You can access all the past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV.
On Wednesday, I posted a column about the GOP’s dual-trigger nightmare: the prospect that deficit reduction would now take place through a combination of the supercommittee’s $1.2 trillion spending trigger and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. That would cut the deficit by $5 trillion — actually, $6 trillion, once you include reduce interest payments — but in a vastly more progressive fashion than either party has even considered proposing. To get a sense of how progressive, here’s a graph comparing the spending cuts and tax increases in all of the major deficit-reduction packages proposed thus far. (Note: I’m measuring revenues against the tax code as it it is right now, and I’m not including savings on interest payments.)
It would be quite a turn of events if the GOP started by proposing the Ryan plan and ended with the dual-trigger plan.
[…] This holiday season, shopping malls in the US have started collecting data about shoppers by tracking the closest thing to “cookies” human beings carry—their cell phones.
The technology, from Portsmouth, England based Path Intelligence, is called Footpath. It uses monitoring units distributed throughout a mall or retail environment to sense the movement of customers by triangulation, using the strength of their cell phone signals. That data is collected and run through analytics by Path, and provided back to retailers through a secure website.
On March 31, Path CEO Sharon Biggar presented the tech at the ICSC Fusion conference in Los Angeles. She discussed how data collected by Footpath could be used by retailers to boost revenue. Options include tracking response to mailers and other advertising by providing the equivalent of web metrics like unique visitors, “page impressions” (measuring how many people walked past a display or advertisement), and “click-through” (determining how many people who passed an advertisement then visited the store associated with it). “Now we can produce heat maps of the mall and show advertisers where the premium locations are for their adverts,” she said, “and perhaps more importantly we can price the advertising differently at each location.” […]
In the US, Footpath is being trailed in two malls by Forest City, a mall real estate company that owns malls and shopping centers nationwide. Promenade Temecula in Temecula, California, and Short Pump Town Center in Richmond, Virginia are the sites of choice; the trial starts today, and will run through New Years. In a written statement, Forest City’s spokesperson Lindsey Cottone said that Forest City was being “totally transparent” about the trial, posting signage to “inform customers that the survey is taking place.”
While Footpath uses only the signal fingerprint of the phone, it does give a fairly accurate record of where the phone has travelled through a mall. According to the editor of trade site Storefront Backtalk, Evan Schuman, the data can be paired with other sources of data, including surveillance video and point-of-sale transaction information. If they went this route, retailers would get a very detailed profile of who’s carrying each phone.
“Some malls are even using facial recognition software,” Schuman told Ars Technica in a phone interview, with the primary purpose of “loss prevention”—identifying shoplifters. But that data, he said, could be tied to location data to be turned into customer relationship management data. Mall operators could then theoretically sell data to retailers, alerting them when big-ticket shoppers were approaching so that they could be given personalized service.
There’s just one problem with this type of detailed tracking: it’s technically illegal, according to Mark Rasch,the director of cybersecurity at CSC. Thanks to court interpretations of provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act, he said in a recent blog, devices that measure cell phones’ signal strength could be considered to be “pen registers”—monitoring devices that require a warrant.
“Although this mall technology might not identify specific individuals, it raises a bunch of privacy red flags,” he wrote. “First, the instant the consumer identifies himself or herself anywhere in the mall (say, by using a credit or debit card to buy something), it is a trivial task to cross reference the cell phone data with the payment data and realize that the person hanging around outside the Victoria’s Secret dressing room was your 70-year-old neighbor.”
That’s more information than many consumers are interested in divulging. So far, however, there’s been no sign that the legality of the service will be tested in court. And retailers could conceivably use the same justification for the technology that they use for facial recognition software: “loss prevention.” In many jurisdictions, real estate owners are given wide latitudes about what they monitor on their own premises.
The Federal Reserve and the big banks fought for more than two years to keep details of the largest bailout in U.S. history a secret. Now, the rest of the world can see what it was missing.
The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day. Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy. And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its January issue.
Saved by the bailout, bankers lobbied against government regulations, a job made easier by the Fed, which never disclosed the details of the rescue to lawmakers even as Congress doled out more money and debated new rules aimed at preventing the next collapse.
A fresh narrative of the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009 emerges from 29,000 pages of Fed documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and central bank records of more than 21,000 transactions. While Fed officials say that almost all of the loans were repaid and there have been no losses, details suggest taxpayers paid a price beyond dollars as the secret funding helped preserve a broken status quo and enabled the biggest banks to grow even bigger.
‘Change Their Votes’
“When you see the dollars the banks got, it’s hard to make the case these were successful institutions,” says Sherrod Brown, a Democratic Senator from Ohio who in 2010 introduced an unsuccessful bill to limit bank size. “This is an issue that can unite the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. There are lawmakers in both parties who would change their votes now.”
The size of the bailout came to light after Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, won a court case against the Fed and a group of the biggest U.S. banks called Clearing House Association LLC to force lending details into the open.
The Fed, headed by Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, argued that revealing borrower details would create a stigma — investors and counterparties would shun firms that used the central bank as lender of last resort — and that needy institutions would be reluctant to borrow in the next crisis. Clearing House Association fought Bloomberg’s lawsuit up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear the banks’ appeal in March 2011.
The amount of money the central bank parceled out was surprising even to Gary H. Stern, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 1985 to 2009, who says he “wasn’t aware of the magnitude.” It dwarfed the Treasury Department’s better-known $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP. Add up guarantees and lending limits, and the Fed had committed $7.77 trillion as of March 2009 to rescuing the financial system, more than half the value of everything produced in the U.S. that year.
“TARP at least had some strings attached,” says Brad Miller, a North Carolina Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, referring to the program’s executive-pay ceiling. “With the Fed programs, there was nothing.”
Bankers didn’t disclose the extent of their borrowing. On Nov. 26, 2008, then-Bank of America (BAC) Corp. Chief Executive Officer Kenneth D. Lewis wrote to shareholders that he headed “one of the strongest and most stable major banks in the world.” He didn’t say that his Charlotte, North Carolina-based firm owed the central bank $86 billion that day.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon told shareholders in a March 26, 2010, letter that his bank used the Fed’s Term Auction Facility “at the request of the Federal Reserve to help motivate others to use the system.” He didn’t say that the New York-based bank’s total TAF borrowings were almost twice its cash holdings or that its peak borrowing of $48 billion on Feb. 26, 2009, came more than a year after the program’s creation.
Howard Opinsky, a spokesman for JPMorgan (JPM), declined to comment about Dimon’s statement or the company’s Fed borrowings. Jerry Dubrowski, a spokesman for Bank of America, also declined to comment.
The Fed has been lending money to banks through its so- called discount window since just after its founding in 1913. Starting in August 2007, when confidence in banks began to wane, it created a variety of ways to bolster the financial system with cash or easily traded securities. By the end of 2008, the central bank had established or expanded 11 lending facilities catering to banks, securities firms and corporations that couldn’t get short-term loans from their usual sources.
“Supporting financial-market stability in times of extreme market stress is a core function of central banks,” says William B. English, director of the Fed’s Division of Monetary Affairs. “Our lending programs served to prevent a collapse of the financial system and to keep credit flowing to American families and businesses.”
The Fed has said that all loans were backed by appropriate collateral. That the central bank didn’t lose money should “lead to praise of the Fed, that they took this extraordinary step and they got it right,” says Phillip Swagel, a former assistant Treasury secretary under Henry M. Paulson and now a professor of international economic policy at the University of Maryland.
The Fed initially released lending data in aggregate form only. Information on which banks borrowed, when, how much and at what interest rate was kept from public view.
The secrecy extended even to members of President George W. Bush’s administration who managed TARP. Top aides to Paulson weren’t privy to Fed lending details during the creation of the program that provided crisis funding to more than 700 banks, say two former senior Treasury officials who requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak.
The Treasury Department relied on the recommendations of the Fed to decide which banks were healthy enough to get TARP money and how much, the former officials say. The six biggest U.S. banks, which received $160 billion of TARP funds, borrowed as much as $460 billion from the Fed, measured by peak daily debt calculated by Bloomberg using data obtained from the central bank. Paulson didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The six — JPMorgan, Bank of America, Citigroup Inc. (C), Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) and Morgan Stanley — accounted for 63 percent of the average daily debt to the Fed by all publicly traded U.S. banks, money managers and investment- services firms, the data show. By comparison, they had about half of the industry’s assets before the bailout, which lasted from August 2007 through April 2010. The daily debt figure excludes cash that banks passed along to money-market funds.
While the emergency response prevented financial collapse, the Fed shouldn’t have allowed conditions to get to that point, says Joshua Rosner, a banking analyst with Graham Fisher & Co. in New York who predicted problems from lax mortgage underwriting as far back as 2001. The Fed, the primary supervisor for large financial companies, should have been more vigilant as thehousing bubble formed, and the scale of its lending shows the “supervision of the banks prior to the crisis was far worse than we had imagined,” Rosner says.
Bernanke in an April 2009 speech said that the Fed provided emergency loans only to “sound institutions,” even though its internal assessments described at least one of the biggest borrowers, Citigroup, as “marginal.”
On Jan. 14, 2009, six days before the company’s central bank loans peaked, the New York Fed gave CEO Vikram Pandit a report declaring Citigroup’s financial strength to be “superficial,” bolstered largely by its $45 billion of Treasury funds. The document was released in early 2011 by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a panel empowered by Congress to probe the causes of the crisis.
Andrea Priest, a spokeswoman for the New York Fed, declined to comment, as did Jon Diat, a spokesman for Citigroup.
“I believe that the Fed should have independence in conducting highly technical monetary policy, but when they are putting taxpayer resources at risk, we need transparency and accountability,” says Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee.
Judd Gregg, a former New Hampshire senator who was a lead Republican negotiator on TARP, and Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who chaired the House Financial Services Committee, both say they were kept in the dark.
“We didn’t know the specifics,” says Gregg, who’s now an adviser to Goldman Sachs.
“We were aware emergency efforts were going on,” Frank says. “We didn’t know the specifics.”
Frank co-sponsored the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, billed as a fix for financial-industry excesses. Congress debated that legislation in 2010 without a full understanding of how deeply the banks had depended on the Fed for survival.
It would have been “totally appropriate” to disclose the lending data by mid-2009, says David Jones, a former economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York who has written four books about the central bank.
“The Fed is the second-most-important appointed body in the U.S., next to the Supreme Court, and we’re dealing with a democracy,” Jones says. “Our representatives in Congress deserve to have this kind of information so they can oversee the Fed.”
The Dodd-Frank law required the Fed to release details of some emergency-lending programs in December 2010. It also mandated disclosure of discount-window borrowers after a two- year lag.
TARP and the Fed lending programs went “hand in hand,” says Sherrill Shaffer, a banking professor at the University of Wyoming in Laramie and a former chief economist at the New York Fed. While the TARP money helped insulate the central bank from losses, the Fed’s willingness to supply seemingly unlimited financing to the banks assured they wouldn’t collapse, protecting the Treasury’s TARP investments, he says.
“Even though the Treasury was in the headlines, the Fed was really behind the scenes engineering it,” Shaffer says.
Congress, at the urging of Bernanke and Paulson, created TARP in October 2008 after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. made it difficult for financial institutions to get loans. Bank of America and New York-based Citigroup each received $45 billion from TARP. At the time, both were tapping the Fed. Citigroup hit its peak borrowing of $99.5 billion in January 2009, while Bank of America topped out in February 2009 at $91.4 billion.
Lawmakers knew none of this.
They had no clue that one bank, New York-based Morgan Stanley (MS), took $107 billion in Fed loans in September 2008, enough to pay off one-tenth of the country’s delinquent mortgages. The firm’s peak borrowing occurred the same day Congress rejected the proposed TARP bill, triggering the biggest point drop ever in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. (INDU) The bill later passed, and Morgan Stanley got $10 billion of TARP funds, though Paulson said only “healthy institutions” were eligible.
Mark Lake, a spokesman for Morgan Stanley, declined to comment, as did spokesmen for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs.
Had lawmakers known, it “could have changed the whole approach to reform legislation,” says Ted Kaufman, a former Democratic Senator from Delaware who, with Brown, introduced the bill to limit bank size.
Kaufman says some banks are so big that their failure could trigger a chain reaction in the financial system. The cost of borrowing for so-called too-big-to-fail banks is lower than that of smaller firms because lenders believe the government won’t let them go under. The perceived safety net creates what economists call moral hazard — the belief that bankers will take greater risks because they’ll enjoy any profits while shifting losses to taxpayers.
If Congress had been aware of the extent of the Fed rescue, Kaufman says, he would have been able to line up more support for breaking up the biggest banks.
Byron L. Dorgan, a former Democratic senator from North Dakota, says the knowledge might have helped pass legislation to reinstate the Glass-Steagall Act, which for most of the last century separated customer deposits from the riskier practices of investment banking.
“Had people known about the hundreds of billions in loans to the biggest financial institutions, they would have demanded Congress take much more courageous actions to stop the practices that caused this near financial collapse,” says Dorgan, who retired in January.
Instead, the Fed and its secret financing helped America’s biggest financial firms get bigger and go on to pay employees as much as they did at the height of the housing bubble.
Total assets held by the six biggest U.S. banks increased 39 percent to $9.5 trillion on Sept. 30, 2011, from $6.8 trillion on the same day in 2006, according to Fed data.
For so few banks to hold so many assets is “un-American,” says Richard W. Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “All of these gargantuan institutions are too big to regulate. I’m in favor of breaking them up and slimming them down.”
Employees at the six biggest banks made twice the average for all U.S. workers in 2010, based on Bureau of Labor Statistics hourly compensation cost data. The banks spent $146.3 billion on compensation in 2010, or an average of $126,342 per worker, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That’s up almost 20 percent from five years earlier compared with less than 15 percent for the average worker. Average pay at the banks in 2010 was about the same as in 2007, before the bailouts.
‘Wanted to Pretend’
“The pay levels came back so fast at some of these firms that it appeared they really wanted to pretend they hadn’t been bailed out,” says Anil Kashyap, a former Fed economist who’s now a professor of economics at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “They shouldn’t be surprised that a lot of people find some of the stuff that happened totally outrageous.”
Bank of America took over Merrill Lynch & Co. at the urging of then-Treasury Secretary Paulson after buying the biggest U.S. home lender, Countrywide Financial Corp. When the Merrill Lynch purchase was announced on Sept. 15, 2008, Bank of America had $14.4 billion in emergency Fed loans and Merrill Lynch had $8.1 billion. By the end of the month, Bank of America’s loans had reached $25 billion and Merrill Lynch’s had exceeded $60 billion, helping both firms keep the deal on track.
Wells Fargo bought Wachovia Corp., the fourth-largest U.S. bank by deposits before the 2008 acquisition. Because depositors were pulling their money from Wachovia, the Fed channeled $50 billion in secret loans to the Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank through two emergency-financing programs to prevent collapse before Wells Fargo could complete the purchase.
“These programs proved to be very successful at providing financial markets the additional liquidity and confidence they needed at a time of unprecedented uncertainty,” says Ancel Martinez, a spokesman for Wells Fargo.
JPMorgan absorbed the country’s largest savings and loan, Seattle-based Washington Mutual Inc., and investment bank Bear Stearns Cos. The New York Fed, then headed by Timothy F. Geithner, who’s now Treasury secretary, helped JPMorgan complete the Bear Stearns deal by providing $29 billion of financing, which was disclosed at the time. The Fed also supplied Bear Stearns with $30 billion of secret loans to keep the company from failing before the acquisition closed, central bank data show. The loans were made through a program set up to provide emergency funding to brokerage firms.
“Some might claim that the Fed was picking winners and losers, but what the Fed was doing was exercising its professional regulatory discretion,” says John Dearie, a former speechwriter at the New York Fed who’s now executive vice president for policy at the Financial Services Forum, a Washington-based group consisting of the CEOs of 20 of the world’s biggest financial firms. “The Fed clearly felt it had what it needed within the requirements of the law to continue to lend to Bear and Wachovia.”
The bill introduced by Brown and Kaufman in April 2010 would have mandated shrinking the six largest firms.
“When a few banks have advantages, the little guys get squeezed,” Brown says. “That, to me, is not what capitalism should be.”
Kaufman says he’s passionate about curbing too-big-to-fail banks because he fears another crisis.
‘Can We Survive?’
“The amount of pain that people, through no fault of their own, had to endure — and the prospect of putting them through it again — is appalling,” Kaufman says. “The public has no more appetite for bailouts. What would happen tomorrow if one of these big banks got in trouble? Can we survive that?”
Lobbying expenditures by the six banks that would have been affected by the legislation rose to $29.4 million in 2010 compared with $22.1 million in 2006, the last full year before credit markets seized up — a gain of 33 percent, according to OpenSecrets.org, a research group that tracks money in U.S. politics. Lobbying by the American Bankers Association, a trade organization, increased at about the same rate, OpenSecrets.org reported.
Lobbyists argued the virtues of bigger banks. They’re more stable, better able to serve large companies and more competitive internationally, and breaking them up would cost jobs and cause “long-term damage to the U.S. economy,” according to a Nov. 13, 2009, letter to members of Congress from the FSF.
The group’s website cites Nobel Prize-winning economist Oliver E. Williamson, a professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, for demonstrating the greater efficiency of large companies.
In an interview, Williamson says that the organization took his research out of context and that efficiency is only one factor in deciding whether to preserve too-big-to-fail banks.
“The banks that were too big got even bigger, and the problems that we had to begin with are magnified in the process,” Williamson says. “The big banks have incentives to take risks they wouldn’t take if they didn’t have government support. It’s a serious burden on the rest of the economy.”
Dearie says his group didn’t mean to imply that Williamson endorsed big banks.
Top officials in President Barack Obama’s administration sided with the FSF in arguing against legislative curbs on the size of banks.
On May 4, 2010, Geithner visited Kaufman in his Capitol Hill office. As president of the New York Fed in 2007 and 2008, Geithner helped design and run the central bank’s lending programs. The New York Fed supervised four of the six biggest U.S. banks and, during the credit crunch, put together a daily confidential report on Wall Street’s financial condition. Geithner was copied on these reports, based on a sampling of e- mails released by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.
At the meeting with Kaufman, Geithner argued that the issue of limiting bank size was too complex for Congress and that people who know the markets should handle these decisions, Kaufman says. According to Kaufman, Geithner said he preferred that bank supervisors from around the world, meeting in Basel, Switzerland, make rules increasing the amount of money banks need to hold in reserve. Passing laws in the U.S. would undercut his efforts in Basel, Geithner said, according to Kaufman.
Anthony Coley, a spokesman for Geithner, declined to comment.
Lobbyists for the big banks made the winning case that forcing them to break up was “punishing success,” Brown says. Now that they can see how much the banks were borrowing from the Fed, senators might think differently, he says.
The Fed supported curbing too-big-to-fail banks, including giving regulators the power to close large financial firms and implementing tougher supervision for big banks, says Fed General Counsel Scott G. Alvarez. The Fed didn’t take a position on whether large banks should be dismantled before they get into trouble.
Dodd-Frank does provide a mechanism for regulators to break up the biggest banks. It established the Financial Stability Oversight Council that could order teetering banks to shut down in an orderly way. The council is headed by Geithner.
“Dodd-Frank does not solve the problem of too big to fail,” says Shelby, the Alabama Republican. “Moral hazard and taxpayer exposure still very much exist.”
Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, says banks “were either in bad shape or taking advantage of the Fed giving them a good deal. The former contradicts their public statements. The latter — getting loans at below-market rates during a financial crisis — is quite a gift.”
The Fed says it typically makes emergency loans more expensive than those available in the marketplace to discourage banks from abusing the privilege. During the crisis, Fed loans were among the cheapest around, with funding available for as low as 0.01 percent in December 2008, according to data from the central bank and money-market rates tracked by Bloomberg.
The Fed funds also benefited firms by allowing them to avoid selling assets to pay investors and depositors who pulled their money. So the assets stayed on the banks’ books, earning interest.
Banks report the difference between what they earn on loans and investments and their borrowing expenses. The figure, known as net interest margin, provides a clue to how much profit the firms turned on their Fed loans, the costs of which were included in those expenses. To calculate how much banks stood to make, Bloomberg multiplied their tax-adjusted net interest margins by their average Fed debt during reporting periods in which they took emergency loans.
The 190 firms for which data were available would have produced income of $13 billion, assuming all of the bailout funds were invested at the margins reported, the data show.
The six biggest U.S. banks’ share of the estimated subsidy was $4.8 billion, or 23 percent of their combined net income during the time they were borrowing from the Fed. Citigroup would have taken in the most, with $1.8 billion.
“The net interest margin is an effective way of getting at the benefits that these large banks received from the Fed,” says Gerald A. Hanweck, a former Fed economist who’s now a finance professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
While the method isn’t perfect, it’s impossible to state the banks’ exact profits or savings from their Fed loans because the numbers aren’t disclosed and there isn’t enough publicly available data to figure it out.
Opinsky, the JPMorgan spokesman, says he doesn’t think the calculation is fair because “in all likelihood, such funds were likely invested in very short-term investments,” which typically bring lower returns.
Even without tapping the Fed, the banks get a subsidy by having standing access to the central bank’s money, says Viral Acharya, a New York University economics professor who has worked as an academic adviser to the New York Fed.
“Banks don’t give lines of credit to corporations for free,” he says. “Why should all these government guarantees and liquidity facilities be for free?”
In the September 2008 meeting at which Paulson and Bernanke briefed lawmakers on the need for TARP, Bernanke said that if nothing was done, “unemployment would rise — to 8 or 9 percent from the prevailing 6.1 percent,” Paulson wrote in “On the Brink” (Business Plus, 2010).
Occupy Wall Street
The U.S. jobless rate hasn’t dipped below 8.8 percent since March 2009, 3.6 million homes have been foreclosed since August 2007, according to data provider RealtyTrac Inc., and police have clashed with Occupy Wall Street protesters, who say government policies favor the wealthiest citizens, in New York, Boston, Seattle and Oakland, California.
The Tea Party, which supports a more limited role for government, has its roots in anger over the Wall Street bailouts, says Neil M. Barofsky, former TARP special inspector general and a Bloomberg Television contributing editor.
“The lack of transparency is not just frustrating; it really blocked accountability,” Barofsky says. “When people don’t know the details, they fill in the blanks. They believe in conspiracies.”
In the end, Geithner had his way. The Brown-Kaufman proposal to limit the size of banks was defeated, 60 to 31. Bank supervisors meeting in Switzerland did mandate minimum reserves that institutions will have to hold, with higher levels for the world’s largest banks, including the six biggest in the U.S. Those rules can be changed by individual countries.
They take full effect in 2019.
Meanwhile, Kaufman says, “we’re absolutely, totally, 100 percent not prepared for another financial crisis.”
Income gains in the U.S. are slowing and workers’ slice of the earnings pie is shrinking, raising the risk that consumer spending slackens next year.
Gross domestic income, or the money earned by the people, businesses and government agencies whose purchases go into calculating growth, rose at an average 2.8 percent annual rate from April through September after climbing 4.3 percent in the previous six months, Commerce Department data on Nov. 22 showed. Employee compensation last quarter accounted for its smallest share since 1955.
In contrast, the portion accruing to corporate profits was the biggest since 1950, showing companies are hoarding cash as concern grows that a European country will default on its debt and that deficit-reduction gridlock in Washington will continue. Without more pay and a pickup in hiring, households may ring in 2012 by making their own budget cuts.
“Businesses are very cautious so they’re not hiring and they’re not distributing their profits to consumers as they had in past expansions,” said Michelle Meyer, a senior U.S. economist at Bank of America Corp. in New York. “With slow wage and salary growth, consumer spending will be on a sluggish trajectory.”
In the mountains of southwestern Virginia, Gequetta Bright Laney taught public high school students this spring about a subject of keen interest to the region’s biggest employer: the economics of coal mining.
“Where there’s coal, there’s opportunity,” Bright Laney told her class at Coeburn High School in Wise County.
Her lessons, like others in dozens of public schools across the country, were approved and funded by the coal industry. Such efforts reflect a broader pattern of private-sector attempts to influence what gets taught in public schools.
Eager to burnish its reputation, the energy industry is spending significant sums of money on education in communities with sensitive coal, natural gas and oil exploration projects. The industry aims to teach students about its contributions to local economies and counter criticism from environmental groups.
These outreach efforts have drawn scrutiny after news in May that Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher of children’s books, distributed fourth-grade curriculum materials funded by the American Coal Foundation. The “United States of Energy” lesson plan, which the foundation paid $300,000 to develop, went to 66,000 fourth-grade teachers in 2009. After critics raised questions about potential bias, Scholastic announced that it will no longer publish the material in question.
Environmentalists and public education groups say the Scholastic example highlights the increasingly cozy relationship between industry groups and public schools. They also criticize what takes place in classrooms such as Bright Laney’s, where industries fund lessons that echo their interests.
“We’re talking about catering our public school curriculum to those who can pay for it,” said Josh Golin, program manager at the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, based in Boston. “It raises questions about the foundation of our public education system.”
Energy groups are not alone in seeking classroom clout. Other industries and organizations affiliated with various causes, including environmentalists, have long donated to public schools. The private sector spends billions of dollars on public education every year, experts say, money that often comes with significant conditions.
Industries such as information technology and aerospace have crafted lesson plans aimed at training future employees. Some have purchased advertising space on school Web sites and buses. In the Washington area, defense contractors have made donations to several school systems and sponsored school engineering clubs.
But critics say the energy industry often goes much further than the typical school donations. Groups with a stake in oil, gas or coal frequently train teachers and shape lesson plans on controversial subjects.
In the Appalachian mining communities of Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia, the Coal Education Development and Resources foundation, known as CEDAR, offers small grants to teachers whose lessons dovetail with its industry-driven mission.
Jeff Perry, the Wise County superintendent, gave teachers permission to apply for the grants.
“With our ever-dwindling revenue, we’re very appreciative of the coal industry’s contribution,” Perry said. “They’re providing opportunities for teachers that would otherwise never exist.”
The school system and the coal industry have honored Bright Laney’s work. She was named CEDAR’s state teacher of the year in 2006 and 2009, winning a $1,000 award each time. Last year, the Interstate Mining Compact Commission named her its national teacher of the year, showering her with free educational products.
For her economics unit, Bright Laney won a $313 grant from CEDAR in addition to materials such as posters, books and videos about the coal industry. In one lesson, she asked students to “mine” chocolate chips out of cookies, awarding credit to those with the most chips. In another, the class played a game of Monopoly adapted to the topic, with properties renamed after mining camps.
Even though the grant was funded by the industry, she said, no bias entered into her teaching. She included a lesson on the rehabilitation of land after coal mining operations have stopped.
Dozens of other teachers applied for the CEDAR grants, pitching lesson plans with catchy titles. One was called “Dear Cole: Letters to a Coal Advice Columnist.” The organization has awarded about $550,000 in grants over 17 years and has given several hundred thousand dollars more in cash prizes for teachers and students.
CEDAR also offers a video to teachers called “The Greening of Planet Earth,” which says that “our world is deficient in carbon dioxide, and a doubling of atmospheric CO2 is very beneficial.” Mainstream scientists widely dispute that assertion.
CEDAR began offering grants to Wise teachers in 2005, the year after a boulder rolled off a local mining site, crushing and killing a 3-year-old boy named Jeremy Davidson in his family’s double-wide trailer. The incident helped galvanize local opposition to the coal industry just before the county began debating a new 1,200-acre coal mine. It is awaiting approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In the midst of that debate, CEDAR has expanded outreach in southwestern Virginia classrooms. Education analysts say such industry contributions to schools are not uncommon in energy-rich communities where mining or drilling projects draw controversy.
“These are places where industries wield significant power over politics and over education. They have clear agendas, but it can be hard for a superintendent to resist them,” said Alex Molnar, an expert on commercialism in education at the National Education Policy Center, affiliated with the University of Colorado.
In West Virginia’s northern panhandle, where natural gas discoveries have invigorated the local economy — and raised environmental concerns — another effort to influence the school curriculum is afoot. The West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association has held training sessions for public school teachers, distributing coloring books and other materials in a number of schools.
The association’s lesson texts are developed in large part to alleviate concerns about hydraulic fracturing, a technique also known as fracking, used to extract natural gas. A number of environmental groups say that process contaminates water.
“These kids are watching movies and reading things about how fracking is bad. We want them to know that it’s not all bad — that it’s a chance for our country to be energy independent,” said Corky DeMarco, the association’s executive director. “After all, it’s happening in their back yard.”
Where there are natural gas reserves, there are often organizations such as DeMarco’s. North Texas has the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council. Pennsylvania has the Marcellus Shale Education and Training Center. Louisiana has the Haynesville Shale Education Center. All are funded largely with industry dollars, and all seek ties with public schools.
The Foundation for Energy Education in Texas, funded by oil and gas companies, uses its “Playing With Petroleum” curriculum and mobile learning units to help students “understand the commitment of the oil industry to protecting the environment.” Pat French, the foundation’s president, said, “Teachers and principals welcome us with open arms.”
Not all of these education initiatives are targeted to resource-rich communities. Some attempt to improve a company or industry’s reputation after a man-made disaster. After the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, Exxon distributed a video to public schools across the country called “Scientists and the Alaska Oil Spill” about the efforts to clean up Prince William Sound.
Energy industry groups counter that environmentalists provide classroom materials all the time. The Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation produce information aimed at schoolchildren. Eco-SchoolsUSA, founded last year by the federation, distributes materials to 500 schools in the United States, adding 20 to 50 schools each month.
“The idea is to talk about our energy needs as well as concerns about pollution and global warming,” said Kevin Coyne, the federation’s vice president for education and training.
In Wise County, where the school system’s 6th annual coal fair was held last month, the relationship between industry and public education appears strong. Each year, more teachers apply for the coal industry’s grants.
“Everyone who sets a curriculum has an agenda,” Perry, the superintendent, said. “We try to make sure our people can separate what’s valid from what’s not.”
[…] California’s public universities lead the nation in tuition hikes, The Los Angeles Times reports. And just last week, during a raucous meeting, California State University trustees approved a 9 percent tuition hike, the AP reports. Several people were arrested at the meeting, where a glass door was shattered, and the demonstrations briefly shutdown the meeting. In 2009, students furiously protested a 32 percent tuition increase. Many students were arrested during the demonstrations, CNN reports.
The need for tuition hikes, the university system argues, is a result of less and less state funding for higher education. It’s a themefamiliar to public universities all over the country. The New York Times reports that tuition at the University of California has nearly doubled over the past few years. Next year, the UC system will collect more from tuition than state revenues.
Annual tuition and fees at UC Davis for the 2010-11 academic year is $13,080 for California residents, compared to $8,129 for the 2005-06 academic year.
The “doughnut hole,” an anxiety-inducing catch in an otherwise popular benefit, will shrink about 40 percent for those unlucky enough to land in it, according to new Medicare figures provided in response to a request from The Associated Press.
The average beneficiary who falls into the coverage gap would have spent $1,504 this year on prescriptions. But thanks to discounts and other provisions in President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul law, that cost fell to $901, according to Medicare’s Office of the Actuary, which handles economic estimates.
A 50 percent discount that the law secured from pharmaceutical companies on brand name drugs yielded an average savings of $581. Medicare also picked up more of the cost of generic drugs, saving an additional $22.
Concern over cutting Medicare to expand coverage for the uninsured helped push older voters toward Republicans in the 2010 congressional elections. Obama and the Democrats have been trying to woo them back ever since.
“For people with high drug expenditures, the 50 percent discount offers real savings,” said Tricia Neuman, director of Medicare policy for the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. “It’s certainly more helpful than no coverage at all, which is what they had previously.”
For retired elementary school teacher Carolyn Friedman, it meant she didn’t need a loan to pay for drugs that keep her epilepsy under control.
“What a change for the better,” said Friedman, 71, of Sunrise, Fla. “This year it was easier to pay my bills, whereas last year I had to borrow money to pay for my medications when I was in the doughnut hole.”
One of her brand-name anti-seizure drugs cost about $370 in the gap last year, and the other about $270. This year Friedman paid about $150 and $130, respectively, for a month’s supply.
Medicare covers about 47 million older and disabled people, and about 9 in 10 have some kind of prescription plan. Most rely on the drug benefit, also known as Part D, which is delivered through private insurance plans.
Beneficiaries have until Dec. 7 to change their drug plans for 2012. Consumer advocates recommend that seniors check their coverage during open enrollment to see if their current choice remains the best for next year. Many families start the process around the Thanksgiving holiday.
The coverage gap, a money-saving idea from a previous Congress, never has been popular.
It starts after an individual beneficiary and his or her drug plan have spent a total of $2,840 on medications for the year. Seniors are then on their own for the next $3,600.
Once total spending reaches about $6,440, Medicare’s catastrophic coverage kicks in and beneficiaries pay only a token amount. Most people do not spend enough in the doughnut hole to qualify for catastrophic coverage.
Although few private insurance plans still cap the amount they spend on medications, Medicare’s hole-in-the-middle approach is highly unusual.
The Republican-led Congress that passed the drug benefit under President George W. Bush was trying to balance coverage and costs, as many conservatives fretted about creating a new unfunded entitlement.
Supporters wanted all beneficiaries to get some initial benefit from the program, and they wanted to protect those with overwhelmingly high costs. The resulting compromise led to the doughnut hole.
Under Obama’s health care law, the gap will be gradually phased down by 2020.
This year, the law provides a 50 percent discount on brand name drugs and 7 percent break on generics. Next year the discount on generics rises to 14 percent. When the changes are fully phased in, beneficiaries will still be responsible for their annual deductible and 25 percent of the cost of their medications until they reach catastrophic coverage.
If Republicans succeed in repealing what they dismiss as “Obamacare,” the discounts would be wiped out as well.
Joan Gibbs thought her pharmacy had made a mistake. Her total cost for a brand-name painkiller in the doughnut hole came out lower than her co-payment earlier in the year, at a time her plan was picking up most of the tab.
“I reluctantly called the insurance company,” said Gibbs, 54, who lives near Cleveland. “If they had made a mistake, I knew they would catch it sooner or later. I was very surprised that it turned out to be such a good discount.”
Gibbs is on Medicare because of an auto-immune disorder and other medical problems that left her unable to work.
Extreme Liberal’s Blog:
There have been many lies circulated about President Obama over the last 3 years, but the one that seems to have poisoned the water from the beginning is the lie that President Obama struck a deal to keep the public option out of the final health care bill. It has formed the basis of the “caved” meme that people on the left, most of whom never supported Obama as a candidate, have used to feed their irrational hatred for our president.
The lie has taken on epic proportions as it’s morphed over the years. Recently, I’ve had liberal friends throw it in my face when I’ve shown my support for our very accomplished president. The lying has to stop!
The birth of the “public option” lie
The original source from which the lie was created, is an article that David Kirkpatrick wrote in the New York Times about the active role that President Obama was taking in crafting the health care law. There were two mentions of the “public option” in the entire article, one was in reference to what the Democrats in the house were pushing and the other contradicts the lie completely. Rep. Henry Waxman was quoted in the article.
“The president has said he wants a public option to keep everybody honest. He hasn’t said he wants a co-op as a public option.”
You really can’t get any more clear than that, can you? In the article that is the source for the public option lie, there is a quote from a respected member of the House saying that the president wants a public option. And to be fair to the author, he never even implies that the public option was part of the deal.
The New York Times article also discusses how the White House was more hands-on with the Senate Finance Committee than with other congressional committees. What is implicit in this analysis is that the White House understood that, as with every piece of legislation the administration supported, it was the Senate that posed the biggest impediment to achieving comprehensive health care reform.
There was another quote from earlier in the article that many used as the basis for the lie. It is an explanation of the deal that caps the costs for hospitals.
Hospital industry lobbyists, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of alienating the White House, say they negotiated their $155 billion in concessions with Mr. Baucus and the administration in tandem. House staff members were present, including for at least one White House meeting, but their role was peripheral, the lobbyists said.
Several hospital lobbyists involved in the White House deals said it was understood as a condition of their support that the final legislation would not include a government-run health plan paying Medicare rates — generally 80 percent of private sector rates — or controlled by the secretary of health and human services.
There is nothing in those two paragraphs that says anything about a deal on the public option, it is talking very specifically about costs to hospitals and reimbursement rates for patients on Medicare. The sentence “would not include a government-run health plan paying Medicare rates — generally 80 percent of private rates…” is poorly worded and could easily be misinterpreted, especially by people searching for a reason to hate the President.
If you read David Kirkpatrick’s words carefully, you see that the deal was on reimbursement rates and how they wouldn’t be the 80% that Medicare generally pays, which was a sore spot for hospitals.
Here is another example of that same idea, worded slightly better, but with selective placement of quotation marks. Tom Daschle wasn’t happy with the authors characterization of his words and corrected it in an update.
Perhaps there were truly free markets before the industrial revolution, where townspeople and farmers gathered in a square to exchange livestock, produce and handmade tools. In our modern world, such a market does not exist. Governments set up the rules of the game, and those rules have an enormous impact on our economic outcomes.
In 2007, the year of the crash, the top 1 percent of American households took in almost two-and-a-half times the share of our nation’s pre-tax income that they had grabbed in the 40 years folliwing World War Two. This was no accident – the rules of the market underwent profound changes that led to the upward redistribution of trillions in income over the past 30 years. The rules are set by Congress – under a mountain of lobbying dollars – but they are adjudicated by the courts.
The Supreme Court, with a right-wing majority under Chief Justice John Roberts, has become a body that leans too far toward the “1 percent” to be considered a neutral arbiter. So whether they know all the ins and outs of the court’s profound rightward shift or not, those protesting across the country as part of the Occupy movement are motivated by its corruption as well.
While conservatives constantly rail against judges “legislating from the bench,” it is far more common for right-leaning jurists to engage in“judicial activism” than those of a liberal bent. That’s what a 2005 study by Yale University legal scholar Paul Gewirtz and Chad Golder found. According to the scholars, those justices
A 2007 study by University of Chicago law professor Thomas J. Miles and Cass R. Sunstein looked at the tendency of judges to strike down decisions by federal regulatory agencies, and found a similar trend. The Supreme Court’s “conservative” justices were again the most likely to engage in this form of “activism,” while the “liberal” justices were most likely to exercise judicial restraint.
The most notorious case of activism by the Roberts court was its ruling in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, which overturned key provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, rules that kept corporations — and their lobbyists and front groups (as well as labor unions) — from spending unlimited amounts of cash on campaign advertising within 60 days of a general election for federal office (or 30 days before a primary).
At a 2010 conference, former Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, put the potential impact of Citizens United in stark terms. “We’re now in a situation,” he told the crowd, “where a lobbyist can walk into my office…and say, ‘I’ve got five million dollars to spend, and I can spend it for you or against you. Which do you prefer?’”
To arrive at their ruling, the court’s conservative majority stretched the Orwellian legal concept known as “corporate personhood” to the limit, and gave faceless multinationals expansive rights to influence our elections under the auspices of the First Amendment.
“They wanted to hear the possibility that that’s the way the constitution would read to them,” said Grayson. “So they picked an issue out of the air that nobody had conceived of [as a First Amendment case] because 100 years of settled law meant that corporations cannot buy elections in America, and they not only allowed corporations to buy those elections, but they made it a constitutional right.”
Early on, the plaintiffs themselves had decided not to base their case on the First Amendment. It was the conservative justices themselves who ordered the case re-argued fully a month after a ruling had been expected, asking the lawyers to present the free speech argument they’d earlier abandoned.
In a blatant violation of the First Amendment, a public high school in Prairie Village, Kansas disciplined a student for speaking out against Gov. Sam Brownback (R-KS):
Emma Sullivan, a senior at Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village, was in Topeka on Monday as part of Kansas Youth in Government, a program for students interested in politics and government.
During the session, in which Brownback addressed the group, Sullivan posted on her personal Twitter page: “Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot”
On Tuesday, Sullivan was called to her principal’s office and told that the tweet had been flagged by someone on Brownback’s staff and reported to organizers of the Youth in Government program. […]
Sullivan said the principal ordered her to write letters of apology to Brownback, the school’s Youth in Government sponsor, the district’s social studies coordinator and others.
It’s troubling that Brownback’s staff is so thin skinned that they felt the need to call down the government’s wrath on a high school student who had the audacity to criticize the governor. If nothing else, one would think a state governor’s office has better things to do than troll the internet looking for young dissenting voices they can intimidate.
Moreover, there’s no question that the high school principal violated Sullivan’s First Amendment rights. Although public school students’ right to free speech is not unlimited, schools are generally only allowed to discipline students for speech that is disruptive to the school’s learning environment. It is difficult to imagine how a single tweet criticizing a controversial politician during a field trip could have disrupted this high school’s ability to educate its students.
Moreover, because the school district violated Sullivan’s clearly established federal constitutional rights, she is likely entitled to have the district or the principal pay her attorney’s fees if she decides to bring a lawsuit challenging this unconstitutional disciplinary action. In other words, the district could be wise to settle this case immediately if Sullivan decides to bring them to court.
The campaign to marginalize and destroy the growing 99 Percent Movement is in full swing, with many in the media attempting to smear the people participating in the “occupation” protests across the country. However, several of the so-called journalists deriding, and in some cases sabotaging the movement, have paychecks thanks to a billionaire whose business practices have been scorned as among the worst of the financial elite.
As the New York Times has documented, Paul Singer, a Republican activist and hedge fund manager worth over $900 million, has emerged as one of the most important power brokers within the GOP. Now, it appears that the reporters financed by Singer are at the forefront of efforts to tarnish the reputation of 99 Percent Movement demonstrators:
Journalist Who Admitted To Infiltrating Protests To ‘Mock And Undermine’ The Movement Works For A Singer-Supported Right-Wing Magazine. In a column posted last night, reporter Patrick Howley admitted that he had surreptitiously joined an anti-war spin-off group from the OccupyDC protests that planned to demonstrate at a military drone exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Air and Space museum. Howley wrote that he “infiltrated” the action and sprinted into the police along with a few protesters in order to “mock and undermine”the movement. Singer is a major donor to the Spectator, a right-wing magazine known for its role in the “Arkansas Project,” a well-funded effort to invent stories with the goal of eventually impeaching President Clinton.
Journalist Pushing To Discredit Occupy Wall Street Is Funded By Singer’s Think Tank. Josh Barro, a journalist who has attacked the 99 Percent Movement in the National Review and the New York Daily News, draws a salary from the Wriston Fellowship at the Manhattan Institute, a big business advocacy think tank in New York. Barro makes the same tired arguments, that anti-Wall Street protesters are too inarticulate and “extreme” to be taken seriously. Singer is the chairman of the Manhattan Institute, and even oversees the Wriston annual fundraiser.
As Singer-funded journalists make their best effort to diminish the Occupy Wall Street protesters as confused idiots unable to articulate a clear goal, it so happens that these journalists are funded by a man who epitomizes the crony capitalist behavior of the greedy one percent.
Singer, manager of a $17 billion hedge fund, earned the moniker “vulture capitalist” for buying the debt of Third World countries for pennies on the dollar, then using his political and legal connections to extract massive judgements to force collection — even from nations suffering from starvation and violent conflicts. Singer and his partners have used such tactics in Panama, Ecuador, Poland, Cote d’Ivoire, Turkmenistan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In addition to squeezing impoverished countries with sovereign debt schemes, Singer speculates in the oil markets, a practice which can lead to gasoline price hikes here in the United States. The revelation that Singer engages in oil speculation, and also funds Republican lawmakers opposed to oil speculation regulations, was exposed by ThinkProgress using leaked government documents.
Singer’s political philanthropy is tied to his business interests. As Greg Palast has reported, Singer purchased near-bankrupt asbestos companies before his allies in Congress changed an asbestoas-liability law to make his investment incredibly profitable (at the expense, critics allege, of sickened workers). More recently, Singer has forged close financial ties to Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ), a little-known lawmaker at the forefront of efforts to repeal Dodd-Frank financial regulations on hedge funds like Elliott Associates, Singer’s firm.
The rise of Singer’s political profile can be traced to his work as a top donor to pro-Bush character-assasination groups like the “Swift Boat Veterans.” In recent years, he has quietly worked with the right-wing billionaire industrialist Koch brothers and Republican strategist Karl Rove to finance a fleet of anti-Obama organizations, including the shady attack ad nonprofit, “Crossroads GPS.” Singer also led a controversial group of Republican moneymen in a bid to recruit Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) into the presidential race, but shifted to endorsing Mitt Romney. Singer and Romney are already close; Singer’s hedge fund actually manages at least $1 million of the former governor’s personal investments.
Singer’s influence even extends to the Supreme Court. As ThinkProgress reported, Singer hosted Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito to speak at his $5,000-$25,000 a plate dinners.
Each week, TIME Magazine designs covers for four markets: the U.S., Europe, Asia and the South Pacific. Often, America’s cover is quite, well – different. This week offers a stark example.
Yes, what you see is TIME devoting its cover in international markets to a critical moment in Egypt’s revolution – perhaps the most important global story this week – while offering Americans the chance to contemplate their collective navels (with a rather banal topic and supposition, to boot).
This is not an isolated incident, for perusing TIME’s covers reveals countless examples of the publication tempting the world with critical events, ideas or figures, while dangling before Americans the chance to indulge in trite self-absorption.
Witness these stunning dichotomies:
Viewing these covers, a question must be asked: do these moments of marketing (through a choice in covers) reveal more about Americans, or about the state of American journalism?
I fear the answer.
Why did Mitt Romney lie so egregiously in his recent attack ad against Barack Obama? One of Greg Sargent’s readers suggests that it’s basically a signaling device, assuring his supporters that he’s willing to go to any lengths to win next year: […]
It’s not so much to show that Romney is willing to take heat from Obama, it’s to show that he’s contemptuous of criticism from the press. If there’s anything the GOP base hates more than Obama, after all, it’s the liberal media. Newt Gingrich has played on this hostility pretty effectively for months, and with Gingrich rising in the polls maybe Romney decided he needed to get into the act too.
I used to write these stories debunking the right wing only, and usually in the context of Fox News. But lately, it seems as though the entire angry political blogosphere, whether right, left or libertarian, seems to need to magically transform bullshit into fact. I’m going to give you two examples of how this works so you can actually figure out for yourself why it’s important to keep your critical thinking cap on.
Naomi Wolf wrote a nonsensical piece today that’s being spammed all over Twitter. It asserts that there is a deliberate plot afoot via collusion by the United States Congress, the Department of Homeland Security and our oligarchical overlords to undermine the very populist, leaderless Occupy Wall Street movement. One of her key pieces of evidence is an unsupported and unverified report that 18 mayors coordinated their crackdowns with the Department of Homeland Security. There’s only one problem with that: It’s nothing more than innuendo. Here, let me show you.
Here are the two links she provides as evidence: One to Wonkette; the other to Washingtonsblog.com. Both articles point back to this absurd article on the Examiner.com site (a very, very right-wing Phil Anschutz, write-out-of-your-butt-with-no-evidence kind of site). Washingtonsblog goes one step further, updating with this:
(And for those who are understandably doubtful about Examiner.com as a news source,here’s an AP story from a couple hours ago that verifies everything except the specific mention of DHS coordination.)
Got that? The headlines on both of these stories (Wonkette and WashingtonsBlog) were splayed across the sites in very large heading fonts: “Homeland Security Coordinated….” and yet the AP confirmseverything BUT DHS coordination. Still, that didn’t stop Wolf from ignoring the AP story entirely and writing a piece for the Guardian that included links to bolster her argument that clearly don’t.
Why? I reiterate. No one has a source, no one has any evidence, and the originating story which Michael Moore and now Naomi Wolf breathlessly spread quotes an anonymous source with the promise of still more to come in the future. Well, it’s the future. It’s two weeks later and crickets from Mr. Ellis. Mission accomplished, though. Ask people who are paying attention to the OWS movement and they’ll swear up and down that yes, it was coordinated by DHS because MICHAEL MOORE and now NAOMI WOLF say so.
Truth: We don’t know. It isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility for mayors to consult with DHS. After all, that’s what they’re there for. To help local and state governments deal with threats. At best, one can conclude that maybe they did, and maybe they didn’t coordinate.
But again, it doesn’t matter if you can spread it on the Internet and get Keith Olbermann to pick it up and give Michael Moore a mic to spread that nonsense further (see video).
Milt Shook did a fantastic job showing us that the originating Examiner.com writer is not a credible source, too. Read it. […]
Why do facts matter?
Great question. Why do they? Clearly we can have top-name journalists out there on top-name newspaper sites like the New York Times and the Guardian spewing whatever nonsense they think fits their narrative, with no consequence. A large segment of the left will view their claims as further evidence they shouldn’t bother supporting a President who is one of the most progressive Presidents in modern history while the right wing will cluck and concern troll about how evil the left is. A fact-free environment gives everyone the right to turn the narrative into one they want in order to persuade a larger segment of the population they’re right.
Here’s the problem. The right wing has this mastered and they have a 24-hour news network to help them spread the word. They’ve gamed social media and aren’t shy about buying sponsored links on every left-wing page they can. When the Naomi Wolfs, Michael Moores, and others hand them something they can use on their influential but fact-free networks, they run with it.
Our side is less organized, and generally less in step with what the average low information voter might respond to. So when the LEFT begins to spread these lies across their sphere of influence, it peels off and suppresses enthusiasm, one small group at a time. Their goal is purity. They don’t live in practical terms. If you don’t believe me, please go review Ralph Nader’s role in handing the election in 2000 over to George W. Bush. Between Nader and the United States Supreme Court, one has to wonder which masters they serve, but if you’ve read this far, know this: They are not serving masters who want anything good for you, or anyone else.
Yes. Facts matter. They matter, and it matters that so-called reputable publications exist as fact-free entities when the narrative suits. Who benefits? The same people Naomi Wolf and Michael Moore call the 1%. Who are they working for again?
Update re: alleged DHS coordination In Portland, Feds were involved because occupiers were on federal land. But pay attention:
There is another line of thinking out there that runs directly counter to the federal-coordination theory: Ruiz wouldn’t comment on this, but one well-placed city source said, in fact, that the feds were mostly inclined to leave Schrunk Plaza open. It was city officials who cajoled them into getting on board—lest they watch most of Occupy’s camp merely move several hundred feet south onto federal land. Which would have been awkward for the city. But also interesting.
Should you accept as fact the idea that the feds were reluctant and the city pushed them along? NO. Why? Because it’s attributed to an anonymous source with nothing to back it up, which makes this theory as worthy as the DHS coordination theory, or just speculation with no facts behind it.
Update 2: AngryBlackLady has a post at her site that reminds me there were three other posts strongly debunking the whole #OWS coordination “theory”. Check them out here and here. Finally, Joshua Holland, senior Alternet editor, wrote a terrific post a couple of weeks ago about why DHS probably didn’t coordinate with cities.
[…] On Monday or Tuesday, the US Senate will vote on a bill that would give the President the ability to order the military to arrest and imprison American citizens anywhere in the world for an indefinite period of time.
A provision of S. 1867, or the National Defense Authorization Act bill, written by Senators John McCain and Carl Levin, declares American soil a battlefield and allows the President and all future Chief Executives to order the military to arrest and detain American citizens, innocent or not, without charge or trial. In other words, if this bill passes and the President signs it, OWS protesters or any American could end up arrested and indefinitely locked up by the military without the guaranteed right to due process or a speedy trial.
This bill was written in secret and approved by committee without a single hearing. Senate Republicans support the bill and enough Democrats support it to give it a great chance of passing. This provision does have opponents. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill and even Ron Paul is concerned enough to bring it up during one of the GOP debates. An amendment called the Udall Amendment has been offered by Democratic Senator Mark Udall that would delete the dangerous provision.
If you are an American citizen, protect your constitutional rights. Call your senator and tell them to approve of the Udall Amendment. No American citizen should be arrested by the military and held indefinitely without charge or trial. It’s not conducive to American values and would give the military and the government more power over the American citizenry. The last time Americans had to deal with an overreaching military was during the Revolutionary era. Because of that, the Founders included the 3rd Amendment to ban the quartering of troops during times of war and peace. Once again, Americans are under threat of dealing with a military that has more power than it should have. And it could cost us most of the freedoms we tend to take for granted.
America is NOT a battlefield. America is a free country and American citizens should not ever be arrested by the military and certainly not without being charged or getting a trial. This provision would cast aside the Constitution and put the liberties of American citizens here at home and around the world at serious risk. Please call your senator or visit this link, because this is a risk Americans cannot afford to take.
An obscure Pentagon office designed to curb the flow of illegal drugs has quietly evolved into a one-stop shop for private security contractors around the world, soliciting deals worth over $3 billion.
The sprawling contract, ostensibly designed to stop drug-funded terrorism, seeks security firms for missions like “train[ing] Azerbaijan Naval Commandos.” Other tasks include providing Black Hawk and Kiowa helicopter training “for crew members of the Mexican Secretariat of Public Security.” Still others involve building “anti-terrorism/force protection enhancements” for the Pakistani border force in the tribal areas abutting Afghanistan.
The Defense Department’s Counter Narco-Terrorism Program Office has packed all these tasks and more inside a mega-contract for security firms. The office, known as CNTPO, is all but unknown, even to professional Pentagon watchers. It interprets its counternarcotics mandate very, very broadly, leaning heavily on its implied counterterrorism portfolio. And it’s responsible for one of the largest chunks of money provided to mercenaries in the entire federal government.
CNTPO quietly solicited an umbrella contract for all the security services listed above — and many, many more — on Nov. 9. It will begin handing out the contract’s cash by August. And there is a lot of cash to disburse.
The ceiling for the “operations, logistics and minor construction” tasks within CNTPO’s contract is $950 million. Training foreign forces tops out at $975 million. “Information” tasks yield $875 million. The vague “program and program support” brings another $240 million.
That puts CNTPO in a rare category. By disbursing at least $3 billion — likely more, since the contract awards come with up to three yearlong re-ups — the office is among the most lucrative sources of cash for private security contractors. The largest, from the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, doles out a $10 billion, five-year deal known as the Worldwide Protective Services contract.
CNTPO is “essentially planning on outsourcing a global counternarcotics and counterterrorism program over the next several years,” says Nick Schwellenbach, director of investigations for the Project on Government Oversight, “and it’s willing to spend billions to do so.”
For the vast majority of people who’ve never heard of CNTPO, the organization answers to the Pentagon’s Special Operations Low-Intensity Conflict Directorate, within the Counternarcotics and Global Threats portfolio. It’s tucked away so deep, bureaucratically speaking, that it doesn’t actually have an office at the Pentagon.
The organization, run by a civilian named Mike Strand, has been around since 1995. In 2007, it made a big push into contracting, hiring the Blackwater subsidiary U.S. Training Center as well as defense giants Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and ARINC for “a wide range of Defense counternarcotics activities,” according to a statement provided to Danger Room by the agency. That award, which has doled out $4.3 billion so far, is the precursor to the current bid.
Maybe that’s why an “Industry Day” last week at a Fredericksburg, Virginia hotel to introduce CNTPO to would-be contractors attracted “approximately 180 companies,” CNTPO boasts.
CNTPO might not be well-known. But in some circles, it’s infamous.
[…] And that, in a broad sense, is the symbolic point of Occupy Wall Street. Demonstrators are seeking to call to account the bankers (or “banksters,” as many of the OWS placards would have it) for something that seems unthinkable on the trading floor of the Dow: They are alleging that our financial class has done something that, in the final analysis, is not so smart. You don’t need an MBA, it turns out, to know you’re getting screwed.
This is also, not incidentally, why the most common criticism of the Wall Street action—that the protesters lack concrete, economically informed proposals—misses the point. Everyone in Zuccotti Park recognizes that money is buying policy. They likewise know that sitting deferentially in their congressman’s office isn’t going to get them heard. Indeed, the struggle to be heard is very much what informs the persistent Occupy effort, at Zuccotti Park, and now throughout much of the rest of the country. The famous “people’s mic” is about horizontal communication—anyone can call a “mic check” and say their piece, everyone repeats after everyone else, and decisions are made by consensus. That may all sound quixotic—shades of the painstaking “participatory democracy” phase of sixties antiwar protests—and it is; many a leftist movement has foundered on the rocks of radical anti-hierarchy and endless “direct democracy” meetings. But at least during the first phase of OWS, these imperfect, egalitarian structures have generated the sense of inclusion that plutocracy has destroyed, so that people can begin to feel involved and heard and powerful. In a recent tour through Zuccotti Park, I confess that my heart skipped when I realized there are now people standing on the fringe of the protest all day, holding out their homemade cardboard signs with slogans like “Tax the Rich” and “Bring Back Glass-Steagall” and “Grandmothers for OWS”. This is both the depth to which plutocracy has sunk us, and the height to which OWS has raised us: Holding a lonely sign out to traffic, hoping, maybe expecting now, at last, to be heard.
In some ways, it’s working. Occupy Wall Street forced the question of inequality onto the talking head agenda, and it’s also changed the mood of the long-dormant American left. I have had more searching conversations about economics and activism with other left-leaning people than at any time I can remember. There’s hope, and where there’s hope, there’s action. Writers are organizing OWS newspapers—at least two so far, the Occupy Wall Street Journal, and Occupy!—to chronicle and analyze both the protests and the state of economy. The constellation of left activist organizations, from those affiliated with labor to freestanding liberal entities such as MoveOn.org, are all sending the same blast emails, with the subject lines a unified brand for all Left incitements to action: Occupy Wall Street. Unions are working with students again, students are working with neighbors to block foreclosures. Just as the Tea Party made it cool to cut taxes, this surge may make it politically desirable to crack down on banks, and enact some serious regulation of the finance sector. Who knows—more political leaders could once again start talking openly about taxing the rich. It could happen.
Many liberals are fond of dredging up a New Deal-era quote from Franklin Roosevelt to bemoan the disorderly state of today’s social movements. After meeting with some activists who were pushing to enact the public retirement plan now known as Social Security, FDR told them “You’ve convinced me . . . Now go out and make me do it.” Well, a movement has appeared. Are critics impelled to question its legitimacy because it doesn’t look like organized labor? Is it too ragtag? We are living through an era of massive de-unionization—brought about, indeed, by the same targets of the OWS protests. There is more precarious labor than ever, students are plunged as deeply into debt as parents with mortgages, huge numbers of Americans are unemployed, and others are shunted from job to job. To expect these people to be organized is to expect them to have already overcome the forces they are protesting. To paraphrase another political truism, this time from the right: You go to war with the indebted precariat you have; and this is the precariat that is speaking.
Protests do not write policy. And something as loosely formed as the OWS action shouldn’t be drafting white papers. What protests can do most effectively is to alter the common sense understanding of what is right and wrong. In this case, the OWS action makes other sufferers of debt and disenfranchisement feel that their problems are political—not a symptom of personal shortcomings, and not just the unfortunate side effect of a passing miscalculation by the Peter Orszags of the world. The real “goal” of OWS is to rally together everyone who is willing to say to Washington, “American democracy cannot bear this inequality.” This movement may prove to be adept at waging ideological war against the disastrous free-marketeers, occupying the airwaves as well as the streets—but it will indeed fall to others to write legislation and to organize economic priorities in debt-wracked communities. The OWS protests should operate in concert with such efforts (OWSers have assisted foreclosure resistance in Queens, for instance), and should put up new forms of protests that keep the public’s eyes on the culprits. Bank occupations have already begun. Major campaigns are now successfully exhorting citizens to move their savings and checking accounts from big banks to local credit unions. The black box of high finance has finally been pried open and exposed for the unregulated machine of destruction that it is, and the alternatives being proposed in the tumult of Occupy Wall Street sound pretty smart to me.
NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
A YEAR before President Obama faces re-election, take a look at what has happened to other Western leaders confronting voters in this economic vortex.
Spain’s Socialist government was defeated in a crushing landslide vote a week ago, leaving the party with its fewest members of Parliament since democratic elections were introduced in 1977. That’s the pattern for incumbents from Ireland to Finland, Portugal to Denmark: Spain’s was the eighth government to topple in Europe in two years.
In this economic crisis, Obama will face the same headwinds. That should provide a bracing warning to grumbling Democrats: If you don’t like the way things are going right now, just wait.
President Obama came into office with expectations that Superman couldn’t have met. Many on the left believed what the right feared: that Obama was an old-fashioned liberal. But the president’s cautious centrism soured the left without reassuring the right.
Like many, I have disappointments with Obama. He badly underestimated the length of this economic crisis, and for a man with a spectacular gift at public speaking, he has been surprisingly inept at communicating.
But as we approach an election year, it is important to acknowledge the larger context: Obama has done better than many critics on the left or the right give him credit for.
He took office in the worst recession in more than half a century, amid fears of a complete economic implosion. As The Onion, the satirical news organization, described his election at the time: “Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job.”
The administration helped tug us back from the brink of economic ruin. Obama oversaw an economic stimulus that, while too small, was far larger than the one House Democrats hadproposed. He rescued the auto industry and achieved health care reform that presidents have been seeking since the time of Theodore Roosevelt.
Despite virulent opposition that has paralyzed the government, Obama bolstered regulation of the tobacco industry, signed a fair pay act and tightened control of the credit card industry. He has been superb on education, weaning the Democratic Party from blind support for teachers’ unions while still trying to strengthen public schools.
In foreign policy, Obama has taken a couple of huge risks. He approved the assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, and despite much criticism he led the international effort to overthrow Muammar el-Qaddafi. So far, both bets are paying off.
Granted, the economic downturn overshadows all else, as happens in every presidency. Ronald Reagan, the Teflon president, saw his job approval rating sink to 35 percent in January 1983 because of economic troubles. A faltering economy sent the popularity of the first president Bush into a tailspin, tumbling to 29 percent in 1992.
By comparison, President Obama has about a 43 percent approval rating, according to Gallup.
Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois tells me he thinks that liberals will eventually unite behind the president. “It’s never going to be the first date we had four years ago,” he said. “But I don’t question the fact that he’ll have the support of the left.”
Still, it’s hard to see how Obama will replicate the turnout that swept him into office, or repeat victories in crucial states like Florida and Ohio.
Then again, Republicans face a similar enthusiasm gap with their likely nominee, Mitt Romney. (Republicans keep searching for any other candidate who they think would be electable, when they already have one: Jon Huntsman. They just don’t like him.)
Earlier this month, I asked Bill Clinton — who has a better intuitive feel for politics than anyone I know — about Obama’s chances for re-election. “I’ll be surprised if he’s not re-elected,” Clinton said, adding that Obama would do better when matched against a specific opponent like Romney.
Clinton said that Romney did “a very good job” as governor of Massachusetts and would be acredible general election candidate. But Clinton added that Romney or any Republican nominee would be hampered by “a political environment in the Republican primary that basically means you can’t be authentic unless you’ve got a single-digit I.Q.”
I’m hoping the European elections will help shock Democrats out of their orneriness so that they accept the reality that we’ll be facing not a referendum, but a choice. For a couple of years, the left has joined the right in making Obama a piñata. That’s fair: it lets off steam, and it’s how we keep politicians in line.
But think back to 2000. Many Democrats and journalists alike, feeling grouchy, were dismissive of Al Gore and magnified his shortcomings. We forgot the context, prided ourselves on our disdainful superiority — and won eight years of George W. Bush.
This time, let’s do a better job of retaining perspective. If we turn Obama out of office a year from now, let’s make sure it is because the Republican nominee is preferable, not just out of grumpiness toward the incumbent during a difficult time.
The good news for Obama is that even though he’s heading for a tough fight, few of his 2008 swing states have moved off the board entirely. Indiana, a narrow and surprising blue state that year, is likely unwinnable. But other states that moved into the Democratic column for the first time in decades — namely and Virginia and North Carolina — are still looking like competitive races.
In 2010, however, Democrats were destroyed in large part because the electorate that showed up was older, whiter, more conservative, and less-educated. With Obama on the ticket, turnout is likely to be much higher among Democratic base voters than in the midterms, but losing the white vote big is still a major concern. The biggest danger might be Republican gains in states that Democrats had begun to treat as more durable holds, especially in the Rust Belt. Pennsylvania, which Democrats won twice against President Bush, is a particular problem. A sagging approval rating among less educated white voters creates potential problems with additional states, including Wisconsin and Michigan. Smaller state that are wavering: New Hampshire, where Romney’s close ties would give the GOP an added boost as well should he secure the nomination, and Iowa, where Republicans are currently getting intense local media coverage for their primary.
But the demographic trends that buoyed Obama in 2008 — namely, a growing base of Hispanic voters, and an influx of educated professionals into the South — have only gotten stronger. At the liberal Center for American Progress, Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin recently put out a detailed study analyzing Obama’s strengths among the three most distinct major voting groups: minorities, college-educated whites, and whites with lower levels of education. Obama’s strength in the last presidential election was his ability to rack up huge margins and turnout with the first group, split the vote with the second, and keep the third from becoming a total wipeout. And because the share of the electorate in 2012 is likely to include more minority voters and more college educated voters, he has more leeway to underperform with white voters and still win re-election.
“On the national level, given solid, but not exceptional, performance among minority voters, Obama’s re-election depends on either holding his 2008 white college-graduate support, in which case he can survive a landslide defeat of 2010 proportions among white working-class voters, or holding his slippage among both groups to around 2004 levels, in which case he can still squeak out a victory,” they conclude. “Conversely, if Republicans can cut significantly into Obama’s white college-graduate support and then replicate the landslide margins they achieved among white working-class voters in 2010, then they are likely to emerge victorious.”
Looking at this in this in terms of states, it means Democrats might be able to offset the loss of a state like Ohio that’s more dependent on the white working class vote by winning big out West, where the growing Hispanic population plays in their favor. Colorado looks to be a crucial player once again and Democrats are eyeing Arizona, which went for native son John McCain in 2008, as a potential pickup thanks to a backlash over its anti-immigration crackdown. And in Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, the Obama campaign thinks a less significant but growing Hispanic population will give them a boost as well. But even in the Rust Belt, Democrats get a demographic bump: the CAP study shows a higher concentration of college educated whites in Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin versus 2008. If Obama can keep these voters from abandoning him, he can survive some erosion elsewhere.
It’s also possible that Obama’s polling strength is slightly depressed right now. With the election a year out, he’s been largely judged in a vacuum against either an ideal version of himself or against a “generic” Republican in voters’ minds up to this point. But as Romney looks more and more like a general election nominee, voters seem to be warming to Obama a bit. His approval ratings are slowly ticking back up from their summer lows and there are signs his more populist message is gaining traction. A recent poll of swing states by Purple Strategies showed Obama improving his position into a tie with Romney, even as he still faces dangerously low approval ratings.
But the various swing states this year don’t exist in a vacuum. While at the margins, Obama’s built-in demographic advantages might eke out enough wins in some hotly contested swing states to survive losing several other key states, they’re still likely to break together as a group with the national trends. Just as John McCain lost nearly every swing state in 2008 as Obama racked up 53% of the vote, Obama is going to have a tough time holding any contested states if his approval rating is anemic come November.
“He’s not going to run the same in most states but surge or drop dramatically in a handful of battleground states,” political scientist Jonathan Berenstein wrote in a recent blog post. “It doesn’t work like that.”
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch said this, in part, about his wish for Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) to run for president in 2012: “I believe there is a major chance of a third party winning…”
Now with that in mind, remember my previous posts about a group called Americans Elect? They are an organization that can accept secret donations and pull votes from other candidates.
Via the L.A. Times back in July:
… nearly 1.6 million signatures collected by Americans Elect, a group attempting to ride exasperation with the nation’s political leaders into a place on the ballot in all 50 states by 2012.
Its mission is to upend the traditional party primary process by selecting an alternate presidential ticket through an online, open nominating convention.
[…]. Although it is attempting to qualify as a new party in California and other states, the group’s legal designation is that of a nonpolitical, tax-exempt social welfare organization.
Under that designation, Americans Elect has been able to keep private its financiers, raising questions about what forces are driving the massive undertaking.
I went on to say that they’re going to have an online convention open to any registered voters who sign up, and their presidential candidates are required to pick a running mate from a different political party. And check out who’s on their board.
They have now raised $22 million and will likely get their own wish of “placing a third presidential candidate on the ballot in every state next year,” per the Washington Post.
I’m guessing former Mayor Koch had that in mind.
See what money can buy? Thank you, Citizens United!
Mitt Romney, the Second-Place Front-Runner
The Republican candidate is unloved and stuck at 25 percent in the polls—and that’s not a bad place to be
[…] While Romney will never be a messiah candidate like Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama, chances are he won’t need to be. “I don’t look at his being stuck at 25 percent as a weakness,” says Steve Schmidt, chief strategist for John McCain’s 2008 Presidential campaign. “I see it as a show of strength in a very strange primary. As other candidates’ vote share falls away, I think he’ll get stronger.”
What about the staunch opposition to Romney, often cited on cable television and talk radio? It turns out that “Romney hatred” has been exaggerated. In a poll of Iowa and New Hampshire voters conducted for Bloomberg and released on Nov. 17, J. Ann Selzer, president of Des Moines-based Selzer & Co., sought to measure the intensity and causes of this supposed phenomenon. “We tried to identify why people hate Romney and discovered that they really don’t,” she says. “In fact, people think he’s smart, Presidential, and electable—but a significant minority don’t think he’s conservative enough. We found discomfort and unease, but not an ‘anybody but Romney’ sentiment.”
Selzer also found that, contrary to popular perception, Romney has attracted a substantial new following. Only 41 percent of Iowans who support him in the Bloomberg poll also backed him in 2008, meaning that a majority are newcomers. Many more rate him their second choice. This support has come despite Romney’s having mostly ignored Iowa, and appears to have convinced him to start competing in earnest. His first headquarters opened in Des Moines just before Thanksgiving. In New Hampshire he is well ahead, with more than twice the support of his nearest rival, Representative Ron Paul of Texas. Were he to carry both states, his national numbers would quickly improve.
Romney’s opponents could exploit his weaknesses—and he has many. Nearly half of Iowans and 40 percent of New Hampshirites believe he’ll say anything to get elected. The health-care law he signed as Massachusetts governor prompted 58 percent of likely caucus-goers to rule out supporting him. His Mormonism presents another obstacle. Asked directly, most voters claim it won’t influence their decision. But Selzer discovered that while Romney leads comfortably among Iowans who consider Mormonism “part of the Christian tradition,” he rated a distant fourth among those who consider it “something else.” Then there is the makeup of his constituencies, which include some of the least influential groups in the Republican base. The liberals and moderates strongly for him are vastly outnumbered by skeptical conservatives. He performs best among the elderly; but in Iowa the percentage of seniors planning to caucus next year has mysteriously fallen by half. That would benefit Paul—who is the most popular among younger voters—at Romney’s expense.
The best news for Romney is that no one has been able to turn these vulnerabilities against him. Even in the debates, the other candidates have largely gone after each other. In the unlikely event that Gingrich or someone else does take aim, Romney is still well positioned to withstand the attack. “Presidential campaigns end when they run out of money,” Schmidt says. Money—and luck—may be Romney’s greatest assets. From his policies to his poll numbers, little about him sets Republican hearts alight. But for now, 25 percent could be a good enough number, and Romney a good enough candidate, to end up with the nomination.
That would be a blow to the “Not Mitt” Republicans and a disappointment to many more. With Republican motivation soaring, the party would find itself saddled with a less-than-popular nominee.
Here again, Romney’s situation would be better than it appeared. Survey research shows that when an incumbent President seeks reelection, voters of both parties are moved primarily by their judgment of his performance. Sure enough, in an Oct. 6 Pew Research Center poll that had Romney and Obama in a dead heat, more than two-thirds of Romney’s supporters said that they were casting their ballots against Obama rather than for their own guy. Enthusiasm for Romney was not a major factor, nor even the most important consideration. “In a general election contest against an unpopular incumbent,” William A. Galston of the Brookings Institution wrote in a recent paper on the 2012 election, “the main hurdle that the opposition candidate needs to clear is that of competence.”
As the Bloomberg poll makes clear, even Romney’s detractors acknowledge his competence. In fact, the only issue upon which Republicans more readily agree is whether Obama deserves a second term. Both answers are good news for Romney.
The bottom line: As his rivals for the GOP nomination rise and then quickly fall, Romney—unexciting but consistent—is making a virtue of his weaknesses.
[The good news is that the government refused to compound the problems by helping out average Americans with their foreclosures, thus avoiding moral hazard.~~digby.]
Goldman Sachs, the most notorious investment bank on Wall Street, has two things in common with the legislators with significant investments in the company: wealth and power.
According to research by the Center for Responsive Politics, 19 current members of Congress reported holdings in Goldman Sachs during 2010. Whether by coincidence or not, most of these 19 Goldman Sachs investors in Congress are more powerful or more wealthy than their peers, or both.
Nine of them sit on either the most powerful committee in their chamber or committees charged with regulating the Wall Street giant. Moreover, seven of them are among the 25 wealthiest members of their respective chambers, according to the Center’s research.
And of the six lawmakers who fall into neither category, two are the most influential Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives: House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
Altogether, the 19 had at least $480,000 and as much as $1.1 million invested in Goldman Sachs in 2010, the most recent year personal finance data are available. That’s an average of about $812,900 for these 19 lawmakers’ holdings combined.
Lawmakers are only required to report their personal assets and liabilities in broad ranges, meaning it’s impossible to know the precise value of these holdings. The Center uses the minimum and maximum values listed on the filings to calculate an average value for each asset and liability.
But these financial interests are not a one-way street: Goldman Sachs employees and its political action committee have contributed about $124,000, combined, to a dozen of the lawmakers who reported holdings in the company in 2010, according to the Center’s research. This includes all money given during the 2010 election cycle and thus far in 2011.
The congressional Goldman Sachs investors wield considerable influence in both chambers, either through powerful committees, leadership positions or committee assigned to overseeing Goldman and the big-money interests on Wall Street.
In the leadership category are names such as Boehner and Cantor, each of whom has an average $32,500 invested in Goldman.
Goldman Sachs’ employees, meanwhile, have also contributed heavily to Boehner and Cantor.
Boehner has received $29,500, and Cantor $48,000, from them since 2009, according to the Center’s research.
Other Goldman investors with this kind of power include two members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, better known as the debt supercommittee.
The first, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), reported $1,177 invested in Goldman in 2010, and, as minority whip, is the second highest ranking Republican in the Senate.
And not only is Kyl a member of the supercommittee and party leadership, he also sits on the Senate Finance Committee, which regulates Goldman Sachs and its peers on Wall Street.
Another one of Kyl’s colleagues on the supercommittee, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), is also a Goldman investor.
Upton had an average of $8,000 invested in the company in 2010, according to the Center’s research.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), is another influential Goldman shareholder in Congress.
Ryan sits on two very important House committees: the Budget Committee, which he chairs, and the Ways and Means Committee.
Ryan reported an average of $8,000 invested in Goldman and has received $5,800 from the company’s employees so far this year after receiving $10,000 from them during the 2010 cycle, according to the Center’s research.
One of Goldman Sachs’ most valuable congressional investors is Rep. Randy Neugebauer(R-Texas), whose average of $550,000 in investments in the company is far and away the most in Congress.
Additionally Neugebauer sits on the House Financial Services Committee, which oversees Wall Street and the securities and investment industry of which Goldman is a part.
That also helps explain the $9,500 Goldman Sachs employees have contributed to Neugebauer since January 2009 through the company’s political action committee.
Rep. Gary Peters (R-Mich.) is another Goldman Sachs investor on the Financial Services committee. He has an average of $8,000 invested and has received $4,500 from the company this year from its PAC.
The Goldman Sachs investors in Congress aren’t just influential, many are also among the wealthiest of their peers.
The fifth wealthiest member of Congress, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), was invested in Goldman in 2010.
Warner’s average net worth is an estimated $192.7 million. He has between $0 and $1,000 invested in Goldman Sachs, a company whose employees have given him $3,000 since January 2009.
Rep. Vernon Buchanon (R-Fla.), the eighth richest member of Congress and fifth richest member of the House, had an average $32,500 invested in Goldman in 2010. Buchanon also sits on the House Ways and Means Committee.
Another wealthy member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richard Berg (R-N.D.), is also a Goldman investor.
Berg had $3,026 invested in Goldman in 2010 and is worth $33.5 million, making him the 14th wealthiest House member.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) is a Goldman investor and is also among the 25 wealthiest members of the House.
Sensenbrenner, who is worth an estimated $18.7 million, had $16,816 invested in Goldman in 2010.
Other wealthy members of Congress invested in Goldman include Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
Here is a table showing these 19 lawmakers, along with the average amounts of their 2010 Goldman Sachs holdings and the amount of campaign contributions they’ve received from Goldman Sachs employees or the corporate PAC since January 2009:
See the more detailed information on members of Congress and their Goldman Sachs investments here.
Because forcing austerity on the nation isn’t enough to keep Congress occupied and off the streets, they’re also plotting against the internet with SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act in the House, and PROTECT IP in the Senate (BANANAS alert if you click that link). In a generally deadlocked body, this one seems to be on the fast track, potentially coming up for a vote in the Senate as soon as Dec. 5.
ArsTechnica provides the background.
Ever since health care reform was signed into law, it’s been clear that much of the legislation’s opposition has come from the left, and the latest poll from CNN (conducted Nov. 18 to 20 with margin of error of ±3%) shows that nothing’s changed:
And while 23 percent of liberals don’t think the bill was liberal enough, it’s not just liberals who think the bill should have gone further: 35 percent of moderates who don’t support the bill think it wasn’t liberal enough.
These kinds of numbers illustrate the why the Republican tea party approach—simply repealing the bill and going back to the way things were—will probably never happen. Even though a majority of Americans oppose the legislation as written, it’s also true that most Americans either support the bill or want to see it move in a more progressive direction. And the way that will happen is by building on health care reform—not by destroying it.
Life began with a planetary mega-organism(Mother Earth?)
ONCE upon a time, 3 billion years ago, there lived a single organism called LUCA. It was enormous: a mega-organism like none seen since, it filled the planet’s oceans before splitting into three and giving birth to the ancestors of all living things on Earth today.
This strange picture is emerging from efforts to pin down the last universal common ancestor – not the first life that emerged on Earth but the life form that gave rise to all others.
The latest results suggest LUCA was the result of early life’s fight to survive, attempts at which turned the ocean into a global genetic swap shop for hundreds of millions of years. Cells struggling to survive on their own exchanged useful parts with each other without competition – effectively creating a global mega-organism.
It was around 2.9 billion years ago that LUCA split into the three domains of life: the single-celled bacteria and archaea, and the more complex eukaryotes that gave rise to animals and plants(see timeline). It’s hard to know what happened before the split. Hardly any fossil evidence remains from this time, and any genes that date that far back are likely to have mutated beyond recognition.
That isn’t an insuperable obstacle to painting LUCA’s portrait, says Gustavo Caetano-Anollés of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While the sequence of genes changes quickly, the three-dimensional structure of the proteins they code for is more resistant to the test of time. So if all organisms today make a protein with the same overall structure, he says, it’s a good bet that the structure was present in LUCA. He calls such structures living fossils, and points out that since the function of a protein is highly dependent on its structure, they could tell us what LUCA could do.
“Structure is known to be conserved when sequences aren’t,” agrees Anthony Poole of the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand, though he cautions that two very similar structures could conceivably have evolved independently after LUCA.
To reconstruct the set of proteins LUCA could make, Caetano-Anollés searched a database of proteins from 420 modern organisms, looking for structures that were common to all. Of the structures he found, just 5 to 11 per cent were universal, meaning they were conserved enough to have originated in LUCA (BMC Evolutionary Biology, DOI: 10.1186/1471-2148-11-140).
By looking at their function, he concludes that LUCA had enzymes to break down and extract energy from nutrients, and some protein-making equipment, but it lacked the enzymes for making and reading DNA molecules.
This is in line with unpublished work by Wolfgang Nitschke of the Mediterranean Institute of Microbiology in Marseille, France. He reconstructed the history of enzymes crucial to metabolism and found that LUCA could use both nitrate and carbon as energy sources. Nitschke presented his work at the UCL Symposium on the Origin of Life in London on 11 November.
If LUCA was made of cells it must have had membranes, and Armen Mulkidjanian of the University of Osnabrück in Germany thinks he knows what kind. He traced the history of membrane proteins and concluded that LUCA could only make simple isoprenoid membranes, which were leaky compared with more modern designs (Proceedings of the International Moscow Conference on Computational Molecular Biology, 2011, p 92).
LUCA probably also had an organelle, a cell compartment with a specific function. Organelles were thought to be the preserve of eukaryotes, but in 2003 researchers found an organelle called the acidocalcisome in bacteria. Caetano-Anollés has now found that tiny granules in some archaea are also acidocalcisomes, or at least their precursors. That means acidocalcisomes are found in all three domains of life, and date back to LUCA (Biology Direct, DOI: 10.1186/1745-6150-6-50).
So LUCA had a rich metabolism that used different food sources, and it had internal organelles. So far, so familiar. But its genetics are a different story altogether.
For starters, LUCA may not have used DNA. Poole has studied the history of enzymes called ribonucleotide reductases, which create the building blocks of DNA, and found no evidence that LUCA had them (BMC Evolutionary Biology, DOI: 10.1186/1471-2148-10-383). Instead, it may have used RNA: many biologists think RNA came first because it can store information and control chemical reactions (New Scientist, 13 August, p 32).
The crucial point is that LUCA was a “progenote”, with poor control over the proteins that it made, says Massimo Di Giulio of the Institute of Genetics and Biophysics in Naples, Italy. Progenotes can make proteins using genes as a template, but the process is so error-prone that the proteins can be quite unlike what the gene specified. Both Di Giulio and Caetano-Anollés have found evidence that systems that make protein synthesis accurate appear long after LUCA. “LUCA was a clumsy guy trying to solve the complexities of living on primitive Earth,” says Caetano-Anollés.
Next year’s Supreme Court decision on the healthcare reform law could be the most heavily lobbied ever.
Corporations, unions, trade groups and advocates are expected to spend millions of dollars over the next few months trying to shape the court’s thinking on whether the law’s individual mandate is constitutional. Their efforts will include ideological appeals, popularity contests and recusal campaigns – none of which are likely to have much effect on the outcome of the case.
“More effort will go into pushing this boulder up this Sisyphean hill in the next three months than in any court case in history,” predicted Tom Goldstein, co-founder of the legal affairs SCOTUSblog and a lawyer for AARP in defense of the law. “However many op-eds or TV ads or whatever you want to place, you’re just lighting money on fire when it comes to trying to change any Justice’s opinions on these questions.”
Still, the pressure for any group with a stake in healthcare to get involved could prove irresistible after the high court agreed this month to take up the case right in the middle of the 2012 election campaign. The real target, experts say, is the court of public opinion.
“I’m not so sure that all of these special interest groups are entirely about influencing the judicial process itself (as much as trying) to justify their own existence,” said Michael Wissot, a senior strategist with Republican messaging guru Frank Luntz’s firm. “I see it as being more about taking one last opportunity to intensify the public outcry.”
Health policy consultant Alexander Vachon, a Republican health staffer for the Senate Finance Committee in the 1990’s, has an even simpler explanation: It’s what trade associations do.
“There’s probably a song here: Birds fly, porpoises swim, and lobbyists do what they do,” he said. “Whether all that adds up to anything beyond having well-reasoned, compelling arguments … is a secondary question.”
The language both sides will rely on to make their case is already well-honed, whether it’s through public statements, op-eds or friend of the court briefs.
For Democrats, it’s all about the law’s benefits.
White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer struck that theme when the court announced its review.
“Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, one million more young Americans have health insurance, women are getting mammograms and preventive services … and insurance companies have to spend more of your premiums on health care,” he said. “We know the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and are confident the Supreme Court will agree.”
Republicans’ rhetoric, meanwhile, is more ideological – and more directly aimed at the Justices.
“On the Republican side,” Wissot said, “the hope is to appeal to the [Antonin] Scalias and the [John] Roberts of the world when it comes to constantly referring to this as a ‘government-run mandate,’ using words like … ‘overstepping its bounds’ … and ‘invading’ the lives of the private citizen.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), Wissot said, “has probably been echoing this message more than anybody” because Republican control of the upper chamber could be riding on the case’s outcome.
“Throughout the debate, Senate Republicans have argued that this misguided law represents an unprecedented and unconstitutional expansion of the federal government into the daily lives of every American,” McConnell said when the court took the case. “Most Americans agree. In both public surveys and at the ballot box, Americans have rejected the law’s mandate that they must buy government-approved health insurance, and I hope the Supreme Court will do the same.”
The latest Quinnipiac University poll, released Wednesday, indeed shows Americans rooting for the Supreme Court to overturn the law by a 48 percent to 40 percent margin.
The popularity argument could backfire, though.
“The people who oppose the law and try and paint it as very unpopular to some extent shoot themselves in the foot,” Goldstein said, “because they illustrate that there’s a popular will element to all of this. And if (voters) want to vote out the people who enacted the law and get the law repealed, they’re entirely capable of doing that.”
Wissot called the popularity argument “a losing proposition.”
“Some of the decisions these Justices are the most proud of are often ones that have no direct correlation to popularity,” he said. “What they pride themselves most on is being able to transcend the populist debate.”
Likewise, efforts to get Justices to recuse themselves aren’t likely to go anywhere.
Congressional Republicans are demanding that the Justice Department release information about Justice Elena Kagan’s role in preparing for the law’s defense when she was Solicitor General after an email surfaced where she appears to support its passage. The administration has said she wasn’t involved in discussions about its constitutionality.
Democrats for their part are raising concerns with Justice Clarence Thomas, whose wife has worked for groups opposed to the law. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) is also leading calls for an investigation into Thomas’s failure to declare his wife’s income.
Goldstein dismissed both efforts as “political campaigns … trying improperly to manipulate the outcome of the case.”
When he represented Vice-President Al Gore in the 2000 Bush vs. Gore case, he said, he was under pressure to ask for Justice Scalia to recuse himself because his son worked for the law firm representing George W. Bush. He refused.
“For each side’s base, it’s red meat,” Goldstein said, “but it doesn’t seem to be crossing over either way into a serious, non-hyperpartisan argument.”
He predicted that outside influence in this case will be minimal. Public opinion campaigns can help draw attention to a case and perhaps influence the high court to review it, he said, but not when fundamental issues regarding the scope of Congress’s power are at stake.
Justices “are not ignorant people; they read their newspapers,” Goldstein said. “But this is right in their wheelhouse… They’ve been thinking about these questions for decades, each of them – even the ones that are new to the Supreme Court.”
As a result, he said, the Justices’ position on the mandate is probably already “pretty fully baked.”
One key aspect of the case, however, may hinge on last-minute efforts to influence the court. If the Justices strike the mandate, they’ll then have to decide how much – if any – of the law can survive without it. That argument, called severability, basically puts Justices in charge of determining if the law would still work the way it was supposed to without a key component.
“When the court strikes down one part of a statute, it asks whether Congress would have wanted the rest of the statute to live on,” Goldstein said. “Because Congress isn’t getting the law that it thought it was getting.”
Only one thing’s for sure. If the law survives, the influence campaign will only get stronger as both parties continue to make their case for and against repeal.
“If anything,” Wissot said, a Democratic court victory “will reignite more determination among the Republican Party and it will continue to keep this in play on the campaign trail.”
Adam Serwer, Mother Jones:
On Wednesday, I noted that Rush Limbaugh’s latest stereotypical race parody featured President Barack Obama as blaxploitation detective John Shaft, even though just about the only two things they have in common is that they’re both black.
Ta-Nehisi Coates observes that Michael Moore and Bill Maher, in expressing their disappointment with Obama, embrace the same basic idea. Unable to limit their criticisms to Obama’s politics, on The View, (in a clip flagged by Angry Black Lady) Moore repeated Maher’s statement that “I went into the polls voting for the black guy, and what I got was the white guy.” Coates writes:
I know Michael Moore and Bill Maher think this is a great line…But it really isn’t. In fact, it’s racist, and Michael Moore would do well to stop repeating it. It really is no better than the Kenyan anti-colonial bit, and in fact is good deal worse. I said this yesterday on twitter, but it would be as if my Jewish accountant messed up my taxes and I said, “Dude, you’re Jewish, what the hell?!?!”
One commenter on the post asks, “Did they think they were voting for Shaft?” Maher and Moore wish they had, and Limbaugh thinks they did. The difference is that Limbaugh doesn’t seemcapable of discerning between Obama and the black monsters of his own fevered imagination, while Maher and Moore are depressed that Obama doesn’t embody the stereotype.
What Limbaugh, Moore and Maher all have in common is a common, reductive expectation of what a “black man” is supposed to be—aggressive, belligerent, intimidating—and Obama doesn’t fit the bill. All three are embracing a paternalistic social tyranny of trying to define the acceptable limits of people’s behavior based on their racial background, something that still happens even in America even if you end up being president of the United States. If you’re president, though, it’s much easier to just brush your shoulders off—dealing with those kind of expectations when you’re an average person is considerably more difficult. Especially when the “liberals” are the ones saying stuff like this.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
THERE was a time when my wife, Giulia, said “Yes” to almost everything I suggested. But before she consented, there was always an unnatural pause, a pause so small it may have gone unnoticed by others. But it was painfully obvious to me. That pause did not come from her; it came from the antipsychotic medication she had to take.
Two years ago, when Giulia and I were 27 and in our third year of marriage, she suffered a psychotic break. She had no history of mental illness preceding the abrupt arrival of delusions and paranoia. It was a bewildering decline that snowballed from typical work stress to mild depression to sleeplessness to voices speaking to her in the night.
The medicine combated the psychosis by slowing everything down: her metabolism, movements and response time. I didn’t like what the medicine did to her, but I liked even less what her unmedicated self was like and capable of doing, so I gave her the medicine. I observed her as she took it, making sure she did not hide it in her mouth and spit it out later. She still managed to do that a few times anyway.
To try to make sense of why she had to live in this medicated haze, I thought of her condition as being like an old television, the type where you have to turn the dial to change the channels. For some reason, Giulia had become stuck between channels, so all that was broadcasting in her mind was crackly white noise, and it drove her mad, right into the halls of a psychiatric ward.
The medicine was like turning down the volume. It was what had to be done until the channels could work again. And while the volume was turned down, her entire life was on mute. She wasn’t psychotic, she wasn’t delusional, she just kind of wasn’t.
She didn’t communicate much when she was on the medicine. When she did, it was mostly just “Yes” or “No.” More often than not, it was “Yes,” because I think she wanted to make me happy. If we had to go through this hell, she at least wanted to be agreeable. During this time I thought of her as the Great Validator.
The fact that she did not speak much also meant that I spoke a lot, about silly things, things that filled the silence so that I could try to keep her mind here with me, and not adrift in her illness.
But occasionally she spoke on her own, without prompting, and beyond “Yes” or “No.” Those rare moments of self-initiated conversation were always about one of two subjects: suicide or love.
The suicide conversations were never fun. They happened over and over. Out of nowhere, in the midst of one of our agreed-upon dog walks, or while washing the dishes or whatever, often as I talked about something insignificant, Giulia would interrupt and say, “Mark, if someone kills themselves, do they still get a funeral?”
Long pause on my part. “What do you mean?”
“Well, I know that if you kill yourself you go to hell. But does that mean they don’t let you have a funeral? Do you still get a funeral if you’re going to hell?”
“We don’t have to think about that, Giulia, because you’re not going to kill yourself.”
“No ‘maybe’ about it.”
She’d smile. Thoughts of suicide tended to make her smile, like she was a little child being told you can have your ice cream later. It was something to look forward to.
When suicidal thoughts made her happy, I knew it was my cue to remind her of other reasons to feel happy. So I told her I loved her. And that so many other people loved her, too. That she was so strong for holding on. That none of this was her fault. That the feelings would go away. That she just had to keep holding on.
These suicidal conversations could be quick or they could be slow. One time we were biking to yoga together, and we had to pull over and sit on the sidewalk for almost two hours while she sobbed and begged me to let her kill herself. I pleaded with her to just hang on through this moment, and that it would pass, and that she would someday, somehow, start to feel better again.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
The world cares very little about what a man or woman knows; it is what a man or woman is able to do that counts ~ Virgil