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Barclays Analyst: GDP Will Drop 1.5% if GOP Lets Payroll Tax Cut Expire 




AP: American Airlines files for bankruptcy, saying labor contracts force it to spend more than other airlines

[…] The company also replaced its CEO, and the incoming leader said American would probably cut its flight schedule “modestly” while it reorganizes. The new CEO, Thomas W. Horton, did not give specifics.

For most travelers, though, flights will operate normally and the airline will honor tickets and take reservations. American said its frequent-flier program would be unaffected.

AMR Corp., which owns American, was one of the last major U.S. airline companies that had avoided bankruptcy. Rivals United and Delta used bankruptcy to shed costly labor contracts, reduce debt, and start making money again. They also grew through mergers. […]

AMR, however, wants to push ahead with plans to order 460 new jets from Boeing and Airbus and take delivery of more than 50 others already ordered. New planes would save American money on fuel and maintenance, but the orders will be subject to approval by the bankruptcy court.

Analysts said all airlines will benefit if American reduces flights – especially if the cutbacks are more severe than American’s new CEO is letting on. They said the chief winners were likely to be United and Delta, which compete for the same business travelers and have global networks like American’s.

The losers will be American Airlines employees and AMR stockholders. […]

James C. Little, president of the Transport Workers Union, which represents mechanics, baggage handlers and other ground workers at American, was harsh in his assessment of the impact on labor.

“This (bankruptcy) is likely to be a long and ugly process and our union will fight like hell to make sure that front line workers don’t pay an unfair price for management’s failings,” Little said.





Health insurance companies, flush with YOUR premium dollars, are on an acquisition binge. 

With so much of healthcare reform focused on hospitals and physicians, health plans have more or less been left to their own devices to figure out what role they will play in future of healthcare delivery. They have been very busy this year making acquisitions that will keep them in the center of the healthcare universe for years to come.

Health plan acquisitions in 2011 have focused on three areas, explains Steve Elek, a partner in PwC’s Healthcare Transaction Services practice:

  • Horizontal integration. These acquisitions include other health insurance companies. Elek says growth in the baby boomer population is among the factors driving interest among commercial carriers in Medicare Advantage companies. These acquisitions can create an opportunity for commercial insurers to attract lifetime members who can be easily shifted to a Medicare Advantage plan at age 65. He says Medicaid insurers offer another acquisition opportunity as more states turn to Medicaid managed care to help control the costs of that program.
  • Vertical integration. These acquisitions include hospitals, physician groups, and urgent care and outpatient surgery centers. The goal is for health insurers to control the patient care cost centers. Elek says to look for more of this type of acquisition as health insurers become more proactive in the delivery of care to their members in order to bend the cost curve.
  • International opportunities. These acquisitions include healthcare systems and insurers in other parts of the world. Elek says these acquisitions offer an opportunity for U.S. health insurers to diversify their revenue base.

Here’s a look at five health plan acquisitions from 2011 that illustrate how health plans are using horizontal and vertical integration and even international acquisitions to meet strategic goals.







Payroll tax cut for workers would be funded by tiny group of wealthy Americans

Greg Sargent:

Okay, so here we are again. Senate Dems are set to hold a vote on extending the payroll tax cut, which independent experts say is necessary to prevent the recovery from stalling. Republicans oppose extending it, partly on the grounds that it would be paid for by a 3.25 percent surtax on income over $1 million.

The dispute is over how to fund the extension. As a spokesman for John Boehner put it, extending the tax cut is a “potential area for common ground,” but it’s a nonstarter if it’s coupled “with a job-killing tax hike on small businesses.”

So it’s time to check in again with the non-partisan Citizens for Tax Justice to determine exactly what this surtax would mean — how many people it would impact, and how much in additional taxes they would have to pay.

Here’s the answer, provided to me by the group: The surtax would impact around 345,000 taxpayers, roughly 0.2 percent of taxpayers, or one in 500 of them. Those people would pay on average an additional 2.1 percent of their overall income, or just over 1/50th of that overall income, in taxes.

In a majority of states, only one-tenth of one percent, or one in 1,000 taxpayers, would pay this surtax.

And how many people would benefit from the payroll tax cut? According to the group, around 113 million tax filing units — either single workers or families that include more than one worker — would see their payroll tax cut extended. That’s a lot of people — well over 113 million workers, in fact.

Here’s how this works. When Obama first proposed his American Jobs Act, to be paid for by a millionaire surtax, Citizens for Tax Justice produced an analysis determining that overall, 0.2 percent of taxpayers would be impacted by the surtax.

But that analysis looked at the entire American Jobs Act, which would have been paid for by a larger surtax (5.6 percent). I asked CTJ to update the numbers to reflect the new proposal, on just the payroll tax cut extension, which would be paid for by a smaller surtax of 3.25 percent.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Because that surtax only hits income over $1 million, the percentage of overall income it would amount to is actually less than 3.25 percent. That’s what I asked CTJ to calculate. And the bolded numbers above are the group’s answer.

The battle over the Dem payroll tax cut proposal is unique. Even putting aside the argument over whether extending the cut would have stimulative value — which some Republicans doubt — you’re still left with a clear cut case in which either one group (1/500th of taxpayers, all of whom are wealthy) or the other (more than 113 million workers) ends up paying more than they do now.

Republicans say the first group includes huge amounts of small businesses, and that taxing them will hurt the economy. But when Post fact checker Glenn Kessler took a close look at this claim, he found that it’s in some respects wanting, and turns heavily on how you define a small business.

Either way, the differences in size and wealth between the two groups that would be impacted here are vast. That’s why Dems are particularly eager to have this fight: They hope it illustrates in the starkest terms yet who is fighting on behalf of whom, and what the true priorities of the two parties really are.


UPDATE: A version of this analysis in table form, which also brings you state by state numbers, is now up online. And an explanation of CTJ’s methodology is right here.




Stat of the Day: Bureau of Labor & Stats says 455,000 state & local gov’t jobs have been cut since beginning of 2010

[…] The Fiscal Survey of States says that even as states struggle with tepid revenue growth, they will be called on to spend more because of the economic distress caused by continued high unemployment.

“State budgets are certainly improving; however, growth is weak, and there is not enough money for all the bills coming in,” said NASBO Executive Director Scott Pattison. “State officials will still be cutting some programs, and increases in funding for any program except for health care will be rare.”

The report says that Medicaid, the combined federal-state health program for the poor and the disabled, will place the biggest budgetary burden on states. Because of increasing caseloads, declining federal help and spiraling health-care costs, state Medicaid spending is growing much faster than state revenue, crowding out funding for other priorities.

The federal government had provided extra Medicaid help to states as part of the stimulus program. But that help has ended, prompting states to increase their Medicaid spending by an average of 29 percent this fiscal year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Many states have streamlined their Medicaid programs in an effort to control costs. Still, officials in more than half of the states said in a recent survey that there is an even chance that their Medicaid programs will face a budget shortfall as enrollment continues to increase.

Officials say the fiscal pressure that Medicaid puts on states is expected to increase when the federal health-care overhaul takes effect in 2014. Although the federal government is required to pick up the costs for people newly eligible for the program, many who are now eligible but not enrolled are expected to be drawn in, and states must shoulder part of those costs.

States are also struggling to meet the needs of local governments. Many states cut aid to localities during the recession, and many of them want it restored.

“Local governments are still seeing declines in their revenues, because even if property values have stabilized, property taxes tend to follow a couple years behind,” said Dan Crippen, the NGA’s executive director. “Property taxes are coming in much lower for school districts and cities and counties.”

The report says that although state general fund revenue increased in 2011 and is expected to increase 2012, it remains $21 billion below 2008 levels. In addition, states are bracing for further reductions in federal aid that are likely to come from Washington’s efforts to slow the growth of the deficit.

The fiscal pressure on states has become a drag on the job market; local and state governments are shedding jobs, even though the private-sector job market has shown signs of improvement.

State and local governments have cut 455,000 jobs since the beginning of 2010, and public-sector jobs account for the smallest share of the nation’s employment since the 2008 financial crisis, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.





Brain Rot: I Am The 99%




The Fed’s Yellen: “We face a dearth of aggregate demand, not just among the advanced economies, but also for the global economy.”

[…]At the onset of the financial crisis, consumer spending contracted sharply and the personal saving rate began a steep ascent. Exhibit 1 shows that the saving rate rose from around 2-1/2 percent in 2006 to about 5 percent in the first half of this year. It now appears that consumer spending is advancing at a moderate pace. In the pre-crisis years, consumer spending grew rapidly, providing considerable impetus to the expansion. In contrast, over the next few years, consumer spending seems unlikely to serve as one of the main engines of growth. The ratio of household debt-to-income remains exceptionally high, even though over the past few years it has declined slightly from the post-World War II peak reached prior to the crisis. Although households appear to have made some progress in deleveraging, many still face elevated debt burdens and reduced access to credit. Moreover, high levels of unemployment and underemployment, slow gains in wages, and declines in the values of both homes and financial assets have weighed on household spending and diminished the ability of households to tap home equity in emergencies or for other purposes. Consumer sentiment dropped markedly over the summer and remains quite depressed, apparently reflecting households’ concerns about the broader economy as well as their own financial situations.

A sharp downturn in housing was at the core of the previous recession, and this sector continues to weigh on the recovery. Robust increases in housing activity have helped spur recoveries from most U.S. recessions since World War II. This time, in contrast, residential construction remains depressed by a large inventory of foreclosed and distressed properties either currently available for purchase or probably soon to become so, tight credit conditions for construction loans and mortgages, and concerns about the possibility of further declines in home prices. As a result, new home construction currently is at only about one-third of its average pace in recent decades. In addition, homeowners with insufficient equity in their homes have found it difficult to take advantage of today’s low interest rates by refinancing their mortgages. Recently announced changes to the federal government’s Home Affordable Refinance Program, or HARP, are designed to improve the opportunity for homeowners to refinance and I’m hopeful this program will succeed in reducing household debt service burdens and the flow of foreclosures. More generally, I see a strong case for additional policies to foster more-rapid recovery in the housing sector. Indeed, to provide greater support for mortgage markets, the Federal Reserve recently adjusted its program for reinvesting its securities holdings.

The Federal Reserve continues to provide highly accommodative monetary conditions to foster a stronger economic recovery in a context of price stability. Moreover, the scope remains to provide additional accommodation through enhanced guidance on the path of the federal funds rate or through additional purchases of longer-term financial assets.

Much More>>>




WaPo: How Europe debt crisis could drag down the U.S., in one chart

Yesterday, the OECD announced that it expects the euro zone to grow just 0.2 percent next year, while the United States would grow a slightly more healthy 2 percent. Tim Duy thinks this is way too optimistic on both fronts. Already, there are signs that manufacturing in Europe is imploding — new industrial orders plunged 6.4 percent in September — and it’s unlikely that the U.S. can escape the downward drag. Duy posts a chart showing just how closely tied together the fates of the U.S. and European economies have been.

Notice that ominous blue drop at the end for European orders. Doesn’t bode well for the United States. Meanwhile, an earlier analysis from Citigroup had found that U.S. and Europe GDP growth have become increasingly correlated.

Indeed, it’s worth checking back on the OECD’s 2010 forecasts: the think tank greatly overestimated U.S. growth (it expected 2.6 percent; we got 1.7 percent) and underestimated euro zone growth (predicted 1.4 percent versus actual growth of 1.6 percent). In other words, the United States was expected to grow at twice the rate of Europe last year and the two economies ended up growing at about the same pace. That could be a sign that forecasting is just really tricky, or it could be a sign that the euro zone and U.S. economies have a tendency to converge.



How The Fed’s Generosity Made $13 Billion For America’s Biggest Banks

Matt Yglesias:

[…] THE REAL SCANDAL — Abandoning activism for the rest of us: If I had fully understood what the Fed was doing in the fall of 2008 and the winter of 2008-2009, the truth is that I would have defended it all. Things were falling apart, and the important thing was for monetary policymakers to be engaged in an all hands on deck effort to prevent demand from collapsing and a years-long spell of mass unemployment. If the operational aspects of that get messy a bit “unfair” then so much the worse for fairness and cleanliness. The real scandal has only emerged with clarity in the subsequent years. Having ensured the basic stability of the banking system, monetary policymakers in America proceeded to forget all about their go-getter attitude and ability to reach deep into the practical and legal toolkit in order to get what they want. We’re heading into the winter of 2011, with three years of mass unemployment under our belt and no end in sight. That’s not happening because the Fed was too generous with the free money for banks at the height of the crisis. It’s because once the acute phase of the banking crisis ended, suddenly we returned to small thinking and small-c conservatism. But it can’t be both. If in a time of crisis, the right thing to do is to get “crazy” then there’s plenty more crazy stuff the Fed could be doing to boost overall spending in the American economy. Or if the right thing to do is to stay orthodox and ignore the human consequences, then there was no reason not to stay orthodox three years ago and refuse to lend at anything other than a penalty rate.

THE BOTTOM LINE — Bolstering the status quo: The government didn’t actually lose any money on these deals. There was no loss of funds or transfer of real economic resources. But as Bloomberg writes

“details suggest taxpayers paid a price beyond dollars as the secret funding helped preserve a broken status quo and enabled the biggest banks to grow even bigger.”

Capitalism is supposed to have an evolutionary dynamic. Firms with sound business strategies survive and expand. Firms with unsound business strategies shrink and go bust. Consequently, over time the average quality of business strategies is improving. This evolution toward better firms over time is one of the key pillars of our prosperity. If ill-managed firms nonetheless survive, the system is broken in a fundamental way.



AP: Home prices are falling again in most major US cities – no quick recovery ahead for housing market

U.S. home prices are falling again in most major cities after posting small gains over the summer and spring. The report suggests the troubled housing market remains weak and won’t recover any time soon.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller index released Tuesday showed prices dropped in September from August in 17 of the 20 cities tracked. That was the first decline after five straight months in which at least half the cities in the survey showed monthly gains.

A separate index for the July-September quarter shows prices were mostly unchanged from the previous quarter.

Americans are reluctant to purchase a home more than two years after the recession officially ended. High unemployment and weak job growth have deterred many would-be buyers. Even the lowest mortgage rates in history haven’t been enough to lift sales.

David M. Blitzer, chairman of S&P’s index committee, said that while the steep price declines seen between 2007 and 2009 appear to be over, home prices are down from the same time last year and do not show signs of easing.

“Any chance for a sustained recovery will probably need a stronger economy,” Blitzer said.

The largest monthly price declines were in Atlanta, San Francisco and Tampa, Fla. And prices in Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix fell to their lowest points since the housing crisis began four years ago. Blitzer called the new lows reached in those three cities a “bit disturbing.”

New York, Portland, Ore., and Washington were the only cities to show monthly price increases in September.

A majority of the cities tracked by the survey posted modest price increases from April through August, the peak buying months. The monthly changes are not adjusted for seasonal factors.

Even with the gains, home prices were down in all but two major cities in September from the same month one year ago.

Sales of previously occupied homes are on pace to match last year’s dismal figures – the worst in 14 years. And sales of new homes are shaping up to be the worst since the government began keeping records a half century ago.

Some people can’t qualify for loans or meet higher down payment requirements. Many with good credit and stable jobs are holding off because they fear that prices will keep falling.

“Despite record high affordability of real estate, the psychology of home buyers is still being weighed down by economic uncertainty, keeping them on the fence when it comes to buying homes,” said Stan Humphries, chief economist at, which measures home values.

Atlanta has been especially hard hit in the past year. Prices there dropped nearly 6 percent in September and have fallen nearly 10 percent over the past 12 months.

Since the fall of 2008, one out of every four sales in Atlanta has been a foreclosure, an auction or a bank sale.

Many homes there were built during the housing boom. The city has also been confronted by high unemployment. In September, the unemployment rate was 10.3 percent – more than a point higher than the national average.

The Case-Shiller index covers half of all U.S. homes. It measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The September data is the latest available.

Prices are certain to fall further once banks resume millions of foreclosures. They have been delayed because of a yearlong government investigation into mortgage lending practices.

Home prices had stabilized in coastal cities over the past six months, helped by a rush of spring buyers and investors. But this year, prices in many cities, including Cleveland, Detroit, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tampa, have reached their lowest points since the housing bust more than four years ago.

Foreclosures and short sales – when a lender accepts less for a home than what is owed on a mortgage – are selling at an average discount of 20 percent.




Hank Paulson leaked insider info to his hedge fund buddies

Felix Salmon, Reuters:

What on earth did Hank Paulson think his job was in the summer of 2008? As far as most of us were concerned, he was secretary of the US Treasury, answerable to the US people and to the president. But at the same time, in secret meetings, Paulson was hanging out with his old Goldman Sachs buddies, giving them invaluable information about what he was thinking in his new job.

The first news of this behavior came in October 2009, when Andrew Ross Sorkin revealed that Paulson had met with the entire board of Goldman Sachs in a Moscow hotel suite for an hour at the end of June 2008. He told them his views of the US and global economies, he previewed a market-moving speech he was about to give, and he even talked about the possibility that LehmanBrothers might blow up. Maybe it’s not so surprising that Goldman Sachs turned out to be so well positioned when Lehman did indeed do just that a few months later.

Today we learn that the Goldman meeting in Moscow was not some kind of aberration. A few weeks later, on July 28 2008, Paulson met with a who’s who of the hedge-fund world in the headquarters of Eton Park Capital Management — a fund founded by former Goldman superstar Eric Mindich.

The secretary, then 62, went on to describe a possible scenario for placing Fannie and Freddie into “conservatorship” — a government seizure designed to allow the firms to continue operations despite heavy losses in the mortgage markets…

Paulson explained that under this scenario, the common stock of the two government-sponsored enterprises, or GSEs, would be effectively wiped out…

The fund manager who described the meeting left after coffee and called his lawyer. The attorney’s quick conclusion: Paulson’s talk was material nonpublic information, and his client should immediately stop trading the shares of Washington- based Fannie and McLean, Virginia-based Freddie.

When we found out about the Moscow meeting, I asked how on earth Paulson thought such behavior was OK. But now I think he was downright pathological in giving inside information to his old Wall Street buddies. And the crazy thing is that we have no idea how many of these meetings there were, or how long they went on for — the only way that we ever find out about them is when reporters like Sorkin or Bloomberg’s Richard Teitelbaum manage to find a source who was in the meeting and is willing to talk about what happened.

Given that it’s taken two years since the release of Sorkin’s book for the Eton Park meeting to be made public, it’s fair to assume that there were other meetings, too — possibly many others. Paulson was giving inside tips to Wall Street in general, and to Goldman types in particular: exactly the kind of behavior that “Government Sachs” conspiracy theorists have been speculating about for years. Turns out, they were right.

Paulson, says Teitelbaum, “is now a distinguished senior fellow at the University of Chicago, where he’s starting the Paulson Institute, a think tank focused on U.S.-Chinese relations”. I’d take issue with the “distinguished” bit. Unless it means “distinguished by an astonishing black hole where his ethics ought to be”.



Banks may have illegally foreclosed on 5,000 members of the military 


For months, major banks have been dealing with the fallout of the “robo-signing” scandal, following reports that the banks were improperly foreclosing on homeowners and, in many instances, falsifying paperwork that they were submitting to courts. Banks have been forced to go back and re-examine foreclosures to ensure that homeowners did not lose their homes unlawfully.

In the latest episode of this mess, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has found that banks — including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and Citigroup — may have improperly foreclosed on up to 5,000 active members of the military:

Ten leading US lenders may have unlawfully foreclosed on the mortgages of nearly 5,000 active-duty members of the US military in recent years, according to data released by a federal regulator. […]

The data released by the OCC are based on estimates prepared by lenders and their consultants. BofA said it is reviewing 2,400 foreclosures involving active-duty military families to see if they were conducted properly. Wells Fargo is reviewing 870 foreclosures and Citigroup is looking at 700 cases.

Also under review are 575 foreclosures at OneWest, formerly known as IndyMac; 87 at HSBC; 80 at US Bancorp; 56 at Aurora, formerly known as Lehman Brothers Bank; 25 at MetLife; six at Sovereign; and three at EverBank.

Back in April, JPMorgan Chase, which was not one of the 10 banks that the OCC examined, agreed to a $56 million settlement over allegations that it had overcharged members of the military on their mortgages. Chase Bank has even auctioned off the home of a military member the very day that he returned from Iraq. Two other mortgage servicers agreed in May to settle charges of improperly foreclosing on service members.

Even without the banks illegally foreclosing, military members have been hard hit by the foreclosure crisis. Last year alone, 20,000 members of the military faced foreclosure, a 32 percent increase over 2008. The newly created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is tasked with ensuring that military members are treated fairly by financial services companies — a job that is obviously necessary — but Republicans in Congress have, so far, refused to confirm a director for the agency, leaving it unable to fulfill all of its responsibilities.







Reuters: Poverty dominates many U.S. school districts: Census

Nearly half of all children in America live in school districts with high levels of poverty, according to U.S. Census data released on Tuesday that pointed to financial traps many public schools are caught in.

According to the Census, 45 percent of all 54 million children aged 5 to 17 resided in school districts with poverty rates greater than 20 percent in 2010. Another 34.3 percent live in districts where poverty rates are between 10 and 20 percent.

There are 13,604 school districts in the country.

At the same time, in one-third of counties, the rate of children living in poverty was “significantly above the national poverty rate of 19.8 percent” in 2010, the last year for which data is available. In 851 counties, the rate was “significantly below.”

States contribute 48 percent of funding for primary and secondary education, while the federal government pitches in about 8 percent. The U.S. government will use the Census data to distribute funds and manage programs.

Local governments such as counties, cities and school districts provide the rest of the money, primarily through property taxes. That means in districts where poverty runs high school funds are often low.

Almost all school districts are still struggling with the effects of economic recession. From October 2010 to last month, local governments have shed 118,400 education jobs.

Last school year, 41 percent of schools had funding decreases and 72 percent expect further drops this school year, according to an October report from the Government Accountability Office. Districts with high levels of poverty had the most cuts.

Higher poverty also means public schools may have to provide more services. For example, students living in poverty or just above qualify for subsidized meals.

The Census found that “school-age children, as well as school-age children in families in poverty, tend to be concentrated in school districts with a population of 20,000 or more.”

By region, the school-age median poverty rate was highest in the South, 26 percent.

Counties with poverty rates significantly above the national average for school-age children were found Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, and Texas.

The second highest rate was in the West, 19.2 percent, where Arizona, New Mexico, and Oregon posted poverty rates higher than the national average.

Meanwhile, “large numbers of counties in the Northeast and Midwest regions, as well as counties in Nevada, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming in the West had poverty rates for school-age children lower than the national average.”

Not all counties along the Atlantic coast fared well. Among the 25 largest counties, school-age poverty rates ranged from 7.3 percent in Suffolk County, New York, to 36.4 percent in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.”




Hundreds of Students March Against CUNY Tuition Hike 

Students gathered outside the college and used the human mic to share stories of struggle, but also words of optimism. One young man in talking about Occupy Wall Street declared, “We are global! Eight hundred fucking chapters!”

At one point, a faction of students broke away from the sad, penned caged area that has become a hallmark of state-approved protests and marched as the band played Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” protesters loudly singing along.

As the group slowly moved through the city (marching in NYC always entails conquering endless interesting obstacles, dodging cars and leaping over bags of trash) protesters chanted, “Students and workers! Shut the city down!”

Suddenly, one of the demonstrators stopped the procession to announce that Baruch’s Board of Trustees had voted to approve the tuition hike. The lone dissenter was Kafui Kouakou, chair of the University Student Senate and a graduate student at Brooklyn College.

None of the students seemed particularly surprised that the vote had passed, but soon another student announced some further information via people’s mic that the Board was coming out of a building on 24th street, and suggested, “Let’s meet them!” The crowd cheered in response and the march was off again.

All of these occurrences, including the final gathering along 24th street, were almost entirely peaceful. The board never emerged from the building and protesters soon dispersed in order to head back to Barbara Kent Plaza. However, a handful of individuals were arrested during the day’s events, but it’s unclear if they were CUNY students.







Kasich, Koch and Big-Industry Bucks: Why Ohio Is the Next Fracking Frontier


Fracking opponents in southern Ohio won a victory last week when the United States Forest Service (USFS) withdrew more than 3,000 acres of public lands from a federal oil and gas lease sale scheduled for December 7, 2012. The USFS announced that it needed more time to review the potential effects of fracking after receiving petitions and letters from local leaders who used the old-fashioned method of collecting signatures to catch the attention of government officials.

The fracking industry, on the other hand, has spent $747 million dollars in the past decade to lobby Congress and support politicians in states like Ohio, Michigan and New York as part of a campaign to keep fracking unregulated, according to a recent Common Cause report.


Common Cause reports that fracking companies spent $2.8 million in political contributions to Ohio parties and candidates since 2001. Republican Gov. John Kasich tops the list and has received $213,519 in campaign contributions from the industry.

Additional analysis of campaign records by Truthout reveals that wealthy executives of companies connected to the natural gas industry, including billionaires William “Bill” Koch and David Koch of Koch brothers fame, funneled an additional $127,268 in personal donations through a political action committee (PAC) to support Kasich’s election in 2010.

Earlier this year, Kasich signed a law passed by Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature allowing drilling companies to frack in state parks, a big signal to the industry that Ohio is open for business.

Kasich and other fracking supporters say the industry will create 200,000 jobs and bring new revenues to the state as drillers seek to exploit the gas-rich Utica and Marcellus shale formations deep under Ohio. […]

Common Cause spokesperson James Browning said Ohio has one of the “worst” lobbying disclosure laws in the country, making it difficult to determine how much the fracking lobby has spent in Ohio.

Fracking companies gave $20.5 million to current members of Congress and spent $726 million lobbying Congress since 2001, according to Common Cause. House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) received $186,900 from fracking interests since 2001, topping the list of Ohioans in Congress. In 2005, Boehner supported the Energy Policy Act, which includes language now known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” which exempts the fracking industry from regulation under the Clean Water Act.

Truthout found that wealthy businessmen connected to the natural gas industry donated thousands of dollars to a PAC organized by the Republican Governors Association (RGA) in 2010. The PAC used a majority of the money to pay for attack ads against former governor Strickland, whom Kasich defeated in 2010.




The Collapse Of Arctic Sea Ice 

Multi-year Arctic sea ice has been in precipitous decline in the last 30 years, as greenhouse pollution rapidly warms the poles. This striking infographic by Rupert Burton for the BBC shows the shocking collapse of the planet’s thermostat:




World temperatures will rise nearly 11 degrees, expert says

Washington Post:

The chief economist for the International Energy Agency said Monday that current global energy consumption levels put the Earth on a trajectory to warm by 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels by 2100, an outcome he called “a catastrophe for all of us.”

Fatih Birol spoke as as delegates from nearly 200 countries convened the opening day of annual U.N. climate talks in Durban, South Africa.

International climate negotiators have pledged to keep the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial levels. The Earth has already warmed 0.8 degrees Celsius, or 1.4 Fahrenheit, so far, according to climate scientists.

According to the IEA’s most recent analysis, heat-trapping emissions from the world’s energy infrastructure will lead to a 2-degree Celsius increase in the Earth’s temperature that, as more capacity is added to the system, will climb to 6 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100.

Unless there is a shift away from some of the fossil fuel energy now used for electricity generation and transportation, Birol said, “the world is perfectly on track for a six-degree Celsius increase in temperature.

“Everybody, even the schoolchildren, knows this is a catastrophe for all of us,” he said at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Birol spoke in unusually blunt terms about the climate implications of the global energy mix, implications that are disputed by many conservatives in the United States who don’t believe in the connection between human activity and climate change.

David Burwell, who directs the energy and climate program at the Carnegie Endowment, said Birol’s comments have “big implications for capital investment in energy,” though he noted that it will be oil executives and others in the private sector who will drive many of the key decisions.

“We can try to regulate, we can try to incentivize, but ultimately, they’ve got to make the decisions, they’ve got to make the investments,” he said, adding that government officials should engage with the energy industry on this topic. “Now’s the time to have the conversation about investments.”

Burwell added that while the IEA has analyzed energy use and production for years, this is the first year its officials have spoken this publicly about the need to shift gears.

“They’re definitely raising the red flag, because the numbers speak for themselves,” he said. “This is the first year they’ve started stamping their foot and saying, ‘Lookit, listen to us.’ ”

In an interview after his talk, Birol said he believes his agency’s analysis is having an impact in places such as China, which he said would outpace the European Union in per capita carbon emissions by 2015. He added that by 2035, China would outrank the industrialized world as the single biggest overall emitter of greenhouse gases in history.

“They are one of the few countries putting an emphasis on climate change,” Birol said, noting they will experiment next year with putting a price on carbon in some regions.

The U.N. talks, meanwhile, suffered a setback as Canada announced Monday that it would not agree to sign up to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 climate pact that set emissions targets for all major industrialized nations. Canada had pledged to cut its overall greenhouse gas emissions 6 percent by 2012 compared with 1990 levels; as of 2009, its carbon output was 29.8 percent above 1990 levels.




Keep the Clean Water Act strong:


The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that about a third of the nation’s waters are still unhealthy. About 117 million Americans — more than a third of the population — get some or all of their drinking water from sources now lacking protection. Given the deep antipathy to regulation on Capitol Hill — the House actually approved a measure in July to strip the E.P.A. of some of its authority to enforce the Clean Water Act — Congress has been unable or unwilling to clarify the law so that progress can continue in restoring and protecting these waters.

That has left it to the E.P.A. and the United States Army Corps of Engineers to draft new rules to make clear which waterways are protected.



GOP House Energy Committee Fights Imaginary EPA Dust Ban

This afternoon, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), will mark up H.R.1633, the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act of 2011, protecting Americans from a non-existent threat. This bill blocks the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing new regulations on toxic agricultural dust, even though the EPA is not intending to issue new regulations on toxic agricultural dust. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and Rep. John Carter (R-TX) have allfalsely claimed the EPA is planning new toxic dust regulations. When asked, their spokesmen admitted they were speaking “hypothetically.”






Here’s your smart drug: Ordinary chewing gum


[…] Gum is an effective booster of mental performance, conferring all sorts of benefits without any side effects. The latest investigation of gum chewing comes from a team of psychologists at St. Lawrence University. The experiment went like this: 159 students were given a battery of demanding cognitive tasks, such as repeating random numbers backward and solving difficult logic puzzles. Half of the subjects chewed gum (sugar-free and sugar-added) while the other half were given nothing. Here’s where things get peculiar: Those randomly assigned to the gum-chewing condition significantly outperformed those in the control condition on five out of six tests. (The one exception was verbal fluency, in which subjects were asked to name as many words as possible from a given category, such as “animals.”) The sugar content of the gum had no effect on test performance.

While previous studies achieved similar results — chewing gum is often a better test aid than caffeine — this latest research investigated the time course of the gum advantage. It turns out to be rather short lived, as gum chewers only showed an increase in performance during the first 20 minutes of testing. After that, they performed identically to non-chewers.

[…] The act of chewing, in other words, wakes us up, ensuring that we are fully focused on the task at hand. Unfortunately, this boost is fleeting. The takeaway of this research is straightforward: When taking a test, save the gum for the hardest part, or for those questions when you feel your focus flagging. The gum will help you concentrate, but the help won’t last long.

This latest paper only adds to the impressive body of psychological literature on gum. Last month, scientists at Coventry University found that people chewing mint gum showed a dramatic decrease in feelings of sleepiness. The subjects also looked less exhausted when assessed with the Pupillographic Sleepiness Test (PST), which uses the oscillations of the pupils as a metric of tiredness. When we chew gum, we gain alertness and attention, but without the jitters.

And then there’s this paper, from a researcher at Cardiff University. 133 volunteers were given cognitive tests with and without chewing gum. […]After each testing session, the volunteers rated their mood and underwent a number of physiological measurements, including heart rate and salivary cortisol levels. (Cortisol is a stress hormone, but it’s also a good indicator of alertness.) As expected, gum chewers were more attentive than non-chewers, with elevated heart rates and cortisol levels. They also had much faster reaction times, especially on more difficult reaction tests. They even appeared to be in a better mood.

Given the uncanny power of gum, it seems a little silly that we don’t allow it in the classroom. (If a pill achieved these same results, we’d all be popping it.)






Report: Medicaid Costs Outpace Growth Of State Economies

A new report out today from the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers finds that while state budgets are slowly growing, Medicaid costs “continue to outpace the growth in tax revenue.” From the report:

Factors causing rapid growth in Medicaid costs for states include: increased enrollments (because of both the weak economy and expanded eligibility under health care reform); the elimination of federal funds associated with the enhanced matching rate of state costs from the Recovery Act; and per capita health care costs in general increasing faster than the economy. With Medicaid costs growing significantly and state revenue collections growing at a much slower pace, states are likely to face tight fiscal conditions for the foreseeable future.

Consequently, most states have already tried to contain Medicaid spending by restricting provider reimbursements or reducing certain Medicaid benefits, and are now looking to further expand “managed care and coordinated care options, using health homes for those with chronic conditions, pursuing dual eligible initiatives to provide managed care services for those eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid.” For 2012, state budgets “call for a $19.4 billion increase in Medicaid spending, which already accounts for more than a fifth of total spending.”




Cancer drug ‘scalpers’ corner U.S. market | The Raw Story:

A new trend in pharmaceutical sales has raised concerns over ethics and patient safety, as companies buy up critical cancer drugs in short supply and attempt to resell them at huge markups.

Rather than operate by the dark of night on street corners, these drug dealers work in broad daylight using fax, phone and email to deluge hospitals with offers.

Experts say the so-called “gray market” is not illegal and could even be poised to surge further after President Barack Obama issued an executive order that tried to fix the problem, but may have just opened a larger loophole.


More than half (56 percent) of the 549 hospitals surveyed by the non-profit Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) earlier this year said they received daily solicitations from gray market vendors “to purchase medications no longer available through the manufacturer or usual wholesaler.”

About half of hospitals surveyed (52 percent) admitted to buying one or more drugs from gray market vendors in the past two years, as manufacturers halted production of some generic drugs because they were no longer profitable.

“I would like to know why hospitals can’t get these products, but the ‘scalpers’ can. It is unreal to have to deal with ‘scalpers’ in healthcare,” said one survey respondent whose name was withheld by ISMP.

Drug prices ranged from 650 percent to 4,000 percent over the usual cost, said the survey, which referred to all kinds of pharmaceuticals, not just cancer drugs.

Prescription drug shortages in the United States nearly tripled from 2005 to 2010, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Just why drugs are falling out of production, particularly in cancer care, has to do with the extremely low price of generic medicines and the profit incentive that drives cancer doctors to prescribe costlier medications.

Oncologists get a portion of their pay by buying drugs wholesale and billing the government’s Medicare behemoth for reimbursement, a practice that ended up paying US doctors more than they spent on the drugs by $1.6 billion per year.

A law signed by president George W. Bush in 2003 tried to clamp down on inflated billing by ordering Medicare to pay doctors based on a drug’s average selling price, plus six percent.

Prices were also prohibited from rising more than six percent every six months.

That limited the market’s ability to respond to a shortage of a generic drug by increasing its price. Manufacturers were faced with limited demand and a 90 percent price drop for a generic drug. And cancer doctors were faced with a deep cut to their bottom line.

“Why use paclitaxel (and receive six percent of $312) when you can use Abraxane (for six percent of $5,824)?” Smith wrote.

The rise of the gray market, viewed by experts as an unintended consequence of the Bush move, has sparked new worries about the safety of the drugs being re-sold, or that errors could be made in dosing adjustments if hospitals seek alternate medications.

It remains unknown exactly how many gray market drug vendors are out there. Five are being investigated by Congressman Elijah Cummings for offering breast, ovarian, colon and lung cancer drugs at vastly inflated prices.

“Cummings said it is quite criminal, and if it’s not, it should be,” said spokeswoman Ashley Etienne.

“It is unfortunate that these companies would take advantage of people in their most vulnerable state to make a profit.”

Only one of those five, Allied Medical — which was singled out for offering a leukemia drug at over $990 per vial when the usual price was $12 — returned an AFP request for comment, but refused to grant an on-the-record interview.

“Recent media attention on prescription drug shortages highlights the vital role that Allied Medical Supply and other companies play to ensure that hospitals and patients have the medicines they need when they need them,” it said in a statement.

Obama last month signed an executive order to require drug manufacturers to “provide adequate advance notice of manufacturing discontinuances that could lead to shortages of drugs that are life supporting or life sustaining.”

Oncologist James Speyer, medical director of the Clinical Cancer Center at New York University Langone Medical Center, applauded the move as an important first step.

But, he cautioned: “I don’t think it is going to address every part of the problem. I believe, as do many colleagues, that the amount of money a company can charge for the drug plays a real role here.”

Smith also described Obama’s order as “a terrific start,” but warned that it could make it easier for the gray market to function.

“If it just requires manufacturers to report a drug shortage, then people who are making money off this will find an obvious entry,” he said.

Europe has avoided the problem because oncologists do not have the incentive to administer more expensive drugs, and generics cost more while brand names generally cost 20 to 40 percent less than in the United States.

One solution could involve the US government partnering with cancer drug manufacturers the way it does with makers of low cost, unprofitable vaccines, to ensure companies are paid enough to supply the market, said Smith.

“Manufacturers won’t make the drugs unless they have a stable demand and a stable profit,” he said.







ICE agents decide deporting undocumented workers not enough, now deporting 1000s of American citizens annually

Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

A Minneapolis man was arrested and illegally detained for 43 days by federal immigration agents who sought to have him deported even though he is a U.S. citizen, according to a lawsuit filed recently in federal court in Minneapolis.

Federal agents arrested Anthony A. Clarke during a late-night raid in 2008 at his sister’s house in Columbia Heights, then shuttled him back and forth between a Sherburne County jail and an unidentified detention facility in South Dakota, the suit says.

The case is thought be the first federal suit of its kind in Minnesota, and it appears to follow a national pattern. A recent study at Northwestern University found thousands of cases in which U.S. citizens were arrested in error and held for deportation. Collectively, they raise disturbing questions about the tactics of immigration agents and the adequacy of checks and balances in a parallel court system overseeing the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

“He got caught in a horrible trap,” said Angela Bortel, Clarke’s Minneapolis attorney.

An ICE spokesman said last week that the agency does not comment on pending cases and would not comment on the alleged actions of agents involved in Clarke’s case.

Clarke’s history is complicated: He was born in Jamaica, came to the United States as a teenager, and was granted American citizenship when his mother became a naturalized citizen in 1975. He had an arrest for marijuana in the mid-1990s and, according to ICE, an unidentified felony.

But FBI records available at the time of Clarke’s immigration arrest in 2008 clearly show him to be a U.S. citizen, and documents in his immigration file show that immigration agents were aware of his status the day he was taken into custody.

Clarke, 53, is seeking more than $1 million in damages for false arrest and malicious prosecution.

Few checks and balances

“It was really terrible,” he said in an interview Friday. “Here I am, a citizen … I didn’t know what to think or why they would do this to me.” Clarke, a house painter, has lived in the Twin Cities since 1974. “All I’ve got to say is make sure you have your papers right — which I thought I did — and get a good lawyer. Mine is like a bodyguard now.”

Finally, in late 2009, a U.S. immigration judge in Bloomington ordered Clarke’s case closed after government attorneys concluded themselves that Clarke was, indeed, a U.S. citizen all along.

Clarke’s case is the apparent fallout of an aggressive ICE campaign to deport illegal immigrants who also have criminal records that show up during cross-checks of federal databases.

While those efforts have resulted in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of dangerous criminals, thousands of U.S. citizens have been snagged along the way, in part because agents operate in a secretive judicial environment where detention hearings are held out of public view.

After a detailed examination of federal immigration records, Prof. Jacqueline Stevens of Northwestern University estimated this year that about 4,000 American citizens were illegally detained or deported as aliens in 2010. In a study published last summer, she found that as many as 20,000 citizens may have been wrongly held or deported since 2003.





DOJ officials investigate Alabama immigration law’s impact on rights  

Two Justice Department officials said they returned to Alabama on Monday as “boots on the ground” to sift through some of the morethan 1,000 e-mails and calls received on a hotline fielding concerns about the state’s tough new immigration law.

“The more we hear, the more concerned we are about the impact of Alabama’s immigration law on a wide range of federal rights,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez told reporters at a briefing in Birmingham.

Perez, who leads the department’s Civil Rights Division, said he and fellow Assistant Attorney General Tony West would meet with people in the business, nonprofit and faith communities to learn more about the complaints received.

He said the department continued to be concerned about students who were dropping out or frequently absent from school, as well as claims of racial profiling and some employers using the law as an excuse to not pay workers.

“Employers who continue to use (the law) as an escape valve should know that we’re here, that we will prosecute,” Perez said. “That is impermissible. Period.”

The attorneys said their investigation into the law’s impact was separate from an ongoing legal challenge by the Obama administration and a coalition of civil rights groups seeking to block it.

The law, which passed by large margins in both chambers of the Republican-led legislature earlier this year, has been described by supporters and opponents as the nation’s toughest state crackdown on illegal immigration.

In October, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, halted a controversial provision that would allow Alabama to require public schools to determine the legal residency of children upon enrollment.

But the court ruled the state could continue to authorize police to detain people suspected of being in the country illegally if they cannot produce proper documentation when stopped for any

Federal judges have blocked key parts of other immigration laws passed in Georgia, Arizona, Utah and Indiana. The Justice Department was also seeking to halt parts of South Carolina’s new immigration law, which is set to take effect in January.

West said the state-by-state approach was making immigration problems worse, not better.

“That kind of patchwork affects the quality of cooperation between state and federal law enforcement, making it harder to enforce immigration law consistently and efficiently throughout the country,” West said.







Who needs SOPA? judge orders hundreds of sites “de-indexed” from Google, Facebook

After a series of one-sided hearings, luxury goods maker Chanel has won recent court orders against hundreds of websites trafficking in counterfeit luxury goods. A federal judge in Nevada has agreed that Chanel can seize the domain names in question and transfer them all to US-based registrar GoDaddy. The judge also ordered “all Internet search engines” and “all social media websites”—explicitly naming Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Bing, Yahoo, and Google—to “de-index” the domain names and to remove them from any search results.

The case has been a remarkable one. Concerned about counterfeiting, Chanel has filed a joint suit in Nevada against nearly 700 domain names that appear to have nothing in common. When Chanel finds more names, it simply uses the same case and files new requests for more seizures. (A recent November 14 order went after an additional 228 sites; none had a chance to contest the request until after it was approved and the names had been seized.)

How were the sites investigated? For the most recent batch of names, Chanel hired a Nevada investigator to order from three of the 228 sites in question. When the orders arrived, they were reviewed by a Chanel official and declared counterfeit. The other 225 sites were seized based on a Chanel anti-counterfeiting specialist browsing the Web.

That was good enough for Judge Kent Dawson to order the names seized and transferred to GoDaddy, where they would all redirect to a page serving notice of the seizure. In addition, a total ban on search engine indexing was ordered, one which neither Bing nor Google appears to have complied with yet.

Missing from the ruling is any discussion of the Internet’s global nature; the judge shows no awareness that the domains in question might not even be registered in this country, for instance, and his ban on search engine and social media indexing apparently extends to the entire world. (And, when applied to US-based companies like Twitter, apparently compels them to censor the links globally rather than only when accessed by people in the US.) Indeed, a cursory search through the list of offending domains turns up, a site registered in Germany. The German registrar has not yet complied with the US court order, though most other domain names on the list are .com or .net names and have been seized.

The US government has made similar domain name seizures through Operation In Our Sites, grabbing US-based domains that end in .com and .net even when the sites are located abroad. Such moves by themselves would seem to do little to stop piracy in the long-term; they simply teach would-be miscreants to register future domain names in other countries.

Why wait for SOPA?

Lawyer Venkat Balasubramani, writing about the case yesterday, sums it up eloquently: “Wow.”

“I’m sympathetic to the ‘whack-a-mole’ problem rights owners face, but this relief is just extraordinarily broad and is on shaky procedural grounds,” he writes. “I’m not sure how this court can direct a registry to change a domain name’s registrar of record or Google to de-list a site, but the court does so anyway. This is probably the most problematic aspect of the court’s orders.”

Rightsholders have asked Congress to write these provisions (and a few more) into law, and they have pushed for government seizures like those from Operation In Our Sites (which just seized another batch of new domains this last weekend). But as Balasubramani points out, cases like Chanel’s show that rightsholders can already get what they want from judges, and they can go after far more sites more quickly than the government.

“The fight against SOPA [the Stop Online Piracy Act] may be a red herring in some ways,” he notes, “since IP plaintiffs are fashioning very similar remedies in court irrespective of the legislation. Thus, even if SOPA is defeated, it may turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory—opponents may win the battle but may not have gained much as a result.”



FBI: Spanaway ‘sovereign citizen’ planned to track down justice’s children 




NYT: Amazing fight over jury nullification and free speech

Julian P. Heicklen, a 79-year-old retired chemistry professor, has often stood on a plaza outside the United States Courthouse in Manhattan, holding a “Jury Info” sign and handing out brochures that advocate jury nullification, the controversial view that if jurors disagree with a law, they may ignore their oaths to follow it and may acquit a defendant who violated it.

Then, last year, federal prosecutors had Mr. Heicklen indicted, charging that his activity violated the law against jury tampering. Lawyers assisting him have sought dismissal of the case on First Amendment grounds.

But now prosecutors are offering their first detailed explanation for why they charged Mr. Heicklen, arguing in a brief that his “advocacy of jury nullification, directed as it is to jurors, would be both criminal and without Constitutional protections no matter where it occurred.”

His speech is not protected by the First Amendment,” prosecutors wrote.

“No legal system could long survive,” they added, “if it gave every individual the option of disregarding with impunity any law which by his personal standard was judged morally untenable.”




Senate confirmed a new circuit judge yesterday. He’s only the 8th one confirmed in 2011. Really. 





Is The iPhone’s Siri Misleading Women Who Need Emergency Health Services? 


[…] As RH Reality Check notes today, Siri “appears to have a blind spot” when asked a few simple, even standard reproductive health questions like “Where can I go to get an abortion?” or “Where can I go for birth control?”:

Q: I am pregnant and do not want to be. Where can I go to get an abortion?

“I’m really sorry about this, but I can’t take any requests right now. Please try again in a little while.”

“Sorry, [my name], I can’t look for places in Tanzania.”

“I don’t see any abortion clinics. Sorry about that.”

Q: I had unprotected sex. Where can I go for emergency contraception?

“Sorry, I couldn’t find any adult retail stores.” This was repeated every time.

Q: I need birth control. Where can I go for birth control?

“I didn’t find any birth control clinics.” [This was repeated every time I asked about birth control, all three times. This is also the answer given when I asked, “What is birth control?”]

When ThinkProgress tried to independently verify Siri’s results on these questions, the responses were largely consistent with what other users reported. Searching for “abortion clinics near me” in D.C. yielded only two results — one “crisis pregnancy center” 24 milesaway and another 74 miles away, in Pennsylvania. There are several clinics much closer that offer actual abortion services. Siri offered no results for “where can I find birth control?” or “women’s health clinic,” but she would locate Planned Parenthood centers if asked directly. More disturbingly, Siri would not respond to pleas for help for sexual assault or rape clinics, and services for emergency contraception.

As ThinkProgress has reported, CPC’s that claim to help women in need are actually established by anti-abortion activists with the sole objective of shaming women out of having abortions. Despite receiving federal and state funding, they have a history of preying on and misleading pregnant women seeking abortions and giving them false medical information.

Siri’s unhelpful and sometimes misleading answers to pressing health questions stand in stark contrast to her prompt and accurate responses to inquiries about nearby escort services. Despite the fact that prostitution is illegal, Siri obligingly located Charming Cherries escort service just a few blocks away.

This is not to say that the Siri software is specifically programmed to ignore relevant information. Siri utilizes the Wolfram Alpha answer-engine “that answers factual queries directly by computing the answer from structured data, rather than providing a list of documents or web pages” like Google and other search engines do. It is unclear whether the Wolfram Alpha and other services Siri relies on is selectively choosing information or are not programmed to “understand” such basic questions.

Either way, identifying the location of a basic women’s health clinic should not be too complicated for a search engine. If Siri is programmed to be somewhat of a feminist, perhaps Apple can ensure that Siri devotes more time to answering a woman’s pressing public health questions and less time to escort services and the best burrito in town.

Apple, Inc. did not return ThinkProgress’s request for comment.




TheWeek: Morning Joe’s new “sexist” promo “reads like a Judd Apatow approach to the working woman.” Watch: 






AP: US Senate rejects effort to strip provisions from defense bill that deal with handling of terror suspects

The Senate on Tuesday rejected an effort to strip divisive provisions from a defense bill that deal with the capture and handling of suspected terrorists, setting up a showdown with the White House.

The resounding 60-38 vote sent a strong message to the Obama administration, which has threatened a veto of the bill over the requirement of military custody for captured terror suspects and limitations on the ability to transfer detainees from the naval prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The clash underscores the ongoing dispute between the executive branch and some in Congress over whether to treat suspected terrorists as prisoners of war or criminals.

It also exposed deep divisions within Senate Democratic ranks.

“The provisions would dramatically change broad counterterrorism efforts by requiring law enforcement officials to step aside and ask the Department of Defense to take on a new role they are not fully equipped for and do not want,” said Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who added that the legislation would make the military “police, judge and jailer.”

His amendment would have taken out the sections on detainees and instead called for congressional hearings with Pentagon and administration officials on the issue.

Defending the provisions, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin argued that they contain a national security waiver for the administration. The issue has pitted Levin against other senior Democratic senators, including the chairmen of the Intelligence and Judiciary committees.

“Should somebody when it’s been determined … to be a member of an enemy force who has come to this nation or is in this nation to attack us as a member of a foreign enemy, should that person be treated according to the laws of war? And the answer is yes,” said Levin, D-Mich.

The bill would require military custody of a suspect deemed to be a member of al-Qaida or its affiliates and involved in plotting or committing attacks on the United States.

“We’re fighting a war, not a crime,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and FBI Director Robert Mueller have spelled out their opposition in letters to lawmakers. Mueller said Monday that because the legislation applies to people detained in the United States, it could disrupt ongoing international terrorism investigations and make it difficult for the FBI to work with a grand jury or obtain subpoenas.

Mueller also described the waiver as too cumbersome, requiring that it be obtained from the defense secretary in consultation with the secretary of state and the director of National Intelligence with a certification to Congress.

Preston Golson, a spokesman for CIA Director David Petraeus, said “The director feels that the president should have flexibility in dealing with persons detained for involvement in international terrorism.”

Hours after the vote, Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said he would have voted to strip the terror suspect provision, and announced that he had changed his vote.

The vote came shortly after the weekly Republican and Democratic policy luncheons. A guest at the Republican session was former Vice President Dick Cheney, an advocate for harsh interrogation tactics against suspected U.S. enemies during his two terms in office. Republicans said he was a guest and did not make remarks at the session despite an intense discussion within GOP ranks about thedetainee provisions.

The sweeping defense bill would authorize $662 billion for military personnel, weapons systems, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and national security programs in the Energy Department. Reflecting a period of austerity and deficit-driven cuts in military spending, the bill is $27 billion less than what Obama requested for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 of this year. The Senate hopes to complete the legislation by week’s end.

Earlier this month, Armed Services Committee investigators found about 1,800 cases of suspect counterfeit electronic parts being sold to the Pentagon, with lawmakers blaming China for dumping them. By voice vote, the Senate on Tuesday approved a broad amendment to improve detection, including a provision that would prohibit contractors from charging the Pentagon for the cost of fixing the problem when counterfeit parts are found

The Senate also rejected an amendment by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that would have ended the authority for using force in Iraq. The vote was 67-30.

After nearly nine years of war, some 13,000 U.S. troops are scheduled to leave Iraq by year’s end, but Paul argued that his measure was about the separation of powers and Congress needed to reclaim its authority to declare war.




Defense Authorization Bill Would Move America Toward A Military State

Senators Carl Levin and John McCain are behind the Defense Authorization Bill which would give the military too muchpower to detain American citizens, as Senator Mark Udall of Colorado points out.

…the provisions would require the military to dedicate a significant number of personnel to capturing and holding terrorism suspects — in some cases indefinitely — even those apprehended on U.S. soil. And they authorize the military to do so regardless of an accused terrorist’s citizenship, even if he or she is an American captured in a U.S. city…

Additionally, the requirement that the military — not civilian law enforcement — take suspected terrorists into custody threatens to undo much of the progress the FBI and state and local law enforcement have made to stop terrorists plotting in the United States and overseas. That could make it difficult or impossible to collaboratively gather intelligence on domestic terror cells at all.

Udall is offering an amendment to the bill that would eliminate the detention provisions.

My amendment would strike the detention provisions from the bill and require the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice and State as well as the director of national intelligence to issue a joint report detailing the gaps in our detention policy. This report would be due within 90 days and would allow Congress to draft detention legislation that meets our national security needs and keeps faith with the guiding principles of our Constitution.

This is backed by the ACLU which correctly states the danger of defining the entire world as a battlefield and any one on that battlefield game for indefinite detention.




All the Angry People (This is a long read, but well worth it!)

George Packer, The New Yorker:

Until this fall, Ray Kachel had lived virtually all of his fifty-three years within a few miles of his birthplace, in Seattle. He was a self-taught Jack-of-all-trades in the computer industry, who bought his first Mac in 1984. He attended Seattle Central Community College but dropped out; not long afterward, he was hired by a company that specialized in optical character recognition, transferring printed material into digital records for storage. Eventually, Kachel was laid off, but for a long time he continued to make a decent living; keeping up withadvances in audio and video production, he picked up freelance work editing online content. He also programmed and played keyboards in a band, and had a gig as a night-club d.j.; sometimes, between technology jobs, he worked in his adoptive parents’ janitorial business. He spent his money on a few pleasures, like microbrewery beer and DVDs. His favorite movie was “Stalker,” the 1979 sci-fi film by Andrei Tarkovsky. “Three guys traipsing through the woods—it’s visually and aurally very, very strange,” Kachel said. “Tarkovsky is famous for painfully long takes, creating an environment that’s uncomfortable without it being clear why.”

Kachel lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment. In the nineties, after his parents died, he became something of a hermit, with just a few friends. Small of stature, with short-cropped hair, drab clothes, and a mild manner, he was the sort of person no one noticed. Then again, a lot of tech workers were antisocial, and the information economy embraced millions of skilled, culturally literate, freelance oddballs. As long as the new economy made room for him, Kachel lived the life he wanted.

When the recession hit, tech jobs in Seattle started drying up. After the death of the owner of his main client—a company for which he did DVD customization—Kachel found that he no longer had contacts for other sources of work. He cut back on expenses and quit drinking beer. Last December, he ordered from Amazon a green, apple-shaped USB stick containing the entire Beatles collection; just before it was scheduled to ship, he cancelled the order. “Around that time, I started realizing spending two hundred fifty dollars on something wasn’t such a good idea,” he said. “I’m glad I made that decision, because I wouldn’t have enjoyed the stereo mix anyway.”

In March, Kachel’s mouth went dry; he felt sick with anxiety and could barely eat. He realized that he was coming to the end of his savings. He could survive as a barista or a delivery driver, but he didn’t think he was capable of chatting with customers all day, and he had stopped driving years earlier. He applied for every tech opening that he could find, but only one offer came, from Leapforce, a company that evaluates Web search results. Kachel signed on as an “At Home independent agent,” doing work on his iMac for thirteen dollars an hour, but the hours soon dwindled to twenty or thirty minutes a day. That was his last job.

Over the summer, Kachel went on eBay to sell off his computer equipment, like a drought-stricken farmer eating his seed corn: first his MacBook Air, then his iPad, then his iMac. He found buyers for his DVD collection, which had a thousand titles, after first storing digital copies of them on a hard drive. The last thing that Kachel sold was his copy of Final Cut Pro, Apple’s state-of-the-art video-editing suite. “I was hoping, by holding on to that, if I found another project I could work on somebody else’s machine,” he said. “But it just wasn’t happening.” The sales yielded about twenty-five hundred dollars in all. In September, he fell behind on his rent. The only thing worse than being homeless, he thought, was being homeless in his home town.

Kachel had started tweeting in 2009, and it helped him get to know many people who were in similarly desperate circumstances. This fall, as he was preparing to vacate his apartment, he learned on Twitter that several hundred demonstrators had taken over a park in lower Manhattan.

None of Kachel’s online acquaintances could say what, precisely, had sparked the protest, which began on September 17th. But Occupy Wall Street, as it was called, emerged so spontaneously that it quickly absorbed the pent-up energies of a wide array of people in every corner of the country. Because it was formless and leaderless, the movement passed the test of authenticity—the first requirement for a citizenry that no longer had faith in institutions and élites. Its brilliant slogan, “We Are the Ninety-nine Per Cent,” was simple and capacious enough to cover a multitude of stories, including Kachel’s.

The protesters in Zuccotti Park were angry about things that Kachel recognized from his own life: the injustice of an economic system in which the rich and the powerful sucked the life out of the middle class. He had long felt critical of the big banks, the oil companies, the huge corporations that didn’t pay taxes. Fracking, the hydraulic extraction of natural gas, was a particular concern of Kachel’s. He was also an obsessive follower of Rachel Maddow—he loved her wit, her agreeableness—and Occupy Wall Street was starting to come up on her cable news program.

Kachel had four hundred and fifty dollars from the sale of his copy of Final Cut Pro. For two hundred and fifty, you could travel to New York City on a Greyhound bus. He had never been farther east than Dallas, but New York City was so dense and diverse, and so full of ideas and ways to make money, that if he could learn to exist there he could surely find a place to exist. On the last night of September, he went to bed telling himself, “Oh, this is just absolutely nuts, you can’t do that.” He woke up in the morning with a clear thought: This is exactly what I’m going to do.

[…] […] […]

Why is the protest happening now? Why not in 2008, when Wall Street nearly collapsed, or 2009, when unemployment and foreclosures soared? For Ben-Moshe, Obama’s election seemed like the end of the battle, not the beginning, and it took her three years to return to the field. Garofalo thought that his generation needed to be inspired and then let down by Obama in order to realize that they had always expected someone else to do the heavy lifting. Michelle Brotherton didn’t understand the precise reasons for the financial crisis in 2008, but in the following years she saw two concrete results: ongoing distress for the majority of Americans, a quick rebound for the rich. In living rooms and in bars, she and her friends grumbled about the injustice of it all, until their cynicism made the topic moot.






Romney’s Character

Greg Sargent:

It’s all about Mitt Romney’s character: For some time now I’ve been wondering when top commentators would start looking at Romney’s serial equivocations, flip-flops and falsehoods as part of a pattern that tells us about Romney’s character, about what he’s willing to say and do to win the presidency. Much of the commentary seems focused on what Romney’s ongoing contortions say about his strategy, rather than about the man himself.

This morning, Richard Cohen takes a high profile stab at defining Romney’s character, and he comes up with a very nice capsule summary:

Mitt Romney runs for president with the eye of a venture capitalist. He sees the profit in certain positions, discards those that are no longer profitable and moves on. He was pro-choice when it did him some good, instituted a health insurance plan that he now denounces and once supported amnesty for some illegal immigrants. Richard III offered his kingdom for a horse. Romney offers his principles for some votes in Iowa.

Putting Romney’s serial flip flops in the context of his corporate past is an interesting touch, weaving together two strands of Romney’s political identity that Dems see as core vulnerabilities. The question is whether this view of Romney’s character will take hold as a broader media narrative.




At least two GOP governors refuse to read newspapers published in their own states 

Steve Benen:

Even if Republican officials had some kind of ideological aversion that pushed them away from newspapers, I’d like to think a governor would read in-state papers if only to know what others in their state are talking about.

Apparently not.

Newspapers really are a bummer, aren’t they? Always informing readers of news from far-away places, of local legislatures and even governors, like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who it turns out could care less.

“I don’t read newspapers in the state of Ohio,” Kasich said Monday at a college in Columbus. “Very rarely do I read a newspaper. Because … reading newspapers does not give you an uplifting experience…. I have found my life is a lot better if I don’t get aggravated by what I read in the newspaper.”

Remember, this isn’t some guy at a bar explaining why he prefers blissful ignorance to keeping up on current events; this is the elected chief executive of one of the nation’s largest states.

Reading a newspaper should be “an uplifting experience” to keep Kasich’s interest? I’m not even sure what that means.

Perhaps those who avoid newspapers to steer clear of aggravation aren’t particularly well suited for public service through elected office.

Of course, it’s not just Kasich. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) boasted earlier this year that he refuses to read any newspaper published in his home state.

In 2007, George W. Bush admitted that he doesn’t read any newspapers. In 2004, then-Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) boasted that he never reads newspapers, and relied exclusively on Fox News for all of his news.

Keep in mind, we’re not talking about folks who avoid dead-tree newspapers but read dailies online; we’re talking about officials who avoid newspapers altogether.

I find this bizarre.




Thousands march on Washington State Capitol to oppose Gov’s plans to cut $2 billion from discretionary budget 


This week, the Washington state legislature is holding a special session to deal with issues related to the state’s budget. Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) has called on the legislature to cut $2 billion from the discretionary budget of $8.7 billion. Many worry that these cuts will come at the expense of the poor and middle class, and will not ask any sacrifices from those who are well-off. As the Olympia Newswire’s Trevor Griffey notes, this unbalanced approach has been the norm over the past few years: “During the two years that Democrats held a supermajority in the legislature (2009-10), they faced a combined set of budget deficits of $13 billion. They filled 46 percent of the budget hole ($5.9 billion) with spending cuts, and only 7 percent ($920 million) with revenue increase.”

So yesterday, nearly two thousand 99 Percenters descended on the state capitol in an event they dubbed “Occupy The Capitol.” As thousands marched outside the building, dozens encamped themselves inside, where they performed a “Mic Check” calling for fairness. Other demonstrators infiltrated the legislative meeting itself, disrupting it as three activists were tased and 30 were evicted.

[…]As the protests continue to rage, polling shows that the people of Washington state are drifting away from an unfair, cuts-only approach to budgeting. A new poll released found that only 20 percent of respondents in the state wanted to see a cuts-only approach to balancing the budget, down from 37 percent last year. Meanwhile 54 percent said they were willing to pay higher sales taxes to reduce cuts.



Team Obama Launches Their First Two Ads To Mobilize The Troops For 2012

[…] These ads are a literal dipping of the toe in the water. They are only going to run on satellite, and they are designed more for mobilizing Obama’s online troops than for swaying voters. My personal preference between the two ads is the second one. Ad # 2 harkens back to one of the main themes of the president’s 2008 campaign that one person can make a difference. There is also the idea that supporting Obama is part of a movement.

As an incumbent Obama does have to run a different campaign in 2012 than he did in 2008, but the differences may not be as large as some pundits think. The president will have to defend his record, and he will have to go more negative to offset what is certain to be an unrelenting GOP attack machine, but the behavior of the Republican opposition has left an avenue open for Obama to run on change.

This president can rattle off a whole list of things that he tried to do from closing GITMO to universal healthcare to creating jobs that Republican obstruction has blocked. It is possible and almost probable that Obama is going to run on a platform of change that will create jobs and change that will get the wealthy to pay their fair share. Obama could also easily argue that the change America needs most is to get rid of the Republican obstructionists in Congress.

Incumbents aren’t supposed to be able to run on a message of change, but the strategy used by the GOP has given the president this luxury. Polling and fundraising has shown that President Obama’s base is alive and well, and if the pieces of the Obama machine snap together and run as efficiently as they did in 2008, Republicans are going to be in for a very tough fight.




GOP Set to Self-Destruct

Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast:

Every blessed once in a great while, all artifice is stripped away, rhetoric collapses under the weight of its own absurdity, and we get to see things as they really are. Such will be the case later this week when the Senate tries to vote on extending the payroll-tax holiday. The Republicans will oppose it—that is to say, the Republicans will support a tax increase on working Americans. And why? Because the Democrats want to pay for it with a small surtax on the very top earners. So the choice couldn’t be more direct: which is more important, giving the middle class a tax cut or protecting those who make more than $1 million a year? Republicans are making it clear. This vote alone should destroy them.

The facts: The Social Security payroll tax comes to 12.4 percent of an employee’s salary—employers and employees each pay 6.2 percent. The money goes into the Social Security Trust Fund and finances benefits. At the end of last year, the Obama administration, in exchange for temporarily extending the Bush tax rates on all income levels, got Congress to agree to a one-year 2 percent payroll-tax holiday for employees, down to 4.2 percent. For a $50,000 earner, that meant paying $1,000 a year less in payroll taxes. It was agreed in that law that the holiday would cost the Social Security Trust Fund nothing—the depleted revenue would be replaced out of the general treasury. So the holiday adds to the general deficit but does not affect the trust fund.

The cut proved popular, or is presumed to be popular, so now, as many people predicted last year, Congress wants to extend it. Republicans of course say (as they say of everything) that it hasn’t done any good. But economists attest to its stimulative value. Two economists at the Economic Policy Institute say ending the holiday would reduce GDP by $128 billion and cost 972,000 jobs in 2012. The EPI is a liberal outfit, but Mark Zandi of Moody’s, who advised John McCain in 2008, agrees that raising the payroll tax back to where it was could cause another recession.

And besides those macroeconomic concerns, there is the simple question of money in people’s pockets as they try to tough out the economy. A thousand dollars to a $50,000 earner, or $1,500 to a $75,000 earner, isn’t nothing.

What the Senate Democrats want to do now is this. They want to increase the employee’s reduction from 2 percent to 3.1 percent (that is, to cut it in half from the normal 6.2 percent rate). And they now want, for the first time, to extend the holiday to employers as well. This is important, and it probably won’t be well explained in very many places. But the Democrats would have employers pay 3.1 percent (rather than the 6.2 percent they now pay) on the first $5 million of their payroll. Also, if employers add to their payrolls, they would pay no payroll tax on new hires. So the new bill is specifically aimed at helping the job creators. The total cost is $255 billion.

The Democrats want to pay for it with a 3.5 percent surtax on dollars earned over $1 million per year. In other words, if someone earns $1.3 million a year, she will pay the extra 3.5 percent only on the last $300,000 in earnings; that is, an extra $10,500 a year (bear in mind that this person takes home, after taxes, around $30,000 every two weeks). So it certainly raises the taxes of the very wealthiest. But it gives more money back to middle-class people, and it stimulates the economy, perhaps to the tune of 50,000 jobs a month, maybe even more.

Mitch McConnell unsurprisingly announced his opposition to it Monday. And yes, this is the same Mitch McConnell who said in January 2009 that a two-year suspension of the payroll tax “would put a lot of money back in the hands of businesses and in the hands of individuals,” and that “Republicans, generally speaking, from Maine to Mississippi, like tax relief.”

Well, that was then. Now three things have changed. One, the idea was a Republican one back then; now it’s a Kenyan one. That alone is enough to make it poison to them. Two, extending the holiday will help the economy at a moment when Republicans are now very clearly trying to hurt the economy. This is not even a controversial thing to say anymore, it’s so obvious. And three, now there’s a price tag on it; it has to be paid for in some way, and that way is a surtax on super-high incomes. And this above all is what the GOP cannot accept. These are the makers, not the takers, in Paul Ryan’s obscene formulation.

It’s sickening to watch them lie about this one. Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl hit two major talking points on TV over the weekend:

The problem here is that the payroll tax doesn’t go into general revenue, it supports Social Security. And you can’t keep extending the payroll-tax holiday and have a secure Social Security. That’s the first problem …

By taxing the people who provide the jobs, you put off the day we have economic recovery and job creation in this country. And that’s precisely what the Democratic plan would do. It would hit those people, the small businesses who we all acknowledge are the ones who create the jobs coming out of economic difficulty.

Both statements are lies. The first is another one of those not-intended-to-be-factual statements for which he is renowned. The Social Security Trust Fund is not affected by the new proposal any more than it was for the original one-year holiday last year. The second statement is the usual GOP talking point on this—we’re protecting small businesses—but it’s especially lame in the context of this proposal. Don’t most small businesses have payrolls under $5 million? Of course they do. Those employers will directly benefit from this law. And businesses large or small will pay nothing on new hires.

So the bill will cut taxes on middle-income people and on small employers. And it won’t get a single Republican vote. Maybe one—Scott Brown might have to back it. But they will block this. They will hope instead that Harry Reid eventually (before the end of the year) permits a one-year extension at the current 2 percent rate that is paid for out of the general treasury. In which case the GOP will be voting to increase the deficit! Yep, the deficit-hawk party would sooner add a couple of hundred billion to the deficit than impose a surtax on people who make more than $1 million a year. It just never ends with these people.

This is the most rancid display yet on the GOP’s part. And I think you’ll agree there is no lack of competition for that mantle. Having the stones to campaign against Obama’s “Medicare cuts” in 2010 when all they want to do is cut Medicare was up there, but this is even worse. How a party can so nakedly represent only the top 1 percent while at the same time try to stop anything that will help the economy, and survive while doing it, is just beyond me. Obama should give an Oval Office speech Wednesday night and say: “If you are an employee and make less than $1 million, or if you are an employer of any size, I am trying to give you a tax cut. If you are an employee who makes more than $1 million a year, you should write and thank your Republican senator, because the Republicans are blocking me and helping you.”

It really is that simple.



Fake Occupy website tries to undermine Wisconsin recall, claims enough signatures already gathered

At least a few conservatives are making good on their threats to undermine the new round of Wisconsin recalls by using some sleazy, even illegal, tactics. A fake website claiming the recall petition drive is over is their latest:

website posing as “Occupy-Madison” is seeking to undermine the petition drive in Wisconsin to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker by claiming enough signatures have been gathered. In a November 27 blog entitled, “Walker Recall a success, all necessary signatures collected,” the accompanying post says: “The Committee to Recall Scott Walker and United Wisconsin have issued a report stating they have succeeded in collecting all necessary signatures… We are thankful for the efforts, [and] we are suspending all collection activity.”

As of this writing, the website in question is not functional. It currently shows only a simple message, “content reported, under review.”

In addition to this fake website, there have already been at least two instances where supporters of Scott Walker were witnessed destroying recall petitions. One was documented by Daily Kos community member stcroix cheesehead, and another was reported in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Expect more stuff like this throughout the recall drive.




Obama Pushes for Whistle-Blower Bill

Roll Call:

The White House on Tuesday urged Congress to take up a long-stalled effort to enhance protections for government whistle-blowers as part of a larger multinational project to promote government transparency joined by President Barack Obama at the United Nations.

Members of the Open Government Partnership — which include the governments of the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, the Philippines, South Africa and the United Kingdom and organizations in Kenya, Mexico, India and Tanzania, among others — have pledged to increase the availability of information about government activities, encourage civic participation and use technology to promote the sharing of government data.

Each participating country will make an action plan that sets forth specific commitments to establish and build on open government initiatives. […]

The Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act was killed during the last Congress when an undisclosed Senator put a “secret hold” on the legislation just before the Senate adjourned. After the Senate unanimously approved the package earlier, the House weakened certain national security provisions. When the Senate took up the revised legislation, it faltered despite broad bipartisan support.

The bill was reintroduced in April by Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Mark Begich (D-Alaska),Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa),Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

Akaka on Tuesday praised Obama’s push to reform whistle-blower laws.




Democratic retirements could hinder takeover of the House next year

Rep. Barney Frank’s (D-MA) decision yesterday to retire from the House of Representatives marks the 17th Democrat this cycle to opt not to run for reelection, compared to just seven Republicans, dimming the prospects that Democrats can win the 26 seats necessary to retake control of the chamber in 2012, reports The Hill.

“All [seven] GOP members are departing to run for another office, while only eight of the 17 Democrats have their eyes focused upward… Anticipating the blowback it would receive following two high-profile retirements in less than a week, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) released a memo Monday showing that a number of Democratic retirements are in left-leaning districts where the party is likely to retain control even without an incumbent.”

Politico: “It’s a familiar trend: When parties lose the majority, the path back to power appears too steep for many members to stick it out. After Democrats lost the majority in 1994, 29 Democrats did not seek reelection — eight more than the number of Republicans who retired. After Republicans lost the majority in 2006, 27 Republicans did not seek reelection — 21 more than the number of retiring Democrats.”



Advocacy groups seek to limit corporate lobbying. 

Roll Call:

As Occupy Wall Street activists vacate public parks around the country, several new advocacy groups have sprung up to pursue OWS-inspired constitutional amendments to limit the influence of money and corporate lobbying in politics.

The idea of amending the Constitution to overturn “corporate personhood” has also taken hold on Capitol Hill, spawning a half-dozen resolutions in the House and Senate. These include three separate amendments introduced this month by Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Betty Sutton (D-Ohio).

“I think the Occupy energy that’s sweeping across America is a huge wave, and anybody who doesn’t get a surfboard on top of it is losing a tremendous opportunity,” said Nick Penniman, president of United Republic, a new nonprofit that’s set out to fight what organizers call “the corrupting influence of well-financed special interests.”

The group moved up its launch date, Penniman said, in part to tap the energy behind the Occupy movement, which lacks a specific agenda but which has spotlighted anti-corporate slogans in cities around the country. Co-founded by Josh Silver, former CEO of the media and technology reform group Free Press, United Republic already has a staff of about a dozen people and plans a $10 million budget for 2012.




Rick Perry Doesn’t Know The Legal Voting Age AND the date of the election! (video)







Support for the Tea Party has fallen sharply even in places considered Tea Party strongholds 

 The full report of this article is available here.

Support for the Tea Party — and with it, the Republican Party — has fallen sharply even in places considered Tea Party strongholds, according to a new survey.

In Congressional districts represented by Tea Party lawmakers, the number of people saying they disagree with the Tea Party has risen sharply over the year since the movement powered a Republican sweep in midterm elections, so that almost as many people disagree with the Tea Party as agree with it, according to the poll by the Pew Research Center.

Support for the Republican Party has fallen more sharply in those places than it has in the country as a whole. In the 60 districts represented in Congress by a member of the House Tea Party Caucus, Republicans are viewed about as negatively as Democrats.

The survey suggests that the Tea Party may be dragging down the Republican Party heading into a presidential election year, even as it ushered in a new Republican majority in the House of Representatives just a year ago.
Other polls have shown a decline in support for the Tea Party and its positions, particularly because its hard line during the debate over the debt ceiling and deficit reduction made the Tea Party less an abstraction. In earlier polls, most Americans did not know enough about the Tea Party to offer an opinion.

But the Pew survey shows that Tea Party support has declined even in places where it had been particularly robust.

“We know that the image of the G.O.P. has slipped, but to see it slip so dramatically in Tea Party districts is pretty surprising,” said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew center. “You think of those as bedrock Republican districts. They are the base.”

The number of people who disagree with the Tea Party had risen among the general public and in the 60 districts represented by members of the Tea Party caucus, according to one of the polls in the Pew analysis, taken this month. Among the general public, 27 percent said they disagreed with the Tea Party and 20 percent said they agreed, a reversal from a year ago, when 27 percent agreed and 22 percent disagreed with the Tea Party.

In Tea Party districts, 23 percent of people now disagree with the Tea Party, while 25 percent agree. A year ago, 33 percent of people in those districts agreed with the Tea Party, and 18 percent disagreed.

Opinions of the Republican Party had also dropped off particularly sharply in those Tea Party districts. In a Pew poll in October, 48 percent of people in those places said they had a negative view of the Republican Party, while 41 percent said they have a favorable view. The favorable rating had dropped 14 points since March.

That drop was sharper than it was among the general public, where the percentage of people with a favorable opinion of the Republican Party had dropped to 36 percent, from 42 percent in March.

Opinions about the Democratic Party shifted less, nationwide and in Tea Party districts. Among the general public, favorable ratings for the Democratic Party dropped to 46 in October from 50 percent in August. In Tea Party districts, unfavorable ratings for the Democrats dropped, to 50 percent in October from 57 percent in August. Favorable ratings stayed about the same — at 39 percent in October, and 37 percent in August.

How much this affects Republican chances in the presidential contest next year, Mr. Kohut said, probably depends on which candidate wins the nomination.

“If the candidate is of a more conservative bent, he or she will have to deal with this complaint about the Tea Party among the general public, of being too extreme and not willing to compromise,” he said.

“The focus has been very much on the candidate and not on the party, but going into this election the party has problems,” he said. “Which isn’t to say that people are wildly enthusiastic about the Democratic Party, but it hasn’t lost the kind of favor the G.O.P. has.”




Poll Number ‘O The Day

43%: A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 43% of Likely U.S. Voters agree with the former House speaker and think the protesters should take baths and get jobs. But an identical number (43%) disagree, and 14% more are undecided.

Who says this country is polarized?




Obama approval low, but steady 

President Obama’s job approval rating held steady at 43 percent for the fifth straight week, a slight improvement from the 40 to 42 percent range he was stuck in through October, according to the latest Gallup poll.

Still, the president’s approval rating remains upside down, with 49 percent saying they disapprove, also holding steady from last week.

Obama spent the first half of the year enjoying an approval rating in the high 40 to low 50 percent range, but has been bumping along in the low 40s since August.

According to Gallup’s historical analysis, an incumbent president needs to be around 50 percent to secure a second term.

The president’s steepest decline has been among pure independents, a group that makes up about 14 percent of the electorate and that went strongly for Obama in 2008. Obama’s approval rating with independents has dropped 10 percent since January, down from 40 percent to 30.

Independent and centrist voters will be especially important in 2012, as polls indicate that Obama will have an uphill climb in 12 key swing states he carried in 2008, when his unique and history-making campaign energized independents and propelled him into office.

Approval is particularly suppressed among independents, left-leaning Republicans




Delta says union rejection upheld


Delta Air Lines Inc said on Monday that U.S. labor mediators rejected claims of interference that were filed by the machinists union after workers at the airline’s TechOps plane maintenance department voted against unionizing.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union had sought a new election, saying that Delta management had engaged in surveillance and intimidation making employees fearful of supporting the union, among other things.

The labor board said in dismissing the union’s interference claims that its investigation of the matter found that election conditions were not tainted in the vote by about 700 TechOps workers in 2010.

The National Mediation Board decision allows Delta to begin aligning pay, benefits and work rules for employees who manage the flow and supply of parts for the TechOps plane maintenance and repair division.

Elections for groups that include about 50,000 workers took place last year to resolve labor representation after the 2008 acquisition of mostly unionized Northwest Airlines by Atlanta-based Delta, the least unionized of the major U.S. airlines. Flight attendants, baggage handlers and customer service agents at the carrier also rejected union representation in those votes.







Tyler Perry Pens Letter To 11-Year-Old Boy Involved In Sandusky Scandal


I don’t know your name, but I know your face. I don’t know your journey, but I know where you are. I am your brother!

I must tell you, what you have done is so courageous. The strength that it must have taken for your 11-year-old voice to speak out about such a horrible act is something that I didn’t have the strength or courage to do at that age.

I was a very poor young black boy in New Orleans, just a face without a name, swimming in a sea of poverty trying to survive. Forget about living, I was just trying to exist. I was enduring a lot of the same things that you’ve come forward and said happened to you, and it was awful. I felt so powerless. I knew what was happening to me, but unlike you, I couldn’t speak about it because no one saw me. I was invisible and my voice was inaudible.

So to think that you, when you were only 11 years old, spoke up—you are my hero! I’m so proud of you. You have nothing to be ashamed of. I want you to know you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s not your fault. Please know that you were chosen by a monster. You didn’t choose him. You didn’t ask for it and, most of all, you didn’t deserve it. What a huge lesson that was for me to learn. Your 11-year-old self was no match for wicked, evil tactics of this kind. You were hunted like prey. A pedophile looks for the young boys he thinks he can manipulate. The ones who have daddy or mommy issues, the ones who are broken, and the ones who are in need. Butthis wasn’t you.

Do you know that at the young age of 11 you had more courage than all the adults who let you down? All of the ones who didn’t go to the proper authorities, all of the ones who were worried about their careers, reputations, or livelihoods. All of the ones who didn’t want to get involved. Or even the ones who tried to convince your mother not to fight. You are stronger than them all! I wonder what they would have done if it were their own child.

I had a few of those adults in my life, too. They knew and did nothing. One of them even said to me that it was my fault, because I allowed myself to spend time with the molesters. And yes, this was someone who was in power and could have called the police, but instead this person allowed this criminal to go on molesting other young boys for many years. When I did tell a family member, I wasn’t believed. I suffered in silence. But not you, my young strong hero, you have done what many of us wish we could have done. You used your voice!

You know, now that you’re older you need to be aware that the aftermath of abuse may affect you for a very long time. But that’s OK; just know that the strength it took for you to talk about it then will help you get through it now. I often tell myself that if I made it through that experience as a child, then surely as a man I should be able to get past it. It still may take you a while, but that’s OK too. I haveknown people who have gone through the same things that we have, but unfortunately they were never able to admit it, and it destroyed them. They never went for help, and they let the abuse defeat them. Some of them went to prison for crimes, some are addicted to drugs, and some have even committed suicide. I know that none of these things will happen to you. You are too strong for that!

No matter what happens next, just know that the hardest part is over. I wish the coward and very sick individual who hurt you would have the courage to admit his wrong and not put you through a trial. But he will most likely profess his innocence until the bitter end. And probably, all the while, yelling at the top of his lungs about all he has done to help troubled young boys.

You may have to go through with that trial, and you may feel all alone when you’re on that witness stand, but just know that there are millions of young boys and grown men who are standing with you—including me. If every man who has ever been molested would speak up, you would see that we’re all around you. You may not know all of our faces and names, but my prayer is that you feel our strength holding you up. You will get through this; you’ve already endured the worst part at age 11. Now fight on, my young friend, fight on! We are all with you.



Moment of Squee [I could swear Teddy said, “Mine! I like that.”]







Say NO to Internet Censorship

Congress is debating whether to grant itself the power to turn off parts of the Internet. Fun sites like YouTube. Informative sites like Wikipedia. Political sites like

This week, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) will start a historic filibuster of the Internet Censorship Act wherehe’ll read the names of every person who signs a petition against Internet censorship. It’s the perfect opportunity for 5 million Internet-connected progressives to visibly add their voice to a Senate debate. The more of us who sign, the stronger this effort to block this terrible law will be.

Add your name to the debate today.

A compiled petition with your individual comment will be presented to your senators and representative.






We must not, in trying to think about how we can make a big difference, ignore the small daily difference we can make which, over time, add up to big differences that we often cannot foresee. ~~Marian Wright Edelman


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I think trying to take Teddy’s corn could result in a face full of needles. 🙁


Cher, Frontline on PBS had a great show last night on airline safety. And, why they don’t want Unions!

Also, I can’t stand Mica or whatever her name is on Morning Joe. She needed to keep on running if you ask me!


This line up is a good source of news.

That story about the tea party is interesting. The tea party is mostly low interest and low knowledge conservatives; people who would be easily displeased.

I think that, whatever their state of mind, they will either vote GOP or stay at home. Mostly vote.


Another great lineup. I got lost for about an hour reviewing this post.

KQµårk 死神

I’ve been saying for quite a while the Romney’s flip flops are a pathology that speaks volumes about his lack of character. A few conscientious flip flops is one the but flip flops as variable as the stock market is not (the hedge fund manager mentality is a marvelous analogy). Of course I go further. Only a sociopath can have that loose a grasp on there personal principles to end up with ZERO convictions. He’s literally trying to act like a person acts because he does not know how to be a person. History shows us this is the worst type of person to put into power.

I know Obama’s poll numbers are low based on historic trends but when you factor in the bad economy they are remarkable high.