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White House, lawmakers speed up debt-reduction talks

The White House and congressional leaders are accelerating negotiations over the biggest debt-reduction package in at least two decades amid mounting concern that the effort is running out of time.

Over the next six weeks, negotiators must strike a bipartisan compromise to slice more than $2 trillion from the federal budget by 2021, reduce the complex plan to writing and persuade a bitterly divided Congress to support it.

But one or both chambers is due to be on break for three of those weeks. And when Congress last reached a big debt-reduction deal, it took more than a month just to draft the legislation. That leaves little room for chance — or last-minute negotiating to marshal votes for what is likely to be a politically difficult package of unprecedented cuts to long-
sacrosanct federal programs.

“I keep talking to other colleagues who have confidence that someone else is working things out,” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a freshman member of the Budget Committee. “But I keep looking around thinking, ‘If we’re not doing it, then who is?’ ”

Even the broad goal of the talks is subject to dispute. Some lawmakers consider it too timid, arguing that the nation needs to find more than $4 trillion in savings by 2021 to avoid a debt crisis. Others view $2 trillion as impossibly ambitious. And hardly anybody wants to support the most critical part of the package: more borrowing authority for a nation already mired in red ink. [..]

With an Aug. 2 deadline nearing, along with the threat of turmoil in global financial markets if Congress doesn’t act, Vice President Biden is stepping up talks this week with six lawmakers from both parties in hopes of presenting a plan to President Obama and congressional leaders by July 4. So far, negotiators have identified many areas of consensus: Farmers are certain to lose some federal subsidies, for example. And federal workers will have to contribute more to finance their retirement.

But what Biden called “the philosophically big-ticket items” remain: the Republican demand for significant savings from Medicare, the biggest driver of future deficits, and the Democratic demand for fresh revenue. […]

Still, leaders in both parties acknowledge that the sales job will not be easy, particularly in the House. Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) has demonstrated limited control over his independent-minded caucus, which is dominated by conservatives who are skeptical about the need to raise the legal limit on government borrowing.

For many, the memory is still fresh of that queasy day in September 2008 when Boehner struggled to get a third of his conference to support the Troubled Assets Relief Program bank bailout. The first vote failed, sending stock markets tumbling nearly 800 points. […]

Boehner and other GOP leaders say they are committed to raising the debt limit, now set at $14.3 trillion, to avoid default, an outcome they acknowledge could prove economically disastrous. Default could also prove politically disastrous: A new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll found that more people say they would blame Republicans in Congress than Obama if debt-ceiling talks broke down. […]

The requirement that any increase in the debt ceiling be matched dollar for dollar with spending cuts emerged from those sessions, Ryan said. But other sticky issues remain, with no clear path to resolution.

Although Republicans are demanding deep cuts in domestic programs, they are resisting sharp reductions at the Pentagon in the Biden talks, a key demand for many Democrats. Senior GOP aides said it would be hard to sell defense cuts to their skeptical troops. […]

Revenue is another major obstacle. Many Democrats say they could never vote to gut programs that help low- and middle-income families unless the wealthy are also forced to sacrifice. Democrats argue that Republicans should at least join them in eliminating corporate tax breaks that benefit major oil and gas companies and chief executives with private jets.

Senate Republicans have shown some openness to that approach, voting last week to eliminate tax breaks for ethanol blenders. But House leaders remain opposed to targeting credits and deductions without also overhauling the tax code and lowering rates. In the Biden talks, Republicans have so far declined to consider eliminating even certain temporary tax breaks, such as those for Puerto Rican rum and NASCAR tracks, that have been repeatedly lampooned by watchdog groups.

Coons, the Democrat from Delaware, is working on another point of conflict: the mechanism for enforcing a multi-year deal to cut spending. Republicans want annual spending limits, enforced by automatic spending cuts when the caps are breached. Obama wants a deficit limit that triggers both spending cuts and tax increases. […]

Revenue is another major obstacle. Many Democrats say they could never vote to gut programs that help low- and middle-income families unless the wealthy are also forced to sacrifice. Democrats argue that Republicans should at least join them in eliminating corporate tax breaks that benefit major oil and gas companies and chief executives with private jets.

Senate Republicans have shown some openness to that approach, voting last week to eliminate tax breaks for ethanol blenders. But House leaders remain opposed to targeting credits and deductions without also overhauling the tax code and lowering rates. In the Biden talks, Republicans have so far declined to consider eliminating even certain temporary tax breaks, such as those for Puerto Rican rum and NASCAR tracks, that have been repeatedly lampooned by watchdog groups.

Coons, the Democrat from Delaware, is working on another point of conflict: the mechanism for enforcing a multi-year deal to cut spending. Republicans want annual spending limits, enforced by automatic spending cuts when the caps are breached. Obama wants a deficit limit that triggers both spending cuts and tax increases.

Coons is pressing a third approach, which would set annual targets for savings and trigger both tax increases and cuts to entitlement programs if the targets are not met.

“For me and my party, standing up and saying, ‘I’m willing to reduce entitlement benefits,’ is every bit as abhorrent as it is for Republicans to stand up and say, ‘We’re going to raise revenue,’ ” Coons said. If both priorities are at risk, he said, “that should be a strong enough motivator to keep us at the table, striving to meet these savings goals.”

Coons said several Republicans are interested in the idea, which was first proposed by the Bipartisan Policy Center, although none has endorsed it publicly. The idea has also won support from House Democratic leaders.


Death penalty costs California more than $300M per execution, study says



Global Corporations Crush Small Businesses and Then Blame It on the Government

BuzzFlash at Truthout encounters this constantly in comments and emails that we receive in response to the BuzzFlash blog columns. Fox viewers often base their statements on Fox “manufactured facts” that are simply not true.

One of these points is that big government is strangling small businesses, which are the backbone of the American economy. But the reality is that large corporations, particularly American-based global corporations, are slowly killing many small businesses, as we have noted before.

Think of small businesses that used to be in abundance: for example, hardware stores, pharmacies, appliance stores and shoe stores, among others.

Now, we have all these small businesses forced into closure by national and international corporations. The inherent goal of corporations is to eliminate the competition, and large companies have done just that by shuttering many small businesses through massive buying power, branding, predatory pricing and marketing.

In turn, these corporations accumulate large amounts of capital and profits, which are then used to yield political power in DC and state capitols, and to expand so that the middle class of ex-small business owners are forced to become low-wage workers at chain stores.

As the Portland Business Journal reports,

“Corporate profits may be at a record high, but businesses on Main Street are still scraping by,” said NFIB [National Federation of Independent Business] Chief Economist Bill Dunkelberg. “Washington is throwing misdirected policies at the problem, offering tax breaks for hiring and equipment investment, but acting surprised when they don’t bear any fruit.”

So, the Fox viewers watch and listen to propaganda that the federal government is killing small businesses, when it is policies that benefit large corporations that are facilitating the decline of family-run operations.

The Fox fan who excoriates liberals for alleged anti-small business policies no doubt gets his/her hardware supplies from Home Depot, prescriptions from CVS, and appliances and computers from Best Buy, for example.

It makes you wonder how much cognitive dissonance one person can keep inside his/her head before it explodes from the factual contradictions.


Sarah and Bristol Palin to Be Trademarked, for Real!

The bids by Sarah Palin and her daughter Bristol Palin to trademark their names and images have cleared a major hurdle and should soon be approved for the potential presidential candidate and her Dancing With the Stars child.

Sources close to the process tell our Suzi Parker that nobody challenged Sarah Palin’s trademark application. Today is the deadline to do so. They also say that Bristol Palin’s went unchallenged. That deadline passed June 10.

Each should receive their trademark within three months, said the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The clear sailing for both Palins is something of a surprise considering the attention they draw from detractors.

According to both applications, the Palins wanted to make sure that only they could use their names, especially in political circles.

According to Sarah Palin’s application, printed below, she wants to protect her name, or “mark,” for business and advertising purposes, political elections, entertainment services and for “providing motivational speaking services in the field of politics.”

Bristol Palin’s is focused on “providing motivational speaking services in the field of life choices.”

This is their second time applying to trademark their name. The first time, they forgot to sign the application.



Jobs Bill Blocked in Senate

A Republican-led filibuster blocked a Senate jobs measure Tuesday, a month after the GOP halted a small-business bill in a dispute over allowing Republican amendments.

Just 49 Senators voted to end debate; 60 are needed. Four Democrats — Sens. Tim Johnson (S.D.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) — joined 45 Republicans to oppose ending debate, and no Republicans voted in support.

The Economic Development Administration reauthorization bill had become bogged down with more than 90 amendments filed on it, the vast majority of which having nothing to do with the underlying bill.

For example, an amendment that would eliminate the 45-cents-a-gallon ethanol tax subsidy and a 54-cent tariff on imported ethanol was approved 73-27 last week, even though revenue provisions must originate in the House. The provision could still be attached to a future House bill.

Democratic leaders have grown increasingly frustrated over the stalled legislation and are portraying the Republicans as obstructionists who don’t care about the unemployed. The Democrats plan to hold a news event Wednesday to call for the inclusion of job-creation measures in the deficit reduction deal being hammered out under Vice President Joseph Biden.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), meanwhile, said Tuesday that he was making progress toward moving to a bill that would eliminate 400 positions from Senate confirmation requirements.


Banking’s Moment of Truth

Joe Nocera:

Capital matters. Let me put that another way. The current fight over additional capital requirements for the banking industry, eye-glazing though it is, also happens to be the most important reform moment since the financial crisis broke out three years ago. More important than the wrangling over Dodd-Frank. More important than the ongoing effort to regulate derivatives. More important even than the jousting over the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

If investment banks like Merrill Lynch had had adequate capital requirements, they would not have been able to pile on so much disastrous debt. If A.I.G. had been required to put up enough capital against its credit default swaps, it’s quite likely that the government would not have had to take over the company. If the big banks had not been able to so easily game their capital requirements, they might not have needed taxpayer bailouts. A real capital cushion would have allowed the banks to absorb the losses instead of the taxpayers. That’s the role capital serves.

Adequate capital hides a plethora of sins. And because, by definition, it forces banks to use less debt, it can also prevent sins from being committed in the first place. “There is no credible way to get rid of bailouts except with capital,” says Anat Admati, a finance professor at Stanford Business School and a leading voice for higher capital requirements. “The only cure is capital,” says Daniel Alpert, a founding managing partner of Westwood Capital. A few days ago, The Wall Street Journal wrote an editorial applauding the recent suggestion by Daniel Tarullo, a Federal Reserve governor, that the biggest banks hold as much as 14 percent of assets in capital. I couldn’t agree more.

Which is why a hearing held last week by the House Financial Services Committee was such a sorry sight. Under the guise of examining whether the new financial regulations — including proposed capital requirements — were making American banks less competitive, the Republican majority peppered U.S. regulators, including Tarullo, with skeptical questions about the need for increased capital requirements. It was pathetic. […]

Indeed, every argument put forth by the big banks and their Congressional spokesmen against higher capital requirements have been demolished by Admati as well as Simon Johnson, the banking expert, whose devastating rebuttal can be found in The New York Times’s Economix blog. But the idea that they will make U.S. banks less competitive with European banks deserves particular scorn.

European banks, to be sure, have fought fiercely against higher capital requirements. It’s not really because they hope to get a leg up on the rest of the world, though. It is because these banks are in far worse shape than the banks in other parts of the world; they can’t afford higher capital requirements. If Europe began insisting that its banks begin holding enough capital to cushion against all the risk on their books — starting with Greek debt — the truth would be out: Their insolvency would suddenly be apparent. If Europe wants to keep kicking the can, by turning its back on the surest measure to increase the safety of its financial system, why on earth would we want to go along?

Tarullo will soon travel to Basel, Switzerland, (yes, that’s why they call them the Basel accords) to push for the highest capital requirements he can get the rest of the world to agree to. He will also try to convince the international standard-setters that a significant surcharge on the most systemically important banks is vitally important. Really, there’s only one appropriate response:

Good luck, sir.




Open Lands, Closed Books
A series of reports by the Oakland Institute charge that several prominent American universities – including Harvard and Vanderbilt Universities and Spelman College – are investing in hedge funds and companies that are driving African farmers off their land. The California-based think tank, which focuses on social, economic and environmental issues, is producing a series of reports on how Western entities are investing in land in Africa and the effects of those investments. In the reports, the institute alleges that these investments are increasing price volatility and supply insecurity in the global food chain, and not returning to African nations the benefits that were promised. The main link the reports establish between Harvard, Vanderbilt and Spelman and land development in Africa is a London-based hedge fund called Emergent Asset Management.



Yes, maybe you should worry about U.S. nukes

Tritium is one of those elements that just sounds bad. There’s something about the name that simply feels radioactive even before you know what the stuff is. That’s one of the reasons people have been so spooked by a new investigation the Associated Press conducted of Nuclear Regulatory Commission records, revealing that tritium has leaked from power plants at a disturbing 48 of 65 sites studied. According to the AP story:

Radioactive tritium has leaked from three-quarters of U.S. commercial nuclear power sites, often into groundwater from corroded, buried piping. The number and severity of the leaks has been escalating, even as federal regulators extend the licenses of more and more reactors across the nation. Leaks from at least 37 … facilities contained concentrations exceeding the federal drinking water standard — sometimes at hundreds of times the limit.

So, be afraid, be very afraid, right? Well, maybe — but maintain some perspective too.

Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen with a half-life of 12.3 years. There’s a little bit of it everywhere, a background level that has nothing to do with human activity. That level rose significantly during the 1950s and 1960s, when the U.S. and other countries freely tested nuclear weapons above ground. The concentration has come back down with the enforcement of various test ban treaties, though emissions from weapons manfacturers and nuclear power plants do still keep it artificially elevated.

No amount of tritium is entirely safe, since any radioactive element can raise the risk of cancer — even if only slightly. But tritium is not considered one of the most dangerous of those elements, and indeed, is on the lower end of the risk spectrum. According to the EPA:

Tritium primarily enters the body when people swallow tritiated water. People may also inhale tritium as a gas in the air, and absorb it through their skin. [B]ecause it emits very low energy radiation and leaves the body relatively quickly, for a given amount of activity ingested, tritium is one of the least dangerous radionucleides.

That’s the sort of good news; the worse news is that since water is the typical vehicle for tritium ingestion, the element disperses easily throughout the body and can settle in all soft tissues. It takes about a month before it’s excreted via the urinary system, though tritium that becomes chemically bound to tissues will stay put.

The AP study focused principally on tritium leaking from plants via corroded piping or other flaws in safety systems and settling, disturbingly, into the water table. At one plant in new Jersey, tritium leaked into an aquifer and from there into Barnegat Bay off the Atlantic Ocean. Throughout the AP’s lengthy exposé, there are numbers to turn your hair white: The Vermont Yankee reactor, which has leaked  tritium at a level 125 times what the EPA considers safe for drinking water; the Browns Ferry reactor in Alabama where the limit was exceeded 100-fold during a spill in 2010; the Quad Cities plant in Illinois that topped out at a shocking 375 times the limit during one leak in 2008.

There’s no putting a good face on that, but hysteria is not wise either. For one thing, the EPA puts the safe limit for tritium exposure at 20,000 picocuries per liter of drinking water. A picocurie is one trillionth of a curie—which is itself a measure of nuclear decay, a concept that is not entirely illuminating when all you want to know is whether your tap water is safe. Suffice to say that even 20,000 picocuries in a liter of water is hardly certain death: If 200,000 people drank contaminated water over the course of decades, only seven of them would develop cancer as a result. That’s hardly reassuring if you’re one of the seven — but the odds are undeniably greater that you’ll be one of the other 199,993.

None of this means that the leaking tritium poses no risk at all, especially with the advancing  age of many U.S. nuke plants — some of which have been on the job for 40 years. But it does mean we shouldn’t ignore the elephant in the living room either. Worrying too much about the small risk of tritium-triggered cancer from nuclear reactors while ignoring the far more immediate danger posed by coal-fired plants, which pour massive amounts of sulfur dioxide, particulates, mercury and CO2 into the air everyday is a little like sweating the mad cow pathogen that could be in your burger and thinking nothing of the cholesterol that’s definitely there.

Nearly all conventional methods of producing energy are dirty and — potentially — deadly. Only a true conversion to clean renewables will change that hard fact of environmental life.




Would you eat lab-grown meat? What if we told you it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Raising animals to become food takes a serious toll on the environment, but there’s a great solution for green-minded omnivores, say researchers at Oxford and Amsterdam University: Meat grown artificially in labs. Synthetic meat, like that cultivated using the bacterium Cyanobacteria hydrolysate, would drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and help provide protein to the world’s increasingly meat-eating populations, the researchers say. Is this a good solution, or even a realistic one? Here, a brief guide:

How exactly does lab-grown meat save the environment?
Factory farms and other conventional ways of raising livestock for food are responsible for about 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions — more than the world’s airplanes and cars combined. Cows, sheep, and hogs require energy and land to grow, and they pollute the air, water, and soil with their manure and methane gas burps and flatulence. “Another (slightly creepy) energy bonus,” says Ariel Schwartz at Fast Company, is that “cultured meat might require less refrigeration than conventional meat because of a lack of excess bones, fat, and blood.”

How big of a difference would lab-grown meat make?
According to Oxford’s Hanna Tuomisto and her colleagues, switching to cultured meat would reduce greenhouse gas output by 96 percent. Growing meat in a lab would also use up to 45 percent less energy per pound of meat, and require only 1 percent of the land and 4 percent of the water. The only real exception is chicken, which is more energy-efficient to raise than grow in a lab. So expect to see “a test-tube steak well before a test-tube chicken breast,” says Fast Company‘s Schwartz.

How long until we actually see commercial in vitro meat?
Within five years, if research funding increases, predicts Tuomisto, although the results will look more like mincemeat than a porterhouse. If you want a lab-grown steak, Tuomisto says, you’ll probably have to wait 10 years.

What will it taste like?
Presumably, the same. “The study makes an excellent point,” says Fast Company‘s Schwartz: “Cultured meat consists of similar muscle tissue to conventionally produced meat, but only the production technique differs.”

Will consumers go for it?
No, “gross,” says Katie Pavlich at Townhall. Let the “global warming alarmists” eat their lab experiments; I’ll stick to “the natural way of getting my meat, either through hunting or slaughter.” Well, compared to a new Japanese meat alternative made from human feces, “lab grown meat sounds much more appealing,” says Matthew Uhlmann at Death + Taxes. But still, the idea of eating “lab-grown flesh is deeply chilling.” Well, get used to it, says Fast Company‘s Schwartz. Given the cost and ecological benefits, “lab-grown meat is going to be on your table someday.”



Paul Krugman | Canada May Have the Cure for US’s Medicare Ailment

I keep hearing people say that Medicare in its current form is not sustainable in the United States, as if that were an established fact. It’s anything but. What is Medicare? It’s single-payer coverage for the elderly. Other countries have single-payer systems that are much cheaper than ours – and also much cheaper than private insurance in America. So there’s nothing about the form that makes Medicare unsustainable, unless you think that health care itself is unsustainable. Of course, what the people who say things like ‘Medicare is unsustainable’ usually mean is that it must be privatized, converted into a voucher system, or whatever. The thing is, none of those changes would make the system more efficient – on the contrary.


How Medicaid is under political attack

[…] Despite working hard for most of his life, Mr. M is uninsured. His medicines are expensive and, without insurance, the odds of getting more intensive treatment are slim. Hoping to change the odds, he applied for Medicaid. But now plans like the State Flexibility Act are working their way through Congress, on the heels of the recently defeated Ryan budget plan. And 2012 federal budget negotiations are starting with a $100 billion cut to Medicaid. These proposals will make it easier for states to kick people off Medicaid and reduce eligibility, keeping people like Mr. M away. Instead of trying to improve health care and help those in need, some are debating ways to take the lifeline of Medicaid away from seniors, the disabled, low-income adults and children. That’s a prescription for disaster.

Most Americans agree. A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that only 13 percent of Americans would support major reductions in Medicaid spending as part of Congress’ efforts to reduce the deficit. A majority, 53 percent, want to see no reductions in Medicaid spending at all. […]

Yet, at a time when Americans like Mr. M need it most, Medicaid is under attack. At least 25 states are trying to further cut benefits and provider rates, restrict eligibility or increase cost-sharing for the poor. Through the State Flexibility Act, some lawmakers want to repeal a component of the Affordable Care Act which requires most states to preserve current eligibility levels and enrollment procedures for most adults and children. If passed, it will mean that community clinics like ours which have managed to stay open despite massive state budget cuts will have a hard time staying afloat. Without access to care, Mr. M is more likely to end up in overburdened emergency rooms or hospitals. […]

Lawmakers would be wise to protect Medicaid, heed voter sentiment and consider smarter approaches to save costs and improve health care. First, states should take advantage of available enhanced federal funding to set up “health homes.” These models not only better coordinate the care of chronically ill Medicaid beneficiaries but also drive down costs. A pilot Medicaid medical home program saved North Carolina nearly $170 million in its first year. Illinois saved $220 million in a similar program over two years and an additional $300 million over 3 years by helping Medicaid patients with chronic diseases adhere to their medicines. States should also align funding and “health home” models to scale up prevention initiatives like Community Transformation Grants, made available under health reform to help local communities address root causes of costly disease. With fast-track support offered by the US Department of Health and Human Services, states can scale up community-based care managers, who can significantly reduce unnecessary patient visits to emergency rooms and hospitals by coordinating prevention and treatment. A care management initiative in California reduced hospital admissions due to asthma by 90%. Lastly, states should raise the bar set by the Affordable Care Act by further incentivizing Medicaid providers to reduce avoidable complications, like hospital-acquired infections. These measures will lower costs and improve outcomes for our sickest relatives, neighbors, and communities.

Protecting and improving Medicaid is an uphill battle, in large part because children and the disabled lack political power. So efforts to bring the voices of patients like Mr. M and providers into the democratic process are vital. The question is whether our leaders have the political and moral courage to listen. Our nation’s health depends on it.






Last week, on a conference call with Keith Olbermann, I had to smile when heard him say this:

There will be (from a former employer) reports, you’ll be buffeted, about the ratings for first edition of Countdown on Current. Our view: If the 10-12 people in our control room can successfully see the show on Monday night, that would be spectacular. They’ll hit us on ratings. That will be heavily spun bullshit. including what WE send out. Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire. We’ll tell you what they will not, that it will be heavily massaged. If MSNBC compares that Countdown to ours on Current, that’s not a valid contrast. The goal we have in mind is what the numbers will look like in 2013. That’s our goal. We’ll be happy if ANYbody sees it on Monday night. If the number is the same for the next 2 years and great, or terrible, you’ll hear from us.

I am happy to report what Politico is reporting:

Ratings for splashy debuts should be taken with a grain of salt – especially ones as heavily promoted as Keith Olbermann’s debut on Current TV last night – but even with that grain, Current’s big bet on Olbermann is looking sound.

“Countdown” drew 179,000 viewers in the 25-54 demographic – not enough to beat MSNBC’s 237,000 viewers, but enough to beat CNN’s 89,000.

Current’s usual average? 30,000 households.  Current also said that viewers, advertisers and distribution partners all gave them great feedback.

I can say with confidence that Countdown will hang on to a few thousand more than those 10-12 viewers in the control room.


Rush Limbaugh rips Obama’s ‘ambassador to the ChiComs’ — Jon Huntsman




U.S. Mission Exposes Divisions in Congress and Within G.O.P.

It is a familiar pattern in a government of checks and balances: members of Congress almost instinctively criticize the foreign adventures of a president from the opposite party.

But the current imbroglio in Congress over the American involvement in Libya exposes a deep and unusual foreign policy schism within the Republican Party, driven in large part by a Tea Party-infused House whose members are more fiscally conservative, particularly constitutionalist, less internationalist and, in many cases, too young to have been politically influenced by the cold war that informed the more established members of the party.

The divisions came to the fore on Tuesday when Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, introduced a measure with Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, to offer President Obama official Congressional authorization for the Libyan operation.

The legislation is an effort to blunt a series of House measures expected to seek to cut off financing for the operations in Libya as early as Thursday.

In introducing it, Mr. McCain chastised House Republicans for seeking to end the Libya mission. “Is this the time for Americans to tell all of these different audiences that our heart is not in this,” Mr. McCain said, “that we have neither the will nor the capability to see this mission through, that we will abandon our closest friends and allies on a whim? These are questions every member of Congress needs to think about long and hard, especially my Republican colleagues.”

House members of both parties and various political stripes seemed undaunted. Representative Dennis J. Kucinich, a Democrat of Ohio, will offer an amendment to a Pentagon spending bill to deny money for operations in Libya, as will Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, a Republican freshman.

“I’m more worried that we’re sending the signal to the world that we’ve abandoned our Constitution and our principles,” Mr. Amash said. “I think public opinion has shifted, opinion within the Republican Party has shifted, and their view is clearly in the minority right now.”

On Tuesday, Representative Joe Heck, a freshman Republican from Nevada and an Army reservist, introduced a bill that would cut off funds for the Libya mission within 30 days. The House is expected to vote on the McCain-Kerry bill this week, and is also likely to vote on a measure to end all involvement in Libya.

The antipathy toward the operations in Libya stems in part from President Obama’s refusal to seek authorization from Congress for the activities, as required by the 1973 War Powers Resolution.

But the rationale against operations in Libya extends to costs — expected to top $1 billion by the end of the fiscal year — and a belief among many lawmakers that American involvement in international conflicts should be limited to those where American interests are clearly defined. “We have to get away from occupation, nation-building-style warfare,” Representative Allen West, a Florida Republican and a Tea Party star, told ABC News.

This sentiment appears to extend to some Republican candidates for president, like Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, the chairwoman of the House Tea Party caucus, who has called the Libya campaign “President Obama’s war.”

The intransigence among House Republicans — scores of whom voted for a measure earlier this month, also offered by Mr. Kucinich, ordering a United States withdrawal from Libya — is enraging many conservatives in the Senate and beyond.

“Tea Party critics of America’s current military operations should look at how well served Congressional Republicans were in the 1990s by opposing intervention in the Balkans,” said Daniel Senor, a former Bush administration official and one of 37 conservatives to sign a letter to Congress on Monday urging members not to cut financing for the Libya operation.

There is a long history of both Democrats and Republicans adopting neo-isolationist views when their party is out of the White House. Democrats criticized President Ronald Reagan’s support for the Nicaraguan contras and El Salvador’s government, and fewer than a third of Democrats in Congress voted to authorize the Persian Gulf war in 1991 under President George Bush.

In the 1990s, Tom DeLay, then the House majority leader, called the Kosovo operation “Clinton’s war,” and most Senate Republicans voted against a bombing campaign in that war. Conservatives also charged that President Bill Clinton’s 1998 strikes in Iraq were meant to distract attention from the Monica Lewinsky scandal. “Sadly, this is pretty standard,” Mr. Senor said, “however irresponsible it may be.”

But the disagreements over Libya have made for some odd bedfellows, including antiwar lawmakers like Mr. Kucinich and right-of-center representatives, as well as strong Democratic supporters of the president alongside Republican hawks.

While not all lawmakers linked to the Tea Party are cut from the same cloth — indeed, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, one of the early Tea Party darlings, has much in common with Mr. McCain — the strong libertarian streak underlies some of the alliances.  “This is a determined group of people who are not going along with business as usual,” Mr. Kucinich said. “They are principled and see the Constitution as being among the first principles.”

There also appears to be a generational divide. The freshman class “has come of age during two wars that were not going so well,” said Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who also signed the letter to the House. “They did not live through the cold war, and they do not have the sort of Republican internationalist tendencies that were developed in the Reagan years that was kept going through two Bush presidencies.”

Mr. Amash, 31, noted that the Afghan war had gone on “almost a third of my life,” and agreed that newer members “have a greater sense that we need to worry more about our own affairs at home and stop trying to police the entire world.”


The Defense Rests


As Robert Gates retires from the Pentagon top job, he sounds a grim warning: America is losing its grip

[…]“I’ve spent my entire adult life with the United States as a superpower, and one that had no compunction about spending what it took to sustain that position,” he tells NEWSWEEK, seated in a windowless conference room aboard the Boeing E-4B. “It didn’t have to look over its shoulder because our economy was so strong. This is a different time.”

A pause.

“To tell you the truth, that’s one of the many reasons it’s time for me to retire, because frankly I can’t imagine being part of a nation, part of a government … that’s being forced to dramatically scale back our engagement with the rest of the world.”

Such a statement—rather astonishing for the leader of the world’s preeminent fighting force—may open the administration to charges of not believing in American exceptionalism, an opening the GOP is already trying to exploit. But these days Gates is less worried about political crossfire and more focused on the legacy of his own tenure, which bridged the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

He is determined to define his own legacy as Pentagon boss, and eager to push back against one of the more vocal criticisms of his tenure: the belief among many liberals and some con-servative budget hawks that in a time of deep indebtedness, he hasn’t been willing to chop enough of a defense budget bloated by a decade of war.

Don’t expect him to apologize. In Gates’s mind, it’s other political leaders with less experience who are confused.

“Congress is all over the place,” Gates says at one point. “And the Republicans are a perfect example. I mean, you’ve got the budget hawks and then you’ve got the defense hawks within the same party. And so I think there is no consensus on a role in the world.”

Gates, who’ll be succeeded by CIA chief Leon Panetta, wins bipartisan accolades for restoring morale at the Pentagon and, more important, repairing relations with Congress, which had grown distrustful of the Defense Department under Rumsfeld.

Bridging two administrations, Gates gets credit for stabilizing Iraq, though the key decisions that led to success—a surge of troops and the appointment of Gen. David Petraeus to oversee the strategy—predated his arrival.

Petraeus says Gates knew that his real contribution was to buy time in Washington for the strategy to succeed. “ ‘Your battle space is Iraq. My battle space is Washington,’ ” Petraeus recalls Gates telling him.

Gates concedes he was sometimes on the wrong side of an issue. For instance, he was gun-shy about using ground troops to kill Osama bin Laden, arguing that Obama should opt for an airstrike instead. Gates hesitated because he feared a repeat of the bungled 1980 attempt to free American hostages in Iran that killed eight U.S. servicemen. “I was very explicit with the president in one of the discussions,” Gates acknowledges. “I said: ‘Mr. President, I want truth in lending. Because of experience, I may be too cautious, you know.’?”

Obama overruled Gates, siding with those who wanted to deploy the elite Navy SEALs, securing the biggest victory in the 10-year war on terror.

Rather than a transformational figure, a more accurate description for Gates may be “steady hand on the wheel,” says the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Michael Noonan.

“I don’t think [Gates’s] accomplishments merit the sky-high reputation that he enjoys as he leaves office,” former senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar says. “Gates has long had a knack for nurturing his own reputation.”

Pillar recalls that Gates during his CIA days was “always saying, ‘I’m going to whip this organization into shape.’ Anything good that happens, it’s because ‘I’m head of the organization.’ Anything bad can be attributed to ‘institutional resistance.’”

When Gates took over the Pentagon in December 2006, he quickly demonstrated the diplomatic and political acumen he had acquired as he worked his way up through the intelligence community as the first career officer to become CIA director.

Take, for instance, his decision to court Hillary Clinton when she took over as secretary of state in 2009. One of the few senior Bush holdovers in the new Obama administration, Gates was keenly aware of the tensions between the State and Defense departments built up during the war in Iraq. He invited Clinton to his Pentagon office, and the two ate lunch at a table that belonged to Confederate President Jefferson Davis back when he was U.S. secretary of war.

“I just told her, based on my experience, that how well the administration worked would depend a lot on how well she and I got along together,” Gates recalls. “If we got along, the message would go to the entire bureaucracy—not just our own bureaucracies but the rest of government as well. She totally understood.”

Gates made a calculated—and more public—courtship of her entire agency. “I read in the press, and therefore it must be true, that no secretary of defense had ever been quoted as arguing for a bigger budget for State,” Gates boasts now.

The strategy worked. Clinton and Gates try to get together privatelyonce a week to work out differences between their departments, and working with a younger generation, the two have bonded.

“Hillary and I call ourselves the Old Folks Caucus,” Gates quips. “And I must say, it’s the first time in my life I’ve worked for a president who was 20 years younger than I was.”

Gates’s tenure had difficult moments, too. Three years ago, he rejected requests from Gen. David McKiernan, his then top commander in Afghanistan, for more troops, believing there weren’t enough resources. Gates stayed the course until 2009, when he argued for the troop surge that now appears to have stalled the insurgency.

Gates acknowledges a historical similarity to the Vietnam War. “There is one parallel that I think is appropriate, and that is we came to the right strategy and the right resources very late in the game,” Gates says. “President Obama, I think, got the right strategy and the right resources for Afghanistan—but eight years in.”

In Afghanistan, Gates leaves behind a difficult, unfinished piece of business: to convince Congress and war-weary Americans that any major U.S. withdrawal should be delayed by a year—a deferment sought by military commanders on the ground. Likewise, Gates won’t be around for what may be the most delicate aspect of the exit strategy—trying to broker reconciliation between the Taliban and the Afghan ruling parties aligned with the U.S.

“I’m not saying it’ll all be settled,” says Gates. “I’m just saying you could begin a serious dialogue by the end of the year.” But, he concedes, “asking for another year is hard.”




Earth to the Left: Obama Is Into You


There was a telling confrontation at last week’s Netroots Nation gathering of progressive activists, interrupting a panel discussion on “What to Do When the President Is Just Not That Into You.” A bisexual volunteer for President Obama reelection campaign approached the stage to hand a flyer to Dan Choi, a gay former Army lieutenant and a leading crusader for the repeal of don’t-ask-don’t-tell. Choi dramatically ripped up the flyer and declared that he wouldn’t support Obama.

And why should he? What has Obama ever done to help gays serve openly in the military? Other than repeal don’t-ask-don’t-tell, so that gays can serve openly in the military? Ah, “the professional left,” never happy unless it’s unhappy.

When White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer tried to explain during a later panel that Obama is the most progressive president ever on gay rights, the Daily Kos blogger who was moderating cut him off: “That’s a pretty low bar.”

With friends like these, who needs Republicans? If the primary theme of the Obama era is the insanity of the right—attacking government-run health care and Medicare cuts simultaneously, demanding deficit reduction through deficit-busting tax cuts, denying climate science—the secondary theme is the ingratitude of the left. And the latter infuriates the White House far more than the former, the way a rebellious teenage son causes far more angst than a crazy old neighbor.

It’s true that President Obama is not as liberal as some Daily Kos bloggers would like him to be. (Although he has blogged at Daily Kos.)  He continued some of President Bush’s national security policies. (Although he did end the war in Iraq.) He ignored left-wing calls to nationalize troubled banks. (Which turned out to be the right call.) He’s pushed for middle-class tax cuts and public-employee wage freezes that his base dislikes, and he’s outsourced most of the Republican-bashing that his base craves. (Which may be why he’s way more popular than his party.) None of this should have been a surprise; in The Audacity of Hope, he made it clear that he’s a market-oriented, consensus-seeking pragmatist, and he repeatedly criticized knee-jerk paleoliberals who don’t appreciate the dynamism of capitalism or the limits of government.

Somehow, though, the disillusionment addicts of the left have concocted a narrative of Obama-as-sellout that bears little resemblance to his actual presidency. Democratic infighting is usually described as a “circular firing squad,” but this is more like soldiers fragging their commander in battle because he isn’t screaming loud enough.

This narrative begins, as usual, with Obama’s stimulus package. After his election, hundreds of left-of-center economists called for a stimulus of $300-$400 billion. They specifically requested aid to states, unemployment insurance, infrastructure projects and green energy incentives. Less than a month into his presidency, Obama produced a stimulus with everything they asked for in unprecedented amounts—along with unprecedented spending on food stamps, Pell grants, high-speed rail, high-speed Internet and other liberal priorities. And the price tag came to $787 billion, twice the size of the entire New Deal in inflation-adjusted dollars. Obama had pushed for even more, but it was trimmed at the last minute to meet the demands of three Republican senators whose votes were needed to pass it.

But for much of the left, the moral of the story is that the stimulus was too small and Obama lacked the guts to fight for something bigger.

It was a similar story in the epic fight over health care reform. Obama finally achieved the eternal progressive dream of universal coverage, overruling aides who wanted to settle for incremental improvements. But the left was mad because his plan didn’t include a “public option,” a brand-new progressive dream. Earth to the left: He didn’t have the votes for a public option. There was nothing he could have said or done to get the votes for a public option. He’s a politician, not a magician.

Then Obama didn’t fight hard enough for cap-and-trade, because he didn’t care about climate change. Or maybe, just maybe, because once again he didn’t have the votes. After all, his stimulus included an unheard-of $90 billion for clean energy, including record spending on efficiency, renewables, advanced biorefineries, electric vehicles, the smart grid, and factories to build all that green stuff in the U.S.

But when you’re convinced the president just isn’t that into you, the facts are irrelevant. He failed to pass immigration reform or the Employee Free Choice Act; if he truly cared he would have found the votes! He passed strict financial reforms—including a consumer protection agency that liberals had clamored for—but not strict enough. He didn’t push hard enough for a second stimulus, which was disastrous, until he got a second stimulus, which was also disastrous, because he agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts to get Republicans to go along. He prevented a second depression, but he has yet to create a liberal utopia of full employment.

It’s easy for activists to complain about imperfect achievements like the stimulus or Obamacare, especially when they’re not among the 3 million Americans who would’ve been unemployed without the stimulus or the 50 million Americans who would’ve been uninsured without Obamacare. Complaining is what activists do. And bloggers are right that Obama hasn’t made a consistent case for liberal politics or Keynesian economics, allowing anti-government Republicans to hijack the national debate. But making a case is what bloggers are supposed to do.

Presidents, on the other hand, are supposed to make progress, whether progressives like it or not.


Blood on the Chopping Block

As it stands today, virtually every important swing state in the union is either up for grabs or leaning heavily towards the Democrats, and all thanks to the Ryan Medicare plan and the resulting embrace of that plan by the GOP. There are even Tea Party members, highly influential ones, who see blood on the moon for Republicans if matters continue as they have. South Florida Tea Party chairman Everett Wilkinson fired off an email last Thursday describing the Ryan Plan as a disaster in the making. Such is the power of Medicare, one of the best and most critically helpful government programs ever devised. Medicare, as everyone knows, is focused on offering federal assistance to older Americans, which makes it a massive political hand grenade; right now, the ranks of retired and elderly persons are swelling in a way never seen in this country before, as millions of Baby Boomers reach retirement age.


Huntsman’s Moment In The Spotlight

John Avlon captures the consensus:

Right now, Mitt Romney’s commanding lead in the polls is a reflection of the fact that he has the center-right all to himself in a crowded far-right field. He is essentially the default frontrunner.  Huntsman’s entry will create competition for that demographic, boosted by the lack of enthusiasm for Romney.

Josh Green notes that Romney appears to be “moderating his image for the general electorate” while Huntsman is “making every effort to appeal to the right wing.” Kevin Drum suspects that Huntsman is setting himself up for 2016:

[Running for president] just to set yourself up for a possible win four years down the road? That’s some serious dedication. Huntsman must have a level of determination and self-control that makes Thomas Edison look like an indolent street urchin.

Or just doing what is required to be a Republican president.

(Photo: Republican Jon Huntsman waves as he arrives to a press conference to announce his bid for the presidency at Liberty State Park June 21, 2011 in Jersey City, New Jersey. Huntsman, until recently the U.S. ambassador to China under President Obama, emphasized his record as a two-term governor of Utah.


MUST SEE: Jon Huntsman’s website

Huntsman a rare Republican who says climate change matters. But not enough to do anything about it


US Mayors Call for End to Wars and Nuclear Weapons

Peace activists won a major victory on Monday, June 20, when the US Conference of Mayors voted to adopt two resolutions that call for a drawdown of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and the abolition of nuclear weapons. Both resolutions also demand the reprioritization of defense spending, including the $126 billion spent each year in Iraq and Afghanistan, toward the needs of municipalities. The group, which represents mayors of municipalities with 30,000 or more residents, has not passed such a resolution in 40 years. While the antiwar resolution was subject to vote after a contentious proposal to pull it, the nuclear weapons resolution passed unanimously, according to observers.


Florida Governor Scott Rejects Million in Federal Health Aid for Those in Need to Grandstand Against Health Law

In his relentless campaign against President Obama’s health care reform law, Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) has repeatedly proven his willingness to put politics ahead of the welfare of his state’s residents. While other Republican governors have joined in opposition to the Affordable Care Act, most have forged ahead with implementing the reforms and accepted the federal money that comes with it as that is the law, until their suit against the legislation is settled in court. But the St. Petersburg Times reports that Scott has taken a different tact, ignoring the law by rejecting millions in federal health aid for senior citizens, children, and the disabled just to spite the president and score political points with the far right.


Gingrich Had Second Tiffany’s Credit Line … For as much as $1 million.


Romney Warbucks


Former White House spokesman Bill Burton is chortling on Twitter about this campaign-trail moment captured by the Washington Post:

At one table, a boy offered Romney a $1 bill that he had folded origami-style for good luck. The candidate happily accepted it, but then rifled through his wallet looking for money to give the boy in return. Romney had a $100 bill, but evidently did not want to give that away. An aide handed him a $1 bill, but Romney said that wasn’t enough.

Then, deep inside his leather billfold, Romney found a $5 bill. “We’ll give you an Abraham Lincoln back,” he said, handing it to the boy.

Sensing symbolic gold, Burton labels this “Romney’s Scrooge McDuck moment.” That may be hyperbole; but it is ironic that the episode illustrates a story about the Romney’s increasingly vocal opposition to last year’s Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, which re-regulated Wall Street banks and other big financial institutions in the name of averting another financial crisis.

Opposing Dodd-Frank, incidentally, may be a good position in a GOP primary, and is sure to please Wall Street donors and the Chamber of Commerce. But the bill–which Congressional Republicans and business lobbyists have been trying to weaken and delay quietly, without a full frontal assault–also happens to be one of the few broadly popular achievements of the last Democratic Congress.

Clinton Adds Her Voice in Support of Saudi Women

In a series of letters and statements this month, a coalition of Saudi activists has pressed Mrs. Clinton to use the State Department’s bully pulpit to support its campaign against the kingdom’s ban, expressing disappointment earlier Tuesday that she had not yet spoken out. Then she did.

“What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right,” Mrs. Clinton said, when asked about the criticism at an appearance with Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and their Japanese counterparts at the State Department. Of the women’s campaign, she added, “I am moved by it, and I support them.”

The campaign — waged largely online inside Saudi Arabia — called on women to drive in collective protest last Friday, an event that appeared to draw a much smaller number than organizers had hoped.

On the day of the protest, Mrs. Clinton did discuss the matter by telephone with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, though the State Department’s spokeswomen, Victoria Nuland, declined to detail the conversation. She said Monday that while Mrs. Clinton’s advocacy for women speaks for itself, there were times for “quiet diplomacy.”



In G.O.P. Presidential Race, a Focus on Cash Over Votes

With their first major fund-raising deadline nine days away, the Republican presidential candidates are in a cutthroat, coast-to-coast scramble to sign up top party donors to gain a financial edge — and, just as crucial, to block them from helping a rival campaign.

Mitt Romney has raced through Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Idaho, Colorado and California in the last week, tapping into the widest fund-raising network of any Republican in hopes of creating a gold-plated sense of inevitability in the party’s nominating contest.

But Mr. Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, is not the only candidate pursuing people on that list, which he built four years ago. It contains targets of opportunity for Jon M. Huntsman Jr., who declared his candidacy on Tuesday and is trying to poach former Romney contributors.

The focus of the campaign — for the rest of June, at least — is on donors, not voters. As President Obama appeared this week at his 30th fund-raising event of the year, Republican contenders were more likely to cross paths in hotel ballrooms in Las Vegas or boardrooms on Wall Street than in the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.

The contest is playing out with donors like Dr. Akshay Desai, who runs the Universal Health Care Group in Florida. Four years ago, he was a top Romney fund-raiser. This time, a 90-minute private meeting at Dr. Desai’s office was not enough for him to give an automatic commitment to Mr. Romney.

“He’s a fantastic human being and a great candidate, but I have not made up my mind yet,” Dr. Desai said. “I’ve met with Tim Pawlenty, and we had a very good discussion. I’ve been talking to Jon Huntsman on the phone and look forward to meeting him.”

Dr. Desai’s comments echoed a theme that came up in interviews with several contributors and fund-raisers who have been slow to pledge their loyalties in a campaign lacking a front-runner. By the end of the month, Mr. Romney hopes to have made the case that he deserves that distinction — if not to voters, than to donors.

There is little doubt, even among his rivals, that Mr. Romney will raise more than any Republican candidate. Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, known for her fund-raising abilities, has just joined the race, and other candidates like Newt Gingrich have struggled. Mr. Romney collected $10 million during a one-day telethon last month in Las Vegas, and his goal is to collect three times that amount before the second quarter closes on June 30, when candidates are required to report their fund-raising to the Federal Election Commission.

He is working to solidify the perception that he is the candidate who is best equipped to challenge Mr. Obama. He highlights his business experience and his strength as a general-election candidate during private meetings, whether they are with doctors and real estate developers here in Florida, Mormon business leaders in Idaho or the party’s reliable set of donors in Orange County, Calif.

“They’re going to put up a big number for this quarter — considerably larger than anybody else in the field,” said Austin Barbour, a nephew of Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi and a member of Mr. Romney’s national finance committee. A strong performance at last week’s debate also helped. “Folks who were on the fence who watched that said, ‘Man, this is a good opportunity for us to get on board.’ ”

Other contenders, particularly Mr. Huntsman and Mr. Pawlenty, are presenting themselves as alternatives to Mr. Romney and urging donors to disregard the juggernaut he is building. Mr. Huntsman and Mr. Pawlenty are also trying to tap into the network that helped financed President George W. Bush’s campaigns.

David F. Girard-diCarlo, a former ambassador to Austria in Mr. Bush’s administration, said he had been courted by all the major candidates. He signed with Mr. Huntsman last week.

“It’s far too early to predict whether this president is really vulnerable,” Mr. Girard-diCarlo said. “But if Republicans put up someone who can appeal to independents, we can win.”

Since leaving Beijing as ambassador in late April, Mr. Huntsman has spent much of his time meeting donors. The top echelon of Republican bundlers — people who raise money from others in a pyramid-type system — is close-knit, and news travels fast. In recent weeks, Mr. Huntsman has arrived on the doorstep of many donors who have seen Mr. Romney but not committed to him.




Clarence Thomas Decided Three Cases Where AEI Filed a Brief After AEI Gave Him a $15,000 Gift

In 2001, a conservative, corporate-aligned think tank called the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) gave Justice Clarence Thomas the gift of a $15,000 bust of Abraham Lincoln. At the ceremony presenting Thomas with this very expensive gift, AEI president Christopher DeMuth explained that the bust was “cast in 1914 by the great neo-classical sculptor Adolph Alexander Weinman.” Watch it:

AEI, however, is not simply in the business of giving luxurious gifts to Supreme Court justices — it is also in the business of litigating before the United States Supreme Court. ThinkProgress uncovered three briefs that AEI filed in Thomas’ Court after Thomas received their $15,000 gift. Thomas recused from none of these three cases, and he either voted in favor of the result AEI favored or took a stance that was even further to the right in each case:

  • Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1: AEI filed a brief asking the Supreme Court to reverse a lower court decisionupholding a local school district’s desegregation plan. Thomas joined the majority opinion reversing the lower court’s decision, and he filed a lengthy concurrence defending that result.
  • Whitman v. American Trucking Association: AEI joined a brief asking the Supreme Court to allow the EPA to consider the costs of implementing new air quality standards before it issued them. Thomas’ concurring opinion went much further than AEI asked him to go, suggesting that the law authorizing EPA to issue these standards is unconstitutional.

Although there is no evidence that AEI gave Thomas the $15,000 gift specifically to buy his vote in a particular case, Thomas’ decision to sit on cases where his benefactor has a demonstrated interest creates a very serious appearance of impropriety. No one would trust a judge to hear their case if they learned that someone on the other side of the case had given that judge a rare and expensive gift.




Barred From Unionizing, Walmart Workers Form New Group To Fight For Better Conditions

Yesterday, the Supreme Court sided with Walmart in an enormous employment discrimination suit that denied 1.5 million female workers the chance to form a class action to sue the company for billions in damages for discriminatory pay and promotion practices. Walmart’s triumph is just the latest in the corporation’s decades-long campaign to prevent workers from banding together to fight for fair pay and decent working conditions. The corporation’s union-busting has become notorious, along with directly connecting to their sexist practices, appalling working conditions, and menial wages.

For more than 20 years, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the nation’s main union for retail workers, has been trying to help organize Walmart employees. Repeatedly prevented from forming unions, employees are now trying the non-union organizing route, with UFCW’s help. The New York Times reported last week on the “innovative” new group:

The group, Organization United for Respect at Walmart, or OUR Walmart for short, says it has quietly signed up thousands of members in recent months, and it is going public this week with a Web site,, and a Facebook page. Organizers say they have more than 50 members at some stores, and they hope to soon have tens of thousands of members. Walmart has nearly 1.4 million workers nationwide.[…]

In recent weeks, OUR Walmart has organized gatherings of 10 to 80 workers in Dallas, Seattle, Los Angeles and other cities…One big concern, they said, was low wages.[…]

“The managers at our store and others are running over their associates as if they didn’t exist,” [Margaret Van Ness, an overnight stocker at a Walmart store] said. “They treat them like cattle. They don’t seem to care about respect for the individuals. We need to bring back respect.

Unlike a union, OUR Walmart will not be able to directly negotiate on behalf of its workers, but “members could benefit from federal labor laws that protect workers from retaliation for engaging in collective discussion and action.” Unsurprisingly, Walmart is fighting this new non-union group tooth and nail. Over the years, Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer, has spent countless millions shutting down organization efforts.

They spent millions fighting the Employee Free Choice Act in 2008, demanding their workers toe the company line, and are so recalcitrant they even spent $2 million and thousands of man-hours fighting a $7,000 fine from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. When the meatcutting department of a Texas store tried to organize in 2000, Walmart retaliated by phasing out all of its meatcutting departments.

Former Walmart Executive Vice President John Tate may have summed up the corporation’s outlook best when he said, “Labor unions are nothing but blood-sucking parasites living off the productive labor of people who work for a living.”

The OUR Walmart declaration asks only that the company heed the words of founder Sam Walton: “Share your profits with all your Associates, and treat them as partners.”


Organizing on Wobbly Ground: Learning From “Solidarity Unionism at Starbucks

The decline of unions does not mean the end of the labor movement. Indeed, the last few years have seen a proliferation of new kinds of worker organizations and workers’ rights campaigns. Some of the most exciting of late have been conducted by community-based groups (rather than workplace-based unions), such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and those part of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. In Solidarity Unionism at Starbucks, a recent pamphlet published by PM Press, Daniel Gross and Staughton Lynd highlight an increasingly important feature of today’s labor movement – nonunion workers using direct action strategies protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) – while examining the Industrial Workers of the World’s (IWW)’s ongoing efforts to organize Starbucks.



Unions Finally Catch a (Small) Break

The NLRB, protector of management rights when Republicans are in charge and protector of labor rights when Democrats are in charge, announced today that it plans to change the rules governing union recognition elections in order to “curb unnecessary litigation, streamline procedures before and after elections, and enable the use of electronic communications, such as requiring employers to give union organizers access to electronic files containing workers’ addresses and emails.” Sounds boring. So why should you care? I’ll let Peter Kirsanow, an avowed labor-phobe, explain:

In a nutshell, the NLRB’s proposed rules would implement “quickie elections,” a process that would allow unions to organize a workplace as easily as they could have had the Employee Free Choice Act (also known as “card check”) passed.

This is a very big deal….Right now, initial elections normally are conducted within 38–40 days of the filing of a petition by the union….That’s not much time for the employer to get his message out. Indeed, in 2009 and 2010 unions won approximately 68 percent of elections (this does not include the number of petitions withdrawn by unions). Yet the “quickie election” rules proposed by the NLRB will shorten the time frame to a mere 10–20 days. Make absolutely no mistake: That’s not enough time for even the largest and most sophisticated employers to counter what the union has been telling employees while organizing them for the last 6–8 months. The union win rate will far exceed 68 percent. In fact, it’s likely that many employers will choose to not even go through the expense of an election that he’s sure to lose, but will simply voluntarily recognize the union upon a showing of authorization cards.

Sounds good to me! And don’t get too excited about that two-thirds rate of union victories, either. It’s true that in 2009 unions won 66% of all NLRB elections compared to 51% in 1997, but that’s 66% of 1,304 elections compared to 51% of 3,261 elections. Contra Kirsanow, organizing a new workplace has gotten so hard in recent years thanks to corporate-friendly NLRB rule changes and increasingly aggressive union avoidance campaigns, that unions simply don’t bother waging all that many recognition elections anymore. The result is that the net number of election wins has dropped nearly in half in just the last decade alone.

That’s not good enough for Kirsanow and his allies, of course, who would like unions to disappear completely. But among workers themselves, the anti-union skepticism of the 70s and 80s has mostly disappeared in the face of stagnant wages and skyrocketing executive pay. Survey research a few years ago by Harvard’s Richard Freeman suggests that “if workers were provided the union representation they desired in 2005, then the unionization rate would be about 58%” — almost eight times higher than the actual private sector rate of 7.4%. The fact that so many workers would welcome union representation but don’t have it is compelling evidence that far from being unfair to management, the current legal regime for union elections is tilted dramatically in their favor. For workers, rule changes that slightly reduced that tilt and once again gave unions a fighting chance to organize workplaces would be a welcome change.




Endangered Planned Parenthood Provides Medical Services to Millions of Women

The GOP is on a rampage to destroy Planned Parenthood and State by State they are shredding the Medical Services that are provided to Millions of Women yearly. The ironic part of this destructive maneuvering is that the Republicans glorify themselves saying it is about “Saving Lives”. Yet their campaign is based on spreading lies and fear and pure ignorance. For in fact Planned Parenthood does provide Birth Control advice and prescriptions for contraceptive care and family planning, but they provide so much more. How this Vital Medical Service is being attacked across the Country is very concerning, as basically Religious Ideologues are controlling the Medical Destiny of Millions of Women.

More from this NJ Planned Parenthood Press Release explains that around the Country States with Republican Leadership are stripping funds for Reproductive Care programs and even re-writing Laws that would effect care. According to the NYT more than 60 laws have been written or altered this year, 30 since April. ( This link has more info/details).

Snippet from the Planned Parenthood Press Release::::
Across the country, Republican state legislatures are chipping away at women’s reproductive rights. In some places, they’re more than chipping away; they’re taking an axe to them. According to The New York Times, at least 64 new anti-abortion laws have passed this year, with more than 30 in April alone. For example, The Times reported, “Virginia started regulating abortion clinics as if they were hospitals. Utah, Nebraska and several other states have stopped private health insurers from covering abortions, with rare exceptions. South Dakota will soon tell women that before they go to an abortion clinic, they must first visit a crisis pregnancy center whose mission is to talk them out of it.”

It also does provide abortions or access to abortion services, BUT less than 3% of their Budget goes to actual Abortion Care and procedures.But over 90% of their Budgeted Care is for Medical Services that many Uninsured ,and Under-Insured , and Working Poor Women would not have access to otherwise. These Medical Services include Cancer Screenings, HIV/AIDS Screening/Care arrangement, Infection Screenings and prescriptions, Prenatal Care, Pregnancy Planning and care, Midlife Care, even Infertility Care. And yes Men are provided care as well for Birth Control and Infections ( STDS) and HIV/AIDS. Accessible Medical Care is provided for millions, some are on Medicaid and some are Uninsured with no other affordable sliding scale access.

Medically what the GOP Governors and House are doing to Women’s Health Care around the Country is dangerous. 72% of the Women Clients who receive Medical Care from Planned Parenthood are living below or at the Federal Poverty Level. Even if they are on Medicaid their choices for Care are limited. The GOP is now trying to spin their care as Costly and wasteful. ( This could not be further from the truth, Planned Parenthood is providing lifesaving Medical Care for up to 3 Million women a year). At this point Planned Parenthood Services are in jeopardy in at least Eight States : including Utah,Virginia,South Dakota,Minnesota, North Carolina,Florida,Arizona and Indiana. ( Four Other States are waiting in the wings to move forward with Legislation and Budget cuts as listed in the Article round up at end of this post).

(Reuters) Medicaid Patients/women that no longer will be able to get Medical care from Planned Parenthood Indiana. The Governor of Indiana has signed into Law a Bill that actually will damage Lives, not save them.

Planned Parenthood Facts This is the Planned Parenthood FactSheet please share this link and read up on actual Services.



Five myths about the American flag

1. Betsy Ross made the first American flag.

The Betsy Ross story is the most tenacious piece of fiction involving the flag. There simply is no credible historical evidence — letters, diaries, newspaper accounts, bills of sale — that Ross (then known as Elizabeth Claypoole) either made or had a hand in designing the American flag before it made its debut in 1777.

The story cropped up in 1870, almost 100 years after the first flag was supposedly sewn, when William Canby, Ross’s grandson, told the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia that his grandmother made the flag at George Washington’s behest. Canby’s sole evidence: affidavits from family members. The iconic 1893 painting of Ross sitting in her Philadelphia parlor with the sun beaming down on the flag in her lap is a scene invented by Charles H. Weisgerber, the artist and entrepreneur who profited from the Betsy Ross legend.

While Ross did make flags in Philadelphia in the late 1770s, it is all but certain that the story about her creating the American flag is a myth.

As President Woodrow Wilson, who presided over the first official national Flag Day on June 14, 1916, is said to have replied when asked his thoughts on the story: “Would that it were true.”

2. The red, white and blue colors symbolize American sacrifice.

No federal law, resolution or executive order exists providing an official reason for the flag’s colors — or their meaning. The closest thing to an explanation are the words of Charles Thomson, the secretary of the Continental Congress, who was instrumental in the design of the Great Seal of the United States. Thomson’s report to Congress on June 20, 1782, the day the seal was approved, contained a description of the colors, the same as those in the flag: “White signifies purity and innocence. Red hardiness and valour and Blue . . . signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice.”

Various official documents and proclamations — including one by President Ronald Reagan marking 1986 as the “Year of the Flag” — have echoed that reasoning.

But the colors do not have, nor have they ever had, any official imprimatur. Historians believe that the use of red, white and blue in the Stars and Stripes has to do with the simple fact that they were the colors of the first flag of the American colonies, the Continental Colors. And there is little doubt where the red, white and blue of the Continental Colors came from: the Union Jack of England.

3. The Pledge of Allegiance has long been recited in Congress and other governmental bodies.

The pledge was written by magazine editor Francis Bellamy in 1892 for a nationwide public school celebration of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s landing. In 1898, during the Spanish American War, New York became the first state to mandate that public school students recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of each school day. Many states followed suit, and the pledge remained a staple of the daily routine in many schools until 1988, when it became an issue in the presidential campaign. […]

The Senate did not begin daily recital of the pledge until June 24, 1999. Since then, the pledge has become part of the opening rituals of nearly all state and local governmental bodies.

4. It is illegal to burn the American flag.

It was illegal until 1989, when the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 in Texas v. Johnson that burning the flag is a form of symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment. The case involved Gregory Lee Johnson, a member of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, who had burned the flag during a protest at the 1984 Republican National Convention. He was convicted of violating Texas’s flag-desecration law, fined $2,000 and sentenced to a year in jail. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the conviction, ruling that Johnson was exercising his First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

The Supreme Court’s decision invalidated a 1968 national flag-desecration law, as well as similar laws in 48 states (all except Wyoming and Alaska). In response, Congress passed the Flag Protection Act, but that law was also challenged and wound up in the Supreme Court. The court in 1990 essentially affirmed its earlier ruling, stating that any law banning flag burning violated free speech.

Those decisions led to a national movement to amend the Constitution to make flag desecration illegal. The leading voice in that effort has been the Citizens Flag Alliance, which was founded in 1994by the American Legion. Proposed amendments have come up regularly in the House and Senate since then but have yet to receive sufficient support.

5. It’s okay to wear a Stars and Stripes T-shirt.

The U.S. Flag Code frowns on the use of the flag “for advertising purposes.” It goes on to warn against the sale or display of any “article of merchandise . . . upon which shall have been printed, painted, attached, or otherwise placed a representation of” the flag to “advertise, call attention to, decorate, mark, or distinguish the article or substance on which so placed.”

In other words, when you wear a flag T-shirt or hat while reclining on an American flag beach towel near your American flag camping chair, you are violating the Flag Code. The code, which was drawn up at the first National Flag Conference in Washington in 1923, is part of the law of the land. But it is not enforced, nor is it enforceable. It is merely a set of guidelines, letting Americans know what to do — and what not to do — with our red, white and blue national emblem.

There is no Flag Police. You will not be arrested for wearing a flag-embossed T-shirt on Flag Day — or any other day of the year.




It’s time for Clarence Thomas to resign.

127,800-plus people have petitioned for Justice Clarence Thomas’s resignation.


America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.

Oscar Wilde


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choiceladyKillgoreTroutKhiradKQµårk 死神Chernynkaya Recent comment authors
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If you missed it, Rachel’s interview with Sherbano Taseer @ 5:00

Somehow missed in discussions of her father’s assassination, is that while secular, he was of Shi’a extraction. I’m reading The Shia Revival right now and boy is that little overlooked detail sticking out to me now.

By the way, it was Sherbano’s name that tipped me off. I don’t know why it had never occurred to me before.


But the colors do not have, nor have they ever had, any official imprimatur. Historians believe that the use of red, white and blue in the Stars and Stripes has to do with the simple fact that they were the colors of the first flag of the American colonies, the Continental Colors. And there is little doubt where the red, white and blue of the Continental Colors came from: the Union Jack of England.

One, the symbolism of those colors is fairly standard and universal, though not official.

Two, consider also:

And yes, the burning issue is ridiculous. It would make criminals out of boy scouts. This is more an offense to the flag code:


KQµårk 死神

Cher finally some sanity. The rebuttal to disgruntle progressives is spot on.

Let’s look at the facts where progressives where wrong.

I was always against nationalizing the banks for the very reason that I did not want Obama’s whole agenda to be halted to run the financial system. He never even got his whole economic team approved so how was he going to have time to run the banks?

Progressives constantly criticized Obama on the stimulus calling him not as bold as FDR when he and the Dems spent TWICE what FDR did on the New Deal in real dollars.

The other thing progressives deny is that the bailout for the banks worked because unlike Bush, Obama asked for the money back. Thanks to Obama the funds are paid back and the bailout is actually getting in the black now. All the progressive plans that would give money directly to home owners would still be outstanding.

I have also gone on record that single payer for the whole country would be a big mistake in one shot. No healthcare plan that is incompatible with the political culture and culture of the society would ever work. I also tried to explain to people that use of non-profit NGO’s in the exchanges is very similar to a public option. The big difference is Republicans cannot defund them with tax cuts. Also progressives are in total denial that Obama has gone further to the left and allowed states to set up single payer which Vermont just did. Again no credit to Obama and the Dems for huge progress and if progressives did get there way we would have no new healthcare legislation now. I’ll never forget the kill the bill insanity from many progressives.

Progressives are already ignoring DADT passed and the fact that Obama has moved left on gay marriage already for not defending DOMA. Not to mention that LGBT couples are getting healthcare coverage in Federal government for the first time.

Not to mention Obama delivered a new era of international cooperation with the global community. Getting a START treaty Bush could never get with Russia. Actually working with the UN on security issues rather than taking unilateral action.

I get tired of the Obama needs to make the case meme. Republicans don’t ever make the case their allies make the case for them. The problem is Obama’s “allies” are too busy attacking him to make the progressive case for anything.


KQ – I also thought the rejoinder to so-called “progressives” was excellent. Too many of them never had a single novel or creative idea. Apparently people did not vote in 2010 because they “felt” (different from thought) the Dems were not sufficiently “feeling” their concerns. I’ve had that said to me by people who justified not voting for that reason.

Well guess what, whiny progressives – it’s not about your feelings. It’s about running the nation sensibly and well. And how’s THAT working for ya now the Tea Party holds up every good thing and proposes extremist agendas that will make YOUR life sheer hell?

I have no idea how to make progressives grow up. I cannot believe how little they understand of both the nation (a center somewhat left populace) and democracy (balance of powers, votes, etc.) They claimed they did not want an “imperial” president working outside democracy – except that’s precisely what they DO want. They want a super-being who will, in one bold stroke, change everything overnight.

I’m sick of them even when I agree with the goals because the idiocy of process makes me cringe. I’m really glad this piece got written because SOMEONE has to smack armchair whiners upside the head and say – WE are really NOT that into YOU and don’t care at all what you think. Go away. Read. Learn. Give something to society, then come back when you’ve matured. Bye.

KQµårk 死神

I’ve got to say some of the progressives I’ve been acquainted with are some of the biggest hypocritical I’ve met. They cry about manufacturing jobs leaving the country but most of them would never get their hands dirty working those types of jobs.

I was just talking to my wife last night about working in a ham packing plant to put myself through college. I was the 1% white minority in the place along with the owner’s son.

I mean if people like Al Gore care so much about climate change don’t travel around the world to “talk” about it or start another cable news network. It’s so amazing how Democrats like Gore find “progressive religion” when they are not in power to do anything about it themselves. I mean he really ran for president like Bush light everyone seems to forget. He didn’t run on his environmental plans at all or he might have beat Nader. 🙄

Al you got juice get people to invest in renewable energy.

Then he has the gall to blame the president for not talking about climate change enough. How much does Current TV talk about climate change Al? I just see repeats of Vanguard on there these days. Yet Dems invested over $90 billion through the stimulus and other initiatives toward developing renewables.

The worst part is progressives are so worried about whining about their leaders that they let the right wing out shout progressives on issues like climate change.

Do a Google search on “climate change man made” sometime. You’ll see conservatives dominate the net. But search Bradly Manning and OMG you will see nothing but progressives whining about his treatment and support sites for this cause celeb because it’s fashionable.

The real problem is government should be doing more, especially on climate change. But what Gore said does nothing to advance the issue. It just adds to the finger pointing disappointment crowd. I don’t know why everyone thinks every issue has to go through the president all the time. I mean Obama over and over again says we need to do more to develop clean energy as well. When progressive pull this shit it’s not what we should be doing on climate change but oh there goes Obama again fighting with his base.

I’m only venting to you because I’m preaching the the choir I know.


Off topic!!


Chopin Polonaise sounds delish, by the way.


Is that served with sour cream?


Bitterly divided Congress is putting a sugar coating on it. What is interesting is that there is no burning issue such as Civil Rights or VietNam.
There are other factors in play. I think that the main factors are unfocused fear and anger; an entire group of Americans are pitching a conniption fit – they are the 15% of the most conservative Americans. Unfortunate; but, the tape has to be played to the end.