P’s judgment,” Interim Treasurer Steve Ongele said.
After its downgrade of U.S. debt last week, S&P cut its rating of L.A.’s general investment pool to AA from AAA. It also downgraded dozens of other municipalities with large investments in U.S. Treasury notes.
One of them, Northern California’s San Mateo County, has decided not to renew its contract with S&P. Florida’s Manatee County has also dropped its contract with the company, according to news reports.
Speaking before the City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting Monday, Ongele said Los Angeles should be proud for cutting ties with S&P.
“The market crash that came with the real estate debacle, it happened because folks like S&P rated AAA corporations that were not worth much of anything, corporations that are no longer there today,” Ongele said. “The fact that we have the courage to do this, the fact that we are the first city, I think that’s a big bragging right.”
[…] PERRY: I don’t think the federal government has a role in your children’s education. . . . I know there’s probably a few of you in here who have not read my book “Fed Up.” But I talk about the intrusion into our lives by the federal government in a host of different areas. Education is one of them.
Of course, this is hardly the first time time that Perry took a constitutional swipe at federal education programs. In a recent interview with Glenn Beck, Perry suggested that Texas should not have to comply with any of the conditions associated with the billions of dollars of federal education funds it gladly accepts.
But Perry’s blanket statement that the federal government doesn’t have any role in education whatsoever goes much further than his previous position that Texas should simply be able to suckle at the federal Department of Education’s teat. If the federal government truly has no role in education, that means millions of college students must lose their Pell Grants and federal student loans overnight, depriving many of them of their ability to pay for higher education altogether. And that’s just the lucky students who are still able to get accepted into college after their public schools lose all federal funding — funding that disproportionately benefits the most needy schools.
Sadly, federal education programs are hardly the only thing Perry wants to eliminate. For those of you keeping track at home, Perry has also called Social Security, Medicare, the Clean Air Act,Medicaid, SCHIP, federal bank regulation and federal consumer financial protectionsunconstitutional.
KLAMATH, Calif. (AP) — In a ceremony screened by tall willows, the Yurok Tribe on Tuesday laid to rest a 45-foot gray whale that had delighted residents, passers-by and scientists after swimming into the lower Klamath River with its calf nearly two months ago.
With scientists by its side, the whale died at about 4 a.m. after beaching itself on the northern bank of the river. Crowds of people gathered to the spot within sight of the U.S. Highway 101 bridge and an RV park where they had watched for weeks as it swam back and forth, seemingly taking pleasure in the attention.
“It’s very sad,” said Thomas O’Rourke, chairman of the Yurok Tribe, whose reservation lines the banks of the river south of Crescent City, Calif. “It started to become a part of the community.”
A large backhoe hauled the whale onto the riverbank above the high tide line and dug a pit, O’Rourke said. After singing a song and saying a prayer to send the whale on its journey to the afterlife, tribal members turned over the carcass to scientists for a necropsy. A burial was to follow.
There was no obvious reason the whale died, said Dawn Goley, professor of zoology at Humboldt State University.
The whale came into the river in late June with its calf, gradually working its way upriver until its favorite haunt was underneath the U.S. Highway 101 bridge.
Crowds of people ran across the roadway, oblivious to speeding traffic, to watch the whales swimming underneath. Some serenaded them with violins and flutes. One person jumped out of a kayak to swim with them.
“It was like a rock concert,” said Reweti Wiki, a partner in the Requa Inn bed and breakfast overlooking the river and a Maori from New Zealand. “Early on, it was a novel experience, with people happy and intrigued. But as it dragged on, people became concerned. Eventually it turned into a tragedy. As it moved past normal, there was a sense that people were visiting to say their final farewells, or wish she would do something to improve her situation.”
No one knows why the whale took refuge in fresh water while migrating north from the birthing grounds off Baja California. Some scientists say it may have been driven inland by killer whales.
On Tuesday afternoon, about a dozen people stood on the bridge to watch the researchers. Among them was Phil Purcell, who lives in the nearby town of Arcata.
“We thought we would pay our respects,” said Purcell, who brought his twin 7-year-old sons, Shane and Kai.
“It’s sad because we didn’t get to see it alive,” Kai said.
“That poor calf has got to swim around for the rest of its life without its mother,” his father added.
The calf swam back out to sea on July 23, about the right time for it to wean and go off on its own. But efforts to drive its mother back to sea, including calls of killer whales played upriver, did not persuade it to leave.
It stayed, sometimes feeding on invasive species of clams and snails in the mud of the river bottom, shooting great geysers of air and water out of her blowhole.
The whale revived memories of a story told by late tribal member Fannie Flounder and recounted by anthropologist Theodora Kroeber in the book, “The Inland Whale.”
“She said when the whale is in the river, it means the world is out of balance … things aren’t the way they should be,” said Janet Wortman, a relative of Flounder and partner in the Requa Inn. “Fannie said you all need to get together and pray and dance and beat your feet on the ground and that will tilt the earth back the way it is supposed to be.”
The last time wayward whales made headlines in California was in 2007, when a mother humpback and her calf journeyed 90 miles up the Sacramento River. The two were followed by crowds for more than two weeks before swimming out to the Pacific Ocean at night.
O’Rourke said he agreed that the whale’s visit meant the world was out of balance, that ecosystems failing. He said the whale brought together state and federal agencies and the tribe in a way he has never seen.
“It is acts like this that are going to happen if we are going to stabilize the environment,” he said.
If you look up chutzpah in the dictionary, there is a picture of Rick Perry. Perry has received millions of dollars from Big Oil to push its pro-pollution, anti-science agenda.
Melting sea ice and the earlier-than-normal movement of walruses has conservationists worried this year might bring another mass migration of the massive animals to shore.
While walruses have traditionally come onto land at times, researchers have seen them coming ashore in greater numbers, in new places, and at times not seen before, said Geoff York, senior program officer for Arctic species with the World Wildlife Fund Global Arctic Program.
Walruses feed on mollusks, clams and other animals they retrieve by diving to the seafloor. Normally, the walruses, particularly females with calves, rest on the drifting sea ice between food dives during the summer.
However, as the ice recedes, it disappears over the relatively shallower waters where the walruses can feed. The remaining ice remains only over water that is so deep the walruses cannot dive down to the bottom and feed. When this happens, the animals retreat onto land near shallower water.
In recent years, these migrations have happened on an unprecedented scale, with walruses congregating in groups of more than 40,000 animals, according to York.
This can strain the local ecosystem as the animals feed in a concentrated location, and the cramped quarters can lead to stampedes that kill many, generally calves, leaving behind carcasses that can attract hungry polar bears, York said.
In 2009, 131 dead walruses were found near Icy Cape, Alaska, and in 2007, 500 dead individuals were found at a “mega haul-out” site near a Russian village. These mass migrations were first reported in 2006 in Russia, he said.
The extent of Arctic sea ice has been retreating for roughly 30 years, reaching a record low in 2007. This year, sea-ice extent is quite low, and may fall below even that recorded in September 2007, according to the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center.
Researchers from the United States Geological Survey have tagged 40 walruses in the southern Chukchi Sea this summer and are tracking their movements. Some have already reached the Alaskan shore from the remote sea ice.
“This year they are leaving the ice up to three weeks earlier than they have in previous years,” York told LiveScience.
Over the last couple of years, the walruses have congregated along the Alaskan shore in the vicinity of Icy Cape and Point Lay, and they appear to be doing the same this year, he said.
Walruses aren’t the only Arctic mammals threatened by retreating summer sea ice. A recent study found the loss of sea ice was forcing polar bears to swim longer distances, threatening the survival of their cubs.
[…] Too many Americans don’t have access to information in plain language to help them understand the health coverage they have.
Now, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, every American consumer will receive an important new tool to understand their coverage. Under proposed rules announced today, health insurers and employers who offer coverage to their workers must provide you with clear and consistent information about your health plan.
Specifically, you will have access to two important insurance forms:
- An easy to understand Summary of Benefits and Coverage
- A uniform Glossary of terms commonly used in health insurance coverage
This will include basic information that every person should have, including:
- What is your annual premium?
- What is your annual deductible?
- What services are NOT covered by my policy?
- What will my costs be if I go to a provider in my network versus one that is not in my network?
Below is an example of a page from the proposed new form:
These common sense rules benefit from a public process led by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) and a working group composed of consumer advocates, employers, insurers, and other people involved in your insurance and care. As with all changes to health care, we are giving the public a chance to review this proposal and send us their comments before we make the rules final.
But starting in March 2012, if you are one of the 180 million Americans with private health insurance, help is on the way to make sure you understand your health insurance.
And this means you and your family will have an easier time accessing the health benefits you currently have–and you will be able to make a more informed decision about purchasing the coverage you need.
For more information about this announcement, please visit:http://www.healthcare.gov/news/factsheets/labels08172011a.html
Protesters angry about deportations blocked streets of downtown Chicago Wednesday night.
Police took many people away in handcuffs. The demonstration took place outside an immigration hearing. So many people showed up for that hearing that some had to be turned away at the door.
Police took ten of the protesters into custody, most of whom went to the rally planning on getting arrested. They wanted to call attention to what they say are problems with the Secure Communities Act.
Members of a task force held a hearing Wednesday night to listen to some of their concerns.
Protesters sat in the street blocking traffic just after rush hour. Drivers were irritated. Police tried to keep the situation from getting out of hand. The protesters say civil disobedience is the best way they know to bring attention to their situation under the Security Communities Act.
Protester Adriana Salgado said she was trying to get arrested “because the program Secure Communities is not working for our families.”
Police eventually obliged her and several of her friends, taking them into custody, eventually prompting the crowd to leave peacefully.
Protest organizers say the Secure Communities Act led to nearly a million deportations under the Obama administration, and they say the vast majority of those forced to leave the country have no criminal history.
Task force members were hearing numerous stories of families being separated. They are holding hearings like this around the country to evaluate the program. They say they expect to recommend changes.
“It’s a program that definitely has a lot of problems at various levels,” said task force member Arturo Venegas.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials say the program was designed to locate dangerous criminals and send them back home. They say it is working.
“They had to have a previous record,” said Secure Communities Assistant Director John Gurule. “They had to have previously [been] arrested by immigration, they have to have a previous criminal conviction, they have to have something that their fingerprints are in the system already.”
“It’s a matter of public safety – it’s our primary concern,” said Rick Biesada of the Illinois Minuteman Project. “It’s also a matter of national security. This way we know who’s in the community and who isn’t.”
For many undocumented immigrants, however, the act means they live in fear of being pulled over for a minor traffic violation and forced to leave the country.
Tania Unzueta helped organize the protest and is undocumented herself.
“This is something that we face every day,” said Unzueta. “Being in deportation proceeding is something that we face every single day.”
Police said Wednesday that no charges have been filed against any of the protesters. Ironically, if they are charged, a number of those protesters could be identified as undocumented immigrants through the Secure Communities Act, and that means they could be deported.
The Justice Department is investigating whether the nation’s largest credit ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s, improperly rated dozens of mortgage securities in the years leading up to the financial crisis, according to two people interviewed by the government and another briefed on such interviews.
The investigation began before Standard & Poor’s cut the United States’ AAA credit rating this month, but it is likely to add fuel to the political firestorm that has surrounded that action. Lawmakers and some administration officials have since questioned the agency’s secretive process, its credibility and the competence of its analysts, claiming to have found an error in its debt calculations.
In the mortgage inquiry, the Justice Department has been asking about instances in which the company’s analysts wanted to award lower ratings on mortgage bonds but may have been overruled by other S.& P. business managers, according to the people with knowledge of the interviews. Ifthe government finds enough evidence to support such a case, which is likely to be a civil case, it could undercut S.& P.’s longstanding claim that its analysts act independently from business concerns.
It is unclear if the Justice Department investigation involves the other two ratings agencies, Moody’s and Fitch, or only S.& P.
During the boom years, S.& P. and other ratings agencies reaped record profits as they bestowed their highest ratings on bundles of troubled mortgage loans, which made the mortgages appear less risky and thus more valuable. They failed to anticipate the deterioration that would come in the housing market and devastate the financial system.
Since the crisis, the agencies’ business practices and models have been criticized from many corners, including in Congressional hearings and reports that have raised questions about whether independent analysis was corrupted by the drive for profits.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has also been investigating possible wrongdoing at S.& P., according to a person interviewed on that matter, and may be looking at the other two major agencies, Moody’s and Fitch Ratings.
Ed Sweeney, a spokesman for S.& P., said in an e-mail: “S.& P. has received several requests from different government agencies over the last few years. We continue to cooperate with these requests. We do not prevent such agencies from speaking with current or former employees.” S.& P. is a unit of the McGraw-Hill Companies, which is under pressure from some investors and has been considering whetherto spin off businesses or make other strategic changes this summer.
The people with knowledge of the investigation said it had picked up steam early this summer, well before the debt rating issue reached a high pitch in Washington. Now members of Congress are investigating why S.& P. removed the nation’s AAA rating, which is highly important to financial markets. […]
Even though the Justice Department has the power to bring criminal charges, witnesses who have been interviewed have been told by investigators that they are pursuing a civil case.
The government has brought relatively few cases against large financial concerns for their roles in the housing blowup, and it has closed investigations into Washington Mutual and Countrywide, among others, without taking action.
The cases that have been brought are mainly civil matters. In the spring, the Justice Department filed a civil suit against Deutsche Bankand one of its units, which the government said had misrepresented the quality of mortgage loans to obtain government insurance on them. Another common thread — in that case and several others — is that no bank executives were named.
Despite the public scrutiny and outcry over the ratings agencies’ failures in the financial crisis, many investors still rely heavily on ratings from the three main agencies for their purchases of sovereign and corporate debt, as well as other complex financial products.
Companies and some countries — but not the United States — pay the agencies to receive a rating, the financial market’s version of a seal of approval. For decades, the government issued rules that banks, mutual funds and others could rely on a AAA stamp for investing decisions — which bolstered the agencies’ power.
A successful case or settlement against a giant like S.& P. could accelerate the shift away from the traditional ratings system. The financial reform overhaul known as Dodd-Frank sought to decrease the emphasis on ratings in the way banks and mutual funds invest their assets. But bank regulators have been slow to spell out how that would work. A government case that showed problems beyond ineptitude might spur greater reforms, financial historians said.
[…] As I noted in a recent post, it’s not just Britain’s PM who is interested in taking these kinds of steps. A prominent British MP said shutting down social networks would be no different than closing a road during an emergency, and the Bay Area Rapid Transit authority actually shut down cellular networks in some of its stations in advance of a protest because it was afraid demonstrators would use cellphones to organize — a controversial move that the FCC is reportedly looking into.
Block them, or use them for surveillance?
But shutting down or blocking access to social media and social networks is one thing; the flip side of that is using these networks and tools to snoop on users who the police or other agencies believe need to be surveilled. There are brute-force attempts such as MI5′s plan to try to crack the encryption used by Research In Motion’s BlackBerry Messenger service, whichwas allegedly used by some London rioters to coordinate their activities, and then there are the various attempts at using facial-recognition software to identify rioters who posted photos to Facebook or elsewhere.
Interestingly enough, a civilian volunteer effort to do something similar using publicly available software and a Facebook app was recently abandoned, because the founders said the software’s ability to identify people was simply not good enough — raising the prospect of potential “false positives,” which could lead to innocent people being targeted by the authorities. And a number of observers have noted that even London’s much-criticized network of closed-circuit security cameras, which led some to call Britain the first modern “surveillance society,” didn’t have much effect on stopping or even quelling the recent riots.
Meanwhile, the New York Police Department has launched an official social-media monitoring branch, whose job it will be to track Twitter and Facebook for information that might lead to charges involving everything from disturbing the peace to gang violence (hopefully this will result in more serious charges than the recent arrest by British police of a man who planned a water-pistol fight using Facebook).
Could social media be used to predict crime?
In another recent effort that reminded some of the movie Minority Report, the Santa Cruz police department is experimenting with an algorithm-driven program that tries to identify where crimes might occur based on patterns from past arrests in the city. While the software doesn’t take into account posts from Twitter or Facebook, it’s easy to see how it could — in the same way that some people are trying to predict the movement of stocks and markets based on what people are posting to Twitter.
Although some (including me) have argued that the crackdown on social media being considered by Britain is as wrongheaded as a shutdown of communications services such as cellphones, there is one big difference between telephone conversations and Twitter or Facebook: namely, that one is private and the others are effectively public. That means while the police or the federal authorities would — in most cases, at least — have to get a warrant of some kind to tap your phone or eavesdrop on your computer, they can follow you on Twitter whenever they wish, and create profiles based on your Facebook activity or any other social-networking platform.
Doing this may well be beyond the abilities of most police forces, who are already stretched in dealing with the existing crimes they already know about — but it is certainly not beyond the abilities of MI5 or Scotland Yard or other Western intelligence services, many of whom are already using sophisticated data-collection methods to track suspicious activity on a number of communications networks including the Internet. How long until social media becomes part of that, if it isn’t already?
With the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks weeks away, President Obama said on Tuesday that he remains most concerned about a “lone wolf” attack on U.S. soil.
“The biggest concern we have right now is not the launching of a major terrorist operation, although that risk is always there, the risk that we’re especially concerned over right now is the lone wolf terrorist, somebody with a single weapon being able to carry out wide-scale massacres of the sort that we saw in Norway recently,” Obama said in an interview with CNN, referring to the recent attack on a youth camp outside of Oslo that left 77 dead.
While the United States has made significant progress in degrading al-Qaida’s capabilities in recent years, intelligence officials have noted that the terror organization has increasingly focused on seeking U.S.-born collaborators to carry out attacks.
In 2010, U.S. citizen Faizal Shahzad was convicted after a botched attempt to blow up a car bomb in New York’s Times Square.
In 2009, a U.S. Army officer was charged in an attack at Ft. Hood, Texas, that killed 13 and left 29 others wounded. Investigators learned that the officer charged in the shooting, Nidal Hasan, had communicated with Anwar al-Aulaqi, a U.S.-born al-Qaida operative who is based in Yemen, prior to the attack. More recently, an AWOL soldier, Naser Abdo, was charged in federal court with possession of an “unregistered destructive device” that was allegedly to be used in an assault at Ft. Hood.
“You know, when you’ve got one person who is deranged or driven by a hateful ideology, they can do a lot of damage, and it’s a lot harder to trace those lone wolf operators,” Obama said.
Obama is scheduled to visit September 11 memorial sites in New York, Northern Virginia, and Shanksville, Pa., on the anniversary. Former President George W. Bush is scheduled to attend the ceremony at Ground Zero in New York with Obama on September 11.
[…] It boils down to this: pass stimulus spending by supporting all of the (big government) spending projects that Republicans are proposing.
It’s brilliant. Possibly the best political idea of the year so far. It would be very difficult for Michele Bachmann and others suddenly oppose the spending requests they’ve signed their names to. It’s almost fool proof, though we’re dealing with some serious fools who are actually capable of denying support for money they directly requested.
Either way, the Obama Team at Change.org is on board. Go here to lend your support.
In public, Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann spends much of her time railing against government spending. In private, Bachmann spends quite a bit of time requesting government spending.
[O]n at least 16 separate occasions, Bachmann petitioned the federal government for direct financial help or aid. A large chunk of those requests were for funds set aside through President Obama’s stimulus program, which Bachmann once labeled “fantasy economics.” Bachmann made two more of those requests to the Environmental Protection Agency, an institution that she has suggested she would eliminate if she were in the White House.
Taken as a whole, the letters underscore what Bachmann’s critics describe as a glaring distance between her campaign oratory and her actual conduct as a lawmaker. Combined with previous revelations that Bachmann personally relied on a federally subsidized home loan while her husband’s business benefited from Medicaid payments, it appears that one of the Tea Party’s most cherished members has demonstrated that the government does, in fact, play a constructive role — at least in her life and district.
What’s more, the phenomenon certainly isn’t limited to Bachmann — all kinds of right-wing lawmakers who swear public investments are fundamentally evil, including plenty of this year’s radical freshman class, have spent a fair amount of time pleading for more public investment in their states and districts, insisting the spending would be good for the economy.Rachel Maddow did a segment on this last year that still stands out as devastating.
The easy observation is to mock the GOP hypocrisy, but Bachmann gave me a new idea: how about a new stimulus package focused on granting Republicans’ requests for public investments?
Here’s the pitch: have the White House take the several hundred letters GOP lawmakers have sent to the executive branch since 2009, asking for public investments, and let President Obama announce he’ll gladly fund all of the Republicans’ requests that have not yet been filled.
This is especially important when it comes to infrastructure, a sector in which GOP members have pleaded for more investment in their areas. When pressed, these same Republicans will offer an explanation that “sounds like something out of the mouth of a Keynesian economist, rather than the musings of a congressman who proudly touts his support from the Tea Party movement.”
So, how about it? If these Republican lawmakers have identified worthwhile projects in need of government spending, which they themselves insist will boost the economy, why not start spending the money GOP officials want to see spent?
[…] President Barack Obama will unveil new ideas to create jobs and help the struggling poor and middle class in a major speech after Labor Day. And then he will try to seize political advantage by spending the fall pressuring Congress to act on his plan.
Obama’s plan is likely to contain a mix of tax cuts, jobs-boosting construction projects and steps to help the long-term unemployed, a senior administration official told The Associated Press. The official emphasized that Obama’s proposals would be fresh ones, not a rehash of plans he has pitched for many weeks and still supports, like his idea of an “infrastructure bank” to finance construction jobs.
On a related front, Obama will also present a specific plan to cut the staggering national debt and to pay for the cost of his new short-term economic ideas. It will challenge the new “supercommittee” of Congress to go beyond its goal of finding $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction.
Obama’s major economic speech will come right after the Sept. 5 Labor Day holiday. […]
Obama will seek to use his economic proposals as leverage against Republicans in Congress, hoping to show a nation disgusted with gridlock that he is the one trying to get results. Obama’s re-election campaign and the White House are also sure to use any specific ideas from the president as a way to blunt attacks from the Republicans hoping to run against him in next year’s presidential election.
Already, Obama has been previewing his line of attack.
“My attitude is, get it done,” he said in one Iowa town hall on Monday. “And if they (lawmakers) don’t get it done, then we’ll be running against a Congress that’s not doing anything for the American people, and the choice will be very stark and will be very clear.”
In Illinois on Wednesday, Obama is likely to touch on his economic plans during the final leg of a campaign-themed Midwest bus tour.
Meanwhile, Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor prodded Obama to work with them. In an opinion piece published in USA Today, they focused on cutting taxes, easing regulations and finding new energy sources, and said GOP jobs bills now languish in the Democratic-led Senate.
White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer confirmed that Obama would release a package of economic initiatives and push Congress to act on them in early September.
The official who disclosed details on Obama’s jobs and deficit plans spoke on condition of anonymity because Obama has not yet disclosed them. No final decisions on the economic package have been made.
Seeking re-election in a dispiriting economic time for the nation, Obama’s rollout plan allows him to come into September swinging after one of the roughest periods of his presidency.
The economy has improved from the deep recession Obama inherited, but growth and hopes have stalled.
The unemployment rate is at 9.1 percent. No president in recent history has been re-elected with a jobless rate nearly that high.
Obama’s economic team has been hashing out the new package since he and Congress struck a last-minute debt deal in late July to prevent a debilitating government default.
As president, Obama is under unparalleled pressure to start showing more economic progress. His own job is expected to depend on it.
Nearly 14 million people are unemployed. Many millions more have given up looking for jobs or haven’t found a way to move from part-time to full-time work.
The administration official would not offer details about the tax cuts Obama is likely to propose for the middle class.
They are expected to be separate from the extension of the payroll tax cut for employees that Obama has lobbied for by the day. Obama also has promoted a familiar list of other ideas, including patent reform and three major trade deals. And he has pushed for longer benefits for the chronically unemployed.
As for debt reduction, Obama is trying to have some say over the highly influential committee charged with recommending major changes fast.
That 12-person panel of Republicans and Democrats will start work in September on coming up with — by Nov. 23 — $1.5 trillion in savings over the coming decades. If not, or if Congress fails to approve the committee’s plans, automatic spending cuts that both parties oppose would kick in across the government.
Obama’s plan will be bigger. By how much isn’t clear, but he has already envisioned $4 trillion in cuts over a slightly longer period of time.
He was in serious talks with Boehner during the recent, collapsed negotiations over a similar big package, between $3 trillion and $4 trillion. And those talks had included the potential for economic help like the payroll tax cut extension; Obama’s new plan is likely to follow similar form.
[…] Also note this key detail:
Come September, Obama will try to reframe the jobs debate and press lawmakers to act on his ideas. And, since he is almost sure to face political opposition from Republicans, particularly the leadership of the House, he is already preparing to lobby the American public for support if Congress tosses his ideas aside.
Obviously the details will matter, and the range of available job creation tools in the arsenal is limited given the scale of our challenges, but this is encouraging. It suggests earlier reports that the White House is setting the bar low in service of the quest for compromise may have been wrong. Instead, the administration seems to be operating from the assumption that Obama will have no choice but to take his case to the public.
Rather than accept in advance that compromise on more modest proposals is a politically desirable goal in and of itself — that it’s the only thing within reach — the administation seems to have concluded that a major confrontation on jobs is not just inevitable, but perhaps even desirable. I don’t know what Obama will be able to extract from Congress in practical terms, and obviously unemployment may well remain chronically high, but it’s good to see that the White House seems to be gearing up for an epic public argument over it.
White House weighing request for new stimulus? In addition to the new jobs offensive outlined above, the Wall Street Journal reportsthat White House officials are going to press the Congressional “super-committee” to come up with new stimulus measures amid the quest for deficit reduction.
Of course, the fact that a committee devoted to reducting the deficit isn’t automatically focused on job creation, and has to be urged to do so, is itself a reminder that the Congressional debate has run off the rails.
Reasons for optimism about new jobs push? I’m with Jonathan Cohn on this:
I wouldn’t discount the possibility that Obama’s push for jobs will force even this Republican Congress to do something — and that, even if it’s less than he or you or I would want, it could actually put a decent number of people back to work. That’s certainly worth trying. And if the Republicans really won’t pass anything? Then, at the very least, Americans will have a better idea of where the two parties really stand — and what they really want.
Crooks and Liars:
CNN’s John King talked to the Assistant Minority Leader, Rep. James Clyburn about President Obama’s recent bus tour and his continued unwillingness to call the Republican leadership out directly for obstructing bipartisan legislation. Tons of bills that are pending in both houses of Congress to get Americans back to work.
And I agree with the Congressman’s statement at the very end of the segment, after venting some of the frustration he and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus have had with the president for focusing on things like deficit reduction instead of jobs and for not going to some of the areas that have been hardest hit in this economy.
KING: Do you prefer — you’re the assistant Democratic leader, you’re in the minority now. The Republicans control the House. Would you prefer the president not blame the people in Washington or the Congress and specifically say the Republicans?
CLYBURN: Yes, I would prefer that and I’ve had those discussions with the president on other occasions —
KING: And why won’t he get tougher with them? Why won’t he get tougher with them?
CLYBURN: Well, I hope he will. I don’t know. I think the president by nature wants to be diplomatic. I’m the same way. I call myself a southern gentleman, but there are times when I put that aside and go right to the core of the problem. The problem is that the Republican leadership refuses to allow a jobs bill to come to the floor. I have one that’s got bipartisan support. It has a companion bill over in the Senate that has bipartisan support. The co- sponsorship is bipartisan.
But we cannot get them to bring this to the floor. And I think the president sooner or later is going to have to lay this right at the doorsteps of the Republican leadership. We did not vote for all of these things that’s got us in this problem today. Democrats have supported his agenda and we still look forward to supporting him in the future. He needs to call the Republicans out. That’s who is stopping this legislation, not the Democrats.
It looks like Clyburn and some of his colleagues are as frustrated as the rest of us with President Obama continuing to just take shots at the Congress as a whole, instead of identifying who is being unreasonable and obstructing and who has been willing to compromise, and in the eyes of most liberals out there, been willing to compromise too much.
Today, Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) issued the first policy position of his presidential campaign by asking the White House to issue a “moratorium on regulations across this country”:
We’re calling today on the president of the United States to put a moratorium on regulations across this country, because his regulations, his EPA regulations are killing jobs all across America.
We’re sending out a request today asking President Obama to put a moratorium on all regulations,” Perry said on WHO radio in Iowa, recorded live by ThinkProgress.
Under such a moratorium, the Food and Drug Administration would stop approving new drugsand preventing human experimentation; the USDA would stop checking for food safety; the EPA would stop monitoring for poisons in drinking water; the Library of Congress would stoploaning materials to blind people; the NTSB would stop investigating airplane accidents; HHS would end Medicare payments; no more patents, copyrights, or trademarks would be issued; DHS would stop protecting chemical facilities from terrorist attacks; the Treasury would stopprinting currency; financial sanctions on hostile nations like North Korea and Iran would end; and the Federal Reserve System would shut down.
Perry’s “moratorium on regulations” would mean a literal end to the rules of law in the United States. At least it would also mean that all of President George W. Bush’s midnight regulationsfavoring polluters and industry abuses would also be lifted.
UPDATE: Perry is taking a more strident stand than the one his staff has prescribed for him on his website, a “six-month freeze on new federal regulations.” Such a freeze would prevent everything from science-based standards for smog pollution to approval of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.
President Obama joined the chorus of people trashing Texas Governor Rick Perry’s foot-in-mouth remarks, in a CNN interview Tuesday night.
At a Sunday campaign appearance in Iowa, Perry said one reason he was running for President was in order to to “make sure that every young man and woman who puts on the uniform of this nation respects highly the president of the United States.”
Appearing on an episode of The Situation Room, program host Wolf Blitzer raised these comments to President Obama. The President replied:
You know, Mr. Perry just got into the presidential race. I think that everybody who runs for president, it probably takes them a little bit of time before they start realizing that this isn’t like running for governor or running for senator or running for Congress, and you’ve got to be a little more careful about what you say. But I’ll cut him some slack. He’s only been at it for a few days now.
Although Blitzer did not raise it in his question, President Obama’s remarks could just as easily serve as a riposte to Perry’s ruminations about Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s “treasonous” behavior. Those comments have already brought a slew of condemnations, including from Obama’s spokesman and even from former appointees of George W. Bush.
President Obama also took the chance to fire off a subtle reminder of his own military decisions, including ordering the operation that killed Osama bin Laden.
Asked by Blitzer whether Americans should fear another “spectacular 9/11 kind of event,” Obama noted “the extraordinary progress we’ve made over the last couple of years in degrading al-Qaeda’s capabilities.” He told Blitzer, “They are a much weaker organization with much less capability than they had just two or three years ago.” That timeframe coincides with Obama’s Presidency.
The reality of Perry’s relationship with fed-stim is complicated. Through the second quarter of this year, Texas has used $17.4 billion in federal stimulus money — including $8 billion of the one-time dollars to fund state expenses that recur over and over. In fact, Texas used the federal stimulus to balance its last two budgets.
[…] Fed fatigue isn’t just for Republicans. Pollsters ask few questions about the Fed, but the information we do have shows a public that has turned wildly against it. In the 1990s, and even in the 2000s, polls showed that longtime Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan was one of the most popular political figures in the country. Occasionally, voters gave him more credit for the economy than Bill Clinton. Before Greenspan finished his last term, the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll gave him a 43-percent approval rating and a disapproval rating of 12 percent. Americans have never felt that way about his replacement; the comparable figures for Bernanke in a late 2009 Bloomberg poll were 35/26. Republicans just grew colder on the Fed faster than anyone else. In 2008, according to Gallup, 61 percent of them approved of Bernanke. In 2009, only 36 percent did.
Fed watchers can’t quite believe what Perry said.
“To call it treasonous or almost treasonous, to me is outrageous, really,” says Donald Kohn, who spent most of his career working at the Fed, and retired as vice chairman of the Board of Governors in 2010. Bernanke is “trying to follow what Congress has given as its goals for the Fed,” he said. “To threaten, to use names like that, is not productive.”
So what do Americans think of the Fed now? What inspired the question to Perry? And what gave him the confidence to start talking treason?
“I think it reflects two things,” says Kohn. “One is that the economic recovery has been disappointing. The Fed has been trying to help the recovery along. But the efforts of the Fed and the government haven’t been enough to put people back to work. So they look at the economy and think, surely, the government could have done better. They include the Fed in that sentiment. Two, I think it reflects a feeling that the Fed, through its actions in the crisis, helped the large banks and didn’t do anything to help ordinary people.”
Anger at the Fed, and mistrust in the Fed, did not spring up because Ron Paul willed it to. It’s a reaction to failure.
“The Fed has become politicized,” argues Allan Meltzer, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon and a historian of the central bank. “It’s doing fiscal operations. It’s doing a lot of things that the public doesn’t like, like bailing out the banks. So it’s unpopular, and deservedly so.” […]
“I’ve been in the belly of the beast,” he explained in a YouTube video, after talking to Iowans who were terrified of his Fed record. “The current leadership of the Federal Reserve has pumped billions of dollars into the economy in an effort to fight unemployment, only to see the value of the dollar decrease.”
That’s easy for voters to understand. What’s harder for them to understand, especially after the Fed has disappointed them so badly, is that the central bankreally can play a role in responding to a new economic slowdown but is not being allowed to: Two seats on the Fed’s Board of Governors sit vacant. President Obama has seen holds put on previous nominees, and had real trouble getting candidates to replace them. The trouble starts with a public that doesn’t trust the Fed any more. To them, Perry makes sense.
Strengthen Social Security.com
In the past year alone, Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Pat Toomey (R-PA) have all voted to cut Social Security benefits, end Medicare as we know it, slash Medicaid, and cut taxes for the richest Americans and for corporations.
- Voted for a bill that could cut your Social Security benefits by up to one-third by 2016—a $5,700 a year benefit cut for the average earner. (Voted YES on H.R. 2560, the Cut, Cap and Balance Act, July 19, 2011.)
- Voted to take away Medicare as we know it and leave seniors at the mercy of insurance companies.Voted to increase seniors’ health care costs by nearly $7,000 a year and to raise the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 67. (Voted YES on H.Con.Res. 34, the Senate Republican Budget, May 25, 2011.)
- Voted to slash $1.4 trillion from Medicaid—the health care program for seniors, women, children and people with disabilities. (Voted YES on H.Con.Res. 34, the Senate Republican Budget, May 25, 2011.)
- Voted to give a $1.1 trillion tax cut to the richest Americans and to cut their tax rate and the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. (Voted YES on H.Con.Res. 34, the Senate Republican Budget, May 25, 2011.)
Senators Kyl, Portman and Toomey’s extreme votes are nothing new. For years now, each of these senators have tried to cut Social Security and privatize it, increased our budget deficits by cutting taxes for the richest Americans, and made disparaging remarks about Social Security. […]
In the past year alone, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Max Baucus (D-MT), and John Kerry (D-MA) have all voted AGAINST cutting Social Security benefits, ending Medicare as we know it, slashing Medicaid, and cutting taxes for the richest Americans and for corporations.
- Voted AGAINST a bill that could cut your Social Security benefits by up to one-third by 2016—a $5,700 a year benefit cut for the average earner. (Voted NO on H.R. 2560, the Cut, Cap and Balance Act, July 19, 2011.)
- Voted to PROTECT Medicare and NOT put seniors at the mercy of insurance companies. Voted AGAINST increasing seniors’ health care costs by nearly $7,000 a year and raising the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 67. (Voted NO on H.Con.Res. 34, the Senate Republican Budget, May 25, 2011.) Voted AGAINST slashing $1.4 trillion from Medicaid—the health care program for seniors, women, children and people with disabilities. (Voted NO on H.Con.Res. 34, the Senate Republican Budget, May 25, 2011.)
- Voted NOT to give a $1.1 trillion tax cut to the richest Americans and NOT to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. (Voted NO on H.Con.Res. 34, the Senate Republican Budget, May 25, 2011.)
Senators Murray, Baucus and Kerry’s record of voting to defend Social Security in the current Congress comes as no surprise. They have long expressed their commitment to preserving the integrity of Social Security and Medicare from Republican attacks. Still, more recently, under pressure to make a deal, they have shown varying degrees of openness to cuts.[…]
In the past year alone, Representatives Jeb Hensarling (R, TX-5), Dave Camp (R, MI-4), and Fred Upton (R, MI-6) have all voted to cut Social Security benefits, deprive the Social Security Administration of essential funding, end Medicare as we know it, slash Medicaid, and cut taxes for the richest Americans and for corporations.
- Voted for a bill that could cut your Social Security benefits by up to one-third by 2016—a $5,700 a year benefit cut for the average earner. (Voted YES on H.R. 2560, the Cut, Cap and Balance Act, July 19, 2011.)
- Voted to cut the Social Security Administration by $1.7 billion. (Voted YES on H.R. 1, Feb. 19, 2011.)
- Voted to take away Medicare as we know it and leave seniors at the mercy of insurance companies.Voted to increase seniors’ health care costs by nearly $7,000 a year and to raise the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 67. (Voted YES on H.Con.Res. 34, the House Budget Resolution, April 15, 2011.)
- Voted to slash $1.4 trillion from Medicaid—the health care program for seniors, women, children and people with disabilities. (Voted YES on H.Con.Res. 34, the House Budget Resolution, April 15, 2011.)
- Voted to give a $1.1 trillion tax cut to the richest Americans and to cut their tax rate and the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. (Voted YES on H.Con.Res. 34, the House Budget Resolution, April 15, 2011.)
The votes taken by Representatives Hensarling, Camp and Upton reflect ideological opposition to the idea of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as to increasing revenues in any way. […]
In the past year alone, Representatives Xavier Becerra (D, CA-31), Jim Clyburn (D, SC-6) and Chris Van Hollen (D, MD-8) have all voted AGAINST cutting Social Security benefits, depriving the Social Security Administration of essential funding, ending Medicare as we know it, slashing Medicaid, and cutting taxes for the richest Americans and for corporations.
- Voted AGAINST a bill that could cut your Social Security benefits by up to one-third by 2016—a $5,700 a year benefit cut for the average earner. (Voted NO on H.R. 2560, the Cut, Cap and Balance Act, July 19, 2011.)
- Voted AGAINST cutting the Social Security Administration by $1.7 billion. (Voted NO on H.R. 1, Feb. 19, 2011.)
- Voted to PROTECT Medicare and NOT put seniors at the mercy of insurance companies. Voted AGAINST increasing seniors’ health care costs by nearly $7,000 a year and raising the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 67. (Voted NO on H.Con.Res. 34, the House Budget Resolution, April 15, 2011.)
- Voted AGAINST slashing $1.4 trillion from Medicaid—the health care program for seniors, women, children and people with disabilities. (Voted NO on H.Con.Res. 34, the House Budget Resolution, April 15, 2011.)
- Voted NOT to give a $1.1 trillion tax cut to the richest Americans and NOT to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. (Voted NO on H.Con.Res. 34, the House Budget Resolution, April 15, 2011.)
Representatives Becerra, Clyburn and Van Hollen are among Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid’s strongest champions in Congress. Their past statements reveal a deep commitment to the programs’ core values. Still, more recently, under pressure to make a deal, they too have shown varying degrees of openness to cuts. […]
Cuts to Social Security, which are a likely target of the Super Committee, should not be considered by the committee for the following reasons:
- Social Security does not contribute a penny to the federal deficit.
- Social Security already operates under its own spending cap as benefits will automatically be cut across-the-board, without any action by Congress, if Social Security ever does not have enough income to cover its costs.
- Social Security is a pension plan with its own dedicated revenue stream that demands it be considered totally separate from deficit discussions. Doing otherwise will likely intensify the public’s suspicions that Congress is raiding Social Security.
“You think the White House is seeing the influence of the Tea Party on the campaign trail — and is loving every minute of it? You better believe it. While President Obama is happy to poke Mitt Romney (for his health-care law), he declined to take a shot at Rick Perry for criticizing Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and for bringing up Obama’s lack of military experience. In an interview with CNN, Obama said presidential candidates have ‘got to be a little more careful’ about what they say. But as Perry had just entered the race over the weekend, Obama said, he will ‘cut (Perry) some slack’ for the moment.”
“Cut him some slack? Whom does Obama want to run against next year? It’s pretty transparent…”
The Reid Report:
COLUMBUS – Ohio Gov. John Kasich and top Republican lawmakers, saying they hope to avoid a “costly political battle that will likely result in lasting scars,” Wednesday offered to weaken a controversial new law limiting collective bargaining in an effort to keep a repeal effort off the November ballot.
In a two-page letter released by his administration, Kasich, Senate President Tom Niehaus and House Speaker Bill Batchelder asked for a meeting Friday to discuss a possible compromise with 10 union leaders involved with We Are Ohio, the group pushing for a repeal of Senate Bill 5.
… “A divisive fight on these issues that could possibly be avoided is in the best interest of everyone, including public employees and people who support public employees,” Kasich said at a news conference.
The article reads like a plea letter from Republicans, with only their side arguing for a truce, with repeal out-polling keeping the law 56 to 22.
Not good odds.
From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Kasich held a news conference to publicly ask union leaders opposed to SB5 to meet with him and other Republican leaders at 10 a.m. Friday at his office building. He also put his request in writing, sending a letter to We Are Ohio, the anti-SB5 group.
“We are now standing here saying to people, ‘bring your grievances to us. We will look at them,’” said Kasich, who was joined at the news conference by fellow Republicans, House Speaker William G. Batchelder and Senate President Tom Niehaus. “Why would people say ‘I’m not going to talk?’
“It doesn’t mean that because you talk you reach agreement,” he said. “Just because you talk doesn’t mean you work it all out. But I think the public would like us to talk. So we’ll see where this all goes.”
The governor didn’t have to wait long to get his answer. We Are Ohio spokeswoman Melissa Fazekas was waiting outside Kasich’s Statehouse office for the news conference to end. Her message to reporters was simple: It’s too late for talking.
She noted that a record 1.3 million signatures were collected to get the repeal effort on the Nov. 8 ballot, and she questioned Kasich’s claim that voters are clamoring for a compromise. She called Kasich’s invitation to meet a publicity stunt to save political face over a law that polling suggests will be overturned by a wide margin.
“These politicians who passed Senate Bill 5 have the ability to come back and repeal the law,” she said. “And that is what they should do, repeal the entire law. Or they can join us and vote no in November on Issue 2.”
Fazekas said she could not say whether individual union leaders would accept the governor’s invitation and show up on Friday. But she said the official position of We Are Ohio is that Republicans, who control the legislature, should repeal the bill — and then union leaders would be willing to talk.
“That would be a starting point for us,” she said.
Cleveland police union president Stephen Loomis called Kasich’s offer “hypocritical.”
“We asked for them to sit down to have these discussions while the bill was still going through the legislature and were summarily dismissed by Gov. Kasich and the House and Senate leadership,” Loomis said. “Repeal the bill in its entirety and we’d be happy to sit down with you. There is absolutely no trust. Once bitten, twice shy. Talk is cheap.”
Joshua Holland, AlterNet:
The debate over Obama’s role in the mess we’re in is distracting progressives from the real fight.
fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. In online communities, the conflict pits “Obamabots,” whose mindless fealty to Our Dear Leader renders them incapable of independent thought, and “emo-progs,” members of the “professional left” whose lust for attacking the administration and refusal to give it credit for its accomplishments will only discourage Democratic voters and ultimately usher in a Bachmann presidency and a Supreme Court packed with far-right activist judges.
Such is the reality when, two years after a campaign promising hope and change swept our nation’s first black president into office, our political system is still completely screwed up and the country remains mired in a long depression.
Sadly, the debate over Obama’s role in this mess is marked by numerous straw-men and red herrings, because much of it is a battle of counterfactuals. For example, I personally believe that if Democrats began legislative fights from an unabashedly progressive proposal, rather than from what’s perceived to be the center, we would end up with better outcomes. But that’s an untested belief – at least in my time — and I’m humble enough to acknowledge that I can’t say with any certainty that offering proposals from further to the left wouldn’t have backfired.
Take another example: the filibuster. We can all agree it has been abused in an unprecedented fashion since Obama came to power. Obama has been criticized for not calling on Congress to reform it (until after the 2010 midterms), and it’s entirely possible that if he had gone to the mat for changing the way the Senate does business, we’d have seen it happen. But members of the upper chamber have always fiercely protected their privileges, and Democrats know they’ll be in the minority again. The Democratic caucus is divided on the idea, and Harry Reid has sent mixed messages about whether he supports changing the rules. A lot of people seem very certain that if Obama had pushed for reforming the filibuster it would have happened, or that even if Obama had pushed for it, the leadership in the Senate had no interest in giving up what they viewed as their minority rights. Again, that’s a debate over counterfactuals.
Obama’s presidency, it seems, serves as a proxy for larger debates about how best to acquire and exercise power, the nature of our political discourse, and larger questions about the effectiveness of Democratic electoral politics. Consider some of the arguments behind the arguments over Obama – and the degree to which progressives are talking past one another.
Psychologist Drew Westen recently penned a lengthy op-ed in the New York Times taking Obama to task for not articulating a progressive vision for America. Westen argued that after the financial crash, “there was a story the American people were waiting to hear — and needed to hear — but he didn’t tell it. And in the ensuing months he continued not to tell it, no matter how outrageous the slings and arrows his opponents threw at him.”
Westen wanted to hear Obama state explicitly that the crash “was not a natural disaster.” He envisioned a speech in which Obama told the American people that the disaster “was made by Wall Street gamblers who speculated with your lives and futures.” […]
The piece drew quite a bit of passionate criticism. On the Charlie Rose Show,Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria and Jonathan Chait of the New Republic mocked Westen – and disgruntled liberals more generally – as being hopelessly out of touch with reality. “It’s a dramatic overestimation of the power of rhetoric to effect policies in Congress and to effect public opinion,” said Chait. Zakaria said that Westen was channeling Hollywood: “The president gets up and makes this incredibly moving speech, which is of course deeply liberal, the entire country cheers, and then all of a sudden all of our problems go away.” Calling that “nonsense,” he added, “the reality is that Obama is working within a very constrained political environment… and within that context look at what he’s done. This is a guy that passed the largest stimulus in American history, he passed universal health-care which has been a Democatic aspiration since Harry Truman… And I’m a little hard-pressed to see what the great liberal betrayal has been.”
The panel then turned to a debate about what “Americans really want,” with Zakaria noting that polling the American people gets you nothing but a pile of contradictions– they want low taxes, good public services and think debt is a pressing problem. Westen pushed back: “Actually, the American people have said since day 1 of this administration, ‘we want jobs!’” Jobs, he argued, is “the agenda the president could have and should have pushed and didn’t.”
The scorecard in this debate looks something like this: Zakaria and Chait are right when they say that moving public opinion isn’t easy, but they battle a straw-man when they talk about Obama giving a single sweeping speech that changes everything – you move the discourse by repeating the same message again and again, personally and through surrogates. Yet Westen was wrong when he wrote, “there was no story — and there has been none since.” In his piece, he described five stories Obama had failed to tell the American people, but an examination of presidential speeches over the past two years found that Obama has in fact told four of the five.
In a larger sense, they’re all correct — and this gets to the heart of the Obama Wars: the two sides are employing very different levels of analysis. Zakaria and Chait are talking about legislative outcomes, and they’re right. Obama’s critics, by and large, haven’t acknowledged what history likely will: Obama, faced with a devastated economy and an obstinate opposition, has arguably achieved more than one could reasonably expect given the political context. Obama’s progressive critics often seem to overestimate the power of the presidency, and underemphasize the road-block that Congress has represented, even when the Democrats had large majorities in both chambers. Around 300 pieces of legislation passed the House before the GOP took it over, only to die at the hands of the Senate. If, say, 100 of those bills – many of them quite progressive – had passed the Senate over its majority of Republicans and blue dog Democrats, Obama’s already impressive list of accomplishments would be that much heftier.
What Chait and Zakaria miss is the inseparable connection between the political discourse in this country and legislative outcomes over the longer term. Looking at the period between 2008 and 2012, one can argue that Obama has done an impressive job given the circumstances, but he has embraced inherently conservative narratives about taxes, spending and the role of government, much to the detriment of the progressive movement over the longer term. He has said that debt is the “greatest threat” facing the United States today, compared the government’s budget to a household’s, said that regulatory “uncertainty” was keeping corporate America from hiring, said that “entitlements” – a word no progressive should ever use – were unsustainable over the long run and essentially stayed the course on foreign policy. All of this validates conservative arguments and leaves Democrats trying to thread an incredibly thin needle. On Social Security and Medicare, for example, the party’s message is that these programs will eventually bankrupt the nation, but that they can “strengthen” them – cut benefits – in a far less painful way than their Republican counterparts would.
Chait said there’s little evidence that rhetoric effects legislative outcomes, but the data he’s talking about are based on short-term studies. But consider Zakaria’s spiel about how confused Americans are about taxes and public spending. That is a result of a long and concerted effort to influence the discourse in this country Reagan wasn’t the first to say that government is by definition a problem, and can’t offer solutions, but he articulated it well, again and again and again. It’s a narrative that has been amplified by all corners of the conservative movement, and the idea that this thinking becoming widespread doesn’t impact policy defies common sense.
In April, Obama gave a major deficit speech that won plaudits from many liberals because the president took a tough stance toward Republicans and drew sharp contrasts between his policies and those advanced by the Republicans. The speech did an excellent job setting the stage for the near-term debate that would follow in the lead-up to the 2012 elections – it was good politics. But I wrote that the address “was a catastrophe for progressives who argue that we need to grow our way out of the deficit by addressing the economic crisis pummeling ‘Main Street.’” That wasn’t a statement about the near-term politics; it spoke to the longer-term discourse in our political-economy.
So, this is actually a debate over whether one should do what one can within the political constraints of the day, or expend a lot of energy trying to move the political dialogue in one’s preferred direction. In a New York Times article this week, an administration source was quoted saying, “It would be political folly to make the argument that government spending equals jobs.” That may be the case, but in this economic environment, it’s also true. Does that attitude impact policy? According to the article, Obama’s campaign guru, “David Plouffe, and his chief of staff, William M. Daley, want [Obama] to maintain a pragmatic strategy of appealing to independent voters by advocating ideas that can pass Congress, even if they may not have much economic impact. These include free trade agreements and improved patent protections for inventors.”
The Obama Wars are also a manifestation of people’s expectations of his presidency, and here Obama and his campaign team bear some responsibility. Obama didn’t promise to do what he could to dig the country out of eight years of disastrous Republican governance: he promised to change Washington – to usher in a new era of comity and reason — and people believed him. They shouldn’t have, because at the end of the day, progressives still faced any number of structural hurdles. Campaign cash still rules, our media still display a knee-jerk deference to whatever conventional wisdom is flying around the Beltway, and a small minority can still do a good job blocking legislation – the GOP’s 41 votes in the Senate represented just 11 percent of the population.
Many progressives have been frustrated by Obama’s tendency to blame Washington’s “dysfunctional politics” for poor outcomes rather than naming the culprit – Republican obstructionism. This, like his foreign policy, should have come as no surprise – he was quite clear about his approach to political knife-fights from the beginning of the campaign. In fact, way back in early 2008, at the beginning of the primary campaign, I wrote, “if Obama were to win the nomination, those desperate to see real change should hope that Barack Obama’s touchy-feely message of hope and healing is nothing more than snappy campaign rhetoric.”
Obama’s run as the candidate of “change” — a nebulous slogan with huge appeal given the depth of the hole that Bush has dug over the last seven years. According to his campaign’s narrative, Obama would not only change Washington, but he’d do it by bridging the gap between the Right and Left, healing long-festering wounds, bringing a polarized electorate together and uniting the country…
Yet the message is as hopelessly naive in the real world of American politics as it is appealing on the stump, and for a simple reason: it assumes that the GOP — dominated as it is by “movement conservatives” in the Delay-Rove mold — and it’s corporate backers are interested in engaging in a thoughtful debate over how to make America a better country. If that were the case, then bridging the divide through calm words and negotiation would certainly be better by leaps and bounds than the ugly brand of politics we have today.
Finally, the Obama Wars are an extension of long-standing liberal debates about how much fealty the Democratic Party merits. You can go back to Ralph Nader’s 2000 bid, or earlier, and the question of how much support to lend to Democrats as they triangulate away progressive principles is just as divisive today. Obama’s supporters argue that the incessant negativity among liberal pundits – the “professional left” – can only depress Democratic turnout and serve the eventual Republican nominee. This seems a misunderstanding of the role of journalists – even progressive opinion journalists. If making poor compromises and embracing conservative narratives disheartens the base, that rests on the administration itself, not people analyzing the effects of those choices.
Having said that, there is a real danger that refusing to acknowledge the administration’s accomplishments has the potential to sour activist zeal in the run-up to the election. But so far, that doesn’t appear to be the case. While Obama saw a decline in liberal support during the debt ceiling negotiations, he still remains quite popular with the base. As of late July, Obama enjoyed a higher approval rating among Democrats at this point in his presidency than any president since FDR – higher than Clinton, Kennedy or Truman. Recent polls show that 72 percent of self-identified liberals (and 77 percent of Democrats) approve of the job Obama has done – a number one would be surprised to discover after reading liberal blogs and listening to progressive talk-radio.
The Monkey Cage:
Political scientists David Campbell and Robert Putnam report on what a panel survey of 3,000 Americans conducted in 2006 and 2011 has to tell us about the supporters of the Tea Party in The NY Times. Among their conclusions:
The Tea Party’s supporters today were highly partisan Republicans long before the Tea Party was born, and were more likely than others to have contacted government officials. In fact, past Republican affiliation is the single strongest predictor of Tea Party support today.
What’s more, contrary to some accounts, the Tea Party is not a creature of the Great Recession. Many Americans have suffered in the last four years, but they are no more likely than anyone else to support the Tea Party….
So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.
More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006 — opposing abortion, for example — and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics. And Tea Partiers continue to hold these views: they seek “deeply religious” elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates. The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.See here for the full article.
The Food and Drug Administration Wednesday announced the approval of a new drug to treat advanced melanoma, a deadly form of cancer.
The drug, known as Zelboraf, was approved for patients with metastatic melanoma, the most life-threatening form of skin cancer and one that cannot be removed with surgery.
The drug is the latest in a new generation of “personalized” cancer-fighting drugs tailored to attack genetic vulnerabilities of malignancies. Zelboraf was approved only for tumors with a genetic mutation known as BRAF V600E. The drug was approved with a test that can determine if a patient’s cancer has the mutation.
The mutation produces a version of a protein that is normally involved in regulating cell growth. The protein is mutated in about half of patients with advanced melanoma. Zelboraf inhibits the activity of the mutated protein.
Zelboraf, which is marketed by Genentech of San Francisco, was reviewed under the FDA’s “priority review program,” which enables the agency to approve drugs quickly.
In a study involving 675 patients with late-stage melanoma with the mutation, 77 percent of those who received Zelboraf were still living, while only 64 percent of those who received a standard chemotherapy drug known as dacarbazine survived eight months, the FDA said.
“Today’s approval of Zelboraf and the cobas test is a great example of how companion diagnostics can be developed and used to ensure patients are exposed to highly effective, more personalized therapies in a safe manner,” said Alberto Gutierrez, director of the FDA’s Office of In Vitro Diagnostic Device Evaluation and Safety, in a statement.
Zelboraf can cause joint pain, rashes, hair loss, fatigue, nausea, and skin sensitivity. About 26 percent of patients developed a skin-related cancer known as cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma, which was surgically removed. Patients treated with Zelboraf should avoid sun exposure.
Melanoma is the leading cause of death from skin disease. About 68,130 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed and about 8,700 people die from the disease each year in the United States.
Verizon Communications Inc. has started alerting union members that it will suspend their health insurance and all medical, vision and dental benefits on Aug. 31 if workers remain on strike through that date.
Verizon issued the threat in letters that were sent to 45,000 unionized workers from New England to Virginia who walked off the job on Aug. 7 after their three-year labor contract expired.
The letters, dated Aug. 10, began arriving this week to more than 1,000 Verizon workers in Hampton Roads represented by the Communications Workers of America.
The warning was the latest volley in an increasingly bitter battle between the telecommunications giant and two unions, which remain far apart on several key issues, union leaders said.
Both Verizon and the CWA filed formal complaints late last week with the National Labor Relations Board, each alleging the other side wasn’t negotiating a new labor contract in good faith.
A loss of health benefits could test the mettle of union workers, who this week will miss their first paycheck as a result of the strike that entered its 10th day on Tuesday. Union members already had certain pension and disability benefits suspended when the strike began.
“It’s getting ugly, my friend,” said Louie Scinaldi, president of CWA Local 2202 in Virginia Beach. “This is for real this time, and it keeps blowing me away with what they’re doing.”
Verizon spokesman Harry Mitchell acknowledged that the company sent the letters and said the loss of those benefits was clearly spelled out in the previous contract.
“This should not be a surprise to them,” he said. “This was mutually agreed between the unions and the company per the last collective bargaining agreement.”
The two sides remain in discussions about a new contract, Mitchell said.
The CWA represents about 35,000 Verizon workers and has a fund worth more than $400 million to help its members through the strike. The union will pay for all medically necessary treatment its members and their dependents require if they lose their company health coverage, Scinaldi said.
Union members also are eligible to receive $200 a week in strike benefits after 15 days of the strike and $300 after 30 days.
A close associate of Rep. Michele Bachmann who believes that the Congresswoman is fighting for the presidency with “the anointing of God upon her,” has come under scrutiny for his 2006 arrest in Uganda on gun-running charges, and for his close relationship with Ugandan pentecostal pastor Martin Ssempa, a prominent advocate for that nation’s “Kill the Gays” Bill.
Peter E. Waldron, the staffer for Rep. Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign responsible for her faith-based outreach in Iowa and South Carolina, had been arrested in Uganda in 2006 on charges of running illegal guns and ammunition. Garance Franke-Ruta’s profile at The Atlantic resurrected the details. He had been arrested for possession of assault rifles and ammunition just days before Uganda’s first nominally multi-party elections in 20 years. The charges were dropped after Waldron spent more than a month in 2006 in the notorious Luriza Prison outside of Kampala. He was freed, he says, after pressure from the Bush administration. Of course, when it comes to Ugandan police work, the charges should be seen with some measure of skepticism, although newspaper reports (via archive.org) in Kampala at the time are quite detailed.[…]
Particularly worrying is the company Waldron keeps. Richard Bartholomew had written about the 2006 arrest, and in the process recalled a 2004 story from The New Republic by Andrew Rice in which Rice describes Waldron as speaking at Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa’s church: […]
Ssempa, of course, was the prominent supporter of Uganda’s draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which calls for the death penalty for LGBT people under certain circumstances. While Ssempa’s theology clearly defends such a practice, it is unclear whether Waldron agrees with Ssempa’s position. But an examination of Waldron’s particular theology isn’t encouraging. […]
Waldron wrote that “the history of liberty is the history of Christian self-government” — and not just self-government in the sense that all individuals govern the course of their lives through the choices they make. No, Waldron’s concept of self-government is much broader:
The Bible represents the absolute source for the guiding principles and precepts for all governments in man (self-government), of families (family government), churches (church government), and for nations (civil government).
[…] Waldron is the second close associate to Rep. Bachmann whose theology may at least condone remaining silent against the killing of gay people. […]
HOW CAN ANYONE STAND ON THE SIDELINE? I am simply amazed that some folks are waiting for Saul-like characters who look everything like a king while Michele fights with the anointing of God upon her. She is fearless, fierce in battle, and focused on winning the nomination and securing the White House. Thinking about running, waiting to throw their hat in the ring – foolishness. The battle rages now and Michele needs an army.
JOIN THE BATTLE FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE: I need 300 gallant Christians to stand with me to resist the works of the devil. We must stand like Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae – sheild to shield, shoulder to shoulder – Has not God got an army in the hour of His need? Arise, again I say, Arise lets stand like Christians once again for His glory and praise!
Following Bachmann’s winning of the Iowa Straw Poll, Waltron wrote:
BACHMANN WINS: All the praise and glory goes to the LORD for Michele’s extraordinary win. She was able to do in 5-weeks what other campaigns could not do in 1-year or 4-years. The Hand of the LORD is upon her. Thank you for your prayers. I leave for SC tomorrow. Blessings to all.
A newly filed challenge to an abortion restriction in Kansas stands to have big, national impact. The case, filed Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union, asks a district court to block a new Kansas law that bars private insurers from covering abortion.
There are two key reasons this is worth watching: to start, the possible ripple effect. Up until last year, private abortion coverage was not a key target for abortion restrictions; about 87 percent of employer plans paid for the procedure with little notice or fanfare.
The health reform law’s heated debate over abortion coverage, however, changed all that. In 2010 alone, 13 states passed laws restricting insurers from covering the procedure.
The Kansas law is the first of those to be challenged. “This will absolutely be the first case of its kind,” says Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “It will likely set a precedent for what cases in other states could look like.”
Second, in pushing back against a new kind of restriction, abortion rights supporters will pioneer some untested arguments. The vast majority of abortion lawsuits today focus on how states limit access to the procedure. There, the current test for of constitutionality is whether a law places an “undue burden” on a woman seeking an abortion. Courts have used that standard to strike down laws that require waiting periods or “informed consent” counseling.
This case is a bit different. The Kansas law doesn’t restrict any particular procedure, but rather who can pay for it. The ACLU contends that the payer restriction is also an “undue burden.” The law, their court brief argues, “is directed exclusively at making it more difficult for women to obtain and pay for abortion care” and therefore is “no different than a law that would require women to pay a tax to obtain an abortion.” The case also brings in the Equal Protection Clause, which guarantees that “all similar persons similarly situated should be treated alike.” The argument there: “Kansas men are permitted to buy comprehensive insurance plans that cover all of their potential medical expenses, but Kansas women are prohibited from doing the same.”
All of these arguments are relatively untried when it comes to what abortion restrictions the courts do, and don’t, allow. And with so many similar laws just now coming online, their success will no doubt be closely watched.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Life is the dancer and you are the dance. ~ Eckhart Tolle