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On Wednesday, February 1st, American Airlines announced that it will take the advice of Mitt Romney’s firm, Bain Capital, and lay off 13,000 workers -15 percent of its workforce- replacing their pension plans with 401(k) plans and ending company-paid retiree healthcare.
The lay off announcement came only seven days after American Airlines hired Bain Capital to guide it through a bankruptcy procedure for which the airline had filed last November.
American Airlines spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal, the cost of hiring Bain – hourly fees of up to $1,100- as “a usual and necessary part of the Chapter 11 process. We will be reviewing these costs carefully to ensure that they are monitored and managed appropriately.”
American Airlines has saved $2.1 billion since 2006, thanks to two congressional measures that allowed it to reduce contributions to its pension plans. The company said it would make up any shortfall later.
Later has come, but there’s been a change in that plan.
American Airlines, whose parent company filed for bankruptcy in November, said this week that it wants to terminate its four pension plans for 130,000 workers and retirees and ask the federal government’s Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. to bail out its unfunded pension obligations to the tune of $9 billion. It would be the largest PBGC bailout ever. Without the congressional relief, the gap would have been smaller, the PBGC said.
The move, which needs approval from a New York judge, has angered the PBGC and labor unions representing American Airlines workers, in part because the airline had $4 billion incash when it filed for bankruptcy and because it hasn’t yet made any proposal for restructuring its massive debt to financial institutions.
“American and other carriers have repeatedly asked Congress to give them funding relief in the last six years. More than $2 billion was diverted from their pension funds to their bankruptcy war chest,”Josh Gotbaum, director of the PBGC, said Friday. “In effect, the Congress of the United States and the employees of American Airlines provided half of the money to sustain American in bankruptcy.”
One of those congressional measures, the Pension Protection Act of 2006, gave airlines the flexibility to cut pension fund contributions for two years and spread them out in later years. PBGC analysts estimate that American Airlines was able to cut its pension fund contributions by $1.1 billion in 2006 and 2007 thanks to that legislation.
But not everyone thinks American tried diligently enough. The PBGC’s Gotbaum, a former investment banker, spent two years as bankruptcy trustee for Hawaiian Airlines, ultimately restructuring the company, repaying creditors and preserving defined benefit pensions.
“We know that other airlines have successfully restructured, preserved their jobs and kept their pension plans. We don’t see why American can’t, too,” Gotbaum said Friday. “We hope that before American takes the drastic action of terminating the pension plans covering 130,000 American employees that it tries hard to find an alternative and shows the world that there is no other alternative.”
The PBGC is financed by premiums from private companies; American Airlines paid $260 million over 30 years. The PBGC guarantees private pensions up to $55,840 a year. That covers most airline workers, but the APA, the pilots’ union, said that about 3,800 of its members would be affected by the ceiling. PBGC would cover $9 billion of the American Airlines’ $10 billion of unfunded pensions.
The agency has filed liens on American Airlines assets, largely offices and facilities in Latin America that are not protected by the bankruptcy. American paid only $6.5 million of the $100 million in pension contributions due Jan. 15, the PBGC said.
“This is not a case of runaway labor costs. This is a case of poor management,” Jamie Horwitz, spokesman for the Transit Workers Union, said. He pointed to infighting among top executives and the bankruptcy filing’s revelation that the airline bought a $30 million London home for Tom Horton, who recently became the company’s chief executive.
“I’m a little bitter,” said TWU International President James C. Little, who had just negotiated concessions and was about to bring them to a vote of the union’s 26,000 American workers. “I’m very frustrated at American’s going to go to court and use the bankruptcy process to terminate the plan.”
The Obama administration plans to push forward this spring with efforts to wind down government-backed housing giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and attract more private funding to mortgage markets, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner said Thursday.
Geithner told reporters that administration officials have begun more intensively exploring legislative options for overhauling the nation’s housing finance system with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, as well as with academics and outside advocacy groups.
Still, he said that concrete changes won’t come soon.
“It’s going to be a complicated process,” Geithner said. “We don’t expect to legislate this year.”
These are the cries of the modern day GOP. Over the past months, though, as the economy has shown better signs of life, including in the job market, their chants have been harder to sustain, their disregard for facts not withstanding. Today’s jobs report – with 257,000 private sector jobs created in January and theunemployment rate falling to a three-year low of 8.3%, numbers significantly better than most predictions – serves them up with another well-deserved, nice, big plate of crow.
The chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, Alan Krueger provides a great summary for the current employment situation:
The unemployment rate fell 0.2 percentage point to 8.3%, from a high of 10% in October 2009. The drop in unemployment over the month was entirely due to employment growth, as the labor force participation rate remained constant, once new population weights are taken into account. Theunemployment rate has fallen by 0.8 percentage point in the last 12 months. Private sector payrolls increased by 257,000 jobs and overall payroll employment rose by 243,000 jobs in January. Despite adverse shocks that have created headwinds for economic growth, the economy has added private sector jobs for 23 straight months, for a total of 3.7 million payroll jobs over that period. In the last 12 months, 2.2 million private sector jobs were added on net. Nonetheless, we need faster growth to put more Americans back to work.
Looked at another way,
The Republicans have consistently blocked, derailed and discredited President Obama’s attempts to create jobs. When they came to power in the states last year, they made sure that as much of the private sector jobs growth as possible would be negated by the jobs they were eliminating of teachers, firefighters, police officers and other crucial public service personnel in their states while taking state helicopter rides to their own kids’ games.
Yet, the President has kept a consistent focus and worked tirelessly to return the economy to health. He has been obstructed and fought every step of the way by two-faced Republicans – people who at once claimed that the president’s first recovery package created no jobs and wrote letters asking for stimulus money for their districts specifically citing its job creating potential, people who famously called for Detroit to go bankrupt and once the President’s rescue of the American auto industry succeeded, claimed it was their idea all along, people who ridiculed the President for protecting the safety net for laid off workers in the form of unemployment insurance and lamented about unemployment, people who in the same breath said tax cuts for the rich do not need to be paid for but a payroll tax cut for everyone who earns a paycheck needs to sunset.
Join this level of Republican obstructionism to what people supposedly on our “own” side did to him: advocating for complete inaction on things like health reform and Wall Street reform if they couldn’t get all their ponies, to outright opposing the payroll tax cuts on the fictitious ground thatit would harm the basis for the popularity of social security. The whiner’s disdain for the President they saw as inept and – hell, they all but said it, uppity – and their constant barrage of attacks set progress back as much as anything the Republicans did.
The good news today is that with 257,000 new private sector jobs created last month and the unemployment rate dropping to a three-year low, there’s plenty of crow to go around for both the rabid Right and the radical Left.
When thanks to this collaboration from the ideologue radical Left, the GOP gained power last year in Congress, they were even more vicious in trying to kill the president’s jobs agenda. When the President proposed a jobs package consisting only of things that both parties have traditionally agreed on, Republicans turned their back. When the president wanted to make investments in American students, American jobs and American manufacturing, they balked at ‘spending’, yet had no trouble spending trillions on tax giveaways for the super rich and multinational corporations.
But the President didn’t give up. He broke up his jobs plan into smaller bills and tried to push those through Congress. He was relentless in making sure that into this year, the working poor and the middle class kept their payroll tax relief, and the unemployed continued to have a safety net. The battle on that front isn’t over, however, as it was only a temporary extension for two months, and Congress is going to have to extend it again.
And the president went beyond the legislative rancor, resolving to do what he can legally through administrative means. The White House launched the We Can’t Wait campaign, and has already launched new initiatives to boost travel and tourism in the United States, launched a summer jobs initiative, appointed Richard Cordray to the consumer protection agency so that consumers can spend more confidently, launched two initiatives to provide $2 billion for start-ups, made a $4 billion investment into energy efficiency, provided new resources for veterans to find jobs, and so much more.
From the day he came into office, the President has been committed to rebuilding the American economy – not on boom and bust but on sound basis. He knew the rewards won’t come right away, and many in his party paid a tough political price in 2010 for doing the right thing. The good news is that we are now beginning to see the results of the President’s resolute focus. America is coming back – it may even be starting to roar back!
A new study finds that countries with more income inequality tend to have more people whobelieve that they are better than average — a psychological phenomenon known as “self-enhancement.” The study, published in Psychological Science, hypothesizes that societies with high levels of inequality are more likely to encourage competition over scarce rewards, and outsized perceptions of the self is simply an outgrowth of that environment.
Income inequality may foster greater self-enhancement through increased competition. Takata (2003) found that when Japanese participants were asked to compete over a limited resource under zero-sum conditions (i.e., the winner receives everything, the loser nothing), they displayed levels of self-enhancement similar to the levels displayed by Americans. That is, when people compete over concentrated rewards, they have a tendency to self-enhance …
In societies with more income equality, people may not only have more equal incomes, but they may also feel a pressure to seem more similar to others. This may manifest as a modesty norm, whereby people are discouraged from voicing both real and perceived superiority
Despite stereotypes, America is actually in the middle of pack when it comes to self-enhancement. But it’s ahead of most industrialized nations, which could still make it the land of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon — “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”
You have heard, perhaps, that rich people in America are egregiously overtaxed. And the poor? They’re the lucky duckies! Why, 47 percent of Americans pay no taxes at all!
(This is not true, of course. Many poor and elderly Americans pay no federal income tax, but they pay plenty of other taxes.)
Still and all, it’s true that the federal income tax is indeed progressive. Conservatives are right about that—though it’s not as progressive as it used to be, back before top marginal rates were lowered and capital gains taxes were slashed in half. But conservatives are a little less excited to talk about other kinds of taxes. Payroll taxes aren’t progressive, for example. In fact, they’re actively regressive, with the poor and middle classes paying higher rates than the rich.
And then there are state taxes. Those include state income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and fees of various kinds. How progressive are state taxes?
Answer: They aren’t. The Corporation for Enterprise Development recently released a scorecard for all 50 states, and it has boatloads of useful information. That includes overall tax rates, where data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy shows that in the median state (Mississippi, as it turns out) the poorest 20 percent pay twice the tax rate of the top 1 percent. In the worst states, the poorest 20 percent pay five to six times the rate of the richest 1 percent. Lucky duckies indeed. There’s not one single state with a tax system that’s progressive. Check the table below to see how your state scores.
“To supposedly alleviate the very poor, and Mitt was right. The very poor in America do have a lot of programs a lot of benefits. People aren’t dying in America. You know, in fact, the very poor suffer from gout. In fact, in the 1920s and 30s that was called the rich man’s disease…” Fox News contributor Charles Payne defending Mitt Romney’s “I don’t care about poor people” gaffe
You know why they have gout? Because cheap food is unhealthy and gives people gout, irrespective of socioeconomic status. Also, alcohol causes gout. We can safely assume that some poor people suffer from depression — due either to their station or a genetic mental disorder — and they can’t afford therapy and meds because the Republicans don’t want to raise taxes on Donald Trump and Mitt Romney, so they self medicate with shitty cheap food, booze and worse.
But I’m over-rationalizing this nonsense. The Republicans have always tried to make the case that poor people are somehow privileged free-loadeers milking the system and living like gazillionaires. And, to repeat one of my refrains, people still take these idiots seriously.
Recent facts have not been kind to the political right. A better-than-expected jobs report; a renewed focus on inequality, driven both by CBO research and by the gift of Mitt Romney’s candidacy. What to do?
The answer is to throw a bunch of bogus numbers at the issues, in the hope that something sticks, or at least that the discussion becomes confused.
First, about that jobs report: all the usual suspects have jumped on the routine BLS population adjustment to claim that the numbers were cooked. The real story here is that the BLS estimates unemployment based on a monthly survey; this tells us what fraction of workers are unemployed. To turn that into a number of unemployed, the BLS estimates total working-age population; but it updates those estimates only once a year. So there’s usually a step up or down in the totals each January, signifying nothing.
Back in the Bush years there were a lot of bogus claims of huge job growth reflecting a step up in the population numbers. Now we have Rush Limbaugh, Fox, etc., claiming that a step down somehow implies fake calculations. Still not true. And the thing that makes this so tiring is that they keep trotting out the same old bogosity, no matter how many times it has been refuted.
Next up, inequality denial. The Census Gini figure hasn’t moved much since the early 1990s — but as Jon Chait says, we know perfectly well why: it’s because Census numbers are top-coded, that is, cut off at high income levels, and the big gains have come way up the scale.
How do we know that? Partly, just look around: walk around New York’s pricier neighborhoods and tell me that inequality hasn’t increased. But also, income tax data. Here’s what the IRS tells us about income shares at the top:
Notice that the rise is almost entirely concentrated in the top 1 percent; even the bottom half of the top 10 percent went nowhere, which tells you once again that this is about the 1 versus the 99, not the top 20 versus the lower class. And yes, the data are overwhelming support for a rise in inequality.
Oh, and Chait tells us that the usual suspects are also rolling out the old “the rich in America pay more taxes than the rich in other countries” thing. Yes — because the American rich are much, much richer.
In a way it’s almost a relief to find these guys coming up with new fallacies. Brad DeLong catches the WSJ looking at estimates that federal workers get 2 percent more salary and 48 percent more benefits than private-sector workers — and concluding that this means that they are overpaid by 50 percent.
The important point to make here is that all these bogus numbers are coming from seemingly authoritative sources — Fox News, which is a big organization, the WSJ editorial page, the American Enterprise Institute. You could not imagine a similar level of statistical dishonesty from, say, The Nation, or Washington Monthly, or EPI.
This is what I mean when I say that the left and right aren’t symmetric. People of all persuasions lie; but the right has a whole institutional structure of lying that has no counterpart on the left.
With the darkening approach of another ice-hard Saturday night in western Maine, the man on the telephone was pleading for help, again. His tank was nearly dry, and he and his disabled wife needed precious heating oil to keep warm. Could Ike help out? Again?
Ike Libby, the co-owner of a small oil company called Hometown Energy, ached for his customer, Robert Hartford. He knew what winter in Maine meant, especially for a retired couple living in a wood-frame house built in the 19th century. But he also knew that the Hartfords already owed him more than $700 for two earlier deliveries.
The oil man said he was very sorry. The customer said he understood. And each was left to grapple with a matter so mundane in Maine, and so vital: the need for heat. For the rest of the weekend, Mr. Libby agonized over his decision, while Mr. Hartford warmed his house with the heat from his electric stove’s four burners.
“You get off the phone thinking, ‘Are these people going to be found frozen?’ ” Mr. Libby said. No wonder, he said, that he is prescribed medication for stress and “happy pills” for equilibrium.
Two days later, Mr. Libby told his two office workers about his decision. Diane Carlton works the front desk while her daughter-in-law, Janis, handles accounts. But they share the job of worrying about Ike, whose heart, they say, is too big for his bantam size and, maybe, this business.
The Hartford case “ate him,” Janice Carlton recalled. “It just ate him.”
Mr. Libby drove off to make deliveries in his oil truck, a rolling receptacle of crumpled coffee cups and cigarette packs. Diane Carlton, the office’s mother hen, went home early. This meant that Janis Carlton was alone when their customer, Mr. Hartford, stepped in from the cold. He had something in his hand: the title to his 16-year-old Lincoln Town Car.
Would Hometown Energy take the title as collateral for some heating oil? Please?
Maine is in the midst of its Republican presidential caucus, the state’s wintry moment in the battle for the country’s future. But at this time of year, almost nothing matters here as much as basic heat.
While federal officials try to wean the country from messy and expensive heating oil, Maine remains addicted. The housing stock is old, most communities are rural, and many residents cannot afford to switch to a cleaner heat source. So the tankers pull into, say, the Portland port, the trucks load up, and the likes of Ike Libby sidle up to house after house to fill oil tanks.
This winter has been especially austere. As part of the drive to cut spending, the Obama administration and Congress have trimmed the energy-assistance program that helps the poor — 65,000 households in Maine alone — to pay their heating bills. Eligibility is harder now, and the average amount given here is $483, down from $804 last year, all at a time when the price of oil has risen more than 40 cents in a year, to $3.71 a gallon.
As a result, Community Concepts, a community-action program serving western Maine, receives dozens of calls a day from people seeking warmth. But Dana Stevens, its director of energy and housing, says that he has distributed so much of the money reserved for emergencies that he fears running out. This means that sometimes the agency’s hot line purposely goes unanswered.
So Mainers try to make do. They warm up in idling cars, then dash inside and dive under the covers. They pour a few gallons of kerosene into their oil tank and hope it lasts. And they count on others. Maybe their pastor. Maybe the delivery man. Maybe, even, a total stranger.
Hometown Energy has five trucks and seven employees, and is run out of an old house next to the Ellis variety store and diner. Oil perfumes the place, thanks to the petroleum-stained truckers and mechanics clomping through. Janis Carlton, 35, tracks accounts in the back, while Diane Carlton, 64, works in the front, where, every now and then, she finds herself comforting walk-ins who fear the cold so much that they cry.
Their boss, Mr. Libby, 53, has rough hands and oil-stained dungarees. He has been delivering oil for most of his adult life — throwing the heavy hose over his shoulder, shoving the silver nozzle into the tank and listening for the whistle that blows when oil replaces air. […]
“You know what my dream is?” Mr. Libby asked. “To be a greeter at Walmart.”
This is because he sells heat — not lumber, or paper, or pastries — and around here, more than a few come too close to not having enough. Sure, some abuse the heating-assistance program, he says, but many others live in dire need, including people he has known all his life.
So Mr. Libby does what he can. Unlike many oil companies, he makes small deliveries and waves off most service fees. He sets up elaborate payment plans, hoping that obligations don’t melt away with the spring thaw. He accepts postdated checks. And he takes his medication.
When the customer named Robert Hartford called on the after-hours line that Saturday afternoon, asking for another delivery, Mr. Libby struggled to do what was right. He cannot bear the thought of people wanting for warmth, but his tendency to cut people a break is one reason Hometown Energy isn’t making much money, as his understanding partner keeps gently pointing out.
“I do have a heart,” Mr. Libby said. But he was already “on the hook” for the two earlier deliveries he had made to the couple’s home. What’s more, he didn’t know even know the Hartfords.
Robert and Wilma Hartford settled into the porous old house, just outside of Dixfield, a few months ago, in what was the latest of many moves in their 37-year marriage. Mr. Hartford was once a stonemason who traveled from the Pacific Northwest to New England, plying his trade.
Those wandering days are gone. Mr. Hartford, 68, has a bad shoulder, Mrs. Hartford, 71, needs a wheelchair, and the two survive on $1,200 a month (“Poverty,” Mrs. Hartford says). So far this year they have received $360 in heating assistance, he said, about a quarter of last year’s allocation.
Mr. Hartford said he used what extra money they had to repair broken pipes, install a cellar door, and seal various cracks with Styrofoam spray that he bought at Walmart. That wasn’t enough to block the cold, of course, and the two oil deliveries carried them only into early January.
There was no oil to burn, so the cold took up residence, beside the dog and the four cats, under the velvet painting of Jesus. The couple had no choice but to run up their electric bill. They turned on the Whirlpool stove’s burners and circulated the heat with a small fan. They ran the dryer’s hose back into the basement to keep pipes from freezing, even when there were no clothes to dry.
And, just about every day, Mr. Hartford drove to a gas station and filled up a five-gallon plastic container with $20 of kerosene. “It was the only way we had,” he said. Finally, seeing no other option, Mr. Hartford made the hard telephone call to Hometown Energy. Panic lurked behind his every word, and every word wounded the oil man on the other end.
“I had a hard time saying no,” Mr. Libby said. “But I had to say no.”
When Mr. Hartford heard that no, he also heard regret. “You could tell in his voice,” he said.
Two days later, Mr. Hartford drove up to Hometown Energy’s small office in his weathered gray Lincoln, walked inside, and made his desperate offer: The title to his car for some oil.
His offer stunned Janis Carlton, the only employee present. But she remembered that someone had offered, quietly, to donate 50 gallons of heating oil if an emergency case walked through the door. She called that person and explained the situation.
Her mother-in-law and office mate, Diane Carlton, answered without hesitation. Deliver the oil and I’ll pay for it, she said, which is one of the ways that Mainers make do in winter.
A loss of sea ice could be a cause of the bitter winds that have swept across the UK in the past week, weather experts say
A second term for President Barack Obama would allow him to expand his replacement of Republican-appointed majorities with Democratic ones on the nation’s appeals courts, the final stop for almost all challenged federal court rulings.
Despite his slow start in nominating judges and Republican delays in Senate confirmations, Obama has still managed to alter the balance of power on four of the nation’s 13 circuit courts of appeals. Given a second term, Obama could have the chance to install Democratic majorities on several others.
Fourteen of the 25 appeals court judges nominated by Obama replaced Republican appointees.
The next president, whether it’s Obama or a Republican, also has a reasonable shot at transforming the majority on the Supreme Court, because three justices representing the closely divided court’s liberal and conservative wings, as well as its center, will turn 80 before the next presidential term ends.
The three justices are Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the leader of the court’s liberal wing, conservative Antonin Scalia, and Anthony Kennedy, who leans conservative but on some issues provides a decisive vote for the liberals.
The next high court opening would cause a titanic confirmation fight if it would allow a Republican president to cement conservative control of the court by replacing Ginsburg or if Obama could give Democratic appointees a working majority for the first time in decades by replacing Scalia or Kennedy.
The prospect of such dramatic change on the Supreme Court, along with the justices’ strikingly high-profile election-year docket could heighten the judiciary’s importance as an election issue, said Curt Levey, who heads the conservative Committee for Justice. The justices will hear arguments on Obama’s health care overhaul in March and Arizona’s immigration crackdown in April. The court also could soon decide whether to hear a Texas affirmative action case challenging the use of race as a factor in college admissions.
Even one new justice can produce dramatic change. Justice Samuel Alito replaced the more moderate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and shifted the outcome in cases on abortion, campaign finance and other key issues, even though both were appointed by Republicans.
Openings on the circuit courts of appeals get much less attention, but those courts have the last say in most legal disputes that are appealed in the federal system. Only about 80 cases make it to the Supreme Court every year.
There are still more Republicans than Democrats on the circuit appeals courts and on the entire federal bench. But if Obama merely filled existing vacancies, Democratic appointees would be the majority on the influential court of appeals in Washington, where four current Supreme Court justices once served, and the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Republicans also maintain their edge on the 10th Circuit in Denver only because two judgeships are empty.
Two other appeals courts on which Republicans have comfortable majorities could shift over the next four years. The Chicago-based 7th Circuit has four judges in their 70s who were chosen by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. In the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit, Judge Emilio Garza, a Republican appointee, will take senior status in August, a move that will open a seat while Garza takes a smaller caseload. Two Reagan picks in their 70s remain on the court.
Twelve Reagan appointees now in their 70s remain on circuit appeals courts or, in the case of Scalia and Kennedy, the Supreme Court.
Republican presidents, in recent decades, have been more aggressive than Democrats in filling those seats with younger, more like-minded lawyers.
Many nominees of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were in their early 40s, some even in their 30s, and with reputations as bold conservatives. By contrast, Obama has frustrated some liberal interest groups mainly by favoring older nominees over younger ones who might be the Democratic equivalents of some of the Reagan and Bush picks. Obama’s two youngest appeals court nominees, Goodwin Liu and Caitlin Halligan, were stymied by Republican filibusters in the Senate.
The average age of Obama-nominated appeals court judges is more than 55 years old, higher than any president’s going back to Jimmy Carter, according to the liberal interest group Alliance for Justice. The age of these judges matters in an era when presidents regularly look to the circuit appeals courts as the pool for Supreme Court candidates. Younger judges have a chance to develop a record that presidents can examine, yet still be young enough to be considered for the high court.
Obama’s picks have yet to surprise anyone with their decisions, said Levey, head of the conservative interest group. “So Obama’s liberal critics can rest assured that if he’s re-elected, his transformation of the appeals courts will make a big difference in the law.”
Party labels do not always foretell a case’s outcome. During recent challenges to the Obama administration’s health care overhaul, Republican appeals court judges in Cincinnati and Washington cast deciding votes upholding the law, while a Democratic appointee in Atlanta voted to strike down the requirement that most people buy health insurance or pay a penalty.
Still, there is wide agreement that Obama picks have sharply altered the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had been dominated by conservative, Republican appointees.
The long saga of Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White (R) isn’t over yet — but it now it includes a conviction on 6 felony charges. White, the top elections official in his state, was indicted last March on charges that he lied about where he lived to remain on the voter rolls in the Fishers, IN district where he served on the city council along with other related charges. On Friday, he was convicted on 6 out of 7 felony charges and was immediately replaced by a new interim director.
The Indianapolis Star reports that the conviction may not be the end of this time at the top of the state’s electoral law enforcement strucuture.
White, 42, Fishers, plans to ask a judge to reduce his convictions – all class D felonies – to misdemeanors at sentencing. It’s uncertain whether that move would allow him to reclaim his job.
“We don’t know the right answer to that,” White said. “This is all very new.”
Shortly after White’s verdict was read, Gov. Mitch Daniels announced in a news release shortly before 3 a.m. that he has appointed Jerry Bonnet, White’s chief deputy, as interim secretary of state.
“I have chosen not to make a permanent appointment today out of respect for the judge’s authority to lessen the verdict to a misdemeanor and reinstate the elected office holder,” the Republican governor said in the news release. “If the felony convictions are not altered, I anticipate making a permanent appointment quickly.”
But state Democrats say it’s time for White to go.
“It’s obvious that Mitch Daniels will try anything to take back this fraudulent election, but there’s only one thing that should happen now: Vop Osili [the Democrat White defeat in the Sec. of State race in 2010] should become Secretary of State, and we should put the embarrassment that is Charlie White behind us,” state Democratic party chair Dan Parker said in a statement.
The lie that emergency contraception is the sameas the “abortion pill” RU-486 has just completed the jump from the minds of Republicans like Michele Bachmann, to Fox News opinion programming, to the broader mainstream media. On Sunday morning’s This Week, host George Stephanopoulos sat mute as columnist George Will repeated the lie that the Obama administration’s Preventive Services Mandate would force religious employers to “provide…abortion-inducing drugs.”
Women’s health has been a hot topic in the news this week, with heated interest in the Obama administration’s announcement that certain religious employers would have one year to comply with the Affordable Care Act’s Preventive Services Mandate, and the intense backlash toward, andreversal of, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure charity’s decision to de-fund Planned Parenthood. There are strong opinions on every side of these issues, but on issues of medical fact, there is only one set of facts, and it is the news media’s duty to ensure that.
Conservative opponents of contraception have been trying to inject their articles of faith into the medical nomenclature around emergency contraception for a long time. Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich mentioned the medically paradoxical “Morning After Abortion Pill” in an opposition memo a few months ago, and Rep. Michele Bachmann had also been dropping references to the mythical meds into her stump speeches.
In early January, Bachmann made the unchallenged claim on Fox News’ Fox and Friends, and a few weeks later, Fox News legal analyst Peter Johnson, Jr. falsely claimed that the new Preventive Services regs require religious employers who employ people of multiple faiths to “provide drugs that induce abortions.”
Hardball host Chris Matthews made the qualified statement that Catholics believe that certain types of contraception are “abortive,” but failed to provide the correct medical information, in a recent segment on the mandate.
On Sunday morning’s This Week, columnist George Will tried to change the subject from the Komen decision, telling host George Stephanopoulos “A much more important decision politically that was taken this week was the Obama administration saying that Catholic institutions have no choice, and this was applauded by pro-choice people, have no choice but to provide contraception,abortion-inducing drugs and sterilization.”
Stephanopoulos blankly replied, “I want to get to that, as well,” meaning the subject of the contraceptive mandate, but he never corrected Will’s assertion.
As I’ve written in this space several times now, the “morning after pill” is not an “abortion pill,” it can never be an “abortion pill,” because pregnancy cannot occur within the drug’s effectiveness window. Furthermore, the actual “abortion pill,” RU-486, is not covered by the Preventive Services Mandate (nor is it approved for over-the-counter sale, like Plan B is). The information that Will, et al, are disseminating is medically inaccurate, and people like Stephanopoulos have a duty to correct it, the way news organizations eventually corrected Michele Bachmann’s ludicrous claims about the HPV vaccine.
Broadcasting false medical information is a potentially dangerous act that is, at the very least, grossly irresponsible. In this case, it has the potential of discouraging women from using a medication that they have no reason to fear, or to encourage misuse of that same medication.
If Geogre Will said that large doses of aspirin cause four-hour erections, or that Lipitor makes you go blind, Stephanopoulos would surely have corrected him, but when it comes to women’s health, the media doesn’t seem to be taking science seriously. It falls to news consumers like you (and me) to demand that they do.
Here’s the clip, from ABC News’ This Week: [Warning: There’s a hideous Greek whore in the clip.]
The Republican candidates for president have largely settled on two common themes throughout the campaign thus far: that President Obama is ushering in American decline, both at home and abroad, and that the United States should confront Iran militarily over its nuclear program. “Internationally, we have witnessed aweakening of our military and a decline in our standing in the world,” Mitt Romney said in December. While Romney has gone back and forth the in using harsh rhetoric on Iranthis campaign season, his competitors aren’t so shy about using bellicose rhetoric. Rick Santorum said attacking Iran is part of his plan.
Last night on CNN, host John King asked former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican who served in both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, about the GOP charges. While Gates noted that America’s economic standing has been in flux for decades, he called the charge that the President is overseeing American military decline “ridiculous” and later said the GOP’s militaristic rhetoric on Iran is “irresponsible”:
GATES: Are we talking about relative role economically in the world? Because that’s been going down for 60 years. It was an unnatural situation to begin with. If we’re talking about military power, I think that’s ridiculous. Our military power has nothing comparable to it anywhere in the world or any combination of nations that come anywhere close to our military power. […]
And those who say we should underestimate the consequences of going to war [with Iran]. This is, I think, one of the toughest foreign policy problems I have ever seen since entering the government 45 years ago. And I think to talk about it loosely or as though these are easy choices in some way or sort of self-proclaimed, obvious alternatives, I just think is irresponsible.
Watch the clip:
Obama to Israel: No US War on Iran (H/T KQuark)
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told Israeli leaders on Jan. 20 that the United States would not participate in a war against Iran begun by Israel without prior agreement from Washington, according to accounts from well-placed senior military officers.
Dempsey’s warning, conveyed to both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, represents the strongest move yet by President Barack Obama to deter an Israeli attack and ensure that the United States is not caught up in a regional conflagration with Iran.
But the Israeli government remains defiant about maintaining its freedom of action to make war on Iran, and it is counting on the influence of right-wing extremist views in U.S. politics to bring pressure to bear on Obama to fall into line with a possible Israeli attack during the election campaign this fall.
Obama still appears reluctant to break publicly and explicitly with Israel over its threat of military aggression against Iran, even in the absence of evidence Iran has decided to build a nuclear weapon.
Dempsey’s trip was highly unusual, in that there was neither a press conference by the chairman nor any public statement by either side about the substance of his meetings with Israeli leaders. Even more remarkable, no leak about what he said to the Israelis has appeared in either U.S. or Israeli news media, indicating that both sides have regarded what Dempsey said as extremely sensitive.
The substance of Dempsey’s warning to the Israelis has become known, however, to active and retired senior flag officers with connections to the JCS, according to a military source who got it from those officers.
A spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Commander Patrick McNally, offered no comment Wednesday when IPS asked him about the above account of Dempsey’s warning to the Israelis.
The message carried by Dempsey was the first explicit statement to the Netanyahu government that the United States would not defend Israel if it attacked Iran unilaterally. But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had given a clear hint in an interview on “Face the Nation” on Jan. 8 that the Obama administration would not help defend Israel in a war against Iran that Israel had initiated.
Asked how the United States would react if Israel were to launch a unilateral attack on Iran, Panetta first emphasized the need for a coordinated policy toward Iran with Israel. But when host Bob Schieffer repeated the question, Panetta said, “If the Israelis made that decision, we would have to be prepared to protect our forces in that situation. And that’s what we’d be concerned about.”
Defense Minister Barak had sought to dampen media speculation before Dempsey’s arrival that the chairman was coming to put pressure on Israel over its threat to attack Iran, but then proceeded to reiterate the Netanyahu-Barak position that they cannot give up their responsibility for the security of Israel “for anyone, including our American friends.”
There has been no evidence since the Dempsey visit of any change in the Netanyahu government’s insistence on maintaining its freedom of action to attack Iran.
Dempsey’s meetings with Netanyahu and Barak also failed to resolve the issue of the joint U.S.-Israeli military exercise geared to a missile attack, “Austere Challenge ’12″, which had been scheduled for April 2012 but had been postponed abruptly a few days before Dempsey’s arrival in Israel.
More than two weeks after Dempsey’s meeting with Barak, the spokesman for the Pentagon, John Kirby, told IPS, “All I can say is that the exercise will be held later this year.” That indicated that there has been no major change in the status of U.S.-Israeli discussions of the issue since the postponement of the exercise was leaked Jan. 15.
The postponement has been the subject of conflicting and unconvincing explanations from the Israeli side, suggesting disarray in the Netanyahu government over how to handle the issue. To add to the confusion, Israeli and U.S. statements left it unclear whether the decision had been unilateral or joint as well as the reasons for the decision.
Panetta asserted in a news conference on Jan. 18 that Barak himself had asked him to postpone the exercise. It now clear that both sides had an interest in postponing the exercise and very possibly letting it expire by failing to reach a decision on it.
The Israelis appear to have two distinct reasons for putting the exercise off, which reflect differences between the interests of Netanyahu and his defense minister. Netanyahu’s primary interest in relation to the exercise was evidently to give the Republican candidate ammunition to fire at Obama during the fall campaign by insinuating that the postponement was decided at the behest of Obama to reduce tensions with Iran.
Thus Mark Regev, Netanyahu’s spokesman, explained it as a “joint” decision with the United States, adding, “The thinking was it was not the right timing now to conduct such an exercise.” Barak, however, had an entirely different concern, which was related to the Israeli Defence Forces’ readiness to carry out an operation that would involve both attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities and minimizing the Iranian retaliatory response.
A former U.S. intelligence analyst who followed the Israeli military closely told IPS he strongly suspects that the IDF has pressed Barak to insist that the Israeli force be at the peak of readiness if and when they are asked to attack Iran.
The analyst, who insisted on anonymity because of his continuing contacts with U.S. military and intelligence personnel, said the 2006 Lebanon War debacle continues to haunt the thinking of IDF leaders. In that war, it became clear that the IDF had not been ready to handle Hezbollah rocket attacks adequately, and the prestige of the Israeli military suffered a serious blow.
The insistence of IDF leaders that they never go to war before being fully prepared is a primary consideration for Barak, according to the analyst. “Austere Challenge ’12″ would inevitably involve a major consumption of military resources, he observes, which would reduce Israeli readiness for war in the short run.
The concern about a major military exercise actually reducing the IDF’s readiness for war against Iran would explain why senior Israeli military officials were reported to have suggested that the reasons for the postponement were mostly “technical and logistical.”
The Israeli military concern about expending scarce resources on the exercise would apply, of course, regardless of whether the exercise was planned for April or late 2012. That fact would help explain why the exercise has not been rescheduled, despite statements from the U.S. side that it will be.
The U.S. military, however, has its own reasons for being unenthusiastic about the exercise. IPS has learned from a knowledgeable source that, well before the Obama administration began distancing itself from Israel’s Iran policy, U.S. Central Command chief James N. Mattis had expressed concern about the implications of an exercise so obviously based on a scenario involving Iranian retaliation for an Israeli attack.
U.S. officials have been quoted as suspecting that the Israeli request for a postponement of the exercise indicated that Israel wanted to leave its options open for conducting a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in the spring. But a postponement to the fall would not change that problem. For that reason, the former U.S. intelligence analyst told IPS he doubts that “Austere Challenge ’12″ will ever be carried out.
But the White House has an obvious political interest in using the military exercise to demonstrate that the Obama administration has increased military cooperation with Israel to an unprecedented level. The Defense Department wants the exercise to be held in October, according to the military source in touch with senior flag officers connected to the Joint Chiefs.
Did you enjoy the Iraq War? Well, the Weekly Standard wants to do it again, with a new article arguing that sure, Obama got Bin Laden killed and has arrested or killed 20 of the most wanted Al Qaeda terrorists, but never mind because Iran is part of the Axis of Evil. No, seriously.
Let us look at Iran. Although the administration and our European allies appear to be getting much more serious about rigorous sanctions against the Islamic Republic because of its quest for nuclear weapons, the White House has shied away from the possibility that Tehran will respond with terrorism, not negotiations. Perhaps the most stubborn wish in U.S. foreign policy has been the three-decade-old bipartisan determination to engage with and moderate the Islamic Republic. Ever since Ali Khamenei put on Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s mantle as guardian of the revolution, Western observers have wanted to describe him as “pragmatic” and “moderate,” even though his outpouring of virulently anti-American speeches,let alone the crackdowns and killings he’s unleashed at home since 1999, might engender skepticism. Iran’s much vilified and lampooned president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is probably less hardcore—even on the villainy of world Jewry—than Khamenei is.
The Obama administration is dealing with Iran as the rogue state it is, working with the international community to try and get them in line. The Standard is arguing here for a return to the Bush era where the U.S. government used the magical terrorism wand to short circuit any and all discussion in order to do stupid things like invading sovereign nations based on cooked-up intelligence. It doesn’t work, gets Americans killed, and makes the world less safe.
Conservative foreign policy has discredited itself thanks to its adoption of this kind of useless strategy, and we’d be stupid to adopt it or even acknowledge it as a viable option.
_FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE February 4, 2012
Statement by the President on Syria
Thirty years after his father massacred tens of thousands of innocent Syrian men, women, and children in Hama, Bashar al-Assad has demonstrated a similar disdain for human life and dignity. Yesterday the Syrian government murdered hundreds of Syrian citizens, including women and children, in Homs through shelling and other indiscriminate violence, and Syrian forces continue to prevent hundreds of injured civilians from seeking medical help. These brutal killings take place at a time when so many Syrians are also marking a deeply meaningful day for their faith. I strongly condemn the Syrian government’s unspeakable assault against the people of Homs and I offer my deepest sympathy to those who have lost loved ones. Assad must halt his campaign of killing and crimes against his own people now. He must step aside and allow a democratic transition to proceed immediately.
The Syrian people demonstrated in large numbers across Syria yesterday to participate in peaceful protests commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Hama massacre. They labeled the protests, “We are Sorry, Hama – Forgive Us.” We owe it to the victims of Hama and Homs to learn one lesson: that cruelty must be confronted for the sake of justice and human dignity. Every government has the responsibility to protect its citizens, and any government that brutalizes and massacres its people does not deserve to govern. The Syrian regime’s policy of maintaining power by terrorizing its people only indicates its inherent weakness and inevitable collapse. Assad has no right to lead Syria, and has lost all legitimacy with his people and the international community.
The international community must work to protect the Syrian people from this abhorrent brutality. Earlier this week, our Arab partners called on UN Security Council members to take action to support a political solution to the crisis in Syria and stop Assad’s “killing machine.” The Council now has an opportunity to stand against the Assad regime’s relentless brutality and to demonstrate that it is a credible advocate for the universal rights that are written into the UN Charter.
We must work with the Syrian people toward building a brighter future for Syria. A Syria without Assad could be a Syria in which all Syrians are subject to the rule of law and where minorities are able to exercise their legitimate rights and uphold their identities and traditions while acting as fully enfranchised citizens in a unified republic. The United States and our international partners support the Syrian people in achieving their aspirations and will continue to assist the Syrian people toward that goal. We will help because we stand for principles that include universal rights for all people and just political and economic reform. The suffering citizens of Syria must know: we are with you, and the Assad regime must come to an end.
The People’s View: (Please see original for links.)
[…] I think it is clear that Mitt Romney has a “state of believe” that perceives poor people as problems and painting President Obama as an “entitlement President” is a give away as to what he believes deep in his heart.
Well, the best way to weed out the nonsense is to ask what will Mitt Romney do for the poor because I don’t believe he will make helping the poor a priority as President Obama has made. I have compiled President Obama’s Accomplishment on reducing and assisting people that have become victims of the increased poverty made worse by the economic crisis and these are things Mitt Romney will never try to do if he becomes President:
1) A $20 billion increase for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps. [It seems like the President considering the rise in the poverty level (46 million Americans) is trying to help those who are struggling in this economy but they call him a Food Stamp President.]
2) A $1 billion in funding for the Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) that is intended to revitalize low-income communities via “Job training and placement assistance”, “Financial literacy programs”, et al, to helping families become self-sufficient.
3) A $2 billion in new Neighborhood Stabilization Funds that will allow ailing neighborhoods be kept maintained.
4) A $1.5 billion in Homelessness Prevention Funds to keep people in their homes and prevent homelessness.
5) A $5 billion increase for the Weatherization Assistance Program to help low income families save on their residential energy expenditures by making their homes more energy efficient.
6) A $4 Billion program, The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, “authorizes funding for federal school meal and child nutrition programs and increases access to healthy food for low-income children.”
7) As part of the HCR bill, subsidies will be available to the uninsured and families with income between the 133 percent and 400 percent of poverty level($14,404 for individuals and $29,326 for a family of four).
8) Estabilished Open Doors to end the 640,000 men, women and children who are homeless in America by 2020.
9) Increased the amount of federal Pell Grant awards so that funds are available to those with less access to have opportunity.
10) Provided $510 Million for the rehabilitation of Native American housing.
11) Expanded eligibility for Medicaid to all individuals under age 65 with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level ($14,400 per year for an individual).
12) Providing assistance to low-income workers through the Earned Income Tax Credit giving millions of working families the break they need.
13) Education being the way out of Poverty, kicked off the “Race to the Top”, a $4.3 billion program, that rewards via grants to States that meet a few key benchmarks for reform, and states that outperform the rest.
14) Extended Unemployment Benefit to 7,000,000 Americans worth $56 Billion.
15) Invested $2.5 billion in HBCUs and minority-serving institutions and doubled funding for Pell Grants their students rely on.
16) Saved more than 1.4 million jobs in the auto industry.
17) Passed the Affordable Care Act, extending health coverage to 30 million Americans, 7 million more African Americans and investing $10 billion in Community Health Centers to expand medical services.
18) Passed a a 2% employee-side payroll tax cut for over 155 million workers.
19) Created the Race to the Top Fund, a $4.35 billion program to reward States that submit the best proposals for change.
20) $275 billion dollar housing plan – $75 billion dollars to prevent at-risk mortgage debtors already fallen victim to foreclosures and $200 billion to bring about confidence to offer affordable mortgages and to stability the housing market.
21) Provided $510 Million for the rehabilitation of Native American housing.
President’s Weekly Address: It’s Time for Congress to Act to Help Responsible Homeowners
Steve Perlstein, WaPo:
Now, with Citizens United, the Supreme Court has finally declared that “enough is enough.” The court didn’t just remove the limits to what wealthy individuals or corporations could contribute to independent (wink-wink) front groups. The five-member majority also invited constitutional challenges to limits on direct contributions to campaigns or political parties and to those silly requirements that the source of every contribution be disclosed in a timely manner.
So, I propose that we finally give up the charade that we are not “buying” elections and, in fact, do exactly that — mount an all-out political and legal challenge to laws preventing us from buying votes directly.
As you know, bribing voters is an honored tradition in this country, dating to the early days of the Republic. From the Federalist Papers it’s clear that the practice was known to the Framers; if they had found it incompatible with democracy they surely would have banned it in the constitution. Significantly, they did not — nor did they include the regulation of vote-buying in their enumeration of the powers vested in Congress. Therefore, we would be on solid constitutional grounds in trying to establish a property right of all citizens to vote in federal elections — a right that, like all other property rights, can be sold on the free market.
I’ve heard indirectly from Karl Rove that it is not necessary to buy the votes of all citizens to attain the certainty we require. His estimate is that by buying the votes of 10 million Americans every two years, focusing on the key swing states and districts, we can be assured of complete control of the White House and both houses of Congress, and through them the courts and the independent agencies.
I’ve done up a rough business plan for such an effort, based on a Bain & Co. estimate that the average price for a vote will settle in at $1,000. In an open market, of course, we have to expect competitive bidding from the unions (at least until we have succeeded in crushing them) as well as traitors to our class (Soros, Buffett et al). Even at that price, we’re talking a mere $10 billion per election cycle, or $5 billion a year, which on an after-tax basis works out to $4 billion a year. That’s a heck of a lot less than it would cost us if Democrats ever get a hold of power again.
The Chamber of Commerce, I’m sure, will be only too willing to charter the dummy Cayman Island corporation that can serve as the financial pass-through, and to set up the U.S. front group to manage the political operation. Participants can rest assured that their role will never be disclosed to investors or the public at large.
Moreover, once the market is up and running, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before Goldman Sachs and Credit Suisse dream up some clever derivative instruments that would allow us to legally (wink-wink) manipulate the market, as they have done with so many other markets.
I’m pretty sure Ted Olson would tell us that our best bet is to initiate a challenge to the outdated anti-bribery laws in Texas, Mississippi or Louisiana, so we can get the case before the Fifth Circuit. Chief Justice Edith Jones and her colleagues are as sympathetic to arguments about original intent as they are toward a rigorous “law and economics” analysis. Business groups will be quick to file amicus briefs. And you can be sure that Ken Cuccinelli and other attorneys general will weigh in with briefs arguing that if the government is allowed to prevent people from selling votes, what’s to stop it from preventing people from selling used pickups, those old issues of National Geographic sitting in the basement or even automatic weapons? Heritage can be relied on to do its usual economic analysis showing the surge in job creation that will come from an extra $5 billion in annual corporate investment.
The only worrisome pushback we are likely to get is from the National Association of Broadcasters and the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. Because of Citizens United, they are drooling over the prospect of billions of dollars in additional TV and radio advertising from the super PACs that will fatten their already fat profits and boost the value of their government licenses. Normally, we would celebrate such hard-won success, but in this case we will have to feign a more populist stance and argue that the money is better put directly in the hands of hard-working, middle-class voters struggling to pay the mortgage and put the kids through college.
We know that Fred Wertheimer and the other goo-goos will be all over NPR and the op-ed pages bellyaching about the corrupting influence of corporate money on government, as if that horse hasn’t long since fled from the barn. So we’ll need to get Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor out there making the case that what’s great about America is it offers anyone the opportunity to become rich and buy votes.
The stunning success of the super PACs in the eyes of the public and the 1% gives us hope that the Supreme Court is ready to finish the work of bringing the magic of the free market to the electoral process. As Justice Kennedy put it so presciently in Citizens United, even “the appearance of [corporate] “influence or access . . .will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.”
The playbook for Republican presidential contenders goes at least as far back as Richard Nixon: Run hard to the right in the primaries; steer back to the center for the general election.
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has sold himself all along as the most electable Republican in the field. But as he moves closer to becoming the GOP standard-bearer, the candidate whose authenticity has been questioned from all sides faces a tricky challenge making a pivot for the next phase of the race.
Move toward the center, he infuriates the base; refuse to, he will alienate independent voters. And however he maneuvers, will voters be left with a clear picture of why he is running?Nothing is more central to the GOP self-identity than that this is the party that stands for big ideas.
As Romney has tried to win over his purist skeptics in the GOP’s activist base, he has shifted to the right on a number of issues. Most notable has been his hard-line stance on illegal immigration, where he outflanked Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former House speaker Newt Gingrich.
Among the other issues that could put him at odds with independents: his increasingly explicit support for the House Republican plan to restructure Medicare; his declaration that the housing market should be allowed to “hit the bottom,” rather than backing government intervention to slow the rate of foreclosures; his criticism of President Obama’s possible move to end the combat mission in Afghanistan more than a year ahead of schedule.
“Romney’s twin challenges are to unify the Republican base, where significant elements remain unconvinced of the strength of his conservative philosophy, while at the same time not genuflecting so much that he can’t appeal to the independent vote that will ultimately decide the election,” said Ken Duberstein, a former chief of staff in Ronald Reagan’s White House.
In the view of some in his party, Romney has an additional — and more serious — problem heading into the general election: He has thus far failed to brand his candidacy with an expansive vision.
“The fundamental question is whether Romney’s leadership can shape the Republican Party or will the far, far right define Romney?” Duberstein said.
A 59-point economic plan, some senior Republicans point out, is not the same thing as a big idea. Nor is Romney’s constant recitation of the lyrics of “America the Beautiful.”
Argument could lose edge
Going into the fall, Romney will no longer have the advantage of superior resources and organization. And if the economy continues to improve, his most potent argument — that Obama is simply not up to the job of fixing it — will lose its edge.
“What worked against an underfunded Mr. Gingrich won’t work against the well-funded Barack Obama,” Karl Rove, former president George W. Bush’s chief political strategist, warned in a column in the Wall Street Journal after Romney’s Florida win. “He should become bolder in his prescriptions, presenting a confident agenda for economic growth and renewed prosperity through reforms of taxes, regulatory and energy policies.”
Obama’s reelection campaign does not plan to make the adjustment to the general election campaign any easier for Romney.
At its headquarters in Chicago, Obama’s team is compiling a dossier of Romney statements made in the heat of the primary battle.
“I know he walked away with the hard drives in Massachusetts,” said Obama’s chief political strategist David Axelrod, referring to the fact that Romney’s gubernatorial staff took computer records with them when they left office. “But the video [from the primary campaign] is going to be hard to erase.”
About even in swing states
Romney aides declined to discuss any plans to retool their campaign for the general election, saying that talking about it amid a primary race would be presumptuous.
They note that, whatever the challenges ahead, Romney is already running just about even with Obama in the swing states — something that is true of no other GOP contender.
And some Republicans note that Romney has always seemed more comfortable when he is on a general election footing, training his fire on Obama and focusing on his own spectacularly successful record in business.
Indeed, his initial strategy for winning the nomination had been to all but ignore his GOP opponents and run as if he already had the nomination.
“Romney’s strength is as a general-election candidate,” said Rob Stutzman, a California-based Republican political consultant. “In some ways, he’ll be able to unleash the real Romney.”
“He’s a good candidate when he engages Obama,” Stutzman added. “He tried to get nominated that way, and it didn’t work.”
Stutzman and others argue that the sooner Romney can get to a two-man contest with the president, the better. But Romney himself professes not to be concerned by the fact that the primary race is likely to drag on at least until next month’s Super Tuesday contests.
“A competitive primary does not divide us,” Romney said in his Florida victory speech. “It prepares us.”
This and worse are what we might be in for: Swift Boat Veterans ad against Kerry. Wow. Just wow.
Angry Black Lady Chronicles:
“What’s the big deal with showing your ID when you go to vote? Won’t it keep down voter fraud?”
This is the question most people ask when they first learn of the opposition to laws requiring that people who wish to vote present photographic identification at the polls. The big deal is disenfranchisement. A person who has the right to vote is precluded from doing so. How does this happen? Let me explain:
Elections are won by garnering the most votes. This is true for almost every election except that of the Presidency, there is an entire process above the popular vote called the Electoral College which I won’t explain here. That is for another chat beside another fire. One way to garner the most votes is by simply getting more people to cast their vote in your favor, the other way to garner the most votes is to preclude citizens who are likely to vote for your opponent from exercising their right to vote at all. This is why voter identification (Voter ID) laws are a vital tool in elections. Minority voters are less likely to possess the state issued photographic identification. In many cases those who were previously able to exercise their right to vote will no longer be able to vote. In the 2008 election, a whopping 96 percent of African-American voters cast their vote for Barack Obama.
The argument most often used in favor of voter ID laws is that the requirement of photographic identification prevents voter fraud, particularly impersonation fraud. If voter impersonation fraud were prevalent in the United States, this argument would be somewhat valid; however, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law states (pdf):
“It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”
Essentially, voter impersonation fraud is rare unless there is a sudden and drastic uptick in the frequency of sky to human lightening strikes.
The Voting Right Act of 1965 (VRA) was passed for the purpose of protecting minority voters, particularly in the South, from poll taxes and literacy test. Previously such devices were used to keep minority voters from exercising their rights granted by the 15th amendment. The passage of the VRA protected those minority voters and the United States saw a wave of new voter registrations by minorities, particularly African-American voters.
Section 5 of the VRA is particularly important in the protection of minority voting rights. Section 5 requires that a certain group of states and counties that have a history of voter disenfranchisement submit any changes to their voting procedure to the Department of Justice (DOJ) for “preclearance.” The changes must be cleared by the Department of Justice before any changes can be made. South Carolina, a state with a history of minority voter disenfranchisement is covered under Section 5.
Recently, Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, head of the Civil Rights Division at the DOJ, sent a letter to the Attorney General for the state of South Carolina. In the letter, Perez indicated that parts of South Carolina’s proposed voter ID law did not meet the burden set forth in Section 5. According to Perez, “the voting change at issue must be measured against the benchmark practice to determine whether it would lead to a retrogression in the position of racial minorities in their effective exercise of the electoral franchise.” This means the new law is weighed against the current law to determine if implementation would lessen the ability of racial minorities who have the ability to vote currently from exercising their rights under the new voting law. Perez noted, according to the statistics provided by the state of South Carolina, an incredible 81,938 registered minority voters in the state of South Carolina lack a photographic ID and would be rendered ineligible to vote under the new law. This is disenfranchisement.
The next statement is usually, “the state could give all 81,938 of those people a free identification card.” While in theory this would work, in practice it is completely ridiculous. Here’s why:
People who do not have a state issued photographic identification card also do not possess a driver’s license.
Those who do not possess a driver’s license are less likely to own a vehicle.
Those who do not own a vehicle must obtain transportation to and from a state approved identification center.
Transportation costs money.
In rural areas, access to transportation for those who do not own a vehicle may not be readily available and the distance can be upwards of 20 miles to a state approved identification center. A round trip in some instances of 40 miles.
The notion that a state approved identification requirement is arguably a poll tax becomes compelling. The money required to obtain an approved voter ID becomes the tax. If a voter cannot afford the cost of transportation to obtain valid identification they have lost their ability to vote. Basically, if you are poor and do not have state approved identification: NO VOTE FOR YOU!
Circling back on the national anthem thing, Benen composed a true or false test with some of Mitt Romney’s biggest lies.
1. Romney claimed President Obama “went before the United Nations” and “said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip.”
True or false? The claim isn’t even close to being right.
2. Romney said Democrats “passed Dodd-Frank,” which “has made it almost impossible for community banks.”
True or false? He’s has said this before, and it’s still completely untrue.
3. Romney continues to insist, “Our Navy is now smaller than any time since 1917.”
True or false? It’s one of his favorite talking points, but it’s wildly misleading.
4. Romney boasted, “I did not inherit what my wife and I have, nor did she. What I was able to build, I built the old-fashioned way, by earning it, by working hard.”
True or false? In reality, he inherited quite a bit from his wealthy, powerful parents.
5. Attacking Newt Gingrich, Romney said of House Republicans, “They also took a vote, and 88 percent of Republicans voted to reprimand the speaker, and he did resign in disgrace after that.”
True or false? That’s not really what happened.
According to TPM, Senate Democrats think they have the upper hand over Republicanswhen it comes to the $600 billion of defense cuts Republicans agreed to in the debt deal, only to (very, very predictably) vow to renege on that same deal now:
Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has not only vowed to hold the line on the cuts, but he recently suggested Dems could use it to force the Republicans’ collective hand.
“The purpose of the sequester is to force us to act to avoid the sequester,” he said. “That sword of Damocles can not be splintered,” he continued, “if it’s going to have its effect.” The effect he said he meant was to “move the rigid ideologues to deal finally with revenue.”
Hmm. Color me skeptical, though we’d all love to see it. From the outset I thought the debt deal was absolutely terrible, because of course Republicans would turn around and nullify the supposed defense cuts long before they ever took effect. That was so obvious a move that the Democratic resistance to acknowledging it was outright insulting. And the leverage Republicans would have in such a fight is the same leverage they always have: calling Democrats “weak on defense,” or saying it will “impact military readiness,” or suggesting that Democrats want the terrorists to win. Then the Democrats predictably start sweating, and then they predictably fold, and the Pentagon gets another few so-expensive-they-should-be-carved-from-platinum jet fighters as trophies of the short-lived fight.
What Sen. Levin is suggesting here is perfectly reasonable, and is in fact the obvious strategy: Use these cuts to force Republican ideologues to choose between their desired defense budget and their entrenched opposition to raising any tax, under any circumstance, since it is obvious to any rational observer that the two goals cannot possibly be reconciled. But it presumes Democrats will honestly be willing to make that fight, and to block attempts to remove the defense budget from the budget agreement even as Republicans warn that the entire future of the free world depends on giving the Pentagon more and more and more money, and that you’re a dirty communist and/or hippie and/or traitor if you think otherwise. What history exists here that would suggest Democrats would not cave in? Democrats have established a history of caving in nicely, which is exactly why the demands of the Republican leadership have gotten more and more extreme during each hostage-taking session.
Republicans willingly signed on to the defense cuts only a few short months ago. Now they’re seen as apocalyptic, and impossible, and so dangerous that only a fool would do it. They knew, even back then, that they weren’t going to honor the deal. And now, just as with every other goddamn negotiation of the past three years, we’re reliant on an aimless Democratic caucus to negotiate for whatever hostage Republicans take this time around.
I will be very happy if Levin is right, and there is stomach this time around (perhaps thanks to Republican self-immolation on the payroll tax cuts) to hold firm on this issue and finally force Republicans to recognize that “tax cuts for rich people” is not the be-all, end-all of all national policy. The only evidence of it, however, would be that clearly non-conservatives cannot continue to acquiesce to these hostage-takings indefinitely—they are causing too much damage, economically, for the country to blithely accept—and so statistically there should besome point at which more moderate voices have gotten fed up enough to say “no more.”
US Representative Ed Markey and other opponents of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline introduced legislation Friday requiring that all petroleum products refined from crude carried by the controversial project be sold in the US.
TransCanada wants to build the 1,700-mile pipeline to carry heavy crude from Alberta’s oil sands to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. The Obama administration last month rejected TransCanada’s application for a key license to build the pipeline, but the company said it would reapply and hopes to put it into service in late 2014.
Market observers expect refiners to export some of the Keystone XL supplies, but just how much remains in dispute. The US has exported more refined products than it imports for nine of the last 12 months, according to the Energy Information Administration, a dramatic turnaround that made fuels the top US export last year.
Markey, Democrat-Massachusetts, said his bill would “call the bluff of Keystone XL supporters” by questioning their claims that the project serves national security interests by increasing US oil imports from friendly governments. He added that exporters would unfairly dodge US taxes because Port Arthur, Texas, is a foreign-trade zone, a duty-free area for products handled and then re-exported.
“You can’t sneak a 1,700-mile pipeline past the American people, and you shouldn’t be able to sneak the oil out of the United State either,” Markey said. “Other countries shouldn’t be allowed to bisect our country with a pipeline and then bypass our citizens to send the oil abroad.”
A spokeswoman for the International Trade Administration could not immediately confirm that Keystone XL exports would be tax free.
The bill has little chance of getting a vote in the Republican-controlled House, but Markey said the exports issue deserved a higher profile in the seemingly never-ending Keystone XL debate.
‘NORTH KOREAN STYLE’ ECONOMICS
During a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Representative Morgan Griffith, Republican-Virginia, said the possibility of exports did not trouble him or sway his support for the project.
“If you accept the argument that the oil’s going to come in and the oil’s going to go out to other countries… you also have to accept the argument that before it goes to the other countries it’s going to be refined in the United States, thus adding value,” Griffith said. “To do that you have to add jobs. And when you add that value, you add strength in our economy and tax dollars.”
Representative Charlie Gonzalez, Democrat-Texas, agreed that selling Keystone XL supplies overseas after refineries in his state processed it posed no problems, as long as those plants refined it safely. “Exporting is good. Balance of trade creates jobs and such,” he said.
Committee Chairman Ed Whitfield, Republican-Kentucky, said the US should aspire to increase its exports.
“Not of oil,” Markey interjected. “Not of oil. That’s our security.”
The American Petroleum Institute later Friday highlighted that crude brought to the Gulf Coast on Keystone XL would mostly be used by refineries there, adding that occasional exports would also be beneficial to the US.
“Any effort to restrict market forces on commodities like oil and natural gas is a North Korean style model of economics and has no place here in America,” said API Chief Economist John Felmy. “Having the flexibility to export more should there be an occasional surplus of supply would go a long way to help reduce our trade deficit. We don’t think that American farmers would appreciate Mr. Markey calling on them to restrict their products, and it makes no sense for an elected official to suggest this backward approach with energy.”
I’ve been having a ball this week with the Komen shit-show. Not just because it was such a hideous blunder and there was so much hourly incompetence to chronicle, but because GOD DAMNED IT FEELS GOOD TO BE ON THE OFFENSIVE.
Say what you will about all the wingnutty things I said 2001-2005ish, at least I was looking for a fight with the opposition party and going after them. Since I became a Democrat, it seems like the only time we ever get our damned dander up is with other Democrats. The rest of the time we are on defensive, linking to logical explanations from TAPPED or Kevin Drum, talking about negotiating, etc. Or spending our time dealing with dipshits in our own party, like that jackass Rosen who tried to sink Sotomayor. Or we spend all our time angry about the stupid things teahadists do and say and snark about it, but nothing ever comes of it and they never pay a price. Or, as often is the case at this website, wailing about our worthless media.
This time, though, was different. It was nice to watch everyone go for blood, and sink their teeth in and get some. That’s what we need in the Democratic party. We need a killer instinct. We need to stop putting up with this bullshit from these crazy people. We need to fight back, we need to start running for local elections and state elections and running the show, and we need to go after them every chance we can. We don’t have to stoop to lies and innuendo, we can go after them with the truth, just like we did this time. They are lying about tax and regulatory burdens. They are lying about social security. They are lying about Obamacare and Medicare and Medicaid. They are lying about the environment andglobal warming. They are lying about poor people and black people and gay people and immigrants. They are lying about Obama. They are lying about everything.
There is nothing noble or wise about trying to have rational arguments, or acting like the mature people when you are dealing with fanatics. This stuff is important. You should be pissed off and fighting mad.
God damned this feels good for a change. God damn I am fired up for November 2012. No prisoners. No backing down. Republicans don’t want to negotiate or govern with you, they want you dead. So either reach down and grab a pair and fight back, or take what they give you. Your choice. I’ve made mine. And as we have seen this week, if you fight, and you don’t put up with the bullshit, people will join you and we will win.
Last week, the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers held their latest get-together with wealthy conservative political donors. At these meetings, held twice a year under a veil of secrecy, Republican all-stars discuss election strategy and vet potential presidential candidates like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Last September, Mother Jones obtained exclusive audio recordings from a Koch seminar held outside Vail, Colorado, where Charles Koch had declared that the 2012 election would be “the mother of all wars” and thanked dozens of million-dollar donors who’d pledged to the cause.
According to a Huffington Post source, 250 to 300 guests attended the most recent event, which was held in Palm Springs, California. They included Citadel CEO Ken Griffin and casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who along with his wife has given a staggering $10 million to a pro-Newt Gingrich super-PAC. Guests reportedly pledged a total of $40 million to the effort to oust Obama, with Charles and David Koch promising an additional $60 million. But it wasn’t all fun and games, the source said, as guests complained that recent meetings had focused more on “alpha male” anti-Obama chest-pounding than the strategy sessions for which they’d been known.
Former ThinkProgress.org blogger Lee Fang also got a peek at the Palm Springs event, which was dubbed “Defending Free Enterprise.” Fang, who first reported on the Koch seminarsbefore the 2010 midterms, caught wind that someone had booked all 560 rooms at the Rennaisance Esmeralda Resort & Spa for three nights in late January and decided to investigate. “I arrived atthe hotel the night before the event,” Fang wrote, “but was followed closely by security and asked to leave the next morning before the Koch meeting guests arrived.” During the seminar, “helicopters, private security, and police officers from neighboring cities patrolled the area constantly.”
Fang wasn’t able to get inside, but he did manage to identify several additional guests by scoping out their private jets at the Palm Springs International Airport. They included billionaire investor Phil Anschutz and Kenny Troutt, a Dallas investor who’s given $700,000 to conservativesuper-PACs. Fang also noticed jets belonging to Harold Hamm, an Oklahoma oil tycoon, and Foster Friess, a Wyoming investor who’s helped keep Rick Santorum afloat by pumping $381,000 into two super-PACs supporting the candidate. At last year’s Vail seminar,Charles Koch thanked both Friess and Hamm (and Griffin) for their million-dollar contributions.
At the airport, Fang also spotted Phil Kerpen, vice president of the Koch-affiliated tea party group Americans for Prosperity, which recently spent $5 million on anti-Obama attack ads. Kerpen admitted that he hopes the 2012 election will result in “aggressive cuts to government spending and to regulation to allow robust economic growth,” but not before complaining to Fang that “I thought they had stopped all leaks” concerning the whereabouts of the Koch seminars.
On the contrary, the meetings have become increasingly visible since they began quietly in 2003. Last January, Greenpeace flew an anti-Koch blimp (above) over the brothers’ Palm Springs seminar. This That year, hundreds of anti-Koch protesters showed up outside the hotel amd were met by 60 police officers in riot gear who made 25 arrests.
It’s easy to interpret the verbal bile of recent American politics as a new height in prejudiced and conspiracist thinking: a new hate. In the last few years, Sarah Palin has created the concept of Obama’s “death panels,” Glenn Beck has argued that George Soros was a collaborator with the Nazis during WWII — even though Soros is Jewish — and Donald Trump staked his presidential campaign on the idea that our president, black as he is and Muslim as his name seems to be, had not sufficiently proven his rights to citizenship in our country. More recently, Newt has taken to calling Obama the “food stamp president,” a title that is as racially charged as it is inaccurate.
But Arthur Goldwag, author of the new book “The New Hate: A History of Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right,” argues that the racist and conspiracist approach of today’s far-right pundits is largely the same as it was 50 years ago. Their language and theories are taken (sometimes verbatim) from right-wing populist vitriol at early times in American and European history, dealing in tropes well-worn by pre-WWII American Nazis, Joe McCarthy and fanatical anti-Catholic and anti-Masonic Protestant preachers of the 19th century.
Salon spoke with Goldwag — who has worked at Random House and the New York Review of Books and is the author, previously, of “Cults, Conspiracies and Secret Societies” — over the phone about today’s hate, the persistence and remarkable uniformity of American prejudice, and our potential for change.
Why is this resurgence of the “old hate” happening now?
We’re going through a historic shift in this country. We were on an incredible run of prosperity in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, thanks to the New Deal social compact, thanks to big unions, thanks to very strong regulation – thanks to all the things that Glenn Beck’s followers think are the most evil things in the world. Fairly unskilled, uneducated people were able to earn a good living, and send their children to college. And that’s changed. Income inequality is growing. If you look at American history, the bottom has dropped out of rural people’s lives every five years, but there used to also be a manufacturing class that made a decent living. There used to be a route for people that weren’t well educated to make a decent living. There isn’t anymore. There’s a lot of anxiety about our individual positions in our society, and our country’s position in the world. If you’re not educated to be able to understand it, and you’re trapped in a disadvantaged life, you might become really, really angry.
So these resurgences of hatred, and conspiratorial narratives, are related to a basic type of class-consciousness – a stripped-down awareness of unfairness.
Yes. It’s an old stereotype (it’s also a true stereotype) that rich Southerners drove wedges between poor whites and poor blacks so that they wouldn’t see that they were all in the same place. That’s very connected to the anger people have today. One of the most infuriating things about Obama to people is that he walks into the White House like he belongs there. But their anger is not really about him. It’s about them: their place in the world. Because he does belong there. But their kids will never go there, because they’re poor and feel they’re without open avenues.
What can we learn from the idea that the new hate is largely the same as the old? Is there a lesson there that can help political discourse move forward with more tolerance and rationality, or is this an endless cycle depending on where the political pendulum is? Or, is it a reminder not to panic, we’ve seen this before?
I’m going to say all of the above. I think it is reassuring to recognize that the scary fringe people that are cropping on the margins of the Internet now really aren’t that much more horrible than people that were cropping up in the past. It was harder to read them before, but they were there. A propaganda novel called “The Turner Diaries“ was written by a white supremacist named William Luther Pierce in 1978. It was self-published, he broadcast his speeches over a short-wave radio, and the book was passed from hand to hand. People at Christian identity compounds read it to each other, and it had a kind of talismanic quality. Now you can just download it on the Internet. And you can see pictures of him and you can watch him giving speeches on YouTube. One of the tricky things about the new hate is that you have access to all of the historic material at once. You can see Robert Welch giving a speech, then you can see Louis Farrakhan giving a speech, then you can see Hitler giving a speech. It’s all instantly available and reinforces each other.
But the types of people who espouse hatred on a broad scale have always been there, and won’t be going away. I look at that like psychology. You’re never going to cure a neurotic. But if you get the neurotic to recognize that some of the things that scare them and agitate them are things that they construct themselves, then maybe they can move forward.
In this case, that means calling out hatred for what it is, and not allowing it to “hide in plain sight,” as you say in the book.
Yes. A useful example is that Ron Paul was a figure in the John Birch Society. It’s no secret. He was a local leader, and he had real associations with white nationalists and very marginal people 20 years ago. But he’s been exposed for that past behavior, and now he can’t rely on it as a type of base appeal – he can’t go too near racism because it’s too dangerous for him. The New Republic brought it to light four years ago, and it became a third rail for him. And that’s a very salutary thing. Once you’ve shown a light on these types of things, they can’t be used anymore. As long as somebody’s pretending that their appeal isn’t racist, they can keep saying, “I’m just terribly concerned because I think you need to be a natural-born citizen to be the president of the United States.” But that’s bullshit and it’s racism and xenophobia and nativism. And once you name it, you can’t go there anymore and still be in the mainstream. If you’re David Duke, you can’t pretend to not be David Duke.
You also say in the book that mainstream discussion has moved farther toward the radical right, and that the new hate is in some ways more accepted than the old. So there seems to be a sweet spot where people in the public eye can avoid the really unacceptable activities – like membership in the John Birch Society – and can still make appeals to racist impulses in their base. But how is it that racist conspiratorial thinking could be more mainstream now than it was at time periods when we, as a country, were more xenophobic and more nativist, as a whole?
Well, I’m not sure that it is. But Ryan Lizza, the other week in the New Yorker, wrote about a study showing that in recent years the mainstream right has moved much farther to the right than the left has moved to the left. You have mainstream people pandering to the base by picking up some of these memes and some of these archetypes from 40 years ago – and much older. It was really horrifying when it first seemed like anti-Islamic sentiment was becoming mainstream.
As far as the snarky racist things that mainstream pundits are able to say about Obama – using the word “ghetto” and so on – that’s just pandering to the lowest common denominator. There’s crappy racism in American society, but every year there is a little bit less of it. Political correctness creates a burden, and coded messages and dog whistles become more of the main operating mode.
But sometimes open discrimination works. Pamela Geller had a tremendous amount of traction in 2010 when she led the charge against the Islamic community center near ground zero. She had the New York Post covering her, and even Harry Reid got scared about the “ground zero mosque.” Newt Gingrich jumped right in and talked about banning Shariah. Anti-Islamic sentiment is so vile. And as a Jewish person, I find it appalling that there are Jewish activists and politicians who don’t see that it is exactly the same thing that was said against us. If you’re Jewish, you know what it is to be completely demonized. It was appalling when the Anti-Defamation League didn’t condemn the attacks on the community center.
How does it work for a publication like Newsweek to take seriously a question like “Is Obama the Antichrist?” as they did? How are they able to do that without being shamed by all serious publications?
Some of it is that they don’t even realize how real that question is to some people. They think, “Oh, this is a funny little item, and we’ll talk to Matt Staver,” the guy they interviewed with that question. Well, Matt Staver’s a real, intense religious fanatic. But people in the mainstream don’t know a lot about that world. The worst thing that most people hear is a few seconds of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh when they’re in a taxicab. But if you spend time at Media Matters or the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hate Watch” blog, and so on, or, if, God help you, you go to a white nationalist conference as I did in Washington in September, you know that these ideas have real currency.
My worry isn’t that Newsweek would approach some right-wing guy and get a quote from him, but that they would do it without knowing just how right-wing he is.
Paranoid and fear-based politics tend to rise up at times of national uncertainty – economic distress, political turmoil, and changing social norms all seem to contribute. You pointed out that there are striking similarities between the type of irrational anger faced by John F. Kennedy and the type now faced by Barack Obama. But you say that today, this hatred is “hiding in plain sight.”
Yes, it’s the obvious elephant in the room. For example, the “birther” issue. I couldn’t have imagined it before it began. There’s a judge in Georgia right now who’s demanded that Obama come and explain why he should be in the Democratic primary. A Republican judge said, “I want the president of the United States to come here and make a case for himself.” This is so intensely racist.
One of the most interesting parts of reading your book was learning how anti-communism, anti-Masonry, anti-Catholicism and raced-based discrimination are all tied together, and almost always have been linked to anti-Semitism. The existence or successes of other minority groups were blamed on Jewish people, or these groups were called out as Jews – even the Jesuits. It seems like the only group associated with evil conspiracies to take over the world and not linked to Judaism is Muslims. Is that true?
It’s true, and it’s weird. God knows most Jews were not bankers, and God knows most Jews were not rich. Jews were really poor people. But there were enough rich Jews to make the stereotypes stick, and rich Jews, like others, used the power of finance. You can find writings in the ancient world about the horrors of usury. As many people understand it, usury is a terrible form of magic: you’re making something out of nothing. The Templars were bankers, and all of the things that were said about Jews were said about them too, and they were also associated with the devil. There are mysteries that are just as profound as theological mysteries. People actually get through their lives without being personally affected by the mystery of the trinity, but if you buy a house for the first time and you discover that this $300,000 house is going to cost you $1.5 million, that’s pretty startling, and people think, “How is the bank making so much money out of money?” It makes sense to me that a rural populace in the mid-18thcentury would have latched onto anti-banker, anti-Semitic ideas. They were told to hate Jews anyway, for purely religious reasons. What’s crazy is that 100 years later, these ideas have the same power.
You point out cases in which prejudiced public figures on the left and the right meet at the point of their hatred or paranoia, as with neo-Nazis and Louis Farrakhan. Are there notable newer examples of this today?
Well, you can find that with 9/11 Truthers, and also if you hang around with Ron Paul people. I went to a John Birch Society meeting a month ago, and the people there were surprising. They were all people living off the grid, and they were pot smokers and Ron Paul people. I don’t even know that they would have identified themselves as conservatives. The John Birch Society recruiter there clearly had a lot of experience doing outreach to these types of people.
It seems that people may not even really understand where they are in that case. They may not know what the JBS is in a historical sense – they just know that it’s “alternative.”
I think that’s true. Extremely ideological organizations rely on the fact that you don’t know the whole story. They feed you political talking points and emotional talking points, and you don’t know the rest. I think that’s part of the Ron Paul phenomenon.
It seems there can be a tendency to latch onto a politician whose identity is “alternative” rather than one whose identity is more politically clear.
I think that’s true, and I think that’s a product of resentment and anxiety. It’s a way of individuating yourself. It’s also a not very successful way of escaping from cant that you know is cant. “Oh, the Democrats promised this, the Republicans promised that, but this guy’s a real outsider.” People say they are the true insurgent, and they turn out not to be much of an insurgent, or their insurgency has little to do with what you want from them.
In the book you discuss how right-wing populism has historically demonized academic scholars, and also how it has used selective “scholarship” – misappropriating information and repeating widely discredited ideas. This is, of course, something we can see clearly in characters like Glenn Beck who performed whole episodes of his show writing on a chalkboard and has developed his own recommended canon. How does it work to disparage “experts” and the “elite,” but also rely on this type of pseudo-academia?
Richard Hofstadter discusses this in “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” There is a whole world of alternative scholarship, and for fanatics it functions like a fantasy world where they can only be right. That’s a psychological phenomenon rather than a political phenomenon to me. People do this in other parts of their lives as well. It’s called denial. You create an alternative reality where you don’t have to believe what you don’t want to. But we can believe Glenn Beck because he has footnotes! They always have footnotes. And Beck’s footnotes refer to Eustace Mullins. Eustace Mullins is one of the most vile, racist writers that you can imagine. I think Hitler would have been ashamed of a lot of what he wrote, but Glenn Beck’s “scholarship” relies on him.
Why doesn’t it matter that radical right-wing sources have been discredited over and over again? As you point out, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” – a known forgery – still informs endless right-wing conspiracies – including Beck’s infamous episodes on George Soros. Maybe this information is just too far removed from the original source. But what about Sarah Palin’s creation of Obama’s “death panels”? The correct information was available, but many people didn’t care. Is it all willful ignorance?
Yes. There is a quote from a New York Times Magazine article [“Faith, Certainty, and the Presidency of George W. Bush”] quoting an aid to the president who said that writers were in the “reality-based community,” but that the world didn’t run on reality anymore. There are people who believe they can push through “facts.”
And in surprising ways, that seems to work. If I want to say that person X is wrong, and there is a base of people that will come along with me on whatever trip I have to take to get there, then I’ll do that.
Because that person isn’t just wrong; they’re evil, they’re satanic. Take Newt Gingrich, for example. I truly don’t know what his agenda is, other than that it’s about bringing power to Newt Gingrich. And in order to get power, he will demonize whoever is against him.
Running in the back current of your book, is the distinction between genuine populist interests – improving the lives of working people – and hateful, populist rhetoric.
Yes. As Richard Hofstadter made clear, there is a difference between moral politics and ends-based politics. He said that positivist historians – those who assume that people are voting their economic interests – miss out on something. It’s a fallacy to say that people think economically all the time. Human behavior is not based on maxima. People are superstitious, and people are moral. And sometimes when you feel that your values are not being followed, you get angry.
Another interesting difference between the old hate and the new is that today’s right-wing racists make apologies for language that is too overt. A great example of this that you cite is from the man who runs a website called Jewwatch.com. He said, “It has never been my intent to defame the Jews” – a wild thing for him to say. Why do openly anti-Semitic or racist groups talk this way now? How does this work with their base supporters?
White supremacists repeatedly use a tactic where they claim that they are really just conservative, white-loving, white people. They say: “I don’t hate black people, I love my own kind. What’s wrong with loving your own?” And one of the things that comes with loving your own is obsessing over dark races moving into America and the low white birthrate. It’s about “blood and soil.” Millions and millions of people died because of “blood and soil”.
Another thing that these groups go out of their way to say is that it would be “absolutely wrong” to say terrible things about people that weren’t true. But, if I say that Jewish people are greedy and criminal and are trying to destroy the world, and if it’s true, then there’s nothing anti-Semitic about it. Beyond that, people really have a hard time being mean to people’s faces. If you meet one of these people, or they’re publicly confronted, they sometimes bend over backward to be polite to you. It’s really terribly inconsistent and weird.
What people “really” believe in is an implicit and explicit theme of the book. At the end, you say that leaders of these various hate and conspiracy movements did not really believe the theories they put forth. With entertainer-type pundits – Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter – this seems to make most sense. They profit regardless of their true beliefs. But what about their followers, who don’t necessarily stand to gain anything?
In some cases, people know that something isn’t true, but they “know” that it’s morally true. They may know there aren’t really going to be death panels, but socialism is evil and it will kill people, and so there might as well be death panels. I really don’t think that people believe most of these theories. It’s a type of pornography. There is a sadomasochistic element to the level of hatred found with many of these groups and on their websites. In the book I write about the story of Maria Monk, who claimed to have escaped from a sex den in a Catholic monastery. Her story was false, but at the time it was a real turn-on for people. In “Mein Kampf,” Hitler writes about the Jew waiting to rape the Aryan maiden. People don’t believe these things, but the ideas are so upsetting that they are appealing, and they also have a level of spiritual truth.
You discuss the connection between hateful language and real violence – whether it be JFK’s assassination in 1963 or the Tucson/Gabrielle Giffords shooting of 2011. Do you believe politicians have a responsibility to speak out against rhetoric that can encourage violence?
I think it’s demagoguery to blame the politicians when some crazy person shoots somebody, but politicians are culpable. And no, it’s not nice when some lunatic shoots some nice Jewish congresswoman in Arizona and all of the sudden you’re up in Alaska and you’re being blamed for it. It feels terrible. But, if you’re a politician don’t be a demagogue, encouraging hatred. If you’re Glenn Beck then it’s your job, and you’ve got to tough it out when someone gets killed. You can’t pretend you didn’t say this awful stuff. There was just a politician in Kansas who quoted a Psalm in relation to Obama saying “and may his wife be a widow.” When he was called out on it, he said that he only meant, “may his term be short.” That’s so disingenuous and it’s so wrong, and we shouldn’t be doing it. If you say, “Gee, I wish that person would die,” and they die, you should feel guilty.
Do you think there is a possibility to move away from this type of language? You say at one point that hatred is a Pavlovian response – implying that it comes about as a result of training, and that perhaps we can be trained out of it. It seems that on the mainstream level, maybe we have been trained away from hatred.
I was born in 1957, and I lived in Virginia, and there were colored-only water fountains. I can barely imagine that, but I saw them with my own eyes. If we move away from race and consider gay rights, it’s all happening very fast. Gay marriage is almost mainstream. There will be people who go to their graves screaming about it, but it’s a fact. We can change. People who learn in church that it’s wrong will change when a relative or friend comes out to them, because it’s very hard to hate people you know. The cure for racism is exactly what the Southerners were so terrified of 50 years ago: race mixing. When our families are multiracial – or mixed in religion, or include gay people – the same type of hatred can’t go on.
But there will always be haters, and there will always be fanatics, and it’s the role of the press and the role of writers and the role of thoughtful people to call it out. It’s our job to remind people that even though you’re angry and somebody’s appealing to your worst instincts, you do have better instincts too. You can be better than that. That’s my hope anyway.
The Democratic representative charged with taking back the House says the election will be about one issue — Medicare — and his party “is in a much better place than anyone thought we would be” to put Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) back in the speaker’s chair.
“This is going to be razor sharp,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) Chairman Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) said on C-Span’s Newsmakers, airing on Sunday. “We are ahead in the generic polls … it is a good indicator and right now we are up in every single generic ballot.”
He said the election will be about “Medicare, Medicare, Medicare” because all but a few members of the Republican caucus voted for the 2012 budget authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). That budget would have transformed Medicare into a program where future seniors buy private insurance using capped subsidies from the government, which Democrats claim would essentially end the program.
This year, Ryan is weighing using an alternate plan with bipartisan support that keeps traditional Medicare as an option alongside premium support for future seniors.
“It is a vote that we will not allow them to escape from,” Israel said of the 2012 budget.
“We are in a much better place than anyone thought we would be,” he added. “Ads against Nancy Pelosi are irrelevant when you have to stand up in town meetings and explain why you voted to end Medicare in order to give tax breaks to big oil companies.”
Ryan’s spokesman Conor Sweeney said Ryan welcomes the debate because the Democrats’ policies will doom Medicare entirely.
“Chairman Ryan welcomes the debate between bipartisan efforts to save Medicare and the Democrats’ law that raids, rations & leaves bankrupt this critical program,” he said.
“The President and his party’s leaders have doubled-down on their health-care overhaul that inflicts great pain on seniors. The President’s disastrous health-care law raided Medicare of hundreds of billions of dollars to fund a new entitlement. Worse, it empowers a board of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats to further cut Medicare in ways that will deny critical care for current seniors,” Sweeney added. “House Republicans will continue to advance patient-centered reforms that repeal the President’s rationing board, protect those in or near retirement from any changes, and offer a personalized Medicare program for future generations.”
Israel noted that the minority Democrats have so far out-raised the GOP but said the growth of Republican super-PACs “keeps me up at night.”
The DCCC leader shrugged off the retirement of Blue Dog head Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), which was announced this week. Israel said the party had long known North Carolina was going to be a challenge. He said the GOP itself has identified 30 vulnerable seats and Democrats only need 25 to retake the majority.
Israel said that the DCCC will be focusing energy on Illinois, Texas, California and Florida and getting back 9 million independent voters whom the Democrats say they lost in 2010.
The DCCC chairman said that former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords (D) is actively involved in recruiting a candidate to run in a June 12 special election for her seat. Giffords recently retired in order to focus her energies on recovering from an assassination attempt last year.
Santorum speaks at Florida church. Children’s choir passes out in boredom. (via ThinkProgress)
Here’s something that I predict will cause another fight among Progressives:
Below we plot the estimated positions of presidents between 1945 and 2011 along the liberal-conservative scale, which produces a pattern we call the “presidential square wave”. Because we use first dimension (ideological) Common Space DW-NOMINATE scores, presidential locations are directly comparable across time. However, because presidential estimates are based on a limited number of “presidential support” votes– roll calls on which the president clearly indicates his support or opposition to a particular (often contentious) measure, presidential ideal points are somewhat biased towards the ideological extremes (however, this effect is roughly constant for all presidents, so it is unlikely than any particular estimate would be affected more than others).
Our findings here echo those discussed in a prior post that Republicans have moved further to the right than Democrats to the left in the contemporary period. Indeed, as seen below, President Obama is the most moderate Democratic president since the end of World War II, while President George W. Bush was the most conservative president in the post-war era.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg has disturbed the balance of the universe by giving an interview to Egyptian television in which she does not recommend using the U.S. Constitution as a model for post-Mubarak happiness. The whole video is here, and some transcripts are at the link, but this part is the hackle-raiser.
If you want, here you go: Proof that a Supreme Court Justice believes looks to other countries for advice on an evolving Constitution! Of course, we’ve known this about Ginsburg for years, because she’s said so repeatedly. It’s proof that a SCOTUS justice wouldn’t use the American Constitution as a model for a new country — but, well, neither does anyone who advises new republics about this stuff. Mexico, disastrously, copied our Constitution in 1824; Iraq, less disastrously, went with something. Ginsburg’s “diss” of the Constitution makes reference to Constitutions written with the U.S. model already in existence, mined for the best parts. I’m with John Tabin at the link — I agree that our freedom of speech protections are the best place to start for any other country, and that Canada and South Africa have done citizens wrong with weaker basic rights. But on her main point? I don’t see how you could argue the opposite — all transitional democracies should start with the Constitution we wrote in 1787! — unless you’re writing a Toby Keith song or something. Hell, we’re among the countries that have done some constitution-writing since the end of World War II. Ask a sponsor of the Balanced Budget Amendment; more boringly, ask someone who helped institute presidential term limits.
[…]The press isn’t reporting it, but the Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports says that truck drivers at the Port of Seattle parked their trucks and stopped work this week to protest unsafe working conditions. Late last week, meanwhile, Los Angeles port truck drivers working for the Toll Group, an Australian company, filed for a union representation election. The Toll Group’s Australian workforce is unionized, but in the United States the company has taken advantage of lax labor laws to keep down wages and working conditions and try to stifle organizing attempts.
At a Kansas City plant, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers had the first union win at GE in 10 years.
Thousands of workers waged a one-day strike at Kaiser Permanente in California over contract negotiations between Kaiser and mental health and optical workers represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers. And in New York, inspired by last week’s union victory for Cablevision technicians, 120 more technicians at a Cablevision contractor engaged in a wildcat strike that won them a raise. They hope to follow up by unionizing.
Taking another approach, a former unpaid intern at Harper’s Bazaar is suing Hearst Corporation for violating labor laws by essentially treating her as a full-time employee though she wasn’t paid. She and her lawyers are trying to make the case a class action suit.
Here’s a great way to keep your workers desperate and your workforce young: A new Atlantic City casino is going to hire workers for set terms of four to six years, then make them reapply for their jobs—no matter how good their performance has been.
Project Labor Agreements (explanation of what a PLA is) that the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority recently signed will require that 40 percent of work hours on the projects will go to people from economically disadvantaged communities, while 10 percent of work hours will go to homeless or chronically unemployed people, among other challenges.
Yet another reason more workers need unions:
…government workers who were not represented by unions were about four times as likely to lose their jobs last year as unionized public sector workers were. (The trends are similar even if you strip out workers who were represented by unions but were not members themselves.)
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow countered conservative criticism of the White House requiring religious organizations to provide insurance for birth control Sunday morning.
Appearing on a panel discussion on Meet The Press, Maddow defended the Obama administration’s decision from Republican strategist Alex Castellanos’ and New York Times columnist David Brooks’ criticism.
“80 percent of people say that insurance — anybody providing health insurance should be required to cover contraception,” she said. “So there is a way you can try to make this into a religious freedom issue. But all of the Republican field has gone very, very far right specifically on the issue of contraception and they get a great response for it from the Republican primary audience. But campaigning against the availability of birth control in America is going to run into a 21st century ceiling.”
Castellanos and Brooks unsurprisingly didn’t share Maddow’s sentiment, feeling that the administration was impeding on religious freedom.
However, Maddow and Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) countered Castellanos and Brooks’ argument, mentioning how the decision from the Department of Health and Human services in 2011 was not about religious freedom, but the requirements of a health insurance provider.
Maddow then pivoted back to Republican candidates’ extreme views on birth control.
“Mitt Romney is campaigning saying that he would like to end-all family support at the federal level and eliminate that,” he said. “And Rick Santorum says he would like to make contraception illegal. And the Republican party is waging a war on contraception, and that is where the discussion is at.”
WATCH: Video from MSNBC, which was broadcast on February 5, 2012.
JC Penney has announced continued support for Ellen DeGeneres after a family values group demanded that the company fire its new spokeswoman for being gay.
Earlier this week, OneMillionMoms.com, a project of the American Family Association, declared that “hiring an open homosexual” like DeGeneres was a poor business decision that would “turn away potential new, conservative shoppers.”
According to the group, DeGeneres is “not a true representation of the type of families” that go to JC Penney.
But the retail giant is not swayed by the moms’ pressure.
JC Penney has released a statement announcing that it “stands behind its partnership with Ellen DeGeneres.”
The decision was applauded by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), which had jumped to DeGeneres’ defense and collected more than 26,000 signatures for an online petition to protect her job.
“This week Americans spoke out in overwhelming support of LGBT people and JC Penney’s decision not to fire Ellen simply for who she happens to love,” said the group in its own statement.
DeGeneres, who came out of the closet in 1997, married Portia de Rossi in 2008.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
Here’s that Super Bowl Clint Eastwood ad you’ll be hearing a lot about:
President Obama’s ad-makers may have to pay royalties to Clint Eastwood after a remarkable two-minute Chrysler commercial that aired on the biggest of all stages – the Super Bowl – and gave a pretty good preview of what the president’s reelection commercials might look like. At the very least, the ad and Eastwood’s powerful narration make it much, much more difficult for Republican front-runner Mitt Romney to keep pushing his line that Washington should have let the automakers go into bankruptcy.
And don’t think that Team Obama wasn’t watching the Super Bowl along with millions of other Americans and immediately grasped the boost they could get from the commercial. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer quickly tweeted “Saving the America auto industry: something Eminem and Clint Eastwood can agree on.” Senior strategist David Axelrod tweeted “Powerful spot. Did Clint shoot that, or just narrate it?” Former White House aide Bill Burton tweeted, “Clinton Eastwood #winning.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time Eastwood has been identified with cars — he starred in Pink Cadillacin 1989 and Gran Torino in 2008. But those weren’t in the Super Bowl with a bigger audience than probably saw both those movies combined.
With 30 second spots selling for $3.5 million, the commercial cost Chrysler an estimated $14 million and was kept under wraps by the automaker, which, with the help of the Obama administration, has come back from the dead after being counted out in 2009. And one can only guess what the automaker paid Eastwood. Whatever, it was worth it for it was a master stroke. The 81-year-old actor has told interviewers he has always voted Republican for president, though he has endorsed some Democrats in California and has praised libertarians.
The commercial itself was reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” commercials, though with the famous Clint Eastwood tough guy touch. Shown shortly after Madonna’s halftime performance, it began with the silhouette of Eastwood, walking in the dark and recognizable only for his gravelly voice. “It’s halftime. Both teams are in their locker room discussing what they can do to win this game,” he says. “It’shalftime in America, too.” With scenes of an iconic front porch and a city skyline,” he continues, “People are out of work and they are hurting. They are all wondering what they are going to do to make a comeback. And we’re all scared because this isn’t a game.”
With more every day scenes flashing on the screen, Eastwood adds, “The people in Detroit know a little something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together. Now Motor City is fighting again.” With the music punctuating his remarks, Eastwood goes on: “I’ve seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life. Times when we didn’t understand each other. It seems that we’ve lost our heart at times. The fog of division, discord and blame, made it hard to see what lies ahead.” As scenes of protesters give way to black and white photos of kids and firefighters, Eastwood builds, “But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right and acted as one. Because that’s what we do. We find a way through tough times. If we can’t find a way then we’ll make one. All that matters now is what’s ahead. How do we come from behind? How do we come together?
At this point, viewers see Eastwood in the light. “And how do we win? Detroit is showing us it can be done,. And what’s true about them is true about all of us. This country can’t be knocked out with one punch.” To conclude, a close-up of Eastwood fills the screen. “We get right back up again and when we do the world is going to hear the roar of our engines. Yeah, its halftime America and our second half is about to begin.”
All that was missing was him turning to Mitt Romney and challenging him to “make my day.”
Forget Steve Jobs. Maynard G. Krebs invented the iPod!!
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”–Chief Seattle