Monday, July 28, 2014


White House taking impeachment seriously

By Alexander Bolton - 07/25/14 10:30 AM EDT   / THE HILL
Senior White House advisers are taking very seriously the possibility that Republicans in Congress will try to impeach President Obama, especially if he takes executive action to slow deportations.
Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to Obama, said Friday that the White House is taking the prospect of impeachment in the GOP-controlled House more seriously than many others in Washington, who see it as unlikely.
Pfeiffer noted that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has a large following among Tea Party conservatives, has called for Obama’s impeachment and a large block of the GOP’s base favors it.
“I saw a poll today that had a huge portion of the Republican Party base saying they supported impeaching the president. A lot of people in this town laugh that off. I would not discount that possibility,” he told reporters Friday at a breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.
Pfeiffer said Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) decision to file a lawsuit against Obama over his use of executive actions increased the chance of impeachment proceedings in the future.
He said that possibility could become more likely if Obama takes executive action to halt the deportations of illegal immigrants who have strong ties to the United States, such as those who have family members who are U.S. citizens.
“I think Speaker Boehner, by going down the path of this lawsuit, has opened the door to Republicans possibly considering impeachment at some point in the future,” he said.
Palin wrote an op-ed for Breitbart earlier this month calling for Obama’s impeachment because of his handling of the surge of unaccompanied minors from Central America on the Texas border, calling it the “last straw that makes the battered wife say ‘no mas.’
She has also criticized Boehner’s lawsuit as a weak move.
Boehner has pushed back against pressure from Palin and other conservatives.
“I disagree,” he told reporters this month. 
A poll by CNN/ORC International released Friday shows a majority of the U.S. public say Obama should not be impeached.
Two-thirds of the survey’s respondents said they opposed impeachment, while 35 percent endorsed it.
But nearly 60 percent of Republicans said they would support impeachment proceedings against Obama. More than a third of independents, and 13 percent of Democrats also want to see Obama impeached.
The House, then controlled by Republicans, impeached former President Bill Clinton in 1998, but the GOP-controlled Senate acquitted him in 1999.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who at the time was a member of the House and served as a prosecutor in Clinton’s impeachment trial, warned this summer that there would be calls for impeachment if Obama released more prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp without first informing Congress.
Obama has dismissed the impeachment talk as lacking merit.
“You hear some of them: ‘Sue him! Impeach him!’” Obama said in Austin, Texas, recently. “Really? For what, doing my job?”
Conservatives in Congress, however, have become increasingly agitated by what they say is the president’s Obama failure to follow the law.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Obama’s executive order to defer the deportations of illegal immigrants who came to the country at a young age spawned the Texas border crisis. He argues it is part of a broader pattern.
Cruz released a report in May that listed 76 examples of what he called Obama’s “lawless” acts.
“The pattern of lawlessness by this Administration should concern every citizen, regardless of party or ideology,” Cruz said. “Rule of law means that we are a nation ruled by laws, not men.
This story was updated at 12:23 p.m.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

In Defense of American Optimism

Why Optimism Is Still America’s Greatest Strength

By          New York Magazine
RBB Obama Civil Rights 10Ricardo Brazziell-Pool/Getty Images
A few months ago, President Obama delivered a tribute to Lyndon Johnson that was also a tribute to his optimistic vision about American history. Obama reminded his audience that the triumph of justice was not easy, continuous, or automatic. “[W]e know we cannot be complacent,” he warned, “For history travels not only forwards; history can travel backwards, history can travel sideways.” This was Obama’s caveat to his main point, which is that, for all the struggle and imperfection and reversals and injustice that remained, over the long haul, moral improvement has carried the day:
“Still, the story of America is a story of progress. However slow, however incomplete, however harshly challenged at each point on our journey, however flawed our leaders, however many times we have to take a quarter of a loaf or half a loaf — the story of America is a story of progress.”
Obama’s optimistic disposition toward American history is one I share. But it’s also something that has divided liberals for a long time, and the division, ironically, has deepened during, and because of, Obama’s presidency. Indeed, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Elias Isquith, two writers who occupy the left-wing side of the divide, quoted Obama’s warning about how history can move sideways or backwards as if it were his central point, rather than the caveat.
The last few weeks, I’ve read What Hath God Wrought by Daniel Walker Howe, an engrossing history of the United States from 1815 through 1848. This is a period known — to the extent that Americans remember much about it at all — as “the Age of Jackson,” but Howe argues that this label is a mistake. America was not so much unified by Jackson as it was polarized in a way (this is my view superimposed on Howe’s history) we would find highly recognizable today. America was split, geographically and sociologically: Red America favored militaristic foreign policy, the maintenance of existing racial and social hierarchy, and fiercely opposed big government; Blue America favored a more restrained foreign policy, a more amicable treatment of racial minorities, and activist government support for economic growth.
The Jacksonians favored the gold standard and believed the Constitution prohibited the federal government from any program not specifically delineated. “I cannot find any authority in the Constitution for making the Federal Government the great almoner of public charity,” declared Zachary Taylor, in terms reminiscent of modern conservative objections to the individual mandate. Blue America was more culturally effete and enamored of public education; Red America suspicious of centralization and steeped in a culture of violence.
Blue America, then as now, was centered in the Northeast and what we now call the upper Midwest, and represented by the Whigs. Red America, then as now, was centered in the South and represented by the Democrats. Howe’s provocative thesis is that, even though the Whigs famously disappeared, their philosophical vision is the one that eventually prevailed. He explains how a series of accidents (like the death of Benjamin Harrison), blunders, and close-run events destroyed the Whigs. The pattern of long-run triumph and short-run debacle can be seen over and over throughout the period.
Social and economic progress poked along at a torpid pace, and was replete with infuriating half-measures. The notion of national emancipation was far too radical to gain any practical traction, and the liberals of the time focused on attainable victories. In 1817, the state of New York banned slavery, but emancipation would not take effect until 1827, so as to mitigate the hardship felt by slaveowners. This was the sort of compromise that makes bargaining away the public option look rather tame. It also created a perverse incentive for slaveowners, sitting upon assets whose value would suddenly disappear, to sell their slaves to states where slavery would remain legal. (This was formally illegal, but slaveholders used smugglers to circumvent the ban.) Even the incremental triumphs were punctuated by setbacks. The Jacksonian post office banned the mailing of any anti-slavery tracts into the South; several states eliminated the right to vote and other civil liberties for their free black citizens. History often moved backwards.
The Erie Canal is one of the products of the era whose reputation has survived. It was hardly the subject of easy consensus. After it failed to attract federal support on Constitutional grounds, New York governor DeWitt Clinton had it built over determined opposition. Opponents called it “Clinton’s big ditch,” Thomas Jefferson deemed the project “madness,” and both workers and businessmen opposed it for fear of higher taxes. The canal’s successful operation eventually blunted the criticism, but its construction and enactment were surely experienced by contemporaries, like the passage of Obamacare, as a controversy at best and a debacle at worst.
By the conclusion of Howe’s history, the Whigs are nearing extinction and the slave states have grown even more fanatical. It would have been difficult for a modern liberal living at the time to discern a pattern of progress over the previous three decades. And yet currents of history still flowed beneath the surface. By 1848, it was possible for feminists to gather in Seneca Falls and call for equal rights. Their manifesto mimicked the Declaration of Independence — “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal” — in a long pattern of bringing the reality of America in line with the idealized version. A century later, Martin Luther King Jr. would do the same.
Obama has a single message he passes on to the young people who work in his administration. Its core is historical optimism:
"We get White House interns to come in and they work at the White House, and they're there for six months, and then I usually speak to them at the end of six months. And I always tell them that despite how hard sometimes the world seems to be, and all you see on television is war and conflict and poverty and violence, the truth is that if you had to choose when to be born, not knowing where or who you would be, in all of human history, now would be the time. Because the world is less violent, it is healthier, it is wealthier, it is more tolerant and it offers more opportunity than any time in human history for more people than any time in human history."
Activists often resist this sort of thing as happy-talk; they fear it will breed complacency, or justify existing ills. I believe the evidence shows it does neither, that confidence breeds the courage necessary to move forward. But I also believe, utility aside, that optimism is analytically sound. Optimism is the most fundamental truth of American history.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Capitalism: open up a bottle of refreshing

Nestle continues to sell bottled water sourced from California despite record drought

Published time: July 15, 2014 03:05 
Edited time: July 17, 2014 10:54

California is facing one of its most severe droughts on record, which is hurting farmers and recreation alike. But despite water restrictions, Nestle is bottling spring water from the state and selling it, creating controversy alongside profits.

Nestle owns Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water, which has been bottling water from a spring in Millard Canyon, Calif. for more than a decade. The company’s 383,000-square-foot bottling plant, which also packages purified water under the Nestle Pure Life brand, is located on the Morongo Band of Mission Indians reservation. 

In January, Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) declared a drought state of emergency in preparation for water shortages, especially during the summer months. The drought has entered its third year, and water restrictions have increased throughout the Golden State. 

But Nestle does not need to heed the emergency measures the state has adopted. Since its plant is on a Native American reservation – considered a sovereign nation by the US government – it is not required to comply with state regulations. 

The reservation is located in a Mojave Desert oasis at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains, 85 miles east of Los Angeles. Drawing water from that location, where just three inches of rain falls each year, prevents water from seeping downhill to fill aquifers of nearby towns struggling for water during the drought. 

Throughout 2009, Nestle submitted annual reports to local water districts detailing how much groundwater it was extracting from the Millard Canyon spring. But since then, neither the company nor the Morongo tribe has submitted those forms. Reports compiled by the San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency show that the amounts drawn from two wells in the canyon varied from a high of 1,366 acre-feet in 2002 to a low of 595 acre-feet in 2005, according to The Desert Sun. In 2009, Nestle submitted its last report, covering the water pumped from wells during 2008. The company said it pumped 757 acre-feet that year, but none of the reports were ever independently verified. 

The Morongo did file a report with California that said 598 acre-feet of groundwater was pumped in Millard Canyon in 2013, and three acre-feet were diverted. “Those amounts translate to about 200 million gallons a year — enough water for about 400 typical homes in the Coachella Valley,” The Desert Sun reported.

"Surface water is so rare and the biological communities around these oases are so unique that these kinds of bottling plants in the desert should give us pause," Peter Gleick, a water researcher who is president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, told the Sun. "If they weren't pumping, the volume that they're taking out would be going into either recharging groundwater or providing some surface flows." 

Gleick visited the Morongo bottling plant, located in Cabazon, while researching for his 2010 book 'Bottled and Sold.' He said that there was a small stream on the reservation, but that vegetation seemed to have died back due to a lack of water flow. He expressed concern with how dwindling water would affect the ecosystem in the oasis. 

"The reason this particular plant is of special concern is precisely because water is so scarce in the basin," Gleick said. "If you had the same bottling plant in a water-rich area, then the amount of water bottled and diverted would be a small fraction of the total water available. But this is a desert ecosystem. Surface water in the desert is exceedingly rare and has a much higher environmental value than the same amount of water somewhere else." 

If water weren't being pumped and diverted from Millard Canyon for the bottling plant, that water would boost groundwater levels in the canyon and would gradually spread downhill into the Cabazon basin, Jeff Davis, general manager of the San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency, told the Sun. From there, it should flow into the Coachella Valley aquifer. 

But, because of that diversion, the water isn’t overflowing out of the Cabazon basin. In fact, the Cabazon Water District says the aquifer is in decline, with more water being pumped out than is flowing back in. The US Geological Survey database shows that some wells in the area have been sinking between one and four feet a year during the last decade. 

The community in the surrounding area is torn on what to do. Some argue that there is better use for water during the severe drought, which has no end in sight. Others point out that the bottling plant provides badly needed jobs. 

"That's the highest, best use of water is drinking it," Riverside County Supervisor Marion Ashley said to the Sun. 

"They're entitled to use the groundwater basin, too. Everyone is. But it's just a shame that this water is not being used locally. It's being exported," said David Luker, general manager of the Desert Water Agency (DWA). He told the Sun that DWA believes the Morongo should have to report its water use in accordance with state policies. 

Calvin Louie, the Cabazon Water District's general manager, summed up the pros and cons of the bottling plant. 

"Arrowhead provides a lot of jobs, and that helps the economy,” he said. “On the other hand, Arrowhead has a reputation of going into small communities and taking advantage – and basically, pump them dry and 'good to the last drop.'” 

Many fear that is the situation facing the Millard Valley, although the Morongo tribe denies that their water source is at risk. 

"The Morongo Band of Mission Indians is a sovereign nation with a long history of caring for the environment and of environmental stewardship as it relates to air quality, local habitats and tribal water resources," Michael Fisher, a spokesman for the Morongo, wrote in an e-mailed statement. 
“As responsible stewards of the environment, Morongo works carefully with Nestle to monitor the plant operations and conduct recharge and other environmental programs to ensure that these water resources remain healthy and reliable for future generations."

Because of their sovereign status, the tribe has not disclosed water levels within the aquifer or the wells on the reservation’s land. Therefore, no one knows what impact the bottling plant has on water supplies.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The World Just Finished its Warmest Three Months Ever

from SLATE 
JULY 15 2014 - 9:53 AM

Earth Just Finished Its Warmest Quarter-Year Ever

New data released Monday shows humanity has just unlocked another achievement in the race to cook the planet: The last three months were collectively the warmest ever experienced since record-keeping began in the late 1800s.
The Japan Meteorological Agency said June 2014 was the warmest June globally since at least 1891, when its dataset begins. This follows May 2014, which was the warmest May globally on record, which follows April 2014, which was the warmest April globally on record.
Taken as a whole, the just-finished three-month period was about 0.68 degrees Celsius (1.22 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 20th-century average. That may not sound like much, but the added warmth has been enough to provide a nudge to a litany of weather and climate events worldwide. Arctic sea ice is trending near record lows for this time of year, abnormally warm ocean water helped spawn the earliest hurricane ever recorded to make landfall in North Carolina, and a rash of heat waves have plagued cities from India to California to the Middle East. In addition to the relentless push by human-caused global warming, this year’s extra heat comes in part because of a building El NiƱo emerging in the Pacific.

Also on Monday, NASA released its monthly global temperature numbers for June, with nearly identical results that were reached by a different method. According to NASA, June was the all-time third warmest, May was the warmest, and April was tied for second, with 2010 nudging out 2014 by an imperceptible 0.003 degrees Celsius in the three-month average. The two datasets are among the gold standards for keeping track of Earth’s escalating fever.
The statistics are akin to splitting hairs on a camel’s fracturing back (the camel being Earth, of course): The three hottest April-May-June periods (2014, 2010, and 1998) are essentially indistinguishable, differing by about 0.06 degrees Celsius according to JMA or about 0.01 degrees Celsius according to NASA.
In April, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels reached a monthly average of 400 parts per million for the first time in at least 800,000 years.
Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.
Eric Holthaus is a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate’s Future Tense. Follow him on Twitter.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Predatory Lending

4 Reasons This Has Been A Good Week For People Getting Conned By Predatory Lenders

When low-income people struggle to make ends meet, predatory payday loans are often their only option. They borrow small amounts of money with short repayment periods and high fees that result in average interest rates well over 300 percent. The industry extracts billions of dollars in profit from the poorest communities in the country each year, and the vast majority of its customers end up taking out new loans to pay back the original borrowing, launching a cycle of debt that is difficult to escape. The average customer pays $520 just to borrow $375, and the horror stories are far worse than the averages.
Critics of the payday loan industry had a hard time getting traction in state legislative sessions this year, though. The industry defeated or watered down reform pushes in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and a handful of other states. Lawmakers even tried to invite the industry back into Pennsylvania, one of the few states that prohibits payday loan storefronts.
But news this week is giving opponents of the exploitative financial practice some reasons for optimism. Four developments this week indicate that reformers are finding their footing again after stumbling through statehouses all spring, which should give the millions of people currently forced to rely on payday and car-title loans some hope that things won’t always be this way.
1. A troubling industry-sponsored “reform” effort died. On Thursday, Gov. Jay Nixon (D-MO) vetoed a widely-criticized reform bill that he said “provides false hope of true payday lending reform while in reality falling far short of the mark.” The bill was advertised as reform, but would have still allowed annual interest rates as high as 900 percent, and the industry had lobbied for its passage. “It’s no surprise that an industry that makes billions by trapping the working poor with false promises and dirty fine print would try to stay in business by doing the same thing to lawmakers,” a group called Communities Creating Opportunity wrote in a press release celebrating Nixon’s veto.
2. A major payday lender has to hand over millions of dollars. Ace Cash Express (ACE) agreed to pay a $5 million penalty and refund $5 million more to customers, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced Thursday. The agency said ACE harassed tens of thousands of debtors by phone, threatened them with jail time, and called their bosses to share details of their financial hardship. Such debt collection practices are illegal, and ACE disputes the agency’s claims but chose to settle rather than continue fighting. The CFPB has been cracking down on both debt collectors and payday lenders since late last year, winning tens of millions of dollars in fines and reimbursements.
3. Congress is looking at regulating payday lenders. Part of what’s made the payday lending business so hard to stamp out is that lenders are clever aboutexerting influence over lawmakers. But while many members of Congress carry water for predatory lenders who donate to their campaigns, others are looking to cap interest rates nationwide. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) is rounding up co-sponsors for a bill to cap interest rates and combat predatory lending to “end the vicious cycle of dependency that predatory lenders extract from consumers,” and plans to introduce the bill next week, according to a press release. Cartwright expects to be joined by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), whose role as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee may give the bill some extra pull with colleagues. The legislation is modeled on a bill proposed last year by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), who is also expected to lend support to the renewed effort. Separately, the Center for American Progress issued a report Thursday calling for a variety of reforms including a federal rate cap, local zoning rules to target the storefront lenders whose neon signs offer a deceptive lure to needy people, and innovative banking practices that would target the same communities that currently lack access to normal financial services.

4. Elizabeth Warren backed major payday lending reform. Writing in U.S. News and World Report on Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) lent her political weight to the idea of making the post office a banking option for the people who will still need short-term high-risk loans even if predatory lending were eradicated. Giving the U.S. Postal Service authority to extend affordable, non-predatory short-term credit to those in need would mean someone who needs quick cash to pay bills or meet an emergency expense could get it without ending up in the sort of debt cycle that makes payday lenders rich now. The USPS already has the authority to perform those kinds of financial services, and it already has physical locations in the many poor and rural communities that banks have abandoned.

Does The GOP Want Impeachment to be the Issue for the Midterms?

How Boehner Painted Himself in a Corner on Impeachment

Pity John Boehner. “This is not about impeachment,” the House speaker said hopefully two weeks ago, as he announced plans to sue President Obama for “not faithfully executing the laws.” But now Sarah Palin has proven otherwise, using Boehner’s own reasoning to mock the lawsuit as ineffectual and demand impeachment, raising the possibility that the debate could cast a pall over the midterm elections

The last thing the GOP establishment wants—and Boehner is the closest thing the party has to a leader—is for the midterms to turn on impeachment, a risk that has already materialized in the Iowa Senate race, where Republican nominee Joni Ernst had to disavow her pro-impeachment statement from the primary. No credible polling on impeaching Obama exists. But the Washington Post reminded us last month that on the eve of the vote to impeach President Bill Clinton, with the Republican leadership making a full-court press, only 30 percent of the country was in favor, slightly less than the percentage of the country that calls itself “conservative.” Support for impeaching Obama is unlikely to reach even that limp level, effectively appealing to only the right-wing fringe.

Everything Boehner has done in the past 18 months has been with an eye toward containing Tea Party extremism, in order to keep the political waters still and let the 2014 map do the work of protecting incumbent House Republicans and deposing Senate Democrats in reddish states.

And he has gone to great lengths. Boehner delicately navigated around potential pitfalls such as providing Hurricane Sandy relief and expanding the Violence Against Women Act, ignoring the informal GOP rule against moving bills that lack support from the “majority of the majority.” He rammed through the Medicare “doc fix” by voice vote, without informing all House members in advance and without most of them present, avoiding a dust-up with doctors by muzzling penny-pinching conservatives who wanted the higher reimbursement rates paired with up-front spending cuts. And he walked a fine line on last fall’s government shutdown, granting the Tea Party’s wish to have one, but pulling the plug before a debt default trashed the economy and the Republican Party brand.

Boehner never got the credit he deserved for his fancy footwork, which put outside groups like Heritage Action on the defensive and roused establishment players like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Yet he made one significant misstep.

The June announcement of the lawsuit now looks like an unforced error. But it was February when Boehner inadvertently got the impeachment ball rolling.

At the time, Boehner had just failed to impress his caucus with a plan to legalize the 11 million undocumented immigrants now living in the United States. Caught between his desire to reach out to Latinos and his commitment to maintaining party unity, Boehner sought to shift blame for the stalemate to the president, declaring, “There’s widespread doubt about whether this administration can be trusted to enforce our laws. And it’s going to be difficult to move any immigration legislation until that changes.”

What might have seemed to Boehner as a clever bit of misdirection also validated an incendiary charge that would easily combust into an allegation of law-breaking.

Making the charge even more reckless was Boehner’s obvious insincerity. In April, he deliberately sabotaged his earlier message at his hometown Rotary Club, saying of his Republican caucus on immigration reform, “Here’s the attitude. Ohhhh. Don’t make me do this. Ohhhh. This is too hard.” He went on: “We get elected to solve problems and it’s remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don’t want to.” But he proved unwilling to seriously lean on his own members. A few days later, he scurried back to questioning Obama’s fealty to the law, saying, “the biggest impediment we have to immigration reform is that the American people don’t trust the president to enforce or implement the law that we may or may not pass.”

Boehner’s insincerity conjures up Jack Nicholson’s Melvin Udall, who said in the 1997 romcom “As Good As It Gets,” “maybe I overshot a little, because I was aiming at just enough to keep you from walking out.”

Boehner might have been aiming for just enough to keep the party from splintering before the primary elections, but instead he established the predicate for impeachment, jeopardizing Republican chances to win complete control of Congress in November.

If you believe the president isn’t following the law, impeachment is the logical next step. However, impeachment is completely illogical if you believe “we get elected to solve problems” and not play political games. Since Boehner knew he would never take such a radical step, he should never have embraced the rationale for that step.

Yet he did, and in doing so, painted himself into a corner.

When he informed Obama on June 24, during an event celebrating the Presidents Cup golf team, that the House would not vote on immigration reform this summer, he knew from the president’s past statements that an executive order on deportations would be forthcoming. With the fire Boehner had stoked within the Republican base, the speaker had few options. Respond with the usual statements, and get slammed for doing nothing and weaken his standing on the Right. Impeach, and risk losing the Senate, and maybe even the House in the improbable scenario that Democrats can ride the backlash to win nearly all of the few remaining competitive districts.

Instead, the ever-creative and wily Boehner announced his planned lawsuit, presumably hoping not only to suck the oxygen out of the impeachment camp, but also to pre-emptively frame Obama’s coming executive order as another power grab and mitigate the political gain Democrats might earn from Latinos—especially in the 19 competitive House districts where Latinos could play a significant role. Boehner was also careful not to include immigration as an example of executive illegality.

But the lawsuit gave impeachment oxygen. No one of consequence was touting impeachment before, just a few House backbenchers, plus harsher words from the South Dakota Republican Party, Glenn Beck and a book from a National Review editor. Granted, Palin may have lost much of her influence in recent years. But she still can drive media coverage, which can affect individual races, as we’ve already seen in Iowa.

Even if few Republican incumbents and candidates overtly embrace her call, impeachment chatter could still alienate moderates and awaken an otherwise sleepy Democratic base (case in point: the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sent out a fundraising appeal Wednesday in Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s name with the subject line “Sarah Palin”).

Furthermore, both the lawsuit and the impeachment push might help increase Latino turnout and risk an upset loss of the House. Palin’s call is centered on Obama’s immigration policy, even venturing into conspiracy territory by accusing the president of deliberating causing the current influx of Central American children. Perhaps feeling Palin’s pressure, Boehner acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that immigration might be part of the lawsuit, which could anger Latinos and drive them to the polls.

Boehner had another choice in February: deal with immigration reform. If he didn’t want to force the issue ahead of the congressional primaries, he could have simply kept intra-party negotiations going and held off votes without trying to prematurely assign blame. In fact, he still had the option to deal with immigration reform this summer, despite his past comments. But Boehner let the primary defeat of Rep. Eric Cantor rob him of political courage, instead of looking to the primary victory of pro-immigration reform Sen. Lindsey Graham as a source of inspiration.

Boehner was pretty deft in 2013 at preventing the Tea Party members from taking the Republicans over a cliff, without frontally challenging them and causing a party split right before the primary season. But in 2014, by putting party unity above all else, including addressing immigration reform, he may have unleashed a demon he can no longer control.

Bill Scher is the senior writer at the Campaign for America’s Future, and co-host of the show “The DMZ” along with the Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis.

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Monday, July 7, 2014


Masters of Love

Science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity.
Every day in June, the most popular wedding month of the year, about 13,000 American couples will say “I do,” committing to a lifelong relationship that will be full of friendship, joy, and love that will carry them forward to their final days on this earth.

Except, of course, it doesn’t work out that way for most people. The majority of marriages fail, either ending in divorce and separation or devolving into bitterness and dysfunction. Of all the people who get married, only three in ten remain in healthy, happy marriages, as psychologist Ty Tashiro points out in his book The Science of Happily Ever After, which was published earlier this year.

Social scientists first started studying marriages by observing them in action in the 1970s in response to a crisis: Married couples were divorcing at unprecedented rates. Worried about the impact these divorces would have on the children of the broken marriages, psychologists decided to cast their scientific net on couples, bringing them into the lab to observe them and determine what the ingredients of a healthy, lasting relationship were. Was each unhappy family unhappy in its own way, as Tolstoy claimed, or did the miserable marriages all share something toxic in common?

Psychologist John Gottman was one of those researchers. For the past four decades, he has studied thousands of couples in a quest to figure out what makes relationships work. I recently had the chance to interview Gottman and his wife Julie, also a psychologist, in New York City. Together, the renowned experts on marital stability run The Gottman Institute, which is devoted to helping couples build and maintain loving, healthy relationships based on scientific studies.

John Gottman began gathering his most critical findings in 1986, when he set up “The Love Lab” with his colleague Robert Levenson at the University of Washington. Gottman and Levenson brought newlyweds into the lab and watched them interact with each other. With a team of researchers, they hooked the couples up to electrodes and asked the couples to speak about their relationship, like how they met, a major conflict they were facing together, and a positive memory they had. As they spoke, the electrodes measured the subjects' blood flow, heart rates, and how much they sweat they produced. Then the researchers sent the couples home and followed up with them six years later to see if they were still together.

From the data they gathered, Gottman separated the couples into two major groups: the masters and the disasters. The masters were still happily together after six years. The disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy in their marriages. When the researchers analyzed the data they gathered on the couples, they saw clear differences between the masters and disasters. The disasters looked calm during the interviews, but their physiology, measured by the electrodes, told a different story. Their heart rates were quick, their sweat glands were active, and their blood flow was fast. Following thousands of couples longitudinally, Gottman found that the more physiologically active the couples were in the lab, the quicker their relationships deteriorated over time.

But what does physiology have to do with anything? The problem was that the disasters showed all the signs of arousal—of being in fight-or-flight mode—in their relationships. Having a conversation sitting next to their spouse was, to their bodies, like facing off with a saber-toothed tiger. Even when they were talking about pleasant or mundane facets of their relationships, they were prepared to attack and be attacked. This sent their heart rates soaring and made them more aggressive toward each other. For example, each member of a couple could be talking about how their days had gone, and a highly aroused husband might say to his wife, “Why don’t you start talking about your day. It won’t take you very long.”

The masters, by contrast, showed low physiological arousal. They felt calm and connected together, which translated into warm and affectionate behavior, even when they fought. It’s not that the masters had, by default, a better physiological make-up than the disasters; it’s that masters had created a climate of trust and intimacy that made both of them more emotionally and thus physically comfortable.

Gottman wanted to know more about how the masters created that culture of love and intimacy, and how the disasters squashed it. In a follow-up study in 1990, he designed a lab on the University of Washington campus to look like a beautiful bed and breakfast retreat. He invited 130 newlywed couples to spend the day at this retreat and watched them as they did what couples normally do on vacation: cook, clean, listen to music, eat, chat, and hang out. And Gottman made a critical discovery in this study—one that gets at the heart of why some relationships thrive while others languish.

Throughout the day, partners would make requests for connection, what Gottman calls “bids.” For example, say that the husband is a bird enthusiast and notices a goldfinch fly across the yard. He might say to his wife, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!” He’s not just commenting on the bird here: he’s requesting a response from his wife—a sign of interest or support—hoping they’ll connect, however momentarily, over the bird.

The wife now has a choice. She can respond by either “turning toward” or “turning away” from her husband, as Gottman puts it. Though the bird-bid might seem minor and silly, it can actually reveal a lot about the health of the relationship. The husband thought the bird was important enough to bring it up in conversation and the question is whether his wife recognizes and respects that.

People who turned toward their partners in the study responded by engaging the bidder, showing interest and support in the bid. Those who didn’t —those who turned away— would not respond or respond minimally and continue doing whatever they were doing, like watching TV or reading the paper. Sometimes they would respond with overt hostility, saying something like, “Stop interrupting me, I’m reading.”

These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had “turn-toward bids” 33 percent of the time. Only three in ten of their bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy. The couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.

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By observing these types of interactions, Gottman can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples—straight or gay, rich or poor, childless or not—will be broken up, together and unhappy, or together and happy several years later. Much of it comes down to the spirit couples bring to the relationship. Do they bring kindness and generosity; or contempt, criticism, and hostility?

“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” Gottman explained in an interview, “which is this: they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”

“It’s not just scanning environment,” chimed in Julie Gottman. “It’s scanning the partner for what the partner is doing right or scanning him for what he’s doing wrong and criticizing versus respecting him and expressing appreciation.”

Contempt, they have found, is the number one factor that tears couples apart. People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there. People who give their partner the cold shoulder—deliberately ignoring the partner or responding minimally—damage the relationship by making their partner feel worthless and invisible, as if they’re not there, not valued. And people who treat their partners with contempt and criticize them not only kill the love in the relationship, but they also kill their partner's ability to fight off viruses and cancers. Being mean is the death knell of relationships.

Kindness, on the other hand, glues couples together. Research independent from theirs has shown that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved. “My bounty is as boundless as the sea,” says Shakespeare’s Juliet. “My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite.” That’s how kindness works too: there’s a great deal of evidence showing the more someone receives or witnesses kindness, the more they will be kind themselves, which leads to upward spirals of love and generosity in a relationship.

There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise. Masters tend to think about kindness as a muscle. They know that they have to exercise it to keep it in shape. They know, in other words, that a good relationship requires sustained hard work.

“If your partner expresses a need,” explained Julie Gottman, “and you are tired, stressed, or distracted, then the generous spirit comes in when a partner makes a bid, and you still turn toward your partner.”

In that moment, the easy response may be to turn away from your partner and focus on your iPad or your book or the television, to mumble “Uh huh” and move on with your life, but neglecting small moments of emotional connection will slowly wear away at your relationship. Neglect creates distance between partners and breeds resentment in the one who is being ignored.

The hardest time to practice kindness is, of course, during a fight—but this is also the most important time to be kind. Letting contempt and aggression spiral out of control during a conflict can inflict irrevocable damage on a relationship.

“Kindness doesn’t mean that we don’t express our anger,” Julie Gottman explained, “but the kindness informs how we choose to express the anger. You can throw spears at your partner. Or you can explain why you’re hurt and angry, and that’s the kinder path.”

John Gottman elaborated on those spears: “Disasters will say things differently in a fight. Disasters will say ‘You’re late. What’s wrong with you? You’re just like your mom.’ Masters will say ‘I feel bad for picking on you about your lateness, and I know it’s not your fault, but it’s really annoying that you’re late again.’”

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For the hundreds of thousands of couples getting married this month—and for the millions of couples currently together, married or not—the lesson from the research is clear: If you want to have a stable, healthy relationship, exercise kindness early and often.

When people think about practicing kindness, they often think about small acts of generosity, like buying each other little gifts or giving one another back rubs every now and then. While those are great examples of generosity, kindness can also be built into the very backbone of a relationship through the way partners interact with each other on a day-to-day basis, whether or not there are back rubs and chocolates involved.

One way to practice kindness is by being generous about your partner’s intentions. From the research of the Gottmans, we know that disasters see negativity in their relationship even when it is not there. An angry wife may assume, for example, that when her husband left the toilet seat up, he was deliberately trying to annoy her. But he may have just absent-mindedly forgotten to put the seat down.

Or say a wife is running late to dinner (again), and the husband assumes that she doesn’t value him enough to show up to their date on time after he took the trouble to make a reservation and leave work early so that they could spend a romantic evening together. But it turns out that the wife was running late because she stopped by a store to pick him up a gift for their special night out. Imagine her joining him for dinner, excited to deliver her gift, only to realize that he’s in a sour mood because he misinterpreted what was motivating her behavior. The ability to interpret your partner’s actions and intentions charitably can soften the sharp edge of conflict.

“Even in relationships where people are frustrated, it’s almost always the case that there are positive things going on and people trying to do the right thing,” psychologist Ty Tashiro told me. “A lot of times, a partner is trying to do the right thing even if it’s executed poorly. So appreciate the intent.”

Another powerful kindness strategy revolves around shared joy. One of the telltale signs of the disaster couples Gottman studied was their inability to connect over each other’s good news. When one person in the relationship shared the good news of, say, a promotion at work with excitement, the other would respond with wooden disinterest by checking his watch or shutting the conversation down with a comment like, “That’s nice.”

We’ve all heard that partners should be there for each other when the going gets rough. But research shows that being there for each other when things go right is actually more important for relationship quality. How someone responds to a partner’s good news can have dramatic consequences for the relationship.

In one study from 2006, psychological researcher Shelly Gable and her colleagues brought young adult couples into the lab to discuss recent positive events from their lives. They psychologists wanted to know how partners would respond to each other’s good news. They found that, in general, couples responded to each other’s good news in four different ways that they called:passive destructiveactive destructivepassive constructive, and active constructive.

Let’s say that one partner had recently received the excellent news that she got into medical school. She would say something like “I got into my top choice med school!”

If her partner responded in a passive destructive manner, he would ignore the event. For example, he might say something like: “You wouldn’t believe the great news I got yesterday! I won a free t-shirt!”

If her partner responded in a passive constructive way, he would acknowledge the good news, but in a half-hearted, understated way. A typical passive constructive response is saying “That’s great, babe” as he texts his buddy on his phone.

In the third kind of response, active destructive, the partner would diminish the good news his partner just got: “Are you sure you can handle all the studying? And what about the cost? Med school is so expensive!”

Finally, there’s active constructive responding. If her partner responded in this way, he stopped what he was doing and engaged wholeheartedly with her: “That’s great! Congratulations! When did you find out? Did they call you? What classes will you take first semester?”

Among the four response styles, active constructive responding is the kindest. While the other response styles are joy-killers, active constructive responding allows the partner to savor her joy and gives the couple an opportunity to bond over the good news. In the parlance of the Gottmans, active constructive responding is a way of “turning toward” your partners bid (sharing the good news) rather than “turning away” from it.

Active constructive responding is critical for healthy relationships. In the 2006 study, Gable and her colleagues followed up with the couples two months later to see if they were still together. The psychologists found that the only difference between the couples who were together and those who broke up was active constructive responding. Those who showed genuine interest in their partner’s joys were more likely to be together. In an earlier study, Gable found that active constructive responding was also associated with higher relationship quality and more intimacy between partners. 

There are many reasons why relationships fail, but if you look at what drives the deterioration of many relationships, it’s often a breakdown of kindness. As the normal stresses of a life together pile up—with children, career, friend, in-laws, and other distractions crowding out the time for romance and intimacy—couples may put less effort into their relationship and let the petty grievances they hold against one another tear them apart. In most marriages, levels of satisfaction drop dramatically within the first few years together. But among couples who not only endure, but live happily together for years and years, the spirit of kindness and generosity guides them forward.