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Already mocked by some as “snail mail,” first-class U.S. mail will slow even more by next spring under plans by the cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service to eliminate more than 250 processing centers. Nearly 30,000 workers would be laid off, too, as the post office struggles to respond to a shift to online communication and bill payments.
The cuts are part of $3 billion in reductions aimed at helping the agency avert bankruptcy next year. They would virtually eliminate the chance for stamped letters to arrive the next day, a change in first-class delivery standards that have been in place since 1971.
The plan technically must await an advisory opinion from the independent Postal Regulatory Commission, slated for next March. But that opinion is nonbinding, and only substantial pressure from Congress, businesses or the public might deter far-reaching cuts.
Many postal customers will be upset.
“The post office is a mainstay of America, and the fact that these services will no longer be available is absolutely crazy,” said Carol Braxton of Naperville, Ill., as she waited in line at a mail sorting center Monday with the holiday shipping season picking up steam.
“Well I’m not happy about them, but what else can you do with this economy? If they’re getting ready to go bankrupt, it’s better to cut back than to go totally bankrupt,” said Deborah Butler of Brandywine, Md., who was at a Washington, D.C., post office. “You still need them. Because everybody can’t afford the other ones, like express mail and things like that. .Even though the world is computer literate, everybody doesn’t have computers.”
At a news briefing in Washington, postal vice president David Williams said the post office needs to move quickly to cut costs as it seeks to stem five years of red ink amid steadily declining mail volume. After hitting 98 billion in 2006, first-class mail volume is now at less than 78 billion. It is projected to drop by roughly half by 2020.
The agency already has announced a 1-cent increase in first-class mail to 45 cents beginning Jan. 22.
Williams said in certain narrow situations first-class mail might still be delivered the next day — if, for example, newspapers, magazines or other bulk mailers are able to meet new, tighter deadlines and drop off shipments directly at the processing centers that remain open.
But in the vast majority of cases, everyday users of first-class mail will see delays. The changes could slow everything from check payments to Netflix’s DVDs-by-mail, add costs to mail-order prescription drugs and even threaten the existence of newspapers and time-sensitive magazines delivered by postal carrier to far-flung suburban and rural communities.
The Postal Service faces imminent default — this month — on a $5.5 billion annual payment to the Treasury for retiree health benefits and expects to have a record loss of $14.1 billion next year.
“Are we writing off first class mail? No,” Williams said. “Customers are making their choices, and what we are doing is responding to the current market conditions and placing the Postal Service on a path to allow us to respond to future changes. We have to do what’s in our control to put the Postal Service on sold financial ground.”
You’re in an important meeting with your boss and your cell phone rings. You answer it, thinking it could be urgent — and you hear a computerized voice hounding you about your credit card balance.
This kind of automated robo-call to a cell phone is illegal now, but that could be about to change. Bill collectors, the Chamber of Commerce and other industry groups want to lift the ban on robo-calls to cell phones — and there is a bill in Congress to do just that. Although telemarketers will still be banned, any company you have given your cell phone number to could use automated dialers to make “informational” calls to you — whether you want the information or not. And they could keep using your number for years — long after you have stopped doing business with them. Consumer groups and cell-phone users are pushing back, trying to keep cell phones off-limits from spam phone calls, but they will have a hard fight ahead of them.
If you cannot recall ever getting a robo-call on your cell phone, there is a reason: the federal government has prohibited them for the past two decades, or about as long as cell phones have been popular. The logic behind the ban is straightforward. If you get a call on your landline, you do not have to pay for it. But if you get a call on your cell phone — unless you have an unlimited-minutes plan — you are charged. Allowing businesses to make automated calls to cell phones would mean that consumers would have to pay to be dunned by bill collectors or bothered with market research surveys.
There is also a privacy reason for the ban. Cell phones are much more personal than landlines. Users carry them around in their pockets and purses and often bring them to work and to social engagements. A call to a cell phone is generally more intrusive and harder to ignore than one to a home phone.
Industry groups such as the American Bankers Association and the Student Loan Servicing Alliance have thrown their weight behind the Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011, a bill sponsored by Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) that would lift the ban on robo-calls to cell phones. Such groups have been trying to do this for years, but these efforts have taken on a new urgency now that cell phones are starting to replace landlines. More than 90% of Americans have cell phones today — and quarter of all households are cell-phone only. As landlines die off, businesses that rely on telephones to contact people worry that more and more people are escaping their reach. Not surprisingly, lobbyists who are pushing the change are trying to sugarcoat it. It is not about using robo-calls to sell things, they insist, but about providing consumers with information that they need.
Does $50,000 a year seem like plenty to live on, or not nearly enough?
If you said somewhere in between, that makes sense because $49,445 is the national household median income, meaning about half of all households live on more than that and half on less. The figure, based on 2010 calculations, was reported in September by the Census Bureau as part of an extensive report on income and poverty.
In some places and circumstances, $50,000 is enough for a large family to live comfortably. In others, it’s not even enough for a single person to afford rent, utilities and other expenses.
Four years into the deepest economic downturn in a generation, some Americans, especially those who have experienced bouts with unemployment, are overjoyed to be earning $50,000 a year. Others are devastated to have seen their incomes fall so far.
For some, it’s a mixture of both.
We recently asked the readers of TODAY.com’s Life Inc. blog to let us know what it’s like to live on about $50,000 a year, and we got hundreds of responses.
“While unemployed I would have been thrilled to make $50,000,” said Dawn Mogan, 55.
Now that she actually makes that salary after two years of unemployment, the single mom in Texas still worries constantly about money.
Many of the readers who wrote to us say that on $50,000 a year they can put food on the table, pay for necessities and even splurge occasionally on a dinner out or a game for the family.
But others told us they have to watch their budgets closely and occasionally make sacrifices to get the bills paid.
Many feel like they are treading water — and for good reason. After adjusting for inflation, the nation’s medianincome has fallen about 7 percent from its peak in 1999, reversing a fairly steady increase that lasted for five decades from 1950, according to Census Bureau figures.
The troubles started when the nation last fell into recession in 2001. From 2000 to 2007, household income was virtually stagnant, said economist Heidi Shierholz with the Economic Policy Institute.
“Even that was dramatic,” she said.
Then came the Great Recession of 2007-09 and its ugly aftermath.
From 2007 to 2010, the Census Bureau estimates that median household income fell by 6.4 percent, to $49,445, as unemployment soared to a peak of over 10 percent. (The jobless rate dropped last month to 8.6 percent — still high by historical standards although the best level in more than two years.)
Of course, median income varies a lot depending on what kind of household you live in. For families, defined as two or more related people living together, median household income was $61,544 last year. For single people, it was $29,730.
Gordon Green, a former Census official who is now a partner in Sentier Research, has been using government data to track monthly changes in American income levels.
He wasn’t too surprised to find that median income fell during the recession. After all, a deep recession combined with sharp job losses can be expected to have that effect.
But he was surprised to find that incomes have fallen even more sharply in the weak recovery period that followed the recession, even as the massive job cuts slowed.
He suspects that’s because some people held onto their jobs but saw their hours or wages cut, while others, after long periods of unemployment, were forced to take jobs that paid less than their previous positions.
Taken together, he said the median income decline from December 2007 to June 2011 “represents a significant reduction in the American standard of living.”
Even the relatively low rate of inflation that has characterized the past few years can start to add up if your income is not rising.
“Even if there’s 2 percent inflation, if they don’t get any raise that’s a 2 percent real wage drop,” Shierholz said. “That happens for a couple years, and that starts adding up to a serious decline of what you can buy with your paycheck.”
The outlook for the future remains uncertain. Diane Swonk, chief economist with Mesirow Financial, said one major problem is that even as companies start hiring again, there aren’t good systems in place to train people for work that requires skills but not a college degree. Those skilled labor jobs traditionally have represented a strong path to get into — or stay in — the middle class.
And even a college degree isn’t necessarily the guarantee of a comfortable salary that it once was.
And despite the November surprise of a sharp drop in unemployment, it could be years before enough jobs are added to bring the rate down to historical norms of 4 to 6 percent.
“Unfortunately, if there was a silver bullet to be shot it would have already been shot,” Swonk said. “We’re going to have to struggle through this time and adjust, and it’s a painful adjustment.”
Green saw a glimmer of hope in recent data that showed a slight increase in household median income to $50,257 as of September. But he said it’s too early to tell whether that’s a sign of better times, or just a fluke in the data.
To see what it’s like to literally be in the middle of the nation’s income spectrum, Life Inc. is hitting the road this week to profile Americans from all walks of life whose household income is around $50,000 a year.
According to a new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, income inequality — which has sparked the Occupy Wall Street movement in the U.S. — is increasing all across the developed world, led by bankers and executives reaping bigger and bigger income gains. In the OECD countries, the richest 10th of the population makes about nine times as much in average income as the poorest 10th , a significant increase from the gap in the 1980s:
The gap between rich and poor is widening across most developed economies as skilled workers reap more rewards and top executives and bankers benefit from a global job market, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said.
The average income of the richest tenth of the population is now about nine times that of the poorest tenth, the Paris- based OECD said today in a report. The gap has increased about 10 percent since the mid 1980s.
Mexico, the U.S., Israel and the U.K. are among the countries with the biggest divide between rich and poor, while Denmark, Norway, Belgium and the Czech Republic are among those with the smallest gap. The earnings multiple is 14-to-1 in the U.S. and Israel, compared with about 10-to-1 in the U.K., Italy and Japan and 6-to-1 in Germany and Denmark.
- U.S. automakers are “headed toward their best annual performance in three years at sales of 12.8 million vehicles.” [Bloomberg]
- The nomination of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is likely to be filibustered by Republicans this week. [Politico]
- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) plans to unveil new legislation today to extend soon-to-expire jobless benefits and a payroll tax cut, after Republicans filibustered the Democrats’ last plan. [Bloomberg]
- Federal Reserve officials are reportedly “close to completing an overhaul of how they signal their policy plans to the public.” [Wall Street Journal]
- According to the latest data, “at the end of 2008, more consumers were using debit cards than credit cards but now that trend has reversed.” [CNN Money]
- Shoppers spent nearly $6 billion online last weekend, setting a new record. [Associated Press]
Several wealthy bankers, investors, and entrepreneurs have called for higher taxes on the rich as an important part of reducing the nation’s deficit, led most prominently by Warren Buffett. “It is mathematically impossible to invest enough in our economy and our country to sustain the middle class (our customers) without taxing the top 1 percent at reasonable levels again,” wrote wealthy entrepreneur Nick Hanauer in an op-ed last week. “Significant tax increases on the about $1.5 trillion in collective income of those of us in the top 1 percent could create hundreds of billions of dollars to invest in our economy, rather than letting it pile up in a few bank accounts like a huge clot in our nation’s economic circulatory system.”
Joining the list of those in financial positions of power that are calling for higher taxes on the rich is Morgan Stanley Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat[…]
“The wealthiest can afford to pay more in taxes. That’s a part of the deal. That makes sense. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t agree with that,” Porat said.“The wealth disparity between the lowest and the highest continues to expand, and that’s inappropriate.” “We cannot cut our way to greatness,” she added.
The rising compensation of executives and those in the banking industry is one of the major factors driving the nation’s income inequality. And at the same time that the rich have been getting richer, their tax rates have been plummeting. It’s refreshing to hear someone in the banking industry acknowledge these truths and want to rectify them, rather than decrying higher taxes on the rich as akin to the Nazi invasion of Poland.
Felix Salmon, Reuters:
Ordinary Greeks seldom harass their rich, for the simple reason that they have no idea where to find them. To a member of the Greek Lower 99 a Greek Upper One is as good as invisible.
He pays no taxes, lives no place and bears no relationship to his fellow citizens. As the public expects nothing of him, he always meets, and sometimes even exceeds, their expectations. As a result, the chief concern of the ordinary Greek about the rich Greek is that he will cease to pay the occasional visit.
That is the sort of relationship with the Lower 99 we must cultivate if we are to survive. We must inculcate, in ourselves as much as in them, the understanding that our relationship to each other is provisional, almost accidental and their claims on us nonexistent.
I can’t help but remember that George Papandreou was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota, grew up with Greek as a second language, and was schooled in Canada, the US, Sweden, and England. He’s part of the Greek social compact entirely by choice; he arrived when he wanted to, and can leave for a comfy sinecure in some English-speaking country any time he wants. […]
Indeed, the elite of most countries in the world is there by choice rather than by any kind of necessity. Chrystia Freeland — herself a Canadian who has lived and travelled widely in Russia and who cemented her reputation by working for the New York bureau of a London newspaper — wrote a great story about the “new global elite” earlier this year which made the point that the very rich are, these days, largely stateless:
They are becoming a transglobal community of peers who have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home. Whether they maintain primary residences in New York or Hong Kong, Moscow or Mumbai, today’s super-rich are increasingly a nation unto themselves…
The business elite view themselves increasingly as a global community, distinguished by their unique talents and above such parochial concerns as national identity, or devoting “their” taxes to paying down “our” budget deficit.
Chrystia quotes Silver Lake’s Glenn Hutchins as saying of the super-elite that “we are much less place-based than we used to be”, which is true. But the US has, historically, been behind this particular curve. It tends to import talent rather than export it: I don’t have exact numbers, but I’m sure that there’s an order of magnitude more foreign-born billionaires living in the US than there are US-born billionaires living abroad. For all that hedge-fund managers, in particular, are constantly threatening to leave the country if they get taxed more, the fact is that the US is so big and so rich that it actually does an extremely good job of retaining its billionaires, roping them in to the social compact whether they like it or not.
This is why the Occupy movements are particularly American. The Russians can’t Occupy anything: all their billionaires are in London. And while there’s an enormous number of the global elite living in Switzerland, they’re not actually Swiss: they’ve already broken the bounds of national identity, and have basically created a stateless stratospheric sovereignty of their very own.
In a way it’s reassuring that America’s billionaires are still so civic-minded that they buy laws and political parties: it’s a sign that they’re invested in the country and are here for the foreseeable. And the one law they’re not going to repeal any time soon is the most important one — the one which says that US citizens have to pay US federal taxes on their global income, no matter where they live. (Or at least demonstrate that they’ve paid at least that much in taxes elsewhere.) American plutocrats, almost uniquely, are tied to their home country in a way that other members of the global elite can barely imagine.
If you live in London, you’re constantly aware of the contingency of residency: you know those multi-million-dollar Chelsea homes are occupied for maybe only a few weeks per year by their Saudi or African owners. In America, by contrast, the rich can buy their fourth or even tenth home without ever having bought property abroad. So while America’s rich might dream of a stateless existence, they don’t have it — not yet. And I don’t think it’s coming any time soon.
The list of initiatives reads like a grand plan to dismantle public education as we know it: Slash education spending. Outsourcepublic teachers. Curb collective-bargaining rights. Kneecap teachers’ unions. Open the floodgates to charter and “cyber” schools.
Welcome to education reform in the state of Michigan, where a Republican-dominated Legislature and a GOP governor are pushing one of the broadest anti-union, pro-privatization agendas in the country. Michigan is grappling with budget shortfalls like other states including Wisconsin, Ohio, and New Jersey—all places where GOP leaders (and occasionally Democrats) are exploiting the economic downturn to launch an ideological assault on teachers’ unions and public school systems. Although some of Michigan’s legislative attempts to overhaul public education have met resistance, state lawmakers have made an unprecedented push toward for-profit schools, dubious online curricula, and budget cuts and anti-union measures that would make the public teaching profession ever more insecure.
Michigan GOPers have gotten help from outside organizations, including Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst group (made famous by the documentary Waiting for Superman) and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a free-market-centric think tank. So extreme is their agenda that one recent bill even tried to justify bullying in schools on ideological and religious grounds, drawing outrage and national media attention.
Michigan is at the forefront of a badly misguided reform movement sweeping the country, says Diane Ravitch, a preeminent education historian and a former Education Department official under President George H.W. Bush. “They want to save money on education, and the best way for them to do it is by cutting the number of teachers, getting rid of higher-paid teachers—and to do that they must eliminate tenure and seniority,” she says. “The unions are an obstacle to almost everything they want to do, so they have to neutralize them.”
In April, first-term Gov. Rick Snyder unveiled his new vision for public education in Michigan in a 13-page “special message” to state legislators. Snyder called for eliminating the cap on charter schools, heavily weighting student test scores in teacher evaluations, and weakening teacher tenure. Such changes were necessary, Snyder insisted, to turn around an education system that “is not giving our taxpayers, our teachers, or our students the return on investment we deserve.”
Weeks later, the GOP-controlled state House approved a $13.8 billion budget that slashed education funding by $900 million for K-12 and state colleges and universities. Met with howls of protest, Republicans backtracked but ultimately cut funding by $564 million, according to the Michigan Policy Network. The move helped offset $1 billion in lost revenue after Snyder eliminated taxes on all Michigan businesses save for large-shareholder corporations.
Snyder said in April that his planned reforms wouldn’t meddle with the collective-bargaining rights of teachers and other school employees, but GOP lawmakers went ahead and cut them anyway. They passed legislation during the summer banning unionsfrom bargaining over tenure for teachers and teacher placement across school districts—issues once on the table during collective bargaining. The anti-union Mackinac Center praised the changes, and despite his pledge, Snyder signed them into law in July.
Throughout the summer and fall, the GOP’s union-busting continued apace. In September, state House Republicans pushed legislation banning teachers from emailing about union or political activities on school computers. The punishment for lawbreakers: a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to a year in jail. (The bill remains under consideration in the state House.) That same month, Snyder also signed into law a measure forcing public school employees to pay at least 20 percent of the cost of their health care coverage and, in so doing, take cost-sharing out of the bargaining process. (Before, public school employees’ share of their care costs ranged from zero to more than 20 percent.)
In October, GOP state Sens. Randy Richardville, the majority leader, Phil Pavlov, and Arlan Meekhof unveiled right-to-work legislation for most public school teachers. Also known as “right-to-teach,” the bill would let teachers work under union-negotiated contracts without chipping in a dime for the cost of negotiations. (Right now, unions collect dues from all affected teachers—members or not—for bargaining, but can’t make them pay for political activities.) Richardville said right-to-teach legislation would let teachers “keep more of the money they earn.” The Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, blasted the bill as politically motivated and an effort to diminish the MEA’s clout.
As Mother Jones reported in October, Pavlov had also hatched a plan to let public school districts outsource the teacher hiring process, effectively privatizing their jobs. Doing so would shift pension and health care costs off the books of school districts and so save money, Richardville said. Unions and Michigan Democrats blasted it as an assault on public education itself. “Gov. Snyder and Republicans have made no bones about it: They’re trying to dismantle public education in Michigan,” state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, the minority leader, said at the time.
In early October, after a small uproar, Pavlov’s privatization measure got yanked out of a package of right-wing education bills compiled by Republicans. Included were bills to eliminate the cap on charter schools in Michigan, which previously stood at 150, and to pave the way for more “cyber” schools in Michigan. Still another bill in the package would allow home-schooled studentsto take elective classes at any virtual, charter, or public school in their local school district—a move that the MEA decried as a “back-door voucher scheme” that could drive more students to private, nonunionized schools.
Perhaps the most controversial of the GOP’s moves came in November, concerning a new anti-bullying bill. Named “Matt’s Safe School Law,” after a student who committed suicide in the face of incessant bullying, the drafted bill contained an audacious loophole: Teachers or students couldn’t be penalized for bullying so long as they attributed that harassment to a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.” The father of Matt Epling, the bill’s namesake, called the law “government-sanctioned bigotry,” the national media seized upon it, and even satirist Stephen Colbert mocked it on his show. In the end, the exemptionwas cut from the measure.
Throughout all this, Michigan Republicans had help. Rhee, the former Washington, DC, education chancellor, worked with GOP lawmakers (PDF) to write the legislation that curbed bargaining rights and weakened teacher seniority rules, among other bills. And providing intellectual cover for the assault on unions and public schools was the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which asMother Jones reported belongs to a national network of free-market-geared think tanks modeled after the arch-conservative Heritage Foundation in DC. Funded by a slew of right-wing charities, the Mackinac Center has publicly supported many GOP education reforms, battling the MEA all the way. As Jack McHugh, a Mackinac Center policy analyst, put it in a June email to a GOP lawmaker: “Our goal is [to] outlaw government collective bargaining in Michigan, which in practical terms means no more MEA.”
Michigan Republicans say their reforms save money (PDF), empower teachers, and fix a broken, archaic education model. “These reforms are vital in that we’re trying to turn the focus back to the students,” says Ari Adler, press secretary for state House Speaker Jase Bolger. “The speaker feels that people have been fighting to keep the status quo for too long, and we have seen that that does not work.” (Richardville and Pavlov did not respond to requests for comment.)
The Michigan GOP has felt some blowback for its radical education agenda. On November 8, Republican state Rep. Paul Scott, the House education committee chairman, narrowly lost his seat in a recall election partly triggered by his role in the GOP’s education push. The MEA went all-out to unseat Scott, injecting $140,000 into the election, while Rhee’s StudentFirst reportedly spent $70,000 to defend him. Not missing a step, Republicans named state Rep. Tom McMillin to be Scott’s replacement as chairman. McMillin’s anti-union bona fides brought to mind a brutal image from “The Godfather” for one local radio reporter, who called McMillin’s selection “a horse head in the MEA’s bed.”
According to Ravitch, Michigan’s education agenda reflects a nationwide push among conservatives to blame “bad teachers” for the ills afflicting public education. The problem, she says, is that the reductive “bad teacher” paradigm—and the accompanying push for more charter schools, data-based evaluation, virtual learning, and other policies—fails to address the complexity of education reform and isn’t supported by facts. Reams of evidence cast serious doubt on, say, any link between unions and student achievement, the efficacy of charter schools, or the usefulness of test scores in gauging good teaching. As conservative state legislators in Michigan and elsewhere march ahead with their ideas for reform, there is little about their initiatives to suggest that quality education for school children is their top priority.
[Please see original article for links.]
[…] Last week, with little fanfare, the U.S. Army and EPA signed an agreement to collaborate on “Net Zero,” an Army program designed to implement technologies for resource conservation, renewable energy and energy self-sufficiency on Army bases.
The agreement underscores the growing extent to which the Army, along with the other four branches of the armed services, have begun to join environmental and military sustainability in a single mission.
The Army’s support could make it more difficult for Republicans to make a good case for diluting EPA’s authority, let alone eliminating the agency outright.
Specifically, the new agreement enables EPA’s Office of Research and Development to help the Army advance the goals of its Net Zero Initiative, which among other things directs Army facilities to pull out of petroleum products and grid-supplied energy, and shift into solar and other forms of energy that can be produced on site.
The new partnership is a two-way street, as EPA expects that once the military puts its seal of approval on new technologies and new approaches to sustainable management, they will be more readily adopted by the civilian sector. As Paul Anastas of the Office of Research and Development explained in an EPA blog post: “The Net Zero partnership was inspired by the Army’s ability to demonstrate true leadership in sustainability. The Army Installations are a test bed for new technologies that can solve more than one problem and can be replicated or scaled for communities throughout the nation.”
The Department of Defense’s rapidly expanding use of alternative energy is familiar ground to regular readers of TPM, but there is more to it than the steady drumbeat of new projects breaking ground.
The Army in particular has adopted an overarching cultural shift that is clearly at odds with the Republican focus on promoting fossil fuels regardless of the cost to public health and national security.
That shift is neatly summed up by the mission statement of Net Zero, which putting aside the military language is a full-on dive into an environmentalist’s utopia:
“We are creating a culture that recognizes the value of sustainability measured not just in terms of financial benefits, but benefits to maintaining mission capability, quality of life, relationships with local communities, and the preservation of options for the Army’s future.”
The Army reasserted that framework in its press release announcing the memorandum of understanding, which listed “social/behavioral components of culture” as one of six focus areas.
The Obama administration announced on Monday the government’s largest-ever purchase of biofuels.
The U.S. military signed a contract late last week with two biofuels companies to purchase 450,000 gallons of advanced biofuels made out of nonfood sources like algae and animal fats and greases, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Monday.
“We are doing this for one simple reason: It makes us better fighters,” Mabus said. “Our use of fossil fuels is a very real threat to our national security and to the U.S. Navy ability to protect America and project power overseas.”
The announcement is part of President Obama’s goal of advancing a domestic biofuels industry capable of powering vehicles that now use diesel and jet fuel. It’s also part of the administration’s ongoing effort to try to advance parts of its energy agenda that don’t require congressional approval. Another case in point was Obama’s announcement on Friday of new energy-efficient building initiatives. “We can’t wait for Congress to act,” Obama said on Friday. “If they won’t act, I will.” The same concept holds true for Monday’s announcement.
The purchase of 450,000 gallons represents a drop in the bucket of the Navy’s annual usage of more than 670 million gallons of fuel. It will also cost the military more up front. Mabus said the Navy will pay about $15 a gallon for the biofuel-gasoline blend it will use in a demonstration project it will conduct next summer near Hawaii. He said he hopes the Navy will be able to power a normal mission by 2016 with a 50 percent blend of gasoline and biofuels.
“This is still research and development,” Mabus said when asked about the high up-front costs. “It is half of what we were paying this time last year. It shows that as the market develops you’re going to see costs come down.”
“There will obviously be costs at the onset,” Vilsack acknowledged, “but the enormity of the opportunity of being able to give our commercial aviation and our military the capacity to rely on domestically produced fuel that’s not subject to the whims of countries that don’t necessarily like us and creating jobs—I think you really need to factor all of that in as you look at the cost-benefit analysis of this effort.”
However you slice it, the scientific news has not been good on the pace of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. The weekend saw a pair of new studies that confirmed the fact that—far from curbing greenhouse gas emissions—we’re warming the atmosphere faster than ever, even as the slow-moving U.N. climate talks underway now at Durban underscores how difficult the political challenge of cutting carbon emissions is proving to be.
The first study—by scientists with the Global Carbon Project and published in the journal Nature Climate Change—tracked carbon emissions over the past few years, and found that emissions from burning fossil fuels jumped by a record 5.9% in 2010, hitting 10 billion tons last year. The second study—published in the journal Nature Geoscience—estimates that three-quarters of the warming that’s been experienced since 1950 can be traced to human activities. Just in case there was any doubt—and there should be little now—we’re warming up the planet, and we’re doing it at an accelerated rate.
In a statement, Corrine Le Quere of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research—and a co-author of the Nature Climate Change study—laid out the stakes:
Global CO2 emissions since 2000 are tracking the high end of the projections used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which far exceed two degrees warming by 2100. Yet governments have pledged to keep warming below two degrees to avoid the most dangerous aspects of climate change such as widespread water stress and sea level rise, and increases in extreme climatic events.
Taking action to reverse current trends is urgent.
But the study underscores just how little we’ve done to slow the increase in carbon emissions. Since 1990—the base year for the Kyoto Protocol—carbon emissions from fossil fuels have increased by 49%, making a mockery of that global treaty’s ambition to cut emissions by at least 5%. And it’s getting worse—on average, fossil fuel emissions have risen by 3.1% a year between 2000 and 2010, three times the rate of increase seen during the 1990s, even as global warming has become a global concern.
The unusually high increase in carbon emissions last year was due in part to recovery from the recession, which helped cause emissions to actually fall in 2009. (Given how closely energy use tends to track with economic growth, it’s little surprise that a financial crisis would result in a reduction in carbon emissions.) And the responsibility is very much with developing countries—especially large and fast-growing nations like China and India, as the paper makes clear:
For the past two years (2009 and 2010), emissions growth has been dominated by the emerging economies (Supplementary Table S1). The CO2 emissions in developed countries (which we take as the Annex B countries from the Kyoto Protocol) decreased 1.3% in 2008 and 7.6% in 2009, but increased 3.4% in 2010, and are now lower than the average emissions during 2000–2007 (Fig. 2). The CO2 emissions in developing countries (non-Annex B countries) increased 4.4% in 2008, 3.9% in 2009 and 7.6% in 2010; the GFC only causing a 40% decrease in emission growth in 2009 compared with the trend since 2000 (Fig. 2).
The 2010 growth was due to high growth rates in a few key emerging economies (Supplementary Table S1) — for example, China 10.4% (0.212 Pg C) and India 9.4% (0.049 Pg C) — although, the contribution from some developed countries was also substantial in absolute terms: for example, United States 4.1% (0.060 Pg C), Russian Federation 5.8% (0.025 Pg C) and the 27 member states of the European Union 2.2% (0.022 Pg C).
Meanwhile the climate talks underway in Durban remain in a holding pattern, and even longtime supporters of the process—like former U.N. climate head Yvo de Boer—are having their doubts about its effectiveness, as de Boer told the AP in an interview:
“I still have the same view of the process that led me to leave the process. I’m still deeply concerned about where it’s going, or rather where it’s not going, about the lack of progress.”
Negotiators live “in a separate universe,” and the ongoing talks are “like a log that’s drifted away,” he said. Then, drawing another metaphor from his rich reservoir, he called the annual 194-nation
To say the least. While the European Union and most of the smaller developing countries want to move on the negotiation of a new binding carbon treaty as soon as possible, the U.S., China and India remain opposed, each for their own reason. The Kyoto Protocol—set to expire next year—is falling apart, with signatories like Canada and Japan making it clear that they will not be volunteering for another commitment period. The nearly 15-year-old Kyoto conundrum—that major nations like the U.S. won’t accept carbon limits if major developing countries like China won’t either—remains unsolved, blocking hope for progress on more tractable issues like deforestation and funding for adaptation.
So that leaves us with very little hope, at least in the short term. On Sunday South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane—who is leading the U.N. summit—held a prayer service calling for divine help on climate change. Right now it looks like that’s what it will take.
Even in an environment of uncertainty about the future of health care reform, a majority of employers surveyed (56 percent) say that they are likely to continue to offer employer-sponsored health insurance after health care reform is enacted, according to a new survey of benefit decision-makers conducted by GfK Custom Research North America. Only 12 percent of benefits decision-makers say they would be very or somewhat likely to drop coverage, and another 32 percent of the 502 private-sector companies surveyed are unsure what they will do.
Projections vary by the size of employer, with only four percent of decision-makers surveyed from those companies with 500 or more employees considering terminating coverage completely. In addition, decision-makers who say they are familiar with health care reform are less likely to foresee their dropping coverage (7 percent, versus 15 percent among those not familiar).
“This survey suggests that firms aren’t considering a wholesale flight from employee health care coverage as health care reform is implemented,” said Tim Nanneman, Vice President and Director of Health Insurance Research. “However, many employers are skeptical about the potential effects of health care reform.”
The People’s View:
It turns out that Republicans might be right about health reform costing some jobs. The jobs of health insurance company lobbyists. Aww. From the second to third quarter of this year, the health insurance industry is cutting lobbying budgets.
WellPoint Inc. ( WLP ), the largest health insurer based on membership, spent $870,000 on lobbying in the third quarter, up 9% from the prior-year quarter. However, the cost was down by a substantial 34% from the second quarter of 2011.
The second-largest health insurer based on membership and largest in terms of total revenue, UnitedHealth Group Inc. ( UNH ), also recorded a significant 18% year-over-year hike to $650,000, while it witnessed a sizeable 24% decline from the prior quarter.
Meanwhile, CIGNA Corporation ( CI ), the fourth largest health insurer on the basis of membership, bucked the trend by reducing its lobbying cost by a considerable 34% from the year-agoquarter to $470,000, while the amount was 24% higher than $380,000 spent in the second quarter of 2011.
Humana Inc. ( HUM ), which is the fifth-largest on enrollment basis, recorded a 43% year-over-year and 11% sequential decline in lobbying expenses to $160,000.
Now what could be causing this decline? Oh, I don’t know, maybe the fact that despite their best efforts, ObamaCare continues to make people’s lives better. Despite all their lobbying, the HHS just issued regulations that refused to count broker’s fees as health care costs. Despite all their big money efforts, Barack Obama became their worst nightmare, passed health reform, and is now implementing it full speed. And oh, beginning this year, the insurance companies are going to have to start writing checks to their subscribers if the companies don’t spend at least 85% of premium revenue in large group markets (80% in individual and small group markets) on you know, providing actual health care services.
Don’t take my word for it. Let’s return to the story by Zacks Equity Research at the opening of this article:
The insurers are worried about the annual charges and restrictions imposed on them by the health care reform bill, which is the main reason for the high spends on lobbying in both the second and third quarters of 2011. […]
Thus, all health insurers focused their lobbying on the health care overhaul, while simultaneously lobbying on a variety of other issues as well. However, WellPoint lobbied solely on the various provisions of the reform bill, such as insurance exchanges, rate regulations, essential health benefits and minimum MLR.
Summary: their lobbying scheme didn’t work. They know it and are finally resigning to the fact that health reform is the law of the land and that they are going to have to comply with it. And since they can’t count lobbying costs as proving you with health care, lobbying costs are now in direct competition with shareholder gain. If the insurance companies want to make more money but can’t do it by kicking people off their insurance or counting everything and its mother as a “health care cost,” there are only a few ways of doing it: cut administrative costs (hello, industry lobbyists, hi! Waiving atcha!), and raise revenue by attracting more customers in a level playing field.
We have counted a lot of benefits of the President’s health reform. Whether it’s the massive expansion of Medicaid and community health centers, improved Medicare benefits, tough and smart insurance reforms, a patient’s bill of rights on steroids, banning pre-existing conditions discrimination (for children now and for everyone in 2014), or the high risk pools that are saving lives now, health reform, day by day, is improving real lives.
But beating the insurance industry lobbyists is a no smaller feat, if political in nature. Forcing insurance companies to reduce lobbying spending – both because their efforts have failed and because they need that money elsewhere (like for shareholders) – is an amazing win for this President and for the American people. Let us not forget that the health insurance lobby is a billion dollar profiteer that, at the height of the health care debate, employed six lobbyists per lawmaker. But the dedication of Democratic members of Congress who did what was right even if it cost them an election, the commitment of activists and supporters who never gave up on pushing reform getting it done, and the tenacity of a President who was determined to get health reform done and stop just talking about it beat that billion dollar lobby.
This president has done a lot of great things for the American people. And he will do a lot more next year and in the four years after that after he is re-elected. Presidents are fond of saying how they always have ordinary Americans in their hearts, but no president in recent memory has proved that saying more than President Obama, and no legislation has proved it more than the Affordable Care Act. Health Reform is the president’s signature achievement not simply because of the amount of reform contained in it, but because of what it had to beat in order to come to be. Unprecedented political hostility by the Republicans, a gazillion dollars and an army of industry lobbyists, and a political process so corrupted by money that it seems hopeless a lot of the times. It was in that environment that this President got this done for the American people. And that is something to be darn proud of. I will never cease to be proud of that moment – proud of my president, proud of my country, proud to be an American.
Thank you, Mr. President!
Picking a specialist for a delicate medical procedure like a heart bypass could get a lot easier in the not-too-distant future.
The government announced Monday that Medicare will finally allow its extensive claims database to be used by employers, insurance companies and consumer groups to produce report cards on local doctors — and improve current ratings of hospitals.
By analyzing masses of billing records, experts can glean such critical information as how often a doctor has performed a particular procedure and get a general sense of problems such as preventable complications.
Doctors will be individually identifiable through the Medicare files, but personal data on their patients will remain confidential. Compiled in an easily understood format and released to the public, medical report cards could become a powerful tool for promoting quality care.
“There is tremendous variation in how well doctors do, and most of us as patients don’t know that. We make our choices blind,” said David Lansky, president of the Pacific Business Group on Health. “This is the beginning of a process to give us the information to make informed decisions.” His nonprofit represents 50 large employers that provide coverage for more than 3 million people.
Medicare acting administrator Marilyn Tavenner called the new policy “a giant step forward in making our health care system more transparent and promoting increased competition, accountability, quality and lower costs.” But some consumer groups said Medicare is still putting limitations on their access.
Early efforts to rate physicians using limited private insurance data have thus far focused on primary care doctors, but Medicare’s rich information could provide the numbers to start rating specialists as well, Lansky said. Consumers will see the first performance reports by late 2012, said a Medicare spokesman.
Medicare officials say they expect nonprofit research groups in California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Massachusetts and other states to jump at the chance to use the data. With 47 million beneficiaries and virtually every doctor and hospital in the country participating, Medicare’s database is considered the mother lode of health care information.
Tapping it has largely been forbidden because of a decades-old court ruling that releasing the information would violate the privacy of doctors. Insurance companies tried filling with their own claims data, but their files are nowhere near as comprehensive as Medicare’s
Following appeals from lawmakers of both parties on Capitol Hill, President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul changed federal law to explicitly authorize release of the information. Medicare followed through in regulations issued Monday.
Employer groups welcomed the new policy.
“There is pent-up demand for this data because everyone wants to be a more informed, intelligent consumer, especially as health care costs are still rising,” said Maria Ghazal, policy director at the Business Roundtable, which represents CEOs of major companies providing coverage to some 35 million employees, retirees and family members.
Dr. Don Berwick stepped down as head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services on Friday, much to the chagrin of the health care community and those familiar with the excellence of his work. His departure is our loss, but it’s worth pausing to appreciate the fact that Berwick was able to serve as long as he did.
President Obama nominated the Harvard professor, policy expert, and pediatrician for the CMS position in April 2010, to the outrage of Senate Republicans who quickly vowed to kill the nomination. The president gave Berwick a recess appointment, allowing him to get to work fairly quickly, even knowing the appointment would expire at the end of 2011.
Congress wasn’t pleased with Obama’s move, but it paid dividends. It wasn’t long before Berwick, an internationally-renowned expert in improving quality care and lowering health care costs, starting making a real difference,eliminating waste from the system and saving American taxpayers a lot of money. Just as importantly, Berwick began to establish an administration “triple aim” blueprint: “improving patient experience, improving population health and reducing costs.”
Kate Pickert had a good piece on Berwick’s CMS work earlier in the year:
[I]f he holds on until the end of , Berwick will have been at the helm of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for 17 months. This is a substantial period of time and long enough to have set a tone at CMS and to have recruited key second and third-tier administrators to work on important pieces of the Affordable Care Act. Berwick has already jump-started the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation, the best hope health reformers have for finding smart ways to cut health care spending. Under Berwick’s tenure, the federal regulation of private insurance was also brought under the CMS mantle, a power consolidation that could have long-range implications.
And that’s the silver lining here. Republicans crushed Berwick’s chances without a credible reason, and it limited his CMS tenure to a year and a half. But these were a very productive 17 months, during which Berwick did some incredibly important and worthwhile work.
He should have been confirmed and encouraged to serve indefinitely, but if 17 months of Berwick is the best we can do due to Republican recklessness, it’s much better than nothing.
[…] “In Limbo” begins with the story of Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa. His life is like a classic rags-to-riches tale scripted for a Hollywood film. He grew up in the small village of Palaco, Mexico. As a bright young man, he wanted to become a teacher. But he had to overcomemany obstacles first, including hunger.
“I am not talking about hungry for success; I was literally hungry for food. My stomach was empty,” he says.
Quiñones-Hinojosa was determined to put food on the table for his family, so he did the only thing he could possibly think of: literally jumped over a fence between his native Mexico and the United States and became a farm worker in Southern California.
He started by picking tomatoes, corn and broccoli. Later, he operated dangerous machinery in the fields. But things changed for him after a conversation with his cousin.
“The critical portion that got me out of the fields was my own cousin telling me that I was going to spend the rest of my life working as a migrant farm worker,” Quiñones-Hinojosa says.
He could not imagine that life. He left the fields and headed north. To pay for community college, he shoveled sulfur and scraped fish lard from tankers — an excruciating job that almost cost him his life.
His journey then took him to University of California, Berkeley, and later Harvard Medical School. After 10 years, since first jumping over that fence into America, he became a U.S. citizen.
Now, Dr. Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa is a respected brain surgeon who directs the Brain Tumor Program at Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital. He says more needs to be done to help those who can follow in his footsteps.
“Among people who come to the United States today — whether they come from privileged backgrounds or humble backgrounds — is our next Einstein, is our next Nobel laureate, but [whom] we just have failed to identify,” he says.
Countywide. Bank Of America. Citibank. Bailouts. Profits from secret bailouts.
Are the people who are supposed to investigate bank fraud actually motivated to do it?
Steve Kroft and 60 Minutes took a look at it Sunday. If you haven’t seen it, you should.
It’s been three years since the financial crisis crippled the American economy, and much to the consternation of the general public and the demonstrators on Wall Street, there has not been a single prosecution of a high-ranking Wall Street executive or major financial firm even though fraud and financial misrepresentations played a significant role in the meltdown. We wanted to know why, so nine months ago we began looking for cases that might have prosecutorial merit. Tonight you’ll hear about two of them. We begin with a woman named Eileen Foster, a senior executive at Countrywide Financial, one of the epicenters of the crisis.
He profiles a few key whistleblowers, and what happened in their cases. The story covers how Sarbanes-Oxley could have been used.
The report is in four parts. Three aired on the show. The fourth is the “Overtime”segment detailing how the report came about.
60 Minutes producer James Jacoby wanted to find out why, and one of the first people he spoke with was Tom Borgers, a man who literally helped write the book on the financial meltdown.
Borgers was a senior fraud investigator for the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC), a bipartisan panel set up by the Obama administration to examine the causes of the crisis. In the end, the FCIC issued a 500-page report on its findings, required reading for James and associate producer Maria Gavrilovic.
Prosecuting Wall Street,Part 1
[…] Assistant Attorney for Civil Rights Thomas Perez said last week that Justice Department lawyers are reviewing some of the recently-enacted state laws to ensure that they comply with the Voting Rights Act and do not have “a racially discriminatory purpose or discriminatory effect.”
Advocates of broader voting rights are looking forward to a speech on voting next week by Attorney General Eric Holder. “We’ve been pushing him hard to do that because we think it is a national crisis,” said Laura Murphy, the director of the Washington Legislative Office of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The big question is what will the Justice Department do – and that’s why we’re so excited about the attorney general’s upcoming speech.”
Murphy, Wasserman Shultz and the Democrats confront one big obstacle: the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision handed down in 2008 and written by Justice John Paul Stevens, upheld Indiana’s photo identification law.
“There is no question about the legitimacy or importance of the State’s interest in counting only the votes of eligiblevoters,” Stevens said.
The decision left open the possibility that future plaintiffs could try to show that, as applied in specific cases, a voter ID law is unconstitutional.
“While the cases that ACLU is bringing are much harder now, we’re still bringing them,” litigating in a number of states to challenge photo ID laws, Murphy said. “But these cases are expensive and time-consuming because we have to provide data to show the disparate impact of these voting laws.”
And she said, “It would be a long shot for the Supreme Court to hear and decide a case before the election.”
Even if the Justice Department challenged the Wisconsin law or other photo ID laws, it’s not likely that the litigation would be resolved prior to Election Day.
While the litigation plays out in court rooms and inside the Justice Department, the battle continues in the political arena as Democrats to try to motivate voters.
It’s true that Republican-controlled state legislatures and Republican governors in Wisconsin, Kansas and other states have enacted photo identification laws.
But the Democrats’ argument that the voter identification effort is a purely Republican scheme got a setback last summer when Rhode Island, a state with a heavily Democratic legislature, an independent governor and a Democratic chief election official, Secretary of State Ralph Mollis, enacted a new voter ID requirement.
The Rhode Island law allows a wider variety of forms of ID than laws do in Georgia and other states. And voters can vote by provisional ballot which will be counted if the signature on it matches the one on the voter’s registration form.
Mollis said, “I think this is a bill the Democratic national party should be looking to embrace. Because I think they need to join the movement that people should be providing IDs at the polling place, but not disenfranchising voters. I think they would benefit by doing that.”
In the turnout debate, the unspoken assumption sometimes seems to be that higher turnout always benefits Democratic candidates. It isn’t true.
In the nine states which George W. Bush had won in 2004 but Barack Obama won in 2008, turnout as a percentage of citizen voting-age population went up in five, (Virginia, Colorado, Indiana, Nevada, and North Carolina) but went down in four (Florida, Iowa, New Mexico, and Ohio).
In fact according to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, nationwide voter turnout in 2008 was “not statistically different” from 2004. About 64 percent of voting-age citizens voted in both elections and yet Obama won in 2008 with the largest popular vote percentage of any Democratic candidate in 44 years.
Sometimes higher turnout benefits the Republican candidate — take, for example, the hotly contested states of Ohio and Iowa in the 2004 presidential election. Compared to the 2000 election, turnout as a percentage of citizen voting-age population was up in both states and Bush won both of them.
Of course, it’s who votes that makes all the difference. Research by political scientists Jan Leighley and Jonathan Nagler showed that on issues such as making it easier for labor unions to organize workers and federal aid to education, non-voters were more liberal in their leanings than voters were. Denver University political scientist Seth Masket said, “That suggests that if everyone voted, Democrats would do better in elections.”
Masket said, “Adopting stricter voter identification laws can depress turnout slightly, or maybe not at all. The key question is, who is being dissuaded from turning out?”
[…] Friday evening, the state ACLU put out a scathing press release on the new policy, from executive director Chris Ahmuty:
“Access rules may impose reasonable time, place and manner restrictions, but they may not create a system that favors some speakers over against others. The Wisconsin Department of Administration appears to be trying to shield public officials from public criticism in disregard of the values of our democracy and constitutional rights.”
“The ACLU of Wisconsin will be considering legal action regarding these restrictive rules. To avoid violating free speech rights at our Capitol, the Department of Administration should delay implementation to address problematic sections in the new policy.”
TPM asked Ahmuty on Monday, whether the state ACLU is taking legal action at this time.
“It depends on what you mean by legal action,” Ahmuty responded. “Are we going to be in court today seeking a temporary restraining order? No. But we are evaluating how the rules will be promulgated, and we are considering legal action. I never say we are filing a lawsuit until the paper is handed in.
“There are numerous problems with the new policy that’s come out. And so I think the first legal action that we would take is probably an inquiry into the Department of Administration with some questions, and probably a demand-type letter – you need to make sure this happens, that kind of thing — maybe something short of litigation int he short term.
“They have scheduled, according to an article in the Capital Times, what are referred to as ‘informational compliance sessions,’ for tomorrow, Thursday and Saturday. And supposedly someone from the Department of Administration, and the Capitol Police, are going to be running their session. And I really hope they are going to have a question-and-answer session.
Ahmuty explained some of the problems with the policy. Among other things: “Being able to charge up front, without having a waiver, and things like requiring liability insurance — not for everybody, but at the discretion of the Capitol Police — and then the whole notion of calling four people a group, that seems a bit much. So the legal action that we’re going to take now is through inquiries into the Department and the police, to find out their answers to these questions.
Ahmuty added: “We’re doing more than just seeking information. we’re advocating and organizing to see if they won’t clarify or clean up the rules.”
The Department of Administration did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.
As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on Friday, under the new policy groups of four or more people must request permits at least 72 hours in advance, for events at the state Capitol or other state buildings.
In addition, organizers would have to pay for the extra Capitol police officers, at a rate of $50 per hour per officer — plus costs for police officers brought in from outside agencies, according to the costs billed to the state. The police payment would have to be tendered in advance, as a requirement for getting a permit. Afterwards, organizers would then be charged for any clean-up costs.
PolitiFact has just announced its finalists for 2011′s Lie of the Year. Oddly, the year’s most significant policy claim — the Democrats’ charge that the Paul Ryan budget will end Medicare — made the list, even though it’s 100 percent true!
John Cole, Balloon Juice:
I’m afraid Krugman is right:
Back in 2000, George W. Bush made a discovery of enormous consequence: you could base a whole political campaign on claims that were flatly untrue, like the claim that your big tax cuts for the wealthy went to the middle class, or the claim that diverting Social Security funds into private accounts would strengthen the system’s finances, and reporting would never point this out. That’s when I formulated my doctrine that if Bush said the earth was flat, headlines would read Views Differ on Shape of Planet.
All indications are, however, that Campaign 2012 will make Campaign 2000 look like a model of truthfulness. And all indications are that the press won’t know what to do — or, worse, that they will know what to do, which is act as stenographers and refuse to tell readers and listeners when candidates lie. Because to do otherwise when the parties aren’t equally at fault — and they won’t be — would be “biased”.
This will be true even of those news organizations specifically charged with fact-checking. Yes, they’ll call out some lies — but they’ll also claim that some perfectly reasonable statements are lies, in order to keep their precious balance. This is already happening: as Igor Volsky points out, one of the finalists for Politifact’s Lie of the Year is a Democratic claim — that Republicans want to abolish Medicare — that happens to be entirely true.
The Politifact stuff really is amazing, especially for a group that normally does good work.Here’s what is happening:
America turns off the lights, goes to bed, leaving their Mercedes in the driveway. While we sleep, the Republicans sneak into the car, drive it off, and sell it, but they keep the Mercedes hood ornament. They then split the proceeds between their rich buddies, and go out and find a Ford Pinto up on cinderblocks in a field, with the grass growing through the floorboard. They place that in the driveway, cleverly glue the Mercedes ornament onto the front of the Pinto, and sneak off into the night. The next morning, America and Democrats are screaming- “What the hell happened to my car.” Republicans say- “What are you talking about, there is your Mercedes right there, we just modernized it and fixed it up a bit for long-term financial stability,” and point at the Pinto.
Then, the rocket scientists at Politifact drive by to take a non-partisan look at things, see the Mercedes symbol on the front of the car, and tell us all we’re lying about the Republicans stealing our Mercedes.
It’s crazy, really.
Following an investigation into a public transit authority that cut off mobile phone service amid a protest earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said recently that it would attempt to outline the circumstances under which officials may legally disrupt wireless communications in the U.S.
In a release last week (PDF), FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski noted that his staff had been investigating the Bay Area RapidTransit (BART) authority’s preemptive disconnection of mobile phone towers in their subway system: an action that stymied a demonstration which aimed to shut down one of the train platforms as a protest of police brutality.
A similar tactic was attempted by Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak ahead of an angry revolutionary tide that toppled his government early this year. The order to cut off the entire country’s access to the Internet and mobile networks — which was in the West — was ultimately a tipping point that drove even more people into the streets.
Facing a media backlash against the disruption of cellular service in August, BART spokesman Linton Johnson carried out by Mubarak’s corporate partners. He argued that BART administrators committed to the action, which was not outlined by policy, in order to preserve public safety.
The FCC’s guidance was issued just before BART took a vote on a new policy (PDF) that approves disconnections, but limitsinterruptions to “extraordinary circumstances” like the threat of a bomb with a cellular detonator, or if officials have evidence of “imminent” criminal activity.
The new policy also specifically recognizes that “any interruption of cellular service poses serious risks to public safety and that available open communications networks are critical to our economy and democracy.”
Praising that last line, Genachowski insisted that the FCC is “committed to ensuring that communications technologies are harnessed to protect the public, and that first responders and other public safety officers have the tools they need for their important work.”
“For interruption 0f communications service to be permissible or advisable, it must clear a high substantive and procedural bar,” he wrote.
That bar has not yet been set — but according to Genachowski, it will be, and soon.
“The legal and policy issues raised by the type of wireless service interruption at issue here are significant and complex,” he concluded. “I have asked Commission staff to review these critical issues and consider the constraints that the Communications Act, First Amendment, and other laws and policies place upon potential service interruptions. We will soon announce an open, public process to provide guidance on these issues.”
A schedule for the FCC’s public input process on potential communications disruptions has not yet been set.
[…] Certain anchors over at Fox, along with one eager representative from the Media Research Center, feel that the movie’s villain — evil oil executive Tex Richman, played by Chris Cooper — will teach children that drilling is bad and communism is good. Cue the hysterics! Our favorite quotes from the segment, in no particular order: “What they’re telling your kids is what they told them in The Matrix: that mankind is a virus on poor old Mother Earth.” Also, from one shrieking woman about five minutes in: “There’s no competitive source on the market besides crude.” The kids will totally get that. Finally, a snide question from host Eric Bolling: “Are there any Occupy Wall Street Muppets?” Uh, yes, actually, there are! Did no one tell Fox News about Occupy Sesame Street? Missed opportunities all around.
Occupiers are going to need a spring break, judging from the packed winter itinerary of national protests being planned under the Occupy Wall Street banner. The movement’s “Beyond the Park” faction may think it’s time to stop erecting tent cities in public spaces, but if these plans all pan out, the Capitol Lawn could be booked through May Day. Check out this calender of events for what some are calling Occupy’s “Valley Forge moment.”
December 5-9: Occupy Congress
A coalition of labor and progressive groups plans to camp out in DC and “Occupy Congress” in what could be the biggest coordination yet between union officials and Occupy activists. Service Employees International Union is helping secure buses and housing for thousands of protesters from around the country and rallying support through MassUnited, the SEIU-backed group best known for the “Bobblehead Brown” campaign targeting Gov. Scott Brown of Massachusetts.*
SEIU president Mary Kay Henry told the Washington Post that one of the goals is to shame Republican lawmakers into playing along with Obama’s job-creation proposals. “This is about jobs,” she said. “The Republicans’ insistence that no revenue can be put on the table is the reason we’re not creating jobs in this country.” The week’s schedule includes drop-in visits to congressional offices, a “swarm” on K Street, and a prayer vigil for the unemployed.
SEIU muscle behind a major Occupy action begs the question: In an adamantly leaderless movement, what’s to stop any faction from taking the reins and setting course toward its own maximum benefit? And SEIU’s focus on Republicans doesn’t quite echo the broader movement’s message that neither party has the back of the 99 percent. The union is a major DNC and Obama supporter, but there’s no shortage of anti-Obama signs on display at big Occupy protests. Glenn Greenwald’s take on the SEIU’s “attempted co-option” of Occupy is worth a read.
December 6: Occupy Our Homes
As MoJo’s Josh Harkinson has reported, this past spring, months before Occupy Wall Street launched, a coalition of homeless advocates, politically radical lawyers, and veterans of New York City’s ’70s-era squatters movement formed Organizing for Occupation (O4O), a squatters’ group focused on fighting the housing crisis by occupying foreclosed homes.
In August, O4O activists helped an 82-year-old woman in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood stay in her house for at least a while longer; the city marshal who’d come to evict her backed down when 200 people formed a human wall around her door.
Now Occupy Wall Street and O4O (the two have essentially merged) are planning a multicity day of action on December 6, with bank protests, more resistance to tenant evictions, and rallies.
Michael Premo helps run Housing Is a Human Right, a documentary project about the housing crisis, and is helping organize the December 6 effort. “My goal for the day is that people who are facing eviction can see this event and know that leaving their homes is not the only option,” he says. “That they know that they can stay in their homes and defend their homes.”
December 12: West Coast Port Blockade
Having corralled 40,000 protesters to the Port of Oakland last month, successfully shutting down the country’s fourth-largest industrial port for several hours, Occupy Oakland (led by the Coup’s Boots Riley) put out a call urging other seaside Occupy satellites to do the same. At least 10 have signed on, including Seattle, Portland, the newly homeless Los Angeles movement, and the lesser-known Occupy Oxnard. The effort’s website lays out the goals:
On December 12, the occupy movements in different cities will stage mass mobilizations to march on the ports, create community pickets, and effectively shutdown the hubs of commerce, in the same fashion that Occupy Oakland shut down the Port of Oakland on November 2nd, the day of our general strike.
The announcement, with its declarations of solidarity with port workers, got a big “Thanks, but no thanks” from International Longshoreman and Workers Union top brass, who told the Portland Tribune that members are expected to clock in as usual on December 12. On November 22, ILWU President Robert McEllarth issued a statement saying none of the locals had agreed to the shutdown. “Only ILWU members or their elected representatives can authorize job actions on behalf of the union, and any decisions made by groups outside of the union’s democratic process do not hold water, regardless of the intent.”
Riley, meanwhile, has been going at it via his Twitter feed, pointing to rank-and-file ILWU workers who fully support the port action and claiming that union bosses privately back the blockade but are compelled to publicly reject it. “It’s just a game. The Longshoremen are down with this,” he wrote in a comment on the Tribune article.
January 17: Occupy Congress (same name, different protest)
Sound familiar? At least two groups are calling their plans to mobilize mass DC protests “Occupy Congress,” and there doesn’t seem to be any official connection between the two. Organizers of the action, presumably timed to coincide with the start of the 2012 legislative session, call for occupiers to “Bring 1,000,000 tents” on its Facebook page—which has about 5,000 followers so far.
Despite some unfavorable polling, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi still thinks the Occupy movement has been politically helpful to Democrats.
In an interview with TPM on Friday, she said there’s no recent precedent for the sort of election House Democrats are going into. In1994 and 2010, Congressional Republicans ran against Washington controlled by Democrats. In 2006, Congressional Democrats ran against Republican corruption and President George W. Bush. This time around, President Obama will carry the national message for the party while individual candidates use it as they see fit to win in their districts. That national message, Pelosi said, has much greater salience thanks to the Occupiers.
“Our statement is we are reigniting, Democrats are reigniting the American dream, building ladders of success, removing obstacles to opportunity to all who work hard and play by the rules,” Pelosi said. “We have work to do. We think that important to that is enhanced by what’s happening in the Occupy [movement], which is the 99 and one. They really emblazoned that in the minds of the American people. That’s what we dedicated our lives to, but they gave it that clarity. People say they didn’t have a message. They may not have a message, but they have a statement. And the statement is the status quo is unacceptable — 99 and one.”
If it’s a marriage, it’s not a very happy one. Many Democrats are hesitant to align themselves directly with the movement, particularly as the movement’s favorability falls. And the Occupy movement itself recently protested outside DCCC headquarters. But the movement’s key issues like addressing income inequality are still wildly popular and Democrats will benefit from that.
[Today]Occupy begins a new front, with a national day of action that involves occupying foreclosed homes. Occupy Our Homes has created a list events at their site here.
Events are taking place in Brooklyn and Rochester New York; Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, Petaluma and Contra Costa California; Lake Worth, Florida; Atlanta, Fayetteville, and DeKalb Georgia; Chicago, Illinois; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Denver, Colorado; Detroit and Southgate Michigan; St. Louis, Missouri; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle, Washington. If you aren’t familiar with what foreclosures are doing to neighborhoods across the country, this would be a good place to start. We’ll have more coverage on the matter during the rest of the week.
It looks like the previously successful tactic – occupying public spaces across the nation – is starting to collapse. Local cities have cracked down on occupations, and that battle looks to be over. New fronts are opening up though, from universities to foreclosed homes.
This is how it is supposed to go. Economist and friend of the blog Suresh Naidu sent me the following chart, and it’s a good one. The evolution of different tactics during the civil rights movement, 1955-1962, charted by frequency of occurrences:
This chart is taken from Tactical Innovation and the Pace of Insurgency by the sociologist Doug McAdam, who summarizes it as follows:
Given a political system vulnerable to challenge and strong internal organization the main challenge confronting insurgents is a preeminently tactical one. Lacking institutionalized power, challengers must devise protest techniques that offset their powerlessness. This is referred to as a process of tactical innovation. Such innovations, however, only temporarily afford challengers increased bargaining leverage. In chess-like fashion, movement opponents can be expected…to neutralize the new tactic, thereby reinstituting the power disparty…
As these figures show, peaks in movement activity tend to correspond to the introduction and spread of new protest techniques. The pattern is a consistent one. The pace of insurgency jumps sharply following the introduction of a new tactical form, remains high for a period of time, and then begins to decline until another tactical innovation sets the pattern in motion again….
the sheer number of actions is highest immediately following the introduction of a new protest form, as is the proportion of all actions attributed to the new technique. Thus, tactical innovation appears to trigger a period of heightened protest activity dominated by the recently introduced protest technique…tactical innovation seems to stimulate the renewed usage of all tactical forms. Thus, for example, the economic boycott, largely abandoned after the bus boycotts, was often revived in the wake of the sit-in demonstrations as a means of intensifying the pressure…
It’s a game between power and resistance. A strategy is innovated, to which institutionalized power reacts to counter. Power uses a variety of counter-innovations from co-option, discouragement to outright repression, which reduces the efficiency of that strategy. Because the tactic has used up its initial usefulness and because power has become adapt at countering it, new tactics have to be innovated.
Thus the advantages of the the Occupy movement – the creativity and energy of the participants, the permeability of the infrastructure in place – work towards this ever-evolving battle. I’d also argue that the lack of hierarchy, the regional and local characteristics of the movements and the lack of a platform help. If there’s a specific policy goal and it collapses, it’s harder to innovate a new front. Power is rigid and can control the framework of what is considered possible – the resistance has to be fluid and create a bigger vision than what is immediately doable.
Interesting note: future innovations raise the usage of all tactical forms – so if history is any guide, future innovations from Occupy can redouble efforts at previous ones, say public occupations.
[…] 2. “They have no agenda.” Josh Barro, a “research scholar” at the right-wing think tank the Manhattan Institute has derided Occupy Wall Street (obviously doing little “research”) for not having an agenda.
But as I wrote in a response to this nonsense in his National Review article,
“You talk to one representative and now you are an expert? Have you been to an encampment or event? There are several clear goals that the Occupy Groups have, and if you had bothered to do research and looked at the various declarations of these groups (online, so you don’t even have to visit a camp to learn) you would find goals such as:
Protect homes from unlawful foreclosures
Repeal Citizens United
Single payer health care
Forgive and reduce student debt obligations
Make college more affordable for families
End foreign wars and bring our troops home
Reinvest in education and infrastructure
End indefinite detentions
Repeal the patriot act
End corporate personhood
and so on.
Perhaps the reason you don’t know of these goals is that you are too lazy to look them up and main stream reporters such as yourself refuse to report on them.
If you want to refute what I say, why not have me debate you and your ignorance.”
Perhaps I am being unfair to him and should forgive his inability to understand a movement that doesn’t fit into his “liberal versus conservative paradigm”, a leaderless movement full of capable people, and a movement that has many goals and objectives but isn’t as narrowly focused as Republican Senators are on bringing down Obama and nothing else.
President Obama’s remarks this afternoon captured how dramatically his posture toward congressional Republicans has changed since this summer.
Back then, you’ll recall, the political strategy that he and his team sold themselves on after their midterm election drubbing — win back swing voters with bipartisan engagement and compromises with Republicans on major issues — essentially hit a dead end as Speaker John Boehner was compelled by Tea Party pressure to walk away from a deficit reduction “grand bargain” that he’d once seemed ready to sign off on. The last-minute deal that was then cobbled together to ward off a debt ceiling default proved poisonously unpopular. While Republicans came in for their share of blame from the public, Obama received no credit for his months of bipartisan outreach.
This ended up being a wake-up call for the White House, which took Boehner’s walk-out as proof that leaders of the Tea Party-era Republican Party are either unwilling or unable to strike meaningful deals with Obama — not when one of the conservative base’s animating principles seems to be, “If he’s for it, we’re against it.” So beginning inSeptember, when he used a primetime address to unveil a jobs bill, Obama embraced a new mission: to demonstrate as clearly as possible the GOP’s intent to obstruct his agenda — even (and especially) when he’s pushing economic policies that enjoy broad support among the general public and independent experts. Thus was his jobs programblocked piece by piece this fall by Republican-led Senate filibusters (not to mention a lack of any action in the GOP-controlled House).
Whether the jobs bill fight actually helped make Obama’s point — or if it was lost to the Senate’s slow pace, dense procedural rules, and the reluctance of a few Democrats to play along — is an open question. But now Obama isshifting the battle to a new, more promising front: the looming expiration of payroll tax cuts.
On this subject, Republicans are increasingly nervous and divided. Without a deal to extend the cuts, which were enacted at the end of last year, the average family will see its tax bill rise by $1,000 in 2012. The GOP’s congressional leaders seem to grasp the risk of being blamed for a sizable election year tax hike on tens of millions of working- and middle-class voters. This is why Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell went out of his way last week to put his party on record supporting the concept of an extension. Some Republicans on Capitol Hill share his concern; Sens. Susan Collins and Pat Roberts have both actually voiced qualified support for the idea of financing an extension throughincreased taxes on the wealthy. Collins actually broke with the rest of her party and voted last week for a Democratic proposal to impose a 3.5 percent surcharge on incomes over $1,000,000 in order to cut the payroll tax rate to 3.1 percent in 2012. (It’s currently at 4.2 percent, down from the traditional rate of 6.2 percent.) But to other Republicans, this represents heresy — they’d sooner let the payroll cuts expire than sign off on any sort of tax hike on the rich.
This set the stage for Obama’s appearance this afternoon, where he struck a confident tone and sought to make the GOP squirm even more. Just behind the president was a countdown clock that indicated a tax hike is just 26 days away unless actions is taken. He called on Congress to “keep your word to the American people, and don’t raise taxes on them right now,” and belittled the GOP for its seemingly selective devotion to tax relief. “I know many Republicans have sworn an oath never to raise taxes as long as they live,” Obama said. “How could it be the only time there’s a catch is when it comes to raising taxes for middle class families?”
Apparently, Democrats in the Senate will soon call for a vote on a tweaked extension plan, one that would impose a smaller surcharge on millionaires and make for the difference with an assortment of revenue enhancers thatRepublicans have previously backed. Maybe this will attract more Republican support; but even if it doesn’t, Democrats are making it clear they’ll keep pressing their case through the end of the year if need be. This is a new phenomenon in the 112th Congress: Obama and his party seem to have the upper hand — and they know it.
Democratic communications veteran Jennifer Palmieri is joining the White House communications staff.
Palmieri currently serves as president of liberal Center for American Progress Action Fund and senior vice president for communications at the Center for American Progress. Prior to that she served as national press secretary for former Sen. John Edwards’s (D-N.C.) presidential campaign and also was national press secretary of the Democratic National Committee. She also served eight years in the White House under then-President Clinton.
Palmieri replaces Jennifer Psaki who served as deputy communications director before leaving the White House in September to head the Washington office of Global Strategy Group, a public relations firm.
So here’s the next move in the payroll tax cut fight: Senate Dems will force Republicans to vote again on an extension, and, notably, they will again insist that it be funded by a small surtax on millionaires, albeit an even tinier one than last time.
The new offer is a variation of the last Dem proposal, which Republicans blocked last week in the Senate.
The new proposal, a Senate Dem aide says, drops the rate of the millionaire surtax to just under 2 percent on income over $1 million (before it was at 3.25 percent). But it contains other measures to pay for the extension designed to attract GOP support.
For instance, the extension would be funded by some small revenue generators that both sides agreed to during the deficit supercommittee talks. It also includes means testing of unemployment insurance and food stamps for earners over $1 million.
“We think it will be hard for Republicans who do not want to oppose a tax cut for the middle class to vote against this plan,” the Dem aide says. Of course, as Brian Beutler reports, GOP leadership aides are saying that even a smaller surtax on millionaires are a nonstarter.
But the Dem game plan here is to go around the leadership by increasing pressure on moderate Republicans who, in the end, want to support a payroll tax cut extension. The idea is that when Republicans rejected their own proposal last week — which would have been paid for by spending cuts — they revealed that many in the Senate GOP caucus are opposed to extending the payroll tax cut no matter how it’s paid for, not simply because it’s funded by a millionaire surtax.
Previously, Republicans could explain their opposition to the Dem plan by saying Republicans have their own proposal. Now that the GOP proposal can’t even get support from many Republicans, Dems are hoping that moderate Republicans will feel more pressure to support a Dem-proposed compromise.
Hence the new Dem proposal, which shrinks the surtax on millionaires even further. In theory, that should make the proposal harder for self-described moderate Republicans to reject. But presuming they do, the Dem proposal will again spotlight just how adamant GOP opposition to any tax hikes on the rich remains.
UPDATE: Obama, speaking to the press right now, again pressured Republicans to pay for the extension, and mocked the idea among some GOPers that this tax cut — unlike the extension of the tax cuts on the rich — have to be paid for:
“Some Republicans who have pushed back against the idea of extending this payroll tax cut have said, `We’ve gotta pay for these tax cuts.’ I’d just point out that they haven’t always felt that way. Over the last decade, they didn’t feel the need to pay for massive tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, which is one of the reasons we have faced such large deficits…
“This isn’t just a political fight. Independent economists, some of whom have in the past worked for Republicans, agree that if we don’t extend the payroll tax cut, and we don’t extend unemployment insurance, it will hurt our economy…It’ll take money out of the pockets of Americans just at the time when they need it… My message to Congress is this: Keep your word to the American people, and don’t raise taxes on them right now.”
This one should be seen as a defining moment for Campaign 2012. Check out the new defense of that dishonest ad attacking Obama that a top anomymous Romney campaign operative has now given to the New York Times’ Tom Edsall:
“First of all, ads are propaganda by definition. We are in the persuasion business, the propaganda business … Ads are agitprop … Ads are about hyperbole, they are about editing. It’s ludicrous for them to say that an ad is taking something out of context … All ads do that. They are manipulative pieces of persuasive art.”
If Edsall says this person is a major figure in the campaign, you can count on that to be true — it’s almost certainly a message the Romney team wants out there. So here you have it: The Romney camp’s standard for accuracy and fairness seems to be that there is no need for any such standard, because all ads are by definition “manipulative” and “propaganda.”
But come on: You can make an assertion or depiction designed to persuade that also happens to be … true. Indeed, when Romney’s own ad showed Obama saying, “I am confident that we can steer ourselves out of this crisis,” it was an honest rendering of Obama’s words, even though its inclusion was designed to persuade. When the ad showed Obama claiming that talking about the economy was bad for him politically, when in fact he was quoting a McCain adviser saying that, it was flatly dishonest.
Similarly, when the DNC accused Romney of changing his position on abortion to persuade viewers that he’s a flip flopper, that charge was true. But when the DNC accused Romney of changing his position on the stimulus, that was a distortion, albeit not as serious as Romney’s. Are there some cases that aren’t clear cut? Sure, but we should still strive to separate fact from fiction, and to make judgment calls when the lines are fuzzy.
Between this new quote and their boast that the ad’s mangling of context was strategically brilliant because it won reams of media attention, it almost seems as if Romney advisers are trying to persuade political reporters and commentators to abandon any standards they might use to judge tactics and rhetoric throughout this campaign. Of course, one would hope this will have the opposite effect. And one would hope it will help counter the inevitable claims that “both sides” are engaging in equivalent levels of dishonesty. As Paul Krugman notes,the false equivalence game is already underway.
The USA Ammo company is warning potential customers that “tyranny and gun control is only an election away,” in an ad that uses pictures of President Obama, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and others to illustrate the “Faces of Gun Control.”
CBS Washington pointed out the ad, put out by the guns and ammo site USAmmo.com. “The recent Occupy Wall Street protests and liberal attempts at gun control are eerily reminiscent to the rise of Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and Idi Amin,” the site says. “Barack Obama and Erick [sic] Holder, gun control advocates, are secretly conspiring to strip American Citizens of the right to bears arms.”
As Media Matters pointed out, the picture of Idi Amin in the ad is actually a picture of Forest Whitaker playing Idi Amin in the 2006 film “The Last King Of Scotland.”
A video on the site continues the comparison, giving a history of gun control in the world by dictators, then telling viewers to “get armed” at USAmmo.com “before it’s too late!”
Here’s the video:
Trace Williams, the director of operations for USAAmmo, told CBS Washington that “Obama and his various czars are infringing on the rights of Americans to own guns.”
“He’s anti-gun and he’s obviously a socialist cramming health care down American’s throats,” he said. “That is exactly how those people in that ad rose to power.”
The site also boasts t-shirts that say things like “F*ck Obama,” “BAMF” and “Don’t Tread On Me Biotch.”
New DNC Ad: “Mitt Romney, Career Politician”
Friday’s big drop in the national unemployment rate to its lowest level since early 2009 comes as welcome news to President Obama, whose approval numbers have languished in the low-40s since this summer. As The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza suggests, Obama “desperately needs some evidence that the economy is starting to move in the right direction.” But are these numbers enough to bring him up from below sea level?
It’s almost impossible to answer that question with certainty, but here are three charts that provide some clues:
First, look at the connection between the unemployment rate and Obama’s job approval in Washington Post-ABC News polls:
Obama’s approval numbers dropped significantly while the unemployment rate was surging to 10.1 percent in 2009, but his numbers haven’t bounced back as the jobless rate has improved. Obama seems to have benefited from a particularly sharp drop in the jobless rate from November 2010 to January 2011. But after that, his approval marks continued their descent, briefly interrupted by a bounce after Osama bin Laden was killed in May.
Focus on the green line – the percentage of the public hearing “mostly good news” about the economy. It’s remarkably low and flat. Although the numbers hearing negative news or a “mix of both good and bad news” has varied, the percent hearing good news has been stuck in the single digits. Obama needs the overall tone of news coverage to shift dramatically to reap the benefit of a falling unemployment rate.
Now to the third chart – negative economic news and the unemployment rate.
Even if the unemployment situation continues to improve, there’s no guarantee that Americans will perceive the economy as getting better. The tone of economic news hasn’t closely followed changes in unemployment since Obama has been in office. Americans reported hearing less negative economic news as the jobless rate was rising in 2009. The two indicators have tracked more closely in the past few months, but it’s unclear whether a new dynamic has taken hold, or whether negative news is simply taking a breather after the near crisis over Congress raising the federal debt ceiling.
Surely Obama hopes to follow in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan, who rode a strong economic recovery to reelection in 1984. As we’ve noted before, a boom of Reagan proportions is quite unlikely – the United States gained a whopping 5.6 million jobs in the 14 months before Election Day 1984 (nearly 500,000 per month). By comparison, 120,000 jobs were created in November, according to Friday’s jobs report.
What do you think? How much could Obama benefit from an improving job picture?
OR, To Put the Above in an Easier Way:
Late last week, we published a chart detailing the unemployment trend line since President Obama took office.
The chart above may well represent the best chance President Obama has at a second term. We’ve long maintained that a president’s stewardship of the economy — particularly in tough times — is judged more by the direction in which the unemployment rate is headed than what the actual number is in the runup to an election.
It’s become a Washington parlor game to compare Obama’s presidency to others who held the office — Lincoln! Clinton! — but it’s long been obvious that Reagan’s 1984 race is the closest analog to what Obama is currently going through.
A faltering economy had hamstrung Reagan’s party in the 1982 midterm election, causing across-the-board losses. (Sound familiar?) Reagan began his re-election race with unemployment above 10 percent but by the time he stood for re-election that number had dipped below eight percent.
While a 7.4 percent unemployment rate was far from ideal for a president seeking a second term, the trend line allowed Reagan to make the case that his policies were beginning to turn things around and that it made no sense to change horses in midstream. Voters agreed; he carried 49 states.
Obama’s political team — as well as virtually every economist in the country — acknowledges that there is almost no chance that unemployment will dip below eight percent before next fall.
That reality means his best hope lies in an incremental drop in the unemployment rate so that he can make the “progress is being made” case to the public.
In short, Obama needs to duplicate the second chart above. Do that and his chances of winning a second term increase measurably.
The contest for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination has been described as a reality show and a circus. But what’s happening inside the GOP is quite rational and easily explained. […]
A party that lived by the tea crowd in 2010 is being severely hobbled by it now. The Republican right wants the kind of purity that led it to take candidates such as Cain and Bachmann with great seriousness for a while. The same folks took Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell and Joe Miller seriously in the 2010 Senate primaries, too. None of them got elected.
Perry once seemed the answer to this problem. Now that he, Cain and Bachmann have faltered, lonely conservative hearts have turned to Gingrich. This is odd, since Gingrich can give Romney an excellent run in any flip-flopping contest.
But Gingrich has always kept at least one foot in the camp of movement conservatism, and he talks like a movement guy. This could be enough. The question is whether he has the discipline not to say something really foolish between now and Jan. 3, the date of the Iowa caucuses. (Free advice to Newt: Stop talking about yourself in the third person as a world historical figure.)
There is talk of the “Republican establishment” swooping in to save matters, and things certainly seem ripe for a draft write-in campaign for some new candidate. But the Republican establishment, such as it is, is essentially powerless. It sold its soul to the Tea Party, sat by silently as extremist rhetoric engulfed the GOP and figured that swing voters would eventually overlook all this to cast votes against a bad economy.
That’s still Romney’s bet; yet his failure to break through suggests the right wing will not be trifled with. Republican leaders unleashed forces that may eat their party alive. And the only Republican really enjoying what’s happening is Newt Gingrich.
In an interview with Laura Ingraham, George Will despairs of the choice between Gingrich and Romney as GOP frontrunners:
Ask yourself this: Suppose Gingrich or Romney become president and gets re-elected – suppose you had eight years of this…What would the conservative movement be? How would it understand itself after eight years? I think what would have gone away, perhaps forever, is the sense of limited government, the Tenth Amendment, Madisonian government of limited, delegated and enumerated powers — the sense conservatism is indeed tied to limitations on federal authority and the police power wielded by Congress — that would all be gone. It’s hard to know what would be left.
In a column, Will doubles down on this line of criticism.
Will is no fan of Romney, but he is an even bigger opponent of Gingrich, whom he calls the least conservative candidate. Instead, Will suggests Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman (whom more and more pundits have been giving a second look) as “conservative” alternatives.
I’m not sure that Will’s despair here is entirely justified, however. After all, look at some of the salient points of George W. Bush’s domestic record:
• Tax-cuts that were not offset by spending decreases and thereby added to the deficit (It’s amusing to read a Heritage report from 2001 that predicted that the Bush tax-cuts would lead to the near-elimination of the federal debt by 2011).
• Exploding government spending.
• Anemic economic growth (well below the averages of past decades).
• Enormous deficit spending.
• No Child Left Behind, which sets the stage for the federalization of public education and was probably the greatest expansion of federal power over education that the nation has ever seen.
• Sundry other expansions of federal power, including the ban on the traditional tungsten incandescent bulb, which currently has conservatives up in arms.
• A housing bubble (which the administration’s policies encouraged).
• A near-economic meltdown.
This list is partial, and doesn’t consider the cases of the almosts that the Bush administration fought hard for but failed to achieve (such as Justice Harriet Miers). Bush’s whole “compassionate conservatism” was premised on expanding federal power in order to achieve certain “compassionate” ends.
Somehow, small-government conservatism survived President Bush, and I see no reason why it could not survive some of the GOP presidential contenders, some of whom have a far more conservative campaign theme than Bush ever did. For example, though Will derides Romney as a “manager” or something, Romney’s proposed policies would seem to have no small potential for promoting the aims of small-government conservatism.
To return to Will’s column attacking Gingrinch for a moment, there’s another point I’d like to look at:
Romney’s main objection to contemporary Washington seems to be that he is not administering it. God has 10 commandments, Woodrow Wilson had 14 points, Heinz had 57 varieties, but Romney’s economic platform has 59 planks — 56 more than necessary if you have low taxes, free trade and fewer regulatory burdens.
I think this formulation is a little glib. Consider “fewer regulatory burdens.” The fact is that we currently live amidst a complex of regulations. Every regulation depends upon every other regulation (as traditional conservatism would recognize). So it’s not enough to get rid of regulatory burdens but to revise these burdens in the right way. Under Bush, certain regulations were gotten rid of, but the intersection of this “deregulation” and other regulations that were kept in place brought American to the brink of a financial collapse. Will may sneer at technocratic tendencies, but skill in finessing current regulatory regimes would be no small aid to small-government policies.
GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich sat down with real estate mogul Donald Trump this morning, becoming the latest in a parade of GOP presidential candidates looking for Trump’s endorsement. “I’m a big fan of him,” Gingrich said after the meeting. He’s also theonly candidate so far to agree to participate in an upcoming debate Trump is moderating.
Why anyone would want Trump’s endorsement is a bit of a mystery, as only 6 percent of voters said they would be more likely to support Trump-approved candid, while a full 31 percent said Trump’s endorsement would make them less likely to support a candidate. But Gingrich and Trump had a PR strategy for the confab.
The former House speaker has taken flak in recent days for calling child labor laws “truly stupid” and saying that poor kids should clean the bathrooms in their school to learn legal work habits. “Newt Gingrich has reached a new low, and that is hard for him to do,” New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote Friday. “You clearly know little,” actress Eva Longoria scolded Gingrich on Twitter.
After the summit today, Gignrich and Trump announced a joint plan to select 10 “apprenti,” as Trump put it (the actual plural of “apprentice” is “apprentices”) from New York City’s schools to work for the reality TV star. “It was Newt’s idea and I thought it was a great idea,” Trump said at a joint press conference.
This week President Obama is launching a media blitz in support of Richard Cordray, his nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The Senate Banking Committee has confirmed Cordray, but the full Senate is likely to block his nomination this week, since Republicans have vowed to torpedo the CFPB director unless the Obama administration institutes changes that would cripple the agency. And without a director in place, the CFPB cannot assume many of its important new powers.
How will this prolonged standoff end? Unless the Obama administration changes its strategy, Cordray will likely suffer the same fate as other well-qualified nominees killed off by GOP filibusters, such as Donald Berwick, Peter Diamond and Goodwin Liu.
Since the beginning of the Obama administration, Republicans have escalated the use of the filibuster to historic levels and have blocked nearly 20 percent of Obama nominees. Half of the oversight positions mandated by financial reform legislation are vacant or occupied by temporary caretakers. So are two crucial seats on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. One in seven federal district and circuit court judgeships are currently or soon to be vacant. The list goes on and on.
Yet although he’s faced unprecedented obstruction from Senate Republicans, the president has filled only twenty-eight vacant positions through recess appointments. Contrast that with George W. Bush, who made 171 recess appointments during his presidency. Despite Obama’s scant use of his executive authority when it comes to staffing the government, Republicans are now doing everything they can to block the administration from making future recess appointments. When they leave town, the House and Senate are staying in “pro forma” session, which Republicans claim prevents the president from making any recess appointments during that time.
But the the historical precedent for a pro-forma filibuster is murky at best, notes political scientist Jonathan Bernstein. The Justice Department under Bill Clinton said a president must wait for the Congress to be officially out of session for three days, but there’s no specification in the Constitution about that window, according to a 2004 Appeals Court for the 11th Circuit decision. So Obama could, in theory, make the recess appointments and then fight the GOP in court if/once they contest his authority.
Republicans counter that Harry Reid kept the Senate in pro forma session from 2007 onward to prevent President Bush from exercising his recess authority. But by that point Bush had already made six times as many recess appointments as Obama. So the president has a much stronger case to make. The public vastly prefers Obama to the Congress. If the president takes this fight to Congressional Republicans, he should have the upper hand.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Monday afternoon will offer a new Democratic proposal to expand a payroll-tax cut for employees while tweaking how the bill is paid for in a nod to Republican concerns.
Democrats will scale back a bill rejected in a Senate vote last week by eliminating proposed payroll-tax benefits for employers. The new bill will leave in place a proposal to cut the payroll-tax rate for employees from 4.2 percent to 3.1 percent, a senior Democratic aide said. That will lower the cost of the plan from $265 billion to $180 billion, in an attempt to address GOP concerns about the measure’s overall cost, the aide said.
“We do that regrettably,” the staffer said.
Democrats are not including an extension of federal unemployment benefits in the bill, nor a “doc fix” preventing physicians who accept Medicare from taking a pay cut. Because Democrats believe both will be part of a final deal, their exclusion indicates that Reid’s current offer is a negotiating position that Democrats expect Senate Republicans to block.
A GOP leadership aide said that Democrats have not shared their plans’ details with Republicans.
Democrats would pay for the new bill through a combination of measures, the senior Democratic aide said.
Democrats would keep a surtax on salaries of more than $1 million a year but cut the 3.25 percent rate they previously proposed about in half. The exact rate was still being worked out.
The new bill would sunset the surtax after 10 years. This attempts to address GOP concerns that the Democratic plan offered a permanent tax increase in exchange for a temporary payroll-tax cut.
Democrats would also borrow from a list of non-health care mandatory savings created during super-committee talks. These ideas, such as cutting farm subsidies, have been on the table since they were identified by a group led by Vice President Joe Biden earlier this year and are viewed as likely bipartisan ways to pay for a final deal on the payroll-tax and unemployment benefits.
Democrats will adopt a proposed offset included in last week’s GOP alternative for extending the current payroll-tax rate for employees: a means test that prevents people who earn a million dollars a year from receiving federal social benefits, such as unemployment benefits and Social Security. Both that provision and the super committee’s saving provision could be included in a final deal late this week or next week.
Reid will outline details of the bill at 2 p.m. and planned to start the process of forcing a vote on Monday. A cloture vote on the measure could come on Thursday or Friday, Democrats said.
Ron Paul has fooled a lot of liberals lately. They think that because he is anti-war, that it makes him a liberal. The problem is, Ron Paul is not even close to being a liberal. He is simply an anti-war conservative who wants to rip apart the federal government until it can no longer function. Liberals should not vote for Ron Paul and here are 16 quotes that demonstrate why.
“The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers. On the contrary, our Founders’ political views were strongly informed by their religious beliefs.”
~Ron Paul, claiming that there is no separation of church and state, despite these writings by Founding Fathers Jefferson and Madison:
“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”
~Thomas Jefferson, as President, in a letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802
“The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.”
The Founding Fathers envisioned a robustly Christian yet religiously tolerant America, with churches serving as vital institutions that would eclipse the state in importance. […]
“Having federal officials, whether judges, bureaucrats, or congressmen, impose a new definition of marriage on the people is an act of social engineering profoundly hostile to liberty.”
~Ron Paul, criticizing the LGBT community for seeking the same rights straight couples have. […]
There are two crucial things you need to understand about the current state of American politics. First, given the still dire economic situation, 2012 should be a year of Republican triumph. Second, the G.O.P. may nonetheless snatch defeat from the jaws of victory — because Herman Cain was not an accident.
Think about what it takes to be a viable Republican candidate today. You have to denounce Big Government and high taxes without alienating the older voters who were the key to G.O.P. victories last year — and who, even as they declare their hatred of government, will balk at any hint of cuts to Social Security and Medicare (death panels!).
And you also have to denounce President Obama, who enacted a Republican-designed health reform and killed Osama bin Laden, as a radical socialist who is undermining American security.
So what kind of politician can meet these basic G.O.P. requirements? There are only two ways to make the cut: to be totally cynical or to be totally clueless.
Mitt Romney embodies the first option. He’s not a stupid man; he knows perfectly well, to take a not incidental example, that the Obama health reform is identical in all important respects to the reform he himself introduced in Massachusetts — but that doesn’t stop him from denouncing the Obama plan as a vast government takeover that is nothing like what he did. He presumably knows how to read a budget, which means that he must know that defense spending has continued to rise under the current administration, but this doesn’t stop him from pledging to reverse Mr. Obama’s “massive defense cuts.”
Mr. Romney’s strategy, in short, is to pretend that he shares the ignorance and misconceptions of the Republican base. He isn’t a stupid man — but he seems to play one on TV.
Unfortunately from his point of view, however, his acting skills leave something to be desired, and his insincerity shines through. So the base still hungers for someone who really, truly believes what every candidate for the party’s nomination must pretend to believe. Yet as I said, the only way to actually believe the modern G.O.P. catechism is to be completely clueless.
And that’s why the Republican primary has taken the form it has, in which a candidate nobody likes and nobody trusts has faced a series of clueless challengers, each of whom has briefly soared before imploding under the pressure of his or her own cluelessness. Think in particular of Rick Perry, a conservative true believer who seemingly had everything it took to clinch the nomination — until he opened his mouth.
So will Newt Gingrich suffer the same fate? Not necessarily.
Many observers seem surprised that Mr. Gingrich’s, well, colorful personal history isn’t causing him more problems, but they shouldn’t be. If hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, conservatives often seem inclined to accept that tribute, voting for candidates who publicly espouse conservative moral principles whatever their personal behavior. Did I mention that David Vitter is still in the Senate?
And Mr. Gingrich has some advantages none of the previous challengers had. He is by no means the deep thinker he imagines himself to be, but he’s a glib speaker, even when he has no idea what he’s talking about. And my sense is that he’s also very good at doublethink — that even when he knows what he’s saying isn’t true, he manages to believe it while he’s saying it. So he may not implode like his predecessors.
The larger point, however, is that whoever finally gets the Republican nomination will be a deeply flawed candidate. And these flaws won’t be an accident, the result of bad luck regarding who chose to make a run this time around; the fact that the party is committed to demonstrably false beliefs means that only fakers or the befuddled can get through the selection process.
Of course, given the terrible economic picture and the tendency of voters to blame whoever holds the White House for bad times, even a deeply flawed G.O.P. nominee might very well win the presidency. But then what?
The Washington Post quotes an unnamed Republican adviser who compared what happened to Mr. Cain, when he suddenly found himself leading in the polls, to the proverbial tale of the dog who had better not catch that car he’s chasing. “Something great and awful happened, the dog caught the car. And of course, dogs don’t know how to drive cars. So he had no idea what to do with it.”
The same metaphor, it seems to me, might apply to the G.O.P. pursuit of the White House next year. If the dog actually catches the car — the actual job of running the U.S. government — it will have no idea what to do, because the realities of government in the 21st century bear no resemblance to the mythology all ambitious Republican politicians must pretend to believe. And what will happen then?
Newt Gingrich (62%) and Mitt Romney (54%) are the only two candidates Republicans say would be acceptable presidential nominees from their party, emphasizing the degree to which the GOP race has narrowed down to these two men at this juncture. A majority of Republicans say each of the other six candidates measured would not be acceptable nominees.
Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in Gallup’s Nov. 28-Dec. 1 survey were asked to rate the acceptability of eight active GOP candidates. The “acceptable” responses range from Gingrich’s 62% to 27% for Rick Santorum.
This is the first time Gallup has asked this question in reference to the 2012 election. More than half of Republicans nationwide now see Rick Perry and Herman Cain — both of whom previously led or tied for the lead in Gallup’s measure of positive intensity and in Gallup’s trial-heat ballots — as unacceptable nominees. These data were collected prior to Cain’s Saturday announcement that he was suspending his campaign for the GOP nomination.
Majority of Tea Party Supporters Find Both Gingrich and Romney Acceptable
Tea Party supporters — about 42% of Republicans in this sample — are at least slightly more likely to find six of the eight candidates acceptable compared with those who are not Tea Party supporters. Tea Party supporters are less positive than nonsupporters about Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman.
Eighty-two percent of Tea Party supporters would find Gingrich acceptable as a nominee, making him by far their top choice on this measure. Importantly, Tea Party supporters are also more positive about Romney than are nonsupporters, putting him in second place behind Gingrich, with a 58% acceptable score. Michele Bachmann (52%) is the third candidate whom a majority of Tea Party supporters would find acceptable.
Conservative Republicans, about 70% of Republicans in this sample, don’t differ much from all Republicans in their views of the candidates’ acceptability. Moderate and liberal Republicans, however, are substantially less likely to say that Gingrich is an acceptable nominee than are conservatives, yielding a situation in which about equal percentages of moderate and liberal Republicans find Romney (51%) and Gingrich (48%) acceptable.
Moderate and liberal Republicans are more likely than conservatives to say Paul and Huntsman would be acceptable nominees — but in both instances, support for the candidates is still well below the majority level.
Older Republicans Positive About Gingrich
Republicans 55 and older are more likely than younger Republicans to say Gingrich and Romney would be acceptable nominees. Among the older group, 73% say Gingrich would be acceptable, and 62% say Romney would be acceptable. Older Republicans are slightly more positive than younger Republicans about Bachmann, but are less positive than the younger group about Cain, Paul, and Huntsman.
As the race for the GOP nomination enters the final month before actual voting begins, Republicans nationwide appear to have narrowed their field of acceptable candidates down to two — former Speaker Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Romney. More Republicans see Gingrich than see Romney as an acceptable nominee, particularly among Tea Party supporters and older Republicans — although a majority of both of these groups say Romney is also acceptable.
More than two-thirds of likely voters think members of Congress should work more for less pay.
A large percentage of voters say lawmakers should have their salaries cut and their pensions eliminated, and they should also work longer, according to a new poll commissioned by The Hill.
The poll’s findings reflect the public’s ever-darkening view of Congress, now at record lows, and perhaps the respondents’ tepid views about their own financial prospects: In the same survey, 40 percent said they expect their personal finances will get worse in 2012 while another 40 percent said they only expect them to remain the same.
Sixty-seven percent said the $174,000 base salary for members should be lowered instead of raised or left as it is, and 69 percent want members’ pensions discontinued.
Sixty-four percent of respondents said Congress should work more days than it does now to pass legislation, suggesting the public perceives that it is not getting enough done under its current calendar.
The supercommittee’s recent failure to produce a deficit-reduction plan and Senate and House failures to agree on a budget surely contribute to this perception also.
When it comes to the change wrought by a new Republican majority in the House, 38 percent of likely voters said it changed Washington for the worse, while 28 percent said it changed for the better and 28 percent said it made no difference.
The findings were based on a nationwide survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted last Thursday by Pulse Opinion Research, an independent polling firm,with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Men are more likely to think the Republican takeover of the House was a good thing than women, the poll found. Thirty-three percent said it was a good thing, while 31 percent said it changed Washington for the worse and 28 percent said it made no difference.
Among women, however, 44 percent said the GOP House has changed things for the worse, while only 24 percent said it has improved Washington.
Women also tended to feel more strongly that Congress should work more days, with 72 percent in agreement versus only 56 percent of men. Men were more likely to say members’ base salary should be lowered (69 percent, to 66 percent for women) and that congressional pensions should be discontinued (71 percent to 66 percent).
The congressional pension system was first created in 1942, repealed because of criticism and reinstated in 1946 with the argument that it would encourage older members to retire.
Under the current system, members are eligible for pensions at age 62 if they have completed at least five years of service, and at 50 if they have completed 20 years of service.
The current base salary of $174,000 was arrived at in 2009, up from $169,300.
While strong majorities of likely voters making less than $100,000 favored cutting congressional salaries, respondents making more than $100,000 annually were fairly evenly split, with 47 percent wanting the salaries reduced and 42 percent wanting them to stay the same.
Those making less than $20,000, perhaps surprisingly, were more interested in seeing congressional pensions done away with (80 percent) than in lowering congressional salaries: Only 6 in 10 favored cutting members’ pay, compared with the roughly 8 in 10 with that view among respondents making between $20,000 and $60,000.
On members’ pensions, voters aged 18 to 39 were more sympathetic than older voters. While 59 percent said they should be eliminated, 18 percent said they should be kept and 23 percent said they were not sure.
Among voters aged 40-64, 76 percent said pensions should be abolished, with 13 percent in favor of keeping them, and among voters aged 65 and older, 73 percent wanted them abolished with 15 percent in favor of continuing them.
AP: Scientists find monster black holes, biggest yet (No not those, REAL ones.)
Scientists have found the biggest black holes known to exist – each one 10 billion times the size of our sun.
A team led by astronomers at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered the two gigantic black holes in clusters of elliptical galaxies more than 300 million light years away. That’s relatively close on the galactic scale.
“They are monstrous,” Berkeley astrophysicist Chung-Pei Ma told reporters. “We did not expect to find such massive black holes because they are more massive than indicated by their galaxy properties. They’re kind of extraordinary.”
The previous black hole record-holder is as large as 6 billion suns.
In research released Monday by the journal Nature, the scientists suggest these black holes may be the leftovers of quasars that crammed the early universe. They are similar in mass to young quasars, they said, and have been well hidden until now.
The scientists used ground-based telescopes as well as the Hubble Space Telescope and Texas supercomputers, observing stars near the black holes and measuring the stellar velocities to uncover these vast, invisible regions.
Black holes are objects so dense that nothing, not even light, can escape. Some are formed by the collapse of a super-size star. It’s uncertain how these two newly discovered whoppers originated, said Nicholas McConnell, a Berkeley graduate student who is the study’s lead author. To be so massive now means they must have grown considerably since their formation, he said.
Most if not all galaxies are believed to have black holes at their center. The bigger the galaxy, it seems, the bigger the black hole.
Quasars are some of the most energized and distant of galactic centers.
The researchers said their findings suggest differences in the way black holes grow, depending on the size of the galaxy.
Ma speculates these two black holes remained hidden for so long because they are living in quiet retirement – much quieter and more boring than their boisterous youth powering quasars billions of years ago.
“For an astronomer, finding these insatiable black holes is like finally encountering people nine feet tall whose great height had only been inferred from fossilized bones. How did they grow so large?” Ma said in a news release. “This rare find will help us understand whether these black holes had very tall parents or ate a lot of spinach.”
Oxford University astrophysicist Michele Cappellari, who wrote an accompanying commentary in the journal, agreed that the two newly discovered black holes “probably represent the missing dormant relics of the giant black holes that powered the brightest quasars in the early universe.”
One of the newly detected black holes weighs 9.7 billion times the mass of the sun. The second, slightly farther from Earth, is as big or even bigger.
Even larger black holes may be lurking out there. Ma said that’s the million-dollar question: How big can a black hole grow?
The researchers already are peering into the biggest galaxies for answers.
“If there is any bigger black hole,” Ma said, “we should be able to find them in the next year or two. Personally, I think we are probably reaching the high end now. Maybe another factor of two to go at best.”
The U.S. Supreme Court let stand on Monday a ruling that religious groups cannot use public schools facilities for worship services outside of normal school hours in a case about church-state separation.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has battled teachers association leaders over rewriting tenure rules, while Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels said he’s weighing whether to back curbs on nongovernment unions.
The two are among several Republicans trying to limit the power of organized labor even after a successful bid by another, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, spurred a recall drive and voters repealed a similar law championed by Ohio’s John Kasich.
Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell, chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said those developments won’t sway his members from pursuing efforts to rein in unions. In some cases, that means expanding the roster of 22 states with right-to-work laws. In others, pending bills would place limits on the reach of labor organizations in government and industry.
“People realize the states that are doing the best on budgets, on job creation” are those with laws barring new workers from being required to join unions, McDonnell said yesterday at a meeting of the group in Orlando, Florida. “You see unions fighting for their lives” in those states, he said.
Lawmakers began enacting such measures in the 1930s, after federal legislation let employers that sign contracts with organized labor fire workers who refuse to join unions, according to the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation Inc. In 2001, Oklahoma became the 22nd state to add such rules.
The average worker in a right-to-work state is paid $30,167 a year, or about $5,333 a year less than workers in those that don’t have the rule, according to U.S. Labor Department data.
Indiana’s Daniels said he’s weighing whether to back a pending right-to-work bill. He said such a law would make his state more attractive to businesses considering relocating.
“We’re missing between a quarter and a third of the opportunities because the business has this as a prerequisite,” Daniels said. “That’s a big matter to us, a big deal. In this economy, a state like ours needs every edge it can get.”
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has also backed legislation to change the way teachers are evaluated and overhauling tenure.
In New Hampshire, the House of Representatives on Nov. 30 failed to override Democratic Governor John Lynch’s veto of a similar measure.
“Today, 130 elected representatives in the House stood with ironworkers, teachers, nurses and firefighters to sustain Governor Lynch’s veto,” Mark MacKenzie, president of the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, said in a statement. “Their vote is a clear signal to all of our elected leaders, in New Hampshire and elsewhere, that attacking the rights of everyday Americans isn’t the key to economic prosperity.”
Overhauling education, adding jobs and cutting the cost of government will top to-do lists for the coming year, according to Republican governors who gathered for two days this week near Walt Disney World in Orlando. Out of 29 Republican governors, 26, plus Luis Fortuno ofPuerto Rico, attended the meeting, which held sessions on everything from China trade to politics.
Walker, who took office in Madison in January, faces a recall spearheaded by incensed union leaders after signing a law that limits most collective bargaining to wages and outlaws automatic dues collection from workers’ pay.
Christie, whose 2009 election made him the first Republican to win a statewide New Jersey race since 1997, said he thinks Kasich and Walker may both benefit as taxpayers see savings from the measures they championed.
“Some of this stuff is emotional and it’s cyclical, so you can’t allow yourself to get caught up in that,” Christie said. “If you wind up being governed by polls in this job, then you’re going to be a failure. You are absolutely going to be a failure.”
Attempts to curb bargaining power are “overreaching,” Brandon Davis, political director of the Washington-based Service Employees International Union, said in a statement.
“The Republican Governors’ Association is interested in advancing a political agenda that caters to the needs of the richest 1 percent rather than the nurses, firefighters, police officers and teachers who care for us when we’re ill, teach our children and keep us safe from harm,” Davis said by e-mail.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer plans to push for a bill similar to a proposal she raised last year, to revamp the compensation system for public employees and making it easier to fire those who perform poorly, she said in an interview.
Idaho Governor Clement “Butch” Otter earlier this year signed a package of education bills that include limiting union negotiations to salary and benefits alone. Superintendent of Instruction Tom Luna faced a recall drive that failed to gain enough support to get on the ballot, Otter said in an interview. He said after meetings with other Republican state leaders, he doesn’t think a backlash to the changes made in Wisconsinor Ohio will have much effect on similar efforts.
“There’s not anybody who’s going to back off of their original intent because of what Scott’s going through or what John Kasich went through,” Otter said.
Speaker Boehner and House Republican Leadership think extending the payroll tax cut and helping Americans pay their bills is “chicken sh–.”
That’s what he told Tea Party House Republicans at a closed-door meeting.
This bill would save the average American family over $1000 a year. That’s not “chicken sh–.”
Sign our petition today telling Speaker Boehner, Eric Cantor and the rest of the Tea Party Republicans in Congress that extending the payroll tax cut is critical to the American people and the American economy. It’s definitely not “chicken sh–.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
LBJ, on GOP field: “They couldn’t pour pee out of a boot if the instructions were on the heel.”