Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mitchell Bard: Why Sarah Palin's North Korea Flub Matters

Mitchell Bard: Why Sarah Palin's North Korea Flub Matters: "

Sarah Palin provided prime material for news outlets and comedy programs when she said on Glenn Beck's radio show Wednesday:

'But obviously, we've got to stand with our North Korean allies.'
If she hasn't already, I'm sure Palin will say that the 'elitist,' 'lamestream' media is doing her wrong, and that she is once again a victim of 'gotcha journalism.' And Palin's small but passionate group of supporters will undoubtedly argue that Palin made an honest slip of the tongue, something that could happen to any of us. Her supporters are right. Saying 'North' instead of 'South' is something that any of us could easily do.
But here's the thing: Any of us did not stand up two years ago and claim we were qualified to fill a job that is a heartbeat away from the American presidency. We haven't written books, made speeches, endorsed candidates and spoken to the (mostly right-wing) media as if we were policy experts. And we haven't been scouting office space in Iowa for a 2012 presidential run.In short, more should be expected of Sarah Palin than any of us, based on how she has portrayed herself, and how she is treated by the media.

The real story, though, isn't that Palin said 'North' instead of 'South.' Let's be honest: Vice President Joe Biden could have just as easily blown a line like that.

No, the real story is that Palin was discussing a complex, precarious, highly dangerous issue as if she were an expert, even though she clearly isn't.
Does anyone outside of Palin's relatively small group of smitten followers honestly believe that she is competent to act as an expert on Korean policy? That she knows the intricacies and risks of engaging with the North Koreans? That she understands the possible leadership struggle going on there? Do you think she has the first clue about the history of Korea over the last century? Do you think she's ever heard of Syngman Rhee, the Bodo League massacre, the Battle of Inchon, or National Security Council Report 68, or that she knows about the decades of Japanese rule in Korea? Do you think she's ever read about the role the propaganda efforts of the post-Stalin Soviet government played in the eventual armistice that ended the fighting?

Doubtful, at best.

Now, do you doubt for a second that Joe Biden could reel off a dissertation-level analysis of these issues from the top of his head?
That's the real story about the Palin flub about North Korea that the media isn't covering. It's not that she misspoke, but that anyone cared what she had to say on the issue in the first place.

Sarah Palin, with her reliance on spouting talking points, simplistic approach to issues and complete lack of experience beyond a half term as governor of a state the size of Columbus, Ohio, is not competent to be discussing North Korea. (

Columbus, Ohio's population is bigger than Alaska's, 769,360 to 698,743.) And shame on any media outlet that treats her opinions as if they're worth anything.

The real damning Palin quote in the Beck interview is the one in which she worries if 'the White House is gonna come out with a strong enough policy to sanction what it is that North Korea's gonna do.' Putting aside her usual butchering of the English language, she takes a complicated problem facing the United States (and the world) and reduces it to a talking-point political attack on the president. Her comment reveals that she has no understanding that we are dealing with a North Korean leadership that may not be rational and may even be self-destructive. And one with the firepower to kill legions of South Korean civilians. To her simplistic, politics-driven approach, it's only about how the Democratic president isn't tough enough. (As an aside, she is talking about a president who has increased troops in Afghanistan, stepped up drone attacks on the enemy, and taken out more Taliban and al Qaeda leaders than George W. Bush ever did, but I digress... )
She recklessly portrays the North Korea crisis as one that is simple and only requires American strength, when, in reality, it is a difficult-to-solve issue fraught with danger. It is complicated and nuanced, and one wrong move could lead to an attack on Seoul.

I wonder if Palin would be so cavalier in her approach if North Korea's missiles could reach Anchorage, Dallas or some other city in Real America?
And this person wants to be president? It's a joke.

Palin's 'North'-for-'South' flub matters, but not because she misspoke. It matters because we, as a country, are acting as if she is some kind of policy expert, when, in reality, she is simple-minded and ignorant. She can say the wrong name, just like us. But just like most of us, she has no business acting like she understands the North Korea crisis in the first place.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ira Glasser: Calling the Republican Bluff

Ira Glasser: Calling the Republican Bluff: "

The Republicans have increased their power by advocating for lowering the deficit, lowering taxes and, ostensibly, increasing jobs. But there is no way they can deliver all three. They can't even deliver two of the three. Here's why:

1. Lowering taxes will increase the deficit. There is no way around this. Nonetheless, Obama and the Republicans agree, and Obama has consistently proposed since before he was elected, that the tax cuts due to expire on Dec. 31 should be extended for all families earning less than $250,000 annually. That means nearly all of us, 98 percent actually. But Obama wants to let the tax cuts expire for those families earning more than $250,000. The Republicans do not. If these tax cuts for the wealthy are extended, it will increase the deficit by an estimated $680 billion over the next ten years,. The Republicans want this not because it will repair the economy or create jobs for the middle class or relieve suffering; they want this because they are the party that stands for funneling more and more money to the wealthy at the expense of ordinary people. And although they claim to want to cut the deficit, they favor growing the deficit by this $680 billion gift to the already rich.

Since 1979, when Ronald Reagan was elected, there has been a steady and enormous shift of the share of national income from the middle class to the very rich -- the top 1 percent. Today, that income inequality is more skewed than it has been since the gilded age of the 1920s, before the Great Depression. And as pre-tax incomes of the very wealthy have soared, so their effective tax rates have dropped more than the tax rates on the middle class. These changes have not been due to the invisible hand of the so-called free market, but to explicit government policies since 1980. Extending the Bush tax cuts that would otherwise expire on Dec. 31 to the wealthiest class would only continue that trend.

Aside from the injustice of this approach -- why would middle-class voters support a policy that shifted more of their tax-dollars to the very rich? -- this policy, if enacted, would substantially increase the deficit the Republicans say they want to reduce!

2. If Republican tax policies will enrich the rich and increase the deficit, how then do the Republicans propose to cut this larger deficit? They say they will do it by reduced government spending. But they never say precisely what government spending they propose to reduce, and by what amounts exactly. This is because they can't.

Approximately 85 percent of the entire federal budget goes for mandatory programs or the military. There isn't enough discretionary fat in the budget, outside of these programs, to make a substantial dent in the deficit.
Four categories of government expenditures account for the great majority of federal spending: interest on what we owe, which is to say, interest on the deficit; the military; Social Security; and Medicare. The deficit -- which has now reached about $1.3 trillion and which will go higher if the Republicans continue tax cuts for the rich -- cannot significantly be reduced without substantial cuts in one or more of these four categories. And there's the rub.

We obviously can't significantly reduce the interest we are paying on the deficit until the deficit is substantially reduced, so that's out for now. As for discretionary programs, as far as I am aware, no Republican favors substantial cuts in military expenditures, and not many Democrats do either. So that leaves Social Security and Medicare. Do you want these programs destroyed (trimming won't be enough)? I didn't think so. The last time George W. Bush proposed eliminating Social Security prospectively and replacing it with private investment accounts, which would be a bonanza for investment banks while endangering the security of the elderly retired, he got walloped by the public's reaction and withdrew his proposal. Certainly, the 23 percent of the electorate who are over 65, many of whom voted Republican in the last election, did not think they were voting to cut Social Security, or for that matter Medicare, which pays for most of their medical expenses. So most Republicans today will tell you if you ask them that they are against major cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

But without such major cuts, the deficit cannot substantially be reduced without increasing taxes, at least on the very wealthy. And Republicans don't want to increase taxes, especially not for the very wealthy; to the contrary, they want to decrease such taxes, thus creating even more wealth inequality, and growing the deficit!

So their platform proposals make no sense; they cannot work, and they won't be implemented. Republican campaign promises, taken together, will turn out to be so much snake-oil.

3. And then there's the matter of jobs, and the 15 million people out of work, nearly 10 percent of the workforce. That is the most crucial economic problem facing us, and it was voter anger over that issue, more than anything else, that fueled the recent electoral 'throw the bums out' dynamic. The president and the Democrats in general offered no coherent vision, program or remedy to address this problem; the Republicans did, but their vision is fraudulent, as will become increasingly apparent.

There are two ways to create lots of jobs:

a) The private sector -- privately-owned companies -- can spend more to expand their businesses, which would require more employees. In order to do this, they need either to spend the cash they have (many companies have accumulated very large cash reserves) or borrow it to finance expansion. But right now, and for the foreseeable future, businesses that have a lot of cash are hoarding it because the economic climate remains uncertain, or using it to buy back their own stock, thus driving up the price of their shares. And they either won't borrow more money for the same reason, or can't because banks and other lenders are reluctant to extend credit, even after being bailed out to do so. Banks are once again paying huge bonuses to themselves, but they're not extending huge amounts of credit.

In New York City, to cite only one example, the new construction industry is at a standstill, and likely to remain so for some time, because builders cannot borrow enough to build, and cannot in any case justify the high expense of building by the fading prospect of high returns in a depressed economy. (If more luxury residential and office towers are built, who exactly will occupy them?)

So the likelihood that the private sector will, anytime soon, spend enough to expand the number of jobs sufficiently to put a major dent in the unemployment rate is vanishingly small. When a newly-elected senator like Rand Paul of Kentucky proposes to let the private sector solve the unemployment problem, he is smoking from the same pipe Herbert Hoover smoked in 1930. He does not know what he is talking about. What he is proposing can't happen, and it won't happen. (Of course, many who share Rand Paul's belief will tell you, if they are honest, that if the Great Recession gets bad enough, that is, if unemployment persists and gets worse, and everything becomes cheap enough, then at some point the private sector will swoop in and re-enter the job-creation market. But even if that is possible, it would require the worsening of the unemployment depression plaguing America, considerably and for a long time. Republicans subscribing to this view may be willing to have middle-class Americans endure such suffering, but I doubt that most such Americans share that willingness.)

b) So if the private sector can't or won't expand anytime soon and create lots of new jobs, the only alternative for spending to expand the number of jobs is the public sector, which is to say the government, state and federal. Certainly, there is much important, even crucial work to be done: new and repaired bridges, tunnels and roads; an efficient, high-speed railway system; new construction to repair and replace ancient water pipe and sewage systems, many of which are crumbling and on the precipice of disaster -- in a word, infrastructure, public infrastructure, like the Interstate Highway system President Eisenhower initiated in the fifties. This is work that needs to be done, and would put substantial numbers of people to work, providing lots of new jobs.

But these are precisely the kinds of expenditures that state governments cannot afford, and where they have started them, they are canceling them. For example, the new Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, not once but twice has now canceled the planned railway tunnel beneath the Hudson River connecting New York and New Jersey. States everywhere are cutting their budgets, further reducing employment, not expanding it. And most of the new Republican governors just elected have resolved to continue such austerity. So if the private sector isn't doing it, and state governments can't do it, who can create a sufficient number of new jobs? There is only one alternative left: the federal government.
At a time like this, the federal government must be the job-creator of last resort, as it was between 1932-45, because there is no other alternative to continued and persistent high unemployment, and the misery it causes so many of us.

There are two ways to pay for this: by higher taxes or by increased borrowing (from China and others willing to buy our Treasury bonds). Increased borrowing will, for awhile, increase our national deficit. But higher taxes right now (except for the very wealthy, who could easily absorb higher taxes, and should) will crush middle-class people who are already suffering from high unemployment, housing foreclosures and the like. So there is no way out of our dilemma except to have the federal government fund enormous public works and other programs that will require a massive number of new jobs. But that solution runs right up against the mistaken consensus that reducing the deficit should be a high, if not the highest, priority. If that continues to be a priority, unemployment will rise even more. There is no way around this choice. Either the deficit grows or unemployment grows. For those without jobs, the choice should be clear. The federal government must, in the short term, increase the deficit by massive job-creating public works expenditures, partially off-setting those expenditures by restoring the traditional taxes on the wealthy by letting the Bush tax cuts for them expire as planned on Dec. 31, while extending the tax cuts for 98 percent of individuals and families.

But would such expenditures actually create lots of jobs and significantly reduce unemployment? Yes, if the expenditures are large and ambitious enough. People will argue that the prior 'stimulus' program failed. But the reason it failed to make a noticeable dent in the unemployment rate (although it did keep joblessness from going even higher) is not that the idea was wrong, but that it wasn't large enough, especially since its gains were largely offset by expenditure cutbacks at the state level. If we mean to get out of this fix, and end the suffering of the middle class, much larger expenditures by the federal government to create jobs will be required.

But can we afford to increase the national deficit even more? Yes, we've done it before and we can do it again. Even in the midst of the Depression that had not yet ended, when we felt that our survival was at stake after Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, we did not hesitate to increase the deficit very substantially in order to respond. In fact, WWII increased the national deficit, as a percentage of Gross National Product, by way more than it is today. But without that increased deficit, without the federal expenditures we incurred to finance the war effort, we could not have survived. And that huge deficit also put millions to work, effectively ending the Great Depression. Even after the war, the deficit was increased to fund the G.I. Bill, housing subsidies, the Marshall Plan and the Interstate Highway system. Most of that huge deficit was erased by economic growth during the period of prosperity that began in 1946. The short term but huge increase in the national deficit turned out to be precisely the stimulus the economy needed.

Today, we do not face the same kind of war for survival that we faced after Pearl Harbor. But we do face a war for survival of our way of life, a fight to maintain the promise of America for the middle class, and to assure the prospect of a better life for our children and grandchildren. That fight must be funded with the same resolve that allowed us to fund WW II, and, yes, by the same faith in the promise and resilience of America, and our ability to rebuild our country with paying jobs for people who need them.
It will not happen if we follow the Republican pipe-dream of enriching the rich, cutting federal and state expenditures, reducing the deficit and letting more and more Americans suffer joblessness while they wait for the banks and the captains of industry to get back into the job market -- after the rest of us have suffered enough to make it profitable for them.

Given what the Republicans say they want to do, they have no capacity to lead us out of this dilemma, no matter how many elections they win with their campaigns of disinformation. President Obama should not be reaching out to them, he should be charting a different path and articulating a different vision. If he will not lead us along a different path at this critical moment, and the Republicans can't, then who will?


Robert Reich: Obama's First Stand

Robert Reich: Obama's First Stand: "

The president says a Republican proposal to extend the Bush tax cuts to everyone for two years is a 'basis for conversation.' I hope this doesn't mean another Obama cave-in.

Yes, the president needs to acknowledge the Republican sweep on Election Day. But he can do that by offering his own version of a compromise that's both economically sensible and politically smart. Instead of limiting the extension to $250,000 of income (the bottom 98 percent of Americans), he should offer to extend it to all incomes under $500,000 (essentially the bottom 99 percent), for two years.

The economics are clear:

First, the top 1 percent spends a much smaller proportion of their income than everyone else, so there's very little economic stimulus at these lofty heights. On the other hand, giving the top 1 percent a two-year extension would cost the Treasury $130 billion over two years, thereby blowing a giant hole in efforts to get the deficit under control. Alternatively, $130 billion would be enough to rehire every teacher, firefighter, and police officer laid off over the last two years and save the jobs of all of them now on the chopping block. Not only are these people critical to our security and the future of our children but, unlike the top 1 percent, they could be expected to spend all of their earnings and thereby stimulate the economy.

Conservative supply-siders who argue the top 1 percent will stop working as hard if they have to return to the 39 percent marginal rate of the Clinton years must be smoking something (probably an expensive grade).

Their incomes of the top are already soaring (Wall Street is reading a 5% boost in bonuses, executive salaries and perks are back on the trajectory they were on before the collapse, and the stock market is booming), so it's hard to argue much hardship. Besides, only earnings over $500,000 would be affected because -- remember -- we're talking about the marginal tax rate. In addition, the Clinton years weren't exactly bad years, economically, for the top 1 percent.

Finally, the Bush tax cuts didn't trickle down anyway. To the contrary, between 2001 and 2007, the median wage dropped. And Bush's record on jobs was pitiful.
The politics are even clearer. Over the next two years, Obama must clarify for the nation whose side he's on and whose side his Republican opponents are on. What better issue to begin with than this one?
The top 1 percent now takes in almost a quarter of all national income (up from 9 percent in the late 1970s), and its political power is evident in everything from hedge-fund and private-equity fund managers who can treat their incomes as capital gains (subject to a 15 percent tax) to multi-million dollar home interest deductions on executive mansions.

If the President can't or won't take a stand now -- when he still has a chance to prevail in the upcoming lame-duck Congress -- when will he ever?

Robert Reich is the author of Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future, now in bookstores. This post originally appeared at


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Does Abstinence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder?

Does Abstinence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder?: "
I asked Josh Libresco, Executive Vice President of The OSR Group, a public opinion and marketing research firm based in San Rafael, California, to weigh in on the recent CDC study showing that states emphasizing abstinence-only education in schools also have the highest teen pregnancy rates. Did the media infer too much causation?


Does Abstinence Make the Heart Grow Fonder?

Quinn Fabray, the fictional cheerleading captain on the Fox series, Glee, spent most of last season pregnant and feeling that the pregnancy had turned her world upside down. Ironically, Quinn was also the President of the Celibacy Club, at least until her condition was revealed and she quickly became the ex-President.

A new study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that irony is not confined to the Fox Network. According to the CDC study, some U.S. states have dramatically higher teenage pregnancy rates than others, and the states with the highest teen pregnancy rates happen to be states that emphasize abstinence-only education.

In Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont, for example, 2008 birth rates were less than 25 per 1,000 teens aged 15 to 19. By contrast, in Mississippi, Arkansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas, the birth rate was higher than 60 per 1,000 teens in the same age group.

There is no doubt that teen pregnancies can lead to poor health outcomes for both the mother and the child, and the CDC data have been used to advocate for more aggressive efforts at sex education.

But is it really fair to connect abstinence-only education with teen pregnancy? Or, to put it more precisely, is it fair to say that there is a causal link between abstinence-only education and higher teen pregnancy rates? The two items may be correlated, but is it fair to say that the first causes the second?

Other state-by-state data provide some clues. In the New England states, for example, the average age of mothers at first birth is more than 27, among the highest in the nation. (This is from a National Center for Health Statistics Study conducted in 2002.) At the other extreme are Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming - many of the same states highlighted above. In these states, the average age of mothers at first birth is around 23. Is the average lower because of teen births, or are there other factors that lead people to start their families earlier in these states?

A 2007 AAUW (American Association for University Women) study revealed that the same set of states also tends to be lowest in educational attainment for women. Arkansas ranks next to last among the states in the proportion of women who have achieved a four-year college degree. Mississippi ranks 45th; Oklahoma ranks 42nd, Texas is 35th, and New Mexico ranks 25th. Are these educational levels lower because of teen pregnancy, or are there other reasons that women in these states might choose to forgo college and begin their families earlier?

A 2010 study by the Guttmacher Institute provides another important piece of the puzzle. While teen birthrates are highest in the five states listed above, the abortion rates in these states tend to be among the lowest. Arkansas ranks 45th in the percentage of teens 15-19 who choose to end their pregnancies with abortions, and Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas are also in the bottom half of the states with respect to abortion percentage. Teens in the New England states are much more willing to consider abortions - for example, Connecticut ranks 5th on this measure, and Massachusetts ranks 11th. So some of the explanation for high teen birth rates in the abstinence-only states is that teens in those states are more likely to carry their babies to term.

And now we get to the key, unspoken factor in the equation - religion. In some states, strong Fundamentalist religious beliefs discourage sex education, and also discourage both birth control and abortion. Young women in Fundamentalist families may also be less interested in pursuing higher education and more interested in starting families early.

How does this relate to the five high-profile, abstinence-only states? According to statistics from the Southern Baptist Convention, in 1990, Mississippi had the highest percentage of Southern Baptists in the nation - almost 34%. Oklahoma was third, at 31%, and Arkansas, at 25%, was in 7th place. Texas stood 10th in Southern Baptist percentage (19%), and even New Mexico - not exactly a Southern state - had 10% Southern Baptists, good for 14th place nationwide.

So yes, it may be true that abstinence-only education is related to higher teen pregnancy, but it is also related to a number of other factors - including average age of the mother at birth, educational attainment of women, willingness to have an abortion, and even religious affiliation. Yet correlation is not the same as causation. The CDC study does not prove that abstinence-only education has somehow caused an increase in teen pregnancy, and the study does not separate the influence of abstinence-only education from the influences of many other, related factors.

After all, abstinence-only states should not be the only targets in the battle against teen pregnancy. In 2010, Ohio abandoned abstinence-only, and began a sex education program in schools for the first time in 10 years. Glee's Quinn Fabray lives in Lima, Ohio.


Josh Libresco is Executive Vice President of The OSR Group, a public opinion and marketing research firm based in San Rafael, California. His firm conducts research projects using online interviews, telephone surveys, focus groups, and other methods for corporations, foundations, and government agencies throughout the United States and in more than 60 countries around the world.


Advance Estimate of GDP for the Third Quarter of 2010

Advance Estimate of GDP for the Third Quarter of 2010: "

Today’s report shows that real GDP, the total amount of goods and services produced in the country, grew at a 2.0 percent annual rate in the third quarter of this year, the fifth straight quarter of positive growth. While the economy continues to recover from the deepest recession since World War II, faster growth is needed to bring down the unemployment rate more quickly.

Some key components of GDP continued to expand in the third quarter. Consumer expenditures on goods and services rose at an annual rate of 2.6 percent, up slightly from the second quarter. Fixed investment (nonresidential structures, equipment and software, and housing investments) grew at an annual rate of 0.8 percent. Business investment in equipment and software increased by 12 percent, the fourth consecutive quarter of solid growth, indicating continued expansion of investments by private firms. Inventory investment contributed 1.4 percentage points to GDP growth, slightly less than the average in the last four quarters. Residential investment, however, declined.

Given the depth and severity of the recession, considerable work remains before our economy is fully recovered. Therefore, it is essential that we take the additional targeted actions that the President has recommended to further stimulate growth and job creation, such as extending tax cuts for the middle class, investing in our infrastructure, providing tax incentives to encourage businesses to invest here at home, and promoting exports abroad.

Real GDP Estimate, October 2010

Austan Goolsbee is the Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers


Sunday, October 24, 2010

new dictionary entry for clueless

Christine O'Donnell Slams Media, Defends Views on Church-State Separation

In an interview with ABC's "Good Morning America" on Thursday, Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell defended comments she made questioning the notion of the separation of church and state in the First Amendment. She also said she thought she "got the better of" Democratic rival Chris Coons in the Tuesday morning debate where she made the comments.

"It's really funny the way that the media reports things," O'Donnell said, in an interview with ABC's Jonathan Karl. "After the debate, my team and I, we were literally high-fiving each other... thinking that we had exposed [that Coons] doesn't know the First Amendment. And then when we read the reports that said the opposite we were all like 'what?!'"

"I do think I got the better of him," O'Donnell added, citing that when she asked Coons to name the "five freedoms" of the First Amendment, "he could not."

O'Donnell and Coons faced off on Tuesday in a heated debate at Delaware's Widener School of Law, and O'Donnell raised eyebrows when she challenged Coons on his assertion that the Constitution delineates the separation of church and state.

"Let me just clarify: You're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?" O'Donnell said during the Tuesday debate.

When pressed during the Thursday interview to clarify her position on the separation of church and state, O'Donnell cited the language of the Constitution.

"Well I think it says exactly what it says: that the government will not create - will not dictate - that every American has to believe a certain way, but it won't do anything to prevent the free exercise thereof," she said.

The controversial Tea Party candidate also made a plea for support from Republican Party leadership during the interview. "This is a call-out to them," O'Donnell said, adding that when she approached the party for help, "they said that if we close the gap in the polls... and, you know, and that's a shame."

MORE Newt LIES-Fact Check: Obama 'less' press conferences 'than any recent president'?

Fact Check: Obama 'less' press conferences 'than any recent president'?: "

Newt Gingrich this past week said the following, per NBC's John Boxley, about Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R) not speaking to the press.

'I think she should have a press conference at least as often as President Obama...check how often President Obama has had real press conferences, very very seldom, less than any recent president.'

So First Read did check.

First, a note about accessibility. President Obama went through one of the longest primaries in American history. Democrats had about 40 debates, including the three for the presidential general election. That's not including the various question-and-answer sessions at the back of campaign planes. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John McCain and most of the others who ran in 2008 were far more vetted and questioned than Sharron Angle, Joe Miller, Christine O'Donnell, or Sarah Palin, for that matter, whom the press had just two-plus months to question before the general election.

Regarding his time in office, President Obama, through Sept. 10, 2010, has held 36 press conferences (15 solo and 21 joint), according to data compiled by Dr. Martha Joynt Kumar, a political science professor at Towson University. Obama has held 67 short question-and-answer sessions, 216 interviews and 820 addresses and remarks.

He has averaged about two press conferences per month. Where does that rank when it comes to 'any recent president?'

It's slightly less than former President George W. Bush, who average 2.2 per month over eight years; it's the same as former President Clinton, who also averaged 2.0 per month; and four times as many as former President Reagan, who held just an average of 0.5 per month. In fact, Obama in less than two years, has given just 10 fewer total press conferences than Reagan did in eight years (36 vs. 46).

President George H.W. Bush gave an average of 3.0 per month; Carter just 1.2 a month; Ford 1.3; Nixon 0.6; Johnson 2.2; Kennedy 1.9; Eisenhower 2.0; Truman 3.4; Hoover 5.6; Coolidge 7.8; Wilson 1.7.

The most press conferences by a president -- by far -- was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who held 1,020, or an average of seven per month.

As far as strictly solo press conferences, President Obama has given two fewer than President George W. Bush did in his first four years (15 vs. 17). President Bush gave 33 in his second term. President Clinton gave 44 in his first terms and 18 in his second term. H.W. Bush gave 84 solo in four years. President Reagan gave 27 solo in his first term, and 19 solo in his second. President Carter gave 59.

President Obama has already given more interviews to reporters than any of his immediate predecessors. He's given 216 interviews; President George W. Bush gave just 76 in eight years; President Clinton gave 82; George H.W. Bush gave 87. President Obama's addresses and remarks are already more than H.W. Bush (625), and almost as many as W. Bush (908) and almost as many as Clinton (837)."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

10 Ways Our Economic Policies Benefit Women

10 Ways Our Economic Policies Benefit Women: "

Today, the National Economic Council released a report on how the Obama administration’s economic policies address the challenges facing American women, both in the tough economic times we’re going through now and in the long term. From day one, the President has focused on laying the foundation for economic growth that creates good jobs for all Americans -- many of these policies have been particularly important for women.

Here are 10 ways the Administration’s policies benefit women:

1. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first bill the President signed, ensures fair treatment in the workplace.

Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act Signing

President Barack Obama signs into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in the East Room of the White House.

2. The Paycheck Fairness Act builds on the Ledbetter Act to ensure equal pay for an equal day’s work. President Obama strongly supports the Act and has urged the Senate to act swiftly so that he can sign it into law.
3. SBA Recovery Act loans make it easier for women to grow their businesses and create jobs. More than 12,000 SBA Recovery Act loans have driven $3 billion in loans to women small business owners.
4. Wall Street reform helps women make smart financial choices by empowering women through financial education and financial literacy. This legislation ends predatory practices, simplifies credit card bills, stops hidden fees and unfair rate hikes, and sets up a Consumer Financial Protection Agency to enforce the toughest financial protections in history.

5. The Affordable Care Act addresses women’s unique health care needs. Health Care reform protects women from insurance company abuses, makes coverage more affordable, and makes preventive care like mammograms, neonatal care, and newborn carefree under all new plans.

read more"

Monday, October 11, 2010

Palin: Anew career as a bad comedienne

Palin: Tea Party not 'extreme,' but 'voice of reason': "

From NBC's John Boxley and Domenico Montanaro
SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- Sarah Palin challenged the notion that the Tea Party is extreme in a speech here Saturday.

'We are not the extreme ones,' she said at the Patriotic Gala Celebration. 'We are the voice of reason.'Palin stressed that the election is about the little guy, which is what she claims the Tea Party is all about.

'The little guys all across America have risen up,' she said, 'and the 'Mama Grizzlies' are starting to growl. We are going to protect our young, we are going to protect the next generation of Americans, so the Mama Grizzlies are growling, we are rising up on our hind legs and saying no, we are going to change course, we need that real hope, we need that real change.'

Praising the Tea Party, Palin said, 'The Tea Party is a beautiful movement. It's held both sides of the aisle accountable, and both parts of the GOP and the Democrat machine, they don't know what to do with the Tea Party America.'

Listening to Palin speak, it certainly sounded like the former Alaska governor is in no hurry to return to public office. She's enjoying the chance to speak her mind.

'I get to say some things that some of you guys can't say,' she said, 'because I have no title, I have no uniform, I have no office. It's Todd and me -- I get to say what I feel....'

And it was vintage Palin, saying everyone who voted for the Obama-Reid-Pelosi agenda 'must be fired.'

'We need to take back the gavel from Nancy Pelosi,' Palin said. 'We're going to get this country back on the right track no matter what it takes. We will do it.'

And, of course, she took on the media: ''We have the media here tonight, and its never smart to pick a fight with those who buy ink by the barrelful, but what the heck. When the 'Lamestream Media' just doesn't get it, and if they don't believe what your message is, so they want to belittle you and treat you with much disdain; they can do that to me, that is fine, because I know truth, and I am fine with the political shots they take.'


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

One Week Later, Nearly 2,000 Small Businesses Approved for SBA Loans Due to Jobs Act

One Week Later, Nearly 2,000 Small Businesses Approved for SBA Loans Due to Jobs Act: "

Late yesterday, just a week after President Obama signed the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010, nearly 2,000 small business owners who had been waiting for SBA-backed loans had been approved and will soon have those loan funds – totaling nearly $1 billion – in hand. That’s a quick turnaround, and it’s an example of this Administration’s deep commitment to giving entrepreneurs and small business owners the support they need to grow and create jobs.

Here’s how we made it happen.

After the Recovery Act passed last year, SBA increased the guarantee and reduced the fees in our top two loan programs. That two-part formula worked. We saw a significant rebound in SBA lending, helping unlock much-needed capital for small businesses. All told, SBA took just $680 million in taxpayer dollars and turned it into nearly $30 billion in lending support to about 70,000 small businesses. That’s a strong bang for the taxpayer buck.

read more


Saturday, October 02, 2010

Wireless Voice Calls are Obsolete

Wireless Voice Calls are Obsolete: "Is it just me, or have cellphones become useless for voice conversations? To be fair, cellphones do work in limited situations, such as: "I WILL BE THERE IN TEN MINUTES! TEN MINUTES! I SAID I WILL BE THERE IN TEN MINUTES! HELLO? CAN YOU HEAR ME? FUCK THIS STUPID PHONE, I'LL TEXT YOU! AND I'M DRIVING, SO I MIGHT BE DEAD IN TEN MINUTES!"

Generally speaking, a cellphone conversation is a frustrating failure if any of these conditions is true.

1. You have a weak signal.

2. You are using an earpiece or headset.

3. The other person has a weak signal.

4. The other person is using an earpiece or headset.

5. The other person has a cell phone (delay problem).

6. You are multitasking and can't think.

7. The other person is multitasking and can't think.

8. You are in a noisy environment, such as Earth.

9. The other person is in a noisy environment, such as Earth.

10. You get another call you have to take.

11. The other person gets another call he has to take.

12. You have a dying battery.

13. You have a phone that drops calls for no good reason.

14. The other person has a phone that drops calls for no good reason.

15. The other person has a dying battery.

16. You are in a restaurant and you're not a jerk.

17. The other person is in a restaurant and isn't a jerk.

18. There is a child within 100 yards of you.

19. There is a child within 100 yards of the other person.

Yes, that covers almost every situation. And the list goes on. In my life, voice calls using cellphones fail more often than they succeed, and the situation is getting worse. There was a time when most cellphone calls involved a land line on the other end, so at least one end of the conversation was likely to be trouble-free. Now most of the calls I fantasize about making would be between my cellphone and another cellphone. I don't like those odds. So I send text messages instead.

For important calls, I use a land line that serves as my fax line. If I receive a call on my cellphone, I try to keep it short, or I call back from my fax line. Or I beg for an email that gives me whatever information I want. My situation is worse than most because I have an iPhone, and it decides on its own when my calls are done, no matter how strong the signal is. (I suspect that my ear is using the touchscreen without authorization from my brain.)

While voice calling is getting worse, texting is becoming easier. More smartphones have full keyboards. And texting isn't the huge inconvenience that phone calls are. I explained in another post that all phone calls have a victim, i.e. the person receiving the call. You're ALWAYS in the middle of doing something else when someone calls to yack. The worst offenders are the people in cars who don't have satellite radio, or books on tape, and they're just calling to make their drive less boring.

Texting is way better. It can fill in all of the tiny spaces in life while you're waiting for something else to happen and a voice call would be too large for the space. When I get a text alert, it always makes me happy, even before I read the message. When my phone rings, I think, Uh-oh, what fresh hell is this?

Another great advantage of texting is that it thwarts bores. Bores love voice conversations. In a pinch, they will send you overlong emails. But texting forces boring people to be brief. How great is that?

In a situation in which both I and the other person have smartphones, I always choose texting over a voice call. In time, everyone with whom I want to communicate outside of a business context will have a smartphone, and I'll never need to make a cellphone-to-cellphone call again. Kids are already there. Wireless voice calls are dinosaurs, and that big shadow you see is a meteor.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Robert Reich: The Defining Issue: Who Should Get the Tax Cut -- The Rich or Everyone Else?

Robert Reich: The Defining Issue: Who Should Get the Tax Cut -- The Rich or Everyone Else?: "

Who deserves a tax cut more: the top 2 percent -- whose wages and benefits are higher than ever, and among whose ranks are the CEOs and Wall Street mavens whose antics have sliced jobs and wages and nearly destroyed the American economy -- or the rest of us?

Not a bad issue for Democrats to run on this fall, or in 2012.Republicans are hell bent on demanding an extension of the Bush tax cut for their patrons at the top, or else they'll pull the plug on tax cuts for the middle class. This is a gift for the Democrats. But before this can be a defining election issue in the midterms, Democrats have to bring it to a vote. And they've got to do it in the next few weeks, not wait until a lame-duck session after Election Day.

Plus, they have to stick together (Ben Nelson, are you hearing me? House blue-dogs, do you read me? Peter Orszag, will you get some sense?)

Not only is this smart politics. It's smart economics.
The rich spend a far smaller portion of their money than anyone else because, hey, they're rich. That means continuing the Bush tax cut for them wouldn't stimulate much demand or create many jobs.
But it would blow a giant hole in the budget -- $36 billion next year, $700 billion over ten years. Millionaire households would get a windfall of $31 billion next year alone.And the Republican charge that restoring the Clinton tax rates for the rich would hurt the economy -- because it would reduce the 'incentives' of the rich (including the richest small business owners) to create jobs -- is ludicrous.

Under Bill Clinton and his tax rates, the economy roared. It created 22 million jobs.

By contrast, during George Bush's 8 years, commencing with his big 2001 tax cut, the economy created only 8 million jobs. And as the new Census data show, nothing trickled down. In fact, the middle class families did far worse after the Bush tax cut. Between 2001 and 2007 -- even before we were plunged into the Great Recession -- the median wage dropped.

It's an issue that could also be used to expose the giant chasm that's opened between the rich and everyone else -- aided and abetted by Republican policies. As I've noted before, in the late 1970s, the top 1 percent got 9 percent of total national income. By 2007, the top 1 percent got almost a quarter of total national income.

These figures don't even count in taxes. The $1.3 trillion Bush tax cut of 2001 was a huge windfall for people earning over $500,000 a year. They got about 40 percent of its benefits. The Bush tax cut of 2003 was even better for high rollers. Those with net incomes of about $1 million got an average tax cut of $90,000 a year. Yet taxes on the typical middle-income family dropped just $217. Many lower-income families, who still paid payroll taxes, got nothing back at all.

And, again, nothing trickled down.

As I've emphasized, the U.S. economy has suffered mightily from the middle class's lack of purchasing power, while most of the economic gains have gone to the top. (The crisis was masked for years by women moving into paid work, everyone working longer hours, and, more recently, the middle class going into deep debt -- but all those coping mechanisms are now exhausted.) The great challenge ahead is to widen the circle of prosperity so the middle class once again has the capacity to keep the economy going.

In other words, this is the right issue. It's the right time. It allows Democrats to explain what the Bush tax cuts really did, why supply-side economics is bogus, and the economic challenge ahead.
Even if Democrats feel they have to respond to the Republican charge that taxes shouldn't be raised on anyone when the employment rate is 9.6 percent, they have a powerful fallback: Extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone through 2011, then end them for the rich while making them permanent for the middle class.

Get it, Democrats? Please don't blow it this time.

This post originally appeared at

Friday, September 17, 2010

Fighting to Protect Consumers

Fighting to Protect Consumers: "

Over the past several weeks, the President and I have had extensive conversations about the vital importance of consumer financial protection.

The President asked me, and I enthusiastically agreed, to serve as an Assistant to the President and Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He has also asked me to take on the job to get the new CFPB started—right now. The President and I are committed to the same vision on CFPB, and I am confident that I will have the tools I need to get the job done.

President Obama understands the importance of leveling the playing field again for families and creating protections that work not just for the wealthy or connected, but for every American. The new consumer bureau is based on a pretty simple idea: people ought to be able to read their credit card and mortgage contracts and know the deal. They shouldn’t learn about an unfair rule or practice only when it bites them—way too late for them to do anything about it. The new law creates a chance to put a tough cop on the beat and provide real accountability and oversight of the consumer credit market. The time for hiding tricks and traps in the fine print is over. This new bureau is based on the simple idea that if the playing field is level and families can see what’s going on, they will have better tools to make better choices.

If the CFPB can succeed at leveling the playing field, we can go a long way toward repairing a gaping hole in the budgets of millions of families. But nobody has ever thought or argued that the consumer bureau can fix everything. Lost jobs, stagnant incomes, rising costs for college, dwindling retirement savings—there’s a lot of work to be done.

When she was 16, my grandmother, Hannie Reed, drove a wagon in the Oklahoma land rush. Her mother had died, so she was up front with her little brothers and sisters bouncing around in the back. When I was growing up, she talked about life on the prairie, about marrying my grandfather and making a living building one-room schoolhouses, about getting wiped out in the Great Depression. She was hit with hard challenges throughout her life, but the moral of her stories was always the same: she would solve her problems one at a time by pulling up her socks and getting to work.

It’s time for all of us to pull up our socks and get to work.


Monday, September 06, 2010

Let's Stop Torturing Facts and Start Working Together

Let's Stop Torturing Facts and Start Working Together: "

Lindsay Graham has often shown that he’s fully capable of being reasonable and bipartisan. Which made it particularly disappointing to see his misleading use of numbers yesterday.

On Meet the Press, the Senator, against a wave of evidence to the contrary, argued that the Recovery Act has been “an absolute disaster” and called for cancelling “a lot” of what’s left in the bill (transcript here).

His evidence for this claim: “...we’ve lost two-and-a-half million jobs since the stimulus passed.”

Take a look at the figure below and you’ll see why this is so misleading. He’s conflating two periods of very different employment trends. In the first, when his team’s policies dominated, employment hemorrhaged at nightmarish rates. In the second, when the Recovery Act was on the scene, job losses in the private sector began to diminish, and this year, turned positive.

Private Payroll Employment Trends

read more


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Mark Green: 'But' Nothing: Why the Right to Build a Mosque Trumps the "Heckler's Veto"

Mark Green: 'But' Nothing: Why the Right to Build a Mosque Trumps the "Heckler's Veto": "

Many of those opposed to the proposed Islamic cultural center (and mosque within) say they're all for religious freedom -- and then comes the 'but.' But not Islam. But not there. But not if it offends 9/11 families.

'But' is un-American.

The entire point of the First Amendment's protections of freedom of speech, assembly and religion is that these rights can't be restricted based on their substance. Of course there are 'time, place and manner' restrictions on speech and prayer -- so people are not entitled to talk at 120 decibels in a residential neighborhood no matter their religion or views. Zoning laws can prohibit incompatible or dangerous activities, like a liquor store near a school. And obviously government can punish the bad conduct of anyone claiming to act in the name of a religion or group: For example, would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad or anyone conspiring with him.
What we cannot do, however, is condition speech or religion based on its content. That's the bedrock of the First Amendment.
Going further, courts have ruled against what's called the 'heckler's veto.' Whether a speaker is, say, for or against birthright citizenship, an audience member cannot shout him or her down; otherwise, speech would be contingent on the whim of any mob or critic. So, as painful as it was, our laws permitted Nazis to march though a community of Holocaust survivors near Skokie, Illinois in 1978.
Which brings us back to 'but.'

The opponents of the Park51 project claim this is not about rights -- it's about the difference between 'right and wrong.'

However, no group or momentary majority can be allowed to veto another's right, as Judge Vaughn Walker ruled in the protracted battle over same-sex marriage in California. If the proposed Islamic center is effectively shouted down because it's unpopular or the murderous acts of a few are attributed to an entire religion, then why can't community sentiment stop any religion with some members who've done awful things? 'But' is the exception that swallows the first amendment's rule.
Nor can there be a 'compromise' because of 9/11. Having been a city-wide official on that calamitous day, I am sensitive to the sensibilities of victims' families; they are sincere and upset. But while buildings fell that morning, our system of constitutional law did not. In America, legal questions are decided by juries or judges, not aggrieved parties.
But -- there's that word again -- what about 'hallowed ground'? Beyond the unarguable reality that the proposed center is north and out of sight of Ground Zero, even that sacred site now has a huge, new commercial building being erected on its footprint. The city could have tried to make the whole area a cemetery to commemorate that day and those deaths. But by rebuilding, Mayor Bloomberg -- and the city as a whole -- instead properly chose to focus on the future of lower Manhattan, not its past.

Frustrated that the law and the facts are not on their side, many prominent conservatives are now resorting to absurd analogies and hysterical assertions. Islam and this planned mosque, however, are not comparable to Nazis, Pearl Harbor, Saudi Arabia, Carmelite nuns at Auschwitz, or liquor stores near schools. When Fox's Glenn Beck declares that after 'you've killed 3000 people, you're going to now build your mosque?', Dick Morris concludes that it will be 'a command center for terrorism', and Sean Hannity nightly attempts to 'Sherrod' the Imam behind it with similar out-of-context attacks, they're all just assuming that those behind the mosque are terrorists. Any serious evidence? None of them has yet to explain why Bush 41's State Department (and now Obama's) chose to send Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to Arab countries because, as a New York Times profile last Sunday documented, his entire life has been as a bridge-building moderate Muslim between East and West.

(That eloquent accelerant, columnist Charles Krauthammer, on Friday finally blamed, of course, 'liberals' for playing the bigotry card. It's a verbal gimmick to blame the mirror for reflecting reality --if it's intolerant to point out intolerance, then civil rights workers in the '60s were apparently the racists.)

Here's the deal -- because of the values of the very first amendment, Fox News and Islam should both be allowed to say and pray as they wish without getting permission from offended dissenters. Curiously, they're alike in that both have about three million American followers as well as lots of angry critics.

Those who have been saying but-not-this-religion now have to be called out for their Muslim McCarthyism. Once again, demagogues and fear-mongers - Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Peter King, Rudy Giuliani, George Pataki, Rick Lazio, Rush Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, O'Reilly, Krauthammer, et. al. -- are using guilt-by-association, innuendo, sophistry and sheer lies.

Now as anti-Muslim protests spread around the country far beyond the location of 9/11, two Republicans especially stand out with the potential to shift the axis of debate. With the credibility to have a Nixon-to-China moment.

One is Rupert Murdoch. He has the editorial choice of allowing Fox's slanderous attacks to continue or establishing a more fair and balanced approach that could help calm the hysteria. The other is George W. Bush, who as the President attacking two Muslim nations made clear that America was fighting al Qaeda, not all of Islam. This is the perfect moment for them to speak out and remind everyone why the new World Trade building at Ground Zero will be exactly 1776 feet tall.

Originally posted at

Friday, August 27, 2010

Geoffrey Dunn: AFL-CIO President Compares Palin to Joe McCarthy

Geoffrey Dunn: AFL-CIO President Compares Palin to Joe McCarthy: "

Two years ago this week, at the biennial convention of the Alaska AFL-CIO in Anchorage, then-Governor Sarah Palin was whisked off by her husband to Ted Stevens International Airport for a flight to Arizona, where Palin met, first with senior advisers to Republican presidential nominee John McCain, and finally McCain himself, in a haphazard, slipshod vetting process that resulted in her being selected as McCain's running mate.

Palin was a keynote speaker at the Alaska convention in 2008 and a darling of union leadership, as she used the AFL-CIO convention for a photo-op to sign House Bill 3001, which granted an exclusive pipeline license to Canadian-based TransCanada Corp. -- an agreement which promised, at least on paper, a barrelful of union jobs in the Last Frontier.

Two years later, after her failed bid for the vice-presidency and her abandoned governorship, Palin is a darling no more. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka -- whose speech attacking racism in the 2008 presidential campaign went viral on Youtube -- went after Palin directly today in Anchorage, comparing her to the American right-wing demagogue Joe McCarthy and referencing recent comments Palin had made at the Oil Palace in Tyler, Texas, about union 'thugs' and 'waving the Jones Act.'

Palin, of course, responded with yet another hyperbolic and self-serving posting to her Facebook page, thus elevating Trumka's comments to several spins in the nightly news cycle.

Here are some of the highlights of Trumka's remarks about Palin:

What is this crazy magnet that's pulling people to the right? I mean, look at your former governor... Who is she, anyway? Sarah Palin?

She used to have a job, your governor... You knew her... Or thought you did... I know I thought I did. She seemed like a decent person, an outdoorswoman. Her husband's a steelworker. She seemed to take some OK stands for working families.

And then things got weird. After she tied herself to John McCain and they lost, she blew off Alaska. I guess she figured she'd trade up... shoot for a national stage. Alaska was too far from the FOX TV spotlight.

I bet most of you, on a clear day, can see her hypocrisy from your house.
I think Sarah Palin quit so she wouldn't have to be accountable... so she wouldn't have a record that could be scrutinized...
Instead, she's hanging out on cable TV, almost a parody of herself, coming out with conspiracy theories about Obama and his 'death panels... ' Talking about 'the real America.' Talking about building schools in 'our neighboring country of Afghanistan.' Writing speech notes to herself on her hands.

Sometimes -- about Sarah Palin -- you just have to laugh... But it's not really funny. In this charged political environment, her kind of talk gets dangerous. 'Don't retreat... reload' may seem clever, the kind of bull you hear all the time, but put it in context. She's using crosshairs to illustrate targeted legislators. She's on the wrong side of the line there. She's getting close to calling for violence. And some of her fans take that stuff seriously. We've got legislators in America who have been living with death threats since the health care votes.

And down in Tyler, Texas, she's talking about -- and I quote -- 'union thugs.' What? Her husband's a union man. Is she calling him a thug? Sarah Palin ought to know what union men and women are.

Oh, she goes to great pains to talk differently about unions and the working people who belong to them, knowing full well we're one and the same.

But using the term 'union thug.' That's poisonous. There's history behind that rhetoric. That's how bosses and politicians in decades past justified the terrorizing of workers, the murdering of organizers...

To me, it just doesn't seem OK to go where she's going... It sits wrong with me... The Mama Grizzlies, Sarah Palin says, just sense when something's not right. Well... I wonder if those Mama Grizzlies can sense something's just not right with her.


Award-winning writer and filmmaker Geoffrey Dunn's book The Lies of Sarah Palin: The Untold Story Behind Her Relentless Quest for Power will be published by St. Martin's Press.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Weekly Address: No Corporate Takeover of Our Democracy

Weekly Address: No Corporate Takeover of Our Democracy: "

The President calls out Republicans for blocking campaign finance reforms that would address the Supreme Court decision opening the floodgates of corporate money into elections.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chris Weigant: Obama Reframes Mosque Debate

Chris Weigant: Obama Reframes Mosque Debate: "

President Barack Obama, in a White House Ramadan address last Friday, expressed his thoughts on the 'Ground Zero mosque' debate, and in doing so not only got it exactly right, but also managed to change the debate in a considerable way which few have noticed yet. Because in his comments Friday (and in his off-the-cuff comment the next day), the president refocused the debate from the notion of 'should be allowed' to the question of 'should.' In doing so, Obama elevated the level of the debate for both him and the project's detractors.

The initial controversy over building an Islamic cultural center two and a half blocks away from 'Ground Zero' was cast in the harsh light of 'there oughta be a law' by most of the people who were outraged at the very idea. A mother who lost her child on 9/11 put it thusly: 'I think it's despicable, and I think it's atrocious that anyone would even consider allowing them to build a mosque near the World Trade Center.' Note that 'allowing them to build.' As I said, before the zoning board ruled, the argument was that the government should act, and prevent the mosque from being built. Unfortunately, this would have been impossibly unconstitutional -- the government cannot prevent a mosque from being built there, unless we're all ready to throw the First Amendment in the garbage can. This fact, though, didn't stop those opposed to the idea from demanding that the government 'do something' about the plans to build the mosque (Bill of Rights be damned!).

The entire controversy started from this basic position: the mosque should not be allowed to be built. But Obama has moved the framework of this debate, even though most in the media largely missed it this weekend (preferring to chase the 'news cycle' story about whether he had 'walked his support back' or not, which was pretty ridiculous). Obama showed that the argument is not a simple one, and in fact has two major segments that need to be addressed separately. The first is the question of whether or not the mosque 'should be allowed' to be built. The second is whether it 'should' be built.

It sounds like splitting hairs, which is why the media thought (much to their delight) that they had somehow caught Obama in some sort of contradiction. They hadn't. Obama, Saturday morning, merely separated the two issues for people who hadn't really grasped the implications of what he had said the night before.

Obama, who was (if you'll remember) previously a professor of constitutional law, came out very strongly against any sort of government interference in the decision to build a mosque anywhere that New York City had zoned appropriately. This really shouldn't be all that shocking, as it is truly the only position which can honestly be held in accordance with the Constitution. Any other position is to advocate for enshrining bigotry in our laws -- 'a church may be built here, but not a mosque.' This is, at its core, seriously un-American.

But there is a second issue here, one that Obama addressed in his remarks Saturday. This is the issue of whether a mosque 'should' be built on the site. And that is an issue which is fully open for debate. Even outright bigotry is still an acceptable position on this question, if by 'acceptable' one means 'faithful to our Constitution.' Every citizen is free to argue until they are blue in the face that a mosque should not be built at the site (for whatever their reason), and everyone is free to attempt to convince the imam not to build a mosque there, in any legal way they choose. That is the force of public opinion, and it can indeed be a mighty thing. Public opinion has already led to the imam deciding to include a memorial to the 9/11 victims in the plans, and has convinced him to change the name of the project. Of course, it's a free country, and he could indeed have remained firm and refused to do either -- without having to worry that he would 'not be allowed' to do so by law.

The real news was that Obama chose to insert himself in the debate, of course. Previously, the White House's position was that they had no comment on a 'local issue.' The fervor was even dying down a bit, ever since the planning board had ruled that the project could go forward, except in the right-wing media. Obama (as I heard one breathless reporter describe it this weekend) 'poured gasoline on the fire' by inserting his remarks into the fray.

But I have to say, Obama got this one right. He stood up for a principle, strongly. He didn't care whether public opinion agreed with him or not, because the principle was the important thing. And it's a pretty good principle to be standing up for. His whole speech is worth reading, if you've just heard excerpts (it's a very short speech). Every paragraph consistently says pretty much the same thing: the government does not discriminate on the basis of religion. Here is but one example:

But let me be clear. As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure.

Note that 'not be treated differently by their government' phrase. This was Obama's core argument, and it is indeed unshakeable.

The media, apparently, heard a different speech. Or maybe they just didn't take the time to read it or listen to it. Because when Obama pointed out the next day that he wasn't talking about 'the wisdom' of building a mosque there, the media went into feeding-frenzy mode, convinced that Obama was somehow 'walking back' his earlier remarks. He wasn't -- he was clarifying that he had been standing up for a basic constitutional right, and wasn't even addressing the overriding issue about whether it was a good idea or not. Which (again, read his speech) was exactly right.

As I said, this changes the tenor of the debate. Because it is not a contradiction -- or, if it is a contradiction, then it is one shared by many Americans -- to be supportive of the right to build the mosque but also to be against actually building it. A recent poll commissioned by none other than Fox News showed this in stark terms. While 64 percent of the people said it would be wrong to build the mosque there, 61 percent of the same people said the group has the right to build it there.

Rights, though, are thankfully not subject to the whim of the electorate, because they are guaranteed to all. Therefore public opinion polls are largely meaningless when it comes to basic rights. But the appropriateness of the project is another kettle of fish entirely. And it is a subject which while not subject to public opinion, is doubtlessly influenced by public opinion. Even bigoted public opinion.

The entire story, to me at least, seems to be somewhat overblown. There is another mosque a mere two blocks from the site under discussion. Using the logic of the detractors of the new project, this mosque should also probably be moved further away. But I have yet to see anyone advocating this position (although I fully admit, I don't read a whole lot of right-wing opinion, so I could very well be wrong). And -- horror of horrors -- Islamic services are held inside the Pentagon, which was also attacked on 9/11. Using the anti-mosque logic, there should also be loud cries to ban this worship from the 'hallowed ground' of a 9/11 attack site. So far, I haven't heard any (see previous qualification).There are also dark intimations about the whole project, and the imam in charge of it. The plan is to build a community center -- complete with a movie theater and other secular usage -- with a prayer room in it, two and a half blocks away from the World Trade Center site.

I have to digress here for a moment, because one tangent that bugs me is the phrase that detractors have latched upon for describing the 'hallowed ground' they are talking about: 'in the shadow of Ground Zero.' This is a really stupid phrase. I will give credit for the poetic nature of the imagery, but when actually examined, this concept is truly laughable. First off, 'Ground Zero' is a hole in the ground. Holes in the ground do not cast shadows, unless you count the shadows actually cast inside the hole. Literally, the phrase is meaningless. But even taking it at the intended meaning: 'in the shadow that used to be there from the World Trade Center twin towers,' it's still pretty silly. Because if that truly was the yardstick being used here, then we'd have to draw an arc (a little more than a half-circle) around the World Trade Center site, with the radius of the arc being dependent on what angle the sun reaches during the Winter Solstice (when the shadow's sweep would be greatest). I'm no civil engineer, so I cannot tell you how many blocks of Manhattan this would encompass, but the reason it's a silly metric to use is that the arc would only cut to the east, north, and west. Meaning you could build right next door to the site -- to the south -- and not be caught 'in the shadow' of any building built there.

But, to come out of the shadows (as it were), opponents of the project have been casting similar darkness upon Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, with all sorts of rumors and unfounded suspicions. Here is a fact seldom pointed out in all of this mudslinging -- Rauf has, quite obviously, gone through some background checks with the federal government. According to Hendrick Hertzberg of The New Yorker magazine, 'The F.B.I. tapped [Rauf] to conduct 'sensitivity training' for agents and cops.' He is about to embark on the third trip to the Middle East -- paid for by the American taxpayers -- to talk about religious tolerance in America. As a State Department spokesman said:

Imam Feisal will be traveling to Qatar, Bahrain, and the U.A.E. on a U.S. Government-sponsored trip to the Middle East. He will discuss Muslim life in America and religious tolerance. ... We have about 1,200 of these kinds of programs every year, sending experts on all fields overseas. Last year, we had 52 trips that were specifically focused on religious -- promoting religious tolerance. We will expect to have roughly the same number of programs this year. For Imam Feisal, this will be his third trip under this program. In 2007, he visited Bahrain, Morocco, the U.A.E. and Qatar. And earlier this year in January, he also visited Egypt. So we have a long-term relationship with him. His work on tolerance and religious diversity is well-known and he brings a moderate perspective to foreign audiences on what it's like to be a practicing Muslim in the United States.

Got that? Rauf not only helped the F.B.I. train agents and cops, but he's also participated in a State Department program to promote religious tolerance. And has been doing so for years. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, when sent on the first of these trips, George W. Bush was president.

This doesn't exactly fit in with the rumor and innuendo about the imam from those desperately trying to paint him as some sort of terrorist or terrorist-lover, does it? One assumes that either the F.B.I. or the State Department (or both) have done a full background check on this guy, and he came up squeaky clean. If he hadn't, I simply don't believe he would have been allowed to participate in any sort of official program from either federal department.But no matter where the debate about the 'Ground Zero mosque' goes in the next few weeks, even rumor and innuendo and wild-eyed conspiracy theories can all be seen as part of the normal flow of American public discussion. Even flat-out bigotry. As I said, it's a free country, and every citizen is free to espouse any view they wish.And there is indeed a rational argument, free of bigotry and innuendo, to be made to the imam to convince him not to build at his chosen location. This argument hinges on sensitivity. Disney famously backed down from plans to build a 'historical' theme park right next to a Civil War battlefield, due to overwhelmingly negative public opinion. And, while it didn't happen in our country, religious sensitivities can be taken into account as well, as when a group of nuns decided not to build next to a Nazi death camp, in deference to overwhelming public opinion against the project. I'm not saying I completely buy into the sensitivity argument myself, but it has to be seen as a valid reason to argue that the imam should consider moving his project.This is where the argument now lies -- in the realm of public opinion. Whether based on sensitivity or based on naked fear or hatred of Muslims, this is the arena these arguments will now be debated in. As they should be. Whether the arguments range into religious intolerance or not, they will all be about whether the mosque 'should' be built. Again, as they should be.What Obama managed to do this weekend was to change the whole framework of this debate. Even the critics of the mosque now are beginning to couch their language in phrases like 'well, we're not saying the government should stop it, we're saying the imam should rethink the idea.' This is likely why Obama inserted himself into the debate in the first place. As a constitutional scholar, he felt it was important to make the point that the government should never have the authority to make such a discriminatory decision, because those are the very freedoms we're fighting to protect against enemies who attack us. Saturday, without contradiction, he further pointed out that defending someone's rights is not the equivalent of defending their words or actions. Here is his full quote from Saturday morning:

I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding. That's what our country is about.

Rather than 'walking his support back' (as the entire media universe gleefully decided), Obama was pointing out the difference between the two concepts. Which is a healthy addition to the discussion. Reasonable people can disagree on the question of whether the mosque 'should' be built, in other words, but it goes against everything this country stands for to try to argue that the mosque 'should not be allowed' to be built by government decree.Personally, I see no contradiction at all. Even if the media read him wrong, President Obama forcefully changed the entire framing of the debate, and in a very healthy direction -- and he did so without interjecting himself into the raging public-opinion debate about whether the project was 'proper' or not. He showed true presidential leadership, and political courage. And now that he has done so, the debate will continue, but it will hopefully continue on a much different level than before.

Chris Weigant blogs at:


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Comic for August 11, 2010

Comic for August 11, 2010: "


The Myth of Idle Recovery Dollars

The Myth of Idle Recovery Dollars: "

John Boehner wants a lot of people to lose their jobs.

We were awfully surprised to hear Rep. Boehner come out for killing jobs en masse in his own state and district by stopping the Recovery Act on last Sunday’s news shows.

Though we’re sure he didn’t know it, the Congressman is advocating to kill the expansion of the Butler County Community Health Center and bring some of the twenty-five highway projects across the district to a grinding halt. Across the state of Ohio, he said that approximately 4 million working families should get an unexpected cut in their paycheck as the Making Work Pay tax credit disappears, unemployed workers should go without unemployment benefits, and major Ohio road projects like the US-33 Nelsonville Bypass project and the Cleveland Innerbelt Modernization project should be stalled or stopped. Oh, and some of the more than 100 clean energy Recovery projects employing workers across the state should be shut down.

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Saturday, August 07, 2010

Weekly Address: Medicare Officially Safer After Health Reform

Weekly Address: Medicare Officially Safer After Health Reform: "

The President discusses a new Medicare Trustees report showing Medicare to be on much stronger footing as a result of the reforms in the Affordable Care Act. In addition, seniors are also already getting help with prescription drug costs when they fall into the infamous “donut hole.”


Friday, August 06, 2010

Jeff Cohen: Colbert 1, U.S. State Department 0

Jeff Cohen: Colbert 1, U.S. State Department 0: "

On last night's Colbert Report, an amazing moment occurred when Stephen Colbert raised a major social issue that U.S. mainstream media assiduously ignore: the huge U.S. prison population. The issue quickly disappeared due to the apparent ignorance of Colbert's guest: Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner, in charge of 'Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.'

In a sometimes jokey interview with Posner discussing China's various human rights abuses (including prisoners), Colbert tried to steer the conversation to human rights problems in our own country.

COLBERT: We've actually got more people in prison than China does.

POSNER: Well I'm not sure that's true.
Colbert's assertion is indisputably true. Posner's denial is false. Does the State Department's man in charge of human rights not know the facts?
According to statistics gathered by the authoritative International Centre for Prison Studies in London, the United States has by far the largest prison population in the world: almost 2.3 million people behind bars. China's prison population is second in the world: roughly 1.6 million.

The United States is also number one in the world in its 'prison population rate': 748 inmates per 100,000 citizens. Russia is third. China is tied for 114th.

This is a U.S. human rights problem of enormous proportions. Our bloated prison population has many causes including the 'drug war,' mandatory minimum sentencing, poverty, and racism. And there are corporate profits to be made from 'The Prison-Industrial Complex' -- as independent journalists like Eric Schlosser began documenting a dozen years ago.
Wouldn't it be great to see this issue tackled by some mainstream TV voices . . . other than Stephen Colbert?

Jeff Cohen heads the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Mort Zuckerman Is Not Incompetent

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Mort Zuckerman Is Not Incompetent: "

Mort Zuckerman's recent opinion piece in the Financial Times, 'Obama needs to stop baiting business,' is a tawdry, sorry spectacle. Paul Krugman's already explained how Zuckerman, the publisher of US News & World Report and the New York Daily News, distorted the President's words with a little Andrew Breitbart-style editing. While Zuckerman's proclivity for truth-twisting isn't a complete surprise, here's what is: If he's not lying about how he and his fellow CEOs are managing their businesses, then he and his friends are also incompetent executives.

In fairness to Zuckerman, let me be clear from the outset: I don't think he's an incompetent executive.

That would mean he's not telling the truth when he says that, for 'employers' -- that is, CEOs like Mort Zuckerman -- 'worries over taxes and increased costs of new regulation are holding back investment and growth.' Here's the implication of that statement: Businesses would hire and invest if not for Democratic policies. They have customers who want to buy, but they won't meet the demand because they're afraid of some hypothetical tax increase or new regulation.

The logic is ridiculous. Zuckerman's saying that corporate executives are refusing to make money because the President scares them. Any executive who misses an opportunity to make money should be fired on the spot.

Zuckerman's reportedly a friend and mentor to Daniel M. Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins. Their 'lack of confidence' didn't prevent Snyder from picking up Donovan McNabb, or Trent 'Silverback' Williams, or new coach Mike Shanahan. They're all big-ticket items. The Redskins - who were my hometown team long enough for me to develop a lifelong Dallas Cowboys allergy - are the second-highest grossing team in football, and I'll bet even a close friendship with Mort Zuckerman won't prevent Snyder from hiring all the vendors he needs to feed the fans.

The climate of fear Zuckerman describes is a hoax. To hear to him tell it, the titans of American enterprise are tremulously quivering in their boardrooms, unable to summon the courage to make money today because of what might happen tomorrow. In the real world, if CEOs really believed they were about to be buried under new taxes and regulations, they'd hire and invest like crazy so they can post as much profit as they can before the Bolsheviks seize the means of production.

Zuckerman's talking points echo those of a recent Fareed Zakaria piece (which we discussed here) in which he Zakaria allegedly interviewed a series of CEOs about the business environment. They all spoke with one voice ... a voice curiously like Fareed Zakaria's ...saying that they, like Zuckerman's cohort, had 'lost confidence' in the President.

Which means that at one point they had confidence in the President. But, where Zakaria's alleged informants remain anonymous, Zuckerman drops a few organizational names: The Business Roundtable, the US Chamber of Commerce, and the National Federation of Independent Business. These are the places where, says Zuckerman, 'disillusion has spread.'

The Business Roundtable and the US Chamber are shills for large corporations - and, in the memorable words of JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, 'large corporate America is in very, very, very, very good shape.' It's hard to give much credence to Zuckerman's claims that these groups are 'disillusioned' and have 'lost confidence,' since there's no evidence they had illusions or confidence about Obama in the first place. Zuckerman's allegiance is clearly to these large businesses, too - and to Jamie Dimon, since Zuckerman serves on JP Morgan's National Advisory Board.

By choosing the National Federation of Business (NFIB) to represent smaller employers, Zuckerman decided to select a small business organization that stands to the right of many others. NFIB broke with the Main Street Alliance, a national network of small business groups, over that organization's support for health reform. Polling by groups like Small Business Majority paint a different picture of the business attitude toward Democratic policies. But even NFIB can't maintain the facade Zuckerman would have them maintain. It publishes a monthly 'Optimism Index,' precisely the kind of 'confidence' indicator you would think interests Zuckerman. Despite the NFIB's fierce antigovernment rhetoric, the actual figures in their latest report (July 2010) belies their own argument (and Zuckerman's): Only 12% of respondents based their negative 'expansion outlook' on the political climate, while 43% attributed it to 'economic conditions.'

Ultimately, even the right-wing rhetoricians who summarized the NFIB survey's findings were forced to acknowledge the obvious: 'What businesses need are customers, giving them a reason to hire and make capital expenditures and borrow ...' That's exactly right, the opposite of the conclusion Zuckerman would have us draw about the marketplace. Which raises the question, 'Who put the 'fib' in NFIB?'

What medium and small businesses also need is credit. As the NFIB survey reports, 'regular NFIB borrowers .. (are) at a record low (and) continued to report some difficulties in arranging credit.' That's not surprising, given that bank lending to small business has fallen 9% since TARP began. And Republicans supported by the US Chamber and the Business Roundtable just blocked a $30 billion program to aid lending to small businesses, even though they and not the Zuckerman/Chamber/Roundtable large businesses, are the engines of employment growth.

Zuckerman says some other silly things, too. He says 'America's get-up-and-go entrepreneurial culture outlived the frontier,' even though he represents the kinds of big business/government combines that attacked small businessmen and ranchers on our frontier. If we're all actors in a 21st Century Western, Zuckerman is speaking for the bad guys.

Zuckerman pushes some other old, tired right-wing canards, too. He says it's not fair that people 'lay all the blame for our difficulties on the business community and the financial world. This quite ignores the role of Congress in many areas, most glaringly in forcing Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration to make loans to people who could not afford them.' He's saying that the real problem is that liberals forced reluctant financiers to sell mortgages to low-income, unqualified black and brown people. Unfortunately for Zuckerman, the highest rate of mortgage default is for homes worth more than a million dollars. Oops.

There's more silliness, but you get the gist.

Want to know who corporations have really lost confidence in? Banks. The Wall Street Journal reported that 'In the darkest days of late 2008, even large companies faced the threat that they wouldn't be able to do the everyday, short-term borrowing needed to make payrolls and purchase inventory.' One of the reasons companies keep cash on hand is out of fear that could happen again. And it could -- if anti-regulation types like JP Morgan Advisory Board Member Mort Zuckerman get their way.

It's understandable when CEOs like Zuckerman push for the lowest taxes they can get. That's their job. But Zuckerman's s a newspaper and magazine publisher, and he shouldn't be allowed to let journalistic integrity become another one of those 'damaged traditions' he claims to lament. Zuckerman and his fellows mega-corporate leaders seem to have adopted the dishonest, cut-and-paste deception of the extreme Right. They're beginning to sound less like titans of industry and more like Tea Partiers with private jets. Remember, those private jets are purchased with company profits - profits that Zuckerman claims are being left on the table because of a lack of 'confidence,' as in 'I'm scared.' That kind of fear-driven leadership would be nothing more than managerial incompetence.

And I don't think Mort Zuckerman is incompetent.

Richard (RJ) Eskow, a consultant and writer (and former insurance/finance executive), is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America's Future. This post was produced as part of the Curbing Wall Street project. Richard also blogs at A Night Light.