You can access all the past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV.
BEHIND THE NUMBERS — The budget relies on a very cautious, probably overly cautious, economic forecast, reports Kristina Peterson: “The White House based its budget for fiscal-year 2013 on a cautious economic forecast that predicts gradual growth still threatened by European instability. The economic assumptions underpinning President Barack Obama’s budget, released Monday, show a subdued recovery that is ‘projected to gain momentum in 2012-2103 and to strengthen further in 2014.’ Because the administration’s projections were completed in mid-November, however, the outlook doesn’t reflect the stronger economic data that have since been released, including labor-market strengthening. The unemployment rate fell to 8.3% in January, down from 8.7% in November 2011. Still, the White House predicted the economy would bounce back from the recession over time, including a gradual housing-market recovery. The administration expects real gross domestic product to grow at an annual rate of 3% in 2012-2013, measured from the fourth quarter, and strengthen to 4% annual growth in 2014 as the job market recovers.
President Obama’s 2013 budget mostly sticks to the spending cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act. But the budget also proposes changes — both big and small — that would affect the impact of the law, which was passed as part of August’s debt-ceiling deal. First, Obama’s budget assumes that sequestration — that is, the cuts triggered by the supercommittee’s failure to pass a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction plan — won’t actually happen. Obama’s budget would cut the deficit by nearly $2 trillion in 2021 through higher taxes, thus allowing the government to avoid the spending cuts by going well beyond the $1.2 trillion requirement.
“The 2013 Budget more than meets the requirement to avoid the sequestration and proposes a return to the previous caps,” says Meg Reilly, a spokesperson for the Office of Management and Budget. “The Budget reflects the President’s policies, and he believes that the sequester is bad policy that will lead to devastating cuts to domestic and defense spending.”
In fact, though the president’s budget reflects the baseline spending level under the sequester, at least one part already assumes that the triggered cuts won’t take place: The proposed spending on defense is about $4.6 billion above the level permitted under the sequester, according to Jim Horney of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. “It appears that the administration is threatening Congress with yet another stick: Change the law…or defense is docked for being above its cap,” explains Russell Rumbaugh, co-director of the Stimson Center’s Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense program.
Secondly, Obama wants Congress to make two small amendments to the Budget Control Act itself. Under the debt-ceiling deal, legislators are permitted to set aside extra money — that is, above the spending caps — that allows Social Security and the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services to root out potential fraud, waste, abuse or overpayment. The rationale is that such investments in “program integrity” will help save taxpayers money in the longer run, so this spending shouldn’t have to compete with other funding, particularly given the strict caps that the debt ceiling deal has imposed. “You can appropriate this money [under the caps], but then you’d have to cut other things,” CBPP’s Horney explains.
Obama now wants similar allowances for the Internal Revenue Service and unemployment insurance programs. His budget asks for a $691 million increase in funding to help the IRS target tax cheats — particularly “high net-worth individual and entities” with holdings overseas. The budget points to evidence that there’s a $5 return for every $1 spent on tax compliance, noting that the IRS suffered from a 2.5 percent spending cut in the 2012 budget. Obama also wants $15 million for helping UI programs root out improper payments. Both these proposals — known as “discretionary cap adjustments” — would require Congress to amend the Budget Control Act. Reilly, the OMB spokesperson, declined to comment on the proposals.
There is certainly appetite in Congress to change parts of the debt ceiling deal and increase spending in certain areas. Senate Republicans recently introduced a bill that would stave off defense cuts for 2013. That said, there’s still little consensus between the parties about the rout to changing the way the Budget Control Act actually takes effect.
The Obama administration has repeatedly boasted how the historic rescue of Wall Street will cost taxpayers far less than originally expected. But the budget proposal released Monday came with some unwelcome news: The price tag of the bailout is suddenly going up. As a result, the administration said it will seek twice as much money from its proposed bank tax compared with last year, $61 billion vs. $30 billion. A main reason for the increased bailout cost is that the government’s stock holdings of companies rescued by taxpayers have fallen in value. Insurance giant American International Group’s stock has fallen 36 percent in the past year while General Motors’s has tumbled 30 percent. In 2011, the administration put the cost of the government’s financial rescue at $28 billion. Now, it’s expected to reach $54 billion.
[…] In the narrowest technical sense, Republicans are right — Senate Democrats haven’t passed a “budget resolution” since 2009. And it’s true that a big part of the reason for the delay is that vulnerable Democrats don’t want to associate themselves with a tax-and-spending plan that will, by necessity, envisage high deficits, some tax increases, and unpopular spending cuts, for years to come. Republicans marched fearlessly into a similar buzz saw last year, and look where it got ‘em.
But here are two things Republicans don’t mention about this 1000 days teapot tempest: First, Budget resolutions don’t have the force of law, and they aren’t the legislative tool that mandates what the government can and can not spend. That’s what appropriations bills are for, and for the last 1000 days Democrats and Republicans have worked together, however acrimoniously, to devise spending plans for the government.
Here’s how House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer explained it at a briefing with reporters last week.
“I have a bias. I served for 23 years on the Appropriations Committee. What does the budget do? The budget does one thing and really only one thing. It sets the parameters of spending and discretionary caps. Other than that, the Appropriations Committee is not bound by the Budget Committee’s priorities…. The fact is that you don’t need a budget. We can adopt appropriation bills and we can adopt authorization policies without a budget.”
But the much more important fact Republicans have left out is that the Senate passed a budget on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis last summer — one that unlike an annual “budget resolution” has the force of law behind it. The Budget Control Act — the law that resolved the debt limit fight — set binding appropriations caps for this fiscal year and the next and instituted a mechanism to contain spending on domestic discretionary programs — education, research, community health programs and the like — through the next decade.
As Hoyer explained, “We already have an agreed-upon cap on spending. So that this 1,000 days they haven’t passed a budget, the Republicans went for equal lengths of time without passing a budget. I think ‘05 and ‘06 — I don’t know whether it was a 1,000 days. But in any event, that is an argument to dissemble and distract the attention on the lack of productive accomplishment in the House of Representatives.”
When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says it would be redundant for the Senate to pass a budget, this is what he means. Republicans know this. But they also know that Senate Dems have a lot of vulnerable incumbents this year. And they’d like nothing more than to force them to take an unpopular and divisive vote on abstract tax and spending priorities, when the economy’s still weak and deficits and debt are eye-popping. It would go a long way toward nullifying the Republicans’ calamitous vote for Paul Ryan’s budget, and that’s ultimately what the talkers on cable news are after.
The fracking industry has written a bill that gives itself legal permission to poison Pennsylvanians-and keeps doctors who treat them once they’re poisoned from telling anyone else what poisoned them. The bill also essentially permits all gas drilling and processing activities anywhere, including in residential areas.
It’s all being sold as an “impact fee” bill. Counties that want the income will sign on — and that probably means most counties will.
The industry was helped in this covert operation by crooks in political office. Those political criminals should be held accountable (more on this below).
The 174-page bill, HB1950, was signed in both the House and Senate of the state’s General Assembly, and on Friday (2/10/12) the Senate passed it to Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett for signature.
This is yet the latest egregious example of industry-state denial of municipalities’ right to protect themselves. I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that this is the legal permitting of murder — and legalization of coerced suicide.
There can be no question that the legislators who signed it are in collusion with industry. They are corrupt. There can be no other explanation. These people have an obligation to protect the citizens of Pennsylvania, and not only are they not doing so, but they are also denying citizens the right to protect themselves—and denying physicians and nurses the ability to protect their patients!
And if this outrage does not get Pennsylvanians (and everyone) out in the streets, in Harrisburg at the governor’s mansion demanding a veto, and at the offices of state legislators, demanding a reversal of the bill’s passage, I do not know what will.
As Berks-Mont News reported on January 25, Pennsylvania municipalities currently do “have the legal right to decide where and how gas development occurs. Both the Municipalities Planning Code and the State Constitution vest municipalities with the authority and responsibility to address local environmental and public resources. State Supreme Court rulings have also made it clear that the state Oil and Gas Act allows municipalities the right to use zoning codes to restrict the location of gas wells.”
This law negates those rights and completely strips communities of their rights to self govern. This is a blatant abrogation of the United States constitution and all the hackneyed assertions that We the People have any say any longer in crafting U.S. law.
Dorothy Bassett Picks the Bill Apart
I learned about this from Dorothy Bassett (with my boldfaces and a couple parentheticals), who read the bill in its entirety and synopsizes thus:
“[The bill] includes verbiage that says that when a patient comes in, sick due to exposure to chemicals, doctors have to request in writing info on [the chemicals patients might have been] exposed to (think of the time — and treatment delays involved in this process!) and then have to keep it confidential. Also, the industry doesn’t have to reveal compounds that have formed when all these chemicals and materials from underground come together, nor do they have to report exposure to heavy metals, radioactive substances, etc., from below.
Given the problems with airborne and waterborne carcinogenic and neurotoxic substances from this industry’s open pits of toxic wastes, compressor stations, and the like, this means that entire communities will still be exposed to chemicals that one or more people have had to see a doctor for, and that the doctors will have to keep it quiet while the communities are at risk.
The fact that the industry has included verbiage in this bill that prevents doctors from revealing the chemicals their patients were exposed to:
1. indicates that the industry knows that much of the substances they are using are a threat to public health – enough so that emergency room and other physicians would see cases of toxic exposure to fracking and related chemicals and substances on a regular basis, i.e. that this is not a safe process;
2. indicates that the industry wants to keep it quiet – they know that if the health risks of their activities due to chemical exposure (in air and water) were to become public there would be such enormous outcry that they would be – appropriately – shut down;
3. [shows that industry knows fracking/ms] is a human rights and a civil rights violation to the residents and workers affected, and would ultimately contribute to a public health catastrophe;
4. would guarantee that other individuals [and] families in the area would not be warned that they are being exposed on an on-going basis to highly hazardous chemicals that have made other individuals ill — often seriously and irreversibly ill.
The bill also says that the industry will NOT provide information on compounds created by the chemicals or the interaction of the chemicals with things below ground or any of the substances that come up from underground.
This means that they’d provide info only on the frack fluids — which the doctor has to keep confidential — NOT on what’s sitting in frack pits, for example. Considering that strontium. barium and arsenic are common problems, along with naturally occurring radioactive substances, and brine, doctors won’t know that the health problem could be coming from these substances from below ground. If they don’t know this, they won’t be able to test for or treat for exposure to hazardous compounds formed by this soup of chemicals, heavy metals, NORMs, brine and bacteria from far beneath the surface.
The bill requires that local ordinances “Shall allow well and pipeline location assessment operations, including seismic operations and related activities.” Localities “may not impose conditions, requirements or limitations on the construction of oil and gas operations . . . ” The bill makes sure that not only can municipalities not ban fracking, but they can’t even regulate how the poisonous operations and their harmful side effects will be situated and rammed down our throats.
Make Corbett Realize His Political Future Is at Stake
Now there is one option available under current law: GET TOGETHER AND STOP CORBETT FROM SIGNING THIS HORRIFIC BILL.
Should he sign this bill, the governor of Pennsylvania joins all the legislators who voted for this heinous “bill” as party to murder — because people will die from fracking (in fact, quite a few already have).
If he does sign, I see only one alternative: civil defiance from as many people as can be mustered in Pennsylvania, to occupy Harrisburg and dog these criminal politicians — especially the three Democrats and 17 Republicans who cosponsored this bill and Corbett — for the long haul. It must not be just a one-day event, but an ongoing demonstration of our rejection of our government’s collusion in our own poisoning.
We need to tell all of these crooks in no uncertain terms that they have lost the support of Pennsylvania voters and will never get another term. And will be brought up on criminal charges. And we need people to start building the legal case against them. Start with the Pennsylvania Crimes Code Section 25, Section 2502, in which “Murder of criminal code, in which “Killing by means of poison, or by lying in wait, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing, is considered “Murder of the third degree.”
And that is a crime in any civilized society. Slow poisoning or quick: The only difference is that it will be impossible for you to prove the link between frackers and your kid’s cancer when it develops five or seven or twelve years from now, and the frackers and politicians who colluded with them will be off the hook.
Don’t let that happen, Pennsylvania. Your very lives are at stake.
Four hundred of the nation’s most popular lipsticks contained trace levels of lead when tested recently by the federal government, confirming similar results of earlier analyses but on a much wider scale and at higher levels than previously detected.
Five L’Oreal and Maybelline lipsticks, owned by L’Oreal USA, ranked among the top 10 most contaminated brands, according to the analysis by the Food and Drug Administration. Two Cover Girl and two NARS lipsticks also landed in top 10 slots, as did one from Stargazer.
The findings exacerbate an ongoing disagreement between the FDA and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, a consumer group that’s been pushing the government for years to set limits for lead levels in lipsticks. The FDA has resisted, insisting that the lead levels detected in two rounds of its own testing, including the most recent one, do not pose safety risks. But the consumer group says the FDA has no scientific basis for its conclusion.
Reports of lead in lipstick date to the 1990s, when test results from a commercial laboratory raised concerns. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 33 red lipsticks in 2007 and found that two-thirds of them contained lead — and that one-third of those exceeded the FDA’s limit for lead in candy. The FDA followed up with its own tests on 20 lipsticks in 2008 and then on 400 lipsticks in the most recent analysis, and found detectable levels in all the products it tested.
But the FDA, which posted its latest findings online in December, said comparing lipstick to candy is unfair.
“It is not scientifically valid to equate the risk to consumers presented by lead levels in candy, a product intended for ingestion, with that associated with lead levels in lipstick, a product intended for topical use and ingested in much smaller quantities than candy,” the FDA said in comments posted on its Web site.
The Personal Care Products Council, the trade group that represents the cosmetics industry, agreed with the FDA’s assessment.
Halyna Breslawec, the council’s chief scientist, said her group has petitioned the agency to set a limit on the amount of lead allowed in cosmetics. The consensus on what that limit should be — 10 parts per million, Breslawec said — is higher than the levels detected by the two rounds of FDA testing and in line with proposals in Canada and Germany.
Dr. Jen Gunter, who is an OB/GYN and a pain medicine physician, writes a harrowing account of receiving a patient who has undergone an unsafe abortion, and is bleeding to death:
On the gurney lay a young woman the color of white marble. The red pool between her legs, ominously free of clots, offered a silent explanation.
“She arrived a few minutes ago. Not even a note.” My resident was breathless with anger, adrenaline, and panic.
I had an idea who she went to. The same one the others did. The same one many more would visit. A doctor, but considering what I had seen he could’t have any formal gynecology training. The only thing he offered that the well-trained provers didn’t was a cut-rate price. If you don’t know to ask, well, a doctor is a doctor. That’s assuming you are empowered enough to have such a discussion. I was also pretty sure his office didn’t offer interpreters.
I needed equipment not available in an emergency room. I looked at the emergency room attending. “Call the OR and tell them we need a room. Now.” And then I turned to my resident. I was going to tell him to physically make sure a room, any room, was ready when we arrived, but he had already sprinted towards the stairs. He knew.
Read the entire account here: Anatomy of an unsafe abortion.
Required reading in this year of presidential elections in America, in which so many candidates would have us return to the dark era in which abortion was illegal. Outlawing abortion doesn’t end abortion, it just makes scenes like this more common.
And here’s a follow-up post worth reading, by Dr. Gunter.
Four pharmaceutical companies that make a crucial cancer drug for children that’s suddenly in short supply are being urged to try to quickly step up production to prevent unnecessary deaths.
A senator and three doctor groups late Monday sent the pleas to the companies, saying that hospitals will run out of the drug in days to weeks, increasing chances that young patients who might otherwise survive will die.
The critical shortage of methotrexate has doctors and hospitals around the country panicking because it’s the key treatment for a common childhood cancer called acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL.
With the drug, doctors say they can cure nearly 90 percent of the roughly 3,500 American children and teens diagnosed with this cancer each year.
Last year, there were a record 267 new drug shortages reported, and most remain unresolved. The inability to get crucial medicines has disrupted chemotherapy, surgery and care for patients with infections and pain. At least 15 deaths since 2010 have been blamed on the shortages.
Specialty groups representing researchers and doctors who care for children with cancer say the methotrexate shortage began in December when production declined. That drop resulted primarily from Ben Venue Laboratories Inc. temporarily closing its factory in Bedford, Ohio, in November after federal inspectors said the company had not been properly maintaining equipment or promptly addressing defective product batches and sterility problems.
Besides making methotrexate, the factory was the sole source for Johnson & Johnson’s Doxil, a drug widely used for breast and ovarian cancer that’s not been available for new patients for months.
Each of the remaining four manufacturers of methotrexate has had some type of production problem, and it’s been unclear when the next batches of the drug will be sent to wholesalers and hospitals, according to Erin R. Fox, manager of the University of Utah Drug Information Service, which tracks national drug shortages.
Late Monday, the heads of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, American Cancer Society of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology and Children’s Oncology Group, a nationwide network of researchers, wrote to top executives at four U.S. makers of the drug pleading for help.
The cancer groups urged the drugmakers to “take all necessary steps to rapidly increase access” to the preservative-free version of methotrexate, which is needed for children because the preservatives can be dangerous for them.
“Doctors and pharmacists are scrounging for supply with very little luck and are beginning to ration the remaining supply. It is not an understatement to say that this is creating a panic in the childhood cancer community,” the letters state.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., sent a similar plea to the companies Monday evening.
“Families fighting childhood cancer should not have to worry about where they’re going to get the next dose of the drug they need to save their child’s life,” Klobuchar wrote.
The letters went to APP Pharmaceuticals LLC, Hospira Inc., Sandoz Inc. and Mylan Inc. An APP spokeswoman wrotethat the company doesn’t have FDA approval for a preservative-free product, but “over the next two weeks we will be shipping additional methotrexate” with preservative to customers across the U.S.
Spokespeople at the other three companies did not have responses Monday evening.
Klobuchar is the sponsor of a bill that would require manufacturers to notify the Food and Drug Administration immediately of impending shortages of key drugs — to give the FDA enough advance notice that it can take steps to prevent a shortage by working with other manufacturers. The agency increasingly has been doing that and already is working to increase the supply of methotrexate, also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.
Most of the medicines that have become scarce are sterile injected drugs that are the workhorses of hospitals and are normally inexpensive because they’ve long been available as generics.
The FDA says the main reason for the shortages is manufacturing deficiencies leading to production shutdowns. Shortages also are resulting from companies halting production of drugs with low profit margins, companies consolidating in the generic drug industry and supplies of some ingredients shrinking.
In their latest move in the battle over contraception coverage, top Republicans in Congress are going for broke: They’re now pushing a bill that would allow employers and insurance companies to pick and choose which health benefits to provide based simply on executives’ personal moral beliefs. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the top GOPer in the Senate, has already endorsed the proposal, and it could come to a vote this week. The measure would make the religious exemptions to President Barack Obama’s health care bill so large they’d swallow it whole.
“This is about gutting the Affordable Care Act and the protections it was meant to establish,” says Leila Abolfazli, a lawyer focusing at the National Women’s Law Center who focuses on health and reproductive rights.
Obama’s Affordable Care Act requires all health care plans to offer certain services and benefits, including birth control. Last week, Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) offered a “conscience amendment,” to the law, pitching it as a way to allay religious employers’ qualms about providing birth control to their employees.
But Blunt’s proposal doesn’t just apply to religious employers and birth control. Instead, it would allow any insurer or employer, religiously affiliated or otherwise, to opt out of providing any health care services required by federal law—everything from maternity care to screening for diabetes. Employers wouldn’t have to cite religious reasons for their decision; they could just say the treatment goes against their moral convictions. That exception could include almost anything—an employer could theoretically claim a “moral objection” to the cost of providing a given benefit. The bill would also allow employers to sue if state or federal regulators try to make them comply with the law.
If Republican leaders get their way and Blunt’s bill becomes law, a boss who regarded overweight people and smokers with moral disgust could exclude coverage of obesity and tobacco screening from his employees’ health plans. A Scientologist employer could deny its employees depression screening because Scientologists believe psychiatry is morally objectionable. A management team that thought HIV victims brought the disease upon themselves could excise HIV screening from its employees’ insurance coverage. Your boss’ personal prejudices, not science or medical expertise, would determine which procedures your insurance would cover for you and your kids.
“One of the fundamental purposes of the Affordable Care Act was making sure all health insurance plans cover basic services. The Blunt amendment would do away with that,” says Sarah Lipton-Lubet, a policy counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union. “A business could deny coverage for cervical cancer screening for unmarried employees, out of opposition to premarital sex.”
Although the Blunt amendment takes the conservative position on birth control coverage to its logical conclusion, conservatives have previouslyrejected the notion that religious belief entitles individuals to ignore the law. “To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself,” Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in a 1990 decision involving Oregon men who sought an exemption to drug laws on the grounds that consuming peyote was part of their religion.
Blunt’s amendment isn’t just another far-out proposal. On Sunday, Bob Schieffer, the host of CBS’s Face the Nation, asked McConnell whether he was willing to support Blunt’s proposal.
“If we end up having to try to overcome the President’s opposition by legislation, of course, I’d be happy to support it and intend to support it,” McConnell said. Democrats intend to call McConnell’s bluff: According to a Democratic Senate aide, a vote on Blunt’s bill could come as early as this week.
You can read the section of Blunt’s bill that applies to employers below. Just click on the embedded document to read the whole bill.
Attention states with a corrections budget crunch: the Corrections Corporation of America is here to help. The Huffington Post reports that the for-profit prisons giant sent letters to 48 states offering to buy up their prisons in exchange for a 20-year management contract and the guarantee that the facilities would be at least 90 percent full.
The letter came from Harley Lappin, the former head of the federal Bureau of Prisons who resigned last spring following a drunk driving incident. Lappin wrote that they believed the offer comes at a “timely and helpful juncture and hope you will share our belief in the benefits of the purchase-and-manage model.”
The Corrections Corporation of America has been billing the deals as cost-saving measures, but as HuffPost reports, the consequences of such deals include placing the state in a poor bargaining position:
Prison management contracts can be canceled or re-bid frequently, with the state still retaining ownership of the prison as an asset. But if a private company owns the prison, the state would have fewer options if it wanted to cut ties. Any alternatives for housing prisoners would likely cost more, such as building a new prison from scratch or finding another company to take in its inmates.
Politicians who have opposed privatization measures have been suffering the political consequences. In Florida, where the state senate is voting at 2 p.m. Tuesday on a bill which would create the largest private prison population, state Senator Mike Fasano (R) was stripped of his position as chair of the budget subcommittee overseeing prisons by Senate President Mike Haridopolos after making anti-prison privatization remarks.
“I guess the bottom line is he didn’t like me opposing something he was pushing, but I always thought that was the process,” Fasano told TPM after he lost his position earlier this month. “I’ve been in the legislature for 18 years and I always have stood up for my conscience, and if it means me having to lose my chairmanship, I wear that as a badge of honor.”
In addition to the potential loss of state jobs, Fasano said that another issues raised by the privatization of prisons is that companies can “cherry pick” only the prisons which are less costly (meaning they have younger, healthier or less-violent inmates).
“We’re not talking one or two prisons, we’re talking 27. If all of the sudden one of those companies had to turn over one of those prisons to us, it’d be an administrative nightmare,” Fasano said.
As a white, male, middle-aged conservative talk radio host from Virginia, John Fredericks is something close to the Platonic ideal of a Fox News fan.
And until last year, he was one. But then Fox’s treatment of the Republican primary race — the presentation of Karl Rove as a political analyst despite his having “thrown in for Romney” and Sean Hannity’s clear ties to the Republican establishment — began to grate on him. So he changed the channel.
“I’ve gone from all Fox to no Fox, and replaced it with CNN, which I think right now is giving me a much fairer analysis of what’s going on,” he said. “I feel they’ve lost that independent conservative mantra that had drove people like me to them. I used to feel that I got it straight, and I got an independent conservative view. Now, what I get is some wholly owned subsidiary of the RNC [Republican National Committee].”
Across the Conservative Political Action Conference this year, there were similar grumbles among conservative activists that the cable channel was no longer speaking for them as it once did.
The grumblers were picking up on a strategy that has been under way for some time — a “course correction,” as Fox chief Roger Ailes put it last fall — with the network distancing itself from the tea party cheerleading that characterized the first two years of President Barack Obama’s presidency. Lately, Fox has increasingly promoted its straight-news talent in the press and conducted some of the toughest interviews and debates of the Republican primary season. Just last week, it hired the openly gay liberal activist Sally Kohn as a contributor.
All along, Fox watchers warned that it risked alienating conservative true believers as it inched toward the center.
Well, consider them alienated.
“To tell you the truth, a lot of conservatives see Fox News as being somewhat skewed on certain issues,” said Patrick Brown, who runs Internet marketing for The Western Center for Journalism, a conservative nonprofit that features stories questioning the president’s eligibility for office. “We actually did a poll recently that said, ‘Is Fox News actually conservative, or has it moved left?’ And some 70 percent of our readers thought it had moved left.”
“Left” is, of course, a relative term.
A casual Fox viewer might barely notice the changes since the network remains critical of the Obama administration and reliably conservative opinion voices, like Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, still anchor key spots in the Fox firmament. But the changes are there.
After the Tucson shooting last year, when criticism rained down on Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck for their violent rhetoric, Ailes moved to lower the temperature, telling Russell Simmons, “I told all of our guys, ‘Shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.’” A few months later, Beck and Fox announced they were parting ways. As early as last May, New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman was writing about Fox’s “move to the middle.” And in an interview with Howard Kurtz in September, Ailes confirmed it.
[…] Viewers are noticing, as the survey by Brown’s group, The Western Center for Journalism, picked up. The center was co-founded by Joseph Farah, the WorldNetDaily founder and publisher of last year’s big birther book, and is now run by Floyd Brown, a co-founder of Citizens United and best known for producing the “Willie Horton” ad.
But what is interesting is that the survey found Fox viewers felt the change in Fox had come relatively recently. And that they were far from alone.
Cliff Kincaid, president of America’s Survival, had a whole booth at CPAC dedicated to questioning Fox’s programming choices, complete with “Bring Back Beck” buttons and bumper stickers.
“What happened is they buckled under pressure from George Soros and his operatives to get rid of Glenn Beck,” said Kincaid, who wants Beck back on the air so he can continue his “investigative journalism” into Soros’s influence on the media.
He said that pressure went beyond the $1 million that Soros gave Media Matters in October 2010 “to hold Fox News accountable.”
“We talked to a private investigator who interviewed representatives or employees of News Corporation about the threats and intimidation against them for going after Soros,” he said.
But Kincaid’s beef with Fox went beyond Beck.
He complained that the channel had recently hired “two far-left radical feminists,” Jehmu Greene and Kohn, who were “graduates of Jane Fonda’s Women’s Media Center.”
“Fox became successful by filling that void and becoming a platform for conservative voices,” he said. “If they want to watch Jehmu Greene or Sally Kohn, they can turn on MSNBC.” […]
Fox is not a dinosaur yet, but it is certainly, by media standards, a responsible adult. As it moves from its wilder days to the media equivalent of a house in the suburbs, it inevitably leaves some early fans accusing it of selling out.
“Something is happening at Fox News,” wrote one Red State blogger last month. “More often these days I hear the language of the Left entering their news programs. Conservative points of view are becoming more rare on Fox and/or treated with scorn…it may not be admitted, but I believe the left’s boycott of Fox is having an effect.”
The blogger, named quill67, suggested the move was commercially driven. “It is my belief that Fox News is hoping to become acceptable enough to the Left in this country to gain big corporate accounts.”
But Paul Levinson, a professor of media and communications studies at Fordham University and author of a forthcoming updated edition of “New New Media,” believes it’s more about boosting viewership.
“If Fox wants to increase its viewership, it’s a smart move to get slightly less conservative and draw in some people in the middle and slightly to the left,” he said. “If they just stuck to their staunch conservative guns, they wouldn’t go anywhere.”
He sees the same “regression to the mean” happening at MSNBC now that Keith Olbermann has left, with the same kind of complaints from the left about the presence of right-wing commentators like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. […]
But Fox may have some demographic reasons for wanting to broaden its reach. Although it has been completely dominant in the cable sphere for years, last year, its ratings in primetime slipped 9 percent in total viewers and 15 percent in the target 24-54 demographic, while CNN and MSNBC gained viewers in primetime.
In part, these numbers are part of a broader trend of viewers turning away from television and toward the Internet, particularly among the young.
At CPAC, for example, some young activists wanting their Glenn Beck fix saw no need to rail against Fox’s programming choices — they just went to Beck’s online news site, The Blaze, instead.
“When I wake up, I go to two sites, instantly; they never close down in my browser: The Drudge Report and The Blaze,” said Ben Johnson, new media director of the conservative media watchdog Accuracy in Media. “They have proven to me to break the most interesting, underreported stories, and that’s what I want.”
On cable, “I’ll gladly watch CNN and I’ll gladly watch Fox,” he said, adding that he’s “of the generation that [likes] my politics with a dose of sugar, which is comedy,” so he tunes in to “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” regularly, too.
But for the older generation, like baby boomers Diana and Don Reimer, activists from the Tea Party Patriots in Pennsylvania, Fox is still the mainstay. Just not quite the one it used to be.
Diana Reimer feels like she hears more apologies for the status quo on Fox these days.
“They’ve definitely changed,” she said.
Responding to news that the Pentagon will formally relax rules forbidding women from serving in combat, Fox News contributor Liz Trotta said on the cable network last Sunday that the real issue is about women serving in the military more broadly. Referring to a recent report that violent sex crimes within the military have increased over the last 6 years, Trotta said women service members should “expect” sexual assault and complained about levels of bureaucracy that support women who have been “raped too much.”
Now, Trotta is facing some backlash. Kayla Williams, a former sergeant and Arabic linguist in the 101st Airborne Division who also served in Iraq, told ThinkProgress that the “level of ignorance” in Trotta’s comments is “astounding”:
Trotta’s implication that women “in close contact” with men should “expect” to be sexually assaulted is breathtakingly offensive, as is her baffling reference to women “who are now being raped too much.” Frankly, I don’t even know how to respond to someone who holds such a low opinion of those who risk their lives in defense of our country every day.
And Anu Bhagwati, Executive Director of the Service Women’s Action Network, also issued this statement, noting that Trotta’s disturbing comments are based on a series of myths about men and women serving together in the military:
It has become a desperate but popular myth among commentators recently that women’s presence in the military necessarily means they will get raped. First, the mere presence of women in the workplace does not turn men into rapists. Second, the majority of victims of military rape over time have been men. In fact, half of the Military Sexual Trauma patients being treated at Veterans Affairs hospitals today are men.
Bhagwati adds that the issue isn’t men and women serving together, it’s the “broken” U.S. military justice system which currently offers “few deterrents to rapists or the commanders who protect them. Serial predators can largely expect to enjoy full military careers without ever being punished for the violent crimes they commit.”
Media Matters reports that Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) called Trotta’s comments “shameful” and “abhorrent.” “Contrary to Trotta’s comments, being a victim of rape or sexual assault is not in the job description of a US Service Member,” Speier said.
The United States and Europe are considering unprecedented punishment against Iran that could immediately cripple the country’s financial lifeline. But it’s an extreme option in the banking world that would come with its own costs.
The Obama administration wants Iran evicted from SWIFT, an independent financial clearinghouse that is crucial to the country’s overseas oil sales. That would leapfrog the current slow-pressure campaign of sanctions aimed at persuading Iran to drop what the U.S. and its allies contend is a drive toward developing and building nuclear weapons. It also perhaps would buy time for the U.S. to persuade Israel not to launch a pre-emptive military strike on Iran this spring.
The last-resort financial effort suggests the U.S. and Europe are grasping for ways to show immediate results because economic sanctions have so far failed to force Iran back to nuclear talks
But such a penalty could send oil prices soaring when many of the world’s economies are still frail. It also could hurt ordinary Iranians and undercut the reputation of SWIFT, a banking hub used by virtually every nation and corporation around the world. The organization’s full name is the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications.
Meanwhile, violence is increasing. Explosions in Bangkok on Tuesday – Israel’s defense minister labeled them an “attempted terrorist attack” – came the day after Israel accused Iran of trying to kill its diplomats in India and Georgia. Those attacks followed the recent killings of Iranian scientists.
In the financial world, the United States can’t order SWIFT to kick Iran out. But it has leverage in that it can punish the Brussels-based organization’s board of directors. Talks are focused now on having Europe make the first move.
Short of total expulsion, Washington and representatives of several European nations are in talks over ways to restrict Iran’s use of the banking consortium to collect oil profits.
European action on SWIFT could come quickly.
Representatives from SWIFT were scheduled to meet with European Union officials this week, a U.S. official familiar with the talks said. The official said the meeting was expected to result in the EU ordering SWIFT to expel at least some of its sanctioned banks, though it was unclear whether the order would extend to Iran’s Central Bank.
The Obama administration is divided over whether the possible gain is worth the risk in trying to threaten SWIFT into kicking out a member country, in part because of concern that it would set back the global financial recovery. Iran remains a global financial player despite years of banking sanctions, and blocking it from using the respected transfer system would be a black mark like no other.
More than 40 Iranian banks and institutions use SWIFT to process financial transactions, and losing access to that flow of international funds could badly damage the Islamic republic’s economy. It would also probably hurt average Iranians more than the welter of existing banking sanctions already in place since prices for household goods would rise while the value of Iranian currency would drop.
Lawyers for SWIFT are holding meetings in Washington. People familiar with the talks say a compromise is possible in which SWIFT would voluntarily bar or restrict Iranian transfers.
But if SWIFT fails to act on its own, the U.S. expects Europe to require it to terminate services for Iranian banks, another Obama administration official said.
Two women caught on camera being doused with pepper spray by a New York police officer during an Occupy Wall Street march in September have sued the city, saying it failed to train police officers properly.
In a viral online video, Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna was shown pepper-spraying several protesters involved in a march in September, about a week after the Occupy Wall Street movement set up camp in a park in the city’s financial district.
The video helped draw attention to the Occupy protests, which spread throughout the country last fall with calls for greater economic equality before the movement lost some ground as many U.S. cities evicted them from tent camp footholds.
Chelsea Elliott of Brooklyn and Jeanne Mansfield of Massachusetts filed the lawsuit last week in Manhattan federal court againstBologna, the city, the police department and other unidentified officers.
Dems Score Wins on Election Year Issues
Top Democratic and Republican negotiators have struck a broad tentative agreement to extend the payroll tax cut, unemployment insurance and Medicare physician payment rates through the end of the year, aides from both sides who are familiar with the deal tell TPM. Some of the details have yet to be ironed out, but Congress appears to have had a critical breakthrough in negotiations to prevent the three provisions from lapsing.
The payroll tax cut will be extended through 2012 without an offset, at a cost of $185 billion. House Republicans paved the way for it this week by dropping their demand that continuation of the tax holiday be matched with equal spending cuts elsewhere.
The Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate — the so-called “doc fix” — will be patched at some $25 billion, paid for in part with cuts to Medicare providers that both sides agree on, a Senate Democratic aide said.
Health care insiders tell TPM the offsets will include Medicare payment cuts for home health services, hospital bad debt, and reductions in existing pay bumps for hospitals that have many low-income patients. The sources said the Affordable Care Act’s prevention fund will also be cut to offset SGR, a savings policy President Obama proposed in his September budget that faced some Democratic pushback.
Unemployment compensation is set to be extended at a 75-week maximum, the Democratic aide said. A top GOP aide disputed that claim, saying it’s more complicated and has different “tiers.” The $25-$30 billion cost is offset with a half-spectrum auction of wireless bandwidth and cuts to federal employee government pensions. The Dem aide said there will be no GED requirement or expansion of the child credit attached to the unemployment insurance extension.
Aides from both parties agreed that the compromise involves language about drug testing connected to unemployment insurance. But a Democratic aide argued that the actual policy won’t be any different, saying Republicans unsuccessfully pushed for stronger language.
“No change to current policy,” the Democratic aide told TPM. “We gave them restatement of current policy as fig leaf; they are desperate.”
This isn’t yet a done deal. Some of the specifics have yet to be hashed out, and coding all this into legislation could produce further disputes. But it appears that the broad disputes have been resolved; barring an epic collapse, Congress looks poised to resolve a series of battles that seemed fated for stalemate not long ago.
The national Pew Research Center poll released Monday confirms that President Obama, at least for now, is reassembling the coalition that powered him to his 2008 victory.
The Pew survey, closelytracking last week’s ABC News/Washington Post poll, shows that in a potential general election match-up against Mitt Romney, Obama’s support among many of the electorate’s key groups has converged with his 2008 showing against John McCain. In almost all cases, that represents gains for Obama since polls from last year.
Whether the electorate is viewed by race, gender, partisanship or ideology (or combinations of the above), Obama’s numbers against Romney now closely align with his support against McCain, according to the 2008 exit polls. Overall, the Pew survey put Obama ahead of Romney by 52 percent to 44 percent, close to his actual 53 percent to 46 percent victory over McCain.
On the broadest measure, Pew found Obama attracting 44 percent of whites (compared to 43 percent in 2008) and 79 percent of non-whites (compared to 80 percent in 2008). In the Pew survey, Obama attracted 49 percent of whites with at least a four year college degree (compared to 47 percent against McCain) and 41 percent of whites without one (compared to 40 percent in 2008).
Looking at ideology, the reversion to 2008 is almost exact. Against Romney, Pew finds Obama attracting 89 percent of liberals, 20 percent of conservatives (each exactly his share against McCain), and 61 percent of moderates (compared to 60 percent in 2008.) On partisanship, the story is similar: against Romney, Pew finds Obama attracting 9 percent of Republicans (exactly his 2008 share), 51 percent of independents (compared to 52 percent last time) and 94 percent of Democrats (up from 89 percent in 2008). In the Pew survey, Obama wins 46 percent of white independents (compared to the 47 percent he drew against McCain).
There’s only slightly more variation by gender. In 2008, Obama won 49 percent of men; Pew finds him with 45 percent against Romney. Against McCain, Obama won 56 percent of women; Pew finds him drawing 59 percent against Romney. Among white men, Pew finds Obama’s support slipping from 41 percent in 2008 to 36 percent now (with all of the decline coming among white men without a college degree, the toughest audience throughout his presidency.) Among white women, though, Pew finds Obama rising from 46 percent in 2008 to 52 percent against Romney-and recording gains among both college-plus women (whom he carried last time) and the working-class “waitress moms” who strongly preferred McCain.
With virtually all of these groups, the Pew results closely parallel the results of last week’s ABC News/Washington Post survey. And like earlier ABC News/Washington Post surveys, the Pew poll found that Romney’s image among independents has sharply deteriorated — even as doubts have deepened about him among the Republican base. On five personal attributes that Pew tested, Romney’s standing declined both among independents and Republicans who identify with the tea party.
Indeed, the poll suggests that each of those disparate groups is arriving at commonly negative judgments about Romney revolving around his convictions and his connection to average Americans. Since the previous Pew poll in November, the share of independents who say Romney does not take consistent positions on the issues jumped by 8 percentage points and soared by 16 points among tea party supporters. In each group, the share of respondents who said that Romney does not understand the “needs of people like you” jumped by 12 percentage points since November.
If Romney wins the GOP nomination, he will still have time to reverse these perceptions: In 1992, Bill Clinton also emerged from the primary process hemorrhaging support from both his base and the center but used the two months leading into his convention to successfully reintroduce himself as the “man from Hope” who would defend the middle-class because he was a product of it.
Still, both the deterioration of Romney’s personal image, and Obama’s improved standing among the groups at the core of his 2008 “coalition of the ascendant,” suggest that the former Massachusetts governor will likely face the need for a similar reconstruction project this spring, even if he can surmount the unexpectedly grueling challenge he faces in securing the GOP nod.
“This week, President Obama will release a budget that won’t take any meaningful steps toward solving our entitlement crisis. The president has failed to offer a single serious idea to save Social Security and is the only president in modern history to cut Medicare benefits for seniors.”
— Mitt Romney, quoted by the Boston Globe, blaming President Obama for failing to curb the growth of entitlement spending while at the same time criticizing him for cutting Medicare benefits.
Paul Krugman: “Has there ever been a candidacy this cynical?”
Leave it to Rick to accidentally tell it like it is while trying to woo the radical right wingers that now control the GOP. While the Occupy Wall Street people were protesting his campaign appearance, Rick couldn’t help but mock the OWS movement, the 99% they represent and the President that supports them.
“… That’s not what a leader of this country should do but Barack Obama has sided with the 99 versus one.”
“He supported this movement, this movement that is intolerant and disrespectful. He supported them and embraced them,” Santorum said to loud cheers from his supporters. “Why? Because it’s consistent with exactly what Barack Obama’s trying to do with this country.”
Could anyone imagine the day when someone running for President would publicly side with one percent? Did anyone, other than the most twisted right winger, think it would be anything but political suicide to call out a President for siding with the American people? When did it become politically acceptable to publicly run on the platform of enriching and further empowering the wealthiest 1% and the expense of the other 99% of Americans?
To the thinking person these comments by Rick are actually far more damning than Mitt’s “I don’t care about poor people” remark.
Two weeks from today, voters in Michigan will hit the polls for the state’s Republican presidential primary, where native son and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — once thought of as the GOP’s inevitable nominee — is now trailing former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Romney’s father, George Romney, is a former governor of Michigan and was the CEO of the now-defunct American Motor Company, a Detroit-based automaker that was once one of the biggest in the world.
Romney has often played up those ties on the campaign trail — he won Michigan’s primary in 2008 — and attempted to use them to his advantage three years ago when he penned a New York Times editorial titled, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” The editorial was a response to President Obama’s plan to rescue the American auto industry, and as evidence has emerged that Obama’s rescue plan worked, Romney had attempted to claim that he came up with the idea first.
Ahead of the primary, though, Romney published another editorial on the rescue, this time in the Detroit News, in which he renewed the “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt” call he first made in 2009:
My view at the time — and I set it out plainly in an op-ed in the New York Times — was that “the American auto industry is vital to our national interest as an employer and as a hub for manufacturing. Instead of a bailout, I favored “managed bankruptcy” as the way forward.
Managed bankruptcy may sound like a death knell. But in fact, it is a way for a troubled company to restructure itself rapidly, entering and leaving the courtroom sometimes in weeks or months instead of years, and then returning to profitable operation. […]
By the spring of 2009, instead of the free market doing what it does best, we got a major taste of crony capitalism, Obama-style.
In the editorial, Romney, whose former company profited from a government bailout, called on the government to sell its shares in GM and return the profits to taxpayers. In other words, Romney is fine with destroying the company when it isn’t succeeding, but then wants to seize its profits if it turns around.
Meanwhile, he continues to ignore the success of the rescue plan he criticizes. Chrysler posted its first profit more than a decade in last year and expects those profits to continue growing in 2012. It has added 9,400 jobs since its rescue and plans to add 1,600 more at a plant in Illinois this year, and the success of Chrysler and General Motors has helped American automakers control more than half of the industry’s market share. The industry has hired enough workers to make up for all those laid off during the recession, and American and foreign automakers plan to add 167,000 jobs at American plants this year.
Romney isn’t just ignoring facts — he’s also ignoring a Republican who is close to the situation. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has warned candidates against criticizing the bailout and touted its success. “I would have had some differences on how they did it, but I’m not going to second-guess it,” Snyder told the New York Times. “The more important thing is the results. And the auto industry is doing very well today.”
Looking back over the last three years, there’s arguably no better example of a policy Republicans got wrong than the rescue of the American auto industry.
When President Obama launched his ambitious policy in 2009, he was taking a major gamble — not only with the backbone of American manufacturing, but with his presidency and its ability to use the power of government to repair a private industry facing collapse. As First Read notedat the time, “As the GM bailout goes, so goes the Obama presidency.”
We now know the gamble paid off. Chrysler has posted its first profit in 15 years; GM isbuilding new American facilities; and plants are operating at a capacity unseen in a long while. General Motors went from the brink of total failure to reclaiming its spot as the world’s top automaker, and as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, “The auto industry hasn’t just turned the corner. It’s starting to accelerate.”
Had it not been for the Obama administration’s policy, these heartening headlines would have been impossible. And yet, Mitt Romney still isn’t happy.
In a new Detroit News op-ed, the former Massachusetts governor says he’s glad the industry still exists, but proceeds to complain anyway about the way in which Obama rescued GM and Chrysler from an imminent collapse.
Three years ago, in the midst of an economic crisis, a newly elected President Barack Obama stepped in with a bailout for the auto industry. The indisputable good news is that Chrysler and General Motors are still in business. The equally indisputable bad news is that all the defects in President Obama’s management of the American economy are evident in what he did.
Instead of doing the right thing and standing up to union bosses, Obama rewarded them…. By the spring of 2009, instead of the free market doing what it does best, we got a major taste of crony capitalism, Obama-style.
It takes a fair amount of chutzpah to face a crisis, get it wrong, then whine about the way in which the other guy got it right.
This is a subject Romney would be better off ignoring. After all, in 2009, he famously urged policymakers to “let Detroit go bankrupt.” Romney was so certain Obama’s policy would fail, he said Americans could “kiss the American automotive industry goodbye” if Obama’s policy moved forward in 2009. Indeed, at the time, Romney called the administration’s plan “tragic” and “a very sad circumstance for this country.” He wrote an April 2009 piece in which he said Obama’s plan “would make GM the living dead.”
With the benefit of hindsight, we now know all of Romney’s warnings were wrong. For him to double down today on the virtues of letting Detroit go bankrupt is just bizarre.
I’m reminded of this clip, which Democrats gleefully put together last summer.
Of particular interest is the last quote in the clip, in which a Chrysler executive responded to a Romney quote by saying, “Whoever told you that is smoking illegal material. That market had become absolutely dysfunctional in 2008 and 2009. There were attempts made by a variety of people to find strategic alliances with other car makers on a global scale and the government stepped in, as the actor of last resort. It had to do it because the consequences would have been just too large to deal with.”
In other words, Romney wasn’t just wrong; he was drug-addled wrong.
To be sure, the former governor wasn’t the only Obama critic whose predictions now look foolish, but Romney is the one who still likes to pretend he was right.
Even the complaints themselves are strange. As Marcy Wheeler explained, Romney’s “basically complaining that the bailout preserved the healthcare a bunch of 55+ year old blue collar workers were promised. He’s pissed they got to keep their healthcare. He’s also complaining that banks took a haircut.”
I haven’t talked to the White House about this, but I suspect if 2012 comes down to a debate over who was right about the auto-industry rescue, Obama likes his chances.
Obama’s plan would raise revenue to 19.2 percent of GDP. Most of that would come from people making more than $250,000 a year. In September, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center ran the numbers on his proposal — unchanged in the budget — and estimated that taxpayers in the bottom 20 percent would pay an average federal tax rate of 1.8 percent, those in the middle 20 percent would pay 15.2 percent, and the top 1 percent would pay 36.3 percent. Romney’s plan cuts taxes to about 17 percent of GDP. Most of those cuts would accrue to upper-income Americans. According to the Tax Policy Center, under Romney’s plan, taxpayers in the bottom 20 percent would pay a rate of 3.4 percent, those in the middle 20 percent would pay a rate of 15.6 percent, and the top 1 percent would pay 25.9 percent. So low- and middle-income families would pay a bit more under Romney’s tax plan, and high-income families would pay a lot less.
House Speaker John Beohner’s plan to extend the payroll tax cut without paying for it has inflamed some rank-and-file Republicans, and Senate Democrats are adding fuel to the fire. The Monday calculation by Boehner along with Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and Majority Leader Eric Cantor was to capitulate to Democrats on the payroll tax extension and fight them over the extension of jobless benefits in a separate legislative showdown. But Senate Democrats have another plan in mind that would lump the provisions together despite protestations from the House.
Following Monday’s announcement to extend the payroll tax cut for 10-months and add $100 billion to the deficit, Senate Democrats made Talking Point Memo’s Brian Beutler privy to a parliamentary trick to trap the GOP into even more of a capitulation than House GOP leaders intended. Since Democrats are determined to extend unemployment insurance (UI), a payroll tax and a patch to Medicare’s physician reimbursements, they will simply add those provisions in an amendment to the House’s stand-alone payroll tax cut bill.
That wasn’t what Republicans had in mind, as The New York Times’ Jennifer Steinhauer explained immediately following Boehner’s announcement. “By separating the payroll tax from jobless benefits, Republicans have somewhat boxed in Democrats, forcing them to decide whether to accept a stand-alone tax cut that touches nearly all working Americans — and is generally more popular than the additional unemployment insurance — or hold out for a package that covers all three programs, at a cost of about $160 billion.”
Now, the thinking by Senate Democrats is, as The Washington Post’s Ezra Kleinexplains, “If Republicans want to block a tax cut for all Americans because they’re offended by the idea of helping the unemployed and keeping grandma’s doctor from taking a 30 percent pay cut and fleeing the Medicare program, let them.”
For Boehner, the trouble is that he’s already facing animosity from rank-and-file Republicans without even considering the plan by Senate Democrats. As Politico’sManu Raju and Jake Sherman report, Republicans are incensed because the extension undercuts their attacks on President Obama regarding his piling up of government debt:
Added Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, a former House GOP leader: “I think the whole policy is a bad policy.” Another former House member, Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas, said: “The idea of not paying for it is kind of a new thing in our caucus. It really hadn’t been discussed.” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said GOP leaders were “trapped.”
… One conservative Republican mused about a primary challenge for voting for something that adds $100 billion to the deficit. Another said the party, after harping all year about the troubled Social Security trust fund, is now proposing to “rob it blind.”
It appears Senate Democrats, by telegraphing their plan to reporters, have put Beohner in a difficult position. Will House Republicans agree to this plan now, knowing what Senate Democrats have in mind?
The Right-Wing Id Unzipped [Long read, but I love it.]
Retired Republican House and Senate staffer Mike Lofgren spoke with Truthout in Washington, DC, this fall. Lofgren’s first commentary for Truthout, “Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult,” went viral, drawing over 1.2 million page views.
Although Mitt Romney used the word “conservative” 19 times in a short speech at the February 10, 2012, Conservative Political Action Conference, the audience he used this word to appeal to was not conservative by any traditional definition. It was right wing. Despite the common American practice of using “conservative” and “right wing” interchangeably, right wing is not a synonym for conservative and not even a true variant of conservatism – although the right wing will opportunistically borrow conservative themes as required.
Right-wingers have occasioned much recent comment. Their behavior in the Republican debates has caused even jaded observers to react like an Oxford don stumbling upon a tribe of headhunting cannibals. In those debates where the moderators did not enforce decorum, these right-wingers, the Republican base, behaved with a single lack of dignity. For a group that displays its supposed pro-life credentials like a neon sign, the biggest applause lines resulted from their hearing about executions or the prospect of someone dying without health insurance.
Who are these people and what motivates them? To answer, one must leave the field of conventional political theory and enter the realm of psychopathology. Three books may serve as field guides to the farther shores of American politics and the netherworld of the true believer.
Most estimates calculate the percentage of Republican voters who are religious fundamentalists at around 40 percent; in some key political contests, such as the Iowa caucuses, the percentage is closer to 60. Because of their social cohesion, ease of political mobilization and high election turnout, fundamentalists have political weight even beyond their raw numbers. An understanding of their leaders, infrastructure and political goals is warranted. Max Blumenthal has done the work in his book “Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party.” Blumenthal investigates politicized fundamentalism and provides capsule bios of such movement luminaries as James Dobson, Tony Perkins, John Hagee and Ted Haggard. The reader will conclude that these authority figures and the flocks they command are driven by a binary, Manichean vision of life and a hunger for conflict. Their minds appear to have no more give and take than that of a terrier staring down a rat hole.
Blumenthal examines the childhoods of these religious-right celebrities and reveals a significant quotient of physical and mental abuse suffered at the hands of parents. His analysis of the obvious sadomasochistic element in Mel Gibson’s films – so lionized by the right wing – is enough to give one the creeps. But the book is by no means a uniformly depressing slog: the chapter titled “Satan in a Porsche,” about fundamentalist attempts to ban pornography, approaches slapstick.
According to the author, the inner life of fundamentalist true believers is the farthest thing from that of a stuffily proper Goody Two Shoes. They seem tormented by demons that those in the reality-based community scarcely experience. That may explain their extraordinary latitude in absolving their political and ecclesiastical heroes of their sins: while most of us might regard George W. Bush as a dry drunk resentful of his father, Newt Gingrich as a sociopathic serial adulterer and Ted Haggard as a pathetic specimen in terminal denial, their followers on the right apparently believe that the greater the sin, the more impressive the salvation – so long as the magic words are uttered and the penitent sinner is washed in the Blood of the Lamb. This explains why people like Gingrich can attend “values voter” forums and both he and the audience manage to keep straight faces. Far from being a purpose-driven life, the existence of many true believers is a crisis-driven life that seeks release, as Blumenthal asserts, in an “escape from freedom.”
An observer of the right-wing phenomenon must explain the paradox of followers who would escape from freedom even as they incessantly invoke the word freedom as if it were a mantra. But freedom so defined does not mean ordinary civil liberties like the prohibition of illegal government search and seizure, the right of due process, or the right not to be tortured. The hard right has never protested the de facto abrogation of much of the Bill of Rights during the last decade. In the right-wing id, freedom is the emotional release that a hostile and psychologically repressed person feels when he is finally able to lash out at the objects of his resentment. Freedom is his prerogative to rid himself of people who are different, or who unsettle him. Freedom is merging into a like-minded herd. Right-wing alchemy transforms freedom into authoritarianism.
Robert Altemeyer, a Canadian psychologist, has done extensive testing to isolate and describe the traits of the authoritarian personality. His results are distilled in his book “The Authoritarians.” He describes religious fundamentalists, the core of the right-wing Republican base, as follows:
They are highly submissive to established authority, aggressive in the name of that authority and conventional to the point of insisting everyone should behave as their authorities decide. They are fearful and self-righteous and have a lot of hostility in them that they readily direct toward various out-groups. They are easily incited, easily led, rather un-inclined to think for themselves, largely impervious to facts and reason and rely instead on social support to maintain their beliefs. They bring strong loyalty to their in-groups, have thick-walled, highly compartmentalized minds, use a lot of double standards in their judgments, are surprisingly unprincipled at times and are often hypocrites.
There are tens of millions of Americans who, although personally lacking the self-confidence, ambition and leadership qualities of authoritarian dominators like Gingrich or Sarah Palin, nevertheless empower the latter to achieve their goals while finding psychological fulfillment in subordination to a cause. Altemeyer describes these persons as authoritarian followers. They are socially rigid, highly conventional and strongly intolerant personalities, who, absent any self-directed goals, seek achievement and satisfaction by losing themselves in a movement greater than themselves. One finds them overrepresented in reactionary political movements, fundamentalist sects and leader cults like scientology. They are the people who responded on cue when Bush’s press secretary said after the 9/11 attacks that people had better “watch what they say;” or who approved of illegal surveillance because “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear;” or who, after months of news stories saying that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, nevertheless believed the weapons were found. Altemeyer said:
Probably about 20 to 25 percent of the adult American population is so right-wing authoritarian, so scared, so self-righteous, so ill-informed and so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds. They would march America into a dictatorship and probably feel that things had improved as a result…. And they are so submissive to their leaders that they will believe and do virtually anything they are told. They are not going to let up and they are not going away.
Twenty to 25 percent is no majority, but enough to swing an election, especially since the authoritarian follower is more easily organized than the rest of the population. As for Altemeyer’s warning that such personality types “are not going away,” the rise of the Tea Party after 2008 showed that he was a better prognosticator than Max Blumenthal, who thought the radical takeover of the GOP during the Bush presidency had “shattered the party.”
Altemeyer cites clinical data to show us how certain people score high on psychological tests measuring authoritarian traits and that these high scores strongly correlate with right-wing political preferences. What Altemeyer is lacking is a satisfactory explanation as to why a significant percentage of human beings should develop these traits. We obtain some clues in Wilhelm Reich’s “The Mass Psychology of Fascism,” written in 1933 and unfortunately only obtainable in a stilted 1945 translation full of odd psychological jargon. One does not have to agree with Reich’s questionable later career path and personal eccentricities(1) to notice that his 1933 work is a perceptive analysis of the character of the authoritarian political movements that were rising in Europe. Anyone reading it then and taking it seriously could have predicted the new totalitarian regimes’ comprehensive repressiveness, extreme intolerance and, within a few years, nihilistic destructiveness.
Reich appears to see fascism as the political manifestation of an authoritarian psychology. Who are the authoritarians?
Fascist mentality is the mentality of the subjugated “little man” who craves authority and rebels against it at the same time. It is not by accident that all fascist dictators stem from the milieu of the little reactionary man. The captains of industry and the feudal militarist make use of this social fact for their own purposes. A mechanistic authoritarian civilization only reaps, in the form of fascism, from the little, suppressed man what for hundreds of years it has sown in the masses of little, suppressed individuals in the form of mysticism, top-sergeant mentality and automatism.
Here again we see the paradoxical nature of the authoritarian personality: rebelling against authority while hungering for it – exactly as the contemporary right wing fancies it is rebelling against big government while calling for intrusive social legislation and militarism. In the midst of dire economic circumstances, why do they expend inordinate energy brooding over contraception, abortion, abstinence education, gay marriage and so forth and attempt to transform their obsessions into law? Reich said:
The formation of the authoritarian structure takes place through the anchoring of sexual inhibition and sexual anxiety…. The result of this process is fear of freedom and a conservative, reactionary mentality. Sexual repression aids political reaction not only through this process which makes the mass individual passive and unpolitical but also by creating in his structure an interest in actively supporting the authoritarian order. The suppression of natural sexual gratification leads to various kinds of substitute gratifications. Natural aggression, for example, becomes brutal sadism which then is an essential mass-psychological factor in imperialistic wars.
According to Reich, a patriarchal, sexually repressive family life, reinforced by strict and punitive religious dogma, is the “factory” of a reactionary political order. Hence, the right wing’s ongoing attempts to erase the separation of church and state, its crusade against Planned Parenthood, its strange obsession with gays. Consider the following political platform, which sounds almost as if it were taken from a speech by Rick Santorum:
The preservation of the family with many children is a matter of biological concept and national feeling. The family with many children must be preserved … because it is a highly valuable, indispensable part of the … nation. Valuable and indispensable not only because it alone guarantees the maintenance of the population in the future but because it is the strongest basis of national morality and national culture … The preservation of this family form is a necessity of national and cultural politics … This concept is strictly at variance with the demands for an abolition of paragraph 218; it considers unborn life as sacrosanct. For the legalization of abortion is at variance with the function of the family, which is to produce children and would lead to the definite destruction of the family with many children.
So wrote the Völkischer Beobachter of October 14, 1931. As Altemeyer warns, they are not going away: certain psychological constructs and the political expressions they give rise to, persist over time and across cultures.
The People’s View:
You all remember Operation Chaos – Rush Limbaugh’s failed attempt in 2008 to get Republicans to vote in the Democratic primaries so as to keep it going longer and weaken the eventual nominee – don’t you? Well, what if I told you that President Obama has launched his own “Operation Chaos” in the Republican primaries this year?
Thus far, on the politics of the contraception nontroversy, I have discussed how the President is advantaged by both standing up for women’s health and women rights as well as by exposing the extremist, anti-women agenda of the GOP. What had escaped me though is that the exact way it played out – first announcing a rule that religious employers, like other employers, would be required to cover contraception in the insurance of non-Church employees and then shifting the mandate to insurance companies masterfully to take out any even supposed reasonable religious liberty concerns – could well have been engineered to do one other thing: throw the Republican primary process into chaos.
It certainly happened that way.
Of course, the polls aren’t the only indication of the Santorum’s rise (ok, I just grossed myself out) on the backs of 12th century social radicals – aka the GOP base. Since this so-called controversy erupted and the support for Santorum has exploded (Jesus, is there no way to talk about Santorum without the nasty, graphic imagery?), Santorum swept three contests in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado.
And Santorum’s march continues. A Pew Research poll has found that Santorum has now passed Romney, and conservatives are leaving Mitt in droves.
Here’s another fun number released in the same poll. President Obama has widened his lead in the election. Picking up 10 points among independent voters since November while Romney has lost the exact same amount, Obama now leads Romney and Santorum by almost the same margin.
One would not be a fool to think that the President has benefited largely from the good economic news that the GOP has tried its best to stop and spin as well as the President’s commitment to protecting women’s health care demonstrated last week, but also to a smaller degree from the wide-opening of the Republican race since the contraception kerfuffle lit a fire under the bottoms of the social radicals in the Republican party.
Will Mitt Romney still win the Republican primary? In all likelihood, yes. Because he and his super-PAC have the money to bury Santorum under an avalanche of negative attacks and enough of an organization to win what should be Rick Santorum’s natural territory, the CPAC straw poll.
But the issue here is not whether Romney will be the eventual nominee (and then flip flop his way to a loss in November), but that this sudden rise of Santorum fueled by social issue voters screws with Romney’s plan in two very significant ways.
First, it lengthens the primary process, and makes Romney have to fight off his GOP challengers for a much longer period of time before he (and his gazillion-dollar Super PAC) is able to concentrate on a general election campaign.
Second, and more importantly, Romney has only very unpalatable choices of paths to the nomination. He has to go hard negative against Santorum, which will, without a doubt, tick off social conservatives who are already distrustful of Mitt Romney given his flip flopping positions on everything from a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health care decision to LGBT rights to health care. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, in the mean time, will do much of the job of the President’s campaign, tearing Romney up on things from the vulture capitalism of Bain Capital to Romneycare.
So it won’t just take Mitt longer to wrap up the nomination, it will also drag down his popularity within his own party and shoot up his negatives through the sky. It could even be enough to make a few Republicans sit home in November. Even if it doesn’t do that, it will undoubtedly damage enthusiasm. It’s difficult enough to get excited about a privileged buffoon who walks, talks, and acts like a robot and thinks that the movement for economic justice – which is so intricately tied to civil rights that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself spoke about civil in terms of economic justice (the check coming back with insufficient funds) – isborn of envy. It’s hard enough to get excited about a candidate that is never sure himself of his stand on a given issue on a given day. But when that same candidate is also the one infamous among his own base for the politics of creative (and not-so-creative) destruction? That’s going to be real difficult.
The media will keep telling you that the contraception nontroversy was a “self-inflicted wound” for the White House that gave social issues a center stage and that this has “energized” the social conservative base of the GOP. They are only half right – this has energized the social radicals, but with the GOP nomination race still unresolved, it only serves to make worse the fight between the warring Republican camps.
Nor, might I note, has this …umm… “issue” suddenly turned the election year over to social issues (even if it had, given the polls above, and given that the brouhaha only served to move women to Obama, it has worked in the President’s favor). With less than two weeks left before the payroll tax cut on every working American expires along with unemployment insurance benefits for those out of a job, the President is poised to pivot the conversation right back to the economy, and he’s doing exactly that. And with any and all appearance of legitimacy for religious liberty concerns ended with the President’s announcement on Friday and his budget released today, the conversation has no choice but to turn back to the economy.
In the final analysis, the only person the contraception “fight” hurts politically is the most likely opponent to President Obama in November: Mitt Romney. And if anything, politically, it has helped Obama. It only serves to wound the GOP candidate and the GOP brand, while the President is not only able to gain support from it from a critical American and Democratic constituency (women), but is also able to pivot back to the economy thanks to GOP’s own prior actions (them not having extended the payroll tax cut throughout this year in December).
Republicans are picking a new fight over contraception — and at least some Democrats are happy to let them have it.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday that he’ll let the Senate vote on a proposal to reverse the White House’s controversial birth-control mandate. The amendment, sponsored by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), would let employers opt out of any coverage mandates they find immoral.
Reid blocked a vote on the same amendment last week, before the White House had announced new “accommodations” for religiousorganizations. Senate Republicans pressed ahead after Obama’s announcement, despite pundits’ warnings that the party could appear to be attacking contraception rather than defending religious liberty.
Blunt insisted Tuesday that his proposal would simply affirm the constitutional right to freedom of religion.
“If that amendment passed, nobody would have a right ongoing that they haven’t had for 225 years,” he told reporters.
A vote on the Blunt amendment could re-expose divisions among Senate Democrats. Sens. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who opposed the original contraception mandate, haven’t taken a position on Obama’s revisions, and the Blunt measure is in line with the broader exemption endorsed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
But the amendment could also energize Democrats and women’s-rights groups riding the momentum from a battle between Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood and what they see as a win on the contraception compromise.
As quickly as the White House moved last week to tamp down the furor over original its mandate, congressional Democrats are hardly shying away from the Blunt amendment.
“It would allow anyone to deny any healthcare service for any reason,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said at a press conference. “If I believe that prayer should cure all disease, that’s my belief, and I’m an employer, I can deny coverage for any life-saving intervention.”
She said the policy would let employers deny coverage for more than just contraception. Treatment and screening for sexually transmitted diseases could be affected, she said, and employers could even cut off access to mental-health services — “even if that denial results in homicide, or results in suicide.”
Critics focused on the fact that the Blunt bill would let employers opt out of healthcare services not just because of religious objections, but also on “moral” grounds. That standard is nearly impossible to define, they say, and could ensnare services like vaccination.
“It is extreme. It is dangerous,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who chairs Senate Democrats’ campaign committee. “It puts politics between women and their healthcare.”
[…] If Republican leaders get their way and Blunt’s bill becomes law, a boss who regarded overweight people and smokers with moral disgust could exclude coverage of obesity and tobacco screening from his employees’ health plans. A Scientologist employer could deny its employees depression screening because Scientologists believe psychiatry is morally objectionable. A management team that thought HIV victims brought the disease upon themselves could excise HIV screening from its employees’ insurance coverage. Your boss’ personal prejudices, not science or medical expertise, would determine which procedures your insurance would cover for you and your kids.
It’s a stark pivot for the Republican who has sought to portray himself as Mr. Economic Fix It and is banking on his business bona-fides to take down Obama in the fall. By appealing to more socially conservative GOP voters, Romney risks alienating those very same swing voters — like women and independents — at whom his economic message is squarely aimed.
Romney advisers said that the candidate is reacting to a unique issue climate marked by the controversy over President Obama’s now-revised rule to require religious organizations to offer contraception as a part of their health-care benefits.
“The news cycle and the issue matrix in a campaign can be altered by an event,” said Romney adviser Kevin Madden. “The rule issued by [the Health and Human Services Department] shifted the political discussion, whether on the campaign trail or on cable news or at the kitchen table, to an issue that many conservative Republicans care deeply about. As part of that debate, Gov. Romney made clear his position and his beliefs.”
Another Romney adviser said the governor would spend just enough time on social issues to dispatch Santorum and then move on.
“He’s going to pivot back,” the adviser said. “He’s not going to go far from the core set of Romney issues, which is economic turnaround, recovery, jobs.”
Abortion, the adviser said, “has a special resonance within the Republican primary. We need to run the nominating contest with an eye toward the general election. We’re going to win or lose the general election on the economic subset of issues.” […]
It’s a sales job that Romney’s target audience may not be interested in buying. Republicans who vote on social issues are likely already Santorum voters who don’t trust Romney, while undecided general election voters — such as suburban women who are a prized constituency by national candidates — may be turned off by such hard-line talk.
The sudden change of messaging can be jarring.
45% of voters familiar with Hoekstra’s ad said it made them less likely to vote for him, 16% more likely.
President Obama’s improving national approval numbers are certainly helpful to his re-election efforts — they drive a positive narrative after years of disappointing news on the economy.
But while nationwide numbers provide a snapshot of the country’s mood, the battle for the presidency will be fought state by state. So are Obama’s numbers also looking up in the all important swing states? It sure looks that way.
Here is our TPM Poll Average of national approval numbers for President Obama, which now show the President back in positive territory.
In the historically important swing state of Ohio, Obama’s numbers plummeted during the poisonous debt ceiling fight last summer, as independent voters soured. But the statewide referendum on SB 5, the anti-union measure pushed by state Republicans in the name of curtailing state and local budgets, went down hard and strongly affected the poll numbers on the ground. Obama rebounded, and is nearing positive territory in our TPM Poll Average.
Since the birth control controversy broke, it has been an article of faith among even some neutral commentators that the battle would cause Obama to lose crucial support among Catholic swing voters.
But Gallup has performed a new analysis of its tracking data that should complicate this assertion: It finds that Obama has suffered no meaningful downturn in recent days among that consistuency, even among church-going Catholics.
Gallup is set to post the analysis on its Web site later today, and Gallup editor in chief Frank Newport gave me a preview of the forthcoming findings.
“Our analysis basically shows that Catholics’ opinions of Obama are little changed through Sunday,” Newport told me. “Our article will show that we can detect little change in Catholic approval so far.”
With the controversy continuing in the wake of Obama’s newly-announced accommodation — which has actually won approval from some Catholic groups — the new data casts doubt on the political efficacy of the continuing GOP and conservative attack on the White House stance. Mitch McConnell has vowed to keep up the crusade, though senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins have edged towards supporting Obama’s compromise.
Newport said the data would show that Obama’s approval is at around 46 percent among Catholics. The larger tendency is for Catholic opinion to roughly track with overall public opinion, and Newport said that dynamic remains unchanged. “There’s been no statistical change in either direction,” Newport said.
Some right-leaning pundits have said that the real key to gauging whether the battle is damaging Obama is to look at approval among church-going, as opposed to secular, Catholics.
“We don’t see much change in church-going Catholics, either,” Newport said.
Newport cautioned that opinion could still shift, since the public takes time in processing information about big controversies. But the data reflects a full week that passed after the controversy hit full boil, Newport said.
The politics of this fight have turned largely on the framing: Opponents have cast the White House stance as an attack on religious liberty; while supporters have framed the debate as one about access to birth control and, more broadly, about women’s health. However Catholics see the issue, there’s little indication that it’s hurting Obama among them as of now.
Also in CBS/NYT’s Poll:
Candidates often say things when polling in the single digits that come back to haunt them when they start leading the polls. Last October, Rick Santorum gave an interview with an Evangelical blog called Caffeinated Thoughts, in which he said contraception is “not okay,” and that this would be a public policy issue he would tackle as President. In particular, he said he would “get rid of any idea that you have to have abortion coverage or contraceptive coverage” as a government policy. Start watching the following video at 17:55.
Here’s a transcript:
One of the things I will talk about that no President has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea. Many in the Christian faith have said, “Well, that’s okay. Contraception’s okay.”
It’s not okay because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. They’re supposed to be within marriage, they are supposed to be for purposes that are, yes, conjugal, but also [inaudible], but also procreative. That’s the perfect way that a sexual union should happen. We take any part of that out, we diminish the act. And if you can take one part out that’s not for purposes of procreation, that’s not one of the reasons, then you diminish this very special bond between men and women, so why can’t you take other parts of that out? And all of a sudden, it becomes deconstructed to the point where it’s simply pleasure. And that’s certainly a part of it—and it’s an important part of it, don’t get me wrong—but there’s a lot of things we do for pleasure, and this is special, and it needs to be seen as special.
Again, I know most Presidents don’t talk about those things, and maybe people don’t want us to talk about those things, but I think it’s important that you are who you are. I’m not running for preacher. I’m not running for pastor, but these are important public policy issues. These how profound impact on the health of our society.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, about 99% of women ages 15 to 44 in the U.S. have used a form of contraception. In 2010, 62% of women in that same age group were currently using the method. Presumably a similar percentage of men are therefore employing contraception as well.
In politics, it is generally not a good thing to characterize something nearly every adult in the country has happily used as “a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” According to a more recent Pew poll, 85% of the country believes that contraception is either “not a moral issue” or “morally acceptable.” Eight percent view contraception as “morally wrong.”
In contrast with Santorum, Mitt Romney made it clear in a recent debate that he did not want to weigh in on the moral question of contraception. “Contraception. It’s working just fine. Just leave it alone,” he said, providing one of the great soundbites of the 2012 cycle.
While it’s unclear if Nickless is calling for literal violence in opposition to the mandate — something that’s difficult to square with Jesus Christ’s teaching that “if someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other” — or merely calling for strong resistance, his comment underscores the extreme rhetoric with which some religious conservatives have responded to the Obama Administration’s effort to ensure that all women have access to contraception. Some recently told Sean Hannity they’d be willing to die before complying with the law.
The battle over birth control that has enveloped Washington is widely seen as a revival of culture-war politics. But if Elizabeth Warren has her way, it will become an economic issue — and it will help drive the Massachusetts Senate race.
In the first prominent example of a high-profile Democratic candidate unabashedly seizing on the birth control and health care battle to hammer a GOP opponent, Warren just launched a sharp attack on GOP Senator Scott Brown over his embrace of the Blunt amendment. The measure would empower employers and insurers to deny coverage for birth control and other services they find morally objectionable, and it has the support of the Senate GOP leadership.
In so doing, Warren separated herself from other prominent Democrats, who have approached the politics of birth control with a caution bordering on skittishness.
“I am shocked that Senator Brown jumped in to support such an extreme measure,” Warren told me by phone just now. “This is an all new attack on health care. Any insurance company could leave anyone without health care, just when they need it most.”
The measure — sponsored by Senators Roy Blunt and Marco Rubio — would “ensure that health care stakeholders retain the right to provide, purchase, or enroll in health coverage that is consistent with their religious beliefs and moral convictions” in the Affordable Care Act. Warren said the measure would “open the door to discrimination.”
“This is an extreme attack on every one of us,” Warren said. “It opens the door to outright discrimination. It would let insurance companies and corporations cut off pregnant women, overweight guys, older Americans, or anyone — because some executive claims it’s part of his moral code. Maybe that wouldn’t happen, but I don’t want to take the chance.”
Some Republicans think the politics of birth control are not necessarily a winner for Dems in Massachusetts, because of the state’s large number of working class Catholic swing voters.
“It’s elitist for Elizabeth Warren to dictate to religious people about what they should believe and how they should act. She wants to use the power of government to force Catholics to violate the teachings of their faith,” Brown spokesman Colin Reed emailed. “That is wrong. This issue deals with one of our most fundamental rights as a people — the freedom of religion. Like Ted Kennedy, Scott Brown supports a religious conscience exemption in health care.”
But Warren was undaunted, insisting the issue “should” be front and center. Asked whether it would really gain traction in a campaign dominated by econmic issues, Warren pushed back, arguing that this isan economic issue.
“This election is about whose side you stand on,” she said. “Here’s an example of giving power to insurance companies and corporations to undercut basic health care coverage. I’m going to fight for families to keep that coverage. The economics around health care are huge for families.”
“I don’t think this will go over well in Massachusetts,” she said. “I think the people of Massachusetts will want to hear about it.”
Much of the commentary on this issue has focused on the political vulnerability of Obama and Dems, given the crucial role Catholic swing voters play in national elections, with few noting that the politics of it are also potentially bad for Republicans. But Warren’s unapologetic and aggressive use of it in perhaps the most closely watched Senate race in the country could begin to shift that storyline.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“His voice was as intimate as the rustle of sheets.” – Dorothy Parker