February 17: The 196 Votes That Count

What you need to know to navigate today’s most critical debates.

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The .0000063% Election (TomDispatch)
Ari Berman writes that the 2012 election revolves around super PACs and the 196 donors who provide 80 percent of their money. In other words, the future of the country will be decided by a group that would count as statistical noise in a poll.

Moochers Against Welfare (NYT)
Paul Krugman looks at why the states that rely the most on government aid are also the most consistently and heavily conservative, and why they keep electing politicians who promise to make them kick the habit even if it kills them.

Lawmakers debate mandated coverage of contraceptives in health-care law (WaPo)
Republicans refuse to quit while they’re behind, so yesterday they convened a panel of expert witnesses to represent those most likely to be affected by women’s access to birth control: five guys, one of whom has pledged never to have sex.

Collection and Credit Firms Facing Broad New Oversight (NYT)
The CFPB has proposed new rules that would allow big government to get between consumers and the noble private enterprises that hound them to death over missed payments and generate the inscrutable credit scores their lives revolve around.

Paul Volcker vs. the Bank of Canada (NYT)
Simon Johnson notes that the Bank of Canada, perhaps tired of Canadians being stereotyped as prudent and reasonable, submitted a comment letter on the Volcker Rule that isn’t worth whatever they paid their moose-back courier to deliver it.

Check out “The 99 Percent Plan,” a new Roosevelt Institute/Salon essay series on the progressive vision for the economy.

Occupying the SEC for a Stronger Volcker Rule (The Nation)
Rachel Signer reports on the Occupy movement’s efforts to balance out the banks’ whining that the Volcker Rule is too tough by highlighting its weaknesses, since a fishing net isn’t much use if the holes are big enough for sharks to swim through.

Occupy Wall Street’s New Strategy: A Super-PAC? (MoJo)
Andy Kroll notes that one Occupy protester who’s long on enthusiasm and short on getting the point is trying to register an Occupy Wall Street Super PAC with the mailing address “None and Everywhere.” Still less shady than some actual super PACs.

The Ugly Truth Behind Michigan’s Budget Surplus (The Nation)
Patricia Williams writes that Michigan’s “emergency managers” have applied their business savvy to the state’s fiscal crisis and determined that it’s time to start cutting back or privatizing inessential services like educating children or disposing of sewage.

Student Loans Near $1 Trillion Hurting Young Buyers (Bloomberg)
The housing market recovery is being held back by a generation of recent college graduates who are shouldering a mountain of student debt and not eager to take on a mortgage that will leave them eating ramen noodles well into retirement.

Harvard’s Liberal-Arts Failure Is Wall Street’s Gain (Bloomberg)
Ezra Klein argues the best and brightest will continue to be drawn to finance unless schools have a better answer for students confused about what to do with their lives than “We don’t know either; but don’t take that ridiculously lucrative job offer.”

With additional research by Roosevelt Institute intern Elena Callahan.