Happy Saturday, Planeteers! Today will be an abbreviated edition of your Daily Planet–I’m off the protest and stand with Wisconsin.
Do you want to show your support for working people? Do you want to show your opposition to tax cuts for the rich forcing cuts in the things government does for We, the People? Here is your chance.
There are SAVE THE AMERICAN DREAM rallies planned in all 50 states for this Saturday. Campaign for America’s Future has joined with MoveOn.org and other organizations to ask people to join and show their support for public employees in Wisconsin and everywhere, and for working people everywhere, and for ourselves.
There are also a number of local events being “crowdsource” organized by USUncut.org.
Yvonne Smith Segars, the head of New Jersey’s Office of the Public Defender, [wrote] a scathing letter [PDF] sent to the Governor on Monday and charged Christie with having “violated New Jersey law as well as the State and Federal Constitutions,” in his efforts to remove her from her post, and by interfering with the operation of her office. In the letter, Segars threatened to sue him for eroding the constitutional rights of indigent clients. She says he’s actively undermining the work of the state’s public defenders by “obstructing…management decisions and by impeding the filling of constitutionally mandated positions.”
Segars accused Christie of “bullying tactics” in an effort to remove her from office. The tactics, according to NJ’s chief Public Defender, included “veiled threats”, “pressure to resign”, “interference with [the] agency’s operations” by thwarting approved promotions, and ordering her press officer to report to the Governor, instead of to her.
Segars adds that she “now fear[s] being physically removed from my office.
If Segars is forced out, there will be only one high-ranking African-American policy official in the Christie administration. NJ law clearly gives the Public Defender the sole authority to staff and operate the office. Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court in Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507 (1980), ruled that a political executive who interferes with a public defender’s staffing decisions violates the U.S. Constitution.
Yesterday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) issued his first subpoena of the Obama administration with a request that Department of Homeland Security employees “testify about the department’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) policies and practices.” The subpoena has already caused a controversy due to Issa’s partisan approach. According to the Washington Post, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking member on the committee, penned a letter demanding to know why Issa’s staff deliberately circumvented the Democrats on the committee. Homeland Security staffers had been willing to comply voluntarily, and Cummings charged, “all three subpoenas appear unnecessary at this time and could have been avoided if you had adequately consulted with me and other Members of the Committee.”
In January, Issa made clear that he intends to scrutinize logs of FOIA information, possibly revealing the identities of various journalists and citizens who have issued requests to the government. As the New York Times has noted, Issa’s “extraordinary” demand “worries some civil libertarians” and could have a chilling effect to journalists. While Issa’s spokesmen have brushed aside criticism and claimed that the chairman’s purpose is aimed at improving government responses to the FOIA process, Issa’s personal record on FOIA undercuts his credibility. During the Bush administration, Issa was a loyal partisan who repeatedly tried to crush attempts at expanding FOIA and greater government transparency, even at the DHS..
If terrorism is defined as “as the deliberate murder of civilians or destruction of property in order to achieve a political objective,” the wave of attacks on American abortion providers certainly qualifies. After the 2003 capture of Atlanta Olympic Park and Birmingham family planning clinic bomber Eric Rudolph, then Attorney General John Ashcroft agreed, announcing “this sends a clear message that we will never cease in our efforts to hunt down all terrorists, foreign or domestic, and stop them from harming the innocent.”
Shelley Shannon, one of the nation’s most notorious anti-abortion extremists, agreed with Ashcroft.
Nevertheless, the Republican crusade against the reproductive rights of American women continues to gain momentum. While Republicans in Congress debate the redefinition of rape, defund Planned Parenthood and try to ban life-saving emergency room abortion procedures, emboldened GOP majorities in the states are putting draconian new abortion restrictions onto the books.
(For more background, see The Washington Post for a summary of current state laws. ThinkProgress and the New York Times detail the myriad ways in which Republican state legislatures are trying to curb or eliminate Americans’ reproductive rights.)
Republicans need to figure out where they stand on children’s welfare. They can’t be “pro-life” when the “child” is in the womb but indifferent when it’s in the world. Allow me to illustrate just how schizophrenic their position has become through the prism of premature babies.
Of the 33 countries that the International Monetary Fund describes as “advanced economies,” the United States now has the highest infant mortality rate according to data from the World Bank. It took us decades to arrive at this dubious distinction. In 1960, we were 15th. In 1980, we were 13th. And, in 2000, we were 2nd.
Part of the reason for our poor ranking is that declines in our rates stalled after premature births — a leading cause of infant mortality as well as long-term developmental disabilities — began to rise in the 1990s.
Late Friday, Democratic senators appeared receptive to a Republican proposal that would extend funding for the government for two more weeks. The GOP plan would extend funding for two more weeks until March 18 while cutting 4 billion dollars in spending by eliminating programs that President Obama has already said should be nixed. The plan allows Republicans to say they stayed true to their word of not approving an extension without additional cuts, but avoids much controversy since Obama has already said the programs in question are unnecessary. Democrats wanted a longer extension but they seemed cautiously optimistic the plan “diminished the chances of a government shutdown,” notes the Wall Street Journal. Although Democrats will continue pushing for a longer extension, “they acknowledged that there was no longer a disagreement over the cuts,” writes the Washington Post.
President Barack Obama says the economic recovery will stall if Congress can’t agree on spending cuts and avoid a government shutdown.
The current budget expires next Friday. That means lawmakers must OK a new spending plan before the March 4 deadline to keep much of the government from running out of money and closing. The Republican-run House and Democratic-controlled Senate are bickering over how much to cut.
“For the sake of our people and our economy, we cannot allow gridlock to prevail,” Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address. “I urge and expect them to find common ground so we can accelerate, not impede, economic growth.”
House Republicans have proposed $4 billion in cuts as part of legislation to keep the government functioning through March 18, and they have urged Senate Democrats to accept that approach to avoid closing it down.
Democrats want a short-term extension at current spending levels so the parties can negotiate over how deeply to cut expenditures and begin chipping away at the deficit and the trillions of dollars in accumulated debt.
By Robert Reich, Robert Reich’s Blog
You can’t fight something with nothing. But as long as Democrats refuse to talk about the almost unprecedented buildup of income, wealth, and power at the top – and the refusal of the super-rich to pay their fair share of the nation’s bills – Republicans will convince people it’s all about government and unions.
Republicans claim to have a mandate from voters for the showdowns and shutdowns they’re launching. Governors say they’re not against unions but voters have told them to cut costs, and unions are in the way. House Republicans say they’re not seeking a government shutdown but standing on principle. “Republicans’ goal is to cut spending and reduce the size of government,” says House leader John Boehner, “not to shut it down.” But if a shutdown is necessary to achieve the goal, so be it.
The Republican message is bloated government is responsible for the lousy economy that most people continue to experience. Cut the bloat and jobs and wages will return.
Nothing could be further from the truth, but for some reason Obama and the Democrats aren’t responding with the truth. Their response is: We agree but you’re going too far. Government employees should give up some more wages and benefits but don’t take away their bargaining rights. Private-sector unionized workers should make more concessions but don’t bust the unions. Non-defense discretionary spending should be cut but don’t cut so much.
In the face of showdowns and shutdowns, the “you’re right but you’re going too far” response doesn’t hack it. If Republicans are correct on principle, they’re more likely to be seen as taking a strong principled stand than as going “too far.” If they’re basically correct that the problem is too much government spending why not go as far as possible to cut the bloat?
An analysis of recently released census data compiled for The New York Times by demographers at Queens College of the City University of New York yields a complicated picture, one that highlights the variation in pay from state to state and occupation to occupation, and one that does not fit neatly into a one-size-fits-all approach to cost cutting.
The clearest pattern to emerge is an educational divide: workers without college degrees tend to do better on state payrolls, while workers with college degrees tend to do worse. That divide has grown more pronounced in recent decades. Since 1990, the median wage of state workers without college degrees has come to surpass that of workers in the private sector. During the same period, though, college-educated state workers have seen their median pay lag further behind their peers in the private sector.
According to an embedded MS Word document found in one of the HB Gary emails, it involves creating an army of sockpuppets, with sophisticated “persona management” software that allows a small team of only a few people to appear to be many, while keeping the personas from accidentally cross-contaminating each other. Then, to top it off, the team can actually automate some functions so one persona can appear to be an entire Brooks Brothers riot online.
Persona management entails not just the deconfliction of persona artifacts such as names, email addresses, landing pages, and associated content. It also requires providing the human actors technology that takes the decision process out of the loop when using a specific persona. For this purpose we custom developed either virtual machines or thumb drives for each persona. This allowed the human actor to open a virtual machine or thumb drive with an associated persona and have all the appropriate email accounts, associations, web pages, social media accounts, etc. pre-established and configured with visual cues to remind the actor which persona he/she is using so as not to accidentally cross-contaminate personas during use.
And all of this is for the purposes of infiltration, data mining, and (here’s the one that really worries me) ganging up on bloggers, commenters and otherwise “real” people to smear enemies and distort the truth.
I don’t know about you, but this concerns me greatly. It goes far beyond the mere ability for a government stooge, corporation or PR firm to hire people to post on sites like this one. They are talking about creating the illusion of consensus. And consensus is a powerful persuader. What has more effect, one guy saying BP is not at fault? Or 20 people saying it? For the weak minded, the number can make all the difference.
I wanted to make this clear because it is in the interests of government and propagandists, and anyone else who wants this story to go away to try and blow all this off as one little company who wrote a proposal no one even read and who isn’t even competent enough to protect its own servers so no one should pay any attention at all to what they were up to.
That is the narrative being spun, even here on this site, and it is entirely fictitious.
We are under attack. And the attackers are damn good at what they do. Pretending they’re not, or that this isn’t happening isn’t going to make it better.
Indeed, as politicians are asking ordinary Americans to sacrifice their education, their health, their labor rights, and their wellbeing to tackle budget deficits, some of the world’s richest multinational corporations are getting away with shirking their responsibility and paying nothing. ThinkProgress has assembled a short but far from comprehensive list of these tax dodgers — corporations which have rigged the tax system to their advantage so they can reap huge profits and avoid paying taxes:
- BANK OF AMERICA: In 2009, Bank of America didn’t pay a single penny in federal income taxes, exploiting the tax code so as to avoid paying its fair share. “Oh, yeah, this happens all the time,” said Robert Willens, a tax accounting expert interviewed by McClatchy. “If you go out and try to make money and you don’t do it, why should the government pay you for your losses?” asked Bob McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice. The same year, the mega-bank’s top executives received pay “ranging from $6 million to nearly $30 million.”
- BOEING: Despite receiving billions of dollars from the federal government every single year in taxpayer subsidies from the U.S. government, Boeing didn’t “pay a dime of U.S. federal corporate income taxes” between 2008 and 2010.
- CITIGROUP: Citigroup’s deferred income taxes for the third quarter of 2010 amounted to a grand total of $0.00. At the same time, Citigroup has continued to pay its staff lavishly. “John Havens, the head of Citigroup’s investment bank, is expected to be the bank’s highest paid executive for the second year in a row, with a compensation package worth $9.5 million.”
- EXXON-MOBIL: The oil giant uses offshore subsidiaries in the Caribbean to avoid paying taxes in the United States. Although Exxon-Mobil paid $15 billion in taxes in 2009, not a penny of those taxes went to the American Treasury. This was the same year that the company overtook Wal-Mart in the Fortune 500. Meanwhile the total compensation of Exxon-Mobil’s CEO the same year was over $29,000,000.
- GENERAL ELECTRIC: In 2009, General Electric — the world’s largest corporation — filed more than 7,000 tax returns and still paid nothing to U.S. government. They managed to do this by a tax code that essentially subsidizes companies for losing profits and allows them to set up tax havens overseas. That same year GE CEO Jeffery Immelt — who recently scored a spot on a White House economic advisory board — “earned total compensation of $9.89 million.” In 2002, Immelt displayed his lack of economic patriotism, saying, “When I am talking to GE managers, I talk China, China, China, China, China….I am a nut on China. Outsourcing from China is going to grow to 5 billion.”
- WELLS FARGO: Despite being the fourth largest bank in the country, Wells Fargo was able to escape paying federal taxes by writing all of its losses off after its acquisition of Wachovia. Yet in 2009 the chief executive of Wells Fargo also saw his compensation “more than double” as he earned “a salary of $5.6 million paid in cash and stock and stock awards of more than $13 million.”
By BOB HERBERT
A handful of people were sitting around a dining room table in a row house in North Philadelphia on Wednesday, talking about the problems facing working people in America. The setting outside the house on West Harold Street was grim. The remnants of a snowstorm lined the curbs and a number of people, obviously down on their luck, were moving about the struggling neighborhood. Some were panhandling.
What struck me about the conversation was the way people talked in normal tones about the equivalent of a hurricane ripping through their lives, leaving little but destruction in its wake.
It would be a mistake to think that this fight is solely about the right of public employees to collectively bargain. As important as that issue is, it’s just one skirmish in what’s shaping up as a long, bitter campaign to keep ordinary workers, whether union members or not, from being completely overwhelmed by the forces of unrestrained greed in this society.
The predators at the top, billionaires and millionaires, are pitting ordinary workers against one another. So we’re left with the bizarre situation of unionized workers with a pension being resented by nonunion workers without one. The swells are in the background, having a good laugh.
We believe that a new product — a federally issued, inflation-adjusted annuity — would make it possible for people to deal with this problem, with the bonus of contributing to the public coffers. By doing good for individuals, the federal government could actually do well for itself.
Consider, for example, the ferocity with which Weinstein and his undermanned crew of mostly volunteer staff reacted to the Air Force Academy’s recent invitation to Marine Lt. Clebe McClary, a controversial evangelical Christian, to speak at a prayer luncheon. In a January 22 letter to the academy, MRFF argued that McClary’s “intense, unreasoned and psychotic demonstration of unilateral and distorted Christian doctrine” would define the luncheon as “a revival meeting with the purpose of proselytizing and achieving Christian supremacy.” Weinstein then worked the media, landing notices about MRFF’s complaints in the Washington Post, The Raw Story and DailyKos. He urged groups such as the ACLU and Veterans for Common Sense to pile on and, on January 31, after the academy refused to budge, he filed a formal complaint in federal court demanding that the academy cancel its luncheon “on the grounds that it is a blatant violation of the plaintiffs’ Constitutional rights as guaranteed by the First Amendment.” (As The Nation went to press, a federal district court was set to hear MRFF’s request.)
BP is paying the man in charge of overseeing its $20 billion victim compensation fund for its devastation of the Gulf of Mexico over $10 million a year. The choice of Washington attorney Kenneth Feinberg to manage the fund in June 2010 was widely lauded at the time, as he had dealt with the challenging tasks of managing the federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and serving as Obama’s special master for TARP executive compensation. “I’m running an independent claims facility,” Feinberg told the world.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There’s too much work to do.