In what is likely to be just the first of several dissolutions of democratically elected city governments and school boards in Michigan, the Emergency Financial Manager of Benton Harbor, Joseph Harris, just took away all authority from the city's elected[...]
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To restore fiscal responsibility, we all need to share in the sacrifice?but we don?t have to sacrifice the America we believe in.
This morning's weekly address adds a few upper cuts, most squarely aimed at the monstrosity of Ryan's plan that passed the House yesterday with zero?ZERO?Democratic votes. Mr. President, take it away:
Now, one plan put forward by some Republicans in the House of Representatives aims to reduce our deficit by $4 trillion over the next ten years. But while I think their goal is worthy, I believe their vision is wrong for America.
It?s a vision that says at a time when other nations are hustling to out-compete us for the jobs and businesses of tomorrow, we have to make drastic cuts in education, infrastructure, and clean energy ? the very investments we need to win that competition and get those jobs.
It?s a vision that says that in order to reduce the deficit, we have to end Medicare as we know it, and make cuts to Medicaid that would leave millions of seniors, poor children, and Americans with disabilities without the care they need.
But even as this plan proposes these drastic cuts, it would also give $1 trillion in tax breaks to the wealthiest 2% of Americans?an extra $200,000 for every millionaire and billionaire in the country.
I don?t think that?s right. I don?t think it?s right to ask seniors to pay thousands more for health care, or ask students to postpone college, just so we don?t have to ask those who have prospered so much in this land of opportunity to give back a little more.
The president went on to discuss savings and cuts carved out in the budget agreement reached eight days ago with Republican Speaker John Boehner, most notably defense cuts and health care cost controls. And then he hit hard with the same message about tax reform he made earlier this week:
We?ll reduce spending in our tax code with tax reform that?s fair and simple?so that the amount of taxes you pay doesn?t depend on how clever an accountant you can afford. And we should end the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, too. Because people like me don?t need another tax cut.
This address is full of good stuff?not simply pointing out the need for the wealthy to share more of the responsibilities for keeping this country funded, but alluding to how the system currently works (no matter what the official tax rates) to the benefit of the rich.
The full transcript can be found beneath the fold and on the White House website.
Kevin Drum explains how repugs get away with the most outrageous lies:
Cantor's tweet is almost comically shameless, but it's also one of the reasons that Republicans continue to get credit for their economic policies even though their economic policies are routinely disastrous. It's because they're willing to be shameless and they don't really care if anyone calls them on it.
Paul Ryan's plan to shrink the federal government and gut Medicare is called....."The Path to Prosperity." Of course it is. Every Republican plan is called something like that. It's shameless! The Reagan boom? All due to lower marginal tax rates, just like they predicted. The Clinton boom years? A delayed reaction to the Reagan era. Healthy corporate earnings in the aughts? All due to Republican reductions in capital gains taxes. Privatizing Social Security? It's all about encouraging capital formation and growing the economy. Fighting bank regulation? They just want to reduce regulatory uncertainty and allow the economy to boom. Etc. etc. And there are always plenty of think tank analyses to back this stuff up with hard numbers.
It seems laughable, but it's not. If you say that your policies are responsible for economic growth enough times, people will believe it. Nobody really understands this stuff, after all. And the more confidently and shamelessly you say it, the more believers you'll have. So why shouldn't Cantor claim that Republicans are responsible for all the job growth since January? Liberal bloggers will mock, but that's nothing to be afraid of. Not as long as the steady stream of shamelessness keeps convincing people that Republican policies are putting us back on the right economic track. And it does.
Funding took center stage this week in Congress and the Administration, with debates on resources for the current and next fiscal years:
FY 2011 Continuing Resolution: This week, the House and Senate passed a continuing resolution (CR) for the rest of the current fiscal year. The NEA-opposed CR cuts or eliminates funding for a number of education programs, including the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and includes an across the board cut that will impact programs like Title I and IDEA. It also expands the District of Columbia private school voucher program. See how your Representative and Senators voted. Read NEA?s letter opposing the CR.
FY 2012 Budget: As of this writing, the House of Representative is expected to pass very shortly a budget proposal for fiscal year 2012 (which begins October 1) that will result in more joblessness for the middle class and more tax breaks for the wealthiest in our country. The middle class continues to struggle to find work, pay more for health care, and worry about their children?s education and future. Seniors continue to worry about their retirement security. Yet, the House budget provides rhetoric rather than solutions.
It is unconscionable to expect children, the elderly, the poor, and the disabled to bear the brunt of the pain while sparing the wealthy corporations and greedy CEOs. The single largest contributing factor to the deficit is the tax cuts enacted under the last administration and renewed in 2010. It cost our nation $700 billion to extend the tax cuts for single filers earning over $200,000 a year and joint filers earning over $250,000.
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Colorado has some of the most shocking local election administrators in the nation. This long-standing problem is reaching broader public awareness through an unseemly situation in tiny Saguache County.
COLORADO CLERKS ASSOCIATION
The Colorado Clerks Association (supported by taxpayer dollars) has come out publicly AGAINST the most basic principles of democratic self-governance, claiming that they, and they alone have the right to examine ballots. They have now attempted to rebuff even the Secretary of State from a ballot examination.
Unlike other states (California, for example), the Colorado Clerks argue that their clerks association is private. They hold secret meetings and correspond secretly, claiming that the public does not have the right to attend or review what they do.
* * * * quote * * * *
"The Colorado County Clerks Association is a secret private group that circumvents Colorado's Sunshine Laws, uses paid lobbyists, refuses public observers at their meetings, may be diverting public resources to their own needs, and develops government policy behind closed doors with no opportunity for public debate,"
* * * * *
writes Al Kolwicz of the Colorado Voters Group. More:
THE PUBLIC HAS AN ABSOLUTE RIGHT TO INSPECT THE BALLOTS
For self-governance to work, the public must be able to see and authenticate four things:
- Who can vote (the voter list)
- Who did vote
- Chain of custody
- The count
Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler has now come out with a strong statement against concealing ballots from the public:
* * * * quote * * * *
"Is election integrity better served through open, public scrutiny that holds election officials accountable? Or are we better served when local officials deny the public access to election materials?
"As Secretary of State, last month I held a Saguache town hall meeting to discuss the 2010 election for country commissioner and clerk and recorder. My office had planned to publicly review the ballots...unfortunately, the Saguache clerk and recorder denied my access to the ballots, thus triggering a lawsuit under the Colorado election code...
"The public will be invited to watch every step. Unfortunately, my plans have provoked fierce opposition from election administrators. I'm both surprised and disappointed.
"First, the surprise. Clerk Myers publicly promised to make ballots available for public review -- if my office approved. But once I took her at her word, she quickly backtracked, denying public review and also obstructing my statutory authority to review the election.
* * * * *
This isn't just about the rights of a Secretary of State to review. This is about PUBLIC rights, as the Secretary of State notes:
* * * * quote * * * *
"Both Myers and others [ie, the head of the Colorado Clerks Association] claim that my review will cause public harm, create confusion, and erode voter privacy. This is silly. Ballots are anonymous, and we can easily deal with the rare ballot that has someone's name on it. Don't just take my word for it. Last year, El Paso County invited members of the public to review voted ballots -- just like others throughout the country. And it worked. There was no loss of secrecy, no confusion, and no harm.
"Bluntly stated, there is no 'high priesthood of ballot guardianship.' Just like the secretary of state, clerks are elected officials who must operate under rules of public accountability and public scrutiny."
* * * * *
PUBLIC BALLOT INSPECTIONS WILL NOT REVEAL HOW YOU VOTED
Scott Doyle, clerk and recorder in Larimer County and president of the Colorado County Clerks Association, implies that public ballot inspections will violate voter privacy:
* * * * quote * * * *
"Ballots are votes, and Colorado has decades of precedent to ensure votes are counted correctly and voters' privacy is secure," he writes, in opposition to allowing public inspection of the ballots.
* * * * *
As an election official, Doyle knows that the Colorado Constitution requires ballots to be anonymous. Public examinations of anonymous ballots does nothing whatever to violate voter privacy.
UNIQUE BAR CODES ON MAIL-IN BALLOTS DO COMPROMISE PRIVACY TO INSIDERS (BUT DO NOT AFFECT PRIVACY WITH PUBLIC INSPECTIONS)
Perhaps Colorado clerks and one of their favored vendors, Hart Intercivic, know that if the public examines the Hart ballots we'll see that Hart's mail-ballot system is violating voter privacy.
Citizens who have received Hart ballots in the mail have shown that Hart is placing unique bar codes on each voter's ballot. This compromises voter privacy for mail-in ballots, enabling insiders to build databases that show the ballot choices for each mail-in voter. Perhaps THAT is why the Colorado Clerks are so skittish about letting the public see the ballots.
Public ballot inspections can't reveal to the public how people voted, even if there are unique bar codes on the ballots. Insiders will be able to see, but not the public. It is just as unconstitutional for insiders to violate voter privacy, however.
What public ballot inspections will do in Colorado is this: They will expose to Coloradoans that insiders can harvest your political privacy.
NOT ALL BALLOT BAR CODES ARE BAD
Unique bar codes probably won't violate privacy for ballots cast at polling places. They absolutely compromise privacy with mail-in ballots, which Colorado uses heavily.
Not all ballot bar codes are unique, and only a unique identifier can be tied back to the voter. Some bar codes just indicate precinct, and those do not violate your privacy at all.
Hart ballots do use unique identifiers. We know this because two people living in the same household, in counties that use Hart Intercivic, get absentee ballots with different and unique bar codes.
"THE DARK AGES OF ACCOUNTABILITY"
Regarding the clerks' unease about letting the public see ballots, Denver Post columnist Vince Carroll writes:
* * * * quote * * * *
"Here's my guess: Gessler intends to let the public witness the recount, and most clerks recoil at the idea of letting the public anywhere near ballots, even after formal requests under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA).
"If ballots aren't open records, however, then this state is in the Dark Ages of accountability.
"The fundamental issue is whether CORA allows the people of Colorado to inspect the election records necessary to verify the elections by which their government is chosen," maintains attorney Robert McGuire in a legal brief involving a request by a mayoral candidate in Aspen to see digital copies of municipal ballots from 2009.
* * * * *
The lawsuit Carroll references is the Marilyn Marks suit, a landmark open records action sponsored by the
Black Box Voting Aspen Project. We have now expanded THE ASPEN PROJECT to become THE COLORADO PROJECT, to enable support for legal action to be used to fight Saguache County's attempts at secrecy.
* * * * quote * * * *
"The mounting legal costs [for Saguache County taxpayers] represent a shameful misapplication of public funds in Saguache County, which is among the poorest counties in the state.
"Unfortunately, Myers has the backing of the three member Board of County Commissioners who continue to claim that the election was fully transparent. They control the purse strings and have stated that the legal costs can be covered by 'surplus funds' of the county. Local officials fighting state authority and citizen oversight of elections hardly seems to be justifiable public policy."
* * * * *
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP FIGHT SECRECY BY COLORADO CLERKS
If you support the Secretary of State's decision on behalf of public right to know in Saguache County, please write to him to express your appreciation at: email@example.com
If you wish to support public litigation actions to force Saguache County to follow the law and allow the public to inspect ballots, please donate at http://www.blackboxvoting.org/
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Our Evan McMorris-Santoro is barreling toward his rendezvous with Tea Party destiny in Boca Raton this morning. Follow his progress here. [...]
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It's long, go read the whole infuriating thing. Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone talks about how the Fed bailout was manipulated to benefit connected people who were already rich:
But if you want to get a true sense of what the "shadow budget" is all about, all you have to do is look closely at the taxpayer money handed over to a single company that goes by a seemingly innocuous name: Waterfall TALF Opportunity. At first glance, Waterfall's haul doesn't seem all that huge ? just nine loans totaling some $220 million, made through a Fed bailout program. That doesn't seem like a whole lot, considering that Goldman Sachs alone received roughly $800 billion in loans from the Fed. But upon closer inspection, Waterfall TALF Opportunity boasts a couple of interesting names among its chief investors: Christy Mack and Susan Karches.
Christy is the wife of John Mack, the chairman of Morgan Stanley. Susan is the widow of Peter Karches, a close friend of the Macks who served as president of Morgan Stanley's investment-banking division. Neither woman appears to have any serious history in business, apart from a few philanthropic experiences. Yet the Federal Reserve handed them both low-interest loans of nearly a quarter of a billion dollars through a complicated bailout program that virtually guaranteed them millions in risk-free income.
The technical name of the program that Mack and Karches took advantage of is TALF, short for Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility. But the federal aid they received actually falls under a broader category of bailout initiatives, designed and perfected by Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, called "giving already stinking rich people gobs of money for no fucking reason at all." If you want to learn how the shadow budget works, follow along. This is what welfare for the rich looks like.
[...] In the case of Waterfall TALF Opportunity, here's what we know: The company was founded in June 2009 with $14.87 million of investment capital, money that likely came from Christy Mack and Susan Karches. The two Wall Street wives then used the $220 million they got from the Fed to buy up a bunch of securities, including a large pool of commercial mortgages managed by Credit Suisse, a company John Mack once headed. Those securities were valued at $253.6 million, though the Fed refuses to explain how it arrived at that estimate. And here's the kicker: Of the $220 million the two wives got from the Fed, roughly $150 million had not been paid back as of last fall ? meaning that you and I are still on the hook for most of whatever the Wall Street spouses bought on their government-funded shopping spree.
The public has no way of knowing how much Christy Mack and Susan Karches earned on these transactions, because the Fed has repeatedly declined to provide any information about how it priced the individual securities bought as part of programs like TALF. In the Waterfall deal, for instance, we know the Fed pledged some $14 million against a block of securities called "Credit Suisse Commercial Mortgage Trust Series 2007-C2" ? but that data is meaningless without knowing how many units were bought. It's like saying the Fed gave Waterfall $14 million to buy cars. Did Waterfall pay $5,000 per car, or $500,000? We have no idea. "There's no way of validating or invalidating the Fed's process in TALF without this pricing information," says Gary Aguirre, a former SEC official who was fired years ago after he tried to interview John Mack in an insider-trading case.
In early April, in an attempt to learn exactly how much Mack and Karches made on the TALF deals, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa wrote a letter to Waterfall asking 21 detailed questions about the transactions. In addition, Sen. Sanders has personally asked Fed chief Bernanke to provide more complete information on the TALF loans given not only to Christy Mack but to gazillionaires like former Miami Dolphins owner H. Wayne Huizenga and hedge-fund shark John Paulson. But Bernanke bluntly refused to provide the information ? and the Fed has similarly stonewalled other oversight agencies, including the General Accounting Office and TARP's special inspector general.
Christy Mack and Susan Karches did not respond to requests for comments for this story. But even without more information about the loans they got from the Fed, we know that TALF wasn't the only risk-free money being handed over to Wall Street. During the financial crisis, the Fed routinely made billions of dollars in "emergency" loans to big banks at near-zero interest. Many of the banks then turned around and used the money to buy Treasury bonds at higher interest rates ? essentially loaning the money back to the government at an inflated rate. "People talk about how these were loans that were paid back," says a congressional aide who has studied the transactions. "But when the state is lending money at zero percent and the banks are turning around and lending that money back to the state at three percent, how is that different from just handing rich people money?"
There will be a serious problem is this creep is still part of the church in any way by the end of the weekend. He resigned last year after admitting abuse but he has not yet been defrocked. It will be an even bigger problem if the police don't visit him in the next few days as well. The Catholic church really needs to get serious about people like this.
A former bishop's televised admission that he sexually abused two of his nephews caused an uproar in Belgium on Friday, with the prime minister, senior clergy and a prosecutor expressing shock at the way the ex-prelate made light of his offenses.
In an interview that aired Thursday Roger Vangheluwe, the former bishop of Bruges, spoke of his sexual abuse as "a little game," that involved fondling, but no "rough sex."
"I was never naked" and the abuse was never about "real sexuality," said Vangheluwe, 74.
In a fascinating new book, TV journalist Jeff Greenfield imagines alternate history in the past century--a 1960 assassination of President-Elect JFK to put LBJ in the White House for the Cuban Missile Crisis; Robert Kennedy's survival in 1968 to run against Nixon; and a 1976 victory by Ford over Carter to face the Iran hostage crisis.
Such what-ifs, underscoring how personalities and accidents affect history, suggest one for our times: Suppose John F. Kennedy Jr. had survived the plane crash that killed him in 1999 and gone on to a political career that put him in the White House now?
A plausible scenario would have him, with his background as publisher of a political magazine, running for the open New York Senate seat in 2000 and in a primary defeating Hillary Clinton with her recent baggage from the Lewinsky scandal and as a "carpetbagger" who had just moved into the state.
In 2008, with eight Washington years behind him, JFK Jr. would have been the ideal electoral antidote for the miserable Bush era, with newer Sen. Barack Obama on the ticket, to offer a combination of hope for the future and resonance of the Kennedy past to win the White House.
Most intriguing is, given the same economic meltdown, Middle East muddle and fight over health care reform, is the question of how much traction GOP wall-to-wall resistance and Tea Party rage could have gained against a president invulnerable to charges of being a radical outsider who was not born in the U.S.A.?
If history is any guide, with the advice of uncle Ted and Camelot survivors, a second President Kennedy might have been as political cautious as his father but also more sure-footed than Obama has been in navigating the minefields of Congress and certainly less of a target of opportunity for wild slander.
Seeing Caroline Kennedy, now 53, on TV to promote her new book of poetry is a reminder of her failed attempt at being appointed to Hillary Clinton's Senate seat two years ago and that her brother at 50 would have been a year older than Obama is now.
Yet some of the old Kennedy problems might have persisted. Even with John Jr. more than a decade gone, a former long-time girlfriend now publishes a fond memoir of when he was People's "Sexiest Man Alive," involved not only with her but actress Darryl Hannah and journalist Christine Amanpour, among others.
But, in light of the Perils of Barack Obama today and the collection of clods vying to replace him, grateful voters would surely have been as forgiving as they were for his father. And after eight years as VP, Obama would have been in good shape to run as the first African-American president in 2016.
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As the House took up Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to end Medicare and Medicaid yesterday, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the GOP Conference chair, called the programs, along with Social Security, “cruel ponzi schemes” that will bankrupt the nation.
Hensarling admitted that the three programs had been “of great comfort and assistance to my grandparents and parents,” but he went on to claim that that they were now morphing into the greatest drivers of the national debt:
REP. HENSARLING: Let’s remember again the main drivers of this national debt are three large entitlement programs, programs that have been of great comfort and assistance to my parents and grandparents but they’re morphing into cruel ponzi schemes for my 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-olds. Unfortunately, the President ignores the reality, he doesn’t really give the facts to the American people and they will go bankrupt where we will save and secure these programs for future generations.
While he now calls for “saving and securing the programs for future generations,” Hensarling has previously shown little interest in effective entitlement reform or deficit reduction. Last December, Hensarling decried the health care reform law’s reforms to make Medicare more efficient. And in the last few weeks, Hensarling has declined to say whether he would play “chicken” on the debt ceiling and even argued that corporate tax rates should be lowered.
Hensarling is not the first conservative to call Social Security a Ponzi scheme. As ThinkProgress has previously reported, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) called the program “a Ponzi scheme that Bernie Madoff would be proud of.” Former House Majority Leader and FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey called Social Security a ?pay-as-you-go Ponzi scheme?; a month later, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) also compared the program to a Ponzi scheme. And Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) campaigned by making the same comparison in his television commercials.
As Charles Ponzi’s own biographer, Michael Zulkoff, has noted, these programs are not Ponzi schemes because “no one is being misled,” and they are not automatically doomed to fail. Indeed, they’re the polar moral opposite: social insurance policies created to benefit retirees, the disabled and survivors of deceased workers, not a single individual.