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Look at How Much Countrywide Has Cost Bank of America

Wall St. Journal:

[…] Today, the Justice Department announced a settlement with Bank of America over allegations of discriminatory lending practices by Countrywide. the alleged abuses date back before BofA’s 2008 acquisition of Countrywide, but the $335 million settlement money comes out of the Charlotte company’s pocket.

Here is an updated list of the legal settlements, losses and other headaches Countrywide has brought BofA. Has a $4 billion deal ever looked so expensive?


Mortgage-bond settlement, $8.5 billion: BofA this summer announced a sweeping settlement under which it agreed to pay $8.5 billion to settle claims by private investors, including Pimco and BlackRock, that lost money on mortgage-backed securities.

Loan modifications, $8.4 billion: State regulators negotiated in 2008 comprehensive settlement to grant $8.4 billion in home modifications for hundreds of thousands of homeowners. Mortgage-security holders bore much of the settlement’s cost, and cried foul at the agreement.

Mortgage-security repurchases, at least $13 billion: In January Bank of America agreed to settle claims that Countrywide had violated certain “representations and warranties” when selling mortgages to Fannie Mae and Freedie Mac. Later, BofA agreed to dole out another $1.6 billion to settle similar claims from bond insurer Assured Guaranty Ltd.

Class action: In May 2010, Countrywide agreed to pay $600 million to put behind it lawsuits from pension investors who said they lost money on shady Countrywide mortgage securities.

Federal Trade Commission, $108 million: A year ago, Bank of America agreed to pay $108 million to settle claims over the excessive fees Countrywide charged home owners facing foreclosure.

Angelo Mozilo: The man who built Countrywide in October agreed to pay $67.5 million in penalties to settle SEC civil fraud and insider-trading charges related to the near-collapse of his company. BofA (or its insurers) were on the hook to pay at least some of the $45 million of the settlement earmarked for “disgorgement” paybacks to former Countrywide shareholders. Bank of America also paid Mozilo’s legal bills, and agreed to cover another Countrywide executive’s $5 million in reparations to investors.

Losses: Bank of America’s mortgage business – some of which is Countrywide — lost $8.9 billion in 2010 and $3.8 billion in 2009.





Unemployment benefits extension: What’s at stake


The long-term unemployed are running out of time.

In 11 days, a provision will expire that could cause jobless Americans to lose a critical lifeline next year. The White House estimates that by Jan. 14, some 697,000 unemployed Americans could lose benefits. By March 3, the number of Americans poised to lose benefits will top 2.6 million.

“This is critical to millions of working families and critical to our economy and job growth as well,” said White House director of the National Economic Council Gene Sperling on Wednesday.

At issue is the extension of emergency federal unemployment benefits, which allow the jobless to collect benefits for up to 99 weeks. Also at stake are the extension of apayroll tax cut, and the “doc fix,” which would prevent a scheduled pay cut to Medicare physicians.

On Tuesday, House Republicans rejected the two-month extensionpassed by the Senate, by refusing to bring the measure to the floor for a vote. Instead, they want to negotiate for a full one-year extension of all three measures, which are set to expire on Dec. 31.

Problem is, the Senate has already gone home for the holidays. And Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said there will be no more negotiating. It’s not looking good.

Here’s what’s at stake: […]

What happens if they don’t get extended? Some 5 million people will stop getting checks next year, with nearly 2 million of them exhausting their benefits in January alone.

The jobless depend on these checks — which average about $296 a week — to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads, advocates say. Without extended benefits, the typical household receiving unemployment checks will see their income fall by a third, according to a report last year from President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Jobless benefits also pump billions into the economy since recipients tend to spend their checks quickly. Each dollar of unemployment insurance collected pumps about $2 into the economy, according to some estimates.

Even if Congress does quickly reach an agreement after the New Year, it will take time to get the program up and running again. A lapse could cause some recipients to be without benefits until late February, according to a report issued Wednesday by the National Employment Law Project.

“To rob the unemployed and their families of their essential lifeline just as the New Year begins, when a clear alternate path is available, is beyond callous — it is unconscionable,” Christine Owens, executive director of NELP, wrote in the report.




1.4 Million Workers To Benefit From Minimum Wage Increase In 2012 




Chartgasm! Economists explain 2011 in 18 charts







More than 100K students will lose their Pell Grant next year because of retroactive cuts to Pell Grant program 

Center for Budget:

The appropriations agreement for fiscal year 2012 that Congress finalized last weekend included some harmful changes to the federal Pell Grant program, which helps nearly 10 million low- and moderate-income students afford college.  While the deal omits the most severe Pell Grant cuts in an earlier House-approved bill, it will still make it harder for many low-income students to afford college.

The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) estimates that more than 100,000 students will lose their Pell Grant entirely next year because of a retroactive cut in the number of semesters for which a student can receive a Pell Grant; thousands more will lose part or all of their grant due to other provisions in the appropriations agreement.

Pell Grants have been under pressure in this year’s budget process, for two reasons.  First, the Budget Control Act placed restrictive caps on overall discretionary funding starting in 2012, forcing Congress to find savings among these programs.  Second, Pell Grants in 2012 require an additional $1.3 billion over the 2011 funding level in order to continue serving all of the students who qualify.

Responding to these pressures, lawmakers cut Pell Grant eligibility in ways that will reduce the level of annual appropriations needed for the program by an estimated $11 billion over the coming decade.  The Pell Grant changes contained in the new legislation, which will take effect July 1 (and thus affect students starting with the 2012-13 academic year), will:

  • Cut the number of full-time semesters for which a student can receive a Pell Grant from 18 to 12. This provision is retroactive, so any students who have received grants for 12 semesters will be ineligible for more, even if they’re just a semester away from graduation.  Pulling the plug on these students’ grants will impose additional hardships and likely prevent some of them from finishing college.
  • Make people who lack a high school diploma or equivalent ineligible for all federal student aid programs, including Pell Grants, even if they have completed the requisite testing or obtained the needed credits for their post-secondary program.
  • Cut the income ceiling below which students automatically qualify for the maximum Pell Grant from $32,000 to $23,000. The automatic qualification simplifies the complex financial aid application process — which can discouragelow-income students from considering college altogether — by allowing very low-income students to bypass some of the more complicated and cumbersome parts of the application form.  With this change, students in the $23,000-$32,000 range will no longer be eligible for automatic qualification.
  • Make ineligible for Pell Grants any students who would otherwise qualify for only a very small grant, usually because their families’ incomes are near the program’s eligibility ceiling.  (This Congressional Research Service reportprovides detail on the “bump” award, which this provision eliminates.)

Cutting Pell Grants is unnecessary and unwise.  While Pell Grant spending has grown significantly in recent years, this reflects: eligibility expansions that Congress approved on a bipartisan basis to encourage more low-income students to get a college degree; increases in the maximum Pell Grant award that offset only a portion of the grant’s decline in purchasing power in the face of large increases in tuition charges (see graph); and the economic downturn, which has depressed family incomes and led many people to pursue college in order to improve their education and skills.

Moreover, the Congressional Budget Office projects that Pell Grant costs would decline and then stabilize in real terms over the coming decade even if none of these cuts were made (and the maximum grant, now $5,550, increased with inflation through 2017, as current law prescribes).

Both to expand equality of opportunity and to improve the productivity of our workforce, the nation should make college more affordable, not less so.  Cutting Pell Grants is a wrongheaded step that is ill-advised both from the standpoint of promoting the well-educated workforce that we need for economic growth and from the standpoint of providing opportunity to all Americans.






Has Tooth Decay Finally Met Its Match?

The Atlantic:

Tooth decay may finally have met its match. A small study of a new mouthwash found that it kills virtually all of the bacteria that cause tooth decay, but leaves other, beneficial oral bacteria alone. Its inventor likens it to a smart bomb. And he thinks it could wipe out tooth decay in our lifetime.

Nearly all tooth decay is caused by a single species of bacteria, Streptococcus mutans. Conventional mouthwashes are only effective against it for a few hours and indiscriminately kill other beneficial mouth bacteria. And while toothbrushing certainly helps prevent cavities, also known as dental caries, sometimes it’s not enough. Tooth decay is a problem faced by over half the people in the nation.

Enter C16G2, the active ingredient in the mouthwash and the product of over a decade’s worth of research.

Wenyuan Shi, a UCLA microbiologist, has been working for years to design small compounds that kill only specific types of bacteria. They work by linking together a small compound that kills bacteria with a second small compound that targets the package to a single species of bacteria. Shi calls these compounds STAMPs, small targeted anti-microbial peptides.

In the case of C16G2, the STAMP is made of a portion of the broad-spectrum antibiotic Novispirin G10 linked to a portion of a pheromone naturally produced byStreptococcus mutans called competence stimulating peptide. The pheromone guides the molecule to S. mutans; the antibiotic kills it. Quickly.

It’s not quite as simple as it sounds. A STAMP made by combining the full-length antibiotic and pheromone wasn’t effective. Getting one that worked required quite a bit of molecular tinkering and ended up shortening the two compounds before linking them together.

Shi’s lab has also come up with STAMPs that are effective against species of Pseudomonas, bacteria that cause many hospital-acquired infections.

One problem with antibiotic use is that they’re indiscriminate, killing both helpful and harmful bacteria. Another is that they eventually breed resistance into the bacteria exposed to them. STAMPs should help limit this because only the target bacteria end up getting exposed to antibiotic. The technology is too new for anyone to be certain about its long-term effects.

People have been living with S. mutans practically ever since there have been people. Like our gut bacteria, it’s been a constant companion, though not a friendly one. If Dr. Shi’s mouthwash can truly eliminate it or even curb it, millions will be smiling.

Larger trials are scheduled to begin in March.


Reuters Special Report: Phantom firms bleed millions from Medicare

Articles in this series explore the extent and impact of corporate secrecy in the United States.

By the time authorities busted a fake AIDS clinic in Miami, it had bilked Medicare of more than $4.5 million. Still, the man behind the scheme remained far ahead of the agents pursuing him.

Michel De Jesus Huarte, a 40-year-old Cuban-American, hadn’t simply avoided arrest. He had hatched a plan to steal millions more from Medicare by forming at least 29 other shell companies – paper-only firms with no real operations. Each time, he would keep his name out of any corporate records. Other people – some paid by Huarte, some whose identities had been stolen – would be listed in incorporation papers.

The shells functioned as a vital tool to hide the Medicare deceit – and not only for Huarte. Hundreds of others have used the veil of corporate secrecy to help steal hundreds of millions of dollars from one of the nation’s largest social service programs, a Reuters investigation has found.

Huarte is now behind bars and did not respond to requests for comment. But basic checks by Reuters of Medicare providers in one city – Miami – suggest shell companies remain prime tools in perpetrating fraud. Simply by reviewing the incorporation records of Medicare providers in two buildings there, reporters uncovered information that one government official said could prompt “a serious criminal investigation” of some of the companies.

The fraud rings merge stolen doctor and patient data under the auspices of a shell company and then bill Medicare as rapidly as possible. Other shell companies are often layered on top to camouflage the fraud, law enforcement officials say.

Some of the shells purport to be billing companies; they form a buffer between the sham clinics and Medicare. Others pay kickbacks to doctors and patients who sign off on bogus medical claims or sell their Medicare ID numbers to enable the shell company to bill the government. Still other shells act as fronts to launder the profits.

The key to this kind of fraud, known as a “bust-out” scheme, is for each of the fake companies to bill as much as possible before authorities catch on. Shell companies become a tool that helps keep the crooks ahead of the cops.

“This is a ‘Catch Me If You Can’ environment,” says Ryan K. Stumphauzer, a former assistant U.S. attorney with the Department of Justice in Miami who prosecuted the Huarte case and scores of other Medicare frauds involving shell companies. “We had no clue who Huarte was. We had no idea there was some mastermind out there.”

Last year, “improper payments” resulted in $48 billion in losses to the Medicare program, nearly 10 percent of the $526 billion in payments the program made, according to a Government Accountability Office report last March. Exactly how much of those payments moved through shell companies remains unclear. That’s because neither Medicare nor law enforcement agencies systematically track how often such companies are used in the frauds. And not until 2007 did the federal government form task forces to exclusively target Medicare fraud rings.

But recent indictments issued by those task forces indicate that shell-perpetrated fraud is pervasive. Reuters examined indictments issued since 2007 in the eight states that have Medicare fraud task forces in place. The examination found that shell companies were involved in more than a third of the fraudulent Medicare claims identified by the task forces – $1 billion of the $2.9 billion uncovered.

The indictments and other cases indicate that at least 300 shell companies posed as legitimate Medicare providers and billing firms, or laundered payments from Medicare. Court records show shells have purported to provide services ranging from treating varicose veins to supplying prosthetic limbs.

“These companies are nameless, faceless entities collecting billions in secret,” says Patrick Burns, director of communications for the advocacy group Taxpayers Against Fraud in Washington, D.C. Medicare is “chasing it,” he says. “But they’re not getting any closer.”


The shell companies bedeviling Medicare exemplify a national problem that Reuters documented in a series of stories this year. During the last decade, Washington has called on the rest of the world to clean up shady financial flows and improve corporate transparency to combat terrorism and tax evasion.

Even so, U.S.-based shell companies remain a significant tool of deception – in this case, to swindle hundreds of millions of dollars from taxpayer-supported Medicare.

In one of the largest cases of Medicare fraud ever charged, the operation was enabled by shell companies. In October 2010, federal prosecutors indicted 44 members of an Armenian organized crime ring. Their network, which stretched from Los Angeles to Savannah, Ga., used 118 shell companies in 25 states to pose as Medicare providers, billing more than $100 million, according to federal indictments in three states.

The difficulty of spotting – and stopping – shell-perpetrated Medicare fraud is compounded by incorporation laws that vary from state to state and make forming fake businesses easy.

Intentionally submitting false corporate information constitutes fraud in every state. But none check the validity of corporate records when a company incorporates or collect information on the “beneficial owners” – those with a controlling interest in the corporations.

Because Huarte’s shell companies, like others, were incorporated with various state governments, the corporate documentation gave the fake clinics a veneer of legitimacy. And because Huarte was seldom listed in the incorporation papers, connecting him to the cons became more complicated.

The strategy enabled the scheme to go largely undetected by authorities for years, even though most of the operations had mailing addresses that betrayed their fiction. More than a dozen corresponded to UPS stores, Reuters found. Others tracked back to shabby apartments.

For example, a purported cancer clinic called Bellemeade Oncology Care lists its address in Georgia state records as 1500 Bellemeade Dr., #4D, Marietta, Ga. But a visit to the address reveals it isn’t a clinic at all. Rather, it’s an apartment with a broken washing machine on the front stoop and a pick-up truck parked in the grass outside the complex on Atlanta’s north side.

In Florida, FBI agents say almost every Medicare fraud scheme involves shell companies. There, Reuters scrutinized incorporation documents for firms located in two buildings near the Miami International Airport. In a building with dimly lit corridors, a rickety elevator and almost no one in sight, a host of companies purport to provide services to Medicare recipients. But telltale signs of fraud abound.

Many of the 26 companies in the buildings had replaced corporate officers at least once in the last four years. Some had changed ownership, or their corporate executives represented more than one medical-related company. Law enforcement officials consider such activities to be red flags for fraud.

Reuters subsequently asked analysts from the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board to use its software programs to examine the companies. The board monitors $787 billion in stimulus funds for fraudulent activity using sophisticated computer systems; last year, it had worked with Medicare officials to look for patterns of fraud.

Earlier this month, board head Earl E. Devaney said the companies Reuters identified represent “a pretty big case.”

Devaney, who is also the inspector general for the Department of the Interior, says the board’s analysis of the 26 Medicare providers led investigators to another 15 Medicare entities associated with those providers. He believes the findings could prompt a “serious criminal investigation.”

The Miami Medicare providers, he said, “have the distinct look of the kinds of scams we’ve seen before.” The results of the board’s analysis were sent to the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services for further investigation, Devaney said.


Federal prosecutors struggled for years to spot, let alone stop, Huarte’s shell game. They describe his operation as “remarkable for its geographic breadth, organization, sophistication, and size.” From 2005 until early 2009, Huarte and at least seven co-conspirators operated at least 35 fake Medicare clinics in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina, court records show.

During that time, his scams operated “virtually uninterrupted,” according to a September 2009 superseding indictment and other court records filed in U.S. District Court in Florida.

They billed Medicare for more than $100 million and received at least $34 million in payments for non-existent HIV and AIDS treatments and varicose vein care and pain management therapy that never occurred.

The key: Huarte stayed steps ahead of authorities by setting up new companies before the government could sniff out the fraud from his old ones, court records show.

“It was like whack-a-mole for a time,” says Alanna Lavelle, a director of investigations for Medicare contractor WellPoint Inc., who chased the case against Huarte for more than a year. “It became frustrating.”

It began like this: In 2005, Huarte and his co-conspirators formed or acquired control of six medical clinics in Florida, each with its own office. Patients were then recruited and paid kickbacks to periodically appear at the clinics or allow use of their Medicare numbers, according to a plea agreement signed by Huarte in October 2009. The clinics were shams – patients weren’t receiving legitimate treatment there. Later, when authorities caught on, Huarte created shell companies consisting of entirely fictional clinics — those that corresponded with mailbox stores, for instance.

Most of the clinics purported to treat HIV and AIDS patients. Bills submitted for expensive injections of drugs such as Infliximab and Rituxan, which fight immune system deficiencies, cost Medicare as much as $7,800 per dose, according to the indictment.

To disguise Huarte’s role, “straw owners” were paid as much as $200,000 to put their names on Florida incorporation records and bank accounts. In return, some straw owners agreed to “flee toCuba to avoid law enforcement detection or capture,” according to the indictment.

For instance, Madelin Machado is listed as president of Zigma Medical Care, the fake Miami clinic that collected $4.5 million from Medicare. In January 2008, after authorities figured out the scam, Machado was indicted for healthcare fraud in Florida. She subsequently disappeared, although she’s still listed as Zigma’s president in state records.

Huarte’s cover-ups proved successful for years, even as he secretly directed his fake companies, authorities say. He later replaced Zigma and the other Florida clinics with shell clinics in Atlanta such as New Age Family Institute and Elusive Quality, according to federal court records. Although each was registered in state incorporation records, neither the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) nor state officials checked the validity of the corporate documents, a review that may have uncovered the fraud.

CMS, which runs Medicare, says it doesn’t have the resources to analyze incorporation records for each of its 1.5 million providers and suppliers. Those records are separately maintained by each state.

Almost all of Huarte’s corporate data proved a lie. The purported representative of New Age Family Institute was a deaf retiree whose identity had been stolen, an FBI affidavit said.

Medicare claims filed by each of the fake clinics were accompanied by all the right doctor, patient and treatment codes, say lawenforcement officials and fraud investigators.

But New Age Family Institute was purportedly located in Atlanta at 205 South 49th St., according to state incorporation records. A Google Maps search shows that address doesn’t exist. Elusive Quality’s address – 925B Peachtree Street N.E., Suite 131 – was actually a UPS store in Atlanta’s Midtown district.

Some of the people listed as officers in incorporation papers say they didn’t know their names had been used until contacted for this article.

One, Jimmie Dominic Dancer, is an instructor at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. State incorporation records name him as the chief executive and chief financial officer of S.T.R. of Georgia, a purported HIV and AIDS clinic in Atlanta that was part of the Huarte fraud network.

Dancer says he was surprised to learn that his name was listed in state records. A specialist in internal medicine, he says he has not practiced medicine since 2002. “I’ve never been a CEO or CFO,” he said. “I’ve never heard of S.T.R. of Georgia.”


For much of 2008, Huarte continued his use of shell companies outside of Florida. From February to December 2008, he and co-conspirators formed at least 29 new sham Medicare clinics in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Louisiana, according to state incorporation records.

Authorities say Huarte bought lists of real Medicare beneficiaries from a Medicare contractor and from employees of a company that administered benefits. Then he submitted claims in the beneficiaries’ names.

But instead of billing Medicare directly as he had done initially, Huarte changed his approach, court records show. He began charging Medicare Advantage Plans, a program administered by private health insurers such as WellPoint and UnitedHealthcare Group, according to the indictment and a July 2009 motion to revoke bond.

A break came in early 2008, when a Medicare beneficiary complained to WellPoint that his Medicare benefits statement was wrong. It listed him as having received HIV treatments from a Huarte sham clinic called BIBB Group Services – but he didn’t have HIV and he’d never received any such care.

WellPoint fraud investigator Lavelle says her team began to review the claims and the incorporation records for other clinics in Georgia.

Reuters also reviewed records and found that BIBB Group’s purported home in the central Georgia town of Warner Robins — 1000 Martha Street, Suite F — is an abandoned building behind a $59-a-night motel.

Despite efforts to stop him, Huarte and his cohorts adapted.

Using stolen patient information, they called WellPoint’s customer service line. They pretended to be the patients, Lavelle says, and asked to change the patients’ billing addresses to post office boxes. That way, the patients themselves wouldn’t receive benefits letters and the fraud might remain undetected, she says.

For the next 15 months, WellPoint denied claims and stopped payment on checks worth $34 million that were sent to Huarte clinics.

After BIBB Group claims were blocked, new ones flowed in from new shell clinics. They first came from First Choice Group Services, Lavelle says. When those were stopped, new bills for HIV and AIDS treatments came from Strong Hope Co., In Excess LLC and MoreThan Ready Co. LLC. Each of those firms was formed in August 2008, according to Georgia state records.

“We saw more unusually named clinics pop up,” Lavelle says. “We actually thought they were playing with us.”

The addresses for Strong Hope, In Excess, More Than Ready and four other shell clinics also tracked to UPS stores. They billed Medicare for $15.1 million in false medical services and received $4.2 million in payments, according to court records.

Huarte’s four-year Medicare fraud spree was finally ended in 2009. That’s when federal investigators in Florida identified co-conspirators who ran Miami check-cashing businesses that turned the Medicare checks into cash. Early that year, the check-cashers agreed to secretly wear recording devices that caught Huarte and others talking about the scam.

In October 2009, Huarte, the master of the Medicare shell game, pleaded guilty to healthcare and mail fraud. He was sentenced to 22 years in a federal prison in Pennsylvania and ordered to repay $18.3 million.

Although WellPoint had blocked millions in payments, Huarte’s fake clinics outside Florida had still received more than $12 million from almost a dozen private insurers, according to Huarte’s plea agreement. In total, his fraud garnered at least $34 million from Medicare.

At a sentencing hearing in January 2010, former prosecutor Stumphauzer told the judge why he felt Huarte deserved a lengthy prison term for his shell-driven scam.

“I think what really troubles me most is their innovation,” he said, according to a court transcript.

“Every time Medicare gets close, every time Medicare clamps off one path, it never occurs to them to stop stealing. They just evolve the scheme and steal some more.”


CMS says it has been handcuffed in combating shell companies that posed as legitimate providers because it lacked the resources to extensively review the backgrounds and addresses of providers. Less than 5 percent of all payments were subjected to audits.

That led to a system in which Medicare cut checks and asked questions later. Analysts and law enforcement officials call it “pay and chase.”

Until recently, Congress offered little funding to help Medicare prevent abuses. But the healthcare reform law passed in March 2010 allocates $350 million over the next 10 years to fight fraud in Medicare and Medicaid, its sister program for the poor. The law also imposes stiffer sentences for the scam artists.

CMS is installing new fraud-fighting computer analytics to check the backgrounds of doctors and providers to ensure, for example, that Medicare ID numbers aren’t being stolen. The programs may help connect the people to the corporations they’re running about 75 percent of the time, says Peter Budetti, deputy administrator and director of program integrity at CMS.

Beginning in January, the locations of providers also will be checked by “geo-spatial mapping,” Budetti says.

In the aftermath of the Huarte case, CMS and private contractors launched a comparison of UPS store addresses and Medicare provider locations. Investigators visited 823 locations and found that 185 providers – 22 percent – listed a UPS store as the practice location on their Medicare enrolment application. CMS says 134 providers have had their license revoked or deactivated.

New providers also will be subject to automated enrolment screening. Their names will be checked against databases that include the federal government’s banned contractor lists, state and federal criminal dockets, and state licensing records.

But how much shell-perpetrated fraud these steps will eliminate remains unclear. The dragnet, for instance, might prompt criminals to simply create new shell companies – entities with no prior histories that wouldn’t register on any government watch list.

Nor do the steps address the fundamental loophole. Although the new screening system will have access to state incorporation records, CMS acknowledges it will still struggle to pierce the shell-company veil because states don’t collect information on the real owners when corporations are formed or sold.

“We want to catch this stuff when it’s at the $30,000 level instead of the $10 million level before anyone notices,” Budetti says.

“With the shell companies, these people just keep trying over and over again.”


To examine how often shell companies were used in Medicare fraud schemes, Reuters obtained a list of some 300 closed criminal cases brought by federal Medicare fraud task forces in eight states since March 2007. Reuters then scrutinized federal court records using Pacer, a publicly available court docket system. Open case files for fraud rings indicted by the task forces also were examined.

The federal indictments rarely make specific reference to shell companies. So Reuters looked for descriptions of false corporate entities that posed as legitimate Medicare providers or for sham companies pretending to be billing firms. Reuters also looked for firms that paid kickbacks to doctors and patients, or that laundered stolen Medicare funds.






Immigrants Founded Half Of The Top U.S. Start-Up Ventures


Studies continue to show the important economic impact immigrants have on the national economy as well as states, be it the millions in losses Alabama faces after passing a draconian immigration law to thenumber of jobs immigrants help create.

Now venture capitalists are arguing for immigration reform for the sake of the economy after a study showed thatimmigrants founded almost half of the U.S.’s top 50 start-up companies and arevital management or development employees at roughly 75 percent of the nation’s leading cutting-edge companies.

Companies with immigrant founders include the textbook rental company Chegg and the online craft site Etsy. The most common countries of origin for these entrepreneurs were India, Israel, Canada, Iran, and New Zealand, and for many, their experiences creating a start-up were “uniquely American,” according to the report by the National Federation for American Policy:

The stories of how the companies were founded carry a uniquely American feel. In true “only in America” fashion, two former students at Sharif University of Technology in Tehran ended up in San Francisco and established an online romantic social network that is considered a top destination for singles. The men had to abandon another company they started years earlier after an immigration attorney informed the pair it was virtually impossible for a foreign national to gain a visa as the founder of a startup company. […]

While it is often large companies that are cited in media accounts supporting liberalized immigration rules for highly-skilled foreign nationals, Eric Lekacz, a native-born co-founder of ExteNet Systems, which provides network infrastructure for wireless providers, points out that hiring the right person can be even more critical for newer companies. “When in the emerging growth phase you have to get the best person without regard to race or ethnicity,” he said.

The NFAP’s report concludes that the U.S. needs policies to retain talented entrepreneurs in the U.S., but the hoops can be high for those who want to immigrate to the U.S. And the cap for H-1B visas, highly sought after for IT workers, has already been reached for the 2012 fiscal year, so anyone who wants to apply for the visa will have to wait another year before trying. “It’s a gamble whether an entrepreneur should stay or leave right now, and that’s not how the immigration system should work,” said Mark Heesen, president of the National Venture Capital Association, according to the Chicago Tribune. “What we need is legislation that helps these entrepreneurs from outside the United States.”


Why MSNBC Is Not Fox News for Liberals (video)


Rachel Maddow doesn’t shy away from the liberal label. But she says there’s an important distinction between what she and her MSNBC colleagues do and how their counterparts operate at Fox News. On-air personalities at MSNBC, Maddow says, don’t take direction or follow talking points from the network.

The primetime MSNBC host and political commentator recently sat down for a lengthy interview with Slate’s Jacob Weisberg. Here’s part 2 from the interview, the latest in our series “Conversations With Slate.”




5 of the Biggest Hacks in American Media

Excerpted from Alex Pareene and Salon’s 2011 Hack List, here are five of the worst, most predictable and least interesting pundits in America.

The Salon Hack List is a list of our least favorite political commentators, newspaper columnists, political news show hosts, and constant cable news presences, ranked roughly (but only roughly) in order of awfulness and then described rudely. Criteria for inclusion included being wrong about literally everything, shameless sycophancy, appearing on “Morning Joe” and  being “Morning Joe.”

Last year, our countdown was based on each hack’s entire career. We’re still looking at their whole bodies of work, but we’re focusing on the hackiest thing each entrant did in this rapidly ending year.

#1 Mark Halperin

What more is there to say about Mark Halperin? He certainly hasn’t gotten any better since last year, when a panel of experts (me) named him the world’s second biggest hack. He’s still wrong about everything. He’s still shallow and predictable. He’s still both fixated solely on the horse race and also uniquely bad at analyzing the horse race.

Halperin spent 2011 gearing up for the presidential elections by parroting transparently lame spin from Sarah Palin and Donald Trump, insisting that Palin was really going to run for president and taking Trump’s farcical vanity “campaign” seriously as anything other than a time-wasting stunt. He still takes Mark Penn seriously as a wise campaign sage and not an amoral grifter. And he got in trouble for calling President Obama a “dick” on “Morning Joe,” because the president criticized the GOP at a press conference. (This after Halperin spends years writing columns calling him a weak-willed wimp, because he is a Democrat.) The worst thing was not that he calledthe president a dick, it was that the president hadn’t even been dickish. (Well, the worst thing was the whole “Morning Joe” team giggling like stoned teenagers that Halperin said a bad word.) Halperin is so dedicated to being wrong about everything that, upon his return to the airwaves, he actually made a point of mentioning that, had he been on TV during his suspension, he would’ve been wrong about something. Plus he did a “Morning Joe” appearance from an airplane bathroom which is surely illegal.

All that’s left, really, is to proudly announce his ascension to the throne as worst hack in America.


Halperin’s worst low of the last year actually happened in 2010, but it occurred after the Hack 30 was finished, and is thus eligible for inclusion here. Immediately after it was announced that Elizabeth Edwards had died, MSNBC had Halperin on to eulogize her. Halperin did not mention his integral role in the national smearing of Edwards as a harridan (“an abusive, intrusive, paranoid, condescending crazy-woman,” in the eyes of unnamed “insiders,” according to Halperin’s last book).




What Is Good Fact-Checking?

Mother Jones:

Editors’ note: The controversy overPolitiFact’s seemingly not-so-politics-free-fact-checking (vol. 1and vol. 2) and subsequent commentary (here, here, here,here, here,and etc.) prompted Mac to revisit her homage to a dying art.

The first rule of fact-checking is that everything you read and hear is wrong.

Were you to be hired as a fact-checker, as I was in 2007, at Mother Jones—or at the other remaining bastions of fact-checking, mostly a handful of magazines known for their reporting—you would be taught that information couldn’t be trusted. It is, rather, presumed fallacious until proved otherwise. Statistics and news clips must be subjected to intense tests of verification. Don’t even think the word “Wikipedia.” In my first meeting, among new coworkers of startling cynicism and genius, the announcement that the source of some fact was a book set off amighty wave of scoffing and eye rolling around the conference table.

In true fact-checking, literally every word of every factual statement must be traced to a primary source, whether a document or the corroborated accounts of independent experts or witnesses. “Primary source” means that if the story you’re fact-checking says some soldier was the 44th Canadian soldier to die in Afghanistan since 2002, you’re calling the Canadian Army. Once, I heard one of our fact-checkers call a bar in Mexico to ask, in Spanish, whether its floor was metal, per William T. Vollmann’s assertion.

For the record, it was. But often, it’s not. People just get things wrong. They read them wrong, or remember them wrong or the way they want to, or the information they read right was wrong in the first place. You hear the same a fact a thousand times, but if you track down its origins, you find out all the repeaters are using the same source, and source zero was just guessing, orciting a highly questionable source or study. Or misciting a highly questionable source or study. Or confusing the details, so that by now, everybody’s under the erroneous impression that a shot of espresso contains more caffeine than a cup of coffee.

So I wasn’t a week into my job before I, too, had undergone the completely life-changing installation of an irrevocable—and warranted—skepticism of everything I heard or read. So it’s life-ruining, also. Which is why I did something book writers rarely do—which is subject their manuscripts to a Mother Jones-style fact-check—and that they rarely do for really good reason—which is that holy fucking shit is it hard.

Enter former MoJo research editor Leigh Ferrara, a fact-checking and multitasking wizard, and the hardest-working and most charming person you could hope to be stuck in a studio apartment with for 12-hour fact-review marathons. The book, For Us Surrender is Out of the Question, and the MoJo piece of the same name, was about Burmese refugees who snuck back into their country to document human rights atrocities. And, you know, the whole history of Burma. The manuscript I gave Leigh had 1,240 footnotes, plus piles of sources noted haphazardly within the text, plus a bunch of sentences with no sourcing at all. So: I’d read and subsequently written that Burma had the fourth-highest child mortality rate in the world, and Leigh had to figure out whether that was true or not. It’s not. Burma was 36th on that list, actually, which Leigh tracked down in UNICEF’s “State of the World’s Children 2009.” That took care of 11 words, out of more than 100,000. And that was a pretty easy one. (BTW, it is now 44th.)

For historical details, we unearthed and paged through colonialists’ reports and missionaries’ diaries, or cross-checked information with other historical accounts we’d made sure weren’t all using the same one original source—as is often the case—and/or vetted the minutiae and main ideas with scholars and specialists. We tracked down witnesses to and experts on subjects way outside the spotlight of popular scrutiny. We then evaluated those sources, trying to determine if they were reliable and where they were getting their information. One of Leigh’s experts helpfully eliminated a handful of questions from her long list of outstanding facts; then she realized the source of his expertise was a book we’d already determined to be mistake-tastic.

Further complicating the fact-checking process was the inconvenience that there’s often no such thing as “fact.” Another figure I’d cited was that trade between China and Burma was up to $2.6 billion in 2008, from $630 million in 2001. That turned out to be “true” (shout-out to the Wall Street Journal for its totally solid Burma info. Ditto The Washington Post. And The Irrawaddy, the Burmese exile paper, does work that, in addition to filling a critical reporting void, is incredibly reliable.), based on data Leigh uncovered in the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database. Mexicali’s 13 Negro bar either does or does not have a metal floor, but the trouble with this trade statistic is perfectly summed up immediately following it in the WSJarticle where it appeared: “Analysts say the official numbers vastly understate the full extent of China’s investments in Myanmar.” Mmmm, analysts do say that. Knowing that—however meticulously we sourced our facts, and though every estimate we were working so hard to find and confirm was at least the best possible estimate in existence—”true” is often still kind of a relative concept…it’s demoralizing.

We both had dark moments while trying to keep a million little pieces needing verification up in the air. I had nightmares about working on the final edits and not being able to write any of the words I wanted because I didn’t have sourcing for them and there was no time for further fact-checking. Leigh started inadvertently holding her breath when opening emails from sources, because they might say that she was out of luck, or an idiot, because the assertion she was asking them to confirm—which I’d pulled from non-fact-checked books or articles—was absurd. We each went through a period of extreme temporomandibular pain, at which point we realized we’d started clenching our teeth furiously. We took turns psyching each other up, holding up opposite sides of motivational conversation:

“Why are we doing this?”

“It’s fine. We’re doing a great job. People are going to give us trophies when they realize how thorough we’ve been.”

“Yeah, because anyone will ever even notice that we did this, and they totally give trophies for fact-checking.”

“You’re doing a great job. It’ll all be worth it when we get the trophies.”

Next Page: “I can’t believe how much money and how much of our lives this has cost.”






The Media’s Deaf, Dumb, and Blind Campaign Coverage

The Atlantic:

The most powerful segment of the political right has moved into fringe territory. Why has the press been largely silent on this?

When presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich this weekend floated the idea of arresting federal judges over “activist” decisions, something very strange happened: It was in the papers.

Not on page one, or anything. No “-gate” suffix. No wall-to-wall cable coverage, like for a shark attack or a missing blond. Still, Gingrich’s remarks did get a mention, possibly because the scenario he described sounded so gigantically unconstitutional. And unapologetically authoritarian. And just plain scary.

That’s the strange thing. Till now in the presidential race, such qualities have seldom constituted newsworthiness. So cowed are the media by the accusation of liberal bias that they’ve been mainly confined to parsing poll numbers while the candidates for the Republican nomination take to the stump, one after another, with ideas once reserved for militia camps and reactionary pamphleteering. For months and years, the GOP presidential candidates have mimicked the most incendiary and marginal right-wing firebrands of the 1950s and 60s. Yet neither the provocations, nor their eerie echoes, have gone much remarked upon.

For instance, when Rep. Michele Bachmann asserted that public schools “are teaching children that there is separation of church and state, and I am here to tell you that is a myth,” based perhaps on her objection to the accepted understanding of the Establishment Clause, this raised no great media hew and cry. Maybe because the refrain was so familiar. In 2010, Sarah Palin said as much, too:

“Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant — they’re quite clear — that we would create law based on the God of the bible and the Ten Commandments.” Which, if you were listening carefully, also had a familiar ring. Here is what Wesley Swift had to offer on the subject: “This is a Christian nation. The Supreme Court ruled on separate occasions that this is a Christian nation. And the fact remains that there are many forces that are seeking to destroy Christian civilization.”

Wesley Swift being the founder of the Christian Identity movement — a white supremacist, anti-Semite and convicted domestic terrorist. One of his brothers in paranoia was the so-called “minister of Hate,” the Rev. Gerald L.K. Smith, founder of the racist and anti-Semitic America First movement. His boogeyman was the United Nations, which he characterized as “the greatest subversive plot and plan in the history of the world for the destruction of the Constitution of the United States and its substitution by a World Government with all our citizens slaves.”

Robert Welch, founder of the John Birch Society, shared Smith’s black-helicopter vision, asserting that “A part of that plan, of course, is to induce the gradual surrender of American sovereignty, piece by piece and step by step to various international organizations of which the United Nations is the outstanding but far from only example.” Oh, and who else has taken a position on the One World Government question? Why, presidential aspirant Ron Paul.

“They are a threat to us,” Paul wrote of the U.N. “They would confiscate our guns…. The right of ownership of private property is severely threatened by our own government, but it’s going to be a lot worse if the United Nations gets involved…. If the United Nations has their way, there will be a curtailment of our right to practice religion…. Eventually we will not have the United States of America and we will be nothing more than a pawn of the United Nations.”

Trying to recall…has this come up in the debates?

Look, this phenomenon isn’t entirely mysterious. The left has moved right. The center has moved right. What constitutes a controversial position is a moving target. And in narrating the ebb and flow of political fortunes, the press is indeed supposed to be dispassionate. But that’s not the same as deaf, dumb and blind. It never stopped being the media’s job to evaluate the world and explain what constitutes news. Is it not very big news that the most powerful and influential segment of the political right, in full view of a largely mute press corps, has veered into Glenn Beck World?

Xenophobia. Demonization of the United Nations and the Federal Reserve. Radical reduction of federal budget and influence. Conflation of federalism with socialism. Cult of states rights. Christian exceptionalism. Return to the gold standard. Not to mention the dismantling, in the name of jobs, of the entire regulatory infrastructure of the nation.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry on the radical Obama administration: “They are socialist. Their policies prove that almost daily. Look, when all the answers emanate from Washington D.C., one size fits all, whether it’s education policy or whether it’s healthcare policy, that is, on its face, socialism.”

Bachmann: “Now we’ve moved into the realm of gangster government. We have gangster government when the federal government has set up a new cartel…. This is the crown jewel of socialism.”

Newt Gingrich: “This is, indeed, a secular-socialist machine.” (And on another occasion, reframing campaign-finance reform as ideologically motivated, “The idea that a congressman would be tainted by accepting money from private industry or private sources is essentially a socialist argument.”)

On December 16, New York Times columnist and Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman called Ron Paul’s economic doctrine “madness.” Like the Gingrich coverage outbreak, this story, too, was an outlier. Till now, Paul has seldom been asked to defend theories that are long associated with the John Birch Society, Aryan Nation and habitues of tinfoil-hat chat rooms: “I want competition with the Fed. I want to legalize the Constitution. I want to legalize the trading in gold and silver, no taxes, no sales taxes, no capital gains taxes. Private companies can mint their own coins, they just have to be not fraudulent, like our government is fraudulent. ”

Apart from the manifest looniness of the arguments, Paul’s rhetoric implies economic and political tyranny being foisted on a nation of dupes. Indeed, GOP candidates have not been shy about playing the tyranny card, which — in view of our nation’s founding — might be considered but one rude bridge from fomenting revolution. Their opponents are characterized not merely as misguided or foolish or cynical or stupid; they are unpatriotic and un-American.

The president of the United States, alleged Rick Santorum, “has a deep-seated antipathy toward American values and traditions.”

Bachmann spies enemies in both the legislative and executive branches government, asserting on one occasion, “I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?” And on another one: “The federal government will virtually have control over every aspect of lives for the American people,” she said. “It is time to stand up and say: We get to choose. We choose liberty, or we choose tyranny — it’s one of the two.” As for the overthrow of our way of life by the judiciary, you need only turn to Gingrich — whose outburst over the weekend wasn’t his first of the subject. This was from September:

“I believe the legislative and executive branches have an obligation to defend the constitution against judges who are tyrannical and who seek to impose un-American values on the people of the United States.”

It took three months for that statement to generate a controversy. In a healthy journalistic environment — wherein a politician’s utterances are deemed in and of themselves worthy of comment, analysis, due diligence and skepticism — it should have taken five minutes. (Indeed, this press silence is why Rick Perry was forced a few weeks ago to run his notorious gay-baiting ad aimed at Iowa evangelicals, an ad which for good measure sneered at the constitutional principle of secularism. It was a desperate bid to get noticed, because when he said such things before live audiences, the media simply shrugged.)

So tell me again why debate questions are on cap-and-trade, or on what Mitt Romney did or didn’t do with Massachusetts health care in 2006? I propose this instead: “Sir, you have declared America to be a tyranny and your political opponents to be anti-American. Are you proposing an overthrow? And if not, why not?”

I might also turn the question around on the press itself, an institution frozen nearly immobile by the chilling effect of the “liberal bias” meme. Presidential hopefuls have created a vast, breathtaking archive of extremist remarks previously the province of kooks, hatemongers and outlaw militants. Should not these statements be identified, examined, explained and thoroughly interwoven into the narrative of the campaign?

And if not, why not?






Holder: Obama Will Issue Signing Statement With NDAA Detention Rules

Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed speculation Wednesday that President Barack Obama would issue a signing statement when he makes the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and its controversial detention provisions law.

“We made really substantial progress in moving from something that was really unacceptable to the administration to something with which we still have problems,” Holder said in response to a question from the Wall Street Journal’s Evan Perez. “But I think through these procedures, with these regulations we will be crafting, we can minimize the problems that will actually affect us in an operational way.”

Holder said the language of the NDAA had been moved in a “substantial way” from some of the original language which led the president to issue a veto threat.

“So we are in a better place, I think the regulations, procedures that will help, and we’ll also have a signing statement from the president” which will help clarify how they view the law, Holder said.




Soldiers just back from Iraq get new orders: Afghanistan


Soldiers who just returned from Iraq are among several thousand being ordered to Afghanistan in six months as part of a mission designed to beef up Afghan forces ahead of a planned 2014 U.S. military withdrawal, officials said.

News of the pending Afghanistan deployments came as families at bases across the country were celebrating the return in recent days of troops who turned off the lights at a number of U.S. bases ahead of an end-of-the-year deadline to leave Iraq.

We are glad that we have brought all soldiers back home in time for Christmas to spend with loved ones. We do have to put information out about an upcoming mission, though,” the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, said Tuesday on its Facebook Page.

In the posting, the brigade said it was one of four selected to “support a Security Force Assistance Mission to Afghanistan in early summer.”

“We just received initial planning orders so lots of details are unknown,” it said. “…The mission is part of the transition from combatoperations to advisory mission as we did in Iraq and is a sign of progress.”

Maj. Carla Thomas, a brigade spokeswoman, confirmed the validity of the Facebook announcement.

The new mission is part of an overall U.S. military exit strategy from Afghanistan that moves troops from a combat role to advise-and-assist positions that commanders and analysts say will significantly scale back operations ahead of President Barack Obama’s self-imposed deadline to leave the country.

Earlier this year, the United States outlined its plan to withdraw its troops, beginning by pulling 33,000 “surge” troops deployed to help quell the violence by the end of 2012. The remaining 68,000 troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2014.

News of the deployments comes as the Obama administration pushes to accelerate the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, a plan that many military commanders have said is unreasonable in a country still trying to gain its security footing.

“I don’t think we are going to turn around guys who spent time in Iraq and put them on planes to Afghanistan … without there being a clear indication that the Obama administration wants to continue the acceleration of the withdrawal,” said Bill Roggio, Editor of The Long War Journal & Senior Fellow at The Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

“U.S. commanders want to stop with the withdrawal of the 33,000 (surge troops.) They want to halt it.”

Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, has said he would like to keep a U.S. “military presence” in Afghanistan beyond 2014 when NATO is scheduled to withdraw its forces. Allen suggested the presence could last as long as 2016 when the Afghan Air Force is completed.

Allen told reporters last week there is “no daylight” between him and the White House on this idea. Allen said he wants to shift the U.S. presence to an advisory capacity in the coming months and then continue to do that mission after 2014.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has asked Allen to review the counterinsurgency strategy and determine what changes are needed. Allen said he has to complete the review before he can decide on the rate of drawdown of current U.S. force levels.

The new mission in Afghanistan somewhat mirrors the U.S. exit strategy in Iraq, which used advise and assist teams to improve counterterrorism operations and train security forces.

Just like in Iraq, small teams of American troops will work and live among security forces, and will help coordinate military operations, according to comments Allen made to reporters last week.

In its Facebook posting, the 4th Brigade Combat Team said those who would be deployed in advise-and-assist roles would be senior enlisted personnel, ranging from master sergeants to colonels.

The deployment was expected to last nine months, though it was unclear how many members of the brigade will deploy.

Also being deployed are troops from the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division from Fort Stewart, Georgia; the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division from Fort Carson, Colorado; and the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

The brigade deployments were first reported this week by Stars and Stripes, a newspaper that caters to military personnel.

Under an Army policy, troops are given one month of dwell time for every month they are deployed. In the case of 1st Armored Division’s brigade, which returned in December after less than six months in Iraq, its soldiers could be sent to Afghanistan as early as May.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment. Messages left early Wednesday by CNN at public affairs offices at the 3rd Infantry Division, the 4th Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne Division were not immediately returned.

Reactions at Fort Bliss were mixed with some soldiers and families telling CNN by telephone that they were resigned to the specter of an Afghanistan deployment, while others said they were surprised elements of the brigade would be deployed so soon after returning from Iraq.

None of the soldiers or their family members were willing to be quoted, citing possible repercussions over speaking to the media without prior approval.

Responses to the brigade’s Facebook post, though, revealed the feelings of spouses and family members.

“All we can do is enjoy the time we have with them,” one person wrote.

Another wrote: “Not even home a week. How sad.”

Questions remain about the stability of Afghan forces, with some questioning whether an Iraq-style exit strategy can work in Afghanistan.

“Given that we are 10 years into this, my confidence level is pretty low that we can turn the Afghan forces around,” Roggio said.

The U.S.-led war in Afghanistan began October 7, 2001, with an air campaign that was followed within weeks by a ground invasion. President Barack Obama has called it “the longest-running war in the nation’s history”.

As the United States turned its attention toward Iraq, insurgent violence in Afghanistan flared against Afghan civilians and security forces as well as the U.S. and its coalition partners.

In 2009, President Obama authorized a surge of 33,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan to combat the violence.

Earlier this year, the president announced a plan to withdraw its troops. The move was followed by withdrawal announcements by most of the NATO nations.


Obama campaign uses fight over payroll-tax cut to hit Romney

The Hill:

The Obama campaign is using the contentious payroll-tax debate to go after GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

A video posted on the campaign website Wednesday called Romney out for not taking a stance on the issue, and for previously referring to the payroll tax holiday as a “temporary little Band-Aid.”

“The House of Representatives rejected an important bipartisan proposal that would have prevented your taxes from going up at the end of the year,” Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter said in the ad. “House Republicans made their position clear today in opposing this protection for working families. We don’t know where Mitt Romney stands.”

While both parties agree that the payroll tax should be extended for all of 2012, last week the Senate overwhelmingly voted to only extend it through February to give both sides more time to come to an agreement on how to pay for a longer-term extension. This week, House Republicans refused to vote on the Senate-passed two-month bill, saying the debate over how to pay for a yearlong tax holiday should happen now.

“At first [Romney] came out against the payroll tax cut, calling it a Band-Aid, even though it’s a thousand dollars more each year in your pocket. And then he came out for it when he realized that all of America needed this tax cut,” Cutter continued.

“But we don’t know where he stands today. Does he stand with the United States Senate … including Mitt Romney’s own home-state Republican senator, who supported this clean extension of the middle-class tax cut? Or does he stand with House Republicans? We don’t know.”

Romney declined to weigh in on the tax debate while speaking to MSNBC on Wednesday, but he said the president was in “attack mode” and that was “not the way that a leader tries to get people to work together.”

The Obama campaign wants voters to tweet at Romney through the website to ask him where he stands on the issue.

This could be another indication that the Obama campaign believes Romney to be the biggest threat to the president in the 2012 election.

Although Romney is trailing either Newt Gingrich or Ron Paul in polls for three out of the first four early-voting states, the former Massachusetts governor fares the best in head-to-head match-ups against the president in national polls, and overtook Obama for the first time in a Public Policy Poll released on Tuesday.




Harry Reid to John Boehner: Game over.

[…] Reid also offers Boehner a deal that he’ll have a very hard time refusing: Reid says he’s willing to sit down and negotiate over the terms of the one-year extension — but only if the House GOP passes the shorter-term extension first. Here’s the letter:

Dear Speaker Boehner,

Our respective chambers have been seeking for weeks to negotiate a year-long extension of the payroll tax cut for middle-class families, as well as unemployment benefits and Medicare payments for physicians.

You and I agree that this should be our goal. But as these weeks have made clear, there remain differences between our parties over how to fund and implement these programs that will take longer then a few days to reconcile.

Recognizing this reality, eighty-nine Republican and Democratic senators came together to agree to a short-term extension of these programs. As you requested when we met last Wednesday, Senator McConnell and I worked together to find this common ground. Once the House of Representatives acts on this immediate extension, we will be able to sit down and complete negotiations on a longer extension. But because we have a responsibility to assure middle-class families that their taxes will not go up while we work out our differences, we must pass this immediate extension first.

As the Senate vote made clear, there is no reason for this to be a partisan issue. I am fully confident that we can work out our differences and find common ground on a year-long extension. But in the meantime, families should not have to worry that they will wake up to a tax increase on January 1, 2012.

To provide middle-class families the certainty they deserve, I urge you to reconvene the House to act on the Senate’s bipartisan compromise as soon as possible.

Sincerely, Senator Harry Reid




Watch GOPer Literally Walk Out On Dem Attempt To Push Payroll Tax Cut

While Republican leaders gathered in Speaker John Boehner’s Capitol office Wednesday morning for a photo op with reporters — hectoring Democrats and making the case that they’re on the right side of the payroll tax fight — an unusual scene played out on the House floor.

In an attempt to illustrate just who’s at fault for the payroll tax stalemate Minority Whip Steny Hoyer showed up to ask for a vote on the Senate’s compromise bill. Republicans could have simply objected and given Hoyer his talking point. Instead they gave him so much more.

Republicans just ignored Hoyer and refused to hear his unanimous consent request. The fill-in Speaker simply walked away.

The Speaker Pro Tem, Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), was just following orders. But the optics for Republicans — who were, again, just down the hall for a media spray — were terrible.





Speaker Cuts Off C-SPAN Cameras When Dems Attempt To Bring Vote On Payroll Tax Cut


During a quick pro-forma session of the House this morning, Republicans rebuffed a Democratic attempt to force an up-or-down vote on the Senate-passed payroll tax holiday extension, which Republicans have thus farrefused to allow. Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), who was serving as the speaker pro-temp, ignored shouts of “Mr. Speaker!” from Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), quickly adjourning the House.

Hoyer continued talking undeterred, saying, “You’re walking away, just as so many Republicans have walked away from middle-class taxpayers [and] the unemployed.” “We regret, Mr. Speaker, that you have walked off the platform without addressing this issue of critical importance to this country,” Hoyer added.

Moments later, the mic appeared to cut out. A few seconds after that, the video feed switched away from the House floor to a still image of the Capitol Dome. It appears someone in House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-OH) office cut the feed, as C-SPAN tweeted afterwards: “C-SPAN has no control over the U.S. House TV cameras – the Speaker of the House does.”





Karl Rove Concedes House GOP Blew It On Payroll Tax (VIDEO)





Politico: Has John Boehner lost control?


First, John Boehner wanted the Senate to pass a payroll tax cut bill. Then, he wanted to make a show of killing it. Now, he won’t hold a House vote on it at all.

In the last and biggest political test of a wild year — Boehner’s final exam for 2012 — the House speaker has shown yet again that he doesn’t have the juice to whip his troops into line. If anything, it is rank-and-file House Republicans who are continually snapping their leader back to the pack when he gets too far out in front of them.

His plans change with their whims, the latest of which is to escalate a battle with a nearly unified Senate and President Barack Obama over a two-month extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut, welfare and unemployment programs, and current Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors.

GOP leaders on Monday abandoned a day-old proposal to vote down the Senate bill, which would have required Republicans to to defy their brand by going on record against a tax cut. Now, they’re portraying a procedural vote to create a House-Senate conference as an implicit rejection of the Senate’s bill. Republicans believe they can win a showdown with the Senate and either get the full-year extension of the payroll tax cut they seek or win the public relations war if 160 million working Americans see their taxes rise in January.

It’s a high-risk strategy with little reward available: In the worst-case scenario, House Republicans would take sole blame for raising taxes, cutting welfare and unemployment benefits just after Christmas and slashing reimbursement rates for doctors who treat Medicare patients. House Democrats now sense a potential game-changer for their prospects of winning control of the chamber in 2012, which have been dim.

Some Republicans said privately that they weren’t certain that the strategy would work.

“We’ll find out,” said one.

But the best outcome for House Republicans is that they extract a measure of pain from the Senate, forcing minor concessions in a negotiation where the major sticking point between the two sides is whether the extension of expiring laws lasts for two months or 11 months. Facing vocal opposition from the president, Democrats and even some of their fellow Republicans in the Senate, Republicans could take a shellacking in the court of public opinion even if they manage to rewrite the bill.

Either way, they’re playing into Obama’s plans to run against the widely and deeply unpopular Congress.

Boehner’s camp insists everything is going according to script.

“Our goal, from start to finish, has been to avoid a tax hike, extend and reform unemployment insurance, protect Social Security, and help create jobs. The best way to accomplish that goal right now is for a conference committee to resolve the differences between the House- and Senate-passed bills,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said. “This is regular order — the system that our founders created to craft legislation, and House Republicans promised to restore.”

But the endgame reads more like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book than a carefully scripted drama.

And Boehner’s not alone in getting twist-turned upside down. Seeking political advantage in the moment, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are attacking him for suggesting that the two chambers resolve their differences in the time-honored way, by meeting in a conference committee.

“House Republicans claim to support this middle-class tax cut, but they are really trying to bury it in a committee,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement released late Monday night. “Speaker Boehner is using one of the oldest tricks in Washington of claiming to support something and then sending it to the legislative graveyard where it never sees the light of day.”

In more than two decades, Schumer has served on conference committees that created the H-1B visa program, gave extra health insurance benefits to people with disabilities, established the COPS program, and, in the last Congress, enacted the Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulations. There’s little doubt that he could provide a much longer list on command.

Still, it’s clear Democrats believe they have the upper hand — and they’re excited over the prospect of Republicans calling even more attention to the battle over the payroll tax cut.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) held an impromptu press conference late Monday night just a handful of steps from the House floor.

“So, here we are, just a few days before Christmas and the Republicans are just coming up with another excuse,” Pelosi said. “It’s just the ridiculous tea party Republicans who are holding up this tax cut for the American people and jeopardizing economic growth.”

If the battle lines were purely partisan, House Republicans might be on firmer ground. But the Senate passed its version of the bill 89-10 after McConnell and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) cut a deal. Five Senate Republicans castigated their House colleagues on Monday for not simply passing the Senate bill and ensuring that the tax cut goes through.

“[T]here is no reason to hold up the short-term extension while a more comprehensive deal is being worked out,” Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) said, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

But House Republicans say the two-month version is unacceptable — even as a patch.

“Frankly, the 60 days pissed a lot of people off, just cutting the package down, taking out all of our reforms that were in there,” Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) said after Monday night’s meeting of the House Republican Conference.

And some are assigning bad motives to their Democratic colleagues.

“I think what this is, is a leverage point for the president to say that — cover for his failures, for him to say that the Republicans are going to raise taxes on the, quote, unquote, . It will enable him to continue on with his very divisive rhetoric about millionaires and billionaires,” Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) told FOX News’ Greta Van Susteren. “I really think in my heart of hearts that the Democrats do want to see this payroll tax expire so that they can use it going into next year as a political talking point in the election cycle.”

If West is right, House Republicans appear to be playing into their hands — and Boehner has little power to change their course.





Romney Refuses to Criticize Boehner Over Payroll Tax Vote





Fight Over Obama’s Recess Appointments Puts Stranglehold on Key FinReg, Labor Nominees

Pro Publica:

It’s no secret that Republicans don’t like the idea of President Obama exercising his power to make recess appointments. As we notedearlier this year, they’ve repeatedly used a procedural move to block the president from making this sort of temporary appointment, even though it’s a presidential power laid out in the Constitution. (Of course, the tactic isn’t specific to Republicans — Democrats used it too under the Bush administration.)

But now, as winter recess approaches, Senate Republicans have been trying a different tactic: holding up other appointments as a bargaining chip. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged to block the confirmation of three uncontroversial nominees for key banking regulator positions. Here’s how the Wall Street Journal described those nominees and what positions they’d fill:

The three nominees — Martin Gruenberg, Thomas Hoenig and Thomas Curry — would be charged with implementing last year’s Dodd-Frank financial-overhaul law, which imposes a raft of restrictions on the financial industry. They are expected to take a tough line on the nation’s largest banks, in a climate where both political parties are increasingly embracing to efforts to rein in the power of the nation’s largest financial institutions.

All three of Mr. Obama’s nominees have long histories as regulators and there was little controversy at their confirmation hearings.

At the heart of the standoff are fears that President Obama will use recess appointments to fill key vacancies in the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — a consumer watchdog agency that the GOP believes has too much power — and the National Labor Relations Board, the government’s independent arbiter of labor disputes.

Earlier this month, Republicans blocked the nomination of former Ohio attorney general Richard Cordray to head of the CFPB, though other Republicans have praised his qualifications. Keeping the agency without a director, as we’ve noted, limits its powers over payday lenders, certain mortgage servicers, and other under-regulated parts of the financial industry.

They’ve also asked President Obama not to use recess appointments to fill vacancies on the NLRB, which after December 31st essentially will cease to function because it will have too few members to issue regulations and decide cases.

Republicans have targeted the federal agency for the better part of the year, and a group of GOP lawmakers wrote a letter to the president this week, warning that if Obama makes recess appointments to the NLRB, it would set a “dangerous precedent” that could “provoke a constitutional conflict.”

But why that is isn’t exactly clear. President George W. Bush managed to seat more than a half dozen nominees at the NLRB through recess appointments. And overall, President Obama has made somewhat fewer recess appointments than his predecessors — 28 so far, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.






The method behind Mitt Romney’s Big Lie strategy

Greg Sargent:

In a speech late yesterday, Mitt Romney accused President Obama of trying to use government to “create equal outcomes.” Romney argued that Obama wants to create an “entitlement society,” in which “everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort, and willingness to take risk.” He made a concerted case that under Obama’s ideal vision, everyone will “get the same rewards.”

This is a Big Lie — it has nothing whatsoever to do with anything Obama has ever said, proposed or accomplished. Andmany liberalwriters  have  noted today that this is Glenn Beck-level craziness, suggesting that Romney is willing to say and do anything to win.

That’s true, but another thing it’s also important to understand about Romney’s falsehoods is that they all serve a larger story that he and his advisers have been deliberately developing over time. When you look at all the Big Lies Romney has told in recent months, you’ll see a common thread running through them all.

They’re all about conveying a sense that you should find Obama’s intentions towards America vaguely suspect; that Obama harbors a deep seated indifference or even hostility towards the fundamentals that make America what it is; and that Obama is in some basic way undermining the foundation of American life as we know it. Let’s go through them all:

* The claim above that Obama wants a society in which everyone gets the “same rewards” is obviously designed to suggest that Obama doesn’t believe in American competitiveness and ingenuity.

* In that same spirit, Romney claimed the other day that the Obama/Dem criticism of his Bain years shows that Obama intends to “put free enterprise on trial” during the general election.

* Romney’s frequent falsehood that Obama “apologized for America” is about suggesting that Obama is apologetic about America’s relative advantages over other countries; that on some basic level, he doesn’t wish the country well.

* Indeed, Romney’s book, which he has frequently described as a kind of foundation of his presidential run, is called “No Apology: The case for American Greatness,” as if Obama is apologizing for American greatness.

* Romney recently accused Obama of pursuing policies that he “knows” are bad for the country.

* Romney recently claimed that he doesn’t believe Obama “understands America.”

* The speech Romney gave when he announced his presidential run traded heavily on these themes: He claimed that we are “inches away from ceasing to be a free market economy,” adding: “We look at our country, and we know in our hearts that things aren’t right.”

* As far back as 2010 Romney revealed he would campaign on the idea that Obama “has not understood the nature of America,” and on the idea that Obama does not share American “values” such as “love of liberty, of freedom, of opportunity.”

And so on. At this point, the pattern here is obvious, and it’s clearly not an accident. And Romney and his team will remain secure in the knowledge that most of the media will politely look the other way as the Big Lies keep flowing, and will continue to treat them as just part of the game.




Romney changes stance on Iraq invasion. 





 Want to know what a Tea Party America might look like, there is no place like Kansas


[…] In the past year, three state agencies have been abolished and 2,050 jobs have been cut. Funding for schools, social services and the arts have been slashed. The new Republican governor rejected a $31.5 million federal grant for a new health-insurance exchange because he opposesPresident Obama’s health-care law. And that’s just the small stuff.

A new “Office of the Repealer” has been created to reduce the number of laws and regulations, and the Repealer is canvassing the state for more cut suggestions.

In the upcoming legislative session, Gov. Sam Brownback (R)plans to roll out proposals to change the way schools are funded, taxes are levied and state pensions are administered.

A year after voters vaulted hundreds of tea party candidates to power in Washington and in state capitals, the movement’s goals are being pursued aggressively in states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Texas.

But in Kansas, as nowhere else in the country, tea party fervor is reshaping government. The same political forces of the Republican Party driving the confrontation over taxes and spending in Washington are now completely in charge in Kansas.

The GOP now controls the state’s House of Representatives with the biggest majority in half a century. Emboldened by this power shift, Brownback — the state’s former two-term U.S. senator — has embarked on his overhaul at a breathtaking pace.

“It’s a revolution in a cornfield,” said Arthur Laffer, the 71-year-old architect of supply-side economic theory and former economic adviser for President Ronald Reagan who is now working with the governor. “Brownback and his whole group there, it’s an amazing thing they’re doing. Truly revolutionary.”

Brownback, 55, declined to be interviewed for this article but has saidhe wants to turn his small farming state into a national showcase for the virtues of limited government.

“The states are to be the laboratory for democracy,” he said recently at a dinner at the Kansas Policy Institute, a think tank in Wichita. “Why not here and why not us and why not now?”

The governor has said his main concerns are creating jobs, cutting taxes and bringing new businesses to the state, which has been losing population to domestic migration over the past decade and ranks near the bottom in private-sector job creation.

“We cannot continue on this path and hope we can move forward and win the future,” he said in the Wichita speech . “It won’t work. We have to change course, and we’re going to have to be aggressive about it or we are doomed to a slow decline.”

Brownback has shown little patience with anyone who might stand in the way of the revolution. Nine moderate Republicans in the state Senate who crossed Brownback face primary challengers in 2012. His administration has acquired a reputation for engaging even the smallest critics. The governor’s aides grabbed national attention after they went after a teenager who tweeted derogatory comments about Brownback during a visit to the statehouse. The governor later apologized for their behavior.







A Note on Politifact’s Lie of the Year


[…]I want to amplify something others have brought up.  Politifact had to understand that they were going to get pushback on this, so they must have been careful in justifying their assertion with the strongest terms possible.  How do they do that?  Here are the three reasons for why this is a lie instead of an actually true statement:

• They ignored the fact that the Ryan plan would not affect people currently in Medicare — or even the people 55 to 65 who would join the program in the next 10 years.

• They used harsh terms such as “end” and “kill” when the program would still exist, although in a privatized system.

• They used pictures and video of elderly people who clearly were too old to be affected by the Ryan plan. The DCCC video that aired four days after the vote featured an elderly man who had to take a job as a stripper to pay his medical bills.

Read the first and third point again.  Democrats are in the wrong when they attack the plan for its effects on seniors, because current seniors won’t be impacted.  They show ads with elderly people, but no current elderly people will fact the Ryan plan.

If anything was to show how much certain elite media go along with the Republican thought that the social safety net is only for people born in 1956 or earlier, while everyone else is on their own, this is it.  Because I’m a senior-in-waiting, and this plan will affect me.  Someday I’ll be elderly, and then I’ll have to deal with taking a worthless coupon to the notoriously ugly healthcare market if this plan passes.  This is not semantics – it’s the basis of the inter-generational social contract.  But in the worldview of Politifact, as long as the Great Society’s social insurance plan is there for people born in 1956 or earlier, it exists for everyone.

Mark Schmitt wrote a great piece earlier this year on the GOP’s brilliant generational weapon in the Medicare fight:

…But the line they chose is more than a gimmick: The 55-and-over cutoff marks a sharp and significant generational divide.  Those over 55 will continue to benefit from one of the triumphs of social insurance in the Great Society, while the rest of us will be on our own, with a coupon for private health insurance….The Ryan plan, in other words, delivers to the older generation exactly what they’ve had all their lives—secure and predictable benefits—and to the next generation, more of what they’ve known—insecurity and risk.

Someone born in 1957 would graduate high school in 1975 – right when real incomes flatten, the poverty rates stops declining and health insurance coverage stops increasing, while the boom in inequality is right around the corner.  If anything, this generation needs more, not less, security in old age.






Did Mitt Romney just come out for unlimited campaign contributions?

This seems to have passed mostly unnoticed, but if Mitt Romney meant what he said on MSNBC’s Daily Rundown this morning, it’s a very big deal. In an interview with Chuck Todd, he seemed to say that he thinks there should be no limits of any kind on the amount of money people can contribute to political campaigns:

The context: Earlier this week, Romney said he opposed the existence of so-called Super PACs, which can raise and spend unlimited amounts in contributions of any size, and spend all the money on behalf of a candidate, provided there’s no coordination between the candidate and the PAC. Pressed further on this by Todd, who asked him for his views on Citizens United and the landscape of PACs it has created, Romney answered:

“I think the Supreme Court’s decision was following their interpretation of the campaign finance laws that were written by Congress. My own view is now we tried a lot of efforts to try and restrict what can be given to campaigns, we’d be a lot wiser to say you can give what you’d like to a campaign.They must report it immediately. And the creation of these independent expenditure committees that have to be separate from the candidate, that’s just a bad idea.”

If this is really Romney’s position, it’s very significant. (A Romney spokesperson didn’t immediately return an email asking for clarification.) A longer version of the video is right here; in it Romney goes on to criticize Congress for “passing a law that limits what campaigns can receive and opens the door to these Super PACs.”

Romney’s comments are bit confused, but it seems clear he is saying that we should do away with Super PACs, which can receive contributions of any size, and allow such unlimited contributions to be funneled straight to the campaigns themselves. Under this scenario, that billionaire casino magnate who was recently mulling whether to give $20 million to a Super PAC supporting Newt Gingrich could simply hand that sum or more directly to his campaign.

It’s unclear whether Romney thinks corporations should also have this right — he should be asked for clarification on this point — but either way, what Romney seems to be proposing would enhance the influence of the wealthy to an untold degree. As Ian Millhiser, who first caught this exchange, points out, it could also open the door to a kind of system fueled by what might be termed legalized bribery.

“This is more radical than Citizens United,” David Donnelly of Public Campaign Action Fund told me when I asked for his reaction. “It means that if he is president he will appoint Supreme Court justices that will eviscerate any ability to regulate campaign finance.”

While it’s true that Romney wants donors disclosed, this doesn’t constitute regulation; it just means the public would be aware of who is giving unregulated sums in huge amounts to campaigns.

“This would set up a pipeline from Wall Street directly to campaigns,” Donnelly concluded. “This is the one percent’s wet dream.”




Who is a Ron Paul supporter?


[…] The Iowa State University/Gazette/KCRG survey is the latest poll to show Paul leading in the Hawkeye State’s caucuses. His 27.5 percent-to-25.3 percent lead on Newt Gingrich is within the margin of error, but it reflects a race that appears to be headed in the good doctor’s direction.

A deeper dive into that poll and a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows just where that support is coming from, and it’s a far different place than those for any of his fellow GOP contenders.

Paul’s supporters are disproportionately young, independent, non-interventionist, non-Christian and perhaps most telling, dedicated.

Here’s the breakdown:

* In the Iowa poll, Paul gets more than 50 percent support from the two youngest age groups — 18-29 year olds and 30-44 year olds — but gets less than 12 percent of 45-64 year olds and those 65 and older. In the Post poll, he gets 20 percent among 18-49 year olds, but just 8 percent among those 50 and older. That’s a remarkable age gap.

* The Post poll shows Paul winning 16 percent of independents and only 11 percent of Republicans.

* While we wrote this morning about how nearly half of respondents inthe Post poll saw Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy as a major reason to oppose him, another 29 percent said it was a major reason to support him. For those voters, Paul is really their only choice in the GOP primary.

* The Iowa poll shows Paul gets the support of 27 percent of born-again Christians — pretty much in-line with his overall vote total — but he also gets 74 percent of those who identify themselves as “secular.” The Post poll (which asks the question a different way) shows him getting slightly more support from voters who don’t describe themselves as white evangelical protestants.

So what do the young, the independents, the non-interventionists and the non-Christians have in common?

They are all pretty small minorities in the Republican Party.

To be fair, the sample sizes on all of these measures are pretty small and shouldn’t be seen as totally accurate reflections of reality. But the numbers certainly paint the picture of a man who has a very defined political constituency focused on small sub-groups of the GOP.

He’s done plenty to improve his stock, including bringing in more self-identified Republicans to go along with the independents who supporthim, but his un­or­tho­dox base of support remains very much intact and still defines his campaign.

That also means, though, that he leaves himself less room to grow, because as he maxes out among those small, key demographic groups, he’s not able to appeal to others. This appears to be what’s happening in Iowa, and while it might be good enough in a six-candidate field there, it will be tougher to execute it as a successful strategy as the race shrinks.

And none of his base groups will turn out in as big numbers as old people, Republicans (independents can’t even cast ballots in some states), Christians and foreign policy hawks.

At the same time, among the people that Paul does have behind him, he really has them behind him. The Iowa poll shows half of Paul’s supporters say they are definitely voting for him, while only 16 percent of Romney supporters and 15 percent of Gingrich backers say they are that certain.

But once you get past those determined voters, the universe of potential Paul supporters is relatively small.

Perhaps that’s why the new Iowa poll shows him with the least room to grow; he’s the second choice of just 7.7 percent of Iowa voters — the least among the six candidates that are actively campaigning in the state.




Ron Paul Walks Off CNN Interview When Repeatedly Asked About Old Newsletters 





Are polls really magic?

Roger Simon:

With the glut of debate stories safely behind us until human beings actually cast votes in Iowa on Jan. 3, the media now shift their full concentration to what really counts: polls.

Polling drives our political process far more than debates do. Debates are just the candidates yakking in real time.

Polls are predictions of the future. They are crystal balls. They are magic.

Pollsters try to deny this, humbly murmuring about how their magic is a mere “snapshot in time.” But we don’t believe this.

Pollsters are wizards, shamans, diviners. They toss numbers around the way astragalomancers once tossed bones to foretell events to come. (The name comes from the Greek astragalos, meaning “knucklebone.” But you knew that.)

Increasingly, however, pollsters find it difficult to get people to talk to them. This should not be a surprise. Pollsters call us during inconvenient times when they expect us to be home (the dinner hour, for example) and then can ask all sorts of personal questions about our age, sex, religion, party affiliation, income and whom we intend to vote for.

I have never been called by a political pollster and don’t know anybody who has, but I know some pollsters, who assure me they don’t make the numbers up, and I believe them.

Pollsters, or rather the phone-bankers who make call after call (or computers that make robo-call after robo-call) do get people to talk to them. Not vast numbers of people, but pollsters do not require vast numbers.

A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, which is highly respected, tells us that “Gingrich and Romney are each favored by 30 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.”

Also, the “survey shows President Obama receiving his highest approval rating since March … [and] the number who disapprove of his overall performance has dipped below 50 percent for the first time this fall.”

We are a nation of nearly 313 million people. So how many people did the pollsters actually speak to? If you have extremely good eyes, you can find the answer in tiny type at the bottom of a chart: The Post-ABC poll was conducted by phone “among a random sample of 1,005 adults.”

That represents 0.0003 percent of the nation at large. (The number of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents was an even smaller sample of 395 people.)

The poll does not tell us how many are registered voters, though it does say in a sidebar: “The president leads a potential race against former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) by 51 to 43 percent among registered voters — in part because of an eight-point advantage among independents.”

So the poll must have spoke to registered voters and independents, but we don’t know how many.

And, frankly, who cares? Most people do not read the fine print. Just as most people, including most journalists, have no idea what the “margin of sampling error” really means, though most good polls tell us that. (The Post-ABC margin was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for all adults.)

As I said, this poll has a very good reputation and I “believe” the results in that I believe they were calculated carefully and (unlike some partisan or campaign polls) without any agenda.

But in the vast, murky world known as reality, are Gingrich and Mitt Romney really tied 30-30? And, if they are, what different does it make? The primary is not a national contest, but a series of state contests by which the winning candidate amasses a majority of the approximately 2,288 pledged and unpledged delegates to the Republican National Convention.

Does Obama really lead Gingrich by 8 percentage points in a (currently) imaginary matchup?

I dunno. Sounds right to me. But I am an even smaller sample than 0.0003 percent.

Gingrich’s drop in the polls — one shows him in third place in Iowa behind Ron Paul and Romney — and Obama’s rise have become big media talking points over the past few days.

There is little real political analysis anymore. Instead, there are journalists who read polls and try to explain the results: Newt’s drop? Attack ads by his opponents are damaging him, people are learning more about him and don’t like what they are learning.

Obama’s rise? The 21st paragraph of a sidebar to the Post-ABC poll contains a figure that may be of critical importance: “The new survey finds that most Americans are optimistic about their personal finances, even though gloom continues about prospects for the national economy.”

People who are personally optimistic are the kind of people who do not change horsesmidstream, especially if they feel the stream is strewn with rocks.

Is this how “most Americans” — based on a survey of 1,005 of them — really feel?

Dunno. But the polls are changing the prism through which the media — both mainstream and social — see events, which changes the national conversation.

You can challenge the accuracy of polls. But you can’t challenge their influence.





Poll shows overwhelming support for President Obama on ending war in Iraq 






Look what President Obama did

Political Carnival:

Here’s how The Virginian-Pilot reported the precedent-shattering event of the post “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era:

Her girlfriend of two years, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell, was waiting when she crossed the brow. They kissed. The crowd cheered. And with that, another vestige of the policy that forced gays to serve in secrecy vanished.



Haunting Portraits of the Homeless by Lee Jeffries


Take Action: Thank President Obama for keeping toxic mercury out of our air 

National Resources Defense Fund:

On December 21st the Obama administration announced new life-saving standards aimed at reducing mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants. This is a victory for all of our families — and you helped make it happen! Thank President Obama for this strong rule that will protect our families and communities from some of the dirtiest and deadliest pollution sources.

As you can imagine, the new rules don’t sit well with polluters. Operators of dirty power plants and their industry lobbyists already have plans to block these rules. But we’ve waited long enough to hold these powerful polluters accountable for the deaths and disease they cause. Power plants are some of the dirtiest and deadliest pollution sources, and clean-up is long overdue.

President Obama heard your calls to reduce toxic air pollution (earlier this year NRDC activists sent more than 10,000 official comments supporting a strong rule) and stood up to polluters trying to stop the new rules. This is a victory for all of our families — and you helped make it happen!

What to do: 
Send a message thanking President Obama for this strong rule that will protect our families and communities from mercury and other toxic air pollution.


“Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence. Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance. Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence. Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”
 Yoko Ono

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President Obama: “This is Good News”

For weeks, President Obama has pressed Congress to come to an agreement to extend the payroll tax cut into 2012. This afternoon, that’s exactly what happened.

In a statement, the President praised the good news:

For the past several weeks, I’ve stated consistently that it was critical that Congress not go home without preventing a tax increase on 160 million working Americans. Today, I congratulate members of Congress for ending the partisan stalemate by reaching an agreement that meets that test.

Because of this agreement, every working American will keep his or her tax cut – about $1,000 for the average family. That’s about $40 in every paycheck. Vital unemployment insurance will continue for millions of Americans who are looking for work. And when Congress returns, I urge them to keep working to reach an agreement that will extend this tax cut and unemployment insurance for all of 2012 without drama or delay.

This is good news, just in time for the holidays. This is the right thing to do to strengthen our families, grow our economy, and create new jobs. This is real money that will make a real difference in people’s lives. And I want to thank every American who raised your voice to remind folks in this town what this debate was all about. It was about you. And today, your voices made all the difference.

What he really meant:

You fool Bohner, you folded like the cheap suit you are, and thanks for not just a Christmas present for millions of Americans, the economy but for helping me get reelected and losing the house in 2012. Keep up following those baggers, please?

KQµårk 死神

Cher since we are newly encouraged about the election I thought you might like this.

Jobless claims fall to lowest since April 2008

These are the headlines we need to keep on seeing next year as well. You and I know a year is like a century in politics and I’m sure the whole payroll tax cut war will be a distant memory. But the effects of getting it passed will matter.

I just thought today the ironic part is with the Citizen’s United ruling their is a weird silver lining as well. Obviously next year will be record spending on all the elections, well over a billion dollars maybe even twice that. So the Republicans could be hurting their own cause in a way. Not the stimulus I would like but it could actually dent unemployment figures.

KQµårk 死神

Great roundup per usual. Love the holiday graphic and the new icon.

With Romney as the nominee this campaign is going to be 100X uglier than the McCain campaign because of super PAC’s and Romney’s totally devoid of ethics strategy. I hear Republican operatives say Obama does not have a record to run on but every attack they have never attacks that so called bad record. I just hope Romney’s complete sociopathic campaign is good for the red meat Republicans but is transparent to Independents for what it is.


What do you bet that BOA execs get huge bonuses for their “work” next month?
To me they should be in orange jumpsuits doing hard labor, not getting bonuses. What they are paying the fines for is criminal and you or I would be prosecuted and jailed for doing what they did.