Politics and Legislation
Dem thorns remain in Obama’s side
President Obama has shored up his liberal base over the last several months, but there are more than a few Democrats on Capitol Hill who won’t shy away from bucking the commander in chief — even in an election year.
Attacks on the White House from members of the same party always attract media attention and can be a distraction from the president’s legislative and political goals. At various times during his first term, Obama has shown irritation when he’s been hit with friendly fire.
In 2009, Obama urged Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) to “stop demeaning” him after the Michigan Democrat criticized the president’s policies on the Afghanistan war.
Rep. Peter DeFazio’s (D-Ore.) opposition to Obama’s stimulus package and his call for the resignation of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner were duly noted by the president, who told him, “Don’t think we’re not keeping score, brother.”
Brad Woodhouse, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said, “The president enjoys very strong support on Capitol Hill.” He added that presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney has broken with GOP officials on a variety of issues, including “healthcare reforms he passed in Massachusetts, which were the model for ObamaCare.”
While many Democrats, such as Conyers, have rallied around the president, there are others who have put the White House on notice. A list of them follows.
Ethics charges against Rep. Bachus dropped
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) announced Monday that ethics claims against him had been unanimously dismissed by the Office of Congressional Ethics.
Bachus had been scrutinized over whether he used his high-ranking position to obtain private information to make profitable financial trades.
In a lengthy statement, Bachus said he was relieved that the “long, painful and frustrating experience” had come to an end, and dismissed any claim that he violated ethics rules as part of a “destructive and disruptive, media generated assault.”
“While their review and report should never have been necessary, I am pleased that they have helped clear my name,” he said.
Microsoft denies softening of CISPA support
Microsoft released a statement on Monday reaffirming its support for a controversial cybersecurity bill that cleared the House last week.
“Microsoft’s position remains unchanged,” Christina Pearson, a Microsoft spokeswoman, said in a statement to The Hill. “We supported the work done to pass cybersecurity bills last week in the House of Representatives and look forward to continuing to work with all stakeholders as the Senate takes up cybersecurity legislation.”
The statement shoots down reports that the technology company was wavering in its support of the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA).
Microsoft was one of the earliest supports of CISPA. The company applauded Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) when they first introduced the bill last year.
“This bill is an important first step towards addressing significant problems in cyber security,” the company said at the time.
The goal of CISPA is to help companies beef up their defenses against hackers who steal business secrets, rob customers’ financial information and wreak havoc on computer systems. The bill would remove legal barriers that discourage companies from sharing information about cyber threats.
McCain on Bin Laden raid: ‘The thing about heroes, they don’t brag’
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) continued to hammer the Obama re-election team over its use of the death of Osama bin Laden in a campaign commercial, echoing Mitt Romney’s statement that any president – including Jimmy Carter – would have made the same call.
“I say any president, Jimmy Carter, anybody, any president would have, obviously, under those circumstances, done the same thing. And to now take credit for something that any president would do is indicative of take over campaign we’re under — we’re — we’re seeing…So all I can say is that this is going to be a very rough campaign,” McCain told Fox News in an interview set to air Monday night. “And I’ve had the great honor of serving in the company of heroes. And, you know the thing about heroes, they don’t brag.”
Those remarks largely mirror a similar claim made by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney earlier Monday. McCain has endorsed Romney’s bid for the White House and served as one of his top surrogates on foreign policy issues.
“Of course. Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order,” Romney said Monday before a New Hampshire campaign event.
Flashback ’08 McCain, Clinton Slam Obama For Saying He’d Go Get Bin Laden In Pakistan
by Staff Writers
Amman, Jordan (UPI) Apr 30, 2012
King Abdullah II, a key U.S. ally in the Arab world, has gone through three prime ministers in 18 months as he struggles to avoid the kind of Arab Spring political upheaval that toppled four presidents in 2011.
But despite his most adroit efforts, the Hashemite throne remains vulnerable because, unlike his fellow monarchs in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states, he doesn’t have the money to buy off protesters while pressure for sweeping reform and an end to entrenched corruption is growing.
“The king has shuffled Cabinets and then shuffled them again, using prime ministers as buffers to absorb popular discontent,” observed the International Crisis Group, a Brussels think tank.
“He has charged committees to explore possible reforms but these remain largely unimplemented.”
On Thursday, Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh resigned only six months after Abdullah appointed him to replace Marouf al-Bakhit, a former army general and head of Jordan’s intelligence service, a key pillar of the monarchy.
Bakhit, who was widely perceived as dragging his feet on reform, was forced to step down because he was allegedly involved in a secret deal to build a giant casino complex at a Dead Sea resort.
He had been accused of high-level corruption during a previous spell as prime minister in 2005-07.
Labib Kamhawi, a Jordanian political analyst, said the resignation of Khasawneh, a deputy chief at the International Court of Justice in The Hague and a former adviser to Abdullah’s late father, King Hussein, will likely increase pressure on the monarch to introduce reforms.
“There will be increased tension between the palace and popular movements seeking reform,” Kamhawi said.
The appointment of Khasawneh, a prominent legal expert widely perceived as a clean politician, as prime minister in October 2011 had been widely seen as a move by Abdullah to accelerate bringing in reforms.
Khasawneh’s no-warning resignation came amid rising popular discontent with the glacial pace of reform, with allegations Abdullah was dragging his feet. The palace acknowledged Khasawneh’s resignation without comment or explanation and appointed another former prime minister, Fayez al-Tarawneh, who served in the late 1990s.
But few political insiders expect him to be any more successful than his three recent predecessors in producing a formula that will find acceptance by the royal palace and the mainly Islamist opposition.
Abdullah, who ascended the throne after his father died in February 1999, inherited a long-fraught political crisis.
This is essentially a confrontation between the Bedouin tribes who’re the traditional bedrock of support for the monarchy established by Britain after World War I and the Muslim Brotherhood, a largely urban movement linked to Palestinians who make up some 60 percent of Jordan’s population of 6.5 million.
The Bedouin, known as “East Bankers” to distinguish them from Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied West Bank, resent the growing political power of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Islamic Action Front.
The IAF resents the monarchy’s constant efforts to hold them in check, particularly since the pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring that began in January 2011.
“The East Bankers’ resentment toward the regime has been building since shortly after King Abdullah II’s ascension to the throne and his move toward liberalization,” observed the U.S. global security consultancy Stratfor.
The largely rural East Bankers, around 40 percent of Jordan’s population, have long dominated Jordan’s public sector, the army, security forces and the bureaucracy. They still dominate Parliament despite Islamist gains, which have been repeatedly thwarted to prevent them gaining a majority.
But, Stratfor notes, “this has not offset the East Bankers’ concerns about a loss of position due to what they see as the Palestinian majority increasingly gaining privileges at their expense.”
The big fear is, of course, that Jordan will eventually become a Palestinian state.
On April 17, nine days before Khasawneh resigned, the lower house of Jordan’s parliament approved a measure to the draft political parties law that forbids the establishment of parties based on religion.
That was designed to disqualify the IAF from upcoming elections, thus antagonizing the Islamists at a time when the king insists he’s striving to introduce reforms.
With Abdullah trying to rebuff mounting Saudi pressure to use Jordan as a conduit for arms and fighters to escalate the 13-month-old uprising against the Iranian-backed regime in Damascus, Jordan looks set for a rough ride in the months ahead.
Democracy in the 21st century at TerraDaily.com
House Republicans: No offsets for extending Bush-era tax rates
House Republicans say they have no plans to pay for the extension of the Bush-era tax rates, a move that could erase the deficit reduction they have achieved since winning their majority in the chamber in 2010.
The income and investment tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 are set to expire at the end of the year and are at the center of a thicket of fiscal decisions that Congress must make in the next several months.
While President Obama and congressional Democrats want to extend only the Bush rates for middle-income earners, Republicans have long argued that the entire slate of tax rates should be kept in place until Congress can agree to a complete overhaul of the tax code.
But moving to extend the Bush tax rates without offsetting spending cuts or revenue increases could leave the GOP vulnerable to attacks on the deficit, particularly for a party that has spent years accusing Democrats of bankrupting federal coffers and used their House majority to insist on controlling the exploding debt.
It is Republican Party orthodoxy that tax cuts do not need to be offset because of the additional tax receipts they spur through economic growth. And in interviews, even House Republicans who have broken with the party leadership on taxes told The Hill they do not believe the extension of the Bush-era rates needs to be paid for.
The lawmakers also said that Republicans had always intended for the rates on income and capital gains, enacted during former President George W. Bush’s first term, to be permanent.
A Wall St. Tax and an Independent Workers Movement
Robert Pollin is Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He is the founding codirector of the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI). His research centers on macroeconomics, conditions for low-wage workers in the US and globally, the analysis of financial markets, and the economics of building a clean-energy economy in the US. His books include A Measure of Fairness: The Economics of Living Wages and Minimum Wages in the US and Contours of Descent: US Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity. RoseAnn DeMoro is executive director of the National Nurses United, the nation’s largest union of nurses. DeMoro is also executive director of the California Nurses Association, which is well known for igniting the campaign that upended one of the world’s most famous celebrity politicians, Arnold Schwarzenegger, dropping his public approval from 70% to 35% in the polls. Under DeMoro’s stewardship, NNU and CNA is also renown as the leading national advocates of single payer/Medicare for all healthcare reform.
Egyptian Workers’ Struggle Continues
Published on May 1, 2012 by TheRealNews
Thousands of workers fired at Shebin el-Kom factory, part of corrupt privatization deal
No End in Sight to Global Jobs Crisis: UN Agency
Fiscal austerity and tough labor reforms have failed to create jobs, leading to an “alarming” situation in the global employment market that shows no sign of recovering, the International Labour Organization said on Sunday.
Susan Trigg | Getty Images
In advanced countries, especially in Europe, employment is not expected to return to pre-crisis levels of 2008 until the end of 2016 — two years later than it previously predicted — in line with a slowdown in production.
An estimated 196 million people were unemployed worldwide at the end of last year, forecast to rise to 202 million in 2012 for a rate of 6.1 percent, according to the United Nations agency’s annual flagship report, “World of Work Report 2012″.
“Austerity has not produced more economic growth,” Raymond Torres, director of the ILO Institute for International Labour Studies, told a news briefing.
“The ill-conceived labor market reforms in the short-term cannot work either. These reforms in situations of crisis tend to lead to more job destruction and very little job creation at least in the short-term,” said Torres, the report’s lead author.
Long-term jobseekers are demoralized and an average of 40 percent of job seekers in their prime (aged 25-49) in advanced countries have been without work for more than a year, the report found.
Youth jobless rates have soared, increasing the risk of social unrest especially in parts of Africa and the Middle East.
Four Fed Policy Makers See No Need to Ease With Economy
By Caroline Salas Gage and Joshua Zumbrun – May 2, 2012 10:30 AM CT
The odds of more Federal Reserve stimulus diminished yesterday as four central bankers said it probably won’t be needed and an unexpected acceleration in U.S. manufacturing provided fresh evidence of economic strength.
John Williams, president of the San Francisco Fed, joined his counterparts from Richmond, Philadelphia and Atlanta in casting doubt on the need for additional purchases of bonds to push down longer-term interest rates. Three of them are voting members of the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee
The Fed bought $2.3 trillion of assets in two rounds after cutting its benchmark rate close to zero in December 2008. Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/Bloomberg
Thresholds for further action “would be if we see economic growth slow to the point where we’re not seeing further progress in bringing the unemployment rate down,” Williams said, or if inflation dropped “significantly” below the Fed’s 2 percent goal. Those aren’t “the circumstances I currently expect,” Williams said at a conference in Beverly Hills, California.
The FOMC left policy unchanged after its April 24-25 meeting, and Chairman Ben S. Bernanke signaled that further easing is unlikely unless the economy unexpectedly deteriorates. Bernanke said it would be “reckless” to pursue policies that would drive up inflation when it’s already near the Fed’s target, while noting he’s “prepared to do more” should conditions worsen.
Richmond President Jeffrey Lacker, who has dissented three times this year against the panel’s statement that borrowing costs are likely to stay “exceptionally low” at least through late 2014, repeated his objections yesterday.
Private-sector hiring slows in April, stirs concern
By Leah Schnurr
(Reuters) – U.S. companies hired the fewest people in seven months in April, a worrisome sign for a labor market that has struggled to gain traction and adding to concerns that the economy has lost some momentum.
The ADP National Employment Report on Wednesday showed the private sector added 119,000 jobs last month, below economists’ expectations for a gain of 177,000 jobs. The March figure was also revised lower.
The report comes two days before the government’s broader and much-watched monthly jobs report.
“This is an upsetting report,” said David Carter, chief investment officer at Lenox Advisors in New York.
“The strength of the U.S. economic rebound is clearly still uncertain. Hopefully we don’t get a third consecutive summer of weaker growth.”
Recent data, including softer labor market figures, have fueled fears that the economy may have lost some strength as the second quarter got under way. Those worries were partly offset by data from an industry group on Tuesday that showed a better-than-expected pick-up in the manufacturing sector last month.
But government data on Wednesday showed new orders for factory goods suffered their biggest decline in three years in March as demand for transportation equipment and a range of other goods dried up.
Growth in the U.S. economy has been seen as increasingly important to offset slack elsewhere in the world. The euro zone on Wednesday reported another contraction in its factory sector.
In China, factory activity contracted again in April, although at a slower rate, hinting at stabilization in the world’s second-largest economy.
The day’s data helped take U.S. stocks down about 0.5 percent in midday trading, while Treasuries prices rose and the euro fell against the dollar.
By Jason Lange
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Hiring by U.S. employers likely rebounded in April, which could ease worries the economy has stumbled into a soft patch.
Businesses outside the farm sector are expected to have added 170,000 jobs last month, according to a Reuters survey, after rising a meager 120,000 in March. The unemployment rate is seen holding at a three-year low of 8.2 percent.
“It will allay any fears regarding a lapse in the economy,” said Millan Mulraine, an economist at TD Securities in New York.
A rebound in hiring would bring some relief for President Barack Obama, who is under pressure to boost employment ahead of his November re-election bid.
It also could make further support for the economy from the Federal Reserve less likely. The chairman of the U.S. central bank, Ben Bernanke, said last week that monetary policy was “more or less in the right place” even though the Fed would not hesitate to launch another round of bond purchases if the economy were to weaken.
Wall Street economists took that as a sign that odds are pretty slim the Fed, which has already bought $2.3 trillion in bonds in two rounds of so-called quantitative easing, will step in again.
“The bar for QE3 is pretty high,” said Marc Chandler, a currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York.
Economists expect a rebound in hiring because they believe the reading in March was largely an anomaly rather than a sign of underlying economic weakness. According to that line of thinking, mild weather earlier in the year led employers to bring forward hiring at the expense of March.
Now, forecasters think the impact from weather has mostly run its course. Indeed, the consensus forecast for April is just below the average rate of job gains over the prior six months.
But even though other sectors of the economy have recently looked relatively robust, and support the case for a rebound in hiring, the March jobs figure has continued to cast a cloud over the outlook.
Oil prices rise on improvement in US manufacturing
Oil prices rise as US manufacturing expands at strong pace; hiring, production increase
Oil prices rose Tuesday after growth in the U.S. and Chinese manufacturing sectors signaled more demand for energy products.
The improvement for the world’s two largest economies offered some relief from persistent worries about the slowdown in Europe.
Benchmark crude rose $1.29 to finish at $106.16 per barrel in New York. That’s the highest settlement price since it hit $106 on March 28. Brent crude increased 19 cents to $119.66 per barrel in London.
Separately, natural gas prices rose for a third day on hopes that the glut of inventory could shrink. The government said Monday that overall production fell 0.8 percent to 82.36 billion cubic feet per day in February from the previous month. Weekly storage data is due out Thursday. It’s likely to show the nation’s supplies are still well above average for this time of year.
Natural gas ended up 8.6 cents at $2.371 per 1,000 cubic feet.
Wars and Rumors of War
Fences Up: Israel walls off Lebanon, Egypt
Published on May 1, 2012 by RussiaToday
To the Middle East now, where Israel is taking new steps to shield itself from its Arab neighbors. Having already walled-off the Palestinians, Tel Aviv’s now seeking to do the same with the Lebanese. We get the latest from RT’s Paula Slier in Israel.
Report: Guns used in Mexico lawyer’s murder traced to Operation Fast and Furious
Firearms connected to Operation Fast and Furious were used in the 2010 slaying of the brother of the former Chihuahua state attorney general, according to a U.S. congressional report.
The report said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives traced two of the weapons suspected in the murder of lawyer Mario González Rodríguez, but did not report this fact to the Mexican government until eight months after the tracing.
The joint congressional staff report “The Department of Justice’s Operation Fast and Furious: Fueling Cartel Violence” was prepared for U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., two lawmakers who are spearheading an ongoing investigation into the ATF’s controversial operation.
“On October 21, 2010, drug cartel members kidnapped Mario González Rodríguez from his office,” according to the 2011 congressional report. “At the time of the kidnapping, his sister Patricia González Rodríguez was the attorney general of the state of Chihuahua.”
Mexican officials said Patricia González Rodríguez was already on her way out because the new governor had been installed and a new state prosecutor was going to be appointed.
“A few days after the kidnapping,” the congressional report said, “ a video surfaced on the Internet in which Mario González Rodríguez sat handcuffed, surrounded by five heavily armed men wearing masks, dressed in camouflage and bullet-proof vest.”
“Apparently, under duress,” the report said, “(González Rodríguez) alleged that his sister had ordered killings at the behest of the Juárez cartel … the video quickly went viral.”
Chihuahua state Attorney General Patricia González Rodríguez denied the allegations of drug corruption and traveled to Mexico City to seek the federal government’s help in investigating her brother’s murder. She is no longer in Chihuahua, and reportedly left Mexico for safety reasons.
A video of Mario González Rodríguez’s “interrogation” by armed men was carried on YouTube. The body of the well-known Chihuahua City lawyer was found Nov. 5, 2010, in a shallow grave.
Then, Mexican federal authorities, following a shootout with drug cartel suspects, seized 16 weapons and arrested eight men in connection with Mario González Rodríguez’s murder.
Articles of Interest
Fascist America: Have We Finally Turned The Corner?
America has never been without fascist wannabes. Research by Political Research Associates estimates that, at any given time in our history, roughly 10-12 percent of the country’s population has been bred-in-the-bone right-wing authoritarians — the people who are hard-wired to think in terms of fascist control and order. Our latter-day Christian Dominionists, sexual fundamentalists and white nationalists are the descendants — sometimes, the literal blood descendants — of the same people who joined the KKK in the 1920s, followed Father Coughlin in the 1930s, backed Joe McCarthy in the early ’50s, joined the John Birch society in the ’60s, and signed up for the Moral Majority in the 1970s and the Christian Coalition in the 1990s.
Given its rather stunning durability, it’s probably time to acknowledge that this proto-fascist strain is a permanent feature of the American body politic. Like ugly feet or ears that stick out, it’s an unchanging piece of who we are. We are going to have to learn to live with it.
But it’s also true that this faction’s influence on the larger American culture ebbs and flows broadly over time. Our parents and grandparents didn’t have to deal with them much at all, because the far-right fringe was pushed back hard during the peak years of the New Deal. It broke out for just a few short years in the McCarthy era — long enough to see the rise of the Birchers — and then was firmly pushed back down into irrelevance again.
But the country’s overall conservative drift since the Reagan years and the rise of the Internet (which enabled the right’s network of regional and single-issue groups to crystallize into a single, unified, national right-wing culture over the course of the ’90s and ’00s) reenergized the extreme right as a political force. As a result, history may look back on George W. Bush’s eight years as the “Peak Wingnut” era — a high-water mark in radical right-wing influence and power in America.
Obama Information Czar Cass Sunstein Confronted on Cognitive Infiltration of Conspiracy
Published on May 1, 2012 by wearechange
In a rare public appearance, The Obama Administration’s Information Czar Cass Sunstein gave a lecture at the NYU Law School in NYC yesterday, prompting Luke Rudkowski of WeAreChange to attend. Watch as Luke confronts Sunstein multiple times on an academic paper he co-authored back in 2008 entitled “Conspiracy Theories” in which he called for cognitive infiltration of conspiracy groups by the government.
You can download the paper for free here: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1084585
SALON article that appears in video: http://www.salon.com/2010/01/15/sunstein_2/
*UPDATE* Infowars Article on Confrontation: http://www.infowars.com/obama-information-czar-confronted-over-ban-conspiracy…
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