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This is an aggregate blog of our best material at A World of Progress, an online Magazine for the Progressive Human. AWOP covers politics, the environment, GLBTQ issues, living, historical context of the days news plus international coverage.


FEBRUARY 16, 2012 11:02AM

Progressive breakfast 2/16

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Each morning, Bill Scher and Terrance Heath serve up what progressives need to effect change on the kitchen-table issues families face: jobs, health care, green energy, financial reform, affordable education and retirement security.

Morning Message: Super PACs: Derivatives Of Politics’s Robert Borosage: “Financial wilding led to our economic collapse. Use of exotic “innovations” — like derivatives and credit default swaps — exploded. Regulators were paralyzed while huge bets were made in the shadows. Markets, we were assured, self-regulate. Congress blocked reform. Big money rushed in, seeking ever higher returns. Laws legitimized shadow financial activities. Speculation careened out of control. A similar wilding now threatens our democracy as out-of-control big money floods our elections. These exotic derivatives are the super PACs and related operations, fueled by cartloads of secret money. The Federal Election Commission is toothless and paralyzed. Congress blocks new regulations. The Supreme Court opened the floodgates with Citizens United, ruling that corporations have the right to spend unlimited sums in “independent expenditure” campaigns. The marketplace of ideas, we are assured, can regulate itself. This financial wilding is likely to escalate until it thoroughly corrupts our democracy.”

Payroll Tax Deal … For Real This Time?

Congress reaches final payroll tax deal [CNN]: “Congressional negotiators resolved all differences on an agreement to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits while avoiding a fee cut for Medicare doctors for the rest of the year, leaving only technical issues to sort out. ‘It’s good for the country. It’s very good for the country,’ Montana’s Max Baucus, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said early Thursday in announcing the deal. But resolving those technical issues and getting the necessary signatures required to finalize the conference report was expected to take through at least Thursday.”

Congressional negotiators reach deal on $150 billion economic plan [Washington Post]: “In a pact early Thursday morning, congressional negotiators gave final approval to an economic plan worth more than $150 billion that would extend a payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits.  A key roadblock was overcome when the lawmakers agreed to require new federal workers to contribute more to their pension plans, clearing the way around 12:30 a.m. for a majority of the House-Senate conference committee to begin signing the deal. The pension provision represented a concession to key Maryland Democrats who, even after prodding from President Obama, did not grant their support until current federal workers were shielded from the new pension plan, aides in both parties said. A vote could come as early as Friday, the last act in a five-month battle over Obama’s proposed jobs plan.”

“Party of No” No More?

Payroll tax deal close: Why did Republicans back down? [Christian Science Monitor]: “House Republicans wanted offsets, or spending cuts, to make up for the nearly $100 billion cost of extending the tax cut holiday through 2012.   But the politics wasn’t working out for Republicans. On Monday, House speaker John Boehner, flanked by majority leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and majority whip Kevin McCarthy of California, offered to back an extension of the payroll tax holiday without offsets. House Republican leaders faced their caucus late Tuesday with a blunt message: We got the policy right but the politics wrong – and now it’s time to move on, they said, according to members at the closed meeting.”

GOP eases its culture of ‘no’ [Politico]: “Republicans happily cultivated a culture of “no” during President Barack Obama’s first two years.  …But the payroll tax cut deal this week has delivered a shock to that culture of “no” — and more Republicans are suddenly saying ‘yes’ to the idea that it’s OK to fold a losing hand, shuffle the deck and play for a bigger pot later. Most of those who will vote ‘no’ on the payroll package aren’t yelling “hell no” in closed-door meetings or whipping their colleagues to join them in opposition to the Republican leadership. They will quietly consent to letting the bill become law without a bloody civil war. …Simply put: The GOP majority is showing signs of growing up. It’s learning how to cut political losses and taking the long view on policy fights that started before the freshman newbies showed up last January.”

John Boehner Stalls Transportation Bill Vote As GOP Leaders Struggle To Secure Support: “A long-term blueprint for federal transportation programs was delayed Wednesday by House Speaker John Boehner as GOP leaders scramble to shore up support for the endangered measure.  Boehner told Republican lawmakers at a closed-door meeting that he has delayed final action on the 4 1/2 -year, $260 billion bill until after next week’s congressional recess. Republicans had been saying they hoped to pass it this week.  Boehner cited two reasons for the delay: It will take more time than planned to work through nearly 300 amendments lawmakers want to offer, and Republicans need to find more money to pay for the bill, said spokesman Michael Steel.  But others in both parties said there are so many Republicans who object to some portion of the 1,000-page bill that it can’t pass in its present form.”

Foreclosure Deal Update

States use mortgage deal money to plug budget holes [CNN]: “States are getting $2.5 billion from the national mortgage settlement, but not all of that money is going to help troubled homeowners. At least two states — Missouri and Wisconsin — are using the funds to plug big holes in their budgets. This does not sit well with some consumer advocates, who would prefer to see the money go to help those suffering from the housing crisis. Federal and state officials last week announced a $26 billion foreclosure settlement with five of the largest home lenders over allegations of improper foreclosures based on robosigning and faulty paperwork. The vast majority of the funds will be used to provide principal reduction or refinancing, as well as payments to borrowers who lost their homes. …But, like in the 1998 tobacco settlement that was supposed to fund health programs, states have some leeway in how they use the money.”

Homeowners get more time for foreclosure reviews [Washington Post]: “Federal regulators have announced that they would give borrowers who have faced foreclosure since early 2009 an additional three months to have their cases reviewed for potential wrongdoing.  Borrowers will now have until July 31 to apply for the free review, which stems from a deal last year in which 14 servicers agreed to hire independent consultants to evaluate whether homeowners suffered financial injury during the foreclosure process. If a review finds errors or abuses by the financial firms, the consultants will determine what recompense wronged homeowners deserve. …The reviews apply to borrowers whose loans were in the process of foreclosure between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2010.”

Mike Lux outlines a new strategy for Wall Street accountability: “One of the things progressive activists always need to be careful of is letting down after a big fight comes to a conclusion. With the banking settlement finished, one phase of the fight for Wall Street accountability is over, but now we enter an even more important next phase. And whether you viewed the settlement as a win, a defeat, or (like me), some of both, progressives who want big bank accountability and a better financial system in this country need to unite as we move into this new phase. There are four major things our side needs to simultaneously develop long term strategies around…”

Manufacturing Boost

President Visits Wisconsin Factory to Hail ‘Insourcing’ Plan [NYT]: “President Obama came here on Wednesday to promote his new ‘insourcing’ economic plan, which he says could help prod American manufacturers to bring jobs home from China and elsewhere overseas. But the biggest question buzzing about his visit was what he and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin would say to each other when they toured the plant that served as poster child du jour for Mr. Obama’s rollout. Alas, it was not to be; Mr. Walker, a Republican who is facing a recall election that he has boldly predicted will be a bellwether for Mr. Obama’s own chances in Wisconsin, pulled out of the joint tour with the president at the last minute. Mr. Walker’s spokesman told reporters that the governor had the flu so he would not join Mr. Obama to congratulate Master Lock for bringing jobs back to the United States.”

Fact Check: Obama and the Resurgence of American Manufacturing [ABC News]: “President Obama is this week heralding the resurgence of American manufacturing as a leap toward an ‘economy built to last,’ and a sign that he deserves a second term. ‘For the first time since 1990, American manufacturers are creating new jobs,’ Obama said at a Master Lock facility in Milwaukee on Tuesday. ‘That’s good for the companies, but it’s also good up and down the supply chain.’ Obama’s claim — an apparent bright spot in a sea of still gloomy economic news — is corroborated by government statistics, which show an undeniable rebound for manufacturers during his term, both in terms of productivity and employment of American workers. When Obama took office in January 2009, unemployment in the manufacturing sector stood at 10.9 percent and spiked to 13 percent a year later, according to the Labor Department. ”

Obama, GOP candidates more hopeful about factory jobs [Washington Post]: “For years, politicians have delivered the same grim message to the nation’s long-suffering manufacturing heartland: Many of the jobs are gone, shipped overseas, never to be seen again.  In his 2008 presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) famously — and ill-advisedly — told Michigan voters that the jobs ‘are not coming back. . . . And I am sorry to tell you that.’ President Obama said as much during a 2009 visit to the state. But this year, in a White House contest defined by the economy and job creation, that harsh truth-telling has given way to a more hopeful pitch from Obama and the Republicans trying to replace him amid the strongest uptick in manufacturing employment in 15 years.”

Odds On Obama Re-Election

Poll: Obama Hits 50% Approval, Leads All GOP Rivals, For Now [NPR]: “The new CBS News/NY Times poll definitely contains the kind of information that could put a little spring in any president’s step.  The poll, released Tuesday, found President Obama’s approval rating had bounced back up to 50 percent from 47 percent in January. Not a huge improvement but in presidential politics, getting to at least 50 percent approval is seen as key for an incumbent hoping to win re-election. The recovering economy gets much of the credit for his rising approval rates.”

Nate Silver says the odds shift towards Obama: “Obama’s most likely Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, continues to rate as a ‘generic Republican.’ In fact, he now scores at exactly 50 on the 100-point scale from centrist to extremist. That means an election against Romney, like Bush’s against Kerry, would mostly be dictated by the fundamentals of the economy and by evaluations of Obama’s job performance. With 2.5 percent G.D.P. growth from now through November, Obama would be a 60 percent favorite to win the popular vote.  The popular vote is one thing, however. The Electoral College is another — and Romney could have more vulnerabilities there.  In recent weeks, Obama has taken a more populist approach (just read the transcript of his State of the Union address). The strategy has induced more howls than usual from Republicans about ‘class warfare,’ but the White House has clearly studied the numbers. In the Republican primaries, Romney has had trouble winning the loyalty of working-class voters, especially in the Midwest.”

Taegan Goddard reports that Obama leads all his GOP rivals: “A new CNN/Opinion Research survey shows President Obama beating all of his possible Republican rivals in GOP match ups.   Obama leads Romney, 51% to 46%, tops Santorum, 52% to 45%, beats Paul, 52% to 45%, and crushes Gingrich, 55% to 42%.  A new Fox News poll of key battleground states — Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin — shows the same.   Obama leads Romney, 47% to 39%, tops Santorum, 48% to 38%, beats Paul 48% to 37% and crushes Gingrich, 52% to 32%.”

Ezra Klein explains the best way to judge Obama’s first — and his second: “For Obama, it’s about more than the asterisk. The most important fact of Obama’s reelection campaign is that, if he wins, the single most important accomplishment of his second term will be protecting the gains of his first term. If he wins, the Affordable Care Act — barring a truly unexpected ruling from the Supreme Court — becomes the law of the land. If he wins, Dodd-Frank becomes the law on Wall Street. If he loses, both policies are likely to be either rolled back or hollowed out. Bush’s victory in the Gulf War withstood Bill Clinton’s election, and the Camp David agreement was not undone by Ronald Reagan. In Obama’s case, however, a failure to win a second term will not just color his accomplishments. It will decide their fate. Moreover, if Obama did win a second term his accomplishments would be comparatively limited. He will not enjoy anything like the congressional majorities of his first two years again. He is likely to face a Republican House or a Republican Senate or both. What he can accomplish in terms of new legislation will thus depend on how much congressional Republicans want him to accomplish in terms of new legislation.”

Mitt’s Missed Connections

Romney struggling to attract white working class [AP]: “WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Mitt Romney is faltering with white working-class voters crucial to his party’s drive to capture the White House, even as he tries to fend off a rising GOP challenger, Rick Santorum, who wields strong blue-collar appeal. The wealthy former Bain Capital chief has led his rivals by comfortable margins among white college graduates, according to combined polls of voters in the first five states that held presidential nominating contests. But the exit and entry surveys showed only a modest Romney advantage among whites who lack college degrees, the yardstick analysts typically use to define the working class.  The imbalance was most pronounced among less-educated white men, with whom his lead disappeared.”

Conservative Pundits Find Romney Disengaged, and Say That’s Puzzling [NYT]: “From the television studios of Fox News to the pages of The Weekly Standard, the refrain of the conservative opinion machine is virtually the same: Mitt Romney doesn’t talk to us, doesn’t get us. ..Mr. Romney’s distant, complicated relationship with many of the conservative media’s leading voices has heightened concerns that his convictions are not as genuine and deep-seated as their own. Many commentators have pounced on some of Mr. Romney’s recent remarks — saying that he is “not concerned about the very poor” because they have a government safety net and that he was a ‘severely conservative’ governor — as proof that he cannot speak their language.  ‘The real problem here is that it shows he doesn’t have fluency with conservative ideas,’ Charles Krauthammer, the conservative columnist, said on Fox News.”

WaPo’s E.J. Dionne sums up Mitt Romney’s biggest problem: “Mitt Romney has lost his central asset. It is no longer obvious that he is the Republican with the best chance of defeating President Obama.  Romney was never fully trusted or liked by the staunchest conservatives, a rather large Republican constituency. But until now, enough of them have been willing to swallow their doubts at critical moments because they believed the former Massachusetts governor was the one potential nominee who could win the election. This is not true anymore. Reflecting the damage Romney’s image has suffered in the six weeks since voting started in Iowa, he is running little better than Rick Santorum, now his main opponent, in matchups with the president. And both of them are losing.”

Breakfast Sides

Chris Lehman explains how Mormon economics shape the GOP: “Perhaps most important, Mormons, unlike adherents of most mainline Protestant denominations, have very little ambivalence about the acquisition of wealth. One scours the endless, incantatory pages of Joseph Smith’s revelation in vain for any suggestion that wealth complicates the spiritual lives of believers. Not for Mormons the queasy business about the camel going through the needle’s eye before a rich man enters the Kingdom of Heaven. Instead, paradise is pretty much set aside for the enterprising rich, whose upward mobility is thought to persist even in the three-tiered scheme of the Mormon afterlife.  These innovations in economic theology have long seemed a bit quaint — akin to the picture-book accounts in LDS scripture of wars and dynasties. But in recent years, and especially with the G.O.P.’s tilt to the right and the rise of the Tea Party, such beliefs no longer appear so fanciful. Indeed, the Mormon infatuation with maximal investor returns and precious metals has shaded steadily into the center of conservative mainstream thought.”

William Pfaff diagnoses the cause of Greek unrest — suppressed democracy: “Among Greeks, the opinion is widespread that once again, as in 1917, 1940 and 1947, when, as they are convinced, they were ill-used by the great Western powers, they once again are victims of Western Europe, and especially of Germany. They cannot deny the reproaches of economic mismanagement and corruption since their country joined the EU, but they did not need a German official to propose that an EU-appointed commissioner, whom angry Greeks are calling a German gauleiter, be sent to take charge of Greece’s economy—which, after all, is only 2 percent of the European economy. Another German was overheard confiding to a Portuguese official that if Portugal, also in grave difficulties, needs help, there would be no trouble providing it — implying that a certain “racial” hierarchy prevails in European and international economic circles.”

Steve M. says it’s overly generous to call what the GOP is doing “strategy”: “I think it’s a stretch to call what Republicans have come up with a “strategy.” The people who are taking on these fights in the GOP aren’t shrewdly and carefully assessing the percentages of liberals, moderates, and conservatives in America, and planning accordingly — they’re drinking their own Kool-Aid and concluding, at least on a subconscious level, that they don’t have to worry about non-conservative voters because non-conservatives aren’t really Americans.  Ann Coulter says Democrats would never win if we took away women’s right to vote. Rush Limbaugh says Obama is pursuing an electoral strategy of trying win the votes of ‘the takers,’ not ‘the makers.’ These are rhetorical flights of fancy, but I think a large percentage of Republicans actually believe them, and have started to think that voters who don’t pull the (R) lever aren’t actually voters at all, because they shouldn’t be. The ultimate example of this is the tea party’s claim that its members are “taking our country back” — as if it exclusively belongs to them.”

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