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Texas to Layoff 100,000 Teachers While Giving Millions to Formula One Racing

Sure, that $25 million a year won’t pay the salaries of all the teachers Texas plans to pink slip, but it could “pay more than 500 teachers an average salary of $48,000.” It definitely sounds like there are some screwed up priorities if the state is funding a race track backed by wealthy corporations and individuals instead of education.


What happens when your local library shuts its doors?

But we all know libraries aren’t just for books anymore. Inside the reference room, I found Craig and Zachariah Boyd, a father and son who often spend Saturday mornings here.

Craig said this is the only branch nearby that he knows is open on Saturdays. He takes advantage of the wireless Internet at the library and does work – and brings Zach to do his homework, too.

“I just want to teach him a good work ethic,” said Craig Boyd.

Father and son sit quietly in the reference room for hours – Craig on his laptop, Zach first with schoolwork, then books and games. When Craig’s done, Zach gets to go to the children’s section as a reward.

But Craig worries about what will happen to other children when the library closes on Dec. 31. Like many communities, the Gary Public Library Board decided it couldn’t afford to keep all of its branches open. […]

Four other branches across the city will stay open – but many of the main library patrons don’t have their own transportation, so they’ll have a hard time getting there.

Seniors citizens walk here for computer classes.

The charter school down the street uses this as its school library.

And unemployed people come here to look for jobs – like Michael Jenkins.

“I’m not too computer savvy,” said Jenkins, who also doesn’t have access to a computer. He does have a commercial driver’s license and is looking for Chicago companies to target for work. That’s why he’s flipping through the Yellow Pages.

“It’s not just like closing a gas station,” said Jenkins of the impact of the library’s closing. “The library becomes a part of the community. You close a library, you’re closing down part of the community.”

Upstairs, part of that community is on the second floor.

Public meeting spaces are hard to find in Gary.

The library’s auditorium is used this Saturday morning by a local chapter of Phi Delta Kappa, a sorority for teachers.

And across the hall, there’s a meeting of a chapter of the National Federation for the Blind.

Raymond Harris brought his wife Ella to that meeting, where they found out about the library’s future.

“How can you close a main library? It’s just ridiculous,” said Raymond Harris.

But libraries all over the country are facing budget cuts. If they’re not shutting down entirely, they’re at least trimming hours.

The most extreme case may be Detroit – where an $11 million budget shortfall means at least 10 of its 23 local branches may close. (The Detroit News has been doing some extensive coverage of the situation there – you can see it here.) […]

Gary’s library system is typical of most systems – the money comes from local property taxes. And that revenue has plummeted with the housing market downturn. The situation in Indiana has been further complicated by a property tax cap that was passed by Indiana voters last fall – meaning that even if the local library authority wanted to ask for more money, it can’t.

“When people hear the word ‘property tax’ cap they think it’s a good thing, but they don’t think about how it will shift public services they’ve come accustomed to,” said Susan Akers, the executive director of the Indiana Library Federation.




Foreclosures and home-mortgage modifications took center stage at Bank of America annual meeting last week.


Outside the headquarters of the nation’s largest bank, protesters held signs and gave testimonials about their own foreclosure experiences.

At the meeting, which was held inside the bank’s new 32-story building adjacent to its headquarters, shareholders confronted CEO Brian Moynihan about mortgage woes in their communities.

The Rev. Clyde Ellis, a pastor from Virginia, said Bank of America should take responsibility for its role in the foreclosure crisis.

“Come to Prince William County and I will show you disaster,” Ellis said.

Losses and litigation related to foreclosures and poorly written mortgages have haunted Bank of America for several quarters. In its latest quarter, the bank’s income dropped 39 percent on higher costs related to mortgages and legal expenses.

At the end of the first quarter, the bank had $2 billion of foreclosed properties on its book, and its customers were late by 90 days or more on $24 billion of its total loans, which included commercial and residential properties.

Moynihan tried to separate the rest of the bank’s business from its mortgage woes. He described the company as being made up of two stories, with the mortgage business on one side and all its other business units on the other.

“The power of the franchise is held back by the mortgage challenges we face,” he said.

The bank’s stock is one of the worst performers of the S&P 500 index this year. Recently, the stock slid after the Federal Reserve rejected the bank’s capital plan and its request for a dividend increase.

BofA was the only bank among the country’s four largest that didn’t pass a stress test from the Fed. The central bank examined the 19 largest banks in the country to see if they were strong enough to withstand another economic downturn. BofA will submit a revised plan later this year.

Moynihan said the bank will pay dividends once it resolves more of its mortgage issues and submits a plan that is acceptable to regulators.

Some shareholders want the bank to scrutinize itself more closely. Michael Garland, who was representing several large public pension funds at the meeting, said he had written to BofA’s audit committee asking that it conduct an independent review of mortgages and foreclosures to show they conform with the laws.

Garland said that audit committees of other banks responded soon after he sent them a similar letter in January.

He said was disappointed that there had been no response from BofA’s audit committee until just five days before the annual meeting.

The plan didn’t get enough votes to pass on Wednesday.

“If this is your response to shareholders with a $1.3 billion stake in the company, I can only imagine how you treat your residential-mortgage customers,” said Garland, who was also representing the New York City Comptroller’s Office, which oversees the public pension funds of New York.


Bank of America meddling with foreclosure deal, lead AG says

Bank of America was accused by a top official at the Iowa attorney general’s office of engaging in a divide-and-conquer strategy by undermining support for the settlement of a nationwide probe into foreclosure practices, a person familiar with the matter said.



Happy debt-ceiling day!

Ezra Klein:

As of today, the authority Congress has given the Treasury to borrow money outpaces the borrowing required by the laws Congress has passed. Today, in other words, is the day we hit the debt ceiling. I hope you brought cake and candles.

This isn’t a surprise, of course. The Treasury Department has been warning us of it for months. And we’re not without options. Specifically, we have about 11 weeks of options. The first evasive maneuver, begun about 10 days ago, was for the Treasury to stop offering a certain type of debt that state and local governments use to smooth out their finances. Today, the Treasury will begin to borrow from the pension workers of federal employees. And the emergency measures only get worse and more disruptive from here. If you want more on the nuts and bolts of those, the Wall Street Journal has a nice graphic listing some of the Treasury’s likely moves.

There’s not been much evident progress towards a deal in recent days, though there’s been an escalation in Republican demands from the Senate side (McConnell wants Medicare cuts but no tax increases) and a plea from the Obama administration for Democrats to stop adding new demands onto an already overburdened negotiations process. But the outlines of a deal have been relatively obvious for some time: For better or worse, the final deal will be heavily tilted towards spending cuts, and accompanied by some sort of procedural mechanism to make future deficit reduction more likely.

To some degree, that’s backwards. The smartest deal going forward would be one in which the two parties stuck to PayGo — or, if you want to reduce the deficit, SaveGo — and thus figured out how to pay for tax cuts and spending increases when those tax cuts and spending increases were passed rather than when the bills came due. But given that the House Republicans replaced PayGo with a weaker policy in which spending cuts had to be paid for but tax cuts didn’t, that Congress is really interested in avoiding future debt-ceiling showdowns. The minority would very much like to use the debt ceiling to make changes to government that they’d also like to make in the absence of the debt ceiling. But it’s not at all clear that the debt ceiling has convinced them to make changes to government that they wouldn’t otherwise support, and if they’d supported PayGo in the first place, we’d be in much better shape today.


It’s Either A Ransom Or A Bargain, Not Both

The New Republic:

The debt ceiling negotiations are very hard to figure out, because every side has an incentive to keep its bottom line hidden from public view. That said, I don’t understand what President Obama is thinking here. First, he’s allowed Republicans to turn the debt ceiling into an opportunity to wrench policy concessions, something that has never happened before. If he announced from the outset that debt ceiling votes have never been bargaining chips for policy changes, and that he would only sign a clean debt ceiling hike, and any failure to raise the debt ceiling is the GOP’s responsibility, do you think Republicans could stand up to pressure from business? I don’t. But we’ll never know because Obama gave up that leverage immediately.

Second, he’s allowing Republicans to take hostages without specifying their demands. David Brooks, who spends a lot of time talking to Republicans in Congress, has some good insight into their bargaining strategy on the debt ceiling:

Events are being driven by the Republican leaders. The playing field on the debt-ceiling fight is tilted in their direction, so they want to make this fight as consequential as possible. They want to use this occasion to reshape fiscal policy for decades.

They have the advantage, first, because raising the limit is extremely unpopular. According to a poll commissioned by The Hill newspaper in Washington, only 27 percent of Americans want to raise the debt ceiling while 62 percent oppose it. The only time you can get voters, especially independent voters, to tolerate a debt-ceiling increase is if you tie it to a broad array of spending cuts.

Brooks is correct, if “spending cuts” is defined entirely in abstract terms. But Republicans want to cut Medicare, and that is highly unpopular. Attaching a highly unpopular Medicare cuts to an unpopular debt ceiling vote does not make the whole thing popular. That’s why Republicans also want Obama to help them hid their spending cuts for them, as Lori Montgomery reports:

McConnell said he views the debt-limit debate as a critical opportunity for the parties to work together to accomplish something that would otherwise be impossible politically.

“If there is a grand bargain of some kind with the president of the United States, none of it will be usable for either side in next year’s election — none of it,” McConnell said. “We can do something important for the country together, and this is the opportunity.”

McConnell also says he won’t consider any revenue increases, period. Now, maybe he’s bluffing, and wants to strike a balanced deficit reduction deal. But, at the very least, he’s obviously using the threat of the debt ceiling vote to make that deal — a deal that will affect policy “for decades,” as Brooks writes — as GOP-friendly as possible.

I don’t understand why Obama would cooperate with that. Republicans want to force him to agree to a budget deal he doesn’t like as the price for lifting the debt ceiling? Then he gets to attack the terms of that deal. That’s how ransoms work. You can demand that the mayor hand over a suitcase with ten million dollars in non-sequentially marked bills in return for you not blowing up a bus, but you can’t also expect the mayor to run around saying how proud he is that he and the hostage-taker were able to work out this wonderful bargain. If the Republicans want to strike a fiscal bargain that both sides believe would improve public policy that happens to be concurrent with the passage of the debt ceiling, then that’s another story.

Chamber Urges Lawmakers to Raise Debt Limit ‘Expeditiously’


As conservative critics of raising the debt-limit grow louder and louder, the White House and Republican congressional leaders need groups like the Chamber along with small banks and businesses in members’ districts, to persuade lawmakers that default would be a huge blow to credit markets, crippling the economy.

The challenge, of course, is showing that this sky-is-falling message is different from similar warnings in the fall of 2008, when Wall Street and a Republican White House convinced lawmakers to give the Treasury secretary the authority to invest $700 billion in propping up faltering banks and other troubled financial institutions. Most conservatives revile the Troubled Asset Relief Program, despite its apparent effectiveness and significantly lower costs to the government.

That may explain why the Chamber pitches itself as a friend to these conservative critics. In the letter, Mr. Josten says, “the current and projected level of government deficits and debt are unsustainable,” arguing these debt levels will eventually lead to inflation and higher interest rates that could cripple the job market and make it more expensive for the government to borrow.

Federal budget cap is a cop out

Congress is considering a budget deal that would place a cap on spending and impose automatic cuts across the board if it is exceeded.

The political appeal of this kind of trigger is obvious. Members of Congress wouldn’t have to specify which programs would be on the block, so it’s an easier vote for them. The leading proposal would cap spending at 20.6 percent of GDP, the average over the past three decades.

But there are two big problems with this approach. First, spending is most likely to exceed the cap during a recession, when demand for Medicaid, food stamps and unemployment benefits reach their peaks. Most economists say that’s exactly the wrong time to pinch federal spending, since it could slow the economy further.

The bigger problem is that the 20.6 percent figure is too low, given the coming retirement of Baby Boomers.

Spending on the elderly consumes nearly half the federal budget, when you combine Social Security, Medicare and the portion of Medicaid that is devoted to nursing home costs. And those numbers are growing fast. (See chart.)

How hard would it be to squeeze the budget under the 20.6 percent ceiling? If the trigger were pulled and the cuts were spread evenly, it would reduce spending on Social Security by $1.3 trillion, Medicare by $856 billion and Medicaid by $547 billion over the first decade.

The trigger, in other words, would force the kind of cuts that were outlined in the Republican budget drafted by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and approved by all of New Jersey’s Republican congressmen.

Under this plan, Medicare would be replaced with vouchers that seniors could use to purchase their own insurance. Yes, that would reduce federal spending. But it would shift the burden to the elderly, driving up their costs by an average of about $6,000 a year, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

Ryan would turn Medicaid into a block grant for states, and several governors have already said they would use that liberty to throw working poor families off the rolls by restricting eligibility to the poorest of the poor.

His plan also would make deep cuts in food stamps, college scholarships and other programs that target the needy. In all, about two-thirds of the cuts Ryan proposes would come from programs that serve those of limited means.

We are entering an age of austerity, so painful cuts will be needed. But this approach is just wrong. The bipartisan Bowles-Simpson commission found a more reasonable middle ground that included modest tax increases and spending cuts that spread the burden more evenly.

That is where the solution lies. Let’s hope both sides face that fact soon and cut a deal.

Federal worker pensions emerge as target in debt-reduction talks

The generous pension system enjoyed by millions of federal workers from clerks to senators and judges has emerged as a key target in negotiations between Vice President Biden and congressional leaders looking to restrain the growing national debt.

Republicans have proposed saving more than $120 billion over the next decade by requiring the civilian workforce to contribute more toward retirement — a plan that would effectively impose an immediate 5 percent pay cut on more than 2 million federal employees. President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission has also endorsed the idea, calling the federal system “out of line” with the private sector.

Now, administration officials have expressed interest in raising the amount that employees contribute to their pensions — though probably not as high as the GOP proposal, definitely not as fast and possibly not for all workers, according to people in both parties familiar with the discussions.

If adopted as part of a compromise plan to control federal borrowing, the proposal promises to test the resolve of local lawmakers — particularly Democrats — by forcing them to choose between the lofty goal of debt reduction and the interests of public-sector workers, who have come under fire from Republicans in Washington and several state capitals.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) may be the first to face that dilemma. One of only six lawmakers at the table in the Biden talks, Van Hollen represents a suburban Washington district that is home to one of the nation’s largest concentrations of federal employees.

Van Hollen has vocally opposed the GOP pension proposal, which was included in the budget blueprint that passed the House last month. He declined to comment on the closed-door talks at Blair House, which have already set off alarm bells among union leaders. […]

Hard road ahead

The proposal to change pension funding represents one of the plumpest pots of potential savings under discussion by the Biden group. The White House has not previously endorsed the idea, and a White House spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the private nature of the talks.

The issue illustrates the hard road ahead for policymakers trying to rebalance the federal budget. Participants in the Biden talks have temporarily set aside the most ideologically divisive issues, such as raising taxes and cutting entitlement benefits. But while the remaining targets are smaller, they are also guarded by a thicket of lobbyists and interest groups.

Since May 5, negotiators have focused on a list of proposed reductions to “mandatory” programs, which are financed outside the annual appropriations process. The Republican-controlled House’s budget blueprint includes $715 billion in such savings through 2021; Obama has offered $290 billion.


The potential savings include as much as $30 billion in farm subsidies, nearly $20 billion from making graduate students pay interest on college loans while still in school and $16 billion in higher premiums for private pensions insured by the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

Airlines could face higher security fees. TV stations could be encouraged to sell under-used airwaves. And both sides want to save money by overhauling mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Virtually every idea has a ready stable of opponents: The National Association of Broadcasters opposes voluntary broadcast spectrum sales, fearing that small stations could be pressured by deep-pocket wireless providers. Big business and organized labor both oppose higher PBGC premiums. And rural conservatives in the Senate have long protected the nation’s farmers.[…]

Changing the federal pension system is no exception. Worker advocates vow a fierce fight, arguing that the idea is driven more by partisan ideology than fiscal responsibility.

“There’s a not-so-hidden agenda to go after federal workers and the public employee unions that represent them. And we’ve seen this across the country, whether in Wisconsin or in the federal government,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D), a fiscal conservative whose Northern Virginia district is home to nearly 60,000 federal workers.

Even some Republicans are not happy with the House pension proposal. As he cast a vote for the GOP budget blueprint, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) said, “I regret that the . . . proposal seeks to make government service an unattractive career choice,” in part “by changing retirement plans.”


Hitting the Ceiling


How bad will it be if we don’t manage to raise the debt ceiling? And what should Obama’s negotiating strategy be? A few thoughts.

The direct effects of hitting the ceiling would be bad enough — sharp cutbacks in spending, which would undermine essential services, not to mention derail the economy. It’s not clear to me whether there would be some wiggle room through the accumulation of arrears — say, not actually paying workers and contractors but promising to make it up when sanity returns. But it would be ugly indeed.

What might make it even worse would be indirect effects, of two kinds.

First, US government debt plays a special role in the financial system: T-bills are the universal safe asset, the ultimate collateral. That’s why, during moments of financial stress, the interest rate on T-bills has actually gone negative. Make that safe asset suddenly unsafe, and it might cause vast disruption.

Second — and I don’t think this is getting enough attention — failure to raise the debt limit could act as a terrible signal about the US political system.

When you look at the US fiscal position in terms of what we’re capable of as a nation, it’s not a big problem. Never mind those big numbers you hear about implicit liabilities; we have a big economy, too. So modest tax increases and reasonable efforts to limit health care costs could bring our long-run finances into line.

But all this depends on our having the political will and cohesion to do what’s necessary. What if it turns out that we’re a banana republic, with crazy extremists having so much blocking power that we can’t get our house in order?

And failing to raise the debt limit could be widely read as a signal that we are, in fact, a banana republic.

In that case, however, what should Obama do? My answer is that despite all that, he must not let himself be blackmailed.

Partly that’s because once he gives in the first time, the blackmail will never stop. Once the crazies know that they can get whatever they want by threatening to blow up the economy, they’ll just keep demanding more and more. Obama just can’t let that dynamic get started without setting up an even worse crash down the road.

Plus, the hard right may claim that it’s worried about deficits, but it’s actually deeply fiscally irresponsible. Realistically, the Ryan plan would sharply increase the deficit — because its spending cuts are in many cases impossible, and its supposed revenue neutrality is a sham. So giving in to the right would be just as much a signal of banana-republic-hood as a temporary default.

This is going to be very ugly. But I don’t think there’s any way to avoid taking it all the way to the edge, and possibly over it.


Actually, “the Rich” Don’t “Create Jobs,” We Do

You hear it again and again, variation after variation on a core message: if you tax rich people it kills jobs. You hear about “job-killing tax hikes,” or that “taxing the rich hurts jobs,” “taxes kill jobs,” “taxes take money out of the economy, “if you tax the rich they won’t be able to provide jobs.” … on and on it goes. So do we really depend on “the rich” to “create” jobs? Or do jobs get created when they fill a need? […]

Producers and Parasites

The idea that there are producers and parasites as expressed in the example above has become a core philosophy of conservatives. They claim that wealthy people “produce” and are rich because they “produce.” The rest of us are “parasites” who suck blood and energy from the productive rich, by taxing them. In this belief system, We, the People are basically just “the help” who are otherwise in the way, and taxing the producers to pay for our “entitlements.” We “take money” from the producers through taxes, which are “redistributed” to the parasites. They repeat the slogan, “Taxes are theft,” and take the “money we earned” by “force” (i.e. government.)

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner echoes this core philosophy of “producers” and “parasites,” saying yesterday,

I believe raising taxes on the very people that we expect to reinvest in our economy and to hire people is the wrong idea,” he said. “For those people to give that money to the government…means it wont get reinvested in our economy at a time when we’re trying to create jobs.”

“The very people” who “hire people” shouldn’t have to pay taxes because that money is then taken out of the productive economy and just given to the parasites — “the help” — meaning you and me…[…]

Demand Creates Jobs

I used to own a business and have been in senior positions at other businesses, and I know many others who have started and operated businesses of all sizes. I can tell you from direct experience that I tried very hard to employ the right number of people. What I mean by this is that when there were lots of customers I would add people to meet the demand. And when demand slacked off I had to let people go. […]

you employ the right number of people to meet the demand your business has.

If you ask around you will find that every business tries to employ the right number of people to meet the demand. Any business owner or manager will tell you that they hire based on need, not on how much they have in the bank. (Read more here, in last year’s Businesses Do Not Create Jobs.)

Taxes make absolutely no difference in the hiring equation.

In fact, paying taxes means you are already making money, which means you have already hired the right number of people. Taxes are based on subtracting your costs from your revenue, and if you have profits after you cover your costs, then you might be taxed. You don’t even calculate your taxes until well after the hiring decision has been made. You don;t lay people off to “cover” your taxes. And even if you did lay people off to “cover’ taxes it would lower your costs and you would have more profit, which means you would have more taxes… except that laying someone off when you had demand would cause you to have less revenue, … and you see how ridiculous it is to associate taxes with hiring at all!

People coming in the door and buying things is what creates jobs.

The Rich Do Not Create Jobs

Lots of regular people having money to spend is what creates jobs and businesses. That is the basic idea of demand-side economics and it works. In a consumer-driven economy designed to serve people, regular people with money in their pockets is what keeps everything going. And the equal opportunity of democracy with its reinvestment in infrastructure and education and the other fruits of democracy is fundamental to keeping a demand-side economy functioning.

When all the money goes to a few at the top everything breaks down. Taxing the people at the top and reinvesting the money into the democratic society is fundamental to keeping things going.

Democracy Creates Jobs

This idea that a few wealthy people — the “producers” — hand everything down to the rest of us — “the parasites” — is fundamentally at odds with the concept of democracy. In a democracy we all have an equal voice and an equal stake in how our society and our economy does. We do not “depend” on the good graces of a favored few for our livelihoods. We all are supposed to have an equal opportunity, and equal rights. And there are things we are all entitled to — “entitlements” — that we get just because we were born here. But we all share in the responsibility to cover the costs of democracy –with the rich having a greater responsibility than the rest of us because they receive the most benefit from it.

This is why we have “progressive taxes” where the rates are supposed to go up as the income does.

Taxes Are The Lifeblood Of Democracy And The Prosperity That Democracy Produces

In a democracy the rich are supposed to pay more to cover things like building and maintaining the roads and schools because these are the things that enable their wealth. They actually do use the roads and schools more because the roads enable their businesses to prosper and the schools provide educated employees. But it isn’t just that the rich use roads more, it is that everyone has a right to use roads and a right to transportation because we are a democracy and everyone has the same rights. And as a citizen in a democracy you have an obligation to pay your share for that.

A democracy is supposed have a progressive tax structure that is in proportion to the means to pay. We do this becausethose who get more from the system do so because the democratic system offers them that ability. Their wealth is because of our system and therefore they owe back to the system in proportion. (Plus, history has taught the lesson that great wealth opposes democracy, so democracy must oppose the accumulation of great, disproportional wealth. In other words, part of the contract of living in a democracy is your obligation to protect the democracy and high taxes at the top is one of those protections.)

The conservative “producer and parasite” anti-tax philosophy is fundamentally at odds with the concepts of democracy (which they proudly acknowledge – see more here, and here) and should be understood and criticized as such. Taxes do not “take money out of the economy” they enable the economy. The rich do not “create jobs, We, the People create jobs.


McConnell rejects higher taxes on oil firms

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday rejected a proposal to scale back tax breaks for big oil firms, calling it a political maneuver.

McConnell said the Democratic plan to repeal major tax incentives would “raise the price of gas at the pump, send jobs overseas” and make the United States even more dependent on oil imported from other countries, such as Venezuela.

“That’s just a political stunt,” McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.


U.S. should sell assets like gold to get out of debt

Heritage Foundation: “Its just sort of sitting there,” said Ron Utt, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “Given the high price it is now, and the tremendous debt problem we now have, by all means, sell at the peak.”

Obama Administration: “Selling off the gold is just one level of crazy away from selling Mount Rushmore.”




The disgraceful interrogation of L.A. school librarians

LA Times:

If state education cuts are drastic, the librarians’ only chance of keeping a paycheck is to prove they’re qualified to be switched to classroom teaching. So LAUSD attorneys grill them.

In a basement downtown, the librarians are being interrogated.

On most days, they work in middle schools and high schools operated by the Los Angeles Unified School District, fielding student queries about American history and Greek mythology, and retrieving copies of vampire novels.

But this week, you’ll find them in a makeshift LAUSD courtroom set up on the bare concrete floor of a building on East 9th Street. Several sit in plastic chairs, watching from an improvised gallery as their fellow librarians are questioned.

A court reporter takes down testimony. A judge grants or denies objections from attorneys. Armed police officers hover nearby. On the witness stand, one librarian at a time is summoned to explain why she — the vast majority are women — should be allowed to keep her job.

The librarians are guilty of nothing except earning salaries the district feels the need to cut. But as they’re cross-examined by determined LAUSD attorneys, they’re continually put on the defensive. […]

For LAUSD officials, it’s a means to an end: balancing the budget.

Some 85 credentialed teacher-librarians got layoff notices in March. If state education cuts end up being as bad as most think likely, their only chance to keep a paycheck is to prove that they’re qualified to be transferred into classroom teaching jobs.

Since all middle and high school librarians are required to have a state teaching credential in addition to a librarian credential, this should be an easy task — except for a school district rule that makes such transfers contingent on having taught students within the last five years.

To get the librarians off the payroll, the district’s attorneys need to prove to an administrative law judge that the librarians don’t have that recent teaching experience. To try to prove that they do teach, the librarians, in turn, come to their hearings with copies of lesson plans they’ve prepared and reading groups they’ve organized.



Obama Pushes for Increase in Domestic Oil Production

McClatchy Newspapers:

President Barack Obama is responding to voter frustration over high gasoline prices and oil executives’ criticism of his domestic drilling policies by announcing steps to “increase safe and responsible oil production here at home.”

In his weekly Saturday address, the president reiterated that he’s launched a task force to look at whether any fraud or market manipulation is contributing to gasoline costing more than $4 a gallon. He also renewed his call to eliminate oil companies’ subsidies.

Democrats are pushing legislation to put $2 billion in annual tax breaks for the five largest oil companies instead toward deficit reduction. Republicans oppose the effort.

At the same time, Obama noted that U.S. oil production last year was at its highest level since 2003 and said: “I believe we should expand oil production in America, even as we increase safety and environmental standards.”

He said he’s taking several steps toward that end, including:

  • Directing the Interior Department to conduct annual lease sales in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve
  • Creating a new interagency group to streamline Alaska drilling permits
  • Expediting evaluations of oil and gas in the mid- and south-Atlantic
  • Extending leases in Gulf of Mexico areas affected by last year’s temporary moratorium after the BP oil spill

Two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House, noted that Republican lawmakers have supported some of the concepts Obama is now embracing. Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, however, remains “off the table,” one official said.

Phil Flynn, an energy trader at PFG Best in Chicago, said what Obama is proposing is “going to open up some more lands for drilling, which is a positive.” At the same time, Flynn said, “obviously it’s a political move.”

“The oil companies’ executives’ biggest complaint was ‘Hey, we want to drill more but we’ve been thwarted by this administration,'” Flynn said. “It’s a political response to that argument so that when he goes on the election trail he can say, ‘Hey I opened this up.’

“On the one hand he looks like he’s doing them a favor. But now he’s going to frame it to say he’s taking away tax breaks.”

Flynn said the steps won’t bring down prices overnight, but that if Obama could negotiate a deal that helps get the federal budget under control, it could have a quick impact. “If he got the budget under control, the U.S would not have to borrow as much money,” he said. “That would make the dollar stronger and commodity prices lower.”

U.S. oil production rose from 4.95 million bpd in 2008 to 5.36 million bpd in 2009, followed by 5.5 million bpd last year, even with the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. The Energy Information Administration forecasts U.S. production to hold at that level this year and rise again next year, to 5.54 million bpd.


The Renewable Future

Renewable energy triggers sharply polarized views. For some, it is a costly white elephant; for others, it is humanity’s savior, promising to emancipate us (and our environment) from the ‘folly’ of fossil fuels. So a hardheaded, credible, and, above all, impartial analysis, which would provide a much-needed dose of pragmatism and realism to the debate, is long overdue. The new report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), involving more than 120 scientists, economists, and technology specialists, provides that long-overdue assessment.



Superb Idea: Pay Fishermen to Catch Trash

If you’ve been following the news about our poor oceans you know they’re getting stripped of fish and filled with plastic debris at the same time. We usually think of these problems as independent of each other, but maybe there’s a way to tackle them both at once.

In European fishing waters, up to two thirds of caught fish, usually already dead, are thrown back by fleets who’ve surpassed their quota or want to make room for a higher value fish. Called “discarding,” it’s a wasteful practice that puts extra strain on fish stocks, and the European Union’s fisheries commissioner, Maria Damanaki, wants to ban it.

But fishermen have complained that such a ban would harm their livelihoods. So Damanaki came up with a novel plan: Pay these fishermen for catching plastic trash. After all, our oceans have plenty of that. A pilot project will begin this month in the Mediterranean. Fishermen will be given special nets and other equipment for catching plastic debris that’s collected in the sea and bringing the junk back to shore for recycling.

The EU will subsidize the program at first (there’s no word how much money the fishermen will be paid) but the hope is that over the long run, as recycling plastic gets more profitable, the trash becomes a valuable catch in itself. If this pilot program proves successful, it could serve as a model for saving our oceans without sacrificing our fishermen.




Project: Redesign the Food Label

We all read food labels, but we’re not always sure what they mean or how to use them.

We want to change that. So does Michelle Obama. Last year, she said, “We need clear, consistent, front-of-the-package, labels that give people the information they’ve been asking for, in a format they understand.”

Now, GOOD and the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s News21 project are asking designers, nutritionists, and food policy experts to redesign the food label, and we want your help.

Inspire better food and nutrition literacy with clear, simple, easy-to-understand labels.
The winning entries will be selected by GOOD’s staff, News21’s Rethink the Food Label, and a panel of nutrition experts, food writers, and designers—including Michael Pollan and Laura Brunow Miner.

Here’s how the Food and Drug Administration explains the existing nutrition facts label, which was created in 1991 by the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act.

Read the Institute of Medicine’s Phase I report on front-of-packaging labels here and see what the Grocery Manufacturers Association proposed earlier this year here.

In the upcoming weeks, News21 will highlight collaborations between nutritionists and designers here.

Tell all your friends and send us your design here! Who knows? You could change the future of the food label.



Health Insurers Making Record Profits as Many Postpone Care

The nation’s major health insurers are barreling into a third year of record profits, enriched in recent months by a lingering recessionary mind-set among Americans who are postponing or forgoing medical care.

The UnitedHealth Group, one of the largest commercial insurers, told analysts that so far this year, insured hospital stays actually decreased in some instances. In reporting its earnings last week,Cigna, another insurer, talked about the “low level” of medical use.

Yet the companies continue to press for higher premiums, even though their reserve coffers are flush with profits and shareholders have been rewarded with new dividends. Many defend proposed double-digit increases in the rates they charge, citing a need for protection against any sudden uptick in demand once people have more money to spend on their health, as well as the rising price of care.

Even with a halting economic recovery, doctors and others say many people are still extremely budget-conscious, signaling the possibility of a fundamental change in Americans’ appetite for health care. […]

For someone like Shannon Hardin of California, whose hours at a grocery store have been erratic, there is simply no spare cash to see the doctor when she isn’t feeling well or to get the $350 dental crowns she has been putting off since last year. Even with insurance, she said, “I can’t afford to use it.” Delaying care could keep utilization rates for insurers low through the rest of the year, according to Charles Boorady, an analyst for Credit Suisse. “The big question is whether it is going to stay weak or bounce back,” he said. “Nobody knows.”

Significant increases in how much people have to pay for their medical care may prevent a solid rebound. In recent years, many employers have sharply reduced benefits, while raising deductibles and co-payments so people have to reach deeper into their pockets.

In 2010, about 10 percent of people covered by their employer had a deductible of at least $2,000, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit research group, compared with just 5 percent of covered workers in 2008.

Doctors, for one, say patients’ attitudes are changing. “Because it’s from Dollar 1 to Dollar 2,000, they are being really conscious of how they spend their money,” said Dr. James Applegate, a family physician in Grand Rapids, Mich. For example, patients question the need for annual blood work.

High deductibles also can be daunting. David Welch, a nurse in California whose policy has a $4,000 deductible, said he was surprised to realize he had delayed going to the dermatologist, even though he had a history of skin cancer. Mr. Welch, who has been a supporter of the need to overhaul insurance industry practices for the California Nurses Association union, said he hoped his medical training would help him determine when to go to the doctor. “I underestimated how much that cost would affect my behavior,” he said. […]

The insurers, which base what they charge in premiums largely on what they expect to pay out in future claims, say they still expect higher demand for care later this year. “I think there’s a real concern about a bounce-back, a rebound, in utilization,” said Dr. Lonny Reisman, the chief medical officer for Aetna. […]

Some observers wonder if the insurers are simply raising premiums in advance of the full force of the health care law in 2014. The insurers’ recent prosperity — big insurance companies have reported first-quarter earnings that beat analysts expectations by an average of 30 percent — may make it difficult for anyone, politicians and industry executives alike, to argue that the industry has been hurt by the federal health care law. Insurers were able to raise premiums to cover the cost of the law’s early provisions, like insuring adult children up to age 26, and federal and state regulators have largely proved to be accommodating.

But 2014 and 2015 are likely to be far more challenging, as insurers are forced to adjust to the law’s greatest changes, like providing coverage to everyone regardless of whether they have an expensive pre-existing condition. “I think they’re going to go through a winter,” said Paul H. Keckley, executive director of the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, a research unit of the consulting firm Deloitte.

And while the slowing down of demand is good for insurers, at least in the short term, the concern is that patients may be tempted to skip important tests like colonoscopies or mammograms. The new health care law will eventually prevent most policies from charging patients for certain kinds of preventive care, but some plans still require someone to pay $500 toward a colonoscopy.

In recent times, insurers have prospered by pricing policies above costs, said Robert Laszewski, a former health insurance executive who is now a consultant in Alexandria, Va. The industry goes through underwriting cycles where the companies are better able to predict costs and make room for profits. “They’re benefiting from a very positive underwriting cycle,” he said.

“Maybe managed care is finally working,” he said. “Maybe this is the new normal.”

Still, he emphasized, health care costs, even if they are rising at 6 percent or 7 percent a year, are increasing at a much faster pace than overall inflation. “We haven’t solved the problem,” Mr. Laszewski said.


U.S. Medicaid cuts seen hurting elderly, disabled


Proposed cuts in the Medicaid healthcare program for the poor could have a broad impact on the elderly and disabled and family members who care for them, an advocacy group said on Thursday.

Ron Pollack, who heads the healthcare advocacy group Families USA, said he is worried proposed spending caps and other budget cuts to Medicaid “would devastate seniors and people with disabilities.”

Pollack also warned it could create “havoc” in families by forcing people to give up jobs to care for a parent, spouse or other family member.

Pollack’s group, which backed President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul, said Medicaid is the biggest payer of long-term nursing home care, which costs an average $74,800 per person last year.

Costs in some states are much higher and many people who pay for long-term care exhaust their financial resources and end up in Medicaid, said a study released by Families USA.

Pollack said the group released the report out of concern that budget hawks are focusing on Medicaid because spending cuts on Social Security retirement and Medicare elderly healthcare programs will lose votes in next year’s presidential and congressional elections.

“Seniors vote and as a result it is politically much more difficult to make changes that are going to have an adverse impact on the folks who depend on those programs,” Pollack said.

“Quite frankly, I don’t think congressional Republicans believe that their votes are found in those who participate in the Medicaid program,” he said.

Poor people, often minorities, generally support Democrats.

Republicans argue that Medicaid is becoming too big a strain on states that pay for most of the program’s costs — with help from the federal government.

Medicaid takes up a third of many states’ budgets, and for nearly all, it is the fastest growing spending area.

Republicans have proposed giving states more control over the program through block grants and legislation that would allow states to opt out of healthcare law requirements to maintain Medicaid coverage levels as the new healthcare law is implemented.

The law, when it goes fully into effect in 2014, opens up the Medicaid program for millions of uninsured low income and poor people who currently do not qualify.




Senate Whips Dick Durbin, Jon Kyl Agree to Talks on Immigration Reform

Senate Republicans blocked the DREAM Act on a procedural vote in December, and Durbin and other Senate Democratic leaders reintroduced the measure last week. The bill would create a path to citizenship for immigrants who were brought to the United States before age 16 and have been in the country for more than five years if they go to college or serve in the military.

Kyl, who has announced he will not run for re-election in 2012, accepted the invitation.

“Dick Durbin and I sat down before to talk about things, and I’m very happy to do it on this very important issue, but I will say we’ve got to secure the border in order to achieve these other results as well,” he said. “But thank you, Dick, I’d be happy to sit down, and you know we can visit together about these things.”




IMF chief arrested in N.Y.

The leader of the International Monetary Fund and a possible candidate for president of France was arrested Sunday in the violent sexual assault of a hotel maid after being yanked from an airplane moments before it was to depart for Paris, police said.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, 62, was arrested on charges of a criminal sex act, attempted rape and unlawful imprisonment and was awaiting arraignment. He had been taken off the Air France flight at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday afternoon by officers from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and was turned over to New York police, said Paul J. Browne, New York Police Department spokesman.


Federal court ruling: Chicago must hire 111 black firefighters and pay millions in damages

A federal appeals court ruled on Friday that the Chicago Fire Department must hire 111 African Americans who passed a firefighters entrance exam 16 years ago and pay millions of dollars to thousands more who took and passed the same test.

The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling was the latest blow to the city, which has been on the losing end of court decisions regarding the 1995 test for years, including a 2005 ruling by a federal judge who said the test discriminated against black applicants and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that the candidates did not wait too long to sue the city.



In Prison Reform, Money Trumps Civil Rights

THE legal scholar Derrick A. Bell foresaw that mass incarceration, like earlier systems of racial control, would continue to exist as long as it served the perceived interests of white elites.

Thirty years of civil rights litigation and advocacy have failed to slow the pace of a racially biased drug war or to prevent the emergence of a penal system of astonishing size. Yet a few short years of tight state budgets have inspired former “get tough” true believers to suddenly denounce the costs of imprisonment. “We’re wasting tax dollars on prisons,” they say. “It’s time to shift course.” […]

A majority of those swept into our nation’s prison system are poor people of color, but the sudden shift away from the “get tough” rhetoric that has dominated the national discourse on crime has not been inspired by a surge in concern about the devastating human toll of mass incarceration. Instead, as Professor Bell predicted, the changing tide is best explained by perceived white interests. In this economic climate, it is impossible to maintain the vast prison state without raising taxes on the (white) middle class.

Given this political reality, it is hardly a surprise to read a headline that says, “N.A.A.C.P. Joins With Gingrich in Urging Prison Reform,” rather than the other way around. If there were ever an illustration of Professor Bell’s theory that whites will support racial justice only to the extent that it is in their interests, this would seem to be it.

Of course, in the late 1970s, when Professor Bell, who now teaches at New York University School of Law, first advanced his theories, our prison population was much smaller. The Reagan revolution had not yet taken hold. No one knew that the war on drugs and the “get tough” movement would unleash a wave of punitiveness that would trap generations in ghettoes, and brand them criminals and felons. No one foresaw the caste-like system that would emerge, the millions who would be stripped of basic civil and human rights supposedly won in the civil rights movement — the right to vote, to serve on juries, and to be free of discrimination in employment, housing, education and public benefits.

Today, 2.3 million Americans are behind bars; the United States has the world’s highest rate of incarceration. Convictions for non-violent crimes and relatively minor drug offenses — mostly possession, not sale — have accounted for the bulk of the increase in the prison population since the mid-1980s.

African-Americans are far more likely to get prison sentences for drug offenses than white offenders, even though studies have consistently shown that they are no more likely to use or sell illegal drugs than whites.

What to do now? Understandably, civil rights advocates and criminal justice reformers are celebrating this moment of what Professor Bell calls “interest convergence.” They say we must catch the wave and ride it. Many have given up all hope of persuading the white electorate that they should care about the severe racial disparities in the criminal justice system or the racial politics that birthed the drug war. It’s possible now, they say, to win big without talking about race or “making it an issue.” Public relations consultants like the FrameWorks Institute — which dedicates itself to “changing the public conversation about social problems” — advise advocates to speak in a “practical tone” and avoid discussions of “fairness between groups and the historical legacy of racism.”

Surely the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have rejected that advice. […]

Those who believe that righteous indignation and protest politics were appropriate in the struggle to end Jim Crow, but that something less will do as we seek to dismantle mass incarceration, fail to appreciate the magnitude of the challenge. If our nation were to return to the rates of incarceration we had in the 1970s, we would have to release 4 out of 5 people behind bars. A million people employed by the criminal justice system could lose their jobs. Private prison companies would see their profits vanish. This system is now so deeply rooted in our social, political and economic structures that it is not going to fade away without a major shift in public consciousness.

Yes, some prison downsizing is likely to occur in the months and years to come. But we ought not fool ourselves: we will not end mass incarceration without a recommitment to the movement-building work that was begun in the 1950s and 1960s and left unfinished. A human rights nightmare is occurring on our watch. If we fail to rise to the challenge, and push past the politics of momentary interest convergence, future generations will judge us harshly.




Jane Hamsher Unplugged (And Unhinged): Dare To Criticize Hamsher’s Appalling Labor Record, And This Is What You’ll Get

Update: Firedoglake’s Michael Whitney just sent a threatening email to Mike Elk, author of this article: “Good luck getting hired again.” For the entire email exchange between Whitney and Elk, see the bottom of this article.

Yesterday I confronted Jane Hamsher, founder of Firedoglake, over her refusal to honor a labor boycott against the Huffington Post that two major writers unions, The Newspaper Guild (TNG-CWA) and National Writers Union (NWU), have called for.

Here’s some background: HuffPo’s legions of bloggers are organizing a sort of electronic picket line of the Huffington Post in response to Arianna Huffington’s announcement that she earned millions in her sale of HuffPo to AOL, profits everyone knows were made off a site that relies mainly on unpaid labor. Huffinginton added salt to the wounds with her dismissive, arrogant attitude towards those who felt fleeced. When she refused to meet with the heads of these two unions to discuss their grievances, the two unions decided to call for a picket line, or boycott, of contributing by unpaid bloggers of the Huffington Post.

(The HuffPo’s exploitation of unpaid bloggers reached absurd proportions when I was actually “fired” from the HuffPo–where I blogged for free– because I dared to upset a meeting of the Mortgage Bankers Association.)

AFL CIO President Richard Trumka and the heads of nearly all the major unions have honored the picket line and refused to blog at the Huffington Post. These union  leaders have been sacrificing badly-needed publicity for their labor causes in order to show their solidarity for writers like me who work in an industry with low pay and practically no job security.

Meanwhile, people like Jane Hamsher–who already have well-funded sites with huge traffic volume– have continued writing on the Huffington Post, promoting their already high profiles without giving thought to the damage they cause to struggling writers and bloggers.

But Hamsher wasn’t satisfied merely crossing the picket line: She went on the offensive against boycott organizers.

In an email exchange with several members of the labor movement, Hamsher jeered the writers’ union organizers, mocking their organizing efforts, taking much the same stance as Arianna Huffington.

In response to Hamsher’s outrageous anti-labor attacks, I wrote to one of these listserv groups on which both Hamsher and I were members: “Jane Hamsher the last person I would ever want to have as my shop steward”. (A shop steward, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is a union representative who stands up and fights for workers’ rights in a workplace.) […]

While Hamsher was dating and living with former SEIU President Andy Stern, he was leading a vicious campaign to force members of California’s United Health Care West, a local of SEIU, to agree to concessions and secret contracts that union members themselves would not be able to see or vet in-advance. When local members resisted this outrageous demand by Stern, Stern essentially dissolved and took over their union by placing it under trusteeship, and he booted the nearly 200 elected shop stewards out of office. Some say he illegally trusted the local falsely accusing it of corruption.

(Stern, it should be noted, is currently under investigation by the FBI for his corruption while at the head of SEIU. When Stern left the SEIU, he joined the board of a biodefense firm, SIGA Technologies, backed by a major private equity fund. To learn more about the corruption of Andy Stern as President of SEIU, I highly suggest labor journalist Steve Early’s new book The Civil Wars in US Labor.”)

Hamsher at time was engaged in a two-year-long romantic relationship with SEIU President Andy Stern according to an article in POLITICO. Although one would have thought she would recuse herself from commenting on this tragic labor story, given her obvious conflict-of-interest, Hamsher instead used Firedoglake to attack several progressive bloggers who supported the rank and file workers in the struggle against their corrupt leadership. On one occasion, Hamsher even made a phone call to Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films to complain about one of Brave New Films’ employees, who had previously worked as a union organizer for that union local in California. […]

Jane-Pot, meet Hamsher-Kettle.

One thing my exchange with her yesterday showed is that Hamsher can dish it out with all the petty mean-spiritedness I’ve come to expect from her, but Hamsher can’t take it without resorting to cynical appeals to political-correctness which no one seriously believes she really meant. Especially since she showed no pang of conscience when she belittled my mental illnesses.

I know I have mental illness issues and it took a lot me a very long time to finally have the courage to write about them in public. But I have to ask Hamsher: what sort of pathology drives a woman of her stature and prominence to belittle the mental illness of a young reporter who has done nothing but stand up for workers’ rights and union democracy? Hamsher rails incessantly against her favorite neologism, “the veal pen syndrome”– but if somebody crosses her, god forbid, she’ll  resort to the lowest of attacks – bringing up their long history of mental depression and Aspergers’ Syndrome.

Like I said, I’m glad Jane Hamsher is not my shop steward.

Update from The eXiled Editor: Within minutes after this article was posted, Michael Whitney of Firedoglake sent Mike Elk, author of this article, the classic Hollywood death-knell: “You’ll never work in this town again.” Whitney, who once ran a labor blog for Firedoglake until it was taken down because it was so poorly put together and drew such anemic traffic, now serves as Vice President of the Membership Board for Firedoglake. Apparently one of his duties is acting as Hamsher’s hall monitor, policing the internet for anyone not sufficiently worshipful of his employer. Before working for Hamsher, Whitney worked for–ta-dum!– Hamsher’s ex-boyfriend at the SEIU.


FOX “News” Obsessively Incites Racism. It’s Not Even Debatable.

Fox “News” sears the red-hot poker of racism into the heart of white Americans who emotionally need a scapegoat for the nation’s economic collapse – and the erosion of the US Empire.

If some people wonder why racism still has such a strong appeal, remember that the poor and merchant-class whites of the Confederacy were as racist as the plantation owners. Having slaves to look down upon as sub-human creatures allowed even the poorest of white sharecroppers and indentured servants to feel a privileged psychological sense of social position in comparison to blacks.

That is why there is no way other than racism to view the unrelenting attack on the invitation of the rapper Common to the White House. In his usual brilliant takedown of Fox, Jon Stewart nailed the absurdity of the obsessive Fox vitriol, but danced around the motive: the stoking of racism in viewers who might otherwise start thinking about how the plutocracy is picking their pockets.

In a documentary done some time ago by Robert Greenwald, he detailed just some of the overt racism on Fox “News” over the years. But most of the insidious and dangerous fanning of the flames of race is done through coding on Fox, such as in the fusillade on Common and Obama. Coding race was inherent in the Fox nurturing of the “birther” movement, and in most of its cheerleading for the Tea Party.

It’s no wonder that so many Republican officials, in particular, have been caught making racist remarks or sending racist emails. It was no surprise to receive a tip from a BuzzFlash reader that, recently, a Republican West Virginia candidate for governor referred to President Obama as “Sambo.”

Republicans and the right-wing media echo chamber have never let their foot off the gas pedal of Dick Nixon’s “Southern strategy.” They know that emotional appeals to the core sense of identity of insecure whites in America’s social structure put up an incendiary road block to an appeal to facts and reason.

There’s no way to soft sell what Fox is up to: they promulgate the vision that America is a white nation, and that “taking back America” means wresting it from the control of a black man.


The Right-Wing Talk-Radio Flameout

Ratings for Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and other hyperpartisans are declining as listeners seek honest talk from hosts like Michael Smerconish over angry rants. A more civil conversation will add value to our political debate, writes John Avlon.

Rush is a giant in his field, reaching more listeners than anyone in political talk, but even he has seen erosion in his numbers. Analysis of industry data shows that in market after market, Rush’s ranking has declined decisively over the past five years among advertisers’ coveted 25-54 age group. For example, in Charlotte, North Carolina, Rush fell from sixth to 12th between 2005 and 2010. In Portland, Oregon, he fell from fourth to eighth. In San Francisco, he’s seen a similar decline. Among listeners 65 and older, Rush remains No. 1. He can sell bedpans and resentment forever. But the demographic trend is not his friend.

It’s not that “the angry white guy conservative political talk format”—as consultant and former Clear Channel talk radio programming director Gabe Hobbs calls it—is over. It’s just got little room to grow, going forward.

“Rush has been around for 23 years. They’re not necessarily making new Ditto-heads. You have to fish where the fish are,” says Hobbs, who helped launch the radio career of Glenn Beck, among others. “We’re singing to this choir, that’s great, they’re worth a lot of money and they do a lot of wonderful things, but boy, there’s a lot over here we could do.”

“This civil and smart approach—like [John] Batchelor and Michael Smerconish and some other shows—to me is kind of a ‘duh,’ ” adds Hobbs, indicating that it should have been obvious long ago. “The numbers that NPR is drawing clearly portends to something. I’ve seen it myself in research. It’s the tone; it’s the approach. Some people don’t want to be engaged at that loud, angry level—that hard right or left ideological approach where it’s my way or the highway.” […]

The industry is starting to get the message. “What I feel has really shifted in the past six months is that we’re getting calls from stations saying ‘I want to do talk but I don’t want it to be angry. I don’t want it to be really polarizing. I don’t want it to be just about politics,’” says Amy Bolton, senior vice president and general manager of news and talk for Dial Global, an independent, full-service radio network company providing national advertising sales representation for more than 100 independent producers and syndicators, including Michael Smerconish. “You hear program directors out there saying, ‘It’s like listening to somebody bang on the same piano note over and over and over again.’”

What’s triggered this shift? In large part, it’s an emperor-has-no-clothes realization driven by data. The radio industry changes in the way that ratings are measured, from diary-style self-monitoring to a more scientific method known as PPM. This changed the focus from rewarding voices with hardcore fans—like Limbaugh’s “Ditto-heads”—and reflected more accurately what people actually listen to throughout their day.


US Uncut Gets a Wikipedia Entry

US Uncut is a decentralized direct action group in the United States established in February 2011 to combat corporate tax avoidance and highlight cuts to social spending and public sector jobs.[1] It draws its name, organizing structure, and tactics from UK Uncut, a movement that began four months earlier in London, England.

The group’s first action occurred simultaneously in 50 cities across the United States, mostly at Bank of America branches. Since then, the group has expanded both its targets and its numbers.[2] As of May 2011, over 100 cities have had Uncut sponsored actions.[3]

[edit] Targets

In addition to Bank of America, US Uncut has held protests at Verizon stores, BP stations, FedEx’s and Target stores.[4][5]

Bank of America, the original target was chosen for its role in the financial crisis and the fact that it paid no income taxes in 2009 or 2010.[6]

Verizon made over $24 billion in 2010, yet received a tax benefit of $1.3 billion.[7] The significant tax benefit it received was mostly due to redirecting profits through its British partner Vodafone, which has been the frequent target of UK Uncut.[8]

British Petroleum received a tax benefit of $9.9 billion for 2010 do to costs associated with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.


The Political Carnival: Red Sunday

Politico has a preview of the Sunday talk show guest lists. Guess what?

Meet the Press: Newt Gingrich (R)

Face the Nation: John Boehner (R)

CNN’s State of the Union: Mitch McConnell (R), Paul Ryan (R), Former Clinton White House press secretary Joe Lockhart (D),  Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson (R), retired Adm. Dennis Blair, and former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. John Negroponte (R) – both directors of national intelligence in the last Bush administration.

This Week: Nikki Haley (R), Sheila Bair (R), chairwoman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

That’s what.


Morning Quote: Rachel Maddow

quoteHere it is: Republican Senator Dick Lugar; Republican former presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani; Republican former Congressman Tom Davis; the Bush administration’s CIA director, General Michael Hayden; the Bush administration’s secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice; the Bush administration’s homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff; the Bush administration’s defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld; the Bush administration’s vice president, Dick Cheney; the Bush administration’s vice president’s daughter, Liz Cheney — the week the Obama administration announces it has killed Osama bin Laden, that’s the guest list on the Sunday morning political talk shows to talk about it

The Sunday shows are supposedly the apex of political debate — the pulsing, throbbing heart of what’s going on in American politics. Is the biggest story in American politics right now retirees from the Bush administration and how they feel about stuff? Plus, Dick Lugar?

Honestly, this is the roster? This is Sunday morning in all of its thundering seriousness?

Now, among those nine Bush administration officials and other Republican politicians, there were three outliers: Senator John Kerry, also a former White House communications director named Anita Dunn, and one current White House official Tom Donilon, the national security adviser. So, there were those three.

But the week the Obama administration announces that bin Laden is dead, the invitees to the adult’s table, the measure of serious and importance in Washington is three-to-one, Bush administration and Republican officials.

Why is that?


FCC Commissioner’s Comcast Dash Triggers Wave of Disgust

It’s fair to say that media and the public have responded with disgust to news that FCC Commissioner Meredith Atwell Baker had cut short her public duties to lobby for Comcast, the company whose takeover of NBC Universal she had just approved.

Baker’s Comcast dash raised the eyebrows of even the most seasoned Beltway insiders — including those who tend to see public-sector service as the farm league for “K” Street jobs.

But the criticism hasn’t been limited to one bureaucrat’s shameless decision to abandon her 2009 oath to serve the American people. Baker’s move may become the tipping point for new rules to stop Washington’s revolving door from tempting any bureaucrat to exchange a light regulatory hand for the promise of a high-salaried job.

The New York Times has called on Congress to pass stronger measures to prevent government employees from jumping ship so soon; more than 55,000 people have already written the chair of the House Oversight Committee demanding action.

Can you blame people for being so angry? With public trust in government at a 30-year low, it’s time Washington recognized that “business as usual” isn’t good enough.

Follows is a survey of prevailing opinion:

The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 14:

“There’s something particularly unsettling about a regulatory official who voted only four months ago to approve the $13.75 billion merger of Comcast and NBCUniversal turning around to take a high-profile job with that firm… [T]he move threatens to further undermine public confidence in the government’s ability to make objective decisions that put ordinary citizens’ interests first.”

TIME Magazine, May 13:

“The revolving door has spun in exactly the way that people outside the beltway have long feared it would. And it happened without any rules being broken. Baker may not have known that NBC-Universal or Comcast would be offering her a job when she argued on their behalf. But everyone in town knows that if you stand up for wealthy interests while serving the public interest, chances are there is a nice fat paycheck waiting for you somewhere when you choose to leave government.”

The Seattle Times, May 13:

“Unseemly does not begin to describe Baker’s actions. Even the most jaundiced critic of the FCC should be taken aback by the Republican commissioner’s new job and the blink of time between her vote and her announcement. Factor in the time consumed by the hiring process, which apparently began last month, and it’s even worse. It is actions like Baker’s that turn people against government.”

The New York Times, May 12:

“Congress should expand the definition of lobbying beyond face-to-face encounters to any effort to influence government decisions for their clients. It should also set tight caps on what former officials, including former lawmakers, can earn from lobbying before they must register as lobbyists. Americans don’t need any more reasons to mistrust Washington.”

Rolling Stone, May 12:

“Rarely are revolving-door stories this revolting. Just months ago Meredith Attwell Baker voted — as a commissioner on the FCC — to approve Comcast’s controversial merger NBC Universal. Baker is now taking a job as a senior vice president in Comcast’s lobbying shop in Washington. ‘No wonder the public is so nauseated by business as usual in Washington,’ said Craig Aaron, chief executive of media watchdog Free Press.”

Wired, May 11:

“The revolving door between the public-private sector is now so taken for granted that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski applauded the move… ‘I wish her well in her new role at NBC Universal,’ Genachowski said in a statement, hours after Baker announced she was ‘privileged to have had the opportunity to serve the country.’ What’s more revolting, Baker’s move or Genachowski’s reaction? Let us know.”


Sherrod Returns to the USDA

One year after the video of her speaking was “creatively edited” by Andrew Breitbart, Shirley Sherrod is returning to the USDA.

Shirley Sherrod is back at the United States Department of Agriculture, almost a year after she was forced out by a misleading video spread by conservatives falsely accusing her of discriminating against white farmers.

Sherrod will not take her old position, reports Politico, instead rejoining the agency to work on civil rights. In her new job, she’ll lead a program designed to improve relations with minority farmers.

The USDA is clearly in the tank for former employees who were smeared by deceptively edited videos.

Sherrod’s lawsuit against Breitbart for libel and slander is still ongoing.


Comparisons in Chief




Secret Desert Force Set Up by Blackwater’s Founder-Abu Dhabi to put together 800-member battalion of foreign troop

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Late one night last November, a plane carrying dozens of Colombian men touched down in this glittering seaside capital. Whisked through customs by an Emirati intelligence officer, the group boarded an unmarked bus and drove roughly 20 miles to a windswept military complex in the desert sand.

The Colombians had entered the United Arab Emirates posing as construction workers. In fact, they were soldiers for a secret American-led mercenary army being built by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater Worldwide, with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom.

Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after his security business faced mounting legal problems in the United States, was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the U.A.E., according to former employees on the project, American officials and corporate documents obtained by The New York Times.

The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest in their crowded labor camps or were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year.

The U.A.E.’s rulers, viewing their own military as inadequate, also hope that the troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran, the country’s biggest foe, the former employees said. […]

In outsourcing critical parts of their defense to mercenaries — the soldiers of choice for medieval kings, Italian Renaissance dukes and African dictators — the Emiratis have begun a new era in the boom in wartime contracting that began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. And by relying on a force largely created by Americans, they have introduced a volatile element in an already combustible region where the United States is widely viewed with suspicion. […]

Still, it is not clear whether the project has the United States’ official blessing. Legal experts and government officials said some of those involved with the battalion might be breaking federal laws that prohibit American citizens from training foreign troops if they did not secure a license from the State Department.

Mark C. Toner, a spokesman for the department, would not confirm whether Mr. Prince’s company had obtained such a license, but he said the department was investigating to see if the training effort was in violation of American laws. Mr. Toner pointed out that Blackwater (which renamed itself Xe Services ) paid $42 million in fines last year for training foreign troops in Jordan and other countries over the years. […]

For Mr. Prince, the foreign battalion is a bold attempt at reinvention. He is hoping to build an empire in the desert, far from the trial lawyers, Congressional investigators and Justice Department officials he is convinced worked in league to portray Blackwater as reckless. He sold the company last year, but in April, a federal appeals court reopened the case against four Blackwater guards accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

To help fulfill his ambitions, Mr. Prince’s new company, Reflex Responses, obtained another multimillion-dollar contract to protect a string of planned nuclear power plants and to provide cybersecurity. He hopes to earn billions more, the former employees said, by assembling additional battalions of Latin American troops for the Emiratis and opening a giant complex where his company can train troops for other governments.

Knowing that his ventures are magnets for controversy, Mr. Prince has masked his involvement with the mercenary battalion. His name is not included on contracts and most other corporate documents, and company insiders have at times tried to hide his identity by referring to him by the code name “Kingfish.” But three former employees, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality agreements, and two people involved in security contracting described Mr. Prince’s central role.

The former employees said that in recruiting the Colombians and others from halfway around the world, Mr. Prince’s subordinates were following his strict rule: hire no Muslims.

Muslim soldiers, Mr. Prince warned, could not be counted on to kill fellow Muslims. […]

Mr. Prince’s exploits, both real and rumored, are the subject of fevered discussions in the private security world. He has worked with the Emirati government on various ventures in the past year, including an operation using South African mercenaries to train Somalis to fight pirates. There was talk, too, that he was hatching a scheme last year to cap the Icelandic volcano then spewing ash across Northern Europe.

The team in the hotel lobby was led by Ricky Chambers, known as C. T., a former agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who had worked for Mr. Prince for years; most recently, he had run a program training Afghan troops for a Blackwater subsidiary called Paravant.

He was among the half-dozen or so Americans who would serve as top managers of the project, receiving nearly $300,000 in annual compensation. Mr. Chambers and Mr. Prince soon began quietly luring American contractors from Afghanistan, Iraq and other danger spots with pay packages that topped out at more than $200,000 a year, according to a budget document. Many of those who signed on as trainers — which eventually included more than 40 veteran American, European and South African commandos — did not know of Mr. Prince’s involvement, the former employees said. […]

Within months, large tracts of desert were bulldozed and barracks constructed. The Emirates were to provide weapons and equipment for the mercenary force, supplying everything from M-16 rifles to mortars, Leatherman knives to Land Rovers. They agreed to buy parachutes, motorcycles, rucksacks — and 24,000 pairs of socks. […]

Emirati law prohibits disclosure of incorporation records for businesses, which typically list company officers, but it does require them to post company names on offices and storefronts. Over the past year, the sign outside the suite has changed at least twice — it now says Assurance Management Consulting.

While the documents — including contracts, budget sheets and blueprints — obtained by The Times do not mention Mr. Prince, the former employees said he negotiated the U.A.E. deal. Corporate documents describe the battalion’s possible tasks: intelligence gathering, urban combat, the securing of nuclear and radioactive materials, humanitarian missions and special operations “to destroy enemy personnel and equipment.”

One document describes “crowd-control operations” where the crowd “is not armed with firearms but does pose a risk using improvised weapons (clubs and stones).”

People involved in the project and American officials said that the Emiratis were interested in deploying the battalion to respond to terrorist attacks and put down uprisings inside the country’s sprawling labor camps, which house the Pakistanis, Filipinos and other foreigners who make up the bulk of the country’s work force. The foreign military force was planned months before the so-called Arab Spring revolts that many experts believe are unlikely to spread to the U.A.E. Iran was a particular concern.

An Eye on Iran

Although there was no expectation that the mercenary troops would be used for a stealth attack on Iran, Emirati officials talked of using them for a possible maritime and air assault to reclaim a chain of islands, mostly uninhabited, in the Persian Gulf that are the subject of a dispute between Iran and the U.A.E., the former employees said. Iran has sent military forces to at least one of the islands, Abu Musa, and Emirati officials have long been eager to retake the islands and tap their potential oil reserves. […]

In recent years, the Emirati government has showered American defense companies with billions of dollars to help strengthen the country’s security. A company run by Richard A. Clarke, a former counterterrorism adviser during the Clinton and Bush administrations, has won several lucrative contracts to advise the U.A.E. on how to protect its infrastructure.

Some security consultants believe that Mr. Prince’s efforts to bolster the Emirates’ defenses against an Iranian threat might yield some benefits for the American government, which shares the U.A.E.’s concern about creeping Iranian influence in the region.

“As much as Erik Prince is a pariah in the United States, he may be just what the doctor ordered in the U.A.E.,” said an American security consultant with knowledge of R2’s work.

The contract includes a one-paragraph legal and ethics policy noting that R2 should institute accountability and disciplinary procedures. “The overall goal,” the contract states, “is to ensure that the team members supporting this effort continuously cast the program in a professional and moral light that will hold up to a level of media scrutiny.”

But former employees said that R2’s leaders never directly grappled with some fundamental questions about the operation. International laws governing private armies and mercenaries are murky, but would the Americans overseeing the training of a foreign army on foreign soil be breaking United States law?

Susan Kovarovics, an international trade lawyer who advises companies about export controls, said that because Reflex Responses was an Emirati company it might not need State Department authorization for its activities.

But she said that any Americans working on the project might run legal risks if they did not get government approval to participate in training the foreign troops.

Basic operational issues, too, were not addressed, the former employees said. What were the battalion’s rules of engagement? What if civilians were killed during an operation? And could a Latin American commando force deployed in the Middle East really be kept a secret?

Imported Soldiers

The first waves of mercenaries began arriving last summer. Among them was a 13-year veteran of Colombia’s National Police force named Calixto Rincón, 42, who joined the operation with hopes of providing for his family and seeing a new part of the world.

“We were practically an army for the Emirates,” Mr. Rincón, now back in Bogotá, Colombia, said in an interview. “They wanted people who had a lot of experience in countries with conflicts, like Colombia.”

Mr. Rincón’s visa carried a special stamp from the U.A.E. military intelligence branch, which is overseeing the entire project, that allowed him to move through customs and immigration without being questioned.

He soon found himself in the midst of the camp’s daily routines, which mirrored those of American military training. “We would get up at 5 a.m. and we would start physical exercises,” Mr. Rincón said. His assignment included manual labor at the expanding complex, he said. Other former employees said the troops — outfitted in Emirati military uniforms — were split into companies to work on basic infantry maneuvers, learn navigation skills and practice sniper training.

R2 spends roughly $9 million per month maintaining the battalion, which includes expenditures for employee salaries, ammunition and wages for dozens of domestic workers who cook meals, wash clothes and clean the camp, a former employee said. Mr. Rincón said that he and his companions never wanted for anything, and that their American leaders even arranged to have a chef travel from Colombia to make traditional soups.

But the secrecy of the project has sometimes created a prisonlike environment. “We didn’t have permission to even look through the door,” Mr. Rincón said. “We were only allowed outside for our morning jog, and all we could see was sand everywhere.”

The Emirates wanted the troops to be ready to deploy just weeks after stepping off the plane, but it quickly became clear that the Colombians’ military skills fell far below expectations. “Some of these kids couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn,” said a former employee. Other recruits admitted to never having fired a weapon.

Rethinking Roles

As a result, the veteran American and foreign commandos training the battalion have had to rethink their roles. They had planned to act only as “advisers” during missions — meaning they would not fire weapons — but over time, they realized that they would have to fight side by side with their troops, former officials said.

Making matters worse, the recruitment pipeline began drying up. Former employees said that Thor struggled to sign up, and keep, enough men on the ground. Mr. Rincón developed a hernia and was forced to return to Colombia, while others were dismissed from the program for drug use or poor conduct.

And R2’s own corporate leadership has also been in flux. Mr. Chambers, who helped develop the project, left after several months. A handful of other top executives, some of them former Blackwater employees, have been hired, then fired within weeks.

To bolster the force, R2 recruited a platoon of South African mercenaries, including some veterans of Executive Outcomes, a South African company notorious for staging coup attempts or suppressing rebellions against African strongmen in the 1990s. The platoon was to function as a quick-reaction force, American officials and former employees said, and began training for a practice mission: a terrorist attack on the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai, the world’s tallest building. They would secure the situation before quietly handing over control to Emirati troops.

But by last November, the battalion was officially behind schedule. The original goal was for the 800-man force to be ready by March 31; recently, former employees said, the battalion’s size was reduced to about 580 men.

Emirati military officials had promised that if this first battalion was a success, they would pay for an entire brigade of several thousand men. The new contracts would be worth billions, and would help with Mr. Prince’s next big project: a desert training complex for foreign troops patterned after Blackwater’s compound in Moyock, N.C. But before moving ahead, U.A.E. military officials have insisted that the battalion prove itself in a “real world mission.”

That has yet to happen. So far, the Latin American troops have been taken off the base only to shop and for occasional entertainment.

On a recent spring night though, after months stationed in the desert, they boarded an unmarked bus and were driven to hotels in central Dubai, a former employee said. There, some R2 executives had arranged for them to spend the evening with prostitutes.




I LOVE Nancy Pelosi!!

Member of the House GOP have not been happy during this recess. They’ve been whinging and whining about agitators in their town halls because people are justifiably upset at the threats to Medicare and Social Security, to the point where they’re trying to carefully stage manage these meetings. But Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi thinks they need to take their lumps if they want to be so callous with the welfare of Americans and wrote an open letter telling them so. This is just so much more schadenfreude-licious than your standard sternly worded letter:

Posted on May 13, 2011 by Leader’s Press Shop

To: GOP Freshman
Fr: Democratic Leader’s Press Office
Da: May 13, 2011
Re: Facing the Music – Suggested Songs for Your Trip Home

As you go home to face the music of your vote to end Medicare as we know it, we know you’re worried about what your constituents are going to say…for good reason. Here is a suggested playlist for your trip:

Think – Aretha Franklin (1968)

Desperado – Eagles (1982)

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word – Elton John (1976)

Hard to Say I’m Sorry – Chicago (1982)

I’m Sorry, So Sorry – Brenda Lee (1960)

You Can’t Always Get What You Want – Rolling Stones (1969)

You Got Another Thing Coming – Judas Priest (1982)

Mama Said – The Shirelles (1961)

Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home) – The Impalas (1959)

Cryin’ – Aerosmith (1993)

Who’s Sorry Now? – Connie Francis (1958)

Lost Cause – Beck (2002)

I Learned the Hard Way – Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings (2010)

Not Ready To Make Nice – Dixie Chicks (2006)

Bad Day – Daniel Powter (2005)

Troubles – Alicia Keys (2001)

When the music stops, you should try listening to the American people.

Oh suh-nap! You gotta love Nancy Pelosi. But she should know that being a Republican means never having to say you’re sorry.


Huckabee Says He Won’t Run for President


Andrew Sullivan:

I’ve been told for months now that Huckabee won’t be running and I tend to take such rumors with a shovel-full of skepticism. But now it’s official that he likes his TV gig (badly enough to force you to watch the whole thing till the end last night), enjoys his new home, and has insufficient egomania to drag himself and everyone he loves through a brutalizing process toward a likely defeat. What segment of the vote does he leave to others? Well, he is an arch social-conservative; and has a record of tax hikes and clemency for prisoners; he’s an evangelical fave; a Greater Israel fanatic; and a folksy, genial bass-player.

The answer is: no one. But if you ask yourself who has his kind of populist appeal with evangelical Christianists … the answer becomes clearer. Santorum has all the stern fanaticism of the Catholic far right but none of the star quality. Barbour’s gone. Romney’s just too slick for the base culture warriors. Johnson and Paul cannot stir the religious vote and that goes for Huntsman and Daniels.

I’m left with Bachmann and Palin. It’s their game of chicken now.


The great week for Obama is a rotten no-good two weeks for the GOP

Partial list of events favoring Obama since April 27, 2011:

Released long form birth certificate
Killed Osama bin Laden
Destroyed Trump, seriously damaged birther movement
Polls spiked
Gas prices peaked
Better than expected job numbers, even if still weak
NY 26 unexpectedly strong for Democrats
Narrative changed (inoculated against being the new Jimmy Carter)
Pundits focusing on weak GOP field
Tea party/Wall Street civil war over debt limits
Rifts appear as Ryan’s Medicare disaster sink in
Mitt Romney’s health care speech is less than well received
Mike Huckabee won’t run in 2012 (joining Haley Barbour)


[Redundant, but I can’t help myself!] Obama triumphs, Romney falls, Paul runs, Trump disappears in disgrace

Who can pick the exact date that Moammar Gadhafi joins Osama bin Laden in hell? Will it happen in minutes, hours, days or weeks? Two weeks ago we were discussing the president’s birth certificate. Now we are discussing Obama’s courageous decision as commander in chief. Barack Obama is now the commanding favorite for 2012.

Who can predict what Mitt Romney will believe next week? Is he still pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-healthcare mandate, pro-con control, and does he still say he is more liberal than Ted Kennedy?  Does he still support the Red Sox? Mitt Romney: the man of many faces. He will not be nominated by the GOP.

Who can predict when Ron Paul raises his first $5 million? My guess: It will take two money bombs. Dr. Paul is in. Congratulations to his supporters.

Who can predict whether Donald Trump is prosecuted for fraud? Don’t miss the Friday New York Times about his customers who are suing him and the state governments who are investigating him.

What a week. Obama up, Romney falls, Paul in, Trump disgraced.


Ron Paul: ‘Why Not?’ Abolish FEMA, Government Should Not ‘Take Care Of Us When We Do Dumb Things’

[Sunday], Libertarian hero Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) announced that he will join the motley GOP presidential field, marking his third run for the office. Offering further insight into his presidential sensibility, Paul told CNN host Wolf Blitzer today that he would do away with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), even at a time of unprecedented need.

Viewing the agency as unconstitutional, Paul questioned why federal funds should pay to protect citizens from natural disasters and concluded, “It’s a moral hazard to say that government is always going to take care of us when we do dumb things“:

BLITZER: On the whole issue of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, do you want to see that agency ended?

PAUL: Well, if you want to live in a free society, if you want to pay attention to the constitution, why not? I think it’s bad economics. I think it’s bad morality. And it’s bad constitutional law. Why should people like myself, who had, not too long ago, a house on the Gulf Coast and it’s – it’s expensive there and it’s risky and it’s dangerous. Why should somebody from the central part of the United States rebuild my house? Why shouldn’t I have to buy my own insurance and protect about the potential dangers? I mean it’s – it’s a moral hazard to say that government is always going to take care of us when we do dumb things. I’m trying to get people to not to dumb things. Besides, it’s not authorized in the constitution.

BLITZER: And if there’s a disaster, like flooding or – or an earthquake or Hurricane Katrina, what’s wrong with asking fellow Americans to help their – their – their fellow citizens?

PAUL: Nothing. And I think Americans are very, very generous and they have traditionally. The big problem is Americans are getting poor and they’re not able to voluntarily come to the rescue.But to coerce people, to ask them to help, that is fine and dandy. But when you bankrupt our country and nobody has a job and then they say, well, FEMA needs to bail out everybody, then all we’re doing is compounding our problems.

Paul’s brand of morality is particularly callous given the numerous natural disasters destroying Americans’ homes and livelihoods across the country right now, from floods to tornadoes to wildfire fires. Gov. Nathan Deal (R-GA) requested FEMA to respond to the devastating tornadoes that tore across the southern states, leaving at least 290 dead. Gov. Haley Barbour (R-MS) is telling Mississippians that are victims of disaster-level flooding to register with FEMA to receive federal aid.

After wildfires tore across Paul’s own state of Texas, Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) pleaded for even more FEMA aid. Perry said that “the ‘severity and magnitude‘ of the fires was so great that FEMA should direct other federal agencies to step in and help run the fire-fighting effort in those counties.”

But apparently to Paul, Texans people are “dumb” and thus undeserving of assistance because they happen to be in the path of a natural disaster.


Paul says he would have opposed 1964 Civil Rights Act

“Yeah, but I wouldn’t vote against getting rid of the Jim Crow laws,” Paul said. He explained that he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act “because of the property rights element, not because they got rid of the Jim Crow laws.”

Paul’s son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), faced criticism during his campaign for Senate last fall because of similar remarks he made, also during an appearance on MSNBC. Rand Paul had advanced a similar argument about property rights, and, under political pressure, issued a follow-up statement in which he voiced support for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and would not support any efforts to repeal it.

Tom Coburn Helped Cover Up John Ensign Affair: Senate Ethics Report


Sen. John Ensign sex scandal spreads to other Republicans

Christian Science Monitor:

Sen. Tom Coburn and former Sen. Rick Santorum appear to have been involved in the scandal that brought down former Sen. John Ensign. A Senate Ethics Committee investigation could lead to criminal charges for Ensign.


Gingrich companies owed taxes in 4 states


Michigan Democratic Party “Sitting on the Sidelines” During Rick Snyder Recall

The fabulous Michigan website Eclectablog has been hunting down the truth about Rick Snyder, the Benton Harbor Emergency Financial Manager fiasco and assorted Right-Wing wrongs like a rabid basset hound of late. His coverage has gotten him traction with the Rachel Maddow blog.

Now, he’s taking on the Democrats, claiming that he and others have been blindly ignored in their attempts to get the Michigan Democratic Party on board with recall efforts.

In “The Michigan Democratic Party Has Little Tolerance for Dissent” he writes:

I have heard from multiple sources that their phones were burning up and their email boxes jammed with people wanting know WTF and why the MDP was not getting on board with the grassroots movements to recall Governor Rick Snyder along with eight different Republican state House members, as well as the Emergency Financial Manager law repeal. Their Facebook page also was lit up and they started deleting a great deal of the comments they were receiving on that page, asking why they were sitting on the sidelines while the citizens of Michigan were doing all the heavy lifting to try to create some good old-fashioned CHANGE for themselves.

The MDP has changed the landing page for their Facebook page to show only their own posts. To see the dissenting posts that they have not deleted, you must click the “Most Recent” tab.

Later in the article, he notes the difference between the scenarios and reactions in Wisconsin and Michigan:

In Wisconsin, the Democratic Party was not given a choice. They saw the tens of thousands of protesters on the front lawn of their state Capitol building. They saw the national groundswell movement against the type of tyranny represented by the Republican Party today. And they got on board. No equivocation. No dodging the issue. They got on board.

Not so much with the Michigan Democratic Party. They seem to be avoiding this issue at all costs. I reached out to them for an on-the-record comment before writing about their absence in the recall efforts and the Emergency Financial Manager law repeal effort. Like the Snyder recall organizers, I was not even acknowledged. (And, yes, I have proof they received my request.)

Finally, Eclectablog consider the feasability of the MDP getting involved:

you don’t have to spend an enormous amount of money on this. Some well-timed, well-placed press releases would go a very long way toward supporting these efforts. How about some press conferences where you come out in support of the grassroots leaders who are making this happen? What does that cost? Virtually nothing.

Read the entire super-charged, insightful and emotional call to action HERE.


Ron Paul Calls Social Security and Medicare Unconstitutional, Compares Them to ‘Slavery’

Appearing on Fox News Sunday this morning, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) defended his longstanding view that Medicare, Social Security (and pretty much everything else) violate the Constitution. At one point, Paul even claimed that letting Social Security and similar programs to move forward is just like permitting slavery:

WALLACE: You talk a lot about the Constitution. You say Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid are all unconstitutional.

PAUL: Technically, they are. . . . there’s no authority [in the Constitution]. Article I, Section 8 doesn’t say I can set up an insurance program for people. What part of the Constitution are you getting it from? The liberals are the ones who use this General Welfare Clause. . . . That is such an extreme liberal viewpoint that has been mistaught in our schools for so long and that’s what we have to reverse—that very notion that you’re presenting.

WALLACE: Congressman, it’s not just a liberal view. It was the decision of the Supreme Court in 1937 when they said that Social Security was constitutional under Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution.

PAUL: And the Constitution and the courts said slavery was legal to, and we had to reverse that.

As Chris Wallace tries to explain, Paul’s crankish view of the Constitution cannot be squared with the document’s text. The Constitution gives Congress the power to “to lay and collect taxes” and to “provide for the…general welfare of the United States,” which is exactly what Social Security does. Nor is this reading of the Constitution’s unambiguous words limited to “extreme liberals.” Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia recently told a gathering of Members of Congress that “It’s up to Congress how you want to appropriate, basically.”

Indeed, the overwhelming majority of Paul’s fellow House Republicans disagree with his bizarre view that Medicare and other government-funded insurance programs violate the Constitution.


Ryan announcement on Wisconsin Senate seat coming soon

Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin said Sunday he will decide this week if he will run for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl.

Kohl announced Friday he will not run for reelection in 2012, leaving Democrats to defend 23 Senate seats in the next election. Ryan, who serves as chairman of the House Budget Committee, is one of the names discussed as a possible replacement.

“Herb just announced this Friday, it was a bit of a surprise to all of us,” Ryan said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “So my family and supporters, we just started digesting this. I plan on making an announcement very quickly. I don’t want to dwindle on this but we’re just beginning to process this information.”



Fringe of Democratic Party won’t cut Obama a break

Call it irony.

Polls show that more than 80 percent of self-described liberals and more than two-thirds of Democrats consistently approve of President Barack Obama’s job performance. But ask the Beltway media, and you’ll find that Obama is losing his base.

Perhaps that depends on what the meaning of “base” is.

If it’s African Americans or Hispanics or young voters, Obama still polls quite well. It’s unlikely that those groups will flock in 2012 to a Republican nominee invariably saddled with the birther, “throw grandma (and her Medicare) from the train, sate the rich, bust the unions and make the women have babies” madness that has overtaken the GOP.

But when cable news outlets or political writers go looking for “Obamacans,” they invariably turn to a rather elite group of liberals and progressive libertarians who, to put it mildly, are not high on the president.

To be honest, some of them never have been.

Sure, they preferred Obama to John McCain and, heaven forbid, Sarah Palin. But even during the campaign, liberal libertarians like Salon’s Glenn Greenwald were comparing Obama’s religiosity to Mike Huckabee and calling him George W. Bush-lite. […]

Almost from the moment he stepped into the White House, for liberals like Firedoglake blogger Jane Hamsher, Progressive Campaign Change Committee co-founder Adam Green or black commentators Cornell West and Tavis Smiley, Obama could almost do no right.

He didn’t somehow force Senate Democrats to vote through a public healthcare option.

He didn’t do the unconstitutional by nullifying the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” law without Congress. Even when he oversaw its end, he didn’t do it fast enough.

He “broke his promise” to close the Bush era prison at Guantánamo Bay. Never mind that it was his first executive order, or that the Democratic-controlled Congress passed serial bills barring the transfer of detainees to any state in the union. Among those voting to keep Gitmo open? Liberal heroes like Bernie Sanders and former Sen. Russ Feingold.

Obama failed to immediately end Bush’s wars — never mind that it takes some delicate doing to pull the U.S. Army and Marines out of a hornet’s nest like Afghanistan, or that combat operations have indeed ended in Iraq.

Obama had the gall to accede to the United Nations’ request for military support in Libya, for 18 whole days.

Bush tax cuts? Obama should have let Republicans shove the poor and unemployed over a cliff last December to force their end. His plan to call for their expiration in 2012 is too little, too late.

Coincidentally, many in this group are neither poor nor unemployed. Some of them are rich celebrities, even, and they’re miffed by the slowness of change. In the movies, presidents manage to get things done in an hour and a half.

Obama is consistently accused of “capitulation” — never mind that Democrats have gotten the better of Republicans in every deal since December, including the present budget deal, where the cuts are more accounting tricks than actual pain.

Democrats, including the president, have beaten back decades of Republican intransigence on healthcare, Wall Street reform and the supposedly “small government conservative” obsession with outlawing abortion.

Politicians rarely get credit for doing anything right, probably because people figure they rarely do. And many of the hard-won Democratic victories seem maddeningly incremental. People forget that when Social Security and Medicare were passed decades ago, many liberal proponents complained that the White House had been too timid, too.

In a fundamentally centrist country, Obama is governing as a pragmatic progressive. This, despite a media that’s endlessly fascinated by conservatives and their narratives, and a liberal movement that failed to keep up while the right built the media and political infrastructure to implement their agenda over the long term.

Obama, and frankly, House Speaker John Boehner, face a radical right wing that has overtaken Boehner’s Republican Party. Thanks to the Supreme Court, Obama also faces corporations that have never been more powerful.

That’s not to suggest there are not substantive, legitimate critiques to be made of Obama. Popular pressure moves presidents, and this one has sometimes failed to take up the rhetorical battle to win the great policy debates of our time. But the hostility of some liberals to the president seems wildly out of proportion to reality.


Republicans Optimistic About Retaking Senate

With Democrats defending 23 seats to their 10, top Republicans believe they have a built-in advantage in their drive to pick up at least the four seats that would vault them into the majority even if President Obama wins a second term and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. remains able to break Senate ties. And they calculate that their chances are enhanced because important races will be in relatively conservative states like Montana, Nebraska and North Dakota.

“With our encouragement, I do think people are focusing on the Senate and how that can be the place where we can pick up the most yardage in 2012,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Democrats are hardly conceding the Senate, and even though the election is 18 months off, campaigns are quickly moving into high gear and contenders are scurrying to raise the millions of dollars they will need.

In Montana, Senator Jon Tester, the Democratic incumbent, is already engaged in a full-blown fight with his Republican opponent, Representative Denny Rehberg. An advocacy group is advertising in Massachusetts against Senator Scott P. Brown, a Republican and a top target of Democrats. Potentially vulnerable incumbents are busily crisscrossing their states.

“I am going like there is no tomorrow,” said Senator Bill Nelson, Democrat of Florida, who faces a tough race in a major battleground state.

The announcement Friday by Senator Herb Kohl, the four-term Wisconsin Democrat, that he would not seek re-election only added to the difficulties facing Democrats, depriving them of a relatively popular incumbent who could have financed his own campaign. Mr. Kohl’s exit instead left Democrats with another open seat to protect — their sixth — and added Wisconsin to the list of more than a dozen high-wattage races that will decide control of the Senate, which is now split 53 to 47.

Republicans are even trying to turn concerns about their uncertain prospects in the presidential race into an opportunity in the battle for Senate supremacy, arguing that a Senate takeover could fundamentally alter the balance of power in Washington even if Mr. Obama won a second term. They are making the case to donors and voters that winning a Senate majority would give the party control of Congress and a united front against the president from Capitol Hill if Republicans hold the House.

It is not lost on Republicans that the last time a Democratic president won a second term, when Bill Clinton was re-elected in 1996, Senate Republicans still expanded their numbers.

“I am hoping he is not re-elected,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Senate Republican, said about Mr. Obama. “But it is notable to look back at 1996, when we gained two seats even when we did not succeed. We are focused like a laser on trying to get over the top in the Senate, and we have a reasonable shot.”

Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, said that the fight for control of the Senate was among the highest priorities for the party, and that while activists were eager to reclaim the White House, the Senate provided an easier path to changing the direction of Washington.

“The fact that Democrats are running for the hills is making it easier for us to win back the Senate and take full control of the legislative agenda,” Mr. Priebus said in an interview.

But Democrats say the struggle for the Senate is more than a numbers game. Acknowledging that the landscape looked grim in the days after the midterm elections, they say the outlook has improved, partly because House Republicans have pursued a conservative agenda that has allowed voters a good look at the policies Republicans would enact if they controlled both chambers on Capitol Hill.

It is changing, and it is changing for the better,” said Senator Patty Murray of Washington, the chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “The senators running on our side aren’t sitting back. They are raising money, they are being aggressive, they believe in what they are fighting for and they know their states.”

Eyeing Republican-held seats in Indiana, Massachusetts, Nevada and elsewhere, Democrats also say they intend to make Senate gains of their own, making it more difficult for Republicans to execute their takeover plans.

Democrats are also counting on an assertive and sophisticated turnout operation by the Obama campaign to substantially reshape the electorate from the one that favored Republicans in 2010.

Both sides essentially put North Dakota in the Republican camp with Senator Kent Conrad, a Democrat, not seeking re-election, but their views of the Senate landscape diverge sharply from there.

Republicans say they see strong chances of victory in Montana over Mr. Tester and in Nebraska, where Senator Ben Nelson, a Democrat and a former governor, has trailed potential Republican rivals in polls.

“That leaves us 20 more seats to pick up one to get into the majority,” Mr. Cornyn said.

But Democrats say Republicans are seriously underestimating Mr. Nelson and Mr. Tester and are overlooking the prospect that Democrats could win Republican seats.

Democrats say that if Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana loses to a conservative challenger in the Republican primary, their candidate, Representative Joe Donnelly, would have a strong chance running as a moderate. A similar situation could play out in Maine, they say, where Senator Olympia J. Snowe, a moderate Republican, faces a potential Tea Party challenge. They also have high hopes in heavily Democratic Massachusetts against Mr. Brown.

“If you look race by race in each state, I think we are in much better shape than you would have ever imagined,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Senate Democrat, who oversaw the campaign operation in 2006 and 2008.

Mr. Schumer and others expect Republicans to get tangled up in the sort of messy primaries that cost them in the 2010 Senate races. And they say Republicans have so far failed to recruit top candidates in states that would seem to offer opportunities, like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“They are struggling,” said Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat who is up for re-election next year. “That speaks volumes. If you would have asked right after the election, November or December, I think you would have seen people lining up for those races.”


J Street reacts to violence in, around Israel

J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami issued the following statement in reaction to reports of violence in and around Israel today:

J Street is deeply alarmed by the serious outbreaks of violence in and around Israel today.

We call on Palestinian leaders and the Israeli government to work to minimize further violence and casualties, and to prevent further escalation. We urge governments and communal leaders in surrounding states to similarly avoid escalation.

The violence comes at the start of an important week, during which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit the United States, meet President Barack Obama, and deliver several speeches outlining his government’s thinking about the state of the political process with the Palestinians. President Obama too has scheduled an important address Thursday in which he may lay out his ideas for reviving the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

This weekend’s violence only reinforces J Street’s concern that the absence of a credible diplomatic route to achieving a two-state solution sows the seeds of hopelessness that lead to conflict and violence.

J Street’s goal is to promote the security and survival of the state of Israel and its future as a democracy and a Jewish homeland. We fear that the failure of either leader to lay out bold steps toward a two-state solution this week and then to follow through on them in the months ahead condemns Israel, the Palestinians and their neighbors to more dark days of violence and bloodshed and puts Israel’s future and security at risk.

We reiterate our call on President Obama to step forward this week with a concrete set of ideas and parameters for breaking the present diplomatic impasse.

While domestic political considerations may be preventing both leaders from stepping forward with bold proposals, we hope that the call of history will win out over the pull of politics and encourage them to offer the leadership and statesmanship so sorely needed right now before the situation spirals out of control in the weeks and months ahead.



AP-GfK Poll: The more Republicans get to know 2012 contenders, the less they’re satisfied

Some 45 percent now say they’re dissatisfied with the GOP candidates who have declared or are thought to be serious about running, up from 33 percent two months ago, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. Just 41 percent are satisfied with the likely Republican field, down from 52 percent. […]

Four years ago at this time, there was a clearly different dynamic for the GOP. In late May 2007, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found Republicans generally content with their choices: 68 percent said they were satisfied with “the choice of candidates for the Republican nomination for president,” though that was well below the 79 percent level of satisfaction among Democrats.

So far this year, it looks like a case of GOP buyer’s remorse before all the merchandise is even out on the shelves.



Risk perception

You are reading a piece in Nature, so you are probably fairly well-educated, and there is a better than even chance that you fancy yourself a fact-based thinker and reasonably rational. Meaning no disrespect, but that assumption is fanciful, at least when it comes to the perception of risk. Ambrose Bierce was right when he defined the brain as “the organ with which we think we think.” Research from diverse fields, and countless examples from the real world, have convincingly established that our perceptions of risk are an inextricable blend of fact and feeling, reason and gut reaction, cognition and intuition. No matter what the hard risk sciences may tell us the facts are about a risk, the social sciences tell us that our interpretation of those facts is ultimately subjective.

While this system has done a good job getting us this far along evolution’s winding road, it also gets us into trouble because sometimes, no matter how right our perceptions feel, we get risk wrong. We worry about some things more than the evidence warrants (vaccines, nuclear radiation, genetically modified food), and less about some threats than the evidence warns (climate change, obesity, using our mobiles when we drive). That produces what I have labeled The Perception Gap, the gap between our fears and the facts, which is a huge risk in and of itself.

The Perception Gap produces dangerous personal choices that hurt us and those around us (declining vaccination rates are fueling the resurgence of nearly eradicated diseases). It causes the profound health harms of chronic stress (for those who worry more than necessary). And it produces social policies that protect us more from what we’re afraid of than from what in fact threatens us the most (we spend more to  protect ourselves from terrorism than heart disease)…which in effect raises our overall risk.)




Facing Surplus, Wisconsin Republicans Go After Firefighters and Police

When the Wisconsin Republicans came for the public sector employees this spring, they exempted firefighters and police unions. But those unions didn’t buy into the divide and conquer strategy of the GOP; instead, they demonstrated with their brothers and sisters, protesting Governor Walker’s union busting bill (and continuous attempts to pass said bill in any way possible). They said then that if you come for one union, you come for all unions, exemplifying the meaning of and the power of Solidarity. […]

That “revenue” loss does not exist anymore – that was a ruse. First, it only existed because Walker gave tax cuts to corporations and now, it only exists in the world of Republican spin:

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau released a revised estimate of state tax revenues showing Wisconsin collecting an additional $233 million this fiscal year, $204 million the next year and $199 million in 2012-13. Officials with the agency said the increase is likely due to an improving economy, a stronger stock market and higher business profits.

Did you hear that? The House that Scotty built was built on a lie. There are no revenue losses.

If Governor Walker thought he could move on from the vocal protests last February and March, he was wrong. “The Fight is Not Over” rally took place yesterday in Madison, with between 7,000-10,000 protesters showing up.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported, “We have to reclaim our moral outrage, our sense of indignation,” Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, said to cheers from the crowd. “We have to keep the pressure on and let them hear us.”

It’s telling that in the wake of the news that Wisconsin isn’t broke, is in fact facing a budget surplus and economic growth to the tune of a potential $636 million boost, Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans have not changed their story one bit.

When you take the curtain of “economic crisis” away from Walker’s justifications for his union busting, the truth is revealed to be a petty little puppet man, whose mouth moves when the Koch brothers pull his strings. Facing a surplus, Walker and the Republicans say they will not change course.




White House to work with both sides on gun control measure

The White House announced Monday that the administration is starting a series of sessions with leaders on both sides of the gun control issue to try to reach compromise on legislation to reduce gun violence.

White House Secretary Jay Carney did not announce which groups would be invited to the sessions this week, but he said the Justice Department is “meeting with stakeholders on all sides of the issue to look at ways we can find common ground.” The meetings come after President Obama called Sunday for greater enforcement of gun control laws and better background checks since the January shooting in Tucson that killed six people and injured 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group started by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is expected to be involved in the discussions, but administration officials will also reach out to groups generally opposed to tighter gun restrictions such as the National Rifle Association, according to sources.



[I’m definitely adopting this.] THE SNARK: .~


So, the snark is great in theory, and you like the idea of making the written word work for you. But the font you want doesn’t have a built in snark! Here are five ways to make add a snark to your punctuation. The first methods are quite simple and are intended for casual users, hobby typographers and punctuation enthusiasts. Following this are more advanced methods, targeted at typographers, type designers and developers. If you want the most well designed and easily accessed snark, you may need to contact your font vendor or designer.

Type Users

  1. Making a basic snark (simple)
  2. Setting a more evolved snark in design software (moderate)


  1. Kerning the components to create a better basic snark (moderate)
  2. Designing the snark as its own ligature (advanced)
  3. Encoding the snark in a font (advanced)
  4. Adding the snark to an OpenType font (advanced)

1. Making a basic snark (top)

A snark is very simple. At the end of the sentence where you want to finish with the mark, add a ~ (tilde) after the . (period).
A basic snark



Repeat: Ayn Rand was a Sociopath

One reason why most countries don’t find the time to embrace her thinking is that Ayn Rand is a textbook sociopath. Literally a sociopath: Ayn Rand, in her notebooks, worshiped a notorious serial murderer-dismemberer, and used this killer as an early model for the type of “ideal man” that Rand promoted in her more famous books — ideas which were later picked up on and put into play by major right-wing figures of the past half decade, including the key architects of America’s most recent economic catastrophe — former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan and SEC Commissioner Chris Cox — along with other notable right-wing Republicans such as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford.

So what, and who, was Ayn Rand for and against? The best way to get to the bottom of it is to take a look at how she developed the superhero of her novel, Atlas Shrugged, John Galt. Back in the late 1920s, as Ayn Rand was working out her philosophy, she became enthralled by a real-life American serial killer, William Edward Hickman, whose gruesome, sadistic dismemberment of 12-year-old girl named Marion Parker in 1927 shocked the nation. Rand filled her early notebooks with worshipful praise of Hickman. According to biographer Jennifer Burns, author of Goddess of the Market, Rand was so smitten by Hickman that she modeled her first literary creation — Danny Renahan, the protagonist of her unfinished first novel, The Little Street — on him.

What did Rand admire so much about Hickman? His sociopathic qualities: “Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should,” she wrote, gushing that Hickman had “no regard whatsoever for all that society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. He has the true, innate psychology of a Superman. He can never realize and feel ‘other people.'”





Bring Back Fairness to the Tax Code

This is it. According to the Treasury Department, if Congress doesn’t act by May 16th, we’ll hit the debt ceiling and start a full-blown budget crisis.

We need action, and fast, to get America’s financial house in order or else we might have to stop paying Social Security, Medicare payments, tax refunds and more.

Right now, House Republicans are demanding trillions in unnecessary cuts in exchange for action to prevent a government default. And, so far, only a handful of leaders have had the courage to demand that millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share to avoid this fiscal crisis.

Enter your zip code below to check if your Representative is one of them, and tell them to get on board before it’s too late.


Protect Our National Forests & Precious Wildlife

The Forest Service has proposed setting aside crucial protections that have protected the forest homes of lynx and other imperiled wildlife in our national forests since Ronald Reagan was president.

These magnificent landscapes support diverse ecosystems and an incredible array of more than 15,000 species of fish, plants and wildlife including iconic animals such as grizzly bears, antelope, bison, bighorn sheep, elk and cutthroat trout.

Please urge the Forest Service to revise its plan before any harm is done.

Don’t delay! The deadline for public comments is TODAY!

A Picture is Worth 40,000 Jobs

A sobering image from Sacramento, CA, where the California Teachers Association this week placed 400 chairs on the Capitol lawn to represent the 40,000 educators who have lost their jobs due to budget cuts in the past three years. For more info, visit CTA’s State of Emergency Web site.

2,500 rally in San Diego:

1,000 in San Bernardino:

3,000 in San Francisco:

6,000 in L.A.

3,000 in Sacramento:




People protect what they love. ~Jacques Yves Cousteau


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“That is why there is no way other than racism to view the unrelenting attack on the invitation of the rapper Common to the White House. In his usual brilliant takedown of Fox, Jon Stewart nailed the absurdity of the obsessive Fox vitriol, but danced around the motive: the stoking of racism in viewers who might otherwise start thinking about how the plutocracy is picking their pockets.”

To Buzzflash,Stewart did not “dance around,” the motive. Why point out the obvious? Stewart’s treatment of FOX in that particular episode made it quite clear for anybody to see that racism was at the heart of their trashing of Common.”


I know a lot people may not go to libraries, but I love my neighborhood library. I went last Friday and got “The Bridge”, by David Remnick and a mystery by Walter Mosley. Maybe I’m just cheap, but if I like the book I’ll buy a copy for my personal library. I intend on buying “The Bridge”. Maybe I’ll even give it to my son to read – although I learned years ago not to lend out my books and music – you never get them back. Anyway, I highly recommend “The Bridge”. It’s fascinating. I hope we don’t lose our public libraries.


This debt ceiling business is a real case of political theatre.
Both sides know that it needs to be raised. It is another example of the fact that so many people have to do things the hard way. And, politicans are ordinary people, only more so; they are not smarter, no wiser, more mature than any other mortal. As a result, we get we get: folly.

It does come down to the fact that we do not have a working majority in the USA. There is no consensus on a problem definition; and, workable solutions are ruled out of order.


You’re kind, Cher, but I certainly don’t feel terribly “needed” now. The assholes are winning, it seems.

Im thinking of doing a little planet shopping. There’s gotta be a saner one than this, because I can’t very well imagine a crazier one.


But, WTS, it’s when the assholes appear to be winning that you’re needed the most! We can’t afford to lose any of our candles in the current darkness (which is probably the proverbial one before the dawn?).


Great article on Crazy Ayn Rand. And speaking of sociopaths, how about that slimeball head of the IMF, huh?
Can you believe the arrogance of these pricks? And this guy, before he attempted to rape a hotel maid, was on his way to becoming the next president of France.

We live in a weird world, people. The Capones and Stalins rise to the top, and weirdos like Ayn Rand get all hot and bothered watching them do so.

I’m disgusted, and wish I lived on another world than this one.


wts- if you leave, you may Not take Rosie with you- she’s one of our mascots, and we’re keeping her!!


As Heathcliff said to Louie in that old Warner Bros. cartoon,

Well, if I can’t take her with me, I’m not going!


Wts, do you have a mosquito buzzing around in your house too?

I’m going to try to sleep for the third time now, good night.

Hello? Hallo? Ello? Moshi moshi? Zzzzzz…..


Good! That’s settled! 😉


WTS, I too am disgusted by so much of what goes in our society today….it utterly boggles my mind…and makes me so sad.