Mourners wear anti-bullying T-shirts at funeral of Florida girl, 12, who jumped to her death after she was picked on for two years by up to 15 girls who are now being investigated
Funeral: Pallbearers wearing anti-bullying T-shirts carry the casket of Rebecca Sedwick, 12, to a waiting hearse as they exit the Whidden-McLean Funeral Home Monday, September 16, 2013, in Bartow, Florida
Tragic loss: Rebecca with her sister Amy
And you thought $16.7 trillion was bad… Leading economist says U.S. national debt is actually $86.8 TRILLION
Safe place: David Hutchinson and his daughter are an example of the tremendous toll the recession took on families, particularly in the Southwest, where Hutchinson lived under a bridge in Arizona as his family stayed in a shelter
The release of the June Jobs’ Report Friday was something of a relief for the markets. The Labor Department reported that the economy gained 195,000 jobs in June, which beat economists’ expectations. The Department also reported that the economy gained 70,000 more jobs in April and May than it originally estimated. The report, however, also provides clear evidence that the nation is splitting into two; only 47% of Americans have a full-time job and those who don’t are finding it increasingly out of reach.
Wow: Nearly All Americans Living Paycheck-to-Paycheck
Hourly wages fell
3.8 percent in the first quarter of 2013, the biggest drop since the government began measuring in 1947. The rising profits and falling wages that define our “recovery” don’t look to be going away.
June 18, 2013
Americans View GOP Less Favorably Than Democratic Party
Both parties’ favorability ratings are below their historical averages
In all instances, Boehner faces a choice: his job or his legacy. He can enact landmark compromises but lose his job in a conservative coup. Or he can keep his job but get nothing much done.
With a few exceptions — the “fiscal cliff” deal, Hurricane Sandy aid — Boehner has chosen job security over achievement. He did it again this week on immigration, announcing that he doesn’t “see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have a majority support of Republicans.”
Gallup last week found Americans’ confidence in Congress at 10 percent, the lowest ever recorded for any institution.
Instead of setting their sights on becoming a doctor or lawyer, the best some children could think of was being the “boss of a gang” or a celebrity.
“American higher education is broken,” [Jeffrey] Selingo writes. “Like another American icon — the auto industry in Detroit — the higher-education industry is beset by hubris, opposition to change, and resistance to accountability.”
CDC says 20 percent of U.S. children have mental health disorders
The onetime messiah seems like a sad sack, trying to bounce back from a blistering array of sins that are not even his fault.
The difficulty the president now faces is not merely the multiple scandals and the perception that his administration has crossed the line from partisanship to illegality, but the growing recognition that almost nothing he says can be taken at face value. The presumption of integrity and assumption of good faith has vanished in a cloud of unkept promises, wrongdoing and ineptitude.
MAY 29, 2013 4:00 AM
Western Cultural Suicide
We are blind to the contradictions in welcoming an immigrant but not making him one of us.
By Victor Davis Hanson
Multiculturalism — as opposed to the notion of a multiracial society united by a single culture — has become an abject contradiction in the modern Western world. Romance for a culture in the abstract that one has rejected in the concrete makes little sense.
Multiculturalists talk grandly of Africa, Latin America, and Asia, usually in contrast to the core values of the United States and Europe. Certainly, in terms of food, fashion, music, art, and architecture, the Western paradigm is enriched from other cultures. But the reason that millions cross the Mediterranean to Europe or the Rio Grande to the United States is for something more that transcends the periphery and involves fundamental values — consensual government, free-market capitalism, the freedom of the individual, religious tolerance, equality between the sexes, rights of dissent, and a society governed by rationalism divorced from religious stricture. Somehow that obvious message has now been abandoned, as Western hosts lost confidence in the very society that gives us the wealth and leisure to ignore or caricature its foundations. The result is that millions of immigrants flock to the West, enjoy its material security, and yet feel little need to bond with their adopted culture, given that their hosts themselves are ambiguous about what others desperately seek out.
Why did the family of the Boston bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, even wish to come to Boston? If they really were in danger back home in the Islamic regions within Russia, why would members of the family return to the source of their supposed dangers? And if the city of Boston, the state of Massachusetts, and the federal government of the United States extended the Tsarnaevs years’ worth of public assistance, why would such largesse incur such hatred of the United States in the hearts of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar? Obviously, the Tsarnaevs had some sense that the United States was a freer, more humane, and more prosperous place than the Russia they left, but they also felt no love for it, felt no pressure from their hosts to cultivate such love — and believed that they could continue to live as Russian Muslims inside the United States. Did not the Tsarnaevs flee the Muslim hinterlands of Russia because they did not like the thought of things like pressure cookers full of ball bearings exploding and killing and maiming the innocent on the street?
Why for that matter did Major Nidal Hasan, a Palestinian-American citizen whose family was welcomed into the United States from the war-torn West Bank, so detest his adopted country that he would kill 13 fellow Americans and injure 32 others rather than just return in disillusionment to the land of his forefathers? Was it the idea that he could square the circle of being a radical anti-American Muslim, but with the advantages of subsidized education, material security, and freedom of expression unknown in Jericho? When General George Casey worried that the army’s diversity program might be imperiled after the slaughter, did the general ever express commensurate concern that Hasan apparently had never taken, as part of his military training, any course on the Constitution and American history, one that would have reminded him why he was sworn to defend his singular country’s values and history?
Why would Anwar al-Awlaki, another U.S. citizen, whose family was welcomed to the United States for sanctuary from the misery and violence of Yemen, grow to despise America and devote the latter part of his adult life to terrorizing the United States? He certainly need not have conducted his hatred from a Virginia mosque when all of the Middle East was ripe for his activism. Was Awlaki ever reminded in school or by any religious figure why exactly America was more tolerant of Muslims than Yemen was of Christians? Or did he hate his country because it treated Muslims humanely in a way that he would never treat Christians? Why did Mohamed Morsi wish to go to university in the U.S. or teach in the California State University system — given that California values were antithetical to his own Muslim Brotherhood strictures? Was it because Morsi understood that American education would not do to him what he will soon do to Egyptian education?
The United Kingdom is currently reeling from the beheading of a British soldier by two British subjects whose fathers had fled from violence-prone Nigeria. Why did they not return to Nigeria, carve out new lives there, and find their roots? Is it because there are too many in Nigeria like themselves who take machetes to the streets? For that matter, why do some Pakistani immigrants in cold, foggy Britain brag of establishing Sharia there? Is it because they wish to follow their version of Sharia in a liberal Western society that is more accommodating than are the radical Islamists whom they so often praise from afar?
Is Britain to be run in the shadows by some diehard Western traditionalists pulling the levers of free-market capitalism, democracy, and freedom of the individual, so that in its plazas and squares others have the freedom and wherewithal to damn just those values? In Britain, as in the West in general, deportation is a fossilized concept. Unity is passé. Patriotism is long suspect. The hip metrosexual cultures of the urban West strain to find fault in their inheritance, and seem to appreciate those who do that in the most cool fashion — but always with the expectation that there will be some poor blokes who, in terms of clean water, medical care, free speech, and dependable electricity, ensure that London is not Lagos, that Stockholm is not Damascus, and that Los Angeles is not Nuevo Laredo.
These cultural hypocrisies are not always violent, and they do not always involve fundamentalist Muslims waging jihad against their own adopted nations. In June 2011 the United States national soccer team played the Mexican national team in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena before a supposedly “home” crowd. Instead, the Americans were continually booed by the pro-Mexican fans of Pasadena. The L.A. Times account of the event quoted U.S. resident Victor Sanchez explaining the booing of Americans by fellow U.S. residents in this way: “I love this country, it has given me everything that I have, and I’m proud to be part of it. But yet, I didn’t have a choice to come here, I was born in Mexico, and that is where my heart will always be.” But obviously Mr. Sanchez as an adult residing in a free country does have a choice — he could return to Mexico, where his heart could at last find rest. Was Mr. Sanchez’s problem that once he had screamed for the Mexican national team while in Oaxaca, he would still have been in Oaxaca?
We understand the notions of both ethnic pride and hyphenated Americanism, but many of us are still bewildered about contradictory impulses: the emotional need to display Mexican decals on cars and hang Mexican flags on houses and businesses — or boo an American team at a soccer match — coupled with equally heated expressions of outrage that anyone might suggest that those who broke American law in coming to the United States would ever have to return where their hearts would “always be.” That paradox is the most disturbing — and ignored — aspect of the immigration debate: the contradictory impulse to fault the United States for a litany of sins (exploitation, racism, xenophobia, nativism) without commensurate attention to why any newcomer would wish to reside in a place that is so clearly culpable. Has anyone ever heard an immigration activist, as part of his argument for amnesty, explain why so many Mexicans do not like living in Mexico and must leave their homeland, or, alternatively, why the United States is such an attractive alternative that it demands such existential risks to reach it? How strange that most of the elites who resent ideas like the melting pot and assimilation are often those who most successfully have abandoned the protocols of the way life is lived in Mexico.
America was born as an immigrant nation. It went through many periods of nearly unlimited immigration, coupled with xenophobic backlashes when particular groups — Germans, Jews, Irish, Mexicans, or Poles — came in such numbers and so abruptly that the traditional powers of assimilation were for a time overwhelmed. But the eras of ethnic ghettoes and tribal separatism were usually brief, given the inclusive popular culture and official government efforts to overwhelm identification with the home country. Yet now, when we talk grandly of the “Latino vote,” are we assuming something in perpetuity that will not go the way of the Civil War–era “German vote” or the turn-of-the-century “Irish vote” — because the United States will no longer insist on full assimilation, or because immigration from Latin America will continue to be massive and in contradiction of federal immigration law?
Sociologists and psychologists can adduce all sorts of reasons for an immigrant’s contradictory behavior, whether the lethal kind of the Tsarnaevs or the more benign expression of the tens of thousands in the Rose Bowl. It is tough being a newcomer in any country, and tribal or religious affinities serve to offer familiarity and by extension pride to one who is otherwise alienated from contemporary culture.
More practically, in the last half-century, having some identity other than white Christian made one a member of a growing “Other” that could level grievances against the surrounding culture that might result in advantages in hiring or college admission — or at least in a trendy ethnic cachet.
What happened to create such fissures among America’s diverse tribes? At no time in our history have so many Americans been foreign born. Never have so many foreign nationals resided in America, and never have so many done so illegally. Yet at just such a critical time, in our universities and bureaucracies, the pressures to assimilate in melting-pot fashion have been replaced by salad-bowl separatism — as if the individual can pick and choose which elements of his adopted culture he will embrace, which he will reject, as one might croutons or tomatoes. But ultimately he can do that because he senses that the American government, people, press, and culture reward such opportunism and have no desire, need, or ability to defend the very inherited culture that has given them the leeway to ignore it and so attracted others from otherwise antithetical paradigms.
That is a prescription for cultural suicide, if not by beheading or by a pressure cooker full of ball bearings, at least by making the West into something that no one would find very different from his homeland.
Is not that the ultimate paradox: The solution to the sort of violence we saw in Britain and Sweden the past week, or to the endless acrimony over “comprehensive immigration reform,” is that the Western hosts will so accede to multiculturalism that the West will be no longer unique — and therefore no longer a uniquely desirable refuge for its present legions of schizophrenic admiring critics. If the immigrant from Oaxaca can recreate Oaxaca in Tulare, or the Pakistani second-generation British subject can carve out Sharia in the London boroughs, or a suburb of Stockholm is to be like in one in Damascus, then would there be any reason to flee to Tulare, London, or Stockholm?
Posted on Thursday, June 13, 2013
Black family progress has stalled since controversial 1965 study, report says
By Tony Pugh | McClatchy Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Many of the same social problems highlighted in a landmark 1965 study on black family structure have only worsened over the last 48 years and are now causing similar hardship for white and Hispanic families.
That’s a major finding of a new report by the Urban Institute, a liberal think tank, which re-examines the circumstances of black families nearly five decades after former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan authored the controversial report, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.”
Moynihan was an assistant secretary in the Department of Labor in the 1960s when his report cited the breakdown of the nuclear family as the main cause of problems in the black community.
The so-called Moynihan Report looked at societal disparities between white and black families and the need for government action to address them. It focused on high rates of unemployment, crime, poverty, unwed parenting and other social ills that formed a “tangle of pathologies” that steered many black families into a continuing cycle of poor education, limited job prospects and dysfunctional long-term poverty.
The report argued that the rise of female-headed black households diminished the authority of black men within their families, leaving them unable to serve as responsible fathers and providers, partly because of their limited job prospects.
Many African-American leaders criticized the report at the time, saying it was ripe with stereotypes and played down the effects of institutional discrimination and racism. Others said the report “blamed the victim” for the causes and consequences of poverty.
While African-Americans have made substantial progress in high school graduation rates, college enrollment, income and home ownership rates since the 1960s, vast disparities still remain in comparison to whites on a multitude of social measures, said Gregory Acs, director of the Urban Institute’s Income and Benefits Policy Center.
And while many social problems are still disproportionately centered in the African-American community, they have also increased in the larger non-black society.
Consider that in the early 1960s, about 20 percent of black children and just 2 to 3 percent of white children were born to unmarried mothers, while the rate of unwed Hispanic births was somewhere in between.
By 2009, nearly 75 percent of black births, 53 percent of Hispanic births and 29 percent of white births were outside of marriage, according to the report.
A decline in marriage rates has followed the same path. In 1960, more than half of all black women were married, along with more than 66 percent of Hispanic and white women. By 2010, just 25 percent of black women, 40 percent of Hispanic women and half of white women were married.
“That the decline of traditional families occurred across racial and ethnic groups indicates that factors driving the decline do not lie solely within the black community, but in the larger social and economic context,” the report finds.
Acs said that the Moynihan report’s main conclusion about the importance of traditional families has been vindicated by research that shows children from two-parent families typically fare better educationally, financially and emotionally.
“Family structure is important,” he said. “Fathers do matter.”
To improve prospects for struggling black families, the report calls for reducing structural barriers to black economic progress, enhancing the incentives for working in the mainstream economy and improving family dynamics.
Urgency on debt fades with big issues unsolved
US debt headed toward 200 percent of GDP even after ‘fiscal cliff’ deal
“…before the financial crisis. Normal, back then, meant an economy adding a million or more jobs each year, enough to keep up with the growth in the working-age population. Normal meant an unemployment rate not much above 5 percent, except for brief recessions. And while there was always some unemployment, normal meant very few people out of work for extended periods.”
Americans have rebuilt less than half of wealth lost to the recession, study says
May Jobs Report: U.S. Economy Adds 175,000 Jobs; Unemployment Rate Up To 7.6 Percent
May jobs report gains mask the US economy’s weak, uneven recovery
On paper, 175,000 jobs added sounds good. To the 12 million Americans still unemployed, it just means their misery goes on
Many of the jobs in May’s relatively buoyant BLS report will have been in low-paid positions, often in retail. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Report: US hasn’t seen expected ‘Great Recovery’
June 5, 2013, 7:23 p.m. ET
The Hidden Jobless Disaster
At the present slow pace of job growth, it will require more than a decade to get back to full employment defined by prerecession standards.
UCLA Anderson Forecast paints dismal picture of economic recovery
“It’s not a recovery. It’s not even normal growth. It’s bad,” UCLA economist Edward Leamer says.
By Ricardo Lopez, Los Angeles Times
June 5, 2013, 1:00 a.m.
The country’s tepid growth in its gross domestic product isn’t creating enough good jobs to build a strong middle class, according to a UCLA report released Wednesday.
“Growth in GDP has been positive, but not exceptional,” UCLA economists wrote in their quarterly Anderson Forecast. “Jobs are growing, but not rapidly enough to create good jobs for all.”
The report, which analyzed long-term trends of past recoveries, found that the long-anticipated “Great Recovery” has not yet materialized.
Real GDP growth — the value of goods and services produced after adjusting for inflation — is 15.4% below the 3% growth trend of past recoveries, wrote Edward Leamer, director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast. More robust growth will be necessary to bring this recovery in line with previous ones.
“It’s not a recovery,” he wrote. “It’s not even normal growth. It’s bad.”
That has long-term implications in the face of technological advancements that continue displacing workers, Leamer said. And the country’s education system isn’t adequately developing the workforce of the future, he said.
“Regrettably we reward teachers if their students can regurgitate the information on standardized tests,” he wrote. Future workers will need creative and analytical thinking skills for 21st century jobs, he said.
Though GDP growth has been lackluster since the recession ended, the sustained housing recovery is expected to boost GDP over the next couple of years and further bring down the unemployment rate, Leamer said.
Economists predict the U.S. jobless rate will fall to 6.9% by the end of 2014 and edge down to 6.4% by the end of 2015.
GDP growth is expected to average 1.9% this year, 2.9% in 2014 and 3% in 2015.
Despite the less-than-rosy outlook for the U.S., California’s economic picture is brighter in large part because of demand for California goods, such as computers and other technology, UCLA economists said.
The Golden State outperformed the U.S. in the rate of payroll jobs growth in the 12-month period that ended in April 2013. Only Utah has added jobs faster than California.
California’s job growth has been spread across several industries, including leisure and hospitality and white-collar jobs in the professional and business services sector.
But construction, which has long been a drag on the state’s recovery, is propelling economists’ optimism about future growth — albeit with some caveats.
Though the number of housing starts has doubled since the recession low, tight credit conditions for new-home buyers have made it tougher to secure mortgages. Young adults are facing staggering student loan debt that will force them to put off buying homes until later in life, said senior economist David Shulman.
Outstanding student loans have tripled since 2004, according to Federal Reserve Bank figures. In 2012, public and private student loan levels reached $966 billion.
“Never before have so many young people been saddled with so much non-mortgage debt, and that burden will keep them out of the home buying market for years to come,” Shulman wrote.
In California, much of the residential construction has been of multiunit housing, particularly in urban areas as people move away from the suburbs and closer to the city. In Hollywood, for instance, Los Angeles city officials have green-lighted a plan to build high-rise apartments and condominiums. Several projects are currently under construction in the neighborhood.
Building contractors, however, are complaining of labor shortages as the lengthy downturn created a dearth of construction workers, said Jerry Nickelsburg, a senior economist who studies the California economy.
Many skilled trade workers switched to different fields to weather the downturn, Nickelsburg said. That means contractors are spending money on training new workers or are likely to invest in labor-saving technologies in the future.
Still, the growth of payroll jobs in construction and other fast-growing industries such as healthcare is expected to generate more income and boost the state’s recovery.
The UCLA forecast projects that California’s unemployment rate will drop to 8.8% by the end of this year and fall to 7.7% by the end of 2014. The pace of job growth is expected to speed up to 2.2% in 2015, further pushing down the jobless rate to 6.8% by the end of that year.
A forthcoming book by former foreign policy aide Vali Nasr paints the above portrait, describing a president whose decisions “from start to finish were guided by politics.”
It was to court public opinion that Obama first embraced the war in Afghanistan. And when public opinion changed, he was quick to declare victory and call the troops back home. His actions from start to finish were guided by politics, and they played well at home. Abroad, however, the stories the United States tells to justify its on-again, off-again approach do not ring true to friend or foe. They know the truth: America is leaving Afghanistan to its own fate. America is leaving even as the demons of regional chaos that first beckoned it there are once again rising to threaten its security.
Vali Nasr — dean of the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins, a Middle East specialist and an acolyte of Richard Holbrooke — has always believed that the Middle East is the center of the world. He recently discovered to his dismay that the White House rather than the State Department generally decides foreign policy, that domestic politics often influence foreign affairs. Too bad he never spoke to some former secretaries of state, such as Warren Christopher or Colin Powell, before he entered government service as a senior adviser to Holbrooke. Indeed, it’s surprising that Holbrooke, who had been frustrated by White House interference when he served in the administration of Jimmy Carter, did not prepare him.
Nasr’s new book, “The Dispensable Nation,” argues that meddling by the Obama White House in foreign affairs has severely damaged American interests abroad. Nasr’s focus on the Middle East is so sharp that he decries the American “pivot” to East Asia and contends that the outcome of the contest between the United States and China will be determined ultimately in West Asia (read Middle East). Usually supportive of the efforts of former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, Nasr finds intolerable her suggestion that the Asia-Pacific has replaced the Middle East as the world’s most important region for the future of American interests.
By DYLAN BYERS | 5/15/13 7:05 PM EDT
President Obama “obviously likes giving speeches more than he does running the executive branch,” Chris Matthews said tonight.
Yes, you read that right: The MSNBC host who in 2008 felt a thrill going up my leg” after hearing Obama speak has grown disenchanted. Tonight’s episode of Hardball saw Matthews delivering a rare, unforgiving grilling of the president as severe as anything that might appear on Fox News.
“What part of the presidency does Obama like? He doesn’t like dealing with other politicians — that means his own cabinet, that means members of the congress, either party. He doesn’t particularly like the press…. He likes to write the speeches, likes to rewrite what Favreau and the others wrote for the first draft,” Matthews said.
“So what part does he like? He likes going on the road, campaigning, visiting businesses like he does every couple days somewhere in Ohio or somewhere,” Matthews continued. “But what part does he like? He doesn’t like lobbying for the bills he cares about. He doesn’t like selling to the press. He doesn’t like giving orders or giving somebody the power to give orders. He doesn’t seem to like being an executive.”
On Tuesday’s program, Matthews similarly called Obama “a ship with the engine off.”
CHRIS MATTHEWS: OBAMA HAS ‘NEVER DONE ANYTHING WRONG IN HIS LIFE LEGALLY, ETHICALLY, WHATEVER’
Obama At Ohio State Commencement: I dare you, Class of 2013, to do better.
Liberals, whose unvarying agenda is enlargement of government, suggest, with no sense of cognitive dissonance, that this IRS scandal is nothing more sinister than typical government incompetence. Five days before the IRS story broke, Obama, sermonizing 109 miles northeast of Cincinnati, warned Ohio State graduates about “creeping cynicism” and “voices” that “warn that tyranny is. . .around the corner.” Well. [Isn't that special.]
The Insiders: Hard facts cloud the Obama presidency
…If we define the success of the Obama presidency by examining some of the quantifiable facts that measure our country’s progress, it’s hard to argue that the lives of Americans have improved over the past four years or that these discouraging trends are going to be reversed anytime soon.
Since Obama’s first full month in office in February 2009, the unemployment rate has gone from terrible (8.3 percent) to very bad (7.5 percent). But a true picture of just how bad the unemployment situation is in our country is revealed by the fact that more than 9.5 million people have dropped out of the labor force since the president took office in 2009.
Undoubtedly, the impact of this number is reflected in some of the other indices and statistics that we can use to objectively measure the success of the Obama presidency.
In the past five years, 9.5 million people have quit working and the current labor force participation rate is just 63.6 percent, the lowest it’s been since May 1979. More than million more people are on food stamps today than were in February 2009, and during the same time frame, the poverty rate has increased by 0.7 percent.
Gasoline prices have almost doubled under Obama, and there’s nothing more corrosive for the middle class than when more cash comes out of everyone’s pockets at the pump. This is especially true given that the median household income has dropped more than $3,000 during the Obama presidency.
All the while we have experienced the biggest jump in our national debt in history under Obama, with the debt exploding from $11 trillion at the end of 2008 to almost $17 trillion today. And I’ll point out once again that if we look at this huge number in more relatable terms, our current national debt translates to a cost of more than $148,000 per taxpayer, up from just over $90,000 per taxpayer in 2008.
Even the infamous “Misery Index,” created by Jimmy Carter, has gotten worse under the Obama presidency. Remember, the Misery Index is the unemployment rate plus the inflation rate. In January 2009, the index was 7.83, but as of March 2013, it increased to 9.07.
Obama quotes George W. Bush in words to OSU grads
President urges departing students to better nation through citizenship
Obama’s holier-than-thou rhetoric has left him with little reservoir of good will. | AP Photo
By MIKE ALLEN and JIM VANDEHEI | 5/14/13 9:10 PM EDT
The town is turning on President Obama – and this is very bad news for this White House.
Republicans have waited five years for the moment to put the screws to Obama – and they have one-third of all congressional committees on the case now. Establishment Democrats, never big fans of this president to begin with, are starting to speak out. And reporters are tripping over themselves to condemn lies, bullying and shadiness in the Obama administration.
Buy-in from all three D.C. stakeholders is an essential ingredient for a good old fashioned Washington pile-on — so get ready for bad stories and public scolding to pile-up.
Vernon Jordan, a close adviser to President Bill Clinton through his darkest days, told us: “It’s never all right if you’re the president. There is no smooth sailing. So now he has the turbulence, and this is the ultimate test of his leadership.” Jordan says Obama needs to do something dramatic on the IRS, and quick: “He needs to fire somebody. He needs action, not conversation.”
Obama’s aloof mien and holier-than-thou rhetoric have left him with little reservoir of good will, even among Democrats. And the press, after years of being accused of being soft on Obama while being berated by West Wing aides on matters big and small, now has every incentive to be as ruthless as can be.
This White House’s instinctive petulance, arrogance and defensiveness have all worked together to isolate Obama at a time when he most needs a support system. “It feel like they don’t know what they’re here to do,” a former senior Obama administration official said. “When there’s no narrative, stuff like this consumes you.”
Republican outrage is predictable, maybe even manageable. Democratic outrage is not.
The dam of solid Democratic solidarity has collapsed, starting with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s weekend scolding of the White House over Benghazi, then gushing with the news the Justice Department had sucked-up an absurdly broad swath of Associated Press phone records.
Democrats are privately befuddled by the White House’s flat-footed handling of this P.R. and legal mess, blaming a combination of bad timing, hubris and communications ineptitude. The most charitable defense offered up on background is that Obama staffers are scandal virgins, unaccustomed to dealing with a rabid press.
Chris Lehane, who spent so much time managing scandals in the 1990s that it inspired him to write a textbook on managing them, is among the contingent of Clinton-era scandal hands that thinks the Obama team has botched its second-term image. “One cannot get caught up with chasing news cycles in a crisis, as that is a prescription for putting out inaccurate information that does not withstand scrutiny or the test of time,” said Lehane, whose book is titled “Masters of Disaster.”
One Democrat who likes Obama and has been around town for many years said elected officials in his own party are no different than Republicans: they think the president is distant and unapproachable.
“He has never taken the Democratic chairs up to Camp David to have a drink or to have a discussion,” the longtime Washingtonian said. “You gotta stroke people, and talk to them. It’s like courting: you have to send flowers and candy and have surprises. It’s a constant process. Now they’re saying, ‘He never talked to me in the good times.’ ”
This makes it easier for Democrats like House Oversight Committee Elijah Cummings to pop off, like he did on CNN Tuesday, calling the IRS scandal “one of the most alarming things” he’s ever seen. Ouch.
None of this is going away. Top Republicans tell us the Benghazi investigations will last at least months, and probably until the midterms of 2014 and beyond. Same for the IRS scandal – and new scrutiny of how the Obama White House clamps down on its critics. Republicans are also working up plans to use the backdrop of government incompetence and over-reach to try to further undermine implementation of the new health care law.
This is a dangerous — albeit familiar — place for a second-term president. Once the dogs are released, they bark, they bite, and it takes a very long time to calm them down. Bill Clinton got hit early and often, and George W. Bush never really recovered from it.
No doubt, the hysteria cools. But, once you hit this point, it takes time, often lots of it.
The long-term danger is that the political system and the public start to view the president, his motives and ideas through a more skeptical lens. The short-term danger is the press races for new details, new scandals, new expressions of indignity with each passing day. Read Tuesday morning editorial pages of every paper for a taste of things to come. Or watch a re-run of Tuesday’s “Morning Joe,” where reporters made it sound like Obama is a modern day Nixon.
“And it goes beyond even the story,” National Journal’s Ron Fournier, who covered the Clinton and Bush scandals and was once the AP Washington bureau chief, said on the show. “One common thing with Benghazi and the IRS scandal, is we’re being misled every day. We were lied to on Benghazi, on the talking points behind Benghazi, for months. We were lied to by the IRS for months and now they’re sending a clear message to our sources:
Don’t embarrass the administration or we’re coming after you.”
Reporters across The Associated Press are outraged over the Justice Department’s sweeping seizure of staff phone records — and they say such an intrusion could chill their relationships with confidential sources.
To treat a reporter as a criminal for doing his job — seeking out information the government doesn’t want made public — deprives Americans of the First Amendment freedom on which all other constitutional rights are based. Guns? Privacy? Due process? Equal protection? If you can’t speak out, you can’t defend those rights, either.
OBAMA ADMINISTRATION UNDER SIEGE FROM 3 HUGE SCANDALS: HERE’S WHY IT COULD ALL COME CRASHING DOWN
In just one week, President Barack Obama’s political machine has switched from endless campaign to survival mode. And for the first time in Obama’s presidency, the damage to his regime may be permanent.
AP, IRS, Benghazi: how can Americans trust President Obama now?
The only ‘political circus’ is all the controversies in the Obama administration. Republicans and America want answers
The IRS Goes to Washington
New testimony links political vetting to orders from D.C.
By Joe Klein May 11, 2013 | 2030 Comments
The Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups is outrageous. Those who did this should be fired immediately. That’s obvious.
It continues a slovenly week for Barack Obama. The President has been very proud of the absence of scandal in his Administration, and rightly so. The inability of his opponents to find any significant corruption in the historic $800 billion stimulus package was a real achievement, given the speed of the payout. None of his top aides have been caught up in taking bribes while in office — although their race through the revolving door into lucrative private-sector positions is well beyond nauseating.
As in most presidencies, there have been an awful lot of political hacks populating the midreaches of this Administration. In the Obama instance, these have shown an anachronistic, pre-Clinton liberal bias when it comes to the rules and regulations governing many of our safety-net programs, like Social Security disability. And now they have violated one of the more sacred rules of our democracy: you do not use the tax code to punish your opponent.
Lois G. Lerner, the IRS official who oversees tax-exempt groups, said the ‘absolutely inappropriate’ actions by ‘frontline people’ were not driven by partisan motives.
Does anyone actually believe this?
Yet again, we have an example of Democrats simply not managing the government properly and with discipline. This is just poisonous at a time of skepticism about the efficacy of government. And the President should know this: the absence of scandal is not the presence of competence. His unwillingness to concentrate — and I mean concentrate obsessively — on making sure that government is managed efficiently will be part of his legacy.
Previous Presidents, including great ones like Roosevelt, have used the IRS against their enemies. But I don’t think Obama ever wanted to be on the same page as Richard Nixon. In this specific case, he now is.
As a Democrat, I am disgusted with President Obama
I voted for Obama reluctantly, but never did I imagine he would become another Richard Nixon
22 August 2013 4:52pm
oh dear…nothing quite so funny to witness as the fuming of a disillusioned american ultra liberal……
IRS’s Shulman had more public White House visits than any cabinet member
Doug Shulman’s White House visits reflect expanded IRS role
Battenfeld: Obama’s attempt at damage control laughable
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Feigning anger, firing an unknown bureaucrat and fleeing the podium won’t cut it with voters, or stop the hemorrhaging of the scandals that have spawned a Watergate-like feel around the Obama administration.
There was a certain panicky look about the way the president quickly delivered a rare evening White House statement to try to quell the growing outrage over the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups. The move showed how damaging the scandal has become to Obama’s second term and maybe even his presidency.
But Obama took no questions and, more importantly, no responsibility for the ugly episode of the federal government abusing its power for political reasons. This was just political theater designed to distance Obama from something that happened on his watch. Obama sounded a lot angrier scolding Republicans for blocking his gun control bill than he did standing at the podium last night in a belated attempt at damage control.
Even worse, Obama had the gall to warn any critics in Congress to “treat (the IRS) with the responsibility it deserves and in a way that doesn’t smack of politics or partisan agendas.”
In other words, Republicans, don’t use it against him.
The problem for Obama is that what happened in the IRS was all about partisan politics. The IRS was harassing conservative groups opposed to Obama’s re-election, and the big question is why any low-level bureaucrat would be engaged in a concerted effort to hurt Obama’s opponents.
Here are some other questions that Obama ducked last night but needs to answer:
Why doesn’t he appoint an independent counsel to investigate this scandal? How can people in his own administration get to the bottom of something that potentially helped Obama politically?
And what about those new Benghazi emails? Is Obama still sticking by his story that it was the CIA that altered talking points to make it seem as though terrorists weren’t behind the attack?
And speaking of questions, where are Massachusetts’ two new U.S. senators in all this? While a number of Democratic senators and House members have expressed outrage and demanded that heads roll over the IRS abuse, we haven’t heard much of a peep out of first-term U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren or interim U.S. Sen. Mo Cowan.
In fact, Warren reserved her anger yesterday for what was obviously the real outrage — Republicans blocking the appointment of the EPA administrator.
What IRS scandal?
People are looking for the wrong “scandal” about Attorney General Eric Holder. The problem with Holder is the plain fact that, in the judgment of a wide range of legal colleagues, he has been a mediocre attorney general.
…A strong attorney general articulates clear guidelines for prosecutors, private attorneys and the public. But Holder is criticized for his failure to shape legal policy. One early example was the prosecution of marijuana use after some states had legalized it for medical purposes. Then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden wrote a memo in October 2009 arguing for a restrained approach; Holder, perhaps afraid of looking too liberal, never followed through. The result was a hodgepodge of different standards around the country.
Updated June 7, 2013, 6:27 p.m. ET
The IRS Can’t Plead Incompetence
If the agency didn’t know what it was doing, it wouldn’t have done it so well.
Quickly: Everyone agrees the Internal Revenue Service is, under current governmental structures, the proper agency to determine the legitimacy of applications for tax-exempt status. Everyone agrees the IRS has the duty to scrutinize each request, making sure that the organization meets relevant criteria. Everyone agrees groups requesting tax-exempt status must back up their requests with truthful answers and honest information.
Some ask, “Don’t conservatives know they have to be questioned like anyone else?” Yes, they do. Their grievance centers on the fact they have not been. They were targeted, and their rights violated.
The most compelling evidence of that is what happened to the National Organization for Marriage. Its chairman, John Eastman, testified before the House Ways and Means Committee, and the tale he told was different from the now-familiar stories of harassment and abuse.
In March 2012, the organization, which argues the case for traditional marriage, found out its confidential tax information had been obtained by the Human Rights Campaign, one of its primary opponents in the marriage debate. The HRC put the leaked information on its website—including the names of NOM donors. The NOM not only has the legal right to keep its donors’ names private, it has to, because when contributors’ names have been revealed in the past they have been harassed, boycotted and threatened. This is a free speech right, one the Supreme Court upheld in 1958 after the state of Alabama tried to compel the NAACP to surrender its membership list.
The NOM did a computer forensic investigation and determined that its leaked IRS information had come from within the IRS itself. If it was leaked by a worker or workers within the IRS it would be a federal crime, with penalties including up to five years in prison.
In April 2012, the NOM asked the IRS for an investigation. The inspector general’s office gave them a complaint number. Soon they were in touch. Even though the leaked document bore internal IRS markings, the inspector general decided that maybe the document came from within the NOM. The NOM demonstrated that was not true.
For the next 14 months they heard nothing about an investigation. By August 2012, the NOM was filing Freedom of Information Act requests trying to find out if there was one. The IRS stonewalled. Their “latest nonresponse response,” said Mr. Eastman, claimed that the law prohibiting the disclosure of confidential tax returns also prevents disclosure of information about who disclosed them. Mr. Eastman called this “Orwellian.” He said that what the NOM experienced “suggests that problems at the IRS are potentially far more serious” than the targeting of conservative organizations for scrutiny.
In hearings Thursday, Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat who disagrees with the basic stand of the NOM, said that what had happened to the organization was nonetheless particularly offensive to him. The new IRS director agreed he would look into it.
Almost a month after the IRS story broke—a month after the high-profile scandal started to unravel after a botched spin operation that was meant to make the story go away—no one has been able to produce a liberal or progressive group that was targeted and thwarted by the agency’s tax-exemption arm in the years leading up to the 2012 election. The House Ways and Means Committee this week held hearings featuring witnesses from six of the targeted groups. Before the hearing, Republicans invited Democrats to include witnesses from the other side. The Democrats didn’t produce one. The McClatchy news service also looked for nonconservative targets. “Virtually no organizations perceived to be liberal or nonpartisan have come forward to say they were unfairly targeted,” it reported. Liberal groups told McClatchy “they thought the scrutiny they got was fair.”
Some sophisticated Democrats who’ve worked in executive agencies have suggested to me that the story is simpler than it seems—that the targeting wasn’t a political operation, an expression of political preference enforced by an increasingly partisan agency, its union and assorted higher-ups. A former senior White House official, and a very bright man, said this week he didn’t believe it was mischief but incompetence. But why did all the incompetent workers misunderstand their jobs and their mission in exactly the same way? Wouldn’t general incompetence suggest both liberal and conservative groups would be abused more or less equally, or in proportion to the number of their applications? Wouldn’t a lot of left-wing groups have been caught in the incompetence net? Wouldn’t we now be hearing honest and aggrieved statements from indignant progressives who expected better from their government?
Some person or persons made the decision to target, harass, delay and abuse. Some person or persons communicated the decision. Some persons executed them. Maybe we’re getting closer. John McKinnon and Dionne Searcey of The Wall Street Journal reported this week that IRS employees in the Cincinnati office—those are the ones that tax-exempt unit chief Lois Lerner accused of going rogue and attempted to throw under the bus—have told congressional investigators that agency officials in Washington helped direct the probe of the tea-party groups. Mr. McKinnon and Ms. Searcey reported that one of the workers told investigators an IRS lawyer in Washington, Carter Hull, “closely oversaw her work and suggested some of the questions asked applicants.”
“The IRS didn’t respond to a request for comment,” they wrote. There really is an air about the IRS that they think they are The Untouchables.
Some have said the IRS didn’t have enough money to do its job well. But a lack of money isn’t what makes you target political groups—a directive is what makes you do that. In any case, this week’s bombshell makes it clear the IRS, from 2010 to 2012, the years of prime targeting, did have money to improve its processes. During those years they spent $49 million on themselves—on conferences and gatherings, on $1,500 hotel rooms and self-esteem presentations. “Maliciously self-indulgent,” said Chairman Darrell Issa at Thursday’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearings.
What a culture of entitlement, and what confusion it reveals about what motivates people. You want to increase the morale, cohesion and self-respect of IRS workers? Allow them to work in an agency that is famous for integrity, fairness and professionalism. That gives people spirit and guts, not “Star Trek” parody videos.
Finally, this week Russell George, the inspector general whose audit confirmed the targeting of conservative groups, mentioned, as we all do these days, Richard Nixon’s attempt to use the agency to target his enemies. But part of that Watergate story is that Nixon failed. Last week David Dykes of the Greenville (S.C.) News wrote of meeting with 93-year-old Johnnie Mac Walters, head of the IRS almost 40 years ago, in the Nixon era. Mr. Dykes quoted Tim Naftali, former director of the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, who told him the IRS wouldn’t do what Nixon asked: “It didn’t happen, not because the White House didn’t want it to happen, but because people like Johnnie Walters said ‘no.’ “
That was the IRS doing its job—attempting to be above politics, refusing to act as the muscle for a political agenda.
New Links Emerge in the IRS Scandal
Emails released this week sweep the Federal Election Commission into the conservative-targeting probe.
Douglas Shulman, former IRS commissioner (left), Lois Lerner, the then-director of the IRS’s exempt-organizations office, and Neal Wolin, deputy secretary of the Treasury, at a congressional hearing, May 22.
Congressional investigators this week released emails suggesting that staff at the Federal Election Commission have been engaged in their own conservative targeting, with help from the IRS’s infamous Lois Lerner. This means more than just an expansion of the probe to the FEC. It’s a new link to the Obama team.
In May this column noted that the targeting of conservatives started in 2008, when liberals began a coordinated campaign of siccing the federal government on political opponents. The Obama campaign helped pioneer this tactic.
In late summer of 2008, Obama lawyer Bob Bauer took issue with ads run against his boss by a 501(c)(4) conservative outfit called American Issues Project. Mr. Bauer filed a complaint with the FEC, called on the criminal division of the Justice Department to prosecute AIP, and demanded to see documents the group had filed with the IRS.
Thanks to Congress’s newly released emails, we now know that FEC attorneys went to Ms. Lerner to pry out information about AIP—the organization the Obama campaign wanted targeted. An email from Feb. 3, 2009, shows an FEC attorney asking Ms. Lerner “whether the IRS had issued an exemption letter” to AIP, and requesting that she share “any information” on the group. Nine minutes after Ms. Lerner received this FEC email, she directed IRS attorneys to fulfill the request.
This matters because FEC staff didn’t have permission from the Commission to conduct this inquiry. It matters because the IRS is prohibited from sharing confidential information, even with the FEC. What the IRS divulged is unclear. Congressional investigators are demanding to see all communications between the IRS and FEC since 2008, and given that Ms. Lerner came out of the FEC’s office of the general counsel, that correspondence could prove illuminating.
It also matters because we now know FEC staff engaged in a multi-year effort to deliver to the Obama campaign its win against AIP. This past week, FEC Vice Chairman Don McGahn, joined by his two fellow Republican commissioners, wrote an extraordinary statement recounting the staff’s behavior in the case.
When the FEC receives a complaint, it falls to the general counsel’s office to first issue a report on the merits of the alleged campaign violations. The six-person commission then votes on whether there is a “reason to believe” a violation occurred. No formal investigations are to take place before that point.
The Obama team’s complaint broadly claimed AIP was masquerading as a nonprofit, when it should have registered as a highly regulated political action committee. It was a ludicrous claim (see below), yet the FEC staff issued a report in April 2009 recommending the commission go after AIP, not long after its attorneys had been in touch with Ms. Lerner.
When the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC made most of the Obama complaint irrelevant, the staff withdrew its first report, then took 18 months to come up with a second rationale for why the commission should pursue AIP. All this time, FEC staff—Mr. McGahn recounts—were conducting an unauthorized investigation into AIP. The staff was also improperly withholding the results of its research from AIP.
When new issues made its second attempt moot, the general counsel’s office went after the group with a third report. AIP’s defense all along was that it spent the majority of its money from 2007 to 2010 on its “major” organizational “purpose” of educating and informing the public of conservative principles, and only a minority (less than one-third) on direct campaign expenditures. As such, it easily meets the tests for being a 501(c)(4).
And so the FEC staff’s third report presented a novel theory. The staff argued that AIP ought to be judged on what it spent per “calendar year.” By shortening the timeline, and looking only at AIP’s spending in 2008—an election year—the staff argued AIP had violated campaign law.
The Republican commissioners were appalled, noting that FEC staff had always taken a multi-year view of expenditures, including when it came to cases against liberal groups, like the League of Conservation Voters or the Moveon.org Voter Fund. The FEC staff also sought to impose this new standard after the fact, with no notice to election players and no input from the commissioners.
Vice Chairman McGahn’s statement is scathing. “Here,” he writes, FEC staff “could be seen as manipulating the timeline to reach the conclusion that AIP is a political committee. . . . Such after-the-fact determinations create the appearance of impropriety, whether or not such impropriety exists.”
The broader AIP case is, in fact, beyond improper. It’s fishy. The Obama campaign takes its vendetta against a political opponent to the FEC. The FEC staff, as part of an extraordinary campaign to bring down AIP and other 501(c)(4) groups, reaches out to Lois Lerner, the woman overseeing IRS targeting. Mr. McGahn has also noted that FEC staff has in recent years had an improperly tight relationship with the Justice Department—to which the Obama campaign also complained about AIP.
Democrats are increasingly desperate to suggest that the IRS scandal was the work of a few rogue agents. With the stink spreading to new parts of the federal government, that’s getting harder to do
5 takeaways from IRS scandal
Posted on Thursday, June 27, 2013
Officials confirm different IRS treatment of conservatives, liberals
By Kevin G. Hall | McClatchy Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — The Internal Revenue Service failed to subject liberal groups seeking tax-exempt status to the same rigid scrutiny as tea party groups and other conservative organizations, the agency’s acting chief and a Treasury Department inspector general confirmed Thursday.
Testifying before a hostile House Ways and Means Committee, Acting IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel acknowledged publicly the existence of a “be on the lookout” list, shorthanded as a BOLO list, which included the term “progressives.” Democrats have insisted this list proves that the inappropriate IRS treatment of conservative groups extended to liberals.
But Werfel’s acknowledgement of a list involving “progressives” came shortly after a letter to a top Democrat from J. Russell George, the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration, was made public. In it, George made clear that liberal organizations simply were not subjected to the same kinds of inappropriate IRS treatment as were conservative groups.
Werfel, who told the committee he is nonpartisan, did not dispute GOP assertions that “progressive” groups got softer treatment from the IRS and said he continues to investigate “what were the circumstances that caused these inappropriate labels to occur.”
“We did not find evidence that the criteria you identified, labeled ‘Progressives,’ were used by the IRS to select potential political cases during the 2010 to 2012 timeframe we audited,” George wrote to Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. “The ‘Progressives’ criteria appeared on a section of the ‘Be On the Look Out’ (BOLO) spreadsheet labeled ‘Historical,’ and, unlike other BOLO entries, did not include instructions on how to refer cases that met the criteria.”
George added that while “we have multiple sources of information corroborating the use of Tea Party and other related criteria we described in our report, including employee interviews, emails, and other documents, we found no indication in any of these other materials that ‘Progressives’ was a term used to refer cases for scrutiny for political campaign intervention.”
Of 298 IRS cases reviewed by George involving potentially political decisions, only 14 included the term progress or progressive, the letter said, and only a handful actually received a deeper IRS review. That compares to 100 percent of the groups with “tea party” in the title.
George’s letter was explosive because it appeared to shoot down Democratic claims that George had deliberately excluded information from an earlier audit of the IRS that would have showed that liberals, too, had been subjected to inappropriate treatment. George also noted in the letter that he provided information about the additional lists to House and Senate committees on June 7.
Looking past that, Levin on Thursday called on the committee to haul George in for more testimony under oath, and he repeated that the exclusion was a “fundamental flaw in the foundation of the investigation and the public’s perception of this issue.”
Ostensibly, Thursday’s hearing was held to question Werfel, barely on the job for more than a month, about his 30-day report to update his ongoing investigation. The report outlined changes made to rectify inadequate controls and to remove senior leaders from their posts.
But Werfel’s report provided scant information about how the agency came to target conservative groups, and how some anti-abortion groups, as reported by McClatchy in May, appeared to have approval of their applications for tax-exempt status linked to a pledge to refrain from picketing Planned Parenthood offices.
“Mr. Werfel, this report is a sham. I’d call it a whitewash, but it’s too thin and unsubstantial to even meet that description,” Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, told Werfel Thursday, criticizing him for saying there is no evidence of intentional wrongdoing by IRS employees. “I’m told you are a decent person, so are you serious about getting to the truth?”
The new IRS leader, a career technocrat who has served in Republican and Democratic administrations, tried to clarify that views in his report reflected only an initial response. But the committee’s chairman, Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., called it “not necessarily an initial conclusion but an incomplete one.” At one point, Werfel tried to elaborate but the usually polite Camp interrupted to scold, “Mr. Werfel, I control the time.”
Republicans unsuccessfully pressed Werfel for more information on Lois Lerner, the head of the Exempt Organizations division when the scandal broke in May. She appeared before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on May 22, read a statement asserting her innocence and then invoked her constitutional right to remain silent.
The chairman of that committee, California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, has scheduled a hearing for Friday to determine whether Lerner, by first asserting she had done no wrong, had effectively waived her constitutional protections and must testify.
Officials: Edward Snowden took NSA secrets on thumb drive
Justice Department Fights Release Of Secret Court Opinion On Law That Underpins PRISM Program
Read the comments:
Pentagon Papers lawyer on Obama, secrecy and press freedoms: ‘worse than Nixon’
Career First Amendment and transparency advocate James Goodale sounds the alarm about the current president
Glenn Greenwald guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 19 March 2013 17.40 EDT
But under the administration’s “Don’t tell Dad” policy, no one bothered to tell Obama or give him even a general briefing before he read about the report in the hated media.
The first White House explanation had it that White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler was given a general heads-up in late April. Then we learned her office knew about it a week earlier. Ruemmler also knew the IG’s findings.
She didn’t tell Obama but did tell White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Then an unknown — so far — number of senior White House staff were also clued in. And none of them told Obama — even, say, a few hours before the media reports.
Now we find that political appointees at the Treasury Department knew a year ago about the IG’s investigation and that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew’s chief of staff, Mark Patterson, discussed the timing of the report with White House Deputy Chief of Staff Mark Childress.
Congress Put Pressure on the IRS to Investigate Conservative Tax-Exempt Groups
Over and over, members of Congress asked the IRS to scrutinize 501(c)4 groups for their political activity—and also to scrutinize the agency’s scrutiny of those groups.
Posted on Thursday, May 30, 2013
IRS may have targeted conservatives more broadly
By David Lightman and Kevin G. Hall | McClatchy Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON A group of anti-abortion activists in Iowa had to promise the Internal Revenue Service it wouldn’t picket in front of Planned Parenthood.
Catherine Engelbrecht’s family and business in Texas were audited by the government after her voting-rights group sought tax-exempt status from the IRS.
Retired military veteran Mark Drabik of Nebraska became active in and donated to conservative causes, then found the IRS challenging his church donations.
While the developing scandal over the targeting of conservatives by the tax agency has largely focused to date on its scrutiny of groups with words such as “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, these examples suggest the government was looking at a broader array of conservative groups and perhaps individuals. Their collective experiences at a minimum could spread skepticism about the fairness of a powerful agency that should be above reproach and at worst could point to a secret political vendetta within the government against conservatives.
The emerging stories from real people raise questions about whether the IRS scrutiny extended beyond applicants for tax-exempt status and whether individuals who donated to these tax-exempt organizations or to conservative causes also were targeted.
Former IRS leaders have apologized for inappropriate scrutiny of conservative organizations. They haven’t to date, however, divulged who developed the criteria, how they were developed or when and how they extended to groups associated with conservative causes that didn’t have “tea party,” “patriot” or similar catchwords in their names.
Widening congressional investigations and federal lawsuits are likely to reveal more about the scope and intent of the inappropriate treatment of conservative groups by the IRS. The House Ways and Means Committee plans a hearing Tuesday to allow victims to testify for the first time. In earlier hearings, one IRS official pleaded the Fifth to avoid answering questions.
The Treasury Department inspector general who’s probing IRS activities, J. Russell George, recently acknowledged that he’s looking into other w
atch lists created by IRS employees. He said he was barred by law from disclosing anything more.
Sue Martinek of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, already knows what happened to her and others involved in the Coalition for Life of Iowa.
She first sought tax-exempt status for the group in 2008, maintaining contact by mail and phone with a woman identified only as Ms. Richards in the Cincinnati office of the IRS that’s now at the center of the scandal.
Martinek said the woman never offered a first name. A woman’s voice on a recording at her phone number doesn’t give a name, and messages left by McClatchy brought no response.
Richards told Martinek by phone in early 2009 that the group’s application had been approved, Martinek said. But Richards added a condition, according to Martinek. Board members first needed to sign a letter promising not to picket in front of Planned Parenthood offices, Martinek said.
“We were pretty surprised. But we had never gone through the process before,” Martinek said. “I was sort of, ‘If we have to, we have to, but this doesn’t seem a good thing to do.’ ”
A board member suggested contacting the Thomas More Society, a public-interest group that provides free legal help on conservative hot-button issues. It saw the IRS request to the Iowa group as forcing the group to abandon its First Amendment rights.
“We’re certainly not about protesting and picketing. That happens to be a small part of what we do. When we do go to Planned Parenthood, we’re going there to pray,” said Martinek, who said her group focused on educational forums and wasn’t a conduit for funneling money to political campaigns.
Ironically, Planned Parenthood does enjoy the type of tax-exempt status that Martinek’s group originally sought.
The story is similar for Christian Voices for Life of Fort Bend County, an anti-abortion group in suburban Houston.
The IRS asked it, too, about protest plans. The IRS also asked for copies of grants and contracts. “I was quite surprised to see that our application wasn’t just immediately accepted,” said Marie McCoy, the group’s executive director.
In March 2011, an IRS employee in El Monte, Calif., asked in a grammatically challenged letter whether the group protested in front of medical facilities.
“In your educational program, do you education on both sides of the issues in your program?” IRS Exempt Organization Specialist Tyrone Thomas asked in the letter, a copy of which was provided by the Thomas More Society.
Thomas also asked, “do you try to block people to enter a building, e. medical clinic, or any other facility?”
The IRS hasn’t said who originally authored or authorized any of the questions that it now says were part of inappropriate criteria applied to conservative groups.
“My first thought was that this particular agent was incompetent and didn’t know the law,” said McCoy, who described Thomas as polite but resolute. McClatchy tried to reach Thomas via the number on his correspondence, but no one answered the calls.
Engelbrecht, 43, can sympathize.
Concerned about government regulation of her family’s manufacturing business, she became dissatisfied with the political process and particularly the 2008 presidential choices.
She discovered like-minded viewpoints and attended rallies, organizing a group called the King Street Patriots. It holds weekly meetings that include speakers on a range of topics, and it held a countywide candidates’ forum last year.
After witnessing what she called voter irregularities in the Houston area, Engelbrecht formed a group called True the Vote. With a paid staff of five, it aims to educate 1 million poll workers nationwide on spotting election fraud. Liberal groups view it as a conservative effort aimed at restricting minority participation, a claim that True the Vote officials deny.
In summer 2010, the groups sought IRS tax-exempt status. Six months later, Engelbrecht and her husband faced their first-ever audit.
IRS agents “came to a small family farm, counted the cattle, looked at the fence line,” she said.
The IRS continued to pepper True the Vote with questions, Engelbrecht said. In February 2012, the IRS sent the organization a 10-page letter with 39 questions including a request for “all of your activity on Facebook and Twitter.” Last week, still without a decision, True the Vote filed suit in federal district court asking for tax-exempt status.
The experience of retired Army Lt. Col. Mark Drabik suggests a possible new dimension to the IRS story.
After retiring in 2009 from a distinguished military career, he took a civilian job at the Strategic Command in Omaha, Neb. For the first time in his adult life, he could express political beliefs openly. He frequently wrote to elected officials and participated in conservative marches in Washington, attending national tea party events and donating to conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck’s 912 movement.
Then came an audit letter from the IRS.
The agency questioned him about church donations, deductions for family respite care – which provides caregivers with a brief rest – and his daughter’s equine therapy, he said. A doctor prescribed the last two as necessary because of the stress of caring for Drabik’s 19-year-old autistic son. The deductions had been claimed for almost a decade without IRS complaint.
Amid the IRS scandal, Drabik now wonders whether his support of conservative causes is to blame.
“I did contribute to them. I did participate in the marches. That’s what worries me,” said Drabik, 49, who’s fighting the IRS over a sum in the ballpark of $20,000. After losing an IRS appeal, he was entitled to a second appeal, which to his great surprise went to the same person who handled his first.
The agency is prohibited from commenting on the cases of individuals.
For Drabik, a seed of doubt has been planted.
“I have to feel that that was a potential trigger” for the audit, he said, noting that the sum of his church donations and therapy deductions was pretty constant over almost a decade. “I am just a common citizen, who honorably served his nation for 23 years, who has not had this experience before and now honestly questions the actions and motivation of the IRS and how far they have gone in their actions.”
Eric Holder’s abdication
By Dana Milbank, Published: May 15
As the nation’s top law enforcement official, Eric Holder is privy to all kinds of sensitive information. But he seems to be proud of how little he knows.
Why didn’t his Justice Department inform the Associated Press, as the law requires, before pawing through reporters’ phone records?
“I do not know,” the attorney general told the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday afternoon, “why that was or was not done. I simply don’t have a factual basis to answer that question.”
Why didn’t the DOJ seek the AP’s cooperation, as the law also requires, before issuing subpoenas?
“I don’t know what happened there,” Holder replied. “I was recused from the case.”
Why, asked the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), was the whole matter handled in a manner that appears “contrary to the law and standard procedure”?
“I don’t have a factual basis to answer the questions that you have asked, because I was recused,” the attorney general said.
On and on Holder went: “I don’t know. I don’t know. . . . I would not want to reveal what I know. . . . I don’t know why that didn’t happen. . . . I know nothing, so I’m not in a position really to answer.”
Holder seemed to regard this ignorance as a shield protecting him and the Justice Department from all criticism of the Obama administration’s assault on press freedoms. But his claim that his “recusal” from the case exempted him from all discussion of the matter didn’t fly with Republicans or Democrats on the committee, who justifiably saw his recusal as more of an abdication.
“There doesn’t seem to be any acceptance of responsibility in the Justice Department for things that have gone wrong,” said Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), after Holder placed the AP matter in the lap of his deputy. “We don’t know where the buck stops.”
The best Holder could do was offer an “after-action analysis” of the matter and pledge the administration’s renewed support for a media shield law (the same proposed law the Obama administration undermined three years ago). But that does nothing to reverse the damage the administration has already done with its wholesale snooping into reporters’ phone records and its unprecedented number of leak prosecutions.
“I realize there are exceptions and that you have recused yourself, but it seems to me clear that the actions of the department have, in fact, impaired the First Amendment,” the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups — were one and the same. In both cases, Americans are being punished and intimidated for exercising their right of free expression — by the taxing authorities, in the conservatives’ case, and by federal prosecutors, in the reporters’ case.
But Holder cared so little about those two issues that he said not a peep about either the IRS or the AP in his opening statement. When he was questioned about the AP case, his first response was to suggest the criticism of him was political. “I mean, there’s been a lot of criticism,” Holder said. “In fact, the head of the RNC called for my resignation, in spite of the fact that I was not the person involved in that decision.”
Republicans on the House committee had voted previously to hold Holder in contempt of Congress, and Holder made clear the feeling was mutual; he informed Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) that his line of questioning was “too consistent with the way in which you conduct yourself as a member of Congress. It’s unacceptable, and it’s shameful.” Some of the Republicans provided Holder justification for his disdain. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), defying the chairman’s gavel, shouted a stream of exotic accusations at Holder, closing with the complaint that Holder was casting “aspersions on my asparagus.”
But there would be more sympathy, and support, for Holder if he took seriously the lawmakers’ legitimate questions about his department’s abuse of power in the AP case. He may have recused himself from the leak probe that led to the searches of reporters’ phone records (a decision he took so lightly that he didn’t put it in writing), but he isn’t recused from defending the First Amendment.
Didn’t the deputy attorney general who approved the subpoenas have the same potential conflict of interest that Holder claimed?
“I don’t know.”
When did Holder recuse himself?
“I’m not sure.”
How much time was spent exploring alternatives to the subpoenas?
“I don’t know, because, as I said, I recused myself.”
But when the Justice Department undermines the Constitution, recusal is no excuse.
MAY 10, 2013
POSTED BY ALEX KOPPELMAN
It’s a cliché, of course, but it really is true: in Washington, every scandal has a crime and a coverup. The ongoing debate about the attack on the United States facility in Benghazi where four Americans were killed, and the Obama Administration’s response to it, is no exception. For a long time, it seemed like the idea of a coverup was just a Republican obsession. But now there is something to it.
The Benghazi e-mails’ backside-covering
The hundred pages of Benghazi e-mails released this week tell us almost nothing about how four Americans came to die so tragically in that Libyan city. But they are a case study in why nothing works in Washington.
As election leaves Washington’s status quo intact, more gridlock is sure to come
The budget feud on Capitol Hill is looking like those Vietnam War peace talks when negotiators bickered over the shape of the table.
…Apparently, even talking about talking was too much for the budget negotiators. Moderator Todd, who began with high spirits, declared irreconcilable differences. “One budget’s from Mars, one budget’s from Venus,” he judged. “Maybe we’re in the same universe, but not the same planet.”
Suicide rate in middle-aged Americans soars a shocking 28 percent over ten year period
Color lines: The rate was even higher, 40 percent, when only white middle aged people were considered
U.S. suicides rose sharply during economic crisis
Monday November 5, 2012 6:10 AM
Suicide rates in the United States have risen sharply since the economic crisis took hold in 2007, and political leaders should do more to protect Americans’ mental health during tough times, researchers say in a report published today.
In a letter to The Lancet medical journal, scientists from Britain, Hong Kong and the United States said an analysis of data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that while suicide rates rose slowly between 1999 and 2007, the rate of increase more than quadrupled from 2008 to 2010.
According to the analysis by research leader Aaron Reeves of Britain’s University of Cambridge, about 1,500 more Americans a year have committed suicide since 2007 compared with numbers that would have been expected if the 1997 to 2007 trends had continued.
— From wire reports
More poor live in suburbs than in urban areas, research shows
But cities still have a bigger percentage, according to the Brookings Institution. The poverty shift has left many social service agencies unprepared.
Number of families struggling continues to grow in Ohio
By Catherine Candisky
The Columbus Dispatch Wednesday January 30, 2013 4:59 PM
The number of Ohio families struggling to make ends meet despite being employed continues to grow as more parents are working for lower wages and fewer hours, says the State of Poverty 2012 unveiled today.
More than 42 percent of Ohioans with incomes below the federal poverty level had either full-time or part-time jobs in 2011, according to the report..
The assessment by the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies is packed with statistics showing how poverty continues to have a tight grip on Ohio. Still, advocates for the poor say they expect the hard-times faced by many to begin to improve.
“I’m optimistic,” said Philip E. Cole, executive director of the association. “There’s an uptick in manufacturing in the state and the great potential of (jobs from) Utica shale. We need to make sure we coordinate with these companies who will need skilled workers so we get people trained for the jobs.”
In addition to jobs, ensuring educational opportunities for all Ohioans is key.
“Education is so important to getting out of poverty. We have to make sure college tuition is affordable,” Cole said.
“I think when we look at these numbers two years from now, we will see a turnaround.”
The annual report on poverty was released just days before Gov. John Kasich unveils his two-year state budget plan.
“I think we’re on the same page,” said Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols.
“We were in a deep, deep hole and now we are up 120,000 jobs, but have a long way to go. This budget, like the last budget, will be all about getting people back to work…when people have jobs, housing becomes more affordable and transportation more manageable. You’ve got to get people back to work.”
Nichols declined to provide details, but Kasich’s budget also will include a new school-funding plan and possibly an expansion of Medicaid, the state’s health-insurance program for the poor and disabled, which would provide coverage to more working poor.
Still, the report showed that nearly 16.4 percent of Ohioans have incomes below the federal poverty level – about $23,000 a year for a family of four. Among the sobering statistics:
-The number of Ohioans living in poverty would fill Ohio State University football stadium more than 17 times.
-More than a third of Ohioans have household incomes below the amount they need to meet basic needs like rent and food.
-1 in 4 Ohio households’ savings, retirement accounts and other assets add up to fewer than three months’ living expenses.
-1 in 12 Ohioans in poverty has a bachelor’s degree or higher.
“Anytime I put some money aside, something happens,” said Angie Strong, a 32-year-old home-health aid earning about $40,000 a year. “There’s nothing in my savings account.”
She and her husband, who works in a factory building palettes, can no longer count on working 40 hours a week, making it difficult to care for their family of six children and hard to come up with money for unexpected expenses like car repairs.
“Unless you come from money and have a college degree you are going to run into money problems.”
Births to unmarried moms still climbing
By Rita Price
The Columbus Dispatch Thursday May 2, 2013 6:01 AM
About 6 in 10 recent moms in their early 20s are unmarried, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released yesterday that also looks at the education, income and race of women who give birth outside marriage.
Rose Kreider, a family demographer with the census bureau and one of the report’s authors, said the share of U.S. births that are to unmarried girls and women — rising steadily since the 1940s — is growing at a faster pace.
Differences in social characteristics are sharpening as well: Though 62 percent of women age 20 to 24 were unmarried when they gave birth in 2011, just 17 percent of those 35 to 39 were single, the American Community Survey report said.
More than half of women with less than a high-school diploma who had given birth were unmarried, but only 9 percent of recent mothers with a bachelor’s degree or higher were unmarried.
Researchers say such reports are more evidence of a national class divide when it comes to the timing of marriage and childbirth.
“It’s almost like two separate stories of family formation,” said Anastasia Snyder, an Ohio State University professor who studies family structure.
The report found that, overall, 36 percent of U.S. births to mothers ages 15 to 50 were outside of marriage in 2011. In Ohio, slightly more than 39 percent of all births were to unmarried women.
About 32 percent of births in the Columbus metropolitan area were to unmarried women. Rates varied widely among the races in the Columbus metro area, as they do nationwide.
Among white women in the Columbus metro area who had given birth in 2011, 24 percent were unmarried. The percentage of unmarried recent moms was 60 percent for blacks and 64 percent for Latino women.
Asian women were the least likely to be unmarried — just 7 percent of their births were outside marriage.
“The increased share of unmarried recent mothers is one measure of the nation’s changing family structure,” Kreider said in a news release.
The report said unmarried births are closely linked to income. Sixty-nine percent of women who were at the lowest household income level — less than $10,000 a year — and gave birth in 2011 were unmarried.
Among states, the overall percentage of women who gave birth in 2011 while unmarried was highest in Louisiana, at 49 percent, and lowest in Utah, at 15 percent.
For metro areas nationwide, Lima, Ohio, had the third-highest percentage. The report said an estimated 67 percent of all births in that northwestern Ohio area were to unmarried women.
To read the report, go to
Immigration Services Union: ‘Officers are Pressured to Rubber Stamp Applications’ of Illegal Aliens
“The attitude of USCIS management is not that the Agency serves the American public or the laws of the United States, or public safety and national security, but instead that the agency serves illegal aliens and the attorneys which represent them.”
6/9/2012 1:31 AM EDT
Diversity is necessarily good in your diet and portfolio, not so in your school or the ‘hood.
Recommended by 3 readers
6/9/2012 6:12 AM EDT
I agree. This is a ridiculous, insulting article ignorant of the truth. At almost 60, I’m a Baby boomer who grew up watching the push for civil rights of minorities, the Vietnam War protests, the fight for women’s rights, the sexual revolution, increased charities and care for the poor of other countries, etc. And it was our generation who was leading all those changes.
Sadly, I’ve also watched the disintegration of traditional families and morals, the rise of a drug addicted society, whether street, or prescription drugs; the rise of illigitimate babies, cradle to grave welfare, led by single, unmarried parents, who don’t want to bother getting off their lazy behinds to work, or to be decent parents.
I’ve witnessed the influx of demanding illegal immigrants, the take over of our once great nation, and our children, by socialism; anti-religion, ultra liberal schools who have destroyed any parental authority; and a generally pervasive “me first”, I gotta have everything now, egotistical, selfish, disrespectful, entitlement attittude, by our descendents, that will ultimately destroy our country and society.
Sorry to say, I’m very saddened and ashamed of what our country has become. And I greatly fear for my grandchildren.
5/7/2013 5:25 PM EDT
I turned 65 in August 2012. I know happy birthday and all that. My point is that I have been around and witnessed each American administration since the Eisenhower/Kennedy/Johnson/Nixon/Reagan eras.
Looking back I can with all honesty and candor truly ask the question; Who, given the history of the period (45years), would ever in their right minds vote a GOP republican administration into the White House or any controlling positions anywhere in the nation?
The record is clear, at least in my lifetime, that since the election of Reagan, the U.S. nation began to experience a serious decline. It was somewhat reversed during the Clinton/ Gore period, only to begin unravelling again with the election of Bush 2. This record of destructive objectivist theorizing and the implementation of trickle down lunacy, above all else of their follies, must never be allowed to darken the doors of the nation ever again!
Even setting aside the inane evangelical furies, and anti everything that is socially relevant and decent, as well as the racist dimensions of GOP politics in this era. It is nonetheless, their constant theme and insistence upon the survival of this maniacal economic model, of accumulation of wealth at all costs, that will bring further destruction down upon the heads of the next several generations of Americans.
The inane wedge issues mentioned have only served to confuse the voting populace and dissuade them from relying upon the historical truths, about the ignominy brought down upon America, by this greed driven cadre at the heart of the GOP political machine!
Theirs is the party of greed and the sustaining of a dimension of national bankruptcy for the middle class. All to serve their own elitist ideals of using the power of capital to enslave the populace and create a society that is dependent for their very lives upon meeting these elitists demands.
Truly ” The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible’ ……..Oscar Wilde
Congress is a human institution with a distinct culture, and the modern version of that culture is hostile to creative problem-solving. If we have a mediocre Congress — even when it manages to accomplish something — it is because of the people in it and the culture they have created.
…This dysfunctional culture won’t be altered in an election cycle or two. Because of it, our Congress is broken.
Yet House Republicans have shelved a serious legislative agenda this year in favor of 24/7 investigations….A few weeks ago, Heritage Action for America, an influential conservative group, suggested that House Republicans focus on investigations and avoid legislation that could divide them.
When governing is seen as a game, we all lose
By Dana Milbank, Published: May 3
President Obama said once again this week that Syria’s “use of chemical weapons would be a game-changer.” The president had played this game many times before. “I have made clear that the use of chemical weapons is a game-changer,” he said in March, in one of his administration’s many repetitions of the term.
But what game does Obama propose to change? “By ‘game-changer,’ ” ABC News’s Jonathan Karl asked him Tuesday, “do you mean U.S. military action?”
The coach was not about to share his playbook. “By game-changer, I mean that we would have to rethink the range of options,” he volleyed.
Is it too late in the game to challenge Obama’s use of this sports metaphor to respond to Syria? The very real possibility that the Bashar al-Assad regime is about to use nerve agents to kill tens of thousands of people is not a “game.”
Game-changer — which has made its way from sports to business to politics and now to diplomacy — has replaced the “red line,” a term more easily understood by rogue regimes thinking of defying the United States. Game-change is a lazy reference, but that’s only part of the problem.
The term is one data point in the larger trend toward viewing government as a sporting contest, a series of games won and lost. In the perpetual battle to put a “W” in the column of the R’s (in the red jerseys) or the D’s (in blue), the sports talk helps the political class to forget the real human consequences to their games.
Obama and others in his administration have used the term in reference to food marketing standards (“truly a game-changer,” said the first lady), the JOBS Act (“a potential game-changer,” said the president), AmeriCorps, childhood-obesity prevention, Title IX, digital tutors, natural gas from shale, the Internet, the Independent Medicare Advisory Council, conversations about immigration, rail improvements, cyberspace research and foreign-aid standards.
So, when the president warns Syria that chemical weapons are a game-changer, is Assad to assume that he is using the term in the childhood-obesity sense or the Medicare sense?
Game-changer arrived in politics during the Bush administration, becoming a cliche in 2008 with John McCain’s “game-changing” nomination of Sarah Palin as his running mate and the subsequent book and movie “Game Change.” (A previous political book by one of the “Game Change” co-authors was titled “The Way to Win.”)
Now it is ubiquitous, applied by politicians and journalists to the NBA’s Jason Collins, Michael Jackson’s medical records, Sen. Marco Rubio, the U.S. military presence in Asia, the Boston Marathon bombing, health care tax credits, over-the-counter birth control, AIDS research and just about everything else. Search the Nexis database for news-outlet uses of “game-changer” over the past month, and you are told “This search has been interrupted because it will return more than 3,000 results.”
Leading the pack in the race to treat governing as sport is Politico, publisher of the daily Playbook. In recent weeks, that publication and the people it has quoted have described the following as game-changers: Karl Rove’s data project, public financing of elections, the fight over the Keystone pipeline, consumer regulations, the Sandy Hook shooting, entitlement-program cuts, renewable energy, personal data disclosure, a conservative documentary, the White House chief of staff, Mitt Romney’s 47 percent video, research tax credits, Fox News, universal preschool and a decision by Politico’s publisher to sell off his television assets.
In the current fight over budget cuts, Washington seems to be suffering a late onset of March Madness. Journalists provide color commentary while Democrats and Republicans compete on the field. Some headlines from recent weeks:
Missing from all of this color commentary? The real “losers” in the budget-cut fights: thousands of cancer patients turned away from clinics that could no longer pay for their treatments; the seniors and the disabled going hungry because their Meals on Wheels have been discontinued; the parents of preschoolers booted out of the Head Start program.
For them, and for the people of Syria awaiting a sarin gas attack from the sky, what happens in Washington isn’t an athletic contest. Let’s level the playing field for them, and put a red line around the whole notion that governing is a game.
Four months into a fresh four years, President Obama is already assuming the familiar crouch of a scandal-struck second-termer.
Short story: Obama cannot get any legislation passed that the Republican House does not vote for. The Republican House cannot enact any legislation the Democratic-controlled Senate does not vote for and Obama does not sign into law.
Updated May 2, 2013, 6:16 p.m. ET
Obama trade dilemma: Scant support from Democrats
…Republicans historically have supported free-trade agreements far more than have Democrats, and a politically weakened Obama may not have enough second-term clout to successfully twist the arms of enough Democratic lawmakers.
Some Republicans who usually vote for easing trade barriers may vote “no” just because the agreements will bear Obama’s signature.
Both deals generally have the support of U.S. businesses. But labor unions and human rights and environmental groups _ core Democratic constituencies _ have so far viewed them cynically.
These organizations, and Democrats in general, say that free-trade deals can cost American jobs and lead to environmental and workplace abuses that would not be tolerated in the U.S.
Is Obama a Lame Duck Already?
Not quite, but he sure is quacking like one.
By PEGGY NOONAN
I think we’re all agreed the president is fading—failing to lead, to break through, to show he’s not at the mercy of events but, to some degree at least, in command of them. He couldn’t get a win on gun control with 90% public support. When he speaks on immigration reform you get the sense he’s setting it back. He’s floundering on Syria. The looming crisis on implementation of ObamaCare has begun to fill the news. Even his allies are using the term “train wreck.” ObamaCare is not only the most slovenly written major law in modern American history, it is full of sneaked-in surprises people are just discovering. The Democrats of Washington took advantage of the country’s now-habitual distractedness: The country, now seeing what’s coming in terms of taxes and fees, will not be amused. Mr. Obama’s brilliant sequester strategy—scare the American public into supporting me—flopped. Congress is about to hold hearings on Boston and how the brothers Tsarnaev slipped through our huge law-enforcement and immigration systems. Benghazi and what appear to be its coverups drags on and will not go away; press secretary Jay Carney was reduced to saying it happened “a long time ago.” It happened in September. The economy is stuck in low-growth, employment in no-growth. The president has about a month to gather himself together on the budget, tax reform and an immigration deal before Congress goes into recess. What are the odds?
Republicans don’t oppose him any less after his re-election, and Democrats don’t seem to support him any more. This week he was reduced to giving a news conference in which he said he’s got juice, reports of his death are greatly exaggerated. It was bad. And he must be frustrated because he thinks he’s trying. He gives speeches, he gives interviews, he says words, but he doesn’t really rally people, doesn’t create a wave that breaks over the top of the Capitol Dome and drowns the opposition, or even dampens it for a moment.
Mr. Obama’s problem isn’t really the Republicans. It’s that he’s supposed to be popular. He’s supposed to have some sway, some pull and force. He was just re-elected. He’s supposed to have troops. “My bill is launched, unleash the hounds of war.” But nobody seems to be marching behind him. Why can’t he rally people and get them to press their congressmen and senators? I’m not talking about polls, where he hovers in the middle of the graph, but the ability to wield power.
The president seems incapable of changing anything, even in a crisis. He’s been scored as passive and petulant, but it’s the kind of passivity people fall into when nothing works. “People do what they know how to do,” a hardened old pol once said, meaning politicians use whatever talent they have, and when it no longer works they continue using it.
There’s no happy warrior in there, no joy of the battle, just acceptance of what he wearily sees as the landscape. He’d seem hapless if he weren’t so verbally able.
So, the president is stuck. But it’s too early to write him off as a lame duck because history has a way of intervening. A domestic or international crisis that is well-handled, or a Supreme Court appointment, can make a president relevant. There are 44 months left to Mr. Obama’s presidency. He’s not a lame duck, he’s just lame.
Which has me thinking of two things that have weakened the Obama presidency and haven’t been noted. One was recent and merely unhelpful. The other goes back, and encouraged a mindset that became an excuse, perhaps a fatal one
The recent one: In the days after the 2012 election the Democrats bragged about their technological genius and how it turned the election. They told the world about what they’d done—the data mining, the social networking, that allowed them to zero in on Mrs. Humperdink in Ward 5 and get her to the polls. It was quite impressive and changed national politics forever. But I suspect their bragging hurt their president. In 2008 Mr. Obama won by 9.5 million votes. Four years later, with all the whizbang and money, he won by less than five million. When people talk about 2012 they don’t say the president won because the American people endorsed his wonderful leadership, they say he won because his team outcomputerized the laggard Republicans.\
This has left him and his people looking more like cold technocrats who know how to campaign than leaders who know how to govern. And it has diminished claims of a popular mandate. The president’s position would be stronger now if more people believed he had one.
What damaged the Obama presidency more, looking back, was, ironically, the trash-talking some Republican leaders indulged in after the 2008 campaign. It entered their heads at the Obama White House and gave them a warped sense of the battlefield.
In a conference call with conservative activists in July, 2009, then-Sen. Jim DeMint said of the president’s health-care bill, “If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.” Not long after, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was quoted as saying that the GOP’s primary goal was to make Mr. Obama a one-term president.
The press hyped this as if it were something new, a unique and epic level of partisan animus. Members of the administration also thought it was something new. It made them assume no deals with Republicans were possible, and it gave them a handy excuse they still use: “It’s not us, they vowed from the beginning they wouldn’t work with us!”
But none of it was new. The other side always vows to crush you. Anyone who’d been around for a while knew the Republicans were trying to sound tough, using hyperbole to buck up the troops. It’s how they talk when they’re on the ropes. But the president and his staffers hadn’t been around for a while. They were young. They didn’t understand what they were hearing was par for the course.
Bill Clinton’s foes made fierce vows about him, the enemies of Both Bushes did the same. The opposing party always gets on the phone or gathers in what used to be Georgetown dens to denigrate the new guy and vow to fight him to the end. That’s how blowhards blow. When Reagan came in they vowed to take him down, and it was personal. Speaker Tip O’Neill called him “ignorant” and a “disgrace” and said it was “sinful” that he was president. He called Reagan “a man who has no care and no concern for the working class of America” and said: “He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood.” Chris Matthews, an O’Neill staffer, says he once greeted Reagan in the Capitol with the words: “Mr. President, welcome to the room where we plot against you.”
They did. Reagan knew it.
Yet he had no problem dealing successfully with O’Neill. He didn’t moan, “Oh they hate me, it’s no use!”
Note to the next White House: There’s always gambling at Rick’s place. It’s never a shock and not an excuse. It’s business as usual. And if you’re a leader you can lead right past it.
Obama’s false hopes for 2014 — and his legacy
Obama’s campaign finance reform plans have faded
By Juliet Eilperin, Published: April 29
President Obama’s once-broad ambitions to clamp down on the influence of special interests have been largely abandoned since his reelection, dismaying longtime allies in the campaign-finance reform movement.
The predicament will be on full display Tuesday, when all five members of the Federal Election Commission will be serving past the formal expiration of their terms. The panel’s sixth seat remains vacant. The president has not made a nomination to the FEC, which enforces the nation’s campaign finance laws, in more than three years.
For those who favor tougher regulation of money in politics, this follows a string of disappointments, including Obama’s decision this year to transform his campaign committee into an advocacy group, Organizing for Action, that can collect unlimited donations.
Obama also promised during his reelection campaign to pursue a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United v. FEC, the 2010 Supreme Court opinion that allowed corporations to spend unlimited money on politics. Nothing has happened since.
In addition, the White House has not filled a position overseeing ethics and lobbying issues for more than two years — a job Obama created with great fanfare when he took office in 2009.
Reformers of both parties describe the president’s campaign finance record in unsparing terms.
“It’s disgraceful, absolutely disgraceful,” said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who ran against Obama in 2008 and has spent years trying to limit the amount of money that pours into federal political campaigns.
In a joint letter to Obama on Monday, seven reform groups expressed their “deep concern about the nation’s corrupt campaign finance system and about your failure, to date, as president to provide meaningful leadership or take effective action to solve this fundamental problem facing our democracy.”
White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement that Obama “has taken historic steps to reduce the corrosive influence of money in politics.”
“President Obama has done more in the past four years to close the revolving door of special-interest influence than any president before him,” Schultz said.
When it comes to affecting the flow of private money into federal elections, however, many advocates think Obama has done more to open the spigot than close it.
In 2008, he became the first presidential nominee since Richard M. Nixon to reject public financing in his primary and general-election campaigns. He also shattered fundraising records during his 2012 reelection bid and allowed corporations to help underwrite his second inauguration with more than $8 million in donations.
But for many former allies, Obama’s decision to convert his campaign operation into a political advocacy group with unlimited funding was the final straw.
“The president has engaged in uncharted waters that open the door to influence,” said Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer, a longtime activist who describes Organizing for Action as “a precedent that other federal officeholders are likely to follow.
Spokeswoman Katie Hogan said that contributions to OFA averaged $44 in the first quarter of 2013. She said the group “voluntarily discloses above and beyond what is required of issue advocacy groups despite most other [nonprofits] continually hiding where their funding comes from.”
For much of his political career, Obama has railed against the influence of big money in politics and has at times pushed for restrictions. On his first day in office in 2009, he signed an executive order restricting the ability of lobbyists to serve in the administration and barring appointees from lobbying for two years after they left office.
During his 2010 State of the Union address, Obama challenged the Citizens United decision, saying it “reversed a century of law that, I believe, will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections.” The comment prompted Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., sitting in the audience, to mutter, “Not true.”
The president also appointed a law school classmate, Norman Eisen, as special counsel for ethics and government reform, and posted visitor logs, daily public schedules, staff salaries and ethics waivers on the White House Web site.
But the ethics position has been vacant since 2010, when Obama named Eisen ambassador to the Czech Republic. White House aides say the job has been divvied up among other administration officials.
Several election law experts say it’s understandable that Obama has not pushed harder to overhaul the nation’s campaign finance system, given the state of political polarization and the Citizens United decision.
Columbia Law School professor Nathaniel Persily said it was hard to envision how Obama could persuade congressional Republicans to adopt any changes to the system because it “affects congressmen’s jobs, and it’s something they think they’re experts at.”
“Reforms are seen as a zero-sum game between the parties,” Persily said. “Any time or effort spent on campaign finance is time and effort not being spent on the budget, North Korea and/or immigration, all of which have a better chance of having a legislative solution.”
Voters are not clamoring for reform, either: The issue ranked 21st out of 22 issues in a Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll last year thought more outside spending was having a negative impact on the election.
At the FEC, most commissioners are appointed by the Senate to six-year terms but are allowed to continue serving past that time until a replacement is found. Obama has put forward only one FEC nominee, labor lawyer John J. Sullivan, whose name was withdrawn after he came under fire for positions he took while representing unions.
Regardless of the appointment issues, the FEC has been racked by partisan dysfunction for years, frequently deadlocking 3 to 3 on major rulings.
The vacancy issue came up at last Thursday’s regular FEC meeting, which featured nearly two dozen schoolchildren in the audience for Take Our Children to Work Day. The scene prompted FEC Chairman Ellen Weintraub — whose term officially expired in 2009 — to pose a question.
“Anyone want to be commissioner?” she asked. A few kids raised their hands. “Write the president and tell him you want to be a commissioner, because we need somebody.”
Capital Insight survey research analyst Scott Clement contributed to this report.
Obama’s trust-in-government deficit
By Dan Balz, Published: May 18
Whatever else happens as a result of the multiple controversies that have engulfed the administration, one thing is clear: President Obama has failed to meet one of the most important goals he set out when he was first elected, which was to demonstrate that activist government could also be smart government.
Six weeks after winning the presidency in 2008, Obama reflected on the meaning of the election. He was reluctant to claim, as some others were, that his victory marked the beginning of an era in which Americans would embrace bigger government. Suspicion of command-and-control, top-down government, he said, was “a lasting legacy” of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
So rather than portraying his first election as the end of a long period of conservative ascendancy, Obama called it “a correction to the correction.” As he put it then: “I think what you saw in this election was people saying: ‘Yes, we don’t want some big, bureaucratic, ever-expanding state. On the other hand, we don’t want a state that’s dysfunctional, that doesn’t believe in its mission, that can’t carry out some of the basic functions of government and provide service to people and be there when they’re hurting.’ ”
He then described what that meant for the government he was beginning to assemble. “What we don’t know yet is whether my administration and this next generation of leadership is going to be able to hew to a new, more pragmatic approach that is less interested in whether we have big government or small government [but is] more interested in whether we have a smart, effective government.”
What has happened since Obama laid down that challenge for his administration? More Americans favor smaller government over bigger government than when he was first elected, according to exit polls from last November. Public confidence in the federal government is as low as it has ever been, according to a Pew Research Center survey released this spring.
This weekend, four of the government’s most important agencies are beset by political controversy, management breakdowns or both: State (what happened in Benghazi, Libya), Treasury (targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service), Justice (leak-related investigation of the Association Press) and Defense (rising numbers of sexual assaults).
Add to that the questions about Health and Human Services and its implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and it is little wonder confidence has eroded.
Enough blame to share
There are many reasons for the public’s diminished confidence in the federal government, reflecting general disapproval with the way Washington has worked during the Obama years. The president’s advisers blame Republicans for much of the gridlock and partisan infighting, and they are quick to note that Obama’s approval ratings are far higher than those of the Republicans.
Republicans do bear a considerable share of the responsibility for overall attitudes about Washington and government. Their dismal ratings are a measure of public dissatisfaction with the party generally and with House Republican efforts to thwart the president.
But Obama bears a particular responsibility for failing to do what he said he had to do, which was to convince the public that he could make the part of government that he directly controls — the executive branch — smarter, more effective and more deserving of trust.
Early in his presidency, Obama convened a meeting with a group of historians. The topic he put on the table was: What does it take to be a transformational president? Obama’s ambition to be such a figure could be seen in his first-term agenda, which included a major economic stimulus package, a bailout of the auto industry, a major financial regulatory reform package and, biggest of all, the law that is transforming the nation’s health-care industry.
But public skepticism about government put an extra burden on Obama, as it has on all activist Democratic politicians over the past three decades. To do what he wanted to do through government required building greater confidence in government. Long before the current controversies materialized, he had not been able to do that.
Defenders of his stimulus package say it prevented another depression and helped initiate a turnaround in the economy. But as the recovery sputtered and calls grew for additional stimulus, Obama did not have the political support to launch another round of government intervention because of criticisms that he had already added enormously to the deficit.
Most controversial has been his health-care initiative. Throughout the long battle to enact and then begin to implement the law, Obama’s White House has been unable to win broad public support for it, even though individual pieces are popular. Obama is still fighting to overcome distrust of government as he proceeds with the most complex change in social welfare policy since the 1960s.
Now the president is dealing with unexpected problems, each of which threatens to make the trust-in-government deficit even bigger.
Damaged, but how much?
The most corrosive of the controversies is what happened at the IRS, which singled out tea party and other conservative groups for special scrutiny in their applications for tax-exempt status. That Obama knew nothing about it does little to quell concerns that one of the most-feared units in government was operating out of control.
The multiple failures at the IRS speak of an agency that, at worst, was politically motivated in going after opponents of the president’s agenda and that, at best, showed terrible judgment, lacked vigorous oversight by its managers and misled members of Congress about what was happening.
There is much about the Justice Department’s leak investigation that isn’t known and may not be known, given that it involves national security issues and classified information. But on its face, the collection of telephone records from the Associated Press appears to be so broad that it cannot easily be explained. Because the president, rightly, cannot interfere, he is left mostly helpless in the face of this controversy.
The argument over what happened in Benghazi last Sept. 11 is mired in politics and probably will continue to be. Obama sees the investigation led by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, as a politically inspired sideshow. Republicans see the administration’s response as a political coverup designed to protect the president and former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Putting aside the controversy over what happened to the administration’s original talking points as they evolved amid bureaucratic wrangling, what actually happened in Benghazi was a breakdown in security that reflected badly on the administration. Wherever the congressional investigation leads, the findings of the State Department’s internal investigation, which cited “systemic failures and leadership and management deficiencies,” stand as harsh criticism of what happened on Obama’s and Clinton’s watch.
The full political impact of what is unfolding now may not be clear until closer to the 2014 elections. Obama has been damaged, but how much? Republicans are on the offensive but risk overplaying their hand out of deep dislike for this president. But no matter how the electoral politics turn out, Obama’s goal of creating confidence in bigger government has taken a big hit.
Bureaucrats are essentially averse to initiative.
Anonymous Cincinnati IRS official: “Everything comes from the top.”
May 19, 2013 | 12:30 pm | Modified: May 19, 2013 at 12:50 pm
A story in the Washington Post yesterday about the Internal Revenue Service’s Cincinnati office, which does most of the agency’s nonprofit auditing, clearly contradicted earlier reports that the agency’s targeting of Tea Party groups was the result of rogue agents.
The Post story anonymously quoted a staffer in Cincinnati as saying they only operate on directives from headquarters:
As could be expected, the folks in the determinations unit on Main Street have had trouble concentrating this week. Number crunchers, whose work is nonpolitical, don’t necessarily enjoy the spotlight, especially when the media and the public assume they’re engaged in partisan villainy.
“We’re not political,’’ said one determinations staffer in khakis as he left work late Tuesday afternoon. “We people on the local level are doing what we are supposed to do.. . .That’s why there are so many people here who are flustered. Everything comes from the top. We don’t have any authority to make those decisions without someone signing off on them. There has to be a directive.”
The staff member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job, said that the determinations unit is competent and without bias, that it grouped together conservative applications “for consistency’s sake” — so one application did not sail through while a similar one was held up in review. This consistency is paramount in the review of all applications, according to Ronald Ran, an estate-tax lawyer who worked for 37 years in the IRS’s Cincinnati office.
This pretty plainly contradicts the story coming out of the IRS that rogue agents in Cincinnati were responsible:
News of (acting IRS commissioner Steve) Miller’s resignation followed revelations that the IRS has identified two “rogue” employees in the agency’s Cincinnati office as being principally responsible for the “overly aggressive” handling of requests by conservative groups for tax-exempt status, a congressional source told CNN.
Miller said the staffers have already been disciplined, according to another source familiar with Miller’s discussions with congressional investigators. The second source said Miller emphasized that the problem with IRS handling of tax-exempt status for tea party groups was not limited to these two employees.
In related news, I also noted how the Post’s story on the Cincinnati office also appears to contradict what Miller told Congress this week about how many auditors the IRS has covering nonprofit groups. Miller said the figure was between 140-200, but the Post story puts the figure at 900. The Post doesn’t source the figure, but presumably that also came from people the reporters talked with in Cincinnati.
IG says lax management allowed tea party targeting
Federal leadership on the decline, report says
By Joe Davidson, Published: April 3
Why can’t Uncle Sam do a better job of managing his agencies?
Look to leadership.
Those directing federal agencies have much room for improvement, particularly when it comes to communicating with the rank and file, according to the report “Federal Leadership on the Decline.”
“While federal employees have not given high marks to their leaders for years, satisfaction with leadership dropped in 2012 for the first time since the Best Places to Work rankings were published in 2003,” says the Partnership for Public Service study.
The leadership data are drawn from the Best Places rankings, which are based on the Office of Personnel Management’s 2012 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.
Overall, the leadership score was 52.8 on a 100-point scale, a drop of 2.1 points from 2011. That doesn’t sound like much, but “it is definitely significant and consequential,” said Max Stier, the partnership’s president and chief executive.
The news isn’t all bad.
Drawing on lessons learned at the Department of Transportation, which demonstrated the greatest increase in leadership scores, the report offers suggestions for agency leaders, such as:
●“Find ways to let employees know they are valued, including getting to know them by walking the halls and listening to their concerns.”
●“Hold themselves accountable, with improving workplace satisfaction scores incorporated into their performance plans.”
●“Recognize and reward jobs well done, which does not necessarily require monetary incentives.”
Though this is the first drop since 2003, when the score was 49.1, the current rating remains higher than all but the previous two years. Nonetheless, the drop during a period of otherwise steady increases is an unwelcome indication of how things are being run in government agencies.
“The decrease in satisfaction with senior leaders is especially worrisome,” the report said. The effective leadership of senior managers is “the largest driver of employee satisfaction and commitment.”
Here’s another disturbing tidbit: “In 2012, those federal employees planning to leave their jobs in the next year rated their agency 35 points lower in the effective leadership category than those planning to stay. This satisfaction gap between those planning to stay and those planning to leave was larger in leadership than any other workplace category.”
There’s a lot of talent in the U.S. government, but not so much that Sam can afford to have weak leadership play a role in running good workers away. Part of the problem is that leadership doesn’t communicate with staff well enough.
That certainly has been the case during the numerous budget emergencies and threatened government shutdowns federal employees have had to endure in recent years. Many times, federal employees have told us they didn’t know what was happening with an impending crisis, although the administration did do a better job during this current period of sequester budget-cutting.
“Compared to the private sector, federal leaders have more difficulty communicating effectively within their agencies,” the report says. “The government lags behind the private sector by 17 points on employee satisfaction with the information they receive from management regarding what’s going on in their organization.”
Business leaders are more adept at using social media and other means to encourage two-way communication with staffers, according to Dan Helfrich, a principal with the consulting firm Deloitte, which worked with the partnership on the report.
“Agencies that are getting ahead are actively seeking the input of their employees,” he said. Social media are one tool, he added, but old-fashioned ways that allow people to actually talk with each other — such as town hall meetings, employee councils and focus groups — also work.
Ahead of the others in the report’s large-agency rankings are NASA at the top and the intelligence agencies, which apparently communicate well with their people while being closed-mouthed to everyone else.
At the bottom of the list of large agencies are the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which seems to have an endless series of bad personnel news, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans Affairs ranked 18th out of 19 large agencies and scored the largest drop of any on that list. A VA spokeswoman said: “We realize we have more work to do. We are implementing key initiatives to ensure our leaders are of the highest caliber and continuously improve.”
DHS had a similar response, with a spokeswoman saying: “DHS is focused on continuing to improve employee engagement through enhanced communication and training, employee recognition and strengthening the skills of employees at every level. DHS is in the process of rolling out its Leader Development Framework, a systematic and strategic approach to developing leadership skills throughout the Department’s workforce.”
But House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) said his panel “has routinely found that (DHS) mismanagement and a lack of real leadership has bred dissatisfaction throughout the ranks.. . .In order to improve workforce morale, greater attention needs to be placed on resolving basic management functions that any business must deal with, such as IT consolidation, better workforce training, increased financial oversight of component budgets and basic training for procurement and acquisition specialists.”
During a scary time of budget drops, pay freezes and staffing cuts, it’s no wonder federal employees “feel less empowered to do their jobs and are less satisfied with the way their senior leaders are handling their agencies,” the report said.
“Given the current environment,” it adds, “sustained attention to improving leadership is not a luxury, but a necessity.”
In IRS and AP scandals, a frighteningly impotent government
By David Ignatius, Published: May 15
At a time when Congress can’t pass a budget and the president can’t win approval of any important legislation, the public is indignant about the threat of an overreaching, all-powerful federal government that uses the IRS and the Justice Department to harass its enemies.
President Obama hasn’t begun to fix the big problem of Washington dysfunction, but he moved Wednesday to respond to public anger and reposition his sinking administration. He fired the acting IRS commissioner, released a blizzard of e-mails on Benghazi and backed a shield law to protect journalists. It was fancy footwork in public-relations terms but not a reaction to what’s really ailing the federal government.
The crippling problem in Washington these days isn’t any organized conspiracy against conservatives, journalists or anyone else. Rather, it’s a federal establishment that’s increasingly paralyzed because of poor management and political second-guessing.
What should frighten the public is not the federal government’s monstrous power but its impotence.
Firing officials has its place in bringing accountability. What’s really needed, as these latest episodes show, is adult supervision of the bureaucracy. This requires senior officials who are properly sensitive to political issues. But such officials have become so afraid of seeming to meddle that mistakes happen.
Where was the senior manager who should have stopped IRS employees from writing outrageous questionnaires and search queries targeting “Patriots” and “We the People”? Perhaps that person was wading through congressional messages urging IRS investigations of tax-exempt political groups.
Where was the top Justice Department official who should have checked a runaway prosecutor from issuing an over-broad subpoena to the Associated Press? The attorney general recused himself because of fear of a perceived conflict of interest. Perhaps lower-level officials were chilled by congressional demands for leak investigations — and insinuations the administration was itself the guilty party.
The principal activity of the federal government these days is investigating itself. No panel is bipartisan and independent enough to escape the charge that it is covering something up. This accusation has been leveled against the review panel on Benghazi headed by Tom Pickering, former undersecretary of state, and Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Good grief, if these two are part of a conspiracy, I’m moving to Moscow.
If you unpack the various scandals swirling around Washington this week, you find a common theme of bad decisions by government officials, compounded by finger-pointing and second-guessing from Congress. Here are some moments in this chain of error.
● The IRS investigations of tea party-related conservative groups that began in March 2010 came a couple of months after the Supreme Court in Citizens United opened the way for corporate contributions to political causes. Garance Franke-Ruta, in her blog for the Atlantic, has identified congressional pressure on the IRS to investigate conservative tax-exempt groups. The unit that was supposed to make such determinations (located in Cincinnati in part to keep it away from political pressure) made an intolerable mistake in searching for right-wing groups using political terms.
But the dragnet was hardly a secret: News reports appeared in 2012 about tea party complaints of harassment, at a time when some congressional Democrats were demanding that the IRS crack down harder. A grand jury can help unravel whether the IRS’s outrageous decisions amounted to criminal behavior.
● The Justice Department launched two special investigations of leaks in June after intense Republican criticism of intelligence disclosures. The probes focused on the sources for stories discussing the Stuxnet cyberattacks on Iran and a spy inside al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate.
Even a journalist can understand why officials get upset when such secrets are blown. But the GOP’s larger motivation was its suspicion (apparently wrong) that senior Obama administration officials had organized the leaks. The administration’s own leak obsession (fueled by fears of congressional criticism) led Justice Department officials to subpoena two months of records for more than 20 phones at the AP.
Why did Justice approve such a broad seizure when its own guidelines urge narrow use of reporters’ records? Perhaps it was an especially egregious leak, jeopardizing a British agent in place and infuriating the United States’ closest ally. We don’t know, because the administration has never properly explained its campaign against leaks — fearing political backlash.
● Finally, Benghazi, the scandal that keeps on giving: This one began in the fog of war, so it’s best to be cautious about assigning responsibility. But the administration did try from the beginning to spin the story to preserve its campaign theme that Obama had won the war on terror, and the GOP has been spinning it ever since, to the point that the blame game is beginning to chill operations in North Africa.
Another generation would have said: Let’s get on with it. We say, let’s have another investigation.
If the politicians are unable to handle this issue, how can they be expected to tackle larger issues?
U.S. Postal Service posts $1.9 billion loss, despite efficiency efforts
Congress’s ‘kick-the-can’ strategy does nothing to solve the deficit problem
Is America’s national debt a very serious problem, somewhat serious, not too serious, or not a problem?
You voted for this
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Not a problem
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The $642 billion excuse
What Americans agree on: God, country and sex ed
Sunday – 5/12/2013, 12:02am ET
The Associated Press
What can 9 out of 10 Americans agree on? Survey says: not much.
That’s partly because the big polls such as Pew, Gallup and the General Social Survey are designed to explore differences, not to document what unites the United States. Still, a few questions discover 90 percent agreement, or close to it.
Americans nearly all:
–believe in God.
–are very patriotic.
–consider preventing terrorism a very important foreign policy goal.
–admire those who get rich by working hard.
–think society should ensure everyone has equal opportunity to succeed.
–think it’s important to get more than a high school education.
–favor teaching sex education in public schools.
–find birth control morally acceptable.
–believe cloning humans would be morally wrong.
–believe it’s wrong for married people to have affairs.
–are interested in keeping up with national affairs.
–believe it’s their duty to always vote.
End the Campaign to Spread Democracy
Woodrow Wilson in 1918.
By DOV RONEN
Published: April 30, 2013
AFTER its victory in the ideological confrontation between two camps during the Cold War, the United States has been waging an ideological campaign to spread democracy around the world, and many of its citizens hope that the campaign will eventually be victorious.
This is not likely to happen. An old proverb says: “You cannot whistle against the wind; the wind is stronger.” One can whistle the ideological campaign’s tune of democracy forcefully, but it will be silenced by the thunderous storm of the human struggle for self-determination.
The launching of the ideological campaign is most likely based on the conviction that the collapse of the Marxist/Communist Eastern camp during the Cold War proved once and for all the unquestionable superiority and universal applicability of democracy and its political and economic institutions.
This is not the case. The victory only proved that the implementation of the Marxist idea failed in the Soviet empire, and the collapse of economies there did not lead to entrenchment of democracy but to the exercise of self-determination by Estonians, Hungarians, Poles, Ukrainians, among others, including Chechens under Dzhokar Dudayev.
Yes, peoples of the Soviet empire did proclaim aspirations for democracy. So did participants in ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, and so did participants in the Arab Spring uprisings some two decades later. But neither peoples of the former Soviet empire, nor peoples of Yugoslavia, nor those in the Arab Spring uprisings aspired to democratic rule.
All these peoples aspired to what Woodrow Wilson advocated during and after World War I: self-determination.
He remarked, “No people must be forced under sovereignty under which it does not wish to live.” President Wilson also wrote in Article 3 of his first draft of the Covenant of the League of Nations: “The Contracting Powers unite in guaranteeing … territorial adjustments … as may in the future become necessary by reason of changes in the present social conditions and aspirations or present social and political relationships, pursuant to the principle of self-determination.”
States, in most cases, are artificially bordered entities created around ethnic groups and nations mainly through wars and treaties. President Wilson understood that self-determination should not refer to states but to “people” who are attached to their hundreds or thousands of years of traditions and hence do not want to live in their states under the rule of those whom they consider to be ethnic or national “others.”
He was surely aware that self-determination is a low priority in the United States because it is a country of immigrants and, except for its Native American inhabitants, their hundreds or thousands of years of traditions reach back to their countries of origin. If he lived today, President Wilson would have no doubt that the American ideological campaign cannot convert other peoples to democracy without granting them the right to self-determination.
The end of the Cold War was an important historical turning point. But it was such not because it proved the universal applicability of American democracy and its political and economic institutions. The end of the Cold War was a major turning point because it began removing, everywhere in the world, the restraints and self-restraints that the Cold War’s 40-year ideological confrontation imposed on human beings who wished then to rebel against their own ideological camp.
It is this removal of restraints and self-restraints that planted the seeds of rebellion around the world. It brought about the breakup of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia, and sparked a revolution whose participants in many states around the world are fighting for self-determination — and for their own version of democracy.
The revolution is a thunderous storm that is changing the world and leading to a new global order.
The ideological campaign to spread democracy around the world should be stopped. Instead, there should be a commitment to the promotion of a new global order based on the exercise of the right of ethnic groups and nations to self-determination in politically autonomous entities, and to the true version of democracy: people’s rule.
Most of those politically autonomous entities will have to form or join regional or continental economic frameworks, and thus contribute to the formation of a new global order whose first component, contrary to many views, will be the still-consolidating European Union.
Spc. Josh Nelson of Greenville was one of four soldiers killed in September in the worst green-on-blue attack of the year in Afghanistan, as Americans were preparing to hand over a small outpost in the Zabul Province to Afghan forces.
Published: May 11, 2013
By Adam Ashton and Martha Quillin — email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
The killers bided their time for days, then weeks, patiently waiting for a moment when the American soldiers were vulnerable.
It came, finally, in the early hours of Sept. 16. Four cavalry soldiers from Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash., and two communications specialists from Fort Gordon, Ga., had an overnight assignment at a hillside observation point in the Mizan District of Zabul Province near Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan. They watched a valley they suspected enemy fighters were using to lob mortars into the soldiers’ small forward base a mile away.
About 20 more members of their platoon rested in a fortified checkpoint a quarter-mile distant; some were sleeping.
The soldiers’ thermal imaging scopes let their eyes cut through the dark for several hundred yards. It was a huge nighttime advantage over their enemies.
The trouble was, their enemies at this moment were disguised as their friends. And they were in the observation point with them, just a few feet behind.
Six members of the Afghan National Police climbed quietly atop a small wall, raised their guns and fired, according to soldiers and civilians familiar with the Army investigation into the attack.
Four U.S. soldiers were killed in the assault: Spc. Joshua Nelson, who had grown up in Greenville, N.C., and was based at Fort Gordon; Sgt. Sapuro Nena; Pfc. Genaro Bedoy and Pfc. Jon Townsend, all from Lewis-McChord.
The attack marked the single deadliest “green-on-blue” insider attack against American forces in 2012, according to the Long War Journal’s catalog of such incidents.
At least 51 Western service members died in insider killings in 2012. The ambush near Combat Outpost Mizan was so severe, and followed so many similar attacks, it led the Army to shut down partnered operations with Afghan forces for two weeks. This undermined the transition to Afghan control of the country – the very reason for the sustained U.S. presence in what has become America’s longest war.
It marked a betrayal that still burns among the fallen soldiers’ loved ones and those who served with them.
‘I’ll be fine’
As far as his father, Brian Nelson, can tell, Josh Nelson should never even have been in that hole where he died.
“I’ll be fine,” Brian remembers his son telling him at the end of May 2012, when he deployed with 19 other members of his unit to provide electronic warfare support for combat forces in Afghanistan, a little more than a year after he had joined the Army. Nelson, 22, was a signals intelligence analyst in the 297th Military Intelligence Battalion at Fort Gordon – a communications specialist.
“What I do,” he told his dad before he left for Afghanistan, “I won’t be out where there’s shooting.”
But in Afghanistan, there is often shooting where it’s not expected. The soldiers Nelson was working with from Lewis-McChord had learned that.
Their unit, from the 14th Cavalry Regiment, was on its first deployment in Afghanistan after three tours in Iraq. When they took over the outpost at Mizan from the outgoing unit in the spring of 2012, the area looked relatively stable, and relations between U.S. and Afghan troops who each had a section of the compound seemed good.
“Mizan is open for business,” Command Sgt. Maj. James Coroy, the top enlisted soldier leading the outgoing troops, told a reporter at the time. Coroy felt confident the newly secured road between Mizan and Qalat, the capital of the province, 25 miles away, would stay open under the protection of Afghan National Army soldiers. This would speed the withdrawal of American forces from that corner of the country.
The plan was to hand over the Mizan outpost to Afghan forces in the fall.
But the Taliban are known to put on a show when U.S. forces hand over their positions, to give the impression they are driving out the occupying force. Troops from Mizan were attacked by the Taliban in May and June. As the transition neared, the commander of U.S. troops there, Lewis-McChord’s Lt. Col. Jim Dunivan, doubled the number U.S. forces, packing 80 soldiers into the tiny outpost.
On the night of Sept. 10, the outpost came under mortar attack, which continued the next day. Dunivan sent about 25 soldiers to an overlook about a mile away to try to stop the attacks. Six of those soldiers, along with six Afghan police officers, were broken off to hunker down in the overnight observation post on the hill a quarter-mile away.
It didn’t look like much, just a dugout covered with some tent-like camouflage to protect against the weather. A wall about 3 feet high surrounded it. Soldiers stocked their post with guns, ammunition, night-vision goggles and gear to intercept enemy communications.
The Americans clustered at the front, either resting or scanning the valley below for enemy movements.
Working hard to join
Eighteen months earlier, Josh Nelson had been more likely to be listening to music than trying to hear the conversations of insurgents.
He had graduated from North Pitt High School in 2008 with no plan for his life, his father said. He got a job in Greenville working as a telemarketer, spent his Sunday mornings playing drums or the tuba in local churches and his spare time hanging out with his musician friends.
But when he decided to get married, he snapped to like a flag in a stiff breeze.
His parents had once suggested a stint in the military, and Nelson dismissed the idea. But once he got serious with Quamisha Earlene Cierra Palmer, who came from a military family, he changed his mind, his father said.
He decided to join the Army, requiring him to lose about 100 pounds. To do that, he would have to change his diet and start exercising, running 4 to 5 miles a day, doing push-ups and sit-ups and pull-ups. Until then, his dad recalls, Nelson had never done anything athletic in his life.
“He would send me updates,” Brian Nelson said. “He would text me: ‘Dad, I’m joining the Army. Dad, I’m going to lose weight. Dad, I’ve lost the weight. Dad, I’m getting married. Dad, I’ve joined the Army.’
“Bam! Bam! Bam! It happened just that fast.”
Joshua Nathaniel Nelson spoke his vows to his bride in January 2011. A few weeks later, he joined the military and headed off to boot camp at Fort Jackson, S.C. From there, he went to Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas to train as a signals intelligence analyst, and in December 2011, he was assigned to Fort Gordon.
“He felt that what he was doing was a very, very important job,” Brian Nelson said. “At one point, he said he couldn’t even tell me what it was. ‘Top secret, Dad. I can’t talk about it.’ ”
Attacked by ‘allies’
Like many parents and spouses of deployed service members, Brian Nelson didn’t know exactly what part of Afghanistan his son was in. He only knew that Nelson would be leaving Afghanistan in October, heading back to Georgia, and then home to Greenville for a visit.
At about 1 a.m. on Sept. 16, the Afghans in the dugout with Nelson and the other soldiers mounted the wall and unloaded their guns, according to Dunivan and families of fallen soldiers. Some of the U.S. soldiers managed to return fire, but the Afghans had the high ground and the element of surprise on their side.
One soldier from Fort Gordon and one from Lewis-McChord survived but were severely injured. One of the Afghans was killed in the attack, though there is disagreement between the survivors over whether he was shot by his comrades or the Americans.
The five killers got away.
At his home in Greenville, Brian Nelson was unaware of the assault. But he knew as he sat in his den watching TV with his wife that the two shadows that crossed his window and headed for his door on the afternoon of Sept. 17 were of men bringing the worst kind of news.
He raised his hands to his head, as if to defend himself from physical blows, then fell to his knees, wailing.
Brian Nelson finally let the men in and let them tell him what they knew: only that Josh and three other soldiers had been killed by Afghan forces they were there to help train.
Later, Brian Nelson got an autopsy report, which he couldn’t bring himself to open for a month. He recently got the Army’s report on its investigation into the shootings, but he has not read that yet.
Whatever the report says, it won’t change one other thing Brian Nelson knows: “Josh was a hero.”
Adam Ashton is the military reporter for The News Tribune of Tacoma, Wash. He embedded in Mizan last year and interviewed officers about the insider attack after they returned from Afghanistan.
Adam Ashton is the military reporter for The News Tribune of Tacoma, Wash. He embedded in Mizan last year and interviewed officers about the insider attack after they returned from Afghanistan.
Victor Davis Hanson commentary: Middle East is well on road to irrelevancy
Thursday May 2, 2013 5:31 AM
Since antiquity, the Middle East has been the trading nexus of three continents — Asia, Europe and Africa — and vibrant birthplace to three of the world’s great religions.
Middle Eastern influence rose again in the 19th century when the Suez Canal turned the once dead-end Eastern Mediterranean Sea into a sea highway from Europe to Asia.
With the 20th century development of large gas and oil supplies in the Persian Gulf and North Africa, an Arab-led OPEC more or less dictated the foreign policy of thirsty oil importers such as United States and Europe. No wonder Centcom has remained America’s military command hot spot.
Yet insidiously, the Middle East is becoming irrelevant. The discovery of enormous new oil and gas reserves, along with the use of new oil-recovery technology in North America and China, is steadily curbing the demand for Middle Eastern oil. Soon, countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iran are going to have less income and geostrategic clout. In both Iran and the Gulf, domestic demand is rising, while there is neither the technical know-how nor the water to master the new art of fracking to sustain exports.
The recent Boston bombing reminded the West that nearly 12 years after 9/11, most terrorism still follows the same old, same old script — committed by angry young men with Muslim pedigrees claiming to act on radical Islamist impulses, without much popular rebuke from the Muslim world.
There is not much left to the stale Middle East complaint from the 1960s that Western colonialism and imperialism sidetracked the region’s own natural trajectory to democracy. After the derailed Arab Spring, the world accepted that the mess in the Middle East is not imported, but rather the result of homegrown tribalism, sexual apartheid, religious intolerance, anti-Semitism, illiteracy, statism and authoritarianism.
Revolutionary theocrats always seem to follow the ouster of fossilized thugs. “Reformers” who were “elected” after the fall of the Shah of Iran and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt on spec conjured up the same old bogeymen as their predecessors, subverted the rule of law in the same old fashion and wrecked the economy in the same old manner.
Barack Obama senses that there is no support for American intervention in the Middle East. Even his idea of “leading from behind” in Libya led to the loss of American personnel in Benghazi. After Iraq, the U.S. will not nation-build in Syria. Apparently, Americans would rather be hated for doing nothing than be despised for spending trillions of dollars and thousands of lives to build Middle East societies.
The U.S. still worries about tiny democratic Israel surrounded by existential enemies pledged to destroy the Jewish state. But Israel’s own sudden oil and natural gas bonanza is enriching its economy and will soon offer a source of reliable fuel supplies to nearby Europe.
Most likely, Europe’s past opportunistic disdain of Israel and fawning over Arab autocracies were based entirely on oil politics. In the future, the fair-weather European Union will as likely move away from the Middle East as it will pledge a newfound friendship with the once unpopular but now resource-rich Israel.
Visiting Persepolis, the Egyptian pyramids, Leptis Magna, or the Roman and Christian sites in the West Bank, Lebanon and Syria is not worth the madness that is now the price of Middle East tourism.
Europe’s southeastern Mediterranean flank on the Middle East is a financial and political mess. Most of the West is as likely to shun bankrupt Greece as it is to be wary of Recep Erdogan’s new Ottoman Turkey.
While the Middle East failed to transform its oil riches of the past half-century into stable, transparent societies, Asia globalized and embraced the free market.
The resulting self-generated riches in the Pacific do not derive from the accident of oil under the ground of Singapore, Hong Kong or Taipei, but rather from global competitiveness and internal reforms. If China, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan 60 years ago were as poor as the Middle East, they are now the economic equals to Europe and North America. Their motto is to borrow from and then beat — not envy or blame — the West.
For now, Western tourists and students still mostly avoid Amman, Baghdad, Benghazi, Cairo and Damascus. American soldiers are drawing down from the bases of the Middle East. And soon, huge American-bound oil tankers will not crowd each other at the docks of the Persian Gulf.
You see, the Middle East is not so much dangerous, challenging or vital to Western interests as it is becoming irrelevant.
600,000 move out in decade of ‘white flight’ from London: White Britons are now in minority in the capital
I read the BBC article and the guy went on about how this was a great thing! and that white people need to better understand and learn about other cultures blah blah blah. I really hate the BBC, I refuse to watch there channels yet I still have to pay for it. This country will be destroyed from within glad to see the BBC are helping by not representing the “British” people.
- Nick , Surrey, 20/2/2013 22:55
Hank Starr at 12:14 AM May 14, 2013
I’m happy these Latinos are standing up against these racist black officers. They don’t want to give up power when it is obvious that Compton is overwhelmingly Latino. It will be a matter of time the whole entrenched Black political clout in Compton is broken up.
…As far back as 1989, I’d grasped that the drive towards multiculturalism (the doctrine which held no culture could be considered superior to any other because that was ‘racist’) could well be a threat to liberty. At the time, the Church of England was proposing that the blasphemy law, which applied only to Christianity, should be replaced by a new offence of insulting or outraging the religious feelings of any group in the community.
I couldn’t agree more with this article especially what Melanie says about British Jewry. Like herself my family arrived for Eastern Europe and the first thing they did is become accustomed to British life. I think that is why secular anti-semitism is rare because you cannot spot most Jews on a street unless in religious regalia. I further agree with what she has to say regarding Israel. The people demonising anyone who is not multicultural/tolerant of sexuality appeases groups who are racist towards westerners & inherently homophobic. Israel is a forward thinking democracy where everyone has rights and it is not dissimilar to the UK in its thinking. Sure you can denounce Israel and boycott it but you’d have to bin your smartphone and many of your Internet enabled gadgets as they are one of the leading countries in 3G and info communications. What have the Palestinians given us apart from hatred and terrorism? Hmm.
- Acelius , Manchester, 08/5/2013 03:19
Some of the posts on here prove my point exactly. When Britons rightly state their discomfort and dissallusionment at the huge societal changes they’ve been forced to endure over the past 40 years or so, they’re shouted down for being either racist or hysterical. This is as bigoted as it gets, and it makes otherwise moderate people like myself take an even more extreme stance. How dare you pour scorn on the legitimate concerns of the indiginous people of this country.
- Blondy2 , Cardiff, 08/5/2013 03:14
Vary well said Mel. We have all commented in a similar vein, that only a thousand spaces will allow. But our Politicians have been working to a different agenda for the last 30 years. Submission to the EU as a country, all trying to gain their place in the history books and the hierarchy of the single country/currency. With Great thanks to UKIP it looks like our politicians might have to start working for Britain and its people again? So good bye to all the problems allowed by idiots going over to EU country. Hopefully our history books will be written with the truth in future and those responsible for the demise of their own country will have their notorious places in history. Starting with the Greatest Oaf of the lot. Ted Heath, of Conservative infamy.
- ramblin rose , fertiliser, 08/5/2013 03:12
The West is declining and this new – Millenium will belong to the East – China and India etc. In a thousand years time historians will look back and find reasons why the West lost its power. There maybe many factors but high immigration will be one of them and this will be true in England’s case.
- HarryFaversham , Rotherham, United Kingdom, 08/5/2013 03:06
If today’s morally vacuous “progressives” were running things in the 1940′s, we would have appeased Hitler, and talked about how his national socialist “utopia” was an equally valid world view, right up until the extinction of all the Jews was complete and the Nazi armies were setting up their new death camps in Brighton….
- Sean , Toronto, 08/5/2013 03:05
I say it again and again to my fellow immigrants “if you simply refuse to assimilate to the British culture, your adopted country, please return to your birth country. What’s the point of coming here for new live only to stick and rooted firmly in your own culture and expect the others to respect your way of life but you never respect theirs?” And to the British people, you are not racist when you talk about immigrations. It is just common sense. Do you all know, many Asian country practise selective immigrants. They only accept immigrant if they need their skills.
- u.jervis , london, 08/5/2013 02:57
If immigrants don’t want to be westernised, and assimilate into our culture and way of life, why do they come here? What’s the draw? The answer has to be the welfare state.
- FT , Manchester, United Kingdom, 08/5/2013 02:46
You are too soft on immigrants! I have lived in several Asian countries and they are very strict on immigration and ensuring that people have to jump through hoops if they want to live in their country. People openly talk about how soft the west is, especially the UK, and the word is out that you lot are a soft touch. Toughen up before it’s too late!
- Britsneedwakingup, Tokyo, Japan, 8/5/2013 2:33
Why does our country need Chechens or Somalis? What scarce skills do they provide? Who decided? Who is responsible? Why is it all our national problems are self-inflicted?
IS WELFARE-FUNDED JIHAD PART OF RADICAL ISLAM’S PLAYBOOK? WE EXAMINE THE EVIDENCE
Case Worker: Illegal Aliens Got Food Stamps by the “Vanload”
April 30, 2013
For decades the U.S. government has knowingly given illegal immigrants food stamps, according to a former certification case worker who denounced the costly practice back in the 1980s but was essentially ordered to keep a lid on it.
The retired assistant case manager, Craig McNees, was in charge of vetting food-stamp applicants in north Florida and Indiana in the ’80s and says the program was infested with fraud and corruption that was perpetually ignored by management. “Illegals would come in by the van load and we were told to give them their stuff,” McNees said. “Management knew very well they were illegal. It was so rampant that some employees would tell their illegal relatives to come get food stamps.”
McNees contacted Judicial Watch after reading documents obtained by JW from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) detailing how the agency is working with the Mexican government to promote participation by illegal aliens in the U.S. food stamp program. The effort includes a Spanish-language flyer provided to the Mexican Embassy by the USDA ensuring that Mexicans in the U.S. don’t need to declare their immigration status to get financial assistance from Uncle Sam.
The documents ignited outrage considering the nation’s food stamp program has exploded under President Obama, who claims there are too many “food insecure households” in America. To correct the problem the administration has spent millions on ad campaigns promoting food stamps and has rewarded states with multi-million-dollar bonuses for signing up recipients. It’s been quite effective because American taxpayers spent an astounding $80.4 billion on the program in 2012 and a record number of people—46 million and growing—get free groceries from Uncle Sam.
The retired case worker who contacted JW says in the three years he worked in a Sarasota food-stamp office, he found more than 500 cases of fraud but management ignored them all instead pushing a yearly quota. “They just said that if we don’t give out as many as last year, we don’t get our money,” McNees said. “It was crazy, like a three-ring circus; like the inmates were running the asylum.”
Decades later it seems little has changed as Obama promotes the program like there’s no tomorrow. In fact, last summer a federal audit revealed that many who don’t qualify for food stamps receive them under a special “broad-based” eligibility program that disregards income and asset requirements. That means American taxpayers are getting stuck with a multi-million-dollar tab to feed hundreds of thousands who can well afford to feed themselves.
Adding insult to injury, last spring the USDA Inspector General revealed that many food-stamp recipients use their welfare benefit to buy drugs, weapons and other contraband from unscrupulous vendors. Some trade food stamps for reduced amounts of cash, the USDA watchdog told Congress, disclosing that the fraud has cost taxpayers nearly $200 million. None of this surprises McNees, who claims he witnessed so much fraud as a food-stamp case worker that he “could write a book.
As rich gain optimism, lawmakers lose economic urgency
By Jim Tankersley, Tuesday, May 21, 12:00 AM
Washington has all but abandoned efforts to help the economy recover faster — and lawmakers don’t seem worried that voters will punish them for it.
There are no serious negotiations underway between the White House and congressional leaders on legislation to spur growth, and no bipartisan “gangs” of senators are huddling to craft a compromise job-creation package.
Yet economic growth remains slow by historical standards, and 11.5 million Americans are poll found in April that two-thirds of Americans said jobs were difficult to find in their communities.
But lawmakers appear to feel little electoral pressure to address those concerns. They disagree vehemently over what actions would make a difference, and lately they’ve been distracted by other issues and scandals. There also is mounting evidence that the political donor class — wealthier Americans — is feeling a stock-market-fueled surge of optimism about the economy. It all adds up to inaction.
The House has approved only three bills — if you include efforts to repeal President Obama’s signature health-care law — that could be considered economic policy measures; none has been signed into law.
What’s more, lawmakers have taken actions that many economists say have actually slowed growth: They allowed the payroll tax cut to expire, raised income taxes and allowed the sequester to take effect.
At this point in 2012, the story was very different. Obama and Republicans had reached agreements on maintaining a payroll tax cut and increasing funding opportunities for start-up companies. The House had passed at least six other bills designed to boost job growth.
“I’m disappointed that there isn’t more of an effort being made” on the economy, said John Engler, the Republican former governor of Michigan who is now president of the Business Roundtable. “I don’t know if people have concluded that there’s been a reset — we’ve accepted these higher levels [of unemployment] and that’s a new normal. I hope not.”
One key Washington constituency is feeling a new normal: stock market highs.
Fifty-two percent of white Americans earning $50,000 a year or more are optimistic about the national economy, a 13-percentage-point increase from December, according to a poll. Thanks largely to that shift and to persistent optimism among higher- income nonwhites, economic optimism among all Americans is at its highest level since early 2009.
The change tracks the performance of the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, which has risen 20 percent in the past six months. Higher-income Democrats and, perhaps most notably, Republicans are all feeling the effects. Obama’s approval rating for handling the economy among higher-income Republicans and GOP-leaning independents, while dismal, has more than doubled over the past six months. (The new Post-ABC poll was conducted May 16 to 19 among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. The results from the full poll have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.)
Yet a majority of voters continue to tell pollsters that the economy is the nation’s most important problem. When Gallup asked Americans which issues Congress should make a high priority, the top two finishers were “creating more jobs” and “helping the economy grow.” (“Reducing gun violence” and “reforming immigration” were a distant ninth and 10th, respectively.)
Politicians are still talking a lot about jobs: Obama has made several trips across the country, including to Baltimore last Friday, to promote pieces of his economic agenda. House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) proclaimed “jobs is what this is all about” in hailing last Thursday’s health-care repeal vote.
Still, other issues have consumed the bulk of lawmakers’ attention: immigration and gun control in Obama’s case and a trio of administration scandals in the case of congressional Republicans.
Frank Newport, Gallup editor in chief, said the fact that guns and immigration have received more recent legislative attention than the economy may reflect the power of small and concentrated constituencies such as the families of the Newtown, Conn., shooting victims and the National Rifle Association.
“You’re kind of asking the question, to what does Congress respond?” Newport said. The economy, “maybe that’s too diffuse and too broad. You don’t have the same kind of intensity of people who say, we’re fighting for more jobs.”
Some pollsters say the problem with the economy is the degree to which Republicans and Democrats disagree over how best to speed up growth in the short term. Government spending levels are the biggest sticking point: Republicans want to cut them even more, saying that federal debt is slowing the economy. Obama and many other Democrats want to spend more in the short term by repealing the sequester and funding infrastructure projects in an effort to stimulate economic activity.
“When you’ve got Republicans saying government is doing too much and needs to get out of the way of business, and Democrats saying government needs to step in and do more to help people out, it becomes pretty hard to bridge that economic gap,” said Jon McHenry, vice president of North Star Opinion Research, a Republican firm that polls for clients including Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
Voters aren’t offering strict guidance to break that impasse, some analysts say. “They say they want jobs,” said Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, director of Social Policy and Politics at the Democratic think tank Third Way who has sat in on several focus groups that featured economic questions. “But average Americans don’t have a prescription for Congress for what they want to do about that.”
Some lawmakers also appear to be reading the results of the 2012 election — in which Obama won a second term and neither house of Congress changed hands, despite high unemployment — as evidence that voters have resigned themselves to a sluggish economy and won’t punish leaders for its performance.
Business groups see several possibilities for compromise, some of which poll well among voters across the ideological spectrum. Engler’s list includes expanding domestic energy production, streamlining the tax code and borrowing at cheap interest rates to fund highway projects and other infrastructure development.
Obama and lawmakers could also work together to speed through new agreements to expand trade with Europe and Asia, said Aric Newhouse, senior vice president for policy and government relations for the National Association of Manufacturers, an issue for which both parties have expressed broad support.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), vice chairman of the Congress Joint Economic Committee, said her efforts have moved past a “crisis mentality” and talk of “stimulus” and into measures to boost America’s economic competiveness in the long term, including skills training for workers,
infrastructure improvements, export promotion and streamlining some government regulations.
She’s optimistic some of those initiatives could win enough bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House to become law this year. “If it was up to me,” she said, “this is all we’d be doing.”
Emails show IRS’ Lois Lerner specifically targeted tea party
Dems have taken a two-pronged approach to today’s scandals: Dem officials and candidates quickly denounce it when there is clearly merit there — as many of them did when the IRS news hit — then quickly pivot to denouncing Republicans for refusing to focus on jobs and other immediate voter concerns.
A super-class thrives as ordinary dreams die.
Surprising jobs report comes as Wall Street heads to new heights
By Kevin G. Hall
McCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS Saturday May 4, 2013 6:16 AM
WASHINGTON — A surprisingly positive jobs report yesterday showed that employers added 165,000 positions in April and the unemployment rate fell to a four-year low of 7.5 percent, sparking a day of milestones on Wall Street as investors looked past doubts about robust hiring in the months ahead.
The report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics sent stocks soaring at the opening of the markets, partly because it exceeded low expectations but also because it included sharp upward revisions to February and March job estimates, adding a combined 114,000 jobs to those earlier tallies.
The S&P 500, an index of the 500 leading publicly traded companies, crossed into record territory shortly after trading opened and never looked back. It finished up 16.83 points at 1,614.42.
Within the first hour of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average crossed the 15,000 barrier for the first time in its long history. It bounced around there all day before closing up 142.38 points at 14,973.96, just short of the important psychological barrier for investors.
The Dow is an index of 30 large publicly traded companies. It broke the 14,000 barrier almost six years ago, in July 2007. The S&P crossed its 1,500 barrier 13 years ago.
The tech-heavy Nasdaq index rose 38.01 points yesterday to 3,378.63.
Rising stock prices and gains in home prices have some Americans feeling more comfortable about their financial status for the first time in years. Good news begets good news, and Wall Street hopes it will draw more investors back into stocks.
“As the market grinds higher, we think there are a lot of investors who worry that they are being left behind,” said Richard Slinn, an investment specialist for JPMorgan Private Bank, which manages investments for a wealthy clientele.
Yesterday’s jobs report and the revisions it contained meant the economy had some tail wind going into the across-the-board reductions in federal spending, called the budget sequester, that started taking effect on March 1.
While anticipation of lower government and defense spending was blamed for sluggish economic growth of 2.5 percent from January to March, the sequester might not have had much impact yet on hiring broadly across the economy.
“The jobs report was a pleasant surprise. Job growth is slowing, but not as much as feared,” said Mark Zandi, the chief economist for forecaster Moody’s Analytics. “The decline in unemployment is also encouraging, particularly because it was driven by an increase in jobs.”
February’s estimate of 268,000 jobs was revised to 332,000, a solid number.
March estimates also were revised upward, from a dismal 88,000 to a healthier but still subpar 138,000 jobs for the month the federal budget cuts began.
“It suggests the labor market is still improving and is helping to sustain consumer spending and housing market advances. However, there is little sign in these data to suggest that a marked acceleration in monthly job creation in the months ahead is in the cards,” cautioned Scott Anderson, the chief economist for Bank of the West in San Francisco. “The lack of manufacturing jobs could signal a slowdown in service-job growth in the months ahead if the manufacturing sector continues to cool.”
Hiring in manufacturing, a big employment driver last year, was largely unchanged in April after decelerating in recent months. The sector has throttled back and might stay weak for months.
“Part of the challenge for manufacturing is that you are seeing slow growth in terms of exports. At the same time, we have also seen domestic sales really slow down as well,” said Chad Moutray, chief economist for the National Association of Manufacturers.
On the plus side, manufacturing tied to the automotive and aviation sectors continues to add jobs. But hiring and output have slowed in apparel, computers and other consumer-oriented manufacturing, he said.
There was slight improvement in some problem areas, such as long-term unemployment, which fell by 258,000 to a still-high 4.4 million. As a percentage of the unemployed, this number fell by 2.2 percentage points and now reflects 37.4 percent of all those classified as unemployed.
By Federal Reserve estimates, there is about $67 trillion of household wealth in the United States. According to the Congressional Research Service, 74 percent of this, or $50 trillion, is controlled by 10 percent of the population. Wealth is much more skewed than income. The top 1 percent own roughly 35 percent of the country’s wealth but only 17 percent of its income. My fear is not that we end up looking like Europe but rather that we look like the bifurcated societies of Latin America.
How to ease economic anxiety
Shift to a service-driven economy delays job recovery
Fellow, Campaign for America’s
Zero Manufacturing Jobs Added — Zero
Posted: 05/05/2013 11:15 am
President Obama set a goal of 1 million new manufacturing jobs in his second term. Last month we added zero. Not one. Nada. Zip. We did add low-wage jobs, though. Maybe we can talk about a national manufacturing strategy now?
A Million Manufacturing Jobs?
In the 2012 campaign President Obama set a goal of creating 1 million new manufacturing jobs. (This goal comes after the country lost 5.5 million manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2009.) Manufacturing jobs bring money into the economy. Manufacturing jobs also bring along with them many jobs in other sectors that support manufacturing, from the supply chain to the maintenance to the marketing and sales of the goods. This is what the president understood when he set this goal.
But with the March jobs numbers out this morning the economy has created a total of only 39,000 manufacturing jobs this year — zero in March. That leaves the country with 961,000 manufacturing jobs to go in the time remaining.
Perhaps this dearth of new manufacturing jobs has something to do with the economic stagnation we see around us?
Job Report Summary
While the jobs report was not too bad overall, it was terrible for manufacturing. Job growth for January and February was revised up by 114,000, so average job growth for the last three months was 212,000. But job gains were largely in low-wage sectors with zero gained in manufacturing. Employment services, restaurant employees and the retail sector accounted for more than half of April job growth. Health care added 19,000 jobs.
The sequester started to hit, with 8,000 jobs lost in the federal government (3,500 of those from the Postal Service.) State and local governments lost 3,000 jobs, which means 224,000 jobs lost over the last year. Construction lost 6,000 jobs, apparently from public projects.
The #AAMeter Manufacturing Jobs Tracker
Manufacturing (AAM) Jobs Tracker — the #AAMeter — tracks progress toward the president’s goal of adding 1 million manufacturing jobs. AAM uses the monthly jobs report data to keep track of how we are doing towards reaching the 1-million-jobs goal, which would require an average monthly increase of 20,833 manufacturing jobs. The picture tells the story.
Not so great. What do we need to do to boost our manufacturing sector, bringing better-paying jobs and the jobs that support manufacturing?
First We Need A National Manufacturing Strategy
We need more jobs, higher-wage jobs, and jobs in sectors that do more for the economy. This requires a national manufacturing strategy.
Other countries have national strategies to increase the strength of their national manufacturing sector. We do not. We are wedded to an ideology that says that we as a nation should not protect our good-paying jobs and our manufacturing sector. In fact, the “free-market” and “free-trade” ideology even says it is wrong to have a strategy as a country to keep and strengthen our important economic sectors.
Alliance for American Manufacturing’s Scott Paul said, “The United States is the only major industrial nation that does not have a cohesive national manufacturing strategy. We’ve outlined steps the president should to help meet his manufacturing jobs goal. If the Administration and Congress show a genuine willingness to act on these common sense policies, we’ll see our Jobs Tracker move toward 1 million jobs gained.”
Democrats in Congress have, in fact, outlined a Make It In America legislative plan,
The Democrats’ Make it in America plan is a bold initiative to get America working again by building the products of the future here at home. Make it in America will create the conditions necessary to unleash American skill and ingenuity to power our 21st century economy. As President Obama has said, America must out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world and our initiative will help our nation do just that. When we Make it in America, American families will make it too.
Please click through to see information about the Jobs Opportunities Between our Shores (JOBS) Act, New Alternative Transportation to Give American Solutions (NAT GAS) Act, National Manufacturing Strategy Act, Build American Jobs Act, Build America Bonds to Create Jobs Now Act, National Infrastructure Development Bank Act, The Airports, Highways, High-Speed Rail, Trains and Transit: Make it in America, One Global Internet Act, Permanent R&D Tax Credit, Rare Earths and Critical Materials Revitalization Act, Energy Critical Elements Renewal Act, Resource Assessment of Rare Earths (RARE) Act, Currency Reform for Fair Trade Act, Innovative Technologies Investment Incentives Act, Small Business Start-Up Savings Accounts, Make it in America Block Grant Act, Clean Energy Technology Manufacturing and Export Assistance Act, Security in Energy and Manufacturing (SEAM) Act, American Manufacturing Efficiency & Retraining Investment Collaboration (AMERICA Works), Strengthening Employment Clusters to Organize Regional Success (SECTORS) Act, The Keep American Jobs from Going Down the Drain Act, Berry Amendment Extension Act, American Jobs Matter Act and the All-American Flag Act.
Democratic Whip Sten Hoyer has been a leader in promoting the Make It In America agenda, with a Make It In America web page as well.
Ideology, or Something Else?
But here is the thing: everything is being blocked by Republican obstruction in the name of “free market” and “free trade” ideology.
And here is the other thing: those who are driving and funding the ideology are making big money off of the damage this ideology is doing! The financial sector funds much of the push to “free trade” and against a national manufacturing strategy. And as a result the financial sector is soaring at the expense of manufacturing and the jobs it brings. The oil and coal industries are funding much of the fight against alternative energy, energy efficiency, green manufacturing and the jobs it brings. And as a result the oil and coal sectors are booming at teh expense of the rest of the economy.
The Koch brothers alone gained $15 billion — a 43 percent increase — between March 2010 and Sept 2011. Are their motives really ideological? It turns out to be a very profitable ideological agenda for them.
And we don’t even know if other countries are helping drive America’s ideological opposition to national strategies by funding the right-wing “free market” “think tanks” that push it, because the funding for these efforts is not disclosed.
Along with implementing a national manufacturing strategy there are many other things we can do to promote our manufacturing sector to revive our economy and create meaningful, good-paying jobs. Among these:
Tax policies: End the tax incentives that encourage American companies to move jobs, factories and profit centers out of the country. Immediately end the “deferral” of taxes on foreign income. Companies get a tax advantage on foreign profits over profits they earn here, so they more operations out of the country.
The big one in tax policy is offshore tax deferral: Companies are currently holding $1.7 trillion out of our economy and away from shareholders, just because we let them avoid taxes until the bring it back. So they move profit centers of tax havens, etc. Repeal this deferral and make them bring that money home now and stop moving profit centers out of the country from now on.
Other tax policies that would help: Section 199 Domestic Production Deduction; Accelerated Cost Recovery; Depletion Allowances; Net Operating Losses; Last-In, First-Out Accounting; Interest Cost Deductibility; Research & Development Tax Credit; Current Tax Treatment of Employee Health Care and Pension Contributions; Credit for Prior Year Minimum Tax.
Currency manipulation: Countries like China manipulate their currency to give them a price advantage in international markets. This must stop. There are steps we can take to stop this but our administration is hog-tied by foreign policy needs that conflict with our country’s trade-balance needs. For example they can’t crack down on China and then ask China’s help with North Korea. The answer is for Congress to pass a law requiring balancing tariffs on goods from countries that manipulate currency.
Buy American policies: Congress and states should improve Buy American requirements in procurement. Our tax dollars should boost our economy.
A recent example — Reps. Pete Visclosky (D-IN) and Tim Murphy (R-PA) have introduced the American Steel First Act of 2013, a bill to require the Department of Transportation, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Homeland Security to exclusively use American-made iron and steel in infrastructure projects.
Defense procurement especially needs Buy American requirements. Contractors should be required to increase their domestic procurement. This is about national security vulnerabilities just as much as about our tax dollars supporting our economy.
Fix and modernize our country’s infrastructure: We could have full employment right away if we just did what we need to do anyway and will have to do eventually. Maintain and modernize our infrastructure (with American-made supplies.) Our infrastructure is crumbling. We need to completely modernize our infrastrucutre so our economy is competitive, and in the process we will revitalize jobs and manufacturing.
Invest in education: To improve our high schools, colleges and universities. We need 21st-century education with a renewed focus on manufacturing in America.
Invest in energy efficiency and green manufacturing: There is a green revolution taking place in the world and we are not in the lead. The President’s 50mpg mandate is a great start, but we need renewable energy standards, tax credits for alternative energy, and policies to promote green manufacturing, especially working to capture a share of wind, solar, advanced battery, electric car and similar manufacturing.
In 1970, the 17.8 million manufacturing jobs represented 25 percent of all 71 million U.S. jobs. By 2012, the 11.9 million manufacturing jobs were only 9 percent of the 133.7 million total. The declines reflect two forces: automation and imports, especially of labor-intensive products. In 2011, Levinson notes, 97,000 steelworkers produced nearly 10 percent more steel than the 399,000 did in 1980. As for labor-intensive products, clothing output has dropped more than 80 percent since 1980, with jobs falling from 1.3 million to 150,000.
Who actually creates jobs: Start-ups, small businesses or big corporations?
By J.D. Harrison, Published: April 24 | Updated: Thursday, April 25, 6:00AM
With unemployment stuck above 7 percent, policymakers have been searching anxiously for ways to put more people back to work. However, the first step in that process may be the most complex — simply identifying which type of business actually creates jobs.
Commonly, the argument boils down to three groups: start-ups, small businesses and large corporations, each of which has unique policy interests in Washington.
Most likely, it will take a joint effort, but researchers and economists have starkly different views on which group should take priority as the administration and lawmakers try to jumpstart the labor market.
Here are some of the basic arguments for championing the interests of each sector, as well as the prevailing skepticism about each one’s potential to lead the recovery.
Small businesses: The backbone of the economy?
President Obama has used that line on several occasions to describe the importance of small businesses, as have scores of other politicians. In support of that title, many have cited studies from the U.S. Small Business Administration that show small firms employ just over half of the private-sector workforce and created nearly two-thirds of nation’s net new jobs over the past decade and a half.
However, the definition of “small business” provides important context for those statistics. The SBA considers firms with fewer than 500 employees small, placing nearly every business in the country (99.7 percent of firms that have employees) under that umbrella term — thus, it is no surprise they employ the most workers.
A more strict definition of small business, using a limit of 50 employees, would still include the vast majority of the country’s businesses, but it would trim their share of the workforce to less than a third.
Furthermore, employing a large number of workers doesn’t necessarily translate into creating a large number of new jobs. A study by the Kauffman Foundation, an entrepreneurship research organization, showed that existing firms actually lost about a million more jobs than they added every year between 1977 and 2005.
That’s largely because most employers aren’t interested in growing past a certain point. Only one in four small business owners are interested in expanding their company, according to research at the University of Chicago; once they reach a certain size, the best case scenario for most is that they simply hold steady.
But those that are hiring are helping, creating 8.7 million jobs between March 2011 and March 2012, and some believe policymakers should simply help more firms join that small group of expanders. In a column last week, SBA Administrator Karen Mills argued that “while start-ups receive a great deal of attention, there is another segment of businesses that can fuel economic growth—existing establishments.”
Moreover, adding new positions isn’t the only way existing small businesses create jobs, according to Bill Dunkelberg, chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Business. It also happens when they bring back workers they let go during tough times
“The jobs problem we face today, in fact, is that employment is below capacity in existing firms,” Dunkelberg wrote earlier this month, noting that many of the 8 million workers who lost their jobs during the recession were employed by small businesses. “Public policy should focus on what might be done to spur those firms to re-employ workers who had jobs at the peak of the expansion.”
Small business lobbyists have asked lawmakers to support proposals to lower individual tax rates across the board, eliminate time-consuming regulations, bring down the cost of health care and stop borrowing rates from surging — each of which, they say, forces employers to pull back on investing capital back into their firms.
At the same time, overall economic uncertainty and weak sales have been cited as a major concern ever since the recession, and small business owners have urged elected officials to take any and all steps to put more money back in the hands of their customers.
New businesses: Not enough start-up support?
A growing contingency of economists believe start-ups are the most reliable job creators, pointing to studies that show new firms are responsible for nearly all of the nation’s net job growth every year (total job gains minus total job losses). In fact, the National Bureau of Economic Research has shown that, when controlled for company age, there is actually “http://www.nber.org/digest/feb11/w16300.html” >no systematic relationship” between firm size and job growth.
Meanwhile, hiring by new firms remains fairly constant during times of economic growth and decline, while hiring by existing firms ebbs and flows with each cycle.
But how long will those jobs last?
Census data shows that fewer than half of the positions created by start-ups still exist after five years, and net employment growth falls off quickly as companies grow older; evidence that those jobs may not be as stable as the ones at longstanding establishments. Nor, apparently, are they as lucrative, as employees at start-ups generally earn only about 70 percent as much as those at existing businesses.
In addition, job creation by new firms, though still high, has been dropping steadily over the past decade. A Kauffman study showed that the average number of workers at start-ups has been falling since 1998, while the rate at which they add new workers has been falling since 1994.
It doesn’t help that the rate of new business formation has been sliding, too.
“Even before the Great Recession, firms were starting smaller,” authors E.J Reedy and Bob Litan wrote in the report. “They were opening their doors with fewer workers than the historic norm and were relatively reluctant to expand their workforces even during good economic times.”
As a result, they expect ventures started in the past few years to contribute fewer jobs than those launched in previous decades. Nevertheless, even at that slower rate, job creation by start-ups is expected to continue to outpace that of existing businesses.
Separting themselves from traditional small business owners, many of whom are primarily concerned with sluggish sales and high taxes, start-up founders are typically more interested in policies that would help them access more early-stage capital and hire more talented workers.
The first concern was addressed, in part, by the JOBS Act, which authorized the use of new online crowdfunding portals (however, regulatory delays have pushed back their launch). More recently, the Senate introduced an immigration reform proposal with provisions meant to help more firms bring in talent from around the world.
Big businesses: Jobs aplenty, but where?
Imagine for a moment that you own a business with 300 employees, one of whom, your most efficient worker, produces more than a third of your company’s products. Suffice it to say, you would make that one worker’s well-being a top priority, and you would push your other employees to reach his or her level of productivity, no?
Now, think back to that earlier statistic from the SBA. Small businesses, which represent 99.7 percent of all employers, generate less than two-thirds of the country’s new jobs — which means the 0.3 percent of firms that are large (one out of 300) punch way above their weight by creating one out of every three new jobs.
So, if job creation is the aim, shouldn’t policy makers be trying to make life as easy as possible for large employers and supporting solely those small businesses that are trying to grow into big corporations?
It makes for a less popular stump speech, but large firms are a vital player when it comes to job creation. Over the past two decades, for example, small and mid-sized businesses have held a larger share of the country’s overall employment (29 percent and 27 percent, respectively) than they have of total jobs added (16 percent and 19 percent). During the same period, companies with more than 500 workers employed about 45 percent of the workforce yet contributed 65 percent of the jobs created since 1990.
Those jobs may be more valuable, too, considering large firms have historically paid significantly higher salaries than their smaller counterparts. On average, small business employees currently earn about 50 percent lower wages than those paid to workers at large companies.
But here’s the question for big business supporters: Where are the jobs being created?
A major pushback against corporate interests is that, once they are large enough, firms often start hunting overseas for cheaper labor options.
During the 1990s, American multinational companies added 2.7 million jobs in foreign countries and 4.4 million in the United States. But over the following decade, those firms continued adding positions overseas (another 2.4 million) while cutting 2.9 million jobs in the United States.
The bottom line: The latent job-creation potential from large businesses isn’t very much use to the U.S. economy if used solely to churn out new openings overseas.
Other critics of big businesses have suggested they fall short on more patents per worker than the large firms in the group, according to data from the SBA. Studies have shown that type of research and development at small firms often corresponds to a significant infusion of jobs.
However, the most common criticism against politicians bolstering large corporations is that those firms simply don’t need any more help. Big business lobbyists have long had sway in Washington, and some point to the recent economic turmoil as evidence that pushing their policy interests isn’t working for the broader economy.
Still, their overall share of employment and history creating jobs cannot be overlooked, especially when the unemployment rate seems stuck in neutral. Some business leaders have suggested the governement could encourage large firms to pull back on outsourcing by lowering the nation’s corporate tax rate, which is now the highest in the world.
Their theory is certainly disputed, but the idea is that, by bringing down the rates, more corporations would be inclined to bring jobs back to the United States — and in the process, help start-ups and small businesses jumpstart the economy.
Which group do you believe holds the key to economic recovery? Please share your take with us in the comments below.
4/25/2013 10:18 AM EDT
There is not one mention here about what drives two thirds of our economy, which is consumer spending. Business will not create jobs if they don’t have buyers for their products and services.
So, beyond the big players gaming the system, the greatest threat to our economy is a shrinking middle class. This is economics 101. You want to create jobs, you put the money in the hands of the people who buy the goods and services that drive our economy. That’s the middle class, the poor and those receiving government assistance and entitlements.
4/25/2013 10:55 AM EDT
Large Corporations can grow more easily in small business simply becaue the financial capital resources to do so. The governmental (municipal, county, state adn federal) tax codes have ALWAYS benefitted the Big Corporation, hwile strangling hte msall buiness with huge burdens of administrative/buereucratic regulation ranging from zoning to OSHA, to Tax law, to worker-fairness (just take a few business courses that get beyond THEORY) and you’ll find out. Thre is no streamlined, one-shop to assist the small business owner who hasn’t the cash to pay high-cost lawyers, accountants, IT sytem developers to help with the porcesses. I say, CLOSE every University Business School (starting with Harvard) and let the States pay those “experts” to assist small buinesses to get going, then those theorist/tenured instructors might be worthy of what they are paid.
4/25/2013 12:07 PM EDT
Big business follows the the accountant driven model: eliminate all risk. Risk, on the other hand, is all a small business has. The big business model classifies risk as lack of a guaranteed immediate profit, where a small business must struggle for long periods to gain their market and ramp profit over a longer term. Once a small business has established itself, developed a market, developed distribution of their product(s), they become a prospect for the account driven big business take-over, even if it means breaking them up, dissolving the small company’s workforce….and essentially keeping just the distribution channels. It was “risk” that created many of the Fortune 500′s. Steven Jobs and Steve Wosniak proved this by creating Apple, yet…sadly…this country remains glommed to the “accountant driven” short term logic so-called directive. And in a global market, this country tries to compete with a non-leveled playing field where Asian countries have both government assistance and 20-30-50 year business plans. Our government does not create jobs. But the government does cater to big business. The US patent system caters more to big business. The trade laws cater to big business….and the government [ ? ] they just go along to get along. They avoid any opportunities to help, for instance, recreating a renewed WPA (Works Progress Administration] where those out of work can seek retraining while getting paid, producing tax revenues, and maybe rebuilding a deteriorating economy. As long as this country follows the Wall Street short term quarterly dividend model off the cliff, small businesses will have no more than struggles instead of encouragement to build something that has a chance to become the next Apple.
April 28, 2013, 5:47 p.m. ET
Uncertainty Is the Enemy of Recovery
At Vanguard, we estimate that policy uncertainty has created a $261 billion drag on the U.S. economy.
By BILL MCNABB
Anyone hoping for signs of a healthy economic recovery was disappointed by lower-than-expected GDP growth for the first quarter of 2013—a mere 2.5%, far short of the forecast 3.2%. Meanwhile, the stock market continues to soar, hitting record levels in recent weeks. It’s a striking disconnect, and one that is discouraging and confusing for Americans as they seek to earn a living and save for the future.
Companies and small businesses are also dealing with the same paradox. Many are in good shape and have money to spend. So why aren’t they pumping more capital back into the economy, creating jobs and fueling the country’s economic engine
Quite simply, if firms can’t see a clear road to economic recovery ahead, they’re not going to hire and they’re not going to spend. It’s what economists call a “deadweight loss”—loss caused by inefficiency.
Today, there is uncertainty about regulatory policy, uncertainty about monetary policy, uncertainty about foreign policy and, most significantly, uncertainty about U.S. fiscal policy and the national debt. Until a sensible plan is created to address the debt, America will not fulfill its economic potential.
Uncertainty comes with a very real and quantifiable price tag—an uncertainty tax, so to speak. Over the past two years, amid stalled debates in Washington and missed opportunities to tackle the debt, the magnitude of this uncertainty tax has gotten short shrift.
Three economists, Stanford University’s Nicholas Bloom and Scott Baker and the University of Chicago’s Steven Davis, have done invaluable work measuring the level of policy uncertainty over the past few decades. Their research (available at policyuncertainty.com) shows that, on average, U.S. economic policy uncertainty has been 50% higher in the past two years than it has been since 1985.
Based on that research, our economists at Vanguard isolated changes in the U.S. economy that we determined were specifically due to increases in policy uncertainty, such as the debt-ceiling debacle in August 2011, the congressional supercommittee failure in November 2011, and the fiscal-cliff crisis at the end of 2012. This gave us a picture of what the economy might look like if the shocks from policy uncertainty had not occurred.
We estimate that since 2011 the rise in overall policy uncertainty has created a $261 billion cumulative drag on the economy (the equivalent of more than $800 per person in the country). Without this uncertainty tax, real U.S. GDP could have grown an average 3% per year since 2011, instead of the recorded 2% average in fiscal years 2011-12. In addition, the U.S. labor market would have added roughly 45,000 more jobs per month over the past two years. That adds up to more than one million jobs that we could have had by now, but don’t.
At Vanguard we estimate that the spike in policy uncertainty surrounding the debt-ceiling debate alone has resulted in a cumulative economic loss of $112 billion over the past two years. To put that figure in perspective, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that sequestration may reduce total funding by $85 billion in 2013. Clearly, the U.S. debt situation is the economic issue of our generation.
But it’s not just about the numbers. Every time lawmakers seemingly get close to a deal that will restore fiscal responsibility but instead fail, we at Vanguard hear the concerns of investors. They ask: How does this affect my retirement fund? What about my college savings account? How does this affect my taxes? Would I be better off putting my savings under the mattress?
Investor anxiety is a critical component in all of this. We’d be foolish to take comfort in the strength of recent stock-market performance. Until the U.S. debt issue is resolved for the long term, market gains and losses will be built on an unstable foundation of promises that cannot be kept.
Developing a credible, long-term solution to the country’s staggering debt is the biggest collective challenge right now. It should be America’s biggest collective priority, too. Any comprehensive deficit reduction must take on the imbalance between revenues and expenditures as a share of GDP. That means entitlement reforms, spending reductions and additional tax revenues.
This does not have to be about European-style “instant austerity.” Because the U.S. dollar is the world’s reserve currency, America doesn’t have to balance the budget tomorrow.
The key is to provide clarity to businesses, financial markets and everyday savers and investors. Make no mistake: A comprehensive, long-term, binding plan that brings the budget into balance over a reasonable time frame is essential. If Washington fails to achieve one, the consequences will be harsh.
The good news is that if reform is enacted, and the costly pall of uncertainty is lifted, the
U.S. economy has the potential to bounce back, creating the growth and jobs that are so badly needed. I am confident that our leaders in Washington can make it happen.
Half Empty: Another Feeble Jobs Report
Posted: 05/05/2013 10:26 pm
The press strained to find some good news in the government’s April employment report. Superficially, things appeared a little better. The official unemployment rate dropped to 7.5 percent, and the number of long-term unemployed people declined by about 258,000. The government revised upwards the number of new jobs created, to 138,000 in March, plus 165,000 in April.
The stock market loved the news: Just enough job growth to keep the economy officially out of recession. But a sufficiently sluggish economy that the Federal Reserve will keep interest rates low, and workers will have little bargaining power.
Take a deeper look at the figures behind the April report and consider the coming impact of budget cuts, and the picture is still bleak for the vast majority of Americans. The job growth is not sufficient to materially improve the condition of most working (and out-of-work) Americans.
Wages are still basically flat. Since the financial collapse of 2008, 9.5 million Americans have simply left the workforce. And if you are not in the measured workforce, you don’t count in the unemployment statistics.
As recently as 2000, just under 65 percent of Americans were in the workforce–employed or actively looking for a job. In the deep recession of 2008-2009, the percentage plummeted to less than 59 percent. And there it has sat for four years.
Despite 38 straight months of job growth, 2.6 million fewer people were employed in April 2013 than in December 2007 when the recession officially began. According to the Labor Department, 22 million people are unemployed or under-employed in part time jobs looking for fulltime work.
So what is the government doing to improve things? Why, cutting public spending of course. Most economists think these fiscal headwinds will snuff out the prospect of faster growth for the remainder of 2013–and for a decade if the Republicans and President Obama strike their long sought “grand bargain” of tax hikes and deeper spending cuts.
Why are they doing this? For fear that the current and projected levels of public debt will somehow risk future inflation and depress business confidence (which is actually depressed right now because not enough households have enough spending money in their pockets.)
Things are so grim that the Federal Reserve’s policy-setting Open Market Committee, nobody’s idea of a left-wing shop, felt the need to put out a statement Friday after the jobs numbers came out warning bluntly that “fiscal policy is restraining economic growth” and suggesting that inflation, if anything, is too low. The Fed vowed to keep interest rates extremely low, and suggested that the executive and legislative branches should take their feet off the brake. It’s quite a situation when the Federal Reserve is the most fiscally left-wing outfit in town.
While the Administration and the Republicans and far too much of the commentariat are obsessed with public debt, private debts are killing the recovery. Some 22 percent of mortgages are still under water, and student debt has surpassed a trillion dollars.
My just-published book, Debtors Prison , addresses what I call “the double standards of debt.” Banks can unload their toxic securities onto the Fed. Corporations can use the bankruptcy code’s Chapter 11 to write off old debts (including to their pensioners) and get a “fresh start.” But college borrowers stay indentured forever, as do underwater homeowners unless they want to lose the house.
The upside-down policy, of cutting public spending, giving debt relief to banks and corporations, while showing no mercy to students and homeowners, keeps the whole economy in debtors’ prison. Until these policies change, we can look forward to a decade of high unemployment and an underperforming economy.
4/6/2013 8:31 PM EDT
Looking for a job has become a nightmare from Kafka. In my field, IT, the competition is fierce. It has devolved into mostly contract work, which if you can find it, pays well, but it is short term and there are no benefits. Nothing to plan life around. If you aren’t a perfect match for the laundry list of job requirements then forget it! Employers are looking for rock stars, regardless how unrealistic that may be. Or they are looking for trained and certified monkeys in specific technologies that they can plug in with no investment. Then there are the H-1B visa holders who will work for crap because if they get fired they get deported. Which shouldn’t matter to them anyway because all the jobs are being offshored. It’s a race to the bottom in America. Better start practising saying “do you want fries with that?”
The problem is with business and the shortsighted view of seeing workers as an expense and not an investment and making a fast buck now. It will bite them in the butt if it isn’t doing so already when they find there is no loyalty anymore and nobody knows what the hell is going on in a company or how things work.
Unemployment Woes: Americans Drop Out Of Labor Force As Job Market Stagnates
By PAUL WISEMAN and JESSE WASHINGTON 04/06/13 06:17 PM ET EDT
WASHINGTON — After a full year of fruitless job hunting, Natasha Baebler just gave up.
She’d already abandoned hope of getting work in her field, working with the disabled. But she couldn’t land anything else, either – not even a job interview at a telephone call center.
Until she feels confident enough to send out resumes again, she’ll get by on food stamps and disability checks from Social Security and live with her parents in St. Louis.
“I’m not proud of it,” says Baebler, who is in her mid-30s and is blind. “The only way I’m able to sustain any semblance of self-preservation is to rely on government programs that I have no desire to be on.”
Baebler’s frustrating experience has become all too common nearly four years after the Great Recession ended: Many Americans are still so discouraged that they’ve given up on the job market.
Older Americans have retired early. Younger ones have enrolled in school. Others have suspended their job hunt until the employment landscape brightens. Some, like Baebler, are collecting disability checks.
It isn’t supposed to be this way. After a recession, an improving economy is supposed to bring people back into the job market.
Instead, the number of Americans in the labor force – those who have a job or are looking for one – fell by nearly half a million people from February to March, the government said Friday. And the percentage of working-age adults in the labor force – what’s called the participation rate – fell to 63.3 percent last month. It’s the lowest such figure since May 1979.
The falling participation rate tarnished the only apparent good news in the jobs report the Labor Department released Friday: The unemployment rate dropped to a four-year low of 7.6 percent in March from 7.7 in February.
People without a job who stop looking for one are no longer counted as unemployed. That’s why the U.S. unemployment rate dropped in March despite weak hiring. If the 496,000 who left the labor force last month had still been looking for jobs, the unemployment rate would have risen to 7.9 percent in March.
“Unemployment dropped for all the wrong reasons,” says Craig Alexander, chief economist with TD Bank Financial Group. “It dropped because more workers stopped looking for jobs. It signaled less confidence and optimism that there are jobs out there.”
The participation rate peaked at 67.3 percent in 2000, reflecting an influx of women into the work force. It’s been falling steadily ever since.
Part of the drop reflects the baby boom generation’s gradual move into retirement. But such demographics aren’t the whole answer.
Even Americans of prime working age – 25 to 54 years old – are dropping out of the workforce. Their participation rate fell to 81.1 percent last month, tied with November for the lowest since December 1984.
“It’s the lack of job opportunities – the lack of demand for workers – that is keeping these workers from working or seeking work,” says Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute. The Labor Department says there are still more than three unemployed people for every job opening.
Cynthia Marriott gave up her job search after an interview in October for a position as a hotel concierge.
“They never said no,” she says. “They just never called me back.”
Her husband hasn’t worked full time since 2006. She cashed out her 401(k) after being laid off from a job at a Los Angeles entertainment publicity firm in 2009. The couple owes thousands in taxes for that withdrawal. They have no health insurance.
She got the maximum 99 weeks’ of unemployment benefits then allowed in California and then moved to Atlanta.
Now she is looking to receive federal disability benefits for a lung condition that she said leaves her weak and unable to work a full day. The application is pending a medical review.
“I feel like I have no choice,” says Marriott, 47. “It’s just really sad and frightening”
During the peak of her job search, Marriott was filling out 10 applications a day. She applied for jobs she felt overqualified for, such as those at Home Depot and Petco but never heard back. Eventually, the disappointment and fatigue got to her.
“I just wanted a job,” she says. “I couldn’t really go on anymore looking for a job.”
Young people are leaving the job market, too. The participation rate for Americans ages 20 to 24 hit a 41-year low 69.6 percent last year before bouncing back a bit. Many young people have enrolled in community colleges and universities. That’s one reason a record 63 percent of adults ages 25 to 29 have spent at least some time in college, according to the Pew Research Center.
Older Americans are returning to school, too. Doug Damato, who lives in Asheville, N.C., lost his job as an installer at a utility company in February 2012. He stopped looking for work last fall, when he began taking classes in mechanical engineering at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College.
Next week, Damato, 40, will accept an academic award for earning top grades. But one obstacle has emerged: Under a recent change in state law, his unemployment benefits will now end July 1, six months earlier than he expected.
He’s planning to work nights, if possible, to support himself once the benefits run out. Dropping out of school is “out of the question,” he said, given the time he has already put into the program.
“I don’t want a handout,” he says. “I’m trying to better myself.”
Many older Americans who lost their jobs are finding refuge in Social Security’s disability program. Nearly 8.9 million Americans are receiving disability checks, up 1.3 million from when the recession ended in June 2009.
Natasha Baebler’s journey out of the labor force and onto the disability rolls began when she lost her job serving disabled students and staff members at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., in February 2012.
For six months, she sought jobs in her field, brandishing master’s degrees in social education and
counseling. No luck.
Then she just started looking for anything. Still, she had no takers.
“I chose to stop and take a step back for a while … After you’ve seen that amount of rejection,” she says, “you start thinking, `What’s going to make this time any different?’ “
The NRA voiced support for expanded background checks as recently as 1999. But after the Newtown massacre, it has opposed the idea. NRA officials have argued that the current system is poorly managed and that violators are rarely prosecuted — and they have instilled fear among some key senators that their votes for background checks would have political consequences.
Jeffrey Nugent says his brother Ted Nugent is wrong on background checks
Courtesty of Jeffrey Nugent – Jeffrey Nugent, left, and Ted Nugent with a wild boar they killed in 2006.
By Jeffrey Nugent, Published: May 17
Jeffrey Nugent is the former president and chief executive of Revlon.
I’m a member of the National Rifle Association and a former Army officer with assignments in the military police, artillery, and operations research and intelligence at the Pentagon.
I’m also Ted Nugent’s older brother.
Ted and I recently attended the NRA convention in Houston, where he delivered the gathering’s final speech and continued his ardent defense of the Second Amendment. Ted and I have hunted together for decades, and we legally own a large number of guns. We both understand that guns constitute deadly force, so safety is foremost in our minds. It’s part of responsible gun ownership.
And I agree with Ted that our constitutional right to bear arms should not be undermined. I want all those who are qualified to purchase a gun to be able to do so. But — and here is where I part ways with my brother — not everyone is qualified to own a gun, so expanded background checks should be a legislative priority.
I believe strongly that expanding and improving mandatory background checks will keep a lot of people who aren’t entitled to Second Amendment rights from having easy access to guns. As of today, a convicted felon can find a gun show or a private seller and buy a firearm without a background check. That loophole should be closed. Every gun transaction must include a thorough background check. Why would responsible gun owners want to protect people who threaten not only our safety but our gun rights?
The NRA has it wrong: Irresponsible gun owners are bad for everyone. If you shouldn’t have access to a gun, then there should be no way for you to access a gun! Can anyone argue with that?
Consider the mentally ill, one of the biggest threats to firearm safety. How do we preserve their rights to health privacy while keeping firearms out of their hands? It’s a huge concern, given the role mental illness has played in recent gun-violence tragedies. While some states have made progress, it’s far from universal.
But convicted felons, people with restraining orders against them and those with a history of mental illness can still find ways to purchase weapons. No one should stand for this.
The tragedy in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, and the gun violence that claims on average eight children per day in the United States, require us to think differently about what the Second Amendment really means.
Does anyone have the right to drive a car without first obtaining a license? Better yet, try buying a car without a driver’s license. Car companies know it is good for the auto industry to make cars safer and get dangerous drivers off the road. Why can’t gun manufacturers and the NRA realize this as well? (Driving a car is not a constitutional right, I know, but the safety implications are similar.)
The Partnership for a Drug-Free America (now called the Partnership at Drugfree.org) offers a useful model in the complicated challenge of preventing gun violence. Its effort hit Americans in the face with aggressive messaging, including full-page print ads and television spots — who can forget the “This is your brain on drugs” ads? — that helped make drug use a lot less cool. This campaign changed a culture.
Today, all of us, including responsible gun owners, can help make another cultural shift.
In addition to the holes in the gun-buying process, there are other major causes of gun violence: For example, perpetrators who are not prosecuted or who are put back on the streets through bail; or those who serve a minor sentence, are released and become repeat offenders. (Think of gang warfare in cities such as Chicago.)
Enhanced background checks need not threaten the Second Amendment. Why are the NRA and the elected representatives who support it so slow to realize this? Or do they fear a slippery slope toward greater restrictions on gun rights? If they don’t want to burden a flawed system, they should be part of fixing it.
Reducing gun violence and protecting the Second Amendment is not an either-or idea. I challenge the NRA’s leadership to partner with groups such as Evolve, which I recently joined, that seek to protect gun rights while creating a culture of responsibility, safe gun use and prudent access to firearms.
Can we imagine an NRA capable of taking that on? Or are we doomed to the uncompromising philosophy driving everything the organization does? I want to be proud of being a member of a proactive NRA.
I attended this month’s NRA convention to better understand what the organization is thinking and advocating. Speakers such as Glenn Beck and my brother are extremely articulate and connect with that audience, while Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, excels at creating a strident stand-and-fight mentality that does not speak for the majority of gun owners. Ted and I have talked about these matters over the years, but more often lately. I concede that he is right on some points: In some instances, cities and states with less-strict gun laws have less violent crime. But that does not argue for arming America. Ted is someone who speaks in extremes to make his points. It reflects who he is, and it works for him and his audience.
I have a 9-year-old son and two 6-year-old grandsons. Any of them could have been the victims of our recent gun tragedies — and still could become victims if we don’t do something. Virtually every day we see the tragic stories of kids shooting other kids, of children being killed in crossfire. We must act, not tomorrow, not the next day. End gun violence now, and start with limiting the purchase of firearms to those who really deserve the right.
Let’s see if the NRA and its new leaders step up and do what is right. If not, it will get done without them. We all have a role here, especially to protect our children. Who is going to be the voice for them?
This requires nothing less than a major culture shift. It’s been done before. We just have to do it again.
Loaded: how gun manufacturers and the NRA capitalise on tragedy
Mass shootings like Aurora drive up gun sales. And after Sandy Hook, the NRA is set to profit by training armed guards in schools
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 1 May 2013 13.30 EDT
An advert for an AR-15 rifle from Bushmaster Firearms, the weapon used by Adam Lanza in the Newtown school massacre. Photograph: PR
After the Sandy Hook massacre when 20 school children were gunned down in their classrooms along with several of their teachers, many of us thought the country would finally wake up to the insanity of allowing civilians to arm themselves with weapons designed to inflict mass carnage. Instead, what we have seen is tragedy descend into farce as all efforts to pass sensible gun reform measures have collapsed and gun makers, their lobbyists and now security companies are lining up to exploit the deaths of these children for profit.
The cunning geniuses in the NRA are on track to make millions of dollars in the wake of the massacre by developing a whole new revenue stream with their plan to have armed guards in every American school. Not to be left out, security companies are also getting in on the action by launching new ranges of bulletproof clothing and accessories designed exclusively for school children. It might seem counterintuitive for a society to respond to the threat of gun violence by enriching the manufacturers of guns and their allies in the security business, but apparently, this has become the price of our freedom, or at least the price of the freedom to own guns.
Elite Sterling Security, a Denver-based company, has developed a new line of “children’s items”, including a ballistic puffer vest that sells for $1,040, a ballistic backpack that sells for $295 and a ballistic jacket that sells for $380. According to a recent report by the Guardian, the company has sold over 300 bulletproof backpacks in the last two months in Colorado alone and has received over 2,000 inquiries from across the US. The company is also talking with dozens of schools in the state about equipping them with ballistic safety vests.
If this becomes our new normal, it will cost parents nearly $2,000 per child to kit them out in bulletproof gear to go to school – or more, if their kids have designer tastes. Miguel Caballero, the “Giorgio Armani of bulletproof couture”, has also launched a children’s range and some of the jackets in his summer line are going for the bargain price of £80,000 (pounds sterling). The upside is that the clothing and backpacks all weigh 3-4lb per item, so at least kids will get a bit of a workout toting the extra weight around.
One might have thought that in a state like Colorado, which has seen more than its fair share of mass shootings (most notably, in Aurora and Columbine), that people might be less willing to propagate the gun culture that allowed the shootings to happen. Instead, however, either out of fear for their safety or fear that new gun control measures might be enacted, after each massacre in the state, gun sales shot up. Now, in addition to boosting the profits of gun manufacturers, the state is leading the charge to the next frontier of craziness and boosting the profits of security companies, too. The sickening truth, of course, is that mass killings are good for the gun business.
No one knows this better than the NRA, which has shamelessly capitalized on the deaths of the children in Sandy Hook and appears to be succeeding with its battle plan to convince the American people that the best way to counter gun violence in society is to introduce even more guns into the mix. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there are 132,183 schools nationwide. If we put armed guards in all those schools, that means at least 132,183 more potential gun sales. The estimated cost of the “school shields” program is somewhere in the region of $4bn, and the taxpayer will foot the bill, naturally.
That amount will only cover the cost of the guns, the personnel and the training. The cost to our children, who will have to grow up in an increasingly militarized environment, is inestimable.
It’s too early to say how fearful and paranoid and even trigger-happy the next generation will be if we subject them to an upbringing of normalized and omnipresent firearms that involves daily interaction with armed guards and bulletproof vests. We do know that our schools are already over-policed. We also know that we have a far too established school-to-prison pipeline that needlessly funnels children into the criminal justice system for minor infractions. Research suggests that this police presence does little to enhance safety in schools, but does a lot to cause children distress and to create a negative learning environment. Despite this knowledge, we seem to be all set to go along with the NRA’s self-enriching plans rather than enacting sensible gun control measures that would have a far greater impact on public safety.
The simple truth is that if Adam Lanza’s mother had not been legally able to purchase a stockpile of weapons, including the .22-caliber rifle her son used to shoot her and the Bushmaster XM15-E2S semi-automatic rifle he used to shoot the children and their teachers and the semi-automatic handgun he used to kill himself, the terrible tragedy in Sandy Hook would never have happened. The logical response should be to control civilian access more tightly to these kinds of weapons, or indeed, to any weapon.
But we are not logical, and so far, our response has been to hand a gift voucher to the weapons manufacturers and their affiliates. The freedom to buy guns that kill has just gotten very expensive.
HOMICIDE WATCH CHICAGO
Slain college student walked a dangerous block so his friend wouldn’t be alone
Posted May 8, 2013, 3:42 p.m. by John Carpenter
By John Carpenter
Homicide Watch Chicago
It was just after 11 p.m. Monday and Kevin Ambrose answered his cell phone as he walked, looking up at the El tracks. His childhood friend was arriving on the Green Line to join a casual celebration – five buddies reconnecting after their first year of college.
“He told me: ‘I’m on the way. I can see the train now,” said Michael Dye, the friend on the train.
The doors opened and Dye stepped onto the 47th Street platform. He heard gunshots and looked down to see a man running through an empty lot toward an alley. He didn’t know it was Ambrose – shot in the back and running for his life – and dialed him again as he walked down the stairs.
“When I called his phone twice and he didn’t answer, I started to get a feeling something was wrong. I walked down the steps and turned the corner, and I saw him laying there.”
Ambrose, a 19-year-old Kenwood Academy graduate who had just finished his freshman year at Columbia College, was dead within the hour.
Police said a car drove by and fired several shots in Ambrose’s direction, hitting him in the left section of his lower back. Ambrose was taken to Stroger Hospital, where he died.
No one was in custody Tuesday, Chicago Police spokesman Jose Estrada said, adding that Ambrose had no known gang affiliations.
Indeed, Ebony Ambrose said her son wanted nothing to do with gangs, and was planning on studying to become a police officer.
“He didn’t even understand the point of gangs,” she said. “He worked hard for his money, and he wanted to make something of himself.”
Ambrose worked at the City Target in the Loop, and saved as much money as he could, his mother said. He was planning on transferring from Columbia College to a community college, so he could complete his general studies classes more cheaply. Then he planned to go to college to study law enforcement, both Ebony Ambrose and Dye said.
His first love, however, was theater and music.
“That was his passion,” his mother said. “He always wanted that to be part of his life, but not necessarily his career.”
Ambrose was a theater major at Columbia, but focused on the technical aspects of theater production, his mother said. He also participated in a summer program with the Joffrey Ballet that included a trip to South Africa, she said.
Kristen Ambrose, 17, said that what made her brother most special was that he always thought of other people.
“If he saw somebody sad, he tried his best to make them laugh,” she said.
“He was awesome. He was a great guy. He put others before he put himself,” Dye said.
Ebony Ambrose pointed out that her son died because he didn’t want his friend to have to walk the dangerous block-and-a-half from the El station to his house alone.
“He was looking out for his friend,” she said.
Dye ran to Ambrose when he saw him lying on the ground. Someone had tried to steal Ambrose’s phone, and Dye got it back for him. The police arrived almost immediately, followed by an ambulance.
“The police asked me to go to the house with them, to tell the family. So that’s what I did,” Dye said.
“I was sleeping,” Ebony Ambrose said. “They woke me up, and there was police all up in my house. They told me what happened, and said we better hurry up, it looks really bad.”
Dye said they drove to the hospital, where doctors were still working to save Ambrose. He was pronounced dead at 11:44 p.m., according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.
Standing in front of her apartment, in the 4800 block of S. Prairie, Ambrose said there is anger in her grief.
“There was nothing about him that said this is something that would have happened. He just wasn’t involved in anything that was going on in this neighborhood,” she said.
“It pisses me off. You think you are doing the right thing. It makes no sense.”
Bobby Ambrose, 41, was Kevin’s cousin. A rapper who has performed under the name Prodigy, he said Kevin talked with him about his dreams to be a performer.
“It makes me sad that the world will never get to see what he might have become, or how beautiful he was,” Ambrose said.
Daniel Michmerhuizen is a teacher at Benito Juarez Community Academy. He came to know Ambrose through Dye, a former student of his. He said Ambrose was recently a guest at his house for Easter dinner.
“How he got hurt epitomizes who he was,” Michmerhuizen said. “Instead of letting his friend walk two blocks alone, he walked alone to go meet him.”
‘If it can happen to my daughter it can happen to anyone’: Mother of Audrie Pott who committed suicide after alleged sexual assault bravely speaks out for the first time about her death
Tragic: Audrie Pott, 15, killed herself in September 2012
Lawyer: Assaulted teen had drawings, name on body
Monday, April 15, 2013
By; Associated Press
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Awakening in a friend’s bedroom after drinking too much at a sleepover, 15-year-old Audrie Pott looked down and realized she had been sexually assaulted and her attackers had written and drawn on intimate parts of her body, her family’s attorney said Monday.
Over the next week, she pieced together one horrifying detail after another. She went online and tried to confront the three boys she had known since junior high who she believed had done it.
At school, she saw a group of students huddled around a cellphone and realized that at least one humiliating photo of her was circulating.
“I have a reputation for a night I don’t even remember and the whole school knows,” she wrote in one Facebook message to a friend.
“I cried when I found out what they did,” she wrote in another.
Eight days after the attack, she called and asked her mother to pick her up at school. She said she couldn’t deal with it anymore but would not say what was wrong.
And then she hanged herself.
The Pott family disclosed the new details of the ordeal at an emotional news conference Monday in San Jose, discussing painful details of what their daughter was put through and demanding that three 16-year-old boys arrested eight months after the assault be tried as adults — a move that would be highly unlikely under California law.
The family also filed a lawsuit Monday against the three suspects and their parents, claiming the boys removed Audrie’s shorts and “digitally penetrated her, and/or penetrated her with a foreign object, and/or sexually abused her” after she drank alcohol and passed out.
The boys arrested in the case are each charged with sexual battery, dissemination of child pornography and possession of child pornography. Under California law, such less severe charges are filed if a victim was unconscious and did not have the ability to fight off a sexual assault.
Audrie’s mother, Sheila Pott, said she hopes to change that with a new “Audrie’s Law.”
“I want to take serious steps to see that this doesn’t happen to another one of our children,” she said.
The parents of the friend where the party was held are also being sued by Audrie’s family, with the suit claiming the parents of the friend had a “duty to prevent” parties from taking place at their home.
Sgt. Mike Leininger, a retired San Jose police detective hired by the family’s attorney to investigate the case, said interviews of people at the party showed the suspects were sober at the time of the attack in Saratoga, a bedroom community on the fringe of Silicon Valley.
However, a police report obtained by the San Jose Mercury News said the suspects told authorities during the initial investigation that they did drink at the party.
The police report also says witnesses told investigators the three suspects took the drunken Audrie to sleep in an upstairs room then assaulted her.
The report says the attackers pulled off her shorts and partially removed her bra, exposing her breasts, the newspaper reported. Markings were found on her chest, legs, back and near her genitalia.
“They wrote ‘Blank Was Here,’ on her leg,” said family attorney Robert Allard, not using the actual name because the suspect is a juvenile. “They marked her.”
Lisa Pott, the stepmother of Audrie, said the three suspects were removed from the football team after her suicide but weren’t expelled from school, despite their pleas to the principal.
She said Audrie had been dealing with bullying problems at school prior to the assault, and the family had asked the principal for help last spring.
Jane Marashian, a spokeswoman for the school district, said officials had no comment in response to that claim.
Attorney Eric Geffon, who represents one of the three suspects, told The Associated Press that attorneys representing all three will have a statement Tuesday after a hearing in Juvenile Court.
Geffon said the boys were cited last fall but no formal charges were filed against them until Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputies arrested two boys at Saratoga High School and a third, a former Saratoga High student, at Christopher High in Gilroy where he currently was a student. They have been held in the county juvenile detention center since Thursday.
Audrie Pott’s father, mother and stepmother said they were outraged by what they see as a refusal to take responsibility by the teens. Lawrence Pott, the girl’s father, said he was astounded that defense lawyers for the three denied a link between the assault and the humiliating photo and his daughter’s decision to end her life.
“With no assault, with no cyberbullying, Audrie is in art class right now,” he said, his voice breaking as he held back tears. “What they did was disgusting.”
Audrie spent two days on life support after she hanged herself, according to the family’s lawsuit.
The AP does not routinely identify victims of sexual assault. But in this case, Pott’s family wanted her name and case known, Allard said. The family also provided a photo to the AP.
The arrests and the details that came spilling out shocked many in this prosperous Silicon Valley suburb of 30,000 and have drawn international attention, especially coming just after two other similar episodes recently in the news — a suicide in Canada and a rape in Steubenville, Ohio.
“I have to say we were unprepared for the amount of media attention that we are getting,” said Lisa Pott, mother of Audrie’s three younger siblings. “Not only is this scary and intimidating, but just as we thought we might be starting to heal, it rips open the wound and reminds us of everything our family lost.”
Parents’ agony as ‘bullied’ girl, 14, hangs herself from middle school bleachers during class
Bullying: Rice’s older sister, who goes by ‘Moka,’ said her sister was driven to suicide by bullies at school
Honoring Braylee: Posters, stuffed animals and other gifts were left under the bleachers at the site of her death Monday
Our country committing suicide