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Ezra Klein Wonkblog:
With last week’s White House action bringing new attention to the student debt crisis, a Wonkblog reader passes along a helpful 2003 Tax Policy Center study that sheds light on why students are struggling with the cost of college. The authors, Thomas Kane, Peter Orszag and David Gunter, found that growing Medicaid budgets have edged out state funding for higher education, leaving students with higher tuition bills.
The study finds that during economic downturns higher education spending goes down while Medicaid spending increases. But as a state recovers, higher education funding doesn’t go back up: “During the boom of the 1990s, appropriations for higher education rose only slightly and never reached their pre-recession levels,” the study says.
If this interplay between state funding for Medicaid and higher education proves true during this recession, the coming year could prove disastrous for state universities and colleges. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey last week found that state spending on Medicaid spiked by 29 percent this past year, as enhanced federal stimulus funds for the entitlement program dried up.
Why Medicaid funding gets prioritized over higher education likely has to do with the entitlement program’s financing. For Medicaid, every dollar that a state puts into the program draws down federal matching funds. “As a result, if a state were to reduce state spending on Medicaid, it loses federal funds,” the study’s authors write. But education funding doesn’t bring in federal dollars, which could make it an easier budget target in lean times.
Parts shortages from three months of catastrophic flooding in Thailand have forced Honda to cut U.S. and Canadian factory production by 50 percent for the second time this year, the automaker said Monday.
The cuts, which come just as Honda was recovering from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, will run from Wednesday at least through Nov. 10 as Honda tries to find alternate sources for microprocessors that are made in Thailand.
The flooding, which began in July and has forced many auto parts plants to close, also affected Toyota Motor Co., which cut overtime for production in North America through the end of this week.
Honda Motor Co.’s announcement comes the same day the Japanese automaker announced that its quarterly profit tumbled 56 percent, battered by the strong yen and production disruptions from the March tsunami disaster.
The automaker, which makes the Accord and Civic sedans, said Monday that net profit for the July-September fiscal second quarter fell to $788 million.
Quarterly sales sank 16.3 percent from a year earlier to $24.6 billion, with sales in North America falling the most 22.3 percent.
Flooding in Thailand, where Honda has parts suppliers and assembly lines, made it too difficult to forecast earnings for the full fiscal year through March 2012. A projection will be announced when it becomes available, the company said.
Honda also said it will stop all production in the U.S. and Canada on Nov. 11, and all Saturday overtime work will be canceled through November. Spokesman Ed Miller said it’s too early to tell if there will be a repeat of model shortages that occurred during the summer and early fall due to parts shortages from the earthquake and tsunami.
The company also said in a statement that the December sale date for the 2012 version of the popular CR-V crossover vehicle could be delayed by several weeks. Honda says it will announce the sale date in the near future.
Last year, 87 percent of the Honda and Acura luxury vehicles sold in the U.S. were made in North America, the company said. Most of the parts are produced here, but a few critical electronic parts such as engine control modules come from Thailand and other countries, Honda said.
Miller said the company is trying to find other sources for the parts made in Thailand, but production of newer models such as the Civic compact and CR-V will be most affected by the parts shortages.
Honda said it will not lay off any workers at its U.S. and Canadian auto plants. The company has 21,000 U.S. factory workers and 10 U.S. and Canadian auto factories in Ohio, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana and Alliston, Ontario.
The Thailand floods began in late July and were fed by unusually heavy monsoon rains and a string of tropical storms. They have killed 381 people and affected more than a third of the country’s provinces. The water has destroyed millions of acres of crops and forced thousands of factories to close.
Officials said Monday they hoped seven submerged industrial estates would be running again in about three months. The parks house the factories of global companies including Honda, Toshiba and Western Digital.
Disclosure of political expenditure becoming mainstream practice, according to new study
Less than two years after a landmark US Supreme Court ruling removed barriers to ‘electioneering activity’ by corporations and unions, a handful of the largest US companies seem to be saying No, thanks.
A survey of practices at the S&P 100 reveals that two dozen of the largest US corporations have publicly opted out of political spending funneled through independent committees, as allowed by the Supreme Court Citizens United decision.
Independent committees are also known as 527 organizations, named after the Internal Revenue Code section that defines them.
In addition, 57 out of 100 companies surveyed voluntarily report their political expenditures and have instituted policies including board oversight over those expenditures, while 43 provide information about their political spending channeled through independent committees and trade associations.
These are among the key findings released recently by the Washington, DC-based non-profit Center for Political Accountability (CPA) and the Carol and Lawrence Zicklin Center for Business Ethics Research at the Wharton School of Business.
The CPA-Zicklin Index of Corporate Political Disclosure and Accountability indicates that ‘disclosure is becoming a mainstream practice,’ says CPA founder and president Bruce Freed.
‘A significant number of companies recognize the risk associated with political spending and a growing number are not taking advantage ofCitizens United, at least not directly. These are the influential companies that set the trends for other companies and key groups.
‘But there are real gaps and a great deal of work needs to be done. What this shows is that there is movement in the direction of exposure and accountability.’
Four companies – Colgate-Palmolive, Exelon, IBM and Merck – were all given a perfect score of 100 for political transparency and accountability, based on 29 criteria measuring disclosure, policy and oversight.
Ten companies scored zero on the index: Amazon, Baker Hughes, Berkshire Hathaway, Cisco Systems, Costco, CVS Caremark, Devon Energy, Halliburton, Lowe’s Co, and MasterCard.
The CPA-Zicklin Index scores some of the largest blue chip companies in America, based on information on their websites, across 29 different measures gauging their disclosure, policies and oversight of political spending two years after the Citizens United decision.
One company in the S&P 100, Philip Morris International, does not have operations in the US and thus was excluded from the survey. In 2012 the index will be expanded to rate the policies and practices of the S&P 500, CPA says.
The CPA-Zicklin Index is similar to another ranking of the S&P 100 on political disclosure issued by Baruch College in September. That index also scores companies on how easy the information is to find on their websites.
One of the chief complaints emerging from the 99 percenters camped in New York City and around the world is the sense that the top 1 percent have gotten away with something—that no amount of malfeasance on their part could endanger their status. […]
But financial professionals are only the third-biggest slice of the 1 percent. Executives of nonfinancial companies make up the largest share of 1 percenters. What maneuvers do they use to secure their advantage and protect themselves from any conceivable concession to the 99 percent?
Sometimes they find that manipulating the legal process meets their needs most efficiently. Take, for example, the recent eviscerations of class-action lawsuits. When Wal-Mart v. Dukes was before the Supreme Court earlier this year, big businesses rushed to the defense of the company. The megastore, run by the Walton family—one of the wealthiest in the world, with a collective fortune of $90 billion—was being sued by a class-action group of women charging gender discrimination at stores nationwide. The US Chamber of Commerce’s litigation center filed an amicus brief on the company’s behalf, as did a wide array of large corporations, from Altria to Bank of America to General Electric.
The Court decided against the women, saying they must sue individually and cannot act as a class in action against Walmart. The legal logic the justices applied limited many class-action suits going forward and means that “the bigger the company, the more varied and decentralized its job practices, the less likely it will have to face a class-action claim,” according to longtime Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston.
A similar but less noticed case two months earlier, AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, goes much further—it “entirely kills most class actions,” according to SCOTUSblog. AT&T, the fourteenth-largest company in the world, argued that cellphone customers suing for fraud must do so individually, rather than as a class, because an arbitration clause in the company’s contracts forbids class-action suits. Lower courts found this company-imposed ban on all class actions unconscionable, but the Court disagreed—and in the process eliminated most consumer and employment class-action suits. “Without minimizing Wal-Mart v. Dukes, getting upset about that case is like flipping out over a brief thundershower a few weeks after having slept through Hurricane Irene,” SCOTUSblog noted.
Although they have no particular interest in AT&T’s cellphone activities, several big business groups eagerly petitioned the Court in amicus briefs supporting the company. The American Bankers Association, the Financial Services Roundtable—a giant shill for Wall Street that spent almost $7.5 million on lobbying last year—and the US Chamber of Commerce all filed briefs.
The effect of these cases, which few Americans are aware of, is that megacorporations, and by extension the executives who staff them for lavish salaries, cannot be held accountable even if their products defraud or damage customers. Nor can they be held accountable for discriminating against their employees—their fortunes are protected regardless of their actions.
Medical professionals make up the second-biggest share of the 1 percent. They, too, know how to use the political process to limit their liability.
The American Medical Association is one of the largest lobbying forces in Washington. In 2009, as healthcare reform was being debated, the AMA spent more than $20 million to influence the outcome. One of the top items on its agenda was limiting the damage from malpractice suits. The industry claimed that such lawsuits were driving up medical costs. A study by the actuarial firm Towers Perrin, however, revealed that medical malpractice tort costs—for all cases, justified and otherwise—is an insignificant 1–1.5 percent of total medical costs.
But the name of the game was to protect medical professionals who may have made an error from having to pay out a lot of money. The AMA’s efforts to get malpractice limits in the healthcare reform bill were unsuccessful, as was President George W. Bush’s earlier attempt to limit all noneconomic damages to $250,000. But twenty-four states have enacted such laws as a result of similar lobbying—and some limit what patients can recoup for medical expenses and lost wages.
The enormous influence of the top 1 percent can also be seen in the two most recent major actions by Congress—patent reform and the approval of three free-trade deals.
More than 800 lobbyists were registered to work on the patent reform bill, which passed the Senate 89–9 and was signed into law by President Obama in September. The stated goal was to streamline the patent process to “make it easier for entrepreneurs to patent a new product or idea,” in the words of Obama. But as Zach Carter meticulously demonstrated in the Huffington Post, the real idea was to protect the patents of megacorporations. “The patent bill looks like a scorecard tallying points for powerful corporations,” he wrote.
The United States already has some of the strongest patent protection laws in the world, which means “we pay more, especially for drugs, and the rents generally go to the top 1 percent,” says Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. […]
The list goes on: lax antitrust enforcement of market-owning corporations; federal labor laws tilted toward the rich and against aggrieved workers; corporate governance rules that give undue power to executives and not enough to shareholders; a tax system that offers breaks for capital gains generally available only to the wealthy, and that allows huge fortunes to pass from generation to generation at low tax rates; and so on.
The common denominator, aside from maneuvering in unwieldy policy areas invisible to most Americans, is the money that the top 1 percent spends to influence the policy outcomes. The country’s campaign finance system, wherein billions are spent each year on lobbying and electing federal officials, gives the 1 percent their greatest advantage: in Washington, theirs is the loudest voice of all.
Just because he lives in a 28,000-square-foot, $15-million mansion, why should this billionaire be targeted as an example of plutocratic excess?
Who’s the most befuddled Wall Streeter of all? The richest guy on the Street.
In assessing the spreading public protest against the rampaging greed of today’s financial elite, John Paulson turns out to be as confused as a goat on Astroturf.
Oh, he gets that the people’s anger is directed at hedge fund profiteers like him, but he claims they are simply confused on the virtue of accumulated wealth. Although he raked in nearly $5 billion in personal pay last year (the largest single haul in Wall Street history) from rigged Wall Street casino games, he asserts that the amassing of wealth itself serves the public good.
It’s unfair, Paulson scolds, that protesters demonstrated in front of his 28,000-square-foot, $15-million mansion on New York’s Upper East Side, targeting him as an example of plutocratic excess. Taxes from billionaires like him, he says, are “providing huge benefits to everyone in our city.”
Besides, he points out that he’s not merely a billionaire, but also a “job creator,” as Republican leaders prefer to call corporate chieftains these days. Paulson brags that his hedge fund “has created over 100 high-paying jobs in New York City since its formation.” Wow — 100 jobs in a city of over 8 million people.
Thanks, John. Our economy wouldn’t be the same without you.
When it comes down to it, all that Paulson’s clique really wants is a little love, a small show of gratitude for all that the richest 1 percent is doing for us 99 percent of Americans by making themselves ever-richer.
In a plaintive press release, he recently wrote that, “Instead of vilifying our most successful businesses, we should be supporting them and encouraging them.”
Isn’t it sad to hear John cry? But, then, he does have $15 billion in net worth to dry those tears.
President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Monday to address an escalating shortage of life-saving medicines, his newest effort to advance social and economic measures that have stalled in Congress.
It was the fifth in a series of unilateral steps by Obama over the past week to seize the initiative from his Republican foes and show voters he is serious about tackling the country’s problems ahead of the 2012 reelection campaign.
Obama instructed the Food and Drug Administration to get better advance warning of impending supply problems and speed up its review of applications from companies that want to change or ramp up production to address shortages.
The order reflects a proposed law on the shortages that has been stuck in Congress, despite bipartisan support. However, the order lacks the authority of legislation and U.S. health officials cautioned that its impact could be limited.
“Congress has been trying since February to do something about this. It has not yet been able to get it done. It is the belief of this administration that … we can’t wait,” Obama said during an Oval Office ceremony to sign the order.
Since Republicans in Congress sidestepped his $447 billion jobs plan, Obama has also invoked his executive powers to help homeowners, students, veterans. His approval ratings currently languish near the 40-percent range over his economic stewardship.
“This move isn’t going to cut it,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, speaking about Monday’s executive order. “The President should end the photo-ops and campaign-style barnstorming, and work with us.”
FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the latest order would not be able to prevent all future drug shortages. “But we can make a really meaningful difference by expanding our net of early warnings,” she told reporters.
There are over 200 scarce medicines this year alone, up from 56 in 2006, according to the FDA. Most of them are cheaper generic drugs that have been around for years, and yield low profit margins for their manufacturers.
The executive order also requires the agency to give the Department of Justice information about possible price gouging in the so-called “gray market,” where distributors are suspected of exploiting the situation to peddle drugs at hundred-fold markups.
The FDA has said early notification allowed it to prevent 137 shortages in the past two years by working with other companies to plug the gap with ramped-up production. And PhRMA, the industry group for brand-name drugmakers, said manufacturers have stepped up their voluntary reporting of events that might lead to drug shortages.
“The executive order does not grant us new authority beyond what the legislation on the books has already done,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters on a conference call. “What it does do from the presidential level is commit increased attention on this, and a multi-department focus.”
The order does allow the FDA to more broadly interpret one provision of existing legislation that could let it force certain companies to report a shortage: if they are the only maker of that drug and it is life-saving.
“Executive action doesn’t always have the force of law and lacks the power of the purse that come unambiguously with congressional action,” he said. “(But) it’s been clear since November 2010 that getting much out of Congress – even in areas where there’s a broad consensus – would be like pulling impacted wisdom teeth.
…for printing yet another round of nonsense from Drew Westen. John Sides demolishes the public opinion and voters side of things completely, so I won’t talk about that, but I can’t less this pass. Westen:
Democrats on the other hand react so strongly against taking “marching orders” that they can scarcely stay on message even if their political lives depend on it (which they often do). Whether because he wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do or because he took the laissez-faire attitude toward leadership that bedevils the Democratic Party, President Obama let a Democratic Congress craft his signature legislation on health care. The result was a patchwork quilt that took 15 months to sew, and was stitched so sloppily that it left the average American cold.
To begin with…I don’t know why it bothers me so much that Westen gets the basic fact here wrong, but this is the second time I’ve noticed him saying that it took 15 months for ACA to pass. In fact, ACA passed in March 2010, which was 14 months after Obama took office (not 15) — and the last time I noticed this whopper I think I was generous in dating the beginning of the health care push to right after the stimulus was passed, which means it took 13 months. I guess I should be happy; at least this time he didn’t use as a comparison the idea that Dodd-Frank passed in record time (when in fact Dodd-Frank took the same 13 months as ACA).
So, fine, Westen can’t count as high as 15. 13 months was still a long time, and hey, it felt like 15 months, right?
But what about the rest of what he’s claiming, that Obama “let” Congress write the health care law. Westen needs to get a good pocket copy of the Constitution, or at least watch I’m Just a Bill a few dozen times: presidents don’t get to write laws themselves without Congress’s participation. That was true for Lyndon Johnson, it was true for Bill Clinton, and it was true for Republican presidents, too. And no, George W. Bush didn’t always get his way with Congressional Republicans.
Anyway, ACA didn’t take 13 months because Obama wasn’t involved (in fact, the White House was heavily involved throughout), or even for the most part because Congressional Democrats would not stick with him — after all, when it mattered all 60 Democratic Senators voted for the bill. It took over a year because major legislation is really complicated and, when you care about the results, it takes time to get it right. Now, I’ve argued that they could have accelerated their pace by a few weeks, mostly in fall 2009, and the “gang of six” negotiations did slow things down somewhat, although not nearly as much as legend has it. Realistically, I think something like 8 months would have been vaguely possible but well above par.
Never mind any of that, however, because Westen’s claim — that the lengthy debate and, I think he’s saying, poor legislative crafting are responsible for ACA’s lousy public opinion results. That’s certainly not true. How do I know? Because ACA became unpopular very early in the game, with anti- passing pro- in July 2009. It’s not possible that the lengthy process caused trouble in the polls because the trouble came first; and it’s highly unlikely that anything in particular about the legislation caused it’s unpopularity since no one knew what was going to be in the final law back then. (If passing laws quickly made them popular, then the Obama stimulus should have been very popular — and TARP should be even more wildly popular).
Or perhaps Westen thinks that it’s the “stitched so poorly” portion that is the problem. I have no idea what that means, however. Is the problem that it was passed using reconciliation? Can’t be that, since it was already unpopular. Is it that it includes a variety of cost-saving ideas in addition to the exchanges? Is it because of the student loan reforms included in the final reconciliation bill? No one even knows about those things, so that can’t be the case. I can’t find even a little hint of what he doesn’t like about the law might help make sense of his complaint.
As Kevin Drum notes, the news of systemic voter suppression by Republican legislatures and governors around the country has hit the mainstream. Point of fact, this story in the LA Times focusing on Florida’s new election law.
Early voting was reduced from two weeks to one week. Voting on the Sunday before election day was eliminated. College students face new hurdles if they want to vote away from home. And those who register new voters face the threat of fines for procedural errors, prompting the nonpartisan League of Women Voters to suspend voter registration drives and accuse the Legislature of “reverting to Jim Crow-like tactics.”
What is happening in Florida is part of a national trend, as election law has become a fierce partisan battleground. In states where Republicans have taken majority control, they have tightened rules for registering new voters, reduced the time for casting ballots and required voters to show photo identification at the polls. The new restrictions were usually adopted on party-line votes and signed by Republican governors. […]
Ohio, another swing state, reduced its early voting by more than half, eliminated early voting on weekends and ended its same-day registration for voters, though the changes have been put on hold by a statewide citizens’ referendum. Georgia reduced its early-voting periods from 45 days to 21 days.
Seven states — Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin — voted to require registered voters to show photo identification at the polling place. Democratic governors vetoed such bills in five other states. […]
Republican lawmakers say Democrats and minority groups are overreacting. “We’re going to have a very tight election here next year, and we need to protect the integrity of the election,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, a Republican from Ocala. “When we looked around, we saw a need for some tightening.”
Election integrity has an alternate definition when a Republican is talking about it, and in Florida it entirely means keeping those people who gave Barack Obama the edge in 2008 be kept out of the polls in 2012. The good news in all this is that the efforts of organizations like the Brennan Center for Justice, which released the blockbuster study showing that upwards of five million voters is getting the kind of national media attention it should.
Rick Perlstein, Crooks and Liars:
- The Occupy movement’s brilliance at sustaining a physical presence in public space is awesome–and if sustaining a physical presence in public space is your political goal, well, then we can be very, very happy. But that is not my political goal. In fact, the increasing devotion to that goal as an end in itself has come to define the movement, which makes it guilty of the iron law of bureaucracy: the danger that arises when sustaining the bureaucracy becomes more important than advancing the goals for which the bureaucracy exists. That Occupiers have traveled a ways towards this danger shows, for instance, in the ticker that heads the Occupy Chicago site counting out “Time Occupied,” as if this time was an end in itself.
- Many Occupiers, especially young ones, have come to define themselves by their refusal to identified with any larger organizational force that can conceivably be conceptualized as “part of the system that got us into this problem in the first place.” The anarchist notion of building a new world in the shell of the old, and an angry refusal to even identify this as a “left-wing” movement, are part of this phenomenon. Refusal to engage in “traditional politics” has been seen as no less than a goal. In Chicago, where I live, one manifestation of this has been refusing to negotiate directly with the city; instead, representatives of City Hall have been invited to sign up for two minutes of speaking time at the General Assembly just like anyone else. Some seem to be succumbing to that old left-wing temptation—that voting does not matter. I certainly saw signs to that effect when I visited Occupy Wall Street. I hope to write about this in more detail in the future, but for now i just offer this as an axiom on which to build my reflections; and offer this link as an index of just how prevalent that attitude has become regarding the participation of MoveOn.org, whose 24-hour mobilization was probably responsible for there still being a peaceful Occupy Wall Street in the first place after Mayor Bloomberg made moves to evict them. But MoveOn is largely seen as a front for the Democratic Party, in bed with President Obama, and something to be disparaged.
- The Occupiers can point with justifiable pride at two kinds of awesome political victories. The first involves what I write about above: success at keeping and holding public space. For instance, Albany police, recognizing themselves as part of the 99%, have refused orders to making trespassing arrests. And the Los Angeles City Council voted twelve to zero to support Occupy L.A.
- The second victory is more subtle: it involves the shifting rhetoric and action of politicians both locally and nationally away from the austerity bullshit that defined politics through spring and summer. But why is this (tentative) victory happening? Why are politicians “listening” to the Occupiers? The answer to this question many Occupiers have reached is that this is proof of the ideas in paragraph (2): that their ideology is working—that the moral force of their refusal to engage in “politics as usual” is making change happen.
- I argue that this is wrong, dangerously so. In fact, the reason the Occupiers have changed attitudes in politicians, or at least become a nagging presence in the back of would-be-austerians minds, is a bluntly traditional reason. It is the same reason politicians have always responded to “street heat.” Politicians see a crowd, and count votes. Not just the votes of the people in the protesting crowd—the count two votes, ten votes, a hundred votes for every member in a protesting crowd. They understand people willing to undergo hardship—certainly people willing to make the awesome commitment to keep and hold public space—as people with the motivation to influence voters around them.
All this adds up to a conclusion that should be frightening to those most committed to the notion of the Occupy movement as radically removed from traditional politics, who are actively working to keep it as pristinely removed from traditional politics as possible—who say, in short, that the movement shouldn’t have anything to do with politics or politicians. The conclusion, simply, is this: once politicians figure out that this is what is going on—that as a matter of principle the most dedicated Occupiers won’t be working to make the most traditional of political threats: do what we want or lose your job—the political change will simply stop happening. Politicians will have been given a reason to ignore the movement—even if it doubles or triples in size. It will have become about as political as a rave.
If sustaining a physical presence in public space is your political goal, well, then we can be very, very happy. But that is not my political goal.
If figuring out nifty new ways for large groups to make democratic decisions is your political goal, then we can be very, very happy. But that is not my political goal. My goal is…economic justice.
Change, Occupiers, or die. Scare politicians. Systematically. Do politics—even if it means the messy of forming coalitions with the nasty organizations “that got us into this mess in the first place.” Human beings got us into this mess in the first place. And no one is saying we shouldn’t be working with them. Or if you are, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.
News From The Underground:
If you need a way to increase problems and discredit the Occupy Wall Street crowd at Zuccotti Park in New York City, what do you do? According to Harry Siegel at the New York Daily News, you send in the clowns:
But while officers may be in a no-win situation, at the mercy of orders carried on shifting political winds and locked into conflict with a so-far almost entirely non-violent protest movement eager to frame the force as a symbol of the oppressive system they’re fighting, the NYPD seems to have crossed a line in recent days, as the park has taken on a darker tone with unsteady and unstable types suddenly seeming to emerge from the woodwork. Two different drunks I spoke with last week told me they’d been encouraged to “take it to Zuccotti” by officers who’d found them drinking in other parks, and members of the community affairs working group related several similar stories they’d heard while talking with intoxicated or aggressive new arrivals. […]
“He’s got a right to express himself, you’ve got a right to express yourself,” I heard three cops repeat in recent days, using nearly identical language, when asked to intervene with troublemakers inside the park, including a clearly disturbed man screaming and singing wildly at 3 a.m. for the second straight night.
The NYPD had no comment on the allegations.
Virginia State Police brought in bulldozers at about 1 a.m. Monday morning to clear out an encampment of Occupy Richmond protesters.
At least 15 protesters who choose not to leave Kanawha Plaza after a 45 minute warning were arrested, according to Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Demonstrators had been occupying the plaza since Oct. 15. Democratic Mayor Dwight C. Jones visited the site Thursday to warn protesters they were breaking a city ordinance that forbids camping on public property.
“We applied for permits from city council but, you know, they didn’t accept or decline us getting a permit,” one activist explained to WTVR. “At least them declining it would give us an idea what was to come, but we didn’t get anything. So we started occupying with high hopes and unfortunately this is what it came down to.”
Protesters have vowed to continue their occupation of Richmond even if they can’t do it at Kanawha Plaza.
Al Jazeera released a new mini-documentary yesterday on the Koch Brothers — the multi-billionare energy tycoons who have spent over $50 million on campaigns to tear down the science of climate change and clean energy policy.
The documentary features a lengthy interview with our colleague Lee Fang, an investigative reporter with Think Progress, who has played a major role in uncovering the strong “web of influence” of the Koch Brothers on state and federal politicians. The film touches on the Koch role in everything from health care to energy policy. It’s worth the watch. (Note: much of the energy and climate stuff is in the second half, after about 15 minutes.)
This is exactly why “the other 99%” of Americans are protesting in the streets.
In addition to the constant trashing of Obama’s actual record with lies and distortions, I’m also sick to death of claims that Democrats “had no spines” and couldn’t pass anything. Republicans held Congress from 1994-2006 and rigged the filibuster rules. If you’ll remember, they pretended to try to kill the filibuster, and in the process, ended up simplifying the rules, making it easier for a single senator to hold up a bill anonymously, and require 60 votes for cloture, to to release that hold.
Put simply, the SOLUTION to the problem in 2010 would have been to keep the House, and reduce the number of Republicans in the Senate. Instead, we had the Right Wing crying “Democrats can’t get anything done!” and the Left Wing crying, “Democrats can’t get anything done!” THAT is why Democrats lost so badly last year; instead of ofering up an alternate viewpoint, we basically echoed theirs. That’s what drove turnout down, and gave the GOP one of the biggest wins in their history.
Read these and tell me Democrats weren’t trying really hard to make things better. Again; these are bills that were PASSED by the Democratic House, and BLOCKED by 40-41 solid votes in the Senate. Compare these to the complete SHIT the current Republican-led House is producing, and then tell us again how there’s no difference between the two parties.
We really have to stop self-destructing. Democrats ARE much better than Republicans, the previous Democratic House, led by Nancy Pelosi, DID try like hell to make this country better.
Again; this is a partial list?
HR 12 – Paycheck Fairness Act – While the Lily Ledbetter Act was a good start, this bill would have mandated pay fairness and prohibited pay discrimination based on sex. In other words, while Lily’s Bill made it easier for women to sue, this would have created fair workplace system with regard to pay. In other words, Republicans voted in favor of paying women less money for the same job.
H.R. 20 — Melanie Blocker Stokes Mom’s Opportunity to Access Health, Education, Research, and Support for Postpartum Depression Act – This bill would have provided for research into women’s health issues, specifically regarding post-partum health. That kind of reinforces the overall impression Republicans give, that they care a whole lot about the fetus, but couldn’t care less once the baby is born, and they don’t care about women at all.
H.R. 320 — CJ’s Home Protection Act – This bill would have provided for changes in building standards to require manufactured homes to come equipped with a weather alert radio and an alarm during certain weather conditions, like tornadoes. The bill allowed for possible exemptions based on geography on a limited basis, so it wouldn’t “force” anyone to install them where they weren’t needed. In case you think this type of thing is just silly, think again. NOAA weather radio was created in the wake of a “super outbreak” of tornados in April 1974. Within a 16-hour period, 148 tornados touched down, killing 330 people and injuring more than 5,000. Tornado warnings were beuing issued so fast, local radio and television stations couldn’t keep up. As most of us know by now, manufactured housing is more vulnerable during weather related events. Now, NOAA’s weather radio warning system covers 98% of the country, and the installation of what amounts to $20-50 worth of electronic equipment in manufactured homes could end up saving hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. Basically, for the sake of political expediency, Republicans said no to saving lives during bad weather.
H.R. 448 — Elder Abuse Victims Act – This bill would address legal issues regarding the elderly, and establish policies and procedures designed to minimize the negative effects of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. Is there a segment of the population Republicans DO care about? They don’t care for women, they don’t care for the elderly, and their feigned care for fetuses ends at the birth canal. Perhaps they care about the troops…
H.R. 466 – Wounded Veteran Job Security Act – This bill would actually provide job security for veterans who are receiving medical treatment for injuries suffered while fighting in defense of their country. It would prohibit employers from terminating employees who miss work while receiving treatment for a service-related disability. Guess that answers that question; they don’t care about the troops, either. This isn’t the only bill they have blocked having to do with the troops, either.
H.R. 515 – Radioactive Import Deterrence Act – This one has to make you scratch your head. Basically, this bill would prohibit the issuance of licenses to import of low-level nuclear material and waste to this country. It specifically exempts nuclear waste belonging to the United States, and it allows the president to make exceptions where necessary. Is this an industry Republicans are anxious to establish in this country? Do we really want to become a repository of the entire world’s nuclear waste? How safe would you feel if they opened a nuclear dump right next to the elementary school?
H.R. 549 — National Bombing Prevention Act – […]
H.R. 577 – Vision Care for Kids Act – Of course, this would provide eyesight screening for children who do not have insurance that covers this, and help provide them with glasses. Seriously, this is, at most, about $250-300 per year , at most, for the children with bad eyesight; how cheap are Republicans? And why do they pretend to care so passionately about the fetus, but have no regard for them once they’re born?
H.R. 626 – Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act – This puts the lie to the concept that Republicans are all about the family. It also demonstrates just how much Republicans want to stick it to Democrats, because to stop this bill is completely irrational. This bill would allow federal employees to substitute any available paid leave for any unpaid leave for “either the: (1) birth of a child; or (2) placement of a child with the employee for either adoption or foster care. Makes available (subject to specified requirements) for any of the 12 weeks of leave an employee is entitled to for such purposes: (1) four administrative weeks of paid parental leave in connection with the birth or placement involved; and (2) any accumulated annual or sick leave.” In other words, folks, it allows federal money to take money they are already entitled to sooner than perhaps they originally planned. The actual net cost to the federal government would essentially be zero dollars above what they would already pay these employees. Does this sound like a political party that gives a damn about the average American or families? The answer, of course, is no.
H.R. 780 – Student Internet Safety Act – […]
H.R. 911 — Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act – […]
H.R. 985 — Free Flow of Information Act – This bill would provide for a federal shield law for journalists who actually do investigative journalism. So, here’s the question; are Republicans — who are always on about being “strict constructionists” — now against protecting the free press? As a shield law, it doesn’t even provide unqualified immunity, as federal judges could declare certain news stories as having a public interest based confidential sources. Perhaps they don’t care about this law, since it’s unlikely anyone from Fox News will ever come under it.
H.R. 1029 – Alien Smuggling and Terrorism Prevention Act – Yes, another bill that does what its title says it will do, and Republicans blocked it. With all of their phony “tough talk” regarding immigration, this should come as a surprise to pretty much everyone, regardless of your level of racism. The intent of this bill is to crack down on alien smuggling and provide for better border enforcement and stiffer penalties for violators. In other words, it does many of the things Jan Brewer is pissed off about in Arizona. So, what IS the Republican stance on immigration? They’re against going after employers who hire illegal immigrants, and apparently, they’re against stricter laws against those who smuggle people into this country. They’re apparently against anything that might actually work. If you’re in favor of immigration reform and you’re planning to vote Republican, think again.
H.R. 1110 – PHONE Act and H.R. 1258 – The Truth in Caller ID Act – These consumer protection bills would make it a crime for anyone to “spoof” their caller ID record when engaging in any sort of commercial transaction, or in any case in which the intent is to defraud the person on the other end of the line. Two common sense bills that prevent consumers from being ripped off, and Republicans have blocked both of them.
H.R. 1168 — Veterans Retraining Act – […]
H.R. 1171 – Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program Reauthorization – […]
H.R. 1262, Water Quality Investment Act – […]
H.R. 1293 — Disabled Veterans Home Improvement and Structural Alteration Grant Increase Act of 2009 – […]
H.R. 1319 – Informed P2P User Act – This is an interesting bill for a couple of reasons. First of all, the bill itself is yet another consumer protection measure, designed to protect Internet users from malware that comes from installation of any peer-to-peer program. Frankly, this bill isn’t as crucial as many of the others shown here, in that it doesn’t directly adversely affect the lives of ordinary people. But it does demonstrate that Republicans are filibustering pretty much anything the House throws to them, because this bill was originally written and sponsored by Mary Bono Mack, a Republican.
H.R. 1380 — Josh Miller HEARTS Act – […]
H.R. 1429, Stop AIDS in Prison Act – […]
H.R. 1469 – Child Protection Improvements Act – […]
H.R. 1511 – Torture Victims Relief Reauthorization Act – […]
H.R. 1514 – Juvenile Accountability Block Grants Program Reauthorization Act – This bill does exactly what it says. It provides block grants to states to help them pay for juvenile justice. Those Republicans – tough on crime, but not so tough on criminals.
H.R. 1580 – Electronic Waste Research and Development Act – This bill would actually create research programs and grants to develop ways to make electronics more recyclable, to make them from materials that are more environmentally friendly and to create a better system of disposal of electronic equipment. In other words, folks, Republicans are blocking a bill that would make the creation and disposal of electronics, like cell phones, iPods and laptops more environmentally friendly, so that our children might not grow up to a poisonous planet. And lest you think they were simply trying to be “fiscally responsible,” the total cost of this bill would be $84 million (that’s an “m,” not a “b”) over 5 years. It’ll cost your family of four another quarter a year; think you can handle it? […]
H.R. 1675 – Frank Melville Supportive Housing Investment Act of 2009 – This bill would strengthen programs that allow the poorest people in society, with serious long-term disabilities to live independently by providing affordable rental housing, as well as adequate voluntary services and support. Currently, there is a chronic shortage of such housing in many areas, and this legislation would create more. In other words, it would create more opportunities for the disabled to be more self-sufficient, which is something Republicans have always claimed they were in favor of.
H.R. 1709 – STEM Education Coordination Act – The acronym STEM refers to Science-Technology-Engineering-Math, and this bill would create a committee under the National Sciences and Technology Council, to create and coordinate education programs and activities designed to enhance those areas of study, and make the United States competitive again. Imagine a country in which we were training our own scientists and engineers, instead of training scientists and engineers for other countries, so that they can kick our asses on the world economic stage? Dare we dream? This type of program is small in scope, but it’s a very good investment, because we need people who are versed in science and math, in order to compete in the world economy. This really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone, since Republicans have largely been anti-science for at least a decade. Oh – and once more, for those who think there’s a “fiscally responsible” purpose behind blocking this, this measure would cost $2 million per year – or about 2 cents per year for your family of four. They are also blocking H.R. 1736 – The International Science and Technology Cooperation Act, which would establish a committee under the NSTC that would coordinate with international science and technology efforts, with a goal of strengthening “US science and technology enterprise, improve economic and national security, and support US foreign policy goals.” If you need any more proof that Republicans hate science and fear the future, there you go.
H.R. 1722 –Telework Improvements Act – This is another bill that just makes sense, if you have ever experienced traffic in DC. The highways are jammed, the Metro is packed like sardines, and if you want to park at an outlying Metro lot and take the subway into town, you’d better get there about 5 AM, or there will be no parking available. And it all happens between about 7-9 AM and about 5-7 PM. This bill would create a framework whereby government employees could telecommute about 20% of the time during each two-week period, without adversely affecting their productivity. And in this case, government could lead by example; most of us could do a large portion of our jobs at home right now; imagine if you only had to go into the office 2-3 days per week instead of five. Better yet, imagine you’re a business and you could stagger your employees in-office days so that you needed fewer offices? And with 20% less traffic on the road some days… Republicans are against progress, folks; remember that.
H.R. 1741 — Witness Security and Protection Grant Program Act – In yet another example of how soft Republicans really are on crime, this bill would serve to strengthen protections for witnesses for homicides and serious felonies, such as rape. Essentially, it would provide block grants to states and local law enforcement agencies to help them get up to speed regarding best practices to prevent witness intimidation or tampering. This is yet another bill that costs a whopping $20 million per year, so they can’t even hang the “fiscal responsibility” tag on it. Put simply, Democrats want to spend a quarter per year per family of four to increase the likelihood that murderers and rapists get put away in prison, and Republicans are working against that.
H.R. 1796 – Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention Act – […]
H.R. 1803 — Veterans Business Center Act – […]
Republicans are also blocking H.R. 1834 – Native American Business Development Enhancement Act, which would create an Office of Native American Affairs within the SBA, which would assist Native Americans in starting small businesses. As a point of reference, unemployment on some Indian reservations is currently running twice the rate as elsewhere.
Republicans are also blocking H.R. 1838 – Amending Small Business Act to modify certain provisions regarding women’s business centers, which would, as it reads, make the SBA more responsive to small businesses that apply for loans and grants at women’s business centers. They are blocking H.R. 1839 – To amend the Small Business Act to improve SCORE, which is the Service Corps of Retired Executives, which provides expertise to small businesses, to make them less likely to fail, and more likely to grow and create jobs. H.R. 1842 – Expanding Entrepreneurship Act is also being held hostage by Senate Republicans. This bill would create and expand small business entrepreneurial development programs, with the specific goal of using them as a catalyst for job creation. And they are blocking H.R. 1845 — Small Business Development Centers Modernization Act, which would give a boost to SBDCs, providing business assistance that is often relied upon by small business owners to expand revenues and create jobs.
Seriously, folks; how many small businesses are hurting right now, and how many of them know that help would be on the way, if not for their Republican buddies holding it up? Once again, folks; ALL of the above bills were pushed through by DEMOCRATS in the House, and BLOCKED by REPUBLICANS in the Senate. I know I’m writing this a lot, but sometimes you have to repeat it to make it stick.
H.R. 1824 — Best Buddies Empowerment for People with Intellectual Disabilities Act – I’m including this one because it’s flat out mean. This bill would increase grant funding for a well-established non-profit called Best Buddies International, an organization with chapters in high schools and college campuses all over the country, that pairs volunteers with intellectually disabled individuals, to increase their ability to function independently. The more intellectually disabled individuals can take care of themselves, and pay their own way in life, the better for all of us, in a variety of ways. In other words, it’s an investment; in the long run, creating more taxpayers means the rest of us pay less. Yet, Republicans are against this.
H.R. 1875 — End the Trade Deficit Act – This bill would establish the Emergency Trade Deficit Commission, which would look at what is causing the enormous trade deficit that is turning our economy to dust, and to consider ways to address it and fix it. Why would Republicans be against fixing the trade deficit? They’re always whining about the federal budget deficit (at least when they’re not in charge); do they not realize that the trade deficit is probably the number one cause of the budget deficit? Buy American, right?
H.R. 1879 — National Guard Employment Protection Act – This bill would grant greater employment and reemployment rights to individuals ordered to full-time National Guard duty by the Department of Defense. Currently, these rights are limited to the first five years only, and as we all now know, sometimes Republican presidents start wars and order National Guard troops to serve beyond their contract. Guess Republican Senators are more keen on protecting such presidents than the actual troops.
H.R. 1933 – A Child Is Missing Alert and Recovery Center Act – […]
H.R. 2020 — Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Act of 2009 (I suppose it would have to be “of 2011” by now, huh?)– Why does it feel as if Republicans absolutely fear science and technology? This bill would make sure this country keeps up with the rest of the world when it comes to computers and information technology. That’s all. It provides for extensive coordination of research and development in areas having “the potential for significant contributions to national economic competitiveness and for other societal benefits.” I hate to break it to you folks, but other nations are way ahead of us in many technological areas, and we can’t even figure out what to do about the concept of net neutrality. Think our cell phones are nifty? Go to Japan or Finland. If you think we’re way ahead on web development, it’s because you can only speak English. For eight years, our government sat back and tried to push us back into the dark ages. We either catch up to the rest of the world, or we falter, and fall even farther down the economic ladder. And Republicans are blocking that progress.
H.R. 2093 – Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act – This bill would strengthen the Clean Water Act by directing the EPA to develop better standards for monitoring and assessment of coastal waterways. It would provide for better source identification and tracking of pollution sources, and it would increase testing for pathogens. In other words, it would take better care to insure that our beaches and recreational areas are safe for our kids to play in. It would also create a “rapid-testing” method to test for contamination in the case of spills. This bill doesn’t have a lot to do with the BP oil spill, but in the wake of that disaster, one would think that monitoring the health and safety of our waterways would be a little more important. But Republicans don’t care if you and your family are healthy, do they? By the cost of this program? A whopping $40 million, or 50 cents for every family of four in the country. […]
H.R. 2142 – Government Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Performance Improvement Act – Yeah, I know; with all of the bitching they’re always doing about how bad government is, and how incompetent government is, one would think they’d be ecstatic to see a bill designed to make the government more efficient, increase its effectiveness and monitor and improve its performance. The purpose of this bill is to direct agencies to develop long-term strategies and goals, and to come up with plans to meet performance objectives. And every bit of information would be readily available on the Internet and elsewhere, for every citizen to look at and evaluate for themselves. In other words, this bill would make the government more responsive and accountable to everyone. But Republicans are against it. And lest you think they’re against it because they’re worried about the deficit, the total cost of implementing these programs at 17 different agencies would be a total of $150 million over five years, or about 35 cents per year per family of four, according to the CBO.
H.R. 2187 – 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act – The next time a Republican or Independent voter tells you the GOP got a bad rap for their non-response to Katrina, show them their blockage of this bill. The purpose of this bill is twofold; it would create a program of grants to renovate schools to make them more energy efficient, and to save taxpayers money. The jobs created would help to alleviate economic problems in a number of hard-hit geographical areas. Which brings up the second part of this bill, which would provide a little extra help in rebuilding and modernizing schools in the Gulf Coast region, which is still reeling from the effects of Katrina. (The Democratic House passage of this bill pre-dates the BP oil spill.) Such a bill would create thousands of jobs and make substantial infrastructure improvements to educational institutions all over the country, and will result in significant cost savings over the long haul. But Republicans won’t let it happen.
H.R. 2200 – Transportation Security Administration Authorization Act –[…]
H.R. 2221 – Data Accountability and Trust Act – This bill would actually create a regulatory structure that would require any business using personal information to establish security policies and procedures to protect that data. It would require information brokers and others to submit those policies and procedures to the FTC for approval, and it would prohibit such businesses from obtaining or disclosing, or soliciting to obtain, personal information by false pretenses. In other words, another step to make sure that eCommerce is safe, which would protect consumers and businesses in every transaction, and create a level playing field for everyone. But Republicans are blocking it.
H.R. 2352 – Job Creation Through Entrepreneurship Act – […]
H.R. 2454 – American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 – This bill sets up a regulatory framework that would greatly improve our energy situation, which is probably our greatest national security concern for the future – or it should be, anyway. It would improve energy efficiency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and enable the overall transition to a clean energy economy, including provisions for agriculture and forestry related offsets. The provisions include: (1) creating a combined energy efficiency and renewable electricity standard and requiring retail electricity suppliers to meet 20% of their demand through renewable electricity and electricity savings by 2020; (2) setting a goal of, and requiring a strategic plan for, improving overall U.S. energy productivity by at least 2.5% per year by 2012 and maintaining that improvement rate through 2030; and (3) establishing a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and setting goals for reducing such emissions from covered sources by 83% of 2005 levels by 2050. Oh, now I get it – it’s that damn “cap-and-tax” that gets them! Does anyone actually care about the future of this country? The beauty of cap-and-trade is that the tax would constantly go down over time, as people use less and less energy. If only all taxes worked that way, huh?
H.R. 2510 – Absentee Ballot Track, Receive and Confirm Act – This bill would amend the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to direct the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) to reimburse states for costs incurred in establishing an absentee ballot tracking program for federal elections. Couple that with H.R. 2499 – Puerto Rico Democracy Act, which would allow Puerto Ricans to hold a plebiscite to either confirm their current status as a commonwealth or approve a change in political status, as well as to hold another plebiscite every eight years after that, and you can see that Republicans aren’t big on democracy. Oh, wait; these are all bills they won’t allow to be voted on; I guess that’s apparent, huh?
H.R. 2529 – Neighborhood Preservation Act – This act would authorize any bank to offer a lease/purchase agreement for up to five years to anyone for any property it came into ownership of through foreclosure. This exception to the law would only be allowed for two years, while the current housing mess shakes itself out. Such a move would do a couple of things; it would keep homes occupied, and mitigate the negative effect on home values of having too many empty homes in a neighborhood, and it would create home purchase opportunities that would otherwise not be available. This type of program would do wonders for stabilizing home values, which is key to fixing the housing market once and for all. And your Republican Party won’t even allow a vote on it. Look at the empty homes in your neighborhoods, and put the blame where it belongs; Vote Democratic.
Herman Cain’s two top campaign aides ran a private Wisconsin-based corporation that helped the GOP presidential candidate get his fledgling campaign off the ground by originally footing the bill for tens of thousands of dollars in expenses for such items as iPads, chartered flights and travel to Iowa and Las Vegas – something that might breach federal tax and campaign law, according to sources and documents.
Internal financial records obtained by No Quarter show that Prosperity USA said it was owed about $40,000 by the Cain campaign for a variety of items in February and March. Cain began taking donations for his presidential bid on Jan. 1.
Prosperity USA was owned and run by Wisconsin political operatives Mark Block and Linda Hansen, Cain’s current chief of staff and deputy chief of staff, respectively.
The authenticity of the records was verified by two individuals close to the firm.
It is not known if Cain’s election fund eventually paid back Prosperity USA, which now appears defunct. The candidate’s federal election filings make no mention of the debt, and the figures in the documents don’t match payments made by the candidate’s campaign.
In addition to picking up these expenses at least initially, Prosperity USA also paid as much as $100,000 to the Congress of Racial Equality, a conservative black organization, shortly before Cain was a featured speaker at the group’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. dinner in mid-January.
Cain, who has surged to a top-tier presidential candidate in the past month, apparently was not paid for the appearance. The personal financial disclosure forms for the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza list no honorariums for speeches.
Election law experts say the transactions raise a host of questions for the private organization, which billed itself as a tax-exempt nonprofit, and the Cain team.
“If the records accurately reflect what occurred, this is way out of bounds,” said a Washington, D.C.-based election lawyer who advises many Republican candidates and conservative groups on campaign issues. The lawyer asked not to be identified because of those affiliations.
Michael Maistelman, a Wisconsin campaign attorney, agreed.
“The number of questionable and possibly illegal transactions conducted on behalf of Herman Cain is staggering,” said Maistelman, a Democrat who has represented politicians from both parties on campaign issues.
Block and Hansen have not returned numerous calls in recent days.
Late Friday, Block sent an email saying: “Will be able to respond to you, but need to schedule time to review questions. Obviously in the midst of a Presidential campaign I cannot drop everything.”
For decades, Block worked behind the scenes for several conservative candidates and causes in Wisconsin. He is best known in the state for his role as campaign manager for former state Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox in 1997. Accused of election law violations, Block settled the case by agreeing to pay a $15,000 fine and to stay out of Wisconsin politics for three years.
More recently, Block, 57, ran the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit cofounded by the conservative Koch brothers that helped organize the tea party movement in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
It was through Americans for Prosperity that Block met Cain and encouraged him to run for national office. Block’s role with the Cain campaign became a point of national interest in the past week when a bizarre online campaign ad featuring the chain-smoking Wisconsin operative went viral.
In recent years, Block spun off a handful of organizations from Americans for Prosperity, most of them incorporating “prosperity” in the name. Officials with Americans for Prosperity emphasize that these other groups were legally separate from their organization.
The largest group founded by Block was called Wisconsin Prosperity Network, which was supposed tobe an umbrella organization that would spend more than $6 million a year underwriting a dozen or so other conservative groups in the hopes of turning the state red.
In the 2008 incorporation papers, Block is listed as the president of Wisconsin Prosperity Network, which was set up as a tax-exempt nonprofit group. That means the charitable organization cannot have direct political involvement. Hansen was the group’s executive director.
Last year, Block started up Prosperity USA, another tax-exempt charitable group for which Block appeared to be the sole board member. Again, Hansen handled the day-to-day operations.
Insiders familiar with the groups say the two groups were closely linked and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from prominent conservatives around the state. One supporter, who asked that his name not be used because he still supports Cain and other conservatives, said he and many others were deeply upset with the groups – and Hansen, in particular – for failing to use the money for its intended purposes.
Internal financial records show both organizations were operating in the black during the first half of 2010.
But by early this year, expenses were far outpacing income at the two entities. Balance sheets showed Wisconsin Prosperity Network was more than $62,000 in the hole by early February; Prosperity USA was in even worse shape, with its liabilities exceeding its assets by $110,000.
In fact, the records indicate Prosperity USA’s biggest asset was nearly $40,000 that it was owed by “FOH,” a reference to Friends of Herman Cain, the name of Cain’s presidential operation.
A more detailed checking account says the Cain campaign owed nearly $15,000 for an “Atlanta invoice,” about $17,000 for chartered flight service and $5,000 for travel and meetings in Iowa, Las Vegas, Houston, Dallas and Louisiana. The document says the Cain campaign had been billed $3,700 for iPads purchased on Jan. 4.
A series of small-ticket items for travel and expenses by Block are listed as “not billed to FOH but due from them.”
The national election expert who works with GOP candidates said it would be a violation of the tax code for Prosperity USA to advance money to the Cain campaign for these items. She said there also are strict federal election regulations on reporting debts and incurring travel obligations.
“I just don’t see how they can justify this,” she said. “It’s a total mess.”
The records suggest that Prosperity USA had been underwriting travel for Cain even before he announced his plans to run for president.
For instance, one document says the group was to be paid $5,000 for the costs associated with Cain’s speech in September 2010 to the conservative Right Nation rally in Chicago, an event that the records say Cain attended at the request of Americans for Prosperity. The Cain campaign later used a segment from that speech in a campaign ad.
Along with these expenses, the internal records note Prosperity USA paid for such items as Block’s trip to Washington, D.C., to meet with billionaire philanthropist David Koch. Singer Krista Branch, who recorded “I Am America,” the unofficial anthem of the tea party movement, was supposed to be paid $3,000 by the Wisconsin group.
Cain has adopted the tune as his campaign song. Branch’s husband, Michael, who wrote the song, has been paid $11,250 in his role as the Cain campaign’s Tennessee director and $7,360 as a fundraising consultant.
More intriguing, the records show Prosperity USA received $150,000 in loans from individuals who could not be identified.
Sources familiar with the group say Hansen paid much of the loan money earlier this year to the Congress of Racial Equality, a former civil rights organization that now promotes conservative causes. In mid-January, Cain was a featured speaker at the group’s annual awards dinner, which was hosted by controversial conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart.
The Congress of Racial Equality is headed by Niger Innis, who did not return calls last week. He and his father, Roy Innis, made several appearances at Wisconsin tea party events in the past.
Several board members for Prosperity USA and Wisconsin Prosperity Network resigned from the organization when they learned after the fact that Hansen had borrowed this money and donated much of it to the conservative group, according to insiders.
In the summer, the attorney for the two groups, Michael Dean, resigned as the registered agent for Wisconsin Prosperity Network in a letter filed with the state Department of Financial Institutions. Sources say he also contacted the Internal Revenue Service regarding the group’s application for tax-exempt status.
Reached at home last week, Dean declined to comment.
Even though there is little or no evidence that the Wisconsin Prosperity Network is still functioning, the group is one of the listed litigants in a case currently before the state Supreme Court.
The trail of red ink left by Block and Hansen, however, extends beyond the private entities they founded.
Several conservatives say the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity was left with a stack of unpaid invoices totaling tens of thousands of dollars when Block officially left the organization at the start of the year.
Matt Seaholm, who replaced Block as the director of the state chapter, declined to discuss the group’s finances.
“I’ll leave that to the national office,” Seaholm said.
A spokesman for Americans for Prosperity in Virginia did not return calls Friday.
I don’t recall a Democratic email depicting George Bush with a bullet hole in his head. There were an array of chimps (which, contrary to our RWNJ trolls, were not racist since Bush is, you know, white), and some Alfred E. Newmans, even tasteless Hitler mustaches, but I don’t remember violent references or images making the rounds.
But when it comes to President Obama, there has been report after report, Facebook page after Facebookpage, email after email that display appallingly offensive graphics, and even a poll about killing the president.
Here’s the latest, via WaPo:
The Republican Party of Virginia is strongly condemning an e-mail sent by Loudoun County’s GOP committee that shows President Obama as a zombie with part of his skull missing and a bullet through his head. […]
The e-mail invites supporters to a Halloween parade. “LCRC members and Republican candidates: We are going to vanquish the zombies with clear thinking conservative principles and a truckload of Republican candy…It’s fun and a great way to represent our candidates to a ton of voters (and their kids) just before the election.”
Boy howdy folks, bullets into the skulls of presidents are now fun for the whole family!
Please refer to this post the next time some conservative denies that their party uses violent imagery.
The party is issuing condemnations, and an apology is being demanded, but it happened, and sadly isn’t all that unusual. The email was disgusting, and the responsible (rather, irresponsible) party should not only apologize (not one of those “if anyone was offended” non-apologies), they should be fired.
Family values my ass.
At the very back of the now leaked Republican manual from Frank Luntz are 14 terms that Republicans are never supposed to use, and some of the words on the list may surprise you.
The leaked Republican manual is the entire framework which Republicans have been using for years to frame issues and win debates. Although it was written in 2006, much of the Luntz gospel is still not only in use, but is repeated verbatim daily by the GOP members of Congress and the candidates who are running for the 2012 nomination.
Here is the entire manual:
For our purposes in 2012, the most interesting part of the manual that is located in an appendix titled The 14 Words Republicans Should Never Use. Luntz introduced the list by writing, “Sometimes it is not what you say that matters but what you don’t say. Other times a single word or phrase can undermine or destroy the credibility of a paragraph or entire presentation. This memo was originally prepared exclusively for Congressional spouses because they are your eyes and ears, a one-person reality check and truth squad combined. However, by popular demand, I have included and expanded that document because effectively communicating the New American Lexicon requires you to STOP saying words and phrases that undermine your ability to educate the American people. So from today forward, YOU are the language police. From today forward, these are the words never to say again.”
Here’s the list:
Never say/ Instead say:
1. Government / Washington
2. Privatization/Private Accounts / Personalization/Personal Accounts
3. Tax Reform / Tax Simplification
4. Inheritance/Estate Tax / The Death Tax
5. A Global Economy/Globalization/Capitalism/ Free Market Economy
6. Outsourcing/ Taxation, Regulation, Litigation, Innovation, Education
7. Undocumented Workers/ Illegal Aliens
8. Foreign Trade/ International Trade
9. Drilling for oil/ Exploring for energy
10. Tort Reform/ Lawsuit Abuse Reform
11. Trial Lawyer/ Personal Injury Lawyer
12. Corporate Transparency/ Corporate Accountability
13. School Choice/ Parental Choice/Equal Opportunity in Education
14. Healthcare “Choice”/ “The Right to Choose”
They brought the nation to the brink of default over spending, but a Newsweek investigation shows Tea Party lawmakers grabbing billions from the government trough. Plus, view the letter ssubmitted by the ‘Dirty Dozen.’
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the Republican leadership’s tether to the Tea Party, flutters the hearts of the government-bashing, budget-slicing faithful with his relentless attacks on runaway federal spending. To Cantor, an $8 billion high-speed rail connecting Las Vegas to Disneyland is wasteful “pork-barrel spending.” The Virginia Republican set up the “You Cut” Web site to demonstrate how easy it is to slash government programs. And he made the Department of Housing and Urban Development the poster child for waste when he disclosed that the agency was paying for housing for Ph.D.s.
But away from the cameras, Cantor sometimes pulls right up to the spending trough, including the very stimulus law he panned in public. Letters obtained by Newsweek show him pressing the Transportation Department to spend nearly $3 billion in stimulus money on a high-speed-rail project—not the one he derided in Nevada, but another in his home state. “Virginia … will demonstrate that this historic investment in rail will create jobs, reduce congestion, spur economic growth and improve our environment,” says a letter he signed with other Virginia members in October 2009, cribbing President Obama’s own argument for the stimulus.
Cantor signed several such letters, including an earlier one seeking rail funds a month after he went on national television attacking the Vegas project. He also signed a letter in October 2009 seeking $60 million to build commercial ships, some likely along Virginia’s coastline. As for his bashing of HUD, until last year he owned as much as $50,000 in preferred stock in a real-estate company that receives federal housing assistance from the department.
As the government showdown over debt continues—the so-called congressional supercommittee negotiating cuts has been floundering for weeks—Newsweek found about five dozen of the most fiscally conservative Republicans, from Tea Party freshmen like Allen West to anti-spending presidential candidates like Rick Perry and Ron Paul, trying to gobble up the very largesse they publicly disown, in the time-honored, budget-busting tradition of bringing home the bacon for local constituents.
America and the world owe a great debt to Occupy Wall Street for making the problem of economic inequality impossible to ignore. The tiny spark that began in Zuccotti Park just six weeks ago has triggered a major shift in the national dialogue on inequality, our economy and our democracy.
Now it’s time to begin a conversation about solutions — solutions big enough to fit the scale of the problems that Occupy Wall Street has highlighted. Fortunately, the American Dream Movement spent this last summer taking on this very challenge. We are a vast, growing network of progressive organizations and individuals. We are fighting to renew the American Dream and return our country to the principle of liberty and justice, for ALL (not for some). […]
The outcome was our 10-point program: the Contract for the American Dream.
The common sense remedies in the Contract are based on the fundamental idea that a functioning U.S. economy requires opportunity for all and responsibility from all. Here are the ten items:
I. Invest in America’s Infrastructure – Rebuild our crumbling bridges, dams, levees, ports, water and sewer lines, railways, roads, and public transit. Invest in high-speed Internet and a modern, energy-saving electric grid. These investments will create good jobs and rebuild America.
II. Create 21st Century Energy Jobs – Invest in American businesses that can power our country with innovative technologies like wind turbines, solar panels, geothermal systems, hybrid and electric cars, and next-generation batteries. And put Americans to work making our homes and buildings energy efficient. We can create good, green jobs in America, address the climate crisis, and build the clean energy economy.
III. Invest in Public Education – Provide universal access to early childhood education, make school funding equitable, invest in high-quality teachers, and build safe, well-equipped school buildings for our students. This is critical for our future and can create badly needed jobs now.
IV. Offer Medicare for All – Expand Medicare so it’s available to all Americans, and reform it to provide even more cost-effective, quality care. The Affordable Care Act is a start, but it’s not enough. We can save trillions of dollars by joining every other industrialized country — paying much less for health care while getting the same or better results.
V. Make Work Pay – Grant all Americans the right to fair minimum and living wages, to organize and collectively bargain, to enjoy equal opportunity, and to earn equal pay for equal work. Corporate assaults on these rights must be outlawed.
VI. Secure Social Security – Keep Social Security sound, and strengthen the retirement, disability, and survivors’ protections Americans earn through their hard work. Pay for it by removing the cap on the Social Security tax, so that upper-income people pay into Social Security on all they make, just like the rest of us.
VII. Return to Fairer Tax Rates – End, once and for all, the Bush-era tax giveaways for the rich, which the rest of us — or our kids — must pay eventually. Outlaw corporate tax havens and tax breaks for shipping jobs overseas. And with millionaires and billionaires taking a growing share of our country’s wealth, let’s add new tax brackets for those making more than $1 million annually.
VIII. End the Wars and Invest at Home – Bring home our troops. They’ve done everything asked of them, and it’s time to bring them home to good jobs. We’re sending $3 billion each week overseas that we should be investing to rebuild America.
IX. Tax Wall Street Speculation – Make Wall Street pay. A tiny fee of a twentieth of 1% on each Wall Street trade could raise tens of billions of dollars annually with little impact on actual investment. This would reduce speculation, “flash trading,” and outrageous bankers’ bonuses.
X. Strengthen Democracy – Hold clean, fair elections — where no one’s right to vote can be taken away, and where money doesn’t buy you your own member of Congress. We must ban anonymous political influence, slam shut the lobbyists’ revolving door in D.C., and publicly finance elections. Immigrants who want to join in our democracy deserve a clear path to citizenship. We must stop giving corporations the rights of people when it comes to our elections. And we must ensure our judiciary’s respect for the Constitution.
Many elements of the Contract are already under consideration in various forms in Congress, even as we speak. The idea of taxing Wall Street speculation at this moment in history should be a no-brainer. Let’s bring all ten points through the political system.
There’s always a danger that even mass protest will not result in concrete policy change or real-life improvements for ordinary Americans. The challenge we face is critical: It is time to turn this unleashed energy into power.
We must go beyond changing the conversation on inequality to also changing the conditions under which millions of Americans are suffering economically. Let’s use this pivotal moment in history to make America work for the 99%
Who says income and wealth inequality doesn’t exist or isn’t much of a problem? Politico reports that more and more Republicans are seeing the need to address rising concerns about it, a clue to how much the conversation has changed.
But don’t think for a moment that this lends any aid and comfort to the liberal diagnosis of our ills. In an argument that we may be hearing more of, GOP Rep. Bill Flores of Texas says it actually validates the conservative worldview:
“Absolutely, there’s huge income inequality, and it started right here in Washington. The way we fix that is getting the government out of the way of the private sector so we can put these people to work.”
Well, okay, acknowledging that there’s a problem is an important first step. But this one is worth dwelling on, because it’s very revealing about the overall conservative response to Occupy Wall Street, inequality, and the push for tax fairness.
The other day, Paul Krugman wrote about what he called the right’s “multi layer defense” when faced with inconvenient, but undeniable, evidence. He noted that this approach “involves not only denying facts but then, in a pinch, denying the fact that you denied those facts”:
Think about climate change. You have various right-wingers simultaneously (a) denying that global warming is happening (b) denying that anyone denies that global warming is happening, but denying that humans are responsible (c) denying that anyone denies that humans are causing global warming, insisting that the real argument is about the appropriate response.
I’m not sure there are three levels (yet) on inequality, but we definitely have (a) right-wingers denying that inequality is rising and (b) denying that anyone is denying the rise in inequality, but attacking any proposal to limit that rise.
Well, now we do have three stages of denial and evasion on inequality and taxes. Actually, four. Here they are:
(a) Inequality isn’t a big deal, and the rich already pay more than their fair share of the tax burden.
(b) We never said inequality and tax unfairness aren’t problems. (See Paul Ryan’s speech, in which he said that “nobody disagrees” that “bus drivers shouldn’t pay a higher effective tax rate than millionaires.”)
(c) We never disputed the basic liberal case that no one gets rich without a larger functioning society that helped make it possible for the rich to amass their wealth. But asking them to pay a bit more to support that society still amounts to collectivist tyranny, because, well, just because. (See George Will.)
(d) We never said inequality wasn’t a very serious problem that does require fixing, but it validates what we’ve been saying all along and confirms that government should do even less to address it. (Rep. Flores’s latest.)
This, of course, brings to mind David Brooks’ column, bemoaning Obama’s decision to abandon attempts to get Republican support for preventing a double-dip and to go it alone out there as a populist outsider. Strategically, I think David is right that Obama’s strengths do not lie in polarization. In my ideal world, the conciliatory, reasonable Obama would have reached some accords with a reasonable, chastened GOP and then fought an election on the future direction of the country. In the actual world, it seems clear that this GOP has shown itself dedicated to the destruction of this presidency and any promise it offered to the country – as well as doubling down in its heart on a repeal of much of the New Deal. The refusal to address any revenues at all as part of a bipartisan fiscal Grand Bargain made that perfectly clear.
David concedes that:
Republicans weren’t willing to meet him halfway — or even 10 percent of the way.
But he then argues that Obama should have stuck to his position nonetheless, even though the GOP seems actively intent on increasing the chances of a double-dip in order to pursue their path back to power. He twists the knife a little comparing Obama’s strategy to Netanyahu’s. Yes, that will get their attention.
The flaw in the case, however, seems to me that, after a while, Obama’s conciliatory response to a bunch of ideological thugs – especially after they tried to send the country into default – made him look weak and impotent. You can’t win an election that way. You can neither rally your base nor look strong to Independents. And you risk looking weak as the economy tanks for lack of demand – as the GOP is clearly hoping for.
My own view is that the dichotomy David draws is too stark. The Grand Bargain is completely compatible with a populist message, as long as it includes the kind of tax reform and simplification along the lines of the Bowles-Simpson plan. And populist measures, like a tax on millionaires, if they are cast as a means to restrain debt rather than to punish success, can be popular among liberals and independents. And without knowing the super-committee’s results, it’s hard to see what Obama can do in the meantime. A national tour highlighting the GOP’s desire to enrich the wealthiest even now seems to me a perfectly worthwhile exercize for this moment. Obama can and should shift if the super-committee somehow succeeds, and I agree with David that the Grand Bargain is almost perfect Obama policy.
But Obama wasn’t entirely about restoring reason and civility to the discourse. He was also about changing the country’s direction away from the debt and recklessness of the Bush years. He was concerned about the poorest. He was worried about inequality all along. He was a moderately liberal insurgent.
I see no reason why, as next year takes shape, he cannot repeat that formula, sharpened by the impact of the Great Recession. Not easy. But the GOP’s dickishness made anything else extremely hard.
They are card-carrying Republicans, but they don’t hold political office — or even necessarily aspire to. And some of these most influential members of the GOP are steering the ship more and more, thanks to cultural shifts within the party and a tidal wave of cash made available by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
According to The New York Times, around a dozen representatives of conservative groups get together every month in Washington to help drive the Republican agenda, the top items of which are beating President Obama and Democrats in Congress next year. The interesting part: these groups, and their representatives, are not part of the traditional party machinery, and in fact, may be making moves to replace parts of it entirely.
This influential cadre includes representatives from Karl Rove’s American Crossroads, the Republican Governor’s Association, and the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. They’ve got far-reaching and highly coordinated plans in battleground states, for everything from reaching out to new Hispanic voters to social media blitzes. And while they aren’t far away from the GOP establishment, the group’s members enjoy freedoms that the party they are supporting does not. From the Times:
“Such heightened coordination is the latest development in the growing role of the outside groups, which operate free of many of the legal restrictions that govern the official parties.
Like the party committees they are rapidly coming to eclipse, the independent groups are financed by some of the Republican Party’s wealthiest donors and operated by some of its most respected operatives and strategists. But thanks to the Citizens United decision, the independent groups can raise money in unlimited amounts and with negligible overhead. Much of the money will be spent through not-for-profit organizations that are not required to disclose their donors.”
The Republican National Committee reportedly welcomes their ‘shadow’ partners in electioneering. It allows the RNC to focus on getting out return GOP voters.
Democrats are beginning to build some of the same wealthy extra-political support apparatus, but the Times reports their mobilization efforts are moving much more slowly. Part of the reason could be that while the RNC struggles with debt, the DNC has benefitted heavily from President Obama’s own impressive fundraising organization — currently the most successful in the country.
See, I told ya. You laughed when I said Rick Perry was the candidate for those who thought George W. Bush was too cerebral. You giggled when I pointed out he got a C in animal breeding at Texas A&M (and that I have goats who managed to ace that subject). Some folks even thought it was unfair when I described Perry as having a small, reptilian brain.
But in other important ways I was wrong. I overestimated Perry’s political skills and underestimated the devastating impact of bad debates when you’re out in front.
As the Texas governor seeks to right his campaign, here are six things I think he got wrong from the start:
The stench of Bush still lingers. Team Perry went to great lengths to tell the press about tension between them and Bushland. Didn’t matter. Perry looks like a guy at an office party doing a bad impression of Will Ferrell doing an impression of Bush. Sure, Bush was a Coca-Cola cowboy, and Perry is the real deal (for good and ill; no Bush would have hunted at a ranch with a racist name). It may not be fair, but when you call to mind the worst president in a century, you start at a disadvantage. Maybe that’s why the very smart, very talented Jeb Bush isn’t running.
Ideas matter. A few months before launching his campaign, Perry wrote a book. They all do, but Perry’s was the antithesis of the usual pablum. He wrote a diatribe—an all-out attack on the 20th century. Social Security is a criminal enterprise. Medicare is unconstitutional. Even in a GOP primary, those ideas are extreme. Perry seemed unable to defend them with more than bluster.
Debates now drive everything. This is a new development. In 2008, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd had standout debate performances while Barack Obama at times fell flat. No effect. But for the GOP in 2011, things are very different. The debate ratings are high, and so are the stakes. And Perry isn’t just a mediocre debater; he sucks. He loses energy and focus as the evening wears on, and by the second half he can’t even repeat the canned attack lines his aides have forced him to (kinda) memorize.
Use ads to attack. Perry has had it bass-ackwards, attacking in person and using paid TV for positive spots that have been surprisingly bad. Right now he’s running ads claiming he will create 2 million jobs by loosening regulations on coal and oil companies. First, someone needs to tell Rick we need about 20 million jobs. And second, no one thinks the recession was caused by too few drilling rigs. You work with what you have, so if your candidate can’t debate, just get him through the events without an unforced error—and then use TV to carpet-bomb the most dangerous opponent.
Keep your eyes on the prize. Perry has shown a surprising lack of focus. He engaged in stupid, gratuitous fights with Ron Paul, he made a veiled threat against the chairman of the Federal Reserve, and he dived into the sewer of birtherism (which stepped on the rollout of his tax plan). Perry’s sole mission, his only goal, should be to sell himself as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. Romney has done more flip-flopping than a largemouth bass on the deck of a boat. Point that out. Exploit conservative distrust of him.
Staff shake-ups rarely work. Yes, Ronald Reagan -famously fired his campaign manager in the 1980 primaries. But -Perry’s no Reagan. For most candidates, stability is far more effective. When Bill Clinton locked up the Democratic nomination in 1992, he was polling in third place, trailing both President George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot; by staying the course he gave confidence to those of us running his campaign. Same thing when George W. Bush was crushed by John McCain in New Hampshire in 2000. In Dave Carney, Perry already has one of the best campaign strategists in the business; Perry should stick with him and stop thinking that adding staff will change things.
Face it: it ain’t the staff’s fault, Governor. If you want to know who to blame for your troubles, take a good hard look at the empty head in your mirror.
Earlier this month, Senate Republicans cobbled together many of their longstanding objectives, and called it a “jobs” bill to try to draw attention away from President Obama’s popular American Jobs Act. Yet this plan backfired on the Senate GOP leadership when Tea Party lawmakers began lining up to denounce a key provision of their makeshift “jobs” bill as unconstitutional. This provision — a proposal to impose damage caps on medical malpractice suits in both state and federal court — has now attracted the ire of yet another Tea Party heartthrob, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli:
With Senate Bill 197 — legislation that would have the federal government dictate how state judges are to try medical malpractice cases and cap what state courts may award — several Republican senators have reminded us that federal impositions on states that run contrary to the U.S. Constitution and to the spirit of federalism have never been the sole prerogative of just Democrats. . . . This legislation expands federal power, tramples the states and violates the Constitution. And if it were ever signed into law — by a Republican or Democratic president — I would file suit against it just as fast as I filed suit when the federal health-care bill was signed into law in March 2010 (15 minutes later).
In reality, the constitutional case against federal tort reform is very weak. Congress enjoys broad authority to regulation national economic markets, such as the market for health care, and that includes the power to regulate those markets badly. If people don’t like the laws their elected officials put in place, our democratic Constitution empowers them to vote those officials out of office — it does not empower the law’s opponents to simply declare anything they want unconstitutional.
Nevertheless, Cuccinelli’s strident opposition to this law — and that of others such as tenther Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) — should stand as a warning to Republicans who raced to embrace a crackpot theory of the Constitution the minute President Obama signed a health care law they disapproved of. Federally imposed tort reform has been a centerpiece of GOP health care policy for many years, and now this longstanding Republican goal many be unachievable because too many Republican lawmakers were conned into embracing Cuccinelli and Lee’stenther vision of the Constitution.
Those that live by crackpot distortions of our Constitution, die by crackpot distortions of our Constitution.
David Savage has a terrific piece on the Republicans’ war on voting, offering another stark reminder of the barriers GOP officials are putting between certain kinds of Americans and the ballot box.
Barack Obama may have won this crucial state [Florida] three years ago on the Sunday before election day when “souls to the polls” drives brought a surge of blacks and Latinos to cast ballots after church.
Florida had opened the polls two weeks early, and even so, long lines across the state prompted the governor to issue an emergency order extending the hours for early voting. Propelled by waves of new voters including college students, Obama eked out a win with 51%.
It will be different next year, a result of changes in the voting laws adopted by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Early voting was reduced from two weeks to one week. Voting on the Sunday before election day was eliminated. College students face new hurdles if they want to vote away from home. And those who register new voters face the threat of fines for procedural errors, prompting the nonpartisan League of Women Voters to suspend voter registration drives and accuse the Legislature of “reverting to Jim Crow-like tactics.”
It’s not called the “war on voting” for nothing.
I’m not sure how much clearer the circumstances can be. Republican officials in a variety of states are trying to rig the 2012 elections by making it harder for Americans most likely to vote Democratic — African Americans, students, the poor, the elderly — to participate in elections. It’s really as simple as that. They’re not even being subtle.
One leading GOP policymaker in the Florida legislature told Savage that voting “is a hard-fought privilege. This is something people died for. Why should we make it easier?”
That’s a ridiculous question. Why should policymakers offer more access to Americans to participate in their own elections? Perhaps because we live in a democracy made more vibrant by Americans who choose to cast a ballot?
Here’s a better question for Republicans: why should they deliberately make it harder to vote?
Race clearly plays a role. Risa Goluboff and Dahlia Lithwick recently noted that the Republican efforts to restricting voting rights in 2012 look “an awful lot like methods pioneered by the white supremacists from another era that achieved the similar results.”
As for the other side of the debate, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, in an apparent attempt at self-parody, said restrictions on voting are worthwhile because of “the infamous example of ACORN.” Seriously, he actually said that. (Reminder: voter fraud is a myth limited to right–wing imaginations, and ACORN no longer exists and was never found to have engaged in election irregularities.)
Remember, we’re not just talking about a state or two. This is, as Savage’s article noted, “a national trend,” occurring in states “where Republicans have taken majority control,” including key battlegrounds like Ohio. One independent study projected that GOP restrictions “could make it significantly harder for more than 5 million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.”
Richard Hasen, an election law expert at UC Irvine, told Savage the new Republican rules “could easily decide the outcome” of next year’s election.
A recent quote from Digby continues to ring true: “Democrats had better hope that the coming elections aren’t close. If they are, there’s just no way they can win with these laws that are coming on line. And that’s the plan.”
As polling and media analyses revealed earlier this year, Republicans used the 2010 midterm campaign to completely turn the focus in Washington from job creation to deficit reduction. But now that the Occupy Wall Street movement is well into its second month, the GOP is changing its tune. We know this not only from recent Gallup polling which shows Republicans like Democrats and Independents now put unemployment and the economy at the top oftheir list of national concerns. As it turns out, Republicans are belatedly addressing – and lying about – America’s record income inequality.
The public’s demand for “jobs now, deficit reduction later” is finally being reflected in Republicans’ attitudes about the most important issue facing the nation. In sharp contrast to its April survey showing Republicans (and independents) said thefederal budget was near the top of their priority list, a September Gallup poll found a dramatic change. In the wake of renewed worries about the fragile recovery, the backlash against the GOP’s debt ceiling brinksmanship and the nascent Occupy movement, Gallup discovered “Unemployment Re-Emerges as Most Important Problem in U.S.” Even Republicans agree:
As it turns out, the Occupy Wall Street movement combined with the jaw-dropping finding from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) have shifted the focus to income inequality. While Republicans have blocked President Obama’s wildly popular $447 billion American Jobs Act in order to preserve a tax cut windfall for the wealthy, a new poll from The Hill found that “Two-thirds of likely voters say the American middle class is shrinking, and 55 percent believe income inequality has become a big problem for the country.” As Politico reported, that reality has led to “income inequality…working its way into the discourse of Republicans on Capitol Hill.”
That fact that Republicans have decided to talk about income equality is a tribute to the power of one simple phrase in today’s political culture — and shows the GOP’s concerns about distributing its own message during a time of economic upheaval. The Republican response, however, is to push an old message — cutting taxes and regulations will boost small businesses and increase income for everyone, including those at the bottom of the economic scale.
Chocolate may be the most sought-after treat among trick-or-treaters on Halloween, with little hands grasping for all of the milk- and dark-chocolate morsels they can collect, but the details of its taste and aroma profiles have long eluded scientists.
And new science is revealing why cocoa’s potent sensual properties have been so difficult to pin down. A recent analysis found that the individual aroma molecules in roasted cacao beans (the primary ingredient of chocolate) can smell of everything from cooked cabbage to human sweat to raw beef fat. Together, more than 600 of these flavor compounds melt together in just the right combination to yield the taste and scent of what we all call chocolate, according to Peter Schieberle, a food chemist at Munich Technical University and director of the German Research Center for Food Chemistry, who presented the data at this year’s meeting of the American Chemical Society in Denver.
Most of the molecules that comprise a food’s aroma are volatile, which means they transform into gases easily at room temperature. These volatile compounds are inhaled along with the air we breathe, bringing them into contact with the 900-plus odorant receptors in the upper half of the nostril. In the early 1990s scientists Linda Buck and Richard Axel began the work that would show each odorant receptor recognized one particular compound and was linked to a specific olfactory neuron in the nostril. As a volatile aroma compound latches onto an odorant receptor, it triggers the firing of the olfactory neuron (Buck and Axel won the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery). Complex aromas form when multiple volatile compounds trigger their respective olfactory neurons at the same time. The brain identifies flavor by measuring how frequently the different neurons fire.
“By the time you put four chemicals together, your brain can no longer separate them into components. It forms a new, unified perception that you can’t recognize as any of those individual aromas,” says Gary Reineccius, a food scientist at the University of Minnesota.
Processed foods such as chocolate, beer and tea contain thousands of aroma compounds. This multiplicity of molecules creates a mosaic of odor in the brain as each individual molecule contributes a hint of scent to the final flavor. Just as our brains can often assemble a whole picture from seeing just a sketch of an image, Schieberle and colleagues found that humans can recognize chocolate aroma using only 25 of its 600-plus volatile compounds. Of these, many are also found in much less appetizing items, including cooked cabbage, raw beef fat and human sweat, which are in turn also composed of many different volatile compounds.
Even so, not one of these 25 key compounds can be pegged as a “chocolate” aroma. “The mixture smells completely different from the individual constituents,” Schieberle says. “At the moment, there is no way to predict how the final mixture will smell.”
Schieberle calls the study of individual aroma and flavor molecules “sensomics,” which sifts through the countless potential aroma compounds for those molecules of particular importance to human taste and smell. Schieberle’s work has identified which aroma compounds from roasted cacao beans could bind to odor receptors in humans. None of them, it turned out, smell anything at all like the sweet, rich scent we identify as chocolate.
To figure out exactly which molecules contributed to chocolate aroma, Schieberle and colleagues had to pick apart chocolate aroma one molecule at a time. First, the researchers identified those volatile compounds that would react with human odor receptors and were present at high enough levels to register in the brain, which yielded 25 different molecules. These molecules included 2- and 3-methylbutanoic acids (both produce a sweaty, rancid odor), dimethyl trisulfide (cooked cabbage) and 2-ethyl-3,5-dimethylpyrazine (potato chips). Then, they blended these rather un-chocolatey aroma molecules in different combinations and asked human study subjects to smell them. The blend that contained all of the 25 volatile aroma molecules could reliably fool the nose and brain into thinking it had smelled chocolate.
These 25 compounds are what Schieberle refers to as chocolate’s chemical signature—those volatile compounds in chocolate that trigger human olfactory nerves in just the right combination “causing a signal in the brain to say ‘this is chocolate,'” Schieberle says.
What we think of as “chocolate” smell is due in large part to the way in which the food is made—a process that includes both fermentation and roasting. Foods that are processed by fermentation, roasting or grilling such as wine, coffee and steak, respectively, generally contain the most aroma molecules. It is this process’s conversion of otherwise odorless compounds into volatile aroma-bearing ones that helps explain this type of food’s popularity. Natural, raw foods like fruits and vegetables also have an appealing aroma and taste, although their flavor profile is much simpler and usually dominated by one or two major molecules.
“That chemical really creates that flavor, and everything else kind of smoothes it and makes it pleasant,” Reineccius says of these less complex foods. The combination of volatile aroma compounds as well as the sugars and salts that we taste during chewing combine to create flavor. “Some of our simpler flavors are strawberry and raspberry because they’re just what nature happened to provide to keep itself living.” The replication of these flavors by food chemists has previously been a process of trial and error.
The goal of his work, Schieberle says, is not to develop artificial chocolate flavorings. Rather, his goal is to find ways to tweak the cacao bean fermentation and roasting process to develop even better tasting chocolates. A recent discovery in his lab, made earlier this year, has taken a small step in this direction. Cacao beans processed in the so-called Dutch style, which adds alkali salt during roasting, have a milder, more pleasant flavor. After deconstructing the molecular makeup of this form of chocolate, the researchers knew that it contained molecules that had a pleasant “mouthfeel.” And by adding a tiny bit of glucose to the cacao beans during the Dutch roasting process, Schieberle and colleagues, did not increase the sweetness of the final product, but instead created a more velvety mouthfeel in the final chocolate.
Better understanding chocolate’s alluring aroma can also help with tasting technique. Let the chocolate dissolve on your tongue, Schieberle says, so that you can taste the full array of flavor compounds. As the chocolate melts in your mouth and you exhale, some of the volatile molecules will once again pass over your odor receptors, letting you get another whiff before the chocolate melts away.
Richard Lee Pollard was a federal inmate when he slipped, fell and broke both his elbows. Prison officials then allegedly forced him into a jumpsuit and wrist restraints, despite the fact that these restraints caused him excruciating pain, and they also allegedly refused to allow him to wear a split his doctors ordered him to wear. For weeks, due to the prison’s alleged neglect, Pollard was unable to feed or bathe himself.
This treatment violates the Constitution. As the Supreme Court held 35 years ago, the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment requires prisons to provide adequate medical care to inmates. Yet, if the Supreme Court agrees with a lower court decision immunizing many prisons from the Constitution, Pollard may find himself in a Constitution-free zone simply because his prison happens to be run by a private corporation:
A Supreme Court case could determine whether thousands of inmates in privately run prisons have the same rights to sue in federal court as prisoners in facilities run by the U.S. government.
The case, Minneci v. Pollard, involves a federal inmate who wants to sue his jailers for damages over alleged violations of the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment. The prisoner claims he was painfully mistreated after an accident at a for-profit prison, operating under contract for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.
Lower federal courts have split on whether federal private-prison inmates can bring such damage claims for alleged constitutional violations.
Shockingly, the Supreme Court already held, in its 5-4 decision in Correctional Services Corp. v. Malesko, that private prison corporations who run federal prisons are immune from constitutional lawsuits. The only issue in Pollard’s case is whether the corporation’s employees also enjoy the same immunity.
In other words, the corporate prisons industry has largely won its battle to ignore the Constitution in deciding how to treat federal inmates. Although people like Pollard might still be able to convince a state judge to hold these corporations accountable, he can forget about the Constitution.
When Clarence Thomas took his seat before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, things were not looking good for him. Anita Hill, a former employee of Thomas’ at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, came forward with explosive allegations of sexual harassment against the judge, and she was a credible witness. Thomas needed more than a Hail Mary to survive his confirmation hearing; he needed a major assist.
Enter Floyd Brown and L. Brent Bozell, Republican operatives with a history of making brutal media attacks on opponents; Brown was responsible for the racially charged “Willie Horton” ad run during George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign against former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, in which Dukakis was made to look like a champion of a brutal murderer and rapist.
The two collaborated on the making and distribution of a television ad headlined, “Who Will Judge the Judge?” that targeted three liberal members of the Judiciary Committee whose lives were haunted by prior scandals of their own: Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., Alan Cranston, D-Calif. and Joseph Biden, D-Del. Timemagazine estimated that the ad cost $100,000 to air and reaped about $1 million worth of free publicity. Although Biden had a raft of witnesses available who would have corroborated Hill’s characterization of Thomas, Biden chose not to call them, as the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin noted this summer in a comprehensive profileof Thomas and his wife, Virginia (Ginni) Lamp Thomas. The organizations sponsoring the ad were Bozell’s Conservative Victory Committee, and Brown’s group, called Citizens United. […]
ProtectOurElections.org, a coalition of progressive groups, asserts on its Web site that Thomas was required to recuse himself from the Citizens United case because, the group contends, the ad amounted to an “in-kind” donation to his quest for a seat on the Supreme Court. More recently, a related Web site, OccupyForAccountability.org, has joined that call. (ProtectOurElections’ counsel is Kevin Zeese, an organizer of the Occupy DC movement, whose October 15 sit-in on the Supreme Court steps resulted in 19 arrests.)
The ethical problems posed by Thomas’ involvement in the Citizens United case hardly mark the end of questionable behavior by Thomas and his wife, Ginni. ….here’s his failure to disclose his wife’s income for 20 years, as required by federal law, which led Common Cause and 20 Democratic members of Congress to call for an investigation under the Ethics in Government Act. The Justice Integrity Project also supports that call. Recent news reports suggest that the income Thomas neglected to report may amount to as much as $1.6 million.
Then there’s his all-expenses-paid visits and speech-making to the biannual gatherings hosted by the Koch brothers at swanky resorts. Common Cause contends that Thomas should have recused himself from the Citizens Unitedcase, since the Koch brothers, prodigious political donors, stood to gain substantially in political influence from the decision as it was rendered.
Thomas also has enjoyed a relationship with a deep-pocketed donor, Harlan Crow, who, Politico reported, bankrolled Ginni Thomas’ short-lived Tea Party organization, Liberty Central, which was criticized as being little more than a slush fund for Mrs. Thomas’ travel expenses as she toured the country, rallying opposition to the 2010 health-care reform law, which is likely to come before the Supreme Court. (Liberty Central, had it survived the scandal caused by a New York Times exposé, would have stood to gain by the Citizens United ruling, as would Ginni Thomas’ former employers, the Heritage Foundation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.) Crow also put up the money for a library dedicated to Thomas and bankrolled the restoration of an historic cannery that once employed Thomas’ mother.
As AlterNet reported, Ginni Thomas’ Liberty Central also counted among its partners two far-right groups, Gun Owners of America and the Missouri Sovereignty Project, that have advocated making war on the U.S. government.
I wrote this in June, and it’s even more true today. At a time when Americans’ faith in their institutions of governance is at record lows, the continuing presence of Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court undermines the very underpinnings of democracy. It’s time for him to go.
Alex Lundry is the director of research at the Republican firm TargetPoint Consulting, which specializes in segmenting and targeting voters based on their consumer and social behavior. Some months ago I asked Lundry what one piece of information, apart from partisan registration, he would most want to know about someone to predict whether he or she usually votes Republican or Democratic. He didn’t hesitate for more than a moment. “Whether there is a Bible present in their home,” he said.
New Gallup data released today helps explain Lundry’s answer. Gallup confirmed that the Republican Party continues to hold the most appeal to the most religiously devout, especially among whites. The results underscore the extent to which the two parties’ electoral coalitions continue to revolve around cultural affinities and attitudes rather than class, even amid the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
To produce the portrait, Gallup cumulated results from their nightly tracking poll interviews from July through this October, which produces an unusually large sample that allows for unusually detailed analysis. They segmented the population into three groups: the very religious (the 40 percent of adults those who say religion is an important part of their daily life and who attend religious services at least once weekly); the non-religious (the 31 percent who say religion is not an important part of their daily life and attend services rarely or never); and the moderately religious (the 28 percent who give answers that fall between those poles).
The Gallup analysis shows that very religious whites (who comprise just over one-fourth of the overall population) continue to gravitate toward the GOP in large numbers: sixty-two percent of whites in that category identify with or lean toward the Republican Party. Just 27 percent of such devout whites identify with or lean toward the Democrats.
With non-religious whites the picture is very different. Half of them identify with the Democrats; just one-third align with Republicans. White adults who identify as moderately religious fall in between with a GOP tilt: 48 percent of them identify as Republicans and 36 percent as Democrats.
Much more modestly, the same patterns hold among Hispanics and Asians. Among Hispanics who consider themselves very religious, 27 percent identify with the GOP, up from 22 percent among the least religious. Among Asians, Republican identification peaks at 35 percent among the most religious and sinks to 21 percent among the least. Religious devotion makes little difference among African-Americans: just 10 percent of the most religious identify with the GOP, compared to 9 percent among the least.
Looking then at all adults, Republicans lead Democrats in identification among the very religious by 49 percent to 36 percent; Democrats lead Republicans among the non-religious by 52 percent to 30 percent; and Democrats narrowly lead among the moderately religious by 44 percent to 38 percent.
These findings fit long-standing patterns. As I noted in my 2007 book The Second Civil War, since the 1970s one of the best predictors of how people vote is how often they attend religious services. Using data from the University of Michigan’s National Election Studies, John Green, a University of Akron political scientist, calculated that during the 1950s and 1960s there was no appreciable difference in the support for Republican presidential candidates among voters who attended church at least once or week and those who attended more rarely or not at all. But since the 1970s, Republican candidates have consistently run better among frequent church attenders; in the 1992 and 1996 elections, the GOP candidate ran on average almost 18 percentage points better among frequent church attenders. In 2000 and 2004, the GOP advantage among frequent church attenders totaled 13 percentage points. In 2008, according to the National Election Pool exit poll conducted by Edison Research,John McCain similarly beat Barack Obama by 12 percentage point among voters who said they attend church at least weekly. Obama led among voters who attended church less often, winning fully two-thirds of the voters (one-sixth of the total electorate) who said they never attended church.
The numbers among whites are even more dramatic. Even amid the gale force discontent of 2010, for instance, the exit poll showed that Democrats ran almost even in the vote for the House of Representatives among the 55 percent of whites who attend church less than weekly: those whites divided 51 percent to 47 percent for Republicans. But among the 45 percent of whites who did attend church at least weekly, the GOP in 2010 held an overwhelming 70 percent to 28 percent lead. Even in hard times, cultural attitudes remain a principal engine of our politics.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
Bullhooks. Whippings. Electric shocks. Three-day train rides without breaks. Our yearlong investigation rips the big top off how Ringling Bros. treats its elephants.
After the evening show, the bleeding continued. The elephant crew gave Kenny rehydration fluids and shackled him in his stall. Less than two hours later, a night attendant discovered his bloodied body on the concrete floor. The cause of death remains unclear.
Feld Entertainment, Ringling’s corporate parent, did not announce Kenny’s death to the public for nearly a week, until an employee tipped off animal rights activists. They demanded action from the Department of Agriculture, which licenses and inspects circuses under the Animal Welfare Act. Under intense public pressure, including a letter-writing campaign headlined by Kim Basinger, the USDA charged Feld Entertainment with two willful violations for making Kenny perform ill without prompt or adequate veterinary care.
That was in 1998, and at the time it seemed like a turning point in the decades-long fight over circus elephants. For years, animal rights organizations had been releasing horrific undercover videos showing Ringling trainers abusing elephants, but USDA investigations never produced evidence that officials deemed strong enough to warrant action. Now there was a dead body—and a recent precedent. The agency had just fined the King Royal Circus, a small family operation, $200,000 for allowing an elephant to die in an overheated trailer of an untreated salmonella infection.
But after a few months, the USDA announced a settlement. Feld Entertainment would donate $20,000 to elephant causes. In return, the agency absolved the company of blame for Kenny’s death and further declared, “Ringling Bros. has never been adjudged to have violated the [Animal Welfare Act].”
The USDA unwittingly opened a new chapter in the animal rights movement. Frustrated by the agency’s inaction, advocates turned to the federal courts. This shift in strategy has not yet produced a judgment against Feld Entertainment, but it has unearthed an extraordinary trove of records that its lawyers and government regulators had taken great pains to ensure the public would never see; in one notable instance, documents came to light only after a judge threatened to put Feld executives in jail. They include dozens of videos and thousands of pages of investigation files, veterinary records, circus train logs, and courtroom testimony.
It’s hard not to be captivated. Elephants are smart, social creatures that communicate through a complex score of rumbles, trumpets, and gestures; they also have long memories and the capacity to celebrate, mourn, and empathize.
Feld Entertainment portrays its population of some 50 endangered Asian elephants as “pampered performers” who “are trained through positive reinforcement, a system of repetition and reward that encourages an animal to show off its innate athletic abilities.” But a yearlong Mother Jones investigation shows that Ringling elephants spend most of their long lives either in chains or on trains, under constant threat of the bullhook, or ankus—the menacing tool used to control elephants. They are lame from balancing their 8,000-pound frames on tiny tubs and from being confined in cramped spaces, sometimes for days at a time. They are afflicted with tuberculosis and herpes, potentially deadly diseases rare in the wild and linked to captivity. Barack, a calf born on the eve of the president’s inauguration, had to leave the tour in February for emergency treatment of herpes—the second time in a year. Since Kenny’s death, 3 more of the 23 baby elephants born in Ringling’s vaunted breeding program have died, all under disturbing circumstances that weren’t fully revealed to the public.
Despite years of denials, Kenneth Feld has now admitted under oath that his trainers routinely “correct” elephants by hitting them with bullhooks, whipping them, and on occasion using electric prods. He even admitted to witnessing it.
But perhaps more disturbing still is the government’s failure to act. Since Kenny’s death, the USDA has conducted more than a dozen investigations of Feld Entertainment. Inspectors have found baby elephants injured and bound at Ringling’s Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. Whistleblowers have stepped forward withharrowing accounts of beatings. Activists have released even more videos of elephant abuse, and local humane authorities have documented wounds and lameness.
None of that has moved regulators to action.
CIRCUS OVERSIGHT RESTS WITH THE animal care unit in the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Officials there, as at Feld Entertainment, were not willing to be interviewed. So I called W. Ron DeHaven, who headed the animal care unit from 1996 until 2001 before ascending to lead all of APHIS from 2004 to 2007. (He is now executive vice president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.)
During DeHaven’s tenure at the USDA, a 2005 audit by the department’s inspector general criticized the animal care unit for being too lenient on violators. The report singled out the Eastern region, which oversees Ringling’s operations, for its failure “to take enforcement action against violators who compromised public safety or animal health.”
With an annual budget of only $16 million and 111 employees to monitor nearly 9,000 animal entertainment, breeding, and research facilities, the agency didn’t have the capacity to prosecute many cases, DeHaven explained. He acted on the egregious cases, he said, like King Royal. I asked what made that case worse than others. A dead elephant, he said, and a clear violation.
How was that different than Kenny? DeHaven said he didn’t recall the particulars of that case. But, he added, “You don’t take on an organization like Feld Entertainment without having strong evidence to support it.”
That sentiment was echoed by Kenneth H. Vail, who for decades served as the USDA’s lead legal counsel on animal welfare cases. We met at his red brick townhouse in northwest DC in July, just after his retirement. Thin-faced, with soft eyes and a quiet voice, he invited me in out of the 100-degree heat to talk for more than an hour. He said Feld Entertainment cases received special attention from him and other top department brass. “A case involving a multimillion-dollar company is significant,” Vail said. “There’s a political aspect to Feld cases. The company is a big target for animal rights groups.” True, USDA investigators advocated action against Feld Entertainment on numerous occasions, but Vail said he never felt their evidence could withstand a legal challenge by the company. “There’s no way to control an elephant without an ankus,” and the Animal Welfare Act doesn’t prohibit it, he explained. Maybe a time will come when bullhooks, chains, and “elephants getting paraded around doing unnatural things” is prohibited, he said, but until then, litigating abuse is difficult.
“If I were an elephant, I wouldn’t want to be with Feld Entertainment,” Vail conceded. “It’s a tough life.”
SAVE FOR MODERN SOUND AND LIGHTING SYSTEMS, today’s circus hasn’t changed all that much from the spectacle created by P.T. Barnum, the corpulent showman who delighted audiences with midget Tom Thumb, faux mermaids, and soprano Jenny Lind (PDF).
By 1850, Barnum also had a traveling menagerie that featured an elephant or two. But he imagined an entire herd, so he dispatched agents to sail to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where they hired 160 “native assistants” to search the jungles. The most daring waited until an elephant napped against a tree. They would tickle a sensitive spot on the elephant’s hind leg and, when it lifted its foot to shake off the nonexistent insect, slip a noose around its ankle. The expedition “killed large numbers of the huge beasts,” Barnum wrote in an autobiography. But 11 live ones were hoisted into a ship’s hold for the 12,000-mile voyage to New York City. One died en route and was dumped overboard. Barnum paraded the rest down Broadway harnessed to a chariot, and they became the featured attraction of a new traveling show, Barnum’s Great Asiatic Caravan, Museum, and Menagerie.
The elephants drew rave reviews—”It is astonishing to think how docile these huge creatures are, when it is remembered that but a brief time since they were running wild in the jungle,” a writer mused in Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion—and huge profits. Barnum’s circus grew into ever more elaborate productions, with dangerous cats, prancing horses, legions of clowns, trapezes, high-wires, and three rings under a tent the size of a palace. Barnum joined James Anthony Bailey and then merged with the seven Ringling brothers to make “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The conga line of elephants was the act that crowds most flocked to see.
This was the circus Irvin Feld envisioned when he acquired Ringling in 1967. Feld, born in 1918, got his first taste of circus life as a teenager, selling snake oil (literally) from a card table at carnivals. He became an innovative music promoter, recognizing early on that serious money could be made using sports arenas for concerts and promoting then-unknowns like Chubby Checker and The Everly Brothers. In 1956, when Ringling had lost both luster and financial footing, Feld persuaded Ringling’s grandson to abandon the big top for sports arenas. After 10 years as the circus’ booking agent, he and two partners bought it. John Ringling North cited “their dedication to maintain the concept, tradition, and artistic standards of the circus.” Feld called it “the happiest moment of my life.”
Feld immediately recruited German superstar Gunther Gebel-Williams, “the greatest wild animal trainer of all time,” to help boost lagging ticket sales. Back then, Ringling had just one touring company, the Blue Unit. Feld added the Red Unit to showcase Gebel-Williams and his menagerie of some 20 elephants and 50 big cats. Svelte and handsome, Gebel-Williams would enter the ring bare-chested astride two galloping steeds, send tigers leaping through flames, lead a line of elephants through a tumbling act, cuddle up with panthers, and exit with a leopard draped around his neck—an image memorialized in a 1970s American Express commercial.
Feld seemed on his way to restoring The Greatest Show on Earth to the height of its glory. But outside the ring, times were changing. The movieBorn Free, about a couple who raised an abandoned lion cub and then set it free in Kenya, won two Academy Awards the same year that Feld bought the circus. “Animal rights” had entered the popular lexicon. Congress expanded the Animal Welfare Act in 1970, charging the USDA with setting humane standards for treatment of warm-blooded animals by researchers, breeders, and exhibitors—including circuses. In 1973, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act, which barred “harm” or “harassment” of listed animals. Asian elephants made the endangered list several years later, and their import was banned under international conventions. Smaller than their African cousins and generally considered much easier to manage, Asian elephants had for decades comprised the vast majority of Ringling’s stock. The listing effectively shut down the supply line.
By the time Irvin Feld died in 1984, leaving his son, Kenneth, to run the show, animal rights organizations were proliferating. Zoos began adopting an emerging animal management philosophy called “protected contact,” which controls animals with physical barriers instead of sticks and chains. But this was of little use to the circus, where direct interaction between humans and wild beasts is the point. Feld Entertainment faced a conundrum: The audiences still wanted to see elephants—but they wanted to see them treated nicely.
So the company poured tens of millions of dollars into PR campaigns that portrayed the elephants as willing performers, as well as legal firepower to keep regulators and activists at bay. Gebel-Williams got a makeover. A press release lauded his “animal training based on mutual respect and positive reinforcement” that “forever changed the standards of animal training.” It’s true that Gebel-Williams had an extraordinary rapport with the animals, but it’s also true that he routinely whipped elephants and struck them with bullhooks. A few months after Kenny’s death, Gebel-Williams was spotted whipping a baby elephant in the face outside a circus train in Mexico City.
Nonetheless, the sleight of hand worked. When Gebel-Williams died in 2001, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s obituary noted that he had “substituted humane, positive reinforcement and reward for the fear and force upon which many animal trainers rely.”
The biggest challenge for Feld Entertainment’s “positive reinforcement” campaign was the ubiquitous bullhook or ankus. It’s a malevolent-looking instrument, about three feet long, with a sharp, metal point-and-hook combination at one end. The point is for pushing. The hook, inserted in the mouth or at the top of the ear, is for pulling. Both are sharp enough to pierce elephant hide.
In Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 classic, The Jungle Book, Mowgli finds an ankus and asks the panther Bagheera what it is used for:
“It was made by men to thrust into the heads of [elephants],” said Bagheera. “That thing has tasted the blood of many.”
“But why do they thrust into the heads of elephants?”
“To teach them Man’s Law. Having neither claws nor teeth, men make these things, and worse.”
Feld Entertainment rebranded the ankus as a “guide.” Handlers hid them in their sleeves or carried smaller, less menacing-looking models during the show. As Joan Galvin, the company’s vice president, assured the Associated Press in 1998: “Elephants are one of the most beloved acts that performs in the circus today. Abusive techniques are absolutely prohibited.”
IN DECEMBER OF THAT SAME YEAR, two attendants on the Blue Unit left the tour during a stop in Huntsville, Alabama. They called a local animal welfare office, explaining they had quit in disgust over the way the elephants were treated. The woman put them in touch with Pat Derby, a former Hollywood trainer who had founded the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).
Derby arranged for lawyers to take the men’s videotaped depositions and written affidavits. The attendants, Glenn Ewell and James Stechcon, had lived transient, sometimes troubled lives, working off and on for circuses. At Ringling, where they mucked out elephant pens and assisted with feeding, they claimed to have witnessed regular elephant abuse and more than a dozen extended beatings during their three months on the road.
Several of the beatings targeted Nicole, a twentysomething elephant named after Kenneth Feld’s eldest daughter. Sweet-natured but clumsy, Nicole would frequently miss her cues to climb atop a tub and place her feet on the elephant next to her, Stechcon said in his videotaped statement. “I always rooted for her, ‘Come on, Nicole, get up,'” he said. “But we left the show, brought the animals back to their area, and…we took the headpieces off, and as I was hanging them up, I heard the most horrible noise, just whack, whack, whack. I mean, really hard. It’s hard to describe the noise. Like a baseball bat or something striking something not—not soft, and not hard…I turned around to look, and this guy was hitting her so fast and so hard [with the ankus], and sometimes he would take both hands and just really knock her, and he was just doing that. And I was, like, I couldn’t believe it.”
Keep Wall Street Occupied (BRILLIANT idea, and a H/T to PatsyT!)
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
A layman’s constitutional view is that what he likes is constitutional and what he doesn’t is unconstitutional. ~~ Justice Hugo Black