Sunday Talk: Next year in Jerusalem

Posted by admin | Posted in Politics | Posted on 31-12-2011-05-2008

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With just a couple of days to go before Iowa voters head to the caucuses, Mitt Romney appears to be on the verge of becoming a man.

Bar Mitzvah preparations are already well underway, including selection of the person who will lift him on a chair during the hora.

While this might seem a bit cocky, Romney has every reason to be confident at this point in time—following the collapse of support for Michele Bachmann, Donald Trump, Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich, all that’s left to drop is his balls.


Bachmann calls ‘Occupy’ protesters ‘Obama’s advance team’

Posted by admin | Posted in Politics | Posted on 31-12-2011-05-2008

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Michele Bachmann links President Barack Obama to a large protest that unfolds outside her Urbandale, Iowa, office.

Confident Huntsman campaigns ’til the ball drops

Posted by admin | Posted in Politics | Posted on 31-12-2011-05-2008

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An increasingly confident Jon Huntsman campaigned across New Hampshire ’til the final hours of New Year’s Eve, hitting house party after house party.

Abbreviated Pundit Round-up: 2012 Countdown to Cornpocalypse Edition

Posted by admin | Posted in Politics | Posted on 31-12-2011-05-2008

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Visual source: Newseum

Quick, check the window. Is the world still there? Just you wait, buddy, because expert Nostradamian-Mayan-Easter Islandian-Ancient Egyptian astrologers say that we’re not going to survive the caucus vote on Tuesday. In the meantime, here are a few columns to fill the time before the world dies in screaming horror caused by the mass psychic damage of ten million people simultaneously googling “Santorum.”

Nate Silver uses his NYT inches to play The Ghost of Iowa Past, delivering a grab bag of hits and misses from a state and a process with an uncertain relationship to actually picking the nominee.  A sampler:

In 1972, Iowa’s caucuses were moved to January so the Democratic Party’s antiquated mimeograph machine could produce the necessary paperwork in time for its May convention.

1988: Vice President Bush is himself caught off guard in Iowa by a new force in G.O.P. politics: evangelical Christians, led by Pat Robertson, a televangelist who finishes second behind Senator Bob Dole of Kansas. Still, Mr. Bush goes on to win the presidency.

Lots of interesting tidbits, including a major reminder of why we put up with this system that everyone claims to hate.

1968: After President Lyndon B. Johnson declines to run and Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York is assassinated, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey is nominated without competing in the primaries, at a Democratic convention in Chicago marred by violent anti-Vietnam War protests.

Maureen Dowd reveals yet another example of Mitt Romney completely changing his position to please a small but strident faction.

Ann Romney told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that she insisted to her reluctant spouse: “You know what, Mitt, you’ve got to do this again.?

Mitt resisted, she said, because “he remembered how difficult it is and what the hurdles were going to be.? Mittens, as her not-so-cuddly mate is called by reporters, knew he was not a natural with voters.

According to Mitt, their pillow talk sounded like a political ad. “She said, ‘Look, no one else can beat President Obama. No one else has the background to actually get the economy going, understand the economy in a very fundamental way.’ ?

And then she told him what his positions were that day.

Frank Bruni recognizes that the GOP primaries have become a freak show dominated by an unbroken string of zaniness.

Ron Paul’s campaign trumpeted his endorsement by a pastor who, as it happens, has spoken of executing homosexuals. Rick Perry pledged to devote predator drones and thousands of troops to the protection of the Mexican border, making the mission to keep every last illegal immigrant from crossing sound as urgent as rooting out terrorists in Pakistan.

And Rick Santorum, bringing his “Faith, Family and Freedom? tour to this eastern Iowa town on Thursday, promised never to be cowed by all those craven secularists who believe that a stable, healthy household needn’t be headed by a God-fearing mom and dad.

Bruni moans that these strident radicals are giving the Republicans a black eye. Like most pundits (before they move to a prime time hour on Fox), Bruni still does’t get that crazy isn’t just the mainstream for today’s GOP, its the minimum requirement. Nobody who is actually going to vote for these guys would be the least bit bothered if they delivered their speeches in their boxer shorts. The only complaint is that these guys aren’t crazy enough.

The New York Times looks ahead and looks at the sad truth: we know what to do, but we won’t do it.

The way to revive sustainable growth is with more government aid to help create jobs, support demand and prevent foreclosures. As things stand now, however, Washington will provide less help, not more, in 2012. Republican lawmakers refuse to acknowledge that government cutbacks at a time of economic weakness will only make the economy weaker. And too many Democrats, who should know better, have for too long been reluctant to challenge them.

Republicans have made gains by wrecking the government and “elect me so I can make it suck more” still gets plenty of nods. Why should they change?

Nicholas Kristof points up the difference between politicians who make fun of “Hollywood liberals,” and actual celebrities: one of these groups is providing real moral leadership.

I started off rather scornful of celebrities dabbling in humanitarian causes. When Mia Farrow inquired about going to Darfur with me, I archly declined on the presumption that she couldn’t hack it. Then she traveled to the region on her own, and I began to run into her anyway. …

Farrow has since become a friend, but I’m now afraid to travel with her. I might not be able to hack it.

Likewise, the war in Congo is the most lethal since World War II, but it hasn’t been much covered by many news organizations. One person who has visited repeatedly is Ben Affleck. He has made himself an expert on Congo, and he plans to return this month.

Or think of Sean Penn and Olivia Wilde, who have shown a more sustained commitment to Haiti than most news organizations.

Look, as a journalist, I’m proud of my profession. Yet it’s also clear that commercial pressures are driving some news organizations, television in particular, to drop the ball. Instead of covering Congo, it’s cheaper and easier to put a Democrat and a Republican in a studio and have them yell at each other.

Frankly, it’s just humiliating when news organizations cover George Clooney (my travel buddy on one Darfur trip) more attentively when he breaks up with a girlfriend than when he travels to Sudan and uses satellite photos to catch the Sudanese government committing mass atrocities.

The bolding is mine. Happy New Year, Mr. Kristof, and I hope you get your wish on this one.

Bill Mahr delivers new rules for the new year.

New Rule Now that we have no money, and all our soldiers have come home from Iraq and they’ve all got experience building infrastructure, and no jobs … we must immediately solve all of our problems by declaring war on the United States.

New Rule Jon Huntsman must get a sex change. The only way he’s going to get any press coverage is by turning into a white woman and disappearing.

Grant Barrett looks at the newly coined words of 2011 and predicts which of them have the power to outlast the winter.

In 10 years, some of last year’s words will be relics. We’ll think of them the way we now think of the decades-old phrase “gag me with a spoon.? …

SUPER COMMITTEE A group of 12 lawmakers, 6 Democrats and 6 Republicans, 3 each from the House and the Senate, that tried to make a plan on how to reduce the deficit. Also, the Gang of Six, three Democratic and three Republican senators who worked on reducing the federal government’s debt.

KARDASH A unit of time measuring 72 days. Coined by the musician Weird Al Yankovic in response to the 72-day marriage of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries.

Barrett has several other examples. I pulled out the two that are clearly the most likely to make anyone remembering 2011 do so with a wince.

Charles Krauthammer delivers a column in which I agree with 95% of everything he says, even the conclusion. I’d even suggest that you go read it. Quick, someone start a stopwatch. Either one of us is going to be a very different person in 2012, or this isn’t going to last long.

Sure, it’s that time when you get round ups of all the big stories of the year, including the big science stories. But it’s also time for stories about snow and ice.

It is not often Stephen Morris helps save a life – he is a physicist, after all, not a physician. But when an architect telephoned him in his office at the University of Toronto, Canada, last year, with a potentially lethal problem, his advice was to the point.

The architect’s problem was icicles. He had designed a building whose windowsills accumulated snow in bad weather. Worried about a passer-by being engulfed by a sudden avalanche and suing, he had installed heaters on the windowsills. Consequently meltwater was dripping off the sill and forming enormous icicles that loomed dagger-like overhead. The architect was still worried, and with good reason. Falling icicles reportedly killed five and injured 150 in St Petersburg, Russia, last winter.

Death by falling icicle is definitely not on my to-do list. After all, everything hurts worse when it’s cold.

Darksyde already made a (well-deserved) salute to several science blogs, but let me add one more: Nobel Intent at ars technica. Ars has more of a reputation as a gadget blog, but the writers for Nobel Intent have been consistently among the best on the web when it comes to digging into difficult issues and explaining them in ways that are understandable to a lay audience. Kudos, guys. I’m a fan.


SC gantlet awaits Iowa and New Hampshire winners

Posted by admin | Posted in Politics | Posted on 31-12-2011-05-2008

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First Read: Every eventual Republican nominee since 1980 has won South Carolina’s primary, but none has gone into the state winless.

State programs giving tax breaks to business for job creation are frequently major rip-offs

Posted by admin | Posted in Politics | Posted on 31-12-2011-05-2008

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The good people over at Good Jobs First have published the second in their two-study series on corporate tax subsidies and incentives, “MONEY FOR SOMETHING: Job Creation and Job Quality Standards in State Economic Development Subsidy Programs.” The justification frequently put forth when a company comes asking for these tax breaks is that it creates jobs. Not just jobs, but jobs that pay better. The study shows that, as Robert Oak writes, 43 percent of these breaks are not job creators but “glorified corporate welfare.”

Translate that into cash and it comes out to $8 billion a year.

Good Jobs First looked at 238 programs in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.  
Included in these programs are corporate income tax credits (for job creation, capital investment, research and development), cash grants, low?cost or forgivable loans, enterprise zones, reimbursement for worker-training expenses and other company-specific state assistance. Each program was rated (1 to 100) on three primary criteria (and some derivative qualities): whether they require recipient companies to meet job quantifiable performance standards; whether the subsidized companies pay their workers above a certain wage level; and whether the companies provide their workers health-care coverage or other benefits.

Some of the conclusions:

• Of the 238 programs, 103, totaling $7 billion in annual incentives/subsidies, had no job-performance standards.

• Only 98 of the programs impose a wage requirement on subsidized employers and only 53 of those are tied to labor market rates.

• Only 11 (5 percent) of those wage requirements raise wage levels by mandating rates that are slightly above existing market average in a region or industrial sector.

• The average of the wage requirements is $14.76 an hour; the median is $11.82. In some cases, wage requirements are set below market levels.

• The programs without wage requirements—$8 billion a year—pay so little in some cases that workers hired by these taxpayer-subsidized companies must depend on food stamps, Medicaid and other public assistance to survive.

• Only 51 of the programs require the subsidized companies to make some kind of health-care benefit available, and only 31 require that the company pay part of the premium.

• Grades for the states with these programs vary widely. The average nationwide was 40. The best were Nevada (82), North Carolina (79), Vermont (77), Iowa (70), Maryland (68) and Oklahoma (66). The worst were the District of Columbia (4), Alaska (5), Wyoming (10), Oregon (13), Washington (18) and Hawai’i (19). If you click on the link, you’ll find a score for each state.

Good Jobs First makes sensible recommendations. Programs should all have quantifiable job-creation standards. They should have wage requirements designed to lift prevailing wages, not tied to a fixed level or the poverty rate. Companies should not be allowed to shift existing jobs from other facilities to qualify for the subsidies/incentives. The programs should require the companies to provide a package of benefits, including health-care coverage. Wages and benefits should apply to part-time and temporary as well as full-time, permanent workers.

But that’s only part of what needs to be done in the current economic climate.

As Oak says:

One has to wonder why is it legislators these days can give subsidies, corporate welfare, outsource major functions of government, privatize everything not nailed down (and that too), and no one blinks an eye. Yet if governments attempt to run their own direct job programs, plain create jobs directly, all alarm bells ring as if the nation is on fire. Perhaps that too is due to corporate lobbyists. Last thing they want is to be shut out as the great middle men to the economic and job flood gates. Surely a government run direct jobs program is more efficient than this.

In fact, government-run direct jobs programs ought to have been set up long ago. Good luck with that one. That’s pouring money down the rat hole, while giveaways to companies who don’t do squat to provide decent-paying jobs is good for business.


Collective net worth of Congress over $2 billion

Posted by admin | Posted in Politics | Posted on 31-12-2011-05-2008

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Laura Clawson wrote about the widening income gap between Congress and the people they represent. But the wealth of Congress really hits home when you see the visual representation.

congress wealth chart

According to a Roll Call analysis of Congress members’ financial disclosure forms, the collective net worth of American lawmakers jumped 25 percent to over $2 billion in just the last two years—with 50 of the richest Congressmen and women accounting for 90 percent of the increase. […]

Any way you slice it, the average Congress Member is a serious chunk of change richer than the average citizen of the country he or she was elected to run: Congress’s median net worth last year was $513,000, which the median net worth among American households was around $100,000 — a number which, according to the Federal Reserve Board, has dropped by $20,000 since 2008.

Remember the report released from Social Security this fall on the widening income gap in America?

The SSA said 50 percent of workers made less than $26,364 last year — and most Americans have fewer job opportunities available to them. But the wealthiest Americans are relatively unscathed, with those earning $1 million or more jumping 18 percent from 2009.

Half of Americans made less than $27,000 last year. Half. We need a new Congress, one that isn’t composed primarily of the 1 percent.


Will Rick Santorum’s courting of Iowa evangelicals climax at the right time?

Posted by admin | Posted in Politics | Posted on 31-12-2011-05-2008

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Santorum

Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum may be peaking in Iowa at just the right time, and he wants to be sure we know that whether he’s on the top or the bottom of Tuesday’s results, he took his time with the people of Iowa:

To some extent, Santorum’s rise probably can be attributed to a relentless, face-to-face campaign schedule that included holding hundreds of usually small events where he offers his standard pitch and then hangs around to take questions for as long as folks want to pepper him.

“We’ve done, as of today, 357 town meetings in Iowa,” Santorum crows, adding that he didn’t just speak to Iowans, but courted them. “We weren’t speed-dating.”

Like the guy who was the quarterback of his high school football team and 20 years later is still telling those stories to impress dates, some of Santorum’s lines are a little dated:

“The symmetry in my political career in what we’re doing here is pretty amazing,? he mused at his Coralville stop this week. “I ran against the author of Clintoncare in 1994.?

But this race continues to be in search of the right Not-Romney for Iowa’s evangelicals, who constituted 60 percent of the state’s Republican caucusgoers in 2008. With Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann having squandered their respective moments as the frontrunner for that base, Santorum‘s surge may be well timed to give us frothy mix material for weeks to come.


18 Occupy protesters arrested at Iowa campaign HQs (AP)

Posted by admin | Posted in Politics | Posted on 31-12-2011-05-2008

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Urbandale police arrest an Occupy protestor during a demonstration outside the headquarters of Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann, of Minn., on Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011 in Urbandale, Iowa.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)AP – Eighteen protesters connected to the nationwide Occupy movement were arrested Saturday outside the presidential campaign headquarters of Republicans Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

Romney has Iowa edge, glimmer of clarity in race? (AP)

Posted by admin | Posted in Politics | Posted on 31-12-2011-05-2008

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Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, right, greets some of the kitchen help during a campaign stop at Old Salt Restaurant in Hampton, N.H., Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)AP – Mitt Romney is the clear Republican front-runner in Iowa in the final days before the first voting in the 2012 presidential election. But that’s where the glimmer of clarity ends in this unpredictable nomination race.