This week begins with a little positive news about economic expectations: according to Gallup, 19 percent of Americans say that this is a ?good time? to find a ?quality? job, the highest since September 2008:
Of course, the larger lesson is that ?good? is relative. Five years ago, before the economy collapsed in a horrible mess, 45 percent of Americans said that it was a good time to find a quality job. But the labor market is far worse than it was then, and in at the moment, things are actually looking up if 1 in 5 Americans think that they could find a decent job in this environment.
In America, you can nail together two things never nailed together before and sell it. That’s why we’re the country of, “a fool and his money are soon parted.” USA! USA! USA!
“We pay top dollar for cassette and 8-track players too!”
Sex – hot, tasty, sweet sex – sells.
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Vladim liked the water, but it made him a little jumpy if he drank it just before bed. (Language)
The battles over the ballot box have only just begun. [...]
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White House officials said this week that the offer is still on the table. – Obama?s evolution: Behind the failed ?grand bargain? on the debt
How quickly people forget.
A 2010 Gallup poll serves as a reality backdrop to this tale.
The report in the Washington Post over the weekend gives you an idea of the dynamics in the debt ceiling negotiations, as well as what could play out in Obama’s second term. It also illustrates the traditional media sympathies for a grand bargain on entitlements. This sentiment is woven throughout the report, but also across the cable infotainment shows.
While Republicans distract everyone with 19th century debates on women’s contraception, Democrats are once again being lulled into forgetting some of the things that caused Pres. Obama so much trouble in his first term.
That night, Obama prepared his party?s congressional leaders. He warned Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that he might return to the position under discussion the previous Sunday ? that is, cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in exchange for just $800 billion in tax increases.
Would they support him?
The Democratic leaders ?kind of gulped? when they heard the details, Daley recalled.
By this time, Obama had become the face of the bitter debt-ceiling talks and his poll numbers were dropping. His allies on Capitol Hill cringed at his predicament but also at what he was asking them to do.
Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, recalled that the president and his team felt the weight of the global economy ?on our shoulders.?
?Is there political benefit to coming to a big budget deal with John Boehner? Sure,? Pfeiffer said. ?But every other political and message imperative was thrown out the door to prevent a disaster and do the right thing for the country. That?s why we were willing to do things we wouldn?t normally do.?
Reluctantly, Reid and Pelosi agreed to do their best to support the plan.
I’ve argued from the start of this discussion that this is a seminal part of Pres. Obama’s willingness to choose conservatism and compromise, allowing Republicans to win arguments that are diametrically opposed to what the public wants. Even Tea Partiers want their entitlements.
This is also part of the problem with our politics, because Congress is nothing more than a rubber stamp for the chief executive, with members willing to sell out principle for a president, if he’s in their own party. It’s the best case for fewer Democrats and Republicans in Congress, allowing more Independents into the conversation in Congress.
But you have to wonder, now that entitlements are seen to be the biggest problem and impediment to our economic health across the political landscape, if an effective campaign can even be waged over the ridiculous notion that entitlements are a bigger problem than our Pentagon spending.
In his second term, Pres. Obama will be freer to get a grand bargain, which he and Democratic leaders clearly were ready to do in his first. Of course, if Republicans had their way cuts to entitlements would look even worse, opening the lesser of two evils argument that partisans invariably use, with this issue revealing why it works.
That’s the big two corporate parties, who differ in varying degrees on their notions of what should be done with entitlements, but who basically agree that this is the path to solving our fiscal challenges.
A second Obama term or a Mitt Romney first, entitlements are very likely “on the table.”
So, the Republican “war on women” has had a secondary affect. It’s taken Democratic eyes off of another fundamental tenet of progressive economic policy, making people forget why after Obama’s back room health care deals, there were other issues that had succeeded in dampening enthusiasm for Pres. Obama.
This is Part 1 of a two-part post I'm calling, "Running against the state." Part 2 will be along in a bit, and at that point you'll see what the title is about.
Part 1 is about the NSA, because we always want to keep you informed about the news here at Casa Chez Nous. And this really is news ? a major Wired article about what the NSA is building and just how big the National Spook apparatus really is.
As you read this, do think about the NSA. But also consider the state itself as an entity. The NSA is a part of the state.
James Bamford reports in Wired on where we are with the NSA, how far have they gone in their domestic spying and what's in the works. It's technologically fascinating and politically frightening (sorry, kids, but someone has to tell you; my emphasis and paragraphing):
The NSA Is Building the Country?s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)The article is full and well worth your read.
... Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world?s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks.
The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails?parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ?pocket litter.?
It is, in some measure, the realization of the ?total information awareness? program created during the first term of the Bush administration?an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans? privacy.
But ?this is more than just a data center,? says one senior intelligence official who until recently was involved with the program. The mammoth Bluffdale center will have another important and far more secret role that until now has gone unrevealed. It is also critical, he says, for breaking codes.
And code-breaking is crucial, because much of the data that the center will handle?financial information, stock transactions, business deals, foreign military and diplomatic secrets, legal documents, confidential personal communications?will be heavily encrypted.
According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US. The upshot, according to this official: ?Everybody?s a target; everybody with communication is a target.?
The broad outlines of the so-called warrantless-wiretapping program have long been exposed?how the NSA secretly and illegally bypassed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which was supposed to oversee and authorize highly targeted domestic eavesdropping; how the program allowed wholesale monitoring of millions of American phone calls and email.Start reading there to focus on this part of the article. Again, fascinating.
In the wake of the program?s exposure, Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which largely made the practices legal. Telecoms that had agreed to participate in the illegal activity were granted immunity from prosecution and lawsuits. What wasn?t revealed until now, however, was the enormity of this ongoing domestic spying program.
For the first time, a former NSA official has gone on the record to describe the program, codenamed Stellar Wind, in detail. ...
The former NSA official [Binney] held his thumb and forefinger close together: ?We are that far from a turnkey totalitarian state.?The article doesn't go further, but stays focused on data collection. This is the most intriguing part of the interview, however, and clearly the author included it deliberately and provocatively. The speaker meant something by the comment ? we just aren't told what.
Outside of Occupy Wall Street, I think the biggest change for the positive in the realm of political activism I've seen in the past few years is in the area of labor. Even before I started writing the labor beat at Crooks and Liars, I noticed unions doing more to reach out to activists and bloggers, working together more and finding new ways to deal with the political landscape in an era when Republicans and corporations are doing everything they can, it seems, to kill the labor movement. But working families and their allies have been fighting back harder than I've seen since I've been paying attention to politics.
So to help that movement go further along, I want to start a series of posts taking a deeper look at unions and their activism, both locally and across the nation. I'm going to contact the unions individually and ask them a series of questions digging into what they've been doing, what successes and failures they've had, and what challenges they see both for themselves and for the rest of the movement.
Before I get started, though, I need your help. I want to make sure that I get the full range of topics in my question list so I'm asking you for ideas on what topics I should ask them about so we don't leave anything important out and don't leave any stone unturned if it should be turned. So, in comments, let me know what topics you think I should be asking about. Here are the types of things I was thinking of at this point:
What else should I be thinking about and asking about?
It appears that the US is negotiating with two heads of state. There's the Hamid Karzai who publicly lambasted the Americans as "demons," accuses them of "Satanic acts," and equates the presence of US forces with the Taliban. Then there's the Karzai who,[...]
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[F]ewer voters than ever view the high court positively. . . . The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely U.S. Voters shows that 28% give the Supreme Court good or excellent ratings. Nineteen percent (19%) rate the highest court in the land as poor.
Admittedly, this poll was conducted by Rasmussen Reports, a conservative polling firm with a history of inaccuracies. Nevertheless, Rasmussen’s finding is consistent with other polls showing that Americans increasingly believe that, despite the fact that the justices’ very legitimacy stems from their ability to apply the law fairly and independent of partisan concerns, the Court’s decisions are driven in large part by politics.
Certainly, the Supreme Court’s five conservatives have done nothing to disabuse the American people of this unfortunate perception. To the contrary, the Roberts Court has consistently pushed an ideological agenda from the bench — often despite decades of precedent to the contrary:
So it is easy to understand why the American people are increasingly skeptical of a conservative Supreme Court that appears much more interested in advancing a political agenda than it does in applying the law. Next week, the justices can either show that they are still capable of respecting the Constitution by applying the nearly 200 years of precedent establishing that the Affordable Care Act is constitutional, or they can reveal themselves to be nothing more than politicians in robes by accepting an anti-health care argument that, in the words of conservative Judge Laurence Silberman, has no basis ?in either the text of the Constitution or Supreme Court precedent.?
When Craig Dubow resigned as CEO of the nation’s largest newspaper conglomerate amid health problems last year, he ended a six-year stint that “was, by most accounts, a disaster.” Gannett, the parent company of the USA Today and 80 other American newspapers, had seen its revenue plummet $1.7 billion and its stock price fall 86 percent, from $72 a share to just over $10.
To counter those losses, Gannett shed jobs, and a lot of them. Industry estimates say the company has laid off at least 20,000 workers since 2005, reducing its workforce from 52,000 to roughly 32,000. Despite those losses, Gannett awarded Dubow a severance package worth $32 million, NPR reports:
Dubow’s final compensation package includes $12.8 million in retirement benefits, $6.2 million in disability benefits and a $5.9 million severance payment, according to the filing. Gannett stock options and restricted stock, which Dubow had accrued during his years of employment with the company, were also part of the package. Those stock awards are valued at nearly $7 million.
Separately, Gannett will pay $25,000 to $50,000 annually for a $6.2 million life insurance policy covering Dubow and another $70,000 annually for benefits such as health insurance, home computer and secretarial assistance and financial counseling. He will receive most of these benefits for three years unless he goes to work for a competitor, according to the filing.
The lavish severance package Gannett is giving Dubow stands in stark contrast with how it treated many of the 20,000 employees it let go. After giving severance packages to employees during early rounds of layoffs (a common industry practice), Gannett decided in 2009 that it would no longer offer such packages, instead paying supplemental unemployment benefits that shifted most of the costs to states. At the time, Gannett claimed the decision would help many employees get more than they would from severance. But for those who worked or freelanced at other jobs, that meant they’d get much less — and perhaps nothing at all.
“Craig championed our consumers and their ever-changing needs for news and information,” the chair of Gannett’s board of directors said when his retirement was announced in October. The question, as former reporter Peter Lewis asked at the time, is how exactly Dubow served consumers or his employees. “They laid off journalists. They cut the pay of those who remained, while demanding that they work longer hours. They closed news bureaus. They slashed newsroom budgets,” Lewis wrote on his blog. “As revenue fell, and stock prices tanked, and product quality deteriorated, they rewarded themselves huge pay raises and bonuses.”
– Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded that U.S.-led forces withdrawal to bases by 2013 but in an interview on Sunday, Karzai spokesperson Aimal Faizi qualified the statement, saying the withdrawal will be the subject of negotiations that could take months.
– The U.S. is readying for the so-called “fighting season” of warmer months in Afghanistan, focusing on beating back expected Taliban-associated attacks in eastern Afghanistan, including the capital, Kabul.
– The U.S. has continued to send detainees to Afghan prisons despite an order from coalition forces to halt such transfers because of concerns about torture, says a new report by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission and the Open Society Foundations.
– The security situation in Syria continues to unravel with two more Syrian generals defecting to the opposition on Friday and anti-government activists violently clashing with the Syrian Army in a wealthy, well-protected area of Damascus on Monday.
– Syrian rebels will soon be receiving shipments of arms courtesy of Saudi Arabia, according to an Arab diplomat who told the AFP, “Saudi military equipment is on its way to Jordan to arm the Free Syrian Army.”
– A week after a motorcycle-riding gunmen killed four French paratroopers, another assailant on a motorcycle in the same region of France killed four — including three children — at a Jewish school.
– Prime Minister Yoshiko Noda issued a new warning about Beijing’s military build-up yesterday, saying that China and North Korea represent the main military challenges Japan faces in Asia.
– Oman’s foreign ministry said that the risk of military conflict between Iran and the West was rising but there was still plenty of opportunity to negotiate peace. “It is in the interest of both sides to come to the middle road,” Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah, the sultanate’s minister responsible for foreign affairs, told Reuters