Naftali Bendavid writes in the Wall Street Journal that when Republicans take control of the House, they will be changing the name of the Education and Labor Committee to the Education and Workforce Committee. Apparently, Republicans so hate labor unions they cannot even abide the word “labor.”
This committee changes names every time control of Congress passes to the other party. It had been Education and Labor for a long time, but in 1994 the Newt Gingrich House changed the name to Economic and Educational Opportunities, thereby eliminating both work and labor. But no one liked that name, so later Republicans changed it to Education and Workforce. But when the Dems took Congress back in 2006, it became Education and Labor again. And round and round we go.
“Workforce” is a term employers are likely to use, while “labor” is more evocative of the union movement—after all, they call it the American Federation of Labor. … “Education and the Workforce was the name selected by Republicans more than a decade ago to reflect the committee’s broad jurisdiction over polices that affect American students, workers, and retirees,” explained Alexa Marrero, a spokeswoman for committee Republicans.
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Robert Gibbs, President Obama’s press secretary, told reporters on Tuesday that he hopes the Comedy Central host can persuade enough Republican senators to vote for a 9/11 health bill so it can head to the president’s desk.
“If there's the ability for that to sort of break through in our political environment, there's a good chance that he can help do that,” Gibbs said in his briefing. “I think he has put the awareness around this legislation. He's put that awareness into what you guys cover each day, and I think that's good. I hope he can convince two Republicans to support taking care of those that took care of so many on that awful day in our history.”
Friday, December 24, 2010
1) California's Vote on Legalizing Marijuana Inspires Worldwide Debate
Proposition 19, the initiative to control and tax marijuana in California, was arguably the highest profile voter initiative in the nation. It generated thousands of stories in the United States and around the world about the pros and cons of marijuana prohibition. Millions of people for the first time had serious conversations about whether we should continue to arrest and incarcerate people for marijuana or if we should take it out of the illicit market and regulate it. In the end, Prop. 19 received more than 46% of the vote, more votes that GOP Governor Candidate Meg Whitman. The take-away from California is not will marijuana ever be legal, but when.
2) President Obama Signed Historic Legislation Reducing Crack/Powder Cocaine Sentencing Disparity
In August, President Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, reforming the draconian disparity between crack and powder cocaine prison sentences. Before the change, a person with just five grams of crack received a mandatory sentence of five years in prison. That same person would have to possess 500 grams of powder cocaine to earn the same punishment. This discrepancy, known as the 100-to-1 ratio, was enacted in the late 1980s and was based on myths about crack cocaine being more dangerous than powder cocaine. Unfortunately, the Democrats made serious comprises to get Republicans to support the Fair Sentencing Act. The original bill that would have completely eliminated the 100-to-1 disparity, but insteadthe compromise reduced the disparity to 18:1. Most troubling was that that the reform was not applied retroactively - which means that none of the tens of thousand of people unfairly languishing in cages will find any relief from the new law. That said, the reform of these laws is the first repeal of a mandatory minimum drug sentence since the 1970s.
3) Media Coverage is Fair, Balanced and Thoughtful
For the first time, the media consistently covered the marijuana debate seriously and without the jokes and giggle factor that accompanied stories in the past. For the first time they started including anti-prohibition voices that pointed out that much of the violence in the drug trade is due to prohibition and not the drug itself. There were cover stories in a range of outlets and magazines, including Time Magazine, the Washington Post Magazine, and the Nation. The Associated Press deserves a Pulitzer Prize for its "Impact Series" on the Drug War. Back in May, AP dropped a bombshell on America's longest war and the headline said it all: The US Drug War Has Met None of its Goals. The extensive piece reviewed the last 40 years, starting with President Nixon's official launch of the War on Drugs all the way to President Obama's annual strategy released this year. The piece packed a punch from the start: "After 40 years, the United States' War on Drugs has cost $1 trillion dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence more brutal and widespread."
4) Portugal Shows Us Decriminalization of Drugs Works
A new study, published in November in the British Journal of Criminology, shows that Portugal's decriminalization of drugs in 2001 has led to reductions in student drug use, prison overcrowding, drug related deaths and HIV/ AIDS. In July 2001, Portugal decriminalized the possession of up to ten days' supply of all types of illicit drugs. Before the law went into effect the pro-drug war zealots predicted that the sky would fall and chaos would reign if drug were decriminilazed. Nine years later, the sky hasn't fallen and having drug use addressed as a heath issue instead of a criminal issue has been proven to saves lives and money. Portugal shows us that drugs can be decriminalized in the real world, not only in theory.
5) Facebook Founders Fund Drug Policy Reform
While the Social Network movie about Facebook was the number one movie in the country, two former top Facebook executives featured in the film, Dustin Moskovitz and Sean Parker, both became major funders of drug policy reform by donating $50,000 and $100,000 to the California marijuana ballot initiative. The drug policy reform movement has greatly benefitted from the generous support of funders like George Soros, Peter Lewis and John Sperling. Mr. Moskovitz and Mr. Parker can also play a crucial role in supporting the reform movement.
6) California Makes Possession of Under One Ounce of Marijuana an Infraction -- Similar to a Speeding Ticket
In addition to the debate, coalition building, and public education that Prop. 19 generated, it also led to concrete victories:Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that will reduce the penalty for marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to a non-arrestable infraction, like a traffic ticket. That's no small matter in a state where arrests for marijuana possession totaled 61,000 last year -- roughly triple the number in 1990. It's widely assumed that the principal reason the governor signed the bill, which had been introduced by a liberal state senator, Mark Leno, was to undermine one of the key arguments in favor of Prop 19.
7) Leaders from Around the World Call for Legalization Debate
Although President Obama and his Drug Czar have repeated said that legalization is not in their vocabulary, the L-word is being talked about like never before among leaders around the world. This year Mexico President Calderoncalled for a debate on drug legalisation to help reduce the bloody war in Mexico. Former Mexico President Vicente Fox has since gone further and called for an end to prohibition. Just last week, United Kingdom's Bob Ainsworth, the former drugs and defense minister, called for the legalisation and regulation of drugs. All of this follows a 2009 report by three former Latin American Presidents, Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil, Cesar Gaviria of Colombia and Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico, where they called the drug war a failure and emphasized the need to "break the taboo" on an open and honest discussion on international drug policy.
8) New and Powerful Voices Join Movement to End Failed Drug War
Prop. 19 inspired an unprecedented coalition in support of reforming our futile and wasteful marijuana laws. A diverse coalition from across the political spectrum came together to "Just Say No" to failed marijuana prohibition. Law enforcement, including the National Black Police Association and National Latino Officers Association, spoke out in support of Prop. 19. Moms spoke out powerfully for tax and regulate because if is safer for their children than prohibition. The California NAACP and the Latino Voters League endorsed Prop. 19, specifically citing the chilling racial disparities in the enforcement of marijuana laws. Students for Sensible Drug Policy organized on campuses around the state. Finally, organized labor - from the Service Employees International Union to the longshoremen to food to communications workers -- for the first time offered endorsements because controlling and regulating marijuana will mean jobs and revenue that the state currently cedes to criminal cartels and the black market.
There's More Opportunities for Reform than Ever, But the War on Drugs Grinds On
For all the recent progress, drug policy reformers are under no illusion that the drug war will end any time soon. With the Democrats' "shellacking" in November, it is even more unclear how much change will be coming out of Washington in 2011 and beyond. We know that drug prohibition and our harsh drug laws - fueled by a prison-industrial complex that locks up 500,000 of our fellow Americans on drug-related offenses - are poised to continue for some time, wasting tens of billions of dollars and leading to thousands of deaths each year. But we are clearly moving in the right direction, toward a more rational drug policy based on compassion, health, science and human rights. We need people to continue to join the movement to end this unwinnable war. If the people lead, the leaders will follow.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Count this among the 10 things nobody ever expected to see in their lifetimes: 700 Club founder Pat Robertson, one of the cornerstone figures of America's Christian right movement, has come out in favor of legalizing marijuana.
Calling it getting "smart" on crime, Robertson aired a clip on a recent episode of his 700 Club television show that advocated the viewpoint of drug law reformers who run prison outreach ministries.
This video is from the 700 Club, broadcast by the CBN Network.
In this instance, even though he clearly expressed support for the reform of US marijuana laws, a spokesman for religious television station CBN walked back Robertson's comments, telling Raw Story on Thursday morning the Christian Coalition founder "did not call for the decriminalization of marijuana.""He was advocating that our government revisit the severity of the existing laws because mandatory drug sentences do harm to many young people who go to prison and come out as hardened criminals," CBN spokesman Chris Roslan wrote. "He was also pointing out that these mandatory sentences needlessly cost our government millions of dollars when there are better approaches available. Dr. Robertson's comments followed a CBN News story about a group of conservatives who have proven that faith-based rehabilitation for criminals has resulted in lower repeat offenders and saved the government millions of dollars. Dr. Robertson unequivocally stated that he is against the use of illegal drugs."
A Robertson flip-flop or a public relation cover-up?
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
WATCH: Misinformer of the Year videoThis year, Palin stood out for her sheer ability to dominate our national conversation and draw the attention of the entire news media to her factually challenged claims and vicious attacks. She has blurred the line completely between media figure and political activist.
From spreading lies about "death panels" to cropping Obama's comments about "American exceptionalism," from her comfortable perch at Fox News to her self-promoting books and reality show, Palin has truly broken new ground in misinformation.
Saturday, December 11, 2010
Alfred McCoy wants to know if the "demise of the United States as the global superpower could come far more quickly than anyone imagines" in, 4 Scenarios for the Coming Collapse of the American Empire.
Andy Kroll wonders whether "creating a country of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich" is where the United States is headed when he asks, How the Oligarchs Took Over America.
Charlie Stross has a tongue-in-cheek, "working hypothesis ... Why do we feel so politically powerless? Why is the world so obviously going to hell in a handbasket?" in his "admittedly whimsical," Invader from Mars.
Paul Krugman differs with the views of Charlie Stross by pointing out that "what we call civilization has usually been a form of kleptocracy" in his article, The Conscience of a Liberal.
And to round off the opinions is Glenn Beck, who has been known to stoke fires of upheaval on his T.V. show. On Dec 9th, he silently wrote on his chalkboard, "The Revolution is NOW." According to Sarah Seltzer at AlterNet, Glenn warned viewers that "the chaos from WikiLeaks and "Operation Payback" would essentially lead to them being turned out of house and home by a band of bandanna-wearing, weapon-toting Marxist anarchists (I only exaggerate slightly)."
Thursday, December 9, 2010
What if African-Americans called for open insurrection, showed up armed at rallies and said they wished death on the President? Probably they wouldn't be hailed as patriots deeply concerned about the state of the country and future of their grandchildren.
In the video below, inspired by the Tim Wise essay, rapper Jasiri X asks "What if the tea party was black, Holding guns like the Black Panther Party was back?"
WATCH: What if the Tea Party was Black?
Robert Reich explains in definitive terms, "Why the Tax Deal Confirms the Republican Worldview."
Republican worldview is to shrink the government
Apart from its extraordinary cost and regressive tilt, the tax deal negotiated between the President and the Republicans has another fatal flaw.
It confirms the Republican worldview.
Americans want to know what happened to the economy and how to fix it. At least Republicans have a story – the same one they’ve been flogging for thirty years. The bad economy is big government’s fault and the solution is to shrink government.
Economic growth and the middle class
Here’s the real story. For three decades, an increasing share of the benefits of economic growth have gone to the top 1 percent. Thirty years ago, the top got 9 percent of total income. Not they take in almost a quarter. Meanwhile, the earnings of the typical worker have barely budged.
The vast middle class no longer has the purchasing power to keep the economy going. (The rich spend a much lower portion of their incomes.) The crisis was averted before now only because middle-class families found ways to keep spending more than they took in – by women going into paid work, by working longer hours, and finally by using their homes as collateral to borrow. But when the housing bubble burst, the game was up.
Reorganize the economy
The solution is to reorganize the economy so the benefits of growth are more widely shared. Exempt the first $20,000 of income from payroll taxes, and apply payroll taxes to incomes over $250,000. Extend Medicare to all. Extend the Earned Income Tax Credit all the way up through families earning $50,000. Make higher education free to families that now can’t afford it. Rehire teachers. Repair and rebuild our infrastructure. Create a new WPA to put the unemployed back to work.
Pay for this by raising marginal income taxes on millionaires (under Eisenhower, the highest marginal rate was 91 percent, and the economy flourished). A millionaire marginal tax of 70 percent would eliminate the nation’s future budget deficit. In addition, impose a small tax on all financial transactions (even a tiny one — one half of one percent — would bring in $200 billion a year, enough to rehire every teacher who’s been laid off as well as provide universal pre-school for all toddlers). Promote unions for low-wage workers.
Money and bribery
But here’s the obstacle. As income and wealth have risen to the top, so has political power. Money is being used to bribe politicians and fill the airwaves with misleading ads that block all of this.
The midterm elections offered dramatic evidence. NBC news reported shortly after Election Day, for example, that Crossroads GPS, one of the biggest Republican secret-money organizations, got “a substantial portion” of its loot from a group of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity managers. Why would they sink so much money into the midterms? Because they’ve been so strongly opposed to a proposal by congressional Democrats to treat the earnings of hedge fund and private equity managers as ordinary income rather than capital gains (subject to only a 15 percent rate).
Big government isn't the problem
In other words, the problem isn’t big government. It’s power and privilege at the top.
So another part of the solution is to limit the impact of big money on politics. This requires, for example, publicly-financed campaigns, disclosure of all sources of political spending, and resurrection of the fairness doctrine for broadcasters.
It’s the same power and privilege that got the Bush tax cuts in the first place, and claimed the lion’s share of its benefits. The same power and privilege that got the estate tax phased out.
Tax cuts for the rich won't help
Get it? By agreeing to another round of massive tax cuts for the wealthy, the President confirms the Republican story. Cutting taxes on the rich while freezing discretionary spending (which he’s also agreed to do) affirms that the underlying problem is big government, and the solution is to shrink government and expect the extra wealth at the top to trickle down to everyone else.Obama’s new tax compromise is not only bad economics; it’s also disastrous from the standpoint of educating the public about what has happened and what needs to happen in the future. It reinforces the Republican story and makes mincemeat out of the truthful one Democrats should be telling.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
During the debate over health care reform, Obama did not stand strong in support of the public option. He basically gave up that point before discussions even began. Then, on November 29th, he proposed a two-year pay freeze for all civilian federal workers. And he has not taken a strong position on letting the tax extension of the Bush tax cuts expire for the rich. Frank Rich expresses a good point in his article, All the President's Captors.
Those desperate to decipher the baffling Obama presidency could do worse than consult an article titled “Understanding Stockholm Syndrome” in the online archive of The F.B.I. Law Enforcement Bulletin. It explains that hostage takers are most successful at winning a victim’s loyalty if they temper their brutality with a bogus show of kindness. Soon enough, the hostage will start concentrating on his captors’ “good side” and develop psychological characteristics to please them — “dependency; lack of initiative; and an inability to act, decide or think.”
This dynamic was acted out — yet again — in President Obama’s latest and perhaps most humiliating attempt to placate his Republican captors in Washington. No sooner did he invite the G.O.P.’s Congressional leaders to a post-election White House summit meeting than they countered his hospitality with a slap — postponing the date for two weeks because of “scheduling conflicts.” But they were kind enough to reschedule, and that was enough to get Obama to concentrate once more on his captors’ “good side.”
And so, as the big bipartisan event finally arrived last week, he handed them an unexpected gift, a freeze on federal salaries. Then he made a hostage video hailing the White House meeting as “a sincere effort on the part of everybody involved to actually commit to work together.” Hardly had this staged effusion of happy talk been disseminated than we learned of Mitch McConnell’s letter vowing to hold not just the president but the entire government hostage by blocking all legislation until the Bush-era tax cuts were extended for the top 2 percent of American households.
The captors will win this battle, if they haven’t already by the time you read this, because Obama has seemingly surrendered his once-considerable abilities to act, decide or think. That pay freeze made as little sense intellectually as it did politically. It will save the government a scant $5 billion over two years and will actually cost the recovery at least as much, since much of that $5 billion would have been spent on goods and services by federal workers with an average yearly income of $75,000. By contrast, the extension of the Bush tax cuts to the $250,000-plus income bracket will add $80 billion to the deficit in two years, much of which will just be banked by the wealthier beneficiaries.
Obama didn’t even point out this discrepancy — as he might have, had he chosen to make a stirring call for shared sacrifice rather than just hand the Republicans a fiscal olive branch that they could then use as a stick to beat him. He was too busy tending to his other announcement of the week: dispatching Timothy Geithner to lead “negotiations” with the Republicans on the tax cuts. This presidency has been one long blur of such “negotiations” — starting with the not-on-C-Span horse-trading that allowed corporate players to blunt health care and financial regulatory reform. Next up is a “negotiation” with the United States Chamber of Commerce, which has spent well over $100 million trying to shoot down Obama’s policies over the last two years. It’s enough to arouse nostalgia for the “beer summit” with Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the Cambridge cop, which at least was transparent and did no damage to the public interest.
The cliché criticisms of Obama are (from the left) that he is a naïve centrist, not the audacious liberal that Democrats thought they were getting, and (from the right) that he is a socialist out to impose government on every corner of American life. But the real problem is that he’s so indistinct no one across the entire political spectrum knows who he is. A chief executive who repeatedly presents himself as a conciliator, forever searching for the “good side” of all adversaries and convening summits, in the end comes across as weightless, if not AWOL. A Rorschach test may make for a fine presidential candidate — when everyone projects their hopes on the guy. But it doesn’t work in the Oval Office: These days everyone is projecting their fears on Obama instead.
I don’t agree with almost anything Chris Christie, the new Republican governor of New Jersey, has to say. But the popularity of his leadership right now is instructive. New Jersey has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1992, with Obama carrying the state by a landslide margin of almost 15 percentage points. Yet Christie now has a higher approval number (51 percent) in the latest Quinnipiac state poll than either Obama or New Jersey’s two senators, both Democrats.
Christie’s popularity among national right-wing activists and bloggers has been stoked by a viral YouTube video where he dresses down a constituent in a manner that recalls Ralph Kramden sending Alice “to the moon.” But the core of Christie’s appeal at home is that he explains passionately held views in concrete, plain-spoken detail. Voters know what he stands for and sometimes respect him for his forthrightness even when they reject the stands themselves. This extends to his signature issue — his fiscal and rhetorical blows against public education. He’s New Jersey’s most popular statewide politician despite the fact that a 59 percent majority in the state thinks public schools deserve more taxpayer money, not less.
G.O.P. propagandists notwithstanding, Christie’s appeal does not prove that New Jersey (and therefore the country) has “turned to the right.” It does prove that people want a leader with a strong voice, even if only to argue with it.
No one expects Obama to imitate Christie’s in-your-face, bull-in-the-china-shop shtick. But they have waited in vain for him to stand firm on what matters to him and to the country rather than forever attempting to turn non-argumentative reasonableness into its own virtuous reward. It’s clear now the shellacking was not the hoped-for wake-up call. For starters, Obama might have robustly challenged the election story line pushed by the G.O.P. both before and after Nov. 2 — that deficit eradication and tax cuts for all are voters’ No. 1 priority. Repeating it constantly — as McConnell and John Boehner do, brilliantly — does not make it true. But the myth becomes reality if there’s no leader to trumpet the counternarrative.
In the summer before the election, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll (of June 21) found that only 15 percent of respondents thought the deficit should be the government’s top priority (behind jobs and economic growth, at 33 percent); the Washington Post/ABC News survey just a week before Election Day found that only 7 percent chose the deficit as the most important issue influencing their vote (again well behind the economy, at 37 percent). After constant G.O.P. fear-mongering about the budget — some of it echoed, rather than countered, by Obama — deficit reduction did jump to first place in Nov. 2 exit polls as voters’ highest priority for the next Congress. The disciplined Republican message had turned the deficit into a catchall synonym for America’s entire economic health. But at 40 percent, deficit reduction still was neck and neck with “spending to create jobs” (37 percent). Cutting taxes was chosen by only 18 percent.
We’re now at the brink of a new economic disaster that will eventually yank a chicken out of every pot. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculates that the extended Bush-era tax cuts will contribute by far the largest share to the next decade’s deficits — ahead of the recession’s drain on tax revenues, Iraq and Afghanistan war spending, TARP and Obama’s stimulus. The new Congress’s plan to block any governmental intervention on behalf of 15 million-plus jobless Americans guarantees that the unemployment rate, back up to 9.8 percent as of Friday, will remain intractable too.
Obama should have pounded home the case against profligate tax cuts for the wealthiest before the Democrats lost the Senate. Even now Warren Buffett — not a socialist, by the way — is making the case with a Christie-esque directness that usually eludes the president. “The rich are always going to say that, you know, just give us more money and we’ll all go out and spend more, and then it will trickle down to the rest of you,” he told Christiane Amanpour on “This Week” last Sunday. “But that has not worked the last 10 years, and I hope the American public is catching on.”
Everyone will have caught on by 2012, but that will be too late for many jobless Americans, let alone for Obama. As the economics commentator Jeff Madrick wrote in The Huffington Post, the unemployment rate has been above 7 percent only four times in a presidential election year since World War II — and in three of the four the incumbent lost (Ford, Carter, the first Bush). Reagan did win in 1984 with an unemployment rate of 7.2 percent, but the rate was falling rapidly (from a high of 10.8 two years earlier), and Reagan was as clear-cut in his leadership as Christie (only nicer).
But as Madrick adds, there has never been a sitting president over that period who has had to run with an unemployment rate as high as 8 percent — which is precisely where the Fed’s most recent forecasts predict the rate could be mired when Obama faces the voters again in 2012. You’d think he’d be one Stockholm Syndrome victim with every incentive to break out.