Still playing catch-up, and this was a very full news day! Apologies for abundance. You can access all the past editions of The Daily Planet on the green Category bar on the top of each page under the heading PlanetPOV. Today is the anniversary of JFK’s assassination.
Greg Sargent: WaPo:
Obama, speaking to the press just now, flatly vowed that he would veto any effort to get around the defense cuts triggered by the supercommittee’s failure.
“There will be no easy off ramps on this one,” Obama said, casting his move as designed to keep up pressure on Republicans to make tough deficit reduction choices. The move suggests Obama has lost any illusions about the ability to reach any deals with Republicans and is moving aggressively to seize the political initiative out of the supercommittee debacle.
* Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell’s statement on the supercommittee’s failure actually calls on the total amount of triggered cuts to go through,as long as they don’t target defense, as the original trigger stipulated. McConnell calls on Obama to avert the defense cuts in the name of national security.
Wait — wasn’t that original trigger voted upon by members of both parties? Either way, if Obama is serious about his veto threat, Dems don’t seem prepared to let GOP national security attacks cow them.
* And Harry Reid immediately goes on offense, signaling that Dems will aggressively use the supercommittee failure to highlight which party’s fiscal solutions are in step with the American people:
“I am disappointed that Republicans never found the courage to ignore Tea Party extremists and millionaire lobbyists like Grover Norquist, and listen instead to the overwhelming majority of Americans — including the vast majority of Republicans — who want a balanced approach to deficit reduction. For the good of our country, Democrats were prepared to strike a grand bargain that would make painful cuts while asking millionaires to pay their fair share, and we put our willingness on paper. But Republicans never came close to meeting us halfway.”
I continue to maintain that we can evaluate whether such statements are objectively true, by looking at the actual proposals themselves, and comparing them to one another.
* Relatedly, a good post from Jonathan Chait patiently explaining to reporters that it’s a simple matter of “reality” that “Democrats are willing to compromise to cut the deficit and Republicans aren’t.”
Not a matter of opinion. A matter of verifiable reality.
* By the way, here’s the supercommittee’s statement finally admitting failure, which seems almost like an afterthought at this point.
* A well-timed CNN poll finds that 67 percent of Americans — and 69 percent of indys and 79 percent of moderates — think the supercommittee should do what the GOP wouldn’t do, i.e., raise taxes on businesses and the rich to close the deficit.
Yes, a big majority also called for spending cuts. But Dems agreed to spending cuts.
* Bernie Sanders patiently explains it to Wolf Blitzer: No deal is better than a bad deal that sells out all your priorities.
As Digby jokes, Blitzer appeared to be “extremely confused by the fact that someone might have liberal principles.”
* Senate Dems rush out a new video tying the GOP to Grover Norquist, and it seems the little-known Norquist will be central to Dem talking points going forward.
* Are the attacks on Occupy Wall Street going bust? Gallup finds only a slight increase in disapproval of its methods, while overall views of the movement and its goals remain roughly the same.
Caveat: Large numbers have no opinion, meaning the movement still has tons of work to do to persuade Americans it represents mainstream concerns.
“Transaction Infraction,” demonstrates how banks can post debits and withdrawals in non-chronological order – a practice that can greatly impact the number of overdraft fees charged to a customer. Pew is encouraging an end to this practice and for banks to post transactions in a fully disclosed, objective and neutral manner that does not maximize overdraft fees.
To interact with this tool, the user should compare the customer’s order to how the bank processed them by toggling between the two tabs.
The federal district court in Northern California found that Wells Fargo’s large-to-small posting order for debit card transactions was an unfair and deceptive practice. Wells Fargo stated that beginning in May, 2011, it will post the most common types of transactions, like debit card transactions, chronologically or low to high for all accounts. To minimize your overdraft fees, check with your bank to find out the order in which they post transactions.
The White House Blog:
Trade of U.S. goods and services with nations in the Asia Pacific region is up 150 percent since the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation was founded in 1994. Trade with these countries now totals more than $2.3 trillion, up from $1 trillion in 1994.
President Obama, who is on the final leg of his Asia Pacific trip, has noted that the region’s tremendous economic growth and large and growing middle class makes the area a key market for U.S. exports. His work over the last week at the APEC, ASEAN, and East Asia Summits was an important step in expanding our economic partnerships with these trading partners, as well as our ability to create jobs, which exports to Asia Pacific countries are generating in every corner of the United States across every major sector.
Read more about the President’s Asia Pacific trip.
[..] That’s the wrong question. Agreement or not, Washington is on the road to making budget cuts that will slow the economy, increase unemployment, and impose additional hardship on millions of Americans.
The real question is how to stop this austerity train wreck, and substitute the following:
- FIRST: no cuts before jobs are back – until unemployment is down to 5 percent. Until then, the economy needs a boost, not a cut. Consumers – whose spending is 70 percent of the economy – don’t have the money to boost the economy on their own. Their pay is dropping and they’re losing jobs.
- SECOND: Make the boost big enough. 14 million Americans are out of work, and 10 million are working part time who need full-time jobs. The President’s proposed jobs program is a start but it’s tiny relative to what needs to be done. It would create fewer than 2 million jobs. We need a big jobs program – rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure, and including a WPA and Civilian Conservation Corps.
- THIRD: To pay for this, raise taxes on the super-rich. It’s only fair. Never before has so much income and wealth been concentrated at the very top, and taxes on the top so low. Go back to the 70 percent marginal tax we had before 1980. And include more tax brackets at the top. It doesn’t make sense that any income over $375,000 is taxed at the same 35 percent, even if it’s a billion dollars. And tax all sources of income at the same rate, including capital gains.
- FOURTH: Cut the budget where the real bloat is. Military spending and corporate welfare. End weapons systems that don’t work and stop wars we shouldn’t be fighting to begin with, and we save over $300 billion a year. Cut corporate welfare – subsidies and special tax breaks going to big agribusiness, big oil, big pharma, and big insurance – and we save another $100 billion.
Do you hear me, Washington? Do these four things and restore jobs and prosperity. Fail to do these, and you’ll make things much, much worse.
The preferable treatment that investment income receives in the tax code is one of the factors driving the income inequality and galvanizing the Occupy Wall Street movement. Because the capital gains tax is capped at 15 percent, “anyone making more than $34,500 a year in wages and salary is taxed at a higher rate than a billionaire is taxed on untold millions in capital gains.”
The reason this low rate helps create an income divide is that capital gains are made almost exclusively by the wealthy. In fact, “over the past 20 years, more than 80 percent of the capital gains income realized in the United States has gone to 5 percent of the people.” And the concentration is actually far greater than that, as half of all capital gains are made by the richest 0.1 percent of Americans:
Income and wealth disparities become even more absurd if we look at the top 0.1% of the nation’s earners– rather than the more common 1%. The top 0.1%– about 315,000 individuals out of 315 million– are making about half of all capital gains on the sale of shares or property after 1 year; and these capital gains make up 60% of the income made by the Forbes 400.
It’s crystal clear that the Bush tax reduction on capital gains and dividend income in 2003 was the cutting edge policy that has created the immense increase in net worth of corporate executives, Wall St. professionals and other entrepreneurs.
This is why the various Republican plans floated to reduce or eliminate the capital gains tax are folly. Doing so only benefits the very wealthy, who have already been the main beneficiaries of the tax cuts package enacted by the Bush administration. Remember, it was President Reagan — the patron saint of today’s conservatives — who completely equalized the tax treatment of capital gains and wages, taxing them at the same exact rate. Since then, the capital gains tax has been steadily eroded, as the richest Americans have steadily increased the gap between themselves and the rest of the country.
They drive cars, but seldom new ones. They earn paychecks, but not big ones. Many own homes. Most pay taxes. Half are married, and nearly half live in the suburbs. None are poor, but many describe themselves as barely scraping by.
Down but not quite out, these Americans form a diverse group sometimes called “near poor” and sometimes simply overlooked — and a new count suggests they are far more numerous than previously understood.
When the Census Bureau this month releaseda new measure of poverty, meant to better countdisposable income, it began altering the portrait of national need. Perhaps the most startling differences between the old measure and the new involves data the government has not yet published, showing 51 million people with incomes less than 50 percent above the poverty line. That number of Americans is 76 percent higher than the official account, published in September. All told, that places 100 million people — one in three Americans — either in poverty or in the fretful zone just above it.
After a lost decade of flat wages and the worst downturn since the Great Depression, the findings can be thought of as putting numbers to the bleak national mood — quantifying the expressions of unease erupting in protests and political swings. They convey levels of economic stress sharply felt but until now hard to measure.
The Census Bureau, which published the poverty data two weeks ago, produced the analysis of those with somewhat higher income at the request of The New York Times. The size of the near-poor population took even the bureau’s number crunchers by surprise.
“These numbers are higher than we anticipated,” said Trudi J. Renwick, the bureau’s chief poverty statistician. “There are more people struggling than the official numbers show.”
Outside the bureau, skeptics of the new measure warned that the phrase “near poor” — a common term, but not one the government officially uses — may suggest more hardship than most families in this income level experience. A family of four can fall into this range, adjusted for regional living costs, with an income of up to $25,500 in rural North Dakota or $51,000 in Silicon Valley.
But most economists called the new measure better than the old, and many said the findings, while disturbing, comported with what was previously known about stagnant wages.
“It’s very consistent with everything we’ve been hearing in the last few years about families’ struggle, earnings not keeping up for the bottom half,” said Sheila Zedlewski, a researcher at the Urban Institute, a nonpartisan economic and social research group.
Patched together a half-century ago, the official poverty measure has long been seen as flawed. It ignores hundreds of billions the needy receive in food stamps, tax credits and other programs, and the similarly large sums paid in taxes, medical care and work expenses. The new method, called the Supplemental Poverty Measure, counts all those factors and adjusts for differences in the cost of living, which the official measure ignores.
The results scrambled the picture of poverty in many surprising ways. The measure shows less severe destitution, but a bit more overall poverty; fewer poor children, but more poor people over 65.
Of the 51 million who appear near poor under the fuller measure, nearly 20 percent were lifted up from poverty by benefits the official count overlooks. But more than half were pushed down from higher income levels: more than eight million by taxes, six million by medical expenses, and four million by work expenses like transportation and child care.
Demographically, they look more like “The Brady Bunch” than “The Wire.” Half live in households headed by a married couple; 49 percent live in the suburbs. Nearly half are non-Hispanic white, 18 percent are black and 26 percent are Latino.
Perhaps the most surprising finding is that 28 percent work full-time, year round. “These estimates defy the stereotypes of low-income families,” Ms. Renwick said.
Among them is Phyllis Pendleton, a social worker with Catholic Charities in Washington, who proudly displays the signs of a hard-won middle-class life. She has one BlackBerry and two cars (both Buicks from the 1990s), and a $230,000 house that she, her husband and two daughters will move into next week.
Combined, she and her husband, a janitor, make about $51,000 a year, more than 200 percent of the official poverty line. But they lose about a fifth to taxes, medical care and transportation to work — giving them a disposable income of about $40,000 a year.
Adjust the poverty threshold, as the new measure does, to $31,000 for the region’s high cost of living, and Ms. Pendleton’s income is 29 percent above the poverty line. That is to say, she is near poor.
While the phrase is new to her, the struggle it evokes is not.
“Living paycheck to paycheck,” is how she describes her survival strategy. “One bad bill will wipe you out.”
It took her three years to save $3,000 for the down payment on her house, which she got with subsidies from a nonprofit group, Capital Area Asset Builders. But even after cutting out meals at Red Lobster, movie nights and new clothes, she had to rely on government aid to get health insurance for her daughters, 11 and 13, and she is already worried about college tuition.
“I’m turning over every rock looking for scholarships,” she said. “The money’s out there, you just have to find it.”
The findings, which the Census Bureau plans to release on Monday, have already set off a contentious debate about how to describe such families: struggling, straitened, economically insecure?
Robert Rector, an analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation, rejects the phrase “near poverty,” arguing that it conjures levels of dire need like hunger and homelessness experienced by a minority even among those actually poor.
“I don’t have any objection to this measure if you use the term ‘low-income,’ ” he said. “But the emotionally charged terms ‘poor’ or ‘near poor’ clearly suggest to most people a level of material hardship that doesn’t exist. It is deliberately used to mislead people.”
Bruce Meyer, an economist at the University of Chicago, warned that the numbers are likely to mask considerable diversity. Some households, especially the elderly, may have considerable savings. (Indeed, nearly one in five of the near poor own their homes mortgage-free.) But others may be getting help with public housing and food stamps.
“I do think this is a better measure, but I wouldn’t say that 100 million people are on the edge of starvation or anything close to that,” Mr. Meyer said.
But Ms. Zedlewski said the seeming ordinariness of these families is part of the point. “There are a lot of low-income Americans struggling to make ends meet, and we don’t pay enough attention to them,” she said.
One group likely to gain attention is older Americans. By the official count, only 22 percent of the elderly are either poor or near poor. By the alternate count, the figure rises to 34 percent.
That is still less than the share among children, 39 percent, but it erases about half the gap between the economic fortunes of the young and old recorded in the official count. The likeliest explanation is high medical costs.
Another surprising finding is that only a quarter of the near poor are insured, and 42 percent have private insurance. Indeed, the cost of paying the premiums is part of the previously uncounted expenses they bear.
Belinda Sheppard’s finances have been so battered in the past year, she finds herself wondering what storm will come next. Her adult daughter lost her job and moved in. Her adult son does not have one and cannot move out.
That leaves three adults getting by on $46,000 from her daughter’s unemployment check and the money Ms. Sheppard makes for a marketing firm, placing products in grocery stores. Take out $7,000 for taxes, transportation and medical care, and they have an income of about 130 percent of the poverty line — not poor, but close.
Ms. Sheppard pays $2,000 in rent and says her employer classifies her as part time to avoid offering her health insurance, even though she works 40 hours a week. Unable to buy it on her own, she crosses her fingers and tries to stay healthy.
“I try to work as many hours as I can, but my salary, it’s not enough for everything,” she said. “I pay my bills with very small wiggle room. Or none.”
One repeated gripe I’ve had about news coverage in the Lesser Depression is the way deficit-hawk myths about markets are often reported as facts. Again and again, slight upticks in interest rates have been attributed — in news stories, not opinion pieces — to debt fears, despite the complete absence of any actual evidence to that effect.
Bloomberg today has an interesting twist: U.S. Futures Decline on Concern Supercommittee Won’t Agree on Budget Cuts. In reality, US rates are down, suggesting no increase in debt concerns whatsoever.
But if you read the Bloomberg piece carefully, what it actually says is that market players fear that the absence of a debt deal means no stimulus. So the actual fear is not that spending won’t be cut enough, it is that it will be cut too much — which actually makes sense, and is consistent with the action in stock and bond markets.
But how many readers will get that? The way it’s presented reinforces the false notion that the deficit is the problem.
In other news, markets have greeted Spain’s new government with a surge in borrowing costs; Spain and Italy are once again at near parity.
Somehow the government is managing to do exactly the opposite of what it should be doing: it’s subsidizing home ownership for the rich while cutting funding for affordable housing for the poor
When Congress allowed the conforming mortgage limit to decline slightly to $625,500 in October from $729,750,it was an important test. Could the private market step back in and take on this small portion of mortgage risk? The test was short-lived. This week, Congress reinstated the higher limit for loans guaranteed by the Federal Housing Authority. To make matters stranger, it simultaneously cut funding to build and renovate housing projects for the poor.
Lending Very Wealthy First-Time Homeowners a Helping Hand
Let’s start with the conforming limit news. In fact, Congress did not raise the conforming limit for loans that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac can buy or guarantee. It only raised the limit for FHA loan guarantees. This is a very odd move.
The FHA exists to help first-time home buyers and those on the cusp of being able to afford to buy a home. It does this by allowing borrowers to make very low down payments along with the purchase of mortgage insurance. This is distinct from Fannie and Freddie, which exist more to provide market liquidity.
Think about the implications for the mortgages we’re talking about here — those between $625,500 and $729,750. What first-time home-buyer needs a low down payment for a loan that big? If the goal is to make housing more affordable, then surely a first-time buyer could just aim for a more affordable home to begin with. Even in high-cost areas, starter-homes can be found for less than $650,000 (about the maximum cost of a home with an FHA guarantee before the higher limit was reinstated).
Do borrowers who can afford to pay a mortgage in excess of $625,500 really need the government to subsidize their home ownership?
Shutting Out the Poor
The logic gets more bizarre. This same week that Congress agreed to help out Americans who don’t need it by backing giant mortgages, it cut funding for housing projects. Let’s go to Debbie Cenziper at the Washington Post for the news:
Housing advocates immediately condemned the nearly 38 percent cut to the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, which for two decades has provided grants to local governments for housing construction and renovation, home repairs and down payment assistance. Under a partial budget bill passed by the House and Senate on Thursday, the HOME program’s budget would drop to $1 billion, down from $1.6 billion last year.
“I’ve never seen anything else that steep,” said Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “The impact is huge. It will have a ripple effect throughout the system.”
If the economy was flourishing and unemployment was 4%, this might not be so alarming. Sadly, that isn’t the situation we’re in. We live in a time when one-in-six Americans are underemployed. Foreclosures continue to plague the nation. This combination could lead to more Americans than ever having no choice but to turn to the government for housing assistance. Yet a housing program meant to help those who might need it most is cut by 38%.
Juxtaposing this move with increasing the FHA loan limit should appall anyone — progressive and conservative alike. If the government has any role in the housing market, then it should be to help those who need assistance the most — not the least. What is Congress thinking?
Short-sighted budget math may explain these actions. Raising the FHA limit may have no direct budgetary implications at all — even if it leads to losses one day for the FHA. Meanwhile, it slices $600 million from the budget by cutting an affordable housing program. What makes no sense to anyone who actually thinks about it continues to make perfect sense in Washington.
Matthew Yglesias, Slate:
My post this morning on the growing class divergence between first class travelers and coach travelersreminded me of an old piece of market analysis done in 2005 for Citigroup that’s become a bit of a cult classic among economics writers. The document in question is Ajay Kapur’s “Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Imbalances” (PDF). The analysis itself is a mixed bag, but the bullet point summary is a brilliant instance of summarization so I’ll just quote it:
— The World is dividing into two blocs – the Plutonomy and the rest. The U.S.,UK, andCanada are the key Plutonomies – economies powered by the wealthy. Continental Europe (ex-Italy) and Japan are in the egalitarian bloc.
— Equity risk premium embedded in “global imbalances” are unwarranted. In plutonomies the rich absorb a disproportionate chunk of the economy and have a massive impact on reported aggregate numbers like savings rates, current account deficits, consumption levels, etc. This imbalance in inequality expresses itself in the standard scary “ global imbalances”. We worry less.
— There is no “average consumer” in a Plutonomy. Consensus analyses focusing on the “average” consumer are flawed from the start. The Plutonomy Stock Basket outperformed MSCI AC World by 6.8% per year since 1985. Does even better if equities beat housing. Select names: Julius Baer, Bulgari, Richemont, Kuoni, and Toll Brothers.
So there you have the key bullet points. Thanks to growing inequality, the consumer economy is increasingly driven by a relatively small number of very rich people who represent a very large share of the overall consumption. But now note that the key conclusion of the second bullet point have been proved to be totally wrong. He thought that because plutonomy implies global imbalances, the imbalances themselves are non-threatening. They turn out to be very threatening. But the consequences of the global financial crisis make bullet point three all the more crucial. The ability to borrow money against rising home prices allowed middle class consumers to keep increasing their consumption even in the face of stagnating wages and incomes. The crisis has brought that to an end and created a situation in which labor market polarization directly implies polarization of the consumer side of the economy. Airlines increasing investment in improved first class amenities while doing nothing to improve the median passenger experience is just one window into that dynamic. “At Wal-Mart, shoppers cut back on staples like milk and meat that had price increases of a few cents,” Stephanie Clifford reported for the New York Times last week, while “At Saks Fifth Avenue, they paid full price for shoes and designer fashions at a rate higher than before the recession.”
That’s the business environment of late plutonomy. An increasingly price-sensitive mass market whose sheer numbers mean they still spend a lot, and a price insensitive plutocrat class whose price-insensitivity makes them the target of choice for sales- and profit-growth.
Lobbyists for online education companies took the American public school system by storm last year, according to Lee Fang in a special report in The Nation. Education technology companies are playing hardball against teachers’ unions in a bid to cash in on voucher funding for computer-based instruction, especially in Florida:
If [adivsor to former Gov. Jeb Bush, Patricia] Levesque’s blunt advice sounds like that of a veteran lobbyist, that’s because she is one. Levesque runs a Tallahassee-based firm called Meridian Strategies LLC, which lobbies on behalf of a number of education-technology companies. She is a leader of a coalition of government officials, academics and virtual school sector companies pushing new education laws that could benefit them.
But Levesque wasn’t delivering her hardball advice to her lobbying clients. She was giving it to a group of education philanthropists at a conference sponsored by notable charities like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. Indeed, Levesque serves at the helm of two education charities, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national organization, and the Foundation for Florida’s Future, a state-specific nonprofit, both of which are chaired by Jeb Bush. A press release from her national group says that it fights to “advance policies that will create a high quality digital learning environment.”
Across the country, education entrepreneurs are seeking to replace public school teachers with computer programs, despite the research that shows that virtual education is inferior to traditional teaching. They are getting lots of help from Tea Party politicians on a mission to privatize schools and bust unions.
Natural Resources defense Fund:
Today’s average passenger vehicle meets just a 28.3 mpg standard. On July 29, 2011 President Obama announced that by 2025, new cars and light trucks in this county will go about twice as far, on average, on a gallon of gas, compared with today’s vehicles. The difference will save Americans $80 billion a year at the pump. It will reduce our oil use by 3.1 million barrels per day by 2030. It will cut automobile carbon emissions in half. And it will create up to 150,000 American jobs, as Detroit shows the world how to build the next generation of energy efficient cars.
The historic agreement with thirteen major automakers will strengthen fuel economy and carbon pollution standards for new cars and trucks, achieving the equivalent of 54.5 mpg and 163 grams per mile of CO2 by 2025. This agreement is one of the most important steps America can take to break our costly addiction to oil.
We are witnessing the launch of a new era of more fuel-efficient, less-polluting vehicles powered by better, cleaner technologies. Learn more about this new generation of cars.
CARL FRANZEN NOVEMBER 18, 2011, 6:20 PM 15547 71
In a spectacular case of instant karma, House Republicans’ plan to roast Energy Secretary Steven Chu in Thursday’s investigative hearing into Solyndra appears to have backfired. Chu seems reinvigorated in his effort to make the U.S. into global clean energy leader, calling for increased U.S. investment in alternatives on a tour of General Electric solar plant in Colorado on Friday, while Republicans seem at odds with their own message.
“There are some in Washington who think we can’t, or shouldn’t, compete when it comes to producing solar panels, wind turbines and other clean energy technologies,” Chu said at GE’s PrimeStar plant in Arvada, CO, the Hill reported. “They’re ready to wave the white flag and declare defeat. I disagree.”
The plant, which GE purchased along with the company PrimeStar in April, developed thehighest-efficiency thin film solar panel ever publicly announced. GE plans to build a new PrimeStar factory in Aurora, Colorado, which would be the nation’s largest. Before it was purchased by GE, PrimeStar received $3 million from the Energy Department, the Seattle Post Intelligencer reported.
Meanwhile, House Republicans who participated in the Solyndra hearing have been tripping over one another.
Shortly after the hearing concluded on Thursday, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, who presided over the hearings and has spearheaded the Solyndra investigation, called for Secretary Chu to be fired.
“I just think he has failed the test,” Stearns said, the Associated Press reported, “The fact that he’s unaware of so many things makes me think that he’s not the best person for the position.”
Yet earlier, during the hearing itself, another top Republican probing the Solyndra loan guarantee said that Chu shouldn’t resign but was being “set up” by the Obama Administration to be the “fall guy.”
“I said every time I don’t think you should resign,” Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), told Chu, the Houston Chronicle reported.
“I also happen to believe that it’s possible you’re being set up to be the fall guy,” Barton said later, according to Politico.
Also, before the hearing, Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK), countered his own party’s attempt to link the Solyndra loan guarantee approval to the fact that the company received major fundingfrom the Kaiser Family Foundation, a charity nonprofit founded by Oklahoma billionaire George Kaiser, who was also an Obama 2010 campaign bundler.
“I don’t see any illegality by [Kasier] or any impropriety,” Sullivan told the Tulsa World. “He was just doing what a businessman does.”
Still, analysis from former Energy Department officials and others in the press indicates that not only will Chu keep his job, but that Republicans have come out of the hearing looking worse for the wear.
“I don’t think there was any kind of ‘smoking-gun’ type question-and-answer that came out of the session,” Salo Zelermyer, a former Energy Department senior counsel during the Bush Administration, Reuters reported Friday.
“House Republicans may have squandered their golden opportunity when they decided to make Chu, Washington’s most lovable nerd, the fall guy for the scandal,” wrote Grace Wyler at the Business Insider, “No one person is to blame for the Solyndra debacle — the entire DOE loan program is seriously flawed. And taking cheap shots at shy nuclear physicists isn’t going to fix it.”
[…] The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wanted to reshuffle its offices to establish a National Climate Service akin to the agency’s National Weather Service. It asked for no new funding to do so.
But in a political climate where talk of the earthly kind of climate can be radioactive, the answer in last week’s budget deal was “no.” Congress barred NOAA from launching what the agency bills as a “one-stop shop” for climate information.
Demand for such data is skyrocketing, NOAA administrator Jane Lubchencotold Congress earlier this year. Farmers are wondering when to plant. Urban planners want to know whether groundwater will stop flowing under subdivisions. Insurance companies need climate data to help them set rates.
But the climate service, first floated under President George W. Bush, became predictably politicized.
“Our hesitation,” Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) told Lubchenco at ahearing in June, “is that the climate services could become little propaganda sources instead of a science source.”
At the same hearing, a key opponent to the service, Rep. Ralph M. Hall (R-Tex.), said he recognized that “certain climate services can provide value.” But he fretted that the reorganization would “severely harm vital research at NOAA.”
In September, Hall’s tone turned decidedly less friendly. As chair of theHouse Committee on Science, Space and Technology, he launched an investigation of NOAA. Hall claimed the agency was operating “a shadow climate service operation” without congressional approval.
For supposedly being in the dark, a lot of light shines on NOAA’s climate data: It’s been public for decades.
But demand for that data is threatening to overwhelm NOAA’s ability to deliver it, Lubchenco told Congress. Between 2009 and 2010, the amount of climate data grabbed from NOAA Web sites shot up 86 percent. Climate-related phone calls and e-mails jumped from 26,000 to 30,000.
And with data spread across agency offices and Web sites, people are “often confused where to go for climate information,” said Mary Glackin, the NOAA deputy undersecretary heading up the proposal. The new service would streamline delivery, she said, and make it easier for people to find information, such as seasonal growing outlooks and drought, wildfire and flood forecasts.
The proposal has drawn wide-ranging support. NOAA’s administrator from 2001 to 2008 under Bush, Conrad C. Lautenbacher, urged Congress to approve it this year. So did scientific, weather and industry groups, including the Reinsurance Association of America, which represents huge firms that backstop home, car and life insurance companies.
Franklin W. Nutter, president of the RAA, said insurance companies are increasingly relying on the predictions of a changing future that NOAA provides. “It’s become clear that historic patterns of natural catastrophes — hurricanes, tornadoes, floods — are not good predictors of future risks,” he said. In other words, the future’s looking rougher.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change buttressed that message last week. A report from the world’s top climate science group warned of more extreme weather, more frequent droughts, worse downpours and more dramatic flooding.
“There is strong scientific consensus that climate change is happening and human activity plays a significant role,” a congressional supporter of the climate service, Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), said in a statement. “Yet the Republican leadership in Congress continues their reckless political stunt of climate change denial.”
In the NOAA budget battle, the Democratic-led Senate approved most of the climate service in its budget. The Republican-led House approved none of it. Led by Hall, the Republicans won.
After the deal, which passed Congress last week, a House Appropriations Committee news release implied that Congress had saved $322 million in fiscal year 2012 by nixing the climate service.
The reality: Congress is still giving NOAA those funds for climate research and data delivery. But they’ll be distributed across the agency instead of consolidated under an umbrella climate service. The hundreds of millions in savings trumpeted by the Republican-led Appropriations Committee are an illusion.
“We think it’s very unfortunate,” said Chris McEntee, executive director of the American Geophysical Union, which represents 60,000 scientists. “Limiting access to this kind of climate information won’t make climate change go away.”
Nobody likes paying a lot for health insurance, but at least it provides peace of mind. Even while we grumble about steadily rising deductibles and co-pays, we figure if we get really sick — with cancer, say — then insurance will handle the bills.
It’s not a safe assumption. A growing number of cancer patients, including in our region, are being stuck with exorbitant bills for chemotherapy drugs because of a common insurance policy loophole.
Basically, insurance companies often cover just a fraction of the cost of a needed cancer medication if it’s taken in the form of pills. The companies reimburse the full price only if the patient receives the drug intravenously.
That’s a problem because many new cancer drugs are supposed to be taken orally or are available only in pill form. In some cases, the same drug is covered by insurance if taken via injection and not covered if it’s taken orally. The difference in out-of-pocket cost to the patient can run in the thousands of dollars a month.
Cancer doctors, hospitals and patient advocacy groups decry the discrepancy as outrageous. There’s a nationwide campaign to eliminate it, including a bill in Congress. The District and 13 states have passed laws in the past three years to require parity between oral and intravenous chemotherapy drugs. The discrepancy has been fixed for Medicare.
But some insurance companies and budget-conscious legislators are resisting change. The disparity still exists in Virginia and Maryland, and it’s uncertain whether those states will eliminate the problem any time soon.
“It’s a dollar issue,” said Paul Celano, president of the Maryland Society of Clinical Oncology. “Everyone agrees in principle that patients should be able to get their cancer care, and there shouldn’t be this insurance dodge that they’re charged a substantially different rate because of the type of medication.”
In Virginia, a parity bill has been introduced in the General Assembly session but died in committee. A Maryland bill was withdrawn because of concerns it would cost the state millions of dollars to reform coverage for state employees.
One victim of Maryland’s failure to act is Kate S., a 51-year-old mother of three who lives in Anne Arundel County. Since August, she has received diagnoses of unrelated cancers of the brain and breast. She spoke on the condition that I not publish her surname, for privacy’s sake.
After Kate had surgery to remove the brain tumor, her doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore put her on six weeks of daily doses of two pills of the chemotherapy drug Temodar.
The medication cost $10,800. Her insurance company paid $2,000. Kate said her provider told that if she’d taken the identical drug intravenously, she wouldn’t have paid a dime.
“I was really shocked by this, and they told me it was very common,” Kate said. She didn’t learn about the discrepancy until two weeks into the treatment.
“It wasn’t presented to me as an option to do it intravenously. They told me, this is what you do,” Kate said.
Soon she’ll begin a second round of chemotherapy, for six months. She estimates that will cost her $15,000 unless she opts for intravenous treatment. Her doctors recommend against that, and it would be less pleasant and convenient. She’d have to go regularly to a clinic to spend hours sitting with a needle in her arm, rather than swallowing pills at home.
Kate said that the cost is a burden but that she has savings to cover it. It would be severe for others with less money, she said.
“This is a rough time for a lot of people. They may have to make a decision to go in for [intravenous] infusions just because they don’t want to go into debt,” Kate said.
That’s just the kind of person that led state Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery) to co-sponsor a parity bill in Annapolis.
A colon cancer survivor, Raskin heard complaints about the oral-intravenous discrepancy while receiving chemotherapy in clinics in Annapolis and Silver Spring.
“Sitting in the rooms where chemo is administered, I met people who would have preferred to be using the pill form but whose insurance plans weren’t covering it,” Raskin said. He plans to resubmit a bill in the session beginning in January.
Cancer patients have enough worries without anxiety over whether they can afford the drug recommended by their doctor. Because any of us is vulnerable to the disease, parity would add peace of mind for everyone.
[…] The border town of El Paso, Texas is considered to be the safest big city in the country, according to some estimates.
With a sizable undocumented population and immediate proximity to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, known for drug cartel violence, El Paso’s relative tranquility has baffled many, especially those who equate undocumented immigration with increased rates of violent crimes.
To researchers such as Jack Levin, a criminologist at Northeastern University, El Paso is safe precisely because of its high number of immigrants.
“If you want to find a safe city, first determine the size of the immigrant population,” Levin said in an interview with Reason Magazine.
“If the immigrant community represents a large proportion of the population, you’re likely in one of the country’s safer cities,” he added. “San Diego, Laredo, El Paso — these cities are teeming with immigrants, and they’re some of the safest places in the country.”
In the national immigration debate, those who support stronger enforcement policies often justify their hard line with the argument that immigrants commit violent crime in their new-found communities at high rates. But critics say numbers don’t support this reasoning.
Ruben Rumbaut, a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine who studies criminal immigration trends, said his research supports Levin’s thesis.
“Studies that I have done based on census data, studies along the border, government commissions from 1994 to present, they repeatedly have found the same thing,” he said in a phone interview. “Immigrants are associated with much lower rates of crime and incarceration. And some of the safest cities are those with large immigrant populations.”
Although the majority of undocumented immigrants are thought to be foreign-born Mexican nationals, Rumbaut said that his research indicates this population has a much lower incarceration rate than Americans of Mexican descent.
“Foreign-born Mexicans had an incarceration rate of only 0.7 percent in 2000, more than 8 times lower than the 5.9 percent rate of native-born males of Mexican descent,” he said.
So why might immigrants have a lower incarceration rate?
“The vast majority of immigrants who come to the United States do so to seek a better life,” Rumbaut said. “Committing crimes would undermine the very project that would lead them to leave their country. In the case of the undocumented, the effect is magnified. They are living clandestine lives, under the threat of deportation. The last thing they want to do is bring themselves to the attention of authorities.”
Rumbaut said he believes that violent crimes along the border with Mexico have little to do with the average undocumented immigrant. Instead, he said, a small percentage of those in the country who are undocumented and involved in drug or human trafficking have given the majority a bad name.
“These people have absolutely nothing to do with immigrants,” he said.
Others, however, say Rumbaut’s argument ignores the danger posed by the percentage of undocumented immigrants who do commit violent crimes. Howie Morgan, the national political director of the Minuteman Project, a volunteer border militia group, said in a phone interview that his conversations with enforcement agencies have given him a different picture of undocumented immigrants.
“We’ve talked to sheriffs all across the nation who say they have an inordinate percentage of illegal immigrants in their jails who have committed crimes. The drug trade, for example, is completely run by illegal aliens,” he said. “These things should scare all Americans.”
Non-violent protesters do not surrender their Fourth Amendment Rights to be free from excessive force by police. Specifically, non-violent protesters may sue police and the municipality of county that employs them under this Federal law, 42 United States Code Section 1983 if they have been pepper sprayed while peacefully protesting, whether or not the protesters were arrested.
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable. For the purposes of this section, any Act of Congress applicable exclusively to the District of Columbia shall be considered to be a statute of the District of Columbia.
This includes police officers. Specifically, the use of pepper spay by law enforcement against non-violent protestors has been found to be a violation of of the 4th amendment rights of the protesters in the case of Lundberg v. Humboldt, which is the controlling precedent in the 9th Circuit, which has jurisdiction over any cases brought against the police for their actions in Seattle and Oakland.
In its 2001 opinion regarding the Lundberg case, the 9th Circuit held that non-violent protestors who did not present a threat to the safety of the public or to law enforcement officials, even though they had committed the misdemeanor offense of trespass, could sue the governmental authorities and law enforcement officials who had pepper sprayed them, reversing the trial court’s decision to dismiss the case on the basis that the authorities had “limited immunity” to violate the civil rights of individuals engaged in non-violent civil disobedience.
The incidents that led to this decision occurred in 1997 and involved protests by environmental activists in which they occupied a logging company engaged in cutting down redwood trees in Northern California. Several of the activists had use metal locking devices known as “black bears” to link themselves to one another thus making the local sheriffs employ a tool known as a “grinder” to cut them apart in order to arrest the activists. Apparently, the Sheriff’ Department s felt this was a lot of bother so they asked the county’s risk manager and district attorney to determine if they could use pepper spray instead to force the activists to release themselves. The County;s risk manager and the district attorney were only too happy to oblige:
In 1997, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department organized a special response team comprised of Special Services Deputies to deal with the environmental protests. The officers selected for the team were those with special training and experience in the use of a Makita grinder to remove lock down devices safely. By the fall of 1997, one of the officers had used a Makita grinder to remove hundreds of lock-down devices from the arms of environmental protesters. He had done so safely, without causing injuries to either himself or the protesters.
Nevertheless, because a Makita grinder generates sparks when used, the defendants claim to have had a growing concern about the danger involved in using it. So, in the summer of 1997, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department explored alternatives for effecting the arrest of environmental protesters in lock-down devices -including the use of oleoresin capsicumaerosol (“OC” or “pepper spray”). Defendants Lewis and Philp consulted a certified trainer in the use of pepper spray, the county’s risk manager, and its district attorney. And they read much of the available literature on the subject. By summer’s end, defendants concluded that the use of a lock-down device by any protester -even an otherwise nonviolent protester who posed no danger to the public, himself, or the arresting officers -constituted “active resistance” to arrest, warranting police use of pepper spray as a “pain compliance technique.”
Sound familiar? It does to me, and I’m sure it does to those OWS protesters in New York, Oakland, Seattle and elsewhere who were pepper sprayed indiscriminately as means to employ legalized torture (my words) to coerce protestors to abandon their occupation sites or simply to punish people at the scene of these protests, such as Rev. Lang in Seattle who have been gratuitously pepper sprayed by police simply for exercising their rights to peacefully assemble and free speech. It mattered not at all that the individuals in question posed no threat to the police in almost all cases. The authorities deemed massive amounts of pepper spray should be employed as a “pain compliance technique” (sounds so similar to “enhanced interrogation techniques, doesn’t it?) to subdue and “punish the OWS scum who dared to use non-violent civil disobedience or, in many cases, simply to exercise of their 1st amendment right to peacefully assemble and use their right of free speech to annoy their “betters.”
Unfortunately for the police, the use of pepper spray against non-violent protestors who pose no threat to police or to the public, has been deemed grounds for legal action against the police under Section 1983 for a violation of your 4th amendment rights. From the 9th Circuit’s opinion:
Pacific Coast Lumber employees called the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department, which dispatched its special response team. Upon arrival, the officers observed that the seven protesters had placed the “black bears” under their arms and legs, making it particularly difficult to use a grinder to remove them. The officer in charge decided that using pepper spray was the most appropriate and safest way to arrest the trespassing protesters. He and the other officers testified that they made this decision solely because of the difficulty in using a grinder in these circumstances. It was “immaterial” to them that the protesters were peacefully engaged in an act of civil disobedience, as opposed to being violent. And the protesters outside the building were not a factor in their decision to use the pepper spray on those inside the building. Indeed, it is undisputed that the protesters both on the roof and outside the building were nonviolent, did not interfere with ingress or egress to and from the Pacific Lumber building, posed no safety risks to the public or to the officers, and willingly dispersed when their rally and mock trial were ended or when the police directed them to do so.
The Sheriff’s videotape of the incident reveals that the officers never attempted to negotiate with the protesters. Once they made the decision to use the pepper spray, the officers simply warned the protesters repeatedly that if they refused to release themselves from the “black bears” the officers would apply pepper spray to their faces. The protesters tucked their heads into their chests and refused to release. The officers then forced four protesters’ heads back and applied pepper spray with a Q-tip to the corners of their closed eyes. The protesters screamed in pain. The three other protesters, including one who announced that she had asthma, then voluntarily released. The officers put plastic handcuffs on these three protesters and placed them on the couch right next to those still protesting. They remained there for more than an hour, cheering on the others who continued protesting and excoriating the officers for using pepper spray on them. At this point, the officers did not offer to flush out the protesters’ eyes with water. […]
Seven minutes after the initial application, one of the officers can be heard on the videotape saying that water will be given if the protesters release themselves from the “black bears.” At that point, one of the protesters released, followed shortly thereafter by another, leaving the two remaining protesters attached only to each other. Then, one of the remaining protesters asked why the officers could not physically carry them out of the Congressman’s office and use a grinder to cut them out once they wereoutside the building. An officer responded by saying that the jail “would not accept you like this” and that it “is too dangerous to transport you like this.”
Sound unreasonable to you? Sound like the cops could have used less “force’ (i.e., cut the locks linking the protestors to one another) rather than torture peaceful activists with pepper spray and refuse them treatment? Well, the trial court found it quite reasonable. Too bad for the authorities in Humboldt County the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals took a more rational approach to the question of the use of pepper spray against non-violent offenders:
Here, the videotape evidence reveals that the application of the pepper spray with a Q-tip and then by short full blasts created “immediate and searing pain” that could not be moderated by the officers at their discretion or terminated by them the moment the protesters complied with their demands. According to the defendants, the only way to relieve the pain caused by pepper spray is to flush it out thoroughly with water. Police training tapes recommend using a “free-flowing hose to wash the victim’s face” or “the use of a big bucket of water in which the victim can actually stick [his or her] face down into to get relief.” But here, the officers offered only to spray water in short bursts onto the protesters’ faces from hand-held plastic bottles, which the evidence suggests may have actually exacerbated the pain by causing the OC to run into the protesters’ noses and mouths rather than flushing it out. Moreover, whether water was offered at all for this purpose during each protest is disputed. Yet the district court’s ruling fails to mention this evidence, let alone view it in a light most favorable to the plaintiffs as the nonmoving parties.
Forrester [Prior decision by the 9th Circuit] did not hold “that pain compliance techniques are constitutionally permissible as a matter of law. … Nor did it establish a rule of qualified immunity for the use of pain compliance techniques to arrest passively resisting misdemeanants. Forrester simply held that whether the use of [pepper spray] as a pain compliance technique constituted excessive force was a question of fact that was properly submitted to the jury for its decision. Similarly, we hold here that whether the use of pepper spray in this case constituted excessive force is a question of fact that should have been submitted to a jury for its decision.
The 9th Circuit ordered a new trial, which was completed in August 2005, when federal District Judge Susan Illston issued her opinion finding in favor of the activists and against the defendants (the deputy sheriffs, the sheriff’s department and the county):
A third jury trial was held in April 2005. At this trial, police practices experts for each party testified. The jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiffs, finding that defendants’ application of pepper spray to plaintiffs constituted excessive force. Nominal damages were awarded to plaintiffs in the amount of $1 each. On May 3, 2005, the Court entered judgment in favor of plaintiffs. […]
The Court finds that, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, the officers’ actions violated the Fourth Amendment, meeting the first step in the Saucier inquiry. For the second step, the defendants argue that the Ninth Circuit’s holding in Headwaters II should not bind this Court because the Court of Appeals did not have before it the testimony of David DuBay regarding the pepper spray product, the expert testimony of Don Cameron, or the jury finding of no injury to plaintiffs. Defs.’ Renewed Mot. at 12:8-12. Despite this evidence, other facts adduced at trial remained the same, and this Court’s and the Court of Appeals’ prior rulings on qualified immunity are not altered by the introduction of expert testimony by both parties. As the Ninth Circuit found, based on the officers’ repeated use of OC, the refusal to provide water until the protestors released themselves,*fn3 the nonviolent nature of the protests, and the availability of other alternatives, these officers are not entitled to qualified immunity under Saucier. Thus, the motion for JMOL or a new trial on this ground is DENIED. […]
For the foregoing reasons and for good cause shown, the Court hereby DENIES defendants’ motions for JMOL and a new trial and finds that plaintiffs are entitled to a reasonable attorneys’ fee in an amount to be determined.
Ultimately the defendants settled the Lundberg case rather than pursue further appeals.
We won a unanimous federal jury verdict that officers used excessive force against us in violation of our Fourth Amendment rights. Although we were awarded only nominal damages, the judge ruled that we were entitled to have defendants pay our attorney fees because our case established important precedents and served the public interest. Defendants threatened to appeal again. Ultimately, a post trial settlement ended the litigation, heading off years of appeals, and with defendants paying our legal team a substantial sum (but far less than they’re worth) for their many years of effort! The settlement agreement has been signed by the parties and ratified by the court, and the settlement money has been paid. The litigation is finished after over eight years and three trials!
It should be noted that in any cases brought under Section 1983 other causes of action, including state claims for assault and battery, pain and suffering, punitive damages, the costs of health care expenses incurred by the individuals pepper sprayed, etc. could be brought as well. […]
I strongly suggest to anyone who was pepper sprayed, beaten with batons or otherwise assaulted by the police in Oakland and Seattle that you consult with a lawyer, either with the ACLU, National Layers’ Guild or a private attorney specializing in lawsuits based on civil rights violations and police abuse and use of excessive force. It seems clear to me that the 9th Circuit precedent would allow lawsuits against the authorities who used pepper spray and other “pain compliance techniques” used against OWS protesters and bystanders to proceed without any argument by the authorities of qualified immunity from litigation based on their brutal acts of unnecessary violence.
If you live in another jurisdiction and have also been brutalized by the police for OWS related activities I recommend you also consult an attorney. Though I haven’t researched all of the relevant case law, I suspect that many of you may have a legitimate basis for legal claims for civil rights violations, excessive force and police brutality, whether based on state law or federal law.
As police officers cleared protesters last week from Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, the birthplace of Occupy Wall Street, they made sure most reporters were kept blocks away, supposedly for their own protection.
But in almost every other respect, mainstream news media outlets have been put right in the middle by the movement.
Newspapers and television networks have been rebuked by media critics for treating the movement as if it were a political campaign or a sideshow — by many liberals for treating the protesters dismissively, and by conservatives, conversely, for taking the protesters too seriously.
The protesters themselves have also criticized the media — first for ostensibly ignoring the movement and then for marginalizing it.
Lacking a list of demands or recognized leaders, the Occupy movement has at times perplexed the nation’s media outlets. Press coverage, minimal in the first days of the occupation in New York, picked up after amateur video surfaced online showing a police officer using pepper spray on protesters. On several occasions, video of confrontations with the police, often filmed by the protesters, has propelled television coverage.
In the initial coverage, “I saw almost nothing that talked about our reasons for being there, and that trend has largely continued,” said Patrick Bruner, an organizer for Occupy Wall Street in New York. He said the group welcomed investigations of “our ideas, why we’re here, what we’re saying and talking about.”
Alicia Shepard, who was until recently the ombudsman for NPR, said most news coverage of Occupy “hasn’t been about the issues, it’s been about who’s up and who’s down,” likening it to the “horse race” style of coverage prevalent in political campaigns.
An analysis by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism indicates that the movement occupied 10 percent of its sample of national news coverage in the week beginning Oct. 9, then steadily represented about 5 percent through early November.
Coverage dipped markedly, to just 1 percent of the national news hole, in the week beginning Nov. 6, supporting Ms. Shepard’s assertion that it had “died down” before the early morning eviction in New York last Tuesday. It has since rebounded strongly.
Throughout the protests, Occupy Wall Street has become something of an ideological litmus test, with accusations of media bias from the left and the right. Days after the protest began in New York, the liberal filmmaker Michael Moore appeared on MSNBC, asserting that the mass media had a tendency to play down left-wing protests.
Conversely, L. Brent Bozell III, the president of the conservative Media Research Center, appeared on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox telling other media outlets to “put their pompoms down for a minute.”
Now, any time there are misstatements of fact — on Thursday the Fox News affiliate in New York falsely reported that protesters planned to “shut down” the subways, and “CBS Evening News” reported that hundreds had turned out for an afternoon rally when in fact many thousands had — questions about bias are raised.
Even as some protesters have complained about the media, others have courted coverage, and still others have taken matters into their own hands. For more than a month, Tim Pool, a 25-year-old from Illinois, has been attending Occupy Wall Street events in New York and live-streaming them to the Internet from his cellphone. “I just wanted to see an accurate portrayal of what was happening without internal or external bias,” he said.
Mr. Pool clearly sympathizes with the protesters but considers himself independent from the group. At the peak of the protests in New York on Thursday, 30,000 people were watching his shaky video feed at any given moment, according to his host site, Ustream. Mr. Pool said the police officers treated him like a protester, not a cameraman, raising questions about who qualifies as a reporter in the Internet age and what rights they should be afforded, if any.
The questions are relevant in part because 26 reporters and photographers have been arrested at protests linked to the movement, according to a count by Josh Stearns of the media advocacy group Free Press. A significant portion of those arrested were freelance workers, students and writers for alternative publications. “As journalism is changing,” Mr. Stearns said, “it’s going to create new friction and conflict over what we mean by the First Amendment.”
Many journalists were blocked from Zuccotti Park as the eviction took place on Tuesday morning, leading to accusations of police suppression of media coverage.
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said the restrictions were put in place “to prevent a situation from getting worse and to protect members of the press.”
Journalism groups have filed complaints about the restrictions and arrests, resulting in renewed scrutiny of how the Police Department processes requests for press credentials. Of the 10 reporters arrested in New York on Tuesday, half had credentials. Discussing the arrests, Mr. Stearns said, “In the heat of the moment it may be very hard to tell who is and who isn’t a journalist,” though he said that was no excuse.
Some reporters have reported being threatened by protesters in the last two months, but for the most part the criticisms have been confined to signs and shouts, particularly when Fox News cameras are nearby.
Attesting to the opinionated tone of much television coverage, Fox hosts and guests have described the protesters as a “group of nuts and lunatics and fascists” (Karl Rove), “demonic loons” (Ann Coulter) and “a bunch of wusses” (Greg Gutfeld).
On MSNBC, meanwhile, optimism reigns in comments like “it is what working people are talking about” (Ed Schultz) and “it has the support of tens of millions of Americans” (Michael Moore).
A number of journalists have been pilloried for their perceived opinions, including the CNN host Erin Burnett, who mocked the New York occupation on her broadcast. Critics seized on the fact that she was engaged to a bank executive.
The public radio host Lisa Simeone was dismissed by one of her employers, Soundprint, aftershe was reported to be a leader of an Occupy camp in Washington, and a freelance journalist, Caitlin Curran, was fired by “The Takeaway” radio show after she was photographed holding her boyfriend’s sign at a protest. In an essay for Gawker, Ms. Curran wondered what ethicscodes she had violated since she said Occupy Wall Street lacked a single “message and focus.”
The absence of broad media attention initially gave protesters a shared grievance. Since the Vietnam War, there have been many instances when protest movements have criticized the media over perceived slights, said Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia who helped to organize the first national antiwar protests in the 1960s.
But there is less of an “obsession” about that these days, he said, “because they’re making their own media.”
There is The Occupied Wall Street Journal newspaper, for instance, and the “We Are the 99 Percent” group blog.
Priscilla Grim, who has helped produce both, said she was “hoping to see a real resurgence in independent media, to not just cover the issues of Occupy, but to cover the issues that all people are dealing with.”
Mr. Bruner, the Occupy Wall Street organizer, echoed that. Early on, he courted CNN, The New York Times and other news outlets by e-mailing reporters and editors with daily protest updates. But, he said, “we’re fighting a system, and this media is a part of the system.”
He added, ”And when this media doesn’t cover us in a fair light, the desire isn’t to shame them, it’s to create an alternative.”
With an army of reporters and wonky information services, the media company is expanding from Wall Street to Washington, Where it hopes to control—even more.
[…] Other media outlets don’t have a cash cow anything like this. And BGov chairman Kevin Sheekey couldn’t help but rub it in, walking up to the terminal’s blinking prompt and challenging one guest: “Why don’t you look up the price of the New York Times Co.?”
Ouch. As most of the news industry withers, Bloomberg is booming. Terminal money, which accounts for 80 percent of revenue, has helped the company hire more reporters and editors than anyone else on the planet—more than 2,700 of them—over the last 20 years, from Abuja, Nigeria, to Zagreb, Croatia. More recently it has launched powerful new tools for lobbyists, lawmakers, and other power brokers. Long averse to acquisitions, Bloomberg has also started buying up things it covets, like Businessweek magazine and, just this August, the legal-political research behemoth BNA. There is talk that the Financial Times might be its next meal.
All of which means that by the time Michael Bloomberg, 88 percent owner of Bloomberg L.P., leaves New York’s City Hall two years from now, he will have his name stamped on some instruments of surprisingly deep influence.
But this isn’t just another story about a company beating the odds and growing in a down economy. Bloomberg the company is not all that well known beyond Wall Street; its expansion has managed to be both subtle and seismic, and could fundamentally alter not just the kind of news Americans get but the events in the news themselves. While one guiding principle of traditional journalism is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” Bloomberg has made its money comforting the comfortable—plying high-spending traders and other business insiders with all the data they need to do their jobs with confidence.
Now it’s taking that formula to Washington. When Bloomberg bought BNA for $990 million in August, most Americans had never heard of the Bureau of National Affairs or its 350 newsletters on topics like tax, health care, and labor. It doesn’t produce popular scoops—instead it churns out nuts-and-bolts information on things like an appeals-court judge’s ruling on a patent dispute; when the House Appropriations Committee will mark up an EPA funding bill; and how telecom giants will benefit from a moratorium on wireless taxes. Which means every lawyer, lobbyist, and law-maker in the capital depends on BNA’s proprietary data to do his or her job and gain an edge over competitors. From that angle, BNA is just the kind of company that Bloomberg— already a powerhouse among business insiders—could use to extend its power into new markets, in this case the “influencing community” inside the Beltway.
The San Diego Union-Tribune, one of the largest and most influential newspapers in California, was sold to a local developer for “above” $110 million,voiceofsandiego.org reported Thursday afternoon.
The Union-Tribune, like many American newspapers, has suffered from the economic downturn and the defection of readers and advertisers to the Web. The paper has a weekday circulation of nearly 220,000 and a weekend circulation of nearly 300,000, according to recent reports from the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
In a statement, Mr. Manchester said: “Taking ownership of a 143-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning news organization comes with great responsibility. We believe San Diego is the finest city in America and pledge to be strong advocates for the city’s interests and conscientious caretakers of The Union-Tribune and its legacy.” […]
In its statement, The Union-Tribune highlighted the steps Platinum had taken to improve the newspaper’s operations, including hiring Ed Moss as publisher and president, lowering advertising rates for small businesses, increasing local news coverage in San Diego communities and starting Vida Latina San Diego, a Spanish-language entertainment magazine.
Mr. Manchester explained that his opposition to same-sex marriage at the time of the ballot initiative was a matter of faith: “This really is a free-speech, First Amendment issue. While I respect everyone’s choice of partner, my Catholic faith and longtime affiliation with the Catholic Church leads me to believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman.”
[…] “What are we trying to do in this administration? Why does he want a second term? Would he tell us? What’s he going to do in the second term? More of this? Is this it? Is this as good as it gets? Where are we going? Are we going to do something the second term? He has yet to tell us. He has not said one thing about what he would do in the second term. He never tells us what he is going to do with reforming our healthcare systems, Medicare, Medicaid, how is going to reform Social Security. Is he going to deal with long-term debt? How? Is he going to reform the tax system? How? Just tell us. Why are we in this fight with him? Just tell us, Commander, give us our orders and tell us where we’re going, give us the mission. And he hasn’t done it. “
Earlier in the week, NBC announced it would hireChelsea Clinton as a correspondent for its “Making a Difference” series, a decision that clearly did not go over well for some. On CNN’sReliable Sources today, Howard Kurtz‘s panel tore into the “Nepotism Broadcasting Company” for depriving someone without connections of such a job, with one panelist particularly noting it was offensive to “young people who played by the rules.”
Panelist Eric Deggans told Kurtz he found the hire rather surprising given the failure of developingTiki Barber as a host, suggesting not that Clinton should not be in the media, but that she should start out at a relatively lower level comparatively, and not out on top. That sentiment seemed agreed upon by everyone on the program, with Hollywood Reporter‘s Marisa Guthrie adding that this was not the first time such a hire occurred at NBC– “they have Meghan McCain.” She considered it not a partisan issue, but an “insider” one– they want someone who is an insider with without the baggage of an insider, which she considered very cynical, particularly since “this is a network that suspended a reporter for saying the Clintons were pimping out their daughter to their campaign” (that reporter, incidentally– David Shuster– was on Reliable Sources later on).
“There are people who are really hurting, who will look at that soundbite and wonder if they should even live in this country anymore.”
The Political Carnival:
And if the President had been in the middle of the talks trying to get an outcome they’d be bitching that he was micro managing and politicizing the process. Can’t win.
The Daily Caller:
It has been nine months since the AOL/Huffington Post merger and by many accounts things could be better. But despite improving earnings, many see the business model under the leadership of Arianna Huffington as unsustainable.
However, New York magazine’s Vanessa Grigoriadis has a slightly different take on the Huffington Post, post-merger. In a Nov. 20 piece, Grigoriadis suggests that since AOL and the Huffington Post united under Huffington’s direction, the left-of-center website has changed it tone to a more “red-state-friendly” theme:
Huffington’s own thread has seemed to follow a similarly circuitous path, from right to left and now seeming to bend back, making the Huffington Post’s political leanings a bit more red-state-friendly for the AOL culture—though one could argue that, in fact, she’s never been that far left. She’s not anti-capitalist (just anti-looting), and she also lacks the left’s faith in the government’s ability to run things. Huffington says now that she is disappointed in Obama and could even see herself voting Republican in the next presidential election. “To me,” she says, “the issues are more important than the party.” She pauses. “Trust me, I realize how hard it is to change the system, but Obama has demonstrated only the fierce urgency of sometime later, and at the same time the middle class is under assault”—she smiles “which is of course the topic of my last book.”
With time fast running out for the so-called deficit supercommittee, the mammoth amount of government money spent on the military has become a prime target in Washington. But the main focus isn’t on big-ticket weapons projects or expensive wars—it’s on retirement benefits for the roughly 17 percent of soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen who have served 20 years ormore in uniform. Currently the total cost of their benefits is about $50 billion a year.
Cuts to military pensions are “the kind of thing you have to consider,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in September. When President Obama unveiled his $3 trillion debt reduction plan the same month, it called GIs’ benefits “out of line” with private employee retirement plans, saying the system was “designed for a different era of work.” When Congress held a hearing on military retirements in October, Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) promoted a cheaper 401(k)-style plan that would slash existing benefits for many troops. “I see nothing wrong with them being able to choose a different retirement plan,” he said.
These ideas may sound like a bold new approach in an urgent moment—but in fact, the push for pension cuts and other corporate “reforms” at the Pentagon originates from an obscure advisorypanel that has existed for a decade: the Defense Business Board. Its 21 members know little about military affairs, but they are rich in Wall Street experience, including with some of the biggest companies implicated in the 2008 financial meltdown. They are investment bank CEOs and CFOs, outsourcing experts, and layoff specialists who promote a corporate agenda of “behavior change” and “business solutions” in the military bureaucracy. The board proposes not only to slash and privatize military pensions, but also to have the Pentagon invest in oil futures, boost pay for its executives and political appointees, and make it easier for them to fire rank-and-file employees while scaling back those workers’ collective-bargaining rights.
Indeed, “this sounds like what’s being done now around the country with the public unions,” affirms Charles Tiefer, a University of Baltimore law professor and defense contracting watchdog who’s testified to Congress about the board’s recommendations. The board was launched in 2001 by then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who famously wanted to downsize the military and corporatize its management system. The essential reason it exists, Tiefer says, is so that “a pro-business attitude—especially on personnel issues—remains intact” inside the Pentagon.
While the board’s ideas have enjoyed support on Capitol Hill over the years, it has made only a modest impact on policy. Now, the board’s proposals—which they say represent “a culture of savings”—are gaining currency as politicians look to cut federal spending any way they can.
When the federal debt ceiling crisis was escalating in July, a report(PDF) from the board argued that paying soldiers and their families for 60 years after 20 years of service was “unsustainable,” adding, “The ‘Military Retirement’ sacred cow is increasingly unaffordable.” The board called for scrapping the system in favor of a mandatory 401(k)-style account whose savings could “be invested in higher yielding equities and bonds.”
The board’s proposal would set aside 16.5 percent of a troop’s base salary in a savings account to be invested in the markets. Assuming a modest annual return—hardly a safe assumption these days—the plan would still provide retired soldiers with far less money than what they areentitled to now. Critics say the proposal would also make it harder for the military to retain its most senior, most knowledgeable members. As Joe Davis, public affairs director for Veterans of Foreign Wars,put it in August: “Where will our future military leaders come from if people leave the service early because they’re losing retirement money?”
It’s a plan that even Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), chairman of the House subcommittee on military personnel (who’s known for shouting “You lie!” at President Obama during his 2009 health care address to Congress), has called “radical…a very controversial proposal with immediate negative consequences for morale and combat readiness.”
The head of the Defense Business Board’s pensions task force, Richard Spencer, served as a Marine aviator in the 1970s. But more recently, he was the CFO of a web-based commodities and derivatives exchange that is under investigation in Europe for its trading in credit default swaps just before financial markets imploded in 2008. Prior to that job, Spencer worked “on Wall Street for 15 years where his responsibilities centered on investment banking services focusing on strategic advisory services and capital markets underwriting,” according to his current biography on the Defense Business Board’s website.
A cached version of Spencer’s bio identifies the firms where he previously served: Goldman Sachs, Bear Stearns, and Merrill Lynch, three of the biggest Wall Street banks involved in the housing and credit collapse. Joining him in the board’s vote to gut military pensions were the managing director of Accenture’s defense industry portfolio; the chairman of HR consultant Convergys, “a leading outsourcing company”; the CEO of the Bank of Virginia; several high-profile investment bankers; and two Sears executives.
Over the years, the board has recommended a series of “cost-saving” measures that would channel large amounts of money to private-sector businesses. Its members have consistently advocated for the Pentagon to engage in fuel hedging—investing in oil futures to lock in a supposedly low cost for their long-term fuel needs. The board’s fuel-hedging push was led by member Denis Bovin, who was a top investment banker for Bear Stearns until the firm went bust in late 2008. After consulting with energy giants BP and Shell, among others, Bovin’s team concluded that the Department of Defense should invest based on rising oil prices, even while he conceded that “as a whole, DoD is not highly exposed to fuel price volatility.” Such deals, he noted, would incur investment transaction costs of “$10 to $250 million per year.” Even though no federal agency currently engages in fuel hedging, the board tasked Bovin with another study on oil futures last January.
Next Page: Pentagon bosses, the board asserted, should have the right to fire their subordinates without involving the workers’ union.
In the middle of an Occupy Chicago teach-in this week, traders at the Chicago Board of Trade dumped several sheets of paper on top of the heads of protesters below. Demonstrators were angered to find out they were showered with employment applications for McDonald’s.[…]
This is the second incident between the two groups, following Chicago Board of Trade’s “We Are The 1%” missive plastered on their windows last month.
Washington Times freelancer Peter Bella reports that unlike other cities, the Occupy Chicago movement “does not have a permanent encampment. They have a one half block stretch each on LaSalle Street and Jackson Boulevard,” across the street from the Board Of Trade, and have been relatively peaceful.
Inside Higher Education:
[…] “All of us – and university presidents more than anyone else – know the state of higher ed today demands critical attention. Yet, instead of working with the protesting students, too many university leaders are calling in police to ‘maintain order’ or to preserve ‘safety’ or ‘security’ or ‘sanitation,” wrote Cathy Davidson, the Duke University humanities scholar, on her blog.
“But the police don’t come to preserve order; they come in post 9/11 anti-terrorist SWAT gear and the result is brutality incommensurate with minor crimes such as camping overnight on university property. There are real choices that need to be made about how to address the Occupy protests. We’re at a turning point, a Gettysburg Address moment, where moralauthority and moral force need to be eloquently articulated before this historical moment devolves into violence and polarization. Our students are not wrong in the content of their protests. Calling the police does not address their issues; as we have seen too often, it can foster violence – with an ever-more imminent potential for tragedy.”
Crooks and Liars:
KATEHI: I am here to apologize. I feel horrible for what happened on Friday.If you think you don’t want to be students in a university like we had on Friday, I am just telling you, I don’t want to be the chancellor of the university we had on Friday. [someone yells, “then resign!”] Our university has to be better than it is. And it needs all of the community to come together to do that. We need to work together. And I know you may not believe anything I am telling you today, and you don’t have to, it is my responsibility to earn your trust. I only have to say one thing, there is a plaque out there that speaks 17th of November of 1973 and I was there and I don’t want to forget that. So, I hope I will have a better opportunity to work with you, to meet you, to get to know you. And there will be many opportunities to do that.
No headlines announced it. No TV pundits called it. But on the evening of November 8th, Occupy Wall Street, the populist uprising built on economic justice and corruption-free politics that’s spread like a lit match hitting a trail of gasoline, notched its first major political victory, and in the unlikeliest of places: Ohio.
You might have missed OWS’s win amid the recent wave of Occupy crackdowns. Police raided Occupy Denver, Occupy Salt Lake City, Occupy Oakland, Occupy Portland and Occupy Seattle in a five-day span. Hundreds were arrested. And then, in the early morning hours on Tuesday, New York City police descended on Occupy Wall Street itself, fists flying and riot shields at the ready, with orders from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to evict the protesters. Later that day, a judge ruled that they couldn’t rebuild their young community, dealing a blow to the Occupy protest that inspired them all.
Instead of simply condemning the eviction, many pundits and columnists praised it or highlighted what they considered its bright side. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein wrote that Bloomberg had done Occupy Wall Street a favor. After all, he argued, something dangerous or deadly was bound to happen at OWS sooner or later, especially with winter soon to arrive. Zuccotti Park, Klein added, “was cleared… in a way that will temporarily reinvigorate the protesters and give Occupy Wall Street the best possible chance to become whatever it will become next.”
The New York Times’ Paul Krugman wrote that OWS “should be grateful” for Bloomberg’s eviction decree: “By acting so badly, Bloomberg has made it easy to see who won’t be truthful and can’t handle open discourse. He’s also saved OWS from what was probably its greatest problem, the prospect that it would just fade away as time went on and the days grew colder.
Read between the lines and what Klein, Krugman and others are really saying is: you had your occupation; now, get real. Start organizing, meaningfully connect your many Occupy protests, build a real movement. As these columnists see it, that movement — whether you call it OccupyUSA, We Are the 99 percent, or the New Progressive Movement — should now turn its attention to policy changes like a millionaire’s tax, a financial transaction fee or a constitutional amendment to nullify the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that loosed a torrent of cash into American elections. It should think about supporting political candidates. It should start making a nuts-and-bolts difference in American politics.
Commandeering the Conversation
Don’t believe me? Then think back to this spring and summer, when Occupy Wall Street was just a glimmer in the imagination of a few activists, artists and students. In Washington, the conversation, such as it was, concerned debt, deficit and austerity. The discussion wasn’t about whether to slash spending, only about how much and how soon. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent called it the “Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop” — and boy was he right.
A National Journal analysis in May found that the number of news articles in major newspapers mentioning “deficit” was climbing, while mentions of “unemployment” had plummeted. In the last week of July, the liberal blog ThinkProgress tallied 7,583 mentions of the word “debt” on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News alone. “Unemployment”? A measly 427. […]
What a game-changing few months it’s been. Occupy Wall Streethas inspired 750 events around the world, and hundreds of (semi-)permanent encampments around the United States. In so doing, the protests have wrestled the national discussion on the economy away from austerity and toward gaping income inequality (the 99 percent versus 1 percent theme), outsized executive compensation, and the plain buying and selling of American politicians by lobbyists and campaign donors.
Mentions of the phrase “income inequality” in print publications, web stories and broadcast transcripts spiked from 91 times a week in early September to nearly 500 in late October, according to the website Politico — an increase of nearly 450 percent. In the second week of October, according to ThinkProgress, the words most uttered on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News were “jobs” (2,738), “Wall Street” (2,387) and “Occupy” (1,278). (References to “debt” tumbled to 398.)
And here’s another sign of the way Occupy Wall Street has forced what it considers the most pressing economic issues for the country into the spotlight: conservatives have lately gone on the defensive by attacking the very existence of income inequality, even if to little effect. As AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka put it, “Give credit to the Occupy Wall Street movement (and historic inequality) for redefining the political narrative.”
Wall Street in Ohio
The way Occupy Wall Street, with next to no direct access to the mainstream media, commandeered the national political narrative represents something of a stunning triumph. It also laid the groundwork for OWS’s first political win.
Just as OWS was grabbing that narrative, labor unions and Democrats headed into the final stretch of one of their biggest fights of 2011: an up-or-down referendum on the fate of Ohio governor John Kasich’s anti-union law, also known as SB 5.Passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature in March, it sought to curb the collective bargaining rights of 350,000 police, firefighters, teachers, snowplow drivers and other public workers. It also gutted the political clout of unions by making it harder for them to collect dues and fund their political action committees. After failing to overturn similar laws in Wisconsin and Michigan, the SB 5 fight was labor’s last stand of 2011.
I spent a week in Ohio in early November interviewing dozens of people and reporting on the run-up to the SB 5 referendum. I visited heavily Democratic and Republican parts of the state, talking to liberals and conservatives, union leaders and activists. What struck me was how dramatically the debate had shifted in Ohio thanks in large part to the energy generated by Occupy Wall Street.
It was as if a great tide had lifted the pro-repeal forces in a way you only fully grasped if you were there. Organizers and volunteers had a spring in their step that hadn’t been evident in Wisconsin this summer during the recall elections of nine state senators targeted for their actions during the fight over Governor Scott Walker’s own anti-union law. Nearly everywhere I went in Ohio, people could be counted on to mention two things: the 99 percent — that is, the gap between the rich and poor — and the importance of protecting the rights of the cops and firefighters targeted by Kasich’s law.
And not just voters or local activists either. I heard it from union leaders as well. Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, told me that her union had recruited volunteers from 15 different states for the final get-out-the-vote effort in Ohio. That, she assured me, wouldn’t have happened without the energy generated by OWS. And when Henry herself went door-to-door in Ohio to drum up support for repealing SB 5, she said that she could feel its influence in home after home. “Every conversation was in the context of the 99 percent and the 1 percent, this discussion sparked by Occupy Wall Street.”
This isn’t to take anything away from labor’s own accomplishments in Ohio. We Are Ohio, the labor-funded coalition that led the effort, collected nearly 1.3 million signatures this summer to put the repeal of SB 5 on the November ballot. (They needed just 230,000.) The group outspent its opponents $30 million to $8 million, a nearly four-to-one margin. And in the final days before the November 8th victory, We Are Ohio volunteers knocked on a million doors and made nearly a million phone calls. In the end, a stunning 2.14 million Ohioans voted to repeal SB 5 and only 1.35 million to keep it, a 61 percent to 39 percent margin. There were repeal majorities in 82 of Ohio’s 88 counties, support that cut across age, class, race and political ideologies.
Nonetheless, it’s undeniable that a mood change had hit Ohio — and in a major way. Pro-worker organizers and volunteers benefited from something their peers in Wisconsin lacked: the wind of public opinion at their backs. Polls conducted in the run-up to Ohio’s November 8th vote showed large majorities of Ohioans agreeing that income inequality was a problem. What’s more, 60 percent of respondents in a Washington Post-ABC poll said the federal government should act to close that gap. Behind those changing numbers was the influence of Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy protests.
So, as the debate rages over what will happen to Occupy Wall Street after its eviction from Zuccotti Park, and some “experts” sneer at OWS and tell it to get real, just direct their attention to Ohio. Kasich’s anti-union law might still be on the books if not for the force of OWS. And if the Occupy movement survives Mayor Bloomberg’s eviction order and the winter season, if it regroups and adapts to life beyond Zuccotti Park, you can bet it will notch more political victories in 2012.
[Please read original for all the links.]
Last week, a Boston Globe investigation uncovered that former Gov. Mitt Romney’s administration destroyed emails, purchased hard drives, and otherwise obliterated all digital records of his time as governor of Massachusetts. This happened as Romney was leaving the state to campaign for president (the first time), and observers immediately speculated that the systematic destruction was politically motivated to hide embarrassing data.
Romney and his campaign have so far denied this, with the candidate saying this weekend in New Hampshire that his staff took the highly unusual step of purchasing their work hard drives because they might contain “confidential and private” information. Meanwhile, he’s made calls for greater White House transparency a part of his campaign message.
But in a fairly stunning admission today during an interview with the editorial board of the Nashua Telegraph in New Hampshire, Romney suggested that his administration deleted emails because they didn’t want “opposition research teams” to have access to them:
ROMNEY: Well, I think in government we should follow the law. And there has never been an administration that has provided to the opposition research team, or to the public, electronic communications. So ours would have been the first.
While Romney’s claim that no previous administration had kept emails may be true, that’s hardly a strong precedent given that emailing was not commonplace for very many years before Romney took office.
Meanwhile, Romney clearly broke precedent with the hard drive buybacks, as staffers for previous administration called the purchases “unheard of.” Terry Dolan, who worked in six previous administrations in the state, told the Globe, “That had not happened prior to the end of the Romney administration.” “I don’t remember anybody buying their hard drives. I don’t remember anybody buying anything,’’ said Stephen Crosby, who worked for Romney’s two predecessors.
[…] The DNC is asking for all applications that would have allowed the outgoing Romney administration to transfer or destroy documents to the state archives. It is also asking for all correspondence related to the removal, destruction, or purchase of any public record, including a computer, hard drive, or disk.
At this point, many Republicans and media figures want to point the finger at President Obama.
Indeed, the right seems quite invested in this line of attack, as if a memo went out to Republicans and allied pundits, encouraging them to all say the same thing at the same time. Judd Gregg and Robert Samuelson make the same lazy argument in print, and both pretend to have no knowledge of the massive debt-reduction plans Obama offered the GOP, which the conservative party rejected.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) even sketched out a crude conspiracy theory, telling ABC yesterday that the White House deliberately ensured the super-committee’s failure so the president could run against a “do-nothing Congress.”
Then there was Mitt Romney.
With the so-called supercommittee at an impasse ahead of Wednesday’s deadline, Mr. Romney blamed the president for the apparent failure of the bipartisan panel…. “He hasn’t had any role,” Mr. Romney told roughly 200 supporters outside the city hall building in Nashua…. “He’s done nothing.”
Let’s count the ways in which this fails to make any sense whatsoever.
First, President Obama offered Republicans multiple debt-reduction plans, which called for concessions from both sides. GOP lawmakers rejected every offer. That’s not an example of the president “doing nothing”; it’s an example of the opposite.
Second, Obama can’t force Republicans to negotiate in good faith and he can’t compel the GOP to accept revenues the party refused to even consider. It’s not as if Republicans on the super-committee would somehow become more responsible because the president asked them to stop acting like children. Indeed, he’s asked that before, and it’s never worked.
And third, Obama kept his distance and allowed members of the debt panel to work on a deal on their own because Republicans asked the president to stay away.
[A]nother committee member, Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, said on “Meet the Press” that President Obama and White House budget officials “were asked to be hands off.”
“The Republicans said, ‘Don’t let Obama come into this, because if he does, it will make it political,’ ” Mr. Kerry said, adding, “They’ve been intimately involved, but carefully so that they didn’t politicize it. I think they did the right thing.”
Republicans can’t urge Obama to keep his distance, and then blame him when he keeps his distance.
Members of this committee were given a task: strike a deal. Democrats were willing to meet Republicans more than half way; Republicans weren’t willing to compromise. It’s only natural to wonder who’s to blame when there’s a breakdown like this, but holding the White House responsible is deeply foolish.
Marc Ambinder channels the White House’s view of the supercommittee’s all-but-certain failure, and explains why Obama avoided taking a hands on role:
President Obama would have preferred the super committee produce a bipartisan deal, but what remains is not so bad: the prospect of up to $6 trillion in debt reduction if Congress does nothing, and the certainty of sharply defined election-year contrasts with Republicans.
Obama has done nothing to encourage a deal. Indeed, from the beginning, after he agreed to accept the super committee formula in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, he has kept his hands clean. Obama’s political advisers consider the debt-ceiling fight last summer a transcendent moment in American politics, and not in a good way.
Having allowed Congress to fail on its own, Obama is not about to take the reins of a process that could further erode voter confidence in him. He laid out his preferences in September, officials said. They include a $1.5 trillion tax hike, mostly on the wealthy, some cuts to entitlements and domestic spending, and a $1 trillion reduction in defense spending.
Obama plans to lay the failure at the feet of Republicans, who, he will say, were constitutionally incapable of raising taxes on wealthy Americans. This sets the stage for an election-year debate about the Bush-era tax cuts for the top two income brackets.
Another way to put it: This time, Obama avoided the trap Republicans laid for him — the very same trap he stepped in during the debt ceiling debacle.
Look: Republicans never had any intention of agreeing to a deficit reduction deal Obama could ever have supported. The differences between Republicans and Obama on deficit reduction are unbridgeable. One side (Republicans) has proven intent throughout on making a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts a condition for any deal. The other side (Obama) sees the expiration of the Bush tax cuts as essential to peserving the country’s future, and is planning to stake his reelection partly on the contrast of visions that flows from the battle over them.
Republicans have been hammering Obama to get more involved in the process almost daily, claiming he has failed to show leadership; Mitt Romney amplified that point yet again today. But Obama seems to have figured out that allowing himself to be drawn into the process would have been a sucker’s game.
Either Obama and Dems would have had to accept a deal that involved near-total capitulation by them, making Obama look weak and further angering his base. Or, if Obama had gotten more directly involved and the supercommittee failed, he would have ended up more directly associated with the profound dysfunction of Congress, whose numbers are at record lows. That would have reprised the dynamic of the health and debt ceiling fights — spattering Obama with Congressional mud — and would have complicated his reelection strategy of running against Congress and its failure to act on the economy.
At any rate, the White House seems to be preparing to use the supercommittee failure to continue aggressively contrasting the priorities of the two parties and hammering Republicans as protectors of the rich above all else. That wouldn’t have been as easy to do if Obama had taken the GOP’s bait and gotten drawn into the supercommittee muck, as Republicans clearly hoped he would.
US President Barack Obama has succeeded in hauling a maritime dispute into an Asian summit despite China’s objections, in a diplomatic victory at the end of his Pacific tour.
The “robust” discussion on the South China Sea territorial row, at the East Asia Summit on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, took place on Saturday after a week of increasingly sharp exchanges between the two world powers.
Washington’s new diplomatic campaign to assert itself as a Pacific power has alarmed China which sees the initiatives, including stationing US Marines in northern Australia, as intruding into its sphere of influence.
China’s Premier Wen Jiabao has warned against interference by “external forces” in the maritime wrangle, over a strategic and resource-rich area where several regional nations have overlapping claims.
But shortly after hastily arranged talks between Obama and Wen on the summit sidelines, the group leaders held a “very robust conversation on maritime security and the South China Sea”, according to a US administration official.
Obama was “encouraged” by the talks and the tone was “constructive”, the official said on condition of anonymity, referring to a famous Wild West gunfight by saying it was “not a shootout at the OK Corral”.
There was no “tirade” from Wen, he said, adding: “Even though maybe he started off maybe a little grouchy, by and large he was very measured.”
Chinese state media indicated that Wen reluctantly agreed to the issue being raised at the 18-nation summit.
“I don’t want to discuss this issue at the summit, however, leaders of some countries mentioned China on the issue. It’s impolite not to make a return for what one receives,” he said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
“The South China Sea is an important transportation passageway for China, regional countries and even the world. The Chinese government has made a positive contribution to safeguard the navigation security in the South China Sea,” he added.
China, which claims the South China Sea in full, had insisted on discussing the dispute individually with its smaller neighbours but the US has now succeeded in making it a topic for debate at an international forum.
The region is a conduit for more than one-third of the world’s seaborne trade and half its traffic in oil and gas, and major petroleum deposits are believed to lie below the seabed.
China claims all of it, as does Taiwan, while four South-East Asian countries declare ownership of parts of it, with Vietnam and the Philippines accusing Chinese forces of increasing aggression there.
“The US position here is a principled position – the United States is a Pacific power, it is a trading power, it is a maritime power,” US National Security Adviser Tom Donilon said in Bali.
“The United States has an interest in the freedom of navigation, the free flow of commerce, a peaceful resolution of disputes (but) we don’t have a claim, we don’t take sides in the claims.”
Donilon said Obama discussed concerns about what Washington sees as the artificially low value of the yuan and trade disputes that he raised with China’s President Hu Jintao in Hawaii last week.
Wen told Obama China would increase the flexibility of the yuan while stressing that reforms had already had an effect, Chinese state media reported.
“We are closely watching the changes to the yuan’s exchange rate … and will encourage the yuan’s flexibility in both directions,” CCTV quoted Wen as saying.
Wen and Obama met on the same day that a commentary by China’s official Xinhua news agency dripped with contempt for his attempt to show that the United States considers itself a Pacific power.
As well as the deployment of 2500 US Marines to northern Australia, Obama has also irked Beijing with his support for expanding negotiations on a pan-Pacific trade deal in which China is not included.
“If the United States sticks to its Cold War mentality and continues to engage with Asian nations in a self-assertive way, it is doomed to incur repulsion in the region,” the Xinhua commentary said.
“It is also called upon to guard against sparking disputes and encroaching on others’ interests,” it added, in an apparent reference to the row over the South China Sea.
China is also likely to be concerned by a dramatic US foray into Burma, its resource-rich ally and southern neighbour.
On Friday Obama said he would send Hillary Clinton there next month, the first visit by a US secretary of state for 50 years, as Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy said it would take part in upcoming by-elections.
Washington is looking to encourage tentative reforms by the new nominally civilian regime in a country which for decades was ruled by a military junta, and developed close ties to Beijing while the West imposed sanctions on it.
“Liberals are dissatisfied with Obama because liberals, on the whole, are incapable of feeling satisfied with a Democratic president. They can be happy with the idea of a Democratic president — indeed, dancing-in-the-streets delirious — but not with the real thing.”
“For almost all of the past 60 years, liberals have been in a near-constant emotional state of despair, punctuated only by brief moments of euphoria and occasional rage. When they’re not in charge, things are so bleak they threaten to move to Canada; it’s almost more excruciating when they do win elections, and their presidents fail in essentially the same ways: He is too accommodating, too timid, too unwilling or unable to inspire the populace. (Except for Johnson, who was a bloodthirsty warmonger.)”
Opponents of Gov. Scott Walker said they have faced threats and thefts in the days since the recall effort began.
Two volunteers in the petition drive reported violent threats made against them to the police. Neighbors in Monona also complained to authorities of politically motivated thefts from their yards.
The threats involved phone calls from an area code in Minnesota. The calls came overnight after Walker’s opponents began the recall, said Madison resident Tom Peer, who said he received a call at 2 a.m. on Thursday.
“They said, ‘If you don’t stop circulating recall petitions, we will kill you,'” said Peer.
A similar call came to Heather DuBois Bourenane, of Sun Prairie. The United Wisconsin recall worker jumped out of bed when her phone rang around 4 a.m. on Thursday.
“He said I had attracted the attention of some very bad people, and my life and the lives of my family were in danger,” Bourenane said.
She called Sun Prairie police, who confirmed investigators were working on the case.
[…]Pew Research is the latest to survey Americans and find that the Republican base really, really doesn’t like compromise:
Among those who have heard at least a little about the super committee, there is broad support for compromise: 65% say lawmakers who share their views on the budget deficit should be willing to compromise, even if it results in a deal they disagree with….[But] there continue to be wide partisan differences in views of compromise. Among those who have heard at least a little about the super committee, 74% of Democrats and 67% of independents support compromise, compared with 52% of Republicans.
Once again, then: this explains most of what you need to know about modern American politics. Republican politicians refuse to compromise because that’s what their base rewards them for. Conversely, Democratic politicians support compromise because that’s what theirbase rewards them for.
Always keep this in mind when you’re tearing your hair out trying to make sense of what’s going on in Washington DC. Sometimes politicians aren’t quite as mysterious or bumbling as you think. They’re just reacting to their incentives, the same as the rest of us.
A collaboration of researchers from HRL, CalTech, and UC Irvine have created the new world’s lightest material–some 100 times lighter than styrofoam. It’s even lighter than aerogel, one of our favorite ultralight materials.
The material is a micro-lattice in structure, with the 0.01 percent of the material that’s solid consisting of hollow tubes that are only 100 nanometers thick. It’s rated at a density of 0.9 mg/cc, lighter than even the lightest aerogels, which have only achieved 1.1 mg/cc. It’s also extraordinarily strong and shock-absorbent, thanks to all that air: it can compress by 50 percent and completely recover its shape, highly unusual for a material that is essentially metallic. It was actually inspired by architectural structures rather than other ultralight materials–the team looked to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Eiffel Tower to see how those structures are so light and yet so strong.
The project was undertaken for, who else, DARPA, which says it could be used for products ranging from battery electrodes to energy damping in addition to insulation, the main use for prior lightweight champ aerogel.
Like many first-time home buyers, Denise P. Edwards was bewildered by the costs and paperwork generated by her 2006 purchase of a tidy red and white bungalow in Cleveland’s North Collinwood neighborhood.
Negative surprises included the fact that her title agency had agreed to steer almost all its title insurance business to a single company — First American Financial Corp. — in exchange for a $2 million payment years before that bought a minority share in the agency.
A lawsuit the 41-year-old teacher’s aide filed against First American, which alleges her $455.53 title insurance purchase resulted from an illegal kickback scheme, has evolved into a far-reaching consumer-rights dispute that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear on Nov. 28.
Legal experts say a decision against Edwards could weaken a broad range of consumer protection statutes and curtail class-action suits. The case could have implications for everything from copyright to credit reporting law, where financial harm to the aggrieved can be hard to prove.
First American contends that Edwards has no legal standing to sue it for violating the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) of 1974. It says the insurance steering didn’t hurt Edwards because all title insurance policies cost the same amount of money in Ohio when she bought her three-bedroom house.
The U.S. government, consumer groups and attorneys general from 11 states have filed legal briefs that take Edwards’ side. They say that inside dealing of the sort Edwards experienced damages consumers and that lawsuits like hers are needed to ensure that companies comply with consumer protection laws.
A brief filed by Public Citizen, AARP, the Center for Responsible Lending and other consumer groups says that Congress has written numerous laws that allow plaintiffs to sue for statutory damages without showing financial harm, including copyright laws, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and laws that restrict telemarketers.
“Because proving monetary damages can cost more than the harm suffered, few consumers would accept this cost if recoveries were limited to proven monetary losses,” it says.
The U.S. solicitor general’s office says First American’s argument that Edwards wasn’t hurt because she paid the standard title insurance rate doesn’t fly because that standard rate could be inflated because of pervasive illegal kickbacks.
“In this era of declining enforcement budgets . . . states and the federal government must rely more and more on consumer self-help, through private suits, to vindicate statutory consumers rights,” says a brief filed by the states of Missouri, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington and West Virginia. “If federal courts are unable to hear those consumers’ statutory claims, many consumers will simply not have a forum in which to vindicate their rights.”
Kaiser Health News:
The Hill: Supreme Court Appoints Lawyers To Argue Healthcare Positions Neither Party Supports
H. Bartow Farr, a partner at Farr & Taranto, has been chosen to argue that the entire law can stand if the individual mandate is struck down … Also, Robert Long, a partner with Covington & Burling, was chosen to defend the position that the mandate cannot be challenged before it goes into effect in 2014 because it’s a tax (Pecquet, 11/18).
Politico: Senate GOP Wants Answers On Kagan, ACA
Senate Republican leaders on Friday demanded that Attorney General Eric Holder respond to requests for information on whether Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan has any conflict of interest in the health reform lawsuit the court will take up this spring. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said Kagan’s role in the Obama administration during the passage of health care reform “may satisfy” both requirements for justices to recuse themselves (Haberkorn, 11/18).
Roll Call: Republicans Question DOJ Over Kagan Role in Health Care
Kagan served as President Barack Obama’s solicitor general prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court and conservatives have openly questioned her ability to consider the health care law as a sitting judge( Brady, 11/18).
The Hill: Dems Ramp Up Attacks On Justice Thomas Ahead Of Health Law Ruling
House Democrats wrote to the U.S. Judicial Conference on Friday urging the watchdog agency to request that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder investigate Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. … The letter, [was] spearheaded by House Rules ranking member Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and signed by 51 House Democrats … House Democrats have asked for Thomas to recuse himself in that case, because his wife has financial ties to groups that want the law stuck down (Pecquet, 11/18).
Kaiser Health News: Infographic: Legal Questions And Answers That Will Decide The Health Law’s Fate
The challenge to the Affordable Care Act that the U.S. Supreme Court will consider this March involves a series of complex and inter-related legal questions. … [KHN] provides this diagram to help see how the sweeping health law’s implementation could proceed — or not — based on each of these questions (Taylor, 11/18).
Los Angeles Times:
[…] The incident prompted several local and national labor unions to call on the city to let the protesters stay. Maria Elena Durazo, head of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, issued a statement in support of the expanded protest, calling the bank plaza “a much more fitting target for Occupy LA than City Hall ever was or could be.”
Her strong support underscored the important role unions played in several of Thursday’s protests.
In New York, banner-carrying members of the Service Employees International Union led a crowd of several thousand people to Manhattan’s Foley Square. Protesters then marched across the Brooklyn Bridge on a pedestrian walkway — a much more peaceful demonstration than one earlier in the day in Lower Manhattan that left several people bloodied.
Local affiliates of the same union helped organize two marches in Los Angeles. At an early morning demonstration, which snarled downtown commuter traffic, many protesters sported purple SEIU T-shirts. The main rallying point in chants and on signs was a traditional labor demand: jobs.
The role of organized labor in the Occupy movement has been debated at camps across the country, with some accusing unions of trying to co-opt the message and energy of the protest. Earlier this week, in an endorsement of President Obama’s reelection campaign, the president of the SEIU used a phrase employed by the Occupy movement when she asked whether voters want leaders who will side with the top 1% of wealthiest Americans or the other 99%.
But others say that unions and Occupy have similar goals, and that labor groups have helped sustain the movement.
Occupy L.A. protester Eric Swimer said union involvement “solidifies what we are doing.”
“Having a stronger presence is always good,” he said.
The first protester arrested in Los Angeles on Thursday was 81-year-old Bertha Jordan, a retired nurse — and a former member of the SEIU. Unions have donated food and tents to the L.A. protest, and have issued public pleas to let to protesters stay camped outside City Hall, where they have been since Oct. 1.
When a private employer, like the Los Angeles Film School (LAFS), decides to fight the efforts of its workers to form a union, there is very little holding it back, despite the rights written into US labor law almost three quarters of a century ago.
The National Labor Relations Act says workers not only have the right to form unions, but that the government encourages them to do so, to level the power imbalance with their employers. The law sets up an election process, in which workers supposedly can freely choose a union. And it says that it’s illegal for an employer to fire or punish any worker who uses these rights.
Then there’s the reality, as practiced by the LAFS.
That company, set up in 1999 by the former lawyer for Occidental Petroleum, was bought by Florida-based Full Sail Film School in 2003. The film and recording business in Los Angeles has strong, well-respected unions. The studios that are the hoped-for employers for film school graduates negotiate with unions all the time. But the LAFS and Full Sail are not ordinary film schools. They are diploma mills that feed off federal loans taken out by students.
A lawsuit filed last year against LAFS says that students, who pay $18,000 to $23,000 per year tuition for a two-year AS degree, receive much less than promised. The school hands out gift cards to Target and Best Buy, the suit says, to students who list jobs at Apple and Guitar Center stores as “creative positions” on forms submitted to get the college accreditation. That allows the schools to enroll its students in federal loan programs.
Brandii Grace, a digital game designer, moved from Seattle in 2009 when she was offered a contract to teach her skill at LAFS. She took a $2,000 per year cut from her previous job, and was promised $70,000 per year. Her fiancée had to stay behind, but still in their 20s, they decided the prospect of making a life together in the heart of the entertainment world made the sacrifice worth it.
No sooner had she started to teach, however, than the school began making radical changes in the conditions for all its teachers. It cut classes, created new online components, and reassigned teachers to classes where they had no experience. “At first, they promised extra compensation,” she remembers. “Then they said we were being changed from salaried employees to hourly, but that we’d get overtime for the additional work.”
Then, the school announced teachers would only be paid the hours spent in class, cutting most to 8-16 a week. “They weren’t going to pay anything for the three hours grading, advising and planning curriculum for every hour we spend in class,” she says. With their income about to plunge, the faculty rebelled. Grace started trying to help people understand what was happening, at first just by distributing the school’s own memos. Finally, the school demanded that teachers sign agreements to the new arrangements. In a meeting of instructors, she not only urged them not to do it, but also said they should look for a union.
That was a big step for her. She’d grown up suspicious of unions because of earlier family experiences, but every government agency she contacted told her there was no legal way to stop the new rules if the teachers had no union contract. “We found Peter Nguyen and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), and he was ready to help us move right away,” Grace recalls. Over the next month they collected union cards, and filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) with 70 percent of the faculty signed up. Grace was chosen head of the union steering committee.
That was when hell broke loose. The film school hired IRI Consultants, a union-busting firm from Michigan. With their advice, school managers set Grace up to be fired, and prepared a classic campaign of psychological warfare against its own faculty.
“We were immediately told we were all supervisors, and that our salaried status would be restored,” she recalls. Her boss called her in, told her they knew she was the union leader, and threatened her. Suddenly they accused her of not turning in work, of insubordination and even of becoming violent. “They handed me a memo full of lies that were dramatic and extreme,” Grace charges.
She was suspended for three days, and when she came back, she was fired.
It was her 30th birthday, and her apartment lease had just expired.
She didn’t give up, though. Other workers would call her at night, telling her how scared they were. The company was holding mandatory meetings to make its union hatred clear, and each teacher was called in for a private chat with her or his supervisor. “Managers would run down the hall screaming at someone, ‘you signed the card!'” Grace says she was told.
The union filed charges in March, right after she was fired, and held a protest rally. But six months later, the NLRB still hadn’t finished its investigation. The union withdrew its petition for the election because the level of fear was so intense that the right to vote freely had become a joke. The NLRB regional office issued a complaint shortly afterward, charging the school with firing Grace illegally, but it was too late. A hearing was held in January, and in April the hearing officer ruled that the LAFS had violated the law. He ordered Grace reinstated with back pay. The school, however, is appealing the decision to the labor board in Washington, DC, a process that will probably last at least a year. If they have the money and the will, they can then appeal into the court system.
Grace’s ordeal is a direct product of this country’s weak labor laws, a problem the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) was written to correct. That’s why large employers, Republicans, and even conservative Democrats have fought the bill in Congress. EFCA would go a long way toward solving the problems Grace experienced.
@MarthaPlimpton: “If Fred Phelps has right to verbally abuse people going to their son’s funerals, then OWS has right to sit in middle of a park.”
Is the United States sliding toward theocracy? That’s what Republican presidential candidates have told us for more than a year. Radical Islam, they’ve argued, is on the verge of taking over our country through Sharia law. But this weekend, at an Iowa forum sparsely covered by the press, the candidates made clear that they don’t mind theocracy—in fact, they’d like to impose it—as long as it’s Christian.
What we are seeing is a wider gap between people of faith and people of nonfaith. … Those of us that are people of faith and strong faith have allowed the nonfaith element to intimidate us into not fighting back. I believe we’ve been too passive. We have maybepushed back, but as people of faith, we have not fought back.
Somebody’s values are going to decide what the Congress votes on or what the president of the United States is going to deal with. And the question is: Whose values? And let me tell you, it needs to be our values—values and virtues that this country was based upon in Judeo-Christian founding fathers.
American exceptionalism is grounded on the Judeo-Christian ethic, which is really based upon the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments were the foundation for our law. That’s what Blackstone said—the English jurist—and our founders looked to Blackstone for the foundation of our law. That’s our law.
I have a biblical worldview. And I think, going back to the Declaration of Independence, the fact that it’s God who created us—if He created us, He created government. And the government is on His shoulders, as the book of Isaiah says.
Unlike Islam, where the higher law and the civil law are the same, in our case, we have civil laws. But our civil laws have to comport with the higher law. … As long as abortion is legal—at least according to the Supreme Court—legal in this country, we will never have rest, because that law does not comport with God’s law.
God gave us rights, but He also gave us laws upon which to exercise those rights, and that’s what you ought to do. And, by the way, the law should comport—the laws of this country should comport with that moral vision. Why? Because the law is a teacher. If something is illegal in this country because it is immoral and it is wrong and it is harmful to society, saying that it is illegal and putting a law in place teaches. It’s not just—laws cannot be neutral. There is no neutral, Ron. There is only moral and immoral. And the law has to reflect what is right and good and just for our society.
The idea that the only things that the states are prevented from doing are only things specifically established in the Constitution is wrong. Our country is based on a moral enterprise. Gay marriage is wrong. As Abraham Lincoln said, the states do not have the right to do wrong. … As a president, I will get involved, because the states do not have the right to undermine the basic, fundamental values that hold this country together.
I am intrigued with something which Robby George at Princeton has come up with, which is an interpretation of the 14th Amendment, in which it says that Congress shall define personhood. That’s very clearly in the 14th Amendment. And part of what I would like to explore is whether or not you could get the Congress to pass a law which simply says: Personhood begins at conception. And therefore—and you could, in the same law, block the court and just say, ‘This will not be subject to review,’ which we have precedent for. You would therefore not have to have a constitutional amendment, because the Congress would have exercised its authority under the 14th Amendment to define life, and to therefore undo all of Roe vs. Wade, for the entire country, in one legislative action.
Gingrich said the same strategy could secure the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages and protects the right of states to disregard same-sex marriages performed in other states. In his words, “You could repass DOMA and make it not appealable to the court, period.”
The simplest first step which I would take is to propose—and I hope this will be a significant part of the campaign next year—I have proposed to abolish the court of Judge Biery in San Antonio, who on June 1 issued an order that said, not only could students not pray at their graduation, they couldn’t use the word benediction, the could not say the word prayer, they could not say the word God, they could not ask people to stand for a moment of silence, they couldn’t use the word invocation, and if he broke any of those, he would put their superintendent in jail. I regard that as such a ruthless anti-American statement that he should not be on the court, and I would move to literally abolish his court, so that he could go back to private practice, as a signal to the courts.
Biery’s order was an overreach. In fact, it was overturned two days later by an appeals court. But he’s only the first target of the anti-judicial purge. The next words after Gingrich’s threat came from Santorum, who said: “I agree with a lot of what has just been said here. I would go farther—one step farther, Newt. I would abolish the entire Ninth Circuit.”
Part of the purpose of singling out Judge Biery and eliminating his job is to communicate the standard that the two elected branches have the power and the authority to educate the judiciary when it deviates too far from the American people. And I think you would probably take that approach.
There was one voice of dissent among the candidates. Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas, argued that people should be allowed to make bad decisions, that freedom of choice in religious matters should extend to atheists, and that powers not reserved to the federal government should be left to the states. But in a field of candidates bent on legislating Christian morality and purging uncooperative judges, Paul stood alone. Protecting America is too important to let the Constitution get in the way.
[Please see original article for links.]
Striking statistic from Pew about difference between US and Europe
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
“Traveling can be such a bummer these days that people need a friendly voice,” Hopkins tells CBS. And more than 200 airports around the world, as well as the New York City subway, have adopted the 63-year-old’s voice as their official spokeswoman, proving that we all want a little comfort and consistency while traveling.
Hopkins is surely one of the most listened-to voices in the world, secretly famous yet always respected. The next time you’re in a foreign airport, keep an ear on the sky – you might just hear Hopkins’ voice welcoming you. She’ll make you feel at home, no matter how far from it you may be.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“Of all forms of tyranny the least attractive and the most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth, the tyranny of a plutocracy” – Theodore Roosevelt