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The Budget Wars: Why Obama and the GOP Are Light-Years Apart

If it seems like Republicans and Democrats are on different planets with their approach to budgeting, it’s because they really are providing answers to completely different questions.

“This isn’t just about math, this is a cause,” Republican Rep. Paul Ryan told the audience at the American Enterprise Institute this morning, on the release of 2013 budget. And he’s absolutely right. Budgets aren’t just a mess of paragraphs and numbers. Budgets are statements of values. They tell us what our leaders think is important for the country.
The Ryan budget released this morning has some very clear ideas about what is important for the country. Reducing government health care spending is important to Ryan. Cutting taxes is important. Shrinking non-defense discretionary spending to the size of a peanut is important. That’s why Ryan’s budget slashes Medicare spending by partially privatizing the program one year after proposing wholesale privatization. It’s also why he aims to cap tax revenue at 19 percent of GDP for the next 40 years. It’s why his plan aims to reduce non-health, non-Social Security spending to 3.75% of the economy by 2050, which would mark its lowest share in more than a century.
The Obama budget released a month ago had very different priorities. Expanding insurance was an obvious value for the administration, which happens to commemorate the second anniversary of health reform this week (quietly, since the law is still pretty unpopular). Raising taxes on the rich to maintain our social programs is important. Investing in manufacturing, education, and infrastructure is important. That’s why Obama’s budget excludes the “bottom” 98 percent from tax hikes and raises spending in key areas while reducing subsidies for oil and gas.
Ryan’s budget answers the question: What’s the best way to reduce the deficit by cutting government health care spending without doing something too unpopular? Obama’s budget answers the question: What’s the best way to pay for the social programs we have and the job investments we need? I’m not going to be able to convince you that one of these questions is “better” than the other. It’s enough to say that they represent very different values. If it seems like Republicans and Democrats are on different planets with their approach to budgeting, it’s because they really are providing answers to completely different questions.

It’s fair to have different values. It’s fair to ask different question of our parties, and leaders. But outcomes matter. And the outcome of Ryan’s budget is lower taxes on the rich offset by lower government spending on programs that disproportionately benefit the poor, elderly, and sick. Repealing Obamacare and cutting Medicaid and CHIP would reduce government health care spending dramatically — as you can see in the chart below — but with the sure consequence that millions of poorer families would go without insurance, barring some separate revolution in the private health care market. (On the bright side, our debt would plummet as a share of GDP.)

By contrast, there are some perfectly smart reasons to oppose the White House budget. It doesn’t do enough to reduce the deficit. Rather than reform the tax code, it raises taxes on a fraction of the population. It creates new stimulus programs that Republicans would never support without offering entitlement reforms. It pays for new infrastructure projects with “savings from the Iraq war,” which, like I said, is a clever bit of parallel-universe budgeting, like me paying for a new suit with “savings from not going to Atlantic City tomorrow.”
It comes down to the government you want. There is no way for me to finish this paragraph in a way that will sway your deeply held beliefs about what Washington should do, or what we should pay for it. Both of these budgets are occasionally unrealistic. Both budgets are, to a certain extent, political documents. But only one maintains our commitment to insuring the entire population while acknowledging that revenue increases aren’t an optional part of deficit reduction. And only one does not pay for tax cuts for the rich by cutting medical support for the poor and sick. And that’s the budget from the guy in the White House.


Job seekers getting asked for Facebook passwords

When Justin Bassett interviewed for a new job, he expected the usual questions about experience and references. So he was astonished when the interviewer asked for something else: his Facebook username and password.

Bassett, a New York City statistician, had just finished answering a few character questions when the interviewer turned to her computer to search for his Facebook page. But she couldn’t see his private profile. She turned back and asked him to hand over his login information.

Bassett refused and withdrew his application, saying he didn’t want to work for a company that would seek such personal information. But as the job market steadily improves, other job candidates are confronting the same question from prospective employers, and some of them cannot afford to say no.

In their efforts to vet applicants, some companies and government agencies are going beyond merely glancing at a person’s social networking profiles and instead asking to log in as the user to have a look around.

“It’s akin to requiring someone’s house keys,” said Orin Kerr, a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor who calls it “an egregious privacy violation.”

Questions have been raised about the legality of the practice, which is also the focus of proposed legislation in Illinois and Maryland that would forbid public agencies from asking for access to social networks.

Since the rise of social networking, it has become common for managers to review publically available Facebook profiles, Twitter accounts and other sites to learn more about job candidates. But many users, especially on Facebook, have their profiles set to private, making them available only to selected people or certain networks.

Companies that don’t ask for passwords have taken other steps — such as asking applicants to friend human resource managers or to log in to a company computer during an interview. Once employed, some workers have been required to sign non-disparagement agreements that ban them from talking negatively about an employer on social media.

Asking for a candidate’s password is more prevalent among public agencies, especially those seeking to fill law enforcement positions such as police officers or 911 dispatchers.

Back in 2010, Robert Collins was returning to his job as a security guard at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services after taking a leave following his mother’s death. During a reinstatement interview, he was asked for his login and password, purportedly so the agency could check for any gang affiliations. He was stunned by the request but complied.

“I needed my job to feed my family. I had to,” he recalled,

After the ACLU complained about the practice, the agency amended its policy, asking instead for job applicants to log in during interviews.

“To me, that’s still invasive. I can appreciate the desire to learn more about the applicant, but it’s still a violation of people’s personal privacy,” said Collins, whose case inspired Maryland’s legislation.

Until last year, the city of Bozeman, Mont., had a long-standing policy of asking job applicants for passwords to their email addresses, social-networking websites and other online accounts.

And since 2006, the McLean County, Ill., sheriff’s office has been one of several Illinois sheriff’s departments that ask applicants to sign into social media sites to be screened.

Chief Deputy Rusty Thomas defended the practice, saying applicants have a right to refuse. But no one has ever done so. Thomas said that “speaks well of the people we have apply.”

When asked what sort of material would jeopardize job prospects, Thomas said “it depends on the situation” but could include “inappropriate pictures or relationships with people who are underage, illegal behavior.”

In Spotsylvania County, Va., the sheriff’s department asks applicants to friend background investigators for jobs at the 911 dispatch center and for law enforcement positions.

“In the past, we’ve talked to friends and neighbors, but a lot of times we found that applicants interact more through social media sites than they do with real friends,” said Capt. Mike Harvey. “Their virtual friends will know more about them than a person living 30 yards away from them.”

Harvey said investigators look for any “derogatory” behavior that could damage the agency’s reputation.

E. Chandlee Bryan, a career coach and co-author of the book “The Twitter Job Search Guide,” said job seekers should always be aware of what’s on their social media sites and assume someone is going to look at it.

Bryan said she is troubled by companies asking for logins, but she feels it’s not a violation if an employer asks to see a Facebook profile through a friend request. And she’s not troubled by non-disparagement agreements.

“I think that when you work for a company, they are essentially supporting you in exchange for your work. I think if you’re dissatisfied, you should go to them and not on a social media site,” she said.

More companies are also using third-party applications to scour Facebook profiles, Bryan said. One app called BeKnown can sometimes access personal profiles, short of wall messages, if a job seeker allows it.

Sears is one of the companies using apps. An applicant has the option of logging into the Sears job site through Facebook by allowing a third-party application to draw information from the profile, such as friend lists.

Sears Holdings Inc. spokeswoman Kim Freely said using a Facebook profile to apply allows Sears to be updated on the applicant’s work history.

The company assumes “that people keep their social profiles updated to the minute, which allows us to consider them for other jobs in the future or for ones that they may not realize are available currently,” she said.

Giving out Facebook login information violates the social network’s terms of service. But those terms have no real legal weight, and experts say the legality of asking for such information remains murky.

The Department of Justice regards it as a federal crime to enter a social networking site in violation of the terms of service, but during recent congressional testimony, the agency said such violations would not be prosecuted.

But Lori Andrews, law professor at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law specializing in Internet privacy, is concerned about the pressure placed on applicants, even if they voluntarily provide access to social sites.

“Volunteering is coercion if you need a job,” Andrews said.

Neither Facebook nor Twitter responded to repeated requests for comment.

In New York, Bassett considered himself lucky that he was able to turn down the consulting gig at a lobbying firm.

“I think asking for account login credentials is regressive,” he said. “If you need to put food on the table for your three kids, you can’t afford to stand up for your belief.”





Smart Illinois Voter!



Roger Simon: The GOP is in like with Romney

Is there something about Mitt Romney that makes you warm, but not hot?

Is he the third date you never show up for?

Is he the inevitable presidential nominee of the Republican Party this summer, just so he can be the inevitable loser to Barack Obama this fall?

Tuesday night, a night Romney would win big in the big state of Illinois, there were still signs that the Republican Party was in like, but not in love, with him.

NBC’s “Nightly News” quoted Bob Michel, who was for 38 years a Republican congressman from Peoria and who has endorsed Romney, as saying Romney is “not a very exciting candidate who can rally the party around him” and is lacking in “that magical spark.”

Monday, POLITICO’s Reid Epstein had quoted Michel as saying of Romney: “He’s not overwhelming, that’s the problem through the whole damn primary. What’s the spark? What’s the thing that gets him off and running? No one knows.”

And this is a guy who likes Mitt Romney! This is a guy who has endorsed Mitt Romney and wants others to vote for Mitt Romney!

Yet Michel is still walking around in the dark looking for a spark. Or a glimmer. Or a glow. Or maybe even just a glint.

Not that long ago, it seemed as if Obama was going to be the inevitable loser in this presidential race. The economy was lousy, conservatives loathed him, and liberals were disappointed with him.

And he no longer seemed to have the same spark himself. Last time around, Obama’s victory was an historic event. Casting a vote for an African-American undoubtedly made some people feel they were part of a new, better history of this country, one that showed everyone how America and its system of government were still the world’s greatest hope.

But you can’t capture that particular lightning in a bottle a second time. History has been made. That dream had been dreamt and fulfilled. The poetry was written, and now Obama needed the tough prose of accomplishment to win.

Or so we thought. Until something wonderful happened for Obama. Something very, very lucky. (And, in my opinion, most successful politicians are lucky politicians.)

Like a poker player drawing an inside straight, Barack Obama drew the Republican field.

Without bringing up ancient history like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain or Rick Perry, let’s just look at who the Republicans still have sitting around the table: Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

Sometimes you have strong fields, sometimes you have weak fields, and sometimes you have one guy who could possibly win the presidency and three guys who might have just a wee bit of trouble persuading people their hands should be on the nuclear button.

But, wait, Obama gets even luckier!

Elections are not decided on personalities alone, but also on how candidates grapple with the issues of the day and how they persuade voters they understand the voters’ problems and can solve them.

So what are two issues that have dominated headlines during this primary season? The accusation that Republicans are waging a war against women (or, at least, fighting for control over women’s bodies) and also are indifferent or hostile to the aspirations of Latinos.

Without going through a whole bunch of numbers, you know two groups that might be important in November? Women is one, and Latinos is another. And Republicans seem intent on ticking off both.

Last time, Obama won the presidency by 7.2 percentage points. I doubt he expects to win by that much this time – the country is deeply divided and the economy is still lousy.

So let’s say Obama wins by only half that much. Let’s say he wins by less than half that much.

Let’s say he wins by only 2 or 3 percentage points.

You know what? He still gets to be president! And you know how many people will remember how many votes Obama won by? Maybe Obama. And John King. Maybe a few others. But not many.

Don’t believe me? Bill Clinton won the presidency twice. You remember by how much? Me, neither (though Wikipedia tells me it was by 5.6 percentage points the first time and by 8.5 percentage points the second).

I do know that both times Clinton got only a plurality of the popular vote and not a majority (and I know he hated that), but you know what? He got to be president anyway!

It takes a lot to beat an incumbent president. It happens, of course. (Clinton beat an incumbent president the first time.) But with that big, robin’s egg blue and white jet with “United States of America” on its side, a candidate like Obama who has shown real skill on the stump is not going to lose just because gasoline prices are too high or he wants health care for every American.

Somebody is going to have to beat him. A Republican has got to take the job away from him.

It can be done. But it is going to take someone with skill and guts and luck.

And maybe even a little spark.



McCain: Romney “has not done as well as we had hoped”



Romney to woman concerned about contraception coverage: “Vote for the other guy” 


Despite expanding health care to women as governor of Massachusetts — and even attending a Planned Parenthood fundraiser in 1994 as a Senate candidate — Romney has come out against helping women find affordable reproductive health services since announcing his presidential candidacy.

Beyond simply threatening Planned Parenthood, which provides necessary health care for millions of women, Romney has also called for cutting funds for Title X — the only federal program devoted to family planning — from the federal budget. He endorsed the so-called Blunt amendment to allow any employer to drop health insurance coverage for contraception and other health services on moral grounds, and spoke out against requiring employers and insurers to provide birth control coverage in their health care plans at no additional cost. Given that track record, many women and health advocates may indeed be inclined to “vote for the other guy.”



Romney’s ‘get rid of’ Planned Parenthood remark becomes Dem fundraising tool



Can the Long Slog Help Romney?

[…] I don’t think I’ve made this point before, but while generally people have believed that the long slog is a disadvantage for Mitt Romney — because he has to spend money now, and because he has to worry about very conservative voters who are sure to vote for him in November — there’s a flip side to that, too. First of all, as long as people are still reporting on these things, Romney gets lots of nights of being a winner. Granted, he’s had a few losing nights, too, but overall more winner nights — and if the nomination was over, he wouldn’t be getting those. Moreover, ideological positioning does seem to matter, and while Romney has had to take issue positions which might hurt his perceived position, he gets to have weeks and weeks in which he’s defined as the candidate of the moderates. Not to mention the other candidates practically calling him a RINO. That’s how he wants to be perceived in November, and he’s getting plenty of free publicity supporting the idea.

By the way, don’t discount the possibility of a stampede after Illinois. I’m not making any predictions about it at this point, but if the delegates fall right for Romney tonight, it’s going to be increasingly difficult for anyone to pretend that Romney’s not going to get to 1144.



Top Romney adviser admits economy will likely continue improving

The Los Angeles Times has a terrific piece today documenting Mitt Romney’s increasingly tortured stance on the economy and the rhetorical shifts he’s undertaken in the face of good news about the recovery.

But what really jumped out at me was this nugget at the end, in which top Romney strategist Stuart Stevens acknowledges that the economy is likely to keep improving, but predicts that voters will hold Obama accountable for economic suffering, anyway:

Strategists for Romney aren’t rooting for things to sour between now and November, even if that would boost his election prospects. “The economy, I assume, will get better,” Stevens said. “Hope it gets better.”

But even if the recovery stays on track, Stevens is convinced that voters won’t soon forget the experience of the last four years, or forgive Obama. A few months of recovery is a short time to change perceptions.

You can’t undo the trauma,” Stevens said.

I don’t know if the economy will continue improving or not. But this opens an important window into the Romney campaign’s strategic preparations for the eventuality that it just might. The Romney camp is betting that the American people will remain so traumatized by the aftermath of the crisis that they’ll hold Obama accountable for their suffering, even if the economy is steadily improving.

This yet another sign that the Romney campaign is betting heavily on the possibility that the American people won’t remember or factor in just how awful a crisis Obama inherited upon taking office. Additionally, it sets the stage for a really interesting general election argument. The Romney campaign, and the outside groups backing him, will run hundreds of millions of dollars in ads painting an extremely vivid picture of the American people’s economic suffering, in hopes of getting them to blame Obama for it and to conclude that he failed them. That’s to be expected, of course. The question is: How they will balance this message with an acknowledgment — as Stevens tries to do above — that things are getting better?

Meanwhile, the Obama campaign and its allies are laying the groundwork to spend just as much painting an extremely vivid picture of their own: A potrayal of just how awful a disaster Obama inherited upon taking office, and of the horrific nightmare that would result from a return to GOP policies. The election will turn heavily on how long a view the American public takes, amid a time of intense public anger, anxiety, and mistrust of our institutions. This will not be an election for the faint of heart.



Mitt Romney is serving up the same energy policies that the Koch brothers ordered

The Big Oil billionaire Koch brothers are spending millions to pursue their agenda. They and their allies have pledged to contribute $200 million to third–party groups to help defeat President Obama this year. And now they’re providing their longtime ally, Mitt Romney, with a major platform to drum up support.

Today, Romney spoke at the Michigan Prosperity Forum, a Koch-sponsored event with an audience chock full of the Koch brothers’ personal friends and fans. And as Americans for Prosperity’s Michigan state director said, “Because this event takes place just three days before Michigan’s primary election, this is a perfect time to ensure our issues have a prominent place within the national dialogue in this year’s elections.”




Romney promised to shed investments in China, but still stands to profit from Chinese surveillance systems

On the campaign trail, Mitt Romney rails against China’s trade policies and its record on human rights, and he promises that as president, he would take a hard line against the Chinese government.

But his actions—and his investments—tell a very different story.

The New York Times is reporting that Romney has financial holdings in a company that claims to be the largest supplier to China’s monitoring system—which lets the government keep tabs on university campuses, hospitals, mosques, and movie theaters.

In other words, Romney is financially invested in the Chinese government keeping tabs on its own citizens—and the implications are serious:

“Human rights advocates say in China [the surveillance cameras] are also used to intimidate and monitor political and religious dissidents. ‘There are video cameras all over our monastery, and their only purpose is to make us feel feer,’ says Loksag, a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Gansu Providence. He said the cameras helped the authorities identify and detain nearly 200 monks who participated in a protest at his monastery in 2008.”

Romney has made “confronting China” part of his case for the presidency, and he has criticized China for denying its people—in his words—”basic political freedoms and human rights.”

But through his investments, he’s enabling China to do just that.

Romney’s clearly got one set of rules for the campaign trail, and another set of rules for himself. That’s not what the American people are looking for in a leader.



Swift Boat’ Billionaire Donor Bob J Perry donates $3 Million to Romney group 



Billionaire Sheldon Adelson gives additional $5.5 million to pro-Gingrich super-PAC 



Duckworth Wins 8th District Dem Primary in Illinois



Obama’s Plan to Win Reelection

[Please see original for links.]

[Editor’s note: This article is adapted from David Corn’s new book,Showdown: The Inside Story of Obama’s Fight to Save His Presidency. Also read the inside story of the tense White House night during the bin Laden raid.]

IT WAS THE SPRING of 2011, and Barack Obama was preparing for a Big Speech about the deficit. He wanted to counter the draconian budget plan released by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that slashed government programs and ended the Medicare guarantee. In a brainstorming session with top aides, he said he’d been thinking about his recent trip to Chile.

“I’m going to other parts of the world and they’re showing me tremendous investments in infrastructure and innovations in education,” Obama told them. “They’re willing to spend money on that. The Republican budget reflects a fundamental pessimism. It says that to get the deficit in line, we can’t afford to be as visionary as these countries, and we can’t be optimistic because they’re not willing to let an extra penny come from high-income people.” Smaller nations were aiming bigger.

Obama had a lot of pent-up passion. He’d just come through weeks of brutal budget negotiations that had resulted in $38.5 billion in cuts. Now, with a government shutdown averted, Obama felt the time had come to get tough. He wanted to draw lines and call out the Republicans.

The speech he gave on April 13 slammed the GOP for painting a downer picture of the country’s future: “It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t afford to send them…Worst of all, this is a vision that says even though Americans can’t afford to invest in education at current levels, or clean energy, even though we can’t afford to maintain our commitment on Medicare and Medicaid, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy. Think about that.”

Republicans were irate—and nervous. The president was aiming to gain the high ground in the values war, and this blast was far sharper than any he’d fired in a long while. But then Obama’s assault evaporated. Within the White House, the order came down from on high: Tone down the rhetoric until we make a deal to lift the debt ceiling.

Some Obama-ites were in a more pugilistic mood. The speech had struck the right note, a former senior adviser told me later: “Why not repeat that five times? Emphasize why we won’t cut off the vulnerable, why government investment is important. Why not follow up over and over?” Austan Goolsbee, then chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, had produced a whiteboard video explaining what was wrong and excessive about the Ryan budget, but the White House decided not to release it.

Obama and other aides were worried about a financial meltdown if the debt ceiling was not raised. David Axelrod, Obama’s message guru, told me, “The decision was made to allow the negotiations to proceed until the president needed to intervene.” As Robert Gibbs put it, “It’s difficult to put out your right hand to shake their hands and then strike them with your left hand.”

This fit a pattern that had long disappointed (and, at times, enraged) congressional Democrats and grassroots activists: Obama would proclaim his progressive inclinations and then trade in the soaring rhetoric for negotiations that yielded uninspiring compromises. Many of the president’s supporters wondered: What was he doing? Why not consistently pummel the tea partiers on the Hill if he truly wanted a fight over values?

For most of the past year, I have been investigating what makes the Obama White House tick, conducting scores of interviews with past and present administration officials for my forthcoming book, Showdown. The overarching tale that emerged was that while the third year of Obama’s presidency did not produce outcomes sufficient for frustrated liberals, it did mark the end of the compromiser-in-chief. Through the budget fight and then the debt ceiling dustup, Obama and his aides felt constrained by their responsibility to prevent the economic damage a shutdown or debt freeze would cause. They had to negotiate with hostage takers, some of whom were willing to shoot the hostages. But once the debt ceiling crisis was resolved, that changed.

Days after the compromise was announced, Obama called Gene Sperling, his top economic adviser, into his office. Bring me a major jobs plan, he said. By next week. The latest employment numbers were frightening; it seemed that the anemic recovery could be stalling out. Though chief White House strategist David Plouffe and communications director Dan Pfeiffer worried about pitching a pricey initiative, in Oval Office meetings Obama demanded a jobs package that would make a difference.

In one of these discussions, Obama asked Sperling, “Put Congress and politics aside. If you were trying to fix the economy, what would you do?”

Spend money to help states hire and retain teachers, Sperling said. This would help preserve consumer demand in the short term and prevent the education system from deteriorating and becoming a drag on the nation’s future.

Why isn’t that in the plan? Obama asked.

Republicans won’t pass it, Sperling said.

Let’s decide what we believe is best, Obama said. Vice President Joe Biden savvily suggested adding police officers, firefighters, and other first responders. At another meeting—after the bill for Sperling’s jobs plan had crept up from $350 billion to about $450 billion—Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, who was usually Mr. Fiscal Discipline, backed up Sperling. Plouffe agreed that the larger price tag would make the plan harder to sell, but he noted that it would illustrate the bold difference between the president and the Republicans.

In early September, Obama unveiled the jobs plan during a speech to Congress that picked up where his anti-Ryan address had left off. Perhaps the most powerful moment came when Obama asked: “Should we keep tax loopholes for oil companies? Or should we use that money to give small-business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers? Because we can’t afford to do both. Should we keep tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires? Or should we put teachers back to work so our kids can graduate ready for college and good jobs? This isn’t political grandstanding. This isn’t class warfare. This is simple math.”

Obama was dishing out, as could be expected with him, a calm sort of populism: There’s a rational choice to be made, and there’s only so much money. But he was also delivering a strong defense of government—a perspective that had been overwhelmed by the tea party’s starve-the-beast message. “We no longer had a gun to our head,” a senior administration official recalls. Following the debt ceiling mess, the president had concluded that he could no longer work the inside game with Republicans held captive by the extreme ranks of their own party.

Obama was done being the above-the-fray president, the reasonable fellow who would ease the bickerers of Capitol Hill into compromise. He and his aides had once believed that image was critical to winning over independent voters. Now they had concluded that if Obama pursued substantive compromises but failed (because House Speaker John Boehner could neither control nor defy his tea party wing), he would appear ineffectual. “There was no pot of gold at the end of the adult-in-the-room rainbow,” says one former top administration official, “and there were only so many times Lucy could pull away the football.”

Republicans said no, no, and no to the president’s jobs package, but this time Obama didn’t throttle back. He plugged away at event afterevent—mostly in 2012 swing states—offering various either/ors. The nation could invest more in infrastructure and compete with the Chinese, or tax cuts could be preserved for the wealthy. America could protect Medicare or tax breaks for corporations. He would still tick off liberals (killing tighter smog regulations; allowing restrictions on the morning-after pill), but on the economy, he was finally doing what some of his allies had long urged.

In early December, Obama flew to Osawatomie, Kansas. In this small town in 1910, President Teddy Roosevelt, by then out of office but still deeply involved in politics, delivered a rip-roaring speech defining a “New Nationalism.” Perhaps the most radical address ever given by a US president, it declared that the “citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces” and called for a “square deal” for workers, including rigorous government regulation of the workplace and Big Finance. It was denounced at the time as “communistic,” “socialistic,” and “anarchistic.”

Obama didn’t go nearly as far as T.R. But he did talk about the “raging debate over the best way to restore growth and prosperity, restore balance, restore fairness.” He said this was “a make-or-break moment for the middle class and for all of those who are fighting to get into the middle class.”

Noting that the United States had become a nation of greater economic inequality—Obama and his aides had been watching Occupy Wall Street’s message catch on—he returned to the vision he had presented in his 2011 State of the Union. To revive a strong middle class, Americans must join together, through government, to educate, innovate, and build.

“This isn’t about class warfare,” he said. “This is about the nation’s welfare.” Afterward, Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign chief, sent out an email to supporters proclaiming that this approach “will inform every discussion we have with undecided voters over the next year.”

Two weeks later, the House Republicans helped make Obama’s point for him: They refused to go along with a bipartisan Senate compromise to extend unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut for two months. But Obama now felt emboldened to confront GOP obstructionism, and the Republican leadership blinked; Boehner ended up embarrassinglylosing this game of chicken. Soon afterward, the president would issue arecess appointment for Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—in defiance of Senate GOP filibusters. And in a feisty State of the Union speech in January, he laid out the choice: “We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot.” At stake, he added, was nothing less than “American values.”

Obama’s new tack did seem to yield political dividends. By late 2011, hescored better than Republicans when poll respondents were asked whom they trusted to handle the economy and even the deficit. Plouffe could barely believe it—he told people it was as if the Republicans were ahead on the issue of children’s health care. A core GOP strength had been neutralized.

Yet as they looked to 2012, Obama and his advisers had one key number in mind: No president since FDR has ever won reelection with unemployment greater than 7.2 percent. If the election evolved mainly into a referendum on Obama’s economic policies, he would be in deep trouble. But if he and his team could shape it as a choice between two sharply distinguished sets of values, he would have a fighting chance.

The first year of Obama’s face-off with the tea-party-controlled House had been ugly. The president had not achieved his main policy objectives. But as he and his inner circle saw it, he had managed to lay the foundation for the decisive campaign to come—and had found his fighting groove. In the face of unremitting opposition, perhaps because of it, Obama realized much of his strategic plan. He could only hope the same would happen in 2012.




A closer look at what, specifically, Paul Ryan’s budget would cut

Paul Ryan’s budget would spend $5.3 trillion less over the next decade than President Obama’s budget. Part of this is health care: Ryan would trim Medicare and Medicaid for a portion of his savings. But he’d also spend $2.2 trillion less on everything else. So what, specifically, is Ryan planning to cut?

The clearest way to figure this out is to look at the “Chairman’s mark”: This is the version of Ryan’s budget that’s in legislative language and gives specific forecasts for spending by government function. You can see them in table form at the end of his bill (pdf) and then compare them with the White House’s Table 32-1 here. Exciting, right?

Over the next decade, Ryan plans to spend about 16 percent less than the White House on “income security” programs for the poor — that’s everything from food stamps to housing assistance to the earned-income tax credit. (Ryan’s budget would authorize $4.8 trillion between 2013 and 2022; the White House’s would spend $5.7 trillion.) Compared with Obama, Ryan would spend 25 percent less on transportation and 13 percent less on veterans. He’d spend 6 percent less on “General science, space, and basic technology.” And, compared with the White House’s proposal, he’d shell out 33 percent less for “Education, training, employment, and social services.”

So how would this lower spending play out? Let’s take transportation as an example. Right now, the United States is facing a number of pressing infrastructure challenges. The National Highway System, first built in the 1950s, is reaching the end of its natural lifespan. Our air-traffic control system is outdated, causing airport delays around the country. About one-quarter of the country’s bridges are either “structurally deficient” or inadequate to today’s traffic needs, according to the GAO.

A variety of think tanks and analysts have pegged the cost of repairing and upgrading our transportation networks at somewhere between $200 billion and $262 billion per year over the next decade. The White House’s budget envisions spending an average of about $104 billion per year. Ryan’s budget, meanwhile, allocates $78 billion per year. In his summary, Ryan claims he can meet the country’s needs by cutting back on “imprudent, irresponsible, and downright wasteful spending,” though it’s not clear what waste Ryan has in mind, much less whether it would make up the gap.

Alternatively, we can look at what specific cuts might ensue in the very near future. Third Way has tried to game out the impacts of Congress’s recent debt-ceiling deal on specific government programs. The cuts to domestic spending, if applied across the board, would lead to fewer food inspectors, fewer air-traffic controllers, and so forth. That would mean more delays and cases of food poisoning, and so forth. And Ryan’s budget, for its part, goes even deeper than the debt-ceiling deal.

I asked Third Way’s budget expert David Kendall if he could update some of his numbers for Ryan’s budget. Under Ryan’s plan, for instance, spending on transportation would be 26.1 percent lower in 2014 than it is today. If that size cut was applied to, say, air-traffic control programs, Kendall notes, “there would be 3,092 more flight cancellations and 68,683 delays annually. At the U.S. average of 49 passengers per flight, that’s enough to strand 151,503 more people at the gate and make 3,365,685 more people late every year.”

Likewise, spending on natural resources and the environment would be 14.6 percent lower under Ryan’s budget in 2014 than it is today. Assuming those cuts hit all programs in this category equally — and, again, this is for illustration purposes — then this is how it would affect weather forecasting. “Our weather forecasts would be only half as accurate for four to eight years until another polar satellite is launched,” estimates Kendall. “For many people planning a weekend outdoors, they may have to wait until Thursday for a forecast as accurate as one they now get on Monday. … Perhaps most affected would be hurricane response. Governors and mayors would have to order evacuations for areas twice as large or wait twice as long for an accurate forecast.”

Now, obviously, Ryan’s budget may not lead to these exact cuts. Perhaps Congress will go out of its way to shield weather forecasting while cutting something else in the environmental budget even more. But when the budget is this tight, Congress can’t shield everything. And Kendall’s analysis is a useful way to make those spending reductions a little more concrete.

Correction: Apologies, I had my numbers wrong on what Obama’s proposing to spend between 2013 and 2022 on transportation. It’s $1.04 trillion, not $1.2 trillion. Which also means Ryan is spending 25 percent less, not 38 percent less.



Why the House GOP may not love its own budget plan

The Tweet of the Day comes by way of Molly Ball, a politics writer at The Atlantic, who posted this gem this morning.

This may seem surprising at a certain level. After all, House Republicans are necessarily going to love the House Republican budget plan, aren’t they? They all worship Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and are eager to follow his lead, right?

Well, the answer falls somewhere between “sort of” and “not entirely.”

A year ago, GOP leaders recognized the anxiety felt by some of its caucus members, but told Republicans to hold hands and jumpoff the cliff together. They did, and when the final vote came on the party’s right-wing, Medicare-killing plan, 235 House Republicans — 98% of the caucus — voted for it.

Democrats were probably even happier than Republicans with the vote — the attack ads wrote themselves — and vulnerable GOP members started feeling pretty intense pressure almost immediately. It was as clear an example of political overreach as anything we’ve seen in recent memory, and Congress’ approval rating began to tank.

Now, the leadership is asking these same members to take another plunge, only this time, it’s an election year.

A lot will be said in the coming weeks — by me, among others — about the far-right nature of the new House Republican budget plan, and the extent to which it reneges on the bipartisan agreement the GOP already accepted. But there’s another angle to keep in mind: what Republicans intend to do is unpopular.

Igor Volsky and Travis Waldron flagged some of the more offensive elements of the plan — forcing seniors to pay more for healthcare; cutting coverage for the elderly and disabled; eliminating coverage for 30 million Americans; giving a big tax cut to the wealthy; cutting the safety net while increasing Pentagon spending — and it’s worth appreciating the fact that the American mainstream doesn’t support any of this.

Republicans can read polls as well as anyone else, and the most vulnerable among them may balk at sticking their necks out twice on a budget plan that can’t pass the Senate anyway.

Last April, just four House Republicans voted against the Ryan plan. This year, I suspect that number will go up, not down.



Paul Ryan’s Path to Penury

[…] The single most important number in Ryan’s plan, as usual, is his top line limit on spending: 19% of GDP. He will, of course, justify this with a chart showing that this is about the average over the past 50 years, so it’s perfectly reasonable that we should be able to stick with this for the next 50. But it’s not. For starters, average expenditures over the past 30 years have been more like 20-21% of GDP, with the exception of a few years in the late 90s during the Clinton boom era. What’s more, the country is aging. Nothing can stop that, and this means that spending on the elderly is going to go up no matter how good a job of reining in healthcare costs we do. This means that spending over the next 20-30 years is going to be in the range of 23-24%.

This is just pure demographics. There’s really not much we can do about it. In fact, it’s actually a best-case scenario.

So if we cut spending to 19%, it means that the entire budget outside of Social Security, Medicare, and Defense (which Ryan also doesn’t want to cut much) has to be cut by half or more. Ryan will do his best to cover this up, but there’s no way around the numbers. The country is aging. We’re going to spend more on the elderly. If we cut spending levels at the same time, everything non-elderly gets whacked hard. That’s the basic story. It’s not a path to prosperity, it’s a path to penury.



5 terrible things about the GOP budget that everyone should know about 







CAP: The 6 Key Failures of the House Republican Budget Plan

Download this column (pdf)
Read the column in your web browser (Scribd)

The latest House Republican budget plan asks low-income and middle-class Americans to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while simultaneously delivering massive tax breaks to the richest 1 percent and preserving huge giveaways to Big Oil. It’s a recipe forrepeating the mistakes of the Bush administration, during which middle-class incomes stagnated and only the privileged few enjoyed enormous gains.

Each component of the new House Republican budget threatens the middle class while doing nothing to add jobs or grow our economy. It ends the guarantee of decent insurance for senior citizens, breaking Medicare’s bedrock promise. It slashes investments in education, infrastructure, and basic research, all of which are key drivers of economic growth and mobility. And it cuts taxes for those at the top, asking the middle class to pick up the tab. It’s a budget designed to benefit the top 1 percent at everyone else’s expense.




The House GOP is planning a new attack on EPA rules. 



Mitch McConnell Votes Against Highway Bill He Said He’d Work To Pass 



Insider-trading bill grinds to halt



The White House is disputing a report by the Washington Post that the Boehner-Obama debt deal is still on the table

A senior White House official is disputing a key, but vague, detail in a weekend Washington Post article, which provided a number of new details about the final days of President Obama’s unsuccessful attempt last summer to strike a grand bargain to stabilize the national debt with House Speaker John Boehner.

The two principals were nearing a framework that would have included higher tax revenues, unpopular cuts to Medicare and other spending reductions when the talks failed. That resulted in the debt limit deal and the ongoing fight between the parties over the federal safety net and taxes on the wealthy.

One of the Post’s new details alarmed progressives.

“White House officials said this week that the offer is still on the table,” the Postreported.

At a Tuesday background briefing for reporters, a senior administration official, who would not agree to be named or quoted, took issue with that and other details in the piece.

There’s a sense in which both the Post and the White House might actually be in agreement. The Post doesn’t specify what their unnamed source meant by “the offer.” As the senior official noted in Tuesday’s briefing at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building many of the issues Obama and Boehner tried to tackle were addressed by the discretionary spending caps in the debt limit deal. A renewed push for a grand bargain would have to reflect that.

As the same senior administration official told me earlier this month, the White House could support a broad deficit reduction bill if Republicans in Congress would yield on revenues. But they see no evidence that the GOP’s position has changed.



GOP Leaders Take Conservative Fire For Health Care Repeal Strategy

[…] Not only have they managed to alienate some Democratic allies on the bill, slated for a floor vote this week, they’re also facing heat from the right for targeting just the one provision of “Obamacare,” instead of the law in its entirety.

The provision is the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), a panel of 15 experts that will be charged with holding down Medicare per-beneficiary costs years from now by restricting provider payments. The repeal bill easily cleared House committees, with some help from key Democrats, a number of whom are uncomfortable with the idea.

On Friday, two prominent conservative members of Congress, Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Rep. Steve King (R-IA), publicly accused the House GOP of muddying the party’s message on the Affordable Care Act. In a Washington Times op-ed titled “End Obamacare, don’t mend it,” the two lawmakers declare that scrapping the law in its entirety is a defining plank of the Republican platform.

“Unfortunately, the clarity of that choice may soon be muddied, not by Democrats desperate to hide from their record, but inexplicably, by Republicans pushing a vote on a bill to undo one part of Obamacare: the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB),” DeMint and King write. While denouncing IPAB as “one of the most obnoxious parts” of the law, they declare that “we are as adamantly opposed to IPAB as we are to the rest of Obamacare — from the individual mandate to the abortion-pill requirement to the multitrillion-dollar price tag.”

“The Democratic Party is the party of Obamacare,” they continue. “If Republicans, through their toying with Obamacare, present themselves to voters as the party of some of Obamacare, we will lose.”

The op-ed dovetails a same-day letter from more than a dozen prominent conservative advocates to House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, pleading with them not to “muddy the water” of conservatives’ hatred for health care law by singling out IPAB. They write: “We cannot allow the idea to take root that the worst parts of Obamacare can somehow be ‘removed’ when in fact the entire law must be rescinded.”

Messaging merits aside, the argument by the conservatives is something of a false choice: House Republican leaders have made clear their preference to repeal the entire law, as their chamber voted to do last year. Part of the goal here is to enlist Democrats to rebuke Obama’s long-termvision for Medicare — 20 House Dems cosigned the bill by Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) to scrap IPAB. But as it turns out, that strategy is not going too well, either.

The votes of those Democrats are now in question after House GOP leadership opted to pay for the $3.1 billion cost of repealing IPABwith medical malpractice reform, an unrelated issue that has long been a poison pill for Dems. Two prominent Dem signatories to the IPAB repeal bill — Reps. Barney Frank (MA) and Allyson Schwartz (PA) — rebuked GOP leadership for attaching the partisan pay-for.

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is also under fire from the right, after a report in The Hill said he told his GOP members he would prefer not to hold another vote on health care repeal until after the election.

After the Mike Huckabee-affiliated conservative group Restore America’s Voice Foundationthreatened to turn its more than 2-million members against him, demanding a repeal vote, McConnell vowed through a spokesman to speak to his members about how best to attack the Affordable Care Act this month.

More than halfway through the month, however, no repeal vote is yet in the pipeline.

The schisms reflect the different goals of GOP leaders and rank-and-file members. Leaders, having already enlisted every Republican in both chambers to vote to repeal the law last year, know it’s a lost cause for now and want to try to beat Obama where they can. But red-meat conservatives are more concerned about the clarity of their anti-“Obamacare” message as they seek to energize their base ahead of the 2012 election.




Commerce Dept. finds China guilty of illegally subsidizing solar panel exports to the U.S. 

The U.S. Department of Commerce has found that the Chinese government illegally subsdized the country’s solar exports to the U.S., sources close to the case tell TPM. The Commerce Department will now immediately move to impose import duties on Chinese companies. TPM has learned that the import duties will be 3.59 percent for most Chinese companies, but that two, Trina and Suntech, were singled out for 4.73 percent and 2.9 percent duties respectively.




Anti-Science ‘Monkey Bill’ Passes Tennessee Senate

Bill requiring ‘teaching the controversy’ on evolution and global warming opposed by leading science group.

A National Center for Science Education repost

The Senate approved a bill Monday evening that deals with teaching of evolution and other scientific theories,” the Knoxville News-Sentinel (March 19, 2012) reported, adding, “Critics call it a ‘monkey bill’ that promotes creationism in classrooms.” The bill in question is Senate Bill 893, which, if enacted, would encourage teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of “controversial” topics such as “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.”

Among those expressing opposition to the bill are the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Nashville Tennessean, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the National Earth Science Teachers Association, and the Tennessee Science Teachers Association, whose president Becky Ashe described (PDF) the legislation as “unnecessary, anti-scientific, and very likely unconstitutional.”

The Senate vote was 24-8. According to the Tennesseean (March 20, 2012), Andy Berke (D-District 10) “noted the state’s history as a battleground over evolution — the so-called Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 drew national attention and inspired the Oscar-winning film Inherit the Wind — and said the measure would cast Tennessee in a bad light.” Berke also objected that the bill would encourage inappropriate discussions of religious matters, saying, “If my children ask, ‘How does that mesh with my faith?’ I don’t want their teacher answering that question.”

The bill now proceeds to the House of Representatives, which passed the counterpart House Bill 368 on April 7, 2011. SB 893 was amended in committee before it passed the Senate, however, so the two houses of the legislature will have to resolve the discrepancies between the bills. Tennessee’s governor Bill Haslam previously indicated that he would discuss the bill with the state board of education, telling the Tennesseean (March 19, 2012), “It is a fair question what the General Assembly’s role is … That’s why we have a state board of education.”

NCSE has said of creationism that “students who accept this material as scientifically valid are unlikely to succeed in science courses at the college level.”

Related NCSE Post:

  • Tennessee’s top scientists, including Stanley Cohen, Nobel Prize winner in physiology of medicine, oppose “monkey bills”: ”By undermining the teaching of evolution in Tennessee’s public schools, HB368 and SB893 would miseducate students, harm the state’s national reputation, and weaken its efforts to compete in a science-driven global economy.




Health Insurers: We’ll Deny Coverage For Pre-Existing Conditions If Health Mandate Is Repealed

Health insurers and supporters of the Obama administration’s health-care reform law are currently in the midst of drawing up possible contingency plans in case the Supreme Court overturns the Affordable Care Act’sindividual mandate.

The insurance industry argues that premiums are likely to skyrocket without the individual mandate in place to aid in pushing millions of new enrollees into the marketplace, as healthy people will be less likely to buy insurance, while insurers will still be required to sell policies to all applicants. In fact, a repeal of the individual mandate would increase insurance premiums by 25 percent, according to a study released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The insurance reforms would have to change if the mandate were struck,” said Justine Handelman, vice president of legislative and regulatory policy for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association trade group.

Health-insurance officials say that if the mandate is repealed, “their first priority would be persuading members of Congress to repeal two of the law’s major insurance changes: a requirement to cover everyone regardless of his or her medical history, and limits on how much insurers can vary premiums based on age.” Their next step would be to “set rewards for people who purchase insurance voluntarily and sanction those who don’t.”

Other possible alternatives to the individual mandate that insurers are weighing:

– Penalize those who enroll outside of short annual windows; deny treatment for specific conditions, especially right after a policy is purchased

– Reward certain insurance buyers, such as offering much lower premiums for younger and healthier people

– Expand employers’ role in automatically enrolling employees for health insurance

– Urge credit-rating firms to use health-insurance status as a factor in determining individuals’ ratings

Although the mandate has been upheld in two appeals courts, it was struck down in a third. The Supreme Court hearings are scheduled to begin March 26, and an official ruling is expected to be delivered in June.




U.S. argues Arizona immigration law unconstitutional

In a brief filed Tuesday, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to find unconstitutional Arizona’s law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants.

“Petitioners assert that Arizona’s status as a border State that is particularly affected by illegal immigrationjustifies its adoption of its own policy directed to foreign nationals. But the framers recognized that the ‘bordering States…will be those who, under the impulse of sudden irritation, and a quick sense of apparent interest or injury,’ might take action that undermines relations with other nations, and regarded that possibility as a further reason to vest authority over foreign affairs in the National government,” says the brief filed by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli.

The Framers’ quote is from Federalist No. 3, written by John Jay. Even taking that point, though, it’s worth noting that the Obama administration has filed similar suits against three other states overtheir new immigration-related laws: Alabama, South Carolina and Utah. None of those are border states (unless you count the coastline for two of them), so presumably those states’ alleged excesses would have to be explained or critiqued in other ways. (I don’t immediately see any references to the other states’ laws in the federal brief, which is posted here.)

One interesting note about the U.S. Government brief: it was signed by State Department Legal Adviser (and former Yale Law School dean) Harold Koh, underscoring the foreign policy-related argument against the Arizona statute.

Arizona’s opening brief is posted here. The case is set to be argued before the high court on April 25.





Judge denies motion to stay WI voter ID ruling
A Dane County judge denied a motion Tuesday to delay the effect of his ruling that bars the enforcement of photo ID requirements of the state voter ID law.

Circuit Judge Richard Niess declined to stay his ruling, writing in a three-paragraph decision that because he found the law to be unconstitutional, “it is as if it never existed,” Niess wrote. “It is no law at all.”

He added that there can be no justification for enforcing the unconstitutional photo ID requirements that is consistent with the rule of law. The delay was sought by the state Department of Justice, which is representing Gov. Scott Walker and the state Government Accountability Board. The case was brought by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin.

In a separate case on Monday that also involves the photo ID requirement, the DOJ asked a state appeals court to stay the enforcement of a temporary restraining order issued by Dane County Circuit Judge David Flanagan. The motion, in the lawsuit brought by the Milwaukee Branch of the NAACP and Voces de la Frontera, was filed in the Waukesha-based District 2 state Court of Appeals.

Feds: Florida voting restrictions may have been passed with discriminatory INTENT

New Florida laws that place harsh restrictions on third-party voter registration groups and limit the early voting period may have been passed with a discriminatory intent, lawyers with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division suggested in a court filing on Tuesday.

DOJ told the court that the federal government’s position was that Florida “has not met its burden of proof” in demonstrating that “the proposed voting changes neither have the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.” It singled out the provisions of Florida’s new voting law that place restrictions on third-party voter registration groups, shorten the early voting period and make voters who move to a different county cast provisional ballots.

Several counties in Florida are covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states with a history of racial discrimination to have changes to their election laws precleared by the Justice Department or a panel of judges in D.C. The feds objected to provisions of the law in a court filing earlier this month.

Restrictions on third-party voter registration, which forces individuals conducting voter registration drives to get permission from the state and turn in voter registration cards within 48 hours, caused groups like the League of Women Voters to end their voter registration efforts.



Trayvon Martin Attorney Press Conference: Phone Logs Completely ‘Connect The Dots’ (video)

Following the news about Trayvon Martin‘s phone call with his friend moments before he was shot byGeorge Zimmerman, the Martin family’s attorney,Benjamin Crump, held a press conference. Passionately speaking about Martin, Crump concluded that the phone logs and the girlfriend’s testimony completely “connect the dots” and blow “Zimmerman’s absurd self-defense claim out of the water.”

RELATED: Trayvon Martin’s Friend Recounts Phone Call With Martin Moments Before His Death

Crump said George Zimmerman’s claim that Martin was suspicious and up to no good “is completely contradicted by this phone log, showing all day he was just talking to his friends” — like so many teenagers do. Martin was talking to her when he went to the 7/11 and when he came back and “her testimony connects the dots, completely connects the dots of this whole thing,” Crump said.

He further added that the friend, whose parents insist on her anonymity, has been deeply traumatized by the incident: “This was her really, really close personal friend. They were dating […] She couldn’t even go to his wake. She was so sick, her mother had to take her to the hospital, she spent the night in the hospital.”

Before turning to details about the Feb. 26 incident, Crump noted that Martin’s family doesn’t trust the police department “with anything related to this case.”

He then pieced together what happened that day, based on the 911 call, phone logs and the girlfriend’s testimony: Martin was talking to his girlfriend as he was walking to the store, and phone logs show “without any doubt” that he was on the phone the entire way there and on the way back. He told her he wanted to make it home before it started raining. When it began raining, he ran to the first building he saw. Then he went back to walking, and back to talking to her. At that point, Martin told his girlfriend he thought a man was following her — and she told him to be careful and run home. The girl said she heard him catch up to Martin, and could tell an altercation occurred, before the call dropped.

The attorney contrasted this with Zimmerman’s claim that Martin was coming at him and seemed suspicious. Martin “had no idea who this man was who was following him,” Crump said.

The friend’s phone call “completely blows Zimmerman’s absurd self-defense claim out of the water.”

“A kid who is up to no good isn’t on the phone constantly calling his friends back. Somebody who’s looking to break in somewhere isn’t on the phone talking to his friend, when she’s in Miami,” Crump concluded.

Zimmerman wants you to believe he was on drugs and acting suspicious, he said, so “he can justify killing him in cold blood.”

Following these recent developments, Mediaite Founder and ABC News Legal Analyst Dan Abrams responded:

“After listening to Trayvon Martin presser and a grand jury being convened, I’ll be stunned if Zimmerman doesn’t get indicted.”



The Killing of Trayvon Martin (Cont.)

[…] The details in the new case are piling up, and they’re getting more grotesque by the day. If the accounts of the cellphone calls are to be believed, Martin thought that George Zimmerman was stalking him. There’s some rattling of the cage regarding Florida’s idiotic “stand your ground” law, which some prosectors predicted at the time of its passage would inevitably produce something like this. The local police, who’ve botched this thing from minute one, are now going to have the Department Of Justice and the FBI gnawing on their ankles, to say nothing of the fact that the local cops seem to have bungled their way into the Emmett Till case of the new millennium.There will be marches and protests, and a lot of pissed off local cops doing crowd control. (Let us be clear. Some of the cops may be on Zimmerman’s side but, I suspect, most of them are going to be pissed because they don’t like to be in the middle of a circus caused by the deadly stupidity of a Dirty Harry wannabe.) And all because some triggerhappy local crank apparently decided that he was so threatened by Skittles and iced tea that he had no choice but to turn a public street into the OK Corral.

And, as much as it pains me to say it, the American right already has determined that the whole controversy is a subtle plot by the Kenyan Muslim black liberationist Derrick Bell-hugger to gin up racial distrust so as to guarantee his re-election as Chief Executive Shaka Zulu. And, also, to steal all the guns from white people. This story is nowhere near as sad as it’s going to get. Kudos to O’Donnell for jumping on it so hard.



Dahlia Lithwick: You Can’t Occupy This

The government says the anti-protest bill was just a small tweak of the existing law. Don’t believe it.

In post-Occupy America, it’s often hard to know whether new citizen protest laws signal the end of free speech or a mere tweak of the machine. That looks to be the case with the new anti-protest bill that passed the House of Representatives overwhelmingly two weeks ago and was signed into law by the president soon thereafter. On its face, the new legislation doesn’t change a whole lot. Yet the Occupy protesters are in an uproar that the bill both targets them and also signals a radical shift in free speech law. Almost nobody else seems to have noticed it at all. Who’s right?

That all depends on what you want to protest and where.

H.R. 347, benignly titled the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act, passed the House 399-3. Such a lopsided vote suggests that nobody in Congress is bothered by this, on either side of the aisle. When President Obama signed it on March 8,  almost nobody seems to have cared.
Simply put, the way the bill will “improve” public grounds is by moving all those unsightly protesters elsewhere. The law purports to update an old law, Section 1752 of Title 18 of the United States Code, that restricted areas around the president, vice president, or any others under the protection of the Secret Service. The original law was enacted in 1971 and amended in 2006. At first blush, the big change here is that while the old law made it a federal offense to “willfully and knowingly” enter a restricted space, now prosecutors need only show that you did it “knowingly”—that you knew the area was restricted, even if you didn’t know it was illegal to enter the space. This has been characterized in some quarters as a small technical change that hardly warrants an arched eyebrow, much less a protest.

But it’s important to understand what has changed since the original law was enacted in 1971, because it shows how much a tiny tweak to the intent requirement in a statute can impact the free speech of everyone.

For one thing, the law makes it easier for the government to criminalize protest. Period. It is a federal offense, punishable by  up to 10 years in prison to protest anywhere the Secret Service might be guarding someone. For another, it’s almost impossible to predict what constitutes “disorderly or disruptive conduct” or what sorts of conduct authorities deem to “impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions.”

The types of events and individuals warranting Secret Service protection have grown exponentially since the law was enacted in 1971. Today, any occasion that is officially defined as a National Special Security Event calls for Secret Service protection. NSSE’s can include basketball championships, concerts, and the Winter Olympics, which have nothing whatsoever to do with government business, official functions, or improving public grounds. Every Super Bowl since 9/11 has been declared an NSSE.

And that brings us to the real problem with the change to the old protest law.  Instead of turning on a designated place, the protest ban turns on what persons and spaces are deemed to warrant Secret Service protection. It’s a perfect circle: The people who believe they are important enough to warrant protest can now shield themselves from protestors.  No wonder the Occupy supporters are worried.  In the spirit of “free speech zones,” this law creates another space in which protesters are free to be nowhere near the people they are protesting.

Consider that more than 6,700 people have been arrested at Occupy events since last September.  Thus, while these changes to the law are not the death of free speech, they aren’t as trivial as the administration would have you believe.  Rather, they are part of an incremental and persistent effort by the government to keep demonstrators away from events involving those at the top of the political food chain.

Let’s start by recalling that political speech—of the sort you might direct toward Newt Gingrich or Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, both of whom merit Secret Service protection—is what the First Amendment most jealously protects. Demonstrators can almost never be muzzled based on what it is they want to say. The First Amendment also has a special solicitude for speech in what are called traditional public fora. There is a presumed right of access to streets, sidewalks, and public parks for the purpose of engaging in political discussion and protest. And while the government can always impose reasonable limits on demonstrations to ensure public order, that power comes with a caveat: It must never be used to throttle unpopular opinion or to discriminate against disfavored speakers.  That is a powerful caveat: The degree of slack a court will cut any given restriction on public protest will rest on whether the government appears to be acting even handedly.

Restrictions that apply equally to all subjects and all points of view will usually be approved by the courts if they are narrowly designed to advance a significant governmental interest, such as public safety. But protest restrictions that discriminate based on subject or viewpoint must be absolutely necessary to serve a compelling state interest. Courts rarely permit them.





FCC decision strikes critical blow to right-wing radio dominance

A Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision issued Monday (PDF) will clear the runway for hundreds of newcommunity radio stations that broadcast on low-power FM signals, bringing progressive, community voices to urban areas that have for decades only known what’s being broadcast by major corporations and America’s political right.

In other words, the dismantling of Rush Limbaugh was just the beginning, and the whole FM dial is next.

The FCC’s decision on Monday wipes away a massive backlog of applications for FM repeater stations, which are transmitters that repeat signals broadcast by corporate and religious radio operators — many of which rake in big listening audiences for right-wing syndicated talk shows.

“So, what a lot of right-wing, conservative radio stations have been able to do is expand their reach out in communities by just having these translators out in the wild, which is why Rush Limbaugh gets the type of audience that he has — because the networks take one signal and repeat it over and over and over across the dial all over the country,” Steven Renderos, national organizer with the Center for Media Justice, told Raw Story on Tuesday. “They’re constantly looking for opportunities to expand that, so there were a slew of these applications pending at the FCC.”

And that’s been the case ever since the FCC’s radio spectrum auction in 2003, which has led many activists to fear they would be forever choked out and kept away from the public airwaves. But after a long battle, activists with the Prometheus Radio Project have finally won.

“Now these right-wing radio networks won’t keep getting their translator applications approved,” Renderos added. “That will severely limit their ability to expand.”

The FCC’s decision also set clear criteria for community radio stations in heavily populated urban areas, which are otherwise bombarded by the endless droning of commercial media full of snide opinion masquerading as news.

“These [new, low power] stations can only be licensed to non-profit organizations, and you can only have one per customer,” Brandy Doyle, policy director for the Prometheus Radio Project, told Raw Story. “That way we won’t have these big corporate chains and media networks that are taking over the rest of the media landscape moving in on low power FM service. These stations have to be local, and they have to be independent. This clears the way for a real transformation of the FM dial.”

Instead of slowly grinding down thousands of repeater station applications that leave no room for community radio, the FCC essentially threw most of those applications away by limiting who can apply, how many filings a single entity can make, and which markets can consider new repeaters — all of which frees up the regulatory body to examine applications for new community stations. The regulatory agency still gave some deference to corporate broadcasters, however, by allowing them one shot at revising their applications to fit the new guidelines.

That means “as early as this fall, as in 2012, there will be opportunities for local community groups to plan and start their own independent radio stations,” Doyle said. “This is what we’ve fought for [over] more than a decade, and the FCC has opened the door to that.”

While there aren’t any official numbers yet, several “radio geeks” who spoke to Raw Story off the record estimated that as many as 10,000 applications for community radio stations could be filed in the coming years.

Prometheus activists and local radio affiliates all over the country played a dramatic role in helping shape media coverage of the “Occupy” movement last year, providing a sharp contrast to the often detached approach taken by mainstream, corporate sources. Their influence was broad enough to remind many listeners that community radio — an otherwise rare commodity in the U.S. — is often the dissenter’s best friend.

Though the FCC’s decision may not sound all that important, it really is. For the first time in decades, Americans living in major cities will soon be hearing the voices of their friends and neighbors flooding the airwaves — a far cry from the typical morning DJ fart jokes and the same “top hit” songs endlessly droning on a looping playback.

“Right now the Center for Media Justice is part of a national partnership with Prometheus Radio Project and Color of Change to try and identify organizations across the country — social and racial justice organizations — that could potentially benefit from owning and running their own radio station,” Renderos said. “What we hope to see in 5-10 years is a coordinated infrastructure of radio that doesn’t necessarily parallel what’s on the right, that at least helps to project a very different type of discourse on the radio dial.”

And it’s not just an outreach effort, either: The Center for Media Justice is actively taking inquiries from organizations that want access to their community’s airwaves, with the goal of helping them achieve that dream as soon as possible.

The FCC’s move Monday was the first step on a path laid out by the Local Community Radio Act, signed by President Barack Obama at the start of 2011, which represented the first real victory in activists’ long fight against the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) the radio industry’s biggest lobbying group. The bill freed up portions of the radio spectrum that had otherwise been kept empty by the larger broadcasters, who had long insisted upon four clicks of blank space on the FM dial to prevent interference. It also stipulated that new space on the dial must be reserved for community stations in urban areas where there might otherwise be none.

“There’s hardly news at all on commercial radio at this point, much less a diversity of viewpoints and a diversity of news.” Doyle concluded. “A lot of times corporate media doesn’t even cover things that are majority views, and there’s a disconnect between what we hear in the media and what we know most of our neighbors are thinking and feeling. This is a real opportunity for people to connect with each other and start building real alternatives.”

The National Association of Broadcasters did not respond to a request for comment.

Update: Following this story’s publication, the Center for Media Justice added that they are also working with the Urbana Champaign Independent Media Center on their low power FM affiliate program.



Fox News Commenters React to Trayvon Martin: ‘Good Shot Zimmy’





U.S. to determine Afghanistan troop pull-out by end-2012

President Barack Obama’s top commander in Afghanistan will make recommendations about how quickly the United States should pull out of that long and costly war late this year, probably after November’s elections, according to a timetable given on Tuesday.

General John Allen, who commands U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said he would present recommendations for Obama on troop levels in 2013 and beyond during the last three months of this year, after assessing the military campaign following the departure of 33,000 U.S. troops due by October.

“Before the end of 2012 I intend to provide, through my chain of command, to the president a series of recommendations on the kind of combat power that I will need for 2013 and 2014,” Allen told the House Armed Services Committee.

“We remain on track to ensure that Afghanistan will no longer be a safe haven for al Qaeda and will no longer be terrorized by the Taliban,” he said.

Questions have mounted about U.S. intentions in Afghanistan, including how quickly the remaining 90,000 troops will leave, as the Obama administration grapples with series of setbacks. They include the burning of copies of the Koran at a NATO base last month and the killing last week of 16 Afghan civilians, mostly women and children, blamed on a lone U.S. soldier.

Allen said 13 members of the NATO-led Western military coalition in Afghanistan have been killed this year in what appear to be “insider” attacks by Afghan security forces, representing about a fifth of the 60 Western military deaths that have occurred so far this year.

“Thirteen were killed at the hands of what appear to have been Afghan security forces, some of whom who were motivated, we believe, in part by the mishandling of religious materials,” he said.

The burning of the Muslim holy book triggered violent protests across Afghanistan and brought a spate of attacks on Western soldiers by their Afghan peers.

Still, Allen insisted the United States and its allies remain on track to ensure Afghanistan will not once again be used as a cradle for al Qaeda militants.

The Obama administration says its focus on Afghanistan and its decision to beef up U.S. forces in 2009-10 have driven the Taliban out of much of its southern heartland.

Yet the recent calamities underscore the remaining challenges as the West tries to end a conflict that has dragged on for more than a decade without a decisive victory over the Taliban.


Obama, who is seeking re-election in November, is under mounting pressure from fellow Democrats who want to see a swift end to the Afghan conflict.

“After ten years of war, and great cost to both the American and Afghan people, it is time to find additional ways to put the Afghans in charge of their own fate as quickly as we responsibly can and bring our troops home,” said congressman Adam Smith, the committee’s ranking Democrat.

Obama also faces attacks from Republicans who warn that a hasty exit will squander the success the troop surge delivered and undermine long-term U.S. security.

Republicans like Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the party’s nomination to challenge Obama in November, oppose fixed timelines for withdrawing U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan.

A decision late in the year would allow U.S. commanders to size up the strength of the Taliban after the summer fighting season and allow more time to see whether nascent peace talks take hold.

Underpinning the NATO strategy for establishing stability as foreign soldiers withdraw is the build-up of Afghan police and soldiers, who are due to take over control of security across the country by the end of 2014.

The United States is expected to have a modest military presence beyond 2014, but Allen said no substantive discussions had taken place about that with the Afghan government.

NATO’s transition plan has come under additional scrutiny after comments by President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials that have underscored many Afghans’ abiding suspicion of the Western military presence.

A lawyer for the U.S. soldier suspected of killing the Afghan villagers last week said his client ‘doesn’t remember’ the incident. The soldier, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, was whisked out of Afghanistan last week and is now in a Kansas military prison awaiting charges.



Accused Mass Murderer of Afghans Robert Bales also a “Con Man” Stock Broker

This story gets stranger by the hour.

I think this one man’s story is becoming the microcosm to match our last wasted confused decade in useless, harmful and corrupt war.

‘He’s a con man’

The U.S. soldier accused of gunning down 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, was more than $1million in debt and had defrauded a pensioner out of his life savings, it has been claimed.

Federal documents show how Staff Sgt Robert Bales scammed pensioner Gary Liebschner of Carroll, Ohio, of more than $800,000 in a stock scam just before he enlisted in the army.

Financial regulators found in 2003 how Bales ‘engaged in fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, churning, unauthorised trading and unsuitable investments’. Liebschner claims the then stock broker, working for Ohio brokerage firm MPI, took his life savings of $852,000 in AT&T stock and reduced its value to nothing through a series of trades.

Alongside his associates, Bales was ordered to pay his victim $1,274,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. But he has not yet done so.

Liebschner told ABC News he recognised ‘smooth talker’ Bales after news reports about the massacre.

He said: ‘He robbed me of my life savings. We didn’t know where he was. We heard the Bahamas, and all kinds of places.’ When asked if he was a conman, he said: ‘You’ve hit the nail on the head.’


Obama’s executive orders are having a limited impact.

Stymied by Republicans, an exasperated President Barack Obama told the nation he would go it alone and use his executive authority to get things done.

“We can’t wait for an increasingly dysfunctional Congress to do its job,” he said in Las Vegas in October. “Where they won’t act, I will.”

But five months and almost three dozen announcements later, a closer look at the We Can’t Wait program shows just how hamstrung the president has been in acting on his own to provide expansive or quick relief to struggling Americans.

Some initiatives involve little more than a new website, a pilot program or a brochure. Others are basically repackaged announcements of programs already well under way. Yet others are works in progress, waiting on the government bureaucracy to catch up with the urgency of Obama’s “we can’t wait” mantra.

Among the actions:

• Obama blamed Republicans for blocking education reform and declared in November that the administration would “take matters into our hands” and overhaul the rules for funding Head Start. Left unsaid at Obama’s event in Philadelphia: He was implementing a law that Congress had already passed on a bipartisan basis — nearly five years earlier.

• The administration announced in October a one-stop website where businesses can access federal programs, and a bare-bones version of formally launched in February. But the Small Business Administration now says it needs $6 million to develop and market the site.

• Obama announced in December that he would extend minimum wage and overtime protections to certain health care workers. But relief may still be months off: It can’t be implemented until the government finishes the rule-writing process.

• The White House made a major push in early January to highlight “insourcing” with Obama hosting a forum and announcing steps that encourage companies to bring jobs back to the U.S. What that entailed: a brochure on how small businesses can tap into a loan program, a joint cable from the Commerce and State Departments announcing a partnership to promote U.S. investment and field-based training for staff in key foreign markets. The more consequential steps, such as new tax incentives, show no signs of passing Congress any time soon.

• The White House launched this month under the We Can’t Wait banner. But the effort, which brought together seven databases already available on the Internet, was just as much about fulfilling a campaign pledge from 2008 to create a centralized Web platform for ethics data.

Obama never claimed the We Can’t Wait push is a substitute for persuading Congress to pass more sweeping legislation.


The Single Most Important Words Democrats MUST Start Using Immediately

In my most recent diary, 5 Words And Phrases Democrats Should Never Say Again, I talked about how critical “framing” is in defeating the GOP.
Remember the major success they had with their “death panels” at frightening people who actually supported all of the policies within the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into vociferously opposing the entire bill? Here’s Dr. George Lakoff, professor of linguistics at UC Berkeley:

And we must say it that way.We have the moral high ground on this issue and we need to frame it that way. The Ryan plan will devastate seniors and continue the downward spiral of the middle class into poverty.

Democrats must use the same tactic to take down Paul Ryan and his new plan that the GOP used to poison health insurance reform.

We must call the Ryan plan exactly what it is: The Ryan Path to Poverty.

It is a Path to Poverty for seniors and it is a Path to Poverty for America.

The Ryan Path to Poverty

We need to use that term and only that term when talking about, or posting about, the Ryan Plan. And say it without a shred of irony, but in full earnestness.

The Ryan Path to Poverty.

Republicans know there isn’t a shred of hope of actually getting this past the Democratic Senate and Administration, but there’s a strategic reason they’re trotting it out now: They plan on using this as a campaign tool for the rest of the 2012 election cycle.

We need to turn it against them so it backfires.



The GOP rides Paul Ryan’s road to ruin

His snake oil-castor oil budget is a gift to Dems, but only if they give up on “grand bargains” with extremists

Most Democrats rejoiced when the newly elected House Tea Party extremists got behind Paul Ryan’s tax-slashing and program-cutting budget plan almost a year ago. The budget had no chance of passing the Senate, but it committed Republicans to unpopular spending cuts, including to Social Security and Medicare, and continued the party’s slavish devotion to tax protection for the top 1 percent. That’s why many liberals were horrified by reports that the White House was entertaining comparable budget-cutting proposals to resolve the debt-ceiling crisis last summer. Not only was it bad policy, it was terrible politics, sacrificing the huge advantage Republicans had conceded when they backed Ryan’s plan, especially his assault on Medicare.

The debt ceiling “grand bargain” failed. President Obama learned from the debacle and switched his focus to job growth from deficit-cutting. But the Ryan plan, with its political benefits for Democrats, also receded from the front pages. Until now, that is. Ryan brazenly released the 2013 version of his budget this morning. It’s a cocktail of snake oil and castor oil. It proposes $1.028 trillion in discretionary spending, less than the $1.047 trillion spending cap established by the debt-ceiling deal, repeals Obamacare, and cuts the top individual tax rate and the corporate rate as well. It aims to replace Medicare with a voucher plan again. Ryan says all of the GOP presidential candidates are down with his budget proposal. “I have spoken to all of these guysand they believe we are going in the right direction,” he told reporters. That’s great news for Democrats.

Unfortunately, the new Ryan plan comes on the heels of bad news from the Washington Post: a closely reported story about last summer’s debt-ceiling negotiations, which brought back the bad old days when the president was indulging the ideas of Ryan and friends to avoid defaulting on our credit obligations while also becoming the champion of fiscal prudence.

If you believe the Post’s reporting – its slant places most blame for the deal’s troubles on Democrats, but the key facts come from participants’ notes, emails and on the record recollections – the “deal” Obama entertained was worse than anything reported at the time: $1.2 trillion in spending cuts, reduced cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security and an unspecified hike in the Medicare eligibility age, in exchange for around $800 billion in “revenue” that relied on closing “loopholes” and (possibly) increased tax receipts thanks to an improved economy, while actually lowering top rates. What finally scuttled the deal was the work of the so-called Gang of Six – three senators from each party, whose proposal contained much bigger tax hikes and revenue increases, plus smaller spending cuts, than the Obama team had negotiated.

“I don’t think it was a mischaracterization on our part to say we’d be beat up miserably by Democrats who thought we got out-negotiated,” former White House chief of staff Bill Daley told the Post. The Gang of Six deal forced the embarrassed White House to ratchet up its tax-hike demands, and the bargain fell apart – but not before Obama reportedly called Boehner and offered to take the horrible pre-Gang of Six, no-tax-hike deal. The most ominous line in the entire piece: “White House officials said this week that the offer is still on the table.”

Let’s hope that’s not true. The Obama White House made a convincing pivot back to economic growth after its summer humiliation. I’m a big believer in forgiving, if not forgetting. We’ve all made mistakes. New York’s Jonathan Chait wrote about the Post piece Monday with surprising outrage, given his many essays chastising liberals and progressives for being too hard on the president. “Obama’s disastrous weakness in the summer of 2011 went further toward undermining liberalism than anybody previously knew,” he railed. I think a lot of us knew it, even if we didn’thave the ugliest details, and we tried to tell Chait at the time.  But I’m ready to let bygones be bygones.

Democrats are being given another gift with the new Ryan budget, especially given its new assault on Medicare. I don’t care what Politifact or Rep. Ron Wyden (who co-sponsored Medicare cuts with Ryan) try to say: By giving seniors vouchers to purchase insurance on the private market, the plan would abolish Medicare. Because let’s be clear: Vouchers aren’t Medicare. In fact, Republicans and private insurers tried for years to create a program for elderly Americans that would run as a voucher plan, or otherwise funnel seniors into private insurance; in 1965 Democrats under Lyndon B. Johnson rejected that route in favor of a federal government-run program they called “Medicare.” The GOP is against it, plain and simple. (Ryan and Wyden’s plan would supposedly allow seniors who chose to to stay in a government-run plan, but how long would that hybrid exist? And how much would it cost; Medicare’s main efficiencies come from the fact that all seniors participate.)

Democrats need to stop sabotaging themselves and undermining their party’s signature accomplishments, including Medicare. The program needs reforms, but they will not be accomplished as long as the extremist wing of the GOP is in control. I think the president learned that the hard way, and I trust he’ll remember the lesson.



 The public debate over health reform is ramping up again.

Republicans on Capitol Hill have put together a highly coordinated two-week renewed assault on the health care law, seizing on the legislation’s second anniversary and the next week’s oral arguments before the Supreme Court concerning its constitutionality.

On Monday, Congressional Republicans took to the floor of both chambers to denounce the law, presaging a vote in the House this week to dismantle the law’s payment advisory board, the 26th legislative attack on the law in the Republican-controlled House in the 112th Congress.

Daily news conferences are planned on the Hill next week, featuring state attorneys general, lawmakers who are physicians and others.

Republican members are also holding sessions on Twitter, making videos and scheduling television interviews day and night, with one veteran lawmaker, Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, appearing on Fox News on Monday.

On the Senate floor on Monday, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said, “The reason I ran for the United States Senate was primarily because of this law.” Outside groups like the National Federation of Independent Business and Americans for Tax Reform are joining the efforts. Roughly 50 events are planned this week alone by party leaders and members.

Republicans are hoping to influence election-year public opinion on an issue on which they believe they have a substantive advantage, and to drag the conversation away from areas like access to contraception that have dominated the campaign or divided members in recent weeks, with less success for their party.

This is the seminal issue,” said Senator John Thune of South Dakota, chairman of his party’s conference, in a telephone interview. “I don’t think there is an issue on which we are more on the same page with our House Republican colleagues than this.”

The campaign is similar to attacks during the initial debate on health care legislation.

The coordination has been carefully pieced together by the staffs of Speaker John A. Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, and Republicans on relevant committees. “Everyone is fully engaged on this,” said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner. “You will see a lot of coordinated activity.”

In a meeting Monday with reporters, Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said the health care law would be a winning issue for Republican candidates this year as in 2010. “Obamacare is not going away,” he said.

House Democrats and Obama administration officials raced to defend the law and to publicize its benefits.

Jonathan D. Blum, deputy administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said new research showed that more than 5.1 million Medicare beneficiaries had saved over $3.2 billion on prescription drugs because of the new law, which gradually closes a gap in prescription coverage by offering drug discounts. The discount this year is 50 percent on covered brand-name drugs and 14 percent on generic drugs.

Each day this week the Department of Health and Human Services willrelease videos in which ordinary Americans extol the benefits of the law. In the first video, released Monday, a woman identified as Helen Rayon of Philadelphia says: “If it weren’t for health care reform, many of our seniors would not get to a doctor or get mammograms. It is expensive for us to keep good health. Health care reform will help us so much to know that we can get certain things at a cheaper cost.”

Representative Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois, said supporters of the health care law were organizing a public information campaign and “truth squads” to combat Republican attacks — what she called “the lies that are being told about the Affordable Care Act.” If Republicans repeal the law, Ms. Schakowsky said, they would be “taking away benefits that seniors are already getting.”

Representative Xavier Becerra of California, the vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, brushed aside opinion polls suggesting that support for the law could drag down some Democratic candidates. “The more people see what the law is doing for them, the more they will like it,” Mr. Becerra said.

In fact, the health care law has polled pretty consistently since its inception, with roughly half the country for it and half against it at any given time. But there is some evidence that there is a growing consternation with the requirement that people have health insurance, which the Republican candidates for president have attacked as well.


Quinnipiac: President Obama leads Virginia by 8 points



Public Policy Polling Apologizes, Gives Insight Into Polling

Obviously our polling on the 10th Congressional District Democratic primary in Illinois was way off, one of our worst misses ever. We apologize to our clients, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and MoveOn, for letting them down on this race.

PCCC and MoveOn have been transparent with their polling on the race and have posted all the polls we did for them over the last 3 months here. This error is on PPP, not them.

We did see the race tightening significantly over the final week. The tracking poll we did on Sunday, March 11th found Sheyman leading by 21 points, 46-25. The tracking we did on Wednesday, March 14th found Sheyman’s lead down to 14 points at 44-30. The numbers thatwere released publicly last Thursday combined the interviews from Sunday and Wednesday, for the purposes of a larger sample size.

The final night of tracking we did on Sunday, March 18th continued to show Schneider gaining ground while Sheyman stayed in place, and that the lead was down to 11 points at 44-33. Still we never would have expected this.
We have a few theories on what went wrong:

-We called people who had a past history of voting in Democratic primaries, as we do for all primary polls. But I wonder if with the open primary and Schneider’s status as the more conservative candidate if some people who usually vote in GOP primaries crossed over to support him. We would have missed those folks.
I think the bigger possibility though and a lesson learned for our work with all of our clients is this: we may have overpolled the district:
-The pool of likely Democratic primary voters in this district is small enough that we had to call everyone for both a message testing poll we did at the end of February and for one of the 3 nights of tracking we did over the last week. Calling people twice in such a short period may cause respondent fatigue.
There’s 2 reasons I think this may have benefited Sheyman. The first is that on the message testing poll a much higher percentage of Schneider supporters hung up in the middle of the call than Sheyman ones, presumably because they thought the poll was being too negative to him, even though the poll tested negatives against both candidates and was nothing out of the ordinary for the polls we conduct. I think it’s possible that when we called again for the tracking over the last week Schneider voters may have been more reluctant to participate. We actually had a different person record the tracking poll than the message poll so people previously called would hear it with a fresh ear but there may have still been some aspect of that.
The 2nd reason I think respondent fatigue would have helped Sheyman’s numbers is that we did continuously find that his supporters were more excited than Schneider’s were, and that may have extended to their being more excited to answer polls than Schneider’s were too.
One thing I know is that it didn’t have anything to do with the way the data was weighted. Weighting had very little impact on the final results.
For PPP I think the lesson  is that a Congressional primary electorate is too small to call for multiple polls in less than a month, especially if there’s some aspect of negative message testing involved. It needs to be a big enough pool of voters that you can call completely different universes every time.
We apologize that our polling skewed perceptions of where this race stood. When you poll as many races as we do you’re going to badly screw one up every now and then. But we strive to be as close to perfect as possible and in this instance we fell badly short.



PPP: Polling on Romney’s ‘dog problem’

Mitt Romney’s ‘dog problem’ has received tons of media attention in the last week so we decided to do a poll about it. Here’s what we found:

-20% of voters have a favorable opinion of Romney’s treatment of dogs to 29% with an unfavorable opinion. These numbers suggest that the Seamus story has gotten around enough for people to have a negative view of Romney on dogs, but 51% with no opinion indicates the story hasn’t penetrated that deeply yet.

-By contrast 44% of voters have a favorable opinion of Barack Obama’s treatment of dogs to 14% with an unfavorable one. Apparently voters think he’s taking good care of Bo. Asked who would be a better President for dogs, 37% of voters pick Obama to 21% for Romney with 42% not holding an opinion either way.

-68% of voters think it’s inhumane to put your dog in a kennel on the roof of your car to only 14% who consider it humane. On this there’s a bipartisan consensus- 74% of Democrats, 66% of independents, and 63% of Republicans think it’s inhumane to strap the family dog to the top of the car.

-Whether this is really an issue that’s going to hurt Mitt Romney in the campaign is a different question though. 55% of voters say it makes no difference to their vote, while 35% say it makes them less likely to vote for Romney and 7% more likely.

Most of the people who say the Seamus incident makes them less inclined to vote for Romney aren’t voting for him anyway though. Among Romney voters just 17% say it makes them less likely to vote for him to 75% who say it doesn’t make a difference and 6% who actually consider it a positive. Among undecideds 29% say it makes them less likely to vote Romney, 14% more likely, and 56% say it doesn’t make a difference.

We also looked at how voters feel about the wives of the various Presidential candidates on this poll and unsurprisingly it turns out they’re all a lot more popular than their husbands:

-Michelle Obama has a 54/34 favorability rating, compared to her husband’s 48/48 approval.

-Ann Romney has a 31/22 favorability rating, compared to her husband’s 33/58.

-Karen Santorum has a 31/27 favorability rating, compared to her husband’s 36/53.

-Callista Gingrich is actually pretty unpopular, with an 18/44 favorability rating. But it’s at least better than her husband’s 28/61.

Full results here




At Heart of Health Law Clash, a 1942 Case of a Farmer’s Wheat

 If the Obama administration persuades the Supreme Court to uphold its health care overhaul law, it will be in large part thanks to a 70-year-old precedent involving an Ohio farmer named Roscoe C. Filburn.

Mr. Filburn sued to overturn a 1938 federal law that told him how much wheat he could grow on his family farm and made him pay a penalty for every extra bushel.

The 1942 decision against him, Wickard v. Filburn, is the basis for the Supreme Court’s modern understanding of the scope of federal power. It is the contested ground on which the health care case has been fought in the lower courts and in the parties’ briefs. And it is likely to be crucial to the votes of Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Antonin Scalia, who are widely seen as open to persuasion by either side.

Wickard has become so foundational for generations of lawyers that any plausible understanding of the commerce power must come to terms with it,” said Bradley W. Joondeph, a law professor at Santa Clara University.

Both supporters and opponents of the health care law say the decision helps their side, and for three days starting next Monday, it will be at the center of the arguments before the Supreme Court about the law’s constitutionality.

To hear the Obama administration tell it, the Filburn decision illustrates just how much leeway the federal government has under the Constitution’s commerce clause to regulate the choices individuals make in matters affecting the national economy. If the government can make farmers choose between growing crops on their own land and paying a penalty, the administration’s lawyers have said, it can surely tell people that they must obtain health insurance or pay a penalty.

Opponents of the law draw a different lesson from Mr. Filburn’s case. They say it set the outer limit of federal power, one the health care law exceeds. It is one thing to encourage farmers to buy wheat by punishing them for growing their own, the argument goes. It is another to require people to buy insurance or face a penalty, as the health care law does.

There’s a difference between being given an incentive and compulsion,” said Michael A. Carvin, a lawyer for the National Federation of Independent Business and several individuals challenging the law.

Mr. Filburn argued, as do opponents of the health care overhaul, that he was challenging a law that was not authorized by the Constitution, which allows Congress to regulate commerce “among the several states.” A decision against him, Mr. Filburn said, would move the nation toward a centralized government and “nullifications of all constitutional limitations.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling against him was unanimous.

Even if appellee’s activity be local,” Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote, referring to Mr. Filburn’s farming, “and though it may not be regarded as commerce, it may still, whatever its nature, be reached by Congress if it exerts a substantial economic effect on interstate commerce.”

The Obama administration says the decisions of millions of people to go without health insurance have a similarly significant effect on the national economy by raising other people’s insurance rates and forcing hospitals to pay for the emergency care of those who cannot afford it.

At the time, the reaction to the Filburn decision emphasized how much power it had granted the federal government.

If the farmer who grows feed for consumption on his own farm competes with commerce, would not the housewife who makes herself a dress do so equally?” an editorial in The New York Times asked. “The net of the ruling, in short, seems to be that Congress can regulate every form of economic activity if it so decides.”

The editorial, like much commentary on the case, seemed to suppose that Mr. Filburn was a subsistence farmer. But in fact he sold milk and eggs to some 75 customers a day, and the wheat he fed to his livestock entered the stream of commerce in that sense, according to a history of the case by Jim Chen, the dean of the law school at the University of Louisville.

In the health care case, the administration has insisted that the overhaul law is a modest assertion of federal power in comparison to the law Mr. Filburn challenged. “The constitutional foundation for Congress’s action is considerably stronger” for the health care law than for the law that the Supreme Court endorsed in 1942, the administration said in a recent brief. The health care law, the brief said, merely “regulates the way in which the uninsured finance what they will consume in the market for health care services (in which they participate).”

Opponents of the law take the opposite view, using an analogy. It is true that the federal government may “regulate bootleggers because of their aggregate harm to the interstate liquor market,” Mr. Carvin wrote in a recent brief. But the government “may not conscript teetotalers merely because conditions in the liquor market would be improved if more people imbibed.”

Yet the uninsured regulated by the mandate,” the brief went on, “are the teetotalers, not the bootleggers, of the health insurance market.”



Target store that UFCW sought to unionize will close 6 mos for “remodeling.” UFCW calls it union-busting

Target plans to temporarily close the Valley Stream, L.I., store where it has been fighting a union drive. In response, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1500, which has been organizing the workers for the past year, filed a request Friday for a federal injunction to prevent the closure.

The union argues that Target is shutting the Long Island store to stifle the organizing campaign.

A Target spokeswoman said it’s being shut for a six-month remodeling that has been in the works for “a year and a half or two.” That would predate the union’s campaign.

The spokeswoman told Crain’s that the store will close April 28 for renovations and reopen in the late fall. She said the store used to be a Caldor and needs a “tremendous remodeling” to make it more efficient and customer friendly. A similar renovation is planned for a store in Portland, Ore., that used to be a Montgomery Ward, she said.

The entire interior of the Valley Stream store will be redone; a three-story stock room will be replaced with a more efficient two-story one; and the front of the store will be expanded by 55 feet, she said.

The spokeswoman added that the Valley Stream remodeling is part of a multi-year company program that will give 1,100 stores facelifts by the end of this year. The “trickier ones that require more investment” were saved until last, she said.

The overwhelming majority of stores being remodeled are not closed, but that’s because they were built to house Targets and don’t need as much work, the spokeswoman said. She said the last store to close for remodeling was one in the Midwest three or four years ago.

“This has nothing to do with any of the union activity,” she said. “Portland and Valley Stream require a lot more work.”

Local 1500 began organizing the Valley Stream workers early last year after receiving calls from employees who were upset over wages and distribution of hours, among other issues. But workers voted in June against unionization by a count of 137 to 85. The union cried foul, filing objections that alleged the company illegally intimidated workers. The Valley Stream store would have been the first Target in the country to unionize.

Local 1500 is seeking to overturn the results of last year’s election and conduct a new vote. A hearing was held earlier this month, and a decision is pending. Meanwhile, union organizers have continued to meet with employees of the Long Island store and other Target locations in the metropolitan area.

“This is just as horrible as it gets,” said Pat Purcell, assistant to the president of Local 1500. “It’s right out of the Walmart playbook. That store is being closed in retaliation for union activities of workers.”





Susan G. Komen Woes Continue as a New York Bigwig Resigns

The chief executive officer of Susan G. Komen’s powerhouse New York City affiliate resigned today, a possible indication of further fallout from the foundation’s recent decision to de-fund—and then re-fund—Planned Parenthood. That scandal, which unfolded last month, triggered a backlash from critics and heavy scrutiny of the cancer-fighting foundation.


Brinker has come under fire for her handling of the Planned Parenthood matter and her management and spending style, including a questionable expense report uncovered by The Daily Beast last month.

Brinker’s advocates point out that in the 30 years since she launched the foundation, she has raised some $1.9 billion for cancer research. The foundation and its nationwide affiliates were all Brinker’s vision—she started the charity after her sister, Susan G. Komen, died of breast cancer in her mid-30s.

Ellis said of Brinker, “I really feel that she can salvage this situation by stepping aside. I don’t mind if she steps aside as a hero, saying, look what I’ve built, with the help of others. The mission is bigger than all of us. Go out a hero, a martyr. It’s in Nancy Brinker’s hands and in her board’s hands. They are not an independent board—her son is on it. They need to be an independent voice.”

Richardson-Heron’s resignation is the third major departure from the foundation in recent weeks.

Katrina McGhee, the foundation’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, announced this month that she will be leaving as of May 4, after six years on the job. In an internal memo, Brinker praised McGhee for her “extraordinary contributions” and “exemplary leadership,” saying McGhee was leaving for personal reasons and would continue to do some project work for the foundation.

Last month, Karen Handel, the senior vice president for policy at Komen, resigned, saying she had spearheaded the decision to cut funds to Planned Parenthood amid pressure from donors and Catholic bishops.

At the time, Handel told The Daily Beast, “More donors said they were pulling out. The issue was ratcheting up. It wasn’t dying down. Two dozen Catholic bishops were saying not to support Komen “We needed to find some options for moving to neutral ground. I was tasked with doing that.” She went on to call Planned Parenthood a “gigantic bully.”




Why Republicans Are Blocking the Violence Against Women Act

There are three reasons some Republicans are trying to block the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act: Gays, immigrants, and Native Americans.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which first passed in 1994 and has been reauthorized twice since then, increased federal penalties for domestic violence and provided funding for groups and services that aid victims of domestic abuse. The bill hit the bipartisan sweet spot of being both tough on crime and oriented toward women’s rights. Usually it’s reauthorized without much fanfare. This time around, however, several Senate Republicans, led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), are putting up a fight. Despite the fact that the bill has several Republican sponsors, all eight GOP senators on the Judiciary Committee voted against the bill when the committee considered it last month.

“While this is a bipartisan effort in this Congress, it’s certainly a tougher slog than most of us expected,” says Lisalyn Jacobs, vice president for government relations at the women’s rights advocacy group Legal Momentum.

In a speech before the Senate Judiciary Committee in February, Grassley laid out his objections to the bill. Republicans’ biggest qualms are about provisions that make federal grants to domestic violence organizations contingent on nondiscrimination against gay, lesbian, and transgender victims; rules extending the authority of tribal courts over domestic violence matters; and a section that would provide more visas for abused undocumented women who agree to cooperate with law enforcement.

“I wish we could proceed in a consensus fashion again,” Grassley said. “But there are provisions in the bill before us that have never been part of VAWA before. They’re not consensus items.” Grassley says he wants the reauthorization to pass—just without the parts he considers extraneous. Here’s a quick breakdown of what has the GOP riled up.

Tribal law: There is an epidemic of domestic violence on Native American reservations.According to the National Congress of American Indians, a Native American rights advocacy group, about 40 percent of Native American women will face domestic violence. But more than half of Native American women are married to non-Native American men, which means that when cases of abuse arise, the local tribal authorities can do very little because they don’t have jurisdiction over non-tribe members.

State and federal prosecutors have the authority to prosecute domestic violence on reservations, but for geographic and logistical reasons, it often goes unaddressed. “A federal prosecutor is not going to be able to expend the kind of energy on misdemeanors that local police officers would spend energy on,” says Paulette Moore, vice president for public policy at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

As Mother Jones reported last year, local authorities’ inability or unwillingness to deal with domestic violence cases in Native American communities has contributed to an underground industry of vigilantes for hire who take matters into their own hands. The current version of the Violence Against Women Act would allow tribal authorities to prosecute non-Indians for domestic violence cases on Indian reservations, but Republicans are opposing it because they don’t like the idea of Native American law applying to non-tribe members.

“For the first time, the Committee would extend tribal criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians,” Grassley said in his floor speech. “I do not believe the Committee has a good understanding of what the consequences would be of doing so.” The bill contains language that affirms non-tribe members prosecuted receive the same due process protections they would be entitled to under the US Constitution.

The bill’s supporters expressed confusion at Grassley’s logic. “Suppose your sister was with you in Washington, DC, and her husband beat her up,” Moore says, “but because he was from Virginia, Washington couldn’t do anything about it.”

Immigration: The original Violence Against Women Act contained provisions that allow undocumented victims of domestic violence to apply for legal status, called a U visa, if they agree to cooperate with law enforcement. But because it took a few years for the federal government to set up the program, there’s a backlog of thousands of U visas that were never used. The U visas are crucial for domestic violence victims because they give them workauthorization along with legal status, which means they aren’t reliant on their abuser for income.

There’s a cap on the number of U visas that can be offered each year—just 10,000. Supporters of the current reauthorization bill want to take those old U visas and offer them to people who apply in the future, which would mean a limited increase in the number of U visas given out every year for a few years.

“We have caps for a reason. The US can’t take everybody who comes to our shores, as much as many would like to,” Grassley said. “Caps are a way to control the flow of people. They are a stop-gap measure against fraud.” Grassley also wants more restrictions on U visas, which would, among other requirements, force victims to obtain doctor’s notes documenting their abuse and mandate that the abuse be reported to law enforcement within two months of its taking place. US Citizenship and Immigration Services already has an anti-fraud unit, however, and law enforcement officials themselves sign off on U visas.

The Obama administration has met the 10,000 cap twice in the past two years. Undocumented immigrants who look like good candidates for U visas are often given deferred action, which means they’re not deported. But women who are waiting for U visas don’t get work authorization during the delay, so many find it difficult to support themselves.

Supporters of the bill say that rather than fraud, reaching the U visa limit shows how effective they are in fighting crime. “This is not just a tool for the victims; they’re a tool for law enforcement,” says Gail Pendleton, codirector of Asista, which offers legal services to immigrant victims of domestic violence and is funded in part through VAWA grants. “There are law enforcement [officials] out there who could use more U visas.”

LGBT rights: Republicans agree that organizations receiving federal grants shouldn’t discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation. They just don’t understand why Democrats want to make it the law.

“I agree that shelters and other grant recipients should provide services equally to everyone,” said Grassley. “But advocates of this provision haven’t produced data that shelters have refused to provide services for these reasons.” He added that the nondiscrimination provisions were “a political statement that shouldn’t be made on a bill that is designed to address actual needs of victims.”

Supporters of the bill disagree, pointing to surveys of domestic violence service workers who say they’ve seen victims turned away on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. But Grassley didn’t simply try to amend the bill to take out the LGBT-non discrimination provisions—his substitute bill lacks language that would have compelled public colleges to collect data on hate crimes based on gender identity.

“The Hate Crimes Statistics Act already compels the FBI to collect statistics based on a range of [factors], including gender identity” says Ian Thompson of the ACLU. “If it’s okay to make the FBI collect these statistics, it should certainly be okay to make colleges do it.”

The Violence Against Women Act reauthorization still retains a bipartisan pedigree. Six Republican senators—Mike Crapo (Idaho), Mark Kirk (Illinois), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan Collins (Maine), and Scott Brown (Massachusetts) have all signed on as cosponsors. Even Grassley, armed with all his amendments, insisted in his floor speech that he wants the bill to pass.

Still, standing in the way of the Violence Against Women Act is a strange decision for a party that’s spent the last few weeks playing defense on women’s rights issues. The bill is expected to come to the Senate floor sometime this week.

“It’s unclear how it’s going to play out,” a Senate Democratic aide toldMother Jones. “In the past we’ve never had to have a big debate about this.”



Mitt Romney says women are free to have health care … as long as they can afford it

Just because Mitt Romney wants to “get rid of” Planned Parenthood doesn’t mean he doesn’t have compassion for women who rely on it for their health care. In fact, he and his wife are on a charm offensive through Illinois right now, proving just how much they “love it that women are upset too” and golly, aren’t soccer moms the bestest?

So when asked where millions of women who rely on Planned Parenthood for their health care would have to go if President Mitt Romney had his way, Mitt displayed his usual compassion:

“Well, they can go wherever they’d like to go,” Romney told her. “This is a free society. But here’s what I’d say, which is the federal government should not tax these people to pay for Planned Parenthood.… The idea of the federal government funding Planned Parenthood, I’m going to say no, we’re going to stop that.”

Right. It’s a free society. So that means low-income women who rely on Planned Parenthood for their basic health care needs are free to go anywhere they want—as long as it isn’t the one place they can afford to go.



Women are still paying more than men for health insurance. 



Why Women Pay More

Q: Why Does this Shirt Cost More to Clean than that One?

A: Because it belongs to a woman. Over the course of your lifetime, you’ll pay more than a man for everything from health insurance to haircuts, dry cleaning to deodorant. Here’s how businesses get away with sex discrimination, and what you can do to stop it

THREE YEARS AGO, Janet Floyd, the cofounder of a Manhattan market research firm, spotted a neighborhood dry cleaner that offered the following deal: Launder four shirts and get the fifth laundered for free. Button-downs are a staple of Floyd’s wardrobe, so she returned carrying an armload of oxfords. But when she dropped the shirts on the counter, she was told that the offer applied only to men’s shirts, not “blouses.” “The owner of the store insisted women’s shirts didn’t fit on their machines and needed to be hand-pressed,” says Floyd. (The cleaner charged roughly $2 to launder a dress shirt versus $6.50 to dry-clean a blouse.) Floyd then asked if she could pay the higher price on four of her shirts and still get the fifth cleaned for free. The owner declined. “It was outrageous. They were giving this huge discount to men, and we weren’t getting one,” she fumes.

Sounds like blatant discrimination, right? It is, and yet it’s perfectly legal. Though civil rights laws prohibit job and housing discrimination on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation, there’s no federal law banning discrimination in the sale of goods and services. Several cities and states have adopted their own antidiscrimination statutes, but they are often vague and rife with loopholes–like the one that lets dry cleaners charge more if the garment requires “extra labor.” (Many cleaners don’t even launder women’s shirts, forcing female customers to dry-clean everything.) While it would be unthinkable to encounter a menu of services that overtly discriminates on the basis of, say, race — imagine a salon that posted different prices for blacks and whites–it’s a long-standing practice when it comes to services that target men and women. “This is a problem that has gone on for many years,” explains professor John Banzhaf of the George Washington University Law School. “Even though it’s well recognized, people sit back and go, ‘Well, that’s just the way it is.’ And if you compare it with all the problems women face, it’s certainly not in the top one, three, even five.”

In fact, being a woman in this country has become an increasingly expensive proposition. It’s not just dry cleaning and haircuts where women get socked: We pay more for home mortgages, health insurance, and cars and car repairs (even when we mind our credit, eat right and exercise, and do our homework), not to mention everyday items like deodorant and disposable razors. California, which in 1996 became the first state to ban gender pricing, found that women paid about $1,351 annually in extra costs and fees. Apply that figure to the rest of the women in the country and the total burden is staggering — roughly $151 billion in markups, more than what the federal government spent on education last year and greater than the budgets of 43 states.

Even more startling is how little outrage the issue seems to summon among women, though we lose out in nearly every transaction we make. Last year, the European Union’s top court outlawed all forms of insurance-related gender pricing, a move that will have profound repercussions for any European who drives or buys into a health-insurance plan. Yet there’s no movement here to change the law, no marches in Washington or sit-ins at Congress, no viral Facebook or YouTube campaigns. And without meaningful legislation that demands equality for men and women at the cash register, change will have to come one lawsuit at a time. And who goes to court over a dry-cleaning bill?

TWELVE YEARS AGO, Michael Cone, a New York City trade lawyer, was researching import tariffs at the request of a client, a shoe manufacturer. Reading through the U.S. tariff schedule — the list of fees the government imposes on goods shipped in from other nations — he was stunned: Men’s sneakers were taxed at 8.5 percent, while women’s sneakers were taxed at 10 percent. “I immediately thought, You can’t do that! That’s discrimination!” Cone recalls. After more digging, he learned that the government discriminates across the board for all sorts of garments. Sometimes men get the advantage, sometimes women. (Men’s gloves, for example, are taxed at 14 percent, while women’s are taxed at 12.6 percent.) Though there is no ostensible rationale for the discrepancies, the tariff codes have a history of bias — before the Civil War, cheap imported wool incurred a lower duty than finer wool so Southern slave owners could clothe their slaves cheaply.

Because women face stiffer tariffs on some of the highest-volume items shipped into the United States, Cone — who has since joined the firm FSB FisherBroyles, LLP — believes that discriminatory tariffs have hurt women more than men. “The Constitution forbids Uncle Sam from sticking his hands down your jeans to find out whether you’re a man or woman for no good reason,” he says. Cone is currently suing the government for discrimination. (The case is still pending.) Initially, he reached out to other clients who might join him as co-plaintiffs. He told them that if he won (a big if, to be sure), they could potentially recover millions of dollars from the government in unfair tariffs. More than 100 companies eventually signed on, including Steve Madden and Urban Outfitters. “But others wouldn’t touch the case with a 10-foot pole,” Cone explains. “I think one of the reasons is that they were worried it would draw more attention to gender pricing” — their gender pricing, which earns them untold millions and which inequitable tariffs alone cannot justify.

Though few retailers will cop to it, gender pricing is standard industry practice. It’s especially pronounced at the drugstore, where bathroom staples like shampoo, soap, and razors marketed to women (invariably packaged in pretty pastels) routinely cost more than near-identical products for men. A recent study by researchers at the University of Central Florida examined some 200 sticks of deodorant sold at major drugstore chains and found that sticks for women cost, on average, 30 cents more per ounce than those for men, even when the only discernible difference was scent. “These companies have us convinced that men and women are so biologically different that we need completely different products, as though we are a different species,” says study coauthor Megan Duesterhaus.







Noxious Arizona birth control bill pulled for a rewrite under pressure

The privacy-invading bill that would allow any Arizona employer to drop insurance coverage for workers’ contraceptives was a terrible idea in the first place. But now poor misunderstood Debbie Lesko is whining that the bill will be rewritten even though she says it’s perfectly all right the way it is.

Lesko is the Republican representative of the Arizona House of Representatives who introduced House Bill 2625. The proposal, which has already passed the House, would allow employers to opt out of health insurance coverage of contraception for religious reasons or moral reasons. For the past 10 years, employers of churches and other religious organizations have had that right in the state. Lesko’s bill would extend the waiver to Taco Bell owners and auto dealers and anybody else who chooses to opt out.

Women using contraceptives for purposes other than birth control would be covered via a reimbursement arrangement. But with a catch, say critics. The bill would require applicants for reimbursement to prove what the prescriptions are for by opening their medical records to their employers. Which brings up the kicker. The way the bill is written, an employer could discriminate against a woman who was discovered to be obtaining contraception for birth control purposes even if she pays for it herself. For discriminate against, read: “fire.”

Lesko says employers wouldn’t have access to private medical records. But an expert disagrees. James G. Hodge, an Arizona State University professor who specializes in health law and ethics, says having employers ask for medical confirmation of specific things isn’t unusual. They are not subject to privacy requirements of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accounting Act, he said:

In many cases, an employee already has to plead for coverage of a type of care, such as when an insurer denies coverage and tells the worker to take it up with her employer, he said. “If she wants reimbursement, legally she is going to have to waive privacy interests.”

Pummeled by the public outcry over this outrageous invasion of women’s privacy as well as concerns expressed by Gov. Jan Brewer (R) and Sen. John McCain (R), the Arizona Senate president pulled the proposed legislation from a Senate committee for a rewrite Monday. Exactly what any new language will say is unclear. Any changes would have be sent back to the House for a revote:

The changes would include reassurances that employers won’t get information about workers’ private health care information, said Cathi Herrod, a leader of an advocacy group for social conservatives that is lobbying for the bill along with Catholic bishops.

Lesko, who says she’s not Catholic and has “no moral objection against contraceptives,” doesn’t think many employers will take advantage of bill’s provisions. Perhaps not. But one is too many.

She could have avoided all the phone calls and emails and public opprobrium if she’d not chosen to add her voice to the crew of reactionaries who think government should only meddle when it comes to people’s most private matters. This bill shouldn’t be rewritten, it should be permanently tabled.





Remember My Forgotten Man:Golddiggers of 1933


Feminism encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians. ~~Pat Robertson

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Cher, thanks for all the great info today!

I had not heard the info about Bales and his prior conman activities. That story does get “curiouser and curiouser,” doesn’t it?

The military as a whole would be a never-ending research project for a student of psychology. From the efforts to turn the Air Force Academy into a RW religious band of crusaders, to the type of programming that can produce people who were capable of doing what was done at Abu Ghraeb or Guantanamo, to the guys who think it’s hilarious to urinate on corpses…what is going on in those heads?


Strict military programming. Part of boot camp’s purpose is to break down and eliminate any real sense of self and to be rebuilt to think like killers. Especially in the USMC and Army. You become a weapon, a cog in the greater construct of the military machine. It’s really dehumanizing.
When I entered the USMC, I made a vow to not let them turn me into a robot. I am happy to say, I was successful.


It’s clear that you were successful, KT. And it must have taken a lot of strength to remain your own person.


Thank you kes. I was an idealistic, young hippie before I had to join up. I didn’t rise very high in rank, but always did my job. I looked at the whole thing as having to serve some sort of “sentence.” (which wasn’t far from reality)
When I look back, I do feel a great sense of pride for having been a Marine. I just never allowed them to dehumanize me and they sure tried their best!


Reading the FOX News comments about Trayvon Martin is almost enough for me to wander out in the desert and live in a cave…far away from humans. Fortunately, not all humans are of the misanthropic type.


Wonder how Fox will handle this march? I can’t find anything on how many showed up but I have heard on the news that there were hundreds if not thousands.


GOOD! I hope Zimmerman is brought up on manslaughter charges and rots in prison for the next decade or two.

On a lighter note, I had a neighbor who used to tease me about a black hoodie I would wear occasionally. He said I looked like the Uni-Bomber! I thought it was pretty funny.


Did you have the big black sunglasses, too?


Actually, I did wear sunglasses, but they were dark green instead of black. I also had a beard and I am sure it added to the overall effect. 😉


Well, if you were mumbling to yourself as you were walking, you are lucky they didn’t catch you and think they had their guy! 🙂


Sally, luckily, I only mumble to myself in private! 🙄


GREAT things here again, thank you! Right down to Joan Blondell in the Golddiggers 1933 clip. The fact I recognized her makes me feel VERY smug!

Thank you for keeping up on the less prominent info on Trayvon’s murder – but knowing his girlfriend heard ALL of it is absolutely heartbreaking. Your sources are ones we’d not otherwise come across, and thank you for all that, too.

The Ryan budget info will be put to very good use as will all the health care info. You cannot imagine how much work you often save me as I put together information for our members. Wow – I am SO grateful to you for everything you find!

I hope being “back in the saddle” on the Daily Planet is proving OK? I really DO love the links since then I can email the stories to myself for filing. But if that is what caused you to nearly make yourself bald from hair tearing, then YOU decide. If we have the urls, we can cut and paste – just a small extra step. Do NOT make yourself crazy please? We love you and want this to be a labor of love NOT insanity!

GREAT to have you and the DP back! Thank you, thank you for all you do!