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Republicans in the House of Representatives will put forward a budget plan this year that will seek substantial reforms to health benefits for the elderly and make aggressive strides toward reducing deficits, a senior lawmaker said on Friday.
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said he wanted his budget plan to offer voters an alternative vision to the “cradle-to-grave welfare state” that he says Democratic President Barack Obama is promoting.
The House Republican budget resolution will contain reforms to Medicare, the healthcare program for Americans 62 and over, such as providing subsidies to help recipients pay for private insurance, based on their wealth and medical needs. […]
Ryan said there was emerging bipartisan support for such “premium support” plans as the best way to save Medicare, which he said was going broke.
The Wisconsin congressman caused an uproar last year by proposing a plan effectively to privatize Medicare by turning the popular $525 billion fee-for-service program into a system of vouchers to be used by recipients to buy private insurance.
The plan was enough to rattle elderly voters and was cited as a key factor in the defeat of a Republican candidate in a normally conservative New York state congressional district last year.
In December, Ryan and Democratic Senator Ron Wyden unveiled a new approach to cut Medicare costs through a “premium support” model that allowed seniors to buy insurance through a regulated exchange while retaining Medicare’s traditional fee-for-service model. The plan was viewed by critics as a ploy to soften opposition to future reforms.
The Obama administration has steadfastly opposed reforms that would end Medicare for seniors or amount to what it calls “radical privatization” of the program.
[…] I view Apple as much like China: overseers of a huge market that’s irresistible, and well aware that they can use their market power in any way they like without having to answer to anyone. In most ways that I can think of, they’re really far more of an evil empire than Microsoft ever was. They’re just not as big.
It’s just the sort of story Mitt Romney’s rivals have been pointing to in their ongoing effort to paint him as a greedy job-killer — and it has its roots in the presidential primary’s current battleground, Florida.
According to a detailed report in the Miami Herald, here’s what went down: In 1995, Romney’s Bain Capital bought a medical supply company, and quickly shuttered its Puerto Rico factory to cut costs, eliminating 400 jobs in the process. In 1997, Bain merged the company with two other businesses, and it became Dade-Behring.
Later that year, Bain shut down the company’s Miami operations, which resulted in the loss of another 850 jobs. While the community lost a $30 million annual payroll, sales and revenue boomed, and Bain exited with a tidy $242 million payday.
But while the “turnaround artists” saw the episode as a success, the reality for Dade-Behring going forward was much messier. From the Miami Herald:
Bain borrowed most of the money to acquire Dade and rewarded itself with $100 million in fees for buying and running the company, according to the New York Times. The $242 million payday for Bain came in 1999, when Dade Behring was forced to buy out half its shares, the newspaper reported.
To make the payment Dade had to borrow more, contributing to its shaky status. The deal came a few months after Romney left Bain, though he still had a stake.
“I hear Mr. Romney talk about creating jobs, what he really did was create wealth for investors,” said Michael Rumbin, a former Dade vice president in Illinois who had to fire 25 to 35 people before his own job was eliminated. “No one ever came to me and said, ’How do we create more jobs?’ ”
Saddled with $1.5 billion in debt and facing higher interest rates, Dade Behring entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2002.
The Romney campaign did not respond to BuzzFeed’s request for comment, but they offered their standard defense to the Herald: “Bain Capital invested in many businesses; while not every business was successful, the firm had an overall track record and created jobs with well-known companies like Staples, Dominos, and Sports Authority.”
This argument — along with the Romney camp’s contention that his critics are “attacking free enterprise” and “demonizing personal success” — has gotten some traction among Republicans voters.
But between reports in the Herald and the New York Times, there appear to be several laid-off Floridians who are willing to badmouth Romney and his colleagues for treating them as collateral damage in the Dade-Behring deal.
Chances are, we’ll hear plenty from them in the coming days.
Two years ago, President Obamapopped a surprise into his State of the Union address: His administration would double American exports in five years, helping to create two million jobs.
The bold promise sent the eyebrows of economists and policy experts upward, even as they applauded its intent.
“How will he perform this miracle?” Leslie H. Gelb, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, asked at the time. “It really is a mystery.”
Two years later, the administration is on track — for now — to meet its ambitious goal. Growing exports have been one of the central drivers of the recovery, accounting for about half the nation’s economic growth since the recession ended. Economists say the administration deserves credit for some of the gains. It has pressured China to increase thevalue of its currency and open its markets to American businesses. It has worked closely with American companies looking to sell goods and services throughout the world.
Exports are running at about $180 billion a month, according toCommerce Department data, up from $140 billion a month two years ago. They are currently growing at an annual pace of about 16 percent — a percentage-point higher than necessary to double exports to $3.1 trillion by 2015.
But while economists and trade experts praise the export boomlet, they warn that some of the reasons behind the rise, including announcing the goal when exports were at a low point, may be waning.
“I’d say 90 percent is due to macro trends,” said Gary C. Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “You could say the best thing the Obama administration did for trade is the stimulus program,” bolstering domestic and global demand, he added.
That will not stop Mr. Obama from promoting export success in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. The White House pushed through three long-stalled free-trade deals, with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. In November, it also announced the framework for a trade and investment agreement among nine Pacific nations, theTrans-Pacific Partnership.
“If we’re going to grow, it’s going to be because of exports,” Mr.Obama told a meeting of business executives at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in Hawaii in November.
Trade experts say those changes have done some good — but note that American exports got a major boost from economic trends over the last two years, including a global rebound from the depths of the recession and rising prices for commodities, like wheat, cotton and petroleum products.
Indeed, the Obama administration started its five-year clock whenglobal trade volumes were near their recession-era lows. Manufacturing exports of goods like airplanes and machinery, for instance, have snapped back to nearly their prerecession peak.
“We’ve had 15 percent growth,” said Andrew B. Bernard, a professor at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. “A lot of that is recovering — just getting back to where normal life would be. And a lot of it has to do with the rapid recovery of our trading partners.”
He said an “optimistic” — but more realistic — benchmark for annual export growth in the coming years was about 8 percent.
In the last two years, the recovery — and roaring demand from developing countries — also helped to drive up prices for commodities to the benefit of American farmers, miners and energy companies. Farm exports reached a record $137.4 billion in the 2011 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, beating the previous annual peak by $22.5 billion, or 20 percent. Sales of petroleum products also hit a record of about $90 billion in 2011, making fuels the country’s single biggest export.
“Coming out of global economic recession, trade does tend to come back faster,” said Ron Kirk, the United States trade representative.
But, he said, “the export initiative is real. And the success has been, actually, pretty remarkable,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to facilitate trade, knock down barriers and do export promotion.”
Still, the global trends that aided American export growth in the last two years appear to be diminishing, and 2012 poses new headwinds.
First, global investors are flocking to the safety of the stronger dollar in light of the crisis in Europe. That has pushed the borrowing costs of the United States to near-record lows. But it makes American exports relatively more expensive and might mean that developing economies will turn to cheaper, euro-denominated goods and services.
More worrying is a global slowdown and easing commodity prices. Europe, the nation’s biggest trading partner, is on the brink of recession. And the International Monetary Fund and World Bank are also warning that the emerging-market economies that provided the bulk of growth in the global recovery are cooling off.
A financial crisis in the euro zone could slash global trade by more than 7 percent, the World Bank forecast this week. And even if Europe merely muddles through, the bank expects global trade growth of 4.7 percent in 2012, down from 12.4 percent two years ago.
An emerging-market slowdown might prove even more consequential for American exporters than woes in rich European countries. Much of the export growth in the last two years has come from countries like China, South Korea, Brazil and India, and developing countries now buy a majority of exported goods and services. Sales of goods to China, for instance, have grown fivefold over the last decade — while exports to all countries have roughly doubled.
Many forecasters remain optimistic that exports will continue expanding in 2012, if not quite as quickly. And the long-term trends remain in the favor of the United States, as growing emerging-market economies move hundreds of millions of consumers into the middle class.
“There’s a view that there’s more potential” for American exports to China, a senior administration official said.
“If there were a stronger and better market opening, a better playing field and more protection of intellectual property and trade secrets, we could be doing more business with each other.”
In this year’s State of the Union, the White House is expected to announce new measures to help bolster trade, including a new task force to monitor and enforce trade rules.
[…] It is not known if PetroChina will develop the project on its own or bring in another partner. In a spending rush in Western Canada over the past decade, Chinese and other Asian investors have maintained the practice of taking interests in projects while leaving operating tasks in the complex and pricey developments to domestic partners.
Growing environmental concerns in the United States, the main market for oil sands-derived crude, over the impact of the developments has prompted Canada’s government and oil industry to seek closer ties with China and other Asian countries as a way to diversify markets and fetch higher prices. […]
For its part, Athabasca said it still expects to produce 8,000-10,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day by the end of 2012, but it cut its capital spending budget by C$190 million as a result of the sale.
Among its other projects, the company aims to start production at its wholly owned Hangingstone oil sands development in 2014, with output eventually rising to 80,000 bpd, Chief Executive Sveinung Svarte said in a statement.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration just released its Annual Energy Outlook 2012 report, and three things stick out: The United States is dramatically curbing its oil imports, carbon emissions are flatlining and we have less shale gas than once thought. Here’s a rundown:
1) The United States is reducing its dependence on foreign oil. According to EIA forecasts (which, do note, are far from perfect), Americans will likely continue restraining their gasoline consumption, thanks, in part, to the Obama administration’s new fuel-economy standards for cars and lights trucks. Meanwhile, oil and gas production in places such as North Dakota has been booming, thanks to higher prices and new drilling technology. Put those together, the EIA calculates, and the United States is set to import just 36 percent of its petroleum by 2035, down from 60 percent in 2005.
Many church-affiliated institutions will have to cover free birth control for employees, the Obama administration announced Friday in an election-year move that outraged religious groups, fueling a national debate about the reach of government.
In a concession, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said nonprofit institutions such as church-affiliated hospitals, colleges and social service agencies will have one additional year to comply with the requirement, issued in regulations under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.
“I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services,” Sebelius said in a statement.
Yet the concession was unlikely to stop a determined effort by opponents to block or overturn the rule. If they fail, some predicted that religious employers would simply drop coverage for their workers, opting instead to pay fines to the federal government under the health care law.
“Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience,” said New York Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”
Officials said the administration’s ruling was carefully considered, after reviewing more than 200,000 comments from interested parties and the public. The one-year extension, they said, responds to concerns raised by religious employers about making adjustments. Administration officials stressed that individual decisions about whether or not to use birth control, and what kind, remain in the hands of women and their doctors.
Underscoring the sensitivity of the decision, Obama personally spoke with Dolan on Friday to inform him of the announcement, an administration official said.
On Sunday, Citizens United turned two. In case you’re not familiar with the birthday kid, it’s the 2010 Supreme Court decision that ruled that corporations can pour unlimited money into groups supporting or opposing candidates. The result has been the rise of a parallel world of super-PACs and shadowy nonprofits dumping millions into the 2012 election, kind of like a giddy toddler dumping Cheerios all over the floor. But far less adorable.
As Citizens United enters its Terrible Twos, we’re throwing a birthday party with some selections from MoJo’s ongoing dark-money coverage. Won’t you join us?
Directions to the bash: Want to party like a politically connected millionaire? Let this handy flowchart show you how to make Citizens United work for you.
Who’s invited? Check out our list of the 2012 race’s 20 top donors (so far), as well as our exclusive list of the superrich donors who have pledged to contribute $1 millon to the Koch Brothers’ efforts to defeat Barack Obama. And meet the mystery man behind Mitt Romney’s super-PAC.
RSVP not required: There may be some unexpected guests—finding out who’s pouring money into elections is now harder than ever.
Meet the proud papa: Read Stephanie Mencimer’s profile of James Bopp, the mastermind behind the Citizens United case (who’s got more tricks up his sleeve).
No cake for you: Wonder how Citizens United boosts the 1 percent and weakens the majority of Americans’ political influence? MoJo editors Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery explain.
There will be fun and games…: Trying to find out who’s behind 501(c)4s, supershadowy fundraising groups that don’t have to say where they get their money, is kind of like playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donor.
…and a clown: Join comedian Stephen Colbert for a surreal civics lesson about how super-PACs totally don’t collude with candidates(wink, wink). Plus: Some of his most bizarro political ads.
“And many more!”: Not if anti-Citizens United reformers get their way. Read up on their plans to roll back the ruling.
The nation’s five largest mortgage lenders have agreed to overhaul their industry after deceptive foreclosure practices drove homeowners out of their homes, government officials said Monday.
A draft settlement between the banks and U.S. states has been sent to state officials for review.
Those who lost their homes to foreclosure are unlikely to get their homes back or benefit much financially from the settlement, which could be as high as $25 billion. About 750,000 Americans – about half of the households who might be eligible for assistance under the deal – will likely receive checks for about $1,800.
But the agreement could reshape long-standing mortgage lending guidelines and make it easier for those at risk of foreclosure to restructure their loans. And roughly 1 million homeowners could see the size of their mortgage reduced.
Five major banks – Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Ally Financial – and U.S. state attorneys general could adopt the agreement within weeks, according to two officials briefed on the discussions. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the agreement publicly.
The settlement would be the biggest of a single industry since the 1998 multistate tobacco deal. And it would end a painful chapter that grew out of the 2008 financial crisis.
Nearly 8 million Americans have faced foreclosure since the housing bubble burst. In some cases, companies that process mortgages failed to verify the information on foreclosure documents. The worst practices, known collectively as “robo-signing,” included employees signing documents they hadn’t read or using fake signatures to sign off on foreclosures.
President Barack Obama is expected to tout the settlement in his State of the Union address Tuesday. His administration has put pressure on state officials to wrap up a deal more than a year in the making.
But some say the proposed deal doesn’t go far enough. They have argued for a thorough investigation of potentially illegal foreclosure practices before a settlement is hammered out.
New York, Delaware, Nevada and Massachusetts have argued that banks should not be protected from future civil liability. The deal will not fully release banks from future criminal lawsuits by individual states.
In December, Massachusetts sued the five major banks over deceptive foreclosure practices.
Ian McConnell, director of the fraud division for Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, said Monday that Biden is “opposed to the proposed settlement as drafted.”
“This position, given his prior public comments, should come as no surprise,” McConnell said, adding that Biden will comment further when the still-confidential deal is made public.
California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said in a statement that her ability to go after potential wrongdoing by mortgage lenders “remains a key lens through which she will evaluate any proposals.” In September, California announced it would not agree to an earlier version of a settlement over foreclosure abuses that state and federal officials have been working on for more than a year.
But her office declined to comment on the proposed deal circulating among the states. And it wouldn’t say whether California, the state with the greatest number of people who lost their homes to foreclosure, would agree to the deal.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has taken a public stance against halting investigations of fraudulent business practices as part of a national settlement, had no immediate comment Monday.
A signed deal is not expected this week, said Geoff Greenwood, a spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who has led the 50-state negotiations. Greenwood said late Monday that there are “terms we must still resolve.”
The settlement would only apply to privately held mortgages issued between 2008 and 2011, not those held by government-controlled Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. Fannie and Freddie own about half of all U.S. mortgages, roughly about 31 million U.S. home loans.
As part of the deal, about 1 million homeowners could also get the principal amount of their mortgages written down by an average of $20,000. One in four homeowners with a mortgage – or roughly 11 million people – owe more than their home is worth. These so-called “underwater” borrowers have little chance at refinancing.
Democratic attorneys general met Monday in Chicago to discuss the deal with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan. Republican attorneys general were briefed about the deals via conference call later in the day.
Under the deal:
– $17 billion would go toward reducing the principal that struggling homeowners owe on their mortgages.
– $5 billion would be placed in a reserve account for various state and federal programs; a portion of that money would cover the $1,800 checks sent to those homeowners affected by the deceptive practices.
– $3 billion would to help homeowners refinance at 5.25 percent.
In October 2010, major banks temporarily suspended foreclosures following revelations of widespread deceptive foreclosure practices by banks. Discussions then began over a national settlement.
Both sides have fought over the amounts of money that should be placed in the reserve account for property owners who were improperly foreclosed upon. Many of the larger points of the deal, including a $25 billion cost for the banks, have long been worked out, officials say.
Data point 1. Vice President Spiro Agnew, speech delivered at Des Moines, Iowa, November 13, 1969
A raised eyebrow, an inflection of the voice, a caustic remark dropped in the middle of a broadcast can raise doubts in a million minds about the veracity of a public official, or the wisdom of a government policy. One Federal Communications Commissioner considers the power of the networks to equal that of local, state, and federal governments combined. Certainly, it represents a concentration of power over American public opinion unknown in history.
What do Americans know of the men who wield this power? Of the men who produce and direct the network news, the nation knows practically nothing. Of the commentators, most Americans know little, other than that they reflect an urbane and assured presence, seemingly well informed on every important matter.
We do know that, to a man, these commentators and producers live and work in the geographical and intellectual confines of Washington, D.C. or New York City–the latter of which James Reston terms the “most unrepresentative community in the entire United States.” Both communities bask in their own provincialism, their own parochialism. We can deduce that these men thus read the same newspapers, and draw their political and social views from the same sources. Worse, they talk constantly to one another, thereby providing artificial reinforcement to their shared viewpoints.
… The views of this fraternity do not represent the views of America. That is why such a great gulf existed between how the nation received the President’s address–and how the networks reviewed it.
Agnew’s speech is one of the founding documents for the conservative movement’s mighty resentment machine. The most telling words are “they reflect an urbane and assured presence, seemingly well informed on every important matter.” They being the journalists and pundits one sees on television: unelected, unaccountable, unrepresentative know-it-alls. Therefore suitable for despising and generating resentment, but also a standing reason why the rest of the country remains unpersuaded: “A raised eyebrow, an inflection of the voice, a caustic remark dropped in the middle of a broadcast can raise doubts in a million minds.” You can explain almost any defeat that way… and generate more resentment.
Data point 2. New Gingrich, speaking Saturday night in South Carolina after his victory in the primary:
So many people [feel] that The elites in Washington and New York have no understanding, no care, no concern, no reliability and in fact do not represent them at all. In the two debates we had here, in Myrtle Beach and in Charleston, where people reacted so strongly to the news media, I think it was something very fundamental that I wish the powers that be in the news media would take seriously. The American people feel that they have elites who have been trying for a half century to force us to quit being American and become some other kind of other system.
Notice how Gingrich goes beyond Agnew. “They” are not only unelected, unaccountable and unrepresentative, but un-American. And not only that, they’re trying to force America to change into something other than itself.
Data point 3. Conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt interviewing Ryan Lizza, campaign reporter for The New Yorker.
HH: …Here’s the absurdity. The Republicans are selecting their nominee on the basis of debates moderated by George Stephanopoulos and David Gregory, who are very left wing guys, and on the votes of independents in Iowa, and independents and Democrats who reregistered in New Hampshire, all as mediated through the very conservative electorate of South Carolina. It doesn’t make any sense at all.
RL: Now first of all, I would disagree that Stephanopoulos and Gregory are very left wing guys. I mean, Michael Moore is a very left wing guy. David Gregory is not a very left wing guy.
HH: No, Hugo Chavez is a very left wing guy.
HH: When you’ve got guns, you’re very left wing.
RL: Look, the Republican Party is extremely skeptical of the mainstream media. I won’t argue there. So it is a little strange that they’ve become, in this campaign, so reliant. I think probably, I don’t know this for sure, but I’ve been trying to figure out why is it that all these candidates agreed to do so many debates. You know, you don’t have to show up.
Here we have one of the most under-covered stories of the 2012 campaign. If the Republican candidates believed the culture war wing of their own party, if they credited it with any genuine insight, if they respected its critique of the journalisticprofession, if they thought there was a solid core of truth there, they would not have agreed to participate in debates where the questions are asked by such ideological opponents as Wolf Blitzer and John King of CNN, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos of ABC, David Gregory and Brian Williams of NBC, John Harwood of CNBC and the New York Times and on and on. As Hewitt said: Hey, these guys are left wing! It doesn’t make any sense!
Unless… the candidates see the culture war wing of their party as a useful idiot– wrong about what journalists are up to, but valuable for keeping the press in line. Then the debate thing does make sense. The candidates participate because they can predict the questions. They know they’ll be able to get their message out and reach people who don’t watch Fox. And the resentment machine is right there at their fingertips: just attack the questioner and score some points. Notice, then, how conservative culture warriors wail about it, but don’t try to explain this basic weirdness: candidates vying for the title of head conservative voluntarily submit themselves to questioning from the enemies of the conservative state!
My view: even Newsbusters knows their critique is a joke. They’re just working the refs, and raising money off their Agnewisms. And it’s a pretty sweet gig. Brent Bozell’s 2010 salary:$423,000. He should be raging at the Republican candidates for legitimizing the David Gregorys and John Harwoods of the world. That’s what a real activist would do. Instead we have Hugh Hewitt whining to a New Yorker writer: It’s absurd!!
Data point 4. New York magazine political correspondent John Heilemann on MSNBC Saturday night. (Hat tip, Balllon Juice.)
“This is the first big unexpected, kind of dramatic victory. And Gingrich is going to get so much free media attention in the next few days, it is going to be wall to wall Gingrich, and I think it is fair to say, that the “liberal media,” as Gingrich would put it, is rooting for Gingrich right now. They want this ra.. they/we, want this race to go on, so he is gonna have, he is gonna get more attention and in some ways more favorable coverage, at least for the next couple days than he would ordinarily from people who normally would give him tougher scrutiny… He’s going to ride a big wave out of here.”
Now that we know what kind of actor the press is (one whose moves are constrained by an official prohibition on acting politically…) we can agree with John Heilemann: Gingrich will benefit from a wave of momentum-izing press attention, which could seriously affect his numbers. But it’s not that journalists have made a political judgment that Gingrich is a plausible president or bought the arguments for his candidacy. Rather, they feel fine boosting his chances–and providing him with free mind share that his competition will have to buy–because they have a sufficiently non-political reason for doing it: A surprising turn in the narrative, or as Heilman put it, “the first big unexpected, kind of dramatic victory.”
That makes it okay to root for Newt from the press box because what you’re expressing is only your love of a good story. That’s not political. It’s story logic. Therefore you can act, and tell everyone watching MSNBC that you and your colleagues are going to act in a way that could affect the race. Get it? To understand political journalism, American style, you need the production of innocence or your calculations will go wrong. The producers of political news need to constantly reproduce their own innocence, and a lot of what they do can be explained by this dual demand.
Data point 5. Newt Gingrich and the press: Secret pals, a story that ran Sunday on Politico.
The same candidate who on Thursday decried “the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media” shows another face to the cadre of reporters who follow his campaign day-to-day. He jokes with them, publicly celebrates their birthdays, teases them about the early hour they are often forced out of bed to cover his events.
It’s not unusual for Gingrich to chat with reporters, off-the-record, in the hotel restaurant at the end of a long day on the campaign trail — and he engages them to a degree that’s unheard of on the other campaigns.
…Gingrich acknowledged to ABC News in December that he appreciates the crew that chronicles his every move and follows the same grueling schedule.
“I actually identify with the people who are the embeds,” Gingrich said. “Also, we have really nice people. I mean all the guys who are hanging out with me are nice. I don’t know about the other campaigns.”
“I’ve just been struck with the good humor of the group,” Gingrich told ABC.
See what I mean? The conservative movement’s warmaking around the liberal media is a joke to the people actually running for president as conservatives. Yes, it brings supporters to their feet. It permits a skilled candidate ready access to Agnew’s resentment machine. It works the refs. It raises money for the cause. But to actually live by the logic of that critique on the campaign trail? That would be too costly and kind of dumb.
For these people are not adversaries. (“I’ve just been struck with the good humor of the group.”) And they are not going to be forcing any confrontations along the lines of: “Mister Speaker, do youreally think that we and our colleagues in the national media are trying to force the country to become something un-American? On what grounds do you make this charge? How would we even accomplish that?” This would sound unsavvy. It would show the political world that the questioner does not know how the game is played.
“Is it fair to the process? Yes, the process is a mess, but he’s doing it in a way that it feels as if he’s trying to influence it with his own agenda, that may be anti-Republican. And we in the media are covering it as a schtick and a satire, but it’s like, ‘Well wait a minute here…’ he’s also trying to do his best to marginalize the Republican candidates, in a way, and we’re participating in that marginalization. We in the mainstream media need to be careful and wonder: what is he up to? What is his real agenda here? Is it to educate the public about the dangers of money in politics and what’s going on? Or is it simply to marginalize the Republican party?
Chuck Todd, NBC’s lead guy in analyzing the 2012 campaign, is concerned that he and his colleagues are helping to legitimize Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. These men, according to Todd, aren’t just trying to win laughs, expose stupidityand educate their viewers about the absurdity of campaign finance. (You gotta watch these two clips…) No, says Chuck, the two comedians also have an agenda–he would never say that about a fellow journalist, would he?–and that agenda is to “marginalize the Republican candidates.” #
We in the news media shouldn’t help them do that, says Todd. We should be more careful. And we should try to hold Colbert and Stewart accountable for their attempts to weaken the Republican field. No more free pass! Todd goes on to say that he “idolizes” the United States Senate and he didn’t appreciate Colbert making a mockery of the Congress by appearing before a committee in character.
The media may be inadvertantly misrepresenting Mitt Romney’s career at Bain Capital, but the presidential candidate isn’t complaining. The Massachusetts company that’s become a point of contention in Romney’s quest for the Oval Office is a private equity firm. However, many in the media have mislabeled it with the term venture capital. There is a difference between these two types of businesses, namely that while venture capital is usually a job-creation industry which invests in a company from its early stages and profits off making it a success, private equity firms buy companies—using loans—for the purpose of selling them for a profit. The latter, though profitable for the private-equity firm, is not typically known to benefit businesses.
That’s what John Kiriakou, the former CIA officer who defended waterboarding as an effective technique used against al-Qaeda suspects, allegedly told an FBI agent when asked if he had anything to do with a story which disclosed the name of a CIA agent involved in the interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
But according to emails cited by an FBI agent in documents charging Kiriakou with repeatedly disclosing classified information (including the name of a covert CIA officer) to journalists, that wasn’t quite the case.
A DOJ investigation led by U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald started after Guantanamo detainees were found to have photos of CIA personnel in their possession, information which hadn’t been provided by the government through any officials channels. The defense teams who provided photos of CIA personnel to Guantanamo Bay detainees did not commit any criminal violations, the investigation found. Instead, the feds say that Kiriakou, who has worked as a paid consultant for ABC News and previously worked for the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, gave classified information to journalists, some of which ended up going to defense attorneys for the Guantanamo detainees.
One of the journalists — unidentified by the Justice Department — allegedly “disclosed that information to a defense team investigator, and that this information was reflected in the classified defense filing and enabled the defense team to take or obtain surveillance photographs of government personnel,” said DOJ.
Kiriakou was also charged with allegedly lying to the CIA’s Publications Review Board in an “unsuccessful attempt to trick the CIA into allowing him to include classified information in a book he was seeking to publish.”
Much of the indictment is based on emails from Kiriakou to journalists and the coauthor of a book he wrote on his experience with the CIA. One emails indicates that Kiriakou told the CIA board that they “fictionalized much of it (even if we haven’t)” in an effort to get the manuscript cleared.
“I laid it on thick,” Kiriakou allegedly wrote in an email to his coauthor. “And I said some things were fictionalized when in fact they weren’t. There’s no way they’re going to go through years of cable traffic to see if it’s fictionalized, so we might get some things through.”
Update: “I cannot comment on the specifics of the case, which is an ongoing legal matter, and I want to remind all of you that the officer is presumed innocent pending the outcome of the case,” CIA Director David H. Petraeus said in a statement. “I can say,however, that the CIA fully supported the investigation from the beginning and will continue to do so.”
Second update: Kiriakou was ordered released on a $250,000 unsecured bond, the Associated Press reports.
The United States has had an impressive military presence in Europe since the end of the Second World War. Now, that’s changing. This month, the Pentagon announced it will be withdrawing thousands of troops from Europe in part of its new shift to focus from Europe and the Middle East to, in particular, Asia. For the most part, Europe doesn’t seem irritated by the continental downgrading in priority — if individuals have felt their countries to be ignored by the U.S., that’s been going on for a while. The debate that is taking place in the media, however, is what Europe itself needs to do to fill the security void.
While the troop withdrawal is, strategically speaking, most relevant to NATO, which has been struggling for a while, NATO’s major European members are also the leaders of the European Union, and it’s here that some of the experts see opportunity for expansion. In French paper Le Monde’s multi-part expert weigh-in, international relations professor and Higher Institute of Armament and Defense (ISAD) director Jean-Jacques Roche pointed out that the U.S. withdrawal from Europe will “enhance the international visibility of the European Union,” and turn it into “an essential interface between member states and NATO.” It will be good, he further argued, for member states who first joined NATO, then the EU, to realize that the EU is their “most durable insurance policy.”
Of course, for all these benefits to accrue to the EU as the U.S. scales down its European presence, the EU itself and its member states will have to step up — and there’s strong media awareness of this fact, not least because, whether politely or not, it’s a topic the U.S. has been lecturing about for some time. Back in June, U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates blamed NATO’s “dim if not dismal future” on the lackluster participation of its member states, complaining that some within the alliance were “apparently willing and eager for American taxpayers to assume the growing security burden left by reductions in European defense budgets.”
With headlines like “Europeans have to take greater care of their own safety” coming out of Germany now, it seems the troop reduction has brought about the desired effect. Policymakers also appear to be keenly aware of the challenges ahead, German ministers of foreign affairs Guido Westerwelle and Thomas de Maizière warning last week against Germany overestimating its own military might. As Westerwelle talked about the rise of new power centers, saying that “without more integration, we will be further marginalized,” de Maizière pointed to the reality of Germany’s limited military, arguing for more careful prioritization and leaving issues like Somalia to others.
—Mitt Romney paid a 13.9 percent tax rate on $21.6 million in income last year.
—Most of the income came from dividends and interest on investments, which are taxed at a much lower rate.
—Romney raked in America’s median adjusted gross income of $33,048 in “less than a day,”Bloomberg notes. His income over a one-week span puts him in the top 1 percent of annual earners.
—Romney, who files jointly with his wife Ann, expects to pay a 15.4 percent rate on $20.9 million in income this year.
—His campaign said he had $7.4 million in carried interest last year; this year the figure is $5.5 million.
—Romney contributed $7 million in charitable donations in the last two years, at least $4.1 million of which was to the Mormon Church.
[…] Romney’s campaign officials stressed that his tax rate is based mostly on income from investments that are held in a blind trust. Romney’s holdings include an undisclosed amount in funds based in the Grand Cayman Islands and other overseas entities.
Romney advisers stressed that the holdings in the Caymans — along with those in a Swiss bank account that was closed in 2010 after an investment adviser decided it could be politically embarrassing to Romney — were reported on tax returns and were not vehicles to avoid taxes.
They also stressed that Romney, whose holdings are in three blind trusts, makes no decisions as to how his money is invested.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) appeared on “Fox News Sunday” yesterday and argued that President Obama’s policies “have actually made our economy worse.” Then he said it again. And again. All told, the House Republican repeated the claim five times in one interview (and in each instance, host Chris Wallace offered no pushback whatsoever).
For those who care about reality, Boehner’s claim isn’t true. Since the president took office, every aspect of the American economy — job creation, economic growth, manufacturing, the stock market, etc. — has improved considerably. Repeating a lie five times doesn’t make it true.
But what I find especially important about this is the extent to which Mitt Romney, the likely Republican presidential nominee, disagrees with Boehner.
Consider this remarkable exchange between Romney and conservative radio-host Laura Ingraham late last week: (thanks to F.B. for the tip)
INGRAHAM: You’ve also noted that there are signs of improvement on the horizon in the economy. How do you answer the president’s argument that the economy is getting better in a general election campaign if you yourself are saying it’s getting better?
ROMNEY: Well, of course it’s getting better. The economy always gets better after a recession, there is always a recovery. […]
INGRAHAM: Isn’t it a hard argument to make if you’re saying, like, OK, he inherited this recession, he took a bunch of steps to try to turn the economy around, and now, we’re seeing more jobs, but vote against him anyway? Isn’t that a hard argument to make? Is that a stark enough contrast?
ROMNEY: Have you got a better one, Laura? It just happens to be the truth.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say this may be the most important statement Romney has made since launching his 2012 presidential campaign. Think about it: the likely GOP nominee argued, on the air and on the record, that the economy is getting better under President Obama, and it “happens to be the truth” that Obama took steps to turn the economy around, resulting in more jobs for American workers.
If Laura Ingraham had asked a Democratic ally of the president the same question, she likely would have heard a similar answer.
What’s more, as I noted over a week ago, Romney keeps saying this. He told voters in South Carolina and New Hampshire that under Obama, the economy is “getting better.”
Romney’s message, of course, comes with a catch: he believes the economy is improving, but he doesn’t want the president to get credit for it. But as Ingraham noticed, that’s an argument that will fail miserably.
A month into 2012, the Republican is effectively arguing, “Sure, Obama inherited a deep recession. And sure, he took a bunch of steps to turn the economy around. And sure, we’re now seeing more jobs being created and more economic growth. But vote against him anyway.”
This isn’t just a tough sell; it’s an impossible one.
You know what Mitt Romney hates more than socialism? Being interrupted.
President Barack Obama fights for the middle class
This is a long read. But it will be quoted and talked about all this year:
The making of a post-post-partisan Presidency.
Here’s a sample, from The Atlantic:
[…] The most interesting passage drills deep into the debate over the stimulus, which goes all the way back to December 2008. In a secret memo sent just after the election, Larry Summers offered Obama four illustrative stimulus plans to boost the economy, worth $550 billion, $665 billion, $810 billion, and $890 billion. Even the largest of these plans would fill hardly half of the lost productivity in the economy, which economists have sized at $2 trillion. But Summers told the president that it wasn’t economically desirable or politically feasible to try to fill the hole entirely…
“An excessive recovery package could spook markets or the public and be counterproductive,” he wrote, and added that none of his recommendations “returns the unemployment rate to its normal, pre-recession level. To accomplish a more significant reduction in the output gap would require stimulus of well over $1 trillion based on purely mechanical assumptions–which would likely not accomplish the goal because of the impact it would have on markets.”
And so the battle lines were drawn, with Summers and Peter Orszag calling for stimulus restraint and Christina Romer, the incoming chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, leading the charge for a stimulus bill worth more than then $800 billion. When Romer tried to move the stimulus conversation toward $1 trillion, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel reported responded: “What are you smoking?”
Why is the story of the stimulus still important? It plays into at least three different narratives about the Obama administration and the economy that matter to our understanding of the tumultuous economic debate and the 2012 reelection. First, a few reports have suggested that it was political constraints, and not economics, that limited the stimulus to $800 billion. Lizza’s story suggests that $800 billion was considered the largest possible stimulus by both political and economic standards. The most influential voices in the administration considered a larger stimulus not only impossible, politically, but dangerous, substantively.
Center on Budget:
How Deep Are the Required Budget Cuts?
Table 1 summarizes the nondefense spending cuts that Governor Romney’s budget proposals would require. The cuts are measured relative to the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) current policy projections, including adherence to the discretionary caps enacted in the Budget Control Act (BCA) in August 2011 and another $1.2 trillion in spending reductions required by the BCA’s sequestration provisions.
Limiting spending to 20 percent of GDP, setting defense spending at 4 percent of GDP, and enacting Romney’s tax cuts (as the Tax Policy Center has estimated their costs) — but not alsobalancing the budget — would require cutting nondefense programs by $537 billion in 2016 alone (a level of cuts that Romney’s own statements essentially confirm, as explained below) and by $4.8 trillion over the 2014-2021 period.
- If policymakers spread these cuts proportionately across all nondefense programs — including Social Security and Medicare — they would have to cut every program by 17 percent in 2016 and 24 percent in 2021.
- If policymakers spared Social Security from cuts, they would have to cut all other programs, including Medicare, by an average of 24 percent in 2016 and 35 percent in 2021.
- If policymakers protected both Social Security and Medicare, they would have to cut other programs 34 percent in 2016 and 50 percent in 2021.
Cuts Would Be Far Deeper than Under Ryan Budget Plan
Governor Romney’s budget proposals would require far deeper cuts in nondefense programs than the House-passed budget resolution authored by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan: $94 billion to $219 billion deeper in 2016 and $303 billion to $819 billion deeper in 2021.
- Under the Ryan plan, spending for nondefense programs other than interest would total $2.716 trillion in 2016 and $3.361 trillion in 2021. 
- Under the Romney proposal to limit spending to 20 percent of GDP, nondefense spending would total $2.622 trillion in 2016 and $3.058 trillion in 2021. If the budget were also to be balanced by 2018, nondefense spending would be far smaller: $2.497 trillion in 2016 and $2.542 trillion in 2021.
What Would These Cuts Mean for Specific Programs?
Tables 2 and 3 show the cuts that the Romney plan would require in selected programs under a range of assumptions. Even without meeting Romney’s balanced-budget goal, the cuts would be severe.
If policymakers reduced all nondefense programs proportionately, they would face an across-the-board cut of 17 percent in 2016.
- Social Security would be cut $161 billion in 2016 alone and $1.5 trillion over the 2014-2021 period.
- Cutting Social Security benefits by 17 percent would reduce the average monthly retirement benefit from $1,230 to $1,020 and push more than 2.6 million additional people into poverty.
About Social Security, Governor Romney said in a debate on January 17, “First of all, for the people who are already retired or 55 years of age or older, nothing changes.” If Social Security were largely or entirely spared from cuts over the next ten years, as this statement suggests, then all other nondefense programs would have to be cut by an average of 24 percent, or about one-quarter. For example:
- Medicare would be cut by $153 billion in 2016 and $1.4 trillion through 2021. Achieving cuts of this size solely through reducing payments to hospitals, physicians, and other health care providers would threaten beneficiaries’ access to care. Thus, beneficiaries would almost certainly face large increases in premiums and cost-sharing charges.
- Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) would face cumulative cuts of $946 billion through 2021. Repealing the coverage expansions of the 2010 health reform legislation, as Governor Romney has proposed, would achieve more than the necessary savings.  But it would leave 34 million people uninsured who would have gained coverage under health reform.
- Cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program) would throw 10 million low-income people off the benefit rolls, cut benefits by thousands of dollars a year, or some combination of the two. These cuts would primarily affect very-low-income families with children, seniors, and people with disabilities.
- Compensation payments for disabled veterans (which average less than $13,000 a year) would be cut by one-fourth, as would pensions for low-income veterans (which average about $11,000 a year) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for poor aged and disabled individuals (which average about $6,000 a year and leave poor elderly and disabled people far below the poverty line).
- Nondefense discretionary spending would be cut by $134 billion in 2016 and $1.2 trillion through 2021, in addition to the cut of 17 percent, or $971 billion over ten years, already in law as a result of the Budget Control Act and the appropriations bills passed during 2011. (This category of the budget covers a wide variety of public services and most of the day-to-day functions of the federal government, such as aid to elementary and secondary education, veterans’ health care, law enforcement, national parks, environmental protection, and biomedical and scientific research.) As a share of the economy, nondefense discretionary spending would shrink to 2.2 percent of GDP by 2016 and 1.7 percent of GDP by 2021. In contrast, spending for this category has averaged 3.7 percent of GDP over the past 30 years and has never gone below 3.2 percent of GDP during this period. (See Figure 2.)
On Wednesday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released its first list of candidates for the 2012 edition of the Red to Blue program, which highlights the most competitive House races in the nation and offers those campaigns assistance. The DCCC rolled out two different levels of races, which they’ve used in the past: “Red to Blue” proper and “Emerging Races”—contests that haven’t yet reached top-tier status but may in the future. (In 2008, they eventually added a third and lowest rung, known as “Races to Watch.”)
Both of these categories are further broken out into two sub-groups: races where the D-Trip is actually endorsing a candidate and races where the primary is still unsettled and the DCCC is formally candidate-agnostic but which it expects or hopes will be competitive. Also, this cycle, due at least in part to redistricting, the D-Trip has created a brand-new classification called “Majority Makers,” which lists Democrats running in blue seats who, it seems, they want to give a shout-out to but who don’t necessarily need much help and aren’t on the standard “Red to Blue” ladder.
In any event, we’ve broken out the list into its various parts, and added information about which party controls which seat, and who the incumbent is, if any. We’ve also included the percentage of the vote Barack Obama received in each district, where available. (Note: R2B = Red to Blue, ER = Emerging Races, MM = Majority Makers.) One thing to keep in mind is that traditionally, the DCCC rolls out Red to Blue in multiple waves over the course of the election cycle, so this is almost certainly just an initial lists.
Up first, Red to Blue candidates:
|R2B||CA-07||Ami Bera||Dan Lungren||(R)||51|
|R2B||CA-10||Jose Hernandez||Jeff Denham||(R)||50|
|R2B||CO-03||Sal Pace||Scott Tipton||(R)||48|
|R2B||FL-08||Val Demings||Daniel Webster||(R)|
|R2B||FL-13||Keith Fitzgerald||Vern Buchanan||(R)|
|R2B||IA-04||Christie Vilsack||Steve King||(R)||48|
|R2B||NH-02||Ann McLane Kuster||Charlie Bass||(R)|
|R2B||NV-03||John Oceguera||Joe Heck||(R)|
|R2B||NY-25||Dan Maffei||Ann Marie Buerkle||(R)|
|R2B||OH-06||Charlie Wilson||Bill Johnson||(R)|
|R2B||PA-08||Kathy Boockvar||Mike Fitzpatrick||(R)||53|
|R2B||VA-02||Paul Hirschbiel||Scott Rigell||(R)|
|R2B||WI-08||Jamie Wall||Reid Ribble||(R)|
Many of these names are exactly those that observers would expect to be on this list, like attorney Annie Kuster and physician Ami Bera, both excellent fundraisers who ran terrific races against a tough headwind in 2010 and are back to finish the job this time. A few (Dan Maffei, Charlie Wilson and Nick Lampson) are ex-Reps. making comeback bids, in order of ascending difficulty. Some names are a little more surprising, like attorney Kathy Boockvar, who only launched her campaign a week ago but must have made a good impression since then. Army vet Brendan Mullen, running in the only Dem-held district here, is also a bit unexpected, given how challenging it’ll be to defend this seat. (Don’t be fooled by that gaudy Obama figure, a high-water mark for sure.)
The D-Trip is also looking to play offense in a couple of tough districts, like VA-02 and ND-AL. They must think investor Paul Hirschbiel and ex-State Rep. Pam Gulleson have some chops. Most of these, though, are fairly swing seats, with Riverside Community College Trustee Mark Takano probably in the cat-bird seat, given CA-41’s favorable lean and open status.
Next are the Red to Blue races without specific candidate endorsements:
As you can see, these are all swingish-to-light-blue seats, with some more defense thrown in on this side of the ledger. And while the DCCC will almost certainly remain officially neutral in the primaries here, there are undoubtedly some candidates they are rooting for over others. One is probably ex-State Rep. Gary McDowell, who ran last time in MI-01 when the seat became open. I could be wrong, though: He faces Indian tribal leader Derek Bailey, who won’t file his first fundraising report until the end of the month and may wow us. Either way, though, this is probably the toughest race on this list, perhaps along with AZ-01, where I’d guess that the D-Trip would like to see ex-Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick as the nominee.
It’s also interesting that CA-47 is on this list rather than the one above. State Sen. Alan Lowenthal seemingly is the only plausible Democrat in the race, but his fundraising has been abysmal and the D-Trip may yet be hoping for someone else to enter.
Next are the Emerging Races candidates:
|ER||AR-01||Clark Hall||Rick Crawford||(R)||39|
|ER||CA-36||Raul Ruiz||Mary Bono Mack||(R)||50|
|ER||FL-02||Leonard Bembry||Steve Southerland||(R)|
|ER||IN-08||Dave Crooks||Larry Bucshon||(R)||48|
|ER||PA-06||Manan Trivedi||Jim Gerlach||(R)||53|
|ER||PA-15||Jackson Eaton||Charlie Dent||(R)||52|
|ER||TN-04||Eric Stewart||Scott DesJarlais||(R)|
|ER||TX-23||Pete Gallego||Quico Canseco||(R)|
|ER||VA-10||John Douglass||Frank Wolf||(R)|
|ER||WI-01||Rob Zerban||Paul Ryan||(R)|
|ER||WI-07||Pat Kreitlow||Sean Duffy||(R)|
Here, as you’d expect, the races get tougher. Just by way of example, a number of candidates listed are current or former state legislators (like State Rep. Leonard Bembry, ex-State Rep. Dave Crooks, and State Sen. Eric Stewart), one ran a creditable race last year against a tough incumbent (physician Manan Trivedi), and one has some pretty impressive military credentials (retired Air Force General John Douglass). All of these guys will need to hustle hard and catch some lucky breaks to make it into the top tier, though.
One surprising inclusion is former State Sen. Pat Kreitlow. Given that Sean Duffy has been targeted almost since the day he took office, I’d have expected WI-07 to be on the main Red to Blue list, but Kreitlow’s fundraising hasn’t been particularly impressive.
Next are the Emerging Races without specific candidate endorsements:
A couple of the races on this list are only just now getting underway, like AZ-09 and NY-13, where candidates began declaring very recently. I’d be surprised, for instance, if AZ-09 didn’t reach full-fledged R2B status before long. Most worrisome here is IL-13, a seat that I’m sure Democrats expected to be an easy pickup when they redrew Illinois’ congressional map last year. Unfortunately, GOP Rep. Tim Johnson decided to seek re-election here, and Democrats struggled in their recruitment efforts. Again, I imagine that the DCCC has an unstated preference here (for state’s attorney Matt Goetten over physician David Gill), but evidently neither man has demonstrated sufficient prowess to reach full-blown Red to Blue yet.
The biggest surprise here is SC-07, a brand-new district that is decidedly red. Democrats did land a legitimate candidate in the form of State Rep. Ted Vick, but I still wouldn’t have considered this a major pickup opportunity, so the D-Trip may know something the rest of us don’t.
And lastly, the Majority Makers:
I’d never seen this video put together by the McCain campaign. Shocked me.
By all accounts, Mitt Romney is on the cusp of wrapping up the Republican nomination for president. No doubt, there is substantial resistance to this from within the Republican base. Last Saturday, 114 evangelical leaders met in Texas in an effort to unite behind some alternative to Romney. They didn’t exactly succeed, but they managed to endorse Rick Santorum over Newt Gingrich. This was probably a result less of Santorum’s electoral prospects than of Gingrich’s serial adultery. Yet, buoyed by a strong, if shameful, debate performance in South Carolina, it is Newt Gingrich who is surging in the polls andthreatening to postpone Romney’s coronation. Enter one ex-Mrs. Gingrich, whose interview with ABC News will air tonight. The country will hear about how Romney’s strongest opponent requested an open marriage arrangement, and was denied.
In some ways, the timing of the airing of this interview looks like the fix is in for Romney. Why, then, did Rick Perry drop out today an endorse Gingrich? It’s highly unusual behavior, but I think it can be explained.
Republican office-holders have two competing interests. It looks like Mitt Romney will soon be the leader of the party. He’ll take over the RNC. And his performance in the presidential election will impact all other Republicans on the ballot. If he does very poorly, some Republicans will lose their jobs. And, if he wins, he’ll have a lot of jobs to hand out. He’ll also have scores to settle and favors to reciprocate. These are all powerful reasons to jump on the Romney bandwagon while they still might get some lasting gratitude for doing so.
But the other side of the coin is maintaining conservative credibility with the base. This is more important for commentators and entertainers like Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh than it is for elected officials, but it’s just very hard for a Republican to come out for Romney when there are still more conservative alternatives available. This is why Sarah Palin is playing footsie with Newt Gingrich rather than rallying her groupies toward the inevitable nominee. It’s also probably why Rick Perry endorsed Gingrich.
Another way of putting this is that conservatives, who totally dominate the GOP, still cannot stomach the idea of a Romney presidency. They can’t make the case for Romney with a straight face. It’s not so much that they seriously think Santorum or Gingrich can win either the nomination or the presidency as it is that they want to postpone having to make the case for Romney.
We kind of saw the same thing happen with McCain in 2008, and to a degree with Bob Dole in 1996, but not to this degree. It shows that a gaping chasm has opened up between the Republican Establishment in Washington and the party’s base. It’s even more severe than that because the Mighty Right-Wing Wurlitzer made up of Fox News, talk radio, the National Review, the Weekly Standard, and the conservative blogosphere, are more aligned with the base than with the Establishment. The explanation is that they all have more of an interest in maintaining their credibility with their audiences than they do with helping Mitt Romney.
I believe this split would be more obvious if any of Romney’s opponents were credible opponents for the president. As it stands, anyone with half a brain in their head knows that the GOP cannot send Gingrich or Santorum into the arena against Obama. But they’re not allowed to say so. If they say so, they will incur a significant cost.
Imagine if the Democrats were running against a fairly popular Republican incumbent with the following list of candidates: Dennis Kucinich, James Trafficant, Maxine Waters, and Evan Bayh. Imagine how progressive opinion leaders would feel about having to argue to their progressive audiences that Evan Bayh was the only one with half a chance. That’s roughly analogous to what we have here, except that Newt Gingrich has never been to jail and Maxine Waters is a lot less abrasive than Rick Santorum. In this hypothetical scenario, a lot of progressive pundits would just refuse to get behind Bayh because doing sowould require them to go back on everything they’d been saying about the Democratic Party for years. No one wants to be accused of selling-out, even if what you’re really doing is giving your honest assessment about the prospects for keeping the White House out of Republican hands.
So, on we go, with Republican groups throwing in with Santorum or Gingrich, with ABC News trying to wrap it up for Romney, and with the Establishment praying that it all ends soon before Romney is cut into ribbons and enters the general campaign as a political quadriplegic.
May the Democratic Party never become this dysfunctional.
“No drama-Obama” is walking into the lion’s den Tuesday — and he couldn’t be happier about it.
President Obama will use this year’s State of the Union Address to draw a clear line between himself and congressional Republicans. He’s looking forward to a slew of television shots showing grim-faced GOP lawmakers reacting with stony silence to policy pitches he hopes will resonate with middle-class voters in an election year.
The White House has said in no uncertain terms that Obama’s path to another term will be cleared by open conflict with a Republican-controlled House that is deeply unpopular with voters, so observers expect a pugnacious Obama to take the lectern in his last State of the Union Address before the November election.
“President Obama’s approval ratings may not be great, but Congress’s hover near single digits — so if there’s one slam-dunk opponent for Obama to take on this fall, it’s the 535 men and women who will be sitting in front of him,” said David Meadvin, the president of Inkwell Strategies. Meadvin is a former speechwriter for both Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Attorney General Eric Holder.
“As we saw back in 2010 when Obama used his speech to take the Supreme Court to task, Obama has no problem defying tradition or ruffling some feathers,” he added. “He only stands to gain politically by picking a fight with Congress.”
Though Obama did attack the court last year over a campaign finance decision he disliked, the president’s last State of the Union waswrapped in conciliation. In the days after the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), lawmakers in both parties sought to cool tensions — with Republicans and Democrats sitting side-by-side in some cases to highlight the mood.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said she might have a GOP partner this year too, but made it clear the seating arrangement would not mask clear tensions at this year’s address.
“It’s a nice gesture, but … let’s not fool ourselves into saying we’re singing Kumbaya,” she said Wednesday.
Opponents said they’re confident that Obama will take shots at Republicans throughout an address they suggest is more about the state of the president’s campaign than the union.
“I don’t think there’s any question that this is another stump speech,” said Republican strategist Doug Heye. “He’s been in full on-campaign mode. The campaign has been a part of every planned activity that has come out of the White House, and the State of the Union is a part of that.”
One former senior Obama administration official said the speech represents a moment where the president can “tee up his agenda, air his grievances about congressional Republicans and chart what lies ahead.”
“He can definitely use the opportunity to score a few political points,” the former aide said.
While there might be some finger-wagging, don’t expect a trash-talking president. After all, you can’t exactly walk into someone else’s house, sit on the living room couch and drop some insults.
“I doubt it will be a hectoring and haranguing kind of speech,” said Chris Lehane, a Democratic consultant who worked in the Clinton White House. “But you’ll definitely see a firm president who will definitely be putting down his markers.
“In some form or fashion, you might hear a little of ‘If Congress won’t do it, I will.’”
This will give Obama an opportunity — with the lights and attention on him — to show that he’s the adult in the room, and asDemocratic consultant Karen Finney put it, to show that “Republicans have been childish.
“In a respectable way, he can say, ‘I’m not going to play your games any more,’” Finney said.
While the White House has kept a tight lid on the specifics of an address it has been working on for weeks, Obama told supporters over the weekend that the address will be a “bookend” to a speech he made last month in Kansas, where he talked about a “make or break moment” for the middle class.
“We can go in two directions,” Obama said. “One is toward less opportunity and fairness. Or we can fight for where I think we need to go: building an economy that works for everyone, not just a wealthy few.”
In a video released Saturday, Obama said his blueprint will include several elements: American manufacturing “with more good jobs and more products stamped with ‘Made in America,’” as well as American energy “fueled by homegrown and alternative energy sources,” along with skills for American workers — “getting people the education and training they need so they’re ready to take on the jobs of today and tomorrow.”
Aides have stopped shy of saying whether the president will tout his “We Can’t Wait” initiative, in which Obama has been using a series of executive orders to go it alone without the help of Congress. But White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Friday that Obama will “eagerly join” with Congress when it wants to act to get the people’s business done.
At the same time, the White House has pushed back at suggestions the State of the Union will be Obama’s first major stump speech of his reelection bid, insisting Obama will focus on policy in the address, just three days after the South Carolina primary.
“Look, there are going to be a lot of opportunities, including in Charlotte, for the president to give political speeches,” Carney told reporters last week in a reference to Obama’s decision to accept his party’s nomination in a football stadium at the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina. “This will be heavy on substance.”
But one thing is clear: The speech will likely set the tone for what Obama will tout on the campaign stump, as he attempts to not only seek the support of centrists to win the election but to reignite his base.
“The underlying message will be, ‘I’m a guy who’s looking out for you,’” Finney said, adding that Obama will attempt to hammer home the middle-class theme.
Finney said Obama “can’t really worry about whether or not it’s going to sound like a campaign speech” but must seek a “firm and respectful” tone without being combative.
Given the timing of the address, it has the makings of a major television-watching event.
“As a professional speechwriter and former Capitol Hill staffer,” Meadvin said the “State of the Union is like the Super Bowl, the Oscars and the Fourth of July all wrapped into one, and I think this year will be particularly entertaining.”
Mitt Romney pitches himself as the sort of guy who surrounds himself with the smartest people he can find. He’s the consummate corporate executive: He listens to smart people and puts their best ideas into play. Sure enough, in his presidential campaign, Romney has assembled a team of conservative economists whose smarts and star power, academically and politically, outshine that of any of his Republican rivals. Last year, Romney’s economic advisers advocated policies that, if a candidate were to package them together, would amount to the most creative jobs plan in the GOP field.
Which brings us to how Romney’s opponents like to portray him–like he’s as malleable as Play-Doh.He’s the consummate politician, the sort of guy who ignores his smart people and their best ideas, if that’s what it takes to win votes. And guess what? When it comes to the mightiest issue in this year’s elections–the economy–that’s basically what he’s done.
Romney issued a 59-point economic plan with fanfare last September. The platform contradicts landmark findings on monetary and housing policies published in 2011 by his top two economic advisers: Glenn Hubbard, the dean of Columbia University’s business school; and N. Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard University professor and the author of the nation’s most widely used college economics textbook. Mankiw and a coauthor called last spring for the Federal Reserve Board to goose consumer demand by easing monetary policy–as the Fed did–in unconventional ways. Last fall, Hubbard and two collaborators argued for reducing the interest rates on 30 million home mortgages to strengthen the housing market, which economists increasingly see as the greatest drag on domestic economic growth.
But in both cases, Romney has vowed to pursue the opposite course. He has said he would replace Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke with someone who would tighten monetary policy, to guard against a supposed threat of inflation that few economists worry much about. And he has said he would let the housing market stabilize on its own instead of intervening. Romney stuffed his elaborate economic plan with tax cuts and a cap on federal spending, mimicking his Republican rivals and appealing to the limited-government conservatives who dominate the party’s primary electorate.
This, then, is the Romney Conundrum–for conservatives, liberals, and everyone else. Even on the economy, Romney’s signature issue, it’s hard to know where his heart lies–and how he would govern in the White House. Would the former Massachusetts governor listen to his best and brightest? Or to his party base?
“Romney’s got Glenn and Greg advising him, and they’re both top-notch economists,” said Keith Hennessey, who ran the National Economic Council for President George W. Bush. “But there’s more to economic policy than just economics.”
ADVISERS WHO THINK ALIKE
Tension between what presidential candidates say on the campaign trail and what their economic advisers say in their work is nothing new. Romney, if elected, would join a parade of recent presidents who struggled to reconcile campaign promises with political and economic reality. George H.W. Bush violated his “read-my-lips” vow not to raise taxes and lost reelection. Bill Clinton ran on a middle-class tax cut, then quietly dropped the idea as president to focus on deficit reduction. George W. Bush broke his pledge to concentrate his tax cuts on low- and middle-income Americans and to pay down the national debt. Barack Obama still hasn’t renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, as he promised during his 2008 campaign.
Some of these promises were broken because, once a candidate entered the White House, his economic advisers disagreed among themselves about what to do or one of them gained clout over the rest. That seems less likely to happen with Romney, who has surrounded himself with an ideologically homogenous team. Hubbard, who ranks as the candidate’s top economic adviser, and Mankiw, the only other economist advising Romney in an official capacity, are both mainstream conservatives highly regarded in academia and in Washington; they served successively as chairman of George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers. The other two members of Romney’s economic team have long experience as politicians–former Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri and former Rep. Vin Weber of Minnesota, neither of whom fits the tea party mold. The economic team has no intellectual counterweight to Mankiw’s expansionary views on monetary policy or Hubbard’s on housing.
What you get from piecing together the recent work of Romney’s advisers is a coherent, data-driven story of what is wrong with the U.S. economy and how it ought to be fixed–a story that candidate Romney skirts. Here’s how it reads: After the recession, the data suggest, a shortfall in demand has hampered the U.S. recovery; simply put, consumers and businesses are not spending enough. A pile of economic research shows that the housing slump bears much of the blame, as falling prices have robbed Americans of wealth, prompting them to spend less. The plunge in prices has also choked off a traditional source of credit for small-business owners: the ability to borrow against their homes to start or expand their firms.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) administration “has touted for months its efforts to balance the state budget, but now it also has acknowledged a significant way in which the budget isn’t balanced,” the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports.
“To keep the possibility alive of making further cuts to state health programs, the Walker administration quietly certified to the federal government on Dec. 29 that the state had a deficit. Federal law allows the state to drop tens of thousands of adults to save money on health care costs if the state can show it has a deficit. Walker has said he wants to cut health care spending in other ways, but hasn’t ruled out dropping those 53,000 adults if the other methods aren’t approved by the federal government.”
Check out what Mitt Romney said about housing in Florida in January of 2008. Called for more govt. guaranteed loans.
[…] According to tax experts interviewed by Forbes, that means Gingrich is dodging taxes he likely should be paying:
“It appears that he is not paying his fair share of Medicare tax,’’ Robert E. McKenzie, a partner in the Chicago law firm of Arnstein & Lehr LLP concluded, in an email to Forbes, after reviewing Gingrich’s 2010 tax return. McKenzie, a past chairman of the Employment Tax Committee of the American Bar Association Tax Section and a member of the IRS’ Advisory Council, added: “There are a multitude of cases where the IRS has successfully challenged the improper tax strategy of this candidate and his accountants. Service businesses are only allowed to distribute a fair return on investment from an S corp. as profits exempt from Medicare taxes. The remainder of profits must be paid as salary subject to a 2.9% Medicare tax levy.”
As Forbes notes, the IRS has specific rules on how payments from a small business like Gingrich Holdings should be treated for tax purposes, and the amount Gingrich says he invested in his companies — between $500,000 and $1 million — is likely “far too little” to “justify booking $2.4 million as profit.” The ploy, however, is used widely. According to the Government Accountability Office, S corps. like Gingrich Holdings underpaid wages by $24 billion in 2003 and 2004, allowing owners to avoid payroll taxes.
Gingrich’s dodge of Medicare taxes, though, pales in comparison to the tax break he’d give himself should he get to the White House. His tax reform plan calls for a flat 15 percent tax rate, slashing his effective rate to 14.6 percent and giving himself a $540,000 tax break in the process.
Perfect resume, perfect looks, perfect family, and a perfect roster of skilled campaign operatives and blue-chip endorsements: Mitt Romney has them all.
Yet he comes out of his drubbing in South Carolina with a perfect problem.
But these same traits—taken as a whole—have produced someone struggling mightily to connect with the national mood and moment, much less reassure voters that his experiences and values align with their own.
The widening gap between Romney in theory, a man who oozes plausibility as a potential president, and Romney in practice, a candidate who just might be missing some kind of intangible something, is now a dominant storyline in the GOP presidential race.
There may be many reasons Romney had troubles in South Carolina—more than 70 percent of primary voters on Saturday wanted someone else—but the fact that he lost so resoundingly to a man with a political and personal journey as turbulent as Newt Gingrich’s suggests a possibility more far-reaching than last weekend’s surprise.
Americans may prefer politicians with visible flaws—outsized appetites and messy scandals like Gingrich and Bill Clinton—or at least with twisting and improbable personal journeys. Of the past two presidents, George W. Bush had two decades of drift and excess before finding direction, and Barack Obama described his own history of alienation and painful searching that preceded his political success.
By these lights, human frailties are the new political norm, and the every-hair-in-place smoothness of Romney’s political persona, combined withhis wealth, that comes off as insular and even odd.
“Redemption is far better box office than perfection,” said New Hampshire GOP strategist Pat Griffin. “We can all relate to redemption. Very few people can look at the perfectly coiffed Romneys, all good posters for oral hygiene, and say, ‘That’s me!”
As National Review editor Rich Lowry wrote last year, Romney’s too-good-to-be-true persona brings to mind what British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli said of his counterpart William Gladstone: “He had not a single redeeming defect.”
The drama over Romney’s stiff and remote persona—as compelling in its own way as the drama over Gingrich’s volatile persona—will play out prominenly this week. On Monday, Romney supporters will be looking for a performance at a nationally televised debate in Florida vastly improved over his painful recent outings. And on Tuesday Romney has promised to release his income taxes—providing new details into the vast wealth that Romney once hoped would be an asset and now looks to be one more factor distancing him from the concerns of many voters.
People will be watching the candidate closely to see how he handles new adversity on what until a few days ago looked like a swift and implacable march to the nomination. For now, some of his supporters are disoriented by the turn of events. What were supposed to be his greatest assets have been turned upside down. His wealth is evidence of greed and self-involvement rather than executive acumen. His careful demeanor is evidence of phoniness rather than maturity and discipline.
“If he is too perfect, that’s a shame for the country,” said Mark DeMoss, an Atlanta public relations operative and Romney surrogate with faith-based groups. “We’re the loser. I’m somebody that wants a president who’s an extraordinary figure, not the guy you could quote have a beer with. I don’t want the president to remind me of my next-door neighbor.”
The reality is that nearly every recent president, through some combination of good fortune and high achievement, has had life experiences that left him far removed from the typical guy on his porch with a beer. Reagan had spent his career in Hollywood, Bill Clinton had been in office or running nonstop since age 28, and Barack Obama was president of the Harvard Law Review.
In Romney’s case, however, his ideological problems—conservatives don’t trust his moderate past—are increasingly compounded by a personal style that tries to strike all the right notes but still doesn’t manage to make music.
This is hardly a new problem. Yet his advisers believed, and there seemed some evidence on the campaign trail, that he had through practicebecome more at ease on the campaign trail since his first run in 2008.
But that confidence lately looks questionable. He fumbled and mumbled for several days on whether he would release his taxes and for how many years. This came after cringe-worthy comments like his assertion, talking about competition among insurers, that “I love to fire people.” He said he knows what it is like to fear a pink slip, even though he has never lived within the same zip code as the economic edge. And there was last year’s famous comment, after being rattled by a heckler, that “corporations are people, my friend.”
The ill-chosen words handed both his GOP rivals and Democrats invaluable material to paint a Gordon Gekko-meets-Thurston Howell caricature.
Part of Romney’s difficulty in speaking off the cuff is that when he’s under duress, as he was with the income tax return issue, he panics and makes ill-chosen remarks. It was the same scenario when he called corporations people and admitted an appearances issue in how he hired domestic help under debate pressure from Rick Perry. (He said he couldn’t have illegals working on his lawn because he was “running for office for pete’s sake.”)
But the other, persistent problem is that Romney tries too hard. That was the issue in New Hampshire when the wealthy former CEO recalled the dread he once had of facing the prospect of a pink slip. And it was the same a week ago in South Carolina when he took the stage at a tented evangelical conference and noted that he was wearing jeans for what he said felt like a revival meeting (the connection between fundamentalist Christianity and denim somewhat less than self-evident).
Romney the candidate seems to be constantly tugged between competing impulses. At a time of economic distress, the privileged son of a CEO-turned-governor is ever conscious of the need to appear in touch with the sort of financial strain he’s never known. That’s why his speeches center around his determination to improve the quality of life for the middle class, he dresses more casually and ostentatiously posts pictures eating fast food and flying budget airlines.
And it’s why he’s so pained in discussing his fortune.
“There’s nothing behind [not wanting to release the returns] other than the fact he’s not comfortable talking about that,” said one Romney adviser who has helped on both presidential campaigns.
Romney backers who know the man well become frustrated when questions about his ability to connect are raised. If only the press and public could see the funny, generous and decent fellow they know, goes the familiar lament.
But that’s where the other impulse comes in.
Romney was profoundly impacted by how his more gregarious father’s political career was upended in an instant. George Romney, the governor of Michigan, said his early support of the Vietnam War was the result of “brainwashing” by generals. He was obviously speaking in the vernacular, not saying he had lost control of his faculties, but one clumsy comment helped derail his presidential ambitions in 1968.
The father’s setback wounded the son. Mitt Romney has called his father the “”the definition of a successful human.” The centerpiece of the current Romney campaign bus is a large poster of the elder Romney.
s much as he reveres his dad, Romney is determined not to make the same mistake his father did and commit a rhetorical blunder. So he only shows so much of himself, according to those who know him, determined to never have his own “brain-washing” moment.
“The shadow of that looms over every word he’s said,” according to a strategist on the 2008 campaign. “He’s afraid if he slips up, he’ll square the tragedy.”
“He’s very guarded when he thinks the press are listening. He grew up in the shadow of his dad making one slip-up and forever paying for it,” said the adviser. “So he has a forcefield.”
In an interview with Boston Globe reporters that appears in a new book on Romney, “The Real Romney,” one of the candidate’s sisters opened up about the matter.
“The brainwash thing – has that affected us? You bet,” said Jane Romney. “Mitt is naturally a diplomat, but I think that made him more so. He’s not going to put himself out on a limb. He’s more cautious, more scripted.”
In fairness to Romney, he has demonstrated an ability to connect with voters both this year and in 2008. In each election cycle, it was in a state where he had personal ties. It happened four years ago in Michigan, Romney’s boyhood home. The candidate was visibly more at ease on the stump, recalling his travels across the state and citing local touchstones such as Vernors ginger ale. Romney found similar success this year in New Hampshire, a state where he spends summers and next door to the state he ran for four years.
“There’s a comfort level,” explained Tom Rath, a New Hampshire-based Romney adviser. “People said, ‘We know this guy, we’ve watched him govern, we’ve seen him run before.”
But Rath conceded the campaign had no handy dramatic tale of Romney facing sustained adversity, like George H.W. Bush flying from carriers in World War II, George W. Bush kicking the bottle —or Gingrich returning from political wilderness to a big victory in this election.
“We don’t have that narrative,” said Rath. “Nobody’s going to get excited [hearing about] a Bain deal that didn’t go through.”
Some Romney backers point to Ann Romney’s battle with multiple sclerosis as an illustration that the family’s life has not been free of difficulty. But even as she talks movingly of her husband’s standing by her when she was diagnosed, the affliction is not something that he personally has to had to overcome.
It frustrates Romney sympathizers that they can’t better convey the normal elements of the candidate and his family.
“You show up at their [lake home] in New Hampshire and there’s wet towels everywhere, kid’s games scattered,” noted a Romney confidant. “But I don’t know how we show that without also showing his wealth.”
A coalition of Democratic lawmakers and progressive leaders held a conference call this morning to push the Obama Administration to spearhead a comprehensive investigation into the mortgage securities market. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) led the call.
Suggesting that some of the major financial institutions that triggered the subprime mortgage crisis have not been held fully accountable, Brown said that “Wall Street is not just too big to fail, it’s too big to jail.”
Brown and Miller both left open the possibility that the investigation could lead to criminal convictions. “If there is evidence that there were violations of criminal laws, then they should pursue criminal penalties,” Miller said.
The subtext of the call was clear: Barack Obama should be in the vanguard of this effort. Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org, said that the president should play a leading role both for moral and political purposes. “It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s also good politics,” Ruben said. Miller said that he has heard rumors that Obama will devote “a sentence or two or three” to their effort to achieve a fair settlement for home owners in tomorrow’s State of the Union address.
American satisfaction with the economy, the size and scope of the federal government, and the moral climate of the country have all dropped precipitously over the last four years, a new survey Monday shows.
The economy has become the most toxic issue of 24 different topics surveyed by Gallup polling – only 13 percent say that they are satisfied with the state of the nation’s economy, down from 36 percent in Jan. 2008, a 23 percentage point drop.
In fact, a whopping 83 percent now say they are dissatisfied with the economy condition of the country, according to Gallup.
Large drops in satisfaction were also seen with the public view of the size and power of the federal government. Only 29 percent were satisfied with the current state of the federal government, down from 41 percent in 2008, a decline of 12 percentage points.
Additionally, satisfaction with the moral and ethical climate of the country also dropped significantly over the last four years. Only 28 percent of Americans were satisfied, down from 39 percent in 2008, while 68 percent of Americans were dissatisfied with the moral and ethical climate of the United States.
Americans were also deeply dissatisfied with the system of government and how it works, registering an 18 point decline in satisfaction in just four years – dropping from 53 percent in 2008 to 35 percent now.
A full list of the 24 topics polled can be found here.
The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously restricted the police’s ability to use a GPS device to track criminal suspects in a first test of how privacy rights will be protected in the digital age.
The court rejected the government’s view that long-term surveillance of a suspect by GPS tracking is no different than traditional, low-tech forms of monitoring. But its decision was nuanced and incremental, leaving open the larger questions of how government may use the information generated by modern technology for surveillance purposes.
Still, the decision reversing the conviction of suspected D.C. drug kingpin Antoine Jones was a “landmark ruling in applying the Fourth Amendment’s protections to advances in surveillance technology,” said Washington lawyer Andrew Pincus, who filed a brief on Jones’s behalf.
The court without dissent agreed that prosecutors violated Jones’s rights when they attached a GPS device to his Jeep and monitored his movements for 28 days. In one of the Washington region’s most celebrated drug trials, the nightclub owner was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
But while all the justices agreed with that outcome, they split 5 to 4 in their reasoning.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority that it was the attachment of the device that violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.
“We hold that the government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search,’ ” Scalia wrote.
Scalia did not hold that a warrant was always necessary. But Walter Dellinger, who helped represent Jones at the Supreme Court, said the decision means that any use of GPS technology by law enforcement without a warrant “would be a risky undertaking.”
Scalia’s limited ruling was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor. Scalia said that electronic surveillance, if achieved without having to physically trespass on a person’s property, still may be “an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.”
He said there was “no reason for rushing forward” to resolve more complicated issues than those presented in Jones’s case.
But it was those difficult questions — about society’s expectation of privacy in an increasingly technological world — that had animated the court’s consideration of the case. In an intense hour-long oral argument in November, the Big Brother of George Orwell’s novel “1984” was referenced six times.
In separate opinions, Sotomayor and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote of the sweeping changes technology has brought to society that do not involve government intrusions.
“In the course of carrying out mundane tasks,” Sotomayor wrote, Americans disclose the phone numbers they dial, the URLs they visit, “the books, groceries and medications they purchase.”
Alito wrote of toll booths that record a motorist’s travels, cars that come ready to broadcast their locations and 322 million wireless devices in use nationally.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by supermarket owners on Monday challenging the authority of California cities, including several in the Bay Area, to protect workers from being fired immediately when their company changes owners.
The case before the court involved a Los Angeles ordinance requiring supermarkets to keep their workforce for 90 days after a new owner takes over, unless the owner has good cause to fire a particular employee.
Similar labor-backed measures are in effect for hotels in Oakland and Emeryville, marina businesses in Berkeley and airport businesses in San Jose.
A separate federal law requires a new employer to recognize an existing union if business operations are essentially unchanged.
The Los Angeles ordinance passed in 2005 but was blocked by court rulings until last July, when the state Supreme Court upheld it in a 6-1 ruling.
Lower courts had ruled that the ordinance interfered with federal authority over labor-management relations. But the state court said federal labor law does not give an employer the absolute right to choose its employees, and does not prevent state and local governments from regulating hiring and firing.
The California Grocers Association appealed to the nation’s high court. The association argued that banning layoffs immediately after a new owner acquired the company would violate the owner’s negotiating rights under federal labor law by potentially binding the employer in an unwanted relationship with a union.
“Federal law provides for free negotiation between workers and employers,” the grocers’ lawyer, Timothy Sandefur of the Pacific Legal Foundation, said Monday.
The court denied review without comment.
America’s unionized workers, buffeted by layoffs and stagnating wages, face another phenomenon that is increasingly throwing them on the defensive: lockouts.
From the Cooper Tire factory in Findlay, Ohio, to a country club in Southern California and sugar beet processing plants in North Dakota, employers are turning to lockouts to press their unionized workers to grant concessions after contract negotiations deadlock. Even the New York City Opera locked out its orchestra and singers for more than a week before settling the dispute last Wednesday.
Many Americans know about the highly publicized lockouts in professional sports — like last year’s 130-day lockout by the National Football League and the 161-day lockout by the National Basketball Association — but lockouts, once a rarity, have been used in less visible industries as well.
“This is a sign of increased employer militancy,” said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University. “Lockouts were once so rare they were almost unheard of. Now, not only are employers increasingly on the offensive and trying to call the shots in bargaining, but they’re backing that up with action — in the form of lockouts.”
The number of strikes has declined to just one-sixth the annual level of two decades ago. That is largely because labor unions’ ranks have declined and because many workers worry that ifthey strike they will lose pay and might also lose their jobs to permanent replacement workers.
Lockouts, on the other hand, have grown to represent a record percentage of the nation’s work stoppages, according to Bloomberg BNA, a Bloomberg subsidiary that provides information to lawyers and labor relations experts. Last year, at least 17 employers imposed lockouts, telling their workers not to show up until they were willing to accept management’s contract offer.
Perhaps nowhere is the battle more pitched than at American Crystal Sugar, the nation’s largest sugar beet processor.
Last summer, contract negotiations bogged down, with the company insisting that its workers agree to higher payments for health coverage, more outsourcing and many other concessions. Shortly after the 1,300 unionized workers — spread among five plants in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa — voted overwhelmingly to reject those demands, the company locked them out and hired replacement workers.
That was on Aug. 1, more than five months ago, and since then the workers and their families have been scrounging to make ends meet. Some face foreclosure and utility disconnection notices.
American Crystal has hired more than 900 replacement workers to keep its plants running. Federal law allows employers to hire such workers during a lockout, although they cannot permanently replace regular employees. Employers can pay the replacements lower wages, although as is the case with American Crystal, the companies sometimes need to offer higher wages and help pay for housing to attract replacements.
With many private-sector labor unions growing smaller and weaker, and with public-sector unions under attack in numerous states, some employers think the time is ideal to use lockouts, a forceful approach they were once reluctant to use.
Many employers, though, say they have little choice.
Robert Batterman, a labor lawyer who represents employers, said whether it was the N.F.L. or Sotheby’s, which locked out 43 art handlers in Manhattan last July, “the pendulum has swungtoo far toward the employees, and the employers are looking in these tight economic times to get givebacks.”
“Employers,” he continued, “are using lockouts because unions are reluctant to do what the employers consider reasonable in terms of compromising. Employers are looking to reset their collective bargaining relations.”
After being out of work since Aug. 1, Paul Woinarowicz, a warehouse foreman employed at American Crystal Sugar for 34 years, sees another rationale for lockouts.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
[…] In a new nationwide survey conducted by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation, a complex portrait emerges of black women who feel confident but vulnerable, who have high self-esteem and see physical beauty as important, who find career success more vital to them than marriage. The survey, which includes interviews with more than 800 black women, represents the most extensive exploration of the lives and views of African American women in decades.
Religion is essential to most black women’s lives; being in a romantic relationship is not, the poll shows. Nearly three-quarters of African American women say now is a good time to be a black woman in America, and yet a similar proportion worry about having enough money to pay their bills. Half of black women surveyed call racism a “big problem” in the country; nearly half worry about being discriminated against. Eighty-five percent say they are satisfied with their own lives, but one-fifth say they are often treated with less respect than other people.
The poll’s findings and dozens of follow-up discussions reflect the conversations black women are having among themselves at church halls after Bible study, at happy hours after work, in college lounges after listening to lectures by the likes of Nelson, 45, who five years ago quit her job at a big D.C. law firm to write a book, “Black Woman Redefined.”
She often tells young black women to forget what the outside world projects for them and be bold: “You can play this however you want to. You’re living in the age of Michelle Obama.”
It is a time in which one-third of employed black women work in management or professional jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a record number are attending college. Black women with college degrees earn nearly as much as similarly educated white women. The number of businesses owned by black women has nearly doubled in the past decade to more than 900,000, according to census figures. Just Friday, Wal-Mart named Rosalind Brewer chief executive of Sam’s Club, making her the first African American to be chief executive for a business unit of the world’s largest retailer.
It is an age in which young black women see more options for themselves than ever. They can run a cable network (like Oprah Winfrey), lead a Fortune 500 company (like Xerox’s Ursula Burns), become an international pop icon (like Beyonce). Secretary of State? Condi Rice has been there, done that.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Even in a time of elephantine vanity and greed, one never has to look far to see the campfires of gentle people. ~~~Garrison Keillor