Given that TLC is the same network that gave us Sarah Palin’s Alaska, three iterations of Say Yes to the Dress, Toddlers and Tiaras, and DC Cupcakes (for which, I cannot tell a lie, I once went to a premiere party), I’m choosing to interpret the network’s new show, All-American Muslim, which features six Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan, as an act of penance. My friends at Faith in Public Life are right to note that this is total Alyssa-bait. I don’t know that I’ve heard about what sounds like my perfect show about Muslim-Americans, and as y’all pointed out, there’s no guarantee that Bravo’s Shahs of Sunset will have Muslim characters at all. But even if these shows aren’t great, or not very many people watch, I’m encouraged that so many folks are experimenting in this space, trying to figure out how Muslim and Middle Eastern characters fit into the parts of our pop culture that aren’t about security. We haven’t had enough trials and errors to know what works, as art, and as social argument.
HHS Rejects North Dakota’s MLR Waiver Request | Federal regulators have rejected North Dakota’s request to be exempted from the medical loss ration provisions in the Affordable Care Act — which require that insurers spend 80 to 85 percent of premium dollars on on health benefits. HHS ruled that “the state’s three large carriers subject to the MLR are already meeting or close to meeting the threshold and are not at risk of leaving the market.” “Two other requests, from Iowa and Kentucky, were partially approved.”
AP Hypes ‘Intelligence Assessment’ Saying Ahmadinejad Wants A Bomb, But Same Assessment Says He’s Irrelevant
“AP Exclusive: Intel Report says Iranian president wants to develop nuclear arms openly,” reads the headline of an Associated Press story today. The report has been widely picked up with various headlines including Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth writing, “Ahmadinejad said to be pushing for open nuke work.”
The AP’s “exclusive” comes from “an intelligence assessment shared with The Associated Press” by “a nation with traditionally reliable intelligence from the region,” and depicts “Ahmadinejad as wanting to move publicly to develop a bomb.” But the AP buried the lede. Later in the article they point out that neither the intelligence assesment they viewed nor U.S. assessments put much weight on Ahmadinejad’s desire, or lack thereof, for a nuclear weapon. The real power, it would seem, lies with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It reads:
Proliferation expert David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security says his briefings from European government officials who have seen the latest U.S. intelligence assessment on the Islamic Republic seem to support the assessment shared with the AP that Khamenei is worried about how the world would react to a nuclear-armed Iran.
Indeed the real story in the AP’s “exclusive” is that Khamenei holds the power to decide if Iran will pursue a nuclear weapon, and he is deeply ambivalent about the potential benefits of doing so:
Ahmadinejad is pushing “to shake free of the restraints Iran has imposed upon itself, and openly push forward to create a nuclear bomb,” says the assessment shared with the AP. But Khamenei, whose word is final on nuclear and other issues, “wants to progress using secret channels, due to concern about a severe response from the West,” says the report. [...]
One theory voiced by government officials and private analysts is that Iran might be looking to reach the level just short of making nuclear weapons — but able to do so quickly if it feels threatened. That would fit in with Khamenei’s reported cautious stance.
In any case, Ahmadinejad seems to be further weakened by the dispute.
Reading the tea leaves of Iranian domestic politics is more of an artform than a science, but broad consensus seems to be forming the Khamenei is not in favor of the immediate acquisition of nuclear weapons and Ahamadinejad, regardless of what position he has taken on the subject, is deeply weakened politically.
Questions might be asked about why the AP, and “a nation with traditionally reliable intelligence from the region” are eager to stoke fears around Ahmadinejad’s supposed support for a nuclear weapon while, in the same assessment, acknowledging that he is increasingly irrelevant and doesn’t make the final decisions about the country’s nuclear program anyway.
Judicial Retirements Now Officially Exceed Judicial Confirmations In 2011 | At the beginning of the year, there was a brief period when the Senate started confirming judges at a reasonably normal pace, and the judicial vacancy rate actually declined steadily for the first time since President Obama took office. That trend has now been completely reversed. There are now 115 vacant federal judgeships, one more than there were at the beginning of the year.
Lawsuit Filed Over Anti-Gay Bullying In Minnesota School District Calls Bachmann’s Position Into Question
Protesting what they describe as “pervasive anti-gay harassment” in Minnesota’s largest school district, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a lawsuit yesterday on behalf of five students who have “faced severe anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in school.” The lawsuit challenges the neutrality policy of the Anoka-Hennepin School District, which prevents school staff from talking openly about homosexuality or LGBT issues and from intervening when they see anti-LGBT bullying; the SPLC and NCLR say the policy is “stigmatizing LGBT students – casting them as pariahs not fit to be mentioned within the school community.”
The school district and its 40,000 students lie squarely in the congressional district of presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R), whose anti-gay rhetoric (she has likened homosexuality to “personal bondage“) and financial dependence on her husband’s pray-away-the-gay clinic have provoked a strong backlash among the LGBT community.
Bachmann has declined to offer any official statement on the Anoke-Hinnepin Schools’ approach to its LGBT students, but her position on anti-bullying measures and her campaign donations both fall into line with the district’s neutrality policy. At a 2006 Minnesota Education Committee hearing on legislation mandating anti-bullying policies in schools, Bachmann questioned just what a zero-tolerance bulling policy would look like — if it would mean we should “be expecting boys to be girls:”
“I think for all us our experience in public schools is there have always been bullies, always have been, always will be. I just don’t know how we’re ever going to get to point of zero tolerance and what does it mean? [...]
One question would be, ‘what would be our definition of bullying?’ Will it get to the point where we are completely stifling free speech and expression? Will it mean that, what form of behavior will there be, will we be expecting boys to be girls? What is it exactly that we’re asking for?
I don’t say that as a sexist comment, but there are just differences with boys and with girls when they’re on the playground, when they’re in the classroom.
None of us like inappropriate behavior. None of us like sassy children. But there’s just a fact of life that as we grow up, we’re kind of little barbarians when we’re two and our process as mothers and fathers is to civilize our children. I just don’t know how we can realistically expect a zero tolerance of bullying behavior.”
Listen to Rep. Bachmann’s remarks:
She later questioned whether the definition of bullying included in the bill could be “ruled unconstitutional for vagueness.”
But not only has Bachmann refused to take action against school bullying in Minnesota, one of her top donors is actively working to keep the neutrality policy in the Anoka-Hennepin schools. Barbara Anderson and her husband, George Anderson of Crown Iron Works, have donated $13,400 and $9,200, respectively, and Crown Iron Works ranked as Bachmann’s 12th largest donor over her political career with $26,850 in total contributions.
As the head of the Parents Action Initiative, Barbara Anderson has pushed the Anoka-Hennepin school district to keep its “outstanding” neutrality policy and attacked the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (a “dangerous” and “child corruption organization”) for its “homosexual propaganda.”
In a radio interview with the director of Americans for the Truth About Homosexuality, Anderson even blamed the anti-gay harassment plaguing the Anoka-Hennepin schools on homosexuals and LGBT advocates, warning that “homosexual behavior is one of the most hazardous behaviors that kids could get into and start practicing.”
Given that one in five of Minnesota’s gay students “has been punched, kicked or violently injured over sexual orientation,” Bachmann’s position on school bullying and her association with Anderson warrant greater attention.
For a window into exactly how unrealistic vague aspirations for faster growth in the Eurozone periphery are, it’s worth looking at the hazy statement the European leaders made on this subject in yesterday’s declaration. Specifically, they swore that “[w]e will implement the recommendations adopted in June for reforms that will enhance our growth.” The recommendations in question can be found in the Europe 2020 document and include as just one prong of the program each country’s solemn commitment to achieve a “75% employment rate for women and men aged 20-64 by 2020– achieved by getting more people into work, especially women, the young, older and low-skilled people and legal migrants.”
Note that the European Union doesn’t so much as publish data on the 20-64 employment-population ratio. But fortunately Matt Cameron was able to piece it together for a few key countries based on the breakouts the OECD tracks. Here’s a comparison of the United States with Italy and Spain:
Spain had a smaller share of its population employed at the business cycle peak than the Untied States had at the business cycle trough. Italy had an even smaller share than that employed. This reflects, among other things, southern European attitudes toward family and child-rearing that, like them or not, are unlikely to simply vanish with the wave of a Eurocrats’ wand. And yet somehow we’re expected to believe that Italy can undertake some kind of labor market reform that will allow it to attain the level of employment that the United States had at the business cycle peak in the face of both fiscal and monetary contraction. How’s that supposed to work? And who seriously wants to bet on it happening?
Barney Frank On The GOP’s New Consumer Protection Bureau Rhetoric: ‘It’s A Lie…They Want To Kill It’
Yesterday, House Republicans voted to significantly weaken the newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (which officially opened its doors yesterday), approving a bill that would both abolish the position of Bureau director and make it easier for bank regulators to veto the Bureau’s regulations. Republicans said during the debate and beforehand that they weren’t trying to weaken the agency, just reform it.
“Now that the CFPB’s been passed into law, I think it’s incumbent on us to try to work to see that it’s a success,” said House Financial Services Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-AL). “I really am just amazed at the hyperbole of the dismantling and the ruining of the agency and the weakening of the agency,” added Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV).
However, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) — whose name is on the Dodd-Frank financial reform law — isn’t buying it. In an interview with ThinkProgress, Frank called the GOP’s newfound concern for the Bureau’s success “a lie.” “That’s just nonsense,” he said:
They believe that you should not have an independent agency. Bachus said it on television yesterday, on CNBC…Now, what they want is for consumer protection to continue to be subordinated to bank regulation. By the way, it’s not very nice about the banks, because it apparently says that if they have to treat consumers fairly, they can’t make a living. I think they’re too hard on the banks…The major part of [the Republican] bill, which they didn’t want to talk about very much yesterday, would put the bank regulators in a position to veto anything the consumer bureau did. But this argument that they were for it and just wanted to improve it is a lie, because last year they wanted to kill it.
The Consumer Protection Bureau — unlike the other financial regulators — is already subject to veto if two-thirds of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (of which the bank regulators are a part) votes to override its rules. The GOP’s bill would have given the Bureau even less of a voice in regulatory matters, even though the financial crisis made abundantly clear that consumer protection constituted a gaping hole in the regulatory framework.
CQ HealthBeat’s John Reichard is reporting that HHS officials are staying “mum” on the structure of the health insurance exchanges that the federal government will erect in states that decide not to establish their own insurance market places by 2014, declining to say when that decision would be announced or even if it would be made this year:
A big question is how the federal government will run exchanges and specifically whether it will be an active purchaser, meaning it can deny insurers a place in the exchange if they don’t offer consumers a good deal. The recent HHS-proposed regulation on exchanges did not say.
[Steve Larsen, director of the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight] said Thursday that “we will be releasing further guidance in some form — it’s not clear whether it will even have to be a regulation — that would clarify how we will be setting up an exchange or portions of an exchange.” “I can’t describe for you now the particular time frame,” Larsen added. “I can only say that we know that’s an issue that has to be resolved.”
One possibility is that HHS would give the markets inside exchanges a chance to stabilize before becoming an active purchaser, Larsen said… Starting out with what’s called an “open model” — in other words, one in which exchanges don’t exclude insurers based on the prices they charge — is “certainly part of the mix of thinking about which model” the federal government will employ, Larsen said. It’s possible that both the federal government and state governments could decide to start with an open model and make a transition to becoming an active purchaser later, he said.
Progressive health advocates who have long hoped that states — and the federal government — would follow the models of Massachusetts and California in establishing exchanges that could keep out inefficient or poorly designed health care plans and bargain on behalf of its beneficiaries. Still, not all states will have the luxury of denying entrance to inefficient providers, however. States “that sit in highly concentrated insurance markets are limited in how selective they can be,” and states in which the exchange represents a small part of the commercial market will also have little leverage, as will states with a sicker risk pool.
But despite all this, the feds would be smart to adopt a more aggressive purchasing model and set robust consumer protections and standards. Not only would such an approach help meet the goals of the exchanges — connecting individuals and families with affordable health care options — but it would also discourage some states from abandoning their own exchanges in favor of the federal option. HHS would face substantial cost increases as conservative governors who are reluctant to build exchanges in the first place begin to see the federal exchanges as an ideologically agreeable (and cheaper) alternative.
Dirty Oil, Dirty Money, Dirty Votes | U.S. House members who supported keeping tax subsidies for oil companies in votes this year received a total of $1.2 million from oil PACs in the first six months of 2011, according to Public Campaign Action Fund analysis of data from the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Additionally, 94 percent of House oil PAC money recipients in the first six months of 2011 voted to keep the subsidies.
Exxon is the top oil and gas political contributor in 2011 ($384,030), followed by Koch Industries ($318,800).
Some cable analysts think that as many as 10 percent of existing American cable subscribers will give up their subscriptions in favor of alternative television platforms by 2011. Now, a more conservative firm’s said they think it’ll be 4 percent by the end of the year and 10 percent by the end of 2015. And while the number of cable subscriptions may keep growing, it won’t be proportional to the overall growth of the potential market
The industry reversed the first-ever declines in the second and third quarters of 2010 to produce a small overall increase for the full year. The modest subscriber gain was neither convincing enough to dispatch the threat of cord cutting nor dismiss the impact of over-the-top substitution. At the end of 2010, we estimate 84.9% of the occupied U.S. households subscribed to a multichannel package after eliminating the overlap of customers with multiple subscriptions. The year-over-year dip from nearly 86% at the end of 2009 illustrates the potential peak in multichannel penetration.
Though we forecast continued absolute growth in subscribers, the pace is not expected to keep up with occupied household formation, leading to a long-term decline in penetrations for multichannel services. OTT substitution is the primary agent in the expected declines in traditional cable, DBS and telco video penetration. SNL Kagan estimates multichannel substitution via OTT delivery will grow from 2.5 million households at the end of 2010 to 12.1 million homes by 2015. The OTT substitution estimates account for nearly 10% of the occupied homes in the U.S. in the five-year forecast.
We’re at a moment of upheaval. The Parents Television Council’s filing briefs in cases challenging cable bundling. Even as alternatives to cable like Netflix get more popular, folks are complaining about the price increases that the company needs to support the contracts for content it’s renegotiating and attempting to expand, and we’re seeing the emergence of an actual competitive market in the alternatives to cable, as Amazon starts signing non-exclusive content contracts. I don’t know what the new landscape’s going to look like, or what company and technologies are going to win out, or where prices for content are going to land, which is part of what’s both exciting and frustrating about the moment that we’re living in. But if I were a cable company, I’d be very, very interested in giving my customers the impression that I was attentive to their concerns about price, customer service, and technological innovation to buy myself as much time as possible before cord-cutting hits hard and accelerates further.