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.
State lawmakers struck a deal Tuesday on a roughly $68 billion, no-new-taxes budget that slashes funding to schools and hospitals, eliminates thousands of jobs, provides a few business tax breaks and adds some hometown pork projects in one of the leanest years in decades.
Florida families will get a three-day back-to-school sales tax holiday and taxpayers will see a minuscule property tax break on their water management district bills in a year in which the Legislature was forced to cut spending by nearly $4 billion due to the lingering recession.
The biggest losers in the budget are hospitals, which will absorb a 12 percent rate reduction totaling about $500 million, and nursing homes will face a cut of 6.5 percent. But lawmakers spared two programs that provide medical care to people with complex health problems.
Other projects include $6 million in economic aid to the Panhandle, the area hit hardest by the oil spill; $5 million for a world-class International Regatta Sports Center in Sarasota; and $3.4 million for a neighborhood redevelopment project in the Pine Hills section of Orlando.
Earlier this year, the GOP voted in lockstep to extend billions in tax breaks to oil companies. The subsidies include special tax breaks only available to oil and gas companies. For instance, there is the “Intangible Drilling Costs” tax break ($7.8 billion over ten years); a deduction for “tertiary,” or enhanced oil recovery methods ($67 million over ten years); and the percentage depletion allowance for owners of oil wells ($10 billion over ten years).
Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), a staunch ally of polluters and top recipient of oil industry campaign contributions, was asked last week at the Toole County Republican convention if he supports such tax breaks to big oil. An incredulous Bishop retorted that “there are no special subsidies or tax breaks for oil companies, period.” Rather, Bishop claimed that there is a media conspiracy to fool the public into believing in oil subsidies:
BISHOP: There’s no subsidies for oil companies, oil companies get the same tax breaks that every other business gets. There are no special subsidies or tax breaks for oil companies, period.
CONSTITUENT: Why is that reported in the newspapers and on the–
BISHOP: They liked to spin it that way. Any change in oil companies was to give them the same tax structure as as every other manufacturing business gets. There is nothing that is that special or new or unique for these oil companies. And there are a lot of people who want to throw that spin out there. It’s spin, it’s crap.
American Bankers Association President Frank Keating Tuesday backtracked from an earlier statement he made about supporting White House adviser Elizabeth Warren if President Barack Obama were to nominate her as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
In a phone interview Tuesday, Keating told Dow Jones Newswires he meant that he would support Warren if she were confirmed by the Senate.
“If Elizabeth Warren is the head of the bureau, of course we’re going to work with her,” he said. But that doesn’t mean the banking association won’t seek legislation to rework the bureau’s structure so that there is more accountability to the taxpayers and more congressional oversight, he added.
Last year, Obama skirted what would have been a likely contentious Senate confirmation battle and instead tapped Warren as a White House adviser in charge of preparing the consumer agency for its July launch.
Still, bin Laden’s death is a political victory for Obama, and some Washington observers believe the president will now be more willing to pursue a political fight over the consumer bureau.
“In our view, political capital is a depreciating asset and the White House may want to use its new capital on a political fight that it thinks it can win even if the nomination is defeated,” said Keefe, Bruyette and Woods analyst Brian Gardner in a research note Tuesday.
Similarly, Keating suggested the bin Laden news could move the president to nominate Warren.
General Motors and Ford reported strong U.S. sales
gains in April, as high gasoline prices drove consumer demand for fuel-efficient
cars. GM sales for April in the U.S. were up 27 percent over the same time last
year—much better than forecasts predicted.
Reuters) – U.S. factory orders surged in March, posting a fifth straight monthly
increase that showed a healthy manufacturing sector well placed to support
The Commerce Department said on Tuesday new orders for manufactured goods
rose 3 percent to a seasonally adjusted $463 billion, well above Wall Street
economists’ forecasts for a 1.9 percent pickup.
In addition, February orders that had been reported as dropping by 0.1
percent were sharply revised to instead show a 0.7 percent increase.
I find myself wondering what the point of corporate income taxes is. When you’re taxing a person, it’s easy to see where the money is coming from but when you’re taxing a corporation, what’s happening then? I suppose maybe it comes out of the pockets of the higher ups since there’s probably more flexibility in pay there but maybe it comes out of the pockets of consumers in which case it’s actually a regressive tax. What’s the deal?
As I understand it, there are two reasons for having a corporate income tax. One is concern about tax evasion. If you made corporate income untaxed, then you might see all manner of rich people incorporating themselves as a tax shelter and then you’d have some huge enforcement headaches.
The other (and realistically more important) reason is just pure path dependency. Marie Diamond wrote for ThinkProgress yesterday about a Texas House committee moving to enact a tax break for yacht owners amidst a state budget crunch. That’s in response to the fact that Florida recently cut its yacht tax. Now in both cases you could ask “how much sense does it really make to single out yachts for taxation?” and the answer is “not that much sense.” Clearly the intent is to levy a consumption tax whose incidence will fall on the rich, but there are many technically superior ways of doing this. However, the point is that when you’re in the midst of a state budget crisis, it’s dumb to scrap the tax and need to engage in even deeper cuts in public services. It seems to me that the corporate income tax should be reformed in a revenue-generating way. If that means congress wants to scrap the tax entirely and replace it with some other kind of tax, that’s worth talking about. But just scrapping it on the grounds that it’s not optimal doesn’t make sense. Lots of things aren’t optimal, and you’ve got to work with what you’ve got.
WHEN we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.
And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.
We have a rare chance now, with many teachers near retirement, to prove we’re serious about education. The first step is to make the teaching profession more attractive to college graduates. This will take some doing.
At the moment, the average teacher’s pay is on par with that of a toll taker or bartender. Teachers make 14 percent less than professionals in other occupations that require similar levels of education. In real terms, teachers’ salaries have declined for 30 years. The average starting salary is $39,000; the average ending salary — after 25 years in the profession — is $67,000. This prices teachers out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas, and makes raising a family on one salary near impossible.
So how do teachers cope? Sixty-two percent work outside the classroom to make ends meet. For Erik Benner, an award-winning history teacher in Keller, Tex., money has been a constant struggle. He has two children, and for 15 years has been unable to support them on his salary. Every weekday, he goes directly from Trinity Springs Middle School to drive a forklift at Floor and Décor. He works until 11 every night, then gets up and starts all over again. Does this look like “A Plan,” either on the state or federal level?
People talk about accountability, measurements, tenure, test scores and pay for performance. These questions are worthy of debate, but are secondary to recruiting and training teachers and treating them fairly. There is no silver bullet that will fix every last school in America, but until we solve the problem of teacher turnover, we don’t have a chance.
Can we do better? Can we generate “A Plan”? Of course.
The consulting firm McKinsey recently examined how we might attract and retain a talented teaching force. The study compared the treatment of teachers here and in the three countries that perform best on standardized tests: Finland, Singapore and South Korea.
Turns out these countries have an entirely different approach to the profession. First, the governments in these countries recruit top graduates to the profession. (We don’t.) In Finland and Singapore they pay for training. (We don’t.) In terms of purchasing power, South Korea pays teachers on average 250 percent of what we do.
And most of all, they trust their teachers. They are rightly seen as the solution, not the problem, and when improvement is needed, the school receives support and development, not punishment. Accordingly, turnover in these countries is startlingly low: In South Korea, it’s 1 percent per year. In Finland, it’s 2 percent. In Singapore, 3 percent.
McKinsey polled 900 top-tier American college students and found that 68 percent would consider teaching if salaries started at $65,000 and rose to a minimum of $150,000. Could we do this? If we’re committed to “winning the future,” we should. If any administration is capable of tackling this, it’s the current one. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan understand the centrality of teachers and have said that improving our education system begins and ends with great teachers. But world-class education costs money.
For those who say, “How do we pay for this?” — well, how are we paying for three concurrent wars? How did we pay for the interstate highway system? Or the bailout of the savings and loans in 1989 and that of the investment banks in 2008? How did we pay for the equally ambitious project of sending Americans to the moon? We had the vision and we had the will and we found a way.
Today, the United Nations announced that the world’s population will reach an historic 7 billion people on Oct. 31, 2011. World population hit 1 billion people in 1804. It took 123 years to add the next billion, but less than a century to cruise past the next four billion — from 2 billion people in 1927 to 6 billion people in 1999.
Many of these increases in projected population, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa, are due to persistently high fertility rates. The projections assume that the average number of children per woman will begin falling in such countries, but this is often a rosy assumption. For example, Nigeria’s fertility rate for 2010-2015 was previously projected to be 4.8 children per woman, but has now been revised to 5.4. This difference contributes to a much larger total population by 2050.
Still, the assumptions built into the projections for many high-fertility countries would require major increases in the use of family planning. Nigeria’s fertility rate, measured [PDF] at almost six children per woman in 2008, is projected to fall to slightly over three children by 2050. This is highly unlikely if current trends continue, because only 10 percent of married women in Nigeria use effective contraception, while 20 percent want to avoid pregnancy but aren’t using family-planning services. Until their health-care needs and rights are fulfilled, the demographic future the U.N. has projected for Africa’s largest nation seems too optimistic.
“Despite the fact that outdoor air quality has improved, we’ve reduced two common asthma triggers — second-hand smoke and smoking in general — asthma is increasing,” said Paul Garbe, chief of CDC’s Air Pollution and Respiratory Health Branch.
“While we don’t know the cause of the increase, our top priority is getting people to manage their symptoms better.”
Asthma can affect people of all ages but tends to be more prevalent among the poor, said the CDC Vital Signs report, issued as the United States marks Asthma Awareness Month.
African-American children have the highest rate of asthma, at 17.6 percent.
But all ethnic and demographic groups saw a rise in incidences of asthma over the 2001-2009 study period, which used data from the National Health Interview Survey and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.
The overall prevalence of asthma in the US population went from 20.3 million people in 2001 (7.3 percent) to 24.6 million people in 2009 (7.3 percent).
In a new effort to increase access to health care for poor people, the Obama administration is proposing a rule that would make it much more difficult for states to cut Medicaid payments to doctors and hospitals.
The rule could also put pressure on some states to increase Medicaid payment rates, which are typically lower than what Medicare and commercial insurance pay.
Federal officials said Monday that the rule was needed to fulfill the promise of federal law, which says Medicaid recipients should have access to health care at least to the same extent as the general population.
“We have a responsibility to ensure sufficient beneficiary access to covered services,” the administration said in issuing the proposal, to be published Friday in the Federal Register.
In many parts of the country, Medicaid recipients have difficulty finding doctors who will take them because Medicaid payment rates are so low.
Faced with huge financial problems, many states have frozen or reduced Medicaid payments to health care providers, and governors of both parties have proposed additional cuts this year. Medicaid recipients and health care providers have sued state officials to block such cuts, and one case, from California, is pending in the United States Supreme Court.
Medicaid is financed jointly by the federal government and the states. Even before the recent recession, it was one of the fastest-growing items in most state budgets.
The new initiative comes as federal and state officials prepare for a huge expansion of Medicaid eligibility, scheduled to occur in 2014 under the new health care law.
About half of the 34 million uninsured people who are expected to gain coverage under the law will get it through Medicaid.
The proposed rule generally prevents states from cutting Medicaid payments to providers unless they can show that Medicaid recipients will have “sufficient access” to care after the cuts.
Regardless of whether they want to cut payment rates, states must continually monitor Medicaid recipients’ access to care and develop plans to fix any problems they discover, the rule says.
Under the rule, states must measure and document access to “each covered benefit” at least once every five years. Data from such reviews could provide doctors, hospitals and nursing homes with powerful new tools to lobby for higher reimbursement.
States set Medicaid payment rates within broad federal guidelines. Federal law has long said that states must “enlist enough providers” to make sure Medicaid recipients have access to care equivalent to that of other people in the area.
Under presidents of both parties, federal officials have often disregarded this requirement, approving cuts in Medicaid payment rates that discouraged doctors from accepting Medicaid patients.
In an effort to rein in costs, states have increasingly turned to health maintenance organizations and other types of managed care. The new rule does not apply to managed care. But the Obama administration said it was “considering future proposals” to guarantee access to care for Medicaid recipients in such private health plans.
Under the proposal being issued this week, “beneficiary access must be considered in setting and adjusting” Medicaid payments to doctors, dentists, psychologists, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, nursing homes and suppliers of medical equipment.
States must consult Medicaid recipients because, the rule says, their experience is “the most important indicator of whether access is sufficient.” Federal officials suggested that states survey Medicaid recipients to see how much difficulty they had in scheduling doctor’s appointments.
In addition, the rule says, states should compare Medicaid payment rates with the amounts paid by Medicare or commercial insurers, with providers’ costs or with their customary charges. Another important factor, it said, is the number and percentage of doctors who accept new Medicaid patients.
Anybody who’s got more than one medical condition knows the drill. You go to the cardiologist with a heart problem. You go to the orthopedic surgeon if your back hurts. You find an oncologist if you need chemotherapy.
They all get paid by an insurance company or the government (if you’re on Medicare or Medicaid) or by you. But it’s rare when all three doctors talk to each other and they almost never compare notes. You see each one of them in a kind of vacuum. And you, the patient, are left to figure out what each piece of your medical puzzle means to the other.
Meanwhile, the chances are good that all three doctors have ordered expensive tests that may duplicate each other.
It could be that the back problem has something to do with your heart problem or the cancer is causing one of the other two conditions to get worse. But the only way you’ll ever find out is if you take all of your doctors out to dinner, sit them down at the table and lock the restaurant door.
Fragmentation and unnecessary testing are two of the hallmarks of medical care in the United States. They’re also a major factor in what’s driving the cost of health care through the roof. The Kaiser Family Foundation has just released its annual report on health care spending in the United States and found that $7,538 a year is now spent on each American. That’s at least $2,535 more or 51 percent higher than Norway, the next largest per capita spender.
The rate of growth in health care spending is also going up faster than any other industrialized nation. If this trend keeps up it won’t be many years before health care accounts for more than a quarter of the nation’s gross domestic product.
Enter a new idea: The Accountable Care Organization (ACO), a key provision in the new federal healthcare law.
The Republican-led House approved Tuesday another bill aimed at defunding parts of last year’s huge health care overhaul, but the measure doesn’t stand much of a chance in the Democratic-led Senate.
The bill would eliminate funding available to states to help them create and set up the health marketplaces known as exchanges, where individuals and small businesses will be able to purchase health insurance starting in 2 1/2 years. Under the health care law, the health and human services secretary can grant funds to the states without going through the annual congressional budget process.
The Congressional Budget Office says eliminating the funding would save money — since fewer people would get insurance from the exchanges. But it would also result in the federal government, rather than the states, running many of the exchanges itself.
The vote split mainly along party lines, 238-183.
Like previous efforts by House Republicans to repeal or weaken the health care law, the bill is likely to be ignored by the Democratic-led Senate and would face a presidential veto anyway.
The House this week is also voting on a second bill to eliminate funding in the law to create school-based health clinics.
Jon Chait takes note of the remarkably large contingent of conservatives who seem genuinely outraged that Democrats accuse Paul Ryan and other Republicans of not wanting to fund healthcare for the poor and the vulnerable:
Who do they think is on Medicaid? Prosperous, healthy people?
No, Medicaid is a bare-bones program throwing a lifeline to people who are in bad shape. Cutting Medicaid may be the politically easiest way for Ryan to clear budget room to preserve Bush-era revenue levels, as Medicaid patients have little political clout. But it is, well, deeply immoral. I’m actually surprised that conservatives not only can’t seem to imagine (or care about) the consequences of such policies, but they can’t even imagine that people like Obama would actually feel moral outrage at their plan. They can’t imagine a liberal objection as representing anything other than an attempt to score political points. It’s bizarre. I mean, of course Obama finds it morally objectionable to take away medical care to people in nursing homes and children with special needs. That’s why he’s a Democrat.
Both chambers of the Florida legislature are considering bills opponents call “anti-immigrant.” The House version is essentially a copy of Arizona’s notorious SB 1070, which spurred national outrage and a federal court injunction.
The Florida House bill, HB 7089, introduced by State Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart, would criminalize undocumented workers and impose 20 days in jail for those who have no identification. It would also mandate that employers use the flawed “E-Verify” system and that government bodies give any information they obtain over to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
The Senate version, SB 2040, likely to be voted on today, is significantly watered down, but, immigrant rights advocates say, it is still draconian enough to merit possible boycotts. Republican Gov. Scott Walker has vowed to sign any anti-immigration bill that comes across his desk.
MoveOn Executive Director Justin Ruben said both versions of the bill pander “to fear and racism.” He vowed, “If this bill becomes law, our members will take their tourism dollars elsewhere.”
And tourism is big business in Florida. According to the state’s statistics, 82.6 million people traveled here in 2010, and spend about $60 billion annually. Much of the coastal area sees an influx of young people during spring break every year. Obviously, the economic benefits for the state are enormous: Tourism provides more than 1 million jobs, and nearly a quarter of the state’s sales tax revenue (there is no income tax).
Any decline in tourists would harm all Floridians. The immigrant and civil rights activists who hosted this morning’s call say proponents of the anti-immigrant bill have thrown caution to the wind. If the bill is passed, the state can expect boycotts and, even without that level of organization, there would be a natural decline in the number of Latin American tourists, who make up a huge percentage of visitors, from both other states and from other countries.
San Quentin State Prison’s new warden wants to recruit a new execution team, prompting the corrections department to say more time will be needed before a federal judge can review revised lethal injection procedures.
BP Exploration Alaska, Inc. (BP Alaska) will pay a $25 million civil penalty and carry out a system-wide pipeline integrity management program as part of a settlement for spilling more than 5,000 barrels of crude oil from the company’s pipelines on the North Slope of Alaska in 2006, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) announced today. The penalty is the largest per-barrel penalty to date for an oil spill.
“This penalty is a stern reminder to pipeline operators to follow orders issued by PHMSA or risk a federal civil lawsuit and steep fines,” said PHMSA Administrator Cynthia L. Quarterman. “Also, it is a warning that operators must know, test and maintain their pipelines or risk harming people and the environment and having to spend, as in this instance, hundreds of millions of dollars replacing those pipelines.”
The federal government sued Deutsche Bank Tuesday, saying the bank committed fraud and padded its pockets with undeserved income as it repeatedly lied so it could benefit from a government program that insured mortgages.
The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Manhattan seeks to recover hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance claims that the government has had to pay when homeowners defaulted on their mortgages. The lawsuit also asked for punitive damages. The government said the bank made substantial profits between 2007 and 2009 from the resale of the risky mortgages, leaving the government to foot the bill for loans that defaulted. The mortgage insurance is issued by the Federal Housing Administration.
[J]udges continue to edge toward accountability for acts of fraud. A case in point: South Carolina, where the chief justice of the state Supreme Court just stopped all foreclosures for the second time in as many years:
For the second time in two years, South Carolina’s chief justice on Tuesday ordered a stop to all pending foreclosures until the parties involved can complete an intervention process — a move with the potential to affect thousands of people struggling to hold onto their homes.
The injunction, which applies both to foreclosures still pending on May 9, as well as any filed after that date, is intended to give homeowners a chance to mitigate their losses, modify their loans and potentially alleviate the already strained court system processing the cases, Chief Justice Jean Toal wrote in the order.
“The number of unresolved foreclosure actions has increase, with a resulting burden on the resources of the Court before which the action is pending,” Toal wrote. “The trial courts report that such breakdowns are largely the result of difficulty in communication between lender-services and debtors, and the fact that foreclosure actions are proceeding to conclusion without regard to ongoing loss mitigation efforts by the parties.”
This is really aimed at forcing loan modifications or some other agreement between borrowers and lenders, and Judge Toal may be more concerned with cleaning up state court dockets than anything else. But she has always had as her foremost goal getting borrowers the help they need. Stopping foreclosures or other options by the banks is a good way to get that done.
This will stop foreclosure actions on as many as 23,500 homes, as those families get a chance at coming to an agreement. This kind of moratorium could be a model for the rest of the country.
In addition, state registers of deeds are looking at the faulty signatures uncovered by 60 Minutes’ report and the diligent work of foreclosure fraud activists over the years, and are starting to make their move. In Massachusetts, register of deeds John O’Brien of Essex found hundreds of questionable and potentially fraudulent signatures under his jurisdiction from Linda Green, a notorious robo-signer. He forwarded these on to the state Attorney General, Martha Coakley.
Allison Kilkenny has a full round-up of various actions and protests happening around the country showing opposition to budget cuts. I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that it’s getting so little press, especially considering that we vanquished the boogeyman this week, but still. These are fellow Americans all over the country facing a very real threat to their own lives that nobody seems to think is particularly relevant:
Capitol Police arrested eighty-nine disability rights activists  on Monday following the group’s occupation of the Cannon House Office Building rotunda.
The disability rights group ADAPT  staged the event to protest Representative Paul Ryan’s Medicaid cuts, which would force people with disabilities to live in nursing homes rather than in their own houses.
Additionally, the House-passed budget resolution would turn Medicaid into block grants and reduce the program’s spending by more than $700 billion over ten years.
Combined with other Medicaid cuts at the state level, the protesters said, the block grant plan could restrict funding so much that people with disabilities would not have enough public support to be able to live independently.
[…]Nursing home residents in Illinois  also turned out to protest proposed Medicaid cuts. Governor Pat Quinn’s budget reduces Lee Manor’s funding by $500,000, a crushing blow that would cut staff and services at the nursing center.
Quinn’s plans include cutting Medicaid by 6 percent, or $70 million in state funds, which would result in a federal match of an additional $70 million also being wiped out. Nearly 7,000 healthcare jobs would be lost, according to Pat Cornstock, executive director of Health Care Council of Illinois.
[…]New Jersey firefighters  took to the streets Monday to protest budget cuts and a recent reduction in official fire department staff size.
[…]Thousands of people are expected to rally in downtown Raleigh today in order to protest the proposed cuts  in the House budget proposal…Republicans have proposed spending $900 million  less in public education and health care than what Governor Beverly Perdue (D) offered in her spending proposal to the legislature in February. These cuts are piled atop 15,000 education job cuts that have already occurred over the past two years, according to NCAE.North Carolina’s budget also sets aside $230 million for corporate income tax breaks and private sector job creation.
[…]Thousands more are expected to descend upon Pennsylvania’s State Capitol today to protest Governor Tom Corbett’s budget proposal , which calls for over a billion dollars in cuts to education and axing 1,500 state jobs.
Read on … There’s much more.
Now I suppose you can chalk that up to a bunch of useless hippies waving their peace signs around if you want to, but it looks like similar protests are happening all over the country over these issues. And the people who are protesting aren’t doing it out of some abstract ideological commitment to the safety net — they are citizens who are going to be personally affected by these cuts. Real human beings, with real lives.
We can blame the blackout on bin Laden, but let’s face it: nobody in the mainstream media was covering this systematically anyway. These guys need to start calling themselves terrorists or Tea Partiers. It’s the only way anyone will notice.
Liberal Democrats: Strong on National Security
MSNBC Lawrence O’Donnell The Last Word. Who’s soft on terror?
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerry spoke to reporters off-camera after the Democratic Policy lunch this afternoon expressing concern about a further deterioration of U.S.- Pakistani relations in the wake of the bin Laden killing.
Kerry said he spoke to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last night, and they talked about trying to leverage this moment into hitting a “reset” button between the two countries.
“We have to be thoughtful about trying to make lemonade out of lemons,” he said. He added, “If you want a radical Islamist government having possession of nuclear weapons and running Pakistan, then you can go off in a knee-jerk way that makes matters worse. I’m not making matters worse. And I think we have to be very thoughtful about this.”
Kerry said he was in no way defending the Pakistanis, but he said their cooperation was crucial in being able to track the couriers and survey the compound.
“We just got Osama bin Laden,” he said, emphatically. “And one of the reasons we got him is because we had intelligence people, who were there and able to do the work. If we lose that, then you put America at greater risk in my judgment, so I’d be very careful.”
On Morning Joe this morning, Joe and others were ballyhooing the use of waterboarding on Khalid Sheik Mohammed and how the information he provided eventually lead to the location of Bin Laden’s courier and, hence, Bin Laden himself. Joe said something to effect of, “This time it worked.”
And Morning Joe isn’t alone. Much of the wingnut right is crediting the Bush administration’s enhanced interrogation techniques (torture) with leading to the death of Bin Laden.
Just because torture was used on KSM doesn’t mean Torture = Bin Laden Killed. In fact, it’s a huge stretch. The so-called efficacy of torture doesn’t preclude the efficacy of traditional interrogation techniques. In other words, they could have used traditional techniques and retrieved the information more effectively.
How do we know this?
Because the AP makes it clear that KSM gave up Bin Laden’s courier while being interrogated using traditional interrogation techniques.
Mohammed did not reveal the names while being subjected to the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, former officials said. He identified them many months later under standard interrogation, they said, leaving it once again up for debate as to whether the harsh technique was a valuable tool or an unnecessarily violent tactic.
Related reading: Here, Politico picks apart how the White House has tweaked the official story since news first broke. And the New York Times has the tick-tock here, the most compelling account I can find. 79 commandos, 4 helicopters, less than hour.
Even the NYT’s account would appear to have inaccuracies now: They report that “Geronimo” was code name for bin Laden, but CNN cites an administration official later clarifying that this was the code name for the operation, not the man himself.
The takeaway for all of us, perhaps, is to be skeptical of first accounts, no matter where they come from, and to repeat the oft-uttered Wikipedian refrain. “Citation, please.”
U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner slammed comments on Monday made by a Hamas leader who criticized the U.S. for killing ‘holy warrior’ Osama bin Laden.
Ismael Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip, said in response to the U.S. operation against bin Laden “we regard this as a continuation of the American policy based on oppression and the shedding of Muslim and Arab blood.”
White House officials on Tuesday sought to correct the official account of the raid in Pakistan that ended in the killing of Osama bin Laden, saying that the Qaeda leader was not armed and that his wife was not killed. But they added that Bin Laden resisted when confronted during the raid.
The new Defense Department narrative released by the White House, and read at a White House news briefing on Tuesday, said that one of Bin Laden’s wives was shot in the leg as she charged members of the commando team on the third floor of the compound.
“In the room with Bin Laden, a woman – Bin Laden’s wife – rushed the U.S. assaulter and was shot in the leg but not killed,” the brief statement said. “Bin Laden was then shot and killed. He was not armed.”
In releasing the new narrative of the raid, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, tried to correct statements by administration officials who had suggested that Bin Laden was armed during the attack.
Under questioning, Mr. Carney said that the White House stood by its claim on Monday that Bin Laden had resisted capture, but said that “resistance does not require a firearm.” Mr. Carney said that the new narrative was the result of “fresh” information.
“I want to make clear that this is, again, information that is fresh and, you know, we will continue to gather and provide to you details as we get them and we’re able to release them,” Mr. Carney said. “The resistance was throughout, as I said.”
On Monday, John O. Brennan, the top counterterrorism adviser to President Obama, said he believed that Bin Laden’s wife had been killed while trying to shield the terror leader during the 40-minute raid.
The conflicting accounts reveal the pressures on a White House intent on telling a dramatic story about a successful operation as it sought to manage a 24-hour news media ravenous for immediate and vivid details. In fact, even as Mr. Brennan was giving his account on Monday, other officials began clarifying parts of the story for reporters.
Several experts on the rules of engagement in combat said that in a raid on a target as dangerous as Bin Laden, the assault team would be justified to open fire at the slightest commotion when they burst into a room.
“If he were surrendering, or knocked out and unconscious on the ground, that would raise serious questions,” said John B. Bellinger III, legal counsel at the National Security Council and State Department in the Bush administration.
The narrative released Tuesday by Mr. Carney suggested that the woman who died in the raid was part of another family living at the compound. The narrative says that woman was shot and killed on the first floor, not the third floor, where Bin Laden was found and killed.
On Monday, Mr. Brennan repeatedly said that he and others in the Situation Room were monitoring the situation “in real time.” Mr. Brennan would not say on Monday whether the officials could see or hear the operation.
“We were able to monitor the situation in real time and were able to have regular updates and to ensure that we had real-time visibility into the progress of the operation,” Mr. Brennan told reporters on Monday.
But on Tuesday, Leon E. Panetta, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said in an interview on the “Newshour” on PBS that “once those teams went into the compound, I can tell you there was a time period of almost 20 to 25 minutes where we really didn’t know just exactly what was going on, and there were some very tense moments as we were waiting for information.”
“But finally,” Mr. Panetta said, “Admiral McRaven came back and said that he had picked up the word ‘Geronimo,’ which was the code word that represented that they got Bin Laden.”
“This is the great question,” says Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, director of the counterterrorism program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Has he been able to create a movement that’s self-sustaining, or is it a cult of personality that depends on him for inspiration?”
Al-Qaida has metastasized over the past decade into a decentralized organization — something almost akin to a franchise operation. With bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, subject to intense manhunts, semi-independent affiliate groups in places like Iraq, Somalia and Yemen have proved more deadly in recent years than al-Qaida central.
That suggests that al-Qaida relies less on bin Laden’s personality cult than it did in its early years, analysts say. But the splinter groups, while still a major threat, have also been unable to pull off attacks of the scale that made al-Qaida a dominant security concern for the U.S. and its allies in the first place.
The Importance of Leadership
Although “leaderless” cells have launched numerous plots since Sept. 11, 2001, Bergen notes, the deadliest and most threatening attacks have been carried out by well-organized groups.
“The more complex and deadly the attack, the more likely it was to be organized not by a group of ad hoc ‘self-starting’ jihadists but by an organization,” Bergen writes in his 2011 book, The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and al-Qaeda. “After all, 9/11 itself, the most lethal terrorist attack ever, was carried out by arguably the most organized terrorist group in history.”
Al-Qaida may now not only be less organized but less able to recruit new members, suggests Richard Fontaine, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security.
And the potential leadership vacuum could also affect the way al-Qaida is perceived within the Muslim world.
Al-Qaida is Arabic for “The Base,” but within the Arab world, al-Qaida has had more difficulty gaining traction of late. Iraqis turned against its local affiliate because of its propensity for killing fellow Muslims. And the terrorist group has seemed largely irrelevant during the so-called Arab spring, the upheavals across the Middle East and North Africa that have blazed a different path toward change.
Al-Qaida, while still dangerous, is no longer a major political force in the Arab world, Schake suggests.
“The symbolic leader is killed and it is a remarkable convergence because the struggle all along has been about the future of the Arab and the Muslim world,” says Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission director, who teaches history at the University of Virginia. “Taken together, these two trends or events will make it feel in a lot of the Arab world like a page has turned, and will lead to the increasing marginalization of al-Qaida.”
Fontaine, the CNAS senior fellow, agrees that killing bin Laden represents “a serious blow to the appeal of al-Qaida. Along with the Arab spring, it will help marginalize al-Qaida.”
But, he says, while al-Qaida may not present quite the same threat it once did, it remains a serious problem. “We have thought they were marginalized before, but they always came back with attacks,” Fontaine says.
“This is not the defeat of al-Qaida,” he says. “It’s not going away. It’s still the No. 1 security threat because of these franchise groups.”
From The Progressive:
There is a very good argument to be made, however, now that bin Laden was found and killed inside the boundaries of Pakistan (our ally), that it is high time for the United States to get out of Afghanistan. Furthermore, as Joshua Holland argues in his piece on Alternet, “Bin Laden’s Killing Show the Utter Folly of the ‘War on Terror,'” police work, not bombing raids or full-scale war, is the only effective way to combat terrorism.
Assassination, even of a murderous fanatic, is a poor occasion for giddy celebration. The jubilation is a little creepy–especially given our country’s history of conducting foreign policy by assassination and other nefarious extra-legal means around the globe.
Nevertheless, before the next round of terror alerts and the return to the discussion of our tanking economy, unemployment, bank bailouts, gas prices, and unsustainable wars, let’s appreciate this moment in the strange political theater that comprises the politics of our country.
What a weekend for President Obama– the closest thing to a progressive symbol to occupy the White House in recent history.
Even as he was directing the final stages of the hunt for bin Laden, he was preparing his best Daily Show take-down of his most visible political opponent, reality TV show host, real estate magnate, and conspiracy monger Donald Trump, at the White House correspondents’ dinner.
Watch the video here.
Now we know that he had a plan for just how it would all unfold. First, he dispatched the rightwing obsession about whether he is a real American, releasing his long-form birth certificate. Then he showed up the bellicose blowhards of the Republican Party who, for all their fulminating, never managed to get bin Laden.
That it’s part of the job of the President of the United States to attack a reality TV show host at the same time he’s secretly supervising the assassination of bin Laden is surreal.
But both the late-night comedy routine and dispatching bin Laden were symbolic victories for Obama and a blow to the rightwing nuts who want to destroy him.
Taking out Osama bin Laden and Donald Trump in one weekend was quite a feat. It might not mean that much for the future of our world. But in the world of electoral politics, it was a masterpiece.
But it wasn’t just Saturday night that the president had to keep his serious brain cordoned off from his less serious brain. During the final phase of the multiyear operation, Obama chaired the National Security Council on five occasions to discuss progress. A look at those five days tells the story of not just how quickly a president must switch between his public and private duties but also how silly some of the public calls for his attention must have seemed to him at the time.
March 14: The president attends Kenmore Middle School in Washington’s Virginia suburbs and gives a speech about education policy. He meets with Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen of Denmark. In the late afternoon, he chairs the meeting on Bin Laden. Shortly thereafter, he attends a Democratic Party fundraising dinner. The news of the day is that the president and Republican leaders have agreed to a second stopgap measure to keep the government open and avoid a shutdown.
March 19: The makeshift command center Obama used in Brazil is thought to be simply the place where he discusses Libya planning on the eve of U.S. operations. But it turns out Obama has been occupied with more than one military operation. The day’s activities also include a diplomatic arrival ceremony, a press conference, public remarks, and a few receptions.
April 12: The consuming story in Washington is the president’s coming budget speech. Liberals who had been angry that Obama had not been a public presence in the budget fight with Republicans over extending government operations for the rest of the year are skeptical that Obama will deliver a forceful rebuttal to the House budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan.
April 19: The president starts his day with an Easter Prayer Breakfast, then performs in a town hall with voters, followed by a meeting with various interested parties to discuss immigration. His official schedule ends with a meeting with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
April 28: The president announces his new national security team, meets with Hispanic leaders, and then meets with the president of Panama, with whom he delivers statements to the press.
Of all the secrets President Obama has had to carry, the details of the Bin Laden operation was probably one of the biggest. He may have had a special delight in bringing it to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, where much of the audience lives to publish a president’s secrets before he can reveal them. A year earlier, as Obama spoke at the same dinner, the Times Square bomb plot was being foiled. Obama was informed of this shortly after he left the stage. The public wouldn’t know for a few hours. Unlike the dinner, such crises are not an annual event. For a president, though, they happen every day.
“Donald Trump is exposing himself to a lot of attacks,” said Koch. “As much as I like Donald, he’s sort of asking for it.” He laughed again, then observed that “Donald’s political positions over the last 10 years have been highly variable and unusual. He’s a wonderful guy, but I don’t think he should run for office.
Noting Trump’s love of press, Koch said the “Celebrity Apprentice” host is “getting more publicity than he ever dreamed about right now.” But, he added, “at some point I think he’s going to drop out of the race when he realizes that he’s really not qualified to be President.”
Koch, a financier of Tea Party front groups like Americans for Prosperity, is known for his role as a kingmaker within the Republican Party. Presidential candidates, from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to George W. Bush to former Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) to George H.W. Bush have sought Koch’s support in previous elections. Even last weekend, former Govs. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) and Mitt Romney (R-MA) appeared at an Americans for Prosperity candidate forum in New Hampshire. At the event, Pawlenty criticized efforts to roll back billions in tax subsidies to oil companies, and Romney called for a corporate tax cut.
Speech on the Senate Floor
Eight more Republican state representatives in Michigan are now the subject of recall campaigns, Eclectablog reports today. Last week the sponsor of Michigan’s emergency manager law, Republican State Representative Al Pscholka, got papers notifying him that he was up for recall.
Mr. Pscholka represents tiny Benton Harbor, Michigan, the largely black town that is the first in the state to have its elected government stripped of power by an emergency financial manager. As of last month, the emergency manager is allowing the electeds three ceremonial duties — calling meetings, adjourning meetings, and approving the minutes.
On Monday night, the elected officials of Benton Harbor went further. The mayor and the commission met at City Hall and approved a resolution calling the emergency manager law unconstitutional. Mr. Knowles says they intend to send the resolution out to state and federal officials, including the White House and the Justice Department. The vote was six to two, with the emergency manager not attending. “I said that we represent Benton Harbor and we should continue to set the tone and the agenda on everything except financial matters,” he tells us. “And everyone agreed except those two.”
In other Benton Harbor news, a new poll gets the headline “BH residents pick EM over commission.” Read the article more closely, and you’ll see that 60 percent of Twin Cities voters — including ones in wealthier, whiter St. Joseph — tell the pollster they back the emergency manager. In Benton Harbor alone, it’s 50 percent. Not that it matters, since under the law Benton Harbor’s got an emergency manager for as long as the state keeps him in place, regardless of what voters think.
We now have our first measure of the impact of Osama bin Laden’s killing on President Obama’s domestic political standing. A poll conducted Monday night by ABC News and the Pew Research Center gives the president a 56 percent approval rating — his highest mark in any independent survey in recent memory. He was at 47 percent in an ABC News/Washington Post poll two weeks ago, and Gallup’s latest daily tracking number (a three-night average based mostly on phone calls that were made before news of bin Laden’s death broke late Sunday night) also puts him at 47 percent.
This is, obviously, good news for the White House. And it’s certainly possible that Obama’s approval score will be even higher when other polls are released this week, after the glowing news coverage of the past two days has sunk in more.
Still, the new ABC poll mainly underscores a point I made Sunday night, just after Obama addressed the nation: As tempting as it is to regard this moment as a fundamental turning in domestic politics, its long-term political value to the president will probably be minimal. Polling bounces from major foreign policy developments — even those that set off national celebrations — tend to be fleeting. Think back to the end of 2003, when American troops captured Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush’s approval rating — which had been in precipitous decline as the bad news in Iraq mounted — zipped back over the 60 percent mark. In that moment, Democrats were discouraged. Finally, after nearly two years of post-9/11 political invincibility, Bush’s standing had fallen to earth — but now he’d be a hero again. Except the Hussein bounce didn’t last. By early 2004, Bush’s approval rating was back to perilous territory, where it remained for the rest of the campaign.
Foxagandists and other right-wing megaphones would like to convince everyone that the ruckus being raised in Republican lawmakers’ home districts over proposed cuts in Medicare and Medicaid is solely the doing of liberal organizers. They wish this were true. But, while groups like Moveon.org and Americans United for Change have targeted some push back against GOP Congresspeople during the current recess, the real problem for elected Republicans is that the changes they are supporting are profoundly unpopular even among conservatives. Which explains the retreat we’re seeing from some Representatives, as explained earlier today by Joan McCarter.
As shown in the above chart derived from a recent McClatchy-Marist poll, two thirds of conservatives and three-fourths of Republicans and moderates oppose cutting the federal budget deficit by whacking Medicare and Medicaid.
That’s not all. There is remarkably strong support among Republicans surveyed in the poll—43 percent—for raising taxes on the people making more than $250,000 a year. Does Rush Limbaugh know such a big slice of his party has joined the other side in the class war?
Siefert v. Alexander involves a judicial candidate’s personal solicitation of campaign contributions. Bauer v. Shepard involves, among other things, limits on the political party activities of judicial candidates.
I found this sentence on page 16 particularly important: ‘Allowing judges to participate in politics would poison the reputation of the whole judiciary and seriously impair public confidence, without which the judiciary cannot function. Preserving that confidence is a compelling interest. No one could contemplate with equanimity the prospect of a state’s chief justice also being the head of a political party and doling out favors or patronage, or deciding who runs for legislative office. States are entitled to ensure not only that judges behave in office with probity and dignity, but also that their conduct makes it possible for them to serve impartially.'”
The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear these cases has no precedential value. However, the Court’s decision to decline to hear them, especially given the strong First Amendment jurisprudence of this Court, will no doubt lead those supporting special judicial campaign rules in judicial elections a reason to breathe a sigh of relief.
After much personal tragedy, Mother Jones went on to become a union organizer, and was so effective, the Mine Workers sent her into the coalfields to sign up miners. She was banished from more towns and was held incommunicado in more jails in more states than any other union leader of the time. In 1912, she was even charged with a capital offense by a military tribunal in West Virginia and held under house arrest for weeks until popular outrage and national attention forced the governor to release her.
Mother Jones also was very concerned about child workers. During a silk strike in Philadelphia, 100,000 workers—including 16,000 children—left their jobs over a demand that their workweek be cut from 60 to 55 hours. To attract attention to the cause of abolishing child labor, in 1903, she led a children’s march of 100 children from the textile mills of Philadelphia to New York City “to show the New York millionaires our grievances.” She led the children all the way to President Theodore Roosevelt’s Long Island home.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
Girl Scouts USA’s mission is to empower girls to be leaders “who make the world a better place.” But today, in a shocking violation of its own mission statement, the organization made the decision to censor the comments of scores of its young leaders rather than listen to their concerns about the use of rainforest-destroying palm oil in its famous Girl Scout cookies.
Today, Rainforest Action Network and Change.org partnered with Girl Scouts Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva for a social media day of action to convince CEO Kathy Cloninger that breaking the ties between Girl Scout cookies and rainforest destruction should be a top priority for Girl Scouts USA. Both organizations asked fans, followers, supporters and celebrities to pepper Twitter and Facebook with messages asking GSUSA to make a change.
After about approximately 50 comments from Facebook users associated with Girl Scouts were posted, GSUSA removed every last one and altered the settings on their Facebook page so that no individual comments or links from fans could be posted there. Those individual messages can not be retrieved.
Last week at a town hall in Sycamore, IL, a constituent relayed a story to Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) about his daughter, who has suffered because insurance companies refuse to extend coverage to her because of her medical history. Hultgren claimed such discrimination is a problem that must be addressed. However, he was challenged by another constituent who accurately noted that Hultgren voted to repeal the entire health reform law, which means that he repealed protections against preexisting condition screening.
The sun was shinning as 10,000 New Yorkers celebrated International Workers Day last Sunday, May 1. They joined millions around the world who have celebrated that day each year on a holiday made in the USA 125 years ago when Chicago workers rallying for the eight hour day were put to death by a judge in the service of business oligarchs.
The trade unionists, immigrant workers and community groups joined together in Foley Square, downtown Manhattan to send a message to Wall Street that workers are taking back a historic day that for too long was celebrated more around the world than here in the country of its birth.
Kevin Lynch, organizing director of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Local 338 put it this way, “May Day is our day in every sense of the word.”
There was a festive mood as people connected with their brothers and sisters who make this city work. The New York Labor Chorus sang Solidarity Forever.
The disability rights group ADAPT staged the event to protest Representative Paul Ryan’s Medicaid cuts, which would force people with disabilities to live in nursing homes rather than in their own houses.
Additionally, the House-passed budget resolution would turn Medicaid into block grants and reduce the program’s spending by more than $700 billion over ten years.
The activists were charged with “unlawful conduct,” a misdemeanour offense. Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, a spokeswoman for the Capitol Police, said most of the protesters will “probably be released unless they have other outstanding offenses on their records,” Politico reports.
Nursing home residents in Illinois also turned out to protest proposed Medicaid cuts. Governor Pat Quinn’s budget reduces Lee Manor’s funding by $500,000, a crushing blow that would cut staff and services at the nursing center.
New Jersey firefighters took to the streets Monday to protest budget cuts and a recent reduction in official fire department staff size.
Two weeks ago, Township Administrator Yoshi Manale ordered Fire Chief Joseph McCarthy to halt the rotational closures of fire stations, a safety system that was implemented after Manale cut the Table of Organization staff levels to seventy-eight men.
Steven Motzer, President of the Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association #219, accuses Manale of reckless behavior following his decision to shutter Engine 1 (the busiest engine in town) in order to reopen No. 3.
Thousands of people are expected to rally in downtown Raleigh today in order to protest the proposed cuts in the House budget proposal.
The “One Voice: Rally for Education” event is being organized by The North Carolina Association of Educators to defend education and all public services. Organizers expect between 5,000 and 10,000 people from across North Carolina to participate.
Thousands more are expected to descend upon Pennsylvania’s State Capitol today to protest Governor Tom Corbett’s budget proposal, which calls for over a billion dollars in cuts to education and axing 1,500 state jobs.
The Coalition for Laboring Engagement and Accountable Revenues (CLEAR) organized the rally that is expected to draw over 4,000 people.
CLEAR represents a variety of different union groups from across the state that would like to see the governor spread around the social responsibility to include fairly taxing corporations and adding a tax to natural gas extraction.
Union leaders accuse neighboring Delaware of losing their state hundreds of millions of dollars each year by luring corporations into doing tax-free business within its borders. It’s estimated that Pennsylvania loses nearly half a billion dollars every year through these loopholes in addition to another $200 million in losses annually by not taxing natural gas extraction.
Governor Corbett has long been criticized for his cozy relationship with the gas industry. In 2010, Corbett accepted more in campaign donations ($700,000) from the industry than all other Pennsylvania governor candidates combined.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
I have a mind to join a club and beat you over the head with it. -Groucho Marx