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With Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) insisting that funding the recovery from Hurricane Irene be offset with spending cuts, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday that Congress should be focused on providing relief and not get caught up in political gridlock.
“That should not be the first concern of Congress, and I don’t think it is. I think the first concern of Congress is whether we need to protect the safety and security of the people that we are all privileged to represent,” Napolitano said at roundtable with journalists hosted by theChristian Science Monitor.
“Congress knows that this is historically the way disaster relief funding has been handled,” Napolitano continued. “Appropriators have been kept informed on a regular basis about the status this year.”
Napolitano cautioned against putting a figure on the cost of Irene, but said the government knows it will be pricey.
The Political Carnival:
Good, now get er done.
The president has asked federal agencies to find solutions on their own. His message to lawmakers: We can do this without you.
President Obama is either fed up with Congress or he’s testing his own administration’s mettle. Or both.
On Wednesday, Obama took a now-familiar path in adopting a program–this time a jobs and infrastructure effort–that can happen entirely within his domain. Obama directed several federal agencies to identify “high-impact, job-creating infrastructure projects” that can be expedited now, without congressional approval.
One week before he will make a major address to Congress on jobs, Obama is making sure they know he plans to move forward without them. The president has also directed the Education Department to come up with a “Plan B” updating the 2001 No Child Left Behind law in the absence of congressional action. The message to Congress is clear: Do your work or we’ll do it for you.
Under Wednesday’s order, the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, and Transportation will each select up to three high-priority infrastructure projects that can be completed within the control and jurisdiction of the federal government. The effort is labeled as a “common-sense approach” to spurring job growth “in the near term.” In practical terms, that means speeding up the permitting and waiver processes for green-building or highway projects to get the government out of the way. One of businesses’ foremost complaints with government infrastructure projects is that the paperwork is too cumbersome and creates unnecessary delays, according to White House economic advisers.
It’s rare for Republicans to find a tax cut they don’t support, but last week The New York Times reported on just such an exotic creature. Many leading Republicans, it seems, are extremely cool to the idea of extending the temporary cut in the Social Security tax that took effect on Jan. 1 and expires on Dec. 31. It has lowered employees’ share of the payroll tax to 4.2 percent, from 6.2 percent.
In theory, the payroll tax cut has positive economic effects on both the demand side and the supply side. By increasing workers’ cash flow, it should encourage additional spending in the economy – something that the economy desperately needs.
It also reduces the tax wedge between what it costs employers to hire a worker and the worker’s after-tax reward. Thus, a cut in the payroll tax should increase economic activity and reduce unemployment.
However, there is no evidence that the lower payroll tax has done much of anything to stimulate either spending or hiring. There are a number of reasons for this.
First, the tax cut only helps those with jobs. While many have low wages and undoubtedly are spending all their additional cash flow, those with the greatest need and most likely to spend any additional income are the unemployed.
Second, the payroll tax cut helps many workers who have no need for it and will only pocket the tax savings.
Third, economic theory and the experience with tax rebates in 2001 and 2008 tell us that people are strongly inclined to save temporary increases in income. People only increase their spending when they perceive an increase in their permanent income.
Fourth, even if one assumes that the cost of employment has declined and employers can somehow capture some of the payroll tax cut, there’s little sign that labor costs are the principal factor holding back hiring.
The main one is a lack of sales, as monthly surveys by the National Federation of Independent Business document. In the latest survey, 23 percent of businesses said poor sales were their No. 1 problem and only 4 percent cited the cost of labor.
Another issue is whether the Social Security tax is really a tax at all. A case can be made that it is really part of a worker’s compensation, rather than a reduction of it – because the workers generally get back all of their contributions, plus more, in the form of Social Security benefits in retirement.
Although counterintuitive, economic research supports this view of the Social Security tax. In a 1999 paper for the World Bank, Peter Orszag and Joseph Stiglitz argued that Social Security was essentially a forced savings program that doesn’t necessarily reduce labor supply at all. In a 2004 article, Richard Disney supported this argument:
To the extent that pension contributions are perceived as giving individuals rights to future pensions, the behavioral reaction of program participants to contributions will differ from their reactions to other taxes. In fact, they might regard pension contributions as providing an opportunity for retirement saving, in which case contributions should not be deducted from household’s earnings and should not be included in the tax wedge.
To the extent that workers perceive a linkage between the Social Security taxes they pay and the benefits they receive, the Social Security system reinforces work incentives rather than being a tax on work, as is commonly believed. If this is true, then workers may well view a cut in Social Security taxes as diminishing their future benefits, which may cause them to increase their saving rather than spend the additional cash flow.
Thus, a lower Social Security tax could actually be contractionary rather than stimulative.
In my view, the $110 billion cost of the one-year Social Security tax cut would have been far better spent on measures that would actively raise spending in the economy. Public works would be the best way of doing that. Under current economic conditions, all tax cuts are essentially passive and do almost nothing to increase aggregate demand or economic output.
However, economic analysis is not what is driving the Social Security tax debate. Democrats are using the issue mainly as a political ploy. They may also think that some sort of tax cut is the only additional fiscal stimulus Republicans might possibly support.
Although Republican opposition to extending the payroll tax cut may represent little more than knee-jerk opposition to any Democratic initiative, at least some conservatives have long been uncomfortable with cutting the payroll tax without fundamentally restructuring Social Security at the same time.
For example, Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute has said that a temporary payroll tax cut “is a dubious idea that would give low-wage workers a modest temporary boost, but at the expense of the Social Security program they will depend upon in retirement.”
Liberal groups like the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities have also voiced skepticism about the benefit of temporarily cutting the payroll tax. They are concerned about the possibility that a temporary payroll tax cut will become permanent, undermining Social Security’s long-term finances.
And having the Treasury replace the lost revenue opens the door to general revenue financing for Social Security. A longstanding liberal concern is that this makes Social Security more of a welfare program and less of an earned pension, which undermines its political support.
Although the case for additional fiscal stimulus is overwhelming, it would be much better to find more economically stimulative alternatives to simply extending the temporary payroll tax cut.
The figure shows the average weeks of an unemployment spell from 1948 through last month. There’s an upward drift over the full series due in part to the aging of the workforce—older people take longer to get jobs.
But that’s not what’s going on now. What’s going on now is an unprecedented mismatch in the number of people who need work and the number of available job slots. And any policy maker who could do something about that high supply/low demand imbalance but choices not to, or who argues the spike in long-term unemployment can be fixed with budget cuts, or by shutting down the EPA…he or she should get out of the way and let someone else take over.
The average weeks of an unemployment spell just topped 40 for the first time on record–the average over the whole series is about 14 weeks. One look at the magnitude of the joblessness problem we face suggests that working families simply do not have the luxury of political or ideological posturing by policy makers who would block a serious jobs plan.
Update: A commenter makes an excellent point that I forgot about. The average duration graph is biased up in terms of historical comparisons because in 2011 the BLS increased the number of years of unemployment that you were allowed to report on the underlying survey that collects these data from up to 2 years to up to 5 years. Absent the change–i.e., under the old topcode regime of up to 2 year jobless spells–you’d shave 2-3 weeks off the 2011 values in the graph. This does not change the substance of my argument, however. In fact, the median duration of unemployment spells was unaffected by the topcode change, and here is that picture, which is just as historically unprecedented and equally discomforting.
BLS Median Length of Unemployment Spells, 1967-2011
You might well have seen, this morning, the news that 25 of the 100 highest paid US CEOs earned more last year than their companies paid in federal income tax. The Reuters version of the story was linked to by the WSJ and retweeted by David Leonhardt; the NYT version already has 120 comments. Both versions, it seems, were based on embargoed copies of this report from the Institute for Policy Studies; because the reporters were given a copy of the report before it went up online, they were unable to link to it from their stories.
But if you do manage to find the IPS website and follow the links to download the full 46-page report, you’ll see that there’s less to it than meets the eye. Certainly it doesn’t come close to demonstrating that its title — “The Massive CEO Rewards for Tax Dodging” is justified. Yes, CEOs get paid vast sums of money. And yes, a lot of corporations pay very little in taxes. But what the report doesn’t do is demonstrate that CEOs who reduce their corporate tax rates get paid more. This kind of thing, from the NYT story, notwithstanding:
The authors of the study, which examined the regulatory filings of the 100 companies with the best-paid chief executives, said that their findings suggested that current United States policy was rewarding tax avoidance rather than innovation.
There are lots of ways that the authors of the study could have tried to back up that assertion. For instance, they could have taken a set of CEOs and split them into two groups: those who are paid more than their companies pay in taxes in Group A, and those who are paid less than their companies pay in taxes in Group B. Then they could have compared whether CEO salaries in Group A were higher than CEO salaries in Group B.
But they didn’t do that.
Instead, they did this:
Of last year’s 100 highest-paid corporate chief executives in the United States, 25 took home more in CEO pay than their company paid in 2010 federal income taxes.
These 25 CEOs averaged $16.7 million, well above last year’s $10.8 million average for S&P 500 CEOs.
Do you see what they did there? The initial set of CEO was the 100 highest-paid CEOs in the country. They then took 25 of those CEOs, and instead of comparing their pay to the pay of the other 75 CEOs in the group, they compared their pay to the average pay for a CEO in the S&P 500. This proves nothing: any subset of the 100 highest-paid CEOs in the country is going to have higher average pay than S&P 500 CEOs in general.
As for the central conceit of the paper — the one which made the Reuters and NYT headlines — that’s pretty silly too. 25 CEOs make more than their companies pay in taxes? Wow! Except, it turns out that only five of those 25 companies are paying any taxes at all, by IPS methodology. The lowest-paid janitor, at those 25 companies, makes more than the company pays in taxes. The driving force behind the IPS result is entirely a function of how IPS calculates the corporate effective tax rate, and the ease with which that can go negative. It has nothing at all to do with CEO pay. (The IPS ignores deferred taxes, which is justifiable; it ignores taxes paid to foreign governments, which is less so, in an era of global corporations operating in dozens or even hundreds of tax jurisdictions.)
This is one good reason, then, for every news organization to link to reports they’re writing about — doing so gives their readers the opportunity to see for themselves whether the report stands up to scrutiny. After all, the world of embargoed reports is clever that way. If you’re a think tank, you send them out to lots of journalists. Some will look at them and see little news there; they will ignore the report. Others will buy it, and write the report up. So the only stories you see about the report are from journalists who buy into its thesis. That’s a bias right there. And always linking to the report is one good way of helping readers and news organizations overcome that bias.
I‘m curious about something. Conservatives are forever reminding us liberals that the New Deal didn’t get us out of the Great Depression. It was World War II that got us out of the Great Depression. And roughly speaking, that’s true enough.
So why, then, isn’t that a good model for getting us out of our current slump? WWII featured five years with federal deficits above 10% of GDP, three of which were above 20% of GDP. And although WWII might have been a good thing for global freedom, all that spending was for war materiel that was completely useless to the U.S. economy. If we repeated this today, we could do better than that even if half the stimulus spending was meaningless makework.
So what’s the deal? Did WWII rescue the American economy or not? And if it did, what’s the argument for not trying it again, but without the war?
[…] Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign a bill into law capping how long state residents can receive welfare assistance.
The new 48-month limit is expected to result in more than 11,000 people losing benefits at the start of the fiscal year, Oct. 1. The new limit — bringing the cap down from the federal 60-month limit — is projected to save $60 million.
[…] As ThinkProgress has noted, Snyder’s tax plan is one of the most regressive in the county, lowering taxes on businesses by 86 percent cut while effectively increasing taxes on residents in lower income brackets.
[…] As all schoolchildren know, water freezes to solid, barren, cracked ice at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. So maybe it is more than a mere coincidence that 32 percent of U.S. public and private-school students in the class of 2011 are deemed proficient in mathematics, placing the United States 32nd among the 65 nations that participated in the latest international tests administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The United States ranks between Portugal and Italy and far behind South Korea, Finland, Canada, and the Netherlands, to say nothing of the city of Shanghai, with its 75 percent proficiency rate.
We became aware of the seriousness of the problem after we equated, with the help of colleagues, the test scores of the class of 2011 on the latest international test when this class was in 10th grade, with its prior eighth-grade scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), an official U.S. test that both assesses performance of U.S. students and sets the standard for “proficiency.”
Linking these tests also allowed us to compare the performance of students in each state with that of students in other countries. The results are scary. Even in Massachusetts, with its renowned collection of public and private schools, students reach only the level attained by students in the entire nations of Canada, Japan, and Switzerland. Massachusetts, the only U.S. state with a majority of students (51 percent) above the proficiency mark, trails well behind students in South Korea and Finland, as well as those in top-performing Shanghai.
The percentage proficient in the state of New York (30 percent) is equivalent to that achieved by students in debt-ridden Portugal and Spain. California, the home of highly skilled SiliconValley, has a math proficiency rate of 24 percent, the same as bankrupt Greece and just a notch above struggling Russia. By the time we get down to New Mexico and Mississippi, we are making comparisons with Serbia and Bulgaria (see graphic on next page).
President Obama, to his credit, has highlighted the problem repeatedly. But too many state education officials have done their best to obfuscate the low performance of their students. Under the educational accountability rules set down by the federal law No Child Left Behind, each state may set its own proficiency standard, and most have set their standards well below the world-class level. As a result, most state proficiency reports grossly inflate the percentage of students who are proficient, if we account for the fact that our students need to compete not just with others from the same state but also with those across the globe.
When not obfuscating the problem, apologists explain away the dismal results with misleading arguments. Some point to the country’s large immigrant and disadvantaged populations, which, to be sure, do pose difficult educational challenges. Proficiency rates among African-Americans and Hispanics are very low (11 and 15 percent, respectively). But if one compares only the white students in the U.S. with all students in other countries, the U.S. still falls short: only 42 percent are proficient, which would place them at 17th in the world compared with all of the students in other nations. The only positive sign is the majority of Asian students in the United States (52 percent) who score at or above the proficiency level.
When our results were first released, one school-board member in Loudoun County, a wealthy suburb of Washington, D.C., explained away the results: “In many countries, poor-performing children are filtered out of high school, whereas in the U.S., we test all our students, both great and not so great. So the comparison is not on a level playing field.” That might have been true some decades ago when only a few countries followed the United States’ emphasis on universal education and thus left many students out of school and unavailable for testing. But today the U.S. actually graduates fewer students from high school than the average developed country, completely eliminating any claim that the U.S. is testing a broader range of the youth population.
But the United States is not doing any better by its very best students than by the rest of them. Only 7 percent of U.S. students perform at the advanced level in math, putting the country significantly behind 25 other nations. Forty-five percent of the students in Shanghai are advanced in math, as are 20 percent in South Korea and Switzerland. Fifteen percent of the students score at or above the advanced level in six other key countries: Japan, Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Canada. In all of them, the percentage achieving at the advanced level is more than twice that of the United States.
Still others say the low math scores are offset by a better record in reading. Admittedly the proficiency rate in only 10 countries is significantly higher than in the U.S. If not the world leader, the United States’ record is at least better than average. Nonetheless, the set of skills most needed for sustained growth in economic productivity—and the skills in shortest supply today—are those rooted in math competencies. Our future scientists and engineers—the engine of U.S. innovation—come from those with high math skills. While Silicon Valley could possibly be fueled by importing skilled workers from abroad, we should not continue to count on this in today’s globalized world. Even if we could, it is hardly fair to our own young people to count them out of the country’s best jobs.
According to our best calculations, the U.S. could enjoy a remarkable increment in its annual per capita GDP growth by enhancing the math proficiency of its students. Increasing the percentage of proficient students to the levels attained in Canada and South Korea would increase the annual U.S. growth rate by 0.9 percentage points and 1.3 percentage points, respectively. Since long-term average annual growth rates hover between 2 and 3 percentage points, that increment would lift growth rates by between 30 and 50 percent.
When translated into dollar terms according to the historical patterns, we see very different futures for the United States, depending on whether or not our schools are improved. If one calculates increases in national income from projections over an 80-year period (providing for a 20-year delay before any school reform is completed and newly proficient students begin their working careers), the present value of gains amounts to some $75 trillion for reaching the performance levels of Canada. These additions can be compared with our current GDP of $15 trillion or the $1 trillion spent to stimulate the economy out of recession.
It is easy for political leaders to myopically put off considerations of effective school reform. The economic benefits from reform would not be felt immediately, as it takes time for an educated generation to become a productive workforce. But just as the continuing debt crisis, if not fixed, will escalate out of control only over the longer term, so the best available solution to that crisis—a fully unfrozen, high-functioning, constantly improving educational system—could raise the level of human capital to the point where resources would be available to address much of this future debt crisis. In the simplest terms, the impending fiscal crises with Social Security and Medicare are most effectively dealt with by enhanced growth of the economy, growth that will not be achieved without a highly skilled workforce.
In the words of Charles Vest, the former president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: “The enemy I fear most is complacency. We are about to be hit by the full force of global competition. If we continue to ignore the obvious task at hand…our children and grandchildren will pay the price.”
[…] The pipeline was proposed in 2008 as a 1,600 mile extension to an existing network. Its would tap into oil currently being extracted from Alberta’s controversial tar sands and ship it south to a storage facility at Cushing, Oklahoma and again to the Gulf Coast for distribution.
Because it enters the US from a foreign country, in order for the project to proceed, the White House must first approve its construction. As such the State Department must deem it to be in the national interest. A cursory Environmental Impact Statement has met the State Department’s satisfaction so a potentially favorable ruling for TransCanada could be imminent.
The prospect of the Obama White House approving the Keystone XL is drawing heated protests from left-wing environmental groups who would see this as a betrayal by an administration they counted on being more eco-friendly.
Ostensibly their concerns are the potential hazards of a spill somewhere along the massive trunk line. They point to last summer’s 800,000 gallon spillage in Kalamazoo, Michigan, as an illustration of the risks. But the issue is really about opposition to the tar sands extraction process itself because of the large carbon imprint it makes.
There is little debate that the planet is warming, the question is how much human activity plays a role. But even if, for sake or argument, it was proven that human activity was having some effect, the greater debate remains: what to do about it and how?
The burning questions are: how much should we alter (restrict) economic activity now to head off possible issues relating to carbon emissions down the road? How aggressive should we be if we inevitably find ourselves acting in a unilateral fashion vis-a-vis developing countries that have chosen economic growth over protecting its environment?
I could understand and respect the protesters’ concerns more if the issue was a proposed strip mining excavation within our borders in Utah where our own tar sands reside. The process of extracting heavy crude oil from the sands is messy and inefficient. Two tons of sands will yield a barrel of crude and it takes two gallons of water to extract a gallon of oil. The greenhouse emissions from the entire process to make one tank is anywhere from 5% to 20% more than traditional methods.
On the flip side, Canada’s fields are vast. The US Energy Information Administration estimates reserves of 178 billion barrels but Shell Canada estimates it to be as high as 2 trillion barrels, eight times Saudi Arabia’s proven reserves. If built the Keystone XL will transport 500,000 barrels a day. Oil we need access to if we are serious about weaning ourselves from Arab oil.
We can and should have a substantive and rational discussion about whether it is wise to tap into our own vast oil tar sands reserves. But, alas, the most vocal in this debate seem to be the proponents of either manic hyperbole or stubborn denial.
I think the economic and national security benefits of permitting TransCanada to lay their Kesytone extension to tap into Canada’s huge oil reservoir outweigh the potential risks of environmental impact. In this case, I believe the protesters of the new pipeline are being ideologically rigid, economically foolish, hypocritical and disingenuous. They are also taking a stand that is detrimental to national security.
The tar sands in question do not rest in the USA so even if the pipeline is not approved, the fields will still be mined, oil will still be extracted and the end product will still be pumped in trunk lines over hundreds of miles of North America. Ultimately the oil will be shipped in dangerous oil tankers destined for more than eager buyers in Asia. To resist the pipeline in the name of eco-friendship is irrational. The Canadians will develop this product and sell it with or without us as trading partners.
Is the issue for the environmentalists the inherent dangers of 1,600 miles of new trunk lines? There are over 2.3 million miles of lines in the US network that transport hazardous materials including natural gas and crude oil every minute of every day. When placed up against such numbers, their trunk line concerns ring hollow.
The clarion calls of “We don’t want your dirty oil” is really what they are all about. They simply are opposed to tar sands on principle.
As of this writing we still have no power in my neighborhood due to Irene’s pop-in visit. Some of us have generators, others don’t. To not take Canada’s offer is tantamount to someone turning down my offer of an extension chord from my generator because he opposes the carbon imprint of my gasoline-powered internal combustion engine. It matters little to me of course. I’ll just offer it to the guy in the next house over while you wait for the advent of solar powered generators that may or may not be developed in the next decade or so. It doesn’t help you now though.
The USA currently imports 50% of its oil. Fortunately much of it comes from friendly nations on our border like Canada and Mexico. But nearly 20% comes from OPEC nations. If the OPEC nations are not openly hostile, they are either unstable or certainly no friends of ours like Canada. The more energy we provide domestically, the more secure we will be, and the less need for costly and endless wars that make us many enemies and few if any friends.
Ironically I’ll wager that same self-righteous crew out on the streets protesting domestic energy initiatives will also be the first to scream “No Blood For Oil!” when we’re compelled to enter into yet another Mideast conflict to protect our energy supply. You can’t have it both ways.
There are two congruent paths that our national energy policy must follow. Short term: take advantage of resources on this continent in the form of sands, shale, coal, natural gas and biomass to wean us at least off those barrels we import from OPEC. Long term: create a healthy economic environment free of draconian regulations that lowers barriers to entry and will lay the proper foundations of profit incentives to be laid in green technology.
China (who will gladly take he 500k barrels off Canada’s hands if the White House passes) burns a lot of oil for today’s economy; they are also the global leaders in developing solar and wind power for the future hydrocarbon free world we all want.
New government statistics show federal health care fraud prosecutions in the first eight months of 2011 are on pace to rise 85% over last year due in large part to ramped-up enforcement efforts under the Obama administration.
he statistics, released by the non-partisan Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, show 903 prosecutions so far this year. That’s a 24% increase over the total for all of fiscal year 2010, when 731 people were prosecuted for health fraud through federal agencies across the country. Prosecutions have gone up 71% from five years ago, according to TRAC.
“This was a fairly dramatic number of prosecutions,” said David Burnham, co-director of TRAC. TRAC is a research organization at Syracuse University that submits Freedom of Information Act requests for government data, and then reports the results.
Justice Department officials said the increase runs parallel with what they’re seeing when looking at health care fraud broadly, in part because of a couple of big busts this year, as well as several cases involving fraud in the private sector.
“The trend certainly looks accurate and on track with our data,” said Justice spokeswoman Alisa Finelli, though she said she could not confirm the exact numbers. She cited a February case that brought in 111 people — the largest take-down to date for the Medicare Fraud Task Force — as a factor. In that case, doctors, nurses and executives were accused of falsely billing Medicare more than $225 million.
Task force convictions have also risen, according to Justice’s criminal division Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer. In 2010, the task force saw 23 trial convictions for Medicare fraud. In the first eight months of this year, they’ve had 24.
“That’s just a stunning number when you see it in the first eight months,” Breuer said of the task force. “We’re just going to build on this model, and we’re going to hold those responsible who are stealing from the government.”
The government beefed up its staffing this year, adding two health care fraud teams in February.
In 2010, the government recovered a record $4 billion from health fraud cases after the federal health care law created one agency and expanded another. The actuary for Medicare predicted provisions of the law would ultimately net $4.9 billion in fraud and abuse savings over the next 10 years, which will be rolled back into Medicare.
Over the past couple of years, the task force has used data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to find people stealing millions of dollars.
Jerry Wilson, chief of the FBI’s health care fraud criminal investigation unit, said he has seen an increase in cases, though not at the levels TRAC found.
“We started to change our focus,” he said. His team homed in on criminal enterprises — such as 73 Armenians who defrauded the government of $163 million last fall, as well as major providers who defraud the government — such as corporations or hospitals. Usually, those cases come after a whistle-blower comes forward. In 2010, the government paid $300 million to whistle-blowers.
In January, the FBI went after 533 people in Puerto Rico who worked with doctors to send bogus accidental injury claims to American Family Life Insurance Company — ultimately bilking the company of $7 million. Some individuals submitted hundreds of accident claims, while paying a doctor $10 to $20 per claim to fraudulently approve them.
“The San Juan case just shows our desire to work the private insurance and the public insurance sides,” Wilson said. The case also boosted the government’s prosecution numbers.
The Justice Department made a surprise decision on Wednesday against AT&T’s proposed takeover of T-Mobile USA to create the No. 1 U.S. carrier, saying the $39 billion merger would reduce competition and filing suit to block it.
AT&T immediately pushed back, saying it would ask for an expedited hearing in federal court and promising to fight hard to prove the merger would fulfill its promise of lowering prices, creating jobs, and expanding wireless coverage to dead spots across the country.
In a key finding, the Justice Department concluded that competition should be calculated on a national, rather than local, level. AT&T had argued that it faced competition from smaller, regional wireless carriers in many local markets. But Justice Department lawyers rejected that notion, observing that the biggest carriers, including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile, made decisions and operated based on national considerations.
“We are seeking to block this deal in order to maintain a vibrant and competitive marketplace,” Deputy Attorney General James Cole told a news conference.
[…] Meanwhile, another federal judge ruled against the state of Kansas for stripping funds from Planned Parenthood and ruled that funding must be restored immediately.
A federal judge ordered that funding for Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri be restored immediately, after a new state law stripped it of funding for non-abortion activities.
A provision in the Kansas budget prioritized family planning funding for clinics that did not perform abortions over those clinics that did, meaning that the region’s Planned Parenthood clinics would go un-funded for the majority of their services. The group would lose an estimated $330,000 in funding per year under the new regulation. […]
U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten ruled Tuesday evening that the state would have to continue funding Planned Parenthood and that they would do so on the previous quarterly schedule. Without the funding, Planned Parenthood said that their clinics in Hays and Wichita would be unable to provide services beyond this week.
Today is a good day for those who are pro-choice and, ironically, those who are for limited government, as there is nothing limited about uterus legislation.
The ruling in favor of Planned Parenthood in Kansas has much larger implications, but we all know abortion is the Right Wing’s central grievance.
Does Megan’s Law work? Does notifying a community that a sex offender lives in its midst actually reduce sex crimes? A new study in the Journal of Law and Economics says it may not.
Two researchers have looked at laws that that require authorities to notify citizens when convicted rapists, molesters, pedophiles, and the like move into their neighborhoods. Looking at national crime statistics, J.J. Prescott of the University of Michigan and Jonah Rockoff of Columbia University found that while registering sex offenders appears to be a good thing – it enables police to better monitor them — notifying the public is not always a good thing. Public notification may scare away those inclined to be future offenders. But it appears to actually increase the likelihood that convicted sex offenders will offend again.
How can this be?
In this 2010 preliminary paper Prescott and Rockoff theorize that sex offender notification laws may increase recidivism rates because offenders figure things can’t get any worse for them than they already are. Life on a sex offender notification list tends to result in “loss of employment, housing, or social ties,” as well as “stress, loneliness, and depression.” Presumably, criminals figure that they’re already living out the punishment, so why not commit another crime? The researchers suggest it’s also possible that a marginalized life outside prison may make prison life relatively more attractive. If the researchers are right and the unintended consequences of notification lists is more crime, it’s well worth wondering whether they’re worth keeping.
For the first time since the American invasion of Iraq, a month has passed without a single U.S. military death in that country. Just one month after 14 troops were killed in Iraq–the deadliest period in three months–not one of the roughly 48,000 men and women stationed there died in August, TheNew York Times reports.
“If you had thought about a month without a death back during the surge in 2007, it would have been pretty hard to imagine because we were losing soldiers every day, dozens a week,” Col. Douglas Crissman, who is in charge of American forces in parts of southern Iraq told the Times. “I think this shows how far the Iraqi security forces have come.”
American military commanders say that the lack of deaths has to do with the Iraqi government taking a more active role in combating Shiite militias, in combination with unilateral strikes by the United States.
In total, 4,465 American soldiers have died in Iraq since the United States invasion in 2003, according to Defense Department figures. While August was without American deaths in Iraq, it was the deadliest month on record for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Remember all those models that say presidential elections are won or lost based on the economy? The ones that increasingly make Barack Obama look like a doomed one-termer? Well, here’s some good news for the Obama camp: a different model, from American University professor Allan Lichtman, “whose election formula has correctly called every president since Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election,” says Obama is a shoo-in.
So how does that work? Well, Lichtman’s model is based on 13 binary keys, and although Obama loses both of the keys that are based on economic performance, he wins nine others. Since any score of seven or more means the incumbent party wins reelection, Obama should prevail easily no matter who the Republicans nominate.
Is this right? Beats me. But you can’t argue with seven successful predictions in a row, can you? Here are the nine keys that go in Obama’s favor: (1) no primary challenge, (2) he’s a sitting president, (3) no third-party challenge, (4) major policy changes enacted (healthcare and stimulus), (5) no social unrest, (6) no scandal, (7) no foreign policy debacles, (8) at least one big foreign policy success (killing bin Laden), and (9) no opponent with lots of charisma.
For what it’s worth, you might plausibly argue with #4 on the grounds that both of these policy changes have been unpopular; possibly with #8 on the grounds that this isn’t a big, lasting success (something that Lichtman has apparently changed his mind about over the past month); and possibly with #9 on the grounds that Rick Perry could turn out to be a pretty charismatic candidate. And you might argue that the economy is now looking so bad that it deserves more than one point.
Still, Lichtman is the expert, and he says, “Even if I am being conservative, I don’t see how Obama can lose.” So there you go.
POSTSCRIPT: A bit of googling shows that Lichtman has beenforecasting an Obama win since March of last year. So I guess this is nothing new. Still interesting, though.
President Obama announced Wednesday his intention to lay out a new jobs plan in a speech to Congress next week that strategists hope will set a new tone for his tenure.
But the announcement provoked an instant confrontation with Republicans over the seemingly trivial question of timing, resolved only when the White House agreed late Wednesday to delay the speech by one day, to Sept. 8.
The dust-up underscored Obama’s dilemma as he attempts to show progress on the economy while distancing himself from a dysfunctional Washington.
The speech before a joint session of Congress, one of the grand symbols of the presidency, reflects a calculated attempt by Obama to regain an advantage in his bitter battle with Republicans over the economy, restore fast-eroding public confidence in his leadership and, perhaps, turn around a presidency with less than 15 months before he faces the voters.
White House officials said Obama would lay out a much-anticipated package of new proposals to stimulate job growth, a package expected to include spending programs for roads, bridges, school repair and training for the long-term unemployed.
Yet simply scheduling the address quickly turned into another partisan spit-fest.
It began around lunchtime Wednesday, when Obama sent a letter to congressional leaders requesting an 8 p.m. speech next Wednesday — a time that coincided with a previously scheduled Republican presidential debate.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), citing parliamentary and logistical “impediments,” sent a letter back that urged the president to come instead on the next night.
Democrats charged that the speaker was out of line and that presidents are always given deference in scheduling speeches to Congress. A Boehner spokesman countered that the White House “ignored decades — if not centuries — of the protocol of working out a mutually agreeable date and time before making any public announcement.”
Hours later, the White House capitulated, saying the president “welcomes the opportunity” to address lawmakers next Thursday.
The exchange underscored the heightened distrust between Obama and Republicans as both sides eye next year’s elections, and it again raised the question facing Obama as he prepares his speech — whether to propose measures that can actually pass the GOP-led House, or to heed the desire of many in his liberal base to propose an ambitious jobs plan designed to pressure Republicans.
In the nine months since tea party Republicans prevailed in the 2010 midterms by railing against the ever-expanding government debt, Obama and his aides have embraced the goal of deficit reduction — a shift that White House strategists believed would put the president in good stead with crucial independent voters.
But since January, Obama’s job-approval ratings have sunk to new lows, now hovering around 40 percent in most surveys.
A series of disappointing monthly jobs reports and wild fluctuations in the stock markets have increased public anxiety and raised concern among economists that the country may be close to another recession.
Analysts expect the August jobs report, due Friday, to show modest growth but not enough to substantially change the country’s 9.1 percent unemployment rate.
“In the last couple of weeks, the White House has recognized the gravity of the moment for the economy and the public’s judgments of Washington itself, and has shifted quickly from deficits to jobs and growth, which is what the public is most anxious about,” said Neera Tanden, chief operating officer of the liberal Center for American Progress and a former policy adviser to the Obama administration.
Recent surveys have shown the extent of the political problem for Obama, with independent voters who backed the president in 2008 expressing growing disapproval of his handling of the economy. Moreover, vast majorities of Americans think the country is heading in the wrong direction and disagree with Washington’s priorities.
White House officials are still finalizing the jobs plan. It was not clear Wednesday how far Obama would go in terms of cost, or whether he would set out specific goals for how many jobs to create. Officials said the president would use a later forum to propose additional deficit reduction ideas to the bipartisan “super committee” created by the recent debt-ceiling deal.
But in requesting the joint session, thereby commanding network television time and implicitly asking millions of Americans to watch, the pressure will be on Obama to match the moment with a set of powerful, new proposals to drive public opinion to his side. […]
Obama took criticism from his supporters who thought he caved too quickly to Republican demands during the debt debate. Since then, the president has appeared willing to answer calls that he recalibrate his strategy and get bolder with his rivals on his plans to create jobs and boost the economy.
In a series of recent speeches, Obama has attempted to frame the debate as one that casts him against obstinate Republicans who are blocking his agenda on political grounds because they are unwilling “to put country ahead of party.”
“We’ve got to break the gridlock in Washington that’s been preventing us from taking the action we need to get this country moving,” Obama told 6,000 American Legion veterans at a convention in Minneapolis this week, pledging to create 100,000 new jobs for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The White House appears poised to devote much of next week — as Americans and Congress return to their routines after vacation — to showing its renewed focus on jobs.
The president, for example, is scheduled to speak to labor groups, including the AFL-CIO, on Monday at a Labor Day parade in Detroit. Some high-profile labor leaders, including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, have been critical of Obama for not doing enough on jobs.
Trumka, along with U.S. Chamber of Commerce Chief Operating Officer David Chavern, joined Obama on Wednesday at the White House when the president made an appearance in the Rose Garden to call on Congress to approve an extension to a highway funding bill. Obama said that if the bill expires at the end of September, 4,000 workers would immediately be furloughed and 1 million could be out of work over the coming year.
“All of them would be out of a job just because of politics in Washington,” Obama said. “It’s just not acceptable. It’s inexcusable to put more jobs at risk in an industry that is one of the hardest hit over last decade. It’s inexcusable to cut off new investments at a time when our highways are choked with congestion.”
Trumka has said many labor unions are pulling away from their longtime alignment with Democrats as they prepare for next year’s elections. He said the AFL-CIO intends to keep pressuring Obama on jobs.
“This is the time for boldness,” Trumka said. “This is a moment upon which working people will judge all our of leaders.”
Less than 12 hours after announcing that President Obama would deliver his much anticipated jobs speech on Sept. 7 — the same day and time of a previously scheduled Republican presidential debate in California — the White House changed course, shifting the speech to Sept. 8.
Reaction was swift — with Republicans crowing that the president had caved and some Democrats grumbling privately about the mishandling of such a basic piece of political planning.
But Obama and his political team were smart to reschedule the event for (at least) three reasons.
1. No one wins a process fight: […]
2. Get the last word: If Obama had stuck to Sept. 7, it would have allowed every Republican presidential candidate a real-time opportunity to respond (and criticize) his proposal. The coverage of the speech would be inter-mingled with coverage of the debate, meaning that Obama’s preferred message would be decidedly muddled. By waiting a day, Obama can more tightly control his message and get the last word (or close to it) of what will be a pivotal week in the presidential race.
3. Pick your audience: Given House Speaker John Boehner’s (Ohio) resistance to putting the speech on Sept. 7 and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint’s promise to block such a move, Obama would likely have had to give the speech from the Oval Office if he wanted to deliver it next Wednesday. (The logistics of setting up such a major speech somewhere out in the country are daunting and not something the White House would likely have done.) Some of Obama’s least effective addresses have been from the Oval Office, and his team knows it. They wanted him to speak to a joint session of Congress for a reason — to send a powerful visual and rhetorical message that he can’t solve the economic problems of the country alone. To walk away from that preferred backdrop simply to prove a point makes no political sense.
Call it the Party-of-Government Paradox: If the nation’s capital looks dysfunctional, it will come back to hurt President Obama and the Democrats, even if the Republicans are primarily responsible for the dysfunction.
Then there is the Bipartisanship Paradox: No matter how far the president bends over backward to appeal to or appease the Republicans — no matter how nice, conciliatory, friendly or reasonable he tries to be — voters will judge him according to the results. And the evidence since 2009 is that accommodation won’t get Obama much anyway.
This creates the Election Paradox: Up to a point, Republicans in Congress can afford to let their own ratings fall well below the president’s, as long as they drag him further into negative territory. If the president’s ratings are poor next year, Democrats won’t be able to defeat enough Republicans to take back the House and hold the Senate. The GOP can win if the mood is terribly negative toward Washington because voters see Obama as the man in charge. […]
But the trend on the president’s numbers has been downward, and the Republicans seem willing to pay a high price to keep them moving that way. Remember: The core GOP argument is that government can’t do much good and generally makes everyone’s life worse. Democrats are the ones who insist that government can solve problems and improve people’s lives. If government isn’t doing that — if it is discredited and made to look foolish — guess whose side of the debate is weakened?
Obama’s central task is to break out of the three paradoxes, not just to get reelected but also to get anything done. Having tried conciliation, his only alternative is to build pressure on the Republicans. He needs to get them to act, or, failing that, to make clear who is responsible for Washington’s paralysis.
From just about every corner of the Democratic Party’s big tent, the complaints about President Obama are uniform. His administration is following the agenda of Tea Party freshmen in Congress. And he keeps getting rolled by those same Republicans as he searches for compromise on their terms. As Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) said at a Congressional Black Caucus town hall forum in Detroit this month, “We’re getting tired, y’all.” But if you listen to the president lately, things appear to be changing. There’s fight in his voice. The only question is: Will he follow through? This time I think Obama will. […]
[E]veryone wants the president to stand up more to congressional Republicans. And if you’ve been paying attention lately, Obama appears to be getting ready to do just that.
During a Midwest bus tour this month, the president outlined a whole host of proposals he says will put people back to work and help the economy. Then he took the rhetorical fight to Congress and issued a call to arms to voters to help him get things done.
A broad survey of GOP voters in South Carolina, where Rick Perry is now firmly in the lead, adds credence to anyone who is skeptical that moderates actually exist within the Republican party as the poll shows Mitt Romney trailing Rick Perry even among moderates.
When PPP asked South Carolina GOP voters if they believe in global warming, 25 percent answered they did, and 61 percent said they did not. Those who believe in global warming didn’t shun Perry even though he’s a major climate change skeptic: he was still viewed favorably by that group by a 51 – 25 split. Romney on the other hand got much more push back from those who don’t believe in global warming: a 48 – 38 split, which is more damaging because the skeptics make up a much larger total of the base. In fact, of those 25 percent who believe in global warming, Perry still wins a purality of their votes, 24 percent, with Romney at 22 percent. On the flip side, Perry crushes Romney with the skeptics, earning 42 percent, to Romney’s mere 11, outpaced by Bachmann at 14 and businessman Herman Cain at 12.
The same trend occurs when PPP asked whether respondents believe in evolution: 32 percent said yes, and 57 percent no. But Perry, despite referring to evolution as a “theory that’s out there” and thus calling it into question, is still viewed favorably by 60 percent of those South Carolina GOP voters who do believe in it, and by 69 percent of those who don’t. Romney on the other hand is only viewed favorably by 46 percent of evolution critics, and only bests Perry on favorability by four percent among those who accept it. Consequently, Perry leads the field in both categories, the first choice of 24 percent of those who believe in evolution and 41 percent who don’t.
If you believe in global warming, and you believe in evolution, yet you still favor Rick Perry over Mitt Romney, you are not a moderate.
Rick Perry wipes his ass with climate science and thinks evolution is just a “theory that’s out there” still awaiting a verdict from the jury. He prays for rain. He prays for a solution to the still-Bushed economy. And if you favor him over Romney, you are not a moderate.
Granted, South Carolina is a completely different animal compared to the Northeast and Midwest, but if Romney can’t even hold onto self-described “moderates,” then there may nothing standing in the way of the nomination of Rick Perry.
If there are any moderates in the Republican party, it would those who are only mildly-crazy when compared to the batshit-crazy of the Tea Party. The bar is pretty low.
[…] Perry panic has spread from the conference rooms of Washington, D.C., to the coffee shops of Brooklyn, with the realization that the conservative Texan could conceivably become the 45th president of the United States, a wave of alarm centering around Perry’s drawling, small-town affect and stands on core cultural issues such as women’s rights, gun control, the death penalty, and the separation of church and state.
The epidemic of lefty angst isn’t just a matter of specific Perry policies though; it goes to the heart of the liberal worldview. His smashing debut on the presidential stage suggests that the victory of an urban liberal Democrat, Barack Obama, wasn’t a step toward a more progressive nation, but just a leftward swing of an increasingly wild pendulum, now poised to rocket to the right.
“His entry in the race is a signal and a wake-up call,” the Rev. Al Sharpton told POLITICO. […]
For Democrats, the pre-Perry GOP primary process was hardly for the faint of heart, as the other candidates have jockeyed to show who dislikes Obama the most. But even as the primary is fought on conservative turf, liberal leaders say they and their constituents see Perry as far worse than your average, hated Republican, and indeed as bad — if not worse — than his hated predecessor in Austin, George W. Bush. And progressives who might have had a hard time getting worked up about Mitt Romney find themselves struggling for superlatives with which to express their fear of a President Perry. […]
“Whether he’s the nominee or not, he absolutely helps fire up our base,” said Jennifer Palmieri, president of the liberal Center for American Project Action Fund. “To the degree to which progressives are disaffected and unenthusiastic — this is their ‘holy sh**’ moment.”
The Peoples’ View:
Last night on MSNBC Melissa Harris did a piece about the so-called African-American flap between the President and Black Caucus members that was amazing. The piece excoriated the Black Caucus Members for putting all the blame on the President. She thought their attitude was somewhat “puzzling” since the black unemployment rate has been always high under other Presidents including Clinton. Where were they yelling and screaming then? She basically said that the Black Caucus members need to take responsibility with regards to the high unemployment in their communities and so do the voters who keep voting them back in even though some of them do corrupt things and have their own legal issues to worry about. Yet, they are loud and proud and are calling out the President who has never rejected his ‘blackness’. He identifies as a proud AA male and he understands the crisis but he cannot do it alone. It is time that everybody take some responsibility for the jobs crisis in this country and not put it all at the feet of the President. This includes Black Caucus Members and all Senators and Reps from other communities. Like Harris said ‘we are all in this together’. See her take apart Black Caucus in her piece last night. It was truly an awesome thing to see!!!
Ari Berman, Rolling Stone:
In a campaign supported by the Koch brothers, Republicans are working to prevent millions of Democrats from voting next year.
LONG article definitely worth the read!
Barriers to Registration Since January, six states have introduced legislation to impose new restrictions on voter registration drives run by groups like Rock the Vote and the League of Women Voters. In May, the GOP-controlled legislature in Florida passed a law requiring anyone who signs up new voters to hand in registration forms to the state board of elections within 48 hours of collecting them, and to comply with a barrage of onerous, bureaucratic requirements. Those found to have submitted late forms would face a $1,000 fine, as well as possible felony prosecution.
As a result, the law threatens to turn civic-minded volunteers into inadvertent criminals. Denouncing the legislation as “good old-fashioned voter suppression,” the League of Women Voters announced that it was ending its registration efforts in Florida, where it has been signing up new voters for the past 70 years. Rock the Vote, which helped 2.5 million voters to register in 2008, could soon follow suit. “We’re hoping not to shut down,” says Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote, “but I can’t say with any certainty that we’ll be able to continue the work we’re doing.”
The registration law took effect one day after it passed, under an emergency statute designed for “an immediate danger to the public health, safety or welfare.” In reality, though, there’s no evidence that registering fake voters is a significant problem in the state. Over the past three years, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has received just 31 cases of suspected voter fraud, resulting in only three arrests statewide. “No one could give me an example of all this fraud they speak about,” said Mike Fasano, a Republican state senator who bucked his party and voted against the registration law. What’s more, the law serves no useful purpose: Under the Help America Vote Act passed by Congress in 2002, all new voters must show identity before registering to vote.
Cuts to Early Voting After the recount debacle in Florida in 2000, allowing voters to cast their ballots early emerged as a popular bipartisan reform. Early voting not only meant shorter lines on Election Day, it has helped boost turnout in a number of states – the true measure of a successful democracy. “I think it’s great,” Jeb Bush said in 2004. “It’s another reform we added that has helped provide access to the polls and provide a convenience. And we’re going to have a high voter turnout here, and I think that’s wonderful.”
But Republican support for early voting vanished after Obama utilized it as a key part of his strategy in 2008. Nearly 30 percent of the electorate voted early that year, and they favored Obama over McCain by 10 points. The strategy proved especially effective in Florida, where blacks outnumbered whites by two to one among early voters, and in Ohio, where Obama received fewer votes than McCain on Election Day but ended up winning by 263,000 ballots, thanks to his advantage among early voters in urban areas like Cleveland and Columbus.
That may explain why both Florida and Ohio – which now have conservative Republican governors – have dramatically curtailed early voting for 2012. Next year, early voting will be cut from 14 to eight days in Florida and from 35 to 11 days in Ohio, with limited hours on weekends. In addition, both states banned voting on the Sunday before the election – a day when black churches historically mobilize their constituents. Once again, there appears to be nothing to justify the changes other than pure politics. “There is no evidence that any form of convenience voting has led to higher levels of fraud,” reports the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College.
Photo IDs By far the biggest change in election rules for 2012 is the number of states requiring a government-issued photo ID, the most important tactic in the Republican war on voting. In April 2008, the Supreme Court upheld a photo-ID law in Indiana, even though state GOP officials couldn’t provide a single instance of a voter committing the type of fraud the new ID law was supposed to stop. Emboldened by the ruling, Republicans launched a nationwide effort to implement similar barriers to voting in dozens of states.
The campaign was coordinated by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which provided GOP legislators with draft legislation based on Indiana’s ID requirement. In five states that passed such laws in the past year – Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin – the measures were sponsored by legislators who are members of ALEC. “We’re seeing the same legislation being proposed state by state by state,” says Smith of Rock the Vote. “And they’re not being shy in any of these places about clearly and blatantly targeting specific demographic groups, including students.”
In Texas, under “emergency” legislation passed by the GOP-dominated legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Perry, a concealed-weapon permit is considered an acceptable ID but a student ID is not. Republicans in Wisconsin, meanwhile, mandated that students can only vote if their IDs include a current address, birth date, signature and two-year expiration date – requirements that no college or university ID in the state currently meets. As a result, 242,000 students in Wisconsin may lack the documentation required to vote next year. “It’s like creating a second class of citizens in terms of who gets to vote,” says Analiese Eicher, a Dane County board supervisor.
The barriers erected in Texas and Wisconsin go beyond what the Supreme Court upheld in Indiana, where 99 percent of state voters possess the requisite IDs and can turn to full-time DMVs in every county to obtain the proper documentation. By contrast, roughly half of all black and Hispanic residents in Wisconsin do not have a driver’s license, and the state staffs barely half as many DMVs as Indiana – a quarter of which are open less than one day a month. To make matters worse, Gov. Scott Walker tried to shut down 16 more DMVs – many of them located in Democratic-leaning areas. In one case, Walker planned to close a DMV in Fort Atkinson, a liberal stronghold, while opening a new office 30 minutes away in the conservative district of Watertown. […]
Disenfranchising Ex-Felons The most sweeping tactic in the GOP campaign against voting is simply to make it illegal for certain voters to cast ballots in any election. As the Republican governor of Florida, Charlie Crist restored the voting rights of 154,000 former prisoners who had been convicted of nonviolent crimes. But in March, after only 30 minutes of public debate, Gov. Rick Scott overturned his predecessor’s decision, instantly disenfranchising 97,491 ex-felons and prohibiting another 1.1 million prisoners from being allowed to vote after serving their time.
“Why should we disenfranchise people forever once they’ve paid their price?” Bill Clinton asked during his speech in July. “Because most of them in Florida were African-Americans and Hispanics and would tend to vote for Democrats – that’s why.”
In response to the GOP campaign, voting-rights advocates are scrambling to blunt the impact of the new barriers to voting. The ACLU and other groups are challenging the new laws in court, and congressional Democrats have asked the Justice Department to use its authority to block or modify any of the measures that discriminate against minority voters. “The Justice Department should be much more aggressive in areas covered by the Voting Rights Act,” says Rep. Lewis.
But beyond waging battles at the state and federal level, voting-rights advocates must figure out how to reframe the broader debate. The real problem in American elections is not the myth of voter fraud, but how few people actually participate. Even in 2008, which saw the highest voter turnout in four decades, fewer than two-thirds of eligible voters went to the polls. And according to a study by MIT, 9 million voters were denied an opportunity to cast ballots that year because of problems with their voter registration (13 percent), long lines at the polls (11 percent), uncertainty about the location of their polling place (nine percent) or lack of proper ID (seven percent).
Come Election Day 2012, such problems will only be exacerbated by the flood of new laws implemented by Republicans. Instead of a single fiasco in Florida, experts warn, there could be chaos in a dozen states as voters find themselves barred from the polls. “Our democracy is supposed to be a government by, of and for the people,” says Browne-Dianis. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what race you are or where you live in the country – we all get to have the same amount of power by going into the voting booth on Election Day. But those who passed these laws believe that only some people should participate. The restrictions undermine democracy by cutting off the voices of the people.”
A new Quinnipiac poll finds President Obama’s approval-disapproval level has shrunk to an all-time low of 42% to 52%.
Said pollster Peter Brown: “President Obama has hit a low 42% approval in the past, but this is his highest disapproval rating. Ominous for him is that the share of voters who think he has strong leadership qualities has dropped from 64% to 33% in January to 50% to 48% now. Voters say 54% to 42% that he cares about their problems, but that is not impressive since it is a measure on which Democratic presidents historically rate well.”
“The best news for the president is that voters still blame former president George W. Bush rather than Obama for the economy by 53% to 32%. One can only imagine what Obama’s approval rating might look like if that ever changes.”
Yet another poll shows Rick Perryleading Mitt Romney nationally, with Quinnipiac putting Perry’s lead at six.
Whether Sarah Palin jumps into the race or not, Perry is still up six. With Palin in, Perry takes 24 percent, Romney 18 and Palin 11. Without Palin, it’s Perry 26, Romney 20.
Rep. Michele Bachmann is next in both polls, taking 10 percent with Palin in the race and 12 percent without her.
In the general election, Romney fares slightly better than Perry, running a tie with Obama. Perry trails by three points, Bachmann trails by nine, and Palin trails by 14.
Over the last week, both Gallup and CNN have showed Perry leading Romney by double digits.
There is a reflecting pool between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial in our nation’s capital. Stretched out between the memories of two presidents, the water reminds us that politics are merely a reflection of American society, for better or worse. The best of our society was on display 48 years ago when hundreds of thousands of Americans stood in scenic unity along the reflecting pool in support of civil rights. Today, the 2012 presidential elections reflect a nation still plagued by bias and inequality. Troubled and ugly waters indeed.
The following is a guide to use when you consider casting a vote for one of the 2012 Republican presidential candidates. You may be among the Americans who have lost faith in Obama or the Democratic Party and pondering a step to the right. Faulty as the Democrats may be, read this guide and remember that liberals still believe abolishing slavery was a good idea and that women should not be confined to the kitchen—which is not something you can say about all of the Republican contenders.
Rick Santorum, Former Senator from Pennsylvania
In 2003, then-Sen. Santorum conflated being gay with bigamy, incest and having sex with farm animals, then said, “That’s not to pick on homosexuality.” Really?
Later, Sen. Santorum actually copped to his prejudices, but spun them as a positive trait. “You can say I’m a hater, but I would argue I’m a lover,” Santorum said. “I’m a lover of traditional families and of the right of children to have a mother and father…. I would argue that the future of America hangs in the balance.” Sounds like a hater to me.
In 2008, Santorum tried to manufacture liberal angst about then-candidate Barack Obama, saying Democrats feared Obama “may go to Indonesia and bow to more Muslims.” That’s not to pick on Muslims, right? Still, the one thing I can say about Santorum is at least he’s openly and consistently bigoted. There’s something oddly old fashioned about that.
Michele Bachmann, Representative from Minnesota
Bachmann signed the infamous “black kids were better off under slavery” pledge and ushered in a real high point in the campaign season as pundits struggled in-artfully to talk about the nation’s ugly racial history. Then Bachmann demeaned President Obama’s economic policies by alleging he’s tying the U.S. economy to Zimbabwe.
But Bachmann is not all rhetoric—she takes it to the streets. In 2006, then State Sen. Bachmann hid behind a bush to spy on a gay rights rally, crouching with her husband Marcus who runs a cure-away-the-gay reparative therapy organization of which she is “extremely proud.”
Speaking of her husband, Bachmann’s gender does not make her a feminist. She once told wives “to be submissive to your husbands” like she was when Marcus told her to go to grad school and run for Congress. “I was going to be faithful to what I felt God was calling me to do through my husband,” Bachmann said.
Herman Cain, Former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza
I hate to suggest that an otherwise ridiculously under-qualified black conservative is only a contender for the Republican nod because mildly self-aware conservative voters think they can cover up their profound racial resentment toward the current black president by endorsing Cain. So I won’t suggest it.
Rick Perry, Governor of Texas
Gov. Perry has some extreme beliefs. “Social Security is a Ponzi scheme,” and “Medicare needs to be changed or potentially abolished” are two that have gotten lots of attention since he joined the race. But it’s his constant embrace of “states’ rights” that has me most worried, given that “state’s rights” was a pro-segregation refrain when white southerners wanted to preserve the right to own slaves. And taking “state’s rights” to a whole new creepy level, Perry has actually endorsed the idea of Texas seceding to become a separate nation. Maybe the Confederate flag can be re-appropriated?
There’s more. Activists and bloggers are now digging into Perry’s relationship with David Barton, a pseudo-historian and close ally of Glenn Beck who has argued that the California wildfires and Hurricane Katrina were “God’s punishment for tolerating gays.” Barton also argued that Martin Luther King, Jr., doesn’t deserve credit for civil rights because “only majorities can expand political rights“—in other words, Barton thinks white people in power should get all the credit. If Obama got flack for his ties to Jeremiah Wright, Perry should be scrutinized for his embrace of Barton and his extremism.
Ron Paul, Representative from Texas
The libertarian member of Congress has said plainly that he would have voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. And a newsletter Paul published in 1992 says the Los Angeles riots only stopped when blacks went to “pick up their welfare checks.” Another Paul newsletter alleged that black children “are trained to hate whites, to believe that white oppression is responsible for all black ills, to ‘fight the power,’ to steal and loot as much money from the white enemy as possible.” Paul has denied authoring these newsletters, though they were published by him and called “The Ron Paul Political Report.” Perhaps for Paul—or whoever he let write under his name—libertarianism means government shouldn’t stop people like him from being racist.
Mitt Romney, Former Governor of Massachusetts
In April of this year, Romney said conservatives have to hang something called the Obama Misery Index “around [the President’s] neck.” In the same speech, Romney tried to step it back, saying “We’re going to hang him—uh, so to speak, metaphorically—with, uh, with, uh—you have to be careful these days, I’ve learned that.” It was either an idiotic choice of metaphors or a revealing slip of the noose—I mean tongue. In the past, Romney has used the racial epithet “tar baby” to demean government programs.
And if Obama has Jeremiah Wright and Rick Perry has David Barton, some wonder whether Romney should have to answer for the racist history of the Mormon Church, which until 1978 did not allow blacks to become priests or lead certain ordinances. In 1963, Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, was quoted in Life Magazine defending his religion’s racism, saying, “Darkies are wonderful people.”
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney was for marriage equality before he was against it. Now, to prove his homophobic bona fides, he’s signed an anti-gay marriage pledge by the National Organization for Marriage. Santorum and Bachmann have also signed.
Jon Huntsman, Former Governor of Utah and Ambassador to China
Last but not least, there’s Jon Huntsman. But the fact is he is far too knowledgeable, experienced and, above all, reasonable to have a shot at winning with the increasingly fringe Republican base. Huntsman has far too few overt or even veiled racist, sexist or homophobic rants under his belt to gain popularity with today’s influential right wing voters.
Oh, and I’ve skipped Newt Gingrich, because he’s a joke even to Republicans.
Whether it’s a reflection of actual values or of the values that GOP candidates feel they must project, all the people above oppose abortion rights. All except Ron Paul favor amending the United States Constitution to prevent two men from getting married. All have engaged in feverish anti-immigrant rhetoric and complained that the Obama administration, which has deported more Americans than the Republican president before him, isn’t doing enough to persecute immigrants.
Republican voters say that jobs are their number one concern. Do they think aborted fetuses and gay couples are stealing their jobs along with blacks and immigrants? How else can we explain such persistent pandering to manufactured culture wars, even in the midst of very real and ominous economic disaster that is affecting all of us?
A friend told me that the reflecting pool on the Mall rippled during last week’s earthquake. Unlike Michele Bachmann, I don’t think it was a message from an anti-government God, but I do think the symbolism is stunning in the context of these candidates—all of whom have a shot at becoming the next president. The ripples in the reflecting pool were not ripples of hope and change that echoed from 1963 all the way to the election of Barack Obama. Rather, they were ripples of fear emanating from the GOP candidates and targeting our nation’s most vulnerable communities.
The recent earthquake also cracked the Washington Monument. It was as though, already destabilized by centuries of racism and bias, the tremors of politics unearthed the structural cracks. If we brush off hateful views as political theater, we face a deepening of the cracks that threaten to fracture our entire political system and society.
Then again, as Mitt Romney said, one has to be careful with metaphors.
When Texas’s 82nd legislature convened in January, the state was facing what the Houston Chronicle called a “sickening shortfall” of between $15 billion and $27 billion. Yet fiscal issues were notably absent from Gov. Rick Perry’s list of “emergency” items that lawmakers had to fast track. Instead, he decreed that the state needed to prioritize legislation mandating sonograms for women seeking abortions. “When you consider the magnitude of that decision, ensuring someone understands what is truly at stake seems to be a small step, in my opinion,” he told the 2011 Texas Rally for Life. “Those of us here know that when someone has all the information, the right choice will be made, the choice of life.”
The resulting legislation, which was supposed to go into effect on Sept. 1, was among the most invasive in the country. Before carrying out an abortion, the law requires a doctor to perform an ultrasound on his or her patient, and to display the resulting images while giving her a detailed description of the embryo or fetus’s development, whether or not she wants to hear it. If a heartbeat can be detected, the doctor has to make it audible, irrespective of the patient’s wishes. First-trimester ultrasounds are typically performed vaginally, with a phallic-shaped wand. Forcing this procedure on an unwilling woman is a particularly intimate type of government intrusion.
On Tuesday, however, U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks, a George H.W. Bush nominee, issued an injunction temporarily blocking the law, pending a court case. “The Act compels physicians to advance an ideological agenda with which they may not agree, regardless of any medical necessity, and irrespective of whether the pregnant women wish to listen,” wrote Sparks. So for now, women seeking abortions and the doctors who provide them will be spared this gratuitous dose of state interference, though Texas has already appealed the ruling. Whichever way it goes, though, the law is significant for what it tells us about Perry’s attitudes toward women and reproductive choice.
It’s not surprising, of course, that a Republican governor of Texas would be anti-abortion. The 2012 presidential candidate’s fervor, however, has been exceptional, far surpassing that of his predecessor, George W. Bush. In contrast to Bush’s soft, coded language urging promotion of a “culture of life,” Perry’s condemnation of abortion is clear and unequivocal. He doesn’t even pretend to respect women’s autonomy—rather, as he said at the Rally for Life, he believes that the government must dissuade women from making “the biggest mistake of their life.”
As The Texas Tribune reported, “In the nearly 11 years since Perry became governor, he has thrown his support behind at least six high-profile anti-abortion bills, including measures to require a 24-hour waiting period…[and] to make minors get permission from their parents before seeking an abortion.” In the last session, he slashed reproductive health-care funding for poor women by two-thirds; asthe Dallas Observer reported on Wednesday, six Planned Parenthood clinics and nine independent family planning providers will be losing their state funding starting this week.
Should he become president, Perry has signaled that he will create a more uniformly anti-abortion administration than any Republican in history. Last week, he joined Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann in signing the Susan B. Anthony List’s Pro-Life pledge, which commits him, among other things, to restricting his Cabinet appointments to people who share his opposition to abortion, something neither Bush nor Ronald Reagan ever did.
Perry’s language on abortion has been consistently militant. At the Rally for Life, he noted that nearly 40 years had passed since the “tragedy” of Roe v. Wade, saying, “It’s pretty hard to imagine people of good conscience sitting idly by through this, and in Texas, we haven’t!” In 2008, he commended the Texas Alliance for Life for helping to bring the state’s law in line with God’s: “Romans 13:1 tells us that everyone must submit himself to the governing authority, for there is no authority except that for which God has established. I commend Texas Alliance for Life for not only submitting to governing authorities with humility, but also working hard to change the laws so that they better reflect God’s character instead of man’s.”
White House Blog:
Something exciting is coming to WhiteHouse.gov. It’s called We the People and it will significantly change how the public — you! — engage with the White House online.
Our Constitution guarantees your right to petition our government. Now, with We the People, we’re offering a new way to submit an online petition on a range of issues — and get an official response.
We’re announcing We the People before it’s live to give folks time to think about what petitions they want to create, and how they are going to build the support to get a response.
When will it be live? Soon. If you want to be the first to know when the system is available, sign up for an email alert.
Here are the basics:
Individuals will be able to create or sign a petition that calls for action by the federal government on a range of issues. If a petition gathers enough support (i.e., signatures) it will be reviewed by a standing group of White House staff, routed to any other appropriate offices and generate an official, on-the-record response.
How many signatures? Initially petitions that gather more than 5,000 signatures in 30 days will be reviewed and answered.
There’s another aspect to this meant to emphasize the grassroots, word of mouth organizing that thrives on the internet. At first, a petition’s unique URL will only be known to its creator and will not show up anywhere else on WhiteHouse.gov. It’s up to that person to share it in their network to gather an initial amount of signatures — initially 150 — before it is searchable on WhiteHouse.gov.
As we move forward, your feedback about We the People will be invaluable, and there are a few ways you can share it. Numerous pages on WhiteHouse.gov, including the We the People section, feature a feedback form. In addition, you can use the twitter hashtag #WHWeb to give the White House digital team advice and feedback. I’ll also try to answer questions when I have time today — you can pose them to @macon44.
Finally, while We the People is a fresh approach to official, online petitions, the United States isn’t the first to try it; for example, the United Kingdom offers e-petitions, and this work was very helpful as we developed our own.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.”