House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and more than 80 other House Democrats have again called upon the Obama administration to establish protections for binational same-sex couples whose relationships are not recognized under the Defense of Marriage Act. Despite previous pleas from both the House and Senate, the White House has refused to place holds or “low priority” status on the green card requests from these couples. As a result, many couples are left with a choice of leaving the country together or splitting their families across international borders. House Democrats have demanded a written policy from the administration to ensure “families will remain together.”
Every hour so far in 2012, the five largest oil corporations have recorded a $14,400,000 profit. And every hour, they received more than $270,000 in federal tax breaks. That adds up to $2.4 billion in subsidies every year for the five largest oil corporations — Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, and ConocoPhillips — all ranked as the top 9 companies in the world.
Even though BP posted an unexpected second-quarter loss, these five companies are on track to meet last year’s record profits. Put these numbers into context, and they are not so “disappointing“: Big Oil profits more in one minute than what 96 percent of American households earn in one year. Even so, Mitt Romney and House Republicans want to double what the five companies receive in federal tax breaks to $12.8 million per day, after a year the three publicly owned companies (Exxon, Chevron, and Conoco) paid an average federal tax rate under 17 percent.
The graphic below illustrates where Big Oil directs these profits and its pollution over the course of a day:
Making debt and deficit reduction our nation’s top priority while the economy is still recovering from the Great Recession is a “completely misguided” strategy for growth, University of Michigan economist Betsey Stevenson said Wednesday. Instead of pursuing deficit reduction, policymakers should be taking advantage of historically low borrowing costs to make investments into strategic investments into education, infrastructure, and other areas, Stevenson told ThinkProgress:
STEVENSON: Pursuing deficit reduction given the current economic climate is completely misguided. We need to be thinking about investing in the future of the country. If we borrow today, if we borrow today and we invest that money wisely, it’s going to be cheap to pay it in the future because the economy’s going to grow and we’re all going to be earning more. [...]
We need to be saying that there are costs that come with this. It’s not a free lunch to cut the debt. It’s certainly not a free lunch to cut the debt at a time when we have such high unemployment and we know that there’s the potential for us to be in a situation where these workers are never able to get integrated back into our economy. That has big, permanent, long-lasting effects on our productivity, on our overall economy, and if we could spend money now to prevent that from happening, that money will be well-spent. I think there are programs, and I outlined them when I was talking, the President has proposed getting teachers back into the classroom. Why would be reducing spending on education at a time when we need it more than ever? Why would we be cutting important community service positions like firefighters and policemen at a time where, you know, we need those services and people need those jobs?
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner echoed those thoughts in an interview with Bloomberg this week, saying low borrowing costs should spur government investment into the economy. ?It?s sensible for us to take advantage of this moment to do things that will make the economy stronger,” Geithner said.
Meanwhile, Republicans have led the deficit reduction push in Congress, where they have proposed massive spending cuts that would draw most of their savings from programs that benefit the middle class.
Stevenson was even more critical of the focus on spending cuts while speaking on a panel at the Center for American Progress’ conference on the middle class and American economy. “This idea that we can cut and cut and cut and have a government that can support a modern economy doesn’t make sense,” she said, adding that government “should spend during recessions. That’s why you do things like the (stimulus). It works.”
Today, a series of new health insurance regulations under the Affordable Care Act go into effect, in particular the free (i.e., no co-pay) preventive services for women's health. And both the Obama Administration and Democrats in Congress are in the[...]
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Gore Vidal in 1977
With typical cheek, Gore Vidal, who died yesterday, once reviewed a book about himself by a young academic named Ray Lewis White. This was in 1968, when ?in many quarters,? reviewer-Vidal explained, author-Vidal was ?still regarded with profound suspicion,? making White?s study a bit of an outlier. Expressing gratitude for what he deemed ?a most interesting book? wouldn?t have suited Vidal?s act, to put it mildly. But he came close in his summing-up: ?[I]n the declining kingdom of literature,? he wrote, ?Mr. White has staked out with some nicety the wild marches of a border lord.?
Some marches; some border. (I can already imagine Vidal?s ghost complaining: ?What about ?some lord???) It?s hard to think of another American writer who conducted so many campaigns on multiple fronts with such aplomb: superb essayist, undauntable political polemicist and TV jouster, unexpectedly engaging autobiographer. His other incarnations ranged from successful playwright for TV (Visit to A Small Planet) and Broadway (The Best Man) to cheerfully mercenary Hollywood scenarist in the sunset of its glory days (Ben-Hur, not to mention the immortal?and co-written with a neophyte Francis Ford Coppola?Is Paris Burning?). Somewhere in there, he found time to run for Congress and then the Senate, hobnob with Kennedys and kings, fearlessly remind everybody that same-sex sex was just sex and he should know, and generally glitter everywhere from Italy to California.
And then, of course, there are the novels: two dozen of them in all, as variegated as anyone could ask for. Unlike most American novelists of his generation, he disdained straining to deliver the Big Book, preferring productivity to would-be masterpieces. Yet Julian probably qualifies as one?sue me for preferring it to Robert Graves?s I, Claudius, its obvious inspiration?and that glorious prank Myra Breckinridge is, if nothing else, some kind of ineffable cultural landmark. Then came his marvelously entertaining Burr, launching the revisionist chronicle of American history that continued?with, sad to say, diminishing results, aside from the nearly as impressive Lincoln?for another five volumes.
No one else so fused the mandarin and the engaged, the eclectic and the consistent. For both better and worse, what gave his career its unity was his manner: poised, allergic to wallowing in emotion, insouciant and/or supercilious at its most combative, and forever underlining itself as a performance. Nonetheless, except when playing ?Gore Vidal? got the better of him?something that happened most often in his later years, when playing ?Gore Vidal? was the only way to keep himself prominent?I suspect it would be a serious mistake to label him a cynic. To go back to his essays is to discover how often an earnest or even mawkish statement is prinked into sounding feline instead by his trick bag of jaundiced asides, droll qualifiers, and ostentatiously world-weary interjections.
To be sure, the mask only slipped rarely. But I remember watching him once nearly bring himself to tears on TV while reading a passage from Lincoln whose well-concealed but almost Carl Sandburgian bathos had previously eluded me. (?Fooled again!? I thought, briefly succumbing to an affection he didn?t often invite.) Not much less revealing of his surreptitious maudlin streak is how persistently, unlike his contemporaries?Mailer, Capote, Tennessee Williams, et. al.?he was given to lyrical recollections in print of the ?golden age? when they were all young, literature was still American culture?s main event, and it seemed that the world was their oyster.
The edifice also had its shoddy side, however. Much as I admired and enjoyed Lincoln, it irritated me no end that Vidal?s repeated, pregnant-with-meaning mentions of ?Washington?s unfinished monument? were lifted straight from Margaret Leech?s Reveille in Washington?she used the unfinished Capitol instead?and its closing comparison of Lincoln to Bismark was cribbed, also without acknowledgment, from Edmund Wilson?s Patriotic Gore. His ad hominem attacks on other writers could be atrocious. People who remember the fabled Vidal-Mailer smackdown on The Dick Cavett Show and relish the fool Mailer made of himself often forget that Vidal had just compared Mailer to Charles Manson in The New York Review of Books.
As the years went by, his vanity went from a deliberately self-amused construct to something less debonair and more pathetic. (?When it comes to matters of prose and of fiction at this time and in this place, I am Authority,? as he declared in 1977, is not a claim anyone should make unless its truth is in no doubt. In that highly unlikely case, someone else should make it.) And the endless, increasingly canned-sounding nattering?the ritual belittling of his fellow citizens? sheeplike ignorance and boobishness, the dismissive philistinism disguised as sophistication, the ever cruder and more self-satisfied doomsaying?simply got tiresome.
Overarching all that, what may make Vidal?s stance impossible to stomach for future generations?indeed, for the current one?was his insistence on his status as a renegade member of America?s WASP patricianate and his inability to conceal that he considered it a superior caste. (Only his fondness whenever he wrote about his grandfather, blind and not all that patrician Oklahoma Senator T.P. Gore, humanized this snobbery to some extent.) However entertaining when it gave him a pretext to treat his critiques of the power elite as an inside job, that attitude added a poisonous undertow to his public wrangles in the 1980s with the admittedly unlovable Norman Podhoretz, Midge Decter, and other members of the ?Israeli fifth column??yes, he really wrote that?in America. While not every form of anti-Semitism leads directly to Auschwitz, however much Podhoretz himself may believe the contrary, Vidal unquestionably flirted with it and then some. His tone made it evident he really couldn?t bring himself to think of American Jews as his equals in the club?not if they disagreed with him politically, anyhow.
The last couple of decades of his life did even more to tarnish his reputation. Trivial to us but a major value to Vidal, the loss of elegance alone?which, in a kinder world, would have been the last thing to go?was dismaying. It was one thing to argue that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh had motivations we shouldn?t discredit by reducing them to psychopathy; it?s possible to think so without finding McVeigh?s act any less horrifying, after all. But it was quite another to do so as if purringly recommending him to Harvard as a potential prize pupil.
In the Oughties, Vidal did his fellow progressives no favors by turning our arguments against the Bush-Cheney regime into asinine and reckless hyperbole. Nor can anyone who isn?t a cretin forgive or forget his 2009 comment on the Roman Polanski case, made even worse?if that?s possible?by how obviously and grotesquely he was trying to play the cosmopolitan curmudgeon: ?I really don?t give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels she?s been taken advantage of?? All in all, about the only way to salvage any respect for Vidal from such appalling stuff is to remember, however grudgingly, that it was a hell of a reputation to tarnish.
Which means that even the worst of him?and there was a lot of it?doesn?t quite cancel our debt. I feel it as a writer; progressives should feel it for the days when his advocacy had gallantry and hadn?t degenerated into crankhood. Believers in literature should thank him for keeping it vital to the conversation even as he proclaimed its looming demise, gay Americans should salute an insolent pioneer who lived in far more homophobic times, and so on. Even movie fans should be grateful for his malicious inside scoop on Ben-Hur.
At least in my case, there?s no way around another pang. Whatever else he may have been, Vidal was our last link to the generation of novelists ?Mailer, Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, and others?who served in World War Two and did their best to remake American fiction afterward. Forgive me for recalling his own adieu to Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the few people he revered: ?I thought, well, that?s that. We?re really on our own now.?
As of today, being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition. As of today, birth control, mammograms, pap smears and other well-woman and preventive tests and procedures have to be delivered with no co-pay.
To hear the
-republican reactionaries- American Taliban in the House and Senate tell it, we may as well pull the shades and put the "closed" sign in the window of the republic, because treating women as full and equal citizens entitled to the same rights and protections of federal law as men is a certain sign of the apocalypse.
According to Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), today is a day akin to 9/11 and the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. No, really. "I want you to remember Aug. 1, 2012, the attack on our religious freedom," Kelly said at a press conference. "That is a day that will live in infamy, along with those other dates."
Kelly was ranting for the same reason I'm rejoicing-because today is "Free Birth Control Day" in the United States. Today is the day the new mandate requiring health insurers to provide contraception with no co-pay officially goes into effect. And I use the word "free" loosely, since it's not actually free-it's paid for through our premiums, just like other medical services. But once the rule is fully implemented, your out-of-pocket costs for contraception should fall to zero.
Okay, seriously, I have had just about all of this bullshit I can stand without doing some jackass an injury. It isn't an infringement of your religious liberty when you aren't able to force me to follow your creed. That is ridiculous. It's utter nonsense. And the fact that that stupid, pig-ignorant bullshit notion ever got off the starting blocks is a fucking insult to every woman in America. Christians aren't persecuted in this country. You are free to worship your god in any way you see fit. What you aren't free to do is to force me -- or my daughters, or anyone else's -- to worship the way you think we should.
If the government was enforcing a "one family, one child" policy like China, or somehow forcing women to submit to birth control or abortions, then the Christian right would not only have a valid argument, they would have a fierce ally in me. But that isn't the case, so as long as they continue their nonsense persecution narrative, I will mock them and deride them and do everything within my power to point out the utter fallacy of their phony, bullshit, oh-so-put-upon jackassery.
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Mitt on Sunday, saying Israelis were wealthier than Palestinians because their culture is superior:
?Culture makes all the difference,? Mr. Romney said. ?And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.?Mitt on Tuesday, saying he never said nothing about culture:
?As you come here and you see the G.D.P. per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, and compare that with the G.D.P. per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality,? he said.
Romney responded that he ?did not speak about the Palestinian culture or the decisions made in their economy,? while adding broadly that a nation?s ?choices? affect their outcomes.And then Mitt on Wednesday, via Benjy Sarlin:
?That is an interesting topic that perhaps can deserve scholarly analysis but I actually didn?t address that,? Romney said. ?I certainly don?t intend to address that during my campaign. Instead I will point out that the choices a society makes have a profound impact on the economy and the vitality of that society.?
During my recent trip to Israel, I had suggested that the choices a society makes about its culture play a role in creating prosperity, and that the significant disparity between Israeli and Palestinian living standards was powerfully influenced by it. In some quarters, that comment became the subject of controversy.At this rate he's going to need a new Etch A Sketch pretty soon.
But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture?
Yesterday Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) made news by claiming an unnamed third party connected to Bain Capital told him it is likely Mitt Romney payed almost no taxes for years. This is unconfirmed hearsay, which if untrue Romney could[...]
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The first time I saw Ted Cruz in action was last year at the 2011 Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C. He was seven months into his campaign for the Senate nomination in Texas, and had already been the subject of a glowing cover story for The National Review. His speech to the Values Voter crowd was the usual blend of partisan red meat and personal anecdote: He railed against Obama?s ?socialism,? promised to restore free enterprise, decried abortion, told the story of his family?s journey to America?he?s the son of Cuban immigrants?and issued a cry for ?change? conservatives could ?believe in.?
The usual, in other words.
But there was something ironic in Cruz?s performance. For as much as he denounced Barack Obama, he shared the president?s flair for public speaking. His speech was slow-building, but by the time he made his pitch??We need to take back the Senate!??the crowd was with him 100 percent, chanting back his lines, and even adopting the ?yes we can? call-and-response of Obama?s 2008 campaign.
It doesn?t come across in the video, but in person, it was electrifying.
That?s why I?m not surprised that Cruz prevailed in his fight for the Texas Senate nomination, even though he was a first-time candidate up against a powerful lieutenant governor. Then and now, Cruz is a favorite of the most conservative members of the GOP, and as my colleague Abby Rapoport wrote, yesterday affirmed that fact for the former solicitor general, who worked in the Bush administration and who represents a new generation of radical Republican elites.
But this is only part of his political identity. Cruz isn?t just an avatar for the libertarian chic that?s lodged itself in the Republican establishment. He?s also joins Marco Rubio in Florida, Brian Sandoval in Nevada, and Suzanna Martinez in New Mexico as part of the GOP?s growing attempt to appeal to Latino voters in the Southwest and across the country.
Even if Latinos remain a largely Democratic constituency, there?s a difference between George Bush's nine point deficit in the 2004 election?he won 44 percent of Latinos to John Kerry's 53 percent?and a 30- or 40-point deficit, which is what Republicans are facing in this election against President Obama. The GOP hopes candidates like Cruz can appeal to those Latinos who share conservative social values, and thus give them a stronger foothold in the demographic.
It?s certainly true that Cruz could have a local effect. Like all voters, Latinos like to support candidates who look like them, and while Cruz is of Cuban descent?unlike Texas Latinos, who are predominantly of Mexican descent?pan-Latino identification could lead Cruz to a somewhat higher margin of Latino support, compared to the usual Republican candidate.
But it?s hard to imagine anything more than a slight increase. Nationally, Latinos are strongly Democratic?by a 2 to 1 margin?for substantive, not symbolic, reasons. They are more likely to support government intervention in the economy. They are more likely to support government guarantees for health care, as well as more funds for education and social-insurance programs.
The economic vulnerability of Latinos?their unemployment rate is among the highest in the county?ensures continued Democratic support. ?If you feel vulnerable, as if you may need help, in the short-term, in terms of job support, health care, better education for your kids, you will continue to vote Democratic,? says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University.
It should be said that things are a little different in Texas. There, Republicans have made a long and serious effort to appeal to Latino voters, in part because Latinos have long been a part of the state's political culture. Groups like Hispanic Republicans of Texas have successfully elected Latino GOPers to Congress, the Texas Supreme Court, and the state's House of Representatives. At the moment, HRC has endorsed 18 Latino Republicans for various offices across the state. Ted Cruz was himself a beneficiary of this boosterism; Club for Growth?the conservative anti-tax group?pumped in $5.5 million to help Cruz win his race for the Republican Senate nomination. And given the Republican Party's commitment to finding and promoting Latino candidates, it's likely that even more money will enter the state, in order to boost the ranks of conservative Hispanic lawmakers. Unlike in Arizona, where GOP lawmakers are outwardly hostile to Latino immigrants, Texas Republicans are more likely offer benefits to immigrants, legal and otherwise (as you'll remember, it's what cost Governor Rick Perry his chance in the Republican presidential race).
As a whole, however, the current incarnation of the Republican Party is simply ill-suited to the needs of most Latino voters. It still represents a predominantly middle-class Anglo-majority, which feels secure in its status, and would prefer fewer taxes and less government intervention. This describes some Latinos, but not a majority. And while individual Latino Republicans can make up for some of the deficit, it won?t translate to greater support for the party as a whole, in the same way that the GOP can?t capture African American votes by elevating black Republicans.
The picture may change when Latinos are more thoroughly integrated into the middle-class, but that will take decades.
There?s one other reason for why Cruz, and other high-level Latino Republicans, are unlikely to improve the GOP?s image among Latinos writ large. Latino vulnerability is cultural as well as economic, says Jillson. He explains, ?Republican legislatures say, ?You really ought to consider voting Republican because you share our cultural views?but you don?t want your cousins coming anywhere near the voting booth, so we have voter ID and immigration laws. And so, Hispanics view the Republican overtures skeptically.?
Barring a sea change in grassroots Republican sentiment, there?s little chance the GOP will lessen its push for anti-immigration laws and voter restrictions. For now and the foreseeable future, Republican politicians will continue to find political gain in running against ?illegal? immigration. In an interview earlier this year, for example, Cruz explained his own support for stringent border security laws: ?On the question of illegal immigration I think we should stand firm and stand tall. I am strongly opposed to illegal immigration.?
Given his story and his background, Cruz seems like he should have substantial appeal to Latino Americans. But like his counterparts in other states, his chief and overwhelming support is from Anglo-American Republicans. Once Cruz establishes himself on the national stage, and we see the extent to which he is a standard-issue conservative Republican, we?ll abandon this idea that he could appeal to Latinos. The same thing happened with Florida Senator Marco Rubio, when it became clear that he would not deviate from Republican orthodoxy.
When it comes to the future of the Latino vote, Cruz?s win is less interesting than the Democratic Party?s decision to give San Antonio mayor Julian Castro the keynote address at its national convention. Castro is young (37 years old), progressive, and represents the hopes of Democrats when it comes to states like Texas.
The idea of Democrats coming to power in Texas may seem as far-fetched as Republican hopes with Cruz, but it's not. As mayor of a major Texas city, Castro is on the vanguard of a transformative change in American politics. As the Latino population grows, and assuming it continues to stay Democratic, states like Texas and Arizona?with large Hispanic populations?will become competitive in national elections.
Cruz is an interesting figure, and I look forward to seeing what he does in national politics. But if we?re thinking of the future of Latino politics, Castro is the one to pay attention to.
A new report from Republicans on the House Committee on Energy and Commerces reveals that Obama administration officials used personal email and met with lobbyists at a coffee shop across the street from the White House to avoid disclosure rules.
As reported by Politico, the report shows several examples of White House officials communicating with officials in the health care industry from private email addresses rather than their official government accounts.
The catch: it appears the only reason Republicans knew about at least one set of the emails is because a White House official forwarded private emails to his official government account to comply with transparency rules.
As had been previously reported, White House aides also set up meetings with registered lobbyists at a Caribou Coffee across the street from the White House stocked with emails sent from private addresses and meetings scheduled away from the building to avoid appearing on the White House visitors log.
Jeff Smith, a senior adviser to the director of the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, emailed one GPS industry executive encouraging him to meet him at the coffeeshop because of strict security rules at the White House.
"[P]lus you'd appear on an official WH Visitor List which is maybe not want [sic] you want at this stage ..." he wrote in an email last May.
White House spokesman Jay Carney ducked repeated questions about meetings being held outside of the White House during a press gaggle on Wednesday.