2011 - %3, July

Lost Car, Lost Job, and a Weekend in Jail. Thanks, Chase!

| Fri Jul. 8, 2011 9:54 AM PDT

This story is close to unbelievable. It's worth sitting through the 15-second ad to watch it. The moral, apparently, is that big banks figure they can do anything they want, and unless you get a lawyer on your side they just don't give a damn about whatever damage they've caused. This is just appalling.


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Popping the Pledge Bubble

| Fri Jul. 8, 2011 9:31 AM PDT

I have some friendly advice for all my good friends who are currently competing for the Republican nomination for president: you should refuse to sign pledges. Sure, the first one seems harmless. Maybe it's a pledge not to raise taxes. No problem. Then the next one is a pledge to oppose gay marriage. OK, you can do that too, even if you'd rather not. But then the next one is something like this. And you're stuck. You can't pretend to have a principled objection to pledges, but you're toast with the tea party crowd if you refuse to sign because you disagree with parts of it. These folks accept no shilly shallying from politicians with "nuanced" views.

So your best bet is to simply register a broad objection to presidents signing interest group pledges at all, along with a noble-sounding statement that you want people to judge you by your past actions and character etc. etc., not by who can out-pledge the other. Just say no to pledges.

Who Are We Talking To?

| Fri Jul. 8, 2011 9:17 AM PDT

Via Andrew Sullivan, Alex Goldmark directs us to the the MIT Senseable City Lab's Connected States of America mapping project, which sports an interactive map showing who we talk and text to. The map wouldn't show Orange County for some reason, so I tried Los Angeles instead. Two things immediately jumped out at me:

  • Connection volume seems to be a pretty simple combination of geography (we know more people near us) and population density (we know more people in big cities because big cities just have more people).
  • The maps are surprisingly similar for both call and text volume. Should I have expected them to be different? Maybe not, but I did.

Of course, there are also a few weirdnesses. Why so many calls and texts to Codington County, South Dakota, and Tulsa, Oklahoma? Big call centers? What about Fayette, Tennessee?

Where Are the Jobs, Dammit!?

| Fri Jul. 8, 2011 8:31 AM PDT

The Labor Department's June jobs report was a mess of bad news. The jobless rate increased to 9.2 percent, job growth was anemic (a measly 18,000 new jobs were created), hourly wages decreased, 272,000 workers left the labor force, and more.

The report was cause for alarm—and within moments of its release partisans on all sides were yelling (via email press releases). The reaction boiled down to this: Republicans and conservatives are blaming Democrats for failing to slash the federal debt, lower taxes, and wipe out regulations, all of which, they claim, stifle job creation (even if taxes are at a historic low and President Obama and the Republicans negotiated a deal last December that extended the Bush tax cuts). Congressional Democrats are blaming GOP obstructionism. And progressives are excoriating the GOP's obsession with deficit reduction and the Obama administration's acceptance of this misplaced focus on the debt. In a statement, Obama acknowledged that "the debate here in Washington has been dominated by issues of debt limit," not jobs creation. But he did not assume any blame for that and called for continuing negotiations on debt reduction and for jobs-related programs, including an infrastructure initiative, patent reform, and trade deals.

Economy Continues to Suck, Congress Continues to Fiddle

| Fri Jul. 8, 2011 8:19 AM PDT

Today's jobs report sucks, as usual. CBPP's chart is below. This is from Chad Stone, their chief economist:

Today’s very disappointing employment report shows that two years after the technical end of the recession and after 16 straight months of private-sector job creation, the jobs deficit remains huge....It makes no sense that in an economic recovery still struggling to gain momentum, policymakers are easing up on the gas and threatening to slam on the brakes. But that is just what is happening. 

Paul Krugman puts it a little more caustically:

Ugh. That was a seriously ugly jobs report. Almost no job creation, with slow private-sector growth offset by falling public-sector employment; a falling employment-population ratio; and (I don’t know how many people have picked this up), an actual decline in wages, albeit a small one.

Let me emphasize that last point. My bottom line on the inflation-deflation issue has always been to look at wages; you can’t have a wage-price spiral if wages ain’t spiraling. And they aren’t, to say the least.

We are ruled by charlatans and cowards. Our economy is in the tank, we know what to do about it, and we're just not going to do it. The charlatans prefer instead to stand by and let people suffer because that's politically useful, while the cowards let them get away with it because it's politically risky to fight back. Ugh indeed.

Bachmann Signs Pledge with Questionable Slavery Reference

| Fri Jul. 8, 2011 8:14 AM PDT

Rep. Michele Bachmann is the first Republican presidential candidate to sign the Family Leader pledge disavowing gay marriage, premarital sex, and porn. But perhaps the most outrageous part of the pledge is the section that implies that maybe slavery wasn't all that bad for black families.

Declaring that "[u]nmistakably, the Institution of Marriage in America is in great crisis," the document states:

Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.

Maybe they should get a bit of credit for acknowledging that slavery was "disastrous" for black Americans. But that passage seems to suggest that maybe things actually were better for black Americans then. Yes, being kept as property, forced into marriages arranged by slave masters, and raped by those masters was great for black people. As Jack & Jill Politics also points out, breaking up families to sell off slaves was hardly pro-family values. It's an insensitive comparison that ignores history.

Bachmann's campaign has not responded to a request for comment about this particular line in the pledge.

The pledge, which is being promoted by Family Leader president and former Mike Huckabee ally Bob Vander Plaats, asks GOP candidates to committee to 14 vows, including "personal fidelity to my spouse," rejection of Sharia law, and "earnest, bona fide legal advocacy" for the Defense of Marriage Act. So far, Bachmann is the only candidate to sign on.

UPDATE: We asked the NAACP about the controversial pledge, and Bachmann's decision to sign it. "It is outrageously insensitive and without factual merit," said Hilary Shelton, senior vice president for advocacy and policy at the NAACP. "To say that the conditions African Americans are living under today are somehow worse than the conditions under slavery ignores the factual reality that they were bred to be sold ... It's certainly a misrepresentation of our nation's history and the horrors of slavery."

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Rick Perry's Death Penalty Problem

| Fri Jul. 8, 2011 7:56 AM PDT

Texas Governor Rick Perry's close relationship with fringe figures of the religious right is likely to be an issue for him if, as looks increasingly likely, he decides to run for president. But his central role in an international incident could loom even larger. Last night, he declined to intervene in the execution of a Mexican national, Humberto Leal, by lethal injection, despite public requests from the White House and the government of Mexico to hold off. Here's the AP:

A Mexican national was executed Thursday evening for the rape-slaying of a San Antonio teenager after the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a White House-supported appeal to spare him in a death-penalty case where Texas justice triumphed over international treaty concerns...Police never told Leal after his arrest that he could seek legal assistance from the Mexican government under an international treaty, and his case had prompted appeals on what it could mean for other foreigners arrested in the United States and for Americans detained abroad. His appeals lawyers said such assistance would have helped his defense.

Perry's death penalty record is the sort of thing that, in a normal political climate (as opposed to the current one), would cripple any realistic shot at the Oval Office. He refused to stay the execution of Cameron Todd Willingham, and, after the fact, when the evidence began to overwhelmingly suggest that Willingham had been innocent, he replaced three members of the commission that had been reviewing the case. (Perry stands by the execution, insisting that Willingham was a "monster.") After two decades on death row, Anthony Graves was released only after a lengthy investigation from Texas Monthly showed that he had been wrongfully convicted. And Perry's doggedly embraced the death penalty even as studies continue to show that executions are costing his cash-strapped state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Perry has presided over more than 230 executions as governor. As the Texas Tribune notes, he's commuted the death sentences of 31 death row inmates, but in 30 of those cases, that was only because the Supreme Court ordered him to. The high court intervened against again last March, ordering that the state was required to consider DNA testing in an appeal from a death row inmate. In 2010, a Houston district judge ruled the state's death penalty system was unconstitutional because it violated the 8th and 14th Amendments. Earlier this year, a Texas House committee considered a bill to put a two-year moratorium on executions, in light of continued evidence of wrongful convictions. And in April, a psychologist frequently employed as an expert by the state in death penalty cases was banned from performing mental evaluations after she was found to be using "unscientific" methods in her official analyses. Through it all, Perry has maintained the same confident tone: "I think our system works."

The Leal execution is about more than just criminal justice. It also speaks to Perry's hostile relationship with Washington, which is at the root of his appeal to the tea party. He's clashed with Obama over perceived slights in disaster-relief funding and border security (although Texas has grown fat off border pork). Now, Perry's returning the favor: The White House told the governor his decision would put Americans at risk when they travel abroad; Perry decided that wasn't his problem. As with his suggestion in 2009 that Texas could secede from the Union over Obama's policies, it's a case of Perry demonstrating less than total allegiance to the national interest. Is that presidential? That's for voters to decide.

Democrats Battle to Expose Political Donations from Contractors

| Fri Jul. 8, 2011 7:30 AM PDT

In April, a draft executive order leaked from the White House revealing President Obama's plan to force disclosure of heretofore secret political donations. The order would compel any company bidding on a government contract, as well as its officers, to disclose all contributions to independent political advocacy groups—even secretive 501(c)(4) organizations that currently don't make public their donors. For example, if enacted, the order would require Koch Industries, which has won $85 million in federal contracts since 2000, and the now infamous Koch brothers, David and Charles, who fund many conservative causes, to disclose their donations to outside groups (such as those that spend tens of millions of dollars seeking to influence congressional elections). The leaked order prompted an uproar in conservative circles, and since then there hasn't been a peep about its future.

At least one member of Congress, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), is fighting to make that order the law of the land. On Thursday, Eshoo offered an amendment to the 2012 defense authorization bill on Thursday requiring that contractors disclose their political spending when they bid for federal contracts. "The federal government does business with thousands of contractors who receive billions of dollars in taxpayer money," she said on the House floor. "They should be required to disclose their spending, and that’s what my amendment will accomplish."

The executive order—and Eshoo's amendment—are designed to counter the effects of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which paved the way for unlimited campaign contributions by unions and corporations to outside political groups such as Karl Rove's American Crossroads outfit and Priorities USA Action, a pro-Obama super PAC founded by two former White House aides. Here's the Sunlight Foundation on the backstory:

The ruling opened the door for a whole host of organizations, including 501(c)(4) nonprofit organizations, to run electoral advertisements without disclosing their donors to the public. The most notable of these groups is Crossroads GPS, a conservative nonprofit that spent more than $15 million on advertisements opposing Democratic candidates for office in the 2010 midterm election.

Under the order donations to Crossroads GPS and other groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Americans for Prosperity would have to be disclosed by companies seeking federal contracts.

The order is an attempt by the White House to do what Congress could not do when it failed to pass a legislative response to Citizens United, known as the DISCLOSE Act, at the end of last year.

Both Obama's order and Eshoo's amendment have been criticized as politicizing the contracting process by forcing contractors to reveal which parties and candidates they support. Some have even suggested the order would allow the Obama administration to block contractors that support Republicans. But the California Democrat contended that's a bogus argument. "When contractors can spend money in elections, the contracting process is already politicized," Eshoo said. "My amendment is modest and it's simple: it will bring this information out into the open, and let the public decide for themselves."

When the executive order leaked, it was criticized from some unlikely corners. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the number two Democrat in the House, said he opposed the order because the disclosure requirement applied to top executives at contractors. Also in opposition are Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), not to mention a slew of Congressional Republicans and trade groups.

A persistent critic has been Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who has repeatedly offered amendments attempting to prevent any executive order on disclosure of donations. On the House floor Thursday, Cole again offered his own amendment to block donation transparency by contractors, saying the order would inject politics into the contracting process and frighten contractors and their top brass from making campaign contributions. "This would clearly chill the Constitutionally-protected right to donate to political parties, candidates, and causes of one's choice," Cole said. "And I think frankly that's exactly what the proposed executive order is intended to do."

In her own remarks, Eshoo pointed out that for nearly two decades the Securities and Exchange Commission, a top financial regulator, has required bond dealers to limit campaign contributions to officials in cities that issue bonds and to reveal their political giving to the public—a rule upheld by the judicial system. "My amendment really adheres to the same principle," Eshoo said. "To quote Senator Mitch McConnell from 2003, 'Why would a little disclosure be better than a lot of disclosure?'"

June Jobs Report: Recovery? What Recovery?

| Fri Jul. 8, 2011 6:23 AM PDT

The Labor Department's June jobs report is ugly. Really ugly. In just about every meaningful category there was bad news about the workforce. Two years after the recession officially ended, the US labor market continues to struggle mightily.

The headline jobless rate crept up to 9.2 percent. Overall the economy created 18,000 jobs (economists had predicted nearly ten times that number). The real unemployment rate jumped up to 16.2 percent, from 15.8 percent. Workers who left the workforce: 272,000. Hours worked and hourly earnings declined. The percentage of Americans participating in the labor force—64.1 percent—is the lowest it's been since 1983. Teen unemployment is a staggering 24.5 percent, and the jobless rate for blacks and Hispanics is 16.2 percent and 11.6 percent, respectively.

Taking into account the June jobs report, the economy has created an average of 126,000 jobs a month in 2011. That's barely enough to keep pace with normal population growth.

Put simply, there's no silver lining in today's report. Tweeted economist Nouriel Roubini this morning, "Labor market in a slump dashing the hopes that this is a temporary soft patch. It is rather a deep ugly swamp."

The jobs report casts a dark cloud over the ongoing deficit-reduction talks between top Democrats and Republicans. The White House announced that President Obama will discuss the jobs report at 10:35 a.m. from the Rose Garden.

Here's more from the Associated Press:

Economists have said that temporary factors have, in part, forced some employers to pull back. High gas prices have cut into consumer spending. And supply-chain disruptions stemming from the Japan crisis slowed U.S. manufacturing production.

In June, hiring was weak in most sectors: Manufacturers added only 6,000 jobs; Education and health care, which added jobs through the recession, was flat; and professional and business services, which include accounting, legal and engineering jobs, grew by only 12,000.

Construction and financial services cut jobs.

In a brief statement this morning, House Speaker John Boehner pointed to June's dismal jobs report as proof that reducing the federal deficit with tax increases will only make things worse for the US economy. "The stimulus spending dinge, execessive government regulations, and our overwhelming debt continue to hold back job creators around our country," Boehner said. "Tax hikes on families and job creators would only make things worse."

Austan Goolsbee, a top economic aide to the president, fired back: "This reiterates what we know, which is that the growth rate slowed down in the first part of this year. And we've got to get that growth rate back up. This number is a call for us to take bipartisan action to help get the private sector to stand up and start hiring."

Does Bobby Jindal Think Women Seeking Abortions are "Criminals"?

| Fri Jul. 8, 2011 5:00 AM PDT

Anti-abortion lawmakers in Louisiana may not have succeeded in passing a blanket abortion ban this year, but they did get a new bill signed into law this week designed to deter women from following through with the procedure.

Here's what the bill requires, as reported by the News Star of Monroe, Louisiana. (via Think Progress):

The bill would require a website, as well as signs posted in abortion clinics, to inform women about abortion alternatives.
The signs would state that it is illegal for others to coerce women into getting an abortion; that public and private agencies can help them during and after pregnancy; that the father is liable for child support; and that adoptive parents may cover the medical costs of pregnancy.

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) signed the bill into law at the First Baptist Church of West Monroe on Wednesday, noting that bill will lead fewer women to seek abortions, because "the more they know, the more they'll choose life and alternatives to abortion."

Of course, information about alternatives in and of itself isn't the problem. It's that the measure is explicitly aimed at deterring women from seeking an abortion—not about allowing her to consider all her options. Jindal's statements likening women to criminals, also reported in the News Star, didn't really help matters:

Jindal said he couldn't understand why anyone would be opposed to such a law considering even criminals receive the same privilege.
"When officers arrest criminals today, they are read their rights," he said. "Now if we're giving criminals their basic rights and they have to be informed of those rights, it seems to me only common sense we would have to do the same thing for women before they make the choice about whether to get an abortion."

Of course, this is still a less outrageous bill than the other one proposed in the state this year that would have actually made it a crime for a woman to obtain an abortion.