Saturday, March 31, 2012

Reflexive Opposition to B.O.

"Well, looks like Romney," a friend of Rush Limbaugh e-mailed the blowhard, "so I wish us much luck.  Look at what happened.  The Tea Party rises up, the Tea Party delivers the House of Representatives to the GOP, the Tea Party nearly takes out the Democrat Senate in 2010, and our nominee is gonna be a former RINO governor of Massachusetts who invented Romneycare....the Tea Party did everything, and we get a RINO?"

Of course, the individual mandate at the core of "Obamacare" wasn't dreamed up by Governor Romney.    Although the Heritage Foundation was not the first to float the concept of an individual mandate, the concept was promoted by the conservative think tank, that to which Rush Limbaugh has afforded the highest honor, contending it "was every bit as involved in Reaganism as reagan was, and nothing's changed."

In October, 1989 Heritage's Stuart Butler wrote

[N]either the federal government nor any state requires all households to protect themselves from the potentially catastrophic costs of a serious accident or illness. Under the Heritage plan, there would be such a requirement...

Society does feel a moral obligation to insure that its citizens do not suffer from the unavailability of health care. But on the other hand, each household has the obligation, to the extent it is able, to avoid placing demands on society by protecting itself...

A mandate on households certainly would force those with adequate means to obtain insurance protection.

In March of 1992 Heritage's Butler offered a plan in which

All citizens should be required to obtain a basic level of health insurance. Not having health insurance imposes a risk of delaying medical care; it also may impose costs on others, because we as a society provide care to the uninsured. The risk of shifting costs to others has led many states to mandate that all drivers have liability insurance. The same logic applies to health insurance...

The obligation to obtain basic health insurance should be placed on the individual, not on the employer...

In our scheme, every person would be required to obtain basic coverage, through either an individual or a family insurance plan.

When a health care program with a mandate and exchanges was instituted by the Massachusetts legislature and its Repub governor, the Heritage Foundation practically fell all over itself praising it.     Although Obamacare, strikingly similar to Romneycare, is not identical to Heritage's proposal, American Conservative senior editor Daniel McCarthy told Politifact

Every think tank on the left and right knows that its recommendations will undergo some deformation before they make their way into law, if they ever do.     Heritage might prefer state insurance exchanges with greater individual choice, including for workers already covered by their employers. But I don't imagine Ed Feulner would be complaining at all if a Republican president or a Republican Congress had passed a plan that deviated from the Heritage blueprint to the same degree that Obama's bill has. While it's not true that 'lots of' the specifics in the Obama plan were dreamed up by Heritage, the overall approach is similar to policies Heritage has long championed, including the individual mandate as well as the insurance exchanges. This is only controversial because the wrong party happened to pass the law, and it's poison for any conservative to be identified with it. 

Before the primary season began, and for much of the early phase, there was reasonable and considerable skepticism that the issue of health care reform would sink the Romney candidacy.    But the ex-governor effectively finessed it, as Salon's Steve Kornacki explains:

when Obama became president, the right – as it invariably does when a Democrat occupies the White House – committed itself to reflexively opposing him. This meant branding his healthcare plan socialism and fighting it with all the hysteria that could be mustered. It didn’t really matter how the program was structured; whatever Obama proposed would amount to a government takeover of healthcare in conservatives’ minds. The details weren’t what mattered; the fact that it was authored by Obama did.

This simultaneously endangered and shielded Romney. If he admitted that RomneyCare and ObamaCare were the same thing and defended his program, he’d have been guilty of a capital offense against conservatism. But by pretending that his law is something completely different and railing just as loudly as every other conservative voice against ObamaCare, he’s made it virtually impossible for his foes to build a case against him – as Santorum has been discovering.

Before he disowned the mandate popularized by the Heritage Foundation, Mitt Romney  failed to gain the GOP presidential nomination in 2008 when he was viewed as a conservative alternative to the leading candidate (McCain).      Now thought of as the least conservative of the three leading Repub contenders and the one associated with a program very unpopular with the GOP base, Mitt Romney is poised to be nominated.     But, as Kornacki describes, the Repub position on health care has little to do with ideology or principle and a lot to do with the demon they believe holds the White House.

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Franklin Roosevelt, Indeed

No guffawing.  No fingers crossed.    Not even a smile crossed his lips.

Apparently, incomprehensibly, Joe Biden was deadly serious when today in Wisconsin

“I’ve watched him make decisions that would make another man or woman’s hair curl,” Biden told the crowd of 150 inside the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee, according to a pool reporter on scene

Biden, who has said he’s the last man in the room with Obama before a tough call, often attests that his boss has a “backbone like a ramrod.”

And today he said that mettle — and the “serious problems” Obama faced upon taking office — put the president in a class of his own.

“I think I can say … no president, and I would argue in the 20th century and including now the 21st century, has had as many serious problems which are cases of first-instance laid on his table,” Biden said. “Franklin Roosevelt faced more dire consequences, but in a bizarre way it was more straightforward.”

The vice president claimed that the complexity of the 2008 financial crisis presented challenges in a way the Great Depression of 80 years ago did not.

The suggestion that President Obama has had it more tough than Roosevelt 32 is loathsome.     As Digby notes, "I think we can all agree that the Great Depression and Hitler were just a little bit more difficult than dealing with this recession and Mitch McConnell."

The vice-president's boast about his boss' courage is hard to square with the facts, especially as they pertain to the Administration's national security policies.      Today, New York Times Editorial Page editor Andrew Rosenthal wrote

The Bush administration kept secrets largely for bad reasons: It covered up its torture memos, the kidnapping of innocent foreign citizens, illegal wiretapping and other misdeeds. Barack Obama promised to bring more transparency to Washington in the 2008 campaign, but he has failed to do that. In some ways, his administration is even worse than the Bush team when it comes to abusing the privilege of secrecy.

One example of this abuse is the government’s effort to block public scrutiny of its “targeted killing” policy – the use of drone aircraft to kill specific people identified as threats to the United States. The most notorious case is the Sept. 30, 2011, drone strike in Yemen that killed Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen, who United States officials say was part of Al Qaeda’s command structure. Another American was killed in the strike, and Mr. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, also an American citizen, was killed in an attack two weeks later.

The Obama administration has refused to make public the legal documents underpinning the president’s decision to order the killing of an American citizen without any judicial review before or after the attack. So far, it has not even made those documents available to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Accordingly, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed two lawsuits aimed at forcing disclosure. One predates the Awlaki killing, the other followed the attack. The New York Times is party to the latter: Our paper wants the government to release the legal reasoning behind the attack. The ACLU is asking for more: It also wants to see the factual information that led to the decision to kill Mr. Awlaki.

But the government is blocking any consideration of these petitions with one of the oldest, and most pathetic, dodges in the secrecy game. It says it cannot confirm or deny the existence of any drone strike policy or program.

That would be unacceptable under any condition, but it’s completely ridiculous when you take into account the fact that a) there have been voluminous news accounts of drone strikes, including the one on Mr. Awlaki, and b) pretty much every top government official involved in this issue has talked about the drone strikes in public. 

I generally agree with Bill Maher, and disagree with Glenn Greenwald, that drone strikes are an unavoidable tool in combating terrorism.     When an American citizen leaves the U.S.A. and plots, or aids, terrorist attacks, he ought to be subject to assassination.      But secrecy is not the mark of courage, and it's not too much to ask the Obama administration to release whatever written material exists to justify its policy, particularly when, as Greenwald points out, Obama and other officials "have repeatedly boasted in public about this very program."

It should be enough to boast, as Biden has, "the best way to sum up the job the President has done if you need a real shorthand: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”       The ironic thing, given the Administration's pride in its drone program, is that the difficult decision made by the President was not in giving the go-ahead on Bin Laden but in eschewing a drone attack in favor of an operation on the ground by Navy SEALs in coordination with the C.I.A.        Approving the killing of America's greatest public enemy of the last half century should have been a no-brainer for Barack Obama; if he had decided to forego any operation, he would not have gotten the virtual pass from his political opponents that President Bush was largely afforded when he outsourced the effort to kill Bin Laden.       But the Navy SEALs prevailed, intelligence was preserved, and Obama earned a notch in his belt.

In the continuing struggle against terrorism- misnamed the "War on Terror"- the President has enjoyed significant success.         But secrecy is, as Greenwald notes, "the linchpin of the abuse of power."     If Mr. Obama really wants to exhibit the "mettle" ascribed to him by the Vice-President, the White House must stop leaning on the state secrets privilege, end its assault on whistleblowers, subject itself to normal oversight, and start turning an opaque presidency into a transparent one.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

Quick And Dirty Review

The fate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, if analysts have it right, lies in the hands of Justice Kennedy and Chief Justice Roberts.     Justice Broccoli is a lost case, notwithstanding his vote upholding application of the Commerce Clause in Gonzalez v. Raich, in which 

Scalia noted the commerce clause empowers Congress to regulate not only the "channels" and "instrumentalities" of interstate commerce but also intrastate activities that "substantially affect" interstate commerce, and that the constitution authorizes Congress to enact measures that are "necessary and proper" to effectuate its objectives when exercising authority under the commerce clause or any other enumerated power. 

Scalia, who voted to prevent a recount in Bush v. Gore (and now distorts the Court's finding), thus handing the presidency to Republican George W. Bush, apparently is yet again succumbing to the lure of partisanship.

The GOP Justices (three, anyway) were animated by the limiting principle.     Justice Kennedy asked Solicitor General Verrilli

If Congress —if Congress says that the interstate commerce is affected, isn’t, according to your view, that the end of the analysis.Cuccinelli recalled Chief Justice John Roberts asking why health insurance is unique as something the government can require Americans to purchase. Justice Antonin Scalia then chimed in, asking whether the government could require Americans to exercise, a regulation that would presumably also lead to improved health.

This is just plain silly.     In a November post on The Monkey Cage evaluating the likelihood of the Supreme Court upholding the PPACA, reader Scott Monje explained

insurance isn’t really a commodity like broccoli. Health care is the commodity; insurance is the means for paying for it. No one has proposed opting out of health care, only out of paying for it. To borrow the GOP’s slippery slope analogy, where will it all end? If people can opt out of this, will they soon be allowed to opt out of paying for their broccoli at the supermarket?

And interviewed by Ezra Klein, Harvard law professor Charles Fried, a solicitor general under President Reagan, notes

the limiting principle point kind of begs the question. It assumes there’s got to be some kind of articulatable limiting principle and that’s in the Constitution somewhere. What Chief Justice John Marshall said in 1824 is that if something is within the power of Congress, Congress may exercise that power to its fullest extent. So the question is really whether this is in the power of Congress.

Now, is it within the power of Congress? Well, the power of Congress is to regulate interstate commerce. Is health care commerce among the states? Nobody except maybe Clarence Thomas doubts that. So health care is interstate commerce. Is this a regulation of it? Yes. End of story.

Nevertheless, both Scalia and Kennedy argued that the imposing a mandate amounted to regulating inactivity (rather than activity).      Justice Kennedy contended "The reason this is concerning is because it requires the individual to do an affirmative act."      But Fried counters

Activity and inactivity is not in the Constitution. Now, there are millions of cases that talk about the power to regulate activities that affect interstate commerce, from which (law professor and critic of PPACA) Randy Barnett drew the conclusion inactivity is not included. It just hadn’t come up!

And if 95 percent of them are in that market every five years, they’re in it. They haven’t put that off. They’ve gone to a health-care clinic. They’ve procured a prescription for a prescription drug. Ninety-five percent of the population! So where’s the inactivity?

If the constitutionality of the Act- even of the most controversial portion, the mandate- were considered on its merits, the Administration would have little to worry about.    But Mr. Dooley's aphorism, "No matter whether the country follows the flag or not, the Supreme Court follows the election returns," still applies.     The Administration did not persuade the country of the necessity of requiring payment of health insurance to prevent, or at least curb, the incidence of free riders.   Notwithstanding the rescue of the domestic automobile industry, the signature achievement of the Obama presidency is generally assumed (at least by the media) to be health care reform.      And there is an election coming up, which has not escaped the attention of the United States Supreme Court.

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Keeping It Unreal On Death

We`ll steal away said the Ranger
Grab an Injun by the hand
Tonto said, turn me loose, stranger
What you mean, we, white man

The Lone Ranger

Lyrics by: Oscar Brown Jr.

Lazy or deceptive.    Or perhaps a combination of the two.    Either way, it was an irresponsible report presented Tuesday on MSNBC.    Yes, that's you, Rachel Maddow (transcript, here).

Maddow interviewed Bryan Stevenson, an attorney who has successfully challenged prison conditions in the U.S.A. (especially active in criminal justice) and recently received a record-setting 20-minute standing ovation at the TED Conference.

Number one, China. Number two, Iran. Number three, Saudi Arabia. Number four, Iraq. And number five, the United States of America -- USA, USA.

They`re not very many lists on which we come fifth after Iran and Iraq but that`s because the lists of which countries are killing the largest number of their prisoners, that list only comes out once a year. Today is the day the China is first. Then it`s the Saudis and Iran and Iraq and us. It`s difficult company, right?

In all of Europe and all of the countries that used to be the Soviet Union, the only country that executed anyone last year was Belarus. We`re the only country in the whole G-8, all the biggest industrialized economies in the world who executed anyone last year.

Japan is in G-8. I has the death penalty on its books, but Japan didn`t use it last year, didn`t kill any of its prisoners.

We did. We did that 43 times last year. But here`s the thing, the number is actually going down for us. We may be the only modern industrialized nation in the world that still regularly goes into our prison cells, takes people who are already incarcerated out of those cells, and then kills them as quietly as possible.

We may be the last industrialized country in the world that is doing that but we are doing that less. We killed 46 times in 2010 and 43 time last year. That`s the direction that things are going for us in this field, generally speaking.

This chart, from the Death Penalty information centre, indicates there were 33, rather than 43, last year but let's not quibble.    There have been, over the past two years, at least 79 executions in the United States.     But, notably, Maddow did not say that more prisoners are executed in the United States than anywhere but China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.      She referred to "the lists of which countries are killing the largest number of their prisoners;" that "Japan didn't use it last year, didn't kill any of its prisoers.   We did.   We did that 43 times last year."     Further, "we may be the only modern industrialized nation in the world that still regularly goes into our prison cells, takes people who are already incarcerted out of those cells, and then kills them as quietly as possible."

What, pray tell, does Rachel Maddow mean by "we"?      Here is a list of the prisoners executed by the United States last year:

Here is a list of the prisoners executed by the United States since March 19, 2003:

There has been none.    In the last eleven years, no prisoner has been executed by Rachel's "we," i.e., the "United States." (Thirty individuals currently are on death row, according to Amnesty International.)      There have been, rather, 79+ executions the last two years in the United States.

It is not an important distinction.   It is a critical distinction, one with implications for American politics, criminal justice, and federalism.     The federal government kills precious few prisoners, the last occurrence having been on March 18, 2003.     Those executions which so appall Maddow- without regard to individual circumstances of the offense and the offenders- were imposed upon defendants found guilty, and sentenced, by judges/jurors of violation of the statutes of those particular states.   The indisputable leader (or culprit), as usual, was the State of Texas, responsible for putting to death 27 inmates in 2010-2011.

Excommunicated from the United States by the host are 35 states and the District of Columbia, which either no longer have a death penalty statue or, for whatever reason, did not execute anyone in 2010 or 2011.        Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have executed no one since 1976.  

Maddow cited Illinois, Oregon, Maryland, and Connecticut as states which have ended, or are making progress toward ending, executions.      Still, she failed to distinguish between federal and state death penalty  statutes and practices and generally left the impression that execution is still commonplace in the U.S.A.     She is entitled to make a principled, or pragmatic, argument against the death penalty but, unless her name is Limbaugh (which it is far from), not to mislead her audience.     In this republic (not democracy), the "we" who are approving execution ultimately are not people, but governments; not the government of the United States of America, but state governments; not most state governments, but a few, and one in particular.      Perhaps Ms. Maddow would like to direct her attention toward them, or it.    

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Fun With Mandates

Justice Samuel Alito today asked the Obama Administration's Solicitor General today (audio here- and a lot of other places) whether, if the commerce clause enables the federal government to mandate purchase of health insurance, it can mandate purchase of burial insurance.      It is an intriguing question, though a couple of liberal Justices offer reasonable explanations for why the situations are not analogous.    If purchase of health insurance is put off until absolutely necessary, the inevitable acquisition of healthcare, as uncompensated care, results in a significant increase in cost.    Additionally, health care is a nearly unique commodity in that its adequate provision requires (for all but the supremely wealthy) the purchase of insurance.

The example of burial insurance has the advantage of being at least vaguely analogous to health insurance.    But Chief Justice Roberts asks whether the federal government could mandate purchase of a cellphone and Justice Scalia asks if it applies to broccoli. Seriously.

Antonin Scalia, before receiving his law degree from Harvard Law School, received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and prior to that, graduated from St. Francis Xavier, a military preparatory school in New York City, New York.         John Roberts, before receiving his law degree from Harvard and before that, received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard and prior to that, graduated from LaLumiere School, a Catholic boarding school in La Porte, Indiana.

Broccoli and even cellphones are unnecessary.     Land line phones have not been abolished and, once upon a time, people making phone calls used only a land line which, at the time, was known simply as a phone.       Some individuals remain holdouts, preferring not to utilize cell phones.

Broccoi, admittedly a very nutritious kind of food, is even more clearly unnecessary.     Vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals and the other antioxidants generously supplied in broccoli are obtainable in other food.      Additionally, broccoli contains little if any protein or fat, essential for the human mind and body.     There are alternatives- even within the family of vegetables (and consumption of vegetables, though greatly desired, is not absolutely, invariably necessary to human health-) to broccoli, and even effective means of communication aside from the cell phone.

There is another difference between mobile phones/broccoli that any high school graduate, even Justices Alito and Roberts, understand:    phones and vegetables are products; health care, irrelevant until it is supplied, is a service.

Antonin Scalia and John Roberts obviously are not uneducated, unintelligent, or even weak in the art of logic.     Unfortunately, though, a Justice who suggests that the purchase of cell phones and broccoli are equivalent to the acquisition of health insurance has his mind made up before oral arguments.

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Race.   Not Race.   Race.

Don't blame me.     And don't blame Newt Gingrich.    Blame David Plouffe.

Gingrich was criticized when he blasted President Obama for allegedly bringing race into the discussion of the shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.      Queried about the matter, the President had stated "When I think about this boy, I think about my own kids....    If I had a son he'd look like Trayvon."

On ABC's This Week (transcript here), George Stephanopoulos played for presidential adviser David Plouffe the video clip in which Newt Gingrich commented

What the president said, in a sense, is disgraceful. It's not a question of who that young man looked like. Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified, no matter what the ethnic background. Is the president suggesting that, if it had been a white who'd been shot, that would be OK, because it wouldn't look like him? That's just nonsense. 

Plouffe told Stephanopoulos

Well, first of all, the president spoke out, I thought, very powerfully. And, in fact, there's been broad agreement, almost universal agreement, including the people running for president, that there ought to be a thorough investigation of this.  

Those comments are reprehensible. And, you know, Speaker Gingrich is clearly in the last throes of his political career. And, you know, you can make a decision whether to go out with some shred of dignity or say these irresponsible, reckless things, and he's clearly chosen the latter path, and that's unfortunate for the country.

Gingrich was waxing indignant that the President had injected a racial angle into a shooting which appears to have had a racial component, notwithstanding whether it will prove to have been a bias crime.    On another network (CNN), South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, disagreeing with "the criticism by our guys," noted "We all know there’s a racial component to this, and when the president highlights it, I don’t think it adds a whole lot."

On the same morning that Senator Graham would defend the President and Plouffe would attack Gingrich as "reprehensible," Plouffe appeared on another of the Sunday morning talk shows (transcript here).      There, asked by host David Gregory why Obama "doesn't lead more forcefully" a conversation about race, he replied

First of all, he's president of every American.  But I think whether you look at the comments he made when the MLK Memorial was established, if you look at some of the comments he's made throughout his presidency, he spoke very powerfully about the journey that the country's been on.  He's now a very important part of that journey, obviously.  His election made history in that respect.

So I think his leadership here has been profound.  I think he's definitely had a huge impact on African-American girls and boys thinking that they can do anything with their life.  But obviously, we've got to continue to make progress here.  

Plouffe said Obama's "election made history" and the President has "definitely had a huge impact on African-American girls and boys thinking that they can do anything with their life." On another network, Newt Gingrich was "reprehensible" for talking race.    One moment an Obama adviser trumpets comments made by Obama "when the MLK Memorial was established" and argues the President "spoke very powerfully about the journey that the country's been on.       He's now a very important part of that journey, obviously.    His election made history in that respect."      Gingrich's race-tinged remarks, however, were "reprehensible."

It is a cynical, slimy campaign which has been waged by the Obamites.     When there is a comment by a GOP politician implying that Barack Obama was not born in the U.S.A., is a Muslim, or in some way does not fit the image of the conventional, traditional American President, there is ridicule or (largely justified) outrage from the Center for American Progress, MSNBC, and other Obama supporters.      The next day, we are reminded of the rebirth of the nation, and the remaking of the world, inspired by the election of a black President.    

They cannot have it both ways, and the first impulse is more accurate.     The country has been transformed in the past three years neither by expanded opportunities for young black men, revitalization of urban black neighborhoods, or the flowering of racial harmony.Progress on these fronts has been, well, nonexistent.        If the nation has been on some sort of New Age "journey," the destination might not be what we hope for.

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Taxing Logic

He is arguably the most influential Republican alive and inarguably the most influential if blowhard talk show hosts don't count.

He is Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, which in 1986 formulated the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.       There is one pledge for state legislators and one for federal legislators, the latter of which has been signed by three Democrats currently serving in the U.S. Congress and by the vast majority of Repub officeholders.      It requires the signer to "ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and/or businesses; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates."

Jon Stewart had his way with Norquist recently on The Daily Show (video below).     Norquist conceded he wouldn't have encouraged a primary challenge to President Ronald Reagan because he "didn't sign the pledge."     Moreover, he argued, Reagan "didn't want to raise taxes."

Perhaps it would have seemed hypocritical to the 40th President to have vowed never to raise taxes after he already had signed into law several tax increases, including, in 2002, the largest peacetime tax increase ever. Reagan adviser and supporter Bruce Bartlett contends that his boss never initiated a tax increase, yet gives him the credit for the flexibility to approve increases when necessary.     In 2003 he summarized

In 1982 alone, he signed into law not one but two major tax increases. The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA) raised taxes by $37.5 billion per year and the Highway Revenue Act raised the gasoline tax by another $3.3 billion.

According to a recent Treasury Department study, TEFRA alone raised taxes by almost 1 percent of the gross domestic product, making it the largest peacetime tax increase in American history. An increase of similar magnitude today would raise more than $100 billion per year.

In 1983, Reagan signed legislation raising the Social Security tax rate. This is a tax increase that lives with us still, since it initiated automatic increases in the taxable wage base. As a consequence, those with moderately high earnings see their payroll taxes rise every single year.

In 1984, Reagan signed another big tax increase in the Deficit Reduction Act. This raised taxes by $18 billion per year or 0.4 percent of GDP. A similar-sized tax increase today would be about $44 billion.

The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 raised taxes yet again. Even the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which was designed to be revenue-neutral, contained a net tax increase in its first 2 years. And the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 raised taxes still more.

The year 1988 appears to be the only year of the Reagan presidency, other than the first, in which taxes were not raised legislatively. Of course, previous tax increases remained in effect. According to a table in the 1990 budget, the net effect of all these tax increases was to raise taxes by $164 billion in 1992, or 2.6 percent of GDP. This is equivalent to almost $300 billion in today's economy.

When polls indicated Americans did not remember the Reagan presidency fondly, Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform initiated the Reagan Legacy Project, which helped reverse the perception of Ronald (6) Wilson (6) Reagan (6).       Now, Grover refers to "Republicans who vote for tax increases (as) rat heads in a coke bottle," damaging the GOP brand.    

As Republican politicians portray him, Ronald (6) Wilson (6) Reagan (6) was the tough guy who through a defense buildup and force of personality forced the Soviets to relinquish their power and dismantle their empire.       Somehow, though, RR was unable to tame Democrats and was unable to prevent those big bullies from imposing tax increases on the country.      It may make no sense, but it is the Republican Party we know today.

The Daily Show with Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Grover Norquist

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Kind Of Like Old Times

There is, they say, always a first time for everything.    Because  I have disagreed with Joan Walsh in the past but so infrequently, this almost feels like the first time.

The Salon editor and columnist lavishly praised President Obama for his statement about the killing (or, as he so inoffensively put it, "tragedy") of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida.       She correctly noted "his most important contribution, of course, was putting his Justice Department behind the investigation — one that Sanford, Fla., officials horribly botched.  He correctly made that his first priority."

She should have stopped there rather than commending the President, as is most probably are doing, for personalizing the issue.      Certainly, it was strategically wise (if obvious) to personalize the issue and Obama was crafty in maintaining  "But my main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin.”

No politician ever loss a vote, and certainly no editorial endorsement, by speaking personally about his family.    Rick Santorum recently discovered that upon the reaction to his criticism of the President for  "saying that it’s not safe to have people down there, then just because you can send 25 Secret Service agents doesn’t mean you should do it… And when the government is saying this is not safe, then you don’t set the example by sending your kids down there."     Having criticized the parent, the GOP candidate was attacked for allegedly criticizing the offspring, with Obama's deputy campaign manager charging "I think that children, for candidate purposes, have always been off-limits in presidential campaigns, and really any campaign."      A San Francisco Chronicle blog asks "Are presidential candidates' kids fair game in campaign attacks?"

His message to the victim's parents, Obama explained, was "You know, if I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. And, you know, I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves...."

Walsh called it a "risky but necessary step of making the tragedy personal."      But at the risk- no, certainty- of being radically politically incorrect, I confess at being intrigued by President Obama's confidence "if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon."

The President did not say that his son would be tall like Trayvon, thin like Trayvon, have prominent ears like Trayvon, or even would be handsome like Trayvon.     He merely exuded a confidence that his son, and that of the Ms. Fulton and Mr. Martin, would look alike.       He stated no reason they would look alike, and probably had no reason.    Except one.

Such certitude was common in bygone days, ones in which white people generally had very little contact with black people, who were denied the same employment opportunities and had little power in society.   The confidence periodically was expressed by Caucasians as "they all look alike."         Though there is some anthropological justification for that impression, whites uttering the phrase often were tarred  with the label of "racist" or with the more common and accurate term, "bigots."

Barack Obama clearly doesn't dislike white people.    Nor is it likely he dislikes black people.      And it's understandable that conservatives, lacking discomfort with the concept that people of one race look alike and liberals, many of whom will accept all things Obama, would not recognize the implications of the President's assertion.      But by giving us no clue as to why a Richardson-Obama youth and Trayvon Martin would look alike, he leaves us no reason to think that he believes there is any reason but race.

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War And Lynching And So Forth

"To be sure," Charles Lane notes,

we have been waging “war on” this or that for decades. America is such a diverse and disputatious country that war, actual or metaphorical, has been one of the few causes capable of bringing together its various factions, regions and races. That is why we had Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty, Richard Nixon’s war on drugs and a series of presidents’ war on cancer. Heck, even Jimmy Carter tried to convince us that saving energy was “the moral equivalent of war.”

Exploitation of this metaphor has grown in recent years.       Lane cites, among other examples, Democratic charges of a "Republican war on women," "war on working families," and "Paul Ryan's war on seniors."     Republican charges include Obama's alleged "war on religious freedom," "war on energy," and "Democrats' war on American jobs."       Authors have alleged a "Republican war on science" and "Debacle:   Obama's war on jobs and growth."    And on and on.

The Washington Post columnist concludes "my fear is (Frank Luntz) is right" when he says "we all submit to the power of language, whether we know it or not."     Both Luntz, approvingly, and Lane, not so, recognize the prevalence and power of hyperbole in American society.

Such reared its ugly head in New Jersey this past in the Republican war on workers (sorry- too tempting).      The Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday reported

In a blow to Gov. Christie's political agenda and an unprecedented check on his power, one of his nominees to the state Supreme Court was rejected by a Senate panel Thursday following a day of interrogation over his family's business dealings.

Phillip Kwon, a top official in the state Attorney General's Office who worked for Christie when the Republican governor was a U.S. attorney, watched from the front row of a hearing room as the Judiciary Committee voted, 7-6, not to approve him.

It was the first time a Christie nominee at any level - from sewer commission member on up - had been rejected by the Democratic-controlled Legislature, and the first time a judicial nominee was rejected since 1988. No Supreme Court nominee has ever failed to be confirmed.

Seven of eight Democrats voted against the Asian-American nominee while every Republican voted for him.      Democrats, enraged that a Governor- contrary to state tradition- has tried to remake the Court in his own ideological image, raised questions about the finances of Kwon's family.      Christie, reflecting the perspective of many GOP members of the legislature, charged" Phil Kwon was sacrificed on the altar of payback to the NJEA [New Jersey Education Association], the CWA [Communications Workers of America] and the AFL-CIO.    They all followed the union line like lemmings."

Most of the bickering was standard political fare.    Most.    Republican State Senator Kevin O'Toole, meanwhile, remarked "We didn't have a hearing, we had a lynching."

As described here, "this 1930 photo shows the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana.        This image is a part of the Without Sanctuary:   Lynching photographs in America exhibit." Apparently, this is roughly what Mr. O'Toole was referring to:

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Friday, March 23, 2012

Mind Control

Oddly, little controversy has arisen from the action taken by the University of Southern Mississippi against five pep band members for chanting "Where's your green card" at an Hispanic member of the Kansas State University basketball team while it was playing Southern Mississippi.      It did, however, inspire the Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliances to applaud the decision by the University to revoke the scholarships of the students and to order them to attend cultural sensitivity training.     Spokesman Bill Chandler supported the college's action

.... to stop this overt expression of racism that was against a Latino.        This demonstrates the ignorance of many people when it comes to immigrants whether they are students in college or legislators or the governor of Mississippi.     As in the past, public officials create the atmosphere for hateful acts in their pronouncements against people of color and others.    It leads to latent racism and they need to stop it.

Upholding the axiom "even a stopped clock is right twice a day" (or in this case, once), Chandler correctly notes the students' words "demonstrates the ignorance of many people."     Bigotry is probably more personally satisfying, but no more reasonable, because it is grounded in ignorance.     The offending remark, referring to a green card, was directed not against a Mexican but against Angel Rodriguez, a student-athlete born in Puerto Rico, at which time the infant concurrently became an American citizen.  

Rodriguez thus properly asserted he ignores such "nonsense, especially because Puerto Rico is a commonwealth, so we don’t need no type of papers.”

It is not mere snark to note that Rodriguez, studying at a fine college, properly would have maintained "we don't need any type of papers"  rather than "no type of papers."    His use of the language expressed ignorance- which, ironically, was one of the evils ascribed to the students by Chandler.      Fortunately, in the list of Seven Deadly Sins, ignorance failed to make the cut.

 Although not in the official list, racism is properly understood as a sin.      But punishment for a racist remark(s) probably makes no more sense than to punish someone for commission of the seven deadly sins recognized by Pope Gregory I- or the hundreds noted in the Book of Leviticus.

Chandler would have us censor or excoriate "pronouncements against people of color and others."     It is hard to determine who the "people of color" (blacks? Hispanics? Asians?) are.    And one wonders:    do "the others" (or "them," I suppose) include Native Americans/American Indians- or are they somehow magically transformed into people of color?      The mind reels.

All this could, presumably, be worked out.    Not so, however, Chandler's primary objective, banning offensive comments because they "create an atmosphere for hateful acts" and "lead(s) to racism."         The slippery slope should be obvious.     Taking an analogous approach is conservative columnist Pat Buchanan, who last December echoed the concerns of millions of Americans when he complained "the number of anti-Christian bigots is growing, and their malevolence is out of the closet."    He quoted a Washington Times editorial which contended

In Leesburg, Va., a Santa-suit-clad skeleton was nailed to a cross. … In Santa Monica, atheists were granted 18 of 21 plots in a public park allotted for holiday displays and … erected signs mocking religion. In the Wisconsin statehouse, a sign informs visitors, ‘Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.’ A video that has gone viral on YouTube shows denizens of Occupy D.C. spewing gratuitous hatred of a couple who dared to appropriate a small patch of McPherson Square to set up a living Nativity scene.

Buchanan, at least, didn't call for penalizing or punishing these designated "anti-Christian bigots."     He did, however, gaze upon this "hate speech and anti-Christian bigotry"  designed "to wound, offend, insult and mock fellow Americans celebrating the happiest day of their calendar year" and conclude

What are these Christmas-bashers, though still a nominal minority, saying to Christians with their mockery and ridicule of the celebration of the birth of Christ?

“This isn't your country anymore. It is our country now.”

The question for Christians is a simple one: Do they have what it takes to take America back?

Pat Buchanan, and the large minority of Americans for whom he speaks, does not like what some  people say about his people.     So, too, is Chandler offended by what some people say about the people he represents, or tries to represent.     They both have a right to be offended.    So, too, do they have a riught to argue that everyone must believe as they believe.      But they would be wrong.     And a university, one of whose values should be upholding the right to free expression (if legal and not posing an immediate danger to safety) ought not to enact penalties in order to enforce conformity with correct beliefs.     Mind control is not a suitable objective for any academic institution.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Freedom Limited

That'll show 'em.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday

Southern Mississippi has revoked the scholarships of five members of its pep band who took part in the heckling of a Kansas State basketball player at last Thursday’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament game.

The school announced Tuesday that the five students also were removed from the band and will be required to complete a two-hour cultural sensitivity training course this week.

The students have not been identified.

Southern Miss issued an apology last week to Kansas State point guard Angel Rodriguez after he was the target of chants of “Where’s your green card?” during the Wildcats’ 70-64 second-round victory in the NCAA tournament. Rodriguez had 13 points and four assists in the game that was played in Pittsburgh.

Video of the chanting went viral after being posted on YouTube that same day.

Rodriguez said he heard the chants and USM’s athletic director and personnel from the school came to the team hotel to apologize.

Comment is perilous when information about an issue is fairly sketchy, and the university's website itself provides even fewer details about the incident and the university's response than does the AP.      We do not know the terms of the scholarships the students were granted.    Nor do we know know under what circumstances, as the vice-president of student affairs put it, "The students have been forthcoming, cooperative, contrite and sincerely remorseful. They acted rashly and inappropriately, and now see the gravity of their words and actions."     They may have been threatened with an even more severe penalty if they were not so "forthcoming, cooperative, contrite, and sincerely remorseful" or were lured with the promise (implicit or explicit) of a reduction in penalty if they expressed the proper penitent attitude.     Nonetheless, the students apparently did not deny, obstruct, or "lawyer up;" and for this they were hit with a severe penalty.    Message sent and received.

Regrettably, the legal options for the five students, who uttered a bigoted and ignorant (Rodriguez is from Puerto Rico, hence a U.S. citizen at birth, not from Mexico) remark, appear limited.     Samantha Harris of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education , seems to believe, with the limited information thus far available, that imposition of a counseling requirement by a public university probably runs afoul of the First Amendment.     However, she suggests, a challenge to the revocation of the scholarships of students in their capacity as members of a pep band (the far more serious punishment in this instance), would be much more difficult.    She explains

University sports teams and bands are not independent from the university in the way that student organizations (like a chess club or the College Republicans) are. As a result, universities do have more leeway to regulate those organizations, including conditioning membership upon adherence to certain standards of behavior. Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that "[b]y choosing to ‘go out for the team,' [students] voluntarily subject themselves to a degree of regulation even higher than that imposed on students generally... students who voluntarily participate in school athletics have reason to expect intrusions upon normal rights and privileges." Vernonia School District 47J v. Acton, 515 U.S. 646, 657 (1995). So if the students' chant violated the band's standards of conduct, then the dismissal of those students from the band (and the attendant revocation of their band scholarships) may be appropriate. 

However, it appears as if the university is also imposing discipline on the students purely in their capacity as students, by requiring them to attend cultural sensitivity training even though they are no longer members of the band and have had their band scholarships revoked. This raises free speech concerns, because although the speech may have violated the band's conduct regulations, it is clearly protected by the First Amendment. Of course, USM is a public university, bound to uphold its students' First Amendment rights, and it cannot punish students purely in their student capacity for engaging in protected speech. If the training were required as a condition of reinstatement to the band or continuation of the scholarship, that might be a different story, but from reports so far it seems as if it is a wholly separate penalty.

While this is not a criminal matter, the concern of Jonathan Turley, law professor at the extraordinary George Washington University, that "Western countries are on a slippery slope where more and more speech is cited by citizens as insulting and thus criminal," is applicable to speech codes at universities.        Turley recognizes the emergence of "a struggle being waged on different terms.   Where governments once punished to achieve obedience, they now punish to achieve tolerance."         The University of Southern Mississippi, a public institution with government funding, has penalized students for what is, primarily, not behavior, but objectionable and offensive speech reflecting intolerance.     The University likely is, as Harris argues, unconstrained by the First Amendment to afford the right of free expression to the pep band five.

There are not, to borrow phrasing from Hillary Clinton's dubious claim, 18 million cracks in the principle of free expression on college campuses.   But there is, now, one more.

Next up (tomorrow):     The Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliances responds.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Their Sign Reads:    It's Mitt

It's official.    Mitt Romney is the 2012 Repub presidential nominee, as declared from Florida.

It's not because there is no way that Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, or Rick Santorum now can gain the nomination.   You can't tell because of the daunting delegate numbers facing these fellows after Romney's sweeping victory in yesterday's Illinois primary.     None of the three ever had much of a chance.

Gingrich enjoyed one brief moment, his 15 minutes, following his impressive victory in what has in the past been the most important state, South Carolina, for determining the party's nominee.     Then he was overcome by a wave of spending by the pro-Romney SuperPac Restore Our Future and the outburst of animosity from the GOP establishment.     Paul never had a chance to become the nominee, which is precisely the chance Santorum had at the start, after his victories, and now.      The establishment is simply not ready for a man of the mid-20th century to lead its party.       There might be, at some point in a Santorum presidency, a conflict between his fierce cultural views and corporate interests.    Can't have that.

No, just as the blooming of the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. herald the arrival of spring, so, too, do an endorsement and a near-endorsement tell us that it's over for all of Romney's rivals.     First, an ex-Florida governor and one of the Repub Party's leading opportunists declared

I am endorsing Mitt Romney for our Party¹s nomination. We face huge challenges, and we need a leader who understands the economy, recognizes more government regulation is not the answer, believes in entrepreneurial capitalism and works to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to succeed. 

Mitt Romney has been running for President for 40 months, and officially for over nine months.        That's enough time for a fetus to be conceived and a baby born, and evidently just enough time to figure out that the nomination would be unobtainable for a 76-year-old unpopular with his own party's establishment and popular base; a narcissistic, thrice-married egomaniac; and a guy who lost his last election by 19 percentage points and would like to ban birth control.       It appears it took a long time for Jeb Bush to decide that Mitt Romney is against government regulation and in favor of rapacious capitalism- or, rather, yet another Romney victory to convince Bush that a deadlocked convention, which might turn to the former Florida governor, is unlikely.      Bush could have endorsed Romney before the primary in Florida (a state in which, in the aftermath of South Carolina, Mitt trailed Newt), when it would have most helped the former Massachusetts governor.      But that would not have been the scheming, opportunistic thing to do.

And beneath the heart of a braggadocios bigot lies another of the party's leading opportunists, a resident of Florida who has not endorsed Romney, but who today moved closer to his inevitable full-throated support once Romney clearly becomes the sole alternative to Barack Obama.     Rush Limbaugh remarked

Romney's speech last night was his best. Romney's victory speech last night was his best, and it reminded me again of Daniel Henninger's column last year in the Wall Street Journal, which said that Romney was going to have to be nudged to the right. And he was clearly nudged to the right.

Rush won't actually endorse Romney, in part because withholding his endorsement might "nudge" Romney even further to the right.      Moreover, most of Limbaugh's audience undoubtedly prefers Gingrich or Santorum and the talk show host is loathe to alienate a huge chunk of his audience.    

Suddenly, we have king words for the frontrunner from someone who clearly would prefer a President Santorum or a President Gingrich.    The same day, we heard an endorsement from a popular ex-governor, carefully weighing his support in light of his own presidential ambition.         The primary in Illinois was telling, but no more so than the response from two GOP heavyweights.  

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Misleading Us, Again

Nine months later, it is still happening, now on a different topic.

Back in February, 2010, President Obama employed the "belt" metaphor, maintaining at a town-hall style meeting in Nashua, N.H. "responsible families don't do their budgets the way the federal government does.   Right?   When times are tough, you tighten your belts."

The White House's obsession with fighting debt rather than recession continued throughout 2010.    David Corn in Showdown, detailing the debt negotiations between the Administration and Speaker John Boehner, writes, according to Greg Sargent

Plouffe was concerned that voter unease about the deficit could become unease about the president. The budget issue was easy to understand; you shouldn’t spend more money than you have. Yes, there was the argument that the government should borrow money responsibly when necessary (especially when interest rates were low) for the appropriate activities, just like a family borrowing sensibly to purchase a home, to pay for college, or to handle an emergency. But voters needed to know — or feel — that the president could manage the nation’s finances. The budget was a test of government competence — that is, Obama’s competence. 

The White House focused even more on the deficit following following the drubbing Democrats took in the off-year elections in 2010, when the following February

With Sperling sitting in on the presentation, Garin reinforced the White House view that Democrats had to up their game on deficit reduction. His firm had conducted extensive polling and focus groups. He told the senators that voters saw jobs as the most pressing priority. This might seem to support those Democrats who believed Obama had gone too far overboard on the deficit-reduction cruise. But when asked what the president and Congress should do to boost job creation, most voters said reduce the deficit and the debt. They had imbibed the GOP message; the problem with the economy was governmental red ink.

That was not accurate. The financial crash that triggered the economic collapse was unrelated to federal deficits. But Garin measured voter perceptions, not whether voters were correct. And he told the senators that voters would not listen to what the Democrats — including the president — had to say about jobs and investments if they did not sense that the Democrats were willing to wrestle the debt monster to the ground.

Nearly a year and a half later, in mid-2011, President Obama was still at it, claiming in a presidential address

Government has to start living within its means, just like families do. We have to cut the spending we can’t afford so we can put the economy on sounder footing, and give our businesses the confidence they need to grow and create jobs.

At the time, Paul Krugman explained

That’s three of the right’s favorite economic fallacies in just two sentences. No, the government shouldn’t budget the way families do; on the contrary, trying to balance the budget in times of economic distress is a recipe for deepening the slump. Spending cuts right now wouldn’t “put the economy on sounder footing.” They would reduce growth and raise unemployment. And last but not least, businesses aren’t holding back because they lack confidence in government policies; they’re holding back because they don’t have enough customers — a problem that would be made worse, not better, by short-term spending cuts.

Recently, Krugman has criticized the "belt" analogy, observing

maybe we can use Greece as a quick illustration of the point.

After all, you could view Greece as being like a family that overspent, got itself into debt, and whose members now have to do all the things families do when they get in that position: slash spending on inessentials, postpone medical care and other big expenses, quit their jobs and reduce their incomes — oh, wait.

That’s the key point, of course. When a family tightens its belt it doesn’t put itself out of a job. When a government tightens its belt in a depressed economy, it puts lots of people out of jobs; and this is a negative even from the government’s own, narrowly fiscal point of view, since a shrinking economy means less revenue.

Now, you might argue that slashing government spending doesn’t actually cost jobs — that is, you might argue that if you spent the past few years in a cave or a conservative think tank, cut off from any information about how austerity is working in practice. For the results of austerity policies in Europe have been as good a test as you ever get in macroeconomics, and without exception big cuts in government spending have been followed by big declines in GDP.

Right before our eyes, it is happening again.

Republican presidential candidates are thoroughly irresponsible.     Newt Gingrich, having the time of his life, promises $2.50 a gallon gas.     Mitt Romney says "solar and wind is fine except it's very expensive and you can't drive a car with a windmill on it.     That's where the dog crate goes"  (maybe not the last sentence.)    

President Obama is much better, declaring members of Congress "can either stand up for oil companies, or they can stand up for the American people.”      But he maintained his faith in austerity, contending

It’s easy to promise a quick fix when it comes to gas prices. There just isn’t one. Anyone who tells you otherwise – any career politician who promises some three-point plan for two-dollar gas – they’re not looking for a solution. They’re just looking for your vote.

Obviously Gingrich is merely a mixture of showmanship and opportunism and there is no "quick fix," as in poof! gas prices are halved.        But with oil supplies up and demand for gas (at least in the U.S.A.) down, higher prices at the pump are not merely- or primarily- a function of  declining supply or increased demand in Asia.

The President stated additionally "If we don’t develop other sources of energy, and the technology to use less energy, we’ll continue to be dependent on foreign countries for our energy needs."      While that's undeniably (unless you're a Republican) true in the long run, there is another factor at play at present, one which the President could point out and possible effect.

That is, euphemistically speaking, investors, doing a good imitation of speculators:  

"I don't think the oil companies are driving up the price of oil, but they like it," says Gordon Weil, of Harpswell. Weil is the former director of the Maine Energy Office and advisor to the U.S. Department of Energy, and id now a contributing writer for the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting.

"Clearly one has to be mindful of supply disruptions, but I think that the financial markets, or speculation is artificially driving the price up, that speculators latch on to any news, or prospect of bad news as an excuse to drive up the price of oil," Weil says.

Veteran Oil trader Dan Dicker agrees. He says when geopolitical flare-ups occur that involve major oil-producing countries such as Libya, or Iran, there's lots of talk about potential disruptions to the world's oil supplies. 

"And that drives alot of people who are investors and speculators to bet on a very strong price of oil going into the summer," Dicker says. "And when you have a number of new buyers coming in and a lack of sellers, you're going to have a price rise." 

The President has been loathe for the American people to understand the role of Wall Street in jacking up the price of petroleum; or that cutting budgets in an economic downturn is a drag on wages and job formation; or that if an assault weapons ban still had been in effect, the lives of six individuals may not have been snuffed out in January, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona.        Leveling with the American people and pointing us in the direction of productive change is a test of leadership President Obama has failed miserably.

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Warmer Still

The Farmers' Almanac boasted

Last year, the Farmers’ Almanac predicted that the winter would exhibit a split personality, with harsh conditions for the eastern half of the U.S., and milder weather to the west. That prediction came through, as residents of the Northeast and Great Lakes regions, especially, got pounded with many heavy storms throughout the season. 

Hopefully, the editors won't be offended by a cursory analysis, based on information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, of its prediction for the meterological winter, which concluded with the end of February.      The Farmers' Almanac had forecasted

 “clime and punishment,” a season of unusually cold and stormy weather. For some parts of the country, that means a frigid climate; while for others, it will mean lots of rain and snow.

The upcoming winter looks to be cold to very cold for the Northern Plains, parts of the Northern Rockies, and the western Great Lakes. In contrast, above-normal temperatures are expected across most of the southern and eastern U.S. Near-normal temperatures are expected in the Midwest and Far West, and in southern 

A very active storm track will bring much heavier-than-normal precipitation from the Southern Plains through Tennessee into Ohio, the Great Lakes, and the Northeast. Because of above normal temperatures, much of the precipitation will likely be rain or mixed precipitation, although, during February, some potent East Coast storms could leave heavy snow, albeit of a wet and slushy consistency.

An active Pacific Storm track will guide storm systems into the Pacific Northwest, giving it a wetter-than-normal winter.

Drier-than-normal weather will occur in the Southwest and Southeast corners of the nation.

The southwest and the southeast did in fact experience drier weather than usual.      However, so did the northern plains and the Northeast.       As best as can be determined from the NOAA summary, the Pacific Northwest was somewhat (though not dramatically) drier than usual, contrary to the FA's expectation of "a wetter-than-normal winter."     The Northeast averaged well below normal precipitation totals in February, despite the prediction that "during February, some potent East Coast storms could leave heavy snow, albeit of a wet and slushy consistency."

The FA's prediction of above-mormal temperatures in most of the southern and eastern U.S.A.  proved accurate, with Trenton, NJ experiencing its warmest winter of record.         Alas, most of the region expected "to be cold to very cold" also experienced above-normal temperatures.

Overall, the Farmers' Almanac predicted "a season of unusually cold and stormy weather," including a "frigid climate" in some places and "lots of rain and snow elsewhere."   However, this was "the fourth warmest winter on record for the contiguous United States" and "drier than average" for the continental U.S.

Probably few people predicted this winter accurately, and the Farmer's Almanac has never claimed clairvoyance.     Neither does the generally warm winter- the fourth warmest on record in the nation- provide much additional confirmation that the world is warming, given that the United States is not the world, and its 48 states on the mainland don't include the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans or the Gulf of Mexico.

But global land and water temperatures for February were the 22nd warmest since records were first kept in 1880, wherein 111 of 133 were cooler than that in 2012.       The period of December-February also was the 22nd warmest of its kind.      February marked the 324th consecutive month in which the global land and sea temperatures were higher than the average for that month in the 20th century.      Not since February, 1985, more than a quarter of a century ago, has there been a month not warmer than average.    

Records continue to be set for warm days far more than cold days (graph from Capital Climate, explanation from Joe Romm).      New evidence demonstrates the warmest years ever recorded were 2005 and 2010.   And the earth continues to get warmer.

Monthly ratio of daily high temperature to low temperature records set in the U.S. for every month of 2011 and the first half of March, seasonal ratio for summer and fall 2011, winter 2011-2012 to date, and annual ratio for 2011 and 2012, data from NOAA.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For

Progressive/liberal blogger and Hillary Clinton enthusiast Taylor Marsh has noticed Oprah Winfrey on the sideline and believes OWN "is missing history."     She asks

at a time when women are utilizing power to move policy and politics in America, with Democrats depending on women to win in November to keep the Senate, what’s the network’s contribution to the discussion?

As far as I can tell it’s silence.

Nodding to her own book about former Senator Clinton, Marsh notes

Secretary Clinton’s former presidential campaign unleashed the Hillary Effect, with female ambassadorships in Washington growing dramatically once she came to State. But long before that the Hillary Effect helped put a woman on the Republican Party’s national ticket, which ignited a conservative women’s movement that lit the Republican Party on fire, with Sarah Palin’s Tea Party power, before it collapsed, leading to huge wins in 2010 and historic victories for the right across the country in state legislatures. In media, it catapulted women across network and cable shows, from morning shows to evening news.

While "women are leading in ways that seem revolutionary, from reproductive demands to economics and Occupy," Marsh notes "on Oprah’s OWN network it’s as if time has stood still or remains viewed from a pillow."       Nevertheless, she states, Winfrey "has the power and money to bring the best of liberal, conservative and independent thought to her network, putting together a political division that could be unique."

She could, but she won't.     An enthusiastic supporter of Barack Obama in 2008, Winfrey campaigned for the Illinois senator in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.  Wikipedia cites a study by two economists who, without considering Texas, Michigan, North Dakota, Kansas or Alaska  (to which their methodology was inapplicable), concluded that Winfrey's efforts netted Obama 1,015,559 votes toward his nomination.      The researchers argued that the then- talk show host boosted the campaign's coffers and was especially influential in Iowa, in which Obama scored a critical, early victory.

Marsh, a solid progressive and staunch feminist (not in that order), clearly believes Oprah could join the "women(who)  are leading in ways that seem revolutionary, from reproductive demands to economics and Occupy."     But those issues do not seem to be at the top of the Oprah Winfrey list of priorities.    At the Democratic convention, she declared

And what I saw with Barack Obama was something that was transcendent and I felt transformational for me as a human being and for this country. And I only pray in the deepest part of my being that America will rise to this moment. And I feel that what he was able to offer us as individual citizens and as a united country was something that we have never seen before. I really, I think it's the most powerful thing I've ever experienced. I often wondered what it would be like to sit and listen to Lincoln speak or Roosevelt speak or what it would have been like to have been old enough to understand what Martin Luther King was saying 45 years ago today. And what he did brought that home in a way that I could never have imagined.

Barack Obama was nominated- and Winfrey disappeared, choosing not expend her political capital  in the race between the Democratic nominee and the McCain-Palin duo.   While in 2010 Republicans "shellacked"  (as Obama later put it) Democrats and set back the goals of Lincoln, Roosevelt, and King, Winfrey tended to her entertainment kingdom.     Predictably, she now is back on board, telling CNN she is "100%" (points for not saying 110%; or 200%; or 1,000%) behind Obama, calling him a "masterful leader" and vowing ""If he or his office called me tomorrow and said that they needed me I would do whatever I thought would be of service."  

Progressives yearning for an activist Oprah Winfret might  ponder how reliable an ally she would be.     We know she cares about Barack Obama.     Not so obvious is whether she is  a Democrat (not necessary, but germane) and a progressive.    And it is even less clear that she cares about the women's movement, the security net for the elderly and the poor, or the stranglehold the ultra-wealthy have on American government.  

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An American, Technically

The Daily Beast notes Justice Samuel Alito’s wife, Martha-Ann, once again unwitting made herself the internet’s Main Character on Tuesda...