Monday, January 31, 2011

The US is moving on from Afghanistan, but its troops are still dying there
by Gary Younge

Most of the stories told about Benjamin Moore, 23, at his funeral started in a bar and ended in a laugh. Invited to testify about his life from the pews, friend, relative, colleague and neighbour alike described a boisterous, gregarious, energetic young man they'd known in the small New Jersey town of Bordentown since he was born. "I'll love him 'til I go," his granny said. "If I could go today and bring him back, I would."

Grown men choked on their memories, under the gaze of swollen, reddened eyes, as they remembered a "snot-nosed kid" and a fidget who'd become a volunteer firefighter before enlisting in the military. Shortly before Benjamin left for Afghanistan, he sent a message to his cousin that began: "I'm about to go into another country where they hate me for everything I stand for." Now he was back in a flag-draped box, killed by roadside bomb with two other soldiers in Ghazni province.

The church was packed to capacity and at least a couple of hundred waited outside. The procession to the cemetery began with firetruck horns and was lined with well-wishers. He went under the ground with several military medals and the posthumous titles of chief of Hope Hose fire company and the "honorary mayor" of Bordentown.

There is a reverence for the military in the US on a scale rarely seen anywhere else in the west that transcends political affiliation and pervades popular culture. On aeroplanes the flight attendant will announce if there are soldiers on board to great applause. When I attended a recording of The Daily Show, John Stewart made a special point before the show of thanking the servicemen in the audience.

But while the admiration for those who serve and die may be deep and widespread, interest in what they are doing and why they are doing it is shallow and fleeting. During November's midterm elections it barely came up. In September just 3% thought Afghanistan was one of the most important problems facing the country. When Pew surveyed public interest in the war over an 18-week period last year, fewer than one in 10 said it was the top news story they were following in any given week, including the week Stanley McChrystal – the four-star general commanding troops in Afghanistan, was fired. The country, it seems has moved on. The trouble is the troops are still there.

"The burden for this war is being carried by such a small slither of society," explains Professor Christopher Gelpi, who specialises in public opinion and foreign policy at Duke University. "Unless you know someone in this war, live near an army base or know of someone who has died, then it is possible for the public to ignore it. People are very disconnected from it."

And when they do pay attention, they do not like what they see. Polls in December reveal that 63% oppose the war, 56% think it is going badly (with 21% believing it is going very badly), and 60% believing it was not worth fighting. Indeed opposition to the war is now on a par with Iraq.

This statistical data chimes with Gelpi's qualitative findings about people's attitudes towards the war. In a study he conducted in last spring, he found that people know very little about the war but "view it through the filter of Iraq". "Those who have made up their minds about Iraq," he concludes in the paper, The Two-Front Homefront, "appear to extrapolate these views to Afghanistan and are reluctant to attend to new information on the conflict."

But while that popular elision is understandable – no sooner had the war in Afghanistan been launched than the war in Iraq was being touted – it is problematic. Afghanistan is not Iraq. Indeed, in many ways, the lessons from Afghanistan are more profound, ingrained and urgent. Globally speaking, opposing the war in Iraq was not even remotely contentious. Significant majorities in almost every country, with the exception of the US, were against it. Before it was inept it was already illegal, and before it was illegal it was already illogical. It was wrong on its own terms, and its own terms were rooted in a lie.

But there were relatively few lies told in the selling of the Afghanistan war. This, remember, was the "smart war." Both George Bush's war and Barack Obama's war. A war supported by Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali and Susan Sontag. A "war of necessity", which had the backing of almost the entire political class on both sides of the Atlantic.

A war only a single national politician in the US dared oppose. In her speech to the House of Representatives on 14 September 2001, after which she received numerous death threats, Barbara Lee warned: "We are not dealing with a conventional war. We cannot respond in a conventional manner. I do not want to see this spiral out of control … If we rush to launch a counterattack, we run too great a risk that women, children and other non-combatants will be caught in the crossfire … Finally, we must be careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target. We cannot repeat past mistakes."

This, in no small part, is why it has not become an electoral issue This was a bipartisan effort – and all the worse for it. When it was launched, many claimed parentage; in its failure, it is an orphan. "It's not become a political issue because the Republicans are more supportive of the war than Obama is," explains Gelpi. "So all he has to worry about is a rebellion from his left." The potential for such a rebellion certainly exists. But its likely potency, at this stage, remains suspect.

But to engage with what went wrong would demand a sharp reckoning with why so many thought it would was right to begin with. The country would have to interrogate its militaristic reflexes and proclivities, and face the fact that while there were few good or certain options after 9/11 (ranging from the diplomatic to containment) this was one of the worst – and the others were never seriously considered.

For as the principal retaliatory response to the terror attacks of 9/11, it has failed. It hasn't brought liberty, democracy or stability. It has killed untold thousands of civilians: untold because they are regarded as expendable. And not only has it not captured the perpetrators of the terror attack, there are far more acts of terrorism globally today than there were in 2001, in no small part because of the chaos wrought by the war on terror.

Back at the Trinity United Methodist church in Bordentown, the minister ended the service with the hymn Let There Be Peace on Earth and Let It Begin With Me.

Elsewhere in the country, small communities like this weep every week without respite as bodies from a global conflict return to become a local tragedy without, apparently, altering the national mood. Like a stone thrown into a pond the ripples go only so far and then fade away.

Back in 1971, during the Vietnam war, John Kerry famously testified before the Senate foreign relations committee. He put the question: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" Forty years later, the answer appears to be that you simply stop paying attention to their deaths.

It seems American soldiers are not so much dying for their country, but because of it.

Valedictorian Speaks Out Against Schooling

The promise of a country lay within the words of those who can see through the blinding flurry of control

Serious in Singapore

New York Times
Opinion Pages

I am in the Gan Eng Seng Primary School in a middle-class neighborhood of Singapore, and the principal, A. W. Ai Ling, has me visiting a fifth-grade science class. All the 11-year-old boys and girls are wearing junior white lab coats with their names on them. Outside in the hall, yellow police tape has blocked off a “crime scene” and lying on a floor, bloodied, is a fake body that has been murdered. The class is learning about DNA through the use of fingerprints, and their science teacher has turned the students into little C.S.I. detectives. They have to collect fingerprints from the scene and then break them down.

I missed that DNA lesson when I was in fifth grade. When I asked the principal whether this was part of the national curriculum, she said no. She just had a great science teacher, she said, and was aware that Singapore was making a big push to expand its biotech industries and thought it would be good to push her students in the same direction early. A couple of them checked my fingerprints. I was innocent — but impressed.

This was just an average public school, but the principal had made her own connections between “what world am I living in,” “where is my country trying to go in that world” and, therefore, “what should I teach in fifth-grade science.”

I was struck because that kind of linkage is so often missing in U.S. politics today. Republicans favor deep cuts in government spending, while so far exempting Medicare, Social Security and the defense budget. Not only is that not realistic, but it basically says that our nation’s priorities should be to fund retirement homes for older people rather than better schools for younger people and that we should build new schools in Afghanistan before Alabama.

President Obama just laid out a smart and compelling vision of where our priorities should be. But he did not spell out how and where we will have to both cut and invest — really intelligently and at a large scale — to deliver on his vision.

Singapore is tiny and by no means a U.S.-style democracy. Yet, like America, it has a multiethnic population — Chinese, Indian and Malay — with a big working class. It has no natural resources and even has to import sand for building. But today its per capita income is just below U.S. levels, built with high-end manufacturing, services and exports. The country’s economy grew last year at 14.7 percent, led by biomedical exports. How?

If Singapore has one thing to teach America, it is about taking governing seriously, relentlessly asking: What world are we living in and how do we adapt to thrive. “We’re like someone living in a hut without any insulation,” explained Tan Kong Yam, an economist. “We feel every change in the wind or the temperature and have to adapt. You Americans are still living in a brick house with central heating and don’t have to be so responsive.” And we have not been.

Singapore probably has the freest market in the world; it doesn’t believe in import tariffs, minimum wages or unemployment insurance. But it believes regulators need to make sure markets work properly — because they can’t on their own — and it subsidizes homeownership and education to give everyone a foundation to become self-reliant. Singapore copied the German model that strives to put everyone who graduates from high school on a track for higher education, but only about 40 percent go to universities. Others are tracked to polytechnics or vocational institutes, so the vast majority graduate with the skills to get a job, whether it be as a plumber or a scientist.

Explained Ravi Menon, the Permanent Secretary of Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry: “The two ‘isms’ that perhaps best describe Singapore’s approach are: pragmatism — an emphasis on what works in practice rather than abstract theory; and eclecticism — a willingness to adapt to the local context best practices from around the world.”

It is a sophisticated mix of radical free-market and nanny state that requires sophisticated policy makers to implement, which is why politics here is not treated as sports or entertainment. Top bureaucrats and cabinet ministers have their pay linked to top private sector wages, so most make well over $1 million a year, and their bonuses are tied to the country’s annual G.D.P. growth rate. It means the government can attract high-quality professionals and corruption is low.

America never would or should copy Singapore’s less-than-free politics. But Singapore has something to teach us about “attitude” — about taking governing seriously and thinking strategically. We used to do that and must again because our little brick house with central heating is not going to be resistant to the storms much longer.

“There is real puzzlement here about America today,” said Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, “because we learned all about what it takes to build a well-functioning society from you. Many of our top officials are graduates of the Kennedy School at Harvard. They just came back home and applied its lessons vigorously.”

Federal Judge: Health Care Overhaul Unconstitutional

by The Associated Press

A Federal Judge in Florida says the Obama administration's historic health overhaul is unconstitutional, siding with 26 states that had sued to block it.

U.S. District Judge Roger Vinson on Monday accepted without trial the states' argument that the new law violates people's rights by forcing them to buy health insurance by 2014 or face penalties.

Attorneys for the administration had argued that the states did not have standing to challenge the law and that the case should be dismissed.

The next stop is likely the U.S. Supreme Court. Two other federal judges have upheld the insurance requirement, but a federal judge in Virginia also ruled the insurance provision violates the Constitution.

In his ruling, Vinson went further than the Virginia judge and declared the entire health care law unconstitutional.

"This is obviously a very difficult task," he wrote in a 78-page ruling. "Regardless of how laudable its attempts may have been to accomplish these goals in passing the Act, Congress must operate within the bounds established by the Constitution."

At issue was whether the government is reaching beyond its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce by requiring citizens to purchase health insurance or face tax penalties.

Attorneys for President Obama's administration had argued that the health care system was part of the interstate commerce system. They said the government can levy a tax penalty on Americans who decide not to purchase health insurance because all Americans are consumers of medical care.

But attorneys for the states said the administration was essentially coercing the states into participating in the overhaul by holding billions of Medicaid dollars hostage. The states also said the federal government is violating the Constitution by forcing a mandate on the states without providing money to pay for it.

Florida's former Republican attorney general, Bill McCollum, filed the lawsuit just minutes after Obama signed the 10-year, $938 billion health care bill into law last March. He chose a court in Pensacola, one of Florida's most conservative cities. The nation's most influential small business lobby, the National Federation of Independent Business, also joined.

Other states that joined the suit are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania,

Note: Though I dislike this Bill for the Governmental Control it labors upon the Healthcare system, the Republicans have made a major point of saying it will bankrupt America by costing almost a Trillion dollars over the next twelve years. They have NO PROBLEM though with spending 750 Billion EACH YEAR on War...No, the Republicanss won't agree to pay to make you better but they sure as hell will to kill our soldiers and chase after oil.

Al Jazeera English Blacked Out Across Most Of U.S.

by Ryan Grim
The Huffington Post

WASHINGTON - Canadian television viewers looking for the most thorough and in-depth coverage of the uprising in Egypt have the option of tuning into Al Jazeera English, whose on-the-ground coverage of the turmoil is unmatched by any other outlet. American viewers, meanwhile, have little choice but to wait until one of the U.S. cable-company-approved networks broadcasts footage from AJE, which the company makes publicly available. What they can't do is watch the network directly.

Other than in a handful of pockets across the U.S. - including Ohio, Vermont and Washington, D.C. - cable carriers do not give viewers the choice of watching Al Jazeera. That corporate censorship comes as American diplomats harshly criticize the Egyptian government for blocking Internet communication inside the country and as Egypt attempts to block Al Jazeera from broadcasting.

The result of the Al Jazeera English blackout in the United States has been a surge in traffic to the media outlet's website, where footage can be seen streaming live. The last 24 hours have seen a two-and-a-half thousand percent increase in web traffic, Tony Burman, head of North American strategies for Al Jazeera English, told HuffPost. Sixty percent of that traffic, he said, has come from the United States.

Al Jazeera English launched in the fall of 2006, opening a large bureau on K Street in downtown Washington, but has made little progress in persuading cable companies to offer the channel to its customers.

The objections from the cable companies have come for both political and commercial reasons, said Burman, the former editor-in-chief of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. "In 2006, pre-Obama, the experience was a challenging one. Essentially this was a period when a lot of negative stereotypes were associated with Al Jazeera. The effort was a difficult one," he said, citing the Bush administration's public hostility to the network.

"There was reluctance from these companies to embark in a direction that would perhaps be opposed by the Bush administration. I think that's changed. I think if anything the Obama administration has indicated to Al Jazeera that it sees us as part of the solution, not part of the problem," Burman said.

Cable companies are also worried, said Burman, that they will lose more subscribers than they will gain by granting access to Al Jazeera. The Canadian experience, he said, should put those fears to rest. In Canada, national regulators can require cable companies to provide certain channels and Al Jazeera ran a successful campaign to encourage Canadians to push the government to intervene. There has been extremely little negative reaction over the past year as Canadians have been able to view the channel and decide for themselves. "We had a completely different process and result here in Canada -- a grassroots campaign that was overwhelmingly successful," said Avi Lewis, the former host of Al Jazeera's Frontline USA. (He now freelances for Al Jazeera while working on a documentary project with his wife, Naomi Klein.)

Media critics have begun to push for Al Jazeera's inclusion. "It is downright un-American to still refuse to carry it," wrote Jeff Jarvis on Sunday. "Vital, world-changing news is occurring in the Middle East and no one-not the xenophobic or celebrity-obsessed or cut-to-the-bone American media-can bring the perspective, insight, and on-the-scene reporting Al Jazeera English can."

Al Jazeera follows a public broadcasting model similar to the BBC, CBC and NPR and is largely funded by the government of Qatar, which Burman said takes a completely hands-off approach to content. Al Jazeera is the scourge of authoritarian governments around the Middle East, which attempt to block it. The network, however, covers much more than the Middle East, and now has more bureaus in Latin America than CNN and the BBC, said Burman. "As proud as we are of our Middle Eastern coverage, we are in other places in the world that are never, never seen on television in American homes," he said.

Burman said that he will use the experience with the Tunisia and Egyptian uprisings in upcoming meetings with cable providers as the network continues its push. Comcast did not respond to requests for comment.

"Why in the most vibrant democracy in the world, where engagement and knowledge of the world is probably the most important, why it's not available is one of these things that would take a PhD scholar to understand," Burman said.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Bush and Gingrich Say "States Better Off Bankrupt"

Michael Collins

Not if a state owes you money!

Jeb Bush and Newt Gingrich just published an OpEd in the Los Angeles Times arguing that states would be wise to consider filing bankruptcy to relieve their financial troubles. They cite three states, California, Illinois and New York, while failing to mention the angry elephant in the living room with similar problems, Texas.

Texas faces a $25 billion shortfall for a $95 billion two-year budget. That equals California's 18-month deficit inherited by the recently inaugurated Governor Jerry Brown.

"So why haven't we heard more about Texas, one of the most important economy's in America? Well, it's because it doesn't fit the script. It's a pro-business, lean-spending, no-union state. You can't fit it into a nice storyline, so it's ignored," said Business InsiderTexas is a major inconvenience to Bush and Gingrich. They lay the financial problems at the door of unions and state employee pensions:

"The lucrative pay and benefits packages [read pensions] that government employee unions have received from obliging politicians over the years are perhaps the most significant hurdles for many states trying to restore fiscal health." Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, January 27

This is blatant intellectual dishonesty. By giving examples of states with strong civil servant unions, they stack the deck for their explanation of state debt. Yet the dire budget problems in Texas negate their argument entirely. That is sufficient reason to dismiss the rest of their arguments and their stated motives, as well.

The Larger Picture - Tear Down that Government at Every Level

In the past few weeks, we have seen a multilevel assault on federal, state and local governments and the programs offered, e.g., public education, roads, public safety, etc.

This year's public fretting over the federal deficit was bipartisan. Peter Peterson's budget commission produced a plan to reduce the federal deficit at the same time that President Obama's hand picked commission reported similar findings. Entitlements, Social Security in particular, require substantial cuts. They failed to note the real causes of the deficit - wars and bailouts.

Even though Social Security has a surplus, there's a repetitive mantra that You'll never get your money out of it. The budget hawks have repeated that so often, they probably believe it. And they should. They're doing everything they can to make sure that we don't see a fair return on our significant investment. The message is clear. Cut Social Security, take less than your were promised, and we'll all live happily ever after (unless you relied on the promise made by the government based on your full participation).

The second assault on government targeted local municipalities - Day of Reckoning 12/19/10. Meredith Whitney of CBS claimed her study showed that the municipal bond market was headed for collapse and chaos. Whitney failed to show her w ork and asked us to trust her. This created unrest in the bond market. Whitney clings to her evidence just the late Senator Joseph McCarthy held tight his fictitious list of 400 Communists in the Truman and Eisenhower administrations who were subverting the government.

Now, Bush and Gingrich are attacking state governments and the programs that they provide to citizens. They focus on unfunded pension liabilities that ballooned during the recession we're told is over. They fail to note the cause of those problems: the fact that pension funds relied on the Wall Street casino and fell victim to the vicissitudes of Goldman Sachs, etc., and the failure of Congress and the last two chief executives to regulate risky behavior.k

Economist Thomas Malthus argued that there would be, "forced return to subsistence-level conditions once population growth had outpaced agricultural production." The new Neo Malhusians argue that we must return to inferior economic conditions, absent the right to organize and bargain for wages and without the promise of Social Security, because expenditures have outpaced the ability to produce offsetting revenue.

Bush and Gingrich fail to ask the questions of real importance. Why has the economy faltered so badly? The answers wouldn't please them or their patrons.

To begin with, there has been no regulation of risk filled financial schemes, from subprime derivatives to credit default swaps, since the big banks and Well Street were set free in the late 1990's.

We're fighting two very expensive and unnecessary wars.


Then we have the money addiction of the top 1% of the population, which took 65% of the net new income in the United States from 2002 through 2007.

There is an island of fiscal stability among the states, North Dakota. The traditionally conservative state also has a state bank, the Bank of North Dakota (BND). State funds go into the bank, BND creates credit, and funds are available for the public benefit. Here is the BND statement of purpose for lending.

Lending Services: On behalf of the State of North Dakota, the Bank administers several lending programs that promote agriculture, commerce and industry. Financing economic development is the thrust of Bank of North Dakota's efforts. The Bank is specifically authorized to assist numerous other financial institutions in providing financing to stimulate economic development in the state.

Ellen Brown has been advocating state banks for the past two years. She points out that, ."With over $17 billion available to deposit in its own bank, California could create $170 billion or more in credit -- enough not only to meet its budget shortfall but to fund many other much-needed projects; and rather than feeding an ungrateful Wall Street, the bank's profits would return to the state and its people." Ellen Brown, July 22, 2009

Legislation was introduced in Washington that would create a state bank of Washington. This has attracted attention since it would be only the second state bank if the legislation passes.

"Rep. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, the House bill's sponsor, said the proposal was modeled after a similar institution in North Dakota and based on the idea that the state's money should not be at the disposal of Bank of America, where Washington has its accounts.

"Why don't we create our own institution, keep that money in our state and we make money off our money that we can then reinvest back into our community?" asked Hasegawa.' The News Tribune, January 26

Aside from their general paranoia and guilt, the potential of a state bank movement may have Jeb Bush, Gingrich, and their patrons frightened out of their wits. They may be particularly fearful of the unpredictable and innovative Governor Brown who needs financial relief now and has the will and spirit to engage in a political showdown. BND is a highly credible state project. A Washington State bank would be significant due to the size of the state and the major business located there..

But a Bank of the State of California would represent a major threat to just about everyone of the Neo Malthusians. The state was and can be once again a trend-setter. What a trend that would be.

Tea Party Gets Early Start on G.O.P. Targets for 2012

There is nothing as sweet as a Party imploding especially when it benefits the people's party

A Tea Party rally this month in Boise, Idaho.
New York Times

Leaders of more than 70 Tea Party groups in Indiana gathered last weekend to sign a proclamation saying they would all support one candidate — as yet undetermined — in a primary challenge to Senator Richard G. Lugar, the Republican who has represented the state since 1977.

They are organizing early, they say, to prevent what happened last year, when several Tea Party candidates split the vote in Republican Senate primaries, allowing the most establishment of the candidates to win with less than 40 percent.

The meeting in Sharpsville was hardly the exception. Just three months after the midterm elections, Tea Party organizers are preparing to challenge some of the longest-serving Republican incumbents in 2012.

In Maine, there is already one candidate running on a Tea Party platform against Senator Olympia J. Snowe. Supporters there are seeking others to run, declaring that they, too, will back the person they view as the strongest candidate to avoid splitting their vote. In Utah, the same people who ousted Senator Robert F. Bennett at the state’s Republican convention last spring are now looking at a challenge to Senator Orrin G. Hatch.

The early moves suggest that the pattern of the last elections, in which primaries were more fiercely contested than the general election in several states, may be repeated.

They also show how much the Tea Party has changed the definition of who qualifies as a conservative. While Ms. Snowe is widely considered a moderate Republican, Mr. Hatch is not. Mr. Lugar, similarly, defines himself as a conservative. He argues that he has consistently won praise from small-business groups, supported a balanced budget amendment and pushed for a reduction in farm subsidies and the closing of agricultural extension offices as part of an effort to reduce unnecessary spending — all initiatives that fall under the smaller government rubric of the Tea Party.

“Some of this is a feeling that it’s time for new blood,” said Brendan Steinhauser, an organizer with FreedomWorks, a national group that has worked with Tea Party groups on several primary challenges.

Mr. Lugar said at a breakfast with reporters this month that he believed that many Tea Party supporters were motivated by anger “about how things have turned out for them.” They want to express themselves, but their complaints often boil down to nothing more specific, he said, than “we want this or that stopped, or there is spending, big government.”

“These are all, we would say, sort of large cliché titles,” he said, “but they are not able to articulate all the specifics.”

The advocates in Indiana, which national Tea Party groups say has the most organized of the primary efforts, point to Mr. Lugar’s push for the New Start nuclear treaty, which the Senate approved in December; his sponsorship of the Dream Act, which would grant a path to citizenship for limited groups of illegal immigrants; and his votes for President Obama’s picks for the Supreme Court, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

“The senator would call it bipartisanship, but we think you’re siding with the other side,” said Greg Fettig, a Tea Party supporter in Indiana.

Another, Mark Holwager, said, “He may have been a conservative at one time, but he definitely leans to the left now.”

The coalition of Tea Party groups, calling itself Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate, plans to hold a caucus in June where the 70-odd groups involved will choose a candidate to run against Mr. Lugar in the primary next May. In the meantime, the group has designated a coordinator for each of the state’s Congressional districts to begin a campaign to educate voters about what Tea Party supporters call Mr. Lugar’s liberal record.

The group has also had discussions with several national groups that played a role in primaries last year where establishment candidates or Republican incumbents lost to Tea Party challenges, including FreedomWorks, the Tea Party Express and the Club for Growth.

Those behind Tea Party challenges say they learned their lesson about splitting the vote from several primary contests last year, including the Senate races in Illinois and Indiana and Congressional races in Virginia, where a flood of Tea Party candidates resulted in a moderate or establishment candidate winning.

But so far there are few declared candidates. In Utah, some Tea Party supporters say they would back a run by Representative Jason Chaffetz, who won his Congressional seat in 2008 after challenging an incumbent Republican, Chris Cannon, in the primary. That race became a kind of trial run for Tea Party primaries, with many of the same people who worked on Mr. Chaffetz’s campaign working to unseat Mr. Bennett last year.

Still, there is some division. The Tea Party Express, a national group started by longtime Republican consultants, recently announced that it would not back a challenge to Mr. Hatch, calling him “as good as it gets” for Republicans. The Club for Growth, which has poured money into other Republican primary challenges, issued a statement disagreeing.

In Maine, even some Tea Party supporters say the challenge is trickier: voters have long preferred moderates and independents. Still, some note the success of the state’s new Republican governor, Paul LePage, who was elected with Tea Party support and is winning applause for pushing to cut the budget.

Utah is a reliably Republican state, so whoever wins the primary is almost assured to win the general election.

“The way the state’s been turning, I think if we got a decent conservative in there, it wouldn’t be that much of a problem to win,” said Pete Harring, a Tea Party supporter in Maine. “People are starting to realize we’re just too deep in a hole; we have to do something.”

Mr. LePage narrowly beat an independent candidate in a five-way general election, winning less than 40 percent of the vote. With that in mind, Tea Party supporters have also discussed running a third-party candidate.

In Indiana, several Tea Party supporters met with Mr. Lugar last month, and he argued his conservative credentials. Unconvinced, they announced that they would pursue a primary challenge, and that the first step would be to unify behind one Republican. Potential candidates include a state senator, Mike Delph, and the state treasurer, Richard E. Mourdock.

At the meeting this month, the Tea Party organizers signed a letter that “with deep gratitude and respect” asked Mr. Lugar to resign. With the rise of conservative awareness in America, “the emergence of the modern day Tea Party, and your own more social-liberal perception on issues, we find ourselves at odds,” they wrote.

Mr. Lugar won his last term with 87 percent of the vote after Democrats declined to challenge him. He says he intends to run aggressively, and not change his positions.

“A lot of conservatives believe you have to kowtow to the Tea Party,” said his spokesman, Mark Helmke. “We reject that premise.”

Mr. Holwager argued that there is a disconnect between Tea Party supporters and many of their representatives in Washington.

“Heartland America doesn’t feel the same way as people in the cities,” he said. “We do believe in religion, we go to church all the time, we shoot and fish, and love our families. Some of the time you wish folks in the cities would come live with us and see how we live.”

Saturday, January 29, 2011

How to Defeat American Fascism

By Timothy V. Gatto

Almost every day I think to myself “What the hell has happened to my country”? I still have a hard time coming to terms with the brutality and the crass disregard for human life that has become a cornerstone of American foreign policy. I also have a hard time coming to terms with this new American concept of fighting this so-called “War on Terror” that has led to the dissolution of our fundamental freedoms as expressed in the bill of rights.

This new America is fundamentally a dictatorship of the affluent. I was watching a book review on C-Span yesterday where the book “Was I Born on the Wrong Continent?” was being discussed. The subject of workers’ rights came up and a woman asked the author a question that was preceded with this statement “We all understand that the elephant in the living room that no one wants to talk about is campaign finance reform”. I was a bit taken aback at that statement only because I have been writing about that particular subject for the last six years.

I have to agree with that young woman who made that statement, but I don’t believe for a minute that “We all understand”. In fact, I believe that most of us in this country don’t understand how political campaigns as they are conducted in the United States has, for all intents and purposes, become so expensive that politicians have sold their souls in order to win elections.

It may be true that the American people realize the fact that it takes money to run a political campaign, but I don’t believe they understand how important this funding really is. According to the Center for Responsive Politics from their website; “Bundlers are people with friends in high places who, after bumping against personal contribution limits, turn to those friends, associates, and, well, anyone who's willing to give, and deliver the checks to the candidate in one big "bundle”.

Even though these donors direct more money to the candidates than anyone else, disclosure can be spotty, with Obama and McCain posting bundlers by ranges with the top ranges being simply "$500,000 or more." Together, 536 elites have directed at least $75,750,000 to McCain, and 560 have gathered at least $76,500,000 for Obama.

Just that one segment accounted for $152,250,000 for both candidates! Looking at Obama’s funds, lawyers and lobbyists accounted for 16.1 million dollars, so much for the claim that he didn’t take money from “special interests”.

Obama’s biggest contributor after the University of California was Goldman Sachs. Why is it that I’m not surprised? In the top twenty donors were Citigroup, Morgan-Stanley, J.P. Morgan Chase, and UBS AG. One only has to reflect on the financial bail-out of Wall Street to understand that they made a hell of an investment.

Why am I bringing up old history? Well, I’m hoping that what I’m writing about may cause some of you to agree with that young woman on C-Span. Campaign finance IS that elephant in the living room. Everyday people like you and I need to remember this. When issues like extending the Bush tax cuts or a debate on corporate tax cuts comes along, we need to remember just who it is that the politicians need to payback Mussolini once remarked that fascism could be called "corporatism". We are in the process of becoming a fascist state, if we're not there already.

The Supreme Court has made things untenable. The ruling that allows corporations to put as much money as they wish into campaigns has caused a total disconnect between average Americans and the political system. When the Supreme Court made their decision, did you hear your representatives in Washington complaining? I only remember a brief (very brief) objection from President Obama. This was a telling moment; you would like to believe that something of this magnitude would garner loud protests from the “representatives of the people”, that they would bring it up at every opportunity and try to legislate against that kind of money in the election process. Their silence is deafening.

I’ve written about this before and I’ll write about it again. Until corporate money and special interest money is taken out of the political campaigns, or at least reduced, it will be the interests of the citizenry that will suffer. We need public financing for federal office seekers and debates financed by public television. The only way we are going to make this happen is a complete overhaul of the campaign finance system. We also need an amendment to the Constitution that will once and for all remove corporate “person-hood”

The idea that corporations are “people” is patently ridiculous. Corporations are responsible to the shareholders, not the American nation. The corporations will support the politician that is best for their bottom line, not who is best for the country. Removing corporations from politics doesn’t mean that they won’t have representation; the people that run them and work for them have their individual votes. Thus, they ARE represented. Corporate person-hood is nothing but a sham foisted on the American people.

Nothing will change in Washington until the American people address this intolerable situation. This issue is the root cause of the legal bribery that fuels the political theater we see every day in Congress. Unless we demand campaign finance reform, the politicians will continue to legislate for the corporations and the banks. In fact, nothing is possible without CFR. As long as the corporations control who receives the money for their political campaigns, Congress will not be looking after the taxpayers. The wars will continue, single payer health care will never happen and the military industrial complex will continue to run this nation.

We have just witnessed the largest transfer of wealth in this nation’s history happen right under our noses. The majority of Americans screamed bloody murder yet the bailout of Wall Street happened anyway. Where is it written that the taxpayer should be responsible for bankers, insurance companies and automakers that got caught “gaming the system”? The money that the taxpayers spent to keep these corporations solvent could have gone into infrastructure and other projects to address chronic unemployment. We saw the banks sit on the bail-out money or watched them invest it overseas and yet even now the government is thinking about a second bail-out!

It’s not difficult to predict what the politicians will do. One merely needs to see who is funding their campaigns. I predicted that Obama would follow in Bush’s footsteps; I only had to follow the money. We no longer have a democratic republic, we have a corporate state. This won’t change until we remove the root cause of corporatism, the financing of political campaigns. It’s that simple.

The billionaires are coming: Obama's richest enemies to hold summit

Koch brothers to host rightwing politicians and business leaders at California resort to discuss how to influence politics home
by Ed Pilkington

Amid great secrecy, about 200 of America's wealthiest and most powerful individuals from the worlds of finance, big business and rightwing politics are expected to come together on Sunday in the sun-drenched California desert near Palm Springs for what has been billed as a gathering of the billionaires. They will have the chance to enjoy the Rancho Mirage resort's many pools, spa treatments and tennis courts, as well as walk in its 240 acres away from the prying eyes of TV cameras.

But the organisers have made clear that the two-day event is not just "fun in the sun". This will be a meeting of "doers", men and women willing to fight the Obama administration and its perceived attack on US free enterprise and unfettered wealth.

As the invitation says: "Our goal must be to beat back the unrelenting attacks and hold elected leaders accountable."

The reference to the accountability of America's elected leaders is ironic, bearing in mind that the gathering has been convened by two brothers who have never been elected to public office and are among the most unaccountable and secretive political players in the country.

David and Charles Koch enjoy a combined fortune of $35bn (£22bn), run the second largest private company in the US, Koch Industries, and are increasingly using their fabulous riches to push their special interests within America's political process. Nobody knows precisely how much they spend on influencing elections and lobbying Congress, but it is thought to be scores of millions of dollars.

By similar vein, the guestlist for their gathering on Sunday is unknown. Past attendees at the twice-yearly event include supreme court judges, rightwing media celebrities such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, prominent governors of southern states such as Bobby Jindal (Louisiana) and Haley Barbour (Mississippi), as well as leading figures from Wall Street and energy companies, and titans of industry.

The format of the gathering will be similar to previous Koch events, the last of which was held in Aspen, Colorado, in June. The assembled tycoons will talk about some of the Koch brothers' pet horrors – the growth of government and state regulations, what they call climate change "alarmism" and "socialised" healthcare.

Then they will share ideas about how to tighten their grip on politics and the judiciary by shaping election campaigns.

But this year's reception will differ in one important regard: it will have an opposition. For the first time, a coalition of progressive and liberal groups has formed to try to counter the power of the Koch brothers.

The anti-Koch gathering will be staged down the road from the Rancho Mirage. It will hold its own – open, as opposed to secretive – panel discussion and a rally designed to highlight what its organisers see as the pernicious impact of the Kochs on the democratic process.

"We want to raise public awareness of the harmful influence of corporate money. The Koch gathering embodies all that we consider damaging to our democracy," said Mary Boyle, of Common Cause, a campaign group that has spearheaded the opposition.

Among the panel speakers will be Robert Reich, the labour secretary under Bill Clinton. He believes the Kochs represent what he calls a perfect storm that is battering American democracy. "This is the worst I've seen it in my lifetime. In the late 19th century, robber barons would deposit bags of silver and gold on the desks of legislators. We've progressed significantly since then, but once again big business is engaging in politics."

The reach of corporate agitators personified by the Kochs has been greatly extended by Citizens United, a landmark ruling by the supreme court in January 2010 that opened the door to corporate spending on political campaigns for the first time since 1947. The ruling led to a splurge of secret outside funding in the 2010 midterm elections in which about $300m was spent, a threefold increase on 2006.

The Koch brothers made good use of the ruling. Again, how much they invested in the elections is not known, but Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party-aligned movement founded and funded by the Kochs, has put its own spending at $45m.

Common Cause this week called on the US attorney general to investigate a possible conflict of interest. The group pointed out that two supreme court judges – Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia – had taken part in strategy sessions in a previous Koch gathering. Both ruled in favour of lifting the ban on corporate political spending, a move that directly forwarded the Koch brothers' political aspirations.

"What we are seeing is a form of legalised bribery," said Rick Jacobs, founder of the Courage Campaign that is participating in Sunday's counter-gathering. "Here are the Koch brothers with their unbridled wealth, using it to shape society as they see fit. It's our obligation to do everything we can to stop them."

Critics of the brothers point out that many of the ways they seek to influence politics serves their own personal and corporate interests. They lobby for lower personal and corporate taxes, which doubly benefits them as individual taxpayers and as owners of a company with an annual turnover of about $100bn.

Since 2006, the Kochs have been the largest political funders of any energy company in the US. They have backed thinktanks and campaigns that have spread doubts about climate change, which suits their purposes as oil and coal magnates who have been named among the top 10 air polluters in the country.

Their sustained fight through the Tea Party movements against government regulations also benefits their multiple concerns, that range from oil pipelines to paper cups, wood, carpets and Lycra.

"I don't want to demonise the Koch brothers personally," Reich said. "But they demonstrate how vast wealth is now being funnelled into the political process in secret, undermining our democracy."
Attendees of past Koch gatherings

Justice Clarence Thomas: A member of the US supreme court since 1991, he tends to vote with the majority conservative wing of America's highest judicial panel. His wife, Virginia Thomas, is a lawyer active in rightwing politics, having founded and led until the end of last year Liberty Central, a group that opposes what it sees as the "tyranny" of the Obama administration.

Glenn Beck: The notorious Fox News commentator is also a hugely successful businessman, earning $32m last year from his empire of TV and radio shows and books. This week he was the subject of an open letter from 400 rabbis who protested against his persistent references to Nazis and the Holocaust as terms of abuse against leftwing opponents.

Senator Jim DeMint: The senator for South Carolina is one of the most consistently rightwing members of the Senate and a darling of the Tea Party movement. David Koch has personally singled out DeMint for praise after the politician vowed to destroy Obama's healthcare reforms.

Fred Malek: A former aide to George Bush, Malek was one of the top fundraisers for the $56m attack ad campaign that senior Bush adviser Karl Rove unleashed in the 2010 midterm elections, directed against Democratic candidates.

Steve and Betty Bechtel: Some of the many industrialists who have attended past Koch events, they own the largest engineering company in the US, the Bechtel Group.

David Chavern: No 2 at the US Chamber of Commerce, a business coalition that spent up to $75m on launching attack ads largely against Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections – twice the amount it spent on the 2008 elections.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Utah’s Gun Appreciation Day

The New York Times - Opinion Pages
By Gail Collins

This week in Washington, Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey introduced three very modest gun regulation bills, including one making it more difficult to sell guns to people on the terror watch list.

Meanwhile, in Salt Lake City, the State Legislature is considering a bill to honor the Browning M1911 pistol by making it the official state firearm.

Guess which idea has the better chance of passage? Can I see a show of hands? Oh, you cynics, you!

Yes, a committee in the Utah House of Representatives voted 9 to 2 this week to approve a bill that would add the Browning pistol to the pantheon of official state things, along with the bird (seagull), rock (coal) and dance (square). Also, although it really has nothing to do with this discussion, I have to mention that the Utah Legislature has provided its citizens with an official state cooking pot, and it is the Dutch oven.

“This firearm is Utah,” Representative Carl Wimmer, the Browning bill’s sponsor, told The Salt Lake Tribune. He is an energetic-looking guy with a huge forehead who has only been in office four years yet has, according to one of his videos, “sponsored and passed some of the most significant pieces of legislation in Utah history.”

Capitol observers say the Browning bill has an excellent chance of becoming law. Meanwhile, Lautenberg will be lucky to get a hearing. The terror of the National Rifle Association is so pervasive that President Obama did not want to poison the mood of his State of the Union address by suggesting that when somebody on the terror watch list tries to buy a gun, maybe we should do an extra check.

“But people are now commenting on the fact that the president didn’t talk about it in his speech. That hasn’t happened for years,” said Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, whose job really does require an inordinate amount of optimism.

Lautenberg’s bills are extremely mild, and no one seems eager to argue in public against the one that would end easy access to 30-bullet magazines that allow someone with a semiautomatic pistol to mow down a parking lot full of people in a matter of seconds. Instead, they just refuse to come to the phone or toss out platitudes.

“The people that are going to commit a crime or are going to do something crazy aren’t going to pay attention to the laws in the first place. Let’s fix the real problem. Here’s a mentally deranged person who had access to a gun that should not have had access to a gun,” said Senator Tom Coburn on “Meet the Press.”

Another of Lautenberg’s bills would tighten a loophole in current law so a mentally deranged person who should not have access to guns could not go to a gun show and buy one without the regular security check. But never mind.

On Monday, the Utah State Capitol celebrated Browning Day, honoring John Moses Browning, native son and maker of the nominee for Official State Firearm. There were speeches, a proclamation, a flyover by a National Guard helicopter, and, of course, a rotunda full of guns. “We recognize his efforts to preserve the Constitution,” Gov. Gary Herbert said, in keeping with what appears to be a new Republican regulation requiring all party members to mention the Constitution at least once in every three sentences.

It is generally not a good policy to dwell on the strange behavior of state legislators since it leads to bottomless despair. If I wanted to go down that road, I’d give you Mark Madsen, a Utah state senator who tried to improve upon the Browning Day celebrations by suggesting they be scheduled to coincide with Martin Luther King Day since “both made tremendous contributions to individual freedom and individual liberty.”

But it’s a symptom of a new streak of craziness abroad in the land, which has politicians scrambling to prove not just that they are against gun regulation, but also that they are proactively in favor of introducing guns into every conceivable part of American life. National parks. Schools. Bars. Airports.

“There is abundant research suggesting in cities where more people own guns, the crime rate, especially the murder rate, goes down,” Utah’s new United States senator, Mike Lee, told CNN.

Actually, there’s a ton of debate about this, which is hard to resolve given the fact that, as Michael Luo reported in The Times, the N.R.A.’s crack lobbyists have managed to stop almost all federal financing for scientific research on gun-related questions. But Lee has definitely made the list of most creative commentators on these matters, ever since he dismissed calls for a calmer political rhetoric after the Tucson massacre by arguing that “the shooter wins if we, who’ve been elected, change what we do just because of what he did.”

Feel free to say whatever you like about the senator’s thinking. Be frank. Otherwise, the shooter wins.

Please don't shoot me

'Girl, nine, begged for her life before she and her father were shot dead by 'anti-immigrant vigilantes'

Mail Online
By Daily Mail Reporter

A nine-year-old girl begged for her life before being shot dead along with her father by an anti-immigrant vigilante group, a court heard.

Brisenia Flores was gunned down at point-blank range in her own home in Flores, Arizona, as her terrified mother Gina Gonzalez, who had also been hit, played dead on the floor.

She sobbed as the court was told how she had heard Brisenia's desperate pleas as her killer stood over her.

'I can hear it happening,' Mrs Flores told the court describing how her daughter said: 'Why did you shoot my dad? Why did you shoot my mum?'

'I can hear her telling him to "please don't shoot me."'

The prosecution alleges that the child and her father Raul Flores Jr were murdered in May 30, 2009 by a group of vigilantes set up to tackle Mexican immigrants.

The shootings took place 200 miles from Tucson, the scene of the gun massacre earlier this month in which another nine-year-old girl died.

Shawna Forde, the head of the Minutemen American Defence group, is on trial accused of two charges of first degree murder.

She is allegedly orchestrated the attack on the Flores family with two male accomplices, due to face face court in.March.

Police claim that Forde believed Mr Flores was a drug trafficker and would have cash and goods in the house which they could use to fund their patrols.

She reportedly led the raid and gave instructions to the male accomplices.

Mrs Gonzalez told the court that her husband woke her up just before 1am on May 30 and said that the police were at the door.

The couple went to the front room - where Brisenia had spent the night on the sofa to be near her new dog - and spotted two people outside.

Both were in camouflage. Mrs Gonzalez said one was a heavy-set woman while the other was a man whose face was blackened with greasepaint. He was armed with a rifle and pistol.

The mother-of-one told the court the pair had demanded to be let in, claiming the family were harbouring a fugitive.

They then burst into the house. The man told Mr Flores: 'Don't take this personal, but this bullet has your name on it.'

He then opened fire, hitting Mrs Gonzalez in the shoulder and leg.

Her husband was hit multiple times before the gunman turned to her daughter.

She described hearing the murderer reload his weapon as he ignored Brisenia's pleas for mercy and then open fire.

The gunman and his accomplice left but as Mrs Gonzalez called 911, she heard him returning.

Desperately wounded, she dragged herself through the house to find her husband's gun and exchanged fire with her assailant, who police say is Jason Bush.

He was injured and fled the scene.

Forde was arrested shortly after the shooting. She had Mrs Gonzalez's wedding ring and other jewellery, according to police.

Investigators said that she was originally a member of the anti-immigrant Minuteman Project but left to form a more extreme breakaway group.

Members claim that it is their civil duty to protect the Mexican border with weapons as the authorities are unable to do so.

Forde allegedly funded her by group by robbing the houses of suspected drug dealers. When she reportedly proposed one such raid to two potential accomplices, they phoned the FBI - who did nothing because they believed the suggestion was too ludicrous to be true.

Prosecutor Kellie Johnson said: 'Not only will the state prove to you that Shawna Forde was in that house that night, barking orders and telling people what to do, the state will prove that Shawna Forde organised and planned this offence.'

Forde's lawyer Eric Larsen told the court that she was not at the house and that much of the evidence was circumstantial

Forde denies murder. The trial continues. If convicted, she faces the death penalty.

Is this kind of behavior going to be repeated as more outfall from the Hate Rhetoric of the past two years resonates?

Judge Rules Provisions in Patriot Act to Be Illegal

The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 — A federal judge in Oregon ruled Wednesday that crucial parts of the USA Patriot Act were not constitutional because they allowed federal surveillance and searches of Americans without demonstrating probable cause.

The ruling by Judge Anne L. Aiken of Federal District Court in Portland was in the case of Brandon Mayfield, a lawyer in Portland who was arrested and jailed after the Federal Bureau of Investigation mistakenly linked him to the Madrid train bombings in March 2004.

“For over 200 years, this nation has adhered to the rule of law — with unparalleled success,” Judge Aiken’s opinion said in finding violations of the Fourth Amendment prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure. “A shift to a nation based on extraconstitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill advised.”

The ruling is a new chapter in a legal battle that began after the Spanish police found a plastic bag with detonator caps in a van near the bombings, which killed 191 people and left 2,000 injured in the deadliest terrorist attack in Europe since World War II.

Initially, the F.B.I. found no match for the fingerprints. But after reviewing a digitally enhanced set of the prints, the agency identified 20 possible matches, including Mr. Mayfield.

Though Spanish officials had doubts about the match, federal agents began surveillance on him and his family, using expanded powers under the Patriot Act. Mr. Mayfield was jailed for two weeks before a federal judge threw out the case.

Mr. Mayfield, 38, who was born in Oregon and brought up in a small town in Kansas, converted to Islam in 1989. He was a lawyer in a child custody case for Jeffrey Leon Battle, who had been convicted of conspiring to aid the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Mr. Mayfield said his religion and legal work had led investigators to be overzealous in connecting him to the Madrid plot.

Mr. Mayfield sued the government, which apologized and agreed to a $2 million settlement last November. The settlement included an unusual condition that freed the government from future liability with one exception. Mr. Mayfield was allowed to continue a suit seeking to overturn parts of the Patriot Act.

It was that suit on which Judge Aiken ruled Wednesday. Her opinion said the court recognized that “a difficult balance must be struck in a manner that preserves the peace and security of our nation while at the same time preserving the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Americans.”

In examining the history of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act, the opinion discussed a change by Congress in October 2001, under the Patriot Act, that allows surveillance and searches if the government declares that “a significant purpose” of that activity is gathering foreign intelligence. In the past, such searches and surveillance had been allowed if “the purpose” was to obtain foreign intelligence.

Congress’s intent, the opinion said, was “to break down barriers between criminal law enforcement and intelligence gathering.” Judge Aiken said a practical effect of “a seemingly minor change in wording” was to allow the government to avoid the constitutional probable cause requirement.

“In place of the Fourth Amendment,” the judge wrote, “the people are expected to defer to the Executive Branch and its representation that it will authorize such surveillance only when appropriate.”

She said the government was “asking this court to, in essence, amend the Bill of Rights, by giving it an interpretation that would deprive it of any real meaning.”

A spokesman for the Justice Department, Peter Carr, said it was reviewing the decision and declined to comment further.

A lawyer for Mr. Mayfield, Elden Rosenthal, issued a statement on his behalf saying that Judge Aiken “has upheld both the tradition of judicial independence and our nation’s most cherished principle of the right to be secure in one’s own home.”

The Campaign Finance Reform Conundrum

Effect of House GOP's anti-campaign-financing bill would be felt by Republicans
Washington Post
By Dan Eggen

By voting Wednesday to abolish public financing for presidential campaigns, House Republicans endorsed a policy that could cause serious problems for one particular group: fellow Republicans hoping to run for the White House in 2012.

On a mostly party-line vote of 239 to 160, the House approved a measure that would eliminate the checkoff Americans can mark on their federal income tax forms to make a $3 donation toward presidential contests. That system allows candidates to receive public matching money if they agree to limit expenditures during a primary or general election contest.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and other Republicans portray the bill primarily as a cost-cutting measure that would save about $520 million over 10 years. But it faces strong opposition from the White House and Senate Democrats, who say it would further strengthen the influence of corporations and other monied interest groups.

The irony is that the bill's most immediate effect would be felt by Republicans - including those connected to the tea party movement - who might find it difficult to mount a credible primary run without public funding.

This is especially true given the presence of well-funded establishment figures such as former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who has amassed substantial support from wealthy donors.

Public financing could give a leg up to potential GOP candidates with shallower pockets, such as Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Mike Pence (Ind.), both of whom voted to scrap the system.

Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), the bill's sponsor in the House, said it would be a small price to pay for eliminating the program. "The only people who are going to miss it are Republican candidates in 2012," he said at a hearing this week.

The public financing system, put in place after the political money scandals of the Watergate years, has been widely used by candidates from both parties to help pay for presidential campaigns and political conventions. Candidates can use taxpayer money to help finance their campaigns in exchange for adhering to spending limits. The amount available is recalculated each cycle based on a formula that adjusts for inflation.

The Democracy 21 advocacy group calculates that the two parties and their candidates have received $1.3 billion in public financing for presidential campaigns since 1976, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Perhaps the biggest recipient has been conservative icon Ronald Reagan, who tapped into taxpayer money for presidential races in 1976, 1980 and 1984, the group said.

But skyrocketing campaign spending has increasingly made it difficult for candidates to agree to funding limits in exchange for public money. Barack Obama became the first major presidential candidate to forgo the system in 2008, using Internet fundraising and other innovations to raise a record $750 million.

Obama's GOP challenger, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), opted to take $84 million in public financing for the general election, putting him at a serious financial disadvantage in the final weeks of the campaign. The spending pattern is expected to accelerate in 2012, when experts predict Obama alone could raise $1 billion.

Lawrence M. Noble, a former Federal Election Commission counsel now at Skadden Arps, said he doubts that Obama or his GOP opponent will agree to funding limits in 2012.

"For the major candidates, the best-known candidates, the system is irrelevant at this point," he said. "The ones who are relying on it now are the more marginal candidates. . . . The question is whether the Republican leadership is happy not to finance those people."

Despite Obama's track record, the White House this week came out against the idea of eliminating public financing, arguing that the program needs to be "fixed rather than dismantled." Democrats say that doing away with the system would only exacerbate the effects of a Supreme Court decision last year to allow unlimited corporate spending in elections.

"This is not the time to further empower the special interests or to obstruct the work of reform," the White House statement said.

Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer, a longtime activist who helped create the public financing system, said Republicans are "attacking a broken system that needs to be repaired, not repealed."

"This is not about budget-cutting; this is about trying to kill the idea of public financing for federal elections," he said. "They're just turning the presidency and the political system over to big donors, bundlers and corporate spenders."

But Bradley A. Smith, a former FEC chairman who opposes many campaign finance restrictions, said public financing "is a hobbyhorse for white, upscale liberals" that has done nothing to lessen corruption or the role of money in politics.

"The fact that you offer people free money and they take it doesn't mean that the program is a success," Smith said. "The government should not be taking your tax money and my tax money to fund political candidates."

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The State of the Union: Politics as Usual

S. Paul Forrest

Last evening, President Obama delivered the State of the Union address. His message was orated with the sublime skills of an experienced lecture hall professor but filled with concessions to the Republicans. During the speech, the audience acted as they were choreographed to do as practiced with intermittent applause, ovation standing and the occasional yell of approval. The President came out with all the pomp of the leader of the free world but throughout his speech seemed to be campaigning again with no real measure of solution to his words but rather, responses to what the polling data dictated. Through the entire message, one which was meant to instill confidence in the American people of the job he was doing, the President missed one important thing; to address the the real issues and the Liberal ideals that got him elected to office.

From the beginning to the end of Obama's speech, I kept shifting my stares from Vice President Biden to Speaker Boehner. Biden seemed the easily pleased, happy guy who would never dare to disagree or find any fault in our President. Boehner on the other hand, the man who cries when thinking about the American Dream and the plight of our children in this country, looked as if he was measuring every word with the look of a man thinking “you had better say what we agreed upon”. I could almost see the puppet strings from his hands and his lips moving while Obama spoke.

Seeming like a schizophrenic ideologue confused by the voices in his head, President Obama teetered throughout his speech as if trying to balance on a picket fence suspended over a pit of alligators. In one breath he would expound upon the streamlining of government to cut costs while with the next, call for more governmental influence by saying this was America’s Sputnik moment and we must reinvent America through governmental influence. The following statement embodied this imbalance:
“Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it's not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That's what planted the seeds for the Internet. That's what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS. Just think of all the good jobs — from manufacturing to retail — that have come from these breakthroughs.”

So more government programs? Less? I don’t know.

He also seemed to have been suffering from selective reasoning when in one breath he praised our troops overseas and how the war in Iraq was coming to an end but never mentioned the additional employ of soldiers to Afghanistan or the impending showdown with Iran or even the increasing restrictions on U.S. citizens at airports, FBI increased on-line monitoring or many other basic civil liberties compromised by the Patriot Act. He did of course, have a Bush moment and mentioned 9/11 and the fight against our enemies which I am sure is why the issue of the largest defense budget since WWII; a whopping 725 Billion Dollars, was never addressed. After all, he must keep up appearances. If the President wants to find programs to cut, why doesn’t he start there instead of Medicare or Social Security?

Mentioned not was neither the 20% unemployment rate in Florida’s Space Coast due to the cuts to NASA nor the environmental destruction of our coal rich centers or the people sickened because of corporate greed in the Gulf region of Louisiana. He did mention clean or renewable energy but nary a word uttered about ceasing corporate welfare and the easing of taxation on the middle class. Our President also forgot to mention the housing crisis and rising homelessness in this country as a direct result of it or for that matter, solutions to said dilemma. Democrats are supposed to care for the American people but on this night, our President seemed more concerned about his political career.

In his rush to the center, Obama seems to have forgotten why some of us voted him into office. The entire speech was meant not to give us an idea of the State of our Union but rather an effort to propel his political agenda to a now Republican controlled Congress and the State of separation. It seemed that he and the writers of his speech were only reacting to the political polls and measuring the words by effect rather than staying within the elected purpose of his administration: to bring Real Change to Washington and by proxy, to We the People.

I would have liked very much to have heard some reality in the State of the Union. Instead, I heard almost criminal levels of patronization and purposeful misdirection away from the issues that are really affecting this Nation today or at least those we Liberals care about. The center approach would have been good two years ago but now I cannot help but think that if the Republicans hadn’t won the Majority, our President wouldn’t have tried so hard to concede to their demands on his administration.

When I started watching the SOTU, I had hopes that our President would stand for the Liberal agenda and the American People but instead, he stood for politics and concession. Although some of his words about reinvesting in our future resonated with true hope, the end result of such investment will end up in the hands of the corporations who are doing most of their business overseas rather than into the already lint filled pockets of We the People.

Obama’s wordsin this speech were not informative at all but rather a collection of more campaign rhetoric but this time, instead of trying to win the votes of us Liberals, he seemed to be trying to win the votes of the Republicans. Rather than telling us what the State of the Union truly is, Obama turned it into the State of the Political Landscape and threw concessions rather than Presidential conditions to the other side of the aisle. He was successful in one area though; he succeeded in showing the chameleon coat with which he will unfortunately envelop himself through the rest of his one term Presidency and revealing how wasted my vote was in 2008.

What is interesting to me is how history records the financial currents of our Nation. Whenever crisis hits in the form of recessions or depressions the People vote into office a Democrat to sort out the mess. Once things are back in order, the People vote for a Republican until the cycle returns to start. In the case of this great recession, our Democrat of choice is returning us to the Republicans two years too early. Despite my prior expressions of disappointment in Obama, I have still been clinging to the hope that he would bring us the change he promised but after watching the pomp and circumstance Tuesday night, I can say without reserve that the State of the Union is unfortunately; back to politics as usual.

Read the entire transcript

State of the Union Reaction Falls Along Party Lines

Politics Daily
Andrea Stone

WASHINGTON -- Reaction to Tuesday night's State of the Union address, the most-wired ever and perhaps the most measured and mild in memory, echoed a predictable plethora of previews and prebuttals that fell along party lines.

Republicans, led officially by their resident budget guru and in an unsanctioned response from their tea party wing, recited their vision for smaller government through spending cuts. Democrats offered their endorsements of the president's plan and called for bipartisan buy-in from the GOP.

Over all lay a gloss of civility brought on by the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson that saw lawmakers cross the aisle in a wonkish version of date night on the Hill. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott -- arguably the most conservative and liberal members of Virginia's congressional delegation -- sat with their shoulders literally touching, each smiling as Obama spoke.

Cameras showed Gifford's empty chair in the chamber but Obama made clear that change was bigger than a seating chart. "What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow," he said in a line that brought the first of a handful of standing ovations.

Viewers at home liked what they heard, according to a CNN poll that found 52 percent reacting positively, up from 48 percent a year ago. Another instapoll by CBS News found a whopping 92 percent who watched the speech approved of the president's proposals and six in 10 -- perhaps buoyed by the sight of Republicans and Democrats sitting side-by-side, said they expect more bipartisanship in the future.

A quick dial poll by Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg also found broad approval across the political spectrum. Among the strongest positive reactions, he said in a conference call with reporters, came when Obama spoke about health care, saying "instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let's fix what needs fixing and move forward."

Still, the mixed seating diffused reaction in the chamber. That appeared to sap energy from the room and contributed to what some analysts viewed as a flat delivery by the usually rhetorically gifted president.

"I thought there were some great platitudes. Like tip of the hat to small businesses. Nice to hear," said freshman Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo. But, he added, "the words didn't always match the comments that move many of us when we talk about getting the economy moving."

Obama did get one laugh from crowd. Speaking about the need to streamline government, he said, "Then there's my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they're in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked."

With emotions cooled, there also was little drama.

No moment matched that of last year's State of the Union when Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito mouthed the words "not true" when Obama criticized a court decision on campaign financing. Alito was one of three justices who did not attend this year.

Still, even as the president spoke warmly of the person "who began by sweeping the floors of his father's Cincinnati bar" and now presides as Speaker of the House, John Boehner's staff was blasting "real-time" fact checks about Obama's "job-destroying spending spree." Democrats sent their own "fact checks" questioning House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's response.

"Our nation is approaching a tipping point. We are at a moment, where if government's growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America's best century will be considered our past century," said Ryan, speaking from a House hearing room and sporting a large black and white ribbon on his lapel like those worn by most lawmakers to honor the victims in Tucson. "Depending on bureaucracy to foster innovation, competitiveness, and wise consumer choices has never worked -- and it won't work now. We need to chart a new course."

Noting that, "Americans are skeptical of both political parties, and that skepticism is justified -- especially when it comes to spending," Ryan said lawmakers "owe you a better choice and a different vision. Our forthcoming budget is our obligation to you -- to show you how we intend to do things differently, how we will cut spending to get the debt down, help create jobs and prosperity, and reform government programs."

Ryan was followed a few minutes later by Rep. Michele Bachmann, whose rogue response upset some Republicans who worried Ryan's message would be muddled.

In an animated online message aired by CNN, Bachmann offered a stark contrast to the more measured Ryan in a talk she said was "not meant to compete" with the official response. Just back from Iowa where she gauged support for a possible presidential run, Bachmann used props to make her point about "an unprecedented explosion of government spending and debt at President Obama's direction; unlike anything we have seen in the history of our country."

There was a chart showing the growth of unemployment with red bars representing the Bush years and bigger blue bars under the Obama administration. There was the famous World War II photo of the flag being raised on Iwo Jima to symbolize how America pulled together to beat back an aggressor. And, of course, there was a blow-up of the Constitution.

"Last November many of you went to the polls and voted out big-spending politicians and you put in their place men and women who have come to Washington with a commitment to follow the Constitution and cut the size of government," she said. "And I believe that we are in the early days of a history-making turn here in the House of Representatives."

Other reactions to the speech ranged from the measured to the mercurial.

Among the reviews by the president's allies:

- "Tonight we heard a blueprint for how to move our country forward by investing in what works and cutting what doesn't. We heard a vision for keeping America a global economic superpower by out-educating, out-innovating and out-building our competition. To get there, we'll have to set aside our differences and reach across the aisle," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "Republicans have a responsibility to work with us to create jobs instead of wasting time with pointless political stunts."

- "House Democrats remain committed to putting people back to work and getting our fiscal house in order," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House budget committee. "When Republicans put forward ideas that help create jobs, reduce the deficit, and strengthen the middle class, they will find willing partners -- but when they try to turn back the clock and put special interests back in charge, they will find a vocal opposition."

- "The President left no doubt tonight that he's staked out the center of American politics, with his call for economic growth, fiscal discipline and a bipartisan spirit of national unity," said Matt Bennett, co-founder of Third Way, a moderate Democratic think tank. "With this speech, the President declared himself a pro-growth Democrat, one who sees American companies and entrepreneurs as a creative force to be unleashed, not a problem to be constrained."

- Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, welcomed Obama's vow to streamline federal agencies. "Identifying, reforming and eliminating the redundancy and waste in government is an area in which there should and will be common-ground," he said.

- "I had hoped to hear the President outline real solutions to fundamentally tackle our national debt crisis and help clear the way for urgently needed job creation," said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. "Instead, we heard him talk about more 'investment,' which is what most Floridians I know would simply call more government spending."

- Matt Kibbe of the conservative group FreedomWorks said if Obama was serious about promoting job growth, "he'll roll back the job-killing policies his administration has promoted over the last two years, starting with Obamacare and continuing on to tax hikes on small business and wasteful 'stimulus' spending."

- For America chairman Brent Bozell, whose group advocates repealing the health care law, said, "The speech was nothing more than bad acting on a big stage," adding that "the president continues to cover his ears and press his leftist agenda of more spending and bigger government."

Bachmann's response to State of the Union
CNN Politics

Washington (CNN) -- Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, responded to President Obama's State of the Union speech on Tuesday night from the Tea Party Express headquarters. Here is a transcript of Bachmann's speech.

Bachmann: Good evening. My name is Congresswoman Michele Bachmann from Minnesota's 6th District.

I want to thank the Tea Party Express and Tea Party HD for inviting me to speak this evening. I'm here at their request and not to compete with the official Republican remarks.

The Tea Party is a dynamic force for good in our national conversation, and it's an honor for me to speak with you.

Two years ago, when Barack Obama became our president, unemployment was 7.8%, and our national debt stood at what seemed like a staggering $10.6 trillion. We wondered whether the president would cut spending, reduce the deficit and implement real job-creating policies.

Unfortunately, the president's strategy for recovery was to spend a trillion dollars on a failed stimulus program, fueled by borrowed money. The White House promised us that all the spending would keep unemployment under 8%. Not only did that plan fail to deliver, but within three months, the national jobless rate spiked to 9.4%. It hasn't been lower for 20 straight months. While the government grew, we lost more than 2 million jobs.

Let me show you a chart. Here are unemployment rates over the past 10 years. In October of 2001, our national unemployment rate was at 5.3%. In 2008, it was at 6.6%. But just eight months after President Obama promised lower unemployment, that rate spiked to a staggering 10.1%. Today, unemployment is at 9.4% with about 400,000 new claims every week.

After the $700 billion bailout, the trillion-dollar stimulus, and the massive budget bill with over 9,000 earmarks, many of you implored Washington to please stop spending money that we don't have. But instead of cutting, we saw an unprecedented explosion of government spending and debt. It was unlike anything we've ever seen before in the history of the country.

Well, deficits were unacceptably high under President Bush, but they exploded under President Obama's direction, growing the national debt by an astounding $3.1 trillion.

Well, what did we buy? Instead of a leaner, smarter government, we bought a bureaucracy that now tells us which lightbulbs to buy and which may put 16,500 IRS agents in charge of policing President Obama's health care bill. Obamacare mandates and penalties may even force many job-creators to just stop offering health insurance altogether, unless, of course, yours is one of the more than 222 privileged companies, or unions, that's already received a government waiver under Obamacare.

In the end, unless we fully repeal Obamacare, a nation that currently enjoys the world's finest health care might be forced to rely on government-run coverage. That could have a devastating impact on our national debt for even generations to come.

For two years, President Obama made promises, just like the ones we heard him make this evening, yet still we have high unemployment, devalued housing prices, and the cost of gasoline is skyrocketing.

Well, here's a few suggestions for fixing our economy. The president could stop the EPA from imposing a job-destroying cap-and-trade system. The president could support a balanced budget amendment. The president could agree to an energy policy that increases American energy production and reduces our dependence on foreign oil.

The president could also turn back some of the 132 regulations put in place in the last two years, many of which will cost our economy $100 million or more. And the president should repeal Obamacare and support free-market solutions, like medical malpractice reform and allowing all Americans to buy any health care policy they like anywhere in the United States.

We need to start making things again in this country, and we can do that by reducing the tax and regulatory burden on job-creators. America will have the highest corporate tax rate in the world. Think about that. Look no further to see why jobs are moving overseas.

But thanks to you, there's reason for all of us to have hope that real spending cuts are coming, because last November, you went to the polls, and you voted out the big-spending politicians and you put in their place great men and women with a commitment to follow our Constitution and cut the size of government. I believe that we're in the very early days of a history-making turn in America.

Please know how important your calls, visits and letters are to the maintenance of our liberties. Because of you, Congress is responding, and we're just beginning to start to undo the damage that's been done the last few years, because we believe in lower taxes, we believe in a limited view of government and exceptionalism in America. And I believe that America is the indispensable nation of the world.

Just the creation of this nation itself was a miracle. Who can say that we won't see a miracle again? The perilous battle that was fought during World War II in the Pacific at Iwo Jima was a battle against all odds, and yet this picture immortalizes the victory of young GIs over the incursion against the Japanese. These six young men raising the flag came to symbolize all of America coming together to beat back a totalitarian aggressor.

Our current debt crisis we face today is different, but we still need all of us to pull together. But we can do this. That's our hope. We will push forward. We will proclaim liberty throughout the land. And we will do so because we, the people, will never give up on this great nation.

So God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.