The Administration and Afghanistan revealed Sunday that the United States and Afghanistan had reached a preliminary agreement for the continued presence of US forces in Afghanistan for another 10 years after the supposed withdrawal of "combat forces" in[...]
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Mike Huckabee has a modest proposal for how to keep student loan rates low, as President Obama is pushing to do. The former Arkansas governor and Fox News personality thinks, correctly, that doubling interest rates "would be the essence of a tax increase" and is urging Republicans to "Get out in front of the issue. Congratulate the president for bringing it up."
That's big of him. I mean, it's not many professional Republicans who would say anything as generous as "congratulate the president," or take the side of struggling college students.
Only, Huckabee did have one wee trade in mind:
Now, this is the same reason we want to keep taxes low, Mr. President. Why don't you meet us on that one? We will give you this and you give us a guarantee that we will extend the Bush tax cuts. We can call them the Obama tax cuts and make you our hero.On the one hand, we have the Bush tax cuts, which added $2.6 trillion to the debt between 2001 and 2010 and went disproportionately to the wealthy, with the top 1 percent getting 38 percent of the benefit. On the other hand, we have $6 billion a year in student loan interest divided among nearly 8 million students each year. How's that for a fair trade?
Huckabee isn't even quite putting a velvet glove over the iron hand of class warfare here. Saying "give the top 0.1 percent an annual tax break of $520,000 and we'll let college kids pay 3.4 percent instead of 6.8 percent on their loans" is more like a velour glove worn completely through in patches, but compared to the iron hand wielding a branding iron that characterizes the leaders of his party, I guess this helps him pass for a "compassionate conservative."
In many ways, this presidential election features a reversal of a pattern we've gotten used to in recent campaigns. More often than not it's the Republican who is self-assured and ideologically forthright, while the Democrat apologizes for what he believes, panders awkwardly, and generally acts terrified that the voting public might not like what he has to say. This time around, Barack Obama is the confident candidate and Mitt Romney is the worried one (which says far more about these two men than it does about this particular historical moment). But there is one major exception to this pattern, on an issue that has reemerged after being dormant for a decade and a half: guns. It isn't that Romney isn't pandering unpersuasively on the issue. What's different is that Barack Obama's campaign seems frightened of its own shadow, and is trying hard to convince Americans that Obama is actually some kind of pro-gun president. Which, for all intents and purposes, he is.
A week and a half ago, Romney told the National Rifle Association that if he makes it to the White House, he'll be in their corner. "We need a president who will enforce current laws, not create new ones that only serve to burden lawful gun owners," he said. "President Obama has not; I will." Romney got no more specific than that, for an obvious reason: the truth is that President Obama hasn't created any new laws on guns. Actually, that's not entirely true?Obama has signed two laws expanding gun rights, one allowing people to take guns on Amtrak trains, and another allowing guns to be taken into national parks. He hasn't tried to renew the assault weapons ban, or proposed a national system of gun licensing, or adopted any of the other changes advocated by those who oppose gun proliferation.
After a long absence from the center of public discussion, the issue of guns has returned, thanks to the tragic death of Trayvon Martin and the "Stand Your Ground" law in Florida that may shield the man who killed him from a criminal conviction. While the NRA and its allies have been passing law after law on the state level designed to put guns in as many hands in as many places as possible, it has been nearly two decades since any federal legislation containing the proliferation of guns has been debated as though it had a chance of becoming law. It isn't difficult to discern the reason: Congressional Democrats are afraid. They may be horrified when Republican state legislatures pass laws like "Stand Your Ground," and aghast at each new mass shooting, but they think they're powerless to do much about it.
This fear is based on a series of myths about the gun issue in general and about the NRA in particular, as I've detailed elsewhere (see here, here, here, and here). No doubt the myth of Al Gore's 2000 loss looms large for Obama's advisers; as Politico's Roger Simon recently wrote, "if [Gore] had won Florida, he would have become president, but if he had won West Virginia, Tennessee or Arkansas ? any of which was possible ? he wouldn't have needed Florida. And West Virginia, Tennessee and Arkansas were where the gun lobby ran big ad campaigns against Al Gore." This is the standard story of 2000, one told hundreds of times. Despite the repetition, it is a story with no evidence to support it. Yes, Al Gore lost those three states, as did the Democratic nominees who followed him; those states are now firmly in the Republican column no matter what issues dominate the campaign. But there is precisely zero empirical evidence demonstrating that the gun issue was the reason Gore lost them. He also won swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, and Iowa?all of which have plenty of gun owners?largely on his strength among urban and suburban voters, who are more supportive of gun restrictions.
The idea that the gun issue could actually help a Democratic presidential candidate is something few people seem to contemplate. But polls point to a broad consensus among the American public on this issue, one that says that the Constitution provides for an individual right to own a gun, but that right can reasonably be limited in any number of ways. Just as few Americans think the freedom of religion allows you to conduct human sacrifice, the NRA's position that gun rights are almost without limit is held by only a tiny minority. Specific measures like a renewal of the assault weapons ban, mandatory licensing for gun owners, waiting periods before gun purchases, and closing the gun-show loophole enjoy huge majority support?even, in many cases, among gun owners themselves. After the Gabrielle Giffords shooting last year, no less a gun enthusiast than Dick Cheney said it was probably time to ban the kind of high-capacity magazine that allowed Jared Loughner to kill and wound 20 people and have figured in so many other mass shootings. Yet the NRA would have politicians believe that if they support even the most modest and thoughtful limits on guns, they will inevitably be defeated at the polls. And of course, the group tries to convince people that whenever Republicans win, it was because of guns. When Republicans lose, they don't have much to say.
Obama is not going to win West Virginia, Tennessee, or Arkansas no matter what kind of campaign he runs or what issues he raises. And no matter what he does or doesn't do as president on guns, the NRA will fight him tooth and nail. It isn't as though his lack of action on the issue or his frequent statements of respect for the Second Amendment have lessened the NRA's determination to unseat him, or its laughably apocalyptic rhetoric. "All that first term, lip service to gun owners is just part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment during his second term," said NRA leader Wayne LaPierre at the Conservative Political Action Conference earlier this year. "All of what we know is good and right about America, all of it could be lost if Barack Obama is re-elected."
If anyone was expecting the Obama campaign to take the opportunity of the Trayvon Martin shooting to initiate a debate on the wisdom of laws like "Stand Your Ground," they would have been sorely disappointed. On the day of Mitt Romney's NRA speech, former Ohio governor Ted Strickland, a co-chair of the Obama re-election campaign, wrote an op-ed lambasting Romney on guns?not for embracing the NRA's extreme positions, but for flip-flopping from his previous support of restrictions when he was governor of Massachusetts. "Romney is hardly a consistent Second Amendment defender, or a lifelong sportsman, or a longtime gun owner," Strickland wrote. "But that's not the worst part. The worst part is that he pretends to be all these things?pandering shamelessly to voters just as he does on every issue under the sun." In other words, Strickland wasn't criticizing Romney for his recent turn toward gun-rights extremism, he was doing just the opposite, telling gun owners they can't trust Romney to be extremist enough. Strickland's comments were echoed by an Obama campaign spokesman. "The President's record makes clear that he supports and respects the Second Amendment, and we'll fight back against any attempts to mislead voters," he said. "Mitt Romney is going to have difficulty explaining why he quadrupled fees on gun owners in Massachusetts then lied about being a lifelong hunter in an act of shameless pandering."
None of us can read minds, so we have no idea what either Romney or Obama really believes about guns deep in their hearts. But their secret beliefs, whatever they might be, don't matter. What matters is what they say, and more importantly, what they do. Mitt Romney is playing to his base (no surprise there). And Barack Obama is playing to Mitt Romney's base too, probably in the vain hope of avoiding the displeasure of the kind of extreme gun owners who believe the fairy tales the NRA tells them. Meanwhile, over 10,000 Americans are murdered with guns every year.
George Zimmerman made bail and was released from jail around midnight last night. [...]
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If my kids were still college-age, I think I'd try to get them into a union apprentice program. Because if you're not connected to the one percent job network, I don't think a college diploma is a sure thing anymore and student loans mean being a debt slave for the rest of your life. But that's just me.
I'm also torn by the fact that some degrees are more equal than others. It seems brutal to expect high school kids to suppress their talents and dreams to try to fit some more career-worthy mold. For instance, not everyone has the kind of skills that would make them good engineers or computer scientists. But if we're forcing students onto certain career paths because they're the only way they can ever afford to go to college in the first place, it doesn't seem quite... American to me. After all, we're humans, not car parts:
A weak labor market already has left half of young college graduates either jobless or underemployed in positions that don't fully use their skills and knowledge.
Young adults with bachelor's degrees are increasingly scraping by in lower-wage jobs - waiter or waitress, bartender, retail clerk or receptionist, for example - and that's confounding their hopes a degree would pay off despite higher tuition and mounting student loans.
An analysis of government data conducted for The Associated Press lays bare the highly uneven prospects for holders of bachelor's degrees.
Opportunities for college graduates vary widely. While there's strong demand in science, education and health fields, arts and humanities flounder. Median wages for those with bachelor's degrees are down from 2000, hit by technological changes that are eliminating midlevel jobs such as bank tellers. Most future job openings are projected to be in lower-skilled positions such as home health aides, who can provide personalized attention as the U.S. population ages.
Taking underemployment into consideration, the job prospects for bachelor's degree holders fell last year to the lowest level in more than a decade.
[...] "You can make more money on average if you go to college, but it's not true for everybody," says Harvard economist Richard Freeman, noting the growing risk of a debt bubble with total U.S. student loan debt surpassing $1 trillion. "If you're not sure what you're going to be doing, it probably bodes well to take some job, if you can get one, and get a sense first of what you want from college."
Andrew Sum, director of the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University who analyzed the numbers, said many people with a bachelor's degree face a double whammy of rising tuition and poor job outcomes. "Simply put, we're failing kids coming out of college," he said, emphasizing that when it comes to jobs, a college major can make all the difference. "We're going to need a lot better job growth and connections to the labor market, otherwise college debt will grow."
El Paso has around 650,000 people and the county, most of which comprises the 16th congressional district has around 800,000. It's the westernmost part of Texas, closer to L.A. than to Houston-- and in a different time zone from the rest of Texas. And it's as blue as the rest of the state is red. Since 1996 TX-16 has been represented by a conservative Democrat and a staunch, even zombie-like, supporter of the Military-Industrial Complex that President Eisenhower warned America about, Silvestre Reyes. The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, most Members rate him as having about the same intelligence as Michele Bachmann, another Member. We were excited when we heard that Reyes finally was getting a progressive challenger in the Democratic primary, Beto O'Rourke, and I asked him to introduce himself. Watch the video above (and down below), read what he has to say and please consider making a contribution to his grassroots campaign here at our ActBlue page.
I am a fourth-generation El Pasoan. I graduated from Columbia, came back to El Paso and started a technology and media company in downtown El Paso. In 2005 I sought and won a seat on the El Paso City Council where I worked with the community on a very progressive agenda of restricting sprawl and promoting infill development; rejuvenating our downtown; protecting the environment by successfully opposing the reopening of a copper smelter in central El Paso; and promoting equality and access to healthcare.
One thing that sets me apart from the incumbent in this race: I have the courage of my convictions.
I led the charge on the El Paso City Council to offer health benefits to same sex partners of City employees, and then upheld that decision in the face of a misguided citizen petition that would have removed those benefits from City employees had hundreds of police and fire retirees who were also affected.
After thousands had died in our sister city of Ciudad Juarez in 2009, I pointed out that the drug war our country has waged and forced upon Mexico was partly to blame. When Congressman Silvestre Reyes tried to shut down Council debate by threatening to withhold federal funds, I continued to push for an open and honest debate on the subject. As the death toll mounted over the ensuing years (now more than 10,000 have died, making Juarez the deadliest city in the world), I continued to talk about this politically inconvenient truth and even co-wrote a book with Susie Byrd (Dealing Death and Drugs) about the impact of the drug war on El Paso, Juarez and our two countries.
I am steadfast on the issue of Women's Health. I have called Silvestre Reyes' vote to zero-out Title X funding (which provides family planning, breast and cervical cancer screenings and HIV screenings) embarrassing and indefensible. I believe in a woman's access to contraception, to her right to choose and to having access to quality healthcare, and I will vote accordingly.
What does my opponent stand for?
Silvestre Reyes voted to de-regulate the banks in 1999 and then to bail them out 10 years later.
He voted for the Patriot Act and supports warrantless wiretapping.
He voted for and defended the National Defense Authorization Act which allows your government to arrest you under terrorism charges and hold you without recourse to your constitutional rights.
He voted to defund Title X.
He is a pawn for defense and homeland security contractors, pushing through hundreds of millions of dollars in no-bid contracts. One contractor hired all three of his children under a $220 million no-bid contract that turned out to be a boondoggle for taxpayers.
He is tied to corruption in El Paso. Despite professing his faith in the drug war, he accepted and did not return $9,500 from an indicted drug trafficker. He has accepted thousands more from indicted El Pasoans who used their connections to him to obtain federal funds and squander taxpayer resources.
This election is a contest between the regressive rearguard of the Democratic party and the best progressive values our party offers to this country.
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by Sarah Pavlus, via the Colorado Independent
Two of the country?s largest private water utility companies are participants in a massive lobbying effort to expand controversial shale gas drilling ? a heavy industrial activity that promises to enrich the water companies but may also put drinking water resources at risk.
The situation ? which some watchdogs describe as a troubling conflict of interest ? underscores the complex issues raised by the nationwide push to privatize infrastructure and services like water, prisons, and roads.
The water companies ? American Water and Aqua America ? are leading drinking water suppliers in Pennsylvania, where drilling is booming. They also sell water to gas companies ? which use a drilling technique that requires massive amounts of water ? and have expressed interest in treating drilling wastewater, a potentially lucrative opportunity.
These investor-owned, publicly traded water utility companies are also dues-paying ?associate members? of the gas industry?s powerful Marcellus Shale Coalition, a fact confirmed by coalition spokesman Travis Windle, who says associate members pay $15,000 annually in dues. ?Our associate members are really the backbone of the industry,? adds Windle.
The coalition, which is led by major gas producers, contends that ?responsible development of natural gas? will bolster the region?s economy while providing an important source of domestic energy. It has reported over $2 million in Pennsylvania lobbying expenditures since 2010.
Aqua America joined the coalition in 2010 and Pennsylvania American Water ? a subsidiary of American Water ? joined in 2011, according to the coalition?s quarterly magazine, which publishes a full member list in each issue.
Shale gas drillers use a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or ?fracking,? to extract gas from the Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania. The controversial technique forces millions of gallons of water ? mixed with sand and chemicals ? into the ground to crack the shale rock and release gas. In addition to the potential risks posed by actual fracturing, the process produces large amounts of toxic wastewater that can be difficult to dispose of safely.
The Environmental Protection Agency is currently conducting a congressionally-mandated study ?to investigate the potential adverse impact that hydraulic fracturing may have on water quality and public health.? Pennsylvania is home to three of the seven sites selected for the nationwide study.
Separately, the EPA is testing the water of some Pennsylvania residents who say that nearby gas drilling contaminated their wells. According to the EPA, early test results indicate the water is safe to drink, however, some environmentalists disagree with that analysis.
In the meantime, the water companies are selling water to the drillers while calling for fracking to be done in an environmentally responsible manner. In a presentation to investors last month, American Water stated that it is ?realizing additional revenues from water sales to drilling companies while remaining vigilant in protecting our water sources.?
In the presentation, the company noted it is ?currently selling water to gas drillers at 34 distribution points in Pennsylvania,? and that it ?sold 250.4 million gallons of water to gas drillers from January through December of 2011, producing $1.6 million in revenues.?
(Some public water utilities sell to drillers too, but no public utilities are part of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.)
American Water spokesman Terry Maenza says the company?s support for environmental protection is unchanged by its role in the shale coalition and that it is also a member of numerous environmental groups.
?By the nature of our business, we will continue to be stewards of the environment, ensuring water source protection,? says Maenza.
The company isn?t currently in the drilling wastewater treatment business, according to Maenza, though during a quarterly earnings call last year, American Water CEO Jeff Sterba told investors, ?We are very definitely looking and working in the wastewater treatment area.? Maenza declined to comment on any specific initiatives.
Aqua America executive Karl Kyriss says his company?s involvement in the coalition helps protect water resources.
?By participating, we can have some direct input into the group that is looking to support development of the Marcellus Shale,? says Kyriss. ?But we are very much committed that it be done in an environmentally sensitive and protected manner. And we think we can do that better from the inside than just sort of watching what happens.?
Aqua America is aggressively positioning itself to take advantage of what CEO Nick DeBenedictis has described to investors as a ?water-energy nexus that could have a positive impact on the future of our company.? In recent years, the company has made sizeable acquisitions in Texas and Ohio ? states that, like Pennsylvania, are home to large shale gas plays ? and is also building a pipeline in Pennsylvania to supply water to drillers.
DeBenedictis believes the pipeline will ease the wear and tear on roads and the environment currently caused by trucks carrying water to wells.
Recently, however, that pipeline has come under fire from local anti-drilling activists because the project will displace dozens of residents from a mobile home park.
Like American Water, Aqua America is not currently in the drilling wastewater treatment business, but may expand into that market in the future.
Some environmental advocates see potential conflicts between the interests of the private water industry and the interests of drinking water consumers.
?If American Water and Aqua America wanted to ensure that their water supplies were protected, they would support a national ban on hydraulic fracturing for shale gas,? argues Mary Grant, a researcher at Food and Water Watch, which has reported on Aqua America?s ties to the coalition. ?But, instead of acting on the precautionary principle, they are paying thousands of dollars a year to an industry coalition that advocates for shale gas development, despite the risks to water quality.?
?We are concerned that these relationships encourage investor owned water utilities to endorse shale gas development despite its risk to public water supplies,? Grant says.
Eric Goldstein, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, adds, ?Sometimes the interests of private ownership are inconsistent with the concept of preserving our water resources in the public trust for future generations. And the potential clashing of those interests is why these questions have been raised about whether for-profit companies ought to be running public water supplies.?
Sarah Pavlus is a reporter with Media Matters for America. This piece was originally published at the Colorado Independent and was reprinted with permission.
With friends like these, who needs negative campaign ads? While a friendly press in the tank for President Obama may fit nicely into the right?s narrative of liberal bias in the press, a new study from the Pew Research Center?s Project for Excellence in Journalism shows that of all the presidential candidates during this election cycle, President Obama has had the least favorable coverage by the news media. Since January, presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney has actually enjoyed twice as much positive coverage as President Obama.
– Mitt Romney’s proposed budget increases for the Pentagon combined with his proposal to cut government deficits would require additional, unspecified, cuts to Medicaid, domestic agency budgets and various benefit programs.
– President Obama will issue an executive order on Monday allowing U.S. officials to impose sanctions on foreign nationals found to have used technologies like cellphone tracking and Internet monitoring to help commit human rights abuses.
– Iran claimed yesterday that it has gleaned secret intelligence form an American drone that crashed in the country back in December.
– France’s Socialist Party candidate François Hollande won this weekend’s poll over the center-right incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy, setting up a runoff vote between the two early next month.
– In Syria, Islamic extremists are trickling into the country from Iraq and elsewhere and carrying out bombing attacks. Diplomats said the extremists face trouble recruiting and allying with even loosely organized Syrian rebel factions.
– A failed missile launch won’t hold back North Korean bluster: the official news agency made a direct threat against South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Seoul, vowing to kill him and “the group of rat-like elements” surrounding him and reducing the city to ashes “in three or four minutes.”
– Egypt has reportedly terminated its contract to supply natural gas to Israel, ending a joint venture which had served as a cornerstone of the peace process between Egypt and Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the cutoff was merely a “business dispute.”
– Organizers for a concert at Fort Knox military based removed Ted Nugent from the lineup after his remarks that he would be “dead or in jail by this time next year” if President Obama is re-elected. The Secret Service interviewed Nugent days after he made the remarks.
George Zimmerman was released on bond late last night, but he will be closely monitored while he is out, particularly because he will go into hiding for his safety. The man charged with second degree murder in the killing of Trayvon Martin posted the $150,000 bail.
President Obama’s reelection prospects are improving with the employment rate in swing states. Unemployment in the 14 states likely to decide the election dropped at a faster rate than the country as a whole, and with more jobs comes greater support for the president, the AP reports.
Analysts are upgrading their economic forecasts and say that the economy will grow at a faster pace than earlier predictions suggested. A USA Today survey of 50 top economists puts the unemployment rate at 8 percent by the fourth quarter and shows 2.5 percent overall economic growth, a higher figure from estimates three months ago.
Nicholas Sarkozy is facing a May 6 runoff against surging Socialist Party candidate François Hollande, who won the first round of France?s presidential elections on Sunday. Strong support from the left, coupled with mounting frustration over 17 years of conservative, centrist governance has weakened Sarkozy’s support. The election is another sign that Europeans are rejecting austerity budgeting.
The Romney campaign’s attempt to coax its deep-pocketed Wall Street donors to kick in $75,800 each in joint fundraising campaign contributions — for the campaign, national party, and state party committees — is drawing push-back from supporters who fear it may not comply with new Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) “pay to play” rules.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) garnered 59.1 percent of the delegates’ votes at Saturday’s Utah Republican convention, just below the 60 percent needed for automatic nomination, so he will be forced to face a primary against former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist on June 26. Conservative outside groups have been pouring money into the race against Hatch and in support of Liljenquist, who has support from the Tea Party and other far-right groups.
One in every two new college graduates are unemployed or underemployed, according to a new Associated Press analysis. Demand for jobs is stronger in science and health fields, but across the board, median wages for those with bachelor’s degrees are down from 2000.
After the New York Times reported Saturday that Walmart paid up to $24 million in bribes to hurry expansion of Walmart in Mexico, the corporation pushed back. Vice President of Corporate Communications David Tozar dismissed the six-year-old allegations in a statement, saying it’s “not a reflection” of the company.
And finally: Actress Eliza Dushku had a little crush on her former bishop, Mitt Romney. Dushku, who was raised in the Mormon church in Massachusetts, told New York Magazine, “I mean, he went from being my first crush at six years old — I named my Ken dolls ‘Mitt’ — and then when I was old enough to hear what was coming out of his mouth, it was over.?