In the USA...
January 15, 2013 01:00 PMPresident Obama's News Conference: An Ultimatum and Invitation
I know you've probably already read about the president's press conference, because my friends John Amato and Susie Madrak have already written about it. If you haven't read theirs, you should, and you should also read Mike Lux' analysis of the issues surrounding the deficit.
These are people I deeply respect, but I confess that I simply did not hear the same messages in the press conference that they did. In fact, I heard something completely different.
On the Grand Bargain
What I heard was that the president was done with efforts to find a Grand Bargain. He expressed his concerns about the deficit, yes. But he also left the negotiating table. Here's the key moment, in the Q & A session with Major Garrett asking the question:
MAJOR GARRETT: Thank you, Mr. President. As you well know, sir, finding votes for the debt ceiling can sometimes be complicated.
You, yourself, as a member of the Senate, voted against a debt ceiling increase. And in previous aspects of American history — President Reagan in 1985, President George Herbert Walker Bush in 1990, President Clinton in 1997 — all signed deficit reduction deals that were contingent upon or in the context of raising the debt ceiling. You, yourself, four times have done that. Three times, those were related to deficit reduction or budget maneuvers.
What Chuck and I and I think many people are curious about is this new, adamant desire on your part not to negotiate, when that seems to conflict with the entire history in the modern era of American Presidents and the debt ceiling, and your own history on the debt ceiling. And doesn’t that suggest that we are going to go into a default situation because no one is talking to each other about how to resolve this?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, no, Major, I think if you look at the history, getting votes for the debt ceiling is always difficult, and budgets in this town are always difficult. I went through this just last year. But what’s different is we never saw a situation as we saw last year in which certain groups in Congress took such an absolutist position that we came within a few days of defaulting. And the fact of the matter is, is that we have never seen the debt ceiling used in this fashion, where the notion was, you know what, we might default unless we get 100 percent of what we want. That hasn’t happened.
Now, as I indicated before, I’m happy to have a conversation about how we reduce our deficits further in a sensible way. Although one thing I want to point out is that the American people are also concerned about how we grow our economy, how we put people back to work, how we make sure that we finance our workers getting properly trained and our schools are giving our kids the education we deserve. There’s a whole growth agenda which will reduce our deficits that’s important as well.
But what you’ve never seen is the notion that has been presented, so far at least, by the Republicans that deficit reduction — we’ll only count spending cuts; that we will raise the deficit — or the debt ceiling dollar for dollar on spending cuts. There are a whole set of rules that have been established that are impossible to meet without doing severe damage to the economy.
And so what we’re not going to do is put ourselves in a position where in order to pay for spending that we’ve already incurred, that our two options are we’re either going to profoundly hurt the economy and hurt middle-class families and hurt seniors and hurt kids who are trying to go to college, or, alternatively, we’re going to blow up the economy. We’re not going to do that.
That was a clear signal to me that the president is done trying to mash up budget resolutions, tax reform and the debt ceiling. It sounds to me like he was saying plain and flatly that nothing other than a clean, reasonable increase on the debt ceiling will be acceptable. Further, he acknowledged the progressive argument advanced in John Amato's post that the real solution to the deficit is economic growth. In other words, he acknowledged that the deficit issue is a Republican flog, and Americans have something else on their minds.
He reinforced that later in the Q&A session when he said this, which I found to be the strongest gesture that he expected these things to be dealt with in an orderly fashion, beginning with a clean debt ceiling vote, in response to Julianna Goldman's question:
THE PRESIDENT: No, Julianna, look, this is pretty straightforward. Either Congress pays its bills or it doesn't. Now, if — and they want to keep this responsibility; if John Boehner and Mitch McConnell think that they can come up with a plan that somehow meets their criteria that they’ve set for why they will — when they will raise the debt ceiling, they're free to go ahead and try. But the proposals that they’ve put forward in order to accomplish that — only by cutting spending — means cuts to things like Medicare and education that the American people profoundly reject.
Now, if they think that they can get that through Congress, then they're free to try. But I think that a better way of doing this is go ahead and say, we’re going to pay our bills. The question now is how do we actually get our deficit in a manageable, sustainable way? And that's a conversation I’m happy to have.
John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are free to try and get something through Congress, but they will have no assistance from the White House.
There will be no approval from the White House on proposals that simply gut Medicare, education and other social safety nets, because that goes against what the American people want.
Whatever they might try to do with deficit reduction has nothing to do with the debt ceiling.
The president also invited people to use their voices to pressure Congress. It was subtle and almost easy to miss, but still there in his answer to Matt Spetalnick:
But it seems as if what’s motivating and propelling at this point some of the House Republicans is more than simply deficit reduction. They have a particular vision about what government should and should not do. So they are suspicious about government’s commitments, for example, to make sure that seniors have decent health care as they get older. They have suspicions about Social Security. They have suspicions about whether government should make sure that kids in poverty are getting enough to eat, or whether we should be spending money on medical research. So they’ve got a particular view of what government should do and should be.
And that view was rejected by the American people when it was debated during the presidential campaign. I think every poll that’s out there indicates that the American people actually think our commitment to Medicare or to education is really important, and that’s something that we should look at as a last resort in terms of reducing the deficit, and it makes a lot more sense for us to close, for example, corporate loopholes before we go to putting a bigger burden on students or seniors.
But if the House Republicans disagree with that and they want to shut down the government to see if they can get their way on it, that’s their prerogative. That’s how the system is set up. It will damage our economy.
The government is a big part of this economy, and it’s interesting that a lot of times you have people who recognize that when it comes to defense spending — some of the same folks who say we’ve got to cut spending, or complain that government jobs don’t do anything, when it comes to that defense contractor in their district, they think, wow, this is a pretty important part of the economy in my district and we shouldn’t stop spending on that. Let’s just make sure we’re not spending on those other folks.
In other words, House Republicans can go ahead and blow everything up if they really think that's what they were elected to do, but it would appear that they were not elected to do that, and so their constituents should speak up.
For the rest of January and into February, President Obama has the bully pulpit. He has an inaugural speech coming up next Monday, and a State of the Union speech coming up the following month. He has the benefit of winning the last election by over 5 million votes, and he has the message that resonates with Americans on many levels.
I did not in any way, shape or form hear him say he wanted a Grand Bargain. I heard him say he wants a clean debt ceiling raise with no negotiating or bargain. Period. I heard him say that while he views deficit reduction as something to pay attention to, we've already tackled a chunk of the deficit reduction issue by $2.5 trillion in spending cuts and increased taxes, that this Congress is incapable of being reasonable, and he's done with the Grand Bargain game. While it's true that he mentioned the Grand Bargain in his introduction, he also did it in the past tense, which to me meant he's done with the bargaining and has moved into action mode.
Here's my question: What happens if they pass a debt ceiling increase loaded with cuts that do harm to Medicare and Medicaid and that somehow gets through the Senate? That would place him in an untenable position, where we all would wish that Grand Bargain had been struck. I worry that they're trying to maneuver him into vetoing their bill so they can have their choice of people to blame: him or the Senate. In reality, I would expect the Senate to reject any debt ceiling increase that wasn't clean, but it would still fall on the head of Democrats in that situation.
Key Republicans are beginning to make some critical statements to their side of the aisle. Frank Luntz' remarks about how they should abandon the hostage-taking over the debt ceiling were very telling, and even Peggy Noonan, incoherent as she is, also says the same thing. If they couldn't bring themselves to see the fiscal cliff from the other side of January 1st, I doubt they (or their billionaires) want the entire global economy on the brink.
It's interesting how all of us can watch the same things and take out different points. To me, the President said the time for bargains are behind us. Others heard an appeal for a Grand Bargain.
In the end, I think the purpose of this press conference was to educate the public about what the debt ceiling is, why it must be raised, and why it is unrelated to any discussion of deficit reduction.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WQUHe2kINM&feature=player_embedded
*************Obama's gun control agenda includes universal background checks for buyers
President to unveil legislative proposals for Congress – along with 19 executive actions – meant to stem gun violence in US
Ed Pilkington in New York
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 16 January 2013 12.50 GMT
Customers look over Remington rifles and shotguns during the annual Shot Show in Las Vegas on Tuesday. Gun dealers at the show are reporting booming sales resulting from worries about possible gun control legislation. Photograph: Steve Marcus/Reuters
Barack Obama is poised to propose a rigorous new system of background checks on all buyers of firearms as the centrepiece of what amounts to the largest campaign in a generation to tighten America's gun laws.
Obama will unveil a plethora of new legislative proposals, together with 19 executive actions that he can introduce without congressional approval, at a White House event on Wednesday morning. The president will be flanked by children who have written into him about their desire for change in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 27 people died including 20 young pupils.
Top of the list of demands from gun control groups is the closure of massive loopholes in the current federal system of background checks. Unlicensed gun sellers who trade through gun shows or on the internet do not have to ask their customers to undergo the FBI checks – which means that fully 40% of weapons sold in the US every year are exempt from federal safeguards.
"In most states convicted felons, domestic violence abusers, and those who are dangerously mentally ill can walk into any gun show and buy weapons from unlicensed sellers without being stopped, no questions asked," said the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
The four weapons used by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to kill 12 students and a teacher at Columbine high school in April 1999 were bought by a friend of the shooters from unlicensed sellers at a gun show.
The problem of the so-called "gun show loophole" was graphically exposed in 2011 by Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City who has spearheaded the movement for greater gun controls. He sent a team of undercover investigators into several gun shows across the country posing as would-be purchasers.
Though private sellers at gun shows are exempt from the need to have a background check on their customers, they are still legally obliged to turn away any buyer they suspect of being unable to pass such a test. That includes criminals and fugitives, drug addicts, those diagnosed "mentally defective" and individuals under a domestic violence restraining order.
Yet when the New York investigators told the private sellers that they probably couldn't pass an FBI background check, 19 out of the 30 vendors included in the investigation agreed to sell to them illegally anyway. One seller responded to New York's dummy buyer who had admitted he wouldn't pass a check by saying: "I wouldn't pass either, buddy."
Another area of weakness in the federal system of safeguards is that private individuals can sell guns through the internet without background checks on those receiving the weapons. The gap was highlighted by the Brady Center which last month filed a law suit against a gun dealing website on behalf of the family of a woman who was killed by a stalker who had acquired the murder weapon through the site.
Vice-president Joe Biden, who was nominated by Obama to lead a White House mission to advise him on how to combat gun violence, has indicated that he favours not only closing the gun show loophole, but "total universal background checks, including private sales". To achieve that, the president would be dependent on the support of both houses of Congress to steer through new legislation.
That could prove heavy lifting, given the historic opposition of the gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, to federal monitoring of private sales. The first encounter between Biden and the NRA, which is highly influential among Republican members of Congress, did not bode well: the association came out of last week's White House meeting accusing the vice president of putting together "an agenda to attack the Second Amendment".
However, not all pro-gun groups are opposed to the idea of extending federal checks to gun shows. Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, said that background checks on all sales at gun shows made "absolute sense".
"When you sell a gun at a gun show as a private citizen you don't have a clue who you are selling to – that's why checks are a good idea," Feldman said. But he added that his group would vigorously oppose any attempt to impose checks on the exchange of guns between family members or friends, which he called "political over-reach".
While Obama faces an Herculean struggle to see universal background checks enacted by Congress, there are several measures that are likely to be on Biden's proposed list that could be introduced by the president acting alone by dint of his executive powers. The 19 executive orders that Biden will propose are expected to include a requirement on all federal agencies that they pass on information on criminals, drug users and mentally ill people to the FBI background check database.
That still leaves the individual states who are also notoriously lapse in forwarding intelligence on individuals to the FBI computer. Some 19 states have filed details on 100 or fewer individuals.
And here is the voice of Evil:
January 16, 2013 06:00 AMNRA’s New Ad Goes After the Obama Daughters
Apparently President Obama is a hypocrite because his children are protected by the Secret Service. Doubtless the NRA goons used similar tactics in the 1990s with Chelsea when President Clinton pushed for the assault weapons ban.
via the Washington Post:
The National Rifle Association released a new video on its Web site Tuesday calling President Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for having Secret Service protection of his daughters at school but saying he was “skeptical” about installing armed guards in all schools.
The NRA’s provocative, 35-second video is as harsh as any attack ad in a political campaign and illustrates how emotionally charged and personal the debate over gun control is becoming.
“Are the president’s kids more important than yours?” a deep-voiced narrator asks. “Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school? Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he’s just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security.”
A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Click to watch and hear the voice of Lucifer as Evil: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0LfGNtrRX8
***********New York passes tough new gun control laws
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 15, 2013 17:47 EST
New York on Tuesday passed what supporters called the toughest gun ownership law in the country and became the first US state to impose new restrictions in the wake of last month’s elementary school massacre in Connecticut.
Lawmakers in the lower house of the State Assembly voted 104-43 in favor of the measure, which had been approved by the upper house in a 43-18 vote late Monday.
Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who rushed through the legislation, welcomed the assembly’s “bold statement, coming together in a bipartisan, collaborative manner to meet the challenges that face our state and our nation, as we have seen far too many senseless acts of gun violence.”
He told lawmakers ahead of the votes: “The people of this state now are crying out for help on the issue of gun violence.”
The measures, which include a full ban on sales of military-style rifles, were linked directly to the national horror at the December 14 massacre of 20 six- and seven-year-olds and six staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Those killings sparked a major national debate over the need for curbing America’s liberal gun laws. President Barack Obama said Tuesday he would unveil his own proposals on Wednesday.
New York’s rapid action on the opening days of its new session grabbed national attention and ramped up momentum for supporters of sweeping new restrictions, particularly regarding assault rifles — the kind of weapon the Newtown killer used.
The NY Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act, or NY SAFE, closes several loopholes in an existing state ban on assault weapon sales.
It reduces the maximum magazine size from 10 rounds to seven and extends the requirement for background checks to all sales, including private deals.
Another notable aspect of the new rules is emphasis on preventing the mentally ill from gaining access to weapons. An existing law allowing judges to order mentally ill people to get treatment was strengthened.
“I think the message out there is so clear after Newtown,” State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said as the debate got underway on Monday. “It is an emergency,” he said.
However, opponents questioned whether focusing on assault rifles was wise, given that handguns are used far more frequently in crimes. They also accused Cuomo and his allies of violating the US constitution’s guarantee of the right to bear arms.
The law “tramples on the constitutional rights of our citizens,” Republican assembly member Marc Butler said during the debate on Tuesday.
Advocates of gun control say that rifles designed for firing at a high rate and at multiple targets make it easier for such massacres to take place.
In the run-up to Monday’s vote, Cuomo also ridiculed the argument that assault rifles — which resemble those carried by the military, except that they cannot be fired on full automatic — are needed by ordinary people, such as hunters.
“No one hunts with an assault rifle,” Cuomo said. “No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer. End the madness.”
************NRA triggers furor with its shooting-range app
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 15, 2013 17:48 EST
The National Rifle Association, which blames video games in part for mass shootings, triggered controversy Tuesday after coming out with its own game for iPhones and iPads.
“NRA: Practice Range,” released Sunday, is billed as “the NRA’s new mobile nerve center” with access to information about gun safety, legislation and news from the influential 4.25 million-member US gun lobby group.
But its main feature are shooting ranges — some with vaguely coffin-shaped targets — and a choice of handguns, rifles and shotguns, including the type of assault rifle used in the Newtown school massacre in December.
Players have one minute to pick off as many targets as possible, then post their scores on a leader board open to all.
“Is this some kind of sick joke?” wrote one customer in the review section of the game’s App Store page.
“The NRA complains about violent games and then releases one a week later. Sure you’re not shooting at humans but does it really matter? F***ing ridiculous.”
But in a reflection of how guns divide Americans, others gave the app five-star reviews.
“Freaking awesome,” wrote one satisfied customer. Another added: “Better hurry and download this before they take it away from us.”
As news of the game spread, an online petition was launched on SignOn.org urging Apple chief executive Tim Cook to withdraw the app, which is rated as appropriate for youngsters as young as four years old.
“In no way is this shameless and disrespectful product appropriate for children even younger than the Sandy Hook victims,” said the petition, which by mid-afternoon had gathered close to 300 signatures.
The game’s release coincided with this week’s SHOT convention, an annual trade show for the shooting, hunting and firearms industry organized in Las Vegas by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a gun industry trade group.
The foundation happens to be based in Newtown, Connecticut, where Adam Lanza, 20, cut down 20 children aged just six and seven, along with six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14.
Lanza — who had earlier shot and killed his mother, owner of the Bushmaster assault rifle used to kill the children — also took his own life in one of the worst mass shootings in US history.
While President Barack Obama launched a task force to look into tougher gun laws, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre blamed “vicious, violent video games” and the wider entertainment industry for such bloodbaths.
Separately, 52 percent of respondents to a Washington Post-ABC News poll said the Newtown shooting had made them more supportive of gun control.
The poll also found broad support among both Democrats and Republicans for mandatory background checks for those who purchase firearms at gun shows. Such events are said to account for 40 percent of all US gun sales.
Prospects of tighter gun laws from the Obama administration — which in its first term did nothing to renew a ban on assault rifles that lapsed in 2004 — has seen a buying frenzy for firearms and ammunition.
It has also seen the NRA pick up 250,000 members in just a month, the US News and World Report website reported.
“I would say that every time President Obama opens his mouth… about gun bans and restricting the rights of law-abiding Americans, people pay
***********Maryland governor seeks to abolish death penalty
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 15, 2013 18:20 EST
The governor of the eastern US state of Maryland said Tuesday he will present a bill to abolish the death penalty.
If the legislation passes, Maryland would become the 18th state in America to do away with capital punishment. The bill will be formally presented next week.
Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, said pursuing a capital case is three times as expensive as pursuing a non-death penalty homicide conviction and that the punishment does not deter crime.
“Every dollar we spend on an ineffective death penalty is a dollar we’re not spending on crime-fighting tools that actually work,” O’Malley told a news conference organized by the NAACP, a venerable advocacy group for African-Americans.
Maryland has not executed anyone or issued a death penalty conviction since 2005, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The state has five prisoners on death row.
O’Malley first came out against the death penalty in 2009, calling it intrinsically unfair.
He presented a bill that would abolish it, and divert to families of murder victims the money that would have gone to pursuing death penalty convictions. But the bill failed to gain passage.
O’Malley said most executions in the world take place in Iran, North Korea, China, Yemen and the United States, and questioned what company America wanted to keep on this issue.
Last year Connecticut became the 17th US state to abolish the death penalty. That raised to 29 the number of states that, either on paper or de facto, have renounced it, says the DPIC.
*************U.S. taps pension fund to avoid debt ceiling
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, January 15, 2013 20:58 EST
The US government stopped investing in a federal employee pension fund Tuesday to avoid breaching the nation’s legal borrowing limit, the Treasury Department said.
The action is among the extraordinary bookkeeping measures the Treasury announced on December 31 to keep the government’s debt below the current $16.4 trillion limit.
In a letter to leaders of Congress, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said he was unable to invest fully in the fund beginning Tuesday “to avoid breaching the statutory debt limit.”
Geithner said the fund would be “made whole once the debt limit is increased.”
Federal employees and retirees would not be affected by the action, he said.
On Monday, Geithner called on Congress to raise the debt limit, warning that failing to do so would “impose severe economic hardship on millions of individuals and businesses.”
“Threatening to undermine our creditworthiness is no less irresponsible than threatening to undermine the rule of law, and no more legitimate than any other common demand for ransom,” he wrote in a letter to the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, John Boehner.
President Barack Obama has warned Republicans against using the borrowing limit as a bargaining chip in budget negotiations.
Republicans insist that it be part of any deal with the Democrats on a longer-term budget to rein in big deficits and debt.
*********House passes Sandy relief bill despite Republican opposition
By Adam Gabbatt, The Guardian
Tuesday, January 15, 2013 21:05 EST
The House of Representatives voted in favour of a $17bn Hurricane Sandy relief bill on Tuesday, 11 weeks after the superstorm struck the north-east of the US. Congress was due to vote on a second part of the package, which would add $33.7bn to recovery funds, later on Tuesday. Along with the $9bn package to fund insurance claims passed earlier this month, the total relief funding could total nearly $60bn.
The $17bn will go towards basic needs in areas that were hit hard by the storm. The money will be spent on temporary housing and other urgent measures, mostly in New York and New Jersey, which bore the brunt of the hurricane. Congress was debating an amendment to the bill on Tuesday evening which could add $33.7bn which would be spent on longer term structural issues, such as rebuilding train and subway systems and repairing flood-prevention measures.
There had been some concern that the Republican-controlled House would vote against further federal Sandy relief. Conservatives had proposed a series of amendments to the bill which would impose spending cuts elsewhere in exchange for awarding the funding. An amendment that would have offset the $17bn with a 1.63% cut on appropriations in the 2013 budget was voted down by 258-162. Of the 162 voting for the amendment, 157 were Republicans, five Democrats.
The fight over Sandy relief goes back to 1 January, when the Republican leadership in the House opted not to vote on a $60bn bill which had been passed by the Senate. That delay meant the bill had to be reintroduced in the House, causing lengthy delays at a time when federal relief funds were in danger of running out.
In the week following that decision, New Jersey governor Chris Christie gave an angry press conference in which he accused the Republican leadership in the House of showing “callous indifference” in delaying consideration of Sandy relief. This prompted a vote on 4 January over a $9.7bn package to fund insurance arising claims from the storm.
Tuesday was the first day that the larger relief package – which would bring the funding total close to the initial $60bn deal passed by the Senate – could be debated in the House.
As the House debated the $33.7bn amendment to the Sandy bill, introduced by New Jersey representative Rodney Frelinghuysen, on Tuesday afternoon, congressmen from New York, New Jersey and beyond lined up to chide those who intended to vote against it. Congressman Frank LoBiondo, a Republican who represents New Jersey’s 2nd congressional district, which includes Atlantic City, was critical of some House members who had experienced disaster in their own states but were now opposing relief for the north-east.
“California – did you get rid of the San Andreas fault?,” LoBiondo said in an impassioned speech on the House floor. “Mississippi: you think you’re not going to have a flood again?”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
**********New York VA hospital exposes hundreds of veterans to HIV risk
By David Ferguson
Tuesday, January 15, 2013 11:56 EST
More than 700 veterans may have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C due to improper use of insulin pens at a New York hospital. According to CNN, personnel at a Veterans’ Administration hospital in Buffalo, New York used the single-use injection pens on multiple patients, exposing them to the same risk of blood borne diseases as IV drug users who share needles.
A memo sent from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to the Congress said, in part, “On November 1, 2012, officials at the (Veterans Affairs Western New York Healthcare System) reported that while conducting pharmacy inspection rounds on the inpatient units, they discovered that insulin pens intended for individual patient use were found in the supply drawer of the medication carts without a patient label on them. Although the disposable needles were changed each time it was used, the insulin pens intended for individual patient use may have been used on more than one patient.”
The office of Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY) supplied the memo to CNN. The document went on to say that risks to veterans who were patients in the hospital was very low.
“There is a very small chance that some patients could have been exposed to the hepatitis B virus, the hepatitis C virus, or HIV, based on practices identified at the facility,” it reads. “(The health system) determined that all veterans who were prescribed the insulin pen during an inpatient stay from October 19, 2010, to November 1, 2012, should be notified.”
During that period, 712 patients were given doses of insulin from the disposable pens, which are injection devices intended to allow one person to perform multiple self-injections. Because blood can flush back up the needle into the cartridge during injection, pathogens left behind by one patient could potentially be passed on when the device is used on a second patient, even if the needle has been changed.
Jim Blue, regional director of the VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, said to CNN, “Veterans and their families will have an opportunity to speak with a nurse who will answer questions they may have and assist with managing followup care.”
Higgins’ office took the VA to task in a statement for dragging its feet when it came to notifying the affected patients.
“Beyond the fact that the error occurred at all, most concerning was the length of time it took the Buffalo VA to catch the error — over two years, as well as the three-month delay in informing patients who may have been exposed,” it said.
Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) blamed improper training of VA hospital personnel.
“Unfortunately, since the day that new technology was introduced at the VA, they did not have a protocol in place that let the nurses know they were not supposed to use the cartridge on more than one patient,” he said, calling the situation “unacceptable.”
Higgins has also requested an action plan from the VA that will ensure that such errors do not take place in the future.
January 15, 2013For ‘Party of Business,’ Allegiances Are Shifting
By JACKIE CALMES
WASHINGTON — Not for the first time, the White House made known on Monday that top administration officials had reached out to corporate executives for their help in getting Republicans in Congress to compromise on pending budget issues. But as both President Obama and industry chieftains are finding, today’s Republican Party is hardly so quick to bow to big business.
Corporate chiefs in recent months have pleaded publicly with Republicans to raise their taxes for the sake of deficit reduction, and to raise the nation’s debt limit without a fight lest another confrontation like that in 2011 wallop the economy. But the lobbying has been to no avail. This is not their parents’ Republican Party.
In a shift over a half-century, the party base has been transplanted from the industrial Northeast and urban centers to become rooted in the South and West, in towns and rural areas. In turn, Republicans are electing more populist, antitax and antigovernment conservatives who are less supportive — and even suspicious — of appeals from big business.
Big business, many Republicans believe, is often complicit with big government on taxes, spending and even regulations, to protect industry tax breaks and subsidies — “corporate welfare,” in their view.
“One of the biggest lies in politics is the lie that Republicans are the party of big business,” Ted Cruz, a new senator from Texas and a Tea Party favorite, told The Wall Street Journal during his 2012 campaign. “Big business does great with big government. Big business is very happy to climb in bed with big government. Republicans are and should be the party of small business and of entrepreneurs.”
The tension, so evident last month in the tax fight over the fiscal deadline, is apparent again as Mr. Obama and a new Congress contend over the even more pressing need to increase the nation’s debt limit next month.
Big business is so fearful of economic peril if Congress does not allow the government to keep borrowing — to pay creditors, contractors, program beneficiaries and many others — that it is nearly united in skepticism of, or outright opposition to, House Republicans’ demand that Mr. Obama first agree to equal spending cuts in benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
That explains the administration’s outreach to corporate chiefs, like Monday’s conference call. Mr. Obama wants business’s support to buttress his vow that he will never again negotiate over so essential an action like he did in 2011, when the nation flirted with default and the economy suffered. Vexing Republicans, many business leaders are siding with him.
“I’m agreeing with the president — you should not be using the debt limit as a bargaining chip when it comes to how you run the country,” said David M. Cote, chief executive of Honeywell, and a Republican. “You don’t put the full faith and credit of the United States at risk.”
As a new warning was issued Tuesday about a possible credit downgrade, even the hard-line conservative group Americans for Prosperity, financed by the billionaire Koch family, urged Republicans not to use the debt limit as leverage for deep spending cuts.
Another flash point between Republicans and corporate America: Even as they pocket big campaign contributions from business, many Republicans resent that the donors play both sides of the political fence. A senior aide to a House Republican leader summed up the feeling: “Corporate America isn’t the friend to Republicans that most people assume. So I think there is a healthier sort of skepticism that is brought into those meetings” with business leaders. (Chief executives still have some sway; no critics wanted to be identified slamming them.)
Some of the Republicans’ distancing from big business is a matter of political tactics — to alter their image as the party of wealth and corporate power. A writer for the conservative Weekly Standard said of the fiscal fight last month, “While big business cozies up to Obama once again, Republicans have an opportunity to enhance their reputation as the party of Main Street.”
A news release e-mailed in late December from the office of Speaker John A. Boehner captured the changed dynamic. On a day when Mr. Obama met executives from the Business Roundtable, a group that for decades was close to Congressional Republicans, the subject line on the Boehner e-mail, abbreviating “President of the United States,” read: “GOP to Meet With Small Biz While POTUS Meets With Big CEOs.”
Courtship of business has been central to the president’s postelection legislative strategy, both to repair relations strained in his first term and to gain allies who might influence Republican lawmakers in the second. Yet Republicans on Capitol Hill profess bemusement, saying that administration officials misread their party.
“They trot out these big business executives and just assume, ‘Well, these guys are big business — if they just go tell Republicans what to do, they’ll do it.’ That’s just a cartoon version of how things work,” said a House Republican adviser.
But the White House was not alone late last year in believing that a group called Campaign to Fix the Debt — the biggest and best-financed mobilization of corporate clout in lawmakers’ memory, with more than 150 chief executives and $46 million — could create pressure for a bipartisan grand bargain of tax increases and entitlement program reductions to stabilize the federal debt.
There was no such deal in December, and people in both parties agree that Fix the Debt has had no impact so far. Yet the coalition is back: “I definitely think this is a marathon, not a race, so it’s not going to all happen when we want it to happen,” said Mark T. Bertolini, chief executive of Aetna and a leader in the coalition.
Privately, however, some Republicans in the group concede their advocacy has limits among the new breed of Republican lawmakers.
With each year, “you’re getting even further away from the big-city, corporate domination of the Republican Party,” said Merle Black, a scholar of Southern politics at Emory University. And if a Republican in a conservative district did back a deal with Mr. Obama, Mr. Black added, “It won’t get you very far if you say, ‘Well, I talked to the corporate guys and they’re all for this.’ “
January 15, 2013Schumer Says He’s Satisfied With Hagel on Mideast
By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
WASHINGTON — In a boon for the Obama administration’s efforts to advance the nomination of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York told President Obama on Tuesday that he was optimistic that he could vote for Mr. Hagel’s confirmation based on his grilling of Mr. Hagel on a variety of issues pertaining to Israel and Iran.
After a 90-minute meeting in the West Wing of the White House on Monday, Mr. Schumer appeared to be mollified on a number of concerns he has with some votes Mr. Hagel made while serving in the Senate and myriad comments he has subsequently made regarding the nuclear threat of Iran and other matters.
“Based on several key assurances provided by Senator Hagel,” Mr. Schumer said in a prepared statement, “I am currently prepared to vote for his confirmation. I encourage my Senate colleagues who have shared my previous concerns to also support him.” Mr. Schumer, the first senator to meet privately with Mr. Hagel since he was nominated last week, is likely to have influence over many of his Senate colleagues, particularly Democrats, who have been fretting over the nomination. He called Mr. Hagel Tuesday morning to let him know he was prepared to support him.
While the nod is unsurprising, having the support of Mr. Schumer, the most influential Jewish member of the Senate, may be helpful to Mr. Hagel’s pursuit of the defense job, effectively neutralizing the idea that he is somehow anti-Israel. His nomination has been met with suspicion, and even outright hostility, among Republicans and Democrats who are strongly aligned with pro-Israel groups.
Mr. Schumer himself appeared cool to the prospect of Mr. Hagel’s nomination in December interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Of deepest concern to Mr. Schumer and many Israel advocacy groups, are Mr. Hagel’s positions on the nuclear threat posed by Iran, particularly his suggestions in the past that a military strike against Iran would be counterproductive. It is a position that is out of step with the Obama administration, which became increasingly hawkish on Iran during the 2012 campaign.
“On Iran, Senator Hagel rejected a strategy of containment and expressed the need to keep all options on the table in confronting that country,” Mr. Schumer said. “But he didn’t stop there. In our conversation, Senator Hagel made a crystal-clear promise that he would do ‘whatever it takes’ to stop Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons, including the use of military force.”
As a Republican senator from Nebraska, Mr. Hagel voted against several rounds of sanctions against Iran that ultimately passed the Senate, citing unilateral sanctions are ineffective. On this matter too, Mr. Schumer seemed to find comfort. “Senator Hagel clarified that he ‘completely’ supports President Obama’s current sanctions against Iran,” Mr. Schumer said. “He added that further unilateral sanctions against Iran could be effective and necessary.”
On nearly every other issue that Mr. Schumer brought up with Mr. Hagel — his views on the militant Islamist groups Hezbollah and Hamas, his prior comments about gays, his use of the term “Jewish lobby” to refer to Israel advocacy groups — all seemed to be tamped down in the meeting.
“I know some will question whether Senator Hagel’s assurances are merely attempts to quiet critics as he seeks confirmation to this critical post,” Mr. Schumer said. “But I don’t think so. Senator Hagel realizes the situation in the Middle East has changed, with Israel in a dramatically more endangered position than it was even five years ago.”
On Sunday, Mr. Hagel got a resounding vote of support from a fellow Republican moderate, Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state, who said on the NBC News program “Meet the Press” that Mr. Hagel was “superbly qualified.” Mr. Powell’s remarks could well influence many Republicans who have expressed skepticism about his confirmation, although some, like Senator John McCain of Arizona, are almost certain to continue to express opposition.
Mr. Hagel offered to discuss these matters with Mr. Schumer over the phone last week, but the senator wanted to hold out for a discussion in person. Mr. Schumer, who appears to enjoy his role in the catbird seat on the Hagel matter, will also likely help to tamp down criticisms from some groups aligned with Israel, who are not eager to have a fight with the newly re-elected president.
January 15, 2013An Oil Town Where Men Are Many, and Women Are Hounded
By JOHN ELIGON
WILLISTON, N.D. — Christina Knapp and a friend were drinking shots at a bar in a nearby town several weeks ago when a table of about five men called them over and made an offer.
They would pay the women $3,000 to strip naked and serve them beer at their house while they watched mixed martial arts fights on television. Ms. Knapp, 22, declined, but the men kept raising the offer, reaching $7,000.
“I said I make more money doing my job than degrading myself to do that,” said Ms. Knapp, a tattoo artist with dark streaks in her light brown hair, a bird tattoo on her chest and piercings above her lip and left cheekbone.
The rich shale oil formation deep below the rolling pastures here has attracted droves of young men to work the labor-intensive jobs that get the wells flowing and often generate six-figure salaries. What the oil boom has not brought, however, are enough single women.
At work, at housing camps and in bars and restaurants, men have been left to mingle with their own. High heels and skirts are as rare around here as veggie burgers. Some men liken the environment to the military or prison.
“It’s bad, dude,” said Jon Kenworthy, 22, who moved to Williston from Indiana in early December. “I was talking to my buddy here. I told him I was going to import from Indiana because there’s nothing here.”
This has complicated life for women in the region as well.
Many said they felt unsafe. Several said they could not even shop at the local Walmart without men following them through the store. Girls’ night out usually becomes an exercise in fending off obnoxious, overzealous suitors who often flaunt their newfound wealth.
“So many people look at you like you’re a piece of meat,” said Megan Dye, 28, a nearly lifelong Williston resident. “It’s disgusting. It’s gross.”
Prosecutors and the police note an increase in crimes against women, including domestic and sexual assaults. “There are people arriving in North Dakota every day from other places around the country who do not respect the people or laws of North Dakota,” said Ariston E. Johnson, the deputy state’s attorney in neighboring McKenzie County, in an e-mail.
Over the past six years, North Dakota has shot from the middle of the pack to become the state with the third-highest ratio of single young men to single young women in the country. In 2011, nearly 58 percent of North Dakota’s unmarried 18-to-34-year-olds were men, according to census data. That disparity was even starker in the three counties where the oil boom is heaviest — there were more than 1.6 young single men for every young single woman.
And most people around here say the gap is considerably larger. Census data mostly captures permanent residents. Most of the men who come here to work maintain their primary residences elsewhere and split time between the oil fields and their homes. And women note that many of the men who approach them are married.
Some women have banked on the female shortage. Williston’s two strip clubs attract dancers from around the country. Prostitutes from out of state troll the bars.
Natasha, 31, an escort and stripper from Las Vegas, is currently on her second stint here after hearing how much money strippers made in Williston on a CNN report last year. Business in her industry is much better here than in the rest of the country, she said. She makes at least $500 a night, but more often she exceeds $1,000.
“We make a lot of money because there’s a lot of lonely guys,” she said.
On a recent night at City Bar in nearby Watford City, the only women in the long, wood-paneled room were two bartenders and the woman running the karaoke. Under flashing lights, some of the male patrons huddled at the bar, while others played games like simulated buck shooting and darts.
Zach Mannon, 23, who has been working in the oil patch for three years, said he once bumped accidentally into a woman in a bar packed with men. He excused himself, he said, but then her boyfriend came over and accused him of grabbing her buttocks. He denied it. The man insisted they step outside, so they did, but 14 of Mr. Mannon’s co-workers from his rig came along. The man backed down, they talked things over and no punches were thrown.
For Mr. Mannon, having women around was more about finding sanity than a soul mate.
“Out here, you can’t tell a guy, like, ‘I had a rough day,’ “ Mr. Mannon said. “They’re going to go, ‘Everyone has a rough day. Get over it, you sissy.’
“The bartender,” he added, nodding toward the bar, “she’s the friendliest gal in the world. Every time I go in, she goes, ‘How was your day, Zach?’ I say, ‘Ah, it was long; it was cold out.’ She actually listens.”
But sensitivity is often absent here when men discuss women. Here, men talk of a “Williston 10” — a woman who would be considered mediocre in any other city is considered a perfect 10 out here.
“I’ve noticed my standards dropping,” said Ian Hernandez, 24, who moved to Williston from Chicago a couple of months ago. “I just went home two weeks ago. I saw the girls I had planned to see. That, hopefully, should hold me off until I go back next time in two months or so.”
Some men have forced themselves on women.
Jessica Brightbill, a single 24-year-old who moved here from Grand Rapids, Mich., a year and a half ago, said she was walking to work at 3:30 in the afternoon when a car with two men suddenly pulled up behind her. One hopped out and grabbed her by her arms and began dragging her. She let her body go limp so she would be harder to drag. Eventually, a man in a truck pulled up and began yelling at the men and she got away, she said. The episode left her rattled.
Going out alone is now out of the question, and the friend she moved here with no longer has much time to spend with her because she has since found a boyfriend and had a baby. Ms. Brightbill said she has difficulty finding other young single women with the freedom to hang out. And, she said, finding good men does not come easy.
“It’s just people trying to have sex,” she said.
But some women have taken aggressive steps to protect themselves.
At the urging of her family, Barbara Coughlin, 31, who recently moved to Williston after her 11-year marriage ended, is now getting her concealed weapons permit so she can carry a Taser. Ms. Coughlin, who wore silver glitter around her eyes at work as a waitress on a recent day, said her mother and stepfather, who live here, advised her to stop wearing the skirts and heels she cherishes, so she does not stand out like “a flower in the desert,” as her stepfather put it. Her family hardly ever lets her go out on her own — not even for walks down the gravel road at the housing camp where they live.
“Will I stay for very long? Probably not,” she said. “To me, there’s no money in the world worth not even being able to take a walk.”
Kevin Quealy contributed reporting.