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“Yet Another Detour”: Rebranding Be Damned, House Republicans Eye More Anti-Abortion Votes

House Republicans’ laser-like focus on job creation — which is to say, they’ve passed zero jobs bills in three years — is poised to take yet another detour.

The House will vote next week on a bill banning abortions across the country after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Doug Heye, deputy chief of staff to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., confirmed to CQ Roll Call that the chamber is on track to consider legislation next week that would ban all abortions after the 20-week threshold — the point at which some medical professionals believe a fetus can begin to feel pain.

The effort started in late April, when Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) started pushing an anti-abortion bill, which he hoped to impose on the residents of the District of Columbia against their will. As we discussed in May, the proposal mirrors efforts that have popped up among Republican lawmakers at the state level: abortion would remain legal, but only if pregnancies are terminated within the first 20 weeks.

Following Kermit Gosnell’s recent murder conviction in Philadelphia, Franks and his allies decided to pursue this as a national policy, to be imposed on all states, constitutional concerns be damned.

It was not immediately clear what House GOP leaders would do about this. On the one hand, they support the party’s culture-war agenda and want to keep far-right, rank-and-file members happy. On the other, the Republican leadership realizes that voters would prefer to see Congress tackle real issues, occasionally even passing meaningful bills that can become law, and more work on pointless anti-abortion legislation undermines the whole “rebranding” idea.

So, would GOP leaders prioritize the culture war, working on yet another abortion bill that can’t pass the Senate and won’t get the president’s signature? Of course they will. In fact, they’re poised to do it more than once.

Franks’ 20-week bill is now poised for a floor vote, but Dorothy Samuels noted yesterday that another anti-abortion provision is on the way, too.

[O]n Thursday, the House passed a Homeland Security Appropriations bill containing a Republican amendment that would go a step beyond the current, restrictive federal policy regarding the ability of women held in immigration detention centers to access abortion services. The extreme provision, which the Senate should firmly reject, could be read to allow an employee with no medical training to decide whether or not a woman’s pregnancy is “life-threatening,” and to grant leeway to refuse to facilitate an abortion even then.

Party leaders are no doubt aware of the GOP’s larger difficulties, including the gender gap, and the fact that younger voters have no use for the party’s right-wing agenda, seeing Republicans as “closed-minded, racist, rigid, [and] old-fashioned.”

But for now, it appears the GOP just can’t help itself.

* Update: My friend Jay Bookman emails to note the Franks bill is arguably even more pernicious than it seems at first blush. The proposal is specifically written to ban abortions in what are called “medically futile pregnancies,” involving fetuses so badly compromised that they have no chance of survival. The bill is intended to force women to carry such pregnancies through to the doomed birth.


By: Steven Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 11, 2013

June 15, 2013 Posted by | Abortion, GOP | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“What We Need Now”: A National Economic Strategy For Better Jobs

Jobs are returning with depressing slowness, and most of the new jobs pay less than the jobs that were lost in the Great Recession.

Economic determinists — fatalists, really — assume that globalization and technological change must now condemn a large portion of the American workforce to under-unemployment and stagnant wages, while rewarding those with the best eductions and connections with ever higher wages and wealth. And therefore that the only way to get good jobs back and avoid widening inequality is to withdraw from the global economy and become neo-Luddites, destroying the new labor-saving technologies.

That’s dead wrong. Economic isolationism and neo-Ludditism would reduce everyone’s living standards. Most importantly, there are many ways to create good jobs and reduce inequality.

Other nations are doing it. Germany was generating higher real median wages until recently, before it was dragged down by austerity it imposed the European Union. Singapore and South Korea continue to do so. Chinese workers have been on a rapidly-rising tide of higher real wages for several decades. These nations are implementing national economic strategies to build good jobs and widespread prosperity. The United States is not.

Any why not? Both because we don’t have the political will to implement them, and we’re trapped in an ideological straightjacket that refuses to acknowledge the importance of such a strategy. The irony is we already have a national economic strategy but it’s been dictated largely by powerful global corporations and Wall Street. And, not surprisingly, rather than increase the jobs and wages of most Americans, that strategy has been increasing the global profits and stock prices of these giant corporations and Wall Street banks.

If we had a strategy designed to increase jobs and wages, what would it look like? For starters, it would focus on raising the productivity of all Americans through better education — including early-childhood education and near-free higher education. That would require a revolution in how we finance public education. It’s insane that half of K-12 budgets still come from local property taxes, for example, especially given that we’re segregating geographically by income. And it makes no sense to pay for the higher education of young people from middle and lower-income families through student debt; that’s resulted in a mountain of debt that can’t or won’t be paid off, and it assumes that higher education is a private investment rather than a public good.

It would also require greater accountability by all schools and universities for better outcomes — but not just better test results. The only sure thing standardized tests measure is the ability to take standardized tests. Yet the new economy demands problem-solving and original thinking, not standardized answers.

Better education would just be a start. We would also unionize low-wage service workers in order to give them bargaining power to get better wages. Such workers — mostly in big-box retailers, fast-food chains, hospitals, and hotel chains — aren’t exposed to global competition or endangered by labor-substituting technologies, yet their wages and working conditions are among the worst in the nation. And they represent among the fastest-growing of all job categories.

We would raise the minimum wage to half the median wage and expand the Earned Income Tax Credit. We’d also eliminate payroll taxes on the first $15,000 of income, making up the shortfall in Social Security by raising the cap on income subject to the payroll tax.

We’d also restructure the relationships between management and labor. We would require, for example, that companies give their workers shares of stock, and more voice in corporate decision making. And that companies spend at least 2% of their earnings upgrading the skills of their lower-wage workers.

We’d also condition government largesse to corporations on their agreement to help create more and better jobs. For example, we’d require that companies receiving government R&D funding do their R&D in the U.S.

We would prohibit companies from deducting the cost of executive compensation in excess of more than 100 times the median compensation of their employees or the employees of their contractors. And bar them from providing tax-free benefits to executives without providing such benefits to all their employees.

And we would turn the financial system back into a means for investing the nation’s savings rather than a casino for placing huge and risky bets that, when they go wrong, impose huge costs on everyone else.

There’s no magic bullet for regaining good jobs and no precise contours to what such a national economic strategy might be, but at the very least we should be having a robust discussion about it. Instead, economic determinists seem to have joined up with the free-market ideologues in preventing such a conversation from even beginning.


By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, June 11, 2013

June 15, 2013 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Jobs | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Open Mouth, Insert Foot”: Darrell Issa Reverses Position, Refuses To Release Full Transcripts Of IRS Interviews

Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is refusing to release the full transcripts of interviews with Internal Revenue Service agents which supposedly prove his allegation that the White House directed the IRS to target Tea Party groups.

Last week, Issa shared excerpts of the interviews, which included allegations that “Washington, D.C., wanted some cases.” As a result, Issa declared on CNN’s State of the Union that the targeting was “a problem that was coordinated in all likelihood right out of Washington headquarters — and we’re getting to proving it.”

Issa also vowed that “the whole transcript would be put out,” presumably providing the evidence that his allegations have thus far lacked.

Since then, Issa has reversed his position. In a letter to Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) — the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, who has called on Issa to release the full transcript — Issa wrote that “if a full transcript were released, it would serve as a roadmap of the Committee’s investigation,” and called such an action “reckless.”

“It should be clear to you that the release of full interview transcripts at a point where additional witness interviews are likely would needlessly jeopardize the integrity of the investigation and hamper the Committee’s ability to get the truth,” Issa added.

Issa’s letter also explained why he thinks it was not a double standard to release a portion of the transcript on national television.

“The release of excerpts from witness interviews can serve to provide important updates to the public as the investigation progresses,” Issa wrote. “Limited releases of testimony may also serve to empower other witnesses to become whistleblowers and serve to vindicate individuals who have been subject to criticism or retaliation at the hands of their managers.”

Of course, it’s no coincidence that Issa’s limited releases strongly supported his long-held belief that President Obama is “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.” By contrast, the excerpts that Cummings released on Wednesday — in which a self-identified “conservative Republican” IRS manager said that he did not have “any reason to believe that anyone in the White House was involved in the decision to screen Tea Party cases” — would not encourage the type of witnesses from whom Chairman Issa wants to hear, so he would rather keep that part of the record buried for as long as possible.

Issa’s selective leaking and complete about-face on releasing the full transcripts are just the latest in a series of hyper-partisan moves that have put some of his fellow Republicans on edge. With every day, it appears more and more likely that — as an unnamed senior Republican warned Politico – Issa “could jeopardize the biggest gift handed to them in months.”


By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, June 12, 2013

June 15, 2013 Posted by | Internal Revenue Service, Republicans | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Apocalypse Not Now”: Just About Everything Is Getting Better

As a culture, we seem to be in an apocalyptic moment. Judging from the movie trailers, it looks like the human race is basically screwed this summer in After Earth, World War Z, and This Is the End—a comedy!—while Washington (and its black president) will be besieged by cyber-terrorists in White House Down. In the real world, we’re bombarded with warnings about our debt crisis, our economic crisis, and of course our political crisis, which is to say, our government’s inability to deal with all its other crises. Republicans in particular have become perennial prophets of doom, warning that President Obama’s foreign policies will destroy our standing in the world, that Obamacare will destroy our health care system, that out-of-control spending, growth-killing taxes, and loose monetary policy will turn us into a dystopia of inflation, high interest rates and economic paralysis.


Things are OK. And while you can’t tell from following the news—the press doesn’t like to report on planes that land safely, or seemingly obvious stuff that didn’t happen yesterday—things are getting better. The apocalypse is not nigh.

We are now in the fourth year of a slow but steady recovery. The economy is adding about 200,000 jobs a month, and has added 6.8 million private-sector jobs since the end of the Great Recession. The stock market is at an all-time high, and has almost doubled since Obama took office. The housing market is rebounding. It’s true that 7.5% unemployment is way too high, but it’s better than the double-digit unemployment we had in the wake of the financial meltdown, when the apocalypse really was nigh. The government has even turned a profit on the reviled Wall Street bailouts that ended the meltdown.

Yes, the economy would be doing even better if it weren’t being dragged down by the “sequester,” $85 billion worth of haphazard spending cuts resulting from Republican demands for government austerity. Those were misguided demands after a financial crisis, the kind of demands that have turned Europe into an economic basket case. But so far, at least, fears that the sequester could scuttle the U.S. recovery have proven to be overblown. Consumer confidence just hit a six-year high.

What about the fears that inspired the sequester and the rest of the austerity push, the fears that spiraling deficits would turn us into Greece? Well, the Congressional Budget Office now estimates the deficit at $642 billion, the lowest since the crisis; it’s been cut in half since Obama took office, the fastest reduction since World War 2. We’re not Greece. The bond markets certainly don’t think so; interest rates are at historic lows. And the runaway inflation that Paul Ryan and other loose-money critics keep predicting has yet to materialize; inflation is actually below the official Federal Reserve target of just 2 percent.

In fairness, while America’s short-term deficit is shrinking fast, our long-term deficit is still a concern, because soaring health care costs have threatened the future of Medicare and Medicaid. But there’s good news there, too. According to the nonpartisan Kaiser Foundation, health care spending is now growing at the slowest rate in five decades, which is why Medicare’s trustees just upgraded the program’s budget outlook. And there is strong evidence that Obamacare’s efforts to reorient the medical system to reward providers who keep their patients healthy instead of providers who perform more services are working. For example, Obamacare imposes financial penalties on hospitals with high rates of readmissions and central-line infections; predictably, hospitals have improved their performance in both areas. The health information technology revolution—launched by Obama’s 2009 stimulus—is also bending the cost curve, dragging a pen-and-paper system into digital age.

Meanwhile, U.S. combat forces are out of Iraq, and they’ll be out of Afghanistan next year. U.S. carbon emissions are at their lowest level in two decades, and so are U.S. oil imports. By historical standards, taxes are very low and spending is very modest. General Motors and Chrysler, wards of the state four years ago, are posting their best sales numbers in years. Gays are serving openly in the military, solar installations have increased over 1,000% in four years, a cool robot is taking cool pictures of Mars, and Tesla just paid back its government loan with interest. Things are getting better, and better is better than worse.

But the headlines are all about supposed scandals—stupid IRS agents in Cincinnati, overzealous leak investigations at the Justice Department, a dopey dispute over Benghazi talking points. These are the kind of things that politicians can obsess about when there’s no crisis on the horizon; the last time the national outlook was this bright, Republicans impeached the president for sexing up an intern. It’s unfortunate, but it’s not as if the latest wannabe-scandals are distracting official Washington from any important work it might be doing. Sure, Congress ought to do something about climate change, but as long as Republicans control the House, Congress isn’t going to do anything about climate change.

I guess that qualifies as a crisis. But one of the lessons of the Obama era, along with the general advisability of DOING STUFF regardless of the political implications, is that positive change can happen in spite of a dysfunctional system. You couldn’t build a summer movie around that—”In a world where complex legislation is implemented effectively…”—but it’s still a feel-good idea, even if it seems to have limited box-office appeal.


By: Michael Grunwald, Time Magazine, June 9, 2013

June 15, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Language Massaging”: Frank Luntz Hired By Washington Football Team To Convince People Name Isn’t Horribly Racist

The Washington, D.C.-area NFL franchise has commissioned veteran Republican pollster Frank Luntz to conduct some focus groups to see how American football fans feel about the franchise’s name, which is a vile racial slur.

Luntz has also previously consulted for the NFL on matters related to the ongoing lawsuit 4,000 former players filed against the league relating to concussions, and has appeared on ESPN representing the league, but in this case he appears to be working just for the team in question, with the disgusting and offensive name. That team, named after a wildly derogatory name for American Indians, has received a great deal of criticism for its name recently, including a trademark lawsuit and a letter from 10 members of Congress urging a change.

Luntz isn’t just going to get a feel for what people think of the name. Luntz’s specialty is crafting language to sell conservative policies or discredit liberal ones. You hire Luntz not to merely poll, but to figure out how best to sell people on something. It seems reasonable to assume that team owner Daniel Snyder, who has vowed to never change the name, is working now on how best to convince people that his team’s name is not a repellent racial epithet. Luntz’s specialty is renaming things to sound more appealing, but in this case he’ll be crafting the best possible language to use when explaining why something shouldn’t be renamed. (Luntz was reprimanded by American pollsters’ official professional association for his work on the 1994 GOP “Contract With America,” because he was suspiciously vague about how many people he actually polled after claiming that polls showed that Americans loved the contract.)

Luntz is actually fantastically good at his job — so good that he’s convinced quite a few seemingly intelligent liberals that Luntzian language-massaging is the secret behind all conservative electoral success — which is why he is basically Fox News and the House Republicans’ message-crafter-in-residence. He renamed the estate tax “the death tax.” He told the GOP to refer to Democratic healthcare reform as “a Washington takeover” and financial reform as a “big bank bailout bill.”

ThinkProgress reports that Luntz sent out an email survey designed to find eligible focus group participants. The survey asked about the team’s name directly, asking respondents to select either “I find the name offensive and they should change it” or “I don’t find the name offensive and they should keep it as is.”

This Washington football team was named by one of the most vehement racists in the history of American professional sports. When George Marshall bought the team in 1932, they were called the Boston Braves. He changed the name — to a slur, because he was a racist — and moved them to Washington. He made “Dixie” one of the team’s fight songs and refused to hire black players well into the 1960s. The NFL integrated in 1946 but Marshall’s team held out until the federal government actually forced them to field black players in 1963. The all-white Washington teams of the 1950s and 1960s were among the worst in the league, but segregation was more important to Marshall than winning football games. The NFL had actually already been racially integrated until black players were suddenly banned in 1933. Interviews with owners suggest that Marshall was responsible for the ban.

This is the man who named the team and white supremacy and racism obviously informed his every decision. In his will he insisted that his foundation not spend any money on “any purpose which supports or employs the principle of racial integration in any form.” It is extremely hard to believe that this man selected the name — specially changed the name from a less offensive term for American Indians to this term — to “honor” anyone, the usual argument used by the team’s modern defenders.

The current owner of the team, an incompetent lying corporate buffoon named Dan Snyder, is not as racist as George Marshall. (Few living people are.) He is merely dumb, vain, greedy and stubborn. He attempted to sue the Washington City Paper out of existence for printing a story that accurately described him as a thin-skinned moronic avatar of greed dedicated to bleeding fans of his team dry. He eventually dropped the case.

The City Paper, it should be noted, refuses to use the teams’ name, and refers to it as the “Pigskins,” which would be a fine replacement. The Kansas City Star has a similar policy but, notably, none of the other major Washington-area media outlets do. If the Washington Post — or Disney-owned ESPN! — adopted a similar policy, it could actually force a change, but that’s not likely to happen any time soon. Some Post columnists have written about their opposition to the name, but the paper needs access to the team to be able to have a sports section. It should be noted that even Jack Abramoff knows the name is gross. (It should also be noted that he and Snyder were quite friendly: “A few seasons later, I was given first choice of the new suites in the former press section and our expenditures at Fed Ex Field grew exponentially.”)

That Snyder is hiring Frank Luntz suggests a certain amount of concern that nationwide blasé acceptance of his team’s name may be coming to an end. He certainly didn’t seem to take criticisms particularly seriously before — his team’s P.R. desk has usually just pointed to a couple of polls and dismissed critics as unimportant — but now he is writing letters to Congress and working out a P.R. strategy. That’s good. It means he’s losing. But it doesn’t mean he’ll lose. The team has successfully fought public pressure for decades, and the NFL has other high-priority P.R. nightmares distracting it from taking the controversy seriously. And soon we’ll begin hearing some much more convincing arguments in favor of the name, courtesy of Luntz and whatever other high-priced professional spinners Snyder hires.


By: Alex Pareene, Salon, June 12, 2013

June 15, 2013 Posted by | Bigotry, Racism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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