Blogs

Why Don't We Make Election Day A Holiday?

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 5:12 PM EST

An estimated 37 percent of eligible voters cast ballots during Tuesday's midterm elections—the lowest voter turnout since 1942. It wasn't that much of an anomaly, however: For decades, voter turnout in non-presidential election years has hovered far below what it was in the mid-19th century, when it peaked at around 70 percent. The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance ranks the United States 120th out of 169 countries for average voter turnout.

Today, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) proposed a way to reverse this trend: Make election day a national holiday. "Election day should be a national holiday so that everyone has the time and opportunity to vote," Sanders said in a press release announcing the Democracy Day Act. "While this would not be a cure-all, it would indicate a national commitment to create a more vibrant democracy."

Sadly, Congressional Republicans, who've made voter suppression a key part of their electoral strategy, are about as likely to support a voting holiday as they are to declare war on Christmas.

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Pointergate: This Week's Most Racist Local News Story

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 4:22 PM EST

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges was recently participating in a neighborhood charity event aimed at boosting voter participation, when she stopped to pose in a photo with a volunteer named Navell Gordon. In said photo, Hodges and Navell point at each other.

Pretty typical stuff, and material for, at most, a quick news anecdote highlighting the mayor's community involvement. But Navell happens to be a young black man, a fact that must have something to with what happened next: Newscasters at KSTP, the local ABC affiliate, took the innocuous photo and quickly warped it into an exclusive report accusing Hodges of "posing with a convicted felon while flashing a known gang sign" and thereby instigating violence in their fair city.

In the same report, KSTP goes on to admit there is zero evidence Navell actually belongs to a gang. But they're certain he has "connections to gang members."

"She's putting cops at risk," retired police officer Michael Quinn told the station. "The fact that they're flashing gang signs at each other, showing solidarity with the gangs, she's legitimizing what they're doing. She's legitimizing these people who are killing our children in Minneapolis."

Here's a tweet from the story's reporter promoting the piece before it aired.

KTSP has so far stood by the report, but issued a statement claiming Minneapolis police fed the item to them.

The story is infuriating. But just to drive the point of how insanely racist KTSP's report truly is, watch the video below in which Navell discusses his involvement with non-profits like Neighborhoods Organizing for Change and how he's working to move on from his past.

"I made some mistakes in life," he says, while footage appears of him and Hodges posing for the photo in question. "I can't vote. I'm not ashamed to say that. But I'm working on fixing that right now so I can be able to vote for my next president."

Next up for KTSP? Well, word surfaced today that Obama is likely to tap US Attorney Loretta Lynch as the nation's next attorney general. Perhaps the station should stage a timely investigation into her gang affiliations, given this shocking photo:

AP/Seth Wenig

Friday Cat Blogging - 7 November 2014

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 2:52 PM EST

Remember I told you that 56-year-old human reflexes were no match for 11-month-old kitten reflexes? Well, if you throw in a bad back, it's game over. Unless these guys are snoozing, I'd guess that only about one picture in ten is even close to catblogging material these days.

Still, one in ten is one in ten, so here are today's pictures. On the left, Hopper is sitting on the window sill, waiting for a bird to fly by and entertain her. On the right, Hilbert has taken up shop on Marian's chair in our newly rearranged living room (rearranged to make room for a more back-friendly chair for Kevin). He actually spent most of the night on Wednesday sleeping in our bed with us. Progress!

In other news, my sister recommends that all of you with cats try this. She's coming over to visit tomorrow morning, so we'll try it then. Let us know in comments how it goes.

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for November 7, 2014

Fri Nov. 7, 2014 1:39 PM EST

US Navy Sailors deploy a MK 18 MOD 2 Swordfish camera to survey the ocean floor. In this operation, designed to promote maritime security, a quarter of the world's navies are participating. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Blake Midnight)

Supreme Court Takes Up Yet Another Challenge to Obamacare

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 1:27 PM EST

It looks like the Halbig challenge to Obamacare is a go:

The justices on Friday say they will decide whether the law authorizes subsidies that help millions of low- and middle-income people afford their health insurance premiums. A federal appeals court upheld Internal Revenue Service regulations that allow health-insurance tax credits under the Affordable Care Act for consumers in all 50 states. Opponents argue that most of the subsidies are illegal.

In case it's slipped your mind, this is the case that hinges on whether a typo in one sentence of the Affordable Care Act should wipe out health care subsidies in every state that uses the federal exchange. If the challengers win, subsidies will be available only in states that run their own exchanges.

Given the facts of the case, I'd normally say the whole thing is laughable. The intent of the law is, and always has been, crystal clear. But the current Supreme Court really doesn't seem to care much about laughable. If they want to cripple Obamacare, they'll do it. The shoddiness of the argument doesn't much matter to them.

So this is going to be a nail-biter. If it goes the wrong way, 6 million people or more will lose access to affordable health care—and half the country will cheer giddily about it. Because there's just nothing more satisfying than denying decent health care to millions of your fellow citizens.

UPDATE: Although this challenge is the same as the one in Halbig, the actual case the Supreme Court agreed to hear is King v. Burwell. Sorry for the mistake.

Negotiating With Republicans ≠ Negotiating With Tea Partiers

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 12:56 PM EST

Megan McArdle was pretty unimpressed with President Obama's press conference following the Democrats' midterm defeat. "No one reasonable expected the president to grovel," she says, but surely he could have adopted a more conciliatory tone?

Most notably, of course, he said he would take executive action on immigration by year's end unless Republicans passed a bill. It's certainly a bold negotiating tactic: You can do what I want, or I'll go ahead and do what I want anyway. This is how you “negotiate” with a seven-year old, not a Senate Majority Leader.

I'm not sure that isn't what Obama thinks he's doing…But Mitch McConnell is not a seven year old…McConnell is not the proverbial Tea Party extremist who won't negotiate; he's an establishment guy, known as a strategist and a tactician, not an ideologue (which is why the Tea Party isn't that fond of him). In short, he's someone who can make deals. Responding to McConnell's rather gracious remarks about finding common goals by announcing that you know what the American public wants, and you're going to give it to them no matter what their elected representatives say, seems curiously brash. It might chill the atmosphere today when he sits down with congressional leaders.

 I wonder if Obama even knows how to negotiate with Republicans…

I'm not here to defend Obama's negotiating record. I'd rate it higher than McArdle, probably, but it's obviously not one of Obama's strong suits. Still, she's rather pointedly ignoring the elephant in the room here.

As near as I can tell, Obama has regularly demonstrated the ability to negotiate with Mitch McConnell. Not perfectly, and not without plenty of hiccups, but they can do business when the incentives are strong enough. In fact, they did do business on immigration reform. A year ago the Senate passed a comprehensive bill 68-32. Here's what Obama said about McConnell on Wednesday:

My interactions with Mitch McConnell, he has always been very straightforward with me. To his credit, he has never made a promise that he couldn't deliver. And he knows the legislative process well. He obviously knows his caucus well—he has always given me, I think, realistic assessments of what he can get through his caucus and what he can't. And so I think we can have a productive relationship.

The unnamed elephant in the room, obviously, is John Boehner and the tea party caucus in the House. Boehner has repeatedly shown that he can't control his own caucus and can't deliver a deal of any sort. That's not because either Obama or Boehner are incompetent negotiators, it's because the tea partiers are flatly unwilling to compromise in any remotely constructive way. So when Obama adopts a combative tone on immigration, it's aimed at Boehner, who really does have the miserable job of trying to ride herd on a bunch of erratic and willful seven-year-olds—as he himself has admitted from time to time.

Does Obama know how to negotiate with Republicans? Sure. Does he know how to negotiate with tea party extremists? Hard to say. But then again, even John Boehner hasn't figured out how to do that. Perhaps Obama's playground style hit-them-over-the-head approach is about as good as it gets.

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Chart of the Day #2: Wage Growth Is Still Lousy

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 11:52 AM EST

In my post earlier this morning about jobs growth, I mentioned that wage growth continues to be stuck at about zero after accounting for inflation. This probably deserves a chart of its own to make it clear what things look like, so here it is: wage growth after inflation since the recovery began in 2010. As you can see, real wages have been bouncing along slightly above and slightly below zero for four years now. If you use alternate measures of inflation, the trend is even worse.

This is the basic lay of the land. Yes, the economy is improving and jobs are becoming more plentiful. But most of us have seen our pay stagnate for four years and counting. That's one of the reasons the public mood remains so sour.

Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in October

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 10:50 AM EST

The American economy added 214,000 new jobs in October, but about 90,000 of those jobs were needed just to keep up with population growth, so net job growth clocked in at 124,000. That's about the same as last month—in fact, about the same as the past nine months—and it's a fairly solid number. In addition, the headline unemployment rate ticked down to 5.8 percent, and this was a real gain, not a chimera due to more people giving up and leaving the workforce. In fact, both the labor force participation rate and the employment-population ratio were up.

This is all good news. It's not evidence of a roaring economy, but it's solid good news. As usual, the main blemish comes in wage growth, which continues to be stuck at about zero after accounting for inflation. In other words, the economy is growing, but it's still not growing fast enough to truly tighten up the labor market. When we start seeing healthy wage gains, that will be the first sign that we've truly put the Great Recession behind us. We're not there yet.

Surprise! This GOP Senator's Theory About Volcanoes and Climate Change Is Totally Wrong.

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 10:49 AM EST

When the 114th Congress convenes in January, Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski will likely take over as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee—one of several committees whose work deals directly with climate and energy policy.

Unlike many of her GOP peers in the upper chamber, Murkowski doesn't deny that the climate is changing. She's even referred to Alaska as "ground zero for climate change." But as we've pointed out, in recent years it's become increasingly difficult to distinguish her legislative record on the issue from that of the rest of her party.

On Election Night, Murkowski told NPR that Alaskans are experiencing warmer temperatures and thinner ice and said that "this is something that we must address." But it's difficult to know what she means by that, because, as NPR reports, Murkowski's "apparently not so sure what the cause is—or whether mankind is to blame." For some reason, she brought up a volcano in Iceland.

"The emissions that are being put in the air by that volcano are a thousand years' worth of emissions that would come from all of the vehicles, all of the manufacturing in Europe," she said.

That position isn't exactly in line with the latest science. NPR quoted a climate scientist who called Murkowski's statement "untrue," "wrong," and "highly deceptive":

"What can I say?" wonders Princeton professor Michael Oppenheimer, a leading expert on climate change. "It's simply untrue. I don't know where she gets that number from."

Oppenheimer says it's actually the other way around: Annual emissions from Europe are 10 times bigger than the annual emissions of all volcanoes put together. And he says the argument misses a bigger point: Humans are adding carbon dioxide to what was a balanced system.

"So not only is the number wrong, but the context is highly deceptive," he says.

I asked Murkowski's office to comment on this. They haven't responded, but it looks like she was probably referring to the Bardarbunga volcano, which has been erupting for the last two months—spewing 35,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2) into the atmosphere every day. Sulfur dioxide is toxic, but it's not responsible for global warming. In fact, it actually cools the planet, Oppenheimer explained in an email to Mother Jones.

The 35,000 tons of SO2 Bardarbunga has spewed out daily may be a lot—on par with a large power plant's monthly output, he says—"but against all the other natural and manmade sources of SO2, it's not that much."

"So no matter how you slice it," concludes Oppenheimer, Murkowski's comments were "nonsense."

Since entering office in 2002, the oil and gas industry has been the largest contributor to Murkowski's reelection bids. In 2004, her campaign committee and leadership PAC accepted $204,063 from oil and gas industry sources, about 3.6 percent of all the money she raised, according to data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. Both the amount of oil money and its proportion of her total fundraising have steadily increased since then. This year, the industry contributed $568,581 to her campaign and PAC, about 8.7 percent of all the money she's raised so far. The volcano industry hasn't contributed anything.

President Obama Can Safely Keep His Veto Pen in Mothballs

| Fri Nov. 7, 2014 12:22 AM EST

Ramesh Ponnuru is completely correct about this:

A strange amnesia has settled over much of the political world. I can't count the number of articles I've read saying that the new Republican Congress is going to pass all sorts of legislation that President Barack Obama will veto. The latest example: George Will's syndicated column urging the Republicans to pass several bills even if it results in "a blizzard of presidential vetoes."

There's no blizzard in the forecast. Senate Democrats will have the power to subject almost all legislation to filibuster (a word that does not appear in Will's column). Overcoming a filibuster takes 60 votes. So Republicans, who will probably end up with 54 seats, would have to win over Democrats to get legislation through the Senate to the president's desk. If they can do that, the legislation is unlikely to draw a veto.

I've noticed the same thing Ponnuru did, and it's weird. Is there some kind of unspoken assumption among pundits that Democrats aren't going to routinely insist on a 60-vote threshold for Republican legislation? If so, I don't know why. It seems pretty obvious to me that they will. At the very least, it allows them to keep most legislative negotiating leverage safely within the Senate, which is just where they want it.

Basically, the next two years are going to be just like the last two. The only thing that will change is the order of the signatures on the consent agreements.