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Healthcare.Gov Users Told To Change Passwords After Heartbleed Review

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-04-19 14:19
WASHINGTON (AP) — People who have accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the confounding Heartbleed Internet security flaw.

Senior administration officials said there is no indication that the HealthCare.gov site has been compromised and the action is being taken out of an abundance of caution. The government's Heartbleed review is ongoing, the officials said, and users of other websites may also be told to change their passwords in the coming days, including those with accounts on the popular WhiteHouse.gov petitions page. The Heartbleed programming flaw has caused major security concerns across the Internet and affected a widely used encryption technology that was designed to protect online accounts. Major Internet services have been working to insulate themselves against the problem and are also recommending that users change their website passwords.

Officials said the administration was prioritizing its analysis of websites with heavy traffic and the most sensitive user information. A message that will be posted on the health care website starting Saturday reads: "While there's no indication that any personal information has ever been at risk, we have taken steps to address Heartbleed issues and reset consumers' passwords out of an abundance of caution."

The health care website became a prime target for critics of the Obamacare law last fall when the opening of the insurance enrollment period revealed widespread flaws in the online system. Critics have also raised concerns about potential security vulnerabilities on a site where users input large amounts of personal data.

The website troubles were largely fixed during the second month of enrollment and sign-ups ultimately surpassed initial expectations. Obama announced this week that about 8 million people had enrolled in the insurance plans.

The full extent of the damage caused by the Heartbleed is unknown. The security hole exists on a vast number of the Internet's Web servers and went undetected for more than two years. Although it's conceivable that the flaw was never discovered by hackers, it's difficult to tell.

The White House has said the federal government was not aware of the Heartbleed vulnerability until it was made public in a private sector cybersecurity report earlier this month. The federal government relies on the encryption technology that is impacted — OpenSSL — to protect the privacy of users of government websites and other online services.

The Homeland Security Department has been leading the review of the government's potential vulnerabilities. The Internal Revenue Service, a widely used website with massive amounts of personal data on Americans, has already said it was not impacted by Heartbleed.

"We will continue to focus on this issue until government agencies have mitigated the vulnerability in their systems," Phyllis Schneck, DHS deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity and communications, wrote in a blog post on the agenda website. "And we will continue to adapt our response if we learn about additional issues created by the vulnerability."

Officials wouldn't say how government websites they expect to flag as part of the Heartbleed security review, but said it's likely to be a limited number. The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the security review by name.


Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

The Facts on Obamacare

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-04-19 14:06
There is a quote attributed to multiple sources:

"You are entitled to your own opinions, you are not entitled to your own facts."

Here are some facts on the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).

The tally for the total number of Americans getting coverage (so far!) thanks to the ACA:

• 8 million people have signed up for private health insurance through the state and federal marketplaces.
• 3 million more have signed up for coverage through expanded Medicaid but millions more are blocked by GOP governors and legislatures.
• 3 million now have coverage by staying on their parents' plan.
• 5 million people have signed up for ACA-compliant plans outside the marketplace, thus protecting themselves from lifetime caps, pre-existing condition denials, and higher female premiums.
In addition:
• 28% of enrollees are between the ages of 18 and 35. That's the same percentage as in Massachusetts, which has run a successful healthcare marketplace since 2007. Gallup echoes this point, writing that "the newly insured are, on average, much younger than the overall population."
• New Congressional Budget Office projections for 2016 insurance premiums are 15 percent lower than previous estimates, a reduction that they estimate to save $186 billion.

The basic rationale for the ACA was to provide health care for the uninsured. A new Gallup survey reveals that 4 percent of all Americans are newly ensured this year. This percent will increase next year, more so if delinquent states agree to expanded Medicaid coverage.
The market place is responding, according to Politico. In at least ten states, insurers that didn't offer coverage through the exchanges this year have said they plan to in 2015. This creates more options for consumers, and signals the strength of the ACA marketplaces and its attractiveness to private insurance companies.

As a result a recent Kaiser survey found that 59 percent of Americans want keep the law in place or improve it, while only 29 percent want get rid of it. Pew reports that even a "majority of ACA opponents -- representing 30% of the public overall -- want politicians to do what they can to make the law work as well as possible, compared with 19% of the public that wants elected officials to do what they can to make it fail."

What are the counter facts? So far the opposition has produced anecdotal evidence of people paying higher premiums or lasing their existing plans and not being able to get coverage. But no data has been presented and few if any such stories have been verified. Let's see the data and figure out how to solve any real problems. The proponents of repeal need to make the case that these problems are of such a magnitude as to justify repealing Obamacare and undoing all the good it is bringing to Americans.

The ball is in the opposition's court and so far they do not seem to know what to do with it.

Don't Forget the Other IRS Scandal

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-04-19 13:59
Washington, DC and the right wing outrage machine are all abuzz that the IRS allegedly targeted groups based on their presumed political affiliation. Obviously, that was wrong to do, but let's not forget that there are two IRS scandals. The other is allowing big shadowy forces to meddle in elections anonymously through front groups that file false IRS statements.

Let's go through this. It's pretty clear that Americans have a strong interest in knowing who's trying to influence their vote in elections. Even the Supreme Court agreed 8-1, in the otherwise loathsome Citizens United decision, that "effective disclosure" provides "shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters."

Although the law in America requires lots of disclosure, and the Supreme Court has emphasized the importance of disclosure, a company or a billionaire trying to hide their political influence-seeking can use a front organization to hide behind. Not many organizations can hide their donors that way; one is called a 501(c)(4), a tax-exempt non-profit form of corporation regulated by the IRS.

For secretive donors, there's a problem. That kind of organization, a 501(c)(4), needs to be set up "exclusively... for the promotion of social welfare." And the IRS's own regulations explicitly state that "the promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office." To enforce this, the application form for 501(c)(4) status asks: "Has the organization spent or does it plan to spend any money attempting to influence the selection, nomination, election, or appointment of any person to any federal, state, or local public office or to an office in a political organization?"

Some groups reported to the IRS that they would not spend money on elections, but then reported to other government agencies that they had. You cannot tell one federal agency that you spent millions to influence elections, and tell another federal agency that you spent no money to influence elections, and have both statements be true. Making a material false statement to a federal agency is not just bad behavior, it's a crime. It is a statutory offense under 18 U.S. Code Section 1001. The Department of Justice indicts and prosecutes violations of this statute all the time; I used to as U.S. attorney.

But no matter how flagrant the false statement, no matter how great the discrepancy between the statements filed at the IRS and the statements filed at the election agencies, no matter how baldly the organization's activities belie its answers, the IRS never makes a referral to the Department of Justice. The result: no investigations.

No one is suggesting that conservative groups should have their First Amendment rights limited (or other groups, for that matter -- liberal groups were also singled out by the IRS for further review based on certain keywords). No one has a First Amendment right to lie to a federal agency, in order to claim an improper tax status in order to avoid legal disclosure requirements on political spending, and thereby receive undue tax benefits. That's a criminal false statement and possibly a fraud.

Paper Shows U.S.-Flagged Plane In Iran Has Ties To Ghana

Huffingon Post Politics - Sat, 2014-04-19 00:59
New details emerged on Friday about an American plane, owned by a small community bank in Utah and mysteriously parked this week at Tehran’s airport, showing that it had been leased by a Ghanaian mining company owned by a brother of Ghana’s president.

Tom Cotton Wants to Make Medicare Doubly Dead... Attacks from Two Fronts

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-04-18 22:27
It is not on his website; it is not in his campaign platform. But, do not let this stealth candidate fool anyone: Republican Senate candidate Tom Cotton (R-AR) really wants to kill Medicare. So much so, that he attacks it on two different fronts.

First, by repeatedly voting to repeal Obamacare, he votes to make Medicare become insolvent in 2016, as it was destined to do.

Solvency is greatly improved from the insolvency date that was projected before enactment of the Affordable Care Act . This legislation improved Medicare's financing by reducing the rate of increase in provider payments, phasing out overpayments to Medicare Advantage plans, and increasing Medicare payroll taxes for high-income individuals and couples. Repealing the Affordable Care Act, would move up the insolvency date to 2016. [Emphasis Added].

By contrast, Obamacare extends Medicare's solvency to at least 2026, an additional decade.

But, that was not enough for this anti-Medicare warrior. Cotton also voted for the Ryan budget that scraps Medicare's guaranteed benefits and replaces them with vouchers for seniors to purchase health insurance on exchanges. (Vouchers... exchanges... hmmm, sound like anything you know that Cotton voted to repeal?)

Of course, killing Medicare would only partially satisfy Cotton. He would like to see the demise of Medicaid, and he has a two-pronged attack against that as well. Repealing Obamacare would throw more than 100,000 Arkansans off of Medicaid for which they are now qualified. This is an vicious attack on the working poor.

Then, for his double-whammy against Medicaid, Cotton votes to "block grant" Medicaid to the states. Sounds benign, doesn't it? Who would object to getting a "grant" in a big "block"?

The "block grants" he voted for are cleverly designed to decrease in value over time -- just like the Ryan vouchers he voted to replace Medicare.

Think of that. Of the ~74 million children in the United States, ~43 million are covered by Medicaid.

That is not all. About 60 percent of nursing home costs for the elderly are covered by Medicaid. Yes, Medicaid, not Medicare.

So Tom Cotton not only wants to reduce seniors' health care coverage when they are ill but not infirm, and then follows that up with a "sorry, too damned bad" when they need nursing home attention.

Of course, he will never, ever, say that that is what he wants to do. Heavens, no.

But, if it were up to Tom Cotton, Medicare would be doubly dead.

All his sweet words are not going to provide a single medication, a single doctor's visit, a single surgical procedure or a single night in a nursing home for our nation's senior citizens.

Friday Talking Points - Our 4/20 Acronym Contest Challenge

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-04-18 21:14

Three hundred of these columns? To coin a phrase... far out, man.

We'll get to patting ourselves on the back in a bit, but first we'd like to propose a party game for this weekend's big 4/20 festivities across the land. So put this in your (metaphorical) pipe and smoke it.

The rules for this contest are pretty simple. First, you've got to picture a day in the future when the Weed Wars are completely over, with marijuana reform having won the biggest victory of all: a complete change in the federal government's viewpoint. Not just rescheduling, but descheduling, in other words. The feds throw in the towel and decide to treat marijuana not as a dangerous and illegal drug, but as a regulated vice like tobacco and alcohol. In other words, total victory for the reformers.

OK, got that image in your mind? Here's where you need to get creative. If marijuana is descheduled, what would happen to it, in terms of the federal government? Well, they would take it away from the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and hand it off to the official "vice control" agency. But (and here's where the contest comes in) then they'd have to rename this agency.

The obvious choice would be to add it to what used to just be called "ATF" or sometimes "BATF" -- the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. This name was expanded a while back to include explosives, making "BATFE." Now, the easiest way to change the name gives us a rather strange acronym for the new Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, Explosives, and Marijuana: "BATFEM." Um... we're not sure that's an improvement over "Batgirl," really.

So our challenge is to come up with a better acronym. The rules: you can use either "marijuana" or "cannabis," and you can change "bureau" to "agency" or "commission" or any other governmental collective noun. This means you can add an M or C to the core letters A, T, F, and E; and then use a B or A or C (or whatever) at either end. Got that? So who has a better acronym than BATFEM for the real end to marijuana reform: what to call the bureau or agency that would federally regulate marijuana? This once seemed like pie in the sky -- too much to even hope for -- but is now within the bounds of possibility. So scramble those letters, and post your entries in the comments! Get creative!

As we've noted in these pages for the past few months, 2014 is shaping up to be a pivotal year for marijuana reform. The Colorado and Washington experiments are proceeding apace, the Attorney General is now actually "cautiously optimistic" about the success of these experiments, and the only real question people are asking is "which state will be next?" Alaska may move first, as full legalization is on the ballot there in August.

However, not everyone is on board (just to get serious for a moment). The head of the Drug Enforcement Agency tried his hand at a little scaremongering in front of Congress, warning that with legal marijuana edibles lying around, there was an increased risk of dogs eating it with harmful consequences. The prompted one of the most brutal takedowns of such propaganda we've ever read (from the Washington Post), which provides a long list of dogs mercilessly killed by drug raids gone horribly wrong. It's not for the faint of heart, and neither is this equally-brutal takedown which lists 13 human victims killed by Drug War hysteria.

In non-marijuana news, Vladimir Putin has finally responded to my April Fool's Day column (well, not really...) by insisting that Alaska is too cold for Russia to want to annex: "Is Alaska really in the Southern Hemisphere? It's cold there, too. Let's not get hot-headed." No word yet on any response (hot-headed or not) from Sarah Palin.

What else? The Pulitzer awards were handed out to the reporters which covered the Edward Snowden story, surprising exactly nobody. The federal government decided -- after getting some justifiably bad press -- they would no longer attempt to collect questionable "debts" that were over 10 years old. Here's just one of the stories of the folks caught up in this effort:

Mary Grice, a federal worker who lives in Takoma Park, Md., never got the refunds she was expecting to see in her mailbox this year. The government seized her checks because of a $2,996 debt that was supposedly incurred under her father's Social Security number. Her father died in 1960, when she was 4, and her mother received survivors' benefits thereafter.

But 37 years passed between when the Social Security agency says it overpaid someone in the Grice family and when Mary Grice's refund was taken. She was unable to find out from the agency exactly who received the overpayment -- her mother or perhaps her father's first wife, both of whom are no longer living.

There's a word for this sort of thing: Biblical. "Visiting the sins of the fathers on the sons," to be blunt, should not be the policy of the federal government, and we're glad someone woke up and realized this.

We've got some idiocy from Republicans to highlight in the talking points, but here is one item up front, just because. Scott Brown, former senator from Massachusetts, would now like to become the future senator from New Hampshire (after getting beaten by Elizabeth Warren in the Bay State). Speaking at a rally for Brown was former New Hampshire governor John Sununu, who made a rather bizarre pitch that tried to tie Senator Jeanne Shaheen (the Democrat Brown is challenging in New Hampshire) to other Democratic senators, saying: "She votes with Elizabeth Warren. She votes with [Ed] Markey. She is the third senator from Massachusetts." Um, really? You really think that line's going to work to promote an actual former senator from Massachusetts? I guess John Sununu thinks New Hampshire voters are pretty dumb.

And, finally, some non-idiocy from the Republican Party of Nevada. At their party convention last weekend, they decided to jettison the planks of their party platform which opposed same-sex marriage and abortion. This is an attempt to move the party away from these hot-button social issues, and it bears watching to see if the GOP in other states decides to follow Nevada's lead or not. We're guessing "not," but we could always be wrong...


Obamacare had another very good week, but we're going to get to that in the talking points as well, so we'll just mention it here in passing.

John Kerry had a pretty good week as well, pulling together a fragile agreement to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine. It remains to be seen whether it'll work or not, but the surprise was that anything was agreed to at all -- expectations that Kerry could deliver were pretty low, before the announcement.

And while it's not exactly award-worthy, we have to at least mention the fact that Chelsea Clinton is pregnant. This is going to be a photo-op goldmine for Hillary, for the next few years. "This is my family" images with Baby Clinton should be seen as both inevitable and soon-to-be-adorable, at this point. Like I said, the news that Hillary will be a grandmother isn't exactly award-worthy, but it will indeed positively influence her upcoming campaign.

Instead, this week (and in advance of the 4/20 celebrations), we're giving out the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week more for a long-term effort than for any news made this past week (although he did have some good new quotes, as previously pointed out).

Attorney General Eric Holder is, quite obviously, a man who is "evolving" on the subject of marijuana laws. His evolution is far from complete, one hopes. But it is worth pointing out the changes he has made in both attitude and in federal law enforcement priorities over the past year. Holder was painted into a corner by the new Colorado and Washington laws, and he dithered and stalled for just about as long as he could get away with. But then he announced that the state-level "laboratories of democracy" experiments which legalized recreational marijuana would go forward without heavy interference from federal agencies. He made a list of rules that would have to be followed to avoid a federal crackdown, giving some clear guidance on the issue. He could have chosen a far different route, but -- to his credit -- he didn't.

Holder has since begun to address some of the other problems in federal law which surround the marijuana issue. He told banks it would be OK with him for marijuana businesses to open bank accounts (lessening the fear of federal prosecution for "money laundering for drug dealers"). He is actually showing quite a bit of flexibility on marijuana -- more flexibility than America has seen since the 1970s, in fact (what archaeologists call the "pre-Nancy Reagan era").

Eric Holder still has far to go. He has balked at rescheduling marijuana, which would end the ridiculousness of federal laws treating marijuana as more dangerous than methamphetamine. Holder could accomplish this with a stroke of his pen, but he is punting the decision to do so to Congress. Holder knows full well that medical research is almost impossible to now do on marijuana, and rescheduling could take a big step towards solving this problem, but he refuses to do so for purely political reasons.

Nonetheless, Holder still deserves the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award, this 4/20 week. The steps he has taken on his evolutionary road are important ones, and he could easily have taken a much harsher position on each of them. Nobody could mistake Eric Holder for a pro-marijuana reformer at this point, but he is also neither a rabidly anti-marijuana absolutist. He is trying to accommodate a changing situation by slowly revamping the federal government's attitude on marijuana. For now, this is enough to earn him some praise. He's got many more steps to take along this path, but for the decision on Colorado and Washington alone, Holder wins our "looking back at the past year" 4/20 edition of the MIDOTW.

[Since he doesn't provide direct contact information, you'll have to congratulate Attorney General Eric Holder via the White House contact page, to let his boss know you appreciate his efforts.]


In keeping with this theme, we're going to award Patrick Kennedy this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award. Kennedy used to be a House member from Rhode Island. After leaving office, he founded a group which calls itself "Smart Approaches to Marijuana," which aims to strike a sort of "centrist" pose on the issue, along the lines of: "the Drug War has gone too far, but legalization is still wrong." The reason they're in the news is that they're fighting against the Alaska ballot measure which would legalize and tax recreational marijuana.

The pro-reform folks held an amusing bit of political theater to point out Kennedy's hypocrisy, with a giant check for $9,015 -- the amount Kennedy had accepted from the alcohol lobby in his short stay in office. The purpose of this check, the political director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said, was to offer it as a contribution to the anti-reform effort, if they could disprove these three statements: "a person is much more likely to overdose on alcohol than marijuana, long-term alcohol consumption causes more deaths than chronic marijuana use and violent crimes are committed by drunken people far more often than by people who are high." The chair of the pro-reform campaign tossed down the gauntlet: "We decided to present them with a challenge that really strikes at the heart of the issue. They are going to spend the next four months trying to scare people into thinking marijuana is so dangerous it simply cannot be legal for adults. Yet the fact is marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol to the consumer and to society."

So, if anyone can prove that marijuana is more harmful than alcohol, the pro-marijuana group will contribute the same exact amount that Patrick Kennedy got from the alcohol lobby to their opponents. That's some pretty admirable political theater, we have to say. In fact, the Alaska Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol deserves their own Honorable Mention, as they point out why former Representative Patrick Kennedy is worthy of this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

[We were going to provide contact information for Kennedy's group, but we decided it could be misinterpreted as a measure of support for them, and we certainly don't want to give that impression, so you'll have to look Patrick Kennedy's group up yourselves, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Volume 300 (4/18/14)

Three hundred! Woo hoo!

I certainly never thought, when I wrote the first one of these columns, that I'd still be doing so seven years in the future. But here we are, for the 300th time. These columns began (and continue) with a simple idea: "talking points" are not in and of themselves a bad thing. The reason why a lot of Democrats don't like them is that Republicans are much better at them than Democrats ever seem to be able to manage.

Republicans all get their talking points before the weekend, and they then appear on the political talk shows and -- almost word-for-word -- repeat the same points, over and over again. You barely even need to pay attention to which Republican is using them, in fact, because they are all singing from the same songbook, in unison.

Democrats, to be charitable, just aren't that disciplined. But the idea of talking points (or "soundbites" or "bumpersticker slogans" or whatever else you want to call them) is nothing more than a neutral tool in the political toolbox. Talking points, to put it another way, are not Republican or conservative, or inherently evil. They are a way to communicate -- and what you communicate is up to you.

Democrats have gotten somewhat better at this sort of thing, in our humble opinion, than they were in 2007 when this column began. We take no credit for this, because our egos are simply not that large. But choosing words wisely and getting in a zinger to make your point indelibly in the public mind are skills which always need honing. Hence the 300 columns.

This week's offerings deal mainly with Obamacare and the Republican War On Women. In preface to the Obamacare segment, here is a great ad now running up in Alaska which does an excellent job of defending the Obamacare program. Other Democrats campaigning this fall, take note, because this is a great example of how to make the issue work for you. For the rest of you, sit back and enjoy, as always.


   And counting

We confidently predicted this two weeks ago in this space. And always remember those crucial last two words, Democrats.

"President Obama announced today -- once again -- that the number of signups on the Obamacare exchanges has risen dramatically. Two weeks ago, the number was at 7.1 million, even though most were expecting roughly a million less than that. Last week, the number was up to 7.5 million. This week, it topped 8 million. President Obama is right. The law is working. It is now impossible to deny. Eight million people have signed up on the Obamacare exchanges -- and counting."


   No other reason than political spite

We're going to let President Obama have this talking point. He's right in pushing this -- the denial of Medicaid expansion could become a very potent argument for Democrats this year, as is already happening in Virginia. This Obama quote comes from his announcement about hitting the 8 million figure:

This does frustrate me. States that have chosen not to expand Medicaid for no other reason than political spite. You've got 5 million people who could be having health insurance right now at no cost to these states -- zero cost to these states -- other than ideological reasons they have chosen not to provide health insurance for their citizens. That's wrong. It should stop. Those folks should be able to get health insurance like everybody else.


   All kinds of good news

I wrote about this earlier this week, in more detail. This has been the best week for Obamacare stats yet. In fact, it's been the best week overall for Obamacare since the law passed. So point it out!

"The statistics on Obamacare just keep getting better and better, no matter how much Republicans would like you to ignore them. The big news was that 8 million people -- and counting -- have signed up on the Obamacare exchanges, which is a full million more people than the original estimate. The Congressional Budget Office now estimates that 12 million Americans will have insurance this year alone -- people who would not have been insured if Obamacare didn't exist. The C.B.O. also pointed out the program is covering more people, but the costs are coming down -- their new estimate is that Obamacare will save another $100 billion in the first decade than previously thought. Major insurers are now signaling that they are going to expand their offerings in the Obamacare exchanges next year -- which is a big vote of confidence from the industry. And finally, Gallup announced that in the states which accepted the Medicaid expansion with their own exchanges, the uninsured rate dropped three times faster than it did in the states which didn't. States which joined in Obamacare fully dropped their rate to 13.6 percent uninsured, while states which didn't were still at 17.9 percent uninsured. The numbers are starting to come in, folks, and so far every single one of them proves Obamacare is working as it was designed to do. Obamacare got all kinds of good news this week, in fact."


   And the Republicans still have... nothing

This is almost too funny for words.

"House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy just announced that the House Republicans -- who had planned to unveil their magic proposal to replace Obamacare this April -- will be indefinitely delaying this announced rollout of the GOP plan. As Bloomberg reports, 'the Republicans had said they would release the outlines of their proposal to replace President Barack Obama's 2010 health-care law over the two-week congressional break later this month at town-hall meetings with constituents. Instead, a Republican leadership aide said the rollout will occur at an unspecified time later this year.' Later in the article, aides are quoted saying 'April wasn't intended to be a formal rollout of a bill, rather a discussion about ideas,' and 'lawmakers are still working toward a policy consensus.' So let's just review the record, shall we? Four years ago, Obamacare passed. Since that time, the Republicans have offered up nothing -- no replacement bill at all -- to replace it with. They have had all the time in the world, but they cannot agree on anything even among themselves. So let's be blunt. Obamacare is working. There is no Republican replacement bill. After four years -- two full House terms -- the Republicans in the House have precisely nothing to offer the American people as a replacement. That is the choice America will have this fall: continue with the 'Can't-Do' Congress, or throw these slackers out of office."


   Fighting for low wages

This one is pretty unbelievable, folks.

"The governor of Oklahoma just signed a law which actually bans raising the minimum wage across the state. It also bans any effort to provide employees vacation days and sick leave, just for good measure. This is truly shocking, especially since it goes against what is supposed to be a bedrock belief of the Republican Party: local governmental control is always better than bigger government. This new law will block any city in the state from raising their own minimum wage, and -- even worse -- will block a citizens' initiative that was heading for the ballot this year. Republicans are scared to put this on the ballot -- they are scared of what the voters actually think about it. So much for letting the people decide, eh? That's an interesting political slogan to run on, isn't it? Republicans: fighting to keep your wages low!"


   Traditional gold-digging?

And finally, an update on the ongoing War On Women. Because it won't fit into either of these talking points, here is a funny Jeff Danziger cartoon on the issue, as well.

"Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum wrote an extraordinary opinion piece this week, which could provide a glimpse into what Republicans mean about all that 'traditional family' stuff. Schlafly's answer to the pay gap between men and women is that it's a good thing, and that maybe the best thing for women, quote, is to improve job prospects for the men in their lives, even if that means increasing the so-called pay gap, unquote. The reason Schlafly wants a bigger pay gap? So that women can all get married to men who make more money than they do. No, seriously. That's what she's saying: women need to marry men who make more, and that can't happen if the pay gap disappears. So that's the Republican answer to all of modern women's problems: marry a rich guy, and be happy. This is pretty laughably outdated thinking, especially when you consider that the Republicans are trying to 'reach out' to women voters this year."


   More War On Women hijinks

This quite obviously falls into the "you just can't make this stuff up, folks" category.

"Republican outreach to women, or War On Women? You decide. In Alaska, a state Republican legislator had to apologize after editing the title of a press release to read -- and I am not making this up -- 'Smart and Sexy: Legislature Encourages Hospitals to Promote Breastfeeding.' Sexy? Really? That's your message to promote breastfeeding? Wow. Down in Texas, meanwhile, someone in a prominent Republican consulting firm registered a political action committee with the charmingly frat-boyish name: 'Boats 'N Hoes PAC.' This is apparently the name of a song from a Will Ferrell movie. The PAC was swiftly dissolved -- after the press noticed it -- but not before Texas Democrats got the final word: 'There's no defending the use of a derogatory and offensive term like 'hoes.' How can women possibly take the GOP rebranding effort seriously? Their consistent contempt towards women is simply unforgivable.' Just another few stories from the frontlines of the War On Women, I guess -- each more jaw-dropping than the last."


Chris Weigant blogs at:

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The Best Monetary Policy Is Strict Financial Regulation

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-04-18 20:11
On Wednesday, in her first speech on monetary policy, Janet Yellen, the new chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, pointed out a discouraging paradox: In recent years, private-sector forecasters have been surprisingly accurate at forecasting changes in the unemployment rate, but they have been equally inaccurate when forecasting changes in the federal funds rate, the baseline interest rate controlled by the Fed.

Since interest rates supposedly have a strong effect on unemployment, how can forecasters be so right about unemployment if they're so wrong about interest rates?

Three economists at the Bank of International Settlements -- Morten L. Bech, Leonardo Gambacorta, and Enisse Kharroubi -- have been studying this question, and coincidentally their results were published this week in the journal International Finance.

Bech and his colleagues amassed a dataset of interest rates and economic output for 24 industrialized countries from 1960 to today. Over that time period, these countries experienced 78 recessions, of which 34 were the result of financial crises like the one we experienced a few years ago. In each recession, the BIS economists measured how much the central bank lowered interest rates to stimulate recovery -- and then how long it took for the economy to recover its lost output.

Unsurprisingly, they found that "normal" recessions -- the ones without a financial crisis -- were much less severe. On average, they resulted in an output loss of 1.9 percent, which it took the country 3.8 years to recover. Financial crises, on the other hand, resulted in an output loss of 8.2 percent, which it took 5.1 years to recover.

What was perhaps more surprising was the fact that "accommodative" monetary policy -- i.e. lowering interest rates -- had no effect on the economy after a financial crisis. This wasn't the case with normal recessions. Typically, the more the central bank lowered the interest rate, the faster the economy recovered its lost output. But not so with financial crises.

In times like these, interest rates simply don't matter as much as they normally do.

That doesn't sound like good news for Janet Yellen. What's a central banker to do?

Fortunately, the BIS economists did find one thing that accelerated recovery from financial crises: private-sector deleveraging. After a normal recession, it doesn't seem to matter whether households and firms pay down their debt, but after a financial crisis, it significantly speeds up economic growth.

As luck would have it, the Federal Reserve has a tool at its disposal that can reduce the economy's reliance on debt. It's called the "capital requirement," and it refers to the difference between what a bank owns and what it owes.

When a recession strikes, asset prices fall, and since banks own a lot of assets, their value goes down. If they go down too much, they can fall below what the bank owes to its lenders and depositors, meaning it's basically bankrupt. It doesn't own enough to pay what it owes.

So the Fed sets a minimum capital requirement. The more capital a bank is required to have, the more it has to own relative to what it owes. It's a buffer. The bigger the buffer, the more room asset prices have to fall before the bank becomes bankrupt.

Unfortunately, banks don't like high capital requirements. They want to rely on debt. Why use your own cash when you can use somebody else's cash? Lower capital requirements are cheaper -- but they're also more dangerous because it's easier to go bankrupt when you owe so much relative to what you own.

Banks argue that high capital requirements restrain lending because they can't borrow as much debt to fund their loans, but another paper published in the latest issue of International Finance debunks this myth. In it, the German economists Claudia M. Buch and Esteban Prieto study the behavior of German bank lending for the past 44 years, and they find that banks with higher capital actually issue more business loans.

This doesn't come as a surprise to those of us who understand how banks actually operate. They don't lend based on how much debt they can borrow. They lend based on how many loans they can sell. The more, the better. The only question is, will they fund the loans with cash or debt?

Janet Yellen may have her work cut out for her in this post-financial-crisis economy, but there is a way to stimulate the economy and prevent future crises. It all starts with financial regulation.


This op-ed was published in Friday's South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Good News For Obamacare Is Bad News For Conservative Pundits

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-04-18 19:40
Conservatives were sure at every turn that Obamacare would fail, but as the numbers roll in, those convictions are looking increasingly ideological.

The Affordable Care Act Gets Us a Step Closer to Equitable Health Care

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-04-18 19:33
As a person who has been living with what's commonly known as "a preexisting health condition," and one that can require expensive surgery and even result in emergency-room visits if it gets out of control, I consider the Affordable Care Act a lifesaver. It provides the most hope I have ever had for myself and my family when it comes to keeping us healthy and getting care when we need it most.

I have endometriosis. It's not uncommon, but it is chronic, and it's a condition I've been living and dealing with for more than 10 years. There have been a few years when I had to have multiple surgeries to address complications associated with it. I've even been forced to go to the emergency room on occasion. I lost my health-care coverage when I had to leave my full-time job due to extreme complications during my pregnancy with my son back in 2011. Five months of bed rest made it impossible to maintain my 50- to 60-hours-a-week job. Since then, I have been working multiple part-time positions, including one as a college instructor and another as a clinic receptionist. While these positions have provided me with flexibility and a stable income, because they're part-time jobs, none of them offers health-care coverage. For several months, both my son and I went without coverage, and I spent nearly every moment terrified and anxious. I constantly worried about whether we could afford to visit the doctor, and often I found myself trying to somehow "make do" without. My husband and I even sold our car to try to purchase private health insurance, but we were repeatedly denied coverage because of my preexisting condition. It's simply incredible how access to health care can impact so many of the decisions you make about your work and life.

I'm not alone; it seems that so many people in my community have chronic or serious health conditions that they can't afford to manage without comprehensive health coverage. I have seen friends asking for donations on Facebook in order to get health care for their kids. That should never, ever happen. No child should go without the health care he or she needs because there's not enough money, nor should any adult.

Now my son and I are both enrolled in a health plan through CoveredCA (California's health-insurance exchange, created as part of the Affordable Care Act). We are keeping the same great plan with fewer out-of-pocket costs, and we get a $235 subsidy each month. This means we now pay less than we did prior to the new health-care law, for better insurance. We also get to be on a family plan, so I no longer have to worry about how my income is going to affect our child's coverage, not to mention that I now know that one health crisis won't send us into bankruptcy.

I believe the Affordable Care Act provides important protections for me both as a consumer of health care and as a human being who needs access to health care. It's not perfect, but there are problems with almost all programs, especially when they are implemented for the first time, and the Affordable Care Act is certainly better than what we've had up until now. It gets us a step closer to a more equitable health-care system.

There are a lot of people opposed to the Affordable Care Act. They think it takes away choice, is too expensive or unfairly places a burden on taxpayers. My own family members are among them. For me, not having any options for health coverage definitely did not feel like it gave me more choice. I'm a hardworking taxpayer; don't I deserve the same chance to get health coverage for my family? Now that I'm covered, I have the financial security to consider buying a house, looking for a new job or maybe even starting a business. If we want to support thriving families and a growing economy, providing secure health coverage is the best place for our country to start.

White House Won't Comment On Petition To Deport Justin Bieber

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-04-18 19:32
WASHINGTON -- Disappointing thousands of people who signed a petition to deport Justin Bieber, the White House announced Friday that it would not be taking a stand on the issue.

"Sorry to disappoint, but we won’t be commenting on this one," wrote the White House.

On Jan. 23, a petition had popped up on the White House's We the People website asking the Obama administration to deport the pop star after his arrest on DUI and drag racing charges. The petition drew attention to the plight of less-famous immigrants in the U.S. who aren't citizens and face deportation if convicted of a crime.

Bieber, who is a citizen of Canada and has a performer's visa, is unlikely to face deportation, although he could if he were to be convicted of a crime that carried a sentence of more than one year.

"We the people of the United States feel that we are being wrongly represented in the world of pop culture," read the petition. "We would like to see the dangerous, reckless, destructive, and drug abusing, Justin Bieber deported and his green card revoked. He is not only threatening the safety of our people but he is also a terrible influence on our nations youth. We the people would like to remove Justin Bieber from our society."

The Bieber petition garnered far more than the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a response from the White House. It became one of the site's most popular online petitions ever. Even Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said he was a Belieber of deportation. A HuffPost/YouGov poll also found that the majority of Americans agreed.

In its response on Friday, the White House noted that the terms of the site state that officials can "decline to address certain procurement, law enforcement, adjudicatory, or similar matters properly within the jurisdiction of federal departments or agencies, federal courts, or state and local government in its response to a petition."

"So we'll leave it to others to comment on Mr. Bieber’s case, but we’re glad you care about immigration issues," added the White House. "Because our current system is broken. Too many employers game the system by hiring undocumented workers, and 11 million people are living in the shadows."

The White House also noted that immigration reform would shrink the nation's budget deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next 20 years, which is the equivalent of "12.5 billion concert tickets -- or 100 billion copies of Mr. Bieber’s debut album."

Bieber is set to face trial on May 5 in Florida.

Salvation Gets Cheap

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-04-18 18:40
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which pools the efforts of scientists around the globe, has begun releasing draft chapters from its latest assessment, and, for the most part, the reading is as grim as you might expect. We are still on the road to catastrophe without major policy changes.

GOP Candidate Says He Donated To Pro-Obamacare Democrat To Defeat Nonexistent Health Law

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-04-18 18:14
Julio Gonzalez, a GOP candidate for the Florida state House, has come under fire by local Republican groups for a $500 contribution he made to Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.) in 2008, according to Federal Election Commission records obtained by Media Trackers.

Gonzalez, an orthopedic surgeon, later told conservative groups, including the Village Walk Republican Club and the Republican Club of South Sarasota County, that the contribution was a strategic ploy to defeat Obamacare.

However, as Media Trackers pointed out, his April 2008 donation to Wasserman Schultz, an avid Obamacare supporter who is now chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, predates the passage of the Affordable Care Act by more than two years.

Media Trackers reports:

Gonzalez told local Republican groups he made the donation to facilitate a meeting with Wasserman Schultz in which he could voice his concerns about Obamacare ... Barack Obama did not clinch the Democratic nomination until June of 2008 … But in explanations to local Republican groups, Gonzalez paints a vivid picture of going toe-to-toe with Wasserman Schultz in a heated argument over Obamacare.

“There was hundreds and hundreds of doctors fighting against Obamacare,” said Gonzalez, who is running against Richard DeNapoli in the Republican primary. “I, I was one of them. I did numerous trips to Washington D.C. where we went to argue against Obamacare.”

Gonzalez attempted to revamp his conservative credentials by calling Wasserman Schultz “horrible” and insisting that he “got into a fight with Debbie Wasserman Schultz. It was awesome.”

Gonzalez has since pointed to the Affordable Care Act and President Barack Obama's reelection as launching points for his campaign. He has said the reelection was one of the most disturbing times of his life, along with the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“Nov. 7, 2012. That was the day after Obama got elected,” Gonzalez said during an April debate at the Sarasota Republican Women's Club. “I remember waking up that morning with a pain in the pit of my stomach, knowing that I was going to have to deal with four more years of policies that were going to be designed to ruin or weaken our country and international positions that were going to weaken out position in the globe. I could not take that.”

(h/t Media Trackers)

Algerian Elections: The End of the Arab Spring?

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-04-18 18:01
As Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika secured his fourth term in office, many are wondering whether the 2010-11 Arab uprisings have had any lasting imprint on the region at all. Soon to be an octogenarian, Bouteflika -- once the world's youngest and most dashing foreign minister -- has been frail and largely invisible to the Algerian electorate. But the continued support of the pouvoir -- the shadowy ruling security-intelligence establishment -- ensured his extended tenure in office.

Moreover, Bouteflika is largely credited for his role in stabilizing and unifying the country after almost a decade of civil conflict in the 1990s, dubbed the "Dirty War" (La Sale Guerre). The 2008 constitutional amendment, which removed prior restrictions on presidential term limits, hands Bouteflika an opportunity to join the exclusive cabal of president-for-life figures -- an increasingly rare commodity in the 21st century.

If the Arab Spring, which swept across North Africa and reached the oil-rich Sheikhdoms of the Persian Gulf, were about dislodging age-old autocrats, especially across Arab republics, then Algeria is a striking contradiction of such thesis. Given Algeria's acute economic challenges -- from double-digit unemployment and poverty rates, to high dependency on hydrocarbon-revenues -- many wonder why there hasn't been an explosion of popular discontent similar to those in neighboring Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt. There are also little signs that the Islamists are in any position to challenge the status quo. Far from isolated, ordinary Algerians also enjoy considerable access to internet and social networking technology.

Therefore, all mono-causal explanations of the roots of the Arab Spring seem to make little sense in the case of Algeria. So, what explains the seeming climate of political stagnation in the country?

Amid the chaos that has gripped the Arab Transition Countries (ATC), from Egypt to Libya and Yemen, it is easy to dismiss the Arab Spring as just a temporary interruption of a centuries-old autocratic order in the Middle East. The resilience of autocratic regimes and/or the "deep state" in Syria, Egypt, Algeria and the Persian Gulf has undermined confidence in and support for democratic forces and their aspirations across the Arab world. With many ordinary citizens nostalgically recalling the supposed "good old days" of predictability and stability under the iron grip of dictators, there is a serious risk of democratic reversal in the region -- and a regrettable embrace of neo-autocratic rule.

As I argue in How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Arab Uprisings, such gloomy reading of recent developments is based on an explanatory framework that: (a) fails to understand the dynamism of autocratic regimes, and (b) overlooks the role of the Arab Spring in permanently transforming the political landscape in the Middle East and beyond.

The Autocratic Dialectic

There are at least two factors, which explain the resilience of autocratic regimes in Algeria and the Persian Gulf.

First of all, many recent explanations of revolutionary upheaval tend to largely focus on the ability of the opposition forces to utilize advancements in information technology to circumvent the security apparatus of the state, but there has been a relatively limited appreciation of how autocratic regimes can adapt to a new political landscape and upgrade their networks of suppression and patronage.

From Algeria in North Africa, to Saudi Arabia in West Asia, the ruling establishment has astutely utilized its considerable fiscal resources to maintain support among the civilian and military elite, while exploiting latest technologies to crackdown on unconventional platforms of dissent.

Second, one must recognize that revolutions are fundamentally a psychological phenomenon, relying on the ability of a huge section of the society to sublate individual fear in moments of collective anger and desperation for the pursuit of romantic idealism. Collective memories could play a huge role in breaking/reinforcing the psychological barriers, which underpin the hegemony of a particular political order. But in the case of Algeria, the traumatic experience of the 1990s -- when the vicious war between Islamists and the pouvoir brought the country to the edge of abyss -- prevented a wholesale embrace of revolutionary upheavals on the country's eastern and western borders.

With much of North Africa eventually falling into a cycle of violence and political instability -- empowering Al-Qaeda groups to stage a powerful comeback in recent years -- there was an even greater appreciation of stability. Regional and international powers -- forced to re-examine their foreign policy in the immediate aftermath of the Arab Spring -- have also embraced Algeria as a reliable security partner and an island of relative stability in a challenging neighborhood. In the case of Persian Gulf monarchies, especially troubled regimes such as Bahrain, the ruling elite was able to leverage Western concerns over Iranian influence and energy security to not only stave off international pressure, but also justify repression at home and solicit optimum security guarantee from external powers.

Yet, the ability of autocratic regimes to re-assert their geopolitical relevance and tap into public fears of chaos should be seen against the backdrop of the broader political transformation in the region and beyond.

The Grand March of History

The relative resilience of autocratic regimes in the Middle East misleads many observers into presupposing the premature demise of the Arab Spring. In reality, however, the Arab revolutions have exacerbated the structural and institutional vulnerabilities of the ruling elite, paving the way for a more mature and gradualist democratic transition across the region. After the dramatic downfall of many Arab dictators in recent years, and continued spats among and within Arab Sheikhdoms on how to respond to the Arab Spring, it would be foolish to assume that the Arab youth population, which continues to suffer from political alienation and economic marginalization, will give up on its democratic aspirations.

In Algeria, there are huge concerns over the succession crisis that could emerge in an increasingly imminent post-Bouteflika scenario. Intra-elite jostling within the ruling establishment could very well increase the leverage of democratic forces, which seek greater voice in the governance and reform of the country. The growing influence of non-violent, civil society organizations for democratic reform, such as the Barakat movement also represents a growing societal hunger for peaceful political change.

In the Persian Gulf, oil-rich kingdoms have been forced to consider unprecedented appeasement strategies to stave off popular discontent. By (falsely) thinking that they can do away with political reform by throwing more money at the problem, many Arab monarchies (think of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia) are beginning to struggle with an increasingly tight balance sheet, which could undermine the viability of their networks of patronage in the long-run. In absence of genuine economic reform, structural issues, such as chronic youth unemployment and high-dependence on oil exports will continue to afflict most Arab monarchies. Meanwhile, rising expectations and deep-seated frustration among the Arab youth and middle classes will continually fuel increasingly vocal calls for political reform and democratic opening.

Beyond the Arab world, the 2010-11 uprisings have inspired similar youth revolts across the world, especially in recession-hit Southern Europe and increasingly polarized America. The impact on non-Arab Middle East countries shouldn't be underestimated too. In places such as Iran, the chaos across the Arab world has encouraged a more pragmatic and moderate political leadership, as exemplified by the landmark election of President Hassan Rouhani in mid-2013. In neighboring Turkey, the youth and middle class population has been mobilized against the perceived authoritarian tendencies of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). And across the emerging markets, from Brazil and Thailand to Ukraine, India and the Philippines, huge protests have demonstrated the ability of disaffected sectors of the society, especially the youthful middle classes, to punish inept governments amid systemic corruption and inequality.

It is precisely for the above reasons that the Arab Spring should be seen as a phenomenon of trans-historical significance, which has inspired the youth and middle classes of the world to unite against economic and political oppression. Democracy is a destiny that lies at the far end of a contentious and tortuous path.

Making Strides for Preschool

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-04-18 17:48

New York City received a lot of attention recently with a bold promise made to some of its youngest residents: Mayor Bill de Blasio ran on a campaign to fund full-day public preschool for all New York City children through a modest increased income tax on residents making more than $500,000 a year. Although Mayor de Blasio’s tax proposal was not approved by the state legislature or supported by New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, the legislature did approve statewide funding for pre-K that included a $300 million increase for New York City’s preschool program. This means that for the first time fully funded full-day quality preschool will be available for all four-year-olds in the city. New York City is moving forward for children -- and it isn’t the only major city and school district making strides towards providing high-quality public preschool programs to as many children as possible. Several large districts that have been doing this for a while are already seeing strong results.

In Massachusetts, the Boston Public Schools system (BPS) offers a full day of prekindergarten to any four-year-old in the district regardless of income, although funding limitations prevent the district from serving all eligible children. BPS ensures the quality of its prekindergarten program through high-quality teachers, professional development delivered through individualized coaching sessions, and evidence-based curricula for early language and literacy and mathematics. Prekindergarten teachers have the same requirements as K-12 teachers in BPS and are paid accordingly. And it’s working. A study conducted by researchers at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education examined the impact of one year of attendance in the BPS preschool program on children’s school readiness and found substantial positive effects on children’s literacy, language, mathematics, emotional development, and executive functioning.

Tulsa is another city making great strides. Oklahoma has offered universal preschool to four-year-olds since 1998, and in the 2011-2012 school year three-quarters of all four-year-olds in the state were enrolled in the preschool program. High-quality year-round programs are also available to some at-risk Tulsa children from birth through age three through the Community Action Project (CAP) of Tulsa County, which combines public and private funds to provide comprehensive services for the youngest and most vulnerable children. Oklahoma’s preschool teachers are required to have a bachelor’s degree with a certificate in early childhood and are also paid equally to K-12 teachers. Preschool is funded through the state’s school finance formula, although districts can subcontract with other providers of early care and education by putting public school teachers in community-based settings and Head Start programs. Researchers from Georgetown University have conducted multiple evaluations of the four-year-old preschool program in Tulsa over the last decade and found evidence of both short and long term gains, with the most persistent gains in math for the neediest children who are eligible for free and reduced price lunch. A long term economic projection of the future adult earnings effects of Tulsa’s program estimates benefit-to-cost ratios of 3- or 4-to-1.

New Jersey has offered high-quality state-funded preschool to three- and four-year-old children in 31 high poverty communities since 1999 in response to a series of state Supreme Court rulings starting with Abbott v. Burke that found poorer New Jersey public school students were receiving “inadequate” education funding. In the 2011-2012 school year more than 43,000 children were served through these preschools, and a partnership between the Department of Education and the Department of Human Services has established a wrap-around program of daily before and after school and summer programs to complement the full school-day year-round preschool program. These programs, often called Abbott preschools after the original court decision, are delivered through a mixed public-private delivery system overseen by public schools. Head Start programs and other community providers serve roughly two-thirds of the children. Researchers at Rutgers University’s National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) have conducted a longitudinal analysis of the impacts of the Abbott preschool program on the cohort of children served in 2004-2005, and the fifth grade follow up shows participation has had a sustained significant effect on students’ achievement in language arts and literacy, math, and science and reduced grade retention and special education placement rates.

Other cities also are finding new ways to move forward. In 2011 San Antonio, Texas Mayor Julian Castro convened a task force of education and private sector leaders to identify the best way to improve the quality of education in the city. The task force concluded the most effective solution would be a high-quality, full-day four-year-old prekindergarten targeted at low-income and at-risk children. The San Antonio program was launched after city residents voted for a small one-eighth of a cent sales tax increase in November 2012 to fund it. It will serve 3,700 four-year-olds annually when fully implemented. The majority of these children will be served by model Education Centers, which include master teachers, professional development and training for teachers, aides, and community providers, and parent support, including training and education.

We know high-quality early childhood development and learning interventions can buffer the negative effects of poverty and provide a foundation for future success with lifelong benefits, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable children. Studies have shown children enrolled in high-quality early childhood programs are more likely to graduate from high school, hold a job, and make more money and are less likely to commit a crime than their peers who do not participate. High-quality preschool is a critical piece of the early childhood continuum — and we need to celebrate and support the cities, states, and political leaders who are successfully providing this experience for all children. Congress needs to follow their good example now by enacting the Strong Start for American’s Children Act to enable millions of the nation’s children — not just thousands or tens or hundreds of thousands — to get quality early childhood education including home visiting through kindergarten and be better prepared for school and for life. This should be a litmus test for our vote this November. If leaders don’t stand up for children, they don’t stand for anything and they don’t stand for a strong American future which requires educated children.

Private Spies Deserve More Scrutiny

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-04-18 17:46
It turns out being the only imprisoned journalist in the United States doesn't get you on CNN or MSNBC. If you're Barrett Brown, a firebrand with an outlandish style, a penchant for insulting those very outlets and a history of working with hacktivist collectives, you can consider yourself lucky to get written up in Rolling Stone and the New York Times.

The drama of Brown's case and cancelled trial is all but over, but the media and the public has dropped the ball on what he was trying to expose. That's the secretive world of private intelligence contractors -- an estimated $56 billion-a-year industry consuming 70 percent of America's intelligence budget.

Edward Snowden's leaks have shed a much-needed spotlight on the activities of the NSA and GCHQ -- governmental surveillance, yet very little examination is now given to the corporations and companies who work closely with the state, while selling their capabilities on the open market. To them, dictatorships and authoritarian regimes are just another customer.

The growing nexus of intelligence, defense contracting, and cybersecurity is massive. New enterprises appear every day in response to perceived threats and manufactured demand. What we've learned so far is disturbing and entails a virtual shopping mall for the technology needed to commit rights violations and neutralize dissent.

Spyware created by Gamma International has been deployed against activists in Bahrain and Egypt. Leonie Industries, a defense contractor specializing in information operations, was caught in an online smear campaign against a journalist and editor from USA Today who had written an article that was critical of that same company.

Stratfor was discovered surveilling Bhopal activists at the behest of Dow Chemical, and PETA on behalf of Coca-Cola, as well as monitoring the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Amesys's Eagle spyware was sold to Gaddafi while he was still in power, and used to spy on journalists and human rights activists in Libya. Qorvis, an American public relations firm, has been hired to shore up the Kingdom of Bahrain's reputation as it engages in a violent crackdown against demonstrators.

Endgame Systems and VUPEN are selling zero-day exploits to the highest bidder, vulnerabilities which are used to eavesdrop on communications. Hacking Team's interception and remote control software has been used against journalists and activists in Morocco, the UAE and many other places.

Ntrepid won a large contract from CENTCOM for persona management - software capable of controlling multiple sockpuppets, fake online personalities which are used for disinformation and propaganda. Raytheon has developed a program called Riot which mines data from social media and uses it to predict your next move.

TrapWire, a mass video surveillance system created by Abraxas Applications, caused a scandal when it was revealed that CCTV was being used to detect patterns of behavior preceding terror attacks. Bright Planet has a product called BlueJay which bills itself as a "Law Enforcement, Twitter Crime Scanner".

Syngenta, a large agribusiness, attacked the credibility of a scientist who had published research critical of one of their chemicals.

A consortium of firms informally called Team Themis plotted to disrupt and undermine WikiLeaks and target Glenn Greenwald, along with critics of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Names such as Palantir Technologies, HBGary, Berico Technologies and Endgame were all involved.

Palantir's flagship product is a big data search and analysis application that is so good, and so ripe for abuse, it's scary. Booz Allen Hamilton -- Snowden's former employer -- earns 99 percent of their revenue from the federal government.

Blackwater had to change their name, and their license to operate in Iraq was revoked after gross negligence came to light. Wackenhut Corporation has been implicated in numerous scandals involving lax security at nuclear facilities.

There's more; we've only scratched the surface... Look up SAIC, In-Q-Tel, Archimedes Global, Cubic Corporation, ManTech International, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman. The industry has become so large that some in the European Union are rightfully pushing for export controls on surveillance technology. Meanwhile, the evolution of cyberspace as a theater of war has troubling implications for the liberty of all who inhabit the internet.

Sure, the NSA, CIA and FBI deserve scrutiny, but we should devote our attention to the private sector also. Outsourcing has always been a convenient way to avoid accountability. Firms such as these typically maintain a revolving door, with executives and board members moving in and out of key government positions.

The GAO has criticized agencies' reliance on contract personnel within the civilian intelligence community and called for improved reporting. Agencies are not even sure how many contractors they employ. Meanwhile, a recent DoD IG report found that contractors who had committed misconduct rarely lost their clearances.

And since 2012, domestic propaganda has been legal in the United States. With what we know by now, we should be very concerned. But what brave contractor will become a whistle-blower and reveal wrongdoing, when they are afforded very little protections to do so because of loopholes?

What was said by Lt. Col Anthony Shaffer in response to the revelation of Romas/COIN: "I think the public is naive to the actual level of technology that's available and what's being done," is echoed by the sentiment of Barrett Brown: "This is the world we accept if we continue to avert our eyes. And it promises to get much worse."

Colorado Deaths Stoke Worries About Pot Edibles

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-04-18 17:42
DENVER (AP) — A college student eats more than the recommended dose of a marijuana-laced cookie and jumps to his death from a hotel balcony. A husband with no history of violence is accused of shooting his wife in the head, possibly after eating pot-infused candy.

The two recent deaths have stoked concerns about Colorado's recreational marijuana industry and the effects of the drug, especially since cookies, candy and other pot edibles can be exponentially more potent than a joint. "We're seeing hallucinations, they become sick to their stomachs, they throw up, they become dizzy and very anxious," said Al Bronstein, medical director of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center.

Studies are mixed about whether there is any link between marijuana and violence. Still, pot legalization opponents said the deaths are a sign of future dangers.

Twenty-six people have reported poisonings from marijuana edibles this year, when the center started tracking such exposures. Six were children who swallowed innocent-looking edibles, most of which were in plain sight.

Five of those kids were sent to emergency rooms, and two to hospitals for intensive care, Bronstein said. Children were nauseous and sleepy, and doctors worried about their respiratory systems shutting down.

Supporters of the pot law and some experts counter that alcohol causes far more problems among users, and the issues with pot can be largely addressed through better regulations.

The deaths occurred as Colorado lawmakers are scrambling to create safety regulations for the largely unmonitored marijuana snacks. On Thursday, the Legislature advanced a package of bills that would lower the amount of THC that could be permitted in a serving of food and require more extensive warning labels.

"It really is time for regulators, and the industry, to look at how do we move forward more responsibly with edible products," said Brian Vicente, who helped lead the state's legalization campaign.

An autopsy report listed marijuana intoxication as a significant contributing factor in the death of 19-year-old Levy Thamba Pongi.

Authorities said Pongi, who traveled from Wyoming to Denver with friends to try marijuana, ate six times more than the amount recommended by a seller. In the moments before his death, he spoke erratically and threw things around his hotel room.

Toxicologists later found that the cookie Pongi ate contained as much THC — marijuana's intoxicating chemical — as six high-quality joints.

Less is known about Richard Kirk, 47, who was charged in Denver with shooting his 44-year-old wife to death while she was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher. Police said his wife reported that her husband had consumed marijuana-laced candy, but no information has been released about potency.

The public defender's office has declined comment on the allegations against Kirk.

"Sadly, we're going to start to understand over time all of the damage and all of the problems associated with marijuana," said Thornton police Sgt. Jim Gerhardt, speaking in his capacity as a board member of the Colorado Drug Investigators Association. "It's going to dispel the myth that there's no downside, that there's no side effect, to this drug. It's sad that people are going to have to be convinced with the blood of Coloradans."

State lawmakers last year required edible pot to be sold in "serving sizes" of 10 milligrams of THC. Lawmakers also charged marijuana regulators with setting potency-testing guidelines to ensure consumers know how much pot they're eating. The guidelines are slated to be unveiled next month.

For now, the industry is trying to educate consumers about the strength of pot-infused foods and warning them to wait up to an hour to feel any effects before eating more. Still, complaints from visitors and first-time users have been rampant.

"One of the problems is people become very impatient," Bronstein said. "They eat a brownie or a chocolate chip cookie and they get no effect, so then they stack the doses, and all the sudden, they get an extreme effect that they weren't expecting."

Last year, the poison center run by Bronstein received 126 calls concerning adverse reactions to marijuana. So far this year — after pot sales became legal on Jan. 1 — the center has gotten 65 calls. Bronstein attributed the spike to the higher concentrations of THC in marijuana that has become available.

Although millions of Americans have used pot without becoming violent, Bronstein said such behavior is possible depending on the type of hallucinations a user experiences. Toxicologists say genetic makeup, health issues and other factors also can make a difference.

"With these products, everybody is inexperienced," Bronstein said. "It's the first time people have been able to buy it in a store. People need to be respectful of these products."


Associated Press writers Kristen Wyatt and Nicholas Riccardi contributed to this report.

Does the Sudden Ukraine Deal Clear the Decks for Obama's Asia-Pacific Tour?

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-04-18 17:37
After spending Thursday in Geneva negotiating with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, and Ukrainian Acting Foreign Minister Andrii Deshchytsia, Secretary of State John Kerry came away with a deal that may defuse the present crisis in Ukraine. A deal that comes just in time for President Barack Obama to give his full focus to his upcoming tour of the Asia-Pacific region during a crucial phase in America's geostrategic pivot to the Pacific, which includes the very large question of China.

But does the deal do enough to provide a framework to settle the crisis that erupted after Russian President Vladimir Putin, quite predictably, reacted badly to the coup in Kiev which, as Putin's long-planned Sochi Winter Olympic reached their peak, deposed democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovich in favor of interests bent on shifting Ukraine away from neighboring Russia into the orbit of the West? And can the party's to the agreement get their partisans inside Ukraine to abide by the deal?

A day after the deal, the answers are, respectively, maybe and we'll see.

The text of the 270-word, five-point deal is presented below.

Intriguingly, Russia per se doesn't have to do anything. Its armed forces are not directed to pull back from Ukraine's border. Instead, it's implicitly expected to get pro-Russian protesters in eastern Ukraine to stand down. All sides are to refrain from violence and disassociate from extremism, such as the anti-semitism which has cropped up in the fascist portion of the new governing coalition in Kiev and in some pro-Russia protest circles in eastern Ukraine. All the illegal armed groups are to disarm, with seized buildings, streets, and squares to be vacated. Those protesters who comply and who have not committed capital crimes are to be granted amnesty. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is to monitor and help implement the agreement. And the new government in Kiev agrees to constitutional reforms and "a broad national dialogue" to include the concerns of all regions and constituencies.

This last is the key to settling the crisis, as it gets at demands for new autonomy for the Russian-speaking eastern part of Ukraine, a move which would largely neuter the central government in Kiev and its now dominant pro-European Union and pro-NATO Westernized factions.

But the language, as you can see, is still rather vague: "The announced constitutional process will be inclusive, transparent and accountable. It will include the immediate establishment of a broad national dialogue, with outreach to all of Ukraine's regions and political constituencies, and allow for the consideration of public comments and proposed amendments."

And nobody much on either side moved on Friday. Elements of the pro-uprising demonstrators still reportedly occupy some public spaces in Kiev and elsewhere, as do the now more numerous pro-Russia demonstrators in the east.

We'll see in the next few days how much of this agreement gets implemented before Obama's big Asia-Pacific tour begins on April 23rd, taking the president to Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines.

The Obama Administration has signaled that, if the Geneva deal is not implemented, it may levy more sanctions on some additional Russian personalities and institutions. But earlier sanctions have had essentially no effect so far. Obama won't try more stringent steps against actual sectors of the Russian economy unless something truly drastic and new, such as an actual Russian invasion of Ukraine proper. There simply isn't support for such US moves from key European allies, even those with power players who want Ukraine in NATO, a long-sought goal of strategists behind the NATO expansion project underway since the fall of the Soviet Union placed proud Russia flat on its back.

The key to getting Russia to back away from any potential invasion of Ukraine is what it has always been, to ensure that Ukraine, just a few hundred miles from Moscow, does not become a leading outpost of the West and NATO. As I wrote in the beginning of March in "Putin's Gambit and Obama's Recurring Russia Problem," Putin would hold on to Crimea and refrain from invading eastern Ukraine while applying pressure to gain his underlying strategic goals.

This is what he has done.

Taking over eastern Ukraine makes little sense for Putin. Here's why.

Because geographic considerations and the overall correlation of forces in this particular circumstance greatly advantage Russia over the US and NATO, not to mention, Ukraine, Putin could order a successful invasion of eastern Ukraine. But that would create consternation in the international community and trigger at least an attempt at heavy sanctions, some of which would be potentially destructive and disruptive and distracting to Russia and everyone involved.

But that's not the real reason for Russia to refrain from invading. The real reason is that annexing eastern Ukraine would guarantee that a NATO member nation would soon be on Russia's border there. For with the most pro-Russia portion of Ukraine stripped away, what remains is the mostly anti-Russia portion. Which, having just been, in the eyes of much of the world, mauled by the Russian bear, would have the perfect pretext to join NATO in a heartbeat. Thus adding the long border with Ukraine to that with the little Baltic states to Russia's NATO headache.

What Russia needs is a Ukraine open to the West but not openly aligned with it, with border territories friendly to Russia. That, after years of proxy political battles in Ukrainian politics, replete with American political consultants and Russian spies, is what it had until Yanukovich was overthrown. (The Russians insist that these dramatic "color revolutions" of heroic protesters demonstrating in picturesque public squares are extravaganzas produced through NGO cutouts by Western intelligence services, a notion not exactly undermined by CIA Director John Brennan's visit with the new powers in Kiev last weekend. Or by the revelation I discussed a few weeks ago that the US Agency for International Development secretly spent hundreds of millions on a plan to destabilize the Cuban government through social media.)

So Russia will get what it needs -- a Ukraine open to the West but not openly aligned with it, with border territories friendly to Russia -- if the rather vague language in point five of Thursday's Geneva agreement sprouts as intended by Minister Lavrov. An eastern Ukraine granted substantial autonomy from the central government in Kiev will deprive the country of anything approaching the consensus needed for Ukraine to join NATO.

And you have to figure that Putin figures that the enthusiasm in other parts of Ukraine for joining the European Union will subside when the fiscal reforms demanded for substantial aid
-- such as an end to fuel subsidies -- hits a population still suffering from economic malaise.

In the meantime, Obama has to hope that the red hots in Ukraine start standing down. One of the last things he needs in his big Asia-Pacific trip is a continued big distraction from a part of the world that is nowhere near as important for American interests.

Geneva Statement on Ukraine
The following Joint Statement was released by the United States, the European Union, Ukraine, and Russia.

Begin Text:

The Geneva meeting on the situation in Ukraine agreed on initial concrete steps to de-escalate tensions and restore security for all citizens.

All sides must refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions. The participants strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-semitism.

All illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated.

Amnesty will be granted to protestors and to those who have left buildings and other public places and surrendered weapons, with the exception of those found guilty of capital crimes.

It was agreed that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission should play a leading role in assisting Ukrainian authorities and local communities in the immediate implementation of these de-escalation measures wherever they are needed most, beginning in the coming days. The U.S., E.U. and Russia commit to support this mission, including by providing monitors.

The announced constitutional process will be inclusive, transparent and accountable. It will include the immediate establishment of a broad national dialogue, with outreach to all of Ukraine's regions and political constituencies, and allow for the consideration of public comments and proposed amendments.

The participants underlined the importance of economic and financial stability in Ukraine and would be ready to discuss additional support as the above steps are implemented.

William Bradley Archive

HUFFPOST HILL - Christians Pause To Recall Jesus' Worst Week In Washington

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-04-18 17:37
Drone pilots are increasingly unsatisfied with their jobs, a development that could result in brain drain to the professional World of Warcraft community. Harry Reid and John Boehner hold all of their meetings in Boehner's office because Reid can't stand smoke in his office and Boehner can't stand the sight of human scalps. And the GOP should really try to poach the guy who is doctoring the jobs AND Obamacare reports to do some voter purge work for them. This is HUFFPOST HILL for Friday, April 18th, 2014:

HARRY REID LOVES WATCHING JOHN BOEHNER SMOKE - While discussing the latest negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner on unemployment insurance, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid discussed the speaker's smoking habit. “We kick around John Boehner often, but I have a wonderful relationship with him. He’s the nicest guy… And every meeting that I have with him takes place in his office...You know [the] protocol is you go back and forth. But we decided to do it that way because John Boehner smokes, and he smokes a lot. I don’t want him smoking in my office, so every meeting we’ve had has been in his office. And usually he smokes a cigarette about every ten minutes. I am glad he is able to smoke, it keeps him pacified and we have been able actually to get some things worked out." That is nice. [Roll Call's Humberto Sanchez]

GOP WILL NOT LET OBAMACARE GO - An upsetting amount of Republican distrust in the administration seems to be centered on counting, which isn't terribly surprising coming from a party whose central scientific tenants are 1. That the Earth is warming because God has a sinus infection and 2. That Jesus likely stepped in a lot of stegosaurus poop. Paige Lavender: "The Republican National Committee sent a message to President Barack Obama Friday: the GOP is not moving on from Obamacare. The Republicans' message came in the form of a web video, posted one day after the president announced 8 million people had signed up for private health insurance using the exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act...Republicans argued that 'Americans don't think it's time to move on' in the video. Some prominent Republicans personally promised to keep up the fight against Obamacare, with House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) saying 'Republicans cannot and will not accept this law.' The office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also released a statement, according to NBC: 'If the president is so confident in his numbers, there is no reason not to release transparent and complete enrollment data, and answer the questions, how many enrollees were previously uninsured and how many people had lost their previous plans due to Obamacare.'" [HuffPost]

TEA PARTY CHUCKLEHEADS THROWING JOHN BOEHNER AN UNWANTED RETIREMENT PARTY - John Boehner would like to mow this party like a lawn. John Stanton: "Tea Party activists are sending out invitations for a “surprise retirement party” for House Speaker John Boehner, targeting inside-the-beltway Boehner backers and reporters. The email invites are paid for by the Tea Party Leadership Fund Political Action Committee, a conservative organization that has spent more than $300,000 this cycle supporting 32 year old J.D. Winteregg’s primary challenge to Boehner this year. 'We’re throwing a retirement party for our John Boehner and 1,000 of his closest Beltway buddies are invited. I’ve pledged to get him a shuffleboard set so he can enjoy his new Florida retirement in style,' PAC spokesman Rusty Humphries said Friday." [BuzzFeed]

The Congressional Budget Office released some real pretty infographics today. The CBO's chart game is strong.

GOP UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE POLICY ISN'T MAKING UNEMPLOYED PEOPLE GO AWAY - Andrew Perez: "What's happened since Congress killed long-term unemployment insurance in December proves the jobless aren't lazy, according to one state workforce agency. The Illinois Department of Employment Security announced this week that 86 percent of the state's long-term unemployed were still without work at the end of January, according to a study by the agency. 'This seriously undermines the perception that unemployment insurance discourages workers from finding employment,' Jay Rowell, the Illinois agency's director, said in a press release. 'You should look at this analysis as confirmation that re-authorizing emergency unemployment is a cost-effective way to help families stay in their homes and put food on their tables. But you cannot look at this and say that people don’t want to work.'" [HuffPost]

DAILY DELANEY DOWNER - The latest blog in HuffPost's All Work, No Pay series is by DJ Cook: "I am suffocated by student debt. I am 36 years old, I'm employed, and I live slightly above the poverty line…. I would love to be a spokesperson or an activist for the plights of the indentured servants of student loan debt and/or the working poor, but I already have two jobs (full-time high school teacher and part time economics tutor), I have no savings nor any prospect of savings and with student loan debt being the only debt in this country that you cannot wash away with bankruptcy I can't afford to take off a single day of work to even attempt to organize or be part of an organization that fights for the millions of American who find themselves in the exact same situation." [HuffPost]

Does somebody keep forwarding you this newsletter? Get your own copy. It's free! Sign up here. Send tips/stories/photos/events/fundraisers/job movement/juicy miscellanea to huffposthill@huffingtonpost.com. Follow us on Twitter - @HuffPostHill

CLINTON ADMINISTRATION'S SLEAZY MOVE ON MIN WAGE - Bill Clinton tried to index the minimum wage to inflation but didn't inhale. Dave Jamieson: "Democrats in Congress and a clear majority of Americans would like to raise the minimum wage and tie it to an inflation index so that it keeps up with the cost of living. This concept -- known as indexing -- is something of a holy grail for backers of a strong minimum wage, since it would eliminate the need to constantly re-legislate new increases to the wage floor. The idea isn't new. In the late 1990's, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) had championed legislation that would have indexed the minimum wage and kept it from eroding over time. His efforts failed. And according to newly released documents, they appear to have failed at least in part because the economic team under President Bill Clinton didn't want Democrats to lose hold of a winning political issue. In a January 1998 memo to Clinton, Gene Sperling, then the director of the National Economic Council, laid out all of the reasons why his team couldn't get behind Kennedy's indexing proposal. Part of it, he said, was due to a potential show of hypocrisy, since they'd opposed an indexing proposal related to capital gains in budget negotiations. Another concern was that some Democrats could oppose it on the grounds it would "lock in" a permanently low minimum wage (a concern that still exists today). And they were worried about the logistics of the Labor Department figuring out a new increase each year.

"But then there was this: '[S]ince the minimum wage would automatically rise each year, it would take away a good political issue for those who believe the minimum wage is an important tool to help low-income families.' Here's another way to read that: Keeping the minimum wage somewhat low is helpful politically to Democrats who say it should be higher." [HuffPost]

DRONE PILOTS ARE HAVING A SAD - And not just because of all the carpal tunnel and decreasing number of LAN parties. Amanda Terkel: "The negative attention on drone strikes appears to be taking a toll on the people who control these unmanned aircraft, with a new government report finding that Air Force drone pilots are suffering from low morale. The Government Accountability Office report, released this week, looked at 10 focus groups of active-duty Air Force drone pilots, known as remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) operators. Investigators found that these individuals feel stressed and overworked as they face uncertainty in their careers, long hours, negative public perception and a prohibition on talking about what they do, which is often classified. Part of their stress comes from that fact that although there has been an 'explosion' in the government's use of drones, as of last December the Air Force had only 85 percent of the drone pilots it needed. Attracting new pilots for these missions appears to be a problem. Every single focus group agreed that there is a negative perception of the work they do. That stigma isn't coming just from the public, but from within the Air Force as well." [HuffPost]

LAWMAKERS TARGETING OVERLY PHOTOSHOPPED ADVERTISEMENTS - Because it should never be cool to have a bicep than skinnier than your wrist. Shadee Ashtari: "In an effort to shield young children and teenagers from the damaging effects of photoshopped images, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Lois Capps (D-Calif.) have co-sponsored legislation to reduce the use of misleadingly altered images in advertisements. 'Just as with cigarette ads in the past, fashion ads portray a twisted, ideal image for young women,' Capps said in April. 'And they’re vulnerable. As sales go up, body image and confidence drops.' While the proposal would not implement new regulatory standards, the 'Truth in Advertising Act' would mandate the Federal Trade Commission to report on advertisements photoshopped to 'materially change the physical characteristics of the faces and bodies of the individuals depicted.'" [HuffPost]

MAN WHO RAN FOR PRESIDENT NOT READY TO HAVE PEOPLE PAY ATTENTION TO HIM - Mitt Romney, noted shy person and possessor of modest goals, is back. WaPo: "Romney has returned to the political stage, emerging as one of the Republican Party’s most coveted stars, especially on the fundraising circuit, in the run-up to November’s midterm elections. He may not direct a high-powered political-action committee or hold a formal position, but with the two living former Republican presidents — George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush — shying away from campaign politics, Romney, 67, has begun to embrace the role of party elder, believing he can shape the national debate and help guide his fractured party to a governing majority. Insisting he won’t seek the presidency again, the former GOP nominee has endorsed at least 16 candidates this cycle, many of them establishment favorites who backed his campaigns. One Romney friend said he wants to be the 'anti-Jim DeMint,' a reference to the former South Carolina senator and current Heritage Foundation chairman who has been a conservative kingmaker in Republican primaries. Romney’s approach is to reward allies, boost rising stars and avoid conflict.Romney has signed his name to sharply partisan e-mail appeals and headlined recent fundraisers from Las Vegas to Miami to Boston. This week, he appeared in his first television ad: a U.S. Chamber of Commerce spot supporting Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, who faces a tea party challenger in a state where Romney remains widely popular. And Romney’s confidants said he will appear in more ads, record robo-calls and stump at rallies later this year." [WaPo]

Charlie Crist's campaign staff is more erratic than his party affiliation: "Something's weird in Charlie Crist's campaign. His new spokesman, Eric Conrad, just left after less than a week on the job 'to pursue other opportunities,' said de-facto spokesman Kevin Cate. The pro-Crist Saint Petersblog noted the departure first. Cate has said as much before when Bill Hyers, Crist's here-today-gone-tomorrow campaign manager quit before/around the time he started...Crist relies on his own talents. But he resists coaching. He doesn't always take good advice. He acts spur of the moment. His campaign is more of a cult of personality compared to [Gov. Rick] Scott's campaign, which is more like a disciplined business start up." [Miami Herald]

ELIZABETH WARREN SHOWS WALL STREET A THING OR TWO BY, UH, PUKING - YEAH! Mike McAuliff: "Sen. Elizabeth Warren has gotten an awful lot of mileage out of her popular appearances on 'The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.' But it was something of a revolting experience the first time she prepared to sit across from the sometimes caustic comedian. She had such a bad case of nerves before the 2009 broadcast that Warren threw up. Twice. 'I was miserable. I had stage fright -- gut-wrenching, stomach-turning, bile-filled stage fright. And I was stuck in a gloomy little bathroom, about to go on The Daily Show,' the Massachusetts Democrat recalls in her new book, A Fighting Chance, due out next week. 'I was having serious doubts about going through with this. I had talked to reporters and been interviewed plenty of times, but this was different. At any second, the whole interview could turn into a giant joke -- and what if the joke turned on the work I was trying to do?' 'For the zillionth time, I asked myself why on God's green earth I had agreed to sit down with Jon Stewart,' Warren writes." [HuffPost]

RED FOX WON'T STOP STALKING THE FIRST FAMILY - Meet the Michaele Salahi of the carnivora order. Journal: "There's a new guest at the White House. Unlike most people who pass through the presidential residence, he wasn't invited. But in cutthroat Washington fashion, he saw weakness and took advantage. Now he rests and plays uninhibited at the seat of power. He also has pointy ears and a bushy tail. The little red fox, who hasn't been named, turned up on the White House grounds in the weeks before the government shutdown in October. After many White House groundskeepers were furloughed, the fox settled in. Months later, the furry little conundrum has left officials who sort through some of the world's most complex challenges scratching their heads. The fox lacks the deference typically exhibited by White House guests. He tore through the White House garden when it was left unattended during the shutdown. He graduated to tripping alarms in the middle of the night, napping wherever he pleases and generally living the high life on a campus overseen by dozens of highly trained Secret Service agents. Even President Barack Obama was stunned, aides say, when he looked outside the Oval Office one morning to see the fox running down the same open-air colonnade along the Rose Garden that has been traversed by American presidents and world dignitaries for the past century." [WSJ]

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR - Here is a child hugging a chicken.

PEOPLE WHO PRETEND COLLIDE WITH PEOPLE WHO LIE - A giant group of cosplayers convened on the Mall, yet our dream of seeing Virginia Foxx in a Bane mask remains unfulfilled. Sigh. Roll Call: "Perhaps even superheroes can’t stand the thought of getting too close to Congress. That was one possible explanation for the failure of Awesome Con to secure a world record for assembled costumed players photographed at one time. Promoters had hoped to turn out thousands on Friday at noon for a record-breaking photo in front of the Capitol’s Reflecting Pool. The stage was set. Social media was activated. Commissioner Gordon sent out the Bat signal. There might have been an Aquaman siting in the murky depths of the duck-riddled Reflecting Pool. Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. At 11:45 a.m., only a few dozen costumed players were milling around. Guinness World Record officiants were there, folders in hand, to see if D.C. Awesome Con could best China’s World Joyland, which assembled 1,530 crusaders in 2011. As the final calls went out over Twitter as the clock struck close to 1 p.m., explanations were bandied about. Some cosplayers apparently went to the Reflecting Pool connecting the Lincoln Memorial to the World War II Memorial. Apparently, superpowers didn’t include map-reading skills for that bunch. Didn’t matter. Only around 200 or so showed, well short of the record." [Roll Call]


- There exists video of a llama prancing about to DMX. This is that video. [http://huff.to/1jRobub]

- Eleven words that should be dirty but aren't. [http://bit.ly/1f3H7la]

- These two dudes are the Ruth and Gehrig of pen spinning. [http://bit.ly/1jSb1wh]

- Don't drive your car at full speed if its missing a wheel. The More You Know. [http://bit.ly/P7pV7h]

- A board that spews fire in sync with music. Motley Crew's tour staff has some work to do. [http://bit.ly/PcTeFq]

- Pharrell's "Happy" without the music is much more enjoyable... and schizophrenic. [http://huff.to/1jerJok]

- This web app will generate any facial expression from "The Office" that you so please. [http://bit.ly/1kJB9em]


@AndyRichter: Charles Krauthammer does not deserve such a metal name

@ScottWestefield: Plot idea: 97% of the world's scientists contrive an environmental crisis, but are exposed by a plucky band of billionaires & oil companies.

@ProffJeffJarvis: What if Judas had never doxxed Jesus?

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Minimum Wage Hike Has Hawaii Lawmakers At Odds

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-04-18 00:42
HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii House members put forward a new minimum wage plan Thursday that would allow most employers in the state to take a longer time to increase wages.

In the new proposal presented to a conference committee of Senate and House members, employers with fewer than 100 employees — most employers in the state — would not have to pay $10 an hour until 2019, phasing in the increase over five years. "It's a step backward," said Democratic Sen. Clayton Hee, chairman of the Senate contingent of the conference committee.

The Senate had wanted to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour in three years, but the House had proposed raising it to $10 an hour over four years. Lawmakers from both chambers are now hashing out the differences in a conference committee. The latest proposal was drafted by the House members on that committee.

Representatives on the House side did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Hee said 10 cents per hour can make a difference for a single mom. It adds up to the price of a gallon of milk if she works eight hours a day for two weeks.

"That's why 10 cents is important," Hee said. "If it's unimportant to others, then we should provide for that 10 cents."

The minimum wage has been $7.25 per hour since 2007.

Business groups said the proposal would harm the economy and slow job creation.

Under the new proposal, the tip credit, which would allow employers to pay tipped workers 25 cents to 75 cents less than the minimum wage, remained essentially the same as the last draft of the bill. But senators did not want to include a tip credit, which would kick in if an employee's hourly wages and tips generated $7 more than the minimum wage at the time.

Senate members plan to make a counterproposal when the committee meets again Monday, Hee said.

The Behind The Scenes Story Of The RNC's Quest For Data Supremacy

Huffingon Post Politics - Fri, 2014-04-18 00:00
WASHINGTON -- Last month, after Rep. David Jolly (R) won the closely contested special election in Florida's 13th Congressional District, the Republican National Committee declared that the election was not simply a win for Republican principles such as opposition to Obamacare and reckless government spending, but also a vindication of the GOP's new tech focus.

The victory, the RNC said, was due in part to their deployment of "a new suite of data-driven tools."

In politics, as in sports, winners write the history of How It All Happened. And as Democrats chalked up President Barack Obama's reelection in 2012 to their party's tech savvy, Republicans hope to tell the nation this fall that they added to their House majority and took back the Senate by catching up to the Democrats' data-crunching capabilities.

Never mind that some Republicans have spent the last year pointing to evidence that "big data" and technological wizardry made only a marginal impact on the 2012 presidential election. If the GOP does well in the midterms, they will sing a thousand songs praising algorithms and "data-driven" everything.

Winners need a narrative to explain their success. Political parties hoping to become winners need money. The Republican National Committee, in particular, has staked its reputation -- in the press and with conservative donors -- on becoming the center of data and tech for the GOP. The RNC is not only seeking to imitate what the Democrats have been doing for years, they hope to improve upon it. And the committee has made some progress toward building the infrastructure they need to be successful.

But as the 2014 midterm elections grow nearer, behind-the-scenes, intra-party squabbling has highlighted where the RNC still has a ways to go in using tech to win the future. The friction between the RNC and a handful of state parties and Republican campaigns has revealed the committee's struggle to assert its control over the GOP's data and tech strategy, despite an incapability to fully occupy that role.

Few Republican sources were willing to comment on the record, for fear of either losing business or angering the Republican establishment. Because comments from a number of independent sources corroborated a conflict between the RNC and several state parties, campaigns and Republican consultants, The Huffington Post agreed not to identify some of those who spoke.

After the GOP's 2012 election loss, private sector groups responded quickly to offer new data and technology solutions to a party shocked by the sophistication of the Obama campaign. The RNC, meanwhile, went through a more deliberative process: they compiled an after-action report, then decided to invest in data and technology, and only then hired a team that includes Facebook engineer Andy Barkett as chief technology officer and Chuck DeFeo as chief digital officer, plus a team of engineers, who started building systems. Most recently, the RNC hired chief data officer Azarias Reda to focus on analytics.

Despite, or perhaps because of, this deliberative effort, the RNC began to face questions from donors and operatives earlier this year about what progress had been made since the high-profile hire of Barkett in June of 2013, a senior RNC official told The Huffington Post on condition of anonymity.

And so the committee decided it was time to start doing a little self-promotion.

The effort began with the RNC's press release following Jolly's special election in Florida. But the National Republican Congressional Committee also claimed credit for the win, asserting that it had created a program called "Honeybadger" to help build a model of which voters were key to winning, and also to increase the number of Republicans turning in absentee ballots. Some of the coverage implied that the NRCC had taken the RNC's voter file and improved on it. More significantly, the NRCC got decidedly more attention than the RNC because of an aggressive PR push and its use of the memorable "Honeybadger" moniker, a reference to an Internet meme.

The resulting disparity in credit did not go over well at the RNC, which had in fact played a major role in enabling what the NRCC did, through its voter file, its field staffers and the use of an RNC-designed digital control panel that allowed real-time data sharing.

A week later RNC Chairman Reince Priebus wrote an op-ed for CNN.com lauding his committee's progress. Priebus talked about the RNC's new application programming interface (API), called Dynamo, which will allow outside vendors to plug into the RNC's central voter file more easily. He stressed that the RNC has been responsible for placing staffers in the field over the past year to conduct much of the voter outreach in a more community-oriented way, rather than parachuting staff and volunteers into key races in the last few weeks of a campaign.

And Priebus also boasted that among the tools "at [the] fingertips" of Republican field staffers and volunteers across the country was the RNC's new voter relationship management (VRM) system, known as Beacon. Beacon, he said, "makes it easier for people to download and see the data."

Beacon is designed to "pull" reports from the voter file and to originate lists of voters for workers in the field to contact. So if Beacon had been operational in the Florida special election, Republicans could have used it to go in to the RNC voter file and find voters in that congressional district with a high propensity for voting Republican, but who did not have a track record of voting in special elections or even non-presidential elections. Those lists of names and addresses would then be sent to the mobile phone of volunteers through an app. The app would include directions to the targeted homes and an individually tailored script to read at the door (or over the phone). Then, finally, the volunteer would upload the response they received back into the application, feeding it directly back into the RNC voter file.

Republicans did have a mobile app in Florida, but instead of using one program in the state to find voters they needed to turnout, the GOP used a patchwork of programs. Beacon is intended to consolidate and simplify the process of pulling lists, and to allow more widespread use of RNC data by other campaigns and conservative groups -- while ensuring that the fresh data produced in the field is fed back into one comprehensive voter file.

The quality of the RNC's voter file depends on it. The better the file, the richer the data for analytics and modeling the voter universe, which in turn creates better-targeted voter lists for the next round of door knocks and phone calls.

Having a program like Beacon in place would be a major development for Republicans -- if it truly were in place. For years, Democrats have been united around a single voter file management system, the Vote Builder system from NGP VAN, a company that helps campaigns leverage technology. Vote Builder has allowed campaigns and state parties to draw on data from voter contacts of past campaigns, and to feed the results of their subsequent conversations with voters back into the same massive file. Beacon is intended to finally allow the GOP to do the same, bringing a level of cohesion to data collection and voter contact that has not existed previously.

The problem, as another RNC official recently admitted on condition of anonymity, is that Beacon "is not currently operational." It was not used in the Florida 13th District special election. The system was rolled out last Thanksgiving for an initial round of testing to a handful of states, and is currently being tested in several more. The RNC official said that the system will be used in beta mode by select operatives in all 50 states a few weeks from mid-April.

For now, the RNC is using a program called GOP Data Center, built by FLS Connect, a political data technology company. Data Center was built in 2012 to connect primarily with the door-to-door mobile device application GeoConnect, also built by FLS Connect. But it is harder for Data Center to connect with other applications not built by the company. This has limited the ability of outside users to tap into the resources available in the RNC's voter file, thus limiting the ability of the RNC to continually update and refine that same file.

The head of a prominent Republican technology firm in Washington commented recently on the RNC's recent tech challenges, requesting anonymity in order not to compromise business interests.

"It's been tough up to this point to utilize [the RNC's] data," he said, adding that the new VRM, Beacon, will be a step in the right direction. It is intended to allow much more freedom of use by outside vendors and technology products, as long as the RNC signs off on them.

But a handful of state parties, and some number of Republican campaigns, have been unhappy with RNC tools such as the GOP Data Center. In 2013, the executive director of the South Carolina GOP compared it to a VW Beetle. More tellingly, the RNC official said, "We decided we needed to improve on Data Center, which is why we have Beacon."

The dissatisfied state parties and campaigns were unwilling to wait last year for the RNC to finish its work on Beacon and began using private sector alternatives, even if they had to pay for it: from the i360 system owned by a subsidiary of the Koch brothers' empire; to Voter Gravity, created by Republican operative Ned Ryun; to Nation Builder, a company viewed with suspicion by some conservatives because of the progressive background of its founders.

"The RNC's been saying for a year, we're going to have these field programs out earlier than ever, and they've hired those field reps. But those field reps need the tools," a senior official at one state party noted, speaking on condition of anonymity. "We've just been rolling out the i360 canvassing app to people in the state because they haven't given us a hard date but we need to get working."

"We couldn't wait so we needed a system to give people right away," the official said.

Even one of the party's own Washington-based committees, the Republican Governors Association, is using i360 rather than the RNC's products (the Koch brothers are one of the RGA's biggest donors). Arizona, Montana and West Virginia's state parties are using i360, Virginia is considering it, and a few others are talking to Voter Gravity about signing on with them. Two other states, Pennsylvania and Colorado, are using Nation Builder in addition to using RNC data. In addition, the Republican State Legislature Committee signed a contract with Nation Builder in 2012.

In Arkansas, Rep. Tom Cotton is using i360 in his campaign for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's reelection campaign in Kentucky is using Nation Builder as its "central hub," a senior adviser said on condition of anonymity. The RNC has "some excellent data and we have improved beyond that," the adviser said.

Beacon is intended to open up the RNC voter file to as many new apps and programs want to interface with it. But when campaigns, or worse, state parties, use i360, that is a problem for the RNC, because i360 is more than an app. It has its own voter file. And so every state party that uses i360 is sending out field staffers -- paid for with RNC money, funneled through the state parties -- to collect data that goes back not to the RNC, but to the Koch-brothers owned subsidiary.

Not surprisingly, some officials at the RNC have pressured state parties and campaigns not to use the outside products, according to multiple sources. The pressure has been "fairly heavy handed," said one Republican consultant working on multiple statewide campaigns who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The RNC has been "discouraging for a year people from using other systems," the state party official said.

Yet one source at a technology company involved in competing for business from campaigns said recently there wasn't anything wrong with the RNC's request for state parties and campaigns to stay in a holding pattern until their technology platforms are fully operational.

"They asked everybody to hold off on purchasing new technology until they figured out how they were going to proceed and how things were going to connect," the technology company source said. "What they're figuring out now is their prime concern: how do we get our prime database to campaigns as expediently as possible and how do we get what campaigns are learning back to us so we can model on it and learn from it?"

As one state party chairman put it: "They don't want people using rogue applications because that data won't get fed back into their file."

But the RNC denied the charge that they have been discouraging Republican groups from using outside technology in the absence of functional platforms.

"We want them to use whatever they can to get where they need to be," RNC Chief of Staff Mike Shields told The Huffington Post Friday.

On a March 26 conference call with state party officials, Priebus mentioned that states who were using unsanctioned vendors would have "problems," according to participants on the call. That comment, Shields said, was merely a description of technological problems that would ensue.

The biggest tension is between the RNC and the Koch operation, largely because Freedom Partners' i360 national voter file is seen as a direct competitor to that of the RNC.

i360 has been operating since 2009, building its capabilities in data analytics and modeling, refining its own voter file, and building mobile apps for volunteers going door to door. The results have not always been a success, but they have been at it longer.

Shields said the two camps are trying to reach an agreement on how to work together.

"I believe there is a desire in both organizations to get to a point where we share a lot of information and work together," Shields said.

Officials at Freedom Partners, the Koch-affiliated organization that owns i360, declined to comment on the record about talks with the RNC.

The senior RNC official admitted that it is still catching up to companies like i360 that began over the past year and a half to fill the vacuum that existed as the RNC slowly ramped up development of its own technology products. He said they do not fault state parties and campaigns that got a head start on conducting field and canvassing operations, at a time when "there were things [the RNC] couldn't do yet."

Michael Beach, co-founder of Targeted Victory, a Republican digital firm, said the pieces are now in place, and that the RNC is on its way to "providing the basic operating system that everybody can build around and which allows everybody to communicate."

But RNC sources acknowledged that Beacon will continue to operate largely in beta mode throughout the 2014 midterm cycle, putting most of the GOP's load on the shoulders of Data Center, which has its own challenges. Fully replacing Data Center likely won't happen until the 2016 cycle.

As the senior RNC official put it bluntly: "We haven't caught the Democrats yet."