Yesterday’s Daily Planet was ruined by a formatting error. But here it is anyway. 🙂 News and opinion from around US-opolis for Tuesday, February 6 2012
Christina Romer and the liberal economists ignorance about manufacturing (via Matt Yglesias)
In the his state of the union speech, President Obama stressed the importance of rebuilding a manufacturing economy – something that both the Republican right and “liberal” economists oppose. The GOP opposes government aid to manufacturing because the GOP represents companies and wealthy people who are already being subsidized by the government (private equity investors like Mitt Romney, oil companies, banks etc. ) and they don’t want anyone redirecting tax money to anything else. The liberal economists, on the other hand, just seem confused. During the worst of the panic in 2009, Robert Reich piped up agree with Republicans that the President’s plan to rescue the auto industry was a stupid idea because we should all work in the service economy ( exporting power point slide decks, I guess). Christina Romer who used to work for the President outlined her objections to manufacturing policy in the New York Times recently – and her article really exposes the weaknesses in orthodox economics.
Romer begins with an assertion that building “clusters” of related industries to produce a positive environment for new industry does not make sense. Advocates of industrial policy argue that “clusters” of related industries like Silicon Valley or Shenzen or Stuttgart produce a manufacturing ecosystem in which it is more likely for manufacturing enterprises to prosper. So if we want an advanced electric car industry, we need a cluster of companies that make things like advanced lithium batteries. Most people, especially people who have worked in industry find this to be plain obvious, but orthodox economics theory discounts clustering. Romer writes:
But large clustering effects have been hard to find. A study by Professors Glenn Ellison of M.I.T. and Edward Glaeser of Harvard showed that in many industries, businesses were only modestly more clustered than if they were allocated randomly — suggesting that the benefits, while real, may often be small.
Romer is incorrect. Ellison and Glaeser actually wrote that they were “reaffirming that geographic concentration is ubiquitous and there are many highly concentrated industries.” What they said was that in some industries there don’t seem to be clusters. One of the examples they cited is television manufacturing which in the 20 years since the publication of their study has disappeared from the USA entirely. It turned out that the dispersed nature of the industry in 1992 was not proof that industrial clustering is unimportant, it was a symptom of of the reduction of the industry to a few isolated factories that lacked the ecosystem needed to survive. If you want to run a TV factory, being near similar companies means that you’ll be able to find someone to repair and maintain your manufacturing equipment, that there is someone around to sell you the parts you need – several someones who compete (this is called a “supply chain”), that there are companies around that know how to distribute your products to markets, that bankers in the area understand your business and its capital requirements, that you can find civil engineers who understand how to build your plant, that there may even be used equipment nearby which can reduce your startup costs and so on. All this is well known, well studied, and simply incompatible with orthodox doctrine.
Here’s Romer with another counter-factual defense of theory:
A related argument for subsidizing manufacturing involves learning by doing. It takes time for a production process to become efficient. But whether learning creates a role for government depends on whether the eventual returns are captured by the company taking the risk. If the company that jumps in first and eventually succeeds reaps all the rewards, there’s not a market failure. The company needs to count the learning period as part of the investment cost. And with well-functioning capital markets, it should be able to find investors without government help.[bold added]
Consider the last sentence of this paragraph, written 4 years after world “capital markets” imploded and while Europe is still teetering on the edge of collapse because European “capital markets” allocated funds to speculation on obviously unsustainable debt instead of investing in long-term research and development. Despite orthodox economic theory, our capital markets do a very poor job of allocating investment – especially for projects that involve long-term research and development and/or markets that have not yet been proven. Capital markets in the United States in the first decade of this century allocated a lot of money to building shopping malls, to real-estate speculation, and to Bain Capital type private equity looting of profitable, functioning companies. And then the first part of the paragraph is written as if DARPA/NSF did not fund the development of the internet on which I read Dr. Romer’s words, or as if the DOD was not the driving purchaser of integrated circuits for decades until the larger market could stand on its own feet, or as if railways did not require massive government investment or as if there was no real economy at all, just a theoretical model in which the simplistic ideological imaginings of orthodox economics worked.
New on Labor’s Edge: 23,400 Good Construction Jobs Coming to LA’s Metro
[…] In November of 2008 business, labor and environmental organizations of Los Angeles County worked together to sponsor Measure R, a half-cent sales tax increase to fund transportation projects throughout the county. When voters overwhelmingly approved Measure R, they may have been looking primarily for solutions to traffic congestion and air pollution, but they succeeded in approving nearly $40 billion over 30 years to create hundreds of thousands of jobs as well as an economic stimulus for Los Angeles.
In addition, Mayor Villaraigosa is working hard to convince the federal government to create a program of low-interest financing for Measure R’s transit program to accelerate the implementation of those projects over 10 years, rather than 30 years. This proposal is part of a larger plan to create a national infrastructure bank, supported by the Obama administration. Imagine what it could do for Los Angeles!
Joseph Benjamin, a 42-year-old electrician journeyman and father, is out-of-work and struggling to pay his mortgage while he waits for a project to break ground. Jason Lopez, a student at WINTER Charter High School, will soon graduate and wants to become an apprentice iron worker to begin his career in the construction trades. These are just two people among thousands of unemployed construction workers and youth in Los Angeles who are ready to put on their hard hats tomorrow to build a better transportation system.
And for the rest of us, we’ll be getting out of our cars to ride more rail and bus lines. Our region’s prosperity will be enhanced by improved mobility, economic efficiency and a healthier environment.
But will this prosperity be fair? Will the workforce building this expanded system have the opportunity to attain middle class jobs and security for their families that has for decades characterized the American dream? Also, will the jobs created by Measure R benefit our high unemployment communities?
Last week, the Los Angeles Metro Board of Directors took steps towards answering these questions. They unanimously passed a Construction Careers Policy that will cover 17 transit projects worth over $6.2 billion and create more than 23,400 good middle-class career jobs over the next five years in Los Angeles County. Over the next 30 years, the policy could cover up to $72 billion in projects, including Measure R projects, and create 270,000 good construction careers.
This policy is the most significant policy of its kind nationwide to create thousands of good jobs while investing in much needed transportation infrastructure. Put simply, the policy sets out the terms of workforce employment that must be agreed to by all Metro contractors before they receive a contract to build Measure R projects and before they hire anyone. This policy has been proven by the LAUSD, the City of Los Angeles and the Port of LA to ensure on time and on budget projects that also create good construction jobs.
The Construction Career Policy will also ensure that 40% of the work hours on Metro construction projects will be performed by workers from areas affected by high poverty and unemployment.
In Los Angeles County our unemployment rate is 11.8%, down from a high of13.4% in July 2010. Among construction workers the unemployment problem is much more severe, with unemployment rates up to 40%!
All economists agree, we will not see the end of this recession — the worst since the Great Depression — until we invest in our infrastructure. This will allow our construction workers to get back to work. In Los Angeles, we have figured a way to get out of the recession, get Americans working again and fight income inequality. Los Angeles can become a model for what is possible across the rest of the country.
Measure R coupled with a Construction Career Policy is the single best thing we can do to get these workers back to work and their families once again provided with the income and security they need.
We will be a stronger, more competitive, more prosperous Los Angeles County because of the investments the public has voted to make with Measure R. We will have reduced our congestion, cleaned our air, improved public health, and ensured our workforce is treated with respect and dignity.
What more could we ask for? We are already in the prime location at the crossroads of a new world economy. And, we already have the best weather.
New and Improved! Obama’s Jobs Record (Interactive)
This familiar graph not only shows improving jobs record, but shows each Obama policy that led to them.)
The Obama administration is taking another “if Congress won’t do the big stuff that needs doing, we’ll do what we can” step, this time on equal pay. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was a nice first step, but it didn’t come close to finishing the job, and this Congress won’t pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which the president supports.
Without adequate government protection, information is an important way for women to protect themselves. To help provide information, the Obama administration has launched the Equal Pay App Challenge. Obama Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrettexplains:
Right now, if you’re a woman in the workforce, it can be surprisingly difficult to answer basic questions about equal pay: what’s the typical salary for someone in your position? Should you be asking for more at the negotiating table? What are your fundamental legal rights?
When the Equal Pay App Challenge is over, you’ll have information that helps you answer these questions, available right on your smartphone or computer. We believe that the same types of innovations that help you find movie times or get a great deal at a restaurant can help you protect your rights in the workforce.
The challenge invites software developers to submit apps by March 31, with winners to be announced on April 17. Women need more than a smartphone app to guarantee fair pay, but with women earning 77 cents for every dollar men earn, it’s good to see Obama keeping the issue in the public eye and trying to do something to improve matters.
NPR: The ‘morning after’ pill: How it works and who uses it.
Kathleen Sebelius: Contraception rule respects religion
One of the key benefits of the 2010 health care law is that many preventive services are now free for most Americans with insurance. Vaccinations for children, cancer screenings for adults and wellness visits for seniors are all now covered in most plans with no expensive co-pays or deductibles. So is the full range of preventive health services recommended for women by the highly respected Institute of Medicine, including contraception.
Today, virtually all American women use contraception at some point in their lives. And we have a large body of medical evidence showing it has significant benefits for their health, as well as the health of their children. But birth control can also be quite expensive, costing an average of $600 a year, which puts it out of reach for many women whose health plans don’t cover it.
The public health case for making sure insurance covers contraception is clear. But we also recognize that many religious organizations have deeply held beliefs opposing the use of birth control.
That’s why in the rule we put forward, we specifically carved out from the policy religious organizations that primarily employ people of their own faith. This exemption includes churches and other houses of worship, and could also include other church-affiliated organizations.
In choosing this exemption, we looked first at state laws already in place across the country. Of the 28 states that currently require contraception to be covered by insurance, eight have no religious exemption at all.
The religious exemption in the administration’s rule is the same as the exemption in Oregon, New York and California.
It’s important to note that our rule has no effect on the longstanding conscience clause protections for providers, which allow a Catholic doctor, for example, to refuse to write a prescription for contraception. Nor does it affect an individual woman’s freedom to decide not to use birth control. And the president and this administration continue to support existing conscience protections.
This is not an easy issue. But by carving out an exemption for religious organizations based on policies already in place, we are working to strike the right balance between respecting religious beliefs and increasing women’s access to critical preventive health services.
Confused about the health-care law, contraception, and the Catholic church? Here’s what you need to know
The health reform law’s requirement that health insurance companies cover birth control without co-pay has seen increased media attention last week. The White House has mounted a more aggressive defense of the provision as it sees more blowback to the provision. Here’s some background on how the debate started, where it stands now and where it’s headed:
The health reform law requires that insurance companies cover preventive services for women without any co-pay beginning this summer. It did not, however, specify what services to cover — that was left to the Obama administration. With guidance from the Institute of Medicine on the issue, Health and Human Services published a regulation on Aug. 1, 2011 that included birth control as part of the preventive package. That regulation also had a conscience clause, which allows religious employers who object to birth control — and also primarily employ those of their own religion — to be exempt from the requirement. That would allow churches to opt out of the new requirement.
What’s the fight about now?
Some religious leaders say that the exemption wasn’t wide enough: That the Obama administration should allow all faith-based employers regardless of who they employ, to opt out of the new requirement if they object to contraceptives. This wider definition would exempt, among others, Catholic hospitals. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has lobbied aggressively for this wider conscience clause, as have a number of prominent Catholics who supported the health reform law. But in final regulations last month, the Obama administration did not expand the exemption.
Let’s say the Obama administration had expanded the conscience clause. Would that allow Catholic hospitals not to provide birth control to their patients?
No, it would not. This regulation only applies to the health insurance that a hospital, charity or other employer provides for its employees. It does not regulate the care that a Catholic charity provides to its patients. As Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebeliuswrote recently in a USA Today op-ed, “our rule has no effect on the long-standing conscience clause protections for providers, which allow a Catholic doctor, for example, to refuse to write a prescription for contraception.”
What happens next?
Two Catholic universities have already filed lawsuits challenging the mandated coverage of contraceptives as a violation of religious freedoms protected under the First Amendment. The Catholic bishops are also looking to file a similar challenge, and some observers expect these challenges could wind their way up to the Supreme Court.
The new rule is starting to play a political role, too, in the 2012 election. Republican candidates have come out against the contraceptive requirement. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich blasted it as “a direct assault of freedom of religion.” The Obama campaign and itsallies have repeatedly defended the new requirement, attacking the Republican field as anti-contraceptives.
How have contraceptive mandates been handled previously?
Twenty-eight states currently require insurance plans to cover contraceptives, although two exclude emergency contraceptives from that mandate.
Nine states do not have conscience clause. Four states have what the Guttmacher Institute describes as “narrow” exemptions, similar to the federal one, which allows churches and other institutions that primarily employ those of their own religion to opt out. Seven states have “broader” exemptions that cover other religious institutions, but not hospitals. Then eight states have “expansive” conscience clauses that allow at least some hospitals not to provide contraceptive coverage.
What about if you get health care through your employer?
Approximately 90 percent of employer-based insurance plans cover contraceptives, according to the Guttmacher Institute, although many may charge co-pays for birth control, which the health reform law will eliminate.
How a GOP Win Could Spell the End of Reproductive Health for Global Women
Gertrude Gorma Cole, a midwife in Liberia’s Bong County, is almost universally known as “Mother Dear.” A warm, grandmotherly presence in a traditional lappadress, she has been practicing at least since the 1970s. In some ways, she is conservative. Speaking of Liberia’s disastrous teenage pregnancy rate—which is high even by West African standards—she blames both the social breakdown caused by the country’s savage civil war and the lax ideas of the international NGOs that swept into the country in its wake. “After the war, the NGO people came in and they brought ‘child rights,’ so the children became so loose, and even to discipline them, they will take you to the police,” she says. Western aid workers dispute this, insisting that the idea of Liberian kids informing on their parents is an urban legend. Still, her views speak to a level of distrust toward the humanitarian agencies that play an outsized role in governing the decimated nation.
Yet there is one thing Mother Dear does not distrust: the programs to provide birth control, which are largely supplied by USAID. In addition to being a midwife, Mother Dear is the county’s reproductive-health supervisor. When I tell her that support for international family planning is controversial in the U.S., and that some candidates for president would like to end it, she is shocked. “If they cut off funding for family planning, more mothers are going to die,” she says.
She’s worth listening to, because whatever effect the upcoming election has on the reproductive health of American women, the effect on women worldwide is likely to be even greater. I was in Liberia recently as part of a World Health Organization-sponsored trip to look at the future of funding for AIDS, TB, and malaria in an age of global austerity. But the country is also an object lesson in the potential global impact of our interminable culture wars.
Those culture wars have turned birth control into a significant issue in the U.S. presidential campaign. All of the Republican candidates have slammed the administration’s refusal to give religious institutions a broad exemption from the mandate that insurance cover family planning. One of them, Rick Santorum, has promised to use the presidency to speak out about “the dangers of contraception in this country,” and has said he believes states should have the right to ban it. Mitt Romney, the likely nominee, has laughed off threats to birth control as an absurd nonissue, but even he has pledged to eliminate Title X, the federal family-planning program founded under Richard Nixon.
To understand how radical that is, consider that Mike Pence, one of Congress’s leading crusaders against Planned Parenthood, has never gone that far. “I’ve never advocated reducing funding for Title X,” he told an Indiana radio station last year. “Title X clinics do important work in our inner cities. They provide health services for women and children that might not otherwise have access to them.”
If Romney is willing to scrap the only federal program to provide birth control to low-income women in the United States, programs to do the same thing abroad certainly aren’t safe. We already know that, like every Republican since Ronald Reagan, he’ll impose the global gag rule, preventing any American money from going to organizations that perform or even counsel about abortions. He will likely follow George W. Bush in withholding money from the United Nations Population Fund, or UNFPA, an agency that promotes reproductive health worldwide, on the demonstrably false grounds that it supports coerced abortion in China. (Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney Super PAC, has tried to tie Newt Gingrich to China’s one-child policy because he co-sponsored a 1989 bill that included a UNFPA appropriation.)
AP: Santorum pushes despicable hoax that health care regulation blocks stroke treatment
New legislation jeopardizes $900 million in health insurance refunds
A bill introduced in the Senate would jeopardize nearly $900 million in estimated health insurance refunds or lower premiums for consumers, says Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports.
According to Consumers Union, the legislation undermines a new rule that requires insurers spend at least 80 percent of premiums on medical care, rather than administrative costs, including salaries and advertising. But the new bill eliminates insurance broker commissions from the calculation of administrative costs, and doesn’t ensure that insurance companies direct the savings back to brokers.
Lisa Swirsky, a senior policy analyst with Consumers Union, said the following in a press release:
In just a few short months insurers must pay back consumers for wasting their money on inefficient overhead and excessive profit. But this bill would just put that money back into the hands of insurance companies. This is a giveaway to big insurance and a significant loss for consumers struggling to afford health insurance.
The rule, included as part of the Affordable Care Act, is a component of the law’s aim to slow rising premiums. The National Association of Insurance found that altering the rule to remove broker compensation would result in a loss of more than 60 percent of forthcoming rebates for consumers, Consumers Union reports.
“The single biggest complaint we hear about health insurance is ever-increasing premiums,” Swirsky said. “This bill erodes the biggest tool we have for reigning in insurance companies and fighting rising insurance costs.”
The Judicial Confirmation Crisis in One Easy Chart
We write a lot about the Senate GOP’s unprecedented obstruction of President Obama’s judicial nominees, but it can be hard to effectively convey the extent of the needless gridlock. We hope this chart helps:
The dotted line marks 24 days, the average time George W. Bush’s nominees – by this point in his presidency –had to wait between being approved by the Judiciary Committee and getting an up-or-down vote from the full Senate. The blue lines represent the number of days each of the nineteen nominees currently waiting for a Senate vote has been stalled. The dark blue lines – seventeen out of the nineteen – represent nominees who were approved with overwhelming bipartisan support by the Judiciary Committee. These nominees have no recorded Republican opposition – instead, the GOP is stalling them just for the sake of stalling.
Fourteen of the nineteen nominees are women or people of color. Nine have been nominated to fill seats officially designated as judicial emergencies. All of them deserve prompt up-or-down votes from the Senate.
Video- Fox & Friends Attacks Job Numbers By Suggesting Labor Dept. Is “Cooking The Books” Because It Works for Obama
<object width=’320′ height=’240′ > <param name=’movie’ value=’http://cloudfront.mediamatters.org/static/flash/pl55.swf’> </param> <param name=’wmode’ value=’transparent’> </param> <param name=’flashvars’ value=’config=http://mediamatters.org/embed/cfg3?id=201202060001′></param><param name=’allowscriptaccess’ value=’always’></param><param name=’allownetworking’ value=’all’></param><embed src=’http://cloudfront.mediamatters.org/static/flash/pl55.swf’ type=’application/x-shockwave-flash’ flashvars=’config=http://mediamatters.org/embed/cfg3?id=201202060001′ allowscriptaccess=’always’ wmode=’transparent’ allowfullscreen=’true’ width=’320′ height=’240′></embed></object>
Journalism’s Model for Doing Good
When Bill Gates was unveiling his dazzling, high-ceilinged visitors’ center in Seattle last week, I asked him about a framed newspaper clipping on the wall. He recalled reading the 1997 New York Times piece on how impoverished Asian children were dying from filthy water. Clad in his nebbishy uniform of sport coat, checked shirt, and tasseled loafers, Gates told me how he was stunned at “seeing what the plight of the poorest was” and that “the system of innovation was not working on behalf of the poor.” The upshot: he and his wife created what is now the $33 billion Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “If your neighbor had a child who was dying of pneumonia, you would act,” Melinda Gates says. “Yet children are dying every day in the developing world. Getting those stories out is something the media can be hugely helpful with.”
The foundation has set up a media unit, run by formerNightline producer Dan Green, that last year funneled $25 million in grants to such outlets as ABC and PBS to cover global health problems (with pledges of editorial independence). “These are not necessarily the most popular stories that sell newspapers or attract large numbers of viewers,” Green says. Rather, they are what Ian Katz, deputy editor of London’sGuardian, calls “eat-your-peas stories.” They present a challenge to journalists, in part because tales of AIDS victims and substandard schools are inherently dark and depressing.
Since Bill Gates has his hands full as chairman of Microsoft and with his crusade to combat polio and malaria, it’s striking that the software engineer has come to embrace the importance of telling stories—like the one that led him into philanthropy.
Chrysler CEO defends Eastwood Super Bowl ad as not political
The CEO of Chrysler is defending a controversial Super Bowl ad some Republicans have argued is an endorsement of President Obama.
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne said in a radio interview in Detroit Monday that the commercial, in which actor Clinton Eastwood says “it’s halftime America, and our second half is about to begin,” was not an endorsement of Obama, who declared in his State of the Union address last month that “the American auto industry is back.”
“It has zero political content,” Marchionne said of the Super Bowl ad in an interview with Detroit radio station 760 AM WJR.
The commercial, called “It’s Halftime America,” touted the recovery of the American auto companies after the bailouts of 2008 and 2009. The U.S. government lent millions to General Motors and Chrysler, and the companies have seen their fortunes increase along with fellow American car company Ford, which did not accept a federal bailout.
“It was not intended to be any type of political overture on our part,” Marchionne continued. “We are as apolitical as you can make us … I wasn’t expressing a view and certainly nobody inside Chrysler was attempting to influence decisions.”
Former President George W. Bush’s political adviser, Karl Rove, sharply criticized the Chrysler ad Monday morning. The auto bailouts were first initiated under Bush in the fall of 2008, but Rove said in an interview with Fox News he was “offended” by the commercial.
“I’m a huge fan of Clint Eastwood, I thought it was an extremely well-done ad, but it is a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics, and the president of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising,” Rove said.
Current White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer offered a different take, writing onTwitter after the Chrysler commercial aired “saving the America Auto Industry: Something Eminem and Clint Eastwood can agree on.”
Chrysler aired a popular ad in last year’s Super Bowl that featured rapper Eminem.
Obama’s campaign manager, David Alexrod agreed, tweeting “Powerful spot. Did Clint shoot that, or just narrate it?”
Reuters: Obama signs executive order blocking all assets of the Iranian government, including central bank held in the United States.
U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Monday imposing new, stricter sanctions on Iran and its central bank, saying a broader asset freeze was necessary because Iranian banks were concealing transactions.
“I have determined that additional sanctions are warranted, particularly in light of the deceptive practices of the Central Bank of Iran and other Iranian banks to conceal transactions of sanctioned parties, the deficiencies in Iran’s anti-money laundering regime and the weaknesses in its implementation, and the continuing and unacceptable risk posed to the international financial system by Iran’s activities,” Obama said in a letter to Congress.
The executive order, described as a further step in the U.S. effort to isolate Iran, prevents any assets deemed to be in U.S. control – including foreign branches of American banks – from being transferred, paid, exported or withdrawn.
Bloomberg: Obama Nominates Air Force’s First Female Four-Star General
Rove’s hissy fit: If Clint Eastwood sounded like Obama, it’s because the GOP ceded optimism to the Democrats
I admit it: Chrysler’s “Halftime in America” Super Bowl ad reminded me of President Obama’s best recent speeches. Actor Clint Eastwood, the face of rugged American individualism, talked about “tough eras” and “downturns” and “times when we didn’t understand each other,” but then declared:
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, and if we can’t find a way, then we’ll make one…
This country can’t be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again and when we do the world is going to hear the roar of our engines. Yeah, it’s halftime America. And, our second half is about to begin.
Karl Rove heard echoes of Obama’s rhetoric too, and implicit optimism about the direction of the country, and cried foul.
“I was, frankly, offended by it,” Rove said on Fox News Monday. “I’m a huge fan of Clint Eastwood, I thought it was an extremely well-done ad, but it is a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics, and the president of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising.”
Rove wasn’t the only Republican who tried to cast the Chrysler ad as essentially payback to the president for supporting the bailout that kept the domestic auto industry alive. Michelle Malkin tweeted her horror Sunday night: “Agh. WTH? Did I just see Clint Eastwood fronting an auto bailout ad???”
Now, Clint Eastwood is no Democrat – he voted for John McCain in 2008, has been a Republican for most of his life, and now describes himself as having “libertarian” leanings. It’s hard to imagine he’d lend his name to an openly and intentionally pro-Obama ad. Chrysler has denied any political motive behind the Eastwood ad.
The flap over the ad confirms the GOP’s serious branding problem: The problem for Rove and the rest of the GOP is that their party’s narrative has become relentlessly negative, pessimistic and uninspiring. They’ve left the language of optimism and resilience, higher ground and common ground, to the Democrats, and lately President Obama has grabbed every opportunity to employ that language.
Rove is essentially complaining that anyone using rhetoric of resilience and tenacity, or suggests “we all rallied around what was right, and acted as one” sounds like a gosh-darn … Democrat. That’s good news for Democrats. There’s more good news in recent polls showing that Obama is winning back at least some white working-class voters with his feistier message of economic populism. The president’s approval/disapproval ratings have been dismal with whites who make less than $50,000, with his approval dropping into the low 30s and disapproval up in the mid-60s regularly over the last two years.
Now those numbers stand at 43-54, about where they were when Obama was elected. He may not carry that cohort, but holding the share he had in 2008 will make his reelection chances much better. There’s also good news with those same voters in some Rust Belt states, including Wisconsin, Ohio and, yes, Michigan, home of Chrysler.
Karl Rove is angry because he sees the numbers, too, and he’s got to explain them away with dark allusions to “Chicago politics.” But the fact is the president saved the auto industry at a time when Republicans, most notably Mitt Romney, urged him to let it die. If he gets credit for that unpopular decision, that’s because he deserves it.
And if Clint Eastwood sounds like a Democrat when he talks about American ingenuity and optimism, that’s because increasingly it’s Democrats who sound that way – and Republicans who don’t. Ronald Reagan co-opted buoyancy and hopefulness for a generation, painting Democrats from Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis through Al Gore and John Kerry (with a break for Bill Clinton) as Negative Nellies, whiners and complainers always finding fault with America.
Now it’s Republicans who bad-mouth the American people, warning that lax morals and laziness are behind the problems of the poor and working class (including whites), and who paint scary dystopic pictures of America under its Kenyan anti-colonialist socialist black president. Karl Rove’s hissy fit over the Chrysler ad underscores exactly how bleak his party’s vision has become.
Mother Jones: Meet the Pyramid-Like Company That’s Spending Big $$$ on Mitt Romney
When Restore Our Future, the super-PAC backing Mitt Romney, disclosed its latest donors last week, the roster of deep-pocketed funders seemed fairly predictable. The biggest contributors hailed from Bain Capital, Romney’s former firm, or other well-known financial companies. But there was one major donor that stood out: Melaleuca, an Idaho-based company that peddles dietary supplements, “green” cleaning products, and other items via “independent marketing executives.” Melaleuca and its subsidiaries were among the biggest donors to the super-PAC, contributing a total of $1 million.
The company, which pulled in $1 billion in revenues last year, has a history of run-ins with state and federal regulators for making false claims about its supplements. Critics and former distributors have also accused the company of being little more than a pyramid scheme that misrepresents how much members of its sales force can earn for selling its products and referring new “executives” or customers to the company.
Romney has long-standing ties to the company’s CEO, Frank VanderSloot, who’s a fellow Mormon and Brigham Young University graduate. VanderSloot is currently one of Romney’s national finance chairs, and, in the past, Romney has headlined fundraisers for his own and other candidates’ campaigns at VanderSloot’s Idaho ranch. Last June, VanderSloot hosted a fundraiser for Romney’s presidential exploratory committee. Romney, in turn, has heaped praise on VanderSloot. When Melaleuca celebrated its 25th anniversary, Romney gave a statement lauding VanderSloot and the company in its magazine and on its website:
Under the leadership of Frank VanderSloot, Melaleuca has delivered on its promise of enhancing the lives of people. Frank’s vision and sense of social responsibility is second to none and he never ceases to amaze me. Congratulations on 25 years. I can’t wait to see what Melaleuca accomplishes over the next 25 years.
Melaleuca is a prime example of how the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision has upended the campaign finance landscape, allowing a single individual to wield his corporation’s wealth to gain outsized electoral influence. In the 2008 presidential primary campaign, Melaleuca employees donated a total of $30,400 to Romney’s campaign; VanderSloot also contributed the maximum contribution of $10,000 to Romney’s Free and Strong America PAC. Post-Citizens United, the company’s contributions to Romney’s election effort rose exponentially. Company employee donations to Romney’s campaign committee for the 2012 campaign total only about $13,000, compared with the $1 million the company has steered to the Restore Our Future super-PAC.
VanderSloot has long been a controversial figure in Idaho politics, particularly when it comes to issues involving gays and lesbians. In 1999, he spent big on advertising in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to force Idaho Public Television to cancel a program that showed gays and lesbians in a favorable light to school children.
NYT: Obama to Return Major Donations Tied to Fugitive
OBAMA’S SWING VOTERS
Ryan Lizza, The New Yorker:
After Mitt Romney’s victory in Nevada, we seem closer to the general-election contest widely predicted from the outset: Romney vs. Obama. There are a few recent articles and reports out from Gallup and from center-left thinkers and think tanks that are worth reading if you want to begin to understand the challenges Obama will face this year in winning over swing voters, the shrinking but still vital lump of the electorate that decides Presidential elections.
To understand the overall political landscape, this January Gallup survey is a good place to start. The headline says “Record-High 40% of Americans Identify as Independents in ’11,” but the most important fact in the report is that most self-identified independents actually vote consistently for one party or another. When this fact is taken into account, the Republicans and Democrats each have about forty-five per cent of voters on their side. That leaves just ten per cent of voters as genuine independents, those who are realistically open to voting for either party.
In The New Republic Bill Galston looks at a decade of polling data and notes how uniformly conservative the Republican Party is now. Using this Gallup data, he points out that both parties have become more ideologically homogenous. Since 2000, the percentage of Republicans self-identifying as “conservative” has increased nine points (from sixty-two to seventy-one), while the percentage of Republicans self-identifying as “moderate” has decreased eight points (from thirty-one to twenty-three). As Galston notes, “A candidate running on George W. Bush’s agenda of twelve years ago could not win the Republican nomination today.”
While the percentage of Democrats who describe themselves as liberal has also increased since 2000, rising ten points, the Democratic Party remains much more ideologically diverse than the G.O.P. Roughly forty per cent of Democrats call themselves “liberal,” forty per cent call themselves “moderate,” and twenty per cent call themselves “conservative.”
“Such numbers explain why liberals seem destined to perpetual disappointment in Democratic presidents, who cannot lean too far left without alienating the party’s moderate-to-conservative majority,” Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute argues in a recent report.
So, if moderates are still crucial to Obama’s election, what do they look like? Over at Third Way, Michelle Diggles and Lanae Erickson take a deep dive into the data to show that the real swing vote for Obama is a group they call Obama Independents—voters who “liked and voted for [Obama] just 3 years ago… were the most ideologically moderate segment of the electorate,” and “are true swing voters, with one-quarter voting Republican in 2010 and one-quarter voting for President Bush in 2004.” This group, which we are likely to hear a lot about in the coming months, is disproportionately young, female, and secular, and it was hit hard by the recession. One quarter of its members are non-white.
By all means, check out all five of these links. There’s a wealth of data and insights about the current political landscape that is far more informative than much of the horse-race analysis of the current Romney-Gingrich battle.
GOP turnout troubles continue
Counting the votes in Nevada’s Republican presidential caucuses turned out to be more difficult than expected, but this morning, the final results were announced. The tally largely reflects what we already knew: Mitt Romney won easily, finishing with 50% (16,486 votes).
What was far more interesting wasthe turnout.
Total turnout was 32,930, far less than the 44,000 Republicans who voted in the GOP caucuses in 2008.
Going into Saturday’s contest, Nevada GOP leaders told reporters they expected 70,000 Republicans to participate. The final tally shows the party failed to even reach half that total.
What’s more, if Nevada were the only state that struggled, it’d be easier to overlook. Unfortunately for the GOP, though, the poor showing in the Silver State fits into a larger pattern.
The Republicans’ primary in Florida last week, for example, showed a sharp decline in turnout (about 14%) as compared to 2008. In the Iowa caucuses, GOP turnout fell short of expectations, and in the New Hampshire primary, it happened again. Turnout in South Carolina was strong, but given the party’s difficulties in the other four contests, it’s proving to be the exception.
To reiterate a point from last week, this is not at all what Republican leaders anticipated. On the contrary, GOP officials in the states and at the national level assumed the exact opposite would happen.
Remember, Republican turnout was supposed to soar in these early contests because of the larger circumstances.
GOP voters are reportedly eager, if not foaming-at-the-mouth desperate, to fight a crusade against President Obama, and they had plenty of high-profile candidates trying to stoke their enthusiasm.
This, coupled with the boost from the so-called Tea Party “movement,” suggested energized Republicans would turn out in numbers that far exceeded the totals we saw in 2008, when GOP voters were depressed and it was Democrats who enjoyed the bulk of the excitement.
But in four of the five contests thus far, that hasn’t happened.
At this point in 2008, after Republicans in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, and Nevada picked their preferred nominee, 2,793,538 GOP voters had participated. As of this morning, after those same five states have held their nominating contests, the total of Republicans voting is 2,679,841. Despite the strong showing in South Carolina, that’s still a drop off of 4% when party leaders assumed the opposite.
The last thing party leaders wanted to see was evidence of a listless, uninspired party, underwhelmed by their field of candidates. Republicans probably won’t fret publicly, but the turnout numbers should give party leaders pause.
The Hill: Sununu: Low turnout means GOP satisfied
Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu (R), one of Mitt Romney’s top campaign surrogates, offered a strange argument for why turnout is down among GOP primary voters: Republicans are so satisfied with their front-running candidate, they need not bother showing up.
“In an odd sense, when turnout is down, it means contrary to what you’re hearing from people, people are satisfied with the candidate that’s winning,” Sununu said Monday on MSNBC.
Sununu’s line of reasoning was an attempt to quell criticism by Democrats, who say low GOP turnout means voters are unenthused by their candidates, and Newt Gingrich, who says the numbers reflect a rejection of Romney.
“This is wishful thinking on the part of the Gingrich campaign,” Sununu said. “He is absolutely down. His news conference [on Saturday] was an unbelievable rambling of a candidate who expresses the rationale of being unable to be president.”
Is Obama’s Coalition Re-Emerging?
One striking aspect of the new ABC News/Washington Post poll released Monday is how closely the internal results of its head-to-head match-up between President Obama and Mitt Romney track Obama’s performance against John McCain in 2008. Overall, the poll found Obama leading Romney in a 2012 match up by 51 percent to 45 percent among registered voters. It was the first time the survey had shown Obama (or Romney) crossing the 50 percent threshold against the other in a series of ballot tests since last spring.
Looking below the top-line numbers, the survey found the electorate dividing along lines almost identical to the actual results in 2008, according to figures provided by ABC pollster Gary Langer, the President of Langer Research Associates.
In 2008, Obama carried a combined 80 percent of minority voters; the ABC/Washington Post survey shows him drawing 81 percent of non-white voters against Romney (who attracts just 14 percent).
In 2008, Obama carried 43 percent of whites, while McCain won 55 percent of them. The new survey shows Romney leading Obama among whites 53 percent to 42 percent. The ABC/Post poll shows Obama holding his ground both among whites with and without a college education. In 2008, Obama won 40 percent of non-college whites, while 58 percent of them voted for McCain. In the new survey, those working-class whites-the toughest audience for Obama throughout his national career-break in virtually identical proportions: 56 percent for Romney, 39 percent for the president.
That showing reflects a modest, but important, rebound for Obama’s job approval rating among those non-college whites in the survey. As Greg Sargent noted today, “Obama’s approval rating among these [blue-collar] voters is 43-54. While those numbers don’t appear too good at first glance…This is his best level among non-college whites since early last year (excluding the post-Bin Laden bump), and they are far better than they were at their lowest point in 2010, when Democrats suffered massive desertions among this constituency.” In fact, just 30 percent of non-college whites who voted in 2010 approved of Obama’s job performance, according to calculations performed for National Journal by Edison Research.
In the new poll, Obama exactly matches the 47 percent of the vote he won last time among whites with at least a four-year degree. Those college-plus whites split almost evenly in the new survey, with 48 percent backing Romney and 47 percent Obama; four years ago, McCain narrowly carried them 51 percent to 47 percent.
Viewed through a partisan lens, the ABC/Post survey shows Obama winning 85 percent of Democrats (compared to 89 percent in 2008), 8 percent of Republicans (compared to 9 percent) and 48 percent of independents (up from 44 percent). One other convergence is worth noting. In the ABC/Post poll, Obama has essentially restored the advantage among moderates that he enjoyed against McCain. In 2008, Obama carried 60 percent of moderates; the new survey puts him at 59 percent against Romney. (In the new poll, Obama runs slightly ahead of his 2008 number among conservatives and slightly behind it among liberals, two trends that might not last in the heat of an ideologically-polarized campaign.)
On all these fronts, the survey shows Obama regaining ground that he had largely surrendered in ballot tests (and his job approval numbers) since late 2009. The gains might be temporary, driven by the confluence of good economic news and a highly bruising period in the Republican presidential primary that has sent Romney’s unfavorable ratings soaring in recent weeks. But on the other side of the ledger, it’s worth remembering that if the minority share of the total vote increases in 2012 at the same pace it has grown since 1992, and Obama holds just-three-fourths of those voters, he could win a national majority with as little as 40 percent of the white vote. In other words, he can give back some of the terrain he’s recaptured in this latest survey – and still hold the high ground in November.
Tea Party ‘Is Dead’: How the Movement Fizzled in 2012’s GOP Primaries
A giant killer in 2010, it never came off the sidelines in the 2012 primaries—and may end up with the nominee it loves least. Now a Tea Party leader tells Patricia Murphy the movement is “dead” and “gone.”
It was the great wildcard going into the 2012 election cycle. Republican Party insiders openly worried the Tea Party might knock off the establishment presidential candidate, just as it knocked out establishment picks in the chaotic 2010 congressional races. Party heavyweights wondered whom the upstart movement would get behind and whether Mitt Romney could even get through the early states, given the once-raging Tea Party elements in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
But after months of wondering how the Tea Party would change the primary game, leaders inside the movement admit they never came in off the sidelines. For the Tea Party movement, the 2012 presidential primaries have been a bust.
“The Tea Party movement is dead. It’s gone,” says Chris Littleton, the cofounder of the Ohio Liberty Council, a statewide coalition of Tea Party groups in Ohio. “I think largely the Tea Party is irrelevant in the primaries. They aren’t passionate about any of the candidates, and if they are passionate, they’re for Ron Paul.”
Littleton is one of the many who have endorsed the Texas congressman; he blames the other GOP candidates for the lackluster energy they have generated in the grassroots that hosted a revolution two years ago.
“Not Romney” is the most popular candidate among his fellow activists, Littleton says, though no one can agree who “Not Romney” is. Without an agreement on that score, the real Romney has coasted to easy victories in New Hampshire, Florida, and Nevada, even winning a clean 50 percent of the Tea Party vote in Nevada on Saturday night while the other 50 percent split themselves among Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum.
Mark Meckler, founder of the Tea Party Patriots, the nation’s largest Tea Party coalition, also says the Tea Party isn’t playing a role in picking the nominee. But that is by choice, not by accident, he says.
One possible reason for the lack of consensus: Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum have each committed what most in the movement consider original sins against constitutional freedom or fiscal sanity. Gingrich and Romney both supported the TARP bank bailout in 2008, as well as individual mandates in health insurance years earlier. Santorum, the most socially conservative of the three, voted for the “Bridge to Nowhere,” among other massive earmarks, during his time in the Senate.
If the Tea Party could get behind one person and call it a day, leaders in the movement say someone like Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, or Sen. Rand Paul, son of you-know-who, could capture the imagination of activists and breathe some life into their languishing presidential hopes. Even Gov. Bobby Jindal’s name comes up as someone the Tea Parties could get behind at a brokered convention, a once-fanciful idea that comes up in more and more conversations with still-pining members of the GOP base.
But Meckler and Littleton both rightly make the point that while the Tea Parties may not be dictating who the candidate is this year, they certainly have dictated the issues the candidates are talking about and what they are saying, particularly in the area of fiscal restraint, free-market capitalism, and the virtues of the Tea Party’s favorite historical document, the U.S. Constitution.
In the ultimate compliment in presidential politics, the GOP field seems to be in a daily contest to impress Tea Party voters. You’re cutting spending? I’ll cut it more. You’re stopping earmarks? I’ve never even voted for one!
At the state and local levels, Tea Parties remain highly engaged in ballot initiatives and Senate races and congressional contests. The Ohio movement won a victory in a “health-care freedom” bill in the 2011 elections. Other Tea Parties around the country say they’re focused on statewide efforts against public employee unions or health-care mandates.
But without a consensus around one candidate and no leader at the top of a unified Tea Party to call on the troops to get behind one candidate, the person the GOP is likely to nominate may be the one least able to make the Tea Party happy: Mitt Romney.
Littleton says Nominee Romney would be greeted by Tea Partiers with something between skepticism and disgust. A stronger disgust with President Obama would likely send Tea Partiers to the polls to vote for whoever the GOP nominee is, Littleton adds, but would not translate to the kind of shape-shifting energy the Tea Party delivered in 2010.
WaPo: It’s not just super PACs: ‘Secret money’ is funding more election ads
More than a third of the advertising tied to the presidential race has been funded by nonprofit groups that will never have to reveal their donors, suggesting that a significant portion of the 2012 elections will be wrapped in a vast cloak of secrecy.
The bulk of the secret money spent so far has come from conservative groups seeking to propel a Republican into the White House, advertising data show. Millions of dollars in additional spending from both sides has poured into legislative races, such as the Senate contest in Massachusetts, that could help determine which party controls Congress in 2013.
The flow of funds is part of a wave of spending by outside groups — particularly super PACs, which have few limits on their activities — that has quickly come to dominate the 2012 presidential contest.
But unlike super PACs, politically minded nonprofit groups are under no obligation to disclose the corporations, unions or wealthy tycoons bankrolling their advertising, much of which is almost indistinguishable from regular political ads run by campaigns.
The result is a race heavily influenced by such organizations and their funders, who will remain largely in the shadows.
“I don’t think we’ve seen these kind of groups acting so aggressively in election-related activity as we see now,” said Richard Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California at Irvine. “This is pure secret money. . . . The goal is to avoid disclosure.”
Nonprofit “social welfare” organizations and other tax-exempt groups with confidential donors have spent more than $24 million in the 2012 cycle on political ads naming President Obama or, less frequently, his Republican rivals, according to a Washington Post analysis of data supplied by Kantar Media-CMAG, which tracks ad spending. That accounts for about 40 percent of the money estimated to have been spent on advertising related to the presidential candidates.
Crossroads GPS, a nonprofit group backed by GOP political guru Karl Rove, has spent more than $10 million on ads targeting Obama over the federal deficit, energy policies and other issues in the 2012 cycle. American Crossroads, a sister group registered as a super PAC, has spent just $133,000 on such ads, the data show.
The disparity means that nearly all of the broadcast messages that voters have encountered from the Crossroads groups were paid for by persons unknown. The super PAC side of the operation reported taking in $18.2 million in 2011, including $7 million from Texas billionaire Harold Simmons and his company; the nonprofit side raised almost twice as much from unidentified donors.
For donors, ‘a choice’
Spokesman Jonathan Collegio said Crossroads GPS is no different than tens of thousands of other nonprofits, from ideological groups to charities, that are entitled to keep their contributors confidential.
“Private organizations don’t have to disclose their donor lists to the government at their beck and call,” Collegio said. “Those who want to support the Crossroads groups have a choice of whether they want to give to a more political- or issue-oriented effort, and they make their decisions according to their tastes and preferences.”
Another top spender is Americans for Prosperity, a Washington-based group that has ties to two conservative brothers who run the Koch Industries oil-and-gas conglomerate; David Koch is chairman of the group’s foundation.
Americans for Prosperity has spent nearly $7 million on ads targeting Obama, including a spot criticizing his administration’s handling of a government loan guarantee to failed solar firm Solyndra; the spot prompted a response ad from the Obama campaign. Tim Phillips, Americans for Prosperity’s president, said he expects that the organization will exceed $50 million in total spending, including ads and grass-roots organizing, in 2012.
Phillips defended the ability to keep donors under wraps, saying that the group “works in the public policy arena more than the political arena.” He also cited concerns that donors could be targeted for harassment by the Obama administration and liberal groups.
“This administration, and politicians in general, want to seek retribution with people who disagree with them,” Phillips said.
Obama has complained loudly about the influence of “secret billionaires” on the political system, and Senate Democrats are reviving efforts to force disclosure by nonprofit groups that run political ads.
But Democrats also enjoy support from many groups that rely on undisclosed contributors, including unions and environmental groups. Two super PACs helping Democrats in 2012, American Bridge 21st Century and Priorities USA Action, have each accepted transfers of more than $200,000 from their nonprofit arms — meaning that a portion of their budgets were effectively paid for by secret donors.
Officials with both super PACs said the transfers were made to cover administrative expenses as part of cost-sharing agreements with their affiliated nonprofit groups.
A general surge in spending by outside groups, first seen during the 2010 elections, is due in part to a series of court rulings, includingCitizens United v. Federal Election Commission , that have made it easier for corporations and wealthy individuals to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections.
That environment led to the rise of super PACs — more than 300 are now registered with the FEC — that can raise and spend unlimited amounts as long as they do not coordinate directly with candidates. The catch is that such PACs must disclose their donors — leading an increasing number of publicity-shy contributors to use nonprofits to cloak their political spending, experts say.
Under U.S. tax laws, certain types of nonprofit groups can keep contributors confidential as long as their “primary purpose” is not politics, a definition that is the focus of fierce dispute in legal circles. The Internal Revenue Service has been cautious about treading too heavily, leaving many groups to, in effect, police themselves, many experts say.
The rule of thumb for social-welfare groups, business groups and other nonprofits is that they must spend less than half their budget on election activities to avoid disclosure of donors. Many nonprofits contend that that leaves them free to spend the rest of their budget on “issue ads,” which often include scathing and pointed attacks on individual politicians but don’t explicitly tell viewers how to vote.
Crossroads GPS — which is awaiting IRS approval of its nonprofit status — is currently on the air with an ad attacking Obama for the administration’s loan guarantee to Solyndra, calling it a “big-government fiasco” that left “laid-off workers forgotten.” But the ad never urges viewers to vote a certain way.
“Tell President Obama we need jobs, not more insider deals,” the spot concludes.
Donald Tobin, a tax-law professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, said political advocacy groups are taking advantage of a murky legal landscape between tax and election laws.
He argues that many of the social-welfare groups now spending big on campaigns are flouting the intent of tax laws, which did not envision groups formed solely to dance on the line between issue advocacy and direct participation in elections.
“There’s no way that Congress expected groups like Crossroads GPS to be social-welfare organizations,” Tobin said. “They used to be groups that were focused on social welfare and did a little politics on the side. This has turned that idea on its head.”
The Koch Brothers Conspire to Buy the White House
NPR: “Nationally, both major parties are losing voters, while the number of independents continues to grow.”
At the upscale Cherry Creek Mall in Denver, Scott Kardos, 24, said he’s not interested in being either a Democrat or a Republican.
“I don’t really identify with either party,” said Kardos, a recent college graduate with an electrical engineering degree, who was shopping with his girlfriend and her parents. “A lot of the things I agree with the Republican side, and a lot of things I agree on the Democrat side. So, can’t really decide on either one, and I flip-flop pretty much every other election on who I’d rather vote for.”
Kardos is part of a growing national trend, especially in battleground states like Colorado.
The centrist think tank Third Way studied eight key states and found that nationally, both major parties are losing voters, while the number of independents continues to grow. In Colorado, the percentage of registered Republicans and Democrats rose slightly since 2008, but at a much slower pace than the rate of newly declared independents, Third Way found.
Third Way analyst Lanae Erickson said in Colorado, it’s now practically a three-way tie in registration.
“Independents actually rose by nearly 10 percent in Colorado just since 2008,” Erickson said. “So there’s been a huge surge in independent voters. And, so, as a proportion of the electorate, independents have really gained on both parties.”
That’s not good news for Ryan Call, the state GOP chief running Tuesday’s caucuses.
Officials do not expect more than 10 percent of registered Republicans to show up. But Call said the caucuses are still good for energizing the base and recruiting the volunteers who will help voter outreach, including to independents.
“So [independents are] not getting a lot of calls right now, but it is a very important priority for us as a party to make sure we’re reaching out,” said Call.
Brady Maughan, a registered independent, said he is turned off by politics and by both major parties.
“Especially right now, we want to blame [George W.] Bush for the last eight years for the reasons why Obama hasn’t succeeded. We want to blame Obama for not fixing everything that needed to be fixed. And nobody wants to take responsibility for themselves,” said Maughan.
Maughan, 36, works in advertising and has had to take pay cuts and take in a roommate because of the economic downturn. He said he opposed the bank bailouts and wants less government regulation. But he also has no health insurance, so he likes President Obama’s health care policy.
Colorado pollster Floyd Ciruli said independent voters are hard to pin down. They usually wait until the last minute to make up their minds.
“It just sort of makes our polling and our elections volatile,” said Ciruli.
Obama won Colorado by 9 percentage points in 2008. Nationwide, he captured 52 percent of the independent votes.
But a recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that more than half of independents now disapprove of the job the president is doing.
Maughan, who said he voted for Republican George W. Bush twice and Democrat Barack Obama four years ago, said he’s not sure how he’ll vote this year.
“I’m going to vote for the person that I want to vote for, and hopefully that person puts the least amount of barriers in my way,” said Maughan. “But regardless of what happens, I got to take care of me. That’s why I’m independent.”
Convicted of Voter Fraud, Republican Indiana Secretary of State Accuses Gov. Daniels of Same Crime
On Friday, then-Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White (R) was convicted on six felony counts of voter fraud, theft, and perjury and removed from his office. Yesterday, he took to Fox News Channel to defend himself. Calling Indiana a “land of men and not laws,” White vowed to appeal what he called a “total miscarriage of justice” and a “perversion.” Then, White accused Gov. Mitch Daniels of similar crimes, claiming his fellow Indiana Republican voted incorrectly in “the last ten straight elections.” Both White and Daniels have made fighting the nearly nonexistentproblem of voter fraud a key part of their political agendas.
Reasons why the Dems could take back the House
Democrats have been saying for a long time that the House could be in play in 2012, and now some Republicans are starting to join them.
“For Democrats to take 25 seats, they will need a wave,” former congressman Tom Davis wrote in an op-ed in The Hill recently. “Continued polarization and obstruction could create such a wave.”
And last week, a member of the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board opined that the GOP majority could be in jeopardy if Republicans don’t make it a priority.
“The House is no sure thing,” wrote Kimberly A. Strassel.
In fact, there is a growing behind-the-scenes sense among House Republican leaders that the more the presidential race has enveloped the daily news, the importance of keeping the House has been lost – exactly the point Strassel sought to make.
Why it’s possible:
1. The generic ballot: Democrats have been hyping this measure for a long time. It basically shows that, given a choice between a nameless, faceless Republican and a nameless, faceless Democrat, voters right now prefer the Democrat – and by several points in some polls.
Republicans, though, note that Democrats generally have a small advantage on this measure. “They’ve done a heckuva spin” on the generic ballot, Reynolds said. “I think the generic ballot’s something to watch, but when I was chair, if Democrats had a four-point advantage, I looked at that as even.”
2. Obama’s momentum: Don’t look now, but the country just had two good jobs reports in a row, and President Obama’s personal approval rating rose to 50 percent in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
On some level, the House election is really an extension of the presidential race, and for Democrats to retake the House, they probably have to keep the White House. That looks like more of a possibility today than it did Jan. 1.
3. Fundraising: While the GOP has a House majority, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee actually outraised the NRCC by about $7 million dollars in 2011. On top of that, Democratic challengers outraised more than a dozen GOP incumbents in the fourth quarter of 2011 – a strong sign of the quality of Democratic candidates.
You need candidates and money to win a majority, and Democrats appear to be checking both of those boxes.
4. History: Republicans have held this many seats five times since 1900, and each time they sustained huge losses in the next election – an average loss of 48 seats.
Of course, this all happened more than 60 years ago, when bigger swings were much more commonplace. Republicans haven’t had a majority this big since the 1940s, so there’s no recent apples-to-apples comparison.
Why it’s unlikely:
1. Democratic retirements: House Democrats have been bitten more by the retirement bug than Republicans. The minority party, as it often does after losing its majority, has lost more members overall — 20 Democrats are either retiring or running for higher office, compared to 14 Republicans — and their retirees come from tougher districts, too.
According to the Cook Political Report, Republicans are favored to win five districts held by retiring Democrats, and Democrats aren’t favored to win any seats held by retiring Republicans. In other words, if the GOP can win these seats, Democrats will actually have to win 30 seats to retake the majority.
2. Super PACs: Whatever advantage the DCCC has over the NRCC is likely to be wiped out — and then some — by Republican-leaning super PACs who should plug tens of millions of dollars into keeping the House.
Even if GOP leaders may not be as focused on the House as some would like, American Crossroads is essentially a second NRCC ready to put its money on the table to save the majority, and there’s really no comparable Democratic equivalent. This matters big time.
3. Redistricting: While maybe not as big a windfall for the GOP as it had hoped, redistricting has helped Republicans shore up some of their most vulnerable members. In most cases, these members got a few points better and will still have to defend themselves, but overall it’s a boon to the GOP.
4. History: For every historical justification, there’s an inverse. History shows it’s exceedingly rare for the president’s party to win control of the House when that president is up for reelection. More often than not, the president’s party makes modest gains, if at all.
Even when Ronald Reagan won a resounding reelection victory in 1984, his party gained just 16 seats. In fact, the last time a president’s party has won more than 25 seats while the president was being reelected was 1964.
President Obama Will Be Vindicated
As Ryan Lizza writes in the New Yorker: “Obama didn’t remake Washington. But his first two years stand as one of the most successful legislative periods in modern history. Among other achievements, he has saved the economy from depression, passed universal health care, and reformed Wall Street.”
So when are President Obama’s critics, people like Paul Krugman and Mitt Romney, going to offer President Obama an apology? Both have often loudly predicted that he made the economy worse and was putting America on the wrong economic path. Both are being proved wrong by the economic comeback we are in. I mention them not to pick on Krugman, who I respect or even on Romney (who I regard as a vapid twit bought and paid for by corporate interests) but to make a point: President Obama is going to have the last laugh on his critics, no matter what ideological spectrum they hail from.
President Obama is succeeding in spite of the fact that he’s been up against a Republican Party willing to destroy the economy in order to destroy him.
As the New Yorker notes:
“Two well-known Washington political analysts, Thomas Mann, of the bipartisan Brookings Institution, and Norman Ornstein, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, agree. In a forthcoming book about Washington dysfunction, ‘It’s Even Worse Than It Looks,’ they write, ‘One of our two major parties, the Republicans, has become an insurgent outlier—ideologically extreme, contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime, scornful of compromise, unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science, and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.’”
We all know the Right’s critique of the President has failed. Rush Limbaugh did not get his wish! But what of the Left? The tone of the criticism of the President on lefty blogs has been persistently negative and none too prescient. According to his critics on the Left President Obama “sold out to Wall Street.” He didn’t “bring the change he promised,” he “is just like the Republicans,” etc., etc.
And I’m not even counting the shrillest voices on the Left and Right who have accused President Obama of either/or undermining national security — by being a “secret terror-codling Muslim” — or using drones to “murder civilians,” because “he is just like the Republicans and part of the corporatist elite.”
I happen to be a white 59-year-old former Republican. I happen to be a former religious right leader who came to my senses in the mid 1980s and quit the hate and fear religious right machine. (I explain about why I left the religious right in my book Crazy For God.) I also happen to have been one of the most vocal (and one of the first) Huffington Post bloggers. I was blogging there when we emailed in blogs then were called by the person who posted them. I supported then Senator Obama, just about every week during the Democratic primary season in 08. Back then I had lots of company at HP from the top down. It seemed we were all rooting for Obama.
Not anymore. I still blog at HP and other sites like Alternet but have actually been kicked off several progressive sites for continuing to support the president. (No kidding.)
About 6 months into his presidency lots of bloggers at HP and elsewhere seemed to run out of patience not just with President Obama but with reality itself. President Obama “disappointed” them. I stuck with the President because I believed then, and believe now, that he is smarter, kinder, more reliable and morally superior to his critics let alone to the political alternatives. I also know that the presidency is not as powerful as many people seem to think it is including many liberal commentators who claim to live in a fact-based world. I’m grateful if any president can get anything good done at all.
The Left and Right have united in predicting President Obama’s failure and even seeming to root for it, if nothing else to prove they were right. So will the “sky is falling” prophets of doom on the Left and Right — who have made it a national pastime to predict the “failure” of the Obama presidency — start to climb down now that all their dire predictions are falling flat re the economy (that Obama did not ruin!) and wars ending (that Obama did not start!)?
The wars are ending and the economy is coming back. Good for the country. Bad for the doom pundits of the Left and Right.
Anyone who thinks Obama didn’t “bring change” fast enough is living in a fact-free dreamland. First, they have no to little idea about how limited the president’s powers are. Second, they have no idea what this president in particular faced. We’ll get the change promised but it will take 2 full terms and it will never live up to the expectations of the utopian groupies of the Left who thought they’d voted for a messiah not a mere president.
So why has change taken “so long”?
- President Obama inherited a far bigger economic and foreign policy mess than anyone predicted….
- The Republicans obstructed our first black president far more ruthlessly (and with racist overtones) than any (sane) person would have predicted…
- President Obama’s “friends” on the Left were as shortsighted and mean-spirited as his enemies on the Right…
- And until the Occupy Wall Street Movement came along the President wasn’t getting the help he needed from the street to make the unfairness of American life that he’s trying to fix into an issue.
- The President – thanks to Occupy Wall Street – now controls the debate with the handy phrase of “the 1% v the 99%.” Occupy Wall Street did more for moving the country foreword and did more to help President Obama, than all the President’s lefty critics combined.
Occupy Wall Street is doing what MLK and the civil rights movement did for Johnson: it provided the heat Johnson could then use to move his agenda forward. Obama too now has the wind of change at his back.
Sure, I like anyone else wish for more action from the President on many fronts. For instance I wish the President had not been so in love with the idea that we could be moving into a post-partisan world of cooperation.
As the New Yorker put it,
“Predictions that Obama would usher in a new era of post-partisan consensus politics now seem not just naïve but delusional. At this political juncture, there appears to be only one real model of effective governance in Washington: partisan dominance, in which a President with large majorities in Congress can push through an ambitious agenda… Many of Obama’s liberal allies have been disillusioned, too. When Steve Jobs last met the President, in February, 2011, he was most annoyed by Obama’s pessimism—he seemed to dismiss every idea Jobs proffered. ‘The president is very smart,’ Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson. ‘But he kept explaining to us reasons why things can’t get done. It infuriates me.’ “Yet our political system was designed to be infuriating. As George Edwards notes in his study of Presidents as facilitators, the American system “is too complicated, power too decentralized, and interests too diverse for one person, no matter how extraordinary, to dominate.” Obama, like many Presidents, came to office talking like a director. But he ended up governing like a facilitator, which is what the most successful Presidents have always done. Even Lincoln famously admitted, ‘I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events controlled me.’”
Given my religious right background I’m one of the President’s most unlikely fans. Maybe that’s because I really know the alternative– from the inside. I fear the alternative to the President – far right loons of the Tea Party/evangelical religious right ilk — and have never felt I had the luxury of being an armchair lefty critic demoralizing Obama’s supporters because he’s the only person who stands between the village idiots and us.
Try Romney and the Mormons on for size if you think Obama has been “slow” to embrace gay marriage! Try Gingrich and the “Christian Zionists” if you think we tilted too far to the far right West Bank settlers and Israeli hardliners! Try the Koch brothers’ cronies if you think our president is “owned by Wall Street!”
I know what the stakes are. I know from the inside just how deranged, corrupt and awful the marriage between Wall Street and the unwashed Tea Party/Religious Right anti-abortion, racist, homophobic and misogynist mob really is. I know that these people will buy elections then try and turn America into a theocracy — on matters of personal morality — and into an Ayn Rand libertarian and heartless swamp where the 1% eat the rest of us– when it comes to the economy.
So I’ve been grateful that a man of integrity, brains and kindness and reasonable moderation (not to mention moderate progressive religious faith) is leading America. I didn’t just read about the alternative and “other” side. I was the other side and know what they are capable of.
When we hear that jobless numbers are going down faster than expected, that shoppers spent money over the holidays, that economic forecasts are being revised upward, that we are out of Iraq, that bin Laden is dead, that gays can serve in the military, that Wall Street and the banks are now under investigation, that a woman’s right to choose is being protected… it’s time for a reassessment of the President’s critic’s.
And NO I’m NOT saying that any president is above rebuke when you think he’s wrong. But fair rebuke is one thing. The endless drip, drip of mindless “disappointed” negativity that has been the hallmark not just of Fox News but has been found on progressive blogs too, is another thing altogether. Enough already! Or at least have the integrity to admit when you’re wrong.
The President keeps proving himself smarter than his detractors. More power to him.
President Obama will win in 2012. And 4 years later all that will be remembered about his critics is that they were impatient, deluded and wrong.
Given what was on his plate when he took office and the fact that we’re successfully struggling out of both recession and 2 war — and succeeding — President Obama is one of the best of the American presidents already. His second term will consolidate that verdict and bodes greatness as his legacy.
Perfecting Our Union
By Barack Obama, The Atlantic:
The president of the United States reflects on what Abraham Lincoln means to him, and to America.
LINCOLN IS A PRESIDENT I TURN TO OFTEN. From time to time, I’ll walk over to the Lincoln Bedroom and reread the handwritten Gettysburg Address encased in glass, or reflect on the Emancipation Proclamation, which hangs in the Oval Office, or pull a volume of his writings from the library in search of lessons to draw.
Always thoughtful, always eloquent, Lincoln’s writings speak to me as they speak to so many Americans, reminding us what is best about ourselves and the Union he saved: that though we may have our differences, we are one people, and we are one nation, united by a common creed.
That, I believe, is why, a century and a half after he took office, Lincoln is revered by the American people. Such reverence is richly deserved, but it comes at a cost. The Lincoln who holds a place in our national memory is less a man than an icon—a face carved in black hills, a marble giant towering over us on a mall.
What makes Alexander Gardner’s print so resonant, then, is its humanity. Here is Lincoln as he was, his eyes weary, his forehead wrinkled, wearing an expression, wrote a poet, of “deep latent sadness.” But Gardner also captures something else. An eyebrow, arched. An upturned lip. The faintest hint of a smile. There is, in the photographer’s print, something of his subject’s spirit.
Three years before he entered Gardner’s studio, Lincoln termed the United States, in one of his early messages to Congress, “the last best hope of earth.” Considering that our fragile Union was not 100 years old and stood a good chance of dissolving, it was an improbable thing to say. But Lincoln saw beyond the bloodshed and division. He saw us not only as we were, but as we might be. And he calls on us through the ages to commit ourselves to the unfinished work he so nobly advanced—the work of perfecting our Union.
ABC News: Today’s Poll: A Word on the Buzz
Our latest ABC News/Washington Post poll is getting some buzz today, including some criticisms of the questionnaire design. On one hand it’s hardly the newest game in town for aggrieved parties to try to dismiss survey results they don’t like. On the other, fair-minded discussion always is welcome.
We pride ourselves on best-practice survey methodology based on trained interviewers calling randomly dialed cell and landline phone users. We strive for neutral, balanced questions and independent analysis. We try to answer all inquiries about our data, and we release our questionnaires and ultimately our raw datasets for all comers to review.
The poll we’ve released today included balanced questions on recent issues involving Mitt Romney’s wealth, taxpaying and business background. Each was neutrally presented – asking, for instance whether he “is or is not paying his fair share of taxes,” whether he “‘achieved the American dream” or “benefitted from opportunities that are not available to other people,” and whether he did more to “create jobs” or to “cut jobs” at Bain Capital. The parallel phrases in the last two were asked in rotated order.
Critics today have suggested that asking these questions before the general election horse race may have biased its results. There are reasons to think otherwise.
First, a different question immediately preceded the vote question, one testing issues involving three candidates – Romney, Newt Gingrich and Barack Obama. One of those turned out to be strongly positive for Romney, measuring views of his business experience. We have trend for this question among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents; their views of Romney’s business experience were no less positive in this poll than they were in December, with different preceding questions.
Second, the logic that Romney’s wealth, tax history and record of job creation are negatives and suppress his support, could work just as well in reverse. Asked neutrally, they are neither negatives nor positives, but simply salient attributes on which public attitudes matter.
Third, key questions in an incumbent election come far earlier in the questionnaire. Our very first question found Barack Obama with a 50 percent job approval rating, his highest since last spring. A subsequent question found 50 percent saying he deserved re-election. It seems unsurprising that later we found 51 percent preferring Obama over Romney in a head-to-head-matchup.
Indeed these are of a piece. Among people who approve of Obama’s job performance, 91 percent prefer him over Romney; among those who disapprove of Obama, 88 percent prefer Romney for president. In our previous three polls, in January, December and November, Romney won 88, 84 and 77 percent support, respectively, from Obama disapprovers; Obama won 88, 87 and 90 percent support from his approvers. Those results make suggestions of order-effect in this survey look like a tough sell.
It’s also perhaps worth noting the long line of surveys we’ve put out that had much worse numbers for Obama – down to 42 percent approval last October, for instance – and his Democratic Party, whose hammering in the 2010 midterm elections was correctly anticipated in our pre-election polling. His side may have resented those results. Not our problem.
Romney, for his part, may not love that 66 percent of Americans don’t think he’s paying his fair share of taxes. On the other hand, he may brighten up at the fact that many more see his business experience as a major reason to support him rather than as a major reason to oppose him – with this item asked as part of the question that directly preceded vote preferences. Again, pleasing any candidate is not our concern.
Lastly, we’ve no need to hide behind the work of others, but Obama led Romney by 6 points in an NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll a few weeks ago, the same margin as in our survey (two others recently had them tied) and by 10 points in a UNH poll out of swing-state New Hampshire just last week.
There’s plenty of time in the election year ahead, and plenty of measurements to make. We tend to focus less on the horse race and more on underlying public attitudes about the issues and candidate attributes. From that perspective we think today’s survey tells a useful, independent, unbiased story about the political landscape. We’ll keep at it, while welcoming continued open discussion along the way.
Americans agree with Obama on taxes, economic fairness
As you’ve heard a thousand times by now, Obama will have a better shot at reelection if voters come to see the contest as a choice between him and likely nominee Mitt Romney — a choice between two sets of priorities, values, and visions — rather than a referendum on the economy.
Today’s Washington Post-ABC News poll suggests in the clearest terms yet that as Americans get to know Romney, they are seeing the election as a choice.
The poll finds that Obama beats Romney among overall Americans by nine points, 52-43.
The interesting thing, though, is that this is in spite of continuing high disapproval of Obama on the economy and on job creation (53 percent and 51 percent) and in spite of soaring public pessimism about the economy (89 percent view it negatively).
Obama’s edge over Romney despite disapproval on the economy seems to be driven by a growing awareness of Romney’s image and by the GOP nomination process. Fifty-two percent say the more they hear about Romney, the less they like. And Americans disapprove of the things the GOP candidates have been saying, 54-36.
* Public agrees with Obama on taxes, economic fairness: Two other key findings that may help explain Obama’edge: Sixty eight percent say the U.S. tax system favors the wealthy; and 72 percent favor raising taxes on Americans with incomes of over $1 million. Both those findings include majorities of Republicans.
The Obama team has insisted that Americans will ultimately choose between two overarching visions for the country, rather than make a choice based only on the state of the economy on Election Day 2012. Numbers like these — particularly when taken with Obama’s nine point lead over Romney — will only encourage the Obama campaign to continue making tax fairness and inequality central to his case. Especially since Obama’s overall approval in the Post poll has now hit 50 percent.
Romney has insisted that Obama’s focus on these topics is all about class warfare, division, and “envy.” It’s still unclear who Romney thinks he’s talking to when he makes that claim, and these findings make it seem even more absurd and out of touch.
* Is Romney’s wealth a liability? The poll is mixed on this question. In a big plus for Romney, 48 percent see his business background as a “major reason” to support him. Voters don’t see that background as a reason not to support him.
However, a slight plurality say Romney’s wealth is a negative, 44-43, because he benefitted from opportunities not available to most people. More think his corporate work cut jobs than created them, 36-32. And a surprising 66 percent say Romney is not paying his fair share in taxes.
Whatever the public’s view of Romney’s Bain years, on balance, all this will lead Dems to continue painting Romney as the walking embodiment of everything that’s unfair about the economy and the tax system.
NEW POLL: “More than 7 in 10 support increasing the taxes of those earning more than $1 million a year”
71 Percent of Florida Voters Oppose Medicaid Reimbursement Cuts to Hospitals, New Poll Shows
Seventy-one percent of Florida voters say Medicaid is an important program that should be maintained and oppose the deep reimbursement cuts to Florida’s hospitals that Governor Rick Scott and legislative leaders are proposing this session, a new poll shows.
Voters say they are most concerned that additional reimbursement cuts will force hospitals to eliminate specialized healthcare services such as trauma care, advanced care for newborn babies, burn units and outpatient clinics.
The poll also found that 72 percent of voters oppose Governor Scott’s proposal to reduce the number of days that Medicaid patients can be hospitalized annually from 45 to 23 days. After 23 days, hospitals would no longer receive Medicaid reimbursement for these patients.
Romney Unfavorables soar! The process takes its toll on Romney
As the race for the Republican presidential nomination continues, Mitt Romney is confronted with some good news and some bad news. The good news is, he’s the clear frontrunner who just racked up two more wins in Florida and Nevada by large margins.
The bad news is, the more voters see Romney, the less popular he becomes. Consider this tidbit from the new Washington Post/ABC News poll:
Overall, 55 percent of those who are closely following the campaign say they disapprove of what the GOP candidates have been saying. By better than 2 to 1, Americans say the more they learn about Romney, the less they like him. Even among Republicans, as many offer negative as positive assessments of him on this question.
Given the circumstances, it would appear the ongoing GOP race isn’t doing the frontrunner any favors. Evidence of Romney’s “likability problem” has been building in recent weeks, but these new results are just brutal — the former governor and his campaign are gearing up for the general election phase, but find the public already souring on Romney’s persona.
TPM recently published this chart showing Romney’s favorable/unfavorable ratings. It’s a little out of date — it does not, for example, reflect the data from the new Post/ABC poll — but it’s hard to miss that spike in the red line, which points to Romney’s unfavorable numbers.
Steve Kornacki recently noted, “[I]t’s possible that Romney is simply experiencing the low point that practically every nominee goes through at some point in the primary process.”
That may well be the case. It’s also possible, though, that a national audience is getting its first good look at Mitt Romney — his flip-flops, his layoff-driven riches, his out-of-touch gaffes — and just doesn’t find him appealing as a presidential candidate.
More Republicans are Birthers today than before Obama released his long-form birth certificate.
A majority of small business owners favor letting the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire
Latino job gains, independents give Pres Obama a boost
Daily Kos/PPP survey: Majority of conservatives oppose cancer screening at Planned Parenthood
The Citizens United catastrophe
We have seen the world created by the Supreme Court’s Citizens Uniteddecision, and it doesn’t work. Oh, yes, it works nicely for the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country, especially if they want to shroud their efforts to influence politics behind shell corporations. It just doesn’t happen to work if you think we are a democracy and not a plutocracy.
Two years ago, Citizens United tore down a century’s worth of law aimed at reducing the amount of corruption in our electoral system. It will go down as one of the most naive decisions ever rendered by the court.
The strongest case against judicial activism — against “legislating from the bench,” as former President George W. Bush liked to say — is that judges are not accountable for the new systems they put in place, whether by accident or design.
The Citizens United justices were not required to think through the practical consequences of sweeping aside decades of work by legislators, going back to the passage of the landmark Tillman Act in 1907, who sought to prevent untoward influence-peddling and indirect bribery.
If ever a court majority legislated from the bench (with Bush’s own appointees leading the way), it was the bunch that voted for Citizens United. Did a single justice in the majority even imagine a world of super PACs and phony corporations set up for the sole purpose of disguising a donor’s identity? Did they think that a presidential candidacy might be kept alive largely through the generosity of a Las Vegas gambling magnate with important financial interests in China? Did they consider that the democratizing gains made in the last presidential campaign through the rise of small online contributors might be wiped out by the brute force of millionaires and billionaires determined to have their way?
“The appearance of influence or access, furthermore, will not cause the electorate to lose faith in our democracy.” Those were Justice Anthony Kennedy’s words in his majority opinion. How did he know that? Did he consult the electorate? Did he think this would be true just because he said it?
Justice John Paul Stevens’ observation in his dissent reads far better than Kennedy’s in light of subsequent events. “A democracy cannot function effectively,” he wrote, “when its constituent members believe laws are being bought and sold.”
But ascribing an outrageous decision to naivetéis actually the most sympathetic way of looking at what the court did in Citizens United. A more troubling interpretation is that a conservative majority knew exactly what it was doing: that it set out to remake our political system by fiat in order to strengthen the hand of corporations and the wealthy. Seen this way, Citizens United was an attempt by five justices to push future electoral outcomes in a direction that would entrench their approach to governance.
In fact, this decision should be seen as part of a larger initiative by moneyed conservatives to rig the electoral system against their opponents. How else to explain conservative legislation in state after state to obstruct access to the ballot by lower-income voters — particularly members of minority groups — through voter identification laws, shortened voting periods and restrictions on voter registration campaigns?
Conservatives are strengthening the hand of the rich at one end of the system and weakening the voting power of the poor at the other. As veteran journalist Elizabeth Drew noted in an important New York Review of Books article, “little attention is being paid to the fact that our system of electing a president is under siege.”
Those who doubt that Citizens United (combined with a comatose Federal Election Commission) has created a new political world with broader openings for corruption should consult reports last week by Nicholas Confessore and Michael Luo in the New York Times and byT.W. Farnam in The Washington Post. Both accounts show how American politics has become a bazaar for the very wealthy and for increasingly aggressive corporations. We might consider having candidates wear corporate logos. This would be more honest than pretending that tens of millions in cash will have no impact on how we will be governed.
In the short run, Congress should do all it can within the limits of Citizens United to contain the damage it is causing. In the long run, we have to hope that a future Supreme Court will overturn this monstrosity, remembering that the first words of our Constitution are “We the People,” not “We the Rich.”
Unions blast both Senate Ds and White House for leaving them behind on FAA reauthorization
Are Senate Dems and the White House about to create another minor headache for themselves on the left?
I’m told that unions are “frustrated” with both over the big compromise Senate Dems reached with House Republicans on the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill — which unions believe will make organizing harder for hundreds of thousands of railway and airline workers.
But unions are resigned: They expect that Senate Dems will pass the bill tonight, I’m told.
“We’re frustrated that the White House was not more engaged in this,” says Shane Larson, the legislative director of the Communications Workers of America, which along with the International Association of Machinists is leading the battle against the deal.
“The Senate leadership and the White House have left us behind,” adds Rich Michalski, vice president of the Internional Association of Machinists, which is also fighting the deal. “This will negatively impact over 260,000 railroad and rail transportation workers.”
This was one of labor’s top priorities for 2012, though it’s unclear how much of labor is currently united against the emerging deal.
House Republicans had previously tried last fall to insert a union busting provision into the FAA reauthorization bill. But Senate Dems stood firm against it, and the White House threatened to veto it, getting the House GOP to back down and negotiate a temporary extension. This raised labor’s hopes that the White House and Dems would again stand firm when the longer-term deal was negotiated.
It’s not to be. Late last year, Harry Reid unveiled a compromise he’d reached with House Republicans that would do away with the union-busting provision. In exchange the deal would raise the threshold required for triggering a union election from 35 percent worker interest in a union to 50 percent. After examining the deal, unions concluded it could be disastrous for labor, and pilloried Senate Dems for selling out on the deal.
Union officials tried frantically to get Senate Dems to reconsider, I’m told, but couldn’t get traction. They also tried to get the White House to engage, Larson tells me, but that didn’t work, either.
“They’ve responded, they’ve said they understand our concerns and realize why we are upset about it.,” Larson said of the White House, adding that White House officials didn’t push Senate Dems for changes.
Larson says unions are angry in part because the compromise didn’t codify something into law making it impossible for the union-busting piece sought by the House GOP — which would count no-shows as No votes against unionization — to be revived later.
It’s unclear how much the White House is to blame for the current mess. The piece the White House originally threatened to veto is gone from the legislation; and it’s unclear whether unions pressed for another veto threat. Still, if and when this passes, it will cause some disappointment in at least some quarters of the labor movement at a time when Dems had hoped to renew union enthusiasm heading into 2012.
NPR: Unions create TV ad to appeal to young people. (This ad approaches the Eastwood ad, IMO)
At a time when young activists from Zucotti Park to Tahrir Square have shown what the Internet and social media can do to help organize people, some American unions have been taking notes.
The AFL-CIO is embarking on a new advertising campaign that combines new and old technologies.
“Work doesn’t separate. It’s what binds us together,” a commercial voice-over says in the recently test-launched ad campaign with a disarmingly simple message.
The campaign is called “Work Connects Us All,” and it’s TV ad features a multiracial cast of firefighters, teachers, autoworkers and even baristas gathered in a stark industrial interior.
“I teach your kid. You fix my car. He builds my city. She keeps it safe. Work is what connects us,” the ad says.
It never mentions unions, and only a quick credit at the end tells the viewer that it is sponsored by the AFL-CIO.
The ad is airing in three test markets: Pittsburgh, Austin and Portland.
Elizabeth Shuler, the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, said it’s part of a long-term effort to “reintroduce” the labor movement to young people.
“I think really we are looking to reach out and start a conversation with people that we normally don’t talk to,” Shuler said. “Whether you’re in a union or not, we’re trying to show we have shared values around the notion of hard work that really drives America forward.”
This ad campaign is the AFL-CIO’s first in 15 years that isn’t linked to an election or specific legislation. It comes as union membership has declined to about 12 percent of the American workforce and less than 7 percent of the private sector.
But Shuler said the unions hope to capitalize on the opening created by the Occupy Wall Street movement, which she said has changed the national conversation.
“It’s a conversation now around water coolers and at dinner parties that we never thought would be happening, this idea that people would be talking about inequality the way that they have been, and it’s that spark we really want to connect to,” Shuler said.
Harley Shaiken, a labor expert at the University of California, Berkeley, called the ad campaign “innovative” and “interactive.”
“A lot of the campaigns unions have done in the past have been sleepers, you know. There’s no getting around it.” But the new ad is “not just a commercial,” Shaiken said. “It’s a new approach.”
“I don’t think the ad stands alone. There’s a website. There’s a lot of interactive dimensions to it, and I think the labor movement is experimenting,” he said.
A New Approach
The AFL-CIO is flying into some stiff headwinds.
Last year a Gallup poll found that a slim majority of Americans — only 52 percent — approve of unions. That’s near a record low.
NPR went to a coffee house in Portland, one of the TV ad’s test markets, to gauge reactions. No one there had seen the ad, but people were receptive, if somewhat skeptical.
“I guess it’s a valuable message to get out there,” said Ben Lichenstein, a 28-year-old engineering student. He wondered whether the unions can tap into the energy of the Occupy movement.
“Large unions tend to be very insistent that the best way to approach these things is incrementally, and I think there has to be a second step and perhaps a third or a fourth in getting that message through successfully,” he said.
But Jeremy Broche said he doesn’t think it will change people’s opinions.
“I’ve always had a favorable view of unions but I know plenty of people that don’t, and I don’t think a single ad would change that,” the 29-year-old bartender said. “I think that boots on the ground, actually talking with people, talking about what unions are doing, changes that view.”
Union officials say that’s exactly the kind of feedback they need if they hope to convince younger people that the union movement can speak for them.
Corporate front group airs misleading anti-union ad during Super Bowl
[…] The ad’s claim that just 10 percent of current union members voted to form the union may be true, but it is incredibly misleading. Federal law mandates that more than 50 percent of a company’s workforce must vote in favor of the formation of a union. Most current union members, however, join unions that were formed years before and know that the union exists when they take the job.
The ad’s implication that the Employee Rights Act would put money in workers’ pockets is also misleading. According to the Economic Policy Institute, right-to-work laws cost workers up to $1,500 a year and also lead to reduced pensions and health care coverage.
Super Bowl broadcasters have traditionally banned ads that advocate for political causes. Year after year, though, it seems that ban doesn’t extend to misleading anti-union ads paid for by corporate front-groups that don’t disclose their donors.
The People’s View: The Bounds of Religious Freedom
Newt Gingrich, a newly minted Catholic (guess he decided that he can do without the publicly cheating on his wives and divorcing one to marry the next for at least a while now), has an attack line against the Obama administration: that it is “secular government” eroding the freedoms of religious institutions. Why? Because the Obama Administration, under the Affordable Care Act, issued regulation that requires employer-sponsored health plans to include FDA-approved contraceptives. Churches and other houses of worship are exempted from it, but other religion-affiliated institutions, like religion-affiliated hospitals, schools and colleges are covered in cases where a majority of their employees are not of the given religion. This is not to force “Catholic” hospitals to offer contraceptives, mind you, but to simply cover it in their insurance policy so that if one of their employees needed and wanted to, they could go get it somewhere else.
The American Roman Catholic Church is pretty miffed by it, but one might remind the pontiff pontificating about “intrinsic evil” that to this day, there continue to be priests who go unpunished for abusing children.
Be that as it may, since Gingrich and the Catholic Church are waxing poetic about this regulation being an encroachment of religious liberty, let’s look at it for what it really is: it is a check on religion-affiliated civil institutions’ ability to force their beliefs on everyone who works for them, regardless of whether that employee subscribes to the given religion or not. According to the beliefs of the Church leadership and of Newt Gingrich, religious freedom is the freedom of churches to encroach on any civil institutions without having to abide by the same laws that apply to everyone one else.
In fact, freedom of (and from) religion is the freedom of an individual to believe whatever he or she pleases without being discriminated against. It is in order to protect that individual freedom that our laws give houses of worship many conscience exemptions from many of our laws. It is not, however, a Constitutional right of churches to enter any facet of civil life without abiding by our civil laws. You would think that people waxing poetic about individual freedom and against “collectivism” would understand this simple concept.
That is what happened here. No individual is required to use contraceptives, and no doctor is required to prescribe it. Churches and other houses of worship are exempt from this regulation. However, religion-affiliated civil institutions, the Administration says, must abide by the same regulations as everyone else, i.e. their employer health plans must cover contraception. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney pointed out exactly this, in other words last week:
But the point of the decision, which was made after careful consideration and, we believe, reaches the appropriate balance between religious beliefs and the need to provide — make services available to women across the country — you know, we want to make sure that women have access to good health care no matter where they work and that all women who want access to contraceptives are able to get them without paying a copay every time they go to the pharmacy.
And let’s be clear about it, because there’s been a lot of – in the — some of the commentary about it, there’s been some mis-statements about what it actually does. No individual will be required to use or prescribe contraception. This rule does not force anyone with a religious objection, such as a Catholic doctor, to prescribe or provide contraception. It merely requires that insurance companies provide coverage for contraceptives to patients who want them, which is the recommendation of the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine.
There is an extraordinary attack on individual freedoms by religious institutions in the name of God. That attack has over the years told us that women cannot avail themselves to all of the health care services necessary to them, that they weren’t entitled to the same social recognition as men, that consenting adults in the privacy of their own home could not do as they pleased, and even that God separated the races into different continents and that therefore people of different races should not marry. Heck, even slavery came with its own Biblical justifications. “Religious” diction has been used time and again to divide people, separate them, and put and keep them down, and yes, to even cause wars.
But our country is also full of the stories of influence of religion in liberating, uniting and uplifting Americans. There is no denying the fact that the African American Civil Rights movement and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was influenced very much by their religious core. Many churches are at the forefront of the fight for the rights of gay Americans today. Young evangelicals are an integral part of the global environmental movement, and the Catholic church has itself spread an anti-poverty message.
Religion, in the instances it seeks to serve the least among us and uplift the downtrodden, gives us the best humanity has to offer. But when that same thing – religion – concentrates on dividing people, encroaching on personal freedoms and practicing medicine, it takes on a very ugly face.
But I digress. This article is not about the relative merits of religion in a society. It is, rather, about freedom of religion. There is no reason why a church, or another religious institution, should not be able to operate a civil institution – such as a hospital, a school, or an adoption center. In turn, there is also no reason why any civil institution – including ones operated by a religious entity – should not have to adhere to the same laws and rules as everyone else.
If the Catholic church wants to operate Catholic schools and make it available to – and take tuition money from – non-Catholics, there is no reason why their employees and students should have to sacrifice their civil and legal rights at the door of that institution. If the Catholic church wants to operate a hospital, employ non-Catholics, and take the insurance money of non-Catholic patients (or even patients who are Catholic but do not subscribe to every teaching of the Catholic church, such as most American Catholics), then there is no reason why, as an employer, they should be treated any differently from any other hospital in America under the law. There is no reason why nurses and physicians working at Catholic hospitals should not have the same protections of the law as employees of every other hospital in America.
And to top it off, Catholics for Choice points out that American Catholics are not only strongly pro-health reform (anyone remember a famous Catholic named Ted Kennedy as the driving force behind the Affordable Care Act?), but that a majority also believe that women ought to be able to access a full range of birth control through insurance provided by their employers. So in fact, it is the Catholic bishops and Newt Gingrich that is in the minority of Catholic opinion in America, not President Obama.
Something Newt Gingrich and the rest of the band of religious zealots need to realize is that in America, Catholicism is a religion, not the state. This is not the Vatican. Newt Gingrich and his ideological cohorts are rather comfortable asking American Muslims if they are Muslims first or Americans first. I don’t suppose they would welcome the same question with equal praise were I to replace the word ‘Muslim’ with the word ‘Catholic.’ And they don’t have to. In fact, no one should – neither Muslims, nor Catholics nor Evangelicals nor Jews nor Hindus, and nor atheists. In America, we celebrate our diversity of beliefs, not force a choice between the country we love and the house of worship we walk through (or choose not to walk through).
But as Americans, what we are keenly aware of is that just as the government must not interfere with the free practice of religion, so must religious institutions not interfere with the execution of our civil laws. When religious hierarchies decide to step into the civil arena, demanding exemptions from our civil laws for those affiliated institutions is, in fact, religious interference with the civil laws. Freedom of religion, just as every other freedom in the Bill of Rights, begins and ends at the nose of the individual (and their religious gathering place), and has no place encroaching on the lives of others who wish not to parttake. Every one of our rights has that same boundary, and religious freedom is no exception. Once again, freedom of religion does not pertain to the “right” of a Church to force their beliefs on anyone else. Outside of the four walls of the house of prayer, in the public civil square, no Church and no Mosque and no Temple has the right to negate the legal rights and entitlements of Americans.
Mother Jones: House GOP memo wants to make abortions illegal for black women
A House GOP memo obtained byMother Jones argues for a controversial “prenatal discrimination bill” by referring to “black abortions” as distinct from abortions in general and claiming that “abortion is the leading cause of death in the black community.” The memo (PDF) was circulated by Republicans on the House judiciary committee on Monday in advance of Tuesday’s markup of Rep. Trent Franks’ (R-Ariz.) Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act.
Franks’ bill, which is also known as H.R. 3514, didn’t make it out of committee when it was introduced in the last Congress. But the fact that it’s now receiving a markup—a key step on the way to a floor vote—and that 78 cosponsors have signed on suggests that it could proceed to a vote of the full House before November’s elections. In addition to banning abortions based on the race or gender of the fetus, H.R. 3514 would give a woman’s family members the ability to sue abortion providers if they believed an abortion was obtained based on race or sex. Critics warn that it would be next to impossible to prove that an abortion was obtained on the basis of race or gender and fear the provision could lead to nuisance suits against abortion providers by family members who are opposed to abortion on principle.
Bills outlawing sex-selection abortions—a procedure most Americans oppose—have passed on the state level. But a bill outlawing abortions based on race ran into trouble in Georgia in 2010. As my colleague Stephanie Mencimer reported:
The campaign started with controversial billboards, which began popping up in the state after President Obama was elected. They featured a photo of a beautiful, sad black baby boy and the line: “Black children are an endangered species.” Anti-abortion activists claimed to be out to save the black community from genocide at the hands of Planned Parenthood.
“The most pernicious part was, they’re trying to hijack the civil rights legacy in the service of conservative causes, trying to appropriate the mantle of the civil rights movement in a really despicable way,” says Loretta Ross, the national coordinator of SisterSong, a reproductive justice organization for women of color in Atlanta. She says the effort even featured white people singing “We Shall Overcome” at black women as part of a pro-life “freedom ride” bus tour that stopped at Atlanta’s Martin Luther King Jr. Center.
As with the Georgia bill, backers of Franks’ bill, including Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), the powerful chairman of the judiciary committee, have pointed to a supposed epidemic of abortions based on the race of the fetus—an argument that dominates the memo below. As Ross told Mencimer, the whole notion of black women choosing an abortion because of the race of the fetus doesn’t make sense:
“It’s kind of hard to find evidence that a black woman is going to have an abortion because she’s surprised to find her baby is black. It just strains credulity to think that’s a problem,” [Ross] says with a hearty laugh. “I mean, she wakes up in the morning and says ‘Oh my god! My baby’s black?'”
UPDATE: My colleague Adam Serwer notes that the essay the Republican memo cites as evidence that “a thorough review of the American family planning movement reveals a history of targeting African-Americans for ‘population control'” is actually a thorough debunking of arguments like those in the memo that argues the opposite point. Here’s a choice excerpt:
Activists are exploiting and distorting the facts to serve their antiabortion agenda. They ignore the fundamental reason women have abortions and the underlying problem of racial and ethnic disparities across an array of health indicators. The truth is that behind virtually every abortion is an unintended pregnancy. This applies to all women—black, white, Hispanic, Asian and Native American alike. Not surprisingly, the variation in abortion rates across racial and ethnic groups relates directly to the variation in the unintended pregnancy rates across those same groups.
Also, it’s worth noting, as Jill Lepore did in her excellent New Yorker essay on Planned Parenthood in November, that prominent black Americans such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were supportive of birth control and family planning, and the history of race and abortion in America is more complicated than the GOP memo would lead you to believe.
You can read the House GOP memo below. (The Document Cloud embed might take a second to load. If it doesn’t appear, try refreshing the page.)
With Negative Ad You Get Egg Roll
Pete Hoekstra, horrible racist
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“God damn it!!”~~ me.