You can access all the past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV.




 Just how big is Walmart? Really freaking big!



Sears Lavishes CEO With Pay And Perks, While Laying Off Workers And Bilking Taxpayers 

In the wake of the Great Recession, wages have stagnated while CEO pay has soared. Case in point, Sears last year paid its chief executive millions of dollars, and piled on hundreds of thousands of dollars in assorted perks, including charter airfare and covering some of his income tax bill:

Sears Holdings Corp. paid its chief executive $9.9 million last year, including incentives the ailing department store operator offered to lure the former technology executive, according to an Associated Press analysis of a regulatory filing.

Lou D’Ambrosio, who became Sears’ CEO in February 2011, received a signing bonus of $150,000 plus a base salary of $930,769 and $8 million in stock awards, according to a filing the company made Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

D’Ambrosio got another $852,037 in perks, including $803,856 for charter and commercial airfare and ground transportation to commute from greater Philadelphia, where he lives, to Hoffman Estates, Ill., where Sears is based. And he received $29,985 for temporary housing in Hoffman Estates. Sears paid part of the income taxes due on those benefits.

Of course, it’s the company’s prerogative to pay its CEO this much. But at the same time that it was doling out perks to D’Ambrosio, Sears was planning to lay off thousands of workers. Sears has announced that it will be closing 173 stores this year — up from previous estimates of 120 stores — which means that nearly 14,000 workers could be seeing a pink slip.

Adding insult to injury, Sears was also pocketing millions of dollars in tax incentives from the state of Illinois, even as it fired Illinois workers. In fact, under the terrible deal that the state signed with the retail giant, Sears can lay off another 1,750 Illinois workers without losing its taxpayer largesse. But perhaps bilking a state of its needed tax revenue is what Sears pays D’Ambrosio the big bucks for.





10 Questions for Jim Messina

Jim Messina, a top adviser to President Obama, left the White House a year ago to manage Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign. His task is creating an incumbent president’s version of the political machine that the 2008 campaign manager, David Plouffe,, now a top White House official, built for an insurgent promising “change we can believe in.” John Harwood of The Times and CNBC sat down with Mr. Messina at the campaign’s Chicago headquarters. What follows is a condensed, edited version of their conversation.


Talk about how you see the overall challenge that you face compared to what David Plouffe faced four years ago.


I went and studied every re-election campaign for 100 years. They can too much be about Washington. Everything you see in that room over there is just about serving the states. And that’s different. Last time it was change we can believe in, becoming a national movement. This is a series of very local campaigns. No one’s ever tried to do that in a re-election campaign.


Didn’t Bush do something very similar in terms of the depth of voter contact, person-to-person, in 2004?


Technology and resources — he tried to do it under the federal cap of $250 million. We have more resources, more grass-roots, more ability, a longer time. We have volunteers who spent five years now in our system — knowing their neighborhoods, knowing their friends, knowing who the good
volunteers are, and that’s a huge advantage.


Can technology help you compensate for the diminished electricity surrounding the campaign? Obama talks about it: “We’re not as cool as we were four years ago.”


Yeah, I mean, I hear him say that. Our job is to build an organization on the ground that people want to be a part of, and that’s what we’re doing. And if technology can help us do that, we’re going to use it. I just think about the changes since four years ago. Twitter didn’t really exist as a company until the middle of the campaign. On Election Day of 2008, we sent out one tweet. Maybe two. Now it’s one of the most important tools. Facebook was one-tenth of the size, and mostly about young people organizing themselves. Now, the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is 50-plus. IPad didn’t exist. The smartphone didn’t happen until the middle of the campaign. And, you know, all those things are now prevalent in everybody’s lives. Our goal is to use them to organize politically.


It has become standard analysis of 2004 that you had a president (George W. Bush) about whom most people had very strong feelings, and so there weren’t a lot of swing voters. Is this campaign like that?


For too long, campaigns have said we’re either going to do persuasion or we’re going to do turnout. The campaign we’re running in Oregon is going to look very different than the campaign we’re running in North Carolina. Some states, you’ll do a bunch of persuasion, some states you’ll do turnout, some states you’ll do a mix. I believe the persuadable universe is larger than people think it is. Because in the end, this will be a contest between candidates, and people will have to make a decision on what kind of leadership they want for their president.


Do you think that volatility is the right way to think about the general election, or is that idiosyncratic to the Republican primary? A couple weeks ago, the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll had Obama at 50 percent job approval. A week later, CBS/New York Times had him at 41 percent.


Yeah, and Pew had him at 54 percent. I kind of am skeptical of public polling — one of those polls had 30 percent of people who didn’t have an opinion of us. You know that’s not true. Polling is having a complete soul-searching inside. Is it broken? How do you deal with it? It’s not bouncing around like that. What is true, though, is polls are going to go up, polls are going to go down. My job is not to get us to 50 percent on March 17.


Are we looking at the same dozen swing states that we’ve been talking about for several cycles now?


I’m sure we’re not. Four years ago, you all thought that Plouffe and I were crazy when we said we can win North Carolina. And now we so much believe we can win it that we’ve put the Democratic National Convention there. Virginia is now one of the bellwethers of this country. States are changing because of demographics. Arizona is going to be one of the toss-up states. We’re looking at Georgia. One question about Georgia is, it’s just an expensive media market. But we’re looking at both those places.


What’s the interaction like between you and David [Plouffe], the campaign and the White House? Are there friction points?


Way less than I would’ve thought. In part because I understand their side, so I’m not asking for things that they can’t give. Because I was in that job for two years, and I know what they can and can’t do. We’ve all had each other’s jobs.


Do you think your job is harder than Plouffe’s four years ago?


(laughs) That is a really good question. And no one’s ever asked me that. I don’t know. Ask me in 235 days.


Give me your evaluation of what the Romney campaign is doing with the candidate they have and the environment they have — how well are they executing?


I think they’re an effective organization at going negative on whatever they think their opponent of the day is, and defining them. It’s going to be difficult for them in the general election. But, you know, we’ll see. I believe this is going to be a very close election, and that we have to run a good campaign to win it. And could we get beat? Absolutely.


At this moment, are you exhausted?


This has a toll on everyone. Getting all this up and running, from when we were the first five employees a year ago, has been hard. I would bet that the other side’s probably more tired, though, just given what they’ve had to do.




Can Mitt Romney get away with flipping to the center this fall?

If there’s been a single, enduring pattern in the Republican presidential primaries, it’s that Mitt Romney—or a staff member—can’t help but offendsomeone after winning an election. To wit, here’s communications director Eric Fehrnstrom on CNN this morning:

HOST: Is there a concern that Santorum and Gingrich might force the governor to tack so far to the right it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election.

FEHRNSTROM: Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all of over again.

This is exactly what conservatives fear about the former Massachusetts governor; that he’ll abandon his commitment to conservative rhetoric as soon as he becomes the nominee. And given the degree to which Romney is willing to lie to audiences, this is not an unreasonable fear.

On the other hand, it’s not as if this is a new concern. Conservatives widely believe that the party establishment will betray conservative values to win an election. For them, it explains the failed candidacies of George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, John McCain, and the failed presidency of George W. Bush. But now that they’re in the driver’s seat of the Republican Party, they can avoid this obstacle—it’s well within theirpower to keep Romney from running too far to the center, and distancing himself too much from the persona he’s built over the last five years.

All of this is to say that Fehrnstrom and the Romney campaign are probably kidding themselves if they think they can flop back to the center this fall. Conservatives neither like nor trust Mitt Romney, and they want every guarantee that he stays on their turf in his campaign against President Obama. Conservatives will make their demands and Romney will go along for the ride. After all, in an election where he needs high turnout from the base, what choice does he have?



Payday lenders scrutinized for funneling cash to super PACs



The Silver Foot In His Mouth: How Romney’s Gaffes Keep The Primaries Going

[…]“These unforced errors are killing him,” O’Connell said. “Because the longer this primary goes on, the more it hurts him in the general election. Every time he makes these comments, some of his conservative detractors — it makes them redouble their efforts. And that makes him work even harder to win the nomination.”

The Atlantic’s Molly Ball noted the Romney campaign’s penchant for saying just the wrong thing at just the wrong time a month ago when Democrats were howling over the stagecraft andmessaging disaster at Ford Field in Detroit, which came right after Romney had been heralded as the winner of a big debate.

But that was not the first time Romney squashed good news like a bug at a Mississippi campaign rally. Here’s our attempt at an exhaustive list.

IOWA: While he was still riding high as the declared winner in Iowa, Romney slowed his momentum by telling an audience in New Hampshire, “I enjoy being able to fire people.” The line was taken out of context somewhat — always a hard battle for Romney to fight after he declared taking people out of context to be fair game — but Democrats and his Republican opponents pounced, and Romney was forced to confront the less than marketable aspects of his background as a corporate takeover artist.

NEW HAMPSHIRE Romney’s big win in the Granite State was overshadowed considerably by the fight over Romney’s tax return, which he first said he wouldn’t release, then was incredibly vague about releasing, and then finally released. Democrats had a way to stamp out Romney’s momentum and they used it.

FLORIDA After getting shellacked in South Carolina, Romney’s win in delegate-rich Florida was supposed to get the storyline back on track and Romney on the express train to the nomination. But the morning after he won, Romney went on CNN and told America, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.

Facepalm,” wrote conservative pundit Michele Malkin.

MICHIGAN In addition to the Ford Field debacle, which gave Democrats plenty of ammo for their argument that Romney’s homestate wasn’t interested in its native son anymore, Romney preempted the momentum he was about to get by winning the closely-contested state by flying down to Florida and talking about all the NASCAR owners he’s friends with while trying to connect with the race fans at the Daytona 500.

ILLINOIS Romney won big, and gave an Obama-focused speech that gained widespread acclaim. In short order, he trotted out an endorsement from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and began to make the case in earnest that it’s time for the primaries to end and for the GOP to unite around Romney. Etch A Sketch lit a fire under both his Republican and Democratic opponents that made his inevitability argument — while still very sound on paper — a tougher sell.



Take the Quiz: Romney or Robot?

“I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that’s the America millions of Americans believe in. That’s the America I love.” —Mitt Romney, perhaps impaired by some incorrectly written software.

Mitt Romney is frequently described as “robotic,” but can you tell the difference between him and an automaton? Take this quiz and find out. Some questions are based on exchanges frominterviews with the human Republican front-runner; the others were generated by plugging actual interview questions asked of Romney into the artificial-intelligence app Cleverbot.

Take the quiz HERE.



Romney won Illinois primary with lowest winning percentage ever



Remarkable that Santorum had not yet raised as much as Herman Cain or Rick Perry through February 



GOP hits bumps with Senatorial campaign

Texas Sen. John Cornyn has always predicted it would take two election cycles for Republicans to win a Senate majority.

But a rapidly shifting political landscape, a resurgent Senate Democratic candidate slate and a bitter GOP presidential primary have complicated the once charmed outlook for Senate Republicans, and Cornyn is admitting that the path to a GOP majority may not be as straightforward as many in the party hoped.

“Obviously, there’s been a little turbulence,” Cornyn told POLITICO when asked whether he still stood by his prediction that it would take a two-cycle effort, beginning in 2009-10, to yield a GOP majority this fall.

Yet Cornyn, in his second term as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, insists that winning the majority in 2012 is “still our goal and that’s my expectation.”

But he’s toning down prospects of a robust Republican majority.

“We just need a net of four,” Cornyn noted. “We’re not going to raise the bar any higher than we have to. If we get there, if we get more, that’ll certainly make me a happy man.”

Cornyn personally has a lot riding on the 2012 Senate elections. The Texas Republican is running for majority whip, a powerful position that would put him in line to eventually succeed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

While Cornyn’s colleagues say he won’t be blamed if the GOP fails to win the majority, undoubtedly there would be finger-pointing within the ranks and Cornyn could come away bruised if Republicans come up short of a majority. One huge concern this year, as it was in 2010, is tea-party-inspired challengers in Senate GOP primaries taking on more high-profile candidates, a challenge that Cornyn and Republican leaders face in states like Wisconsin and Indiana.

“The Republican establishment has been proven wrong time and time again, yet they continue to attack conservatives who offer the Republican Party the opportunity to regain its standing with the American people,” said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), in a fundraising email sent out on Tuesday.

Everywhere Cornyn looks, the path to a Republican majority is filled with new signs of turbulence.

The sudden retirement last month by Maine Republican Olympia Snowe — which caught Cornyn and McConnell by surprise — put a safe GOP state up for grabs. Senate Republicans face messy primary battles in Nebraska, Missouri and Florida, and the return to politics of former Sen. Bob Kerrey gives Democrats a chance to hold onto aCornhusker State seat that had all but been conceded to Republicans.

Longtime Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) looks increasingly vulnerable to a tea-party-inspired challenge, potentially putting Indiana up for grabs. Several GOP senators, including Rand Paul and DeMint, have endorsed former Rep. Mark Neumann in Wisconsin over ex-Gov. Tommy Thompson, complicating the GOP outlook there. Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) will likely face a top-tier challenger in Democrat Elizabeth Warren in what is expected to be the most high-profile Senate race in the fall, although recent polls show Brown leading.

Senate Democrats also believe weak GOP recruits in states that have been closely contested in past cycles — West Virginia, Washington state and New Jersey — along with the NRSC’s decision to stay out of several bruising Republican primaries — such as Florida, Nebraska, Missouri, Wisconsin and Arizona — will only make it harder for Cornyn’s goal to become a reality.

Republicans dismiss the criticism, saying vulnerable Democratic candidates and President Barack Obama’s weakness in red states like Missouri, Nebraska and Arizona will make any concerns over primaries moot. Moreover, they are quick to point out that Cornyn’s fundraising has closed a substantial gap with the Democratic majority, noting the NRSC has $11 million more in its coffers than at a similar point in the last presidential cycle.

Still, the outlook is a far cry from the initial outlook after the 2010 elections. Obama was seen as weak and beatable at the top of ticket, while Senate Democrats were defending 23 seats, versus only 10 for Republicans. Retirements by veteran Democrats like Sens. Kent Conrad (N.D.), Herb Kohl (Wis.), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.) and Daniel Akaka (Hawaii) put several seats into play.

Cornyn insists he’s not worried about what happens to his own leadership ambitions if Senate Republicans fall short of winning a majority. “This is much more important to the country than it is to me personally,” Cornyn said. “I think that’s secondary … I’m really not thinking about that. I’m thinking about how we get to the majority.”

Cornyn also believes that the ongoing battle between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum is skewing the Senate races, and that once a GOP presidential nominee is crowned, things should settle down.

“I still think once Republicans get a nominee for president … and there’s less of a circular firing squad, then we have our candidates in our Senate races, then I think it will be a lot clearer what the pathway to the majority will look like,” Cornyn said.

Cornyn has stuck by his promise to stay out of Republican primaries this year, a reaction to what happened to the NRSC during the last cycle — in particular, in Florida where the NRSC initially supported Gov. Charlie Crist over tea party favorite Marco Rubio.

DeMint, a leading conservative, and tea party groups defeated NRSC-backed candidates in Delaware and Colorado, only to see Democrats win those Senate races. At the same time, Cornyn faced questions over pouring funds into a California Senate race that proved to be unwinnable.

Asked if the NRSC should play a bigger role in primary fights, either clearing the field for their preferred candidates or putting money behind those they favor, as Senate Democrats have done in Hawaii, Connecticut, Arizona and Nevada, Cornyn demurred.

“I guess they have different constituencies,” Cornyn said, adding that primaries can make for battle-tested candidates — and Republicans do have some tough primary battles to sort through this spring and summer.

In Wisconsin, Democrats have settled behind Rep. Tammy Baldwin, while Republicans are witnessing an ugly primary there that won’t conclude until August. The same holds true for Rep. Jeff Flake in Arizona, who is facing off against self-funder Wil Cardon, a wealthy investor.

One GOP insider said Cornyn has debated endorsing candidates in Arizona and Wisconsin, but NRSC officials strongly deny that will happen.

Cornyn’s avoidance of primary fights has pleased conservatives like DeMint, who believe that the committee has no business trying to pick winners and losers in such contests.

“I think the NRSC needs to raise a lot of money for our general elections,” said DeMint, who added that he is backing candidates in only four primary races this cycle. DeMint’s reelection committee, however, recently gave $500,000 to the Club for Growth, an anti-tax group that has not hesitated in taking on incumbents.

Overall, Cornyn and Senate Republicans are confident of their chances in a handful of Democratic-controlled states, including North Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri and Montana. Wisconsin, Virginia, Florida, Ohio and New Mexico remain potential battlegrounds, and GOP strategists talk up their chances in Hawaii, where former Gov. Linda Lingle will take on the winner of a contested Democratic primary.

However, there have been clear recruiting shortfalls for Cornyn and the NRSC. Cornyn and McConnell appealed to several candidates to get into the West Virginia race against Democrat Joe Manchin, including Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, only to be turned down. They eventually settled on wealthy businessman John Raese, whose political baggage set back his chances of defeating Manchin in 2010.

Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the Republicans’ chief deputy whip who is also vying for the No. 2 job, said Cornyn shouldn’t be affected one way or another with months left in Cornyn’s NRSC term.

“A lot of that is out of John’s control,” Burr said, citing various factors that could shift the course of an election. “That shouldn’t impact him from a standpoint of his candidacy for whip.”



Jeb Bush Backs Rubio for VP Nominee



Gloria Steinem Supports President Obama





Worst Congress Ever

Is it possible that the 112th Congress, the Congress we have right now, is the worst in history. That would be saying a lot because we have had some pretty bad Congresses.

They have not got too much done. They did bring the country to the brink of economic collapse in a moral stand over the deficit, only to allow a “Super Committee” to deal with the problem. After that the stock market collapsed, the credit rating dropped and then the Congress went on vacation for 6 weeks.

This Congress has taken more vacation than any other Congress – almost 26 weeks – half the year! Now they will claim it is for “constituent services,” which is a code word for fundraising.

And now they are holding up money for FEMA needed to help the people wiped out by Hurricane Irene, tornadoes and fore fighters. If they blow this one, a basic responsibility of Congress, then they will go down as one of the worst.

As David Rogers write in Politico:

“Most damning: This is the easy stuff. The bill at issue is a relatively simple stopgap continuing resolution, or CR, to keep the government operating until mid-November while tougher issues are addressed. If this is a crisis, what are world financial markets to think of Washington’s ability to meet its promises in August — coming up still with at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction in less than two months?

The grim economic news since August contributes to a sense of helplessness and fractured power. This is very much a Congress divided three ways — Republican, Democratic and tea party. Now it is also one living through a period of joblessness and strained resources that is beyond anything members have known in their lifetime.

The nation is in serious peril, and this breeds an anxious, even scared rank and file which is what really drove this latest crisis — from the bottom not the top.”

In other words, if they can’t even come together to fund FEMA and help Americans in dire straights, how can they possibly deal with Immigration Reform, an Energy and a Jobs Bill. I’ll tell you what, if they don’t at least start work on a jobs bill with so many Americans unemployed, its time for us to let them know how it feels to be out of work




Faith Leaders Blast House GOP Budget As ‘Immoral Disaster’ That ‘Robs The Poor’ 

When House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) released his Medicare-ending, safety net-gutting 2012 budget plan last year, he wasslammed by faith leaders who denounced his cuts to programs that aid the poor and middle class. Ryan released the 2013 version of that budget yesterday, and he is again facing criticism from a diverse group of faith leaders.

Ryan often says it is “morally wrong” not to address America’s debt, but faith leaders like Bishop Gene Robinson said the budget Ryan crafted fails basic moral tests. “The Ryan budget robs the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable of the safety net so integral to their survival,” Robinson said. “By any measure of civility and regard for one’s neighbor, it is an immoral disaster.”

Father Thomas Kelly, a Catholic priest and constituent of Ryan’s, felt similarly:

As a constituent of Congressman Ryan and a Catholic priest, I’m disappointed by his cruel budget plan and outraged that he defends it on moral grounds. Ryan is Catholic, and he knows that justice for the poor and economic fairness are core elements of our church’s social teaching. It’s shameful that he disregarded these principles in his budget.”

That the GOP cuts vital programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and other safety net programs while giving tax breaks to the richest Americans is “immoral” and “unconscionable,” other leaders said. “The poor are not statistics,” Rabbi Jackie Moline said. “Whatever one thinks of Congressman Ryan’s ideas, it is unimaginable to look into the face of a child who would go hungry without government assistance and say, ‘Sorry — we need to reduce the deficit.’”



Paul Ryan’s budget is so fiscally fraudulent that even the Club for Growth has come out against it



Roundup of commentary on Ryan’s Path to Poverty

Great editorial in NYT—they start out where I ended up last night:

As he rolled out his 2013 budget on Tuesday, Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman, correctly said that he and his fellow Republicans were offering the country a choice of two very clear futures. The one he outlined in his plan could hardly be more bleak.

I thought the ed board made a strong point here regarding vagaries vs specificity:

[The budget] vows to balance tax cuts for corporations and the rich by closing loopholes, but never lists the loopholes. It is, however, quite specific about cutting Medicaid by about 45 percent, leaving 19 million people without care, and eliminating plans to provide health insurance for 33 million who lack coverage now.

Mitt Miller—always worth reading, btw—hits on the simple, undeniable intersection of demographics—aging boomers—and the role of government in retirement security.  You can’t get there from the R’s budget.

Dana Milbank and the WaPo ed board also weigh in.

Milbank quotes Rep Ryan on how safety net programs “drain the will” of the poor and “demean” them.

To protect poor Americans from being demeaned, Ryan is cutting their anti-poverty programs and using the proceeds to give the wealthiest Americans a six-figure tax cut.

Apparently, spending programs demean the poor, but tax cuts strengthen the moral fiber of the rich.

The WaPo ed board tends to be a lot more hawkish on budget matters than I am, but they hit hard on the Ryan budget, opening their editorial with an assertion that should be very familiar to OTEers:

THERE IS NO credible path to deficit reduction without a combination of spending cuts and revenue increases.

True dat.

OK—enough for now with this budget.  It’s not going anywhere, but it will remain an influential guidepost in the forthcoming debate about the role of government in our lives.  This is YOYO on steroids, and given that, like it or not, we’re actually in this together, the R’s budget must remain a strong marker of what not to do.



The White House Blog: The Ryan-Republican Budget: The Consequences of Imbalance

Ed note: This post is updated with a correction on the number of workplace inspections to protect worker safety.

Yesterday, House Republicans released their budget resolution for FY 2013. While many of the proposals require more analysis, one thing is absolutely clear: this budget does not ask all Americans to do their share to get our fiscal house in order and create an economy that is built to last. Instead, the GOP plan gives those making over $1 million per year an average tax cut of at least $150,000 and preserves tax breaks for oil and gas companies and hedge fund managers. These tax breaksare then paid for by ending Medicare as we know it and implementing deep cuts in what we need to grow our economy and create jobs in years to come.

Others will go into deep detail on the tax and health proposals in the budget resolution.  I want to focus on funding known as “nondefense discretionary spending.”  It deserves a better name.  This is annual funding that pays for many of the investments most critical to expanding economic growth and opportunity, including education, research and development, and clean energy.

With his strong focus on cutting waste and unneeded spending, the President has already signed into law several rounds of cuts that will bring non-security spending to its lowest level as a share of the economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President. Put another way, we are cutting this category of spending as a share of economy by 50 percent from 2010 to 2022.

But when it comes to annual, non-defense spending, the House Budget Resolution is not about cutting fat.  It is cutting deep into the muscle that America needs to compete and win in the 21stcentury.

On top of the roughly $1 trillion in cuts in the Budget Control Act, it would be difficult to overstate the radicalism of the domestic cuts proposed by the House budget resolution.  In 2013, it would cut annual non-defense funding by 5 percent.  By 2014, the resolution would cut this funding by 19 percent in purely nominal terms. Over a decade, the resolution would cut over $1 trillion in non-defense spending on top of the reductions the President has already signed into law.  The cuts in nondefense discretionary funding are nearly three times as deep as the cuts under the so-called sequester — cuts that we and most objective analysts have always regarded as an unwise and unacceptable.

What would it all mean? The Budget doesn’t say.  In fact, the Budget resolution includes a magic asterisk — or, in more technical parlance, an “allowance”— for $897 billion in unspecified cuts.  But what could the resolution mean?  Since the House has refused to specify what would be cut, we consider the impacts if the cuts are distributed equally across the Budget.  The result would be that:

  • The Department of Education would be cut by more than $115 billion over a decade.  9.6 million students would see their Pell Grants fall by more than $1000 in 2014, and, over the next decade, over one million students would lose support altogether. This would derail bipartisan education reforms and deeply undermine K-12 education and college opportunity.

  • Clean energy programs would be cut by 19 percent over the next decade, derailing efforts to put a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015, retrofit residential homes to save energy and consumers money, and make the commercial building sector 20 percent more efficient by 2022.

  • Investments in science, medical research, space, and technology would be cut by more than $100 billion over the next decade. The number of new grants  from NIH for promising research projects would shrink by more than 1,600 in 2014 and by over 16,000 over a decade, potentially curtailing or slowing research to fight Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, and AIDS.  The National Science Foundation would cut over 11,000 grants over the next decade, eliminating support for over 13,000 researchers, students, and teachers in 2014 alone.

  • Roughly two million slots in Head Start would be eliminated over the next decade — cutting 200,000 children from the program in 2014 alone.

In significantly reducing investments in the future, the House budget resolution also violates our obligations in the present.  Presidents of both parties have long committed to fully funding assistance through the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program for pregnant women, newborns, and young children so that they have access to healthy food.  If the cuts in this budget were distributed equally, then about 1.8 million women, infants, and children would be off this program in 2014.  Similarly, by 2014 more than 400,000 low-income families would lose critically important housing vouchers.

The resolution would also make it extraordinarily difficult for government to do the basic business that people rightly expect of it.  Evenly allocated cuts would mean deep reductions in the Federal Aviation Administration, leading to the elimination of air traffic control services in parts of the country.  In 2014, there will be more than 4,500 fewer federal agents at the Department of Justice and the FBI to combat violent crime, pursue financial crimes, help secure the southwest border, and ensure national security, resulting in over 160,000 fewer criminal cases that can be prosecuted over the next decade.  Starting in 2014 and continuing thereafter, hundreds of national parks would have to shut down for parts of the year.  In 2014, approximately 11,000 fewer workplace inspections to protect worker safety would occur. Basic enforcement of clean air and water laws would erode dramatically, with harmful effects on the health and well-being of the American people. We would not meet basic standards for food safety, putting the food we eat and serve our kids at risk.  And our ability to efficiently administer core programs like Medicare and Social Security would be undermined; wait times would increase dramatically.

Keep in mind: cuts of this magnitude are needed in order to give the few Americans who make more than $1 million a year an average tax cut of at least $150,000.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  We can cut the deficit and have an economy built to last through balanced deficit reduction that asks all Americans to shoulder their responsibility, cuts spending, and invests in areas critical to job creation and growth.While we differ on the specifics, this is the approach of the Bowles-Simpson Commission, the Gang of the Six, and the President. We look forward to working with those across the political spectrum who share this belief that we are all in this together and all of us have a responsibility to do our part.

Jeff Zients is the Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget.



Ten questions for Paul Ryan and his supporters

In a scathing analysis, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted today that under Paul Ryan’s budget, “most of the federal government aside from Social Security, health care, and defense would cease to exist.”

Ryan’s plan doesn’t tell you this, of course. Instead, it focuses mostly on steep cuts that most Republicans probably feel fine about supporting — such as cuts to Medicaid, S-CHIP, and subsidies from the Democrats’ health care law.

But as the CBPP analysis spells out, the math of the plan simply requires draconian spending cuts elsewhere that would do away with most of the government. Those are unspecified. Remember, too, that Ryan’s tax reform proposal implies “about $6.2 trillion in tax deductions and loopholes over 10 years,” which of course are also unspecified.

So here are ten questions for anyone who supports the Ryan budget:

1) Do you support eliminating the child tax credit?

2) Do you support eliminating the deduction for mortgage interest?

3) Do you support eliminating the National Weather Service and all of NOAA?

4) Do you support eliminating Pell Grants and student loans?

5) Do you support ending all federal spending on highways, air traffic control, and other forms of transportation?

6) Do you support shutting down FEMA?

7) Do you support shutting down federal prisons, the FBI, and other federal law enforcement agencies?

8) Do you support ending all foreign aid — including Israel?

9) Do you support eliminating NASA?

10) Do you support eliminating the FDA and all food safety inspections?

There certainly are some — Ron Paul, for example, or Grover Norquist — who would probably be comfortable answering yes to eight, nine or even ten of these (and Paul would have more room to work with if he wanted it, since he supports significant military cuts). Perhaps Paul Ryan himself is one of them.

But make no mistake: for Ryan’s numbers to work, you’d need to answer Yes to most, if not all, of these questions. If Republicans claim to support Ryan but don’t answer Yes to them, then they’re just frauds.




House leaders ready new GOP strategy

House Republican leaders will unveil a broad election year platform this week designed to pull off a political trifecta: to highlight their differences with President Barack Obama, give rank-and-file lawmakers a package of popular conservative proposals to run on and avoid being tagged as do-nothing obstructionists.

In private meetings set to begin on Tuesday with restless Republican lawmakers, leaders will outline a “strategic plan” to take the House GOP through Election Day, with items ranging from rewriting the corporate and individual Tax Code to overhauling federal regulations to changing U.S. energy policy.

The briefings, including a presentation from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), will also outline the Republicans’ plans to repeal Obama’s health care law, whether or not the Supreme Court keeps the law in place. Included in the agenda is entitlement reform, debt reduction and oversight hearings by House committees.

The road map is aimed partly at reassuring House Republicans anxious about the party’s legislative record and direction. Much of the past few months in the House has been marred by a fruitless push to pass a highway bill and other small-bore measures that hardly represent the reshaping of government many Republicans had in mind when they arrived in Washington.

And as the battle for the White House heats up — and the prospects of major legislative achievements for 2012 dwindle — GOP leaders believe they must refocus the Republican Conference on doing the “blocking and tackling” needed to keep their majority intact. With congressional approval ratings at historic lows and the Democratic-controlled Senate blocking many of their initiatives, rank-and-file House Republicans want to be able to point to specific plans that will sell with their constituents. The leadership blueprint is meant to provide those proposals.

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said the plan builds on previous legislative initiatives, including 2010’s Pledge to America, and includes new elements developed since a House GOP retreat in January.

Smith said House GOP leaders “will continue to work with our members to move commonsense solutions to help small businesses create jobs, reduce spending, address rising gas prices, cut red tape, repeal Obamacare and conduct vigorous oversight of this administration’s policies and promises.”

“These sessions will outline the strategic plan developed jointly by the leaders, using input from the members and committees, aimed at executing the priority elements of our existing economic agenda during the course of the upcoming year,” Smith added.

Most significant among the items expected to be revealed this week is the Ways and Means Committee’s plan to revise the corporate and individual Tax Code. Conventional wisdom has held that the much-anticipated lame-duck session of the 112th Congress would be when lawmakers and the White House get down to hard bargaining on the expiring Bush-era tax cuts.

But some House Republicans seem intent on accelerating that debate. One Republican lawmaker described the effort as an attempt to have a bill “locked, loaded and ready to fire.”

However, GOP leaders do not expect to force a floor vote on the most controversial and broad-ranging element of those tax cut packages, those covering individual tax rates, GOP sources said. Republican strategists believe voting to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans could prove a political liability in November.

Under current law, rates for taxable income range from 10 percent to 35 percent. If the Bush tax cuts expire, those rates will rise to 15 percent to 39.6 percent for upper-income earners.

The Bush tax packages also slashed rates on capital gains, reduced the number of Americans hit by the alternative minimum tax and included dozens of popular tax breaks, such as an education tax credit and limits on estate taxes. All of these provisions will disappear if the Bush cuts lapse.

Obama agreed to a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts following the Democrat wipeout in the 2010 elections. That extension expires on Dec. 31, and Obama’s 2013 budget calls for an end to the Bush tax cuts for Americans making more than $250,000 annually.

A few Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee — most prominently Illinois Rep. Aaron Schock — have pushed Camp to consider extending the Bush tax cuts ahead of the election. The message, delivered in several of their weekly Ways and Means Committee lunches, is that if they want to provide certainty to the business community, it would benefit House Republicans to extend current tax subsidies and corporate and individual rates while a comprehensive tax reform package is crafted through upcoming panel hearings.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to remind the president that he was right a year ago when he said we don’t want to raise taxes on any American in a recession, and we should advance the Bush-Obama tax rates for at least another year,” Schock said in an interview. “It also puts the onus on the Senate for them to finally make a decision before the reelection and put the public attention squarely where it should be.”

Even if House Republicans decide against trying to extend individual rates, Schock argues, they should act on an extender package immediately.

My fear is [that] without a tax extender package this year, our attention will be split between those lobbying for a short-term extension of the tax extenders at the same time, dividing our time on tax reform,” Schock said.

With both parties scrambling for the upper hand politically, taxes have once again emerged as a central legislative item for House Republicans. A still-fragile U.S. economy and the recent debate over the payroll tax cut — a political battle won by Obama and the Democrats after missteps by Boehner and GOP congressional leaders — have focused top Republicans on themes like cutting taxes for small businesses.

But Republicans must also deal with trillion-dollar-plus federal deficits. And with the Bush tax cuts and the payroll tax cut expiring at the end of the year, combined with the need to once again boost the U.S. debt limit beyond $15.2 trillion, some in Washington are looking ahead to a year-end “Taxageddon.”

Party leaders are also wary of drawing renewed attention to income equality in the wake of the Occupy Wall Street movement. In that vein, they’ve set their sights on a selection of targeted, business-friendly bills.

In the past two weeks, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) helped shepherd to passage the JOBS Act — a measure aimed at making it easier for startups to launch and grow — and quickly pivoted to legislation calling for a 20 percent tax cut for many small businesses.

On energy, House Republicans will continue to press for approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, an issue they see as a political winner as U.S. gas prices hit records highs.

They will also call for more oil and drilling on federal lands or other now-restricted areas. Oversight of the Obama administration’s energy policies, including the Energy Department’s handling of more than $14 billion in stimulus-funded loan guarantees, will be a key focus, as well. And House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans will question top White House energy aides this week behind closed doors about loans to failed California solar firm Solyndra.

”This is both a legislative and oversight plan that will highlight policies that we think are destroying our ability to utilize the energy we have in the ground,” a GOP staffer said.

Meanwhile, as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments this week in a landmark case challenging the constitutionality of Obama’s health care reform law, Republicans will continue to push oversight hearings on how the overhaul is “reducing availability and increasing prices,” the aide added.



 Women represent the only group for whom employment growth has lagged behind population growth in the recovery



Men experienced greater setbacks in the recession, losing twice as many jobs as women from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2009. In the recovery, however, men have gained four times as many jobs as women. The weakness of the recovery for women is underscored by the fact that they represent the only group among those examined in this report for whom employment growth lagged behind population growth from 2009 to 2011.

Employment for men increased from 72.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2009 to 75.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2011, a gain of 2.6 million jobs. The jobs recovery was strong enough to push the unemployment rate for men down from 10.7% in 2009 to 8.6% in 2011. But men had lost 5.2 million jobs in the recession, and their employment level remains 2.6 million below its pre-recession level.

Women realized a much smaller increase in employment—from 65.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2009 to 66.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2011. Their unemployment rate also improved much less than it did for men, gently sliding down from 8.3% in 2009 to 8.0% in 2011. Employment for women in the fourth quarter of 2011 remained 2 million less than its pre-recession level of 68.1 million.

The growth in male employment during the recovery, 3.5%, outpaced the growth in the male working-age population, 2.1%. Thus, the employment rate for men rose from 63.4% in the fourth quarter of 2009 to 64.3% in the fourth quarter of 2011. The experience of women was the opposite of what men experienced. The growth in female employment, 0.9%, lagged behind the growth in the population of working-age women, 1.5%. Thus, among the groups studied in this report, women represent the only group whose employment rate fell during the economic recovery, from 53.8% in the fourth quarter of 2009 to 53.5% in the fourth quarter of 2011.12



Health care reform created 350 new community health centers employing 19,000 Americans in 2011 alone 


Guess who pushed the NRA’s “Stand Your Ground” law: ALEC

[…] Video

The above is from 2008 in which NRA News interviews ALEC resident fellow Michael Hough:

We are a very pro-Second Amendment organization. In fact, last session, I’ll get off-topic here real quick, but some of the things that we were pushing in states was the Castle Doctrine. We worked with the NRA on that, that’s one of our model bills that we have states introduce.”

Enter George Zimmerman, who allegedly shot and killed Trayvon Martin in cold blood, and who could skate because of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, the self-defense law that would get him off scott free.

Per that law, because Zimmerman claims he might have felt even slightly threatened, he could escape prosecution. Trayvon Martin’s killer will be the victim here, because, see, he needed to defend himself from a teen who open-carried Skittles.

And of course, we all know that President Obama is out to personally grab everyone’s guns out of their cold dead hands in a plot to take over the world, so to retaliate, concealed carry sales will now go up.

The more shooting incidents there are, the more commonplace they get, the more desensitized we seem to get as a country. And the more accepting our culture becomes of guns in public, of open carry, of concealed carry, and the more threatened people feel that their firearms will be removed, the more sales there will be for the big gun manufacturers, and of course, the more they will profit.

(Nobody’s taking anyone’s Second Amendment rights away, but there is such a thing as oversight and common sense.)

It’s pretty clear that the NRA is, among other things, a front group for gun manufacturers, as well as a group that pays ALEC so that the gun companies can sell more firearms. Their reward: The gun companies stuff the NRA’s pockets with even more money.

All that said, Media Matters has a piece up that explains more:

The legislation apparently preventing the successful prosecution of Trayvon Martin’s killer was reportedly adopted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as model legislation that the shadowy group has spent years promoting across the country with the help of their allies in the National Rifle Association.

Formed in 1973 by conservative activists including Paul Weyrich and state legislators like then-Illinois State Rep. Henry Hyde, ALEC hasearned infamy throughout the progressive movement for its ability to promote model legislation favorable to its corporate funders through statehouses across the country. […]

Florida’s statute on the use of force in self-defense isvirtually identical to Section 1 of ALEC’s Castle Doctrine Actmodel legislation as posted on the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD).

Please read more and weep here.




If I Had a Son, He’d Look Like Trayvon’

As my colleague Michael Shear reports, at the White House on Friday morning, President Obama briefly addressed the national uproar over the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American high school student who was shot by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida last month.

Video of Mr. Obama’s remarks, made in response to a reporter’s question after he announced Jim Yong Kim, the president of Dartmouth College and a global health expert, as his pick to lead the World Bank, was posted on the White House YouTube channel.

Asked by a reporter to comment on the case in Florida, which has raised “allegations of lingering racism within our society,” Mr. Obama said:

I’m the head of the executive branch and the attorney general reports to me, so I’ve got to be careful about my statement to make sure that we’re not impairing any investigation that’s taking place right now, but obviously, this is a tragedy. I can only imagine what these parents are going through, and when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids. And I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this, and that everybody pulls together, federal, state and local, to figure out exactly how this tragedy happened.

So I’m glad that not only is the Justice Department looking into it, I understand now that the gov of the state of Florida has formed a task force to investigate what’s taking place. I think all of us have to do some soul-searching to figure out, how does something like this happen. And that means that we examine the laws, and the context for what happened, as well as the specifics of the incident. But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. And I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and we’re going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.



Trayvon Martin’s Killer Was Looking for Trouble — and Found It



DOJ officials: It would be difficult to prosecute man who shot, killed Trayvon Martin under federal law 

The decision by the Justice Department and the FBI to open an investigation into the slaying of an unarmed black teenager in Florida has spurred internal debate at the agency over whether the federal government could bring criminal charges in the case, which has sparked widespread protest.

Lawyers at the department said Tuesday that while the investigation into the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin would go forward, it would be difficult to prosecute the case under federal law. Civil rights law protects against “hate crimes” or actions by police officers, but Martin’s shooting may not have either of those elements, two officials said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the probe is still under federal review.

Martin was shot and killed Feb. 26 by a neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman, who told police he was acting in self-defense. Zimmerman, 28, had called police from his car after he saw Martin walking in a gated community in Sanford, Fla.

According to the 911 tapes, Zimmerman told the dispatcher, “this guy looks like he’s up to no good or he’s on drugs or something . . . they always get away.” The dispatcher told Zimmerman not to follow, saying an officer was on the way. Minutes later, Martin was shot in the chest.

No charges have been brought against Zimmerman. Along with the Justice investigation, a local grand jury will consider evidence in the case.

Zimmerman’s family described him as “a Spanish-speaking minority,” and his father released a statement to the Orlando Sentinel saying his son did not target Martin because he was black.

Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, said Monday, “I don’t understand why this man has not been arrested . . . let a judge and jury decide if he’s guilty.”

Lawyer Benjamin Crump, who represents Martin’s parents, said at a news conference in Florida on Tuesday that the teenager was on a cellphone with his girlfriend in Miami when he told her he was being followed, according to the Associated Press. She said Martin told her that he was trying to get away.

Crump, who did not release the name of Martin’s girlfriend because of privacy concerns, said she heard a scuffle and an altercation before the call was cut off.

Martin had not been using drugs or alcohol and would have had no reason to confront Zimmerman, Crump said in an interview. He had been watching basketball at his father’s girlfriend’s house when he went to a nearby 7-Eleven store for a snack, Crump said.

A bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea were on his body when police arrived.

Rallies have been held across Florida, with students calling for Zimmerman’s arrest, and the Rev. Al Sharpton will hold a national rally Thursday in Sanford.

Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights, met in Washington on Tuesday with Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett and Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla). Brown urged Perez to prosecute the case as a hate crime.

Stephen A. Saltzburg, a professor at George Washington University Law School, called the case “a difficult one for the Justice Department.”

This may be somebody who is racially biased, but from the 911 calls, it looks as though, however misguided this guy was, he thought that Trayvon was involved in some kind of suspicious activity,” Saltzburg said. “Race may play a role, but I just think it will be hard to bring this as a federal hate crime, given the limited reach of federal hate-crimes law.”

Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa issued a statement late Monday saying that in civil rights crimes, the government “must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acted intentionally and with the specific intent to do something which law forbids — the highest level of intent in criminal law.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney offered condolences to the Martin family but said the White House was “not going to wade into a local law enforcement matter.”



“Basically Floridians can have a gun fight in the streets and the survivor is immune from prosecution.” 



TrayvonMartin is one of 16 children shot very publicly this month





Chart of the Day: Fox News and Trayvon Martin

I’ve noted on several occasions that Fox News spent pretty much the entire summer of 2010 fanning the flames of xenophobia and racial resentment, and a few days ago I wondered if the ridiculous Derrick Bell incident foreshadowed a reprise during this year’s election summer. We’ll have to wait for summer to find out, but ThinkProgress reminds us today that there are two sides to this kind of thing: there’s the wildly overwrought coverage of stories that keep the frenzy alive, but there’s also the wildly understated coverage of stories that contradict the favored narrative of white culture under assault.

The Trayvon Martin story is just that. Adam Weinstein has a quick explainer here if you need to get up to speed on the story of a black kid in Florida who got shot by a white neighborhood watch patrolman for no apparent reason. The white guy was barely even questioned after the incident, which was apparently written off by the local police force as just one of those things. It’s been a big story. And how has the news channel of conservative white folks covered it? ThinkProgress has the answer below. Apparently Trayvon Martin just doesn’t fit into the Fox agenda.




Video- Rachel Maddow eviscerates Mitt Romney on his lies



“Slut” Firestorm Sends Limbaugh Into Crisis Management Mode

[Please see original for many links.]

In the wake of his misogynistic and sexist comments about Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, Rush Limbaugh has lost advertisers and affiliates.

According to Limbaugh, this hasn’t affected his business, and he claims that advertisers are still beating down the door to be on his show (despite a memo circulated by syndicator Premiere Radio Networks listing advertisers who specifically are asking to be excluded from Limbaugh and other controversial shows).

A closer look at the issue debunks Limbaugh’s rhetoric.

The New York Times reported on March 13 that Premiere had lost “less than $2 million in revenue” as a result of pulled advertising, according to “a person with knowledge of the company.” In the same article the Times reported that Premiere had told affiliates in an internal memo that they could pull barter ads that they are usually required to run in exchange for the program — a major source of revenue for the company. Industry publication described the move as “unusual.” The reported loss of revenue would have occured before any barter ads were pulled and within the two week period between Limbaugh’s comments and the Times article.

Limbaugh also faces the loss of affiliates owned by Cumulus Media Networks, whose CEO said the ongoing controversy would be “very helpful” to the planned national launch of a radio show for Mike Huckabee. Huckabee’s brand of talk is being sold as “more conversation and less confrontation.” One of the stations that dropped Limbaugh in response to his comments has already said it will begin airing Huckabee’s show when it premieres next month.

While he’s publicly scoffed at the notion that the reaction to his misogyny is having an impact, he’s quietly hired an expert in crisis management to handle the fallout.

Brian Glicklich has been acting on Limbaugh’s behalf since at least March 8. Glicklich is a former vice president at Premiere Radio Networks, and currently heads the firm How Handy Is That, which specializes in reputation and crisis management and “gadfly defense.” He previously worked as counsel to a firm that provides crisis management to clients like David Copperfield and Paris Hilton. Glicklich also has an extensive relationship with Glenn Beck, and is thanked in the acknowledgements of several of Beck’s books.

The website for Glicklich’s firm, How Handy Is That, describes his work:

My clients often find themselves under attack from outside advocacies or pressure groups. Sometimes these groups are little more than an individual Gadfly with strong digital organizing knowledge. Often, my client has previously underestimated their opposition, to their detriment, before calling me.

Effective management of these situation is based on a multiplex analysis of the opposition’s business and reputational influence power, the strength of our position vis a vis our opposition, opposition research for motivation and weak spots, and a number of other factors.

Glicklich’s Twitter account, which had been unused for a month, came back to life on March 15 and began promoting defenses of Limbaugh. Coincidentally, Limbaugh began using his official Twitter account on the same day. Politico noted, “Rush Limbaugh is mobilizing his army of dittoheads: on Twitter.”

Facing an advertiser revolt, loss of affiliates and revenue, along with negative public relations and a challenge to his prime position on the airwaves, Limbaugh is fully engaged in an effort to push back on the story.

But in public, he insists that his listeners didn’t think his comments were “that big of a deal to begin with.”




Please Don’t Buy Belvedere Vodka


Bales Charged 17 Counts of Pre-Meditated Murder



Marine sergeant being dismissed for criticizing Obama

The Marine Corps is moving to boot out a Marine for having made “political statements” about the commander-in-chief on a Facebook page.

Sgt. Gary Stein, 26, a nine-year veteran, put comments on a Facebook page called the Armed Forces Tea Party page that said he would not follow unlawful orders from President Obama such as ordering the killing of Americans or taking guns away from Americans. He also criticized comments made by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about Syria.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice prohibits uniformed personnel from making comments critical of their chain of command, including the commander-in-chief, or engaging in political activity in a context that suggests that are acting as military members.

An investigation into Stein’s comments was ordered March 8 by the commanding officer of the weapons and field training battalion at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. On Wednesday, the Marine Corps announced that rather than file charges against Stein, the matter is being handled “through administrative action.”

Stein, an Iraq veteran who hoped to reenlist, told the Associated Press that he plans to fight the Marine Corps’ intention to dismiss him.

“I’m completely shocked that this is happening,” he told the AP. “I’ve done nothing wrong. I’ve only stated what our oath states: That I will defend the Constitution and that I will not follow unlawful orders. If that’s a crime, what is America coming to?”

Stein, a weather specialist, had come to the attention of his superiors two years ago for using the Internet to criticize Obama’s healthcare proposal. At that time, he offered to take down the comments.

His most recent postings came during a Facebook discussion about events in Afghanistan. In one posting, he said he believes that military personnel should be allowed to express their political opinions because they are required to risk their lives to advance political objectives.




Anti-Obama Marines React To Marine Times Cover Story



The Right Goes Nuts Over Obama’s Trayvon Comments

President Barack Obama spoke to the press about slain Florida teen Trayvon Martin on Friday morning, saying, “When I think about that boy, I think about my own kids…. If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness this deserves and get to the bottom of what happened.”

That was enough to cause some corners of the conservative media to go nuts.

Following along with theme of racial paranoia set by Glenn Beck’s website The Blaze, conservative media icon Matt Drudge’s page stoked fears of “retaliation,” citing Louis Farrakhan. Conservative columnistMichelle Malkin accused Obama of “political opportunism” and trying to “pour gas on the fire” for empathizing with Martin’s parents. The Daily Caller appears to have discovered the Trayvon Martin case on Thursday of this week, but it had already decided that the most important angle was what the New Black Panther Party thought. Perhaps that was to lay the groundwork for Friday’s piece by Matthew Boyle, which implies a causal link between the Panthers’ outrage and Obama’s remarks on the subject. Going to the New Black Panthers to find out what black people think is like going to the Ku Klux Klan to find out what white people think, except if the KKK were a bunch of clowns who no one cares about instead of a group with a history of racist terrorism.

Obama isn’t the first national political figure to weigh in on the Martin case, but he’s the first to generate a spasm of outrage from the conservative media, which up till now had remained mostly silent. Somehow, both Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) and former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice managed to weigh in on the Martin story, both in support of a federal investigation of the incident, without provoking right-wing speculation that they were in league with black separatists.

Sadly, prior to Obama’s remarks the Martin case had avoided being sucked into a partisan vortex. Fox News virtually ignored the issue, andNational Review has published several well-considered pieces on the subject. On Friday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called Martin’s death “an incredible tragedy” and said “I’m glad it’s being investigated and we’ll take a look at it as the investigation moves along.”

I would have preferred the president not weigh in on the Martin case, lest he taint a potential jury trial for George Zimmerman, who maintains he shot Martin in self-defense. But I also suspected that his silence prevented the whole incident from turning into a partisan food fight, with conservatives having to choose between common decency and agreeing with their hated enemy. Because it was obvious, when it came to that, what some of them would choose. Hopefully actual elected officials won’t follow their lead.



Unpopular tea party pushes weight around by tossing Republicans off a cliff

Michael Hirsh has an interesting observation today about the persistence of tea party types:

Consider: while the GOP presidential candidates are all keeping arms’ length from the Ryan budget, knowing that its proposals for immediate deep cuts will be unpopular, conservatives in the House are attacking Ryan from the other side, frustrated that his $1.028 trillion spending plan is too meek and takes too many years to bring the budget into balance. The Washington Post quoted one “senior GOP strategist” as whining that the “House Republicans are still under the mistaken impression they have to lead. It’s a presidential election year; they’re along for the ride.”

Sorry, pal, it’s you who’s along for the ride. And Mitt Romney. And Rick Santorum. And Newt Gingrich. They’ve all spent the campaign trying to prove their small-government bona fides, with limited success, to a radicalized base. Now it’s about to get tougher for them to vouch for their authenticity: the Ryan budget they want to avoid, just rolled out today, virtually ensures that the budget standoff will continue through November.In this debate, the presidential campaign will be just so much noise…

Fault them if you will as a band of primitivist monomaniacs, question whether they are sincere enough to surrender their own Social Security and Medicare as well as everyone else’s, but the tea partiers are not going to fade away. They clearly represent a deep and abiding — and perhaps last-ditch– movement of resistance to the indomitable tendency of American government to grow ever larger.

But some perspective here is in order. While it is seemingly true that Romney, the presumptive, eventual, and unpopular nominee, will now have a quandary to deal with—accept the radical Ryan plan and have to explain it to the rest of the non-radical country, or reject it and lose the knuckle-dragger vote—it is also true that the tea party, for all it’s sturm und drang, is exceedingly unpopular as well. Observations and stories about the tea party generally forget that important piece, which ought to be highlighted every time their name gets mentioned.

Here’s a look at some recent numbers, keeping in mind wording differences between questions (do you support, are you a member, etc), and including all four 2012 polls plus our own Daily Kos/SEIU Weekly State of the Nation Poll:

Even noting the outlier ABC/Washington Post poll, there’s no way that the terms “tea party” and “popular” can be confused with each other. This is not to say there were no tea party successes in 2010, but this is not 2010, and it is, indeed, a presidential election year.

Further, there is simply no question that on both sides of the aisle, the debt ceiling showdown was felt to be a political disaster for Republicans.

Finally, in July 2011, when Quinnipiac asked about who was more trusted on Medicare, Obama or congressional Republicans, the answer was Obama 50-37. Even in the absence of anything more recent, those are tough numbers for Republicans to oppose.

Make no mistake, however. The tea party wants to oppose Medicare and half of them don’t think it’s the government’s responsibility to be providing Medicare to seniors. This is from CBS News, February 2011:

As the radical GOP House seems intent on pushing the Ryan budget and ending Medicare as we know it (yet again), while maneuvering themselves into a box over a possible government shutdown before the election, just keep in mind persistence doesn’t mean effectiveness and it certainly doesn’t mean popularity.  

The unpopular tea party may not be going away any time soon, but it’s Republicans that will rue their presence far more than Democrats.




Ethics group names Marco Rubio on most “Crooked Candidates” list

Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) launched an effort to compile the most corrupt and unethical candidates vying for federal office in 2010. CREW’s Crooked Candidates highlights 11 candidates with scandal-littered pasts and histories of questionable ethics.

CREW’s Crooked Candidates focuses on office-seekers who have engaged in unethical and, in one case, even criminal conduct. Their misdeeds range from quid pro quo schemes to abusing state office for the benefit of friends and donors, to an obscenity charge. A few candidates even made the list because of their involvement in national political scandals: two were involved in the Abramoff investigation and one played a role in the Bush administration’s politicization of the U.S. Attorneys’ offices. With more than 2,300 people running for office this year, CREW’s list is likely only the tip of the iceberg. CREW invites anyone who thinks we’ve missed a particularly disgraceful federal candidate to forward information about that candidate’s misdeeds so we can add them to the list. Submissions should be emailed to:[email protected] “From Florida Congressman Kendrick Meek’s shady relationship with a real estate developer to J.D. Hayworth’s close ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, to Ed Martin destroying state records – these 11 candidates represent the bottom of the barrel,” said CREW’s Executive Director Melanie Sloan. “America deserves better.” This year’s election includes the greatest number of candidates in at least 35 years. Mirroring an electoral field that skews to the right, CREW’s list includes 8 Republicans, 2 Democrats and 1 Independent. Excluding incumbents, CREW’s research team pored over news articles, blogs and public records to identify the 11 candidates. CREW’s list is unranked and appears in alphabetical order:

  • Roy Blunt (R) U.S. Senate, MO
  • Charlie Crist (I) U.S. Senate, FL
  • Jeff Denham (R) U.S. House, CA
  • Alvin Greene (D) U.S. Senate, SC
  • Timothy Griffin (R) U.S. House, AR
  • J.D. Hayworth (R) U.S. Senate, AZ
  • Ed Martin (R) U.S. House, MO
  • Kendrick Meek (D) U.S. Senate, FL
  • Dino Rossi (R) U.S. Senate, WA
  • Marco Rubio (R) U.S. Senate, FL
  • Allen West (R) U.S. House, FL




Reminder: Rep Cliff Stearns, the GOP’s lead hatchet man on Solyndra, is a birther


Gallup: Obama job approval tied to economic confidence

An interesting Tuesday post by Gallup is also an interesting follow-up to our Sunday post about gas prices (see Looking under the hood of recent national polls). Gallup (see top graphic):

A new Gallup analysis of the relationship between Americans’ views of the economy and of recent presidents’ job performance finds that the two measures are not always closely related, but have been thus far in 2012. The analysis suggests that if economic confidence rises in the coming months, President Barack Obama’s job approval rating will likely rise as well.

There does seem to be, at times, a good relationship between economic confidence and presidential job approval (correlation with gas prices are less well established, and things like unemployment and especially GDP—i.e. broader indicators of economic well being—matter more). But the name of the game is not job approval, of course, it’s reelection, so the former is important in the context of the latter: If higher job approval gets you reelected, then that which affects approval matters.

That being said, it’s interesting that in the most recent data, highlighted by a bracket on the right, shows a widening gap between improved economic confidence and Obama’s job approval. Is that a blip, or due to other factors like hardening partisan attitudes, or perhaps media coverage as a factor?

It isn’t simply relentless negative media coverage of Obama (if anything, that’s somewhat improved over the last few months):

But after all, a faltering economy is always top of the news, but as this Pew PEJ data shows, an improving economy hasn’t exactly been Topic A in 2012:

Still even without the news prompts, the economy is improving, and economic confidence is rising with it.

That has to be good news for the White House if it continues, even if the economy has to compete with Republican election gaffes and violent weather on the evening news.



PublicPolicyPolling :Obama’s approval in MA is 57/38, up a net 15 points from 49/45 when we polled there in September



Pew Research Center:Obama leads Romney 58-35 in Massachusetts, a spread almost as big as his 2008 margin of victory there


51% of the public say that religious#conservatives have too much control over the Republican Party 
McDonnell Approval Sinks in Virginia

Quinnipiac poll finds Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) approval rate at 53% to 32% — a drop of 13 points in his net approval rate since last month.

The change is almost entirely the result of a shift by women that occured during the state legislature’s debate over a new law that requires women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound examination.


This will help you understand why ACA will be upheld by SOTUS. 

In the words of Judge Laurence Silberman, a leading conservative who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush, the lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that most Americans have to either carry health insurance or pay slightly more income taxes have no basis “in either the text of the Constitution or Supreme Court precedent.” Nevertheless, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit broke with three other appeals courts to hold the law unconstitutional last August.

The 11th Circuit decision was wrong, and the Supreme Court will reject it. Here are the three reasons why.

Congress has broad power to regulate the national economy

Nearly 200 years of Supreme Court precedent establish that the Affordable Care Act’s insurance coverage provision is constitutional. A provision of the Constitution known as the Commerce Clause gives Congress power to “regulate commerce … among the several states.” And many Supreme Court decisions hold that Congress has broad power to enact laws that substantially affect prices, marketplaces, or other economic transactions—including transactions in the national health care market.

As Chief Justice John Marshall explained in the 1824 case Gibbons v. Ogden, the very first decision to interpret the Commerce Clause, there is “no sort of trade” that the words “regulate Commerce” do not apply to. Moreover, the power to “regulate” something “implies in its nature full power over the thing to be regulated,” and Congress’s power to regulate commerce “among the several states” applies to all trade that “concern[s] more states than one.”

Because the Affordable Care Act regulates the entire nation’s trade in health care services—approximately 17 percent of the national economy—it clearly concerns more states than one. Moreover, because the power to regulate trade in health care includes “full power” over that trade, Congress may regulate it however it chooses, including by requiring people to carry health insurance. There is no plausible argument that this law is not constitutional under the Commerce Clause.

The minimum coverage provision holds the Affordable Care Act together

The Constitution also gives Congress the power “[t]o make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution” its power to regulate interstate commerce. As Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia explains, this means “where Congress has the authority to enact a regulation of interstate commerce, it possesses every power needed to make that regulation effective.”

The Affordable Care Act prohibits insurers from denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions. This ban cannot function, however, if patients are free to enter and exit the insurance market at will. If patients can wait until they get sick to buy insurance, they will drain all the money out of an insurance plan that they have not previously paid into, leaving nothing left for the rest of the plan’s consumers.

Seven states enacted a pre-existing conditions law without also passing an insurance coverage requirement, and all seven states saw health insurance premiums spiral out of control. In some of these states, the individual insurance market collapsed.

There is a way out of this trap, however. Massachusetts enacted a minimum coverage provision in 2006 to go along with its pre-existing conditions provision and the results were both striking and immediate. The state’s premiums rapidly dropped by 40 percent.[1]

In other words, because the only way to make the pre-existing conditions law effective is to also require individuals to carry insurance, that requirement easily passes Scalia’s test.

The link between the minimum coverage provision and the Affordable Care Act’s insurance regulations also sets this law aside from other hypothetical laws requiring individuals to purchase other goods or services. The national market for vegetables will not collapse if Congress does not require people to purchase broccoli, nor will Americans be unable to obtain automobiles absent a law requiring the purchase of cars from General Motors. Accordingly, a court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act would not provide a precedent enabling Congress to compel all Americans to purchase broccoli or cars, despite the law’s opponents’ claims to the contrary.

Congress has broad leeway in how it raises money

Congress also has the authority to “lay and collect taxes” under the Constitution. This power to tax also supports the minimum coverage provision, which works by requiring individuals who do not carry health insurance to pay slightly more income taxes. Taxpayers who refuse insurance must pay more in taxes while those who do carry insurance are exempt from this new tax. For this reason, the law is no different than dozens of longstanding tax exemptions, including the mortgage interest tax deduction, which allows people who take out home mortgages to pay lower taxes than people who do not.


Right to Work’ Bills Face Uncertain Future 

For the first time in more than three decades, Minnesota Republicans are basking in majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature, so on matters that need no signature from the Democratic governor, they can do as they please. Priority No. 1, to some: put a measure on the ballot that would allow workers to avoid paying fees to unions they choose not to join. Critics view the proposed measure, which would amend the state Constitution, as a plain attack on unions.

And yet, on a recent afternoon, Senator Dave Thompson said he had grown doubtful that the “right to work” amendment he hoped to put before voters this fall — a proposition requiring no approval by the governor — would survive a vote of his fellow Republican legislators, or even find its way out of Republican-controlled committees.

I’ve been told that no hearing has been scheduled and that a lot of people are concerned, so I guess this isn’t going to move anywhere,” Senator Thompson said on Friday, days after the proposal drew hundreds of protesting union supporters to the halls of the Legislature, and after an advertising campaign critical of the idea began airing around Minnesota. “It’s not about the policy. There is a tremendous fear of the political ramifications — it boils down to that, nothing more or less,” he said.

After costly, bruising political showdowns with union forces last year in Wisconsin and Ohio, Republicans in some state legislatures are facing a tugging match within their party — between passionate conservative members like Mr. Thompson, a freshman who was among hundreds of legislators swept into statehouses in 2010 who want to push forward, and a more moderate bloc not sure it is wise to take on labor so directly now.

The dueling pressure comes at a key moment in an election year — not only for the presidency, but for more than 5,900 state legislative seats around the nation — with Republican leaders eager to keep newfound legislative majorities in capitals like this one.

The much-publicized union battles last year, which led to a recall campaign against Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin and to the repeal of a bill limiting collective bargaining backed by Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio, seemed likely to quiet such efforts. But some Republicans have pushed ahead, to the discomfort, in some cases, of their fellow Republicans.

In Michigan, some lawmakers have pressed for right-to-work legislation, even though Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, has deemed the matter divisive and has said, again and again, that he does not want such legislation to reach his desk this year. Adding to the friction, labor leaders there are trying to get their own constitutional amendment on ballots this fall that would block measures from the Republican-held Capitol that they see as anti-union.

In Arizona, a Republican-leaning, right-to-work state, proposals have been advanced that would limit collective bargaining and require annual approval by workers to deduct union dues from paychecks, even as union members have rallied and Democrats have said they consider this a state they could actually contest in the presidential race.

In Utah, where Republicans control the state Legislature, a proposal to limit collective bargaining to matters of wages and benefits did not make its way out of a committee before the session ended last week.

Many right-to-work advocates were energized this winter when Indiana, with little debate within the Republican ranks that control state government, passed a bill making it the 23rd right-to-work state. It was the first state to take such a step in a decade, bringing new energy to similar proposals in Missouri and New Hampshire.

But in St. Paul, some Republican leaders have been more muted. Kurt Zellers, the House speaker, was quoted earlier this year by The Minneapolis Star Tribune as saying “there’s not a fever” in his caucus for an amendment on the right-to-work idea. And colleagues say that some moderate Republicans have, in private conversations, alluded to fears: Would a ballot referendum come November ignite the state’s strong Democratic base? And what might that mean for Republican dominance in the Legislature, where every seat is up for election this fall?






“Dear Doctor Governor …”: The hilarious Facebook postings to GOP Govs. McDonnell, Corbett, Otter, Brownback & Perry

As Republican-led states take on anti-abortion legislation, women frustrated with the laws are voicing their anger in a very public way: on their governors’ Facebook pages. Some comments are earnest, but many seize on the notion that the measures suggest men know what’s best for women’s health.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell signed a mandatory ultrasound law this month that is proving unpopular even after some of its more extreme provisions were removed. McDonnell is probably getting a good sense of that unpopularity from his Facebook wall, where women are taking issue with his supposed expert knowledge of women’s health.

One woman wrote:

Dear Doctor Governor-I have an issue with my vagina. I’m having a terrible flow and cramping. This happens every month. I’m not sure if it is related to the lack of an ultrasound or the lack of a pill (I know one is mandated but my poor addled lady brain can’t wrap my head around this issue). I’m guessing that it may be the ultrasound since I heard the men folk on the teevee telling us that contraception and the like is one step from abortion. What do I do Dr. Gov? Should I come to your office for the exam?

Another took the same tack:

Dear Governor, I am taking paracetemol for a cold. I believe it has no contraceptive side-effects. Is this ok with you? I have that pesky sore throat, runny nose thing going on. But I’m sure you’d rather hear about my lady parts….

Another commenter asked:

Mr. McDonnell, are you going to address my monthly flow on the air? I asked you a question a last week because I didn’t get my period and I’m worried that I’m pregnant. As an unemployed student I can’t raise a baby (well, not that I have a choice with people like you in office). Please spend some time on CNN talking about female reproduction, of which you know so much! Thanks 😉

Other governors who have signed or are considering similar measures are also being bombarded on Facebook.

Many commenters embraced the theme: If you fancy yourself an expert on women’s health, I have some health-related questions for you.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Corbett, whose state is also considering a mandatory ultrasound law, said of the bill, “I don’t know how you make anybody watch” an ultrasound, “you just have to close your eyes.” That prompted a wall post from a woman who wrote:

I know this has nothing to do with this, but being a woman and all, I can’t stop thinking about my lady parts. You suggested women close their eyes when getting a transvaginal ultrasound, or Wand of Light, as we lovingly call it in some places. Do you also close your eyes when getting a mandatory anal probe for unrelated legal medical procedures? What else do you close your eyes for? I’m curious, your advice is so fascinating!

“I just called your office, and they wouldn’t let me schedule a pap smear,” a posting on Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s Facebook Wall reads. “I’m confused, aren’t you taking care of all this now?”

In Kansas, two local activists protesting an anti-abortion law that would allow doctors to lie to women about fetal abnormalities without any legal liability, posted their objections on Brownback’s Facebook wall.

Gov. Rick Perry, who’s anti-Planned Parenthood crusade is costing Texas millions in federal funding for women’s reproductive care, has hundreds of comments on his page, a phenomenonfirst noticed by the Washington Post.

“I promise to vote for you during the next run,” one woman promised Perry, “if you’ll allow me to incorporate my uterus.”

Another wrote:

I am so happy to hear that you are an expert on women’s health…’cause you know, who can afford doctors nowadays? Anyhoo, I got my period for years and years… with no problems, and then suddenly it stopped! Should I be worried? Does the fact that I’m in my 50’s have anything to do with this situation?

In Idaho, where the state Senate passed a mandatory ultrasound bill Monday, many have taken to Facebook, urging Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to veto the bill. So far, the messages have a more serious, earnest tone.

A sample:

Please demonstate your moral courage and veto SB1387. You have repeatedly stood for small and less intrusive government. Surely this forced ultrasound procedure goes against your heartfelt principles.

Governor Otter: You have always been a proponent of less government in the lives of people. Please—do the right thing and veto SB 1387. It is an insult to the women of Idaho.





Why President Obama hasn’t come out for gay marriage (hint: it’s not about conservative opposition) 

For those wanting to understand why the political deliberation over gay marriage is such a sensitive subject for this White House, look no further than the fact that it splits the two core constituencies that make up President Obama’s base: college-aged voters and African-Americans.

Young voters are the driving force behind making gay marriage politically acceptable. But black voters, despite their overwhelming support for the president, are among the leading opponents of gay marriage.

Both groups turned out at historic levels in 2008, helping propel Obama to victory in states like Virginia and North Carolina.  The president’s re-election team is depending on similarly high turnout, especially among black voters, to make up for their weaknesses winning over non-college educated white voters.  Indeed, the very reason they believe those Southern states are in play are directly related to expected high turnout among these demographic groups.

In 2008, African-American voters made up 20 percent of Virginia’s electorate, and voters between the ages of 18-29 made up 21 percent of the statewide vote.  Fast-forward just one year later to the closely-contested gubernatorial race, and African-Americans dropped to 15 percent of the electorate, with 18-29 year olds making up just 10 percent.  Team Obama needs the numbers to be much closer to the 2008 figures to win the Old Dominion again.

Now look at the latest Quinnipiac poll in Virginia, released this week. Against Mitt Romney, Obama wins only 36 percent of white voters in the state — a weak showing. But thanks to 95 percent support among black voters, Obama leads in the general election matchup, 50 to 42 percent.  But that’s dependent on minority turnout being close to the ideal Obama scenario; any leveling off would make it more challenging for the president to carry the state again.

And that’s where the gay marriage debate gets awfully tricky for the president’s political advisers.

Public opinion on gay marriage is pretty straightforward.  There’s a huge generational divide – with older voters solidly opposed, and younger voters solidly supportive.  Over time, support for gay marriage should increase.  And if Obama came out in support of gay marriage, he would probably excite and inspire many college-aged Democrats to show up at the polls and support him — not to mention winning back some socially-moderate independents who have been disenchanted with the president over the economy.

But college-aged voters are only part of the president’s coalition.  The bigger element consists of African-American voters, who are solidly opposed to gay marriage. California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage passed in 2008 thanks to overwhelming black support; 70 percent backed it, according to exit polls.  Recent gay marriage legislation in Maryland drew opposition from leading Democratic African-American legislators in the state.  The same ministers organizing get-out-the-vote efforts in black churches for Obama are also railing against gay marriage.

Obama can’t afford to even risk losing the deep enthusiasm black voters have towards him.  They gave Obama a whopping 95 percent of the vote against John McCain last year and turned out at historic levels.  He should get similar levels of support this year, but with the down economy disproportionately affecting the black community, he’s not at all assured that they’ll turn out at the same level as 2008.  Backing gay marriage would virtually guarantee that some would stay home – perhaps enough to tip the balance in states like Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Ohio.

The conventional wisdom has been that supporting gay marriage would alienate blue-collar whites, and that’s been the main reason he’s been hesitant to come out in favor before the general election.  But in this case, it’s a crucial element of his own base that’s preventing the president from taking bolder steps to advance a cause that he seems to believe in, but hasn’t publicly embraced.  It’s as much about politics as principle.


The promise of blogging also has its perils

I arrived back to the US and opened my inbox to a surprising number of sympathy emails/tweets over my upbraiding at Freakonomics.

Many thanks to readers for the sympathy, but it’s not completely deserved. It’s pretty simple: I made a mistake. Stephen called me on it. I had a chance to apologize and clarify. And Stephen needed a chance to publicly respond and have his say.

His points are more or less fair. One thing I will say: I think my blogging history points away from a tendency to attack to score points and seek traffic. But there’s little way a newcomer to the blog could know that. Credibility is earned in this world, not given.

Why bring this up? One reason is that owning up to mistakes and giving air to one’s critics is good medicine, even if it tastes bad.

Another is an opportunity to reflect on what I’ve learned after four years of blogging, in the event it’s useful to budding writers, scholars and bloggers. Most of these, in fact, make pretty good general life lessons.

Blogging is risky. Blogs are more interesting to read when you write like you talk. Plainly. Off the cuff. In my experience, if you edit and fine tune your post it begins to sound like a tiresome op-ed, and no one reads beyond the first paragraph. If you assiduously research your posts you either slow down or burn out, and the blog dies.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a pro blogger at a magazine or newspaper. My sense is that these people have editors and fact-checkers to fine tune their posts without losing the common touch, or draining all their time. And hence stop them from saying something truly stupid.

Without the same resources, the academic needs to tread a middle ground between off-the-cuff thoughts and responsible writing. This takes discipline, luck, and a willingness to screw up once in a while.

Since I have limited luck, hate screwing up, and don’t want the blog to die of exhaustion after a couple of years, I instead focus on a few disciplines I try my best to follow.

Don’t write in an angry tone. Most irate writing simply sounds mean-spirited. Most of us are not talented enough writers to pull it off. The only thing harder is snarky humor. Attempt with caution.

Arrogance does not win the argument. Even if another’s argument is worth open disdain, don’t hang it, but rather let it hang itself. A humbler pose is more persuasive.

Be careful: Unfamiliarity breeds contempt. It is altogether too easy to denigrate someone distant from you, especially one above you in the media stratosphere. Callous remarks result. I’m not sure why. It may be the assumption (often wrong, I have learned) that they will never see the post. Or (also wrong) that people largest in the public eye don’t have the same sensitivities the rest of us do. The reality, if you ask me, is that the opposite is true: most of us who write or blog for a living are oversensitive egocentric dandies. I am no exception. Handle us carefully.

Use your “I” words. “You are offensive” is different from “I feel offended”. In theory we all learn this in grade four, but it bears repeating and remembering.

Don’t escalate. The more hostile a comment, the more measured you make your response. Escalation leads in a predictable and disastrous direction.

Don’t try to “score points” in subtle ways. Usually they are not as subtle as you think, and you simply sound passive aggressive.

Don’t go too negative. I critique and disagree with others regularly, but I try to do so in as evenhanded a manner as possible, and with a civil tone.

Finally, if you feel must attack, pause. Go through the above list mentally and revise. If you find yourself forgetting these dictums, you can do worse than to channel your inner Yoda: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Most of these lessons I learned the hard way, which means I haven’t manage to live up to my ideals every day. But more often than not I think I succeed.




Sin and Repentance

When General Grant Expelled the Jews

OVER THE YEARS, American Jews have feted George Washington, lionized Abraham Lincoln, and adored Franklin Roosevelt. But time and time again, they have given a cold shoulder to Ulysses S. Grant—or worse still, likened him to the evil Haman of Queen Esther’s day. Some American Jews, throwing off all restraint, have even called Grant a Second Pharaoh.

It is not hard to see why. Major General Grant was responsible for issuing General Orders No. 11, which, in 1862, expelled the “Jews as a class” from large swaths of territory under his command. Knowingly, he tarred and feathered American Jewry as a bunch of unscrupulous businessmen out to make a buck at the expense of the Union Army. More to the point, Grant gave sanction to the widespread and erroneous belief that Northern Jews descended on the South to plunder and despoil its economy. “The Israelites have come down upon the city [of Memphis] like locusts,” related one not very welcoming newspaper at the height of the Civil War. Another added that the “long dining-hall of the principal hotel at Memphis, looked at meal-times like a Feast of the Passover,” referring, of course, to the Seder. General Orders No. 11 gave such dispiriting views the force of law.

Although the expulsion order affected fewer than one hundred Jews and was rescinded by President Lincoln nearly as quickly as it was instituted—within two weeks—its very existence has cast a long shadow over the American Jewish experience, where, inevitably, it appears on everyone’s list of American anti-Semitica. Shaking American Jewry to its very core, Grant’s edict undermined the community’s belief in America’s exceptionalism and gave rise to considerable anxiety lest the New World go the way of the Old in its collective and brutal treatment of the Jews. Little wonder, then, that the Jewish community’s leaders insisted that General Orders No. 11 deserved “lasting execration” and that the man who executed it deserved equally lasting opprobrium.

Later still, in 1868, the tale of the infamous order was kept alive by Grant’s political enemies, who sought to deny him the presidency. The general was determined to put the unfortunate episode behind him, but his opponents repeatedly brought it up, endowing Grant’s wartime animadversions against the Jews with a new lease on life. The Democratic Speaker’s Hand-book, a text compiled by the Democrats at the time of the presidential election to fan the fires of anti-Grant sentiment, made much of the incident: three double-columned pages were given over to a heated discussion of “General Grant on our Hebrew Fellow Citizens.”

The American Jewish electorate, or what some newspapers at the time variously called the “Jew vote” or the “Israelitic vote,” also refused to let Grant off the hook. “As a CLASS, you have stigmatized and expelled us! As a CLASS, we rise up and vote against you, like one man,” thundered General Grant and the Jews, a political tract that rallied American Jewish opinion against him. “With God’s blessing, [we] will defeat you!”

Jonathan Sarna’s richly researched book will have none of this. Ulysses S. Grant, he insists, “deserved better”: the eighteenth president of the United States warrants another look, a second hearing, a shot at redemption. After all, claims Sarna, he spent much of his life atoning for General Orders No. 11. Instead of demonizing the man, history—or more to the point, American Jewish history—would do well to forgive him. But then Sarna goes one better, arguing that on Grant’s watch American Jewry actually flourished beyond its wildest expectations. In Sarna’s view, American Jewry’s sour grapes ought to give way to gratitude.

Much of the book takes the form of special pleading or, better yet, the form of a legal brief, toting up and trotting out the ways in which Grant subsequently sought to do right by the Jews. When given the chance, the president made a point of distinguishing between the Jews as a group and the behavior of some of its individual members. What’s more, he hired more Jews in his administration than any previous president, among them Dr. Herman Bendell, who would serve as superintendent of Indian affairs for the Arizona Territory. Turning his attention to European matters, Grant intervened on behalf of Russian and Romanian Jewry when their respective governments sought to expel them or to curtail their civil rights. For his sins, he even spent over three hours at the elaborately staged dedication service of Congregation Adas Israel in Washington in 1876, reportedly the very first American president ever to attend such a celebration.

These and other gestures of contrition led some of his harshest critics to change their mind, and at the time of Grant’s death, in 1885, to laud him as a true friend of the Jews. Even the general’s fiercest antagonist, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, who more than twenty years earlier insisted that Grant “trampled into the dust” the rights of the Jews, encouraged his coreligionists to mourn the man’s passing.   

Sarna’s account would have us do the same. Filled with lively, little-known personalities such as “Alphabet Browne,” an American Jewish champion of Grant’s who styled himself E.B.M. Browne, L.L.D., A.M. B.M., D.D., M.D., it also contains reams of juicy quotes and delicious bits of doggerel, like this one from the La Crosse Daily Democrat:

  “Who drove the Hebrews from his Camp

    Into the Alligator swamp

    Where everything was dark and damp?


     Who wrothy at those faithless Jews

    Who kept ‘’pa’s’ share of Cotton dues,

    All further permits did refuse?


For all its many pleasures, however, the book turns out to be more suggestive than persuasive, especially when it comes to its conclusion. It ends with the big, bold claim that “paradoxically, Ulysses S. Grant’s order expelling the Jews set the stage for their empowerment” and their subsequent flowering during the Gilded Age. By Sarna’s lights, the infamous General Orders No. 11 turned out to be a very good thing. By the time he has his way with Grant, the man ranks right up there with Washington and Lincoln. These days, few would argue that the eighteenth president of the United States should not be a candidate for reassessment. But for such high praise? Was he really all thatgood for the Jews?




Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
~~Martin Luther King, Jr.

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HP had a headline saying”If I tell you what I will do , I’ll lose.”
Quote Mittens!
That story gives us so many ways to insult him on so many levels. It’s scary. The only honest statement he has made, ever.