In the USA..
November 9, 2012
Climate Change Report Outlines Perils for U.S. Military
By JOHN M. BRODER
WASHINGTON — Climate change is accelerating, and it will place unparalleled strains on American military and intelligence agencies in coming years by causing ever more disruptive events around the globe, the nation’s top scientific research group said in a report issued Friday.
The group, the National Research Council, says in a study commissioned by the C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies that clusters of apparently unrelated events exacerbated by a warming climate will create more frequent but unpredictable crises in water supplies, food markets, energy supply chains and public health systems.
Hurricane Sandy provided a foretaste of what can be expected more often in the near future, the report’s lead author, John D. Steinbruner, said in an interview.
“This is the sort of thing we were talking about,” said Mr. Steinbruner, a longtime authority on national security. “You can debate the specific contribution of global warming to that storm. But we’re saying climate extremes are going to be more frequent, and this was an example of what they could mean. We’re also saying it could get a whole lot worse than that.”
Mr. Steinbruner, the director of the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland, said that humans are pouring carbon dioxide and other climate-altering gases into the atmosphere at a rate never before seen. “We know there will have to be major climatic adjustments — there’s no uncertainty about that — but we just don’t know the details,” he said. “We do know they will be big.”
The study was released 10 days late: its authors had been scheduled to brief intelligence officials on their findings the day Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, but the federal government was shut down because of the storm.
Climate-driven crises could lead to internal instability or international conflict and might force the United States to provide humanitarian assistance or, in some cases, military force to protect vital energy, economic or other interests, the study said.
The Defense Department has already taken major steps to plan for and adapt to climate change and has spent billions of dollars to make ships, aircraft and vehicles more fuel-efficient. Nonetheless, the 206-page study warns in sometimes bureaucratic language, the United States is ill prepared to assess and prepare for the catastrophes that a heated planet will produce.
“It is prudent to expect that over the course of a decade some climate events — including single events, conjunctions of events occurring simultaneously or in sequence in particular locations, and events affecting globally integrated systems that provide for human well-being — will produce consequences that exceed the capacity of the affected societies or global system to manage and that have global security implications serious enough to compel international response,” the report states.
In other words, states will fail, large populations subjected to famine, flood or disease will migrate across international borders, and national and international agencies will not have the resources to cope.
The report cites the simultaneous heat wave in Russia and floods in Pakistan in the summer of 2010 as disparate but linked climate-related events that taxed those societies.
It also cites the Nile River watershed as a place where climate-related conflict over water and farmland could arise as the combined populations of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia approach 300 million. South Korea and Saudi Arabia have purchased fertile land in the Nile watershed to produce crops to feed their people, but local forces could decide to seize the crops for their own use, potentially leading to international conflict, the report says.
The 18-month study is not the first such report from government agencies or research organizations to draw a direct link between climate change and national security concerns.
The National Intelligence Council produced a classified national intelligence estimate on climate change in 2008 and has issued a number of unclassified reports since then. The Pentagon and the White House have also highlighted the role of climate change in humanitarian crises and security threats.
The National Research Council recommends in the new report that all government agencies improve their ability to monitor the global climate and assess the risks to populations and critical resources around the world.
Yet Mr. Steinbruner said that as the need for more and better analysis is growing, government resources devoted to them are shrinking. Republicans in Congress objected to the C.I.A.’s creation of a climate change center and tried to deny money for it. The American weather satellite program is losing capability because of years of underfinancing and mismanagement, imperiling the ability to predict and monitor major storms.
November 9, 2012
Petraeus Quits; Evidence of Affair Was Found by F.B.I.
By MICHAEL D. SHEAR
WASHINGTON — David H. Petraeus, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and one of America’s most decorated four-star generals, resigned on Friday after an F.B.I. investigation uncovered evidence that he had been involved in an extramarital affair.
Mr. Petraeus issued a statement acknowledging the affair after President Obama accepted his resignation and it was announced by the C.I.A. The disclosure ended a triumphant re-election week for the president with an unfolding scandal.
Government officials said that the F.B.I. began an investigation into a “potential criminal matter” several months ago that was not focused on Mr. Petraeus. In the course of their inquiry into whether a computer used by Mr. Petraeus had been compromised, agents discovered evidence of the relationship as well as other security concerns. About two weeks ago, F.B.I. agents met with Mr. Petraeus to discuss the investigation.
Administration and Congressional officials identified the woman as Paula Broadwell, the co-author of a biography of Mr. Petraeus. Her book, “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus,” was published this year. Ms. Broadwell could not be reached for comment.
Ms. Broadwell, a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, spent 15 years in the military, according to a biography that had appeared on her Web site. She spent extended periods of time with Mr. Petraeus in Afghanistan, interviewing him for her book, which grew out of a two-year research project for her doctoral dissertation and which she promoted on a high-profile tour that included an appearance on “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”
Married with two children, she has described Mr. Petraeus as her mentor.
Senior members of Congress were alerted to Mr. Petraeus’s impending resignation by intelligence officials about six hours before the C.I.A. announced it. One Congressional official who was briefed on the matter said that Mr. Petraeus had been encouraged “to get out in front of the issue” and resign, and that he agreed.
As for how the affair came to light, the Congressional official said that “it was portrayed to us that the F.B.I. was investigating something else and came upon him. My impression is that the F.B.I. stumbled across this.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation did not inform the Senate and House Intelligence Committees about the inquiry until this week, according to Congressional officials, who noted that by law the panels — and especially their chairmen and ranking members — are supposed to be told about significant developments in the intelligence arena. The Senate committee plans to pursue the question of why it was not told, one official said.
The revelation of a secret inquiry into the head of the nation’s premier spy agency raised urgent questions about Mr. Petraeus’s 14-month tenure at the C.I.A. and the decision by Mr. Obama to elevate him to head the agency after leading the country’s war effort in Afghanistan. White House officials said they did not know about the affair until this week, when Mr. Petraeus informed them.
“After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair,” Mr. Petraeus said in his statement, expressing regret for his abrupt departure. “Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the president graciously accepted my resignation.”
Mr. Petraeus’s admission and resignation represent a remarkable fall from grace for one of the most prominent figures in America’s modern military and intelligence community, a commander who helped lead the nation’s wartime activities in the decade after the Sept. 11 attacks and was credited with turning around the failing war effort in Iraq.
Mr. Petraeus almost single-handedly forced a profound evolution in the country’s military thinking and doctrine with his philosophy of counterinsurgency, focused more on protecting the civilian population than on killing enemies. More than most of his flag officer peers, he understood how to navigate Washington politics and news media, helping him rise through the ranks and obtain resources he needed, although fellow Army leaders often resented what they saw as a grasping careerism.
“To an important degree, a generation of officers tried to pattern themselves after Petraeus,” said Stephen Biddle, a military scholar at George Washington University who advised Mr. Petraeus at times. “He was controversial; a lot of people didn’t like him. But everybody looked at him as the model of what a modern general was to be.”
At the C.I.A., Mr. Petraeus maintained a low profile, in contrast to the celebrity that surrounded him as a general. But since the attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans two months ago, critics had increasingly pressured him to give the agency’s account of the chaotic night. Mr. Petraeus was scheduled to testify before a closed Congressional hearing next week.
White House officials say they were informed on Wednesday night that Mr. Petraeus was considering resigning because of an extramarital affair. Intelligence officials notified the president’s national security staff. Mr. Obama at the time was on his way back to Washington from Chicago, where he had gone to receive election returns.
On Thursday morning, just before a staff meeting at the White House, Mr. Obama was told. “He was surprised, and he was disappointed,” one senior administration official said. “You don’t expect to hear that the Thursday after you were re-elected.”
The president was in the White House all day on Thursday, getting back to his old routine after months on the campaign trail. That afternoon, Mr. Petraeus came in to see him, and informed him that he strongly believed he had to resign.
Mr. Obama did not accept his resignation right away. “He told him, ‘I’ll think about it overnight,’ ” the administration official said. After months on the road, the disclosure of a career-killing extramarital affair from his larger-than-life C.I.A. director was the last thing that Mr. Obama was expecting, the official said.
The president, officials said, did not want Mr. Petraeus to leave. But he ultimately decided that he would not lean heavily on him to stay. On Friday, he called Mr. Petraeus and accepted the resignation, “agreeing with Petraeus’s judgment that he couldn’t continue to lead the agency,” a White House official said.
The White House had hoped to keep the news under wraps until after the daily briefing for the news media, but as it was reported on MSNBC, reporters checking their e-mail confronted Jay Carney, the press secretary, who tried to duck the questions.
“I think I’ll let General Petraeus address this,” Mr. Carney said. Shortly after the news broke, Mr. Obama released a statement praising Mr. Petraeus for his “extraordinary service” to the country and expressing support for him and his wife, Holly.
“By any measure, through his lifetime of service, David Petraeus has made our country safer and stronger,” the president said. Without directly addressing the affair, Mr. Obama added, “Going forward, my thoughts and prayers are with Dave and Holly Petraeus, who has done so much to help military families through her own work.”
A favorite of President George W. Bush and once the subject of intense speculation about his future as a possible presidential candidate, Mr. Petraeus managed the awkward move from a Republican administration to a Democratic one. He was one of the most telegenic faces of the military during his tenure, testifying frequently in Congress about the country’s difficult battles overseas.
Mr. Petraeus clashed with Mr. Obama in 2008 during a campaign visit to Iraq, having what David Plouffe, his campaign manager, called in his book a “healthy debate” over troop levels in the country.
But the president’s decision to tap Mr. Petraeus to command the war in Afghanistan, and later picking him to lead the C.I.A., effectively ended lingering concerns among Obama political advisers that the popular general might challenge his commander in chief during the election.
Mr. Petraeus and his wife met when he was a cadet at West Point; she was the daughter of the academy’s superintendent and a student at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.
Holly Petraeus works for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, running a branch dedicated to educating military families about financial matters and monitoring their consumer complaints.
Mr. Petraeus’s resignation and the circumstances surrounding it stunned military officers who have served alongside him in war zones over the past two decades and the national security establishment he later served.
“It was a punch in the gut for those of us who know him,” said Col. Michael J. Meese, a professor at West Point who has known Mr. Petraeus for a decade and served as one of his top aides in Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Dave’s decision to step down represents the loss of one of our nation’s most respected public servants.” James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, said in a statement.
By acknowledging an extramarital affair, Mr. Petraeus, 60, was confronting a sensitive issue for a spy chief. Intelligence agencies are often concerned about the possibility that agents who engage in such behavior could be blackmailed for information.
Mr. Petraeus praised his colleagues at the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Langley, Va., calling them “truly exceptional in every regard” and thanking them for their service to the country. He made it clear that his departure was not how he had envisioned ending a storied career in the military and in intelligence.
“Teddy Roosevelt once observed that life’s greatest gift is the opportunity to work hard at work worth doing,” he said. “I will always treasure my opportunity to have done that with you, and I will always regret the circumstances that brought that work with you to an end.”
Under Mr. Bush, Mr. Petraeus was credited for helping to develop and put in place the “surge” in troops in Iraq that helped wind down the war there. Mr. Petraeus was moved to Afghanistan in 2010 after Mr. Obama fired Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal over comments he made to a reporter.
In his statement on Friday, Mr. Obama said that Michael J. Morell, the deputy director of the C.I.A., would take over once again as acting director, as he did briefly after Leon E. Panetta left the agency last year.
Among those who might succeed Mr. Petraeus permanently is John O. Brennan, the president’s adviser for domestic security and counterterrorism. Mr. Brennan was considered for C.I.A. director before Mr. Obama’s term began but withdrew amid criticism from some of the president’s liberal supporters. Another possibility is Michael G. Vickers, the top Pentagon intelligence policy official and a former C.I.A. paramilitary officer.
Reporting was contributed by Peter Baker, Helene Cooper, Michael S. Schmidt, Eric Schmitt and Scott Shane.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 9, 2012
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that David H. Petraeus was expected to remain in President Obama’s cabinet. The C.I.A. director is not a cabinet member in the Obama administration.
November 9, 2012
Woman Linked to Petraeus Is a West Point Graduate and Lifelong High Achiever
By MICHAEL D. SHEAR
WASHINGTON — Paula Broadwell, whose affair with the nation’s C.I.A. director led to his resignation on Friday, was the valedictorian of her high school class and homecoming queen, a fitness champion at West Point with a graduate degree from Harvard, and a model for a machine gun manufacturer.
It may have been those qualities — and a string of achievements that began in her native North Dakota, where she was state student council president, an all-state basketball player and orchestra concertmistress — that drew the attention of David H. Petraeus, the nation’s top spy and a four-star general, as the two spent hours together for a biography of Mr. Petraeus that Ms. Broadwell co-wrote.
Ms. Broadwell’s name burst into public view on Friday evening after Mr. Petraeus resigned abruptly amid an F.B.I. investigation that uncovered evidence of their relationship.
But Ms. Broadwell was hardly shy about her interactions with Mr. Petraeus as she promoted her book, “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus,” in media appearances earlier this year. She had unusual access, she noted in promotional appearances, taping many of her interviews for her book while running six-minute miles with Mr. Petraeus in the thin mountain air of the Afghan capital.
Ms. Broadwell said in an interview in February that Mr. Petraeus was enjoying his new civilian life at the C.I.A., where he became director in September 2011. “It was a huge growth period for him, because he realized he didn’t have to hide behind the shield of all those medals and stripes on his arm,” she said. Ms. Broadwell was 39 at the time.
Her biography on the Penguin Speakers Bureau Web site says that she is a research associate at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership and a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London. She received a master’s in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
A self-described “soccer mom” and an ironman triathlete, Ms. Broadwell became a fixture on the Washington media scene after the publication of her book about Mr. Petraeus, who is 60. In a Twitter message this summer, she bragged about appearing on a panel at the Aspen Institute, a policy group for deep thinkers.
“Heading 2 @AspenInstitute 4 the Security Forum tomorrow! Panel (media & terrorism) followed by a 1v1 run with Lance Armstrong,” she wrote. “Fired up!”
On her Twitter account, she often commented on the qualities of leadership. “Reason and calm judgment, the qualities specially belonging to a leader. Tacitus,” she wrote. In another message, she said: “A leader is a man who has the ability to get other people to do what they don’t want to do and like it. Truman.”
She also used her Twitter account to denounce speculation in the Drudge Report that Mr. Petraeus would be picked as a running mate by Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president.
Married with two children, she was described in a biography on the Web site of Inspired Women Magazine as a high achiever since high school.
The biography says that Ms. Broadwell received a degree in political geography and systems engineering from West Point, where she was ranked No. 1 over all in fitness in her class. She benefited from a different ranking scale for women, she told a reporter this year. But “I was still in the top 5 percent if I’d been ranked as a male,” she said.
The official Web site for Ms. Broadwell’s book was taken down Friday, but comments from her echoed across the Internet.
“I was driven when I was younger,” she was quoted as saying on the Web site, noting her induction into her high school’s hall of fame. “Driven at West Point where it was much more competitive in that women were competing with men on many levels, and I was driven in the military and at Harvard, both competitive environments.”
“But now,” she is quoted as saying, “as a working mother of two, I realize it is more difficult to compete in certain areas. I think it is important for working moms to recognize that family is the most important.”
On “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart summed up Ms. Broadwell’s book by saying: “I would say the real controversy here is, is he awesome or incredibly awesome?”A short time later, Ms. Broadwell challenged Mr. Stewart to a push-up contest, which she won handily. Mr. Stewart had to pay $1,000 to a veterans’ support group for each push-up she did beyond his total. Ms. Broadwell said that he wrote a check for $20,000 on the spot.
On Friday evening, her house in the Dilworth neighborhood of Charlotte, N.C., was dark when a reporter rang the doorbell. Two cars were in the home’s carport and an American flag was flying out front.
Viv Bernstein contributed reporting from Charlotte, N.C.
Obama: ‘Open to compromise’ but firm on tax increases for wealthiest
By The Guardian
Friday, November 9, 2012 16:55 EST
President says he is not ‘wedded to every detail of my plan’ but insists he wants to raise taxes for wealthiest Americans
Barack Obama used his first public appearance since his return to the White House to issue a challenge to Republicans in Congress work with him to prevent the economy going into freefall next year.
In a carefully posed statement from the East Room, during which he was accompanied by a crowd of “middle-class” Americans, Obama called on Congress to strike a deal before the January 1 deadline that would see an automatic rise in taxes across the board and swingeing cuts in spending.
“I am not wedded to every detail of my plan. I am open to compromise,” Obama said. But, in a hint of the strife to come, he said that he still wanted to raise tax rises for the wealthiest American – a policy most Republicans in Congress vehemently oppose.
“We can’t just cut our way to prosperity,” the president said. “If we are serious about reducing the deficit, we have to combine spending cuts with revenue and that means asking the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more in taxes.”
As part of the search for a compromise, the president invited to the White House for talks next week the most senior Republican leader left standing amid the election debris, House Speaker John Boehner, as well as other Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress.
As Obama grappled with the economy, his cabinet reshuffle and an agenda for the second term, Republicans were still trying to come to terms with the scale of the election defeat.
New details emerged revealing that his Republican opponent Mitt Romney had been confident of victory right up until the first voting figures came through on election night. A source inside his camp said that at planning meeting after planning meeting he had been assured of victory.
Not only had Romney planned an $25,000 fireworks display in Boston Harbour to mark his win but he had written only a victory speech, the reason his concession speech had been so brief. In a sign of how confident he had been, he had established a 200-strong transition team paving the way for the shift to the White House that even on election day was hiring more staff.
In his White House statement, Obama said that creation of jobs and economic growth was his top priority. There was an urgent need to deal with the impending fiscal crisis.
Without mentioning the word ‘mandate”, he waved his election win at the Republicans. He as not going to ask working-class Americana students and the elderly to pay for reducing the deficit while people like himself earning more than $250,000 were not asked to pay a dime more in taxes. “It was a central question during the election. It was debated over and over again, and on Tuesday night we found that the majority of Americans agree with my approach.”
Only a few hours before Obama’s statement, Boehner held his first press conference since the election. He suggested he was prepared to engage with Obama in a new spirit of bipartisanship both on working out a grand bargain on the fiscal cliff but also on immigration reform.
On the grand bargain, Boehner said: “This is an opportunity for the president to lead. This is his moment to engage the Congress and work for a solution that can pass both chambers … I am hopeful that productive conversations can begin soon.”
But any bipartisan spirit might prove short-lived. He also also went on to say that, unlike Obama and the Democrats, he does not favour raising taxes on the wealthy and that removing some loopholes and cleaning up the tax code would be enough to do the trick. He also expressed opposition to raising taxes on the wealthy.
Part of Boehner’s problem is that so far he has not been able to control all his colleagues, particularly those elected with Tea Party support.
Ominously, in his first answer to a reporter, Boehner was less than truthful, saying: “When the president and I have been able to come an agreement, there has been no problem in getting it passed in the House. ”
Boehner and Obama reached an agreement on a ‘grand bargain’ to resolve the fiscal cliff crisis last year but when Boehner took it back to his colleagues in the House, they, led by the House majority leader Eric Cantor, blocked it.
Asked about the Republican post-mortem, Boehner was curt, restricting himself to saying just that conversations were under way.
After losing 434.36 points, or 3.28%, over the past two days, the Dow Jones Industrial Average held roughly steady following Obama’s speech. Jack Ablin, the chief investment officer at BMO, said there were signs of compromise on both sides, and that hee expected a stop-gap compromise would be reached.
“I am still under the belief that they will a comprehensive compromise soon and hopefully a bigger deal next year,” he said. “Hopefully I am not being naive.”
Before the election 80 US business leaders, including Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer and JP Morgan’s Jamie Dimon, signed a letter calling for a balanced approach to tackling the budget deficit, including tax hikes and spending cuts.
On Friday United Continental airline boss Jeff Smisek told CNBC that the fiscal cliff could have a potentially more disastrous impact on his business than superstorm Sandy.
“It makes it difficult for us to operate,” Smisek said. “The uncertainty that you get with the economy [and] a second recession would be bad for everybody,” he said.
November 9, 2012
Justices to Revisit Voting Act in View of a Changing South
By ADAM LIPTAK
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would take a fresh look at the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the signature legacies of the civil rights movement.
Three years ago, the court signaled that part of the law may no longer be needed, and the law’s challengers said the re-election of the nation’s first black president is proof that the nation has moved beyond the racial divisions that gave rise to efforts to protect the integrity of elections in the South.
The law “is stuck in a Jim Crow-era time warp,” said Edward P. Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation, a small legal foundation that helped organize the suit.
Civil rights leaders, on the other hand, pointed to the role the law played in the recent election, with courts relying on it to block voter identification requirements and cutbacks on early voting.
“In the midst of the recent assault on voter access, the Voting Rights Act is playing a pivotal role beating back discriminatory voting measures,” said Debo P. Adegbile, the acting president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
The Supreme Court’s ruling on the law, expected by June, could reshape how elections are conducted.
The case concerns Section 5 of the law, which requires many state and local governments, mostly in the South, to obtain permission, or “preclearance,” from the Justice Department or a federal court before making changes that affect voting. Critics of the law call the preclearance requirement a unique federal intrusion on state sovereignty and a badge of shame for the affected jurisdictions that is no longer justified.
The preclearance requirement, originally set to expire in five years, was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1966 as a rational response to the often flagrantly lawless conduct of some Southern officials then.
Congress has repeatedly extended the requirement: for 5 years in 1970, 7 years in 1975, and 25 years in 1982. Congress renewed the act in 2006 after holding extensive hearings on the persistence of racial discrimination at the polls, again extending the preclearance requirement for 25 years.
But it made no changes to the list of jurisdictions covered by Section 5, relying instead on a formula based on historical practices and voting data from elections held decades ago. It applies to nine states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — and to scores of counties and municipalities in other states.
Should the court rule that Congress was not entitled to rely on outdated data to decide which jurisdictions should be covered, lawmakers could in theory go back to the drawing board and re-enact the law using fresher information. In practice, given the political realities, a decision striking down the coverage formula would probably amount to the end of Section 5.
In May, a divided three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected a challenge to the law filed by Shelby County, Ala. Judge David S. Tatel, writing for the majority, acknowledged that “the extraordinary federalism costs imposed by Section 5 raise substantial constitutional concerns,” and he added that the record compiled by Congress to justify the law’s renewal was “by no means unambiguous.”
“But Congress drew reasonable conclusions from the extensive evidence it gathered,” he went on. The constitutional amendments ratified after the Civil War, he said, “entrust Congress with ensuring that the right to vote — surely among the most important guarantees of political liberty in the Constitution — is not abridged on account of race. In this context, we owe much deference to the considered judgment of the people’s elected representatives.”
The dissenting member of the panel, Judge Stephen F. Williams, surveyed recent evidence concerning registration and turnout, the election of black officials, the use of federal election observers and suits under another part of the law.
Some of that evidence, he said, “suggests that the coverage formula completely lacks any rational connection to current levels of voter discrimination,” while other evidence indicates that the formula, “though not completely perverse, is a remarkably bad fit with Congress’s concerns.”
“Given the drastic remedy imposed on covered jurisdictions by Section 5,” he wrote, “I do not believe that such equivocal evidence can sustain the scheme.”
The Supreme Court has already once considered the constitutionality of the 2006 extension of the law in a 2009 decision, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder. But it avoided answering the central question, and it seemed to give Congress an opportunity to make adjustments. Congress did not respond.
At the argument of the 2009 case, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy questioned whether the distinctions drawn in the 2006 law reflect contemporary realities.
“Congress has made a finding that the sovereignty of Georgia is less than the sovereign dignity of Ohio,” Justice Kennedy said. “The sovereignty of Alabama is less than the sovereign dignity of Michigan. And the governments in one are to be trusted less than the governments in the other.”
“No one questions the validity, the urgency, the essentiality of the Voting Rights Act,” he added. “The question is whether or not it should be continued with this differentiation between the states. And that is for Congress to show.”
In the end, the court, in an 8-to-1 decision, ducked the central question and ruled instead on a narrow statutory ground, saying the utility district in Austin, Tex., that had challenged the constitutionality of the law might be eligible to “bail out” from being covered by it. Still, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, was skeptical about the continued need for Section 5.
“The historic accomplishments of the Voting Rights Act are undeniable,” he wrote. But “things have changed in the South.
“Voter turnout and registration rates now approach parity,” he wrote. “Blatantly discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office at unprecedented levels.
“The statute’s coverage formula is based on data that is now more than 35 years old,” he added,“and there is considerable evidence that it fails to account for current political conditions.”
Having said all of that, and acknowledging that the court’s alternative ruling had stretched the text of the statute, Chief Justice Roberts said the court should avoid deciding hard constitutional questions when it could. “Whether conditions continue to justify such legislation is a difficult constitutional question we do not answer today,” he wrote.
On Friday, in agreeing to hear the case, Shelby County v. Holder, No. 12-96, the court indicated that it is prepared to provide an answer to the question it left open three years ago.
November 9, 2012
U.S. Extends a Deadline for States on Coverage
By ROBERT PEAR
WASHINGTON — With many states lagging far behind schedule, the Obama administration said Friday that it would extend the deadline for them to submit plans for health insurance exchanges, the online markets where millions of Americans are expected to obtain private coverage subsidized by the federal government.
The original Nov. 16 deadline will be extended to Dec. 14 — and in some cases to Feb. 15, the administration said.
The Congressional Budget Office predicts that 25 million people will obtain coverage through the new online shopping malls known as insurance exchanges. Most of them will receive federal subsidies averaging more than $5,000 a year per person to help them pay premiums.
Every state is supposed to have an exchange by Jan. 1, 2014, when the federal government will require most Americans to have insurance. Many states delayed work on the exchanges to see the outcome of a Supreme Court case challenging the health care law, then waited to see if President Obama would be re-elected.
If a state wants to run its own exchange, its governor still must submit a declaration of intent — generally a brief letter of one or two pages — by Nov. 16. But states will have more time to submit the detailed applications required by federal officials.
The White House has repeatedly said that states were making excellent progress toward creation of the exchanges, even as Republican governors and state legislators expressed ambivalence or outright opposition. In addition, state officials who want to establish exchanges said they were having difficulty because Mr. Obama had yet to issue crucial regulations and guidance.
In a letter to governors on Friday, Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said that many states had asked for “additional time” to submit applications indicating whether they wanted to run their own exchanges or help the federal government run exchanges in their states.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government will run the exchanges in any states that are unable or unwilling to do so. Fewer than half the states have indicated that they will set up their own exchanges.
If states want to run their own exchanges, Ms. Sebelius said, they will have until Dec. 14 to submit applications, or blueprints. And if states want to run exchanges in partnership with the federal government, she said, they will have until Feb. 15 to file applications.
Ms. Sebelius said the new timetable would not defer the dream of affordable insurance for millions of Americans.
“Consumers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia will have access to insurance through these new marketplaces on Jan. 1, 2014, as scheduled, with no delays,” Ms. Sebelius told governors. “This administration is committed to providing significant flexibility for building a marketplace that best meets your state’s needs.”
Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, the senior Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, said the change in the deadline was “no surprise” because the White House had not given states enough information or guidance to make decisions.
“Frankly,” Mr. Hatch said, “the fact that the exchanges are such a mess is pretty emblematic of how flawed the president’s health law is — with states having to bear the brunt.”
Representative Charles Boustany Jr. of Louisiana, a spokesman for House Republicans on health policy, said he doubted that extending the deadline would make the law any more workable.
Even in states where governors want to establish insurance exchanges, they need legal authority to do so, and Republican legislators have balked in some states.
Federal officials hope that fierce competition among insurers offering health plans in the exchanges will drive down premiums.
Joel S. Ario, a former director of the federal office for insurance exchanges who now advises states as a consultant at Manatt Health Solutions, said: “The administration’s decision is a good move. It increases the chances that more states will opt for a partnership exchange, rather than default to a federal exchange.”
An administration official said that Mr. Obama was on schedule in carrying out the law, and that starting in October, Americans will be able to enroll in health plans for coverage starting in January 2014.
November 9, 2012
Races in Arizona Still Hang in the Balance
By FERNANDA SANTOS
PHOENIX — Three days after the election, the outcome of several races remained a mystery in Arizona as officials struggle to count a record number of early and provisional ballots, many of them cast by voters who believed they had registered but whose names were not on the voter rolls at the polling place.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Ken Bennett revealed the magnitude of the situation: 631,274 votes remained uncounted, he said, more than in any presidential election in memory and enough to anger voting- and immigrant-rights advocates, who have called on the Justice Department to investigate. (By Friday, there were 524,633 uncounted ballots. There are 3.1 million registered voters in the state.)
The advocates, who have been staging nearly continuous protests outside the Maricopa County Tabulation and Election Center, where most of the votes are being tallied, have raised accusations of disenfranchisement, saying the same Latino voters they worked so diligently to register may have been disproportionately affected. Based on accounts they have been collecting since before the polls closed, among the 115,000 voters who cast provisional ballots in Maricopa County on Tuesday were many first-time minority voters who signed up to get their ballots by mail, but never did.
“We’re concerned that some of the barriers we’re seeing fell heavily on Latino and African-American voters,” said Monica Sandschafer, acting coordinator for One Arizona, a coalition of nonprofit groups working to increase voter participation among working families.
Volunteers took to the phones on Friday at the offices of Unite Here, which represents hospitality workers, calling Latinos on the early-voting registry to find out if they got their ballots in time to vote by mail. Meanwhile, the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote a letter to the county recorder, Helen Purcell, saying the “public confidence in the voting process” was at stake.
The uncertainty has also unsettled candidates and campaign staffs, prompting at least one of them — Mark Napier, the Republican candidate for sheriff in Pima County, which had 80,735 uncounted votes on Wednesday — to rescind his concession.
“I was down by 7,400 votes on election night,” Mr. Napier said. “I assumed it was over, but this election could change.”
Three Congressional races remained too close to call on Friday, and there were also some misgivings about the outcome of several other races. One of them was the United States Senate race, where, as of Friday, Jeff Flake, a Republican congressman, was ahead of his Democratic challenger, Richard H. Carmona, by 78,775 votes, according to unofficial results posted by the secretary of state.
Mr. Carmona conceded on Tuesday; on Friday, in a message to supporters, he wrote, “We will take every necessary step to make sure all of our supporters’ ballots are counted.”
Activists say that they believe, based on what they have heard from people in the field, that provisional ballots tended to be used most often in Hispanic and black neighborhoods. But that cannot be verified until all the ballots are counted, and officials in each of Arizona’s 15 counties have until next Friday to do that.
Matt Roberts, a spokesman for Mr. Bennett, said that all valid votes would be counted. Advocates and elected officials are worried, though, that voters who had to cast conditional provisional ballots because they forgot to bring identification to the polls, as state law requires, may not know they have to present their ID at the county elections office by Wednesday for their vote to count.
“You should do it not just for the Democrats or the Republicans, or for the Hispanic voters and the black voters. You should do it because it’s the right thing to do,” State Representative Ruben Gallego, a Democrat, said at a protest on Friday.
Deborah Curtis, a poll observer at Xavier College Preparatory in Central Phoenix attending the same protest, said she saw a black voter being told she could drop off her early ballot only in her neighborhood precinct, although early ballots can be left at any polling place.
“I wondered how many other people were told the same thing,” Ms. Curtis said.
On Thursday night, more than a hundred people — activists, high school students who are too young to vote but worked for months to register voters, and voters who said they were forced to use provisional ballots at the polls — joined hands in a human chain and prayed outside the election center, a squat brick building on a desolate stretch of downtown, next to the train tracks and across the street from a jail.
Friday morning, they marched five blocks along Third Avenue to the county recorder’s office, where they delivered a petition with at least 20,000 signatures, demanding answers. Outside, on small pieces of paper, they left messages taped to a wooden board. One of them read, “We have rights.” Another read, “Justice.”
November 9, 2012
Republicans Reconsider Positions on Immigration
By JULIA PRESTON
After a presidential election in which Latino voters rewarded President Obama while punishing Republicans for their positions on immigration, Republican leaders and prominent conservatives moved quickly this week to shift to new ground, saying they could support some kind of legislation to fix illegal immigration.
The prospects for an immigration overhaul next year improved with stunning speed after the vote, with John A. Boehner, the speaker of the House, who had long resisted any broad immigration bill, saying on Thursday that “a comprehensive approach is long overdue.” Haley Barbour, a Republican elder statesman and former governor of Mississippi, echoed Mr. Boehner, and Sean Hannity, the conservative talk show host — in a startling turnaround — joined calls for measures opening pathways to legal status for illegal immigrants.
One of every 10 voters who cast ballots on Tuesday was a Latino, and they favored President Obama, with 71 percent of their votes, compared with 27 percent for Mitt Romney, forcing Republican leaders to wonder if they could ever regain the presidency without increasing their appeal to Hispanic Americans.
Mr. Obama wasted no time, renewing in his acceptance speech early Wednesday his promise to move “in the coming weeks and months” on “fixing our immigration system.”
A host of advocates noted that the coalition of forces supporting a thorough repair of the immigration system, including the offer of legal status for more than 11 million illegal immigrants, is broader and more organized than ever before. It includes Latino organizations, business and agricultural employers, libertarian conservatives, evangelical Christians and law enforcement groups.
“Is the Republican disconnect with the Latino community temporary or permanent?” asked the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the largest organization of Hispanic evangelicals. “The Republicans can redeem the narrative with this community by passing comprehensive immigration reform,” Mr. Rodriguez said Thursday.
Republicans, in soul-searching after their loss, weighed the lessons from Mr. Romney’s failed campaign. Looking at polls that showed immigration was not the top subject of concern for Latinos, Mr. Romney avoided the issue when he could and instead based his appeal to them on the economic themes he used with other voters. That was a serious misunderstanding of Latino sensibilities, leaders said.
“How you talked about immigrants sent a signal on what kind of perspective you had on Latinos over all,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, a bipartisan group.
Mr. Romney never recovered after he moved to the right during the primaries, saying he would pressure immigrants to “self-deport” and veto the Dream Act, a bill to give legal status to young immigrants here illegally that enjoys near-universal support among Latinos.
Mr. Obama lifted his sinking standing with Hispanics in June when he offered two-year reprieves from deportation and work permits to hundreds of thousands of those young immigrants, an action so popular it made Latinos overlook his having deported more than 1.4 million people during his term.
But many Republicans attacked the reprieves as amnesty by fiat, and Mr. Romney said he would cancel them if he became president.
In exit polls on Tuesday, 77 percent of Hispanic voters said immigrants here illegally should have a chance to apply for legal status, while 18 percent said they should be deported. In the polls, 65 percent of all voters favored legal status for those immigrants, while 28 percent said they should be deported.
Mr. Boehner chose his words carefully on Thursday, in an interview with ABC News. Saying he was ready for a “comprehensive approach,” he said he was confident that Congress and Mr. Obama could find “common ground to take care of this issue once and for all.”
Speaking to reporters in Washington on Friday, Mr. Boehner declined to say whether he was endorsing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.
“What I’m talking about is a common-sense step-by-step approach that would secure our borders, allow us to enforce our laws and fix a broken immigration system,” he said. “But again,” he added, “on an issue this big, the president has to lead.”
Mr. Boehner’s use of the word comprehensive caused a stir, because supporters of legal status for immigrants who lack it have long called their proposal “comprehensive immigration reform.”
Mr. Hannity was more forthright. On his show on Thursday, he said he had “evolved” and now believed that “if people are here, law-abiding, participating for years, their kids are born here, you know, first secure the border, then pathway to citizenship, done.”
Those comments created new openings for Republicans who were already urging a more inclusive approach, including Senator Marco Rubio, Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and former Gov. Jeb Bush, all of Florida.
In recent years, traditional immigrant and Latino groups worked to organize and expand their base of support, finding middle ground with Republicans in state offices worried about the party slipping with minorities.
The attorney general of Utah, Mark Shurtleff, a conservative Republican, said he was part of an “education campaign” to persuade Republican officials that “they need to reject the run-’em-out, deport-’em, enforcement-only approach that people think is the only voice of the Republican Party.”
The emerging coalition includes technology companies seeking more visas for high-skilled immigrants, growers seeking legal farm workers, evangelical pastors responding to huge growth in their churches from Latino immigrants and young undocumented immigrants whose protests pushed the White House to offer the deportation reprieves.
Last month Grover Norquist, the fiscal hawk who is president of Americans for Tax Reform, said in a speech in Indianapolis that more immigration, including legal status for those here illegally, was vital to economic revival.
However, it was evident almost immediately after Mr. Boehner spoke on Thursday that many Congressional Republicans would be hostile to comprehensive immigration-reform efforts.
“I’m urging the speaker to talk with House Republicans before making pledges on the national news,” said Representative John Fleming, Republican of Louisiana. “The first thing we need is for President Obama to finally enforce current immigration law and strengthen our borders. To take up any other agenda is bad policy for the American people and bad politics for Republicans.”
Jennifer Steinhauer contributed reporting.
November 9, 2012
Christian Right Failed to Sway Voters on Issues
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
Christian conservatives, for more than two decades a pivotal force in American politics, are grappling with Election Day results that repudiated their influence and suggested that the cultural tide — especially on gay issues — has shifted against them.
They are reeling not only from the loss of the presidency, but from what many of them see as a rejection of their agenda. They lost fights against same-sex marriage in all four states where it was on the ballot, and saw anti-abortion-rights Senate candidates defeated and two states vote to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
It is not as though they did not put up a fight; they went all out as never before: The Rev. Billy Graham dropped any pretense of nonpartisanship and all but endorsed Mitt Romney for president. Roman Catholic bishops denounced President Obama’s policies as a threat to life, religious liberty and the traditional nuclear family. Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition distributed more voter guides in churches and contacted more homes by mail and phone than ever before.
“Millions of American evangelicals are absolutely shocked by not just the presidential election, but by the entire avalanche of results that came in,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Ky., said in an interview. “It’s not that our message — we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong — didn’t get out. It did get out.
“It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed,” he said. “An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”
Conservative Christian leaders said that they would intensify their efforts to make their case, but were just beginning to discuss how to proceed. “We’re not going away, we just need to recalibrate,” said Bob Vander Plaats, president and chief executive of The Family Leader, an evangelical organization in Iowa.
The election results are just one indication of larger trends in American religion that Christian conservatives are still digesting, political analysts say. Americans who have no religious affiliation — pollsters call them the “nones” — are now about one-fifth of the population over all, according to a study released last month by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
The younger generation is even less religious: about one-third of Americans ages 18 to 22 say they are either atheists, agnostics or nothing in particular. Americans who are secular are far more likely to vote for liberal candidates and for same-sex marriage. Seventy percent of those who said they had no religion voted for Mr. Obama, according to exit polls conducted by Edison Research.
“This election signaled the last where a white Christian strategy is workable,” said Robert P. Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and education organization based in Washington.
“Barack Obama’s coalition was less than 4 in 10 white Christian,” Dr. Jones said. “He made up for that with not only overwhelming support from the African-American and Latino community, but also with the support of the religiously unaffiliated.”
In interviews, conservative Christian leaders pointed to other factors that may have blunted their impact in this election: they were outspent by gay rights advocates in the states where marriage was on the ballot; comments on rape by the Senate candidates Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard E. Mourdock in Indiana were ridiculed nationwide and alienated women; and they never trusted Mr. Romney as a reliably conservative voice on social issues.
However, they acknowledge that they are losing ground. The evangelical share of the population is both declining and graying, studies show. Large churches like the Southern Baptist Convention and the Assemblies of God, which have provided an organizing base for the Christian right, are losing members.
“In the long run, this means that the Republican constituency is going to be shrinking on the religious end as well as the ethnic end,” said James L. Guth, a professor of political science at Furman University in Greenville, S.C.
Meanwhile, religious liberals are gradually becoming more visible. Liberal clergy members spoke out in support of same-sex marriage, and one group ran ads praising Mr. Obama’s health care plan for insuring the poor and the sick. In a development that highlighted the diversity within the Catholic Church, the “Nuns on the Bus” drove through the Midwest warning that the budget proposed by Representative Paul D. Ryan, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, would cut the social safety net.
For the Christian right in this election, fervor and turnout were not the problem, many organizers said in interviews. White evangelicals made up 26 percent of the electorate — 3 percent more than in 2004, when they helped to propel President George W. Bush to re-election. During the Republican primaries, some commentators said that Mr. Romney’s Mormon faith would drive away evangelicals, many of whom consider his church a heretical cult.
And yet, in the end, evangelicals voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Romney — even matching the presidential vote of Mormons: 78 percent for Mr. Romney and 21 percent for Mr. Obama, according to exit polls by Edison Research.
“We did our job,” said Mr. Reed, who helped pioneer religious voter mobilization with the Christian Coalition in the 1980s and ’90s, and is now founder and chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. He said that his organization outdid itself this year, putting out 30 million voter guides in 117,000 churches, 24 million mailings to voters in battleground states and 26 million phone calls.
“Those voters turned out, and they voted overwhelmingly against Obama,” Mr. Reed said. “But you can’t be driving in the front of the boat and leaking in the back of the boat, and win the election.
“You can’t just overperform among voters of faith,” he continued. “There’s got to be a strategy for younger voters, unmarried voters, women voters — especially single women — and minorities.”
The Christian right should have a natural inroad with Hispanics. The vast majority of Hispanics are evangelical or Catholic, and many of those are religious conservatives opposed to same-sex marriage and abortion. And yet, the pressing issue of immigration trumped religion, and Mr. Obama won the Hispanic vote by 44 percentage points.
“Latino Protestants were almost as inclined to vote for Mr. Obama as their Catholic brethren were,” said Dr. Guth, at Furman, “and that’s certainly a big change, and going the wrong direction as far as Republicans are concerned.”
The election outcome was also sobering news for Catholic bishops, who this year spoke out on politics more forcefully and more explicitly than ever before, some experts said. The bishops and Catholic conservative groups helped lead the fight against same-sex marriage in the four states where that issue was on the ballot. Nationwide, they undertook a campaign that accused Mr. Obama of undermining religious liberty, redoubling their efforts when a provision in the health care overhaul required most employers to provide coverage for contraception.
Despite this, Mr. Obama retained the Catholic vote, 50 to 48 percent, according to exit polls, although his support slipped from four years ago. Also, solid majorities of Catholics supported same-sex marriage, said Dr. Jones, the pollster.
Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, who serves on the bishops’ domestic policy committee, said that the bishops spoke out on many issues, including immigration and poverty, but got news media attention only when they talked about abortion, same-sex marriage and religious liberty. Voters who identify as Catholic but do not attend Mass on Sunday may not have been listening, he said, but Catholics who attend Mass probably “weigh what the church has to say.”
“I think good Catholics can be found across the political spectrum,” Bishop Soto said, “but I do think they wrestle with what the church teaches.”
Deluge of Republican money made little difference
10 November 2012 - 13H06
AFP - Despite their funding deluge from wealthy donors, Republicans failed to overwhelm President Barack Obama and Democrats at the ballot box. So was throwing all that money at the 2012 election worth it?
Obama was handily re-elected, Democrats added two more seats to their majority in the Senate, and they cut into the Republican lead in the House.
There is no two ways about it: that spelled bad news for Karl Rove, president George W. Bush's then-strategist and a party luminary who raised huge money for Republican efforts across the United States this year.
His two groups, super political action committee (PAC) American Crossroads and its general interest group cousin Crossroads GPS, funneled at least $176 million of donor money into anti-Obama advertising and Republican candidates, who lost en masse on November 6.
Some reports put the dollar figure above $300 million.
In its historic 2010 ruling, "Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission," the US Supreme Court struck down limits on corporate campaign spending, essentially giving companies the same basic right to political speech that individuals have.
By contrast, donations to the candidates and political parties themselves remained capped.
Citizens United unleashed a torrent of funds from corporations and wealthy individuals -- on both sides of the political fence.
The Sunlight Foundation, which advocates greater transparency in government and elections, estimated that outside groups spent a total of more than $1.3 billion in independent expenditures to influence the outcome of the 2012 races.
In the case of a public policy advocacy group like Crossroads GPS, spending must be reported but the donor information can be kept confidential, allowing billionaire conservatives to spend sky-high sums without being identified.
Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson acknowledged parting with no less than $54 million of his own money to try to get Romney elected.
But of the 14 races targeted by American Crossroads, just three were won by Republicans, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, a group that publishes election expenses. Crossroads GPS fared only slightly better; the group was seven for 24 in its races.
Factors well beyond money helped explain the outcomes in multiple races, but progressive groups had feared that wealthy conservatives' blank checks would swamp less heavily invested liberal candidates running in smaller, out-of-the-way areas.
"The candidates sometimes don't have enough resources of their own to make themselves well known to the electorate," Bob Biersack, senior fellow at the Center for Responsive Politics, told AFP.
"People don't know them to begin with, so you can shape people's judgment about candidates more easily in those kind of districts" with big money invested by super PACs.
Crossroads sees the glass half full. According to its communications director Jonathan Collegio, the group helped offset the fundraising juggernaut that was the Obama campaign, which spent $541 million compared to the Romney campaign's $336 million.
"Crossroads played a critical role of balancing out those efforts, and had we not been there, it's safe to say that the outcome would have been considerably worse," Collegio said.
The strategist is confident about his group's