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Yearly deficit falls below $1 trillion for the first time under Obama – The Hill’s On The Money

The Hill:

The Treasury Department forecast Monday that the budget deficit for fiscal 2012 will come in at $996 billion, the first time President Obama has presided over an annual deficit of less than $1 trillion.

The budget deficit in fiscal 2011 and 2010 was $1.3 trillion, while the Obama stimulus law pushed the deficit up to $1.4 trillion in fiscal 2009.

The Treasury statement is the first since the congressional supercommittee failed to come up with any deficit reduction and disbanded on Nov. 21. Because of that failure, $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts are to take place over the next decade.

That is not nearly enough to stop the exponential growth of the deficit, which is expected to balloon at a more rapid pace later in the decade due in mainly to the retirement of the baby boomers. The retirements will decrease income tax revenue and increase Medicare costs.

For November, the monthly budget deficit was $137 billion, compared to $150 billion in November of last year. The government took in $152 billion in November and spent $289 billion.

The deficit in October was only $98 billion, but that month benefited from the fact that payments normally made in October were made in September.





Xe, Formerly Known As Blackwater, Changes Name To Academi 

[…] The Wall Street Journal reports that the security contractor is announcing it’s switched its name to Academi, all part of an effort to be more “boring.”

Academi president and CEO Ted Wright told WSJ that the company has hired an outside company to help it apply for an operating licence in Iraq.

“I think eventually, we’re going to get a license; we’re going to do business in Iraq,” Wright said.

The newspaper reports:

In its various incarnations, Academi has provided protective details for U.S. diplomats and officials in hot spots around the globe. But it is still excluded from one of the most lucrative markets for private security: The Iraqi government stripped the company of its operating license after the 2007 shootout.

Demand for security contractors in Iraq has surged, however. The State Department is hiring a large contract security force to protect the U.S. mission there, and private security firms also are eyeing possible work for energy companies as the Iraqi oil-and-gas sector opens up to foreign investment.






G.O.P. Bill Would Benefit Doctor-Owned Hospitals


The House Republican bill to hold down payroll taxes and extend unemployment benefits, coming up for a vote on Tuesday, offers a special dispensation to doctors who invest in hospitals.

The bill would repeal and relax several provisions of the 2010 health care law that clamped down on doctor-owned hospitals. The bill would allow such hospitals to open if they were under construction at the end of last year, and it would allow them to expand if they were already in existence.

Congressional aides say dozens of hospitals and their physician owners could benefit.

Numerous studies have found that when doctors have a financial stake in a hospital, they tend to order more tests and procedures, raising costs for Medicare and other insurers.

Many doctor-owned hospitals specialize in surgery, orthopedics or heart care. Proponents say they provide superior services.

The provision of the House bill allowing the spread and expansion of doctor-owned hospitals would increase federal spending by $300 million over 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office said.

Dr. Michael E. Russell II, president of Physician Hospitals of America, a trade group for doctor-owned institutions, said the 2010 law “limits access to care,” at a time when the need for it will increase because of the expansion of coverage. More than 30 million Americans are expected to gain insurance under the 2010 health care law.

Dr. Russell said the House Republican bill would benefit 25 to 30 hospitals that were under construction but had not opened. In addition, he said, more than half of the 270 existing doctor-owned hospitals want to expand, and they too could benefit.

But Representative Pete Stark of California, the senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, said the provision dealing with doctor-owned hospitals was “a special interest giveaway.”

“These facilities have caused patient deaths and are proven to increase unnecessary utilization, thus increasing costs,” Mr. Stark said. “Yet Republicans spend $300 million to allow more of these facilities to exist and enable all of them to easily continue to expand. That’s bad for America’s health, but good for special interests.”

Representative Joe Pitts, Republican of Pennsylvania and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, defended the provision.



Just 22 Percent Of The Long-Term Unemployed Are Collecting Unemployment Insurance 


According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation/NPR poll, just 22 percent of those Americans who have been out of work for a year or more say that they are collecting unemployment insurance. Among those who are collecting benefits, “a full 94 percent think it is at least somewhat likely that their benefits will run out before they are able to find a new job.” As Center for American Progress Policy Analyst Sarah Jane Glynn wrote, “these findings echo what economists have been saying for some time now. The long-term unemployed are desperate to find work, their benefits are running out, and something needs to be done to assist them in this tough economy.” Instead, House Republicans have proposed cutting their benefits.





Scary look at Florida’s privatized education nightmare of unaccountable, big-money charter schools. 

Miami Herald:

Preparing for her daughter’s graduation in the spring, Tuli Chediak received a blunt message from her daughter’s charter high school: Pay us $600 or your daughter won’t graduate.

She also received a harsh lesson about charter schools: Sometimes they play by their own rules.

During the past 15 years, Florida has embarked on a dramatic shift in public education, steering billions in taxpayer dollars from traditional school districts to independently run charter schools. What started as an educational movement has turned into one of the region’s fastest-growing industries, backed by real-estate developers and promoted by politicians.

But while charter schools have grown into a $400-million-a-year business in South Florida, receiving about $6,000 in taxpayer dollars for every student enrolled, they continue to operate with little public oversight. Even when charter schools have been caught violating state laws, school districts have few tools to demand compliance.

Charter schools have become a parallel school system unto themselves, a system controlled largely by for-profit management companies and private landlords — one and the same, in many cases — and rife with insider deals and potential conflicts of interest.

In many instances, the educational mission of the school clashes with the profit-making mission of the management company, a Miami Herald examination of South Florida’s charter school industry has found. Consider:

• Some schools have ceded almost total control of their staff and finances to for-profit management companies that decide how the schools’ money is spent. The Life Skills Center of Miami-Dade County, for example, pays 97 percent of its income to a management company as a “continuing fee.” And when the governing board of two affiliated schools in Hollywood tried to eject its managers, the company refused to turn over school money it held — and threatened to press criminal charges against any school officials who attempted to access the money.

• Many management companies also control the land and buildings used by the schools — sometimes collecting more than 25 percent of a school’s revenue in lease payments, in addition to management fees. The owners of Academica, the state’s largest charter school operator, collect almost $19 million a year in lease payments on school properties they control in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, audit and property records show.

• Charter schools often rely on loans from management companies or other insiders to stay afloat, making charter school governing boards beholden to the managers they oversee. Loans to two Pompano Beach schools were disguised as gifts in financial documents to avoid scrutiny from the school district and make struggling schools appear solvent, the schools’ former managers said in court papers.

• At some financially weak schools, tight budgets have forced administrators to cut corners. The cash-strapped Balere Language Academy in South Miami Heights taught its seventh-grade students in a toolshed, records show. The Academy of Arts & Minds in Coconut Grove went weeks without textbooks. Schools have also been accused of using illegal tactics to bring in more money — charging students illegal fees for standard classes, or faking attendance records to earn more tax dollars, court records show.

• Charter schools in Miami-Dade take a disproportionately lower share of black, poor and disabled children, records show. One in three students in Miami-Dade traditional public schools are black, while one in five charter school students are black. School district officials also suspect some charter schools have deliberately sought out high-performing students — contrary to the schools’ contracts.

This year, several South Florida charter schools made headlines for violating local rules or state laws, including Arts & Minds, which was accused of charging illegal fees to students, and Balere, which the school district said turned into an after-hours nightclub on weekends. The district withheld funding from both schools — before concluding that it does not have the legal authority to do so.

That’s because Florida’s charter school laws — considered among the nation’s most charter school friendly — are aimed more at promoting the schools than policing them, leaving school districts with few ways to enforce the rules.

When school districts have taken a hard line with charter schools, they have found their decisions second-guessed by state education officials in Tallahassee. And as the number of charter schools has climbed — almost 200 now operate in Miami-Dade and Broward counties alone — state lawmakers have chipped away at local school districts’ ability to monitor them.

“It’s frustrating for school district officials,” said John Schuster, spokesman for the Miami-Dade school district. “The only cases where we can really intervene are safety-to-life, severe financial distress or poor academic performance.”

Bringing marketplace principles to education

Charter schools first took hold in Florida in 1996, amid worries of overcrowded classrooms and poor student performance in urban school districts. They were seen as a cure for many of the problems in public schools, bringing innovative techniques and smaller classes to populations of students struggling to keep up. Charter schools were also designed to give parents more choices, and bring the principles of the marketplace to public education. Competition from charter schools was expected to force public schools to adapt and improve.

In many ways, the plan succeeded. Florida now has 519 charter schools — from small, specialized schools tucked in strip malls and churches to sprawling new campuses with 3,000 kids from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Some charter schools rank among the highest in the state in academic performance. School districts in Miami-Dade, Broward and around the state have responded to the competition by creating more magnet schools and specialized programs.

By design, charter schools are unshackled from many of the bureaucratic rules of traditional public schools, with independent school governing boards making most decisions instead of the local school district. Charter school advocates say this freedom is needed for schools to be creative and nimble, and to encourage start-ups.

While this freewheeling system has minimized the oversight of school districts, it has given rise to a cottage industry of professional charter school management companies that — along with the landlords and developers who own and build schools — control the lion’s share of charter schools’ money.

In Miami-Dade and Broward, about two in three charter schools are run by management companies, which charge fees ranging from 5 to 18 percent of a school’s income. These fees can exceed $1 million a year at a large charter school.

Some management companies handle only school finances, while others control the budget, hiring and the curriculum.

In some cases, the managers effectively take over the schools, using financial leverage to render the schools’ governing boards “irrelevant,” said Pam Hackett, a retired legislative aide who has served on the boards of five Broward County charter schools.

“They push the little guy into a corner where they can’t afford to do anything but acquiesce or go out of business,” Hackett said.

Two years ago, Hackett sparred with the Leona Group, a Michigan-based management company, after the company removed a popular principal from two affiliated Hollywood charter schools on whose board she serves — Sunshine Elementary and Paragon Academy of Technology. When the board tried to rehire the principal, the management company objected, saying it alone had that power.

“They basically told us: ‘According to the contract, we can do whatever we want,’ ” Hackettsaid.

The board had other complaints with Leona: The management company refused to provide school records, including contracts and spending documents, and failed to follow the school’s education plan, school officials said. The board canceled Leona’s contract in July 2009.

When school officials later tried to access the schools’ bank accounts, Leona refused to give up the money — and its lawyer accused them of attempting to steal it, court records show.

Leona “is committed to criminally prosecuting those individuals responsible for their attempted theft from the account,” attorney Jeffrey Wood wrote in a letter to the schools’ attorney. The dispute is now in litigation.

Leona executives did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Hackett says the schools now operate without any for-profit managers; instead, the principals make all financial and educational decisions. “Overall, it’s cheaper and more efficient and more accountable,” she said.

Many charter schools depend on management companies not just for expertise, but for cash. Schools often borrow money from the managers, creating an uneasy arrangement that can stifle a governing board’s independent oversight.

The Leona Group, for example, gave more than $360,000 to four Broward charter schools — money described as gifts in the schools’ financial reports. But in court papers, the management company said the payments were really loans disguised as gifts to make the schools appear financially sound.

“The funds were referred to as a ‘one-time gift’ so that the schools would not have to show the funds on their balance sheets,” the management company’s lawyers wrote. The schools insist the payments were gifts, not loans.

It is not uncommon for management companies to give or lend money to schools to get them up and running, said Jonathan Hage, president of Charter Schools USA of Fort Lauderdale, one of the region’s largest charter school operators.

Most charter schools lose money in the first year or two as they try to expand enrollment while paying rent, construction costs and other start-up expenses, he said. In addition, new charter schools often find it difficult to get financing from banks.

Hage and other charter school supporters say the state’s funding formula for charter schools is inadequate, making it difficult for smaller schools to survive without assistance. Hage’s company benefits from scale, he said. “Being able to spread overhead costs over many schools and many students helps.”

Statewide, about one in four charter schools have shut down since 1996, either voluntarily or at the command of local school districts — double the national average. Most schools close for financial rather than academic reasons.

For property owners, it’s a profitable deal. […]


Neither the state nor the local school districts have rules or guidelines on how much a charter school lease should cost; nor are schools required to seek independent appraisals. […]


Strange things can happen, like $600 fees

As statewide budget cuts have hit the bottom line at all public schools, some charters have been accused of cutting costs and boosting revenue at the expense of children and parents.

It’s a story Tuli Chediak knows well. As her daughter was preparing to graduate from the International Studies Charter High School in Miami earlier this year, Chediak was notified that she had failed to complete the 120 hours of volunteer service required of all parents. Her family was told to pay $600 — $5 for each hour — or their daughter could not graduate, Chediak said.

The mother had signed paperwork promising to complete the volunteer service, a common requirement at private schools and some charters. But Chediak said the school offered few opportunities to complete the service. The contract said nothing about a fine or withholding her daughter from graduation, she said.

Chediak refused to pay and complained to the school district, which declined to get involved. The school ultimately allowed her daughter to graduate, and blamed the dispute on a miscommunication. But the experience left Chediak and other parents who were asked to pay frustrated.

“There are people taking advantage of parents,” she said. “It shouldn’t be that way.”

The Balere Language Academy saved cash by teaching nine seventh-graders in a wooden storage shed on campus, records show. One report by the school district said students “had difficulty putting their legs comfortably under the desks.”

The school denied it, but district photographs show colorful posters, a whiteboard and student papers hanging from the walls. The shed is no longer used for classes.

Arts & Minds boosted its bank account for several years by charging student fees for basic classes like math and reading — a violation of state law, school district officials said. The district complained about the practice in September, prompting Arts & Minds administrators to return all checks received from parents this school year.

Parents at Arts & Minds, a school that has relied on loans from its landlord and founder to stay in the black, had also complained that the school did not have enough books for its students, and some classes had no teachers for the first five weeks of this school year.

The complaints aren’t new: Earlier this year, school administrators were photocopying textbooks, until the school’s then-principal questioned whether this violated copyright laws, governing board minutes show.

Insiders at the Mavericks High of South Miami-Dade, a Homestead charter school for at-risk students, also say the school has broken state law to bring in more money.

Kelly Shaw, a former career coordinator at the school, filed a whistleblower suit in June accusing school administrators of defrauding the school district by inflating student attendance and enrollment figures, to increase the amount of money the school collected.

A former Mavericks teacher, Maria del Cristo, filed a separate suit accusing the school of improperly charging fees to students enrolling at the school. Through their attorney, Shaw and del Cristo declined to comment.

Lauren Hollander, the CEO of the school’s management company, Mavericks in Education Florida, denied the allegations, and said both women had been fired “for cause.” The lawsuits are still pending.

Miami-Dade school district officials said they never heard of the allegations.


More monitoring urged, less monitoring OK’d […]






AP: State Department says GOP bill could kill pipeline

The Obama administration says a Republican bill to fast-track approval of an oil pipeline from Canada could lead to the project’s demise.

In a statement Monday, the State Department warned that congressional interference with the Keystone XL pipeline could backfire. The State Department has authority over the project because it crosses an international border.

The statement said that if Congress imposes an arbitrary deadline for a permit decision, it could prevent the administration from meeting environmental laws that govern the approval process.

In that case, officials say the department would be unable to make a determination to issue a permit.’

GOP lawmakers back a bill to require approval of the pipeline within 60 days. They say the Canada-to-Texas pipeline will help create jobs without taxpayer money.




New York Times: The Climate Crisis Is ‘Simply Too Big A Job’ For Those Fighting It Now 

With weary determination, COP17′s climate negotiators brokered a deal after more than two weeks of grinding political debates. The despair, anger, and resignation felt by almost all parties at the Durban climate summit reflected the knowledge that the power vested in the environment ministers and climate envoys by their respective governments is insufficient to protect human civilization from the exponentially growing onslaught of fossil-fueled climate change. As the New York Times writes — as a simple statement of fact — it is “simply too big a job“:

Effectively addressing climate change will require over the coming decades a fundamental remaking of energy production, transportation and agriculture around the world — the sinews of modern life. It is simply too big a job for those who have gathered for these talks under the 1992 United Nations treaty that began this grinding process.

It is important to recognize, however, that grappling with the climate crisis isn’t simply too big a challenge for environment ministers. When the heads of state of the entire world gathered in Copenhagen in 2009, they too could not redirect the “sinews of modern life.” Although on paper the governments of the United States and other nations command the corporations that run the economy, the evidence is that the multinational corporations have, if not dominance, an equal footing on the world stage. Yet Exxon Mobil, Cargill, Koch Industries, CNOOC, JP Morgan Chase, and Deutsche Bank don’t have any direct accountability in the United Nations negotiations.

Either the nations of the world need to rein in the corporate powers that extract ungodly profit from the very future well-being of mankind, or there needs to be the formal recognition that the financiers and fossil polluters have a greater voice than the people, and thus should have the political accountability that comes from being a member of the league of nations.

Again, given the authority the delegates in Durban actually wield, the resulting agreement was a significant achievement. Given the reality of climate change, the agreement is grossly insufficient.

If the objectives of the UNFCCC treaty signed by the nations of the world to preserve civilization from the destruction of global warming are to be achieved, every local, national, and international institution must play their part, from the Major Economies Forum to the International Monetary Fund, from Davos to OPEC. That may seem to be beyond the realm of political possibility, but as Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible, until it’s done.”





Sebelius: Decision To Limit Morning After Pill Was Not Political


Kathleen Sebelius assured reporters today that her decision to overrule scientists at the Food and Drug Administration and prohibit the morning after bill from being available over the counter to women of all ages was not politically motivated and said that themanufacturer — Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd — could reapply for approval. “There are always opportunities for the company to come back with additional data,” Sebelius told reporters after the meeting, held at LaGuardia Community College in Queens. “Subsequent discussions can take place.” But Susan Wood, as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the FDA from 2000 to 2005, argued in today’s Washington Post that “Throughout this process, the science has been solid that the drug is safe and should be available to anyone who needs it.” She also asked why “worries about the use of medicines by teenagers, have not been applied to other products” “such as acetaminophen, and others with known and serious risks, over the counter.”





Health Reform would cut the number of uninsured Virginians in half

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell has been an outspoken opponent against the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately for him, the Virginia Health Reform Initiative (VHRI) Advisory Council—a council that he formed—released a report finding that the Affordable Care Act will greatly benefit Virginia’s families.

According to the report, the law will cut the number of uninsured Virginians in half. This means that about 520,000 Virginians will gain coverage, the majority through Medicaid because their incomes are so low.

In addition, the Affordable Care Act will help to ease the burden of uncompensated care costs on the state. Currently, when the uninsured need health care, they struggle to pay as much as they can. Often, however, they cannot afford to pay the full cost of this care and much of it goes uncompensated. As uninsured Virginians gain coverage under reform, the amount of uncompensated care will drop. According to the report, the amount of uncompensated care delivered should be halved, falling by about $800 million a year.

If opponents of the Affordable Care Act succeeded in their efforts to repeal the new law, many of these uninsured Virginians would have no hope to obtain affordable insurance. The law takes huge steps forward in ensuring that people across the country aren’t priced out of the system. Repealing the law, which Gov. McDonnell wants to do, would take us back to a time when people couldn’t get the health care they needed.





Obama’s Take on Wall Street Prosecutions

President Obama, in an interview with “60 Minutes,” talked extensively about unemployment, the economy and his approach to making policy. One of the more interesting moments in the wide-ranging CBS News interview came when Steve Kroft asked Mr. Obama about the lack of prosecutions related to the financial crisis.

Some of the most damaging behavior on Wall Street — in some cases some of the least ethical behavior on Wall Street — wasn’t illegal. That’s exactly why we had to change the laws,” Mr. Obama said, referring to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the sweeping regulatory overhaul.





Fox news isn’t very good at charts:

Steve Benen:

What’s worse than Fox News’ attempts at reporting? Fox News’ attempts to convey information through images.

Media Matters’ Zachary Pleat highlights this doozy from the Republican news network today, which intends to show the fluctuations in the unemployment rate over 2011 to date.

It might be a little tough to see (click on it for a larger view), but the truly amazing this about the image is that it (a) shows no change between 9% unemployment and 8.6% unemployment; and (b) tells viewers that 8.6% unemployment is higher than 8.8% unemployment.

Fox cites Bureau of Labor Statistics data as the source, and lists the actual fluctuations in the national rate accurately, but somehow failed miserably to actually graph the data points correctly. (The fact that 9% and 8.6% were at the same x-axis point should have been a clue to someone at the network, unless the goal was to mislead Fox viewers, perish the thought.)

What’s more, as Pleat added, this new image fits into a larger pattern: “A few weeks ago, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics first reported that the unemployment rate had dropped to 8.6 percent in November — the lowest rate in more than 2 years — a Fox News graphic rounded up to 9 percent. In 2010, Fox News aired a staggeringly misleading chart suggesting that 15 million jobs were lost in three months. Three months.”

There’s a very good reason Fox News viewers are so confused, so often, about so much.




This is What’s Wrong with Political Coverage 

Bob Cesca:

John Heilemann’s review of the Republican debate over the weekend is a fantastic example of why American political coverage is so awful, superficial and stupid.

He graded it based on style and “punches” rather than content, validity and accuracy.

This, of course, means that any of the candidates could stand up there and say, “I helped a fuzzy dude cut a piece of fruit and when he was chewin’ on it I mooshed it and called an ambulance!” and the press wouldn’t notice — that is unless the crowd booed or another candidate said, “Your campaign is a fuzzy dude!” Then, BOOM! So and so got a punch in there!






By the Numbers: $1 Trillion

In the coming days, the final troops will cross the border out of Iraq and America’s war there will end. Over nearly nine years of fighting, tens of thousands of American troops who were wounded, and 4,500 lost their life in service to our country. The war cost $1 trillion.

American is safer and stronger because we ended the Iraq War, as President Obama promised to do. But now it’s time to invest in the American people. We must work on creating jobs, rebuilding our strong middle class, and sustaining the growth that supports our prosperity and leadership around the world.

Part of ending a war responsibly is standing by those who have fought it and providing all who served with the care and benefits they have earned. And, President Obama is enlisting our veterans in the mission of rebuilding America by funding a post-9/11 GI Bill that helps our veterans and their families pursue a college education, and creating jobs for our veterans so they can become the backbone of the middle class.

If we come together to tackle the big challenges that we face with the same sense of common purpose that our troops showed in Iraq, there’s nothing we can’t do as a country.




AP: House, Senate negotiators agree on $662 billion defense bill, revise detainee provision

Congress is pressing ahead with a massive defense bill that requires military custody for terrorism suspects linked to al-Qaida, including those captured within the U.S.

Lawmakers hope their last-minute revisions will satisfy President Barack Obama and erase a White House veto threat.

Leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees announced late Monday that they had reached agreement on the policy-setting legislation. It had gotten caught up in an escalating fight on whether to treat suspected terrorists as prisoners of war or criminals.

The White House had no immediate comment late Monday, and it’s unclear whether it will hold firm on its veto threat.

The bill would authorize $662 billion for military personnel, weapons systems, national security programs in the Energy Department, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.





Truck drivers speak out on port working conditions and Occupy protests


While the unions that currently represent workers at the port of Oakland are not supporting today’s attempts to close west coast ports, six truck drivers involved in the Clean & Safe Ports campaign have written an open letter on today’s action. Their take doesn’t offer a clear yes or no to support for today’s action. Rather, it asks the protesters and the media to be aware of the workers at the ports and to consider their role at the ports as well as the role of the corporations:

We are inspired that a non-violent democratic movement that insists on basic economic fairness is capturing the hearts and minds of so many working people. Thank you “99 Percenters” for hearing our call for justice. We are humbled and overwhelmed by recent attention. Normally we are invisible.

Today’s demonstrations will impact us. While we cannot officially speak for every worker who shares our occupation, we can use this opportunity to reveal what it’s like to walk a day in our shoes for the 110,000 of us in America whose job it is to be a port truck driver. It may be tempting for media to ask questions about whether we support a shutdown, but there are no easy answers. Instead, we ask you, are you willing to listen and learn why a one-word response is impossible?

They detail both their pride in their hard work and the abuses they face stemming from lack of environmental and safety regulations, from misclassification and more—the many ingredients that force truck drivers to pee into bottles and work for a pittance.

And they ask for help in and attention to their struggle, which they have been fighting and continue to fight, struggling to get a fraction of the attention today’s Occupy protests will get:

We would rather stick together and transform our industry from within. We deserve to be fairly rewarded and valued. That is why we have united to stage convoys, park our trucks, marched on the boss, and even shut down these ports. […]

But we believe in the power and potential behind a truly united 99%. We admire the strength and perseverance of the longshoremen. We are fighting like mad to overcome our exploitation, so please, stick by us long after December 12. Our friends in the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports created a pledge you can sign to support us here.

We drivers have a saying, “We may not have a union yet, but no one can stop us from acting like one.”

Struggle against corporate bad actors and the dominance of corporations in our economy and political system is desperately needed. Let’s make sure the voices of workers are front and center in that struggle.





Crossroads to let loose $1 million in ads against Obama, Ben Nelson 

President Obama and Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) are about to become the latest targets in a barrage of television attacks ads emanating from Crossroads GPS, a conservative outside group formed by former Bush adviser Karl Rove.

Ads knocking Obama over his administration’s efforts to bolster Solyndra, a failed solar energy company that has become a White House headache, will start airing nationwide on Monday night, the group announced. Crossroads has spent $500,000 to buy time on cable networks.

“Obama says ‘spend more’ and promises jobs. Obama donors and insiders line up for handouts,” the narrator in the ad says, accusing Obama of pursuing risky investments for the benefit of his allies. “Who pays the bill? We do.”

Crossroads has reserved another $500,000 of ad time in Omaha, Neb., and Lincoln, Neb., for ads attacking Nelson, a spokesman confirmed. […]

Spending by Crossroads against Democratic candidates competing in 2012 races has become so prodigious that in many cases, it has dwarfed early spending by party committees and candidates’ own campaigns. The group has pledged to spend $20 million on ads undercutting Obama.

Crossroads announced last week it was hitting Democratic Senate candidates in Missouri, Massachusetts, Montana and Nebraska with more than $1 million in ads. One month earlier, it spent $2 million in those states and $2.6 million in another five swing states to attack Democrats.




Sen. McConnell claims consumer protection rules would “bring down the banking system” 

Last week, Senate Republicans filibustered the nomination of former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to be the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The GOP’s plan to justify their filibuster seems to be portraying the CFPB director as a “czar” — a favorite way for Republicans to deride federal officials they don’t like — and falsely claiming that the position has some obscene amount of power.

For instance, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) last week said that the CFPB director would be akin to an “almighty god” with no oversight. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) continued this narrative yesterday during an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace:

WALLACE: What’s your problem with an agency that would protect consumers from mortgage lenders, from debt collectors and student lenders?

MCCONNELL: Yes, here’s the problem: this new agency answers to no one, absolutely no one — another unelected czar. We’ve got a bunch of those in the White House. We don’t need any more of them. And the only way we can incentivize the administration to change this agency which isn’t subject to oversight by Congress, doesn’t get its money from Congress, answers to literally to no one — it’s one individual who could bring down the banking system in this country if he chose to, has unlimited power. No one has that kind of power.


The GOP may have decided this is a clever line of attack, but that doesn’t make it any more true. For starters, the CFPB was created by an act of Congress, which mandated that the agency have a director. By McConnell’s logic, the head of every cabinet or regulatory agency is “another unelected czar.”

Moreover, it’s simply a lie to say that the CFPB director has unlimited power and is subject to no oversight. As we explained last week, the CFPB, unlike any of the other federal financial system regulators, can have it’s rules struck down by a vote of the Financial Stability Oversight Council (FSOC), a panel composed of the heads of the bank regulatory agencies, the Treasury Secretary, and the Federal Reserve Chairman. No other financial regulator is subject to this sort of check. Theoretically, the FSOC could veto each and every rule that the CFPB makes.

Finally, McConnell has a dim view of the banks in this country if he believes that consumer protection rules would bring the whole banking system down. Implicit in that argument is the belief that banks must rip people off in order to make a profit. McConnell’s rhetoric leads to the conclusion that the GOP not only believes banks must hose consumers to survive, but that Republicans are only too happy to help the banks achieve that end.




In Corporations We Trust

According to a DNC spokesman, Democrats are planning on distributing this photoshopped $10,000 “Romney Reserve Note” to state parties and other allies around the country.




Obama’s challenge in nutshell

Greg Sargent:

Republicans today are circulating this new CBS News poll, which contains terrible numbers for Obama on the economy:

Do you approve or disapprove of the way Barack obama is handling the economy?

Approve 33

Disapprove 60

And even worse:

Since he took office, has Barack Obama made real progress in fixing the economy or hasn’t he made real progress in fixing the economy?

Made real progress 28

Hasn’t made real progress 68

But get this: These numbers come even as far more blame Republicans in Congress than Barack Obama and Democrats for the failure to pass legislation, 42-26. And more blame Bush (22 percent) and Congress (16 percent) than Obama (only 12 percent) for the current state of the economy. Fifty seven percent say Obama has worked hard to bring about change, and didn’t just talk about it.

Yet despite all this, Obama remains stuck at a dismal 33 percent economic approval rating. This again illustrates what may be the most important dynamic driving the 2012 campaign: Obama will pay the highest price for the state of the economy, even if the American public fully believes the GOP is deliberately blocking his policies and is more to blame for government paralysis in the face of the crisis. They may see Obama as well intentioned, and agree with his general prescriptions, but ultimately decide he’s too weak or ineffective to just, you know, get it done.

Barring an economic turnaround, Obama can only hammer Republicans relentlessly as deliberate opponents of economic progress, run a scorched earth campaign to render the GOP nominee unacceptable, and relentlessly contrast the parties’ larger visions, in hopes of making the election about something more than the current state of the economy. Whether all this can overcome the basic dynamic Obama’s mired in remains to be seen.




Forensic Analysis Finds Venango County, PA E-Voting System ‘Remotely Accessed

Brad Freidman:

According to the Initial Report from a landmark independent forensic audit of Venango County, PA’s touch-screen voting system — the same system used in dozens of states across the state and country — someone used a computer that was not a part of county’s election network to remotely access the central election tabulator computer, illegally, “on multiple occasions.” Despite the disturbing report, as obtained by The BRAD BLOG and posted in full below, we may never get to learn who did it or why, if Venango’s County Commissioners, a local judge, and the nation’s largest e-voting company have their way. And that’s not all we won’t get to find out about.

The battle for election integrity continues in Venango, with the County Commissioners teaming up with e-voting vendor Election Systems & Software, Inc. (ES&S) on one side, and the county’s renegade interim Republican-majority Board of Elections on the other. The Commissioners and ES&S have been working to spike the independent scientific forensic audit of the county’s failed electronic voting machines that was commissioned by the interim Board of Elections. Making matters worse, the Board has now been removed from power by a county judge, a decision they are attempting to appeal as the three-person board and their supporters continue to fight the entrenched establishment for transparency and accountability in the rural Western Pennsylvania county.


But now, as documents and letters obtained by The BRAD BLOG reveal, the voting machine company, Omaha-based ES&S, who had issued no objections prior to the start of the study, but who changed their mind quickly after it began (as we detailed in an Exclusive report in late October) has now hardened their position, sending threatening legal letters to both the county and the two computer scientists. The e-voting firm has warned them they are likely to face a lawsuit if they do not agree to complete confidentiality and if results of their analysis are released publicly without their prior review and approval.

Shortly after ES&S’ legal threats were issued last month, a county judge released the interim Board from their duties (a move now being appealed by the Board) and the County Commissioners, who had fought tooth and nail against the analysis even being undertaken in the first place, are now back at the helm. According to members of the interim Board, the County Commissioners seem likely to “white wash” and/or quash the entire analysis and a plan for continuing the investigation before it can be completed or even see the light of day.

The BRAD BLOG, however, has obtained a copy of the Initial Draft of one of the forensic studies by the Carnegie Mellon computer scientists. Findings from the report [linked in full below, along with ES&S’ threat letters], include a number of disturbing, and so-far unexplained revelations that should raise alarm bells for voters in virtually every corner of the nation as we head into another Presidential election year.

Among those findings: details on unexplained, out-of-sequence activity log entries in the computer tabulation system, indications that the system was mounted several times with a “USB ‘flash drive'” device, and, perhaps most troubling, evidence that the system was repeatedly accessed by an unidentified remote computer, for lengthy periods of time, on “multiple occasions”.

The entire affair has left members of the interim Board — which includes the Chair and Treasurer of the local Republican Party, as well as the former Chair of the Democratic Party — hopping mad. They’re asking questions about motivations of both the County Commissioners and ES&S and describing their actions as a “cover up”, even as they take legal action to try and complete the work they had begun months ago, after first hearing sworn testimony from voters, describing major failures with e-voting machines at the polling place in recent elections…

‘They know there’s something wrong’

When the Director of Venango’s then Board of Elections, Republican Craig Adams (who also serves as Treasurer of the county’s Republican Party) announced the startof the county’s landmark analysis in late September, he asked rhetorically at a press conference, in response to queries about the cost of the analysis: “What is a vote worth?” He then answered himself: “If the vote is counted it is priceless. If it is not counted, I don’t care what it costs. Let’s get it right.”





POLITICS: Obama: Core of GOP candidates identical.  


In making the case for his re-election, President Barack Obama is arguing that it doesn’t matter who the Republicansnominate to run against him because the core philosophy of the GOP candidates is the same and will stand in sharp relief with his own.

The president laid out an argument for a second term in a wide ranging interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, bluntly saying that if voters believe in the Republican agenda of lower taxes, including for the wealthy, and weaker regulations then he will lose.

“I don’t think that’s where the American people are going to go,” he added, “because I don’t think the American people believe that based on what they’ve seen before, that’s going to work.”

For some time, Democrats and Obama allies have been anticipating that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will ultimately win the Republican nomination. But with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich atop many polls now, Democrats have begun to train their fire on him.

Obama argued that the two Republicans represent the same fundamental set of beliefs.

“The contrast in visions between where I want to take the country and what … where they say they want to take the country is going to be stark,” he said. “And the American people are going to have a good choice and it’s going to be a good debate.”

He rejected questioner Steve Kroft’s suggestion that the public was judging him on his performance as president. “I’m being judged against the ideal,” he said. “Joe Biden has a good expression. He says, ‘Don’t judge me against the Almighty, judge me against the alternative.'”

Obama predicted the fight to the Republican nomination won’t be resolved quickly. “I think that they will be going at it for a while,” he said.

He described both of the top GOP candidates, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, as political fixtures.

Of Gingrich he said: “He’s somebody who’s been around a long time, and is good on TV, is good in debates.”

“But Mitt Romney has shown himself to be somebody who’s … who’s good at politics, as well,” he said. “He’s had a lot of practice at it.”

Obama is counting on voters giving him credit for avoiding a second Great Depression, bailing out the auto industry and passing a signature health care law even while acknowledging that the public is hardly satisfied with the direction of the country.

He also listed such achievements as ending the Pentagon’s policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for gay service members and the elimination of Osama bin Laden and other top al Qaida leaders.

“But when it comes to the economy, we’ve got a lot more work to do,” he conceded.

He rejected Republican criticism that his economic policies amount to class warfare, saying he is simply trying to restore an “American deal” that focuses on building a strong middle class.

In a major speech in Osawatomie, Kan., this week, Obama argued that even before the recent recession hit, Americans at the top of the income scale grew wealthier while others struggled and racked up debt. He also has called for spending on jobs initiatives and for an extension of a payroll tax cut that would be paid for by increasing taxes on taxpayers who make $1 million or more.

“There are going to be people who say, ‘This is the socialist Obama and he’s come out of the closet,'” Obama said.

But he added: “The problem is that our politics has gotten to the point, where we can’t have an honest conversation about the greatest income inequality since the 1920s. And we can’t have an honest conversation about the irresponsibility that resulted in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, without somebody saying that somehow we’re being divisive.”




 Senate rejects US amb-nominee to Salvador. DeMint didn’t like her ex-boyfriend, called her ‘pro-homosexual’




Newt Gingrich is the 2012 GOP frontrunner. And that makes Mitt Romney very happy. 

Chris Cillizza:

[…] As always, there’s strategy in both Gingrich’s willingness to embrace the frontrunner mantle and Romney’s happiness to part with it.

Let’s take Gingrich first.

Gingrich’s two biggest problems in the race right now are money and organization. Being a frontrunner can solve both — at least in theory.

Gingrich and his allies have talk quite a bit about the fact that their fundraising has picked up dramatically since he began to surge about six weeks ago. What they talk less about is the financial hole in which the former House Speaker stood when he began his ascent.

As the Post’s Dan Eggen has noted, Gingrich had $1.2 million in debt at the end of September and just $353,000 in the bank. Compare that to the $15 million that Romney had at the close of September and you begin to grasp the daunting financial task facing Gingrich — particularly if the primary season extends beyond January.

Human nature being what it is, people (including donors) like to be with the person he/she thinks is most likely to win. And with so many major Republicans givers still on the sidelines, it behooves Gingrich to bear-hug the idea that he is the frontrunner. It is, without question, his best path to rapidly close or at least narrow the fundraising edge Romney currently enjoys.

Ditto on the organizational front. While we have written somewhat skeptically about the importance of a traditional political organizationto winning early states, even Gingrich’s most dependable backers acknowledge that he must vastly improve on his current campaign apparatus in order to fully capi­tal­ize on the momentum currently fueling his candidacy.

While most of the organizational talent is spoken for at the moment, once the Iowa and New Hampshire votes happen it’s likely that several candidates will leave the race — freeing up their staffs to choose new horses. The more Gingrich looks like the frontrunner, the better able he will be to attract top-tier talent.

Now let’s look at it the mixed blessing of being the frontrunner from Romney’s perspective.

Romney has benefited from/labored under the “frontrunner” tag for the entirety of the Republican race. Yes, the likes of Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cainhave all challenged that status but each has been unable to successfully sustain their elevated status for long.

Now, with Gingrich’s solid debate performance over the weekend in Iowa proving that he may have a longer shelf life than those who have filled the anti-Romney slot previously, the former Massachusetts governor seems more than happy to hand off the frontrunner title.

There’s not a huge downside to it from Romney’s perspective. He has already established himself as the fundraising leader in the race and has top-notch organizations nationally and in early states.

Given that, why not let Gingrich take the increased slings and arrows that are part and parcel of being the frontrunner? Romney’s willingness to hand off the tag of frontrunner amounts to him saying to the Republican political world (and the media): “This is your guy now. Take a nice long look at him and then get back to me.”

Gingrich has, so far, dealt well with the increased scrutiny, but a look at his political career suggests he doesn’t run all that well from the front of the pack.

Gingrich was at his most politically effective as a rabble-rousing member of the House minority, masterminding the plan that would hand Republicans control of the chamber in 1994 for the first time in four decades.

But, once Gingrich became Speaker he struggled to succeed and was driven out of Congress four years later, a revolt led by many of the same people who had stood by his side in 1994.

The Romney team is well aware of the boom/bust cycles that Gingrich has endured in his political life and, as a result, seem perfectly comfortable with the former House Speaker sitting atop the field for the moment.

“For the moment” is the key phrase, of course. The danger Romney risks in letting Gingrich seize the frontrunner title is that if the former House Speaker doesn’t make a major unforced error he could start to benefit from a sense of inevitability around his nomination.

The Romney campaign seems willing to take that bet — ahem — right now.




Hate radio host Mike Savage offers Gingrich $1 million to drop out. Says he supports Romney. 




Gingrich pledges “personal fidelity to my spouse and respect for the marital bonds of others.” 

Newt Gingrich stepped up his efforts to appeal to evangelical Christian voters in Iowa Monday by promising in writing to “defend and strengthen the family.”

Gingrich, who has been married three times, specifically said he would “uphold the institution of marriage through personal fidelity to my spouse and respect for the marital bonds of others.”

Gingrich made the pledge to The Family Leader, a socially conservative group based in Iowa. The organization has its own Marriage Pledge that other 2012 White House hopefuls have signed, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Gingrich did not sign The Family Leader’s pledge himself, but did provide a lengthy written response to the organization. The former House speaker said he was fully committed to defending traditional marriage, including enforcing the Defense of Marriage Act and supporting a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman.

Gingrich also used his pledge to lambaste what he called an intrusion of federal courts in the private lives of Americans, saying the phenomenon “amounts to a constitutional crisis.”

In a statement accompanying Gingrich’s pledge, Family Leader President and CEO Bob Vander Plaats welcomed the former House speaker’s commitment.

“We are pleased that Speaker Gingrich has affirmed our pledge and are thankful we have on record his statements regarding DOMA, support of a federal marriage amendment, defending the unborn, pledging fidelity to his spouse, defending religious liberty and freedom, supporting sound pro-family economic issues, and defending the right of the people to rule themselves,” Vander Plaats said.

In November, the group said it had narrowed the list of candidates it might endorse to four: Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann and Santorum.

Political observers have long questioned Gingrich’s appeal to socially conservative Christian voters because of his multiple marriages. The pledge made Monday came after Perry questioned Gingrich’s marriages at a Republican primary debate in Iowa Saturday.

Perry warned that a politician who was unfaithful to his wife might also cheat in other ways, adding, “if you cheat on your wife, you’ll cheat on your business partner, so I think that issue of fidelity is important.”

Gingrich took the criticism in stride, saying “I’ve made mistakes at times. I’ve had to go to God for forgiveness. I think people have to measure who I am now, and whether I’m a person they can trust.”




Could Mitt and Newt tear each other down?

Jonathan Bernstein:

Oh, it’s on now. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are going hard at each other in what may be becoming a really nasty GOP race.

They’d better be careful: One of the very plausible outcomes of a food fight between the top two contenders in a multicandidate race in which there’s little to separate the candidates is that voters will be disgusted with both and find a new horse. Could Rick Perry — or even Rick Santorum — wind up benefitting?

Here’s the latest. Romney today demanded that Newt Gingrich return the $1.6M he earned from Freddie Mac. In return, Gingrich sniped back:

If Governor Romney would like to give back all the money he’s earned from bankrupting companies and laying off employees over all his years at Bain then I would be glad to then listen to him. And I will bet you $10, not $10,000, that he won’t take the offer.

After repeatedly pledging to stay positive, Gingrich is now signaling that he is willing to push back hard on Romney’s attacks, even citing Romney’s days at Bain Capital — which are central to the Democraticcase against Romney — to damage him.

Watch out! Even with only three weeks remaining until the caucuses, it’s not too late for Iowans — who have a strong reputation for disliking negative campaigning — to punish both of them. That may have been what happened on the Democratic side in 2004, when Dick Gephardt ran hard against Howard Dean, successfully scuttling both of them.

The question then is who would benefit from this effect, if it happens. That’s a tricky one. Ron Paul is running negative ads against Gingrich; Michele Bachmann has a new line about “Newt Romney” that she’s repeating constantly. So presumably neither of them is a logical landing point for those whose sensibilities are offended by attacks.

That leaves Rick Santorum and Rick Perry. Neither is exactly pure, but they’re probably the two who are best positioned to take advantage of such a dynamic. And both have other things going for them: Santorum has put in lots of time in Iowa, while Perry is inundating the state with TV ads. If one of them does surge, he could easily wind up in third place — or even better. A brand new ARG poll over the weekend has Perry only nine points out of first place in Iowa. I’m not predicting anything, but if I had to bet on a late surge from someone in Iowa, it would be one of the Ricks.





73% of Latino voters say “Republican party ignores or is Latino voters.”

Newt Gingrich lead “slipping”


Newt Gingrich leads other Republican presidential candidates in the key state of Iowa but his support could be slipping, according to a University of Iowa poll released Monday.

Gingrich, a former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, had the support of 29.8 percent of those likely to vote in the Iowa caucuses on January 3.

Mitt Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, ran second at 20.3 percent in the Hawkeye Poll and Texas congressman Ron Paul had 10.7 percent. U.S. Rep. Michele Bachman had 8.5 percent, followed by Texas Governor Rick Perry with 8.2 percent.

Thanks in part to good performances in candidate debates, Gingrich has enjoyed a quick jump to the top of opinion polls in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida, which vote early in the state-by-state nominating process.

Gingrich has cast himself as a more conservative alternative to Romney, who had been the longtime frontrunner in the race to determine who will face Democratic President Barack Obama in the 2012 elections.

The Iowa poll suggests that Gingrich’s lead in that state could be fading.

It was conducted over a weeklong period in which another conservative candidate, Herman Cain, suspended his campaign amid allegations that he had a 13-year extramarital affair.

In the early part of the polling period before Cain dropped out on December 3, Gingrich was receiving 37.7 percent support. After Cain’s exit toward the end of the polling period, Gingrich’s support was down to 24.4 percent.

Gingrich’s overall 29.8 percent average for the week still was enough for him to lead the poll comfortably but “our results show that his support may be starting to slide, as it has with previous frontrunners,” said Frederick Boehmke, an associate professor of political science at Iowa and an adviser to the Hawkeye Poll.

Cain led the previous Hawkeye Poll, which was released on October 21. As Cain’s lead in Iowa melted away, much of his support there appeared to go to Gingrich.

However, Boehmke said, Gingrich’s apparent dip after Cain’s withdrawal indicates that Gingrich — who has run a non-traditional campaign with few staff members and an emphasis on television appearances — eventually could be hurt by his lack of an organization in Iowa.

“Gingrich has spent little time” in Iowa, Boehmke said. “While Gingrich is polling well, his minimal staff and grassroots organization in Iowa suggest he may be unable to turn out supporters on January 3 to the same degree as the others.”

The Hawkeye Poll found that Gingrich’s lead over Romney was weakest among respondents who said they were “very likely” to attend the caucuses.

In the 2008 Iowa Republican caucuses, Romney spent millions of dollars reaching out to voters, only to lose to Mike Huckabee. In a state that values personal campaigning, Romney eventually could have an advantage over Gingrich, analysts say.

“Among here the candidate who has spent the least amount of time in Iowa and has the least amount of organization is Gingrich,” said Caroline Tolbert, co-author of the 2011 book, Why Iowa? “Romney’s support may be more solid.”

In the survey, almost 300 likely Republican caucus goers chose from the list of Republican candidates competing for their party’s nomination. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 6 percent. The poll was conducted from November 30 to December 7.





Supreme Court To Review Arizona Immigration Law


The Supreme Court has decided to take up a dispute over Arizona’s controversial immigration law, which requires police to check the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally.

The high court will rule on whether lower courts were justified in blocking parts of the law earlier this year, USA Today reports. The 9th Circuit appeals court in San Francisco had sided with the Obama administration in April in finding that some of the most controversial parts of the statute interfered with the federal government’s authority to enforce immigration laws.

Obama’s Justice Department had asked the Supreme Court to hold off on taking up the Arizona case while similar laws in other states work their way through lower courts, the Washington Post reports. From the Post:

Arizona told the justices in asking them to accept the case that the border state was feeling the brunt of a “broken” immigration system, and that its law was intended to cooperate with federal laws to control illegal immigration, not to usurp the federal government’s power.

The Justice Department disagreed, with Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr. arguing the law is “designed to establish Arizona’s own immigration policy.”

At issue are four clauses, including the one that compels police to pull over anyone they suspect of being an illegal immigrant, and another that allows warrantless arrests of anyone believed to have committed crimes that would make them deportable under federal law.

In May the Supreme Court upheld a separate Arizona law penalizing businesses for hiring illegal immigrants.




Justice Sotomayor says the American Dream is now harder to achieve

The 111th Supreme Court Justice of the United States paid a whirlwind visit to Vermont this weekend, and judging from the smiles all around, she made quite an impression.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor dined in a quiet back corner of Sarducci’s Italian restaurant in Montpelier Friday with Sen. Patrick Leahy, his wife Marcelle, his sister Mary Leahy and others. She bunked for a restful night at the Inn at Montpelier, and then early Saturday morning, wowed a crowd of several hundred people for nearly 80 minutes at the 15th Annual Women’s Economic Opportunity Conference at Vermont Technical College.

By 10 a.m., accompanied by two watchful secret service agents, she was out a back door of Judd Auditorium and on her way to the airport, leaving behind a standing ovation, a serious buzz and the image of a very eloquent, thoughtful, funny and warm person.

In a question-and-answer session with journalist Fran Stoddard, Sotomayor eschewed the lectern and told stories that captured her tough upbringing in the South Bronx, her education at Princeton and Yale Law School, her ambitions, experience in the law and the bias she felt as a woman and Latino.

“I think stories sort of explain your life and what you are thinking,” she said.

She also spoke her mind, though not about judicial matters or issues before the court.

Sotomayor, 57, told the gathering that she felt the “American dream” – which she gained by becoming a federal judge and then in 2009 a Supreme Court Justice – is harder to achieve today and that gender bias remains a subtle but persistent problem.

Sotomayor, only the third female supreme court justice and the first Latino, credited “the real pathmakers” such as Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who came before her for overcoming overt gender bias. She has had a different experience as part of the “second wave” of women taking up careers as judges, she said, but bias still exists today.

“It is more subtle and more searing in many ways,” she said, saying the problem comes from “expectations of what the perfect employee should be,” a decision that is usually made in the workplace by men.

“That’s a more difficult structural problem. It takes a proactive employer” to deal with, she said.

Citing as an example the different ways an “aggressive” man or woman is viewed in the workplace, she said society still has work to do to change perceptions. She also urged women to be politically active and “let politicians know what priorities are important to you.”

Asked about the quality of the justice system, Sotomayor said, “It’s a problem when it costs more to incarcerate a prisoner than to send a kid to college.”

America was “not going to have a system of justice you’re proud of” when resources for early education, nutrition, access to defense attorneys and rehabilitation programs are being cut back. She decried the fact the justice system has “given up altogether” on the value of rehabilitating and educating prisoners, because of a few highly publicized errors in releasing prisoners.

Relating her own experiences with racial bias, which she said “happen more often than you could imagine,” Sotomayor said bias against women may be harder to address in society because it is so structurally endemic.

“In the end, I do believe that getting past racial and ethnic bias may be easier than getting round gender bias,” she said.

Sotomayor cited hard work, luck and having someone “who has uncritically loved you” as keys to her success. Her mother and grandmother provided the love that gave her confidence to believe she could be a judge.

“My grandmother was the center of the universe,” she said. “I was gifted with extraordinarily strong women.”

Women today face more barriers in the workplace and “there’s no question it’s harder today” to succeed, she said, noting the high cost of a college education and difficulties in the current economy in finding a job.

Sotomayor also said society has created expectations of success that “are so unreal that you are almost doomed to failure.”

She urged women to keep their focus on the values of work and family. “The American dream is possible if you have a dream that’s based in values that are important,” she said.

Asked about her education, she said when she was urged to apply to an “Ivy League” school, she didn’t know what that was. When she got in to Princeton, having been raised in the projects where she spoke mostly Spanish, she struggled, she said.

“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” she said, describing herself as “an alien in a strange land” compared to peers who had gone to private schools and traveled on spring break. After her first year, she spent the summer reading all the “classics” that everyone else had read in high school.

Sotomayor said she survived by grounding herself with activities and people she knew and emerged Phi Beta Kappa at the top of her class.

Sotomayor was sworn in on Aug. 8, 2009, and became the 111th justice on the court, a number attached to her name that tickles her still. “I smile internally, because my grandmother loved playing the numbers,” she said, drawing a big laugh.

Few people gave her a chance to become a judge, let alone a Supreme Court justice. She told about an interview with a public interest law firm after graduating from Yale Law School in 1979. When they asked her where she wanted to be in 20 years, she said, “I want to be a federal district court judge.”

She later learned the lawyer who interviewed her had reported “she’s very smart but a little naive.” But also persistent. She was nominated to the federal bench by President George H.W. Bush in 1991.

Ironically, she said as a child growing up in the South Bronx, she was an avid fan of the Nancy Drew novels and wanted to be a detective when she grew up, but she was told because she had juvenile diabetes, she would not be able to work in law enforcement.

“I, like every nine and a half year old, was devastated. What am I going to do with the rest of my life,” she said.

“Just about that time I found Perry Mason,” she said to laughter. The fictional defense attorney played by actor Raymond Burr on TV in the 1950s and 60s, turned her life in another direction.

“That was my first attraction to the law,” she said, but it was one episode in which there was a female judge that launched her dreams.

“I realized at that moment the most important person in that room was the judge. And I wanted to be the judge,” she said to laughter and applause.




Why Elena Kagan shouldn’t recuse herself from the American Care Act ruling


Last week, Slate published an article by professor Eric Segall titled “A Liberal’s Lament on Kagan and Health Care.” The premise of this piece is that Segall is a self-described “liberal constitutional law professor” who believes Obama-appointed Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan must recuse herself from the lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act. It became the darling of conservative legal bloggers almost immediately after it was published, but it also misrepresents the law governing judiciary recusals and proposes a dangerous new legal rule that would enable both political parties to toy with the independence of the judiciary.

As Segall correctly notes, judges or justices must recuse themselves from any case in which they participated as a “counsel, adviser, or material witness” while they were a government attorney. Yet Justice Kagan testified under oath at her confirmation hearing that she never laid one legal hand on the health care lawsuits while she served as solicitor general, and her testimony is corroborated by documents obtained by a conservative group seeking evidence requiring her recusal through the Freedom of Information Act. Segall presents no evidence suggesting that Kagan perjured herself at her confirmation hearing, instead claiming that the “lack of certainty” about whether or not Kagan was telling the truth nevertheless “points to recusal.”

It is true that few people other than Justice Kagan are certain whether she walked into a Senate hearing one day, swore an oath to tell nothing but the truth, then committed a federal felony by lying about her role in the health care litigation. It is also true that no one can be truly certain that Justice Scalia didn’t secretly engineer the Kennedy assassination. So far, there is exactly the same amount of evidence supporting both claims.

The most distressing part of Segall’s attack on Kagan, however, is his suggestion that a judge’s recusal obligations ebb and flow with the national significance of a particular case, and with the amount of political pressure placed upon them by the president’s opposition party. His article hinges on the perfect storm that is represented by a major constitutional issue with passionate opponents seeking recusal from a justice who recently served in a presidential administration. In Segall’s words, “[t]he problem is not that she is reviewing a law passed by the president who appointed her and for whom she worked. The problem is that this specific law is the focal point of the Republican opposition to his re-election campaign, which will take place just a few months after the decision is expected.”

If the Constitution is clear about one thing, it is that judges must be independent of the political process. This is why federal judges are not elected. It is why they serve lifetime appointments, why their salaries can never be diminished, and why they cannot be removed except through the extraordinary and extraordinarily difficult process of impeachment. Segall, however, would strip Justice Kagan of her power to decide an important constitutional case, in large part because of the political pressure being applied to her and her fellow justices. Whatever Kagan’s ethical obligations may be, they must not change because of the political whims of the Republican Party.

Moreover, there is no evidence that Kagan takes her recusal obligations any less seriously in politically controversial cases. Just today, in fact, the court announced that Kagan has recused herself from the Obama administration’s lawsuit challenging Arizona’s draconian immigration law. Next to the health care litigation, no court case imposes more political baggage on President Obama than the lawsuits attacking conservative state immigration laws, and yet Kagan acted exactly as she should have—evaluating her own ethical duties under the law independent of whether her decision has political implications.

Lest there be any doubt, this standard cuts both ways. Last February, 74 Democratic members of Congress wrote conservative Justice Thomas noting that, among other things, his wife Ginni advertised herself as a lobbyist who “appeals to clients who want a particular decision—they want to overturn health care reform.” It is true that federal lawrequires judges to recuse from any case that could “substantially affect” their spouse’s finances, so if Ginni Thomas is currently receiving substantial lobbying fees to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Clarence Thomas needs to remove himself from this case. To date, however, no evidence has emerged that Ginni is actually earning such fees, and her husband does not magically acquire new recusal obligations simply because the Democratic Party really, really wants the Affordable Care Act to be upheld.

If anything emerges from this unfortunate lawsuit challenging a clearly constitutional law, it should be an unambiguous statement from all nine justices that their interpretations of the law will not change simply because a political movement runs an effective PR campaign—and that this statement applies regardless of whether they are evaluating their own recusal obligations or interpreting the United States Constitution itself.

In the words of Judge Laurence Silberman, a legendary conservative judge who once received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush, the legal case against health reform has no basis “in either the text of the Constitution or Supreme Court precedent.” Indeed, shortly after these lawsuits were filed, Ronald Reagan’s former Solicitor General Charles Fried promised to “eat a hat which I bought in Australia last month made of kangaroo skin” if the justices end up striking down the law.

The only thing that has changed since Fried promised that kangaroo skin feast is that the Affordable Care Act’s opponents blanketed the nation’s airwaves and op-ed pages with spurious claims that the Constitution does not mean what it actually says. If they succeed in heckling this law out of existence—or in heckling Justice Kagan into an unwarranted recusal—it will be a clear sign that the words of the law mean nothing in the face of a determined disinformation campaign.

Update, 10:30 p.m., Dec. 12: A response from Eric Segall:

In his response to my editorial, Mr. Millhiser talks a lot about whether Justice Kagan committed perjury when she testified during her confirmation hearing that “that she never laid one legal hand on the health care lawsuits.” I want to make clear that I never suggested she committed perjury and never even mentioned the topic. The “perfect storm” of factors that I listed as pointing toward recusal did not include whether she “laid one legal hand” on the ACA while she was Solicitor General. I stand by the list of factors in my piece that constituted the “perfect storm” and the judgment that they point toward recusal. He also claims that I “misrepresent[ed] the law governing judiciary recusals.” I cited the recusal laws accurately and said that “there are legitimate arguments that these rules point to recusal.” I stand by that claim as well in light of the publicly available e-mail between Justice Kagan and Professor Tribe in combination with the rest of the facts set forth in my editorial.

[Please see original article for links.]





OWS’s plan to shut down W. Coast ports has created a huge rift w/unions, who oppose the action. 

SF Gate:

[…] But unlike last time, when the area’s major unions gave tacit or outright approval, many of them see Monday’s action as disruptive and unnecessary.

And some occupation activists are labeling it as too confrontational, with the protest’s potential for violence detracting from Occupy’s stated intention of narrowing the chasm between rich and poor.

“Support is one thing,” Robert McEllrath, president of the International Longshoreman and Warehouse Union, wrote to his members last week. “Outside groups attempting to co-opt our struggle in order to advance a broader agenda is quite another and one that is destructive to our democratic process.”

Not the 1 percent

The Alameda County Building and Construction Trades Council’s secretary-treasurer, Andreas Cluver, said many of his union’s workers were recently hired at port building projects after long stretches on unemployment. Given that, a port shutdown aimed at punishing the 1 percent “makes no sense,” he said.

He said no union at the port supports the shutdown.

“We’re extremely supportive of the message of Occupy Oakland, and we did come out to support the Nov. 2 general strike, but we’re not behind this one,” Cluver said. “When working people aren’t involved in the decision on whether to shut down their jobs at the port, that’s problematic. And we weren’t consulted. Losing a day of wages is hard.”

He added: “The port is a public entity. It’s really not the 1 percent. Go shut down a country club – that’s the 1 percent.”

Together, the unions represent more than 1,400 workers at the port. Other unions that have refused to endorse the shutdown, including the California Nurses Association, declined to comment – all apparently not wanting to antagonize protest organizers.

Timid stance

Shutdown planners, who include several union workers, said the opposition reflects a timid stance of some labor leadership and not the views of members themselves.

“The American working class is in a state of emergency,” said third-generation longshore union member Clarence Thomas, a shutdown organizer.

He said his union traditionally does not cross what is known as a community picket line – a protest so large it blocks access to a workplace. If that tradition does not hold Monday, Thomas asked, “How can we expect to get the support of the community when we do our actions?”

However, some activists in the roughly 30 other Occupy organizations in the Bay Area have also concluded that a port blockade is too extreme. They say confronting police and blockading commerce is as outdated as they now regard the tent cities recently cleared by authorities.

In fact, outside of major cities, some activists so strongly disagree with confrontational tactics that they now call themselves “99 Percenters” rather than “Occupiers.”

Hurting innocents

“The 99 percent is nonconfrontational,” said Ellis Goldberg, a marketer who has organized Occupy protests in Dublin and San Ramon. “You don’t use a bat to get your point across, and this port action is a bat. It’s going to hurt innocents – in this case, port workers and truckers.”

Michele Horaney of Alameda, who helped place an advertisement in The Chronicle last week pushing “99 percent” reform measures including “taxing wealth more and labor less,” said she views the split as emblematic of Occupy’s growing pains.

“The movement is evolving, and that means there will be many different tactics,” Horaney said. “What it will eventually look like, we don’t know yet.”

Even truckers, who are not unionized, are split on the issue.





Meet the extremist group Lowe’s caved to in its decision to pull ‘All-American Muslim’ ads

After Lowe’s capitulated to the calls from the Florida Family Association to withdraw its ads from the TLC reality show All-American Muslim, the home improvement company immediately faced a hostile response from consumers not driven by unremitting anti-Muslim bigotry. The Florida Family Association launched its pressure campaign against All-American Muslim advertisers by citing the articles of anti-Muslim activists Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, who claim that the show misrepresents the Muslim community because it doesn’t match their stereotypes of Muslims as anti-American terrorists. Spencer demanded TLC create a show about a secular Muslim who becomes a terrorist and Geller claimed that the “program is an attempt to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad” because the people in the show aren’t terrorists, and smeared Think Progress reporter as a “Dhimmi Jew” for defending TLC.

While siding with the likes of Spencer and Geller is bad enough, the Florida Family Assocation has a long history of not only attacking Muslims but also President Obama, entertainment companies and the LGBT community:

  • The FFA created a highly-edited video that tries to make President Obama appear to be Muslim and derided the “extraordinarily strong bond that President Barack Obama has with Islam.”
  • The group went after Campbell’s soup for boosting the “advancement of Islam and Sharia law in the United States” because the company made halal soups and sponsored a conference held by a Canadian Muslim relief organization.
  • Predicting that “Islam will not sweep into America overnight though it could under the current president” as the “Islamization of America will most likely happen city by city,” the FFA launched a website to combat the purported “Islamization” of Tampa, warning that “Tampa is headed toward embracing Islam.
  • The FFA also waged a campaign against Modern Family, bragging that they convinced “107 companies to stop advertising during the ABC show Modern Family after the advertisers received thousands of emails from Florida Family Association supporters. Florida Family Association objects to Modern Family because the show labels a same-sex couple with an adopted child as a modern family and attempts to normalize homosexuality by contrasting it with heterosexual couples that the show characterizes as abnormal.”
  • The organization attacked advertisers on Degrassi because the teen show included a gay, bisexual and transgender characters, calling it “salacious and irresponsible propaganda,” and also criticizedDegrassi for promoting The Trevor Project, an anti-suicide group that specifically focuses on at-risk LGBT youth. “Degrassi’s targeting of children and teens with homosexual and transgender content and promotions which encourage kids to call homosexual hotlines is irresponsible,” the group wrote.
  • Unsurprisingly, the FFA went after Chaz Bono’s appearance on Dancing With The Stars, saying“Chaz’s appearance on this show looks like nothing more than social engineering to mainstream extreme parts of the homosexual agenda.”
  • The group helped pass a state constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, a ban on same-sex parents adopting children, and claimed to have sent state legislators “over 10,000 emails opposing Domestic Partnerships and legislation that promotes the homosexual lifestyle,” including legislation that would bar discrimination against people due to their sexual orientation.
  • The FFA also regularly protests Gay Day at Disney World for “offending unsuspecting families,” even contracting a plane to fly over Disney with a seven foot banner reading, “WARNING GAY PRIDE [email protected] 2DAY.” They even campaigned against the AARP for starting a program aimed at older gays and lesbians, saying it promotes “special rights for immoral behavior.”


Please sign Bernie Sanders’ Petition to Support the Saving American Democracy Amendment 





I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
~~ Michael Jordan

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Juan Cole does it again.

Christian Hate Group Targets Peaceful Muslim-Americans


But it’s the FFA that is the real victim, right?

“In a country that supposedly embraces free speech,” he continues, “those that oppose our postion [sic] have no qualms about destroying our free speech. Yet, these same folks claim the Internet should not be restricted in any way. How the two conflicting postions [sic] can be reconciled in their minds is beyond comprehension.”

“Because of our real concern for the terrorism that is a way of life for some folks, we ourselves have become victims. Because we urge others to be vigilant, we become the targets,”

Florida Family Association: ‘Anonymous’ Hacked Us Over Lowe’s Campaign


Maybe they should consider changing their “postion” then to avoid victimhood, huh b’ito?

What is it with these people and spelling? Not to mention decency…


k’es, it is weird. I admit, I was always one of the first kids to sit down in in grade school spelling bees, but I do know what those squiggly-red underlines mean.
Calling themselves the victims, is laughable and of course they have to keep it up their “All Muslims are terrorists” meme with their ““Because of our real concern for the terrorism that is a way of life for some folks….”

Sorry FFA, you aren’t the victims in this.


😆 I hear you, b’ito, on the spelling bees. (The pressure!)

But you nailed it. They ignore the squiggly-red underlines just the way they ignore all the “red words” in the bible that were spoken about loving their neighbors. They filter out anything that doesn’t feed their ignorance.


Gotta love the FFA going after a Canadian show. How many besides me actually have seen Degrassi? (and I assume they mean the current second generation one)

By the way, as far as teen shows go, it’s actually pretty redemptive with actual life lessons. Canadians…

I saw this site and it screamed Cher at me.