House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) apparently told the 113-member LGBT Equality Caucus that there is “no way” the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would pass this year. According to Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), who spoke with the Washington Blade, Boehner “said it wasn’t going to happen in this session.” The meeting took place sometime last week..
This morning I woke up and had a piece ready to post on an America beyond our type of crony Capitalism. But then I stumbled onto a piece written by Frank Rich in the New York Magazine titled “Stop Beating a Dead Fox.” Why not start a Monday on a note of hope that a splinter will eventually be removed?
One must agree that a title like the above is going to peak one’s interest. Anything with Fox (News) in print or online generally does. After reading and digesting Frank Rich’s article, maybe it should not.
Early in the story Frank Rich wrote the following.
these days Fox News is the loudest voice in the room only in the sense that a bawling baby is the loudest voice in the room. In being so easily bullied by Fox’s childish provocations, the left gives the network the attention on which it thrives and hands it power that it otherwise has lost.
He hits it on the nail. While the loudest person may get attention, many times they have nothing to say. Eventually only a few continue to react in any substantive manner to said noise maker or bully. One sees that as Chris Christie’s own bullying is tamed by reality and scandal. Bill Maher did a prescient New Rule skit on these tactics.
Frank Rich points out that as loud and disruptive as Fox News has been and still is, that has not turned into a net positive for the Right or Republicans.
a pair of political analysts wrote at Reuters last year, “When the mainstream media reigned supreme, between 1952 and 1988, Republicans won seven out of the ten presidential elections,” but since 1992, when “conservative media began to flourish” (first with Rush Limbaugh’s ascendancy, then with Fox), Democrats have won the popular vote five out of six times. You’d think they’d be well advised to leave Fox News to its own devices so that it can continue to shoot its own party in the foot.
In effect good solid straight fact based news is good for Democrats and Republicans alike. When American’s have fact based messages that resonate they react and vote for the best candidate they perceive at that time, Democrat or Republican. In the aggregate, ultimately the charlatan loses and the Party is penalized.
Frank Rich points out a most important fact. The cable news audience is not all that large. So why is so much made of the relative strength’s between MSNBC, FOX News, and CNN?
But as Wolff also observed, “The cable audience, for all the attention heaped on it for its theoretical political sway, is not that large.” To put it mildly. As the overwhelming leader in its field, Fox draws just over a million viewers in prime time—a pittance and a niche next to even the ever-declining network newscasts, of which the lowest rated (CBS Evening News) still can attract a nightly audience as large as 8 million.
That the lowest rated broadcast news gets many times more viewers than the highest rated cable news show should be probative.
So exactly why is Fox News on a slow glide to irrelevance and broadcast death at least in its current form? Frank Rich gives the answer.
Hard as it may be to fathom, Fox Nation is even more monochromatically white than the GOP is, let alone the American nation. Two percent of Mitt Romney’s voters were black. According to new Nielsen data, only 1.1 percent of Fox News’s prime-time viewership is (as opposed to 25 percent for MSNBC, 14 percent for CNN, and an average of roughly 12 percent for the three broadcast networks’ evening news programs).
The above demographic gets worse every year. But it is not only about demographics. It is about culture. The American culture is changing. States legalizing marijuana and same sex marriage is anathema to everything Fox News is willing to report on objectively. This applies to many other societal issues.
Fox News is behind the curve in merging itself with New Media. It’s master, Roger Ailes is rather technophobic.
He doesn’t have a clue that his great cable-news innovation at Fox, The Crawl, is aging as fast in the day of Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr as ticker tape did with the advent of computer terminals. He is so tech-phobic that when Glenn Beck left Fox to start his own empire online, he pronounced him “crazy” because “no one walks away from television.”
Frank Rich gives some timely advice to those who continue to obsess on Fox News.He opines that it is a waste of time that may actually be delaying necessary progress in both the narrative and political battles to come.
while the right remains obsessed with fighting its unending war against a nearly lame-duck president, it behooves liberals to move on and start transitioning out of their Fox fixation. Paradoxically enough, the most powerful right-wing movement in the country, the insurgency in the Republican grassroots, loathes the Boehner-Christie-Rove-centric Fox News nearly as much as the left does. The more liberals keep fighting the last war against the more and more irrelevant Ailes, the less prepared they’ll be for the political war to come
One must admit that it is difficult to ignore the bully. It is difficult to ignore that loud, disruptive, and ever present voice. There is a middle ground however. As the current iteration of Fox News dies, one can help the demise of their misinformation by pointing it out and moving on without obsessing. One must remember however that as a star dies, it gets evermore so large and bright just before it is snuffed.
From Egberto Willies
By Janet Reitman, Rolling Stone
On the morning of December 11th, Gretchen Whitmer, the charismatic 42-year-old minority leader of the Michigan Senate, stood before her colleagues in the Statehouse in Lansing, and told them something she’d told almost no one before. “Over 20 years ago, I was a victim of rape,” she said. “And thank God it didn’t result in a pregnancy, because I can’t imagine going through what I went through and then having to consider what to do about an unwanted pregnancy from an attacker.”
No one in the gallery said a word. Instead, with just hours to go before it broke for Christmas recess, Michigan’s overwhelmingly male, Republican-dominated Legislature, having held no hearings nor even a substantive debate, voted to pass one of the most punishing pieces of anti-abortion legislation anywhere in the country: the Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act, which would ban abortion coverage, even in cases of rape or incest, from virtually every health-insurance policy issued in the state. Women and their employers wanting this coverage will instead have to purchase a separate rider – often described as “rape insurance.” Whitmer, a Democrat known as a fierce advocate for women’s issues, described the new law as “by far one of the most misogynistic proposals I’ve seen in the Michigan Legislature.”
And it’s not just Michigan. Eight other states now have laws preventing abortion coverage under comprehensive private insurance plans – only one of them, Utah, makes an exception for rape. And 24 states, including such traditionally blue states as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, ban some forms of abortion coverage from policies purchased through the new health exchanges. While cutting insurance coverage of abortion in disparate states might seem to be a separate issue from the larger assault on reproductive rights, it is in fact part of a highly coordinated and so far chillingly successful nationwide campaign, often funded by the same people who fund the Tea Party, to make it harder and harder for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies, and also to limit their access to many forms of contraception.
All this legislative activity comes at a time when overall support for abortion rights in the United States has never been higher – in 2013, seven in 10 Americans said they supported upholding Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. But polls also show that more than half the country is open to placing some restrictions on abortion: Instead of trying to overturn Roe, which both sides see as politically unviable, they have been working instead to chip away at reproductive rights in a way that will render Roe’s protections virtually irrelevant.
Since 2010, when the Tea Party-fueled GOP seized control of 11 state legislatures – bringing the total number of Republican-controlled states to 26 – conservative lawmakers in 30 states have passed 205 anti-abortion restrictions, more than in the previous decade. “What you’re seeing is an underhanded strategy to essentially do by the back door what they can’t do through the front,” says Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is currently litigating against some of the new anti-choice laws. “The politicians and organizations advancing these policies know they can’t come right out and say they’re trying to effectively outlaw abortion, so instead, they come up with laws that are unnecessary, technical and hard to follow, which too often force clinics to close. Things have reached a very dangerous place.”
Last June, the right’s stealth attack on abortion rights became front-page news, when, in an attempt to block a vote on a sweeping omnibus bill that included 20 pages of anti-abortion legislation, Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis embarked on an 11-hour-plus filibuster in the Texas Statehouse. Wearing rouge-red Mizuno running shoes and an elegant string of pearls, the blond, blue-eyed Davis, a onetime single mother and a graduate of Harvard Law School, became an overnight symbol of what, in many states, is a growing popular resistance to the conservative anti-choice agenda. But Davis’ filibuster failed to prevent the Texas Legislature from holding a special session in July to pass the bill, despite widespread public opposition.
This was the latest failed battle to protect reproductive rights in a state that in the past few years has passed some of the harshest abortion restrictions in the country. Thanks to the cumulative impact of Texas law, a woman seeking to terminate a pregnancy must receive pre-abortion counseling to advise her of the supposed physical and emotional health risks, undergo an ultrasound and view an image of her fetus as well as hear it described by her doctor, and then, in most cases, wait another 24 hours before having the procedure. This assumes she can even find a clinic to go to. Women’s-health centers have been shutting their doors all over the Lone Star State since 2011, when, in a specific attempt to defund Planned Parenthood – which operated only a portion of the state’s women’s-health clinics – the Texas Legislature cut the funding to family-planning clinics by two-thirds, eliminating access to low-price contraception and other health services like breast exams and cancer screenings for more than 155,000 women. With the passage of the new restrictions last summer, a third of Texas’ remaining clinics announced they’d have to close or offer fewer services. If additional measures go into effect this September, it could mean potentially leaving just six clinics offering abortions in a state of 26 million people, all of them in urban areas, and none in the entire western half of the state.
Much of the public outrage in recent years has revolved around extreme measures, like proposed “personhood amendments” that would have outlawed abortion outright, and banned many common forms of birth control, stem-cell research and in-vitro fertilization. But the anti-abortion movement’s real success has been in passing seemingly innocuous regulations known as TRAP laws (“Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers”), which are designed to punish abortion providers by burying them in mountains of red tape, and, ultimately, driving them out of business.
Twenty-six states, including Texas, have laws on their books requiring that abortion clinics become mini surgical centers, a costly proposition that would require clinics to widen hallways, expand parking lots, modify janitorial closets or install surgical sinks and pipelines for general anesthesia – regulations most providers say are unnecessary. Four states currently (and four more may soon) require that the doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at local hospitals, which applies even in places where the nearest hospitals oppose abortion or are simply too far away to meet the state’s distance requirement. Sixteen states restrict medication-induced abortion; in 39 states, only licensed physicians – not their physician’s assistants or nurse practitioners – are permitted to hand out the drug. Fourteen states ban its use via telemedicine, which is often the only way a woman in a rural part of the country can consult with her doctor.
“It’s a brilliant strategy to package these laws as just making sure abortion is ‘safe,’ [and] in many states, they’ve been able to sell it that way,” says Eric Ferrero, VP of communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. But abortion is already safe. The mortality rate for abortions is less than .67 per 100,000 procedures. By comparison, the mortality rate for colonoscopies, also commonly performed in outpatient clinics but not subject to similar restrictions, is about 20 out of 100,000.
This incremental approach to eviscerating abortion rights grew out of the recognition at the highest levels of the pro-life movement that their previous message – equating abortion with murder – and the accompanying extremist tactics weren’t working. “Twenty years ago, we’d storm a clinic and close it down for a day – and then I’d get thrown in jail,” says Troy Newman, the president of Operation Rescue, the infamous Kansas-based anti-abortion group that made its name during the 1980s and early 1990s by blocking the entrances to clinics and holding noisy sit-ins – a practice Congress outlawed in 1994. Other tactics, which ranged from handing out pamphlets emblazoned with the image of aborted fetuses, to “naming and shaming” the friends and associates of abortion providers, proved equally unfruitful. “All of that just made the community angry – at me, at the clinic,” says Newman. “And I hated that. I don’t want to wave pictures on the street just to piss people off. I want to win.” So Newman stopped the overt harassment, and settled on a new plan to push for TRAP laws and document alleged abuses at abortion clinics and report them to the authorities. Today, there are only four clinics offering abortions in all of Kansas, which, like Michigan, has its own version of the “rape insurance” law, and has also imposed myriad other restrictions, including the criminalization of abortion after the fifth month of pregnancy. The so-called “20-week ban” violates one of Roe’s central provisions, that a woman has the right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside of the womb – roughly 24 weeks by today’s medical standards. Nonetheless, nine states currently impose the ban, basing it on a theory that is widely disputed by medical groups, that a fetus is able to feel pain at five months.
Polls have consistently shown that support for abortion after the first trimester drops precipitously – 64 percent of the country opposes it during the second trimester, and 80 percent opposes it during the third trimester. This has allowed pro-life groups to strike a note that might on the surface seem reasonable, and as Newman points out, “once you start enforcing a second-trimester ban, the camel’s nose is in the tent.” Arkansas has banned abortion after 12 weeks. North Dakota recently passed a law to criminalize abortion after six weeks, a point when many women don’t even realize they’re pregnant.
Two Washington-based advocacy groups, the National Right to Life Committee and Americans United for Life, are responsible for much of the model legislation restricting abortion, as well as for the grassroots organizing that’s been needed to pass it. Of the two, AUL, which describes itself as both the legal arm and “intellectual architect” of the movement, is chiefly responsible for the most recent and highly successful under-the-radar strategy.
“We don’t make frontal attacks,” AUL president and CEO Charmaine Yoest told the National Catholic Register in 2011. “Never attack where the enemy is strongest.” Some abortion-rights advocates have compared AUL to the American Legislative Exchange Council, the secretive corporate-funded organization responsible for many of the country’s voter-suppression and “Stand Your Ground” laws. Each year, AUL sends state and federal lawmakers across the country a 700-page-plus “pro-life playbook,” Defending Life, which it describes as “the definitive plan for countering a profit-centered and aggressive abortion industry, while laying the groundwork for the ultimate reversal of Roe.” Among its annual features is a 50-state “report card” on the state of anti-abortion legislation, as well as a step-by-step guide, Yoest says, to help lawmakers “understand that Roe v. Wade doesn’t preclude them from passing common-sense legislation.”
While “each state has a different scenario,” says Yoest, AUL’s central strategy is to make women – not the “unborn” – the focal point of its efforts. In the past few years, AUL has drafted numerous bills that claim to protect women, recently including them in a new package it has dubbed the “Women’s Protection Project.” Based on misleading facts and dubious medical information, the package is full of model legislation with names like the “Parental Involvement Enhancement Act” (which requires parental notification or consent for underage abortions), the “Abortion Patients’ Enhanced Safety Act” (imposes draconian regulations on abortion providers), the “Women’s Health Defense Act” (designed to protect women from the supposed physical and emotional health risks posed by later-term abortion) and the “Women’s Right to Know Act,” perhaps the most punishing measure in the package. To make it possible for a woman to give her “informed consent” before terminating a pregnancy, it requires that she view the fetus she is about to abort, justifying a mandatory ultrasound. “Forced ultrasounds tell a woman exactly what she already knows – that she’s pregnant,” says Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “These laws aren’t intended to provide new or useful information; they are intended to force more burden and shame on women who are simply exercising a constitutional right.”
In 2012, Arizona became the first state to pass a version of the Women’s Health Defense Act, one of 65 “life-affirming” laws that AUL claims credit for in the past three years. According to the ACLU, during the 2013 legislative session AUL worked in at least 27 states to, among other things, ban later-term abortion in North Dakota, further limit access to abortion care in Kansas, tighten regulations on parental-consent laws in Arkansas and Montana, and restrict access to medication abortion in Mississippi, a state where unnecessary regulation has already shut down all but one abortion clinic.
While all of this speaks to the clever tactics of anti-abortion groups, it also speaks to the new culture of the Republican Party. Nowhere has this been more apparent than Michigan, where gerrymandering combined with term limits have handed the GOP a hammerlock on the state Legislature, at least one-third of whose members are freshmen during any given term. Because of this, abortion opponents like the National Right to Life Committee’s Michigan affiliate now have the kind of broad political influence they might have only dreamed of a few years earlier. “Right to Life of Michigan is looked upon by most Republican legislators – and probably some Democratic legislators – as one of the most coercive, if not the most coercive lobbying group in the state,” says former U.S. congressman Joe Schwarz, a self-described pro-choice Republican who served 16 years in the Michigan Statehouse, from 1987 to 2002. “The amount of pressure Right to Life both directly and indirectly puts on legislators in Michigan is considerable. And some legislators aren’t exactly profiles in courage when it comes to standing up to these guys.”
Right to Life of Michigan’s president, Barbara Listing, who also sits on the board of the national organization, is known as a savvy operator who has wielded power in the Michigan Statehouse for more than 20 years. As far back as the early 1990s, recalls former Republican legislator Shirley Johnson, Listing would show up in the gallery and tell pro-life legislators how to vote. “We’d be voting on an amendment, something that those members who vote Right to Life did not have the opportunity to read, and they would look right up there and she’d give them a thumbs up or thumbs down,” says Johnson. “Most of us were shocked, but we got used to it.”
Michigan’s “rape insurance” law was written by Right to Life, which had proposed it twice before – most recently in 2012. Two governors, including Republican Rick Snyder, vetoed the bill – Snyder, who opposes abortion, nonetheless said he felt the bill “went too far.” So Right to Life employed a rarely used provision in the state constitution that allows for a citizens’ initiative to bring a bill to the Legislature, provided a certain percentage of the electorate supports it. Michigan abortion opponents spent four months gathering the requisite 258,088 signatures to reintroduce the insurance ban, skirting the veto entirely. “We used the democratic process and we won,” says Right to Life of Michigan spokeswoman Rebecca Kiessling.
After the vote, says Gretchen Whitmer, a number of her Republican colleagues approached her to say they wished they’d had the courage to vote against the bill. “That was a tough thing to hear,” she says. “Not one Republican stood up and defended what they were doing – not one. Every one of them will get up and defend a business tax cut. Not one of them defended this action.”
Of the 30 states that have been actively pursuing the anti-abortion agenda, most, like Michigan, are also anti-union right-to-work states, where the alliance of powerful donors and corporate interests has been steadily working to change the political game. Thanks to the 2010 Citizens United decision, conservative dark-money groups have spent millions on political campaigns, much of it impossible to trace. “There’s a lot of money behind this effort, and you have to ask, ‘Why is that?’” says the Center for Reproductive Rights’ Nancy Northup. “It’s been apparent to me for a long time that this is part of a huge, larger agenda, and we’re just the canary in the coal mine. What this is really about is democracy.”
In Michigan, Amway scion Richard “Dick” DeVos, the 58-year-old former Republican candidate for governor, is a force behind what he refers to as the state’s “freedom to work” legislation, which passed in 2012 despite a 12,000-person protest that locked opponents out of the state Capitol. DeVos has also funded a variety of religious-right groups, including Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Family Forum, which supported the state’s “rape insurance” bill.
A similar scenario has played out in North Carolina, where millionaire Art Pope has single-handedly changed the face of state politics by pouring millions into state races since 2010, which gave Republicans control of the Legislature and also delivered the governor’s mansion to the GOP in 2012. Since then, North Carolina has enacted some of the nation’s harshest voter-suppression laws, as well as a sweeping package of TRAP laws that drew national attention last year, when lawmakers attempted to sneak it past the public’s scrutiny by first attaching it to a bill ostensibly banning Shariah law, and then attaching it to a bill regulating motorcycle safety. Despite weekly protests, the “motorcycle-vagina bill,” as abortion-rights advocates dubbed it, was passed and signed into law in July, threatening the state’s 16 abortion clinics.
Unlike DeVos, a longtime Christian conservative, Pope calls himself a libertarian and has served as a national director of the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity. Koch money, through various “social welfare” organizations it supports, has helped fund a significant part of the pro-life agenda, even though the Koch brothers, like Pope, have never taken a personal interest in reproductive politics, and David Koch has even stated his support for marriage equality. “They know the policies they want wouldn’t be attractive to enough people unless they also included the social-conservative policies, so what’s happened is they’ve merged the social and economic agenda into a single product,” says Rachel Tabachnick, an associate fellow at the progressive think tank Political Research Associates. “This is not new, it’s a project that goes back decades,” she says, “and it’s one in which the war on reproductive rights is a non-negotiable part of the deal.”
Connecting the fiscal and social agendas into a single, conservative “worldview” has been the goal of conservatives since the Reagan era. To outsiders, the Tea Party, with its focus on cutting taxes and spending, might seem to rule the party. But looks can be deceiving. Evangelicals, long outsiders in the GOP power structure, now hold large sway in the party through organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council. “I’d say it’s kind of baked into the cake,” Ralph Reed, the head of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said recently on MSNBC.
“This is what progressives don’t understand,” says Tabachnick. “The public is so obsessed with the big battle between Democrats and Republicans that they miss the larger philosophical and legal underpinnings developed by this permanent think-tank structure that has been working behind the scenes for years. And now they’re in a place where regardless of what’s happening with the Supreme Court, they are ready to maximize every opportunity because of the extremely well-funded partnership between the free-marketeers and the religious right that’s helping to overhaul the country from the bottom up.”
This union has been the key to not just the success of pro-life legislation, but also the avalanche of other model legislation to defeat the federal government promoted by groups like ALEC, which receives heavy backing from the State Policy Network, the free-market coalition of “mini-Heritage Foundations,” with branches in every state. Though they maintain their focus is strictly economic, many lawmakers who serve as state ALEC chairs also happen to be the leading proponents of anti-abortion legislation. At an ALEC conference last August in Chicago, Wisconsin Democrat Chris Taylor, a state senator, recalls that AUL had a prominent booth in the exhibition hall. “The relationship isn’t formal,” she says, “but they are clearly working in conjunction to help change the face of the legislatures.”
The good news is that in states where some of the most extreme anti-abortion legislation has been proposed, the public is fighting back. On Monday, January 6th, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals began hearing arguments from pro-choice organizations on why the Texas laws requiring physicians to have admitting privileges and regulating how they can prescribe abortion-induced drugs were unconstitutional. And Wendy Davis, whose filibuster catapulted her to national prominence, is now running for Texas governor, hoping to reverse two decades of Republican control. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, voters rejected a 20-week ban that would have amounted to the first municipal abortion restriction in the country. But the victory, decided by 55 percent of Albuquerque voters, only came after abortion-rights groups poured close to $700,000 into defeating the measure, outspending anti-abortion organizations by more than three to one.
“Republicans are alienating women voters with these policies, and the number of women who are running and winning at the state and federal levels proves that women reject this regressive agenda,” says Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, which works to elect pro-choice Democratic women to state and federal offices. But while some on the left think the right may have overplayed its hand, others see these defeats as simply incidental. “This type of thinking is how progressives delude themselves,” says Tabachnick. “The problem with the left is that it pretty much fights every battle from scratch. But the right is playing chess: They are willing to lose a pawn here or there to achieve the larger goal.”
This story is from the January 30th, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone.
Legal experts in New Jersey aren’t surprised at how quickly area U. S. Attorney Paul Fishman responded to Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer’s claim that the Chris Christie administration tried to extort her into supporting a development project if she wanted more Sandy relief funding. They not only think there’s enough evidence to open a preliminary investigation (a BFD in and of itself)–but that in the long run, Christie may have more to fear from this than Bridgegate.
Interest in the mayor claims comes at the same time the U.S. Attorney’s Office is reviewing the September lane closures on to the George Washington Bridge, which are also the subject of an ongoing investigation by the state Legislature.But James Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University, said the Hoboken case is more serious.
“Closing the George Washington Bridge, that is very serious. It takes a lot of balls,” Cohen said. “But this deals with dollars — the misuse of federal tax dollars. The feds will treat that very, very serious.”
Aidan O’Connor, an attorney with PashmanStein and a former federal prosecutor, said he was not surprised by the quick response of the U.S. Attorney’s Office considering the gravity of Zimmer’s charges and the enormous public interest.
“You’re going to need corroboration or proof of something that happened as a result of something the mayor did or did not do,” O’Connor said. “The prosecutor’s office is going to need some corroboration that there was this threat of economic retaliation.”
He said the mayor’s journal typically would not be admissible in court unless prosecutors need to use it to prove Zimmer did not just make up the claims because of the Christie administration’s struggles, or if someone challenges Zimmer’s memory of the encounters.
“At the end of the day, it’s still her word against the lieutenant governor’s word at this stage,” O’Connor said.
But Cohen said the diary would be “a very important piece of evidence.”
“It adds credibility to the statement,” the Fordham professor said. “She took the trouble to write something down.”
Cohen went on to say that this case will almost certainly go to court, since it’s a slam dunk that there’s probably more evidence. He also thinks that if there is something to these charges, other local officials will likely speak up. And if this ends up going to trial, anyone involved in this could face some serious jail time–with some of the potential offenses carrying a minimum of five years in prison.
Zimmer outlined some of that potential evidence last night on Anderson Cooper 360. She produced two letters that document how she claims the Christie administration was turning the screws on her. She also revealed why she waited so long to come forward–she was afraid if she spoke up any sooner, it would cripple her city’s chances of getting more funding. Watch part 1 of that interview here and part 2 here.
The first letter, dated April 23, says that given the damage to Hoboken’s infrastructure, the proposed development project would be a waste. She told Christie in no uncertain terms, “Just as shore towns are not being asked for development in exchange for protecting them from future storms, the solution to Hoboken’s flooding challenges cannot be dependent on future development.” The second letter, dated May 8, was penned less than 24 hours after the already battered city was slammed by a rainstorm; much of the western half of the city was flooded. Zimmer was aghast that Christie refused to greenlight any additional funding for pump infrastructure beyond a low-interest loan. The implication–that funding was dependent on the development project. According to the Jersey (City) Journal the Hoboken planning board effectively deep-sixed the project on the same day Zimmer sent her second letter.
I have to admit, I was surprised that this could potentially be more serious than Bridgegate. After all, it doesn’t seem that you could get more serious than an act that not only willfully interferes with interstate commerce, but also puts people’s lives in danger. But after reading those letters Zimmer provided, I have to agree that this mess is at least as egregious as Bridgegate. If Zimmer is telling the truth, Christie and his people knew that an entire city was finding it hard to survive–and yet were still willing to play games with their livelihood. That makes Christie look even more depraved than Bush 43 partying while the levees blew during Katrina–and I didn’t think that was possible.
Jack Hagan and Elizaveta Malashenko of the CPUC Safety Enforcement Division made allegedly illegal deal with PG&E
San Bruno, Calif. – An attempt by Pacific Gas & Electric Company to broker what appears to be a secret deal with a California Public Utilities Commission staffer should result in significant penalties and fines for the utility company and the creation of an independent monitor to ensure transparency and accountability of the CPUC, San Bruno demanded in a legal filing with the CPUC today.
The apparent backroom deal, revealed in a report by Jaxon Van Derbecken San Francisco Chronicle newspaper, detailed how PG&E hoped to quietly pay a $375,000 fine to avoid paying a proposed $2.5 billion in penalties and fines for the 2010 San Bruno explosion and fire that killed eight, injured 66, destroyed 38 homes and left a giant hole in the center of the city.
In a legal motion filed with the CPUC on Friday, San Bruno officials demanded that PG&E face a significant fine for violating CPUC rules when, in December, it paid a $375,000 fine imposed by the CPUC’s safety enforcement division – and then quietly asked that the fine count against the multi-billion-dollar penalty it faces for violations stemming from the San Bruno pipeline disaster.
It was revealed that no parties involved in the more than three-year San Bruno penalty proceeding were made aware of PG&E’s secret payment. Instead, the CPUC withdrew the fine and refunded the $375,000 payment amid concerns that PG&E had attempted to broker a backroom deal that could have triggered a form of regulatory double jeopardy, preventing the CPUC’s administrative law judges from levying a sufficient future penalty.
“Instead of being transparent and forthcoming, PG&E appears to have consciously elected to conceal an ill-fated attempt to quietly settle for the fatal and tragic pipeline disaster in San Bruno,” said San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane. “We believe PG&E should be fined and reprimanded for trying to undermine the ongoing penalty investigation and possibly jeopardizing more than three years of work to ensure that what happened in San Bruno never happens again, anywhere.”
“This attempt to circumvent the legal and public process also raises troubling questions about the CPUC safety division and its staffer who attempted to conceal this backroom deal,” representatives for the city added. “This action is just the latest attempt by the PG&E and some members of the CPUC safety division to hide from public view the unholy alliance and power PG&E has with our State’s regulatory agency. That is why San Bruno demands an independent monitor to ensure the CPUC is operating properly and transparently.”
The $375,000 fine was originally levied in December by the CPUC’s safety enforcement division in response to a 2012 audit, which concluded that for more than four decades PG&E lacked the proper procedures to monitor its gas-transmission pipelines. Reliable reports indicate that CPUC safety division deputy director Elizaveta Malashenko, who made this deal with PG&E, has a longstanding personal relationship with PG&E outside of her CPUC job.
Because the infraction related directly to the ongoing San Bruno-related penalty proceeding, it should have been handled as part of that process. Instead, it was handled and paid separately, without notification to any parties and in violation of CPUC’s own procedures.
San Bruno officials say they suspect that a backroom deal, involving illegal ex-parte communications between PG&E and the CPUC, played a role in this mishap. Attorneys for San Bruno have filed a public records request to determine whether PG&E officials spoke directly with CPUC leadership to arrange for the fine that PG&E paid – and later tried using to reduce their overall penalty.
In December, the CPUC fined PG&E $14 million for failing to disclose faulty pipeline records in San Carlos to both the CPUC, the public and the City of San Carlos for nearly a year, creating a possibly dangerous public safety issue that one of its own engineers likened to possibly “another San Bruno situation” in an internal email to PG&E executives.
San Bruno officials say this latest attempt to undercut its obligation to the public further underscores the need for an Independent Pipeline Safety Monitor to serve as a vigilant third-party watchdog over both PG&E and its regulator, the CPUC.
“The Commission lacks the resources to effectively comprehend and oversee PG&E’s compliance,” said the city’s filling. “An Independent Monitor would partner with and provide additional resources to the Commission in order to have more robust regulatory oversight necessary to protect the safety of the public.”
The San Bruno filing came on the same day as the announcement that CPUC Commissioner Mark Farron will be resigning from the Commission to concentrate on beating prostate cancer.
Republican leaders and their corporate allies have launched an array of efforts aimed at diminishing the clout of the party’s most conservative activists and promoting legislation instead of confrontation next year. […]The U.S. Chamber of Commerce early next year plans to roll out an aggressive effort – expected to cost at least $50 million – to support establishment, business-friendly candidates in primaries and the general election, with an aim of trying to win a Republican Senate majority.“Our No. 1 focus is to make sure, when it comes to the Senate, that we have no loser candidates,” said the business group’s top political strategist, Scott Reed. “That will be our mantra: No fools on our ticket.”
San Francisco Firefighters Union Local 798 held a successful toy drive to make sure no child went without a toy in San Francisco this Christmas, thanks to Jon Handlery and his family’s landmark San Francisco hotel.
Dressed as Santa Claus, San Francisco Firefighter Bob Cuff and costumed characters accompanied by off-duty firefighters were in front of the Handlery Union Square Hotel, 351 Geary (between Powell and Mason), San Francisco from 9 a.m. to midnight on Christmas Eve day.
Beloved hotel owner Jon Handlery and Handlery hotel staff served as “Santa’s Helpers” and assisted with the collection of thousands of toys for needy San Francisco kids.
The Handlery Hotel has raised $3,500 and donated two barrels of toys to the drive this year to ensure no kid were without a Holiday present.
Firefighters Union Local 798 asked people to bring unwrapped toys which were collected in front of the Handlery Hotel. Everyone who brought a toy got free pictures with Santa and many children brought their lists of Christmas wishes to Santa in person.
An additional toy drive was held just next door to the hotel at Lefty O’Doul’s bar and pub, a property which is also owned by the Handlery family.
SF Firefighters Local 798 Toy Program
The Local 798 San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program is celebrating its 64th year of providing toys to San Francisco children in need during the holidays. The San Francisco Firefighter’s Toy Program is San Francisco’s largest and the nation’s oldest program of its kind. Since 1949 it has evolved from a few firefighters repairing broken toys and bikes for 15 families to, in 2012, 300 firefighters and friends volunteering their time to distribute over 200,000 toys to more than 40,000 disadvantaged children.
Besides helping individual families in need, the Toy Program serves many community organizations, including shelters for abused women and children, inner-city schools, children’s cancer wards, and pediatric AIDS units.
The Toy Program is made possible through public donations and the efforts and contributions of Local 798 members.
Firefighters Union Local 798 wishes to thank Jon Handlery & the staff of the Handlery Union Square hotel for welcoming the Toy Program at their property.
The Handlery Union Square Hotel
Located at Union Square, the Handlery Union Square Hotel offers the perfect San Francisco lodging for vacationers and business travelers. As a fourth generation family-owned hotel, the Handlery has created great experiences for guests by offering personal service, beautifully appointed rooms, and a warm atmosphere. Ideally located right next to the world famous Powell Street cable car line, the Handlery Union Square Hotel is a beloved San Francisco institution.
By Alexander Hirata
Canvasback Missions has spent years working to reverse the diabetes epidemic in the Marshall Islands. They’ve brought specialty medical care to the islands for over 30 years, and have run the Diabetes Wellness Center on Majuro since 2006. Now, Canvasback is working to reverse the epidemic of diabetes in the Marshall Islands by preventing the onset of the disease before it begins.
Made possible by a generous grant from the World Diabetes Foundation, Canvasback is working with Antonia Demas, Ph.D., and Marshall Islands health officials to bring health education into the classroom. Dr. Demas has visited the Marshall Islands twice so far, traveling last with Canvasback co-founder Jacque Spence and employee Jaylene Chung to implement trials of the new food education curriculum in the public schools on Majuro and Ebeye in October. The team trained instructors how to teach from the curriculum, which involves special hands-on activities to engage children and make food education fun.
Dr. Antonia Demas studied education, nutrition, and anthropology at Cornell University. She has developed food-based curricula for schools for over 40 years, successfully implementing her “Food is Elementary” program in over 3,000 schools. Demas is also the founder and president of the New York-based Food Studies Institute, a not-for-profit created to improve children’s health through food education.
One of Demas’ key beliefs is that the food we eat directly affects our health. Processed foods have replaced natural ones, and chemical preservatives are now a regular part of our diets. Demas believes that children are the ideal group to teach food literacy to: they don’t have established diets that are difficult to change; they are open to new ideas, especially if taught using sensory (taste, touch, and visual) methods; and healthy habits now would prevent illnesses later.
Canvasback is proud to work with Demas, because both know that food education is essential to reverse diabetes in the Marshall Islands. It is cost-efficient, slipping into the existing educational system, yet its effects will last for a lifetime. And once established, local schools and teachers will be in full control of the program. The most difficult part of the program won’t be getting kids interested in healthy eating–it will be waiting years to see how well it pays off.
To learn more about the work of Canvasback Missions, contact them at: 940 Adams St., Suite R, Benicia, Calif. 94510. Phone: 800-793-7245 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
PG&E and its Orrick Herrington Attorney are Facing Historic Fines and Legal Sanctions for Misleading the California Public Utilities Commission
The California Public Utilities Commission will vote on historic sanctions and a fine of up to $17 million against the Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. Thursday, Dec. 19 for failing to disclose faulty pipeline records in San Carlos to both the CPUC, the public and the City of San Carlos for nearly a year, creating a possibly dangerous public safety issue that one of its own engineers likened to possibly “another San Bruno situation” in an internal email to PG&E executives.
PG&E and its attorney Joseph M. Malkin of Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP law firm are facing a fine of up to $17 million for violating CPUC rules and discreetly filing an “errata” – the legal term for a minor correction – on the status of two pipelines, located in San Carlos and Millbrae, nearly a year after a gas leak unexpectedly revealed faulty records for those pipelines.
Pipelines listed as “seamless,” as in the case of the line that ruptured in San Bruno, were in fact a 1929 vintage welded and reconditioned gas pipe with a strength test less than records showed. The legal correction was made quietly on the afternoon of July 3, 2013, a day before the CPUC took off for the July Fourth holiday, disclosing the fact that PG&E had relied on faulty records to determine the specifications for those pipelines to handle gas at high pressure.
The Commission will make this decision three weeks after PG&E CEO and Chairman Tony Earley made a special presentation before the CPUC in an attempt to convince commissioners and the public of the company’s renewed commitment to safety. Earley was met with a skeptical commission, which challenged PG&E’s credibility in the face of mounting recordkeeping errors and threats to public safety. “We find ourselves here today with a public that doesn’t believe you and in many respects doesn’t believe us,” Commissioner Mike Florio said to Earley at the hearing.
City of San Bruno officials have agreed with the proposed fine against PG&E and are calling on the CPUC to uphold proposed sanctions against PG&E for deliberately covering up the facts after it used faulty records to determine that two Bay Area pipelines could safely operate – a decision demonstrating the continued problem with PG&E record keeping practices. Bad record keeping was one of the causes of the 2010 PG&E disaster in San Bruno and continues to threaten public safety.
Calling the July 3 PG&E filing a “brazen and calculated act of damage control,” San Bruno attorneys say PG&E’s legal maneuver illustrates PG&E’s ongoing attempts to cover its tracks as it continues to use natural gas pipelines at inappropriate operating pressures, without accurate records and with the same flawed materials that caused a tragic explosion and fire in San Bruno that killed eight, destroyed 38 homes and damaged scores more.
City officials were shocked to discover that, after gross negligence and bad recordkeeping by PG&E resulted in the fatal tragedy in San Bruno, PG&E paid its legal team to perpetuate their deception at the risk of public safety. They are now calling on the CPUC to issue sanctions and send the strong message that such behavior will not be tolerated. Officials question how many communities must endure tragedy before PG&E and our state utility regulators wake up and put safety first.
Faulty recordkeeping was found to be a major contributor to the explosion and fire in San Bruno after federal and state investigators found that PG&E had maintained bad or nonexistent pipeline safety records for much of its 1,000+ miles of urban natural gas transmission lines. As a result, state regulators required PG&E to lower pressure on its other Peninsula gas pipelines until safety records could be verified.
In 2011, PG&E declared that the pipeline construction records were accurate for both Line 101, which runs from Milpitas to San Francisco, and Line 147, which runs in the San Carlos area. Based on PG&E’s representations, the CPUC allowed PG&E to increase the pressure back to pre-explosion levels.
In reality, PG&E’s pipelines were not rated to operate at higher pressure, as revealed after an October 2012 corrosion-related leak in San Carlos revealed seams in the pipeline previously not thought to exist. Yet, it took nine months for the company to admit – by way of the subtle “errata” filing — that the records it had relied on to make that determination were faulty.
At previous CPUC hearings, regulators pressed PG&E over the “profoundly troubling” oversight, which occurred despite “the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars for record review and validation.” PG&E now faces fines of up to $17 million, on top of a possible $2.25 billion penalty and fine stemming from the fatal 2010 explosion and fire in San Bruno.
San Bruno officials say this is just the latest example of PG&E expending millions on top attorneys – more than $120 million by PG&E’s own admission – to subvert the truth and put profits over people.
The Michigan state legislature yesterday finished passing a bill that requires women to buy separate coverage ahead of time for abortion if they want to have coverage for it at all. The measure applies to private health insurance, and it has no exceptions for rape or incest.
Yesterday in Michigan, State. Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, was not backing down.
For those you who want to act aghast that I’d use a term like “rape insurance” to describe the proposal here in front of us, you should be even more offended that it’s an absolutely accurate description of what this proposal requires. This tells women that were raped and became pregnant that they should have bought special insurance for it. By moving forward on this initiative, Senate Republicans want to essentially require Michigan women to plan ahead and financially invest in healthcare coverage for potentially having their bodies violated and assaulted. Even worse, it would force parents to have similar and unthinkably terrible discussions about planning the same for their daughters. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: This is by far one of the most misogynistic proposals I’ve ever seen in the Michigan legislature.
Whitmer went on to describe her personal experience of surviving sexual assault. The final vote was 27-11 in the Senate, to go along with passage in the House of 62-47. Republican Governor Rick Snyder vetoed a similar bill last year. But because the bill this time arose as a citizens’ initiative, it does not require a signature from the governor – neither can he veto it. Had the Michigan legislature sent it on to the ballot, it faced a divided electorate, with voters opposed to it by 47 percent to 41 percent in a recent poll. The bill will take effect early next year.
Dave Agema, a member of the RNC, claims gay men are dying in midlife and therefore are seeking free health care.
Dave Agema, the Michigan Republican politician known for outrageous antigay comments, is at it again, claiming gay people want free medical care “because they’re dying between 30 and 44 years old.”
Agema, a former state legislator who now represents Michigan on the Republican National Committee, was making a reference to HIV and AIDS in the statement, which came in a speech before the Berrien County Republicans in Bridgman, Mich., last Thursday. The theme of his speech was the need for unity between Tea Partyers and other Republicans, and between Michigan Republicans and the national party, reports The Herald-Palladium, a newspaper in southwestern Michigan.
Agema said one of his priorities was supporting “traditional marriage, no homosexual ones” and claimed that the employee benefits coming with recognition of same-sex relationships leads to fraud. He asserted that when he was a pilot for American Airlines, which offers domestic-partner benefits, he saw employees list a person with AIDS as their partner so that the sick person could get health care.
“Folks, they [gay people] want free medical because they’re dying [when they’re] between 30 and 44 years old,” he said, a statement that ignores the fact that with proper treatment, people with HIV now have about the same life expectancy as the rest of the population. “To me, it’s a moral issue. It’s a Biblical issue. Traditional marriage is where it should be and it’s in our [national] platform. Those in our party who oppose traditional marriage are wrong.”
Earlier this year, Agema received much criticism for a Facebook post that quoted a questionable article featuring many unsubstantiated assertions about gays, some of which were linked to a Holocaust denier. Among the statements: “Many homosexuals admit they are pedophiles” and “The median age of death of lesbians is 45.” That led some observers to call for his resignation from the RNC, but he resisted.
He also was a prominent sponsor of the national Republican Party’s platform position reaffirming its opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples. The Michigan state Republican Party, which does not have an official platform, should adopt the national platform in total, he said at the Berrien County event.
By Zachary Roth
Consider what happened this week: On Monday, Jon Cowan and Jim Kessler of Third Way, a centrist Democratic Washington think tank, published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that called an economic populist agenda “disastrous for Democrats.” It took particular exception to a proposal by Sen. Elizabeth Warren to expand Social Security, and blasted those who oppose cuts to Medicare. As its sole piece of evidence for the idea that populism is politically harmfu, it cited Colorado voters’ recent rejection of an initiative to raise taxes to pay for public education and universal pre-K.
Cowan and Kessler’s argument, on both the policy and the politics, has already been thoroughly demolished (see here and here, among other places). But what’s fascinating is the swift and decisive pushback their op-ed generated.
As the Huffington Post reported, Warren sent a letter to six big banks urigng them to dislcose the think tanks and lobby shops they fund—the implication being that much of the backing for groups advocating the kind of business-friendly economic poicies supported by Third Way comes, undisclosed. from Wall Street.
And a group of progressive Democratic organizations called on Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a Pennsylvania Democrat who’s running for governor, to drop her affiliation with Third Way, where she is listed as a “co-chair”. A spokesman for the congresswoman said she wouldn’t resign, but called the op-ed “outrageous,” and said Schwartz “strongly disagrees with it.”
It’s Schwartz’s response that’s most telling of all. Democrats running for office feel they simply can’t afford to be on the conservative side of this split.
There’s plenty of evidence that’s leading them to that view. But it’s striking nonetheless—and great news!—that a movement that not so long ago was embraced by a Democratic White House is now close to being purged from the party.
Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier decided to make an unconventional pitch on the House of Representatives floor Thursday to defend food stamps. Speier used a cooked steak, a bottle of vodka, and a can of caviar to point out members of Congress who had large numbers of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients in their districts but opposed the program. The congresswoman pointed out many of the same members of Congress took trips around the world with large stipends for food and lodging.
“In my district, California 14, we have about 4,000 families who are on food stamps, but some of my colleagues have thousands and thousands more,” Rep. Speier said. “Yet, they somehow feel like crusaders, like heroes when they vote to cut food stamps. Some of these same members travel to foreign countries under the guise of official business. They dine at lavish restaurants, eating steak, vodka and even caviar. They receive money to do this. That’s right, they don’t pay out of pocket for these meals.”
Speier went on, using particular examples of members of Congress who went on sponsored trips and spent large amounts of money on food and lodging.
“Let me give you a few examples: One member was given $127.41 a day for food on his trip to Argentina. He probably had a fair amount of steak,” she said.
“Another member was given $3,588 for food and lodging during a six-day trip to Russia. He probably drank a fair amount of vodka and probably even had some caviar. That particular member has 21,000 food stamp recipients in his district. One of those people who is on food stamps could live a year on what this congressman spent on food and lodging for six days,” she added.
“Another 20 members made a trip to Dublin, Ireland. They got $166 a day for food. These members didn’t pay a dime. They received almost $200 for a single meal only for themselves. Yet, for them the idea of helping fellow Americans spend less than $5 a day makes their skin crawl. The families of veterans, of farmers, of the disabled, of the working poor are not visible to them, not even when they are their own constituents.”
In a previous article, BuzzFeed pointed out many of the Republican members of Congress leading the charge to limit the food stamp program represented large numbers of food stamp recipients.
A quick BuzzFeed search found that the member of Congress who took the trip to Argentina who spent $127 was Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma and the trip wassponsored by the Franklin Center for Global Policy Exchange. The member of Congress who took the trip to Russia was Rep. Steve King of Iowa. The 20 members of Congress who went to Dublin can be found here. The trip, sponsored by the Franklin Center for Global Policy Exchange, had an estimated budget of $450,000 to $750,000 according to Roll Call.
Okay now, liberals, don’t get all smug and conservatives, don’t get defensive. The studies hit a hot-button trifecta – examining intelligence, racism and ideology – and our ability to remain objective may be strained. But… it is what it is so let’s dive right in.
The first studies of the correlation between intelligence and racism were done in the U.K. and involved children born in 1958 and another group born in 1970. The children’s intelligence was tested at age 10-11 and at age 30-33, their levels of social conservatism were measured. Verbal and nonverbal intelligence at the early ages was gauged using words, symbols and shapes. The later tests used four methods of testing cognitive abilities. The average IQ for comparison was set at 100.
The adults were given statements with which to agree or disagree dealing with social issues such as women working outside the home and what children should be taught in school. They also answered questions as to whether or not they’d work with people of other races. Once the data was crunched, those children who tested low on the IQ tests grew up to be adults who were racist. It also showed that the people with lower cognitive abilities had less social contact with people of other races.
Gordon Hodson of Brock University in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, Canada and his colleague Michael A. Busseri, examined these and other studies. Their findings were published as Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes: Lower Cognitive Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup Contact.
“This finding is consistent with recent research demonstrating that inter-group contact is mentally challenging and cognitively draining, and consistent with findings that contact reduces prejudice.”
The point here is that one’s cognitive ability determines how easily one can grasp complexities and that right-wing extremist ideologies (and racism) cater to this handicap. Of course, extremist left-wing ideologies can fall into this trap as well, but few of them are as harmful as right-wing ones. For example, a right-wing view that all foreigners are scary and wish us harm becomes everyone is kind and wishes us well through one left-wing prism. One of these things is not like the other, though.
“Socially conservative ideologies tend to offer structure and order,” Hodson said,explaining why these beliefs might draw those with low intelligence. “Unfortunately, many of these features can also contribute to prejudice.”
Further, these findings may relate to homophobia as well. In another U.S. study, Hodson and Busseri compared 254 people who had the same level of education but possessed different levels of abstract reasoning. They found that people whose abstract reasoning abilities were poor tended to be homophobic. Just like in the U.K. study, these people had also had less contact with gays and were more accepting of authoritarianism.
Dr. Brian Nosek, a University of Virginia psychologist, says that the findings are correlational, hence they can’t conclusively prove that low IQs lead to prejudice. The studies would have to compare identical people, which is not possible. But it does point to the idea that people who lack the cognitive ability to process complexity tend to adhere to strict ideologies:
“Reality is complicated and messy. Ideologies get rid of the messiness and impose a simpler solution. So, it may not be surprising that people with less cognitive capacity will be attracted to simplifying ideologies.” (source)
This is not to say that all conservatives are dumb or that all liberals are smart. That’s far too simplistic a conclusion to draw. But the predominance of extremist right-wing ideology amongst those with a low-IQ is too common to ignore.
Another interesting study has shown a correlation between American symbols or cues – such as the flag or the word, “patriot” – and increased aggression in judging other people. These cues also increased the subject’s tendency to fall back onto war imagery and language. This occurred regardless of political affiliation or other factors. So when Fox News (or any other network) precedes a story with one of these cues, it tends to increase their viewer’s aggression towards who or whatever the subject of the report may be. Explains a lot, doesn’t it?
What can we conclude from these studies? Strictly speaking, they have their flaws but, overall, I believe that they have been able to draw a connection between low IQ in the form of reasoning and abstract thought and racism and authoritarian ideologies. From here, perhaps we should try to teach children how better to reason and extrapolate as well as to empathize with others. Hopefully, those who have a vested interest in keeping people stupid won’t be able to block these efforts. And if they do, then parents, it’s up to you. Teach your children well.
Before Monday evening’s 61-30 vote in the Senate to move forward on legislation to prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois marked another milestone in the recovery from a stroke he suffered in January 2012.
As Kirk says, he chose that moment to make his first speech from the chamber’s floor since the stroke because “I believe so passionately in enacting the ENDA statute” — ENDA stands for the “Employment Non-Discrimination Act.”
Also, said Kirk, “I think it’s particularly appropriate for an Illinois Republican to speak on behalf of this measure in the true tradition of [former Sen.] Everett McKinley Dirksen and [former President] Abraham Lincoln — men who gave us the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.”
The roll call of Monday’s vote is here. Seven Republicans joined with 52 Democrats and 2 independents to give the measure the 60+ votes it needed to move forward. The Senate is expected to take another vote — this time on whether to pass the measure — later this week.
As The Associated Press notes, “the legislation, the first significant gay rights bill since Congress ended the ban on gays serving openly in the military in 2010, faces strong opposition in the House, with Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, rejecting the measure.”
The bill, our colleagues at It’s All Politics write, “would forbid employers with at least 15 employees from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Back in January, we wrote about how Kirk was greeted with bipartisan cheers as he slowly walked up the steps of the Capitol for the first time since his stroke. Kirk, 54, served five terms in the House before being elected to the Senate in 2010.
Ender’s Game author Orson Scott Card responded to threats of a boycott in an interview with the Deseret News in which he says that while his views on same-sex marriage are unchanged, his words have been taken out of context.
He claimed that he’s had “no criticism. I’ve had savage, lying, deceptive personal attacks, but no actual criticism because they’ve never addressed any of my actual ideas.”
“Character assassination,” he said, “seems to be the only political method that is in use today, and I don’t play that game, and you can’t defend against it. All you can do is try to offer ideas, and for those who want to listen to ideas, great. For those who simply want to punish you for not falling in line with their dogmas, there’s really not much you can do about it.”
Card also said that he relishes the attention that LGBT boycotts of the film are bringing to his work: “My sales go up with such attacks.”
He also confessed that he “started writing science fiction for the money.”
Although he told the Deseret News that his words were “taken out of context,” Card’s opinion of homosexuality and same-sex marriage are a matter of public record. On his own website, he wrote that “[t]he dark secret of homosexual society — the one that dares not speak its name — is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally.”
In an editorial for the Mormon Times, he wrote that should same sex marriage become the law of the land, a violent overthrow of the government would be in order: “I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage, and help me raise my children in a society where they will expect to marry in their turn.”
His controversial opinions are not just limited to LGBT issues. Just this May, he speculated that “[b]y the time Michelle [Obama] has served her two terms, the Constitution will have been amended to allow Presidents to run for reelection forever. Obama will win by 98 percent every time. That’s how it works in Nigeria and Zimbabwe; that’s how it worked in Hitler’s Germany.”
From THE RAW STORY
E.J. Dionne Jr.
Bill Clinton, the nation’s politician in chief, is on a roll on behalf of his friend Terry McAuliffe, the front-runner in next week’s election for governor of Virginia.
“If we become ideological, then we’re blind to evidence,” the former president explained to a crowd of loyalists gathered at a VFW hall here last weekend. Previewing a message he is taking across the state in stumping for Democrats facing a Republican ticket led by an unapologetic right-wing ideologue, Ken Cuccinelli II, Clinton added that ideology “excites people, but it doesn’t get a darned thing done.”
Yet those inspired by passionate belief — people, Clinton says, with “steam coming out of their ears” — do have one important virtue: “They will show up and vote.” Offering a quick political science lecture about who votes when, Clinton explained that “in the non-presidential years, a whole different America shows up than in the presidential years.” The lesson to moderates and progressives: “You’ve got to care as much about this election as you did about the election in 2012.”
And there, in a few sound bites, is why the elections of 2013 are unlike those of 2009. Four years ago, the three big off-year races — in Virginia, New Jersey and New York City — presaged the Republican sweep of 2010 and, in the case of the first two, the rise of the tea party sensibility. This year, all three signal the collapse of the tea party and the mobilization of both the political center and the political left.
Take first the matter of who will vote. Four years ago, Democrats were dispirited by the grueling battle over health care and a still-ailing economy. Gov. Bob McDonnell led a Virginia GOP sweep. The progressive turnout was so anemic that exit polls found that only 43 percent of the voters who showed up in 2009 had voted for President Obama’s election. This meant that there were a lot of stay-at-home Democrats in a state Obama had carried a year earlier with 53 percent. Professor Clinton had a point about those different Americas.
But this year, it’s those who are riled up against the extreme right who seem ready to vote. The latest Washington Post-Abt-SRBI poll shows McAuliffe ahead of Cuccinelli by 12 percentage points among likely voters and holding a blow-out 24-point lead among women.
While some surveys suggest a somewhat closer race, The Post’s poll shows how a tea party that turned out votes for Republicans in 2009 and 2010 is now dragging the GOP down. Support for the movement has fallen to 36 percent, from 45 percent two years ago. National surveys similarly show the tea party on the decline.
And then there is New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie is on track to win by a landslide over state Sen. Barbara Buono. My hunch is that national Democrats will regret they did not give Buono, a credible candidate, more help. Piling up big numbers will help Christie if he runs for president in 2016, much as George W. Bush’s huge 1998 reelection in Texas helped his presidential campaign two years later.
But the interpretation of this Christie victory will be very different from how his 2009 triumph over Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine was read. Back then, Christie was part of a wave of anti-tax, anti-Democratic protest. This time, he’s seen as winning over many Democrats and independents precisely because he has distanced himself from the GOP’s far right. The Jersey outcome will reinforce the narrative coming out of Virginia.
Moving to the New York City mayoral race, Democrat Bill de Blasio is enjoying a large lead. How progressive is de Blasio? “My worldview is one part Franklin Roosevelt — the New Deal — one part European social democracy, and one part liberation theology,” he told New York magazine’s Chris Smith. Neither the nation (nor New York City) is about to embrace liberation theology, but de Blasio’s success reflects an energy on the left that was wholly absent in 2009 and 2010. Discontent with a sluggish economy that was channeled rightward three and four years ago now has an outlet on the other side.
All this underscores how exhausted Americans have become with the right wing’s relentless anti-government, anti-Obama fixations. “There are more of us who believe that working together is better than constant conflict,” Clinton declared. This may be the very best explanation of what will happen Tuesday.
From Forward Progressives:
Leave it to Bill Clinton to put Republicans in their place. While speaking at an event for Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, Clinton assured the crowd he had the utmost confidence that the glitches the Affordable Care Act website have experienced since its launch would soon get worked out.
“The computer deal will get fixed up. Don’t worry about that,” he told attendees at the event.
But he didn’t stop there — he also tore into Republicans for their blatant hypocrisy concerning the Affordable Care Act website issues and the issues Bush’s Medicare Part D system had upon its launch. Issues that, at the time, Republicans downplayed and urged patience as they got worked out. He also pointed point out that Medicare Part D was actually more unpopular than “Obamacare” at the time it was implemented.
Clinton said, “Everybody’s forgotten, by the way, that when President George W. Bush and the Republicans put that Medicare Part D drug program in, it was more unpopular than the health care law and they had terrible problems with the computers. Some seniors couldn’t even get medicine they had been getting, and the local pharmacists basically got together and made sure they stayed alive until the computers got fixed.”
Again, that was a Republican-built plan that had a horrible beginning as well.
Yet, as it relates to “Obamacare,” Republicans will say the website’s issues equate to the entire law being an epic failure.
Clinton also went on to point out how, while only a few Democrats supported Medicare Part D, once issues were being experienced most Democrats chose to help people understand the new law and get through the issues until they were fixed. He said, “But our side, we’re not so ideological. So, instead of bashing them and screaming about how incompetent they were, most of our people just tried to help people understand the law and make it work and then wait for it to get fixed.”
Which, of course, is the exact opposite of what Republicans are doing. Instead of helping Americans become more informed about the law, they continue to dish out lie after lie in an effort to ignite fear among Americans, hoping that their efforts will lead to the law’s failure.
Then again, Republicans have been trying everything they can to see the United States fail since 2008. If it’s something President Obama supports — including the American people — Republicans seem determined to do everything they can to make it fail.
I’m glad we have people like Bill Clinton to call them out on their blatant hypocrisy. I just wish more Democrats would follow his lead.
Professor Todd Zywicki is vying to be the toughest critic of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the new agency set up by the landmark Dodd-Frank financial reform law to monitor predatory lending practices. In research papers and speeches, Zywicki not only routinely slams the CFPB’s attempts to regulate bank overdraft fees and payday lenders; he depicts the agency as a “parochial” bureaucracy that is “guaranteed to run off the rails.” He has also become one of the leading detractors of the CFPB’s primary architect, Elizabeth Warren, questioning her seminal research on medical bankruptcies and slamming her for once claiming Native American heritage to gain “an edge in hiring.”
Zywicki’s withering arguments against financial reform have earned him guest columns in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times and on The New York Times’s website. Lobbyists representing the largest consumer finance companies in the country have cited his writings in letters to regulators, and the number of times he has testified before Congress is prominently displayed on his academic website at the George Mason University School of Law.
What isn’t contained in Zywicki’s university profile, CV, byline or congressional testimony is the law professor’s other job: he is a director of the Global Economics Group, a consulting business that boasts in a brochure that its experts have been hired by industry to influence the CFPB and other regulatory agencies. Nor does Zywicki advertise Global’s client list, which includes some of the biggest names in the financial industry, among them Visa, Bank of America and Citigroup.
Last summer, Zywicki’s firm was retained for $500 an hour on behalf of Morgan Drexen, a debt-relief company accused by the CFPB of deceiving consumers and charging illegal upfront fees. None of these potential conflicts of interest, however, have been disclosed during the course of Zywicki’s anti-CFPB advocacy in the media or in government.
After the financial industry lost the battle to defeat Dodd-Frank, it moved quickly to minimize the law’s impact during the long slog of implementation [see Gary Rivlin, “How Wall Street Defanged Dodd-Frank,” May 20]. Academics like Zywicki have played a key role in this process. As Wall Street firms seek to beat back hundreds of rules still under consideration, sponsored scholars have been at the front lines of obstructing reform.
Jeff Connaughton, who worked on financial reform as the chief of staff to then-Senator Ted Kaufman, says that professors receiving undisclosed payments has become a significant issue. “Academics are hired guns like anyone else,” he says.While sponsored research groups are something of a mainstay of Beltway lobbying campaigns, Dodd-Frank has created unique incentives for companies to hire professors to represent their point of view. The first reason is that Dodd-Frank delegates broad rulemaking power for some 400 regulations to a variety of agencies, giving lawyers and lobbyists the opportunity to flood policy-makers with comments, studies and testimony that could be used to affect the outcome of the proposed rules. The Volcker Rule alone — a regulation to prevent federally insured banks from making risky investments with depositors’ money — attracted more than 17,000 comments, including many from professors submitting their research.
Several of the anti-Volcker Rule academics providing comments to regulators, such as Harvard Law School professor Hal Scott, have been paid by investment banks seeking to block the rule. A nonprofit financed by Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo and other investment banks has paid Scott nearly $1.3 million in compensation since 2007, as Reuters reported in 2010. Separately, Scott has received more than $1.7 million in cash and stock from Lazard since 2006, when he was elected to the company’s board. Scott’s submissions to regulators neglect to mention these payments and other consulting jobs, including one for State Street Corporation, that may color the professor’s outlook.
“If someone is commenting on a regulation,” says the Sunlight Foundation’s Bill Allison, “there’s no requirement for disclosure.”
The same problem exists with congressional testimony thanks to an ethics procedure change by House Republicans in 2011, which removed a requirement that those giving expert testimony reveal their private sector ties. So-called “Truth in Testimony” forms now ask only if an expert witness has received earmarks or government grants, allowing many Wall Street-sponsored professors to assume the guise of academic neutrality. Jeff Connaughton, who worked on financial reform as the chief of staff to then-Senator Ted Kaufman, says that professors receiving undisclosed payments has become a significant issue. “Academics are hired guns like anyone else,” he says.
The second, and related, reason for the rising demand for sponsored academic research stems from a court ruling that has come to define financial reform implementation. In a decision handed down a year and a day after the Dodd-Frank legislation was signed by President Barack Obama, the DC Circuit Court scolded regulators for failing “adequately to assess the economic effects” of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s proxy access rule, which was mandated by Dodd-Frank.
The plaintiff in the case, the Business Roundtable, was represented by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Eugene Scalia, a prominent attorney and the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
The decision — by a panel of Republican judges on a court that has been a hotbed of conservative legal activism — claimed that regulators had “failed to respond to substantial problems raised” by all of the comments submitted by various parties. The decision marked a new standard for financial regulators, who in the past have been given discretion to choose which comments to take into consideration when promulgating a new rule. Though the SEC had produced a detailed 60-page analysis, this was not enough for the court. Every new rule since then has faced a heightened standard of scrutiny on economic cost-benefit analysis. As a result, financial firms have a new incentive to hire academics to flood the rulemaking process with studies arguing for modifications that will serve their interests.
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Consumer advocates and independent analysts do their best to weigh in as well, but they are outgunned. Meanwhile, consulting firms dedicated to playing matchmaker between corporations and hired experts have flourished in the new regulatory environment. Director Charles Ferguson, whose film Inside Job highlighted the role of sponsored professors in supporting the deregulatory policies that led to the financial meltdown in 2008, says the business of economic consulting firms that work to “source” academics for expert testimony and regulatory filings “has been going on for quite a while, and it’s now quite a large industry.”
National Economic Research Associates, Oliver Wyman, Charles River Associates, Cornerstone Research and the Global Economics Group are just a few of the businesses devoted to helping Wall Street firms find academics. In the DC Circuit ruling against the proxy access rule, the court criticized regulators for failing to fully consider a study written by a Yale professor. The study was sponsored by National Economic Research Associates, which counts Barclays and Morgan Stanley among recent financial industry clients, and had never been peer-reviewed.
Another such firm, Charles River Associates, advertises its services to help clients with “sophisticated economic and statistical analyses…in ways that regulators can easily understand.” Charles River flips the scientific method, promising that its academic services will “make strong cases to support desired outcomes.” Its roster of consultants included academics from the University of California, Berkeley; Harvard University; the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; and the University of Chicago. The company notes that many have worked on financial regulatory reform, including Dodd-Frank.
In its annual report, Marsh & McLennan, the parent company of Oliver Wyman, touts the role of Dodd-Frank in bringing new business to its consulting subsidiaries. Similarly, the Global Economics Group boasts about its role in financial reform implementation, noting that its academics have submitted white papers and made presentations before regulators.
More than a few scholars have taken advantage of opportunities to supplement their academic salaries. Zywicki’s colleague at George Mason, J.W. Verret, has produced research for regulators. Last year, he testified before Congress on the costs of Dodd-Frank. In the past year, Verret billed lobbying firm Greenberg Traurig (which represented the US Chamber of Commerce and Nomura Holdings, among other firms) nearly $50,000 for his consulting work, a job he did not disclose on his academic profile page. When Verret appeared before the congressional panel, he identified himself only through his academic credentials.
Jim Overdahl, an economic consultant formerly with National Economic Research Associates, told The Nation that professors can fetch $5,000 per letter submitted to a regulator.
Darrell Duffie, a professor of finance at Stanford University, is paid more than $200,000 in cash and stock every year for his board membership at Moody’s, the rating agency. Moody’s has championed him as an asset given his contacts with regulators. “Dr. Duffie has significant expertise in a number of areas that are directly relevant to the Company’s core business operations…and his opinions regarding financial regulatory reform have been solicited by various arms of the US government,” noted Moody’s when it nominated him to its board, listing the Senate Banking Committee, the House Financial Services Committee, and the Federal Reserve as places where Duffie enjoys access.
Duffie, who has submitted comments in opposition to a number of Dodd-Frank regulations, is also a member of the Squam Lake Group, an association of economists who have offered regulatory reform ideas on issues that would affect credit rating agencies, including money market reform.
In this context, the implementation of Dodd-Frank has been a nearly impossible task. Even as regulators struggle to produce lengthy economic cost-benefit analysis reports to justify the new rules, congressional Republicans have cut the budgets of various regulatory agencies. What’s more, the new standard won by Eugene Scalia has emboldened opponents of Dodd-Frank to produce more sponsored studies that can be used in legal challenges. In court, opponents of the law continue to score victories using the precedent set by the 2011 proxy access case.
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How much of a difference can one academic make? Last September, a federal court knocked down a proposed regulation concerning “position limits,” a provision of Dodd-Frank designed to limit the role of speculators in inflating the price of commodities like oil, wheat and aluminum. To understand how this came about, follow the path of the University of Houston’s Craig Pirrong, who plays a Zelig-like role in the story of how this rule — hated by both the big speculators and the private exchanges in which commodities are traded — came to face delays, legal setbacks and now an uncertain future.
While numerous studies have demonstrated, and even Goldman Sachs has conceded, that excessive speculation on crude oil has boosted the price of gasoline at the pump by billions of dollars for consumers, the impetus for reform can be traced to the record spike in gas prices in June of 2008. The following month, a congressional hearing was called on the role of speculators. That’s when Professor Pirrong’s assault began on what would later become part of Dodd-Frank.
In his testimony, Pirrong said that “speculation is not the cause of high prices for energy products” and that there is “no evidence” to the contrary. In fact, there is an abundance of research, including a 2006 report from the Senate Homeland Security Committee, about the role of speculators in driving up the price of energy products like crude oil. Nevertheless, Pirrong pressed on, advocating against action on speculation in a report for the libertarian Cato Institute, in an opinion column for CNN Money, and in comments to major media outlets like the Financial Times.
As Congress continued to debate a response to the speculation problem, Terry Duffy, executive chairman of the CME Group, the for-profit company that operates the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and other private commodity exchanges, implored lawmakers to ignore the calls for reform and instead listen to Pirrong, who, he said, was among the “community of responsible scholars of energy markets.”
Pressure from consumer groups and commercial end-users of commodities mounted, and Dodd-Frank ultimately included a provision calling for a position-limits rule to curb how many futures contracts a speculator can hold at one time. The law required the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the government watchdog on commodity trading, to devise a regulation.
As with any major regulation, when the CFTC announced the rule in 2011, the agency said it would welcome public comments to help inform the process. Pirrong then submitted comments, which were similar to the remarks he made in his 2008 congressional hearing. Lobbyists weighed in as well. Trade groups for hedge funds and investment banks submitted comments citing Pirrong’s writing in opposition to the regulation. Ultimately, the rule became riddled with loopholes before being released by the agency.
However, before the rule could take effect, two industry groups, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, filed a lawsuit in US District Court. They retained Eugene Scalia and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, the law firm that argued the proxy access case. Scalia and his colleague Miguel Estrada’s evidence? They cited Pirrong seven times in their brief, according to court documents. And last fall, the court handed Dodd-Frank one of its most visible defeats by siding with the financial industry to bat down the proposed rule.
In every instance of Pirrong’s involvement with the position-limits rule, he identified himself as a professor of finance and as the energy markets director for the Global Energy Management Institute at the Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. While Pirrong has disclosed at times that he has contracted with private exchanges in the past, including work on soybean futures in 1997, what he has not revealed is that the institute that employs him is underwritten by the largest speculation-industry players in the country.
Pirrong’s Global Energy Management Institute has been funded by Citigroup, Merrill Lynch Global Commodities (a unit of Bank of America) and the New York Mercantile Exchange (owned by the CME Group), among others. Charles River Associates is also a sponsor. In a now-deleted portion of the University of Houston website, corporate sponsors of the Global Energy Management Institute are invited to enjoy “access to [its] activities” and “an opportunity to influence its policies and direction.” Pirrong did not respond to a request for comment for this article.
In addition, Cornerstone Research and the Global Economics Group — two more consulting businesses that help financial companies hire academics for expert testimony and regulatory work — list Pirrong as one of their affiliate professors. In the span of time that Pirrong has helped fight the position-limits rule, he has also given a speech at the Futures Industry Association’s annual expo, an industry event for speculators. How much Pirrong may have been compensated for these activities is not disclosed.
Michael Greenberger, a law professor at the University of Maryland who is in favor of greater regulation of commodity speculation, testified before Congress alongside Pirrong but says he had no idea of the latter’s financial ties to speculators. Pirrong “presents himself as an independent academic, and he’s not,” Greenberger says. If Pirrong’s funding had been disclosed during the course of his advocacy over the position-limits rule, “his influence would have been a tenth of what it is.”
Lee Fang is a reporting fellow with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute.
This article will appear in the November 11, 2013 edition of The Nation.
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast
But it’s never wise to predict the future by projecting forward from the present.
By spring 2014, the U.S. economy had been expanding for almost 60 months, the fifth-longest expansion in U.S. history, but also the weakest and most lop-sided. Through the expansion, poorer Americans failed to raise their consumption to pre-2007 levels, even as richer Americans bid stock prices to record highs.
Facing a bleak Christmas selling season, Wal-Mart began cutting orders to suppliers in the fall of 2013. The official retailer of Lower America cut its sales force by 10%. Target also reported strangely disappointing sales in 2013. Ultra-down-market retailer Dollar General reported better sales, but almost all of those results were driven by its decision to begin selling tobacco products in its stores.
All the oomph in the U.S. economy was delivered by the top 10% of households. And they were vulnerable to events in the financial market. When such an event struck in the early spring, the U.S. economy toppled back into recession. The tentative employment gains of the Obama years were abruptly wiped out, and congressional Democrats suddenly faced a very ugly scenario in the fall 2014 elections.
In a frantic effort to mobilize supporters, the Democrats abruptly veered toward more populist economics. Senator Elizabeth Warren began to demand not just fines on JP Morgan, but the actual breakup of too-big-to-fail financial institutions. Too little, too late: instead of the gains they’d been counting on in 2013, the Democrats lost 15 House seats and control of the Senate in November 2014.
That defeat galvanized something in progressive Democrats. In an effort to collect chits for 2016, Hillary Clinton had campaigned hard for fellow Democrats in 2014. Now Clinton was damaged— and the fundraising successes of her ally, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, suddenly became a target of criticism rather than a source of gratitude. “I don’t think we can auction our party’s future to Terry McAuliffe’s rich friends,” Senator Warren told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow three days after the election defeat.
In the painful aftermath of 2014, many Democrats were ready to hear that the party had been defeated because President Obama had been too cautious in his policies and too remote in his style. As Obamacare stumbled from implementation difficulty to implementation difficulty, they remembered that the program they really wanted was Medicare for all. They seethed at the way Obama had submitted to Republican demands that budget balancing take precedence over job creation. And whatever happened to the administration’s promises on climate change?
Democrats liked Hillary personally. But they could see that a Clinton nomination implied a course correction to the right from an administration they already condemned as too conservative. And so, even as the front-runner led the fundraising race through 2015, Iowa and New Hampshire were filling with volunteers canvassing for Elizabeth Warren and her message: “She’s in it to win it. I’m in it for you.”
History didn’t repeat itself, and Elizabeth Warren was no Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton finished off the Warren challenge in April. But Clinton had needed to pivot sharply left in order to secure her victory. Analysis of the 2014 vote showed that Democrats had been hurt by an abrupt drop in Latino turnout. Democrats decided they could afford no more delay on the immigration issue. President Obama listed immigration as agenda item number one in his 2015 State of the Union address, but Hillary Clinton went further. With her characteristic fierce energy, Clinton poured herself into the fight, chanting “Si, se puede” at rally after rally.
With the flaming wreck of Marco Rubio’s presidential hopes as a warning beacon, moderate favorite Governor Christie tried to triangulate the immigration issue. Ted Cruz determinedly took a position of all-out opposition. In an interview on Univision, he chatted in Spanish with host Jorge Ramos, then turned to English to deliver a stark message: “This is America. We obey the law. People who can’t deal with that don’t belong here.”
The government shutdown and debt ceiling fight of 2013 may have looked disastrous from a national political perspective. But the dustups nonetheless earned Cruz the best fundraising list on the Republican side. While Rand Paul hesitated whether to play an “inside” game of reassuring Republican donors or an “outside” game of insurgency, Cruz’s fundraising allowed him to bypass the choice altogether, shoulder aside Rand Paul as the conservative favorite, and proceed straight to the main event: the battle against Gov. Chris Christie.
The Clinton-Warren fight divided and weakened Democrats. Many pundits compared the contest to the Humphrey vs. Kennedy fight of 1968. But back in 1968, there was an obvious solution: a unity ticket (had the gunman’s bullet missed Kennedy, that is). Democrats in 2016 were not prepared however to field an all-female ticket. Clinton was the nominee; Warren went back to the Senate.
Ted Cruz, however, could offer the vice presidency to Chris Christie—and the Democrats’ post-2014 leftward veer frightened Republican donors enough that they pressed Christie to accept. Unlike Romney in 2012, Cruz’s conservative allegiance could not be questioned, freeing him to write the vaguest platform and conduct the most issue-free campaign of any Republican since George H.W. Bush in 1988. Cruz delivered half his convention speech in Spanish and used the other half to rededicate the party to “the compassion of conservatism,” a subtle variant of an old phrase that delighted convention delegates.
Clinton Democrats took for granted that Cruz was unelectable. They had not appreciated how badly the 2014 recession would hurt them. Disenchanted Latinos and young people stayed home. So did down-market white males, who seemed to react to Clinton with almost visceral dislike. In the presidential election of 2008, almost 58% of eligible voters had turned out, the highest level since the extension of the vote to 18-year-olds. In 2016, turnout dropped below 50% for the first time since 1996.
Republicans turned back the clock on the Obama election map. They recaptured Florida and Virginia, North Carolina and Nevada, Ohio and Iowa: moving back into the red column all the states won by George W. Bush in 2004. It was a desperately narrow victory, but it was enough.
David Frum is a contributing editor at The Daily Beast and a CNN contributor.
Authors of a 40-page report by the liberal think-tank International Forum on Globalizationhave concluded that the billionaire duo, David and Charles Koch, stand to make as much as $100 billion in profits from their holdings in the tar sands of Alberta if President Obama approves the Keystone XL pipeline. Because it would cross the boundary between Canada and the United States, the pipeline, which would connect the tar sands to refineries on the Texas gulf coast, requires a presidential permit based on U.S. national interest. Given the mandates of the review process, a decision isn’t likely until early 2014.
Boiled down to the essentials of its executive summary, the IFB report—Billionaires’ Carbon Bomb: The Koch Brothers and the Keystone XL Pipeline—states:
By better connecting Canadian tar sands to U.S. refineries and their growing export markets, KWL will create a cash cow on steroids for the Kochs. KWL would worsen today’s chances for controlling carbon by enormously expanding the Kochs’ financial war chest thereby increasing their ability to influence U.S. carbon pollution policymaking and undermine urgent global climate cooperation.IFG’s special report reveals that Koch Industries’ role in KXL includes:
2 million or more potential acres in Alberta with tar sands (and emissions) exceeding Exxon, Chevron and ConocoPhillips combined;
$53 million in Koch Cash for front groups and politicians who are pushing to fast-track KWL;
$100 billion in potential profits due to KWL, or 1 million times more than the average KWL worker’s wage over the life of the pipeline.
The resulting rise in the pace and scale of Canadian crude oil consumption will make more money faster for the Kochs, who stand to personally profit from KWL more than any other individuals, even Exxon executives.
Approval of the pipeline, the report’s authors add, would give the Kochs “more money to ramp up their already successful attacks against Americans’ voting rights, labor rights, pollution controls, and other public interest protections.”
The Kochs, with a combined net worth of $92 billion, have been the leaders in financial support for climate change denialist propaganda, surpassing even Exxon’s massive support for such lies, as well as denying candidates and lobbying meant to spur lawmakers away from pollution controls.
The authors conclude:
No single permit or pipeline will itself solve our Earth’s deepening crisis of economic inequality and ecological collapse, but rejecting both can build awareness and popular pressure to reduce the role of private money polluting politics, the underlying problem obstructing our global economic transition from today’s delusion of endless industrial growth to ecological sustainability and social justice.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Sunday opened the door to Social Security cuts as part of a budget deal with congressional Republicans. But Durbin pushed back against GOP calls for entitlement cuts as the negotiating price to curb or extinguish the economically damaging sequester cuts.
“If this is the bargain that the Republicans are now pushing for, that we have to cut Medicare to avoid cuts at the Department of Defense, they need to take a step back,” Durbin said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Congress is currently negotiating a new budget, with a December deadline. The talks were mandated by last week’s deal to raise the debt ceiling and end the government shutdown.
Also speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) explicitly offered up trading some of the short-term cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act, known as the sequester, for long-term Social Security and Medicare cuts. He argued that Republicans had the tactical advantage on such an exchange.
“If you’re in a divided government and you’re arguing against the law, you’re at a disadvantage,” Blunt said, noting the failed GOP effort to defund Obamacare that resulted in a government shutdown. “The Budget Control Act is the only thing we’ve found that actually controls spending.”
Blunt said that if Democrats aren’t willing to negotiate over “entitlement savings versus some additional spending,” to ease the sequester, then Democrats will have to live with the sequester cuts.
Durbin said that Republicans had to put tax revenue on the table to get entitlement cuts. Fox host Chris Wallace noted that Durbin has previously supported entitlement cuts, and asked why Republicans should have to give up tax increases to get something that many Democrats support. President Barack Obama has repeatedly endorsed Social Security cuts as part of budget deals, and Durbin acknowledged that he did support Social Security reforms.
“Social Security is gonna run out of money in 20 years,” Durbin said. “The Baby Boom generation is gonna blow away our future. We don’t wanna see that happen.”
Social Security will not run out of money in 20 years. The program currently enjoys a surplus of more than $2 trillion. Social Security will, however, be unable to pay all benefits at current levels if nothing is changed. If a 25 percent benefit cut were implemented in 20 years, the program would be solvent into the 2080s.
By Allen Clifton, FORWARD PROGRESSIVES
Well, that and a whole lot of lies.
First you had Ted Cruz whose entire stance against “Obamacare” seemed to be built on one lie after another. But that doesn’t really matter much for him — he really has no desire to govern as a senator. The only reason he even became a United States Senator was to put himself in a position to run for president in 2016. And his strategy for that seems simple — pander to the Republican base in hopes of securing the GOP candidacy for president.
Knowing that the Republican base is comprised mainly of people who desire to be told what they want to hear instead of the truth, “facts” really don’t matter to Ted Cruz.
But for the Republican party as a whole, pride is what kept this shutdown going. Sure, it was the right-wing rhetoric from Cruz which triggered this whole mess to begin with, but make no mistake about it — pride is what kept it going.
After a day or two, Republicans should have just admitted they had no chance at reaching their goal of delaying or defunding “Obamacare.” I mean, they knew going into this they really had no chance at doing either one of those things, but after the government had been shut down, they should have just admitted this shutdown was utterly pointless.
But they didn’t. Instead they sat there, repeated the same worn out talking points, and stretched this thing out to nearly the last minute.
All because they were too proud to simply say, “We can’t win.”
Sure, some are saying that they couldn’t get what they wanted, but even then many of them are putting the blame on others. Some have blamed the media while others are blaming specific Republicans like Ted Cruz. But this entire fiasco should be spread across the entire Republican party.
They’re the ones who handed over power to the tea party. They’re the ones who sold their souls to the most radical reaches of their base in hopes of doing anything to defeat President Obama. And now that they’ve unleashed the monster known as the tea party, they can’t seem to rid themselves of it. In fact, it seems to be growing in influence over the GOP, with many Republicans afraid of facing a primary challenger in their next election.
But make no mistake, there were no “winners” here. Millions of Americans suffered, our country looks foolish and even the deal that was reached is only temporary. Meaning that a few months from now, we might be facing this same level of idiocy yet again.
Yet, even with the majority of Americans blaming Republicans for this shutdown, most members of the GOP can’t admit that they lost.
I’m sure in the coming days you’ll see Republicans try to spin this as some sort of “victory” for their party. They’ll try to say that they won something. Exactly what will they have won? Who knows. I’ve given up trying to understand exactly what goes on in the fantasy wonderland where many Republicans seem to mentally reside.
But with the majority of Americans putting the blame on their party, “Obamacare” fully funded, the debt ceiling raised and almost no goal Republicans had hoped to achieve in this shutdown having been reached — pride will still get in the way of Republicans admitting one simple thing…
They lost, and they tried their damndest to bring the entire country down with them.
From The Jed Report at DailyKos
What if I told you that one of the leaders of the tea party strategy to stop Obamacare by shutting down the Federal government didn’t actually believe it was possible to repeal Obamacare until 2017 at the earliest but pushed forward with his plan anyway?
You’d probably get pretty mad, right? Shutting down the government over an unrelated policy dispute is bad enough, but if the people shutting the government down didn’t even believe that their strategy would work, then they’d be guilty of inflicting pain and creating chaos for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
It might be hard to believe that anyone would admit to such a thing, but Wednesday morning on Fox News, that’s exactly what Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham did. He started out by explaining that Republicans had shut down the government because they don’t want to “allow” Obamacare to “go forward” because they believe it must be stopped “before January 1″:
The reason the government is shut down is Obamacare is unfair, it’s unaffordable, it’s unworkable, every single day there’s more evidence of that coming out. House Republicans have remained strong in saying we are not going to let this bill go forward. We’re not going to allow this to be inflicted on the American people. [...]
I think that almost every member of the House Republican conference, if not all of them, is deeply concerned about Obamacare, and knows that we have to do something before January 1 to stop it.
Then, less than sixty seconds later, he admitted that this strategy was doomed:
Well, everybody knows that we’re not going to be able to repeal this law until 2017, and that we have to win the Senate and win the White House.
Well, as infuriating as the GOP nihilistic strategy has been, one thing is for sure: It’s now a whole lot less likely that come 2017, they’ll still be in control of the House—let alone the Senate or presidency.