Less than two hours after President Obama left Afghanistan last night, a suicide bomb attack killed seven Afghans in Kabul. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was intended to send Obama the message that Taliban insurgents oppose the U.S.’ recent strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan.
After earlier criticizing President Obama for politicizing the death of Osama bin Laden, Mitt Romney released a statement late Tuesday saying he was “pleased” that the president had visited Afghanistan. Americans “deserve to hear” from Obama what is at stake, Romney added.
With his campaign deeply in debt, GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich will finally drop out of the race today and throw his support behind Mitt Romney. ?Gingrich surged to the top of national polls for the Republican nomination in January only to face millions of dollars in attack ads from the Romney campaign and its super PAC ally, Restore Our Future. He ended up winning only two primaries.?
Freshman House Republicans try to have their cake and eat it too, but are struggling with the tension between their no earmark pledge and their desire to bring home the bacon to their districts.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told The Hill this week that the 2012 farm bill is facing stiff opposition from House Republicans, who are demanding millions of dollars in cuts to food stamps and other vital programs.
The Secret Service will receive ethics training this week, in part as a response to the Colombian sex scandal the agency faced over the last weeks. New rules have also been established for agents that prohibit heavy drinking and bringing foreigners into their hotel rooms. The training was already set, but has been expanded to 100 agents.
Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is leaving U.S. custody and will remain in China with assurances that he will no longer be a target for the Chinese government. Chen, the blind lawyer who escaped house arrest last week, spoke to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before departing from the U.S. embassy and told her he was grateful US assistance. He is currently receiving treatment in a Beijing hospital.
One day after the Dow closed at its highest level in more than four years, U.S. stock futures slipped on Wednesday as weak euro zone data set off new concerns about the region’s fiscal health. The euro also dropped to its lowest level in two weeks against the Japanese yen.
And finally: 30 Rock star Alec Baldwin joined Lawrence O?Donnell?s MSNBC show last night to provide some political punditry. Baldwin joked, ?All Obama needs to do for the first month of the general election is just show clips of Gingrich?s remarks about Romney.? This morning, the Obama re-election campaign released a video showing Gingrich?s criticisms of Romney.
The Supreme Court is currently considering whether to hear a case that will enable it to correct its error in Citizens United and overrule its indefensible decision to allow unlimited corporate and other wealthy donor money to influence elections. Neither the corporate lobby nor the Senate’s top Republican are eager to see this occur, however. Both of them filed briefs in the Supreme Court yesterday urging the justices to not only reaffirm Citizens United, but to do so without even hearing argument in the case.
Neither one of these briefs are surprising. The Chamber is one of the nation’s biggest spenders on elections, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has long been an opponent of campaign finance regulation. Before President Bush appointed Justice Alito, who became the fifth vote to tear down much of America’s checks on big money in politics, the seminal case upholding America’s ability to defend against such money was McConnell v. FEC. In that case Sen. McConnell was the lead plaintiff who sued — mostly unsuccessfully — to toss out the McCain/Feingold campaign finance law.
Yet while the briefs are unsurprising, they demonstrate both the corporate lobby and the Republican Party’s commitment to keeping wealthy interest groups’ ability to buy and sell elections intact.
by Ron Pernick, via Clean Edge
At the recent Fortune Brainstorm Green conference which I attended in Laguna Niguel, California, there was a host of U.S.-focused presentations and conversations. The ongoing themes and dialogue provided significant insights into the current state of affairs in the U.S. clean-tech market, including:
But, for me, it was an international theme that really grabbed my attention. While the U.S. is currently mired in pre-election clean-tech bashing and partisan shenanigans, it was a simple, straightforward, high-impact presentation by Michael Elliott, president and CEO of the poverty-alleviation-focused nonprofit ONE (One.org), that turned my head. In a packed room, he asked us to imagine living after dark in one of the many places in the developing world without access to electricity (the daily reality for about 1.4 billion people globally). Then, he literally turned off the lights. No video, no music, nothing…and then he kept talking, and said this is what it would be like living in the tens of thousands of villages, favelas, and other outposts that have no, or limited, electricity.
“So just think for a second,” Elliott said in the blackened hotel conference room, “what you, with all your dreams, your brainpower, those synapses firing off, how your life would have been different if you had to cope with the fact that around six or seven [every] evening your life went dark. And I?ll tell you what, it wouldn?t have been easy.”
With the lights back on, he then outlined a program, spearheaded by the United Nations and supported by business, foundations, governments, and nonprofits like his, that could help to change the equation. The goals of the program, named Sustainable Energy for All, are both simple and aggressive. By 2030:
At the same event, I had the chance to sit down with Aimée Christensen, special advisor to the U.N. Secretary-General?s high-level group on Sustainable Energy for All, to talk more about the goals set forth by the U.N. The aim of the program, she said, was to act as a platform. Similar to the Clinton Global Initiative, where Christensen has served as an advisor since its inception, Sustainable Energy for All isn?t just about raising capital, but about actual firm commitments to action, such as increasing a company?s use of renewables or the efficiency of its supply chain, launching new public-finance mechanisms to de-risk private investments in sustainable energy projects and businesses, and building capacity to accelerate household- and village-scale energy deployment in impoverished communities. The plan is for Sustainable Energy for All to provide an online database of all commitments, and then to track them over time to ensure transparency and fulfillment.
As I think about it more, perhaps the goals aren?t so audacious after all. The mission set forth, while grand, seems achievable. And the call to action is at once both motivational and grounded. We face significant ecological, economic, and social challenges of historic proportions on a global scale, and need to have realistic ?stretch? goals. I think Sustainable Energy for All might just be the mantra/meme many of us are looking for.
Of course, any tectonic shift like this will require deep political, organizational, and individual will ? along with significant financial resources. While most of us have ubiquitous access to the tools and appliances that bring near-constant light, comfort, and communications into our lives, there are more than 1 billion people around the world that go into darkness every night, and 2 billion or so that are mired in unhealthy, primitive energy systems (the burning of charcoal and cow dung, for example). That needs to change, and the Sustainable Energy for All program and challenge is, in my estimation, right on target. Nothing less than clean, reliable energy for those at the base of the pyramid, along with increased renewables and efficiency targets in both the developed and developing world (the 30 percent goal by 2030 seems imminently doable, if not passable), should be a guiding vision for our collective future.
Ron Pernick, co-founder and managing director of Clean Edge, is an accomplished market research, publishing, and business development entrepreneur with more than two decades of high-tech experience. This piece was originally published at Clean Edge and was reprinted with permission.
Income inequality surged onto the national political radar in 2011, as the 99 Percent Movement focused America on the fact that while the richest Americans’ incomes were skyrocketing, wages remained relatively stagnant for the lower and middle classes. American income inequality is now worse than it is in countries like Ivory Coast and Pakistan, and it may be even worse than it was in Ancient Rome.
That inequality has crushed the middle class and has perilous consequences for the American economy. It is also contributing to another problem: rising debt inequality. As income inequality has risen, the bottom 95 percent of Americans have fallen deeper into debt over the last three decades, according to a new report from the International Monetary Fund. The top five percent, meanwhile, have seen their personal debt reduced, CNN Money reports:
In 1983, the bottom 95% had 62 cents of debt for every dollar they earned, according to research by two International Monetary Fund economists. But by 2007, the ratio had soared to $1.48 of debt for every $1 in earnings.
The bottom 95% had incomes of roughly $160,000 or less in 2007, including capital gains.
And then there’s the top 5%. Their debt-to-income level actually fell during the same period, from 76 cents of debt for every dollar earned in 1983, to just 64 cents in 2007.
The contributors to rising income and debt inequality are clear — for the richest Americans, incomes are rising rapidly while tax rates have fallen to historic lows. The rest, however, are increasingly burdened by student loan debt as the cost of college soars, mortgage debt as the prices on their homes have plummeted, and credit card debt as they’ve tried to keep their head above water despite stagnant wages and rising unemployment.
And just as rising income inequality has hampered economic growth, rising debt inequality will threaten the nation’s future, experts say. Both times America had similar levels of debt inequality — in the 1920s and 2000s — crippling financial crises followed. And though the amount of debt held by the bottom 95 percent has shrunk since the end of the recession, that’s largely due to foreclosure and bankruptcy and shouldn’t be taken as a positive sign. “We’re still in similar levels of vulnerability as we were in 2008,” Michael Kumhoff, the report’s author, told CNN.
Pastor Sean Harris of the Berean Baptist Church Fayetteville, North Carolina is the latest pro-Amendment One pastor to demonstrate just how virulently anti-gay the campaign is. In his sermon this past Sunday, he gave the parents in his congregation “special dispensation” to use violence against their children if they violate gender norms. For example, if you see your four-year-old son “dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist.” Pastor Harris says boys should have their girlish behavior “squashed like a cockroach” and similarly advises forcing girls to conform to female gender norms. Listen to it:
Pastor Harris now says he was joking and wishes he could take back the remarks:
HARRIS: If I had to say it again, I would say it differently, no doubt. Those weren’t planned words, but what I do stand by is that the word of God makes it clear that effeminate behavior is ungodly. I’m not going to compromise on that.
Harris oversees the Berean Baptist Academy, a K-12 school, and the church’s code of parental discipline endorses spanking, but Harris said he “would never ever advocate hitting a child.” Children’s advocates and LGBT advocates are unimpressed with the unapologetic “explanation.”
Mitt Romney profits twice from high gas prices - Mitt can pander to your anger, then his Big Oil friends pump the money you pay at the gas station right back into Mitt's tank. That's according to an op-ed in Politico today by the League of Conservation Voters' Gene Karpinski & Priorities USA Action's Bill Burton:
Record profits now give oil executives even more cash than usual to spend on advancing their political agenda ? and that begins with electing Romney. In fact, Big Oil executives pledged more than $200 million to aid Romney?s campaign and defeat Obama.Mitt Romney's magical gas price prescription: More drilling! And Virginia GOP Senate candidate George Allen is just as deeply snuggled in Big Oil's back pocket. But here's the problem - even Romney's own economic team knows that wouldn't lower gas prices or help the economy.
What does Big Oil get in return for its $200 million investment in Romney? It gets to keep its billions in special tax breaks every year. So middle-class families pay twice ? high gas prices when they fill up the tank and $4 billion in taxpayer-funded subsidies for an industry where the top five companies combined made $137 billion in profits last year.
At the same time, Big Oil gets one of its own dictating Romney?s energy policy. Harold Hamm, Romney?s top energy adviser, is a billionaire oil executive who says clean energy is a ?magical fantasy? and wants high gas prices. He admitted as much when he declared in 2009 that cheap oil would be a ?disaster.?
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I like talking to people on the internet as much as the next person, but there are now officially too many ways to share. I can't keep up with what my friends and colleagues are doing across five different social networks. Sometimes I feel like a bad friend. I've missed so many birthdays on Facebook! Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to post links to this diary in five different places.
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Honestly, Republicans should just quit digging.
If this is the best they’ve got November is going to be bloody. …for them.
SECRETARY CLINTON’S STATEMENT on Chen upon his departure from the U.S. embassy in China after a deal was reached that he would remain “unmolested.”
I am pleased that we were able to facilitate Chen Guangcheng?s stay and departure from the U.S. Embassy in a way that reflected his choices and our values. I was glad to have the chance to speak with him today and to congratulate him on being reunited with his wife and children.
Mr. Chen has a number of understandings with the Chinese government about his future, including the opportunity to pursue higher education in a safe environment. Making these commitments a reality is the next crucial task. The United States Government and the American people are committed to remaining engaged with Mr. Chen and his family in the days, weeks, and years ahead.
MSNBC has a weird report about China censoring certain words during this drama that include “Shawshank”, “blind person”, “embassy”, and “Dongshigu,” where Chen is from, as well as “UA898,” the direct flight from Beijing to Washington.
Also from MSNBC we get a sense of the displeasure of Chinese officials:
BEIJING – [...] China’s Foreign Ministry said it was extremely unhappy the embassy had taken Chen in. “It must be pointed out that the United States Embassy took the Chinese citizen Chen Guangcheng into the embassy in an irregular manner, and China expresses its strong dissatisfaction over this,” ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said in a statement carried by China’s Xinhua news service. Chinese crackdown on dissident’s family and friends
“The U.S. method was interference in Chinese domestic affairs, and this is totally unacceptable to China. China demands that the United States apologize over this, thoroughly investigate this incident, punish those who are responsible, and give assurances that such incidents will not recur,” the statement said.
We’ll have to see if the Chinese keep their word on Chen.
But it looks like Secy. Hillary Clinton has made a friend for life.
After leaving the embassy, Chen spoke to Clinton by phone, expressing his gratitude to her and saying in broken English that he wanted to kiss her, according to a U.S. official, who said the situation was “very emotional” for the staff involved.