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“Almost all involved either legal violations or suspicious documentation”
An audit by San Francisco county officials of about 400 recent foreclosures there determined that almost all involved either legal violations or suspicious documentation, according to a report released Wednesday.
Anecdotal evidence indicating foreclosure abuse has been plentiful since the mortgage boom turned to bust in 2008. But the detailed and comprehensive nature of the San Francisco findings suggest how pervasive foreclosure irregularities may be across the nation.
The improprieties range from the basic — a failure to warn borrowers that they were in default on their loans as required by law — to the arcane. For example, transfers of many loans in the foreclosure files were made by entities that had no right to assign them and institutions took back properties in auctions even though they had not proved ownership.
Commissioned by Phil Ting, the San Francisco assessor-recorder, the report examined files of properties subject to foreclosure sales in the county from January 2009 to November 2011. About 84 percent of the files contained what appear to be clear violations of law, it said, and fully two-thirds had at least four violations or irregularities.
Kathleen Engel, a professor at Suffolk University Law School in Boston said: “If there were any lingering doubts about whether the problems with loan documents in foreclosures were isolated, this study puts the question to rest.”
The report comes just days after the $26 billion settlement over foreclosure improprieties between five major banks and 49 state attorneys general, including California’s. Among other things, that settlement requires participating banks to reduce mortgage amounts outstanding on a wide array of loans and provide $1.5 billion in reparations for borrowers who were improperly removed from their homes.
But the precise terms of the states’ deal have not yet been disclosed. As the San Francisco analysis points out, “the settlement does not resolve most of the issues this report identifies nor immunizes lenders and servicers from a host of potential liabilities.” For example, it is a felony to knowingly file false documents with any public office in California.
In an interview late Tuesday, Mr. Ting said he would forward his findings and foreclosure files to the attorney general’s office and to local law enforcement officials. Kamala D. Harris, the California attorney general, announced a joint investigation into foreclosure abuses last December with the Nevada attorney general, Catherine Cortez Masto. The joint investigation spans both civil and criminal matters.
The depth of the problem raises questions about whether at least some foreclosures should be considered void, Mr. Ting said. “We’re not saying that every consumer should not have been foreclosed on or every lender is a bad actor, but there are significant and troubling issues,” he said.
California has been among the states hurt the most by the mortgage crisis. Because its laws, like those of 29 other states, do not require a judge to oversee foreclosures, the conduct of banks in the process is rarely scrutinized. Mr. Ting said his report was the first rigorous analysis of foreclosure improprieties in California and that it cast doubt on the validity of almost every foreclosure it examined.
Oil is once again trading above $100 per barrel, bringing with it estimates that U.S. gas will cost more than $4 per gallon by May, if not sooner. The Obama administration is already bracing for higher gas prices and the political cost that they could exact.
But it isn’t increasing demand for oil that is driving the recent price increase. In fact, demand is the lowest it’s been since April, 2007, according to the Oil Price Information Service (OPIS). Instead, OPIS points to speculators as the party responsible for driving up prices:
Strangely, the current run-up in prices comes despite sinking demand in the U.S. “Petrol demand is as low as it’s been since April 1997,” says Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service. “People are properly puzzled by the fact that we’re using less gas than we have in years, yet we’re paying more.”
Kloza believes much of the increase is due to speculative money that’s flowed into gasoline futures contracts since the beginning of the year, mostly from hedge funds and large money managers. “We’ve seen about $11 billion of speculative money come in on the long side of gas futures,” he says. “Each of the last three weeks we’ve seen a record net long position being taken.”
A multitude of experts, from academics to government agencies, have pinned the 2008 gas price spike on oil speculators. Of course, a big increase in gas prices could doom the slow but steady economic recovery.
The climate-change-denying think tank The Heartland Institute pays monthly stipends to vocal global warming skeptics, received $200,000 from the Charles G. Koch Foundation in 2011 and received a total of $3.4 million from corporations in 2010 and 2011, according to internal documents released last night.
DeSmogBlog released the documents Tuesday night to expose its rival in the global warming debate. The blog received the documents from an anonymous “Heartland Insider.” Here’s the inside scoop and more on Heartland:
-Craig Idso, chairman of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change and other think tanks, receives $11,600 per month from Heartland. Idso’s study center is funded in part by Exxon Mobile and he recently spoke on the benefits of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s annual meeting, according to SourceWatch.org.
-Australian global warming skeptic Professor Bob Carter receives $1,667 per month, but denied doing the bidding of Heartland in an Australian newspaper on Wednesday.
-Fred Singer of the climate-change-denying Science and Environmental Policy Project receives $5,000 a month from Heartland.
–Singer’s group helped establish NIPCC[Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change], which Heartland sponsors to “undermine” the reports by the United Nation’s climate change panel, according to Heartland documents. Two anonymous foundations supply the NIPCC funding.
-Heartland has a “key” anonymous donor who gave $1.6 million in 2010 and $979,000 in 2011.
-Heartland’s income totaled $4.6 million in 2011.
-The Charles G. Koch Foundation of Koch brother’s fame gave Heartland $200,000 in 2011 and promised more money in 2012. The Koch family made much of its riches from fossil fuels and their foundation routinely supports conservative politicians and causes.
-Heartland’s proposed 2012 budget includes $75,000 to develop a “Global Warming Curriculum for K-12 Classrooms,” as proposed by a government consultant who wants to develop alternative classroom materials. Several states have introduced legislation that would give climate change skepticism a place in the classroom.
-From Heartland’s climate strategy: “Efforts at places such as Forbes are especially important now that they have begun to allow high profile climate scientists (such as Gleick) to post warmist science essays that counter our own. This influential audience has usually been reliably anti-climate and it is important to keep opposing voices out.
-Heartland has a right-wing agenda beyond climate change. The group proposed $667,217 in 2012 for its“Free to Choose Medicine” campaign, which wants to give consumers the right to take prescription drugs before they are evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The Food and Drug Administration says counterfeit Avastin, a costly cancer drug, has made its way to doctors in the United States.
The counterfeit doesn’t contain the active ingredient. Genentech, the Roche unit that makes Avastin, said Tuesday it’s aware of the problem and is working with the FDA and law enforcement.
Last week, the agency sent 19 letters tocancer specialists in California, Texas and Illinois who are believed to have purchased the fake Avastin.
It’s not clear how many patients may have been treated with the counterfeit drug, or whether more of it may be in circulation.
The FDA says the substance came from a foreign supplier called Quality Specialty Products. It also goes by the name Montana Health Care Solutions. (An Internet search turned up companies with these names that do not appear to be the ones the FDA is referring to.) The agency says the drug was distributed by Volunteer Distribution in Gainesboro, Tenn.
The fake Avastin comes in 400-milligram vials that cost $2,400. Last year Avastin racked up more than $2.5 billion in sales.
Counterfeit versions of diet drugs, Lipitor and a flu medication called Tamiflu have been found in this country before. But so far fake cancer medicines have been rare.
In this case the motive is very clear — Avastin costs a lot. And patients often get tens of thousands of dollars’ worth over the course of treatment.
Avastin is approved to treat colorectal, lung, kidney and brain cancer. It was in the news last December when the FDA withdrew approval to treat advanced breast cancer.
The drug was among the first so-called designer drugs for cancer — molecules that target a particular protein or cell receptor that cancer cells need to keep growing. In Avastin’s case, it blocks a growth factor called VEGF that’s important in the formation of new blood vessels.
The FDA, acting on a tip from its British counterpart, has identified three lot numbers on the packages of counterfeit Avastin.
The labels look different from legitimate Avastin — they have foreign text as well as English, and they carry a Roche logo. Legal Avastin has labels with only English text and the name Genentech, a Roche subsidiary.
Doctors who got the FDA’s letters are being told to stop administering products from Quality Specialty Products or Volunteer Distribution, “or any other unapproved foreign source.”
The headline is not hyperbole. The freedom and liberty loving party is requiring the state to take liberty with Virginia women’s vaginas. Women will not have the freedom to refuse.
The Virginia House passed a bill 63-36 requiring that women who wish to have an abortion must submit to a “transvaginal ultrasound.”
The ultrasound legislation would constitute an unprecedented government mandate to insert vaginal ultrasonic probes into women as part of a state-ordered effort to dissuade them from terminating pregnancies, legislative opponents noted.
“We’re talking about inside a woman’s body,” Del. Charnielle Herring, a Democrat, said in an emotional floor speech. “This is the first time, if we pass this bill, that we will be dictating a medical procedure to a physician.”
The conservative Family Foundation hailed the ultrasound measure as an “update” to the state’s existing informed consent laws “with the most advanced medical technology available.”
This is totally medically unnecessary invasive procedure. It serves no purpose other than to humiliate and shame women and intimidate them from choosing a legal medical procedure.
Speaking in support of the bill, one delegate said:
“We hear the same song over there. The very tragic human notes that are often touched upon involve extreme examples,” said [Todd] Gilbert, R-Shenandoah. “But in the vast majority of these cases, these are matters of lifestyle convenience.”
It is expected to pass the Republican-controlled Senate. Gov. Bob McDonnell has said he will sign the bill.
The House also passed a “personhood” amendment that declares life begins at conception, by a 66-32 vote.
Oh em gee! Birth control is bad! Nobody should use it and women should pop out babies the way the GOP pops out new primary frontrunners! Preventing abortions by preventing unwanted births? Unheard of! Require employers to cover contraception in their health care plans? Treason!
So it goes without saying that, given the opportunity, Republican Congress members would grill, blast, and belittle HHS Secretary Sebelius if they ever got a chance, like, say, at a hearing… where they would be face to face with her… and have her undivided attention… and get quoted and replayed over and over 24/7 on cable news [sic]! Right?
Republicans have vowed to keep pressing their attack against the White House’s birth-control mandate, but you wouldn’t know it from the way they approached a hearing with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday.
It was the first time Sebelius has testified before Congress since announcing the contraception mandate. Yet despite a flood of statements and speeches denouncing the policy as an attack on religious freedom, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee barely mentioned it Wednesday. […]
Hatch opened with questions about the revised contraception mandate and whether Sebelius had discussed it with either the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops or more supportive groups, such as Planned Parenthood. She said she hadn’t. And that was about it.
“And that was about it.”
This is whatcha call a manufactured controversy. A wedge issue. A diversion. Shiny keys. It’s the one thing the GOP does well. I mean other than lie and smear.
Two days after the death of a Georgia man who was shocked with a police Taser — raising the known death toll from tasers to 500 in the United States — Amnesty International today repeated its call for tighter limits on police use of the weapons.
According to data collected by Amnesty International, at least 500 people in the United States have died since 2001 after being shocked with Tasers either during their arrest or while in jail. Amnesty International recorded the largest number of deaths following the use of Tasers in California (92), followed by Florida (65), and Texas (37). The Oklahoma City Police Department led all law enforcement agencies in deaths (7) following by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, Harris County Sheriff’s (Tx), Phoenix, Az and San Jose, Ca., all with six deaths.
On Monday, Johnnie Kamahi Warren was the latest to die after a police officer in Dothan, Al. deployed a Taser on him at least twice. The 43-year-old, who was unarmed and allegedly intoxicated, reportedly stopped breathing shortly after being shocked and was pronounced dead in a hospital less than two hours later.
“Of the hundreds who have died following police use of Tasers in the United States, dozens and possibly scores of deaths can be traced to unnecessary force being used,” said Susan Lee, Americas program director at Amnesty International. “This is unacceptable, and stricter guidelines for their use are now imperative.”
Strict national guidelines on police use of Tasers and similar stun weapons – also known as Conducted Energy Devices (CEDs) – would effectively replace thousands of individual policies now followed by state and local agencies.
Police forces across the United States currently permit a wide use of the weapons, often in situations that do not warrant such a high level of force.
Law enforcement agencies defend the use of Tasers, saying they save lives and can be used to subdue dangerous or uncooperative suspects. But Amnesty International believes the weapons should only be used as an alternative in situations where police would otherwise consider using firearms.
In a 2008 report, USA: Stun weapons in law enforcement, Amnesty International examined data on hundreds of deaths following Taser use, including autopsy reports in 98 cases and studies on the safety of such devices.
Among the cases reviewed, 90 percent of those who died were unarmed. Many of the victims were subjected to multiple shocks.
Most of the deaths have been attributed to other causes. However, medical examiners have listed Tasers as a cause or contributing factor in more than 60 deaths, and in a number of other cases the exact cause of death is unknown.
Some studies and medical experts have found that the risk of adverse effects from Taser shocks is higher in people who suffer from a heart condition or whose systems are compromised due to drug intoxication or after a struggle.
“Even if deaths directly from Taser shocks are relatively rare, adverse effects can happen very quickly, without warning, and be impossible to reverse,” said Lee. “Given this risk, such weapons should always be used with great caution, in situations where lesser alternatives are unavailable.”
There are continuing reports of police officers using multiple or prolonged shocks, despite warnings that such usage may increase the risk of adverse effects on the heart or respiratory system.
Deaths in the past year include Allen Kephart, 43, who died in May after he was stopped by police for an alleged traffic violation in San Bernardino County, Ca. He died after three officers shocked him up to 16 times. The officers were later cleared of wrongdoing.
Last November, Roger Anthony fell off his bicycle and died after a police officer in North Carolina shot him with a stun gun. The officer reportedly shocked Anthony – who had a disability and hearing problems – because he did not respond to an order to pull over.
Neither man was armed when police shocked them.
“What is most disturbing about the police use of Tasers is that the majority of those who later died were not a serious threat when they were shocked by police,” said Lee.
To Rachel Maddow. The liberal talk show host went off on a diatribe against Politifact after it rated “Mostly True” a claim by Marco Rubio that “The majority of Americans are conservatives.”
There are a few ways to look at this. Politifact concentrated on self-identification polling, which shows far more American self-identify as conservative than as liberal, and decided that the plurality lead for “conservative” in those polls is at least close to Rubio’s “majority” claim. At a narrowly literal level — and that’s not a crazy level for Politifact to use in many cases — that’s not an unreasonable position. And yet the political difference between a nation in which a group makes up over 50% of the electorate and one in which that group is at around 40% is quite significant.
One could look at it another way, which is to get beyond self-identification to go to whether people believe in conservative concepts or not. But then it gets very tricky, as can be seen easily in from the speech Politifact was fact-checking. Rubio actually said: The majority of Americans are conservatives — they believe in things like the Constitution. I know that’s weird to some people…” Politifact ignored that context of Rubio’s comment, turning it into a narrow question of self-identification. But that’s not actually what Rubio was saying. He’s making a political claim that believing in the Constitution makes one a conservative. But that’s, on the surface false — virtually all Americans, liberals included, believe in the Constitution. Or it’s false in a different way: if Rubio is going to say that believing in the Constitution means believing in a particular interpretation of the Constitution, then those who do so may all be conservatives, but now we’re talking about a very small group of Americans who are well-versed in the controversies about Constitutional interpretation. Or it’s just a claim not open to fact-checking, that most Americans would agree with Rubio’s version of the Constitution if they thought about it. Or one could understand the statement as a rhetorical device. That’s not a bad thing for someone to point out (it seems to be a staple of 6th grade education), but it has nothing to do with how many Americans self-identify as conservatives, and selecting out that portion of the statement to fact-check seems, really, sort of perverse).
Moreover, one could point out that the real answer here is none of the above: Americans are not liberal, conservative, or moderate in their ideology, because most Americans aren’t ideological at all. That’s one of the classic findings in political science studies of voters. Americans are, indeed, partisan — but they don’t think in ideological terms.
Anyway, I do agree with Maddow’s basic point, which is that Politifact is just useless here. Indeed, it’s a very odd “fact” to pull out of Rubio’s speech no matter how one looks at it. Earlier in the speech, Rubio repeated the absolutely false claim that Barack Obama “got everything he wanted from the Congress” in 2009-2010. That’s a pretty straightforward factual claim, and it’s absolutely false (is it “pants on fire” false? I don’t know, but it’s flat-out false). Rubio then claims that after Obama took office, “The economy slowed down.” If that’s not a pants-on-fire claim, I’m really not sure what is…Rubio doesn’t qualify it at all, he simply says that “everything got worse” and that “the economy slowed down.” It’s just a plain old lie.
Rubio goes on to say that Obama is the first president to pit some Americans against others, but of course that’s both a mischaracterization of Obama’s position and, on the face of it, absolutely false as well (plenty of presidents have pitted some Americans against others; I’d think all of them probably have). Oh, and Rubio also claimed that in the State of the Union address Obama didn’t talk about his own record, but that’s false too; Obama did, in fact, talk about recent job creation and deficit reduction.
I quit listening to the speech at that point (just four minutes in; the bit about conservatives is later), but I have no idea why Politifact pulled the majority conservative point out of the speech, and out of context at that, as the thing to fact-check.
(To try to get it out of the partisan side of things…looking at Rubio, it turns out that Politifact gave him a “half true” for saying that Mitt Romney was “one of the first national leaders to endorse” him in his Senate nomination bid. The item weirdly focuses on whether Romney’s endorsement was after Rubio had the nomination wrapped up, which Rubio’s “fact” doesn’t make any claims about. It counts four national Republican leaders who endorsed before Romney, but puts way more weight on how the campaign was doing when Romney endorsed. That’s ridiculous! As long as Romney was one of the first to endorse him, the statement is totally true. If it’s true but trivial…well, maybe their categories don’t work well, or maybe it wasn’t a good claim to fact-check. But that doesn’t make it only half true!).
And that’s why Maddow’s main point, that Politifact has become a disaster, is correct. The problem here is that there’s simply no rhyme or reason to what gets checked, or what the standards are for checking it. It is, as Maddow says, just a mess.
Columbia Journalism Review:
Talk radio and Fox News bully the GOP candidates into line—and, in the process, offer a narrow vision of conservatism
When Mitt Romney was asked at a New Hampshire town hall in June 2011 about climate change, he probably did not think he was taking a risk by admitting that it is happening. “I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer,” said Romney. “Number two, I believe that humans contribute to that…. And so I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change.”
The science on the subject is clear, and Romney had said the same in the 2008 without inviting a notable backlash. But this time was different. Rush Limbaugh, the godfather of modern conservative talk radio, reacted with horror. Romney had just demonstrated himself too credulous of science and Enlightenment reasoning to win the Republican nomination. “Bye-bye nomination,” Limbaugh intoned. “Another one down. We’re in the midst here of discovering that this is all a hoax. The last year has established that the whole premise of man-made global warming is a hoax, and we still have presidential candidates who want to buy into it!”
Limbaugh’s assertion that Romney could not win the Republican nomination was premature; Romney remains very much in contention. But right-wing voters have held Romney’s statement against him as they continue to search for a suitable alternative.
The brouhaha might seem strange to an outsider, since Romney did not actually propose to do anything about climate change. In his campaign book No Apologies, Romney dismissed cap and trade as “radical feel-good politics.” But the conservative media no longer accept objective facts—the facts themselves must now fit the right-wing narrative. Joseph Lawler, then the managing editor of The American Spectator, explained the closed-circuit epistemology as a means of guaranteeing a preferred policy outcome: “Expressing skepticism of the science behind climate change, as for instance Gov. Rick Perry has, allows candidates to assure voters that they won’t support cap and trade or carbon taxes once they’re in office.”
Sure enough, the next time Romney discussed climate change publicly, at a town hall in Dover, New Hampshire, in August, he softened his earlier comments, saying, “I think the Earth is getting warmer…. I think humans contribute to that. I don’t know by how much. It could be a little. It could be a lot.” By late October, Romney had turned into a full-fledged climate change denier. “My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet,” he said at a fundraiser in Pittsburgh.
This episode—the bullying of an educated executive vying to be leader of the free world into the denial of demonstrable facts—was a striking demonstration of the sway Limbaugh and his cronies in conservative media hold over Republican hopefuls. It’s a degree of influence unmatched by any entity on the left, or for that matter by issue activists on the right. (The anti-tax Club for Growth also put out a white paper attacking Romney’s climate change apostasy, but it garnered far less attention than Limbaugh did.) And as the Republican primary unfolds, the consequences of the right-wing media megaphone are clear: the ideological discipline meted out by the pundits is a big part of the reason Republican candidates are sticking so relentlessly to doctrinaire conservative positions during this campaign cycle, and why there is often so little space between them.
Limbaugh, who invented the modern right-wing talk radio format and spawned a generation of imitators, is not the only pundit who thinks he is more powerful than actual elected officials: in October, Sean Hannity invited Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) on his radio program and spent most of the interview lecturing Paul for having had the audacity to criticize him. But Limbaugh is the only one for whom it is undeniably true. “The candidates who run afoul of Limbaugh are marked for death,” says Thomas Fiedler, dean of the College of Communication at Boston University. “Talk radio, and Limbaugh in particular, has defined what the acceptable limits are for the candidates,” Fiedler adds. “They’ve clustered themselves much farther on the right end of the spectrum.”
For the conservative media, the task of whipping Republicans into line isn’t limited to the official campaign. During the debate over health care reform, former public supporters of the individual mandate—including presidential candidates-to-be such as Newt Gingrich and Romney—abandoned their prior positions and lined up against “Obamacare.” Amid the hyperventilating about “death panels,” as the party’s prospective standard-bearers fell into line, it became politically untenable for GOP legislators to negotiate even on a bill whose roots lay in conservative proposals. The Affordable Care Act ended up passing nonetheless—and Republicans in Congress had no influence over the law.
“There were leaders who knew better, who would have liked to deal. But they were trapped,” wrote former Bush speechwriter David Frum. “Conservative talkers on Fox and talk radio had whipped the Republican voting base into such a frenzy that deal-making wasrendered impossible.” Speaking to ABC’s Nightline soon after, Frum summed up the new balance of power. “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us,” he said, “and now we are discovering we work for Fox.”
In some cases, literally. When Gingrich, a former supporter of action on climate change, came out against the cap and trade bill in 2009, he was a paid contributor to Fox News. As with Rick Santorum, a Fox sinecure gave him a way to stay in the public eye after leaving office with low approval ratings. And Herman Cain used his talk radio show to launch his fleeting political career, which was sustained by frequent appearances on Fox and conservative talk radio.
Some might say that Gingrich still works for Fox. For all his enthusiastic sparring with “media elites,” Gingrich has kowtowed to the conservative media as abjectly as anyone. On Meet the Press on May 15, Gingrich aptly characterized Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan to eliminate Medicare and replace it with vouchers for seniors to buy health insurance as “right-wing social engineering,” adding that it was “radical change” that is “too big a jump.”
The conservative media instantly vilified Gingrich as a traitor. “There is no explanation for it,” Limbaugh said. “It cuts Paul Ryan off at the knees.” Gingrich appeared on Sean Hannity’s radio show to do damage control but found himself on the defensive. Meanwhile, Ryan appeared on Laura Ingraham’s radio show to join in the Gingrich bashing. By May 17, Gingrich was groveling. “I made a mistake,” he said to Greta Van Susteren on Fox News. “And I called Paul Ryan today, who’s a very close personal friend and I said that. The fact is that I have supported what Ryan has tried to do on the budget.”
While there are undeniable heavyweights, like Limbaugh, in the conservative media machine, this swift discipline doesn’t happen as the result of a top-down directive. It is more accurate to think of the conservative media ecosystem as a giant circular feedback loop. Conservative talk radio’s rise in the late 1980s and early 1990s begat the creation of Fox News in 1996. Conservative blogs in turn arose in the last decade. Bloggers and their commenter communities listen to talk radio and watch Fox News, while Fox and radio hosts read conservative blogs, websites, and newspapers such as The Washington Times and New York Post. Thus conservatives in print, online, and on-air create and promote each other’s memes. The course of the right-wing obsession at a given moment, from the “Ground Zero Mosque” to Herman Cain, is often bottom-up as much as it is top-down.
The partial exception is conservatives in the elite print and online media: a few magazines such as National Review and The Weekly Standard, along with The Wall Street Journaleditorial page and columnists in The Washington Post such as Charles Krauthammer. Although they appear on Fox and talk radio, members of this crew generally get their news from more mainstream sources, and from each other. Though their political agenda often aligns closely with their fellow travelers, having one foot in the wider world means they will occasionally admit a candidate has left the reality-based community.
“This is an important dichotomy, between activist conservative pundits and journalists who have a conservative viewpoint,” says Matt Lewis, an independent-minded blogger for The Daily Caller, Tucker Carlson’s conservative website. “One side says you should tell the truth and report things and the other says, ‘Not if it hurts our side.’”
Nonetheless, the power of partisan message enforcement only works in one direction—rightward. Consider Rick Perry’s assertion that it would be “almost treasonous” for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, originally an appointee of George W. Bush, to attempt monetary stimulus a mere 16 months before an election, coupled with a vague threat of mob violence should Bernanke visit Texas. Most conservative pundits gave Perry a pass. Karl Rove, who has a longstanding personal grudge with Perry, took issue with the comments on Fox News. But the rest of the conservative choir stayed mostly silent; Perry was not forced to backtrack to appease outraged talk radio hosts. He never apologized.
Or consider Herman Cain’s shocking promise to deter illegal immigrants by building a deadly electrified fence topped with barbed wire on the U.S. border with Mexico. In one instance Cain added that he would consider using military troops “with real guns and real bullets” on the border. The next morning on Meet the Press Cain claimed it was a joke, though the context of his speech and the crowd’s reaction at the time had suggested nothing of the sort.
But that was good enough for conservative outlets, which credulously reported Cain’s spin, if they covered his remarks at all. The Weekly Standard managed to do an entire item on Cain’s Meet the Press appearance without mentioning the issue. Meanwhile, Eric Erickson of the blog Red State wrote posts lambasting “uptight people” for not getting the joke. “Herman Cain has done something we all owe him a debt of gratitude for doing,”wrote Erickson. “He has singlehandedly revived a stereotype many people thought had been forgotten—the humorless liberal.”
Leftward deviations from the party line, on the other hand, are swiftly punished. The issue of immigration provides a perfect case study in the contrast. Just two weeks before the Cain episode, when Perry said that those who disagree with his decision to let illegal immigrants brought to America as children attend Texas public universities at in-state rates “don’t have a heart,” the condemnation in the conservative media was swift and furious. “This isn’t even an immigration issue any more,” wrote Mark Krikorian in a typical blog post for National Review. “This is the same ‘kinder, gentler,’ ‘compassionate conservatism’ contempt for the grassroots that animates much of the Republican party establishment. Perry can shoot coyotes from now till doomsday and he’s never going to live this down.” When Perry inevitably retreated, telling the conservative website Newsmax.com that he had been “over-passionate” in his word choice, blogger Michelle Malkin complained that Perry did not actually use the word “sorry.”
Meanwhile, the speed with which conservative pundits can force a candidate to reverse himself on a relatively moderate view continues to accelerate. On the morning of October 25, while campaigning in Ohio, Romney was asked whether he supported Gov. John Kasich’s anti-union referendum. Not wanting to alienate any voters in a general election swing state, Romney punted. “I am not speaking about the particular ballot issues,” Romney said. “Those are up to the people of Ohio.”
By early afternoon the conservative press was apoplectic. “If Romney can’t endorse this common sense reform at the state level, why should conservatives believe he will fight against government unions at the federal level,” wrote Conn Carroll of The Washington Examiner. “This is a huge freaking deal,” wrote Erickson, adding a warning to Romney: “Typically, when a politician stands for nothing except his own election, he winds up not getting elected.” For the rest of the day Romney’s campaign tried to stay away from the issue. “Gov. Romney believes that the citizens of states should be able to make decisions about important matters of policy that affect their states on their own,” his campaign spokesman told National Review.
But by the next day it was clear this evasion wouldn’t fly. At a rally in Virginia, Romney abjectly apologized for straying from his partisan marching orders. “I’m sorry if I created any confusion in that regard,” he said. “I fully support Gov. Kasich, I think it’s called Question 2, in Ohio. Fully support that.” Limbaugh boasted, with reason, that he and his friends were responsible for this turn of events. “Daniel Henninger of The Wall Street Journal wrote a piece about Romney and said the jury’s still out,” said Limbaugh. “He said Romney is going to have to be pushed via competition, outside pressure, what have you, is going to have to be pushed to the right, and this I think is an example of what Henninger meant. Romney being pushed to the right. We’re always happy here at the EIB Network to help clear up any confusion in political candidates’ minds.”
The conservative media message discipline raises two questions: Is it good for conservatives, and is it good for journalism? The first point is debatable; liberals often wish they had a mechanism for whipping dissident Democrats into line akin to the Fox effect. But it is undoubtedly bad for journalism, even opinion journalism. There’s nothing wrong with journalism conducted through an ideological prism, but at its best such reporting and commentary upholds the same values of mainstream journalism. It pursues truth, offers both sides of an argument (albeit before reaching a conclusion), and expands the realm of discourse. Rigid partisanship, by contrast, places truth below political ends, ignores inconvenient facts or analysis, and constricts the parameters of debate. To the extent that conservatives want to keep Republicans in line, the conservative media serves them well. But insofar as conservatives want an ideological media that informs and expands their understanding of the world, it does not.
Mother Jones: Nuclear Truckers: Warheads on 18 Wheels [Any near you?]
Big rigs with bombs are secretly cruising the interstate near you. But how safe are they from terrorists or accidents?
How the campaign’s top-secret project Narwhal could change this race, and many to come.
On Jan. 22, a young woman in a socially conservative corner of southwestern Ohio received a blast email from Stephanie Cutter, a deputy campaign manager for Barack Obama. Years earlier, the young woman had registered for updates on Obama’s website, completing a form that asked for her email address and ZIP code. For a while, the emails she received from Obama and his Organizing for America apparatus were appeals to give money and sign petitions, and she responded to one that required that she provide her name. The emails kept on coming, rarely with anything an Obama supporter could disagree with, and certainly not the type of hard-edged political message that could scare one away.
But Cutter’s note was different. She boasted of a new administration rule that would require insurance plans to fully cover contraception as part of the president’s health care reform law, and encouraged her recipients to see the policy as reason to rally around Obama’s re-election. “Think about how different that is from what the candidates on the other side would do,” Cutter wrote. “Our opponents have been waging a war on women’s health—attempting to defund Planned Parenthood, overturn Roe v. Wade, and everything in between.”
It was a message that sat well with the young Ohioan who received it. She was single, liberal, sensitive to medical costs—but she had never told the campaign any of those things, and the one piece of information she had provided (her ZIP code) could easily mark her as the type of traditionalist Midwestern woman who would recoil at efforts to liberalize access to birth control. Indeed, she found it hard to believe that many other residents of her ZIP code would look as favorably upon a rallying cry to defend Planned Parenthood as she did.
Those who have worked with Obama’s data say that it is an email that would have never been sent in 2008. The campaign knew very little about the 13 million people who had registered for online updates, not even their age or gender or party registration. Without the ability to filter its recipients based on those criteria, the campaign stuck to safe topics for email blasts and reserved its sharp-edged messages for individual delivery by direct mail or phone call. In those channels, the campaign could be certain of the political identities of those it was reaching, because the recipients had been profiled based on hundreds of personal characteristics—enough to guarantee that each message was aimed at a receptive audience.
This year, however, as part of a project code-named Narwhal, Obama’s team is working to link once completely separate repositories of information so that every fact gathered about a voter is available to every arm of the campaign. Such information-sharing would allow the person who crafts a provocative email about contraception to send it only to women with whom canvassers have personally discussed reproductive views or whom data-mining targeters have pinpointed as likely to be friendly to Obama’s views on the issue.
From a technological perspective, the 2012 campaign will look to many voters much the same as 2008 did. There will not be a major innovation that seems to herald a new era in electioneering, like 1996’s debut of candidate Web pages or their use in fundraising four years later; like online organizing for campaign events in 2004 or the subsequent emergence of social media as a mass-communication tool in 2008. This year’s looming innovations in campaign mechanics will be imperceptible to the electorate, and the engineers at Obama’s Chicago headquarters racing to complete Narwhal in time for the fall election season may be at work at one of the most important. If successful, Narwhal would fuse the multiple identities of the engaged citizen—the online activist, the offline voter, the donor, the volunteer—into a single, unified political profile.
Traditionally, even the campaigns most intent on gathering varied types of data have had little strategy for getting all the information to work together. When computers started regularly appearing in campaign offices in the 1980s, different vendors developed distinct software packages for the varied work that went on there: volunteer-management programs, campaign finance and budgeting tools, voter-file interfaces that could spin off mailing labels or walk lists ready for neighborhood canvassers. The data were stored in different places, often through systems incapable of communicating with one another.
When Obama launched his candidacy in 2007, the departments of his campaign followed this pattern and developed their own repositories for the data they collected. State-level VoteBuilder databases could access rich information about people’s political activities that helped to refine statistical projections about their beliefs. The online databases developed by the firm Blue State Digital contained records of who registered for website and text-message updates, and how they responded to different appeals. The campaign’s fundraising team assembled its own list of donors. The field team had its database of volunteers, called Build the Hope.
“Every unit within the campaign had their little fiefdom and a chief. People were very proprietary about their data,” says a staffer at Obama’s 2008 headquarters. “They started as separate systems because that’s the way it works. No one ever thought System B would get useful data for System A—and we weren’t planning for the long run from the beginning.”
By the time campaign officials realized that they were agglomerating unprecedented volumes of political information—and that it would all become more valuable as it was allowed to mingle across categories—it was too late to rebuild their systems to make that sort of data-sharing easy. Even as the outside world marveled at their technical prowess, Obama campaign staffers were exasperated at what seemed like a basic system failure: They had records on 170 million potential voters, 13 million online supporters, 3 million campaign donors and at least as many volunteers—but no way of knowing who among them were the same people.
Permanently linking the campaign’s various databases in real time has become one of the major projects for Obama’s team this year. Full data integration would allow the campaign to target its online communication as sharply as it does its offline voter contact. When it comes to sensitive subjects like contraception, the campaign could rely on its extensive predictive models of individual attitudes and preferences to find friendly recipients. In the case of Cutter’s blast, that might mean pulling email addresses only for those who had identified themselves as women on their registration forms and whose voter records included a flag marking them as likely pro-abortion rights.
More broadly, Narwhal would bring new efficiency across the campaign’s operations. No longer will canvassers be dispatched to knock on the doors of people who have already volunteered to support Obama. And if a donor has given the maximum $2,500 in permitted contributions, emails will stop hitting him up for money and start asking him to volunteer instead. Those familiar with Narwhal’s development say the completion of such a technical infrastructure would also be a gift to future Democratic candidates who have struggled to organize political data that has been often arbitrarily siloed depending on which software vendor had primacy at a given moment.
In a campaign that has grown obsessed with code-naming its initiatives, the integration project is known as Narwhal, after the tusked Arctic whale whose image (via a decal) adorns a wall adjacent to the campaign’s engineering department, as first reported by Newsweek. Narwhal remains a work-in-progress. Campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt refused to discuss the project, and the actual origins of their project’s code name are obscure, but at Obama’s headquarters the joke has become that reference to a mammal often called “the unicorn of the sea” has come to accurately describe an elusive quarry. Like much of what changes politics this year, Narwhal will remain below the surface, invisible to the outside world.
In his essay on President Obama’s first term, James Fallows dismissesObama’s conceit that he would prefer to be “a really good one-term” president than a “mediocre” president who served two terms. “The reality,” Fallows writes, “is that our judgment about ‘really good’ and ‘mediocre’ presidents is colored by how long they serve. A failure to win reelection places a ‘one-term loser’ asterisk on even genuine accomplishments. Ask George H. W. Bush, victor in the Gulf War; ask Jimmy Carter, architect of the Camp David agreement.”
For Obama, it’s about more than the asterisk. The most important fact of Obama’s reelection campaign is that, if he wins, the single most important accomplishment of his second term will be protecting the gains of his first term. If he wins, the Affordable Care Act — barring a truly unexpected ruling from the Supreme Court — becomes the law of the land. If he wins, Dodd-Frank becomes the law on Wall Street. If he loses, both policies are likely to be either rolled back or hollowed out. Bush’s victory in the Gulf War withstood Bill Clinton’s election, and the Camp David agreement was not undone by Ronald Reagan. In Obama’s case, however, a failure to win a second term will not just color his accomplishments. It will decide their fate.
Moreover, if Obama did win a second term his accomplishments would be comparatively limited. He will not enjoy anything like the congressional majorities of his first two years again. He is likely to face a Republican House or a Republican Senate or both. What he can accomplish in terms of new legislation will thus depend on how much congressional Republicans want him to accomplish in terms of new legislation. Though there’s some reason to believe that losing the 2012 election could empower more moderate factions in the GOP, anything beyond modest levels of cooperation would remain unlikely. Divided government is not the place for miracles. As such, it’s likely to be the legislation from Obama’s first term that decides his legacy and holds the most hope of addressing the country’s toughest policy problems.
Of late, there have been a number of sweeping assessments of Obama’s first term. Andrew Sullivan’s essay in Newsweek was the most admiring. Obama, he writes, plays a “long game” that frustrates both his supporters and his detractors alike, but has led to an incredible record of success on his core priorities. “The president begins by extending a hand to his opponents; when they respond by raising a fist, he demonstrates that they are the source of the problem; then, finally, he moves to his preferred position of moderate liberalism and fights for it without being effectively tarred as an ideologue or a divider.”
Noam Scheiber’s article on “Obama’s Worst Year” — which is an excerpt from his new book on Obama’s economic team, “The Escape Artists” — is more critical. He argues that “Obama’s greatest vulnerability as a leader” has been his consistent misunderstanding of the opposition, his endless desire to cut a deal with Republicans. To Scheiber, Obama’s turn toward deficit reduction in 2011 was an unmitigated disaster. “His initial approach was too passive and too accommodating, and he stuck with it far too long.” The saving grace was his eventual recognition that confrontation was necessary. This pattern of extended passivity followed by miraculous recovery, Scheiber says, has been present throughout Obama’s career: It was there in his primary campaign against Hillary Clinton, his response to Jeremiah Wright, his health-care plan. “Sooner or later, Obama may encounter a crisis that can’t be reversed at the eleventh hour,” Scheiber warns.
Fallows’s piece is perhaps the most balanced of the three. Obama “was unready for the presidency and temperamentally unsuited to it in many ways,” and yet, there has been a profound “underappreciation of his skills and accomplishments — an underappreciation that is as pronounced as the overestimation in those heady early days.” For Fallows, the best argument for Obama’s second term is that he has learned important lessons during his first. “The evidence suggests that given a second term, he would have a better chance of becoming the figure so many people imagined.”
All three pieces are smart, perceptive and worth reading in full. But they all suffer from the same flaw: They don’t convincingly consider the counterfactual.
Sullivan lists Obama’s accomplishments and documents the economy’s recovery, but he never asks, much less answers, the question of whether a different strategy or philosophy would have led to better legislation, a swifter recovery, or a less polarized atmosphere. His essay is an answer to Obama’s loudest and most superficial critics, but it is not, as such, a persuasive defense of Obama’s record against more nuanced objections.
Scheiber harshly criticizes the administration’s handling of the debt-ceiling negotiations, writing that “the proper response to such a threat is to refuse to negotiate under duress.”
But the Republicans had just won an election, and raising the debt ceiling was — and is — wildly unpopular. It is simple to imagine a world in which the administration refused to negotiate, only to see the debt ceiling breached, the economy fall into turmoil, and the White House stuck with the blame. Comparatively, the fact that Obama managed to convince much of the country of what Scheiber and others consider to be the most salient fact of modern American politics — that the Republican Party has become so extreme that it would prefer Obama’s destruction to genuine compromise — can and should be seen as a major political accomplishment.
Fallows believes Obama is personally aloof, emotionally cold, overly comfortable with an insular circle of advisers, and perhaps consequentially, has been unable to fully connect with the American people during a period of economic crisis or understand the implacable nature of his Republican opposition. But Clinton, Obama’s opposite in all matters emotional or rhetorical, achieved less in the way of legislation, struggled mightily with popular opinion, and lost the House to the Republicans for the first time in 40 years, despite a much stronger economy than Obama has enjoyed. Perhaps Clinton would have been better suited for this moment, and Obama better suited for the early ’90s. But the comparison does not immediately redound to the particular mixture of personal qualities that Clinton has and Obama lacked.
Of course, the presidency is not a lab experiment. We cannot tweak a few variables and rerun the last few years to test their effect. In that way, reviewing the flaws in a presidency is a hard thing to do well, and an impossible thing to do perfectly. Every political pundit — indeed, every citizen — has ideas about what could have been done better. But they have no way to know if their ideas really would have led to a better outcome, or simply to new, and perhaps even worse, problems. It is not Sullivan, Scheiber, or Fallows’s fault that time only flows in one direction.
What we do know is what Obama has actually done. Health-care reform. Dodd-Frank. The stimulus bill. The 2010 tax deal. The stepped-up campaign of drone strikes in Afghanistan. The raid on Osama bin-Laden’s compound in Pakistan. The rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline. Solyndra. The appointments of Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The continuation of the Bush administration’s expansive view of executive authority, particularly as relates to the war on terror. The end of the Iraq War.
We also know what Obama wants to do. Raise taxes on the wealthy. Invest in infrastructure. Address climate change. Reduce the deficit, albeit on a more gradual path than many Republicans say they would prefer. Roll back Citizens United. End the war in Afghanistan. And, perhaps most importantly, entrench the major pieces of legislation passed in his first term.
It is very hard to say with any confidence what Obama could have done differently, and how it would have turned out. Another flaw in all these pieces — and in this article, and in almost all political punditry — is that the president is almost the sole focus, and the agency of other political actors and the importance of other institutions is almost entirely ignored. But there is no path Obama could have taken in the last year that does not rest on the question, “and what would John Boehner/Mitch McConnell/Ben Bernanke/Susan Collins have done in response?” And yet vastly less energy is expended on the motivations and incentives of these players.
What we can do is say what Obama has done, and what he wants to do next. Given that Mitt Romney is running on a very different platform, and is backed by a very different coalition, the question is not whether Obama “deserves” a second term, or even whether he has learned anything in his first term that will substantially change his approach to governing in his second. It is whether Romney’s vision of the country is preferable to Obama’s. Because the truth of the matter is that the legislation Obama has already signed into law is far greater in scope and ambition than anything he has subsequently proposed, or is likely to pass. For Obama’s presidency to be remembered as one of the most consequential in recent American history, he does not need a new strategy, or a new personality. He simply needs to win a second term so that he can protect the accomplishments of his first.
Romney SuperPAC ad against Santorum
By Jonathan Chait
Here are some things to keep in mind when assessing Rick Santorum’s chances of beating Mitt Romney. He has no pollster, no campaign headquarters, and no paid advance staff. He’s currently getting outspent on television in Michigan by a ratio of 29-1.
You know the part of the campaign ad where the candidate identifies himself and says he approves this message? The completely ubiquitous feature of modern political advertising? Santorum’s new ad seems to have forgotten it.
He also failed to get his name on the ballot in such states as Virginia and Indiana. Perhaps you have heard of them.
If you’re wondering how it is that Santorum could be leading the national polls this far into the process and still be a heavy long shot on intrade, that is why. And it’s not like Santorum is some rare, inspirational figure who commands the loyalty of a vast network. He’s just a generic conservative retread pol with nothing better to do than run for president and maybe get some better results when you Google his name.
As Josh Marshall put it, “running around the country in a long twilight struggle with Rick Santorum is just … how to put it? inherently demeaning and diminishing. It’s like struggling to land a one pound fish or searching for the way out of a paper bag.”
Romney may be weak but he can’t really be this weak, can he?
Both sides have agreed that they will extend the payroll tax cut for a year without paying for it. The talks are continuing today in the quest for a deal over extending unemployment insurance.
But the spinning is already underway over who is winning this battle, and on that score, a Democrat forwards the talking points that House GOPers are circulating, including this bit:
* Those receiving unemployment benefits must be searching for a job, and every state will be allowed to drug screen workers seeking a job that requires a drug test or who lost a job due to a failed drug test.
* The maximum number of weeks of unemployment benefits in most states will be reduced to 63 weeks, versus 93 weeks in most states today.
These are presented in the talking points as victories for the GOP. It’s unclear exactly what the final deal will look like, but the first bullet point above is not quite what Republicans originally had been asking for. They had wanted language allowing states to drug test applicants for unemployment and requiring the to be in GED programs. What’s more, second bullet point above — that benefits in “most states” will be reduced to 63 weeks — is also a point of contention. The emerging deal is likely to also allow 73 weeks in states with particularly high unemployment; it’s unclear how many states would qualify.
The GOP has indeed won concessions. Obama had described 79 weeks as a compromise; it’s now down to 63 in many states, though perhaps not all of them. Dems have dropped their demand for the millionaire surtax; the unemployment extension will likely be paid for by federal workers chipping in more for their pensions, as the GOP wanted. On the other hand, Dems won the biggest concession of all — getting the payroll tax cut extended for a year without it being paid for by a bunch of spending cuts that Republicans had hoped to jam down the Dems’ throats.
But that aside, for Democrats involved in this fight, the GOP’s talking points about the concessions they’ve won on unemployment captures a perverse dynamic about this whole mess. GOP leaders are going to have to sell the eventual compromise to House conservatives who are already angry about the payroll tax cut extension. And Democrats suspect that one of the ways they’ll have to do this is to hype the degree to which the compromise cuts unemployment benefits and imposes conditions on the jobless. Because to Tea Partyers who prioritize shrinking government above all else, this is what constitutes “winning.”
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said on Wednesday that the health insurance system isn’t working and endorsed replacing it with a pay-as-you-go model that would require people to handle their medical bills out of pocket, except for catastrophic, “unanticipated” costs.
Campaigning in Tioga, N.D., the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania compared the current health insurance system to automobile insurance, suggesting that the latter works because consumers make claims only when they have car accidents, not when they incur routine expenses like an oil change. Health insurance, he said, “isn’t to pay all of your bills.”
“How many people turn in your oil changes to your insurance company? Nobody,” Santorum said. “How many people, if you had a $500-deductible insurance policy got in a little accident and it cost $700 to repair your car, how many people would turn in the $700 claim? Nobody. Why? Because your insurance premium will go up, right?
“Then why do you turn your doctor bill in? Why do your turn your blood work in? Why do you turn your X-rays in and then say, ‘Why are my insurance premiums going up?’ Because health insurance isn’t insurance anymore. You’re paying the insurance company to pay your bills, and then you’re wondering why it cost so much. We need to get the insurance company out of paying bills and back into insuring against high-cost health care. Things that are unanticipated expenses, that is what insurance is for — unanticipated costly expenses. It isn’t to pay all of your bills.”
One last batch of numbers from the New York Times/CBS poll:
In general, do you think the policies proposed by Mitt Romney favor the rich, favor the middle class, favor the poor, or do they treat all groups equally?
Favor the rich: 53
Favor the middle class: 11
Favor the poor: 1
Treat all equally: 22
Fifty three percent of independents say Romney’s policies favor the rich; only 10 percent of them say they favor the middle class. Also:
Do you think Mitt Romney does or does not understand the needs and problems of peoplelike yourself?
Sixty one percent of independents say Romney does not understand their needs and problems; only 27 percent of them say he does. On this question, Rick Santorum does better, with an even split among overall respondents of 37-37.
Obama is faring better than Romney on these questions, too. Only 25 percent overall say Obama’s policies favor the rich, while 19 percent say they favor the middle class, 20 percent say they favor the poor, and 26 percent say they treat everyone equally. Fifty four percent say Obama understands the needs of people like themselves; independents say the same, 49-45.
The other day, Dem pollster Peter Hart articulated a theory of the GOP nomination process to me: He suggested that as independents got to know Romney better, they were concluding on some fundamental level that he just isn’t their guy, that he isn’t the person who will fight their fight, that he’s from “a different world.” These new numbers only reinforce this view.
There will still be time for Romney to reintroduce himself to these voters on better terms if he becomes the nominee. But these findings again suggest the possibility that the drawn out nomination process is revealing general election weaknesses that had been papered over by his rivals’ far worse flaws. More and more observers are beginning to question the assumption that Romney is the most electable GOPer, and as Nate Silver notes today, Santorum may have some advantages that Romney lacks. Today’s numbers won’t hurt this case.
[…] But women need something else too if pro-choicers are to move from defensive victories to making long-term progress on women’s health: the election of more pro-choice legislators in Congress who will have their backs. According to NARAL, staunch anti-choicers outnumber pro-choicers 46-40 in the Senate, and 246-155 in the House. In many state legislatures the picture is similarly bleak.
And yet there are some positive electoral signs that Republican overreach will backfire,making the 2012 elections the kind of historic year for women that we haven’t seen since 1992—known as the Year of the Woman—when four women were elected to the Senate. In fact, EMILY’s List—dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women—is calling the upcoming election “W.H.Y. (Women’s Historic Year) 2012.”
In the 12 months since the Republicans took control of the House, EMILY’s List membership has grown from under 400,000 to over 1 million. In 2011—an off year in the election cycle—it added 640,000 new men and women members. (Typically, that number is around 50,000.)
“Lots of this enthusiasm has to do with fighting back against the GOP War on Women; and I think women rightly see the birth control fight as just the next front in that,” says EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock.
EMILY’s List is now supporting a record eleven Senate candidates, including six incumbents and five challengers. Each challenger—Mazie Hirono, Tammy Baldwin, Shelley Berkley, Susan Bysiewicz and Elizabeth Warren—would be the first woman to represent her state in the Senate.
In the House, where Democrats need to pickup twenty-five seats to regain a majority, EMILY’s List is supporting nineteen candidates and closely watching more than twenty other races. Eight of the endorsed candidates are facing Tea Party incumbents who took Koch Brothers cash.
Until we win comprehensive campaign finance reform—something all of these Senate candidates are on record as supporting—cash remains all too important. In the 2009–10 cycle, EMILY’s List raised more than $38.5 million. That amount is sure to be surpassed this year given the growth in membership. Schriock says the organization has “never raised as much for candidates at this point in the cycle” and is “on track to raise more money than ever before.”
It also seems that support for Democratic women candidates is attributable to more than choice and health issues. A poll conducted by EMILY’s List on January 31 shows that the issues women consider priorities are the economy, tax fairness, Social Security and Medicare.
“The Republicans’ clear focus on a right-wing social agenda just proves they’re asleep at the switch,” says Schriock. “They’re not just getting their priority issue wrong, they’ve prioritized the wrong issues altogether.”
If the same kind of grassroots energy and activism of recent weeks is sustained in the upcoming election, this indeed might prove to be a Year of the Woman. That would not only strengthen the firewall against a well-funded and relentless Republican War on Women but also serve as something to build on—helping women make real progress in our fight to control decisions about our health.
Rick Santorum has often called for limits medical malpractice lawsuits, but back in 1999, his wife Karen sued her chiropractor $500,000 for allegedly injuring her back. Santorum testified in the case, telling the jury that the injury caused his wife pain and impaired her ability to campaign for him.
She “likes to be fit,” Santorum told the jury according to an December 1999 article in Roll Call. “We have to go out and do a lot of public things. She wants to look nice, so it’s really difficult.”
He and his wife, he said, “knocked on 20,000 doors together” during his last campaign, but now she “doesn’t have the confidence to do that.” […]
The jury awarded Mrs. Santorum $350,000 (although the award was later reduced to $175,000) .
At the time, Democrat James Carville called Santorum “a world class hypocrite” because while his wife sued for $500,000, he had co-sponsored a bill limiting medical malpractice lawsuits to $250,000 in non-economic damages.
[…] Elaborating on why he opposed the revised version of the Obama contraception rule, he explained that he didn’t believe insurance companies should cover contraception at all.
“This has nothing to do with access,” he said. “This is having someone pay for it, pay for something that shouldn’t be in an insurance plan anyway because it is not, really an insurable item. This is something that is affordable, available. You don’t need insurance for these types of relatively small expenditures. This is simply someone trying to impose their values on somebody else, with the arm of the government doing so. That should offend everybody, people of faith and no faith that the government could get on a roll that is that aggressive.”
Here you have more evidence that the resurgence of social issues could work against Mitt Romney. As the above shows, Santorum is perfectly comfortable speaking the language of the culture warrior, and it’s likely that this will increase pressure on Romney to flatly state his own opposition to requiring insurance companies to cover contraception — and even to insurance companies covering it at all.
After all, this is a position that’s strongly supported by the GOP base. In the new Fox poll, 71 percent of Tea Partyers, and 52 percent of conservatives, disapprove of requiring insurance companies to cover contraception. Given the passions that have now been whipped up around the issue, and especially since Obama has now stamped his name on this policy idea, it’s not hard to imagine that this could become a litmus test issue for GOP candidates — like Romney. Particularly since Romney, thanks to Santorum’s presence, is facing new pressure to connect with religious conservatives.
Yet embracing this position could be toxic in the general election, because large majorities support the use of government power to compel insurance companies to cover birth control. In the Fox poll this position is supported by 61 percent overall, 58 percent of independents, 53 percent of men, 67 percent of women, and by majorities or pluralities of virtually every age and income group. Santorum doesn’t care about this, since he’s a culture warrior. Romney will care about it. But he may have to own the unpopular postition, anyway.
By the way, we still haven’t heard from virtually all of the GOP leadership and a whole range of GOP officials on Obama’s proposal.
Republican Rep. Darrell Issa never met a waste of taxpayer time and dollars he didn’t like, as long as he thinks it will “be good theater.”
Issa’s latest way-off-Broadway show, opening tomorrow, is called “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?” As Sarah Posner reports:
The lead witness is the Most Reverend William E. Lori, Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport, Connecticut, and chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty. Judging from Lori and the rest of the witness list, it’s obvious that Issa has posed what he considers to be a rhetorical question and lined up nine like-minded rhetoricians to answer it anyway. None of the religious groups supportive of the Obama administration will be heard from. […]
Eight out of nine of Issa’s witnesses are Orthodox Christian, Catholic, and evangelical, and represent Christian institutions, one of which, Belmont Abbey College, has sued HHS over the contraception requirement.
Golly, isn’t that convenient? In order to prove that President Obama is trampling on religious freedom, Issa will only speak to people who agree with Issa that President Obama is trampling on religious freedom. Issa won’t be hearing from any of the nearly two dozen religious groups who have no problem with the Obama administration’s new health care policy to require insurance coverage of birth control. And apparently, he hasn’t read the latest poll that confirms, once again, that the majority of the American public, including the church-going public, doesn’t agree likes their birth control and likes the president’s new policy.
Issa only wants to hear from people who think that women’s health care oppresses their religious freedom to … um … something. It doesn’t make sense, but then again, when it comes to Issa, it doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to be good theater.
Well, more like poll results in chart form. More verification that Americans would rather cut defense spending than Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and food stamps.
Not sure why food stamps are less popular — oh wait. Southern Strategy race-baiting demagoguery, etc, etc. Yes, that, even though more whites are on food stamps, but whatever.
Critics of the White House’s policy on contraception access have been pretty aggressive of late, with a coordinated attack both on the policy and President Obama’s compromise, but the campaign has failed miserably to persuade the public.
The latest New York Times/CBS News poll included a straightforward question on this:
“Do you support or oppose a recent federal requirement that private health insurance plans cover the full cost of birth control for their female patients?”
Don’t Know: 8%
And what about a requirement on religiously-affiliated employers to cover contraception in their health insurance plans? Support drops a little, but it’s still 61%. I thought the inclusion of the phrase “federal requirement” might affect the results a bit, but apparently not.
By the reasoning of many congressional Republicans, nearly two-thirds of the country likes contraception access so much, they’re willing to endorse an outrageous assault on religious liberty.
And yet, we can still expect to see a vote in the Senate today on the odious Blunt Amendment, championed by Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt (R), which would allow all private-sector employers to deny any health services that businesses might find morally objectionable, including access to contraception.
On-the-fence senators, concerned about an election-year culture war, might want to take a look at the polling in advance of the vote.
Update: Greg Sargent has some additional details, including the fact that self-identified Roman Catholics agree with Obama’s line, 67% to 25%, and even a majority of self-identified Republicans feel the same way.
For the first time in my journalism career, during one week I wrote four stories about workers winning tough fights. The victories include GE and Cablevision workers unionizing after several failed organizing attempts, the end of the bloody Longview Port longshoremen dispute and the State Department issuing new rules governing student guest workers after last summer’s strike by young Hershey foreign workers.
This extraordinarily rare string of victories leads me to believe that despite major attacks on workers’ organizing and collective bargaining rights, unions can take advantage of workers’ backlash against these attacks and win big victories. They can still organize.
This is not to say the tide is turning for labor because of the overreach of anti-union forces. During the same period of these small but significant victories for workers, others suffered a number of large defeats. Indiana passed right-to-work legislation aimed at gutting the power of private-sector unions, and Senate Democrats passed a bill rolling back the organizing rights of airline and rail workers.
But the key lesson of these these small victories is this: When workers develop individual strategies for their own workplace—rather than rely on gran master plans from union leaders—they’re more likely to win. It’s to study the GE, Cablevision and the the longshoremen union (ILWU) campaign in Longview to understand what works.
In one of the smartest union campaigns I have ever covered, the Communication Workers of America organized 282 Cablevision workers in Brooklyn that had been trying to organize into a union for 13 years. CWA first built a strong shop floor committee to build solidarity in the workplace before even attempting to file for an election.
Then CWA employed the support of prominent Democratic politicians to make statements against the intimidation these workers were experiencing as they attempted to unionize. The result was that Cablevision couldn’t stymie the organizing drive by firing workers, and workers voted 3-to-1 to join CWA.
Not only did CWA win the Cablevision union election, but it inspired another a group of 120 nonunion Cablevision contractors to go out on a wildcat strike in Bronx demanding union recognition and the restoration of a 30-percent wage cut proposed by the company. (See my story here).
After a bitter seven-month struggle that sometimes involved breaking the law, the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union (ILWU) was able to prevent port company EGT from opening the first terminal on the West Coast not to be represented by the union. On one occasionlast July, more than 100 union members were arrested for breaking down a fence and invading the grain terminal in an effort to shut it down. On other occasions, hundreds of ILWU members confronted baton-twirling riot police as they attempt to blocked railroad tracks to prevent goods from moving; workers at ports in Vancouver and Tacoma went on wildcat strikes to show solidarity with the Longshoremen. On another occasion unionists vandalized trains carrying grain to the port. Throughout the confrontations, more than 125 protesters were arrested.
Union leaders, of course, rarely encourage union members to vandalize property and break the law. Workers in Longview decided that that’s what they wanted to do. Ultimately, the prospect of more confrontations between the company, police and union members prompted Washington Governor Christina Gregroie to finally push the company to settle.
Also earlier this month, I covered how GE workers in Kansas City won an organizing drive by a margin of 44-41. The workers at a small service plant in Kansas City had attempted to organize three times before; finally on the fourth time, pro-union workers won an election.
The organizing success was the result of older pro-union workers on the first shift who were willing to stay late into the night after their last shift to talk to younger workers, as well other unionized GE workers from different plants visiting to talk to workers about joining a union. There was no big master plan in the GE organizing victory. The organizing success was the result of rank-and-file worker action.
A proposed law that would devastate public unions in Arizona appears to be stalled in the state Senate after Republicans said they failed to come up with enough votes to pass it.
The measure, which would strip collective bargaining rights from government workers throughout the state, sailed through two Senate committees earlier this month and seemed likely to become law because Republicans control two-thirds of both houses of the legislature. Unions scrambled to find a way to defeat it but none expressed much hope of success.
On Tuesday, however, two Republican leaders in the Senate told the Arizona Guardian (sub. req.) they don’t have enough votes to keep the bill alive.
“Senate President Steve Pierce and Senate Whip Frank Antenori expressed serious doubt that there were enough Republicans in the upper chamber willing to pass a bill ending collective bargaining,” the Guardian reported. Antenori described the bill’s chances as “questionable.”
Still, it’s probably too early for unions in Arizona to declare victory. At least two other bills designed to restrict their impact in the state are likely to pass, the senators told the political news website.
One of the measures would ban any city, county or state government from paying employees to do any work for the union, a practice known as “release time.” The other would bar government employees from having union dues automatically deducted from their paychecks.
As of Wednesday afternoon, none of the measures were scheduled for a full vote of the Senate. Messages TPM left with a spokesman for the two senators was not returned.
It’s unclear what put the brakes on the bills, but it follows Gov. Jan Brewer’s lukewarm response to them about two weeks ago.
Rather than throwing her full support behind them, as many on the left assumed she would, the Republican governor said she was never consulted on them and had other priorities.
Instead, Brewer wanted the Arizona legislature to take up her own proposal that would make it easier for the state government to fire employees. Her spokesman said the governor had warned state legislators not to put the union bills on her desk ahead of her pet issue.
In Michele Bachmann’s home district, evangelicals have created an extreme anti-gay climate. After a rash of suicides, the kids are fighting back.
Every morning, Brittany Geldert stepped off the bus and bolted through the double doors of Fred Moore Middle School, her nerves already on high alert, bracing for the inevitable.
Pretending not to hear, Brittany would walk briskly to her locker, past the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders who loitered in menacing packs.
Like many 13-year-olds, Brittany knew seventh grade was a living hell. But what she didn’t know was that she was caught in the crossfire of a culture war being waged by local evangelicals inspired by their high-profile congressional representative Michele Bachmann, who graduated from Anoka High School and, until recently, was a member of one of the most conservative churches in the area. When Christian activists who considered gays an abomination forced a measure through the school board forbidding the discussion of homosexuality in the district’s public schools, kids like Brittany were unknowingly thrust into the heart of a clash that was about to become intertwined with tragedy.
Brittany didn’t look like most girls in blue-collar Anoka, Minnesota, a former logging town on the Rum River, a conventional place that takes pride in its annual Halloween parade – it bills itself the “Halloween Capital of the World.” Brittany was a low–voiced, stocky girl who dressed in baggy jeans and her dad’s Marine Corps sweatshirts. By age 13, she’d been taunted as a “cunt” and “cock muncher” long before such words had made much sense. When she told administrators about the abuse, they were strangely unresponsive, even though bullying was a subject often discussed in school-board meetings. The district maintained a comprehensive five-page anti-bullying policy, and held diversity trainings on racial and gender sensitivity. Yet when it came to Brittany’s harassment, school officials usually told her to ignore it, always glossing over the sexually charged insults. Like the time Brittany had complained about being called a “fat dyke”: The school’s principal, looking pained, had suggested Brittany prepare herself for the next round of teasing with snappy comebacks – “I can lose the weight, but you’re stuck with your ugly face” – never acknowledging she had been called a “dyke.” As though that part was OK. As though the fact that Brittany was bisexual made her fair game.
So maybe she was a fat dyke, Brittany thought morosely; maybe she deserved the teasing. She would have been shocked to know the truth behind the adults’ inaction: No one would come to her aid for fear of violating the districtwide policy requiring school personnel to stay “neutral” on issues of homosexuality. All Brittany knew was that she was on her own, vulnerable and ashamed, and needed to find her best friend, Samantha, fast.
Like Brittany, eighth-grader Samantha Johnson was a husky tomboy too, outgoing with a big smile and a silly streak to match Brittany’s own. Sam was also bullied for her look – short hair, dark clothing, lack of girly affect – but she merrily shrugged off the abuse. When Sam’s volleyball teammates’ taunting got rough – barring her from the girls’ locker room, yelling, “You’re a guy!” – she simply stopped going to practice. After school, Sam would encourage Brittany to join her in privately mocking their tormentors, and the girls would parade around Brittany’s house speaking in Valley Girl squeals, wearing bras over their shirts, collapsing in laughter. They’d become as close as sisters in the year since Sam had moved from North Dakota following her parents’ divorce, and Sam had quickly become Brittany’s beacon. Sam was even helping to start a Gay Straight Alliance club, as a safe haven for misfits like them, although the club’s progress was stalled by the school district that, among other things, was queasy about the club’s flagrant use of the word “gay.” Religious conservatives have called GSAs “sex clubs,” and sure enough, the local religious right loudly objected to them. “This is an assault on moral standards,” read one recent letter to the community paper. “Let’s stop this dangerous nonsense before it’s too late and more young boys and girls are encouraged to ‘come out’ and practice their ‘gayness’ right in their own school’s homosexual club.”
Brittany admired Sam’s courage, and tried to mimic her insouciance and stoicism. So Brittany was bewildered when one day in November 2009, on the school bus home, a sixth-grade boy slid in next to her and asked quaveringly, “Did you hear Sam said she’s going to kill herself?”
Brittany considered the question. No way. How many times had she seen Sam roll her eyes and announce, “Ugh, I’m gonna kill myself” over some insignificant thing? “Don’t worry, you’ll see Sam tomorrow,” Brittany reassured her friend as they got off the bus. But as she trudged toward her house, she couldn’t stop turning it over in her mind. A boy in the district had already committed suicide just days into the school year – TJ Hayes, a 16-year-old at Blaine High School – so she knew such things were possible. But Sam Johnson? Brittany tried to keep the thought at bay. Finally, she confided in her mother.
“This isn’t something you kid about, Brittany,” her mom scolded, snatching the kitchen cordless and taking it down the hall to call the Johnsons. A minute later she returned, her face a mask of shock and terror. “Honey, I’m so sorry. We’re too late,” she said tonelessly as Brittany’s knees buckled; 13-year-old Sam had climbed into the bathtub after school and shot herself in the mouth with her own hunting rifle. No one at school had seen her suicide coming.
No one saw the rest of them coming, either.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“We have just enough religion to make us hate,
but not enough to make us love one another.” ~~ Jonathan Swift