2009 - %3, October

Hawaii: Scolded for Furlough Fridays

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 3:49 PM EDT

After Hawaii decided to cut 17 instructional days from its public school calendar, Education Secretary Arne Duncan criticized the move on the first of the state's furlough Fridays. "All states are under financial pressure, but none are cutting this much learning time from their school year," Duncan wrote in a Honolulu Advertiser oped Friday. "It's inconceivable to me that this is the best solution for Hawaii."

For parents, child care was also a burden. Reported Mary Vorsino in the Honolulu Advertiser on Saturday:

The furlough days have left Hawaii with the shortest school calendar in the nation and drawn the ire of some parents, who have been left scrambling to secure child care or forced to take vacation days to stay home with children. Yesterday, hundreds of kids went to hastily set up furlough Friday day care programs across the state...
Many parents leaving their children at day care centers said the financial strain of paying for such programs in order to deal with the furloughs has been tough. Child care providers added that the lower-than-expected turnout at day care programs is probably because people are already struggling in the economic downturn. They said turnout will likely increase as the furlough plan progresses.

To read more about Hawaii's furlough Fridays, check out additional coverage on the MoJo blog.

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Reid to Dems: Fall in Line

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 2:23 PM EDT

Now that Harry Reid has announced that he will bring a bill with a public option to the Senate floor for consideration, he's using his press conference to hammer home the need for Democrats to hold together on the bill. He's sounding dog whistles that Senate blue dogs will definitely hear—talking about how much his caucus supports health care reform, mentioning the 60-year history of Democratic health care reform efforts, and emphasizing that there really aren't many moderate Republicans left. ("I can count them on two fingers.") Will it be enough to keep Blanche Lincoln, Mary Landrieu, and Ben Nelson on board for a motion to proceed when he brings his bill to the floor? He had better hope so.

Reid's Public Option Politics

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 1:45 PM EDT

Who is this man leading the Senate Democratic caucus, and what has he done with Harry Reid?

Multiple sources are reporting that Reid's big announcement this afternoon will be that he intends to bring a health care bill to the Senate floor that includes a public option that would allow states to "opt-out." It will take 60 votes to strip the public option from the bill during the amendment process—votes that public option opponents don't have right now. Democratic holdouts—presumed to include Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)—will be forced to actually vote against the public option instead of killing it with a "silent filibuster."

There will be a lot of debate in the coming days about what exactly prompted Reid to include the public option in the draft bill. He didn't have to do it, and by all accounts Reid doesn't even have the 60 votes he'd need to overcome a certain GOP filibuster of a bill that includes public option. Reid is facing a tough reelection fight in 2010 and may have factored that into his decision, possibly to shore up support on the left, which has criticized him as a weak and ineffective leader. But unlike Chris Cillizza, Reid seems to think there might be benefits to shoring up his left flank. Ezra Klein highlighted a health care lobbyist's speculation along those exact lines:

One Democratic health care lobbyist suggested that Reid's trouble rounding up 60 votes to bring a bill with a public option opt-out to the floor suggests that the support isn't there for the opt-out when it becomes time to vote on the bill. But if Reid gets the bill to the floor with an opt-out and is forced to water it down later to win votes, he can still make the case with liberals and unions that he did what he could to get it passed—a key point considering that Reid will need the left's help in what's shaping up to be a tough reelection bid.

This seems right. If the votes aren't there, they aren't there. The left was pressuring Reid to not allow a silent filibuster of its biggest health reform goal. "If Harry Reid Allows The Silent Filibuster, It’s All On Him," Jane Hamsher warned at Firedoglake. Well, it looks like he won't allow it. And the Democratic caucus may still filibuster itself—several "centrist" Democrats have certainly left that option open. But if Lincoln or Nelson or Mary Landrieu (D-La.) join a Republican filibuster to prevent health care reform from coming to a vote, you can bet that the left's rage—and fundraising might—won't be focused on beating up on poor old Harry Reid. It will be focused on the defectors.

Breaking: Sugary Cereal Bad for You

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 1:37 PM EDT

Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity released a groundbreaking study over the weekend showing, definitively, that Corn Pops are still bad for kids. Like, really bad. So bad, only 8 percent kid's cereals qualify under the federal Women, Infants and Children program (WIC). Recently, big cereal companies like Kellogg's and General Mills have thrown their weight behind ad campaigns that tout the cereal's health benefits, most notably added fiber. 

Kellogg's has spent big bucks advertising a measly three grams of fiber (see video below) in two of its best-selling cereals, even though one of those cereals, Froot Loops (41% sugar) tied for sixth WORST cereal for children, beating out only Reese's Puffs, Corn Pops, Lucky Charms, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cap'n Crunch. In 2008, cereal companies spent $165 million advertising to kids, 94% by General Mills and Kellogg's. With the web, sugary cereals have found even more ingenious ways to snag new noshers, making me nostalgic for the days when you fished 3-D glasses from the bottom of the bag or saved up your box tops for a baseball cap.

Despite the Rudd Center's findings, all the cereals mentioned in this post meet the industry's standards as "better for you food." Among the study's other findings: "Cereals marketed directly to children have 85% more sugar, 65% less fiber, and 60% more sodium than cereals marketed to adults for adult consumption." At the same time, many supposedly healthy cereals for adults, like Kellogg's Smart Start, have just as much sugar as Corn Pops.

Still not convinced? Go back to our March/April Food Package and take a look for yourself.

Quote For The Day

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 1:35 PM EDT

The times, they are a-changin. Andrew Sullivan:

This blog is now competitive on a daily basis with some prime time cable news shows in terms of total audience.

More here.

15 Years to Go

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 1:16 PM EDT

Josh Marshall:

It's news to no one that physical, print newspapers are in the throes of a historic decline. But the numbers themselves really take your breath away when you see them. According to the Audit Bureau, daily circulation fell 10.6% year over year in the period between April to September.

Ad revenues are one thing; and they're likely enough to be fatal to newspapers as the dominant mode of news distribution in the country. But that figures in economic trends of various sorts. But readership, while obviously intimately related, is a different sort of metric. I have many thoughts on this. But at the moment I'm not sure what to say other than those numbers take my breath away. A ten percent decline year over year is the rate of a mode of distribution going out of existence.

A few years ago I was on a panel discussion and the moderator asked us all how long newspapers distributed on newsprint would last in the United States.  My guess was 20 years: that is, the last newspaper in the country would shut its doors in 2025.

That's now looking pretty optimistic: a lot of people these days seem to think that 2012 is more like it, and today's news won't do anything to change their minds.  At the same time, there are various ways you can look at that 10% drop, and one of them is simply that the recession has condensed several years of decline into a single year.  A $500 newspaper subscription is a prime candidate to get sliced out of the family budget when times are tough and news can be found everywhere.  So maybe all that's happening is that a cohort of the least dedicated readers are leaving all at once, and when the recession starts to lift newspaper circulations will begin to stabilize a bit.  Or at least decline more slowly.

Maybe.  I'm not sure what I think anymore.  On the one hand, there's a generational attachment to newspapers that just won't go away as fast as people think.  (People routinely underestimate generational attachments.  But the fact is that they only truly go away when generations die out, and that takes a while.)  On the other hand, there really does seem to be a tipping point issue here: as circulations decline, and newspapers respond by cutting back staff, the quality of the product spirals down.  That's a vicious cycle, and there's a point at which the quality deteriorates so fast and so hard that even old newspaper diehards just don't want to bother anymore.  I'm pretty far along the diehard continuum myself, but the deterioration of the LA Times is so obvious these days that even I'm not sure how much longer I really feel like paying for it.  We'll see.

In any case, I guess I'll stick with 2025 for now.  There may be small local papers around for longer than that, but no big city dailies.  New York will be the last to go, but in fifteen years newspapers will be a thing of the past even there.

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Fact Checking the Chamber of Commerce

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 1:14 PM EDT

Leaders of the embattled US Chamber of Commerce went on a media blitz this weekend, granting lengthy interviews to Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the LA Times, and Politico. They repeatedly sought to portray the group as a moderate business association ambushed by a liberal White House, weaving a narrative that mostly went unchallenged. Here are six cases where a bit of fact checking would have revealed the Chamber's spin:

Who is "raising cain"?

The Spin: "Let's be clear: We haven't raised up the cain," Chamber lobbyist Bruce Josten told Fox. "It came from their side of the street." In other words, the Chamber was just doing what it always does when it was attacked out of nowhere by environmental groups and the White House.

The Reality: The Chamber's current predicament is at least partly the result of its own extreme rhetoric. After Chamber VP Bill Kovacs called for a "Scopes Monkey Trial of the 21st Century" on climate change, companies began leaving the group. The Chamber has also sponsored incendiary TV ads mocking cap and trade legislation, a health care public option, and the White House's proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

Who is being unreasonable?

The Spin: The White House is engaged in a "name calling campaign" against the Chamber. "In their words, not mine, it's again to try to neuter and marginalize us," Josten told Fox.

The Reality: The term "neuter the Chamber" comes from a Politico headline. White House officials never used the term nor called the Chamber any other names. The President and his officials have only disagreed with some of the Chamber's claims, questioned whether the group represents the US business community, and expressed a preference for bypassing its well-funded lobbyists in favor of speaking directly with corporate CEOs.

Who is ignoring their constituents?

The Spin: In ignoring the Chamber in favor of speaking directly with CEOs, the White House is missing the perspective of small businesses.

The Reality: Fewer than 10 percent of the companies represented on the Chamber's 118-member board of directors represent small businesses or local chambers. The rest represent large regional, national, and multinational corporations. The only way to join the board, which controls the Chamber and its policies, is to be voted in by sitting board members. In contrast, the board of the National Small Business Association is elected by its 60,000 dues-paying members. Unlike the Chamber, the NSBA has not taken a position on climate legislation or the Consumer Financial Protection Agency because its members don't agree on how the proposals will affect them.

Apples and Oranges

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 12:08 PM EDT

Dave Roberts:

I’m sure Steve Mufson and Juliet Eilperin didn’t choose the headline, but whoever did, I think it’s a real mistake to refer to the Kerry-Boxer bill as “a bit more ambitious” than its Waxman-Markey counterpart in the House. This became conventional wisdom almost immediately, but it seems to me both wrong and pernicious — the more Kerry-Boxer is seen as a leftward move from the House bill, the more senators who want to be seen as moderate will want to be seen hacking it down.

Dave's argument is that Kerry-Boxer's emissions reduction target is only slightly tighter than Waxman-Markey's (20% vs. 17%) and that when you compare apples to apples, it's really more like 18% or 19%.  It's a pretty tiny difference, and the rest of the bill is pretty clearly weaker than Waxman-Markey.  Taken as a whole, it's less ambitious, not more.

But I'd go further.  The real difference between the two bills is that Waxman-Markey has already gone through the sausage factory and Kerry-Boxer hasn't.  It's easy for a draft of a bill to be ambitious, but not so easy for it to stay ambitious by the time it gets to a floor vote.  Comparing a draft to a finished bill is like comparing a fantasy football team to the Pittsburgh Steelers.  It's kind of ridiculous to compare them at all at this stage.

POSTSCRIPT: And while we're on the subject, yes, global warming is still real.

Monday Mental Health Break: Backstreet Boys Edition

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 11:46 AM EDT

Five cubicle jockeys simultaneously lip-dubbing a Backstreet Boys song for webcam doesn't sound like the stuff of great video, does it? But trust me. This 4-minute short will make you happy for no good reason, starting around minute 2. Watch it below.

Filibusters and Holds

| Mon Oct. 26, 2009 11:34 AM EDT

The Republican effort to block Obama's nominees to federal judgeships is, truly, without precedent.  In the past there have always been a few high-profile fights, as well as a general slowdown toward the end of most presidencies when the minority party hopes that a few months of stalling will allow them to take office and fill the vacancies themselves.  It's not pretty, but not surprising either.

But this presidency is different.  Republicans are holding up everyone, and they're doing it during Obama's first year.  Not a single appellate judge has gotten a vote yet:

And it's not just judicial nominees. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, pointing to the difficulties of responding to the global flu pandemic, recently noted that the Senate isn't allowed to vote on a surgeon general, because Republicans refuse to let Regina Benjamin's nomination come to the floor. "We are facing a major pandemic, we have a well-qualified candidate for surgeon general, she's been through the committee process. We just need a vote in the Senate," Sebeilus said late last week. "Please give us a surgeon general."

....People for the American Way reported last week that between 1949 and 2009 — spanning 11 presidents — there were 24 nominees on which cloture was forced. In the first nine months of Obama's first year in office, there have been five, meaning Senate Republicans on track to force more cloture votes on more Obama nominees than practically every modern president combined.

That's Steve Benen, who points out accurately, "And that doesn't include the secret and not-so-secret holds."  Temper tantrum politics is alive and well in the modern Republican Party.

UPDATE: Oops.  One appellate judge has been confirmed so far: Gerard Lynch for the 2nd Circuit.  Sorry about that.  Complete list here.  More comparisons here.