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Cult of Mac:
What Apple Is Doing About It
Apple CEO Tim Cook appears to have made the welfare of contract-manufacturing workers a higher priority, and also has made an effort to bring the issue out of the shadows.
Apple says it did 229 audits last year, which is 80 percent more than the year before.
Apple recently published a “Supplier responsibility progress report” to address the problems and what Apple is doing about them. The report included an official list of suppliers — something Apple had refused to do in the past because such a list makes it harder to keep secrets about upcoming products.
Apple claims to have a zero-tolerance for child labor. Audits bring attention to transgressions, and Apple puts some companies on notice: Fix them or we’ll find another company.
To a very large extent, chasing down violations is a cat-and-mouse game between Apple and managers within contract manufacturing firms. It’s like a game of Whack-a-Mole — when they fix the handling of a toxic chemical over here, up pops a spate of worker suicides over there. When they address the suicides with new programs and policies, here comes an unauthorized chemical in use by a supplier. It never ends.
Is That Enough?
What else should be done? Leander Kahney’s recent post on Cult of Mac, “Should Apple Make Its Products In The U.S.?”
The article addresses many of the arguments and counterarguments over this question. But the bottom line is that the US doesn’t have the expertise in the numbers required to do what China can do. And the costs would be astronomical. Not only would each worker have to be paid more, but more workers would have to be employed due to vastly higher legal standards for employee welfare in this country.
Although Apple could build products in the United States, such products would not be the iPhones and iPads that we currently use. The combination of physical perfection and low cost could not be achieved in the United States.
In fact, you could view the Apple product phenomenon of the past decade as something possible only with the killer combination of European design culture, American marketing genius, Taiwanese manufacturing expertise and Chinese improvisational ingenuity and self-sacrifice.
Underpaid, over-worked and abused workers are part of what make iPhones and iPads possible. Nobody wants to hear this, but I’m afraid it’s true.
Apple’s options, oversimplified, are:
- Move manufacturing out of China.
- Take a hands-off approach to worker welfare.
- Aggressively chip away at the problems associated with contract manufacturing with a program of iterative improvement, higher standards, constant audits and growing transparency.
- Initiate an aggressive program of paying component suppliers and contract manufacturers more in exchange for transparency, worker welfare and environmental safeguards.
The first option shouldn’t make sense to anyone. For those concerned about the welfare of Chinese workers, unemployment isn’t a solution. And for those who love Apple products, moving manufacturing outside China would most likely reduce quality and increase costs.
The second option is another non-starter. The reality is that as the most valuable and profitable technology company, Apple would be destroyed in the court of public opinion, and become the source of global animosity that would tarnish the brand. It’s also unethical on its face. In fact, this is already happening, even though Apple does not pursue this option.
The third option is the best option, and in fact it’s the one that Apple is actively pursuing, to its credit.
And the fourth option is the other best option, which Apple is not pursuing adequately. Several leading Silicon Valley companies, including HP, actively pay component suppliers more to improve conditions. Apple’s current approach of demanding from suppliers nearly impossible schedules, nearly impossible quality at nearly impossibly low prices is driving many of the problems. And Apple clearly can afford to pay a little more here. The idea that Apple squeezes every penny out of its myriad suppliers, forcing them to survive on razor-thin margins while the company reports profits that exceed Google’s revenues is the kind of reality that could make people stop buying Apple products purely on ethical grounds.
So that’s what Apple needs to do: Keep doing 3, and start doing 4. Chip away at the problem, iteratively investigating, auditing and fixing. But also pay a little more to suppliers in order to meet these stringent requirements.
Apple gets more blame than it deserves for worker abuses in China, and doesn’t get enough credit for the enormous effort the company has expended in raising work standards in China.
However, there’s one missing piece to this puzzle, which is the price Apple pays for components.
There’s already plenty of coercive levers involved in Chinese manufacturing. Apple squeezes suppliers, and suppliers squeeze their employees. What’s lacking is the addition of positive incentives and the removal of excuses.
The problem won’t really be solved until the core competency of chinese manufacturing companies is the creation of high quality, low-cost components and products without destroying the lives of employees — instead of the current core competency of cheating without getting caught.
And that’s going to cost a little more. Apple can afford it.
The Obama administration, seeking to help more homeowners lower their interest rates and shed mortgage debt, will relax the rules on a federal loan- modification program and triple its incentives to banks.
The revised Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP, also would pay Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (FMCC) to forgive debt on homes that have lost value. The government-owned companies, citing cost, don’t reduce principal, a policy that has limited HAMP’s reach because they own or guarantee nearly half of U.S. home loans.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Assistant Treasury Secretary Tim Massad, and White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling announced the program changes yesterday in a phone call with reporters.
“This will expand the reach of HAMP,” Massad said.
The HAMP program changes are separate from a new refinancing plan that President Barack Obama promised to deliver in his State of the Union speech on Jan. 24, Sperling said. That effort will be detailed in coming weeks.
Whether Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac accept the administration offer is up to Edward J. DeMarco, acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which is charged with minimizing losses to the companies and to taxpayers. In a written statement, DeMarco said he would analyze the potential costs and benefits of participating in HAMP’s principal writedown effort.
No Principal Forgiveness
FHFA recently released an analysis “concluding that principal forgiveness did not provide benefits that were greater than principal forbearance”, DeMarco said in a written statement.
In that analysis, released to Congress in recent days, DeMarco estimated that forgiving mortgage debt could cost the government-supported companies almost $100 billion. Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac, which have cost taxpayers more than $150 billion so far, guarantee nearly 3 million single-family homes that are underwater, meaning the owners owe more than the property is worth.
The HAMP expansion, called HAMP Tier 2, triples incentives paid to banks that reduce mortgage principal to a maximum of 63 cents for every dollar of debt forgiven.
Investors who rent out their properties would be eligible to refinance under the new rules. The deadline for applying for a HAMP loan modification is extended for a year, to the end of 2013.
HAMP has been the Obama administration’s signature rescue effort for delinquent homeowners struggling in the aftermath of a lending bubble that inflated property values.
About 900,000 borrowers have successfully used the lifeline to refinance, saving an average of about $500 a month — fewer than the 4 million borrowers HAMP was expected to reach. The program pays mortgage servicers and investors for successfully modifying loans. Because of the low response, about two-thirds of the program’s $29.9 billion budget, which was funded through the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP, hasn’t been obligated.
HAMP loan modifications are limited to mortgages worth $729,500 or less. The new rules are expected to be effective by May.
Atrios writes about the growing cost of a university education:
The basic thinking seems to have been that it was wonderful for university to be free back when most people who attended were quite wealthy, but once the masses started getting ideas about going it was time to force them to pay. And there again is your generational divide.
Actually, I think the dynamic is a bit different from that. It was back in the early 20th century that most people who attended university were wealthy — or at least upper middle class — and at that time, universities were expensive, not free. Private universities cost a lot of money (and handed out only a few scholarships here and there to salve their consciences), and state land grant universities, while not as expensive as Harvard or Yale, still cost too much for most ordinary working class schlubs. Neither of my grandfathers could afford to attend college, for example, even though they wanted to. (One of them joined the Navy instead, and the other drove out to California to make his fortune.)
That changed after World War II, when the economy was booming and everyone suddenly woke up to the fact that there were lots of working class kids who were plenty smart enough to attend college. This happened at exactly the time that America needed lots of college-educated workers, so we made sure they could all go. The GI Bill helped lots of them while all-but-free public universities helped lots of others. This was the golden age of low-cost higher education, and it was an era with more class mixing than ever before or after.
This started to erode in the post-Reagan era, but I don’t think it’s because of a generational divide. That’s just the symptom, not the disease. It’s largely a class divide. For a few decadesfollowing World War II, when state universities were a legitimate ticket into the white collar world for everyone, they were supported by everyone. But after the first generation or two got their tickets punched and moved out of the old neighborhoods and into middle-class suburbia, all the low hanging fruit was gone. Poor and working class neighborhoods were no longer producing lots of kids who had the smarts for college but couldn’t afford to go. More and more, universities were populated by the grandchildren of the GI Bill generation, all of whom were already middle class or better.
And as that happened, public universities began to lose public support. Why should working class and lower middle class taxpayers subsidize the educations of children who had already benefited from a privileged upbringing and whose college degrees would provide them with a lifetime of higher earnings? After all, if well-off kids want a sheepskin that will make them rich, why shouldn’t they pay for it themselves?
And with that, universal support for cheap higher education dwindled, but not really for generational reasons. If poor and working class families still felt like their kids had a good shot at going to college, I’ll bet they’d still support low-cost public universities just as much as they used to.
Yesterday, the Virginia Senate Education and Health Committee put the interests of the tourism industryahead of the needs of students by voting to kill three billsthat would allow school boards to set their own calendar. The bills would have overturned the so called Kings Dominion Law, named for the amusement park in Doswell, Virginia. The law currently prohibits schools from starting before Labor Day, in an effort to boost late season tourism revenue:
The action by the Senate Education and Health Committee followed testimony from a string of tourism representatives, who said that moving the first day of school before the holiday weekend would hurt the industry at a time when it could ill afford to lose revenue.
Putting the tourism industry ahead of the needs of schools is an obvious blow to students. Proponents of rolling back the law cite research showing that students who have more time in school do better on exams and are more likely to go to college. A long summer vacation is particularly detrimental to low-income children who don’t have access to engaging programming during the summer. Indeed, more than 1,000 schools nationwide have broken free from the traditional confines of the school schedule and lengthened the school year to incorporate more time for academics, enrichment and teacher planning.
Speaking at an event at the Center for American Progress last year, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made clear that it is time for students to spend more time — not less — in school. “We know that far too many of our nation’s young people get to a certain point by June, thanks to their teachers hard work and commitment, and they come back in September further behind than when they left, and we just have to do something about it,” he said.
The issue is also one of governance. As Delegate Joe Morrissey (D) noted, the persons making the call about when schools should start should not be amusement park owners. “Who is going to make the decisions,” Morrissey asked. “I suggest that it not be Tweety bird orBugs Bunny or Scooby Doo or Sponge Bob that makes those decisions. They ought not to be making education decisions in the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
Still, many in the state support the Kings Dominion Law. “I’m glad the Senate has done this,” Mayor Will Sessoms of Virginia Beach said of Thursday’s vote to ax the Senate version of the bill. “The main reason is because the economic impact it would have on this city.”
It’s a no brainer that kids will learn more in school than they will riding a rollercoaster. The legislators should focus on helping educators create — and implement — high-quality summer programs rather than caving to Tweety bird and the money hungry tourism industry.
National School Choice Week, a pet project of big corporations and conservative billionaires like the Kochbrothers, kicked off Monday with celebratory forums throughout the country. Billing itself as a social justice movement committed to “ensuring effective education options for every child,” “school choice” has actually become a deeply divisive wedge issue for the right. But the folks at School Choice Week would prefer that you didn’t know that.
On their website, you can find photographs and videos of shiny happy children of all races and ethnicities. And you’ll see that Bill Cosby is a major supporter. And since he has a doctorate in education and has acted as a philanthropist on behalf of many African-American schools, many will see his endorsement as an important mark of legitimacy.
But there are a few serious problems with the school choice movement. Though it attracts mainstream conservatives like Cosby, as well as Democrats like President Barack Obama, it is not, at its core, a bipartisan endeavor. Its most important backers are rightwing organizations like the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity and other groups supported by billionaire rightwing ideologues like the Koch brothers. They want to dismantle public education altogether and run schools as businesses, judged as “successes” or “failures” based on abstract data taken from high-stakes standardized test scores.
Access to opportunity is replaced with demands for universal “excellence” and “achievement,” in which teachers are punished for student “failure.” This pits parents against teachers, and it ultimately sidelines already marginalized children of immigrant families, poor children and/or children of color.
To counter some of the misinformation School Choice Week organizers are disseminating to the public, I give you the five biggest lies you’ve heard about school choice:
1. It’s not about racial justice and equal opportunity.
In fact, school choice often makes inequality worse. But because public schools have not solved the achievement gap between white and black children in America, proponents of school choice dishonestly take up the mantle of the Civil Rights Movement.
It isn’t that all aspects of school choice are objectionable to educators. Dennis van Roekel, president of America’s largest teachers’ union, the National Education Association (NEA), acknowledges that school choice can benefit underserved populations some of the time. He says magnet schools – that is, schools in poor neighborhoods that provide a range of diverse classes for students not usually offered in public schools – are a good model for school choice. Such schools draw students who are attracted, for example, to advanced arts or sciences programs. The extra funding ensures that magnet schools, located in poor areas, become a district’s best schools. Van Roekel sees this as a worthy innovation that furthers equity, and says the NEA supports it.
His organization also supports teacher-led schools that empower teachers to administer schools and tailor them to the needs of students. He even says that some charter schools – that is, independent public schools designed to fill a specific community’s needs and are less regulated that other public schools – are good ones. He thinks there is room in public education for some charter schools.
But he doesn’t think they’re a viable answer to inequality everywhere. He cites a 2009 Stanford study, which foundthat only 17 percent of charter schools provided better education than regular public schools. And that, he says, is not acceptable to the NEA because “it ought to be better than that. It needs to be 100 percent.”
He is not as open to school vouchers, which divert public money away from public schools and allot it to parents to assist with private school tuition. Ultimately, Van Roekel says, vouchers disproportionately serve the wealthy. Less funding for public schools is just not good for poor communities, which usually have to rely on the public system.
Karey Hardwood, an ethics professor at NC State University and public school advocate, is also concerned about how school choice affects poor children. She is an activist with Great Schools in Wake, an organization that formed in2009 to oppose a school choice platform pushed by a newly elected right-wing school board in Wake County, North Carolina. The state chapter of theNAACP has also opposed school choice, arguing that it will lead to the re-segregation of schools in Raleigh, North Carolina and its surrounding suburbs.
Harwood asks: “When they talk about choice, whose choices are they referring to? Are the children of people who are savvy enough to get out of the public schools the only children who are worth educating in our society? What happens to the children who don’t get out? It seems the [people behind School Choice Week] knowingly embrace the idea of creating a second tier of schools for those American citizens who don’t or can’t ‘choose’ – and they are perfectly okay with a divided society of winners and losers.”
Carrie Rogers, a Wake County parent and former teacher who describes herself as a moderate Republican, agrees. She says school choice largely benefits well-educated middle and upper-middle class students. Rogers notes that she devoted 12 hours per week for six months to investigating her children’s options, and says that working class parents who work multiple jobs do not have that kind of free time on their hands. She adds that poor children, who most need access to excellent schools, will end up in the worst schools as a result. Ultimately, she says, “I think ‘school choice movement’ is a misnomer. I view it a movement based on prejudice, xenophobia and racism. The idea sounds good, and we all hate the idea of bussing our children [to outside communities to enforce Wake County’s former economic diversity policy]. But if you don’t want your child bussed, don’t break the entire system. We’ve allowed a very small group of vocal opponents to ruin our schools for everybody.”
Brian Jones is a New York City teacher and activist with the Grassroots Education Movement, an organization that supports progressive school policies. He says, “I think [racial and economic] segregation is the sinister subtext [of school choice]. Very wealthy benefactors are going into Harlem and promoting segregated schools as a solution. But the Civil Rights movement saw racial justice as bound up with economic justice. The school choice movement claims to be about racial justice, but distances itself from questions of economic justice. Under the banner of ‘school excellence,’ school choice advocates would like for us to forget about equity.”
John Wilson, former president of the NEA who now resides in Raleigh, says it is a “travesty that we are allowing our schools to be re-segregated” in the name of social justice. “If you really want to help poor children,” he insists, you have to desegregate your schools.” A native of the South who spends half of his time in North Carolina, Wilson says his background “absolutely informs” his perspective on school choice. When Southern schools were forced to integrate, he remembers, educators ultimately realized that integration was the best way to promote equity.” In other words, it brought home the lesson of Brown v. Board of Education – the groundbreaking 1954 Supreme Court decision mandating school integration on the basis that segregated “separate but equal” schooling always privileged white students and could never be equal in practice.
2. It’s not about making public education stronger
The school choice movement promotes the dismantling of public education at every turn.
Van Roekel says that, for school choice to benefit public education, it must prioritize the needs of students. The problem is that this rarely happens. Instead, school choice is too often a mechanism of privatizing education and defunding public schools. When funds are diverted away from public schools, they are not strengthened, but starved. Teachers end up with so many students per classroom that it is impossible to give every child the attention she needs. Van Roekel says attempts to profit on the back of public education are unacceptable.
Wilson tells AlterNet that he thinks School Choice Week’s primary aim is to promote vouchers at the expense of public education. He says, “Private schools undermine the public school system,” and adds that no evidence suggests they are better than public schools. School Choice Week, he says, is promoting the demise of public education under the guise “excellence.” In the end, he says, they are “doing a disservice to children.”
Judith Armfield, who retired from the Wake County Public School System in 2004 after 31 years in teaching, agrees. She opposes the privatization of education because she thinks diversity is an important aspect of learning. According to Armfield, private schools “encourage withdrawal from reality” such that “students…are not as well-prepared for success in a diverse world. My boys began their school experience in private school in [segregationist George Wallace’s] Alabama, but we realized that they were being sheltered and put them in public school classrooms” where they had access to better school curriculum and learned to coexist with people different from themselves.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama announced he would push forward with new offshore drilling — which includes the pristine waters of the Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, and Cook Inlet off Alaska’s coast. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) wrote a report in June 2011 that described dozens of areas that required further scientific research before taking the risks of disrupting the uniqueecosystems on behalf of the oil industry. Now, nearly 600 scientists from around the world have signed an open letter urging President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to base Arctic drilling decisions on science, not politics:
We, the undersigned 573 research scientists, call upon the Administration to follow through on its commitment to science by acting on the USGS recommendations. Doing so prior to authorizing new oil and gas activity in the Arctic Ocean will respect the national significance of the environment and cultures of U.S. Arctic waters and demonstrate the value that your Administration places on having a sound scientific basis for managing industrial development of the Outer Continental Shelf.
“Already stressed by rapidly melting summer ice, the whales, walrus, ice seals, polar bears, and other wildlife in these waters are especially vulnerable to oil spills and industrial activity,” the Pew Environment Group and the Ocean Conservancy explain in a full-page ad they will run in the New York Times and Politico highlighting the letter.
Drilling for fossil fuels in a melting Arctic would accelerate the potentially catastrophic destabilization of the planet’s thermostat. As National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco told ThinkProgress Green, “We don’t fully understandwhat the consequences of that are going to be.”
An upcoming report from the Center for American progress, due to be released later this month, will examine in greater detail America’s deficiencies in regard to Arctic infrastructure and oil spill response preparedness, and suggest steps to be taken before activities, such as drilling, commence in the world’s last unspoiled frontier.
A new video from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies maps Earth’s temperatures over the past 130 years:
The global average surface temperature in 2011 was the ninth warmest since 1880.The finding sustains a trend that has seen the 21st century experience nine of the 10 warmest years in the modern meteorological record. NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York released an analysis of how temperatures around the globe in 2011 compared to the average global temperature from the mid-20th century. The comparison shows how Earth continues to experience higher temperatures than several decades ago. The average temperature around the globe in 2011 was 0.92 degrees F (0.51 C) higher than the mid-20th century baseline.
In this animation of temperature data from 1880-2011, reds indicate temperatures higher than the average during a baseline period of 1951-1980, while blues indicate lower temperatures than the baseline average.
2011 is the ninth warmest year on record.
[…] Originally, climate denial went through three stages:
- The world isn’t warming.
- OK, it’s warming, but it’s not man-made. It’s just natural climate variability.
- Fine, people are responsible. But it’s not economically worth it to do anything about it.
But conservatives have more recently backpedaled not just a single step in this process, but all the way back to the paleolithic era they’re so fond of pretending to know more about than the folks who actually study it:
- Global warming is the biggest hoax ever put over on the American public.
This all fits in with the paranoia and conspiracy theorizing of the conservative base these days, which is pretty much identical to the paranoia and conspiracy theorizing of the far right since at least the 1930s. Climate change isn’t merely wrong — that would be boring — it’s an immense conspiracy being waged by a group of nerdy scientists (who want funding) and tree huggers (who are desperate to control everyone else’s lives). And it’s a damn successful conspiracy, too. Despite the fact that it requires thousands and thousands of participants from nearly every country in the world, with new collaborators earning PhDs every month, not a single one of them has broken the climate omerta yet and blown the whole thing open. But someone will, any day now. Just you wait.
| The Food and Drug Administration said Friday that it had detained orange juice shipments from Canada after they tested positive for low levels of a banned fungicide previously found in Brazilian juice.
[….] Reporting for the newly hatched Food and Environment Reporting Network, the excellent food-safety reporter Helena Bottemiller exposes one major example: the widespread use on factory-scale hog farms of ractopamine, a drug that boosts meat production but makes hogs miserable. The drug—fed to 60 to 80 percent of pigs, Bottemiller reports—”mimics stress hormones, making the heart beat faster and relaxing blood vessels.” Its effects are pretty dire:
Since it was introduced [13 years ago], ractopamine had sickened or killed more than 218,000 pigs as of March 2011, more than any other animal drug on the market, a review of FDA veterinary records shows. Pigs suffered from hyperactivity, trembling, broken limbs, inability to walk and death, according to FDA reports released under a Freedom of Information Act request.
Now, 218,000 pigs over 13 years is a rounding error for the pork industry, which slaughters upwards of 110 million hogs every year. The industry has clearly calculated that torturing pigs with pharmaceuticals is worth a few losses, so long as overall meat production gets a boost.
Of course, some of that ractopamine makes it into the pork on the supermarket meat aisles, Bottemiller reports. “While the Department of Agriculture has found traces of ractopamine in American beef and pork,” she writes, “they have not exceeded levels the FDA has determined are safe.” Other countries don’t see it that way, and the bulk of Bottemiller’s piece is about the refusal of the European Union and China—the globe’s two biggest pork markets—to accept meat from ractopamine-treated animals.
But this is hardly the only example of livestock being fed something known to make them sick. Since corn prices skyrocketed a few years ago, industrially-raised pigs have been finding an increasing amount of a cheaper corn byproduct called distillers grains—a leftover from the corn-ethanol process—in their rations. Distillers grains, it turns out, are full of toxins that attack pigs’ hearts, giving rise to a condition called Mulberry Heart Disease. Again, pigs aren’t affected quite enough to offset the industry’s gains from cheaper feed, so the practice goes on.
And as Michael Pollan showed in his classic 2002 article “Power Steer”(later folded into The Omnivore’s Dilemma), the corn-rich diet cows get on feedlots in the months before slaughter literally destroys their livers. Pollan reports that corn raises the pH level of cows’ rumens, making them susceptible to a condition called acidosis. The condition “can kill the animal but usually just makes it sick,” Pollan adds. He goes on:
Acidotic animals go off their feed, pant and salivate excessively, paw at their bellies and eat dirt. The condition can lead to diarrhea, ulcers, bloat, liver disease and a general weakening of the immune system that leaves the animal vulnerable to everything from pneumonia to feedlot polio.
Cows rarely live on feedlot diets for more than six months, which might be about as much as their digestive systems can tolerate. “I don’t know how long you could feed this ration before you’d see problems,” [feedlot veterinarian Mel] Metzen said; another vet said that a sustained feedlot diet would eventually “blow out their livers” and kill them. As the acids eat away at the rumen wall, bacteria enter the bloodstream and collect in the liver. More than 13 percent of feedlot cattle are found at slaughter to have abscessed livers. [Emphasis added.]
Again, the beef industry reckons that ruining cows’ health while they’re on the feedlot doesn’t matter, as long as corn fattens cows—as it does—and enough cows can be kept alive on it to reach slaughter weight. (The only way to ensure that, Pollan claims, is to feed them daily doses of antibiotics—but that’s a story for another post.) For the industry, the arrangement means profit. For us, it means that we’re routinely eating beef from sick, miserable animals. I read Pollan’s piece when it came out ten years ago, and have been avoiding feedlot beef ever since.
See that label above? That’s what a health insurance policy looks like — or is supposed to look like. Under the health reform law, insurance companies are required to summarize each benefit plan in a four-page, easy-to-read document (you can see the full thing here). The Obama administration rolled out a draft format for the summaries this past summer, and they were supposed to roll out this coming March, on the health reform law’s two-year anniversary.
Except, they won’t: In the fall, the Department Labor announced that it would no longer adhere to that March 2012 deadline, and instead would give insurance plans “sufficient time to comply.” Insurance companies have pushed for the delayed implementation. As AHIP, which represents the insurance industry, wrote in its comments, “The proposed rule requires almost a complete redesign of how information is provided to consumers and it will be difficult and costly to implement on this timeline.”
Consumer groups, meanwhile, are getting nervous about when this label will actually come online — and what the final product will look like. Four major health-care groups sent a letter to the White House this week, urging the administration to stick with the template created this summer — and to get it out the door soon.
Consumer advocates worry that the White House may ditch the part of the label shown above, which games how much a subscriber would pay for a particular suite of medical services, such as delivering a baby or seeking breast cancer treatment. “We are very concerned that compared to the proposed rule that was released in August, the final rule we are expecting shortly will be weakened,” the Consumer Union’s Lynn Quincy told the Associated Press recently. “That would be very bad for consumers.”
A lot of this won’t get resolved until we see a final regulation and, right now, there’s no firm release date for that. The Department of Labor has not sent the regulation up to the Office of Budget and Management — one of the last steps in regulatory review — which suggests that we’re still a decent way off from seeing the final document, and from getting a sense of where the administration will land.
Dental expenses were among the highest out-of-pocket health expenditures for U.S. consumers in 2008, researchers say.
Study author Paul Glassman, a dentist and director of the Pacific Center for Special Care at University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry, said the Bureau of Labor Statistics found out-of-pocket dental expenses cost consumers $30.7 billion — 22.2 percent of total out-of-pocket health expenditures.
The study found 37 percent of African-American children, 41 percent of Hispanic children and 25 percent of white children have untreated tooth decay.
Glassman said the factors driving the focus on quality improvement in oral healthcare are the same ones driving the overall healthcare quality movement.
The study outlined the systemic barriers that have slowed change in dental care improvement include:
— Limited evidence of best practice for most dental procedures has led to widespread variation in clinical decisions among dentists.
— Government only pays for about 6 percent of dental care nationally, and dental practices and their patients are not part of a larger provider organization pushing for improvements.
— Incentives to implement quality improvement programs are few.
Increasing costs, inadequate access to care and profound disparities are creating new pressures for the oral health delivery system to focus on value instead of volume of services, Glassman said.
The findings were presented at a national meeting of oral health professionals, government leaders, consumer advocates and others convened by the Kellogg Foundation and DentaQuest Institute.
Kaiser Health News:
For a candidate who keeps vowing to repeal the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney sure can make a convincing argument on its behalf.
At least that’s how it appeared to a lot of people after Thursday night’s Republican presidential candidate debate in Jacksonville, Fla.
During a more than 10-minute back-and-forth on health care largely between Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Romney ended up delivering a lengthy justification for his state’s decision to pass a 2006 law that included requiring nearly every resident to either have health insurance or pay a tax penalty.
“If you don’t want to buy insurance, then you have to help pay for the cost of the state picking up your bill, because under federal law if someone doesn’t have insurance, then we have to care for them in the hospitals, give them free care,” said Romney. “So we said, no more, no more free riders. We are insisting on personal responsibility. Either get the insurance or help pay for your care.”
“Does everybody in Massachusetts have a requirement to buy health care?” asked Santorum.
“Everyone has a requirement to either buy it or pay the state for the cost of providing them free care,” Romney shot back. “Because the idea of people getting something for free when they could afford to care for themselves is something that we decided in our state was not a good idea.”
Santorum’s conclusion was that “in Massachusetts, everybody is mandated, as a condition of breathing … to buy health insurance, and if you don’t … you have to pay a fine.”
But backers of the requirement saw Romney’s explanation in a somewhat different light.
Said John McDonough, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, “Romney has given in this entire presidential campaign last evening what I believe is the most effective and persuasive rationale and defense of the individual mandate.”
Of course, that may not be a good thing for Romney as he fights to win over Republicans who dislike the 2010 law in general, and the insurance requirement in particular. Santorum said the Massachusetts law passed under Romney’s stewardship in 2006 is too close to the federal law for Republicans to make health care an issue this fall.
“It does not provide the contrast we need with Barack Obama if we’re going to take on that most important issue. We cannot give the issue of health care away in this election,” he said.
And while Romney insisted that the Massachusetts law and the federal law differ in significant ways, McDonough, who was intimately involved in the development and passage of both the Massachusetts and federal health laws, insists that’s not really the case.
“The similarities go far far beyond the mandate,” he said. For example, “the essential architecture of the insurance reforms in the Affordable Care Act are taken wholly from the Massachusetts health reform law.”
On the other hand, Santorum may have overspoken when he claimed that the Massachusetts law isn’t working very well.
Just this week the policy journal Health Affairs published a study looking at the Massachusetts program’s first five years in operation.
“We find the state is continuing to do quite well in terms of maintaining high levels of health insurance coverage and improvements in access to care,” said lead author Sharon Long of the University of Minnesota and the Urban Institute. “Including for the first time we’re seeing reductions in emergency department use, and also some improvements in health status. So really, some very positive changes that came with health reform.”
Positive for Massachusetts residents, perhaps. Positive for Mitt Romney’s chances to win the Republican nomination? That still remains to be seen.
A year ago, House Democrats were downtrodden and depressed, having lost members in sweeping numbers and been relegated to a powerless minority in the House.
Now, they’re upbeat, boasting of renewed optimism in this election year.
Gathered on the Eastern Shore for their annual House strategy retreat, Democrats talked, proclaiming public favor on their side — especially as they look across the aisle and see restive Republicans and an increasingly acrimonious presidential primary fight.
President Barack Obama, who appears more sure-footed as well, is scheduled to deliver remarks Friday at the end of the three-day conference. And Vice President Joe Biden is coming, too.
“There’s very tangible evidence that our unity and our confidence is paying off in areas where it matters,” said Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.). “The tide is running in our direction.”
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), who serves as co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said the resurgent upbeat mood is the result of a yearlong period of self-examination for Democrats.
“Every human being has to ask themselves, ‘OK, you got smacked around. Why?’” Ellison said. “What are you here for? What are you doing? What do you exist for? What’s your purpose? And we did that.”
Roughly 100 House Democratic lawmakers are huddling this week on the sprawling grounds of the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay to plot their election-year strategy during a retreat called Reigniting the American Dream. Other party notables at the retreat include Clinton White House adviser Paul Begala and MSNBC host Ed Schultz.
One retreat session looked at how Democrats can take the offensive on jobs messaging. Former White House Communications Director Anita Dunn led a seminar on how to deal with the media. And various lawmakers hosted policy-oriented sessions, such as one on trimming defense spending and a series of seminars on election, financial, health care and tax reform.
In his session, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell urged Democrats to seize momentum from Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday to pressure Republicans in the next month to pass the legislation the president wants.
“Too many of us tried to be Republican-lite [before the 2010 elections]. And if you’re going to vote for a Republican, you’re going to choose a real Republican over a Republican-lite,” Rendell said. “That’s where we went astray. We should stand and defend the core principles we believe in.”
Democrats appear ready to do that. Lawmakers even seem eager now to talk up the health care law — the signature policy achievement for Obama that became a political liability for Democrats in 2010 — intent on correcting what they say are misconceptions of the Affordable Care Act.
One method of doing that is a so-called truth squad talked up by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) that would roam the country, meeting seniors groups and hitting the airwaves about Medicare and Social Security.
“I’ve really reached out to the White House myself to say, send me out, because that bill is still so widely misunderstood,” said Del. Donna Christensen (D-U.S. Virgin Islands). “It stands as a barrier to really reelecting the president, and I’d like to go out and explain it. We’re not running away from it. We’re proud of our record on health care reform.”
Speaking at the conservative Hispanic Leadership Network conference here today, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) warned his fellow conservatives against using rhetoric towards immigrants that is “harsh and intolerable and inexcusable“:
“We must admit that there are those among us that have used rhetoric that is harsh and intolerable and inexcusable,” Rubio said. “And we must admit — myself included — that sometimes we’ve been too slow to condemn that language for what it is.”
While Rubio, who is of Cuban descent, did not mention them by name, his words could have been intended for GOP presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney who spoke immediately after him at the conference. Both have taken immigration policies well to the right of President Bush, with Romney going even further than Gingrich in saying that he wouldveto the DREAM Act.
Rubio is a rising star in the GOP and extraordinarily popular among the Hispanic conservatives at the conference, and his words received a very warm reception here. His comments came after he was interrupted by two undocumented students who confronted him for not supporting the DREAM Act.
The Justice Department said in a filing on Friday that the primary schedule proposed by the Texas Republican Party wouldn’t give enough time for military and overseas voters to participate in the election process in violation of the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act.
Here’s the kicker: conservatives — led by Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn — have long been on a crusade against the Justice Department for what they said was a failure to protect military voters under the MOVE Act.
Now it’s Texas’ Republican Party which would be violating the law. The party suggested on Jan. 23 that the court issue an order stating that ballots to voters subject to the MOVE Act should be mailed on March 9 “Notwithstanding the requirements of the MOVE Act,” even thought the election is supposed to be held on April 3.
Justice Department lawyers said that the Republican Party “has proposed shortening the amount of time that military and overseas voters will have to participate in the election” and that such proposals are in “conflict with UOCAVA’s explicit requirement that states transmit ballots to the voters protected under the act at least 45 days before a federal election.”
The reason Texas officials are on such a tight schedule is because the redistricting maps drawn by state legislatures and signed by Gov. Rick Perry haven’t been cleared under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which applies to states with a history of racial discrimination. Final arguments in the redistricting case had been scheduled in D.C. federal court on Monday, but there were increasing signs late Friday that the Texas Attorney General and the Mexican American Legislative Caucus might be able to strike some sort of deal.
DOJ’s attorneys say they “understand the State of Texas and its officials have important interests in being able to administer an orderly election following the resolution of the claims before the Court and recognize the timing challenges the Court and the parties now face.”
But they say it’s “essential that Texas’ UOCAVA voters, many of whom are deployed at home and abroad in service to our country, are provided the full opportunity to vote embodied in UOCAVA.”
[…] Citizens United is but the latest battle in the class war waged for thirty years from the top down by the corporate and political right. Instead of creating a fair and level playing field for all, government would become the agent of the powerful and privileged. Public institutions, laws, and regulations, as well as the ideas, norms, and beliefs that aimed to protect the common good and helped create America’s iconic middle class, would become increasingly vulnerable.The Nobel Laureate economist Robert Solow succinctly summed up results: “The redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy and of power in favor of the powerful.” In the wake of Citizens United, popular resistance is all that can prevent the richest economic interests in the country from buying the democratic process lock, stock, and barrel.
America has a long record of conflict with corporations. Wealth acquired under capitalism is in and of itself no enemy to democracy, but wealth armed with political power—power to choke off opportunities for others to rise, power to subvert public purposes and deny public needs—is a proven danger to the “general welfare” proclaimed in the Preamble to the Constitution as one of the justifications for America’s existence.
In its founding era, Alexander Hamilton created a financial system for our infant republic that mixed subsidies, tariffs, and a central bank to establish a viable economy and sound public credit. James Madison and Thomas Jefferson warned Americans to beware of the political ambitions of that system’s managerial class. Madison feared that the “spirit of speculation” would lead to “a government operating by corrupt influence, substituting the motive of private interest in place of public duty.” Jefferson hoped that “we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and [to] bid defiance to the laws of our country.” Radical ideas? Class war- fare? The voters didn’t think so. In 1800, they made Jefferson the third president and then reelected him, and in 1808 they put Madison in the White House for the next eight years.
Andrew Jackson, the overwhelming people’s choice of 1828, vetoed the rechartering of the Second Bank of the United States in the summer of 1832. Twenty percent of its stock was government-owned; the rest was held by private investors, some of them foreigners and all of them wealthy. Jackson argued that the bank’s official connections and size gave it unfair advantages over local competition. In his veto message, he said: “[This act] seems to be predicated on the erroneous idea that the present stockholders have a prescriptive right not only to the favor but to the bounty of Government. . . . It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes.” Four months later, Jackson was easily reelected in a decisive victory over plutocracy.
The predators roared back in the Gilded Age that followed the Civil War. Corruption born of the lust for money produced what one historian described as “the morals of a gashouse gang.” Judges, state legislators, the parties that selected them and the editors who supported them were purchased as easily as ale at the local pub. Lobbyists roamed the halls of Congress proffering gifts of cash, railroad passes, and fancy entertainments. The U.S. Senate became a “millionaires’ club.” With government on the auction block, the notion of the “general welfare” wound up on the trash heap; grotesque inequality and poverty festered under the gilding. Sound familiar?
Then came a judicial earthquake. In 1886, a conservative Supreme Court conferred the divine gift of life on the Southern Pacific Railroad and by extension to all other corporations. The railroad was declared to be a “person,” protected by the recently enacted Fourteenth Amendment, which said that no person should be deprived of “life, liberty or property without due process of law.” Never mind that the amendment was enacted to protect the rights of freed slaves who were now U.S. citizens. Never mind that a corporation possessed neither a body to be kicked nor a soul to be damned (or saved!). The Court decided that it had the same rights of “personhood” as a walking, talking citizen and was entitled to enjoy every liberty protected by the Constitution that flesh-and-blood individuals could claim, even though it did not share their disadvantage of being mortal. It could move where it chose, buy any kind of property it chose, and select its directors and stockholders from anywhere it chose. Welcome to unregulated multinational conglomerates, although unforeseen at the time. Welcome to tax shelters, at home and offshore, and to subsidies galore, paid for by the taxes of unsuspecting working people. Corporations were endowed with the rights of “personhood” but exempted from the responsibilities of citizenship.
That’s the doctrine picked up and dusted off by the John Roberts Court in its ruling on Citizens United. Ignoring a century of modifying precedent, the court gave our corporate sovereigns a “sky’s the limit” right to pour money into political campaigns for the purpose of influencing the outcome. And to do so without public disclosure. We might as well say farewell to the very idea of fair play. Farewell, too, to representative government “of, by, and for the people.”
Unless “We, the People”—flesh-and-blood humans, outraged at the selling off of our government—fight back.
It’s been done before. As my friend and longtime colleague, the historian Bernard Weisberger, wrote recently, the Supreme Court remained a procorporate conservative fortress for the next fifty years after the Southern Pacific decision. Decade after decade it struck down laws aimed to share power with the citizenry and to promote “the general welfare.” In 1895, it declared unconstitutional a measure providing for an income tax and gutted the Sherman Antitrust Act by finding a loophole for a sugar trust. In 1905, it killed a New York state law limiting working hours. In 1917, it did likewise to a prohibition against child labor. In 1923, it wiped out another law that set minimum wages for women. In 1935 and 1936, it struck down early New Deal recovery acts.
But in the face of such discouragement, embattled citizens refused to give up. Into their hearts, wrote the progressive Kansas journalist William Allen White, “had come a sense that their civilization needed recasting, that the government had fallen into the hands of self-seekers, that a new relationship should be established between the haves and the have-nots.” Not content merely to wring their hands and cry “Woe is us,” everyday citizens researched the issues, organized public events to educate their neighbors, held rallies, made speeches, petitioned and canvassed, marched and exhorted. They would elect the twentieth-century governments that restored “the general welfare” as a pillar of American democracy, setting in place legally ordained minimum wages, maximum working hours, child labor laws, workmen’s safety and compensation laws, pure foods and safe drugs, Social Security and Medicare, and rules to promote competitive rather than monopolistic financial and business markets.
The social contract that emerged from these victories is part and parcel of the “general welfare” to which the Founders had dedicated our Constitution. The corporate and political right seeks now to weaken and ultimately destroy it. Thanks to their ideological kin on the Supreme Court, they can attack the social contract using their abundant resources of wealth funneled— clandestinely—into political campaigns. During the fall elections of 2010, the first after the Citizens United decision, corporate front groups spent $126 million while hiding the identities of the donors, according to the Sunlight Foundation. The United States Chamber of Commerce, which touts itself as a “main street” grass- roots organization, draws most of its funds from about a hundred businesses, including such “main street” sources as BP, Exxon- Mobil, JPMorgan Chase, Massey Coal, Pfizer, Shell, Aetna, and Alcoa. The ink was hardly dry on the Citizens United decision when the Chamber organized a covertly funded front and fired volley after volley of missiles, in the form of political ads, into the 2010 campaigns, eventually spending approximately $75 million. Another corporate cover group—the Americans Action Net- work—spent over $26 million of undisclosedcorporate money in six Senate races and 28 House of Representative elections. And “Crossroads GPS” seized on Citizens United to raise and spend at least $17 million that NBC News said came from “a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls,” all determined to water down the financial reforms designed to avoid a collapse of the financial system that their own greed and reckless speculation had helped bring on. As I write in the summer of 2011, the New York Times reports that efforts to thwart serious reforms are succeeding. The populist editor Jim Hightower concludes that today’s proponents of corporate plutocracy “have simply elevated money itself above votes, establishing cold, hard cash as the real coin of political power. The more you spend on politics, the bigger your voice is in government, making the vast vaults of billionaires and corporations far superior to the voices of mere voters.”
Against such odds, discouragement comes easily. But if the generations before us had given up, slaves would be waiting on our tables and picking our crops, women would be turned back at the voting booths, and it would be a crime for workers to organize. Like our forebears, we will not fix the broken promise of America—the promise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all our citizens, not just the powerful and privileged—if we throw in the proverbial towel. Surrendering to plutocracy is not an option. Confronting a moment in our history that is much like the one Lincoln faced—when “we can nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope on earth”—we must fight back against the forces that are pouring dirty money into the political system, turning it into a sewer.
Facebook has hired another Republican, adding to its already GOP-heavy Washington, D.C., staff.
In preparation for the fall elections, the company announced today that George Alafoginis will join its election 2012 team. Alafoginis is the former deputy director for online strategy and technology deployment at the Republican National Committee.
He will focus on political advertising, joining two other campaign-focused staffers: Katie Harbath, the former chief digital strategist for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Adam Conner, a Democrat who launched Facebook’s Washington office out of his apartment in 2006.
Alafoginis doesn’t start until late next month but he’s already written his name on their wall — an actual collection of signatures from lawmakers, reporters and other Facebook friends that lines one side of the downtown office.
In the past six years, Facebook’s Washington operation has ballooned, including state, local and international policy experts and four lobbyists: Republicans Myriah Jordan, Chris Herndon and Joel Kaplan, former deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, and one Democrat, Louisa Terrell.
The company lost its other Democratic lobbyist this fall and is looking for three more new Washington staffers.
Technology firms, long considered stalwart Democrats, have become increasingly bipartisan and issue-focused in their interactions with Washington. Facebook, industry lobbyists note, has led the way.
“Facebook has understood from the beginning the importance of having an effective presence in D.C.” said Dan Turrentine, vice president for government relations at TechNet, one of the industry’s largest trade associations. “They get the need to have allies in both parties; with the Executive and Legislative branches; to have both policy specialists and political operatives; to support candidates, committees, trade associations and think tanks; and to have relations with the media intelligentsia and key thought leaders.”
Facebook has high hopes for its role in campaigns on both sides of the aisle as a forum for debate, an advertising platform and as a donor through its new political action committee. The company is also on the hunt for media partners to co-host debates and other online gatherings and is aiming to put its mark on the party conventions this summer.
“Politics and governing in the United States have always been social,” said Andrew Noyes, a company spokesman. “Long before people started connecting with each other online they were meeting in town squares, coffee shops, and around water coolers to discuss important issues of the day.”
Karl Smith says lefty intellectuals have a problem dealing with bullshit. Case in point: Mark Zandi spending several hundred words this week demonstrating, yet again, that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac weren’t responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown:
Mark, Mark. Clonazepam. It’s a beautiful thing. Let go.
I am betting that maybe five people in the US actually believe Fannie and Freddie caused the housing bubble. Maybe half a dozen more are actively lying about it.
The rest are just Bullshitting. That is, they don’t really care what the truth is one way or the other. This is just a way to gesture in the general direction of the federal government and say Urrhh!!!
Ah, but what’s the proper response to bullshit? Karl is almost certainly right that among actual conservative economists, only a few actually believe that Fannie and Freddie played a big role in the financial collapse. But those few true believers have a significant effect on:
- Other conservative thought leaders, who don’t know anything themselves but are happy to parrot congenial talking points.
- Conservative legislators, who need intellectual justification for their speeches on the House floor.
- The media, which is willing to continue suggesting that this is a genuine controversy as long as conservative thought leaders and conservative legislators keep pushing it.
- Millions of rank-and-file conservatives, who listen to Fox News and read the Wall StreetJournal editorial page and honestly believe this stuff because they’re getting it from people they trust.
Does Mark Zandi know this? Of course he does. He’s not an idiot. But what’s the proper response? If you ignore the bullshitters, then the anti-GSE narrative gets set in stone whether or not it’s bullshit. If you fight it, at least it remains fluid for a while — possibly long enough for things to settle down.
So sure, it’s kabuki. All of us who write about politics for a living understand that 90% (at least) of what we do is just shadow boxing. Controversies are invented, then debunked, then invented all over again, and debunked. Sometimes the inventors know perfectly well what they’re doing, while other times they’ve talked themselves into actually believing their own nonsense. In either case, these things are mostly just proxies for the issues that really matter.
But so what? The Reichstag fire was wholly invented too, and look what happened after that. As demeaning as it is, fighting back against bullshit is every bit as important as fighting back against the real stuff.
I’m going to call it: PolitiFact has now devolved into farce. Sure, maybe some things are tough calls. It can be difficult to tease out facts, or find the most accurate statistics, or look something up from the old-timey days of the 1990s. But this one reads like an Onion piece making fun of PolitiFact—that’s how ridiculous it is.
Here’s the statement being fact checked. During Thursday’s debate, Mitt Romney said:
“I’ve never voted for a Democrat when there was a Republican on the ballot.”
Now, people had a wee bit of a problem with this, because the context was Romney’s vote for Democrat Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Democratic presidential primary. The Republicans certainlywere having a primary that day as well: The incumbent president, George H.W. Bush, was running against Pat Buchanan. Now we can all look back now and have a good laugh at permanent cable news fixture Pat Buchanan taking on the incumbent president, but they both were certainly “on the ballot” in the 1992 primaries. So Mitt’s completely making stuff up on this one—his critics have got him dead to rights. In the past, he’s argued that he voted for Paul Tsongas for various strategic reasons, but this time around, in front of a national audience, heflatly claimed there was no Republican on the ballot. That statement is absolutely false. There were two!
Can’t wait for the fact-checkers’ ruling on this one, can you?Well, here’s PolitiFact’s decision:
In the Jacksonville debate, Romney said, “I’ve never voted for a Democrat when there was a Republican on the ballot.” Romney has been open about the strategy behind his decision, and we expect many voters would have done the same thing. We see two contrary interpretations as having merit. Romney has a point that the ballot he was handed didn’t include any Republicans. On the other hand, Romney had a right to request a GOP ballot that day and opted not to. We rate the statement Half True.
Got that? They’re giving this one to Mitt Romney, because Mitt Romney asked for a Democratic ballot, and there were no Republicans on the Democratic ballot.
No, seriously. Let’s just all absorb that wisdom for a moment. The statement “I’ve never voted for a Democrat when there was a Republican on the ballot” is declared “half true” because there were no Republicans on the Democratic ballot Mitt requested.
Check where CNN has put London on the map.
Gavin Aronsen, Mother Jones:
On Saturday, Occupy Oakland re-entered the national spotlight during a day-long effort to take over an empty building andtransform it into a social center. Oakland police thwarted the efforts, arresting more than 400 people in the process, primarily during a mass nighttime arrest outside a downtown YMCA. That number included at least six journalists, myself included, in direct violation of OPD media relations policy that states “media shall never be targeted for dispersal or enforcement action because of their status.”
After an unsuccessful afternoon effort to occupy a former convention center, the more than 1,000 protesters elected to return to the site of their former encampment outside city hall. On the way, they clashed with officers, advancing down a street with makeshift shields of corrogated metal and throwing objects at a police line. Officers responded with smoke grenades, tear gas, and bean bag projectiles. After protesters regrouped, they marched through downtown as police pursued and eventually contained a few hundred of them in an enclosed space outside a YMCA. Some entered the gym and were arrested inside.
As soon as it became clear that I would be kettled with the protesters, I displayed my press credentials to a line of officers and asked where to stand to avoid arrest. In past protests, the technique always proved successful. But this time, no officer said a word. One pointed back in the direction of the protesters, refusing to let me leave. Another issued a notice that everyone in the area was under arrest.
I wound up in a back corner of the space between the YMCA and a neighboring building, where I met Vivian Ho of the San Francisco Chronicle and Kristin Hanes of KGO Radio. After it became clear that we would probably have to wait for hours there as police arrested hundreds of people packed tightly in front of us, we maneuvered our way to the front of the kettle to display our press credentials once more.
When Hanes displayed hers, an officer shook his head. “That’s not an Oakland pass,” he told her. “You’re getting arrested.” (She had a press pass issued by San Francisco, but not Oakland, police.) Another officer rejected my credentials, and I began interviewing soon-to-be-arrested protesters standing nearby. About five minutes later, an officer grabbed my arm and ziptied me. Around the same time, Ho—who did have official OPD credentials—was also apprehended.
As I waited in line to be processed and transported to jail, Ho approached me with an officer who had released her from custody. The two explained to my arresting officer that I was with the media. “Oh, he’s with the media?” the officer replied, although I had already repeatedly told him as much and my credentials had been plainly visible all night. He appeared ready to release me, until a nearby officer piped in, without explanation: “He’s getting arrested.”
Later, before I was loaded on a police bus with 48 protesters, another officer told a protester in front of me that he should have left after police issued dispersal orders. When I told the officer that I had attempted to do just that, he asked, “How long have you been out here today?” “Since about 1:30.” Flashing a smile and telling me that he didn’t care I was a reporter, he replied, “We’ve been issuing dispersal orders all day.” Kettled protesters claimed that no orders were issued until they had no means of escape, but in either case the orders were difficult to hear over the commotion of the crowd.
As police rounded up protesters into vans outside the YMCA, several occupiers who managed to avoid capture retaliated by vandalizing city hall. Others protested outside an Oakland jail where the officer driving the bus I was escorted onto had promised to take us “if you don’t piss me off.” Instead, he had to drive to a county jail in Santa Rita about 40 minutes away. (Officers from at least seven outside agencies came to Oakland in response to the day’s events.)
After spending about an hour locked up alone in a drunk-tank cellblock, OPD Sergeant Jeff Thomason arrived to release me, thanks to a call fromMother Jones co-editor-in-chief Monika Bauerlein. “You probably shouldn’t have been in here to begin with,” he told me apologetically as he escorted me in his personal car back to the scene of my arrest to retrieve my backpack where I’d stashed my steno pad. But for the time-being, it was unretrievable under a massive pile of occupiers’ bags in the back of a police van.
At least five other reporters were arrested last night: Hanes, Ho, John C. Osborn of the East Bay Express, Yael Chanoff of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and graphic journalist Susie Cagle, who was previously arrested during the short-lived occupation of a vacant downtown building following Occupy Oakland’s first port shutdown last November. Chanoff was taken to the Santa Rita jail. The others were all quickly released at the scene (an officer told Cagle that he was doing her a “favor”).
Oakland police, who have been instructed ahead of past Occupy Oakland protests not to preventanyone “claiming media affiliation” from “engag[ing] in activity afforded to media personnel,” particularly “during times of civil unrest,” have also violated department policy on crowd control responding to previous Occupy protests. The ongoing game of cat-and-mouse between police and protesters has frustrated officers forced to work overtime hours at a department that will likely be placed in federal receivership for civil rights violations that predate the Occupy movement. Last week, a federal judge ruled that the OPD remains “woefully behind its peers around the state and nation.”
“The Bay Area Occupy movement has got to stop using Oakland as their playground,” Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said in a statement during last night’s arrests that made no mention of her police department’s lack of regard for journalists’ First Amendment protections. Last week, the United States dropped 27 spots in Reporters Without Borders’ annual press freedom index dueto police treatment of journalists covering the Occupy Wall Street movement. By Josh Stearns’s count, at least three dozen reporters have been arrested since the movement began last year in Manhattan.
James Fallows, The Atlantic:
Mouse over the underlined passages to view annotations. All notes also appear in full at the end of the speech text.
Overall this was an impressive and surprising speech, which accomplished the main goal of a “Year Four” State of the Union Address in a different way from what I had foreseen. Those goals include putting the political opposition in an awkward position in the run-up to the presidential election, and the speech did more of that than I expected.
A “Year Four” SOTU is usually only the third State of the Union address a president gives. When a new president has been elected in November, there’s typically no SOTU address the following January. The old, outgoing president has no further program to talk about, and the new one has said his piece in his inaugural address. Even though it seems—at least to me!—as if they’re always happening, in fact we get only three SOTU addresses every four years, or seven of them in the eight years of a re-elected president’s two term.
At the beginning of Year Four for a first-term incumbent, which was the setting for Obama’s speech this week, the purpose of the SOTU address is less to advance a program than to build a case. Although Year Four presidents, including Obama, often go through the motions of urging action on various bills, they know that very little is likely to occur—especially when, like Obama, they face a divided or opposition-controlled Congress. (It doesn’t say much good about our legislative system that for fully one year out of four it’s essentially out of commission, as all members of the House concentrate on re-election, along with a third of the Senators. But that’s life.) These legislative “goals,” like nearly everything Obama mentioned in this speech, really should be thought of as “for example” illustrations of the larger case the president is making for another chance at governing. In reality, everything a new president does from the day after his original election is done with an eye toward the re-election run. But starting in Year Four, that “four more years!” case is out in the open and legitimate. I don’t think that the leitmotif slogan of this speech—”Built to Last”—is really going to make it as the slogan of the Obama 2012 campaign. (And for obvious reasons, they’re not going to resurrect “Change We Can Believe In.”) But the ideas and arguments in the speech do, I think, set up the main themes Obama and his team will stress.
In a nutshell, that theme—the intended message of the speech—is: I am a reasonable guy, still hoping to be a uniter rather than a divider, and I have a plan to deal with the trends that make us all worry about our economy and society. Also, I’m very patriotic—and if you think I’m weak or pussy-footing, go ask Osama bin Laden about that.
[…] The Obama campaign has pledged to refuse contributions from lobbyists, continuing a policy it set during the 2008 campaign.
Research by the Center for Responsive Politics indicates the Obama campaign accepted a total of $2,250 from five federally registered lobbyists between April and September. The campaign collected an additional $4,500 from three individuals who registered as federal lobbyists shortly after making contributions.
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told OpenSecrets Blog that refunds would be issued to all individuals who were registered lobbyists.
“When we catch [a contribution] from a federal lobbyist that slips through the cracks, we immediately return the contribution,” LaBolt said. “Unlike our opponents, our campaign does not accept contributions from Washington lobbyists.”
Political observers say Obama’s policy is designed to curb the sway of professional influence-seekers, and they acknowledge that any such protocol would likely have a few people slip through the cracks, especially when individual donors number in the millions — as they do in the case of Obama’s campaign.
Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs is back on the Obama payroll as a roving surrogate and strategic consultant for the president’s reelection effort, two campaign sources tell me.
Gibbs, who left the West Wing about a year ago, will continue to take other consulting and speaking jobs, but for months has been present on conference calls with Obama, campaign manager Jim Messina, senior campaign strategist David Axelrod and senior White House adviser David Plouffe, the sources said.
The contract represents a ‘formalization’ of the relationship between the Chicago-based campaign and Gibbs, who has had an informal relationship with the campaign since last May. It’s not clear how much he’ll be paid, but that’s what quarterly campaign filings are for.
The Alabama-bred Gibbs is known for his blunt style and candor with Obama, and a person close to Obama said one of the reasons he was being brought closer to the campaign is his willingness to deliver tough messages to the president, a role he’s played for five years of governing and campaigning.
Sometimes Gibbs brashness has raised eyebrows among those with F-bomb allergies. The most notable example: The disclosure that he had a sometimes rocky relationship with First Lady Michelle Obama and Valerie Jarrett, a senior White House adviser, in a recent book by Jodi Kantor, a veteran New York Times reporter.
Still, Gibbs’ fiery temperament is hardly a news flash in Obamaworld and the Kantor book doesn’t seem to have kept him out of the tent. In part, that’s because of his utility: He’s one of the few Obama advisers with the credibility to confront the president when Obama delivers a lackluster speech or strays from the talking points.
Gibbs has hardly been out of the limelight since leaving 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
He’s a fixture on cable, and will remain so. But his most intriguing gig has been debating Obama arch-enemy Karl Rove before various associations. The two former White House hands like each other, people close to both men say, and will appear next on Feb. 3 in Orlando at a conference sponsored by a cleaning industry trade association, according to the association’s web site.
This is a cycle many of us have been noticing for a long time. Many times the poutrage engaged by President Obama’scritics on the left is pre-emptive. In other words, they assume something is going to happen, gin up the Obama bashing, and then when it turns out not to be the case, either ignore it or take credit for the turnaround that happened only in their minds.
Case in point…Matt Taibbi’s column on the foreclosure fraud settlement. First of all lets stipulate that no one has beenmore critical of Obama on the financial crisis than Taibbi. But I’ll at least give him props for admitting he was wrong about the foreclosure settlement.
So there was big news yesterday on the foreclosure settlement front. We still have to wait and see what the final deal looks like, but there are reports out that the long-awaited settlement is a far, far better deal for the public than expected.
The immediate question that comes to mind is “its better than WHO expected, Matt?”
A couple of issues come into play here. First of all, as I pointed out back in November, the poutrage people were expressing about this deal was based on rumors they were hearing about what was in it. The fact of the matter is that a deal STILL hasn’t been announced. But back then there was every reason to believe that anonymous leaks about what was included were coming from folks with an agenda. I’d suggest that those running with the leaks were simply getting played.
Secondly, Taibbi made the same mistake many others on the left did in thinking this one settlement was the be-all end-all of this administration’s efforts to hold the banks accountable. That has NEVER been the case. As NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and others have been saying all along, this is a settlement dealing with one aspect of mortgage fraud…robo-signing during foreclosure.
If folks like Taibbi took just a moment to think about what is going on here – and what folks like him are actually saying – they might recognize why it was important to start with this one issue.
But my point was that, while a gross crime and one of the more obvious (and easily provable) parts of the criminal scheme common during the mortgage bubble years, robosigning is really an ancillary part of an even more enormous fraud that went on, and is still going on, in securitization/origination.
Aren’t most of us aware by now that in a major probe such as this one its pretty standard practice to start with “the more obvious (and easily provable) parts of the criminal scheme” and then work your way up to the more complex?
But no, these poutragers want their perp walks…and then want them now! Damn the complicated legal process!
And so what is their conclusion when they see the case progressing in ways they had originally said they wanted it to? They frame it as a win for their heroes.
If these reports are true, it looks like New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and California AG Kamala Harris have scored an enormous victory…
The deficiency these poutragers demonstrate over and over is a total inability to see the long game this administration is so adept at playing.
After awhile, it does get a bit tiring pointing this out all the time. But we need to keep watch on how these frames develop – if only to ensure that we don’t fall into the trap ourselves.
On Meet the Press, Obama campaign senior strategist David Axelrod discussed Romney’s tax returns and the fact that he paid a 13.9% effective tax rate. Asked if Romney broke any rules, Axelrod pushed back. “I’m not saying he didn’t play by the rules. The rules allow you to have Swiss bank accounts. The rules allow you to put your money in the Cayman Islands and to set up businesses in Bermuda and so on. The rules allow all of that. The question is are the rules right? He would continue those rules. They are not right. It’s not right that someone like Governor Romney can make $20, $22 million and pay an effective tax rate lower than the average middle class person in this country.”
Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist has long held a tight grip on the marionette strings of the GOP. Wielding undue influence as the head of the Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist ensures that Republican lawmakers sign his anti-tax pledge and threatens them with electoral defeat should they even think of deviating from it. Norquist has marked a successful few years, killing the deficit super committee agreement,batting down a tax increase on millionaires, and, of course, ensuring the extension of the Bush tax cuts.
Pleased with his headway, Norquist is now mapping out how he can ensure further anti-tax victories by securing Republican majorities. In an interview with the National Journal, he mused that a GOP mandate would obviously enact an extension of the Bush tax cuts, work to maintain a repatriation holiday for corporate profits, and even pass House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan that jeopardizes Medicare. But when asked what Republicans should do if faced with a Democratic majority that won’t keep the tax cuts, Norquist had a simple answer:“impeach” Obama.
NJ: What if the Democrats still have control? What’s your scenario then?
NORQUIST: Obama can sit there and let all the tax [cuts] lapse, and then the Republicans will have enough votes in the Senate in 2014 to impeach. The last year, he’s gone into this huddle where he does everything by executive order. He’s made no effort to work with Congress.
Norquist certainly revels in his power, but suggesting Republicans impeach the president over tax cuts is wildly outlandish. According to the constitution, the president, vice president, or public officials can only be impeached for “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Preserving a tax cut that gives more to the top 1 percent than the average income of the 99 percent hardly qualifies. But if Norquist’s only goal is to “crush the other team,” it seems he’ll stop at nothing to do so.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Sunday that legislation advancing the Keystone pipeline would be part of a major House Republican infrastructure and energy bill if it is not enacted before that bill comes to a vote.
The Obama administration has rejected approval of the oil sands pipeline over GOP objections, and Republican leaders have identified it as a top job-creating priority.
House GOP leaders are preparing to release a top Boehner priority: Legislation that would generate revenue for improving the nation’s aging infrastructure through expanding domestic energy production.
“If it’s not enacted before we take up the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, it’ll be part of it,” Boehner said of the Keystone pipeline bill on ABC’s “This Week.”
Some Republicans also want the Keystone pipeline to be part of a final deal to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits. Democratic leaders oppose its inclusion, and a Boehner spokesman said that would be decided by members of the House-Senate conference committee.
On the payroll tax, Boehner said he was “confident that we’ll be able to resolve this fairly quickly.” The tax cut and unemployment benefits expire at the end of February.
The speaker criticized President Obama’s State of the Union address on the same program, saying Obama “doubled down on the same failed policies that have not worked.”
He accused the president of using “the politics of dividing America.” “This is not the American way,” Boehner said.
In an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” the architect of the House GOP budget, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wisc.), offered a similar message. He said Republicans would pass a budget again in 2012 and would stick by their proposals to overhaul Medicare and Medicaid, which Democrats have targeted. “We’re not backing away from any of our ideas,” Ryan said.
Sandwiched in between a mountain of criticism of the president’s policies, Boehner did say Obama has “an awful lot of good ideas” when it comes to boosting jobs through domestic manufacturing incentives.
The speaker declined, as he has before, to weigh in on the GOP presidential race. But he appeared to choke up when reflecting on the emotional resignation of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) on the House floor on Wednesday. “I’ve never quite seen a farewell in the House like that,” Boehner said. He lauded Giffords and called her resignation “a sad day for the House.”
I’m told that Senator Sheldon Whitehouse [D-RI] is set to announce a proposal to do just this. The Senate Dem leadership is not commenting on this idea, but Dem leaders are looking for ways to hold votes on the agenda Obama laid out in his State of the Union speech. This would accomplish that perfectly. […]
Whitehouse’s office shared some details of the proposal — which is called “Paying A Fair Share Act,” and will be introduced by Whiteouse next week.
The bill would require millionaires (well, their accountants) to calculate their overall tax responsibility—taking into account all income under every tax rate—in the current system, excluding charitable donations. If their effective tax rate is less than 30 percent, they would be required to pay 30 percent of all their income.
Whitehouse is pushing for a stand-alone vote on this bill, for it not to become a part of a larger package. It has the advantage of not requiring any tinkering with the existing tax structure, it works with it, and thus can be voted on quickly and not included in a long and drug out serious of compromises required in a larger tax reform debate.
It would also have the advantage of putting Republicans on the record right now for tax fairness, when the topic is white hot. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid should definitely force this issue now, and the Whitehouse proposal is the perfect vehicle for it.
Mike Huckabee insists he’s not endorsing anyone in the GOP primary. So does Marco Rubio. And the same for Jeb Bush.
Yet all three men have, in the last 72 hours, provided critical cover to the man who’s still seen as the likely Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.
On the other side of the race is Sarah Palin, who has said that she, too, is remaining on the sidelines in the Republican 2012 race. But after saying in South Carolina that she would have voted there for Newt Gingrich, there was the former Alaska governor Friday taking to Facebook topick up Gingrich’s argument that the establishment is out to get him.
Call them the non-endorsing endorsers.
Each has their own motivation for staying officially neutral, but their willingness to put a thumb on the scale — yet not go any further — illustrates an underlying theme of the Republican race. Many party elites fear an electoral meltdown if Gingrich leads the ticket and many anti-establishment Republicans worry Romney will revert to his moderate past if elected. But both wings of the party are uneasy about fully embracing a flawed enemy of their ostensible enemy.
“Politicians have a certain degree of risk-aversion,” said Christian Ferry, a senior John McCain official in 2008, adding: “I guess they don’t feel strongly enough about their supposed choice to risk alienating sections of the party.”
In a sense, these pols want it both ways — to stay in the conversation but not make a difficult decision that could impact their future or standing with a segment of the party.
“By not endorsing, these leaders maintain some flexibility as honest brokers and retain their influence,” said Phil Musser, a former Republican Governors Association executive director and Tim Pawlenty strategist.
Yet in the waning days of the crucial Florida contest, with the battle between Romney and Gingrich getting increasingly nasty, each of the four marquee Republicans is offering an important boost to the candidates that suggests they’re decidedly less than Switzerland-like in their neutrality.
Both presidential campaigns are quick to pick up on the supportive words, sending out emails that note the comments along the lines of “Even the neutral fill-in-the-blank helped reinforce our message by saying…”
Rubio may have offered the most important aid of the group.
The junior Florida senator and VP short-list favorite of most of the GOP hopefuls not once but twice came to Romney’s rescue from Gingrich.
When Gingrich launched a tactically clever, if weakly executed, line of attack comparing Romney to former Gov. Charlie Crist — the ex-Republican who Florida conservatives loathe — Rubio put out a statement saying, “Mitt Romney is no Charlie Crist.”
Romney campaigned for him early, he noted, declaring that the former Massachusetts governor “is a conservative.”
More significant was the protection Rubio offered when Gingrich’s campaign aired an ad accusing Romney, of being “anti-immigrant.”
The language was “inflammatory,” said the Cuban-American Rubio. Gingrich yanked the ad within hours.
Deseret News (1994):
[…] Mitt Romney, who was an LDS stake president in the Boston area from 1986 to last March, would not comment on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ policy of barring women from the priesthood. He said it was not his place to tell church leaders how to run the church.
Last year, Romney ordered a woman removed as Sunday school president after church officials in Salt Lake City said only a man should hold the post.
When Bain Capital sought to raise money in 1989 for a fast-growing office-supply company named Staples,Mitt Romney, Bain’s founder, called upon a trusted business partner: Goldman Sachs, whose bankers led the company’s initial public offering.
When Mr. Romney became governor of Massachusetts, his blind trust gave Goldman much of his wealth to manage, a fortune now estimated to be as much as $250 million.
And as Mr. Romney mounts his second bid for the presidency, Goldman is coming through again: Its employees have contributed at least $367,000 to his campaign, making the firm Mr. Romney’s largest single source of campaign money through the end of September.
No other company is so closely intertwined with Mr. Romney’s public and private lives except Bain itself. And in recent days, Mr. Romney’s ties to Goldman Sachs have lashed another lightning rod to a campaign already fending off withering attacks on his career as a buyout specialist, thrusting the privileges of the Wall Street elite to the forefront of the Republican nominating battle.
Newt Gingrich, whose allies have spent millions of dollars on advertisements painting Mr.Romney as a heartless “vulture capitalist,” seized on Mr. Romney’s Goldman ties at Thursday’s Republican debate in Florida, suggesting that he had profited through Goldman on banks that had foreclosed on Floridians. And as the fight over regulation of financial firms spills onto the campaign trail, Mr. Romney’s support for the industry — he has called for repeal of the Dodd-Frank legislation tightening oversight of Wall Street — may draw more fire.
Mr. Romney’s positions and pedigree have helped draw to his side major donors in the financial world. The securities and investment industry has given more money to Mr. Romneythan any other industry, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and some of its leading figures have donated millions of dollars to Restore Our Future, the “super PAC” bolstering Mr. Romney’s campaign. Goldman employees are also the biggest source of donations to Free & Strong America PAC, a group Mr. Romney founded but no longer controls.
But Mr. Romney’s personal finances are particularly entwined with Goldman.
His federal financial disclosure statements show Mr. Romney and his wife, their blind trusts and their family foundation to be prodigious consumers of the bank’s services. In 2011, Mr.Romney’s blind trust and the couple’s retirement accounts held as much as $36.7 million in at least two dozen Goldman investment vehicles, earning as much as $3 million a year in income. Mrs. Romney’s trust had at least $10.2 million in Goldman funds — possibly much more — earning as much as $6.2 million.
Tax returns released by the campaign this week also highlighted some of the privileges Mr. Romney enjoyed as a friend of Goldman: In May 1999, a few months after he left Bain to run the Salt Lake City Olympics, Goldman allowed Mr. Romney to buy at least 7,000 Goldman shares during the firm’s lucrative initial public offering — a generous allotment even among Goldman clients, according to people with knowledge of the deal. When Mr. Romney’s trusts sold the shares in December 2010, a few months before he formed his presidential exploratory committee for the 2012 race, they returned a profit of $750,000.
A spokeswoman for Goldman declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for Mr. Romney.
Investing with Goldman was not without risks: Like other Goldman clients, the Romneys invested money in a family of funds known as Whitehall, which placed highly leveraged bets on office buildings, casinos and hotels. Some Whitehall deals collapsed during the financial crisis, saddling Mr. Romney and its other investors with big losses.
And some of the attacks on Mr. Romney have overreached. While Mr. Gingrich charged on Thursday that his rival did business with a firm that “was explicitly foreclosing on Floridians,” that is not accurate: The family’s holdings include a Goldman fund that, like other investment funds, has invested partly in mortgage-backed securities. Goldman sold its mortgage servicing arm, Litton Loan Servicing, last year.
But other elements of Mr. Romney’s personal and business ties to Goldman may prove more controversial. Bain’s mid-1990s acquisition of Dade Behring, a medical device maker with factories in Florida, has become a totem of the economic upheaval that private equity can inflict. Goldman invested in the acquisition, which brought the bank $120 million and Bain $242 million — but led to the layoffs of hundreds of workers in Miami. Democrats hammered Mr. Romney over the deal this week.
When Mr. Romney was building Bain into one of the world’s premier private equity firms, Goldman’s bankers clamored for Bain business, and won assignments advising or financing an array of Bain deals, including Bain’s 1997 $800 million buyout of Sealy, the nation’s largest mattress company, which it later sold.
As Mr. Romney amassed his fortune, Goldman also offered up the services of an elite Boston-based team in the bank’s private wealth management unit. The relationship gave him access to Goldman’s exclusive investment funds, including private equity vehicles known as Goldman Sachs Capital Partners.
Mr. Romney is far from Goldman’s largest client — some investors have billions of dollars at the firm — but his political connections and founding role at Bain have elevated his importance there. His Goldman investments are handled by Jim Donovan, who has built one of the largest-producing businesses in Goldman’s private wealth management unit, managing several billion dollars for the firm’s individual clients.
Goldman gave Mr. Romney’s trusts access to the bank’s own exclusive investment funds and helped him execute an aggressive and complex tax-deferral strategy known as an “exchange fund” in 2002. (Since 2003, most of Mr. Romney’s money has been held in blind trusts, meaning that he no longer makes many of his own investment decisions.) According to tax returns released this week, the family’s three principal trusts earned more than $9 million from various Goldman Sachs investment vehicles in 2010.
Let me begin by stating that I believe in the end, Romney will win the Republican nomination. Mott has too much money, too much organization and opponents with a tendency to self-destruct. Newt at some point will implode. He always does. It’s just a question of when. So the long term problem for Mitt (once his nomination is secure) is how to convince the public that he’s a great guy who deserves to be President, and has a plan for a brighter future. He has to convince the American people that he has a positive vision for our country, one that will get people back to work and return our nation to a sound economic footing.
Unfortunately for him, he has a giant anchor around his neck: the republican base. And trust me this ain’t your grandfather’s Republican party. They don’t want to hear about the “good news” of Mitt as their candidate. They want to revel in their hatred, anger and victimization. They want him to go negative, as negative as possible. And if he won’t deliver the goods, they won’t turn out to vote for him.
Here’s a classic blast from the Republican presidential campaigning past:
What a happy, joyous campaign ad! But that was the fifties. They just don’t make them like that anymore. These days most political ads are directed to attack one’s opponent, not promote good feelings about the candidate. Probably the last effective “positive ad” I can remember from a Republican is the famous “Morning in America” ad by Reagan in 1984 (though it does get just a little bit snippy on the end):
Unfortunately, most Republicans running for President since Reagan have focused on demonizing their Democratic adversaries rather than promoting their own qualifications for higher office. For example, who can forget the infamous Willie Horton ad by “Poppy” Bush against Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988?
Ah yes, both the “not tough enough on crime” plus the not so subtle “DANGER, DANGER WILL ROBINSON, THERE’S A BLACK MAN ON THE LOOSE!” aspect to the message. Because we all know that Democrats want Big Black Mass Murderers to rampage through the streets raping and Killing all the white women. Nonetheless it was an effective if controversial ad, and marked a turning point. Oh attack ads had always been used, but rarely on the Presidential political stage had one so negative and so explicit been employed by a major party’s candidate.
These days it de rigueur for presidential campaigns to go negative, early and often. “We Like Ike” and “Morning in America” seem like distant memories. Since Willie Horton, Republicans have almost always played to American’s fears and prejudices rather than to our shared values and common interests. They have employed a strategy of divide and conquer, pitting one group against another and relying on resentment of other Americans to get out the vote on their side. Sometimes it has worked and sometimes it has failed but they’ve stuck with it.
As we’ve observed during this year’s GOP nomination battle, attack ads are the order of the day, even against fellow Republicans, far more than in prior primary campaign battles. Just look at this ad Romney’s Super Pac is running against the Newt:
Pretty harsh even if a lot of it is true. Then again what would it take to make a positive ad about Mitt? That he became rich and successful at making money off of others people’s money? That he knows his way around offshore Cayman Islands and Swiss Bank accounts? That the big money on Wall Street desperately want him to be the Republican candidate? That hisMormon faith isn’t really that different from fundamentalist evangelicals who view Mormonism as a dangerous heretical cult? That when he says corporations deserve big tax breaks because they are people too, that’s a good thing for the rest of us? You can see his problem.
How to portray Mitt as a good guy ready to lead the nation? It’s quite a dilemma. I guess he could run ads about his great performance as the CEO of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, but that’s a little stale at this point. He could say he was for health care reform before Obama, but that won’t sit well with his base now will it? Let’s face it: Mitt is a pretty stiff guy, and not very likable. He’s led a charmed life because he was born into wealth and privilege and used those advantages to make himself richer. He can’t fake folksy like George Bush, he’s not a member of the right church for social conservatives, and he’s inextricably tied to Wall Street corruption at this point. His biggest political accomplishment, Massachusetts’ universal health care plan, is despised by Republicans because it so closely resembles the health care reform law Obama and the Democrats passed.
So, sadly, Mitt will have no choice but to point the finger at Obama and say to the public, “Vote for me because at least I’m a white guy and not some damn Socialist Muslim Ni**er.” And if he won’t, his Super Pac funders will. Mitt, with no real values of his own except an overweening ambition to be President, will ultimately sign off on this approach because he has no choice. There isn’t much there there when you look at Mitt up close and personal. The question our country faces is will such a mean spirited strategy, based solely on dog whistle racism succeed? This summer and fall we will find out.
Mitt Romney, who was slightly more humanoid in 1994 than he is today, also thought blind trusts, of which he has one, and which he passionately defended during Thursday night’s Jacksonville debate, were terrible, devious things. How exactly did he put it? Oh yes, a blind trust is an “age-old ruse.”
During a debate with Massachusetts Senate incumbent Ted Kennedy during the 1994 campaign, a partially vibrant Romney attacked Kennedy’s blind trusts, saying:
The blind trust is an age-old ruse. You give a blind trust rules. You can say to a blind trust, don’t invest in properties which would be in conflict of interest or where the seller might think they’re going to get an advantage from me.
Kennedy then proceeded to whoop Romney’s ass, saying, “Mr. Romney, the Kennedys are not in public service to make money. We have paid too high a price.” And that was that, pretty much.
Romney’s response on his own blind trusts last night was not nearly as convincing. Following criticism from Gingrich that some of Romney’s investments included Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Romney said:
First of all, my investments are not made by me. My investments, for the last 10 years, have been in a blind trust, managed by a trustee.
The Bot strikes again. Interestingly, Romney must have thought Kennedy’d had kind of a great idea, because he opened his troubling blind trust in 1996, two years after his failed Senate bid.
ThinkProgress reported earlier this week that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) profited from thousands of Florida foreclosures through a Goldman Sachs investment fund.
When pressed on this by his rival, Newt Gingrich, in last night’s Republican debate, Romney disclaimed any responsibility for or knowledge of his own investments:
ROMNEY: First of all, my investments are not made by me. My investments for the last 10 years have been in a blind trust, managed by a trustee. Secondly, the investments they’ve made, we’ve learned about this as we made our financial disclosure, have been made in mutual funds and bonds
The term “blind trust” indicates that an investor has designated someone else to handle their investments and that the investor does not know what those investments are. In his 2006 Massachusetts state disclosure, Romney wrote that “under the terms of the blind trust, the Governor may have no knowledge of the specific holdings or management of the trust” except for very broad categories like “publicly traded stocks.”) Romney had called the use of such trusts a “ruse” in his 1994 senate campaign.
Last August, Romney filed his legally-required public financial disclosure report. As required, his signature appears on the form certifying that the infromation is “true, complete, and correct” to the best of his knowledge. From at least the time he completed that form, it ceased to be a “blind trust” as he knew what was in it.
But Romney’s comment suggests that the trust was “blind” for ten full years before that. It was not.
During his unsuccessful 2008 presidential bid, Romney disclosed the assets of his “blind trust” in his August 2007 filing. As a result, the trust ceased to be “blind” then, as well.
A ThinkProgress Economy analysis reveals that Romney’s 2011 “blind trust” disclosure identified 43 investments in 13 entities or financial services firms offering investments (CDs, mutual funds, bonds etc.). Of those, 33 were in entities or firms offering investments where he also had investments in his 2007 disclosure. And that 2007 form noted Romney had at least nine current or recently-sold investments with Goldman Sachs, worth millions of dollars.
While the particular funds varied (different mutual funds with Goldman, different bonds or CDs with the Federal Home Loan Banks, etc.), it strains credulity to for Romney suggest that he didn’t know his money was likely in Goldman Sachs between 2007 and 2011.
The casino company run by the principal financial backer of Newt Gingrich‘s presidential bid, Sheldon Adelson, has been under criminal investigation for the last year by the Department of Justice and the Securities Exchange Commission for alleged bribery of foreign officials, according to corporate documents.
In a separate civil lawsuit, a former executive of the company has alleged that Adelson ordered him to keep quiet about sensitive issues at the Sands casinos on the Chinese island of Macau, including the casinos’ alleged “involvement with Chinese organized crime groups, known as Triads, connected to the junket business.” The triads — Chinese organized crime syndicates — are allegedly involved in organizing high stakes gambling junkets for wealthy Chinese travelers. […]
The Venetian-Macao, a casino owned by the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, was also the subject of a reported “sex-trade crackdown” that occurred in 2010 on the same day Adelson arrived on the island for meetings with government leaders in Macau, according to published accounts in 2010. Chinese press reported that authorities found more than 100 prostitutes inside the casino.
Of course, far be it from moi to suggest any sort of guilt by association, or how birds of a feather flock together, or that you can judge a person by the company he keeps. I’d never do that, because Newt is such a stand-up philanderer guy.
Much more at the link.
The fix is in for Romney, which just means when he is crushed by Barack Obama a lot of Republicans will have a lot of explaining to do. Newt may not be able to win. But Romney sure as hell can’t beat Obama either if Newt can’t win. The problem remains — Gingrich supporters intrinsically know this to be so and are happy to die fighting. Romney’s supporters are still deluding themselves.
Read the whole post at RedState.
It is an ethics violation for elected officials to use their political office to perform official acts on behalf of special interests, and particularly when special interests are campaign donors. There is also a serious problem when a sitting congressional representative performs official acts for personal financial profit by promoting a project the representative has a financial stake in. The problem becomes egregious when the elected official lies about a project to profit himself and campaign donors and our current Speaker of the House has taken those issues a step farther. On Thursday, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) received a complaint from an environmental group with accusations that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline’s owners (TransCanada) are in violation of SEC Rule 10b(5) – Employment of Manipulative and Deceptive Practices to bolster stock prices.
The complaint sent to the SEC said TransCanada is using “false or misleading statements about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline” and that they “consistently used public statements and information it knows are false in a concerted effort to secure permitting approval of Keystone XL from the U.S. government.” The complaint continues that the fallacious information misleads investors, U.S. and Canadian officials, the media, and the public “in order to bolster its balance sheets and share price,” and who is the point-man pushing the Keystone XL pipeline with lies and misinformation? Speaker of the House John Boehner.
The complaint specifically highlights that TransCanada asserts that the pipeline will create American jobs “at a rate that is 67 times higher than job creation totals given by the company to Canadian officials for the Canadian portion of the pipeline.” The inflated job creation numbers were designed to pressure President Obama to issue an approval permit to build the pipeline and without its construction, TransCanada’s future earnings and share prices will be significantly impacted. Speaker Boehner owns shares in seven different Canadian tar sand companies and it is highly likely that he knows the job numbers are inflated as an investor and stands to profit if the pipeline is built. Boehner went so far as threatening to tie 160 million working Americans’ payroll tax cut extension to approval of the pipeline. Boehner’s extortion threats were the last straw, and inspired a national petition to force him to resign or face expulsion from Congress for ethics violations. However, ethics violations are theleast of Boehner’s problems once the SEC finishes their investigation which they confirmed is actively under consideration.
To be fair to TransCanada, they accurately provided Canadian regulators with realistic job numbers as well as the potential for environmental disaster which is, by the way, a near certainty according to TransCanada. Tar sands crude extraction is responsible for elevated cancer rates and involves razing ancient boreal forests, and there are 82% greater GHG emissions ascompared to average crude refined in the United States. TransCanada also predicted that one of their existing pipelines would produce one spill every seven years, but it has produced 12 spills in less than one year. Even with one spill, over 1,000 rivers will be adversely impacted as well as the Ogallala Aquifer that supplies drinking water to 2 million Americans and is the primary source of groundwater for 20% of America’s agriculture production. John Boehner never cites those issues and neither did Mitch Daniels (R), Indiana governor, who stated categorically in the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address that the Keystone XL project was “a perfectly safe pipeline that would employ tens of thousands.” Mr. Daniels’ financial disclosure form is under investigation to determine how much stock he owns in Canadian tar sand companies or TransCanada and if he owns shares in any of the companies, he will face a national petition drive to force him from politics forever.
As an investor, Speaker Boehner was privy to the authentic job creation numbers TransCanada reported to investors and Canadian regulators. It is despicable that Boehner deliberately lies to the American people for personal financial gain, but it is illegal to lie to influence investors and potential investors to drive up share price. Boehner, the American Petroleum Institute, and many Republicans in Congress have launched an aggressive set of attacks on the President to force him into granting a Presidential Permit, and the overriding point is that like TransCanada, they are using false job creation claims to exert pressure and convince Americans that the Keystone XL pipeline will be a boon to the economy, unemployed construction workers, and create lower gas prices, all of which are lies and they know they it.
It would be unethical for any person to use fallacious numbers for personal financial gain, but it is beyond the pale that the Speaker of the House knowingly lies to the American people and the media to boost Canadian tar sand companies’ profits and TransCanada’s balance sheets and share price. Boehner’s almost daily Keystone XL propaganda is not only unfair to President Obama and the American people, it misleads potential and current investors. Manipulating share prices is a violation of SEC regulations and if their investigation finds Boehner and other GOP shareholders deliberately inflated job numbers, a House Ethics panel will be the least of Boehner’s problems.
Speaker of the House John Boehner has some options. He can address the American people and admit that he deliberately lied for personal financial gain and to enrich the oil industry that stands to gain selling Canadian oil to Europe if the Keystone XL pipeline is built, or he can save his family the embarrassment and resign immediately. Mr. Boehner can rest assured of two things; if he does not admit to lying and resign immediately, the petition calling for his expulsion or resignation remains active, and this column will be unrelenting in demanding that, for once in his career, he serves all the American people and vanishes from politics as if he never existed. Now that the Securities and Exchange Commission is alerted to TransCanada and Boehner’s lying, it would be incumbent on him to make the right decision before they make it for him.
Earlier this week polls showed that Mitt Romney’s favorability had dropped 35 percent among independents since the beginning of the month and his overall disapproval rating had nearly doubled among self-identified Republicans.
A new Quinnipiac poll released today show Mitt Romney’s favorability has dropped by another 9 percent since then.
But Romney is still struggling among the state’s more conservative voters. He trails Gingrich, 41 percent to 20 percent, among those likely primary voters who support the tea party. Among those who do not support the tea party, Romney romps, 47 percent to 24 percent.
Romney also holds a massive lead over Gingrich among those voters who say they are not evangelical or born-again Christians, 49 percent to 27 percent. But Gingrich leads among evangelicals, 39 percent to 29 percent.
In the waning days of the campaign in Florida, both candidates’ negatives are rising, the poll shows. The percentage of likely voters who have an unfavorable opinion of Romney has risen 9 points since earlier this week, and the percentage who view Gingrich unfavorably is up 12 points. Now, just half of likely voters have a favorable impression of Gingrich, compared to 61 percent who view Romney favorably — an double-digit decrease for both candidates over the previous poll.
Different polling organizations have different numbers, but they all reflect a trend of Mitt Romney become a weaker and weaker candidate as the Republican primary drags on.
Romney is still failing to attract the Tea Party and Evangelical vote, which represents the core-base — or Lunatic Base as I like to call it — of the Republican party, and his efforts to stop the hemorrhaging is costing him dearly among independents and moderates.
President Obama is going to have an infinitely easier time appealing to independent and moderate voters while retaining the support of his base than Mitt Romney because, unlike the Republican party, the Democratic party’s base is not comprised of crazy people.
ANDREW KOHUT, Pew Research:
Income inequality has become a hot-button issue during this political campaign. A recent Pew Research Center poll, for example, attracted an extraordinary amount of attention when it found that 66 percent of Americans believed there were “very strong” or “strong” conflicts between the rich and the poor — an increase of 19 percentage points since 2009.
But while Americans are hearing more and more about class conflict, there is little indication that they are increasingly divided along these lines. People don’t necessarily want to take money from the wealthy; they just want a better chance to get rich themselves. They care about policies that give everyone a fair shot — a distinction that candidates in both parties should understand as they head into the 2012 campaigns.
An awareness of economic inequality is not new. Pew surveys going back to 1987 have found an average of 75 percent of the American public thinking that the “rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.” As far back as 1941, 60 percent of respondents told the Gallup poll that there was too much power in the hands of a few rich people and large corporations in the United States.
Despite that longstanding sense of inequality, there is no more sentiment today for populist revolt than there was then. A Gallup poll last month found 54 percent believing that income inequality was an “acceptable part of our economic system” — a slight increase, in fact, over the 45 percent that held that view back in 1998.
What’s different these days is that a despondent public, struggling with difficult times and an uncertain future, is upset over a perceived lack of fairness in public policy. For example, 61 percent of Americans now say the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy.
Pew’s surveys in recent years present a detailed picture of these frustrations. One major complaint is tax policy:Dissatisfaction with the tax system has grown over the past decade, but the focus is not on how much respondents themselves pay, but rather on the perception that the wealthy are simply not paying their fair share. Just 11 percent of Americans say they are bothered by the amount they pay, while 57 percent of respondents say they are bothered by what they believe are unfairly low amounts paid by the wealthy.
Reactions to the bailout programs of 2008 and 2009 got the unfairness ball rolling. Early on the public was divided over the fairness of government helping financial institutions, and overwhelmingly opposed loans to Detroit automakers. Much of the public was even put off by plans to help homeowners facing mortgage foreclosures. By 2010, 51 percent said the bailout of the banks was the wrong thing for the government to do, while just 40 percent thought it was right.
No doubt outrage over Wall Street bonuses played a large part in this trend: Pew Research Center surveys at the time found 86 percent disapproved of high bonuses reportedly given out by many financial institutions, with as many as 62 percent saying they were angered by them.
Even recent reforms to financial-sector regulation have not allayed public concerns. In a poll last month, 56 percent of Americans said the power and influence of banks and other financial institutions represented a major threat to the country.
But before candidates read this frustration as a call for class warfare, they should recognize the limits of that approach. Americans are still confident that their society provides opportunities for economic mobility. In one recent Pew poll, 58 percent of respondents said they believed that people who wanted to get ahead could make it if they were willing to work hard.
The issue here is not about class envy. Rather, it’s a perception that government policies are skewed toward helping the already wealthy and powerful. While a December Gallup poll found few respondents wanting the government to attempt to reduce the income gap between rich and poor, 70 percent said it was important for the government to increase opportunities for people to get ahead. What the public wants is not a war on the rich but more policies that promote opportunity.
The Obama administration on Friday told the Supreme Court that if the justices rule that the health reform law’s mandate is unconstitutional, they don’t need to get rid of the entire law.
Only two provisions — those requiring insurers to accept everyone regardless of health status and to apply “community rates” — must go if the mandate is knocked down, Justice Department lawyers wrote in a brief to the court.
“Other provisions can operate independently and would still advance Congress’s core goals of expanding coverage, improving public health and controlling costs even if the minimum coverage provision were held unconstitutional,” Justice Department lawyers wrote.
It’s possibly the thorniest policy and legal question in the Supreme Court’s review of President Barack Obama’s health care reform law: If the mandate is unconstitutional, how much of the law needs to be eliminated?
The law’s opponents — 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business — argue that the entire law needs to be wiped out if the mandate is struck. The government wants a much more narrow approach.
“The mandate to purchase health insurance is unconstitutional, and the health care law cannot exist if the Court strikes down the unconstitutional mandate that holds it together,” Karen Harned, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center, said in a statement Friday. “To argue otherwise would be like arguing a house can stand after its foundation has crumbled.”
But the Obama administration argued that the states and NFIB didn’t make a convincing argument that Congress would not have enacted any piece of the law without the mandate.
The states “have not come close to showing that it is evident that Congress would have wanted to undo every single one of the act’s myriad provisions — thereby denying affordable health care to millions of Americans and forgoing hundreds of billions of dollars in cost savings — if that one section were held unconstitutional,” Obama administration lawyers wrote.
The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the health care case over three days in late March.
In 2008, as volunteers for the Obama campaign, CabinGirl and I went down to Obama headquarters and got a walk sheet on election day. We were assigned to Coatesville, Pennsylvania, and we went out and knocked on the doors of registered Democrats to make sure they had voted or knew where to vote. While we were doing that, we kept tripping over members of the SEIU who were canvassing the same neighborhoods, and for the same purpose. We were needlessly duplicating our efforts and annoying voters at the same time. The problem was created because the Obama campaign couldn’t coordinate with the unions. This year, Republicans are having the same problem on steroids with the Super PACs. Mitt Romney has a traditional campaign. Ron Paul has a hybrid campaign that resembles an underfunded traditional campaign. Santorum and Gingrich are running Super PAC campaigns.
The super PAC backing Santorum’s presidential campaign, Red White and Blue Fund, has reported spending more than $340,000 on a phone-banking operation it started during the South Carolina primary. It’s placed 1.5 million so-called “voter identification” calls in Florida, and is also targeting Florida voters with three direct mail pieces, touting him as – among other things – “the right choice for Florida Republicans.” And it’s planning to release a memo this week laying out a path through which Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator who’s trailing Romney and Gingrich in polls, can compete for the nomination — precisely the kind of thing that campaigns often do to try to influence media coverage.
But the super PAC supporting Gingrich, Winning Our Future, has perhaps the most ambitious organizing plans. While it’s only reported spending about $240,000 on phone banking – a tiny fraction of the $6 million it’s spent mostly on ads attacking Romney – it has trumpeted its intention to build a shadow campaign of sorts to boost the former House Speaker. It plans to set up field operations and hire state directors in Florida, Nevada, Minnesota, Arizona and California, and has begun purchasing voter files and courting the state operations built by the now-aborted presidential campaign of Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
These Super PACs are moving beyond airing negative advertisements to doing the traditional work of political campaigns, but they are not legally allowed to coordinate with the real political campaigns. When they’re buying ads, they can see from public records where the real campaigns are spending money and then fill in the gaps. But they can’t see where the campaigns are sending direct mail or canvassing. They can’t share feedback from the canvassing campaigns, which would allow them to identify households that should not be visited again.
Even worse, from a political coordinator’s point of view, these Super PACs can’t attract volunteers, so they have to pay for canvassers. This produces door-knockers who are untrained and have no real commitment to the candidate. It’s not only horribly wasteful and inefficient, it is also as likely to alienate voters as to attract them. Voters are getting too much contact, and it’s not quality contact. It’s probably better than nothing, but only barely so.
I need to go back and read the majority decision in Citizens United so I can mock their reasoning. I wonder what they think now that they can see a campaign like Gingrich’s which has been outsourced almost completely to an unaccountable Super PAC.
The United Steelworkers union told U.S. refinery workers to prepare to offer safe and orderly refinery shutdowns prior to a strike that could begin as early as 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, sources familiar with the union’s preparations said on Sunday.
About six percent of U.S. refining capacity was expected to shut down when workers walk off their jobs, sources familiar with refiners’ plans have said. Another five percent is expected to shut if a strike lasts up to three months.
The Steelworkers represent workers at refineries accounting for almost two-thirds of national refining capacity. Because not all contracts between local unions and refiners expire on February 1, only about a third of U.S. capacity would be immediately affected by a strike, if one takes place.
The shutdown preparation notice comes one day after the union said a strike at one or more locations was becoming more likely due to “the lack of a more substantive response from the industry” after nearly two weeks of talks.
When Mitt Romney received his patriarchal blessing as a Michigan teenager, he was told that the Lord expected great things from him. All young Mormon men — the “worthy males” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as it is officially known — receive such a blessing as they embark on their requisite journeys as religious missionaries. But at 19 years of age, the youngest son of the most prominent Mormon in American politics — a seventh-generation direct descendant of one of the faith’s founding 12 apostles—Mitt Romney had been singled out as a destined leader.
From the time of his birth — March 13, 1947 — through adolescence and into manhood, the meshing of religion and politics was paramount in Mitt Romney’s life. Called “my miracle baby” by his mother, who had been told by her physician that it was impossible for her to bear a fourth child, Romney was christened Willard Mitt Romney in honor of close family friend and one of the richest Mormons in history, J. Willard Marriott.
In 1962, when Mitt — as they decided to call him — was a sophomore in high school, his father, George W. Romney, was elected governor of Michigan. Throughout the early 1960s, Mitt collected petition signatures, campaigned at his father’s side, attended strategy sessions with his father’s political advisors, and interned at his father’s office during all three of hisgubernatorial terms. He attended the 1964 Republican National Convention where his father led a challenge of moderates against the right-wing Barry Goldwater. Although he was fulfilling his spiritual obligation as a Mormon missionary in France in 1968 while his father was the front-running GOP presidential candidate, Mitt was kept apprised of the political developments back in the U.S.
Upon completion of his foreign mission, he immersed himself in the 1970 senatorial campaign of his mother, Lenore Romney,who was running against Phillip Hart in the Michigan general election. That same year, the Cougar Club — the all male, all white social club at Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City (blacks were excluded from fullmembership in the Mormon church until 1978) — was humming with talk that its president, Mitt Romney, would become the first Mormon president of the United States. “If not Mitt, then who?” was the ubiquitous slogan within the elite organization. The pious world of BYU was expected to spawn the man who would lead the Mormons into the White House and fulfill the prophecies of the church’s founder, Joseph Smith Jr., which Romney has avidly sought to realize.
Romney avoids mentioning it, but Smith ran for president in 1844 as an independent commander in chief of an “army of God” advocating the overthrow of the U.S. government in favor of a Mormon-ruled theocracy. Challenging Democrat James Polk and Whig Henry Clay, Smith prophesied that if the U.S. Congress did not accede to his demands that “they shall be broken up as a government and God shall damn them.” Smith viewed capturing the presidency as part of the mission of the church. He had predicted the emergence of “the one Mighty and Strong” — a leader who would “set in order the house of God” — and became the first of many prominent Mormon men to claim the mantle.
Smith’s insertion of religion into politics and his call for a “theodemocracy where God and people hold the power to conduct the affairs of men in righteous matters” created a sensation and drew hostility from the outside world. But his candidacy was cut short when he was shot to death by an anti-Mormon vigilante mob. Out of Smith’s national political ambitions grew what would become known in Mormon circles as the “White Horse Prophecy” — a belief ingrained in Mormon culture and passed down through generations by church leaders that the day would come when the U.S. Constitution would“hang like a thread as fine as a silk fiber” and the Mormon priesthood would save it.
Romney is the product of this culture. At BYU, he was idolized by fellow students and referred to, only half jokingly,as the “One Mighty and Strong.” He was the “alpha male” in the rarefied Cougar pack, according to Michael D. Moody, a BYU classmate and fellow member of the group. Composed almost exclusively of returned Mormon missionaries, the club members were known for their preppy blue blazers and enthusiastic athletic boosterism. Romney, who had been the assistant to the president of the French Mission where he was personally in charge of more than 200 missionaries, easily assumed a leadership position in the club.
Both political and religious, the Cougar Club raised funds for the school and its members emulated the campus-wide honor and dress codes, passionately disavowing the counterculture symbolism of long hair, bell-bottom jeans and antiwar slogans that were sweeping college campuses throughout America. They held monthly “Fireside testimonies” — Sacrament meetings at which each member testified to his belief that he lived in Heaven before being born on Earth, that he became mortal in order to usher in the latter days, and that he recognized Joseph Smith as the prophet, the Book of Mormon as the word of God, and the Mormon church as the one true faith.
Such regular testimonies encouraged the students to live devout lives and to resist the encroaching outside influences overtaking the nation at large. “It helps them cope with such external pressures as evolution-teaching professors andcranky anthropologists who expect answers that conflict with LDS teachings,” according to James Coates, author of “In Mormon Circles.”
They traditionally hosted frat-like parties (Greek fraternities were banned from the campus) to raise a few thousand dollars for the college’s sports teams. But Cougar president Romney drove the young men to aim higher, orchestrating a telethon that raised a stunning million dollars. Romney’s position as head of the club was widely seen as a calculated steppingstone for a career in national politics.
So it seemed disingenuous to his former club mates when, in a 2006 magazine interview, Romney denied his longtime political aspirations. “I have to admit I did not think I was going to be in politics,” he told the American Spectator. “Had I thought politics was in my future, I would not have chosen Massachusetts as the state of my residence. I would have stayed in Michigan where my Dad’s name was golden.”
Michael Moody says political success was an institutional value of the LDS church.
“The instructions in my [patriarchal] blessing, which I believed came directly from Jesus, motivated me to seek a career in government and politics,” he wrote in his 2008 book. Moody recently said that he ran for governor ofNevada in 1982 because he felt he had been divinely directed to “expand our kingdom” and help Romney “lead the world into the Millennium. Once a firm believer but now a church critic, Moody was indoctrinated with the White Horse Prophecy. Like Romney, Moody is a seventh-generation Mormon, steeped in the same intellectual and theological milieu.
“We were taught that America is the Promised Land,” he said in an interview.”The Mormons are the Chosen People. And the time is now for a Mormon leader to usher in the second coming of Christ and install the political Kingdom of God in Washington, D.C.”
In this scenario, Romney’s candidacy is part of the eternal plan and the candidate himself is fulfilling the destiny begun in what the church calls the “pre-existence.”
Several prominent Mormons, including conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck, have alluded to this apocalyptic prophecy. The controversial myth is not an official church doctrine, but it has also arisen in the national dialogue with the presidential candidacies of Mormons George Romney, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and now Mitt Romney.
“I don’t think the White Horse Prophecy is fair to bring up at all,” Mitt Romney told the Salt Lake Tribune when he was asked about it during his 2008 presidential bid. “It’s been rejected by every church leader that has talked about it. It has nothing to do with anything.”
Pundits and scholars, rabbis and bloggers, have repeatedly posed the question during Romney’s run: Is a candidate’s religion relevant? With a startling 50 percent increase of recently polled American voters claiming to know little or nothing about Mormonism, another 32 percent rejecting Mormonism as a Christian faith, a whopping 42 percent saying they would feel “somewhat or very uncomfortable” with a Mormon president, and a widespread sense that the religion is a cult, the issue is clearly more complicated than religious bigotry alone. Judging from poll results, Americans seem less prejudiced against a candidate’s faith than concerned about the unknown, apprehensive about any kind of fanaticism, and generally uneasy about a religion that is neither mainstream Judaic nor Christian.
Just as the Christian fundamentalism of former GOP candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry informed their political ideology — and was therefore considered fair game in the national dialogue — so too does Mormonism define not only Mitt Romney’s character, but what kind of president he would be and what impulses would drive him in both domestic and foreign policy.
Romney’s religion is not a sideline, but a crucial element in understanding the man, the mission and the candidacy. He is the quintessential Mormon who embodies all of the basic elements of the homegrown American religion that is among the fastest growing religions in the world. Like his father before him, Romney has charted a course from missionary to businessman, from church bishop to politician — and to presidential candidate. The influence that Mormonism has had on him has dominated every step of the way.
The seeds of Romney’s unique brand of conservatism, often regarded with intense suspicion by most non-Mormon conservatives, were sown in the secretive, acquisitive, patriarchal, authoritarian religious empire run by “quorums” of men under an umbrella consortium called the General Authorities.
A creed unlike any other in the United States, from its inception Mormonism encouraged material prosperity and abundance as a measure of holy worth, and its strict system of tithing 10 percent of individual wealth has made the church one of the world’s richest institutions.
A multibillion-dollar business empire that includes agribusiness, mining, insurance, electronic and print media, manufacturing, movie production, commercial real estate, defense contracting, retail stores and banking, the Mormon church has unprecedented economic and political power. Despite a solemn stricture against any act or tolerance of gambling, Mormons have been heavily invested and exceptionally influential in the Nevada gaming industry since the great expansion of modern Las Vegas in the 1950s. Valued for their unquestioning loyalty to authority as well as general sobriety — they are prohibited from imbibing in alcohol, tobacco or coffee — Mormons have long been recruited into top positions in government agencies and multinational corporations. They areprominent in such institutions as the CIA, FBI and the national nuclear weapons laboratories, giving the church a sphere of influence unlike any other American religion in the top echelons of government.
Romney, like his father before him who voluntarily tithed an unparalleled 19 percent of his personal fortune, is among the church’s wealthiest members. And like his father, grandfather and great-grandfathers before him, Mitt Romney was groomed for a prominent position in the church, which he manifested first as a missionary, then as a bishop, and then as a stake president, becoming the highest-ranking Mormon leader in Boston — the equivalent of a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church.
Called a “militant millennial movement” by renowned Mormon historian David L. Bigler, Mormonism’s founding theology was based upon a literal takeover of the U.S. government. In light of the theology and divine prophecies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, unamended by the LDS hierarchy, it would seem that the office of the American presidency is the ultimate ecclesiastical position to which a Mormon leader might aspire. So it is not the LDS cosmology that is relevant to Romney’s candidacy, but whether devout 21stcentury Mormons like Romney believe that the American presidency is also a theological position.
Since his first campaign in 2008, Romney has attempted to keep debate about his religion out of the political discourse. The issue is not whether there is a religious test for political office; the Constitution prohibits it. Instead, the question is whether, past all of the flip-flops on virtually every policy, he has an underlying religious conception of the presidency and the American government. At the recent GOP presidential debate in Florida, Romney professed that the Declaration of Independence is a theological document, not specific to the rebellious 13 colonies, but establishing a covenant “between God and man.” Which would suggest that Mitt Romney views the American presidency as a theological office.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…
Pajamas are on the rise. Across the land, according to the Wall Street Journal, teenagers have taken to wearing PJs all day, even in public—even to school! Apparel companies like Abercrombie & Fitch and American Eagle are cashing in on the trend, stocking their stores with leggings and sweatpants and other comfortable, flowy, elastic waistbanded apparel. Pajamas are even popping up in high fashion: Here’s Sofia Coppola happily, gorgeously stepping outside during the day in Louis Vuitton pajamas, and here’s designer Rachel Roy attending a movie premiere in her own brand of jammies. Last week Shopbop.com, a women’s clothing site that tracks new “looks,” exhorted its customers to “get comfortable with pajama dressing.” Among its wares were several silk blouses selling for more than $200 each; a pair of silk drawstring plaid pants with elastic cuffs for $495; and these $845 (!) wide-leg print pants constructed out of sateen, a fabric that I think is mostly used to make bed sheets.
As you might expect, a whole lot of silly and just-plain-mean people aren’t happy about this nascent pajama craze. A number of school districts have banned sleeping clothes on the theory that they somehow inhibit students’ motivation. The idea, I guess, is that taking the time to dress up for school makes you ready to learn—which sounds plausible until you think about it for five seconds. Isn’t spending time worrying about what you’ll wear an even bigger distraction from academics?
Some people are so upset with pajamas they want to bring in the law. Michael Williams, a commissioner in Louisiana’s Caddo Parish, won national headlines a few weeks ago by calling for a ban on pajamas in public. Under Williams’ proposed ordinance, people caught wearing pajamas—which he defines as clothes sold in the sleepwear section of department stores—would be forced to perform community service. (I wonder if they would be required to wear orange jumpsuits—which look like very comfortable pajamas—while serving their sentences.) Williams told the Journal that the daytime pajama trend signaled America’s dwindling “moral fiber,” and then added a nutty slippery-slope argument to bolster his point: “It’s pajamas today; what is it going to be tomorrow? Walking around in your underwear?”
No, it won’t be that. And anyone who believes that pajama acceptance puts us on a path toward mass nudity—or even that wearing sleepwear is a sign of slovenliness or unprofessionalism—does not understand pajamas. I’m here to set the world straight: I love pajamas, and you should too. We ought to celebrate and encourage the daytime pajama trend as a progressive and egalitarian cultural development, on the order of child labor laws, mass public education, and pants becoming acceptable for women.
I contend that we’d all be better off—more comfortable, less anxious, substantially happier, and did I mention more comfortable?—if adults habitually wore pajamas outside during the day. Because pajamas are less complicated to put together than regular outfits, we’d probably also have a lot more time on our hands. And because they tend to be cheaper (notwithstanding those designer ones), you’d likely have more money in your wallet, too—though it’s possible you won’t have any place to put your wallet, given that most men’s pajama pants don’t have a back pocket.
Open Letter To Twitter: Stand Against Censorship
Reuters, CBS, and other outlets are reporting that Twitter is going to start censoring tweets in certain countries:
Twitter announced Thursday that it would begin restricting Tweets in certain countries, marking a policy shift for the social media platform that helped propel the popular uprisings recently sweeping across the Middle East.
In particular, this quote is just tragic, as Twitter tries to rationalize away restrictions on speech as mere cultural differences:
“As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression,” Twitter wrote in a blog post published Thursday.
From the Middle East, to Occupy, to SOPA and PIPA, the importance of open platforms like Twitter couldn’t be more clear than it is today.
Will you help press Twitter to remain a leading platform for free speech, by signing our open letter?
OPEN LETTER TO TWITTER: Twitter’s importance as an open platform has been demonstrated time and again this year. We need you to keep fighting for and enabling freedom of expression — not rationalize away totalitarianism as a legitimate “different idea”.
Please just add your name at right to sign our open letter to Twitter.
You can read the Reuters article here.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
The trouble with the world is that people who are stupid are cock sure and people who are intelligent are full of doubt” ~~ Bertrand Russell