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Obama calls again for capping government contractor pay


The Obama administration is renewing its push to cap the pay of government contracting executives as the House prepares to vote on a bill that would freeze federal and congressional salaries.

Certain federal government contracts permit government contracting firms to bill federal agencies up to $693,951 annually for incurred costs, including employee salaries, meaning many contractor executives and some highly-skilled contractors earn more than top-earning federal employees and President Obama. Since 1995, Congress has tied the contractor pay cap to compensation levels for the nation’s top-earning business executives — a figure that has ballooned in the last two decades.

In December, lawmakers voted to expand the cap at most agencies to cover all government contractors, including highly-skilled engineers and scientists that also earn top pay.

But the changes don’t go far enough for Obama, who proposed last fall that the fiscal “supercommittee” cap the amount of money agencies pay to government contracting executives at $200,000, on par with the amount earned by top career federal employees.

The proposal was ignored, and the White House is trying again.

“Taxpayers are being forced to reimburse contractors at a rate which has outpaced the growth of inflation and the wages of most of America’s working families — as well as the growth of federal salaries,” Lesley Field, the acting White House official for government contracting, said in a White House statement and blog post set for publication Tuesday.

“Just as the Government must be prudent in paying its employees, it must also not overpay contractors,” Field added, noting that Obama’s proposal does not limit how much contractors pay their top earners — only how much agencies would reimburse them.

White House officials said their renewed push on the cap comes as the Office of Management and Budget prepares to raise it to nearly $750,000 in the coming weeks, in line with the congressional mandate to maintain parity with the private sector. Raising the cap would not be necessary if lawmakers vote to cap executive compensation in the next few weeks, the officials said.





Sen. Brown (D) calls out Citibank for classifying frequent flyer miles as taxable income 

The Hill:

Sen. Sherrod Brown is calling on Citibank to end a practice of treating frequent-flyer miles as taxable income.

In a Monday letter to the banking giant, the Ohio Democrat dismissed Citibank’s assertion that airline miles are a taxable prize or award, and suggested that the bank was piling on American families during a sluggish economy.
“The last thing Citibank should be doing is creating baseless fear in middle-class families, or placing a nonexistent tax burden on the backs of families who are already struggling to make ends meet,” Brown wrote to Vikram Pandit, the chief executive of Citigroup, which runs Citibank.

The Los Angeles Times reported last week that Citibank classified frequent-flyer miles as miscellaneous income — valued at 2.5 cents per mile — on tax forms sent to customers who received thousands of miles as part ofopening an account with the bank.
Citibank said it was basing its decision on the Internal Revenue Code, which says that someone must pay income tax if they receive at least $600 in prizes and awards.
Tax professionals said they had never seen airline miles considered taxable, and the IRS, at the time, said it stood by a 2002 policy declaration that said that the agency “will not assert that any taxpayer has understated his federal tax liability by reason of the receipt or personal use of frequent-flier miles.”
But on Monday, the IRS distinguished between what Citibank was doing and the agency’s previously outlined position.
Michelle Eldridge, an IRS spokeswoman, said that the 2002 announcement was focused on the use of business-related frequent flyer miles, and suggested the Citibank miles would be taxable.
“When frequent-flyer miles are provided as a premium for opening a financial account, it can be a taxable situation subject to reporting under current law,” Eldridge said.
The spokeswoman added that taxpayers unsure of how to proceed should contact their tax professional or the company or entity that sent the tax form in question.
The statement comes just weeks after the IRS announced that the 2006 tax gap — the difference between what taxpayers owe and what is paid on time — had grown to $450 billion.






Blasted by GOP, health reform is adding jobs 


While Republican presidential hopefuls in Florida decry President Barack Obama’s health-care reform as job-killing, for one big chunk of the economy — the health-care sector itself — the controversial law will likely boost employment.

The health-care industry is already one of the nation’s largest employers. In Florida alone, which holds its key primary Tuesday, there are about 960,000 jobs in health care and social assistance, around 13% of all nonfarm payroll positions in the state.

“Reform may accelerate the trend toward health care’s being the dominant employment sector in the economy,” according to a recent New England Journal of Medicine article.

Much of the growth in health care due to reform could be in support positions, rather than doctors and nurses, economists said.

“As for jobs for health professionals, I doubt that this will or can increase the number of doctors or nurses. While there will be greater demand for their services, there will also be offsetting effects as medically unnecessarily procedures are paid less,” said Amitabh Chandra, an economist and public-policy professor at Harvard University.

As the insured population grows under the federal Affordable Care Act, health-care workers are going to be in high demand. These gains are on top of the growth already spurred by an aging population. In Florida the impact of an aging population may be even more dramatic: about 17% of the state’s population is at least 65 years old, compared with 13% for the U.S., according to the Census Bureau.

Going into Florida’s primary, older voters are an important constituency for Republicans. In 2008, people at least 65 made up 22% of voters, and 53% of these voted for Republican candidate John McCain, according to CNN exit polls. Meanwhile, among 50- to 64-year-olds, 54% voted for Obama.

Republican candidates, railing against Obama’s health-care law, understand that health care and cost containment are key issues, particularly in Florida. And no one knows better than Mitt Romney that reform can lead to job growth.

The Massachusetts story

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney was a major player in that commonwealth’s health reform in April 2006. According to the New England Journal of Medicine article, health-care employment in Massachusetts grew 9.5% between December 2005 and September 2010, compared with 5.5% elsewhere in the U.S. There would have been about 18,000 fewer health-care employees in Massachusetts by 2010 if the state’s growth rate had matched the country’s.

Since Massachusetts’s health reform was approved, overall nonfarm employment in the state has declined about 0.2%, compared with a decrease of about 2.9% for the U.S.

To focus on occupation, the authors looked at health-care employment, per capita, comparing the two years leading up to reform in Massachusetts, with the first two years after implementation. Over this time period, administration jobs gained 18%, compared with 8% elsewhere in the U.S. These occupations are in areas such as management, business, and medical records. Meanwhile, nonadministration patient-care support employment — therapists, technicians and aides — also rose 18%, compared with 11% elsewhere. Finally, employment of health-care professionals such as physicians and nurses rose 3% in the state, compared with 6% elsewhere.

“It is not surprising to see an increase in health care employment, particularly in occupations to which people can shift rapidly with brief training time,” according to the journal article’s authors. “It is plausible that additional employees were required to manage the care of the new enrollees, process applications, file insurance claims, submit information to comply with regulatory requirements, and carry out other administrative functions (although such an effect could be large initially and then diminish as processes are refined and made more efficient).”

But while economists point to results in Massachusetts to get a feel for the possible size and nature of U.S. health-care employment growth under reform, there are several important differences between the state and the nation. For example, prior to reform, Massachusetts had a relatively low uninsured population. Second, the state had relatively high per-capita rates of doctors and nurses.

Nonmedical employment gains may not sound glamorous, but these workers can do a lot to improve patients’ outcomes. For example, care coordinators can help patients navigate the health-care system, making sure that doctors’ orders are followed, said David Cutler, an economist at Harvard and health-care adviser to Obama’s last campaign.

Care coordination could help save costs, too.

“One of the big places we waste money is patients who are discharged and there’s not a lot of follow up and they end up in the hospital a month later,” said Leemore Dafny, an economist at Northwestern University who focuses on competition in health-care markets.

She added that reform will also create new primary care physicians and physician “extenders,” such as nurse practitioners, and slow growth in spending on medical specialists.

“If the ACA is repealed, it will be business as usual — except that more of the population is now uninsured — so the demand for primary care professionals will increase much more slowly,” said Dafny.

Overall, there may only be a small increase in labor demand due to reform, as forces work against each other, according to a report from the Urban Institute, a Washington-based think tank. Expanding Medicaid coverage will increase spending, even as growth slows for Medicare.

“The net effect, however, will be positive — higher net spending on health care services and more employment in the health sector,” according to the report.


While reform is expected to lead to employment gains, there are constraints when it comes to graduating new doctors and nurses.

“We do not have enough capacity to match supply needs. We have a shortage of faculty to teach,” said Mary Lou Brunell, a nursing veteran and executive director of Florida Center for Nursing, an Orlando-based public workforce research group.

Under reform, Brunell expects a current shortage of almost 6,000 full-time registered nurses in Florida to increase to more than 50,000 by 2025, she said. Without reform, the shortage would be almost 21,000. Nationally, there could be a shortage of almost 131,000 physicians by 2025, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

Nurses will have to be leaders when it comes to figuring out how to deliver care under these conditions, Brunell said.

“We’re talking about the fact that we need to look at how we are delivering care, and how we can deliver care differently to meet the needs of a large population, and a more critically ill population,” Brunell said.

To meet coming care challenges, Republican candidates say Obama’s health-reform plan must be repealed, and that the national individual mandate is unworkable.

Romney, who faces frequent criticism from Republican rivals over the Massachusetts reform, says states should determine the health systems that will work the best for them. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has supported giving people a tax credit or deduction for the value of health insurance, up to a certain amount.




Deficit cuts are about to hurt the economy, a report suggests 






NYT OpEd: Pregnant, and Pushed Out of a Job

FEW people realize that getting pregnant can mean losing your job. Imagine a woman who, seven months into her pregnancy, is fired from her position as a cashier because she needed a few extra bathroom breaks. Or imagine another pregnant employee who was fired from her retail job after giving her supervisors a doctor’s note requesting she be allowed to refrain from heavy lifting and climbing ladders during the month and a half before her maternity leave: that’s what happened to Patricia Leahy. In 2008 a federal judge in Brooklyn ruled that her firing was fair because her employers were not obligated to accommodate her needs.

We see this kind of case in our legal clinic all the time. It happens every day to pregnant women in the United States, and it happens thanks to a gap between discrimination laws and disability laws.

Federal and state laws ban discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace. And amendments to the Americans With Disabilities Act require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees (including most employees with medical complications arising from pregnancies) who need them to do their jobs. But because pregnancy itself is not considered a disability, employers are not obligated to accommodate most pregnant workers in any way.

As a result, thousands of pregnant women are pushed out of jobs that they are perfectly capable of performing — either put on unpaid leave or simply fired — when they request an accommodation to help maintain a healthy pregnancy. Many are single mothers or a family’s primary breadwinner. They are disproportionately low-income women, often in physically demanding jobs with little flexibility.

Thankfully, State Senator Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan, and AssemblywomanAileen Gunther, a Democrat from Sullivan County, have introduced legislation to fill this gap in New York. Their bills — S. 6273 and A. 9114 — would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant women whose health care providers say they need them, unless doing so would be an undue hardship for the employer.

These accommodations could include providing a seat for employees who spend long periods standing, allowing more frequent restroom breaks, limiting heavy lifting or transferring an employee to a less strenuous or hazardous position. As of 2010, seven states, including California, had passed laws requiring private employers to provide at least some accommodations. And they have been used countless times to help pregnant women keep their jobs.

This kind of law is a public health necessity. Without its protections, pregnant women are reluctant to ask for the accommodations they need for their own health and for the health of their unborn children. For many women, a choice between working under unhealthy conditions and not working is no choice at all. In addition, women who can work longer into their pregnancies often qualify for longer periods of leave following childbirth, which facilitates breastfeeding, bonding with and caring for a new child and a smoother and healthier recovery from childbirth.

Pregnancy-related accommodations also promote economic security for families. Women who are forced early into unpaid leave are set back with lost wages and, when they return to work, with missed advancement opportunities. Women who are let go don’t just lose out on critical income — they must fight extra hard to re-enter a job market that is especially brutal on the unemployed. Worse yet, they often confront a bias against hiring mothers with small children.

Finally, employers might consider that providing accommodations to pregnant workers would even be good for the bottom line, in the form of reduced turnover, increased loyalty and productivity and healthier workers. With minor job modifications, a woman might be able to work up until the delivery of her child and return to work fairly soon after giving birth. If she were forced out instead, her employer would waste time and money finding a replacement. In the worst-case scenario, employers could be responsible for much higher medical costs if their workers were afraid to ask for accommodations and instead continued doing work that endangered their pregnancies.

Three-quarters of women now entering the work force will become pregnant on the job, yet gaps in our civil rights laws leave this enormous class without the right to the modest accommodations that would protect them. New York’s Legislature should pass this law as soon as possible, and other states should follow. No pregnant woman in this country should have to choose between her job and a healthy pregnancy.




NYT OpEd: A Harder Squeeze on the Poor

House Republicans have hit upon a noxious scheme to help pay for an extension of the payroll tax cut: a tax increase on millions of poor working families. A billpassed by the House and now in conference seeks to deny cash refunds under the child tax credit to those who file tax returns using “individual taxpayer identification numbers” issued by the Internal Revenue Service. Only those using Social Security numbers would be eligible.

The refundable portion of the child tax credit is a life-saver for the working poor. Families that would be cut off by this policy change make an average of $21,000 per year, according to the Treasury Department. They would lose an average of $1,800. About 80 percent of those families are Hispanic. The taxpayer identification numbers are used frequently, though not exclusively, by unauthorized immigrants to pay the taxes because they are not eligible for Social Security numbers. The I.R.S. accepts their tax payments and allows families to claim the child tax credit regardless of immigration status. This policy is an effective antipoverty tool that protects children, most of whom are American-born citizens.

The Republicans who have flatly rejected tax increases on the rich have settled instead on limiting this refund, which kept about 1.3 million children from falling into poverty in 2009.

Leaving aside the cruelty of squeezing the poorest workers for a greater portion of their wages to make a point about illegal immigration, the bill punishes not just the undocumented, but the communities they live in, because a poor family’s hard-earned wages get spent: on things like groceries, child care, utilities, gas and rent. This would be the bottom line of the House bill: a Congress that has failed for years to fix the immigration system, using its failure to harm children and hurting those at the bottom of the ladder to avoid the slightest pressure on millionaires. The Senate would be mad to go along with it.




AP: U.S. home prices fell for a third straight month, as prices in nearly all cities were down in November




Nearly Half Of Americans Live One Financial Shock Away From Poverty 


According to a report from the Corporation for Enterprise Development, a D.C. advocacy group, 43 percent of Americans would fall into poverty within three months if they were to experience a sudden financial shock, such as losing a job or facing a medical emergency. “Growing numbers of families have almost no savings or other assets to see them through if they lose their jobs or face a medical crisis,” said Andrea Levere, president of CFED. “Without savings, few will be able to build a more economically secure future, including buying a home, saving for their children’s college educations or building a retirement nest egg.” The tenuous financial position of so many households is due to a combination of “flat wages, the high cost of medical treatment and the nationwide drop in housing values leaving homeowners with less wealth.”


San Onofre nuclear power plant unit shut down after potential leak

L A Times:

Officials at the San Onofre nuclear power plant shut down one of the facility’s two units Tuesday evening after a sensor detected a possible leak in a steam generator tube.
The potential leak was detected about 4:30 p.m., and the unit was completely shut down about an hour later, Southern California Edison said.

“The potential leak poses no imminent danger to the plant workers or the public,” utility spokeswoman Jennifer Manfre told The Times.
She said there were no evacuations and that crews were assessing the situation to determine if a leak had occurred.





Coal’s not dying–it’s just getting shipped abroad


The U.S. is burning less and less coal each year, thanks to cheap natural gas and new pollution rules. From a climate perspective, that’s a huge deal — less coal means less carbon. But here’s the catch: if the U.S. just exports its unused coal abroad, the end result could actually be more carbon.

Coal use in the United States reallydoes appear to be waning. In 2000, the country got 52 percent of its electricity from coal. In 2010, that dropped to 45 percent. By 2030, the government expectsthat to fall to 39 percent. And even that’s probably over-optimistic. Upcoming EPA rules to crack down on things like leftover coal ash waste and greenhouse-gas emissions could make life even more difficult for U.S. coal-plant operators. Indeed, one Deutsche Bankanalysis predicted that coal’s share of electricity generation would plunge to a mere 22 percent by 2030, largely supplanted by cleaner natural gas, solar and wind.

If that scenario actually transpired (and, admittedly, it’s a bet that natural gas prices will remain low for a long while), it would make a huge difference for America’s global-warming contributions. Deutsche Bank estimates that carbon pollution from the electricity sector would drop 44 percent below 2005 levels — that’s about a 16 percent cut in allU.S. emissions. And that’s without Congress even passing a climate bill.

Except that the story doesn’t end there. The United States still has plenty of coal sitting underground, especially in Wyoming’s vast Powder River Basin. And other countries around the world would love to get their hands on that coal to burn for electricity. That’s why, over the past decade, even as domestic coal use has dropped, exports have surged(mostly to Europe). In 2010, exports accounted for 7.5 percent of all coal production, up from 4.4 percent in 2005. As Steven Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute observes, that boom in overseas demand has helped coal production hold steady in the past decade.

So here’s one possible future: If we’re not going to burn our coal, someone else will. One Tokyo shipping company, Daiichi Chuo Kisen Kaisha, says that U.S. coal exports could double in the next three or four years. In Washington state, coal companies are proposing two large export terminals that would help ship tens of millions of tons of coal from the Powder River Basin to countries like China. That, in turn, could make coal even cheaper in places like China — which might spur the country to build even more coal power plants than its current, already hectic pace. And, since carbon-dioxide heats up the planet no matter where it’s burned, this outcome could cancel out many of the global-warming benefits of the U.S. coal decline.

Now, this outcome is hardly set in stone. Environmental groups like the Sierra Club are trying to block the coal-export terminals in Washington. (It’s quite possible that this could become another Keystone XL pipeline fight, especially since, as Eric De Place points out, the climate impact is potentially much larger.) Green groups are also trying to mount legal challenges to new coal leases in the Powder Basin River area — my colleague Juliet Eilperin wrote an excellent story on that ongoing battle. Alternatively, China has recently started exploiting its own large shale-gas reserves, which might crimp demand for coal overseas.

Still, it’s another reminder that climate change remains a global issue — and one that will take far more than a smattering of U.S. regulations and a boom in cheap natural gas to solve.





Saudi oil minister calls global warming “humanity’s most pressing concern”


Americans use the term “Saudi Arabia of” to describe an abundance of something — usually energy. We are the “Saudi Arabia of wind,” the “Saudi Arabia of coal,” the “Saudi Arabia of efficiency,” and so on and on and on.

I’ve come to jokingly use this term for anything really huge.  (We are, after all, the Saudi Arabia of climate denial.) So in true American spirit, I am dubbing yesterday’s speech by Saudi Arabia’s Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi the Saudi Arabia of bold statements.

In a speech at the Middle East and North Africa energy conference in London yesterday, Al-Naimi — who once called renewable energya “nightmare” — hailed energy efficiency and solar as important investments, global warming “real” and “pressing,” and explained that drilling for oil “does not create many jobs.”

We know that pumping oil out of the ground does not create many jobs. It does not foster an entrepreneurial spirit, nor does it sharpen critical faculties.”

In the U.S., which is definitely not the Saudi Arabia of oil (that would be Saudi Arabia), there is a major industry campaign underway to convince Americans that drilling for fossil fuels will create over a million jobs in the country. However, assuming we drill virtually everywhere possible in America, credible analysis puts the real figure at a small fraction of that claim.

Even the Saudis, who pump out 12% of the world’s oil, understand that simply drilling for more oil isn’t a long-term economic strategy.

A business-as-usual path also puts us deeper into environmental debt, a point that the Saudi oil minister seems to understand as well. While Al-Naimi said he believes that oil production “will continue to play a major role in the overall energy mix for many decades,” he also made some very explicit statements about carbon emissions:

Greenhouse gas emissions and global warming are among humanity’s most pressing concerns. Societal expectations on climate change are real, and our industry is expected to take a leadership role.”

It’s still not really clear what that “leadership role” is — except to pump out more oil and gas. Although, Al-Naimi did give a plug to efficiency and renewables as increasingly important part of the country’s energy strategy:

“The efficient use of energy is as much an issue for Saudi Arabia, with its huge natural resources, as it is for all countries. Increased efficiency makes sense environmentally, but also economically.”

“We are striving, also, to raise awareness among the public, and specifically addressing children and schools about the tangible benefits of energy efficiency. And we are investing manpower, and brainpower, in efforts to develop new thinking when it comes to energy efficiency.”

“I see renewable energy sources as supplementing existing sources, helping to prolong our continued export of crude oil. And this is why we are investing in solar energy, which we also have in abundance. The Kingdom experiences roughly 3,000 hours of sunshine per year, emitting about 7,000 watts of energy per square metre. Saudi Arabia also features empty stretches of desert that can host solar arrays and it is blessed with deposits of quartz that can be used in the manufacture of silicon photovoltaic cells.”

Saudi Arabia is considering a renewable energy law that would help promote a modest increase in solar photovoltaics, solar thermal, biogas and waste-heat-to-energy. However, if the strategy is seen only as a way to “prolong continued export of crude,” it doesn’t really match Al-Naimi’s statement that carbon-based resources are “among humanity’s most pressing concerns.”

Indeed, the gap between rhetoric and the pace of change in global energy production is one big Saudi Arabia of contradictions.




Pythons likely wiping out mammals in the Everglades National Park, new study finds 





Susan G Komen Foundation Pulls Breast Cancer Screening Grants From Planned Parenthood

Karoli, Crooks and Liars:

As someone said on Twitter, breast cancer more or less removes incentives for abortions. Especially undetected breast cancer that goes unscreened because a woman doesn’t have affordable access (yet) to health care. This must be why the Susan G. Komen Foundation yanked the funding rug right out from under Planned Parenthood.

Via Planned Parenthood’s shocking press release:

Planned Parenthood Federation of America today expressed deep disappointment in response to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation’s decision to stop funding breast cancer prevention, screenings and education at Planned Parenthood health centers. Anti-choice groups in America have repeatedly threatened the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation for partnering with Planned Parenthood to provide these lifesaving cancer screenings and news articles suggest that the Komen Foundation ultimately succumbed to these pressures.

“We are alarmed and saddened that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation appears to have succumbed to political pressure. Our greatest desire is for Komen to reconsider this policy and recommit to the partnership on which so many women count,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

In the last few weeks, the Komen Foundation has begun notifying local Planned Parenthood programs that their breast cancer initiatives will not be eligible for new grants (beyond existing agreements or plans). The Komen Foundation’s leadership did not respond to Planned Parenthood requests to meet with the Komen Board of Directors about the decision.

Gosh. Right-wing pressure, you say? Here’s a look at some of the key players in a decision like this. There is Julie Teer, VP Development, whoalso was a key Romney fundraiser in 2008. There is Komen’s new senior Vice President of Public Policy, Karen Handel, who has stated publiclythat she does not support Planned Parenthood and vowed to de-fund screenngs back in 2010.

First, let me be clear, since I am pro-life, I do not support the mission of Planned Parenthood. During my time as Chairman of Fulton County, there were federal and state pass-through grants that were awarded to Planned Parenthood for breast and cervical cancer screening, as well as a “Healthy Babies Initiative.” The grant was authorized, regulated, administered and distributed through the State of Georgia. Because of the criteria, regulations and parameters of the grant, Planned Parenthood was the only eligible vendor approved to meet the state criteria. Additionally, none of the services in any way involved abortions or abortion-related services. In fact, state and federal law prohibits the use of taxpayer funds for abortions or abortion related services and I strongly support those laws.

Because breast cancer screenings are just like abortions, don’t you know?

Their excuse seems to be concerns over this ridiculous and unfounded investigation started by winger Congressman Cliff Stearns (R-CO).But you know, abortions aren’t breast cancer screenings, and breast cancer screenings do not result in more abortions. No. This is a charity who claims to be dedicated to women’s health acting as a de facto death panel. Of course, it will mostly affect poor women, so what do they care, right?

There will be much more from me on this topic, but for now, could you do two things? First, sign this petition protesting their decision. And second, please consider supporting Planned Parenthood with your voice or your dollars as you can spare?




Four gutless Dems kill single-payer in California 


[…] The problem is the gutless Democrats in blue districts who have nothing to lose by voting against single-payer healthcare when there’s actually a chance of passing it, except for the wrath of insurance companies if they go for higher office. But rather than voting for or against the bill, they simpleabstained, in the most gutless move possible.jpmassar at DailyKos has a rundown of who they are and their contact information:


Senator Alex Padilla (Pacoima/LA area)
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (916) 651-4020
Fax: 916324-6645

Senator Juan Vargas (San Diego area)
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (916) 651-4040
Fax: (916) 327-3522

Senator Michael Rubio (Fresno/Bakersfield area)
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (916) 651-4016

Senator Rod Wright (Los Angeles area)
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (916) 651-4025
Fax: (916) 445-3712
Some of them have tougher districts than others; Padilla, for instance, is utterly inexcusable as he’s in a solid blue district. But it doesn’t matter. Regardless of how tough the district, and even if one grants the unlikely theory that taking a “yea” vote on single-payer would be career suicide, this issue above all is a bill to fall on one’s sword for. The opportunity to really and truly pass single-payer healthcare is why one gets into Democratic politics. It’s the equivalent of taking the game-winning shot at the buzzer in Game 7 of the finals, or kicking the winning field goal in the Super Bowl. And these sniveling cowards didn’t just miss the shot; they didn’t even pull the trigger.

Then, of course, there are the two truly awful Conservadems in the CA Senate, Ron Calderon and Lou Correa, who voted “no”. Their contact information is below–though getting through to them is like talking to a brick wall:

Senator Ron Calderon
Phone: (916) 651-4030
[email protected]

Senator Lou Correa
Phone: (916) 651-4034
[email protected]





Darrell Issa threatens to hold Eric Holder in contempt of Congress


House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) threatened Tuesday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress if the Justice Department did not provide certain documents in response to the committee’s subpoena.

In a letter to Holder, Issa wrote that “this committee will have no alternative but to move forward with proceedings to hold you in contempt ofCongress” if Holder and the DOJ didn’t produce documents they demanded relating to the Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal.






GOP Seeks Big Changes In Federal Prison Sentences


Every year, federal judges sentence more than 80,000 criminals. Those punishments are supposed to be fair — and predictable. But seven years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court threw a wrench into the system by ruling that the guidelines that judges use to figure out a prison sentence are only suggestions.

Republicans in Congress say that has led to a lot of bad results. They’re calling for an overhaul of the sentencing system, with tough new mandatory prison terms to bring some order back into the process. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, brought up the subject at a recent hearing. […]

Since the Supreme Court acted in 2005 to make the sentencing guidelines advisory — not mandatory — Sensenbrenner said, judges in places like New York City have imposed sentences below the guideline ranges almost half the time. But judges only a few hours further north in New York are still following the guidelines.

Former prosecutor Matt Miner — who also served as GOP congressional aide — says that’s not justice.

“We have a federal system. There should be consistency not just in the same courthouse and on the same floor, or district by district, but across the country, and we’re failing in that,” Miner says.

Douglas Berman, a law professor and sentencing expert at Ohio State University, said, “The way you make sure the guidelines get due respect is to make them respectable.”

A lot of people argue that ever since the Supreme Court weighed in, black men have it a lot worse.

Judge Patti Saris of Massachusetts leads the congressionally created U.S. Sentencing Commission. Saris spoke about the issue at a panel sponsored by the American Constitution Society and the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington earlier this month.

“The average sentence for a black male was 20 percent longer than that for a white male. … And I think what’s important to add there is that no one here is accusing judges of being racist,” Saris said.

So, then, what’s going on?

“It’s not that the black male sentences are going up. It’s that the white male sentences are going down,” Saris said.

Berman, the law professor, says judges think many of the suggested punishments are too tough, especially in the areas of corporate fraud and child pornography, where the guidelines call for people who download images of children to sometimes get upward of 20 years behind bars. […]

Saris said despite all the criticism, the great majority of judges still give out punishments within the range of the old guidelines, even though they’re no longer mandatory. She said she continues to think the best approach is to keep the advisory guidelines for sentencing and to adjust them as needed based on feedback from judges.

Amy Baron-Evans, who works for the Federal Public and Community Defenders, said there’s nothing wrong with the way things are going now, and Congress shouldn’t take away the discretion judges have to evaluate each defendant case by case.



Fox News Marks 10 Years Atop Cable News Ratings Race

Hollywood Reporter:

Officially surpassing CNN in the first month of 2002, this January marks the 10-year anniversary of Fox News Channel becoming most-watched cable news network on television.

The network, which celebrated its 15th anniversary on the air in Sept. 2011, has been unmoved from its ratings throne for a decade and now outpaces both CNN and MSNBC combined in total viewers for 2012. […]

Fox News chairman and CEO Roger Ailes sounded off on the event in a statement. “We are extremely proud of the phenomenal achievement created by the hard work and talent of the FOX News Channel employees and recognize how difficult it is for a cable network to sustain this level of dominance for a decade,” he said. “America has clearly embraced fair and balanced news.”




How Fox News Is Destroying The Republican Party 


More and more  despondent conservatives are expressing alarm over the unfolding Republican primary season and what they see as the party’sdwindling chances of defeating President Obama in November. Spooked at the general  elections prospects facing frontrunners Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich (especially Gingrich), members of the so-called Republican Establishment seem to want to reboot the election season and try their nominating luck again.

Sorry, it’s too late.

If the current state of concern transforms into a larger, enveloping blame game, Fox News chairman Ailes ought be a looming target. True, conservatives in recent years have shown virtually no interest in critiquing, let alone trying to reign in, Ailes’ empire. Still, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Fox’s programming and the radical, fear-based agenda it’s setting for Republicans is now doing lasting damage to the Grand Old Party.

That’s because Fox News isn’t simply offering a rightward take on the day’s events, or innocently providing Republican-friendly commentary, of course.  It’s leading an exhausting, day-in, day-out attack campaign against Obama, Democrats and all their liberal allies. (Real or imagined.) Its relentless, paranoid crusade falls well outside the mainstream of American politics, which is why the Republican primary season, so proudly sponsored by Fox News, is shaping up to be such an  embarrassment.

Make no mistake, kingmaker Ailes has made sure his channel’s profoundly un-serious stamp permeates this year’s GOP contest. For more and more spooked Republicans though, it’s a stamp of failure and looming defeat.

For Ailes and company, that slash-and-burn formula works wonders in terms of super-serving its hardcore, hard-right audience of three million viewers. But in terms of supporting a serious, national campaign and a serious, national conversation? It’s not working. At all.

As Fox News has moved in and essentially replaced the RNC as the driving electoral force in Republican politics today, and with Ailes ensconced in his kingmaker role, candidates have had to bow down to Fox in search of votes and the channel’s coveted free airtime. That means campaigns have been forced to become part of the channel’s culture of personal destruction, as well as its signature self-pity.

The truth is, the Republican Establishment all but ceded control of the party, or at least the public face of the party, to Fox News (and Rush Limbaugh) in January, 2009. Party leaders, demoralized by John McCain’s electoral landslide defeat, faded into the background and obediently followed Fox News’ often-hysterical lead as Rupert Murdoch’s cable channel unveiled an unprecedented effort to demonize and delegitimize the newly elected president.  (In the Fox-led world, it’s conventional wisdom  that Obama’s a foreign, race-baiting Marxist who undermines Israel and is determined to destroy the American way of life.)

With Fox News at the irresponsible helm, the conservative movement in America, including the emerging Tea Party, became first and foremost a media movement, and one that gleefully cut ties with common sense and decency.  (See: Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh.)

As blogger Andrew Sullivan noted this week:

The Republican Establishment is Rush Limbaugh, Roger Ailes, Karl Rove, and their mainfold products, from Hannity to Levin. They rule on the talk radio airwaves and on the GOP’s own “news” channel, Fox.

With media outlets setting the conservative agenda, as well as raising campaign funds and boosting GOP candidates, it was Fox News that quickly transformed itself into the Opposition Party. It was Roger Ailes who, officially or unofficially, began to wear two hats: Program Director at Fox News, Chairman of the RNC.






Money Changed Everything for Mitt Romney in Florida Primary

Paul Begala:

Mitt Romney crushed Newt Gingrich not with charm or wit or eloquence. He buried him in a mountain of money.

Romney and the super PAC supporting him spent more than $15 million on television ads. Team Gingrich spent about $3 million. Both ran almost entirely negative campaigns. One tally estimated that 93 percent of all the ads were negative. The other 7 percent were wasted.

Victory is always sweet, but this one could leave Romney feeling a little sour. Gingrich called Romney’s strategy “carpet-bombing.” Fair enough. But what then do we call Gingrich’s strategy? Kamikaze? Gingrich strapped on his helmet, slugged down some sake, jumped in his Zero, and dive-bombed into the SS Romney. He didn’t sink Romney’s aircraft carrier, but he did some serious damage. Romney is likely to list even farther to starboard, as he is forced to pander even more to the far right.

Gingrich and his allies called Romney “despicable,” “breathlessly dishonest,” and, worst of all, “liberal.” It was not enough to win, or even to make it close, but it was enough to damage Romney in November, should he emerge as the GOP standard bearer. One in four GOP voters in Florida expressed dissatisfaction with the field; a full 53 percent of Gingrich voters said they would not be happy with a Romney-led ticket. To be sure, they’re not going to jump ship and vote for Obama. But they could stay home. They could refuse to give money or make calls or turn out their friends and neighbors. If Romney is the nominee, a lot of Republicans are going to sit on their hands.

As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama battled across 50 states and seven districts and territories in 2008 there was some bitterness, to be sure. But it was mostly confined to the upper echelons of Hillaryland and Barackistan. At the grassroots you heard time and again, “I’m for Barack, but I’m not against Hillary.” Florida Republicans voted against Newt Gingrich; they did not vote for Mitt Romney.

Money begets money. Romney not only has the greatest personal fortune in the GOP field, he has the most well-funded campaign. And perhaps even more important, the super PAC supporting him dwarfs those of his competitors. An analysis by the Wesleyan Media Project shows outside spending on Campaign 2012 is up 1,600 percent over 2008. Romney’s allies have mastered this new tactic. (Full disclosure: I advise the pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action.)

The campaign will now stagger through the February doldrums. Romney is very likely to win the Nevada caucuses, which he dominated in 2008. He will almost certainly continue to carpet-bomb Gingrich over the airwaves. But there’s a difference between persuading voters to hate Newt Gingrich—which, frankly, is pretty easy—and getting them to love Mitt Romney, which appears to be well-nigh impossible.




The Myth of the American Political Intelligence Gap

Tom Junod, Esquire:

Liberals don’t hate conservatives. They just think they’re stupid.

Conservatives hate liberals, because they know that liberals think they’re smarter than them.

Liberals know that conservatives hate them and can’t figure out why, because they don’t hate conservatives in return.

Conservatives believe that liberals hate them, because it’s easier to feel despised than patronized. And so in addition to hating liberals, they think liberals are liars.

This is the unspoken dynamic of American politics. It pervades blogs on both left and the right, accounting for the fantasies of victimization underlying most conservative discourse and for the strange liberal habit of offending while trying to appease. It explainswhy conservatives aren’t lying when they say they have no problem with Barack Obama being black; their real problem is with Barack Obama being black and smart.

We live in an undereducated country; at the same time, we’re told, again and again, that we’re entering an age in which intellectual capital will be the only capital that matters. It is no wonder that intelligence has become not just a source of insecurity but a stealth political issue that shows up every time a wealthy Republican candidate for president gets cheers for attacking “elites.” Just last week, left-leaning news feeds gleefully distributed the news that a researcher in Canada had established a link “between low intelligence and social conservatism”; just yesterday morning, the Times quoted the Southern Baptist Convention’s Richard Land in a story that attempted to explain Newt Gingrich’s appeal to conservatives in terms of his vaunted intelligence.

“They would love to see a false smarty pants decapitated by a real intellectual,” Land said, speaking of conservatives’ wish to see Newt Gingrich debate the President. “He would tear Obama’s head off.”

In fact, the perceived “intelligence gap” between the two parties — and the conservative defensiveness about liberal condescension — explains the success of the Newt Gingrich campaign for more than his coded appeals to prejudice. It explains how Gingrich’s oft-stated rationale for his candidacy — that he’s the only candidate who could beat Obama “in a series of seven Lincoln-Douglas-style debates — went from being a laugh line to a legitimate selling point.

When liberals hear Gingrich sell himself on the basis of his intellect, they hear a blowhard who wants to be president to vindicate his narcissism; when conservatives hear the same thing, they hear someone willing, at long last, to step up for them and be their champion. Conservatives do not think that the mixed-race man who is president can be as smart as he is supposed to be; they don’t think that he can be smarter than them; they think that he is “a false-smarty pants” whose transcripts were altered to clear his way into Harvard, whose books were written by someone else, and whose eloquence leaves him as soon as he leaves the teleprompter. Obama’s intelligence is an affront to them, and so they’ve been depending on Gingrich not just to defeat but also to expose him — to finally get it over with, and, in a single debate, tear down not only the whole edifice of liberal thought but the also the myth of liberal intellectual superiority.

It is no accident that Gingrich’s strategy had its greatest success in South Carolina, a state whose combination of racial animus and genteel pretension guarantees its intellectual insecurity. But the strategy has a built-in weakness, evident now that the Gingrich campaign has ran aground (again) in Florida:

If you base your entire candidacy on your ability to beat Barack Obama in a debate, you damned well better be able to beat Mitt Romney.




ABC News: Romney Gets Secret Service Detail


Secret Service protection is being given to the campaign not because of a specific threat but because of the increase in crowd sizes as the primary season has progressed over the past few weeks, according to the sources, who refused to be identified because they don’t have authority to comment on such matters publicly.




Senate Democrats plan votes all spring and summer on taxes

Political Wire:

Congressional Democrats “are embracing the populist agenda President Obama outlined in his State of the Union speech,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

“Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is planning votes all spring and summer in an attempt to end the tax breaks that corporations and wealthy individuals like Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney enjoy.”

“Democrats would prefer to frame this election as a choice between the two parties, using these kinds of contrasts, rather than, as Republicans position the campaign, a referendum on Obama’s policies.”




When defensiveness leads to dishonesty

Steve Benen:

No candidate ever wants to give the impression that he or she bought a campaign victory, even if it’s true. Just on principle, it looks unseemly.

With that in mind, it’s understandable that Mitt Romney would feel a little defensive — he’s put his flush coffers to good use in each of the nominating contests thus far, taking full advantage of his massive financial edge. Defensiveness, though, is no excuse for dishonesty.

As Florida voters cast their ballots on Tuesday, Mitt Romney spoke of the lessons he learned from the race he lost to Newt Gingrich in South Carolina just 10 days ago.

“In South Carolina we were vastly outspent with negative ads attacking me and we stood back and spoke about President Obama and suffered the consequence of that,” Romney told reporters outside his campaign headquarters [in Tampa].

Romney wasn’t “vastly outspent” in South Carolina; he was the one vastly outspending. An independent analysis found that Romney and his allied groups spent $4.6 million in the Palmetto State, while Gingrich and his allies spent $2.2 million.

Even Romney should be willing to admit $4.6 million is greater than $2.2 million.



Obama raised $68 million from 538,000 donors in 4th quarter



How to Listen for Racism on the Campaign Trail: Jeffrey Goldberg

Bloomberg: (please see original post for extensive links.)

Here are some things you could learn about black Americans from the recent statements and insinuations of Republican presidential candidates, Republican congressmen and Republican-friendly radio personalities:

Black people have lost the desire to perform a day’s work. Black people rely on food stamps provided to them by white taxpayers. Black people, including Barack and Michelle Obama, believe that the U.S. owes them something because they are black. Black children should work as janitors in their high schools as a way to keep them from becoming pimps. And the pathologies afflicting black Americans are caused partly by the Democratic Party, which has created in them a dependency on government not dissimilar to the forced dependency of slaves on their owners.

Judging by these claims, all of which have actually been put forward recently, here is a modest prediction: This presidential election will be one of the most race- soaked in recenthistory. It is already more race-soaked than the 2008 election, which, of course, marked the first time that a black man became a major-party candidate.

I don’t know why this is. Perhaps because Senator John McCain, the Republican contender in 2008, generally and admirably refused to race-bait. But the Republican candidates in today’s contest aren’t so meticulous about avoiding the temptation to dog-whistle their way to the nomination.

A Dark Art

Dog-whistling — the use of coded, ambiguous language to appeal to the prejudices of certain subsets of voters — is one of the darkest political arts. In this race, Newt Gingrich is streets ahead of his nearest competitor in its use. In addition to his comments about black children working as janitors, he has repeatedly referred to Obama as the country’s “food-stamp president.”

Food stamps have been fixed in the minds of many white voters as a government subsidy misused by blacks at least since 1976, when Ronald Reagan complained of “strapping young bucks” who used public assistance to buy “T-bone steaks.” (It is distressing to remember, in light of Reagan’s subsequent beatification, that he was to racial dog-whistling what Pat Buchanan has been to Jew-baiting; it was Reagan who also introduced the “welfare queen” into public discourse.)

The genius of dog-whistling is its deniability. It would be difficult for a figure such as Rush Limbaugh to run for public office, given his record of fairly straightforward race-baiting. (Limbaugh, who in the words of Harvard Law School’s Randall Kennedy is an “excellent entrepreneur of racial resentment,” has been on a tear lately. He has accused Obama — who he says “talks honky” around white people — and the first lady of abusing public funds as payback for the ill-treatment afforded their ancestors.)

But “food-stamp president” is just indirect enough that Gingrich is protected from detrimental blowback, at least during the largely white Republican primaries.

Kennedy, who studies the role of race in national elections, told me last week of a rule he uses to measure whether a candidate’s appeal to prejudice will succeed: If it takes more than two sentences for a critic to explain why a dog-whistle is a dog-whistle, the whistler wins. Gingrich seems to understand this, and so, despite criticism from blacks, has made the term “food-stamp president” a staple of his stump speeches.

New Realization

Kennedy offers the theory that this campaign’s dog- whistling may be prompted by a realization by right-leaning provocateurs that voters have become inured to charges of racism. I suspect another phenomenon has hastened this realization: A handful of black Republicans have abetted dog-whistling by making their own bombastic statements about the degraded moral health of the black community, the putative foreignness of the Obamas and theDemocratic Party’s plantation-like qualities.

The former presidential candidate Herman Cain, who last week endorsed Gingrich, told me in an interview last year that Obama was more “international” than American. He also said that, unlike Obama, he rejects the label “African-American” because he feels “more of an affinity for America than I do for Africa.”

Representative Allen West of Florida, one of two black Republican House members, recently called the Democratic Party a “21st-century plantation” and compared himself to Harriet Tubman. In August, he said, “Today in the black community, we see individuals who are either wedded to a subsistence check or an employment check. Democrat physical enslavement has now become liberal economic enslavement, which is just as horrible.”

How far in intent is West’s message from this one, recently delivered by Rick Santorum in Sioux City, Iowa: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebodyelse’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” (Santorum later denied that he said the word “black,” arguing that what he actually said was “blah.” The denial is not credible.)

The writer Gary Younge has noted that in Woodbury County, which includes Sioux City, nine times more whites use food stamps than blacks do. But it doesn’t matter: Santorum wasn’t driven from the race for making such a blatant appeal to white resentment — instead, he won the Iowa caucus.

An Odd Video

Recently, I watched an educational children’s video produced by a company part-owned by Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate (and current Fox News host). The video series, called “Learn Our History,” is meant as a corrective to a left-wing interpretation of the American story.

In one episode, a group of children are transported to Washington, in the late 1970s, a timewhen, we are told, “people are out of work and some of their morals are just gone.” The group, walking down a cartoon version of a street from “The Wire,” is confronted by a black mugger in a tank-top emblazoned with the word “Disco.” (Yes, “Disco.”) The mugger says to the time-travelers, “Gimme yo money!”

I asked Huckabee why the video advanced this particular stereotype. We had been speaking about the rationale for the video series, and he had just finished telling me that the project was meant to encourage moral leadership. Then he told me he had nothing to do with writing the show’s scripts, but it was his impression that the mugger wasn’t meant to be black. In any case, we were talking about a cartoon, he said, and cartoons traffic in “caricature.”

This is something cartoons share with many of today’s leading Republicans.


[And then there was this exchange last night on MSNBC]





Tea Party, with no presidential candidates, focus on saving Scott Walker

Mother Jones:

Walker’s recall election is a referendum on his hard-line conservative agenda, including curbing collective bargaining rights for state workers and slashing education funding. For Walker himself it’s a pivotal moment in his young political career.

The recall fight is also a crucial test for the tea party, the populist movement that helped elect Walker in 2010, vigorously defended him during last winter’s protests over his anti-union “budget repair” bill, and has been organizing to prevent his ouster. The movement’s support is flagging, its clout dwindling, its buzz mostly gone. But now, tea partiers at the state and national levels are rallying around Walker’s recall defense, hoping a victory could bolster the movement in a critical election year. A defeat, on the other hand, would give ammo to liberals and conservatives alike who say the tea party is all but dead.

In recent months, the Tea Party Express, a national organization, and the Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, a tea party-linked political action committee, have waded into the recall fight, blasting out more than a dozen emails to supporters and launching a $100,000 “money bomb” fundraiser to help defend Walker. They argue that the outcome has national implications for the 2012 presidential election; a Tea Party Express email to supporters in January announced that Wisconsin is “Ground Zero for the Battle Against Obama’s Liberal Agenda.” […]

Two Wisconsin tea party groups, We the People of the Republic and theWisconsin Grandsons of Liberty, claim to have signed up 11,000 volunteers and trained 4,000 of them to scrutinize theestimated one million signatures gathered by Walker foes. That signature total was nearly two times the 540,208 needed to launch the recall process; nonetheless, the two groups’ vetting operation,, was created to root out duplicate signatures and “downright fraud” found in recall petitions for Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, their website says. Meanwhile, the Wisconsin branch of Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-funded group that helped train and grow the tea party, held a town hall earlier this month touting the budget reforms enacted by Walker and state Republicans.

It’s not hard to see why the tea partiers would go all-in to defend Walker. There is no clear tea party favorite left to rally behind in the 2012 GOP presidential nomination fight with Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain all out of the race. Walker, on the other hand, is right in the tea party’s sweet spot: He battles unions, axes state spending, rejects federal funding, and is rigidly pro-life and pro-gun rights.

The tea party also has a lot of political capital invested in Walker. When intense anger over Walker’s anti-union “budget repair” bill spilled into the streets of the state capital of Madison last February, Americans for Prosperity swooped in to hold a counter-protest defending Walker. Other tea party groups also rushed to the aid of Walker and ripped his critics.

“Walker is a central figure to them, their Sir Galahad battling the evil unions,” says Theda Skocpol, a Harvard sociology professor and coauthor of The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism. Walker ultimately signed the bill into law in March, and it later survived multiple legal challenges.

Last summer, Tea Party Express and Tea Party Nation, two national groups, launched a four-day bus tour across Wisconsin defending six Republicans facing recall elections for their roles in the battle over Walker’s anti-union bill. (Republicans lost two recall races, but clung to a narrow, one-seat majority in the state senate—a “victory” the tea party claimed credit for.) Tea Party Express also ran TV ads defending Walker’s agenda on the economy.

How much influence does the tea party have at this point? An analysislast July by the liberal blog Think Progress found that the number of events held each month by the Tea Party Patriots, a national group, had dropped by half in the first seven months of 2011 compared with the same period in 2010. Harvard’s Skocpol affirms that tea party events “are falling off some, but there is not a collapse.”

A Pew Research Center analysis published in November found that 23 percent of people in the 60 districts represented nationwide by House Tea Party Caucus members disagreed with the tea party, up from 18 percent a year earlier. Meanwhile, 25 percent of respondents in those districts agreed with the tea party, an eight percent drop. And aRasmussen poll this month reported that dislike of the tea party was at an all-time high—and that 46 percent of respondents said the tea party would hurt the GOP in the 2012 elections.

A recent Marquette University poll (PDF) found similarly lackluster support for the tea party in Wisconsin. Forty-one percent of respondents thought poorly of the tea party while 33 percent viewed it favorably.

Still, even if the tea party suffers a major defeat with Walker’s recall, their influence will be felt for years to come given the hard-line agendas promoted by state and federal lawmakers swept into office in 2010. And Skocpol says the recall election could be a galvanizing event for the movement. “Because all of the tea party forces have not been able to unite on a GOP candidate for president, they’re going to redouble on things like the Wisconsin crusade,” she says. “Grassroots tea partiers everywhere will be be following and contributing to the Walker.




Mitch McConnell’s revisionist history: Congress gave Obama everything he wanted! 


Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has embraced the argument that President Obama was able to pass every bit of his legislative agenda in his first two years thanks to large Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. It’s intended as a counterpoint to the President’s re-election strategy of attacking the congressional GOP as do-nothing obstructionists. But it’s also a revisionist history of the 111th Congress, during which McConnell more than any other Republican in Washington stood athwart Obama’s agenda to great effect.

The White House has “been trying to pretend like the President just showed up yesterday, just got sworn in and started fresh,” McConnell declared Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union. “In fact, he’s been in office for three years. He got everything he wanted from a completely compliant Congress for two of those three years… We are living in the Obama economy.”

This isn’t a new claim for McConnell, but it’s audacious even by Washington’s lax standards. It was McConnell, after all, who led Senate Republicans in serial filibusters — a record-setting number — successfully thwarting large chunks of Obama’s agenda.

By forcing Democrats to find 60 votes to nearly every action, McConnell and his members were able to block major initiatives including climate change and immigration reform bills, various appropriations bills, myriad presidential appointments, and arguably also a Democratic effort to let the Bush tax cuts expire for high incomes. Meanwhile, big legislative items that did pass, such as health care reform and the economic stimulus package, were notably scaled back as a result of the GOP filibusters.

McConnell debuted this line of attack last October when Obama began calling out congressional Republicans. “He owned the Congress for the first two years,” he told reporters at the time. “They did everything he wanted. Everything. The only thing they forgot to do — I don’t know why they overlooked this — they forgot to raise taxes.”

What the Kentucky Republican neglected to mention is that Democrats mounted a December 2010 push to end the Bush-era tax cuts on income over $250,000, and for millionaires. The GOP prevented both measures from achieving the 60-vote supermajority required to beat back a filibuster.

McConnell’s Senate minority also thwarted the majority in the Democrats’ DREAM Act, which failed late in 2010 even though they had 55 votes in support.

Senate Republicans blocked key appropriations bills in December 2010 — a gambit that touched off the government shutdown fight in spring of 2011. They prevented confirmation of key bureaucrats, including Donald Berwick, Obama’s pick to run the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Berwick was awarded a rare recess appointment, and led implementation of the health care law until last month as a result. Most others weren’t so lucky.

On the stimulus package, President Obama’s initial proposal was well over $800 billion in new spending and tax breaks, but the 60-vote requirement shrank it to well under $800 billion. GOP opposition to health care reform was a key obstacle to a public insurance option and remained a source of partisan vitriol for months.

McConnell candidly explained the strategy behind the obstruction early 2011, after reaping the benefits in the midterm elections. “We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals,” he told The Atlantic’s Josh Green, arguing that it was important to deny Dems any claim to bipartisanship. “When you hang the ‘bipartisan’ tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there’s a broad agreement that that’s the way forward.”

Beyond limiting Obama’s ability to govern, McConnell’s wall of obstruction had the ancillary effect of damaging the President’s public image, as the unified GOP opposition helped them characterize Obama as a polarizing partisan. McConnell, who has said his “singlemost important” goal is to make Obama a one-term president, is now trying to cash in further politically by claiming that his successful campaign of opposition had no impact on Obama’s governance.

The political potency of McConnell’s argument is obvious: If Obama did everything he wanted in his first two years, it follows that his broadsides against Republicans ought to be ignored. In reality, Republicans had a significant impact on policymaking in 2009 and 2010 — and that was largely thanks to McConnell himself.




Politico: GOP eyes contempt of Congress vote 

House Republicans investigating Solyndra will huddle this week to weigh holding a contempt of Congress vote against the White House over its response to subpoenas seeking internal documents involving the bankrupt solar company.

“We are meeting this week to look at a very serious charge, which would be contempt of Congress, because they are not providing us the documents,” Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, told Fox Business News on Monday. “They are slow walking.”

White House lawyers have turned over more than 200 pages of materials to the Energy and Commerce Committee in response to its subpoena on Solyndra’s $535 million loan guarantee. But Republicans counter that they may need to take the extraordinary step of a contempt vote to see more documents.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz dismissed the prospect of a contempt of Congress vote, noting the much larger supply of documents that the Obama administration has delivered to the House panel unrelated to the subpoena.

“We are now approaching the one-year mark of this congressional investigation and everything disclosed in the 185,000 pages of documents, nine committee staff briefings, five congressional hearings, 72,000 pages from Solyndra investors and committee interview with George Kaiser, affirms what we said since day one: This was a merit-based decision made by the Department of Energy,” he said. “We only wish that some of the Commerce Committee’s zeal to investigate was replicated in efforts to create jobs or grow the economy.”




Indiana GOP Rep. Dan Burton to retire.  




Why the Photo of the President and Bo Swept Twitter

Joan Walsh:

Every week Republicans hit a new low in the way they attack President Obama. On Sunday Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus compared Obama to the Italian captain now accused of manslaughter for recklessly sinking and abandoning a cruise ship. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is raising money from Tea Party Obama-haters for shaking her sharp, accusing finger under the president’s nose, then claiming she felt “threatened” by him, and now acting like she deserves credit for standing up to the tyrant of the free world. The sad GOP primary goes on, with Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich savaging one another but always saving their most low-down insults  for the president.

That’s why David Axelrod hit a nerve — or a funny bone — when he sent the photo that graces this story to his Twitter followers Monday, with the quip: “How loving owners transport their dogs.” Total cheap shot, playing on the most nagging though politically debatable hit on Romney: That he strapped his Irish Setter Seamus to the roof of the family station wagon, in a regulation dog travel crate, for a long ride, and when the dog didn’t do well, merely hosed off the car as well as Seamus, then put him back in his crate on top of the car and got back on the road. The increasingly timid and fussy Politifact has dinged Gail Collins for her frequent references to the story, but it dogs Romney (sorry) because of the animatronic ambition it symbolizes.

I don’t agree with every move the president has made. But I think the more Republicans try to demonize him, the more most American voters will see the difference between the GOP caricature and the man they’ve come to know. I get more pro-Obama with each vicious anti-Obama attack. I’m sure the rest of his base does, too. That’s why Axelrod’s photo Tweet, in its own way, became a small version of the Romney/Seamus story. Has there ever been a more decent, upstanding, all-American president, with his dog and his family and his Apollo Theatre song solos, treated more shamefully by his opponents? I’d be more horrified by the abuse if I wasn’t sure it was backfiring.



Republican National Committee strategy memo: Obama can’t win Florida

Lynn Sweet, Chicago Sun-Times:

below, from the Republican National Committee…..

To: Interested Parties
From: Rick Wiley, RNC Political Director
RE: Obama’s Rainy Day
Date: January 31, 2012

It’s hard to imagine Florida not being the most contested prize along the path to 270 this year. Their 29 Electoral Vote haul is by far the largest among the states in play. The prototypical battleground state has given their Electoral Votes to the eventual winner of nine of the last ten presidential elections. And with so many other battleground states in the toss-up column this year, President Obama’s chances of winning reelection would amount to a four-cushion bank shot if he comes up short in the Sunshine State.

Unfortunately for Obama, Florida isn’t a walk in the park under any circumstances. Each of the last five presidential elections in Florida has been decided by 5 points or less, and three times by 3 points or less. The 537 vote margin of victory for George W. Bush in 2000 was among the closest in modern presidential history (only New Mexico in 2000 and Hawaii in 1960 have been decided by fewer votes). The president himself garnered only 51% of the vote in his 2008 victory over John McCain. He therefore has precious few votes to lose, and there are more than enough opportunities for him to lose them.

The challenge of winning in Florida is the diversity of its electorate. Florida was among the fastest growing states between the last two censuses, ranking 2nd in total population growth, and 8th in rate of growth. Florida ranks 1st in the nation in the percentage of the electorate over the age of 65. Florida has the 2nd largest Jewish population in the nation. Florida has the 3rd largest Hispanic population, and ranks 6th among states with the highest Hispanic percentage of population. Florida’s Hispanic population itself is diverse, with the largest Cuban and second largest Puerto Rican populations in the country. This diversity presents a mixed-bag of challenges for the president, and any of these challenges can jeopardize his chances.

ü While the state population is growing, the Democrat Party’s advantage in partisan registration is shrinking. The Democrat share of overall registration has declined in each of the last 26 months, and since the 2008 election, the Democrat registration advantage has dropped by almost 30% from nearly 700,000 to fewer than 500,000 today.

ü With the highest voter-participation rate among all age groups, Florida’s over-65 population is right now one of the weakest demographic groups for Obama. The most recent Quinnipiac survey shows a 38% job approval rating for the president among voters over 65.

ü After three years of a bumbling foreign policy toward Israel and several embarrassing statements made about Israel by his administration, Jewish voters are second-guessing their support of the president in the last election. As a “core” Democrat constituency, Jewish voters are important to Obama’s fundraising and activist base, as well as his electoral coalition.

ü Florida’s Hispanic voters have been unimpressed by the president. Resurgent Republic’s recent survey of Florida Hispanics showed the president running 11 points behind his 2008 performance. In addition, 56% of Florida’s Hispanic voters said Obama has been a weaker than expected leader, and 60% said his campaign promises remain unfulfilled. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of Cuban voters said it is time to give someone else a chance.

ü Adding insult to injury, Independent voters, who represent the fastest growing partisan group in Florida, also aren’t buying what Obama is selling. Only 39% of “no-party” voters said they approve of the job Obama is doing in a January Suffolk University poll.

The most important change in Florida on Obama’s watch, however, has been the disproportionately high toll the nation’s weak economy has taken. Job loss has hit Florida harder than most states, especially among Hispanic voters and younger voters. Foreclosures are up, property values are down, and barely a quarter of Florida voters think the country is headed in the right direction. The president has to explain to Floridians why he’s placed a higher priority on campaigning than on fixing the economy.

Standing in Obama’s way in Florida is a rejuvenated Republican Party. Higher enthusiasm among Republican voters and strong support from Independents resulted in big wins for Republicans in 2010, including sending one of the GOP’s fastest-rising stars, Senator Marco Rubio, to Washington. Higher enthusiasm among Republicans continues to be the norm, with 51% of Republicans surveyed by Quinnipiac this month saying they are more enthusiastic about the upcoming election than they were four years ago (and for their part, only 33% of Democrats said they were more enthusiastic). Turnout in this week’s GOP Presidential Preference Primary is expected to be record-setting, and Tampa will host the Republican National Convention later this year.

Close elections are about momentum, and the momentum in Florida is moving in the direction of the Republican Party right now. In spite of its nickname, the Sunshine State looks awfully cloudy for Obama, and may very well rain on his parade in November.




Romney Has Raised Over $20 Million: Goes forward in primary with no debt. 





Internal Republican poll confirms Americans think House GOP sucks 

Daily Kos:

Republicans are nothing if not consistent—and it’s taking a toll. Politico:

Long, drawn-out skirmishes over the debt ceiling, the supercommittee and the payroll tax holiday have led to a 64 percent unfavorable rating for [House] Republicans, with their favorable numbers sitting at 29 percent, according to an internal poll conducted by GOP pollster David Winston in the final days of December 2011.

To illustrate how precipitous a drop that is, Republicans started off 2011 with a 43 percent favorable rating and 46 percent unfavorable rating.

A 64 percent unfavorable rating is abominable. House Democrats garnered an unfavorable rating of 57 percent, which isn’t exactly bragging material either. In general, the public message appears to be that they are sick and tired of the House, period, which shows some damn fine judgment on their parts.

How do Republicans plan to respond to the not-new revelation that America hates them and thinks they suck? That’s unclear. House leadership seems convinced that they need to do better at “talking about jobs,” but also doesn’t appear to think that might require actually, you know, creating any:

“We lost our momentum in November and December with the supercommittee and payroll tax fight,” Boehner continued. “… The Keystone pipeline — which is part of our jobs plan — has put us back on offense. This is an opportunity to get back to what we know works.

So it looks like the plan is to go back to “what works,” which appears to be doing exactly the same crap as normal, but saying it’s “for jobs” and calling it done. I’m not clear on how that’s supposed to work out, since all of the worst, most obstructionist polices pursued by the House (tax cuts for “job creators,” deficit-hawking to help “jobs,” attaching the Keystone pipeline to anything with a pulse and saying it’s for “jobs”) were always linked to “jobs” in whatever indirect or haphazard ways the GOP could come up with, and that resulted in the aforementioned belief by the general public that the House Republicans,collectively, suck. It’s the obstructionism and the lack of ability for the House to perform simple tasks, like the debt ceiling or the payroll tax cut extensions, that has soured people on the House. It’s not because the House Republicans haven’t been inserting the word “jobs” into as many sentences as they should.

I don’t expect there’s much that can be hoped for, then. My own suggestion to the House GOP would be to put Eric Cantor in an airtight crate and strap him to the roof of Mitt Romney’s car or, short of that, read the riot act to their freshmen members about how no, we cannot destroy the entire U.S. economy just to make you new folks feel good. Given that they will likely do neither of those, it looks like we’re in for another year of the exact same behavior, but with a little sticker saying “jobs!” stuck onto the front of every bit of execrable, dead-on-arrival legislation.




Daily Kos/SEIU Poll: Obama 46, Romney 42; Obama 49, Gingrich 40. Obama 48 Fav, 47 Unfav. Romney 31 Fav, 47 Unfav.



Ppppolls: Mitt Romney’s favorability in Ohio is 28/56.

This is how bad Mitt’s situation is with indys right now. Obama’s approval w/ them in OH is 40/53. And he still leads Romney 45-40 with them

65% of Americans support the “Buffett Rule” to require millionaires to pay at least a 30% tax rate 



Public says Keystone a jobs win 



Romney sinks among independent voters



Moderates, blue collar whites, independents, overall Americans all view Romney’s Bain work unfavorably





DNA Turning Human Story Into a Tell-All


The tip of a girl’s 40,000-year-old pinky finger found in a cold Siberian cave, paired with faster and cheaper genetic sequencing technology, is helping scientists draw a surprisingly complex new picture of human origins.

The new view is fast supplanting the traditional idea that modern humans triumphantly marched out of Africa about 50,000 years ago, replacing all other types that had gone before.

Instead, the genetic analysis shows, modern humans encountered and bred with at least two groups of ancient humans in relatively recent times: the Neanderthals, who lived in Europe and Asia, dying out roughly 30,000 years ago, and a mysterious group known as the Denisovans, who lived in Asia and most likely vanished around the same time.

Their DNA lives on in us even though they are extinct. “In a sense, we are a hybrid species,” Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist who is the research leader in human origins at theNatural History Museum in London, said in an interview.

The Denisovans (pronounced dun-EE-suh-vinz) were first described a year ago in agroundbreaking paper in the journal Naturemade possible by genetic sequencing of the girl’s pinky bone and of an oddly shaped molar from a young adult.

Those findings have unleashed a spate of new analyses.

Scientists are trying to envision the ancient couplings and their consequences: when and where they took place, how they happened, how many produced offspring and what effect the archaic genes have on humans today.

Other scientists are trying to learn more about the Denisovans: who they were, where they lived and how they became extinct.

A revolutionary increase in the speed and a decline in the cost of gene-sequencing technology have enabled scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, to map the genomes of both the Neanderthals and the Denisovans.

Comparing genomes, scientists concluded that today’s humans outside Africa carry an average of 2.5 percent Neanderthal DNA, and that people from parts of Oceania also carry about 5 percent Denisovan DNA. A study published in November found that Southeast Asians carry about 1 percent Denisovan DNA in addition to their Neanderthal genes. It is unclear whether Denisovans and Neanderthals also interbred.

A third group of extinct humans, Homo floresiensis, nicknamed “the hobbits” because they were so small, also walked the earth until about 17,000 years ago. It is not known whether modern humans bred with them because the hot, humid climate of the Indonesian island of Flores, where their remains were found, impairs the preservation of DNA.

This means that our modern era, since H. floresiensis died out, is the only time in the four-million-year human history that just one type of human has been alive, said David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School who was the lead author of the Nature paper on the Denisovans.

For many scientists, the epicenter of the emerging story on human origins is the Denisova cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia, where the girl’s finger bone was discovered. It is the only known place on the planet where three types of humans — Denisovan, Neanderthal and modern — lived, probably not all at once.

John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, whose lab is examining the archaic genomes, visited the cave in July. It has a high arched roof like a Gothic cathedral and a chimney to the sky, he said, adding that being there was like walking in the footsteps of our ancestors.

The cave has been open to the elements for a quarter of a million years and is rich with layers of sediments that may contain other surprises. Some of its chambers are unexplored, and excavators are still finding human remains that are not yet identified. The average temperature for a year, 32 degrees Fahrenheit, bodes well for the preservation of archaic DNA.

Could this cave have been one of the spots where the ancient mating took place? Dr. Hawks said it was possible.

But Dr. Reich and his team have determined through the patterns of archaic DNA replications that a small number of half-Neanderthal, half-modern human hybrids walked the earth between 46,000 and 67,000 years ago, he said in an interview. The half-Denisovan, half-modern humans that contributed to our DNA were more recent.

And Peter Parham, an immunologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, has used an analysis of modern and ancient immune-system genetic components — alleles — to figure out that one of the Denisovan-modern couplings most likely took place in what is now southeastern China. He has also found some evidence that a Neanderthal-modern pair mated in west Asia.

He stressed, however, that his study was just the first step in trying to reconstruct where the mating took place.

Dr. Parham’s analysis, which shows that some archaic immune alleles are widespread among modern humans, concludes that as few as six couplings all those tens of thousands of years ago might have led to the current level of ancient immune alleles.

Another paper, by Mathias Currat and Laurent Excoffier, two Swiss geneticists, suggests that breeding between Neanderthals and modern humans was rare. Otherwise, they say, modern humans would have far more Neanderthal DNA.

Were they romantic couplings? More likely they were aggressive acts between competing human groups, Dr. Stringer said. For a model, he pointed to modern hunter-gatherer groups that display aggressive behavior among tribes.

The value of the interbreeding shows up in the immune system, Dr. Parham’s analysis suggests. The Neanderthals and Denisovans had lived in Europe and Asia for many thousands of years before modern humans showed up and had developed ways to fight the diseases there, he said in an interview.

When modern humans mated with them, they got an injection of helpful genetic immune material, so useful that it remains in the genome today. This suggests that modern humans needed the archaic DNA to survive.

The downside of archaic immune material is that it may be responsible for autoimmune diseases like diabetes, arthritis and multiple sclerosis, Dr. Parham said, stressing that these are preliminary results.

Although little is known about the Denisovans — the only remains so far are the pinky bone and the tooth, and there are no artifacts like tools. Dr. Reich and others suggest that they were once scattered widely across Asia, from the cold northern cave to the tropical south. The evidence is that modern populations in Oceania, including aboriginal Australians, carry Denisovan genes.

Dr. Reich and others suggest that the interbreeding that led to this phenomenon probably occurred in the south, rather than in Siberia. If so, the Denisovans were more widely dispersed than Neanderthals, and possibly more successful.

But the questions of how many Denisovans there were and how they became extinct have yet to be answered. Right now, as Dr. Reich put it, they are “a genome in search of an archaeology.”





Tougher Than Wisconsin: Arizona Republicans Launch ‘All Out Assault’ On Public Unions 


With a sweeping series of bills introduced Monday night in the state Senate, Republicans in Arizona hoped to make Wisconsin’s battle against public unions last year look like a lightweight sparring match.

The bills include a total ban on collective bargaining for Arizona’s public employees, including at the city and county levels. The move would outpace even the tough bargaining restrictions enacted in Wisconsin in 2011 that led to massive union protests and a Democratic effort to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

“At first glance, it looks like an all out assault on the right of workers to organize,” Senate Minority Leader David Schapira (D) told TPM on Tuesday. “And to me, that’s a serious problem.”

The bills were crafted with the help of the Goldwater Institute, a powerful conservative think tank in Phoenix that flew Walker to the state for an event in November. Nick Dranias, director of the institute’s Center for Constitutional Government, told TPM he sees Walker as a “hero” but that Wisconsin’s laws were “modest” compared to Arizona’s measures.

“In Arizona, we believe that the political will exists to do even more comprehensive reform,” Dranias said. “The environment, the climate that we face in Arizona is much more receptive to these kinds of reforms than Wisconsin is.”

Beyond a ban on collective bargaining, the bills would also prohibit state and local government workers from deducting money from their paychecks to pay union dues.

They would ban state and local governments from paying anyone to spend time doing union work, a practice known as “release time.”

And in another break from the Wisconsin model, the restrictions would affect every type of public union, including police and firefighters.

Arizona is a right-to-work state, which gives unions a much smaller role there than in states like Wisconsin. But laws still currently give labor groups a place at the bargaining table to negotiate pay and other benefits for their members. All of that would change under the proposed rules.

Schapira, who is also running for Congress this year, said he expects the laws to easily pass unless something major happens. Democrats in the Senate are outnumbered 21-9, so he said there isn’t much they can do to stop the bills on their own.

“I think it’s kind of an all-hands-on-deck thing,” Schapira said. “We’ve got to get people down here at the Capitol to talk to their legislators, to contact them by phone or email and if need be to actually spend a significant amount of time here protesting these bills.”

The restrictions are on top of a proposal that Gov. Jan Brewer made earlier this month, saying she would offer state employees their first pay raise in years in exchange for giving up certain protections.

In light of that, Dranias said he expects the governor to be supportive of the new bills. The governor’s office did not return a message seeking comment. Sen. Rick Murphy (R), who introduced three of the four bills, also could not be reached for comment.

Dranias said the measures were inspired by Wisconsin but were more modeled after legislation passed in Virginia about 30 years ago. He said the goal of the measures wasn’t to ban public unions from Arizona but to make them seem obsolete.

“Gradually this would cause people to leave the unions as they recognized that unions no longer have an unfair bargaining advantage given to them by collective bargaining laws,” Dranias said. “They’ll realize that unions don’t do much for them.”

He said the institute has told Arizona’s legislators the state will save as much as $550 million a year if they put an end to collective bargaining.






Note to some of my fellow progressives: If we can’t argue about Israel without using anti-Semitic tropes, then the debate is lost before it even begins

Spencer Ackerman, The Tablet:

At the risk of sounding like the shtetl police, there’s a right way and a wrong way for American Jews to argue with one another. The right way focuses on whose ideas are better—for America, for Israel, for the Jewish community, and for the world. The Jewish left should be right at home with this kind of substantive debate, since I believe those ideas are better than those of our cousins on the Jewish right. But the wrong way, regretfully, is now on the rise among Jewish progressives.

Some on the left have recently taken to using the term “Israel Firster” and similar rhetoric to suggest that some conservative American Jewish reporters, pundits, and policymakers are more concerned with the interests of the Jewish state than those of the United States. Last week, for example, Salon’s Glenn Greenwald askedAtlantic writer Jeffrey Goldberg about any loyalty oaths to Israel Goldberg took when he served in the IDF during the early 1990s. (On Tuesday, writer Max Blumenthal used a gross phrase to describe Goldberg: “former Israeli prison guard.”) The obvious implication is that Goldberg’s true loyalty is to Israel, not the United States. For months, M.J. Rosenberg of Media Matters, the progressive media watchdog group, has been throwing around the term “Israel Firster” to describe conservatives he disagrees with. One recent Tweet singled out my friend Eli Lake, a reporter for Newsweek: “Lake supports #Israel line 100% of the time, always Israel first over U.S.” That’s quite mild compared to some of the others.

Israel Firster” has a nasty anti-Semitic pedigree, one that many Jews will intuitively understand without knowing its specific history. It turns out white supremacist Willis Carto was reportedly the first to use it, and David Duke popularized it through his propaganda network. And yet Rosenberg and others actually claim they’re using it to stimulate “debate,” rather than effectively mirroring the tactics of some of the people they criticize.

Throughout my career, I’ve been associated with the Jewish left—I was to the left of the New Republic staff when I worked there, moved on to Talking Points Memo, hosted my blog at Firedoglake for years, and so on. I’ve criticized the American Jewish right’s myopic, destructive, tribal conception of what it means to love Israel. But it doesn’t deserve to have its Americanness and patriotism questioned. By all means, get into it with people who interpret every disagreement Washington has with Tel Aviv as hostility to the Jewish state. But if you can’t do it without sounding like Pat Buchanan, who has nothing but antipathy and contempt for Jews, then you’ve lost the debate.

This is tiresome to point out. Many of the writers who are fond of the Israel Firster smear are—appropriately—very good at hearing and analyzing dog-whistles when they’re used to dehumanize Arabs and Muslims. I can’t read anyone’s mind or judge anyone’s intention, but by the sound of it these writers are sending out comparable dog-whistles about Jews.


A bit of background for the uninitiated: Last month, Josh Block, a former AIPAC spokesman, pushed a series of talking points that targeted several liberal writers at the Center for American Progress, a left-wing think tank with ties to the Obama Administration. (Full disclosure: My personal blog was very briefly hosted by CAP in 2008; some of Block’s targets are my friends.) The effect was to suggest that CAP was hostile to Israel because it is to Block’s left. A plain reading of the think tank’s work refutes the accusation.

But buried in Block’s overbroad invective was a kernel of truth. Some at CAP, the liberal watchdog group Media Matters, and beyond deployed the “Israel First” smear, calling the Americanness of their political opponents into question. Predictably, right-wing Jewish writers took their shots at CAP, Media Matters, and the rest—never wanting to miss an opportunity to indict the left. And the Washington Post revived the contretemps last month in an article that effectively asked if CAP was anti-Israel.

The response to this controversy, and related ones, was ugly. Many toyed with the idea that denigrating someone’s American identity wasn’t so bad after all. Left-wing polemicist Philip Weiss wrote that he considered the term “Israel firster [to be] a perfectly legitimate term in a wide-open American discourse.” Time columnist Joe Klein noted that he’s used the term himself before, weighing in on “Americans who are pushing for war with Iran”—as the question of attacking Iran lurks in the background of this entire debate—and who “place Israel’s national defense priorities above our own.”

Even more disappointingly, the term got a nod of approval from the head of a lobbying organization that represents the Jewish left. Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street, the liberal pro-Israel, pro-peace organization that I’ve written favorably about, told the Washington Post he was cool with the throwing “Israel Firster” around. “If the charge is that you’re putting the interests of another country before the interests of the United States in the way you would advocate that,” he said, “it’s a legitimate question.” So, Ben-Ami’s response to years of getting baselessly attacked for not caring about Israel is to turn around and say his attackers don’t care about America? (Ben-Ami later clarified that, “The conspiracy theory that American Jews have dual loyalty is just that, a conspiracy theory and must be refuted in the strongest possible way.”)

If what Rosenberg and the others on the left want is a debate—by which I understand them to mean a debate about the wisdom of a war with Iran, and about the proper role of the U.S.-Israel relationship—great. The left, I think, will win that debate on the merits, because it recognizes that if Israel is to survive as a Jewish democracy living in peace beside a free Palestine, an assertive United States has to pressure a recalcitrant Israel to come to its senses, especially about the insanity of attacking Iran.

But that debate will be shut down and sidetracked by using a term that Charles Lindbergh or Pat Buchanan would be comfortable using. I can’t co-sign that. The attempt to kosherize “Israel Firster” is an ugly rationalization. It shouldn’t matter that the American Jewish right proliferates the term “anti-Israel.” The easiest way to lose a winnable argument is to get baited into using their tactics. I don’t fetishize false civility; bullies ought to get it twice as bad as they give. People disagree, so they should argue. Shouting is healthier than shutting up.

Call me a squish or a sellout or a concern troll. Whatever. But if you can’t be forceful without recalling some of the ugliest tropes in American Jewish history, you’re doing it wrong.





Petition Susan G. Komen Foundation  to reverse their decision to stop supporting Planned Parenthood



Planned Parenthood needs at least $700,000 to make up for what Susan G Komen is pulling from them. Please consider a donation 





Let everything you do be done as if it makes a difference. ~ William James 

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Cher, can I slip in here before the day is over to offer hearty CONGRATULATIONS! on your 200th edition of the Daily Planet. And a toast to the next 200 and beyond.

I’m sure you’re probably already aware of Barbara Ehrenreich’s low opinion of the Susan G. Koman Foundation. Which is one of the reasons I’ve never contributed to them, never participated in their pink ribbon endless fundraising and in general never trusted them, even though I have been treated for breast cancer. Somehow their latest move did not surprise me at all. Sometimes the best way to contribute to the fight against breast cancer is to send a gift card to a woman you know who’s battling it. Many of them are struggling financially. And the best statement to make to the Koman people is — as you suggested — to make a contribution to Planned Parenthood.

I don’t know how FOX News does it, but they manage to get their silly, obnoxious presence out there in many, many public places. The last time I took my dad to his retinal specialist’s office, FOX was on AGAIN. (I had complained about this before.) This is a captive audience in the waiting room. This time there was a piece of white paper taped over the channel changing button on the waiting room TV with the words “Do NOT change the channel” printed on it. WTF?? Who decided that the patients should have no control over what they are watching while they wait to see the doctor? Grrrr…

But enough kvetching! And back to congratulations on your milestone, Cher!


A 40,000 year old pinky finger tip! That is just amazing! There is still so much to discover and analyze and debate. Science is amazing!

KQµårk 死神

Congrats on the 200th addition of the Daily Planet and great roundup Cher.

Gotta love the ‘contempt’ vote the GOPTEA House wants to have on Solyndra which no one but their base cares about because all it will do is drive congress’ approval down even more.

Romney again showed to day why he is the worst candidate for our times when he said he’s not worried about he very poor. He’s been in damage control all day but we all know by his words and policies that all he cares about is the uber rich.


Cher, you still look 39! Thank you for your hard work! Hope we keep the channel open!


Congratulations on the “bicentennial” of Daily Planet, Cher! What you provide us is priceless, and we can’t thank you enough for all you do – and do and do and do. (No – not 200 of them. What? You don’t have enough to read?)

We love you, thank you, and read everything ever day. Oh the other printed papers should have such devoted followers! And – NO ADS!

Please know how much we appreciate all this great information. It’s one of the best posts or “daily papers” in the nation. Thank you!


Congratulations Cher on the 200th edition of Daily Planet!!!