The Daily Planet, Vol. 202

Technical issues seem resolved, so please excuse these somewhat stale items. Perhaps there are a few you missed. 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

Just As Predicted 

Bob Cesca:

Just as predicted, the Republicans are now floating a proposal to delay the automatic triggers that were passed into law under the Budget Control Act (the debt ceiling bill)

Senate Republicans unveiled a proposal Thursday to avoid or delay looming, automatic cuts to defense and security programs by reducing the federal work force by five percent and freezing federal pay for two and a half years.

In a bid to recruit Democratic support for their legislation, the authors of the plan say it saves enough money to forestall automatic cuts to domestic programs, also set to kick in on January 2013. But they continue to oppose using any new tax revenues to offset any of these costs — and in so doing they exposed a contradiction at the heart of their fiscal policy. They oppose tax increases, they say, because of their impact on economic growth — yet their plan to avoid tax increases involves deliberately shrinking demand for jobs.

It’s easy to see the Democrats going along with a pay-freeze because that’s something congress can easily reverse, however it’s unlikely they will agree to cutting the federal workforce by 5 percent.

Will the Republicans accept just a pay-freeze in exchange for delaying the automatic triggers? If the Democrats play their cards right, absolutely. And for their part, the Democrats do seem to be playing this correctly by vowing to stick by the cuts while it is politically convenient to do so. The tune will change when we get closer to fiscal 2013.

I’ll go out on a limb now and predict that if the automatic triggers do end up being delayed, they will never happen.

 

 

House GOP Denies The Deficit Exists: 

Jordan Ashby:

According to House Republicans the Bush Tax Cuts, the single largest contributor to our national deficit, didn’t actually add anything to the deficit. Or something.

Every House Republican voted Thursday to reject the proposition that the Bush tax cuts added to the deficit.

Joined by just a handful of Democrats, the full Republican conference rejected a measure that would have affirmed what nearly all budget experts and economists recognized: President George W. Bush’s debt-financed tax cuts blew up the budget in the last decade, leaving the country in a hole that sank into a chasm after the 2008 financial crisis.

The final tally was 174-244. If it had passed, it would have amended a GOP-backed bill that would have changed the way neutral budget score-keepers analyze the effects of taxation —to make it appear as if unpaid-for tax cuts don’t deepen deficits.

Because tax cuts pay for themselves, right?

 

 

BUSINESS

ABC News: McDonald’s Announces End to ‘Pink Slime’ in Burgers

McDonald’s has announced that it will be discontinuing the use of the controversial meat product known as boneless lean beef trimmings in its burgers.

The product was recently brought to the attention of the public by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who derisively referred to it as “pinkslime” on an episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.

These trimmings, which consist of what’s left of the meat after all the choice cuts of beef are taken, are banned for human consumption in the U.K, where they are instead used for dog and chicken food. They are legal for consumption in the United States, however, where they are treated with ammonium hydroxide in order to kill off bacteria such as E. coli and make it safe for human consumption.

Beef Products Incorporated, the company that had previously supplied McDonald’s with boneless lean beef trimmings, denied that Oliver’s show had anything to do with decision, saying it was made long before the show aired and was based on BPI’s inability to supply McDonald’s on a global basis.

 

 

 

5.6 Million Americans Have Switched Their Banks In The Last 90 Days 

ThinkProgress:

Back in November, the Occupy Wall Street movement inspired “Bank Transfer Day,” a day for Americans fed up with the actions of the nation’s biggest banks to move their money to a different institution. Initial estimates of the impact of Bank Transfer Day placed the number of accounts moved at around 600,000, but later estimates revised that downward to around 200,000.

However, new estimates from Javelin Strategy and Research, a research and consulting firm, show that the original numbers were closer to the truth. Javelin found that 5.6 million people have moved their bank accounts in the last 90 days, with 610,000 citing Bank Transfer Day as their reason:

Bank Transfer Day and the Occupy Movement have received tremendous attention, and for the first time we have market research data to measure the impact on the financial services industry. Javelin’s research estimates that 5.6 million U.S. adults with a banking relationship changed providers in the past 90 days. Of those switchers, 610,000 US adults (or 11% of the 5.6 million) cited Bank Transfer Day as their reason and actually moved their accounts from a large to a small institution.

Javelin noted that this pace of account closing is three times the normal rate. While 11 percent of people moving their accounts cited Bank Transfer Day, one quarter said they moved their money because their old institution charged too many fees. Account closures at Bank of America, the nation’s second largest bank, actually jumped 20 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, potentially driven by the bank’s ill-fated decision to implement a $5 monthly fee for its debt cards.

According to the consulting firm cg42, the nation’s 10 biggest banks could lose as much as $185 billion in deposits this year due to customer defections. Of those banks, “Bank of America is the most vulnerable and could lose up to 10% of its customers and $42 billion in consumer deposits.” (HT: Business Insider)

 

 

 

ECONOMY

 

 

Reuters: Fed will protect U.S. from Europe fallout: Bernanke 

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Thursday defended the U.S. central bank’s policies against charges from Republican lawmakers they risked sparking inflation, saying the economy still needs plenty of support.

Testifying before Congress, the Fed chief was repeatedly thrown on the defensive as he parried critiques from Republican lawmakersover the Fed’s zero interest rate policy, its focus on employment and its policy prescriptions for housing.

Bernanke told the House Budget Committee that Europe’s financial crisis still threatened the U.S. recovery, and said the Fed would do everything it can to ward off damage.

“The basic reason for low long-term rates, which are also a feature of every other industrial economy, are low inflation, slow expected growth and the fact that the dollar is a safe haven,” Bernanke said.

Paul Ryan, the committee’s Republican chairman, took issue with the central bank’s new 2 percent inflation target, saying a Fed policy statement last week suggested it would be willing to tolerate higher inflation nonetheless.

Bernanke pushed back against that idea: “We are not seeking higher inflation, we do not want higher inflation and we’re not tolerating higher inflation.”

After slashing rates to near zero in late 2008, the Fed bought $2.3 trillion in bonds in a further effort to spur the economy. Many analysts expect it will further expand its portfolio in the months ahead with another round of purchases.

Last week, the Fed said U.S. overnight interest rates would likely remain near zero until at least through late 2014, a pledge widely seen as an effort to push other borrowing costs lower to spur stronger growth and job creation.

NOT SATISFIED

Bernanke said he was seeing signs that some of the factors dampening U.S. business investment, including uncertainty surrounding European bank woes, might be waning. But he added it was far too soon to say whether the United States would remain unscathed by troubles beyond its borders.

“Risks remain that developments in Europe or elsewhere may unfold unfavorably and could worsen economic prospects here at home,” Bernanke said. “We will continue to monitor the situation closely and take every available step to protect the U.S. financial system and the economy.” […]

The Fed chief reiterated his hedge on U.S. budget policy. He argued that long-term deficits raised the possibility of a crisis but warned against near-term fiscal tightening that might threaten the recovery.

“Even as fiscal policymakers address the urgent issue of fiscal sustainability, they should take care not to unnecessarily impede the current economic recovery,” Bernanke said. “The sluggish expansion has left the economy vulnerable to shocks.”

 

 

 

 

THE REAL CLASS WARFARE: Dissecting Romney’s Statement: What Are Problems the Middle-Class Has That the Poor Don’t?

Rortybomb:

I’m sure you’ve seen the latest by Mitt Romney. On CNN he said:

I’m in this race because I care about Americans. I’m not concerned about the very poor, we have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I’ll fix it. I’m not concerned about the very rich, they’re doing just fine. I’m concerned about the very heart of America, the 90-95% of Americans that are struggling.”

He clarified by saying:

I’m sure there are places where people fall between the cracks,” Romney said. “And finding those places is one of the things that is the responsibility of government. We do have a very ample safety net in America, with Medicaid, housing vouchers, food stamps, earned income tax credit. We have a number of ways of helping the poor. And yet my focus and the area that I think is the greatest challenge that the country faces right now is not, is not to focus our effort on how we help the poor as much as to focus our effort on how to help the middle class in America, and get more people in the middle class and get people out of being poor and becoming middle income.”

Andrew Sullivan has a set of links on the right-wing going into defense and worry mode over the comment – it’s good stuff.  Jared Bernstein has an excellent post noting that Romney’s budget would destroy this safety net.

Since Romney’s defending it and probably believes it, let’s dissect this argument.  A quick glance would show that things like unemployment are worse in places that are poorer.  Yet Romney’s comments are predicated on there being a set of problems – problems that have policy solutions – that impact middle-class people but do not impact the poor.  Let’s try to make a list of these problems, stipulating in advance we might not find them convincing.

Problem 1.  Middle-Class People Have to Work

The most obvious take-away is that the poor receive a near-middle class lifestyle off the generosity of the government, and don’t even have to pay or work for it.  Here’s Bethany Mandel at Commentary:  ”Compare this $28,000 [of means-tested programs] to what the average middle class American receives from the government in comparable subsidies, $0.”

Or as this lucky ducky cartoon put it:

Atrios is completely right that Romney “isn’t saying fuck the poor. He’s saying that the really poor actually have it really really good! The government basically gives them free cars and housing and medical care and food stamps they can use at the liquor store etc. The rest of you struggling to get by, you don’t get anything. In fact, the really poor (and we know who they are) are taking your hard earned money.”  As Joshua Cohen tweeted, it’s a view where the poor aren’t people who happen to make a small income but instead a separate group that exists entirely outside the labor market.

It’s interesting that Mandel thinks Romney’s statement are a liability to him on the right: “To the right, it verifies that Romney is as liberal as they fear, complacent with the welfare state as it currently stands.”

(It’s also possible, and amusing, to think that Romney also has a very distorted view of “middle-income people”, where middle-income people are worried about how the real-time price transparency regulations of credit default swap clearinghouses will be implemented under Dodd-Frank and whether they’ll be able to count their labor income as capital gains under a second Obama administration. )

Unlike food stamps, nobody is debating making middle-class households take a drug test to qualify for the mortgage-interest tax deduction version of welfare.  I’ll note that the wayinclusiveness is defined is very important for the regulatory state and that democratic feudalism and upside-down populism is very relevant to Corey Robin’s new book on the conservative movement, and move on to the next concern.

Problem 2:  Loss Aversion and Reproducing the Middle-Class

People often display loss aversion: they hate losing something more than they enjoyed gaining it.  Everybody wants a better life for their children, but middle-income people expect to enjoy and be able to hand down a certain quality of life to their children as a baseline.  Even more, once that quality of life is achieved, it needs to be defended, because falling out of the middle-class is a serious cost – personally, socially, and materially.  One can create a whole theory of middle-class-ness centered around this “Fear of Falling”, asBarbara Ehrenreich has.

This is becoming harder to maintain for middle-income people themselves (as we’ll discuss in the next few problems), but generationally it is currently a mess.  Youth unemployment is very high, even for kids with college degrees.  Young people are living at home much longer, which has to be causing anxiety for a huge amount of middle-income parents who expected their kids to thrive.  The research tells us that the long recession will have serious impacts on young people’s lifetime opportunities.

Problem 3:  Relative Cost Inflation

There was a series of econometric arguments about why inequality isn’t so bad based on the idea that the poor have a different inflation rate than the rich.  In what sense the poor “have” this rate wasn’t clear, but basically the argument went that a lot of basic goods were becoming much cheaper while the things rich people consume are getting expensive faster, therefore we should adjust the bottom numbers up and the top numbers down.  Digging into the data, this is driven in large-part by food inequality, where poor people are able to survive on a cheaper diet.

But how does this impact middle-income people? As Elizabeth Warren argues in Two-Income Trap (and this Boston Review summary of the argument), the middle-class isn’t in trouble because of “luxury fever.” Instead it is because a few, core, middle-class staples have skyrocketed in cost:

The answer begins with the most expensive and most important thing most Americans will ever buy: a home….for similar homes, school quality was the single most important determinant of neighborhood prices…housing prices for families with at least one minor child at home grew at a rate three times that of other families…

other major types of expenses are worth singling out as new burdens for the middle class. We have considered one of them already: the higher cost of cars. Yes, the per-car cost has dropped, but with Mom joining the work force and families living farther than ever from city centers, the second car has become essential for many. The family on average now spends an additional $4,000 every year to buy, lease, and maintain all its cars.

The rising cost of health care has also taken a bite out of the family budget, even for healthy families. In one generation, the average out-of-pocket cost of employer-subsidized health insurance has jumped by about 90 percent.

The last decade saw a giant housing bubble (see next problem), high costs – direct or implied – in schooling for children, more spent on cars (cost of gas, distance, number of drivers, lack of public options) and the runaway cost-inflation of health care.  Poor people need places to live, good health, good schools and the ability to get around, but these goods almost by definition create and define the American middle-class.

Problem 4:  Debt, Housing

It’s expensive to be poor.  A quick glance at the distributional impact of overdraft feesshow that the financial system puts the poor through a ringer just to get access to the basic financial means of participating in a market economy.

But the huge run-up in debt, especially housing debt, was primarily a middle-income phenomenon.  From the Federal Reserve’s Changes in U.S. Family Finances from 2004 to 2007: Evidence from the Survey of Consumer Finances:

Or from the LA Times, The consumer isn’t overleveraged — the middle class is, based on a BofA Merrill report:

The consumer debt problem in the economy really is a debt problem for the middle class. The need to work off a chunk of that debt will sap middle-class families’ spending power for perhaps years to come.”  The chaos in the housing market could be argued to impact middle-income people more, or at least differently, than the poor.  Middle-income people are more likely to have to figure out what to do with an underwater mortgage.

Problem #5:  Retirement Savings

The poor save very little, because, by definition, they have very little.  Middle-income people have more and hope to save some of it.

Here’s a little secret.   One reason people don’t project what the employment-population ratio should look like at full-employment is that they have no idea what the elderly are going to do.  The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco: ”Even though their unemployment rate more than doubled over the past three years, older workers have generally stayed in or entered the labor force….The upward trend may continue in the near future. The trends in retirement and health benefits will probably remain in place and the recession’s severe shock to wealth will likely compel even greater numbers of retirement-age workers to stay in the labor force.”  It’s a crime we didn’t make Medicare eligible for those over 55.

What else is missing?  Personally I don’t think these are that useful to split into poor problems and middle-income problems – these are all just problems for the 99%.

 

 

ENERGY

Another Victory for Clean Energy

Cesca:

The Obama Administration today shredded miles of red tape and announced the approval of off-shore wind turbine farms off the Atlantic coast, paving the way for private leases.

As part of its clean energy agenda, the Obama administration announced Thursday that it’s moving forward to develop wind power off the coasts of four Mid-Atlantic states.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said federal environmental reviews for designated “wind energy areas” off Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia are now complete and find “no significant environmental impact from the development of wind.” That finding clears the way for companies to seek leases.

The wind potential off the Atlantic coast is staggering” and “no developer should have to wait nine to 10 years to get a lease,” Salazar told reporters, citing the possible creation of thousands of jobs and power for millions of homes. He said wind power is part of President Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy that also calls for more oil and natural gas development.

But what will all those millionaire shoreline property owners do now that they have their view obstructed by turbines!? I guess they’ll have to visit one of their other homes more frequently.

I joke, but that really was one of the sticking points in the approval or disapproval of off-shore turbines.

Also — just like Bush!

 

 

HEALTH

 

 

UPI: Blood test detects depressed patients

A blood test analyzing levels of nine biomarkers accurately distinguished patients diagnosed with depression from others, U.S. researchers said.

Lead author Dr. George Papakostas of the Massachusetts General Hospital said previous efforts to develop tests based on a single blood or urinary biomarker did not produce results of sufficient sensitivity.

“The biology of depression suggests that a highly complex series of interactions exists between the brain and biomarkers in the peripheral circulation,” said study co-author John Bilello, chief scientific officer of Ridge Diagnostics, which sponsored the current study.

The test, developed by Ridge Diagnostics, measures levels of nine biomarkers associated with factors such as inflammation, the development and maintenance of neurons and the interaction between brain structures involved with stress response and other key functions.

The measurements are combined using a specific formula to produce a figure called the MDDScore — a number from 1 to 100 indicating in percentage form the likelihood that an individual has major depression. Clinical use the MDDScore would range from 1-10.

“It can be difficult to convince patients of the need for treatment based on the sort of questionnaire now used to rank their reported symptoms,” Bilello said in statement. “We expect that the biological basis of this test may provide patients with insight into their depression as a treatable disease rather than a source of self-doubt and stigma.”

The findings were published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

 

 

 

HEALTH CARE

 

 

Health Reform, Preventive Services, and Religious Institutions

White House Blog:

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, most health insurance plans will cover women’s preventive services, including contraception, without charging a co-pay or deductible beginning in August, 2012.  This new law will save money for millions of Americans. But more importantly, it will ensure Americans nationwide get the high-quality care they need to stay healthy. Under this policy, women who want contraception will have access to it through their insurance without paying a co-pay or deductible.  But no one will be forced to buy or use contraception.

On January 20th, Secretary Sebelius announced that certain religious organizations including churches would be exempt from paying their insurers to cover contraception. Other religious organizations, including those that employ people of different faiths, can qualify for a one-year transition period as they prepare to comply with the new law. In recent days, there has been some confusion about how this policy affects religious institutions. We want to make sure you have the facts:

  • Churches are exempt from the new rules: Churches and other houses of worship will be exempt from the requirement to offer insurance that covers contraception.
  • No individual health care provider will be forced to prescribe contraception: The President and this Administration have previously and continue to express strong support for existing conscience protections.  For example, no Catholic doctor is forced to write a prescription for contraception.
  •  No individual will be forced to buy or use contraception: This rule only applies to what insurance companies cover.  Under this policy, women who want contraception will have access to it through their insurance without paying a co-pay or deductible.   But no one will be forced to buy or use contraception.
  • Drugs that cause abortion are not covered by this policy:  Drugs like RU486 are not covered by this policy, and nothing about this policy changes the President’s firm commitment to maintaining strict limitations on Federal funding for abortions. No Federal tax dollars are used for elective abortions.
  • Over half of Americans already live in the 28 States that require insurance companies cover contraception: Several of these States like North Carolina, New York, and California have identical religious employer exemptions.  Some States like Colorado, Georgia and Wisconsin have no exemption at all.
  • Contraception is used by most women: According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, most women, including 98 percent of Catholic women, have used contraception.
  • Contraception coverage reduces costs: While the monthly cost of contraception for women ranges from $30 to $50, insurers and experts agree that savings more than offset the cost.  The National Business Group on Health estimated that it would cost employers 15 to 17 percent more not to provide contraceptive coverage than to provide such coverage, after accounting for both the direct medical costs of potentially unintended and unhealthy pregnancy and indirect costs such as employee absence and reduced productivity.

The Obama Administration is committed to both respecting religious beliefs and increasing access to important preventive services. And as we move forward, our strong partnerships with religious organizations will continue. The Administration has provided substantial resources to Catholic organizations over the past three years, in addition to numerous non-financial partnerships to promote healthy communities and serve the common good. This work includes partnerships with Catholic social service agencies on local responsible fatherhood programs and international anti-hunger/food assistance programs. We look forward to continuing this important work.

 

 

 

FACT: ObamaCare saved nearly 4 million seniors over $2.1 billion on prescription drugs in 2011 

 

 

Komen is going a step further and defunding stem cell research

LifeNews:

[…]

On November 30, 2011, Komen quietly added a new statement to its web site stating that it does not support embryonic stem cell research but supports the kinds that do not involve the destruction of human life.

“Komen supports research on the isolation, derivation, production, and testing of stem cells that are capable of producing all or almost all of the cell types of the developing body and may result in improved understanding of or treatments for breast cancer, but are derived without creating a human embryo or destroying a human embryo,” Komen says. “A priority in our research funding is to quickly find and deliver effective treatments, especially for the most lethal forms of breast cancer, while seeking effective preventive strategies, enhanced screening methodologies, and solutions to disparities in breast cancer outcomes for diverse women.”

Komen, in its listing of grants for 2011, lists two stem cell studies that do not involve the use of embryonic stem cells.

LifeNews talked with pro-life sources close to the Komen situation who confirmed Komen will categorically not fund any embryonic stem cell research and the purpose of the November 2011 statement is to inform grant seekers that Komen will not do so.

 

 

 

Why Komen’s Decision to Pull Funding Is So Deadly

Colorlines:

African-American women are more likely than all other women to die from breast cancer. Women of color in general are more likely to be diagnosed late and die from breast cancer, due in large part to poor access to early screening and treatment—which is precisely the type of programs Komen used to fund at Planned Parenthood.

In a story published earlier today on Colorlines.com, Akiba Solomon quotes Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards saying the cancer detection and prevention programs Komen funded “saved the lives of women who often had nowhere else to turn for care.”

Below is an infographic from our archives that looks at just how deadly breast cancer is for women of color.

 

 

 

Meet the woman who got Komen to pull funds from Planned Parenthood

Wonkbook:

After the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure’s decisionto defund Planned Parenthood, attention has focused on its Vice President for Policy, Karen Handel. She joined the group last January after a failed run for governor in Georgia, where she had advocated defunding Planned Parenthood.

But there’s another woman who deserves equal credit: Americans United for Life President Charmaine Yoest. It’s her group that issued a report last fall, “The Case for Investigating Planned Parenthood,” that led to a probeby the Energy and Commerce Committee. And it’s that investigation that puts Planned Parenthood in violation of Komen’s new policy that bars funding of groups under investigation.

Yoest has run Americans United for Life for three years. She came to the group from former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee’s presidential campaign, and before that, served as the Family Research Council’s vice president for communications. She moved to Washington in the 1980s to work in the Reagan administration. But she counts this as perhaps her biggest victory.

I have to say, it was some of the best news of my entire life,” Yoest told me in an interview this morning about the Komen decision. She saw the news yesterday afternoon, sitting in her driveway and checking Twitter.

We’re so used to seeing Planned Parenthood succeed at defining themselves as the trendy place to be, and for Komen to make such a smart decision in recognizing the reality behind Planned Parenthood spin,” she adds. “As a breast cancer survivor, I was always troubled with this whole idea that the nation’s largest abortion provider was enmeshed in the breast cancer fight when they weren’t actually doing mammograms. I look at this as smart stewardship.”

Americans United for Life has, for the past year, aggressively pushed Congress to end Planned Parenthood’s federal funding. It has also drafted model legislation that states can use to bar abortion providers from receiving federal funds. Nine states have passed such laws, although the Obama administration has blocked their implementation.

Yoest hopes that the Komen decision is the beginning of a similar push, on the private side, to curtail Planned Parenthood’s funding, although she does not expect other funders to get on board overnight.

We’ll be looking at their other supporters,” she said. “Let’s be honest, they’ve been very fashionable amongst a certain philanthropic set. I hope that this is a beginning of people re-looking at associations with the nation’s largest abortion provider.”

As those critical of the decision have shown their support of Planned Parenthood[Yoest says the anti-abortion community is exploring ways to support the group. Her group will, for the first time, have a team in the District of Columbia Race for the Cure, called “Team Life.” Yoest, a marathoner, ran the race about a decade ago, but stopped after learning of Komen’s affiliation with Planned Parenthood.

Yesterday we were looking at Komen’s Web site and how we can interact with them,” she says. “I want them to get as much of the benefit as possible. We’ll have T-shirts and a pasta dinner. I’ve run in a couple of marathons. That’s why I always wanted to be a part of their great work.”

 

 

 

JUSTICE

Reuters: U.S. Justice Dept indicts Swiss bank Wegelin on charges that it enabled wealthy Americans to evade taxes 

The United States indicted Wegelin, the oldest Swiss private bank, on charges that it enabled wealthy Americans to evade taxes on at least $1.2 billion hidden in offshore bank accounts, the U.S. Justice Department said on Thursday.

The announcement, by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, represents the first time an overseas bank has been indicted by the United States for enabling tax fraud by U.S. taxpayers.

The indictment said the U.S. government had seized more than $16 million from Wegelin’s correspondent bank, the Swiss giant UBS AG, in Stamford, Connecticut, via a separate civil forfeiture complaint. Because Wegelin has no branches outside Switzerland, it used correspondent banking services, a standard industry practice, to handle money for U.S.-based clients.

UBS could not be reached for immediate comment.

The charges against Wegelin, of fraud and conspiracy, provide a rare glimpse into the world of Swiss private banking in the wake of a crackdown on UBS AG. In 2009, UBS paid $780 million and entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department over charges it engaged in fraud and conspiracy by enabling scores of Americans to evade taxes through its private bank. The bank later turned over the names of more than 4,500 clients, a watershed in Swiss bank secrecy, which protects the confidentiality of clients and their data.

The indictment signals a ramping up of pressure on 10 other Swiss banks under investigation by the Justice Department, including Credit Suisse, Julius Baer and Basler Kantonalbank.

Six days ago, Wegelin — founded in 1741 — effectively broke itself up by selling the non-U.S. portion of its business. The indictment represents the latest blow to the tradition of Swiss bank secrecy in a long-running U.S. crackdown on tax dodgers.

Switzerland is seeking a global solution for its entire banking industry, not just the 11 banks under criminal scrutiny.

On Tuesday, the Swiss finance ministry handed U.S. authorities encrypted data on bank employees who served U.S. clients suspected of dodging taxes, and said it would only provide the key to decipher the data once the row was settled.

ACCOUNTS FOR FORMER UBS CLIENTS?

The U.S. Justice Department said Wegelin “affirmatively decided to capture for Wegelin the illegal U.S. cross-border banking business lost by UBS and deliberately set out to open new undeclared accounts for US taxpayer-clients leaving UBS,” the indictment said. U.S. clients were told that Wegelin presented less risk amid the crackdown because it had no branches outside Switzerland and “had a long tradition of bank secrecy.”

The indictment also accused Wegelin of helping two unnamed Swiss banks “repatriate undeclared funds to their own U.S. taxpayer-clients by issuing checks drawn on Wegelin’s Stamford correspondent account.” The transfers were separated into chunks below the $10,000 threshold at which such transfers are reported to the IRS. Wegelin, the indictment said, “co-mingled” the repatriated funds with other, unrelated funds, to better conceal their origin and nature.

The charges against Wegelin were filed as a superseding indictment of three previously charged Wegelin bankers: Michael Berlinka, Urs Frei and Roger Keller. The three men were charged on January 4 with fraud and conspiracy. The superseding indictment named several unindicted co-conspirators, including one who served as a team leader for the three men at the Zurich branch.

The charges provided new details on how the bank worked to solicit new U.S. clients fleeing UBS. According to the indictment:

* Wegelin, one of the last “pure” private banks, is principally owned by eight managing partners and run by an executive committee that included partners. One unindicted co-conspirator, named as Executive A at the bank, was a member of Wegelin’s executive committee and worked in Zurich.

* Wegelin used a special code, “BNQ,” on around 70 new U.S. undeclared accounts that were opened over 2008 and 2009. It also sometimes opened accounts for U.S. citizens who held passports from other countries, and opened the accounts through the non-U.S. passports.

* Wegelin recruited U.S. clients through a website, www.SwissPrivateBank.com, that was run by an unidentified third party. The website boasted there that “Swiss bank secrecy is not lifted for tax evasion … Neither the Swiss government nor any other government can obtain information about your bank account.” Unlike the United States, Switzerland generally does not consider tax evasion to be a crime.

* Wegelin gave accounts special names, including “Elvis” and “Limpopo Foundation.” The charges detailed the bank’s work for nearly three dozen American clients, known only as clients A through JJ.

* Wegelin encouraged clients not to come forward to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and disclose their names in exchange for reduced penalties. Clients who did so in recent years helped provide the Justice Department with a roadmap to the inner workings of Wegelin – a map that led to the bank’s indictment.

 

 

 

MEDIA

NYT: Through a Web Site Under Construction, a Secret Donor Is Revealed

Mystery solved. Or at least one of them.

The identities of several major donors to Restore Our Future, the “super PAC” backing Mitt Romney, remain hidden from public view, even after their recent filing with the Federal Election Commission, because their contributions were made through limited liability companies or other entities that seem to exist solely on paper. The issue was highlighted in a front-page article in The New York Times on Wednesday.

One of the mystery donors to the pro-Romney super PAC, contributing $250,000 in late July, was identified only as “Paumanok Partners L.L.C.” in the most recent campaign finance reports, which were filed late Tuesday night. The report listed just a post office box for Paumanok in New Canaan, Conn.

The man who appears to be behind the donation, or at least closely linked to it, is William Laverack Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of Laverack Capital Partners, a private investment firm. He is also identified as a senior adviser to Tiger Infrastructure, a private equity firm that invests inbusinesses in sectors like power, waste and transportation, founded by Julian Robertson and Emil W. Henry in 2009. Mr. Robertson donated $1 million to Restore Our Future in November.

Mr. Laverack has been a major supporter of Mr. Romney, serving as a co-chairman for a fund-raiser for his presidential campaign in September at the Essex House and another one at Cipriani in December. He also attended a reception hosted by Mr. Henry and his wife at their home in the Hamptons in September. Mr. Laverack, his wife and their daughter contributed a combined $7,500 to the Romney campaign in April. Mr. Laverack and his wife also donated $10,000 to Free and Strong America, Mr. Romney’s “leadership PAC,” in March.

Mr. Laverack did not respond to a message left at his office seeking comment.

The Times was able to trace the donation back to Mr. Laverack, essentially, through a nonworking Web site. Unable to find out anything about Paumanok, Matt Ericson, a graphics editor, decided to just plug “Paumanok Partners” into a Web address, typing in paumanokpartners.com. That revealed a Web site that was under construction and did not show up in Google searches.

A quick check on Whois.com showed that the domain name was registered to William Laverack of New Canaan, Conn.

A Paumanok Partners L.L.C. was registered with the New York State Department of State in August 2010, but the company’s articles of organization do not identify any of its officers. It is unclear if that company is the same one that made the donation. The address for the company in East Northport, N.Y., listed with the Department of State, belongs to the certified public accounting firm Sasserath & Zoraian, which filed the articles of organization. The documents identified as the company’s organizer, Lawrence A. Kirsch, an Albany lawyer, who said in a telephone interview that he runs a corporate service firm that helps clients set up corporations and L.L.C.’s.

“I probably do about 50,000 of these a year,” he said, adding that he had no idea who was behind Paumanok Partners.

 

 

 

Politico headline: “Obama: Jesus Would Tax the Rich.” Whoever wrote that understood nothing he said. 

Washington Monthly:

So President Obama spoke at this morning’s National Prayer Breakfast, and it’s not just conservative gabbers who are mocking him for allegedly claiming direct divine sanction for his policy proposals. Here’s Politico’s stupid headline: “Obama: Jesus Would Tax the Rich.”

I personally have little doubt that if Jesus of Nazareth had been in charge of determining how much various people were rendering unto Caesar, he would not have been particularly interested in the pleas of job creators that they need to engorge themselves with riches for the common good. And I’m certainly not alone. For example, the current and past teachings of the Roman Catholic Church (you know, the church that Obama is supposedly persecuting because he does not adequately accept the view that it’s all right to pocket government subsidies for health coverage while denying preventive services for contraceptives that most Catholics and non-Catholics alike utilize) emphatically embrace public policies aimed at economic fairness and social justice.

But matter of fact, Obama did not claim Jesus as co-author of his policies: He merely suggested that they are influenced by the values taught by Jesus, as he understands them. He went far out of his way to try to make that clear, saying: “Our goal should not be to declare our policies as biblical. It is God who is infallible, not us.”

This has been a central theme of virtually every major utterance by Barack Obama on the subject of religion and politics, most notably in his famous 2009 commencement address at Notre Dame: a warning against the arrogance of those who presume to speak for the Almighty in pursuit of their highly secular political agendas. It’s an idea that used to be called “the fear of God,” though it is almost entirely lacking among the noisy ranks of Christian Right leaders.

It’s hardly surprising that these folks are projecting their own usurpation of religion onto the president. Nor, sadly, is it surprising that presumably neutral observers like the headline writers at Politico don’t get it at all.

 

 

 

 

Very interesting piece on journalists rooting for a close GOP race (and admitting it)

Columbia Journalism Review:

In a column earlier this week, The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank penned a public love letter—to Newt Gingrich. Taking on the mantle of spurned lover for the entire political press corps, Milbank pleaded with the candidate who loves to pose as the media’s victim:

I speak for many colleagues when I say that we in the news media are great fans of your candidacy: of the 200 people in the room for your “Victory Party” when polls closed Tuesday night, about 185 of them were journalists. And no wonder: You’re the only thing saving us from a long spring of despair, the only person who can, by extending the presidential race, drive up our audience and bring us the revenues we so desperately need.

You give us exactly what political journalists crave. Sure, some of us are ideologically biased, but we are far more biased in favor of conflict — and that’s why we’re all in the tank for you.

While the satiric tone was distinctively Milbank’s, he was going where some other high-profile journalists have recently trod. Just a few days earlier, New York magazine’s John Heilemann argued that the same media Gingrich is forever excoriating is, “in fact, in his corner in his battle with [GOP front-runner Mitt] Romney.” Heilemann offered a few candidate-based explanations for this situation: Gingrich is a sensational traffic magnet; Gingrich “gets” the media game; Romney seems kind of phony—but gave top billing to an alternative account:

The tone of the coverage depends less on the candidates than on the overall dynamic of the race,” says [Center for Media and Public Affairs]
director Robert Lichter. “Journalists love a horse race and hate a front-runner.”

And Heilemann was following in the footsteps of The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, who in late December penned a tongue-in-cheek blog post in which he worried that the entertaining, colorful GOP primary campaign could become a dull rout:

And yet there is the terrible realization that all this excitement and drama could come crashing down around us in less than two weeks if the sober and reasonable Mitt Romney ends the year of Republican nonsense by winning Iowa and New Hampshire and securing the nomination before things even really get started. Reporters won’t admit it, but they—we—are all rooting for a dramatic primary season in 2012.

Nor is the message confined to wry columns or half-joking confessions. After Gingrich’s win in South Carolina, Broadcasting & Cable found that TV producers were positively giddy about the possibility of a protracted primary contest:

It’s the best possible outcome for us,” says Jon Banner, executive producer of ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. “We want this to be a race.”

Viewers are obviously more interested in a close race than a landslide (CNN saw the audience for its coverage of Gingrich’s unexpected win in South Carolina up 22% over that for the early call for Mitt Romney in New Hampshire), which CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist calls particularly interesting given the S.C. coverage happened on a Saturday night.

And as long as Gingrich remains up in the polls, the news networks will continue to cover him as a top contender going forward.

“My only bias is to keep the story going and to have a great story to cover,” says Betsy Fischer, executive producer of NBC’s Meet the Press. “Of course the longer it goes, the more interesting it is and the more there is for us to talk about on the program. Politics is the bread and butter of Meet the Press, so as long as that topic is top of people’s minds, that’s what we like.”

I just root for the story. It’s a line sportswriters use all the time, to defend against the charge that they favor a particular team. The echo is no coincidence. As Jack Shafer recently noted, the professional incentives facing campaign reporters and sportswriters are strikingly similar: both must “maintain reader enthusiasm for the months and months of caucuses or preseason games, primaries or regular season games, conventions or playoffs, and the general election or Super Bowl (or World Series).” In both cases, if you have a colorful underdog, you want him to stick around.

The difference is that to a much greater degree, political writers are participants in the race they’re covering—one way they might “have a great story to cover” is to do what they can “to keep the story going.” The analogy’s not perfect, but it’s sort of like having an umpire with an incentive to keep the underdog close.

Not every political correspondent has been so willing to acknowledge that the press corps has this bias. When, in a recent podcast, Slate editor David Plotz said that political reporters entertain “Rube Goldberg fantasies” about how long-shot candidates still have a chance because “they want there to be something interesting in the spring,” his colleague John Dickerson called the claim “wrong” and “offensive,” and said campaign reporters were—sticking to that sports metaphor—calling the plays as they came, not cheering them along.

But there’s at least some evidence to the contrary. Heilemann cites an analysis from the Center for Media and Public Affairs, which found that Romney received “markedly more negative” coverage “in the ten days leading up to the New Hampshire primary, when the post-Iowa sense of Romney’s inevitability kicked in.”

And anecdotally, while in Iowa I was struck by how readily the media latched onto the story of the “Santorum surge,” which was declared when that underdog candidate was polling in third place. (In that case, at least, the storyline was vindicated—though it’s hard to know how Santorum would have fared in Iowa without the media’s eager attention.)

Or consider this headline from the Los Angeles Times, which practically pleads with readers not to lose interest after Romney’s resounding Florida victory: “Mitt Romney’s Florida win won’t seal race: Despite his landslide victory, the battle for enough delegates to secure the Republican presidential nomination could run for weeks or months.”

(Politico, typically, covers every angle here: a media piece noting the press’s need for drama, a straight news piece that hammers home Romney’s inevitable win, and an analysis piece that argues that the next month is “uncharted territory” and “conservatives are still resisting Romney.” Even Mitt Romney’s inevitability, it seems, flip-flops. Update: Also,this.)

When CJR contributor Brendan Nyhan grappled with this subject after Iowa, he urged reporters to recognize their role in creating campaign “momentum.” Similarly, during the Santorum surge, I argued that the press should exercise “some self-awareness and restraint.”

If Milbank, Heilemann, Lizza et al are any indication, we have plenty of recognition and self-awareness in the press. Now how about that restraint?

 

 

 

‘Huffington Post’ Employee Sucked Into Aggregation Turbine

Shocked and saddened witnesses at the Huffington Post’s news-aggregation facility have confirmed that employee Henry Evers, 25, died Wednesday after being sucked into the website’s powerful news-repurposing turbine, where his body was immediately torn to pieces.

The 200-ton content-compiling device, developed by Greek multimillionaire and site co-founder Ari­anna Huffington, sucks up original articles from around the web with its massive rotor assembly, re-brands them with the Huffington Post name, and then spits them back out on the company’s home page.

Workers said that when the machine ground to a halt at approximately 11:30 a.m., Evers reached inside to dislodge a particularly thoughtful 700-word Cristian Science Monitor essay on the unrest in Syria that had become jammed.

Apparently unprepared for the aggregator mechanism’s quick restart, Evers was gruesomely dismembered by its rapidly spinning blades, which soaked the room in blood and unprocessed news content.

“I heard this grinding noise, and then I saw all these Washington Post stories, sexy pictures of people in the workplace, and celebr­ity anti-vaccine editorials start to back up on the factory floor,” said Huffington Post editor Emily Paxton, who monitors an array of computer screens displaying news sites like NYTimes.com and then presses enter on a keyboard, sending the content into the turbine, which through sheer axial force posts each piece on HuffingtonPost.com with a 30-word introductory paragraph. “Before I could stop him, Henry had his arm crammed way down in there. He pulled out an article, smiled, and the next thing I knew, he was sucked headfirst into the rotary casing.”

“We couldn’t shut it down,” continued Paxton, adding that the smell of mutilated remains mixed with raw Internet media was gag-inducing. “If we had, it would have taken a full day for the technicians to reset it, and we couldn’t risk missing a breaking story on Brody Jenner.”

Since The Huffington Post was founded in 2005, its headquarters has consisted of two rooms: Arianna Huffington’s spacious, lav­ishly appointed office overlooking New York City, and the windowless 10,000-square-foot subterranean warehouse that houses the turbine. More than 700 low-wage workers, known as writers, clock in every day, and, dressed in their Huffington Post hard hats and coveralls, work in dark, unsafe conditions to ensure the machine runs smoothly and constantly churns out content.

Operating at 5,100 rpm, or the equivalent of 2,500 online articles and videos per minute, the turbine uses its massive power to sweep the Internet for stories or photos that ensure HuffingtonPost.com receives enough page views and mouse clicks to appease advertisers.

Though Evers had worked with the com­pany for 11 months, reports indicate he was unaware the turbine often overheats and malfunctions when tasked with posting an article of more than 400 words.

“Evers was pulverized,” said Aaron Thomas, a spokesperson for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “There was no way to identify him. No dental remains, no hair samples, just eyewitness reports and 17 cell-phone camera videos that the turbine immediately threw up on the site under the tags ‘Funny’ and ‘OMG.'”

“In a way, though, maybe it’s a good thing he was ripped to shreds and killed,” added Thomas, later saying that because The Huffington Post didn’t provide Evers with health insurance, he wouldn’t have been able to afford his hospital bills, anyway. “Working the HuffPo turbine is no way to live.”

According to sources, editor-in-chief Ari­anna Huffington appeared shaken after the incident, asking if the turbine was broken, if it would need to be replaced, and if the horrific accident would affect the posting of a “Worst Hair In Hollywood” celebrity feature.

“When you harvest as much content as we do, there are bound to be some fatalities,” Huffington said in a statement. “That’s just part of the job.”

Representatives from the website said that to honor Evers’ memory, they planned to post a slide show titled “25 Funniest Animal Photobombs We Think Henry Would Have Loved” as early as tomorrow.

 

 

 

MILITARY

Obama’s fast Afghanistan exit is a surprise decision of strategic skill and political courage 

Leslie Gelb, Daily Beast:

[…] News stories and commentaries are dismissing the decision as political grandstanding to gain public applause. Actually, however, it involves some serious political risk. Inevitably, some senior military officers will share their doubts with the press and friends in Congress. They will all say, as they believe, that Obama’s new plan comes just as the tide of war is turning against the Taliban, and that the president is snatching defeat from the potential jaws of victory. These charges will be replayed in the media and given a megaphone by neoconservatives and Republican Party stalwarts. They will swear Obama is putting American security at risk.

The truth is that the president and his team are taking a risk. The risk is that early removal of U.S. and NATO troops from combat could lead to military gains in the field by the Taliban before November. But—and here are the political and strategic smarts—the Obama team is not actually removing the troops from Afghanistan before the U.S. election; they’re just removing them from the fighting. If worse comes to worst, and a calamity approaches, the White House can always send the considerable number of U.S. troops still in country into the breach.

With this strategy, the administration accomplishes three goals: (1) U.S. troops are removed from combat earlier, reducing lives lost and cost; (2) U.S. troops return home earlier; and (3) both security and political risks are made manageable. […]

Press speculation immediately attributed the new U.S. and NATO decision to the machinations and complaints of President Sarkozy of France. He, it is being said, triggered this new White House decision when he announced that French troops would depart by the end of this year. He and France were infuriated by reports that French troops had been killed by Afghan soldiers whom they were training.

In fact, the White House had begun to shape this decision almost two months ago, with National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, Vice President Joe Biden, and Defense Secretary Panetta doing the pushing. Key administration officials said these senior leaders had become convinced that U.S. interests in Afghanistan were no longer vital, and that more American deaths and billions in costs were no longer worthwhile. But they hadn’t figured out the details or the politics until about two weeks ago. Specifically, they wouldn’t speed up withdrawals until after the U.S. election, but they would hasten the end of the American combat role. They still have additional big decisions to work out with generals on the ground: what use to make of U.S. airpower in support of Afghan forces and to forestall concentrations of Taliban troops; whether to continue special-forces attacks, etc. Also, and very importantly, they still need to figure out how fast to bring home the remaining 68,000 troops after the U.S. election.

Another surprise and sound part of this strategic package is that the U.S. and NATO will dial back on their goals and financial support for Afghan security forces. The plan had been to increase them to 350,000 from 310,000. In all likelihood, however, these troops will be cut back even from their present level of 310,000 in order to make them affordable to the Kabul government and less costly to the West.

Yes, the U.S. will continue to support the Afghan government in some form and to some dollar degree for some time. Much of the space vacated by the U.S. should be filled by Afghanistan’s neighbors. If they have any good sense about the threats they will face from Afghan refugees, drugs, and Islamic extremism, they will finally step up to their responsibilities.

But for the United States, the war is coming to an end. Its critical goals have been achieved. Osama bin Laden is dead. Al Qaeda there is virtually dead. There are no vital interests to justify further great sacrifices. And now it’s time to act upon this reality and bring the heroes home.

 

 

OCCUPY

AFL-CIO, UNITE, and Occupy all planning action in Indianapolis for Super Bowl 

ThinkProgress:

Four days before his state hosts Super Bowl XLVI, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) signed anti-union “right-to-work” legislation into law Wednesday afternoon, making Indiana the 23rd right-to-work state in the country. Daniels signed the law despite the fact that thousands of workers gathered outside the statehouse in the days leading up to the law’s passage, and despite his own apparent opposition to such a law back in 2006.

In the days since more than 10,000 protesters marched through downtown Indianapolis, union officials and other organizers have grappled with how, and if, they should make their voices heard during Super Bowl festivities. Daniels has warned opponents of the new law that disrupting the Super Bowl would give the state a “black eye.” Nevertheless, with the National Football League’s Players Association officially opposing the law, labor leaders and organizers affiliated with local Occupy groups have vowed to press on.

If it does pass, we’ll use this, the world stage that is the Super Bowl, to spread the message that Indiana is an inhospitable place for working men and women,” Jeff Harris, Communications and Outreach Coordinator for the Indiana AFL-CIO, told ThinkProgress before the law passed. “And that the very people that built the stadium in which the Super Bowl is going to be played and the very people who built the city that is enjoying the limelight — the very people who made this possible — are being disrespected.”

The AFL-CIO will have a “constant presence” at Super Bowl events, Harris said, but its actions will be informative rather than disruptive. The union, which encouraged workers to meet with their state representatives in the days before the law passed and organized rallies outside the statehouse Wednesday, will pass out leaflets and pamphlets around Super Bowl village and Lucas Oil Stadium, the site of the game, Harris said.

UNITE HERE, a hotel workers’ union, has organized its own protest of the Hyatt hotel Friday, where several hundred workers will picket to protest low wages, missed overtime pay, and the firing of contract workers. Though its protest isn’t specifically tied to the right-to-work law, UNITE officials say the law will make their ongoing attempts to organize hotel workers harder, and other unions’ protesters will join their picket.

According to a UNITE release, DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFL Players Association, will participate in the protest. Smith has issued a statement and written an editorial against the right-to-work law, and several NFL players, including Indiana native and Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, have also spoken out.

In a January interview with The Nation’s Dave Zirin, Smith, who sits on the AFL-CIO’s executive board, said that “if the issue is still percolating by the time of Super Bowl, I can promise you that the players of the National Football League and their union will be up front about what we think about this and why.” Though Smith is slated to appear at the UNITE protest, the NFLPA wouldn’t confirm if he or other officials would aide other union protests.

But Smith has made his opposition to the Indiana law clear. “We share all the same issues that the American people share,” he told Zirin. “We want decent wages. We want a fair pension. We want to be taken care of when we get hurt. We want a decent and safe working environment. So when you look at proposed legislation in a place like Indiana that wants to call it something like ‘Right to Work,’ I mean, let’s just put the hammer on the nail. It’s untrue.”

Various local Occupy groups will also take action, local organizers told ThinkProgress, to show their support for Indiana workers. And even though right-to-work is now law in Indiana, protesters have promised to keep fighting. “This is not a fight that is going to go away,” Tithi Bhattacharya, a Purdue professor and Occupy Purdue member, said of the right-to-work struggle. “In the coming days and weeks we are going to have to build this struggle on the street, in the workplace and in our communities. Super Bowl Sunday is another opportunity to make our voices heard.”

 

 

 

POLITICS

Change Happened

EXCLUSIVE: Major Romney bundler is agent of foreign government

ThinkProgress:

Ignacio E. Sanchez is a lobbyist at DLA Piper, an influential global law firm and a major bundler for the Mitt Romney campaign. A ThinkProgress review of public records reveals Sanchez is also a registered foreign agent representing the interests of the United Arab Emirates and of a former president of the Dominican Republic.

While political candidates are not legally required to identify bundlers — volunteer fundraisers who collect bundles of campaign contribution checks for the campaign — a 2007 law requires that federal candidates disclose the names of any registered lobbyists who bundle large amounts for their campaign. On Tuesday, Romney’s campaign reported that 14 lobbyists combined to raise more than $1.6 million last year in bundled contributions.

One of those lobbyist-bundlers was Sanchez, who raked in $86,700 for the former Massachusetts governor. This major fundraising raises questions about the level of access and influence Sanchez — and by extension, his corporate and international clients — would have in a Romney administration.

Unlike the other 13 identified lobbyist-bundlers, Sanchez is a registered foreign agent. A formfiled Monday with the U.S. Department of Justice reveals that he beyond just representing the interests of those domestic clients, Sanchez also represents the embassy of the United Arab Emirates and the presidential campaign of Dominican Republic former president Hipolito Mejia.

Mejia is seeking to reclaim the job he held from 2000 to 2004 and lost in a landslide defeat, amid a national economic crisis and financial near-collapse.

The United Arab Emirates has been among the stronger U.S. allies in the Middle East and is akey player in OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. But the interests of the two countries don’t always converge and groups like Human Rights Watch have raised concerns about the country’s suppression of free speech and political disagreement.

In the past, Sanchez also represented the governments of Turkey and Ethiopia. Current federal lobbying disclosure forms show that he lobbies Congress and the administration on behalf of Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide (which includes the Sheraton, W, and St. Regis brands) and Diageo North America, the makers of Guinness, Jose Cuervo, Captain Morgan, and dozens of other alcoholic beverages.

President Obama does not accept campaign contributions donated or bundled by federal lobbyists or foreign agents. In last week’s State of the Union address, he called for a ban on bundlers lobbying saying “Let’s make sure people who bundle campaign contributions for Congress can’t lobby Congress, and vice versa — an idea that has bipartisan support, at least outside of Washington.”

But Romney — who has not voluntarily disclosed any other bundlers — is apparently all too happy to accept money from those who are paid to influence policy decisions on behalf of special interests, foreign and domestic.

 

 

 

GOP refuses to acknowledge Bush tax cuts added $2trillion to deficit. 

Congressman Gary Peters, Michigan:

Every single House Republican votes against the Peters Amendment to insert factual findings about how the Bush Tax Cuts added over $2 trillion to the deficit

Washington, D.C. – Today every single House Republican voted against an amendment by U.S. Rep. Gary Peters to insert factual findings about the Bush Tax Cuts into a Republican budget bill (H.R. 3582). The Peters Amendment was defeated by a vote of 174 to 244 with every Republican voting no.

“I’m disappointed that every single one of my Republican colleagues refused to admit that the Bush Administration was wrong when they told the American people that the Bush Tax Cuts would pay for themselves,” said U.S. Rep. Gary Peters. “We are in the middle of a jobs crisis and have serious deficit problems that need to be solved, but if the Republicans can’t even acknowledge basic facts about the impact that the Bush Tax Cuts have had on the economy, it’s hard to take their solutions seriously. I can’t say I’m surprised, but once again, Republicans aren’t letting the facts get in the way of their opinions.”

 

 

 

Super PACs Are Already Yesterday’s News 

Kevin Drum:

[…] Right after Citizens United was decided, there was a great debate within the campaign finance world over whether the case would change campaign finance patterns. Some pointed to the fact that in the 2010 election, we saw barely any independent spending directly by corporations. 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 directelection-related activity than they have in the past.  That is, we are seeing some 501c4s becoming pure election vehicles. The relation of 501c4s to super pacs is now like the past relation between 527s and pacs—these are now the vehicles of questionable legality to influence elections. While Adam Skaggs is rightly focused on fixing the coordination rules for Super PACs, this seems to be fighting yesterday’s war already. The key is to stop 501c4s from becoming shadow super PACs. Yes, campaign finance reform community, it has become this bad: I want more super PACs, because the 501c4 alternative is worse!

Well, yes, we could rein in 501c(4) spending by requiring that they disclose their donors, and the DISCLOSE Act would have done just that. Needless to say, it failed even in 2010, when Democrats controlled the House and had a huge majority in the Senate. It received, if I recall correctly, two Republican votes in the House and zero Republican votes in the Senate.

So there’s not really much chance that a revived and amended DISCLOSE Act is going to pass now. We are doomed.

 

 

 

Why Mitt Romney And The GOP Want To Convince You That The Poor Have Too Much Money

Political Correction:

Substantively, Mitt Romney’s statement that he isn’t concerned about poor people matches up perfectly with his policy proposals, which demonstrate a callous disregard for the wellbeing of anyone who isn’t already well-off. But that doesn’t mean Romney’s comments were a sincere and straightforward articulation of his agenda: This is, after all, a candidate whose only sincere commitment is to saying whatever he thinks his audience wants to hear. And, indeed, Romney’s explanation for his lack of concern about the poor was characteristically disingenuous, pointing to the very social safety net he proposes to destroy as evidence that we needn’t be concerned for those who rely upon it.

More likely, Romney’s comments were an invocation of a decades-long right-wing narrative designed to drive a wedge between the poor and middle class, to the benefit of a handful of wealthy elites. That narrative is an essential element of the right’s approach to politics: After all, a movement that exists primarily to consolidate wealth and power in the hands of as few people as possible won’t exist long without a successful divide-and-conquer strategy. Recognizing that they need the votes of more than just the nation’s millionaires and billionaires — and that the middle class shows up to vote more reliably than the poor, particularly if youmake it extremely difficult for the poor to do so — conservatives have long worked to convince the middle class that the reason they are struggling is that the poor have it too good. Hence Ronald Reagan’s apocryphal tales of Cadillac-driving “welfare queens”: anything to distract the public from policies that redistribute wealth upwards, not downwards.

Take another look at Romney’s comments about the poor:

I’m not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. …I’m concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling. … The challenge right now — we will hear from the Democrat party the plight of the poor. … My focus is on middle-income Americans. … We have a very ample safety net, … we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor.

The message is clear: The middle class — the “very heart of America” — is struggling while we lavish countless benefits on the poor. Never mind that the real reason the middle class is struggling is an economy rigged in favor of the super-rich, resulting in a massive redistribution of wealth towards the very top and away from the poor and middle class alike — and never mind that Romney, a beneficiaryof this rigging, wants to rig things even further. Romney’s comments pit the middle class and poor against each other in a scramble for the table scraps left behind after he and his fellow plutocrats have taken their ever-larger share of the pie.

[...]

In the conservative narrative, not only are poor people squandering government money — your money — they aren’t even poor.  Poor people have refrigerators and VCRs and most of them aren’t actually starving to death in the streets, so they aren’t really poor at all, according to the Heritage Foundation and other propagandists for the one percent. With such luxuries, it’s no wonder the poor spend their government handouts — your money — on Rolls Royces.

As much as conservatives decry “class warfare” that “divides Americans against each other,” the truth is that the modern conservative movement is the most enthusiastic — and successful — practitioner of class warfare in American history. It has waged this war on behalf of the wealthy, against the rest of the nation. And it owes its success in large part to a strategy of instigating a civil class war between people who should be united in opposition to policies that harm them all.

As always, the right’s campaign to drive a wedge between the victims of its coddle-the-wealthy policies and the other victims of its coddle-the-wealthy policies will be well-funded, disciplined and cunning. It’s going to have to be in order to convince people struggling to pay their mortgage that the problem is that people struggling to pay their electric bill have it too good. Especially when the quarter-billionaire Republican presidential frontrunner pays a lower tax rate than they do.

 

 

 

Reuters: Analysis Wall St. cash flows to Romney over Obama

 

 

Rep. Heath Shuler (D) won’t seek re-election

 

 

RMoney Pays No Gift Taxes on $100M 

Booman Tribune:

Yeah, he did it again (video from Lawrence O’Donnell’s The Last Word):

The idea that someone could pay zero gift taxes on contributions to a $100 million trust fund may surprise people who have heard arguments that the wealthy are overburdened by gift and estate taxes. But the Romneys’ gift-tax avoidance strategy is perfectly legal.[...]

The explanation may stem from how the Romneys were able to value the assets put into the trust. If I’m right, it involves a special tax deal that Congress gives to people who manage investment partnerships, as Romney did at Bain Capital from 1984 to 1999.

This deal allows these managers to receive a kind of compensation known as “carried interest.” As the tax law sees it, carried interest does not represent ownership of stock or other securities, only the right to receive future profits. Because there is no ownership, the IRS lets people value their carried interest at zero for gift tax purposes if they meet certain technical rules.

 

 

 

Mitt Romney And Donald Trump: They Both Like Firing People

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=EK3DouK8qJM

 

 

 

AP: Romney stock trades clash with divestment pledge

– During his presidential campaign in 2007, Republican candidate Mitt Romney promised that a trust overseeing his financial portfolio would shed any investments that conflicted with GOP positions toward Iran, China, stem cell research and other issues. But Romney’s family trusts kept some of those stocks and repeatedly bought new investments in similar holdings as recently as 2010, when they were sold in advance of his latest White House campaign, a detailed review of Romney’s financial records by The Associated Press shows.

Recently disclosed 2010 tax returns for three family trust funds for Romney, his wife, Ann, and their adult children show scores of trades in such investments, worth more than $3 million when the holdings were all sold in 2010.

A Romney campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, said the former Massachusetts governor has no control over the investments made by his blind trust, but the trustee has tried to manage the trades “in a manner consistent with Gov. Romney’s publicly expressed positions.”

The continual trading between 2006 and 2010 raises questions about why the investments continued for three years, even after Romney said the trust would sell off any conflicted holdings, during a period when Romney has sought to convince voters of his conservative Republican values. The trades also raise questions about whether any of the transactions were vetted for possible conflicts or purposes of political perception before they were made.

“Financially, these would seem to be completely legitimate investments,” said Thomas B. Cooke, a professor of business law at Georgetown University and former president of the National Society of Tax Professionals. “But for someone running for president, there’s also a smell test.”

Romney’s spokeswoman would not respond to questions about the timing or vetting of his investments in his blind trust. She said, however, that the lawyer running the trust occasionally makes adjustments in holdings with Romney’s positions in mind.

Romney has kept many of his investments in a trust he describes as blind since he entered the Massachusetts governor’s race in 2002. The trust is designed to eliminate conflicts of interest by preventing Romney from knowing about trades made on his behalf and from making specific financial decisions. A Boston attorney who runs the trust oversees Romney’s far-flung holdings in stocks, mutual funds and securities.

Romney can set the general direction of his finances, Cooke and other tax experts said. Romney made that clear in August 2007, as he tried to quell a growing furor about his ownership of some stocks that clashed with Republican positions on Iran, China and other issues.

“The trustee of the blind trust has said publicly that he will endeavor to make my investments conform to my positions, and I have confidence that he will do that well,” Romney said in 2007. The lawyer heading Romney’s trust, R. Bradford Malt, had said earlier in 2007 that he was trying to eliminate conflicts between Romney’s holdings and his policy positions.

In some cases, though, it took more than three years for Romney’s trust to sell off stocks in companies whose operations appeared to be problematic for him. The AP review of Romney’s capital gains financial statements indicate that he lost about $70,000 on the trades.

In 2007, Romney held between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of shares in Novo Nordisk, a Danish pharmaceutical company that engages in limited use of stem cells for research. But it was not until October 2010, on the eve of his second White House run, that Romney’s trust sold off the last 27 shares of Novo Nordisk stock – among 90 shares worth $7,700 that Romney’s trust sold that year.

Romney supported stem cell research during his 2002 race for governor but changed his mind before the 2007 presidential race, saying the turnabout led him to oppose abortion. Now, like many social conservatives and his Republican campaign rivals, Romney opposes any use of human embryonic stem cells for research into diseases and other medical issues because the work could destroy viable human embryos.

Romney’s trust also waited until 2010 to sell more than 900 shares – worth nearly $50,000 – that it held since 2006 in Teva Pharmaceutical, an Israeli company that engages in stem cell research. Teva also manufactures “Plan B One-Step,” an emergency contraceptive known as the “morning after pill,” which is opposed by anti-abortion groups.

In 2005, as Massachusetts governor, Romney vetoed an attempt by the state legislature to require hospitals to provide morning-after pills to rape victims and make them available to women and teenaged girls without a prescription. Romney said at the time he opposed the contraceptive’s distribution because the pill would not only prevent conception but “would also terminate life after conception.” His veto was overruled.

The Obama administration recently drew criticism from pro-abortion rights advocates by allowing the Teva contraceptive to be sold over the counter, but not to girls younger than age 17, who would still require a prescription.

As late as 2009, the Romney trusts bought 600 new shares in Fresenius Medical Care, a German firm that also did stem cell work. The trust sold the Fresenius holdings, worth more than $30,000, in 2010.

The head of the Susan B. Anthony List, a political committee that supports anti-abortion candidates, said she was concerned about Romney’s investments in firms whose work is opposed by social conservatives.

“Embryonic stem cell research is the issue that was the catalyst for the governor’s pro-life conversion,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, the committee’s president. “He should explain what appears to be a lack of follow-through in coming to terms with an issue about which he expresses great passion.”

Romney’s tax returns, which he released under pressure on Jan. 24, also described numerous recent stock trades in companies tied to the Chinese government or to its censorship and crackdown on free speech. As recently as October 2009, Romney’s trusts were buying stock in companies like China Northshore Oil and China Merchants Holdings. More than 130 shares of the oil company were sold in late January 2010 for $19,000, along with 630 shares of China Merchants worth $21,000. The Chinese government has long incurred criticism for its tight control of the country’s media and internet and for its suppression of dissent.

Shares of other Chinese assets that Romney’s trust bought and sold in 2010 included the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, China Life Insurance and New Oriental Education, a company sued in 2003 by a U.S. firm for copyright infringement.

The director of an international organization advocating human rights in China said Romney’s personal investments were as important as his political statements in trying to gauge the depth of his support for change inside China.

A presidential candidate “is accountable to the public for his full record, including financial investments and the potential human rights impact of the companies he has invested in,” said Sharon Hom, executive director of Human Rights in China.

Some of the largest stock trades made by the Romney trust involved companies that have operated in Iran. Romney has urged toughened sanctions and military steps against Iran and has called for strategic divestment of firms that do business there. In 2007, his trustee said he had sold off Romney investments in French and Italian energy companies with business ties to Iran.

But between mid-2009 and mid-2010, the Romney trusts made large investments in securities from BNP Paribas, a French bank with long-standing operations in Iran. The bank halted new business in Iran in 2007 but is still trying to terminate outstanding loans there. In all, Romney’s family trusts bought more than 2.6 million shares, which were all sold in late 2010 for about $2.5 million.

Romney’s trust for his grown children also bought and sold shares in China North Oil, recently named by the Congressional Research Service as a likely violator of the Iran Sanctions Act, and in Intesa Sanpaolo, an Italian bank that has been under investigation by U.S. authorities for handling of Iranian funds. There were also trades in stock of Gazprom, Schlumberger, Komatsu and Unilever – all firms that have had business in or with Iran.

Many of those companies are included among an extensive list compiled by United Against Nuclear Iran, a bipartisan group urging pressure on firms with business in Iran. A spokesman for the group, Nathan Carleton, declined to comment on Romney’s holdings. But Carleton noted that the group’s list – it named several of the firms the Romney trusts bought stock in – “is available for anyone to investigate.”

 

 

 

Groundhog Day in Congress: Dems again target GOP over Medicare – Washington Post 

Greg Sargent:

Over the weekend, GOP Rep. Paul Ryan confirmed that the House Republican budget would again contain key elements of his plan to transform Medicare — even though some polls have shown the idea to be deeply unpopular and Dems have vowed to run on it in 2012.

Asked by The New York Times whether he intended to push similar changes to Medicare again this year, Ryan replied: “Yes, absolutely.”

Now the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is set to go on the offensive on the issue in the increasingly close battle for the House — and it’s very possible the issue could have a real impact on the presidential race.

The DCCC will go out today with what it’s calling a “Groundhog Day Alert” in the districts of some 70 vulnerable House Republicans, reminding voters of their last vote on Medicare and warning of the next one to come. Here’s what the alert in the district of Rep. Dan Benishek of Michigan says:

Michigan voters don’t need a groundhog to come out of the hole in order to tell them how this will end: Voters will reject Dan Benishek putting the ultra wealthy ahead of seniors once again. Even though voters already rejected House Republicans plan to end Medicare, this Groundhog Day Republicans like Benishek are resurrecting their plan to protect billionaires and Big Oil, while leaving seniors out in the cold. It’s the same thing again from Dan Benishek — double health care costs for Michigan seniors, more tax breaks for the ultra wealthy.”

DCCC chair Steve Israel has reportedly instructed House Dem candidates to be relentless in stressing the GOP position on Medicare, to make it a “defining issue in the 2012 elections.” A recent poll by the Dem firm Democracy Corps found that the Dem message — that House Republicans voted to “end Medicare as we know it” — tests well, with 77 percent in 60 House GOP districts saying it raises serious doubts about incumbents.

The Ryan Medicare plan has become a cause celebre on the right. And so Dems are hoping to use its return to paint the House GOP as AWOL on jobs and still in the grip of its Tea Party wing — after the Tea Party caucus helped engineer the debt ceiling and payroll tax cut debacles that helped drag down the GOP’s (and Congress’s) approval ratings to historic lows. Israel has been unwilling to predict that Dems will recapture the House, and House Republicans have been working hard to signal seriousness about jobs by, among other things, rolling out a plan yesterday to cut small business taxes.

But Medicare may again loom large, and one big question is whether it will prove a drag on presumtive GOP nominee Mitt Romney. The fierce competition with Newt Gingrich forced Romney to fully embrace the Ryan Medicare plan, in order to get around to Gingrich’s right. Dems know that it’s crucial that they prevent Romney from achieving separation from the unpopular GOP Congress — and his embrace of the Ryan plan is perhaps the number one shackle Dems will use to attach Romney to the House GOP. How much this will ultimately matter in the general election is an open question, but a rerun of the debate over Ryan and Medicare could make this task that much easier for Dems.

 

 

 

President Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast

 

 

 

WaPo: Strategic Alliance Between Ron Paul and Romney

[…] But Mitt Romney and Ron Paul haven’t laid a hand on each other.

They never do.

Despite deep differences on a range of issues, Romney and Paul became friends in 2008, the last time both ran for president. So did their wives, Ann Romney and Carol Paul. The former Massachusetts governor compliments the Texas congressman during debates, praising Paul’s religious faith during the last one, in Jacksonville, Fla. Immediately afterward, as is often the case, the Pauls and the Romneys gravitated toward one another to say hello.

The Romney-Paul alliance is more than a curious connection. It is a strategic partnership: for Paul, an opportunity to gain a seat at the table if his long-shot bid for the presidency fails; for Romney, a chance to gain support from one of the most vibrant subgroups within the Republican Party.

“It would be very foolish for anybody in the Republican Party to dismiss a very real constituency,” said one senior GOP aide in Washington who is familiar with both camps. “Ron Paul plays a very valuable part in the process and brings a lot of voters toward the Republican Party and ultimately into the voting booth, and that’s something that can’t be ignored.”

To ensure that they are heard — not just now but after Election Day, too — Paul and his followers are working to gain a permanent foothold in the Republican Party nationwide. One state at a time, Paul’s supporters are seating themselves at county committee meetings, and standing for election as state officers and convention delegates, to make sure their candidate’s libertarian vision is taken into account. The goal is a lasting voice for an army of outsiders thathas long felt ignored and sees the nation headed toward ruin if things don’t change.

That is just fine with the Romney campaign, which would be happy to bring Paul’s constituency — perhaps the most intense and loyal in the country — into the fold.

Romney’s aides are “quietly in touch with Ron Paul,” according to a Republican adviser who is in contact with the Romney campaign and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss its internal thinking. The two campaigns have coordinated on minor things, the adviser said — even small details, such as staggering the timing of each candidate’s appearance on television the night of the New Hampshire primary for maximum effect.

One advantage for Romney is that Paul’s presence in the race helps keep the GOP electorate fractured. But there is also a growing recognition that the congressman plans to stay in the contest over the long term — and that accommodating him and his supporters could help unify Republican voters in the general election against President Obama.

“Ron Paul wants a presence at the convention,” the adviser said — and Romney, if he is the nominee, would grant it.

What Paul and his supporters would demand, and what Romney would offer, are subjects of some speculation. One Paul adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity to talk freely, said prime-time speaking slots for Paul and his son Rand, the junior senator from Kentucky, are obvious goals. On the policy front, Ron Paul’s priorities are reforming the Federal Reserve and reducing federal spending. So promises to audit the Fed and to tackle deficit reduction seriously could appease the congressman and his supporters, the adviser said. […]

Paul’s infiltration strategy began in 2008, after his last presidential bid, when he saw the potential to continue building his movement by working within the Republican Party.

But the idea took off in 2010 when Paul’s son Rand ran for Senate. On an outsider, small-government message very similar to his father’s, Rand Paul won the Republican primary that year against an opponent who was handpicked by Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader and senior senator from Kentucky.

Then, quite strangely, the establishment and the Pauls came together.

At McConnell’s request, the National Republican Senatorial Committee sent an adviser to Kentucky to watch over Rand Paul’s general-election campaign — “to be the grown-up in the room,” according to one Washington Republican who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly.

The adviser, Trygve Olson, developed a friendship with Rand Paul, and the two realized that they could teach each other a lot — to the benefit of both candidate and party. Olson showed Paul and his campaign establishment tactics: working with the news media, fine-tuning its message. And Paul showed Olson — and by extension, McConnell — how many people were drawn to the GOP by his message of fiscal responsibility.

One day that year, at Paul’s request, McConnell joined him for a tea party gathering in Kentucky, according to a Republican who was there. “Who are these people?” McConnell asked, bewildered by the dearth of familiar faces at a political event in his home state.

And at Rand Paul’s suggestion, Olson joined his father’s presidential campaign this year, basically to do what he did for Rand: help bring the Paul constituency into the Republican coalition without threatening the party. It’s probably no small coincidence that the partnership helps Rand’s burgeoning political career, too.

“You can dress in black and stand on the hill and smash the state and influence nobody, or you can realize the dynamics and the environment and get involved in the most pragmatic way to win minds and win votes and influence change,” said Benton, the campaign manager. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

 

 

 

POLLS

PublicPolicyPolling: Ron Paul’s strongest candidate with independents in MO, leading Obama 47-36. Trails 45-43 overall though

 

 

 

A recent Pew Research survey showed that just 8% of Americans said they’d be more likely to vote for a Donald Trump-backed presidential candidate while 26% said less they’d be less likely to do so.

 

 

 

PublicPolicyPolling: Romney’s unpopularity is what’s making Obama competitive in Missouri. 30% see Mitt favorably, 54% unfav


Ignore Those Polls! (Influence on the Vote Edition) 

Jonathan Bernstein:

This has come up twice already this week, so I guess it’s time for a reminder: people usually don’t know why they vote for the candidates they choose to vote for, and are not particularly good at assessing how something influenced that vote — let alone how some hypothetical future event would influence them.

Today’s installment was from one of the sillier events on the campaign trail: Donald Trump’s endorsement, which apparently is going to go to Mitt Romney today. Now, in real life no one is going to care one way or another that Donald Trump endorsed a candidate. About the only effect would be a very short blast of publicity, but leading presidential candidates get plenty of that anyway. This isn’t something that will be forgotten by November; this is something that will almost certainly have been forgotten by Saturday, when Nevadans caucus. In other words, it’s not going to affect vote choice at all. And yet if you ask voters, it turns out that some will tell you that they would be more likely, and a somewhat larger number will tell you that they’ll be less likely, to vote for someone with a Trump endorsement. Hey, reporters: don’t believe those polls! You can take it as a measure of what respondents think about Trump, if you care about such things, but there’s no reason to believe that this kind of self-reporting about vote choice is meaningful at all, and it shouldn’t be included in stories about a Trump endorsement as if it was meaningful.

Similarly, there was a ton of coverage about exit polls in Florida that asked about whether ads or debates had influenced vote choice (sorry, no links; most of what I heard was on TV and radio). Hey, reporters: don’t believe those polls! People have no real way of knowing how they were influenced in these sorts of things even if they try real hard, and there’s no reason to believe that exit poll respondents did any such self-examination. Don’t believe me? Ask a room full of people if they vote based on political party. You’ll get only a handful of people who believe that they do — and yet we know very well that party is far and away the biggest factor in partisan elections.

The bottom line here is that polling is a really good tool for reporters to use in many cases, but remember: what polling tells you for sure is only what people will say if they’re asked a question by a pollster. We can be confident (if it’s a competent pollster) that the answer can be extrapolated out to the full relevant population, but only to the extent that we can be confident that everyone would give similar answers to those questions when asked by pollsters. It’s the reporters job to stop and think whether those answers have anything to do with real attitudes or real behavior. They might — polling about vote choice the day before the election is usually very accurate! But in cases when there’s no good reason to think the poll is telling us something meaningful, it’s a disservice to readers to report those poll results.

 

 

 

PEW: Low-Income Republicans Say Government Does Too Little for Poor People 

 

 

 

 

PEW: 70% of low-income Republican voters say rich & corporations hv too much power compared to 39% of high income GOP voters

 

 

 

SCIENCE

 

Newfound Alien Planet Is Best Candidate Yet to Support Life, Scientists Say

Scientific American:

A potentially habitable alien planet — one that scientists say is the best candidate yet to harbor water, and possibly even life, on its surface — has been found around a nearby star.

The planet is located in the habitable zone of its host star, which is a narrow circumstellar region where temperatures are neither too hot nor too cold for liquid water to exist on the planet’s surface.

“It’s the Holy Grail of exoplanet research to find a planet around a star orbiting at the right distance so it’s not too close where it would lose all its water and boil away, and not too far where it would all freeze,” Steven Vogt, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told SPACE.com. “It’s right smack in the habitable zone — there’s no question or discussion about it. It’s not on the edge, it’s right in there.”

Vogt is one of the authors of the new study, which was led by Guillem Anglada-Escudé and Paul Butler of the Carnegie Institution for Science, a private, nonprofit research organization based in Washington, D.C.

“This planet is the new best candidate to support liquid water and, perhaps, life as we know it,” Anglada-Escudé said in a statement.

An alien super-Earth
The researchers estimate that the planet, called GJ 667Cc, is at least 4.5 times as massive as Earth, which makes it a 
so-called super-Earth. It takes roughly 28 days to make one orbital lap around its parent star, which is located a mere 22 light-years away from Earth, in the constellation Scorpius (the Scorpion).

“This is basically our next-door neighbor,” Vogt said. “It’s very nearby. There are only about 100 stars closer to us than this one.”

Interestingly enough, the host star, GJ 667C, is a member of a triple-star system. GJ 667C is an M-class dwarf star that is about a third of the mass of the sun, and while it is faint, it can be seen by ground-based telescopes, Vogt said. [Gallery: The Strangest Alien Planets]

“The planet is around one star in a triple-star system,” Vogt explained. “The other stars are pretty far away, but they would look pretty nice in the sky.”

The discovery of a planet around GJ 667C came as a surprise to the astronomers, because the entire star system has a different chemical makeup than our sun. The system has much lower abundances of heavy elements (elements heavier than hydrogen and helium), such as iron, carbon and silicon.

“It’s pretty deficient in metals,” Vogt said. “These are the materials out of which planets form — the grains of stuff that coalesce to eventually make up planets — so we shouldn’t have really expected this star to be a likely case for harboring planets.”

The fortuitous discovery could mean that potentially habitable alien worlds could exist in a greater variety of environments than was previously thought possible, the researchers said.

“Statistics tell us we shouldn’t have found something this quickly this soon unless there’s a lot of them out there,” Vogt said. “This tells us there must be an awful lot of these planets out there. It was almost too easy to find, and it happened too quickly.”

The detailed findings of the study will be published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

MORE>>>

 

 

UNIONS

Unions scramble in face of “devastating” Arizona labor bills

TPM:

Union members were searching for a way out of the wilderness on Wednesday in Arizona as the Republican-controlled Senate moved ahead quickly on several bills that could devastate organized labor in the state.

The measures caught many union leaders by surprise, being introduced on Monday night and passed in committee less than 48 hours later.

At issue is a sweeping series of restrictions that would, among other things, ban unions that represent workers in state, county or city governments from engaging in any type of negotiations that affect the terms of their employment. That includes teachers, prison workers and the state’s powerful police and firefighters unions. The move would take away much of the power those unions have and turn them into something more akin to trade groups.

In interviews with TPM throughout the day, union leaders seemed to still be catching their collective breath. With their Democratic allies outnumbered 21-9 in the Senate, the unions appeared to have no clear or coordinated strategy about how they were going to fight the measures, which will need to pass at least one more committee before going to a full vote of the Senate and then moving on to the House.

“The whole thing is a surprise,” said Pete Gorraiz, president of the United Phoenix Fire Fighters Association. “It steamrolled right through.”

Groups like the AFL-CIO were already talking about coordinating some sort of large-scale protest to fight the measures, but the organization’s executive director for Arizona said something like that would possibly take weeks to plan.

“We have a scheduled day of action for March 1, but we may be looking at moving that closer,” Rebekah Friend, the union’s state director, told TPM. “It takes time. You can’t mobilize in a day. You just can’t.”

Friend was optimistic that Arizonans would come out in force against what she sees as extremist legislation. She pointed to recent Democratic victories in the state, including elections of mayors in Phoenix and Tucson, as proof that Arizona is more moderate than it gets credit for.

But she was also exploring several backup plans in case the measures end up becoming law. Lawsuits against the legislation and campaigns against lawmakers who help pass the bill are on the table. She said the AFL-CIO’s national organization was ready to help if needed.

Meanwhile, Brian Livingston, the head of the Arizona Police Association, said he hoped there still might be a way to convince Republicans in the Senate to vote against the package. He said his group, which is the largest police union in the state, was already talking to a number of senators from both sides of the aisle to figure out if a compromise could be reached.

“There are a lot of discussions going on right now,” Livingston said. “We are hoping now because the bills were passed by committee that we can get that dialogue to take place.”

Livingston said he thought the senators had been fed “misinformation” by the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank in Phoenix that helped write the bills.

A member of the institute told TPM on Tuesday that his organization believes the state could eventually save $550 million a year by stripping away collective bargaining and other union practices. He also said what happened last year in Wisconsin was “moderate” compared to Arizona’s bills.

But Livingston said the lawmakers needed to be reminded of the facts on the ground, like the dangers of police work and the reality that unions in Arizona aren’t as powerful as many of their critics make them out to be.

Still, Livingston didn’t know what exactly his organization would do if the bills become law.

“It would cause utter chaos,” he said. “You will see a devastating effect to employee moral. You will see, I believe, a hampering of the good services that our services provide to the public as we know it.”

Gorraiz of the Phoenix firefighters said he wasn’t sure massive protests would do the trick. After all, the large scale protests that took place after the passage of the state’s harsh immigration law didn’t stop Gov. Jan Brewer (R) from signing it.

“I think this legislature has demonstrated their indifference to public outcries in past,” he said.

Tim Hill, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona, agreed that it was best to appeal directly to the lawmakers who will be voting on the bills in the future.

“I don’t think I want to publicly discuss strategy,” Hill said. “But the only thing you can do is appeal to their sense of fairness and justice and the American way.”

Yet despite passionate appeals by union representatives at a committee hearing in the Senate on Wednesday, the measures all passed along 4-2 party line vote.

Republican Sen. Lori Klein, who sits on the Government Reform Committee, told the union members that the legislation wasn’t designed to hurt them.

“This is not an attack on them,” she said. “But it is a way to give them new freedom.”

But Democratic Sen. Steve Gallardo said the true motive was for conservatives to try to hurt groups they see as political foes.

“We are pinning up organized labor against the wall,” he said. “We don’t like what they’re saying. We don’t like who they support. And we are going to muzzle them.”

The governor’s office declined to comment, saying Brewer was waiting to see whether the legislation would pass.

 

 

 

WEDGE ISSUES

Was Komen’s Nancy Brinker Lying Yesterday Or Is She Lying Today?

Crooks & Liars:

The Susan G. Komen Foundation has absolutely no credibility left. On Thursday, this is what Nancy Brinker, Komen’s CEO, told Andrea Mitchell.

BRINKER: In 2010, we set about creating excellence in our grants, not just in our community grants, but in our science grants, putting metrics, outcomes and measures to them. [...] Part of that includes taking these grants into communities and being excellent grant givers. Many of the grants we were doing with Planned Parenthood do not meet new standards of criteria for how we can measure our results and effectiveness in communities.

She went on to emphasize that this was the key reason the funding had been withdrawn — and played down the fact that the GOP House was currently investigating Planned Parenthood.

But here’s part of the statement she released Friday.

Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation. We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.

Our only goal for our granting process is to support women and families in the fight against breast cancer. Amending our criteria will ensure that politics has no place in our grant process. We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities.

So, what happened to those “measures” and “metrics” and “outcomes” Brinker was babbling about on Thursday?

Meanwhile, wingnuts are circulating this piece, which claims a Komen board member says they’ve haven’t reversed themselves at all.

Following a new statement Komen for the Cure released making many observers believe the breast cancer charity reversed position on whether it would fund grants to Planned Parenthood,one Komen board member says it hasn’t caved.

Komen board member John Raffaelli talked with the Washington Post after the statement was released and said the new announcement doesn’t necessarily mean there is any reversal until and unless Planned Parenthood receives additional funding beyond what was already planned before Komen’s December decision.

Based on Komen’s actions this week, does anyone have any confidence that they’ll do the right thing now?

For Komen to regain any credibility at all, Brinker’s got to go. And so does the other wingnut behind this.

 

 

 

Susan G. Komen’s priceless gift

REBECCA TRAISTER AND JOAN WALSH:

The startling intensity that we saw this week in response to Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s decision to pull its grants from Planned Parenthood — an intensity that prompted the Komen foundation to reverse its decision today — may be the best thing that’s happened to the conversation about reproductive rights in this country for decades. It certainly should be.

Practically since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, reproductive rights activists have been left to play stilted defense against ideological opponents who grabbed the language of morality, life, love and family as their own, always deploying it with reference to the fetus. The rhetoric around reproductive rights, which has more recently begun to creep into arguments over contraception, has become suffocating in its emotional self-righteousness, but too muscular, too ubiquitous to effectively combat.

But the overreach by the Komen foundation, while surely intended to strike yet another blow on the side of antiabortion activism, succeeded instead in waking a powerful constituency — armed with precisely the language and emotional heft they’ve been lacking for too long.

That this week’s blow against Planned Parenthood came not directly from John Boehner’s House of Representatives – which, ever since taking power a year ago promising to focus on jobs, has manfully focused on the single task of attacking women’s reproductive rights – but instead from a popular, officially nonpartisan organization dedicated wholly to women’s healthcare somehow brought this argument into the open.

The response to Komen was surely so tinderbox explosive because it had been building with every politically theatrical investigation launched by Cliff Stearns and every grisly abortion scene enacted on the House floor by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith. But it was not just Washington wonkery, and was not ginned up or amplified by professional political cranks. It was the reflexive kick of a shin hit just below the knee, and the visceral anger spilled everywhere, from a Planned Parenthood Saved Me tumblr and onto Facebook, where people posted images of Komen’s pink ribbon cut in half. It poured from bank accounts, including that of New York Mayor and former Republican Michael Bloomberg.

It came from often dispassionate media figures like Andrea Mitchell, was tweeted by novelists like Judy Blume, Terry McMillan and William Gibson, actors Ellen Barkin and Martha Plimpton, politicos like Donna Brazile, Reps. Gwen Moore and Jackie Speiers, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and from 22 senators including Frank Lautenberg, Al Franken and Kirsten Gillibrand, who signed a letter urging Komen to reverse its decision. It came from callers to radio programs, announcing their intentions to drop out of Komen races, and from the American Association of University Women, which canceled a scheduled service event with Komen. In the three days after Komen’s announcement of its Planned Parenthood break, Planned Parenthood received more than $3 million in donations, said PPFA president Cecile Richards in a press call on Friday.

More than that, though: The starkly observable attack against something as crucial and basic as breast exams for poor women, as well as the fact that so many divergent voices were pulled into it, meant that the conversation was not about partisan politics; it was about women. For the first time in what feels like forever, passion and fury were being loudly, proudly given in a full-throated voice, on behalf of women – women as moral actors; women as citizens with rights, health, bodies, freedoms; women as people with families and economic concerns.

Taken together, these factors mark this as a watershed moment in the contemporary conversation about reproductive rights. This is a story in which we see the possibility of a turned tide, a new way to gauge how the public actually feels about women’s rights and health, and a new way to talk about it, as well. Because what we saw this week was big. It was mass. It was emotional. This was so different from the various polls activists on both sides of the abortion question are always throwing around, polls that depend so much on how a question is asked; polls that offer far less clarity than head-banging confusion about where America stands on the issue of reproductive heath. This was not a poll. This was America announcing that it cared about women’s health, and more specifically, that it cared about Planned Parenthood.

In many ways, the activism that forced Komen to backtrack was ignited by Boehner’s House Republicans a year ago, when they voted to cut off all funding to Planned Parenthood because it provides abortion services. This despite the fact that since 1976’s Hyde Amendment, no federal money has been able to be used to provide abortion services. The organization Republicans want to squash provides more than 800,000 women a year with breast exams, more than 4 million Americans with testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and 2.5 million people with contraception, which prevents unintended pregnancy and thus abortion. But playing to what they must imagine is overriding public sentiment, Republicans have worked tirelessly to lodge the image of Planned Parenthood as an abortion factory deep in the American imagination.

A year ago, some of the anger at this strategy began to bubble over. In response to Smith’s description of a second trimester abortion, read on the House floor, Democratic U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier went to the House well and described her own painful second trimester abortion. “For you to stand on this floor and suggest that somehow this is a procedure that is either welcomed or done cavalierly or done without any thought, is preposterous,” Speier said, directing her comments at Smith. “Planned Parenthood has a right to operate. Planned Parenthood has a right to provide services for family planning. Planned Parenthood has a right to offer abortions. The last time I checked, abortions were legal in this country … I would suggest to you that it would serve us all very well if we moved on with this process and started focusing on creating jobs for the Americans who desperately want them.”

It was around this time that a viral “Thank You Planned Parenthood” meme cropped up online. With participants noting the instances in which they had relied on PPFA for birth control, breast exams, gynelogical care, and yes, abortions. Twitter, Facebook and blogs began to be dotted with “I stand with Planned Parenthood” emblems. Comedian Lizz Winstead kicked off a tour called “Planned Parenthood, I am here for you.”

But this recent wave of defense of Planned Parenthood has remained broad, ambient. The politics of the congressional witch hunt have been so labyrinthine, so convoluted, that it has been difficult to know how to effectively harness an angry response. When, last fall, Rep. Cliff Stearns launched an investigation into PPFA’s bookkeeping, the move was so needless, such a trumped-up piece of political stagecraft (since PPFA does receive federal funds, it must scrupulously account for every dime it spends, no special investigation required) that it was hard to even know how to make sense of it, let alone respond. This week, a caller to WNYC’s “Brian Lehrer Show” professed her belief that the Stearns investigation centered on whether Planned Parenthood was performing late-term abortions.

The demonization of Planned Parenthood should have awakened the country to the radicalism of the right, and how far it has pushed the political conversation. It’s been hard to measure the degree of the radicalism, so slowly and unceasingly has it crept across our consciousness and the political discourse. But it’s important to remember how mainstream Planned Parenthood used to be. It was the respectable, even Republican, advocate for women’s health, including reproductive services; the leaders of the National Abortion Rights Action League were the activist agitators. Sen. Prescott Bush, the father of President George H.W. Bush, served as treasurer of Planned Parenthood’s first national fundraising campaign. Richard Nixon signed the family planning legislation in 1970 that authorized its federal funding.

As a congressman, George Bush and his wife, Barbara, were reliable friends of the organization. Barry Goldwater’s wife, Betty, was a founding member of Arizona Planned Parenthood; President Gerald Ford’s wife, Betty, was a high-profile supporter of the group. More recently, Ann Romney, wife of the 2012 GOP presidential front-runner, donated $150 to Planned Parenthood in 1994. And when a Romney relative died of a botched abortion in 1963, the family asked that memorial donations go to Planned Parenthood.

But what happened this week was a clarifying moment. Right-wing extremism, coming this time not from the partisan mill but from a mainstream women’s organization, was put in a direct and unflattering spotlight. Suddenly, so much was clear, and finally, the response was unified and thunderous. Right-wing overreach — and the backlash it inspired — feels a lot like the way other radical GOP power grabs in the last year have galvanized the public to fight back. Attacks on collective bargaining, public workers and unions by Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana have produced mass mobilization in those states, the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades. Public workers – cops, firefighters, nurses, teachers, paramedics, sanitation workers – once were the proud backbone of the middle class. Now they find themselves derided by the GOP as the new welfare queens who are taking more than their fair share. Ohio voters repealed a law that abolished collective bargaining in November, and pro-union organizers in Wisconsin have forced a recall election for Gov. Scott Walker.

Efforts to restrict voting rights are likewise waking up the citizenry; Maine repealed a law that banned same-day voting and registration in November, and Ohio blocked a voter photo ID bill. Even on the issue of reproductive rights, a draconian “personhood” amendment to the state constitution failed to pass in Mississippi, one of the reddest of the red states. Overreach by the right has re-inspired movements – unions, voting rights, women’s rights — that have too long been dormant and too easily dismissed by their ideological opponents as outside the mainstream of American values, when in fact, they used to represent the most American of values.

For defenders of Planned Parenthood, and more broadly for reproductive rights activists, this moment of repositioning is a valuable one. Until now, it has proven very difficult for advocates to resuscitate their side with language anywhere near as powerful as that used by antiabortion forces. Instead they have relied too heavily on the fungible, limp, endlessly open-ended language of “choice.” (Even among “pro-choice” advocates, the “I choose my choice!” joke from “Sex and the City” has become a ubiquitous critique.)

But what happened this week was powerful. It was mass. It was direct. It was emotional. And it restores women as the moral center of this conversation — which is where they belong.

 

 

 

Ezra Klein — University group ends Komen collaboration after Planned Parenthood decision

 

 

 

CNN: Bloomberg pledges $250,000 to Planned Parenthood in matching funds

 

 

 

Lance Armstrong pledges $100,000 to Planned Parenthood

 

 

 

Planned parenthood raises $3 Million in three days

 

 

 

Will Komen cancel its $7.5 million grant to Penn State, which like PP is under federal investigation? 

 

 

 

Ties Between Ron Paul and White Supremacists Exposed

Pensito Review:

We’ve all wondered about the zealotry of Ron Paul followers and dismissed it as the idealistic naivete of his frequently young apostles. They call into radio shows and protest that their man isn’t being respected. They wave signs from freeway overpasses. They post on Facebook that, despite all evidence to the contrary, Paul still has a path to the White House. And they whisper to each other about a third party run.

But what if there is more to this devotion? What if, like the racist statements in Paul’s newsletters that appeared regularly and for years, it is exactly what it looks like?

Anonymous, the internet hacking group, is exposing close ties between Ron Paul’s campaign and neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Members of the nationalist American Third Position Party (A3P), whose website was defaced by Anonymous, organised Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul’s meetings and campaigns, according emails hacked by the collective…

According to these messages, Ron Paul has regularly met with many A3P members, even engaging in conference calls with their board of directors,” read a statement from Anonymous.

Paul is apparently unconcerned about these supporters’ views.

It also claims that Paul received financial support from other white power groups, such as the online hate forum Stormfront, founded by Don Black, a white supremacist. There is even a photograph of Paul with Black, a former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and a current member of the American Nazi Party. Paul allegedly refused to return donations from Black and Stormfront. Black told The New York Times that Paul’s newsletter had inspired him to become a supporter.

Earning special scrutiny is Jamie Kelso, a major figure in the white power movement, and adminstrator of the web site, WhiteNewsNow.

Kelso, a former Scientologist and account owner of other German Nazi forums, became an active supporter of Paul in 2007. He was reportedly attracted to Paul because he believed the Republican’s followers would be receptive to his white supremacist views. He described Paul as “implicitly white” and started to actively organise Paul’s events.

Let’s appreciate this big (Paul) audience that’s overwhelmingly white,” Kelso said in an interview with the Southern Poverty Law Center. “This is our audience, this is our public. These are our people. If we can’t persuade these people of the rightness of our cause, then we’re finished,” he said.

Kelso need not worry. The message seems to be getting through. People who hate Obama but don’t feel the need to explain why, and yet who are decidedly not among the 1% or 1% wannabes who support Romney and Gingrich are finding common ground with Paul, who is doing nothing to discourage their support and might even be encouraging it.

The web site Little Green Footballs is exploring this story, which was first reported on the British site, International Business Times. Follow the links in this post to find out more and decide if you think Paul’s relationships with racists can continue to be explained away.

AND IN OTHER NEWS…

 

The definition of a Liberal, from the West Wing

 

 

 

 

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QUOTE OF THE DAY:

Las Vegas is the only place I know where money really talks–it says, ‘Goodbye.’

~~~Frank Sinatra