When Did Compromise Become A Bad Thing?

Chock up another win for the radical. Tea Party darling Ted Cruz trounced conservative David Dewhurst in the Republican runoff for the Texas senate seat on Tuesday night. How did a first-time candidate with so little name recognition pull off a 14-point victory over a GOP favorite?

Sheer stubbornness. Cruz and Dewhurst share many conservative beliefs, but Cruz set himself apart by accusing Dewhurst of what the Tea Party has turned into a political sin: compromise.

Cruz loves to criticize others for being too quick to compromise - but isn’t that part of effective governing? This refusal to reach agreement with other members of Congress earned him the support of Sarah Palin, Tim DeMint, and other Tea Party kingmakers.

Other candidates have used a similar brand of obstinacy to beat GOP conservatives in Indiana, Nebraska, and Delaware. This rise in extremism may excite far-right voters, but it doesn’t bode well for nation as a whole. We are facing frightening challenges, from financial turmoil to climate change. If elected officials refuse to talk with their colleagues about how to solve these problems, America won’t be able to move forward.

It’s quite simple really. When my son and daughter squabble with each other or run into trouble on the playground, I tell them to try to work it out amongst themselves first. If every parent knows the value of give and take, why don’t more Tea Party politicians?

In the absence of conversation, we end up with a pack of bullies. Just look at Congress’ record on the environment. GOP lawmakers in the House have voted more than 200 times to undermine public health and environmental safeguards. They have moved to thwart the clean energy technologies that will make our air safer to breathe and put American companies at the forefront of a massive global market. And they have forced America to face the threat of climate change without a national plan for fighting it or even getting prepared.

Most of these votes have been cast in the name of lofty principle and anti-regulatory purity. But ideology for the sake of ideology is irresponsible when your citizens are facing real and pressing dangers, whether it is cancer-causing pollution from power plants or extreme weather events brought on by climate change.

I live in California where a new report was released this week by the California Natural Resources Agency and the California Energy Committee. It notes that climate change will bring my state hotter summers, shorter rainy seasons, and drier days.  It will also threaten the state’s electricity sector as the state will have a harder time generating and transmitting power - and let’s not even get into the fact that the report notes the expectation that the sea level along our coasts are expected to rise 31-55 inches by the end of the century.  

But at least my state is examining the hazards of climate change. Short-sighted North Carolina lawmakers passed legislation that would prevent predictions about the state’s sea level rise from incorporating climate change trends. How can people protect their families and their property if the state won’t even acknowledge the problem?

The GOP hasn’t always been committed to sticking its head in the sand. It has a long and impressive tradition of supporting environmental protection. President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act, President Bush signed the amendments that made the law stronger, and countless Republican lawmakers have supported conserving America’s natural heritage.

You don’t achieve these milestones by drowning out the voices of your colleagues across the aisle; you do it by conversing, negotiating, and yes, even compromising.

I was pleasantly surprised that House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to a budget deal that will avoid a government shutdown. But my next thought was: oh no, the Tea Party is coming to get you John Boehner. You will be punished for making a deal with the Democrats.

Yet if the Tea Party continues to support candidates who only say no, it is in danger of branding themselves into a corner. Americans may have hit record levels of frustration with Congress, but in the end, we want our government to function. We want lawmakers who are at least willing to talk about the issues facing our nation—and maybe even lead us into the future.

 

 

Olympians Medal in London, While the NRA Meddles in Harrisburg

 

 by WALTER BRASCH

 

Shortly before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on an amendment last December that would ban pigeon shoots, the Pennsylvania Flyers Association sent out a bulletin it marked as “urgent.”

“We must act now to preserve our sport,” the Flyers screeched. In a separate letter, the Flyers told its members they “should be very proud that your association has been able to keep the sport alive in PA [sic] for the last 27 years.” For added support, the notice referred to an NRA release, which called pigeon shooting a “Pennsylvania Sporting Tradition.”

Shooting live pigeons in a confined area isn’t a sport. Most hunters, as well as the Pennsylvania Game Commission, say that pigeon shoots aren’t “fair chase hunting.” The International Olympic Committee banned pigeon shoots after the 1900 Olympics because of its cruelty to animals, and continues to refuse to classify it as a “sport.” At that Olympics, the only time someone could earn a medal for cruelty, 300 birds were killed.

While 11,000 athletes from 205 countries continue to excel at the Olympics in London, 75 pretend hunters and faux sportsmen are at the Wing Pointe club near Hamburg, Pa., this weekend where they are shooting more than 10 times the number of pigeons killed at the 1900 Olympics.

Scared and undernourished, the birds are placed into small traps and then released 30 yards in front of people with shotguns. Most birds are hit as they are launched. Even standing only feet from their kill, the shooters aren’t as good as they think they are. About 70 percent of all birds are wounded, according to Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States.

If the birds are wounded on the killing fields, trapper boys and girls, most in their early teens, some of them younger, grab the birds, wring their necks, snip their heads off with shears, stomp on their bodies, or throw them live into barrels to suffocate. At Wing Pointe, birds are just thrown into a heap, with wounded birds left to die from suffocation. There is no food or commercial value of a pigeon killed at one of the shoots.

The lure of pigeon shoots in addition to what the participants must think is a wanton sense of fulfillment is gambling, illegal under Pennsylvania law but not enforced by the Pennsylvania State Police. At Wing Pointe, each shooter pays a $290 entry fee. According to the rules, each shooter “must play $200.00 anywhere.” Pigeon shooters and the public can gamble more than that, with the club taking a percentage of the “official” bets. A high stakes, invitation-only poker game adds to the opportunity to lose more than a month’s house mortgage.

Wing Pointe earns even more from its pro shop and from shooters and their guests who stay at its luxury suites it claims is “the perfect retreat after you have spent the day enjoying our Sports Shooting playground.”

The failure to ban pigeon shoots leaves Pennsylvania as the only state where pretend hunters, most of them from New Jersey and surrounding states where pigeon shoots are illegal, can openly shoot pigeons which have just been released from the traps. The NRA claims pigeon shoots are legal in 35 states; however, because those states enforce animal cruelty laws, Pennsylvania is one of the only states that has openly held pigeon shoots. Pigeon shoots are held in southeastern Pennsylvania in Berks County at Wing Pointe, after the Strausstown Gun Club and the Pikeville Gun Club discontinued them; in Bucks County at the Philadelphia Gun Club, Bensalem; in Dauphin County at the Erdman Shoot; and in Northumberland County at a relatively unorganized Berm Gun Club, near Dalmatia. The notorious Hegins Pigeon Shoot, in which more than 5,000 birds were killed or injured every Labor Day weekend, was finally cancelled in 1999 after the state Supreme Court ruled that humane society police officers could arrest participants for committing acts of animal cruelty.

District Attorneys John Adams (Berks) and David Heckler (Bucks) have both refused to prosecute persons accused of cruelty by a Humane Society police officer. Johnna Seeton has filed charges of cruelty to animals in both counties and in all cases the DAs withdrew her charges. A mandamus case is pending against Adams to require him to comply with the law; in 2010, Adams took $500 in campaign donations from the NRA Political Victory Fund. An ethics complaint has been filed against Heckler.

Almost every daily newspaper in the state and dozens of organizations, from the Council of Churches to the Pennsylvania Bar Association, oppose this form of animal cruelty. But Pennsylvania legislators refuse to ban pigeon shoots, fearful of losing NRA campaign funds, the coveted A+ rating, and what could be a vicious attack upon their re-election bids. Even a grade of “B” by the NRA causes some legislators to cower in fear.

The unrelenting NRA message irrationally claims that banning pigeon shoots is the first step to banning guns and, thus, destroying the 2nd Amendment. To those scared by fear-mongers in the NRA and the Pennsylvania Flyers, that was bred solely to support pigeon shoots, the Humane Society—which the NRA calls “radical” and “extremist,” and the Flyers calls “animalist zealots”—carefully explains that absolutely nothing in proposed bills or amendments restricts firearms ownership or usage. However, a paranoid NRA leadership claims banning pigeon shoots would be the “slippery slope” to gun restrictions.

The NRA, says Prescott, misrepresents its members, “most of whom do not support or condone pigeon shoots.”

Pennsylvania allows lobbyists to call legislators off the floor to discuss legislation. NRA lobbyists and their PACs have been vigorous in “explaining” the consequences of a legislator who opposes the NRA philosophy—and in backing it up with campaign contributions. During the 2010 election year, the NRA Political Victory Fund donated $4,500 in direct contributions and $389,696.85 in in-kind contributions to Republican Tom Corbett, who would be elected governor.

But the NRA and its allies are now on the defensive, after taking hits by the public for their unyielding stand in support of the right of owning assault weapons with 100-round magazines, for which no hunter or target shooter has any need. Somehow, in a collective mind with scrambled brain cells, the NRA leadership is unable to distinguish between legitimate hunting and animal cruelty.

In Pennsylvania, the NRA is making a stand. Associating with just about the friendliest state for what it claims is “gun rights,” the NRA has dug in; it knows that if the state bans pigeon shoots, NRA influence will diminish. And so, it continues to pump out fear-mongering press releases, lobbies hard, and freely spreads what is known as the “mother’s milk of politics,” all to a group of legislators too afraid to oppose what they think is NRA strength.

This week, we see two conflicting scenes.

There are no cowards in the Olympics.

But there sure are enough in Wing Pointe and the Pennsylvania legislature.

 [For the past 25 years, Walter Brasch has been covering pigeon shoots and the campaign to ban them as an inhumane practice. Dr. Brasch was recently honored with a lifetime achievement award by the Pennsylvania Press Club. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed social issues novel, Before the First Snow, that discusses animal rights and issues.]

 

What Flags Do Russia’s Protestors Use?


By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

(Note: I strongly encourage you to click the image links on this post when reading; they're essential to understanding what I'm saying.)

Russia has recently had a number of protests against President Vladimir Putin. The protests constitute a challenge of urban Russians against Putin’s rule.

If you’ve ever seen pictures of these protests, one interesting thing stands out. This is the fact that the protestors don’t wave Russia’s national flag.

Instead, they always wave different flags.

What are these flags? What do they represent? I’ve done a bit of digging to get at these answers.

Nationalists

One common flag in the protests is this one.

Obviously, this flag is not the national flag that Russia uses. It looks a bit darker – dare I say more threatening – than the white, red, and blue-striped official Russian flag.

Apparently this flag was one of the two flags that represented the Russian Empire before the revolution (the other is the current official flag). It seems to have been much less popular than the other flag.

Here’s another picture with these flags.

In the center there’s a standard of a bird with two heads. This type of standard also often appears in these protests. It seems to be a version of this flag.

This was the imperial standard during the Russian Empire.

These types of flags are often used by Russian nationalists. They seem to be a symbol of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, a Russian nationalist party (which some describe as ultranationalist).

For a person without deep knowledge of Russia, it’s somewhat concerning to see these flags of the Tsar. It seems to imply that the Russian Empire and the Tsar were good, or imply a type of nostalgia for the Tsar.

Communists

There’s another type of flag that’s very prevalent in these protests against Putin.

See if you can recognize it.

The good old flag of the Soviet Union.

Interestingly, there are a lot of variants of communist flags. For instance, this picture there are several red flags with a red star outlined in white and two Russian phrases stamped on top of the red star. This “red star” flag seems to be very popular and has been waved in a lot of protests. Puzzlingly, this doesn’t match the standard of Russia’s official communist party. (EDIT: This is the flag of the Left Front, a group of leftist political organizations including and perhaps dominated by the communists).

Here’s another variant of the pro-communist flags waved in these protests.

In this picture there are a lot of blue and white flags with a red star and sickle-and-hammer. Again, I can’t find where this flag comes from (although it’s certainly obvious what it represents). (EDIT: A reader informs me that this is the Soviet naval ensign.)

Communism seems to be quite popular amongst Putin’s opposition.

Liberals

There’s a final type of flag in these protests. They’re the orange flags in the two pictures above.

Here’s another photo with these orange flags.

These flags seem to represent liberals in the protest movement. The orange flag is a symbol of Solidarnost, a group of liberal Russian organizations.

In the picture there are also a number of red-and-white flags with a red-and-white sun. I have absolutely no idea what these flags would represent. (EDIT: This is the flag of the Russian People’s Democratic Union, a small liberal party).

Conclusions

It’s very interesting how Putin’s opposition has very little passion for Russia’s national flag. Instead, they wave their own flags – flags representing communism, liberalism, and nationalism. This seems to be a sign that the Russian flag as a national symbol is still relatively weak. Of course, Russia isn’t the only country where this occurs.

It’s also pretty concerning when one sees just what flags Putin’s opposition likes to wave. There are a lot of flags of the Tsar and the USSR in the protests. Not quite what most people in the West are hoping for.

 

 

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No Time for Gun Reform

From The Progressive Populist]

Is it ever OK to talk about the politics of gun control? It seems like after every mass murder we are told that it’s not right to take advantage of the tragedy to bring up the need for some controls on America’s most popular killing devices, but with the constant incidents of multiple-casualty shootings, there are few openings to take up the matter. 

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence at bradycampaign.org has a list of more than 400 mass shootings in the United States since 2005. By the Brady Campaign’s count, the July 20 massacre at the Batman movie premiere in Aurora, Colo., was the 61st mass shooting that has occurred in the US since a gunman opened fire Jan. 8, 2011, at a town meeting called by US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz. In that incident, a mentally disturbed young man wielding a pistol with an extra-large-capacity magazine is alleged to have fired 32 rounds in 16 seconds before being subdued while trying to reload. Six people, including a federal judge, were killed and 13 were wounded, including Giffords. 

President Obama came in for criticism after that tragedy because he did not take the lead in calling for stricter gun laws, but the National Rifle Association already was speading paranoia on the right and promoting gun sales with irresponsible claims that Obama was coming after your guns.

The NRA is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization, which is tax-exempt, but it is opposed to letting the public — or its membership — know who bankrolls its lobbying operation. It also operates a foundation as a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization to fund gun safety and educational projects for the general public. But the NRA opposed the DISCLOSE Act of 2012, which would let citizens know what corporations and individuals contribute more than $10,000 to political action committees that engage in the sort of independent political expenditures that the NRA makes. The disclosure law was written to allow such groups to keep their ordinary members secret. But NRA lobbyist Chris W. Cox in a letter warned senators that their vote will count on the NRA’s legislative scorecard for this Congress, and Republicans obliged by blocking the bill with a filibuster. 

We agree with the US Supreme Court’s decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), which held that the Second Amendment gives American citizens an individual right to own guns, and McDonald v. Chicago (2010), which clarified that the right to own handguns for personal protection extends to the states. However, the court allowed the states to regulate the sale and carrying of firearms outside the home and it left open the possibility of prohibiting assault rifles and other weapons that are “not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.” 

The ban on assault rifles and magazines carrying more than 10 rounds, which was enacted in 1994 and expired in 2004, seemed to be a reasonable move. A semiautomatic assault rifle is not much use for a deer hunter and it isn’t the best weapon for home defense — a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun is a better choice when you hear a disturbance after dark, and there is no mistaking the “ka-chunk” when you rack up a round to persuade a home invader to retreat.

The main use for an assault weapon, on the other hand, is to overpower someone or a group. That is unlikely to be a legitimate use. And no honest civilian needs more than 10 shots to get out of trouble. If they are carrying more rounds than that, they likely are looking for trouble.

After the Democratic Congress, at the prompting of President Bill Clinton, included a ban on the sale of military-style semi-automatic assault rifle and magazines holding more than 10 bullets as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act in 1994, the NRA lowered the boom, closely coordinating its election strategy with Republican officials, Robert Dreyfus wrote in The American Prospect in December 2001. “Republicans provided the NRA with polling data and lists of vulnerable Democrats in order to coordinate campaigns ... In addition to strategizing with the Republicans, the NRA — ostensibly a single-issue organization — was throwing its lot in with other conservative groups, many of whom had little interest in guns but shared the NRA’s desire to unseat Democrats. Together, these groups pursued lower taxes, free market economics, a smaller federal government, and a cutback in safety and health regulations.” 

The NRA claims 4.3 million members, but it no longer represents the interests of ordinary hunters and gun enthusiasts. It mainly represents the interests of gun manufacturers, it enables mass murderers, and it has increasingly cast its weight behind the Republican Party and corporate interests. The Center for Responsive Politics at OpenSecrets.org reported that between 2001 and 2010, the NRA spent between $1.5 million and $2.7 million on federal lobbying efforts. But during the 2010 election cycle, after the Citizens United decision, the NRA spent more than $7.2 million on independent expenditures at the federal level — messages that primarily supported Republican candidates or opposed Democratic candidates.

There is mixed evidence that the assault weapons ban was effective. National Institute of Justice researchers in 2004 found that assault weapons were used in only a small fraction of crimes before the ban. Large-capacity magazines were used more often than assault weapons, but the researchers noted that assault weapons with large-capacity magazines tend to be used in murders of police and mass public shootings. Following implementation of the ban, a drop in the share of gun crimes involving assault weapons was offset by a rise in use of guns equipped with large-capacity magazines, due to the large stock of pre-ban magazines that were still available in stores.

Since the ban expired in September 2004, gun enthusiasts, at the urging of the NRA, have been stocking up on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. There are now more than 300 million guns in private hands in the US as sales have surged since 2008, when gun owners were told that President Obama meant to confiscate their firearms, though neither he nor other Democratic leaders have suggested any such thing. But that hasn’t stopped NRA leader Wayne LaPierre, who in February told the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington that the president’s strategy was “crystal clear: Get re-elected and, with no more elections to worry about, get busy dismantling and destroying our firearms freedom, erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the US Constitution.”

With many moderate Democrats in the House and Senate intimidated by the threat from the NRA’s millions, and no real monied interests promoting gun control, it would take a dozen Republican senators and 40 representatives to reverse their positions to put a new assault weapons and large-capacity magazine ban in play — and even then the gun-control Republicans would have to put pressure on House Republican leadership to allow a vote on the bill — and neither Speaker John Boehner nor Majority Leader Eric Cantor are inclined to let that happen. 

With so many guns and large-capacity magazines already out there, it might seem like the damage is done. But we might prevent another deranged young man from assembling an armory.

So if you want Congress to pass a sensible gun bill, you are going to have to elect a Democratic House, keep the Senate in Democratic hands and pad that Senate majority by a few seats, as well as re-elect President Obama. Sure, Mitt Romney signed a state assault weapons ban when he was governor of Massachusetts in 2004, but he has repented every moderate view he held in those days, and there is no telling what he might do if he actually made it to the White House. But if Romney is in the Oval Office, chances are that Eric Cantor will be the new Speaker and Mitch McConnell will be the new Senate Majority Leader, and that won’t do the rest of us any good.

Editorial from The Progressive Populist. Reprinted with permission. Cross posted at DailyKos.com.

Sunshine Still Blocked at Penn State

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

STATE COLLEGE, Pa.--The Penn State Board of Trustees, still sanctimonious in its public moral outrage, continues to violate state law.

The Board held a private three hour meeting, Wednesday evening [July 25] to discuss the NCAA sanctions and the role university president Dr. Rodney Erickson played in accepting the sanctions.

Erickson, according to the Centre Daily Times, had “accepted the sanctions after discussing them with advisors and some trustees, but not the entire board.”

The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, which covers Penn State, requires that public agencies “shall give public notice of its first regular meeting of each calendar or fiscal year not less than three days in advance of the meeting and shall give public notice of the schedule of its remaining regular meetings.” For special meetings, the Sunshine Act requires an agency to give public notice at least 24 hours in advance. The law doesn’t require a public notice if an emergency meeting is declared, but there was no indication that anything the Board conducted in secret was an emergency, as defined under the Act. The Board gave no indication that the meeting was an executive session to discuss personnel issues or pending lawsuits.

The law also requires that, “Official action and deliberations by a quorum of the members of an agency shall take place at a meeting open to the public.” None of the few exceptions permitted in state law seems to apply to the reason for the latest meeting.

Following the meeting, the Board issued a PR-soaked statement that the meeting was for a “discussion,” and that there was no vote. Apparently, the Board believes that “discussions” without a vote aren’t covered by the Sunshine Act, so it was free to hold yet another unpublicized secret meeting. The Board, as has been so often the case, was wrong.

The Sunshine Act defines a meeting as “Any prearranged gathering of an agency which is attended or participated in by a quorum of the members of an agency held for the purpose of deliberating agency business or taking official action.” Discussions or the lack of a vote are not reasons for exemption. According to local media, at least 15 members of the 32-member board were in attendance at that meeting, with an unknown number possibly connected by telephone communications. A quorum is 13 members.

The Board, in the week prior to firing Coach Joe Paterno and President Graham Spanier in November, had conducted at least two illegal meetings and, in violation of its own rules and state requirements, failed to give Paterno or Spanier due process in their abrupt termination.

The pattern of the Board’s haughty disregard of state law and failure to provide transparency didn’t begin with the disclosure of Jerry Sandusky’s actions on the university campus, but has been obvious to even the most casual observer for years.

On the day after the Board held its latest meeting, Auditor General Jack Wagner, who had been conducting an independent investigation, called a news conference to announce that “the culture at the highest level of this university must change.” Wagner, calling for better “transparency and accountability,” charged that the Board and administration “operate[s] in an isolated fashion without any public scrutiny on certain very important decisions impacting the university.” The Board, said Wagner “cannot operate in secrecy.”

He also recommended that Penn State and the three other state-related universities (University of Pittsburgh, and Lincoln and Temple universities), all of which take state funds, be fully subjected to the state’s Right-to-Know Law. The state’s 14 state-owned universities are already covered by the Right-to-Know Law. (Penn State receives $300–400 million a year.)

Wagner also recommended the university president not be a member of the Board, citing the unusual situation of the president being an employee of the Board as well as a member of the governing body. He also recommended that the Governor, a voting member, become an ex-officio nonvoting member to avoid appearance of any conflicts of interest.

Gov. Tom Corbett has come under heavy opposition for what was at least a three year delay while he was attorney general in prosecuting Jerry Sandusky, although there was sufficient evidence to make an arrest; for taking about $600,000 in campaign donations from members of the Board of  Sandusky’s Second Mile Foundation and those associated with the Foundation; for awarding a $3 million state grant to the Foundation, which was later rescinded; and then, after his election as governor and a Board trustee, not only failing to inform the Board about Sandusky but then using his political muscle to sway the Board into making personnel decisions. Corbett, a Republican, is also suspected of having a personal vendetta against Paterno, a Republican who refused to endorse him for governor and who did endorse Barack Obama for the presidency. When questioned about his role in the scandal, Corbett has either ignored questions or lashed out against reporters who asked for clarification.

Corbett’s response to Wagner’s suggestions was relayed by his press secretary to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Without answering the issue raised by Wagner’s report, Kevin Harley said, “Jack Wagner can sit on the sidelines and take political shots, but the fact remains that Gov. Corbett was elected by the people of Pennsylvania.” Harley also attacked the auditor general’s suggestion about removing the governor as a voting member of the Penn State Board of Trustees as nothing more than “a proposal made by someone who ran for governor but lost.” Wagner never ran against Corbett, but in a Democratic primary.

Wagner, in a letter to the General Assembly, noted that formal recommendations would be made within 60 days.

In this case, the Pennsylvania legislature, as dysfunctional as it is bitterly partisan, should have little debate about making the state’s largest university more accountable to the people who support it.

[Assisting was Mary C. Marino, a former research librarian. Dr. Brasch spent four decades as a journalist and university professor. He is the recipient of the lifetime achievement award from the Pennsylvania Press Club and the author of 17 books. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow.]

 

 

It’s Time for Home Opportunity

Dramatic developments this month have underscored our nation’s progress, as well as our continuing peril, when it comes to Home Opportunity—the deeply held idea that everyone should have access to an affordable home under fair conditions. These developments, both positive and negative, should inform the national choices ahead, including in the presidential race.

On July 11th, California lawmakers enacted the groundbreaking California Homeowner Bill of Rights, halting unfair bank practices that have forced thousands of Californians into foreclosure. Among other protections, it restricts “dual-track” foreclosures, in which lenders preemptively foreclose on homeowners who are in active negotiations to save their homes. Importantly, the law also empowers consumers to hold lenders accountable in court.

Just a day later, the U.S. Justice Department announced a landmark settlement of lending discrimination charges against Wells Fargo. The settlement provides $125 million in compensation for borrowers who the Justice Department says Wells Fargo or its brokers steered into risky and expensive subprime mortgages, or charged higher fees and rates than white borrowers, solely because of their race. The discrimination “resulted in more than 34,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers paying an increased rate for loans simply due to the color of their skin,” according to Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

The Wells Fargo agreement builds on an earlier Justice Department settlement—the largest ever—against Countrywide Financial Corporation for racial discrimination that included a widespread pattern of discrimination against qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers in mortgage lending. And on July 20, the Justice Department asked a judge to compel New York’s Westchester County to provide information on local zoning practices that might be racially discriminatory. This was a long-overdue step, since Westchester has consistently flouted the terms of a historic fair housing settlement it agreed to three years ago after decades of fostering neighborhood segregation.

These are important developments that, together, help to address the harm that years of lender misconduct and lax rules and enforcement have done to millions of American homeowners and our larger economy. They are making a difference, with the number of Americans facing foreclosure activity declining 11 percent in the first half of 2012, compared with the same period last year.

But much more is needed. Over one million homes and properties still saw foreclosure filings in the first half of this year. That’s hundreds of thousands of senior citizens losing their economic security, children and families disrupted, neighborhoods blighted with vacant properties, lifetimes of economic security destroyed.

And the financial institutions that wrecked our economy have continued their misconduct in different forms. This week, for example, JPMorgan Chase agreed to pay $100 million to settle a lawsuit filed by its customers accusing the firm of improperly increasing minimum payments on borrowers whom they knew could not afford to pay more, generating ill gotten income from the resulting late fees. This, after JPMorgan gambled and lost its clients’ money to the tune of at least $5.8 billion.

And after the British bank Barclays settled with U.S. and British regulators for $453 million, admitting to manipulating the London interbank offered rate, or Libor (a benchmark that underpins hundreds of trillions of dollars in contracts), over a dozen additional banks are now being investigated for similarly rigging exchange rates on international markets.

It’s time for Home Opportunity—American homeownership, fair lending, fair housing—to return to the national debate. That has begun, with the rise of Home for Good, a national campaign driven by people and organizations throughout the nation concerned about the enduring foreclosure and housing crisis. That effort is equipped with clear, practical solutions, in the form of a Compact for Home Opportunity developed by housing, lending, and consumer protection experts around the country.

With the presidential contest now in full swing, it’s time for the candidates to take a stand on this crucial economic and moral issue. President Obama has taken important steps, yet he’s avoided some of the most bold and effective remedies that are available to him. Governor Romney has been mostly silent on what his Administration would do to restore Home Opportunity. It’s time we demanded clarity and commitment from each of them.

 

 

Don’t Fire Me for Not Knowing Romney’s Position on Global Warming

I don’t mean to sound like a whiner, but Mitt Romney is making it hard for me to do my job.

You see, as the primary editor of and contributor to the Markup blog for the NRDC Action Fund, one of my responsibilities is to keep our readers informed about politicians and the environment. In the middle of a heated presidential campaign, you’d think I would be able to tell you where the two major party candidates stand on our issues.

However, I’d be lying if I said I could. For the record, I blame Mitt Romney. He has changed his position so frequently that I never know what the man is thinking on any given day.

You might recall that last June Romney told a New Hampshire town hall that:

“I believe the world is getting warmer, and I believe that humans have contributed to that. It’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may be significant contributors.”

Just five months later, Romney officially earned his Tea Party merit badge in denial when he said:

“My view is that we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet. And the idea of spending trillions and trillions of dollars to try to reduce CO2 emissions is not the right course for us.”

And now it appears Romney may be trying to get back in the good graces of the 70 percent of Americans who do think the climate is changing. Last week, a Romney campaign surrogate, Linda Stuntz, stated that Romney is “certainly not a denier” of global warming. Is this a new (or perhaps I should say “revitalized”?) position or did Stuntz just stop reading her briefing book before she got to the most recent position?

If I can’t learn his position soon, I will just have to hope that my bosses don’t share his love of firing people.

 

 

 

The Fluff Factor: Today’s Journalism

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

 

Will someone please buy gags for Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford?

It makes no difference what the color is.

Plain or polka-dotted.

Painted or sequined.

Scented silk, Egyptian cotton, or an auto mechanic’s oil-soaked rag. Just as long as it can be stuffed into their mouths.

When their mouths are open, the personality-drenched hosts of NBC’s fourth hour of “Today” are swilling cocktails, blathering about themselves, or interrupting their guests.

It makes no difference who the guest is. Cookbook or romance author. Relationships or nutrition expert. A-list actors. No one gets more than a couple of seconds without cross-talk with one or both of the hosts. They may think it’s funny. Or, maybe, like authors who are sometimes paid by word, or doctors who are given bonuses for scheduling myriad lab tests, these babblers have to justify their seven-figure annual incomes by the jabber rate of words per minute. It may be time for NBC to move all four hours of the “Today” show from the news division into the entertainment division.

Almost as bad as the GabFest at 10 a.m. is what has happened to news shows. At one time, news anchors, assisted by newswriters and producers, went into the field, got the news, wrote it, edited it, and then broadcast it. They sat in anchor chairs because they were excellent journalists. But broadcast journalism—and those two words should seldom be put next to each other in the same sentence—with a few network and regional exemptions devolved into yet another mess of Reality TV.

The co-hosts, known as anchors, are usually a tandem of a wise middle-aged older man and his pretend trophy wife, both of whom spend more time in Make-up and Hair Dressing than they ever spent in journalism classes. Their reporters and correspondents may have studied journalism in college, but their interests were undoubtedly more focused upon voice quality, delivery, and personality than source building, probing, and fact checking.

On air, the anchors open with something serious. A fire. A mugging. A supermarket opening, reported by freshly-scrubbed 20-ish field reporters and recorded by videographers with digital cameras and almost no knowledge of what video is. In all fairness, it’s hard to know what videotape is when your best friend is an iPad.

If a story doesn’t have a “visual,” it probably won’t air. That’s one of the reasons why stories about the foolishness of state legislatures aren’t broadcast. The other reason may be that Public Affairs Journalism isn’t usually a required course for college students majoring in Broadcast Journalism. By the end of the first news block, the co-hosts lighten up. Coming back from commercials—there are eight minutes of them in a 30-minute news cast—the co-hosts may have more news or a script that directs them to “throw it to Weather.”

For four or five minutes, a college-educated meteorologist or a “weather girl”—on some stations it makes no difference—using the latest visual technology tells us the highs, lows, barometric pressure, storm fronts, and the history of weather.

One of the responsibilities of the weather people is to make sure they get names into the broadcast, probably because some overpriced media consultant told them to do so. A simple sentence like, “It was in the mid-80s throughout our region” is replaced by telling us it was 84 degrees in Snowshoe Falls, 85 degrees in Dry Gulf Junction, and 84 in East Swamphole. To make sure our bodies can tolerate the whimsies of Mother Nature, weathercasters predict what will happen a week away, usually with about the same success as a drunk with the Racing Form.

Time for more commercials.

At least twice, the anchors “tease” the viewers with some celebrity scandal they will tell us all about if we just keep watching until the end of the show.

Next up is about four or five minutes of Sports. The latest fad in sports reporting is to be a part of the story. So, we see sportscasters doing push-ups with the football team, learning how to shoot an arrow, or reporting from inside a race car. Apparently, they believe that gives them credibility, something they probably learned from anchors’ ride-along on fire trucks and Blue Angels flights.

By the end of the newscast, the co-hosts, weather people, sportscasters, and field reporters have turned the news into the Happy Time Half-Hour Aren’t We Wonderful Show. They wasted our time chatting informally among themselves, tossing one-liners they think are cute and might get them work in a Comedy Club—as a cook. Take away the Happy Talk, tighten up their reporting—how many times do we need to hear that a “community is in shock” about a fire, death, or that the fireman’s carnival had to be cancelled—and the 22 minute news show might be only 15.

At the National Conference for Media Reform four years ago, Dan Rather—who for more than a half-century has been everything a news journalist should be—explains what has contributed to the decline not just TV news but all journalism as well: “Media consolidation, the corporate news environment, ‘message discipline,’ media cowardice, news-for-profit, celebrity fluff, ‘so-called human interest stories,’ sensational trials, gossip, ‘news you can use,’ [and] partisan shouting matches.”  

There are a few journalistic highlights, like “60 Minutes” and Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show,” which he modestly calls fake news, but which makes far more sense than anything else permeating the airwaves. Nevertheless, most news operations—local, regional, broadcast or cable—have been compromised by exactly what Dan Rather said. Maybe it’s time for all of us to join Hoda and Kathie Lee and drink our way through what passes as the news.

[Walter Brasch proudly calls himself a journalist, and has been for more than 40 years, in radio, TV, newspapers, and magazines. He was recently honored with a lifetime achievement award from the Pennsylvania Press Club. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed Before the First Snow, which looks at the establishment and alternative media, as well as the public relations industry.]

 

 

 

Could Mike Huckabee Have Beat Mitt Romney?

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

The Republican Primary race is essentially over. Rick Santorum, having finally hit the end of his rope, has announced a suspension of his campaign. It’s going to be Romney versus Obama in November.

Rick Santorum was never a really strong candidate. For the longest time he polled at 1% in Iowa. Only when all the other non-Romney options were exhausted did Santorum begin to rise. But Santorum’s strength was always more anti-Romney than pro-Santorum. People voted against Romney, not for Santorum.

There was, however, another candidate who didn’t enter the field in 2012. This was Mike Huckabee. Mike Huckabee is a much stronger politician than Rick Santorum. Huckabee would have built the same coalition that Santorum built. And unlike Santorum, the people in Huckabee’s coalition would actually be voting for Huckabee rather than merely against Romney.

This leaves us a very interesting question: Could Huckabee have beaten Romney?

In many ways Huckabee would have been a super-charged version of Santorum. He would have done several considerably better amongst Santorum’s voters. On the other hand, he would have had many of the same weaknesses that eventually doomed Santorum. Given that Santorum never really came close to winning the nomination, that’s not good for Huckabee.

On the positive side, Huckabee would almost certainly have won conservative, evangelical Iowa – and probably by a lot. More likely than not he would have taken the state by double-digits. Huckabee would then have probably lost New Hampshire. But next would be South Carolina. Newt Gingrich, not exactly the strongest politician, won South Carolina with 40% of the vote. Huckabee probably would have broken 50%.

Here things get tricky. After South Carolina would have been Florida. This would have been one of those “must-win” states for Huckabee. At the same time, demographically Florida would have pretty unfriendly territory. Could Huckabee have developed momentum after two big victories in Iowa and South Carolina? Perhaps; Florida did give Gingrich some very good numbers before Romney started spending money.

After Florida the most symbolically important states would have been the Midwestern consortium of Michigan, Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin. Rick Santorum lost all of these states, which is why he’s not the nominee.

There’s a decent chance that Huckabee would have won Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Add 10% or 20% to Santorum’s score in the rural counties, along with higher turn-out by voters excited to vote for Huckabee rather than merely against Romney, and things start looking pretty bleak for Romney.

So it looks like Huckabee would have won quite a bit more than Santorum.

But that doesn’t mean that he would have won the nomination.

In 2008 Huckabee was quite weak in urban and suburban areas. There’s no reason to think that he would have done much better in 2012. It’s hard to imagine Huckabee winning in big-city states like California, New York, and Illinois. Losing those three states is pretty devastating for a campaign. To this you have to add Romney give-mes like Arizona, Massachusetts, and Utah.

Huckabee would have had to rely on winning the big states Florida and Texas. Both of these are quasi-Southern states, but they’re also home to a lot of non-Southern voters. Winning these states would not have been a cake-in-the-walk for Huckabee.

But more important than this are two structural weaknesses which doomed Santorum – and which Huckabee would also have had.

Firstly, Huckabee would have been heavily outspent. This was a big reason why Romney won: he outspent Santorum by outrageous margins. Unfortunately for Huckabee, the same thing would have happened with him. In 2008 Huckabee’s campaign was consistently on the brink of going bankrupt. There’s no reason to think that anything would have changed in 2012.

Secondly, the Republican establishment would have backed Romney. The establishment went heavily against Huckabee in 2008 (for reasons that are mysterious to me). It would have been firmly in the camp of Romney in 2012. By the end of the campaign, Fox News was pretending that Rick Santorum didn’t exist. Something similar might have happened with Huckabee.

All in all, it’s a roll of the dice whether Huckabee could have won. The best case scenario: Huckabee pounds Romney in Iowa, runs a close second in New Hampshire, breaks 50% in South Carolina, and then Mitt Romney says that he doesn’t care about poor people. It’s an open question whether momentum for Huckabee would have started setting in at this point, but let’s say it does and Huckabee takes a double-digit national lead. Huckabee wins Florida and then Michigan at the end of February. On Super Tuesday, Romney’s final stand, Huckabee breaks 65% in the South and wins Ohio by double-digits. Romney drops out and endorses Huckabee.

All in all, it’s fun to guess what would have happened in this alternate scenario. I personally would have preferred the Republican nominee to be Mike Huckabee rather than Mitt Romney. In the end, Huckabee stayed out because he thought that Barack Obama would win. That was probably the right reasoning.

 

Isn't Obama being a Hypocrite on Job Outsourcing?

If Romney's team were to do their homework there are plenty of reasons to fire back at Obama's record on sending jobs overseas. The list is long on Obama either failing to insure jobs stay here or actually authorizing the export of jobs to other countries:

1. Obama's record on trade and trade agreements is terrible: First off take his much touted trade deal with Korea last fall. This thing is pathetic--it ensures that jobs will be exported to Asia. Liberal Democrat Dennis Kucinich noted recently that this agreement was written by the business interests in Korean and will cost over 200,000 jobs. What kind of agreement has no benchmarks for enforcement. The agreement evidently is so one-sided that it allowed Korea recently to stop importing US beef and beef products. The reason was silly--one alleged case of cow disease out of our 100 million sized herds of beef cattle. Obama or his agents allowed language in the agreement which specifies that Korea can increase shipments to the USA but no such wording improves our exports.

Don't even think about China. Under Obama's reign, China's trade deficit with the USA has grown by 20% in just 4 years.

2. Obama's labor record is awful. Right after he took office the White House opened up the US highway system with Mexican truckers. Even George Bush had held up that part of the NAFTA agreement which allows Mexican drivers to freely operate in the USA. This came on the heals of the Teamster Union working to get Obama elected. He really knows how to thank people who have helped him.

3. Democrats in The House of Representatives in 2010 went into the November election with a big Democrat majority. So many Democrats lost their seats that come 2013 if the GOP gets in control of both House and Senate we may see a reprise of the Clinton years from 1996 to 2000 where the GOP was hell bent to impeach him. Boehner has stated that he has no interest in impeachment. So, what then if the TEA PARTY partisans get control of things and toss out Boehner then send in their own Speaker with the assigned task to bring back Ken Starr and the Impeachment hearings. These people are ruthless and they hate Obama with a fury. If I were a Democrat in Congress would I care if the GOP goes after Obama. Think about this. Many of the Democratic guy / lady who came into the House in the sweep of 2006 (before Obama got his hands on things) are now gone. Obama didn't lift a finger to help them out in 2010--no money, no party building, etc. just oh well thats life.  Now he's telling all those Democrats "Hey, I'm not spending as much money in 2012 on my campaign as the GOP is against me so I guess you are again on your own like in 2010".  If I were a Democrat in Congress I would not give him the time of day. The gridlock isn't all about the GOP. Obama doesn't do much either except make platitudes and fly about in AF One.

4. The announcement that the Afghan army will be outfitted by a Russian arms dealer--ARE YOU FRICKING KIDDING ME?  What manner of logic has a US President conceding to buy arms from a foreign government and giving them to another foreign government. Next time we have to go into Afghanistan our guys will be killed with even better Russian ammo.  This is just nuts. We have been told for 50 years that the M-16 is the best infantry weapon. Its made here.

So in summary let me say this: Obama loves workers he just loves foreign workers best. The only reason that I can see that Romney hasn't blasted him for some of this is that a. Bain Capital is behind the Afghan / Russian arms deal b. He is too busy getting the drapes ordered for the White House in 2013.....

 

 

Win-Win-Win

I like to win.                    

I don’t think that makes me very different from most people.  But, it’s not often that I get to declare a win-win-win though. Which is why today’s announcement in Michigan is so exciting!

Michigan Energy, Michigan Jobs collected more than 500,000 signatures to ensure a proposal will be on the November 6, 2012 ballot which will require that 25 percent of Michigan’s energy come from renewable sources such as wind, solar and biomass by 2025.

Win #1-Job Creation

Currently, Michigan imports its energy from other states and countries. This means jobs and billions of dollars being sent outside of the state. This ballot proposal will help Michigan build a clean energy industry within the state, allowing residents to stop exporting their money and jobs. The proposal would also establish incentives to hire Michigan workers.

Win #2-Reduced Energy Prices

Studies by independent economists predict that it would only cost the average Michigan household an average of $1.25 a month, but in the long run could reduce their energy bills. Think about the possibilities of expanding Michigan’s clean energy production without increasing energy prices. The proposal would also limit consumer rate increases related to the generation or purchase of renewable energy to no more than 1 per cent per year.

Win #3-Public Health

Renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and biomass are clean energy sources which will reduce pollution and further protect the health of all Michigan families. This proposal will give Michigan cleaner and healthier air and water. It will protect the Great Lakes, reduce asthma and lung disease and ultimately save lives.

Scores of Michigan businesses, organizations, individuals and public officials are supporting the ballot proposal and the NRDC Action Fund is proud to stand with them today as we march towards a win for all of Michigan this November.

  

 

 

Pennsylvania Politics Continues to Trump Health and the Environment

 

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

Politics continues to threaten the health and welfare of Pennsylvanians.

The latest is how the Republican-dominated legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett separated one of the wealthiest and more high-tech/industrial areas of the state from the rural areas.

Less than a week before the 2011–2012 fiscal year budget was scheduled to expire, June 30, the majority party slipped an amendment into the 2012–2013 proposed budget, (SB1263), to ban natural gas drilling in a portion of southeastern Pennsylvania for up to six years. The South Newark Basin includes portions of Bucks, Montgomery, and Berks counties, and could provide at least 360 billion cubic feet of natural gas, according to estimates by the United States Geologic Survey.

Only an e-mail blast by anti-fracking activist Iris Marie Bloom and a short AP story the day before the budget was passed alerted Pennsylvanians to the amendment that gives special consideration to the suburban areas of Philadelphia.

High volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is a process that injects under heavy pressure as much as 10 million gallons of water, sand, gases, and chemicals, many of them known carcinogens, into a rock formation as much as 10,000 feet below the earth’s surface to open channels and force out natural gas and fossil fuels. However, numerous studies have concluded that the process of fracking to extract natural gas poses significant problems to the health of citizens and their environment.

In his first budget address, Corbett declared he wanted to “make Pennsylvania the hub of this [drilling] boom. Just as the oil com­pa­nies decided to headquarter in one of a dozen states with oil, let’s make Penn­syl­va­nia the Texas of the nat­ural gas boom.”

The push by Corbett and the Republicans in the Legislature that led to the enactment of the highly-controversial Act 13 to open gas drilling was possibly not only because they favor corporate development but because it was also payback for extensive campaign contributions by the natural gas industry. Corbett had taken more than $1.6 million in contributions from persons and PACs associated with the natural gas industry, according to data compiled by Common Cause.

Rep. Brian L. Ellis (R-Butler County, Pa.), sponsor of the House bill, received $23,300. Sen. Joseph B. Scarnati (R- Warren, Pa.), the senate president pro-tempore who sponsored the companion Senate bill (SB 1100), received $293,334, according to Marcellus Money. Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana, Pa.), chair of the majority policy committee, received $105,732; Rep. Mike Turzai (R-McCandless, Pa.), majority floor leader, received $79,100. Of the 20 Pennsylvania legislators who received the most money from the industry in the past decade, 16 are Republicans, according to Common Cause.

The Republican legislators who enthusiastically supported Act 13 but then created an amendment to exempt a part of the state, claim the amendment was needed to give time to better study the effects of fracking. “We basically said we didn’t know [the South Newark Basin] was there before when we did Act 13,” said State Sen. Charles T. McIhnnerey (R- Doylestown), sponsor of the amendment. However, the presence of natural gas in southeastern Pennsylvania wasn’t exactly a secret; energy companies had been active for several years in the region. McIhnnerey told phillyburbs.com, “We need to slow this down until we can do a study on it—see what’s there, see where it is, see how deep it is, study the impact, get the local supervisor’s [sic] thoughts on it.”

“Where was our study?” demanded State Rep. Jesse White (D-Washington County), who actively opposes Act 13 and has been trying to get responsibility on the part of the Industry and the state Legislature regarding drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shales. “We were here four months ago [when Act 13 was passed] under the guise of, we had to have uniformity, we had to have consistency, we needed to be fair,” said Rep. White, “and now, four months later, we’re saying, ‘Maybe, for whatever reason, we’re going to give a few people a pass.’”

Karen Feridun, founder of Berks Gas Truth, and one of the state’s more active opponents of fracking, says, “Studies are not being conducted before drilling begins anywhere else in the state . . . nor are studies being conducted on the potential impacts of the pipeline operations already coming here [to Berks County].”

 David Meiser, chair of the Bucks County Sierra Club, said the Legislature “should either exempt all counties from Act 13 and not just try to get special treatment from Sen. McIlhinney’s core area, or repeal the law entirely.”

Sen. McIhnnerey proudly noted the last-minute legislation “makes good on my promise that Act 13 was not intended to apply to Bucks County.”

By his own words, it is time for the Republican majority, so willing to expose rural Pennsylvania to the effects of fracking, to now honestly answer two significant questions.

The first question to the Republicans is, “Why do you support a state law that discriminates against the rural counties, while you support a special exemption that protects the health and welfare of the urban and suburban counties that have many of the state’s most powerful and wealthiest constituents, including the head of the Department of Environmental Protection and the lieutenant governor?”

The second question is, simply, “How much more money will it take to continue to buy your loyalty to corporations, the powerful, and the affluent?”

[Walter Brasch, recipient of the Pennsylvania Press Club’s lifetime achievement award, is a syndicated columnist, author of 17 books, former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, and professor emeritus of mass communications. His current book is the critically-acclaimed novel Before the First Snow, which discusses health and welfare issues in energy exploration. His next book is about health, environment, and political corruption associated with the natural gas industry.]

  

 

The Real Future of Healthcare

At the end of June, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known to some as Obamacare, and confirmed that the most controversial component, the individual healthcare mandate, was constitutional via a 5-4 decision, with Republican-appointed Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority. The political implications of the ruling are interesting, but it’s important to explore the health implications. Corporate media’s coverage of the ruling was also fascinating and disturbing.

There's more...

What’s Behind Romney’s Sincerity Problem

 

In a previous post, I wrote about a very revealing video of Mitt Romney. This video was filmed without Romney’s knowledge during an off-the-air conversation. In it, Romney talks sincerely and frankly in a way which we do not normally see him.

Here’s the video.

The first half of the video has the combative radio host asking Romney a series of tough questions. The second half has Romney speaking off-the-air, mostly about his church. My previous post talks a lot about this.

Aside from the religious discussion, there is another particular and very revealing thing that Romney says. It’s at the point 17:04 of the video. Here’s the transcript:

Jan Mickelson: …I take this stuff really seriously.

Mitt Romney: Oh I don’t though. For me it, this is all frivolous. *laughter* Oh come on, come on, I’m running for president…

This is a very interesting thing that Romney says, and it’s especially interesting given the way he laughs when he says it and his body language.

What Romney’s implying is that all “this stuff” – all the campaigning, all the television and radio interviews – is “frivolous.” It’s just a bunch of stupid stuff that he has to do in order to become president. It doesn’t really matter.

Now, Mitt Romney has a very big image problem. His critics accuse him of being willing to say and do whatever it takes to become president. Democrats say that Romney will flip-flop on any issue as long as it benefits him. This problem has deeply hurt Romney; it is a big reason why he lost the 2008 Republican primaries and why he’s taking so long to shake off the opposition right now.

There are a number of reasons why Romney has this problem. But one of the big reasons, and one of the most subtle of them, is illustrated in the quote above. That is, Romney’s attitude towards campaigning is a big reason why people don’t think he’s sincere. To Romney, campaigning is just a bunch of bullshit that he has to endure in order to win election. When you get down to it, that’s what means when he says “this is all frivolous.”

And it’s not the first time Romney has said this. Remember when Romney was accused of hiring undocumented immigrants? Here’s what he said in defense of himself:

So we went to the company and we said, look, you can’t have any illegals working on our property. I’m running for office, for Pete’s sake, I can’t have illegals. It turns out that once question, they hired someone who had falsified their documents, had documents, and therefore we fired them.

Of course, this is a terrible attitude to have. Voters are not stupid. They can tell things like that very quickly. People are very good at intuiting what a person feels. If a candidate thinks that campaigning is dumb, they notice. Romney has that attitude. Unsurprisingly, he’s now developed a reputation of being insincere and a flip-flopper.

 

 

More Jokes From the Penn State Trustees

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

Whenever I need a couple of laughs, I turn to the bumbling self-aggrandizing antics of the Republican wing of Congress.

However, in the past few months, the Penn State Board of Trustees has done the near-impossible; they have provided more laughs than the menagerie in the Capitol.

To call either the Legislators or the Trustees “clowns” would demean the hard work of the circus performers who spend significant time to develop and execute comedy routines. There is no evidence the Trustees even have a thought process before they make outrageous and just plain silly statements.

The latest Trustee joke is that the reason they really fired Joe Paterno abruptly on Nov. 9, 2011, is because of “a failure of leadership.” The Board released what it called a “report,” but which is nothing but a press release of rehashed statements. This “report” claims the Trustees fired Paterno after they read the Grand Jury report that outlined a series of allegations against former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, whose name is now known among more Americans than anyone who ever won a Nobel Prize.

Marianne Alexander, one of the trustees, told the media the Board’s intention “was to clarify, because everyone’s been asking for clarification.” This, of course, is the same Board of Trustees that, mouthing the prattling of the ethically-challenged Gov. Tom Corbett, had condemned Paterno for being “morally corrupt,” or “not doing enough,” or whatever phrase they could quickly find in a Thesaurus of Blame.

Even children barely able to read a newspaper know the basics of the issue. A graduate assistant had seen or heard (it’s still not completely clear) Jerry Sandusky, who was no longer employed by Penn State but who used the university fields and showers, possibly molested a child. The assistant told his supervisor, Joe Paterno. The legendary coach whose ethics and morals were never questioned in six decades as a coach and member of the faculty, followed university policy and procedure and told his superiors, one of whom oversaw the university police force. (Sandusky, of course, was later convicted on 45 counts that should keep him in prison for life.)

Some claim that Paterno was “morally wrong” not to “do more” and use his power at Penn State to have Sandusky immediately arrested. These Monday Morning Know-Nothings fail to understand that to “do more” would have been nothing less than interfering with a police investigation.

Corbett, attorney general at the time, could have conducted a thorough investigation, but allowed the latest accusations to simmer for more than two years while he campaigned for the governorship and take more than $200,000 in campaign funds from current and former board members of Sandusky’s Second Mile charity; he only stopped a $3 million grant to Second Mile after Centre County, the conduit for the funds, refused to continue to be a part of the funding.

The Trustees, clueless as most college trustees are, could have learned about the allegations and taken action to protect the university and children. They did not do so. They did not do so even after a Grand Jury was convened and reported about in the local newspaper. They apparently didn’t even have a crisis communications plan should anything happen about anything.

 

And so, when the festering sore of university ineptness became infected, they tried covering it up with band-aids. And then everything blew open, catching the Trustees by surprise—or at least that’s what they seemed to want us to believe.

In quick order, they continued to violate the state’s Sunshine Law—they never really obeyed it to begin with—had secret meetings, and violated their own policies and state requirements on personnel actions. When all the hand-wringing was completed, they decided the best way to deal with a child predator was to fire the best-known football coach in America—who was never under any suspicion of having committed any crime—and to do it during the middle of a football season after Paterno announced his retirement.

While the media, always hungry for salacious news content, and a few hundred thousand sanctimonious pretend-fans were yelling, “Joe Must Go!” millions supported Paterno. This, of course, caused more problems for the Board That Couldn’t Think Straight.

As individuals and blogs began condemning the Board for its actions—and especially for what it didn’t do—the Board (composed primarily of high-level business executives, farmers, and assorted professionals who should have known better) continued to come up with lame and mostly laughable excuses of why it did what it did. Several trustees even stupidly told the media that people should withhold judgment on the Board’s actions until all the evidence was available. The irony was lost on the Board but not upon millions who were rightfully indignant about why the Trustees could take abrupt and unexplained action against Paterno, but wanted everyone else to withhold judgment about its own reasons.

In an effort to placate the alumni and several million Americans still outraged at the Board’s incompetence, the Board (or whoever writes the Board’s public statements) issued its “report,” beginning with a trickle of crocodile tears about sharing “the grief of the entire Penn State family at the passing of Coach Paterno,” and then praising both his and former President Graham Spanier’s “lasting contributions.” The Board declared it “has always been” its intention to “to fulfill [Paterno’s] employment contract and to name him head coach emeritus.” Considering that the Trustees had fired Paterno illegally, they had no choice but to honor the contract. The title of “head coach emeritus” is window dressing. A more fitting title, although it would never assuage the pain the Board caused Joe Paterno and his family, would have been to name him “professor emeritus,” which does carry privileges and would recognize that Paterno, a member of the faculty, was far more than a coach. Almost as an after-thought, the Trustees in the latest statement casually tossed a one-liner that “other options” to honor Paterno “are also under consideration.”

Trustee Marianne Alexander said the latest “report” was made because “We’re trying to be responsible to our constituents.”

If the Board of Trustees really wants “to be responsible,” it would stop violating the state’s Sunshine Law, would agree to be included in the state’s Right-to-Know Law, would stop issuing silly statements to justify their own incompetence, reverse the firing of Joe Paterno (and possibly that of Dr. Spanier), and then resign.

[Walter Brasch was recently named the Pennsylvania Press Club’s Communicator of Achievement, a lifetime honor for excellence in journalism and community service; it was the first time in 10 years the Club issued the CoA honor. Dr. Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, which looks at the 1960s counterculture as being relevant to today’s American culture.]

 

Celebrating "Eating Planet-Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet"

Crossposted from the Worldwatch Institute's Nourishing the Planet.

Today, the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN) and the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet were proud to host “How do we feed (and also Nourish) a planet of 7 billion?” The event featured notable speakers such as food waste activist and author of American WastelandJonathan Bloom; founder of The 30 Project and new member of the BCFN Advisory Board, Ellen Gustafson; publisher of “Edible Manhattan” and author of Eat HereBrian HalweilStephanie Hanson, Director of Policy and Outreach for the One Acre FundKelly Hauser, Agriculture Policy Director for the One Campaign; and founder and director of Citizen EffectDan Morrison, among others, and marked the official launch of Eating Planet–Nutrition Today: A Challenge for Mankind and for the Planet.

During the event, Samuel Fromartz, editor-in-chief of the Food & Environment Reporting Network, moderated a discussion where speakers debated some of the issues the addressed in the book: the paradoxes of the global food system, the cultural value of food, production and consumption trends, and the effects of individual eating habits on health and on the environment. “More than one-third of the food produced today does not even reach people plates—about 1.3 billion tons per year—placing unnecessary pressure on land, water, and soil resources,” said Bloom. “All of us; producers, consumers, policy makers, and those in the food industry need to make an effort to reduce the amount of food that is wasted and its environmental impact.”

Although agriculture is more productive and efficient than ever before, more than 1 billion people worldwide remain chronically hungry, and another 1 billion people are overweight or obese. “The fundamental problem continuing to cause both hunger and obesity is that it is difficult, almost everywhere in the world to access nutritious foods,” said Gustafson. “In the developed world, food is abundant, but the most abundant is usually the least nutritious and most calorie dense. In the developing world, you can often still access soft drinks or packaged processed foods, but not the diversity of healthy foods that are needed for good nutrition.”

Nourishing the Planet and BCFN hope for Eating Planet to contribute to sustainable food and agriculture development in many ways. “The study’s conclusions represent a major step toward ensuring that agriculture contributes to health, environmental sustainability, income generation, and food security,” said Paolo Barilla, Vice President of the Barilla Group. “The ingredients will vary by country and region, but there are some key components that will lead to healthier food systems everywhere.”

Did you attend the book launch, or watch the livestream? Tell us about your experience below!

Click here to purchase a copy of Eating Planet.

A Review of “The Clash of Civilizations”

 

By: inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

In 1996 scholar Samuel P. Huntington wrote a famous book titled “The Clash of Civilizations.” Huntington postulated that after the Cold War:

In this new world, local politics is the politics of ethnicity; global politics is the politics of civilizations. The rivalry of the superpowers is replaced by the clash of civilizations. In this new world the most pervasive, important, and dangerous conflicts will not be between social classes, rich and poor, or other economically defined groups, but between peoples belonging to different cultural entities. Tribal wars and ethnic conflicts will occur within civilizations.

I recently had the pleasure of reading through much of Huntington’s book. Huntington posits that the West will be challenged by two civilizations: the “Islamic civilization” and the “Sinic civilization.”

The book was written more than a decade ago (and the Foreign Affairs article which led to the book almost two decades ago). Despite this, the book has withstood extremely well the test of time. Much of Huntington said in 1996 could be duplicated without changing a single word today.

This is especially true with regards to what Huntington writes with regards to the “Islamic civilization”. Huntington wrote his book before the September 11 attacks. His thoughts about the Islamic-Western conflict are thus very prophetic. Many have criticized the “Islamic civilization” in similar ways that Huntington does in his book. However, most of these criticisms were written after 9/11. Huntington wrote that the West would clash with Islam before 9/11. He got it absolutely right.

(One minor critique: the West does work with Islamists. See: Libya, Syria.)

Huntington’s words with regards to the “Sinic civilization” have also withstood the test of time. Indeed, one could make the exact same analysis today as Huntington did more than a decade ago with regards to relations between the West and the “Sinic civilization.” It’s amazing how the East Asian situation today is exactly the same as the East Asian situation circa 1996.

There is one thing which Huntington gets badly wrong, however. And he gets it wrong in two distinct ways. This is Japan.

Firstly, Huntington classifies Japan as a separate civilization from the rest of East Asia. But there is just as much difference between China and South Korea as there is between China and Japan. Why, then, isn’t there a “Korean civilization” according to Huntington’s scheme? Or why not a “Vietnamese civilization” or “Xinjiang civilization”? There really is no good reason for this. The only difference, in fact, between Japan and the other parts of the “Sinic civilization” is that Japan successfully adapted to the West a century before the rest of East Asia the world.

In reality Japan is part of the “Sinic civilization.” See this graphic if you don’t believe me.

Of course, putting Japan and the rest of East Asia in one civilization really screws up Huntington’s analysis.

Secondly, Huntington spends a lot of time describing the economic tensions between Japan and the United States during the early 1990s. He does this because it fits well with his theory of clashing civilizations. Japan and the United States are doomed to clash because they belong to different civilizations.

Unfortunately, this is one part of the book that failed to withstand the test of time. Today relations between Japan and the United States are better than ever. After the collapse of the Japanese bubble, economic conflict (indeed, any conflict at all) between the two “civilizations” has essentially disappeared.

All in all, reading Huntington definitely makes you think. While I’m not particularly a fan of Huntington’s tone, he definitely is an articulate and intelligent writer.

 

 

American Patriotism in Hyper-Drive

 

by WALTER BRASCH

 

It’s midway between Flag Day and Independence Day.

That means several million copies of full-page flags printed on cheap newsprint, June 14, have been burned, shredded, thrown away, or perhaps recycled. It’s an American tradition.

Flag Day was created by President Wilson in 1916 on the eve of the American entry into World War I. It has since been a day to allow Americans to show how patriotic we have become, and give a running start to celebrating the Revolution by buying banners, fireworks, and charcoal briquettes for the upcoming picnic.

 Within American society is a large class of people who fly flags on 30-foot poles in front of their houses and adorn their cars with flag decals and what they believe are patriotic bumper stickers. They are also quick to let everyone know how patriotic they are, and how much less patriotic the rest of us are. But patriotism is far more than flying flags and shouting about liberty in Tea Party rallies.

Find someone wearing socks, T-shirt, bandana, and even a jacket that looks like replicas of the American flag, and you might find a hyper-patriot. Of course, just a few decades ago, they would have spat out their disgust to anti-war protestors or hippies who had so much of a flag patch on their jeans.

Most of these hyper-patriots wrap themselves in the flag and Constitution, but are quick to try to shut off dissent, believe the only true religion is the one they espouse, demand that the police frisk citizens who aren’t White, and declare the Supreme Court is un-American when it doesn’t rule the way they think it should.

Many of the hyper-patriots waved those flags high whenever the U.S. has gone to war, even if that war was created by lies. In Iraq, almost 4,500 Americans have been killed; more than 32,000 were wounded, many of them with lifetime injuries.

Many of the hyper-patriots are insensitive to the problems of the 700,000 Americans, about 70,000 of them veterans, who are homeless on any given day.

They are oblivious to the 46 million Americans, about 16 million of them children, who live in poverty.

They oppose universal health care that would help all Americans, including the 50 million who are currently uninsured.

Many of these hyper-patriots believe unions are un-American, and workers who demand good work conditions and benefits are whiners.

These hyper-patriots are also the ones who believe Social Security should be privatized, oppose Medicare, and go ballistic when they think government is infringing upon rights of the individual. But they believe government should impose standards of what are or are not proper sexual positions for consenting adults.

 Although the unemployment rate has fallen significantly in the past year, 12.7 million Americans are still trying to find work. The response of hyper-patriots has been to block all attempts by President Obama to pass a jobs creation bill. They readily accept corporate welfare and special tax benefits for the wealthy, but look away when corporations send work and their profits out of the country. The Wall Street Journal reports the 11 top American corporations cut 2.9 million jobs in the U.S. and hired 2.4 million overseas.

Since 2000, more than six million manufacturing jobs have been lost, and 50,000 factories closed. Among jobs now being outsourced are customer complaint specialists, medical records transcribers, phone operators, telemarketers, and even newspaper copyeditors.

More than 500,000 call center jobs have been outsourced. This past week, hyper-patriots in the U.S. House of Representatives, voting largely along party lines, blocked a bill that would have barred American companies that outsourced call center jobs from receiving federal grants and loans and would have given further protection to Americans from identity theft by overseas companies.

These hyper-patriots readily buy products made outside the United States, proudly proclaim the great bargains they just scored, and somehow believe they are still patriots.

But here are two statistics hyper-patriots might wish to reflect upon during the three weeks between Flag Day and Independence Day. About 99 percent of legal fireworks used during July 4th celebrations are made in China. The second statistic is that during the past decade, Americans paid more than $93 million for U.S. flags made overseas, most of them from China. Many of those flags are proudly waved by hyper-patriots.

[Walter Brasch was recently honored by the Pennsylvania Press Club with its lifetime Communicator of Achievement award for journalistic excellence and community service. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed novel, Before the First Snow, a look at the American counterculture, including the media.]

 

 

 

Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA 02) indicates he might side with Republicans on extending 'Bush tax cuts' in exchange for a longterm defict plan

Given his support of Wall Street deregulation, restricting a woman’s right to choose, and tepid support of universal health care, it is well known Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA, 02) is a reluctant Democrat. Still, recent comments he made to The Hill newspaper about possibly supporting an extension of all the Bush tax cuts for another year, are as shocking as they are bad economic policy.

‘Rep. Richard Neal (Mass), the top Democrat on a House Ways and Means Subcommittee that deals with taxes, said he would listen to a proposal for some “breathing room” if he thought a substantial deficit deal could be achieved.’

Instead of worrying about 'breathing room’ for a deficit reduction deal that as last year's pursuit of a ‘grand bargain’ showed congressional Republicans are not interested in forging, Neal should remember, the Bush tax cuts laid the groundwork for the trillions in debt we are now facing and exacerbate the problem of wealth inequality.

As usual, Neal defended his comments with a spokesperson, saying his record ‘speaks for itself’, but the people he is vying to represent in the newly drawn First Massachusetts Congressional District as well as those he currently represents, need someone to speak for them.

 Andrea Nuciforo, the Berkshire Middle District Register of Deeds and former State Senator from Berkshire County, who is mounting a primary challenge against Neal, is calling on him to vote against extending the Bush tax cuts on the top 2%, instead of bending over backwards to please the tea party types in congress, whether they are Republicans or Democrats. 

 

 

 

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