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Chernynkaya On February - 2 - 2012

SO MUCH IMPORTANT STUFF-YOU’LL NEVER READ IT ALL! You can access all the past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV.

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BUDGET

California is at risk of running out of money by March 

CNBC:

California needs to come up with more than $3 billion to avoid burning through its cash by March, according to the state controller, who urged borrowing and delaying some payments.

Assuming no additional revenue loss, erosion of borrowable internal funds, or significant spikes in spending, $3.3 billion of cash solutions are needed to address California’s liquidity needs during this period,” State Controller John Chiang said in a letter to the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee released on Tuesday.

BUSINESS

 

American Airlines may cut up to 15,000 jobs

American Airlines Proposes 20% Cut in Salaries 

 

 

PBGC: American Airlines Must Show Why Pensions Have to End

American Airlines today announced that as part of its plan of reorganization, it wants to terminate its pension plans. The pensions are underfunded by about $10 billion, and Americans’ retirees would lose at least $1 billion in benefits if the plans end. Under federal law, if a company in bankruptcy wants to end its pensions, it must demonstrate that doing so is the only way it can reorganize.

PBGC Director Josh Gotbaum had this to say:

“Before American takes such a drastic action as killing the pension plans of 130,000 employees and retirees, it needs to show there is no better alternative. Thus far, they have failed to provide even the most basic information to decide that.”

About PBGC

PBGC protects the pension benefits of 44 million Americans in 27,500 private-sector pension plans. The agency is directly responsible for paying the benefits of more than 1.5 million people in failed pension plans. PBGC receives no taxpayer dollars and never has. Its operations are financed by insurance premiums and with assets and recoveries from failed plans.

 

 

 

ECONOMY

Gallup: U.S. Job Creation at Highest Level since 2008 

Job market conditions improved in the United States in January as Gallup’s U.S. Job Creation Index reached +16, its highest point since September 2008.

Hiring and Firing Improve, Are at Best Levels Since 2008

The Job Creation Index of +16 is based on 33% of workers nationwide saying their employers are hiring workers and expanding the size of their workforce, and 17% saying their employers are letting workers go and reducing the size of their workforce. Hiring and firing have each improved by one percentage point since December. The percentage hiring matches the 33% of June 2011, and the two reflect the highest hiring levels since September 2008. The percentage letting go is the lowest since June 2008.

Job Market Conditions Show Improvement vs. a Year Ago in All Regions

Job market conditions remain best in the Midwest, with a Job Creation Index of +20; the South is second, at +17. The Index is +11 in the East and +12 in the West. The largest year-over-year improvement has been in the Midwest and the West, both of which are up by seven points. The index has increased by four points in the South and three points in the East compared with the same month a year ago.

Implications

January’s increase in Gallup’s Job Creation Index is good news about job market conditions. The index is not seasonally adjusted and the job situation usually deteriorates at this time of year, making the improvement last month even more impressive.

The index also seems consistent with the government’s weekly report on jobless claims, which are running under 400,000. Over time, the Job Creation Index has tended to correlate with this government report.

Job market conditions are uneven across the nation. In the Midwest, they are at their best since April 2008. Similarly, in the South, conditions are at their best since September 2008. This may suggest that manufacturing continues to improve in the middle of the country, helping those regions’ job conditions to outpace conditions on both coasts.

Overall, Gallup’s Job Creation Index suggests an improving job environment in January. This is probably not yet enough to stimulate significant job growth, but is enough to keep job conditions from deteriorating and is sufficient to provide some added optimism about the job situation going forward.

 

 

 

America Spends Less on Food Than Any Other Country

Mother Jones:

Like Kiera—and, I’m sure, many of the readers of her article—I was a bit shocked when I calculated how much I spend on food. I like to think I’m thrifty in my food spending habits—I cook a lot and usually eat out only on the weekends—but I don’t usually add up my food costs and rarely make serious estimates for food spending when I make a budget, instead assuming that I’ll manage to make do with whatever’s left after I cut a check for rent, buy a bus pass, and pay my utility bills.

Of course, this kind of logic is completely insane to most people in the world, for the simple and obvious fact that food is the most important thing to budget for. It’s only because I live in a rich country where having enough to eat isn’t really an issue that I can be so clueless about my food spending habits; as demonstrated by the chart below, the higher a country’s average income, the smaller the percentage of income spent on food.

On some level, this is pretty intuitive—food is a basic need, and there’s only so much you can eat, no matter how much money you have. But even among developed countries, our food spending is ultra-low: people in most European countries spend over 10 percent of their incomes on food. In fact, Americans spend less on food than people in any other country in the world. Even we Americans didn’t always expect our food to be so cheap, though: back in 1963, when Molly Orshansky, an employee of the Social Security Administration, created the nation’s first poverty threshold, she simply tripled the cost of the FDA’s “thrifty” food plan, since at the time most families spent about a third of their incomes on food. So how’d we end up spending just a fraction of that four decades later?

To find the answer, we have to go back four decades to the 1970s, when rising food prices and technological developments led to a host of transformative changes in the US food system whose effects still determine the way many Americans eat. In response to rising food costs and growing demand amongst the expanding middle class, Nixon’s secretary of agriculture, Earl Butz, turned the country’s agricultural subsidy program—originally instituted to help stabilize food supply and farmers’ incomes after the volatility of the Great Depression—into a support mechanism for the industrial production of corn and soy. Butz’s policy of “get big or get out”—made possible by advancements in industrial food production, including technological developments and an abundance of cheap fossil fuels used to make fertilizer and pesticides—encouraged the consolidation of small farmers’ plots into gigantic holdings and led to the rise of agribusiness in place of the family farm.

The changes Butz wrought are visible in our food supply, too: The amount of corn produced each year in America has tripled since 1970,from 4 billion bushels then to more than 12 billion today. Faced with an abundance of cheap corn, the food industry figured out how to make it into cheap meat, milk, eggs, and sweets. Over time, the cost of things made from highly-subsidized crops like corn, wheat, and soy—things like cheeseburgers and soda—has declined drastically.  While you can debate the merits of local, organic, and seasonal food, and question what it means to eat sustainably, the dominant food production policy in the US is oriented around just one metric: producing calories as cheaply as possible. We’ve gotten so good at producing calories efficiently, in fact, that our problem is no longer that we can’t afford enough food—it’s that the types of calories that are least expensive are the ones that are worst for us.

There are obvious reasons why spending less on food is a good thing—namely, that not having to worry about survival on a daily basis is a pretty basic development goal that we’ve nonetheless only recently managed to achieve. BUT there are also some less obvious reasons why it’s not so great. As Michael Pollan, Marion Nestle, and others who study our food system have pointed out, food is as cheap as it is because thetrue costs have been externalized—that is, we pay for them in rising obesity rates, environmental degradation, lax safety measures, and disgraceful labor practices. And if you count the money taxpayers send Big Ag in subsidies—around $261.9 billion between 1995 and 2010—cheap food starts to seem like it might not be such a bargain after all.

Still, it’s not impossible to buy and prepare good food even on a tight budget. Seeking to bust the myth that fast food is cheaper than cooking, Mark Bittman has argued that making a meal of roast chicken, salad, and vegetables costs about half as much as buying a family of four dinner at McDonald’s, and while Tom Philpott points out that cooking at home requires unpaid labor, making a “fuss-free meal” one that’s hard to refuse, he notes that cooking can be enjoyable work once you know what you’re doing. (For more on how to eat well without going broke or burning out, see Kiera’s interview with the chef and author Tamar Adler.) And even eating out a lot isn’t necessarily a bad thing—spending money at locally-owned restaurants is a great way to put money back into your community (though of course it’s harder to find out where your food comes from when you go out to eat without turning into a Portlandia sketch).

It should be clear by now that whether we’re talking about iPhones,anthropomorphic stuffed bacon toys, or actual bacon, expecting to get more for less comes at a cost. I’m not suggesting we should take as our model the days when people spent fully a third of their incomes on food; making food more expensive makes it harder for poor—and middle class—people to afford. But I do think it’s worth reevaluating our spending priorities, and wondering why we’re so reluctant to pay a bit more for something so essential. The big question is how we can value food more without turning healthy food into a luxury item or making people who are already struggling to pay their bills worse off.

 

 

 

 

Economist’s View: Corporatism

[…] Blaming Capitalism for Corporatism, by Edmund S. Phelps and Saifedean Ammous, Commentary, Project Syndicate: The future of capitalism is again a question. …

The term “capitalism” used to mean an economic system in which capital was privately owned and traded… This system of individual freedom and individual responsibility gave little scope for government… Corporations could exist only as long as free individuals willingly purchased their goods – and would go out of business quickly otherwise. …

Now the capitalist system has been corrupted. The managerial state has assumed responsibility for looking after everything from the incomes of the middle class to the profitability of large corporations to industrial advancement. This system, however, is not capitalism, but rather an economic order that harks back to Bismarck in the late nineteenth century and Mussolini in the twentieth: corporatism.

In various ways, corporatism chokes off the dynamism that makes for engaging work, faster economic growth, and greater opportunity and inclusiveness. It maintains lethargic, wasteful, unproductive, and well-connected firms at the expense of dynamic newcomers and outsiders, and favors declared goals such as industrialization, economic development, and national greatness over individuals’ economic freedom and responsibility. Today, airlines, auto manufacturers, agricultural companies, media, investment banks, hedge funds, and much more has at some point been deemed too important to weather the free market on its own, receiving a helping hand from government in the name of the “public good.”

The costs of corporatism are visible all around us: dysfunctional corporations that survive despite their gross inability to serve their customers; sclerotic economies with slow output growth, a dearth of engaging work, scant opportunities for young people; governments bankrupted by their efforts to palliate these problems; and increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of those connected enough to be on the right side of the corporatist deal.

This shift of power from owners and innovators to state officials is the antithesis of capitalism. Yet this system’s apologists and beneficiaries have the temerity to blame all these failures on “reckless capitalism” and “lack of regulation,” which they argue necessitates more oversight and regulation, which in reality means more corporatism and state favoritism.

It seems unlikely that so disastrous a system is sustainable. … If politicians cannot repeal corporatism, it will bury itself in debt and default, and a capitalist system could re-emerge from the discredited corporatist rubble. …

 

 

 

WaPo: The housing bust appears to be even worse than it was at the nadir of the recession

Since the depths of the recession, key aspects of the economy have rebounded. The nation’s output has grown. The stock market began an ascent. The unemployment rate drifted down.

But housing?

When it comes to the value of what many Americans consider their biggest financial asset, no such return appears in sight.

Data released Tuesday showed that seasonally adjusted housing prices have reached a post-bubble low, as the minor surge that began in 2009 fizzled, to be followed by the almost continuous slide of the past 18 months.

The housing bust, in other words, appears to be even worse than it was at the nadir of the recession.

For millions of homeowners, that’s an unsettling reality, and potentially an issue in the presidential campaign. But the damage may be far more widespread.

By making people feel less wealthy, according to economists, the decline in home values inhibits consumer spending and hampers the nation’s stop-and-start economic recovery.

The trend is down and there are few, if any, signs in the numbers that a turning point is close at hand,” said David M. Blitzer of S&P Indices. “I spent the weekend scratching my head and saying, ‘Isn’t there some good number in here?’ ”

The Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller seasonally adjusted housing index for 20 cities dropped again in ­November, the last month for which data were available, falling to a level not seen since 2003.

In the Washington region, seasonally adjusted prices have been relatively flat since April 2010, according to the index, but they remain about 27 percent below their peak.

Of the 20 cities in the index, only three — Denver, Minneapolis and Phoenix — showed improvement from the month before.

Looking forward, continued weakness in the housing market poses a significant barrier to a more vigorous economic recovery,” according to a Federal Reserve white paper issued in January.

The dip in home prices stems from an excess of supply, which has been made worse by foreclosures and tighter mortgage-lending standards, according to analysts at the Fed and elsewhere.

The depth and extended duration of the housing slide — it has been six years since national housing prices peaked — are astounding, even to many economists who have watched it closely.

Housing starts have been at 60-year lows for 38 months — it’s incredible,” said Karl E. Case, emeritus professor of economics at Wellesley College and co-founder of the housing price index. “It’s a complete depression.”

Case noted, for example, the slump’s profound effect on the residential construction industry: Annual housing starts in the United States peaked at 2.37 million and have fallen to fewer than 700,000.

Eighty percent of a major industry in the United States just disappeared,” he said.

More generally, economists differ on exactly how much the fall in housing prices has retarded the U.S. economy.

But in a paper last year, Case and colleagues John M. Quigley and Robert J. Shiller found that housing wealth has a “rather large effect” on how much households consume.

It is this lack of demand in the economy that has been one of the persistent problems in the U.S. recovery, according to economists. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy.

The recent white paper from the Fed noted, for example, that housing prices have fallen an average of about 33 percent from their peak, erasing $7 trillion in household wealth. With that, according to the paper, comes a “ratcheting down” of what people buy.

 

 

 

With new housing plan, Obama again makes unabashed case for government

Greg Sargent:

No matter what the American people tell pollsters about government in the abstract, they broadly support the idea that government has a legitimate role in taking specific steps to combat economic suffering and unfettered free market recklessness and to shore up the shrinking middle class.

That’s the premise of the Obama reelection campaign. And today in Falls Church, Virginia, Obama again staked out this turf, offering a new plan to help homeowners whose mortgages are “under water,” by enabling them to save $3,000 a year by refinancing their mortgages at historically low interest rates. The plan offers a Homeowner Bill of Rights to prevent homeowners from getting screwed over by fees, conflicts of interests, lack of disclosure about mortgages and inappropriate forclosure.

The difference here is that in this case, something actually could get done. Here’s why: It could prove a bit more difficult than usual for Congressional Republicans to oppose this plan — because none other than Mitt Romney himself has edged towards supporting a similar approach.

Matthew Yglesias argues that the plan could be a job-creation “game changer” by putting more money in people’s pockets to spend on other things, helping revive the economy.

How will Congressional Republicans respond, given that Romney has flirted with similar ideas?

A few days ago Romney said he was open to “providing a break to homeowners to get lower interest rates” if it can be done without adding “additional government obligation.” Obama’s plan would be paid for by fees on financial institutions.

What’s more, Romney is heading for a primary in Nevada, where the foreclosure crisis is severe, so the politics of rejecting Obama’s plan would be interesting to say the least.

In his speech today, Obama combined a robust defense of government intervention in the housing market with an implicit slap at Romney for previously claiming we should let the foreclosure process run its course (which is contradicted by his recent support for some type of intervention):

Government certainly can’t fix the entire problem on its own. But it is wrong for anybody to suggest that the only option for struggling responsible homeowners is to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom. I refuse to accept that and so do the American people…There are actions we can take right now to provide some relief to folks who have been responsible, have done the right thing, and are making their payments on time.

Obama described homebuying by many Americans as a “downpayment on their dreams,” and the home is the bedrock of security for the middle class. Whatever the shortcomings of Obama’s overall housing policies, this proposal represents in miniature the ideas that much of the 2012 presidential campaign will be fought around.

 

 

 

The draft simplified simplified mortgage disclosure that President Obama held up today can be found here. 

 

 

 

Top consumer watchdog backs Obama administration call for helping homeowners

TPM:
Today President Obama called on Congress to help struggling homeowners take advantage of historically low interest rates. In response, the nation’s top consumer watchdog Richard Cordray endorsed the plan.

The principles articulated by the Obama administration today are good guideposts for much-needed reforms in the mortgage market. The problems that plague consumers are well-documented. Too many consumers were steered into complicated mortgages that they did not understand and couldn’t afford. Too many families were forced into foreclosure because paperwork was lost, phone calls went unanswered, errors were not resolved, or documents were falsified. To protect consumers, there must be clear rules of the road and real consequences for breaking them. The Consumer Bureau is already hard at work making the costs and risks of mortgages clear upfront through our Know Before You Owe project. The financial reform law also requires us to create new mortgage servicing rules that hold servicers accountable for disclosing fees and fixing problems. We are also working with other federal agencies to develop common-sense national servicing standards. But having rules in place isn’t enough. We are closely monitoring mortgage servicers to make sure that no one gains an unfair advantage by breaking the law. Taking these steps to fix the mortgage market is good for consumers, honest businesses, and our entire economy.

 

 

 

HEALTH

1 million packs of birth control pills recalled for inadequate dose

Chicago Trib:

Pfizer said on Tuesday it was recalling about 1 million packets of birth control pills in the United States because they may not contain enough contraceptive to prevent pregnancy.

Pfizer said the birth control pills posed no health threat to women but it urged consumers affected by the recall to “begin using a non-hormonal form of contraception immediately.”

The drugmaker said the issue involved 14 lots of Lo/Ovral-28 tablets and 14 lots of Norgestrel and Ethinyl Estradiol tablets.

It said an investigation had found that some blister packs of the oral contraceptive might contain an inexact count of inert or active ingredients in the tablets.

The pills were manufactured by Pfizer and marketed by Akrimax Pharmaceuticals and shipped to warehouses, clinics and retail pharmacies nationwide, the company said.

 

 

 

HEALTH CARE

“Under the rules in place today, any nerd, any withdrawn, bookish kid, can have Asperger syndrome.”

NYT:

FOR a brief, heady period in the history of autism spectrum diagnosis, in the late ’90s, I had Asperger syndrome.

There’s an educational video from that time, called “Understanding Asperger’s,” in which I appear. I am the affected 20-year-old in the wannabe-hipster vintage polo shirt talking about how keen his understanding of literature is and how misunderstood he was in fifth grade. The film was a research project directed by my mother, a psychology professor and Asperger specialist, and another expert in her department. It presents me as a young man living a full, meaningful life, despite his mental abnormality.

“Understanding Asperger’s” was no act of fraud. Both my mother and her colleague believed I met the diagnostic criteria laid out in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. The manual, still the authoritative text for American therapists, hospitals and insurers, listed the symptoms exhibited by people with Asperger disorder, and, when I was 17, I was judged to fit the bill.

I exhibited a “qualified impairment in social interaction,” specifically “failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level” (I had few friends) and a “lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people” (I spent a lot of time by myself in my room reading novels and listening to music, and when I did hang out with other kids I often tried to speak like an E. M. Forster narrator, annoying them). I exhibited an “encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus” (I memorized poems and spent a lot of time playing the guitar and writing terrible poems and novels).

The general idea with a psychological diagnosis is that it applies when the tendencies involved inhibit a person’s ability to experience a happy, normal life. And in my case, the tendencies seemed to do just that. My high school G.P.A. would have been higher if I had been less intensely focused on books and music. If I had been well-rounded enough to attain basic competence at a few sports, I wouldn’t have provoked rage and contempt in other kids during gym and recess.

The thing is, after college I moved to New York City and became a writer and met some people who shared my obsessions, and I ditched the Forsterian narrator thing, and then I wasn’t that awkward or isolated anymore. According to the diagnostic manual, Asperger syndrome is “a continuous and lifelong disorder,” but my symptoms had vanished.

Last year I sold a novel of the psychological-realism variety, which means that my job became to intuit the unverbalized meanings of social interactions and create fictional social encounters with interesting secret subtexts. By contrast, people with Asperger syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders usually struggle to pick up nonverbal social cues. They often prefer the kind of thinking involved in chess and math, activities at which I am almost as inept as I am at soccer.

The biggest single problem with the diagnostic criteria applied to me is this: You can be highly perceptive with regard to social interaction, as a child or adolescent, and still be a spectacular social failure. This is particularly true if you’re bad at sports or nervous or weird-looking.

As I came into my adult personality, it became clear to me and my mother that I didn’t have Asperger syndrome, and she apologized profusely for putting me in the video. For a long time, I sulked in her presence. I yelled at her sometimes, I am ashamed to report. And then I forgave her, after about seven years. Because my mother’s intentions were always noble. She wanted to educate parents and counselors about the disorder. She wanted to erase its stigma.

I wonder: If I had been born five years later and given the diagnosis at the more impressionable age of 12, what would have happened? I might never have tried to write about social interaction, having been told that I was hard-wired to find social interaction baffling.

The authors of the next edition of the diagnostic manual, the D.S.M.-5, are considering a narrower definition of the autism spectrum. This may reverse the drastic increase in Asperger diagnoses that has taken place over the last 10 to 15 years. Many prominent psychologists have reacted to this news with dismay. They protest that children and teenagers on the mild side of the autism spectrum will be denied the services they need if they’re unable to meet the new, more exclusive criteria.

But my experience can’t be unique. Under the rules in place today, any nerd, any withdrawn, bookish kid, can have Asperger syndrome.

The definition should be narrowed. I don’t want a kid with mild autism to go untreated. But I don’t want a school psychologist to give a clumsy, lonely teenager a description of his mind that isn’t true.

 

 

 

IMMIGRATION

How self-deportation works: denying food assistance to American citizens whose parents are undocumented

Faith in Public Life:

As immigration policy took center stage in the Floriday primary this week, Presidential candidates debated “self-deportation” as an answer to legitimate questions of how they would handle the 11 million undocumented immigrants already living and working in the country.

Adam Serwer at Mother Jones explains how this innocuous-sounding phrase is actually code for cruel policies designed to harm and harass immigrant families until their hardship becomes too great to stay in the country.

The most prominent examples of this degrading approach are the anti-immigrant laws in Arizona and Alabama, which have come into the news for the ways they violate the civil rights of their residents, criminalize religious charity, andcause untold economic damage.

One of the key architects behind these laws is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, whose endorsement Mitt Romney proudly touts. So it’s no surprise to see elements of the self-deportation strategy cropping up in the Sunflower state.

recent change in food-stamp eligibility requirements by Kobach-ally Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration has led to thousands of Kansas kids being denied the nutrition assistance they were relying on. That’s a rather conspicuous policy change for a governor who claims that reducing child poverty is his number-one goal. Conveniently, the change only applies to children (legal citizens) of undocumented immigrants.

The administration denies any anti-immigrant animus, but they don’t seem troubled by 2,000 children of immigrants losing nutritional benefits that keep them from going hungry in their state.

For “self-deportation” proponents, of course, this is exactly the goal. In fact, many anti-immigrant activists want to go even further and roll back the 14th Amendment such that these kids can’t qualify for assistance in the first place.

Presidential candidates may want voters who care about immigration reform to believe that their “self-deportation” policy proposals aren’t harsh and anti-immigrant, but the reality is simply the opposite. If developments like this in Kansas portend the future, putting like-minded people in federal office could do real harm to millions of families.

 

 

 

JUSTICE

 

Ex-Credit Suisse traders admit cooking subprime books

Reuters:

In a rare criminal prosecution to emerge from the financial crisis, two former Credit Suisse traders admitted on Wednesday to conspiring to manipulate the value of about $3 billion in subprime mortgage-backed securities in order to hide losses as the U.S. real estate market began to collapse in 2007.

The men, London-based David Higgs, 42, and Salmaan Siddiqui, 36, of McLean, Virginia, pleaded guilty in U.S. district court in New York to a criminal charge of conspiracy to falsify books and records and commit wire fraud.

Their one-time boss, Kareem Serageldin, 38, a U.S. citizen who lives in Britain, faces the same conspiracy charge and additional charges of falsifying books and records and wire fraud. Federal prosecutors said they do not consider Serageldin a fugitive even though he has yet to appear in the United States to answer to the charges.

There have been few prosecutions of individuals at high-profile banks for conduct that contributed to the financial crisis, but the Obama administration says it is stepping up investigations over the collapse of the subprime housing market.

Beginning in the fall of 2007, the three men and others began to manipulate the bond markets to alter Profit and Loss (P&L) numbers, according to phone calls recorded under Credit Suisse policy, the indictment of Serageldin said.

“If you want (P&L) to be a big number let me know what you want, then I’ll just go through it with (Higgs) because obviously I can move things back to where they were … if you’re looking for a big number today…” one of the traders said in a September 13, 2007 phone call with Seragaldin, the indictment said.

The investigation stems from $2.85 billion in writedowns that Credit Suisse took on collateralized debt obligations in 2008. Credit Suisse revealed those CDO losses in early 2008 and blamed them on a group of rogue traders who deliberately mispriced securities and on a failure of internal controls.

Credit Suisse was not charged in the case. A spokesman for the bank declined to comment on Wednesday. The company has cooperated with the government’s investigations.

Separately, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil charges against Serageldin, Higgs, Salmaan Siddiqui and a fourth trader, Faisal Siddiqui. The Siddiquis are not related.

Serageldin’s lawyer, James McGuire, said his client “believes he has done nothing wrong and nothing illegal.” McGuire said that over a four-year-long investigation, Serageldin had fully cooperated with authorities in Britain and the United States, including five or six interviews.

“The indictment comes as some surprise to us.”

A lawyer for Faisal Siddiqui could not immediately be reached to comment. Higgs’ lawyer declined comment after his court appearance and Salmaan Siddiqui’s lawyer said his client had been cooperating with the probes for some time.

Robert Khuzami, head of the SEC’s enforcement division, said in a statement that “the senior bankers falsely and selfishly inflated the value of more than $3 billion in asset-backed securities in order to protect their bonuses and, in one case, protect a highly coveted promotion.”

In the case of Higgs and Salmaan Siddiqui, federal prosecutors brought a single conspiracy charge carrying a maximum prison term of up to five years, but not a charge of securities fraud, which carries a prison term of up to 20 years.

The additional substantive charge brought against Serageldin does carry a maximum possible prison term of 20 years. Serageldin had been managing director/global head of structured credit at Credit Suisse in charge of Higgs and other traders.

“While the housing market was collapsing, the defendants profited, not by correctly predicting the trend, but by cooking the books,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge Janice K. Fedarcyk said in a statement.

Higgs told a federal judge that while he was a managing director in the investment banking division of Credit Suisse in London in 2007 and 2008, he and others manipulated and inflated the cash bond position markings of a trading book, called ABN1, to hide losses.

“As a result of my actions, senior management of Credit Suisse was given the false impression that the ABN1 book was profitable and caused Credit Suisse to report false year-end numbers for 2007 in their books and records,” Higgs said in court.

He said he altered the records because he wanted to remain in good favor with Serageldin and “enhance” his job performance. He said he stood to receive a year-end bonus. Salmaan Siddiqui, at a separate plea proceeding, told a similar story about the way the traders falsified records.

The indictment said that Serageldin directed the scheme to improve his job performance and make him eligible for bonuses and promotion. His 2007 bonus was more than $1.7 million and his Incentive Share Unit Award was more than $5.2 million, the office of Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. The $5.2 million was rescinded by Credit Suisse.

Bharara said on a conference call with reporters that Serageldin is not considered a fugitive, but the government would extradite him if necessary to face the charges.

“It is a tale of greed run amok, piggybacking on one of the worst economic dislocations our nation has ever experienced,” Bharara said.

Officials said the victims in this case were really the shareholders of Credit Suisse because Credit Suisse’s proprietary positions had been manipulated.

Higgs, who apologized for his conduct, said in court that his boss and others had known about the manipulation and assisted in it. He looked dejected and spoke quietly in describing his conduct to U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan.

Higgs and Salmaan Siddiqui were released on $500,000 bond each. Higgs will be allowed to return to his home in Britain while the investigation continues.

In court, Higgs said traders were required to price securities that they held on a mark-to-market basis of the current market price of the asset or liability or similar assets or liabilities, according to accounting standards and the bank’s policy.

Beginning in 2007 when the U.S. real estate market slumped and mortgage delinquencies increased, the value of securities backed by mortgages decreased and the market lost its liquidity.

Higgs told the judge that he and others manipulated the records “rather than mark these securities down to market as we were required to do.”

 

 

 

House Republicans arrest journalist at fracking hearing

Daily Kos:

A quick diary on a clear violation of the First Amendment. Josh Fox who made the documentary “Gasland” was ordered arrested by House Republicans for attempting to film and report on a hearing concerning fracking in natural gas drilling.
From Huffpo’s Zach Carter:

In a stunning break with First Amendment policy on Capitol Hill, House Republicans directed Capitol Hill police to detain a highly regarded documentary crew that was attempting to film a Wednesday hearing on a controversial natural gas procurement practice. Republicans also denied the entrance of a credentialed ABC News news team that was attempting to film the event….
Approximately 16 officers entered the hearing room and handcuffed Fox amid audible discussions of “disorderly conduct” charges, according to Democratic sources present at the arrest.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Gasland:

Here is some more on the 2005 ‘Haliburton’ loophole that allowed Fracking to start and the impact on residents in Colorado.

lastly, it appears that Josh Fox and his  crew will not be able to return to the hearing.

The meeting of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment had been taking place in room 2318 of the Rayburn building. Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), the ranking Democrat on the committee, is currently seeking to secure a procedural maneuver that would allow the detained film crew to re-enter the hearing, which is open to the public. Miller’s motion is not expected to succeed.

This is particularly upsetting, because this hearing is about revealing the secret ingredients in fracking fluids. President Obama made the statement that he wanted Oil and Gas companies to reveal these ingredients in the State of the Union, but it appears House Republicans are not ready to give up that golden goose.

I am starting to agree with Thom Hartmann on the reason for the delay to reveal these ingredients, by the Republicans and the Oil and Gas industry – not only are they dangerous to us, but these industries are used to having to pay huge sums of money to properly dispose of by-products from refineries – and this is a convenient way to get rid of these by products – just inject them 3000 feet underground which also happens to be where our aquifers are.

 

 

 

Reuters: Foreclosure fraud deal would give states enforcement power

A proposed settlement to resolve mortgage abuses by top U.S. banks will give states broad authority to punish firms that mistreat borrowers in the future, according to documents seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

Under the settlement, which states are currently reviewing to decide whether they will join, the states and a separate “monitoring committee” will have the authority to go to court to enforce the terms and seek penalties of up to $5 million per violation.

A strong enforcement mechanism could help the states and the Obama administration sell the deal to the public, after left-leaning activist groups have questioned whether the negotiations were too lenient on the banks.

Negotiations between state and federal officials to resolve allegations of misconduct in servicing home loans have stretched into their second year.

The delay is partly due to some states trying to extract a bigger settlement from the banks and to reserve their ability to file more mortgage-related suits in the future.

However, the deal now looks imminent.

States have just a few more days to make a decision on whether they will sign on. And U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan said during a White House briefing on Wednesday that a final legal settlement will be reached “in the coming days.”

The settlement, expected to be filed as a consent judgment in federal court in Washington, D.C., will last for 3-1/2 years, according to documents laying out the pending deal’s enforcement terms.

Joseph Smith, the banking commissioner in North Carolina, is expected to serve as the monitor on the settlement, people familiar with the matter told Reuters on Monday.

In exchange for up to $25 billion, much in the form of cutting mortgage debt for distressed homeowners, the banks will resolve state and federal lawsuits about servicing misconduct and faulty foreclosures, and some lawsuits about how they made the loans.

Banks have been accused of robo-signing documents and other sloppy paperwork in unlawfully rushing to deal with a flood of foreclosures triggered by the 2007-2009 financial crisis.

The core group of banks involved in settlement talks are Bank of America Corp, Wells Fargo & Co, JPMorgan Chase & Co, Citigroup Inc. and Ally Financial Inc.

The final value of the settlement will depend on which states it includes, and could drop sharply if states like California, one of the hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis, do not join.

On Wednesday, Oregon Attorney General John Kroger said his state will join the settlement. He said Oregon can expect to receive around $30 million from the settlement, and its distressed homeowners can expect around $100 million to $200 million in relief.

The mortgage settlement is just one piece of a larger plan that the Obama administration hopes will get relief to home buyers and help boost the economy. Also on Wednesday, the Obama administration introduced a $5 billion to $10 billion package to help homeowners refinance their loans.

GIVING THE STATES SOME MUSCLE

Some states have raised concerns that banks have not adequately followed through on prior settlements, a concern that has pushed government negotiators to establish more forceful enforcement mechanisms in this deal than have been used in the past.

“I’d like to see very detailed, specific regulations on mortgage servicers and what they can and cannot do,” said Max Gardner, a nationally known consumer bankruptcy attorney in Shelby, North Carolina. “Not just the proverbial ‘we will obey the law from now on.'”

The enforcement terms mark progress in states’ ability to directly monitor mortgage servicing at national banks. For decades, big banks fought state efforts to enforce consumer protection laws by arguing that national banking laws pre-empted their authority.

Under the settlement, the banks will set up internal quality control groups to assess their mortgage servicing units’ compliance with the terms of the agreement, and turn over quarterly reports to the monitor about servicing complaints.

If the monitor concludes the group “did not correctly implement” the reviews, the monitor can have a third party review the work.

If the monitor finds information that a servicer “may be engaged in a pattern of noncompliance,” he can undertake a more thorough review, and impose even tougher standards.

Servicer compliance will be measured through detailed information about unlawful foreclosure sales and incorrect denials of loan modifications, according to the documents.

If the servicer continues to violate any of the terms, any of the states or a monitoring committee can go to court and seek penalties of up to $1 million for the first “uncured” violation and up to $5 million for a second.

Servicers will pick up the tab for the monitor, the documents said.

The monitoring committee is comprised of representatives of state attorneys general, the U.S. Justice Department, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, who will review the work of the monitor.

The document says that all the terms are subject to approval by federal banking regulators.

 

 

 

AP: Woman wins unusual small claims lawsuit against Honda over hybrid’s mpg

A Southern California woman who challenged the legal status-quo by filing a small-claims action against Honda won her lawsuit Wednesday when a judge ruled that the automaker misled her about the potential fuel economy of her hybrid car.

Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Douglas Carnahan awarded Heather Peters $9,867 – much more than the couple hundred dollars cash that a proposed class-action settlement is offering.

“At a bare minimum Honda was aware … that by the time Peters bought her car there were problems with its living up to its advertised mileage,” Carnahan wrote in the judgment.

MORE>>>

 

 

 

MEDIA

Son of New York Police Commissioner Accused of Rape, Media Smears Alleged Victim 

Alternet:

Here’s what we know: On Jan. 25, an unnamed woman accused Greg Kelly, the co-host of “Good Day New York” and the son of New York police commissioner Ray Kelly, of raping her in October 2011, after they had a few drinks together in a Manhattan bar. She is described as being 30 years old and in the legal profession. We know that the woman had a boyfriend, who publicly confronted both Kellys at a recent public event. That the woman claims she had too much to drink and that Kelly forced himself on her. She says Kelly got her pregnant, that she subsequently had an abortion, and that she reportedly decided to tell her story because Kelly’s father has encouraged crime victims to come forward. Kelly has not been formally charged with any crime.

Here’s what we will likely never know: what really transpired in private between Greg Kelly and the woman, and the extent, if any, to which it was consensual.

And here’s what the press seems to have forgotten: how you report a story like this.

For starters, you don’t begin a story about an alleged crime by editorializing, based on anonymous “sources,” that the accuser “was instantly enamored” of and “star-struck” by her reported attacker. You certainly don’t paint a picture of “48 hours of marathon sexting” before and after the incident early in a story, then bury that the source claims it was  a grand total of 17 messages. Perhaps, as the source suggests, the texts were “sexual,” but unless somebody’s changed how we measure time, 17 texts in a two-day period is nobody’s version of a “marathon.” Yet the New York Post managed to do all of the above in a single front-page story Sunday that put “rape” in scare quotes but not “sext foreplay.”

Regarding that post-incident communication, the paper’s anonymous sources claim that the accuser talked to Kelly either about “doing it again,” or asking him, “Why’d you do that?” So think twice before suggesting, like Rikki Kleinman blithely wrote in the Daily Beast, that “every newpublished detail appears to point toward consensual sex,” including “sexting before and after their date.”

MORE>>>

 

 

NYT: Romney’s Negative Campaign in Florida Could Have Political Costs 

[…] Mitt Romney showed a worried Republican base a side of himself that it has both longed for and feared that he lacked: the agile political street fighter, willing to mock, scold and ultimately eviscerate his opponent.

But if he has quelled doubts about his toughness, he also emerges from the Florida free-for-all and the three contests that preceded it carrying heavy new baggage.

Mr. Romney was savaged by Mr. Gingrich over his record at Bain Capital, softening him up for the coming Democratic effort to portray him as a heartless capitalist happy to fire people to enrich himself. His release of his tax returns, complete with details about a Swiss bank account, provided new facts for opponents seeking to cast him as out of touch with ordinary Americans.

And the very trait that propelled him in Florida — a willingness to descend into the muck and run a relentlessly negative campaign — distracted from his economic-themed argumentagainst Mr. Obama while deepening his rift with some populist conservatives. Should Mr. Gingrich remain a viable enough candidate to stay in the race through the summer, as he vowed on Tuesday, Mr. Romney could be forced to maintain an angry edge that could undermine his appeal among moderate and independent voters — groups whose views of him, polls suggest, appear to have been harmed by the Florida melee.

“There are questions about his wealth and Bain, but he has not become an intensely polarizing figure yet,” said Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist who worked on Mr. Romney’s presidential campaign in 2008. “The question is, will he become that?”

Mr. Romney himself seemed sensitive to the perception that his campaign has become locked in a bitter — and counterproductive — war of words with his leading Republican rival.

“I would like to spend more of our time focusing on President Obama,” he said in Tampa on Tuesday as voting was under way. “That’s ultimately what’s going to be essential to taking back the White House.”

His challenge is about to become even more complicated. As much as he would like to be punching and counterpunching with Mr. Obama, he must still contend with Mr. Gingrich, who even after his steep loss described the primaries as a two-man nomination fight across 46 more states.

Mr. Romney faces a classic dilemma in presidential politics: Going negative is never anappealing option, but the alternative amounts to unilateral disarmament and a much higher likelihood of defeat, especially against a rival like Mr. Gingrich who has little to lose.

“In primary politics, short-term gains are what matters, because if you don’t have the short-term gains, you won’t be around long enough to deal with the long-term problems,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

Mr. Romney and his “super PAC” allies spent $15.4 million on television and radio advertising in Florida, three times what Mr. Gingrich and his supporters spent, in the most intensive assault of the Republican nominating contest: Over all, 92 percent of the ads from the candidates and outside groups were negative. In Florida, the outcome was what Mr. Romney needed — and possibly enough to all but eliminate Mr. Gingrich as a threat.

But if Mr. Romney has to engage in a long stretch of negative campaigning against Mr. Gingrich, the challenge will be to hit back hard enough that he does not leave himself exposed to another Gingrich comeback without undercutting his own image.

A candidate who comes across as attacking too viciously and personally risks turning off all but the most partisan voters. It happened with Bob Dole, most famously when he lost his temper during the 1988 presidential race, snapping that Vice President George Bush should “stop lying about my record.” That moment haunted him throughout the campaign. That may be one reason that Mr. Romney, in the glow of his Florida victory, praised his competitors and turned his attention to the president.

Mr. Romney has never been especially squeamish about negative campaigning. As jarring as his tone has seemed over the past 10 days, he has a long history of resorting to such tactics.(The exception was 2008, when Mr. Romney bowed out relatively early in the primary season.)

During his 2002 campaign for governor of Massachusetts, Mr. Romney ran biting commercials that portrayed his Democratic rival, the state treasurer Shannon O’Brien, as a basset hound asleep on the job as men walked off with bags of money. His poll numbers soon surged, and he pulled out an unexpected victory.

“He has learned along the way that this stuff works pretty well,” said Ms. O’Brien, who called the ads inaccurate and unfair.

This time around, Mr. Romney has been responding to scathing assaults from Mr. Gingrich, who in turn has said he went negative because the super PAC supporting Mr. Romney had unfairly attacked him in Iowa. Determined not to lose in Florida, Mr. Romney unleashed a wave of attacks on Mr. Gingrich’s finances, ethics and even stability — hammered repeatedly in TV commercials, conference calls, e-mails and speeches — that helped stoke the image of Mr. Gingrich as an “erratic” and “unreliable” leader.

The balance that Mr. Romney is trying to strike in his battle against Mr. Gingrich is one he also has to strike if he ends up facing Mr. Obama, whose aides have made clear that a general election campaign against him will be highly personal.

As if to underscore the point, Mr. Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, took to Twitter to mock Mr. Romney for a line about Europe in his victory speech.

“If he dislikes it so,” she asked, “why is he betting against the American dollar with his own Swiss bank account?”

 

 

 

MILITARY

POLITICO: Panetta: U.S. combat in Afghanistan ends in 2013

The Obama administration is accelerating the timetable for winding down the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta indicated to reporters on Wednesday.

More than a year ago, President Barack Obama announced a plan for U.S. and allied foreign troops to hand over the lead for security in Afghanistan to local forces through a province-by-province process that would be complete by the end of 2014.

However, Panetta said Wednesday that he hopes the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan will end in 2013 while U.S. troops will remain in the country in a support role through the end of the following year, The Associated Press reported.

“Hopefully by the mid to latter part of 2013, we’ll be able to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advise and assist role,” Panetta said as he traveled to Brussels for a NATO meeting, according to the AP.

The defense secretary’s comments about speeding up the transition were surprising because U.S. intelligence analysts are reported to be increasingly gloomy about the prospects for Afghan troops and police to take over without a significant deterioration in security and, likely, a resurgence by the Taliban.

However, the U.S. and other NATO allies have come under pressure in recent weeks from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has announced plans to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2013. NATO officials said this week that the alliance planned to stand by the original timetable, but Panetta’s comments signal some effort to accommodate Sarkozy, who has a strong relationship with Obama.

Obama, U.S. allies and Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly agreed to the 2014 date during a NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugual, in November 2010.

“Here in Lisbon, we agreed that early 2011 will mark the beginning of a transition to Afghan responsibility, and we adopted the goal of Afghan forces taking the lead for security across the country by the end of 2014,” Obama said then. “My goal is to make sure that by 2014 we have transitioned, Afghans are in the lead, and it is a goal to make sure that we are not still engaged in combat operations of the sort that we’re involved with now.”

The White House had no official comment on Panetta’s remarks, but one administration official said they were consistent with the vision Obama laid out in 2010.

“As Panetta said, Lisbon remains the program of record and we are committed to the Lisbon framework of a transition that concludes in 2014,” said the official, who insisted on anonymity. “Consultations are ongoing about how to implement that transition. That’s the whole point of Panetta’s trip. And so it’s natural that we’d have consultations with our allies about the steps between now and moving into full Afghan security lead.”

A Pentagon spokesman also issued a statement that stressed continuity in U.S. policy but did not deny that the secretary’s comments broke new ground.

MORE>>>

 

 

POLITICS

Think Romney can debate Obama? A Reminder:

 

 

 

This Romney Quote Will Make Your Head Hurt

MoveOn:

 

 

 

 

Hear about that House vote on “welfare” abuse? What’s really going on is House GOP giving its “base” a lap dance. 

Washington Monthly:

One of the more alarming political phenomena of the last few years has been the very loud return of the “Welfare Queen” meme, back with a vengeance from its apparent burial in the 1990s.

You’d think with work requirements and vastly reduced welfare caseloads and benefit levels, conservative anger about people on welfare would be a thing of the past. And in truth, until very recently, resentment of the less fortunate has taken slightly different forms, beginning with the very powerful conservative belief that shiftless poor and minority families caused the housing meltdown and the financial crisis, and continuing with the subtext that ObamaCare would take Medicare benefits away from virtuous elderly white folks to provide health coverage for people too lazy to take care of themselves.

But now something closer to the original “welfare queen” gospel, based on the idea that people on very basic public assistance are fleecing taxpayers while thumbing their noses at their values, is making a big comeback. It probably started with the rash of state legislative proposals for drug testing of “welfare” or even unemployment insurance beneficiaries. It gained fresh momentum when Newt Gingrich excited rank-and-file Republicans to a fever pitch by chewing out an African-American journalist about the poor work ethic of food stamp recipients.

And now, today, House Republicans are staging a vote to stop people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families dollars at strip clubs, casinos and liquor stores.

Nice. [...]

But no. The whole kerfuffle is highly remiscent of the habit the saintly Ronald Reagan used to indulge of regaling conservative audiences with an apocryphal anecdote about a food stamp recipient getting change in a grocery store line and buying a bottle of vodka.

As CAP Action Fund’s Melissa Boteach noted in her commentary on the Boustany measure, if the U.S. House has time to worry about richly symbolic instances of taxpayers subsidizing bad behavior, there are better targets:

If program integrity were the goal, then conservatives would also be calling for votes forbidding corporations that receive taxpayer subsidies and bailouts from having big conferences in Las Vegas, where there is no shortage of casinos, strip clubs, and liquor stores.

What’s really going on is that House Republicans are treating their base voters to the rhetorical equivalent of a lap dance at taxpayer expense.

 

 

 

Republicans Want to Throw Kids Under the Bus. Literally.

Mother Jones:

On Tuesday, House Republicans released a transportation packagethat environmental groups have labeled as a massive giveaway to oil and gas interests.

It’s got everything that oil companies have asked for over the years and more: drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and off the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, increasing oil shale production, allowing much larger trucks on highways, and cutting funds for high-speed rail. And Speaker John Boehner has said he wants to attach a provision to the bill that would force approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline as well.

But here’s where it gets really sad: The bill would also cut the Safe Routes to School program, a $202 million grant program that helps states and school districts make improvements so that kids and their families can walk to school without getting run over. There are many reasons this program is a good idea. Pedestrian deaths have been up in recent years, and this is one way to address that challenge. It’s also better for everyone else when kids don’t need a fleet of polluting minivans to get to school. And walking is good for you. Unless you get run over, that is. Then walking is bad for you.

 

 

 

 

Mitt Romney, Florida’s Psycho-Killer Superhero Of Cash

Charles P. Pierce, Esquire:

Romney is an appalling liar who won because he had the most money, but he’s also, it turns out, a bully.

Here is something else Thomas Paine once said:

“But charters and corporations have a more extensive evil effect than what relates merely to elections. They are sources of endless contentions in the places where they exist, and they lessen the common rights of national society…. This species of feudality is kept up to aggrandise the corporations at the ruin of towns; and the effect is visible.”

And here is something else he said:

“Yet here again the burthen does not fall in equal proportions on the aristocracy with the rest of the community. Their residences, whether in town or country, are not mixed with the habitations of the poor. They live apart from distress, and the expense of relieving it.”

And, finally, here is something else he said:

“When it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am the friend of its happiness: when these things can be said, then may that country boast its constitution and its government.”

At this point, I can take almost anything out of Willard Romney’s perfect mouth, out of the perfect teeth through which he so perfectly lies. He won the Inevitability Primary in Florida out-and-out on Tuesday night, and only had to outspend Newt Gingrich five-to-one to do it. So he gets to crow a little. Over the next couple of days, he’s going to be bathed in loving analysis from the smart kidz about how he “turned it around” after being outcrackered in South Carolina. But I’m not going to sit there and listen to the cosseted plutocrat son of a millionnaire auto dealer — one who is running on a platform that will make himself and everyone like him richer while warning the rest of us, as he did in his victory speech in Tampa, that “If you’re looking for cradle-to-grave help from the government, I’m not your candidate” — go and dragoon into that effort Tom Paine, who would have spat in Willard Romney’s face if he’d ever met him. Mitt Romney is someone whose children have a trust fund totaling $100 million. His great-great-grandchildren are not ever going to have to worry about money from their cradles to their graves. Thomas Paine? I’m sorry, but there are levels of bullshit to which I will not agree to descend.

Romney won because he had the most money. And because he had the most money, enough of the Tea Party “base,” which was supposed to hate him like gum disease, decided thusly: What the hell? The important thing is to get the Muslim Kenyan Usurper Negro out of the White House, so this is the horse we have to ride. There were something like 13,000 commercials aired in Florida over the past couple of weeks. Ninety-two percent of them were negative, the overwhelming number of which said negative things about N. Leroy Gingrich, Definer of Civilization’s Rules and Leader (Perhaps) of the Civilizing Forces, on behalf of the man who told us on Tuesday night that we should follow him into the old America of hope and joy and not bumper stickers. That is how you win the Inevitability Primary. You buy Inevitability. It doesn’t come cheaply.

Very early in the evening, the MSNBC embed with the Romney campaign opined that following Romney around the last couple of days, when it became clear that the election was in the bag, was something like watching an episode of Dexter, the TV show about the charming-as-hell serial killer. Even the kindly Doctor Maddow was taken somewhat aback, and I suspect the kid is in for an interesting morning, both from his bosses and from the Romney campaign, but, dammit, he was dead-on and I wish I’d thought of it first. In addition to being a singularly appalling liar, Mitt Romney also has all the basic qualities of a considerable bully. He ruthlessly shoved aside a hapless but nonetheless incumbent Republican governor in order get himself elected in Massachusetts. You’ve seen him have to rein it in a little on the debate stage. (Believe me, there’s more of that to come.) And you saw it on Tuesday night, when Willard accepted victory, and then launched into his usual litany of lies about the president (the president doesn’t “want to amass record deficits” — honestly, no, he doesn’t) — spiced with just the right amount of upper-crust sneering.

I was particularly amused by this little aside: “Like his colleagues in the faculty lounge who think they know better, President Obama demonizes and denigrates almost every sector of our economy.”

Except, one supposes, the auto industry, which Romney suggested we should let fail. But that “faculty lounge” crack is a good one. There was Willard, knocking back a couple at his corner local with the boys, when they said, “You know, you could do as good a job as that smarty-pants up there on the TV.” Jesus, what a foof.

And that touching anecdote about talking to “a father who was terrified that this would be the last night he would be able to spend in the only house his son had ever known.” Perhaps Willard then explained to this terrified father how much better things would be if we’d just, as he told a newspaper in Las Vegas last October, not tried to “stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom.” The fellow would have been comforted, I’m sure.

And, of course, there was the inevitable barefaced non-fact about health care, and about how “President Obama wants to put a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor.” No more, actually, than you did up here, Willard. I went to my doctor a month ago. I did not trip over an Under-Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services on the way.

(Note to Gingrich surrogate Bill McCollum: Where in the hell did you get the talking point you were spouting on Tuesday that we here in Massachusetts “have to wait 48 days to see a primary-care physician?” I suspect it may have come from the extensive research done by the late Professor Otto Yerass, but I could be wrong.)

But it was how Romney delivered the speech that was so revelatory. This is a rich kid who likes flogging The Help. There were just enough shit-eating, country-club grins as he delivered his rancid material to show you what the guy must have been like in those golden moments when he realized that there was more dough in wrecking a company than in investing in it.

As I said here the other day, the nomination of Willard Mitt Romney is inevitable, so we’re all going to have to get used to all of this for a while. But I will not stand for Tom Paine being used in this fashion. I have my limits.

And here’s something else he once said:

“I hope we shall… crush in [its] birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations.”

No, wait. That was the other Tom. That Jefferson guy. My bad.

 

 

 

Mitt Romney goes from ‘I’m concerned about the poor,’ to ‘I’m not concerned with the very poor’ 

Daily Kos:

Good news … apparently Mitt Romney only hates the “very poor.” Here he was a few weeks ago:

I’m concerned about the poor in this country. We have to make sure the safety net is strong and able to help those who can’t help themselves.

… and today:

I’m not concerned with the very poor. We have a safety net there.

Cayman Island tax dodges, Swiss bank accounts, corporations are people, my friend, $10,000 bets, and now this … who knew that Mitt Romney’s greatest strength as a candidate would be to provide the script for Democratic ads that will be running against him?

Keep talking, Mitt.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=wqyEnJ3b4Mo

 

 

 

 

Why Romney’s latest gaffe is important

Political Wire:

Mitt Romney’s unforced error this morning isn’t likely to derail his campaign but it certainly adds to the impression he doesn’t care much about people.

First Read: “All political candidates — just like all non-politicians — make verbal gaffes… But in politics, what becomes damaging is when a verbal gaffe fits a pre-existing narrative.”

Jonathan Chait: “It may not be true that, at a personal level, Romney doesn’t care about the poor. He probably does. But his platform doesn’t. In that sense, his slip-up was a gaffe in the classic sense of admitting what he actually thinks.”

Andrew Sullivan: “Just because Romney looks smooth doesn’t mean he is. He is often a dreadfully inept candidate.”

Alexandra Petri: At this rate, he’ll show up at the next debate explaining, “Look, I’m not concerned about the poor. They have cake. I say we let them eat it.”

 

 

 

 

Romney: Context for me, but not for thee

Greg Sargent:

Get this: At a press gaggle just now, Mitt Romney defended his gaffe this morning — in which he said he’s “not concerned about the very poor”— by pleading with reporters to look at the larger context of his remarks:

No no no no. I — no, no. You’ve got to take the whole sentence, all right, as opposed to saying, and then change it just a little bit, because then it sounds very different,” said Romney. “I’ve said throughout the campaign my focus, my concern, my energy is gonna be devoted to helping middle income people, all right? We have a safety net for the poor in, and if there are holes in it, I will work to repair that. And if there are people that are falling through the cracks I want to fix that. “

You’ve got to take the whole sentence? Interesting. That rule did not apply when Romney personally approved an ad attacking Obama that lifted his words out of context in a hilariously dishonest way, implying that Obama said something about himself he’d actually attributed to a McCain adviser. The Romney campaign subsequently boasted about all the media attention the ad’s dishonesty earned.

Nor did Romney’s call for context apply when he blasted Obama for not believing in American exceptionalism by cherry-picking a line from an Obama speech in which the President actually did proclaim his belief that America is exceptional. Romney has a whole history of decontextualizing remarks.

By the way, it’s unlikely that Romney’s plea for context will do anything to quiet criticism of the gaffe, which is now being loudly voiced by conservatives, too. Erick EricksonJonah Goldberg and others on the right are all arguing that Romney has showcased his political ineptitude by offering Dems a comment that — even if taken out of context — plays perfectly into the Dem strategy of painting Romney as the candidate of the one percent. Not only that, but it’s also worth mentioning that in his comments, Romney confirmed that the Democratic Party does care about the poor.

Romney wasn’t really saying he doesn’t care about the poor, but the context still doesn’t help much. He seemed to be indicating that the plight of the poor isn’t all that worrisome because the safety net is doing such an adequate job in keeping them out of, well, poverty.

For all the talk about Romney’s “electability,” this episode shows that in reality, widespread and rampant doubts about his fitness for the general election are seething just below the surface among a surprisingly large number of conservative observers. Romney’s plea for context — in which he‘s basically asking the press to honor a standard of accuracy his own campaign has made a mockery of — won’t do anything to ally those doubts, either.

 

 

 

Right-wing complaint w/Romney saying he’s “not concerned” about the poor: He’s showing too much concern for the poor

National Review:

I agree with you on the general tin-ear of Romney. He’s extremely un-nimble on the stump, which means that Republicans will be gambling that he can be sufficiently insulated and managed across the finish line without offering up any campaign-detonating hostage to fortune.

But, beyond that, I’m less sanguine about the underlying worldview that “I’m not concerned about the very poor” betrays. Romney:

We will hear from the Democrat party, “the plight of the poor,” and there’s no question, it’s not good being poor. . . . We have a very ample safety net and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it, but we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor.

The Pundette responds:

I know Romney gives generously to charity but what a cold fish he is… A conservative candidate would talk about increasing opportunity for the very poor, about lessening the need for food stamps and housing vouchers by reducing government and invigorating the economy, rather than touting the awesomeness of our massive, dependency-inducing welfare state and suggesting it might need some beefing up.

Romney’s is a benevolent patrician’s view of society: The poor are incorrigible, but let’s add a couple more groats to their food stamps and housing vouchers, and they’ll stay quiet. Aside from the fact that that kind of thinking has led the western world to near terminal insolvency, for a candidate whose platitudinous balderdash of a stump speech purports to believe in the most Americanly American America that any American has ever Americanized over, it’s as dismal a vision of permanent trans-generational poverty as any Marxist community organizer with a cozy sinecure on the Acorn board would come up with.

After half-a-century of evidence, what sort of “conservative” offers the poor the Even Greater Society? I don’t know how “electable” Mitt is, but, even if he is, the greater danger, given the emptiness of his campaign to date, is that he’ll be elected with no real mandate for the course correction the Brokest Nation in History urgently needs. In last Monday’s debate, Newt said he wasn’t interested in going to Washington to “manage the decline”. Mitt’s just told us that he’s happy to “manage the decline” for the poor – but who knows who else?

 

 

 

 

Mitt Romney’s Policy Proposals Reflect Lack of Concern For Poor — And Middle Class

Political Correction:

[…]Romney’s budget proposals demonstrate even greater disregard for the very poor — and the somewhat poor, and the middle class. In his speech in Florida last night, Romney promised that as president, “without raising taxes, I will finally balance the budget.” But balancing the budget while enacting his tax policies and increasing defense spending — another Romney promise — is only possible via massive cuts to programs that poor and middle-class families rely on. 

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Romney’s plan would require cutting every program, including Social Security and Medicare, by 21 percent in 2016 and 36 percent in 2021. If Social Security were excluded from cuts, Romney would have to cut everything else, including Medicare, by 30 percent in 2016 and 54 percent in 2021. And that would have a devastating impact on America’s poor and middle class, as CBPP explained:

  • Medicare would be cut by $153 billion in 2016 and $1.4 trillion through 2021.  Achieving cuts of this size solely through reducing payments to hospitals, physicians, and other health care providers would threaten beneficiaries’ access to care. Thus, beneficiaries would almost certainly face large increases in premiums and cost-sharing charges.

  • Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would face cumulative cuts of $946 billion through 2021. … [I]t would leave 34 million people uninsured who would have gained coverage under health reform.

  • Cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) would throw 10 million low-income people off the benefit rolls, cut benefits by thousands of dollars a year, or some combination of the two. These cuts would primarily affect very-low-income families with children, seniors, and people with disabilities.

  • Compensation payments for disabled veterans (which average less than $13,000 a year) would be cut by one-fourth, as would pensions for low-income veterans (which average about $11,000 a year) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for poor aged and disabled individuals (which average about $6,000 a year and leave poor elderly and disabled people far below the poverty line).

Elaborating on his lack of concern for the poor, Romney said: “[W]e have a very ample safety net and we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it, but we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor.” But Romney has a policy agenda that wouldn’t strengthen those programs — it would tear even larger holes in the safety net.

And, no, Romney won’t be able to enact those cuts without badly hurting beneficiaries: Government programs like food stamps and Medicaid are extremely efficient, with the overwhelming majority of spending going to benefits and services. So Romney would enact dramatic cuts to programs that help poor kids and seniors and disabled veterans pay for food and health care — and use the savings to give millionaires like himself a huge tax cut. That isn’t someone who is merely “not concerned” with the poor and middle class — that’s someone whose policy agenda is actively hostile to the poor and middle class.

Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising. Take a look at how Romney described his teenage revelation about the poor during his 1994 Senate campaign:

Heading to the first campaign stop of the day on Wednesday, Mr. Romney was asked about his two and a half years as a Mormon missionary in France. “I was 19,” he said. “I had lived a privileged life. I learned how different life was for those who are poor. I learned being poor, you can have joy and fun and have a wonderful life.”

Having grown up “privileged” — the son of a wealthy auto executive who served as Governor of Michigan and Secretary of HUD — Mitt Romney spent two years among people whose “shared bathroom was just a hole in the floor,” according to an August 7, 1994, Boston Herald article. And what he took away from that experience was “being poor, you can have joy and fun and have a wonderful life.” 

That’s true, of course. It’s also true that being so poor you have to use a hole in the floor as a shared bathroom, or have to decide between food and medicine, or can’t afford a winter coat for your kids can be an absolutely brutal existence, and one that is difficult to climb out of without help. If Romney had learned that lesson about “how different life was for those who are poor,” he might not be so quick to cut funding for food stamps and health care in order to give himself, and his fellow super-wealthy, a massive tax cut.

As Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, George Romney understood the system was rigged in favor of the rich:

George Romney, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, suggested today that part of the “housing subsidy” going to middle and high income groups be repealed and the revenue channeled into rebuilding the slums.

“Maybe we ought to repeal part of the right to deduct the interest rate from the income tax return to bring home to middle income and affluent families that they are getting a housing subsidy,” Mr. Romney said. “Maybe that [money] ought to be earmarked to meet the problems of the slums.” [...]

[Romney's press secretary] said Mr. Romney had become increasingly concerned about the fact that while most Americans are “pretty well housed,” the “plight of the poor is getting worse every year.” [New York Times, 10/24/69]

That basic situation, in which the wealthy benefit from subsidies and preferential government treatment, often without recognizing it, and the plight of the poor — and middle class — gets worse, hasn’t changed. What has changed is that now the Romney who wants to be president is more concerned with helping the rich than the rest of the country.

The Difference Between Barack Obama And Mitt Romney In One Graphic 

 


Barack Obama has raised more money from small-donors than MittRomney has raised from all donors. 

 

 

Crossroads groups raise whopping $51 million in 2011

 

 

President Obama Slams Romney Over Foreclosure Remarks, Offers Re-Fi Plan 

Daily Kos:

I like this.

You may remember Mitt Romney’s remarks last year that we need to foreclose and foreclose and let the market hit bottom:

As for what to do for the housing industry specifically, and are there things that you can do to encourage housing? One is don’t try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom, allow investors to buy homes, put renters in them, fix the homes up and let it turn around and come back up. The Obama administration has slow-walked the foreclosure processes that have long existed and as a result we still have a foreclosure overhang.

Think Progress, Oct 18, 2011,  Romney Tells State With Country’s Highest Foreclosure Rate ‘Don’t Try And Stop The Foreclosure Process’

Today, President Obama responded on behalf of the 99% in what I think will be the first of many contrasts:

It is wrong for anyone to suggest that the only option for struggling, responsible homeowners is to sit and wait for the housing market to hit rock bottom. I refuse to accept that and so do the American people.”

Time, The Page

And the President is trying to do something about it:

President Obama on Wednesday rolled out new proposals aimed at helping troubled homeowners, including a plan that would allow more borrowers to take advantage of record-low interest rates and lower their monthly mortgage payments.

Up to 3.5 million people who do not currently have federally backed loans might be eligible for the program, administration officials said. Another 11 million people who currently hold government-backed loans from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also could potentially benefit.

snip

A central piece of the president’s plan would allow qualified homeowners to refinance their mortgages at current historically low interest rates. Unlike earlier proposals, the new refinance measure will cover not only home loans guaranteed by federal mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac but also those owned by private investors, according to senior administration officials.

The cost of undertaking those refinancings, Obama said last week, would be paid for by a fee on large financial firms to ensure “it won’t add to the deficit and will give those banks that were rescued by the taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust.” The program’s estimated price tag is between $5 billion and $10 billion.

While the government cannot fix the housing market on its own, the President believes that responsible homeowners should not have to sit and wait for the market to hit bottom to get relief when there are measures at hand that can make a meaningful difference,” a White House statement said Wednesday, “including allowing these homeowners to save thousands of dollars by refinancing at today’s low interest rates.”

WaPo

This may not be a panecea; it may not help everyone.  But it will help some, and, to me, that’s good.  Of course, the Republicans will try to prevent it.  

There will be a clear contrast in the 2012 election.  Mitt Romney is the .0001%  The President represents the people.

Update I: More details from Meteor Blades excellent front page diary:

http://www.dailykos.com/…

The Department of Justice is establishing a working group of at least 55 DOJ attorneys, analysts, agents and investigators from around the country who will join existing state and federal resources investigating similar misconduct under those authorities.

snip

A refinancing plan will help “responsible borrowers” save an average of $3,000 per year.

snip

The Homeowner Bill of Rights will include: access to a simple mortgage disclosure form, so borrowers can better understand the loans they are seeking; full disclosure of fees and penalties; guidelines to prevent conflicts of interest; support to keep responsible families in their homes and out of foreclosure; and protection against inappropriate foreclosure, including right of appeal.

• Provide a full year of mortgage-payment forbearance for borrowers looking for work.

$15 billion in federal funds to put construction workers on the job rehabilitating and refurbishing hundreds of thousands of vacant and foreclosed homes and businesses.

 

 

 

 

How the housing market could shape the 2012 election

PBS NewsHour:

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, we look at one of the major economic problems on the minds of voters this year, including in Florida: housing.

Jeffrey Brown has the story.

JEFFREY BROWN: Florida may be known as the Sunshine State, but like much of the country, conditions remain poor when it comes to the housing market.

A national report out today, the so-called Case-Shiller index, shows U.S. home prices fell for a third straight month in major metropolitan markets, including Miami and Tampa. In Florida, home values have dropped by 40 percent or more in some areas since the housing bust. Nationwide, prices have dropped by more than a third.

And the foreclosure crisis continues, with nearly 2.7 million foreclosure filings last year. Several states have been particularly hard-hit, including California, Nevada, Arizona, and indeed the site of today’s primary election, Florida.

Some voters in Tampa today said they wanted the candidates to offer more solutions to the problem.

SHARRY STEINER, Florida voter: I’m not thrilled with the reactions from them talking about it. I think they have kind of just gone past it. I really don’t think they want to talk about it.

JEFFREY BROWN: A map from the NewsHour’s Vote 2012 Center helps tell the story.

The Tampa area is one of nearly 30 counties in the state where foreclosure rates have risen substantially, in some cases even doubling, tripling or quadrupling since 2007. The darker the color, the worse shape the county is in.

To date, Republican presidential candidates have largely avoided spelling out specific policies on housing, mainly arguing that fixing the broader economy is the most logical solution. In October, Mitt Romney said in an interview in Las Vegas that it was best to — quote — “let the foreclosure process run its course and hit the bottom.” More recently, in Florida, he’s talked generally about taking measures to turn around the problem.

Most of the focus of the last week, though, has been on the government-owned mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. At last week’s debate in Jacksonville, Romney took aim at Newt Gingrich’s consultancy work with Freddie Mac.

MITT ROMNEY (R): He should have stood up and said, look, these things are a disaster; this is a crisis. He should have been anxiously telling the American people that these entities were causing a housing bubble that would cause a collapse that we’ve seen here in Florida and around the country.

JEFFREY BROWN: Gingrich attacked Romney in return.

NEWT GINGRICH (R): Gov, Romney owns shares of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Governor Romney made a million dollars off of selling some of that. Governor Romney owns share — has an investment in Goldman Sachs, which is today foreclosing on Floridians.

JEFFREY BROWN: In that same debate, Texas Representative Ron Paul and former Senator Rick Santorum both said Fannie and Freddie should be phased out.

For his part, the president used his State of the Union address to call for new legislation aimed at helping those unable to make their mortgage payments.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Responsible homeowners shouldn’t have to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom to get some relief. And that’s why I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage by refinancing at historically low rates.

JEFFREY BROWN: The president’s principal program for working with lenders to reduce foreclosures has far helped more than 900,000 homeowners get a permanent modification on their mortgage. But that’s far short of the original goals of the program. Tomorrow, the president is expected to spell out further details of his newest plan.

More now on housing and the campaign from Jed Kolko, chief economist with Trulia, an online residential real estate site that provides information for buyers, sellers, renters, and agents. And Arian Campo-Flores is a reporter for The Wall Street Journal who’s been reporting on housing in Florida. He joins us from Miami.

Jed Kolko, before we get to Florida and the campaign, fill in the national picture for us a bit. What do today’s numbers tell us?

JED KOLKO, Chief Economist, Trulia: The housing market is still struggling in most parts of the country, even though we have seen some good news in the past few months. Both sales and construction appear to be picking up a bit, but home prices are still falling, not as much as they did at the worst part of the housing bust, but they are still falling.

And a lot of people have wondered, how can that be? We thought that, if you fixed the economy, the housing market would follow. And we’ve seen employment growing each month for more than the last year. But the problem is, even with more jobs and growing housing demand, there is so much inventory, so much supply, so many vacancies that’s hanging over the housing market that makes it hard for prices to rise.

You may have more people who are demanding housing and are looking to buy, but there are so many homes that are available and could come to market if prices started to rise, that there’s nothing to push prices upward until we get rid of some of this inventory.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so, Arian Campo-Flores, take us — that national picture and translate it to what you’ve been seeing in counties in Florida. What do you — tell us — give us a little flavor of the current state of the market there.

ARIAN CAMPO-FLORES, The Wall Street Journal: Yeah.

Well, I spent some time reporting in Volusia County, which is in Central Florida at the eastern end of the I-4 Corridor. The western part of that county in particular, cities like Deltona, De Bary and DeLand, have been especially hard-hit. The prices there have come down 54 percent from their peak.

I saw blocks with four or five, six homes that were in foreclosure, “for sale” signs all over the place. And it has — I spoke to a lot of people who either faced foreclosure or went through it. And they just uniformly describe this incredibly excruciating, maddening process that takes years of negotiating with banks and, in the course, ruins their credit, and just — it creates immense frustration.

And I also spoke to those who were their neighbors and feel trapped in their homes because they have seen the property values plummet in their areas, and they just don’t really have a way out.

JEFFREY BROWN: So — just to stay with you, so there you were all week while the campaign was going on. How did this issue play out? What did people tell you they wanted from the candidates, and what were they hearing from the candidates?

ARIAN CAMPO-FLORES: Well, what they said they want is more help for homeowners who are underwater.

They — folks want the principals on their loans to be written down. They would like these refinancing programs and loan modification programs to reach them. You know, there are — figures were cited earlier that the administration has put out — and it’s true — in fact, you know, more than 900,000 people have had permanent modifications.

But none of the people that I spoke to had been able to benefit from any of those programs. And so there’s this sense that those — you know, folks in Washington who have put forth solutions, those have not worked thus far. And what they’re hearing so far from the candidates on the campaign trail, on the GOP side are a lot of generalities, but no specific proposals that, you know, would suggest a way out.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Jed Kolko, what would you add to that? I mean, it sort of presents an interesting dilemma for some of the Republican candidates, because, for the most part, on economic issues, they’re pushing for free market policies. How does that translate into the particulars of the housing market?

JED KOLKO: I think the Republican candidates are in a tough position when it comes to housing policy.

When it comes to voters, housing really is a bipartisan issue. We at Trulia did a survey of consumers, and we found that even a majority of Republicans want the government to support homeownership. And they’re actually in favor of most of the types of proposals that are on the table.

The problem for the candidates, though, is almost any policy that you might come up with, such as refinancing, or reducing principal, loan modification, will either cost somebody some money — and that somebody is probably going to be the government or the banks, or both — and it’s very hard to separate people who are underwater or might lose their homes and it’s entirely not their fault from people who might have taken risks or made bad decisions that maybe they shouldn’t be bailed out for.

Democrats are a lot more willing to accept that some people who may be less deserving could be helped than Republicans are. And Republicans are a lot less willing to burden either the government or banks with more money. So, it means that even though Republican voters want to hear from their candidates some kinds of policies that might help the housing market, Republican candidates face these land mines of the challenge of spending more money and the reluctance among lots of Republicans to help undeserving homeowners.

JEFFREY BROWN: Of course, at the same time, Jed Kolko, the Obama administration, with a more interventionist approach, is still finding this a very tough nut to crack, right? It’s still a big problem.

JED KOLKO: That’s right.

What Obama proposed in the State of the Union address probably needs congressional approval. And we know how that usually goes. But another irony of the whole debate over housing policy is that some of the most innovative and daring ideas have actually come from advisers and economists and other policy wonks who traditionally advise Republicans.

So the ideas are there. It’s just that — current politics that make it hard for the government to spend money. And to have to deal with this question of separating the deserving from the undeserving homeowners make it very hard for Republican candidates to talk about these policies in the campaign.

JEFFREY BROWN: Arian Campo-Flores, bringing it back to Florida, I’m just wondering if you see any bright spots there. Florida still being a very desirable destination for so many people around the country, is there some hope of more people coming in, picking up some of these houses? Are there some signs that people point to?

ARIAN CAMPO-FLORES: There are some.

I mean, you know, in the Miami area, for instance, there’s been a lot of international buyers that have come in that are scooping up properties that were — and all these condominiums that were overbuilt during the boom period, and paying all cash. And so they’re starting to eat up some of that inventory.

In Volusia County, where I spent time reporting, you’re seeing, again, people taking advantage of the really low prices, buying up properties that they’re then renting out or using them sort of as investments. So that is starting to happen and it is helping.

I spoke to the property appraiser in Volusia County, who felt that the market was probably pretty much at the bottom. But there is just still so much inventory left, that it’s just going to take a long time for that to really have a noticeable impact in these neighborhoods.

JEFFREY BROWN: Jed Kolko, just 30 seconds or so here, but does that fit into the national — any part of the national picture?

JED KOLKO: Yes.

On Trulia, we see many more people from outside of Florida searching for homes in Florida than people in Florida looking to leave. Florida’s long been the retirement community for so much of the U.S., and baby boomers will still be retiring. And now that homes are more affordable in Florida, some of those baby boomers who thought they’d have to look for cheaper locations in the South can now consider Florida again for their retirement.

 

 

 

New At C&L: The GOP: Preaching the Prosperity Gospel

C&L:

One of the richest men in the country, ranking in the 0.006 percent of Americans, likes to accuse the President of creating an “entitlement society.” Mitt Romney, the heir apparent, next in line GOP nominee … is against entitlement.

When I hear “entitlement society” I think, “country club.” But When Mitt uses that phrase he doesn’t mean rich guys like him, given all the advantages of wealth, who are now enjoying its comforts – he means the rest of us. Yes, Mitt is against an “entitlement society” because that involves too many people and not just him and his ilk. It’s not the “entitlement” he contests – it’s the entire “society” part.

At the Monday Florida debate last week Mitt noted that under Gingrich’s tax plan Mitt would pay no taxes at all. Gingrich responded with, “Well, if that — and if you created enough jobs doing that — it was Alan Greenspan who first said the best rate, if you want to create jobs for capital gains, is zero.”

So rich people whose money makes their money (it’s literally capital gaining) are so fortunate they get to hire other people to pay taxes for them? Rich people with their alleged mythical power to create jobs even get to outsource their tax obligations to poor saps working for a living?

This is the prosperity gospel as a Super PAC-funded marketing blitz. Money is next to godliness and poverty is the fault of the poor for not being better people.

It’s as if Jesus were a CEO and the Romans job-killing communists.

Contrary to the President’s constant disparagement of people in business,” former George W. Bush budget director Gov. Mitch Daniels said in his State of the Union response last week, “It’s one of the noblest of human pursuits.” This is one of those phrases you (usually) will only hear in business school (funnier if it was one of those rip-off for-profit colleges). Business is one of the noblest of human pursuits? Noble as in aristocratic? That phrase, “noble pursuits,” is usually applied to an avocation not paying much but rewarding in other ways: teachers; firefighters; nurses; foster parents; soldiers; community leaders; social workers; mentors; rescue workers; care givers; farmers. Or to anyone who’s honest, shows up every day and works hard. That’s a noblepursuit.

Are the wealthy really so sensitive they need Mitch Daniels to make them feel better about themselves in a spiritual sense? What they’re doing not only pays off with privilege and cash – it also has to be venerable from a moral perspective? How much reward does one group need? They own everything and they also need to be thanked?!

The rich are not just over-paid – they’re over valued. And generous welfare recipients.

As Senator Tom Coburn points out in his damning Nov. 2011 report, “Subsidies of the Rich and Famous,” we are a wealthfare state. It reads, “This reverse Robin Hood style of wealth redistribution is an intentional effort to get all Americans bought into a system where everyone appears to benefit.” In other words: We subsidize the rich by telling the poor to pay their fair share.

It’s been a strange three years under the Obama administration. First the GOP was against empathy. Yes, the party had to vehemently opposed seeing the plight of your fellow human beings because Obama was for it. Now their new hot button word? Fairness. Obama used the word fairness in his third State of the Union. And now the GOP has decided to be against fairness and celebrate inequality as being the thing that makes America great.

It’s as if Jesus were a CEO and the three wise men were shareholders.

The prosperity gospel is not America. It’s not democratic. It’s not even Christian. It’s greed warped into being a virtue by the greedy.

The rich aren’t better, they’re just richer.

 

 


Romney Team Silent On Key Offshore Tax Avoidance Question

TPM:
[…] The briefing cleared up several questions, but left others unanswered —including one from TPM that will either exculpate Romney from allegations that he’s used investments in offshore entities to avoid U.S. taxes, or reveal that his campaign has not fully addressed those allegations.

On the call, Romney’s trustee pledged get back to us with this information. But despite multiple inquiries in the days since the conference call, the Romney camp has not set the record straight one way or another.

Romney has disclosed a substantial individual retirement account (IRA) that, as the Wall Street Journal first noted, could have made offshore investments that circumvented an obscure U.S. tax called the Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT).

One benefit of an IRA is that its holder is allowed to defer taxation on deposited income until it’s drawn upon during retirement. In the meantime, the deposits buy investments that can easily return much more than other types of savings vehicles. But there are some things an IRA can’t do without being taxed right away. An IRA can’t finance investments with debt, and, in the United States, it can’t invest in entities that lever up, without being hit by the UBIT.

But if an IRA invests in an offshore fund, and that fund levers up, it can avoid the UBIT altogether. And at 35 percent that’s no small tax to get around, according to multiple tax experts.

When first questioned about this on the call, Romney’s trustee noted, “Governor Romeny’s IRA is not structured in the Caymans, it’s not located in the Cayman’s. It’s tax deferred just like your IRA, and my IRA.”

But in a followup, I asked if his IRA had invested in any offshore entities that would have made it subject to the UBIT if those entities were located on U.S. soil. Romney’s staff has yet to provide the answer.

Though most private equity funds do use leverage, it’s possible that Romney’s IRA hasn’t been used to avoid the UBIT at all. If he and his aides can demonstrate that, or state so unequivocally on the record, it will put one key controversy surrounding his tax advantages to bed.

 

 

 

GOP super PACS way ahead of Dems 

Political Carnival:

I just flipped on the Thom Hartmann radio show, and here’s the first thing I heard:

“200 donors to Mitt Romney’s Super PAC brought in 30 million dollars. In all of John McCain’s primary run, he spent 11 million, yet Romney spent $15 just in Florida to get a win. All Obama has is $6 million.”

I’ve been fuming about this all morning, because this story has been inescapable, it was everywhere I turned. It was on the radio, the Tee Vee machine, and it was in my morning L.A. Times.

Thanks to Citizens United, thanks to (legal) unlimited donations to super PACS, the 1%ers are buying our candidates outright, influencing election outcomes, and the new normal is that we are now, more than ever, at the mercy of the very, very wealthy few who are able to donate as much as they want without restriction.

The Adelson family’s $10 million gift to Newt Gingrich is just one example. That’s right, one family is single-handedly financing Newt’s campaign, potentially keeping him in the race as he struggles against the Romney onslaught of ads bought and paid for by his corporate buddies, or as he likes to call them, “people”.

Is anyone out there still wondering what the Occupy movement stands for?

The Times fills in more details, and they aren’t pretty:

Restore Our Future, the super PAC backing Mitt Romney‘s candidacy, raised $30 million during 2011, thanks in part to separate $1-million donations from three New York-based hedge fund executives: Paul Singer, Robert Mercer and Julian Robertson. Two privately held corporations each gave $1 million to Romney as well. [...]

The reports also spotlighted the lopsided fundraising race between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to this new breed of political organizations. Although President Obama is far outstripping his potential challengers when it comes to fundraising, GOP super PACs are pulling in more money than their Democratic counterparts. [...]

American Crossroads [a super PAC founded in part by Karl Rove] disclosed that it received $18.4 million, with $5 million coming from [Dallas billionaire Harold] Simmons personally and an additional $2 million from his privately held holding company, Contran Corp.  An additional $500,000 was reported from Crow Holdings, run by Dallas real estate baron Harlan Crow. Kenny Troutt, a billionaire communications executive based in Dallas, also gave half a million dollars.

A coal industry management firm, Alliance Management Holdings, gave $425,000 and Richard Baxter Gilliam, the founder of a Virginia-based coal mining company, contributed $250,000.

The Times has many more details, but for those who can’t resist bringing up the evil, commie, socialist, Kenyan, French, Alinsky-wannabe, liberal hippie George Soros, who apparently owns every Democratic politician in the country, he gave $100,000 to Majority PAC which supports Democratic Senate candidates. A drop in the bucket next to the GOP heavy hitters.

Please link over and read the whole thing, but only if you don’t mind starting your day with disturbing news.

 

 

 

NYT: Who are the mega-donors behind GOP campaigns? Breakdown of SuperPAC filings


 

 

The White House Blog: Rooting Out the Corrosive Influence of Money in Politics

In last week’s State of the Union Address, the President laid out a blueprint for an economy built to last, where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules, especially those elected officials who have been sent here to Washington.

During the speech, the President called on Congress to pass a bill that makes clear that current insider trading laws apply to Members of Congress. No one should be able to trade stocks based on nonpublic information they learned on Capitol Hill. This is a no-brainer.

I’d like to point out that Executive Branch employees are already covered by the insider trading prohibitions. That’s right — there are laws on the books to prevent Executive Branch employees from trading stock based on information that is not public. In fact, the SEC and the Department of Justice have brought insider trading actions against employees of the Executive Branch based on this clear authority under the law. So, the Executive Branch is covered. It’s time to make it clear that Congress is subject to the same rules.

Now, there are some folks out there who suggest the Administration is trying to impose a higher standard on Congress. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only do the insider trading laws already apply to the Executive Branch, but there are other laws on the books that prohibit Executive Branch employees from using their positions to benefit their own personal financial interest. These laws don’t apply to Congress.

For instance, as a matter of criminal law, Executive Branch employees can’t work on matters that would affect their personal financial interest. There is no criminal conflict of interest law that likewise applies to Members of Congress. Additionally, Executive Branch employees must get rid of private assets that conflict with their official duties or be walled off from decisions that affect their private assets. Members of Congress can hang onto those assets and make decisions that could affect them.

The Executive Branch employees are currently held to a higher standard. The STOCK Act simply brings Congress closer to that standard. So, we are pleased the Senate is one step closer to passing the STOCK Act.  We urge Congress to pass this bill, and President will sign it right away.

 

 

 

Republicans Start To Unite Around Call To Allow Billionaires And Corporations To Directly Fund Campaigns

ThinkProgress:

Eight in 10 Americans believe that there istoo much money in American politics, andonly 17 percent agree with the Supreme Court that corporations should be allowed to spend unlimited money to try to influence elections.

Yet top Republicans are coalescing around the idea that current campaign finance laws — which still prohibit corporations and wealthy individuals from giving unlimited money directly to campaigns — are actually too restrictive. Judging from interviews with ThinkProgress and Republican campaign speeches over the past two months, the GOP’s standard response to the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling has solidified: allow for unlimited contributions directly to candidates while requiring immediate disclosure.

The language used by different high-ranking Republicans is so similar that it suggests a certain level of message-coordination on the subject. Indeed, from GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) to Republican money man Fred Malek, their reactions to campaign finance laws are virtually identical:

  • Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty: “The better position is to allow full and free speech in whatever form, but have instant disclosure.” [1/21/12]
  • Top Republican Money Figure Fred Malek: “I would favor unlimited contributions to candidates with full disclosure.” [1/27/12]
  • Presidential candidate Mitt Romney: “We’d be a lot wiser to say you can give what you’d like to a campaign. They must report it immediately…” [12/21/11]

Although Republican supporters of unlimited money in politics seem to have decided that supporting campaign disclosures is an important part of their messaging strategy, the GOP’s actions betray any suggestion that they actually stand behind transparency. Following Citizens United, Democrats introduced the DISCLOSE Act to bring more transparency to the murky world of campaign finance. It passed the House in 2010 but failed to break a Republican filibuster by a single vote.

In other words, Republicans seem to care a whole lot more about letting corporations and the very rich buy elections than they do about protecting the American people’s ability to know about it.

 

 

 

Senate Dems introduce ‘Buffett rule’ bill

TPM:

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and seven others introduced “Buffett Rule” legislation Wednesday that implements President Obama’s principle, advocated in the State of the Union, that millionaires and billionaires should pay a minimum tax rate of 30 percent.

The “The Paying a Fair Share Act” is sponsored by Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Mark Begich (D-AK), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and leadership member Chuck Schumer (D-NY).

Whitehouse’s office said it’s still waiting for an official score but expects the legislation to produce tens of billions of dollars in deficit reduction. The policy is structured as a minimum tax for people making over $1 million per year.

“It’s inexcusable that our tax system permits ultra-high income earners to pay a lower tax rate than a truck driver or a janitor, and this legislation would help fix that unfair system,” the Rhode Island Democrat said.

 

 

 

Dem Sen Primary Frontrunners Pull Away

National Journal:

Frontrunning Democrats in contested Senate primaries put some more distance between themselves and their opponents during the 4th quarter, applying further pressure on the underdogs to make up ground in races that are looking more and more one-sided:

— In Arizona: Former Surgeon General Richard Carmona’s impressive $570,000 haul — in six weeks — outpaced former state Democratic Party Chairman Don Bivens’s $230,000 take and additional $160,000 in self-funding. What’s more, Carmona wasn’t far off Republican Rep. Jeff Flake’s $607,000 mark — and Flake had a full quarter to raise money.

— In New Mexico: Rep. Martin Heinrich’s $483,000 4th quarter easily outpaced state AuditorHector Balderas’s $108,000. The cash on hand disparity is glaring as well: Heinrich has nearly $1.4 million in the bank while Balderas has just $434,000.

— In Connecticut: — Rep. Chris Murphy’s $720,000 and $2.5 million cash on hand is better than the combined quarterly hauls and cash on hand totals of former Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and state Rep. William Tong. Enough said.

— In Hawaii: Rep. Mazie Hirono raised $624,000 and ended the period with $1 million in the bank. Former Rep. Ed Case still has not released his numbers. That doesn’t portend a big figure for him, and Hirono has outraised him in previous quarters.

 

 

 

 

Club for Growth comes out against Boehner’s highway bill.

The Hill:

A key conservative organization warned Republicans today that it will track Speaker John Boehner’s (Ohio) ambitious highway spending and energy development bill and urged conservatives to vote against the measure later this month.

In an alert posted on its website, the Club for Growth said that “a vote on this plan, and perhaps procedural votes, will be included in the Club’s 2012 Congressional Scorecard” and slammed the measure for not reining in federal infrastructure spending.

“Simply put, this is a massive 846-page bill that doesn’t cut any spending at all,” the notice said. “Indeed, it spends at least $30 billion more by supplementing fuel taxes with additional revenue from other sources.”

The key vote notice has raised some eyebrows in the House, because the club’s president, former Rep. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.), voted for a massive 2005 highway bill that Boehner and a handful of conservatives voted against.

Boehner and other backers of the new bill have touted a number of reforms to the 2005 bill that they have included in the measure to bolster its conservative credentials, along with the fact that by tying spending to revenues from domestic energy production, the measure should be budget-neutral.

Club Communications Director Barney Keller dismissed questions about Chocola’s change in positions.

“The Key Vote Alert speaks for itself,” Keller said. “Clearly, some members of the weak-kneed caucus are worried about primary challenges if they vote for this, and they are upset that they won’t be able to vote for a massive spending bill. The voting record of a former Congressman from Indiana who isn’t on the ballot anywhere in the United States is not an excuse for bad behavior.”

Keller added that the club also opposed the 2005 bill and designated it as a key vote, meaning Chocola, along with other conservatives like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and former Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.) who voted for it, was hit by the group for his vote.

In addition to not including reductions in federal spending, other conservative groups have complained, the Boehner measure does not adequately devolve authority to state and local governments.

“Supporters of the bill will claim that there are plenty of positive reforms in the bill, like no earmarks or enhancement projects, but it’s still a remarkably bloated and inefficient piece of legislation,” the club said in its notice. “True reform would devolve infrastructure building and maintenance back to the states and end or greatly reduce the federal gas tax.”

 

 

 

Classic Example of a Dutiful Republican Protecting the Interests of the Koch Brothers

Addicting Info:

Anyone who needs proof of how the 1% who control much of the wealth in this country, use the Republican Party to advance their agenda and stifle any opposition to their greedy activities, need only watch this video record of the very nasty, unpleasant exchange that took place at the House Energy and Commerce Committee last Wednesday.

In spite of Koch brothers disclaimers that they have no “direct” financial interest in the Keystone XLpipeline project, the ranking Democrat on the Committee smelled a rat and tried to pursue it.  Rep. Henry Waxman (D. Calif) asked that the Committee to subpoena Koch Industries to disclose their direct or indirect financial interests in the massive, continental energy project.

Commerce Committee Chair, Rep. Ed Whitfield, (R. KY) angrily shot the liberal Democrat down faster than you can say, “who are my real constituents again?”  Waxman is no shrinking-violet and took the Chair on even after be politely told to shut-up.   While stifling Waxman’s unflattering suggestion that the Koch brothers are not to be trusted,  Whitfield couldn’t resist the opportunity to promote the current Republican-Koch brothers campaign to suggest that President Obama maliciously wasted tax-payer money on failed solar energy company, Solyndra.

The Koch brothers political front organization, “American for Progress,”  has spent 6 million dollars on a commercial being shown across the nation, that suggests that even while knowing the company would  fail, Obama gave Solyndra tax-payer support as pay back for political support.  The narrative of the commercial suggests that Obama is the worst example of a pay-to-play politician.  Considering who sponsored the commercial, the charge gives new meaning to words like “chutzpah,” and hypocrite.  And have you heard about Don Corleone’s meritorious campaign against gambling and violence?

In light of Whitfield’s actions, does any honest American doubt for one minute that he has or will, receive significant financial support from one or more of the  Koch brothers political action committees? Meet you in 20 years at the Koch brothers Palm Springs retirement village for loyal Republican hacks?

Commerce Committee Chair, Rep. Ed Whitfield, (R. KY) angrily shot the liberal Democrat down faster than you can say, “who are my real constituents again?”  Waxman is no shrinking-violet and took the Chair on even after be politely told to shut-up.   While stifling Waxman’s unflattering suggestion that the Koch brothers are not to be trusted,  Whitfield couldn’t resist the opportunity to promote the current Republican-Koch brothers campaign to suggest that President Obama maliciously wasted tax-payer money on failed solar energy company, Solyndra.

The Koch brothers political front organization, “American for Progress,”  has spent 6 million dollars on a commercial being shown across the nation, that suggests that even while knowing the company would  fail, Obama gave Solyndra tax-payer support as pay back for political support.  The narrative of the commercial suggests that Obama is the worst example of a pay-to-play politician.  Considering who sponsored the commercial, the charge gives new meaning to words like “chutzpah,” and hypocrite.  And have you heard about Don Corleone’s meritorious campaign against gambling and violence?

In light of Whitfield’s actions, does any honest American doubt for one minute that he has or will, receive significant financial support from one or more of the  Koch brothers political action committees? Meet you in 20 years at the Koch brothers Palm Springs retirement village for loyal Republican hacks?

Commerce Committee Chair, Rep. Ed Whitfield, (R. KY) angrily shot the liberal Democrat down faster than you can say, “who are my real constituents again?”  Waxman is no shrinking-violet and took the Chair on even after be politely told to shut-up.   While stifling Waxman’s unflattering suggestion that the Koch brothers are not to be trusted,  Whitfield couldn’t resist the opportunity to promote the current Republican-Koch brothers campaign to suggest that President Obama maliciously wasted tax-payer money on failed solar energy company, Solyndra.

The Koch brothers political front organization, “American for Progress,”  has spent 6 million dollars on a commercial being shown across the nation, that suggests that even while knowing the company would  fail, Obama gave Solyndra tax-payer support as pay back for political support.  The narrative of the commercial suggests that Obama is the worst example of a pay-to-play politician.  Considering who sponsored the commercial, the charge gives new meaning to words like “chutzpah,” and hypocrite.  And have you heard about Don Corleone’s meritorious campaign against gambling and violence?

In light of Whitfield’s actions, does any honest American doubt for one minute that he has or will, receive significant financial support from one or more of the  Koch brothers political action committees? Meet you in 20 years at the Koch brothers Palm Springs retirement village for loyal Republican hacks?

 

 

 

 

POLLS

Gallup: Republicans, Democrats Favor Tax Breaks to Win Back U.S. Jobs

Among five specific economic proposals, both Republicans and Democrats are in favor of giving tax breaks to corporations that bring manufacturing jobs back from overseas and pressuring China for fairer trade. They are sharply divided about increasing federal income taxes on upper-income Americans, increasing federal spending to help the long-term unemployed find jobs, and increasing federal spending on the development of alternative energy sources. The majority of independents favor all five proposals.

The findings are from a Gallup poll conducted Jan. 23, 2012, to gauge support for specific economic proposals President Obama was expected to raise during his State of the Union address. Despite Americans’ dissatisfaction with the size and power of the federal government, they tend to favor specific proposals on how the government could accomplish high-priority goals.

In this case, large majorities of Democrats and independents — and at least 4 in 10 Republicans — favor each of the proposals Gallup asked about, pushing national support for each of the five well above the majority level. Overall support is highest for tax incentives to encourage corporations to bring back manufacturing jobs and for increasing federal spending to help the unemployed find jobs.

Americans’ views of these economic proposals can be partially explained by theirspecific economic concerns. The two most popular proposals — giving tax breaks to companies that bring manufacturing jobs back from overseas, and increasing government spending for education and job training for the long-term unemployed — directly address what Americans clearly perceive as one of the most important problems facing the country — jobs and unemployment.

With Americans less concerned about trade, energy, and taxes, it makes sense that the other three proposals — regarding fair trade with China, the development of alternative energy, and increased taxes on high-income Americans — are less popular.

Implications

Politically, the challenge for President Barack Obama and members of Congress is balancing Americans’ concerns about the role and size of government with their concerns about jobs. These Gallup data make it clear that Americans are more likely to favor federal government action that addresses their top economic concern, jobs and unemployment. Proposals on less top-of-mind concerns are not quite as popular. Still, a majority favors each of these specific proposals Gallup asked about, perhaps because respondents aren’t given a trade-off, such as the specific price tag.

It is also worth noting that despite the large Democratic-Republican divide on increasing taxes on upper-income Americans, federal funding for the development of alternative sources of energy, and education and job training for the long-term unemployed, a majority of independents favor each of these proposals. Further, lawmakers should expect widespread support for legislation that gives tax breaks to corporations that bring back manufacturing jobs from overseas and efforts to pressure China for fairer trade.

 

 

 

 

PublicPolicyPolling: This is now the 2nd poll in a row where we’ve found Obama up 7-9 pts on Romney in Ohio

 

 

 

 

SCIENCE

Scientists close to entering Vostok, Antarctica’s biggest subglacial lake

WaPo:

After drilling for two decades through more than two miles of antarctic ice, Russian scientists are on the verge of entering a vast, dark lake that hasn’t been touched by light for more than 20 million years.

Scientists are enormously excited about what life-forms might be found there but are equally worried about contaminating the lake with drilling fluids and bacteria, and the potentially explosive “de-gassing” of a body of water that has especially high concentrations of oxygen and nitrogen.

To prevent a sudden release of gas, the Russian team will not push the drill far into the lake but just deep enough for a limited amount of water — or the slushy ice on the lake’s surface — to flow up the borehole, where it will then freeze.

Reaching Lake Vostok would represent the first direct contact with what scientists now know is a web of more than 200 subglacial lakes in Antarctica — some of which existed when the continent was connected to Australia and was much warmer. They stay liquid because of heat from the core of the planet.

This is a huge moment for science and exploration, breaking through to this enormous lake that we didn’t even know existed until the 1990s,” said John Priscu, a researcher at Montana State University who has long been involved in antarctic research, including a study of Vostok ice cores.

If it goes well, a breakthrough opens up a whole new chapter in our understanding of our planet and possibly moons in our solar system and planets far beyond,” he said. “If it doesn’t go well, it casts a pall over the whole effort to explore this wet underside of Antarctica.”

Priscu said Russian scientists on the scene e-mailed him last week to say they had stopped drilling about 40 feet from the expected waterline to measure the pressure levels deep below. Priscu said he expected that they were also sending down a special “hot water” drill to make the final push, but a message from the Russian team Monday reported “no news.”

If the Russians break through as planned within the next week, it will cap more than 50 years of research in what are considered the harshest conditions in the world — where the surface temperatures drop to 100 degrees below zero. That extreme cold is likely to return within a few weeks, at the end of the antarctic summer, putting pressure on the Russians to make the final push or pull out until the next antarctic drilling season, starting in December.

The extreme cold, which limited drilling time, contributed to the long duration of the project. The Russian team also ran into delays caused by financial strains and by efforts to address international worries about their drilling operation.

Valery Lukin, who is leading the effort for the Russians, is on the ice. Last year, he told Reuters that their work is “like exploring an alien planet where no one has been before. We don’t know what we’ll find.”

The ‘crown jewel’

American and English teams are planning drilling campaigns next year into much smaller antarctic lakes as scientists work to understand the dynamics of the continent, which holds more than 70 percent of the world’s fresh water. But Vostok — where the former Soviet Union began work after the United States settled in at the South Pole more than 50 years ago — is now acknowledged to be the “crown jewel” of Antarctica from a scientific perspective.

In recent years, researchers have discovered that microbes live in the ice wherever they explore in Antarctica, including deep in the Vostok borehole. This finding has revolutionized thinking about the snow- and ice-
covered continent and has encouraged researchers, including Priscu, to conclude that life almost certainly will be found in Vostok and the other subglacial lakes.

If microbes are found in Vostok, the discovery would have particular significance for astrobiology, the search for life beyond Earth. That’s because Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus have deep ice crusts that scientists think cover large amounts of liquid water warmed by sources other than the sun — just like Vostok.

Because of the stakes involved, the Russian effort has drawn criticism for its extensive use of kerosene, Freon and other chemicals to enable the drilling and to keep the borehole open during the long winter. Priscu said the Russians have worked with an international group he helped form to come up with cleaner ways to drill the final section of the hole.

Organizations including theAntarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, which is the official environmental umbrella group sitting at Antarctic Treaty organization meetings, have spoken against the drilling methods used by the Russians. Some other groups have called for a ban on scientific research beneath the antarctic ice sheet so the area can remain pristine.

Claire Christian, director of the coalition’s secretariat, said her group generally supports study of the subglacial antarctic lakes but wishes that the first entry would not take place at Vostok because of its importance. Of the Russian team, she said, “They have responded to some concerns but are not drilling to the highest standards available.” The Russian team could not be reached for comment.

Researchers such as Robin Bell, of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, said learning more about the subglacial world in Antarctica is essential to understanding the changing climate and how it may effect Earth. Because the continent has so much of the world’s freshwater ice, significant changes there would have a major impact on sea-level rise.

Bell, who has studied Vostok using satellite imaging and other above-surface instruments, said the lake is part of a complex system in which ice sheets bring in meltwater at their bottoms and later carry refrozen water elsewhere. She said that although the lake has not “felt the wind” in 20 million to 30 million years, the water in it is not as ancient — in the 100,000s to low millions of years old. The only ancient water present, she said, is probably in the sediment at the bottom.

She, too, has concerns about contamination and equipment failures but said the Russians see their Vostok work as a high-
profile symbol of scientific exploration and prowess and so are taking extra care.

Danger of giant geyser

Vostok, which is about the size of New Jersey, is the world’s third-largest lake by volume of water. Priscu said the gas in the lake makes it like a can of carbonated soda: Open it under high pressure, and it will spurt out.

He said the doomsday scenario for the Russian breakthrough would be if the suddenly released water pushed its way past machinery to block it and shot up the borehole, which is six to eight inches in diameter at the top. The result, he said, could be an enormous geyser that could empty a quarter of the lake. Priscu said he didn’t expect that to happen, but if it did, the sudden addition of substantial water vapor to the antarctic atmosphere could change the continent’s weather in unpredictable ways.

Some American Antarctica specialists think the combination of the Russian technique and the fact that the team is sampling from the “top” of the subterranean lake means that its chances of finding microbes is lower than if it went deeper into the water. Priscu and his former student Brent Christner, now a professor at Louisiana State University, published a paper in 2006 describing a variety of microbes in a Vostok ice core sample, but the Russian team has generally written off the microbes found as contamination.

American researchers will begin drilling into the Whillans Ice Stream in western Antarctica late this year, and the British will drill into the much deeper Lake Ellsworth, also in western Antarctica. Both are using techniques more consistent with best drilling practices than the Russians are doing at Vostok and are better equipped to find microbial life.

Hopefully, all three projects will succeed, and then we’ll enter a new era of science and maybe cooperation,” Priscu said. “I could imagine an international team going back to Vostok and starting a project to drill much further into the lake with a higher level of technology and innovation.”

  [Just saying.]

 

 

 

UNIONS

 

Indiana Senate passes Right to Work, protest moves to Super Bowl village 

Indy Star:

Gov. Mitch Daniels signed “right to work” legislation this afternoon without a ceremony, making Indiana the 23rd state in the nation with the law.

Supporters said businesses already were lining up to expand or come to Indiana. Opponents had their eye on November’s elections, hoping the anger that brought thousands of union protesters to the Statehouse will propel them to the ballot box to vote against Republicans who pushed the bill.
Daniels skipped the public signing ceremony that usually accompanies a legislative triumph. He and Republican legislative leaders had made passage of the law, which bans union contracts that require fees from nonmembers, their top priority.

They won, despite repeated strikes by House Democrats to stall the bill and despite the daily protests that peaked with Wednesday’s Senate vote.

The bill was rushed to Daniels’ desk, where he signed it into law several hours after the Senate voted 28-22 for its passage.

In an emailed statement, Daniels said Indiana needed the law to draw employers that wouldn’t locate in the state without it.

“This law won’t be a magic answer, but we’ll be far better off with it,” Daniels said. “I respect those who have objected, but they have alarmed themselves unnecessarily: No one’s wages will go down, no one’s benefits will be reduced and the right to organize and bargain is untouched and intact.”

Indiana becomes the first state in the Rust Belt of the industrial Midwest and Northeast to adopt the bill.

Legislative leaders said that fact is having an immediate impact.

Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said a company in Noble County, which he and other lawmakers would not identify, is “planning now to remain in Indiana instead of going to Alabama.”

And, he added, “a company from Michigan was planning to go to a ‘right to work’ state in the South. When they saw what was happening here, (they) invited the state to bid. . . . We are now in consideration for those jobs.”

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he has “been handed emails and listened to voice mails of folks who have made contact with local economic development officers based solely on the passage of this bill. That’s what we’d hoped would occur.”

MORE>>>

 

 

 

 

WEDGE ISSUES

5 Signs the Christian Right Still Wields Too Much Power in America

Alternet:

This month, in a New Republic article titled “The End of the Christian Right,” historian Michael Kazin confidently asserts that “the Christian Right is a fading force in American life, one which has little chance of achieving its cherished goals.”

I have lost count of how many times the Religious Right has been declared dead as a political force by someone in the mainstream media. Maybe Kazin’s piece seemed absurd to me because I read it the day after watching every Republican presidential candidate take time from their South Carolina debate preparation to stop by Ralph Reed’s “Faith and Freedom Coalition” event and pledge devotion to the Religious Right’s agenda.

Kazin acknowledges this dynamic, but says, “whatever their influence on the Republican primary, the Christian Right is fighting a losing battle with the rest of the country – above all, when it comes to abortion and same-sex marriage, the issues they care most about.”

Really? The Washington Post reports that with GOP now in control of both houses of the Virginia legislature, the state’s “most conservative Republicans aren’t holding back” and are pushing legislation that, among other things, will “roll back gay rights” and “beef up gun rights, property rights, parental rights and fetal rights.”

Here are five reasons why we shouldn’t declare the end of the Christian Right.

1. Redefining Religious Liberty 

Kazin does not address church-state separation or efforts by the Religious Right and its allies, particularly the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to redefine religious liberty. In the name of “religious liberty,” they demand religious exemptions from generally applicable laws, but only for their religious beliefs; take government funding for religiously based programs but cry discrimination when a government grant program has anti-discrimination policies incompatible with their religious beliefs; portray those who oppose government funding of religion as anti-religious bigots and and claim oppression when government officials are made to comply with the separation of church and state.

Under President George W. Bush, Religious Right leaders’ political support was rewarded with weakened legal protections against tax dollars being used to fund religious discrimination and proselytizing, troubling changes that have yet to be fully reversed by the Obama administration. A phalanx of conservative Christian legal organizations fights daily to weaken the legal separation of church and state, and to reverse restrictions on overt electoral activity by tax-exempt churches.

2. Lack of Big Names ≠ Lack of Big Influence  

Kazin cites “the absence of effective, well-known leaders” as a reason for the Religious Right’s decline. It’s true that there’s a shortage of household names among the Religious Right’s leadership, and that the endorsement of Rick Santorum by a group of evangelical leaders didn’t give him the boost they had hoped. But that fact reflects at least in part the decentralization and mainstreaming of the movement. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and James Dobson were like Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw back when the networks were the only game in town. Now the Religious Right influences culture and politics through a massive and diffuse infrastructure of religious ministries, educational institutions, think tanks, political organizations, radio and television empires, and online media — not to mention the elected officials they have put into power in Congress and all across the country.

Newt Gingrich has spent years cultivating support among Religious Right activists by attacking “secular elites” and insisting in books like Rediscovering God in America that our country’s greatness is tied to the notion of a divinely inspired American exceptionalism. His fans weren’t going to abandon him on the say-so of  a group of self-appointed leaders.

3. The Leadership Pipeline 

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Rep. Michele Bachmann, and other conservative leaders are products of the Religious Right’s educational and leadership pipeline, which is training thousands of college and law school students how to bring their “biblical worldview” to bear on government, the courts and society in general. Journalist Sarah Posner has reported on law school students being taught to advise clients to follow God’s law rather than man’s law at Liberty University, the Falwell-founded school where Romney’s new debate coach built a powerhouse debating team.

Virginia Gov. McDonnell got an MA and JD from Pat Robertson’s Regent University; Rep. Michele Bachmann got her law degree from the law school at Oral Roberts University, which was later taken over by Regent. Right-wing foundations pour millions each year into conservative college newspapers, leadership training programs, and fellowships at “think tanks” that allow people like Dinesh D’Souza to claim the title of “scholar” while turning out dreck like his book portraying Kenyan anti-colonialism as the roots of Obama’s “rage.”

The Religious Right and its conservative allies have put a lot of like-minded federal judges on the courts in the past two decades, and they’ve done quite well with the John Roberts-led conservative majority on the Supreme Court. Religious Right leaders are pulling out all the stops to make sure a Republican president and Senate are in place; the American Center for Law & Justice’s Jay Sekulow told a Faith and Freedom gathering in South Carolina just before the primary there that if “President Romney” were to name two more justices, Sekulow wouldn’t have to worry any more about counting to five when he had a case before the court.

Newt Gingrich, who swamped Romney in South Carolina, staked out a more radical approach to the judiciary were he to be elected president. Gingrich says he would ignore rulings he disagrees with and abolish courts that rule in ways that displease him; he frequently cites church-state issues when complaining about the courts.

4. The Assault on Choice and Family Planning  

The 2010 wave of right-wing electoral victories at the state level has brought an accelerated attack on women’s healthcare. According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, 69 anti-choice measures became law in 25 states last year; some of these laws ban pre-viability abortions without meaningful exceptions for women’s health and are clearly designed to challenge Roe v. Wade. Some are designed to force clinics to close and simply make abortion inaccessible for even more women. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 87 percent of U.S. counties already have no abortion providers. A consistent Religious Right rallying cry in recent years has been to “defund Planned Parenthood,” with no apparent regard for the impact on women who count on the organization for basic medical care. Last year, seven states restricted or barred family planning funds from going to Planned Parenthood or any health center that provides abortion care.

Kazin believes it is “exceedingly unlikely” that a President Romney would sign a draconian anti-abortion bill. Why is that? Romney has said repeatedly that he believes life begins “at conception” and would back efforts to enshrine that in law or even in the Constitution. It’s true, as Kazin notes, that Mississippi voters recently rejected a “personhood” amendment. But just this week every GOP candidate except Romney took part in an event organized by PersonhoodUSA  — at which it wasn’t sufficient for candidates to repeat the “at conception” dogma. They had to agree that legal rights begin at the sperm-meets-egg moment. That this extreme and hugely problematic principle is embraced by presidential contenders is a clear sign of the Religious Right’s continuing influence.

Romney, who named Robert Bork to head his legal advisory team, would almost certainly nominate Supreme Court justices who would continue to chip away at a woman’s right to a legal abortion if not overturn Roe v. Wade altogether — another of Romney’s stated goals. That would throw the question of legal access to abortion to the states, where a number of laws criminalizing abortion have already been passed contingent on Roe falling. Does Kazin really believe that if the 2012 elections bring us a Republican president and Republican congressional majorities, the Republican base will not demand — and get — further restrictions on women’s access to abortion and family planning?

5. Massive Resistance to LGBT Equality  

Kazin is correct that the Religious Right is losing the public opinion battle when it comes to support for equality for LGBT Americans, where progress has been extraordinary. The hard-fought end to the ban on military service is a sign that laws are beginning to catch up with public opinion.

But just because the Religious Right is a minority does not make it a powerless one. They and their allies in Congress have managed to prevent passage of federal anti-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in spite of overwhelming public support for such measures. And they have managed to pass dozens of state-level constitutional amendments denying same-sex couples the right to marry – many of those provisions also preventing even the most basic legal recognition and protection for gay couples and their families. In 2010, Maine voters overturned an equality law after opponents forced it onto the ballot. New Yorkers won marriage equality last year (barely), but residents in Maryland and New Jersey did not. There will be several tests in legislatures and the ballot box, both pro and con, in 2012; we may see additional victories, but they are far from assured.

It is good news that support for equality is high among younger Americans, so time seems to be on our side when it comes to LGBT equality, but to cite an economic aphorism, “in the long run we’re all dead.”  Many individuals and families have been harmed and will continue to be harmed by anti-equality campaigns waged by the Religious Right and its allies in the Catholic and Mormon hierarchies.

Progress is not linear or irreversible. Reconstruction gave way to Jim Crow. Kazin looks at statistics about young people’s attitudes, and at the growing group of Americans who claim no religious affiliation, and declares “the end of the Christian Right.” But the increasing number of secular-minded Americans does not prevent the well-organized forces of the Religious Right from continuing to impact public policy, especially in areas of the country where they are strongest. This political and cultural movement will not be sinking beneath the horizon anytime soon.

 

 

 

Susan G. Komen For The Cure Shamefully Makes Breast Cancer Political

Addicting Info:

Every year you hear it, a voice comes on the TV instructing you to “Save Lids, Save Lives.” That every pink lid you collect Yoplait will make a donation to Susan G. Komen For The Cure. According to Yoplait’s own web site these fundraisers have brought in over $30 million. In fact, Susan G Komen For The Cure is known as the largest breast cancer organization in the entire country. You would think that their primary goal then would be to raise as much money as they could and then use that money for breast cancer research and prevention. It seems, however, that Komen has a different objective, one that outweighs their desire to make breast cancer a thing of the past.  But politics meant more than prevention this week to the Komen Foundation as they made an announcement: They will be pulling all funding from Planned Parenthood.

To some on the right side of the political spectrum this may make sense. They may have the illusion that this foundation is actually doing something good. But the bitter reality is that this foundation just left thousands, possibly millions, of women without the ability to get breast exams and mammograms. And without the ability to get screenings and preventative care, some women will likely die. Planned Parenthood clinics across the country provide vital screening and diagnostic services to those who cannot afford a clinic. And cancer, unlike political leaning, does not seem to change whether you have billions of dollars or just a few. In 2011, several states also defunded Planned Parenthood.

It is a fact that only three percent of Planned Parenthood services are abortion related. The rest of their services? Well these are things that are vital, especially given that many Planned Parenthood clinics are in low income areas. They provide a whole list of non-abortion services including but not limited to, birth control, sexual health education, STD diagnosis and treatment, breast and other cancer diagnosis and prevention. In fact, in many communities, Planned Parenthood is the only place a person can go to learn about sex education. Educating children with accurate information is the first step towards preventing unwanted pregnancies. Unfortunately for all women, Susan G. Komen For The Cure, may have just signed their death wish and death warrants for unknown numbers of low and moderate income women who have no health insurance. The stories are out there. I personally know an individual that only survived breast cancer because Planned Parenthood caught it early. So next time you hear someone attempt to justify cutting funding for this vital organization by using religion, tell them what they’re really doing. Signing a death wish for the poor.  Sounds real “Christian” to me!

Jeremy Ryan

Executive Director

Defending Wisconsin PAC

jryan[email protected]

[Editor's Note: Donations made through this post go to the author, not the website]

Note: Segway Jeremy Ryan has become a full-time member of the protests at the Wisconsin State Capitol. Formerly a businessman, he gave up his business to join the fight for the middle class in the State of Wisconsin. Through videos and writings he has informed hundreds of thousands of people about what was going on at the Wisconsin State Capitol once the mainstream media had mostly abandoned the protests. His full-time activism is completely funded by the people. If you would like to help out please click here.

 

 

 

As the Komen backlash continues: Has feminism been replaced by the pink-ribbon breast cancer cult?

Mother Jones:

Has feminism been replaced by the pink-ribbon breast cancer cult? When the House of Representatives passed the Stupak amendment, which would take abortion rights away even from women who have private insurance, the female response ranged from muted to inaudible.

A few weeks later, when the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommended that regular screening mammography not start until age 50, all hell broke loose. Sheryl Crow, Whoopi Goldberg, and Olivia Newton-John raised their voices in protest; a few dozen non-boldface women picketed the Department of Health and Human Services.  If you didn’t look too closely, it almost seemed as if the women’s health movement of the 1970s and 1980s had returned in full force.

Never mind that Dr. Susan Love, author of what the New York Timesdubbed “the bible for women with breast cancer,” endorses the new guidelines along with leading women’s health groups like Breast Cancer Action, the National Breast Cancer Coalition, and the National Women’s Health Network (NWHN). For years, these groups have been warning about the excessive use of screening mammography in the US, which carries its own dangers and leads to no detectible lowering of breast cancer mortality relative to less mammogram-happy nations.

Nonetheless, on CNN last week, we had the unsettling spectacle of NWHN director and noted women’s health advocate Cindy Pearson speaking out for the new guidelines, while ordinary women lined up to attribute their survival from the disease to mammography. Once upon a time, grassroots women challenged the establishment by figuratively burning their bras. Now, in some masochistic perversion of feminism, they are raising their voices to yell, “Squeeze our tits!”

When the Stupak anti-choice amendment passed, and so entered the health reform bill, no congressional representative stood up on the floor of the House to recount how access to abortion had saved her life or her family’s well-being. And where were the tea-baggers when we needed them? If anything represents the true danger of “government involvement” in health care, it’s a health reform bill that – if the Senate enacts something similar—will snatch away all but the wealthiest women’s right to choose.

It’s not just that abortion is deemed a morally trickier issue than mammography. To some extent, pink-ribbon culture has replaced feminism as a focus of female identity and solidarity. When a corporation wants to signal that it’s “woman friendly,” what does it do?  It stamps a pink ribbon on its widget and proclaims that some miniscule portion of the profits will go to breast cancer research. I’ve even seen a bottle of Shiraz called “Hope” with a pink ribbon on its label, but no information, alas, on how much you have to drink to achieve the promised effect. When Laura Bush traveled to Saudi Arabia in 2007, what grave issue did she take up with the locals? Not women’s rights (to drive, to go outside without a man, etc.), but “breast cancer awareness.” In the post-feminist United States, issues like rape, domestic violence, and unwanted pregnancy seem to be too edgy for much public discussion, but breast cancer is all apple pie.

So welcome to the Women’s Movement 2.0: Instead of the proud female symbol—a circle on top of a cross—we have a droopy ribbon. Instead of embracing the full spectrum of human colorsblack, brown, red, yellow, and white—we stick to princess pink. While we used to march in protest against sexist laws and practices, now we race or walk “for the cure.” And while we once sought full “consciousness” of all that oppresses us, now we’re content to achieve “awareness,” which has come to mean one thing—dutifully baring our breasts for the annual mammogram.

Look, the issue here isn’t health-care costs. If the current levels of screening mammography demonstrably saved lives, I would say go for it, and damn the expense. But the numbers are increasingly insistent: Routine mammographic screening of women under 50 does not reduce breast cancer mortality in that group, nor do older women necessarily need an annual mammogram. In fact, the whole dogma about “early detection” is shaky, as Susan Love reminds us:  the idea has been to catch cancers early, when they’re still small, but some tiny cancers are viciously aggressive, and some large ones aren’t going anywhere.

One response to the new guidelines has been that numbers don’t matter—only individuals do—and if just one life is saved, that’s good enough. So OK, let me cite my own individualexperience. In 2000, at the age of 59, I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer on the basis of one dubious mammogram followed by a really bad one, followed by a biopsy.  Maybe I should be grateful that the cancer was detected in time, but the truth is, I’m not sure whether these mammograms detected the tumor or, along with many earlier ones, contributed to it: One known environmental cause of breast cancer is radiation, in amounts easily accumulated through regular mammography.

And why was I bothering with this mammogram in the first place? I had long ago made the decision not to spend my golden years undergoing cancer surveillance, but I wanted to get my Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) prescription renewed, and the nurse practitioner wouldn’t do that without a fresh mammogram.

As for the HRT, I was taking it because I had been convinced, by the prevailing medical propaganda, that HRT helps prevent heart disease and Alzheimer’s. In 2002, we found out that HRT is itself a risk factor for breast cancer (as well as being ineffective at warding off heart disease and Alzheimer’s), but we didn’t know that in 2000. So did I get breast cancer because of the HRT—and possibly because of the mammograms themselves—or did HRT lead to the detection of a cancer I would have gotten anyway?

I don’t know, but I do know that that biopsy was followed by the worst six months of my life, spent bald and barfing my way through chemotherapy. This is what’s at stake here: Not only the possibility that some women may die because their cancers go undetected, but that many others will lose months or years of their lives to debilitating and possibly unnecessary treatments.

You don’t have to be suffering from “chemobrain” (chemotherapy-induced cognitive decline) to discern evil, iatrogenic, profit-driven forces at work here.  In a recent column on the new guidelines, patient-advocate Naomi Freundlich raises the possibility that “entrenched interests—in screening, surgery, chemotherapy and other treatments associated with diagnosing more and more cancers—are impeding scientific evidence.” I am particularly suspicious of the oncologists, who saw their incomes soar starting in the late 80s when they began administering and selling chemotherapy drugs themselves in their ghastly, pink-themed, “chemotherapy suites.” Mammograms recruit women into chemotherapy, and of course, the pink-ribbon cult recruits women into mammography.

What we really need is a new women’s health movement, one that’s sharp and skeptical enough to ask all the hard questions: What are the environmental (or possibly life-style) causes of the breast cancer epidemic? Why are existing treatments like chemotherapy so toxic and heavy-handed? And, if the old narrative of cancer’s progression from “early” to “late” stages no longer holds, what is the course of this disease (or diseases)? What we don’t need, no matter how pretty and pink, is a ladies’ auxiliary to the cancer-industrial complex.

 

 

 

 

Catholic backlash against President Obama grows 

National Journal:

The American Catholic backlash against the administration’s treatment of contraceptive services in the new health care law continues to grow, threatening President Obama’s support among a key group of swing voters that was critical to his victory in 2008.

In the 11 days since the Health and Human Services Department announced its new policy, the administration has been condemned even by progressive Catholic leaders and, remarkably, denounced from the pulpit in thousands of Catholic churches across the country and by bishops representing more than 100 dioceses. At issue are the regulations released Jan. 20 that require women’s contraceptive services to be covered by insurance policies under the president’s Affordable Care Act. The church had sought a broad exemption for the many Catholic institutions in the country to recognize its canonical opposition to artificial birth control. Instead, HHS excluded only “religious employers” that primarily employ members of their own faith communities. This narrow exception protects those who work directly for Catholic churches, but not the many Catholic universities, hospitals, or social-service agencies such as Catholic Charities.

The explosion of anger from American church leaders was immediate. On Sunday, bishops in at least 125 of the 195 dioceses in the country had letters of protest read from the pulpit at all Masses. Four bishops – in Phoenix; Cincinnati; Green Bay, Wis.; and Lubbock, Texas – warned of civil disobedience. “We cannot – we will not comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens,” said the letter from Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix.

No bishop was swayed by the fact that the administration is giving religious communities a year to figure out how to comply. New York Bishop Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, dismissed this, saying, “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.”  Dolan, a cardinal-designate who will receive his red cap at a ceremony in the Vatican later this month, added, “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their health care is literally unconscionable.”

Dolan is a conservative. But he had met with the president in November and left the meeting optimistic that the ruling would not be so unfriendly to the church. Just as dismayed were liberal Catholics who had rallied behind Obama in 2008 and defended him when he was honored at University of Notre Dame in 2009 despite his advocacy of abortion rights. They believed he understood Catholic sensitivities and appreciated the good works done by Catholic-affiliated agencies. But as Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, who often writes from the progressive Catholic perspective, wrote this week, the president “utterly botched” the decision, adding, “Obama threw his progressive Catholic allies under the bus.”

On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney dismissed Dionne’s criticism as “a political observation,” contrasting it with what he called “a policy based on the merits.” The administration, he said, “believes that this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious beliefs and increasing access to important preventive services.” He promised to “continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concerns.”

He added, “I also would just note that our robust partnerships with the Catholic Church and other communities of faith will continue. The administration has provided over $2 billion to Catholic organizations over the past three years in addition to numerous nonfinancial partnerships that promote healthy communities and serve the common good.” Carney would not be drawn into an argument with the bishops; nor would he comment on those bishops who have threatened civil disobedience. “We understand that not everyone agrees with it,” he said. “All I can tell you is it was made after very careful consideration based on the need to balance those two issues.”

But there is a political warning in the bishops’ protests. It is not that American Catholics march in lockstep behind the bishops. Quite the contrary. Most American Catholics already disregard church teachings against birth control. And the church hierarchy has probably never been held in lower regard by American Catholics angry at attempted cover-ups of sexual crimes and resentful whenever priests try to tell them how to vote. But this is not like 2004 when it was just a handful of conservative prelates threatening to deny Communion to Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry, a Catholic. This time, it is the majority of bishops. And this time, it is the church fighting back against Washington telling it what it must do with its own employees.

The numbers contain the political warnings. Fifty-five of the bishops represent dioceses in what will be battleground states in the election – seven from Michigan; six each from Florida and Pennsylvania; five each from Ohio and Wisconsin; three from Iowa, New Jersey, Missouri, Arizona, and Colorado.

Additionally, the clout of the Catholic vote is unquestioned. Since 1972, only once has a candidate won the presidency despite losing the Catholic vote, according to network exit polls. That lone exception was 2000 when Democrat Al Gore won 50 percent of Catholics but lost in the Electoral College to Republican George W. Bush, who got 47 percent of Catholics. If Hispanic Catholics are excluded and only white Catholics counted, the winning streak is unbroken: From 1972 to 2008, the candidate who got the most votes from white Catholics won the election.

In 2008, Obama trailed Republican John McCain among all Catholics for most of the campaign, but made a late surge to overtake him. Gallup showed him winning Catholics 53 to 47 percent. The media exit polls had him winning 54 to 45 percent.

The political clout is enhanced by the reality that the battleground states often have the highest concentrations of Catholics. In 2010, there were 77.7 million American Catholics, 25 percent of the population. And Catholics are the big swing vote in the key political states. In 2008 numberscompiled by the Official Catholic Directory, Catholics made up 41 percent in New Jersey, 32 percent in Nevada, 30 percent in Illinois and Wisconsin, 28 percent in Pennsylvania, 25 percent in New Mexico, 24 percent in New Hampshire, 22 percent in Michigan, 21 percent in Minnesota, 18 percent in Ohio, 17 percent in Iowa, and 13 percent in Missouri and Florida.

 

 

 

 

ABC News: Planned Parenthood Defends Obama Against Catholic Criticism

Following a barrage of criticism of the Obama administration from the Catholic Church, Planned Parenthood today launched a national TV ad campaign praising newly mandated contraception coverage in health insurance plans, including those offered by religiously affiliated institutions.

President Obama and Secretary Sebelius stood strong to make sure all women — no matter where they work — will have access to birth control without a co-pay, saving them hundreds of dollars,” the narrator says in the 30-second spot. (You can view it HERE.)

The move has been celebrated by women’s rights groups — key supporters ofObama’s re-election bid — but vigorously opposed by Catholic groups, who say the requirement violates religious liberty.  Catholic teaching opposes contraception.

Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards dismissed the Catholic concerns about the new policy in a statement accompanying the ad, saying that birth control use is “nearly universal in the U.S., even among Catholic women.”

Richards cites an April 2011 Guttmacher Institute study that found 98 percent of Catholic women reported using birth control at some point in their lives. She also notes an NPR report that many Catholic hospitals and universities already offer health insurance plans that provide birth control coverage to their employees.

Planned Parenthood respects religious freedom and believes that neither government nor employers should intrude on individuals’ ability to practice their own religions or faiths, including their personal decisions about health care,” Richards said.

The TV ad will air in West Palm Beach, Fla.; Cedar Rapids, Ia.; Lansing, Mich.; Reno, Nev.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Toledo, Ohio.; Charlottesville, Va.; and Madison, Wis.

Meanwhile, Catholic activists and church leaders are vowing to fight the new rules.

We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law,” Thomas Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix, wrote in a letter to parishioners Sunday.  “People of faith cannot be made second-class citizens.”

This is a direct attack on our religious freedom and our First Amendment rights,” Atlanta archbishop Wilton Gregory said in a letter. “I will work with the bishops, other religious leaders and our fellow Americans to remove this unjust regulation.”

The move could also have consequences for Obama in November.

I don’t think Catholic liberals are en masse going to leave Obama but they are disappointed,” Mathew N. Schmalz, a professor of religion and comparative studies at the College of  the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.,told ABC News. “High-profile Catholics who have supported Obama are put in a more difficult position because of this.”

The Komen Foundation’s Black Eye

The Atlantic:

[…] The skepticism is further fueled by the weirdness of a rule letting any city council member or random state legislator decide to defund a Komen grantee just by starting an “investigation.” The Department of HHS rejected Stearns’ invitation to look into Planned Parenthood months ago, and, even if he were dead on, Stearns isn’t suggesting there’s something wrong with Planned Parenthood’s cancer screening. What if the IRS was looking into a hospital’s tax status? Or almost any member of the Arizona legislature was worrying that an in-state facility with Komen money was harboring illegal immigrants? Would Komen have to pull their funding too?

In a ghastly coincidence, the same day Komen pulled the money from Planned Parenthood because Stearns thought they were spending federal funds on abortions, the Journal of the America Medical Association published a damning study that almost half of women receiving second surgeries after lumpectomies didn’t need the procedure. Painful, disfiguring, unnecessary surgery. At least three of the four sites studied in the JAMA report — the University of Vermont, Kaiser Permanente Colorado, and the Marshfield Clinic — has a relationship with the Komen Foundation. Kaiser Permanente is a “corporate campaign partner,” the University of Vermont received a research grant, the Central Wisconsin Komen affiliate sponsors programs at the Marshfield Clinic. Maybe Komen should concentrate their granting criteria on whether the recipients are actually helping cancer patients.

TAKE ACTION

MoveOn Petition: Susan G. Komen for the Cure: Put Women’s Lives Before Politics

 

 

Credo: Tell the board of Susan G. Komen for a Cure: Don’t throw Planned Parenthood under the bus!

 

 

Help Reverse Susan G. Komen’s Decision About Funding Planned Parenthood
Shoq Value:

Backstory on this issue

Progressives MUST push back against this kind of political tampering or the Right wing will learn to apply it wherever they can. Please take a few minutes and help to reverse this obscene development.

Ways You Can Help:

1) SWAMP Komen’s contact form with your protest messages.

http://ww5.komen.org/contact.aspx

2) CALL Komen’s switchboard at 1-877-465-6636 them and express your outrage.

If you’re at a loss for your own words, just say this:

“PLEASE RETHINK YOUR POLITICAL AGENDAS AND FOCUS ON WOMEN’S HEALTH.”

3) SIGN this petition:

http://signon.org/sign/susan-g-komen-for-the?source=s.tw&r_by=510875

4) Call a friend and have them join you in GIVING any amount directly to Planned Parenthood.

A big bump in giving to them will send a big message. https://secure.ppaction.org/site/Donation2?df_id=3792&3792.donation=form1&s_src=SGKFundraising_0112_c3_pptw

5) Hammer out your outrage on their Facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/susangkomenforthecure/posts/10151256882495157

6) Join us in tweeting (and retweeting) “#NewKomenSlogan.”

Be sure to include @komenForTheCure so they are sure to get the message in their social media inbox. Here is the hashtag stream:
https://twitter.com/#!/search?q=%23NewKomenSlogan

7) Contact Komen’s Board Directly.

If someone will find their emails and I will post them.

Promote the Facebook version of this page, too. Thanks!

http://www.facebook.com/shoqq/posts/374633399229795

9) Use the tweet button below and pass this page around.

Related

Full list of Komen corporate partners here: Let them know how you feel.

 

 

 

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY:

 

Words cannot describe the indignation a proud woman feels for her sex in disfranchisement.
~~~Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Written by Chernynkaya

I am an artist and have lived in Los Angeles all of my life, except for a brief hippie period when I lived in SF. I am currently (semi-unwillingly) retired, but have had several careers.

9 Responses so far.

Click here to leave a comment
  1. AdLib says:

    A great read, Cher!

    On the AA bankruptcy:

    The 24,000-member Transportation Workers Union is demanding the bankrupt airline halt its plans to hire Bain – for what it calls a “blatantly excessive and unfair” $525,000 per month – to extract concessions from current and retired employees, the TWU says.

    “They’re solely there as a vulture just to eliminate jobs,” said TWU local union President Sidney Jimenez.

    “When a presidential nominee is running for president and he’s lining his pockets and actually still deriving a lot of his wealth from Bain & Company, I think that needs to come to the public foreground,” Jimenez said.

    http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/local/American-Airlines-Union-Vows-to-Protest-Romney-in-Florida-137939123.html

    • Chernynkaya says:

      I also meant to add: Thanks! You know, there are some days when almost everything I read seems real important to me. I don’t know if they actually are, but yesterday was one of those days when I would read something and think, OMG! :lol: Actually, those are my favorite days.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Adlib, what a great tie-in to Bain by AA workers! I hope it gets more press. BTW, did you hear anything about a bailout from the government? I haven’t seem anything but there is some rumor on Twitter--probably unfounded (I hope.) And I love that Obama’s appointee from the Pension Benefit Guarantee is going to make a LOT of trouble for AA!

      • choicelady says:

        It’s damn well about time! PBGC exists for hardship NOT for cushy living for corporate bottom lines. Do the execs at AA NOT remember that they lost people on 9/11? These are NOT fungible commodities, Board members, they are the backbone of your service! Pensions are THEIRS, and the sooner we stop deciding the “corporate contribution” belongs to the corporation the better off Americans will be. No -- they belong to the employee -- it’s the market contract you’d not abrogate with anyone but, well, REAL people.

        Stick it to ‘em, PBGC!

  2. Hey cher, great line up today. I’ve posted this quotation before, but I think it especially fits in regard to the Supreme Court and it’s ruling on Citizen’s United;

    “Many of those who desire to form aristocratic governments make a mistake, not only in giving too much power to the rich, but in attempting to overreach the people. There comes a time when out of a false good there arises a true evil, since the encroachments of the rich are more destructive to the constitution than those of the people.”
    Aristotle

    • agrippa says:

      Aristotle is quite right.

      It has been a common belief of aristocrats, from well before the time of Aristotyle, that onlu aristocrats have the right to rule.

      It was a principle of the Roman Republic that aristocrats had the right to rule.
      That belief remains alive and well in some quarters.

    • Chernynkaya says:

      Hey, KT, great quote and very apt. It’s getting worse than I could have imagined--here’s a preview:

      My view had always been that most (for profit) corporations would not want to stick their necks out and risk alienating customers by putting their names on independent ads. For corporate money to really matter, there would have to be a way to filter it through committees and sometimes to hide the money entirely. Thanks to Super PACs and the transformation of 501c4′s, both of these are now possible and we are witnessing the corporate money coming in….We don’t know how much corporate money is coming in now (and as to 501c4s, because of lack of disclosure we likely will never have the full picture). But it seems a safe bet that there is lot more corporate money coming into the system than was (barely) allowed in the pre-Citizens United world.

      ….My big concern before yesterday was that we would see a lot of transfers of money from 501c4s to affiliated Super PACs to shield the identity of donors to Super PACs. I’m still trying to get a handle on how much of this took place (apparently less than I thought). But the reason these transfers are not taking place is that it appears the 501c4s are engaging in much more direct election-related activity than they have in the past. That is, we are seeing some 501c4s becoming pure election vehicles.

      http://motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/02/super-pacs-are-already-yesterdays-news
      MONEY LAUNDERING BY CONGRESS.

      • choicelady says:

        It might benefit California residents AND everyone else to know that the Fair Political Practices Commission determined that Citizens United did NOT prohibt each state from demanding full disclosure of contributors to PACs and 527 independent expenditure campaigns. While they did not ask a great deal of them, FPPC does currently demand that the top TWO donors be publicly revealed. The DISCLOSE Act died Tuesday, but it is coming back loudly in about a month. It is AB 1148 all you Californians (though it might have a new number when it’s re-entered) that insists the top THREE funders be public on ALL CAMPAIGN ADS, regardless of whether they are independent expenditures or candidates’ ads. And the top FIVE have to be disclosed to FPPC (that has a very public web page where you can learn that information.) So everyone in CA -- watch for the updates. I WILL be keeping you informed.

        Other folks, other states (OK -- Ohio? Probably not going to work there) can do the same. Demand your state political regulation commission or agency gets disclosure of at LEAST the top two. Use CA as a precedent. The man who did this was Dan Schnur -- a Republican.


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