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Lest it be overlooked: The Budget Control Act set the budget for FY 2012 & 2013. 

Senate Democrats:

“While provisions to raise the debt limit and create a Congressional deficit reduction committee drew most of the attention in the legislation that allowed the government to narrowly avert a default,
House and Senate leaders also used the measure to establish federal spending limits for the next two years.”

–New York Times, 8/28/11 

The Budget Control Act, passed by the Senate in August, set the federal budget for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 – a fact acknowledged in recent months by leading Senate Republicans:

Sen. Collins Called the Budget Control Act a “Budget Agreement” and a “Budget Plan.” “The budget agreement also requires a vote on a balanced budget Constitutional amendment by the end of the year…While I supported the budget plan recently passed by Congress, I did so with serious reservations.” [Collins Column, 8/5/11]

Sen. Grassley Called the Budget Control Act a “Budget Agreement.” “We should be doing those things not only in this budget agreement, this deficit reduction agreement, but in all the decisions we make in the Congress.” [Congressional Record, 8/1/11]

Sen. Alexander Called the Budget Control Act a “Budget Agreement.” “Thebudget agreement we came to in August pretty well got 40 percent of the budget under control, the part we call discretionary spending – everything from national defense to national parks. It’s only growing at about the rate of inflation over the next 10 years.” [NPR, 9/22/11]



Bankers at Bank of America Are Expected To See Their Bonuses Decline by 25% This Year



Bank of America’s $5 debit card fee led to a large number of account closings, admits CEO.


[…]A lot of people vowed to never to do business with Bank of America again and said they’d switch banks. BofA eventually backed down on the debit fee after about a month of this, but some people speculated that the damage may have already been done. As it turns out, they were right. Bank of America’s CEO said in a conference call last week that the number of people closing accounts in the fourth quarter of last year jumped by 20% over 2010. […]

Early on after October 5, a day labeled Bank Transfer Day by online protesters, credit unions said they’d gained 650,000 new members as a result of consumer outrage over big bank practices. As it turned out, that number was significantly exaggerated, but BofA’s acknowledgement makes it clear that consumers did vote with their feet when it came to the $5 fee.



Final provisions of airline passenger protections take effect

Good news for air travelers this week, as new rules protecting airline passengers go into effect. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s airline passenger protection requirements taking effect this week are the final provisions from the DOT’s recent airline consumer rule.

The latest requirements mean that airlines (and other ticket sellers) must disclose all fees associated with ticket prices upfront, and that all fees and taxes be included in advertising.

Other provisions going into effect this week mean that airlines must:

  • Promptly notify passengers if a flight is cancelled or delayed by more than 30 minutes. Notification could include cell phone alerts, website updates, or an announcement at the check-in counter.
  • Let customers cancel reservations without penalty for at least 24 hours if they are made at least one week before the scheduled flight.
  • Apply the same baggage fees and allowances throughout a trip, and disclose baggage fees specifically when booking and during e-ticket confirmation.
  • Not raise a fare after a ticket has been bought, unless due to increased government taxes and fees.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the following in a statement to the press:

Airline passengers have rights, and they should be able to expect fair and reasonable treatment when booking a trip and when they fly. The new passenger protections taking effect this week are a continuation of our effort to help air travelers receive the respect they deserve.

A number of other requirements under the DOT rule took effect in August 2011, including:

  • If a U.S. or international flight sits on the tarmac for more than four hours the DOT can impose fines of up to $27,500 per passenger.
  • Passengers bumped from an oversold flight must be compensated double the price of the purchased ticket (up to $650), unless the airline gets them to their destination within a few hours. Currently, compensation is equal to the ticket up to $400. If the arrival time of bumped travelers is delayed by more than a few hours it would mean payments of four times the value of a ticket, up to $1,300. Currently, that compensation is capped at $800.
  • Airlines must prominently display all fees on their websites, including fees for checked bags, in-flight meals and cancelled reservations. As we reported in Best & Worst Airlines, the proliferation of fees has been a major source of aggravation to airline passengers.

The DOT is also looking at other airline consumer protection measures for a possible future rulemaking, including requiring that all airline optional fees be disclosed wherever consumers can book a flight, strengthening disclosure of code-share flights, and requiring additional carriers to file on-time performance reports.


Mark Zandi: Obama’s SOTU refi program could save homeowners thousands, pump money into economy

President Obama spent very little time on housing related policies in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. While disappointing, it’s not surprising as the problems are complex, extraordinarily difficult to tackle, and very costly. In his brief remarks, he focused on the right thing: facilitating more mortgage refinancings.

The president proposed to allow “every responsible homeowners” the chance to more easily refinance, a savings of about $3,000 annually.

There is no better way to quickly buoy hard-pressed homeowners than helping them take advantage of the currently record low fixed mortgage rates and significantly reduce their monthly mortgage payments.

The administration has already been working to this end. Late last year they made a number of substantial changes to the HARP program – the program to refinance underwater homeowners with mortgages insured or owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – to make it more effective. Almost one million distressed homeowners have taken advantage of HARP since it was unveiled in 2009. While a clear plus, this is well short of the 4 to 5 million refinancings expected.

Among the changes to HARP are increasing the number of eligible homeowners and reducing mortgage rates to refinancing homeowners. Some 4 million Fannie and Freddie homeowners with little or no equity in their homes are good candidates for a refinancing under HARP 2.0 at current fixed mortgage rates. The new HARP is just kicking in and it is too early to judge whether it is working, but from what I’m hearing there are good reasons to be optimistic it will be more successful than its predecessor.

Given the encouraging signs, it is worthwhile to encourage even more refinancing activity as the president has proposed. Over 30 million homeowners are current on their mortgages and could profitably refinance at the current mortgage rate, which now average less than 4 percent for a 30-year fixed rate. The macroeconomic benefit could be significant. If, say, half refinance in the next six months, then this would save homeowners over $20 billion in mortgage payments this year and double that next year. Homeowners’ extra cash will quickly find its way into the economy.

It is important to note that while homeowners will have more cash to spend, investors in these mortgages will receive less interest income. This dilutes the economic benefit of facilitating more refinancing, but only modestly. The biggest mortgage investors include the Federal Reserve (through quantitative easing), Fannie and Freddie, and foreign investors. All mortgage investors are probably a bit surprised they haven’t already been refinanced out of their investments.

The president provided few details on his new refinancing plan, but he did say it would require legislation and a levy on financial institutions to pay for it. (He told Congress: “A small fee on the largest financial institutions will ensure that it won’t add to the deficit, and will give banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust.”)

This significantly reduces the odds that whatever he does propose it won’t come to fruition. As last year’s debt ceiling drama highlights, getting anything through Congress is a very heavy lift, particularly in a presidential election year.

As such, it might be better for the president to expand HARP 2.0 even more broadly, say to all Fannie and Freddie loans. While not on the scale of what the President is currently proposing, an estimated 10 million homeowners would benefit. Not as big, but doable.

It also goes without saying that the administration should continue with other efforts to help support the housing market, including helping move more foreclosed property into rentals. The foreclosure crisis isn’t over and policymakers need to remain on high alert.




REPORT: What The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Has Done For You Already 



But despite GOP opposition, the CFPB has begun taking important steps toward fulfilling its mission. Based on Cordray’s prepared remarks and other reports, ThinkProgress compiled a rundown of the programs the CFPB has already established to aid consumers and the steps it plans to take in the future:

Supervising financial institutions and enforcing the law: In 2011, the CFPB launched a large bank supervision program aimed at ensuring that the nation’s biggest banks comply with federal consumer financial laws. It will also add heightened supervision of nonbanks, like mortgage lenders, servicers, brokers, payday lenders, and consumer reporting agencies. Such supervision should prevent the predatory and discriminatory lending and foreclosure fraud that played a role in the financial crisis. The CFPB has already begun enforcement actions, cooperating with state investigations into lending and foreclosures and filing lawsuits of its own against lenders that broke the law.

Establishing programs to help consumers: The CFPB has already established multiple programs to aid consumers and is in the process of creating others. Know Before You Owe was launched to bring transparency to the financial industry, allowing consumers to better understand agreements made on mortgage, student loan, and credit card lending. The Office of Servicemember Affairs has been tasked with aiding and educating current and former members of the military — many of whom were among the biggest victims of the housing crisis and the deceptive practices that followed. The Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans, meanwhile, is doing the same for senior citizens, who are often targets of scams and fraud. The CFPB has also established a number of feedback programs that allow consumers to share their own stories — good or bad — about dealing with the financial industry.

Addressing discriminatory lending: African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities were twice as likely to be affected by the housing crisis as whites. Many lending institutions pushed minorities into subprime loans even though they qualified for regular prime loans. The CFPB’s Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity was created to end such practices by providing oversight and enforcement of fair lending laws and by working with private industry leaders, civil rights groups, and consumer advocates to ensure fair lending compliance.

Improving and streamlining financial regulation: The CFPB has already begun efforts to streamline and improve the regulations that affect the financial industry and will use feedback from both industry and consumer advocates to do so. The agency will update, modify, or eliminate unnecessary or outdated regulations, while attempting to make complying with others easier. Though Republicans have targeted the agency as anti-industry, the CFPB is committed to maintaining outreach to industry leaders. “A well-grounded understanding of the nation’s largest financial companies is essential to fulfilling our mission to improve consumer financial markets,” Cordray will say today.




The Obama Jobs Record In One Graph 




Mitt Romney’s Tax Returns: Here’s What Really Matters

The Atlantic:

Here’s what we know about Mitt Romney’s money in 2010 and 2011, based on 500 pages of tax returns he released late last night.* He made $43 million in income over those two years. Almost all that money came from investments such as capital gains on investments and compensation from Bain Capital. None of it came from wages.

Here’s what we know about Mitt Romney’s taxes. Romney has donated more money to charity — $7 million, including $4.1 million to the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — than he owed to the IRS over the last two years. In 2010, Romney’s effective tax rate was 13.9%. In 2011, his estimated effective tax rate will be 15.4%. Romney’s average effective tax rate is considerably lower than most people in the top 10 percent — or even the top 0.1% — because his income comes almost entirely from capital gains, dividends and interest, which are taxed at a lower rate than earned income from wages. Romney’s effective tax rate is also lower than that of many middle-class families, who owe payroll taxes, unlike the former Massachusetts governor.

And here’s why Mitt’s taxes matter. Politically, they matter, quite simply because the people who matter — those would be the voters — think they matter. That sounds circuitous. But it’s true. Since Romney’s wealth and tax rate became an issue, the frontrunner has lost a 10-point lead in South Carolina, watched a 20-point lead reverse itself in Florida, and seen a 19-point lead collapse nationwide. It’s impossible to say that Romney’s wealth and IRS filings don’t matter to voters. They obviously matter.
But substantively, Mitt Romney’s wealth doesn’t really matter. It’s the tax code that matters.
“Governor Romney has paid 100% of what he owes,” a Romney spokesperson said on a conference call this morning. I believe him. Mitt Romney is a remarkably successful businessman, and his wealthy reflects a legally gained fortune which is being taxed according to the law.
But the law doesn’t make any sense! Consider that over the last two years, Romney has earned $13 million from profits shared by Bain Capital. You might have heard this money referred to as “carried interest.” It is earned income. It represents the work of Bain Capital managers. But Romney’s share is taxed at 15%, as capital gains, as though Romney’s capital were stake at Bain, which it isn’t. This freak tax windfall saves Romney, or deprives Treasury, of more than $2 million.
It’s not that Romney tax return proves he’s done something wrong. It’s that his tax returns prove that the tax code is wrong. Households worth $200 million earning $20 million in investment income a year shouldn’t be paying a lower tax rate than some middle class families, especially at a time when we’re thinking about cutting spending that disproportionately benefits the lower and lower-middle class.
Romney’s tax return could serve as an inflection point in the tax discussion. You might say it already has. Consider last night’s TV debate, when Mitt Romney told Newt Gingrich that the former speaker’s tax plan goes too far, since it would lower Romney’s own tax rate to zero. This was a remarkable moment. The GOP frontrunner, who’s won the endorsement of almost every serious conservative mainstay, stood athwart tax-cut-mania conservatism and said, “Stop.” Or at least, he said: “Too far.”
In an election that will be about inequality and taxes, Mitt Romney tax returns are a glowing artifact of inequality in the tax code. And by proposing to make capital gains entirely tax-free, Gingrich has proposed a tax plan that would make our law even more unequal. That’s why, even without the polls, you can fairly say that Mitt Romney’s tax returns matter.




George Soros to Newsweek: “At times like these, survival is the most important thing.” 


‘The situation is about as serious and difficult as I’ve experienced in my career.’

[…] Soros doesn’t make small bets on anything. Beyond the markets, he has plowed billions of dollars of his own money into promoting political freedom in Eastern Europe and other causes. He bet against the BushWhite House, becoming a hate magnet for the right that persists to this day. So, as Soros and the world’s movers once again converge on Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum this week, what is one of the world’s highest-stakes economic gamblers betting on now?

He’s not. For the first time in his 60-year career, Soros, now 81, admits he is not sure what to do. “It’s very hard to know how you can be right, given the damage that was done during the boom years,” Soros says. He won’t discuss his portfolio, lest anyone think he’s talking things down to make a buck. But people who know him well say he advocates making long-term stock picks with solid companies, avoiding gold—“the ultimate bubble”—and, mainly, holding cash.

He’s not even doing the one thing that you would expect from a man who knows a crippled currency when he sees one: shorting the euro, and perhaps even the U.S. dollar, to hell. Quite the reverse. He backs the beleaguered euro, publicly urging European leaders to do whatever it takes to ensure its survival. “The euro must survive because the alternative—a breakup—would cause a meltdown that Europe, the world, can’t afford.” He has bought about $2 billion in European bonds, mainly Italian, from MF Global Holdings Ltd., the securities firm run by former Goldman Sachs head Jon Corzine that filed for bankruptcy protection last October.

Has the great short seller gone soft? Well, yes. Sitting in his 33rd-floor corner office high above Seventh Avenue in New York, preparing for his trip to Davos, he is more concerned with surviving than staying rich. “At times like these, survival is the most important thing,” he says, peering through his owlish glasses and brushing wisps of gray hair off his forehead. He doesn’t just mean it’s time to protect your assets. He means it’s time to stave off disaster. As he sees it, the world faces one of the most dangerous periods of modern history—a period of “evil.” Europe is confronting a descent into chaos and conflict. In America he predicts riots on the streets that will lead to a brutal clampdown that will dramatically curtail civil liberties. The global economic system could even collapse altogether.

“I am not here to cheer you up. The situation is about as serious and difficult as I’ve experienced in my career,” Soros tells Newsweek. “We are facing an extremely difficult time, comparable in many ways to the 1930s, the Great Depression. We are facing now a general retrenchment in the developed world, which threatens to put us in a decade of more stagnation, or worse. The best-case scenario is a deflationary environment. The worst-case scenario is a collapse of the financial system.”

Soros’s warning is based as much on his own extraordinary personal history as on his gut instinct for market booms and busts. “I did survive a personally much more threatening situation, so it is emotional, as well as rational,” he acknowledges. Soros was just 13 when Nazi soldiers invaded and occupied his native Hungary in March 1944. In only eight weeks, almost half a million Hungarian Jews were deported, many to Auschwitz. He saw bodies of Jews, and the Christians who helped them, swinging from lampposts, their skulls crushed. He survived, thanks to his father, Tivadar, who managed to secure false identities for his family. Later, he watched as Russian forces ousted the Nazis and a new totalitarian ideology, communism, replaced fascism. As life got tougher during the postwar Soviet occupation, Soros managed to emigrate, first to London, then to New York.

Soros draws on his past to argue that the global economic crisis is as significant, and unpredictable, as the end of communism. “The collapse of the Soviet system was a pretty extraordinary event, and we are currently experiencing something similar in the developed world, without fully realizing what’s happening.” To Soros, the spectacular debunking of the credo of efficient markets—the notion that markets are rational and can regulate themselves to avert disaster—“is comparable to the collapse of Marxism as a political system. The prevailing interpretation has turned out to be very misleading. It assumes perfect knowledge, which is very far removed from reality. We need to move from the Age of Reason to the Age of Fallibility in order to have a proper understanding of the problems.”





For every one job opening, there are four people looking for work.



Since the last State of the Union, the economy has created 1.9 million private sector jobs. 



IMF predicts US economy will grow 1.8 percent in 2012, 2.2 percent in 2013. 



Median weekly earnings for full-time wage/salary workers were $764 in Q4 2011. wages did not keep apace with inflation





More on Obama’s SOTU Proposal on High-School Drop-Outs

After I published my Nation column on the education proposals in the State of the Union, friend and Obama admin alum Josh Bendor got in touch to alert me to some interesting research on the positive effects of forcing kids to stay in school until age 18. Some of this work was done by Alan Kreuger of Princeton, who is now the chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisors. Another paper, by Philip Oreopoulos, found that “dropping out one year later increases present value income by more than 10 times forgone earnings and more than 2 times the maximum lifetime annual wage.”

I still think that alongside any discussion of raising the age of compulsory schooling, we must talk about how high schools can provide more relevant career and technical education. Keeping would-be drop-outs in the classroom without making sure they are engaged is a recipe for a dysfunctional school climate, and we know high-risk students are hungry for instruction with real-world applications. A 2006 Gates Foundation survey of high school drop-outs found that about half left school because it wasn’t interesting to them, and a third felt they had to leave school in order to support themselves or their family financially. These are some of the teens who benefit most from courses and extracurricular activities that provide clear training for a career, and indeed, 81 percent of the survey respondents said they would have benefited from more connections between the worlds of school and work.



AP Exclusive: Analysis finds a growing number of states move to weaken teacher tenure. 

America’s public school teachers are seeing their generations-old tenure protections weakened as states seek flexibility to fire teachers who aren’t performing. A few states have essentially nullified tenure protections altogether, according to an analysis being released Wednesday by the National Council on Teacher Quality.

The changes are occurring as states replace virtually automatic “satisfactory” teacher evaluations with those linked to teacher performance and base teacher layoffs on performance instead of seniority. Politically powerful teachers’ unions are fighting back, arguing the changes lower morale, deny teachers due process, and unfairly target older teachers.

The debate is so intense that in Idaho, for example, state superintendent Tom Luna’s truck was spray painted and its tires slashed. An opponent appeared at his mother’s house and he was interrupted during a live TV interview by an agitated man. Why? The Idaho legislature last year ended “continuing contracts” – essentially equivalent to tenure – for new teachers and said performance, not seniority, would determine layoffs. Other changes include up to $8,000 in annual bonuses given to teachers for good performance, and parent input on evaluations. Opponents gathered enough signatures to put a referendum that would overturn the changes on the November ballot.

Luna says good teachers shouldn’t be worried.

“We had a system where it was almost impossible to financially reward great teachers and very difficult to deal with ineffective teachers. If you want an education system that truly puts students first, you have to have both,” Luna said.

On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama weighed in on the issue during his State of the Union address. He said schools should be given the resources to keep and reward good teachers along with the flexibility to teach with creativity and to “replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.”

Tenure protections were created in the early 20th century to protect teachers from arbitrary or discriminatory firings based on factors such as gender, nationality or political beliefs by spelling out rules under which they could be dismissed after a probationary period.

Critics say teachers too often get tenure by just showing up for work – typically for three years, but sometimes less, and that once they earned it, bad teachers are almost impossible or too expensive to fire. The latest statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics, dating to the 2007-2008 school year, show about 2 percent of teachers dismissed for poor performance, although the numbers vary widely by school district.

The analysis by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and policy group that seeks to improve the quality of teaching, documents the shift in laws. In 2009, no state required student performance to be central to whether a teacher is awarded tenure; today, eight states do. The analysis also says four states now want evidence that students are learning before awarding tenure.

Other changes:

– In Florida, tenure protections were essentially made null and void with policy changes such as eliminating tenure-like benefits altogether for new teachers, but also spelling out requirements under which all teachers with multiple poor evaluations face dismissal.

– Rhode Island policies say teachers with two years of ineffective evaluations will be dismissed.

– Colorado and Nevada passed laws saying tenure can be taken away after multiple “ineffective” ratings.

– Eleven states now require districts to consider teacher performance when deciding who to let go.

– About half of all states have policies that require classroom effectiveness be considered in teacher evaluations.

– Florida, Indiana and Michigan adopted policies that require performance to be factored in teacher salaries.

A growing body of research demonstrates the dramatic difference effective teachers can play in student lives, from reducing teenage pregnancies to increasing a student’s lifetime earnings. Meanwhile, while controversial, teacher evaluations have evolved in a way that proponents say allows better accounting of students’ growth and of factors out of a teacher’s control, like attendance.

The Obama administration has helped nudge the changes with its Race to the Top competition, which allowed states to compete for billions of education dollars, and offering states waivers around unpopular proficiency requirements in the No Child Left Behind education law. To participate in either, states have to promise changes such as tying teacher evaluations to performance.

“There’s a real shift to saying all kids, especially our most disadvantaged kids, have access to really high quality and effective teachers. And, that’s it’s not OK for kids to have … an ineffective teacher year after year,” said Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Jacobs said tenure should be meaningful, but that in 39 states it’s automatic.

“That’s the problem with tenure, everybody gets it,” she said. “If you’re held to a high bar where you’ve really demonstrated that you are effective in the classroom, then there’s nothing wrong with that as long as the due process rights that you do get are reasonable.”

But many teachers feel under siege. They argue the evaluation systems are too dependent on standardized tests. While teachers’ unions have gotten more on board with strengthening teacher evaluations, they often question the systems’ fairness and want them designed with local teachers’ input.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said unions understand the tenure process needs change, but that too often, school administrators have used it as an excuse to mismanage. “They want teachers to basically do exactly what they say, give them no resources and then blame them if they don’t in a time of tremendous fiscal instability and fiscal pressures,” Weingarten said.

In Boise, Idaho, Lane Brown, 56, a biology and horticulture teacher who moved from a private school a few years ago to a public alternative high school to seek new challenges after three decades of teaching, said her school’s climate has dramatically changed.

“There’s nobody in this building that doesn’t understand it could be one of us, not just the newest teacher or the teacher with the fewest number of students. It could be anybody, … which is scary. Every teacher here is saying, `I don’t know if I’m going to have a job next year,'” Brown said.

In Florida, teachers fear expressing what they feel is best for students, said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association.

“Teachers see positions not being filled, class sizes increasing, more demands, more testing, and you add all that together with their economic uncertainty about continued employment and it certainly doesn’t allow you to go out and plan for long term investments like a home,” Ford said.

Kathy Hebda, the deputy chancellor for education quality in Florida, said the contract-related changes were not done in “isolation,” but as part of broader changes that improve accountability and provide teachers feedback.

Michelle Rhee, the former schools chancellor in Washington, D.C., acknowledged widespread mistrust among teachers about evaluations, but she said once teachers are brought into discussions, many are won over.

“If we know who the effective teachers are, if we know what kind of an impact effective teachers can have on individual kids and on our society overall, then why wouldn’t we take the obvious step of utilizing the information on who are the most effective teachers to make our staffing decisions?” said Rhee, whose education advocacy group StudentsFirst is pushing for changes to layoff policies based on seniority.

Coming up, Missouri legislators appear poised to take up the contentious topic of teacher tenure. In Connecticut, the Connecticut Education Association launched a TV advertising campaign after Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislative leaders said education reform – and possibly tenure – will be the major focus of this legislative session. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie, both Republicans, are eyeing tenure law changes.

“Tenure laws will be under assault for many years to come,” said Marjorie Murphy, a professor of history at Swarthmore College who wrote a book about the teacher labor movement. Murphy said ending tenure protections will “take over any sense of fair play between employer and employee. All of that will be gone.”




The United States used to have the world’s largest percentage of college graduates. We’re now #14. 





GOP Conspires With Foreign Oil Company TransCanada On Behalf Of Its Keystone XL Pipeline 

Think Progress:

Congressional Republicans are now openly acting as advocates for foreign oil interests, colluding with TransCanada lobbyists to push their tar sands agenda. House and Senate staff for Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) and GOP Sens. John Hoeven (ND), Dick Lugar (IN), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and others gathered Monday afternoon for a conference call with TransCanada lawyers “to plot out how to push the Obama administration on the Keystone XL pipeline,” Politico reports:

“More or less everyone walked out of the room on the same page backing” a bill from Rep. Lee Terry to give FERC authority over the project instead of the White House and State Department, a Terry spokesman told Politico.

Terry’s bill has been called “bizarre” — the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “does not oversee oil pipelines’ siting decisions or safety standards.” Furthermore, Terry risks the ire of Nebraskans, who have led opposition to the tar sands pipeline.

Today, Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) is introducing the Keystone for a Secure Tomorrow Act of 2012 toimmediately approve the pipeline.

Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN) is expected to “mention the need to approve the Keystone pipeline when he gives the Republican response” to President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight.





A site dedicated to achieving Mitt Romney’s dream of self-deportations for illegal immigrants:

A growing force within the Tea Party, Patriots for Self-Deportation believe that securing our borders is not enough. We must make sure that all residents and “citizens” have a true right to be in this great land. We believe our current laws must be changed to abolish anchor babies, whose children, throughout history, should have never received automatic citizenship to this nation. If the Federal government will not take action NOW, then it is up to us, WE THE PEOPLE, to put an end to the invasion and internal decay that threatens to destroy the fabric of the USA. If you entered illegally or stayed illegally, you are a CRIMINAL. We demand a PURGE for America.


1) America belongs to REAL Americans.
2) Illegals and their anchor babies are here ILLEGALLY.
3) US citizenship is for those who can show PROOF their original ancestors were here legally.
4) All illegals and descendants of illegals are here ILLEGALLY and must be DEPORTED at once.

If you can’t prove you belong here, REPATRIATE!

Many of us have learned that we gained citizenship due to a criminal ancestor.

If this is true for you too, do what’s right: Self-Deport!




Union leader: Romney wants to deny housing, heat and water to illegal immigrants 

The Hill:

[…] “It’s basically to say, ‘Make their life miserable'” by refusing to rent to them or to provide access to heat and water,” Medina said. “Make it difficult for their kids and their schools.”

In Monday’s debate, Romney was asked how he would reduce the number of illegal immigrants in the United States if he is opposed to mass deportations. The former Massachusetts governor said programs like E-Verify could be used to eliminate the financial incentive to remain in the country.

“If people can’t work here, they’re going to self-deport to a place where they can get work,” Romney said.

Asked by The Hill how Romney’s comments could be construed to imply that illegal immigrants should be denied basic necessities, Medina pointed to Romney’s close relationship with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has endorsed Romney. Kobach has been credit with writing most of Alabama’s harsh anti-illegal immigration law, which has been challenged in the courts.

“Mr. Romney has said he wants to support and he joins in supporting Kris Kobach,” Medina said. “When he says he supports those kinds of policies, he has to own all of it.”





We’re Number One in the World in Putting People in Prison: Shameful 


[…] However, the Republicans can’t talk about being soft on crime anymore, because the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world. It’s not just a penal system; it’s an industry. And due to the aging of the population (young people commit most “crimes”), changing police practices and the locking up of so many poor people, crime in the United States is down – down dramatically.

A New Yorker article by Adam Gopnik, “The Caging of America,” shockingly notes:

Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America – more than six million – than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.

And the toll on minorities is devastating:

For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones. More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today – perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system – in prison, on probation, or on parole – than were in slavery then.

Gopnik is appalled: “The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life.”

The roots of violence are complex, but don’t equate our incarceration system with just violent offenders. There is an extremely large percentage of American citizens in jail for nonviolent offenses, particularly relating to drugs – and particularly minorities in relation to drug “violations.”

To what degree our propensity to hold the world’s record for people behind bars is due to economic disparity is not an idle question. There aren’t many wealthy people who end up behind bars, nor do rich areas evidence much crime for which people find themselves in prison, except for an occasional Bernie Madoff. Wealthy people tend to commit financial crimes – and if their breaking of the law does not involve millions of dollars, they tend to strike a plea bargain that doesn’t require being put in a cell for years on end.

Just look at the lack of prosecution of Wall Street speculators and mortgage fraud financiers. But if you are poor and bounce a check three times, the taxpayer will pay some $20,000 or more a year to keep you confined by the state.


Alaska Sovereign Citizens Indicted On Murder Conspiracy Charges


Schaeffer Cox and two of his followers in the Alaska Peacemaker Militia appeared in court on Monday expecting to file more motions to dismiss the charges against them. Instead they were greeted with additional indictments by a federal grand jury charging them with conspiring to kill government officials, including law enforcement officers.

According to the latest indictment, Cox and company did “knowingly, willfully, and unlawfully conspire and agree together” to “kill, with premeditation and malice aforethought, officers and employees of the United States, including law enforcement officers.”

The maximum sentence for the charges is life in prison.

The charges stem from an alleged plot that came to light in March of last year, when Cox, Coleman Barney and Lonnie Vernon were first arrested. At the time, each was charged with conspiracy to commit murder at the state level, and were indicted for several weapons charges at the federal level. The state charges were eventually thrown out.

Cox is a self-described “sovereign citizen” and leader of the Alaska Peacemaker Militia and Alaska Assembly Post. He also is the “Secretary of Defense” for the national Assembly Post, and Commander-in-Chief” of the “several States of the United States of America.” Barney and Vernon are also “officers” in the Militia and Alaska Assembly Post.

According to the latest indictment, Cox, Barney and Vernon conspired to stockpile weapons, including silencers, hand grenades, grenade launchers and a “Hornet’s Nest” anti-personnel round “as part of their membership in the Alaska Peacemaker Militia and the Alaska Assembly Post, and in furtherance of their collective belief that at some undetermined and unknown point in the future they would be compelled to take up arms against the government.” The indictments also allege that Cox “did solicit, command, induce and endeavor to persuade” Barney and Vernon to kill a law enforcement officer, which carries an additional sentence of up to a 20-years.

The indictment alleges that with the Alaska Assembly Post, Cox formed a military arm, legal arm, judiciary and even his own currency, in preparation for a government take-over or to form a new government in the event of a “government collapse.” Cox also created a list of state and federal government employees — including U.S. Marshals, employees of the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection, and Alaska State Troopers — and gathered personal information about them “so that Cox and others could kill them in the event of a ‘government collapse,’” the indictment alleges.





The Abu Ghraib of Los Angeles? 

Mother Jones:


On Wednesday, citing “a sick culture of deputy-on-inmate hyper-violence [that] has been flourishing for decades in the darkness of the L.A. County Jails,” the ACLU sued the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department seeking better training for deputies, and better oversight, investigation, and discipline in cases involving prisoner mistreatment. With 15,000 inmates—a majority of them awaiting trial, yet to be convicted of a crime—LA county hosts the nation’s largest jail system. In recent years, its guards have become known for a level of brutality that exceeds that of most maximum-security prisons—and sometimes crosses the line into torture.

The suit draws on information published in a report released last September by the ACLU’s National Prison Project and Southern California branch. The report showed a pattern of brutal abuses carried out by what the report calls a “savage gang” of deputies who oversee the prisoners. “Like members of street gangs, these deputies sport tattoos to signal their gang membership,” the lawsuit alleges. “They beat up inmates to gain prestige among their peers, and ‘earn their ink’ by breaking inmates’ bones.” The suit claims that Sheriff Lee Baca and his top brass are well aware of the system’s “culture of violence” but have done little to change it.

According to eyewitnesses, deputies have punched, kicked, and beaten prisoners to the point that they required surgery or hospitalization; humiliated them with sexual and racial epithets; thrown them in solitary confinement for no reason; and set them up for assault and rape by other prisoners. The report begins as follows:

To be an inmate in the Los Angeles County jails is to fear deputy attacks. In the past year, deputies have assaulted scores of non-resisting inmates, according to reports from jail chaplains, civilians, and inmates. Deputies have attacked inmates for complaining about property missing from their cells. They have beaten inmates for asking for medical treatment, for the nature of their alleged offenses, and for the color of their skin. They have beaten inmates in wheelchairs. They have beaten an inmate, paraded him naked down a jail module, and placed him in a cell to be sexually assaulted. Many attacks are unprovoked. Nearly all go unpunished: these acts of violence are covered up by a department that refuses to acknowledge the pervasiveness of deputy violence in the jail system.

The ACLU’s Blog of Rights detailed some of the worst incidents:

Juan Pablo Reyes was punched by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies over and over again in the ribs, mouth, and eyes, breaking his eye socket and leaving his body badly bruised. After falling to the ground, the deputies continued to kick Reyes, an inmate at the Los Angeles County Jail, with their steel-toed boots, ignoring his cries.

And the deputies didn’t stop there.

They ordered Reyes to strip and forced him to walk naked up and down the hallway of a housing module, in full view of other inmates. One deputy yelled, “Gay boy walking.” Reyes began to cry, but the deputies just looked on and laughed. They then put him in a cell where he was beaten and sexually assaulted by other inmates. He desperately pled for help and to be removed from the cell, but to no avail.

In another incident, an inmate who discovered after deputies had searched all the cells in his row that some of his property was missing was savagely beaten after asking to speak to a sergeant. Deputies beat this inmate so violently he suffered a fractured jaw and required eye surgery and stitches in his ear. A deputy shoved him hard against a wall, slapped his ear, punched his face several times and then threw him to the ground. While on the ground, the inmate was kicked by the deputy roughly 10 times in his face, jaw and back of his head, causing a large pool of his blood to form on the floor. The inmate described the beating as being more painful than being hit by a car.

The ACLU has been the court-appointed monitor of conditions in the LA county jails since 1985, and has produced critical reports in the past. But the new report notes that it is “the first in which a chaplain and other civilian eyewitnesses come forward with first-hand accounts.” It is also the first to show the lengths to which Baca has gone to ignore, downplay, or cover up the abuse. In a September news conference, Baca defended his deputies and dismissed the report. Later, under a barrage of news coverage, he declared that he was ultimately responsible for problems in the system.

Beyond the lawsuit, the ACLU is calling upon the Justice Department to launch a complete investigation into the various allegations contained in its report.





When Fact Checkers Go Bad…Very Bad

Jared Bernstein:

OMG…this is beyond preposterous.

Politifact—the self-anointed fact checkers—grade this statement from the President speech tonight as “half-true:”

“In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than three million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005.”

This is not half true or two-thirds true.  It is just true.

So why, I ask you, why do they go where they go?  Because of this:

In his remarks, Obama described the damage to the economy, including losing millions of jobs “before our policies were in full effect.” Then he describe [sic!] the subsequent job increases, essentially taking credit for the job growth. But labor economists tell us that no mayor or governor or president deserves all the claim or all the credit for changes in employment.

Really?  That’s it?  That makes the fact not a fact?  I’ve seen some very useful work by these folks, but between this and this, Politifact just can’t be trusted.  Full stop.




Steve Benen: Moving on: after nearly 4 yrs at the Washington Monthly, I’m moving to a new job at MSNBC

[…] I always said I wouldn’t leave this job unless something truly special came along, and fortunately for me, something did. The chance to work for Rachel and MSNBC is a dream gig that I couldn’t be more excited about.




Julian Assange Announces The Launch Of New TV Show


[…] Wikileaks announced Assange will host a television series featuring interviews with “key political players, thinkers and revolutionaries from around the world.”

Wikileaks, which has published a vast amount of classified data including video and secret government documents, promises to “draw together controversial voices from across the political spectrum.”

“Through this series I will explore the possibilities for our future in conversations with those who are shaping it. Are we heading towards utopia, or dystopia and how we can set our paths?”Assange said in a statement.

The release didn’t specify what networks will carry Assange’s show, but it promised that it would be on-air by mid-March.

The AP spoke to Ellis Cashmore, an expert on celebrity culture at England’s Staffordshire University, who wasn’t too keen on endorsing Assange’s TV skills.

“Assange has got a good, deep voice and agreeable Aussie accent, but he’s a slow, deliberate talker and not especially televisual,” Cashmore told the AP. “To be true to his image, he would have to make his proposed show subversive; and that might not appeal to many would-be guests.”

The Guardian has started a list of politicians and celebrities they’d like to see spar with Assange. Among them: Tony Blair, Hillary Clinton and Rupert Murdoch.




Liberal Media? Sunday Morning Talk Shows Featured Twice As Many Republicans As Dems Last Year 





AP: US military helicopter raid into Somalia frees American, Danish hostages

U.S. military forces flew in helicopters under the cover of darkness on a raid into Somalia early Wednesday and freed an American and a Dane held hostage since October, Western officials said. Pirates reported a gun battle with several casualties.
The Danish Refugee Council confirmed that the two aid workers, American Jessica Buchanan and Dane Poul Hagan Thisted, were freed “during an operation in Somalia.” Buchanan, 32, and Thisted, 60, had been working with a de-mining unit of the Danish Refugee Council when they were kidnapped.
An official told The Associated Press that the raid was carried out by U.S. military forces. A second official said the helicopters and the hostages landed at a U.S. base in the tiny East African nation of Djibouti after the raid. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the information had not been released publicly.
Maj. Kelly Cahalan, a military spokeswoman at U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany, said she had no information on the reported raid. A spokeswoman at the Pentagon had no immediate comment. U.S. military rescue operations are typically carried out by highly trained special forces.
The Danish Refugee Council said both freed hostages are unharmed “and at a safe location.” The group said in a separate statement that the two “are on their way to be reunited with their families.”
A pirate who gave his name as Bile Hussein said he had spoken to pirates at the scene of the raid and they reported that nine pirates had been killed. A second pirate who gave his name as Ahmed Hashi said two helicopters attacked at about 2 a.m. at the site where the hostages were being held about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the Somali town of Adado.
The Danish Refugee Council had earlier enlisted traditional Somali elders and members of civil society to seek the release of the two hostages. The two were seized in October from the portion of Galkayo town under the control of a government-allied clan militia. The aid agency has said that Somalis held demonstrations demanding the pair’s quick release.
Their Somali colleague was detained by police on suspicion of being involved in their kidnapping.
The two hostages were working in northern Somalia for the Danish Demining Group, whose experts have been clearing mines and unexploded ordnance in conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East.
Several hostages are still being held in Somalia, including a British tourist and two Spanish doctors seized from neighboring Kenya, and an American journalist kidnapped on Saturday.



Full text: President Obama’s State of the Union speech



FACTS: The State Of The Union 



• Since the last SOTU, the economy has created 1.9 million private sector jobs. [Source]

• The top 1 percent take home 24 percent of the nation’s income, up from about 9 percent in 1976. [Source]

• Private sector job creation under Obama in 2011 was larger than seven out of the eight years Bush was president. [Source]

• The top 1 percent of Americans own 40 percent of our country’s wealth while the bottom 80 percent owns only 7 percent. [Source]

• Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, 2.5 million young adults gained health insurance. [Source]

• For every one job opening, there are four people looking for work. [Source]

• Last year, China spent 9 percent of its GDP on infrastructure. The U.S. spent 2.5 percent. [Source]

• 2.65 million seniors saved an average of $569 on prescriptions last year thanks to the Affordable Care Act. [Source]

• “In 2011, the United States killed Al Qaeda’s most effective propagandist, Anwar al-Awlaki; its operating chief, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman; and of course its founder, chief executive and spiritual leader, Osama bin Laden.” [Source]

• Union membership is at a 70-year low. [Source]

• Unemployment benefits have lifted 3.2 million people out of poverty. [Source]

• The United States used to have the world’s largest percentage of college graduates. We’re now #14. [Source]

• One quarter of all contributions to federal campaigns come from 0.01 percent of Americans. [Source]

• 47.8 percent of households that receive food stamps are working, because having a job is not enough to keep them out of poverty. [Source]

• In the last three years, 30 major corporations spent more on lobbying than they paid in taxes. [Source]

• 50 percent of U.S. workers make less than $26,364 per year. [Source]

• More than one in 70 homes faced foreclosure last year. [Source]

• Since 1985, the federal tax rate for the 400 wealthiest Americans dropped from 29 percent to 18 percent. [Source]





What Obama said vs. what he meant. My take on the political messages embedded in his SOTU speech

National Journal:

When it comes to President Obama’s State of the Union address, there’s text (all 6,957 words of it); context (a political campaign in full-swing) and subtext (the meaning behind the words). The speech itself rang true to Obama’s goals, temperament, and political identity. But for anyone who has been paying attention to Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates, it carried a lot of other messages as well. Here’s what Obama said, followed by what he or his strategists may have had in mind:

WHAT HE SAID: For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq. For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country. Most of al Qaeda’s top lieutenants have been defeated.  The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.

WHAT HE MEANT: I’m commander in chief, and I’ve done a damn good job at it, despite what those presidential pretenders in the other party are saying. And I’m talking about this in the first eight sentences of my speech, so even people who are rushing to change the channel will remember that I took down bin Laden and got us out of Iraq.


WHAT HE SAID: These achievements are a testament to the courage, selflessness, and teamwork of America’s Armed Forces.  …  They’re not consumed with personal ambition. They don’t obsess over their differences. They focus on the mission at hand. They work together. Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example.

WHAT HE MEANT: Grow up already, Congress!


WHAT HE SAID: Think about the America within our reach … An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded.

WHAT HE MEANT: Our country needs to return to the value of fairness and the durability of GM trucks, which were once marketed under the slogan “Built to last.” And by the way, I saved GM.


WHAT HE SAID: Let’s remember how we got here … In the six months before I took office, we lost nearly four million jobs. And we lost another four million before our policies were in full effect.

WHAT HE MEANT: I inherited this mess, so don’t blame me.


WHAT HE SAID: In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than three million jobs. Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005. American manufacturers are hiring again, creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s.

WHAT HE MEANT: I did not make the recession worse. It’s just the opposite — my policies are helping end it. So don’t believe anything you hear from Mitt Romney.


WHAT HE SAID: I will work with anyone in this chamber to build on this momentum. But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place.

WHAT HE MEANT: Remember those recess appointments I made to two agencies you absolutely hate, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Labor Relations Board? The ones you are probably going to challenge in court? There’s going to be more of that unless you cut deals with me, and there will be vetoes if you try to turn my administration into George W. Bush’s third term.


WHAT HE SAID: On the day I took office, our auto industry was on the verge of collapse. Some even said we should let it die.  …  Today, General Motors is back on top as the world’s number one automaker.

WHAT HE MEANT: Did I mention that I saved GM and the whole car industry? Oh, the “some” who said let it die? One of them was Mitt Romney.


WHAT HE SAID: We’ve brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate as the last administration – and it’s made a difference.  Over a thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tires. … Tonight, I’m announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trade practices in countries like China.

WHAT HE MEANT: I’m tough on China. Remember that the next time Republicans bash me in a debate for letting China eat our lunch.


WHAT HE SAID: We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money… So let me put colleges and universities on notice:  If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.

WHAT HE MEANT: I’m on your side, middle-class families. Now that Rick Perry is out of the presidential race, I can own what could have been one of his signature issues.


WHAT HE SAID: I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal immigration. That’s why my Administration has put more boots on the border than ever before.  That’s why there are fewer illegal crossings than when I took office. The opponents of action are out of excuses…  if election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people ..”

WHAT HE MEANT: Have I mentioned that I’m tough? I’ve cracked down big time on illegal immigration. But I have a heart – especially when it comes to kids brought here illegally by their parents. And with Rick Perry out of the race, I’m going to own not only this issue but the Hispanic vote in November.


WHAT HE SAID: Most new jobs are created in start-ups and small businesses. So let’s pass an agenda that helps them succeed. Tear down regulations that prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from getting the financing to grow. Expand tax relief to small businesses that are raising wages and creating good jobs.

WHAT HE MEANT: I dare you Republicans to oppose this agenda. And have I mentioned that I love capitalism?


WHAT HE SAID: Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies fail. But I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy.

WHAT HE MEANT: Solyndra, schmolyndra. Success and failure are all part of capitalism. Which we love. Right, Gov. Romney?


WHAT HE SAID: Rules to prevent financial fraud, or toxic dumping, or faulty medical devices, don’t destroy the free market. They make the free market work better. There is no question that some regulations are outdated, unnecessary, or too costly. In fact, I’ve approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his. I’ve ordered every federal agency to eliminate rules that don’t make sense.

WHAT HE MEANT: I love the free market and I want it to work! And I don’t love regulations! Just like the Republicans. So moderates and independents, you don’t have to flee me. I get it. I really do.


WHAT HE SAID: But I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago … I will not go back to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny you coverage, or charge women differently from men. And I will not go back to the days when Wall Street was allowed to play by its own set of rules.

WHAT HE MEANT: Have I mentioned I’m on your side? All this free market stuff can only go so far. So liberals and progressives, you don’t have to flee me. I get it. I really do.


WHAT HE SAID: We need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes. Tax reform should follow the Buffett rule: If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes.

WHAT HE MEANT: You may remember that Mitt Romney makes more than $20 million a year and pays a 15 percent tax rate. You may not know that under Newt Gingrich’s plan, Romney would pay no taxes at all! Have I mentioned that polls show two-thirds of the public agrees with me on this issue?


WHAT HE SAID: Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal. But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better.

WHAT HE MEANT: Do you really want a president who is chomping at the bit to start a war against Iran? Then vote for a Republican. I might start that war, but I might not.


WHAT HE SAID: America is back. Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.  … America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs. And as long as I’m president, I intend to keep it that way.

WHAT HE MEANT: I am not a wimp or a failure on the world stage, or an apologist for America, or a manager of our decline. And I don’t lead from behind. So all that stuff you’re hearing in these endless GOP debates? Forget about it.




How Obama used his SOTU to refute Mitt Romney point by point


President Obama’s State of the Union address was premised on two political bets: that there’s a broad national appetite, spanning conservative and liberal ideologies, for certain populist reforms; and that Republicans in Congress are too deeply committed to opposing his agenda to back those reforms along side him.

His speech was peppered with the sorts of proposals that play well across the country. But after executing a three year plan of partisan opposition to his full agenda, Republicans can’t possibly support them — and that puts them on the steep side of an election Obama is framing while Republican presidential hopefuls tear each other down.

It was also sharp-elbowed. It read in a way as a series of critiques of the GOP’s most prominent rhetorical attacks on Democratic priorities, and as a piecemeal rebuttal of the talking points his most likely general election opponent Mitt Romney has levied against him in a bid to shore up support among Republican base voters.

Romney has raised eyebrows for opposing the auto-industry bailout. In his address, Obama chided, “[s]ome even said we should let it die.” This is largely true of many Republicans in Congress, who could not bring themselves to applaud a proposal to reverse tax incentives that encourage outsourcing and discourage repatriating jobs to the U.S.

Where Romney has called for allowing the foreclosure crisis to run its course, Obama said that “responsible homeowners shouldn’t have to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom to get some relief,” before introducing a mortgage modification plan to Congress that will give “every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year…by refinancing at historically low interest rates,” which was met with silence by the GOP.

Perhaps most famously, Romney has suggested that public appeals for addressing inequality and bringing equity to the tax code evince envy on the part of advocates who have pressed those issues into the national dialogue.

“When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it’s not because they envy the rich,” Obama retorted. “It’s because they understand that when I get tax breaks I don’t need and the country can’t afford, it either adds to the deficit, or somebody else has to make up the difference – like a senior on a fixed income; or a student trying to get through school; or a family trying to make ends meet.”

Republicans grimaced at this, too, as they did when he gave policy shape to the Buffett Rule, “If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes.”

GOP leaders spent Tuesday — and really the last several months — preparing for Obama to take this turn.

On the Senate floor, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Obama’s “goal isn’t to conquer the nation’s problems. It’s to conquer Republicans.”

“This election’s going to be a referendum on the president’s economic policies,” House Speaker John Boehner told reporters Tuesday.

That’s the battle for public perception that will play out over the next several months — between Obama’s calls for fairness and Republican reminders of people’s current woes, implicitly Obama’s fault they’ll say. If Republicans lose that battle they’ll find themselves flailing in the general election with nothing forward looking to offer voters. That’s the bet Obama made tonight.




Ezra Klein — SOTU 2012: Just the policy

The State of the Union address is rarely one presidents use to delve into details of policies they hope to pursue in the coming year. What speech does tend to offer are some broader principles that will likely guide the White House’s 2012 agenda.

Tonight, we did get a few details: President Obama focused on inequality, calling for a new minimum, 30 percent tax rate for millionaires and billionaires. Most of President Obama’s speech laid out broader policy themes. What follows is the president’s nearly 7,000 words of prepared remarks, edited down to the specific policy proposals and requests made this evening:

Taxes and Deficit Reduction

If you’re a business that wants to outsource jobs, you shouldn’t get a tax deduction for doing it. That money should be used to cover moving expenses for companies like Master Lock that decide to bring jobs home.

Second, no American company should be able to avoid paying its fair share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas. From now on, every multinational company should have to pay a basic minimum tax. And every penny should go toward lowering taxes for companies that choose to stay here and hire here.

Third, if you’re an American manufacturer, you should get a bigger tax cut. If you’re a high-tech manufacturer, we should double the tax deduction you get for making products here. And if you want to relocate in a community that was hit hard when a factory left town, you should get help financing a new plant, equipment, or training for new workers.

It’s time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America. Send me these tax reforms, and I’ll sign them right away.

As I told the Speaker this summer, I’m prepared to make more reforms that rein in the long term costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and strengthen Social Security, so long as those programs remain a guarantee of security for seniors.

But in return, we need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of Members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes. Tax reform should follow the Buffett rule: If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes. And my Republican friend Tom Coburn is right: Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires. In fact, if you’re earning a million dollars a year, you shouldn’t get special tax subsidies or deductions. On the other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year, like 98 percent of American families, your taxes shouldn’t go up. You’re the one


Tonight, I’m announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trade practices in countries like China. There will be more inspections to prevent counterfeit or unsafe goods from crossing our borders. And this Congress should make sure that no foreign company has an advantage over American manufacturing when it comes to accessing finance or new markets like Russia. Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you – America will always win.

Job Creation

I also hear from many business leaders who want to hire in the United States but can’t find workers with the right skills. Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job. Think about that – openings at a time when millions of Americans are looking for work.

That’s inexcusable. And we know how to fix it.

Join me in a national commitment to train two million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job. My Administration has already lined up more companies that want to help. Model partnerships between businesses like Siemens and community colleges in places like Charlotte, Orlando, and Louisville are up and running. Now you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers – places that teach people skills that local businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing.

I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programs, so that from now on, people like Jackie have one program, one website, and one place to go for all the information and help they need. It’s time to turn our unemployment system into a reemployment system that puts people to work.

Most new jobs are created in start-ups and small businesses. So let’s pass an agenda that helps them succeed. Tear down regulations that prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from getting the financing to grow. Expand tax relief to small businesses that are raising wages and creating good jobs. Both parties agree on these ideas. So put them in a bill, and get it on my desk this year.


Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.

We also know that when students aren’t allowed to walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma. So tonight, I call on every State to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn eighteen.

When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college. At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July. Extend the tuition tax credit we started that saves middle-class families thousands of dollars. And give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years.


We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now. But if election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, and defend this country. Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship. I will sign it right away.

Energy and Climate

Over the last three years, we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my Administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources. Right now, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years. That’s right – eight years. Not only that – last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past sixteen years.

This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy – a strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs.

We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly one hundred years, and my Administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy. Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade. And I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use. America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.

It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising. Pass clean energy tax credits and create these jobs.

I’m directing my Administration to allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power three million homes. And I’m proud to announce that the Department of Defense, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history – with the Navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.

Of course, the easiest way to save money is to waste less energy. So here’s another proposal: Help manufacturers eliminate energy waste in their factories and give businesses incentives to upgrade their buildings. Their energy bills will be $100 billion lower over the next decade, and America will have less pollution, more manufacturing, and more jobs for construction workers who need them. Send me a bill that creates these jobs.

Government Infrastructure

In the next few weeks, I will sign an Executive Order clearing away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects. But you need to fund these projects. Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.

Housing and Mortgages

I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low interest rates. No more red tape. No more runaround from the banks. A small fee on the largest financial institutions will ensure that it won’t add to the deficit, and will give banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust.

We will also establish a Financial Crimes Unit of highly trained investigators to crack down on large-scale fraud and protect people’s investments. Some financial firms violate major anti-fraud laws because there’s no real penalty for being a repeat offender. That’s bad for consumers, and it’s bad for the vast majority of bankers and financial service professionals who do the right thing. So pass legislation that makes the penalties for fraud count.

And tonight, I am asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorneys general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis. This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans.

Government Reform

Send me a bill that bans insider trading by Members of Congress, and I will sign it tomorrow. Let’s limit any elected official from owning stocks in industries they impact. Let’s make sure people who bundle campaign contributions for Congress can’t lobby Congress, and vice versa – an idea that has bipartisan support, at least outside of Washington.

Some of what’s broken has to do with the way Congress does its business these days. A simple majority is no longer enough to get anything – even routine business – passed through the Senate. Neither party has been blameless in these tactics. Now both parties should put an end to it. For starters, I ask the Senate to pass a rule that all judicial and public service nominations receive a simple up or down vote within 90 days.

The executive branch also needs to change. Too often, it’s inefficient, outdated and remote. That’s why I’ve asked this Congress to grant me the authority to consolidate the federal bureaucracy so that our Government is leaner, quicker, and more responsive to the needs of the American people.

Foreign Policy

We will stand for the rights and dignity of all human beings – men and women; Christians, Muslims, and Jews. We will support policies that lead to strong and stable democracies and open markets, because tyranny is no match for liberty.

We will safeguard America’s own security against those who threaten our citizens, our friends, and our interests….Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal. But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.

America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs – and as long as I’m President, I intend to keep it that way.

That’s why, working with our military leaders, I have proposed a new defense strategy that ensures we maintain the finest military in the world, while saving nearly half a trillion dollars in our budget. To stay one step ahead of our adversaries, I have already sent this Congress legislation that will secure our country from the growing danger of cyber-threats.

We’ve made it clear that America is a Pacific power, and a new beginning in Burma has lit a new hope. From the coalitions we’ve built to secure nuclear materials, to the missions we’ve led against hunger and disease; from the blows we’ve dealt to our enemies; to the enduring power of our moral example, America is back.




What a beautiful, beautiful moment. 




Maddow Blog: Tonight’s Addresses at a Glance

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address:

Republican response from Governor Mitch Daniels:




Hermain Cain delivers the TeaParty response to SOTU




Romney, sinking in polls, says ‘banks aren’t bad people’

Los Angles Times:

Mitt Romney’s taxes were the talk of the campaign and the latest Gallup national tracking poll showed him falling behind Newt Gingrich in the wake of his stinging defeat in last weekend’s South Carolina primary. But as he campaigned briefly Tuesday in Florida, where the biggest primary yet this year is just a week away, Romney largely directed his fire at President Obama.

At one of only two events of his schedule, he traveled to a subdivision east of Fort Myers to blast the Democratic incumbent over one of the central economic issues in the 2012 election: the housing bust.

Before a crowd of several hundred curious onlookers, drawn to the event by local TV news coverage on an unseasonably hot January afternoon, the former Massachusetts governor tried to draw attention to the housing sector’s continuing drag on the country’s struggle to bounce back from the worst recession since the 1930s.

Romney did not offer any specific prescriptions of his own. Instead, he fingered Obama for blame, along with new regulations designed to prevent a repeat of the 2008 financial collapse.

He said the Dodd-Frank legislation package had smothered banks with regulations that made it harder for them to help struggling homeowners dig out from mortgages that in many case are larger than the value of their homes.

“Now, the banks aren’t bad people. They’re just overwhelmed right now,” Romney said. “They’re overwhelmed with a lot of things. One is a lot of homes coming in, that are in foreclosure or in trouble, and the other is with a massive new pile of regulations.”




REPORT: Romney fund in Cayman Islands served as a tax shelter


Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s newly released tax return shows sprawling international financial interests, from Bain Capital entities based in Luxembourg to a Goldman Sachs fund in Dublin. It discusses a foreign currency transaction and details foreign tax credits.

But one of Romney’s biggest foreign investments is sheltered from U.S. taxation, partly because it is based in the Cayman Islands.

“This is a classic example of how good tax planning avoids taxes until you want to pay taxes on the money,” said Martin Lobel, a Washington lawyer and chairman at Tax Analysts, a provider of information for tax specialists.

Even many Americans with sophisticated tax advisers “can’t take advantage of that kind of loophole,” Lobel said.

According to an August 2011 financial disclosure, Romney’s individual retirement account included a stake valued at $5 million to $25 million in something called BCIP Trust Associates III.

Regulatory filings show that the partnership, related to Romney’s career at the corporate buyout firm Bain Capital, is registered in the Cayman Islands.

The offshore arrangement could have spared Romney a form of U.S. tax that can apply even to individual retirement accounts, experts say.

IRAs are widely used investment vehicles that allow people to save money and postpone paying taxes on it until their golden years. But even within the shelter of tax-exempt entities such as IRAs or nonprofit organizations, some investments can trigger taxes by throwing off profits known as “unrelated business taxable income.”

That includes returns on debt-financed investments. Hedge funds and private equity funds are especially likely to trigger the tax because they often seek to magnify their returns by using borrowed money.

To spare investors the tax bite, hedge funds and private equity firms often set up corporate shells known as “blockers” in havens such as the Cayman Islands, experts said.

David Miller, a lawyer at the Cadwalader firm who works with private-equity firms and hedge funds, said Bain might have formed entities in the Cayman Islands to accommodate clients such as foundations and endowments — tax-exempt organizations trying to steer clear of the tax on unrelated business income.

In the past week, since news reports about the Cayman connection emerged, the Romney campaign has been on the defensive about the issue. In a statement Tuesday, the campaign said the former Massachusetts governor’s IRA “uses investment structures just as those commonly used by charities and pension funds, including union pension funds, to maintain their tax exempt or tax deferred status.”

“The Romneys’ investments in funds established in the Cayman Islands are taxed in the very same way they would be if the Romneys held their shares of the fund investments directly in the U.S. rather than through a Cayman fund,” the statement said. It was not clear whether that part of the statement applied to the IRA.

It is unclear how, if at all, Romney’s taxes were affected by the offshore arrangement.

A Bain spokesman did not respond to questions Tuesday.

Bart Mallon, a lawyer at Cole-Frieman & Mallon who sets up offshore companies, said such arrangements appeal to foreign investors. Many foreigners prefer investing through an offshore company because they don’t want to file U.S. tax returns or expose themselves to potential Internal Revenue Service audits, he said.

“Unfortunately, when people hear the term ‘offshore,’ they automatically think that there’s, you know, that people . . . are trying to get away with something,” Mallon said.

“But it’s not really getting away with something. It’s just working within the tax laws as they’re currently written.”




Great annotation of the Romney tax returns from the Washington Post 





Tax returns show that Romney’s a Darwinian 

National Journal:

[…] Mitts’ sons would get crazy rich under their dad’s tax plan. Romney’s tax plan is less regressive than plans laid out by the other Republican candidates, meaning he hasn’t outlined yet the ways he would slash tax rates for individuals, apart from making the Bush-era tax cuts permanent. He would, however, eliminate the estate tax entirely. That means that under his own tax proposal, his kids would inherit their father’s wealth tax-free. How much cash is that? No one knows for sure, but Romney is estimated to be worth as much as $250 million. Romney boys – are you in the market for a small island, perhaps?

Romney’s own deductions may not survive under his tax plan. Speaking of the way Romney’s tax plans would affect his own filings, how about deductions like charitable donations or state and local taxes? Romney has preached the GOP mantra of flattening the tax code and broadening the base. The latter is usually code for eliminating tax breaks known as tax expenditures on items like the mortgage-tax deduction, state and local taxes, and charitable donations. Romney and his wife claimed $4.5 million in itemized deductions in 2010, roughly $3 million of which went to charity. It will be interesting to see Romney flesh out the fate of such tax breaks on the campaign trail, particularly as he and so many middle and upper class Americans benefit from them.

Carried interest is going to be a huge campaign issue. Romney made about $7.4 million of his $21.7 million in income in 2010 from carried interest, according to his campaign’s lawyer, Ben Ginsberg — a data point that’s not clear from his tax return. Ginsberg says in 2011, Romney calculates he made $5.5 million off carried interest.

The carried-interest provision allows the income of hedge-fund managers and other investment advisers to be taxed at 15 percent, a rate remarkably lower than the top tax brackets under which wealthy individuals typically file returns. The thinking goes that hedge-fund managers and other investment folks risk their own capital as part of their business and therefore should be taxed at a lower rate. This isn’t untoward or illegal, of course, but it should elevate the carried-interest debate and the merits of taxing those professionals at 15 percent to a big campaign issue. So far, the Romney campaign has also remained mum, apart from saying the candidate broadly favors tax reform.

Romney’s not a big borrower. Who knows how much debt, if any, Romney racks up on credit cards, but the candidate appears to not have any mortgages on his homes. Or, at least, his personal tax return for 2010 does not claim any mortgage-tax deduction.

Romney’s views on taxes? Kind of Darwinian. In the business world, “creative destruction” is a popular phrase.” It’s shorthand for the idea that sometimes old business models or ways of thinking need to be destroyed for a corporation to make progress, break through, and make more money. It’s certainly a popular philosophy among tech executives and management consultants, eager to vaunt the innovations of their pet business projects. And it extends to a slightly Darwinian philosophy that only the best and brightest deserve to survive and thrive in the corporate world.

It is an idea that Romney seems to extend to the way he pays his taxes. He made his money and wants to keep as much of it as possible, while still complying with the IRS. It may not hand much cash back to the federal government, but it offers a look at the mindset of the Romney candidacy. If you’re smart enough to make money, you get to keep it. It’s a right that Romney supports, and his tax filings show the lengths he and his family have gone to preserve their money at as a low of tax rate as possible.

There are so many more questions that need answers. Like, why did Romney claim a foreign tax credit in 2010 of more than $120,000? And, how do all of these blind trusts work? More to come.




Mitt’s New National Anthem




WaPo: All of Mitt Romney’s tax documents — in one place! 




Reuters: What Romney’s taxes reveal – and what they omit 

Mitt Romney disclosed early on Tuesday that he expects his tax bill to come to $6.2 million on income of $42.5 million the last two years, succumbing to public pressure to shed light on how he became one of the wealthiest Americans ever to run for president.

The Republican Romney, who earned most of his wealth after co-founding private equity firm Bain Capital, bowed to weeks of public pressure by disclosing his 2010 federal tax return and a tax estimate for 2011.

Romney paid an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent on $21.6 million in 2010 income and expects to pay 15.4 percent on $20.9 million in 2011 income, his campaign said. He said previously that he estimates his net worth at $190 million to $250 million.



His surging rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Newt Gingrich, released a form 1040 – the standard income-reporting form for American taxpayers – with attachments last week, showing his income for the year was about $3.1 million and his effective tax rate more than 31 percent. Some sources of Gingrich’s income were unclear because he earns most of his wealth through a holding company for enterprises such as his consulting and production companies.


Romney did not release tax returns from his time at Bain Capital. Romney co-founded the firm in 1984 and worked there until 1999. Tax returns from those years might show how Romney built the bulk of his fortune and would provide a more comprehensive picture of his wealth but the campaign said it would not be releasing them.

Romney’s campaign lawyer Ben Ginsberg told reporters late on Monday: “Frankly we’re not going to get into the game of once you give them something, you demand more. This is a fulsome release and we are very proud of it.”

Even at more than 500 pages, the returns offer a narrow look into a working life of high income, and questions may persist over fairness in taxation. “The tax returns are very complicated compared to those of many Americans,” said Brad Malt, director of Romney’s trusts.


The effective tax rate is the actual tax rate paid after accounting for deductions, credits and the like. An individual might make enough to place among the richest Americans taxed at 35 percent but with deductions and alternative types of income, the actual rate paid can be much lower.

Like many of the wealthiest Americans, Romney gets most of his income through investments, so his rate trends lower in large part because of the 15 percent tax rate on capital gains. Romney had total capital gains income of $12.5 million for 2010 and an estimated $10.7 million for 2011.


Much of Romney’s fortune likely qualifies as what is known as “carried interest,” a share of profits earned by private equity managers taxed at the 15 percent capital gains tax rate rather than the maximum 35 percent wage rate. Private equity managers, some hedge fund executives and venture capitalists benefit from carried interest.

Campaign officials said Romney had carried interest of $7.4 million in 2010 and $5.5 million in 2011.

Critics say the 15 percent rate for carried interest is an unfair tax break because investment managers, as Romney was, are providing a service that should be taxed at the higher rate paid by wage earners.

Democrats in Congress have come close to raising the rate to have it equal the rate paid on “ordinary” or wage income but fierce lobbying has paid off so far for the private equity, venture capital and hedge fund industries.


Romney has a $100 million trust set up for his five sons. The campaign said the Romneys paid no gift taxes on the trust because they were able to use credits related to estate tax.


Romney’s investment funds run through Bain are in offshore tax havens such as the Cayman Islands, a practice the campaign insists is legal and common but that has come under some criticism during the campaign.

The Romney campaign’s answer to questions on this front has been that he does not control the makeup of the funds because they are run as blind trusts.

Some of these investments also are held through two Individual Retirement Accounts and investing IRAs offshore can eliminate all taxes until withdrawals are made.

Malt said that at one point money had been placed in a Swiss bank account and that this had been meant to diversify the portfolio but, aware that some such accounts are used to evade taxes, Malt decided to close it in early 2010 to remove a potential source of embarrassment. He said the account was never meant to evade taxes, and no taxes went unpaid.


As a devout Mormon, Romney gives away at least 10 percent of his income to the Mormon church, a practice known as tithing.

The documents showed he and his wife, Ann, contributed more than $7 million in charity over the two years, averaging over 16 percent of his income.




Gingrich Threatens to Skip Debates if Audiences Can’t Participate. Says “media is terrified” of the crowd. 




Salon:  On second thought, Newt’s not a very good debater – 

If Fox News and CNN should be credited with an assist for Newt Gingrich’s landslide South Carolina victory, NBC deserves one for helping to expose the hollowness of the former House speaker’s biggest boast.

The atmosphere for the debate the Peacock network hosted in Florida Monday night was a marked departure from what we saw in South Carolina last week. Whereas Fox and CNN amped their live audiences up beforehand and encouraged boisterous responses during the proceedings, the NBC opening was comparatively sober; this time, it didn’t seem like it had been farmed out to a team of NBA producers. When moderator Brian Williams opened the telecast, the crowd was silent and respectful, and it remained so for virtually all of the next 100 minutes.

It helped that Williams and the two media panelists who joined him later did nothing to inflame the passions and resentments of the Republican crowd. This, too, was a break from last week, when Fox’s Juan Williams earned hisses of contempt by aggressively challenging Gingrich’s characterization of Barack Obama as a “food stamp president” and when CNN’s John King clumsily asked Gingrich to respond to his second ex-wife’s claim that he’d asked for an open marriage before divorcing her.

These differences go a long way toward explaining why Gingrich performed as if he’d been given a heavy sedative Monday night. In both debates last week, he fed off the live audience’s energy and earned repeated ovations by channeling its hostility toward Williams and King, and the “liberal media” in general. As he went along, his confidence and creativity seemed to grow — his campaign ended spinning part of his anti-Williams riff into a television ad – and his performances were crucial to the sudden surge that culminated in Saturday’s rout.

But on Monday, there was no energy in the hall for Gingrich to feed off of, and no one on the media panel willing to step up and play his foil. From the very beginning, his responses were jarringly flat and unfocused. When an unusually sharp and focused Mitt Romney came after him hard in the debate’s early minutes, Gingrich seemed unsure how – or even whether – to engage him. And when Romney dismantled Gingrich’s defense of his lucrative Freddie Mac work like a seasoned prosecutor, the normally loquacious former speaker was literally left speechless.

The rest of the night wasn’t actually that bad for Gingrich. Romney mostly let up on the attacks and the debate moved on to a series of policy questions – Castro (of course), Terri Schiavo (still?), the space program, Iran, immigration and taxes. Gingrich scored his share of points, as did Romney, and the result after the opening dust-up was probably a draw.

Which might be good enough for another candidate, but Gingrich has made his supposedly peerless debating skills the centerpiece of his pitch to Republican primary voters. His most oft-repeated promise on the campaign trail is to challenge Obama to seven, three-hour “Lincoln-Douglas” debates. “I’d let him use a Teleprompter,” Gingrich blusters. “I’ll just rely on knowledge.”

After last week’s debates, it was easy for the Republican base, which has convinced itself that Obama snuck into the White House by seducing unsuspecting Americans with smooth words written by someone else, to believe there was something to these taunts. But all he was doing was playing to the persecution complex of a fired-up, rabidly partisan crowd, whose euphoric response rubbed off on like-minded viewers at home. It was powerful stuff, but it spoke only to Gingrich’s ability to communicate with the hardcore base of his own party – not to win over swing voters torn between the GOP’s message and Obama’s.

But Monday night was a much better warm-up for the fall debates than what we saw last week. Think of what general election presidential debates look and sound like. The live audiences are generally made up of supporters of each candidate (with tickets handled by each campaign), local dignitaries and in some cases undecided voters chosen by television producers or the debate commission. These crowds are told over and over that presidential debates are a serious, somber affair. Outbursts are rare. In other words, the atmosphere that took the fight out of Gingrich Monday night is exactly the atmosphere he’d face in his seven, three-hour debates with Obama (if Obama ever agreed to them, which he wouldn’t).

The good news for Gingrich is that there’s another debate between now and Florida’s Jan. 31 primary, and CNN is handling it. So maybe the wild crowds will be back. But even if he does manage to recapture his South Carolina magic, Republicans would do well to remind themselves of what happened in Tampa Monday night and to realize: Gingrich’s debating skills are mostly an illusion.




First Jeb Bush, now MarcoRubio. No endorsement from big guns in Florida. 




Gingrich Campaign Wants To Know Why Romney Wiped His Hard Drives 


Newt Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond said he welcomed Mitt Romney releasing his tax return, but said the delay said more about the candidate then what they actually contained.

“If you made a list of presidential candidates suspected of tax fraud, historically, I don’t think Mitt Romney would make the list,” Hammond said, adding that because voters demanded them, the Republican candidates should provide them.

“If the people want your tax returns out, then you should release them,” he said. “That’s what our beef was…The fact that Romney dragged his feet with this for a few weeks says a lot about who he thinks is in charge of this election.”

“What I want to see released is all of these wiped hard drives,” Hammond said. “Has anyone ever physically wiped a hard drive? It’s not easy to do,” he quipped to reporters, citing Wikipedia as a source.

On whether Gingrich would release more returns if Romney does, Hammond said “If [Romney] shows a little leg, we’ll show a little leg. If he shows knee, then we’ll show knee.

Hammond called Freddie Mac “an old issue,” saying Gingrich ended the discussion when he released his contract with the government-backed lender.

“Let’s vote,” he said to reporters. “Boringest contract ever, or most boringest contract ever — complete disappointment, or total disappointment?”


57% of independents say rich don’t pay “fair share” in taxes; 54% say time to hike cap gains taxes



POLL: Only 25% of Americans think “corporations are people”



CBS/NYT Poll: Americans Support Equalizing Capital Gains And Income Tax Rates…



Gallup: Gingrich still rising nationally 



Independents Turn on Romney

The Atlantic:

Romney’s unfavorability rating has jumped sharply in January — and among independents, it’s now 51 percent. It’s going to be hard to convince Florida conservatives — and voters in the state primaries that follow — to hold their nose and vote for the electable candidate if that candidate doesn’t look electable anymore. Here’s our guide to today’s polls and why they matter.

Findings: Mitt Romney’s popularity has dropped sharply this month. His unfavorable rating is 49 percent, while his favorable rating is 31 percent. Among independents, 51 percent don’t view him favorably while 23 percent do — and only two weeks ago, more independents liked him than disliked him.
Pollster: ABC News/ Washington Post
Methodology: Phone interviews with 1,009 Americans from January 18 to January 22. Cell phone users included.
Why it matters: Romney’s major selling point is that he’s electable — and that his more conservative rivals will send independent voters running away in terror in the general election. But while Newt Gingrich has long been unpopular nationally, Romney is catching up to him. Gingrich’s unfavorable rating is 51 percent, only 2 percentage points more than Romney’s. Their scores do not compare well to where the candidates were in 2008, Ari Melber notes with the screengrab below: 

Worse for Romney, New York‘s Jonathan Chait writes, “Obama has designed his entire campaign as a counterposition to Romney… Now, it’s not like it would behard for Obama to switch gears and design a campaign contrasting himself with Gingrich. The Obama campaign would almost certainly still prefer to run against Gingrich. But the electability gap between the two leading contenders is dwindling.”
Caveat: Americans are not the same as likely voters. And it’s a long time till November, obviously.

Findings: Gingrich takes the lead in Florida with 38 percent. Romney is 5 percentage points behind with 33 percent. Santorum is trailing with 13 percent and Paul has 10 percent.
Pollster: Public Policy Polling
Methodology: Robocalls to 921 likely Republican voters on January 22 and January 23.
Why it matters: This is more evidence of momentum for Gingrich –PPP found Romney ahead by 15 points as late as January 16, and other polls showed Romney ahead by a large margin. But two robopolls found Gingrich pulling ahead Monday. Further, PPP says Gingrich’s voters are more firm than Romney’s: 78 percent of Gingrich’s voters say they are definitely voting for him, while 73 percent of Romney’s voters have decided for sure. Among people who’ve decided for sure who they’re voting for, Gingrich leads 45 percent to Romney’s 36 percent. Nationally, Gallup‘s daily tracking poll shows Gingrich has overtaken Romney, with 31 percent to his 27 percent.
Caveat: More than 200,000 Floridians voted early, and among those who said they’d voted already (16 percent of the polling sample) they went for Romney by 43 percent to 40 percent. PPP is a Democratic firm. 

Findings: About half of Americans think investment income should be taxed at the same rate as wages. But more than half of Republicans think the rate on capital gains and dividends should be lowered.
Pollster: New York Times/ CBS News
Methodology: Survey of 1,185 adults from January 20 to January 23.
Why it matters: Mitt Romney’s tax rate has become an issue in the Republican primary — he released his taxes Tuesday, showing he paid a 14 percent federal tax rate for 2010 but will likely pay about 15 percent this year. That’s a lot lower than most wealthy people pay. Earlier this year, Obama called for a “Buffet rule” — that rich dudes like Warren Buffet shouldn’t pay a lower tax rate than their secretaries. But we couldn’t really expect Buffet to release his tax returns for the whole country to examine. Thanks to Newt Gingrich’s goading, however, Romney has offered himself as the financial specimen for the rest of us to dissect. Obama is making the most of that, seating Buffet’s secretary next to the first lady at Tuesday’s State of the Union address, in which he’ll call for changes to the tax code.
Caveat: While the poll indicates Romney’s tax rates might matter in the general election (more than half of independents want capital gains and dividends taxed at the same rate as wages), it shows it’s not a big issue in the Republican primary. And yet, Gingrich is surging ahead of Romney anyway.




Poll: Majority backs ‘Buffett Rule’ 





In case you were wondering, Oklahoma Republicans are still the craziest in the nation.

Food containing fetuses targeted under new Oklahoma bill

You might think this is a story out of ‘The Onion’ but it is a real story.

An Oklahoma lawmaker files a bill to ban the making and selling of food or products that use aborted human fetuses.

State Senator Ralph Shortey says he’s done research and found reports that companies have used stem cells in the research and development of food.

“I don’t know if it is happening in Oklahoma, it may be, it may not be.  What I am saying is that if it does happen then we are not going to allow it to manufacture here,” says Shortey

The lawmaker that represents Oklahoma County couldn’t give any specific examples.

“There is a potential that there are companies that are using aborted human babies in their research and development of basically enhancing flavor for artificial flavors,” says Shortey.

Some argue there has to be more to the proposed bill and believe it is a back door attempt to ban stem cell research.

Shortey says it is not, although he admits, he would support and vote for a ban on stem cell research in the state.

A number of food makers have denied the claims.



 Gingrich: “Most of the Asians,” some Latinos but not many blacks understand entrepreneurship 



Ezra Klein — Three abortion policies to watch in 2012

Pro-life activists march up Constitution Avenue at the March for Life rally on Jan. 23, 2012 in Washington, DC. (Brendan Hoffman - GETTY IMAGES)

The last two days I’ve spent a good deal of time looking at the past year in abortion politics and how a new wave of restrictions have reshapedRoe v. Wade, which hit its 39th anniversary on Sunday. In the coming year, there’s little expectation that the rate of restrictions will slow down. Republicans still control 19 state governments and abortion-rights opponents are readying an agenda that looks to build off of last year’s successes. Here are three issues that will likely define the abortion rights landscape in 2012:

1. A late-term abortion ban in Washington, D.C.: Five states passed “Fetal Pain” Abortion Laws in 2011, up from just one state with such a law the year before. The restrictions outlaw abortion after 20 weeks on the basis that the fetus could feel pain (the scientific research on this is disputed). On Monday, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) introduced a version of that law for the District of Columbia, the D.C. Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. The National Right to Life Committee announced Monday that Franks’s legislation, and similar bills across the country, will be its top priority in 2012.

“Enactment of the D.C. Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act will be a top legislative priority for National Right to Life during 2012,” Douglas Johnson, NRLC legislative director, wrote in a memo on Monday. “The capital city of the United States should not also be the capital for causing torment to unborn babies in the sixth month and later.”

2. Restrictions on federal funding for abortion providers. At Monday’s March for Life, Americans United for Life passed out “Defund Planned Parenthood” signs to its supporters. AUL president Charmaine Yoest says that’s meant to signal her group’s priorities for the coming year. “You can’t under emphasize the importance of political pressure,” she told me in an interview last week. “We’ll be calling for more congressional hearings and looking at the funding issue, both at the federal and state level.” Already, abortion rights opponents have seen success on this front: the New Hampshire House of Representativevoted to bar abortion providers from receiving government funds, for family planning services they provide, on Jan. 18.

3. No private insurance coverage of abortion. The most common abortion restriction states passed last year had to do with private insurance coverage of abortion. A total of 16 states now ban insurance coverage for abortion, either statewide or on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges, up from five before the health reform law passed. “As terrible as last year was, and it was very, very bad, as many as 28 states are vulnerable to this type of law,” says Donna Crane, policy director for NARAL Pro-Choice America. At the same time, there may also be a counter-trend developing: Washington State is now considering a law that would require insurers to cover abortion.





The essence of optimism is that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.



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That National Journal article is amusing to me.