Malawi’s new president, Joyce Banda, has announced plans to repeal the nation’s ban on homosexual acts. In 2010, there was international outcry when Malawi convicted two men to 14 years in prison, having charged them with unnatural acts and gross indecency when they were celebrating their engagement. Banda’s predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika ? who died in April ? had pardoned the couple, but on “humanitarian grounds only.” Following U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s address on LGBT rights at the United Nations, Malawi had committed to reviewing its anti-gay laws.
An amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by Reps. Adam Smith (D-WA) and Justin Amash (R-MI) would have barred military detention of terrorism suspects arrested in the U.S. regardless of their nationality. Smith outlined the argument for his amendment last night:
What we?ve learned in the last 10 years is one power [the president] does not need the power to indefinitely detain or place in military custody people in the United States. Our justice system works.
But House Republicans hit back hard at the bipartisan amendment, attacking it as providing additional rights to foreign terrorists. This morning, the House defeated the Smith-Amash amendment in favor of a competing amendment sponsored by Reps. Jeff Landry (R-LA), Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Scott Rigell (R-VA). Their amendment, which passed this morning, prohibits the government from denying U.S. citizens their constitutional rights.
Amash slammed the all-Republican sponsored amendment as doing nothing but providing political cover for House Republicans who disingenuously claim to care about civil liberties, telling his House colleagues last night:
The first part of the amendment does nothing. In other words, if you have constitutional rights, then you have constitutional rights.
While the battle in Congress over the detention provisions in the NDAA may have come to an end with the defeat of the Smith-Nash amendment and the passage of the competing Republican amendment, legal and political challenges may await the NDAA in the very near future.
On Wednesday, a federal judge in New York issued a temporary injunction, finding that the detainee provisions in the current NDAA are unconstitutional.
And the White House, in a statement [PDF] released on Tuesday evening, listed a series of objections with the pending NDAA including: restrictions on the implementation of the New START treaty; limits on reductions for the U.S.’s nuclear arsenal; and new restrictions on the transfer of Guantanamo detainees. Moreover, the White House objected to the overall size of the bill, which surpasses President Obama’s request by $3.7 billion and exceeds the Budget Control Act spending caps by $8 billion, and threatened to veto the NDAA if sent to the President in its current form.
Last August, debt ceiling negotiations between House Republicans and Senate Democrats came to an end when President Obama signed into law the Budget Control Act, a not-so-grand bargain that created a legislative super committee tasked with finding spending cuts to offset the debt ceiling increase. If the super committee failed, automatic cuts from the defense budget and discretionary spending levels would offset the cost.
The deal was an end to three tumultuous months of wrangling over the debt ceiling that brought the government to the brink of default and, thanks to the GOP’s intransigence on new tax revenues, led to the first credit downgrade in the nation’s history. House Republicans have repeatedly threatened to renege on the deal, and this morning, they made it official, adding an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that officially replaced spending cuts from the defense sequestration with cuts from the House reconciliation package.
In less than 10 minutes, the House officially unwound a budget deal that took an entire summer to craft, the New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman reports:
Without discussion, the House just voted to scrap the defense sequester, 220-201. 21 Republicans voted no. Oh well, there goes that.
— Jonathan Weisman (@jonathanweisman) May 18, 2012
After rendering last year’s negotiations completely pointless, House Republicans are poised to pull the exact same charade this year. Tuesday, the Washington Post reported that Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) “will insist that any increase in the debt limit be accompanied by spending ‘cuts and reforms greater than the debt limit increase,’” putting the economic recovery in jeopardy once again. Last year, the Economic Policy Institute estimated that the spending cuts Republicans required to raise the debt ceiling cost the economy 1.8 million jobs. And yet the GOP insists on recreating the same disastrous scenario all over again.
by Jackie Weidman and Daniel J. Weiss
Last year, the House Republican majority cast 191 votes to weaken safeguards for our air, land, water, and climate. Their efforts to shred these protections continued yesterday when the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed two bills that would block protections from air pollution while allowing more oil drilling — all under the guise of ?lowering gas prices.?
Both bills passed the committee on mostly party line votes.
The first bill was the Gasoline Regulations Act of 2012, H.R. 4771, sponsored by Energy and Power Subcommittee Chair Ed Whitfield (R-KY). This bill would eliminate the bipartisan mandate under the Clean Air Act that the Environmental Protection Agency set health standards for ozone (or smog) pollution based only on the best medicine and science. Instead, for the first time ever under this bill, the cost of pollution reduction would determine how much health protection to require. In other words, air pollution that triggers asthma attacks and respiratory diseases would only be reduced if the polluters could afford it.
In addition, the bill would require endless study of other possible pollution reduction requirements, using ?paralysis by analysis? to block additional health protections. H.R. 4771 would slash these safeguards even though ?more than 40 percent of people in the U.S. still live in areas where air pollution threatens their health,? according to the American Lung Association.
The committee also passed the Strategic Energy Production Act, H.R. 4480, authored by Rep. Cory Gardener (R-CO). This bill would force increased drilling on public lands any time reserve oil is released from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR). The SPR was designed to supply oil in case of a supply disruption, though President George H. W. Bush and the 104th Congress under Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) sold reserve oil in anticipation of a disruption that did not occur, and to reduce the federal budget deficit, respectively.
This bill might inhibit the president from selling reserve oil in the wake of supply disruption, but it does nothing to lower oil prices since they are set on a world market and controlled by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cartel.
In fact, the Associated Press analyzed 35 years of domestic oil production and gasoline price data and determined that there is ?no statistical correlation between how much oil comes out of U.S. wells and the price at the pump.?
During the debate on these bills, Ranking Democrat Henry Waxman (D-CA) reminded committee members that even witnesses called by Republicans understood that this legislation would not reduce gasoline prices. He noted that ?every expert at our hearings on gas prices, including the Republican?s own witnesses ? told us that gasoline prices are driven by world oil prices.?
Not surprisingly, the members who support these bills took millions of dollars from the oil and gas industry. The Energy and Commerce Committee members received almost $10.5 million in lifetime campaign donations from the oil and gas industry, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics. Over 75 percent of these dollars ? $7.7 million ? have gone to 31 of the 33 committee Republicans. On average, Republican committee members received three times the contributions from the oil and gas industry than Democrats in the 2011-2012 election cycle.
This legislation is the beginning of a summer campaign to promote fossil fuels and tear down public health protection. On Wednesday, the House Natural Resources Committee passed three bills to encourage oil and gas drilling on public lands — even while more than half of onshore and offshore leases for the oil industry sit idle.
House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced a series of ?jobs and energy tours? that members will be conducting in their districts during next week?s recess. McCarthy also warned that more anti-public health bills will be coming onto the House floor in June.
As we continue to see house Republicans fulfilling Big Oil?s wish list, it begs the question: are our elected officials making decisions in Americans’ best interest, or are they letting Big Oil call the shots?
Jackie Weidman is a Special Assistant for Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Daniel J. Weiss is Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Police officers were caught by a security camera apparently beating a black teen as he lay prone with his hands behind his head. Chad Holley, then fifteen, was running from police after committing burglary, but after falling over the hood of a police car remained on the ground and put his hands behind his head. The video shows Officer Andrew Blomberg reach Holley first, and he then appears to kick or stomp Holley on the head or neck. Blomberg then runs to pursue another suspect. Holley remains surrounded by at least five officers who appear to continue beating him.
Despite the video and expert testimony that “Blomberg’s actions were ‘objectively unreasonable’ and were ‘contrary to any legitimate police action,’” an all-white, six member jury acquitted Blomberg on Wednesday. Blomberg was the first of four officers who were fired by the Houston police department over the incident to face trial trial for official oppression, which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail. Blomberg claimed to being using his foot to “sweep” not stomp Holley after Holley failed to put his hands behind his back. Jurors in the case told Blomberg’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin, that prosecutors had failed to prove that Blomberg had acted unreasonably.
The acquittal came after another white officer was accquitted of wrongdoing in the shooting of African-American Robert Tolan in the driveway of his home last year, and members of the local community are outraged at the outcome:
“The jury sent a message that the life of a black man don?t mean a damn thing in Houston,” African-American community activist Quanell X told the Los Angeles Times. “I believe the prosecutor never truly intended to convict this cop. I believe that allowing an all-white jury to be impaneled in this case was absolutely wrong and a miscarriage of justice.” …
“Black people must rise up and send a message to white people in this city and this town that our lives and the lives of our children do matter,” Quanell X told the Times. “We?re at a boiling point where America is headed toward some real civil conflict because of cases like Trayvon Martin and Robbie Tolan and Chad Holley. Black people are sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
The community responded to the outcome by holding a protest in downtown Houston on Thursday. The protest started with three dozen people but the crowd grew to about 300.
Both Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Harris County District Attorney agree with protesters that the verdict in the case was incorrect. Mayor Parker told a news conference that none of the officers who were fired over the incident will ever be Houston police officers again regardless of the outcome of their trials. State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, also disagreed with the verdict and has called for a complete review of the Houston criminal justice system, stating that “[a]n officer of the law simply cannot be above the law.?
Three other officers await trial for their part in the incident. Drew Ryser is charged with official oppression and Phillip Bryan and Raad Hassan are both charged with official oppression and violating the civil rights of a prisoner.
In the face of a constant stream of arguments from Republicans that the wealthy are job creators and thus deserve lower taxes, billionaire venture capitalist Nick Hanauer recently gave a 'TED Talk' explaining that the rich don't create jobs, but that it is instead consumers who create jobs. TED is an annual conference for elite Americans where presenters talk about various technology and other topics and the so-called 'TED Talks' are posted online, appear on YouTube and Netflix. Only in this case, the TED organizers are refusing to post Hanauer's talk, saying it is 'too controversial.' The step appears to be at odds with the way the organization has worked in the past, as it has frequently posted controversial TED Talks. It appears that TED chief Chris Anderson isn't comfortable with Hanauer's presentation, not that it is particularly controversial:
"An ordinary consumer is more of a job creator than a capitalist." ...really? as an ex entrepreneur who agrees with your overall stance, I don't think that statement is literally true. There are numerous jobs that exist because of the imagination, energy and risk-taking of individual capitalists or entrepreneurs such as you. An typical ordinary consumer might on average contribute to the creation of one job (but probably not more than one, because the numbers don't then add up.) "hiring more people is a course of last resort, done if and only if rising consumer demand requires it". ...I launched numerous magazines for each of which, at time of their launch, there was zero consumer demand.
In each of those cases I hired teams before launching and before knowing whether anyone would buy. Businesses do this all the time. They imagine a product, and take a risk. You might say there must have been latent demand, and that in the short time period you had, you didn't have time to fully flesh out the argument.. sure. But I think a lot of business managers and entrepreneurs would feel insulted by that statement as given.
Anderson sounds awfully defensive and his final statement is that 'business managers and entrepreneurs' would be insulted by something that is, it seems quite obvious, is the truth seems disingenuous at best.
An excerpt from Hanauer's presentation (see full talk above):
I can say with confidence that rich people don't create jobs, nor do businesses, large or small. What does lead to more employment is a "circle of life" like feedback loop between customers and businesses. And only consumers can set in motion this virtuous cycle of increasing demand and hiring. In this sense, an ordinary middle-class consumer is far more of a job creator than a capitalist like me.
So when businesspeople take credit for creating jobs, it's a little like squirrels taking credit for creating evolution. In fact, it's the other way around.
Anyone who's ever run a business knows that hiring more people is a capitalists course of last resort, something we do only when increasing customer demand requires it. In this sense, calling ourselves job creators isn't just inaccurate, it's disingenuous.
That's why our current policies are so upside down. When you have a tax system in which most of the exemptions and the lowest rates benefit the richest, all in the name of job creation, all that happens is that the rich get richer.
Renovation of Sawyer Bridge in Hillsborough, New Hampshire:
Before on left (afka_bob in Aug. 2008) and after on right (Josh Graciano in Dec. 2011)Classic Mitt Romney: find something that on the surface sounds like a great political hit, but once you spend two seconds looking into it, you learn the emperor has no clothes.
Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney is visiting New Hampshire again, this time appearing at what's become known as the "bridge to nowhere."But as Huffington Post points out, Sawyer Bridge is actually a historic bridge?and the New Hampshire state legislature overwhelmingly voted to support its restoration. Among the supporters, reports HuffPost, are 28 state legislators who endorsed Mitt Romney. Moreover, the citizens of Hillsborough, New Hampshire, the site of the bridge, voted to turn the area into a public park.
The 19th century stone arch bridge in Hillsborough used to be called Sawyer Bridge. More than $150,000 from the federal stimulus bill was awarded to preserve and repair it. However, the bridge, which doesn't cross a river, hasn't had vehicle traffic since the 1800s. It ends in a field with an 8-foot drop.
In 2010, Hillsborough's planning director defended the project from outside critics:
"It's an oversimplification to call it a bridge to nowhere, in my opinion," said Shane O'Keefe, Hillsborough planning director.Romney will appear at the bridge Friday afternoon. Presumably he won't literally say that New Hampshire would be better off if the bridge were falling apart and if nobody had ever been put to work fixing it, but that's the logical extension of the case he's going to make. And it doesn't take great political mind to realize that's really not the best argument to make if you want to win over voters.
O'Keefe said the historic stone arch bridge was falling apart. The town had been trying to fix it for years but never had enough money. He said the town wants to turn the area into a public park.
"It's an historic transportation structure," O'Keefe said.
9:17 AM PT: Multiple commenters note with amusement that the AP writeup of Romney's visit say the bridge "doesn't cross a river." As you can see from the photo ... it does actually does cross a river: The Contoocook River. Presumably Mitt's staff fed the AP the story that it doesn't cross a river. I wish I could see the look on his face when he finds out it does.
Nationwide, Democrats are confident that President Obama will win reelection. But in Massachusetts, as TPM?s Benjy Sarlin found, Mitt Romney?s former Democratic opponents are far from sanguine:
Romney may have reinvented himself as a movement conservative in his two presidential runs, but those on the Democratic side in his two statewide campaigns tell TPM they see plenty familiar in his style. And they?re warning Democrats who are less than dazzled by his primary performance not to underestimate him.
?Mitt Romney has been running for high public office since 1994 and in every campaign he?s been in he?s gotten better and more disciplined,? Shannon O?Brien, the Democratic nominee for governor Romney defeated in 2002, told TPM. ?He has become a very good politician, perhaps one of the most crafty and ruthless politicians in the country today, and it could well propel him to the presidency.?
One rule of thumb, when it comes to presidential elections, is that a major party nominee always has a chance to win, even if the incumbent is strong. Both parties have a high floor for support, and with the shift of a few variables, a winning campaign can easily become a losing one, and vice versa. That is especially apparent in this election, where lackluster economic growth has left Obama in a middling position with the electorate, and given Romney a significant chance at winning the presidency. As Jonathan Chait notes, the Romney campaign is acutely aware of the role the economy plays in this election, and will hammer on economic growth regardless of the circumstances.
That?s not to say that Obama is helpless; the fundamentals suggest a close election, with a slight edge for Obama if the economy improves at its current rate. And because the election is close, campaigns will have a great effect than usual on the outcome. Indeed, a good deal of this will be fought on the margins, with both sides working to protect their coalitions and improve their support among core constituencies.
Yes, Romney is a generic, uninspiring, and mendacious candidate. But that doesn?t mean he can?t win; with a sluggish economy and an able campaign, he can pull out a victory against the president. With that in mind, Democrats should shake themselves of their complacency. It?s never wise to assume an easy victory (see: Martha Coakley), and that?s especially true this year, in this election.
Some have asked, when will the Friday Music Break feature a song produced in, say, the last 30 years? I'll put aside my initial reaction to this complaint ("Get yer own blog, whippersnapper"), and respond to the voice of the people.
Here's Galactic, with some help from Irma Thomas, with "Heart of Steel." Just try not to bob your head. Go ahead, try. I bet you can't.