In the USA...United Surveillance America
December 12, 2013
Obama Panel Said to Urge N.S.A. Curbs
By DAVID E. SANGER
WASHINGTON — A presidential advisory committee charged with examining the operations of the National Security Agency has concluded that a program to collect data on every phone call made in the United States should continue, though under broad new restraints that would be intended to increase privacy protections, according to officials with knowledge of the report’s contents.
The committee’s report, the officials said, also argues in favor of codifying and publicly announcing the steps the United States will take to protect the privacy of foreign citizens whose telephone records, Internet communications or movements are collected by the N.S.A. But it is unclear how far that effort would go, and intelligence officials have argued strenuously that they should be under few restrictions when tapping the communications of non-Americans abroad, who do not have constitutional protections under the Fourth Amendment.
The advisory group is also expected to recommend that senior White House officials, including the president, directly review the list of foreign leaders whose communications are routinely monitored by the N.S.A. President Obama recently apologized to Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany for the N.S.A.’s monitoring of her calls over the past decade, promising that the actions had been halted and would not resume. But he refused to make the same promise to the leaders of Mexico and Brazil.
Administration officials say the White House has already taken over supervision of that program. “We’re not leaving it to Jim Clapper anymore,” said one official, referring to the director of national intelligence, who appears to have been the highest official to review the programs regularly.
But resistance from the intelligence agencies is likely. In an interview two months ago, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the soon-to-retire director of the N.S.A. and the commander of the military’s Cyber Command, suggested that a major cutback in American spying on foreign nationals would be naïve. And officials who have examined the N.S.A.’s programs say they have been surprised at how infrequently the agency has been challenged to weigh the intelligence benefits of its foreign collection operations against the damage that could be done if the programs were exposed.
One of the expected recommendations is that the White House conduct a regular review of those collection activities, the way covert action by the C.I.A. is reviewed annually.
Another likely recommendation, officials say, is the creation of an organization of legal advocates who, like public defenders, would argue against lawyers for the N.S.A. and other government organizations in front of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the nation’s secret court that oversees the collection of telephone and Internet “metadata” and of wiretapping aimed at terrorism and espionage suspects. Mr. Obama has already hinted that he objects to the absence of any adversarial procedures in front of the court’s judges.
But even if the N.S.A.’s activities are curtailed, it may be hard to convince Americans — or Germans, Mexicans and Brazilians — that the agency’s practices had changed. In part, that may depend on how much public transparency is built into programs that the government has spent years cloaking.
The advisory report offers the first signs that the revelations by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor who took thousands of documents from the agency’s archives and has given some of them to news organizations, may lead to changes in the programs he exposed. While Mr. Snowden has been widely condemned in Washington for violating his oaths to protect secrets, and for taking up asylum in Russia instead of facing prosecution, it now appears likely that his disclosures will lead to the result he told interviewers he was seeking.
Caitlin Hayden, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council, declined to discuss any specific recommendations of the panel. “Our review is looking across the board at our intelligence gathering to ensure that as we gather intelligence, we are properly accounting for both the security of our citizens and our allies, and the privacy concerns shared by Americans and citizens around the world,” she said. “We need to ensure that our intelligence resources are most effectively supporting our foreign policy and national security objectives — that we are more effectively weighing the risks and rewards of our activities.”
She added that the review was especially focused on “examining whether we have the appropriate posture when it comes to heads of state; how we coordinate with our closest allies and partners; and what further guiding principles or constraints might be appropriate for our efforts.”
The five-person advisory group of intelligence and legal experts, several of whom have long connections to Mr. Obama, is expected to deliver its lengthy, unclassified report to the White House by this weekend. Among its members are Richard A. Clarke, who served in the Clinton administration and both Bush administrations and has become an expert on digital conflict; Michael J. Morell, a former deputy director of the C.I.A.; and Cass R. Sunstein, a Harvard Law School professor who served in the Obama White House and is married to Samantha Power, the ambassador to the United Nations.
Two leading legal academics are also members: Peter Swire, an expert in privacy law, and Geoffrey R. Stone, a constitutional law expert and a former dean of the University of Chicago Law School, where Mr. Obama once taught.
Members of the advisory group have declined to talk about their recommendations until the report is published. But fragmentary accounts of their main conclusions have begun to seep out, as word has spread of a preliminary briefing they gave to Mr. Obama’s top advisers. Two officials said that the advisers had gone further to challenge the intelligence agencies’ ways of doing business than they had expected.
“There’s going to be a lot of pushback to some of their ideas,” said one person familiar with the contents, who declined to go into detail. Another said that the report was “still being fine-tuned,” and that elements of the recommendations may change.
As a senator, Mr. Obama was critical of the Bush administration’s efforts to extend the N.S.A.’s surveillance powers, but as president he has embraced most of the programs begun during Mr. Bush’s time, including the bulk collection of telephone metadata. Only one major N.S.A. program, involving the bulk collection of metadata from about 1 percent of all emails sent inside the United States, is known to have been ended during Mr. Obama’s presidency.
Once it is delivered to the White House, the report is expected to feed into another review being conducted by national security officials across the administration. Mr. Obama has indicated that he plans to announce a range of changes, though officials say that is not likely to happen until early next year. At some point, officials say, the advisory group’s entire report will be made public.
In an interview last week on MSNBC, Mr. Obama said, “I’ll be proposing some self-restraint on the N.S.A., and, you know, to initiate some reforms that can give people more confidence.” But he gave no details.
Mr. Obama asked the advisory group to determine whether the N.S.A. had overreached, putting new programs in place because it had the technological capability, rather than weighing the costs to privacy. “What’s coming back is a report that says we can’t dismantle these programs, but we need to change the way almost all of them operate,” said one official familiar with the advisory group’s instructions.
So far, the intelligence agencies have largely opposed most proposals for major changes in the programs that they developed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. For example, General Alexander has told Congress that it would not be possible to dismantle the bulk collection of data about American telephone calls until there was an efficient way to search quickly for data held by communications companies like AT&T and Verizon. Many of those companies do not retain the information for more than 18 months, and say they do not want to take on the burden and legal liabilities of holding it longer.
But General Alexander suggested in the interview two months ago that it may be several years before the United States can develop technology that would make it unnecessary for the government to amass that data in its own storage sites.
Michael S. Schmidt and Charlie Savage contributed reporting.
Bill Moyers: 'We Are This Close to Losing Our Democracy to the Mercenary Class'
The great journalist sounds the alarm about the rise of the plutocracy and the shredding of the social contract.
December 12, 2013 |
I met Supreme Court Justice William Brennan in 1987 when I was creating a series for public television called In Search of the Constitution, celebrating the bicentennial of our founding document. By then, he had served on the court longer than any of his colleagues and had written close to 500 majority opinions, many of them addressing fundamental questions of equality, voting rights, school segregation, and -- in New York Times v. Sullivan in particular -- the defense of a free press.
Those decisions brought a storm of protest from across the country. He claimed that he never took personally the resentment and anger directed at him. He did, however, subsequently reveal that his own mother told him she had always liked his opinions when he was on the New Jersey court, but wondered now that he was on the Supreme Court, “Why can’t you do it the same way?” His answer: “We have to discharge our responsibility to enforce the rights in favor of minorities, whatever the majority reaction may be.”
Although a liberal, he worried about the looming size of government. When he mentioned that modern science might be creating “a Frankenstein,” I asked, “How so?” He looked around his chambers and replied, “The very conversation we’re now having can be overheard. Science has done things that, as I understand it, makes it possible through these drapes and those windows to get something in here that takes down what we’re talking about.”
That was long before the era of cyberspace and the maximum surveillance state that grows topsy-turvy with every administration. How I wish he were here now -- and still on the Court!
My interview with him was one of 12 episodes in that series on the Constitution. Another concerned a case he had heard back in 1967. It involved a teacher named Harry Keyishian who had been fired because he would not sign a New York State loyalty oath. Justice Brennan ruled that the loyalty oath and other anti-subversive state statutes of that era violated First Amendment protections of academic freedom.
I tracked Keyishian down and interviewed him. Justice Brennan watched that program and was fascinated to see the actual person behind the name on his decision. The journalist Nat Hentoff, who followed Brennan’s work closely, wrote, “He may have seen hardly any of the litigants before him, but he searched for a sense of them in the cases that reached him.” Watching the interview with Keyishian, he said, “It was the first time I had seen him. Until then, I had no idea that he and the other teachers would have lost everything if the case had gone the other way.”
Toward the end of his tenure, when he was writing an increasing number of dissents on the Rehnquist Court, Brennan was asked if he was getting discouraged. He smiled and said, “Look, pal, we’ve always known -- the Framers knew -- that liberty is a fragile thing. You can’t give up.” And he didn’t.
The Donor Class and Streams of Dark Money
The historian Plutarch warned us long ago of what happens when there is no brake on the power of great wealth to subvert the electorate. “The abuse of buying and selling votes,” he wrote of Rome, “crept in and money began to play an important part in determining elections. Later on, this process of corruption spread in the law courts and to the army, and finally, when even the sword became enslaved by the power of gold, the republic was subjected to the rule of emperors.”
We don’t have emperors yet, but we do have the Roberts Court that consistently privileges the donor class.
We don’t have emperors yet, but we do have a Senate in which, as a study by the political scientist Larry Bartels reveals, “Senators appear to be considerably more responsive to the opinions of affluent constituents than to the opinions of middle-class constituents, while the opinions of constituents in the bottom third of the income distribution have no apparent statistical effect on their senators’ roll call votes.”
We don’t have emperors yet, but we have a House of Representatives controlled by the far right that is now nourished by streams of “dark money” unleashed thanks to the gift bestowed on the rich by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case.
We don’t have emperors yet, but one of our two major parties is now dominated by radicals engaged in a crusade of voter suppression aimed at the elderly, the young, minorities, and the poor; while the other party, once the champion of everyday working people, has been so enfeebled by its own collaboration with the donor class that it offers only token resistance to the forces that have demoralized everyday Americans.
Writing in the Guardian recently, the social critic George Monbiot commented,
“So I don’t blame people for giving up on politics... When a state-corporate nexus of power has bypassed democracy and made a mockery of the voting process, when an unreformed political system ensures that parties can be bought and sold, when politicians [of the main parties] stand and watch as public services are divvied up by a grubby cabal of privateers, what is left of this system that inspires us to participate?”
Why are record numbers of Americans on food stamps? Because record numbers of Americans are in poverty. Why are people falling through the cracks? Because there are cracks to fall through. It is simply astonishing that in this rich nation more than 21 million Americans are still in need of full-time work, many of them running out of jobless benefits, while our financial class pockets record profits, spends lavishly on campaigns to secure a political order that serves its own interests, and demands that our political class push for further austerity. Meanwhile, roughly 46 million Americans live at or below the poverty line and, with the exception of Romania, no developed country has a higher percent of kids in poverty than we do. Yet a study by scholars at Northwestern University and Vanderbilt finds little support among the wealthiest Americans for policy reforms to reduce income inequality.
Listen! That sound you hear is the shredding of the social contract.
Ten years ago the Economist magazine -- no friend of Marxism -- warned: “The United States risks calcifying into a European-style class-based society.” And as a recent headline in the Columbia Journalism Review put it: “The line between democracy and a darker social order is thinner than you think.”
We are this close -- this close! -- to losing our democracy to the mercenary class. So close it’s as if we’re leaning way over the rim of the Grand Canyon waiting for a swift kick in the pants.
When Justice Brennan and I talked privately in his chambers before that interview almost 20 years ago, I asked him how he had come to his liberal sentiments. “It was my neighborhood,” he said. Born to Irish immigrants in 1906, as the harsh indignities of the Gilded Age brought hardship and deprivation to his kinfolk and neighbors, he saw “all kinds of suffering -- people had to struggle.” He never forgot those people or their struggles, and he believed it to be our collective responsibility to create a country where they would have a fair chance to a decent life. “If you doubt it,” he said, “read the Preamble [to the Constitution].”
He then asked me how I had come to my philosophy about government (knowing that I had been in both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations). I don’t remember my exact words, but I reminded him that I had been born in the midst of the Great Depression to parents, one of whom had to drop out of school in the fourth grade, the other in the eighth, because they were needed in the fields to pick cotton to help support their families.
Franklin Roosevelt, I recalled, had been president during the first 11 years of my life. My father had listened to his radio “fireside chats” as if they were gospel; my brother went to college on the G.I. Bill; and I had been the beneficiary of public schools, public libraries, public parks, public roads, and two public universities. How could I not think that what had been so good for me would be good for others, too?
That was the essence of what I told Justice Brennan. Now, I wish that I could talk to him again, because I failed to mention perhaps the most important lesson about democracy I ever learned.
On my 16th birthday in 1950, I went to work for the daily newspaper in the small East Texas town where I grew up. It was a racially divided town -- about 20,000 people, half of them white, half of them black -- a place where you could grow up well-loved, well-taught, and well-churched, and still be unaware of the lives of others merely blocks away. It was nonetheless a good place to be a cub reporter: small enough to navigate but big enough to keep me busy and learning something new every day. I soon had a stroke of luck. Some of the old-timers in the newsroom were on vacation or out sick, and I got assigned to report on what came to be known as the “Housewives’ Rebellion.” Fifteen women in town (all white) decided not to pay the Social Security withholding tax for their domestic workers (all black).
They argued that Social Security was unconstitutional, that imposing it was taxation without representation, and that -- here’s my favorite part -- “requiring us to collect [the tax] is no different from requiring us to collect the garbage.” They hired themselves a lawyer -- none other than Martin Dies, Jr., the former congressman best known, or worst known, for his work as head of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in the witch-hunting days of the 1930s and 1940s. They went to court -- and lost. Social Security was constitutional, after all. They held their noses and paid the tax.
The stories I helped report were picked up by the Associated Press and circulated nationwide. One day, the managing editor, Spencer Jones, called me over and pointed to the AP ticker beside his desk. Moving across the wire was a notice citing the reporters on our paper for the reporting we had done on the “rebellion.” I spotted my name and was hooked. In one way or another, after a detour through seminary and then into politics and government, I’ve been covering the class war ever since.
Those women in Marshall, Texas, were among its advance guard. Not bad people, they were regulars at church, their children were my classmates, many of them were active in community affairs, and their husbands were pillars of the business and professional class in town. They were respectable and upstanding citizens all, so it took me a while to figure out what had brought on that spasm of reactionary defiance. It came to me one day, much later: they simply couldn’t see beyond their own prerogatives.
Fiercely loyal to their families, to their clubs, charities, and congregations -- fiercely loyal, in other words, to their own kind -- they narrowly defined membership in democracy to include only people like themselves. The black women who washed and ironed their laundry, cooked their families’ meals, cleaned their bathrooms, wiped their children’s bottoms, and made their husbands’ beds, these women, too, would grow old and frail, sick and decrepit, lose their husbands and face the ravages of time alone, with nothing to show for their years of labor but the creases on their brows and the knots on their knuckles. There would be nothing for them to live on but the modest return on their toil secured by the collaborative guarantee of a safety net.
The Unfinished Work of America
In one way or another, this is the oldest story in America: the struggle to determine whether “we, the people” is a moral compact embedded in a political contract or merely a charade masquerading as piety and manipulated by the powerful and privileged to sustain their own way of life at the expense of others.
I should make it clear that I don’t harbor any idealized notion of politics and democracy. Remember, I worked for Lyndon Johnson. Nor do I romanticize “the people.” You should read my mail and posts on right-wing websites. I understand the politician in Texas who said of the state legislature, “If you think these guys are bad, you should see their constituents.”
But there is nothing idealized or romantic about the difference between a society whose arrangements roughly serve all its citizens (something otherwise known as social justice) and one whose institutions have been converted into a stupendous fraud. That can be the difference between democracy and plutocracy.
Toward the end of Justice Brennan’s tenure on the Supreme Court, he made a speech that went to the heart of the matter. He said:
“We do not yet have justice, equal and practical, for the poor, for the members of minority groups, for the criminally accused, for the displaced persons of the technological revolution, for alienated youth, for the urban masses... Ugly inequities continue to mar the face of the nation. We are surely nearer the beginning than the end of the struggle.”
And so we are. One hundred and fifty years ago, Abraham Lincoln stood on the blood-soaked battlefield of Gettysburg and called Americans to “the great task remaining.” That “unfinished work,” as he named it, remained the same then as it was when America’s founding generation began it. And it remains the same today: to breathe new life into the promise of the Declaration of Independence and to assure that the Union so many have sacrificed to save is a union worth saving.
For Republicans, a Homeless, 11-year-old Black Girl Named Dasani is a 'Useless Eater' Who Should Die
The right's politics of cruelty would have the poor, the brown and even children 'disappeared.'
December 12, 2013 |
Al Sharpton did some great work on Monday's PoliticsNation where he further exposed the politics of cruelty that have possessed the Republican Party.
Republicans want to cut food stamps, believe that kicking people off of unemployment insurance who cannot find a job in an economy where there are 3 people for every available job, and that a particularly evil and twisted version of "Christian faith" justifies punishing and hurting poor people as righteous deeds and acts that mark conservatives as the elect who are destined for heaven.
I am not a "Christian." But my understanding of the "historical" Jesus was that he was a man who died fighting State tyranny and would do anything to help the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable. The Tea Party GOP's bastardization of Jesus Christ remakes him into a figure who puts his foot on the throats of the hungry, weak, the vulnerable, and the needy, in order to motivate them into self-sufficiency--or alternatively die from a lack of breath.
For the Tea Party GOP, either outcome is acceptable.
The panoply of Right-wing hypocrites that Al Sharpton calls out, what is a rogues gallery of the cruel and the heartless, are wealthy people who have not internalized basic principles such as how noblesse oblige may actually create the social stability necessary to protect the rich while advancing their long-term interests.
I wrote about how the Tea Party GOP wants to kill the "useless eaters" here. I was also fortunate to do an interview on Right of Fire Radio where I explained my argument in more detail.
During that conversation, I made a special effort to "connect the dots" between how the Republican Party's hostility to the poor and working classes is fueled by white racism and an explicit appeal to Eliminationism, i.e that some citizens are worthy of life and others are to be purged and eliminated from the body politic.
During his TV segment, Al Sharpton mentioned this heart-wrenching piece about a homeless 11-year-old child in New York by the name of Dasani. Her tale of struggle and endurance is both tragic and inspiring. Dasani is a little soldier; Dasani should not have to play such a role in what is ostensibly the world's "richest" country.
America is rotting from within while the very rich smile and gloat. The 1 percent can buy their kids tree houses that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Dasani has to struggle to maintain her dignity while living in the shadow of squalor.
There are no children in Dasani's world. The super rich enjoy an extended childhood and adolescence, one that for many never ends because wealth is ultimately an insulation from the consequences of your choices: thus are the fruits of money and privilege.
The NY Times' story about Dasani and her family is socially responsible and important journalism. The fourth estate should and must do this type of work if it is rehabilitate itself as the watchdog of American democracy. Al Sharpton is to be commended for daring to get close to the truth of how the Republican Party views the working class and the poor as leeches, bums, social parasites, and whose children should be in workhouses or cleaning their schools as janitors.
Yet, The NY Times and Al Sharpton are teasing a harsh reality. Unfortunately, neither are able to state that plain fact for fear of reprisal by the Right-wing noise machine and the corporations which control the American news media. I have no such restrictions.
The Republican Party wants poor people and the vulnerable such as 11-year-old children like Dasani and her family to be "disappeared" from the body politic--in essence to die. As viewed by the White Right, they are "untermensch." The language which Republicans and their media use to describe poor, working class, and unemployed people--in particular those who are black and brown--leads to no other reasonable conclusion.
Leeches and parasites are to be destroyed; this is pest control; human leeches and parasites are to be eliminated with even greater expediency.
Little black girls like Dasani are subjected to a social phenomena known as "adultification".
Here, they are not allowed the innocence of childhood or to be vulnerable and in need of help and assistance by majority white society. The White Gaze, especially from the Right, has historically seen black folks as children for the purposes of civic inclusion and democracy (see the GOP's obsession with suggesting that African-Americans are civic children, veritable slaves, on a "Democratic plantation" without agency, as an example). In parallel, black children are seen as adults who can be imprisoned, executed, harassed by police, punished, profiled, expelled, and not allowed their innocence by a criminal justice system or educational system that deems them not allowed the white privilege of youthful error, insecurity, or nurturing.
Moreover, race, class, and gender are inexorably linked in the racial logic and rhetoric of Right-wing (and American) politics. Black women are "welfare queens". Black men, borrowing from Reagan's language, are "strapping young bucks" who use welfare to buy steaks. Because claims about poverty are also claims on morality in American society where the poor "deserve" their fate and have made "bad choices," the myth and cult of meritocracy combines with a centuries-long legacy of white supremacy to further mark and stigmatize children like brave Dasani.
If Sharpton, and The NY Times, were able and willing to offer up the basic and fundamental truth about how Republican rhetoric about poverty and people of color is not "innocent" political gamesmanship or mere bombast, but rather how the Tea Party GOP actually feels about the "useless eaters," they would tell a plain truth: the American Right-wing wants to see little innocent black girls like Dasani die...or at the very least conveniently disappear.
They are "surplus" people to be eliminated. Why? For conservatives, and those other who adhere to an Ayn Randian culture of cruelty that is intermixed with a a worldview and ideology in which conservatism and racism are one in the same, the sins of the mother and father are passed down to the child. As such, stalwart and strong little girls like Dasani are tainted with "bad culture"--and perhaps even bad genes.
As understood by contemporary Republicans, why should the United States' social safety net support and protect the poor and working classes when American elites can choose to instead enrich the 1 percent, while also continuing to support Wall Street and the Corporateocracy, those who are the "makers" and not the "takers?"
December 12, 2013
$15 Hourly Minimum Wage in Northwest City Faces Court Challenge
By KIRK JOHNSON
SEATTLE — The highest municipal minimum wage in the nation, approved by voters last month in the small city of SeaTac, Wash., at $15 an hour, survived a narrow election and a recount. Now, just weeks before its scheduled Jan. 1 start date – raising the pay of thousands of SeaTac residents and workers at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which is within the city limits — opponents are sending in the lawyers.
At a hearing scheduled for Friday in King County Superior Court in Seattle, Judge Andrea Darvas is expected to rule on whether to affirm the statute, strike it down or perhaps hold it in abeyance. Supporters of the measure said they were braced for a loss, and were preparing an emergency appeal to the state’s highest court.
The statute, which is being closely watched around the nation by labor and business groups as a barometer of the nation’s working wage debate, specifically exempts airlines and small businesses, including restaurants with fewer than 10 employees, but could raise pay for about 6,500 workers on and off airport property and give paid sick days to many of those workers for the first time.
Alaska Airlines and the Washington Restaurant Association are leading the legal challenge, contending that the measure, known as Proposition 1, was too broadly and vaguely written, and that the city has no authority to regulate economic activity at the airport, which is operated by the Port of Seattle.
Although Alaska Airlines employees would not be covered by the law, the company said that higher costs borne by its contractors would be passed on to the airlines and travelers.
The director of government affairs for the Restaurant Association, Bruce Beckett, said he thought that no matter what happens on Friday, the statute could have a long legal road ahead because of the complexity of the issues raised. “I don’t know how this can all be resolved by Jan. 1,” he said.
Labor leaders, in pushing the wage measure before the election, said that higher wages for airport workers would benefit the entire region, since most of those workers live outside the city of SeaTac.
In responding to the legal challenge, Heather Weiner, a spokeswoman for a group that worked for Proposition 1’s passage, derided the lawsuit as containing “everything but the legal kitchen sink.”
Washington already has the highest state minimum in the nation, at $9.19, but stands to be surpassed by California, which recently approved a $10 minimum, phased in over two years. The federal minimum is $7.25. The SeaTac statute passed by just 77 votes out of about 6,000 cast – a number affirmed in the recount results that were announced this week.
Friday’s hearing will not be the first time Proposition 1 has come before Judge Darvas. In August, she threw the measure off the ballot, agreeing with opponents that the signature process had been flawed. Her order was later reversed by an appeals court in time for the election.
But she also stressed in her ruling at the time that she was taking no position on the underlying question about minimum wage levels — only on the technical aspects of the law.
“The court wishes to emphasize that its decision in this matter has nothing whatsoever to do with the substance of the initiative itself,” she wrote.
December 12, 2013
House Passes Budget Pact and Military Abuse Protections, but Not Farm Bill
By JONATHAN WEISMAN and JEREMY W. PETERS
WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday approved a bipartisan budget accord and a Pentagon policy bill that would strengthen protections for victims of sexual assault. But as it wrapped up its business for the year, it left unfinished a major piece of domestic policy — the farm bill — making it likely that Congress will not deal with it until January.
Republicans and Democrats hope the budget pact, which passed 332 to 94, will act as a truce in the spending battles that have paralyzed Congress for nearly three years, and leaders in both parties sought to marginalize hard-line conservatives opposed to any compromise.
The defense measure would, in addition to strengthening protections for military victims of sexual assault, leave open the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, over President Obama’s objections.
The provisions to stem the growing number of sexual assault cases in the military are the most expansive in years. They would include new rules to prevent commanding officers from overturning sexual assault verdicts.
But an agreement remained elusive on the farm bill, the subject of continuing disagreements between Republicans and Democrats over spending for food stamps and expanding crop insurance for farmers, among other issues. All the House could pass on Thursday was a simple one-month extension of the current law, which Senate Democrats oppose because they think it will distract from the completion of a new bill.
Earlier, with bipartisan support in hand for the budget deal, Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio declared war on the outside conservative groups that tried to scuttle it. For the second day in a row, he accused groups like the Club for Growth, Heritage Action and Americans for Prosperity of reflexively opposing a reasonable plan to try to raise their profiles and improve their fund-raising.
He said the groups had devised the strategy of linking further government spending to the repeal of Mr. Obama’s health care law, then pressing their members and House Republicans to go along, even though they knew it would shut down the government and ultimately fail.
“Are you kidding me?” the speaker shouted, denouncing opposition to the budget accord. “There comes a point where some people step over the line. When you criticize something and you have no idea what you’re criticizing, it undermines your credibility.”
Yet when the Senate takes up the bill, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, is likely to vote against it, as are virtually all of the Republican senators who are contending with Tea Party challenges next year or are wooing conservatives for a potential presidential bid.
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, has already declared his opposition.
“Much of the spending increase in this deal has been justified by increased fees and new revenue,” Mr. Sessions said. “In other words, it’s a fee increase to fuel a spending increase — rather than reducing deficits.”
By most analyses, the budget deal, struck by Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, and Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, is a modest plan to soften the blow of the across-the-board spending cuts, known as sequestration, that went into effect in March, and to slightly lower the budget deficit over the next decade.
The legislation would also extend current Medicare payment rates for three months, staving off a cut of more than 20 percent to health care providers. That would allow lawmakers to try to find a more permanent “doctors’ fix” to avoid a deficit reduction measure that neither party has been able to stomach for more than a decade.
The budget fight has turned into a donnybrook between congressional leaders and the groups and lawmakers aligned with the Tea Party. It pits the House Republican leadership against the Tea Party wing; one potential Republican presidential candidate, Mr. Ryan, against two others who oppose his deal, Senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky; and a congressional majority against outside pressure groups, both liberal and conservative.
“It is clear that the conservative movement has come under attack on Capitol Hill,” 50 conservative activists wrote in a letter to congressional Republicans.
Democratic leaders took heart in what they saw as a turning point in their battle with uncompromising conservatives and as a moment when a cooperative attitude in Washington might return.
“The benefits of this agreement will go far beyond the actual agreement itself,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in Congress. “What we have seen in the Senate over the last several months, and now in the House, led by the courage of Congressman Ryan, is mainstream conservatives standing up to the hard right and saying: ‘This is no good for America. This is no good for the Republican Party. We’re not going to follow the Tea Party, like Thelma and Louise, over a cliff.’ ”
Conservative activists and their congressional allies said they would not surrender despite the vote on Thursday. The budget deal “exposes the true colors of several in the G.O.P. establishment when it comes to protecting conservative principles,” said Jenny Beth Martin, the national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots.
The budget deal would reverse many of the across-the-board sequestration cuts that were set to deepen next month. Spending on military and domestic programs would rise to $1.012 trillion from the $967 billion expected this fiscal year, then inch up to $1.014 trillion in the fiscal year that begins in October.
But over 10 years, deficits would drop slightly, because of higher airline ticket fees, larger worker contributions to federal retirement plans, slower growth in military pensions, and a two-year extension in the next decade of a 2 percent cut to Medicare provider payments. Mr. Boehner said the legislation “takes giant steps in the right direction.”
“We feel very good about where we are with our members,” Mr. Ryan said.
Some conservatives feel betrayed, as they often have since the Republicans took control of the House in 2011. Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, said the House Republican conference agreed in the spring that spending levels exacted by the sequestration cuts would not change unless Congress and the White House could strike an accord to control the long-term causes of the rising costs of the federal debt, Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
Representative Tim Huelskamp, Republican of Kansas, said most of the deficit reduction in the Ryan-Murray legislation “could be in Hillary’s second term,” a nod to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s expected presidential bid and a measure of the conservatives’ demoralization.
The deal does not address the statutory debt limit, which Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew has said would have to be lifted by March for the government to avoid a devastating default. But Representative Raúl R. Labrador, Republican of Idaho, said Republicans “should just cave” on that, too, “because that’s what Republicans do.”
December 12, 2013
Jobless Fear Looming Cutoff of Benefits
By ANNIE LOWREY
WASHINGTON — Mary Helen Gillespie of Londonderry, N.H., is about to lose her last government lifeline. Since being laid off from a large banking firm in April, Ms. Gillespie, 57, has been living on little more than her unemployment insurance payments of $384 a week. She has burned through her savings and moved back in with her parents.
“There are times where I’ll go two, three, four days where I only have five dollars in my wallet and no money in my checking account,” said Ms. Gillespie, who worked as a corporate compliance officer at her previous employer,choking up as she described the difficulty of finding a job, any job, after her second extended period of joblessness since 2007. “I’ve been making decisions such as: Do I buy groceries or do I buy prescriptions?”
Ms. Gillespie’s 26 weeks of state benefits ran out this month, but she remained eligible for the emergency federal unemployment-insurance program, which has provided as many as 73 additional weeks of checks in states with high jobless rates.
Until now. Unless Congress acts — suddenly and unexpectedly — that recession-era initiative will expire at the end of the month. About 1.3 million current beneficiaries will lose aid. Also affected are an estimated 1.9 million more who would have been eligible for the program in the first half of 2014 after their state benefits ran out.
Democrats in Congress are pushing for an extension, which would cost the government an estimated $25 billion through 2014, while providing a modest lift, according to the Congressional Budget Office, to overall economic activity.
“If Congress refuses to act, it won’t just hurt families already struggling,” President Obama said last week. “It will actually harm our economy. Unemployment insurance is one of the most effective ways there is to boost our economy.”
But the bipartisan budget deal introduced by Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat, and Representative Paul D. Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, does not include the extension.
Republicans contend that they would be willing to negotiate one, if its cost were offset with spending cutbacks elsewhere. But congressional aides described that as unlikely to happen — and certainly not before the end of the year.
“We’ve worked all year to get our economy going again and to help produce better jobs and more wages,” John A. Boehner of Ohio, the speaker of the House, told reporters this week. “When the White House finally called me last Friday about extending unemployment benefits, I said that we would clearly consider it as long as it’s paid for and as long as there are other efforts that’ll help get our economy moving once again. I have not seen a plan from the White House that meets those standards.”
Many Republicans are more adamantly opposed to an extension, on the grounds that unemployment insurance payments tend to lengthen the time a jobless worker remains without work and thus raise the unemployment rate. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, for instance, has argued that another extension of the program would be a “disservice” to the jobless.
Economists generally agree that long-term unemployment payments can act as a disincentive for some people by encouraging them to hold out longer for a better job. But most say that the reason the vast majority of the nation’s unemployed cannot find work is because of the weak economy.
Today, the official unemployment rate stands at 7 percent, with about 11 million Americans looking for work, including four million who have been looking for more than six months. Many millions more have dropped out of the labor force altogether or been forced to take part-time jobs when they want full-time work.
Barry Iverson, a 34-year-old online content manager from Washington State, has a college degree and a solid work history. Since getting laid off from a failing start-up in June, he has applied to scores of jobs. “I can’t even get a job mopping floors,” he said.
Mr. Iverson’s income dropped by nearly two-thirds when he lost his job and started accepting about $490 a week in unemployment insurance payments. He said that his family had pared back spending to the essentials: things like groceries, gas and utilities. Even then, he said, they have maxed out their credit cards. He carefully watches their bank account to make sure their checks do not bounce.
He and his wife, who have two small children, are not sure what they will do if his unemployment insurance payments run out before he can find another job. “It’s really tough to think about,” he said.
“Christmas is just a hurdle to get through,” he said. “I don’t want to call it a stressor, but it’s just one of those things where you have to put on your best smile and get through it and try to focus on the positive.”
For job seekers like Ms. Gillespie and Mr. Iverson, the labor market remains punishing even though the economy has been on a modest upswing for more than four years. The hiring rate has scarcely increased, and competition for positions remains fierce. The unemployment rate has come down mostly because workers are dropping out of the labor force, and businesses are no longer letting large numbers of workers go.
Many employers refuse to even look at the résumés of the long-term unemployed, leaving them unable to secure jobs even if they are qualified and willing to work for less.
“I’ve tried for minimum-wage jobs, just to bring some income in,” Ms. Gillespie said. “I’ve been told I’m overqualified, and that I wouldn’t last because if I got a real job, I’d leave. That means it’s just another cycle of hearing no and no and no over and over again.”
The end of the jobless payments, by removing a modest source of consumer spending, will actually cost the economy jobs. Economists estimate that losing the emergency benefits will reduce economic growth by about 0.4 percentage points in the first quarter of next year below what it otherwise might be.
For now, hundreds of thousands of workers are bracing for the imminent loss of the payments. “I was terrified when I found out the payments were ending,” Ms. Gillespie said. “It is just another kick in the head.”
6-year-old Suspended for Sexual Harassment After Kissing Classmate on the Hand
Experts and social media wonder: Has zero tolerance run amok?
December 12, 2013 |
Six-year-old Hunter Yelton was suspended and now has a permanent record as a result of kissing a fellow student on the hand, and now his Colorado school district has come under fire for labeling the incident as "sexual harassment."
School officials have maintained that Yelton violated the school's strict zero-tolerance policy on sexual harassment, and stand by their decision to suspend the first grader from the Lincoln School of Science and Technology in Canon City, Colorado.
Since then, the school has begun gaining national attention, with many suggesting that the school's reaction has been far too extreme. Education experts say the punishment was more reactionary than appropriate.
"Zero tolerance policies in schools have not been shown to work," Nadine Block, a child psychologist, told Raw Story. "This is just another example of going overboard on rules in schools that need to be more flexible…schools should be looking for ways to teach appropriate behavior."
For many, the prevalence of zero-tolerance policies in schools signals an attempt to configure a punishment system that will institute large-scale results, though educators are always quick to point out that these policies have not led to a decrease in incidents. So the question arises: Is it sero tolerance, with zero results?
This marks the second suspension for poor Yelton, who was previously suspended for kissing the same girl on the cheek, a girl whom he identified as his "girlfriend" to his mother.
"it cannot be a good thing for a 6-year old child to be told he has to leave school just for kidding a girl," Feather Berkower, founder of Parenting Safe Children, a popular parenting website told Raw Story. "The school should look for a teachable moment in this, helping the kids to understand what age-appropriate sexual behavior is."
With the ACA Succeeding Darrell Issa Threatens to Charge Kathleen Sebelius With a Crime
By: Jason Easley
Thursday, December, 12th, 2013, 4:21 pm
Rep. Darrell Issa’s endless abuse of his investigative powers hit a new low today, as he threatened to charge HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius with a crime.
In a letter to Sebelius, Issa wrote, “The Department [HHS] subsequently instructed those companies not to comply with the Committee’s request. The Department’s hostility toward questions from Congress and the media about the implementation of Obamcare is well known. The Department’s most recent effort to stonewall, however, has morphed from mere obstinacy into criminal obstruction of a congressional investigation.”
Issa is outraged because CCSI’s contract with HHS requires that they get the approval of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services before cooperating with Congress.
This is why Issa is threatening Sebelius with criminal obstruction, “In fact, it strains credulity to such an extent that it creates the appearance that the Department is using the threat of litigation to deter private companies from cooperating with Congress. The Department’s attempt to threaten CCSI for the purpose of deterring the company from providing documents to Congress places the officials responsible for drafting and sending the letter on the wrong side of federal statues that prohibit obstruction of a congressional investigation. Obstructing a Congressional investigation is a crime.”
The claim that documents are being withheld is the main go to move for the worst investigator in history, Magnum DI. Ironically, it was the exposure of transcripts that Issa was withholding that killed the Obama angle in the IRS “scandal.” Beneath these empty claims is Issa’s biased belief the truth is out there, all he has to do is find the documents that Obama must be hiding. Issa said the same thing during Fast and Furious, Benghazi, and the IRS scandals. He was wrong every single time.
It looks like Kathleen Sebelius has become the new Eric Holder for Darrell Issa, but just like his other “investigations,” the real target is President Obama. Issa’s main objective is to find the smoking gun that he can use as the basis for impeaching the president.
The ACA is succeeding. Millions of people already have health coverage, yet Darrell Issa is still trying to earn political points by drumming up a new Obama scandal. The website “scandal” will fail, just like all the others that have failed, because the only crime being committed is the waste of taxpayer resources that are being spent on bogus investigations by the real criminal Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA).
December 12, 2013
Tempers Flare as New Rules Strain Senate
By JEREMY W. PETERS
WASHINGTON — If there is a rock bottom in the frayed relationship between Senate Republicans and Democrats, it seemed uncomfortably close as the final days of 2013 on Capitol Hill degenerated into something like an endurance contest to see who could be the most spiteful.
As the sun rose on Friday, senators had worked through a second straight all-night session — called by Democrats as a way of retaliating for Republicans’ delaying tactics on confirmations. They held their first vote of the day at 7 a.m., confirming Deborah James to be secretary of the Air Force.
“I think it resembles fourth graders playing in a sandbox, and I’ll give the majority leader, Harry Reid, 99 percent of the responsibility for it,” Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee and usually one of the more reserved members, said Thursday.
“He’s going to have ‘The End of the Senate’ written on his tombstone,” Mr. Alexander complained.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, called this week “chaotic and confusing, and a shameful waste of time.”
“I am loath to cast partisan blame,” he added, before doing just that. “But the plain fact is that there is a faction of the Republican Party that is essentially insisting on burning through all of these time deadlines.”
Republicans, furious that Democrats last month stripped away most of their power to filibuster presidential nominations, are using every procedural barricade available to them in the Senate’s two-century-old rule book, forcing it to run the clock as long as possible while they vote on a series of President Obama’s nominees.
Democrats, hoping to make the situation so unpleasant for their colleagues across the aisle that they eventually break, are scheduling votes at all hours of the day and night. Mr. Reid is threatening to refuse to let anyone go home until a backlog of dozens of nominees is gone — even if that means spending Christmas Eve in the Capitol.
Mr. Reid has votes planned through Saturday afternoon and will push through another battery of nominations next week, including some that would each require 30 hours of debate, like that of Janet L. Yellen to lead the Federal Reserve.
What members of both parties bemoaned more than anything was not the lack of civility or bipartisan cooperation — which they seem to have given up on long ago — but what they said they see as the irreversible damage inflicted on an institution they claim to revere.
“If Bob Byrd had been here he would have had a stroke,” said Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, referring to the late Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, the senator whom Republicans and Democrats hold up as the embodiment of senatorial dignity and forbearance.
Some senators expressed concern that this moodier, more intemperate Senate would become the norm now that Democrats have unilaterally changed filibuster rules.
“It’s the beginning of what we were worried about,” said Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, one of just three Democrats who did not support the rules change. “It’s just concerning, very much concerning, where it goes from here.”
The Democratic push was producing results as the Senate confirmed Cornelia T. L. Pillard, one of the nominees at the heart of the fight with Republicans over the filibuster, to the country’s most powerful appeals court, the District of Columbia Circuit, shortly after 1 a.m. on Thursday by a 51-to-44 vote.
As the day wore on, several other nominees were confirmed as well: Chai Feldblum to serve as a commissioner on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; Elizabeth Wolford to Federal District Court for the Western District of New York; and Landya B. McCafferty to the Federal District Court for the District of New Hampshire, among others.
Republicans complained that instead of tackling the many substantive issues that the Senate should resolve before the end of the year — whether to impose sanctions on Iran, passing the annual defense authorization bill and settling a long-running dispute over federal subsidies to farmers and food stamps — lawmakers were wasting their time on midlevel nominations.
“I can’t imagine what folks think,” said Senator Deb Fischer, Republican of Nebraska, chastising her colleagues.
The Senate is a body where one member can slow down just about anything. Much of its business is accomplished through unanimous consent, which allows senators to move quickly through mundane tasks like approving low-level nominations.
Republicans have held up the votes on dozens of Mr. Obama’s pending nominees by refusing to provide unanimous consent to waive the time that is allotted for debate. Instead, they are using the debate time to take to the Senate floor to vent.
“Let’s be really frank,” said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. “Senate Democrats have for petty partisan reasons taken away the power of Congress, taken away one of the checks and balances on a rogue presidency.” Earlier in the day, Mr. Paul told the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call that he did not think there would be anything approved by unanimous consent “until hell freezes over.”
Like the many paralyzing partisan squabbles before it, this one left its combatants confused and disheartened about how it had spiraled so out of control.
Senator Angus King, a first-term independent from Maine who usually votes with Democrats, brought his toothbrush and a change of clothes on Wednesday. He said he had an uncomfortable night on a couch that was about eight inches too short. And when he rolled over in the morning, he set off the motion sensor that turned on his office lights.
The experience drove home for Mr. King a stark realization: This is no way to run the Senate. “It’s not a very constructive use of time,” he said. “I don’t fully understand it.”
With that, he walked back toward his office. He had a long night ahead. He was assigned to be the presiding officer from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.