Tuesday, April 30, 2013

If Gay Marriage Were Legal In 1998, Maybe Paul Crouch Would Still Be Preaching


Pastor Paul and his lover Enoch

Oh... he still is... at least on TV. Crouch, the founder of Trinity Broadcasting Network empire, the country's largest "Christian" television network, is 79 and pretty senile-- though not when it comes to sharp business dealings and milking the cash cow TBN has become. His baby, the international network, is bigger than CBS, bigger than Fox and bigger than NBC. The Crouch family has been using it as a personal piggy bank for years-- which has very serious-- and very unexplored-- tax implications. In 2010, Forbes reported that Crouch was paid just over $400,000 a year by TBN-- and that doesn't count the mansions, the Bentley, the half million dollar annual expense accounts, and the $50 million personal jet. Still, it's less than what he embezzled from the company to pay his lover, Enoch Lonnie Ford, to keep quiet about their homosexual relationship. Oh, those right-wing evangelicals are so wild and crazy!
When Rick Jones, an ordained minister and former cop, heard his boss talking about another minister's homosexual activity with an employee, he "got up and walked away," the Los Angeles Times reported on its front page yesterday. "I didn't want to hear gossip."

But his boss was televangelist Benny Hinn, a staple on the Trinity Broadcasting Network. And Hinn was talking about TBN founder and president Paul Crouch. And Los Angeles Times reports that it's no longer just gossip-- it's a tale of attempted extortion, litigation, and tragedy.

For all the details, you'll have to read William Lobdell's extensively reported, 1,900-word article. But here are a few observations.

First, extortion seems like the only word to describe what Enoch Lonnie Ford, the former TBN employee who says he and Crouch had extramarital sex in 1996, attempted. Crouch paid him a $425,000 settlement in 1998 after Ford accused the global network of wrongful termination. Key to the settlement, of course, was a secrecy agreement. Last April, however, Ford handed Crouch an autobiographical manuscript detailing his claims of a sexual encounter.
Why is the senile man in Jerusalem wearing a priest's collar & a pinkie ring? 
TBN had paid off Ford to keep the gay sex thing quiet years earlier but he wanted $10,000,000 more to not publish a book that details his affair with Crouch. That L.A. Times reported that "Crouch sued to enforce the 1998 secrecy agreement and obtained a restraining order barring Ford from seeking a publisher for his book. Orange County Superior Court Judge John M. Watson also granted Crouch's request to conduct the case in secret, sealing all documents and expunging any mention of the suit from public court records. Both sides eventually agreed to let a private arbitrator decide the matter. In June, the arbitrator ruled that Ford could not publish the manuscript without violating the 1998 settlement-- an act that could subject him to monetary damages."

Somehow being fleeced by charlatans has become an integral part of the American evangelical movement so not many people even remember the on-going Crouch saga. (His grandson, Matthew, another holy roller, can't keep his junk in his pants and has been obsessively exposing his genitals to staff members.) But even if normal people don't remember much about the crazy Crouches, most people still do remember when the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted "Pastor Ted" Haggard insisted he "never had a gay relationship with anybody, and I'm steady with my wife, I'm faithful to my wife. So I don't know if this is election year politics [Haggard, like all these phony-baloney evangelical frauds, was busy turning out the brainless flock for the GOP] or if this has to do with the marriage amendment or what it is." What it was, of course, came with lots and lots of evidence of Haggard hiring high end male prostitutes for years and using street drugs to boot. As his story unraveled, it just took a few days before that standard Republican mantra--"never had a gay relationship with anybody"-- turned into "there is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all my adult life."

That's the real right-wing problem with the LGBT community-- terror about something "repulsive" and "dark" within. Get over it, gentlemen. It's not repulsive and it's not dark-- even if you perceive it that way. If you can't give up your sick wars within, stop trying to ruin everyone else's lives by dragging us into your drama. Go deal with your problems or commit suicide or do whatever you want, but leave people who have evolved alone. This has gone on way long enough. You guys are a menace to society-- and in a very big way.

Oh... so this is where GOP sociopath Paul Broun (R-GA) got his most famous quote about "lies straight from the pit of hell."

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Ted Cruz vs Chris Van Hollen-- How To Win Friends And Influence People


Ted Cruz wants to make a name for himself as the Senate's biggest douche bag. Fellow Texans Louie Gohmert and Steve Stockman could give him a run for his money in the House, but in the Senate... Cruz is as bad as it gets. I suspect other Republican congressmen don't like being publicly referred to as squishes by this loudmouthed Texas pissant. And outside of Texas, it's not a good idea calling the grieving and sincere parents of the murdered Newtown victims political props.
In his short time at the Capitol, Senator Ted Cruz, a freshman Republican from Texas, has shown little regard for long-standing rules of decorum. But on Friday, he publicly discussed the closed-door dealings of the Senate Republican Conference-- and trashed his colleagues in the process.

Stopping by a Texas meeting of the Tea Party-aligned group FreedomWorks, Mr. Cruz called many of his colleagues “squishes,” forced to stand on conservative principles by the uncompromising stands of a triumphant trio of Republican “constitutionalists”: himself and Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

...“We’ve had probably five or six lunches with a bunch of Republican senators standing up and looking at Rand and Mike and me and yelling at the top of their lungs-- I mean really upset. And they said: ‘Why did you do this? As a result of what you did, when I go home, my constituents are yelling at me that I’ve got to stand on principle.’ I’m not making that up. I don’t even bother to argue with them. I just sort of let them yell.”
Yesterday Maryland Congressman, a member of the Democratic House leadership, also publicly disagreed with his colleagues... although he didn't call anyone names or try to pump up his own stature at their expense the way Cruz did. Van Hollen was one of just a handful of Democrats who voted NO on the FAA sequester fix. Unfairly, I assumed he voted against it-- along with 3 other Marylanders-- because he can commute to work by car and doesn't have to worry about flight delays. But that wasn't the impression he gave the Washington Post's Greg Sargent during an interview yesterday. His thinking was a lot more strategic than selfish.
By agreeing to give the FAA flexibility in implementing the sequester, in response to the outcry over flight delays, Democrats effectively squandered their leverage in the sequester battle, by signaling that they will selectively undo its effects when the political going gets tough. Does that mean they’ve lost the sequester fight completely?

In an interview this morning, Dem Rep. Chris Van Hollen-- a top party strategist-- was surprisingly frank in conceding that Dems had given away crucial leverage by agreeing to the FAA fix. But he said Dems could still make up some of that lost ground-- and called on them not to agree to any more targeted sequester fixes.

“We have certainly made it more difficult to stand firm going forward,” Van Hollen told me. “But we’re going to have to reclaim some lost ground here. We cannot have a situation where people just cherry-pick the sequester.”

Van Hollen bluntly suggested that Dems-- in agreeing to just a targeted FAA fix-- had sent a message about Congress that it’s only responsive to powerful interests.

“If you do that, you’re attacking the symptoms rather than the underlying cause,” Van Hollen said. “When you do that, what happens is the most politically strong groups with the most lobbyists get relief, at the expense of everybody else. Meals on Wheels, or kids on Head Start, or grants on biomedical research-- all of those get left behind.”

...Van Hollen called on Dems to have a united front in this battle going forward, and said they should not agree to any more targeted fixes. “I don’t think we should be voting for exceptions to this,” he said. “We’re going to have to draw a line and say we’ve got to deal with this in a comprehensive way, rather than play Whack-a-Mole.”

“It’s going to be tough,” Van Hollen acknowledged, speaking of the pressure that will be brought to bear on Dems to agree to more targeted fixes. “That’s why it’s going to require a united position and leadership.”
Andy Hounshell is the progressive Democrat in Ohio running against John Boehner-- and he knows how these conservative tricks work. He has a similar view on this that Van Hollen holds. This morning he told us:
"It is nice to see that Congress can agree on something, unfortunately it is something that affects a small percentage of Americans. While I am sure that the inconvenience of flight delays can be troubling to some, it pails in comparison to the cuts to programs that many Americans depend on such as Meals on Wheels. It would be great to see our Representatives sit down and actually deal with the entire budget and sequester rather than hen pick where the pinch of the sequester is going to be felt. It looks like that pinch is going to be felt by the people in this country who can't afford lobbyists. Kids in Head Start and seniors relying on the Meals on Wheels program are the ones who need their Congress right now. It would be nice if their Congress was as worried about them as they are about travel delays for those who are fortunate enough to travel by plane. By plucking out the problems that only affect the affluent, it leaves only the poor and middle class to deal with the pinch of the sequester, and we know how that works out."
If you'd like to help us elect the kinds of progressive strategic thinkers that Van Hollen clearly needs in Congress, well, you can find Andy Hounshell and others with similar views here on the Blue America ActBlue page.

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Well, Of Course Rich Kids Are Smarter Than Poor Kids


My pal Roland teaches in an inner city elementary school in one of the toughest neighborhoods in L.A. Everyday he comes home exhausted and frustrated and drained. "Maybelline was suspended again," he seems to tell me more often than I ask him if he wants to eat at Ink or M.A.K.E. Maybelline is 8. I remember when he first told me about her at the beginning of the semester. He said he thought she might be a genius, definietly the smartest child in his class. He seemed excited to play a role in helping her reach her potential. Now he's relieved when she doesn't terrorize his other students, steal their lunches and pencils or just beat them up. Maybelline's probably not going to Harvard or Stanford (where Sean Reardon teaches education and sociology). More likely she's going to end up at the Central California Women's Facility outside Chowchilla. Essentially, she has no parents; no idea who her father was and her mom's a junkie, in and out-- mostly in-- jails and prisons. Maybelline lives with her unemployed grandfather.

Did you read Reardon's OpEd in the NY Times over the weekend, No Rich Child Left Behind? He didn't mean the kind of rich Maybelline is. She doesn't have to study for her tests-- she never does-- but she aces them anyway. What a shame that society will squander that kind of richness! "Here’s a fact that may not surprise you," offers Reardon: "the children of the rich perform better in school, on average, than children from middle-class or poor families. Students growing up in richer families have better grades and higher standardized test scores, on average, than poorer students; they also have higher rates of participation in extracurricular activities and school leadership positions, higher graduation rates and higher rates of college enrollment and completion." And the differences are growing-- gigantically.
One way to see this is to look at the scores of rich and poor students on standardized math and reading tests over the last 50 years. When I did this using information from a dozen large national studies conducted between 1960 and 2010, I found that the rich-poor gap in test scores is about 40 percent larger now than it was 30 years ago.

To make this trend concrete, consider two children, one from a family with income of $165,000 and one from a family with income of $15,000. These incomes are at the 90th and 10th percentiles of the income distribution nationally, meaning that 10 percent of children today grow up in families with incomes below $15,000 and 10 percent grow up in families with incomes above $165,000.

In the 1980s, on an 800-point SAT-type test scale, the average difference in test scores between two such children would have been about 90 points; today it is 125 points. This is almost twice as large as the 70-point test score gap between white and black children. Family income is now a better predictor of children’s success in school than race.

The same pattern is evident in other, more tangible, measures of educational success, like college completion. In a study similar to mine, Martha J. Bailey and Susan M. Dynarski, economists at the University of Michigan, found that the proportion of students from upper-income families who earn a bachelor’s degree has increased by 18 percentage points over a 20-year period, while the completion rate of poor students has grown by only 4 points.

...In San Francisco this week, more than 14,000 educators and education scholars have gathered for the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. The theme this year is familiar: Can schools provide children a way out of poverty?

We are still talking about this despite decades of clucking about the crisis in American education and wave after wave of school reform.Whatever we’ve been doing in our schools, it hasn’t reduced educational inequality between children from upper- and lower-income families.

Part of knowing what we should do about this is understanding how and why these educational disparities are growing. For the past few years, alongside other scholars, I have been digging into historical data to understand just that. The results of this research don’t always match received wisdom or playground folklore.

The most potent development over the past three decades is that the test scores of children from high-income families have increased very rapidly. Before 1980, affluent students had little advantage over middle-class students in academic performance; most of the socioeconomic disparity in academics was between the middle class and the poor. But the rich now outperform the middle class by as much as the middle class outperform the poor. Just as the incomes of the affluent have grown much more rapidly than those of the middle class over the last few decades, so, too, have most of the gains in educational success accrued to the children of the rich.

...It may seem counterintuitive, but schools don’t seem to produce much of the disparity in test scores between high- and low-income students. We know this because children from rich and poor families score very differently on school readiness tests when they enter kindergarten, and this gap grows by less than 10 percent between kindergarten and high school. There is some evidence that achievement gaps between high- and low-income students actually narrow during the nine-month school year, but they widen again in the summer months.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t important differences in quality between schools serving low- and high-income students-- there certainly are-- but they appear to do less to reinforce the trends than conventional wisdom would have us believe.

If not the usual suspects, what’s going on? It boils down to this: The academic gap is widening because rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than middle-class students. This difference in preparation persists through elementary and high school.

My research suggests that one part of the explanation for this is rising income inequality. As you may have heard, the incomes of the rich have grown faster over the last 30 years than the incomes of the middle class and the poor. Money helps families provide cognitively stimulating experiences for their young children because it provides more stable home environments, more time for parents to read to their children, access to higher-quality child care and preschool and-- in places like New York City, where 4-year-old children take tests to determine entry into gifted and talented programs-- access to preschool test preparation tutors or the time to serve as tutors themselves.

But rising income inequality explains, at best, half of the increase in the rich-poor academic achievement gap. It’s not just that the rich have more money than they used to, it’s that they are using it differently. This is where things get really interesting.

High-income families are increasingly focusing their resources-- their money, time and knowledge of what it takes to be successful in school-- on their children’s cognitive development and educational success. They are doing this because educational success is much more important than it used to be, even for the rich.

With a college degree insufficient to ensure a high-income job, or even a job as a barista, parents are now investing more time and money in their children’s cognitive development from the earliest ages. It may seem self-evident that parents with more resources are able to invest more-- more of both money and of what Mr. Putnam calls “‘Goodnight Moon’ time”-- in their children’s development. But even though middle-class and poor families are also increasing the time and money they invest in their children, they are not doing so as quickly or as deeply as the rich.

The economists Richard J. Murnane and Greg J. Duncan report that from 1972 to 2006 high-income families increased the amount they spent on enrichment activities for their children by 150 percent, while the spending of low-income families grew by 57 percent over the same time period. Likewise, the amount of time parents spend with their children has grown twice as fast since 1975 among college-educated parents as it has among less-educated parents. The economists Garey Ramey and Valerie A. Ramey of the University of California, San Diego, call this escalation of early childhood investment “the rug rat race,” a phrase that nicely captures the growing perception that early childhood experiences are central to winning a lifelong educational and economic competition.

It’s not clear what we should do about all this. Partly that’s because much of our public conversation about education is focused on the wrong culprits: we blame failing schools and the behavior of the poor for trends that are really the result of deepening income inequality and the behavior of the rich.

We’re also slow to understand what’s happening, I think, because the nature of the problem-- a growing educational gap between the rich and the middle class-- is unfamiliar. After all, for much of the last 50 years our national conversation about educational inequality has focused almost exclusively on strategies for reducing inequalities between the educational successes of the poor and the middle class, and it has relied on programs aimed at the poor, like Head Start and Title I.

We’ve barely given a thought to what the rich were doing. With the exception of our continuing discussion about whether the rising costs of higher education are pricing the middle class out of college, we don’t have much practice talking about what economists call “upper-tail inequality” in education, much less success at reducing it.

Meanwhile, not only are the children of the rich doing better in school than even the children of the middle class, but the changing economy means that school success is increasingly necessary to future economic success, a worrisome mutual reinforcement of trends that is making our society more socially and economically immobile.

We need to start talking about this. Strangely, the rapid growth in the rich-poor educational gap provides a ray of hope: if the relationship between family income and educational success can change this rapidly, then it is not an immutable, inevitable pattern. What changed once can change again. Policy choices matter more than we have recently been taught to think.

So how can we move toward a society in which educational success is not so strongly linked to family background? Maybe we should take a lesson from the rich and invest much more heavily as a society in our children’s educational opportunities from the day they are born. Investments in early-childhood education pay very high societal dividends. That means investing in developing high-quality child care and preschool that is available to poor and middle-class children. It also means recruiting and training a cadre of skilled preschool teachers and child care providers. These are not new ideas, but we have to stop talking about how expensive and difficult they are to implement and just get on with it.

But we need to do much more than expand and improve preschool and child care. There is a lot of discussion these days about investing in teachers and “improving teacher quality,” but improving the quality of our parenting and of our children’s earliest environments may be even more important. Let’s invest in parents so they can better invest in their children.

This means finding ways of helping parents become better teachers themselves. This might include strategies to support working families so that they can read to their children more often. It also means expanding programs like the Nurse-Family Partnership that have proved to be effective at helping single parents educate their children; but we also need to pay for research to develop new resources for single parents.

It might also mean greater business and government support for maternity and paternity leave and day care so that the middle class and the poor can get some of the educational benefits that the early academic intervention of the rich provides their children. Fundamentally, it means rethinking our still-persistent notion that educational problems should be solved by schools alone.

The more we do to ensure that all children have similar cognitively stimulating early childhood experiences, the less we will have to worry about failing schools. This in turn will enable us to let our schools focus on teaching the skills-- how to solve complex problems, how to think critically and how to collaborate-- essential to a growing economy and a lively democracy.
Nothing really there for Maybelline-- nor for most of her classmates. Not any more than the air traffic controller fix helped them or their families or communities.

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Colbert's Sister-- Next Tuesday


I'm rooting for Colbert's sister-- and not just because she's Colbert's sister. And not just because Mark Sanford is likely to be one of the worst members of Congress-- far worse, in fact, than he was when he was in Congress the first time. Colbert's sister, thoroughly embraced as she is by the DCCC, doesn't need any help from Blue America and there's nothing to make me think she would qualify for a Blue America endorsement any way-- the way these guys have-- but... I'm still rooting for her because there's a lot of room between someone as good as Alan Grayson, Keith Ellison and Donna Edwards and someone like Mark Sanford.

From what I can tell, if I lived in South Carolina's first congressional district, I'd go beyond rooting for Colbert's sister; I'd probably even vote for her a week from today. She's a normal, decent Democrat on social issues-- pro-Choice, pro-equality, etc-- and kind of like a New Dem type on the economic issues. Like I said last week, I don't know if Colbert Busch will wind up voting with Republicans half the time. But it's what I suspect from watching the campaign. Still, that's better than voting with Republicans 100% of the time, which is what we can expect from Sanford. She's already come out in favor of marriage equality and background checks and her approach to Chained CPI was pretty good as well: “Not only does President Obama’s plan fail to put our finances back in order, it would cut benefits for our seniors, which is wrong. I believe that our seniors earned their Social Security by putting money away every single paycheck for a lifetime-- knowing that they could count on Social Security when they retired... Simply put, Social Security doesn’t contribute to the deficit, and politicians should keep their hands off the trust fund." If she has to, for the sake of election in South Carolina, attack Obama from the right, it's cool she can do it from a populist anti-bankster perspective.

Right wing propagandist John Fund writes that even if South Carolina voters know too much about Sanford for comfort, they don't know enough about Elizabeth Colbert Busch and if the turnout is really, really low, Sanford still has a chance to win.
The local and national media haven’t delved into Colbert Busch beyond her platitudes, and so far she’s avoided being tagged with any liberal labels. Her success at flying under the radar may serve as a model for other Democratic candidates in 2014. She plans to participate in only one debate during three months of campaigning. Some 500 of her pre-campaign tweets have been airbrushed away but thanks to the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation have been returned to the public record. In them, her favorite topics include “backing equal rights for our LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender] friends” and supporting President Obama’s proposed hikes in the minimum wage. Regarding Obamacare, she mocks its Republican opponents: “GOP Logic: Providing health care to all Iraqis is sound public policy. Providing health care to all Americans is socialism.”

South Carolina is the least unionized state in the country, but Colbert Busch 1.0 was a big fan of unions, even tweeting that she wanted the support of the AFL-CIO. Unions opposed Boeing’s plans to build a new plant in right-to-work South Carolina, but Colbert showed no misgivings about seeking union support: She eagerly accepted donations from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, who tried to use the National Labor Relations Board to block Boeing’s move. “The voices of the union and all unions need to be lifted up,” she declared in a video she sent to union leaders as she prepared to run. “Nobody is recognizing that, and I promise to be that voice for you. Know that I hear you. Know that I’m working closely with your team.” Tara Servatius, a talk-show host and columnist for Charleston’s City Paper, concludes: “Bottom line, Elizabeth 1.0, the deleted version, is a hard-core liberal Democrat.”
So, yeah... let the DCCC use their money ($458,000) to push her, but-- what the hell-- vote for her next Tuesday instead of watching Sanford win this blood red district. They both fought for the center in their one debate, which was last night. Here's a small piece from it-- not especially interesting.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

NRA Shills In The Senate In Trouble-- At Least On Paper


Mark Begich will probably only win reelection if Alaska Republicans nominate Joe Miller
The Republican case for why the unpopular vote against background checks-- basically no one agrees with their position except hard-core Republican primary voters-- won't hurt them in 2014 is twofold: the House didn't vote on it at all, and in the Senate the GOP has only two vulnerable incumbents (the two closet cases, Lindsey Graham in South Carolina and Miss McConnell in Kentucky) and taking the NRA position won't hurt either of them in those states. So, yes, senators who voted no on Manchin-Toomey are taking a beating in polling, but most of them aren't up for reelection in 2014. Ironically, the most damage from the fallout over the Senate vote is likely to be among conservative Democrats who shamelessly shill for the NRA!

Jeff Flake (R-AZ) would get killed if he had to run in 2014... but he doesn't have to face the voters again 'til 2018. None of the Republicans who are losing ground with voters according to the PPP survey have to face voters while the vote is fresh in anyone's mind. Mark Begich (D-AK), on the other hand, may be in trouble.
New PPP polls in Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, and Ohio find serious backlash against the 5 Senators who voted against background checks in those states. Each of them has seen their approval numbers decline, and voters say they're less likely to support them the next time they're up for reelection. That's no surprise given that we continue to find overwhelming, bipartisan support for background checks in these states.

Here's the state by state rundown:

After just 3 months in office Jeff Flake has already become one of the most unpopular Senators in the country. Just 32% of voters approve of him to 51% who disapprove and that -19 net approval rating makes him the most unpopular sitting Senator we've polled on, taking that label from Mitch McConnell.

70% of Arizona voters support background checks to only 26% who are opposed to them. That includes 92/6 favor from Democrats, 71/24 from independents, and 50/44 from Republicans. 52% of voters say they're less likely to support Flake in a future election because of this vote, compared to only 19% who say they're more likely to. Additionally voters say by a 21 point margin, 45/24, that they trust senior colleague John McCain more than Flake when it comes to gun issues.

When we polled Alaska in February Lisa Murkowski was one of the most popular Senators in the country with a 54% approval rating and only 33% of voters disapproving of her. She's seen a precipitous decline in the wake of her background checks vote though. Her approval is down a net 16 points from that +21 standing to +5 with 46% of voters approving and 41% now disapproving of her. Murkowski has lost most of her appeal to Democrats in the wake of her vote, with her numbers with them going from 59/25 to 44/44. And the vote hasn't increased her credibility with Republican either- she was at 51/38 with them in February and she's at 50/39 now.

Mark Begich is down following his no vote as well. He was at 49/39 in February and now he's at 41/37. His popularity has declined with Democrats (from 76/17 to 59/24) and with independents (from 54/32 to 43/35), and there has been no corresponding improvement with Republicans. He had a 24% approval rating with them two months ago and he has a 24% approval rating with them now.

60% of Alaska voters support background checks to just 35% opposed, including a 62/33 spread with independents. 39% of voters say they're less likely to vote for each of Begich and Murkowski in their next elections based on this vote, while only 22% and 26% say they're more likely to vote for Begich and Murkowski respectively because of this.

We saw serious improvement in Rob Portman's poll numbers in the second half of 2012 following his consideration as the Republican Vice Presidential candidate, but he's taken a nose dive in 2013. Portman's approval has dropped a net 18 points over the last 6 months from +10 (35/25) in October to now -8 (26/34) in April. Portman's popularity decline has come across the board with Democrats (from 15/39 to 8/50), Republicans (62/11 to 46/19), and independents (28/23 to 24/32) alike.

72% of Ohio voters support background checks, including 87% of Democrats, 73% of independents, and 56% of Republicans. 36% of voters in the state say they're less likely to support Portman in a future election because of this vote to only 19% who consider it to be a reason to support him.

And in Nevada Dean Heller has seen a more modest decline in his approval numbers, from 47/42 right before the election to 44/41 now. However with the independent voters who were critical to his narrow victory in November, his approval has dropped from 52/37 then to now 42/42.

70% of voters in the state support background checks compared to just 24% who are opposed to them. That includes 87% of Democrats, 65% of independents, and 54% of Republicans. 46% say they're less likely to support Heller the next time he's up for reelection compared to only 25% who are more likely to because of this vote, and as we saw last fall Heller has very little margin for error.

Taken together these results make it pretty clear that this issue could be a serious liability for the Senators who opposed overwhelmingly popular background checks in the Senate vote earlier this month.
Begich could lose his seat-- especially if a remotely mainstream Republican (i.e., not Joe Miller)-- runs against him. It's a classic example of a Democrat abandoning his own base's values to curry favor with his enemies... only to have his enemies laugh in his face. Democrats and independents are looking at Begich as a spineless coward and Republicans may like that one vote he took out of fear but they'll vote against him anyway. He deserves to lose his seat and, unless Miller gets the nomination, he probably will. Mark Pryor (D-AR)-- the talking snake guy with the IQ problem-- probably faces the same problem, although I haven't seen any polling yet to back that up.

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Still-active NBA center Jason Collins comes out -- is this the "breakthrough" we've been waiting for?


by Ken

Okay, in connection with the coming out of Jason Collins (about which Howie wrote earlier today), it's fair to note that the 12-year NBA veterans, who split the past season between the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards, is 34 and a free agent -- i.e., a player without a contract, and at this stage of his career at best a "fill-in"-type player. So maybe it's not exactly the scenario some of us have fantasized about, of a star player in one of the "big four" sports leagues (Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League) to come out in something like the prime of his career.

Still, Jason is far from ready to pack it in, and has made his decision to own up publicly to who he is even as he faces the process of finding a new team to play for. And I think there should be a fair amount of interest in the inside look he's chosen to give us at this thought process. As ThinkProgress's Travis Waldron reported this afternoon (links onsite):
Jason Collins, a 12-year National Basketball Association veteran who played the 2013 season for the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards, became the first active openly gay male in the four major American professional sports today, when he came out in a self-written article that will appear in the May 6 issue of Sports Illustrated.

“I’m a 34-year-old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” the first sentence, one that may go down as momentous as any written about sports before, reads. It is triumphant, a declaration the world of sports has been anticipating from someone — anyone — for months if not years. There have been gay pioneers in sports before — Billie Jean King was outed in 1981 and Martina Navritilova came out that same year — but in men’s sports, the only open athletes were those who had already finished their careers.

But behind the simple declaration that began the piece is a more telling story about where that movement still stands. Jason Collins was not open to any of the hundreds of men he’s called teammates, and he spent months debating the decision. In Washington, he wrote, he watched the Supreme Court debate the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, pained that he couldn’t speak openly about who he really was. By then he had determined he needed to be open, but he waited until after the season so as to keep his personal life from becoming a “distraction” for his team and his colleagues:
Loyalty to my team is the real reason I didn’t come out sooner. When I signed a free-agent contract with Boston last July, I decided to commit myself to the Celtics and not let my personal life become a distraction. When I was traded to the Wizards, the political significance of coming out sunk in. I was ready to open up to the press, but I had to wait until the season was over.
A free agent who has become a journeyman in recent years, Collins played just nine minutes per game in six appearances after being traded to the Wizards. Now in search of a new team, Collins used the piece not just to describe why he came out now — “I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, ‘Me, too,’” he wrote — but also to let future teammates and perhaps executives know that he wouldn’t be gawking at them in the showers either:
I’ve been asked how other players will respond to my announcement. The simple answer is, I have no idea. I’m a pragmatist. I hope for the best, but plan for the worst. The biggest concern seems to be that gay players will behave unprofessionally in the locker room. Believe me, I’ve taken plenty of showers in 12 seasons. My behavior wasn’t an issue before, and it won’t be one now. My conduct won’t change. I still abide by the adage, “What happens in the locker room stays in the locker room.” I’m still a model of discretion.
This is the true shame of the in-the-closet culture of sexuality in sports, where athletes like Collins and Robbie Rogers, the soccer player who came out as gay and promptly retired in February, feel a tinge of selfishness and guilt when they finally open up about who they really are. . . .
It's worth noting that the response so far has been overwhelmingly positive, a far cry from what one would have expected even a couple of years ago. It's a measure of progress that the assholes have a harder time now expressing their asshole-ism. Which doesn't mean they won't be heard from. ThinkProgress's Annie-Rose Strasser reports("ESPN Sportscaster Immediately Trashes First Out NBA Player: Jason Collins Is Not 'A Christian'"):
An ESPN sportscaster went on the air on Monday to publicly gay-bash Jason Collins, the NBA player who came out Monday morning in an emotional op-ed, the first active male player of a major American sport to come out.

Speaking on ESPN's Outside rhe Lines, Chris Broussard said that he would "not characterize [Collins] as a Christian." He made the comments in front of his openly gay colleague LZ Granderson:
BROUSSARD: Personally, I don't believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle or an openly, like premarital sex between heterosexuals. If you're openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says you know them by their fruits. It says that, you know, that's a sin. If you're openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality, whatever it maybe, I believe that's walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. So I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don't think the bible would characterize them as a Christian.
Granderson reacted strongly to Broussard's comments, saying, "I really don't need Chris or anyone else telling me if I'm a Christian because Jesus tells me I am."

Broussard has previously written that he believes the NBA is "ready" for the first out player. But in that same essay, he also said it would make him "a little uncomfortable" to shower with a gay teammate. He also cast his doubt that being gay is biological, writing, "there are many scientists on both sides of the genetic debate, and I believe a truly objective person would admit the biological evidence for homosexuality is far from definitive."
Left unclear is what bearing Chris B's views of "Christian" behavior are thought to have on the NBA or anything else on the planet.


Is The GOP Still In Thrall To The Lavender Scare?


Rep. Aaron Schock's lavender belt

It was historical for Jason Collins to write in Sports Illustrated today that "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay." I bet it will inspire and fortify thousands of young men and women all over the world. I recall, vividly, sitting with Harvey Milk in the backroom office of his Castro Street camera shop right after a flurry of national media coverage of his successful election as a San Francisco Supervisor. He pulled out a mailbag filled with letters from people. There's one he read to me that still makes my eyes well up with tears. It was from a terrified gay kid in Nebraska or Kansas who talked about how Harvey's election had given him the hope that he didn't have to commit suicide. Collins:
I realized I needed to go public when Joe Kennedy, my old roommate at Stanford and now a Massachusetts congressman, told me he had just marched in Boston's 2012 Gay Pride Parade. I'm seldom jealous of others, but hearing what Joe had done filled me with envy. I was proud of him for participating but angry that as a closeted gay man I couldn't even cheer my straight friend on as a spectator. If I'd been questioned, I would have concocted half truths. What a shame to have to lie at a celebration of pride. I want to do the right thing and not hide anymore. I want to march for tolerance, acceptance and understanding. I want to take a stand and say, "Me, too."

The recent Boston Marathon bombing reinforced the notion that I shouldn't wait for the circumstances of my coming out to be perfect. Things can change in an instant, so why not live truthfully? When I told Joe a few weeks ago that I was gay, he was grateful that I trusted him. He asked me to join him in 2013. We'll be marching on June 8.

No one wants to live in fear. I've always been scared of saying the wrong thing. I don't sleep well. I never have. But each time I tell another person, I feel stronger and sleep a little more soundly. It takes an enormous amount of energy to guard such a big secret. I've endured years of misery and gone to enormous lengths to live a lie. I was certain that my world would fall apart if anyone knew. And yet when I acknowledged my sexuality I felt whole for the first time. I still had the same sense of humor, I still had the same mannerisms and my friends still had my back.
I used to think I was colorblind because I started hanging around with a bunch of really over-the-top, effeminate gay guys in Amsterdam. The ring leader-- or den mother-- was the grandson of a very right-wing Republican congressman from Ohio and the family was happy to pay him a-- what seemed at the time to me-- gargantuan sum to stay out of the U.S. Anyway, that's a whole other story. The reason I thought I was colorblind is because these guys used to always be talking about colors I couldn't see: russet, saffron, mauve, cerulean, sable, jacinthe, azure, chartreuse, aubergine, celadon, vermilion, lavender. Eventually I figured out I wasn't colorblind, just ignorant. Eventually I bought a whole set of dishes in Chiang Mai made of celadon and one of the bands on my label named an album Cerulean. And then there was the infamous photo of Illinois Republican Congressman Aaron Schock (above) in his very gay get up-- he tweeted he burned the whole outfit after the picture went viral-- with a lavender (is that lavender?) belt.

Lavender has been tied to the LGBT community long before the Illinois closet case started sashaying around in that belt. In fact, this is the 60th anniversary of what was once known as "the Lavender Purge," perfect for a national debate about passing ENDA, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.

On April 27, 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued an executive order calling for the removal of homosexuals from all federal agencies. Gay and lesbian government workers were immediately fired or resigned out of fear of being publicly outed.  Even LGBT people working in the private sector whose jobs required them to have a federal security clearance were also fired or resigned.

The supposed justification for the purge was that homosexuals were a godless, immoral group who would work with communists to overthrow the government, thereby posing an imminent threat to national security.

While many remember the “Red Scare” of the mid-20th century, the purging of LGBT government employees, dubbed the “Lavender Scare,” today rarely receives its due as a catalyst for the LGBT equality movement. In 2004, David K. Johnson helped bring the historical moment to light in his book The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government.
Do you think Jason Collins will inspire Aaron Schock? Lindsey Graham? Patrick McHenry? Do you think any of the dozen or so Republican closet cases in Congress will come out? Do you think Josh Howard's film based on Johnson's book will help Miss McConnell reach down deep and find the courage? Dave Camp? Adrian Smith? Trent Franks? Forget it. It's more likely they'll be shuddering in fear behind their closet doors praying it isn't their turn to be caught yet, so have to claim alcoholism and resign in self-imposed antebellum disgrace. It's more likely that they're petrified that a book like David Rosen's Sex Scandal America-- Politics & the Ritual of Public Shaming will one day include a paragraph or two about them. Will one of them be the next Bob Bauman (R-MD) or Jon Hinson (R-MS)? This is how Rosen dealt with the horrors visited on the LGBT community during the '50s.
The social repression of homosexuals during this period took many forms and involved both governmental and civil action. Government repression was implemented in two ways: in actions directed at federal employees (civilian or military) and in actions directed at the American citizenry. Government action took place on many fronts. Congressional and federal officials held hearings and investigations, conducted raids, undertook prosecutions and imprisoned ordinary (and sometimes extra-ordinary) people. Repression was framed as a battle over loyalty and ended in many front page exposés, with Weegee-esque black-and-white shots that gave the event a tawdry sheen. The social repression of this period represented the profound political instability America was confronting in terms of both domestic and international power.

Congressional hearings (as well as innumerable local and state government probes) were directed at perverts-- homosexuals, and pornographers, publishers of pulp fiction, comic books and "adult" photo-magazines. Among these, and probably the most pitiful, was the campaign waged against homosexuals. In 1950, the Nebraska House Republican, A.L. Miller helped write special language into that year's Security Act which legitimized the investigation of those identified as "perverts." At the other end of Congress, the Senate conducted a wide-ranging into the presence of "homosexuals and other perverts" in the federal government. Advocating the removal of all homosexuals from government employment (both civilian and military), the Senate report warned that "perverts tend to have a corrosive influence upon his fellow employees. These perverts will frequently attempt to entice normal individuals to engage in perverted practices. This is particularly true in the case of young and impressionable people who might come under the influence of a pervert... One homosexual can pollute a government office."
That wasn't all that long ago. Today the Senate has gay members but one, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), was elected as an upfront gay person, her gender preference not even an issue in her election. There are openly gay Members of Congress from Colorado, Rhode Island, Arizona, California, Wisconsin and one, Carl Sciortino, likely to move from the Massachusetts state legislature to Congress in a special election. Still, none of the Republican gays in Congress have the guts to come out-- or to even support and end to discrimination against gays in employment. Jeff Merkely (D-OR) is working on getting some Republicans to help him shut down the '50's era, bigoted filibuster promised by reactionaries like Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Jeff Sessions (KKK-AL). Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) are already on board and Rob Portman (the one with the gay son) may be coming along. But does anyone think there's any chance in hell that GOP closet cases Lindsey Graham and Miss McConnell would even consider backing ENDA? The only thing that keeps homophobia alive are gays too cowardly to come out and accept themselves.

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Big Brother Never Goes Away-- CISPA Is A Real Danger To American Liberties


If you watched Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) on CNN's State of the Nation yesterday, you may recall him warning that the government is approaching a "dangerous line" when it comes to violating the Constitutional mandates on certain guaranteed liberties, like privacy. Chaffetz, who wasn't one of only 29 Republicans who joined most Democrats in opposing Mike Rogers' Big Brother CISPA legislation April 18, seemed to take issue with a dullard colleague of his, Marsha Blackburn who wants more intrusion, not less. (She was out shopping for new platforms with Michele Bachmann at Hu's Shoes's on M Street when the vote was taken, so isn't on the record one way or the other.) “We have a very dangerous line," Chaffetz retorted, "I don’t want my federal government going in and searching my Facebook page."

As we mentioned the day after the vote, Boehner and Cantor lined up all the little zombies, like Chaffetz, to vote for CISPA, which Obama has threatened to veto. The NO-votes came predominantly from progressive Democrats plus an odd assortment of Republicans-- libertarians like Justin Amash (R-MI), Jimmy Duncan (R-TN), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Walter Jones (R-NC), delusional paranoids like Steve Stockman (R-TX), Kerry Bentivolio (R-MI), Ted Yoho (R-FL), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Paul Broun (R-GA), what's left of their moderate wing, like Chris Gibson (R-NY) and... well Chris Gibson's about it, and then the usual Boehner-haters who just want to be on record opposing him and Cantor as much as possible, like Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) and Jim Bridenstine (R-OK). Amash explained the anti-Boehner position on his Facebook page last Friday:
I voted no on H R 624, Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). This year's version includes marginal improvements over last year's bill, which I also opposed, but these changes don't go far enough to protect people's private data, and many of the bill's most significant problems remain unaddressed. Like last year, the bill overrides federal and state privacy laws and contracts. It exempts private entities from all federal and state liability when they share "cyber threat information" with the federal government-- a term broadly defined to mean any information "directly pertaining to... [a] threat to [] a system or network," which could include your personally identifiable information, such as e-mails.

Under CISPA, companies are actually *prohibited* from making legally binding commitments to protect users' personal data and e-mail. Without facing liability, companies have no means of assuring customers or employees that they will follow through on their privacy agreements, which means companies cannot easily compete in the area of user privacy. House leadership killed my bipartisan amendment to fix this problem, denying it a full vote on the House floor. My simple, quarter-page amendment merely asserted that CISPA's liability exemption did not give companies authority "to breach a contract with another party." It certainly would have passed unanimously or almost unanimously. By rejecting this amendment, the Committee on Rules voted to void private contracts and undermine the Rule of Law.

The bill also inappropriately allows the government to use the information it receives from private entities for purposes other than cybersecurity, such as protecting individuals generally "from the danger of death or serious bodily harm," investigating and prosecuting certain crimes, and protecting minors. And the government may search through the information it receives to find specific information pertaining to these items, trampling on our Fourth Amendment right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures. Rep. Jared Polis offered an amendment, which I cosponsored, that would have ensured the government could use information shared with it under CISPA *only* to prevent imminent cyber attacks, but again, the Committee on Rules rejected this important change.

Cybersecurity is a real concern for the federal government and many public and private entities. But CISPA goes far beyond what is necessary to ensure the government and the private sector have the information and tools needed to protect against cyber threats. Just a few simple changes (many of which were offered as amendments but rejected by the Committee on Rules) would have made CISPA more protective of your privacy and civil liberties while still reducing legal barriers to timely sharing of actual cyber threat intelligence. House leadership rejected these changes without even permitting a vote on the amendments.
CISPA's author, Mike Rogers, who likened Amash and his allies to "14-year-old tweeters in their basement," wants to run for the open Michigan Senate seat. Amash could dash his hopes

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Maybe It Really Isn't Fair To Always Just Blame The Germans


The conventional wisdom runs something like this: the northern European (Protestants) are industrious and thrifty and the southern Europeans + the Irish (Catholics) are slackers and high livers who squander their wealth on wine and women. Or... the Nazis won the long-war after all and are now cracking the whip to make everyone in Europe act like a good little Germans-- or starve. After all, who really gained the most from the creation of the Common Market and the Eurozone? German industry is well... very much über alles. Cyprus, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece... not so much. German banks have, conventional wisdom has it, underwritten their spendthrift ways-- or at least their ability to buy expensive German manufactured goods.

Over the weekend, Der Spiegel offered an alternative interpretation, basically, why don't the 1% in these crooked countries pay their fair share and stop avoiding taxes? Like here in the U.S. "interest rates are very low, because the ECB [like the Fed] is flooding the euro zone with money to stabilize the system. People who save their money are currently getting the short end of the stick, as they are stealthily being dispossessed. On the other hand, those with enough money to invest in stocks and real estate are benefiting from the boom triggered by the flood of funds coming from the ECB. In other words, taxpayers and ordinary savers are paying for the euro rescue efforts, which are primarily benefiting the rich in Europe's most troubled economies. Their assets remain largely untouched, while the assets of their rescuers are melting away... [T]he aid programs to date have only replaced old loans with new ones, so that the borrower countries will never shed their heavy debt burdens." Ordinary Germans are getting sick of being painted as the bad guys, although keep in mind when you read the numbers below that the averages reflect that many of these southern Europeans countries have much, much less economic equality than the northern countries do. The rich are really rich (and powerful) and the poor are getting poorer and the middle class in smaller, less powerful... and shrinking.
[T]here is also a second image of Germany, one that's based on numbers, not emotions. The figures were obtained by the European Central Bank (ECB) and released last week. This image depicts a country whose households own less on average than those that are asking for its money.

In this ranking of assets, Cyprus is in second place Europe-wide, while Germany ranks much lower, even lower than two other crisis-ridden countries, Spain and Italy.

And this Cyprus, with its affluent households, is now supposed to receive €10 billion ($13.1 billion) from the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the Euro Group's permanent bailout fund, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), at least according to the decisions reached after dramatic negotiations, which the German parliament, the Bundestag, is expected to approve this week. But a new question is arising: Why exactly are we doing this? Isn't Cyprus rich enough to help itself?

In light of the new ECB study, a new discussion of the Euro Group's bailout strategy is indeed necessary. So far taxpayers have born the risks of this strategy, by guaranteeing all loans the ESM has paid out to needy countries. Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain are already part of this group, and now Cyprus has been added to the mix.

...It would be more sensible-- and fairer-- for the crisis-ridden countries to exercise their own power to reduce their debts, namely by reaching for the assets of their citizens more than they have so far. As the most recent ECB study shows, there is certainly enough money available to do this.

The numbers are potentially explosive. For instance, the average German household has assets of €195,000, almost €100,000 less than the average Spanish household. The average net wealth of households in Cyprus is €671,000, more than three times the German value. Italian and French households are also significantly wealthier than their German counterparts.

The differences are even more pronounced when it comes to median net wealth, which is the level that the lower half of the population just reaches and the upper half exceeds. On this measure, Germany, at €51,400, is actually in last place in the euro zone. The corresponding value for Cyprus is five times as high. Median net wealth is even higher in crisis-rattled Portugal than in Germany.

The conclusions of the ECB study had hardly been published before various efforts to relativize and whitewash the figures began. The results were apparently embarrassing to the ECB itself, but also to the German government.

...[T]he differences in wealth were mainly attributable to property ownership habits in the various countries. Whereas just over 80 percent of households own their own homes in Spain (83 percent) and Slovenia (81.6), and even 90 percent in Slovakia, this is true of only 44 percent of Germans.

...Nevertheless, some attempts to downplay differences in wealth within the euro zone are reminiscent of card tricks. One argument holds that the Germans are portrayed as being too poor, because their figures do not account for their claims against the government pension system. In other countries, people provide for their retirement by buying property, which Germans don't have to do because they have government pension insurance.

But this is a spurious argument. Claims against a government pension fund do not constitute the asset accumulation in the classic sense, but rather a promise that could quite possibly not be kept. The current working generation pays for the pensions of retirees, which is precisely why pension claims cannot be reflected in the wealth calculation. They are offset by the younger generation's obligation, which is essentially a liability to vouch for the claims.

There are in fact understandable reasons why the Germans even lag behind such crisis-ridden countries as Greece, Cyprus and France when it comes to asset accumulation. In the last 100 years, Germans have been the victims of several events with the traits of expropriation. The hyperinflation of the 1920s, a consequence of World War I, destroyed the wealth of a middle class that had seen its fortunes consistently improve during the German Empire.

The monetary reform of 1948 eliminated the Reichsmark, which had become worthless after Germany's defeat in World War II, and wiped out the savings of an entire nation. In East Germany, 40 years of socialism destroyed the last vestiges of wealth and property. In the less than 23 years since German reunification, residents of the former East German states have not yet managed to attain the same levels of affluence as their fellow Germans in the west.

Most countries in the euro zone were spared such disasters. Either they emerged victorious from the two world wars, like France, or they remained neutral, like Spain. Either way, their citizens were able to build wealth over generations.

...The numbers, Italy's leading business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore wrote, seem to suggest that "la Bundesbank" were trying to say to us: "You're the rich ones, and if you have problems, kindly solve them on your own."

Italy isn't swimming "in money, but in poverty," the paper argued, noting that 16.5 percent of Italians are considered poor while only 13.4 percent of Germans fall below the poverty line. The Italian central bank prepared its own report, which emphasized that Italy has more poverty and a lower average income, but also more wealth and less private debt.

It isn't this supposed wealth but growing poverty that has Italians upset these days. And it isn't the lives of the rich that shape the headlines, but the fates of people like Anna Maria Sopranzi, 68, and Romeo Dionisi, 62. Dionisi was a self-employed craftsman from Civitanova Marche in central Italy.

Sopranzi and Dionisi hung themselves from a heating pipe in their basement. A farewell note was stuck to the windshield of their neighbor's car. "Forgive us," they had written. Deeply in debt and impoverished, they had had no income for months but plenty of delinquent customers. Right up until the end, they hadn't shown any signs of despair or asked for help, neither from relatives nor the church.

They died of shame, and of the burden of the demands imposed by Equitalia, a government-owned company that collects taxes for the tax authorities.

People commit suicide every day in Italy. This was also the case before the crisis, but the deaths of Sopranzi and Dionisi were suicides committed out of despair, a warning sign that shook the entire country. The newly elected president of the parliament, Laura Boldrini, a former spokeswoman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, attended the funeral. "This is government murder," people said in the church. "To you we are just numbers." The archbishop appealed to politicians, saying: "It must become clear to you that we can no longer manage."

The crisis has plunged many people into poverty in Southern Europe, people who no longer know how they will make ends meet. Unemployment has risen to record level, and there are no new jobs in sight.

In Spain, a third of residents have taken out mortgages on their homes. With more than 4 million people losing their jobs in the years of crisis since 2007, many have been unable to continue servicing their loans with banks and savings banks.

There were 30,000 foreclosures last year alone, and most of them were primary residences. In most cases, the downgraded price paid at auction isn't sufficient to cover the entire outstanding debt, so that the mortgage holder is forced to continue paying high penalty interest and pay off the remaining debt in installments.

...Southern Europeans in a number of countries have traditionally paid no taxes on a good share of their income, which is one reason households with far smaller incomes have been able to accumulate substantially larger assets than German households.

Estimates by Friedrich Schneider, an economist in the Austrian city of Linz, reveal how horrifying the scope of the shadow economy is in the crisis-ridden countries of the euro zone. Among all the countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain occupy the first four positions in the applicable negative ranking.

On the Iberian Peninsula and in Italy, the hidden economy makes up 20 percent of GDP, compared with almost 25 percent in Greece. By comparison, it only constitutes about 13 percent in Germany, and significantly less than 10 percent in other euro countries, like Austria and the Netherlands.

The greater the importance of moonlighting, the lower the tax revenues. The shadow economy deprives Spain, Italy and other countries of dozens of billions of euros in tax revenue each year, and has been doing so for decades.

Schneider's figures also show that in Greece, Spain and Portugal, the shadow economy plays an even greater role today than it did in the late 1980s. The scope of the shadow economy has declined in Italy, but only slightly. In other words, if attitudes toward taxation in Southern Europe were just as good as they are in the north, the debt-ridden countries would have solved their budget problems long ago.

All problems aside, Lars Feld, a member of the German Council of Economic Experts, also sees the ECB figures as good news. "They show that Germany, with its tough conditions for the euro bailout funds, is in the right."

After all, the debt-ridden countries are only eligible for the billions from bailout funds if they satisfy certain conditions in return. In addition to spending cuts and tax increases, they generally include the obligation to actually collect taxes. If tax laws not only appear on paper, but are also enforced, then "even Greece will be able to set aside doubts concerning the sustainability of its debts," says Feld.

Despite the drawbacks and qualifications of the ECB's wealth figures, one realization remains: The countries of the south are far more prosperous than previously supposed.

For these countries' governments and the politicians in the partner countries dealing with bailouts, this can only lead to one conclusion: There is still plenty to be had. Cash-strapped countries that have already taken advantage of aid from the bailout funds should be required to increase their own contribution even further.

In fact, the ailing economies have already begun increasing taxes on their citizens, in some cases substantially. In this context, many governments are also taking aim at assets.

Last year, for example, Spain reintroduced a wealth tax that had been abolished five years earlier. It doesn't generate much in revenues, in fact, less than €1 billion. This is because of generous exemptions that can reach €1 million on properties used as primary residences.

The Socialist government in France introduced a special tax on assets last year, which generated €2.3 billion in revenues. The Greek government plans to tax the rich to an even greater extent. After the government drastically increased revenue goals for the wealth tax last year, it now expects revenues to increase from €1.2 billion to €2.7 billion.

Economist Labrianidis also favors requiring the wealthy to play a stronger role in repaying the government debt. "The biggest problem is tax evasion and tax flight. And I'm not talking about the kiosk owner who doesn't give you a receipt for a pack of cigarettes," says the professor. He is referring to "the very rich," and he is calling for political will and a "wealth registry." Still, Labrianidis sees "no steps being taken in this direction. There is no political will to chase capital."

The average wealth of Greek households may seem high, but the country ranks near the bottom in Europe in terms of tax revenues. In 2011, tax revenues, including social security contributions, amounted to 35 percent of GDP, compared with an EU average of 40 percent.

Greek authorities are also making very little headway in their fight against tax evasion. Lists exist of delinquent doctors, wealthy people unwilling to pay their taxes and tax fugitives in Switzerland. There are also lists of undeclared swimming pools (which are subject to a tax) and proud owners of luxury yachts whose incomes are barely large enough to pay taxes. But the tax collectors continue to come up short. Last year, tax authorities were expected to drum up €2 billion in back taxes to help pay off the country's debt, at least under the conditions imposed by the troika consisting of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the ECB and the European Commission. The actual figure was barely €1.1 billion.

In all southern European countries, the rich show little inclination to help pay for the consequences of the crisis. One exception is Diego Della Valle, 59, the inventor of the driving shoe and the president and CEO of Italian leather goods company Tod's. He proposes that companies like his, which are doing well despite the crisis, invest 1 percent of their profits to help the weakest members of society: the local elderly and unemployed youth.

In the case of Tod's, that would amount to €1.5 million, and if other profitable, publicly traded companies follow suit, he hopes to raise €150 million. Della Valle, who plans to launch his voluntary welfare contribution campaign this week, notes that this is something he can afford, and that for him it is "no great sacrifice, nor is it populism."

As nice as that may sound, keeping the government's hands away from private assets is a very popular pastime in Italy. It's an approach embodied by Silvio Berlusconi. More than anyone else, the self-made billionaire and longstanding former prime minister personifies the notion of circumventing the law and living according to the motto: Taking is more sacred than giving.

Although Italy has a high income tax rate of up to 43 percent, the government loses an estimated €120 billion a year to tax evasion and tax flight. There have long been discussions of tax increases and capital levies, but as is so often the case, little has ever been implemented.

Some ideas that have been discussed are the reintroduction of the land tax, an increase in the value-added tax and a wealth tax. The IMU, a tax on real estate ownership, including primary residences, was finally introduced under former Prime Minister Mario Monti. His predecessor Berlusconi had pledged, if re-elected, to reimburse around €4 billion in money that had been paid under the IMU tax. There was also a levy on yachts 10 meters or longer.

...Spain is a little further along in this respect. The conservative government of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, which came into office in December 2011, felt compelled to increase the maximum income tax rate from 45 to 52 percent. Rajoy also limited the possibility of reducing corporate income tax with write-offs. Before, on average, companies paid a de facto rate of only 10 percent to the government, says Josep Oliver i Alonso, a professor of applied economics at the Autonomous University of Barcelona

. Rajoy also reinstated the inheritance tax abolished by the Socialists, which will now apply to medium-sized and large estates. But because the crisis-torn population is already suffering under the increased value-added tax of 21 percent, as well as prescription fees and increases in taxes on alcohol and tobacco, Spaniards are growing less tolerant of the rich who try to avoid paying taxes on their money. New scandals are uncovered almost daily.

A former treasurer with the governing party, the conservative People's Party, hid €38 million in Swiss bank accounts, while a son of the former head of the Catalan government reportedly moved €32 million to tax havens. Even the son-in-law of the Spanish king allegedly siphoned ill-gotten public funds abroad.

...Peter Bofinger, a member of the German Council of Economic Experts, which advises the federal government, also believes that the crisis-ridden countries should ask the wealthy to make a substantially larger contribution. To clean up government finances, he is even calling for a capital levy. "The rich would then, for example, be required to relinquish a portion of their assets within 10 years."

A model of this sort of capital levy is the so-called Equalization of Burdens program implemented in Germany after World War II. At the time, the wealthy were compelled to pay a special tax for a period of 30 years.

Bofinger is convinced that a wealth tax would be far more appropriate than imposing a levy on savers, as was recently the case in Cyprus. "Resourceful wealthy people from Southern Europe will simply move their money to banks in Northern Europe, thereby evading the levy."

For Brussels economist Wolff, the ECB statistics provide more than just an answer to the question of who should pay the bill for the crisis in Southern Europe. "It becomes clear, once again, how unfair wealth is distributed, in Germany and elsewhere."

What he means is that wealthy Germans should also be expected to cover the costs of the crisis. "The effort to rescue the euro would be completely absurd if, in the end, the relatively poor average German household helped the super-rich in Greece avoid paying higher taxes."
Sounds like Paul Ryan and Silvio Berlusconi have substituted the same childish Ayn Rand books for the Bible on their bedside tables. Or are greed and selfishness just part of the inherent nature of conservatism?

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