For the election, I added a new category: LIES. They were getting out of hand! 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.
Likely Result Would Be More Funding for Defense, Less for Domestic Programs
[…] The nation has lost 668,000 state and local government jobs since the recession hit — more than in any modern downturn, according to a new analysis of labor statistics by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government. On the national level, the steady loss of public sector jobs has reduced the effects of recent job gains in the private sector and has slowed economic growth. But in cities and states around the country, the loss of those jobs has made it harder to provide services and has upended the lives of thousands of workers who had thought their government jobs were safe.
It is not just faded industrial cities that are struggling to retain their workers. San Jose, a growing city of nearly one million in the heart of Silicon Valley that is now the nation’s 10th biggest, has shed 1,592 jobs — more than a fifth of its employees — over the last four years as falling tax revenues, rising pension costs and dwindling state aid have all taken their tolls on the city and its workers.
Americans have cut way back on driving in recent years. Total vehicle-miles traveled has stagnated since 2007. One big question is whether this is a temporary blip due to the downturn — unemployed people, after all, don’t commute — or evidence of a long-term structural shift.
Theories for a structural shift generally involve demographics: America’s swelling ranks of retirees don’t drive as much, while kids these days prefer Facebook to motoring around with friends. But there’s another possible factor: the torrid growth of online shopping. Phil Izzo has the numbers, which are striking. In the fourth quarter of 2011, e-commerce surged to 5.5 percent of all retail sales — and, if anything, that understates the trend, since brick-and-mortar stores include online sales in their own figures. When people order from their computers, of course, they save themselves a trip to the store.
Analysts attribute the sharp rise in online shopping to the fact that more Americans are comfortable buying online, while smart phones and tablets have made it increasingly simple to shop. That seems plausible. But it’s also worth pondering whether high gas prices have played a supporting role here. It’s striking that, according to this graph, U.S. brick-and-mortar stores first began their steady decline in retail share right around the time that $3.50-per-gallon gasoline became the norm.
By the way, Izzo notes that the one physical outlet that’s increased its share of retail has been . . . the gas station. In 1999, gas stations represented 7 percent of all retail sales, climbing to 11 percent by the last quarter of 2011. It’s yet another indicator that rising prices at the pump are crowding out consumer spending on other things, hurting the broader U.S. economy. But who knows? If e-commerce continues to surge, and driving keeps stagnating, maybe that dynamic will shift yet again.
Ray Madoff explains how to close the capital-gains loophole, in her column, “Two Tricks To Raising Capital-Gains Taxes Fairly:”
From Warren Buffett’s secretary to Mitt Romney’s tax returns to the general uprising against the 1 percent, tax reform is on everybody’s radar. In the cross hairs is the preferential treatment for capital gains.
Profits from investments are taxed at a maximum rate of 15 percent, which is less than half the 35 percent maximum tax rate imposed on wages and other ordinary income. One can hardly open a newspaper or click on a blog without seeing a call to eliminate this special rate for capital gains to increase fairness and raise federal revenue.
To achieve true fairness and generate increased revenue, however, it is necessary to make two more changes — to allow capital-gains taxpayers to account for inflation and to close the loophole that allows wealthy Americans to avoid capital- gains taxes altogether by passing on assets at death.
Before elaborating, I’ll explain why it’s smart to eliminate the preferential tax rate for capital gains.
First, the lower rates cost the government a significant amount of revenue. In 2008, if capital gains had been taxed at 35 percent instead of 15 percent, the federal treasury would have received an additional $100 billion. (Capital gains were unusually low that year; in 2007, the increase would have been closer to $200 billion.) In the next five years, the capital- gains preference will cost the government more than $450 billion, according to estimates from Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation.
Second, preferential treatment of capital gains disproportionately benefits the wealthy. In the past 20 years, more than 80 percent of capital gains have gone to the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans, and half have gone to the wealthiest 0.1 percent — that is, the richest 1/10th of the 1 percenters. Most Americans who own stock don’t benefit from the lower rate because they own their stock through retirement plans. When proceeds from these plans are distributed to the taxpayer, they are subject to tax at ordinary income rates.
Finally, the special capital-gains rate makes it difficult to simplify the tax code. Much of its complexity is due to the myriad rules that are meant to ensure that income is properly categorized as ordinary income or capital gains. Eliminate the rate differential, and the tax code could become far less complex.
[…] White House officials are preparing for Republicans to use consumer angst about the cost of oil and gas to condemn his energy programs and buttress their argument that his economic policies are not working.
In a closed-door meeting last week, Speaker John A. Boehner instructed fellow Republicans to embrace the gas-pump anger they find among their constituents when they return to their districts for the Presidents’ Day recess.
“This debate is a debate we want to have,” Mr. Boehner told his conference on Wednesday, according to a Republican aide who was present. “It was reported this week that we’ll soon see $4-a-gallon gas prices. Maybe higher. Certainly, this summer will see the highest gas prices in years. Your constituents saw those reports, and they’ll be talking about it.”
Iran’s recent warnings of a disruption in the global oil trade have pushed the price of a barrel of domestic oil to more than $103, a six-month high and up about 34 percent since September. That has helped drive the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in the United States to $3.52, a 30-cent increase in the past two months. It is already approaching $4 in some places.
Economists say the current price of oil is only a modest drag on the economy. But a big jump — combined with tensions over Iran and continuing European debt worries — could present a more significant challenge to America’s recovery, they say.
For the president’s economic team, the specter of such increases in oil prices comes on the heels of positive economic news that has lifted Mr. Obama’s approval rating, including better-than-expected job growth, a surging stock market and a payroll tax deal that will put more money in the pockets of millions of Americans.
And talking points from the Republican National Committee that go out to conservative commentators every Friday often include rising gas prices among the “Top Line Messaging” for the week. A recent “Pundit Prep” document cited the national debt, unemployment and the price of gas as the three best ways to define the “Obama economy.”
The president’s political advisers are bracing for battle as they envision the price of gas rising steadily through the summer, as it usually does. As the president’s motorcade whisked him through scenic Orange County on Thursday on the way to a California fund-raiser, one sign held by a protester read, “Gas prices up 91 percent under Obama.”
Aides say they know the attacks are inevitable. But they also say they are prepared to respond forcefully with a defense of the president’s energy policies and a critique of the Republican line.
“The president is keenly aware of the impact that higher gas prices have on families trying to make ends meet,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said last week.
For Mr. Obama’s economic team, the increase in oil prices is an unwelcome reminder of how global events largely outside their control can hamper a recovery. For the third year in a row, a modest recovery faces head winds as winter turns to spring. […]
Mr. Obama has also begun once again to express his personal concern for the impact of gas prices on pocketbooks, as he did last week while pressing Congress to extend the tax cut, which is about $40 per paycheck for a family making $50,000 a year.
“If we start seeing significant increases in gas prices, losing that $40 could not come at a worse time,” the president said Tuesday.
A counterattack being planned by the Obama re-election team in Chicago is expected to point out, among other things, Mitt Romney’s actions to raise gas taxes when he was governor of Massachusetts. And Mr. Obama’s Democratic allies on Capitol Hill are eager to renew a nationwide discussion about tax subsidies to oil companies.
“House Republicans are very good at using every argument they can to shield oil companies from paying their fair share,” said Representative Steve Israel of New York, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “They have been relentless and fearless protectors of oil company profits.”
Republicans on Capitol Hill say they are eager to criticize the president as gas prices rise, in part with a flurry of legislation aimed at increasing domestic production.
They also plan to use Mr. Obama’s decision to block the immediate construction of Keystone XL, a 1,700-mile pipeline that would stretch from Canada to the Gulf Coast. A Republican bill was passed by the House on Thursday to expand offshore drilling and force a permit to be approved for the pipeline.
Nate Silver, 538 NYT:
[…] Here’s the good news for Mr. Obama: there’s not a lot of evidence that oil prices are all that important.
CAP Action: Best stimulus video ever
UC Davis faculty voted overwhelmingly to support the continued leadership of Katehi, who has faced criticism about the Nov. 18 pepper spraying of peaceful student demonstrators by campus police, officials announced Friday evening. In an online referendum, professors voted 697 to 312 to defeat a no-confidence measure that was very critical of Katehi’s handling of the controversial police action. A rival measure that supported Katehi while also condemning the pepper spraying passed by a more narrow margin, 586 to 408, according to an announcement by the campus Academic Senate.
One in a series of posts about the Heartland Institute’s inner workings, from internal documents acquired by ThinkProgress Green. Heartland has issued a press release claiming that some of these documents were sent to an outsider under false pretenses and that one document in the set is a fake, but the Ap independently verified their contents.
Internal documents acquired by ThinkProgress Green reveal that the climate-denial think tank Heartland Institutereceived funding from at least 19 publicly traded corporations in 2010 and 2011. The companies’ combined contributions exceeded $1.3 million for an array of projects. As Think Progress Green reported on Tuesday, the Heartland Institute’s projects included a secret plan to teach children that climate change is a hoax.
The companies backing the Heartland Institute HERE.
Speaking at a campaign stop in Idaho Tuesday night, Rick Santorum continued the Republican presidential contenders’ recent pattern of calling for the selling off of public lands. According to the Idaho Statesmen, Santorum told Idahoans that:
But there’s a lot of land out there that is land that can and should be managed by stewards who care about that land. I believe the land is there to serve man, not man there to serve the land. If we turn that, obviously, BLM, they just don’t — look, we’re not going to have the resources to manage this land correctly. The federal government doesn’t care about it, they don’t care about this land. They don’t live here, they don’t care about it, we don’t care about it in Washington. It’s just flyover country for most of the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.
We need to get it back into the hands of the states and even to the private sector. And we can make money doing it, we can make money doing it by selling it. So I believe that this is critically important.
Santorum failed to note that public lands—even those that aren’t national parks—are of incredible importance to Idaho. Interior Department-managed lands alone (not including the13 national forests in Idaho) provided more than $1 billion in economic impacts to the state in 2010. Activities on federal lands such as recreation, drilling, mining, and timber also stimulated over 11,000 jobs.
Some of Idaho’s best places are on public lands, such as Craters of the Moon National Monument and the Nez Perce National Historical Trail. Even the Bald Mountain ski area in Sun Valley is on public lands. Forests, grasslands, and national monuments are of tremendous use to hunters, anglers, hikers, ranchers, gas companies, and many others who utilize these places that are managed for all of us to use and enjoy.
Santorum also told the Idaho Statesman that “the federal government doesn’t care about” public lands. It is difficult to measure how much the federal government “cares” about a particular issue, but all one needs to do is talk with employees of the BLM, National Park Service, or the US Forest Service to find the people that “care” about public lands. As for President Obama, just Monday he released an $11.5 billion budget request for the Interior Department, up slightly from last year.
Two weeks ago, Mitt Romney told a Nevada newspaper that he doesn’t know “what the purpose is” of public lands. And Ron Paul told a crowd in Nevada that he wants “as much federal land to be turned over to the state as possible.”
- Ron Paul Calls For The Elimination Of Public Lands
- Romney To Nevadans: I Don’t Know ‘What The Purpose Is’ Of Public Lands (Hint: They Pump $1 Billion Into the State Economy)
- Astonishing New Poll: 91 Percent Of Western Voters Say Protecting Public Lands Is ‘Essential’ To The Economy
- Ron Paul Calls For Federal Public Lands To Be ‘Sold Off To Private Owners’
[…] Virtually all women (more than 99%) aged 15–44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method.
• Overall, 62% of the 62 million women aged 15–44 are currently using a method.
• Almost one-third (31%) of these 62 million women do not need a method because they are infertile; are pregnant, postpartum or trying to become pregnant; have never had intercourse; or are not sexually active.
• Thus, only 7% of women aged 15–44 are at risk for unintended pregnancy but are not using contraceptives.
• Among the 43 million fertile, sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant, 89% are practicing contraception.
The agreement reached in Congress yesterday is an important step that will prevent a tax hike on 160 million hardworking Americans who are still recovering from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and continue essential support for millions of unemployed Americans struggling to find jobs. The agreement is also important because it prevents doctors who treat Medicare patients from taking a nearly 30 percent pay cut. That kind of cut would harm physicians and jeopardize seniors’ access to the doctor they know and trust.
Some have argued that this legislation hurts the Affordable Care Act. This claim is false. Most of the policies in this bill that help prevent doctors from taking a pay cut are in the President’s budget. Others were the product of a tough negotiation. And none harm the implementation of health insurance premium tax credits as did the House Republican plan from December.
Let’s look more closely at what is actually in the agreement:
Medicare Bad Debt Payments. Right now, Medicare pays hospitals and other providers for most of the bad debt that results when beneficiaries do not pay what they owe.The Administration first proposed modestly reducing the amount Medicare will pay for bad debt in our recommendations to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction in September. The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (Bowles-Simpson Commission) also recommended reducing these payments. And the final agreement includes an even more modest reduction than the Administration’s proposal.
Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital Payments. These payments go to hospitals that care for many people without health insurance. Thankfully, health reform will ensure more people have health insurance and decrease the need for these payments. The final agreement implements a proposal to reduce these payments in 2021, consistent with the Administration’s 2012 and 2013 budget requests.
Prevention Fund. In recognition of the importance of cutting spending, the Administration previously proposed reductions in the Prevention and Public Health Fund. The reduction in the final agreement is more substantial than our proposal. But the Prevention and Public Health Fund will still invest $13.5 billion from 2012-2022 to help improve health outcomes and address important issues like obesity, tobacco use, and immunization. In contrast, the Republican House voted to repeal the Prevention Fund entirely last year – a bill the President’s senior advisors recommended he veto.
Disaster-recovery FMAP fix. The bill fixes a technical error in an Affordable Care Act provision intended to provide short-term assistance to States recovering from a major disaster, preventing $2.5 billion in extra spending.
All in all, this agreement ensures that physicians receive reliable payments for the care they provide and that Medicare beneficiaries have access to care – and does so in a fiscally responsible way. We’ll continue to implement the Affordable Care Act, crack down on the worst insurance company abuses and prepare for 2014 when Americans will have access to the same kinds of health care choices as members of Congress. And, the agreement we reached prevents a tax increase from hitting millions of working Americans and prevents the end of support for millions looking for a job. Together, these provisions also help our economic recovery, and we hope they are just the first step in the many we will take to boost job creation and construct an economy built to last.
Virginia is poised to send two of the most abhorrent anti-choice bills to Governor Bob McDonnell to sign. The governor, eyes trained on a vice presidential bid, has indicated he will sign at least one if not both of the bills.
The first is a bill requiring the use of trans-vaginal ultrasound prior to a woman obtaining an abortion, the other is an egg-as-person bill. Like other failed “personhood” bills, the Virginia provision would outlaw not only abortion but also forms of hormonal birth control.
Although the Governor has said he will consider the personhood bill he has been clear he would sign the forced ultrasound bill. But let’s start calling this what it really is: state sanctioned rape.
In Virginia, rape is defined as the following:
§ 18.2-61. Rape.
A. If any person has sexual intercourse with a complaining witness, whether or not his or her spouse, or causes a complaining witness, whether or not his or her spouse, to engage in sexual intercourse with any other person and such act is accomplished (i) against the complaining witness’s will, by force, threat or intimidation of or against the complaining witness or another person; or (ii) through the use of the complaining witness’s mental incapacity or physical helplessness; or (iii) with a child under age 13 as the victim, he or she shall be guilty of rape.
I called and emailed McDonnell’s press secretary Jeff Caldwell asking if the forced vaginal ultrasound bill would in-fact overturn the rape statute. Caldwell did not return my call or email by the time of publication.
During the debate Republican State Del. Todd Gilbert said:
“the vast majority of these cases [abortion] are matters of lifestyle convenience.” And, “We think in matters of lifestyle convenience and in other matters that it is right and proper for a woman to be fully informed about what she is doing.”
NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia Executive Director Tarina Keene said of the ultrasound bill alluding to Gilbert’s ludicrous statement:
“This bill and comments on the House floor show the disrespect anti-choice lawmakers have for women’s personal and private reproductive decisions made with their doctors and their families.”
Gilbert embodies the nature of the debate in one sweeping statement; women choose abortion willy-nilly and women aren’t smart enough to make their own decisions about their bodies so big government and men will (he has since issued an apology.)
The ignorance Gilbert displayed is the norm and I encountered similar stupidity first hand when confronted by a group of men on Facebook regarding the Texas ultrasound law. This is the relevant passage from a my piece written for The Frisky on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade:
Last week I got into a heated exchange with a group of men on Facebook about abortion. It was regarding the Texas law requiring a woman view an ultrasound prior to getting an abortion. The man starting the thread praised the Texas Supreme Court for upholding the ultrasound law.
This opinion piece from The Houston Chronicle (via AlterNet) gives you an idea of what a the government mandated ultrasound law in Texas could mean:
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 88 percent of abortions occur during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Because the fetus is so small at this stage, traditional ultrasounds performed through the abdominal wall, “jelly on the belly,” often cannot produce a clear image. Therefore, a transvaginal probe is most often necessary, especially up to 10 weeks to 12 weeks of pregnancy. The probe is inserted into the vagina, sending sound waves to reflect off body structures to produce an image of the fetus. Under this new law, a woman’s vagina will be penetrated without an opportunity for her to refuse due to coercion from the so-called “public servants” who passed and signed this bill into law.
Under the Texas penal code penetration of a woman’s vagina without her consent is sexual assault. In other words, it is rape — which is punishable by imprisonment.
In my bizarre Facebook exchange mentioned above, a man brazenly told me rape by the state was analogous to paying taxes, “If you want to talk about government rape, let’s talk about paying taxes to the IRS!”
The conversation deteriorated from there, culminating with a man writing that I was “lucky your mom didn’t abort you” and to shut my “pie hole.” It would have been simply hilarious if the premise of the conversation weren’t so disturbing.
And then there is Iowa – Iowa is no stranger to waging war on women’s reproductive rights, it has been the hobby of the religious right there for years. State GOP Representatives have brought forward three bills;egg-as-person, forced ultrasound and a so-called “Woman’s Right to Know” bill.
The forced ultrasound bill passed out of a House subcommittee and is on to the full Human Resources Committee – and then its on tothe floor for full debate and vote. This bill is likely to pass out of the House but State Senator Steve Sodders told me (if it did make it out of the house) it would certainly die in the Senate. The Iowa Senate is the sane chamber dominated by Democrats functioning under the leadership of bulldog Senator Mike Gronstal.
While it may be true that the ultrasound bill will not pass in Iowa, these attempts at passing forced ultrasound bills and other anti-women legislation must continue to be called out no matter if the bill will pass or not. And like Texas and Virginia, the Iowa ultrasound bill could lead to forced trans-vaginal ultrasounds.
Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People for the American Way puts it this way when talking about Virgina’s bill but can be applied across the board, “…Virginia’s ultrasound bill takes the war on women to a new level. These politicians aren’t only invading women’s hospital rooms, they’re requiring women to undergo an incredibly invasive procedure without their consent. That’s not only insulting to women, it flies in the face of our values as a free nation.”
The bottom line is pro-choice legislators in state houses around the country as well as physicians and women’s rights activist must start drawing the clear line between state forced transvaginal ultrasounds and rape.
[…] Last year, about 80,000 emergency-room patients at hospitals owned by HCA, the nation’s largest for-profit hospital chain, left without treatment after being told they would have to first pay $150 because they did not have a true emergency. […]
But emergency-room doctors and patient advocates blast the policy as potentially harmful to patients, and they say those with mild illnesses such as sore throats and ear infections do little to clog ERs and do not require CT scans or other pricey technologies.
Kim Bailey, research director for the consumer group Families USA, said the tactic lets hospitals turn away uninsured patients who often fail to pay their bills and are a drag on profits. While the uninsured pay upfront fees as high as $350, depending on the hospital, those with insurance pay their normal co-payment and deductible upfront.
“This is certainly a concern to us,” Bailey said.
‘A real problem’
Physicians worry that sick people will forgo treatment. There is no data on how many who leave the ER without treatment follow up with visits to doctors’ offices or clinics.
“This is a real problem,” said David Seaberg, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, who estimated that 2 to 7 percent of patients screened in ERs and found not to have serious problems are admitted to hospitals within 24 hours.
“After you’ve done the medical screening, it makes little sense to not go ahead and write a patient a prescription,” said Michael Zappa, a Boca Raton, Fla., hospital consultant and former president of the Florida College of Emergency Physicians.
Patient advocates say the strategy could discourage patients from going to the ER for true emergencies.
“It seems the point of the policy is to put a financial barrier between the patient and care,” said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a consumer advocacy group,
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that about 8 percent of ER visits are for non-urgent problems that could be treated less expensively in a doctor’s office or clinic; others put the number of non-emergency visits much higher. A 2010 Health Affairs study found that 27 percent of those visiting ERs could be treated more cost-effectively at doctors’ offices or clinics.
Eighty-three percent of Medicaid goes to the elderly, disabled, or working poor. Seventy-nine percent of school lunches. Sixty-nine percent of unemployment compensation. Sixty-four percent of SNAP (food stamps). Even TANF, the classic “welfare” program, clocks in at 46 percent—and it’s a very small program. The other 54 percent only amounts to about $6 billion, a minuscule fraction of federal benefits, and ever since the 1996 welfare reform bill those benefits have been temporary anyway. It’s not really possible to become dependent on TANF any longer.
Overall, only about 9 percent of government benefits go to those who could be thought of as able-bodied workers who either can’t or won’t find a job. And as the study says:
Moreover, the vast bulk of that 9 percent goes for medical care, unemployment insurance benefits (which individuals must have a significant work history to receive), Social Security survivor benefits for the children and spouses of deceased workers, and Social Security benefits for retirees between ages 62 and 64. Seven out of the 9 percentage points go for one of these four purposes.
Sherman adds this:
Another point: Many of those who decry the growth of entitlement spending seem to forget the most basic of all facts about it: it continues to be driven overwhelmingly by the twin engines of an aging population and the rising cost of medical care. Neither of which has much to do with dependency among the working-age population.
This is especially true for medical care, I think. We spend a fair amount of money on health care services for the poor, but even theoretically that does nothing to make them less likely to work. They still need money for everything else, after all. All it does is provide them with a bare minimum of decent health care. We can afford that, can’t we?
A Virginia law that would mandate ultrasounds prior to an abortion is gaining steam — and coming under intense criticism — as it heads to Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell’s desk. Virginia’s House of Delegates and Senate have both passed the bill, while the governor has spoken favorablyof the provision.
The Virginia law (full text here) would do two things: First, it would require a woman seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound at least 24 hours prior to the procedure. Second, it would require the professional performing the sonogram to offer the woman an opportunity to see the ultrasound image. The state’s draft legislation has been met with protests and outrage from reproductive health advocates, who note that ultrasounds would be particularly invasive in the early stages of pregnancy.
The Virginia law is not, however, without parallel in the world of abortion restrictions. Ultrasound laws to limit abortion access began taking off in the 1990s and, according to the Guttmacher Institute, now stand in 26 states. Of those, a handful look a lot like Virginia’s: Seven states require an abortion provider to conduct an ultrasound and offer to show the image to the woman.
Practically, the Virginia law could have a significant impact. In 2007,28,179 women terminated pregnancies in Virginia, one of the higher numbers in the United States. But in the legal landscape of abortion rights, it may prove less significant, as it does not appear to break new ground in testing out a new type of abortion restriction.
On that front, though, there is one state to watch: Texas, which in 2011 passed arguably the country’s most sweeping ultrasound law. Where Virginia would have providers offer a viewing of the ultrasound image, Texas requires much more. Providers there must both make an audible heartbeat of the fetus available and provide a detailed description of the fetus pictured in the sonogram.
The Texas law was immediately challenged in court as overly burdensome on women seeking abortions. And, initially, a lower court in Texas agreed: It blocked the law from coming into effect, ruling that it violated First Amendment rights to free speech in its regulation of what abortion providers must say.
That decision, however, was reversed last month by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which ruled on Jan. 10 that “the point of informed consent laws is to allow the patient to evaluate her condition and render her best decision under difficult circumstances. Denying her up-to-date medical information is more of an abuse to her ability to decide than providing the information.”
After that decision, the Texas law now stands. It could conceivably work its way up to the Supreme Court, possibly setting a new precedent regarding which state abortion restrictions are constitutional underRoe v. Wade.
The Virginia law has indeed attracted a lot of attention and, in terms of its practical impact, could be quite significant for women in the state. But as for the legal future of abortion, it’s laws such as the one in Texas, which push the boundaries of abortion restrictions, that could end up mattering more.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu — who became the face of Arizona border security nationally after he started stridently opposing illegal immigration — threatened his Mexican ex-lover with deportation when the man refused to promise never to disclose their years-long relationship, the former boyfriend and his lawyer tell New Times.
The latest of the alleged threats were made through Babeu’s personal attorney, who’s also running the sheriff’s campaign for Congress in District 4, the ex-lover says.
He says lawyer Chris DeRose demanded he sign an agreement that he would never breathe a word about the affair. But Jose (New Times is withholding his last name because Babeu and his attorney have challenged his legal status) refused.
See additional photos obtained from Sheriff Babeu’s ex-lover allegedly showing text message communication between the two.
The 34-year-old from central Mexico charges that the sheriff’s lawyer warned against mentioning the affair with Babeu. DeRose said gossip about Babeu would focus attention on Jose, attention that could result in his deportation, Jose says.
Melissa Weiss-Riner, Jose’s attorney, confirms her client’s account.
She says she spoke directly to the sheriff’s lawyer, DeRose, about the Babeu camp’s threats that Jose could be deported if he “revealed the relationship.” She says DeRose falsely claimed that Jose’s visa had expired.
“Jose came to our firm because he felt he was being intimidated, and he was in fear for his life,” Weiss-Riner says. “He wanted his legal rights protected.”
Babeu didn’t respond to requests for comment by publication time for this article, but his attorney, DeRose, says the dispute between Jose and the sheriff concerned Jose’s work on Babeu’s websites. He says Jose was a former volunteer who hacked into a campaign website.
DeRose didn’t immediately address the other claims against him and the sheriff, except to say, “I never threatened to deport anybody” and that “[Babeu’s] not threatening anybody.”
Informed of the situation, Nancy-Jo Merritt, a longtime Phoenix immigration attorney, says such a threat would be indicative of an “atmosphere that’s been created politically in this state, so that if you get angry at someone who is Hispanic, you immediately jump down to the level of threatening to deport him.
“If what [Babeu’s attorney] says is correct [about Jose’s being illegal], either the sheriff had a long relationship with someone he knew was undocumented, while all the time being Mr. Bluster about the border and using it for political gain,” or he threatened to deport someone he just broke up with, Merritt says.
“That’s just the worst kind of hypocrisy.”
She adds that federal immigration-enforcement agents have better things to do than “take care of Babeu’s boyfriends.”
5 MORE pages>>>
Disenfranchising the African American/black vote has been problematic – now a political aide to Maryland’s former Republican Governor is sentenced to 30 days home detention for his conspiracy to keep black voters away from the polls in what was described as “deceitful” and an attempt to “interfere with anyone’s opportunity to vote that it’s absolutely unacceptable.”
AP reports that the calls were made to 110,000 people in areas whose residents are typically black voters, who tend to vote reliably Democratic. The calls suggested that voters did not need to bother going to the polls because Democrat Martin O’Malley had already defeated his opponent Republican Robert Ehrlich.
Judge Lawrence Fletcher-Hill called the scheme an offense that strikes at the heart of the nation’s most important values.
The judge also gave Paul Schurick a one-year suspended jail sentence and ordered him to serve 500 hours of community service in Prince George’s County and Baltimore city, where the calls were directed, over four years of his probation. A fine was not imposed.
“This needs to send a message to anyone who would interfere with anyone’s opportunity to vote that it’s absolutely unacceptable,” Fletcher-Hill told Schurick.
While dissecting our cities and morphing them into what appears to be a bowl of spaghetti, in redistricting efforts, is it any wonder why they’re accused of disenfranchising the black voters. Voter ID laws are touted as a means to stop voting fraud, yet there are no credible facts to back up this overused talking point. And now this.
My greatest focus that day was making sure that our supporters went to the polls,” he said. “That 90-second phone call destroyed any legacy I would have hoped to have left. … It was the wrong decision, but it was mine and mine alone.”
Schurick, who was convicted of fraud and conspiracy charges related to the robocalls, testified during trial that he rejected Henson’s black voter suppression strategy dubbed “The Schurick Doctrine” but later approved the robocall script. He said he didn’t know the authority line, which would have noted that the message came from Ehrlich’s campaign, would be left off. O’Malley handily won the rematch against Ehrlich, whom he had unseated in 2006.
Henson, the consultant, claims that the calls were not meant to suppress black voter turnout as was claimed but the call says otherwise:
”Hello. I’m calling to let everybody know that Governor O’Malley and President Obama have been successful. Our goals have been met. The polls were correct, and we took it back. We’re OK. Relax. Everything’s fine. The only thing left is to watch it on TV tonight. Congratulations, and thank you.”
The Obama Justice Department has concluded that legislation banning same-sex couples from receiving military and veterans benefits violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment and will no longer defend the statute in court, Attorney General Eric Holder wrote in a letter to Congressional leaders on Friday.
“The legislative record of these provisions contains no rationale for providing veterans’ benefits to opposite-sex couples of veterans but not to legally married same-sex spouses of veterans,” Holder wrote. “Neither the Department of Defense nor the Department of Veterans Affairs identified any justifications for that distinction that would warrant treating these provisions differently from Section 3 of DOMA.”
Holder said DOJ would no longer defend the provisions in Title 38 which prevent same-sex couples who are legally married from obtaining benefits. He said that Congress would be provided a “full and fair opportunity” to defend the statues in the McLaughlin v. Panetta case if they wished to do so.
As Holder writes, the benefits in question “include medical and dental benefits, basic housing allowances, travel and transportation allowances, family separation benefits, military identification cards, visitation rights in military hospitals, survivor benefits, and the right to be buried together in military cemetaries.”
When fallacious arguments are trumpeted in public discourse as gospel, one needs to correct the misinformation. So it is with the arguments of officials of the Catholic Church (and echoed by Republicans eager to score political points) about being forced to sacrifice their religious liberty and conscience to accommodate women who seek to obtain birth control under health insurance plans with no co-payments.
The claim that the Free Exercise Clause in the First Amendment affords Catholic organizations an exemption from being forced to cover women’s access to contraception is phony. But as with so many other outrageous claims these days — i.e., the Obama health care law targets the elderly for “death panels,” that Obama is an alien masquerading as an American citizen, and that he is a Muslim in disguise — there are people who will accept such moronic claims as truth.
Initially, let’s be clear about the health-care law. Churches, religious schools and missions have an exemption from the law; indeed, the Civil Rights Act gives such entities a broad exemption from all sorts of racial and religious discrimination. But the precise question is whether large religious organizations such as universities, hospitals and charities are required to cover the hundreds of thousands of female employees — including thousands of non-Catholic women, who seek birth control. At many Catholic universities, half the student body is non-Catholic. At Notre Dame, almost half the faculty is non-Catholic. How far should the power of the Catholic Church extend when it comes to a female employee’s access to contraception? The fact that 98 percent of Catholic women use birth control should answer that question. And let’s not forget that the church receives tons of taxpayer money to employ staff, educate students and provide health care. Can they realistically argue with a straight face that they should be allowed to take the money, but then use it to enforce a discredited religious dogma that undermines the health of women?
To be sure, the Free Exercise Clause — that majestic constitutional guarantee — protects a person’s right to think, believe and worship any way one wants to, and the government cannot meddle in faith, or prescribe what people should and should not believe. By the same token, government sometimes does things that indirectly infringe on religion and religious belief but are allowed for other overriding public interests. This is not unusual, and the examples are numerous. An old church wants to expand to accommodate more congregants, but it’s a landmark, and the city refuses a license; the Internal Revenue Service denies tax-exempt status to a religious university that engages in racial discrimination; Native Americans are denied unemployment benefits after being dismissed for using a sacramental narcotic substance in their church service; the Air Force forbids an officer from wearing a yarmulke while in uniform; prisoners are prevented from attending Muslim congregational services; a federal law denies conscientious objector status to persons objecting to “unjust wars.”
The Supreme Court has consistently upheld these and many other similar actions because a public policy is deemed sufficiently important to override claims of conscience and religious liberty. Moreover, there is no suggestion in any of these cases, or in the contraception controversy, that the government is hostile to religion, or particular religiousbeliefs. And there is no question that the administration’s policy serves an important, even compelling public interest — to protect the right of thousands of female employees to receive insurance coverage for birth control. The administration’s policy is not preventing anyone from practicing their faith freely. No woman is being required or prevented from using birth control. And the Catholic Church’s objection that its conscience is being violated by having to pay the insurance directly has been accommodated by the administration’s recent decision to allow insurance companies to pay the costs directly.
The freedom to worship and believe, or not to, without government interference, as Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson memorably observed, is the “fixed star in our constitutional constellation.” But conversely, this majestic guarantee does not give the Catholic Church, or any other religious body, the power to dictate religious dogma and try to coerce others to obey.
On Fox News Sunday, Republican Leader Eric Cantor falsely claims Republicans supported the payroll tax cut but wanted to pay for it. Cantor said, “we would have liked to have seen it [the payroll tax break extension] done in a way that we could actually reduce spending while at the same time affording this tax relief.”
In reality, House Republican leaders like Cantor have opposed the payroll tax cut since it was proposed. Additionally, Cantor and House Republicans were unwilling to pay for the payroll tax cut by ending tax breaks for Billionaires and Big Oil.
Eric Cantor and House Republicans have the wrong priorities. While Cantor claims he wanted the middle income payroll tax to be paid for, he has continually voted for Bush tax cuts for the top 1 percent that were unpaid for. The Washington Post found that those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires were one of the “biggest culprit[s], by far” in ballooning America’s debt.
Many Republicans Doubt the Economic Benefits of Extending the Payroll Tax Break. “Many Republicans doubt the economic benefit of a payroll tax cut, a foundation of Obama’s plan to create jobs. But as December’s battle unfolded, GOP leaders worried that they would suffer political damage from opposing the deeply popular tax cut, worth $1,000 annually to a family earning $50,000 a year.” [Associated Press, 1/18/12;DCCC, 12/6/12]
Republican Leader Eric Cantor “Has Never Believed” Extending the Payroll Tax Break Was the Best Way to Grow the Economy. According to his spokesman, Republican Leader Cantor “has never believed that this type of temporary tax relief is the best way to grow the economy.” [AP, 8/22/11]
Republican Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp Doesn’t Support Extending the Payroll Tax Cut. “I’m not in favor of that. I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Camp said of extending the payroll tax cut. “We need a more overarching approach to our tax policy,” Camp said, calling the payroll tax holiday “piecemeal.” [The Hill,8/14/11]
Republican Budget Chairman Paul Ryan Called Extending the Payroll Tax Cut “Sugar-High” Economics.House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan “rejected the idea of making further short-term changes to the payroll tax” and called payroll tax cuts “sugar-high economics.” [The Hill, 6/16/11]
NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions Called Extending the Payroll Tax Cut a “Horrible Idea.” According to the LA Times, “Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, who heads the House Republican campaign committee, called Obama’s plan ‘a horrible idea.’ He said GOP candidates would have no difficulty explaining to voters why they want to let the tax break expire.” [LA Times, 9/9/11]
House Republicans are Refusing to Budge on Payroll Tax Positions. According to Bloomberg News, “Congressional negotiators are refusing to budge from positions that could stall talks to extend a payroll tax cut through 2012. A House-Senate conference committee aimed at breaking the deadlock may meet as soon as Jan. 24. Democrats want to impose a tax on income exceeding $1 million and are warning Republicans against seeking to attach policy proposals that aren’t linked to the tax cut, such as loosening rules on industrial emissions. Republicans oppose the tax on high earners to pay for the extension, while insisting that the full $100 billion package must be offset.” [Bloomberg, 1/19/12]
The Republicans Face Defining Choice over Payroll Tax Cut. “Republicans, once again, face a defining choice less than a month before the payroll tax holiday expires. Should they extend the tax break for workers and blunt President Barack Obama’s campaign plan to tag them as a band of out-of-touch, intransigent do-nothings? Or should they stiffen their collective spine and end a tax cut that many of them consider fundamentally bad policy? It’s a dilemma that’s splitting the party and threatening to give leadership another bout of migraines.” [Politico, 2/5/12]
More Debt from Bush-era tax policies. “All told, Obama-era choices account for about $1.7 trillion in new debt, according to a separate Washington Post analysis of CBO data over the past decade. Bush-era policies, meanwhile, account for more than $7 trillion and are a major contributor to the trillion-dollar annual budget deficits that are dominating the political debate. […] The biggest culprit, by far, has been an erosion of tax revenue triggered largely by two recessions and multiple rounds of tax cuts. Together, the economy and the tax bills enacted under former president George W. Bush, and to a lesser extent by President Obama, wiped out $6.3 trillion in anticipated revenue.” [Washington Post, 4/30/11]
Here’s a good test case for how Dems will attack vulnerable House GOPers over Medicare this year — even though Politifact has declared the core Dem message that Republicans would “end Medicare” the “Lie of the Year.”
Stick with me here. This is important.
The other day, the House Majority PAC — which plans to raise and spend millions to elect Dems to the House — went up with a new adattacking Iowa GOP Rep. Tom Latham, who’s facing a tough challenge from Democrat Leonard Boswell in a newly redrawn, highly competitive district. The ad accused Latham of voting to “essentially end Medicare.”
The Republican then responded with his own ad citing the PolitiFact finding. It insisted that “independent fact checkers” call the attack in the earlier ad “the Lie of the Year.” This is something you can expect lots more of; the Politifact ruling is likely to be heavily featured in GOP ads across the country.
And so, the House Majority PAC is back with still another ad doubling down on the claim that the GOPer voted to “essentially end Medicare,” and asserting that the claim is 100 percent true:
Democratic operatives are closely monitoring this ad to see how it fares; they see it as a template for future spots to rebut the inevitable GOP ads citing the Politifact finding. The stakes are high: Paul Ryan will again push a version of his Medicare plan, and Dems will make attacks on it central in races across the country.
A side irony: The claim in the Dem ads that Republicans voted to “essentially end Medicare” was actually not declared the “Lie of the Year.” That was bestowed on the claim that GOPers voted to “end Medicare” — without the “essentially.” The claim that the Ryan plan would “essentially end Medicare” actually comes from the Wall Street Journal. Yet Republicans will likely continue to say that Politifact declared this a lie.
Meanwhile, the Republican spot above that cited the Politifact finding also accuses Democrats of being the only ones to cut Medicare, claiming $500 billion in cuts. As it happens, Politifact has declared that claim false.
Either way, the assertion that Republicans voted to end Medicare — or essentially end Medicare, or end Medicare as we know it — will live on.
Everyone knows that political candidates regularly distort the truth and misrepresent facts in their television spots. Actually they do it everywhere else, too, but this post is about ads. It’s hard to check the flow of these lies, in part because, under the law, broadcast stations cannot censor, edit or refuse ads by candidates for federal office.
Since Citizens United, an increasing number of ads—lying or otherwise—don’t come from the candidates directly. They come from super PACs: Third-party groups that support a candidate but, at least in theory, don’t coordinate with his campaign. In a previous post, I compared claiming that super PACs are truly independent to saying that Bulgaria didn’t coordinate with the Soviet Union. But that’s not fair. I think that exaggerates the connection between Bulgaria and the Kremlin.
This is hardly a positive development for our republic. But the silver-lining is that, as the Annenberg Public Policy Center explains on their fact-check site, independent groups are not guaranteed the same access to airwaves as candidates for federal office. TV stations have every right to reject third-party ads.
Broadcasters are not exactly printing money these days, so expecting them to turn down money from the super PACs is like expecting the politicians to turn it down.
Instead of rejecting an ad outright, however, they can take a more modest step: They can insist on edits for the sake of accuracy. Shocking, right?
The Annenberg Center explains this all in a short ad on their site, using two examples – a Mitt Romney super PAC spot that falsely attacks Newt Gingrich over abortion and another that lies about his record as Speaker of the House. (I’m puzzled why the Romney camp chooses to distort Mr. Gingrich’s record. It’s not like there is a lack of material there.)
Several Ohio TV stations have aired these ads without alteration. I don’t know if that’s because the people who run those stations don’t know they have the right to demand accuracy, or don’t care.
Let’s hope it’s the former; all the more reason to help get the word out about broadcasters’ rights.
TPM: New GOP message? Mitch Daniels: “This Is The Worst Recovery Ever” [I think this will be important.]
As the economy slowly improves, the GOP’s effort to recalibrate its message for the 2012 elections continued Sunday as rising star and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels took to arguing that the recovery is too slow and the economy remains “pathetically weak.”
“Let’s not kid ourselves: this is the worst recovery ever from a serious recession, and history says the deeper the down, the sharper the up,” Daniels said on CNN’s State of the Union. “It should have been a very vigorous one. Hasn’t been.”
Daniels fleshed out his argument some more.
“The percentage of people actually working in America,” he said, “is the lowest since the days of the stay-at-home mom. And so, you know, let’s hope for better times. But this is a really pathetically weak economy, with storm clouds in Europe, storm clouds in oil prices. And I consider it very unlikely that President Obama will have anything but a big negative in terms of the biggest issues of all when the fall gets here.”
Until recently the GOP planned to center its 2012 message on blaming President Obama for a sluggish economy. But recent indicators suggest the recovery is taking hold more quickly than was expected. That complicates the party’s strategy. So over the last few weeks Republicans have been testing alternate messages.
One of them, floated recently by Mitt Romney surrogate and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, is that the GOP is responsible for the improvements, not President Obama. “Look, I’m glad the economy is starting to recover, but I think it’s because of what Republican governors are doing in their states, not because of the president,” he said two weeks ago.
The two messages are different in that one of them embraces the fact that the economy is improving while the other one downplays it. And that gets to the heart of the GOP’s strategic dilemma: good economic news would boost President Obama’s odds of reelection, and they can’t openly root for bad economic news. So, how do they deal with it?
If Daniels’ remarks are indication, the message might become “things could be a lot better.”
The People’s View:
Sam Stein in the Huffington Post summarizing a new book by Noam Scheiber of the New Republic:
Chief among the examples of the administration’s failures is the stimulus itself. When Summers made the final presentation to the president’s then-chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Scheiber writes, “It reflected what he deemed the best course that was politically feasible … Yet because Emanuel and the president assumed Summers was largely giving them [economic advice], they believed they were closer to the ideal than they actually were.” (quoted by Delong so I do not have to link to sleazy Huffington Post).
According to Stein, according to Scheiber, Summers overruled the advice of Presidential adviser Christina Romer. For a different perspective, however, we could look at what, um, Christina Romer actually says:
In retrospect, it would have been good if the Recovery Act had been even larger. But as it was, it was the largest countercyclical fiscal stimulus in American history – not just in dollar terms, but relative to the size of the economy[ my bold, R] As we’ve gotten more evidence about how it has worked, it is clear that it was immensely helpful. The Recovery Act is part of the reason why, despite the terrible shocks that hit the American economy in 2008, this recession, as bad as it was, wasn’t a second Great Depression. The policy response was much more effective and much more aggressive than it was in the early thirties.
What, even more aggressive than what the sainted FDR did? To make matters more pathetic, Stein writes:
Scheiber writes…. [W]hen the final document was ultimately laid out for the president, even the $1.2 trillion figure wasn’t included. Summers thought it was still politically impractical.
Sadly for these fake journalists, the actual memo itself has leaked , and was published by a real journalist in the New Yorker, a it’s quite a sensible document, but does include a list of recommendations from other sources including this line
Robert Reich believes it should be $1.2 trillion over two years, but also indicated it could
And it’s worth noting that these people who are still whining about the size of the stimulus somehow neglect to explain how a bill that passed by ONE VOTE could have been made larger and still passed. Because none of these people care about reality.
[…] False assertions
And such are the network’s standards that, beyond the idle speculation, assertions capable of being debunked with no more than 30 spare seconds and an Internet connection are presented as fact. Univision news anchor María Elena Salinas, for instance, states in the programme that, “In November of 2011, the International Atomic Energy Agency indicated that Iran is in fact developing a nuclear weapon as part of a covert military operation.”
The agency’s actual report, of course, declares no such thing, instead noting “concerns” about “possible” military dimensions to Iran’s declared, civilian nuclear energy programme while nevertheless unambiguously stating that it “continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material” in the country.
But the report is not without its moments. Those who appreciate dark, funny-if-these-people-didn’t-have-power comedy will appreciate the segment where Salinas presents the head of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, far-right Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, as an authoritative expert on Latin America. And they’ll laugh out loud when the congresswoman’s efforts to stir the American public into a jingoistic rage ends with her suggesting, amazingly, that Iran just may well bomb the very countries she regularly accuses of being in Tehran’s pocket.
“Are we going to wait for a bomb to explode in Buenos Aires again? Or in Managua? Or in La Paz?” Ros-Lehtinen says in Spanish, the last two cities being the capitals of Nicaragua and Bolivia, which Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad just visited on a diplomatic trip she herself dubbed a “tour of tyrants” during a recent congressional hearing.
But consistency, facts – they are silly, tiresome things. And they are of little import in Washington, where scary portrayals of messianic Muslims armed with WMDs have long trumped boringly rational assessments of the world. And those attending the Hudson Institute screener, certainly, were clearly ecstatic to hear their own factually challenged rhetoric rebroadcast under the auspices of objective journalism.
“If there are still scholars, journalists and policymakers who remain skeptical, Univision’s extraordinary documentary should erase all doubt,” declared Hudson’s Jaime Daremblum, the US ambassador to Costa Rica under George W Bush who is on record declaring Iran’s dealings with the likes of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua stem from a “messianic” desire to attack the United States and its interests. The report, Daremblum said, “persuasively shows that Iranian activities represent a major threat to hemispheric security”.
Douglas Farah, a terrorism “expert” who once claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood had “made tremendous strides in occupying positions of influence within the Obama administration”, was equally gushing in his praise for the report, to which he and a host of other usual suspects on the right contributed. During the panel discussion following the screening, he explained he was so impressed with the original Spanish-language report that he lobbied for an English version to present to Washington’s policymakers.
“When I saw the final product, I thought it was important to bring that to a broader audience,” said Farah. “The Univision audience is largely the Latin American community, and in Spanish, and it was not as broadly circulated in Washington policy circles as I felt it should be. And so I approached Jaime about the possibility of hosting something here.”
Neither Farah, the Hudson Institute nor Univision responded to several requests for comment. But then, you don’t really need a comment from a spokesperson to understand what’s going on here.
CNN contributor and Andrew Breitbart blogger Dana Loesch, however, sees no problem with a law that effectively legalizes state-sponsored rape, saying the procedure is no different than penetration that occurred during consensual intercourse that “resulted in the pregnancy,” as Little Green Footballs reported:
LOESCH: That’s the big thing that progressives are trying to say, that it’s rape and so on and so forth. […] There were individuals saying, “Oh what about the Virginia rape? The rapes that, the forced rapes of women who are pregnant?” What? Wait a minute, they had no problem having similar to a trans-vaginal procedure when they engaged in the act that resulted in their pregnancy.
Prominent U.S. conservatives want the Obama administration to “take immediate action” against the Syrian regime, including “no-go zones” for President Bashar al-Assad’s military and “self-defense aid” to resistance forces.
Fifty-six foreign policy experts and former U.S. government officials signed a letter dated Friday calling for proactive U.S.-led steps against the government. It comes as Syrian citizens and activists plead for world powers to help stop the government’s bloody crackdown.
They include Karl Rove, the former Bush administration adviser; Paul Bremer, in charge of the U.S. occupation in Iraq after the 2003 invasion; R. James Woolsey, former CIA chief; Robert McFarlane, former Reagan national security adviser, and Dan Senor, a former Bremer adviser and spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.
The letter can be found on the Foreign Policy Initiative website.
“We believe that the United States cannot continue to defer its strategic and moral responsibilities in Syria to regional actors such as the Arab League or to wait for consent from the Assad regime’s protectors, Russia and China,” the letter said.
Russia and China have vetoed strong action against the al-Assad regime at the U.N. Security Council.
The letter calls for Syrian safe zones and no-go zones for al-Assad’s forces around “Homs, Idlib, and other threatened areas, in order to protect Syrian civilians.”
“The United States should work with like-minded countries like Turkey and members of the Arab League in these efforts,” the letter said.
The group wants to “establish contacts” with the Free Syrian Army, the fledgling resistance force of military defectors. It called for a “full range of direct assistance, including self-defense aid to the FSA” and wants to do so with Middle East and European allies.
The letter calls for improving “U.S. coordination with the political opposition groups” and to “provide them with secure communications technologies and other assistance that will help to improve their ability to prepare for a post-Assad Syria.”
It wants the administration to work with lawmakers to impose “crippling U.S. and multilateral sanctions” on the Syrian government, specifically the energy, banking and shipping sectors.
The letter cites the Syrian government’s bloody siege in the city of Homs, and says the regime “poses a grave threat to national security interests.”
One Syrian activist group, the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, says more than 8,500 people have died in the unrest, now in its 12th month.
It notes that Syria has maintained “a strategic partnership with the terror-sponsoring government of Iran, as well as with Hamas and Hezbollah” and it has “facilitated the entry of foreign fighters into Iraq, who killed U.S. troops.”
It says foreign powers intervened in support of the al-Assad regime, citing Russia’s supply of arms and supplies, and reports of Iran and Hezbollah operating in Syria.
“The lack of resolve and actions by the responsible members of the international community is only further emboldening the Assad regime,” the letter said.
“Unless the United States takes the lead and acts, either individually or in concert with like-minded nations, thousands of additional Syrian civilians will likely die, and the emerging civil war in Syria will likely ignite wider instability in the Middle East.”
The United States, the European Union, the Arab League and Turkey have initiated a range of sanctions against Syria.
The Obama administration has also denounced al-Assad’s regime
“Assad has no right to lead Syria, and has lost all legitimacy with his people and the international community,” Obama said February 4.
“A Syria without Assad could be a Syria in which all Syrians are subject to the rule of law and where minorities are able to exercise their legitimate rights and uphold their identities and traditions while acting as fully enfranchised citizens in a unified republic.”
Despite a General Assembly non-binding resolution endorsing an Arab League plan for al-Assad to step down, world powers haven’t been able to stop the bloodshed.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Friday said the United States has not been “deterred” by Security Council vetoes and is moving forward with a group called the Friends of Syria, a coalition of Arab, Western and others countries.
The group, which will meet Friday in Tunisia, was formed after Russia and China stood in the way of a Security Council measure to deal with Syria.
“We are doing all we can to determine ways forward, to strengthen the opposition, to help them convey to the entire Syrian population that they are seeking an inclusive, peaceful, democratic transition,” Clinton said.
Victoria Nuland, State Department spokeswoman, said Friday that the president doesn’t rule out “any option.”
“That said, we do not think that more guns into Syria … or international intervention in Syria is the right answer. We don’t think further militarizing the situation is going to bring peace and stability and a democratic transition to the people of Syria,” she said.
“We are instead focused on strengthening and unifying the opposition so that it is prepared and ready for that day when Assad cedes power, which he will eventually, so that the Arab League proposal or something like it can be implemented. And we’re in the short term very focused on strengthening our humanitarian support to those suffering in Syria.”
The following press release announces the settlement between ILWU Local 21 and the Export Grain Terminal (EGT).This announcement marks a significant victory for the labor movement in the US.
Longview, WA – On Friday, members of the ILWU and the labor community named the Occupy Movement as key to the settlement reached Thursday between ILWU Local 21 and the Export Grain Terminal (EGT). The contract finally provides for the use of ILWU labor in the grain terminal at the Port of Longview. After staging the December 12 port shutdowns in solidarity with Local 21, the West Coast Occupy Movement planned coordinated action together with labor allies for a land and water blockade of the EGT ship in Longview, should it attempt to use scab labor to load. Occupys in states where EGT’s parent company, Bunge, has its growth and operations were also planning actions against the company on the day of the arrival of the ship.
“This is a victory for Occupy in their involvement in forcing negotiations. Make no mistake – the solidarity and organization between the Occupy Movement and the Longshoremen won this contract,” said Jack Mulcahy, ILWU officer with Local 8. “The mobilization of the Occupy Movement across the country, particularly in Oakland, Portland, Seattle, and Longview were a critical element in bringing EGT to the bargaining table and forcing a settlement with ILWU local 21.”
“West Coast Occupys had already demonstrated their ability to stage such a blockade by shutting down ports along the West Coast on December 12th, as well as the Port of Oakland on November 2nd,” said Anthony Leviege, ILWU Local 10 in Oakland. The Occupy Movement shut down ports in order to express solidarity with port truckers and Local 21, as well as responding to a nationally-coordinated eviction campaign against Occupy.
In our new “In the Vault” segment, we just aired a rather sarcastic clip from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1936 address to the Democratic State Convention in Syracuse, NY:
Let me warn you and let me warn the Nation against the smooth evasion which says, “Of course we believe all these things; we believe in social security; we believe in work for the unemployed; we believe in saving homes. Cross our hearts and hope to die, we believe in all these things; but we do not like the way the present Administration is doing them. Just turn them over to us. We will do all of them- we will do more of them we will do them better; and, most important of all, the doing of them will not cost anybody anything.”
Some things change, and then there’s politics. Melissa added on air that Democrats might want to make use of this, since this applies to today’s Republican Party:
Democrats take note: with delivery like that, is there any wonder he was elected four times? At the convention this summer in Charlotte, North Carolina, maybe give the speech-writers the day off, play the FDR clip on the big screen, and President Obama can just say: “Yeah, what he said.”
Senators Al Franken and Check Schumer are pursuing an investigation into the new array of 501(c)(4) political nonprofits that are raising and spending hundreds of millions of dollars in elections.
The letter came amid rising concerns that nonprofit groups are acting primarily as political vehicles after the Supreme Court’s January 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (FEC) allowed them to spend money on express advocacy of candidates, which was previously banned.
Because of their nonprofit status, these groups do not have to disclose donors, making them appealing vehicles for secret political donations in recent years. Social welfare nonprofits, organized under section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, have tax-exempt status as long as their primary purpose is social welfare causes.
While the media has obsessed over Super PACs, the unlimited spending vehicles enabled by the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, these entities at least disclose their donors. Groups organized as nonprofits, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Crossroads GPS, Americans for Prosperity, the Sierra Club, and others have no obligation to disclose their donors, and can also spending unlimited amounts of corporate money in elections. View a copy of the letter from Senators calling for an investigation [HERE].
Timothy Egan, NYT:
In barely a century’s time, the population of the United States has more than tripled, to 313 million. We are a clattering, opinionated cluster of nearly all the world’s races and religions, and many of its languages, under one flag.
You would not know any of this looking at who is voting in one of the strangest presidential primary campaigns in history. There is no other way to put this without resorting to demographic bluntness: the small fraction of Americans who are trying to pick the Republican nominee are old, white, uniformly Christian and unrepresentative of the nation at large.
None of that is a surprise. But when you look at the numbers, it’s stunning how little this Republican primary electorate resembles the rest of the United States. They are much closer to the population of 1890 than of 2012.
Given the level of media attention, we know an election of great significance is happening on the Republican side. But it’s occurring in a different place, guided by talk-radio extremists and religious zealots, with only a vague resemblance to the states where it has taken place. From this small world have emerged a host of nutty, retrograde positions, unpopular with the vast American majority.
But before getting into how this minority has steered the party into a corner, let’s look at the size of the electorate. The nine states that have held caucuses or primaries to date are home to roughly 28 million total registered voters, of all political persuasions.
So far, three million voters have participated in the Republican races, less than the population of Connecticut. This means that 89 percent of all registered voters in those states have not participated in what is, from a horse-race perspective, a very tight contest.
Yes, we know Republicans don’t like their choices; it’s a meh primary. But still, in some states, this election could be happening in a ghost town. Less than 1 percent of registered voters turned out for Maine’s caucus. In Nevada, where Republican turnout was down 25 percent from 2008, only 3 percent of total registered voters participated.
This is not majority rule by any measure; it barely qualifies as participatory democracy.
Results from the two populous states that have held big, media-saturated primaries, and are more likely to attract average voters, are also very revealing. In Florida, the largest and most diverse state among the nine, turnout was down 14 percent from 2008. And 84 percent of the state’s total registered voters did not participate in the Republican contest.
South Carolina is the major outlier this year, the only state to show a big increase in turnout, up 35 percent from 2008. But when you look at who voted, you see a very specific niche.
In the Palmetto State, 98 percent of primary voters were white, 72 percent were age 45 or older and nearly two-thirds were evangelical Christian, according to exit polls. From this picture, you may think South Carolina is an all-white, aging state, full of fervent churchgoers. But the Census says the state is only 66 percent white, with a median age of 36. Exit polls from 2008 put the evangelical vote at 40 percent of total.
Florida was at least closer — only in the Latino vote — to the general election of 2008; in both cases, it was about 14 percent of the total. But voters 45 or older made up 78 percent of the primary, versus 59 percent in the general matchup four years ago.
Outside of Florida, this contest has been nearly an all-white affair. Nevada is 26 percent Latino by population; in the primary, only 5 percent were Latino. Caucus voters in Iowa were 99 percent white.
Again, these numbers represent a small echo chamber. Whites are 63.7 percent of the total population of the United States; in 1900, they were 88 percent — still more diverse than Republican primary voters today.
The takeaway point of this poorly attended, unrepresentative Republican primary contest is not to focus entirely on who is voting but on why the candidates are taking such fringe positions. One explains the other.
Thus, the New York Times poll of this week found that all voters, by a 66 to 26 ratio, support the federal requirement that private health care plans cover the full cost of birth control for female patients. Among women, support is 72-20. And with Catholics, it’s 67-25. Yes, Catholics are slightly more liberal than the population at large.
Other polls show a huge majority of Americans want to raise taxes on the rich, favor the planned withdrawal from Afghanistan and believe the earth is warming because of human action.
Yet the Republican front-runner of the moment, Rick Santorum, is with the minority on each of these issues, and Mitt Romney is a near match.
So, given how out of sync these two candidate are with the rest of the country, how could they be the front-runners? It’s simple: Look at who is voting, a nation unto itself.
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said he takes the president at his word that he’s a Christian, but said Barack Obama’s “world view” is different than that of most Americans.
Santorum commented in Ohio Saturday that the president believes in “some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology.”
Asked to clarify his statements on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” Sunday, Santorum said that he was referring not to the president’s faith but to environmentalism.
“Well, I was talking about the radical environmentalists,” he told Schieffer. “That’s what I was talking about: Energy, this idea that man is here to serve the Earth, as opposed to husband its resources and be good stewards of the Earth. And I think that is a phony ideal. I don’t believe that that’s what we’re here to do – that man is here to use the resources and use them wisely, to care for the Earth, to be a steward of the Earth, but we’re not here to serve the Earth.
“The Earth is not the objective,” Santorum said. “Man is the objective. I think a lot of radical environmentalists have it upside-down.”
But Schieffer pressed Santorum, saying that by using the term theology it sounded like he was questioning the president’s religion.
“I wasn’t suggesting the president’s not a Christian. I accept the fact that the president is a Christian,” Santorum said, looking agitated. “I just said that when you have a worldview that elevates the Earth above man and says that we can’t take those resources because we’re going to harm the Earth; by things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, for example, the politicization of the whole global warming debate – this is all an attempt to, you know, to centralize power and to give more power to the government.
“It’s not questioning the president’s beliefs in Christianity. I’m talking about the belief that man should be in charge of the Earth and have dominion over it and should be good stewards of it.
“I’ve repeatedly said that I believe the president is a Christian. He says he is a Christian. But I am talking about his worldview or the way he approaches problems in this country and I think they’re different than how most people do in America.”
[Please see original for links.]
Back in 2008, Rick Santorum traveled to Ave Maria University in Florida to deliver an address to students attending the Catholic university founded by Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan which he moved from Michigan as part of his effort to build his own personal theocracy in Naples.
Santorum told the students at Ave Maria how lucky they were to be living in a time when God’s Army is more needed than ever because all of the major institutions in society were under attack by Satan.
The audio of Santorum’s remarks is still posted on the Ave Maria website and the bulk of his speech was dedicated to explaining how God had used him, his political career, and even the death of his son Gabrielin the fight to outlaw abortion in America.
But Santorum began his remarks by explaining to the students in attendance how every institution in America has been destroyed by Satan; from academia to politics with even the church having fallen under His sway – not the Catholic church, of course, but “mainline Protestantism” which is in such “shambles” that it is not even Christian any longer:
“This is a spiritual war. And the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country – the United States of America. If you were Satan, who would you attack in this day and age. There is no one else to go after other than the United States and that has been the case now for almost two hundred years, once America’s preeminence was sown by our great Founding Fathers.
He didn’t have much success in the early days. Our foundation was very strong, in fact, is very strong. But over time, that great, acidic quality of time corrodes even the strongest foundations. And Satan has done so by attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity, and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition.
He was successful.”
[…] At a campaign event in Ohio over the weekend, Santorum told a cheering crowd that Obama is governing from a “phony theology.”
“This is what the president’s agenda is,” said Santorum at a Tea Party event on Saturday. “It’s not about you. It’s not about you. It’s not about your quality of life. It’s not about your jobs. It’s about some phony ideal, some phony theology. Oh, not a theology based on the Bible — different theology — but no less a theology.”
On Sunday, former Obama spokesman and now campaign advisor Robert Gibbs said Santorum’s comments were a prime example of how low the Republican race for the White House has gotten, mired in negativity.
“If you make comments like that, you make comments that are well over the line,” said Gibbs to ABC’s This Week host Jake Tapper. “I think this GOP primary, in many cases, Jake, has been a race to the bottom. We have seen nastiness, divisiveness, ugliness, distortions of opponents’ records, of the president’s records.”
Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum effectively disqualified himself from the office of the presidency today. Speaking in Ohio, Santorum revealed his inability to govern a pluralistic society. The truth emerged in the context of an attack on President Barack Obama, whose agenda he claimed is “about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Not a theologybased on the Bible. A different theology,” according to the Associated Press.
For a man running for president to suggest governmental policy should be based on the Bible raises a red flag that proves his unfitness for the job. Santorum calling non-Bible-based religion phony tells voters he will only represent Christians. The U.S. is not a theologically defined society but one governed by a Constitution, whose First Amendment precludes government establishment of religion. The government cannot base public policy on the Christian Bible without running afoul of this governing principle.
“One of the things that you don’t know about ObamaCare in one of the mandates is they require free prenatal testing,” Santorum began telling about 400 people here. “Why? Because free prenatal testing ends up in more abortions and, therefore, less care that has to be done, because we cull the ranks of the disabled in our society. That too is part of ObamaCare — another hidden message as to what president Obama thinks of those who are less able than the elites who want to govern our country.”
The Political Carnival:
This pro-forced birth proponent is downright scary. Women, get ready to unite big time, because I’m doing what I can to work on that very plan with people who can make it happen.
“I didn’t say prenatal care shouldn’t be covered. We’re talking about specifically prenatal testing and specifically amniocentesis, which is a… procedure that creates a risk of miscarriage when you have it and is done for the purposes of identifying maladies of a child in the womb, which in many cases, in fact, most cases, physicians recommend, particularly if there’s a problem, recommend abortion.”
Santorum also stated that women should not be “forced” to undergo every single test. Does that include rape ultrasounds, Ricky? No, no sadly it doesn’t.
Presidential candidate Rick Santorum wants to call the shots, he wants women to hand over control over their own bodies and minds to him and people who think like him. People like me should know our place, right Ricky?
Heaven forbid decisions be made by those whose bodies are actually, you know, affected. Nope, men like Santorum want to force their will on others (this is their version of “small government”), men like him and like those on that farce of a Issa contraception hearing panel.
This all despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled that access to contraception was covered by the constitutional right to privacy in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965). And then there’s that pesky Roe v. Wade thing that they use the way, well, the way conservative males use women.
“If you want a fiscal conservative, you can’t vote for Rick Santorum, because he’s not,” Romney told the crowd. “He’s not a deficit hawk – he says he’s not a deficit hawk. I am, I’m a fiscal conservative.”
Romney acknowledged Santorum’s rise in the polls, saying it’s a “very good thing” that Santorum is “getting his moment in the spotlight now” so people can take a closer look at his record.
He said the federal government doubled in size while Santorum was in office, also noting that Santorum “voted to raise the debt ceiling five different times” and “voted for billions of dollars of earmarks, including the Bridge to Nowhere.”
On the surface, this is a laughable comment. Rick Santorum, thanks in large part to his “blah” rhetorical style, is hardly anyone’s idea of a liberal. And conservatives are defending him on the merits against Mitt Romney’s attack—there’s no question but that it’s a lame one.
Lame though it may be, however, don’t forget that this is yet another example of how Mitt Romney has positioned himself on the far right of issue after issue during the campaign. Sure, he’s been awkward as hell doing it—like when he labeled himself “severely conservative”—but that doesn’t change the fact that he’s repeatedly attacked his rivals as being too liberal. Some examples: Rick Perry on immigration, Newt Gingrich on Paul Ryan’s plan, Gingrich on taxpayer funding for abortion, Rick Santorum on funding for Planned Parenthood, and Santorum again on fiscal policy. Earlier in the debate season, Romney came out against raising the debt limit—in favor of extending the hostage crisis—while even Rick Santorum said blocking the debt ceiling increase wasn’t an option.
I think there’s a tendency on the part of political observers, especially in the media, to cut Romney some slack on his march to the right; because of Romneycare, there’s a sense that he isn’t really as conservative as he says he is. But there’s really no way to know if that’s true, and even if it is true, wouldn’t it mean that Romney is lying—and shouldn’t that be an indictment of Romney’s character? The reality is that with the narrow exception of his criticism of Rick Perry on Social Security and his rejection of Newt Gingrich’s proposed elimination of the capital gains tax, Mitt Romney on virtually every single issue of Federal policy has staked out the most conservative position of any of the candidates running.
Again, Romney might not believe a word he’s saying. But that doesn’t change the fact that he’s positioned himself as a right-wing candidate. And if he wins the nomination, it will be very important to hold him accountable for taking the positions he was forced to embrace to satisfy his political ambitions.
Women of America, I hereby apologize for the members of my sex from whom we’ve been hearing so much recently. What in the world is going on with these men? For a bunch of people who purport to be advancing allegedly “moral” positions, they are in fact the amoralists of our democracy. Their positions on contraception and sex, their “jokes” about aspirin between the knees, and now this utterly depraved Virginia ultrasound legislation that is apparently about to become law—we have now moved well beyond the realm ofpolitics and into the dark and unchecked id of the contemporary right.
We’ve seen this on many other fronts from conservatives in recent years. Nutty as they’ve become, though, it’s one thing to dig in your heels on taxes and budgetary matters and stimulus bills and assistance to underwater homeowners. Their positions on all those matters are intransigent, extreme, and in most cases out of step with majority opinion in this country. And their positions on all those matters are driven in no small part by hatred of Barack Obama. But as extreme as they are on those matters and others, debates overthem still feel on some level like normal (normal having been radically redefined these past couple of years) arguments about politics.
But these last two weeks have been off the charts. Yes, the original Obama administration regulation on contraceptive services was a topic for legitimate debate. We had that debate. The administration changed its position. Some people were happy. Others weren’t. Usually that would have been the end of it, especially when opponents saw the polls that Americans of virtually every stripe, including 57 percent of Catholic voters, supported the Obama compromise position. Opponents with functioning egos and super-egos would at this point have skulked away—free, obviously, to rouse as much rabble as they could in this free society in an attempt to change minds, but aware that they’d lost for now under the generally agreed-upon rules of democracy.
But what happened instead? That’s when things were just really getting started. We got those two bills from GOP Sens. Marco Rubio and Roy Blunt. Rubio’s would allow any employer to disallow contraceptive coverage for religious or moral reasons. Not angry enough? Then the well-named Blunt is for you! His would allow any employer to refuse to cover any kind of health care at odds with his or her beliefs. These constitute the shark-jumping moments. It wasn’t enough simply to try to restore the status quo ante. It became instead an excuse to push us—no, not “us”; women—back in time 30 or 40 years. And on Wednesday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops endorsed the Blunt bill.
(By the way, it’s worth noting here, on the question of the bishops’ moral authority over the rest of us, the fact that jury selection begins next week in the Philadelphia trial of Monsignor William Lynn, who is believed to have turned a blind eye to many child-abuse allegations within his diocese and is charged with criminally endangering two young men who were raped when they were children by looking the other way. After seven years and some horrifying allegations, Lynn, according to NPR, is the first senior church official to face a trial. Lynnsanity indeed.)
And now, in a piece of fateful timing, the commonwealth of Virginia is about to pass a law that would require a woman contemplatingan abortion to view an ultrasound of her fetus. Most abortions occur in the first 12 weeks. The best way to get such an image in those 12 weeks? A probe inserted into the vagina. So most women who’ve scheduled an abortion in Virginia will be penetrated for no medical reason. A sort of “conscience clause”—those clauses so popular on the right when they are drawn to permit pharmacists not to give women birth control—that would have required patient consent or allowed the doctor to refuse to perform this procedure wasintroduced. And it was defeated by a 2–1 margin. Read this simply unbelievable report from Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick. And in case youdidn’t yet, read my colleague Michelle Goldberg’s piece on the “personhood” bill Oklahoma is about to pass into law, which amongother features could result in the proscription of in-vitro fertilization, often the last hope of people desperate to become parents.
This isn’t politics. It’s not even theology—they lost that card with the Rubio and Blunt bills, which go far beyond religion precisely defined. And it’s most certainly not morality. It’s quite the opposite of morality. It’s a consequence of a mindset that equates compromise with capitulation, that insists on purity, that attempts to abuse the tools of democracy to secure anti-democratic outcomes, and that is driven by rage against modernity. And it’s hardly an accident that all these forces come together to assume their foulest shape against women. I’ve been thinking lately about what our society might be like if the situation were somehow reversed: if the penis were a similar battleground, and if it was mostly blue-haired women deciding how men could and could not use theirs. I have a hunch that many of these same men would suddenly see the case for bodily autonomy and the exercise of individual conscience.
The Republicans are obviously hurting themselves. No, they didn’t waltz into a trap laid by Obama. Believe me, this White House isn’t that good. They waltzed into their own trap—a trap set by their own collective hysterical mind. It will hurt them at the polls nationally, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to inflict a lot of damage on a lot of people along the way.
It’s too early to say who will win in November. But Republicans increasingly seem to think it won’t be them.
The headline spoiled the column. James Pethokoukis, the chart-loving opinion-maker at the American Enterprise Institute, started with a warning: “How Republicans can win even if the economy keeps improving.”
How they can win? Had Pethokoukis lost the rights to his old pieces like “Obama Faces Worst-Case 2012 Scenario” and “If Obama Loses, It Will Be Because of This One Chart?” All of a sudden he was drawing up Republican battle plans based on contingencies, concludingthat the party “just might” win if everything remains stagnant.
We’re living through the phony war of the Republican primary. Barack Obama’s buoyant poll numbers aren’t surprising anyone. The bigger worry is that Obama will get to preside over a solid economy. Republicans will re-enact the Bob Dole juggernaut of 1996. That’s not how this was supposed to work.
Is the New Republican Pessimism widespread? That’s the tricky part: There are different flavors of pessimism. In this period, a lull that happens to feature good economic news and good Obama poll numbers, there are four identifiable sorts of pessimism. All of them were present at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, the kickoff of the movement’s year. Not since 2008 had the event been so moody.
You can make the case that this is healthy, even desirable. “Obama has always been likely to win a second term, as most incumbents running for re-election do,” says Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor of National Review who has been shouting about this for a year. “Conservatives were too optimistic about defeating him for much of 2011 and are now, I think, a bit too pessimistic.”
But the pessimism is there, and growing. To simplify matters, I will break it down into four strata, using the defense readiness condition that the Joint Chiefs of Staff use when they’re girding for war.
DEFCON 4: Everybody else is a pessimist. The cocktail chatter of the right this month has been the surprising resilience of Barack Obama, mixed with the unsurprising insistence of Republican voters to drag the race out to Berlin Alexandrplatz proportions. OnInTrade—which doesn’t mean much, although the Romney campaign recently cited it as proof that it will beat Santorum—Obama’s chance of victory has floated up to 60 percent. “The Twitterization of politics,” says Commentary editor-in-chief John Podhoretz, “really is leading people to overreact.”
Podhoretz calls the New Pessimism a “classic fallacy,” easily explained. “A few good bits of news in February combined with GOP campaign nonsense will only be indicative of the results in November if those few good bits are followed by almost uninterrupted good economic news and if GOP campaign nonsense is never-ending. Neither is likely to be the case, and the crowing in certain liberal quarters is beyond foolish.”
Ed Morrissey, the chief blogger of HotAir.com—he’s endorsed Rick Santorum—gives the new pessimism little credence: It’s bitter pregame whining. “I’m hearing it from the people who were Rick Perry backers, Newt backers, Romney backers. I’m hearing pessimism of the type you get when your guy is not winning.”
DEFCON 3: The economy is improving, but we can overcome that. In his CPAC speech, the official kickoff of the conference, Sen. Jim DeMint acknowledged that the economy was getting better. The president—that fink!—was trying to grab “every piece of credit.” One week later, on the Michigan trail, Rick Santorum admitted that “there are good things happening all across the upper Midwest. That day, a Public Policy Polling survey showed President Obama leading any Republican in Michigan.
The fear, as several conservative activists put it to me at CPAC, was that Republicans had been too successful—they’d started to turn the country around, and the president would get the credit. Republicans elected new, austerity-centric governors in Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Florida. A turnaround would be good for them, but they aren’t on the ballot in 2012.
“If the economy picks up it’s harder, no doubt,” says Jennifer Rubin, author of the Right Turn blog at the Washington Post. “But I do think the funk is overdone. Perhaps this alleviates [Republican voters] from considering electability. If you’re going to lose, you can vote with your heart and not your head.”
DEFCON 2: We are blowing it. Some of the New Pessimists have been worrying about this election for months. They tried to draft Chris Christie. They tried to draft Paul Ryan. Bill Kristol’s column space in the Weekly Standard became the world’s sloppiest campaign launchpad—none of these guys ever took off.
“I think the base of the party, the conservative ‘Reagan’ base, is disappointed and dismayed because they don’t feel any of the candidates have all of the ‘elements’ needed to win,” says Christopher Ruddy, the CEO of the Newsmax network. “Mitt has money and organization but no charisma with the base. Newt has charisma, but little organization and possible money. Santorum connects to one part of the base and it will be a challenge for him all around.”
Some would-be party reformers agree with this, and it kills them. “I’d say the chances that President Obama will be reelected are better than 50-50,” says Reihan Salam, aNational Review writer and policy analyst. “And I think that the nature of the primary race has made his reelection prospects much brighter. Santorum, in particular, is a candidate who, leaving aside the question of his substantive virtues or drawbacks, is a lightning rod for Postmoderns, media professionals, and many other influential people who will sway the way others vote.”
In the base’s version of theory—nicely calibrated to a possible November disaster—the election was never really winnable, and the movement will be able to blame the establishment if Obama wins again. It’s not just the base that feels this way. “I just got back from speaking to Federalist Society members at the University of Houston law school,” says Ponnuru. “When one of them asked, I said Obama has the edge. He didn’t tell me I was crazy. Nobody has, lately—at least on that subject.”
DEFCON 1: We are doomed. The darkest of the New Pessimists say that the election was decided four years ago. Obama’s policies were designed to kick in and goose the economy around this time; the payroll tax cut—just extended this week—is the last of the goosing.
“The lack of a clear, compelling, and truly alternative vision of governance from Romney will doom him against Obama,” says Nick Gillespie, editor of the libertarian hub Reason.com. (Disclosure time: I am a contributing editor of Reason magazine.) “Note: I’m not talking about charisma—I’m talking about vision: what would the country be like under a President Romney? We all know that it would basically be the same as the one we’re in now, alas. Of the Republican candidates still around, only Ron Paul offers a clear alternative to both the Democratic and Republican status quo, but he has failed to catch fire with voters the way I wished he would.”
Paul’s voters, generally speaking, are the most apocalyptic members of the GOP New Pessimism club. Their candidate is the new Thomas Jefferson, the would-be savior of the Republic. We can elect him—or we can kiss America goodbye. If the Republicans go with some other nominee, plenty of Paul supporters will walk away from the party. There’s one more data point for the New Pessimism.
Karl Rove revealed a little too much about how the Republicans regard President Obama. Speaking about the birth control issue:
“Where does this authority come from,” Rove asked Fox’s Bill Hemmer. “This sounds like some third-world county governed by colonels in mirrored sunglasses in which he dictates, ‘I, the supreme leader, dictate that something will be provided free when we know the cost of that will have to be borne by everybody else in society that’s not getting the free good.’ ”
The Republicans think that President Obama is like a brown Central or South American banana republic leader and so America will become slumified as a result. It couldn’t be more racist and effed up. But it’s true.
Says it all:
A close look at the roots of Romney’s — and the Mormon church’s — political ambitions
[…] That same year, the Cougar Club — the all male, all white social club at Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City (blacks were excluded from full membership in the Mormon church until 1978) — was humming with talk that its president, Mitt Romney, would become the first Mormon president of the United States. “If not Mitt, then who?” was the ubiquitous slogan within the elite organization. The pious world of BYU was expected to spawn the man who would lead the Mormons into the White House and fulfill the prophecies of the church’s founder, Joseph Smith Jr., which Romney has avidly sought to realize.
Romney avoids mentioning it, but Smith ran for president in 1844 as an independent commander in chief of an “army of God” advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government in favor of a Mormon-ruled theocracy. Challenging Democrat James Polk and Whig Henry Clay, Smith prophesied that if the U.S. Congress did not accede to his demands that “they shall be broken up as a government and God shall damn them.” Smith viewed capturing the presidency as part of the mission of the church. He had predicted the emergence of “the one Mighty and Strong” — a leader who would “set in order the house of God” — and became the first of many prominent Mormon men to claim the mantle.
Smith’s insertion of religion into politics and his call for a “theodemocracy where God and people hold the power to conduct the affairs of men in righteous matters” created a sensation and drew hostility from the outside world. But his candidacy was cut short when he was shot to death by an anti-Mormon vigilante mob. Out of Smith’s national political ambitions grew what would become known in Mormon circles as the “White Horse Prophecy” — a belief ingrained in Mormon culture and passed down through generations by church leaders that the day would come when the U.S. Constitution would“hang like a thread as fine as a silk fiber” and the Mormon priesthood would save it.
Romney is the product of this culture. At BYU, he was idolized by fellow students and referred to, only half jokingly, as the “One Mighty and Strong.” He was the “alpha male” in the rarefied Cougar pack, according to Michael D. Moody, a BYU classmate and fellow member of the group. Composed almost exclusively of returned Mormon missionaries, the club members were known for their preppy blue blazers and enthusiastic athletic boosterism. Romney, who had been the assistant to the president of the French Mission where he was personally in charge of more than 200 missionaries, easily assumed a leadership position in the club.
A Romney/Paul Ticket? [To quote Mrs. KQuark, “What fresh hell is this?”]
[…]The speculation about Romney and Paul comes from more than offering a hand here and there. Paul has defended Romney in the past, lashing out at Republicans who criticize his business record at Bain Capital and others who attacked Romney for stating, “I like to be able to fire people.”
“I think they’re unfairly attacking him on that issue because he never really literally said that,” Paul told ABC News last month. “They’ve taken him way out of context … He wants to fire companies.”
Paul also hinted at the benefits at a Romney-Paul ticket in a CBS interview with Bob Schiefer on Sunday. When asked if he thought Romney could beat President Barack Obama in the general election as the Republican nominee, he said Romney would have a better chance if he had someone who also appealed to Democrats and independents.
“I don’t know if anyone noticed but there was a Democrat primary in New Hampshire that had I think close to 3,000 write-ins of Democrats,” Paul said. “So yes, he can beat Obama but I think he also needs somebody that appeals to Democrats and Independents. And if people look carefully at what I’m talking about, they’ll find out that my message has an appeal across the political spectrum.”
If Romney and Paul team up, they could have a strong financial advantage over Obama. Romney has raked in more than $56 million to his campaign from top dollar donors like Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. Paul has brought in an impressive amount of money from in short amounts of time from small donors during his “money bombs.” As of Dec. 2011, the libertarian raised a little more than $26 million.
Of course, Romney and Paul have both taken jabs at each other. The Texas congressman has called Romney a flip-flopper on issues and a “serial hypocrite,” and Romney has criticized Paul as a “fringe” candidate. A lot of their ideologies don’t meld.
As the so-called “establishment” candidate, Romney hasn’t deviated too much from Republican talking points. He favors robust defense spending, a strong alliance with Israel, getting touch with China and promoting democracy in the Middle East. Paul, an Air Force veteran and libertarian who often deviates from the standard views of his party, wants to slash millions from foreign aid. Both, however, agree that the U.S. should pull its troops out of Afghanistan.
Also, Paul’s name hasn’t been floated by top party leaders as a potential running mate. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell are all names that have been floated as vice presidents for Romney. At the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, which generally gives a sense of how the tea party and more conservative voters feel, Rubio, Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell were the more popular picks.
Last November, Romney had dropped New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s name as a potential running mate.
“There are probably 15 names of people, including Kelly Ayotte,” Romney told Fox News. “I mean, there are terrific Republicans in the Senate, in the House, in governors’ offices.”
Romney and Paul’s could either hint an endorsement in the future if either one of them quits the race before the convention (much more likely Paul than Romney) or that Romney is thinking of Paul as a potential running mate if he wins the nomination. But considering that Romney likes to tread in safe waters to win over the Republican establishment, he would probably pick a name most of the part supports.
In a political system where even the most trivial issues trigger partisan rancor, the Voting Rights Act has stood for several decades as a rare point of bipartisan consensus.
An intensifying conservative legal assault on the Voting Rights Act could precipitate what many civil rights advocates regard as the nuclear option: a court ruling striking down one of the core elements of the landmark 1965 law guaranteeing African Americans and other minorities access to the ballot box.
At the same time, the view that states should have free rein to change their election laws even in places with a history of Jim Crow seems to be gaining traction within the Republican Party.
“There certainly has been a major change,” said Rick Hasen, a professor of election law at the University of California at Irvine. “Now, you havea whole bunch of credible mainstream state attorneys general and governors taking this view. … That would have been unheard of even five years ago. You would have been accused of being a racist.”
Some of the shift appears to be driven by resentment of what tea party members and others perceive as an overgrown, out-of-control federal government, as well as by widespread concern among Republicans about claims of voter fraud at the polls. Part of the change could also stem from more vigorous enforcement of voting rights laws by President Barack Obama’s Justice Department.
The issue has surfaced in the Republican presidential contest, including at one of the televised debates, and could move to the front burner within weeks as a federal appeals court in Washington prepares to rule on the leading lawsuit against the Voting Rights Act. That case, brought by Shelby County, Ala., is backed by the attorneys general of Alabama, Arizona and Georgia. At least three similar constitutional challenges are pending.
When the law last came up for renewal in 2006, there was some grumbling from conservative lawmakers, particularly about the provisions that require seven states — including Arizona, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas — and parts of nine others to submit any changes to voting laws, rules and even polling place locations to the Justice Department or a federal court for advance approval.
Despite the misgivings, the final vote for the bill was a lopsided 390-33 in the House. And in the Senate, critics of the law couldn’t pick up a single no vote. It passed, 98-0.
“There are obviously more elected officials today than there were who are willing to question the wisdom of keeping this provision” of the law, said the American Enterprise Institute’s Edward Blum, a longtime critic. “In 2006, it was very lonely being a voice against reauthorization.”
President George W. Bush didn’t just support renewal of the law — he held a Rose Garden celebration for the bill signing that included the entire Congressional Black Caucus and bipartisan supporters from the Senate and House. “Civil rights leaders from around the country were invited,” Blum said. “It was a big deal.”
A key indication that political consensus is crumbling came during a GOP presidential debate last month in South Carolina.
[…] The remaining Republican candidates haven’t made such sweeping statements rejecting federal authority, but they have railed against the Justice Department for using the preclearance provision known as Section 5 to block a South Carolina law that requires voters to show photo identification at the polls. Some civil rights advocates say the GOP hopefuls’ rhetoric suggests the entire preclearance process is illegitimate.
“That strain has been there. It’s a natural to play out in the Republican primaries,” said William Yeomans, who served as chief Judiciary Committee counsel to the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.). “The Republican Party has become much more conservative than it was in 2006. … And of course it plays well in red states. All of the covered states are red states. They’re appealing to a very conservative segment of people in red states who believe the federal government is big and out of control.”
The lawsuit brought by Shelby County was argued this month at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and could be on a fast track for the Supreme Court.
The provision “was constitutional in 1965 and 1975. And Alabama was, shamefully, a big reason why,” said a brief filed in November by lawyers for Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange. “But in part because of Section 5, Alabama has changed, and the statute is no longer a necessary and proper means of redressing constitutional injury.”
Strange’s brief argues that African Americans now serve in the state Legislature at rates comparable to their percentage of the population and that white and black voters have about the same registration rate.
Voting Rights Act critics also say the list of 16 states that get special scrutiny is badly outdated. “It makes no sense [now] for the State of Texas but not the State of Arkansas to be covered,” Blum said.
A series of cases filed recently by South Carolina and other states seek approval for voter ID laws and other voting changes. However, some of those cases also hint that the act’s pre-clearance provision could be unconstitutional.
Blum said that despite the support the legal challenges are getting, most federal officeholders are not rushing to embrace them.
“There is greater skepticism, [but] I don’t know of anyone in Congress who has taken to the well and given a speech on this,” he said.
As the lawsuits roll forward, top Justice Department officials are publicly praising the preclearance rule.
Speaking at the Johnson Presidential Library in Texas late last year, Attorney General Eric Holder called the provision the “keystone” of the Voting Rights Act. “The reality is that — in jurisdictions across the country — both overt and subtle forms of discrimination remain all too common,” Holder said.
The head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Tom Perez, said the provision ensures that covered legislatures and cities protect the rights of minorities during redistricting and revisions to voting procedures.
“We need the prophylactic impact,” Perez said in an interview. “The remarkable impact … can’t simply be measured by the number of objections that we bring. It’s measured in behavioral changes.”
Perez acknowledged that the rule is under attack, but he predicted it will survive.
“Voting rights has been and continues to enjoy bipartisan support, not withstanding the cacophony of a few,” Perez said. “There’s a tendency around the nation to try to polarize so many issues, and I think the American people want us to come together around common values. And the right of access to the ballot for all eligible people is one of those common values.”
Yet even some liberals now believe that Section 5’s days are numbered, in part because of indications from the Supreme Court in 2009 that many justices doubt the most recent renewal of the law was constitutional.
Dan Tokaji, a professor of election law at Ohio State, said the chances the high court will strike down the core of the law are “between likely and extremely likely.”
“They know striking the statute down would be incredibly controversial. … It would be an even bigger deal than what the court did in Citizens United,” Tokaji said.
If the key provision were removed, he said, “I don’t think we would go back to the days of Jim Crow. We wouldn’t have literacy tests or other of the most blatant disenfranchising devices used in 1965. On the other hand, it would be easier for states to enact more subtle measures that make voting more difficult and that dilute the vote. … The impact will probably be most significant at the local level [where] a lot of things might slip by without anyone noticing it.”
Since minorities tend to vote Democratic, getting rid of Section 5 would seem to benefit Republicans. However, experts say tossing the provision might actually help Democrats because it could cut down on gerrymandered districts.
“Republicans have often been the most ardent supporters of Section 5,” Blum said. “It’s an old tale: Create a safe African-American or Hispanic district, and the districts surrounding those become more white.”
But Williams, the Fox news analyst and author of books on the civil rights movement, said some Republicans seem almost eager to go after the Voting Rights Act.
“When you have hard evidence of a past practice and you say you still don’t buy into it, then there does come a point where you say: ‘What is this really about? Repressing the minority vote?’” Williams said in an interview.
Williams said he thinks the current round of doubts about the law is also fueled by a perception that voter fraud is rampant, particularly in inner cities and areas with larger concentrations of minorities.
“There’s a racial element to this,” he said.
- Michigan: Santorum 37, Romney 33, Paul 15, Gingrich 10
- Even after a week of reminding voters of his ties to the state, only 29% consider Romney a Michigander
- Romney bailout stance not a problem for him- 34% more likely to vote for anti-bailout candidate, 27% less likely
- 36% of voters in Michigan might still change their minds, so a still wide variety of potential outcomes
- 1 reason why Mitt might win MI- 69% of his supporters are firmly committed to him, only 63% for Santorum
- 63% in MI think Santorum’s ideologically ‘about right.’ Only 42% say that for Mitt, 37% think he’s too liberal
- 48% of Michigan primary voters think Santorum’s views are closer to theirs, 32% pick Romney
- Romney’s leading in Michigan with women, seniors, moderates, Catholics, ‘somewhat conservative’ voters
- Santorum’s up double digits in MI with Protestants, union members, Evangelicals, Tea Partiers, and men
- Romney has chopped 11 points off Santorum’s Michigan lead in the last week
On Friday night, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Montana Supreme Court’s December, 2011 decision upholding the state’s century-old ban on corporate political spending. The implications of this are huge, as it paves the way for a potential re-opening of the disastrous Citizens United decision that has spawned billionaire-sponsored super PACs. And if that happens, Chief Justice John Roberts better buckle up for a grassroots mobilization unlike any the court has seen in years.
Friday’s decision was in response to a request by the American Tradition Partnership (ATP) to reverse the Montana ruling. ATP — a conservative group that that says it fights “the radical environmentalist agenda” — has six weeks to formally ask the Supreme Court to review the case. If they don’t, the Montana ban on corporate spending will stand.
Since the Citizens United ruling over two years ago, millions of dollars have flowed from the super-rich and corporations to elect or defeat candidates. A handful of billionaires have manipulated election outcomes in a matter of days, buying vicious ads through super PACs that candidates pretend are independent from their own campaigns — while their former colleagues and pals run those PACs. As Ari Berman reported in The Huffington Post, some 196 individual donors have provided nearly 80 percent of the money raised by super PACs in 2011 by giving $100,000 or more each. Secret donors using 501C4’s have purchased 40 percent of total GOP primary ads with no disclosure of who is signing the checks.
The Supreme Court justified Citizens United by ruling that super PACs do not allow corruption or the appearance of corruption. Webster’s dictionary defines corruption: “Impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle, inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (as bribery); a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct.”
If our current campaign finance system isn’t corrupt, what is? A handful of billionaires can decide who the next president will be. If our Supreme Court doesn’t find that corrupt, or at least creating the appearance of corruption, then they are using a very different dictionary than the rest of America; one shape-shifted solely to consolidate power into the hands of the super-rich, the rest of us be damned.
From Occupy on the left to the Tea Party on the right, conservatives and liberals agree that crony capitalism is out of control, and is central to our nations myriad problems: banking, energy, jobs, health care… you name it. The people are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it any more.
And if the court takes up Citizens United again, you can be sure the American people won’t sit quietly with their hands folded while the high court deliberates. They’re going to shake the bars of the prison that our democracy has become, and demand a ruling that protects ordinary people, not plutocrats.
It’s a good day for labor across the country as three anti-worker bills appear to have died in the legislatures of Arizona, Colorado and Pennsylvania. Arizona’s was the worst, as it was a full-out assault on collective bargaining rights for state workers. It stalled in the state senate:
State Arizona Republicans acknowledged they don’t have enough votes to pass the bill. The collective bargaining bills were written with the help of the Goldwater Institute. The group flew in union-busting Governor Scott Walker from Wisconsin for an event late last year. The bills would have taken away the rights of unions to negotiate at the bargaining table.
The Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona are working with other public employee groups to engage elected officials to rally support and it has made a huge difference in this legislative session.
Unions are still fighting a dues deduction bill. The bill would ban government employees from having dues automatically deducted from their paychecks. The measure would also affect health insurance and deferred compensation deductions.
There is also an on-going push in Arizona to pay younger people less than the minimum wage.
Colorado Republicans failed in an attempt to make the state a right-to-work (for less) state:
Sources from the Colorado AFL-CIO have confirmed that Colorado Senate Bill 100 (Right to Work) has died in the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee.
SB 100 was sponsored by Tea Party State Senator Tim Neville.
Colorado voters previously defeated “Right-to-Work” in its 2008 form, Amendment 47. This round of “Right-to-Work” push was led by an adviser to the Independence Institute, Jeff Crank from Americans for Prosperity, The National Right to Work Committee, the Associated Builders & Contractors and Tony Gagliardi from the NFIB. The Colorado AFL-CIO alleges that “not one real worker or real business owner showed-up to back these extremists and it made them look pathetic.”
The bill died in a 4-2 vote.
Finally, Pennsylvania Republicans failed to weaken the state’s prevailing wage statute:
An effort by Pennsylvania House Republicans to weaken the state’s prevailing wage law failed when, despite having the majority, they could not get enough votes. House Republicans claimed that raising the project cost threshold that triggers the prevailing wage from the current, 1961-established level of $25,000 would save local governments money. There is little evidence that this is true, however. In fact, many experts argue that raising the threshold would truly only guarantee that work would be done by under-trained, frequently non-union contractors, resulting in higher long-term costs.
The House GOP was stopped in its tracks by (gasp!) pro-labor Republicans, including roughly a dozen from the Philadelphia suburbs who refused to go along with party leadership because they believe the desired threshold of $185,000 is too high. Democrats, who opposed the bill, claimed it was an attack on PA workers.
These are all good signs that when we fight back, we can win, even in places where governors and legislatures are hostile to working families.
White House candidate Rick Santorum on Saturday questioned President Barack Obama’s Christian values and attacked GOP rival Mitt Romney’s Olympics leadership as he courted tea party activists and evangelical voters in Ohio, “ground zero” in the 2012 nomination fight.
Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator known for his social conservative policies, said that Obama’s agenda is “not about you. It’s not about your quality of life. It’s not about your jobs. It’s about some phony ideal. Some phony theology. Not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology.”
Trailing Romney in money and campaign resources, Santorum is depending on the tea party movement and religious groups to deliver a victory March 6 in Ohio, one of Super Tuesday’s biggest prizes.
More delegates will be awarded in Ohio than in any other state except Georgia in the opening months of the Republican campaign. Ohio and Georgia are two of the 10 contests scheduled for March 6, a benchmark for the primary campaign that often decides who can continue to the next level.
Even as he criticized Obama, Santorum also went after one of Romney’s most promoted achievements — his leadership at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City.
“One of Mitt Romney’s greatest accomplishments, one of the things he talks about most is how he heroically showed up on the scene and bailed out and resolved the problems of the Salt Lake City Olympic Games,” Santorum said. “He heroically bailed out the Salt Lake City Olympic Games by heroically going to Congress and asking them for tens of millions of dollars to bail out the Salt Lake games — in an earmark, in an earmark for the Salt Lake Olympic games.”
The Romney campaign does not dispute that congressional earmarks helped save the games. But they noted that Santorum voted for those earmarks, among many others, when he was a senator.
“Sometimes when you shoot from the hip, you end up shooting yourself in the foot,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said. “There is a pretty wide gulf between seeking money for post-9/11 security at the Olympics and seeking earmarks for polar bear exhibits at the Pittsburgh Zoo.”
Following the tea party rally, Santorum headed to a luncheon with the Ohio Christian Alliance and will finish his day at a Lincoln Day dinner in Akron.
“There’s no state that can shout louder. You are the biggest state. You’ve got the biggest trove of delegates,” Santorum told the Brown County Republican Party on Friday night. “This is ground zero. Ohio.”
While 63 delegates are at stake in Ohio, Georgia offers 76.
Hours earlier, the former Pennsylvania senator stood at the State House in Columbus as state Attorney General Mike DeWine formally shifted his allegiance to Santorum from rival Mitt Romney, another sign that Santorum has seized the momentum in the roller coaster Republican presidential contest.
His socially conservative message has captivated crowds this week from Boise, Idaho, to Romney’s hometown of Detroit to the southern Ohio village of Georgetown.
Questions about whether Santorum can sustain his rise in the polls come amid signs of stress within his campaign, mainly disorganization. Romney’s machine, coupled with new scrutiny for Santorum’s view of social issues as well as governmental policies, will give Santorum little margin for error.
As an example, one misstep by a Santorum supporter kept the former senator off message at times for two days.
Foster Friess, the main donor behind Santorum’s “super PAC,” created a stir Thursday when he related on MSNBC an old joke about how aspirin used to be a method for birth control. “Back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception,” Friess said with a grin. “The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”
Friess apologized Friday in a blog post. But Santorum was repeatedly forced to distance himself from his surrogate’s comments, which Santorum described as “a bad joke.” The comments drew unwanted attention to Santorum’s own musings about contraception and women’s issues.
Santorum has said that he wouldn’t try to take away the birth control pill or condoms but that states should be free to ban them. He told a Christian blog last year that as president he would warn the nation about “the dangers of contraception” and the permissive culture spit encourages. He’s also questioned whether women should be in combat and said that “radical feminists” have undermined the traditional family by “convincing women that professional accomplishments are the key to happiness.”
The contraception flap, according to Republican observers, is evidence of an undisciplined campaign that is already stumbling under the weight of intensifying scrutiny. Polling suggests that significant numbers of voters still don’t know Santorum well. He may struggle to win over female voters in particular as they begin to pay more attention, according to Phil Musser, a GOP strategist who doesn’t work for either campaign.
[Please see original for extensive links.]
This week, the Virginia state Legislature passed a bill that would require women to have an ultrasound before they may have an abortion. Because the great majority of abortions occur during the first 12 weeks, that means most women will be forced to have a transvaginal procedure, in which a probe is inserted into the vagina, and then moved around until an ultrasound image is produced. Since a proposed amendment to the bill—a provision that would have had the patient consent to this bodily intrusion or allowed the physician to opt not to do the vaginal ultrasound—failed on 64-34 vote, the law provides that women seeking an abortion in Virginia will be forcibly penetrated for no medical reason. I am not the first person to note that under any other set of facts, that would constitute rape under state law.
What’s more, a provision of the law that has received almost no media attention would ensure that a certification by the doctor that the patient either did or didn’t “avail herself of the opportunity” to view the ultrasound or listen to the fetal heartbeat will go into the woman’s medical record. Whether she wants it there or not. I guess they were all out of scarlet letters in Richmond.
So the problem is not just that the woman and her physician (the core relationship protected in Roe) no longer matter at all in deciding whether an abortion is proper. It is that the physician is being commandeered by the state to perform a medically unnecessary procedure upon a woman, despite clear ethical directives to the contrary. (There is no evidence at all that the ultrasound is a medical necessity, and nobody attempted to defend it on those grounds.) As an editorial in the Virginian-Pilot put it recently, “Under any other circumstances, forcing an unwilling person to submit to a vaginal probing would be a violation beyond imagining. Requiring a doctor to commit such an act, especially when medically unnecessary, and to submit to an arbitrary waiting period, is to demand an abrogation of medical ethics, if not common decency.”*
Evidently the right of conscience for doctors who oppose abortion are a matter of grave national concern. The ethical and professional obligations of physicians who would merely like to perform their jobs without physically violating their own patients are, however, immaterial. Don’t even bother asking whether this law would have passed had it involved physically penetrating a man instead of a woman without consent. Next month the U.S. Supreme Court will hear argument about the obscene government overreach that is the individual mandate in President Obama’s health care law. Yet physical intrusion by government into the vagina of a pregnant woman is so urgently needed that the woman herself should be forced to pay for the privilege.
The bill will undoubtedly be enacted into law by the governor, Bob McDonnell, who is gunning hard for a gig as vice president and has already indicated that he will sign the bill. “I think it gives full information,” he said this week on WTOP radio’s “Ask the Governor” program. “To be able to have that information before making what most people would say is a very important, serious, life-changing decision, I think is appropriate.”
That’s been the defense of this type of ultrasound law from the outset; it’s merely “more information” for the mother, and, really, what kind of anti-science Neanderthal opposesinformation? Pretending that this law is just a technological update on Virginia’s informed consent laws has another benefit: You can shame and violate women, while couching it in the language of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s gift that keeps on giving—his opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart. That opinion upheld Congress’ partial-birth abortion ban on the grounds that (although there was no real evidence to support this assumption) some women who have abortions will suffer “severe depression” and “regrets” if they aren’t made to understand the implications of what they have done.*
Never mind that the evidence indicates that women forced to see ultrasound images opt to terminate anyhow. According to the American Independent, a new study by Tracy Weitz, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco, shows that “viewing an ultrasound is not an indication that a woman will cancel her scheduled procedure, regardless of what emotional response the sonogram elicits.” Weitz summarized her findings in 2010 when she said that “women do not have abortions because they believe the fetus is not a human or because they don’t know the truth.”
Of course, the bill is unconstitutional. The whole point of the new abortion bans is to force the Supreme Court to reverse Roe v. Wade. It’s unconstitutional to place an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy, although it’s anyone’s guess what, precisely, that means. One would be inclined to suspect, however, that unwanted penetration with a medical device violates either the undue burden test or the right to bodily autonomy. But that’s the other catch in this bill. Proponents seem to be of the view that once a woman has allowed a man to penetrate her body once, her right to bodily autonomy has ended.
During the floor debate on Tuesday, Del. C. Todd Gilbert announced that “in the vast majority of these cases, these [abortions] are matters of lifestyle convenience.” (He has since apologized.) Virginia Democrat Del. David Englin, who opposes the bill, has said Gilbert’s statement “is in line with previous Republican comments on the issue,” recalling one conversation with a GOP lawmaker who told him that women had already made the decision to be “vaginally penetrated when they got pregnant.” (I confirmed with Englin that this quote was accurate.)*
That’s the same logic that animates the bill’s sponsor in the House of Delegates, Del. Kathy J. Byron, who insisted this week that, “if we want to talk about invasiveness, there’s nothing more invasive than the procedure that she is about to have.” Decoded, that means that if you are willing to submit to sex and/or an abortion, the state should be allowed to penetrate your body as well.
I asked Del. Englin what recourse there is for the ultrasound law, and he told me that the governor, while unlikely to veto the bill, still has the power to amend it to require the patient’s consent or say that physicians can opt not to do the vaginal probe. One might hope that even the benign act of giving women “more information” not be allowed to happen by forcing it between her legs. Or is that what we call it these days?
Whatever happens in the commonwealth, it’s fair to say it’s no accident that this week the Legislature also enacted a “personhood” law defining life as beginning at conception—a law that may someday criminalize contraception and some miscarriages as well as abortion. Today was not a good day in the War on Women. Abortion is still legal in America. Physically invading a woman’s body against her will still isn’t. Let’s not casually pass laws that upend both principles in the name of helping women make better choices.
By a revolting combination of con men and fanatics, the current primary race has become a demonstration that the Republican party does not deserve serious consideration for public office. Take the controversy over contraceptives. American bishops at first opposed having hospitals and schools connected with them pay employee health costs for contraceptives. But when the President backed off from that requirement, saying insurance companies can pay the costs, the bishops doubled down and said no one should have to pay for anything so evil as contraception. Some Republicans are using the bishops’ stupidity to hurt the supposed “moderate” candidate Mitt Romney, giving a temporary leg up to the faux naïf Rick Santorum; others are attacking Barack Obama as an “enemy of religion.”
Pusillanimous Catholics—Mark Shields and even, to a degree, the admirable E. J.Dionne—are saying that Catholics understandably resent an attack on “their” doctrine (even though they do not personally believe in it). Omnidirectional bad-faith arguments have clustered around what is falsely presented as a defense of “faith.” The layers of ignorance are equaled only by the willingness of people “of all faiths” to use them for their own purposes. Consider just some of the layers:
The Phony Religious Freedom Argument
The bishops’ opposition to contraception is not an argument for a “conscience exemption.” It is a way of imposing Catholic requirements on non-Catholics. This is religious dictatorship, not religious freedom.
Contraception is not even a religious matter. Nowhere in Scripture or the Creed is it forbidden. Catholic authorities themselves say it is a matter of “natural law,” over which natural reason is the arbiter—and natural reason, even for Catholics, has long rejected the idea that contraception is evil. More of that later; what matters here is that contraception is legal, ordinary, and accepted even by most Catholics. To say that others must accept what Catholics themselves do not is bad enough. To say that President Obama is “trying to destroy the Catholic Church” if he does not accept it is much, much worse.
To disagree with Catholic bishops is called “disrespectful,” an offense against religious freedom. That is why there is a kind of taboo against bringing up Romney’s Mormonism. But if Romney sincerely believed in polygamy on religious grounds, as his grandfather did, he would not even be considered for the presidency—any more than a sincere Christian Scientist, who rejects the use of medicine, would be voted for to handle public health care. Yet a man who believes that contraception is evil is an aberrant from the American norm, like the polygamist or the faith healer.
The Phony Contraception Argument
The opposition to contraception has, as I said, no scriptural basis. Pope Pius XIonce said that it did, citing in his encyclical Casti Connubii (1930)the condemnation of Onan for “spilling his seed” rather than impregnating a woman (Genesis 38.9). But later popes had to back off from this claim, since everyone agrees now that Onan’s sin was not carrying out his duty to give his brother an heir (Deuteronomy 25.5-6). Then the “natural law” was fallen back on, saying that the natural purpose of sex is procreation, and any use of it for other purposes is “unnatural.” But a primary natural purpose does not of necessity exclude ancillary advantages. The purpose of eating is to sustain life, but that does not make all eating that is not necessary to subsistence “unnatural.” One can eat, beyond the bare minimum to exist, to express fellowship, as one can have sex, beyond the begetting of a child with each act, to express love.
The Roman authorities would not have fallen for such a silly argument but for a deep historical disrelish for sex itself. Early Fathers and medieval theologians considered sex unworthy when not actually sinful. That is why virgin saints and celibate priests were prized above married couples. Thomas Aquinas said that priests must not be married, since “those in holy orders handle the sacred vessels and the sacrament itself, and therefore it is proper (decens) that they preserve, by abstinences, a body undefiled (munditia corporalis) (Summa Theologiae, Part 3 Supplement, Question 53, article 3, Response). Marriage, you see, makes for defilement (immunditia). The ban on contraception is a hangover from the period when the body itself was considered unclean, as Peter Brown overwhelmingly proved in The Body and Society (1988).
The Phony “Church Teaches” Argument
Catholics who do not accept the phony argument over contraception are said to be “going against the teachings of their church.” That is nonsense. They are their church. The Second Vatican Council defines the church as “the people of God.” Thinking that the pope is the church is a relic of the days when a monarch was said to be his realm. The king was “Denmark.” Catholics have long realized that their own grasp of certain things, especially sex, has a validity that is lost on the celibate male hierarchy. This is particularly true where celibacy is concerned.
There was broad disagreement with Pius XI’s 1930 encyclical on the matter. Pope Paul VI set up a study group of loyal and devout Catholics, lay and clerical, to make recommendations. The group overwhelmingly voted to change the teaching of Pius XI. But cardinals in the Roman Curia convinced Paul that any change would suggest that the church’s teachings are not eternal (though Casti Connubiihad not been declared infallible, by the papacy’s own standards).
When Paul reaffirmed the ban on birth control in Humanae Vitae (1968) there was massive rejection of it. Some left the church. Some just ignored it. Paradoxically, the document formed to convey the idea that papal teaching is inerrant just convinced most people that it can be loony. The priest-sociologist Andrew Greeley said that Humanae Vitae did more damage to the papacy than any of the so-called “liberal” movements in Catholicism. When Pius IX condemned democracy and modern science in his Syllabus of Errors (1864), the Catholic historian Lord Acton said that Catholics were too sensible to go crazy every time a pope does. The reaction to Humanae Vitae proves that.
The Phony “Undying Principle” Argument
Rick Santorum is a nice smiley fanatic. He does not believe in evolution or global warming or women in the workplace. He equates gay sex with bestiality (Rick “Man on Dog” Santorum). He equates contraception with the guillotine. Only a brain-dead party could think him a worthy presidential candidate. Yet he is praised by television pundits, night and day, for being “sincere” and “standing by what he believes.” He is the principled alternative to the evil Moderation of Mitt Romney and the evil Evil of Newt Gingrich. He is presented as a model Catholic. Torquemada was, in that sense, a model Catholic. Messrs. Boehner and McConnell call him a martyr to religious freedom. A young priest I saw on television, modeling himself on his hero Santorum, said, “I would rather die than give up my church’s principles.” What we are seeing is not a defense of undying principle but a stampede toward a temporarily exploitable lunacy. Acton to the rescue!
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
[What can I say? It made me laugh.]
Call it Conspiracy City. Call it Scandal City. Call it Leak City. These days the holy city has been in the news for anything but holy reasons.
Senior church officials interviewed this month said almost daily embarrassments that have put the Vatican on the defensive could force Pope Benedict to act to clean up the image of its administration – at a time when the church faces a deeper crisis of authority and relevance in the wider world.
From leaked letters by an archbishop who was transferred after he blew the whistle on what he saw as a web of corruption and cronyism, to a leaked poison pen memo which puts a number of cardinals in a bad light, to new suspicions about its bank, Vatican spokesmen have had their work cut out responding.
The flurry of leaks has come at an embarrassing time – just before a usually joyful ceremony this week known as a consistory, when Benedict will admit more prelates into the College of Cardinals, the exclusive men’s club that will one day pick the next Roman Catholic leader from among their own ranks.
Bertone, 77, has a reputation as a heavy-handed administrator and power-broker whose style has alienated many in the Curia, the bureaucracy that runs the central administration of the 1.3 billion-strong Roman Catholic Church. […]
Vatican sources say the rebels have the tacit backing of a former secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, an influential power-broker in his own right and a veteran diplomat who served under the late Pope John Paul II for 15 years.
The Vatican has been no stranger to controversy in recent years, when uproar over its handling of child sex abuse charges has hampered the church’s efforts to stem the erosion of congregations and priestly recruitment in the developed world.
It began last month when an Italian television investigative show broadcast private letters to Bertone and the pope from Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the former deputy governor of the Vatican City and currently the Vatican ambassador in Washington.
The letters, which the Vatican has confirmed are authentic, showed that Vigano was transferred after he exposed what he argued was a web of corruption, nepotism and cronyism linked to the awarding of contracts to contractors at inflated prices.
As deputy governor of the Vatican City for two years from 2009 to 2011, Vigano was the number two official in a department responsible for maintaining the tiny city-state’s gardens, buildings, streets, museums and other infrastructure, which are managed separately from the Italian capital which surrounds it.
In one letter, Vigano writes of a smear campaign against him by other Vatican officials who were upset that he had taken drastic steps to clean up the purchasing procedures and begged to stay in the job to finish what he had started.
Other leaks center on the Vatican bank, just as it is trying to put behind it past scandals – including the collapse 30 years ago of Banco Ambrosiano, which entangled it in lurid allegations about money-laundering, freemasons, mafiosi and the mysterious death of Ambrosiano chairman Roberto Calvi – “God’s banker.”
Today, the Vatican bank, formally known at the Institute for Works of Religion (IOR), is aiming to comply fully with international norms and has applied for the Vatican’s inclusion on the European Commission’s approved “white list” of states that meet EU standards for total financial transparency.
Bertone was instrumental in putting the bank’s current executives in place and any lingering suspicion about it reflects badly on him. The Commission will decide in June and failure to make the list would be an embarrassment for Bertone.
Last week, an Italian newspaper that has published some of the leaks ran a bizarre internal Vatican memo that involved one cardinal complaining about another cardinal who spoke about a possible assassination attempt against the pope within 12 months and openly speculated on who the next pope should be.[…]
The Vatican sources said some cardinals asked the pope to replace Bertone because of administrative lapses, including the failure to warn the pope that a renegade bishop re-admitted to the Church in 2009 was a well-known Holocaust denier.
The bishop said: “The pope is very isolated. He lives in his own world and some say the information he receives is filtered. He is interested in his books and his sermons but he is not very interested in government.”
John Fairfax, Who Rowed Across Oceans, Dies at 74
He crossed the Atlantic because it was there, and the Pacific because it was also there.
He made both crossings in a rowboat because it, too, was there, and because the lure of sea, spray and sinew, and the history-making chance to traverse two oceans without steam or sail, proved irresistible.
In 1969, after six months alone on the Atlantic battling storms, sharks and encroaching madness, John Fairfax, who died this month at 74, became the first lone oarsman in recorded history to traverse any ocean.
In 1972, he and his girlfriend, Sylvia Cook, sharing a boat, became the first people to row across the Pacific, a yearlong ordeal during which their craft was thought lost. (The couple survived the voyage, and so, for quite some time, did their romance.)
Both journeys were the subject of fevered coverage by the news media. They inspired two memoirs by Mr. Fairfax, “Britannia: Rowing Alone Across the Atlantic” and, with Ms. Cook, “Oars Across the Pacific,” both published in the early 1970s.
Mr. Fairfax died on Feb. 8 at his home in Henderson, Nev., near Las Vegas. The apparent cause was a heart attack, said his wife, Tiffany. A professional astrologer, she is his only immediate survivor. Ms. Cook, who became an upholsterer and spent the rest of her life quietly on dry land (though she remained a close friend of Mr. Fairfax), lives outside London.
For all its bravura, Mr. Fairfax’s seafaring almost pales beside his earlier ventures. Footloose and handsome, he was a flesh-and-blood character out of Graham Greene, with more than a dash of Hemingway and Ian Fleming shaken in.
At 9, he settled a dispute with a pistol. At 13, he lit out for the Amazon jungle.
At 20, he attempted suicide-by-jaguar. Afterward he was apprenticed to a pirate. To please his mother, who did not take kindly to his being a pirate, he briefly managed a mink farm, one of the few truly dull entries on his otherwise crackling résumé, which lately included a career as a professional gambler.
Mr. Fairfax was among the last avatars of a centuries-old figure: the lone-wolf explorer, whose exploits are conceived to satisfy few but himself. His was a solitary, contemplative art that has been all but lost amid the contrived derring-do of adventure-based reality television.
The only child of an English father and a Bulgarian mother, John Fairfax was born on May 21, 1937, in Rome, where his mother had family; he scarcely knew his father, who worked in London for the BBC.
Seeking to give her son structure, his mother enrolled him at 6 in the Italian Boy Scouts. It was there, Mr. Fairfax said, that he acquired his love of nature — and his determination to bend it to his will.
On a camping trip when he was 9, John concluded a fight with another boy by filching the scoutmaster’s pistol and shooting up the campsite. No one was injured, but his scouting career was over.
His parents’ marriage dissolved soon afterward, and he moved with his mother to Buenos Aires. A bright, impassioned dreamer, he devoured tales of adventure, including an account of the voyage of Frank Samuelsen and George Harbo, Norwegians who in 1896 were the first to row across the Atlantic. John vowed that he would one day make the crossing alone.
At 13, in thrall to Tarzan, he ran away from home to live in the jungle. He survived there as a trapper with the aid of local peasants, returning to town periodically to sell the jaguar and ocelot skins he had collected.
He later studied literature and philosophy at a university in Buenos Aires and at 20, despondent over a failed love affair, resolved to kill himself by letting a jaguar attack him. When the planned confrontation ensued, however, reason prevailed — as did the gun he had with him.
In Panama, he met a pirate, applied for a job as a pirate’s apprentice and was taken on. He spent three years smuggling guns, liquor and cigarettes around the world, becoming captain of one of his boss’s boats, work that gave him superb navigational skills.
When piracy lost its luster, he gave his boss the slip and fetched up in 1960s London, at loose ends. He revived his boyhood dream of crossing the ocean and, since his pirate duties had entailed no rowing, he began to train.
He rowed daily on the Serpentine, the lake in Hyde Park. Barely more than half a mile long, it was about one eight-thousandth the width of the Atlantic, but it would do.
On Jan. 20, 1969, Mr. Fairfax pushed off from the Canary Islands, bound for Florida. His 22-foot craft, the Britannia, was the Rolls-Royce of rowboats: made of mahogany, it had been created for the voyage by the eminent English boat designer Uffa Fox. It was self-righting, self-bailing and partly covered.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“If the people can not trust their government to do the job for which it exists – to protect them and to promote their common welfare – all else is lost.”