Chris Johnson at the Human Rights Campaign. We like Chris, Joe works with him a lot, and I especially appreciate his candid feedback on race issues, and gay politics more generally. The Washingtonian just did a profile of Chris. Check it out.
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Some things don't change. The Bush administration has just 46 days before its time expires, but that isn't stopping it from running roughshod over Congress in an effort to loosen environmental regulation. The Interior Department issued a new rule Thursday that prevents Congress from blocking the use of federal land for mining and drilling. The law, invoked just five times since its creation in 1976, was used this summer to place a moratorium on mining and drilling on lands near the Grand Canyon. (New York Times)
The Chicago Tribune reports on U.S. involvement in the indiscriminate roundup and imprisonment in the Horn of Africa of 100 people, including 22 women and children, who fled Somalia last year. The "snatch-and-jail operation," conducted in the name of anti-terrorism, captured some militants, but most of the detainees have been released without charge. Kenya and Ethiopia led the program, dubbed "Africa's Guantanamo," but European diplomats, human-rights groups, and detainees say the C.I.A. and F.B.I. interrogated many of the captives. (Chicago Tribune)
Arizona GOP Rep. Rick Renzi pleaded not guilty Thursday to new charges brought against him alleging that he participated in an insurance scam. He has already been indicted for using his legislative position to engineer a land swap. The new charges accuse Renzi of bilking $400,000 from clients of his insurance company. (MSNBC)
The Justice Department may use a drug law to prosecute guards for Blackwater, the largest private U.S. security firm working in Iraq, for the 2007 shooting of Baghdad civilians. The law allows judges to impose 30-year sentences for using machine guns to commit a crime, but since the crime took place overseas and Blackwater is employed by the State Department, the legal issues remain murky. Blackwater has said its guards were provoked into the shooting. The guards, not the company, face criminal charges. (AP)
1000 Asian men lured to Iraq by the promise of work will be sent home, after reports broke earlier this week about their squalid living conditions and lack of work and pay. But the news manifested itself in protests against the Kuwaiti company Najiaa, a subcontractor for the U.S. military, because the men, many of whom paid sizable sums to get to Iraq, are refusing to return home without compensation. Najiaa is a subcontractor for the scandal-ridden KBR Inc., a former Halliburton subsidiary. In addition to a suit filed Wednesday by 16 National Guardsmen that says KBR knowingly exposed employees to a carcinogen, the company faces suit from a civilian claiming that it intentionally supplied food and water "that was expired, spoiled, rotten, or that may have been contaminated with shrapnel, or other materials." (McClatchy/AFP)
Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, a Republican, was fined $29,000, after it was found that he violated state ethics laws by paying a heavily discounted legal fee to the lawyers who successfully defended him for promoting Harriet Miers' nomination to U.S. Supreme Court. Under Texas law, justices cannot make public political endorsements. (Austin American Statesman)
Democrats say the defense of Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who said Wednesday that employees who were involved with the Bush administration's torture policies did so in the belief that they were acting lawfully, overlooks significant internal opposition to the program. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Mukasey yesterday asking for clarification. (The Hill)
The Pentagon, the nation's largest polluter, must comply with year-old EPA orders to clean up three military sites tainted by toxic chemicals, according to a letter issued yesterday by the Department of Justice. As Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), House Energy and Commerce Committee chair, put it: "Even the Bush Department of Justice is now telling the Department of Defense that it is not above the law." (Washington Post)
This Honolulu Advertiser announcment of Barack Obama's Aug 4, 1961 birth was published August 13, 1961 on page B-6. It is available only on microfilm in Hawaii libraries. It has never been posted online in spite of the extensive controversy over Obama's birth certificate. The announcement is 4th from the bottom of the left hand column (pdf)read more digg story
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After inexplicably describing the September bailout of Wall Street as a package that would ?help those who are concerned about health care reform,? Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) yesterday unveiled a patchwork of health care proposals to “improve Alaska?s health and education.” Palin’s initiatives include a greater emphasis on outdoor activity:
With amazing outdoor activities in fresh clean air and consumption of healthy clean protein in the form of wild game and Alaska’s sea food. We got berries, we’ve got Alaskan-grown produce and those things need to be promoted.
The Wonk Room has more on Palin’s plans.
And if Inouye dies or goes to prison...
In July of 2007 we warned our Hawai'i readers to beware lest craven Blue Dog Ed Case, brother of the AOL huckster Steve Case who stole 6 billion dollars from Tim Warner, would use some of the stolen money to worm his way back into government. At the time Case, the Joe Lieberman of Hawai'i politics, who was thoroughly defeated when he primaried Senator Daniel Akaka, was eyeing the Senate seat currently held by the elderly-- and crooked-- political fixture Daniel Inouye. According to yesterday's Honolulu Advertiser, Case is asking his supporters what office he should run for next. He sent out a newsletter on Wednesday and said that although his ultimate goal is the U.S. Senate, he's learned his lesson about primarying party elders and won't go after Inouye.
That wouldn't stop him from turning against Hawaii's junior congresswoman, Mazie Hirono, the sterling progressive who replaced him. He could also decide to run for governor-- or to run for the Honolulu-based House seat that Neil Abercrombie would give up to run for governor. He just wants to run for something and claw his way back into power. Case was one of the worst Democrats in the House, a treacherous and slimy self-server from deep in the bowels of the Republican wing of the Democratic Party. The cockroaches are really crawling out of the woodwork now!
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WASHINGTON ? Today, President-elect Barack Obama announced that Christina M. Tchen will serve as White House Director of Public Liaison and Michael Strautmanis will serve as Chief of Staff to the Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Relations and Public Liaison.
President-elect Obama said, "I am pleased to announce that these two distinguished individuals will be joining my administration, as we seek to meet the big challenges of our time. They not only bring impressive resumes but also a deep commitment to public service -- and I know the American people will be served well by them."
The White House Staff Announcements are below:
Christina M. Tchen, Director of Public Liaison
Tchen has broad litigation experience at all levels of the state and federal courts. She has represented companies, officers and directors in shareholder class and derivative actions, and she has also handled a wide range of commercial, intellectual property and employment-related litigation. Tchen also has represented public agencies in state and federal class actions, including the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the Illinois Department of Public Aid and the Chicago Housing Authority. She serves on the board of the Chicago Bar Foundation; she is also Chair of the Board of Field Foundation of Illinois and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Chicago Public Library and the Board of the Chinese American Service League. She has served on the Judicial Nominations Commission for the Northern District of Illinois and she has been appointed to several leadership positions with the American Bar Association Section of Litigation.
Tchen is the recipient of many awards, including the Leadership Award from the Women?s Bar Association of Illinois (1999); ?Women of Achievement? award from the Anti-Defamation League (1996); and Chicago Lawyer ?Person of the Year? (1994). She was selected for inclusion in Chambers USA: America?s Leading Lawyers for Business 2008 and The Best Lawyers in America 2009. She also was selected as one of the top three women business lawyers in Illinois by the Leading Lawyers Network 2007.
Michael Strautmanis, Chief of Staff to the Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Relations and Public Liaison
A native of Chicago, Strautmanis first came to know the Obamas when he worked as a paralegal at the Chicago law firm Sidley & Austin for Mrs. Michelle Obama. After law school, Strautmanis practiced complex litigation and employment law in Chicago, before joining the Clinton Administration at the U.S. Agency for International Development. Strautmanis also served as Legislative Director and Counsel to then Rep. Rod Blagojevich, aiding Governor Blagojevich in his successful 2002 Illinois gubernatorial campaign, and serving as Counsel for Legislation for the American Association of Justice.
Strautmanis served as Chief Counsel and Deputy Chief of Staff to Obama in the United States Senate. He then served as Senior Counsel for Obama for America where he played a leading role in political outreach as a member of the Congressional Relations team. Strautmanis received a B.S. from the University of Illinois, and a J.D. from the University Of Illinois College Of Law. He and his wife Damona are the proud parents of three.
Progressive Breakfast is created for OurFuture.org, and is the morning roundup of what progressive movement members need to know to start the day.
"Horrific" Jobs Report
That only adds to the urgency for a major job-creating economic recovery plan to avert an even deeper recession or depression. Losing another million jobs by letting the auto industry collapse would be going in decidedly the wrong direction.
Auto Rescue: Media Stresses "Skepticism," Leaves Out Facts
Congressional "skepticism" is the buzzword in several media reports of the latest round of testimony from the Big 3 Automakers. Many quote economist Mark Zandi's testimony that the companies would need far more than $34 billion in loans to survive.
But most leave out the rest of Zandi's testimony, that doing nothing would be worse.
Politico picks it up: "Zandi said that bankruptcy itself would be ?cataclysmic? and far more costly since Chapter 11 in today?s credit market could lead to liquidation. He urged lawmakers to provide the $34 billion but in two tranches, and with strict conditions to ensure the CEO?s keep ?on script? with the reforms that have been promised."
SEN. JACK REED: Mr. Zandi, you've set a price on the overall efforts to assist the companies of about $75 billion to $125 billion. You've also suggested that, if they're forced into bankruptcy, it would be -- whatever word you described.
MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ECONOMY.COM: I used cataclysmic.
REED: Catastrophic. Have you put a price tag on that, in terms of unemployment compensation, pension benefits?
ZANDI: Measurably more than that.
REED: Measurably more than that?
REED: So we're not talking it's a close call?
ZANDI: Not a close call.
REED: Close call? Several hundreds of billions of dollars?
ZANDI: Yes, it's not even in the same universe, yes.
Meanwhile, ABC reports last night: "Democrats sent a clear message to the White House tonight - make some of the $700 financial industry bailout money available to the domestic auto industry or else. And they want an answer by Friday."
ABC also quotes Rep. Barney Frank turning up heat on President-Elect Obama: ""At a time of great crisis with mortgage foreclosures and autos, he says we only have one president at a time ... I'm afraid that overstates the number of presidents we have. He's got to remedy that situation."
Jed Report sides with Obama over Frank: "Keep in mind that Democrats are the majority party in Congress right now. If they can't stand up against these right wing bullies without the intervention of the President-elect, then there's no hope for them."
Zombie Lies Never Die
Media Matters spots CNN still using bogus $70/hr figure for union autoworker salaries.
Econospeak notes the actual difference between union and nonunion wages is actually small.
Christian Science Monitor reports on the non-union auto factories in the South, offering positive and negative assessments: "Labor historians note that President Franklin Roosevelt helped to raise wages across the board to get the US out of the Great Depression. Today, they say, many conservative Democrats and Republicans from the South ... are lobbying for the opposite to rescue Detroit. 'If and when the UAW is destroyed, what will happen to the transplants, like the Toyota plant in Kentucky and this new [Georgia] Kia plant, is that these companies will start offering Wal-Mart wages,' says [Director of the Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy Nelson] Lichtenstein."
State Governments Feeling The Squeeze
Stateline: State budget gaps balloon to $97 billion. "Legislatures will either have to raise taxes or cut programs since, unlike the federal government, states must balance their budgets. The poor, in particular, face the prospect of losing government-sponsored health care coverage or reduced-priced lunches at school." (Click here for state-by-state details.)
Time also reports: "Revenues are dropping so fast that state budget cutters can't keep up, according to a report released by the National Conference of State Legislatures. States that collectively cut $40 billion in spending to balance their budgets over the summer are now facing another $32 billion shortfall as tax receipts come in below estimates, according to the report.
"In domino fashion, revenue shortfalls are leading to cuts in services around the nation and across the board. At least ten states, including Nevada, New York, Ohio and North Carolina have reduced budgets by as much as 7%, with ten more states considering such action. The pain is being felt from community colleges to prisons, from fire departments to courthouses, with major state responsibilities like Medicaid and elementary-school education taking hits."
The Canadian government is in turmoil, as the conservative minority government staved off a non-confidence vote from the progressive opposition coalition, by having the Queen of England's representative adjourn Parliament until January.
Canada-based The Reaction observes: "The key for the Conservatives, who are in government, will be to convince Canadians that they are in fact serious about dealing with the economic and financial crisis ... The key for the Liberals and the New Democrats ... will be to remain united, not to mention determined, through what promises to be a bitter and contentious campaign for public support over the next month and a half or so ... I have little to no confidence in Liberal leader Stéphane Dion's ability to keep them united and determined. He pales in comparison to Harper, a vastly more talented politician..."
The wit and wisdom of Robert Gates.[...]
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The U.S. retail market is suffering, and has been for months now. Now that Christmas is drawing steadily nearer, consumers are back on the shopping war path… but only if they can do so with significant discounts.
Knowing the mindset consumers…
Yesterday I pointed out how the totally awesome Christmas sales, as retailers try to get their numbers above the "abysmal" level, are one silver lining to the economic cloud. Cheap crap all around!
It turns out that's not all. There's also a silvery-green lining for the environment. In Massachusetts, where there's a bottle and can deposit,
Every year since 1998, consumers have purchased about 2 billion redeemable cans and bottles in the state. During that time, the rate of return has been dropping - from 72.4 percent in 1998 to 65.8 percent in 2007. But retailers who own liquor stores and redemption centers say they're seeing new faces and increased returns. Also, more organizations have found that returning empties brings revenue.
"I've seen an increase of 10 percent over the last year. People don't have the money they used to have," said Chris Palazola, who owns Chrispy's Liquors in Beverly. "I see all walks of life - professionals right down to the homeless. Now, the working class are the new people who are bringing them in."
First, rising gas prices decreased miles driven. Now, economic crisis and widespread financial insecurity increases recycling. Awesome!
(Or, you know, we could try to fix the economy and the environment both...)