Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Eight More Ways Women Will Benefit Under Obamacare Starting Tomorrow

When eight Obamacare regulations go into effect tomorrow, 47 million women will benefit from the guaranteed coverage of preventive services — including contraception coverage — without co-pays. The new rules will require most insurance plans to begin including the services at no additional cost at the next renewal date that falls on or after August 1, according to a news release from the Department of Health and Human Services.
The Center for American Progress graphic breaks down what will be covered and how women will benefit:

But even as millions of women will benefit from even more provisions of the Affordable Care Act, nine states are attacking the contraception coverage requirement because of the claim that the provision violates religious liberty. Even though President Obama announced an “accommodation” for religious institutions so that the employer does not have to pay for the birth control coverage, states have considered legislation or ballot measures to either reject the federal regulation or undermine contraceptive coverage in state law. And ongoing challenges against the contraception regulation continue in federal courts.

Mitt Romney’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Trip To Europe

In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama traveled to Europe and was greeted by hundreds of thousands of supporters and excited foreign leaders at almost every stop along his tour. Pundits across the board labeled the trip a success for the campaign, so it’s understandable why, four years later, candidate Mitt Romney thought it would be a good idea to do an overseas trip of his own.
Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan, though. During his first stop in London, Romney enraged an entire country by questioning Great Britain’s readiness to host the olympics, which began the day he arrived. The notoriously merciless UK media flambéed Romney with big headlines and scathing editorials.
Romney then moved on to Israel, where he explained to a room full of wealthy donors why Palestinians were generally poorer than Israelis due to their inferior “culture.” Israeli and Arab press alike were incensed, calling the remark racist (a charge the Romney campaign vigorously denies.)
And then today in Poland, as reporters who had traveled a cumulative 10,000 miles with the campaign faced their sixth day without having an opportunity to ask a single question to the candidate, a Romney campaign spokesman told a restless gaggle to “kiss my ass” when they tried to shout their questions at Romney as he left Pilsudski Square in Warsaw.
In all, not Mitt Romney’s best week:

Massive Blackout Leaves 600 Million Indians Without Power, Demonstrating Danger Of Relying On Outdated Coal System

Indian children read without power as a consequence of blackouts.
More than 600 million people in the northern and eastern parts of India lost power on Tuesday, putting roughly half of India’s population in the dark.
While the specific causes behind the mass blackouts remain unclear, the underlying cause is clear – India is reliant on an aging, inefficient government coal power monopoly that can’t meet the country’s energy needs:
Some analysts said public outrage over the widespread outages may force Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government to tackle reforms in the crisis-riddled power sector. Fuel shortages are crippling coal and gas-fired plants, forcing them to run below capacity or shut down for long stretches; state utilities have billions of dollars of accumulated losses; and, as has been on stark display, the nation’s creaky grid needs upgrading.
“Unless this government wants to commit political suicide, there’s no way they can ignore this,” said Abhey Yograj, managing director of Tecnova, a consulting firm that advises foreign companies on India.
While some are suggesting that increasing domestic coal production is the necessary next step in addressing India’s power problems, it’s not so clear that’s the case. One of the principal barriers to cheap coal production is environmental protection, and for good reason: The IMF estimates that coal pollution kills about 70,000 Indians per year and development of coal in India (and China) is undermining efforts to decrease global carbon emissions. Further, Indian coal development can create underground fires that cause houses to fall into the earth and fuels the corruption in the Indian energy sector that’s holding back meaningful reform. Solar power is actually less expensive than coal in India and renewables more broadly are becoming increasingly plausible alternatives to expanded coal development.
In fact, the Indian government is pushing a National Solar Mission aimed at generating 12.5 % of India’s total electricity from renewable resources by 2020. By the end of 2012, the Solar Mission called for 810 megawatts of installed panels, but, according to a recently released report, India passed the 1 gigawatt mark in June of this year, a full 6 months ahead of the plan for 22 gigawatts by 2022. The report also found that India had only about 506 megawatts of installed capacity as recently as March, meaning that the country doubled its efforts in only two moths.
India has vast rural populations that often have limited access to electricity. The Solar Mission aims to provide more reliable sources of power to those citizens while reducing energy cost, decreasing reliance on foreign coal, and ameliorating the consequences of India’s economic growth for the environment.
Max Frankel contributed to this post.

Republican Candidate In Arizona Accused Of Voter Fraud

John Enright
Former Pinal County Supervisor candidate John Enright (R)
While Republicans trying to justify voter suppression bills continue to struggle to find any actual cases of voter fraud, once again a Republican politician may be the exception that proves the rule. While voter fraud is exceedingly rare — a person is more likely to be hit by lightning than to commit it — then-Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White (R-IN) was convicted of it earlier this year. Now, a candidate for Pinal County Supervisor in Arizona has dropped out amid questions about who cast ballots on behalf of his long-deceased girlfriend.
The Arizona Republic reports:
A Pinal County supervisor candidate has withdrawn from the race in the wake of voter-fraud allegations involving a former companion who, records show, has continued to vote by absentee ballot in the five years since her death. John Enright, 66, had been seeking the Republican nomination for county supervisor of District 5, an area that includes Apache Junction and Gold Canyon. …
His statement made no mention of the scandal unleashed in an anonymous, undated letter sent several weeks ago to the Pinal County Recorder’s Office. As recently as this year, the letter alleged, someone had been filling out and mailing in absentee ballots addressed to a woman who died on Feb. 3, 2007. The woman, Sheila Nassar, and Enright lived together at the time of her death.
Enright has not been charged with any crime and told the Arizona press “I look forward to learning more about these allegations. If they are indeed formal allegations, I will defend myself. I very much look forward to clearing my name.”
But if Enright was indeed casting ballots in his late girlfriend’s name, he would be guilty of what the Pinal County Recorder called “an absolute act of fraudulent voting” — and a Class 6 felony.
Voter identification laws would have done nothing to prevent the sort of absentee ballot fraud alleged here. And the fact that this is already a felony shows that laws already on the books are clearly sufficient to punish this exceedingly rare crime.

STUDY: Companies With Women On Their Boards Perform Better

Sheryl Sandberg, recently named the first female member of Facebook's board of directors
A new report by the Credit Suisse Research Institute shows that businesses with women on their boards outperformed comparably sized companies with all-male boards by 26 percent, suggesting that a mixed-gender board provides an important boost for a business. According to the study:
Our key finding is that, in a like-for-like comparison, companies with at least one woman on the board would have outperformed in terms of share price performance, those with no women on the board over the course of the past six years. [...]
In the middle of the decade when economic growth was relatively robust, there was little difference in share price performance between companies with or without women on the board. Almost all of the outperformance in our backtest was delivered post-2008, since the macro environment deteriorated and volatility increased. In other words, stocks with greater gender diversity on their boards generally look defensive: they tend to perform best when markets are falling, deliver higher average ROEs through the cycle, exhibit less volatility in earnings and typically have lower gearing ratios. We can therefore conclude that relative share price outperformance of companies with women on the board looks unlikely to be entirely consistent, but the evidence suggests that more balance on the board brings less volatility and more balance through the cycle.
When it comes to the upper echelons of U.S. business, many barriers to women still exist. In one specific example, women make up more than half of the financial industry’s workforce, but fewer than 3 percent of U.S. financial companies employ a female chief executive. Overall, 36 percent of U.S. companies have no women on their boards of directors. Moreover, a female CEO makes only 69 cents for every dollar that a male CEO makes.
Steven Perlberg

Polish Solidarity Distances Itself From Romney: He ‘Supported Attacks On Trade Unions And Employees’ Rights’

Solidarity occupying an intersection in 1982
Between annoying the British and alienating the Palestinians, Mitt Romney seems to have found trouble everywhere he went on his overseas campaign trip. Now, the Polish trade union Solidarity, once led by Romney’s host in Poland Lech Wałęsa, disavowed the GOP presidential hopeful because of his anti-union politics. Romney went to Gdańsk, Poland to meet with Wałęsa, who in 1980, led a workers’ strike in the Gdańsk Shipyard and helped create the Solidarity trade union. Solidarity became a thorn in the side of the Soviet-backed government, and Wałęsa eventually became a Nobel laureate and the first president of a free Poland. Wałęsa was reportedly miffed when Obama wouldn’t grant him a private greeting, and invited Romney for a visit.
But Solidarity isn’t extending the same welcome. The group distanced itself in a statement:
Regretfully, we were informed by our friends from the American headquarters of (trade union federation) AFL-CIO, which represents more than 12 million employees … that Mitt Romney supported attacks on trade unions and employees’ rights.
Solidarity was not involved in organizing Romney’s meeting with Wałęsa and did not invite him to visit Poland.
Romney has staked out anti-union positions. He supported right-to-work legislation and railed against unions in Michigan earlier this year: “I’ve taken on union bosses before. I’m happy to take them on again.” (HT: Muhammed Idrees Ahmad)

Morning Briefing: Congress May Strike A Deal To Avoid Government Shutdown

– Congress may be close to a temporary budget deal that would avert a government shutdown — at least until 2013.
– The Romney campaign has released an app to announce their vice presidential pick. The Obama campaign has also released an app, which contains information of how and where to vote, along with a rundown of voter ID laws in the user’s state.
– A new book, The Rise of the President’s Permanent Campaign, shows how reelection campaign fundraising has escalated over the years, exacerbated by deregulation that has pushed Obama to break fundraising records:

– Shortly after Romney said that Israel is less safe with Obama in office, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Ehud Barak praised the president’s policies, declaring, “President Obama is doing in regard to our security more than anything that I can remember in the past.”
– And finally, volatile food prices, a growing population, and climate change may mean we’ll all be eating “sonic-enhanced” food and lab-grown meat in 20 years.

Romney Aide Tells Reporters To Stop Asking Questions: ‘Kiss My Ass’

A Mitt Romney spokesman told reporters to “kiss my ass” when they tried to ask the candidate questions about his trip abroad on Tuesday.
Seemingly without irony, traveling press secretary Rick Gorka told reporters to “show some respect” and to “shove it” because they were trying to get Romney to answer questions about his numerous gaffes abroad while at the Polish tomb of the unknown.
Reporters have had virtually no access to the candidate during his three-country tour. When they frustratedly told Gorka “we haven’t had another chance to ask him questions.” Gorka responded, “kiss my ass.” CNN has the video:
While Romney has granted interviews to numerous TV stations in the US, as well as some foreign media, the campaign has blocked the traveling press pool from interacting with the candidate in unstructured settings, as CNN’s Jim Acosta explained this morning. Reporters who flew to England, Israel, and Poland with the candidate have only been able to ask a total of three questions — all on the first day.
Gorka has since apologized for his comments, and Romney adviser Stuart Stevens said of the trip “I think it was a great success.”

Republican Congressman Blasts GOP: Party Caters To ‘Extremes,’ Is ‘Incapable Of Governing’

Congressman Richard Hanna (R-NY) is fed up with the GOP.
Hanna singled out Michele Bachmann’s “suggestion that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin be investigated to see if she has ties to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood” as an example of a party that has gone off the rails.
The Syaracuse Post-Standard has the story:
“I have to say that I’m frustrated by how much we — I mean the Republican Party — are willing to give deferential treatment to our extremes in this moment in history,” he told The Post-Standard editorial board.
…“We render ourselves incapable of governing when all we do is take severe sides…” he said. “If all people do is go down there and join a team, and the team is invested in winning and you have something that looks very similar to the shirts and the skins, there’s not a lot of value there.”
…“I would say that the friends I have in the Democratic Party I find … much more congenial — a little less anger,” he said.
BuzzFeed reports that Hanna is not alone and “moderate members of the House GOP conference feel that Boehner, who has struggled with an often raucous and openly defiant right wing, has forced them to go along with conservative demands but has provided them little in return.”
This isn’t the first time that Hanna, who was first elected to Congress in 2010, has been critical of the Republican party. At at women’s rights rally in March he advised the crowd to “contribute your money to people who speak out on your behalf, because the other side — my side — has a lot of it.”

Clinton Praises Republicans Who Stood Up Against Bachmann’s Islamophobic Allegations

During a speech today at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace marking the release of a report about religious freedom around the world, Secretary of State HIllary Clinton took a moment to deal with religious freedom a little closer to home. Specifically, she touched obliquely on accusations made about a top staffer in her office by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).
In a letter to the State Department demanding an investigation into alleged Muslim Brotherhood infiltration, Bachmann suggested Clinton aide Huma Abedin is tied to Muslim Bortherhood and exercising influence on what Bachmann said were “actions recently that have been enormously favorable to the Muslim Brotherhood and its interests.”
In a thinly veiled reference, Clinton lauded those Republicans who stood up to Bachmann’s bogus and Islamophobic allegations:
Leaders have to be active in stepping in and sending messages about protecting the diversity within their countries. … We did see some of that in our own country. We saw Republicans stepping up and standing up against the kind of assaults that really have no place in our politics.
Watch the clip:
Among those Republicans were Sen. John McCain (AZ), Sen. Scott Brown (MA), Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), House Speaker John Boehner (OH) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (WI). The Republican Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Mike Rogers (MI) went from supporting Bachmann, who sits on his committee, to disavowing her witch-hunt. Sensenbrenner, in particular, called out Bachmann’s Islamophobic allegations as “wrong ” and an affront on religious liberty:
Religion is a personal issue to every one of the people who lives in the United States, whether you practice a faith, how you practice a faith, whether you don’t practice a faith, whether you say you’re a member of a faith but don’t practice it, it’s none of the government’s business. And this is the whole issue of religious freedom.
However, some Republicans have come out and supported Bachmann’s allegations. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) also defended Bachmann’s charges. An adviser to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, John Bolton, voiced support for Bachmann’s allegations on a radio show hosted by the progenitor of her conspiracy theories, notorious Islamophobe Frank Gaffney. Former presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, who also acts a as a surrogate for Romney, defended Bachmann, too, even writing a long Politico opinion piece today.

Florida Governor Rick Scott Preaches Austerity, Spends Big On Frivolous Lawsuits

Florida Governor Rick Scott (R)
Florida Governor Rick Scott has spoken a lot about cutting government spending, lowering taxes for corporations, and removing social safety nets that millions of people rely on. But while he is busy eliminating more than $3 billion from public classrooms, his administration is simultaneously racking up hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars in legal expenses to defend several of its own unconstitutional laws and fight frivolous battles in federal court over Obamacare. To date, Rick Scott has authorized more than $888,000 for legal costs. Nearly $70,000 of that money was spent over the last two years fighting Obamacare in court, and that expense only ended thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling last month. Other suits have been filed in response to the state’s new welfare drug testing law, plans to privatize prisons through the budgeting process, and changes in the way the state manages its retirement plan. In all three cases the courts have sided against the Scott administration.
State governments finding themselves in court is nothing new, not even in Florida. But as the Orlando Sentinel explains, Scott’s administration is so far proving to be particularly litigious:
Legal challenges to new laws aren’t unusual in Florida. Gov. Jeb Bush tangled with the Florida Education Association over his school-voucher program; Gov. Charlie Crist was sued by the Legislature — successfully — over a gambling compact he negotiated with the Seminole Tribe. And in 2010, several suits overturned proposed constitutional amendments that Republican lawmakers had wanted on the ballot.
But observers in Tallahassee said the suits filed against Scott-approved measures far exceed other administrations’ legal woes. Friday, a new case was added to the list, with U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, along with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference announcing they would file a federal suit opposing some of the changes under the state’s new election law.
The Sentinel also points out that the $888,000 figure was calculated before several new suits were filed, including a case involving the state’s controversial voter purge program. And even though the Attorney General’s office has been able to handle most of the legal challenges, in several instances the state has had to contract out to expensive law firms in DC and Atlanta, costing taxpayers even more.
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Gingrich Explicitly Defends Bachmann’s Attacks On Clinton Aide Huma Abedin: ‘It’s Totally Legitimate’

Former presidential candidate and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich
At a Romney campaign event in Virginia on Monday, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich took questions over his weekend op-ed defending the practice of questioning prominent Muslims in government jobs over alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and four other Republican lawmakers have been wrapped on the knuckles by prominent members of their own party for requesting an investigation into the supposed infiltration of the Muslim Brotherhood into the U.S. government, and the role of Huma Abedin, a top Hillary Clinton aide, in the organization. And while Gingrich deliberately did not mention Abedin in his Sunday evening op-ed, when asked by ThinkProgress on Monday, he defended Bachmann’s call for an investigation into Abedin’s loyalty:
ADAM PECK: Do you think it was fair for the “National Security 5″ to explicitly name Huma Abedin in this letter?
GINGRICH: I think all they asked for was an investigation. I can’t imagine, given our track record over the last 70 years, that we want to start with the principle that anybody is automatically exempt. And therefore I think it’s not illegitimate to raise the question, it’s not a question I raised in my piece…Who’s offering advice to Secretary Clinton? I think it’s totally legitimate to ask that question.
What Gingrich failed to mention is that the appropriate questions have already been asked of Abedin and every other member of the Obama administration. As the top aide to the Secretary of State, Abedin underwent a thorough background and security check before assuming her position within the State Department. It seems Gingrich has stricter standards than the nation’s top intelligence agencies, which cleared Abedin.
Gingrich also makes the incorrect assumption that simply raising questions is a harmless exercise. In the weeks since Bachmann’s letter became public, Abedin has been subjected to direct threats on her life, and the NYPD has given her a security detail.
Listen to the remarks here:

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Eight More Ways Women Will Benefit Under Obamacare Starting Tomorrow