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[…] Thousands of the poor across the Northeast are going to have a tough winter after the federal government cut home heating aid to states like New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Congress is considering making further cuts of more than $1 billion from last year’s $4.7-billion Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. It had served nearly nine million households. “They’re playing Russian roulette with people’s lives,” said John Drew, a Boston community developer.
A decision by retail giant Lowe’s Home Improvement to pull ads from a reality show about American Muslims following protests from an evangelical Christian group has sparked criticism and calls for a boycott against the chain.
The retailer stopped advertising on TLC’s “All-American Muslim” after a conservative group known as the Florida Family Association complained, saying the program was “propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.”
The show premiered last month and chronicles the lives of five families from Dearborn, Mich., a Detroit suburb with a large Muslim and Arab-American population.
A state senator from Southern California said he was considering calling for a boycott.
Calling the Lowe’s decision “un-American” and “naked religious bigotry,” Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, told The Associated Press on Sunday that he would also consider legislative action if Lowe’s doesn’t apologize to Muslims and reinstate its ads. The senator sent a letter outlining his complaints to Lowe’s Chief Executive Officer Robert A. Niblock.
It’s time to start calling the current situation what it is: a depression. True, it’s not a full replay of the Great Depression, but that’s cold comfort. Unemployment in both America and Europe remains disastrously high. Leaders and institutions are increasingly discredited. And democratic values are under siege.
On that last point, I am not being alarmist. On the political as on the economic front it’s important not to fall into the “not as bad as” trap. High unemployment isn’t O.K. just because it hasn’t hit 1933 levels; ominous political trends shouldn’t be dismissed just because there’sno Hitler in sight.
Let’s talk, in particular, about what’s happening in Europe — not because all is well with America, but because the gravity of European political developments isn’t widely understood.
First of all, the crisis of the euro is killing the European dream. The shared currency, which was supposed to bind nations together, has instead created an atmosphere of bitter acrimony.
Specifically, demands for ever-harsher austerity, with no offsetting effort to foster growth, have done double damage. They have failed as economic policy, worsening unemployment without restoring confidence; a Europe-wide recession now looks likely even if the immediate threat of financial crisis is contained. And they have created immense anger, with many Europeans furious at what is perceived, fairly or unfairly (or actually a bit of both), as a heavy-handed exercise of German power.
Nobody familiar with Europe’s history can look at this resurgence of hostility without feeling a shiver. Yet there may be worse things happening.
Right-wing populists are on the rise from Austria, where the Freedom Party (whose leaderused to have neo-Nazi connections) runs neck-and-neck in the polls with established parties, to Finland, where the anti-immigrant True Finns party had a strong electoral showing last April. And these are rich countries whose economies have held up fairly well. Matters look even more ominous in the poorer nations of Central and Eastern Europe.
Last month the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development documented a sharp drop in public support for democracy in the “new E.U.” countries, the nations that joined the European Union after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Not surprisingly, the loss of faith in democracy has been greatest in the countries that suffered the deepest economic slumps.
And in at least one nation, Hungary, democratic institutions are being undermined as we speak.
One of Hungary’s major parties, Jobbik, is a nightmare out of the 1930s: it’s anti-Roma (Gypsy), it’s anti-Semitic, and it even had a paramilitary arm. But the immediate threat comes from Fidesz, the governing center-right party.
Fidesz won an overwhelming Parliamentary majority last year, at least partly for economic reasons; Hungary isn’t on the euro, but it suffered severely because of large-scale borrowing in foreign currencies and also, to be frank, thanks to mismanagement and corruption on the part of the then-governing left-liberal parties. Now Fidesz, which rammed through a new Constitution last spring on a party-line vote, seems bent on establishing a permanent hold on power.
The details are complex. Kim Lane Scheppele, who is the director of Princeton’s Law and Public Affairs program — and has been following the Hungarian situation closely — tells me that Fidesz is relying on overlapping measures to suppress opposition. A proposed election law creates gerrymandered districts designed to make it almost impossible for other parties to form a government; judicial independence has been compromised, and the courts packed with party loyalists; state-run media have been converted into party organs, and there’s a crackdown on independent media; and a proposed constitutional addendum would effectively criminalize the leading leftist party.
Taken together, all this amounts to the re-establishment of authoritarian rule, under a paper-thin veneer of democracy, in the heart of Europe. And it’s a sample of what may happen much more widely if this depression continues.
It’s not clear what can be done about Hungary’s authoritarian slide. The U.S. State Department, to its credit, has been very much on the case, but this is essentially a European matter. The European Union missed the chance to head off the power grab at the start — in part because the new Constitution was rammed through while Hungary held the Union’s rotating presidency. It will be much harder to reverse the slide now. Yet Europe’s leaders had better try, or risk losing everything they stand for.
And they also need to rethink their failing economic policies. If they don’t, there will be more backsliding on democracy — and the breakup of the euro may be the least of their worries.
The cost of fat is rising faster than your paycheck, about five times as fast. And it’s not only the price of butter and oil at thesupermarket that are making your pay increases – if you are getting any at all – look slim. In the past year, the prices of clothing, public transportation and even trash collection are all up more than the earnings of the average American worker.
In most times you would expect wages to rise in line with prices. As someone pays more, someone else makes more. Yet, while consumer prices are up 3.5% in the past year, wages have only risen about half as much. The result is that effectively in the past year we have all received a pay cut. And that trend has continued even as the job market has recently been improving.
Back in January, I predicted that wages, even after inflation, would fall this year, as more and more people re-entered the workforce at often reduced salaries. So I was off, but not by much. Wages did rise, slightly, but only because the job market turned out to be worse than I thought it would. Fewer people landed jobs than expected, somewhat relieving the statistical drag on average wages.
That might now be changing. In November employers added 120,000 jobs and the unemployment rate dropped to its lowest point in two and a half years. Yet, pay dropped as well. Josh Sanburn over at TIME’s Moneyland has a nice post about what you can do in this environment to try beat the wage slump. As more people, hopefully, re-enter the workforce, average wages are likely to continued to fall. Recently, the reason that has been happening is because a lot of the job gains have been in areas that tend to have lower salaries. For instance, of the 120,000 increase in payrolls last month, 50,000 of the jobs were in retail. Temporary hires were up as well, which is a good leading indicator of where the job market is headed, but those positions tend to be relatively low paid as well.
But slow or no wage growth is part of a larger trend. Earlier this year, Heidi Shierholz and Lawrence Mishel of the left-leaning think tank the Economic Policy Institute wrote a paper called The Sad But True Story of Wages in America. Basically, the economists found that if you go back to 1950, you see that for about 30 years productivity and wages move together. But starting in the 1980s that changes. Productivity begins to really take off. Wages, not so much. Since then the gap between wages and productivity has only increased. Overall, Shierholz and Mishel calculate that from 1989 to 2010, productivity grew 3.5 times as fast as wages. Shierholz and Mishel don’t exactly prove why this has occurred. Basically they fault Washington:
Rather, the focus has been on policies that were thought to make consumers better off through lower prices: deregulation of industries, privatization of public services, the weakening of labor standards including the minimum wage, erosion of the social safety net, expanding globalization, and the move toward fewer and weaker unions. These policies have served to erode the bargaining power of most workers, widen wage inequality, and deplete access to good jobs.
Optimistically, one would hope that this trend, like most others, will reverse, and wages will see some steep increase to get back in-line with productivity. And perhaps that would have happened if not for the recent recession. But with so many people out of work, just looking to get a pay check again, it’s hard to see a rebound in wages coming any time soon.
[…]The number of people filing for state unemployment benefits for the first time fell 23,000 to the lowest level since late February, the government said Thursday.
The Labor Department said claims fell to a seasonally adjusted 381,000 last week. The level of initial claims in the week ended Nov. 26 was revised up by 2,000 to 404,000.
The consensus expectations were for a slight drop, which makes the sharp drop that much more encouraging.
As a general rule, national job creation is improving when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold.
And with that, I’m rolling out a new homemade chart, showing weekly, initial unemployment claims going back to the beginning of 2007. (Remember, unlike the monthly jobs chart, a lower number is good news.) For context, I’ve added an arrow to show the point at which President Obama’s Recovery Act began.
[…] Labor officials hailed the plan as an economic game-changer at a time when a staggering eight of 10 working-age Americans with disabilities are out of the workforce entirely.
The government long has used the leverage of federal spending to promote affirmative action in the hiring of women and minorities. The new rule would, for the first time, give similar treatment to people with disabilities.
Some businesses have indicated concern about increased costs, including for record-keeping and other paperwork. And Republican lawmakers have complained frequently about the coststhat new regulations impose on businesses. On Wednesday, the House passed a measure that would require congressional review of rules that have an effect on the economy of $100 million or more or adverse effects on employment and productivity.
The Labor Department will take comments on the rule for 60 days before it considers final approval next year.
“This is probably the greatest proposal for real substantive change since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act” in 1990, said Patricia Shiu, director of the department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. “For nearly 40 years, the rules have said that contractors simply need to make a ‘good faith’ effort to recruit and hire people with disabilities. Clearly, that’s not working.”
The proposed rule is not a quota. It would require companies to devote more resources to recruiting efforts to hire disabled workers, improve training programs and update data collection.
Contractors would have to keep detailed records showing they were complying. The rule would require them to list job openings to increase their pool of qualified applicants.
Federal contractors and subcontractors account for nearly a quarter of the nation’s workforce. The proposal could have a ripple effect across the country and help bring down the 13 percent unemployment rate for disabled workers. The rate is 8.6 percent for all workers.
There are about 200,000 federal contractors taking in about $700 billion annually in contracts.
Disability advocates praised the proposed rule, saying employers would also benefit.
Banks have been screwing homeowners 90 different ways. Nice to see someone screwing back.
Last year, the Obama administration vowed to stop for-profit colleges from luring students with false promises. In an opening volley that shook the $30 billion industry, officials proposed new restrictions to cut off the huge flow of federal aid to unfit programs.
But after a ferocious response that administration officials called one of the most intense they had seen, the Education Department produced a much-weakened final plan that almost certainly will have far less impact as it goes into effect next year.
The story of how the for-profit colleges survived the threat of a major federal crackdown offers a case study in Washington power brokering. Rattled by the administration’s tough talk, the colleges spent more than $16 million on an all-star list of prominent figures, particularly Democrats with close ties to the White House, to plot strategy, mend their battered image and plead their case.
Anita Dunn, a close friend of President Obamaand his former White House communications director, worked with Kaplan University, one of the embattled school networks. Jamie Rubin, a major fund-raising bundler for the president’s re-election campaign, met with administration officials about ATI, a college network based in Dallas, in which Mr. Rubin’s private-equity firm has a stake.
A who’s who of Democratic lobbyists — including Richard A. Gephardt, the former House majority leader; John Breaux, the former Louisiana senator; and Tony Podesta, whose brother, John, ran Mr. Obama’stransition team — were hired to buttonhole officials.
And politically well-connected investors, including Donald E. Graham, chief executive of the Washington Post Company, which owns Kaplan, and John Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix and a longtime friend of the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, made impassioned appeals.
In all, industry advocates met more than two dozen times with White House and Education Department officials, including senior officials like Education Secretary Arne Duncan, records show, even as Mr. Obama has vowed to reduce the “outsize” influence of lobbyists and special interests in Washington.
The result was a plan, completed in June, that imposes new regulations on for-profit schools to ensure they adequately train their students for work, but does so on a much less ambitious scale than the administration first intended, relaxing the initial standards for determining which schools would be stripped of federal financing.
“The haranguing had zero effect,” said Cass R. Sunstein, the White House official who oversees rule making. Rather, he and other administration officials said they listened to what they viewed as reasonable arguments and decided to narrow the scope of the original plan.
But Robert Shireman, a former Education Department official who helped shape that original plan, said the intense politics surrounding the issue played a part in “watering down” the final result.
“From early on, the industry was going to friends inside and out of the administration and saying, ‘They’re out to get us,’ and creating the impression that these regulations were unfair or irrational,” said Mr. Shireman, who left the department before the plan was finished.
“They decided to raise holy hell,” he said in an interview.
Many colleges saw the federal government’s attacks as “Armageddon for the industry,” said Avy Stein, a partner at a private equity fund that owns a network of schools called Education Corporation of America.
The industry was on the defensive after a series of federal investigations portrayed it as rife with abuse. They found that recruiters would lure students — often members of minorities, veterans, the homeless and low-income people — with promises of quick degrees and post-graduation jobs but often leave them poorly prepared and burdened with staggering federal loans.
In response to the rising concerns, 18 months ago the Obama administration proposed its tough restrictions linking tens of billions of dollars in federal student aid to formulas measuring students’ debt levels and income after graduation. Colleges whose students were not earning enough money to start paying back their loans would be in danger of losing federal aid altogether.
The proposal was aimed at ensuring that the for-profit schools were providing “gainful employment” in a wide range of vocational fields they taught, like medical testing, massage therapy, business management and cosmetology. The joke in Washington, however, was that the industry effort to defeat the plan mainly ensured “gainful employment” for the capital’s Democratic lobbyists and political consultants.
In a draft report (pdf) released today, the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed what many residents of Pavilion, Wyoming have been complaining about for some time now: Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is responsible for polluting the area’s drinking water.
Fracking is a controversial method used to make it easier to extract natural gas, petroleum and other substances. As the AP explains, this is the first time the EPA has linked the practice to the contamination of drinking water. The gas industry has denied any responsibility.
The wire service adds:
“The EPA’s found that compounds likely associated with fracking chemicals had been detected in the groundwater beneath a Wyoming community where residents say their well water reeks of chemicals.
“Health officials advised them not to drink their water after the EPA found hydrocarbons in their wells.
“The EPA announcement has major implications for the vast increase in gas drilling in the U.S. in recent years. Fracking has played a large role in opening up many reserves.
“The industry has long contended that fracking is safe, but environmentalists and some residents who live near drilling sites say it has poisoned groundwater.”
Before issuing this report, the EPA had advised residents not to drink their water, because, as MSNBC says, the EPA “said it had found benzene and other hydrocarbons in wells it tested.”
MSNBC adds that Pavillion residents welcomed the report.
“This investigation proves the importance of having a federal agency that can protect people and the environment,” John Fenton, chair of Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens, told MSNBC. “We hope that answers to our on-going health problems and other impacts can now be addressed and that the responsible parties will finally be required to remediate the damages.“
Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe, who is a ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said the report was a political ploy.
“EPA’s conclusions are not based on sound science but rather on political science. Its findings are premature, given that the Agency has not gone through the necessary peer-review process, and there are still serious outstanding questions regarding EPA’s data and methodology,” said Inhofe in a statement. “This announcement is part of President Obama’s war on fossil fuels and his determination to shut down natural gas production.”
Update at 6:05 p.m. ET. Earlier this evening, NPR’s Elizabeth Shogren spoke to All Things Considered’s Robert Siegel. She explained the EPA found these chemicals by drilling wells of their own and testing the drinking water.
“They found chemicals that shouldn’t be there,” Elizabeth said. Some of the glycols and alcohols “don’t occur there naturally, but they are found in the cocktails of chemicals that the industry injected underground.”
A couple of more things Elizabeth points out:
— The geological formation in this area is very special, so what the EPA found here may not necessarily translate to other places.
— The company that’s doing the fracking in Pavilion, the Calgary, Alberta-based Encana, disputed the report saying the EPA could have introduced the pollutants themselves.
— This is a draft report. It is now open for public comment.
Polar bears are now being observed by scientists resorting to cannibalism, and expect to see more as Arctic sea ice declines. In “Observations of cannibalism by polar bears (Ursus maritimus) on summer and autumn sea ice at Svalbard, Norway,” published in the journal Arctic, polar bear biologist Ian Stirling and photojournalist Jenny Ross describe seeing three different killings and cannibalism of polar bear cubs by adult males, a known behavioral response to food scarcity. At the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, Ross described the kills, showing her photographs of one of the most gruesome signals of global warming.
What You Need to Know About This Decision
Center for American Progress:
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration was set to grant permission for the emergency contraceptive Plan B One-Step® to be sold over the counter for anyone of reproductive age. Unfortunately, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius intervened at the last minute to stop that action.
Below are answers to some key questions about this decision.
Q: What is emergency contraception?
A: Emergency contraception is back-up birth control that can be taken after sex to prevent pregnancy. It can be taken up to three days, and sometimes up to five days, after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure and still be effective. But the earlier it is taken, the more effective it is.
Q: Is emergency contraception the same as the abortion pill?
A: No. Emergency contraception prevents pregnancy and works much like the birth control pill. If a woman is already pregnant, it will not work. The “abortion pill” (mifepristone or RU-486), in contrast, terminates an early but already established pregnancy.
Q: What does it mean for a drug to be available “over the counter?”
A: When a drug is available “over the counter,” it means it can be sold without a prescription on the pharmacy shelf, just like aspirin.
Q: Is it safe for emergency contraception to be sold without a prescription?
A: Yes, a panel of experts at the Food and Drug Administration found that it is both safe and effective for use by anyone of reproductive age.
Q: Isn’t emergency contraception already available over the counter?
A: Emergency contraception is in a gray zone known as “dual labeling.” It is available behind the counter for women ages 17 and older, meaning that they do not need a prescription but they have to ask a pharmacist for the drug. Teens 16 and younger need a prescription in order to obtain it. The FDA was set to remove the age restriction, based on the scientific data before it, but Health and Human Services overruled the FDA decision.
Q: What is the effect of the age restriction on emergency contraception?
A: The age restriction creates barriers not just for teens but also for adult women. Women do not always know where to find emergency contraception, are embarrassed to ask for it, are told they need a prescription by pharmacists who do not understand the law, or are turned away by pharmacists who disapprove of it. With emergency contraception, time is of the essence. A woman who fears she might become pregnant needs fast access, not delays at the pharmacy counter.
Q: Should teens be allowed to have unrestricted access to emergency contraception?
A: Whether we like it or not, almost half of teens in high school report having sex. They need to have all options available to them to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy, including routine contraceptive use before sex and emergency contraception as a back-up method if something goes wrong. Experts agree that anyone of reproductive age can safely use emergency contraception without a prescription.
Q: What is the significance of the administration’s decision?
A: Removing the unnecessary age restriction would have allowed anyone of reproductive age to be able to find Plan B One-Step® on the shelf without delay, confusion, or embarrassment. But instead, the needless barriers to preventing pregnancy after sex will remain in place and will only contribute to the United States having one of the highest unintended pregnancy rates in the industrialized world.
[…] A separate survey of 385 Ohio nursing homes found that 2,800 jobs had been eliminated between July 1 and Sept. 1 — or soon would be — following a 6 percent budget cut to the state’s Medicaid program, the tax-funded health-insurance program for the poor and disabled.
Kasich’s cuts result from his desire to “rebalance” the amount of funding spent on Ohio seniors and the disabled. Hoping to shift towards “in-home care,” state officials say the nursing-home job loss is “not surprising.” But, as FamiliesUSA notes, funding Medicaid is a sure-fire way to ensure economic growth and job creation.
According to the Ohio Health Care Association, mostly nurses and nursing assistants “who provide hands-on care to patients” are the ones who have lost their jobs. Other nursing homes have “frozen or cut workers’ pay, as well as freezing or cutting benefits.” Nursing home officials worry that these cuts will affect patient care. Five homes have already closed since the budget cuts began.
And given the similar obsession with budget hacking among Republican governors and lawmakers, Ohio is just the beginning. According to the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care, “Ohio is ground zero for what will be coming for the rest of the country.” There are also federal Medicare cuts pending due to overpayment that will affect jobs in the state.
[The answer is 4, but it’s well worth the read for the easy debunking.]
The Public Record:
It could have been big news, if U.S. torture weren’t so anathema to the press corps, such that reporting upon it is considered either a fruitless and unprofitable enterprise, or among most of those who do venture into such waters, the sine qua non for such reportage must be ignorance and/or cover-up for much of what the U.S. military and intelligence agencies do.
Feinstein announced that the much-heralded, and much forgotten review of CIA torture undertaken by the Senate Intelligence Committee, first reported by Jason Leopold back in April 2010, is wrapping up its investigation. But her comments went unregarded and unreported, as patience for such things as fighting torture is not the strong suit of American political discourse, nor is much expected anymore from a Congress that has so clearly lost its bearings.
But, nevertheless, the announcement is not without interest, as Feinstein told her colleagues:
As chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, I can say that we are nearing the completion [of] a comprehensive review of the CIA’s former interrogation and detention program, and I can assure the Senate and the Nation that coercive and abusive treatment of detainees in U.S. custody was far more systematic and widespread than we thought.
Moreover, the abuse stemmed not from the isolated acts of a few bad apples but from fact that the line was blurred between what is permissible and impermissible conduct, putting U.S. personnel in an untenable position with their superiors and the law.
That is why Congress and the executive branch subsequently acted to provide our intelligence and military professionals with the clarity and guidance they need to effectively carry out their missions. And that is where the Army Field Manual comes in.
It is not surprising to hear the torture was worse than already known. After all, the purpose of secrecy and the cult of classification, so assiduously courted by the current Administration, is to hide crimes. So one can only hope the Intelligence Committee will, when the review is truly and finally complete (and let’s hope it’s not another 18 months), that its findings will be released publicly. In fact, in a decent world, it would be demanded.
Lies that facilitate torture – Case-in-point: the Army Field Manual
However, Senator Ayotte’s amendment would require the executive branch to adopt a classified interrogation annex to the Army Field Manual, a concept that even the Bush administration rejected outright in 2006.
Senator Ayotte argued that the United States needs secret and undisclosed interrogation measures to successfully interrogate terrorists and gain actionable intelligence. However, our intelligence, military, and law enforcement professionals, who actually interrogate terrorists as part of their jobs, universally disagree. They believe that with the Army Field Manual as it currently is written, they have the tools needed to obtain actionable intelligence from U.S. detainees.
As an example, in 2009, after an extensive review, the intelligence community unanimously asserted that it had all the guidance and tools it needed to conduct effective interrogations. The Special Task Force on Interrogations–which included representatives from the CIA, Defense Department, the Office of the Director of Intelligence, and others–concluded that “no additional or different guidance was necessary.”
Since 2009, the interagency High Value Detainee Interrogation Group has briefed the Select Committee on Intelligence numerous times. The group has repeatedly assured the committee that they have all authority they need to effectively gain actionable intelligence. As a consummate consumer of the intelligence products they produce, I agree.
Unfortunately, Sen. Feinstein is oddly correct. Between standard interrogation methods and CIA-derived interrogation techniques meant to break down a prisoner psychologically, they do really have all they “need.”
Feinstein never mentions the years-long protests about certain provisions of the AFM, many of them gathered in the document’s Appendix M, that have been found tantamount to torture — the use of drugs (so long as they don’t “induce lasting or permanent mental alteration or damage,” the harsh manipulation of fears and phobias, the elimination of wording from the previous version of the AFM that would ban stress positions, the use of isolation, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation techniques. All of these are mingled in with a number of other basic interrogation techniques, but that doesn’t diminish the cruel irony of Feinstein’s IC-based assurance that that government interrogators “had all the guidance and tools it needed to conduct effective interrogations.” Guidance and tools, indeed.
But when it comes to protecting the massive military-intelligence complex, such awkward facts as the use of cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment of prisoners, as well as outright torture enshrined in the Army Field Manual are not worthy of note. Even the many human rights groups who opposed the Ayotte amendmentall buried any past critique of the AFM or its Appendix M in their polemics against Ayotte’s “classified annex” proposal. This is not the way to win a battle!
Honoring “our values”?
We cannot have it both ways. Either we make clear to the world that the United States will honor our values and treat prisoners humanely or we let the world believe that we have secret interrogation methods to terrorize and torture our prisoners.
Last month, the Washington Post reported that the United States Air Force, while overseeing the Dover Air Force Base mortuary that receives the bodies of troops killed overseas, had cremated and disposed some remains and sent them to a landfill in King George County, Virginia. At the time, neither military officials nor Post reporters could verify the number of body parts that had been handled in such a way.
But after combing through military and mortuary records, the Post found that partial remains of at least 274 dead American troops were sent to the landfill, and far more unidentifiable body parts were disposed of in the same manner:
This week, after The Post pressed for information contained in the Dover mortuary’s electronic database, the Air Force produced a tally based on those records. It showed that 976 fragments from 274 military personnel were cremated, incinerated and taken to the landfill between 2004 and 2008.
An additional group of 1,762 unidentified remains were collected from the battlefield and disposed of in the same manner, the Air Force said. Those fragments could not undergo DNA testing because they had been badly burned or damaged in explosions. The total number of incinerated fragments dumped in the landfill exceeded 2,700.
Knowledge of the practices outraged families of fallen troops and the owners of the landfill, who told the Post they were “pulled in unknowingly” to the situation, and that they wouldn’t want “any part” of troops killed defending the country buried in the landfill.
The practice began at a time when there was little public oversight over the Dover mortuary. President George H.W. Bush banned news coverage of the return of deceased troops during the Gulf War in 1991, and the ban remained until 2009, when President Obama ended it. The first record of such a disposal, according to the Post, is from April 2004, and the Air Force decided to end the practice in 2008. It now buries cremated remains at sea.
Dover AFB was the subject of federal investigation after whistleblowers reported stories of lost body parts earlier this year. On November 8, investigators announced that they had uncovered “gross mismanagement” at the mortuary involving the handling of war dead, and similar scandals have haunted Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, where graves were misidentified and urns containing troop remains were improperly disposed of. That incident is now the subject of an FBI criminal investigation.
Several dozen Occupy DC protesters rolled out the human red carpet for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s holiday party at their Washington, DC headquarters this evening. The Chamber is the nation’s largest corporate lobby group. As guests entered, protesters shouted, “You walk on our rights, now walk on us!” encouraging attendees to trample on the activists laying underneath the red carpet painted with “99%.” No one did, sadly, at least while ThinkProgress was in attendance.
Chamber Executive Vice President Bruce Josten stood at the foot of the carpet most of the time, welcoming his frightened, amused, and befuddled guests, easily distinguishable from the activists by their business attire. Photos and video below:
WASHINGTON — Police arrested 62 protesters Wednesday as supporters of Occupy Wall Street targeted lobbyists who promote the interests of corporate America in Washington’s corridors of power.
Undeterred by steady rain, more than 1,000 marchers — many of them labor-union activists — shut down several blocks of K Street, epicenter of the US capital’s influential and lucrative lobbying industry, around midday.
Police, including a trio on horseback, intervened when several dozen protesters sat or lay down on the wet pavement at 14th and K streets and refused to budge when threatened with arrest for obstruction.
“This really speaks well of America,” one of the rain-soaked protesters, Kelly Caldwell of Portland, Oregon, yelled sarcastically as police officers in long yellow coats put him in handcuffs and dragged him into a waiting van.
Sixty-two people were arrested, a spokesman for Washington’s Metropolitan Police told AFP. One was charged with assaulting a police officer, and all the others with obstructing a public thoroughfare.
In the evening, about 50 protesters marched on the White House to condemn the National Defense Authorization Act, now before Congress, which critics say would give US soldiers the power to hold civilians indefinitely without charge.
Wednesday’s shutdown of K Street came a day after demonstrators backed by labor unions and civic groups occupied Congressional and Senate offices on Capitol Hill as part of a three-day Take Back the Capitol action.
Washington is home to two separate open-ended protest encampments, both near the White House, inspired by Occupy Wall Street and condemning social inequality and corporate influence on US politics.
Joining them this week has been a self-styled People’s Camp on the National Mall, made up of about 15 tents — in clear view of the Capitol — erected by protesters from different corners of the United States.
Prominent in the Take Back the Capitol protest is the Service Employees Union International (SEIU), which represents health and public sector employees and is endorsing President Barack Obama for another term in office.
“No amount of rain can faze those battered by the storm of economic injustice and corporate greed,” the SEIU blogged on its website Wednesday as protesters brought K Street to a standstill.
“K Street is where the big corporations and wealthy special interests have their offices,” Robin Stelly, 47, a community organizer from Pennsylvania, told AFP.
“This has become a symbol of corporate abuse in the country and that is why we are here today.”
Tensions flared at one point when members of Occupy DC, which took over McPherson Square on K Street two months ago, openly accused SEIU organizers of attempting to “co-opt” the entire Occupy movement for its own agenda.
Earlier Wednesday, about 100 protesters from Occupy DC marched on the Podesta Group, a lobbying firm with close ties to the Democratic Party whose blue-chip clients include BP, Lockheed Martin and the coal industry.
“We will expose you! We will take you down!” they shouted at the entrance to the building, as about 10 comrades slipped through a side door, only to find Podesta’s office doors bolted shut.
“Podesta was chosen because it lobbies for a lot of interests that really are anti-public interests,” Ben Johnson, a member of Occupy DC’s media and outreach committees, told AFP.
Occupy DC made headlines over the weekend when police dismantled a barn-like structure soon after it was erected on McPherson Square to serve as a meeting place over the winter. Several protesters were arrested.
In San Francisco, 70 people were arrested in the early hours of Wednesday when police cleared the city’s Occupy Wall Street offshoot, after giving its occupants five minutes’ notice to clear out.
Jon Huntsman took that $10,000 bet
Context is key in any analysis of voter demographics.
Here’s a new report by Third Way. They find that in 5 of 8 battleground states that register voters by political party, the number of registered independents is up. In 7 of 8 states the number of registered Democrats is down. The GOP is down in 6 of those 8. They then write:
Beyond these battleground states, national surveys such as the American National Election Studies and Pew show a steady increase in Independent self-identification throughout the United States. According to Pew, between 2000 and 2011, both the Democratic and Republican parties lost members, and the number of self-identified Independents increased by 8%. In 2000, 33% of the electorate identified as a Democrat, 28% as a Republican, and 29% as an Independent. By 2011 only 32% identified as a Democrat, 25% as a Republican, and 37% as an Independent. Democratic and Republican losses were mirrored by gains in Independents…
No acknowledgment of the fact that most of them lean toward a party and tend to vote loyally for that party. Or that presidential candidates routinely lose independents but win elections (at least the popular vote). See Jimmy Carter, Al Gore in 2000, and George W. Bush in 2004. (The report mentions Gore but not Carter or Bush.)Okay, let me stop harping on that and make a more constructive point: despite the million stories you’ll read between now and November 2012, it’s not very instructive to consider how a candidate is performing among any particular group of voters. Taken in isolation, this means nothing. The candidate could offset those losses with gains among another group or groups.Or let me give an even more plausible scenario. If a candidate is losing votes among some group relative to a past election, chances are they are losing votes among many groups. Just as states often exhibit a uniform swing in response to the structural forces that affect election outcomes, so do groups of voters. This is why I wrote a few weeks ago, apropos of Jewish voters:
What’s happened to Obama is not a “Jewish problem.” It’s an “economy problem.”
Or consider the shifts in various groups from 2008 to 2010 (the graph is something I pulled from the New York Times months ago but I can’t find a link):Democrats lost votes among men, women, blacks, whites, Catholics, Protestants, young voters, old voters, etc. Sure, the shifts within these groups were not all identical, but 2010 is much more about the similar direction of the shift, not the differences among groups. For this reason, I’d be a lot less interested in where any particular group stands—or in identifying the groups that are allegedly the key to victory—and much more interested in the factors that shape where all groups stand.
African-American Liberals Know How to Love Their President
[…] Chait sees these patterns as almost entirely independent of Obama, being instead a style, outlook and set of norms among liberals that goes back for decades. In short,
Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president. They can be happy with the idea of a Democratic president—indeed, dancing-in-the-streets delirious—but not with the real thing.
Related themes were sounded by Nicholas Kristof, who attacked the “hold your nose as you vote” chic fashionable among some leftists:
Many Democrats and journalists alike, feeling grouchy, were dismissive of Al Gore and magnified his shortcomings. We forgot the context, prided ourselves on our disdainful superiority — and won eight years of George W. Bush.
All of this is true of a certain type of liberal in the U.S., but I wish Chait and Kristof had taken the time to exempt from criticism the most stalwart segment of liberal America: African-Americans. Perpetually indignant white liberals could learn a lot from them.
Opinions polls continue to show extremely high approval ratings for President Obama among Black Americans. But even the high proportion of Black people who tell pollsters they “approve” of the President doesn’t begin to capture the feelings that go beyond approval and extend to love and admiration (after all, if you think the President is, you guess, doing okay on balance, you say “approve” to a pollster). It’s not hard to see these intense emotions in many African-Americans if you know where to look.
I recently wrote a piece suggesting that the Obamas should campaign as a couple, which was picked up by some websites with sizable African-American readerships (e.g. Jack and Jill Politics, The Smithian). In that more Black-dominated part of the web, I saw more unreservedly positive comments about the President than I have read in the past year in all of what I suppose are my typically white Internet reading habits. Gone were the usual jibes that Obama is an “Eisenhower Republican” or “plutocratic sellout”. Indeed, many people referred to him (and his wife) as heroes and inspirational leaders, among a number of other cynicism-free superlatives.
It reminded me of an event I attended last year in the East Room of the White House. As a group of us who had worked on the President’s AIDS strategy awaited Obama’s arrival, an African-American woman asked me to give her my spot near the lectern so that she might shake the President’s hand. She had in her purse a glove which her sister had made her promise to put on immediately after any handshake with Obama. Her sister wanted no one and nothing to touch the hand the President had touched until she herself removed the glove and experienced her hero’s touch, even indirectly. I was so touched by her and her sister’s devotion that I moved myself and a few other people out of the way to give her a chance (she got her precious handshake, and left the White House joyfully gloved).
I can hear a few white liberal noses curling at this account of shameless President-love: how fulsome, how unsophisticated, how jejune. But I would say how human, how bravely committed and how encouraging to a President who needs more than truculent, nose-holding liberal voters behind him to accomplish great things.
Why Do African-Americans So Love Barack Obama?
Another story from the White House: Tom McLellan and I were in the White House Mess, taking a new, Asian-American member of the Administration to lunch. The man espied an African-American White House staffer whom he had known years before. They both jumped up in surprise and hugged each other in recognition. And then a second squeeze and loud laughter. As Steinbeck once wrote, I thought I saw the beginning of a tear in their eyes but maybe it was in my own. I knew what that second hug meant: We. Made. It. People of color made it. From slavery and Jim Crow and racial oppression to the West Wing. I will always be grateful to President Obama for making this possible, but as a white person I cannot fully understand experientially what those two fine men and countless other people of color receive in their hearts every time it hits them that the President of the United States is an African-American.
Understanding that reality, I cringe at the white, alleged liberals who call on Obama to acknowledge that his is a failed presidency. They want the first Black President in history to, effectively, announce that he is a bumbling affirmative action baby, apologize for being so uppity as to have ever assumed otherwise and resign in disgrace so that Hillary Clinton or some other qualified (i.e. white) person can lead the party. Would that such white “progressives” were required to focus group their proposal in a locked room with a random sample of 20 African-American women. Fortunately, the President has ignored their call to set back race relations a generation and crush the optimism he has generated among people of color nationally. These attacks on the President, like others, generally go nowhere with African-Americans; indeed they may even strengthen their commitment to him.
But all that said, my own question of why Blacks so love Obama elides the broader reality evidenced by their very high approval ratings of a white Democratic President, Bill Clinton. Blacks have a special place in the hearts for Barack Obama, but fundamentally, if you are a Democratic President, Black people in this country have your back.
What Some White Liberals Could Learn From Black Liberals
Many white progressives have remained loyal to the President they elected. But imagine the situation if all white liberals were as consistently supportive of their Presidents as are Black liberals. President Obama would currently be assured of easy re-election and the Congress would know it, making his negotiating hand infinitely stronger. Democratic donors could re-direct money to Congressional races secure in the knowledge that Obama’s re-election was a lock. Instead, like all Democratic Presidents, Barack Obama knows he is leading an army in which some of the troops (as Chait notes) were calling him a traitor even before he got sworn in and an increasing number are looking to abandon the field. In that situation, a rational commander looks for an accommodation with the other side because he can’t win with a half-committed army versus a fully-committed one. A subset of white liberals are thus creating the conditions for their own disappointment, and for that of those white and black liberals who have kept the faith.
Why aren’t white liberals as consistently supportive of their Presidents as Black liberals? Despite massive, heroic progress in racial equality in the United States, white people still get their way more often or not. And it’s easy to get used to that. Black people, even highly accomplished Black people, are more aware that all change is resisted, good things don’t happen without years of sustained work, and that often you have to work twice as hard to get half as much. They don’t expect a yellow pony for a birthday present and thus they don’t feel that someone has failed them when it isn’t delivered giftwrapped to their door. That makes them the grown-ups of the American left, whom the hold-your-nose set would do well to emulate.
James Carville, CNN:
[…] Even the most partisan Democrat — me for example — would concede that three months ago the Republicans had an excellent chance to win the presidency. So ask yourself: Why does this thing that appears to have so much value have so many low bidders? Why did people like Govs. Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels, Haley Barbour, Jeb Bush and Sen. John Thune, all look at this and decide not to raise their paddles?
So here we wind up with the political equivalent of the Hope Diamond going for $99.99. I think that these guys were smart enough to see a big flaw in the process and it is this: The majority of the people in the Republican Party who were going to pick their nominee had been so overwhelmed by misinformation, unworkable simplistic solutions — e.g., electrifying border fences — and anti-science, right-wing pandering, that the potential candidates decided they just could not go through with it.
We have watched GOP debates where audience members booed gay soldiers and cheered the prospect of someone dying without health insurance. We’ve seen a candidate who wasn’t penalized in the least for not knowing that China has had nuclear weapons since 1964 but had to drop out because of a consensual sexual relationship. We have seen a member of the House Intelligence Committee who apparently didn’t realize that we haven’t had an embassy in Iran for the last 30 years, candidates who don’t believe in evolution, and a candidate that didn’t even know the voting age in the United States. Maybe Bush, Daniels, Christie, Barbour and Thune figured out ahead of time what Fairleigh Dickinson University uncovered just recently: that people who watch Fox News are actually more ignorant than people who watch no news at all. Could you imagine what they would have found had they studied people listening to talk radio?
Perhaps the Republicans are getting exactly the kind of candidates that best match the intellectual composition of the majority of the people in their party — just a thought, but it’s my only explanation of our low bidders. Looks like their chance at the presidency is going, going, gone.
The White House and Senate Democrats are issuing a blunt warning to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and his fellow Republicans: You live by the filibuster, you’ll die by the filibuster.
Furious at Republicans for blocking votes on an appeals court nominee and the head of a new consumer watchdog agency, Democratic saber-rattling is intensifying, with fresh warnings that McConnell — or any new Republican administration — will face major repercussions if they come into power in 2013.
“There’s an old saying, ‘What goes around, comes around,’” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
White House Counsel Kathy Ruemmler said the filibuster blocking a vote on D.C. Circuit Court nominee Caitlin Halligan amounted to a “new era of obstructionism.”
“That’s a standard that I don’t think Republicans are going to want to live with in the future if there is someday a Republican president who is going to be appointing nominees,” she said in an interview Wednesday.
To a tremendous degree, Republicans have relied on filibuster threats over the last three years to stop Democratic legislation in its tracks — but they’ve replicated stall tactics used by Democrats when they were in the minority.
Indeed, Republicans complain about Democratic filibusters on President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees, something that McConnell himself has said led to the situation the Senate finds itself in today. And the filibuster has been increasingly used for decades by the Senate minority party to block everything from routine motions to landmark bills, worsening the partisan gridlock.
If they return to the minority, Democrats say they won’t arbitrarily filibuster legislation because of a pure political vendetta.
But Don Stewart, McConnell’s spokesman, said the Democrats’ latest threats are nothing new, saying they launched “serial filibusters” when they were in the minority during the Bush years.
Tensions have been boiling over for the past several months, after Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) employed a rarely used maneuver in October to change a Senate precedent by a majority vote of 51 senators, rather than the much higher standard of two-thirds support for changing a rule. Reid said the move was necessary to prevent frivolous tactics used by Republicans.
But that effort could make it much easier for senators to justify changing the rules that govern the institution, with potentially far-reaching implications on passing legislation in a body designed to protect the minority.
“That was a very precedent-setting thing, so my guess is that probably isn’t going to be forgotten if we’re ever in a majority,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, who defeated Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle in 2004 by calling him an obstructionist blocking Bush’s judicial nominees.
The filibuster — a stall tactic that requires time-consuming motions and 60 votes to overcome — can be used on virtually all Senate business, including on whether to even bring up bills for debate.
What has particularly incensed Reid are the routine filibusters McConnell has mounted on so-called motions to proceed to legislation, which takes days to even consider. The two men — who have served in the Senate for a combined half-century and are seen as institutionalists — tried to head off efforts to change the filibuster by a group of first-term Democrats in January.
So they agreed to a series of targeted rules changes and a “gentleman’s agreement” where both would “exercise restraint” on McConnell’s regular filibusters on motions to proceed to legislation — and Reid’s efforts to shut off GOP amendments, a tactic he’s employed more since he took the job in 2007 than any other majority leader.
But that accord has deteriorated, as Reid has blocked amendments — a process known as “filling the tree” — nine times. In the meantime, there have been at least 16 filibusters on motions to proceed to legislation, most of which waged by Republicans.
In an interview Wednesday, Reid dismissed Republican complaints, saying that even some GOP senators have grown frustrated with time-consuming filibuster attempts to prevent legislation from being debated. He said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told him last week that “we should just get rid of” votes on motions to proceed.
“So even Republicans are upset and concerned about how they’ve jimmied the system around here by adding 60 votes for everything,” Reid told POLITICO.
Asked whether he’d do the same to McConnell if Republicans take the majority, Reid said tersely: “We’ll see what happens next year.”
Part of the problem, Republicans say, is the fact that Reid doesn’t want to expose vulnerable Democrats facing reelection to politically sensitive votes. So they’ll often mount a filibuster as leverage to force Reid to allow the Senate to vote on their amendments.
“Why would you join the Grand Old Opry if you don’t want to sing? And why would you join the grand old Senate if you don’t want to vote?” said Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, ranking Republican on the Rules Committee. “I hope if the Republicans are in the majority in 2013, that we’ll run the Senate in a completely different way.
“We’ll have an agreement whereby bills can come to the floor, where most bills can come to the floor and most bills can get their votes,” he said.
Reid and McConnell have managed to bring the Senate back to that old form during a couple recent debates over defense policy and federal appropriations.
But getting to that point on a routine basis may be easier said than done.
Democrats say Republican tactics this week will come back to haunt them. On Thursday, Republicans are well-positioned to filibuster the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. For weeks, the GOP has demanded several changes to the bureau to roll back its powers.
[This makes the above clearer]
DNC Ad Tries to Trick Repubs into nominating Newt:
IN 2004, the Democrats were furious at what they considered the fraud to end all frauds: the selling of George W. Bush as a decisive military leader and all-American tough guy. So they nominated John Kerry for the presidency, hoping that having a real combat veteran as their standard-bearer — a bemedaled war hero, no less, who began his convention speech by announcing that he was “reporting for duty” — would finally expose Bush as the tinhorn chicken hawk that liberals believed him to be
The conventional wisdom holds that Mitt Romney is the John Kerry figure (a Northeastern flip-flopper with good hair) in the 2012 Republican primary field, with his various challengers auditioning to play the more exciting role of Howard Dean. But Newt Gingrich’s recent rise in the polls is being sustained, in part, by a right-wing version of exactly the impulse that led Democrats to nominate Kerry: a desperate desire to somehow beat Barack Obama at his own game, and to explode what conservatives consider the great fantasy of the 2008 campaign — the conceit that Obama possessed an unmatched brilliance and an unprecedented eloquence.
This fantasy ran wild four years ago. Obama is “probably the smartest guy ever to become president,” the presidential historian Michael Beschloss announced shortly after the November election. The then-candidate’s Philadelphia address on race and Jeremiah Wright was “as great a speech as ever given by a presidential candidate,” a group of progressive luminaries declared in The Nation. Obama’s “Dreams From My Father” is quite possibly “the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician,” Time Magazine’s Joe Klein declared. “He is not the Word made flesh,” Ezra Klein wrote of Obama’s rhetoric in The American Prospect, “but the triumph of word over flesh, over color, over despair.”
It’s easy to see why this kind of myth-making would infuriate Obama’s opponents. And so ever since the 2008 election, the right has embraced a sweeping counternarrative, in which the president’s eloquence is a myth and his brilliance a pure invention. Take away his campaign razzle-dazzle and his media cheering section, this argument goes, and what remains is a droning pedant, out of his depth and tongue-tied without a teleprompter.
This is where Gingrich comes in. Just as Kerry’s candidacy represented an attempt to effectively out-patriot George W. Bush (“You have a war president? We have a war hero!”), the former speaker has skillfully played to the Republican desire for a candidate who can finally outsmart and out-orate Obama.
His promise to challenge the president to a series of Lincoln-Douglas debates, in particular, has been deliberately framed as a kind of professor versus professor showdown, in which the president’s weaknesses will finally be exposed.
“How does a Columbia-Harvard graduate, who was the editor of the law review … supposedly the best orator in the Democratic Party,” Gingrich asked recently, “how does he look himself in the mirror and say he’s afraid to debate a West Georgia College professor?” It’s a line that evokes a kind of conservative revenge fantasy, in which the liberal elitists who sneered at George W. Bush’s malapropisms and Sarah Palin’s “you betchas” receive their richly deserved comeuppance at the hands of Newton Gingrich, Ph.D.
But a fantasy is all it is. The American Spectator’s Quin Hillyer calls it“the fallacy of the master debater” — the belief that elections turn on dramatic rhetorical confrontations, in which the smarter and better-spoken candidate exposes his rival as a tongue-tied boob.
In reality, Kerry outdebated Bush but did not outpoll him, Al Gore won the 2000 debates on points only to lose them on personality, and Abraham Lincoln lost the Illinois Senate race to Stephen Douglas. When a presidential debate does matter to a campaign’s outcome, it’s usually a passing one-liner (Ronald Reagan’s “there you go again” Walter Mondale’s “where’s the beef?”) rather than a Ciceronian performance that makes the difference.
More important for the Republican Party’s purposes, it isn’t 2008 anymore, and conservatives don’t actually need to explode the fantasy of Obama’s eloquence and omnicompetence. The harsh reality of governing has already done that for them. Nobody awaits the president’s speeches with panting anticipation these days, or expects him to slay his opponents with the power of his intellect. Obamamania peaked with the inauguration, and it’s been ebbing ever since.
Newt Gingrich might debate circles around Obama. He might implode spectacularly, making a hot mess of himself while the president keeps his famous cool. But either way, setting up a grand rhetorical showdown seems unlikely to supply a disillusioned country with what it’s looking for from Republicans in 2012.
Conservatives may want catharsis, but the rest of the public seems to mainly want reassurance. They already know Barack Obama isn’t the messiah he was once cracked up to be. What they don’t know is whether they can trust anyone else to do better.
Two Funny Rebuttals to the Infamous Rick Perry Ad
If Citizens United was the Big Bang of a new era of money in politics, here’s the parallel universe it formed: rapidly expanding super-PACs and nebulous 501(c) groups exerting their gravitational pull on federal elections. A group’s size in the chart below is based upon all known fundraising or spending since 2010…so keep an eye out for dark matter.
These notes and doodles, handwritten by Newt Gingrich, appear in a series of exhibits appended to a report published on Jan. 17, 1997 by the House Select Committee on Ethics. The notes are mainly from the period leading up to his big 1994 victory. The text at left reads:
—Advocate of civilization
—definer of civilization
—Teacher of the rules of civilization
—arouser of those who form civilization
—Organizer of the pro-civilization activists
—leader (possibly) of the civilizing forces.
MUST SEE: On FOX, DNC Chair Responds to RJC Forum, Slams Romney for Business Ties to Iran
The Romney campaign’s aggressive embrace of a plan that drastically overhauls Medicare is a puzzling move. To describe Medicare as a politically fraught campaign issue probably is an understatement. Voters just don’t like changing the program, even when Congress wants to expand the program and add new benefits. Mollyann Brodie, who directs survey research for the Kaiser Family Foundation, recalls when Congress added a prescription benefit to the program in 2003. “In Medicare Part D,” they were adding on a huge benefit and even then seniors were very unfavorable,” she says.
But in a call this morning, Romney surrogates emphasized the candidate’s strong support for House Budget Chair Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform plan, the one that would replace the traditional entitlement program with one that gave seniors vouchers to purchase private polices. “Governor Romney recognized right away the features of that plan,” said Romney-backer John Sununu.
In siding with the Ryan plan, the Romney campaign looks to draw a contrast with former speaker Newt Gingrich, who has criticized the policy as, among other things, “right-wing social engineering.” The strategy, pollsters say, also runs a big risk: Alienating a seniors, a key swing demographic, on what’s likely the election’s most crucial health care debate.
“Seniors vote, they vote at higher rates, and Medicare is the health care voting issue of our time,” says Brodie. “Because it’s a complex policy topic, there’s a lot of room for the way language and terms to get a certain effect. We’ll likely see poll results all over the board depending on what language is used.”
Medicare is going to matter in the 2012 election, likely more so than the health-reform law. We already know where the candidates stand on the Affordable Care Act: President Obama wants to keep it, every Republican contender wants to repeal it. Those positions won’t change before November, nor will they do much to change voter opinion. Both parties have made their case on health reform for 18 months now, but public opinion still looks pretty similar to when the law first passed:
Medicare may also be a health issue, but, politically, it exists on a different landscape. It’s a key issue for a group of swing voters: Seniors,who have flipped back and forth between the political parties in recent elections. They also have an outsized presence in battleground states. “Of the 20 states that have seen the highest growth in their senior populations, eight are or could be battlegrounds,” National Journal’s Reid Wilson wrote in November. A National Journal map, to the right, shows what that overlap looks like.
A lot of where those crucial seniors land will depend on how Republicans manage to frame the idea of vouchers in Medicare. Right now, it’s actually a bit of a blank slate. When the Kaiser Family Foundation polled on the idea of Medicare vouchers in April, right in the heat of the debate over Ryan’s proposal, it found that two-thirds of voters either hadn’t heard about the idea, or didn’t know what it meant. Opinion varied greatly depending on how information on the Medicare plan was presented:
The best way to frame Medicare vouchers, pollsters say, is by presenting it as another choice, while traditional Medicare remains intact. “The absolute first thing is having Medicare as a choice,” says Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard. “It’s a very dramatic thing to say we’re going to substitute for Medicare.”
That sounds a lot like Romney’s actual plan, which, unlike Ryan’s, would include traditional Medicare as an option. It sounds a lot like how Republican strategist Frank Luntz defended vouchers on the Diane Rehm show recently, describing the issue as about “rights of control,” asking “What’s wrong with giving people more control over how they use their health-care dollars? What’s wrong with giving them the right to choose the doctor, the hospital, the medical plan, the prescription drug plan?”
What that does not, however, sound like, is what Romney is saying Thursday. Endorsing Ryan without drawing much contrast “allows the other side to say you want to eliminate Medicare,” says Blendon. “No matter what, Democrats are going to see an opening here to say Republicans are trying to undermine Medicare. If somebody mentions Medicare and private accounts in the same plan, that’s a bit less threatening.”
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.
People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.
When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.– H. L. Mencken