Obama to Name Rep. Wasserman Schultz as DNC Chair

In a bit of surprise, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida is expected to be named chair of the Democratic National Committee later Tuesday, top Democratic sources said. Wasserman Schultz was chosen for her strength as a fund-raiser and as a television messenger, and for her clout in the crucial swing state of Florida, the sources said. She will succeed Tim Kaine, who announced earlier Tuesday that he will run for U.S. Senate from Virginia. The final choice, made by President Barack Obama, came down to her and former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, the sources said. 

Via Politico:

President Barack Obama has settled on Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) as the new chair of the Democratic National Committeetop Democratic sources said Tuesday.

Wasserman Schultz, 44, was chosen for her strength as a fund-raiser and as a television messenger, and for her clout in the crucial swing state of Florida, the sources said.

She will succeed Tim Kaine, who announced earlier Tuesday that he will run for U.S. Senate from Virginia.

The final choice came down to Wasserman Schultz and former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, the sources said.

Wasserman Schultz is in her fourth term in the House, and has long been seen as one of the younger rising leaders in the Democratic caucus.

She's feisty, fearless, talented, articulate and most of all is acutely aware that the GOP is a party of sycophantic bobbleheads. This may be Obama's best appointment yet.

 

How Jonathan Chait Sullies His Reputation

By writing nonsense like this:

I think (Minnesota Congresswoman and Tea Party darling Michelle) Bachmann is a legitimate dark-horse possibility to win the nomination.

In no known universe does the fact-averse, conspiracy-laden, gaffe-prone Bachmann have a shot at winning the GOP nomination. Yes, the media adores her, as they do Palin, because she says nutty things but at some point her inconsistencies will doom her. For now, Bachmann performs like some demonic seal in front of adoring crowds of the similarly insane and the utterly delusional but if she is seriously to contend for the nomination she will have to, you know, at some point speak to the reality-based community.

Much is being written about how Bachmann outraised Mitt Romney in the quarter just ended but all the analysis I've seen omits the fact that Bachmann has been actively fundraising and Romney has yet to fully engage. I have no doubt that Michelle Bachmann could do well if not win the Iowa caucuses next year but then again that's hardly a guarantor of the nomination. Just ask Mike Huckabee. The reality is also that Bachmann appeals to a narrow far-right evangelical base and she will face competition for those votes from likes of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich to name just two.

Even more egregious than Chait holding out hope that Michelle Bachmann has some sort of path to the Republican nomination is this tidbit:

The best parallel I think consider is Howard Dean. No, Dean is not anywhere near as crazy as Bachmann. That's not the point. Both tap deeply into a well of activist anger against a sitting president that is not being fully satisfied by other candidates. Both inspire passionate activist volunteers, and make their rivals look phony by comparison. And both inspire terror among the party leadership -- Democrats in 2003 considered Dean just as unelectable as Republicans now consider Bachmann.

The bold is mine. How the normally erudite Jonathan Chait can compare Howard Dean to Michelle Bachmann in terms of sanity is beyond me. It is frankly reprehensible. 

Eye on 2012: Kaine and LeMieux Announce Senate Runs

Two announcements today. Former Virginia Governor and current Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine announced that he is running for the Virginia Senate seat currently held by Senator Jim Webb who is retiring after just one term in office. Kaine will resign as DNC chair immediately. More from the Washington Post. Above is Tim Kaine's introductory video and here's a link to his website.

Meanwhile in Florida, former interim Senator George LeMieux announced that he will enter the GOP primary and seek his party's nomination in a bid to unseat the incumbent Democrat, Bill Nelson. LeMieux served 16 months in the Senate after being appointed by then-Governor Charlie Crist to fill a vacancy created when Senator Mel Martinez quit early. So far only one major candidate has declared, Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos with others expected to join the fray.

 

 

Alice Rivlin on Ryan's Medicare Proposal

Alice Rivlin, the former OMB director under President Clinton and a former Federal Reserve Vice Chair, spoke with Bloomberg News and gave her reaction to Rep. Paul Ryan's proposal to essentially privatize Medicare for those under 55 years of age. Rivlin, who currently works for the DC think tank Brookings Institution and teaches at Georgetown University, worked with Ryan in developing his proposal. 

Rivlin's original proposal is similar to the one which Rep. Ryan is unveiling today in that seniors would get lump-sum payments for the value of their Medicare benefits and use them to buy coverage in the private marketplace. The payments would climb slightly faster than inflation, but they would most assuredly lag rapidly rising health care costs whose costs have been outstripping inflation for decades. As a result, people now in their thirties would likely end up paying for a much bigger share of their health insurance when they retire than today’s seniors. On top of that, people now in their thirties would no longer even know how high their future out-of-pocket costs were likely to climb.

It's important to note that both plans would ultimately end Medicare as we know it. The reality is that Medicare is a single-payer system that, despite some looming financing problems, serves its intended purpose very well.

Ryan's Budget: A Frontal Assault on the New Deal

Wisconsin GOP Congressman and Chair of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan has an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal in which he outlines $6.2 trillion in spending cuts from the President's budget over the next ten years. According to Rep. Ryan, his plan would put the country "on the path to prosperity." Clearly, we must have a different definition of prosperity.

The Ryan budget proposes to bring spending on domestic government agencies to below 2008 levels, and it freezes this category of spending for five years. It also would demolish Medicaid by privatizing the most successful and beloved safety net for the elderly and the poor. Of the $6.2 trillion in proposed cuts, about a fifth would come from decimating Medicaid. Jonathan Allen of Politico offers the background on why Ryan thinks he can get away with this:

Think of it like this: Medicare and Social Security are like money hidden inside locked boxes behind a vaulted door, while Medicaid is a stack of money laying on the teller’s table. Medicare and Social Security are protected by two layers. There’s the political danger of going after programs that serve Republican and “swing” voters, and GOP leaders have promised not to alter benefits for folks who are within 10 years of retirement.

“It is difficult to construct significant budget savings for the Medicare program in a five or 10 year time frame of a normal budget resolution, particularly if fundamental changes to the program — such as converting to a defined contribution plan — would not impact any individuals who are currently 10 years from qualifying for Medicare,” says Bill Hoagland, the longtime top Senate budget aide who now lobbies for Cigna. “On the other hand, federal budget savings are more easily obtained in the Medicaid program within the time frame of a budget resolution, where the policy is simply to limit the federal grant program to the states.”

Indeed, Medicaid is flush with new cash. Last year’s health care law adds $627 billion to the Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Programs (Medicaid for kids) over the next decade, according to the Joint Tax Committee. That money hasn’t been spent yet, so it’s just sitting there for the taking.

The Ryan budget also aims to lower taxes bringing the top marginal rate from 35 percent to 25 percent. It hopes to maintain a revenue-neutral approach "by clearing out a burdensome tangle of deductions and loopholes that distort economic activity." Specifics, I assume, will come at a later date but the insanity of repeating a failed economic mantra comes now.

Congressman Ryan asserts in his op-ed that "no one person or party is responsible for the looming (fiscal) crisis." Perhaps not. But the Ayn Rand-loving acolyte that is Paul Ryan should perhaps realize that his approach has been tried before and that such an approach has only engendered a deepening cleavage that has torn at the social fabric of this country. It was the New Deal that built the middle class in America ensuring a broad-based prosperity for most though certainly not all. Today's GOP with its nefarious budget is leading a final frontal assault on the New Deal and should they succeed they will plunge the country into a severe depression and tear the country apart. 

 

Around the World

News from across the globe impacting your world today.

Presidential Residence in Abidjan Captured. Forces loyal to the UN recognized President Alassane Ouattara have overrun the home of Laurent Gbagbo, the usurper and darling of the American Religious Right, in the Côte d'Ivoire. Sources in Paris suggest Mr Gbagbo was now attempting to negotiate his surrender. Mr Gbagbo has refused to relinquish power even though the Ivorian election commission declared him the loser of November's run-off vote, and the UN certified the result plunging the West African country, the world's largest cacao producer, into civil war. The latest on the situation in Abidjan from the BBC and All Africa. Meanwhile, Media Matters sheds more light on the relationship between the American Christian Right and African thuggery.

Crude Prices Top $121 A Barrel in London. Oil prices hovered near their highest levels since the summer of 2008 on Tuesday, with prices of Brent sweet crude just shy of $121 USD a barrel in London trading, as unrest in the Middle East and North Africa supported prices and on delays to elections in Nigeria. On Monday, the North Sea Brent crude for May delivery closed at $121.06 USD a barrel, the highest settlement since August 1, 2008. In the US, West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the US benchmark crude oil, fell 41 cents to $108.05 USD a barrel, after settling at $108.47 USD a barrel on Monday, the highest settlement close since September 22, 2008.

Regrets? I have a few. The German news magazine Der Spiegel has a wide ranging interview with former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He also has a website, The Rumsfeld Papers, an archival site released in conjunction with his memoir, Known and Unknown.

Detained Chinese Artist Dissident Missing. The noted Chinese artist, activist, and philosopher Ai Weiwei has been detained in Beijing while trying to board a flight to Hong Kong. Chinese authorities have refused to comment on his detention and his whereabouts are unknown. The 53 year old world reknown artist has a wide following on Chinese social media, including Twitter, and had been vocal on social issues in China, including the collapse of sub-standard school buildings in the 2008 Szechuan earthquake. The United States has joined with the European Union and numerous human rights organizations in demanding his immediate release. More from The Economist.

Preliminary Results in Haitian Presidential Elections. Preliminary election results suggest that Michael Martelly, a singer and political novice, won 68 percent in the March 20th presidential run-off which pitted him against former First Lady Mirlande Manigath. Final results are due on 16 April at the earliest. The BBC offers a profile.

Moody's Downgrades Portugal Debt. Moody's Investors Service downgraded its rating on Portugal's bonds by one notch on Tuesday to Baa1 from A3 and warning that the small European country could suffer another cut soon because of political and economic uncertainties. A general election in Portugal is due on June 5. More from Al Jazeera.

Ocean Radiation in Japan Soars. The operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant said Tuesday that it had found radioactive iodine at 7.5 million times the legal limit in a seawater sample taken near the facility, and government officials imposed a new health limit for radioactivity in fish. The story in the Los Angeles Times.

Alabama Bills Aim To Grant Personhood to Embroyos

Republican lawmakers in Alabama have introduced three bills that would change the definition of personhood and potentially make abortion in all circumstances illegal in the Yellowhammer state. The story from the American Independent:

Senate Bill 301, introduced by Sen. Phil Williams (R-Cherokee, Etowah), is a proposal to amend the Alabama Code of 1975 to change the definition of the term “person” to mean: “any human being from the moment of fertilization or the functional equivalent thereof.”

Williams’ bill — read for the first time last Tuesday — has 18 co-sponsors and has been referred to the Senate committee on Health.

Rep. John Merrill (R-Tuscaloosa) filed an identical personhood bill in the House on Thursday, House Bill 405. But taking a step further from just amending the state’s legal code, Merrill also filed House Bill 409, which is a ballot proposal to amend the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, so that every time the word “person” is used in that document it would include “‘all humans from the moment of fertilization.”

Personhood laws are the latest tactic by the far right to overturn the right to an abortion. Personhood laws aim to grant constitutional rights to zygotes and fetuses, and ban abortion without exception, certain forms of birth control, in vitro fertilization, and the treatment of pregnancy complications such as ectopic pregnancies. The Colorado-based Personhood USA, a radical anti-choice organization, along with the Foundation for Moral Law, led by former Alabama state Supreme Court Roy Moore, are the main forces behind the Alabama’s personhood legislation. Personhood USA is led by far-right Christian Evangelical ministers Keith Mason and Cal Zastrow. They claim to be a ministry for the "pre-born."

As if the above isn't enough, Alabama Alliance Against Abortion Director James Henderson is encouraging the Republican-controlled legislature to dust off a pre-Civil War statute that would make aiding and abetting abortion a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail. That is, if you drive someone to get an abortion in Alabama, you could go to jail.

Women in Alabama already face a hostile environment when it comes to their reproductive freedom. Alabama law subjects women seeking abortion services to biased-counseling requirements and mandatory 24 hour waiting period. The state restricts low-income women's access to abortion and restricts young women's access to abortion services by mandating parental consent. At present, there are only six abortion clinics in Alabama and over 90 percent of the state's counties lack any reproductive health facilities. NARAL already rates Alabama an F when it comes to reproductive health freedom issues. What's left, an F Minus?

Mississippi is set to vote on a similar personhood amendment this coming November.

President Obama Launches His Re-election Campaign

President Obama formally launched his 2012 re-election campaign bid releasing a two minute video entitled "It Begins with Us" and by filing the necessary paperwork with the Federal Electoral Commission. The video is above all an appeal to the vast grassroots network that the Obama campaign built in 2007-2008 to rejoin the effort.

The video brings together five supporters from the first campaign, each representing a key component of the Obama coalition that helped to propel Barack Obama to the presidency. First off there is Ed, a white, middle-aged man from North Carolina that Obama narrowly captured in 2008, says that although he doesn't agree with Obama "on everything, I respect him and I trust him." Then there is Gladys, a Hispanic mother from Nevada, another key battleground state, who admits to being "nervous" but adds this is an "election that we have to win". The third Obama supporter is Katherine from Colorado, another state that Obama won in 2008 and would need to hold in 2012, who argues that "politics at the grassroots level is individuals talking to other individuals and making a difference. "

Representing the critical under 30 demographic is Mike, a student from New York, a state not likely to be a battleground, who resurrects the H-word saying "I just saw the energy and hope he had for this country. Even though I couldn't vote at the time, I knew that someday I'd be able to help re-elect him. And that's what I plan on doing." The last Obama supporter is Alice, an African-American from Michigan, a rust-belt state that continues to be battered by the economy, who makes the argument that this time around it's incumbent upon Obama supporters to get the President re-elected given that President has a job to do.

The video does not include Obama’s voice nor does it tout any of the President's accomplishments. However if there are takeaways to be gleaned, it seems clear that the President is going to run more on character and judgment than on his record and that women will be a key demographic come November 2012. In 2008, 56 percent of the female vote went to Obama, exceeding the usual Democrat gender advantage. And by choosing supporters in states like Nevada, Colorado and North Carolina, the Obama campaign is signaling that it intends to replicate some of the surprising if narrow wins in the states that normally vote GOP.

In conjunction with the video, the Obama campaign sent out an email to supporters. That email is below the fold.

There's more...

The Politicking Populist

Over the Labor Day weekend in Milwaukee and again today outside Cleveland, President Obama delivered a strong defense of his presidency as he outlined a new $50 billion infrastructure investment proposal and a $100 billion proposal that will permanently extend research and development tax credits for businesses as part of his economic recovery program. The President also called for an end to the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, saying the country cannot afford $700 billion in tax breaks that benefit “millionaires and billionaires.”

The speech was vintage Obama. As he had forewarned earlier this summer during his television appearance with the ladies of The View, the President can "politick" very well. Helene Cooper of the New York Times termed the speech a "sharply populist speech that sought to appeal to the middle class" in which the President also "urged voters not to allow Republicans to 'ride' fears about the economy into the election booths in the midterm elections in November." Over at The Atlantic, Marc Ambinder exalted that the President had written "his thesis statement."

Policy messaging, large framing opportunities, telling stories -- still relies on direct communication from a president to the people without a self-selected content or media filter. Oval Office speeches, press conferences, policy proposals sold as policy proposals -- this is the stuff of getting from point A to point B. It's not complicated. It's not ornamentalized. It's not focused grouped. It's what Americans expect from their president -- that is... it's work. He's working. This is how a president works. He tells people what he is going to do and how he does it.

When it comes to fixing the economy, people want to know: What is he for? They don't want to know: who is he? They know who he is.

Where is the thesis statement?

That's what this week is about.

The president is for a set of tax cuts for businesses and spending that would step up the pace of the economic recovery. In doing so, he's given Democrats something to run on. As much as the party wants to localize races, they're still Democrats, and President Obama is still their leader. Now, he's given them some bread. The Republicans want to freeze all spending and tax cuts. The Democrats want to cut these taxes and spend more. John Boehner, a relative unknown to the American people, took the bait this morning by offering an immediate counter-proposal. So now, Democrats have the beginning of what could credibly be called a message: here's what we're going to do. And here's what they're going to do. Do you trust them?

If the Democrats are destined to lose the House, then this presidential declarative is probably too late for political strategists. But -- and be honest here -- strategists are going to complain about anything the president does so long as his approval rating remains under 50%. But for whatever reason, or perhaps by design, President Obama's advisers now recognize that the November election IS a referendum on what the president is doing as much as it is a choice between two parties.

I think Marc is generally right. The issue is I have is that this "thesis" should been have first expounded in February 2009 and not as we approach the 20 month mark of Obama's presidency.

Still for me personally it is very reassuring, however belatedly, to hear that the President has come to recognize that the Republican game plan for what it is, for what it has always been, and for what it always be:

Look, I recognize that most of the Republicans in Congress have said no to just about every policy I’ve proposed since taking office. I realize in some cases that there are genuine philosophical differences. But on issues like this one -- a tax cut for small businesses supported by the Chamber of Commerce -- the only reason they’re holding this up is politics, pure and simple.  They’re making the same calculation they made just before my inauguration: If I fail, they win. Well, they might think that this will get them to where they want to go in November, but it won’t get our country going where it needs to go in the long run. It won’t get us there. 

It is especially noteworthy that the President noted he realized that GOP made their calculation before he was inaugurated. The GOP narrative on Obama is the one now generally holds currency across much of America and where the President failed was not in his policies, even with those that progressives may find wanting, but his remarkable adherence to seek bipartisan solutions for the sake of bipartisan solutions coupled with his even more remarkable to aversion to the blood sport side of politics that allowed the narrative that Obama was some sort of big government socialist intent on destroying American capitalism. At any rate, it is a pleasure to see and hear the politicking populist back in fine form.

Here's hoping it lasts beyond November. Because if the GOP does retake one or both houses of Congress this fall, political gridlock is all but a certainty. In fact, some elements in the GOP want nothing more. They'll destroy the country in their zeal to prove already discredited economic prescriptions. But one has to realize that when it comes to much of the GOP, their politics is faith based. They believe what they believe in spite of the empirical evidence to contrary. They believe that to place limits on economic man is to restrict the freedoms of political man and they don't care if they sentence 80 percent of Americans to perpetual poverty in the process.

The text of the President's speech is beneath the fold.

There's more...

The Enthusiasm Gap Quantified

Public Policy Polling sums it up nicely:

This year isn't getting away from the Democrats because voters are moving toward the Republicans en masse. But the enthusiasm gap is turning races that would otherwise be lean Democratic into toss ups, turning toss ups into leaning Republican, and turning leaning Republican into solid Republican.

In terms of specifics, PPP examined ten races across the country and found that if the expected 2010 turnout matched the 2008 electorate then these races would either be solid Democratic, leaning Democratic or competitive. For example, Elaine Marshall running for Senate in North Carolina would have a small lead instead of trailing. Indeed, Senate races in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Missouri would be competitive.

On our side, I guess we have the EQ going for us. The EQ? The Extremist Quotient. If it weren't for the fact that the Christian Reconstructionist Sharron Angle is the GOP nominee in Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would be trailing by double digits instead of leading by a point or two. That's an EQ of some 12-15 points. Or take the Alaska Senate race. If Murkowski had won the GOP nomination, she would have led in the polls by 25 points. Now that the Tea Party extremist Joe Miller is the GOP nominee, he leads Scott McAdams by just six for an EQ of 19 points.

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