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Secret Service Took A Year To Fix Broken Alarm At George H.W. Bush Home

Huffingon Post Politics - Thu, 2015-04-23 05:42
The Secret Service took more than a year to replace a broken alarm system at former president George H.W. Bush’s home, raising concerns within the agency about the safety of the Houston residence and the Bush family, according to a government report scheduled to be released Thursday.

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Small yet BIG: The Basic Income Guarantee

Huffingon Post Politics - Thu, 2015-04-23 04:30
Leon Schreiber (ZA), Ph.D. Candidate in Political Science, Freie Universität Berlin

From the thirsty plains of the Namib to the seemingly impervious jungles of the Amazon and the cramped slums of Seemapuri, a revolution is quietly brewing. A small idea that appears almost self-evident has taken root in some of the world's forgotten corners. In contrast to the convoluted development theories of structural adjustment, economic convergence, and trickle-down - all of which ultimately aim to ensure that everyone has enough money - this idea offers but a single proposal to help address the destitution of so many millions: If we want to live in a world that is free from poverty and where the poor are able to become wealth creators, then by definition, everyone needs to have at least some money.

This once utopian vision is gaining ground, fast. A global network of academics, activists, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and private groups are working towards the implementation of Basic Income Guarantees (BIGs) in some of the world's most impoverished regions. It is a small idea, both in terms of its simplicity and in terms of the sums of money involved. But it is having a big impact. In addition to reducing poverty and inequality, assessment results from pilot projects overwhelmingly indicate that providing a monthly income of only $10 to every person in some of the poorest communities on earth is good for business. By ensuring a basic level of social security, these programmes simultaneously boost demand and operate as a public source of seed funding that enables beneficiaries to make the vital capital investments required to start businesses. Politicians and policymakers are starting to catch on, and the rapid recent spread of these programmes has the potential to fundamentally transform the landscape of development policy through a single small idea: just give money to the poor.

Sarah Katangolo's already brisk walk quickened even more as she approached the corrugated structure on the street corner. In her left hand, she tightly gripped the very symbol of wealth in the modern world: a plastic debit card proudly emblazoned with her personal details. Sarah was on her way to withdraw money from an ATM machine, an act so numbingly habitual in the developed world that it has become all but invisible. The ostensible banality of the entire scene was further enhanced by the fact that she was on her way to withdraw a measly $80. But here on the dusty streets of Otjivero, 100 kilometres east of the Namibian capital Windhoek, Sarah was engaging in an act amounting to nothing less than a personal revolution.

She was one of the first beneficiaries of a pilot project administered by Namibian NGOs that had introduced a BIG in Otjivero. For the past year, Sarah, whose husband had passed away a few years earlier, had been receiving a monthly payment of $10 for every person in her household. The money was primarily going towards school fees and food for her seven children, but she had used $5 from her very first BIG payment to purchase two chickens. After only twelve months, Sarah had become the proud owner of 40 chickens, which she was now selling for as much as $30 each. After deducting the cost of feed, this amounted to a potential profit of $1,000. Sarah Katangolo, a single mother who had never managed to find work in a country with a female unemployment rate of at least 30% and where more than two-thirds of the population lives on less than $1 a day, had become an entrepreneur.

She was not the only one. The eminently small act of providing every person in the village with a mere $10 every month had transformed the lives of its 930 residents. Using the food poverty line as a measurement proxy, the project assessment found that household poverty had dropped from 76% to 37% in a single year. Among households that were not affected by immigration, the rate dropped to 16%. Child malnutrition fell from 42% to 10%, while average household debt was reduced from $121 to $77. Perhaps most significantly, the BIG generated a significant increase in economic activity by enabling people like Sarah to make the necessary investments to become small business owners.

As a result, the rate of people who were engaged in income-generating activities (above the age of 15) increased from 44% to 55%. By simultaneously expanding the purchasing power of beneficiaries, the project also spawned a market for these new products. Far from sapping people's motivation to work, the small act of introducing a dependable monthly income of $10 had provided beneficiaries with the collateral, basic social security and market incentives needed to participate in the local economy. Through acting as both a supply- and demand-side intervention, the BIG had served as seed funding for unleashing Otjivero's budding entrepreneurs. And, like Sarah Katangolo, most of them eagerly took advantage of the opportunity.

Although it has always been scarcely more than a peripheral idea, the notion of providing a universal basic income is in fact not a novel proposition, as philosophers from Thomas Paine to Thomas More and John Stuart Mill speculated about the potential it had for addressing the social ills of their times. But the last decade has produced powerful signals that it is an idea whose time may finally have come. Eclipsing a long tradition of philosophical onticating in the developed world, the most powerful of these signals have come from places like Otjivero. It is in developing countries that the biggest moves towards the implementation of BIGs are being made.

The last few decades have already witnessed the profound proliferation of non-contributory cash transfers throughout much of the developing world. In contrast to the contributory social insurance schemes popular in developed countries, these programmes transfer money from the state to the poor directly for a specific period of time on the basis of need and their rights as citizens. Prior contribution to a social insurance fund (and, by extension, formal employment) is not a prerequisite. They are generally aimed at the most vulnerable population groups, including the impoverished elderly, children, unemployed adults and people with disabilities. The implementation of cash transfers in developing countries has been hailed as a 'development revolution from the global South', and their growth is largely contextualised by pointing to the changing dynamics of development discourses. This ideational shift also lays the foundation for the possible future implementation of BIGs in some of these countries. Figure below illustrates the global spread of cash transfers.

While these recent schemes have extended social security to many of the most vulnerable people on earth, they largely do not yet amount to universal income guarantees. But the political momentum they have generated by denying access to income as a social right instead of an earned privilege appears likely to culminate in the introduction of BIGs in some developing countries within the next few decades. In addition to the pilot project and associated lobbying efforts in Namibia, official inquiries or actual BIG projects have been initiated in Iran, Brazil, South Africa and India.

The only country in the world where a national BIG is currently being implemented is Iran. The government introduced the policy in December 2010 as a compensatory measure for the cancellation of costly price subsidies. It pays a monthly cash transfer of $40 to every citizen residing in the country, 'enough to pull a big proportion of the 10% of Iranians who live on less than $2 a day above that bar'. The programme differs from the models adopted by the other cases under discussion in terms of its conception: It emerged by default in response to the end of the subsidies as a de facto BIG, and was not designed as a development programme. Nevertheless, the Iranian national BIG amounts to a powerful falsification of the notion that such schemes are 'only affordable and likely to arise first in more developed countries, particularly of the European variety'.

Although it is not being implemented on an equivalent scale, Brazil became the first country in the world to adopt, in 2004, a law calling for the creation of a national BIG. It immediately rolled out the now-famed Bolsa Família cash transfer 'as the first step in implementing this minimum citizen income by extending universal coverage'. The Bolsa Família currently provides income support to the 57 million most impoverished Brazilians; equivalent to 28% of the country's total population. Additionally, the residents of the Quatinga Velho community in São Paulo state have been the beneficiaries of a privately funded pilot project for the last three years, where all residents are paid $15 per month. Although the coordinators of the programme have varied a range of positive effects generated by the BIG, they have made it clear that the aim of the project is not to study its impacts; they are already convinced. Instead, the goal is to further stimulate progress towards the full implementation of the 2004 federal BIG law.

South Africa has also recently seen a tremendous expansion in the provision of non-contributory social security. Its system currently covers 15 million beneficiaries; 29% of the total population. Additionally, the 2002 government-sponsored Taylor Committee of Inquiry into a Comprehensive System of Social Security for South Africa officially recommended the implementation of a BIG to the value of $10 for every person in the country. The proposal was to have it phased-in over a period of 13 years in order to plug 'the coverage gaps within South Africa's social security system', thereby making it 'a general social assistance grant for all South Africans'. Despite these official proposals, ongoing lobbying efforts, and the continued expansion of social security provision, the government has not yet comprehensively endorsed the BIG.

Two research-focused BIG pilots have also been underway in India since January 2011. Directed by the Self- Employed Women's Association (SEWA), the project was initiated in eight rural villages in Madhya Pradesh and eventually expanded to cover an urban section of Delhi. Families participating in the urban scheme receive $22 per month, while adults in the rural pilot receive $4.40 and children under 14 years of age are paid $2.20. Researchers will compare the consumption, expenditure, and nutritional outcomes of the participants to residents of 12 control groups residing in other villages, with the aim of studying the village-wide effects of the BIG transfer.

This steady proliferation of cash transfer programmes makes it likely that BIGs will be implemented in at least some developing countries within the next decade. But important questions continue to swirl, with critics rightfully voicing concerns about the affordability of extending social protection to the impoverished. The experience of the last decade has, however, gone a long way towards allying such fears, as new evidence suggests that providing basic social protection to all of the world's poor would cost no more than 2% of global GDP. Policy proposals such as the one developed in South Africa further aim to recoup a part of the cost through the tax system from everyone above a certain basic income level. Advocates additionally claim that a significant percentage of the costs associated with a BIG could be sourced from existing foreign aid budgets (including the $31.2 billion spent on aid by the United States alone in 2012) and by replacing the costly and inefficient means-tested welfare programmes currently in existence.

Judging from the small amounts involved, the fundamental aim of the BIG model of development is certainly not to create a world where everyone gets rich of handouts. Instead, the BIG should be regarded as a public source of seed funding for the type of investments that enable people to create their own wealth. By guaranteeing a basic level of subsistence, it empowers the destitute to 'pull themselves up by their bootstraps' - simply by providing them with a pair of boots. In addition to combating poverty and inequality, the available evidence serves as a testament to the affordability and effectiveness of such policies in bolstering demand and enabling beneficiaries to make capital investments through the expansion of social citizenship. Just as it empowered Sarah Katangolo to invest in creating wealth in Otjivero, the BIG's silent revolution has the potential to unleash the entrepreneurial power of millions of the world's most marginalised people. And calls for it are getting louder.

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Clinton Charities Will Refile 5 Annual Tax Returns, May Audit For Other Errors

Huffingon Post Politics - Thu, 2015-04-23 01:00

NEW YORK, April 23 (Reuters) - Hillary Clinton's family's charities are refiling at least five annual tax returns after a Reuters review found errors in how they reported donations from governments, and said they may audit other Clinton Foundation returns in case of other errors.

The foundation and its list of donors have been under intense scrutiny in recent weeks. Republican critics say the foundation makes Clinton, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, vulnerable to undue influence. Her campaign team calls these claims "absurd conspiracy theories."

The charities' errors generally take the form of under-reporting or over-reporting, by millions of dollars, donations from foreign governments, or in other instances omitting to break out government donations entirely when reporting revenue, the charities confirmed to Reuters.

The errors, which have not been previously reported, appear on the form 990s that all non-profit organizations must file annually with the Internal Revenue Service to maintain their tax-exempt status. A charity must show copies of the forms to anyone who wants to see them to understand how the charity raises and spends money.

The unsettled numbers on the tax returns are not evidence of wrongdoing but tend to undermine the 990s role as a form of public accountability, experts in charity law and transparency advocates interview told Reuters.

"If those numbers keep changing - well, actually, we spent this on this, not that on that - it really defeats the purpose," said Bill Allison, a senior fellow at the Sunlight Foundation, a government transparency advocacy group.

For three years in a row beginning in 2010, the Clinton Foundation reported to the IRS that it received zero in funds from foreign and U.S. governments, a dramatic fall-off from the tens of millions of dollars in foreign government contributions reported in preceding years.

Those entries were errors, according to the foundation: several foreign governments continued to give tens of millions of dollars toward the foundation's work on climate change and economic development through this three-year period. Those governments were identified on the foundation's annually updated donor list, along with broad indications of how much each had cumulatively given since they began donating.


"We are prioritizing an external review to ensure the accuracy of the 990s from 2010, 2011 and 2012 and expect to refile when the review is completed," Craig Minassian, a foundation spokesman, said in an email.

The decision to review the returns was made last month following inquiries from Reuters, and the foundation has not ruled out extending the review to tax returns extending back 15 or so years.

Minassian declined to comment on why the foundation had not included the necessary break-down of government funding in its 990 forms. He said it was rare to find an organization as transparent as the foundation.

"No charity is required to disclose their donors," he said. "However, we voluntarily disclose our more than 300,000 donors and post our audited financial statements on our website along with the 990s for anyone to see."

Separately, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), the foundation's flagship program, is refiling its form 990s for at least two years, 2012 and 2013, CHAI spokeswoman Maura Daley said, describing the incorrect government grant break-outs for those two years as typographical errors.

CHAI, which is best known for providing cheaper drugs for tens of thousands of people with HIV around the world, began filing separate tax returns in 2010, and has previously refiled at least once both its 2010 and 2011 form 990s. For both those years, CHAI said its initial filings had over-reported government grants by more than $100 million.

Some experts in charity law and taxes said it was not remarkable for a charity to refile an erroneous return once in a while, but for a large, global charity to refile three or four years in a row was highly unusual.

"I've never seen amendment activity like that," said Bruce Hopkins, a Kansas City lawyer who has specialized in charity law for more than four decades, referring to the CHAI filings.

Clinton stepped down from the foundation's board of directors this month but her husband, Bill Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea Clinton, remain directors.

The foundation said last week after Hillary Clinton became a candidate that it would continue to accept funding from foreign governments, but only from six countries that are already supporting ongoing projects. CHAI will also continue to receive foreign government funding, again with additional restrictions.

Nick Merrill, Clinton's spokesman, has declined to answer inquiries about the foundation and CHAI. (Additional reporting by David Ingram, editing by Ross Colvin)

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Michael Brown's Family To File Civil Suit Against Ferguson For Wrongful Death Tomorrow

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-22 22:35
The family of Michael Brown, the unarmed black teenager who was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri last August, will file a civil suit against the city tomorrow for the wrongful death of Brown, the family's lawyers announced on Wednesday.

Brown's family will speak about the suit in a press conference outside of the St. Louis County Courthouse in Clayton, Missouri tomorrow morning, according to a statement released Wednesday evening.

In November, a grand jury decided not to bring criminal charges against Darren Wilson, the police officer who killed Brown. Large protests before and after the grand jury’s decision sparked a national focus on police misconduct and the relationship between police officers and minority communities.

Last month, a scathing report from the Department of Justice found that the Ferguson police department acted as a means of generating revenue for the city through excessive fines that disproportionately targeted African-American residents.

Several Ferguson officials, including the city's police chief and the city manager, stepped down following the report.

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Tea Party Group Brings Trade Deal Opposition To New Hampshire Primary

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-22 22:32
WASHINGTON -- The debate over granting President Barack Obama fast-track authority to negotiate and approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is coming to the Republican presidential primary campaign in New Hampshire.

Americans for Limited Government, a conservative group founded by wealthy activist Howard Rich, will begin radio ads in New Hampshire on Thursday, calling on Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) to oppose the fast-track legislation moving through Congress. All three senators are running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

“Congress is getting ready to give Obama more power, just when we’re getting ready to choose his replacement,” the ad says. “If Congress gives Obama fast-track power, he’ll use it to write more regulations for our economy -- for the entire world. Rules that the next president won’t be able to change.”

Listeners are told to “Tell Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul” to vote against the fast-track legislation. It further states, “We need a real conservative, not another politician who says one thing and does another.”

The ad shows how the trade deal has divided conservatives, despite the perception it has widespread Republican support. Groups like the American Jobs Alliance, United States Business and Industry Council, Tea Party Nation and Eagle Forum have announced opposition to the pact. The Americans for Limited Government ad directs listeners to the American Jobs Alliance website, Obamatrade.com.

Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, explained why conservatives should oppose the trade deal in a statement on the group’s website. “Proponents of the Pacific trade deal face irreconcilable problems that on one hand, they bemoan Obama’s executive regulatory overreach in areas like amnesty, Obamacare, and Net Neutrality, yet, they claim that Congress should cede to the same president an enormous grant of power that eviscerates the advice and consent treaty ratification process. You can’t be pro-Constitution with one press release and in favor of shredding it in the next and call yourself a constitutional conservative.”

In December, 19 House members, including some who did not return to the current Congress, sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) echoing these concerns.

“The habitual abuses of power by this president have eroded the faith of the American people, who no longer trust his judgment or leadership,” they wrote.

The targets of Americans for Limited Government’s ad campaign have voiced varied levels of support for granting the White House trade promotion authority.

Rubio and Cruz have both backed trade promotion authority, while Paul has sent mixed messages. The first-term Kentucky senator told The Huffington Post in December, “I'm definitely for the trade pact. I haven't fully decided on" Trade Promotion Authority.

Click here to listen to the ad.

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#RedMyLips Combats Sexual Assault, Victim Blaming With A Splash Of Bold Color

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-22 22:16
Red lips are now a symbol of solidarity between victims of sexual assault and their allies, and a bold statement against blaming rape victims for their lifestyle choices. April is 2015’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the #RedMyLips campaign asks women to share your support by slapping on your reddest lipstick and splashing it all over social media.

Red my lips with my boo Pixie is such a babe! ❤️ Leave a lipstick print on your dog and take them for a walk to show support for @redmylipsorg. Red My Lips is an international nonprofit organization that uses red lipstick as a weapon and a tool to raise awareness about sexual violence, combat rape myths and victim-blaming, and demonstrate solidarity and support for all survivors. ❤️ #redmylips #oktoshare #sexualviolenceawareness

A photo posted by Lisa Fortuin (@lisafortuin) on Apr 22, 2015 at 6:48am PDT

The #RedMyLips campaign has already seen success. There are more than 24,000 posts with the hashtag on Instagram, thousands more on Twitter and Facebook and, according to a social map made by Vocativ, a worldwide conversation.

It all started with one woman who didn't have a voice.

The movement's founder, Danielle Tansino, was 29 in 2011, when she said she was sexually assaulted during a night out with people she thought were friends. She said prosecutors dropped the case because, as one district attorney told her, "Jurors don't like girls that drink."

@redmylipsorg Raising awareness about sexual violence and to speak out against victim blaming #Redmylips #HumberCollege

A photo posted by Michael Osei (@mkosei) on Apr 22, 2015 at 11:29am PDT

Tansino was angry. And she armed herself with lipstick.

According to her website:

"One of the most pervasive myths about sexual violence is that it is provoked by attraction or desire. Connected with this, victims are often blamed, shamed, and forced to suffer in silence.

Given its connection with vibrant sexuality and attraction, red lipstick seems a fitting weapon with which to combat these damaging myths and victim-blaming attitudes. It gives supporters an easy (and safe) way to stand together and make the bold statement that victims are NEVER responsible for sexual violence. EVER."

Makeup doesn't speak. Clothes don't speak. People speak. Remember #silence is NOT #consent. #onlyyesmeansyes Thank you @aidasoetopo for this powerful shot! #redmylips #redmylips2015 #speakout #endvictimblaming #endrapemyths #ok2share www.redmylips.org

A photo posted by @redmylipsorg on Apr 22, 2015 at 11:46am PDT

After April, the movement won't be over. Tansino said you can still wear red lipstick and support the cause by donating, fundraising, or spreading the word on social media so that all victims get a chance to be heard.

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Obama 'Fast Track' Trade Agenda Advances In Senate

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-22 22:08
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's trade agenda narrowly passed an initial Senate test late Wednesday, but many fellow Democrats hope to trip him in the House.

The Senate Finance Committee endorsed Obama's request for "fast track" legislation, which would renew presidential authority to present trade deals that Congress can endorse or reject but not amend. If the House and Senate eventually comply, Obama is likely to ask them to approve the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, which involves Japan, Canada and Mexico, but not China. Other trade proposals could follow.

Liberals, labor unions and other groups bitterly oppose these trade measures, saying they would hurt U.S. jobs.

They lost a round Wednesday. The Finance Committee narrowly defeated a "currency manipulation" measure that Obama aides said would unravel the Pacific Rim deal. Votes for and against the provision were about evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, highlighting the unusual — and possibly tenuous — political alignments on trade.

The committee later voted 20-6 to pass the fast track bill. The only committee Republican voting no was Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina.

Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said fast track approval promises "high standard" trade deals in the future.

The House dives into the debate Thursday, when the Ways and Means Committee takes up similar fast track legislation. The panel's top Democrat, Rep. Sander Levin of Michigan, opposes the Obama-backed version. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi endorsed Levin's alternative bill, even as Republicans warned that the White House must bring a few dozen House Democrats on board.

By contrast, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the Senate Finance Committee's top Democrat, backs the fast track bill.

Few issues divide Democrats more than trade. Obama, like former President Bill Clinton, supports free trade, but many Democratic lawmakers do not.

Clinton's and Obama's stands — and liberal groups' opposition — pose a dilemma for Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former first lady now seeking the presidency herself. Campaigning this week in New Hampshire, she declined to say whether she supports the Pacific Rim proposal.

Rivals in both parties mocked her. But Obama seems likely to remain the focus of much ire, especially from fellow Democrats.

Obama says his Democratic opponents have their facts wrong. "I would not be doing this trade deal if I did not think it was good for the middle class," he said this week. He said Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is among those "wrong" on the issue.

Warren responded with a blog entry saying "the government doesn't want you to read this massive new trade agreement. It's top secret."

Obama and his trade allies reject such claims. They say fast track and other trade proposals have been carefully negotiated and will undergo public scrutiny for months before final votes take place.

Their biggest scare Wednesday came when Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio urged the Finance Committee to direct U.S. trade officials to take tougher stands against nations that allegedly keep their currency artificially low. The practice can boost exports by making local products more affordable to foreigners. Economists disagree on whether China and other nations engage in the practice.

Obama administration officials said attempts to crack down on currency manipulation can backfire and ignite trade wars. They said Portman's proposal "could derail" the Pacific Rim negotiations. The Finance Committee rejected Portman's amendment, 15 to 11.

Senate Finance members added a broader currency manipulation amendment, by Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, to a customs bill. But Schumer did not offer it on the fast track bill, where it would have been more problematic for Obama.

The Finance Committee's actions Wednesday were delayed for hours because liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., invoked an often-ignored Senate scheduling rule in protest. "This job-killing trade deal has been negotiated in secret," said Sanders, who made a lengthy Senate speech denouncing the legislation.

The trade debate turns to the House on Thursday. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., estimates that about 180 to 200 House Republicans will vote for fast track, along with 15 to 30 Democrats. "This is the president's initiative," Cole said. "He's going to have to work his side of the aisle pretty hard."

The low end of Cole's estimate would leave Obama short of a majority in the 435-seat House.

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Secret Koch Memo Outlines Plans For 2016

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-22 21:54
Documents detail plans to beef up the network’s state-of-the-art data system and pay hundreds of staff embedded in local communities across the country.

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Democrats Balk At Obama Plan To Cut Funding For Workers Hurt By Trade Deals

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-22 21:32
WASHINGTON -- The rift between President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats over trade policy deepened Wednesday as the administration opposed an effort to fully restore aid for American workers who lose their jobs to international trade.

The conflict threatens to undermine Obama's repeated claim that he is revamping trade policy to fix problems Democrats have cited in prior trade pacts. The president is pushing hard to win over a Democratic caucus that is overwhelmingly skeptical of his Trans-Pacific Partnership -- an agreement being negotiated with 11 Pacific nations -- that Democrats fear will exacerbate income inequality and empower multinational corporations to challenge key regulations before an international tribunal. The administration contends the deal will fuel economic growth without sacrificing progressive values.

The two factions are at loggerheads over the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which provides financial aid and job training to U.S. workers who lose their jobs as a result of international trade. During a markup hearing on Wednesday, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) announced that Obama endorsed providing $450 million a year to the Trade Adjustment Assistance program -- a cut of more than 20 percent from the $575 million a year provided by the last TAA bill that passed in 2011.

Wyden had agreed to the $450 million figure in talks with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), a staunch opponent of the TAA program. Wyden was the only Democrat on the Finance Committee to oppose an amendment from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) that would have restored the $575 million funding level. Every Republican on the panel except Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) opposed the amendment, which failed by two votes.

TAA is a sensitive issue on Capitol Hill. Democrats frequently criticize the program for underestimating job losses associated with free trade deals, and see it as a superficial salve for a trade agenda that has broadly undermined the U.S. manufacturing sector for decades. Most Republicans oppose the program, but have accepted it in the past as a necessary compromise to pass trade agreements they generally have supported.

Obama's latest budget proposal included $575 million for TAA, but Wyden said Wednesday that the administration has since calculated that $450 million would be sufficient. Neither the White House nor the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative were available for comment.

"We can't leave American workers to fend for themselves after they've lost their jobs to foreign trade," Brown told HuffPost in a statement. "As we negotiate the largest trade deal ever, returning to the bipartisan TAA levels would ensure that workers aren't left behind."

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Diplomat's Diary Reveals Divide With Obama Over Afghanistan Policy

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-22 21:18
WASHINGTON — In the summer of 2010, Richard C. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, began recording a secret audio diary, detailing his frustrations with a White House that he believed was too willing to listen to the military, and too often mistook domestic political calculations for strategic thinking.

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Reactions to D.E.A. Chief Michele Leonhart's Resignation

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-22 20:53

Yesterday, the news broke that the head of the Drug Enforcement Agency, Michele Leonhart, will be resigning her post. Leonhart has long been controversial, openly contradicting the White House and President Obama at times. She was seen as out of step since both Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have moved the federal stance on marijuana closer to the new reality of states now legalizing it for adult recreational use. But it wasn't her controversial positions that forced her ouster, it was instead the news that D.E.A. agents in Colombia had been accepting from the drug cartels themselves not just gifts of fancy weapons but also "sex parties" with strippers and prostitutes. This, obviously, is unacceptable behavior.

But while Leonhart's exit was prompted by the revelations in an Inspector General's report, my own reaction was similar to the points made in a Marijuana Policy Project press release -- that there were plenty of substantial reasons to get rid of Leonhart. They helpfully listed a few:

During her tenure as D.E.A. administrator, Leonhart:

  • refused to answer a congressman's question about whether marijuana poses less potential harm to the consumer than crack, heroin or methamphetamine and criticized President Obama for acknowledging the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol to the consumer;

  • obstructed research into the medical benefits of marijuana by overruling the D.E.A.'s own administrative law judge, who ruled that it would be in the public interest to end the National Institute on Drug Abuse's monopoly on the supply of marijuana available for approved research;

  • oversaw raids of medical marijuana dispensaries that were operating legally under state laws;

  • reportedly called it the worst day of her 33 years in law enforcement when an American flag made of hemp was flown over the U.S. Capitol Building; and

  • criticized the White House for playing in a softball game against a team of individuals from drug policy reform organizations.

The Marijuana Policy Project sponsored a petition that called for Leonhart's resignation, which now has over 46,000 signatures.

When the news broke of Leonhart's resignation, many in the marijuana reform movement rejoiced. Congressman Steve Cohen (who rightly calls himself "a strong voice in Congress for criminal drug policy reform" and who has been calling for Leonhart's resignation for over a year now) put up a press release on his official website, with the statement:

It is appropriate that Michele Leonhart resign; she has not prioritized or concentrated on drugs that actually lead people to commit crimes like heroin and methamphetamine and she was insubordinate to the president when she criticized his acknowledgement of the fact that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol. Hopefully her successor will help lead the effort to reschedule marijuana from Schedule I, where it is currently restricted at the same level as heroin and at a higher level than more harmful drugs like cocaine.

Another strong marijuana reformer in the House, Congressman Jared Polis, shared his own thoughts, when contacted:

I was thrilled to see that Ms. Leonhart would be stepping down from her post next month. We need a more sensible approach to our federal drug policies and it was clear that Ms. Leonhart was too beholden to antiquated and outdated laws and unwilling to fix things that were broken or look at basic science. I hope that our next D.E.A. chief will be better equipped to recognize simple truths such as, for example, that marijuana causes less harm to the body and mind than heroin.

I checked in with a few drug reform lobbying organizations for their reactions to Leonhart's departure, and further asked them who Obama should pick to replace her, or at the very least, what Obama should look for in his candidate for the job. Tom Angell, Chairman of Marijuana Majority, responded:

Leonhart's tenure at the D.E.A. was shameful. From interfering with voter-approved state marijuana laws to mismanaging broader agency scandals, it's long been time for her to go. This vacancy is an opportunity for President Obama to nominate someone who recognizes and respects that the war on drugs -- particularly when it comes to marijuana -- is winding down. Hopefully he'll pick someone who is prepared to at least support rescheduling marijuana to a more scientifically appropriate category.

In the Marijuana Policy Project press release, Director Dan Riffle offered up his thoughts:

Ms. Leonhart consistently and recklessly undermined President Obama's mandate that public policy be guided by science instead of ideology. Her resignation will allow the president to appoint an administrator who will rely on the facts rather than ignore them.

Most Americans, including President Obama, recognize the fact that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. Yet, Ms. Leonhart was unwilling to even acknowledge that marijuana poses less potential harm than heroin and methamphetamine.

While most of the country has been progressing in its views on marijuana policy, Ms. Leonhart has maintained a mindset straight out of the 1930s. Hopefully her resignation will mark the end of the Reefer Madness era at the D.E.A.

When personally contacted and asked his thoughts about a replacement, Riffle was more blunt:

She shouldn't be replaced. We shouldn't have a law-enforcement agency in charge of what are essentially scientific questions about drugs. If we want to make D.E.A. solely a law-enforcement agency we should take this opportunity to consider folding it into the F.B.I. because, as President Obama himself has said, drug use should be a public health issue not a law-enforcement and criminal justice issue.

Taylor West, Deputy Director of the National Cannabis Industry Association (the "national trade association that represents the businesses of the legal cannabis industry") responded with the following statement:

The departure of Michele Leonhart is long overdue for many reasons. It's our hope that the president will replace her with someone who respects state laws regarding cannabis and holds to the administration's clearly stated enforcement priorities.

And, just for fun (and just because I love plugging his worthy project), I contacted Bruce Roter, the College of Saint Rose professor who is spearheading the effort to build The Museum of Political Corruption in Albany, NY. His reaction:

By resigning, Michele Leonhart is doing the appropriate thing, and only thing she can at this point. She's demonstrating that when taxpayer resources are intentionally misused and when the public trust in its security agents is compromised, there's got to be a stiff price to pay, from the top on down.

I've been calling for Leonhart's resignation (or firing) for almost a year now, personally. Then again, when it was revealed that a D.E.A. agent in Colombia and her husband were caught in a fake kidnapping plot, and the agent wasn't immediately fired by the D.E.A. And again, after it was revealed that the D.E.A. was paying an Amtrak employee to provide them with passenger information that they could have gotten for free. Time after time, Leonhart has shown she cannot control her agency and her agents, to say nothing of her outright and public contradiction of factual statements made by her boss, President Barack Obama. Not only the agency, but Leonhart herself was out of control.

So count me among the satisfied that Leonhart will be leaving her government job soon. With her departure, President Obama now has the opportunity to name someone to the job who can clearly see the future of drug policy reform, especially on the subject of reforming our outdated and counterproductive federal laws on marijuana. I echo many when I say that -- at a minimum -- the next head of the D.E.A. should support moving marijuana off of Schedule I. This is the most outdated obstacle to marijuana legal reform left standing, and anyone who runs the D.E.A. should both recognize that and support rescheduling marijuana.

Marijuana reform is at a crossroads in Washington. Not only will we soon have a new D.E.A. chief, but his or her boss will also be new, as Attorney General Eric Holder steps down. Marijuana reform could be helped or hindered by whatever new policies these two people decide upon.

But, at this point, it's hard to imagine any D.E.A. leader could be worse than what we've seen during the tenure of Michele Leonhart. She needed to go, and she really needed to go a long time ago. Better late than never, America will now have a new top drug warrior. Here's hoping we get someone who can see the arc of history bending in a different direction.


Chris Weigant blogs at:

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Pope Francis Will Visit Cuba Before His Trip To The United States

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-22 20:46
Pope Francis will visit Cuba before arriving in the United States in September, the Vatican said Wednesday (April 22).

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, confirmed the news to reporters in a statement made in Italian, Spanish and English.

“I am able to confirm that the Holy Father Francis, having received and accepted the invitation from the civil authorities and bishops of Cuba, has decided to pay a visit to the island before his arrival in the United States for the trip announced some time ago,” Lombardi said.

The pope is scheduled to visit Washington, New York City and Philadelphia starting around Sept. 23.

Francis would be the third pope to visit Cuba, after St. John Paul II in 1998 and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2012.

Francis has been credited with helping the United States and Cuba reach their historic rapprochement by writing to the leaders of both countries, inviting them to “resolve humanitarian questions of common interest,” according to a Vatican statement.

The Vatican said it received delegations from both countries in October and helped facilitate a dialogue.

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Rand Paul's Son Charged With DUI

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-22 20:45
William Hilton Paul, the 22-year-old son of Republican presidential contender Rand Paul, was cited for driving under the influence of alcohol just before noon Sunday after he hit the back of a parked vehicle on Woodland Avenue.

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Congress Doesn't Seem Totally Sure Who Should Deal With NSA Reform

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-22 20:34
WASHINGTON -- All eyes are on Congress as the June 1 expiration date looms for the National Security Agency program that sweeps up massive dragnets of Americans' phone data. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is charging forward with a full reauthorization of the Patriot Act program, the first serious push to say anything about the NSA this year.

But no one in Congress seems exactly sure who's primarily responsible for addressing the pending expiration of the NSA program, though most agree that someone, somewhere should do something.

On Tuesday night, McConnell and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) introduced a bill that would entirely reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the provision that allows the NSA to collect the communications metadata of Americans. The fast-approaching expiration date is forcing Congress to wrestle with the program’s constitutionality for the first time since former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden publicly revealed the program in 2013.

Even as some reform champions have balked at the idea of a full reauthorization, the bill’s co-sponsor said NSA oversight really falls to the House and Senate Judiciary committees.

“This is a straight referral to the Judiciary Committee. ... I believe that all we’re doing is framing what the possibilities are that members should start considering,” Burr said Wednesday, though he added he would prefer reauthorization in full. “This is to help stimulate our members to get them to look at the issue, to understand what this program is and more importantly understand its importance in our overall defense of the country. ... I think it’s safe to say there will probably be a few additional reforms.”

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, though, said their panel was considering its own legislation.

“We are going to do a bill I believe, so it's just the beginning of the process,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday. “Senator Burr and I worked on this; we will sit down. I do not believe that the people on my side would go just for a straight reauthorization, just an extension of the sunset. So we have to come together, and we will.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he hadn’t pushed forward with a reform proposal because he was waiting to hear from Burr and the Intelligence Committee.

“I’ve got the view of Judiciary Committee members, but I don’t have the input of people on the Intelligence Committee,” Grassley said. “This is something that’s going to take a lot of people to get together to find the proper balance between privacy and national security.”

As both Judiciary Committee chair and a past critic of the NSA’s data collection programs, Grassley is considered a particularly critical player in the battle over reform. But despite his vocal prior concerns, he has yet to give any reform proposal his blessing, even though his staff has been working with the House Judiciary Committee for more than a month to find some way to improve the NSA status quo.

“Our staffs started six weeks ago and, until a week ago, were very much involved,” Grassley said. “But I decided not to go along with the House bill until I had consultation with the Senate Intelligence and the House Intelligence people.”

A House Judiciary Committee aide said Wednesday that a proposal from that panel is pending, but remains a work in progress.

“Senior Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee are continuing to work on strong, bipartisan legislation to reform our nation’s intelligence-gathering programs operated under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act,” the aide said. “Chairman Goodlatte and the other members hoped to introduce the bill earlier this week but are still working to perfect it. The House Judiciary Committee hopes to introduce the bill soon so that it can move forward with legislation that ends the bulk collection program, strengthens protections for Americans’ civil liberties, and protects our national security.”

According to a source familiar with the draft legislation, that proposal isn’t likely to placate civil liberties advocates and NSA critics much more than the full reauthorization does. The proposal, expected to be introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), would allow the NSA to continue gathering up the communications metadata of Americans using “special selection terms” provided by the agency, according to the source.

Additionally, the legislation would let the government continue to maintain these massive troves of information, as opposed to leaving the data in the hands of telecom companies. Reform advocates have been pushing for the data stores to be taken out of government hands.

The House Judiciary Committee aide declined to comment on the draft proposal, saying it was still changing.

Between the pending House proposal and the Senate introduction of full reauthorization, the worst fears of NSA reform champions appear to be realized -- that Congress, now in the hands of the agency’s Republican defenders, will punt on its chance to overhaul the spy programs.

“I’ll let the sponsors speak for themselves, but when the sponsors come in with a business-as-usual proposal, given all that has gone on in this space -- the evidence that has come out, the recommendations of the president's task force, the instances where the intelligence leadership misrepresented what was going on -- if they’re gonna come in with business as usual, they obviously feel pretty strongly about it,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), an outspoken NSA critic and a member of the Intelligence Committee. “This idea that, ‘Oh, it’s just a starting point’ ... well, they obviously feel pretty strongly about it.”

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Senate Committee Decides Child Slavery Is An Issue, After All

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-22 20:27
WASHINGTON -- The Senate committee writing up legislation to advance President Barack Obama's trade agenda agreed Wednesday evening that there should be no exception to child slavery laws.

It might seem surprising that the Senate Finance Committee had to consider such an issue, but the proposed legislation to give the president fast-track trade authority had failed to close a 1930s loophole that allows the U.S. to import goods made with forced or child labor in limited circumstances.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the current chairman of the Finance Committee, had written legislation in 2013 with then-Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to close the loophole, but that measure never advanced. It's not clear why a similar provision hadn't been inserted in the new trade legislation, which Hatch wrote with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

On Wednesday, Wyden said that he found the omission unacceptable and offered an amendment with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to close the loophole.

"Currently, U.S. law permits the importation of goods made with indentured or forced labor if the goods are not made in the United States in sufficient quantities to meet demand," Wyden said. "There is never, never a time when forced labor is acceptable. This is 2015, and there is absolutely no room in our trade policies for any exceptions to that principle."

The amendment passed the committee 22-4, with Sens. Hatch, Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) voting against it.

Hatch did not fully explain his opposition, but suggested he wanted to require proof that a given product was produced by slave labor.

"I support language that would prohibit the importation of goods that [Customs and Border Protection] investigates and finds with direct and specific evidence was produced by forced labor, including child labor," Hatch said.

A similar provision has already been included in the House version of the trade bill.

Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.

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The Surprise Issue of the 2016 Election?

Huffingon Post Politics - Wed, 2015-04-22 03:48
The 2016 election season is just beginning, but a surprise issue is already emerging among both Republican and Democratic candidates: Social Security. Some observers thought that conservative candidates would be inclined to avoid the so-called "third rail" of American politics this time around, but the opposite seems to be true. A lot of Republicans are eager to propose cutting it, even as many progressives talk of expanding it.

Where does that leave the Democratic Party and its odds-on favorite for the presidential nomination? Will Hillary Clinton embrace her party's growing call to increase Social Security benefits?

It's not an extreme idea, as some would have us believe, or even a particularly "leftist" one. In fact, Social Security expansion was a key part of the Republican agenda - in 1956. This new proposal turns out to have surprisingly old roots.

The Means Testing Bait-and-Switch

First, the Republican race: Social Security surfaced in the very first days of the campaign, thanks to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie, regurgitating the corporate-funded clichés of the self-described "center," went after the program with the zeal of a born huckster. He wants to raise the retirement age, a benefit cut which would impose a heavy burden on working Americans.

Christie also trotted out some old, discredited arguments for means-testing, adding that by opposing it "the left are defending the rich."

Nice try, Mr. Christie, but that bait-and-switch game has already been exposed. "Means testing" would deprive billionaires of a maximum monthly benefit of $2,663 in 2014. Think they care? Proposals from "the left," on the other hand, would either lift the payroll tax cap altogether or reimpose it on earnings about a certain amount. That would add up to a significant amount for ultra-high earners.

Now who's defending the rich, Governor?

Christie would start his means-tested cuts at earnings of $80,000 per year - but how long would that last? Conservative groups like the Concord Coalition have proposed doing it for average incomes as low as $20,000 per year.

Christie's "bold plan" would become a race to the bottom for the American middle class. It would also convert Social Security from an insurance plan to a welfare program based on need. (And we know how Republicans feel about welfare, don't we?)


Jeb Bush soon joined in the act, trying to see Christie's cuts and raise him - with other people's benefit money. Bush insisted that "we need to raise the retirement age, not for the people that already nearing --receiving Social Security that are already on it [sic], but raise it gradually over a long period of time for people that are just entering the system." (There's that Bush syntax again. Did you miss it?)

But if Bush thinks raising the retirement age is such a good idea, why not do it for people who are "already nearing" it? It's simple pandering. Both Bush and Christie know that older voters lean Republican, and they don't want to alienate them. Bush and Christie want to get elected - and both want to protect their rich patrons from the plan to lift the payroll tax cap.

Then came an unexpected ploy by Mike Huckabee, who is attempting to outflank his opponents from the left on this issue. "I'm getting slammed by some in the GOP ruling class for thinking it wrong to involuntarily take money from people's paychecks for 50 years," said Huckabee, "and then not keep the promise government made."

By opposing all Social Security cuts, Huckabee has staked out a position which is more progressive than that of President Obama through much of his Administration - or, for that matter, of Sen. Hillary Clinton during the 2008 campaign. That's a politically savvy move. Voters across the political spectrum oppose benefit cuts by wide margins.


Social Security would seem like a natural issue for the Democrats. Their party created this popular and successful program, after all, and Democrats led the fight to thwart George W. Bush's unpopular and potentially disastrous privatization plan.

But in recent years Democrats have had a knack for giving away the advantages Social Security brings to their party. That's what happened in 2010, after two years of equivocation and deficit-reduction obsession from President Obama squandered their good will on this issue.

Polling figures from that time tell the story: a 20-point advantage on Social Security in 2005 had been turned into a dis-advantage of several points by the time the 2010 election rolled around. That's the year the ever-cynical and ever-inventive Republicans invented something called the "Seniors' Bill Of Rights," ran to the rhetorical left of Democrats on Medicare and Social Security - and recaptured the House.

Changing places.

How is this year shaping up for Democrats? Secretary Clinton had this to say when asked this week about Social Security:

"I think there will be some big political arguments about Social Security. And my only question to everybody who thinks we can privatize Social Security or undermine it in some way - (is) what is going to happen to all these people ...? ... It's just wrong."

While that's a firmer defense of the program than she offered in 2008, it's not likely to satisfy voters on the left - or across the political spectrum. They're likely to remember that Barack Obama offered similar reassurances in 2008, only to reverse himself once elected.

Obama the campaigner talked of lifting the payroll tax cap to protect the program, while then-Senator Clinton said "I don't want to raise taxes on anybody." Clinton called lifting the cap "a one trillion dollar tax increase" and said "I am for getting back to fiscal responsibility." She talked of a plan to "rein in the budget" - that is, to impose benefit cuts - and proposed a "bipartisan commission" to ensure that the program was "solvent."

We know what happened next. Obama won the nomination and the presidency. He then pivoted to Clinton's approach, by convening a bipartisan "deficit commission" empowered to look at Social Security (Social Security does not contribute to the deficit) and appointing two longtime benefit-cut advocates to co-chair it.

These reversals may give rise to greater voter skepticism this time around.

Where the voters are.

That means generalities and vague reassurances are less likely to be effective this year, especially when Social Security has become such a hot political issue. An endorsement of its expansion represents a firmer, more concrete commitment to the program. And expansion isn't just a nod to the "Warren wing" of the party, as pundits have suggested. It's also a nod to voters across the political spectrum.

Social Security expansion has "overwhelming" support, regardless of party affiliation, according to political consultant Celinda Lake. Lake's research on this issue showed that 90 percent of Democrats, 73 percent of Republicans, and 73 percent of independents support "increasing Social Security benefits and paying for that increase by having wealthy Americans pay the same rate into Social Security as everybody else."

To her credit, Secretary Clinton has been talking a lot about wealth inequality this time around. But how is that problem addressed? One concrete way is by increasing Social Security benefits.

Where the party is.

Anything less than an embrace of expansion is likely to leave the base unsatisfied. And a refusal to commit to expansion would put Clinton at odds with most or all of the other potential candidates currently being discussed, most of whom (including Bernie Sanders, Martin O'Malley, and reluctant draftee Elizabeth Warren) have already endorsed the idea.

Anything less than expansion would also place Secretary Clinton to the right of Senate Democrats, 42 out of 44 of whom voted to expand Social Security in an amendment which resembled the one studied in Lake's research.

Tell 'em Ike sent you.

Come to think of it: If the Democratic nominee endorses anything less than Social Security expansion, that would place the party to the right of Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Republicans.

The GOP boasted about its accomplishments in the 1956 Republican Party platform. "Social Security has been extended to an additional 10 million workers," said the platform, "and the benefits raised for 6 1/2 million."

Eisenhower's platform goes on to say: "We are proud of and shall continue our far-reaching and sound advances in matters of basic human needs - expansion of Social Security."

Benefits increases? Social Security expansion? Ike's 1956 Republicans sound a lot like today's Democratic "Warren wing."

If the Democrats want to win on this issue in 2016, they might be wise to follow the trail Republicans blazed for them sixty years earlier.

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Rick Scott And Florida Republicans Are Throwing An Anti-Obamacare Tantrum

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-04-21 21:38
An unusual and revealing political fight over health care has been unfolding in Florida.

It's unusual because it pits Rick Scott, the Republican governor, against some members of his own party. It's revealing because it lays bare the motives of the Affordable Care Act's most determined detractors.

Conservatives have plenty of genuine, intellectually honest reservations about the changes that came with Obamacare. They don't like the new government spending and regulation, for example. In some cases, conservatives object to the whole notion of government-sponsored insurance.

But the Florida dispute demonstrates that differences over policy can't, on their own, explain the fervor now on display. The law and its enactment have tapped into something deeper and more primal -- about what the law represents, or, perhaps, the president who signed it.

Those feelings are so strong that, in Washington, Republicans have tried dramatic and unprecedented measures, such as shutting down the government. And from the looks of things, the anger is not going away anytime soon, particularly with a Republican presidential campaign underway and a potentially devastating Supreme Court decision looming.

At issue in the Florida controversy is how the state provides health care to some of its lowest-income residents. Under the Affordable Care Act, states can modify their Medicaid programs, which have long provided insurance to the poor, so that anybody living in a household with income below or just above the poverty line can qualify for coverage. That's about $32,000 a year for a family of four. With Medicaid coverage, these people can actually pay medical bills, rather than rely on charity from doctors, hospitals, and other providers of care.

The Affordable Care Act's architects hoped that all states would expand their Medicaid programs right away, if not to help people get health insurance, then at least to bolster state economies. After all, the federal government finances nearly the entire cost of covering anybody who gets insurance under the broader eligibility guidelines.

One reason the Affordable Care Act puts up that cash is the health care law simultaneously reduces what Medicare and Medicaid are paying hospitals, in order to restrain government spending and overall health care costs. Getting previously uninsured people onto Medicaid is supposed to offset the impact of those cuts. It was a major reason that, back in 2009 and 2010, the hospital industry endorsed the legislation that eventually became the Affordable Care Act.

More than half of the states have expanded their Medicaid programs, just as the law's advocates anticipated. Florida has been among the holdouts, taking advantage of leeway a 2012 Supreme Court decision gave to states. Scott, whose position on the expansion has varied, depending upon the political conditions of the moment, currently says he wants no part of it. Republican leaders in the state legislature, particularly the House, have been consistently hostile.

But Florida's budget situation is about to change, in ways that make opposition more difficult for these officials to justify. Like many states, Florida hospitals have access to some special federal grants designed to offset the losses that they take when they provide discounted or free care to the poor. These grants date back to a Bush-era program, enacted before the Affordable Care Act was around to give those same people insurance. The federal government has discretion over when to make those grants and, last year, the Obama administration made clear it would not be renewing Florida's beyond 2015, now that the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid money is there for the taking.

Republicans in the state legislature understood the implications. They'd have a big hole in the budget to fill unless they came up with some other way to finance health care for the poor. Among the first things to go would be a tax cut that Republicans cherish. "It really puts everything at risk," Andy Gardiner, leader of the Senate Republicans, told The Washington Post's Greg Sargent, who's been following the story closely. "It jeopardizes the tax cuts, it jeopardizes increases in education funding, it jeopardizes our priorities."

Rather than give up on those, Senate Republicans passed a bill to expand Medicaid, albeit with a few conservative modifications. (The merits of those modifications, and what they'd do to Medicaid, are subjects for another day.) It's precisely the strategy that Republican officials in Arkansas and Michigan, among other states, have used. But Florida House Republicans, who met behind closed doors on Tuesday, aren't budging. And neither, it seems, is Scott. Instead, he's decided to sue the federal government -- on the theory that, by refusing to extend the special grant for hospitals, the Obama administration is engaged in unconstitutional coercion of a state.

Gardiner has called Scot's decision "difficult to understand." It's even more difficult to understand given the math.

A few years ago, the Kaiser Family Foundation published an analysis by researchers at the Urban Institute. It projected the cost of expanding Medicaid in each state and then broke down the implications for state budgets. The numbers for Florida were striking. Over 10 years, the researchers found, making Medicaid available to all low-income people would cost about $71 billion above and beyond what the state's Medicaid program would otherwise cost.

That's a lot of money, for sure. But roughly $66 billion of the total, the researchers found, would come from the federal government. That would leave Florida taxpayers on the hook for the remaining $5 billion, with at least some of that money coming back to them in the form of reduced spending on other programs.

To put it another way, expanding Medicaid in Florida would likely require a net investment by state taxpayers that, over the course of a decade, would work out to less than a half-billion dollars a year. That's without accounting for any additional growth and tax revenues that the huge infusion of federal dollars might provide. That's also without accounting for the more than $1 billion a year in that, without expanding Medicaid, Florida would probably have to scrounge up in order to help hospitals defray the cost of charity care.

In short, if the numbers were lopsided in favor of expanding Medicaid before, they are even more lopsided now. And it's not as if anybody is arguing seriously that those grants are a superior way of financing care for the poor. If anything, the opposite is true -- and it's one reason the editorial page of the Tampa Bay Times called Scott's position "indefensible." Other editorial pages, civic organizations, and business groups across the state have made similar statements.

In response, Scott has said he's just looking out for state finances, because the federal government might someday pull back on its Medicaid commitment and leave state government responsible for financing a much larger Medicaid program. But as another Kaiser report has noted, the federal matching rate for Medicaid has remained remarkably stable over time -- except for rare changes that, on balance, meant the feds were paying more.

Of course, conservative fervor to block or repeal the Affordable Care Act has always seemed a bit disconnected from reality, given that the law consists almost entirely of pieces that existed, without such fuss, long before Obamacare came along. The lone exception is the "individual mandate," the requirement that people carry insurance or pay a fee. And that's an idea that plenty of conservatives tolerated -- and some even supported -- less than a decade ago. In fact, it was a conservative expert at the Heritage Foundation who many historians credit with the idea.

No, the level of hostility to Obamacare makes very little sense -- unless it's about something beyond the policy particulars. It could be the fact that Democrats finally accomplished something big, for the first time in several decades, thereby expanding the welfare state at a time when conservatives thought they were on their way to shrinking it. Or it could be the idea that, on net, the Affordable Care Act transfers resources away from richer, whiter people to poorer, darker people. Or it could be the fact that "Obamacare" contains the word "Obama," whose legitimacy as president at least some conservatives just can't accept.

Who knows? The only thing certain is that, in Florida, turning down Medicaid has even weaker logic than it did before -- except for officials obsessed with Obamacare or determined to please the people who are. Rick Scott may belong in either category and he might just belong in both.

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Tennessee Governor Expected To Sign Bill Requiring Abortion Waiting Period

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-04-21 21:11

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE, Tenn., April 21 (Reuters) - Tennessee abortion clinics will have to be licensed as surgical centers and women will be required to wait 48 hours after counseling before undergoing an abortion under bills approved by state lawmakers on Tuesday.

Republican Governor Bill Haslam is expected to sign both measures into law when they get to him, a spokesman said.

Tennessee would join 22 states that require abortion providers to meet ambulatory surgical center standards and 26 states that have waiting periods, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports access to abortion.

The measures follow a Tennessee amendment approved by voters in November that allows the state General Assembly to change abortion policies for the first time since the state Supreme Court struck down abortion restrictions in 2000.

The state House of Representatives voted 81-17 to require any clinic that performs 50 or more abortions a year to be licensed and inspected as any other ambulatory surgical treatment center.

Representatives also voted 79-18 to require women to undergo counseling and wait 48 hours before having an abortion except in the case of a medical emergency. The bill requires a concurring vote in the state Senate before it is sent to Haslam. (Reporting by Tim Ghianni in Nashville; Editing by David Bailey and Mohammad Zargham)

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Jeb Bush's Favorite Part Of Obama's Presidency Is NSA Spying

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-04-21 21:05
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) really likes at least one part of Barack Obama's presidency: the NSA's mass collection of Americans' phone records.

During an interview on Michael Medved's radio program on Tuesday, Bush called the program, which was revealed in disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, the best part of Obama's presidency.

"I would say the best part of the Obama administration has been his continuance of the protections of the homeland using the big metadata programs, the NSA being enhanced," said Bush, who is considering a 2016 presidential run. "Even though he never defends it, even though he never admits it, there has been a continuation of a very important service, which is the first obligation of our national government is to keep us safe."

Bush added that there was technology in place that could be used to guard both the United States and the civil liberties of Americans.

After Snowden's disclosures, Obama imposed some restrictions on the program, but left the program largely in tact. A bill to curb the NSA's authority to collect phone records also failed in the Senate last year. That bill had support from some Republicans, highlighting a divide in the party between more libertarian Republicans who supported ending the program and hawkish ones who did not.

That divide could carry over into the race for the GOP nomination for president in 2016, where some of Bush's potential rivals have already spoken out against the NSA program. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has already launched his campaign, sued the Obama administration over the NSA's collection of phone records. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is also running for president, supported the Senate bill to curb the program that failed last year.

The legal provision in the Patriot Act, passed under President George W. Bush, that allows for bulk collection is set to expire in June, but that doesn't necessarily mean the program will end.

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Harry Reid Says 'Hell No' To Giving Obama Fast-Track Trade Authority

Huffingon Post Politics - Tue, 2015-04-21 20:44
WASHINGTON -- Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is saying “hell no” to a bipartisan deal reached last week that would grant President Barack Obama authority to quickly push hefty trade deals through Congress.

Though Reid’s position on the fast-track authority bill is no surprise, he sounded off Tuesday. "You couldn't find a person ... who feels more negatively about it than I do,” he said.

“So the answer is not only no, but hell no,” he added.

Last week, the two top senators on the Senate Finance Committee, Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), joined with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to announce legislation that would let Obama strike new trade deals with Asian and European countries and then fast-track them through Congress with little oversight. In particular, it would grease the wheels for two controversial deals now in the works -- the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 Asian nations.

Formally known as “trade promotion authority,” the TPA bill is one issue that divides the president from a number of fellow Democrats, including the Senate minority leader.

“I have never, ever in my 33 years in Congress ever supported, ever supported a trade agreement. And I'm not going to start now,” Reid said. “They're not good for the American people. They're not good for working men and women. It puts us at a disadvantage.”

Reid may find himself in a standoff with the White House as early as next week.

On Wednesday, the Senate Finance Committee is meeting to mark up the bill, and if the deal doesn’t break down then, Republican leadership in the upper chamber is looking to move fast.

“When Orrin Hatch and Paul Ryan and Ron Wyden get on the same page with the president, you better strike while the iron is hot,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the third-ranking Republican in the Senate. “I would think if we get a favorable outcome tomorrow, it would be scheduled [for a floor vote] in pretty short order.”

Thune said he would like to see the legislation come to the full Senate next week during Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Congress. “It would be perfect timing,” he said.

He also noted, “I think TPA will have a very high sense of urgency attached to it because we have been waiting for the committee to report it, hoping to get it done as soon as possible.”

Pressed on whether the Senate would bring the trade legislation to the floor before a bill granting Congress the authority to weigh in on any final nuclear deal with Iran, Thune said he would be “surprised [if the former measure] doesn’t come up right away.”

That puts Reid and other Democratic opponents like Reps. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) and Sander Levin (D-Mich.) heading toward a fight with the White House sooner rather than later.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday that the fast-track legislation is a top priority for Obama.

"This is the most far-reaching, progressive trade promotion authority bill that Congress has ever passed," Earnest said in his daily briefing, emphasizing its labor and environmental protections. "There is ample reason for Democrats and Republicans to support this bill."

He warned that lawmakers would "essentially be ratifying the status quo" if they didn't support this type of trade bill and that ultimately the U.S. would find itself at a disadvantage to countries like China when it came to competing for business in Asia.

Reid's disagreement with the White House leaves other top Democrats in a tight spot. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), for one, wouldn’t say how he’ll vote if the trade bill reaches the floor.

“I’m going to wait and see how it comes out of committee,” Durbin said Tuesday, adding that he has concerns that the bill would give away Congress’ “right to take a close look at the trade agreement and how it might impact our country and your state.”

Reid said that he wouldn’t try to defeat the legislation in any “single-handed” way, but that he is pressing Wyden to slow it down.

“This is really marching forward. I think there should've been more time in the committee,” the minority leader said.

Jennifer Bendery contributed reporting.

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