In the USA...
April 7, 2013Targeted Killing Comes to Define War on Terror
By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON — When Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, was taken into American custody at an airport stopover in Jordan last month, he joined one of the most select groups of the Obama era: high-level terrorist suspects who have been located by the American counterterrorism juggernaut, and who have not been killed.
Mr. Abu Ghaith’s case — he awaits a federal criminal trial in New York — is a rare illustration of what Obama administration officials have often said is their strong preference for capturing terrorists rather than killing them.
“I have heard it suggested that the Obama administration somehow prefers killing Al Qaeda members rather than capturing them,” said John O. Brennan, in a speech last year when he was the president’s counterterrorism adviser; he is now the C.I.A. director. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
In fact, he said, “Our unqualified preference is to only undertake lethal force when we believe that capturing the individual is not feasible.”
Despite Mr. Brennan’s protestations, an overwhelming reliance on killing terrorism suspects, which began in the administration of George W. Bush, has defined the Obama years. Since Mr. Obama took office, the C.I.A. and military have killed about 3,000 people in counterterrorist strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, mostly using drones. Only a handful have been caught and brought to this country; an unknown number have been imprisoned by other countries with intelligence and other support from the United States.
This policy on targeted killing, according to experts on counterterrorism inside and outside the government, is shaped by several factors: the availability of a weapon that does not risk American casualties; the resistance of the authorities in Pakistan and Yemen to even brief incursions by American troops; and the decreasing urgency of interrogation at a time when the terrorist threat has diminished and the United States has deep intelligence on its enemies.
Though no official will publicly acknowledge it, the bottom line is clear: killing is more convenient than capture for both the United States and the foreign countries where the strikes occur.
The drone strikes have become unpopular abroad; in a Pew Research Center poll last year, just 17 percent of Pakistanis supported them against leaders of extremist groups. And domestic critics have attacked from two different directions: Some Republicans in Congress accuse Mr. Obama of adopting a de facto kill preference because he shut down the C.I.A.’s overseas prisons and does not want to send more detainees to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Human rights advocates argue that some drone strikes have amounted to extrajudicial killings, the execution without trial of people suspected of being militants whose identities American officials often do not know and who sometimes pose little threat to the United States.
But with the American public, the strikes remain popular. Even as some senior former American security officials question whether the strikes are beginning to do more harm than good, 65 percent of Americans questioned in a Gallup poll last month approved of strikes to kill suspected foreign terrorists; only 28 percent were opposed.
Mr. Brennan’s criterion for capture — when it is “feasible” — is a very subjective judgment, said Matthew C. Waxman, a former Defense Department official who is now at Columbia Law School.
“Those simple statements about a preference to capture mask a much more complicated story,” Mr. Waxman said. “The U.S. military and intelligence community can do a great deal if they’re directed to do it. Sometimes where we say it’s infeasible, we mean it’s too risky.”
But he believes the hazards of a capture strategy are real. “I think in most cases we could not capture people without significant risk to our own forces or to diplomatic relations,” he said.
The uncertainties were evident nine months into Mr. Obama’s first term, when intelligence agencies tracked down Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a suspect in the attacks on two American embassies in East Africa in 1998.
The original plan had been to fire long-range missiles to hit Mr. Nabhan and others as they drove in a convoy from Mogadishu, Somalia, to the seaside town of Baraawe. But that plan was scrubbed at the last minute, and instead a Navy SEALs team helicoptered from a ship and strafed Mr. Nabhan’s convoy, killing him and three others. The SEALs landed to collect DNA samples to confirm the identities of the dead.
The episode raised uncomfortable questions for some at the Pentagon. If the United States took the risk to land troops in Somalia, they wondered, why did they not capture Mr. Nabhan instead of killing him?
Or consider the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric who had joined the Qaeda branch in Yemen. In September 2011, when American intelligence located him, it might conceivably have been possible to organize a capture by Yemeni or American commandos. But a drone strike was politically far less complicated for both countries, said Gregory D. Johnsen, an expert on Yemen at Princeton.
If American forces captured him, their presence on Yemeni soil might have spurred unrest, Mr. Johnsen said. If the forces of the Yemeni president at the time, Ali Abdullah Saleh, caught him, he said, “Does he turn him over to the Americans and risk a backlash? Does he hold him? It was easier for Saleh to let the Americans take a shot at Awlaki than to send his troops to catch him.”
The trade-offs have not changed under Yemen’s new president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who lauded the precision of drone strikes in a 2012 speech in Washington. Two months later, an American strike killed Adnan al-Qadhi, a well-connected Qaeda supporter, even though he was in a town near the capital, Sana, where several high-level officials live. Neighbors told reporters that he could easily have been captured.
In Pakistan, where the SEAL raid that killed Bin Laden sent Pakistani-American relations into a tailspin, drone strikes — though deeply unpopular — are tolerated by the security establishment. “There’s an intangible notion that a drone flying over is less of an intrusion than troops on the ground,” said Ashley S. Deeks, a University of Virginia law professor and a former State Department lawyer.
Then there is the question of very real danger to Americans in capturing heavily armed terrorists. The SEALs sent to Abbottabad were instructed that if Bin Laden immediately surrendered, he should be detained, according to Matt Bissonnette, a member of the SEAL team who wrote a book on the raid. But if Americans died trying to catch a midlevel militant — when drones were available but went unused — there would be a huge public outcry, most officials believe.
Only in the drone era has killing terrorism suspects become routine. In the 1980s and 1990s, counterterrorism officers captured several suspects overseas and brought them back to the United States for trial.
Brad Garrett, a former F.B.I. agent, was on the teams that caught both Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, an organizer of the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, and Mir Aimal Kansi, who shot five C.I.A. employees, two of them fatally, outside the agency’s headquarters in Virginia the same year. Teams of American and Pakistani officers caught the men by kicking down doors at their guesthouses, and “no shots were fired in either case,” he said.
As an investigator, Mr. Garrett said, “I’ve spent my life talking to live people. That’s the downside of drones. There’s no one left to talk to.” But he said that catching a solo suspect in an urban setting, while risky, was far less hazardous than confronting a gang of heavily armed men in the hostile territory of Pakistan’s or Yemen’s tribal areas. “I don’t think you can really compare them,” he said.
When Mr. Obama closed the C.I.A. prisons and banned coercive interrogations, Republicans complained that there was nowhere left to hold and question terrorists, a charge that resonated with some military and C.I.A. officers. The president countered by creating a High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, an elite group of analysts and interrogators that officials say has been sent about two dozen times to question detainees at home and abroad. That is a tiny number compared to the frequency of drone strikes, of course, but officials say the secretive group has been successful.
An even smaller number of those questioned by the interrogation group have been brought back to the United States to face criminal charges, including Mr. Abu Ghaith, the Bin Laden son-in-law, and Ahmed Abdulkadir Warsame, a Somali commander of the militant group Shabab.
By all accounts, Mr. Warsame’s handling is a powerful illustration of the value of capturing rather than killing a terrorism suspect. He first began providing information to American counterterrorism officials after being caught on a ship in April 2011. He has never stopped talking about both the Shabab and the Qaeda branch in Yemen, officials say, and he knows that his ultimate sentence will depend on his cooperation.
There are signs that the Obama administration may itself have grown wary of the convenience of targeted killing — or may be running out of high-level targets. After a sharp rise in Mr. Obama’s first two years, the total number of drone strikes is now in sharp decline.
In Pakistan, strikes peaked in 2010 at 117; the number fell to 64 in 2011, 46 in 2012, with 11 so far this year, according to The Long War Journal, which covers the covert wars. In Yemen, while strikes shot up to 42 in 2012, no strikes have been reported since a flurry of drone hits in January, according to several organizations that track strikes.
In his State of the Union address in February, Mr. Obama pledged more transparency for the drone program, and he and his aides have hinted that change are coming. It remains unclear what the administration has in mind, but the president has spoken of the treacherous allure of the drone.
Decisions on targeted killing, he told CNN in September, are “something that you have to struggle with.”
“If you don’t, then it’s very easy to slip into a situation in which you end up bending rules thinking that the ends always justify the means,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s not who we are as a country.”
Mark Mazzetti contributed reporting.
April 7, 2013Obama Must Walk Fine Line as Congress Takes Up Agenda
By JACKIE CALMES
WASHINGTON — The days ahead could be decisive ones for the main pieces of President Obama’s second-term agenda: long-range deficit reduction, gun safety and changes to immigration law.
With Congress back this week from a recess, bipartisan groups of senators who have been negotiating about immigration and gun violence are due to unveil their agreements, though prospects for a gun deal are in question as the emotional impact of the massacre in Newtown, Conn., has faded and the National Rifle Association has marshaled opposition. And on Wednesday, Mr. Obama will send his annual budget to Capitol Hill intended as a compromise offer, though early signs suggest that Republican leaders have little interest in reviving talks.
Members of both parties say Mr. Obama faces a conundrum with his legislative approach to a deeply polarized Congress. In the past, when he has stayed aloof from legislative action, Republicans and others have accused him of a lack of leadership; when he has gotten involved, they have complained that they could not support any bill so closely identified with Mr. Obama without risking the contempt of conservative voters.
Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, called this predicament Mr. Obama’s “Catch-22.” And Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, said he had often seen it at work since 2010 while negotiating with Republican lawmakers to reach a long-term budget agreement.
At times, Mr. Warner said, Republicans would urge him to get Mr. Obama more involved, saying, “Gosh, Warner, we’ve got to have the president.” Other times, he said, the same lawmakers would plead otherwise, saying, “If the president comes out for this, you know it is going to kill us in the House.”
“Everybody wants him involved to the right degree at the right moment,” Mr. Warner said, “but not anytime before or after.”
The challenge for Mr. Obama became evident as soon as he took office, when Republicans almost unanimously opposed his economic stimulus package even as the recession was erasing nearly 800,000 jobs a month. The author Robert Draper opened his recent book about the House, “Do Not Ask What Good We Do,” with an account from Republican leaders who dined together on the night of Mr. Obama’s 2009 inauguration and agreed that the way to regain power was to oppose whatever he proposed.
Though Mr. Obama was able to prevail over Republican opposition in his first two years as president because Democrats had majorities in the House and the Senate, that changed when Republicans won control of the House in 2010, giving them a brake to apply to the president’s agenda.
Other than the stimulus experience in early 2009, the moment that most captured that polarization for the White House occurred a year later. In early 2010 Republican senators, including the minority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, demanded that Mr. Obama endorse bipartisan legislation to create a deficit-reduction commission. But when he finally did so, they voted against the bill, killing it.
Now the president’s three pending priorities are shaping up as test cases for how he and Republicans will work together — or not — in his second term.
Each measure — on the budget, guns and immigration — in its own way illustrates the fine line that Mr. Obama must walk to succeed even with national opinion on his side. Privately, the White House is optimistic only about the prospects for an immigration bill, which would create a path to citizenship for about 11 million people in the country illegally.
That is because an immigration compromise is the only one that Republicans see as being in their own interests, given their party’s unpopularity with the fast-growing Latino electorate. In contrast, most Republicans see little advantage in backing gun legislation, given hostility toward it in their states or in districts throughout the South and the West and in rural areas. A budget compromise would require agreeing to higher taxes, which are anathema to conservative voters, in exchange for Mr. Obama’s support for the reductions in Medicare and Social Security that they want.
Yet even on immigration, many Republicans are weighing their party’s long-term interests in supporting a compromise against their own short-term arguments for opposing one: antipathy remains deep in conservative districts to any proposal that would grant citizenship. That calculation also holds for Republicans planning to seek the 2016 presidential nomination.
Against this backdrop, Mr. Obama early on outlined elements that he wanted in the immigration and gun measures. Then he purposely left the drafting to Congress. Senior aides, mainly the chief of staff, Denis R. McDonough, and the deputy chief of staff, Rob Nabors, check in daily with senators. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. stays in touch with his former Senate colleagues about the gun bill talks.
On immigration, Mr. Obama had wanted to propose his own measure because he had promised Latino groups he would do so. But Senate Democrats advised against it, fearing an “Obama bill” would scare off Republicans like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who has presidential ambitions. Indeed, Mr. Rubio’s office once issued a statement to deny that he was discussing immigration policy “with anyone in the White House,” even as it criticized the president for not consulting Republicans.
“I think he’s handled it just perfectly,” Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, a Democratic leader who is part of the bipartisan negotiations on both issues, said of Mr. Obama. “He’s mobilizing public opinion. He’s staying on top of the issues and being helpful. But at the same time he’s given us — in the House and Senate — space to craft a bipartisan agreement.”
While Mr. Obama is said to be actively involved in the immigration talks behind the scenes because of that bill’s better odds, on gun measures like tighter background checks of firearms purchasers he is waging his fight mostly in public settings far from Washington. On Monday he will travel to Connecticut to meet again with the families of those killed in the school shooting in Newtown last year. At the University of Hartford, he will give another speech calling for passage of gun legislation.
Even Democrats say these speeches are having no effect on Republican lawmakers. Mr. Schumer and Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, spoke again over the weekend but have been unable to reach a deal, raising interest in a fallback proposal that two other senators — Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, and Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia — are working on.
Yet White House aides predict that if the gun issue dies, Mr. Obama will at least get credit for trying and Republicans will be blamed by the majority of Americans who favor tighter controls.
On Sunday, Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, intensified the White House’s efforts to shame Republicans who are threatening to filibuster a Senate vote on gun measures.
“Now that the cameras are off and they are not forced to look the Newtown families in the face, now they want to make it harder and filibuster it,” Mr. Pfeiffer said on the ABC News program “This Week.”
On the budget, Mr. Obama has tried both strategies — negotiating personally with Speaker John A. Boehner on a “grand bargain” for taxes and entitlement-program reductions, and when that failed, letting Congress try, which also failed. Now, with the bipartisan effort moribund, the president has decided he has no option but to publicly take the lead to revive negotiations with hopes of drawing some Republican support.
So the budget he is sending to Congress will embody his last compromise offer to Mr. Boehner in December. For the first time, Mr. Obama is formally proposing to reduce future Social Security benefits, if Republicans will agree to higher taxes on the wealthy and some corporations.
Republican leaders already have rejected the overture, based on early reports about it. But Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that Mr. Obama is “showing some signs of leadership that’s been lacking. I’m encouraged.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Obama is to dine with a dozen rank-and-file Republican senators, hoping they might deal with him on the budget, as well as on immigration and gun measures.
*********America stunned at diplomat’s death in Afghanistan
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, April 7, 2013 22:17 EDT
AFP – Relatives and colleagues of a young US diplomat killed in Afghanistan honored her as a smart woman just starting her career and eager to engage with locals in the war-ravaged country.
Anne Smedinghoff, 25, was among at least five Americans killed in separate attacks Saturday, in the deadliest day for foreigners in Afghanistan this year, as she traveled with Afghan officials to distribute books to students.
“She particularly enjoyed the opportunity to work directly with the Afghan people,” her parents Tom and Mary Beth Smedinghoff said in a statement.
She “was always looking for opportunities to reach out and help make a difference in the lives of those living in a country ravaged by war,” they added.
The last American diplomat killed on the job was US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.
He died along with three other Americans — two embassy security personnel and an information officer — in an attack on the US diplomatic mission in the eastern city of Benghazi on September 11.
Secretary of State John Kerry, traveling in Turkey, lashed out at the “cowardly” Taliban extremists who killed the “selfless, idealistic” young diplomat.
“Anne and those with her were attacked by Taliban terrorists who woke up that day not with a mission to educate or to help, but with a mission to destroy,” Kerry said during a press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.
“A brave American was determined to brighten the light of learning through books written in the native tongue of the students that she had never met, but whom she felt compelled to help.”
Kerry met Smedinghoff when she assisted him during a visit to Afghanistan two weeks ago.
At least three US soldiers and another civilian were killed in the attack that saw a suicide car bomber strike a NATO convoy in the southern province of Zabul. Four other State Department employees were injured, one critically, according to officials.
Another US civilian was killed in a separate assault in eastern Afghanistan.
Speaking to staff and families at the US Consulate General in Istanbul, Kerry acknowledged that such attacks pose a “huge challenge” as US troops and their NATO allies prepare for a withdrawal at the end of next year.
“It’s a grim reminder to all of us, though we didn’t need any reminders, of how important and also how risky carrying the future is… and just trying to provide opportunity to those young boys and girls and men and women in Afghanistan.”
Flags and white ribbons lined the street of Smedinghoff’s family home in River Forest, a suburb of Chicago, local media reported.
Smedinghoff’s first assignment as a diplomat was in Caracas before she volunteered to work in Afghanistan starting in July as a public diplomacy officer.
Her parents said she had joined the US Foreign Service right after graduating from college in 2009 and loved her work, despite the risk.
“We always knew in the back of our minds that this was a possibility. She went everywhere. She usually told us about it afterward, but she never expressed any fear at all,” her father told CBS News.
In their statement, Smedinghoff’s parents said they were “consoled knowing that she was doing what she loved, and that she was serving her country by helping to make a positive difference in the world.”
In addition to her parents, Smedinghoff is survived by a brother and two sisters.
She graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in international studies, and rode in an annual cross-country bicycle trip organized by students and alumni to raise money for cancer patients.
“I think living in Afghanistan is dangerous 24/7,” her aunt Rita Carter told the Chicago Sun-Times. “Anne downplayed it because this was how she was going to save the world.”
************Same-sex marriage momentum spells trouble for the Republican Party
By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, April 7, 2013 8:33 EDT
With Americans tilting toward support of gay marriage and two GOP senators now in favor, Republicans find themselves in a tightening political vice on the issue ahead of mid-term elections and the 2016 presidential race.
Last year was a watershed of sorts for the movement, with gay marriage laws passing in three states, Democratic President Barack Obama offering his public endorsement of marriage equality, and Wisconsin electing Tammy Baldwin as the first openly gay US senator.
But same-sex marriage is suddenly, unavoidably in the political spotlight once again, with the US Supreme Court mulling whether to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act which restricts federal benefits to marriages between a man and a woman.
And with the number of US senators backing gay marriage roaring past the halfway mark this past week — 53 of 100 members are now in favor — activists say Republicans risk getting left in the movement’s wake, which could find them struggling to attract new voters.
“The reality is, there is now irrefutable momentum in the country” in favor of marriage equality, Evan Wolfson, a founder of the gay marriage movement in the United States and president of the non-partisan group Freedom to Marry, told AFP.
With each passing year the support for gay marriage grows greater and broader, with a solid 58 percent now in favor, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News survey.
Wolfson said “true opposition to gay marriage is dwindling and isolated to a few demographic groups” — namely Americans over 65, non-college-educated whites, and white evangelical Christians.
Young Republicans are siding with Democrats on the issue. Conservative freshman Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona even conceded last week it was “inevitable” that a future Republican presidential nominee would be in favor of marriage equality.
That puts Republicans in a pickle, especially after party leaders conducted a brutal self-criticism in the wake of their 2012 election debacle and announced they must do more to attract minorities like Hispanics.
Conservatives promote family and traditional values in their political platform. A Republican White House hopeful who openly espouses same-sex marriage could alienate the party’s base, while opposing it could trigger charges he or she is behind the times.
Some Republicans are not shying away from pressing their case, namely that same-sex unions dilute the importance of marriage as the traditional avenue for raising children with both a mother and father.
But their alarmingly off-script statements are “sending a shudder through the coroners who just finished the Republican autopsy,” noted Wolfson.
Among them are remarks by Tea Party-favorite Louie Gohmert, a congressman from Texas who mentioned homosexuality in the same breath as polygamy and bestiality.
“When you say it’s not a man and a woman anymore, then why not have three men and one woman or four women and one man?” Gohmert told supporters on a recent conference call.
“Or why not, you know, somebody has a love for an animal or — there is no clear place to draw a line once you eliminate the traditional marriage.”
Wolfson dismissed Gohmert as an extremist voice who operates on the fringes and not in the weighty conservative center.
“But if that’s the kind of voice the Republican Party puts forward, they’re going to continue to sink like a stone,” he said.
Republican leaders like House Speaker John Boehner and his deputy Eric Cantor continue to speak about big-tent inclusion, even while expressing their own personal opposition to gay marriage.
Potential Republican candidates for the White House in 2016 — Senator Marco Rubio and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, to name a few — are opposed as well, while another possible candidate, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, has said it should be left to the states, nine of which now allow gay marriage.
“I could not imagine somebody who supports same-sex marriage winning the Republican nomination for president,” said Joseph Backholm, executive director of the Family Policy Institute of Washington which supports traditional unions.
Likewise, a Democrat would need to back gay marriage — and support a woman’s right to abortion — in order to be accepted by the party machinery, he noted.
“We’re in an emotional debate,” Backholm said, and today’s climate has allowed Republicans like Senators Rob Portman and Mark Kirk to switch their positions to support gay marriage.
Most rights advocates insist the arc of history points toward broad acceptance of gay marriage, but Backholm believes the “emotional leverage” will fade, and the country will reconsider its current trend.
“There is no chance that this issue becomes uncontroversial any time soon,” he said.
************Amy Goodman: Corporate media is ‘an extreme media beating the drums for war’
By Eric W. Dolan
Sunday, April 7, 2013 12:06 EDT
Journalist Amy Goodman made the case for independent media at the National Conference for Media Reform in Denver on Saturday, saying the pro-war views of the corporate media networks were firmly entrenched.
“This is no longer a mainstream media, it’s an extreme media beating the drums for war,” she said after citing statistics about the mainstream media’s bias in favor of the Iraq war. “I really do think that those who are concerned about war, that those who are deeply concerned about the growing inequality in this country, those who are concerned about climate change, about the fate of the planet, are not a fringe minority — not even a silent majority, but a silenced majority, silenced by the corporate media, which is why we have to take it back.”
Goodman said the United States was in dire need of major media outlets that were free of a “corporate lens.” She noted her own radio program, Democracy Now, sought to highlight the views of those typically ignored or overlooked by corporate media networks.
Goodman also praised former MSNBC host Phil Donahue, who was fired from the network for voicing anti-war sentiments in the run-up to the Iraq war. The incident illustrated how the mainstream media was afraid of challenging the status quo, particularly in regards to war.
Goodman said the country needed a media that showed the images of war. She described debating anything other than “war and peace, life and death” as a “disservice to the servicemen and women of this country, who can’t have these debates on military bases, they rely on us.”
Watch video, uploaded to YouTube on April 7 by UpTakeVideo, below:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5scBuP2EK-I&feature=player_embedded
***************Republicans Celebrate as Americans Face Losing Their Jobs
Apr. 7th, 2013
One of the benefits of 21st century technological advances is the quick availability of government reports that relay information to the population without commentary or criticism from a biased source such as a news organization or media pundit. Over the past four years, Republicans have not rejoiced much at reports the President’s economic policies have helped create millions of jobs in spite of their attempts to cripple the tepid recovery, and in spite of their news outlets and conservative belief tanks persistent rants that this President was toxic to the economy; government jobs reports have shown consistent growth. Yesterday there was another report that the economy added jobs, but it is likely that instead of despair, Republicans celebrated wildly that their austerity cuts have begun paying dividends and slowed job growth.
The good news is that the economy added 88,000 jobs in March and the jobless rate fell to 7.6%, but there are conditions that make the report less than encouraging. First, the new job numbers was the lowest increase in nine months signaling the job market recovery is slowing, and although the jobless rate did fall, it is likely because more Americans have given up hope and stopped even looking for work. The labor force contracted by about a half million people because if a person is not looking for a job, they are not counted as unemployed. The percentage of working-age Americans either with a job or looking for one dropped to 63.3 percent that is at its lowest level since 1979 and it means the pace of job growth in 2013 is slower than it was last year.
One can hardly blame some Americans for dropping out of the labor market because if there are jobs available, they are increasingly part-time minimum wage jobs that do not afford adequate food and shelter compared with unemployment benefits for those who qualify. In every state in the Union, a full-time job at minimum wage will not pay rent for the most austere apartment, and even if both parents are fortunate enough to hold down two part-time jobs, they still earn well below the federal poverty limit and struggle to feed their families.
Republicans can take all the credit for the slowdown in jobs that are a direct result of their austerity frenzy that slowed GDP growth in the fourth quarter of 2012, and that was well before the Republican sequester took effect on March first. Part of the slowdown in hiring is that companies are not hiring because Americans are tightening their belts and not buying, and as sales drop, companies stop hiring or worse, start laying off workers. The sad news is, it is going get much worse and the GOP must be wetting themselves at the prospects of rising unemployment and hungry and homeless Americans as they resist any of the President’s attempts to create jobs and grow the economy.
Economic experts warned consistently that austerity during a recovery retard growth and kill jobs, and after Republicans imposed Draconian spending cuts and Republican-controlled states shuttered schools, fired teachers by the hundreds of thousands, and eviscerated the public workforce, the downstream jobs are drying up rapidly. The sequester alone was promised to kill between 700,000 and a million jobs in its first of a ten year run, and doubtless March’s employment figures reflected the start of those job losses. Alan B. Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said “While the recovery was gaining traction before sequestration took effect, these arbitrary and unnecessary cuts to government services will be a headwind in the months to come, and will cut key investments in the nation’s future competitiveness.”
Federal Reserve officials warned that it is not just the slower pace of job growth that is disconcerting, but the quality of hiring is troubling according to Sarah Bloom Raskin. She said, “It’s important to look at the types of jobs that are being created because those jobs will directly affect the fortunes and challenges of households and neighborhoods as well as the course of the recovery,” and noted lower-wage jobs accounted for a large share of job growth that in turn slow consumer spending drastically. The largest share of jobs added in March were low-wage temporary and part-time work that might be good for large employers, but it means less job security and income for workers. In fact, 7.6 million Americans who want full-time jobs are only finding part-time jobs that, for many Americans, are not worth taking and not because job seekers are lazy. For example, a single mother who lost her full-time paralegal jobs after five years said, “When I’ve had offers for positions they’re part time or temporary, but the child care I’d need to pay to take the jobs is more costly than what I’d be getting paid for the job itself,” and it is a narrative heard more often than not.
The executive director of the National Employment Law Project said that midlife and older workers who lost their jobs to cutbacks are having to “dip into retirement savings in order to stay afloat, and that 10 years down the road, a lot of retirees who didn’t expect to live in poverty are going to be in poverty” and it does not appear there is any stopping the elderly’s march into poverty. Through it all, Republicans in states and Congress are actively cutting retirement and pension benefits on top of killing public sector jobs that drives the slowdown in hiring as more and more Americans are forced to cut spending in order to survive. Businesses large and small have cited lack of consumer spending as the prime reason for hiring slowdowns, and yet debt and deficit reduction and the resulting austerity are still foremost on the Republican agenda with no end in sight.
The Republicans’ spending cut frenzy gave Americans a firsthand look at the deleterious effects of austerity at the end of the fourth quarter of 2012, and the sequester’s one month anniversary promptly revealed a slowdown in hiring that is only going to get worse. President Obama’s budget attempts to create jobs through infrastructure spending as well as replacing the arbitrary government cuts in the sequester, but John Boehner dismissed it immediately for not cutting Social Security enough and because it includes revenue to put Americans to work repairing a broken infrastructure. It is important for all Americans to remember that Republicans know, and were warned, their austerity and sequester would kill jobs and slow growth, and yet they proceeded anyway and celebrated accomplishing another job-killing policy.
Americans had just started feeling the economy was on a path of recovery and growth, but their good outlook failed to take into account the true leaders of this nation were hell-bent on staunching recovery and killing jobs. The slowdown in growth during the fourth quarter of 2012 should have been a warning sign to Republicans that their slash and burn austerity was dangerous to economic growth, but instead, they celebrated their sequester victory and promptly rejected the President’s budget because it replaces the sequester and creates jobs. They most likely celebrated again at the news hiring is slowing and more Americans are headed for poverty, and although they were discouraged there were any jobs created in March, they can rest assured that as the sequester enters its second month of a ten year run, they will have plenty to celebrate as more Americans lose their jobs, people drop out of the workforce, and the economy contracts; their goal for the past four years.
***********Sequester Tantrums Reveal Yet Again That Republicans Are Developmentally Stunted
By: Deborah Foster
Apr. 7th, 2013
The sequester has finally done some real damage and some real people are feeling the pain. With the cuts came the decision by the Obama Administration to close 149 air traffic control towers at small-sized airports and it is starting to affect rich people who like to tool around the country in their private jets. Oh the humanity! Don’t these closings mean there will be potential safety hazards? Certainly. On the other hand, all pilots are trained to communicate with one another to ensure safe take-offs and landings. Having an air traffic controller is just a safety net. In case these wealthy travelers hadn’t heard, safety nets are being eliminated for millions of people across the country. First responders, our police and fire fighters, are being laid off as a result of the sequester cuts. Cancer patients are being turned away from chemotherapy since the cuts, which substantially reduced Medicare reimbursement rates. Domestic violence services are being slashed, risking the lives of those in abusive relationships. Public health spending has been cut so that vaccines are not being given. The children, elderly, and others who become sick, and perhaps even die, from the diseases that those vaccines were supposed to prevent have no expectation of safety right now. Schools are even beginning to close for the Fall.
However, since air traffic controllers have taken away from 149 airports (and a substantial number more will have hours cut), the people affected have been more likely to be wealthy, so whiny Republican legislators representing people with deep pockets have been scurrying around trying to find ways to reinstate the funding for their pet concern, airports. Just as the empty heads at Fox News were beside themselves that the sequester was going to curtail White House tours, but couldn’t manage to give a damn that food is being taken away from infants and children as the WIC program is cut, these sniveling conservatives have no qualms about harming poor people as long as their airport control tower stays open. Republican Jerry Moran of Kansas even tried to get an amendment passed that restored $50 million to the budget for allocation to private plane travel. Loathsome Congresswoman Michele Bachmann looked approvingly at the cuts to food safety, public health, education for disabled children, aid to the poor, first responders, and then said that air traffic control towers closing in her district showed, “a troubling lack of priorities,” by the FAA and the Obama Administration.
While there is advice available on how to deal with childish adults, it is disturbing that our government has been usurped by conservatives who are obviously delayed psychologically, as if stunted anywhere from their toddler through teen years. Childish adults display a number of behaviors that they should have outgrown, including throwing tantrums, an inability to share resources, whining, creating competitive rivalries, and forming cliques. We see all of these on display among today’s conservatives, and illustrated perfectly in this story about the air traffic control towers. The entire morass was started by their inability to share resources resulting in the damaging implementation of the sequester. The whole ridiculous showdown occurred because Republicans couldn’t help themselves and they just had to nurse a juvenile competitive rivalry with the President. And of course, the only clique you can belong to that Republicans will politically represent are the wealthy elite.
Egocentrism is most often associated with early childhood, and it is characterized by an inability to appreciate the viewpoint of others. Those who haven’t moved beyond the childhood developmental period of intense egocentrism have difficulty with sharing, relating to the needs of others, or understanding that there could be a reality other than the one they recognize. Having legislators who can only understand the pain of cuts to government services when it directly affects them is pathetic. These are grown adults who should be capable of empathy, selflessness, and altruism. Nonetheless, the only time our current crop of Republican politicians can even mimic these qualities is when they are protecting the interests of the wealthy.
On Friday, Bill Maher pointed out that libertarianism has become a popular movement “intellectually stuck in its teen years.” Libertarianism in its present prevalent form is a selfish, egocentric political philosophy. The current formulation of libertarianism has infected the Republican party, particularly through its Tea Party wing. These individuals are virulently anti-government unless receiving a benefit or service themselves.
Paired with their emotional immaturity, their delayed intellectual development makes Republican leaders like Paul Ryan and Rand Paul tout the sequester regardless of the harm it causes to millions of Americans. To see Republicans, including the alleged deficit hawks of the Tea Party, reverse their economic dogma the moment their elite constituency is inconvenienced should be embarrassing to everyone in their party. Instead, it’s just another day at the office.
********GOP Hijacked the Budget Over Chained CPI in December, Now It’s Not Enough
By: Sarah Jones
Apr. 7th, 2013
In December of 2012, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said he had to have chained CPI. Oh, a little chained CPI would be compromise and if he got it, he’d give the President $1 trillion in revenue, “President Barack Obama is considering a possible budget concession on Social Security cost-of-living increases after House Speaker John Boehner dropped his opposition to raising tax rates for some top earners, said two people familiar with the talks…. A Republican congressional aide said Boehner is pressing harder for the CPI revision than for other entitlement changes, such as an increase in the Medicare eligibility age.”
Give us the chained CPI and we’ll give you 1 trillion in revenue, Republicans offered in December. Cut to April of 2013: Obama offers them chained CPI, and guess what?
Chained CPI is not enough of a compromise! It’s not even a real start. It’s just “rhetoric”. Boehner’s full statement:
“The president and I were not able to reach an agreement late last year because his offers never lived up to his rhetoric. Despite talk about so-called balance, the president’s last offer was significantly skewed in favor of higher taxes and included only modest entitlement savings. He said he could go no further toward the middle, and that’s why his last offer was rejected. In the end, the president got his tax hikes on the wealthy with no corresponding spending cuts. At some point we need to solve our spending problem, and what the president has offered would leave us with a budget that never balances. In reality, he’s moved in the wrong direction, routinely taking off the table entitlement reforms he’s previously told me he could support.
“When the president visited the Capitol last month, House Republicans stated a desire to find common ground and urged him not to make savings we agree upon conditional on another round of tax increases. If reports are accurate, the president has not heeded that call. If the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there’s no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes. That’s no way to lead and move the country forward.”
According to Speaker Boehner’s logic, by giving Republicans exactly what they asked for, Obama has proven that he is unwilling to compromise. Yes, because when the other side offers you exactly what you said you wanted and you don’t take it, but instead raise the bar, and don’t offer your own concessions, they are at fault because their offers don’t live up to their “rhetoric”. Speaking of rhetoric, it’s tough to imagine how Boehner can be so confident regarding his assessment of Obam’as budget offer when he never read Obama’s budget?
In case you’re not convinced that Republicans knew what they wanted as they held the country hostage last year, in December, chained CPI was the sticking point, “A Democratic aide said the problem was that McConnell’s proposal includes basing Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustments on something called a chained CPI, a measure of inflation that grows more slowly than the way Social Security measures inflation now.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConell (R-KY) even told the Wall Street Journal that chained CPI and means testing for Medicare “are the kinds of things that would get Republicans interested in new revenue.”
In fact, chained CPI was the hold up last December. It was the surprise attack, the last reason Republicans gave us for why they would not agree with the other side:
Republicans have added changes to Social Security spending to their list of fiscal cliff demands, in a last-minute surprise that Democrats are characterizing as a major setback in negotiations.
According to new reports, Republican Senate negotiators are now demanding that any fiscal cliff deal include a switch to the chained CPI in calculating Social Security cost-of-living increases.
Grace Wyler, continuing on Business Insider pointed out, “National Review editor Robert Costa suggests that Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s new insistence on the chained CPI might be a political tactic aimed at helping House Speaker John Boehner save face by boosting support for a deal among GOP House members.”
Again, we return to the real problem. Boehner’s House of tea. Republicans keep finding a new excuse for why they can’t compromise, when the truth of the matter is that they don’t have the votes for anything other than something as immoral, extreme and ineffective as Paul Ryan’s “budget”.
President Obama gave Republicans exactly what they said they wanted. Progressives are furious with him over it. Once again we reach an impasse when we get to the part where Republicans are supposed to give something.
*********The Rich Get Richer From Tanking the Economy As The Poor Go To Jail For a Missed Payment
Apr. 7th, 2013
There is little argument that America is home to a disproportionate prison population for crimes that boggle the mind when one considers there are no victims and imprisonment will not serve to rehabilitate a prisoner. Before 1833, Americans were sent to prison for unpaid debt, and it is a practice that rightly is associated with Dickensian England and certainly not 21st century America, but with jobs nearly impossible to find after the Great Recession and tepid economic recovery, debtor’s prisons have been making a comeback despite they have been illegal in the United States since 1833. In a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, they detail how “Ohio’s Debtors’ Prisons Are Ruining Lives and Costing Communities” because Ohio courts are illegally jailing poor people for their inability to pay their debt.
The ACLU report reveals that there is a “harrowing debtors’ prison” system in Ohio that violates both the United States and Ohio constitutions, and that many Ohio residents are sent to prison for debts “as small as a few hundred dollars” in spite of being in violation of the state and Federal Constitution. They also exposed economic evidence that in many cases it is costing the state more to send and keep a debtor in prison than the amount of the debt they owe. Some of the statistics in the ACLU report are that in the “second half of last year, more than one in every five of all bookings in the Huron County jail originating from Norwalk Municipal Court cases involved a failure to pay fines,” and that in “suburban Cleveland, Parma Municipal Court jailed at least 45 defendants for failure to pay fines and costs between July 15 and August 31, 2012,” and that during the same period at least 75 people were thrown in jail for similar charges in the Sandusky Municipal Court.
In several cases, people were sent to prison for missing payments on fines levied against them for some other infraction, such as a woman who spent ten days in jail for not paying $300 in fines for a traffic ticket and when she got out of jail, she owed an additional $200. Her husband is also serving time in jail for overdue fines and both are unemployed. It is not unusual for a court to give a person the option of paying a fine or serving out jail time in lieu of payment, but it most states it is always an option. It is curious though, why a judge would send someone to prison for their inability to pay, and yet not discount their fines according to the time served which happened to a man who owed $1,500 in fines and court costs, was sent to prison in Wisconsin for three-and-a-half years, and still struggles to repay the fines.
There are other states throwing people in jail and debtors’ prison because of sloppy paperwork on the part of credit collection agencies who most likely had nothing to do with the original debt. It is a common practice for hospitals, retailers, and small businesses to sell their debt to collection agencies whether or not a debtor defaulted on a loan or outstanding bill. Often, if a debtor is late or misses one month repaying their debt, the creditor immediately turns (sells) the debt over to a collection agency that takes legal action the debtor may be unaware of. Without knowledge they are being sued for the debt by an unknown collection agency, the person cannot possibly go to court to face the charges and the judge automatically issues an arrest warrant for the debtor for failure to appear or contempt of court.
Without knowledge they were sued by creditors and a warrant for their arrest was issued, they are taken unawares and arrested and jailed without knowledge that they “failed to appear” before the court. For example, a woman was pulled over for a loud muffler in Illinois and instead of a fix-it ticket or just a warning, the officer arrested her and took her to jail and later she discovered the court issued an arrest warrant for failing to appear. The woman owed $730 for a medical bill and had no idea the collection agency bought the debt or filed the lawsuit against her, and without the court or creditor giving her notification she had to appear in court, she missed the date and went to jail.
Even though debtors’ prisons have been banned explicitly by states’ and the Federal Constitution, over a third of the states allow borrowers to be jailed whether they were unable to pay because their jobs were eliminated due to the recession or a medical emergency racked up enormous debt. In fact, another report by the ACLU found that many people are imprisoned regardless the cost of keeping them in jail far exceeded the amount of debt they owed. In one case in Louisiana, a homeless construction worker was imprisoned for five months for legal debt of $498 while his jail time cost six times as much, and the debtor was forced to pay for his own incarceration. In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 140,000 complaints related to debt collection practices and they have taken 10 collection agencies to court for unfair practices in the past three years.
Since 2010, judges, who like debtors, do not know the debtor’s rights signed more than 5,000 arrest warrants in just nine counties, and one legal aid attorney said it is not uncommon for the accused to be intimidated by the judge into making unfair repayment agreements after facing interrogation by judges about why they cannot pay more and if they are really looking for a job; in this economy and regardless if it is an emergency medical debt or not. Collection agencies have an incentive to use needlessly harsh tactics, including seeking judgments and threats of jail time, because debt collection is a very lucrative business, especially in a down economy when people have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
It is beyond the pale that in 2013, there are Americans being thrown in debtors’ prison when in most cases the people fail to keep up timely payments because they either lost their job, are uninsured and had a medical emergency, or can only find part-time minimum wage jobs if they are fortunate. One hopes that the ACLU of Ohio’s exhaustive report shines a light on the problem, and court officials pledged to look into the accusations, but that does not help any of the people who are thrown in prison for something as minor as missing a single payment that was sold to a collection agency that promptly secures a court judgment against the person unawares.
There are people who deliberately skip out on their debt commitments, and it reached a high point during the housing crisis where people just walked away from their mortgages with little or no consequences except a blemish on their credit record. There are other Americans who are without healthcare insurance and face a life-threatening illness that disables them, and their debt to the hospital is promptly sold to a credit collection agency that takes legal action to force them into a repayment plan they can hardly afford, but when given the choice of promising to repay a debt they can never keep up with or go directly to prison, most people will accept succumb to the court and collection agency’s pressure and still wind up in debtors’ prison when they are in contempt of court for not following the details of their debt settlement. It is a no-win situation and as usual, it is the poor and unfortunate who wind up sitting in America’s prisons while filthy rich bankers and Wall Street CEOs are luxuriating in style after fleecing the people, the economy, and their investors with impunity. But that is America, where the rich are granted immunity from prosecution for robbing billions of dollars from millions of Americans and the poor are thrown in prison for missing a payment for their catastrophic health emergency.