Friday, December 31, 2010
We're saved! The Members of the House are going to read the Constitution out loud!
When Republicans take over the House next week, they will do something that apparently has never been done before in the chamber's 221-year history:
They will read the Constitution aloud.
And guess what?
Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said Democratic lawmakers are welcome to participate.
Maybe John Lewis would like to read Art. I, Sec. 2, cl. 3?
Representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several states which may be included within this union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.
Or Sec. 9?
The migration or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each person.
Just to make a point, perhaps?
That is, unless anyone else has any other ideas about what might be read aloud or recited in order to make the Congress super-awesome and patriotic. Like begin each day by squeezing open a can of spinach and sucking in in through a corncob pipe? Or bellowing out, "By the power of Grayskull!"? How about banning Kryptonite?
But don't worry, Constitution fans. There's more!
And then they will require that every new bill contain a statement by the lawmaker who wrote it citing the constitutional authority to enact the proposed legislation.
This is far more awesome, obviously, than the existing House Rule XIII (d)(1):
(d) Each report of a committee on a public bill or public joint resolution shall contain the following:
(1) A statement citing the specific powers granted to Congress in the Constitution to enact the law proposed by the bill or joint resolution.
The statement of constitutional authority is being moved from the committee report, which is written after a bill is refined and amended in committee, to a slip of paper that accompanies the bill as it's introduced, before all the changes are made.
That should be pretty awesome right there!
There are also a couple of somewhat less exciting changes being made, too:
Committee name changes: The Committee on Education and Labor will become the Committee on Education and Workforce, and the Committee on Science and Technology will become the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
The Committee on Education and Workforce, of course, is what Republicans used to call the same committee the last time they had the majority, enshrining their hatred for even the word "labor." Actually, at first -- in 1995 -- they called it the Committee on Economic and Educational Opportunities, but I guess that was a little too dumb sounding even for them, and they switched it in 1997.
The Committee on Science and Technology, of course, used to be called the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, only that was under the Democrats, who added Space to the name in 1987. In 1995, when Republicans took over, they deleted both Space and Technology, going with just the Committee on Science. Democrats re-added Technology in 2007. And now, Republicans will show how awesome they are by re-adding Space. (Don't tell them that Democrats were the ones who added Space the first time, or they might not do it!)
The grown-ups are back in charge at last!
Yes, there are more changes. And more serious ones at that. We'll get to them. For right now, I just wanted you to know that... U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! Number one! Wooooooo! America!!!! F yeah!!!!
STEPHEN PIZZO FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
So, the GOP will pander to their Tea Party brethren next month by reading the US Constitution out loud and declaring that any bill proposed by a member of Congress contain a personal guarantee that the bill corresponds with the US Constitution.
I have two things to say about this.
First, good. Reading is something Tea Party folk should do a lot more of. I am sure few if any of them have actually read the US Constitution and, of those who have, I serious doubt they were able to decode the antique English.
Instead, I strongly suspect, they read and "understood" the constitution in the same way they claim to have read and understood the Bible; they began reading it knowing what they knew and what they wanted it to say, so that must be what it says.
But on a more serious note, there is something quite real going on with all this. The far-right has decided to do to the text of the US Constitution what al Qaeda has done to the text of the Koran - twist it to fit their political/social agenda then use it as a bludgeon to get their way.
It doesn't seem to occur to them that, if sussing out the precise meaning of each and every article of the US Constitution were as easy as reading the damn thing out loud, why did those who wrote it insist on three branches of government, not just two -- the legislative and executive branches.
But they didn't, they included a third branch, the judiciary, with the US Supreme Court at it's head. Why? Because they knew, better than anyone, that the devils of democracy lived in the details, and always would.
But the right hates details, which they dismiss as mere "nuance." Because, after all, everyone knows the founders were a group of notoriously un-nuanced fellas, right? And why would anyone want to dissect constitutional details, because it only leads to trouble.
Take the "to provide for the general welfare," in the Preamble. Everyone knows what that means -- except for those who dispute it has anything to do with providing for the nation's poor. No way, they say. It simply means government should maintain a tidy and orderly country where anyone can prosper and, therefore, don't need government assistance. What of those who fail to prosper? Well, that would either be their own fault or because those people are socialists. In either case, the Right finds no succor for them in the US Constitution.
Think I'm kidding about that? Here, this is from the site usconstitution.net which provides definitions of words like, public welfare:
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
When you click on the word "Welfare," you get this definition:
Welfare - noun: health, happiness, or prosperity; well-being. Welfare in today's context also means organized efforts on the part of public or private organizations to benefit the poor, or simply public assistance. This is not the meaning of the word as used in the Constitution.
Get it? See where all this is headed? That little "detail"-- providing for the general Welfare, is in the very first sentence of a very long document.
So, in the weeks ahead, get ready to witness the Talibanization of the US Constitution. Because that grand old document is just chuck full of words this new breed of elected semi-literates will have to wrestle with.Their introduction to antique English, proper syntax and complete lack of pictures, will be interesting to witness. After they read the constitution out loud in January, they'll surely proceed to flash it around the same way pimps show off their bling.
The far right wing Heritage Foundation is handing out free copies of the constitution to the faithful, who will surely put them next to their Bibles, both of which they are certain support whatever it is they believe at any point in time.
But don't press these Tea Partiers too hard for granular details on constitutional matters. They will use it the same way parents retreat to "because I said so," when raising kids. When they can't win the argument with facts they will hold up the constitution and shout, "because it says so." So don't expect explanations, at least not explanations that make any real sense.Instead you're more likely to get the kind of "logic" practiced by baseball legends, Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra from back in the day.
Here -- consider what follows as exercises to get your gray matter ready for the age of Tea Party Constitutional governance:
Yogi when asked to explain a batter's prowess: "He hits from both sides of the plate. He's amphibious."
Yogi, when asked about something he said: "I never said most of the things I said."
Yogi, when asked about his plans for the team: "If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else."
Yogi, when asked why his plans for season had not panned out: "In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is."
And there was Casey Stengel, who told his team one day: "All right everyone, line up alphabetically according to your height."
And warned one should, "never make predictions, especially about the future."
But even Yogi Berra knew when to keep his mouth shut, something the Tea Party folk seem to have forgotten: "If you ask me anything I don't know, I'm not going to answer."
Paranoid Christine O'Donnell sees evil conspiracy by 'thugs' in FBI probe of her finances #p2 @gop #tcot #teaparty
By David Neiwert
Yeah, well, we already kinda knew that Christine O'Donnell was a world-class nutcase. But lest anyone forget it, she responded yesterday to the news that she was facing an FBI investigation into her campaign finances by declaring that the FBI was a corrupt organization doing the bidding of President Obama and his "thugs":
O'Donnell: It appears that this is just the same thug tactics that they've been using for months to discredit this anti-establishment movement.
Then she issued a statement declaring that Joe Biden was the chief thug behind her persecution:
"Given that the king of the Delaware political establishment just so happens to be the vice president of the most liberal presidential administration in U.S. history, it is no surprise that misuse and abuse of the FBI would not be off the table."
Sure sounds like an innocent person to me.
We're still waiting for Roger Ailes to offer her a contract at Fox. Should happen any day now.
THE FOUNDERS WERE MANY THINGS, BUT THEY WEREN'T LIBERTARIANS.... As part of the right's new found interest in all things constitutional, there's been a related push of late to recast the framers of the Constitution. Today's far-right activists, we're told, are the ideological descendents of the Founding Fathers.
Indeed, in Christopher Beam's widely noted piece this month, we're told, "The Constitution was a libertarian document that limited the role of the state to society's most basic needs, like a legislature to pass laws, a court system to interpret them, and a military to protect them."
This is certainly a welcome characterization for those who prefer to believe most of the progressive bedrocks of modern American society -- Social Security, Medicare, etc. -- are not only unconstitutional, but are wholly at odds with the vision of limited government established by the framers.
The problem, of course, is that the framers weren't libertarians. John Vecchione had a good piece on this the other day.
George Washington belonged to the Established Church (Episcopalian) of the State of Virginia; he also was the chief vindicator of national power in the new republic. Thomas Jefferson determined to wage war by simply denying foreigners the right to trade with the U.S. So did Madison. What libertarian has ever thought the government could cut off trade between free individuals?
Further, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine supported the French Revolution. That revolution denied there was anything the state could not do in the name of the people. Jefferson never repudiated his support for that tyranny and Thomas Paine was only slightly more dismissive even after it nearly killed him. [...]
The Founders believed in carefully delineated federal powers either broad (Hamilton) or limited (Jefferson, sometimes) but all believed in a more powerful state than libertarians purport to believe in. If ever there was a libertarian document it was the Articles of Confederation. There was no national power. The federal government could not tax. Its laws were not supreme over state laws. It was in fact, the hot mess that critics of libertarians believe their dream state would be ... and it was recognized as such by the majority of the country and was why the Constitution was ratified. The Articles of Confederation is the true libertarian founding document and this explains the failure of libertarianism.
Jon Chait noted a recent piece from historian Gordon Wood that touches on this, emphasizing the similarities between the debates of the framers and those of today. "The great irony, of course, is that the Anti-Federalist ancestors of the Tea Partiers opposed the Constitution rather than revered it," Wood explained.
And this, too, speaks to a larger truth. As Ezra Klein noted yesterday, "In reality, the tea party -- like most everyone else -- is less interested in living by the Constitution than in deciding what it means to live by the Constitution." Or as Matt Yglesias added this morning, "The field of constitutional law has always featured a great deal of what's known as 'motivated belief' where people look at the document and tend to see it as supporting their preexisting policy conclusions."
The same is true of the nation's founders, and the drive on the right to convince themselves that they think as the framers did, which somehow gives contemporary conservatism a weighty, historical legacy, and a strong foundation from which to attack the modern welfare state.
This might be more compelling if it weren't transparent nonsense.
Record midterm election spending. A storm surge of outside money flowing into congressional elections. The demise of self-funded political candidates.
These are but a few of the story lines that defined this most political year, in which Republicans dominated the campaign season but Democrats scored key legislative victories.
Now that 2011 is upon us, we pause to review the most notable money-in-politics events during a waning 2010, as determined by the staff of OpenSecrets.org:
1.) SUPREME COURT AXES CORPORATE POLITICAL SPENDING RESTRICTIONS
In January, the U.S. Supreme Court shocked the political universe with its ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
The case had started with a dispute over whether corporate-funded video-on-demand, and related promotional advertisements, could be regulated by the Federal Election Commission. It ended with a 5-4 ruling allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on both "electioneering communications" and "independent expenditures" -- the legal terms for advertisements that mention or show a federal candidate and those that expressly advocate for the election or defeat of a candidate.
The decision overturned nearly a century of prohibitions on such overt corporate politicking and armed companies with the ability to spend as much as they want, whenever they want on political messages saying just about anything they want. The decision was lauded by top conservatives and many First Amendment advocates but sharply criticized by campaign finance reform groups and leading Democrats, including President Barack Obama.
Months later, Murray Hill, a Maryland-based public relations company, went so far as to launch a congressional bid in jest to protest the decision.
2.) CASH EXPANSION IN FEDERAL POLITICS
When the final reports are in, and the final dollar is tallied, two milestones will almost assuredly be passed: this year will be the most expensive ever in terms of federal lobbying efforts, and this election cycle will be the most costly midterm ever -- with ease.
The 2010 election cycle alone will cost an estimated $4 billion, easily surpassing the roughly $2.8 billion spent during 2006 midterms. That $4 billion figure is also comparable with the total spending during 2004 federal elections, when a presidential election was layered on top of the congressional contests also being waged.
Meanwhile, members of Congress this year reported a significant expansion in their personal wealth -- an estimated 15 percent -- between 2008 and 2009. Nearly half are estimated to be millionaires.
While this cash expansion isn't necessarily shocking, since money in politics routinely grows year after year, it's hardly occurring during a period of rapid economic growth when such statistics would be more understandable. Major, protracted legislative fights over health care, financial reform and energy policy served as drivers for special interests, corporations and unions keen on lobbying the federal government as much as they could.
3.) SUPER SPENDING OUTSIDE ORGANIZATIONS
During the 2010 election cycle, spending by outside groups -- not including national party committees -- climbed to $294 million. That's a 327 percent increase from the $69 million spent during the last midterms.
Including party committees such as the DCCC and NRCC, the total spending by outside groups was actually $479 million -- a 60 percent increase above 2006 cycle levels. Such spending will likely only increase during the 2012 cycle when control of both Congress and the White House are at stake. This acceleration has been fueled, at least in part, by several recent federal court decisions that loosened campaign finance rules -- including Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, SpeechNow.org v. Federal Election Commission and EMILY's List v. Federal Election Commission.
In this new legal landscape, liberal and conservative special interest groups were allowed to raise unlimited contributions from individuals, unions and corporations for expenditures that expressly advocated for or against candidates. More than 50 new "independent expenditure-only committees" -- more commonly referred to as "super PACs" -- registered with the FEC throughout the cycle. EMILY's List, a group that favors abortion rights, was the first group out of the gate to exploit these new fund-raising and messaging freedoms.
But by Election Day, the Karl Rove-linked conservative outfit American Crossroads towered above all other super PACs, liberal and conservative. American Crossroads pulled in $28 million this year, with 54 percent of that haul coming from just four businessmen and another third coming from corporations. Overall, conservative-aligned super PACs spent $1.30 for every $1 spent by liberal-linked ones.
4.) TEA PARTY BREWS VICTORIES FROM ANTI-INCUMBENT FERVOR
When the dust settled after the Nov. 2 election, only 85 percent of incumbent members of the U.S. House were set to return to work in January -- the lowest re-election rate since 1948. Meanwhile, 85 percent of senators also retained their seats.
Throughout the year, several high-profile incumbents had been felled during their party's primaries or nominating conventions, including Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) and Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.). In Arkansas, Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln narrowly survived a primary challenger after being forced into a run-off Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, who was backed by MoveOn.org and many labor unions.
Elsewhere, moderate Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) was defeated in a U.S. Senate Republican primary by Christine O'Donnell, a Tea Party-favored candidate. Likewise, in Alaska's Republican primary, attorney Joe Miller, the Tea Party's choice, prevailed over incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski -- although Murkowski mounted a successful write-in campaign during the general election to retain her seat.
In many of these races, the Tea Party Express' political action committee and other Tea Party-aligned groups played a pivotal role. While not all of the Tea Party movement's preferred candidates prevailed on Election Day, the activists helped propel a new class of incoming lawmakers, including Sen.-elect Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Sen.-elect Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen.-elect Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rep. Allen West (R-Fla).
5.) UNDISCLOSED DONORS: A RISING TIDE
The proliferation of undisclosed political spending this year was yet another major consequence of the Citizens United v. FEC ruling. It wasn't necessarily supposed to turn out that way, of course: eight Supreme Court justices signed a section of the Citizens United ruling that affirmed the value of disclosing the funders of political advertisements.
But in the months following the controversial decision, a gusher of undisclosed spending by nonprofit organizations, unions and trade associations erupted. Such groups spent nearly $130 million on advertising that either urged voters to choose sides in the 2010 election or targeted a federal candidate in the weeks immediately before primary and general elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics' data. They did so without revealing who was financing the messages. And so long as these organizations don't have a "primary purpose" of engaging in politics, it's perfectly legal for them to occlude the people or special interests fueling their efforts with stacks of cash.
Meanwhile, Democrats, who bore the brunt of the surge in November, could only watch as the tide rose against them. Their legislative push to tighten disclosure of political spending in the wake of the court ruling -- a bill called the DISCLOSE Act -- sank after the party failed to close ranks and overcome staunch Republican opposition.
6.) HEALTH CARE AND FINANCIAL REFORM: SPECIAL INTEREST CATNIP
In the world of money in politics, nothing motivates big spending like the word "reform." And there was certainly plenty of that to go around in 2010: Overhauls of the nation's health care and finance sectors were signed into law this year, and major legislative efforts were also made at cap and trade bills and even immigration.
Those efforts were like catnip -- rally, really strong catnip -- for special interest groups trying to protect their industries and influence reform efforts. The pharmaceutical industry, Wall Street, big oil, big business: All had banner years in political spending, spending millions upon millions of dollars in federal lobbying and campaign contributions.
Some got what they wanted, some didn't; but whether President Barack Obama signed the legislation into law or not, you better believe these groups had their fingerprints all over the outcomes.
7.) BP AND GOLDMAN SACHS: TOXIC POLITICAL ASSETS
Not all special interest groups in the financial and oil and gas industries had a strong year: BP contributed to causing one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history while the Securities and Exchange Commission accused Goldman Sachs of defrauding investors after taking a taxpayer bailout -- then fined the company $550 million. In the aftermath of these corporate meltdowns, BP and Goldman Sachs could have marched their political action committee treasurers into the hall of the Capitol wearing suits stitched of money and still have been turned away.
The companies are regularly heavyweights when it comes to campaign contributions, but this year, it was hard to find any members of Congress willing to accept donations from their political action committees, after some very public disasters rendered those political donations essentially toxic.
8.) SELF-FUNDED CANDIDATES FLAIL AND FALTER
Money can't buy you love, right? It apparently can't buy you an election, either.
Time and again this cycle, candidates entered congressional races armed with millions of dollars -- even tens of millions in a few notable cases -- and exited with concession speeches. Fewer than one in five candidates who spent at least half a million dollars of his or her money ultimately won the office he or she sought.
Take the case of Republican Linda McMahon, the former chief executive officer of World Wrestling Entertainment who spent upward of $50 million worth of her own fortune on Connecticut's U.S. Senate race only to be power slammed at the polls by the state's Democratic attorney general, Richard Blumenthal.
Former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Officer Carly Fiorina? The tough-talking Republican likewise emptied her pockets of millions of dollars in a futile effort to unseat Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif).
No one, however, is more emblematic of this phenomenon than Jeff Greene, a billionaire businessman whose self-financed $24 million-plus couldn't even earn him his own Democratic party's nomination in Florida's U.S. Senate race.
9.) DRESS REHEARSALS FOR 2012 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS
For most politicos, the 2010 midterms are an opportunity to win political office. For others, however, it's a potential dress rehearsal for what they hope to accomplish in 2012.
A number of prominent Republicans are already flirting with presidential runs, and these suitors have wasted no time wooing prospective supporters by making and taking donations, as well as traveling the nation.
Although the presidential primaries don't begin for another year, potential candidates have already been laying groundwork for possible bids and raising vast sums through leadership PACs, committees that allow politicians to raise cash and then dole it out to friends and allies.
Of the 10 leadership PACs to collect the most money since January 2009, fully half are operated by Republicans who are rumored to have presidential ambitions.
For instance, former presidential candidate and governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney raised $8.8 million during the 2010 election cycle. That's second only to Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who have fashioned himself as a kingmaker within the Tea Party movement. Sarah Palin, the former Republican governor and John McCain's running mate in 2008, ranks third behind Romney at $5.4 million in receipts.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum also rank in the top 10, having pulled in about $2 million to $3 million a piece to their leadership PACs this cycle. Several other potential GOP presidential hopefuls also collected six- or seven-figure sums.
10.) CHARLIE RANGEL CENSURED BY HOUSE COLLEAGUES
Rare is the day when the U.S. House will censure one of its own, voting to shame a member for particularly unbecoming conduct.
That is, however, exactly what happened to Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), who the House found guilty of 11 ethics violations, including failing to properly disclose his personal assets, improperly soliciting funds and tax evasion.
Rangel now also enters his 21st term stripped of the stature he once had as a leading member (and one-time chairman) of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Honorable Mention: The Abramoff Affair
If anyone was still waiting for closure eight years after the sentencing of Jack Abramoff, they probably got it in 2010. Need an accounting? Well, one of the worst corruption scandals to hit K Street was featured in not one but two movies this year -- one a scathing documentary, the other a comedy. Abramoff the former super lobbyist-cum criminal was released from prison and brought to toil in a Baltimore pizza parlor. And Bob Ney, a congressman also convicted in the scandal, turned up in Tibet, where he is studying Buddhism at a monastery.
Honorable Mention: GOP Tied Up in Bondage Club Scandal
Staffing? Check. Phone banks? Check. Advertising campaign? Double check. But partying at a sex fetish club? For the Republican National Committee, nearly $2,000 such kinky expenditures surfaced in a routine accounting of its finances. To say it put RNC Chairman Michael Steele in a bind would be an understatement.
Honorable Mention: Revolving Door Between Government and Lobby Industry Spins Fast
Former high-ranking executive branch officials. Congressional staffers. Even members of Congress. Hundreds of these former public servants are now serving private clients this year, joining Washington, D.C.'s revolving door club, where governmental experience is sold to the highest special interest. Despite Obama's stated goal of curtailing this practice, the president alone has little power to stop it, since Congress is primarily responsible for creating and amending lobbying regulations.
By Cliff Schecter
Sometimes there are simply no words to describe the behaviour of Mitch McConnell's band of merry misanthropes - also known as much of the US Senate Republican Caucus. The level of pathological callousness, a nihilistic streak that would make Friedrich Nietzsche blush, the willingness to put an AR-15 to the head of the nearest vulnerable group if they don't get every last dime of the mud-bath tax credit for the likes of Kim Kardashian.
You've seen these clowns in action. You know what I'm talking about.
They diagnose patients via Youtube. They block votes on everything that doesn't involve water boarding someone or gutting mine safety standards. They turn bathroom stalls in Minnesota airports into tourist destinations.
Yet, this latest stunt, well, this one even shocked me. Senator McConnell's boisterous brood decided that it was too expensive to fund healthcare for 9/11 first responders. That's right, the guys and gals who ran into cascading buildings, brick bonfires and smoldering ash, many of whom - the ones lucky enough to get out alive - developed respiratory illness and cancer for their troubles.
Sicknesses no doubt brought about by their sloth, atheism and at least occasional voting for Democrats.
So "offsets" had to be found to pay for $6 to $7 bn in life-saving funds. Yes, we just added $858 bn in red ink to our budget because somewhere a campaign contributor needed pocket change for the latest yacht shoe, but those in need of less than 1 per cent of that amount for the deleterious results of heroism?
Get in bloody line, guys!
And because tax cuts for the Gates' and the gated communities just simply had to pass immediately, most GOP Senators decided that this insignificant health bill would be "held hostage" until it did. An art that Republicans learned something about in the 1980s, I suppose, when they ignored the Constitution to consort with Iranian hostage-takers.
So in case this series of events doesn't viscerally affect you the way it does me, let me count the ways that it's sickening.
First of all, this is a Republican Party who's entire platform in the Bush years was to repeat the term "9/11" more often than Governor Haley Barbour looks over his shoulder while telling jokes at his country club. It was the all-purpose answer to anything you could possibly ask, whether one was discussing national security, Emeril Lagasse, or the Ohio State-Michigan game.
Republicans constantly implied or outright called Democrats un-American for any deviance from what they considered sound security policy - an insult to anyone in existence on that fateful day. They questioned Democrats' patriotism for wanting to protect the rights of Homeland Security workers to organise. They did much the same to those questioning the non-existent link between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Al Qaeda - when not outing their wives as secret agents.
Just talking about 9/11, whether in oratory or simple badinage, brought Republicans to such a natural high that most were likely warned by their doctors not to mix it with Viagra for fear of permanent priapism.
Secondly, this whole disgusting display is just another example of how the US has become a two-tiered society, where those who earn marginal wages do the fighting and the life-saving, while those who earn significantly more, have become the first Americans ever to have their taxes cut during wartime.
The former sometimes get buried. The latter sometimes gets buried in paperwork foreclosing houses. Which occurs, now and again, because the homeowner is off fighting a war "fully supported" by the dunderheads doing the foreclosing.
It's John Boehner's world and you're just living in it, baby! You know, with a lot fewer burnt skin cells.
But make no mistake, so blatantly ignoring the needs of first responders from 9/11 is just another part of the reorganising of America around who matters - those who can contribute to campaign accounts - and everyone else who doesn't. Being a fireman doesn't pay like plundering pensions, so stop whining about the throat cancer from the three weeks of 18-hours days pulling body parts from the World Trade Centre rubble - Ok buddy? You're lucky you still have your Social Security (for now, anyhow).
Thankfully this bill has now finally now passed the Senate at a reduced cost after some negotiating. But that it could have been held up for one minute over budget concerns, after $10 million in individual married couples' estates was just exempted from taxation, says all you need to know about the Bio Dome some of these parliamentary cretins inhabit in capital's beltway.
Because for many of the rest of us, that day is still personal.
I was in New York City that day, working downtown on a city council election. One minute the World Trade Centre looked regal, with a gorgeous azure sky serving as the perfect backdrop. The next it was up in flames.
When I saw the second plane hit, I started running towards the scene of the carnage, as I tried to digest what I just witnessed, and whether I could help in any way. But as I saw police cars, fire trucks, ambulances and the like speed past me, I worried I'd only get in the way of those who actually know how to save lives. So I headed back to our campaign headquarters to find out if World War III had just started.
Meanwhile, some of those guys who sped past me didn't make it out alive. Others would develop sicknesses that would change their lives forever. Apparently some Republicans in the Senate have done the one thing they swore they'd never do - they've forgotten what that day meant to America, not to mention the selfless sacrifices many Americans make every day.
For this may be the latest and most repulsive example of their ambivalent attitude towards their own constituents. But in general, as the late Democratic Senator Claude Pepper once warned, these "politicians", have forgotten "they've been appointed and think they've been anointed."
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) celebrated its 40th birthday. And as we have already pointed out, the EPA should be given mad props for all the good work they have done. Among other accomplishments via thankyouepa.com, the EPA has reduced more than 60 percent of the dangerous air pollutants. It has prevented 18 million children from suffering from respiratory disease. And the agency has prevented 205,000 premature American deaths by cleaning up the land and air.
But as the Erin Brockovich types among us might note, the work of cleaning up the Earth is never done. After all, cleaning up after 304 million or so Americans requires some vigilance and extra elbow grease. So here's a look at seven problems on which we'd like to shine a bright light.
Chromium-6 Is Widespread in US Tap Water
Speaking of Erin Brockovich – did you know that Chromium-6, or hexavalent chromium, is actually a common ingredient in American water? Chromium-6 was the chemical that poisoned residents in the Brockovich case. In fact, as many as 31 of 35 major American cities carry the chemical in their water system. As the Environmental Working Group (EWG) points out, "In all, water samples from 25 cities contained the toxic metal at concentrations above the safe maximum recently proposed by California regulators." Luckily, just after the EWG made this announcement, the EPA issued a plan to help water facilities deal with this problem.
Chesapeake Bay Phosphorus Pollution Worsens
The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States and is now plagued with dead zones. Why? Because it serves as the dumping ground for large amounts of phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment from the six states that feed into the bay. These deposits choke oxygen and deplete life from the water. The EPA has urged states to develop plans to cut back on deposits, but the EWG notes that most of the plans are seriously deficient. As the EWG points out, "sufficient reasonable assurance that pollution controls identified could actually be implemented to achieve the nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment reduction targets by 2017 or 2025."
Chemicals Are Still Common in Beauty Products
Phthalates, triclosan, parabens and more are still prevalent in beauty products. As the EWG points out, "studies link these chemicals to potential health effects including cancer and hormone disruption." Teenagers are particularly influenced by these chemicals at a time when their bodies are most venerable, as they tend to use more beauty products than adults. As the EWG urges, "The federal government must set comprehensive safety standards for cosmetics and other personal care product."
Protections Rolled Back as Western Drilling Surges
Oil and natural gas companies are drilling at higher rates than ever before in the American west, often leaving toxic chemicals, tainted water, and clawed-out landscapes in their wake. But the companies are exempt from most major federal environmental laws. As the EWG points out, oil and gas drillers enjoy waivers "under the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Superfund, the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act and the National Environmental Policy Act." Experts predict drilling will only increase as gas and oil prices rise.
California Chemical Makers Get a Boost
In 2008, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed two bills that would eliminate toxic chemicals as the "inevitable byproduct of industrial production, lowering the risk of exposure to synthetic chemicals for California's people and the environment." But recently, the California Department of Toxics Substances Control (DTSC) issued a whole new set of regulations that essentially "gut" the Green Chemistry program – leaving it worse off than before.
Mercury in the Air and Food Chain Is Still Prominent
All fifty states have fish-consumption advisories due to mercury in fish. The EPA doesn't have standards for the coal-fired plants that produce most of the mercury. As The New York Times points out, "Scientists know that coal-burning power plants, industrial boilers, cement kilns and other facilities produce much of the mercury in the environment."
EPA Denies Petition to Ban Lead in Fishing Gear
Recently, a petition was brought to the EPA to ban the manufacturing, use and processing of lead in fishing gear. The EPA denied it on the basis that "petitioners have not demonstrated that the requested rule is necessary to protect against an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment, as required by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)." The petition was brought in part by the American Bird Conservancy.
Photo: crowdive, Flickr
Anyone writing checks to a college (or who caught the video of the Royal limo riot), knows that tuition is up worldwide, making any dollars for living -- books, housing, food -- tighter than tight. Low-income students, who may have received free or reduced-priced school lunch from pre-K to senior year, are hit especially hard. Enter the college food bank.
Laura Pick, a graduate student and coordinator of Oregon State University's (OSU) emergency food pantry, told Food Safety News: "Food pantries on college campuses are unique because they seek an underserved population of students that many people may not be aware is struggling."
OSU's food pantry, also open to the general public, serves upwards of 200 students each month. They usually open the doors "toward the end of every month because that's when people generally tend to run out of food stamps," says Pick. According to a September 2010 report by the USDA, food stamp numbers are up by about 50 percent, with 22,000 new applicants every day.
Pick believes every college should have a food bank, and OSU is now trying to partner with other colleges to get them started. UCLA also offers a food bank, which is run out of an abandoned storage closet. And we thought we had it bad with ramen and Easy Mac.
RNC Candidate Priebus’s Law Firm Says Health Reform Is Constitutional, Touts Benefits Of Reform #p2 #tcot
On January 14, 168 standing members of the Republican National Committee (RNC) will hold an election to select the next national chairman of the party. Current RNC Chairman Michael Steele is running for a second term against a number of challengers, including Saul Anuzis, Ann Wagner, Maria Cino, Gentry Collins, and Reince Priebus.
Priebus, the current state chairman of the Wisconsin GOP, is positioning himself as the true conservative alternative to Steele. His announcement video contained militant rhetoric, like a claim that Democratic policies do "damage" to the country. Three separate times on a recent conference call, Priebus called for the "execution" of President Obama, later saying he meant Osama bin Laden. RNC committee member Jim Bopp, the leader of the far right faction of the RNC, endorsed Priebus last week.
Despite his heated anti-Obama attacks, Priebus makes a living at a law firm far more comfortable with the policies of President Obama. Priebus works as a partner at the Milwaukee law firm Michael Best & Friedrich LLP. Over the summer, the firm created a series of presentations to explain health reform to its clients and to pitch the firm's services for employers looking to comply with new health reform regulations. In one presentation, John Barlament, a colleague to Priebus at the firm, said that a health reform repeal is not only unlikely, but that the lawsuits brought by Republican Party allies to declare the law unconstitutional probably have no merit. Referring to the controversy over the individual mandate, Barlament explained that the commerce clause of the constitution "gives Congress authority to act on his legislation":
"Don't hold your breath," Barlament advised employers hoping the Affordable Care Act will be repealed. A number of political and business groups have called for repeal or significant revisions, but Barlament said there is nothing on the "near horizon."Lawsuits filed to block the case are unlikely to succeed because the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution gives Congress authority to act on this legislation.
Presentations from Priebus's law firm also tout health reform benefits routinely ignored by right-wing partisans, like generous subsidies to small businesses, vastly expanding health insurance coverage in America, closing the Medicare Part D donut hole, and the end to egregious insurance company abuses (ending the program of capping benefits, ending "rescissions," ending discrimination based on pre-existing conditions).
It's not the first time Priebus's law firm has contradicted his role as a Republican partisan. As FrumForum reported, the website for his law firm indicated that Priebus had been part of a team dedicated to steering projects from the Recovery Act to clients. Despite the multiple pages on the law firm website indicating Priebus's involvement in obtaining stimulus grants, he denied ever working on that part of his law firm's business.
MSNBC host: Why isn’t Carlson calling for Palin’s execution after she killed a defenseless caribou? #p2 #tcot
MSNBC's Cenk Uygur wondered Wednesday why Fox News' Tucker Carlson didn't call for Sarah Palin to be executed after she killed a defenseless caribou.
After all, Carlson had proclaimed Tuesday that NFL quarterback Michael Vick should have been given the death penalty for killing dogs.
"Now, I'm a Christian," Carlson announced, while filling in for Fox News' Republican commentator Sean Hannity. "I've made mistakes myself. I believe fervently in second chances but Michael Vick killed dogs and he did it in a heartless and cruel way and I think, personally, he should have been executed for that."
Carlson had become outraged because President Barack Obama praised Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie for giving Vick a second chance.
"[Obama] said, 'So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance,'" Lurie explained, after a phone call with the president. "He said, 'It's never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail.' And he was happy that we did something on such a national stage that showed our faith in giving someone a second chance after such a major downfall."
White House spokesman Bill Burton clarified that Obama "of course condemns the crimes that Michael Vick was convicted of, but, as he's said previously, he does think that individuals who have paid for their crimes should have an opportunity to contribute to society again."
"I like how [Carlson] prefaced it by saying he was Christian," Uygur said, during the "Psycho Talk" segment of Wednesday's The Ed Show broadcast. "Is that what Jesus would have done? I love the way that conservatives twist the Bible. If you listen to them, Jesus was a gun-toting, rich-loving Texan."
"And if you're executing people because they killed defenseless animals you may want to remember this," he said, playing a video clip of Palin shooting a caribou on her TLC reality show, Sarah Palin's Alaska.
"Look, I know there is a difference," Uygur admitted. "But is it really that large? Sarah Palin is folksy for killing a caribou, who was clearly trapped and defenseless, if you watch that show. And Michael Vick should be executed? I don't think so."
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Georgia state Rep. Bobby Franklin (R) loves to introduce far-right reactionary bills. Among his greatest hits are an assault of Georgia's authority to vaccinate its citizens, an unconstitutional bill declaring Roe v. Wade a "nullity," and, of course, a bill eliminating income taxes.
Yet Franklin may have outdone himself with his "Constitutional Tender Act," which would require all transactions with the state of Georgia — including the payment of taxes — to be paid with U.S. minted gold or silver coins unless the state agrees to grant a special waiver for each transaction:
Pre-1965 silver coins, silver eagles, and gold eagles shall be the exclusive medium which the state shall use to make any payments whatsoever to any person or entity, whether private or governmental. Such coins shall be the exclusive medium which the state shall accept from any person or entity as payment of any obligation to the state including, without limitation, the payment of taxes; provided, however, that such coins and other forms of currency may be used in all other transactions within the state upon mutual consent of the parties of any such transaction.
Were Franklin's bill ever to become law it would have immediate and catastrophic consequences for Georgia's economy. Among other things, the U.S. Mint simply does not make very many gold and silver coins — the Mint has even suspended sales of precious medal coins when demand rises above very low levels — so it is unlikely that enough coins even exist to allow Georgia taxpayers to pay more than a fraction of their tax obligations if they are required to do so in U.S. minted gold or silver.
Lawmakers in other states, such as Utah, have proposed slightly modified versions of Franklin's bill which would allow citizens to mint their own gold and silver coins, and proponents of both the Georgia and the Utah version of the bill tout it as a backdoor way to reimpose the gold and silver standard on America. This result, though unlikely, would also have disastrous consequences.
Gold or silver standards leave a nation completely powerless to control its own monetary policy, often tying inflation rates to completely arbitrary factors such as the rate that gold is mined in South Africa, rather than to the interests of a national economy. Worse, it leaves a nation without one of its most important tools to push back against economic downturns. In the 1930s, the United States was one of the last major nations to abandon the gold standard, and this failure to act was one of the principle causes of the Great Depression.
Sadly, however, the lunatic view that America should reembrace the failed economic policies of the Hoover Administration is not limited to a handful of state lawmakers. When the new Congress convenes next week, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) will assume the chair of the House subcommittee that oversees federal monetary policy, and Paul has been pushing for decades to crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.
The terrorist watch list has been beset with problems ever since it came into existence. Ted Kennedy showed up on the No Fly List, a cousin to the terrorist watch list, back in 2004. 8 year-olds can't get themselves off it. Clearly, the smaller and more focused a watch list, the better for national security as well as civil liberties.
So of course, in reaction to the failure to track Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab last year, the federal government has gone in the opposite direction. Instead of double-checking the watch list and making sure resources were focused on legitimate threats, they made it comically easy to get placed on the watch list.
The failure to put Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on the watch list last year renewed concerns that the government's system to screen out potential terrorists was flawed. Even though Abdulmutallab's father had told U.S. officials of his son's radicalization in Yemen, government rules dictated that a single-source tip was insufficient to include a person's name on the watch list.
Since then, senior counterterrorism officials say they have altered their criteria so that a single-source tip, as long as it is deemed credible, can lead to a name being placed on the watch list.
Keep in mind that current watch lists already boast over a million names, with 440,000 on the terrorist watch list alone. Keep in mind that most of these names are outdated or just plain wrong, according to a report from the Justice Department's Inspector General from last year. Keep in mind that, once you get on a list, it's virtually impossible to get off. The last possible response to any of these facts is to make the watch lists even bigger, relying on even less evidence, making them that much less easy to manage.
Law enforcement can absolutely benefit from a good watch list, and arrests thwarting attacks can and do result. And elsewhere in the piece, government officials maintain they have corrected errors and thinned down the problems with the lists. But there's a balance here. A single-source tip, "deemed credible," (whatever that means) seems like a thin reed for placement on a list of this kind.
NOAA reports 2010 hottest year on record so far, while Arctic sea ice extent hits a stunning December low #p2 #tcot
Another candidate for Chicago mayor is telling a former president to stay out of the campaign.
Former Illinois U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun is the latest candidate with harsh words for former President Bill Clinton. Mr. Clinton is expected to campaign for Rahm Emanuel, much to the chagrin of Moseley Braun.
"I think that what we have is an outsider running for mayor and bringing outsiders in to help him," she said.
In the 1990s, Emanuel worked in the administration of then-President Bill Clinton. A spokesman for the Emanuel campaign said Mr. Clinton is expected to stump for his former advisor's mayoral campaign.
Moseley Braun said Emanuel is not a real Chicagoan since he lived in Washington, D.C. while working as White House chief of staff. She stopped short of bringing race into the issue.
Recently Congressman Danny Davis, an African-American candidate, like Moseley Braun, said Mr. Clinton should not get involved in the mayor's race. If he does, Davis said Mr. Clinton risks damaging the former president's relationship with the African-American community.
State Sen. James Meeks, an African-American, dropped out of the race last week. That leaves Congressman Davis and former Illinois U.S. Senator Carol Moseley Braun as the two major African-American candidates who are campaigning.
The US Supreme Court's striking down of nearly a century's worth of campaign finance laws means the US government can now be "bought" and the country may be headed for fascism, says an outgoing Democratic House representative.
In an interview this week, Rep. John Hall (D-NY), who lost his seat in the mid-term elections, told the New York Observer that he sees a threat to American democracy in the court's ruling.
"I learned when I was in social studies class in school that corporate ownership or corporate control of government is called fascism. So that's really the question -- is that the destination if this court decision goes unchecked?"
The Citizens United decision upended decades of campaign finance regulation, allowing corporations, unions and other groups to spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns without having to identify themselves. In a decision split along ideological lines, the court ruled that restrictions on spending amounted to a violation of First Amendment rights. Others have challenged the notion that corporations and other organizations have the "personhood" needed to be granted constitutional rights.
Hall was a key player in efforts to mitigate the effects of the Citizens United decision. He backed the DISCLOSE Act, which would have required groups to identify themselves when campaigning. Hall added provisions to the bill limiting the ability of foreign corporations to spend money on US elections. But, after passing the House, the bill was defeated by filibuster in the Senate.
"The country was bought," Hall told the Observer, arguing that the Citizens United decision was one of the reasons Democrats lost control of the House.
The influx of unregulated cash into election campaigns has been linked to an increase in misinformation in campaign ads. CBS reported in October:
Outside groups, which are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to influence elections this year (largely on behalf of Republicans), are most likely to stretch or ignore the truth on their advertising. These groups, which have exploded in size and influence in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, are often funded by donors whose identities are not revealed to the public.
Hall said that Bush appointees Samuel Alito and John Roberts "claimed in their confirmation hearings before the Senate that they would not be activist judges [but] made a very activist decision in that it overturned more than a century of precedent. And as a result there were millions of extra dollars thrown into this race."
He described Alito and Roberts as "extremists."
Hall also suggested that the health care reform package may have contributed to the Democrats' electoral losses. He said he and other Democrats were warned during the debate that it could cost them their House seats.
"I don't think that is the only reason why I lost but if it is I am OK with it," he said.
how the Glenn Beck movement is seeking the destruction of social safety nets #p2 @glennbeck @gop #tcot
An employee of Associated Charities, a private organization dedicated to alleviating poverty in the District of Columbia, met an old black woman carrying a basket of cinders near the dump in Southeast D.C. on a bitterly cold day in December 1896.
The woman "could not give street and number, but could 'fotch' the agent to her place," according to a case study labeled "Aunt Winnie" in one of the organization's annual reports from near the turn of the century. "Old age, with a heavy load on top and a strong wind blowing, made the walk a trying one. At last the 8x10 cabin was reached. In it was a stove in many pieces held together with wire, a bedstead with rags for mattress and rags for covering. From the leaky roof the floor was wet through and through."
Aunt Winnie, the report said, had no income save the 50 cents she made every two weeks for taking in the wash. In summertime she raised herbs and greens, but in winter she "suffered for food and fuel." Her children had all been sold away to slavery, and a nearby niece was too poor to offer any support. Her neighbors helped, providing money for the stove and cot, and a "colored friendly visitor was found to carry broth and other comforts to her." The neighborly charity wasn't enough to persuade the agent, who was essentially a private sector version of a social worker, that the old woman should be on her own.
"In the fall of '98 agent asked her to go into the almshouse, but she would not consent. During the storm in February '99, she was kept from perishing with a great effort. Every visit, and they were many, had to be made through snow up to the waist. It was during these visits that the promise was made that before another winter she would take refuge in an almshouse."
When the weather warmed, Aunt Winnie backed off her promise to go to the almshouse. The social worker started to play hardball.
"It would be hard to say which, the agent or the applicant, suffered the more, because through all this distress had sprung up a loving confidence and perfect trust that seemed cruel to deceive. Attention and assistance were withdrawn gradually."
It worked: In July, Aunt Winnie relented and said she'd go to the almshouse as soon she could sell her cabin. Nobody would buy it, so the social worker told her to tear it down and sell it for kindling. At 2 p.m. on Aug. 23, 1899, the social worker showed up in a wagon.
"[S]he was sitting on her trunk, without a stick of the cabin to be seen. Without a murmur she dropped a courtsey to the bare spot where once stood the cabin and turned away. After an affectionate separation in the almshouse the agent came away feeling that for such a balmy day in August it was a trying task to perform, but for winter's blizzards, a blessed relief. In case of her death a promise has been made to her that the general secretary of the Associated Charities will keep her body from potter's field."
Aunt Winnie, whose story is preserved in the archives of the Historical Society of Washington, had been sent to an American institution that was by then some 300 years old and went by a variety of names: the county farm, the poor farm, the almshouse or, most often, simply the poorhouse. She would probably have been surprised to learn that more than a hundred years later, after the virtual eradication of elderly poverty, a powerful political movement would materialize with the mission of returning to the hands-off social policies that made the poorhouse the nation's only refuge for the jobless, the aged, the infirm and the disabled.
That movement's most outspoken proponent is Fox News host Glenn Beck, who doesn't merely pine for the pre-New Deal era in general, but regularly prevails upon his audience to recognize the particular genius of some of the period's presidents, whose ideologies of inaction he holds up as the American ideal.
Democratic President Grover Cleveland is one such hero. When Beck and guest Joseph Lehman were discussing the proper roles of welfare and charity this summer, Lehman noted that one "extreme [position] is, you've got welfare only as a last resort and all assistance is private."
It wasn't too extreme for Beck. "And this is where we actually were a hundred years ago," Beck said, rightly thinking -- or not -- of people in Aunt Winnie's situation.
"We used to be here. In fact, Grover Cleveland has this excellent statement. In 1887, President Cleveland said, 'Though the people may support their government, the government shall not support the people,'" Lehman responded.
"That's great," said Beck.
While lifting up presidents like Cleveland, he wants to tear down their successors. At Beck University, he offers a course titled "Presidents You Should Hate." Part one focuses on Woodrow Wilson, part two on Franklin Roosevelt.
Until those men rose to power, the political field belonged to politicians in the command of business. Cleveland, however, is a distant second in the Beck view of the world to Calvin Coolidge. Beck told his audience this August that Coolidge was Ronald Reagan's favorite president, and that he was "one of best presidents I think we've ever had that you don't know very much about."
Coolidge earned his place in Beck's heart for refusing to send federal help to the Gulf region during the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. "And under 30 feet of water, hundreds of people died. This is the Katrina of the 1920s," said Beck. "And, to show you the difference in how far we've come with progressives, at the time that this happened, nobody was standing on their roof with signs saying, 'Help me.' They were helping themselves."
Whatever the victims of the flood may have done, Wall Street certainly helped itself during Coolidge's reign from 1923 to 1929. The Dow ran from under a hundred to a high of nearly four hundred. Corporate profits and consumer debt soared. Coolidge slashed taxes. By 1929, the top 0.1 percent had income equal to 42 percent of all Americans and held 34 percent of all the savings -- while eight in ten had no savings at all.
Those eight-in-ten people without savings had no cushion against the economic crashes that relentlessly afflicted the economy and had no relief against the one calamity that is entirely foreseeable: old age.
"Most people, unless they were well-to-do, had two options," said University of Pennsylvania historian Michael B. Katz. "One was living with their kids, the other was the poorhouse."rest at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/29/the-poorhouse-aunt-winnie_n_802338.html?fbwall
love it: Christine O'Donnell Investigation: Criminal Probe Into Campaign Finances Reportedly Underway #p2 #tcot
BALTIMORE — Federal authorities have opened a criminal investigation of Delaware Republican Christine O'Donnell to determine if the former Senate candidate broke the law by using campaign money to pay personal expenses, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation.
The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to protect the identity of a client who has been questioned as part of the probe. The case, which has been assigned to two federal prosecutors and two FBI agents in Delaware, has not been brought before a grand jury.
Matt Moran, O'Donnell's former campaign manager, did not immediately respond Wednesday to questions from The AP. He said earlier this month that the campaign had not been contacted about any investigation and criticized what he called "lies and false-attack rumors."
The U.S. Attorney's office has confirmed that it is reviewing a complaint about O'Donnell's campaign spending filed by a watchdog group, but officials in the office and the FBI declined to say whether a criminal investigation was underway.
O'Donnell, who set a state record by raising more than $7.3 million in a tea party-fueled campaign this year, has long been dogged by questions about her finances.
At least two former campaign workers have alleged that she routinely used political contributions to pay her personal expenses in recent years as she ran for the Senate three consecutive times, starting in 2006. The Washington-based watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics (CREW) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission making similar allegations and asked Delaware's federal prosecutor to investigate.
O'Donnell's campaign has denied wrongdoing, but acknowledged she had paid part of her rent at times with campaign money, arguing that her house doubled as a campaign headquarters.
Federal law prohibits candidates from spending campaign money for personal benefit. FEC rules say this prohibition applies to the use of campaign money for a candidate's mortgage or rent "even if part of the residence is being used by the campaign," although O'Donnell's campaign maintained that it was told otherwise by someone at the agency.
O'Donnell drew national attention in September when she pulled off one of the primary election season's biggest upsets by beating moderate Republican Rep. Mike Castle for the GOP Senate nomination. She lost badly in November to Democrat Chris Coons.
One former O'Donnell staffer, Kristin Murray, recorded an automated phone call for the Delaware Republican Party just before the primary, accusing O'Donnell of "living on campaign donations – using them for rent and personal expenses, while leaving her workers unpaid and piling up thousands in debt."
Another former aide, David Keegan, said he became concerned about O'Donnell's 2008 campaign finances as she fell behind on bills and had no apparent source of income besides political contributions. He submitted an affidavit to CREW alleging that she used campaign money to cover meals, gas, a bowling outing, and rent to a landlord, Brent Vasher.
Vasher, a nephew of Keegan's and a one-time boyfriend of O'Donnell, declined comment when asked by The AP if he had been contacted by authorities. Vasher bought O'Donnell's house in 2008 after she was served with a foreclosure notice, then charged her rent to stay there, according to CREW's complaint.
In a message sent last week to The AP, Keegan said he had not been questioned as part of a criminal investigation, and that he considers himself only a "catalyst" in a case in which several people must be questioned to scrutinize O'Donnell's accounting practices and alleged misuse of campaign funds.
During her three failed Senate bids, O'Donnell had numerous campaign treasurers, many of who left after serving brief stints. After losing two treasurers in 2009, she named herself treasurer until this past summer. Another short-term treasurer took over in August and resigned less than two months later, when Moran added the treasurer's role to his campaign manager responsibilities.
Democrat Charles Oberly III, the U.S. attorney for Delaware, and his predecessor, David Weiss, did not immediately return messages Wednesday seeking comment. Oberly was sworn in Tuesday as Weiss' successor.
Kim Reeves, a spokeswoman for the office, reiterated Wednesday that the office was reviewing the CREW complaint. She would not confirm the existence of a criminal probe.
Rich Wolf, a spokesman for the Baltimore office of the FBI, said he could neither confirm nor deny the existence of any investigation.
Murray, the former aide who recorded the automated message, also said she had not been contacted about the investigation.
Barakat reported from McLean, Va. Associated Press writers Ben Evans in Washington and Randall Chase in Dover, Del., contributed to this story.
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Rather than attacking Social Security, attack gov't that borrowed against it 2fund 2wars &massive tax cuts for wealthy #p2 @gop @tcot
Social Security is now permanently in the Village's sights, gawd help us all. Here's more conventional wisdom spouting from Fred Hiatt's editorial page, this time from Michael Gerson.
Obama's liberal base contends that the Social Security trust fund is not in immediate trouble. But this argument depends on an elaborate accounting trick. The trust fund is not filled with assets - gold bullion and Apple stock. It is filled with debt issued by the government to itself. The surpluses of the trust fund are in fact liabilities for the government as a whole. And these illusory surpluses are regularly used to subsidize the rest of the budget. The scheme begins to collapse in 2037, when promised benefits for Social Security recipients will suddenly drop by about 25 percent - unless the system is reformed.
Liberals have threatened a serious political revolt if Obama pursues Social Security reform, and that's a genuine risk. But Obama's urgent political need is to polish his image among Independents on spending and debt. And this won't happen by being risk averse.
Social Security restructuring is not the obvious choice for Obama, but it is the smart one. It is achievable. It would invest Republican leaders in a constructive national enterprise. It would reassure global credit markets that America remains capable of governing itself. It would result in a more progressive, sustainable system. And it would make a dramatic, timely political statement: that the president is capable not only of expanding government but of reforming it.
Two wars are larger liabilities than Social Security for the government as a whole. Massive tax breaks for the extremely wealthy and for corporations are a liability for the government as a whole. The insurance system--into which every American worker has paid for three-quarters of a century in order to create secure retirement for everyone--is not a liability, nor is it a scheme. And obviously Gerson is getting his opinion on what the American people want from the American people he talks with at Beltway cocktail parties. Maybe instead he could read a poll or two dozen (there's a really handy one that his own paper conducted just this month) to find out that the majority of Americans--including those all-important Independents--value protecting Social Security more than they hate tax increases.
Rather than attacking Social Security, how about attacking the government that has borrowed against it in order to fund two wars and massive tax cuts for the wealthy? And how about this? Have the government actually ... you know ... pay back what it's "borrowed"? Through raising taxes, maybe, on those who've gotten decades of tax breaks through "borrowing" from it?