Mitt Romney Forms Exploratory Committee

Long expected, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney announced that he was forming an exploratory committee in anticipation of this his second run for the presidency. In 2008, he finished third behind Senator John McCain and Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee or as Mittens prefer to think of it, he got the bronze.

Romney announced his move on Twitter and put up the above video on YouTube. In the video, he extolled his private sector experience and lambasted President Obama's policies.

“He and virtually all the people around him have never worked in the real economy,” Romney said in the message. “They just don’t know how jobs are created in the private sector. That’s where I spent my entire career.”

Among Republican primary voters, polls frequently show Romney in the number one or number two spot. A NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll last week gave Romney the lead with 21 percent support, followed by the ever weirder Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee, who each garnered 17 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich got 11 percent and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin received 10 percent.

More from ABC's The Note.

CHIMPS: Making a Monkey out of You and Me

CHIMPS, as in "changes in mandatory program spending." In order to reach the FY 2011 budget accord to avert the government shutdown on Friday night, Democrats came up with $17 billion worth of CHIMPS—cuts in things such as agricultural subsidies or certain banking and justice programs that fall under the umbrella of "mandatory government spending."  

Details are now emerging as to what precisely these CHIMPS cuts entail. From the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:

As Senator Schumer (D-NY) and other Democrats had called for, the package includes "changes in mandatory programs" (CHIMPs) which essentially allows some mandatory cuts to be counted as discretionary. In fact, almost half the savings -- $17.8 billion of the $38 billion -- comes from cuts to mandatory programs.

This does include two changes to the health care reform law that will affect mandatory spending. These changes would cut $2 billion from the budget for non-profit health insurance co-operatives (the CO-OP program, which is intended to function as a weaker version of the public option) and it would eliminate a part of the law that would allow low-income earners to opt out of employer-sponsored health insurance to purchase insurance on the new exchanges.

Other details about the CHIMPs are unknown at this point.

So just like that gone are the herculean efforts of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden to win two key ideas on health care cost containment in the Affordable Care Act of 2010. Senator Wyden, who was the architect of the opt-out provision, lamented its demise.

“Publicly,” Mr. Wyden said, “both parties say they are champions of choice and competition and making health insurance more affordable for everyone. But then behind closed doors they kill a program that does exactly that. This seems like a victory for special interests.”

Many employers had objected to the Wyden provision, saying it would increase their costs by allowing younger and healthier entry-level employees to opt out of employer-sponsored plans. Still it is the loss of funding for the non-profit health insurance co-operatives, the most progressive idea in the corporate give away that is Affordable Care Act,  that is just simply devastating. These were fought for tooth and nail by Senator Sanders. They were seen as a consolation prize on the lack of a public option. For the insurance industry and the GOP however, these non-profit health insurance co-operatives were considered as laying the framework for some future public option.

Indeed at the time of this debate, progressive voices warned that "a non-profit public co-op instead of a government run public option is not the solution.  It leaves for-profit insurers a legislative means for tearing them down.  It is their Trojan Horse.  It is their means for eventually tearing down the co-ops or buying them outright and stripping away any pretense of public benefit." That day has come to pass. The most progressive feature, the one that does the most to reign in health care costs, of the Affordable Care Act of 2010 has been gutted.

We have not only been defeated, we have been betrayed.

Larry Summers: ARRA Was Too Small

Reporting from the Institute for New Economic Thinking's weekend conference in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, Robert Kuttner of the American Prospect offers this tidbit:

Larry Summers, now back at Harvard, was the after-dinner entertainment, interviewed by the prodigious Martin Wolf of the Financial Times, the world’s most respected financial journalist.

Summers was terrific, acknowledging that the stimulus of February 2009 was too small, that the idea of deflating our way to recovery is insane, that de-regulation had been excessive, and that much of the economics profession missed the developing crisis because its infatuation with self-correcting markets.

If only this man had been Obama’s chief economic adviser!

It reminded me a bit of Eisenhower’s farewell address, warning of a military-industrial complex, or Citizen Jimmy Carter’s sublime post-presidency. Why do these people find their consciences and souls after they give up power?

If Larry Summers was the after-dinner entertainment, let's hope the guests found Alka-Seltzer tablets instead of mints on their pillows when they returned to their hotel rooms for the night. I suppose we should be relieved that Summers has found his Keynesian religion, but it wasn't as if his $787 billion fiscal stimulus number wasn't criticized at the time for being too small. 

Certainly, economists such as Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman and Dean Baker all thought the number too small. So did Congressman David Obey who first put together a $1.4 trillion package and then a $1.2 billion package only to be told to pare the numbers further. And inside the White House, Christina Romer argued for a bigger fiscal stimulus making the case that long-term unemployment posed a threat to the economy. They were all outweighed by a political calculus.

Ultimately Barack Obama, and not Larry Summers, bears responsibility for that decision. And it's a lesson, he still doesn't seem to quite mastered as yet. Back on February 9, 2009, Paul Krugman wrote this in his New York Times column:

I blame President Obama’s belief that he can transcend the partisan divide — a belief that warped his economic strategy.

After all, many people expected Mr. Obama to come out with a really strong stimulus plan, reflecting both the economy’s dire straits and his own electoral mandate.

Instead, however, he offered a plan that was clearly both too small and too heavily reliant on tax cuts. Why? Because he wanted the plan to have broad bipartisan support, and believed that it would. Not long ago administration strategists were talking about getting 80 or more votes in the Senate.

Mr. Obama’s postpartisan yearnings may also explain why he didn’t do something crucially important: speak forcefully about how government spending can help support the economy. Instead, he let conservatives define the debate, waiting until late last week before finally saying what needed to be said — that increasing spending is the whole point of the plan.

And Mr. Obama got nothing in return for his bipartisan outreach. Not one Republican voted for the House version of the stimulus plan, which was, by the way, better focused than the original administration proposal.

In the Senate, Republicans inveighed against “pork” — although the wasteful spending they claimed to have identified (much of it was fully justified) was a trivial share of the bill’s total. And they decried the bill’s cost — even as 36 out of 41 Republican senators voted to replace the Obama plan with $3 trillion, that’s right, $3 trillion in tax cuts over 10 years.

So Mr. Obama was reduced to bargaining for the votes of those centrists. And the centrists, predictably, extracted a pound of flesh — not, as far as anyone can tell, based on any coherent economic argument, but simply to demonstrate their centrist mojo. They probably would have demanded that $100 billion or so be cut from anything Mr. Obama proposed; by coming in with such a low initial bid, the president guaranteed that the final deal would be much too small.

Such are the perils of negotiating with yourself.

There's more...

Around the World

New from around the globe impacting your world.

Gbagbo Captured in Côte d'Ivoire. Laurent Gbagbo, who refused to abide by the results of last year's elections, has been captured  and is now in the custody of opposition forces. His capture came after French forces intervened in the fighting on the ground sending 30 armoured vehicles into Abidjan.  But both the French government and military insist that Gbagbo was taken by troops loyal to Alasanne Ouattara, who won last year's presidential election.

A spokesman for Ouattara told The Guardian: "It's true. Gbagbo has been taken to the Golf hotel by republican forces. Our forces went to the residence this morning and took him out." While the details of the capture remain unclear, it is possible that the French and UN soldiers attacked the building, surrounded it and then waited for Outtara's forces to go in, as France may not have the mandate or legal basis to make the arrest.

Uruguay Set to Enact Marriage Equality. The small South American nation of Uruguay is poised to enact full marriage equality for gays and lesbians by the end of 2011. Uruguay, which in 2007 became the first Latin American country to allow civil unions, is now pressing forward with a more gender neutral definition of marriage. The bill proposes a change to the country's civil code amending laws that refer to “husband and wife” to the more gender neutral “spouses” or “conjugal partner.” The bill is expect to be passed by the end of the year given that legislators report little resistance within the ranks of the center-left leaning majority in the Uruguay Congress. Currently only Argentina and Mexico City offer full marriage equality for gays and lesbians. Uruguay also offers same-sex couple adoption rights and has lifted its ban on gay troops serving in the military. Brazil has also introduced a gay marriage bill but passage there is more uncertain.

Early Results in Nigerian Elections. Nigeria's twice-delayed legislative and state elections were marred by violence that left scores dead and hundreds wounded across the Islamic north. About 74 million Nigerians were registered to vote in this year's general election where 36 Governors, 109 Senators, 360 House of Representative were up for grabs. Early results indicate that the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has suffered a severe electoral setback with numerous opposition parties set to make key gains. A full report from All Africa.

African Union Peace Mission in Benghazi. A delegation of five African presidents has arrived in the Libyan rebel stronghold of Benghazi in a bid to end hostilities and negotiate a way out of the deepening crisis. Jacob Zuma, the South African president, said Tripoli had "accepted" the African Union's plan for a ceasefire which would halt NATO bombing. Al Jazeera has a full report.

French Burka Ban Goes into Effect. The French ban on burkas and niqabs went into effect on Monday. The law imposes a fine of 150 euros ($190). The person breaking the law can be asked to carry out public service duty as part of the punishment or as an alternative to the fine. Forcing a woman to wear a niqab or a burqa is punishable by a year in prison and a 30,000 euro fine. Forcing a minor to do the same thing is punishable by two years in prison and a 60,000 euro fine. The government has called this coercion "a new form of enslavement that the republic cannot accept on its soil." Two women defied the ban in Paris and they were promptly detained.

Elections in Perú

Peruvians went to the polls on Sunday to choose a successor to outgoing Alan García, whose neo-liberal policies generated uneven growth during this his second term in office deepening the social chasm. So unpopular was García that his APRA party, Perú's oldest and most established political party, did not even field a candidate. Instead Peruvians chose amongst a crowded field of 11 with five main candidates vying for the post.

Preliminary results from the Office of National Electoral Processes (ONPE) with 72 percent of the votes counted gave the leftist nationalist candidate Ollanta Humala 29.3 percent, followed by the right-wing Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the jailed former President, with 22.9 percent and the neoliberal former Prime Minister Pedro Pablo Kuczynski with 21.1 percent. Former President Alejandro Toledo finished fourth with 15.2 percent. Former Lima Mayor Luis Castañeda finished fifth with 10.9 percent continuing a trend since 1912 in which no former mayor of Lima has won the presidency. It will likely be days before a final tally is known as votes trickle in from remote regions in this Andean nation.

With no candidate winning a 50 percent plus 1 share of the vote, the top two vote getters will head to a run-off on June 5th. Exit polling seems to suggest that Keiko Fujimori is likely the better positioned to take second place and face Ollanta Humala. Fujimori did especially well in the north, formerly an APRA stronghold while Humala carried the south. The race sets up a very divergent ideological contest.

Exit polls in Perú's elections also show political parties led by Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori winning the most seats in Perú's Congress. Of the 130 seats to be filled for the new Congress that opens on July 28, Gana Perú, the party led by Ollanta Humala, will get 39 seats, according to exit polls by CPI. Fuerza 2011, led by Keiko Fujimori, will get 31 seats. Perú Posible, Alejandro Toledo's party, seems set for 23 seats while the Alianza por el Gran Cambio, the party of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, looks to gain 16 seats. APRA is headed for its worst showing ever since it was allowed to contest elections in the 1980s (the party was banned for most of its existence) with only six seats. Another party Solidaridad Nacional, the party of former Lima mayor Luis Castañeda, won 15 seats.

A few words on Ollanta Humala since the American media is likely to paint him as another Hugo Chávez. This is his second run for the presidency having finished as the runner up to Alan García in 2006. Humala, 48, is a former military officer who like Chávez led an abortive military uprising in the waning days of the Fujimori regime. But Humala, especially in the five years since his 6 point loss to García, has spent time allying himself to the more pragmatic Latin American left. Indeed, in this campaign his primary advisors was the Brazilian team that help elect Luiz Ignácio Lula da Silva.

Humala is promising a "grand transformation" in Perú and no doubt will seek to undo the neo-liberal policies that Fujimori and García governments have set in place. Humala wants to increase taxes on mining companies, stop natural-gas exports, increase state control over certain sectors of the economy and better protect indigenous communities from logging and oil extraction industries. 

A Preview of Things to Come

Our Country Deserves Better Committee, a conservative political action committee that's also the parent organization of the Tea Party Express, has released a one minute spot this weekend running the ad in Nevada. The spot is entitled titled "Barack Obama's Legacy of Failure."

Joe Wierzbecki, the executive director of the organization, told CNN that air time was being purchased in ad time being purchased in Michigan and Wisconsin, two states where the group has been running ads in support of their union-busting governors. Wierzbecki says his plan is to eventually also run the commercial in Colorado, Missouri and Ohio. The group is currently fundraising to pay for the ad buy.

According to Sourcewatch, officers of the Our Country Deserves Better PAC overlap extensively with current and former leaders of the pro-war organization Move America Forward (MAF) based in California. These include MAF co-founder and former chair Howard Kaloogian, who chairs the PAC; PR executive Sal Russo, who serves as chief strategist for both MAF and the PAC; Russo Marsh & Rogers principal Joe Wierzbicki, who serves as grassroots coordinator for MAF and coordinates the PAC; and Marine mom Deborah Johns, who is MAF's director of military relations and the PAC's spokesperson.

The group was formed in 2008 as Obama's candidacy gained steam. Our Country Deserves Better PAC launched the Tea Party Express national bus tour on August 28th, 2009 to rally "Americans to oppose the out-of-control spending, higher taxes, bailouts, and growth in the size and power of government."

In 2009, the group ran an ad comparing President Obama to Hitler and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad while indulging in just about every right wing conspiracy that there is. Right Wing Watch has more on the group and its activities.

Icelanders Reject Landsbanki Repayments

For the second time in as many years, Icelanders have rejected a public financial repayment agreement to cover the losses of a failed private Icelandic bank, Landsbanki Island, that operated an Internet only bank in Britain and the Netherlands under the name Icesave. Landsbanki Island collapsed during the height of the global financial crisis in October 2008 when its highly speculative derivative investments in the US real estate market failed.

The British and Dutch governments, in turn, were forced to reimburse nearly 400,000 people in danger of losing savings held in the Icelandic bank's subsidiary Icesave accounts. Britain and the Netherlands are demanding that the government of Iceland repay some €4 billion, roughly $5.8 billion dollars, in losses. 

“The turnout of the referendum was high and close to 40% voted for and 60% voted against the law,” the Government of Iceland said in a statement. Iceland's Socialist Prime Minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir, said yesterday that Icelanders had chosen "the worst option" in rejecting the repayment plan.

Her statement added that the Icelandic government “will do all in its power to secure that the referendum outcome will not have a major impact on Iceland´s economic program and the fiscal consolidation plan which it has been pursuing.” The government warned that in light of the outcome of the referendum, there will be a “reassessment of macroeconomic assumptions,” adding that current fiscal plans will be reviewed. “A revised prognosis and budget figures will be available no later than in early May,” the government said.

The issue will now be decided by the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Surveillance Authority court.

The first attempt at a repayment deal – specifying an interest rate of 5.5 per cent to be paid over eight years - was rejected by 93 percent of Icelandic voters in March 2010. Under this second proposal, Iceland was to pay over 30 years from 2016, with a 3.3 percent interest rate to Britain, and a 3 percent rate to the Netherlands. The deal had the backing of the Icelandic parliament, which hoped to draw a line under the dispute. But the President, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, refused to sign it, triggering a second referendum.

The issue is expected to cloud Iceland's bid to become a full member of the European Union. Still, Icelanders are refusing to be held hostage with the no camp painting the vote as a rejection of the notion that taxpayers of Iceland must assume the liabilities created by financially imprudent private banks.

More from The Independent.

The Academy Protests the Treatment of Bradley Manning

A letter written by Professor Bruce Ackerman of Yale Law School and Yochai Benkler of Harvard Law School protesting the humiliating treatment of Pvt. Bradley Manning has appeared in the New York Review of Books. The letter has gathered nearly 300 co-signers from across the American academy including Robert Reich of the University of California at Berkeley, Kermit Roosevelt III of the University of Pennsylvania School of Law and James K. Galbraith of the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

The list of signatories also includes Laurence Tribe, a professor at Harvard Law School, who is considered to be America's foremost authority on constitutional law. He taught constitutional law to Barack Obama and was a key backer of his 2008 presidential campaign.

Mr. Tribe told The Guardian that he signed the letter because Manning appeared to have been treated in a way that "is not only shameful but unconstitutional" as he awaits court martial in Quantico marine base in Virginia over his alleged role in the leaked diplomatic and military cables at the center of the Wikileaks scandal.

Tribe went to say that the treatment of Pvt. Manning was objectionable "in the way it violates his person and his liberty without due process of law and in the way it administers cruel and unusual punishment of a sort that cannot be constitutionally inflicted even upon someone convicted of terrible offences, not to mention someone merely accused of such offences".

We urge the President in his role as Commander-in-Chief to end this cruel, degrading, shameful, counterproductive and ultimately inhumane treatment of Pvt. Manning. We also firmly believe that such treatment is not only unAmerican but runs contrary to the long-term interests of the United States. 

The full text of the letter is beneath the fold.

There's more...

Obama to Outline Deficit Reduction in a Speech

Appearing on the Sunday morning talk show circuit, David Plouffe, White House senior adviser, revealed that President Obama plans to deliver a major speech this week laying out a more aggressive path for deficit reduction -- including reform of entitlements, particularly Medicare and Medicaid. Plouffe said Obama will continue calling for higher taxes on the wealthy but will resist any attempts to raise taxes on the middle class. White House communications director Dan Pfieffer later added that Obama would deliver the address on Wednesday.

Plouffe also commented on Rep. Paul Ryan's budget proposals. Via Politico:

Plouffe indicated that Obama would address finding savings in Medicare and Medicaid, but would not endorse many of the proposals in the long-term deficit reduction plan offered by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee.

“It may pass the House. It's it's not gonna become law,” Plouffe said. “I don't think the American people are gonna sign up for something that puts - most of the burden on the middle class, people trying to go to college, on senior citizens while not just asking nothing of the wealthy - giving them at least a $200,000 tax [break] and so that's a choice you're making.”

Plouffle also indicated that Obama would propose rescinding the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy as part of his deficit reduction plan.

“For upper income Americans he does believe that they need to contribute to deficit reduction in this country,” Plouffe said on Fox News Sunday.

But when host Chris Wallace asked whether such a proposal would pass in light of opposition from House Republicans, Plouffe indicated that Obama would make the point that the GOP proposal is cuts services for seniors and the poor in order to give tax cuts to the wealthy.

“They’re plan is a trillion dollar tax cut,” Plouffe said. “So again, the reason you have to ask more for seniors, the middle class and the poor… is because you’re giving the rich these tax cuts.”

Budget Deal To Prohibit DC from Funding Abortions

The budget deal agreed to Friday night between Congressional leaders and brokered by the President to avert a government shutdown includes a provision banning the District of Columbia from spending its own funds to subsidize abortions for low-income women. 

Specifically, the rider reads as follows:

Prohibits the District of Columbia from using its own, non-federal funds to pay for abortions beyond the very limited circumstances in which federal funds are currently available (in circumstances of rape or incest and to save the life of a pregnant woman). Sec. 1590.

Republicans also managed to retain a rider prohibiting the District of Columbia from using Federal funds for a syringe exchange program even though such programs have long been proven as a cost-effective means of preventing transmissions of deadly diseases. However, the GOP did find the necessary funds to restart the city's controversial school voucher program, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, that is really no more than a boondoggle for religious schools. The program has been a priority of House Speaker John Boehner, using Federal tax dollars to subsidize private-school tuition. Both DC Mayor Vince Gray and DC's non-voting Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton oppose the school voucher program.

It's pretty evident that GOP is captive to the interests of the Christian Right. Bill by bill and whenever they can, they inch us forward towards a theocracy.

UPDATE: Via Politico, the reaction of DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton to the riders concerning the District in the budget:

“This morning, District residents learned that the administration and Senate Democrats were willing to let the House Republicans treat them as second-class citizens,” Norton wrote in a statement. “I am relieved that the bill did not include the national policy riders I abhorred. …However, this entire city of 600,000 taxpaying Americans has every reason to be angry that the administration and Senate Democrats did not draw a similar line in the sand that stopped at the District, and the self-governing rights of its citizens.”


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