A new poll finds that the public supports President Obama over Congressional Republicans on gas prices. The National Journal survey shows that 44% of respondents trust the President ?to make the right decisions to help bring down the price of gasoline,? against 32% for the Congressional GOP.
We’ve previously reported that both Murdoch?s Wall Street Journal and Koch-fueled Cato Institute agree: ?It?s Not Obama?s Fault That Crude Oil Prices Have Increased.? The poll found the public shares that assessment:
When asked what the main reason behind the price increase was, some 38 percent laid the blame on ?the manipulation of prices by large energy companies.? Twenty-eight percent cited ?tension in the Middle East, particularly over Iran and nuclear weapons.? Well down the list were ?the policies of President Obama? (14 percent) and ?the policies of congressional Republicans? (5 percent).
These findings are particularly impressive because conservatives and GOP presidential candidates have been bashing Obama almost nonstop on this issue, trying to blame the President for high oil prices.
What the president can do is reduce the oil intensity of the economy, the amount of oil consumed per dollar of GDP, which is the true measure of how vulnerable the economy is to the price spikes and generally rising prices that are inevitable as we approach peak oil production. Obama has been pursuing such policies, which include his aggressive fuel economy standards and investing in clean energy alternatives.
And even in the face of rising gasoline prices, the public still supports Obama’s approach, as the poll found:
Americans put somewhat more stock in the Democrats? policy of conservation and development of alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar power, than they do in the Republicans? emphasis on greater domestic production of oil and gas. Fifty percent of respondents said that the Democratic approach ?would do more to lower fuel prices,? while 42 percent went with the GOP approach.
In related news, the Washington Post fact-checker gives 3 Pinocchios to the GOP claim that Obama wanted higher oil prices. Also, Gallup reports that “U.S. economic confidence improved sharply” last week to “the highest weekly levels Gallup has recorded since it started tracking confidence daily in January 2008.” Finally, the WashPost notes of its recent poll:
At the moment, 63 percent of Americans say that gas prices are causing them financial hardship, with 36 percent saying the gas squeeze is causing ?serious? financial hardship. (See Question 11.) But those are actually the lowest hardship numbers since May of 2008 ? and, in fact, it?s virtually identical to what Americans were saying in May of 2004, six months before George W. Bush won re-election.
But while the NYPD’s spying program has faced criticism, a new poll released today by Quinnipiac University finds that only 29 percent of New York City voters think the police have unfairly targeted Muslims to combat terrorism. Fifty-eight percent think the NYPD’s behavior has been appropriate and 13 percent didn’t know or had no answer. The poll did not ask voters specifically about the Muslim monitoring program.
The NYPD, which has enjoyed broad community support since September 11, 2001, receives high marks for its anti-terrorism work. Eighty-two percent of NYC voters think the police department has been effective in combating terrorism, a 5 percent increase since a February 9 poll conducted days after the scandal was first reported by the Associated Press.
Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) called for an investigation into the reported use of White House funds by the NYPD for its “religious and racial profiling activities.” But while reports on the NYPD’s spying on Muslim communities in the NYC area got widespread pickup in national and international news media, New York voters appear unlikely to hold public officials responsible.
The poll found that NYC Police Commissioner Ray Kelly — the city official ultimately responsible for overseeing the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims — has a 64 percent approval rating and 28 percent of voters would be more likely to vote for a mayoral candidate who promises to ask Kelly to continue as police commissioner. Nineteen percent of voters would be less likely to vote for such a candidate.
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who, like Kelly, has refused to apologize for the surveillance program, enjoys a 67 – 27 percent approval rating for the way he is handling crime.
A new report from the Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute shows how the expected spills from the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline risks many more permanent jobs than the 20 pipeline-operating jobs it could create. A study conducted by Dr. John Stansbury at the University of nebraska estimated that 91 significant Keystone XL spills can be expected over 50 years. Keystone XL will cross approximately 90.5 miles of recreational and special interest areas in Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Texas. Agricultural land and rangeland comprise 79 percent of the land area affected by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline — 93 percent of Keystone’s Nebraska route is farmland. Spills from corrosive and toxic tar sands crude risks the jobs of the 571,000 workers in the agricultural sector in the six states along the Keystone XL corridor and the $67 billion in tourism spending.
House Republicans are pushing to repeal the Affordable Care Act?s Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), which is tasked with making binding recommendations to Congress for lowering health care spending. But estimates from the Congressional Budget Office found that the GOP repeal plan would add $3 billion to the deficit, and now Democrats who supported it are revoking their support for a new Republican plan to pay for repealing IPAB with a medical malpractice reform measure.
?Unfortunately, Republican leadership is manipulating the dialogue on this issue for political purposes, which will undoubtedly lead many Democratic members to vote against the bill ? despite support for the underlying policy from House Democrats across the ideological spectrum,? Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA), the most outspoken Democratic opponent of Obama?s Medicare panel, told TPM. ?By unnecessarily tying repeal of IPAB to a partisan malpractice bill, House Republicans have effectively ensured that this bill is dead. This is deeply disappointing.?
Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), another signatory of IPAB repeal, told TPM the GOP lost his vote with the tort reform pay-for ? and predicted other Dems will bolt, too. ?It?s typical of their irresponsible approach,? Frank said in an interview Monday. ?They have a lot of Democratic support to repeal [IPAB] and they know it. They were dangerously close to having some bipartisanship and they couldn?t accept that.? [...]
House GOP leaders have opted to fund the $3.1 billion cost to repeal IPAB with medical malpractice reform legislation, which is a poison pill for most Democrats and even some key Republicans. It?s an indication that the GOP has given up on getting a bill to Obama?s desk, where he?d probably veto it anyway.
Republicans have attacked the board as health care rationing, but the panel’s recommendations cannot ?include any recommendation to ration health care, raise revenues or Medicare beneficiary premiums?increase Medicare beneficiary cost- sharing (including deductibles, coinsurance, and co- payments), or otherwise restrict benefits or modify eligibility criteria.” The Senate-confirmed members will only make recommendations to cut Medicare payments to providers — not endangering seniors’ health care — no matter how much Republicans try to scare seniors into thinking otherwise.
Scandal enveloped multiple Wall Street megabanks in 2010 when it was discovered that throughout the housing bust and the foreclosure crisis that ensued, the nation’s largest banks were caught robo-signing — the practice of approving foreclosures without verifying mortgage information and fabricating other loan documents. At the time, the banks promised to end the practice and attempted to escape blame by tying the scandal to low-level employees.
In reality, bank managers knew about the potentially illegal and fraudulent practices and in some cases directed them, according to a report by the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. At Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and other banks, documents were rarely verified, and even when employees raised concerns they were told by management to proceed, the New York Times reports:
At Wells Fargo, now the nation?s largest mortgage servicer and originator, employees told the inspector general?s office that the company?s management had assigned them bogus titles, including ?vice president of loan documentation,? even though they had no training in document review. Before becoming vice president, one employee worked at a pizza restaurant. [...]
As at Wells Fargo, employees at JPMorgan Chase took on titles like ?vice president of Chase Home? even though ?the titles were given by Chase for the sole purpose of allowing individuals to sign documents and came with no other duties or authority.?
There were other indications that management knew about the practices. At Bank of America, employees raised concerns but were told by management to proceed; Wells Fargo squashed a study into foreclosure practices and told the employee conducting the study to continue signing documents without reading or verifying data; and Citigroup management admitted that the bank regularly signed foreclosure documents without verification, even as the bank was telling regulators that internal reviews found its practices to be sound. Despite promises to stop when the scandal broke, banks continued robo-signing for at least another year.
The IG report falls in line with recent accounts provided by former Wall Street employees and whistleblowers. A Bank of America whistleblower last week said the bank had intentionally prevented homeowners from getting federal mortgage help, and a former JPMorgan employee told Reuters in November that exploiting consumers was “the purpose of the banking industry.” An investigation into 400 San Francisco-area foreclosure cases, meanwhile, found that nearly every one of them had potential legal issues.
“I believe the reports we just released will leave the reader asking one question ? how could so many people have participated in this misconduct?” HUD Inspector General David Montoya said in a statement. “The answer ? simple greed.”
Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said in a press conference today that the government is finalizing a bill that will legalize same-sex marriage on June 15, but individual priests will still be able to refuse to perform ceremonies. Thorning-Schmidt expressed pride in the development, saying, “It?s an important message for a country such as Denmark to send ? we respect every citizen?s choice but we also respect priests? choice too.” Denmark has had a same-sex registered-partner law since 1989. (HT: Joe.My.God.)
The Hispanic Leadership Network, a conservative group ostensibly “focused on engaging the Hispanic community”, sent out a primer yesterday regarding the “Top 10 Facts about Hispanics in Alabama” in advance of that state’s presidential primary today. However, the press release contained one glaring omission: there was not a single mention in the entire email of Alabama’s draconian HB 56 immigration law. Perhaps it should not come as a surprise; when ThinkProgress interviewed two of HLN’s leaders about Kris Kobach, author of HB 56 and other harsh state immigration laws, neither knew who he was.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is best understood as President Barack Obama?s extension of the Bush-era doctrine of ?competitive liberalization.? Frustrated with pushback at the World Trade Organization by nations like China, Brazil, India, and South Africa, the United States seeks a coalition of the willing to import a commercial framework that rewards private firms at the expense of the common good. That policy regime is ailing in the U.S. and gets worse when exported.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) certainly isn?t about raising standards of living. The most ambitious estimates of the gains from the TPP suggest that participating nations will gain a mere one-tenth of 1 percent of the gross domestic product. Sixty percent of the projected gains go to Vietnam and the United States, and the other 20 percent goes to Malaysia?largely because the U.S. already has trade pacts with the other proposed big players in the TPP.
However, the proposed deal is far from popular in Asia. In exchange for the small portions of trade and growth that will go to some big exporters and foreign investors, each TPP nation will have to give up many of the policies they use to make trade and foreign investment work for employment, growth, and financial stability.
Two of the more strategic globalizers in recent years, the Vietnamese and Malaysian governments, played an important role in inserting their nations in the global economy and spreading the gains across their societies. Vietnam, a key destination for foreign firms to locate and re-export, has been able to translate that investment into employment and growth while also shielding itself from financial shocks. A major study by the Singapore-based Institute for South Asian Studies found that Vietnam?s attraction of foreign investment has increased both savings and capital formation, strongly contributing to the country?s China-like per-capita growth rates of well over 5 percent per year.
Unlike the United States, Vietnam has accomplished broadly distributed growth by such strategies as requiring joint ventures or local content standards that link food-processing industries to local farmers and connect global automotive and motorcycle industries with domestic providers of inputs. The institute?s analysis of foreign investment in Vietnam showed that these policies helped Vietnam?s rural society diversify into manufacturing and expanded employment and livelihoods.
Similar policies have helped fuel Malaysia?s industrial growth. Both Vietnam and Malaysia have prudently regulated cross-border financial flows to make sure investors don?t desert their nations with the whims of speculative global capital markets. In the wake of the East Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s, Malaysia put restrictions on transfers of capital out of the country. Though laissez-faire advocates attacked the controls at the time, these policies, according to the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, helped Malaysia recover from the crisis better than many other nations in the region. Standard & Poor?s found that similar measures in Vietnam helped cushion that country from the 2008 global financial crisis.
Vietnam and Malaysia, in sum, have a managed form of globalization that the TPP would undermine. Both countries have made themselves attractive to U.S. investors and exporters through government policies that have led them into global markets, spread the benefits of integration, and maintained financial stability. Yet the investment and financial-services provisions in the TPP would restrict the ability of these nations to use joint ventures, local content rules, and regulation of cross-border financial flows to spread benefits, stimulate local manufacturing, promote employment, and provide financial stability.
It may be difficult to grasp that the TPP could harm the broader economic interests of both the U.S. and smaller Asian nations. But if balanced development requires a managed form of capitalism, then a trade deal like the TPP, which strengthens investors and weakens governments, can harm Asians and Americans alike.
Look no further than Mexico, where the NAFTA agreement brought the opposite of what treaty-less Vietnam and Malaysia have achieved. As my own research with Tim Wise from Tufts University and Mexican economist Eduardo Zepeda has shown, that agreement has produced slow growth, weak domestic investment, anemic job creation, and increased economic vulnerability. All the while, foreign firms have been suing Mexico over government policies in the same private tribunals that are proposed under the TPP.
Before launching the TPP, the Obama administration named a panel of experts to report to the U.S. Department of State?s Advisory Committee on Economic Policy. We were to make recommendations to the administration regarding how to revamp the investment provisions in NAFTA?like deals. (I had the privilege of serving on the panel.) While the full panel could not agree on comprehensive recommendations, I joined a number of the experts to put together a document on changing U.S. trade agreements to enhance employment, democracy, and development. Among other things, we recommended that future deals replace the investor-led dispute system with the ?state to state? process analogous to the rest of the treaty and the World Trade Organization?s procedures; strengthen provisions to ensure that treaties protect the environment and workers? rights; and provide mechanisms to enable nations to regulate foreign capital.
In January 2011, more than 250 economists from across the globe told the Obama administration that trade deals that required nations to rip open their financial systems for footloose finance were out of step with economic research and a threat to financial stability both in the U.S. and in countries with which it trades. More than 100 economists exclusively from TPP countries echoed these concerns in a March 2012 letter urging TPP negotiators in Australia to leave nations with the policy space to deploy regulations on cross-border capital in the TPP.
In launching his Pacific initiative, President Obama promised to move away from the old model of U.S. trade deals toward one that ?addresses new and emerging trade issues and 21st-century challenges.? Addressing employment generation, equitable growth, and financial stability should top the list of those challenges, but in the proposed TPP, the means don?t serve the proclaimed ends. The agreement grants too many rights to footloose firms and investors at the expense of the majority. ª
As Rush Limbaugh continues to shed corporate sponsors the way the Titanic shed lifeboats, Limbaugh's rear guard defenders have been busy trying to exculpate their hero by insisting his siege of invective against Sandra Fluke was no worse than the many sexist insults which liberals like Bill Maher have hurled against women they don't like.
It's a superficially plausible argument, but a dishonest one, because there is one very big difference: Whereas liberals like Maher may have demeaned individual women, Rush Limbaugh has been waging a 20 year campaign against women in general - or at least those women Limbaugh and his 20 million, mostly middle-aged male listeners don't like, the emancipated kind that Limbaugh likes to call "feminazis."
But Limbaugh's defenders are right in this one narrow respect: He is not waging a "war on women" so much as he is a war against the modern world.
To stretch the Titanic analogy just a bit, Limbaugh's misogyny is just the tip of the iceberg in a much larger worldwide effort by social conservatives to re-establish traditional, patriarchal societies as 21st century alternatives to the disorienting changes and anxieties of the modern world.
What we're seeing, in other words, is not strictly speaking a "war" against women so much as a new spring offensive against modernity itself, being led by all the usual reactionary suspects in which women's hard-won social and political freedoms are once again sacrificed as collateral damage.
In politics, timing is everything. And so Limbaugh might have survived this latest outrage over his "slut-shaming" of a college student had not the Catholic bishops, in league with the Republican Party, raised women's consciousnesses once again with their breathtakingly stupid assault on those health services women rely on to achieve some measure of personal control and autonomy over their own lives.
Social arrangements thought settled a half century ago or more are suddenly back on the table for fevered debate. The Catholic bishops and their allies may see this controversy through the narrow lens of constitutionally-protected religious freedoms. Tea Party anarchists might try to define birth control as yet one more mandate liberals have imposed on them in which they are forced to spend "their" money" for "other" people to engage in "promiscuous" behavior they don't approve.
But women see this, accurately and instinctively, as another assault on the freedoms they enjoy because they live in modern societies instead of traditionalist ones.
We speak of the red-blue, liberal-conservative political divide. But the division that really matters is the one between modern, secular societies based on individual freedom and traditionalists ones based on social relationships that have always forced women to take a back seat.
We've been wrong to see the Religious Right's obsession with Israel as somehow connected to its Biblical role in the far right's Book of Revelation, Second Coming of Christ fantasies.
The less apocalyptic explanation for the otherwise puzzling alliance between Christian fundamentalists and those they see as descendants of the killers of Christ, is that orthodox American Christians see in the mounting influence of orthodox religion in Bibi Netanyahu's Israel a model for the Right's own American Theocracy.
For as New Yorker editor David Remnick writes, the founders of the state of Israel originally "envisioned a pluralist Zionism in which rabbis would enjoy 'no privileged voice in the state.'" Yet today, "emboldened fundamentalists flaunt an increasingly aggressive medievalism."
There are in Israel today, says Remnick, "sickening reports of ultra-Orthodox men spitting on schoolgirls whose attire they consider insufficiently demure, and demanding that women sit at the back of public buses."
Remnick quotes the chief rabbi of a West Bank settlement who says that Orthodox soldiers "should prefer to face a 'firing squad' rather than sit through events at which women sing." The rabbi has also forbidden women to run for public office, because "the husband presents the family's opinion," says Remnick.
Remnick is not the only supporter of a democratic Israel who is alarmed by developments in the Jewish State. Former New Republic editor Peter Beinart has practically carved out a second career for himself as alarm-sounder for the authoritarian drift that is threatening the democratic Israeli state.
One-time William F. Buckley protégé Michael Lind also explains his own estrangement from neo-conservatism because of the "ever deepening alliance" between Israel's governing right wing Likud Party and "the Protestant ayatollahs of the Bible Belt" which has produced otherwise inexplicable tirades by secular Jews like William Kristol against abortion, gay rights, gun control, and Darwinism.
"Southern Christian Fundamentalism" is the exact opposite of what Lind said he signed up for when he joined the neo-conservative cause. "We thought we had joined an anti-totalitarian liberal movement," says Lind, "not an alliance of American Likudniks and born-again Baptist creationists brought together to support the colonization of 'Samaria' and 'Judea' by right wing Jewish settlers."
An agenda to reset the clocks back to the Victorian Era -- or far beyond -- seems more like one of those hysterical conspiracy theories hatched up by Glenn Beck than something you'd expect to hear from the left.
Until you read Dinesh D''Souza.
If you were to take Osama bin Ladin at his word that al Qaeda attacked America because America had desecrated the holy shrines of Islam by stationing US troops on Saudi soil, then you would be wrong, says the popular right wing polemicist.
The real reason America was attacked on September 11, 2001, D'Souza argues in The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, was that American liberal culture in which women are given too many freedoms was deeply threatening and offensive to the traditional Arab sensibility.
D'Souza's most provocative -- and most ridiculed -- assertion was that the best way to fight our terrorist enemies was to join them.
If America was attacked by Islamic traditionalists who were offended by America's liberal culture, then D'Souza said the way to remove future threats was for Christian fundamentalists in America to join hands with their Islamic brothers overseas against their common foe: liberalism -- and women's liberation in particular.
"Many Muslims are convinced that women's liberation and sexual liberation, of the kind promoted by the cultural left, would be a disaster for their society, would undermine their religion, overturn their moral beliefs, and destroy their traditional families. In believing these things, of course, the Muslims are absolutely correct," says D'Souza.
In the 21st century, says D'Souza, all societies must choose between one of two alternatives. They must either embrace "traditional morality," which D'Souza says is "based on the notion that there is a moral order in the universe, which establishes an enduring standard of right and wrong."
Or, societies must choose "liberal morality" based on autonomy, individuality, self-fulfillment and "the right of the individual to choose for himself or herself what morality is."
As Andrew Sullivan notes, D'Souza argues that the shift in America from traditional morality to liberal morality is "the most important fact of the past half-century."
The ineluctable compliment of a traditionalist culture is male-dominated patriarchy, which D'Souza naturally goes to great lengths to defend.
"My two grandmothers were both tyrants who ruled over their husbands," D'Souza maintains by way of arguing that a woman's place is in the home. "So patriarchy doesn't make women less powerful -- it merely diverts their power to the domain of the household."
According to D'Souza's way of thinking, criticizing Muslim countries for forcing women to wear veils or burkas in public is to put on the "blinders of ethnocentrism" or to indulge in "Islamophobia."
In Sullivan's telling, D'Souza thinks Islamic fundamentalist societies are "paragons of social meaning and cohesion" where "women know their place; homosexuals are invisible; blasphemy is illegal; pornography is banned; modesty is enforced."
And D'Souza wants the same thing for America, since the great blessing of Islamic society is, he says, that "liberalism as a political force simply does not exist."
And by liberalism, D'Souza means: Doctrines "such as men and women should have the same roles in society;" or that freedom of expression "includes the right to publish material that is sexually explicit or blasphemous;" or that government "should not seek to promote religion or legislate morality."
What D'Souza is arguing in effect, says Sullivan, is that democracy under divine authority and subject to theological truth is "a perfect expression of the conservative understanding of American democracy."
Therefore, asks Sullivan, "why should we be surprised that D"Souza wants an alliance between American conservatives and theocratic autocracies in the developing world? In D'Souza's eyes, both the American Constitution and traditional Islam have a common foe: "Secularism."
Five years ago when Doubleday disgraced its imprint by publishing D'Souza's screed, the idea of a Christian-Islamist entente against liberalism seemed like lunatic ravings.
It doesn't so absurd today when you look at the alliance between Orthodox Jews in Israel and Christian fundamentalists and Catholic bishops in this country who are waging a two-front assault on women's freedoms while some among them beat the drums for another Mideast war which they hope will bring down a secular, liberal US administration in favor of one more hospitable to traditionalism and paternalism in both this country and theirs.
Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said this at the Women of the World Summit in New York City: "Now, we know that young woman in Tunisia and her peers across the region already are facing extremists who will try to strip their rights, curb their participation, limit their ability to make choices for themselves. Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me. But they all seem to. It doesn't matter what country they're in or what religion they claim. They want to control women. They want to control how we dress, they want to control how we act, they even want to control the decisions we make about our own health and bodies."
But Clinton should have known that women have always been the canary in the coalmine. It has always been their political and social freedoms, or lack thereof, which has defined the line of demarcation between a modern society and a traditionalist one.
And so when Hillary Clinton wonders aloud why "extremists" always "focus" on women, we now know the answer.
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