Gung Hei Fat Choy to anyone celebrating the Chinese new year — welcome to the Year of the Dragon!
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When Barack Obama joined Silicon Valley’s top luminaries for dinner in California last February, each guest was asked to come with a question for the president.
But as Steven P. Jobs of Applespoke, President Obamainterrupted with an inquiry of his own: what would it take to make iPhones in the United States?
Not long ago, Apple boasted that its products were made in America. Today, few are. Almost all of the 70 million iPhones, 30 million iPads and 59 million other products Apple sold last year were manufactured overseas.
Why can’t that work come home? Mr. Obama asked.
Mr. Jobs’s reply was unambiguous. “Those jobs aren’t coming back,” he said, according to another dinner guest.
The president’s question touched upon a central conviction at Apple. It isn’t just that workers are cheaper abroad. Rather, Apple’s executives believe the vast scale of overseas factories as well as the flexibility, diligence and industrial skills of foreign workers have so outpaced their American counterparts that “Made in the U.S.A.” is no longer a viable option for most Apple products.
Apple has become one of the best-known, most admired and most imitated companies on earth, in part through an unrelenting mastery of global operations. Last year, it earned over $400,000 in profit per employee, more than Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil or Google.
However, what has vexed Mr. Obama as well as economists and policy makers is that Apple — and many of its high-technology peers — are not nearly as avid in creating American jobs as other famous companies were in their heydays.
Apple employs 43,000 people in the United States and 20,000 overseas, a small fraction of the over 400,000 American workers at General Motors in the 1950s, or the hundreds of thousands at General Electric in the 1980s. Many more people work for Apple’s contractors: an additional 700,000 people engineer, build and assemble iPads, iPhones and Apple’s other products. But almost none of them work in the United States. Instead, they work for foreign companies in Asia, Europe and elsewhere, at factories that almost all electronics designers rely upon to build their wares.
“Apple’s an example of why it’s so hard to create middle-class jobs in the U.S. now,” said Jared Bernstein, who until last year was an economic adviser to the White House.
“If it’s the pinnacle of capitalism, we should be worried.”
Apple executives say that going overseas, at this point, is their only option. One former executive described how the company relied upon a Chinese factory to revamp iPhone manufacturing just weeks before the device was due on shelves. Apple had redesigned the iPhone’s screen at the last minute, forcing an assembly line overhaul. New screens began arriving at the plant near midnight.
A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company’s dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day.
“The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,” the executive said. “There’s no American plant that can match that.”
Similar stories could be told about almost any electronics company — and outsourcing has also become common in hundreds of industries, including accounting, legal services, banking, auto manufacturing and pharmaceuticals.
But while Apple is far from alone, it offers a window into why the success of some prominent companies has not translated into large numbers of domestic jobs. What’s more, the company’s decisions pose broader questions about what corporate America owes Americans as the global and national economies are increasingly intertwined.
“Companies once felt an obligation to support American workers, even when it wasn’t the best financial choice,” said Betsey Stevenson, the chief economist at the Labor Department until last September. “That’s disappeared. Profits and efficiency have trumped generosity.”
[…] f there are two sides to the story, they certainly do not seem balanced: companies did shed jobs on the advice or at the direction of Bain, and job gains at some companies in which B ain invested did not necessarily mean a net gain for the economy (company A gaining jobs and market share at the expense of company B does not increase overall job numbers). Nor is it likely that any jobs added were as good as the jobs being lost through outsourcing or other domestic cutbacks (typically, good paying jobs with security have been traded in for poor paying jobs without).
But there is a deeper and more critical aspect to the story: the suggestions that Bain was or is somehow in thebusiness of job creation or sought to create jobs are fundamentally deceitful.
Bain’s website is not terribly forthcoming about its operations, but it is clear on this point: “Our mission at Bain Capital is to produce superior investment returns for our investors.” It’s “value-added approach” includes, of course, “strategies for improving operating earnings.” Does a single person in the United States believe that those strategies do not include major efforts to improve earnings at the expense of labor?
If Bain’s clear statement of mission were not enough, its venture capital arm provides further evidence of the perspective from which Bain operates: “With a double digit percentage of our funds’ invested capital being our own money, it’s not hard for us to take the perspective of the management teams and entrepreneurs we back – we are in the same boat.”
Take a listen to Bain & Company. Gov. Romney worked there as a vice-president in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He and other Bain & Company colleagues co-founded Bain Capital in 1984. Romney returned to run Bain & Company — which had been ailing — in the period from 1990 to 1992.
As the Bain & Company website puts it, Bain Capital was created to “leverage Bain’s results creation capability.” On the same page, Bain & Company vouches for the fact that Bain Capital shares with it “a common approach to the challenges of our clients to deliver extraordinary results.” In other words, separate entities with a common philosophy and a deeply synergistic relationship between the two.
What is the approach of Bain & Company, the firm Gov. Romney restored to fiscal health? “On every case,” Bain & Company coos, “we look at the business from a chief executive’s perspective.” I’m prepared to trust Bain & Company’s representation that it shares a common approach with Bain Capital, and that chief executive — whatever else may be on her or her mind — it’s certainly not thinking, “I need to create jobs.”
“Our mission,” Bain & Company continues, “is to help management teams create such high levels of economic value that together we redefine our respective industries.” Redefining the level of value yielded in an industry. Surely that can include productive changes such as better organization or technical innovation. But, as with Bain Capital’s “strategies for improving operating earnings,” one would need to be very naïve indeed to believe that process is indifferent to the concerns of labor.
Perhaps, you may say, the critique is too harsh. Doesn’t the Bain & Company website say that it tries to do right by “its people” and “its communities,” too?
Well, that’s the lip service; not let’s get down to what is really important, as reflected in a recent Bain & Company press release: “The firm was founded in 1973 on the principle that Bain consultants must measure their success by their clients’ financial results.”
That’s the firm that Mitt Romney joined and ultimately led, the business culture he imbibed, and, as Bain & Company says, the business culture Bain Capital maintains.
There is nothing shocking about Bain Capital or other companies having a unitary value system (all that matters is our bottom line), but it is appalling that statements about broader aims — transparently designed to mislead voters — would not be received more skeptically.
We don’t have the resources to explore deeply what Bain Capital has said to prospective and secured clients and partners over time, but we have a pretty good hunch that it wasn’t, “Let’s go out and create some jobs.” It would be well worth the time to develop this record.
At its heart, A tale of two systems is devoted to exploring the extent to which a country has the will to shape the environment within which automakers (and other employers) operate.
[…] Here in the U.S., the dominant view since the Clinton era has been that we should not try to stem a global race to the bottom; on the contrary, we’ve been told, Amercans need to adapt and permit employers free reign.
One argument of the global corporatists (not selling very well these days) was that an economy where capital is not hindered by national boundaries would bring widespread prosperity. The other was simple and brutal: you don’t have a choice.
That second argument still holds lots of resonance for many people. As one reader explained in the face of reading about substantially higher autoworker wages in Germany: there are plenty of Americans who would love to earn $15 per hour.
We do, of course, have choices. BMW workers don’t earn more in Germany because the nice managers work in Germany and the mean managers work in the U.S. What has happened is that the U.S. has become remarkably anti-union and remarkably laissez faire — a real outlier among advanced democracies — at the same time that Germany has continued to allow workers to be valued.
The U.S. still has the economic muscle — fueled by what remains an enormous domestic market even at a time of recession — to be able to change the ground rules and seek other countries as partners not in a race to the bottom, but in a race to the top for workers. That may well not always be true; the time to change course is now.
Doing so requires a willingness to reimagine ourselves as a country where businesses are grateful for the privileges of operating securely in a stable society with access to good workers, not a country where workers, states, and even the national government is obliged show gratitude for the scraps that are offered.
And it requires two more things. First, a willingness to believe that representative democracy, despite the reservations we may have about many politicians, is a pretty good system. Second, a willingness to recognize that a unionized workplace is nothing more and nothing less than that representative system in action.
[…] The group wants to change textbook selection criteria to say that “No portrayal of minority experience in the history which actually occurred shall obscure the experience or contributions of the Founding Fathers, or the majority of citizens, including those who reached positions of leadership.” It’s a fancy way of saying let’s take the role of minorities out of our American history textbooks so our past leaders will look good. MORE>>>
In the South and Midwest of our country, an evil struggling against female freedom is winning ground. In Mississippi, a woman is charged with murder for giving birth to a still born. In Alabama, a mother of three awaits a ten year sentence for a Cesarean that resulted in the death of her baby. In South Carolina, over 300 women have been charged with some form of fetal homicide. In Indiana, a young woman who tried to kill herself by taking rat poison is in jail, charged with murder and attempted fetal homicide.
These cases are but a few examples of the way women’s rights have come under assault in this country, land of the supposed “free.”
Since the Tea Party takeover, these rights can’t be taken for granted. Whether it’s taking a law meant to protect women from spousal abuse misused to prosecute her for attempted murder or fetal homicide laws as a direct attempt to push back on Roe V Wade, women’s rights in America are being swept away on a Tea Party tide with nary a cry of notice. Grain by grain, with each new law, women are being relegated to citizens without rights or choices over their own bodies.
Today is the 39th anniversary of Roe V Wade, in which it was determined that abortion was a fundamental right under the United States Constitution. The court ruled that a fetus is not a person under the within the meaning of the 14th amendment. Anti-choice groups tried to argue and continue to argue that personhood begins at conception; however, even if this were accepted, it would not override a woman’s right as a person to have authority over her medical decisions, her health, and the use of her body.
One could argue that forcing women to carry a fetus to term is a form of involuntary servitude and thus violates her rights under the 13th amendment.
While many people will tell you they are not “pro-abortion” (in fact, there are few “pro-abortionists” out there- this is a myth designed by the anti-choicers to demonize and emotionalize the issue), most people can’t get around a woman’s right to made her own medical decisions. After all, the precedent should make all citizens nervous; who would determine at which point the state would come between our doctor’s and ourselves if we suggest that we have the right to put the state there for pregnant women.
And then there are the complicating issues of rape, incest, and health problems that could cause the death of the mother. It’s simply not possible to restrict the rights of half of the population in order to impose a religiously based morality on the entire population without stealing liberty and freedom from those individuals. Furthermore, these laws don’t just impact women. Of the women mentioned at the beginning of this article, many of them have children and families who depend on the woman the state has arrested for fetal homicide.
The Supreme Court ruled that women had a right to privacy under the due process clause in the 14th amendment to have an abortion. At first, they attempted to balance the state’s need to protect prenatal life and protect women’s health by suggesting that the state’s interest becomes bigger as the pregnancy progresses, but this was later struck down until the right to have an abortion existed until the fetus was viable; able to live outside of the mother’s womb without artificial aid.
Roe V Wade kicked down the religious politicization door for the Republican Party, who went to work immediately to further politicize religion and morality and define their party as the “family values” party. Every year, they use abortion as a get out the vote tactic and yet we note that their Presidents do not, even with an activist conservative Supreme Court behind them, overturn Roe v Wade. The reason they don’t do this is because until now, they haven’t wanted to lose this easy emotional appeal under which they can hide their blatantly anti-family policies. Bu the times are a changing with the introduction of the Tea Party and the race to the bottom for the Republican Party. Newt Gingrich just won the South Carolina primary. What does that tell you about the state of the party? Morality isn’t really the driving force for these folks, but division and fear are.
Since the hard won freedom on January 22, 1973, the abortion debate has been framed very successfully as an emotional issue rather than a legal issue of liberty and rights of the individual. Anti-abortion activists frame taking away a woman’s medical right over her body as a morality issue. But it is not an issue of morality. Laws are put into place for the betterment of society, not to legislate religious or moral beliefs, although there is often crossover between the two. The issue is where does the need for the law originate? We have laws (supposedly) against beating women. These laws are intended to preserve women’s rights and freedom. They are not in place because the Catholic Church supports them, although many religious leaders might support protection of women in theory (deed is another matter).
Religious conservatives supporting criminalizing pregnancy for women are using the state and the government as a blunt object of force to get their way. This is odd, coming from people who espouse to want to get government out of their lives, but the truth is, they very much want government to do their bidding. They want to empower the state to use force against pregnant women, to violate the woman’s right to consent over her own body and life choices. They seek to impose their beliefs forcefully by using the power of the government to restrict women’s freedoms.
These Tea Party conservatives want the state to have the powers they imagine God to have, and to punish the “sinner” with the force of the government as they believe (but cannot prove) God would want. Hence, they use laws intended to protect women from abuse in order to prosecute women for fetal endangerment while allowing men who beat pregnant women to walk free. They abuse the very intention of the law and use it to force their version of morality and sexuality onto women.
These Tea Party conservatives think Government is their personal weapon of mass destruction that they can unleash on those whom they have deemed sinners. It never occurs to these folks that what they have deemed sin is not sin to another, and often enough in the above mentioned cases, has not even occurred. One wonders what their reaction would be if we were to legislate Sharia Law based on the Quran, if men were being arrested for violating the moral sensibilities of Muslims. Or let’s say we made into law that to accuse a person of crimes they did not commit would land you in jail until you could prove your innocence.
There’s a reason we don’t legislate morality, for we are entitled to religious freedom in this country and as such, morality is for each individual to determine on their own. Yes, some laws can be said to be serving to uphold morality, but they are in place in order to uphold order, security, and justice, not for the purpose of inflicting a religious belief all citizens. And when taken in the full context of the balancing act between personal liberty and the government, the moral beliefs of some do not have the right to infringe on the individual liberty of others.
Here’s a reality check for President Barack Obama’s health overhaul: Three out of four uninsured Americans live in states that have yet to figure out how to deliver on its promise of affordable medical care.
This is the year that will make or break the health care law. States were supposed to be partners in carrying out the biggest safety net expansion since Medicare and Medicaid, and the White House claims they’re making steady progress.
But an analysis by The Associated Press shows that states are moving in fits and starts. Combined with new insurance coverage estimates from the nonpartisan Urban Institute, it reveals a patchwork nation.
Such uneven progress could have real consequences.
If it continues, it will mean disparities and delays from state to state in carrying out an immense expansion of health insurance scheduled in the law for 2014. That could happen even if the Supreme Court upholds Obama’s law, called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
“There will be something there, but if it doesn’t mesh with the state’s culture and if the state is not really supporting it, that certainly won’t help it succeed,” said Urban Institute senior researcher Matthew Buettgens.
The 13 states that have adopted a plan are home to only 1 in 4 of the uninsured. An additional 17 states are making headway, but it’s not clear all will succeed. The 20 states lagging behind account for the biggest share of the uninsured, 42 percent.
Among the lagging states are four with arguably the most to gain. Texas, Florida, Georgia and Ohio together would add more than 7 million people to the insurance rolls, according to Urban Institute estimates, reducing the annual burden of charity care by $10.7 billion.
“It’s not that we want something for free, but we want something we can afford,” said Vicki McCuistion of Driftwood, Texas, who works two part-time jobs and is uninsured. With the nation’s highest uninsured rate, her state has made little progress.
The Obama administration says McCuistion and others in the same predicament have nothing to fear. “The fact of states moving at different rates does not create disparities for a particular state’s uninsured population,” said Steve Larsen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at the federal Department of Health and Human Services.
That’s because the law says that if a state isn’t ready, the federal government will step in. Larsen insists the government will be ready, but it’s not as easy as handing out insurance cards.
Someone has to set up health insurance exchanges, new one-stop supermarkets with online and landline capabilities for those who buy coverage individually.
A secure infrastructure must be created to verify income, legal residency and other personal information, and smooth enrollment in private insurance plans or Medicaid. Many middle-class households will be eligible for tax credits to help pay premiums for private coverage. Separate exchanges must be created for small businesses.
“It’s a very heavy lift,” said California’s health secretary, Diana Dooley, whose state was one of the first to approve a plan. “Coverage is certainly important, but it’s not the only part. It is very complex.”
California has nearly 7.5 million residents without coverage, more than half of the 12.7 million uninsured in the states with a plan. An estimated 2.9 million Californians would gain coverage, according to the Urban Institute’s research, funded by the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Democrats who wrote the overhaul law had hoped that most states would be willing partners, putting aside partisan differences to build the exchanges and help cover more than 30 million uninsured nationally. It’s not turning out that way.
Some states, mainly those led by Democrats, are far along. Others, usually led by Republicans, have done little. Separately, about half the states are suing to overturn the law.
Time is running out for states, which must have their plans ready for a federal approval deadline of Jan. 1, 2013. Those not ready risk triggering the default requirement that Washington run their exchange.
Yet in states where Republican repudiation of the health care law has blocked exchanges, there’s little incentive to advance before the Supreme Court rules. A decision is expected this summer, and many state legislatures aren’t scheduled to meet past late spring.
The result if the law is upheld could be greater federal sway over health care in the states, the very outcome conservatives say they want to prevent.
“If you give states the opportunity to decide their own destiny, and some choose to ignore it for partisan reasons, they almost make the case against themselves for more federal intervention,” said Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.
A conservative, Nelson was on the winning side of a heated argument among Democrats over who should run exchanges, the feds or the states. Liberals lost their demand for a federal exchange, insulated from state politics.
“It’s pretty hard to take care of the states when they don’t take care of themselves,” said Nelson, who regrets that the concession he fought for has been dismissed by so many states.
The AP’s analysis divided states into four broad groups: those that have adopted a plan for exchanges, those that made substantial progress, those where the outlook is unclear, and those with no significant progress. AP statehouse reporters were consulted in cases of conflicting information.
Thirteen states, plus the District of Columbia, have adopted a plan.
By contrast, in 20 states either the outlook is unclear or there has been no significant progress. Those states include more than 21 million of the 50 million uninsured Americans.
Four have made no significant progress. They are Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and New Hampshire. The last three returned planning money to the federal government. In Arkansas, Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe ran into immovable GOP opposition in the Legislature. Beebe acknowledges that the federal government will have to run the exchange, but is exploring a fallback option.
In the other 16 states, the outlook is unclear because of failure to advance legislation or paralyzing political disputes that often pit Republicans fervently trying to stop what they deride as “Obamacare” against fellow Republicans who are more pragmatic.
In Kansas, for example, Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger is pushing hard for a state exchange, but Gov. Sam Brownback returned a $31 million federal grant, saying the state would not act before the Supreme Court rules. Both officials are Republicans.
“It’s just presidential politics,” said Praeger, discussing the situation nationally. “It’s less about whether exchanges make sense and more about trying to repeal the whole law.” As a result, outlook is unclear for a state with 361,000 uninsured residents.
There is a bright spot for Obama and backers of the law.
An additional 17 states have made substantial progress, although that’s no guarantee of success. Last week in Wisconsin, GOP Gov. Scott Walker abruptly halted planning and announced he will return $38 million in federal money.
AP defined states making substantial progress as ones where governors or legislatures have made a significant commitment to set up exchanges. Another important factor was state acceptance of a federal exchange establishment grant.
That group accounts for just under one-third of the uninsured, about 16 million people.
It includes populous states such as New York, Illinois, North Carolina and New Jersey, which combined would add more than 3 million people to the insurance rolls.
Several are led by Republican governors, including Virginia and Indiana, which have declared their intent to establish insurance exchanges under certain conditions. Other states that have advanced under Republican governors include Arizona and New Mexico.
For uninsured people living in states that have done little, the situation is demoralizing.
Gov. Rick Perry’s opposition to the law scuttled plans to advance an exchange bill in the Texas Legislature last year, when Perry was contemplating his presidential run. The Legislature doesn’t meet this year, so the situation is unclear.
McCuistion and her husband, Dan, are among the nearly 6.7 million Texans who lack coverage. Dan is self-employed as the owner of a specialty tree service. Vicki works part time for two nonprofit organizations. The McCuistions have been uninsured throughout their 17-year marriage, although their three daughters now have coverage through the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Dan McCuistion has been nursing a bad back for years, and it only seems to get worse.
“For me it almost feels like a ticking time bomb,” his wife said.
Dan McCuistion says he doesn’t believe Americans have a constitutional right to health care, but he would take advantage of affordable coverage if it was offered to him. He’s exasperated with Perry and other Texas politicians. “They give a lot of rhetoric toward families, but their actions don’t meet up with what they are saying,” he said.
Perry’s office says it’s principle, not lack of compassion.
“Gov. Perry believes `Obamacare’ is unconstitutional, misguided and unsustainable, and Texas, along with other states, is taking legal action to end this massive government overreach,” said spokeswoman Lucy Nashed. “There are no plans to implement an exchange.”
Today, in a huge victory for women’s health, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that most employers will be required to cover contraception in their health plans, along with other preventive services, with no cost-sharing such as co-pays or deductibles. This means that after years of trying to get birth control covered to the same extent that health plans cover Viagra, our country will finally have nearly universal coverage of contraception.
Opponents of contraception had lobbied hard for a broad exemption that would have allowed any religiously-affiliated employer to opt out of providing such coverage. Fortunately, the Obama administration rejected that push and decided to maintain the narrow religious exemption that it initially proposed. Only houses of worship and other religious nonprofits that primarily employ and serve people of the same faith will be exempt. Religiously-affiliated employers who do not qualify for the exemption and are not currently offering contraceptive coverage may apply for transitional relief for a one-year period to give them time to determine how to comply with the rule.
Twenty-eight states already require employers, including most religiously affiliated institutions, to cover contraception in their health plans. The only change is that now they must cover the full cost.
Family planning results in better health outcomes for women and their children—a woman who has a planned pregnancy is more likely to be in better health when she gets pregnant and more likely to seek prenatal care, and children who are born at least two years apart are healthier. Family planning is also the most effective tool we have in reducing unintended pregnancy and the need for abortion.
An expanded religious exemption would have created an unreasonably large loophole that would have kept these benefits beyond the reach of millions of women. This decision honors the conscience of these women over that of the institutions that employ them and ensures that cost will no longer be a barrier to accessing basic and essential preventive health services.
“The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is promising a legal challenge” over the new rule, Kaiser Health News reports. “There really is no change,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the bishops. “What has been announced is that they are going to delay an enforcement. It’s as if they said ‘We’ll give you a year to figure out how to violate your conscience.’” The bishops’ group “will fight this edict; they have no choice but to fight this edict,” she said.
[…] Illegal immigration to the United States has plummeted, with inflows significantly dampened by continuing weaknesses in the labor market and beefed-up enforcement at the U.S. borders and within the interior.
Other factors are at play as well: Changing demographics in Mexico and El Salvador that are reducing migration pressures; the likelihood of more vibrant Mexican and Central American export markets (and hence job opportunities) as the Chinese yuan takes on more strength and makes goods from China more expensive; and increasingly attractive destinations for migrants elsewhere in the hemisphere, including Canada, Brazil, and Chile.
Illegal immigration is the migration flow most responsive to labor market changes, so it makes sense this has been the one most disrupted (in the United States and other major immigrant-receiving countries) as a result of the Great Recession. Who wants to undertake an expensive, risky, potentially dangerous trip if there is not the certainty of a job waiting at the other end? Particularly if the word is out that enforcement has heightened, not only at the borders but within the U.S. interior as a result of more robust federal enforcement as well as actions by a number of states.
AS election season rhetoric heats up, so does the demand for aggressive examination of candidates’ claims.
This is not new. The “fact-checking” movement, shorthand for news organizations’ rebuttal of factual claims, has been building for years. Now, though, as Republicans grapple in earnest with nominee selection and President Obama rolls out his first campaign ads, the fact-check war is entering a new phase.
At The New York Times, coverage of campaign debates typically includes a main article and a sidebar labeled “Fact Check” in which candidates’ claims are vetted.Last week, to Mitt Romney’s claim that the president does not have a jobs plan, The Times countered: “This is incorrect.” To Ron Paul’s statement about troop deployment costs, The Times hedged: “not as black and white as Mr. Paul made it sound.”
The Times’s fact-check function is low-key compared with some others. The work is done by regular staff members who have other duties. The “Fact Check” feature does not have its own branded spot on NYTimes.com. Beyond “Fact Check,” the paper reviews political advertising and undertakes deeper investigations of candidates’ claims as part of its broader campaign coverage.
PolitiFact, in contrast, is a dedicated unit of fact-checkers employed by The Tampa Bay Times. In operation since 2007, PolitiFact explores claims and publishes results alongside its trademarked “Truth-O-Meter,” a graphic that rates claims from true to false to “Pants on Fire,” in the case of a real whopper.
The Washington Post has “The Fact Checker,” also with a dedicated staff and rating mechanism, in this case a scheme involving“Pinocchios”: one Pinocchio for “selective telling of the truth” up to four Pinocchios for raving prevarications, with the occasional Geppetto checkmark when someone has actually told the truth (it happens).
Journalists have always seen it as a duty to check claims, but the form has evolved. The current movement has its roots in the late 1980s, a response to aggressive advertising like the Willie Horton ads aimed at Michael Dukakis, the Democratic nominee in 1988, according to Bill Adair, editor of PolitiFact.
He traces the most recent approach, involving dedicated fact-checking units, to 2003, when FactCheck.org was created by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
The progression, he and others say, stems from a dynamic that is changing the news business. When there were fewer media outlets, Mr. Adair said, journalists acted as gatekeepers to filter some false claims.
“If the media heard a cockamamie story, it wouldn’t pass it along without evidence,” he said. “Now those stories can get passed along in so many ways — whether it is cable, talk radio, chain e-mails. There are a million different sources. There is no filter. It is important now that we fact-check because people are getting their information from so many sources and they wonder whether it is true.”
Newspaper journalism’s traditional way of dealing with spurious claims, meanwhile, isn’t satisfying readers. Often derided as the “he said, she said” approach, this method entails finding and quoting someone to counter a claim, thereby offering a form of balance but no resolution. This sufficed in the past, for many at least, but now many readers are asking for more aggressive rebuttals.
I heard this loud and clear last week when I asked readers on my blog whether they wanted more fact-checking in straight news articles and they said, resoundingly, yes.
James Fallows, author of “Breaking the News” and a national correspondent for The Atlantic, told me it is incumbent on reporters to correct falsehood, not just balance it. “If the reporter doesn’t do that, he or she implicitly becomes part of a disinformation system that treats all statements as equally plausible claims and gives the reader no help in sorting them out.”
The case for day-to-day fact-checking is compelling, but I would raise serious cautions.
First, are you rebutting a fact that is quantifiable and knowable, or are you rebutting an opinion? Political rhetoric is replete with buzzwords and labels, many of them stretched to reflect the speaker’s opinion. A lot of this isn’t worth rebutting.
Can you fact-check without displaying bias? Some argue that fact-checking operations fail this test. Writing in The Weekly Standard,Mark Hemingway cited a University of Minnesota study that found PolitiFact had assigned “substantially harsher grades” to Republicans than Democrats between January 2010 and January 2011.
Fact-checking organizations, he told me, “are doing opinion journalism, but they are doing it under the guise of pseudo-scientific objectivity.”
(Mr. Adair responded: “We don’t keep score by party because we want our selection to be based on what’s timely and relevant to our readers — not on false balance that tries to make sure each side gets an equal number of Pants on Fire ratings.”)
Another caution: Don’t you risk making errors when you fact-check on short deadlines? Rem Rieder, editor and senior vice president ofAmerican Journalism Review, told me: “You can’t do it all the time right out of the box. If you are in Iowa covering a speech and you are filing for the Web in 10 minutes, you are not going to have the time or the resources a serious charge will require.”
Mr. Rieder, though, believes The Times should come back as quickly as possible to rebut false claims that were in a news article, and make sure that rebuttals stay in coverage going forward.
I join others who worry that The Times needs to be very careful with this. Jill Abramson, the executive editor, said that if fact-checking were made a “reflexive element of too many news stories, our readers would find The Times was being tendentious.” Readers, she added, could come to see The Times “as a combatant, not as an arbiter of what the facts were.”
Ubiquitous argument in straight news articles is not the way to go. Checking facts in politics — and in other subjects — takes time, resources and great care. Editors and reporters need to identify priorities and exercise judgment: they cannot do everything.
For these reasons, I think The Times should broaden the “Fact Check” sidebars to include issues that arise outside of the debate forum. Regular installments of fact-checking journalism, identified as such, would strengthen the paper’s approach. Links from fact-check items back to the original articles online would help readers connect the dots.
I favor rebutting assertions in some routine news articles. But The Times needs to be disciplined about it. The paper’s straight news function remains its most valuable asset, which would be undermined if argument replaced fact-gathering.
Crooks & Liars:
I think it’s a sign of how cynical I’ve become watching these 24 hour cable news networks that I saw this live and it didn’t strike me as odd at all. It wasn’t until John Cole at Balloon Juice called my attention to it that I realized how incredibly telling this whole exchange was.
Starting at about 1:50, when Heilman stated “Gingrich is going to get so much free media attention in the next few days, it is going to be wall to wall Gingrich, and I think it is fair to say, that the “liberal media,” as Gingrich would put it, is rooting for Gingrich right now. They want this ra.. they/we, want this race to go on, so he is gonna have, he is gonna get more attention and in some ways more favorable coverage, at least for the next couple days than he would ordinarily from people who would give him tougher scrutiny…”
It’s right [..]there in front of you. They are telling you their priority. It isn’t to inform or deal with facts- it is horse race and page hits.
You add this shamefulness to the concern trolling of Chuck Todd that Stephen Colbert is making a mockery of our electoral process and theNY Times actually wondering if fact-checking is part of their responsibility as journalists and you have a pretty insurmountable pile of evidence that the media is no longer the fourth estate designed to keep the government honest, but yet another obstacle in keeping Americans informed and democracy healthy. More Cole:
And Todd won’t ever tell you this, but he and the rest of the bobbleheads and their corporations don’t want the system fixed. They like it as a mess. If we were to hold elections like other civilized nations, we’d have public funding of them and they would last for a finite period. That would mean that billions of fewer dollars spent on advertising on places like NBC, CBS, ABC, and all the other media outlets. That would mean that Todd and others like him, who really add no value to the system, would be looking for legitimate work. Let’s face it, if these guys are terrified of stating the truth out of the fear of being called biased, what purpose do they actually serve at all? None. Not one person in the nation would be less informed than they are right now if you fired the whole lot of political operatives and political analysts. In fact, the opposite is true- they’d probably be more informed.
Appearing at a Winthrop University panel Thursday, MSNBC host and NBC White House correspondentChuck Todd ripped into Stephen Colbert and his not-yet-official run, suggesting that Colbert might have some ulterior motives in the way he’s almost throwing his hat into the GOP primary ring:
“Is it fair to the process? Yes, the process is a mess, but he’s doing it in a way that it feels as if he’s trying to influence it with his own agenda, that may be anti-Republican. And we in the media are covering it as a schtick and a satire, but it’s like, ‘Well wait a minute here…’ he’s also trying to do his best to marginalize the candidates, and we’re participating in that marginalization.”
Todd said that the “mainstream media” (his quotes) has a responsibility to exercise some caution and question what Colbert’s agenda is. “Is it to educate the public about the dangers of money in politics and what’s going on?” He asked, “or is it simply to marginalize the Republican party? I think if I were a Republican candidate, I’d be concerned about that.”
While expressing admiration for how Colbert has exposed a lot of the idiocy involved with the marriage of politics and money, and saying he enjoys his show, Todd went after both Colbert andJon Stewart for mocking members of the media, then backing off and saying “we’re just comedians” when the members of the media call them out on it. “Actually, no you’re not [comedians] anymore,” Todd said. “You are mocking what we’re doing, and you want a place in this, then you are also going to be held accountable for how you cover and how you do your job.”
[…] On the other side of the ledger, there isn’t anything so singularly brilliant as to make up for those debacles — and though every pundit gets some things wrong over the years, it’s striking how many times Kristol has made confident predictions that turned out to be exactly wrong.
Here are some forecasts that Kristol made prior to Election 2008:
“This fall, the Democratic Congress will end up being more of a problem for Obama or Clinton than Bush will be for the Republican nominee.”
“…The GOP has lucked into having as its nominee John McCain, one of the most popular politicians in America. What’s more, conservatism as a set of ideas is in pretty good shape. ‘Neoconservative’ thinking on America’s place in the world has beaten back attempts to revive the crabbed ‘realism’ of some congressional Republicans in the 1990s as a plausible approach for dealing with the world of the 21st century.”
“Sarah Palin is quickly proving to be more than a match for the mad, mad media. Having foolishly started a war with her that they can’t win, the liberal media would be well advised, for once, to implement their own favorite war-fighting strategy: cut and run.”
“The Democratic candidates have, as Joe Lieberman said last week, ’emotionally invested in a narrative of defeat and retreat in Iraq.’ They’ve also politically invested in such a narrative. It was a bad (and dishonorable) investment. It may well cost them the 2008 election.”
“Before last night, I thought it was 50-50 that the Republican nominee would win in November 2008. Now I think it’s 2 to 1. And if the Democrat is anyone but Hillary, it’s 4 to 1.”
Then there were the 2006 midterms, before which Kristol said this:
Today, Nancy Pelosi endorsed withdrawal from Iraq. Her statement is a political opportunity for the GOP. Until now, it seemed to me more likely than not that Democrats would win back the House in 2006: Bush’s numbers are bad; the GOP is getting no credit for a strong economy (which could in any case weaken by a year from now); the Abramoff scandal is going to get bigger; 12 years in charge of the House, and three years in control of all three elected bodies, have created weariness and dissatisfaction with the GOP. All this made me think the 2006 elections could result in a Speaker Pelosi. I now think that unlikely.
He also said:
They can talk themselves into a frenzy about illegal immigration, of course. But on this issue, the Senate managed — contrary to the conventional wisdom of late April — easily to pass a sensible and comprehensive immigration reform bill. And House Republicans now show some signs of coming to realize that talk radio is not always the best source of policy guidance. Enough of them may come to realize that passing legislation they regard as flawed would be better than going home to the voters having achieved nothing. So Bush could have an immigration reform signing ceremony to look forward to in the fall.
Another gem from 2006:
Congress extended, and the president signed, the wildly successful supply-side tax cuts on interest and dividend income originally passed in 2003. The new tax rates are now in force until 2010, providing helpful certainty for the economy and the markets…”
Kristol’s read on the political landscape in January 2004?
[Howard] Dean could, of course, still lose the nomination. But he’s in an awfully strong position. He leads in the polls, in money, in organization, and in proven ability to generate enthusiastic and committed supporters. He is opposed by a fragmented field. Still, he could falter, and if he did, Wesley Clark would seem to have the best chance to overtake him.
His analysis on March 26, 2001:
The truth is, liberal secularists like the good Reverend Lynn see the interest and passion generated by President Bush’s faith-based initiative. They sense that something big is happening… George W. Bush understands this is his signature initiative. Tax cuts are good, and missile defense is important — but both are traditional, Reagan-era agenda items. If this president is to have a distinctive legacy, it’s likely to be that he brought an end to decades of government hostility to religion and inaugurated a neo-Tocquevillean era in which religion and liberty, pluralism and faith, are no longer at odds.
July 3, 2000:
In sum: With a Bush administration, there is a fighting chance to roll back the worst excesses of liberal judicial activism, even a prospect of removing Roe, keystone of the modern imperial judiciary.
May 22, 1999:
China should and will emerge as a central issue in American politics over the next 18 months, and especially in the 2000 presidential campaign.
May 4, 1998:
I know, I know. His approval rating is sky-high. The American people don’t want to hear about his sex life. Ken Starr has a tin ear for politics. Republicans in Congress are afraid of taking Clinton on. All more or less true. But all, ultimately, more or less irrelevant. A year from now, Clinton will be gone.
Tentative conclusion: when it comes to American politics, there is an extraordinarily weak relationship between what Kristol confidently predicts is going to happen and what actually happens.
UPDATE 2-After threats, Iran plays down US naval moves
Revolutionary Guards say US navy in Gulf nothing new
TEHRAN, Jan 21 (Reuters) – Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps said on Saturday it considered the likely return of U.S. warships to the Gulf part of routine activity, backing away from previous warnings to Washington not to re-enter the area.
The statement may be seen as an effort to reduce tensions after Washington said it would respond if Iran made good on a threat to block the Strait of Hormuz – the vital shipping lane for oil exports from the Gulf.
“U.S. warships and military forces have been in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East region for many years and their decision in relation to the dispatch of a new warship is not a new issue and it should be interpreted as part of their permanent presence,” Revolutionary Guard Deputy Commander Hossein Salami told the official IRNA news agency.
The apparently conciliatory comments may be a response to the European Union and Washington’s rejection of Iran’s declaration it was close to resuming negotiations with world powers and with the Pentagon saying it did not expect any challenge to its warships.
Along with the EU, which is set to agree an embargo on Iranian oil next week, Washington hopes the sanctions will force Iran to suspend the nuclear activities it believes are aimed at making an atom bomb, a charge Tehran denies.
On Jan. 3, after U.S. President Barack Obama signed new sanctions aimed at stopping Iran’s oil exports, Tehran told the Stennis not to return – an order interpreted by some observers in Iran and Washington as a blanket threat to any U.S. carriers.
“I recommend and emphasize to the American carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf,” Iran’s army chief, Major General Ataollah Salehi, said at the time. “We are not in the habit of warning more than once.”
Washington says it will return to the Gulf and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said any move to block Hormuz – through which around a third of the world’s sea-borne traded oil passes – would be seen as a “red line”, requiring a response.
In the coming days or weeks, the Revolutionary Guard will begin new naval exercises in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf. Salami told IRNA these would go ahead as planned in the Iranian month of Bahman which runs from Jan. 21 to Feb. 19.
Iran has said it is ready to return to talks with world powers that stalled one year ago, but the West, concerned about Tehran’s move of the most sensitive atomic work to a bomb-proof bunker, says it must first see a willingness from Tehran to address the nuclear issue.
Iran is OPEC’s second biggest exporter and blocking its crude exports – through the EU embargo or U.S. moves to punish banks that trade with Iran – could have a devastating impact on its economy but there are no signs so far such pressure would force it to stop what it calls its peaceful nuclear rights.
The international community is at least doing something and hopefully acknowledging that more action is needed. Democratic U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both of New York, are planning to propose a sanctions measure in Congress this week, which would require President Obama to protect pro-democracy protesters in Syria, among other moves. Meanwhile, the Arab League has decided to extend its observers’ mission by another month, although the operation has been criticized as toothless and powerless to stop the violent crackdown that began 10 months ago. But some officials said the United Nations would be training the observers.
Nation of Change:
Occupy activists from Wall Street to San Francisco’s financial district have dramatized their anger with big financial institutions by blocking JP Morgan Chase Bank doorways, dancing atop Wells Fargo counters, pitching a tent in a Bank of America lobby, hanging banners across Citibank windows, and accompanying the actions with the now-familiar chant “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.”
The Occupy Movement condemns the banks’ role in predatory lending and the foreclosure crisis, the high-interest student loans they say enriches the bankers and impoverishes college students, bank investments in private prisons and more.
But protesting isn’t enough for Occupy San Francisco activist Brian McKeown. He says a bank should be a transparent institution whose mission is to help people. And so, with like-minded partners, McKeown is putting together a plan for the People’s Reserve Credit Union (PRCU). Occupy San Francisco is encouraging the venture.
In the next few weeks, McKeown says he’ll be ready to submit the PRCU’s application for a charter to the California Department of Financial Institutions.
“The country’s been devastated economically because of greed and government malfeasance,” McKeown said in a recent interview at the downtown San Francisco Public Library. “I don’t think it’s hard for folks who are educated to understand that the banks have ripped us off.”
The PRCU will be patterned on the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, where McKeown spent three months studying microfinance. Its interest rates will be low and loans will go mostly to people who couldn’t otherwise qualify for loans at banks or even at most credit unions. However, they won’t be targeted to people who cannot pay them back.
Borrowers will be required to attend classes in business and personal finance and will have mentors to help their businesses succeed and to enhance their ability to pay back the loan. The PRCU will work with San Francisco State’s Community Service Learning Project to provide the education component, McKeown said.
San Francisco entrepreneur Tim Mayer, who is advising McKeown, said the bank will offer the same services other banks do. “But there will be a different consciousness,” he said. The PRCU board “will not focus on shareholder profits,” he said, but will be “concerned with the welfare of those they are servicing.”
Join NationofChange today by making a generous tax-deductible contribution and take a stand against the status quo.
While microloans in developing countries can be as low as 100 dollars, McKeown is planning to offer loans of around 1,000 dollars. That amount may seem small in a place like San Francisco, he said, but it’s enough to fund materials to make jewelry, buy a used server for someone creating computer apps, or to rent equipment, which an allied non-profit organization would purchase. Funding student loans may come later, as the bank grows, he said.
“I’d rather support 12 taco stands than one Taco Bell,” McKeown quipped.
To apply for the charter, McKeown needs to have his board of directors in place – he said he does, but is not yet ready to reveal their names. (Selection of the board will be preliminary and subject to an eventual election by PRCU members.)
McKeown needs to present a business plan and show that he has adequate capitalization to get chartered. He said they already have some wealthy backers and a fundraising concert is in the works.
The road ahead for the new credit union will not necessarily be easy, cautioned Rafael Morales, public affairs and west coast program officer at the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions.
“There’s generally a high rate of failure for most start ups,” said Morales, who has had preliminary meetings with McKeown. He said usually the NFCDCU recommends that a credit union begin with operating capital of one to two million dollars to carry it through several years.
“The first couple of years are unprofitable,” Morales said. “The more working capital, the higher chance of success.”
Others say it can be done for less. Warren Langley, former president and CEO of the Pacific Exchange in San Francisco – and a supporter of the Occupy Movement – told IPS he thought a credit union could be established with 100,000 to 200,000 dollars.
McKeown said he plans to capitalize the bank at 250,000 to 500,000 dollars for the first year, keeping expenses at a minimum with bank officials working at low or deferred salaries and some without compensation. Mayer acknowledged, however, that it will be a challenge to find a CEO for the PRCU that has the requisite experience, shares the PRCU philosophy and will work for low wages.
A startup credit union also needs “a committed, capable organizing committee”, Morales said, noting that McKeown’s group is very strong in this area.
The Occupy Movement is a “big tent” that includes libertarians, Democrats and communists. McKeown may part ways ideologically with those among his fellow Occupiers who reject capitalism.
“I’m a capitalist,” he said.
The problem, as he sees it, “is in the way capitalism is run. When my business fails, it doesn’t get protected. No one comes and bails me out. Why are we bailing out the businesses – financial institutions – – that are supposed to be the most conservative in the world?” He said if the system were working, the big banks would have failed.
“When we had that 800-billion-dollar bank bailout….they took the money and allowed the mortgages to fail,” he said. “Now all of a sudden Wall Street is making profits again, like it was before. It’s a jobless recovery. People have a right to be pissed off. Access to capital and credit made this country great.” He intends to make that access possible through the PRCU.
Of course, one new small credit union won’t make big changes in a system that’s not working. Langley, the former Pacific Stock Exchange CEO, noted, however, that the PRCU could solve the problem for its members.
“And if everybody, then does more of those [credit unions], it would certainly help,” he said. “It provides people alternatives.”
Best Front Page Juxtaposition. Ever!
Yesterday I suggested that I’d limit myself to one day of schadenfreude. But honestly, with the Republicans these days, what’s a girl supposed to do? Seriously, I just can’t help myself 😉
So once again, I’ll leap in and enjoy Jennifer Rubin’s angst. Today she wrote a plea to the Republican leaders who are either sitting this one out or haven’t had the nerve to endorse anyone.
It seems, gentlemen, it’s time to get off your . . . er . . . time to get off the bench and into the game. It is time to make the case for winning conservatism — a conservatism attractive to centrist voters that can be translated into a reform agenda. If conservatism becomes a movement of anti-media bashing and hyperbolic rhetoric, it will cease to be a force in American politics. And if it is led by an egomaniac whose personal advancement takes precedence over any principle, the GOP will be (correctly) mocked.
So how about it? One of you can run yourself. Or you can instead collectively get behind a not-Gingrich candidate. But really, if you are to have a Republican Party to lead one day in the future, you can’t very well do nothing.
Too late Jennifer. You shoulda thought of that when your party started stoking the fires of “anti-media bashing and hyperbolic rhetoric” 3-4 years ago. In the meantime, you forgot about actually developing a “reform agenda” and this is all you’ve got now…hyperbolic Obama hatred. You all made this bed and its a little late to be crying because you have to sleep in it.
So pardon me while I enjoy the fact that you’re all getting your just deserts.
President Obama will use his election-year State of the Union address on Tuesday to argue that it is government’s role to promote a prosperous and equitable society, drawing a stark contrast between the parties in a time of deep economic uncertainty.
In a video preview e-mailed to millions of supporters on Saturday, as South Carolina Republicans went to the polls to help pick an alternative to him, Mr. Obama promised a populist “blueprint for an American economy that’s built to last,” with the government assisting the private sector and individuals to ensure “an America where everybody gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share and everybody plays by the same set of rules.”
Mr. Obama has honed that message for months as he has attacked Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail, contrasting it with what he has described as Republicans’ “go it alone” free-market views.
Last week at fund-raisers in New York, he told supporters that his push for a government hand had a precedent dating to the construction of canals and interstate highways, and the creation of land-grant colleges and the G.I. Bill. He said that Republicans had moved so far to the right that 2012 will be a “hugely consequential election.”
Notably, Mr. Obama will again propose changes to the tax code so the wealthy pay more, despite Republicans’ consistent opposition. Americans overwhelmingly support the idea, polls show, and the White House hopes that it gains traction with voters, given last week’s acknowledgment by the Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that he pays taxes at a lower rate than many middle-class Americans because most of his income comes from investments.
With most Americans registering disapproval of the president’s economic record after three years, it is all the more imperative for Mr. Obama to define the election not as a referendum on him but as a choice between his vision and that of his eventual Republican rival.
Mr. Obama’s third State of the Union address is widely seen in parallel with the one delivered in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. Mr. Clinton likewise was seeking re-election, after voters in the midterm elections had put Republicans in power in Congress as a rebuke to his perceived big-government liberalism.
But Mr. Clinton sought to co-opt Republicans’ small-government message; his State of the Union line “the era of big government is over” is among the most memorable of his presidency. Mr. Obama is confronting them instead, and framing the election-year debate in a way that aides say will challenge Republicans’ support for unfettered American markets and “you’re-on-your-own economics,” as he put it in December in Osawatomie, Kan., in a speech that was a prelude for Tuesday’s address.
Advisers and other people familiar with the speech say Mr. Obama will expand again on the administration’s effort to resolve the housing crisis with both carrots and sticks to lenders dealing with homeowners behind on their mortgage payments — after yet another debate between his economic and political advisers.
The political team has long argued that most Americans oppose bold government action to stem home foreclosures, like forcing lenders to reduce borrowers’ principal, seeing it as rewarding those who had bought houses they could not afford. The economic team holds that until the housing market recovers, the broader economy cannot — and that all Americans suffer.
On Tuesday, Mr. Obama will flesh out his populist message with new proposals to spur manufacturing, including tax breaks for companies that “insource” jobs back to the United States; to double-down on clean-energy incentives; and to improve education and job training initiatives, especially for the millions of long-term unemployed, the officials familiar with the speech said.
Mr. Obama is expected to harden his challenge to China to increase its currency’s value for fairer trade — addressing the one area in which Mr. Romney has struck a more populist chord that appeals to the working-class voters that Mr. Obama will need if he is to be re-elected. The Obama team still views Mr. Romney, despite his defeat in the South Carolina primary on Saturday, as the president’s most likely Republican challenger.
In the video preview, like one sent to supporters last year, Mr. Obama said he would call for “a return to American values of fairness for all and responsibility from all.”
“We can go in two directions,” he said. “One is towards less opportunity and less fairness. Or we can fight for where I think we need to go: building an economy that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few.”
To that end, people familiar with his draft speech say, Mr. Obama will again call for changing the corporate and individual income-tax codes so the wealthy pay more, both to finance government investments and to alleviate the rise in income inequality in recent years.
Mr. Obama will revive his call, made in September, to rewrite the individual tax code in a way that follows what he termed the “Buffett Rule” — making sure that, as the billionaire Warren Buffett has said, no secretaries or other employees pay a higher effective tax rate than their better-paid bosses.
The president’s proposal takes on heightened political importance after Mr. Romney, who so far has not released his tax returns, said he paid a rate of about 15 percent. That is a lower rate than many taxpayers who make much less income pay, reflecting a tax break opened in the past decade by the Bush administration and a Republican-led Congress for taxpayers whose income relies on investments rather than wages.
Republican presidential candidates have countered that government should get out of the way. Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said after his victory in the New Hampshire primary that Mr. Obama “wants to put free enterprise on trial” and divide Americans “with the bitter politics of envy.”
“We must offer an alternative vision,” Mr. Romney said. “I stand ready to lead us down a different path, where we are lifted up by our desire to succeed, not dragged down by a resentment of success.”
Mr. Obama will also propose political changes, perhaps in campaign finance. Those would tap the sentiment of many Americans, expressed among both Tea Party and Occupy protesters on the political right and left, that the system is rigged against them in favor of a privileged few.
Yet even if Congress went along, an unlikely prospect for much of the president’s agenda because Republicans’ opposition is expected to intensify in this election year, any changes would not affect this campaign season. Already it has been influenced by independent “super PACs” of wealthy individuals, corporations and unions that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling unleashed to spend unlimited sums on behalf of candidates.
Administration officials and allies cautioned that the language and proposals for Mr. Obama’s Tuesday address to a joint session of Congress could change before then. “I’m actually not done writing it yet,” Mr. Obama told supporters in the video, “so there might be a few late nights between now and then.”
Besides new policies, he will revive politically popular proposals from the $447 billion job-creation package that he announced after Labor Day, but that Congressional Republicans blocked. He will again call for subsidies to struggling states to keep teachers and first-responders in their jobs, for money for roads and other infrastructure projects, and for extending for the remainder of the year both the temporary payroll tax cut for 160 million workers and federal payments to the long-term unemployed.
Congressional Republicans’ resistance to that agenda last fall, because they oppose both government stimulus measures and Mr. Obama’s proposed taxes on the wealthy to pay for them, helped depress their already low poll ratings. That leaves them at a disadvantage to Mr. Obama at the start of an election year. His ratings in national polls have picked up, though he is still struggling to regain support for his handling of the economy.
While discussing how the Mitt Romney campaign is going to respond to Newt Gingrich winning the South Carolina Republican primary race and how it was he managed to win there, we got this bit of infinite wisdom shared with us by one of CNN’s panelists, Republican “strategist” Alex Castellanos on how Mittens can play the “tough guy” just like Gingrich did during the debates leading into this third primary race.
CASTELLANOS: There’s more to it than that you know. We don’t know what a president will be faced with. You want somebody in that chair who can handle big things. Newt Gingrich got attacked. He demonstrated tremendous strength. Mitt Romney, next time somebody accuses him of closing down a steel mill should say “Yeah, I’m that guy and you know what? I’d do it again. I’d hate to do it… I’d hate to do it, it would hurt, but somebody needs to go to Washington and I think I can replace most of these buildings in here with like three good web sites.”
We’ve got to change this country dramatically . He’s that kind of guy. He does transformational things.
Memo to Republican Establishment:
I would send this memo to each of you individually, but I’m not sure exactly who you are. I’ve been told that you exist and that people like my colleagues Bill Bennett, Karl Rove, and Bill Kristol are charter members of it.
I am assuming you are out there and I assume there are more than three of you. At any rate, I thought I’d take a moment to catch up with you and make some observations on how things are going for your party.
Let me break it to you gently — you’ve got a first-class disaster on your hands. I know you boys thought this thing would work out and you would be able to whip the Republicans in line to fall in behind Mitt (I assume you are all males but if there is a female in the establishment, I apologize.) Not going too good, is it fellows?
It’s been a terrible time to be a Republican. There have been many moments during this process that have caused me great joy. Certainly the events of Thursday, ending with the CNN debate, and even the Fox debate Monday night, have helped ease the pain of my beloved Tigers’ and Saints’ recent defeats.
I mean, most people thought it was kind of a watermark when your Tea Party gang booed the golden rule. You know, I’ve spent some time in Philly and they have always thought they were pretty radical because they actually booed Santa Claus and Willie Mays. Philly, I’ve got news for you — you ain’t got nothing on South Carolina Republicans. They just aren’t buying any of that do-unto-others garbage.
I actually thought my favorite moment of this delightful process was when one of your eight front-runners, Herm Cain, (as Sarah Palin calls him) actually ran an ad with his campaign manager endorsing him. (Rove, why didn’t you think of that in 2000? Imagine the headline: “Rove endorses Bush.”)
The climax of that delicious ad is when he actually takes a drag on a cigarette. But my favorite thing about Herm’s campaign manager is that he is the only person in the history of the world that was actually barred from political consulting. Let me tell you, I’ve been in this business for quite a while and I’ve never known of anyone other than Mark Block to be suspended from practicing this profession.
At any rate, let’s talk a minute about Mitt. He was your guy — he was methodical, meticulous, married once. He has completely blown himself up over an issue that everyone knew was coming. Have you had a chance to look at John McCain’s research operation on Mitt? Wow. And let me assure you, that thing has been supplemented, expanded, and annotated. God only knows about the Obama people — they’ve got a billion dollars! And how about my friends over at American Bridge (the Democrat-leaning political action committee)? Clearly Mitt is merely in the beginning of this tax-return, financial-disclosure, Cayman Island (and God only knows what else) fiasco.
Your new front-runner is one of your old front runners, Newt Gingrich. I would like to take a moment to revel: I cannot personally tell you how pleased I am to see old Newt rise to the top after listening to all of your nauseating, sickening lectures on the evils of government and the importance of family values.
Now, you guys have to deal with a $1.6 million Freddie Mac consultant (who says he wasn’t a lobbyist) who has been married three times. Hope you, at least, enjoy the Super Bowl. It could be your last hurrah for a while.
PS — As my former boss once said, I feel your pain. That’s why I didn’t mention Rick Perry.
Steve Benen sends me to Benjy Sarlin and Kyle Leighton, who write:
What If Voters Just Don’t Like Mitt Romney?
Mitt Romney may be on the verge of securing the nomination, but his campaign is still struggling with a pretty basic problem as it looks towards the general election: people just don’t like him very much.
Look, I admit that what I’m about to write sounds like a snarky #slatepitch (“America is Falling in Love With Mitt Romney!”), but is it really true that people don’t like Romney? Well,I don’t like him much. Most of my readers don’t like him much. The press corps probably doesn’t like him much. But the truth is that theonly reason Romney has this label pinned on him is because the media anointed him a front runner and is now feigning surprise that he hasn’t sewn up the nomination sooner than any candidate in history. But that doesn’t mean Romney is unlikeable. It just means he’s fairly normal.
As further evidence, Sarlin and Leighton cite a new PPP poll showing that Romney’s unfavorables are high. But let’s take a look at everyone, not just Romney. Here are the unfavorables for all five candidates still in the race as of early this week:
- Rick Perry: 63%
- Newt Gingrich: 60%
- Ron Paul: 57%
- Mitt Romney: 53%
- Rick Santorum: 51%
Not bad! Especially for a candidate that everyone knows is starting in a hole because a certain segment of the evangelical community is just never going to approve of a Mormon for president. The fact is, these are just not the numbers of a guy that no one can stand. Rather, they’re the numbers of a candidate in a tough race, where negative ads have forcedeveryone’s unfavorables pretty high.
Sarlin and Leighton acknowledge this later in their piece. But the headline and the lead are all about the fact that people just don’t like Romney. Watch out, though. The DC media invented an identical narrative for Al Gore in 2000, and it was more a self-fulfilling prophecy from a bunch of reporters who disliked Gore than it was a reflection of the actual truth.
Look: I’m not going to vote for Romney. His willingness to abase himself to the tea party wing of the GOP is nauseating, his obvious fealty to corporate interests is offensive, and — well, you know, he’s a conservative. Of course I’m not going to vote for him. But that doesn’t mean he’s unusually unlikeable. Frankly, of the five guys listed above, I’d probably prefer him as a next-door neighbor to any of them.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich’s (R-Ga.) victory in Saturday’s South Carolina primary was fueled in part by comments aimed at driving a wedge between voters on the issue of race, House Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Sunday.
Gingrich’s campaign-trail remarks, argued the No.3 House Democrat and highest-ranking African American in Congress, are the latest iteration of a GOP tactic that stretches back to Richard Nixon’s Southern strategy and Ronald Reagan’s criticism of so-called “welfare queens” during his 1976 presidential bid.
“Well, sure it resonated — not that it was true,” Clyburn said during an appearance on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” the morning after Gingrich’s primary win. “The fact of the matter is we all know the records are very clear: 49 percent of the people who are on welfare are white. We know that. But people think otherwise. We know that there never existed a ‘welfare queen.’ The admission was made long after Ronald Reagan that they created that out of whole cloth. But it worked.”
“And so, we had a welfare queen created by Ronald Reagan,” he added. “So Newt Gingrich, seeing all of this, decided that he would create a ‘food stamp king.’ And that’s what he did, and sure it resonated. But the fact of the matter is, nobody wants to be on food stamps. Everybody would want a job.”
[…] “He went after the media down in Myrtle Beach,” Clyburn said of Gingrich. “He ‘put Juan Williams in his place.’ These little words and phrases that he used – calling President Obama a ‘food stamp president’ – these are things that were reminiscent of the Southern strategy of Richard Nixon and the ‘welfare queen’ created by Ronald Reagan. He understands all of that. He played into it very well and did a masterful job of connecting with the Republican voter.”
In addition to what Clyburn argued were Gingrich’s use of race as a wedge issue and his criticism of the news media, the No. 3 House Democrat also contended that Gingrich won in part due to Romney’s inability to “come clean with the American people, at least in their minds, as to who exactly and what he is.”
It’s true that Newt Gingrich is an aggressive debater, but that doesn’t mean Americans like him. In fact, Americans hate his guts. Conn Carroll assembled the data:
Not every poll releases their full results, so here are the most recent favorability results I could find for Obama, Romney, and Newt.
Fox News, 1/12-1/14:
Obama, fav/unfav, 51%/46%, +5
Romney, fav/unfav, 45%/38%, +7
Gingrich, fav/unfav, 27%/56%, -29
Obama, fav/unfav, 38%/45%, -7
Romney, fav/unfav, 21%/35%, -14
Gingrich, fav/unfav, 17%/49%, -32
Obama, app/dis, 47%/50%, -3
Romney, fav/unfav, 35%/53%, -18
Gingrich, fav/unfav, 26%/60%, -34
Newt can score easy points with Republican base-voters by attacking the media and making obnoxiously racist comments, but that doesn’t endear him to the broader electorate.
People hate Santorum, too, but he’s less famous.
The thing is, the Republican base really doesn’t care that most people loath Newt Gingrich. The Republican base loathes the people who loath Newt Gingrich.
This election is going very well.
On Tuesday, Mitt Romney finally acknowledged what we’ve long suspected: that, despite earning millions of dollars a year, his tax rate is approximately 15 percent — the same as it would be if he were a teacher earning $50,000 a year.
The disclosure touched off a flurry of news stories — some about the rigged nature of the U.S. tax code, most about how this fact would play in the primary and general elections. Then on Wednesday ABC News broke another story. Romney, it turns out, has a lot of money invested in offshore funds — the sort of funds you used to hear about years ago when wealthy people, foreign investors, private pensions and others would invest and shelter their money.
The timing of the ABC story couldn’t have been better for those hoping to create a hazy sense that Romney’s some kind of tax avoider. But they’re largely two different things.
The first spate of stories are about strategies Romney has used to keep his effective tax rate low. The offshore funds story is about a strategy investors use not to defer income and reduce their tax burden, but to attract foreign investors who want to avoid U.S. taxation.
“One of the reasons to have a Cayman Islands entity is so that foreign investors will not get hit with U.S. income, and that’s consistent with our general tax policy,” says Victor Fleischer, a tax professor at the University of Colorado Law School. This can give American investors who offshore a competitive advantage over those who don’t, and can cost the Treasury revenue, but it’s on the level.
And, crucially, it’s distinct from the myriad ways Romney and other high net-worth individuals avoid paying higher taxes.
“That’s absolutely right,” Fleischer says. “Congress changed the law in 2008 or 2009 to make it more difficult to [shelter money in offshore funds], so if all you do is reinvest the money in regular cash, or you put it into a diversified portfolio of investments, you can no longer defer the income.”
Before the law changed, wealthy people could invest their money in offshore funds to avoid paying U.S. taxes on the returns until years later.
“The idea behind some of the Cayman Island strategies was that the income that the fund managers receive for managing the money would be kept offshore in the Cayman Island — and the chief benefit is that you can defer when you recognize that income until a later date and you can reinvest the money from the Cayman islands and none of those reinvested funds get taxed until you bring them back either,” Flesicher says.
It’s possible, though for now completely speculative, that Romney used that strategy back when it was legal. And, as Fleischer said speculating, this could be “one of the issues in my mind why Romney may not want to release old returns is that it may highlight that issue.”
And as the Wall Street Journal reports, Romney also has an unusually large amount of money saved in his tax-deferred individual retirement account (IRA). And that could be the case because the IRA invested in offshore Bain funds — investments that would have triggered a significant, but obscure, tax if the funds had been located in the U.S. And as the Journal reports, based on an interview with a different tax expert, “there are some tax differences achieved by having an IRA invest through offshore funds, adding that the strategy doesn’t eliminate taxes owed, but defers them.”
We’ll see. Meanwhile the Romney camp says of his non-IRA overseas investments: “The Romneys’ investments in funds established in the Cayman Islands are taxed in the very same way they would be if those funds were established in the United States. These are not tax havens and it is false to say so.”
When Gov. George Romney released his tax returns in 1968, he handed over 12 years worth of documents. “One year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show,” he said.
Today, Mitt Romney promised he’ll release his tax returns on Tuesday. “We just made a mistake in holding off as long as we did. It just was a distraction.” But he only plans to release his return for 2010 and an estimate of his returns for 2011. That might have been enough prior to the controversy. George W. Bush only released one year of his tax returns. But it won’t work now. As Buzzfeed’s Ben Smith tweeted, “Releasing the 2010 returns is just blood in the water. What about the previous 20 years?”
Romney’s resistance to releasing his tax returns made it look like he had something to hide. Now, he needs to prove that he doesn’t. And to prove that, one year is not enough. After all, one year could just be a fluke, perhaps done for show.
On Meet the Press Sunday, Republican strategist Mike Murphy said that Romney should have released his tax returns earlier and advised Romney for the next debate to “wear a suit made out of your tax returns Monday night.”
[Major flaw in AttackWatch.com– their site format doesn’t allow for C&P.]
[…] Fact Check.Org reports:
Newt Gingrich claims that “more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history.” He’s wrong. More were added under Bush than under Obama, according to the most recent figures.
But Gingrich goes too far to say Obama has put more on the rolls than other presidents. We asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition service for month-by-month figures going back to January 2001. And they show that under President George W. Bush the number of recipients rose by nearly 14.7 million. Nothing before comes close to that.
And under Obama, the increase so far has been 14.2 million. To be exact, the program has so far grown by 444,574 fewer recipients during Obama’s time in office than during Bush’s.
The economic downturn began in December 2007. In the 12 months before Obama was sworn in, 4.4 million were added to the rolls, triple the 1.4 million added in 2007.
[…] Question three, and here’s the big one emerging from this contest: Exactly why is Gingrich suddenly more electable than Romney? Because, it is said, he has proven that he can debate Barack Obama. You hear conservatives talk, they’re just licking their chops over this. They may well nominate Gingrich not because they really want him to be the president of the United States, but because they want to see him debate Obama three times—or maybe even seven times at three hours each, which is what he’s been proposing for months, and which he reiterated in his victory speech Saturday night to loud applause. Those debates will practically be sacred events for conservatives.
This is what conservatives want. They want someone who can stand on a stage with Obama and say, “You are our nightmare. You are the destroyer. You are the un-American and the anti-Christ, and I smite you.” For conservatives, it’s personal with Obama. He blinds them with hatred.
So they don’t really want someone who can “beat” Barack Obama, which is the question the exit polls asked. They want someone who can humiliate him in prime-time television, put him in his place, expose him to the world such that all the deluded idiots in this country who still like Obama finally and blazingly acknowledge the
truth that has so long been obvious to them. As Newt supporter Sam Pimm told me at the Gingrich victory event, “I would buy a ticket to see Gingrich debate Obama. Newt versus Obama is going to be something to see.”
[Hmm. What else is happening Tuesday?]
After being soundly beaten by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in South Carolina’s Republican presidential primary, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is pledging to release tax returns for at least one year.
On Sunday, Romney admitted to Fox News host Chris Wallace that he had made a “mistake” by not releasing his tax information earlier.
“What we said was I was planning on releasing them in April when they had been released by other candidates in the past,” Romney said. “But you know what? Given all the attention that’s been focused on tax returns, given the distraction that I think they became in these last couple of weeks, look, I’m going to make it clear to you right now, Chris, I will release my tax returns for 2010, which is the last returns that were completed.”
“I’ll do that on Tuesday of this week,” he added. “I’ll also release at the same time an estimate for 2011 tax returns. So you’ll have two years. People can take a good look at it. We’ll put them on the website and you can go through the pages. This, I think, we just made a mistake in holding off as long as we did.”
Wallace noted that Romney’s dad, George Romney, had released 12 years of tax returns during his 1968 bid for president.
“Well, that will be more than any other Republican candidate,” Romney said of his pending release. “I’m not going to go back to my dad’s years. That was even before the Internet. We’ll be putting our returns on the Internet. People can look through them.”
“Are there more political problems in these tax returns?” Wallace wondered. “Like the 15 percent [effective tax rate], like the investments in offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands?”
“I’m sure the Democrats will do their very best to see if they can’t find something that stirs up political interest,” the candidate agreed. “But, look, the income I have is derived from the interest described in the financial disclosure report. The Cayman Islands account, so to speak, is apparently an investment that was made in an entity that invests in the United States. The taxes paid on that are full U.S. taxes. … We pay full fair taxes, and you will see it’s a pretty substantial amount.”
In 1989, Bain Capital purchased controlling interest in Damon Corp., a medical testing company located in Needham, Massachusetts.
During the time that Bain held its ownership of the company, Mitt Romney personally sat on the Board of Directors. And during that same period, Damon Corp. was busy submitting fraudulent reimbursement claims to Medicare to the tune of millions of dollars charged for unnecessary blood tests.
According to federal government prosecutors, Damon was misleading physicians into ordering unnecessary blood tests, assuring the doctors that the testing would be covered by Medicare.
By the time Damon Corp. pleaded guilty to defrauding the United States Government of $25 million—and paid a total of $119 million in what was, at that time, the largest penalty of its kind in Massachusetts history—Bain was long gone having sold the company in 1993 to Corning, Inc.
Inasmuch as neither Romney nor Bain was ever implicated in the fraud, it would be reasonable to conclude that while the illegal activity was going on under Mr. Romney’s nose, Romney would, himself, bear only some responsibility for perhaps not being as on top of things as one might hope for a company’s director to be.
But, according to Romney, such a conclusion would be wrong.
When Mitt Romney was confronted with the matter during his campaign to become the Governor of Massachusetts, Romney acknowledged that he didhave some awareness of the funky things going on at Damon.
According to The Deseret News-
More than a decade later, when Romney was in pursuit of the Massachusetts governorship, his Democratic opponent Shannon O’Brien accused him of lax oversight at Damon and failing to report the fraud.
Romney replied that he had helped uncover the illegal activity at Damon, asking the board’s lawyers to investigate. As a result, he said, the board took “corrective action” before selling the company in 1993 to Corning Inc.
So, then, the future Governor and candidate for his party’s nomination to run for the presidency, did fulfill his obligation as a great American and did report the fraud to the proper authorities, right?
According to the court records, “…the Damon executives’ scheme continued throughout Bain’s ownership, and prosecutors credited Corning, not Romney, with cleaning up the situation.”
But there is an explanation – it turns out that the Damon experience was a foreshadowing of the Mitt Romney to come as he engaged in one of his now infamous episodes of flip-flopping.
You see, before Romney indicated that he was involved in conducting an investigation while he was on the board of directors, he said that he was completely unaware of any investigation.
Here’s another shocker. While the company eventually went bankrupt, with thousands losing their jobs, Bain Capital walked away with a $12 million profit—a little over $400,000 of that money ending up in Mitt’s pocket.
Expect to hear a lot more about this in the coming days as AFSCME has spent close to one million dollars in advertising buys throughout the state of Florida to highlight this misadventure.
“Oh, were you taking a picture? I didn’t notice, I was so busy doing this normal human thing.”
On Fox News Sunday this morning, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) told Chris Wallace that “We’re going to do everything we can to make sure the Keystone Pipeline is approved.” When Wallace pressed him whether Republican leadership would make the pipeline a condition for extending the payroll tax holiday, Boehner admitted, “We may,” adding (several times) that “All options are on the table.”
Five senators and 40 congressional representatives received a perfect 100 percent score from the Koch brothers’astroturf group Americans For Prosperity for the first half of the 112th Congress. AFP judged Congress on their votes to protect the Koch brothers’ right-wing petrochemical empire on such issues as the repeal of President Obama’s new health care law, pre-empting EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases, Chairman Paul Ryan’s budget to end Medicare, ending ethanol subsidies, several Congressional Review Act resolutions of disapproval to overturn new regulations, and the fiscal year 2012 appropriations bills.
In a previous post, ThinkProgress Green reviewed the five Koch senators and their massive haul of campaign contributions from the Koch empire. Below is a compilation of the 40 members of the Congressional Koch Caucus, in addition to their contributions received from Koch Industries, according to data compiled from OpenSecrets.org.
All U.S. Representatives who were given perfect records from Americans For Prosperity for their 2011 votes. Lifetime Koch Industries political contributions, from Center for Responsive Politics data.
Fourteen members of the Koch Caucus are members of the Tea Party caucus. The average contribution to the Koch Caucus was $9,869.
Video of Rep. Giffords announcing she’s resigning from Congress this week
On the two-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which said that corporations and unions could spend an unlimited amount on political speech, Justice Antonin Scalia gave a simple solution to those who don’t like result: turn off the TV.
Speaking during a presentation before the South Carolina Bar Saturday in Columbia, S.C., Scalia said he has no problem with the rise of the super-PAC ads that have glutted the state’s airwaves ahead of the primary there, according to the Associated Press.
“I don’t care who is doing the speech — the more the merrier,” said Scalia, who was in the majority in the 5-4 Citizens United decision. “People are not stupid. If they don’t like it, they’ll shut it off.”
Justice Stephen Breyer, who was on stage with Scalia in South Carolina, said that every time a decision isn’t unanimous, “somebody is making a mistake,” the AP wrote.
“There are real problems when people want to spend lots of money on a candidate … they’ll drown out the people who don’t have a lot of money,” Breyer said.
Citizens United has upended election law in the U.S., giving rise to super-PACs, which can collect unlimited sums of money to directly support or oppose candidates All of the presidential candidates have super-PACs supporting them, and they have outspent the candidates themselves on the air in the early primary states.
Scalia said that the court’s only role in the election system is to decide if the laws is constitutional or not, and that lawmakers are the ones who can change things.
“If the system seems crazy to you, don’t blame it on the court,” Scalia said, according to the AP report.
As we mark the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we must remember that this Supreme Court decision not only protects a woman’s health and reproductive freedom, but also affirms a broader principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose and this fundamental constitutional right. While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue- no matter what our views, we must stay united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant woman and mothers, reduce the need for abortion, encourage healthy relationships, and promote adoption. And as we remember this historic anniversary, we must also continue our efforts to ensure that our daughters have the same rights, freedoms, and opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
Frank Bruni, NYT:
THE people who invite us to wallow in food seldom remind us to beware.
In the pages of their gorgeously illustrated cookbooks or on their delectably edited TV shows, they assemble and plunge headlong into lavish feasts, oohing as they baste, cooing as they carve and swooning over the side dishes. We respond as intended. We hanker and yearn.
Here’s what we don’t see: the yogurt and berries they had for breakfast; the salads and grilled vegetables they eat on nights off; the portion of each lovingly shot dish that they don’t touch, having satisfied their curiosity or the cameras with a few bites. If they’re fit, they often neglect to mention the exercise involved. If they’re not, they infrequently cop to their health worries or woes.
Last week Paula Deen copped. The woman whose best-known burger recipe uses glazed doughnuts in place of a bun announced that she has diabetes. It would have been refreshing if the circumstances hadn’t been so self-serving: she was plugging her son Bobby’s new Cooking Channel show, “Not My Mama’s Meals,” which is devoted to lower-calorie recipes. And she had recently signed on as a paid pitchwoman for a diabetes drug.
What’s more, she had waited three long, greasy years since her diagnosis to come out. During that period, she promoted the deep-fried life without acknowledging her firsthand experience of how a person can be burned by it.
That’s a profound, unsettling act of withholding. But it’s mirrored by many smaller, less calculated, more innocent ones in the world of food celebrities and food celebrators, including those of us who have written orgiastic accounts of sumptuous dinners. Deen’s revelation jolted me in part because people in the business of peddling gastronomic bliss rarely draw such a bold connection between indulgence and its possible wages.
It’s not that the wages are unpredictable or hidden. Every day seems to bring the invention of a new diet, and in a country with tens of millions of obese people, it sometimes seems that half of them are on reality shows, sweating or crying their way up the steep, broccoli-paved road to redemption. We once again have “jiggle TV,” only now it refers to the swoop and sway of second chins on a StairMaster.
But those programs tend to exist in a penitent universe apart from those that traffic in Southern barbecue, ornately iced cakes and the handiwork of iron-willed chefs. An exception that proves the rule is “Fat Chef,” a Food Network show beginning on Thursday. Apart from it, there’s a chasm between revelry and responsibility that makes it all too easy to cast aside caution and dig in. That disconnect carries over to magazine publishing, where epicurean counsel and restrained eating are largely separate genres, and to the sectioning of newspapers, in which kitchen frolicking goes in the dining pages, low-calorie recipes in the health ones. Too much integration of the latter into the former spoils the fun.
But they’re integrated behind the scenes. You show me a truly skinny food editor or writer who frequents serious restaurants and — in two out of three cases — I’ll show you someone expert at a brand of knife work that yields infinitesimal bites and an illusion of gluttony where mere grazing occurred. They should be surgeons, these people. I know. Especially during my five years as a restaurant critic, I ate with many of them — and can assure you that people in the food industry are among the least likely to clean their plates.
MANY of the acclaimed chefs whose television appearances, cookbooks or venerated restaurants whet our appetites have only an occasional, formal relationship with the luxuries they hawk. For a forthcoming book, Allison Adato, an editor at People, debriefed some three dozen of them about how they themselves ate.
“When I asked them what kind of food they cooked at home, it was surprising to me how many said roast chicken and vegetables,” she told me. “You can’t imagine. And none of them are particularly known for roast chicken.” She heard a lot as well about high-fiber cereals, egg whites, yogurt smoothies, leafy greens.
The research that she recounted to me and the book itself, “Smart Chefs Stay Slim,” to be published by New American Library in April, describe a populous crowd of food professionals who work out diligently to keep the ravages of foie gras at bay.
They have private trainers. They play tennis or soccer. They climb rocks or box or do yoga or bicycle or run. Adato’s book spotlights four chefs and restaurateurs who have run marathons, including Art Smith, who cooked for Oprah Winfrey for 10 years and was once more than 100 pounds above his current weight. It could also have name-checkedBobby Flay, who has run three.
Gail Simmons, the host of “Top Chef: Just Desserts,” told me that she and her “Top Chef” colleagues are all committed exercisers. Padma Lakshmi, she said, will repeatedly scale hotel stairs for quick workouts when they’re taping out of town.
They’re careful with eating, too. Before each of three recent seasons, Simmons did a roughly 10-day program of mostly vegetarian meals with a three-day juice cleanse in the middle.
She’s not trying to hide that, and in fact mentions her mindful ways in a memoir, “Talking With My Mouth Full,” to be published by Hyperion next month. The chefs whom Adato profiled weren’t reticent about their efforts at fitness, either. Readers, though, may be surprised by the magnitude of discipline many of them muster. It just isn’t brought up as often as it could be.
And discipline is in order, because some of the upscale victuals they concoct and invariably test aren’t all that much safer than Deen’s grub, the doughnut burger excepted. While Deen has a preponderance of calorie bombs in her playbook and a heavy hand with salt, a given dish of hers can sometimes be lighter than its haute counterpart. An analysis of written recipes that I commissioned from a dietitian suggested that her oven-fried potato wedges, made with mayonnaise, are 328 calories per serving. The chef Thomas Keller’s “tasting of potatoes with black truffles,” made with cream and butter, is 494.
That’s the kind of thing that made me consider some past put-downs of Deen elitist. After all, she isn’t alone in exhorting people to pig out. She’s just unusually cornmeal-crusted, saucy and bewigged about it.
I hope she’ll have plenty of company now, too, as she tells some valuable truths about food and consequences, belated as they are.
Speaking of uh, exercise…
Denise Oliver Velez, Daily Kos:
Jan. 23 is the anniversary of the ratification of the 24th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1964, a major victory for activists who fought to eliminate barriers to voting like the poll tax and literacy tests.
In U.S. practice, a poll tax was used as a de facto or implicit pre-condition of the exercise of the ability to vote. This tax emerged in some states of the United States in the late 19th century as part of the Jim Crow laws. After the ability to vote was extended to all races by the enactment of the Fifteenth Amendment, many Southern states enacted poll tax laws which often included a grandfather clause that allowed any adult male whose father or grandfather had voted in a specific year prior to the abolition of slavery to vote without paying the tax. These laws, along with unfairly implemented literacy tests and extra-legal intimidation, achieved the desired effect of disenfranchising African-American and Native American voters as well as poor whites who immigrated after the year specified.
Let us never forget that this country’s beginnings did not offer voting rights to all. Only white male property owners were permitted to vote, with only four states allowing the vote to free black males.
I don’t take my right to vote for granted. The ballot is still one of the most precious and hard won gifts of this democracy, and I know all too well the thin line that separates me from being allowed to vote, and losing it.
I will not forget my ancestors who died fighting for me to be able to go to a polling station and cast a vote for my candidate of choice.
I will not forget the obstacles strewn in their paths—be they poll taxes, or vigilante terror.
I will not forget the determined resistance against repression—and the ultimate victories we won.
I will not let my students forget that it was not so very long ago that most of them would not have been able to vote, since two-thirds of my students are female. I have Black, Latino, Asian and Native American students, all of whom would have been forbidden the ballot during different periods in our history. Though usually cast as solely a black-white issue, the subject of the franchise historically unveils the intersections of “race,” gender, ethnicity and social class.
I will make sure that they know their votes are threatened right now.
On December 5, 2011, the NAACP released a new report revealing direct connections between the trend of increasing, unprecedented African American and Latino voter turnout and an onslaught of restrictive measures across the country designed to stem electoral strength among communities of color.
The report, Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America, details a plethora of voter suppression initiatives, most of them pushed in states with large African-American populations and where voting turnout has surged. The joint report by the NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund examines scores of legislative proposals, ballot initiatives and voting laws enacted or proposed since the 2008 election.
Copies of the report will be sent to the federal and state agencies that monitor, administer and enforce voting rights, including the US Department of Justice, the Federal Elections Commission, and the Election Assistance Commission, as well as Secretaries of State and Attorneys General in all 50 states. In addition, the report will be delivered to the appropriate committees of jurisdiction in the House and Senate, and entities within the United Nations.
Let’s take a brief look at voting rights history. As I mentioned before, much of the discussion of the franchise tends to be around African Americans, and their struggle to cast off the yoke of enslavement, and achieve the right to vote. To then maintain it through the nightmare period of reconstruction fraught with lynchings and burnings, into the civil rights era and beyond. We often overlook the history of other groups who were equally disenfranchised.
The most ironic one is that of those people we dub “Native Americans.” As the first people here, one would think they would have enjoyed the rights of U.S. citizens.
They did not.
Rep. John Conyers spoke for me when he said:
The United States may have the most restrictive disenfranchisement policy in the world. Such prohibitions on the right to vote undermine both the voting system and the fundamental rights of ex-offenders.”
In particular, today’s Justice Department – and, specifically, our Civil Rights Division and its Voting Section – have taken meaningful steps to ensure integrity, independence, and transparency in our enforcement of the Voting Rights Act – legislation that Dr. King was instrumental in advancing and, in 1965, saw signed into law by President Johnson. […]
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.”
~~Abraham J. Heschel