Forget “frothy”, Slimy is a better adjective

I really never thought we’d have to front page Rick Santorum.  He’s a two term senator from Pennsylvania with more corruption and crazy problems than Newt Gingrich and Michelle Bachmann combined.  Yesterday, TV news was full of reporters following the man around New Hampshire.  I spent a bit of time on twitter trying to get them to ask relevant questions like “Do you regret your association with Jack Abramhoff?”  It took a group of college students to get “man on dog”, sex-obsessed Santorum to get his freak on.  He was heartily booed for suggesting gay marriage would lead to polygamy.  Yes, Santorum’s culture war is probably his hallmark.  That and his battle with Google and the man on dog sex attribution.  Cannonfire has a piece up today on Santorum’s really weird brand of Catholicism.  (Think Mel Gibson.) However, what really has me jumping up and down is the level of corruption that characterized Santorum’s years in the senate.

Santorum’s tenure includes a fake charity, a fake leadership PAC and a level of man on lobbyist coziness that would make Tom Delay blush.  It actually makes me wonder why Santorum isn’t sharing a jail cell with Delay or wasn’t taken down during the Abramhoff scandal. When you Google Santorum, the results should read a slimy mixture of corruption and sanctimonious blather.  Philly News Writer Will Bunch has a laundry list of Santorum’s shocking abuse of public office. It’s enough to make me mourn for the loss of Michelle Bachmann.  She was just plain crazy.  Santorum takes corruption to a whole ‘nother level.  These are only Bunch’s top 5.

1. This compassionate Christian conservative founded a charity that was actually a bit of a scam. In 2001, following up on a faith-based urban charity initiative around the 2000 GOP convention in Philadelphia, Santorum launched a charitable foundation called the Operation Good Neighbor Foundation. While in its first few years the charity cut checks to community groups for $474,000, Operation Good Neighbor Foundation had actually raised more than $1 million, from donors who overlapped with Santorum’s political fund raising. Where did the majority of the charity’s money go? In salary and consulting fees to a network of politically connected lobbyists, aides and fundraisers, including rent and office payments to Santorum’s finance director Rob Bickhart, later finance chair of the Republican National Committee. When I reported on Santorum’s charity for The American Prospect in 2006, experts told me a responsible charity doles out at least 75 percent of its income in grants, and they were shocked to learn the figure for Operation Good Neighbor Fund was less than 36 percent. The charity – which didn’t register with the state of Pennsylvania as required under the law — was finally disbanded in 2007.

2. Likewise, a so-called “leadership PAC” created by Santorum that was supposed to fund other Republicans instead seemed to mostly pay for the lifestyle of Santorum and those around him. My investigation of the America’s Foundation PAC showed that only 18 percent of its money went to fund political candidates, less — and typically far less — than any other “leadership PACs.” What America’s Foundation did spend a lot on with what looked like everyday expenses, including 66 trips to the Starbucks in Santorum’s then hometown of Leesburg, Va., multiple fast-food outings and expenditures at Wal-Mart, Target and Giant supermarkets. Campaign finance experts said the PAC’s expenses – paid for by donations from wealthy businessmen and lobbyists – were “unconventional,” at best and arguably not legal. Santorum also funded his large Leesburg “McMansion” with a $500,000 mortgage from a private bank run by a major campaign donor, in a program that was only supposed to be open to high-wealth investment clients in the trust, which Santorum was not, and closed to the general public.

3. Santorum was never above mingling his cultural crusades with the everyday work of raising political cash. In 2005, Santorum made headlines – not all positive – for visiting the deathbed of Terri Schiavo, the woman at the center of a national right-to-die controversy.What my Philadelphia Daily News colleague John Baer later exposed was that the real reason he was in the Tampa, Fla., area was to collect money at a $250,000 fundraiser organized by executives of Outback Steakhouses, a company that shared Santorum’s passion for a low minimum wage for waitresses and other rank-and-file workers. Santorum’s efforts were also aided by his unusual mode of travel: Wal-Mart’s corporate jet. And he canceled a public meeting on Social Security reform “out of respect for the Schiavo family”  even as the closed fundraisers went on.

4. Santorum didn’t seem to be against government waste when it came to his family. During his years in the Senate, Santorum raised his family in northern Virginia and rarely if ever seemed to use the small house that he claimed as his legal residence, in a blue-collar Pittsburgh suburb called Penn Hills. So Pennsylvania voters were shocked when they found out the Penn Hills School District had paid out $72,000 for the home cyberschooling of five of Santorum’s kids, hundreds of miles away in a different state. The cash=strapped district was unsuccessful in its efforts to get any of its money back from Santorum.

5. Washington’s lobbyist culture — Santorum was soaking in it. The ex-Pennsylvania senator spent much of his final years in government trying to downplay and defend his involvement in the so-called “K Street Project,” an effort created by GOP uber-lobbyist and tax-cutting fanatic Grover Norquist and future felon and House majority whip Tom DeLay. By all accounts, Santorum was the Senate’s “point man” on the K Street Project and he met with Norquist — at least occasionally and perhaps frequently — to discuss the effort to sure that Republicans were landing well-paying jobs in lobbying firms that were seeking to then access and influence other Republicans.

Marcus Stern and Kristina Cooke at Reuters remind us that Santorum was knee deep in the excesses of the K Street Project.  What I wonder is if this information will come out soon enough to stop Santorum’s momentum? Santorum has so many questionable ties to lobbyists that it’s hard to come away from any reading of articles about him not feeling the need for a shower.  It’s not just his senatorial past that is in question, however.  This particular item is from his current antics as a lobbyist.  Santorum has made his millions in the last few years on deals like this.

For example, his million-dollar-plus 2010 income included payments from a lobbying firm, an energy company engaged in controversial “hydrofracking” and a hospital conglomerate that was sued for allegedly defrauding the federal government.

Again, his past is even more fraught with behavior that looks a lot like being a senator for hire. So much for hyper-morality.

But the rubric “K Street Project” came to encompass the entire climate of cozy cooperation between Republicans and lobbyists.

When Republicans won control of the House in 1994, House Majority Leader Tom Delay and others organized regular meetings with lobbyists that reviewed K Street job openings with an eye toward filling them with party loyalists, who would in turn steer support and donations to the members.

By 2001, Sen. Santorum was also holding one-hour breakfast meetings with lobbyists on alternating Tuesday mornings at 8:30 a.m.

In 2004 he denied being involved with Norquist’s effort to staff K Street. But Santorum convened Senate Republicans to discuss the appointment of Democrat Dan Glickman as head the Motion Picture Association, according to Roll Call, a newspaper covering Capitol Hill.

“Yeah, we had a meeting, and yeah, we talked about making sure that we have fair representation on K Street. I admit that I pay attention to who is hiring, and I think it’s important for leadership to pay attention,” he told the paper at the time.

In 2006, as the influence-peddling scandal that sent lobbyist Jack Abramoff to jail unfolded, Santorum said he was ending the breakfasts in his conference room. However, his staff confirmed to Washington newspapers that they resumed almost immediately, on the same day and at the same time, at a location off the Capitol grounds.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington  named Santorum among three “most corrupt” senators in 2005 and 2006.  The 2006 report accuses Santorum of “using his position as a member of Congress to financially benefit those who have made contributions to his campaign committee and political action committee.” 

Despite a number of denials, there is evidence that Santorum and Abramhoff had met on the infamous Marianas Islands scam.  I wrote about this last March.  It is a horrifying example of modern slavery.  The story includes all kinds of immoralities like forced prostitution and abortions of young girls that were supposedly hired to work in garment factories in this US commonwealth territory  that is not covered by US labor laws.  The Delay Republicans held the associate companies up as beacons of capitalism.  Abramhoff says that he didn’t have any associations with Santorum but Roll Call and other sources show quite the opposite story.

Santorum definitely left the Senate through the revolving door.

Within months of leaving the Senate, Mr. Santorum joined the board of Universal Health Services, where he collected $395,000 in director’s fees and stock options before resigning last year. He also became a consultant to Consol Energy, after years of advocating drilling and extraction policies helpful to the company, a Pennsylvania gas and coal producer. And he consulted for the American Continental Group, a lobbying firm whose clients won earmarks he sponsored.

Its hard to reconcile this level of prostitution with a morality crusader, isn’t it?  But, there it is and if you goggle Santorum’s name and add lobbyist, corruption, K Street or any other number of combinations that go beyond the frothy mix definition, you’ll see the vast documentation.  It’s hard to imagine the tea party diehards getting behind a man with this kind of background.  Even Bill O’Reilly took issue with Santorum’s views on the rights of states to outlaw contraception with Santorum’s odd explanation that contraception put things out of the proper ‘order’.  Every thing about Santorum screams odd and narcissistic.

There’s been a reason that this man has been scraping along the bottom of the Republican presidential wannabe heap for some time.  My only hope is that when he is sent packing, that nearly every politician will want to avoid the stench and that will put an end to Santorum’s lucrative lobbying career as well.  In the mean time,  get ready for a few weeks of  the puppy dog press following Santorum around New Hampshire and South Carolina asking banal questions when they should be shouting  “show us your ill-got money”.  This guy may have had a coal miner grandfather, but he’s a total gold digger now.  What’s worse?  One man and one dog or one Senator and an army of lobbyists?  Evangelical Republicans, you’ve been Rick-Rolled!

I apologize to any earth worms I may have unintentionally insulted by the title of this thread.


Thursday Reads

Good Morning! It has been dark and dreary here for weeks it seems. I know the sun has come out a few times, but most of the time it has been either raining or about to rain. I think I’m beginning to suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Or maybe it’s just watching the 2012 presidential campaign. Either way, we’re talking dark and depressing.

On Tuesday Newt Gingrich told Larry Kudlow (yeah, I know) of CNBC that Obama is the “food stamp president,” and he (Gingrich) will be running against him as the “candidate of paychecks.”

“We are going to have the candidate of food stamps, the finest food stamp president in the American history in Barack Obama and we are going to have a candidate of paychecks.”

The former House Speaker went on to say Obama represents a hard-left radicalism. He, on the other hand, wants big tax cuts and big cuts in the federal government.

LOL! Obama is the furthest thing from a radical, and I doubt if he gives a damn about food stamps. I don’t know how Gingrich gets away with this stuff. Oh yeah, the media sucks. He spewed more lies too:

Gingrich also reiterated his claim that he is not a lobbyist. While he’s been steadily rising in the polls, he’s also been under scrutiny for his consulting work with mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

“I do no lobbying; I’ve never done any lobbying. It’s written in our contracts that we do not do any lobbying of any kind. I offer strategic advice,” he said. “The advice I offered Freddie Mac was, in fact, aimed at how do you help people get into housing.”

Gingrich also referred to himself in the third person in talking about the sad ending of his career as Speaker of the House.

“The job of the Democrats was to get Newt Gingrich. They couldn’t beat any of our ideas so they decided to try to beat the messenger,” he said. “I think it actually will help people understand what happened in that period and how much of it was partisan.”

Poor Newt. He’s filthy rich, but he can’t stop obsessing about the paltry help poor and unemployed people get from food stamps. Last week he claimed that food stamp use has increased dramatically under Obama and that recipients use their food stamp money to take vacations in Hawaii. According to Politifact as reported in USA Today:

PolitiFact, a fact-checking project of the Tampa Bay Times, noted in May that Bush made “more aggressive efforts to get eligible Americans to apply for benefits,” and new rules took effect to broaden eligibility for the assistance. At the time, PolitiFact said:

Gingrich oversimplifies when he suggests that Obama should be considered “the most successful food stamp president in American history,” because much — though probably not all — of the reason for the increase was a combination of the economic problems Obama inherited and a longstanding upward trend from policy changes. On balance, we rate Gingrich’s statement Half True.

As for Gingrich’s claim that food stamps can be used to go to Hawaii, the federal government has clear rules about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP). Basically, you can buy groceries or the seeds and plants from which you can grow your own food.

Right now Gingrich is the clear front runner for the Republican nomination. According to a new CNN poll, he has double-digit leads in three of the first four primaries, Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida. And he is catching up with Romney in New Hampshire. According to the poll, much of Gingrich’s support is coming from tea party types.

I wonder if these folks realize that when back in the day, when Newt was one of the most powerful people in DC, his fellow Conservatives worked hard to get rid of him? And some of them still don’t want him back in power.

As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trumpets his leadership skills in his quest for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, a different picture of his stewardship emerges from some GOP lawmakers who served with him during a failed 1997 coup attempt against the controversial speaker.

Twenty disgruntled Republicans in the House of Representatives squeezed into then-Rep. Lindsey Graham’s office in July 1997 and rebelliously vented about Gingrich. They were tired of his chaotic management style, worried that he was caving in to then-President Bill Clinton, and sick of constantly having to defend him publicly on questions about his ethics or his latest bombastic statement.

“Newt Gingrich was a disaster as speaker,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.

As Gingrich seeks to gain the world’s most powerful office, it’s worth recalling that when he once held great power in Washington, his own conservative Republican lieutenants rebelled against his rule less than four years after he led them to House majority status for the first time in 40 years. And their disaffection evidently helped persuade him to step down as speaker the next year and leave office.

King, for one, still believes that Gingrich’s widely disparaged egotistical complaining about the poor treatment he perceived from then-President Clinton on an Air Force One flight in 1995 is why Republicans suffered blame for federal government shutdowns later that year.

“Everything was self-centered. There was a lack of intellectual discipline,” King said

Karl Rove has an op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal in which he blasts Gingrich’s pathetic campaign organization.

In the short run, Mr. Gingrich must temper runaway expectations. For example, his lead in the RealClearPolitics average in Iowa is 12 points. But what happens on Jan. 3 if he doesn’t win Iowa, or comes in first with a smaller margin than people expect?

That could happen in part because Mr. Gingrich has little or no campaign organization in Iowa and most other states. He didn’t file a complete slate of New Hampshire delegates and alternates. He is the only candidate who didn’t qualify for the Missouri primary, and on Wednesday he failed to present enough signatures to get on the ballot in Ohio. Redistricting squabbles may lead the legislature to move the primary to a later date and re-open filing, but it’s still embarrassing to be so poorly organized.

That’s because Gingrich had no expectation of doing this well. He just entered the race so he could sell his books and his wife’s films. But it turns out Gingrich will be on the ballot in Ohio after all. As for Missouri, Gingrich claims he didn’t want to be on the ballot there because the primary is non-binding.

In a press conference in New York City today, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich declared that he never intended to qualify for the ballot in Missouri and that failing to meet the deadline was “a conscious decision, not an oversight.”

The primary is non-binding; it is followed a month later by caucuses where Missourians pick their convention delegates. But every other major candidate is participating in the primary, which gives the public an idea of where Show Me State voters stand.

“We have never participated in beauty contests,” Gingrich said when asked about his failure to qualify for the ballot. “We didnt participate in Ames [the Iowa straw poll], we didnt participate in P5 [a Florida straw poll].” ….

But failing to qualify for the ballot was widely seen as a sign of Gingrich’s lack of campaign organization.

Another sign is the papers he filed in New Hampshire. His papers were sloppily written in pen and he fell 13 short of the required 40 delegates.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I think Romney should still win New Hampshire, but the question is how many Southern states he can carry. Of course I’d be enjoying watching the Republican primary mess a lot more if there were a liberal Democratic candidate to vote for.

Oh, Romney did come in first in one poll: the one that counted the number of jokes told about the Republican candidates on late night TV.

OK, I’ll let go of my obsession with Republican nomination campaign for now and give you some other things to read.

Last Friday, Eric Boehlert of Media Matters may have been the intended victim of a right wing James O’Keefe-type scam designed to make him look like hypocrite for writing in support of the Occupy movement.

It was the middle of the day on Friday, and Eric Boehlert heard a knock on the door. A senior fellow at Media Matters, a nonprofit watchdog that challenges conservative news outlets, Boehlert works from his Montclair, N.J., home.

A short, bearded man stood outside, holding a clipboard and wearing a Verizon uniform. He asked Boehlert if he’d be willing to take a customer survey. Verizon had, perhaps coincidentally, been at the house a week earlier to handle a downed wire. Boehlert quickly agreed and noted that a Verizon worker had actually failed to show up when he said he would.

But the interview questions got weird and then weirder. The man kept talking about Boehlert being rich and being able to work at home, Boehlert began to smell a ratf*ck.

“After he mentioned my salary and that I work from home, all the bells went off, and this is not who this guy says he is. Therefore, I kind of lost track of the exact wording of the question, but it definitely was like very accusatory of me and I’m a hypocrite and how do I have this supposedly cushy job while I’m writing about real workers and the people of the 99 percent,” said Boehlert.

“So there was this pause, and I said, ‘You work for Verizon?’ And he just sort of looks back at me and [says], ‘Will you answer the question? Will you answer the question?’ And I said, ‘Can I see your Verizon ID?’ And he wouldn’t produce any Verizon ID, and I think he asked me another time to answer the question. And basically I just said, ‘I’m done so you can leave now.'” ….

By now he [Boehlert] had realized that the man was likely pulling a political stunt, and James O’Keefe’s notorious “To Catch a Journalist” project came to mind as a possibility.

“The only sort of comical part was he forget which way he was supposed to run in case I started following. He ended up sort of in the road, and he sort of turned left and then right,” said Boehlert. “The last I saw him he was in a full sprint down my street running away from my house.”

In the Massachusetts Senate race, Elizabeth Warren is ahead of Scott Brown 49% to 42%, her biggest lead so far. But some people are *very concerned* because at a recent candidate’s event Warren was asked if she knew in which recent years the Red Sox had won the World Series, and she answered 2004 and 2008 instead of 2004 and 2007. Horrors! Paul Waldman has a very funny piece about it in The American Prospect.

In today’s election news, a candidate for the World’s Most Deliberative Body is facing an earth-shattering scandal because she said “2008” when she should have said “2007,” demonstrating to all that she is utterly incapable of representing the interests of ordinary people. As the normally even-tempered Taegan Goddard indignantly described it, “Elizabeth Warren (D) and the rest of the Democratic field for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts couldn’t answer a simple question about the Boston Red Sox at a forum yesterday. Apparently, they learned nothing from Martha Coakley’s (D) defeat two years ago…”

Here’s what Waldman had to say about this nonsense:

I don’t think anyone in Massachusetts could in good conscience vote for someone who is unable to identify both the state’s fourth-largest city and its third most commonly spoken language. I mean, what are we supposed to do, send someone to the Senate who doesn’t have a command of all master of state-related trivia? The answer is clearly to amend the Constitution so 12-year-old winners of the state geography bee can become senators.

Reporters, I beg you: If you’re going to discuss this “gaffe” and others like it, do your audience a service and explain why this is supposed to matter. And I don’t mean just by saying, “This reminds people of when Martha Coakley called Curt Schilling a Yankee fan, damaging her candidacy.” I mean explain specifically what exactly misremembering the Sox series victories as 2004 and 2008 instead of 2004 and 2007 tells us about the kind of senator Elizabeth Warren would be. Does it mean that despite all the other evidence to the contrary, she really doesn’t care about ordinary people and will upon taking office immediately introduce legislation to make the purchase of brandy snifters and riding crops tax-deductible? Then what?

Yesterday a got an e-mail from Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) about an attempted Republican takeover of the Detroit city government. Bloomberg had a piece about it yesterday.

Detroit has the highest concentration of blacks among U.S. cities with more than 100,000 residents, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. It will exhaust its cash by April and may run up a deficit topping $200 million by June.

Last week, Governor Rick Snyder, a white Republican, ordered a review that may lead to appointment of an emergency manager, rekindling rancor in a city scarred by race riots in 1967. Detroit lost one-quarter of its population since 2000 — much of it to largely white suburbs.

Four Michigan cities are controlled by emergency managers. All have populations that are mostly black. If Detroit joins them, 49.7 percent of the state’s black residents would live under city governments in which they have little say.

Michigan’s emergency managers have sweeping authority to nullify union contracts, sell assets and fire workers. Snyder has said he doesn’t want one for Detroit, though he called the city’s financial condition severe enough to warrant help.

Michigan citizens are currently collecting signatures to put repeal of the law on the ballot in 2012.

A maintenance man Ryan Brunn, 20,has been charged with the brutal sexual assault and murder of 7-year-old Jorleys Rivera, who disappeared on Friday in Canton, GA.

Keenan said Brunn, who has no known criminal record, had keys to both the empty apartment and the trash compactor bin where Rivera’s body was placed.

“We are confident that Brunn is the killer and that is why he is in custody,” Keenan said, declining to detail what evidence investigators have against him….

Keenan said investigators focused on Brunn after receiving information from the public. Brunn had been under police surveillance since Tuesday night. Keenan said the investigation will continue for several months.

“This is a mammoth case,” Keenan told reporters at a news conference in Canton. “We believe that this horrendous crime was planned and calculated, and we’ve recovered a lot of evidence.”

At least he was caught quickly. But another innocent young child is gone.

Yesterday the Obama administration overruled the decision of the FDA to make Plan B available without a prescription to women of all ages.

Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services upheld their decision to dispense Plan B One-Step—a one-pill emergency contraceptive—to young women only with a doctor’s prescription, overruling an FDA request to make the drug available over the counter to women of all ages. The restriction only applies to women under the age of 17. In a statement on the HHS website, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius outlined the administration’s reasoning: The FDA’s conclusion that the drug is safe, she says, did not contain sufficient data to show that people of all ages “can understand the label and use the product appropriately.” The outliers, she says, are the 10 percent of girls who are physically capable of child-bearing at 11.1 years old, and “have significant cognitive and behavioral differences.” HHS makes no mention of women older than 11 and younger than 17—statistically, those far more likely to be having sex, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Wednesday, the Department of Health and Human Services upheld their decision to dispense Plan B One-Step—a one-pill emergency contraceptive—to young women only with a doctor’s prescription, overruling an FDA request to make the drug available over the counter to women of all ages. The restriction only applies to women under the age of 17. In a statement on the HHS website, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius outlined the administration’s reasoning: The FDA’s conclusion that the drug is safe, she says, did not contain sufficient data to show that people of all ages “can understand the label and use the product appropriately.” The outliers, she says, are the 10 percent of girls who are physically capable of child-bearing at 11.1 years old, and “have significant cognitive and behavioral differences.” HHS makes no mention of women older than 11 and younger than 17—statistically, those far more likely to be having sex, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

So if you’re under 17 and you’re raped, you’re going to have to figure out how to see a doctor and get a prescription. Isn’t that just ducky?

I’ll end with some better news for women. The FBI has decided to expand the definition of rape.

An October vote by the Advisory Policy Board’s UCR subcommittee recommended the board at-large change the definition of “rape” to “penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim.”

Activists said the new definition was needed because the current one does not recognize that men can be raped, women can rape women, inanimate objects can be used to commit rape or that rapes can occur while the victim is unconscious.

Many local law enforcement agencies use a much broader definition of “rape” than the FBI, causing thousands of sex crimes to go unreported in federal statistics.

The FBI had been under pressure by the Feminist Majority Foundation, which launched an email drive urging the agency to update the definition.

Now let’s start doing more to protect women and children from rapists.

That’s all I’ve got. What are you reading and blogging about today?


Friday Reads

Good Morning!

Republicans are asking Obama to try to ‘break the log jam” in the subcommittee.  I’m not surprised given the President’s known ability to give everything away at the bargaining table. I’m also sure it’s because they can get their lousy policies through and then when they backfire and people get mad, they’ll blame Obama.

Republicans are calling for President Obama to jump into the deficit-reduction talks gripping Washington, reflecting the widespread view that the congressional supercommittee is now headed for a failure.

Lawmakers and congressional aides familiar with the deliberations say the talks have reached a hard impasse, with Republicans locked in an internal struggle over whether to agree to higher tax hikes to cut a deal.
“It’s hard to see us getting a deal unless he comes in at the last minute,” Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) said of Obama, who is on a nine-day trip to the Pacific and not scheduled to return to Washington until Sunday.

“We’re in the two-minute drill and closing in on a ‘Hail Mary’ and the quarterback is on the sidelines.

“Unless the leadership, including the president, steps in and saves this thing, I think the consensus is, in terms of coming up with a credible package, all is lost,” Coats added.

There was a surprising lack of urgency on Capitol Hill Thursday as members of the supercommittee talked past one another. Some lawmakers not on the super-panel shrugged at the inaction, saying they were planning to go home for the Thanksgiving recess and noting they don’t have to vote on any deal until next month. Meanwhile, House and Senate leaders indicated they are in no rush to jump in and broker an agreement.

E.J. Dionne, Jr. at Truth Dig says the easiest way to cut the deficit is to do nothing.   His thinking reflects some of the things that I’ve been supporting.  It includes letting the Bush Ta Cuts expire.  I hate to see the triggers on some things, but getting the Pentagon budget trimmed down would be a positive as far as I’m concerned.

Democrats have put huge spending cuts on the table—and keep offering more and more and more. All the Democrats ask in return is that the cuts be balanced by some revenue.

By rejecting their offers, Republicans induce Democrats who are anxious for some deal—any deal—to keep coming their way. The Republican approach is wrong and irresponsible but brilliant as a negotiating strategy. As my Washington Post colleague Ezra Klein wrote this week: “Over the past year, Republicans have learned something important about negotiating budget deals with Democrats: If you don’t like their offer, just wait a couple of months.”

Finally, the Republicans decided they needed to look slightly flexible. So they came up with $300 billion in supposed revenue from a promised tax reform in a plan that also included a proposal to slash tax rates for the rich. There is a lot more tax cutting here than revenue. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, co-chairman of the super committee, who said on Tuesday that this was the GOP’s final offer, reversed field Wednesday afternoon and declared himself open to other ideas.

Even Democrats inclined to capitulate know how shameful agreeing to such a deal would be. And mainstream, centrist deficit hawks should be grateful if a deal on such terms is killed. What Republicans want to do in effect is to make at least 90 percent of the Bush tax cuts permanent. This would only make deficit reduction even harder in the future.

That’s where the do-nothing strategy comes in. Championed early this year in The New Republic by New York Magazine writer Jonathan Chait, it looks even better now because of the spending cuts scheduled to go through if the super committee doesn’t act.

Jack Ambramoff is sure biting the hands that used to feed him.  He’s written an article for Bloomberg and calls congress criterz “Willing Vassals” that are up for anything as long as they can cash in.  Now that he can no longer make a profit from the game,  he’s got some suggestions to end it.

There is only one cure for this disease: a lifetime ban on members and staff lobbying Congress or associating in any way with for-profit lobbying efforts. That seems draconian, no doubt. The current law provides a cooling off period for members and staff when joining K Street. The problem is that the cooling off period is a joke.

Here’s how it works. “Senator Smith” leaves Capitol Hill and joins the “Samson Lobbying Firm.” He can’t lobby the Senate for two years. But, he can make contact with his former colleagues. He can call them and introduce them to his new lobbying partners, stressing that although he cannot lobby, they can. His former colleagues get the joke, but the joke’s on us.

Because the vast majority of lobbyists start on the Hill, this employment advantage is widely exploited. It cannot be slowed with a cooling off period. These folks are human beings, not machines — and human beings are susceptible to corruption and bribery. I should know: I was knee-deep in both. Eliminating the revolving door between Congress and K Street is not the only reform we need to eliminate corruption in our political system. But unless we sever the link between serving the public and cashing in, no other reform will matter.

That’s easier said then done considering the foxes write the rules about how they can behave in the coop.  One thing they have managed to do is arrange to avoid taxes.  Check out the nifty chart from Felix Salmon at Reuters.  It graphs corporate taxes as a percentage of corporate profits.  Can you say magically disappear?

Once upon a time, the corporate income tax generated a significant share of tax revenues; now, it’s bumping along in the 2%-of-GDP range. Yes, the marginal rate of corporate income tax is high, at 35%. But US companies are extremely good at not paying that.

But at least we know the aggregate amount that corporations pay in taxes. What we don’t know — because they won’t say, and no one’s forcing them to say — is how much any given public company pays.

Follow the article to this link to CNN Money that shows you why reporting requirements allow corporations to hide their true tax positions.

During the past few months I’ve repeatedly asked three big companies in the tax-wars cross hairs — GE (GE), Verizon (VZ), and Exxon Mobil (XOM) — to voluntarily disclose information that would refute allegations that they incurred no U.S. federal income tax for 2010. All have refused, saying they won’t disclose anything not legally required. They still manage to complain about the allegations, however. I suspect that if I called the rest of the Fortune 500, I’d get 497 similar responses.

As a society, we need the “taxes incurred” information to inform our current tax debate. Investors, too, would benefit; knowing the tax that companies actually incur would be a useful analytical tool.

The solution, as I’ve said before, is for the Financial Accounting Standards Board to require companies to disclose information from their tax returns for the most recent available year and the nine years before that. This information, from lines 31 and 32 of their returns, would take at most one person-hour a year per company to provide. Adding a 17th tax metric to the 16 already available hardly seems like an invasion of corporate privacy.

Here’s an interesting read in the New York Review of Books by Jeff  Madrick entitled “America’s New Robber Barons”.

So it’s worth knowing who is in that group of very rich with runaway incomes. Several news reports in recent weeks have cited a seminal 2010 study that uses IRS tax returns to find out who belongs to the top 0.1 percent. The authors deserve mention because they are often left out when their results are cited: Jon Bakija of Williams College, Adam Cole of the US Treasury, and Bradley Heim of Indiana University. This was not a Treasury study, however, but a private if scholarly one.

One key finding of the study is that three out of five of those in the top 0.1 percent of tax filers are executives or managers of financial and non-financial companies. Overall, more are from non-financial companies. Does this partly exonerate Wall Street, suggesting it is really Main Street where the problem lies?

In fact Bakija, Cole and Heim’s analysis shows the opposite: it turns out that much of the increase in wealth of non-financial executives was also tied to the rise in stock prices. Keeping in mind that stocks options appear as wages in the data, it seems Wall Street itself was often a main source of income growth for “non-financial” managers as well. (Lawyers were another large category of tax payers in the top 0.1 percent, and though there is not direct data for this, one can fairly assume that many of those in corporate firms made a lot of money from the booming business on Wall Street.)

Next, think about how these executives managed their businesses. If they wanted a big pay check they had to orient their strategies to push up their stock prices—that is, often to appeal to the financial fads and fashions of the day. These strategies typically have included cutting labor costs and R&D in order to boost short-term profits. This delighted their advisers on the Street. Stock investors soon loved nothing better than consistent increases in quarterly profits, and not coincidentally, stock options accounted for an ever-growing proportion of executive pay over the past thirty years. We used to say once that Wall Street worked for business, but over the past thirty years business has come to work for Wall Street.

It is just as interesting to explore the factors that the authors found out probably did not cause the surge at the top. Economists typically posit sophisticated technologies (often related to digitalization) as a source of growing inequality: because these technologies require better educated and smarter workers, those who have mastered them are rewarded handsomely. But there was no surge at the very top in other nations like Japan or in Western Europe, which also adopted the same technologies.

Similarly, some have argued that globalization led to higher incomes at the top because skilled workers can sell themselves globally at ever higher salaries. Again, however, such skilled workers have not seen a surge at the very top in Europe or Japan.

One reason for the discrepancy between the US and other countries is that boards of directors in the US are especially willing to give their CEOs and other high level executives big raises and generous stock options. Lucian Bebchuk of Harvard has done a lot of research on this so-called “governance” issue. Meantime, as Bebchuk’s work shows, shareholder influence over executive compensation is far too weak. And there is also the issue of culture itself. America—with its admiration for the self-made man—tolerates high remuneration for the men and women at the top and lower wages in the middle and the bottom. Culture likely matters.

So, that’s a few things to get you started this morning.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


TGIFriday Reads

I live in Northwest Greater Boston in a town that is far from rural. However we do encounter wildlife in my neighborhood–skunks, opossums and racoons, for example. But yesterday afternoon, as I drove down the small road where I live, I had to brake suddenly for a large, imposing bird like the one in the photo. It was casually standing right in the middle of the road. I looked to my left and saw good sized flock of these birds, and suddenly realized they were wild turkeys. They were walking around in front of someone’s house. I was amazed.

It turns out that wild turkeys have been making a comeback in Massachusetts and have been invading a number of cities and towns around here. From The Boston Globe:

On a recent afternoon, Kettly Jean-Felix parked her car on Beacon Street in Brookline, fed the parking meter, wheeled around to go to the optician and came face to face with a wild turkey.

The turkey eyed Jean-Felix. Jean-Felix eyed the turkey. It gobbled. She gasped. Then the turkey proceeded to follow the Dorchester woman over the Green Line train tracks, across the street, through traffic, and all the way down the block, pecking at her backside as she went.

“This is so scary,” Jean-Felix said, finally taking refuge inside Cambridge Eye Doctors in Brookline’s bustling Washington Square. “I cannot explain it.”

Notify the neighbors: The turkeys are spreading through suburbia. Wild turkeys, once eliminated in Massachusetts, are flourishing from Plymouth to Concord and – to the surprise of some wildlife officials – making forays into densely populated suburban and urban areas, including parts of Boston, Cambridge and, most recently, Brookline.

In Winchester, a woman was “held captive” by a wild turkey.

On Tuesday evening, around 6 p.m., a Swan Road resident was pulling into her car [sic] when a wild turkey jumped at her and started to attack her vehicle as she was trying to drive it into the garage.

The woman said that this turkey did the same thing last week, and she didn’t call the police because she thought the animal had left.

“It kept attacking the woman at her house,” said Winchester Animal Control Officer, Jerry Smith of the 17-pound turkey. “It’s been doing it for a couple of days. We can’t have animals attacking people around town.”

According to the police report, she was able to close the garage door, but ended up being trapped, unable to get to her house, because the turkey refused to leave her property.

After 15 minutes “of being held captive” the woman called the Winchester Police Department to help her get into the house.

The responding officer saw that the turkey was still on the property. He got out of his cruiser and took a shotgun with him. As soon as the turkey noticed him, it charged and the officer shot and killed it.

Yikes! I hope those turkeys don’t start hanging around in my yard. In even more bizarre news, there is snow outside my house. Apparently, I got home just in time for winter.

Remember Omar Sharif? He starred in Dr. Zhivago back in 1965. The aging movie star recently slapped a female fan while he was on the red carpet at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The actor, who was nominated for his role in 1962’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” appeared to have lost his cool when a female fan interrupted him while he was posing for photographers.

The incident, captured by a TMZ camera, shows Sharif slapping and mildly pushing the woman, then spewing venomous disapproval at having been disturbed.

“My dear!” Sharif exclaimed in Arabic, as translated by the Washington Post. “I told you I’d get to you afterwards! I just said that and you’re standing here. Put something in your brain!”

In slightly more serious news, the Republican presidential candidates are still demonstrating their stupidity on a daily basis. Some examples follow.


Mitt Romney

It isn’t enough that Mitt Romney has crazy Robert Bork advising him on the Constitution. Now he has appointed another adviser who belonged to a violent Lebanese militia in the 1980s.

Walid Phares, the recently announced co-chair of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s Middle East advisory group, has a long résumé. College professor. Author. Political pundit. Counterterrorism expert. But there’s one chapter of his life that you won’t find on his CV: He was a high ranking political official in a sectarian religious militia responsible for massacres during Lebanon’s brutal, 15-year civil war.

During the 1980s, Phares, a Maronite Christian, trained Lebanese militants in ideological beliefs justifying the war against Lebanon’s Muslim and Druze factions, according to former colleagues. Phares, they say, advocated the hard-line view that Lebanon’s Christians should work toward creating a separate, independent Christian enclave. A photo obtained by Mother Jones shows him conducting a press conference in 1986 for the Lebanese Forces, an umbrella group of Christian militias that has been accused of committing atrocities. He was also a close adviser to Samir Geagea, a Lebanese warlord who rose from leading hit squads to running the Lebanese Forces.

Romney has also clearly stated his willingness to sacrifice the lives of women to save fertilized eggs. In the Guardian, Tresa Edmunds, a Mormon, writes: If Mitt Romney’s anti-abortion crowd get their way, it could kill me

Mississippi is the latest state to support a “personhood” amendment – a law that defines life as beginning at conception and giving full legal rights to a fertilised egg. On a recent political talk show, Mitt Romney affirmed that he would “absolutely” support such an amendment to the federal constitution. Such a conservative law would have far-reaching consequences, rendering many forms of birth control, the morning-after pill and aspects of in-vitro fertilisation illegal, as well as eliminating abortion as an option even when deemed medically necessary.

This trend is also seen in the ironically named Protect Life Act, recently passed by the House of Representatives, which gives hospitals the right to refuse to perform abortions, even at the cost of a woman’s life. It is a terrifying time to have a uterus, but especially a mysteriously malfunctioning one such as mine.

My son was born weighing 2lb 4oz, at 28 weeks gestation. My pregnancy – which had been much longed for – was proceeding normally until all of a sudden a pain that turned out to be organ failure brought me to the emergency room. There, I was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome. My blood pressure was rocketing, my red blood cells were disintegrating and my platelet count was dropping. If I had managed to make it through organ failure, stroke or heart attack, I would have bled to death in delivery. Thanks to the tremendous care and expertise of talented doctors and nurses, my son and I are here to tell the harrowing story but, if things had gone differently, the only way I would be alive is if they had removed my son’s body from my womb in pieces.

Comments such as Romney’s casually tossed off “absolutely” make me shake with rage. When politicians are so concerned about the people they see as allegedly using abortion as birth control that they would let me die, I can’t help but wonder how they can dare say they care about the sanctity of life.

Edmunds is confused. Romney and the other Republican candidates care deeply only about “human life.” They obviously do not consider women to be humans.


Rick Perry

As everyone knows, Governor Goodhair hasn’t done very well in the Republican debates so far. Now it appears he is going to wimp out of future debates.

After a series of poor debate performances in the early months of his presidential campaign, Texas Gov. Rick Perry is backing off the upcoming GOP debate schedule, committing to just one of the next three events between now and Nov. 15.

Perry has struggled in the five debates he has attended since he joined the race in mid-August. At one, he fumbled an attempt to cast rival Mitt Romney as a flip-flopper. At another, bickering between Romney and Perry drew criticism that the candidates were acting juvenile.

Perry hinted at his frustration with the debates earlier this week when he told Fox News that participating in them was a “mistake.”

“These debates are set up for nothing more than to tear down the candidates,” Perry said. “…All they’re interested in is stirring it up between the candidates.”

Um… yeah. So? If Perry can’t take the heat, maybe he should get out of the kitchen. BTW, has he produced his birth certificate yet? I heard he was born in Mexico. /s


Herman Cain

At Huffpo, Dave Jamieson details Herman Cain’s long, enthusiastic battle against the minimum wage.

In his plan for economic “Opportunity Zones,” Cain offers a slate of proposals aimed at revitalizing depressed pockets of the country, including zero capital gains and payroll taxes within qualifying areas. Although it doesn’t say so explicitly, the Cain campaign’s primer on opportunity zones also suggests the possibility of rolling back minimum-wage laws in impoverished areas.

“Minimum wage laws prevent many unskilled and inexperienced workers (i.e. teens) from getting their first job and prices them out of the market,” the plan says, listing a number of potential “solutions” to urban poverty. Cain’s campaign did not immediately comment on his stance on minimum wage laws.

Minimum-wage protections are an issue Cain knows intimately. In his work as the CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and later as president of the National Restaurant Association, Cain worked diligently in Washington and in the media to see that low-wage restaurant workers could legally be paid as little as possible, as In These Times has noted. In fact, Cain’s time in the restaurant business was marked by a long and largely successful battle against minimum-wage increases, and even today, some 15 years later, many of the nation’s waiters and waitresses have Cain and the restaurant lobby to thank for a federal minimum wage of $2.13 for tipped workers.

By 1995, when Cain was at the helm of Godfather’s, the federal minimum wage had already lost much of its purchasing power since the 1960s and 70s, and it hadn’t seen a bump in five years. When then-President Bill Clinton and Labor Secretary Robert Reich proposed raising it from $4.25 to $5.15, Cain emerged as one of the leading opponents of the pay boost.


Rick Santorum

Is he really still running for president? Apparently so. He has released a new ad targeting Herman Cain’s accidental pro-choice position on abortion. The content of the ad suggests that Santorum believes that aborted embryos and fetuses can “think.”


Ron Paul

Ron Paul isn’t really an objectivist or a libertarian, even though he claims to be a follower of Ayn Rand. He can’t be, because he wants the government to get involved in policing women’s bodies. But here’s an interesting post by Gary Weiss, the author of a new book about Ayn Rand’s influence on American culture that sounds like a fascinating, if disturbing, read.

Ayn Rand’s spirit hangs over the 2012 presidential race like the aftermath of a bad meal that, for some reason, we’ve all forgotten that we’ve eaten. In the run-up to the financial crisis the markets became a kind of Fifth Estate, the ultimate arbiters of American society. This was not a Republican disease; some of the most voracious deregulation took place during the Clinton Administration. It was as if a moral choice had been made, substituting the “wisdom of the markets” for admittedly flawed and sometimes grossly inept regulators. It made perfect sense, especially in an era in which the stock market averages rose by as much as 40% in one year, but today we know, or should know, that untrammeled capitalism doesn’t work.

But you’d never know any of this when listening to the Republican candidates for president, especially the one who most overtly embodies Rand’s philosophy: Ron Paul.

Paul is by no means a card-carrying Objectivist—his embrace of religion, and his views on foreign policy, makes him anathema to Randian true believers. But his embrace of the most primitive, extreme forms of free-market, almost-zero-government capitalism comes closest to Rand’s belief system of any in the Republican field.

What’s remarkable about Paul is how effective he is at putting forward his views, extreme as they are. Indeed, the unyielding, unwavering non-flip-flopping character of his opinions is perhaps his greatest asset. He is the best friend free-market capitalism has at present, as can be seen by his recent debate performances and especially his recent triumphant appearance at Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. The man exudes small-town charm while at the same advocating positions that would make life into hell for the great majority of his followers and listeners.

I’ll end with an article about the incumbant Republican President: ‘Bundlers’ for Obama Have Active Ties to Lobbying

Despite a pledge not to take money from lobbyists, President Obama has relied on prominent supporters who are active in the lobbying industry to raise millions of dollars for his re-election bid.

At least 15 of Mr. Obama’s “bundlers” — supporters who contribute their own money to his campaign and solicit it from others — are involved in lobbying for Washington consulting shops or private companies. They have raised more than $5 million so far for the campaign.

Because the bundlers are not registered as lobbyists with the Senate, the Obama campaign has managed to avoid running afoul of its self-imposed ban on taking money from lobbyists.

But registered or not, the bundlers are in many ways indistinguishable from people who fit the technical definition of a lobbyist. They glide easily through the corridors of power in Washington, with a number of them hosting Mr. Obama at fund-raisers while also visiting the White House on policy matters and official business.

{Yawn…} Another Obama lie…so what else is new? That’s all the links I’ve got.

What are you reading and blogging about today?


Gross Evidence of Rent-Seeking

BadDog_05It’s not often that you get enough evidence of rent-seeking you can actually find it entered into a public record. Leave it to Stupakistan to show the incredible power of insurance and other nondepository financial institutions to leave their fingerprints without shame on the public policy debate over the healthcare payments system. It looks like the middle men are definitely winning on this one. Check out this article at the NYT today by Robert Pea with damning headline “In House, Many Spoke with One Voice: Lobbyists’. “

We have to get corporate money out of politics.  It’s essential to preserving our republic with its aspirational democratic roots.

In the official record of the historic House debate on overhauling health care, the speeches of many lawmakers echo with similarities. Often, that was no accident.

Statements by more than a dozen lawmakers were ghostwritten, in whole or in part, by Washington lobbyists working for Genentech, one of the world’s largest biotechnology companies.

E-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that the lobbyists drafted one statement for Democrats and another for Republicans.

Notice that it’s an equal opportunity rent-seeking opportunity.  Lobbyists are carefully crafting their message to play to whatever base will fall for it.  If there ever is evidence that public policy is being high jacked by parasites of the market–those third party payers that bring no value and only layers of costs and confusion to the process–this is it.  Unfortunately, people are so dependent on their insurance companies, they fail to see they need to rid themselves of the fleas.

The lobbyists, employed by Genentech and by two Washington law firms, were remarkably successful in getting the statements printed in the Congressional Record under the names of different members of Congress.

Genentech, a subsidiary of the Swiss drug giant Roche, estimates that 42 House members picked up some of its talking points — 22 Republicans and 20 Democrats, an unusual bipartisan coup for lobbyists.

In an interview, Representative Bill Pascrell Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, said: “I regret that the language was the same. I did not know it was.” He said he got his statement from his staff and “did not know where they got the information from.”

Yea, right.  You’re so frigging business with things and you have so few staff you can’t actually read the bills, get information on the problems in the market, and find solutions for yourself.  You just have to rely on people with stakes in the status quo.

In recent years, Genentech’s political action committee and lobbyists for Roche and Genentech have made campaign contributions to many House members, including some who filed statements in the Congressional Record. And company employees have been among the hosts at fund-raisers for some of those lawmakers. But Evan L. Morris, head of Genentech’s Washington office, said, “There was no connection between the contributions and the statements.”

Mr. Morris said Republicans and Democrats, concerned about the unemployment rate, were receptive to the company’s arguments about the need to keep research jobs in the United States.

Maybe RD can clear up the connection between what they’re demanding congress keep in their cookie jar and the outsourcing of science jobs to the cheapest market, but my guess is it’s just a convenient excuse unless you actually force them to keep the jobs IN THE COUNTRY in the wording of the legislation.  They’ll go where the cheapest options are because corporations have ONLY one goal.  That is MAXIMIZING PROFIT.  Renting seeking and ruthless cost-cutting play right into that.  Also, gaining market share and power so you can manipulate the price and quantity–especially on a price insensitive (inelastic) item like drugs and health care.  When you need them you need them and you’re likely to rearrange your budget and everything else to get them; especially if it’s a matter of life and death.

My guess is we have a lot of gullible shills in Stupakistan.

Mr. Brady’s chief of staff, Stanley V. White, said he had received the draft statement from a lobbyist for Genentech’s parent company, Roche.

“We were approached by the lobbyist, who asked if we would be willing to enter a statement in the Congressional Record,” Mr. White said. “I asked him for a draft. I tweaked a couple of words. There’s not much reason to reinvent the wheel on a Congressional Record entry.”

Some differences were just a matter of style. Representative Yvette D. Clarke, Democrat of New York, said, “I see this bill as an exciting opportunity to create the kind of jobs we so desperately need in this country, while at the same time improving the lives of all Americans.”

Representative Donald M. Payne, Democrat of New Jersey, used the same words, but said the bill would improve the lives of “ALL Americans.”

Mr. Payne and Mr. Brady said the bill would “create new opportunities and markets for our brightest technology minds.” Mr. Pascrell said the bill would “create new opportunities and markets for our brightest minds in technology.”

My guess is these brains in congress were the same ones that talked their brainy class mates into sharing their homework and rephrased it just enough to pass the professor’s scrutiny or most like the professor’s grad student’s scrutiny.

There is something incredibly wrong in our governing process when a group of powerful nonvoting constituents get to write the voice of public policy.  If your congressman is on this list, find an alternative, FAST!!!

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