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That call center you reached? If they’re in the US, the person speaking may be a prison inmate 

Boing Boing:

MSNBC reports: “When you call a company or government agency for help, there’s a good chance the person on the other end of the line is a prison inmate. The federal government calls it “the best-kept secret in outsourcing” — providing inmates to staff call centers and other services in both the private and public sectors.”

Better still, the US gov makes about $750M a year off of this sort of thing.





Cordray’s first target: The housing crisis

Ezra Klein:

Despite the controversy surrounding his appointment, Richard Cordray is barreling ahead with his work as head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — and he’s starting with the very event that led to the creation of his agency: the housing crisis.

On Wednesday, the new bureau released its guidelines for regulating the practices of mortgage lenders across the country. Regulators are instructed to examine whether lenders offering subprime loans, for example, closely assess whether potential borrowers are actually able to repay the loans and factor in the risks accordingly. The CFPB will also determine whether lenders misrepresent the terms and conditions of their loans — another practice that helped contribute to massive defaults — warning them to “avoid using fine print, separate statements, or inconspicuous disclosures to correct potentially misleading headlines.”

The CFPB had already rolled out a public education campaign, “Know Before You Owe,” to improve financial literacy on the consumer side as well before Cordray officially took office last week. But Obama’s recess appointment unleashed the watchdog’s full enforcement authority. Over the past few days, the CFPB also launched its first known investigation into a financial firm, probing kickbacks that were allegedly paid to PHH Corp., a private mortgage lender.

On the flip side, there’s serious concern that this extra scrutiny from the CFPB could make banks and other financial firms more anxious about making loans to potential homebuyers. As a result, the additional regulation might conceivably tighten up credit at a time when more activity is needed, exacerbating problems in a housing market that’s still recovering from the 2008 crisis.

It’s also not yet clear whether the bureau will file suit if it finds that PHH — or other financial firms that it investigates — are found guilty of violating federal consumer laws, or whether it takes up other enforcement measures instead. And even if the CFPB’s enforcement doesn’t dampen the ailing housing market, it’s also not certain whether the bureau can do much to help turn it around. (A move like mass refinancing would more likely fall under the auspices of the Federal Housing Finance Authority, as Ezra points out.) The answers to such questions could shift the contentious debate over Cordray’s appointment from the political process to the work of the watchdog itself.




Unemployed Mortgage Holders Get Payment Extension


Although home foreclosure rates appear to be stabilizing and unemployment is slowly coming down, there are still millions of jobless borrowers who are at risk of losing their homes because they cannot afford their monthly payments.

Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, the government-sponsored housing finance companies that represent approximately half of all mortgages, have announced plans to extend their existing programs so that unemployed borrowers can defer part or all of their monthly payments for up to 12 months while they are out of work.

The moves come after the Obama administration announced last July a similar program for loans backed by Federal Housing Administration insurance, as well as mortgages serviced by lenders that are participating in the government’s loan modification program.

Fannie Mae sent guidance to lenders on Wednesday saying that banks could offer unemployed borrowers up to six months of lowered or skipped payments without seeking Fannie’s prior approval, and that banks could extend that forbearance up to 12 months with approval. This guidance modified a policy from September 2010, when Fannie expanded its existing forbearance option for other hardships like natural disasters to include unemployment.

Wednesday’s announcement also said that unemployed homeowners who apply for an official forbearance after already missing some payments can skip only up to a maximum of 12 months. After that, if homeowners are still unemployed or unable to make payments, lenders and borrowers would have to consider other options, including a permanent loan modification or a short sale.

Freddie Mac announced last Friday that it would permit jobless borrowers to skip or reduce payments for up to 12 months as well. Previously, borrowers whose loans were owned by Freddie were eligible for up to only three months of suspended or reduced payments. In most cases, the homeowners must pay back the lower or skipped payments over a longer loan period.

“These expanded forbearance periods will provide families facing prolonged periods of unemployment with a greater measure of security by giving them more time to find new employment and resolve their delinquencies,” Tracy Mooney, a senior vice president at Freddie Mac, said.

The financial firms and banks do not report exactly how many jobless people have used the programs.

Under the new rules, lenders are required to consider a forbearance plan among a number of options to prevent foreclosure. Most of the government programs intended to forestall or prevent foreclosure have not lived up to expectations, and many homeowners have lost their homes. Last year, foreclosures were filed against about two million properties, down from 2.9 million in 2010, according to RealtyTrac, a real estate data provider.

Neither Fannie nor Freddie could specify how many borrowers might be eligible for the forbearance options, but it would be up to lenders to administer them.

Bank of America said it was “currently assessing operational aspects of implementing” the extensions. GMAC Mortgage said it was already participating in forbearance programs and would continue to follow Fannie and Freddie guidelines. Wells Fargo said it would review the details of Freddie and Fannie’s updated options.

Some analysts were skeptical of the programs’ effects. “It’s a humane and not at all unreasonable policy, but I wouldn’t expect it to do much to the housing problem,” said Joseph Gyourko, professor of real estate at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. “This will save some of them,” Professor Gyourko said. “But some of them shouldn’t be in the homes they are in and some of them won’t end up finding jobs that will enable them to pay for their mortgages, so there could be some downside because it could slow the foreclosure pipeline.”

And it is not clear that many borrowers who are eligible for delayed or suspended payments have been granted the option. Only 16,633 homeowners have been granted forbearances under the Treasury’s program for lenders who are participating in the government’s loan modification program. Only 3,000 homeowners whose loans are backed by F.H.A. insurance have been granted a forbearance since July.

Housing advocates said Fannie and Freddie’s options should help more struggling borrowers. Forbearance “is a real life saver,” said Lewis Finfer, a community organizer at the PICO National Network, a coalition of faith-based organizations. Jobless borrowers will have more time “to hopefully get more hours or get re-employed, and they can save their home during that period.”




Every estimate of the GOP’s tax cuts is wrong

Ezra Klein: 

Every estimate you’ve heard of who is being helped and who is being hurt by the tax cuts proposed by the various Republican presidential campaign is telling you, at best, only half the story. And that’s because these estimates only look at one side of the ledger: who gets the tax cuts. But there’s another side to the ledger: Who pays for them, and how? That side is at least as important as who gets the tax cuts, but it’s almost always ignored.

Most of the estimates so far have come from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. But Donald Marron, co-director of the TPC, is happy to admit the blind spot in their models. “In a perfect world, you would do a distributional analysis of all federal policies, integrating the spending and tax side. If you do just the tax side, you’re missing a whole lot.”

William Gale, the TPC’s other director, agrees. “One doesn’t know the full distribution of the net benefits or burdens of a tax cut until you know how it is financed.”

The problem is that there’s no way to model the pay-fors. No Republican campaign has explained how they will fund their tax cuts. So there’s no plan to speak of, and thus no plan to analyze.

But every Republican campaign has laid out its principles: No tax increases now or in the future. So that takes one pay-for off the table. They’ve also been clear that deficits need to come down. So that removes another. The only pay-for left is spending cuts. And that’s where things get regressive.

Most federal spending goes to low-income Americans, seniors and defense. Republicans oppose further defense cuts. So the pot of federal spending they can use to pay for their tax cuts mainly consists of programs for low-income Americans and seniors. And keep in mind that the tax cuts are expensive. Every Republican has proposed making the Bush tax cuts permanent, which will cost $4 trillion over 10 years, and every Republican has proposed further tax cuts worth trillions of dollars.

Take Romney. His tax cuts add $2-$3 trillion to the cost of the Bush tax cuts. So he needs to find somewhere in the neighborhood of $6-$7 trillion in spending cuts. You can’t get there without slicing deep into the bone of Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid and dozens of other popular programs.

It won’t come from spending programs that substantially benefit top earners. That’s because there really aren’t spending programs that substantially benefit top earners. You could means test Social Security and Medicare, but that’s only going to get you so far — and it’s going to be pretty unpopular. “The tippy-top of the income distribution doesnt get gigantic payouts from spending programs,” Marron said. “If you’re making adjustments on the spending side, you’d anticipate the upper end of the income distribution won’t feel it.”

Consider the difference, too, between George W. Bush’s tax cuts and the Republicans who want to extend his tax cuts. When Bush proposed most of his tax cuts, the financing came from the surplus. That money could have also gone toward shoring up Social Security, or expanding programs to help low-income Americans, but using it for tax cuts didn’t require, at least in theory, taking benefits away from anybody. Extending the Bush tax cuts, in a time of deficits, does require sharp cuts in benefits.

In 2004, Gale, Peter Orszag and Isaac Shapiro looked at how paying for the Bush tax cuts would change their distributional impact. They assumed something called “equal-payment financing”: Every household pays the same amount in benefit cuts and new taxes. This is, for the tax cuts, a favorable assumption, as the distribution of federal spending actually ensures that low-income households will pay much more than high-income households if new taxes aren’t part of the pay-fors. Even so, the results were staggering.

“Low-income households would be hit extraordinarily hard,” wrote Gale, Orszag and Shapiro. “Their average direct tax cut would be $19, but with payments of $1,520, the average loss would be about $1,500 per year. For the middle fifth of households, the average loss would be $869 per year. In sharp contrast, the top 1 percent of households would receive an average net gain of $38,800 per year, even after paying $1,520. Households with incomes exceeding $1 million would gain nearly $135,000 per year.”

Bottom line: “The annual transfer from the 80 percent of households with incomes below $76,400 to the top 20 percent of households with incomes above that level would be $113 billion under equal-dollar financing.”

That number would be much larger in the context of the current crop of Republican tax plans, as the plans themselves are larger.

“Popular discourse about tax cuts frequently ignores a simple truism,” wrote Gale, Orszag, and Shapiro. “Someone, somewhere, at some time will have to pay for them. The payment may be in the form of increases in other taxes or reductions in government programs; it may occur now or later; it may be transparent or hidden. But iron laws of arithmetic and fiscal solvency imply that the payment has to occur.”




Must See Chart: “Program Dollars Go Overwhelmingly to Beneficiaries, Not Federal Bureaucracy” contrary to Romney claim

Center on Budget:




How capitalism kills companies

Felix Salmon:

As Mitt Romney cruises to his inevitable coronation as the Republican presidential candidate, increasing amounts of attention are being focused on his history at Bain Capital, where he made his fortune. Did he create 100,000 jobs, as he claims? Or is he a vulture and asset stripper?

Glenn Kessler has the definitive take on the job-creation claim, which he says is “untenable”; as he says, Romney’s method of counting jobs created when he wasn’t at Bain or when Bain wasn’t managing the companies in question doesn’t even pass the laugh test. Meanwhile, as Mark Maremont documents, Bain-run companies — even the successful ones — have an alarming tendency to end up in bankruptcy. And I think it’s fair to say that bankruptcy never creates jobs, except perhaps among bankruptcy lawyers.

The reality is that Romney would have been in violation of his fiduciary duty to his investors had he concentrated on creating jobs, rather than extracting as much money as he possibly could from the companies he bought. For instance, Worldwide Grinding Systems was a win for Bain, where it made $12 million on its initial $8 million investment, plus another $4.5 million in consulting fees. But the firm ended up in bankruptcy, 750 people lost their jobs, and the US government had to bail out the company’s pension plan to the tune of $44 million. There’s no sense in which that is just.

Romney’s company, Bain Capital, was a “private equity” firm — the friendly, focus-grouped phrase which replaced “leveraged buy-outs” after Mike Milken blew up. But at heart it’s the same thing: you buy companies with an enormous amount of borrowed money, and then dividend as much money out of them as you can. If they still manage to grow, you can make a fortune; if they don’t grow, they’ll likely fail, but even then you might well have made a profit anyway.

Private equity companies need growth, because they’re built on the idea of buying, restructuring, and then selling. They’re never in any business for the long haul: instead, they want to make as much money as they can as quickly as possible, sell out, and keep all the profits for themselves and their investors. When you sell, you want to maximize the price you can ask — and the way to do that is to show healthy growth. No one will pay top dollar for a company which isn’t growing.

Private equity is by no means unique in this respect: it happens at pretty much every public company, too. John Gapper, today, has a column about the way it destroys values at struggling technology companies:

Most public companies are run by people who hate folding ’em, and instead keep returning to the shareholders and bondholders for more chips…

Few senior executives, when debating options for a technology company in decline, admit defeat and run it modestly. Instead, they cast around for businesses to buy, or try to hurdle the chasm with what they have got. Sometimes they succeed but often they don’t, wasting a lot of money along the way.

It goes against their instincts to concede that the odds are so stacked against them that it is not worth the gamble. Mr Perez would have faced a hostile audience if he’d admitted it to the citizens of Rochester, Kodak’s company town in New York, but its investors would have benefited.

At many companies, then, both public and private, the optimal course of action is a modest one — run the business so that it makes a reasonable profit, and can continue to operate indefinitely. If you chase after growth, you often end up in bankruptcy: that’s one reason why the oldest companies in the world are all family-run. Families, unlike public companies or private-equity shops, don’t need growth: they’re more interested in looking after their business over the very, very long run.

There’s no limit at all to the amount of growth that the public companies will demand: in 2007, for instance, after a year when Citigroup made an astonishing $21.5 billion in net income, Fortunewas complaining about its “less-than-stellar earnings”, and saying — quite accurately — that if they didn’t improve, the CEO would soon be out of a job. We now know, of course, that most if not all of those earnings were illusory, a product of the housing bubble which was shortly to burst and bring the bank to the brink of insolvency. But even bubblicious illusory earnings aren’t good enough for the stock market.

If you want to be fair to Mitt Romney, you could make the point that many of the companies he bought were highly risky, and would probably have gone bust anyway; in that sense he can’t be blamed if they eventually did just that. If a company is going to fail, you might as well squeeze the maximum amount of money out of it before it does. But doing that, at the margin, means more job losses, quicker job losses, and — as we saw at that steel company — a willingness to underfund staff pension plans and stiff the government with the bill. Mitt Romney turns out to have apersonality which is highly suited to that kind of ruthlessly callous behavior; that’s how he became so incredibly wealthy. It’s an ugly part of capitalism; it might even be a necessary part of capitalism. But the one thing you can’t do is spin it as a great way of creating jobs.




NYT: Including entire population (not just full-time workers), median male college grad earns 12% less today than in 1969




Three Charts To Email To Your Right-Wing Brother-In-Law

Campaign for America’s Future:

Problem: Your right-wing brother-in-law is plugged into the FOX-Limbaugh lie machine, and keeps sending you emails about “Obama spending” and “Obama deficits” and how the “Stimulus” just made things worse. Solution: Here are three “reality-based” charts to send to him. These charts show what actually happened.


Government spending increased dramatically under Bush. It has not increased much under Obama. Note that this chart does not reflect any spending cuts resulting from deficit-cutting deals.


Notes, this chart includes Clinton’s last budget year for comparison.

The numbers in these two charts come from Budget of the United States Government: Historical Tables Fiscal Year 2012. They are just the amounts that the government spent and borrowed, period. Anyone can go look them up. People who claim that Obama “tripled the deficit” are either misled or are trying to mislead.

The Stimulus and Jobs





CEA Chair Alan Krueger’s inequality speech


This morning, Alan Krueger, the chairman of the President’s Conuncil of Economic Advisers, gave a speech on inequality at the Center for American Progress. Prepared remarks here.Charts here. These are the parts that caught my eye:

– “I used to have an aversion to using the term inequality. The Wall Street Journal ran an article in the mid-1990s that noted that I prefer to use the term ‘dispersion’. But the rise in income dispersion – along so many dimensions – has gotten to be so high, that I now think that inequality is a more appropriate term.”

  • “As the Congressional Budget Office noted in a recent report, the top 1 percent of families saw a 278 percent increase in their real after-tax income from 1979 to 2007, while the middle 60 percent had an increase of less than 40 percent.”

    “We were growing together for the first three decades after World War II, but for the last three decades we have been growing apart. Here at CAP, I should point out that the pattern in the post-1970s period is not monolithic. . .the period from 1992 to 2000 was an exception, when strong economic growth and the policies of the Clinton administration led all quintiles to grow together again. Indeed, all income groups experienced their fastest income growth in years. I could also note, parenthetically, that there is no sign in these data that the tax increases in the early 1990s had an adverse effect on income growth.”

– “The magnitude of these shifts is mindboggling. The share of all income accruing to the top 1 percent increased by 13.5 percentage points from 1979 to 2007. This is the equivalent of shifting $1.1 trillion of annual income to the top 1 percent of families. Put another way, the increase in the share of income going to the top 1 percent over this period exceeds the total amount of income that the entire bottom 40 percent of households receives.”

– “The correlation between parents’ and their children’s income is around 0.50. This is remarkably similar to the correlation that Sir Francis Galton found between parents’ height and their children’s height over 100 years ago. This fact helps to put in context what a correlation of 0.50 implies. The chance of a person who was born to a family in the bottom 10 percent of the income distribution rising to the top 10 percent as an adult is about the same as the chance that a dad who is 5’6” tall having a son who grows up to be over 6’1” tall. It happens, but not often.”

– “Our income tax system is less progressive than that in other countries. This chart shows the Gini coefficient for OECD countries, with the blue bars indicating inequality in before-tax income and the red bars inequality in after-tax income [Figure 10]. The difference in the height between the bars is a measure of how much the tax code reduces inequality. Of all the OECD countries, only Chile, Korea, and Switzerland have tax systems that reduce inequality by less than the U.S.”

– “The macro evidence is clear that the economy did not perform better after last decade’s tax cuts than it did after taxes were increased on top earners in the early 1990s. I already showed you evidence that income growth was stronger for lower and middle income families in the 1990s than it was in the last 40 years overall….There was more job growth in start-ups in the 1990s than in the 2001 2007 period. Across all businesses, job growth was much weaker in the 2000s than in the 1990s. So there is little empirical support for the claim that reducing the progressivity of the tax code has spurred income growth, business formation or job growth.”

– “According to research by Karen Dynan and coauthors, the top 1 percent of households saves about half of the increases in their wealth, while the population at large had a general savings rate of about 10 percent. This implies that if another $1.1 trillion had been earned by the bottom 99 percent instead of the top 1 percent, annual consumption would be about $440 billion higher. This would be a 5 percent boost to aggregate consumption.”

– “An active line of research examines the connection between inequality and longer term economic growth. In a seminal paper, Torsten Persson and Guido Tabellini argued that in a society where income inequality is greater, political decisions are likely to result in policies that lead to less growth. They provided evidence supporting this conclusion. A new IMF paper also finds that more equality in the income distribution is associated with more stable economic growth.”

– “We can’t go back to the type of policies that exacerbated the rise in inequality and threatened economic mobility in the first place if we want an economy that builds the middle class. This means that we must adequately regulate excess risk-taking and corrupt practices in financial markets. It also means that we can’t go back to tax policies that didn’t generate faster economic growth or jobs, but rather increased inequality. Instead of going backwards, we should adhere to principles like the Buffett Rule, which states that those making more than $1 million should not pay a lower share of their income in taxes than middle class families. We should also end unnecessary tax cuts for the wealthy, and return the estate tax to what it was in 2009.”

  • “Restoring more fairness to the economy would be good for all parts of American society. This is not a zero-sum game. The evidence suggests that a growing middle class is good for the economy, and that a more fair distribution of income would hasten economic growth. Businesses would benefit from restoring more fairness to the economy by having more middle class customers, more stable markets, and improved employee morale and productivity.”


AP: EPA board rejects appeal of Arctic air permit for Shell exploratory drilling ship 

Royal Dutch Shell’s quest to drill exploratory wells in Arctic waters has received a boost with the affirmation that its federal air permits for the Chukchi Sea were properly granted.

The EPA Appeals Board on Thursday rejected challenges to the air permits brought by Alaska Native and conservation groups.

Shell Alaska spokesman Curtis Smith said in a formal announcement that the decision means Shell, for the first time, has usable air permits that will allow its drill ship, the Noble Discoverer, to work in the outer continental shelf off Alaska’s northwest coast in 2012.

“Achieving usable permits from the EPA is a very important step for Shell and one of the strongest indicators to date that we will be exploring our Beaufort and Chukchi leases in July,” Smith said.

Drilling is strongly opposed by conservation groups that contend oil companies cannot clean up a spill in ice-choked waters, and that the remote Chukchi and Beaufort seas are too far from ports, major airports and other infrastructure for an effective cleanup if there’s a blowout.

Earthjustice attorney Colin O’Brien, who represented groups that filed one of four air permit appeals, said it an email response to questions that the decision could be appealed in federal court, but that it was too early to speculate about potential next steps.

He said EPA took shortcuts when it issued the permits and failed to fully protect Arctic air quality as required by the Clean Air Act.

“These permits pave the way for Shell to emit thousands of tons of harmful air pollution into the pristine Arctic environment, at levels that may be harmful to nearby communities and the environment for years to come,” he said. “We are disappointed that the Environmental Appeals Board decided against us and allowed EPA’s permit decisions to stand.

A Shell subsidiary has applied to drill up to three exploratory wells in the Chukchi during the open water season this year and additional exploratory wells in 2013. The company hopes to use a second drill for exploratory wells in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska’s north coast, and awaits a decision on the appeal of its air permit.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in December approved Shell’s Chukchi drilling plan with one important stipulation. The agency said Shell must still drilling into hydrocarbon zones 38 days before sea ice is projected to engulf the drill site to make sure it has time cope with a spill or a wellhead blowout. That would cut the drilling window by about one-third.

A successful appeal of previous air permits played a part of Shell’s decision to cancel drilling for 2011. In that case, the appeals board concluded that analysis of the impact of nitrogen dioxide emissions on Alaska Native communities was too limited. The board remanded the permits to allow the agency to fix permit problems.

The appeal filed by Earthjustice contended that Shell’s new permit was based on pollution estimates that were inherently unreliable because they are based on equipment that Shell did not identify and that the EPA never intends to test.

Shell faces other hurdles before it can send its drill ships and support vessels north. The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement must approve Shell’s oil spill response plan for the Chukchi.




Study: Small measures could make big difference in reducing global warming 


Simple, inexpensive measures to cut emissions of two common pollutants will slow global warming, save millions of lives and boost crop production around the world, a large international team of scientists reported Thursday.

The climate change debate has centered on carbon dioxide, a gas that wafts in the atmosphere for decades, trapping heat. But in recent years, scientists have pointed to two other, shorter-term pollutants — methane and soot, also known as black carbon — that also drive climate change.

Slashing emissions of these twin threats would be a “win-win-win” for climate, human health and agriculture, said NASA climate scientist Drew Shindell, who led the study appearing in the journal Science. “Even if you don’t believe climate change is a problem, these things are worth doing.”

Reducing methane and soot would slow global warming dramatically — by almost a degree Fahrenheit — by the middle of the century, according to computer simulations run by the 24-member international team.

At the same time, the simulations show that such actions would save 700,000 to 4.7 million lives annually, as better air quality would prevent lung and cardiovascular diseases.

Global crop yields would also rise, by 30 to 135 metric tons annually, as rice, corn, wheat and soybean plants would have an easier time absorbing the nutrients they need from the air, according to the report.

“In the absence of a global carbon dioxide agreement, it makes sense to move ahead on global efforts to reduce these other gases,” said Joyce Penner of the University of Michigan, who has studied the climate impacts of soot but was not involved in the new research.

Previous studies have noted the benefits of reducing methane and soot. But the new study looked at the specific impact of about 400 measures policymakers could take. Of those, just 14 interventions — such as eliminating wood-burning stoves, dampening emissions from diesel vehicles and capturing methane released from coal mines — would offer big benefits.

“They’re all things we know how to do, and have done; we just haven’t done them worldwide,” said Shindell, who works at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

About 3 billion people in the developing world rely on stoves that burn wood, dung and other fuels that throw off soot. Switching to cleaner-burning stoves would help reduce short-term global warming while quickly improving local air quality. Soot particles fall out of the air in less than a week.

But getting people to switch to cleaner-burning stoves is “easier said than done,” said Elizabeth Ransom, a spokeswoman for University Research Co. The group recently doled out $1.3 million in grants to three groups studying how to get people in Uganda and India to adopt cleaner-burning stoves, as some projects to introduce modern stoves “just didn’t take off.”

Many of the measures would be inexpensive, Shindell said. For instance, farmers in the developing world often burn agricultural waste, but plowing it under instead would cost almost nothing.

Other interventions, such as capping landfills to trap methane, would be more costly, presenting a barrier to poorer nations.

But several policy experts said that in the absence of a global treaty to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the new study should spur national governments to smaller actions.

“This great news could not come at a better time for climate protection,” said Durwood Zaelke, president of the D.C.-based Institute of Governance and Sustainable Development.

Zaelke said the proposed measures are particularly important for the world’s most vulnerable regions, such as the Arctic, which has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the world over the past half-century, and the Himalayas, which have warmed three times as fast.

But even advocates of the strategy warned that world leaders have not yet shown the political will to move ahead.

Brooks Yeager, executive vice president for policy for the advocacy group Clean Air-Cool Planet, said the new study shows “the technical means to get these reductions are clear.” But, he added, “The bad news is it’s not as easy it sounds.”

For instance, Yeager said that countries that make up the Arctic Council, including the United States, pledged in 2009 to reduce black carbon. But since then, the Obama administration has cut back on domestic efforts to phase out dirtier diesel engines because of budget contraints. Until 2009, Congress had appropriated between $75 million and $150 million for the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, which gave grants to retire or retrofit polluting diesel vehicles. The program got a boost to $300 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but it has not received any more money since then.

Yeager and Shindell both said that reducing methane and soot, while laudable as a short-term strategy for dampening global warming, would not solve the long-term problem.

“I think it’s a little dangerous to think you can do this instead of reducing carbon dioxide,” Yaeger said. “If you don’t reduce carbon dioxide, the benefits of reducing these [pollutants] will recede into the background and be overwhelmed by carbon.”





America’s Top Ten Polluters. Do you live near one?

Mother Jones:


It just got a whole lot easier for Americans to find out which power plants and industrial sites are releasing the most planet-baking emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday released its greenhouse gas database, and included some cool tools for tracking polluters.

The database includes the largest sources—the 6,700 power plants and heavy industries that are responsible for 80 percent of all emissions in the United States. It covers their emissions for 2010, the first year they were required to report to the EPA. The inventory, which we’ve written about before, is really just an exercise in taking stock and disclosing emissions. It doesn’t include any requirements to reduce those emissions. But it could be a first step in that direction.

For one, the database makes it clear who is releasing the emissions, and how much. Citizens can see who the big polluters are in their area. Local papers can report on it. Maybe it will even spark some healthy competition between facilities to reduce their cut back—like The Biggest Loser, for power plants. Or it could be used to shame companies whose emissions keep going up. This is basically what happened with an earlier database, called the Toxics Release Inventory. In the 1980s, it was created to track nasty emissions, which companies began cutting even before mandatory reductions were phased in. After all, no one wants to be called out publicly for farting at the party, so to speak.

The inventory includes carbon dioxide emissions (CO2), as well as other greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide. These are the gases that scientists say are trapping heat in the atmosphere and causing the planet to warm up. This is the first time the agency has compiled site-specific emission figures for all all major sources, including power plants, refineries, chemical plants, and landfills.

Click through the slideshow to see the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.




Internet addicts show brain matter changes


People addicted to the Internet show changes in their brains similar to those observed in alcoholics and cocaine addicts, scientists in China say.

A comparison of brain scans of young people with “Internet addiction disorder” and their peers found changes in the white matter fibers connecting emotional processing, attention and decision making parts of the brain, they said.

Writing in the journal Public Library of Science One, the Chinese researchers said “the findings suggest that white matter integrity may serve as a potential new treatment target in Internet addiction disorder.”

However, they acknowledged they don’t know if the observed changes in the brain are the cause of the addiction or a consequence of it, Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported Thursday.

Studies have suggested one in 10 Internet users can be addicted, becoming so absorbed in Web use they go without food or drink for prolonged periods, experts say.

“The majority of people we see with serious Internet addiction are gamers — people who spend long hours in roles in various games that cause them to disregard their obligations,” Henrietta Bowden Jones, a psychiatrist at Imperial College, London, said.

Jones runs Britain’s only National Health Service clinic for Internet addicts.

“I have seen people who stopped attending university lectures, failed their degrees or their marriages broke down because they were unable to emotionally connect with anything outside the game,” she said.





Why I Defend Obamacare and Plan To Fight For It As Hard As I Can 

karoli, C&L:

Even with its imperfections, the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is a lifeline for people like me and my family, and it’s worth giving credit to the Democrats and the President for getting it done. Every time I hear one of the Republicans in the primary clown car talk about repealing it, my resolve to re-elect the President and save Obamacare and Dodd-Frank strengthens.

It’s all about the pre-existing conditions. It always has been and it always will be. Like the young mother who was told most people with pre-existing conditions brought them on themselves, I also have a son with pre-existing conditions, and those conditions would, under the system we have today, make it impossible for him to pursue his chosen career or possibly even to function.

The Past

In the summer of 2009, our college-age son suddenly became ill. At first we thought it was just a case of the flu, but it went on for weeks, and came with rapid weight loss. He’s not really a towering giant to begin with and always had difficulty keeping weight on, but he lost nearly 40 pounds in six weeks. I had been laid off from my job in December, 2008 and our COBRA payments were $1700 per month for our family. My husband was self-employed and we were unable to get any insurance from any insurer anywhere. It was then that our COBRA administrator notified us that our coverage was canceled, claiming they’d received my payment one day late.

There we were with no insurance, a very sick son, and little in the way of resources to help him.

After draining a chunk of my 401k for doctor bills, he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. It’s a horrible disease with genetic causes. There is no lifestyle change he made that “brought it on himself.” It’s autoimmune and genetic. Worse yet, the medications for ulcerative colitis caused him to become diabetic. While it’s likely that he may have already had unknown glucose tolerance issues, the medications exacerbated it to the point where he was forced to inject insulin to keep his glucose levels in check. He was nineteen years old, a musician majoring in jazz studies with hopes to move on to a career in music education and performance once he finished school, wrestling with life-threatening chronic conditions.

Musicians are self-employed as a general rule. His medications were $600 per month, plus test strips and syringes for the insulin. And no hope for insurance.

That was 2009. Since January of 2010, the ulcerative colitis has been in remission, he’s regained his lost weight and managed to wean off the colitis medications and with it, the insulin injections. Also, my spouse had gotten a job with health insurance that would at least cover catastrophic illness with an attached health savings account.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, we were able to keep our son on our policy and are grateful that we’ll be able to through 2014, when he will be able to get his own insurance. But it doesn’t end there.

The Present

As I said, things were definitely moving in the right direction. Having insurance of any kind is way better than having none, particularly with kids in or heading to college and one of them uninsurable under today’s standards. Since the rest of us only needed routine checkups and no expensive medications, we were able to sock the maximum into the HSA and just use it for glasses or doctor visits.

Then the ulcerative colitis flared up just before Thanksgiving. Because he knew what the problem was this time, he immediately made an appointment with the gastroenterologist, got new prescriptions for the medications, and paid a visit to our general practitioner along with a few visits to the lab. That sucked a couple of thousand dollars right out of the HSA, because our deductible is high and hadn’t been met. The price of the meds had gone up since 2010, so we were looking at about $700/month for the UC and diabetes, and then another couple of hundred for medications to treat the skin eruptions, a side effect of one of the medications.

The deductible rolled on January 1st. We had just hit the 2011 deductible at the end of December when it rolled, so all of the January expenses hit under the new deductible. Also, this time around the glucose levels were not stabilized well at all, causing our family doctor to recommend a continuous monitoring system, which one can obtain for the low, low price of $1,800 if, and only if, the insurance company approves it, which they did.

In two short months, the money we’d managed to put away was rapidly depleted, and we were getting to a point where we would be putting money into the HSA at a slower rate than it was coming out, at least until all deductibles were met.

He’s an adult. We didn’t spare any details on what the expenses are, and as you might imagine, he was pretty frustrated at the idea that two years’ worth of savings were being drained in two months. Frustrated, and he felt badly about it too. In one conversation, we asked him what he would do if he weren’t on our insurance. His answer? “I wouldn’t take the medications.”

That’s unacceptable. Not taking the medications means death or hospitalization, not to mention the serious worry and grief we as parents would have over him. He’s our son. What parent wouldn’t do whatever they could to make sure he stayed healthy?

It was in that conversation that I realized how important the future was to all of us, how absolutely different things would be once 2014 was here and the full provisions of the Affordable Care Act took hold.

It is literally the difference between life and death, dependence and independence.

The Future

In 2014, he will be eligible for his own policy under the Affordable Care Act. He’s working now while finishing up his degree, but it’s critical that he maintain his health if he ever hopes to either have a performance or teaching career. Fortunately he also composes and transcribes music, so he has been able to keep some money coming in even when he’s dealing with the flare, but those are not his life’s ambitions.

I imagined what it would mean in 2014, assuming his income level is similar to what it is now, or even just starting out on a career path.

  • Instead of paying exhorbitant rates for insurance, he will be able to obtain it at a subsidized rate. If his income is where it is now, he’ll be able to be covered under the Medicaid expansion with very little monthly outlay.

  • Instead of paying $2,500 up front before any part of anything is covered, he will be eligible for reasonable copayments and much of those will also be subsidized until he is earning a salary that allows him to pay more himself.

  • Instead of feeling guilty about chewing through his parents’ medical savings, he will be able to get the care he needs as a matter of course along with the medications he needs to control the disease.

  • Instead of limiting himself to a career in whatever job he can get with health insurance, he can consider being self-employed or pursuing those dreams he’s had since he was very young without worrying that he will find himself unable to pay for health care.

  • Instead of putting our savings toward maintaining his health, we can begin to consider putting some toward retirement, or our health, or just socking it away for a rainy day.

That’s change I can believe in. You bet. In fact, as I was considering how different life would be and walking through that list with him, tears of gratitude welled up.

It’s not perfect, Obamacare, but readers, it’s a damn sight better than what we’ve got right now, and insurers know it. Republicans know it. That’s why they’re so committed to destroying it. It’s the pre-existing conditions. When those go away and policies actually have to cover things that keep people from living full lives, it begins to change those lives and through that change, progress happens.

Whatever you may think about President Obama or the Affordable Care Act, please consider my story to be only one of millions out there. The story I’ve told here is only mine, but it’s not the only one. There is Susie Madrak, who is insured (or will be) because of the high-risk pool bridge to 2014. There is our son. There are others — many, many others — who have the same kinds of stories to tell. These aren’t trivial. They’re life or death stories. They matter. We matter.

This is why I will defend the Affordable Care Act and Barack Obama, and work as hard as I can to re-elect him. I cannot imagine a world where we regress back to a time where people were denied the right to health care without going bankrupt or worse. It’s not perfect, but it’s worlds better than what we have today, or yesterday.




Cracking Down on Insurance Companies, Protecting Consumers

The White House: 

The health care law gives us new tools to protect consumers who are looking for health insurance. One of those tools is “rate review”.  For the first time ever, in every state, insurance companies are required to publicly justify their actions if they want to raise rates by 10 percent or more. These increases are then reviewed by independent experts to decide whether they are reasonable – providing unprecedented transparency and easy-to-understand information about why insurers want to raise your rates. Thanks to health reform, if your insurance company wants to hit your wallet with a major increase, they have to tell you why. And if you don’t like what they have to say, you can take your business elsewhere.

Today, we’re using this tool to protect consumers and crack down on unreasonably high rate increases. We’re announcing that Trustmark Life Insurance Company has unreasonably raised health insurance premiums in: Alabama, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wyoming – which would affect nearly 10,000 residents across these five states.

In each instance, Trustmark raised rates by 13 percent or more over the last year. For small businesses in Alabama and Arizona, when combined with other rate hikes made over the last 12 months, rates have increased by 27.2 percent and 18.1 percent, respectively. You can view more information about these rates here.

These increases are unreasonable and it’s time for Trustmark to immediately rescind the rates, issue refunds to consumers or publicly explain their refusal to do so.

The steps we’re taking today are just one way the Affordable Care Act is helping control health care costs and protect consumers. In addition to the review of rate increases, many states have the authority to reject unreasonable premium increases. Since the passage of health reform, the number of states with this authority increased from 30 to 37, with several states extending existing “prior approval authority” to new markets. And states are using this authority to save money for families and small businesses:

  • In New Mexico, the state insurance division denied a request from Presbyterian Healthcare for a 9.7 percent rate hike, lowering it to 4.7 percent;
  • In Connecticut, the state stopped Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s largest insurer, from hiking rates by a proposed 12.9 percent, instead limiting it to a 3.9 percent increase;
  • In Oregon, the state denied a proposed 22.1 percent rate hike by Regence, limiting it to 12.8 percent.
  • In New York, the state denied rate increases from Emblem, Oxford, and Aetna that averaged 12.7 percent, instead holding them to an 8.2 percent increase.
  • In Rhode Island, the state denied rate hikes from United Healthcare of New England ranging from 18 to 20.1 percent, instead seeing them cut to 9.6 to 10.6 percent.

The Affordable Care Act also includes new rules that help give you a better value for your health care dollar. The law’s 80-20 Rule requires insurers to spend at least 80 cents of each premium dollar on actual health care services and activities that improve health care quality, rather than administrative costs and CEO bonuses. If insurers don’t abide by this rule, they will be required to give you a rebate.

By Trustmark’s own admission, they didn’t plan to abide by the 80-20 rule, leaving small businesses with an unreasonably high premium. For this reason, we have found Trustmark’s rate increases to be unreasonable.

The Affordable Care Act is making our health insurance marketplace more transparent and helping to fight high premium increases and we will continue to do all we can to shine a light on insurance companies who stick consumers with an unreasonable bill.

For more information about this rate review and to find rate increase information in your state,visit:



CA insurance regulator orders Anthem Blue Cross to pay on 2.6 million claims from hospitals & others



Insurers Hike Premiums To ‘Unreasonable’ Levels In Five States, HHS Says 


INSURERS HIKE PREMIUMS TO ‘UNREASONABLE’ LEVELS IN FIVE STATES, HHS SAYS |Health insurers have proposed “unreasonable” premium insurance hikes in five states — Alabama, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wyoming — including one as high as 27.2 percent, the Department of Health and Human Services announced today. The federal government has provided grantsto bolster states’ ability to review premiums as part of the Affordable Care Act, but it does not have authority to overturn the increases. “HHS determined that the rate increases were unreasonable because the insurer would be spending a low percent of premium dollars on actual medical care and quality improvements, and because the justifications were based on unreasonable assumptions,” HHS said in a press release.




Why and How You Should Fight Voter ID Laws 

Booman Tribune:

On Monday, March 15, 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson addressed a Joint Session of Congress. It was a mere week after the deadly clashes in Selma, Alabama, where the police had attacked protestors as they assembled for a march to Montgomery to highlight voter rights discrimination. President Johnson had been concerned about racial violence in the South almost from the moment he had been sworn in as president on Air Force One in late November 1963. In early June 1964, as the Civil Rights Act moved toward enactment, LBJ had become so concerned that he asked FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to “to fill up Mississippi and infiltrate everything he could, that he haul them [the KKK] in by the dozens.” (conversation with Associate Counsel to the President, Lee White, June 23rd, 1964). This was during the Freedom Summer, an effort organized by the NAACP, CORE, SCLC, and SNCC to register as many blacks to vote in Mississippi as possible. When their efforts were met with unrelenting violence, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was formed in an attempt to have its delegates seated at the Democratic National Convention in lieu of the all-white undemocratically elected delegates of the official Democratic Party of Mississippi. President Johnson had felt compelled to intervene at the convention on the side of the segregationists. Now, in the fresh light of the Selma violence, he was introducing the Voting Rights Act. Johnson was finally taking a stand. He explained why it was necessary to have federal legislation to protect the voting rights of “negroes.”

Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can and should be no argument: every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to insure that right. Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes.

Every device of which human ingenuity is capable, has been used to deny this right. The Negro citizen may go to register only to be told that the day is wrong, or the hour is late, or the official in charge is absent. And if he persists and, if he manages to present himself to the registrar, he may be disqualified because he did not spell out his middle name, or because he abbreviated a word on the application. And if he manages to fill out an application, he is given a test. The registrar is the sole judge of whether he passes this test. He may be asked to recite the entire Constitution, or explain the most complex provisions of state law.

And even a college degree cannot be used to prove that he can read and write. For the fact is that the only way to pass these barriers is to show a white skin. Experience has clearly shown that the existing process of law cannot overcome systematic and ingenious discrimination. No law that we now have on the books, and I have helped to put three of them there, can insure the right to vote when local officials are determined to deny it. In such a case, our duty must be clear to all of us. The Constitution says that no person shall be kept from voting because of his race or his color.

We have all sworn an oath before God to support and to defend that Constitution. We must now act in obedience to that oath. Wednesday, I will send to Congress a law designed to eliminate illegal barriers to the right to vote.

When Johnson said that “every device of which human ingenuity is capable, has been used to deny” blacks the vote, he had many concrete examples in mind, which he listed. What he didn’t have in mind is what are commonly called “Voter ID laws.” These are more properly known as “polling place Photo ID restrictions,” because the objection to the laws is not that they require some form of identification. The objection is that the laws require a specific, very narrowly-defined type of state-issued photo ID, which many do not have and thus they become disenfranchised. These polling place Photo ID restriction laws have proliferated like crazy since the 2010 midterm elections. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University has many reports on the impact of changes in election law. According to one recent report (pdf), new polling place Photo ID restriction laws will disenfranchise 3.2 million qualified voters. Even more restrictive “proof of citizenship” laws (for which a driver’s license is insufficient) will disenfranchise another quarter of a million citizens who can’t provide the necessary proof (do you know where your Birth Certificate is?).

For example, survey results show that only 48% of voting-age women with ready access to their U.S. birth certificates have a birth certificate with current legal name – and only 66% of voting-age women with ready access to any proof of citizenship have a document with current legal name.

Other voting restrictions involve eliminating Election Day registration, curtailing or eliminating early voting, and striking felons off the rolls. It should be remembered that these Photo ID laws can be used to prevent you both from registering to vote and from voting at the polls even if you are registered. To get a sense of the power of this movement towards restricting the franchise, consider this. Since 2010:

At least thirty-four states introduced legislation that would require voters to show photo identification in order to vote. Photo ID bills were signed into law in seven states: Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. By contrast, before the 2011 legislative session, only two states had ever imposed strict photo ID requirements. The number of states with laws requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification has quadrupled in 2011. To put this into context, 11 percent of American citizens do not possess a government- issued photo ID; that is over 21 million citizens. On November 8, 2011, Mississippi also passed a constitutional amendment by ballot initiative, requiring government-issued photo ID to vote.

Proof of citizenship laws have been passed in Alabama, Kansas, and Tennessee. Nine other states have bills in the hopper.

It should be noted that all these voting restrictions have been enacted in states with Republican legislatures and governors. It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that a 2008 study (pdf) by Profs. Matt A. Barreto (University of Washington), Stephen A. Nuño (Northern Arizona University), and Gabriel R. Sanchez (University of New Mexico), found that Indiana’s restrictive voting laws hurt the Democrats and disproportionally impacted blacks. Nor should it surprise us that the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division recently said the same thing about South Carolina’s voter restriction law.

In its first decision on the laws, Justice’s Civil Rights Division said South Carolina’s statute is discriminatory because its registered minority voters are nearly 20 percent more likely than whites to lack a state-issued photo ID. Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, South Carolina is one of a number of states that are required to receive federal “pre-clearance” on voting changes to ensure that they don’t hurt minorities’ political power.

“The absolute number of minority citizens whose exercise of the franchise could be adversely affected by the proposed requirements runs into the tens of thousands,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said in a letter to South Carolina officials.

Blacks are the least likely to have a state-issued Photo ID, women are the least likely to have proof of citizenship in their current name, and students are least likely to have an ID with a current address. Many seniors who no longer drive, also lack state-issued Photo ID. All but the latter group consistently show a preference for the Democratic Party. So, is there really any question that these laws have been enacted for a partisan purpose? Attorney General Eric Holder certainly thinks so. In a December 13, 2011 speech at the LBJ Library, he made that clear:

“Only we, the people, can bring about meaningful change. So speak out.   Raise awareness about what’s at stake. Call on our political parties to resist the temptation to suppress certain votes in the hope of attaining electoral success and, instead, encourage and work with the parties to achieve this success by appealing to more voters.   And urge policymakers at every level to reevaluate our election systems – and to reform them in ways that encourage, not limit, participation.”

This was part of a broader point that Holder was making. While he was announcing that the Department of Justice was reviewing new restrictive voting laws, he was also telling us that he can’t do everything alone.

…there will always be those who say that easing registration hurdles will only lead to voter fraud.   Let me be clear: voter fraud is not acceptable – and will not be tolerated by this Justice Department.   But as I learned early in my career – as a prosecutor in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, where I actually investigated and prosecuted voting-fraud cases – making voter registration easier is simply not likely, by itself, to make our elections more susceptible to fraud.   Indeed, those on all sides of this debate have acknowledged that in-person voting fraud is uncommon.   We must be honest about this.   And we must recognize that our ability to ensure the strength and integrity of our election systems – and to advance the reforms necessary to achieve this – depends on whether the American people are informed, engaged, and willing to demand commonsense solutions that make voting more accessible.

Naturally, the Republicans deny that the purpose of these laws is to confer some electoral advantage on themselves, or to disenfranchise blacks, Latinos, women, students, or the elderly. They claim that the laws are meant to prevent voter fraud. And their messaging is very compelling and effective. If we need a Photo ID to open a bank account or get a mortgage, why shouldn’t we need one to vote? It’s a persuasive argument in the majority of American communities where we drive to work and do things like open bank accounts and take out mortgages. But, I can tell you from personal experience that there are other communities in this country where very few people have access to cars and they have no money to put into savings accounts or a down payment on a house.

In 2004, I worked for ACORN/Project Vote as the Montgomery County, Pennsylvania coordinator for voter registration and Get Out the Vote efforts. Our main office was located on North Broad Street in Philadelphia. I hired, trained, and deployed young adults, almost all of whom were poor and black, to canvass targeted neighborhoods. Almost none of them had a state-issued Photo ID. Very few of the people we registered to vote had a state-issued Photo ID. They didn’t need one. ACORN registered over a million voters that year. Our reward was to become the number one target of Fox News, the Mighty RepublicanWurlitzer, and the Bush Justice Department. A couple of years later, ACORN was destroyed by a misinformation campaign led by Andrew Breitbart and James O’Keefe. If you have looked at today’s headlines, you’ll see that they are at it again, this time trying to prove how easy it was to commit voter fraud in the New Hampshire primary. They scanned the New Hampshire obituaries during December and then showed up at the polls and attempted to impersonate the deceased. Unsurprisingly, one of them was caught, which is precisely why almost no one tries to vote for the dead. You might be inclined to shrug off such stunts, but these folks are waging a partisan war on our voting rights.

So, what can you do about it? Let me relate a little story to you. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia was at Selma that day back in 1965. A police officer fractured his skull. After LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act, he invited John Lewis into the Oval Office. Here is what happened, as told by Lewis in his book Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement, (p. 361):

Johnson dominated the conversation, his legs propped on a chair, his hands folded back behind his head. We talked for about twenty minutes, and near the end of the meeting the President leaned forward and said, “Now John, you’ve got to go back and get all those folks registered. You’ve got to go back and get those guys by the balls. Just like a bull gets on top of a cow. You’ve got to get ’em by the balls and you’ve got to squeeze, squeeze ’em till they hurt.”

Mind you, LBJ was saying this to Lewis a mere five months (almost to the day) after Lewis had almost been killed on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. You and I don’t have to do anything nearly as courageous as what John Lewis was asked to do, and did. But we do have a responsibility to honor that legacy and fight back, because, today, we’re the ones with our balls in a vice. We are no longer on offense.

The first thing we need to do is have a vehicle to organize around. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minneapolis provided that vehicle in December 2010 when he introduced a bill that would ban a state-issued voter ID requirement in federal elections. Later this month, he is going to reintroduce this bill. In coordination with Democracy for America, Ellison will be hosting a telephone town hall with activists to talk about the details of the bill and what you can do to stop the attack on voting rights. The details of how to sign up for the call will be announced on Martin Luther King Day, January 16th. I will keep you posted. This is an important first step in the campaign to end this trend of disenfranchisement.

Let’s remember something else that LBJ said at the Joint Session of Congress on March 15, 1965, eight days after Selma’s Bloody Sunday:

“For the cries of pain and the hymns and protests of oppressed people have summoned into convocation all the majesty of this great government–the government of the greatest nation on earth. Our mission is at once the oldest and the most basic of this country–to right wrong, to do justice, to serve man. In our time we have come to live with the moments of great crises. Our lives have been marked with debate about great issues, issues of war and peace, issues of prosperity and depression.

But rarely in any time does an issue lay bare the secret heart of America itself. Rarely are we met with a challenge, not to our growth or abundance, or our welfare or our security, but rather to the values and the purposes and the meaning of our beloved nation. The issue of equal rights for American Negroes is such an issue. And should we defeat every enemy, and should we double our wealth and conquer the stars, and still be unequal to this issue, then we will have failed as a people and as a nation. For, with a country as with a person, “what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

We can’t stand by while the latest device of which human ingenuity is capable (the fear of non-existent voter fraud) is used to deny our voting rights. As LBJ said, “There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to insure that right.”




Justice Department backs legality of Obama appointments


The U.S. Justice Department on Thursday defended President Barack Obama’s controversial recess appointments to two agencies, releasing a detailed legal analysis of why the appointments passed constitutional muster.

The legal opinion followed furious complaints from Senate Republicans who accused Obama of trampling the Constitution and sidestepping the Senate confirmation process when he installed a new chief at the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and three members of the National Labor Relations Board.

Republicans blocked Obama’s nomination of Richard Cordray to head the recently established consumer bureau, which they oppose as an excessive government intrusion on the financial industry. The bureau was set up after the 2008 financial crisis and Democrats argue it is needed to keep tabs on the industry.

The fight over appointments goes back more than a century and has escalated in recent years as more and more nominees have been blocked. Democrats in the Senate first sought to use short breaks to bar then President George W. Bush from making recess appointments and now Republicans have done the same to Obama.

However, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice to the president as well as government agencies, said Obama was within his constitutional authority to make appointments when the Senate was briefly away.

“We conclude that while Congress can prevent the president from making any recess appointments by remaining continuously in session and available to receive and act on nominations, it cannot do so by conducting pro forma sessions during a recess,” the opinion said.

A legal cloud has hung over whether the appointments were constitutional because the Senate at the time was holding brief so-called pro forma sessions every three days, which Republicans thought would block Obama from making recess appointments.

The White House had previously argued that the Senate began its holiday break on December 17 and would not be back until January 23, thus enabling Obama to make the recess appointments.

“The Senate as a body does not uniformly appear to consider its recess broken by pre-set pro forma sessions,” the 23-page opinion said, authored by Virginia Seitz, assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel.

She also said that the pro forma sessions have lasted only seconds and that the “purpose of these sessions avowedly is not to conduct business,” noting that messages to the Senate were not accepted during those meetings.


The opinion drew quick fire from Senate Republicans who called it “unconvincing” and legally incorrect.

“It fundamentally alters the careful separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches that the framers crafted in the Constitution,” said Chuck Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been considering a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the appointments and legal experts said anyone subject to rules or regulations imposed by the two agencies could challenge whether they were legal.

“We are not going to sue today, because one has to see what he (Cordray) does and what the three new guys at the National Labor Relations Board do,” said Tom Donohue, head of the Chamber of Commerce, noting that “everybody’s trying to sort out” the details of a possible constitutional challenge.

Republicans have pointed out that the Senate did conduct legislative business during the December 23 pro forma when the chamber approved a tax cut extension and appointed lawmakers to work out differences on pending tax legislation.

Seitz’s legal opinion acknowledged such views and that while it was conceivable that the Senate could have provided advice and consent on the pending nominations during a pro forma session, those examples did not bar the president’s authority.

Because the scheduling order for those sessions said there would be “no business conducted,” Obama could determine the Senate was in recess “regardless of whether the Senate has disregarded its own orders on prior occasions.”

The opinion was dated January 6, two days after Obama made the appointments, however an administration official said the advice was given orally to the White House before the written opinion.




AP: Justice Department cites Bush administration-era opinion to defend Obama’s recess appointments





NY Times public editor asks if newspaper should correct lies


Should journalists be “truth vigilantes” or should we just not bother with facts?

Should the New York Times — America’s “newspaper of record” — print the truth? That is the question posed by the paper’s “public editor,” in a very funny blog post today.

Public editor Arthur Brisbane would like to know if it is professionally appropriate for an objective journalist to “take sides” by noting that someone lied. When you read the newspaper, would you like it to contain “facts”?

I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.

In Brisbane’s formulation, when a reporter corrects a falsehood made by a source or public figure, that reporter is a “truth vigilante,” because he or she took the truth into his or her own hands, before some slick fast-talking lawyer got the lie out of truth-jail on a technicality. (Hand in your truth-badge and truth-gun, New York Times! You’re getting too close! That untrue assertion has major connections at City Hall!)





What are newspapers for?

Greg Sargent:

Arthur Brisbane, the New York Times public editor, has posted a remarkable piece that’s generating attention on Twitter, because it gets at a core question: What is the role of newspapers in a political world that’s awash in distortions and lies?

Brisbane suggests it’s an open question whether reporters who are amplifying assertions made by candidates should tell readers whether those assertations are true or not. As Brisbane’s headline puts it: “Should the Times be a truth vigilante?”

…on the campaign trail, Mitt Romney often says President Obama has made speeches “apologizing for America,” a phrase to which Paul Krugman objected in a December 23 column arguing that politics has advanced to the “post-truth” stage.

As an Op-Ed columnist, Mr. Krugman clearly has the freedom to call out what he thinks is a lie. My question for readers is: should news reporters do the same?

If so, then perhaps the next time Mr. Romney says the president has a habit of apologizing for his country, the reporter should insert a paragraph saying, more or less:

“The president has never used the word ‘apologize’ in a speech about U.S. policy or history. Any assertion that he has apologized for U.S. actions rests on a misleading interpretation of the president’s words.”

Should news reporters include that last paragraph giving readers the information they need to evaluate whether Romney’s claim that Obama “apologized for America” — which the paper itself is amplifying — is true?

I’m sympathetic to Brisbane’s worry that that regular fact checking by reporters could mean some statements will get checked and others won’t. (Although as Jamison Foser neatly illustrates, newspapers are already choosing which quotes to amplify and which ones to ignore, which itself throws into question whether total “objectivity” is possible.)

But I think there’s a simple way to drive home to Brisbane why reporters should include info enabling readers to judge such claims.

The Times itself has amplified the assertion — made by Romney and Rick Perry — that Obama has apologized for America, without any rebuttal, at least three times: Herehere, and here. I urge Brisbane to check them out. If he does, he’ll see that any Times customer reading them comes away misled. He or she is left with the mistaken impression that Obama may have, in fact, apologized for America, when he never did any such thing.

In other words, in all those three cases, the Times helped the GOP candidate mislead its own readers — with an assertion that has become absolutely central to the Republican case against Obama. Whatever the practical difficulties of changing this, surely we can all agree that this isnot a role newspapers should be playing, particularly at a time when voters are choosing their next president.




Update to my Previous Post on Truth Vigilantes


I have appended a note statement from Jill Abramson, the executive editor, responding to this post.

First, though, I must lament that “truth vigilante” generated way more heat than light. A large majority of respondents weighed in with, yes, you moron, The Times should check facts and print the truth.

That was not the question I was trying to ask. My inquiry related to whether The Times, in the text of news columns, should more aggressively rebut “facts” that are offered by newsmakers when those “facts” are in question. I consider this a difficult question, not an obvious one.

To illustrate the difficulty of it, the first example I used in my blogpost concerned the Supreme Court’s official statement that Clarence Thomas had misunderstood the financial disclosure form when he failed to report his wife’s earnings.

If you think that should be rebutted in the text of a story, it means you think a reporter can crawl inside the mind of a Supreme Court justice and report back. Or perhaps you think the reporter should just write that the “misunderstanding” excuse is bull and let it go at that. I would respectfully suggest that’s not a good approach.

The second example I used in the blog post was Mitt Romney’s quote about the president “apologizing” for America. This one isn’t a slamdunk, either. It certainly isn’t being systematically rebutted in the paper’s news coverage now. Maybe this is one that should be. My point is: the question is worth a reasoned discussion.

By the way, I should add that I did receive some thoughtful responses to the blogpost from people who recognize that the issue is timely and unresolved. Here is one from Greg Sargent at The Washington Post:

And another from Rem Rieder at AJR:


In your blog, you ask “whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.” Of course we should and we do. The kind of rigorous fact-checking and truth-testing you describe is a fundamental part of our job as journalists.

We do it every day, in a variety of ways. On the most ambitious level, we sometimes do entire stories that delve into campaigns to distort the truth. On a day to day basis, we explore the candidates’ actions to see if what they’ve done squares with what they are saying now — for example, this story about Newt Gingrich’s work for clients:

A typical day-to-day example came in John Harwood’s Political Memo on Jan. 6, examining Mitt Romney’s assertion that Obama wants “to replace our merit-based society with an entitlement society.” That may be an opinion or political rhetoric, but we supplied the context for readers to assess it. We pointed out: “The largest entitlement programs — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid — were all enacted before Mr. Obama entered grade school.”

We quickly called out Romney’s misleading ad that quoted Obama out of context on the economy:

On the other hand, in Romney’s defense, we quickly explained in detail the true context of his “I like being able to fire people” quote — that he was talking about choosing an insurance company, not firing workers.

And of course, as you pointed out, we routinely have a team or reporters fact-checking debate assertions in something close to real time; here are examples:

These are just a few recent cases. And providing facts to challenge false or misleading assertions isn’t just part of political coverage. We do it routinely in policy stories from Washington and business stories from Wall Street. We do it in science coverage, too — for example, we constantly point out the scientific consensus on climate change,

Of course, some facts are legitimately in dispute, and many assertions, especially in the political arena, are open to debate. We have to be careful that fact-checking is fair and impartial, and doesn’t veer into tendentiousness. Some voices crying out for “facts” really only want to hear their own version of the facts.

Could we do more? Yes, always. And we will.

Sincerely, Jill Abramson


Fox Shut Out of Canada Because of a Law Against Lying During Newscasts

News Corp., the parent company of Fox News, was hoping to open a propaganda branch in Canada — called “Sun News TV” (or “Fox North”).  It was hoping its crony in Ottawa, winger Prime Minister Stephen Harper, would be successful in overturning a law prohibiting lying on broadcast news.  (Imagine that.  There is a law in Canada prohibiting lying during newscasts.  How civilized.)  But, thank goodness there is still some sanity in the world; they were wrong:

As America’s middle class battles for its survival on the Wisconsin barricades – against various Koch Oil surrogates and the corporate toadies at Fox News – fans of enlightenment, democracy and justice can take comfort from a significant victory north of the Wisconsin border. Fox News will not be moving into Canada after all! The reason: Canadian regulators announced last week they would reject efforts by Canada’s right-wing Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, to repeal a law that forbids lying on broadcast news.

Canada’s Radio Act requires that “a licenser may not broadcast … any false or misleading news.” The provision has kept Fox News and right-wing talk radio out of Canada and helped make Canada a model for liberal democracy and freedom. As a result of that law, Canadians enjoy high quality news coverage, including the kind of foreign affairs and investigative journalism that flourished in this country before Ronald Reagan abolished the “Fairness Doctrine” in 1987.

Political dialogue in Canada is marked by civility, modesty, honesty, collegiality, and idealism that have pretty much disappeared on the US airwaves. When Stephen Harper moved to abolish the anti-lying provision of the Radio Act, Canadians rose up to oppose him fearing that their tradition of honest non-partisan news would be replaced by the toxic, overtly partisan, biased and dishonest news coverage familiar to American citizens who listen to Fox News and talk radio. Harper’s proposal was timed to facilitate the launch of a new right-wing network, “Sun TV News” which Canadians call “Fox News North.”

Something like this would never happen in the US because the people in Washington work for the corporations, not for the good of the country but, again, it’s nice to know sanity still exists somewhere in the world.

Congratulations Canada!




Rush Limbaugh Opens 2012 With More Race-Baiting Attacks

Media Matters:

Consistent with his long history of race-baiting attacks, Rush Limbaugh has used his first programs of 2012 to levy a series of racial attacks on President Obama. In the last week, he has claimed that President Obama’s “plan” is “payback” against the “white Europeans” who “illegitimately founded” the United States, said that the Obamas think they are “owed” a lavish lifestyle “because of what’s been done to” them and their “ancestors,” and asserted that Obama believes the United States was “immoral in its founding” in part due to slavery.

Limbaugh Begins 2012 By Attacking Obama For Being Motivated By Racial Grievances […]

Limbaugh: Obamas Think They’re “Owed” A Lavish Lifestyle “Because Of What’s Been Done To” Them And Their “Ancestors.” From the January 9 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Rush Limbaugh Show: […]

Limbaugh: Obama “Thinks This Is An Unjust Country, That It Was Immoral In Its Founding For Reasons Including But Greater Than Slavery.” From the January 12 edition of Premiere Radio Networks’ The Rush Limbaugh Show: […]

ICYMI: SOPA “explained” by The Guardian





Video Surfaces of Marines Allegedly Urinating on Dead Afghans (Updated)

Mother Jones:

The Marine Corps is reportedly investigating the origins of a YouTube video posted early Wednesday that appears to show four Marines urinating on the heads of Afghans they’d just killed in a firefight. “Have a great day, buddy,” one of the alleged Marines can be heard saying on the footage.

The video was posted to YouTube by a user calling himself “semperfilonevoice,” a play on the Corps’ “Semper Fidelis” motto that suggests the poster might be a Marine with regrets about the warfighters’ conduct. (The video, posted by London’s Daily Telegraphand TMZ earlier today, is also reposted below. Warning: It contains graphic content.)

The poster of the video alleges that the urinators are members of Scout Sniper Team 4, an elite advance combat unit within the Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based Third Battalion, Second Marines. Their identities remain unknown at this point, but the video does contain at least one clue suggesting that’s plausible. One service member in the video can be seen holding an M40 rifle, which is typically issued to sniper teams, but not to regular line units. Elements of the 3/2 Marines have seen some fierce fighting in Afghanistan, including a deployment last year to the province of Now Zad—called “Apocalypse Now Zad” by some—in whichseven American fighters lost their lives.

Attempts by Mother Jones to contact the poster of the video were unsuccessful; calls to the 2nd Marine Division—the 3/2’s parent unit—and to the Pentagon seeking further information about the video were not immediately returned. But a Marine spokesperson told TMZ that the video would be “fully investigated.” “While we have not yet verified the origin or authenticity of this video, the actions portrayed are not consistent with our core values and are not indicative of the character of the Marines in our Corps,” she said. It’s also important to note that it remains unclear as to where and when the video footage was taken.

According to the Geneva Conventions, which the US military observes, combatants must “at all times, and particularly after an engagement…search for the dead and prevent their being despoiled.” They are also required to “ensure that the dead are honourably interred, if possible according to the rites of the religion to which they belonged, that their graves are respected, grouped if possible according to the nationality of the deceased, properly maintained and marked so that they may always be found.” (The UK’s rules for its military members are even more explicit, threatening court-martial for any soldier for “maltreatment” of a dead enemy.)

The recently posted video hasn’t yet caused a serious outcry at home or abroad, but it certainly has that potential. Perceived and real American offenses against Muslims have touched off angry riots and anti-US anger in the past—from plans to burn Korans, to the rumored use of pork-coated bullets and rifles bearing Bible verses against Muslim targets, tostepping and urinating on detainees’ Islamic holy books at Guantanamo.

Sentiments were divided among some YouTube commenters regarding the video. “You must be living under a rock, have you EVER seen the videos of the Taliban with dead body pieces,” one defender of the alleged Marines wrote. “This video is nothing, ABSOLUTELY nothingcompared to what they did to us Americans.”

But one commenter, who identified himself as a veteran, was less willing to dismiss the behavior in the video: “Thanks fellas, you just pissedaway everything me and my boys fought for.”


UPDATE 2, Thursday, 10:00 a.m. EST: In a statement to the BBC, Pentagon spokesman and Navy Capt. John Kirby said: “We are deeply troubled by the video. Whoever it is, and whatever the circumstances—which we know is under investigation—it is egregious behaviour and unacceptable for a member of the military.” The Marine Corps headquarters gave a similar message: “The actions portrayed are not consistent with our core values and are not indicative of the character of the Marines in our Corps. This matter will be fully investigated.”

UPDATE 3, Thursday, 1:30 p.m. EST: A Taliban spokesman tells theChristian Science Monitor that the video makes no difference in the group’s ongoing peace talks with the Western powers. “It’s not a new thing that has happened. It’s normal with the American forces and their allies. The foreign forces have always discriminated and abused human rights in Afghanistan,” Qari Yousef Ahmadi told the news site. He added, however, “It’s an act that makes a person feel ashamed to watch it or talk about it.”




Panetta: Urination Video ‘Deplorable’: Has ordered investigation.



Prominent right-wingers on report of U.S. Marines urinating on dead Taliban: “I could care less” 



77% answering WP readers Q say report of Marines urinating on corpses unsurprising, byproduct of war 




MITT ROMNEY: A Portrait of Two Americas


The Punk Patriot Wants Peace


Progressive discontent with the president mainly centers around the president’s use or non-use of presidential power. If the president would only ignore Congress and close Guantanamo unilaterally, the argument goes, then he could keep his promise. Besides (the argument inevitably continues), that’s what Bush would have done. So Obama is just like Bush, and the only way he can be not just like Bush is to abuse power just like Bush. See how that works?

In a related issue, Punk Patriot — a genuine netroots phenom and a swell guy — feels restless about the president because he’s a bit of a pacifist, whereas the president has made very effective use of his executive warmaking authority. The Punk Patriot speaks for a youth cohort that is very engaged on the issue, and as I actually like his larger point here, I’m going to let him talk and put my thoughts below the fold:

A few points. First, the president doesn’t want to keep Camp X-Ray, the Guantanamo detention facility, open. The sad story of why it’s still open belongs to Congress, where powerful Senators on the Armed Services Committee have been attacking executive power over indefinite detainees. This started early in Obama’s administration, it has not let up, and it is why I find public focus on the president over NDAA completely misplaced: those notorious provisions on indefinite detention are just the latest manifestation of this congressional power-grab. Remember, the Constitution makes the president commander-in-chief — he’s supposed to have the powers of, and over, indefinite detention.

I share Punk Patriot’s desire to put detainees on trial in civilian courts, close Camp X-Ray, and put the worst of the worst in supermax prisons if necessary — but we don’t have a vote in Congress. In fact, our point of view barely gets a voice there at all.

Second, most of the American public wanted progress in the war against al-Qaeda and approves of the progress Obama has made since his inauguration. It has always been normal presidential business to kill America’s enemies (see: Constitution, “common defense”). He promised a laserlike focus on al-Qaeda when he ran for president, and I don’t think anyone can seriously say he hasn’t fulfilled that promise. The Bushies, on the other hand, seemed in no special hurry to win the war on al-Qaeda. So don’t tell me they’re the same, because they’re just not.

Third, I do not agree with the common framing on drone strikes. If Obama sent Marines to shoot everyone and urinate on them instead of firing missiles from drones, would it actually make anyone feel better? I doubt it. Marines who fail at military discipline and violate the laws of war can get caught and punished. But it’s still war, and the punishment is for pissing, not killing.

Furthermore, the only “Overton Window” you can look for in the current presidential field is Ron Paul, who would issue letters of marque and reprisal to the company formerly known as Blackwater. Good luck getting any accountability for whatever horrors Erik Prince can come up with in Waziristan.

War is not fair. The art of war is the creation of unfairness. The enemy cannot be granted a sporting chance; he will likely kill you as thanks for the opportunity. He’s not playing games, and neither should you. That’s why people who wage war — by blowing up families in Kabul, or Marines on convoy in Afghanistan, or planes full of passengers — don’t deserve sanctuary or special protection across the artificial political boundary of a “lawless tribal zone.” Moreover, the drone strikes have worked: the Taliban are now talking, which is the first step to getting out of Afghanistan.

The president’s mission in Afghanistan is to get out of Afghanistan. His mission in Pakistan is to stay out of Pakistan. His mission in Libya has been to stay out of Libya. Right now, that strategy seems to be working.

Look at it this way: coal companies have been bombing Appalachia for a decade now, to staggering effect on communities and people in the region. At least as many West Virginians and Kentuckians have died of carcinogenic heavy metals released into streams as Pakistanis have died of drone strikes. There is no accountability for Don Blankenship, either, no matter how much he pissed on mine safety and the miners union. So you’ll excuse me if I just don’t place drone strikes at the top of my list of concerns.

The horror I share with Punk Patriot is that such crimes are not actually crimes at all, at least not in terms of individual accountability. It is perfectly legal for Don Blankenship to kill Americans with an unsafe workplace, and kill their communities with mountaintop removal mining. It was also perfectly legal to call toxic subprime mortgage debt a AAA good-as-cash investment. I am less concerned by putting people in the dock, however, than I am in making laws that stop these practices. And who writes the laws? Again, that would be Congress. Punk Patriot should talk to the folks at Appalachia Rising about how long they’ve pushed legislation to end mountaintop removal mining, and how much luck they’ve had (none).

Punk Patriot is concerned about the president’s progressivism, but what he’s really complaining about is the presidency. It’s a limited office, though until the election of Barack Obama the president’s wartime powers had very few limits. This is actually not the first time the United States has pursued a non-state actor into uncertain territory. If then-Lieutenant George S. Patton had access to a drone while chasing down Pancho Villa’s guerilla forces in Mexico, he would have used it. Indeed, the US Army used biplanes in 1916. That wasn’t fair, either, and it brought negative attention from pacifists to President Wilson’s policy. We have been here before.

The United States has been at war now for a decade. Congress passed an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) after 9/11, and it requires the destruction of al-Qaeda. If, on the other hand, the president were to begin his tenure by purging the Pentagon, Langley, and the NSA of everyone who knew about torture, who would be left to tell him where Osama bin Laden is?

The Punk Patriot wants peace. So do I. And on the other side of AUMF is a place where the “war on terror” ends, which is why the president has applied force to get there. Hate it if you want. In the meantime, he just declared his intentions to shrink the nuclear stockpile even further, to reduce the active duty land force so America cannot invade more than one country at a time, and continue withdrawing from Afghanistan. He has transformed the Department of Defense withsolar Marines, alternative fuels, and the reversal of DADT. These changes will have permanent positive effects on the progressive agenda.

The alternative is to wait for a more progressive president (as Punk Patriot would define one) to come along. Pardon the talking point, but we can’t wait. Progressives cannot sit out the chance to displace the Congressional war machine and install candidates who will back up plans to shrink the military. If we don’t get that done, then the 113th Congress will fight to maintain the size of the active force, keep Camp X-Ray open forever, and stymie reform — just like the 112th Congress is doing. And how progressive is that?




WaPo: President Obama raised $68 million in fourth quarter

President Obama’s campaign announced Thursday that it raised $42 million for his re-election campaign and another $24 million for the Democratic National Committee over the final three months of 2011.

“That’s a pretty good start,” said Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign manager, in a web video sent to supporters announcing the numbers. He added that the campaign has received donations from 1.3 million people last year — including 583,000 in the final three months of 2011.

“This enthusiasm is in stark contrast to what we’ve seen on the other side,” said Messina.

The campaign did not release its cash on hand total. Obama has now raised almost $141 million for his 2012 re-election account, surpassing the $132.5 million President George W. Bush collected in 2003.

The president’s fundraising has consistently outpaced his potential GOP rivals, and he continued that trend in the fourth quarter.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney announced Wednesday that he had raised $24 million in the fourth quarter, and the campaigns of Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and former House speaker Newt Gingrich have announced totals of $13 million and $9 million, respectively.

Romney had $19 million in the bank as of the end of the year.

Obama’s team has consistently emphasized money raised for both his campaign and the Democratic National Committee, for which contribution limits are significantly higher than a campaign.




Obama slams Republicans on tax

Yahoo News:

US President Barack Obama said Wednesday that Republicans would fight to their “last breath” to protect the rich, as he stepped up the pace of his 2012 reelection bid in his hometown of Chicago.

Obama also defended the change he enacted in his first three years in office, including health care reform, his decision to allow gays to serve openly in the military and his fulfillment of a vow to end the war in Iraq.

“Everything that we fought for is now at stake in this election, the very core of what this country stands for is on the line.”

“That’s what change is,” Obama said, also noting that “Osama bin Laden will never walk on this earth again,” referring to the US special forces mission he ordered last year to kill the Al-Qaeda leader in Pakistan.

“These changes weren’t easy — some of them were risky, almost all of them came in the face of powerful opposition,” Obama said.

In the first of a series of fundraising events in Chicago, Obama complained that Republicans in Congress and those fighting for the party’s presidential nomination had no plan to create jobs or to strengthen the middle class.

“They will fight with their last breath to protect tax cuts for the most fortunate Americans,” Obama said, accusing his foes of wanting to gut government investment in the economy and America’s creaking infrastructure.

“We cannot go back to this brand of ‘you are on your own economics.'”

Obama also paid his first visit to his reelection campaign’s headquarters, shortly after returning to his home town on a visit due to last just a few hours.

Spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama wanted to thank his political team for working hard in Chicago, so that he could focus on his job as president.

“He both thanked his staffers for their hard works and encouraged them, saying that he hoped to run ‘a campaign that embodies the values we’re fighting for'” Earnest said.

Obama’s wife Michelle was also on the campaign trail on Wednesday, stumping in Virginia, a crucial swing state that Obama won in 2008, that he hopes to retain on his way to the 270 electoral votes he needs to win reelection in November.

“What I’m trying to remind people about my husband is that when it comes to the people he meets, Barack has a memory like a steel trap,” Michelle Obama said.

“He might not remember your name, but if he has had just a few minutes and a decent conversation with you, he will never forget your story. It becomes imprinted on his heart.

“That is what he carries with him every single day. It is our collection of struggles and hopes and dreams and that is where your President gets his passion. That is where your President gets his toughness and his fight.”




GOP Presidential Candidates Would Have A Hard Time Finding Coverage Under Their Health Reform Plans


The National Journal’s Margot Sanger-Katz and Meghan McCarthy have an interesting pieceexamining how the GOP presidential candidates obtain health insurance coverage, given their support for repealing the Affordable Care Act and pushing individuals and families into the individual market:

– MITT ROMNEY: The Romney campaign refused to say where he gets his health care coverage. But because of the health care reform law he signed as governor of Massachusetts, he is lucky to live in one of the few states with good insurance options for a 64-year-old unemployed man with a wife who has a preexisting health condition: multiple sclerosis.

– RICK SANTORUM: The 53-year-old former senator from Pennsylvania is enrolled in insurance that “is totally private, and not related to his time in Congress,” his spokesman, John Brabender, said in a phone interview. And if Republicans succeed in their stated goal of repealing “Obamacare,” Santorum likely won’t be firing his insurer any time soon, since his daughter suffers from a pre-existing condition.

– NEWT GINGRICH: Gingrich, 68, is enrolled in Medicare and buys his own supplemental insurance from Blue Cross Blue Shield, according to his campaign.

– RON PAUL: Paul, 76, as a member of Congress, gets his insurance coverage from the federal-employee benefit program, his campaign says.

– RICK PERRY: Perry, 61, gets his insurance from the state of Texas, a benefit he can continue to receive for the rest of his life. (According to the Texas Tribune, Perry is already collecting a state pension, even while he earns his salary as governor.)

These men are insured in large-group policies that don’t discriminate against pre-existing conditions and spread the risks and costs of insurance among a pool of healthy and sick applicants who can use the advantages of their size to negotiate better rates with medical providers. (It’s unclear if Santorum actually has an individual policy or a group plan through his campaign or think tank affiliation.)

Their campaign proposals, however, would encourage individual Americans to face down health insurance companies on their own and seek out affordable rates in an unregulated national market where companies can sell policies that don’t comply with state consumer protections and offer little reliability. Insurers have an incentive to enroll the healthiest beneficiaries and avoid or price out older applicants, so that the GOP candidates and many millions of Americans who suffer from pre-existing conditions, would have a hard time finding affordable insurance if they don’t have an alternative offer of employer coverage. In that case, they could (under the Republican proposals) end up uninsured or in a state-based high-risk insurance pool, where the enrollees’ older and sicker risk profile leads to higher premiums and out-of-pocket spending. Those are costs that this particular set of wealthy candidates could surely afford, but many other Americans will struggle with.




17 Of The Top 20 Biggest Political Donors This Election Cycle Are Conservative








King of Bain: Over the Top But Possibly Lethal

National Journal:

[…] Over the top? Sure. A gross violation of Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment to Republicans to speak no ill of fellow Republicans? Hands down it is. Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul condemned the film as full of “blatant falsehoods and fabrications.”

But the most important point about Gingrich’s movie is that it works. And if it is unleashed full force on South Carolina voters as promised, it has the potential to do serious damage to Romney’s lead in the state’s Jan. 21 primary. That’s how powerful it is.

Regardless of whether the film distorts Romney’s record as the chief of Bain Capital in the 1980s and 1990s, its underlying premise hits home: that a frenzy of Gordon Gekko-style corporate mergers and acquisitions at the time fueled huge profits and wealth for a relatively small number of managers and stockholders while hundreds of manufacturing jobs were wiped out. The most effective thing the King of Bain does is put a face on the victims of that sad chapter of the U.S. economy.

There is the guy in a Vietnam Vets cap who, despite his obvious blue-collar background, precisely describes how the local economy of Marion, Ind., suffered when Bain took over a paper company and threw 200 out of work, even husbands and wives who both worked at the facility.

A former laundry machine plant worker from Marianna, Fla., sits on a worn couch with his wife and says, “One of the first things that they did when we became part of the corporation was to start cheapening the product. So you’d have to hurry faster through your work, and the quality was going down. It got to the point where we would run out of parts trying to push so many out, that sometimes we’d send a machine out without a part on it.”

The narrator intones that Romney’s Bain colleagues considered American businesses and their workers “sloppy and lazy.”

A young mother who worked at the Marion plant talks about her layoff: “I was pregnant at the time, and at the meeting they told everybody we were all fired and had to reapply for our jobs.” As she describes getting rejected, the image on the screen is of an empty crib in a nursery. (See earlier reference to over the top.)

Meanwhile, we see Romney getting in and out of luxury cars and airplanes, and there are multiple shots of his two multi-million-dollar summer homes. In one bit, a middle-aged Indiana woman describes losing her house after losing her job. The next image is of Romney’s house on the California coast, as the woman says, “That hurt so bad, to have to leave my home because of one man who has 15 homes.”

Romney as chief of Bain is described as “a privileged son of a wealthy businessman and politician. … He had a Harvard pedigree and he was on a tear, making spectacular returns, stripping American businesses of assets, selling everything to the highest bidder and often killing jobs for big financial rewards.”

Pretty harsh, too, is the film’s use of some of Romney’s more infamous moments on the campaign trail, interspersed with all of the sad sack stories. In one scene, we see Romney defending corporations as earning money that “ultimately goes to the people” — as people in the crowd jeer with disbelief.

The film’s pious exaggerations are laughable in parts (see the aforementioned crib and suitcase of cash). But the 28-minute story is briskly paced, the production quality seems top notch and the work overall adheres to the conventions of compelling documentary-making. Its real-people stories ring devastatingly true, and it’s hard to imagine that people sitting on tired couches in South Carolina’s hard-hit textile towns won’t relate to them.

What we learn from the King of Bain is, a movie camera in the hands of the friends of the famously imprudent Newt Gingrich has the potential to touch off real political chaos, even in Lee Atwater’s home state.




EJ Dionne: Mitt Romney and our overdue debate about capitalism

Thanks to Mitt Romney and such well-known socialist intellectuals as Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich, the United States is about to have the big debate on the nature of modern capitalism that should have started back in 2008. The focus will be on whether some kinds of capitalism are bad for the system as a whole.

As a political matter, the discussion will be a classic test of an old Karl Rove theory that the best way to undercut an opponent is to attack him in his area of perceived strength. Romney’s central claim is that his business experience prepares him to be the nation’s great job creator. That message runs into some difficulty if he is seen instead as a job ­destroyer.

What if a certain class of capitalist makes scads of money not by building up companies but by tearing them down? What if there is a distinction between the capitalist we typically honor who comes up with a good product and hires people to make and market it; and another kind who takes over a company, pulls out all the cash he can, and then abandons it to die?

This is not the narrative of some Marxist intellectual writing in an obscure journal. It’s how Perry, who last I checked was a rather ardent conservative, described Romney’s line of work.

“They’re just vultures,” Perry declared. “They’re vultures that are sitting out there on the tree limb waiting for the company to get sick, and then they swoop in, they eat the carcass, they leave with that and they leave the skeleton.”

My word! Who knew how much of that old Texas populism had rubbed off on Perry? Somewhere, the late Molly Ivins, the Lone Star State’s legendary populist scribe, is smiling in a People’s Heaven.

The debate over capitalism is likely to be with us all year because after Romney’s New Hampshire triumph, it’s truly difficult to construct a scenario that will deny him the Republican nomination.

Give his strategists some credit: They saw an opportunity in Iowa and took it, all the while preparing an impregnable citadel in New Hampshire, beginning with their decision to have Romney announce his candidacy there in June. Let no one begrudge him his margin of victory on Tuesday: It was huge and decisive.

Romney’s aides also repositioned him — repositioning being one of his strong suits — just far enough to the right to find the center of an increasingly conservative Republican Party. Yet they also understood that an old, conservative, upper-middle-class can still anchor winning coalitions in GOP primaries as long as several more out-there conservatives split up the rest of the vote.

Thus did exit polling find that Romney did best among voters earning more than $200,000 a year, next best with the $100,000-to-$200,000 category. He was weakest among those taking home less than $50,000 annually. Romney may bewail the Obama economy, but he did far better among those who said they were getting ahead financially than with voters who see themselves falling behind. A privileged candidate sits atop a relatively privileged base.

This is why Romney’s defense of his work as a venture capitalist is one of the truly authentic parts of an otherwise heavily scripted campaign. He speaks with genuine passion when he accuses his conservative opponents of putting “free enterprise on trial.”

But that goes to the heart of the matter: “Free” for whom and under what circumstances? Capitalists of Romney’s sort never want to acknowledge how much their ability to make money depends on what government does. How does it structure the laws related to property, taxation and debt? What rules does it write on how companies can be acquired and how power within firms is apportioned among shareholders, employees, managers and other stakeholders? These are not natural laws. They are the work of politicians and the lobbyists who influence them.

Which leads to this observation from Gingrich: “I think there’s a real difference,” he said, “between people who believed in the free market and people who go around, take financial advantage, loot companies, leave behind broken families, broken towns, people on unemployment.” Yes, there are different kinds of capitalism.

Romney’s victory speech suggested that he hopes that the campaign will be about whether President Obama wants to turn the United States into Europe. A more relevant discussion would be over what American capitalism is — and should be. Thanks to Gingrich and Perry, this debate is now unavoidable.




Romney and the Bailout

Paul Krugman:

Like a lot of people, I was fairly startled by Mitt Romney’s new defense of his work at Bain: it was just like the auto bailout!

“In the general election, I’ll be pointing out that the president took the reins of General Motors and Chrysler, closed factories, closed dealerships, laid off thousands and thousands of workers. He did it to try to save the business,” Romney said on “CBS This Morning.” “We … had, on occasion, to do things that are tough to try to save a business.”

The first thought is, didn’t Romney write an op-ed titled Let Detroit Go Bankrupt? Yes, he did. But the title was misleading. What he actually called for was a “managed bankruptcy”, with government support — not too different from what actually happened.

So can Romney claim that he was for this successful policy all along? No, he can’t — because when the actual policy was proposed, he trashed it:

What is proposed is even worse than bankruptcy–it would make GM the living dead.

So what the story of Romney and the auto bailout actually shows is something we already knew from health care: he’s a smart guy who is also a moral coward. His original proposal for the auto industry, like his health reform, bore considerable resemblance to what Obama actually did. But when the deed took place, Romney — rather than having the courage to say that the president was actually doing something reasonable — joined the rest of his party in whining and denouncing the plan.

And now he wants to claim credit for the very policy he trashed when it hung in the balance.




I am the 1 percent’ — Mitt Romney embraces being the Wall Street candidate

The Reid Report:

Mitt Romney says “if you want to put free enterprise on trial, I’m ready.” He is embracing his biggest liability: that he IS the Wall Street candidate.

It’s true in every way. I was on CNBC yesterday evening and it drove home just how much Romney is the CNBC candidate. He is the 1 percent guy. The guy the private equity managers are rooting for, and raising big money for. He is going to “defend the free enterprise system,” not tear down those poor Wall Street bankers who are sick of getting the blame for this country’s financial disaster. They are tired of being tarred as bad guys. Romney, rather than running from them, is embracing them. And they love being embraced.

The die is now cast for Mitt. He is going to run on the Big Biz line. He’s now stuck with the argument that what he did at Bain Capital — the “creative destruction” of laying people off and shutting down businesses to ship the jobs overseas, strip off the assets and shed the “dead weight” of the “unproductive” workers (read: somebody’s mom, dad, or husband or wife…) was not just the right thing to do, it was the American thing to do. Romney is running for president as Calvin Coolidge (with a dose of Ayn Rand.) It’s not where Romney started out, and it’s probably not what he originally planned. But it’s where he has decided to be, and I don’t see how he backs away from it in the general election.

Oh, he’ll try to argue that “Obama did it too,” with the really silly example of General Motors, which the president’s policies saved, over the objections of “let it fail” advocates like … well, Mitt Romney. But the most successful narratives in politics are the simplest ones, and in this case, the simple narrative is that Mitt Romney is running as a proud 1 percenter, saving capitalism from the socialist dweebs who don’t have the stomach to fire people in order to reap a profit. He’s Rick Scott on steroids. He’s “let us make a profit … so what?”

Let’s see how that works out.




Bane/Bain: New Batman Movie Parallels Romney’s Campaign

National Memo:

The blockbuster sequel to one of 2008’s most successful movies is about to collide with the blockbuster sequel to one of 2008’s least successful presidential campaigns.

Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” the final movie in his Batman trilogy, will hit theaters on July 19th — right in the middle of the presidential campaign — and if Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination as expected, he will likely be dogged by some uncomfortable comparisons between his business record and Nolan’s movie.

For starters, the villain of “The Dark Knight Rises” is named “Bane,” while the private equity firm that Romney founded is named “Bain.” They are pronounced the same way. Given the fact that some opening night screenings of Nolan’s movie are already sold out, one can expect a lot of pop culture buzz about an evil Bane — precisely what Romney doesn’t need after months of being slammed for “vulture capitalism” during his time at Bain Capital.

Tom Hardy, the actor who portrays Bane, describes his character as “Brutal. He’s a big dude who’s incredibly clinical, in the fact that he has a result-based and oriented fighting style.” Replace “dude” with “firm” and “fighting style” with “business strategy,” and Hardy could’ve easily been describing Bain.

The similarities don’t end there; the trailer for “The Dark Knight Rises,” which was partially filmed justblocks away from Zuccotti Park, is full of Occupy Wall Street themes.

The preview depicts police and military battling on the steps of a City Hall-like building, and angry rioters smashing valuables in a mansion. At one point the character Selina Kyle (played by Anne Hathaway) whispers to Batman’s billionaire alter-ego Bruce Wayne (played by Christian Bale), “Do you think this can last? There’s a storm coming Mr. Wayne. And you and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.”

If the movie featured a scene where someone directs Bruce Wayne to cut the “pious baloney,” as Newt Gingrich dubbed Mitt Romney’s protestations that he wasn’t a politician, it could practically be renamed”When Bruce Wayne Came To Town.”

Given that Bane was announced as the new Batman villain four months before Romney officially announced his presidential candidacy, it’s highly unlikely that Nolan was intentionally attempting to take a shot at Romney. Still, the parallel between Romney’s campaign and “The Dark Knight Rises” will be a fun subplot to watch during the summer dog days of the presidential race.


[Already started-heh!]




Of Broken Clocks, Presidential Candidates, and the Confusion of Certain White Liberals

Tim Wise:

Attention to all self-proclaimed liberals and progressives.

I would like to properly introduce you to a man about whom you’ve heard much — especially from his enemies and those who prefer a continuation of the status quo — but at whom you might wish to take a second look, and whom you might consider supporting for president.

Unlike Barack Obama, he supports an immediate end to our current and ongoing wars abroad.

Unlike Barack Obama, he supports an end to predator drone attacks by the United States military, which kill innocent civilians and foment growing hatred of America. He believes that the so-called “war on terror” as we’ve engaged it has undermined American freedoms at home and contributed to greater tensions and anti-American sentiment abroad.

Unlike Barack Obama, he supports an entirely revamped Middle East policy, in which the U.S. will no longer subsidize the oppression of the Palestinian people by the state of Israel.

Unlike Barack Obama, he supports either abolishing or fundamentally reforming the Federal Reserve system, and he opposed bailing out the banks with public funds.

Unlike Barack Obama, this individual opposes government spying and believes in absolute freedom of speech and the press, and as he puts it, “reduced government intrusion into our lives.”

Clearly, with such a progressive vision, no one of the left would want to pass up the opportunity to support a candidate such as this for president! Surely it would be a vast improvement over Barack Obama, that Wall Street- friendly, imperialistic, war-monger, who promised to close Guantanamo but didn’t, among other unforgivable crimes.

So by all means, let’s get behind someone who will close down the national security state, stand up for civil liberties, and stop handing out money to bankers.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the left, I give you your perfect candidate for 2012:

David Duke.

Oh I’m sorry, did you think I was talking about someone else?

Yes, that David Duke: former head of the nation’s largest Ku Klux Klan group and lifelong neo-Nazi, who once said Jews should go into the ashbin of history, and that it would be possible to do what Hitler did, even in America, if white supremacists could just “put the right package together.”

But ya know that whole racist thing doesn’t matter, right? Because he’s against wiretapping.

I mean, yeah, he has analogized Jews to cancer, has called for the partition of the United States into distinct racial sub-nations, and believes in a eugenics program to create an Aryan master race. But who cares? Because he’s against the Patriot Act.

And hey, I mean, let’s be real, none of that really awful stuff he believes in — ya know, like the racial sub-nations, or the eugenics, or the sterilization of welfare recipients, or the whole Hitler-in-America thing, could really happen. I mean, Congress would never agree to all that stuff. So the fact that Duke believes so many truly horrible, inexcusable, thoroughly fucked up, one might even say evil things, shouldn’t deter us from praising him, or even supporting him for president. We have to stop Obama: that spineless coward who didn’t stand up for single-payer. And no, Duke wouldn’t support single payer either. But so what? At least he’d tell the TSA to back off with their whole nudie-picture-body-scans-at-the-airport thing. And that’s what really matters.

And he’d end that Iraq war. Yes, I know, it’s already ending, but he’d end it faster. Like tomorrow. Because ya know, that’s possible: A president can just snap his fingers and poof! The troops all suddenly appear at Andrews Air Force base! It’s fucking magic!

And he’d shut down the Fed! Woo-hoo! That would be awesome: so then interest rates and the money supply could be controlled entirely by private banks, without even a theoretical modicum of public accountability! What progressive wouldn’t love that? And sure, the Fed was created by an act of Congress, but that doesn’t matter: a president with the determination of David Duke can just snap his fingers and poof! All the central bankers will be begging on the streets for change! Like I said, it’s fucking magic!

So yes, he may want to abolish all welfare programs for the poor; and he may want to crack down on immigrants who are trying to make their lives better, by repealing birthright citizenship as guaranteed in the Fourteenth Amendment and militarizing the border; and he might want to repeal Roe v. Wade, by way of a constitutional amendment that would grant full personhood status to zygotes, thereby limiting the reproductive freedom of women; and he may want to slash taxes on the rich, and give tax breaks to parents who want to homeschool their kids and perhaps teach them that dinosaurs and humans co-existed, but who cares? He’s a straight-shooter who stands on principle and will shake up the system and break the political stranglehold exercised currently by the approved establishment candidates. Takethat! Zip-Zow!

Alright, enough. Can we just cut the crap?

Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and even the most retrograde political candidates are capable of stringing together a few ideas that make sense. Even David “The Holocaust was made up by some Jewish script writer in Hollywood,” Duke.

And yes, I realize that Ron Paul — this election season’s physical embodiment of the broken clock — is not, literally, as bad as David Duke. Yes, he supports all those incredibly ass-backwards policies rattled off above (about welfare, immigration, abortion, taxes and education), but he is not, like Duke, a Nazi. He is supported by Nazis, like Stormfront — the nation’s largest white nationalist outfit, which is led by Don Black, who’s one of Duke’s best friends, and is married to Duke’s ex-wife, and is Duke’s daughters’ step-dad — but I’m sure that’s just a coincidence. Surely it’s not because Paul wants to repeal the Civil Rights Act and the Fair Housing Act, and allow companies to discriminate in the name of “free association.” And it couldn’t have anything to do with those newsletters that went out under his name, with all kinds of blatantly bigoted commentary about black people being IQ-deficient predators, at a time when he was promoting those very newsletters (and so, presumably, reading them), and not objecting in the least.

Yet to the so-called progressives who sing the praises of Ron Paul, all because of his views on domestic spying, bailouts for banksters, and military intervention abroad, the fact that 90 percent of his political platform is right-wing boilerplate about slashing taxes on the rich, slashing programs for the poor and working class, breaking unions, drilling for oil anywhere and everywhere, and privatizing everything from retirement programs to health care doesn’t matter: the fact that he’ll ostensibly legalize drugs is enough. And this is so, even though he has merely said he would leave drug laws up to the states (which means 49 separate drug wars, everywhere except maybe Vermont, so ya know, congrats hippies!), and he would oppose spending public money on drug rehab or education, both of which you’d need more of if drugs were legalized, but why let little details like that bother you?

Yessir, legal weed and an end to the TSA: enough to make some supposed leftists ignore everything else Ron Paul has ever said, and ignore the fundamental incompatibility of Ayn Randian thinking with anything remotely resembling a progressive or even humane worldview. And this is so, even though he wouldn’t actually have the authority to end the TSA as president, a slight glitch that is conveniently ignored by those who are desperate to once again be able to take large bottles of shaving gel onto airplanes in the name of “liberty.”

I want those of you who are seriously singing Paul’s praises, while calling yourself progressive or left to ask what it signifies — not about Ron Paul, but about you — that you can look the rest of us in the eye, your political colleagues and allies, and say, in effect, “Well, he might be a little racist, but…

How do you think that sounds to black people, without whom no remotely progressive candidate stands a chance of winning shit in this country at a national level? How does it sound to them — a group that has been more loyal to progressive and left politics than any group in this country — when you praise a man who opposes probably the single most important piece of legislation ever passed in this country, and whose position on the right of businesses to discriminate, places him on the side of the segregated lunchcounter owners? And how do you think they take it that you praise this man, or possibly even support him for president, all so as to teach the black guy currently in the office a lesson for failing to live up to your expectations?

How do you think it sounds to them, right now, this week, as we prepare to mark the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, that you claim to be progressive, and yet you are praising or even encouraging support for a man who voted against that holiday, who opposes almost every aspect of King’s public policy agenda, and the crowning achievements of the movement he helped lead?

My guess is that you don’t think about this at all. Because you don’t have to. One guess as to why not.

It’s the same reason you don’t have to think about how it sounds to most women — and damned near all progressive women — when you praise Paul openly despite his views on reproductive freedom, and even sexual harassment, which Paul has said should not even be an issue for the courts. He thinks women who are harassed on the job should just quit. In other words, “Yeah, he might be a little bit sexist, but…”

It’s the same reason you don’t have to really sweat the fact that he would love to cut important social programs for poor people. And you don’t have to worry about how it sounds to them that you would claim to be progressive, while encouraging support for a guy who would pull what minimal safety net still exists from under them, and leave it to private charities to fill the gap. And we all know why you don’t have to worry about it. Because you aren’t them. You aren’t the ones who would be affected. You’ll never be them. I doubt you even know anyone like that. People who are that poor don’t follow you on Twitter.

There is a reason why Ron Paul rallies, and the street-corner Paul-supporting pseudo-flash mobs are overwhelmingly, disproportionately comprised of white, middle class men. And it matters. Surely it is not because white, middle class men are more likely than others to oppose war, torture, drone killings of Muslim children, or bailouts of rich bankers. It is not because white, middle class men are more progressive when it comes to civil liberties than women, poor people or folks of color. Indeed, the opposite is true.

I’ve talked with them on numerous occasions, these Paul devotees, with their “Who is John Galt?” signs, with their 20-minute spiels about why it’s so important to invest in gold, and whispered assurances that “they” will never tell you the truth about the Illuminati, or the Rothschilds, or the Bilderbergers, or Tower 7, or vitamin supplements. They never talk about the institutional racism at the heart of the drug war. They never talk about how we need to rethink the war on terror (except insofar as it inconveniences them to be body scanned at the airport, when everyone knows, we should just be checking brown-skinned men in turbans). These guys are largely attracted to Paul because he’ll get government off their backs, by lowering their taxes, cutting spending that helps poor people whom they regard as lazy, ending the “suffocating” regulations that they believe stifle innovation, and vouchsafing their God-given right to own any and all manner of assault rifle they desire, the latter of which they simply “know” President Obama is going to forcibly confiscate, along with their handguns, rifles, and maybe even Super-Soakers any day now.

In short, regardless of what Paul may believe on certain issues, and which may fall squarely in the orbit of that which is progressive or left, his hard-core acolytes (and the ones who would be empowered most by his success) are anything but that. They want the government to stop taking their tax dollars and “giving them” to Mexicans and blacks, or anyone of any race or ethnicity who in their mind isn’t smart enough or hard working enough to have their own private health care. They don’t want the government to help homeowners who got roped into predatory loans by banks and independent mortgage brokers: instead they blame the homeowners for not being savvy enough borrowers, or they blame government regulation for ostensibly “forcing” lenders to finance housing for minorities and poor people who didn’t deserve it.

And no, you can’t separate the man from his movement, so don’t even try.

When you support or give credence to a candidate, you indirectly empower that candidate’s worldview and others who hold fast to it. So when you support or even substantively praise Ron Paul, you are empowering libertarianism, and its offshoots like Ayn Rand’s “greed is good” objectivism, and all those who believe in it. You are empowering the fans of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, in which books they learn that altruism is immoral, and that only the self matters. You are empowering the reactionary, white supremacist, Social Darwinists of this culture, who believe — as does Ron Paul — that that Greensboro Woolworth’s was right, and that the police who dragged sit-in protesters off soda fountain stools for trespassing on a white man’s property were justified in doing so, and that the freedom of department store owners to refuse to let black people try on clothes in their dressing rooms was more sacrosanct than the right of black people to be treated like human beings.

See, believe it or not, judgment matters. If a man believes there is a straight line of unbroken tyranny betwixt the torture and indefinite detention of suspected terrorists on the one hand, and anti-discrimination laws that seek to extend to all persons equal opportunity, on the other, that man is a lunatic. Worse than a lunatic, that man is a person of such extraordinarily obtuse philosophical and moral discernment as to call into real question whether he should even be allowed to go through life absent the protective and custodial assistance of a straightjacket, let alone hold office. That one might believe in unicorns would still allow one to profess a level of sagacity and synaptic activity in one’s brain several measures beyond that of the man who thinks liberty is equally imperiled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as by the CIA.

That any liberal, progressive or leftist could waste so much as a kind word about someone as this is mind-boggling. There are not many litmus tests for being a progressive in good standing in this country, but one would think, if there were, that surely to God, civil rights would be one of them. It is one thing to disagree about the proper level of taxation, either on the wealthy or corporations: honest people can disagree about that, and for reasons that would still permit one to claim the mantle of liberalism or progressivism; so too with defense spending, drug policy, trade, education reform, energy policy, and any number of other things. But the notion that one can be a progressive, even merely liberal, while praising someone who believes that companies should be allowed to post “No Blacks Need Apply” signs if they wish, and that only the market should determine whether that kind of bigotry will stand, is so stupefying that it should render even the most cynical of us utterly bereft of words. It is, or should be, a deal-breaker among decent people.

And please, Glenn Greenwald, spare me the tired shtick about how Paul “raises important issues” that no one on the left is raising, and so even though you’re not endorsing him, it is still helpful to a progressive narrative that his voice be heard. Bullshit. The stronger Paul gets the stronger Paul gets, period. And the stronger Paul gets, the stronger libertarianism gets, and thus, the Libertarian Party as a potential third party: not the Greens, mind you, but the Libertarians. And the stronger Paul gets, the stronger become those voices who worship the free market as though it were an invisible fairy godparent, capable of dispensing all good things to all comers — people like Paul Ryan, for instance, or Scott Walker. In a nation where the dominant narrative has long been anti-tax, anti-regulation, poor-people-bashing and God-bless-capitalism, it would be precisely those aspects of Paul’s ideological grab bag that would become more prominent. And if you don’t know that, you are a fool of such Herculean proportions as to suggest that Salon might wish to consider administering some kind of political-movement-related-cognitive skills test for its columnists, and the setting of a minimum cutoff score, below which you would, for this one stroke of asininity alone, most assuredly fall.

I mean, seriously, if “raising important issues” is all it takes to get some kind words from liberal authors, bloggers and activists, and maybe even votes from some progressives, just so as to “shake things up,” then why not support David Duke? With the exception of his views on the drug war, David shares every single view of Paul’s that can be considered progressive or left in orientation. Every single one. So where do you draw the line? Must one have actually donned a Klan hood and lit a cross before his handful of liberal stands prove to be insufficient? Must one actually, as Duke has been known to do, light candles on a birthday cake for Hitler on April 20, before it no longer proves adequate to want to limit the overzealous reach of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms? Exactly when does one become too much of an evil fuck even for you? Inquiring minds seriously want to know.

Meanwhile, at what point do you stop being so concerned about whether a presidential candidate is pushing the issues Paul raises (so many of which do need raising and attention), and realize what every actual leftist in history has realized, but which apparently some liberals and progressives don’t: namely, that the real battles are in the streets, and in the neighborhoods, and in movement activism? It isn’t a president, whether his name is Ron Paul or Barack Obama who gets good things done. It is us, demanding change and threatening to literally shut the system down (whether we mean Wall Street, the Port of Oakland, the Wisconsin state capitol, Columbia University, a Woolworth’s lunch counter, or the Montgomery, Alabama bus system) who force presidents and lawmakers to bend to the public will.

In short, if you’re still disappointed in Barack Obama, it’s only because you never understood whose job it was to produce change in the first place. But don’t take out your own failings in this regard on the rest of us, by giving ideological cover and assorted journalistic love taps to a guy who believes the poor should rely on the charitable impulses of doctors to provide for their medical needs, including, one presumes, chemotherapy; or that America was meant to be a “robustly Christian” nation, but is being currently undermined by “secularists;” or who puts the term gay rights in quotation marks when he writes it, and believes states should be free to criminalize homosexual intercourse, and who is such a homophobe that he won’t even use the bathroom in a gay man’s house; or who has all but said that he would like to take America back to the early 1800s, in terms of the scope of government: a truly glorious time to be sure, if you were white, male and owned property.

Ya know, like some of the liberal “thinkers” who have, as of late, decided to praise Ron Paul.





 “Ron Paul hates govt intervention, likes mandatory vaginal ultrasound probes.”

When GOP presidential hopeful Ron Paul was asked today about Tuesday’s federal court ruling upholding an aggressive new sonogram law in his home state of Texas, the congressman said the requirement that women seeking an abortion first get a sonogram “should always have been a Texas state position.’’

“Like Roe v Wade should never have been heard in the Supreme Court,” he said after a midday speech and rally at the Columbia Metropolitan Airport at the Eagle Aviation Building .

Paul, who opposes abortion rights, has consistently railed against intrusive Big Brother government when it comes to other issues, especially health care reform. But it’s hard to imagine anything more literally invasive than a required sonogram.

In fact, Dr. Paul’s colleagues in the Texas Medical Association came out against the law last year, saying it “not only sets a dangerous precedent of legislation prescribing the details of the practice of medicine, but it also clearly mandates that physicians practice in a manner inconsistent with medical ethics.”

At issue are provisions in the law, upheld by this week’s ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, requiring patients seeking an abortion to first undergo a sonogram .

This is not a small thing. The majority of sonograms for women in their first trimester of pregnancy will be done by vaginal probe, The Dallas Morning News reports, because ultrasounds done externally don’t provide a useful image early in a pregnancy.

Women can, under the new law, sign a waiver choosing not to be presented with the image or heartbeat sound, but they can’t avoid the sonogram itself. And even if patients sign the waiver, the new law will require doctors to read a detailed description of the physical characteristics of the fetus revealed through the sonogram.

Then patients have to wait at least 24 hours before having the procedure.

Doctors who don’t comply with the law can lose their medical licenses.

Critics say the law impinges on doctors’ free speech rights by requiring them to say certain things to patients, even if the doctors believe it’s not in their patients’ interests.

But Paul’s supporters in South Carolina Wednesday seemed divided on the new law.

Kayla Crisp, a 23-year-old from Asheville, N.C., is a fervent Paul volunteer who drove 16 hours to work for him in Iowa. She’s a part-time nanny and student at UNC-Asheville in early childhood education who home schools her own 3-year-old daughter, Ember:

“I am personally pro-life,’’ she said, but added that she does not think abortion is “a federal issue. It should be state-regulated.”

When I asked her personal view on the sonogram law, she said: “It’s kind of invasive. It’s belittling to sit in a doctor’s office” waiting to hear “what’s going on in my body.”




NPR: Photo Of Romney’s ‘Shoe Shine’ Actually Shows Security Check





The FIVE Most Shocking Things About Mitt Romney’s Tax Plan






Perry & Newt back off the Bain bashing. But, that’s not necessarily a good thing for Mitt. 

ABC News:

[…] There’s plenty of evidence, for example, that his epic battle with Hillary Clinton made Barack Obama a better candidate and campaigner. He faced the strongest Democratic political operation in the country – and beat it. Ronald Reagan became a better candidate thanks to a serious challenge from George H.W. Bush. George W. Bush’s battle with John McCain helped him shake the perception that he wasn’t ready for the big leagues.

If Romney were forced to defend his corporate record now, he’d have the chance to practice and ultimate hone his response to what everyone knows is going to be the main attack against him this fall. And, as we saw with last week’s “pink slip” and “I like to be able to fire people” lines, Romney could use some practice on the whole responding to the attacks thing.

Furthermore, the more that Romney’s corporate past becomes part of the debate/story now, the less potent attacks on it may be later on.

As one Democratic strategist noted, any tough ad put out against him post-primary will be new news to voters and he won’t have had time to effectively road-test his response.




Mitt Romney wants to save your soul

Roger Simon, Politico:

Alone in his hotel room on a dark and stormy night, the presidential candidate was memorizing his talking points when the Devil appeared before him.

“Worry not,” the Devil said. “I can grant you a victory in the primaries and the nomination of your party. But in return, you must sell me your soul.

“You must betray all decent principles. You must pander, trivialize and deceive. You must gain victory by exploiting bigotry, fear, envy and greed. And you must conduct a campaign based on lies, sham, hype and distortion.”

“So?” the presidential candidate replied. “What’s the catch?”





Chamber of Commerce vows to become ‘significantly involved’ against Elizabeth Warren 




How to Unite the Conservative Base with One Easy Attack. A conservative Murderers’ Row lines up behind Mitt on Bain

ABC News:

But if you need evidence that the attacks on Romney’s record at Bain have backfired, and may be doing more to unite conservatives behind Romney more than anything Romney himself could have done, consider this partial list of those who are defending him — and chastising Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry for their “vulture capitalist” attacks:

Rush Limbaugh

Sean Hannity

Laura Ingraham

Jim DeMint

Karl Rove

Mike Huckabee

Rudy Giuliani

The US Chamber of Commerce

The Club for Growth

The Wall Street Journal editorial page

That’s quite the conservative Murderers’ Row, to borrow a baseball term, that’s lining up in an aggressive defense of capitalism, coming in the context of the attacks on Romney’s business record.

None of those named above have endorsed Romney. Some – particularly his onetime rivals from 2008 – really don’t much like him.

But taken together, the conservative heavyweights are sending important signals to Republican primary voters that the main line of attack being launched against Romney is, in their influential opinions, out of bounds.




The 5 Senators and 39 Members of Congress who received a perfect, 100% score from the Koch Brothers 


Senator Koch Contributions
Coburn (R-OK) $56300
Crapo (R-ID) $42000
Hatch (R-UT) $26500
Rubio (R-FL) $34700
Johnson (R-WI) $27900





McCain Hit Romney On Bain In 2008


John McCain heatedly defended Mitt Romney’s private sector record today:

“These attacks on, quote, Bain Capital is really kind of anathema to everything that we believe in,” said McCain. “We believe in job creation, and the record of Bain Capital is to take companies that would otherwise fail and restore them to some kind of viability, and sometimes that doesn’t work, but, you know, when it always works is a thing called communism, where you keep everybody in business.”

But that’s exactly not what McCain was saying in 2008, when the rapaciousness of Bain was part of the endgame he and his aides pressed against Romney.
From the Times:

Mr. McCain also went after Mr. Romney for his work as head of Bain Capital, a leveraged-buyout firm. ‘As head of his investment company he presided over the acquisition of companies that laid off thousands of workers.’”

From CNN:

McCain sideswiped Romney’s credentials as a successful business leader while answering a question about who would best run the nation. ‘I think he managed companies and he bought and he sold and sometimes people lost their jobs,’ McCain said. ‘That’s the nature of that business.’

And the Globe:

“Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, leveled similar criticism against Romney, the former head of Bain Capital in Boston. ‘He learned politics and economics from being a venture capitalist, where you go and buy companies, you strip away the jobs, and you resell them,’ Davis said in an interview with National Journal. ‘And if that’s what his experience has been to be able to lead our economy, I’d really raise questions.’”





Republicans Argue That Corporations Should Be Allowed To Sponser Candidates 


[…] The Citizens United decision the conservative Supreme Court handed down gives corporations the right of free speech to spend unlimited funds to run political ads or use other media modalities to influence elections in their favor. Corporations are still forbidden from contributing directly to a candidate or a committee (such as the Republican National Committee {RNC}), and it is the last line of defense to prevent corporate ownership of a candidate. In a brief filed on Monday in the 4TH Circuit, the RNC argued it is unconstitutional to deny direct corporate sponsorship of a candidate or committee because they claim the ban applies “across the board to all corporations,” regardless of size.

The RNC argues that most corporations are not giant entities that seek to influence elections and that most corporations are little more than mom and pop operations typical of small shops in any American neighborhood.  However, the brief points out that the prohibition on corporate giants such as Halliburton unfairly targets little family shops and therefore is unconstitutional. If the court agrees with the RNC’s argument, there will be no distinction between Uncle Paul and Aunt Irene’s craft store and Koch Industries or General Electric. The Republicans are not challenging the prohibition on direct corporate financing for family-owned markets, but for giant corporations with unlimited amounts of cash.

A favorable ruling for the RNC means that a wealthy individual or Wall Street bank CEO can register themselves as a corporation and avoid the limits on campaign donations ordinary citizens face. Many Americans may be under the illusion that creating a corporation is a legal nightmare, but it is as easy as filling in a couple of forms with an online business filing service and appointing a board of directors. There are thousands of corporations consisting of an individual and a couple of family members who agree to be listed as the corporation’s directors. A corporation is a distinct legal entity that is separate from the individual (or shareholders) who own it and they are generally formed to avoid paying taxes and to mitigate liability in case of accident or owner malfeasance.

The danger inherent in allowing corporations to sponsor, and thus own, a political candidate cannot be overstated. The RNC’s implication that the local convenience store owner is being unfairly lumped in with the likes of Koch Industries is cunning, but it does not alter the result of their argument if the court agrees with them. For one thing, a small family-owned corporation does not have the means to donate more than the federal limit for an individual during an election. If a small business incorporates, it is for liability protection in case of an accident to prevent a lawsuit from wiping out an individual’s home, belongings, and future earnings and not to pay shareholders and investor dividends. Koch Industries, Halliburton, and the like are the intended beneficiaries of the RNC legal challenge to bans on direct corporate donations and will allow men like Charles and David Koch to empty their substantial bank accounts to buy a presidential, congressional, or gubernatorial candidate with unlimited funds. The RNC is not concerned with mom and pop operations.

The RNC brief specifically refers to the Citizens United decision in their argument and noted the High Court mentioned that “more than 75% of corporations whose income is taxed under federal law have less than $1 million in receipts per year,” while “96% of the 3 million businesses that belong to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have fewer than 100 employees.”  The RNC’s citation of the Supreme Court’s figures is misleading because there are very few neighborhood stores that have more than two or three employees if they are prosperous and have closer to $150,000 in receipts per year. The Republican National Committee may fool the courts, but any American who patronizes their neighborhood market knows that 100 employees and a million dollars a year in receipts is laughable, and even if it was true, they would hardly be on par with Exxon, Halliburton, or Koch Industries and their many subsidiaries.

The attempt by Republicans to subvert America’s democracy in favor of blatant corporatist takeover of the government will be complete if the 4th Circuit Court rules in favor of the RNC. The Citizens United decision will pale in comparison if the last vestiges of campaign finance laws are eliminated in favor of truly unlimited corporate sponsorship. If a corporation like Koch Industries is allowed to give unlimited amounts of cash to a political candidate as their sponsor, funny uniforms decorated with patches and logos will be the least of America’s problems.

It will not be shocking if a conservative court grants Republicans permission to sell their current presidential candidate to Exxon, Halliburton, or Koch Industries, and if that eventuality happens soon enough, Americans can rest assured the next time a Republican presidential candidate appears on a debate stage he will be wearing a funny jumpsuit adorned with oil industry logos and a billboard announcing; “Koch Industries presents…Willard Romney, Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.”  By then, America as a representative democracy will be finished and the country, like stadiums everywhere, will be renamed to reflect corporate ownership and, despite what the RNC says, the neighborhood market will have nothing whatsoever to do with it. Americans may as well get used to the United States of (insert corporate name) because America is close to being replaced by the corporation with the largest bank account.




Don’t just take our word for it—Romney’s fellow Republicans agree that his record at Bain is “vulture capitalism.”




America Isn’t a Corporation


And greed — you mark my words — will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the U.S.A.”

That’s how the fictional Gordon Gekko finished his famous “Greed is good” speech in the 1987 film “Wall Street.” In the movie, Gekko got his comeuppance. But in real life, Gekkoism triumphed, and policy based on the notion that greed is good is a major reason why income has grown so much more rapidly for the richest 1 percent than for the middle class.

Today, however, let’s focus on the rest of that sentence, which compares America to a corporation. This, too, is an idea that has been widely accepted. And it’s the main plank of Mitt Romney’s case that he should be president: In effect, he is asserting that what we need to fix our ailing economy is someone who has been successful in business.

In so doing, he has, of course, invited close scrutiny of his business career. And it turns out that there is at least a whiff of Gordon Gekko in his time at Bain Capital, a private equity firm; he was a buyer and seller of businesses, often to the detriment of their employees, rather than someone who ran companies for the long haul. (Also, when will he release his tax returns?) Nor has he helped his credibility by making untenable claims about his role as a “job creator.”

But there’s a deeper problem in the whole notion that what this nation needs is a successful businessman as president: America is not, in fact, a corporation. Making good economic policy isn’t at all like maximizing corporate profits. And businessmen — even great businessmen — do not, in general, have any special insights into what it takes to achieve economic recovery.

Why isn’t a national economy like a corporation? For one thing, there’s no simple bottom line. For another, the economy is vastly more complex than even the largest private company.

Most relevant for our current situation, however, is the point that even giant corporations sell the great bulk of what they produce to other people, not to their own employees — whereas even small countries sell most of what they produce to themselves, and big countries like America are overwhelmingly their own main customers.

Yes, there’s a global economy. But six out of seven American workers are employed in service industries, which are largely insulated from international competition, and even our manufacturers sell much of their production to the domestic market.

And the fact that we mostly sell to ourselves makes an enormous difference when you think about policy.

Consider what happens when a business engages in ruthless cost-cutting. From the point of view of the firm’s owners (though not its workers), the more costs that are cut, the better. Any dollars taken off the cost side of the balance sheet are added to the bottom line.

But the story is very different when a government slashes spending in the face of a depressed economy. Look at Greece, Spain, and Ireland, all of which have adopted harsh austerity policies. In each case, unemployment soared, because cuts in government spending mainly hit domestic producers. And, in each case, the reduction in budget deficits was much less than expected, because tax receipts fell as output and employment collapsed.

Now, to be fair, being a career politician isn’t necessarily a better preparation for managing economic policy than being a businessman. But Mr. Romney is the one claiming that his career makes him especially suited for the presidency. Did I mention that the last businessman to live in the White House was a guy named Herbert Hoover? (Unless you count former President George W. Bush.)

And there’s also the question of whether Mr. Romney understands the difference between running a business and managing an economy.

Like many observers, I was somewhat startled by his latest defense of his record at Bain — namely, that he did the same thing the Obama administration did when it bailed out the auto industry, laying off workers in the process. One might think that Mr. Romney would rather not talk about a highly successful policy that just about everyone in the Republican Party, including him, denounced at the time.

But what really struck me was how Mr. Romney characterized President Obama’s actions: “He did it to try to save the business.” No, he didn’t; he did it to save the industry, and thereby to save jobs that would otherwise have been lost, deepening America’s slump. Does Mr. Romney understand the distinction?

America certainly needs better economic policies than it has right now — and while most of the blame for poor policies belongs to Republicans and their scorched-earth opposition to anything constructive, the president has made some important mistakes. But we’re not going to get better policies if the man sitting in the Oval Office next year sees his job as being that of engineering a leveraged buyout of America Inc.





Gingrich threatens to sue TV stations that air pro-Romney attack ad

The Hill:

Newt Gingrich’s campaign is threatening to sue South Carolina and Florida television stations that air an ad by a pro-Romney super-PAC claiming Gingrich was “fined” $300,000 for ethics violations during the 1990s.

Gingrich campaign attorney Stefan Passantino called the commercial “a defamatory communication which exposes this station to potential civil liability” in a letter sent to television stations, NBC Politics reports.

Passantino goes on to demand that stations refuse and cease airing the advertisements.

“Newt Gingrich has put Mitt Romney’s SuperPAC on notice that the free ride they have enjoyed to misstate Newt’s record are over,” Passantino told NBC. “Discussing true facts concerning one’s record are fine, using SuperPAC funds to mislead voters will no longer be tolerated.”

The ad, released Thursday by the pro-Romney Restore our Future political action committee, says “Newt was fined $300,000 for ethics violations.”

But the Gingrich campaign argues that the payment was made simply to reimburse the House Ethics Committee for costs of the investigation into whether Gingrich had violated federal tax law. It noted that nowhere in the report sanctioning Gingrich is the amount referred to as a “fine.”

But a lawyer for the PAC told NBC that the charge is substantiated and that he had heard of no networks refusing the ad because of Gingrich’s threat.

“Although it is understandable that Mr. Gingrich wishes that he wasn’t the only Speaker of the House in history to be fined (overwhelmingly by a bipartisan Congress) $300,000 for ethics violations, that is nonetheless his baggage to live with,” Charles Spies, the Restore Our Future attorney, said in his own letter to networks.

Spies pointed to media reports that referred to the $300,000 payment as a fine, and a PolitiFact report that dismissed Gingrich’s complaints about the ads.

Gingrich aggressively attacked Restore our Future after the group aired a relentless campaign of negative commercials during the Iowa caucuses, which Gingrich blamed for his disappointing fourth-place finish. Since then, the former Speaker has targeted Romney and the group, airing his own set of ads that aggressively challenge the former Massachusetts governor’s economic and anti-abortion record.




Quiet Rooms’ and Republican Class War

Jonathan Chait:

During the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, John McCain opened up a brief violent fissure by assailing George W. Bush’s plan to cut taxes. McCain began by arguing that it was more prudent to use the temporary budget surplus to reduce the national debt, but he soon began making the case in moral terms, citing the widening gap between rich and poor and insisting it was wrong to cut taxes for the rich. Right-wingers were apoplectic, and even McCain’s GOP allies were shaken. Before that moment, McCain had been a largely conventional conservative with a handful of apostasies, and his campaign little more than an irritant. His populist opposition to the Bush tax cuts marked him as a full-fledged heretic and united the party Establishment against him in full fury.

There is an echo of this episode in the current fight over Bain Capital, the heart of which is this highly effective and even moving half-hour propaganda film detailing the victims and costs of Romney’s business career. It is not exactly the same thing. The fight is over biography, not policy, and, in this case, the Establishment candidate actually has less right-wing policies than the insurgent. (Though Romney’s program is more right-wing than Bush’s was.) But the dynamic is that the underdog insurgents are exploiting a rift between the Republican elite, which is worshipful of the rich, and the Party’s voters, who view the rich far more suspiciously.

Romney’s official line is that a huge debate over the human impact of his tenure at Bain Capital is a wonderful thing — a debate over free enterprise that he wants to have with Obama and is sure to win. But Republican behavior suggests it’s all a bluff. Even perpetual Republican Pollyanna Fred Barnesexpresses his fear today that Gingrich has opened up a deep wound in Romney’s public image. Romney allies are applying intense pressure on Gingrich to ix-nay the ain-Bay.

The GOP Establishment’s deepest and most recurrent fear is an open debate over economic class. This is not a debate they feel they can win even among Republican voters, a majority of whom actually favor higher taxes on the rich. Romney’s assertion yesterday that economic inequality should not be discussed, or should only be mentioned in “quiet rooms,” is a too-frank expression of the GOP elite’s actual belief that the issue must be kept out of political debate.

President Bush’s former press secretary Ari Fleischer, who saw class warfare under every rock, was asked at a 2001 press conference if it inherently constituted class warfare to question any aspect of the distribution of Bush’s tax cuts:

Q:  Does he believe that those who don’t like the mix of the different tax brackets that he is proposing are engaging in class warfare?

MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, there is a — there is always an endeavor in this town to deny tax relief to people, because they accuse some people of being rich or successful, and therefore they’re not entitled to tax relief. And that’s just not a view that President Bush holds.

We shouldn’t split people by class.  We shouldn’t split people on the basis of success or not success.  All income taxpayers deserve tax relief, and that’s why the President’s proposal addresses it for one and all.

Q:  Well, let’s say that one of the opponents believes, okay, the size of the tax cut’s about right, but I just think — and I’m for the idea of having four brackets as opposed to five, it’s fine — but I just don’t think the particular levels he’s chosen for those four — is he still engaged in class warfare?

MR. FLEISCHER:  I think if someone were to make a rather economic, esoteric, scholarly argument like you just did, that wouldn’t be class warfare. 

“Esoteric, scholarly” captures the same idea Romney is attempting to invoke with “quiet rooms.” Republicans believe any discussion of the disparate class impact of regressive policies constitutes an impermissible attack on the rich. If the matter is to be discussed at all, it must be under conditions that insulate it completely from the political debate, so as to avoid waking up the populist demons.

The irony is that, unlike the Democrats’ line on taxes (rich people are swell but the fiscal trade-off of keeping their taxes low is not worth it), Gingrich’s assault on Romney actually comes pretty close to a plausible definition of class warfare. If you try to define even mild objections to regressive policies as vicious class warfare, you have little room to object when the real thing arrives.




Why won’t Mitt Romney release his tax returns?

The Washington Post Editorial:

As Mitt Romney edges closer to the Republican presidential nomination, the imperative grows for the former Massachusetts governor to release his income tax returns and disclose the identities of the fundraising bundlers who have brought in millions for his campaign. Mr. Romney’s determined lack of transparency on these two fronts — the candidate and his campaign have said he has  no plans to release either — represents a striking and disturbing departure from the past practice of presidential candidates of both parties.

Asking candidates to make their tax returns public is undoubtedly an invasion of privacy. But it is one that comes with the territory of a presidential campaign. Such disclosure is not required by law but, as with the voluntary release of tax filings by the president and vice president, it has become routine, if at times grudging and belated.

Tax returns offer information not available on the financial disclosure forms that are legally required of candidates, including their charitable deductions and use of tax shelters. Tax information could be especially revealing in the case of Mr. Romney and his extensive investment income, which may be why he has been reluctant to release it. During his 1994 Senate race, Mr. Romney called on Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D) to release his tax returns and show he had“nothing to hide.” Neither candidate released his tax information. Such secrecy will not stand for a presidential nominee.

The identity of a candidate’s bundlers is similarly important. Campaign finance laws limit individual contributions to a candidate to $2,500 per election ($5,000 if you include the primary and general election campaigns), but bundlers haul in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars by tapping extensive donor networks. Knowing to whom and for how much candidates are indebted is essential information, of which candidates and their advisers are exquisitely aware. Yet under current law the only bundlers whose identities candidates must disclose are registered lobbyists. That information is useful but insufficient: A CEO who bundles $500,000 for a candidate can have as much influence as the company’s Washington lobbyist. Why should this knowledge be kept from voters?

In 2008, Mr. Romney promised to release information about bundlers but, aside from issuing state-by-state lists of finance committee members that lacked any details about money raised, does not appear to have done so. Now is the time to make up for that lapse.


Gallup: Conservatives Remain the Largest Ideolgical Group in U.S.” 

Political ideology in the U.S. held steady in 2011, with 40% of Americans continuing to describe their views as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 21% as liberal. This marks the third straight year that conservatives have outnumbered moderates, after more than a decade in which moderates mainly tied or outnumbered conservatives.

The percentage of Americans calling themselves “moderate” has gradually diminished in the U.S. since it was 43% in 1992. That is the year Gallup started routinely measuring ideology with the current question. It fell to 39% in 2002 and has been 35% since 2010. At the same time, the country became more politically polarized, with the percentages of Americans calling themselves either “conservative” or “liberal” each increasing.

Gallup measures political ideology by asking Americans to say whether their political views are very conservative, conservative, moderate, liberal, or very liberal. Relatively few Americans identify with either extreme on this scale, although 2 in 10 Republicans self-identify as very conservative — double the proportion of Democrats calling themselves very liberal.

The 2011 results are based on 20 Gallup and USA Today/Gallup surveys conducted between January and December, encompassing interviews with 20,392 U.S. adults, including 5,912 Republicans, 6,087 Democrats, and 8,064 independents. The trends represent annual averages of multiday Gallup surveys conducted each year.

Conservatives Dominant Among Republicans

The majority of Republicans say they are either very conservative or conservative, but the total proportion of conservatives grew 10 percentage points between 2002 and 2010, from 62% to 72%. At the same time, the percentage of moderates fell from 31% to 23%. Relatively few Republicans say they are liberal — just 4% in 2011. Republicans’ ideology largely held at the 2010 levels in 2011.

Democrats Maintain Moderate-Liberal Divide

As recently as 2002, the solid plurality of Democrats were “moderate,” while smaller, but nearly equal, percentages called themselves “liberal” and “conservative.” From 2003 through 2007, the liberal share of the party grew to 38%, while the “moderate” and “conservative” percentages each diminished somewhat.

As a result, from 2007 through 2011, the party has consisted of equal percentages of moderates and liberals, at about 38% to 40%, while about 20% have called themselves conservative.

Independents Mostly Moderate, but Also More Conservative Than Liberal

Independents — who make up the largest political group in the country — have been steadier ideologically than either major party group over the last decade. However, since 2008, the proportion describing themselves as moderate has declined slightly, from 46% to 41%, and the proportion who are conservative has increased slightly, from 30% to 35%.

Currently, the largest segment of independents describe their views as moderate, while significantly more identify as conservative than as liberal, 35% vs. 20%.


Bottom Line

Sizable segments of Americans identify with each of the three major ideological groups on the U.S. political spectrum; however, in recent years, conservatives have become the single largest group, consistently outnumbering moderates since 2009 and outnumbering liberals by 2-to-1.

Overall, the nation has grown more ideologically polarized over the past decade, with the percentage of moderates declining from 40% to 35% and the percentages of conservatives and liberals each rising. The increase in the proportion of conservatives is entirely the result of increased conservatism among Republicans and independents, and is also seen in Americans 30 and older — particularly seniors. The increase in the proportion of liberals is seen exclusively among Democrats as well as in all age groups.

At the same time these shifts have occurred, Americans’ party affiliation has tended to skew more Democratic than Republican, although in 2010 and 2011, the parties were about equal when the leanings of independents are taken into account.




Gallup poll shows Romney tracking up to 34% (+3%) nationally, his best-ever standing in that poll. 




Ppppolls:  45% of NC voters say they’d never vote for Muslim, 36% never for gay person, 4% never for black person


Scott Walker Recall Watch: WI petition circulators are expected to submit ~1.5 MILLION signatures


The GOP’s Blatant Racism 

The Nation:

[…] The problem with the illusion of a postracial society is that at almost any moment the systemic nature of racism, its legacy, methods and impulses, might have to be rediscovered and restated as though for the first time. If the problem has gone away, those who point it out or claim to experience it are, by definition, living in the past. Those who witness it in action must be imagining things. Those who practice it are either misunderstood or maligned.

So it has been these past few weeks with Republicans on the stump, campaigning as though in a time “before racism was bad,” when Rick Perry’s family had a hunting lodge known as Niggerhead and white people could just run their mouth without consequences. In Sioux City, Iowa, Rick Santorum was asked a question about foreign influence on the economy. As he meandered incoherently through his answer, he came out with this gem:

“I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”

“Right,” said one audience member, as another woman nodded.

“And provide for themselves and their families,” Santorum added, to applause. “The best way to do that is to get the manufacturing sector of the economy rolling again.”

The black population of Sioux City is 2.9 percent. In Woodbury County, in which Sioux City sits, 13 percent of the people are on food stamps, an increase of 26 percent since 2007, with nine times as many whites as blacks using them.

Just a few days later, in Plymouth, New Hampshire, Newt Gingrich told a crowd, “I will go to the NAACP convention and explain to the African-American community why they should demand paychecks…[instead of] food stamps.” African-Americans make up 0.8 percent of Plymouth’s population. Food stamp use in Grafton County is 6 percent—a 48 percent increase since 2007.

And then there’s Ron Paul, who would like to repeal civil rights legislation and who once claimed that “order was only restored in LA [after the Rodney King riots] when it came time for the blacks to pick up their welfare checks.” Or at least newsletters bearing his name did—newsletters he paid for and once defended. Paul now claims that they had nothing to do with him.

The point here is not to accuse the GOP hopefuls of racism. That would be too predictable and has been done with great effect elsewhere, prompting denials that are beyond pathetic. Ron Paul, it turns out, has been passing as Malcolm X. “I’m the only one up here and the only one [including] in the Democratic Party that understands true racism in this country is in the judicial system,” he said. Santorum’s defense, on the other hand, is that he temporarily lost the ability to speak English. The best he could come up with, after several attempts, was that he really said “blah” people.

Neither is the point to show how Republicans leverage racial anxiety for electoral effect. According to the Agriculture Department, more whites use food stamps than blacks and Latinos combined. By coloring poverty and food insecurity black, even in areas where few black people exist, Republicans hope to spin food stamps as a racial entitlement program, diverting attention from their attempts to balance the budget on the stomachs of the poor. Republicans want to slash spending on food stamps by around 20 percent and in June voted to cut the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program, which provides assistance to poor pregnant women, mothers and children, by 10 percent. All of this is important. But efforts to encourage whites to identify with their race rather than their class, as though the two could be separated and then ranked, is an age-old ploy perfected first by Southern Democrats.

No, what feels new here is the collapse of the broad consensus about racial discourse in electoral politics since the ’60s. The Nixon Strategy dictated that racism would continue to be an integral part of electoral campaigns, but those who used it would work in code. Reagan visited Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered, to talk about “states’ rights” and went on to trash “welfare queens”; George W. Bush spoke at Bob Jones University; his dad had “Willie” Horton (the architect of that ad is now on Team Romney). The point was to frame a politics that scapegoated blacks in a manner that racists would recognize but that would also provide plausible deniability against accusations of racism.

Today it seems as though Republicans who might be put off by racist rhetoric are in short supply, as though the presence of a black president has left them blind to their own sophism. No candidate’s polling numbers nose-dived after his remarks; there was precious little in the way of mainstream media frenzy—as recently as 2006, George Allen’s “Macaca moment” cost him his Senate seat. There is no parsing these statements. They are what they are. We are back to the days when conservatives feel comfortable calling a spade a spade. Some commentators have described it as a dog whistle: a call set to a tone that rallies some without disturbing others—a special frequency for the inducted. But this is no dog whistle. This is Wing Commander Gibson taking his mutt for a walk and calling him loudly and fondly by name.





Overheard on the Goldman Sachs Elevator

An anonymous career banker inside Goldman Sachs opened a twitter account (@GSElevator) with the intention of revealing the hilarious banter that takes place in the privacy of the GS elevators. Since then, the account has evolved to include things overheard on trading floors, bullpens, lobbies and bars. Some of the conversations involve more than one person, and the participants are distinguishable by their number (#1, #2, #3). Here are some of my favorites from the past several months…

#1: She’s only about 3 weeks of anorexia away from looking hot.
#2: Maybe 4.

#1: Hey fat fuck, I already know what your resolution is.

#1: Can we please stop calling them ‘hipsters’ and go back to calling them ‘pussies?’

#1: Groupon… Food stamps for the middle class.

#1: A guy came up to me at the gym and asked me what event I was training so hard for. Life, motherfucker.

#1: If you can only be good at one thing, be good at lying… because if you’re good at lying, you’re good at everything.

#1: Blacking out is just your brain clearing its browser history.

#1: My garbage disposal eats better than 98% of the world.

#1: Walking around the protesters outside makes me feel like how a black guy must feel in the gym shower.

#1: Age is just a number. The more important number is how hot she is out of 10.

#1: Hermes ties are like Jordans for white people.

#1: I don’t care how into the environment she says she is. No chick wants to be picked up in a Chevy Volt.

#1: You’re going to Hell in just about any religion.
#2: First class, baby…

#1: Living my life is like playing Call of Duty on Easy. I just go around and fuck shit up.

#1: Sober girls are the worst. So are really drunk ones… The sweet spot is 4 white wines and a Zanny.

#1: I heard the Euro was spotted at Disney World wearing a Make-A-Wish t-shirt.

#1: Bareback is the new 3rd base.

#1: I never give money to homeless people. I can’t reward failure in good conscience.

#1: Fuck that. When I was an analyst, I had to eat an entire ‘wasabi roll’. What we called team building, you faggots call bullying.

#1: Handshakes and tie knots. I don’t have time for someone that can’t master those basic skills.

#1: Two weeks of family time. I’m ready for a FBT to let some bad out.
#2: FBT?
#1: Fake Business Trip.

#1: When it doesn’t matter how much the drinks cost, it’s always happy hour.

#1: Money might not buy happiness, but I’ll take my fucking chances.

#1: Obama’s gone golfing 90 times in less than 3 years as president. That’s about three months of golf.

#1: Almost time for children to learn a valuable life lesson. Santa loves rich kids more.

#1: By now, protesters just look like pigeons to me.

#1: Fact. Nearly 50% of all American workers have less than $10k saved for retirement.
#2: Fuck. That wouldn’t cover a ski weekend.

#1: Anyone that puts CFA and MBA on their business card is a cunt.

#1: Don’t bitch about your apartment. If you want a gated house on a golf course, go be some dogshit CFO in Cleveland.

#1: I asked him what his life goal is, and he said “to make the obituary in The Economist.”
#2: Great answer. Hired.

#1: From my experience, most people really should have lower self-esteem.

#1: My charity work begins & ends with black tie galas. And if drunk me is the highest bidder on a signed Springsteen guitar, so be it.

#1: Let’s get one thing straight. Mark Zuckerberg is a fucking loser.

#1: Black Friday is the Special Olympics of capitalism.

#1: The only reason I have a home phone is so I can find my cell phone.
#2: Our maid does that.

#1: Getting laid off from Goldman is like being traded by the Yankees. You’ll probably still make millions, but it’s just not the same.




A Meditation on Elderly Animals 


Elderly Animals: Photographs by Isa Leshko from Mark & Angela Walleyon Vimeo.

It’s always interesting to me how provocative is the subject of elderly animals. I’ve met animal lovers vehemently opposed to what they feel is the cruelty of keeping old friends alive. Others believe continuing their care is the apex of human compassion.

I find Mark and Angela Walley’s short film on Isa Leshko’s photos a beautiful meditation on aging and love… And you?

You can see more of Isa’s images at her website.





Michelle Obama: Here’s something dear to my heart: the MLK Day of Service. Will you join me to serve your community on Monday? 


“A snob is anybody who takes a small part of you and uses it to come to a complete vision of who you are.” ~Alain de Botton, 

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Another wonderful edition, Cher!

It’s no news to me that when I call our government I’m likely talking to a criminal. They have their own party and control the House.

I’m thrilled about how Cordray has hit the ground running with the CFPB. Yes, we know, banks may slow down on lending as a reaction to not being able to rip off Americans but after throwing their tantrum and being the greedy types they are, they will soon return to it with an “Aw shucks!” on having to run their businesses legally. And the Freddie/Fannie plan to let the unemployed defer payments is the kind of thoughtful and effective policy making that can help millions of Americans immediately. Chalk up another win for Obama.

The Three Charts are definite keepers! If Obama ads just showed these repeatedly, they would be so simple and effective in blowing up the lies from the GOP.

You’ve go to admit it’s kind of funny, in order for Fox News to be able to function in Canada, a law preventing lying on news shows would have to be repealed. What more needs to be said???

KQµårk 死神

X2 on the CFPB. Frankly I was worried it would be just another do nothing agency like the SEC but Cordray is off to a wonderful start and I thank Obama for going off on a limb to put him as the head of the agency.

KQµårk 死神

I fear that law may be changed in Canada just to fit Murdoch. Canada is no longer the liberal bastion it once was because of Harper. I saw in Kalima’s MB that they are already saying they won’t accept foreign same sex marriages.


The article Cher posted said the public pushed back hugely on the attempt to remove the law against lying on newscasts so I’m hopeful that they’ll keep preventing any change on that.

As to foreign same sex marriages, that’s messed up.

I don’t know that Canadians have become more conservative, they just responded as Americans did, in a knee jerk way, to replace the moderate leader in the midst of a recession because he was the incumbent.

After folks get a taste of who they voted in by default, just as with Walker, Kasich, Haley, Scott, etc., they soon want to get them back out. That will hopefully happen in Canada.


Justice Minister declares all same-sex marriages legal and valid

All same sex marriages performed in Canada are legal and the law will be changed to ensure that divorce is readily available to non-residents who were married in the country, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson says.


Cool! Thanks for the update, Bito!

KQµårk 死神

Alas the 40-20 split amongst conservatives and liberal holds but I really think it is becoming more and more a case of using the wrong poll question.

WTF are pollsters going to poll people on if they identify themselves as conservatives, moderates of progressives?

Liberal is an outdated notion in today’s left leaning politics. It would be like polling people saying are you a reactionary and instead of using conservative.

I saw another poll that said Progressive has the highest favorable rating.

Last rant of the day I promise, well unless something else ticks me off. :mrgreen:

KQµårk 死神

Ah those GS elevator tweets are so telling.

I get tired of how people are misreading Afghanistan. We are getting out and getting out faster than expected by many.

Remember a little while ago when Aryanna went on her rant that Biden should betray Obama and quit because he did not take his advice on Afghanistan?

Well Obama took that advise but first he wanted the generals to have a chance to prove they were right. Right or wrong is not a factor now because stage two in Afghanistan under Obama is exactly what Biden was recommending. Stand down most combat operations, leave vast portions of the country to itself and rely on training Afghan forces, using special forces and high tech warfare. So as a result 2011 was the biggest decrease in casualties for NATO and the rest of the coalition since the war began. We are on pace to be out in 2014 which I know is too long for many but even that timetable is sort of misleading because we are going in training mode faster than that.

Oh and people claiming this is genocide or crap like that. You know who killed the most civilians by far in Afghanistan, you guessed it the Taliban. But again that’s all our fault too with these people even though the Taliban was killing their citizenry and terribly oppressed the female population before we even got there.

Like you noted Cher the Taliban do seem more willing to negotiate and one of the big reasons could be that even if NATO and the coalition do leave with our advanced technology and tactics we will never let them have a terrorist haven again.

If we are really honest with ourselves if Clinton had the technological capabilities we have today, Bin Laden would have been killed during his presidency.


Love those elevator quotes, Cher. I’m so glad I don’t live in that universe.

KQµårk 死神

I was just thinking thinking today how I missed your occasional rashomon series. But I guess we have not had that many events to use it.


Dogs Against Romney

Also, the wand not being a shoe shiner doesn’t change much for me. Quite frankly I never saw the shoe shine part in the photo myself. It still looks horrible. Who has a private jet and goes through security like that? No one but people like Mitt.



as Rachel Maddow pointed out, the worst thing is when he obviously knew the dog was in discomfort, he just cleaned up and got back on the road.

I cannot imagine us putting our Lucas on the roof of the car. Or any dog we had for that matter.


I think that’s it. The empathy problem. The man really is a robot.

KQµårk 死神

I can actually relate to one tweet. I got Call of Duty for Christmas and love playing it on easy mode for that reason. :mrgreen:

KQµårk 死神

Romney will find a way to take that site down.

He found a way to take down

Now if you even search mitt romney flip flops it takes you to his campaign website.


I mean, WTF Rush Limbaugh. As if it weren’t obvious who his core audience was by now.

Oh dear, I didn’t see this, so sorry if I missed it, but it was kind of breaking.

I just can’t wait to see the GOTP react to this—

APNewsBreak: Obama seeks power to merge agencies