In the USA..........
The Christian Science Monitor
GOP-backed bill is most serious attack on America's Wilderness Act in history
By Stewart Brandborg
posted November 30, 2012 at 9:21 am EST
The Wilderness Act has protected America’s wild lands for 50 years. It is now under threat by a House bill deceptively called The Sportsmen's Heritage Act. Citizens must demand the US Senate do nothing to advance its devastating provisions.
Conservationists and wilderness enthusiasts across America are mobilizing to defeat a bill passed by the House of Representatives in April that would eviscerate the 1964 Wilderness Act.
Deceptively entitled the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act, the bill (H.R. 4089) purports to protect hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting. The bill is being pushed by powerful groups like the National Rifle Association and Safari Club International and supported by some of the most anti-wilderness Republicans in Congress. And it would effectively gut the Wilderness Act and protections for every wilderness in America's 110-million-acre National Wilderness Preservation System – everywhere from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness along the Montana-Idaho border that I can see from my home.
The House bill's provisions could still become law during the current lame-duck session of Congress. Though the Senate is considering a different sportsmen’s bill that does not include the harmful elements, the Senate bill could eventually be merged with the devastating House bill in order to pass both chambers.
The Wilderness Act eloquently defines wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." The statute further designates wilderness as an area that retains “its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation” and is “protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.”
I know the Wilderness Act. I worked alongside my mentor, Howard Zahniser of the Wilderness Society (the bill’s chief author and proponent), from 1956-1964 to gain its passage by Congress. After Zahniser’s untimely passing in 1964, I directed the Wilderness Society for the next 12 years in implementing the new law and in adding new areas to the National Wilderness Preservation System. Congress responded to requests from the American people by adding tens of millions of acres to the wilderness system. Today, that system has grown from the original 9 million acres in 1964 to nearly 110 million acres. The Wilderness Act provides the best and most protective standards of all types of federal public land protection.
But this great legacy of American Wilderness is essentially destroyed by H.R. 4089 in several key ways.
First, H.R. 4089 elevates hunting, fishing, shooting, and wildlife management above wilderness protection within designated wilderness areas. Visitors or wildlife managers could drive motor vehicles and build roads, cabins, dams, hunting blinds, aircraft landing strips, and much more in wildernesses if any of these activities could be rationalized as facilitating opportunities for hunting, fishing, shooting, or managing fish and wildlife.
The only limitation in H.R. 4089 on motor vehicles or development is that the activity must be related to hunting, fishing, shooting, or wildlife management, though that need not be its only or even primary use. In reality, almost any recreational or management activity could be shoehorned into one of these exceptions and thereby exempted from Wilderness Act safeguards.
Perhaps even more troubling, H.R. 4089 would waive protections imposed by the Wilderness Act for anything undertaken in the name of wildlife management or for providing recreational opportunities related to wildlife. This would allow endless manipulations of wildlife and habitat.
This could include logging, if done to stimulate new forest growth on which deer might graze. Similarly, bulldozing new dams and reservoirs could be validated as a way to enhance fishing habitats. Poisoning lakes and streams to kill native fish and then planting exotic fish might be allowed under the guise of increasing fishing opportunities. And predator control (including aerial gunning and poisoning) could be defended for boosting the numbers of popular hunted species like elk or bighorn sheep that predators also eat.
There is no limit to what managers could do in designated wilderness areas all in the name of wildlife management or providing opportunities for recreational hunting, fishing, and shooting. These provisions strike at the heart of the Wilderness Act and its foundational underpinnings to preserve wilderness untrammeled and native wildlife in its natural environment.
Sportsmen and sportswomen – those who hunt and fish – were, and continue to be among the strongest supporters of the original wilderness law, of designating wilderness lands, and of the special quality of fishing and hunting experiences that wild and undeveloped lands provide. Many of these folks are fighting to prevent eviscerating the law and its wilderness preservation safeguards.
For nearly a half-century, the Wilderness Act has protected the finest of America’s wild lands and created a National Wilderness Preservation System that is the envy of much of the world. H.R. 4089 would negate all that we have preserved. In my 60 years of work for wilderness preservation and management, our nation has never been threatened by a more serious attack on this irreplaceable publicly owned resource. Citizens must demand that the US Senate do nothing to advance the House provisions of the so-called Sportsmen’s Heritage Act and instead protect our grand wilderness legacy for future generations.
Stewart Brandborg is a wildlife biologist, former executive director of the Wilderness Society, and a long-time board member of and now senior adviser to Wilderness Watch.
Government announces opening of Atlantic coast for offshore wind farms
By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Saturday, December 1, 2012 12:01 EST
Department of the interior will offer lease sales on areas off coasts of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Virginia
The Obama administration has for the first time opened up large areas off the Atlantic Coast for offshore wind farms.
The department of the interior said it was proposing to offer competitive lease sales on some 278,000 acres, or about 432 square miles, off the coasts of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Virginia. The sale is expected to go ahead in the first half of 2013.
“Wind energy along the Atlantic holds enormous potential, and today we are moving closer to tapping into this massive domestic energy resource to create jobs, increase our energy security and strengthen our nation’s competitiveness in this new energy frontier,” the interior secretary, Ken Salazar, said in a statement.
If any turbines do actually go up, they would constitute the first offshore wind projects in the US. Over the last few years vast wind farms, with hundreds of turbines, have been built across the country – although wind power still makes up only 3% of energy use. However, the wind industry is expected to slow down or even come to a halt at the end of the year, with the expiry of tax credits.
There is a lot of wind off America’s Atlantic Coast – enough to power some 1.4 million homes, according to the US government. But building turbines offshore costs far more than building them on land. It has also proven controversial.
The first offshore project, Cape Wind, a 130-turbine farm in Nantucket Sound, ran into fierce opposition from the late Senator Ted Kennedy and Indian tribes. It is due to start producing power at the end of 2015, after nearly 15 years of legal battles.
Officials said the areas chosen for the new lease sales were the “best suited” to wind development, and had been sited to avoid environmental concerns or conflicts with locals.
The first wind zone, off Rhode Island and Massachusetts, is just 10 miles off the coast. It will be leased in two parts. The proposed lease area in Virginia is about 23 nautical miles off southern Virginia.
Officials said the lease sale announced on Friday represented a first step in opening up offshore areas. Other blocks identified include areas of North Carolina and New Jersey. There are also plans to eventually site wind farms on the Pacific Coast, in Oregon and Hawaii.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2012
Originally published Saturday, December 1, 2012 at 8:35 PM
Corporations get tax deals; states, cities pay the price
Giveaways in the form of tax incentives granted to companies nationwide are adding up to a gigantic bill for taxpayers.
By LOUISE STORY
The New York Times
Ypsilanti Township attorney Doug Winters said GM extracted incentives with "a very thinly disguised threat that if you don't give us these ... we'll have to go somewhere else."
Enlarge this photo
Washington state incentives
ACCORDING to The New York Times database, Washington state spends at least $2.35 billion a year on incentive programs, based on the most recent data available. That amounts to about $349 per person and 15 cents per dollar of the state's budget.
Top incentives by type
• $1.46 billion in sales-tax refund, exemptions or other sales-tax discounts.
• $883 million in corporate income-tax credit, rebate or reduction.
• $7.65 million in property-tax abatement.
Top incentives by industry
• $649 million in manufacturing.
• $632 million in agriculture.
• $197 million in aircraft.
In the end, the money that cities and towns across America gave General Motors did not matter.
When the automaker released a list of factories it was closing during bankruptcy three years ago, communities that had considered themselves GM's business partners were among the targets.
For years, mayors and governors anxious about jobs had agreed to GM's demands for cash rewards, free buildings, worker training and lucrative tax breaks.
As late as 2007, the company was telling local officials these sorts of incentives would "further GM's strong relationship" with them and be a "win/win situation," according to town-council notes from one Michigan community.
Yet at least 50 properties on the 2009 liquidation list were in towns and states that had awarded incentives adding up to billions in taxpayer dollars, according to data compiled by The New York Times.
Some officials, desperate to keep GM, offered more. Ohio was proposing a $56 million deal to save its Moraine plant, and Wisconsin, fighting for its Janesville factory, offered $153 million.
But GM walked away and, thanks to a federal bailout, is once again profitable. The towns have not been so fortunate, having spent scarce funds in exchange for thousands of jobs that no longer exist.
One township, Ypsilanti Township, in Michigan, is suing over the automaker's departure. "You can't just make these promises and throw them around like they're spare change in the drawer," said Doug Winters, the township's attorney.
Yet across the country, companies have been doing just that. And the giveaways are adding up to a gigantic bill for taxpayers.
Tally: More than $80B
An investigation examined and tallied thousands of local incentives granted nationwide and found that states, counties and cities are giving up more than $80 billion each year to companies. The beneficiaries come from virtually every part of the corporate world, encompassing oil and coal conglomerates, technology and entertainment companies, banks and big-box retail chains.
The cost of the awards is far higher. A full accounting is not possible because the incentives are granted by thousands of government agencies and officials, and many do not know the value of all their awards.
"How can you even talk about rationalizing what you're doing when you don't even know what you're doing?" said Timothy Bartik, a senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Mich.
The New York Times analyzed more than 150,000 awards and created a database of incentive spending, searchable on the newspaper's website. The survey was supplemented by interviews with more than 100 officials in government and business organizations and executives and consultants.
A portrait arises of mayors and governors desperate to create jobs, outmatched by multinational corporations and short on tools to fact-check what companies tell them. Many officials said they feared companies would move jobs overseas if they did not get subsidies in the United States.
Over the years, corporations have increasingly exploited that fear.
Despite their scale, state and local incentives have barely been part of the national debate on the economic crisis. The federal budget negotiations have not addressed whether the incentives are worth the cost, even though 20 percent of state and local budgets come from federal spending. Federal lawmakers are battling over possible increases in personal taxes, while both parties have said lower federal taxes on corporations are needed for the country to compete globally.
Texas tops at incentives
The analysis shows that Texas awards more incentives, more than $19 billion a year, than any other state. Alaska, West Virginia and Nebraska give up the most per resident.
For many communities, the payouts add up to a substantial chunk of overall spending, the analysis found. Oklahoma and West Virginia give up amounts equal to about one-third of their budgets, and Maine allocates nearly a fifth.
The most incentive money is spent on manufacturing, about $25.5 billion a year, followed by agriculture. The oil, gas and mining industries come in third, and the film business fourth. Technology is not far behind, as companies such as Twitter and Facebook increasingly seek tax breaks and many localities bet on the industry's long-term viability.
Those hopes were once more focused on automakers, which for decades pushed cities and states to set up incentive programs, blazing a trail that companies of all sorts followed. Even today, GM is the top beneficiary, public records indicate. It received at least $1.7 billion in local incentives in the past five years, followed closely by Ford and Chrysler.
A GM spokesman said almost every major employer applied for incentives because they help keep companies competitive and retain or create jobs. "There are many reasons why so many Ford, Chrysler and GM plants closed over the last few decades," said the spokesman, James Cain. "But these factors don't mean that the companies and communities didn't benefit while the plants were open, which was often for generations."
Cain cited research showing that the company received less money per job than foreign automakers operating in the United States.
For government officials such as Bobby Hitt of South Carolina, the incentives are a good investment that will raise tax revenues in the long run. "I don't see it as giving up anything," said Hitt, who worked at BMW in the 1990s and helped it win $130 million from South Carolina.
Today, Hitt is the state's secretary of commerce. South Carolina recently took on a $218 million debt to assist Boeing's expansion there and offered the company tax breaks for 10 years.
Hitt, like most political officials, has a short-term mandate. It will take years to see whether the state's bet on Boeing bears fruit.
In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican in his first term, has been working to eliminate most business tax credits but is bound by past awards. The state gave GM $779 million in credits in 2009, just a month after the company received a $50 billion federal bailout and decided to close seven plants in Michigan.
GM can use the credits to offset its state tax bill for up to 20 years.
"You don't know who will take a credit or when," said Doug Smith, a senior official at the state's economic-development agency. "We may give a credit to GM, and they might not take it for three years or 10 years or more."
One executive, Donald Hall Jr. of Hallmark, thinks business subsidies are hurting his hometown, Kansas City, Mo., by diverting money from public education."It's really not creating new jobs," Hall said. "It's motivated by politicians who want to claim they have brought new jobs into their state."
For local governments, incentives have become the cost of doing business with almost every business.
When Oliver Stone made the 2010 sequel to "Wall Street," in his mind there was only one place to shoot it: New York City. Nonetheless, the film, a scathing look at bankers' greed, received $10 million in tax credits, according to 20th Century Fox.
In an interview, Stone criticized subsidies for industries such as banking and agriculture but defended them for Hollywood.
"It's good," Stone said of the film subsidies. "Or like basically the way business is done. I don't understand what the moral qualm is."
The practical consequences can be easily seen. The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, a conservative group, found that the amount New York spends on film credits every year equals the cost of hiring 5,000 public-school teachers.
Incentives come in many forms: cash grants and loans; sales-tax breaks; income-tax credits and exemptions; free services; and property-tax abatements. The income-tax breaks add up to $18 billion and sales-tax relief about $52 billion of the overall $80 billion in incentives.
California is one of the few states that have been cutting back on incentives. But that doesn't mean its cities are following suit. When Twitter threatened to leave San Francisco last year, officials scrambled.
Twitter was not short on money; it soon received a $300 million investment from a Saudi prince and $800 million from a private consortium. The two received Twitter equity.
The city exempted Twitter from what could total $22 million in payroll taxes, and the company agreed to stay put. The city estimates Twitter's workforce could grow to 2,600 employees, although the company made no such promise.
San Francisco, meanwhile, has been cutting its budget. Public parks have lost about $12 million in recent years.
The tab for auto incentives has grown to $13.9 billion since 1985, according to the Center for Automotive Research, a nonprofit group in Ann Arbor, Mich. GM, the top recipient, was awarded $3.3 billion. Since 1979, automakers also closed more than 267 U.S. plants, about half of which still sit empty, according to the center.
The auto industry and some local officials have long argued that auto companies create so many jobs and draw in so many supporting suppliers that all taxpayers benefit. Even if companies close years later, the trade-off is worth it, they said.
For much of the past 20 years, Doug Winters has been agitating for GM to be held accountable.
Winters, the attorney for Ypsilanti Township and several other places around Ann Arbor, has lived in Ypsilanti all his life. His grandmother labored at the local plant, Willow Run, during World War II, when it made bombers. People in town point out that Rosie the Riveter worked there. After the war, GM moved in.
Over the years, Ypsilanti granted GM more than $200 million in incentives for two factories at Willow Run, Winters said. "They were doing it with a very thinly disguised threat that if you don't give us these tax abatements, then we'll have to go somewhere else."
Ypsilanti first sued GM in the 1990s to prevent the company from closing the factory at Willow Run that made the Chevrolet Caprice.
The town had granted the company tax incentives after the factory manager argued that GM's ability to compete with other carmakers was at stake, documents in the lawsuit show. The tax break and "favorable market demand," said the plant manager, Harvey Williams, would allow the automaker to "maintain continuous employment."
Nevertheless, GM shut the factory. A lower court found in favor of Ypsilanti, but the ruling was reversed. The judge said a company's job assurances "cannot be evidence of a promise."
In 2010, when the company closed the remaining factory at Willow Run, Winters sued again. This time, Ypsilanti said the automaker should have been forced to close overseas factories instead, especially since U.S. taxpayers had bailed out GM. In addition, Ypsilanti sought to recover money from GM, saying the company had agreed to reimburse the town for some incentives if it left.
Ypsilanti's claims have not been addressed. They were complicated by GM's bankruptcy, which allowed it to emerge as a new company and leave some liabilities and contractual obligations behind.
When asked whether the new GM has civic responsibilities to its former factory towns, Cain, the company spokesman, said: "Our obligation to the communities where we do business is to run a successful business."
He also said that since the bailout, "GM has invested more than $7.3 billion in its U.S. facilities, and we've created or retained almost 19,000 jobs in communities all over the country."
In Ypsilanti, an entity set up to sell off GM property is marketing the plant as valuable. At the same time, it has been arguing for lower property taxes on the grounds that the plant is not worth much.
Ypsilanti's supervisor, Brenda Stumbo, said the township would be stung hard by further revenue cuts. There are seven to 10 home foreclosures a week, giving the township the highest foreclosure rate in the county, Stumbo said.
"Can all of it be traced back to General Motors?" she said, listing auto suppliers that closed after GM did. "No, but a great deal of it can."
Obama urges immediate tax cut extension for middle class
By Agence France-Presse
Saturday, December 1, 2012 11:40 EST
US President Barack Obama urged Congress on Saturday to immediately extend a tax cut for middle class Americans, arguing the move will give 98 percent of families and 97 percent of small businesses certainty that will lead to faster economic growth.
“Congress can do that right now. They can give families like yours a sense of security going into the New Year,” Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.
The president made the comments one day after he traveled to a toy factory in Pennsylvania to press his case for a plan to stop the US economy tipping off the so-called fiscal cliff, when automatic tax hikes and across-the-board spending cuts come into force on January 1.
Republicans have rejected Obama’s first offer to end the stalemate surrounding the matter as “ridiculous” and negotiations between the two sides have hit a roadblock with just a month to go, punctuated by the holiday season, until the deadline.
Top Republican John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, has warned that talks on averting a year-end tax and spending crunch, which could tip the economy back into recession, are going nowhere.
The showdown is a crucial test for newly re-elected Obama in gridlocked Washington, with implications for his capacity to enact an ambitious second term agenda.
Obama campaigned on raising taxes on households earning $250,000 a year or more to pay for deficit reductions and to fund education spending and other plans to boost the economy and improve life for the nation’s middle class.
But congressional Republicans have opposed tax increases of any kind.
In his address, the president said it was “unacceptable” for Republicans to “hold middle class tax cuts hostage” because they refuse to let tax rates go up on the wealthiest Americans.
But he suggested that Congress, as a first step, do what both parties agree on and pass a bill that would keep middle class taxes low.
Obama said the Senate had already passed such a measure, and that Democrats in the House were ready to do the same.
“And if we can just get a few House Republicans on board, I’ll sign this bill as soon as Congress sends it my way,” the president promised.
However, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah said in a weekly Republican address that comprehensive tax reform and reducing the unsustainable debt were crucial to fixing the “fiscal cliff” problem.
“The President has said he wants a so-called balanced approach to solve this crisis,” he said. “But what he proposed this week was a classic bait and switch on the American people — a tax increase double the size of what he campaigned on, billions of dollars in new stimulus spending and an unlimited, unchecked authority to borrow from the Chinese.”
The Christian Science Monitor
By Linda Feldmann
posted November 30, 2012 at 5:20 pm EST
'Fiscal cliff' road trip: Obama talks Scrooge as GOP stews
President Obama went back into campaign mode Friday at a toy factory near Philadelphia, while Republicans back in Washington declared fiscal cliff negotiations are in a stalemate.
President Obama’s speech Friday at a toy factory in suburban Philadelphia – an electoral battleground area – had all the hallmarks of a campaign event. An American flag was prominently displayed. About 350 people packed the room, eager to see the president. An audience member yelled out, “We love you.” Mr. Obama replied, as always, “I love you back.”
But on this last day of November, 3-1/2 weeks after Election Day, the focus was not on whether the president would keep his job. It was, to paraphrase Obama, “now that I have been reelected, let’s do what I campaigned on”: allow the middle class to keep its Bush-era tax cuts – $2,200 a year for a typical family of four – while tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent should be allowed to expire at the end of the year.
“It’s not acceptable to me, and I don’t think it’s acceptable to you, for just a handful of Republicans in Congress to hold middle-class tax cuts hostage simply because they don’t want tax rates on upper-income folks to go up,” Obama said at the Rodon factory in Hatfield, Pa., where toys such as K’NEX and Tinkertoys are produced.
The toy factory was selected for obvious reasons: It’s the holidays, and if middle-class taxpayers know their taxes won’t go up at the end of the year, they can feel more comfortable spending money on gifts. But if Congress does nothing, and everyone’s taxes go up, “That’s a Scrooge Christmas,” Obama said.
The president came out with other holiday quips. “Now, of course, Santa delivers everywhere,” Obama said. “I’ve been keeping my own naughty-and-nice list for Washington. So you should keep your eye on who gets some K’NEX this year. There are going to be some members of Congress who get them, and some who don't."
Back in Washington, though, congressional Republicans were in no mood to laugh, as the prospects for a deal with the White House looked bleak. At a press conference, Republican House Speaker John Boehner said the negotiations were at a “stalemate.”
Representative Boehner added that for the past three weeks, he had been “very guarded” in his comments, because he didn’t want to make it harder to find common ground.
“When I came out the day after the election and made it clear that Republicans will put revenue on the table, I took a great risk,” Boehner said.
But when the White House put out a plan Thursday calling for $1.6 trillion in new taxes over 10 years – double what Boehner was willing to consider in July 2011 – in addition to less than $400 billion in cuts, Boehner called it “not a serious proposal.”
“So right now we're almost nowhere,” the speaker said.
Separately, the House majority leader, Rep. Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia, made clear that the Republicans have leverage, since they still control the House.
“The speaker put new revenues on the table just after the election and said: ‘We get it. The president won his reelection; we won our reelection. We have to now come together,’ ” Representative Cantor said.
Obama has been saying all along he’s willing to compromise on fiscal matters, but his opening bid didn’t reflect that. And that, analysts say, is a demonstration of how Obama has evolved as president. Early in his presidency, he had a tendency to start a major negotiation with what he considered a compromise position – for example, putting Republican-pleasing tax cuts in the stimulus package of early 2009 and not pushing for a “public option” in health-care reform.
“He’s stopped negotiating with himself,” says James Thurber, an expert on presidential-congressional relations at American University in Washington. “It helps to have an election under your belt and somewhat of a mandate to do what he wants to do with fiscal-cliff issues – for example, raising [tax] rates for those making more than $250,000 a year.”
Now, Obama is holding tight to cards he might play later as the clock ticks down to Dec. 31, when a package of spending cuts and tax increases automatically kicks in – the “fiscal cliff” – if Congress doesn’t act.
At his daily briefing Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney made clear that some areas are nonnegotiable for the president.
“He will not sign under any circumstances legislation that would keep rates where they are for the wealthiest Americans,” Mr. Carney said.
But he indicated some wiggle room on exactly where the new rate will land. “You can speak hypothetically about 39.5 versus 39.6 [percent],” he said.
Under President Clinton, the highest marginal tax rate was 39.6 percent – the rate that top earners would return to if the Bush-era tax cuts expire at the end of the year. Under the Bush tax cuts, the top marginal rate went down to 35 percent.
For Obama, it was clear that Friday’s campaign-style trip was a respite from the tension back in Washington.
“Obviously, I couldn’t be more honored to be back in the White House,” he said. “But I’m already missing the time that I spent on the campaign visiting towns like this and talking to folks like you.”
December 1, 2012
Aide to Obama Faces a Big Test in Fiscal Talks
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG
WASHINGTON — When President Obama was locked in painful spending negotiations with House Republicans last spring, his exceedingly meticulous budget director, Jacob J. Lew, went to the Oval Office to propose some complex budget changes. As Mr. Lew delved deeper and deeper into the numbers, Mr. Obama put up his hand, signaling him to stop.
“Jack, it’s fine,” the president said, according to Gene Sperling, Mr. Obama’s economics adviser, who witnessed the exchange. “I trust your values. I trust your judgment on this.”
Today Mr. Lew is the White House chief of staff (and on the shortlist to become the next Treasury secretary), and Mr. Obama has entrusted him with an even bigger task: guiding the White House through potentially treacherous negotiations with Congressional Republicans to avert automatic tax increases and spending cuts on Jan. 1, which economists warn could throw the country back into recession.
An agreement by year’s end could lead to a long-term deficit reduction plan, helping Mr. Obama live up to his promise to bring both parties together and sealing Mr. Lew’s reputation as the master of the Washington budget deal. But if the talks fail, Mr. Obama might be remembered as the president who could not break partisan gridlock in Washington, and Mr. Lew could wind up with a blot on his nearly impeccable record.
“This is a reset moment for the administration and for Jack,” said Tom Daschle, a former Senate Democratic leader. “It’s a window that will close in a few weeks, but it really is an opportunity to start over. Part of the message of the election was ‘You guys have got to work together.’ ”
But Mr. Lew’s last go-round with Republicans, the debt ceiling talks in the summer of 2011, ended uncharacteristically badly. Mr. Lew, still the budget director at the time, irked Speaker John A. Boehner and his staff, who viewed him as an uncompromising know-it-all. Mr. Lew’s defenders call it an aberration.
“I think it’s because Jack knows the numbers, and they couldn’t pull a fast one,” said David Plouffe, Mr. Obama’s chief political adviser.
This time, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner is the lead negotiator; as the chief of staff, administration officials say, Mr. Lew can no longer spend long hours away from the White House. Instead, he is overseeing the talks and plotting strategy from his West Wing office, where a painting of Abraham Lincoln hangs over the fireplace and a tiny ceramic replica of Ellis Island — a nod to his father, who immigrated from Poland — sits on his orderly wooden desk.
So far, there has been little progress. On Friday, Mr. Boehner declared the talks “at a stalemate,” while Mr. Obama hit the road to sell his plan to raise taxes on income over $250,000. Earlier in the week, Mr. Obama met with business leaders, as did Mr. Lew, who declined to comment for this article.
At 57, Mr. Lew may be the most unassuming power broker in Washington. He is deeply religious (an Orthodox Jew, he leaves work each Friday before sundown) and is so strait-laced that his colleagues feel compelled to apologize when they curse in front of him. He brings his own lunch (a cheese sandwich and an apple) and eats at his desk.
With his owlish glasses and low-key manner, Mr. Lew may come off as just a policy nerd. But he is a fierce negotiator. When defending social safety net programs, particularly those like Medicaid that help the poor, he morphs into a warrior, Republicans say, though he has proved willing to make concessions.
“Jack is tough,” said Jim Dyer, a Republican and a former Capitol Hill aide who negotiated budget issues with Mr. Lew in the 1990s. “He can be argumentative, he’s smart as hell, he’s very political, he is a true liberal, he is loyal to his superiors, and he has a good grasp of budgetary and policy issues.”
“Fighting with him is exhausting,” Mr. Dyer added. “We yelled at each other a lot. We never came to blows. We walked away from the table perhaps happy to be away from each other for a while, but perhaps equally happy that we preserved a modicum of what each side wanted.”
Mr. Lew arrived in Washington in 1973, a skinny, bookish 18-year-old from Queens who got his first taste of Democratic politics at 12 while handing out fliers for Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign. Today, as a two-time former budget director (he also held the job under President Bill Clinton), he has an intricate understanding of budget policy.
In 1983, as an aide to Speaker Tip O’Neill when Ronald Reagan was president, Mr. Lew helped put Social Security on a path to solvency with a plan that, to many Democrats’ chagrin, will eventually raise the retirement age to 67. He keeps a gavel from the day the legislation passed, signed by Mr. O’Neill, on a bookshelf in his office.
In 1997, under Mr. Clinton, Mr. Lew worked with Republicans to balance the federal budget, enabling the president to leave office with a surplus.
Mr. Lew also has foreign policy experience; he spent the first two years of the Obama administration as a deputy to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
He has little use for Washington’s social scene; a check of newspaper archives going back to 1977 shows that Mr. Lew has never turned up in The Washington Post’s gossip column. His wife, Ruth, lives in their home in the affluent Riverdale section of the Bronx; they commute back and forth and have a daughter in Washington and a son in New York. He likes to cook; he makes a pretty good chicken soup (Ruth is in charge of the matzo balls) and a mean potato kugel.
Mr. Lew’s worldview was forged in the late 1960s and early 1970s in Forest Hills, Queens, where he grew up in the middle class in a squat brick apartment building in a neighborhood of bagel shops and corner luncheonettes. His father practiced law solo and dealt in rare books; his mother managed his father’s office. In high school, Mr. Lew found himself in music (he played the 12-string guitar), edited the newspaper and fought for causes like building low-income housing in Queens.
“Jack was a folkie,” said an old friend, Stephen Norman. As a teenager, Mr. Lew liked to hang around the now-defunct Folklore Center in Greenwich Village, where he ran into Don McLean, who had not yet written “American Pie.” When the young Mr. Lew organized a fund-raiser to fight world hunger, he persuaded Mr. McLean to play.
If he had a teenage rebellion, it was moving to Minnesota to attend Carleton College (his parents preferred Columbia University) and then quitting after a year to work for Bella Abzug, the flamboyant Manhattan congresswoman. His mother worried that he would never get his degree, but he did, at Harvard. Later, while working on Capitol Hill, he picked up a law degree, attending Georgetown at night.
By the time he was 23, Mr. Lew was a top policy aide to Mr. O’Neill, an experience that friends say sharpened his sense of how federal spending affects people’s lives.
“When he said ‘Pell grants,’ it wasn’t something distant or numerical,” said Chris Matthews of MSNBC, who also worked for Mr. O’Neill and shared an office with Mr. Lew. “He knew this meant kids could go to college who didn’t have rich parents.”
The challenge now for Mr. Lew — and for Mr. Obama — is to forge an agreement that does not cut too deeply into the entitlement programs that Democrats cherish. Like Mr. Obama, Mr. Lew is a pragmatist; one person familiar with his thinking said he had previously expressed willingness to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, a move that many liberals oppose.
If Mr. Lew gets the Treasury job, the business world will not be unhappy. He is not a creature of Wall Street, but before joining the Obama administration, he spent three years in high-level (and high-paying) jobs at Citigroup, where he oversaw a unit that lost money but also profited from betting against the subprime mortgage market. Mr. Lew was chief operating officer; in testimony before Congress, he has said he did not make investment decisions.
For Mr. Obama, the choice is whether he needs Mr. Lew more in overseeing the Treasury Department or in running the White House. Though Mr. Lew, who has been the chief of staff for less than a year, is not a member of Mr. Obama’s longtime Chicago inner circle, aides say he is a good fit — “the no-drama chief of staff for the no-drama president,” one said — and Mr. Obama relies on him for more than just budget advice.
“I have been in countless meetings with the president and Jack,” said Valerie Jarrett, Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, “and also been in meetings with senior staff where Jack hasn’t been present, where the president will say, ‘What does Jack think?’ ”
December 1, 2012
Utah Hunters Criticize Market Approach to Licenses and Conservation
By FELICITY BARRINGER
SALT LAKE CITY — Todd Huntington, a dentist from a small town in central Utah, considered himself lucky. After two years of failing to secure a hunting permit in the state’s random drawing, he won a $35 state permit to shoot a male deer.
Once he was out among the fir and aspen forests of the Wasatch plateau this fall, he came upon a buck, aimed a muzzleloader and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. As the buck fled, Dr. Huntington glared at his gun and wondered when this chance might come again. “When I was a teenager, anybody could buy a tag down to the hardware store and away you went,” he said. “Now you have to have a degree in wildlife-speak to work your way through all the regulations to be able even to apply.”
It especially bothers him — and other hunters — that those with means can buy public licenses through private outlets, paying thousands of dollars to move to the head of the line. More than any state in the West, Utah has expanded hunting opportunities for the well-to-do and has begun to diminish them for those seeking permits directly from the state.
State wildlife managers recognize this, but they say their motives are grounded in animal — if not social — welfare. Utah has embraced an increasingly free-market model as a way to raise more money for conservation.
Here is how it works: the state has enticed ranchers with an allotment of vouchers for lucrative hunting licenses that they can sell for thousands of dollars as part of a private hunt on their land. Many used to complain bitterly to state officials about elk and other game eating forage meant for their cattle.
The vouchers for hunting licenses, handed out for more than 10 years now, give them ample economic incentive to nurture big game on their land and not get frustrated with ranching and sell their land to developers.
Another program, smaller in scope but much more controversial, allows private nonprofit groups to auction off a few hundred licenses to the highest bidder or run their own drawing in exchange for supporting conservation projects. State wildlife managers say that with species like elk, the system is working to produce more game for all.
“We want the most wildlife we can have,” said Greg Sheehan, the director of the State Division of Wildlife Resources. “The question is how we do that.”
This new approach, some say, violates a century-old American ethic, articulated by Theodore Roosevelt, himself an avid hunter, that wildlife belongs to all, and not just to those with land or wealth.
“Money has definitely infiltrated our American hunting system,” said David Allen, the president of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, based in Montana. “Some of it’s totally ethical and legal and aboveboard. But is it all good? Maybe, maybe not.”
However deeply the new system has taken root in Utah, efforts to franchise it around the West have faltered. States like Alaska, Arizona and Idaho have rejected large auctions.
Randy Newberg of Bozeman, Mont., whose cable hunting show “On Your Own Adventures” runs on the Sportsman Channel, disparaged Utah’s approach as unfair. “A person gets to buy their way to the front of the line when you have people who wait 10, even 20 years for a permit and thousands waiting in line,” he said. “It’s turning the corner away from what’s been the most successful wildlife model in the world.”
The Utah group Sportsmen for Wildlife has benefited most from the auction of what are called “conservation permits,” which sell for tens of thousands of dollars. The nonprofit Mule Deer Foundation works with this group in running the annual drawing of “convention permits.”
Miles Moretti, the president of the foundation, said an auction “doesn’t violate the North American model. It’s just they use the tags in a different way to conserve game. Can a guy buy a tag every year for $200,000? Yes. So it’s not fair? Well, life’s not fair. This is a way to raise money for wildlife.”
For Utah residents like Dr. Huntington, who get permits in a blind draw directly from the state, the cost of a permit for a buck is modest, $35; the same permit for nonresidents in the draw is $263. Resident bull elk permits go for $280, or for $795 for out-of-state hunters. Hunters who do business with private ranchers can pay $10,000 and more for a permit to take one bull elk on prime private land.
The drawing held at the annual hunting expo by the two nonprofit groups gives the convention a high profile; attendees contribute $5 million or more to the economy of Salt Lake City. This convention drawing is popular; the $5 entry fees have raised about $1 million.
Critics of the auction and the convention drawing, like Tye Boulter, the president of the United Wildlife Cooperative, said that too much of the money made by the Mule Deer Foundation and Sportsmen for Wildlife went to promoting the groups and lobbying for their political causes.
But Mr. Moretti said, “We believe we’ve fulfilled our obligation” to bring in convention dollars and support wildlife projects.
An audit of the $1 million from the convention drawing was made public in August, prompted by Mr. Boulter’s complaints. It showed that about $250,000 went toward lobbying for increased hunting of wolves, which at the time were still listed as endangered in the Northern Rockies. “They are catering to the industry — guides, outfitters, landowners, things like that,” Mr. Boulter argued, saying groups that support wolf hunts are not necessarily conservationists.
Mr. Boulter also objects to the increasing privatization of state-controlled hunting opportunities. “These wildlife aren’t commodities,” he said. “These are a public trust.”
About 113 tracts of private ranchland have access to big-game permits for hunts on their land. As part of the arrangement, Utah requires them to open their land to public hunters who enter a general drawing.
The most important element of the system is getting ranchers to think differently about wildlife, said Kevin Bunnell of the State Division of Wildlife Resources. “It turned people who used to be critical of wildlife into advocates for wildlife,” he said.
This year, 3,209 licenses for deer, elk, moose or pronghorn were disbursed by ranchers — about 2 percent of the 142,000 licenses available for all game.
The math works differently with trophy hunts. Most of the permits to take the more coveted antlered game on ranchland are reserved for the big-spending private hunters — 60 percent of the pronghorn bucks, more than 85 percent of the bull elk and nearly 90 percent of buck deer.
Mr. Boulter does see benefit in the conservation aspects of the ranch program and believes strongly in hunting rights on private property. But he remains troubled. “Monetizing wildlife is a big deal,” he said, adding that it was taking North American wildlife management backward, not forward. “Aristocrats, slowly, are getting more opportunity.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 1, 2012
An earlier version of this article misstated the name of a wildlife organization. It is the United Wildlife Cooperative, not the Utah Wildlife Cooperative.
Thanks to ALEC, Arizona High School Students Treated Like Convicts In Prison Style Lockdown
By: Rmuse December 2nd, 2012
The act of falsely portraying oneself as a member of legitimate law enforcement for the purpose of deception is illegal in most countries and usually carries a custodial sentence. Most cases of impersonating law enforcement is for the purpose of some kind of gain, intimidation, or to commit a crime. So-called private security services do not have the authority regular law enforcement enjoys any more than a regular prison correctional officer, and yet in Arizona, a local police department, in conjunction with high school officials, assigned “law enforcement” status to corrections officers employed by a private corporation. The incident is problematic on several fronts, especially considering the victims were public school students who were treated like convicts in a lock down maneuver during regular instructional hours.
The incident in Arizona is part of a disconcerting trend involving the for-profit prison industry nationwide, and a plague on the state that garnered media attention during the SB 1070 “papers please” controversy that highlighted the use of prison employees in law enforcement operations. It is disturbing enough that private corporations are making major inroads into the penal system and profiting from taxpayer dollars, but using them in law enforcement capacity involving public school students borders on misappropriating public funds and conflict of interest.
In an Arizona city, Casa Grande, a private corrections corporation extended their reach into classrooms when they assisted local law enforcement agencies during a drug raid at Vista Grande High School. The principal, Tim Hamilton ordered a “lock down” of all 1,776 students for the first drug sweep in the school’s history. Hamilton described the lock down as a case where “everybody is locked in the room they are in, and nobody leaves — nobody leaves the school, nobody comes into the school.” Hamilton continued that once everyone is locked in the classrooms, an administrator is teamed with a “law enforcement officer,” and “they bring the dogs in and have the kids come out and line up against a wall. The dog goes in and they close the door behind, and then the dog does its thing.” Although situations arise that make locking schools down appropriate, it seems a bit much during routine checks for drugs on a campus, and in Vista Grande’s case, this drug raid was highly unusual.
The public information officer for the Casa Grande Police Department (CGPD) said the raid’s operation comprised four “law enforcement agencies” including CGPD, Arizona Department of Public Safety, Gila River Indian Community Police Department, and Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). Three of the participants were legitimate law enforcement agencies, the corporate prison guards however, were not members of law enforcement or a public agency; they were private prison guards. CCA is the nation’s largest for-profit (private) prison corporation and their presence at a high school “drug sweep” is strange, and an outrage, and despite CGPD’s opinion, they are not part of any law enforcement agency.
The program director of the Tucson office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Caroline Isaacs, said that “To invite for-profit prison guards to conduct law enforcement actions in a high school is perhaps the most direct expression of the ‘schools-to-prison pipeline’ I’ve ever seen.” Isaacs’ organization advocates for criminal justice reform and she remarked that “All the research shows that CCA doesn’t properly train its staff to do the jobs they actually have. They most certainly do not have anywhere near the training and experience, to say nothing of the legal authority, to conduct a drug raid on a high school. It is chilling to think that any school official would be willing to put vulnerable students at risk this way.” There may be legality issues with allowing private prison guards to conduct a drug sweep at a public school because the Arizona Administrative Code (AAC) says that for an individual to engage in duties of a peace officer, they require certification from the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) that qualifies police officers, constables, marshals, Dept. of Public Safety personnel, and community college and university police to serve as “law enforcement” officers. In fact the AAC says, “a person who is not certified by the Board or whose certified status is inactive shall not function as a peace officer or be assigned the duties of a peace officer by an agency.” Apparently in Arizona, corporate profits supersede requirements to serve as a “peace officer,” especially when dealing with public school students.
There is no provision in the AAC for a corporation’s employee to serve as a peace officer, but as benefactors of taxpayer-funded criminal justice system, it was important for Arizona to assist conflict of interest and ensure that CCA make a profit. CCA’s interest in the criminal justice system is the polar opposite of real law enforcement whose primary interest is public safety unlike CCA’s profit-oriented motivation, and it takes on another level of outrage when considering that CCA was co-chair and member in the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) now-ended Public Safety and Elections Task Force. The ALEC task force was behind the voter ID laws and Stand Your Ground (Castle Doctrine) model legislation rampant in Republican-controlled states.
During CCA’s tenure as member and leader of ALEC’s Public Safety and Elections Task Force, they were instrumental in pushing three strikes laws, truth in sentencing, and mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines based on ALEC model legislation devised in conjunction with a division of the NRA (CrimeStrike). It is no coincidence that America witnessed an explosion in the number of incarcerated Americans after the ALEC-NRA CrimeStrike legislative activities, and interestingly, ALEC also pushed model legislation for greater law enforcement presence on public school campuses, and mandated tougher sentences for offenses in so-called “drug free zones” like public schools. It is extremely difficult to NOT see a direct correlation between CCA’s prison guard presence at a public high school “drug sweep” and their advancement of ALEC’s agenda to create a bigger prison population for their member, Corrections Corporation of America. Although the ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force is discontinued, the Arizona high school drug raid illustrates the damage of allowing the corporate prison industry to influence the legislative process that is affecting the nation’s population; especially students.
There is a reason it is a bad idea to privatize any part of the government or its agencies, and particularly when corporations write laws to benefit their industry. A naïve person might believe Republicans passed ALEC’s model legislation expanding the prison population out of concern for public safety, but members of ALEC (Republicans) also voted to award contracts to Corrections Corporation of America, so they knew they were passing corporate authored legislation that provided the corporation with a steady supply of income in the form of prisoners. If any American thinks Republicans, champions of privatization, would not privatize every part of the government and then pass legislation to benefit corporations is a buffoon and a fool. For over three decades the GOP has worked solely for corporate interests in every industry from agriculture to the military, so the idea that Arizona legislators passed legislation to provide prisoners and increase profits for Corrections Corporation of America is nearly as certain as their prison guards were impersonating law enforcement officers and terrorizing public school students. If Arizona’s leaders, and the students’ parents, had a modicum of sense they would call for an investigation into the Casa Grande police department, Corrections Corporation of America, and the principal who subjected the students to a lockdown worthy of a high-security prison, but not a public high school.
The Christian Science Monitor
By Mark Guarino, Staff writer
posted November 30, 2012 at 3:54 pm EST
For Amish, fastest-growing faith group in US, life is changing
As the Amish population in the US grows – forecast to hit 1 million by 2050 – the decline of farmland is forcing the community to spread to new areas and to evolve its agrarian culture.
For Jacob Beachy, life moves along much as it always has. Every day, there are the 35 cows that need tending, as well as 90 acres of farmland. His is the life of an Amish farmer, in which family, work, and faith intertwine on one plot of Ohio land.
Yet across the street, on 60 acres that were once a farm, stands a sprawling new mansion, complete with a multidoor garage. A few years back, that land sold for $1.4 million.
“When we moved here in 1968, we thought we were in the sticks,” Mr. Beachy says, rocking in his living-room recliner. “All of this was working farms. It’s changed a lot.”
Indeed, for America’s Amish, much is changing. The Amish are, by one measure, the fastest-growing faith community in the US. Yet as their numbers grow, the land available to support the agrarian lifestyle that underpins their faith is shrinking, gobbled up by the encroachment of exurban mansions and their multidoor garages.
The result is, in some ways, a gradual redefinition of what it means to be Amish. Some in the younger generation are looking for new ways to make a living on smaller and smaller slices of land. Others are looking beyond the Amish heartland of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Indiana, seeking more space in states such as Texas, Maine, and Montana.
In Ohio’s Amish country, centered in Holmes County about 80 miles south of Cleveland, these forces are reshaping a region where 42 percent of residents are Amish – the highest percentage of any part of the US. Amid these changes, Amish here are struggling to maintain the traditions they hold dear: establishing core values within the family through manual labor close to home.
The American Amish population has boomed during the past few decades. A study released this summer by Ohio State University in Columbus found that the Amish are growing faster than any other faith-based group in the US, with 60 percent of all Amish settlements in the US founded since 1990.
According to the study, there are 456 settlements in the US and Canada – a number forecast to reach 1,000 by 2050. Likewise, the US Amish population – now at 251,000 –is estimated to grow to more than a million by 2050, the researchers add.
The most apparent reason for such rapid growth, experts say, is that Amish birthrates are high and the community emphasizes keeping children in the faith. About 90 percent of Amish children keep their family traditions intact, though many may temporarily stray as teens and young adults, says David Weaver-Zercher, a religion professor at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pa.
In the Amish heartland, these demographics are clashing with geography, as Beachy can attest. “Amish will have to spread out,” Beachy says. “That’s why you see settlements all over – they are looking for farmland. You can’t buy a farm anymore to farm.”
With his own farm, Beachy is in an enviable position. “I’ll never find out what this farm is worth, because I’ll never sell it,” he says.
But the nascent Amish diaspora is not always about economics. Some families are moving to other areas of the country because they think parenting becomes more difficult in a larger, more populated area – even if it’s Amish, says Professor Weaver-Zercher.
For example, nearly 30,000 Amish live in the greater Holmes County settlement, which is the nation’s largest and spreads over five counties. (Amish “settlements” refer not to places with defined boundaries, but to regional communities where the majority of the population is Amish.)
“Some Amish parents are looking for more secluded places, not just from the English” – non-Amish – “but sometimes from other Amish teens, because they want more supervision over their young people,” says Weaver-Zercher, noting that larger settlements can make it easier for young people to engage in risky behavior – such as drug use or alcohol consumption – more anonymously.
“Instead of a community of 5,000 kids, you suddenly have one with 25 kids,” he adds. “At that level, the roughhousing activities will be more akin to what parents approve.”
These issues are particularly poignant for the Amish, given that most formally end their education after the eighth grade. The population boom – combined with the land crunch – is forcing more young people to search for work outside the family home, which means they will experience a world much different from the one their parents knew, says Weaver-Zercher.
On the good side, they will have more disposable income, which will translate to more savings. But working with non-Amish supervisors and co-workers means there will be challenges in maintaining the work ethic and values that have been traditionally taught on the family farm.
Ernie Hirschberger, a father of seven, says his oldest son asked for a car when he was 16 because he “wanted more freedom.” Four years later, that car now sits with a “for sale” sign outside Homestead Furniture, the custom furniture operation Mr. Hirschberger runs with his family and 35 employees in Mount Hope, Ohio.
Hirschberger is a symbol of the future of Amish entrepreneurs: He grew up on a farm, but he started making furniture 22 years ago and today his pieces can be found in all 50 states. His son, who has now embraced the Amish lifestyle, is a manager in the company’s finishing room.
“He’s still a work in progress. He needs to learn,” Hirschberger says.
Besides furniture, which is now a growth area for Amish business, Hirschberger says he is looking to bring new ideas to Holmes County, such as shrimp and fish farms or using hydroponics to grow herbs. He knows he can’t raise cows on his family plot of 10 acres, but he can help innovate new business models for Amish people.
“You can’t just pick up your horse and buggy and go to Cleveland and be a computer tech,” he says. “We just have to think of other things for the smaller plots of land.”
There are tangible benefits of staying in the settlements. The self-sufficiency of the Amish lifestyle, and its emphasis on community strength, meant the recession did not hit most Amish settlements as hard as it did the outside world. That economic security, Hirschberger says, is one reason more young people are deciding to follow in Amish traditions today than they did when he was coming of age.
“They say, ‘This is a good option for our kids,’ ” he says. “To grow up as Christians should and in this lifestyle is not a hindrance.”