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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said on Monday that the agency will suspend its plans for new cell-phone billing regulations because industry is offering its own voluntary approach to help prevent “bill shock.”
The FCC had begun writing new regulations last year to require wireless carriers to notify consumers when they are about to go over their usual monthly bill — such as when they run up too many minutes or roam in another country.
That’s now on hold.
“Moving forward, the FCC will take a ‘trust but verify’ approach. We will put our pending rule making on hold, but we will be closely monitoring industry. If we see noncompliance, we’ll take action,” Genachowski said at a seminar at the Brookings Institution, where officials from the wireless industry group CTIA were planning to announce new standards for wireless billing notifications and disclosures.
The voluntary agreement, negotiated by CTIA, Consumers Union, and the FCC, ensures that consumers will be alerted before and after they will incur overages for voice, data, and texts. It will also ensure they are notified when they are about to incur international roaming charges. The agreement goes into effect within a year.
Consumers Union welcomed the chance to come to an agreement with industry.
Fewer Americans have access to basic life necessities, according to a Gallup index that surveys the public’s ability to pay for food, shelter, medicine and other fundamentals. Last month, the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index reached the lowest point since February/March 2009, the nadir of the recession. Overall, Americans’ well-being hasn’t recovered since the start of the recession.
That doesn’t mean that everything has stayed constant since the beginning of the recession in terms of access to life’s basic needs. Since September 2008, the items that have becoming increasingly out of reach have mostly been in the health-care arena: the percentage of Americans who say they have a personal doctor has declined 4.2 percent (from 82.5 percent to 78.3 percent), those who have health insurance has dropped 3.6 percent (from 85.9 percent to 82.3 percent), and dental visits have dropped 2.6 percent.
By contrast, the percent of those polled who say they have access to adequate shelter and housing has dropped by just 1 percent — from 90.8 percent to 89.8 percent — which is a bit surprising in light of the housing meltdown. And the percentage of Americans who have access to fresh fruits and vegetables has actually risen slightly, from 90 percent to 90.6 percent.
Here’s your “whoa” moment of the day: In a Friday research note, Jan Hatzius and Sven Jari Stehn begged the Federal Reserve to put its foot on the gas already and simply declare that they will do whatever is necessary to get growth back on track (read the whole document here). Who are Jan Hatzius and Sven Jari Stehn, you ask? They’re two of Goldman Sachs’s chief economists. They’re the guys who send economic analyses out to the firm’s paying clients. And they’ve just endorsed a policy that should thrill the 99 percent.
This helps to make the point, I think, that though the Occupy Wall Street folks are right that Wall Street has done a lot of damage to the economy and the top 1 percent have developed a curious ability to prosper while most Americans fall behind, in the long run, almost everyone’s interests are aligned here. Banks and corporations might be able to prosper in a bad economy for a couple of years, but they can’t do it for very long. Indeed, it seems like time might already be running out for Wall Street.
As Annie Lowrey* points out in Slate, the good times look to be over for Wall Street. Profits in the first half of 2011 are projected to be a third of what they were in the first half of 2010. Goldman Sachs is shedding 1,000 workers, and Bank of America is letting go of 30,000. Overall, financial employment in New York is down 20 percent since 2008. The traders who are sticking around aren’t seeing bonuses. The KBW Bank Index, which tracks a composite of bank stocks, has fallen about 30 percent this year.
The point here isn’t to induce sympathy for traders who won’t get a bonus three years after they helped crash the global economy. It’s to say that in the long run, Wall Street can’t prosper if the economy isn’t prospering. That’s true both in a straightforward economic sense — it’s hard to skim the cream when there’s no milk — and in a political sense, as a stagnating economy leads to populist unrest, and populist unrest will lead to policies that hurt Wall Street. That’s what you’re seeing with Occupy Wall Street, and the White House’s effort to adopt parts of their message.
So Wall Street has as much incentive as everyone else to focus on getting the economy back on its feet over the next few years, and this proposal from Hatzius and Stehn would be a good start.
*Full disclosure: Lowrey is, according to the census form I filled out this year, my unmarried domestic partner, and as of this weekend, she will be my married domestic partner.
Why doesn’t the United States care about global warming? That’s a common question nowadays. Poll after poll has found that concern about the climate has tumbled. On the policy front, the United States is doing less than even China and India at this point, as a recent report from HSBC details. Over the weekend, Elisabeth Rosenthal tried to explain America’s carbon exceptionalism in a great piece in the New York Times. As you’d expect, it’s a complex, multi-layered story. But two factors — the Senate and the recession — seem worth highlighting here.
First, there’s the question of “Why hasn’t the United States taken large steps to curtail carbon emissions?” One drudging-but-important reason is that large contentious bills are just plain harder to pass here in the United States. Back in 2009, recall, the House passed climate legislation that was as ambitious as anything Europe has done. A similar bill was at least in the ballpark of garnering support from at least 50 senators. What’s more, the president would’ve signed it. In most countries, majority support from two legislative chambers plus the president are enough to assure a bill’s passage. Not so in the United States. The bill needed 60 votes in the Senate to clear a filibuster. And 60 votes proved too high a bar.
Meanwhile, the second question is: “Institutions aside, why has public concern about global warming dropped in the United States?” And the recession has arguably played an important role here. Economists Matthew Kahn and Matthew Kotchen have teased out this relationship in more detail. An increase in a state’s unemployment rate is associated with a significant decline in the probability that residents think global warming is real. In California, you can see this effect county-by-county: When local unemployment rises, there’s a drop in the number of residents who see global warming as the most important policy issue. Meanwhile, Google searches for “global warming” plummet sharply in a downturn in favor of searches about the economy:
The same thing occurs with media coverage. Graphs like these don’t explain everything about climate policy in the United States. They can’t account for why the Republican Party has rapidly adopted an anti-scientific stance on the issue, for instance. But the recession is a major part of the story.
Kaiser Health News:
Federal funding for medical research, disease prevention and a host of public health initiatives could be sharply reduced if the congressional super committee fails to agree on a deficit-reduction package, triggering automatic cuts.
While the committee can chop Medicaid and Medicare as part of a negotiated agreement, automatic cuts would not affect Medicaid funding; there would be a 2 percent reduction in Medicare payments to hospitals and other providers. That would make the hit to many other programs all the more severe. […]
At stake is federal money that, among other things, helps HIV patients pay for lifesaving medication, funds biomedical research and helps prevent and respond to food borne illnesses and disease outbreaks.
Automatic reductions, for example, could translate into less staff to handle food contamination, said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. Recently, Colorado cantaloupes sickened 116 people in 25 states with listeria, killing 23, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Someone has to go into stores and make sure the stuff has been taken off the shelves. I am very worried about what [automatic cutting] does to the public’s capacity to be safe.”
If the full $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts go into effect, funding for non-defense discretionary programs in 2013 would face reductions of 7.8 percent, dropping each year to 5.5 percent in 2021, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates. Richard Kogan, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, places the first year’s hit at over 9 percent, however.
Health advocates fear deep cuts will harm the public by reducing services and investment in several areas, including:
- Public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is particularly vulnerable because it was hit hard in the last round of budget cuts, according to Benjamin. In fiscal year 2011, federal funding for the CDC declined by $740 million. “They’ve already cut deeply into the bone at CDC,” he said.The agency plays an important role in detecting and responding to emergencies such as tornadoes, hurricanes, food-borne illnesses, and infectious disease outbreaks. It also helps fund state and local public health departments and labs, which Benjamin said is extremely important as states struggle with massive budget deficits. Since 2007, he said, 44,000 jobs in local and state health departments have disappeared. “What ultimately happens is you do less things. You inspect restaurants less. You inspect wells less.”
The CDC also subsidizes the cost of vaccines for uninsured and underinsured children. The prices of standard childhood vaccines are rising, Benjamin said. “The more vaccines we require kids to have, the less money we have to pay for it. If we discovered tomorrow a marvelous new vaccine, we probably wouldn’t have the resources to put that into place.”
Medical research. U.S. investment in biomedical research is beginning to lag behind some other nations, namely China and India, at a time when robust funding could help with job creation, NIH Director Francis Collins said at a May hearing of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education.
Collins said at the hearing that the BGI genome center in Shenzhen, China, “is capable of sequencing more than 10,000 human genomes a year. The capacity of that one Chinese institution now surpasses the combined capacity of all genome sequencing centers in the United States.”
“This critical area of scientific innovation stimulated by the U.S.-led Human Genome Project is now being developed more aggressively in China than it is here — a sobering story indeed and one that I hope would inspire our nation to redouble its efforts on the research front.”
Congress in recent years has given NIH small increases that haven’t kept pace with medical inflation, advocates claim. Funding actually declined in 2006. Lawmakers are still negotiating funding levels for fiscal year 2012, which began Oct. 1. House appropriators are considering a small increase in NIH funding, while their Senate counterparts are contemplating a small reduction. Reductions in NIH funding “will lessen the chance of research breakthroughs in cancer. It will interrupt clinical trials at the National Cancer Institute,” said Dick Woodruff, vice president of federal relations and strategic alliances at the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network.
HIV/AIDS. About 500,000 HIV-infected people currently get help with expensive care and lifesaving medication through the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program. Ronald Johnson, vice president of policy and advocacy at AIDS United, says that automatic cuts would be devastating.
Ryan White help is a last resort for many people who are low-income, uninsured or underinsured. On average, a year’s worth of medication costs about $15,000 to $20,000, and total care for an infected person can run about $100,000, according to Johnson.
He also fears cuts to federal funding that help states provide free or subsidized HIV testing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent $800 million to states in fiscal year 2011.
While the programs’ cost may be significant, they have decreased the spread of AIDS, said Johnson. “If a person gets on treatment early and adheres to it, that person on the whole is less infectious, so the chance of transmission is reduced significantly.”
Disease prevention. Prevention funding in the health law is already under fire, by both Democrats and Republicans. Republicans have pushed to repeal the funding and President Barack Obama said recently that he would support decreasing it by $3.5 billion over 10 years.
The prevention fund has provided money for programs aimed at reducing obesity and tobacco use, among other public health priorities.
Reductions are short-sighted, said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health. “The irony here is that there is so much focus on health care costs, yet there is significant evidence that the kind of prevention programs that the [health law] is supporting can have a positive impact on health care utilization and costs,” he said.
While the House and Senate appropriations committees would decide the initial 2013 funding levels for each agency and program, across-the-board cuts in sequestration would occur on top of the initial funding decisions and apply equally to all non-exempt, non-defense programs within an agency, Kogan said.
Many lobbyists, representing all sectors of the mammoth health care system, say they doubt that the committee of 12 lawmakers will be able to reach consensus on issues that have stumped Congress for decades, including overhauling the tax code and reining in fast-growing entitlement spending. The committee’s deadline for action is Nov. 23, after which Congress would have until Dec. 23 to approve any deal.
In the Wenatchee Valley east of the Cascade Mountains, apple growers have posted their help-wanted signs across the countryside. And for the first time in years, growers in the state have launched a radio campaign, offering pay of $120 to $150 a day, but there have been few takers, much to the governor’s regret.
“We’re not getting anybody to take a bite on these jobs, so we don’t have anybody to do these jobs,” she said Thursday night.
While much of the talk on Capitol Hill is tough, with opponents of illegal immigration vowing to seal the borders, Gregoire said Congress should instead focus on a way to get more foreign workers to help with harvesting in her state, the nation’s top producer of apples.
It’s become an increasingly common refrain this year across the country:
• In Alabama, where a new state law is aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants, the construction, agriculture and poultry industries all report huge shortages of labor.
• A study by the University of Georgia this year found that the state had a shortage of 5,244 workers in the fields.
• In California, farmers have complained of too few workers to pick the avocados.
• In Texas, growers have appealed for more employees to help pick their organic crops and vegetables, with little luck.
Gregoire returned home Friday after leading a 15-member delegation of farm group representatives to Washington. They lobbied members of Congress to oppose a Republican bill that would force employers to use a federal database called E-Verify to determine whether their employees are eligible to work in the United States.
In Washington state, the governor and farm groups want nothing to do with it, for one simple reason: Roughly 66,000 of the 92,000 workers who are needed for seasonal harvests – nearly 72 percent – are “document challenged,” according to the state’s farm groups.
That’s a nice way of saying they’re in the United States illegally.
“With E-Verify, you’re looking at a catastrophic thing that could happen to agriculture as a whole,” said Jon Wyss, president of the Okanogan County Farm Bureau, who accompanied Gregoire on her trip.
Wyss called Washington state “the refrigerator to the world,” noting that it’s the top producer of at least 13 agricultural commodities in the United States that are exported around the globe.
“They go through our ports, and if we don’t have the labor to produce those commodities and get them to the ports, they’re going to go somewhere else,” he said.
Gregoire said it made no sense to rely on E-Verify alone, “without a solution to the overall problem.”
“All we’re going to do is penalize employers. We’re going to lose jobs and we don’t have any way to get those jobs back,” she said in an interview at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, where she and the farm group representatives had met earlier with the office’s chief agricultural negotiator. “Now why – in this recession, as hard-hit as we are – would we, the state of Washington, support that?”
Wyss and other farm group leaders said the labor pool had dried up partly because more migrant workers feared that they’d be detained as the federal government sought to get tough with employers who were relying on illegal labor.
In the first seven months of the year, federal officials reported that they’d already initiated nearly twice as many enforcement cases against businesses as they did in all of 2009. The issue surfaced Friday in Vermont, when a group of migrant farm workers complained that too many police officers in the state were acting like immigration agents.
He is one of New York’s busiest casting directors, yet very few know of his work.
Robert Weston mulled over the possibilities. He knew they would want five people; they always do.
“Javier, Javier Jr., Eddie, Ray,” he said into a cellphone, “and I’ll get another Spanish guy.”
Mr. Weston, 45, was not casting for an Off Broadway production, and his roster of extras would not need Actors’ Equity cards.
For some 15 years, Mr. Weston has been providing the New York Police Departmentwith “fillers” — the five decoys who accompany the suspect in police lineups.
Detectives often find fillers on their own, combing homeless shelters and street corners for willing participants. In a pinch, police officers can shed their uniforms and fill in. But in the Bronx, detectives often pay Mr. Weston $10 to find fillers for them. […]
Across the nation, police lineups are under a fresh round of legal scrutiny, as recent studies have suggested that mistaken identifications in lineups are a leading cause of wrongful convictions, and that witnesses can be steered toward selecting the suspect arrested by the police.
But for all the attention that lineups attract in legal circles, Mr. Weston’s role in finding lineup fillers is largely unknown. Few defense lawyers and prosecutors, though they spar over the admissibility of lineups in court, have heard of him. […]
He often complains about how people hound him for the chance to make a few dollars through lineup work.
“I can’t even play basketball on the courts or sit here and drink a beer,” Mr. Weston said on a recent afternoon. “People are always asking me if there is a lineup.”
Fillers are paid $10 for a local lineup in the Bronx. For each lineup that Mr. Weston fills in the Bronx, he receives $10; he gets more if he sits in as a filler or if his services are required in another borough.
This is Mr. Weston’s primary source of income. Some days he organizes as many as four lineups; on other days, none at all.
These days, the work has slowed.
“There’s not enough crime now,” Mr. Weston said. “But it comes and goes, and there’ll always going to be knuckleheads stealing phones.”
Mr. Weston said he got his start compiling lineups about 15 years ago, when he was interrupted while eating lunch outside in the Bronx. A police officer asked if he would participate in a lineup and if he could find friends, too.
His reputation as someone who could fill a lineup grew, and detectives began to pass around first his beeper number, and later his cellphone number, which is now posted in some squad rooms. The reason detectives prefer him is simple.
“He always picks up his phone,” said one seasoned Bronx detective, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because detectives are not authorized to speak to reporters.
As Mr. Weston’s approach demonstrates, staging a police lineup is hardly an exact science. Mr. Weston said he selected his fillers after detectives told him the sex and skin color of the suspect, and whether the suspect had facial hair.
“Sometimes they want a guy with a full beard,” Mr. Weston said. “I got guys like that.”
Mr. Weston brings the fillers to a designated meeting place on East 137th Street, where detectives pick them up and take them to the detective borough command in the Bronx.
But detectives are not always satisfied.
“Every time I call him and I tell him I need light-skin Hispanic of that description, he always brings dark-skin,” a Bronx homicide detective, Luke Waters, testified earlier this year, according to a court transcript. “He wants to make money as quick as he can, and when he brings them in I don’t like them.”
Detectives said that colleagues sometimes had to remind Mr. Weston that as a middle-aged black man, he could not sit in a lineup for a light-skinned Hispanic man or a much younger suspect.
Still, Mr. Weston said he had appeared in countless lineups over the years.
In the Bronx, detectives have a number of ways to minimize differences in appearance, to encourage selections based on facial features alone. Although dramatized versions of lineups often hew to a familiar scene — think “The Usual Suspects” — the reality is slightly different, at least in the details.
For starters, in the Bronx, at least, the six participants do not stand, but sit on adjustable stools, so everyone appears roughly the same height.
And lineup participants in the Bronx typically wear a knit cap or a Yankees cap so that hairstyles are hidden. But here, the detectives say, they have to be careful: the suspect may pull the cap down over the brow, a gesture that could suggest that this person has something to hide.
“If we didn’t help them, the perp is the guy with the skully over his eyes, every time,” the detective said.
So detectives often instruct the suspect to pull his knit cap to the same place on his forehead as the fillers, the detective added.
Mr. Weston’s lineup fillers fall into four categories: black men, black women, Hispanic men and Hispanic women. He said he had no candidates to match a white suspect of either sex. “They call me for that, and I don’t have that,” Mr. Weston said. “They go to the homeless shelter for white guys.”
Investors in News Corporation, the scandal-plagued parent company of Fox News owned by Rupert Murdoch, are calling for a shake-up ahead of the company’s annual meeting in Los Angeles later this week that includes removing Murdoch as CEO and voting him and his sons off of the company’s 15-member board of directors. Proxy advisory firms in Britain and the United States, as well as large pension funds in both countries, have advised shareholders to vote against the Murdochs and other sitting board members at a board meeting Friday, ABC News reports:
Proxy advisory firm Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS), whose clients are investors including pension and mutual funds, recommended that shareholders vote against the re-election of 13 News Corp. board members at the board meeting Friday in Los Angeles.
ISS said in its report: “The company’s phone hacking scandal, which began its public denouement in July 2011, has laid bare a striking lack of stewardship and failure of independence by a board whose inability to set a strong tone-at-the-top about unethical business practices has now resulted in enormous costs.”
The California State Teachers’ Retirement System and California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), both invested in News Corp., have also called on Murdoch to step down, and Britain’s Local Authority Pension Fund Forum issued a similar call. CalPERS is the largestpension fund in the country with $225 billion in assets and about 1.45 million News Corp shares.
Last week, reports surfaced that scandal had spread to News Corps. flagship newspaper, The Wall Street Journal. The Journal’s European division reportedly pumped up circulation numbersartificially, leading to the resignation of Andrew Langhoff, the European director of Dow Jones and Co., a News Corp. subsidiary that owns the Journal. News Corp., meanwhile, continues to face investigations from both the British and American governments for phone-hacking scandals and potential violations of American law that ensued, as well as allegations that its reporters hacked into phones used by the families of 9/11 victims.
News Corp. responded to the ouster calls, saying ISS and other investors were putting a “disproportionate focus” on the scandals and that it is taking the investigations “very seriously.” “However,” the company said in a statement, “our broad, diverse group of businesses across the globe is extremely strong today.”
CNN is making a great deal of its new poll’s finding that 63 percent think Obama’s policies “will fail,” but people weren’t asked why they thought this (bad policy, or GOP obstructionism?), so we aren’t really being told the whole story here.
In fairness, though, that number is a good indicator of public pessimism, which will likely end up costing Obama.
* And: The internals of the CNN poll also show (again) broad majority support for the provisions in Obama’s jobs plan, and for tax hikes on millionaires.
President Obama spoke in Asheville this morning, as part of the kick off of his bus tour through North Carolina and Virginia, and delivered his jobs speech to a fairly receptive audience. This time, however, he added a new section to his speech, taking advantage of recent developments in the Senate.
After noting that independent economists have projected the American Jobs Act would create nearly 2 million jobs, the president noted, “[I]t turns out one poll found that 63 percent of Americans support the ideas in this jobs bill. So 63 percent of Americans support the jobs bill that I put forward; 100 percent of Republicans in the Senate voted against it. That doesn’t make any sense, does it?”
Obama turned his attention to the new GOP alternative.
“Now, it turns out that the Republicans have a plan, too. I want to be fair. They call — they put forward this plan last week. They called it the ‘Real American Jobs Act.’ The ‘real one’ — that’s what they called it — just in case you were wondering.
“So let’s take a look at what the Republican American jobs act looks like. It turns out the Republican plan boils down to a few basic ideas: They want to gut regulations; they want to let Wall Street do whatever it wants. They want to drill more. And they want to repeal health care reform. That’s their jobs plan.”
Obama proceeded to play a little compare and contrast. Republicans want to help industries pollute; Dems want to put teachers back to work. Republicans want to gut the health care system; Dems think it won’t help the economy to take Americans’ coverage away. And so on.
This is precisely why Democrats have been pleading with GOP lawmakers to present a jobs plan — not just because Dems wanted a target, but because they knew the Republican approach would be a joke, especially when compared to the popular, economist-backed Democratic plan.
Republicans assumed they’d at least get a talking point out of this — those big meanies at the White House keep saying there’s no GOP jobs plan, so Republicans will prove them wrong. But this assumption was backwards — Republicans have given Obama a talking point, allowing him to mock the pathetic GOP agenda and use it prove why Republicans lack any and all credibility on the subject.
The president, referencing analysis published by Greg Sargent last week, added, “[R]emember those independent economists who said our plan would create jobs, maybe as many as almost 2 million jobs, grow the economy by as much as 2 percent? So one of the same economists that took a look at our plan took a look at the Republican plan, and they said, ‘Well, this won’t do much to help the economy in the short term — it could actually cost us jobs.’ We could actually lose jobs with their plan. So I’ll let you decide which plan is the real American Jobs Act.”
Here’s hoping political reporters were paying attention to this. As Greg reported today, “Multiple news orgs reported extensively on the Senate GOP’s jobs plan without soliciting the views of private economists on whether it will do what Republicans say it will do — create growth and jobs. So, a question: Shouldn’t the view of economists on this rather important question — whether Republicans are making a legitimate contribution to the debate about what to do about the short term economic crisis — be part of the discussion here?”
That need not be a rhetorical question. This isn’t a matter of opinion; we’re talking about demonstrable facts, as bolstered by independent economic analysis: the White House jobs plan would make an immediate, positive difference, and the Republican jobs plan wouldn’t help at all.
From a solely political perspective, is there any angle to the debate over jobs that’s more important than this?
Rick Perry received the most favorable coverage of any candidate for president during the first five months of the race, but now Herman Cain is enjoying that distinction, according to a new survey which combines traditional research methods and computer algorithmic technology to code the level and tone of news coverage.
Perry lost the mantle of the candidate enjoying the most favorable treatment to Herman Cain two weeks ago, after the Florida straw poll in which Cain scored a surprise victory. Meanwhile, though he has often led in the polls, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has received less coverage and less positive coverage than the shifting casts of frontrunners — and that remains true even now. He ranks second in the amount of attention received, and the tone of that narrative has been unwaveringly mixed.
One man running for president has suffered the most unrelentingly negative treatment of all: Barack Obama. Though covered largely as president rather than a candidate, negative assessments of Obama have outweighed positive by a ratio of almost 4-to-1. The assessments of the president in the media were substantially more negative than positive in every one of the 23 weeks studied. In no week during these five months was more than 10% of the coverage about the President positive in tone.
These are some of the findings of the study, which combines PEJ’s ongoing weekly content analysis with computer algorithmic technology developed by Crimson Hexagon. The report introduces a new research tool for the Pew Research Center, which will continue to track the level and tone of coverage of the candidates throughout the campaign.
The study includes sections on each of 10 GOP figures as well as the president. It also contains a separate analysis of blogs. In that sphere, Ron Paul, the least covered candidate in the news, is the most favored contender.
President Obama is removing the last of the U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year.
BAGHDAD (AP) — The U.S. is abandoning plans to keep U.S. troops in Iraq past a year-end withdrawal deadline, The Associated Press has learned. The decision to pull out fully by January will effectively end more than eight years of U.S. involvement in the Iraq war, despite ongoing concerns about its security forces and the potential for instability.
Of course this will mean nothing to the far-left anti-Obama screechers who will entirely ignore the fact that he ended the war. Ended it — full stop. A major and very liberal campaign promise fulfilled and some on the left will continue to mope around like the president ran over their dogs while wearing a cowboy hat and doing his best George W. Bush “eh-eh-eh” laugh.
I was reading some of the comments under this post and wanted to clarify an important point. I’m part of the “far–left.” I consider myself quite liberal, with only a couple of exceptions. Anyone who has been reading my stuff for the last six years will probably agree.
However, I also consider myself to be a pragmatist with a strong sense of history. I understand the slow, incremental functioning of American politics and government, and if there’s a favorable administration — an administration that’s endeavoring to slowly move the country leftward, as the Obama Team is doing — I refuse to undermine that effort, though I will try to present an honest assessment of mistakes that are made along the way.
Some fellow leftists would rather augment their political-hipster cred by falling in line with a group of writers and activists whose career goals depend upon ignoring the successes — even the liberal successes — of the Obama presidency. They engage in whiny and unreasonable foot-stomping under the guise of holding the president accountable. As I’ve always said, accountability is important, but this subgroup is utterly failing to present a fair evaluation of the Obama Team, and, consequently, they’re only breeding counterproductive disillusionment.
If this subgroup represents the whole of the “far-left,” then maybe I’m not, in fact, someone who is far-left. I believe that we can encourage the president to keep pushing leftward without convincing other members of the far-left to either stay home or to support a pathetic third party.
As part of this effort, I believe we ought to be spending our time convincing voters on the ground that progressivism is the better approach to American government, and how our current problems are due to right-leaning Reaganomics. Once we convince voters, Democratic politicians will feel safer promoting liberal policies.
If you’re unable to see the value in this approach, convince me of a better one — an approach that will realistically create a more rapid and successful leftward push. I’m listening.
Democrats in the Senate will this week start to advance elements of President Obama’s $447 billion jobs plan piece-by-piece, challenging Republicans who have already nixed the package as a whole to likewise take vote after vote against its various planks.
They’ll start with a proposal to provide $35 billion for state and local governments for teacher and first responder salaries, an element of the plan Democrats wager will be popular with the public but is also likely to draw particular Republican opposition.
The measure would be paid for with a 0.5 percent surtax on millionaires, similar to the 5.6 percent tax on those making more than a million annually that Senate Democrats had proposed using to pay for the president’s whole jobs package.
Republicans have derided the state funding as a repeat of the 2009 stimulus bill, which also included billions in state aid.
Unlike other elements of the president’s plan which could draw some GOP votes, like extending a payroll tax holiday for workers, the aid for states is likely to face a unified front of Republican opposition.
“Maybe they just couldn’t understand the whole thing all at once,” Obama said of Congress Monday in Asheville, as he kicked-off a three- day bus tour through North Carolina and Virginia in support of the plans. “So we’re going to break it up into bite- sized pieces, so they— they can take— take a thoughtful approach to this legislation.”
“We’re going to give members of Congress another chance to step up to the plate and do the right thing,” he said.
The piece under Senate consideration this week, he said, would offer Congress a choice whether to stand with teachers, firefighters and police officers.
“If they vote against taking steps that we know will put Americans back to work right now. . .then they’re not going to have to answer to me. They’re going to have to answer to you,” Obama said.
The White House has said the money—$30 billion for schools and $5 billion for fire and police forces—could keep 400,000 teachers and first responders on the job.
Republicans counter that the dollars will simply let states shift dollars from their education budgets to other priorities and avoid making tough cutting choices forced by the sluggish economy.
They do not believe the funding will help spur a recovery and say states will have to cut even more deeply after the federal funding runs out and their tax revenues are still not rising.
In a Sept. 16 memo designed to outline possible areas of agreement with the president, House GOP leaders rejected the $35 billion for states outright, saying similar 2009 funding was a “band-aid approach [that] masked over the true fiscal problems facing states and local governments.”
Sen. Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters on a conference call Monday that the dollars would help schools that have seen class sizes expand, after school programs ended, art and P.E. eliminated and year-round school halted due to budget cuts.
He insisted the 2009 stimulus measure had indeed slowed the loss of jobs from state and local governments. “These programs have worked in the past. The Republicans know that they’ve worked in the past,” Reid said.
He said he would bring the bill to the floor Monday and would proceed to a vote soon, as the Senate also juggles an appropriations measure sought by both parties.
“We’ll decide in the next day or so when we’re going to vote,” he said, indicating that he plans to hold one vote a week on difference parts of the president’s plan.
Reid suggested he could keep the Senate in session during a scheduled recess next week to ensure a vote on the jobs bill.
“I am happy to keep the Senate in session as long as needed to make sure we get a vote on this jobs bill,” he said.
From the “It was a good idea at the time” file comes this photo from the Boston Globe of Mitt Romney during his Bain Capital days. Look at all that cash Romney and the fellas are flashing. I’m sure there’s a rap song that would perfectly compliment it. Something about Benjamins or “making it rain” or something.
NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF:
IT’S fascinating that many Americans intuitively understood the outrage and frustration that drove Egyptians to protest at Tahrir Square, but don’t comprehend similar resentments that drive disgruntled fellow citizens to “occupy Wall Street.”
There are differences, of course: the New York Police Department isn’t dispatching camels to run down protesters. Americans may feel disenfranchised, but we do live in a democracy, a flawed democracy — which is the best hope for Egypt’s evolution in the coming years.
Yet my interviews with protesters in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park seemed to rhyme with my interviews in Tahrir earlier this year. There’s a parallel sense that the political/economic system is tilted against the 99 percent. Al Gore, who supports the Wall Street protests, described them perfectly as a “primal scream of democracy.”
The frustration in America isn’t so much with inequality in the political and legal worlds, as it was in Arab countries, although those are concerns too. Here the critical issue is economic inequity. According to the C.I.A.’s own ranking of countries by income inequality, the United States is more unequal a society than either Tunisia or Egypt.
Three factoids underscore that inequality:
–The 400 wealthiest Americans have a greater combined net worth than the bottom 150 million Americans.
–The top 1 percent of Americans possess more wealth than the entire bottom 90 percent.
–In the Bush expansion from 2002 to 2007, 65 percent of economic gains went to the richest 1 percent.
As my Times colleague Catherine Rampell noted a few days ago, in 1981, the average salary in the securities industry in New York City was twice the average in other private sector jobs. At last count, in 2010, it was 5.5 times as much. (In case you want to gnash your teeth, the average is now $361,330.)
More broadly, there’s a growing sense that lopsided outcomes are a result of tycoons’ manipulating the system, lobbying for loopholes and getting away with murder. Of the 100 highest-paid chief executives in the United States in 2010, 25 took home more pay than their company paid in federal corporate income taxes, according to the Institute for Policy Studies.
Living under Communism in China made me a fervent enthusiast of capitalism. I believe that over the last couple of centuries banks have enormously raised living standards in the West by allocating capital to more efficient uses. But anyone who believes in markets should be outraged that banks rig the system so that they enjoy profits in good years and bailouts in bad years.
The banks have gotten away with privatizing profits and socializing risks, and that’s just another form of bank robbery.
“We have a catastrophically bad misregulation of the financial system,” said Amar Bhidé, a finance expert at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. “Its consequences led to a taint of the entire system of modern enterprise.”
Economists used to believe that we had to hold our noses and put up with high inequality as the price of robust growth. But more recent research suggests the opposite: inequality not only stinks, but also damages economies.
In his important new book, “The Darwin Economy,” Robert H. Frank of Cornell University cites a study showing that among 65 industrial nations, the more unequal ones experience slower growth on average. Likewise, individual countries grow more rapidly in periods when incomes are more equal, and slow down when incomes are skewed.
That’s certainly true of the United States. We enjoyed considerable equality from the 1940s through the 1970s, and growth was strong. Since then inequality has surged, and growth has slowed.
One reason may be that inequality is linked to financial distress and financial crises. There is mounting evidence that inequality leads to bankruptcies and to financial panics.
“The recent global economic crisis, with its roots in U.S. financial markets, may have resulted, in part at least, from the increase in inequality,” Andrew G. Berg and Jonathan D. Ostry of the International Monetary Fund wrote last month. They argued that “equality appears to be an important ingredient in promoting and sustaining growth.”
Inequality also leads to early deaths and more divorces — a reminder that we’re talking not about data sets here, but about human beings.
Some critics think that Occupy Wall Street is simply tapping into the public’s resentment and covetousness, nurturing class warfare. Sure, there’s a dollop of envy. But inequality is also a cancer on our national well-being.
I don’t know whether the Occupy Wall Street movement will survive once Zuccotti Park fills with snow and the novelty wears off. But I do hope that the protesters have lofted the issue of inequality onto our national agenda to stay — and to grapple with in the 2012 election year.
Nate Silver, 538:
The way that I studied this was to search through hundreds of local news accounts for credible estimates of the crowd sizes for each gathering. Where possible, I used estimates provided by reporters or public safety officials rather than the protesters themselves as they are less subject to exaggeration. In some cases, there were multiple estimates of the size of the protest in a given city — they ranged, for instance, from about 5,000 to 15,000 for the New York protests — in which case I used the median estimate.
This exercise is meant, in part, to provide a comparison to the crowds that gathered for the first widespread Tea Party protests on April 15, 2009, for which I adopted a similar approach and came up with an estimate of at least 300,000 protesters across the country.
Nevertheless, based on the median estimates for the cities, I arrived at an overall total of about 70,000 protesters who were documented as having been active on Saturday throughout the United States.
This is very probably an underestimate — there were some protests that were noted in news accounts but without any firm estimates of crowd size. But I’m fairly certain that I captured most of the larger protests. The true overall figure might have been somewhere on the order of 100,000 protesters. That’s pretty big, but not as big as the largest day of Tea Party protests in 2009, nor other recent protests like the pro-immigration gatherings of 2006, which accounted for about 500,000 people in Los Angeles alone.
It should be cautioned that the comparisons are not quite apples to apples. Although Oct. 15 was a focal point for many protesters, the Occupy groups are far more decentralized than even the Tea Party movement and the extent to which a concerted effort was made to turn out a large crowd varied a lot from city to city. Some cities also had larger gatherings before the ones held on Saturday.
(People who want to see or expand upon the raw data can find it in an Excel spreadsheet here. Disclaimer: it is provided ‘as is’ and I am unlikely to do any further work on crowd-counting.)
Nevertheless, the data is in reasonable enough shape that we should be able to make some inferences about the types of cities in which the largest numbers of protesters were gathered. They tended to be in West.
Over all, about 38,000 protesters — more than half of the documented total — turned out in the Western Census Bureau Region, which accounts for about 23 percent of the country’s population. On a per-capita basis, the West drew about two-and-a-half times more protesters than the Northeast, four times more than the Midwest, and five times more than the South. And it wasn’t necessarily in large cities — although places like Los Angeles and Seattle had large crowds, so did the wine-and-cheese town of Santa Rosa, Calif., and the college town of Eugene, Ore., among others.
This could be due to a number of factors. Perhaps it has something to do with race, for instance. Cities whereAfrican-Americans make up a majority of the population, like Detroit, New Orleans and Cleveland, have tended to have underwhelming numbers of protesters and poorly organized Occupy groups. (There are plenty of those cities in the South, the Northeast and even the Midwest — but not really in the western United States).
Or maybe it has something to do with technology: Much of the organizational activity for the Occupy movement has taken place online, and the West Coast is particularly tech-savvy.
I suspect that more than anything, however, it reflects the politics of the protesters. Specifically, they tend to be more liberal than they are Democratic partisans. Take liberalism, subtract the Democratic Party, and the remainder might look something like Occupy Wall Street.
So perhaps the protesters are more ideologically minded than they are interested in partisan politics. In fact, they may be relatively disengaged from “politics as usual.” In a somewhat informal New York magazine survey of 100 protesters in Manhattan, only 39 percent reported having voted in the 2010 midterm elections.
All of this could create headaches for the Democratic Party — and for the protesters — if it tries to co-opt the Occupy movement.
Then again, there are some parallels between the Occupy protests and the Tea Party, which especially at first was more representative of a certain strand of conservatism than it was the Republican Party. The Tea Party has become somewhat unpopular now — but Americans had warmer views of it initially, something which is now true of the Occupy protests.
Perhaps it’s the lack of overt partisanship that people are responding favorably to.
Perhaps, even, ‘post-partisanship’ will emerge from the left and right of the country rather than from the center.
So far, despite Occupy Wall Street’s name, its energy seems to be coming from the left coast.
Juan Williams, The Hill:
[…] According to a new study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law, 5 million eligible voters — overwhelmingly young people and minorities — are likely to be barred from voting in the 2012 elections because of laws being ginned up by Republican governors and state legislators across the country.
These new laws include unprecedented requirements for photo identification and proof of citizenship. It is no secret that 10 percent of all Americans don’t have government-issued identification and that this includes nearly 20 percent of young voters and 25 percent of black voters.
In several states the new laws also eliminate early voting and same-day registration. These laws are being called for as necessary steps to halt voter fraud. But there is no evidence of even a small amount of voter fraud anywhere in the United States. Under President Bush the Justice Department pushed federal prosecutors to find voter fraud and they came up empty.
“There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today,” former President Clinton said in July.
The Brennan study points to 38 states where these new anti-voting laws have emerged in the last year. These include 2012 battleground states like Florida, Ohio and North Carolina.
Florida is the center of the GOP’s battle against the wave of new voters who lean to the Democrats.
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee drew laughs at a fundraiser in support of an Ohio labor initiative by telling guests that they should resort to deceit to keep their political foes away from the polls.
Issue 2 is a Wisconsin-style measure to roll back public employee unions, a hard-fought and deeply partisan question in the state, and Huckabee spoke at a Warren County breakfast for the group that backs it, Building a Better Ohio.
“Make a list. Call them and ask them, ‘Are you going to vote for Issue 2 and are you going to vote for it?'” Huckabee advised, according to an audio recording provided by a foe of the initiative. “If they say no, well, you just make sure that they don’t go vote. Let the air out of their tires on election day. Tell them the election has been moved to a different date. That’s up to you how you creatively get the job done.”
[Note: this is a stupid survey, but it’s the one Pew Research uses to determine political affiliation. If this is how they determine attitudes, can we trust polling at all?]
Partisan Dividing Line: Views of Government
The new typology finds a deep and continuing divide between the two parties, as well as differences within both partisan coalitions. But the nature of the partisan divide has changed substantially over time.
More than in the recent past, attitudes about government separate Democrats from Republicans, and it is these beliefs that are most correlated with political preferences looking ahead to 2012. In 2005, at the height of the Iraq war and shortly after an election in which national security was a dominant issue, opinions about assertiveness in foreign affairs almost completely distinguished Democrats from Republicans. Partisan divisions over national security remain, but in an era when the public’s focus is more inward-looking, they are less pronounced.
As in recent years, beliefs about the environment, business, immigration and the challenges faced by African Americans are important fissures between the parties, though to some extent within them as well.
In general, there is far more agreement across the two core GOP groups than the three core Democratic groups. Staunch Conservatives and Main Street Republicans express highly critical opinions about government performance and are both deeply skeptical of increased governmentaid to the poor if it means adding to the debt.
Yet Staunch Conservatives have much more positive opinions about business than do Main Street Republicans. Attitudes about the environment also divide the two core GOP groups: 92% of Staunch Conservatives say that stricter environmental laws cost too many jobs and hurt the economy; just 22% of Main Street Republicans agree.
The differences among core Democratic groups show up across a wider range of fundamental political values. Social and moral issues divide Solid Liberals, who are more secular, from other Democratic groups who are much more religious.
Opinions about business, immigration and the economic impact of environmental laws and regulations also divide the Democratic groups. For instance, more than half of Hard-Pressed Democrats (54%) say that stricter environmental laws and regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy; just 22% of New Coalition Democrats and 7% of Solid Liberals share this view.
Race and ethnicity are factors in some of the opinion differences among Democrats. New Coalition Democrats, who are roughly a quarter Hispanic, have positive views of immigrants. Fully 70% say immigrants strengthen the country because oftheir hard work and talents.
Hard-Pressed Democrats – who are mostly white and African American – take a dim view of immigrants’ contributions. Just 13% say immigrants strengthen the country, while 76% say they are a burden because they take jobs and health care.
Age also is a factor in partisanship and political values. Younger people are more numerous on the left, and older people on the right. However, many young people think of themselves as independents rather than as Democrats. Post-Moderns, Democratic-oriented independents, are by far the youngest group in the typology, but they often deviate from traditional Democratic orthodoxy and are not consistent voters.
Older people, who have increasingly voted Republican in recent years, are found disproportionately in the Staunch Conservative bloc – 61% are 50 or older. And this group is highly politically engaged; 75% say they follow government and public affairs most of the time.
Staunch Conservatives also include by far the largest share of Tea Party supporters – 72% of Staunch Conservatives agree with the movement. The Tea Party’s appeal is deeper than it is wide. There is no other typology group in which a majority agrees with the Tea Party. Aside from Staunch Conservatives, Libertarians are most supportive (44% agree).
The survey suggests that while the Tea Party is a galvanizing force on the right, strong disapproval of Barack Obama is an even more powerful unifying factor among fervent conservatives. No fewer than 84% of Staunch Conservatives strongly disapprove of Obama’s job performance and 70% rate him very unfavorably personally. Ardent support for Obama on the left is no match for this – 64% of Solid Liberals strongly approve of him, and 45% rate him very favorably.
More than two years into office, Obama’s personal image is positive though his job approval ratings are mixed. Yet doubts about Obama’s background and biography persist. More than one-in-five Americans (23%) say, incorrectly, that Obama was born outside the United States; another 22% are not sure where Obama was born. Nearly half of Staunch Conservatives (47%) and 35% of Main Street Republicans say that Obama was born in another country. Only among Solid Liberals is there near total agreement that Obama was, in fact, born in the United States (95%). (NOTE: The survey was conducted before President Obama released his long-form birth certificate on April 27.)
Garret Epps, American Prospect:
[…] In the family constellation I carry in my heart, the Constitution is not and never has been abusive. It is neither an idol nor a love object to whose flaws I am blind. At times it is like my Uncle George, who used to give me a quarter after church, tousle my hair, and tell me to run along. Other times it is like Uncle Jack, who was pretty much all right until he had two drinks and began singing the VMI fight song. At times it is more like my Cousin Bill, who claimed to be a Costa Rican colonel, sometimes wore a lightning-striped toupee, and put his pet chipmunk down Cousin Chicky’s bridal gown at the wedding reception. At times it surely has retarded political goals I think should have been won, blunting social change that might improve the lives of those I love.
That is not all the Constitution has done for me. It is not even the most important thing. For I believe the Constitution saved, if not my life, at least its promise and the promise of the lives of those among whom I grew up.In a moment of great need, the Constitution—belatedly, even reluctantly, but nonetheless decisively—came to my rescue. As a result, I have my own passions about the Constitution. It may be a strange parent, but it is not an abusive one.
My story is not unique to me. It is the story of one region and two races that, not long ago, lived in a place where the Constitution did not apply. This was once vivid in the public mind, seared in place by televised images of dogs biting helpless women and fire hoses knocking down children. It is fading. Some who witnessed it have died; others have forgotten; and some have always stood ready to deny the depth of the evil that was overcome and the scope of the victory that was won.
“I just don’t remember it as being that bad,” Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour recently said about segregation. Haley Barbour and I are of the same generation, and, like him, I was a designated beneficiary of the segregated system. I remember it vividly.
Understand what segregation was: a radical new system locked in place between 1890 and 1912 to contain the forces of democracy and separate the South from the rest of the nation. It was not an antiquated vestige of the old slave South—something Southerners just forgot to clean up after the Civil War—but a modern, thoroughgoing racial dictatorship as oppressive as South African apartheid.
The separate drinking fountains and restrooms, while horrible, were the least of that system’s effects. The heart of the system was not enforcedseparation of the races but systematic, violent subordination of one to the other. Black citizens in the South were excluded from public life; they were denied the vote; they held no offices; they were given only limited access to the courts; they were economically exploited by whites under the color of law. Official violence maintained white supremacy, and if that failed, extralegal violence was also waiting—and law enforcement often made no effort to stop violence and even murder when it was directed against black people.
The system oppressed both black and white—not equally, but it oppressed both nonetheless. I grew up in a genteel part of a relatively civilized state of the Old South, but even so, the threat of racial violence was always in the air. We didn’t talk about it much, but all of us, black and white, knew it was there. No one, white or black, was allowed to question the “system”; those who did ran enormous risks. Dissent—white or black—could mean social ostracism, economic ruin, or physical danger. As in any dictatorship, the education I received at my segregated school was systematically shaped to reinforce the official racist ideology. Public officials, government sources, and the local news media ceaselessly repeated the official propaganda message, which was (as my hometown editor, James J. Kilpatrick, wrote in 1962), “From the dawn of civilization to the middle of the twentieth century, the Negro race, as a race, has contributed no more than a few grains of sand to the enduring monuments of mankind.”
Few people or institutions defied the system; some worked around it to inject some humanity into daily life. Many whites were what we called “decent folk.” My family fell into this category. My parents were people of powerful goodwill who in their public lives modeled tolerance and kindness and who, by the time they died, had formed deep alliances across the color line. But in private, for years, our family lived a life defined by racial separation—our church, our schools, our clubs, our jobs—and when white peers spoke in ways that “decent folk” did not, we lacked the vocabulary to rebuke them. I can recall the long lectures my grade-school teachers delivered about the need to keep black people in their place and the mornings my father stopped to offer a ride to another lawyer (one who had been part of the defense team in Brown v. Board of Education), who subjected us to vulgar fulminations against n—–s and meddling Yankees who were making trouble for us all.
This fetid system was in place because those charged with guarding the Constitution winked at it. Southern whites, though, always knew that they were violating the nation’s fundamental law. “We have been very careful to obey the letter of the federal Constitution,” Senator Walter F. George of Georgia explained early in the 20th century. “But we have been very diligent in violating the spirit of such amendments and such statutes as would have a Negro to believe himself the equal of a white man.”
The Congress and the Supreme Court had allowed this charade to be carried forward: “separate but equal” jargon justifying grossly unequal institutions; “nonracial” literacy tests and poll taxes “coincidentally” producing all-white electorates; imaginary “states’ rights” smothering the textually guaranteed rights of free speech and equal protection. The old Confederate states were allowed to wall themselves off into separate suffocating satrapies that seemed, when I was a boy, destined to stand forever.
These safeguards of segregation were not features of the Constitution but perversions and defiance of it—conscious violations of the spirit, as Senator George so cheerfully confessed. They were locked in place by men who believed the Constitution was just words on paper. But those words on paper brought this system down.
I was born in 1950. When I was 4, the Supreme Court shocked the South with Brown v. Board of Education, which said, “In the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” When I was 5, the 26-year-old Martin Luther King Jr. told the Montgomery Improvement Association, “If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong.” When I was 9, college students in Greensboro, North Carolina, sat politely at a Woolworth’s lunch counter and demanded to be served. When I was 14, two-thirds of the members of the United States Senate broke a Southern filibuster and enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When I was 15, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. When I was 16, I worked as a volunteer in something many Southerners had for generations only dreamed about—a contested election in which people of both races could vote and the ruling party’s chosen candidate actually lost.
The Southern wall had crumbled. Many injustices remained; nonetheless, white and black, we were, ambiguously, free at last.
The Constitution did this for me. That may seem to some critics like a small respite in a history of abuse, but to me it was a gift of full membership in the national family. Governor Barbour may not want to remember, but I will never forget.
In the years since the walls came down, an industry of political scientists has grown up to explain that Brown v. Board really didn’t accomplish much. But, in this case, I was there. Brown did something remarkable. No longer could white Southerners ask, “How can we maintain our special system?” They had to—and they did—begin to ask, “Are we defying the Constitution?”
The next ten years were an extraordinary period: Everywhere I went as a boy, I found white people—young, old, lawyers, laypeople, Northern, Southern—arguing about the Constitution. Most of the people I knew were angrily asserting that segregation was constitutional, but after Brown, the idea of racial equality had jumped the color line and become a question whites could not ignore. When King in 1955 proclaimed, “If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong,” whites were no longer laughing. Their inner certainty was shattered.
The greatest heroes of the civil-rights movement were the black Southerners, young and old, who hurled themselves against the wall of color. There was also another group of more ambiguous heroes—the federal judges of the South, whom author J.W. Peltason calls the “fifty-eight lonely men” of that era. Children of segregation (how could they have gotten to be judges otherwise?), they were charged by the Supreme Court with enforcing Brown and given little guidance on how to do so. The law and the Constitution made some (not all) of them, willingly or not, stewards of justice, imperfect but powerful. Eventually, men like John Minor Wisdom, J. Skelly Wright, Robert R. Merhige, and Frank M. Johnson Jr. achieved a kind of prophetic isolation; from that lonely place, they worked to transform the society that had spawned them.
I did not know King or John Lewis or Ella Baker, but I knew some federal judges, and I saw the price they paid to remain true to their oaths. (One told me of finding his dog on the lawn, its throat cut.) In the midst of great danger, often against their own inclination, they too became heroes—and to me, they remain so.
It is easy to claim that the civil-rights movement failed. The South didn’t become the “beloved community” of which King spoke, a democratic society where citizens are bound together not only by law but by mutual regard. Racial and social divisions scar our national life. Today’s South is too often governed by white thugs like Haley Barbour.
White college students complain that minority students “segregate” themselves in dining and residence halls. Former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor even described white voters, placed in a strange-shaped voting district that was “only” 45 percent white, as injured by “an effort to segregate the races.” Those who speak this way do not remember. Segregation was not partial separation but total exclusion; it was not social reticence but proscription enforced by violence; it was not flawed democracy but successful dictatorship; it was not whites being in a slight minority but blacks having no vote at all.
I still remember, and I remember that the Constitution, for all its flaws, played a major role in bringing me and the place where I grew up out of darkness and into membership in a democratic national society. It was not the Constitution alone—if provisions and amendments alone could have done it, then the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments would surely have brought the Jubilee. One factor in the decline of Southern resistance, however, was a sense of shared loyalty to the Constitution, one that was forged over generations. This “constitutional faith,” to use one of Levinson’s most memorable phrases, would not easily have been transferred to a new Constitution, no matter how cleverly designed by a current assembly of notables. Its absence would have reduced the struggle to naked force, with no underlying appeal to shared values.
It is the power of constitutional faith—the power to constrain us toward outcomes we may oppose or even fear—that I revere about the Constitution. The amended Constitution that exists on the page—the document I read—is for all its flaws and gerrymanders a progressive document, making the American states one nation, placing that nation under the governance of a Congress elected by the people, empowering that Congress to act for the common good, restraining states from blocking the common good for parochial reasons. That document, as amended, embodies the progressive ideas of human equality, of human dignity safeguarded by due process and “equal protection of the laws.”
The far right is now stealing the Constitution in plain sight. I don’t speak here of ordinary conservatives who may differ with me on the scope of the Commerce Power or the meaning of the 11th Amendment but of the Bachmanns, the Perrys, the Pauls (father and son). These charlatans are not being answered as they should be, in part because too many progressives see only the imperfection and shame in the Constitution’s history and blind themselves to the promise of its text.
Last year, on the 37th anniversary of the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” the National Mall was filled with participants in Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally. I went to the Mall and stood among the marchers and heard them discussing the horrors of immigration, the “tyranny” of an elected Congress, the rapture of guns, the satanic evil of Barack Obama. I felt a profound disquiet, not least because I spoke to many of them individually and found that these were, by and large, lovely people, Americans from small towns who were, in my judgment, being led astray—fed lies about their history and their Constitution—by people who should know better.
To restore my soul, I left the march and walked to the National Museum of American History, on the north side of the Mall. In a second-floor exhibit hall, the museum displays the original lunch counter from the Woolworth’s store in Greensboro where the first sit-in occurred in 1960. That lunch counter—like the Liberty Bell, the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, the wall atop Cemetery Ridge, Ford’s Theatre, and the Stonewall Inn—is an inescapable part of our constitutional heritage. These physical things tie the words on the Constitution’s page to our lives in a way that we could never reproduce even with the most brilliant new Constitution. These places and objects are outward and visible signs of the inward grace that constitutional faith can sometimes produce, of the transformative potential, present always in American history, of dry words on paper.
I stood in front of the lunch counter and thought of the poisonous twaddle being pushed on the Mall behind me. I think now of the corrosive agenda of the right wing, which in many ways is the same agenda the Constitution’s opponents have followed since 1787: sanctioned inequality, theocracy, localism, xenophobia, legalized exploitation. Today, their hostility masquerades as reverence. They dare to accuse patriots of treason; they demand obeisance to an imagined Constitution; they plot the destruction of the real one.
I made a vow: Let others dream of constitutional conventions. As for me and my house, we will serve this Constitution.
Beltway wisdom would have it that Occupy Wall Street protesters are pierced, pot-smoking hippies reviled by heartland Americans. That view hasn’t been supported by polling; several polls have found positive favorability for Occupy Wall Street,and when PPP polled the issue for Daily Kos, people earning less than$50,000 had a net positive view of the protests, as did people earning more than $100,000.
Now, Greg Sargent offers another metric:
Working America, the affiliate of the AFL-CIO that organizes workers from non-union workplaces, has signed up approximately 25,000 new recruits in the last week alone, thanks largely to the high visibility of the protests.
Karen Nussbaum, the executive director of Working America, tells me that this actually dwarfs their most successful recruiting during the Wisconsin protests. “In so many ways, Wisconsin was a preview of what we’re now seeing,” Nussbaum says. “We thought it was big when we got 20,000 members in a month during the Wisconsin protests. This shows how much bigger this is.” [….]
Nussbaum says that her organizers report that new recruits often mention the protests in a positive light, even though they have very little in common in cultural terms.
It’s something of an understatement to say that Working America members have “very little in common in cultural terms” with at least the stereotypical view of the Occupy protester: 60 percent of Working America members identify as moderate or conservative (PDF); they’re drawn from working-class and lower-middle-class neighborhoods in states like Ohio, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania; and field organizers often find themselves talking to people who have Fox News on in the background.
This may be a sign of the success of the Occupy movement not having a concrete set of demands. If they did, Fox and for that matter 80 percent of the pundits in the country, including plenty of “moderates” and weenie liberals, would have gone to work explaining how crazy the demands were. As it is, Occupy Wall Street is expressing anger that the majority of Americans share at how unequal and imbalanced our economy is, how our economy and politics seem to work for Wall Street no matter the damage Wall Street inflicts on the rest of us. And it’s damned hard for a pundit to talk people out of that. That’s why stereotyping the protesters as dirty hippies is all they’ve got.
Harold Meyerson, American Prospect:
On Wednesday afternoon, within a few minutes of one another, many of America’s leading unions—the Service Employees, the Teamsters, the American Federation of Teachers—not to mention labor’s omnibus federation, the AFL-CIO—all released endorsements of Occupy Wall Street and its ongoing demonstrations in New York’s (and the world’s) financial center. Nothing surprising here—other individual unions and numerous local unions had already released statements of support for OSW, and the AFL-CIO itself has held several demonstrations on Wall Street since the financial collapse of 2008.
But for geezers like me, who came out of the student left of the ‘60s that found itself in various pitched battles with organized labor, the difference between then and now couldn’t be greater. To review the bidding for a moment, the AFL-CIO under the leadership of George Meany (and later, Lane Kirkland), while an indispensable champion of most domestic progressive legislation, was an ardent supporter of Cold War policies in general and the Vietnam War in particular. Despite some faltering efforts in the early and mid-’60s to keep the Old and New Lefts from splitting, that’s exactly what they did. And it wasn’t just the radicals of the New Left who viewed labor with disdain and contempt; it was also the New Politics liberals who rallied around the anti-war presidential candidacies of Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy in 1968 and George McGovern in 1972. (The ’70s sitcom “All in the Family” rather faithfully captured the upper-middle class liberals’ disdain for white male blue-collar workers, and that disdain certainly extended to their unions.)
That disdain was fully reciprocated. Famously, union hard-hats beat up antiwar protestors on Wall Street at one 1970 demonstration. George Meany memorably termed McGovern delegates at the 1972 Democratic National Convention “a bunch of jacks who dressed like jills and had the odor of johns about them.” For years, the AFL-CIO relentlessly opposed the rise within Democratic Party circles of dovish foreign-policy groups, feminists, and other forces that had emerged from the ’60s Left. The AFL-CIO’s political director in the ’70s, Al Barkan, delivered stump speeches demonstrating how labor could carry the Democrats to victory without any help from these troublemakers. He was, of course, proved dead wrong.
That said, there were unions that opposed the war and reached out to the student organizers. I distinctly recall a planning meeting of Columbia University students in the fall of 1969, held in somebody’s grubby Morningside Heights basement, as we figured out what we’d do in the upcoming Vietnam Moratorium demonstrations. At one point, the door opened and a middle-aged man came into the room and asked what he and his organization could do to help us. The man was Ed Gray, and his organization was the Northeastern Region of the United Auto Workers—a group that had played a key role in getting demonstrators from New York to D.C. for the great 1963 March on Washington and wanted to help us do the same.
The UAW, AFSCME, the Machinists, the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, and different regions of SEIU and the Communications Workers were a minority within the AFLCIO, and throughout the ’70s and ’80s, the biennial AFL-CIO conventions featured floor fights on public policy in which these groups tried to moderate the Federation’s hawkish stands on foreign policy and on other American liberal constituencies. They generally lost.
But during this time, labor was not only shrinking—it was changing. Many onetime ’60s radicals went to work for unions, or rose through the ranks. (My mentor, the socialist Michael Harrington, played a key role in bringing together the ’60s radicals with friendly unionists.) The fastest-growing unions, which tended to be in the public sector, were increasingly composed of women and minorities, who were rising to leadership positions in their unions. With the election of SEIU President John Sweeney to the presidency of the AFL-CIO in 1995, the federation threw open its doors and welcomed the constituencies that it had battled in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. The new model labor movement would go on to oppose the Iraq War when it still was popular, embrace immigration reform—its coming together with groups that used to be called the new social movements was a complete reversal of its past position. Its waning numbers made such reversals strategically necessary, but these shifts in position were genuine: In some cases, these unions were now led by onetime ’60s kids who had taken to the streets decades earlier.
Occupy Wall Street, of course, shares the broad economic perspective of labor—both rightly believe that American finance has injured and betrayed the American nation. Both groups sing from the same hymnal. But in the bad old days, the cultural differences between the two constituencies would have driven them into separate, even opposed, camps. Unscripted militancy made labor nervous. Today, unions welcome that militancy, even if its unscripted nature leaves them a bit apprehensive. The labor movement that once bashed the long-haired kids on Wall Street now embraces them. The far-flung wings of the American left are back together. Whether, combined, they have enough heft to change the way American capitalism operates remains to be seen.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
Question: What happens when the celebs are asked to come up with new initiatives for the Clinton Foundation? Answer: A brainstorming session worth watching. Pay close attention to the twist at the end, when President Bill Clinton makes a surprise cameo and upstages even the most veteran actors. Turns out the former President can hold his own against Oscar winners and walk away with the last laugh.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY:
|“Revolution is a serious thing, the most serious thing about a revolutionary’s life. When one commits oneself to the struggle, it must be for a lifetime.”|