Tuesday Mid-Morning Reads: Immigration Reform, Aaron Swartz Prosecution, and Much More

Barbara Stanwyk reading

Good Morning Everyone!!

The media talking heads are going on and on about the supposed “bi-partisan agreement” on Immigration reform. I’m not really clear on what policies have been “agreed” on, but frankly, I’ll believe it when I see it. TPM reports: Gang Of 8’s Path To Citizenship Is Still A Rocky Road.

While reformers are excited that a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants is the centerpiece of the Senate’s new bipartisan immigration deal, it’s still unclear just how accessible that path will be for the undocumented population.

Without the proper components, experts warn the Senate plan could be the beginning of a long process to bringing illegal immigrants fully into American society, one that could take not years but decades.

So what does the process involve?

Under the plan, undocumented immigrants would receive a probationary status if they pass a criminal background check, pay a fine, and pay any back taxes owed to the government. After that, they’d have to wait to apply for permanent residency – a prerequisite to citizenship – until after a series of border security measures go into effect.

None of the new border measures, which will be overseen by a commission of southwestern state officials and community leaders, appear too difficult to implement at first glance (although there are concerns as to how much power conservative state politicians would wield in the process). The big question is what comes next when 11 million newly legal immigrants apply for a green card.

According to the framework, these applicants will then be required to “go to the back of the line of prospective immigrants.” But for many of them, a clear line doesn’t actually exist at the moment. Individuals can apply for green cards through a number of categories, mostly based on having family already in the country or on their employment status, which experts say are inadequate to the task of absorbing so many immigrants at once.

Greg Sargent says that the assumption that conservative Southern governors will control the process because they will be the ones to certify that the border is secure is “not true.”

I’ve now got clarification from Senate staff working on the bill, and it turns out that the enforcement commission’s judgments will only be advisory, and are entirely nonbinding. Congress’ actions will not be dictated by what this commission concludes; neither will actions taken by the Department of Homeland Security. The citizenship process will be triggered by other means (more on this soon).

This is central to the debate. If this commission had the power to dictate when the citizenship process begins, it could endanger the entire enterprise by giving people like Jan Brewer veto power. Second, this enforcement commission is being seen as a major concession Republicans won in exchange for agreeing to grant citizenship to the 11 million.

So what did Republicans get in this deal then?

The concessions Republicans got in this deal — in exchange for agreeing to citizenship for 11 million — include beefed up border security, a new program designed to help employers verify their employees’ status, tougher checks on immigrants overstaying visas, and the need for undocumented immigrants to go to the end of the immigration line.

Meanwhile, President Obama will roll out his own, supposedly “more liberal” immigration reform plan beginning today in a speech in Las Vegas.

The Obama administration has developed its own proposals for immigration reform that are more liberal than a separate bipartisan effort in the Senate, including a quicker path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, people with knowledge of the proposals said.

President Obama is expected to provide some details of the White House plans during a Tuesday appearance in Las Vegas, where he will call for broad changes to the nation’s immigration laws. The speech will kick off a public push by the administration in support of the broadest overhaul of immigration law in nearly three decades.

Obama plans to praise the proposals laid out Monday by an eight-member Senate working group, saying they reflect the core tenets of the administration’s immigration blueprint developed in 2011, a senior administration official said.

But the president’s remarks also are likely to emphasize differences that could foreshadow roadblocks to passage in Congress at a time when both parties say there is momentum for a comprehensive deal.

Naturally, the wingnuts in the House will provide roadblocks galore for whatever plan the Senate approves. Read all about it at Politico.

mitchmconnell turtle

Politico reported yesterday on a possible collaboration between the Tea Party and Democrats in Kentucky to dump Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Big Democratic donors, local liberal activists and a left-leaning super PAC in Kentucky are telling tea partiers that they are poised to throw financial and organizational support behind a right-wing candidate should one try to defeat the powerful GOP leader in a 2014 primary fight.

The idea: Soften up McConnell and make him vulnerable in a general election in Kentucky, where Democrats still maintain a voter registration advantage. Or better yet, in their eyes: Watch Kentucky GOP primary voters nominate the 2014 version of Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock, weak candidates who may actually lose.

Interesting… Once again, I’ll believe it when I see it. Still, anything is possible. Plus McConnell is very unpopular in his home state according to the latest poll

With his re-election bid just a year away, those opposed to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell outnumber his supporters 2-1 among Kentucky voters, according to the latest Courier-Journal Bluegrass Poll.

In the poll of 609 registered voters, 34 percent said they plan to vote against McConnell — while just 17 percent say they will vote to give him six more years. Forty-four percent said they will wait to see who is running against him before deciding, and 6 percent said they are not sure.

The poll, conducted by SurveyUSA, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points. It comes as groups on both McConnell’s right and left seek candidates to challenge him in the primary and general elections in 2014. McConnell, the most powerful Republican in the Senate as minority leader, is seeking his sixth term.

More information is coming out

about the over-the-top prosecution that probably contributed to the suicide of genius cyber-activist Aaron Swartz. Rolling Stone reports:

Swartz’s friends and family have said they believe he was driven to his death by a justice system that hounded him needlessly over an alleged crime with no real victims. “[He was] forced by the government to spend every fiber of his being on this damnable, senseless trial,” his partner Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman said at the memorial, “with no guarantee that he could exonerate himself at the end of it.”

Two zealous federal prosecutors handled Swartz’s case: U.S. district attorney Carmen Ortiz and assistant attorney Stephen Heymann. In the days after his death, writers, tech experts, and many of Swartz’s friends have called out Heymann and Ortiz for prosecutorial overreach. A White House petition demanding the removal of Ortiz garnered well over 25,000 signatures, reaching the level which guarantees an eventual response from the Obama administration.

Carmen Ortiz

Carmen Ortiz

Some of Swartz’s advocates believe the prosecution sought excessive punishment to set an example in the age of Wikileaks and Anonymous.

Declan McCullough writes at CNet that when Swartz’s case was being prosecuted by the Middlesex County DA’s office, there was no thought of sending Swartz to prison for what was essential a minor, victimless crime.

State prosecutors who investigated the late Aaron Swartz had planned to let him off with a stern warning, but federal prosecutor Carmen Ortiz took over and chose to make an example of the Internet activist, according to a report in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.

Middlesex County’s district attorney had planned no jail time, “with Swartz duly admonished and then returned to civil society to continue his pioneering electronic work in a less legally questionable manner,” the report (alternate link) said. “Tragedy intervened when Ortiz’s office took over the case to send ‘a message.'”

The report is likely to fuel an online campaign against Ortiz, who has been criticized for threatening the 26-year-old with decades in prison for allegedly downloading a large quantity of academic papers. An online petition asking President Obama to remove from office Ortiz — a politically ambitious prosecutor who was talked about as Massachusetts’ next governor as recently as last month.

Ortiz no longer has a political future, and other abuses of power by her office are now coming out. Read more at the link. I posted links to more damning information about Ortiz in a recent post.

The Massachusetts Lawyers’ Weekly post by Harvey Silverglate is behind a paywall, but it has been republished with permission at Media Nation.

Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz

Silverglate writes:

The ill-considered prosecution leading to the suicide of computer prodigy Aaron Swartz is the most recent in a long line of abusive prosecutions coming out of the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston, representing a disastrous culture shift. It sadly reflects what’s happened to the federal criminal courts, not only in Massachusetts but across the country….

the palpable injustices flowing regularly out of the federal criminal courts have by and large escaped the critical scrutiny of the lawyers who are in the best position to say something. And judges tend not to recognize what to outsiders are serious flaws, because the system touts itself as the best and fairest in the world.

Since the mid-1980s, a proliferation of vague and overlapping federal criminal statutes has given federal prosecutors the ability to indict, and convict, virtually anyone unfortunate enough to come within their sights. And sentencing guidelines confer yet additional power on prosecutors, who have the discretion to pick and choose from statutes covering the same behavior.

This dangerous state of affairs has resulted in countless miscarriages of justice, many of which aren’t recognized as such until long after unfairly incarcerated defendants have served “boxcar-length” sentences.

Aaron Swartz was a victim of this system run amok. He was indicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a notoriously broad statute enacted by Congress seemingly to criminalize any use of a computer to do something that could be deemed bad.

If you care about this issue, please go read the whole thing. Read Charles Pierce’s take on it here.

There have been some reports that Swartz had contacted Wikileaks’ Julian Assange and could possibly have been working with the organization, but it’s not clear what Swartz could have leaked to them. I can’t imagine Wikileaks being interested in distributing a bunch of academic journal articles that are already available to millions of people from numerous sources. Nevertheless, the Feds are so obsessed with Wikileaks and cyber-security generally that that could have led to their taking over Swartz’s case.

I have a number of other suggested reads that I’ll list  link dump style.

Bloomberg: The Fed Is More Out of It Than You Thought It Was

HuffPo: Treasury Disregarded Own Guidelines, Allowed Executive Raises At Bailed-Out GM, AIG: Report

LA Times: A third of Barnes & Noble stores may close in next decade, report says

Alex Pareene at Salon: 3 reasons to be skeptical that immigration reform will pass /

Irin Carmon at Salon: Is abortion about women?

Time: Barbara Walters Has the Chicken Pox

CBS Crimesider: JonBenet Ramsey Case: Grand jury voted to indict parents in 1999, prosecutor refused to sign

USA Today: Iran says it launched a monkey into space (Video)

NYT: The Preppers Next Door – The Doomsday Preppers of New York

ABC News: Bigfoot: Is Mysterious Screech Sasquatch? (Hey, is Bigfoot really any weirder than the Tea Party Republicans? I don’t think so.)

So….what’s on your reading and blogging list today? I look forward to clicking on your links!


Sunday Night Open Thread: The Calm Before the Storm?

calm before storm

I’ve been having this feeling all weekend that the entire country is holding its breath as we mark time until Washington DC blows sky high. Is anyone else feeling that way or is it just me? I’ve been somewhat out of the loop the past couple of days. I have some kind of sinus thingy and I ended up spending a lot of time updating my computer drivers and other software. But I’ve been surfing around this evening, and everything is looking very weird and wacky in the nation’s capital.

In the first place, why are Republicans all over the place threatening a government shutdown? And why aren’t Democrats countering the Republican lies? Failing to raise the debt limit won’t trigger a government shutdown. If the U.S. defaults on its debts it will trigger a national economic disaster–and perhaps a global meltdown. A shutdown would happen if Congress refused to appropriate funds to keep the government running. Defaulting on the debt would mean another lowering of our credit rating and higher interest on the debt in the future.

I can’t figure out if the Democrats are just giving the Republicans rope to hang themselves or if there is something else going on.

This morning on Dancin’ Dave’s Disco Dance Party, Mitch “Pruneface” McConnell wouldn’t respond to questions about the threatened “government shutdown.”

Pressed repeatedly on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” McConnell instead placed responsibility on President Obama for leading the country and avoiding a shutdown.

“I know what your question is,” McConnell said. “What I’m telling you is I haven’t given up on the president stepping up to the plate and tackling the single biggest issue confronting the country.”

Neither Dancin’ Dave nor McConnell addressed the most important issue–raising the debt ceiling. McConnell’s focus is squarely on cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, but he wants the President to spell out the cuts. As Josh Marshall writes:

In other words, big cuts to key social insurance programs are not only the price of avoiding what would likely be a catastrophic government shutdown (a real one, not like what we had back in the 90s). But Democrats must also shield Republicans from the political consequences of cutting these programs by cutting them on the Republicans behalf.

McConnell apparently also claimed that “He Doesn’t Want Debt Ceiling Negotiations to Turn Into a Hostage Situation.”

In one of three Sunday talk show appearances, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wasn’t sure whether he’s prepared to “shoot the hostage” by letting the country default on its loans in the next round of the fiscal fight. While some Republicans are threatening to block a debt ceiling increase unless Democrats agree to major spending cuts, McConnell sidestepped the issue on ABC’s This Week. “It’s not even necessary to get to that point,” he said. “Why aren’t we trying to solve the problem? Why aren’t we trying to do something about reducing spending? … Waiting until the last minute is no way to run the government.” He added that he would not accept any new tax revenues in the next deal. “The tax issue is finished. Over. Completed. That’s behind us.”

Hmmmmm….

According to The Hill, some “appropriators” in Congress have been “working quietly to avoid government shutdown.”

House and Senate appropriators have been quietly working behind the scenes for months to craft 12 compromise annual spending bills to avoid a shutdown that is slated to occur when the current six-month stopgap spending bill expires.

That sounds ominous. Are these unnamed Congresscritters working out the details of “entitlement” cuts so they can whip them out at the last minute when everyone is desperate for an agreement?

“We’ve got most of it worked out,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), the chairman on Interior and Environment appropriations subcommittee.

A Senate Democratic aide concurred that work is far along and will pick up again when the Senate returns Jan 22. Appropriators had been striving to attach an omnibus to the year-end “fiscal cliff” deal and new Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) is ready to continue the effort.
The negotiations mean that disputes over individual programs and policy riders — such as those on abortion and defunding Obama’s health reform — that have exacerbated government shutdown crises like that in April 2011 are being minimized.

Nancy Pelosi did talk about the debt ceiling, and she recommended that Obama just take the bull by the horns and raise it himself.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urged the president on Sunday to drop his resistance to the idea and simply bypass the upcoming debate over raising the debt ceiling by deeming the entire cap unconstitutional.

Appearing on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Pelosi offered her strongest endorsement to-date of the 14th Amendment option, which holds that Congress doesn’t have the power to use the debt ceiling as a hostage-taking device because the validity of the debt “shall not be questioned.”

Nancy Pelosi: Well, you ask the Republicans, because we always passed the debt ceiling. When President Bush was president, as he was incurring these massive debts, and the Republicans weren’t saying ‘boo’ at the time. There should be, this is a conversation where there should be no doubt. In fact, if I were president, I’d use the 14th Amendment, which says that the debt of the United States will always be paid.
Bob Schieffer: You would just go ahead and do it, you wouldn’t wait for the Congress?

Nancy Pelosi: I would just go do it. But the Congress has incurred much of this debt. And so what are you saying, we incurred it but we’re not going to pay it? If you want to say, ‘We are not going to do it so much in the future,’ well that’s another thing. But you can’t say, ‘I’m not paying my past debts.’

Go Nancy, Go!!

boehner

Now check this out from the Wall Street Journal: The Education of John Boehner.

What stunned House Speaker John Boehner more than anything else during his prolonged closed-door budget negotiations with Barack Obama was this revelation: “At one point several weeks ago,” Mr. Boehner says, “the president said to me, ‘We don’t have a spending problem.'” [....]

The president’s insistence that Washington doesn’t have a spending problem, Mr. Boehner says, is predicated on the belief that massive federal deficits stem from what Mr. Obama called “a health-care problem.” Mr. Boehner says that after he recovered from his astonishment—”They blame all of the fiscal woes on our health-care system”—he replied: “Clearly we have a health-care problem, which is about to get worse with ObamaCare. But, Mr. President, we have a very serious spending problem.” He repeated this message so often, he says, that toward the end of the negotiations, the president became irritated and said: “I’m getting tired of hearing you say that.”

Boehner, like McConnell announced there will be no more tax increases, period–only tax reform, and by that he means lower tax rates.

The speaker is adamant on two points: First, Republicans won’t be agreeing to any more tax increases during the next two years. “The tax issue is resolved,” he says, and it will be discussed only in the context of a broader debate about tax reform—specifically, lower rates. He dismisses the president’s declaration that any future budget cuts will have to be “balanced” with more tax hikes.

Second, Mr. Boehner says he won’t engage in any more closed-door budget negotiations with the White House, which are “futile.” He adds: “Sure, I will meet with the president if he wants to,” but House Republicans will from now on proceed with establishing a budget for the year following what is known as “regular order,” and they will insist that Harry Reid and Senate Democrats pass a budget—something they haven’t done in nearly four years—before proceeding.

The real showdown will be on the debt ceiling and the spending sequester in March….The debt bill is “one point of leverage,” Mr. Boehner says, but he also hedges, noting that it is “not the ultimate leverage.” He says that Republicans won’t back down from the so-called Boehner rule: that every dollar of raising the debt ceiling will require one dollar of spending cuts over the next 10 years. Rather than forcing a deal, the insistence may result in a series of monthly debt-ceiling increases.

The Republicans’ stronger card, Mr. Boehner believes, will be the automatic spending sequester trigger that trims all discretionary programs—defense and domestic.

It’s a long interview and it provides some insight into Boehner’s thinking, such as it is.

Roll Call has a piece called: Boehner Coup Attempt Larger Than First Thought

A concerted effort to unseat Speaker John A. Boehner was under way the day of his re-election to the position, but participants called it off 30 minutes before the House floor vote, CQ Roll Call has learned.
A group of disaffected conservatives had agreed to vote against the Ohio lawmaker if they could get at least 25 members to join the effort. But one member, whose identity could not be verified, rescinded his or her participation the morning of the vote, leaving the group one person short of its self-imposed 25-member threshold. Only 17 votes against Boehner were required to force a second ballot, but the group wanted to have insurance.

Even with 24 members, the group would easily have been able to force a second ballot round, but the effort was aborted in frenetic discussions on the House floor.

“Aborted?” I thought Republicans were against that.

And did you hear that Thomas Gibson was arrested for DUI today?

The 50-year-old actor, known for his roles on “Criminal Minds” and “Dharma & Greg,” was driving in downtown L.A. at around 1:00 a.m. on Jan. 6 when he attempted to continue through a part of town that had been sectioned off for a half marathon.

Sources tell The Huffington Post that the race was not over when Gibson drove his Audi SUV right onto the course, interrupting several runners. The race started at 9 p.m., but the road was still blocked off and authorities were making sure no vehicles were let through.

According to TMZ, Gibson was stopped by police and told to go a different way, but he proceeded anyway.

I hope that won’t cause any problems for my favorite TV show, Criminal Minds.

So what are you all hearing? Are we headed for the storm of the century?


New Year’s Day Reads: The Lousy Deal

First Night fireworks against the Boston skyline

First Night fireworks against the Boston skyline

Good Morning and Happy New Year!!!

Sorry to be late with this post. I got so discouraged last night with our dysfunctional government that I went to bed completely disgusted. After a good night’s sleep, I’m feeling slightly more optimistic, if not truly hopeful. If I have any hope, it’s that perhaps the American people will rise up and let the president and Congress know what a horrible job they are doing.

So, what’s happening this morning? We officially went over the fiscal cliff at midnight even though the Senate approved a half-baked, crappy “deal.” Politico reports:

Congress lost a mad, New Year’s Eve dash to beat the fiscal cliff deadline, cinching a deal with President Barack Obama to raise taxes on the wealthy and temporarily freeze deep spending cuts but failing to get it through both chambers before midnight.
So over the cliff the country went — though perhaps for only a day or two and, assuming no snags, without incurring the double whammy of another recession and higher unemployment.

The measure, which would raise tax rates for families making more than $450,000 and delay deep across-the-board spending cuts for two months, cleared the Senate by an overwhelming 89-8 vote shortly after 2 a.m. The Republican-controlled House could take up the pact in a rare New Year’s Day session, though the timing of that chamber’s vote was not clear.

The $620 billion agreement was a major breakthrough in a partisan standoff that has dragged on for months, spooking Wall Street and threatening to hobble the economic recovery. It turned back the GOP’s two-decade-long refusal to raise tax rates, delivering a major win for the president.

The bill also canceled pay raises for members of Congress and averted an expected hike in the price of milk by extending expiring dairy policy.

Wow, they cancelled their own pay raises? That was big of them–not. They probably did that out of fear of an angry populace. And of course, we still have to watch the shameful spectacle of the tea party House wrangling over a deal that basically give them everything they wanted and more than they ever dreamed of.

From TPM, the Senators who voted against the deal:

The eight senators voting no were Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tom Carper (D-DE), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Richard Shelby (R-AL).

Robert Reich calls it “A Lousy Deal on the Edge of the Fiscal Cliff.” I’m thinking that could be the new logo for this administration–“The Lousy Deal” as opposed to Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” Reich writes:

Details of the agreement reached by the president and congressional Republicans are still forthcoming, but from the look of it, Obama gave ground where he need not have.

What else is new?

Yes, the deal finally gets Republicans to accept a tax increase on the wealthy, but this is an inside-the-Beltway symbolic victory. If anyone believes this will make the GOP more amenable to future tax increases, they don’t know how rabidly extremist the GOP has become.

The deal also extends unemployment insurance for more than 2 million long-term unemployed. That’s important.

But I can’t help believe the president could have done better than this. After all, public opinion is overwhelmingly on his side. Republicans would have been blamed had no deal been achieved.

More importantly, the fiscal cliff is on the president’s side as well. If we go over it, he and the Democrats in the next Congress that starts later this week can quickly offer legislation that grants a middle-class tax cut and restores most military spending. Even rabid Republicans would be hard-pressed not to sign on.

I hate to say it, but it really looks like Obama pushed for this so he could give more away that he would have had to if we had just gone over the cliff without all the fake deal making.

Noam Scheiber writes at The New Republic: Democrats’ Cliff Compromise Is Bad; But the Strategic Consequences Are Disastrous.

I think the president made a huge mistake by negotiating over what he’d previously said was non-negotiable (namely, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on income over $250,000). Then the White House compounded that mistake by sending Biden to “close” the deal when Harry Reid appeared to give up on it. As a practical matter, this signaled to Republicans that the White House wouldn’t walk away from the bargaining table, allowing the GOP to keep extracting concessions into the absolute final hours before the deadline….

I think a reasonable person can defend the bill on its own terms. The fact is that nudging up the tax threshold to $450,000 only sacrifices $100-200 billion in revenue over the next decade (against the $700-800 billion the administration would have secured with its original threshold), while allowing unemployment benefits to lapse would cause real pain to both the 2 million people directly affected and, indirectly, to the economy. Yes, Obama could have gotten the latter without giving up the former had he just waited another few days—at which point what the GOP considers a tax increase suddenly becomes a tax cut. But these things are always easier to pull the trigger on when you, er, don’t actually have to pull the trigger. I can’t begrudge Obama his wanting to avoid some downside risk for only a marginally better deal.

My far bigger gripe with the whole fiscal-cliff exercise has always been the strategic dimension—how it affects the next showdown with the GOP, and the one after that. Coming into the negotiation, Obama had two big problems: First, no matter how tough he talked, Republicans always assumed he’d blink in the end, for the simple reason that he pretty much always had. (This is one of the major themes of my book about his first term.) Second, despite the results of the most recent election, in which Obama won a fairly commanding victory on a platform of raising taxes on wealthy people, the GOP continued to believe that public opinion was mostly on its side. House Republicans cited the preservation of their majority—never mind that their own candidates received fewer total votes than House Democratic candidates—and polls showing most Americans still think government is too big.

No kidding. And I disagree that we shouldn’t begrudge Obama for not sticking to his promise to hold the line at $250,000. As I’ve written previously, Obama should not be involved in negotiations, because he either wants to lose to the Republicans or his need to please the people who hate him is just too strong. I don’t know which is the real problem, and it really doesn’t matter for practical purposes. He’s just a horrible negotiator, period. Now we have to watch another repulsive display of childish squabbling in a couple of months. Is this going to be the extent of what happens in Obama’s second term? With this incompetent, useless Congress, it’s entirely possible.

And of course we still have to wait and see what Boehner and his gang do.

In a joint statement late Monday, House GOP leaders promised to keep their commitment to act on the measure if it passes the Senate. But they say they won’t decide whether to accept the measure or to amend it and send it back to the Senate until lawmakers and their constituents have a chance to review the legislation.

Give me a frickin’ break! I’m going to end here, because there doesn’t seem to be much other news. What are you reading today. I look forward to clicking on your links.

Whatever else happens, I hope everyone has a great day today and a very happy new year in spite of the idiocy in Washington DC!!


Wednesday Reads: Winter…Sunlight, Monsters and Tolkien

78308149-7d10-4b53-8b07-648b314a268bGood Morning!

Finally…we have a nippy morning here in Banjoland! I love the cold weather, it makes sleeping late in a nice cozy bed even more enjoyable.

There was another shooting late yesterday, this time in Portland, Oregon. Gunman Opens Fire in Oregon Shopping Mall. According to VOA, the gunman shot and killed two people before turning the gun on himself…no final number of wounded as I write this post. I will be sure to update you on this latest shooting as more information comes forward.

Okay…I’ve got plenty of politics for you this morning, if it is okay I will give them to you in link dump fashion. (Honestly, I am still a bit “gun-shy” with WordPress. It may take a few post before I feel comfortable writing a lot of words in these threads. I think it is a slight case of PSTD, from way back in college…when my final thesis went phffft, poof and gone…just as I was printing the thing out on the day it was due. Nightmare!)

Anyway, here are some of the political stories of the last 24 hours:

Soledad kicked some major ass yesterday. She is awesome at her job, which btw is being a journalist and a real savvy reporter. Soledad Grills Jeff Sessions: ‘You Hurt People Who Need Food’ with Food Stamp Cuts

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) on Tuesday faced tough questions from CNN host Soledad O’Brien for his plan to cut the food stamp program and “hurt people who need food,” including 20 percent of his own constituents in Alabama.

Speaking to Sessions in an interview on CNN’s Starting Point, O’Brien wondered if cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) should be on the table as part of the so-called fiscal cliff negotiations.

“Absolutely,” Sessions insisted. “This month was a record increase in food stamp participation at a time when unemployment is declining.”

“But there are people who say if you’re doing cuts, you invariably hurt people who need food,” O’Brien observed. “It’s 61 percent of households in your state have children who are recipients of the food program that they’re on.”

Sessions continued to spew his crap, I mean opinion:

“Soledad, this program has been growing out of control at an incredible rate and there are a lot of people receiving benefits who do not qualify and should not receive them,” Sessions remarked. “No child, no person who needs food should be denied that food. Nobody proposes that. We are talking about an amendment that I offered that would have reduced and closed a loophole of $8 billion when we would spend $800 billion was opposed by saying it would help — it would leave people hungry in America, but it would have only eliminated abuses in the program.”

The CNN host, however, pointed out that the Alabama Republican had voted twice to grow the program and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities had determined that “SNAP has one of the most rigorous quality control systems of any public benefit program.”

“People highlight the program as actually not having a lot of fraud,” O’Brien explained. “Most people who are on it are not somehow working the system. They’re just hungry people.”

Snap for SNAP…Video at the link.

From ABC News, and what looks like the back of Barbara Walter’s head: EXCLUSIVE: President Obama Predicts GOP Will Cave on Taxes

PHOTO: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama participate in an interview with ABC's Barbara Walters in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Dec. 11, 2012.
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama participate in an interview with ABC’s Barbara Walters in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Dec. 11, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

As the clock ticks toward a tax hike on all Americans in 20 days, President Obama predicted Republicans would join Democrats to extend current rates for 98 percent of earners before the end of the year.

“I’m pretty confident that Republicans would not hold middle class taxes hostage to trying to protect tax cuts for high-income individuals,” Obama said today in an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Barbara Walters.

You wanna bet?

These right-wing Republicans are like bulldogs locked down on a hunk of red meat…they do not give up. Just take a look at these headlines:

Angry with Obama, GOP threatens political war next year – CNN.com

Rick Perry: Outlawing All Access To Abortion Is ‘My Goal’ | ThinkProgress

Yes, threats and promises of all out war to get what they want. Basturds!

In other GOP political news:

H/T to Tennessee Guerilla Women: Michigan ‘Right-to-Work-for-Less’ Bill Copied from Koch-Funded ALEC Playbook

You didn’t think Michigan Republicans had an original idea:

Michigan Passes “Right to Work” Containing Verbatim Language from ALEC Model Bill 

I’ve got to share this political cartoon with you, it can’t wait until our Friday Nite Lite:

Cagle Post – Political Cartoons & Commentary – » Right to Work Pee

Right to Work Pee © Daryl Cagle,CagleCartoons.com,ssGOP,Republican,elephant,urine,union,United Auto Workers,UAW,AFL-CIO,Teamsters,pee

Yup, piss on…piss on!

This latest PPP poll shows that people are sick of the mutant asshole turtle, I mean…Mitch McConnell…he is highly unpopular according to Public Policy Polling

Mitch McConnell is the most unpopular Senator in the country. Only 37% of Kentucky voters approve of him to 55% disapprove. Both in terms of raw disapproval (55%) and net approval (-18) McConnell has the worst numbers of any of his peers, taking that mantle from Nebraska’s Ben Nelson.

McConnell is predictably very unpopular with Democrats (23/73). But his numbers are almost as bad with independents (33/58) and even with Republicans he’s well below the 70-80% approval range you would usually expect for a Senator within their own party (59/28).

If only this disgust toward McConnell would relate in votes against the man.

The reason McConnell does decently well in the head to head match ups despite his poor approval numbers is that even though a lot of Republicans dislike him, most of them would still vote for him in a general election before they would support a Democrat. This is the same phenomenon we saw in Florida and Pennsylvania this year where Bill Nelson and Bob Casey won by solid margins despite middling approval numbers because Democrats that weren’t thrilled with them still voted for them. And although independents don’t like McConnell they don’t like most of the Democrats either, and they support McConnell in every match up we tested.

The PPP article mentions Ashley Judd, go read the rest at the link. (I sure hope Judd does run for McConnell seat in 2014. But my hope is up there with a Hillary run in 2016….I think it is kind of a long shot they will run period.)

Speaking of Hillary, Nate Silver has this to say about Hillary 2016: Why Hillary Clinton Would Be Strong in 2016 (It’s Not Her Favorability Ratings)

Let’s start by stating the obvious: Hillary Rodham Clinton would be a formidable presidential candidate in 2016.

Mrs. Clinton’s credentials as secretary of state, as a United States senator and as a politically engaged first lady would be hard for any of her Democratic or Republican rivals to match. She would have little trouble raising funds or garnering support from the Democratic officials, and she might even come close to clearing the Democratic field of serious opposition.

Be sure to read the rest of Silver’s post.

With the release of The Hobbit later this week, J.R.R. Tolkien is figuring in lots of blog post, like this one from Medieval.net: Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics

Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics

By J. R. R. Tolkien

Introduction: In 1864 the Reverend Oswald Cockayne wrote of the Reverend Doctor Joseph Bosworth, Rawlinsonian Professor of Anglo-Saxon: ‘I have tried to lend to others the con-viction I have long entertained that Dr. Bosworth is not a man so diligent in his special walk as duly to read the books… which have been printed in our old English, or so-called Anglosaxon tongue. He may do very well for a professor.’ These words were inspired by dissatisfaction with Bosworth’s dictionary, and were doubtless unfair. If Bosworth were still alive, a modern Cockayne would probably accuse him of not reading the ‘literature’ of his subject, the books written about the books in the so-called Anglo-Saxon tongue. The original books are nearly buried.

Of none is this so true as of The Beowulf, as it used to be called. I have, of course, read The Beowulf, as have most (but not all) of those who have criticized it. But I fear that, unworthy successor and beneficiary of Joseph Bosworth, I have not been a man so diligent in my special walk as duly to read all that has been printed on, or touching on, this poem. But I have read enough, I think, to venture the opinion that Beowulfiana is, while rich in many departments, specially poor in one. It is poor in criticism, criticism that is directed to the understanding of a poem as a poem. It has been said of Beowulf itself that its weakness lies in placing the unimportant things at the centre and the important on the outer edges. This is one of the opinions that I wish specially to consider. I think it profoundly untrue of the poem, but strikingly true of the literature about it. Beowulf has been used as a quarry of fact and fancy far more assiduously than it has been studied as a work of art.

It is of Beowulf, then, as a poem that I wish to speak; and though it may seem presumption that I should try with swich a lewed mannes wit to pace the wisdom of an heep of lerned men, in this department there is at least more chance for the lewed man. But there is so much that might still be said even under these limitations that I shall confine myself mainly to the monsters—Grendel and the Dragon, as they appear in what seems to me the best and most authoritative general criticism in English—and to certain considerations of the structure and conduct of the poem that arise from this theme.

Click here to read this article from the College of Southern Idaho

Click here to read this article from TeacherWeb

Click here to read this article from the University of Georgia

Hopefully one of those three links will work for you. Enjoy it!

And finally, a big hat-tip to Fiscal Liberal, who emailed me these links below…kewl as hell!

First link is to a blog that details the movement of sunlight and weather during the day, via Opentopia – World Sunlight Map

FireShot Screen Capture #358 - 'Opentopia - World Sunlight Map' - www_opentopia_com_sunlightmaprect_html

A world map showing current sunlight and cloud cover, as of Dec 12 2012 02:00 UTC.
This is the rectangular projection. You can also see a more realistic hemispherical projection.
Image provided by die.net.

Click the link to see the updated real/time image.

This next link is to a 19 minute video, OVERVIEW on Vimeo

On the 40th anniversary of the famous ‘Blue Marble’ photograph taken of Earth from space, Planetary Collective presents a short film documenting astronauts’ life-changing stories of seeing the Earth from the outside – a perspective-altering experience often described as the Overview Effect.

The Overview Effect, first described by author Frank White in 1987, is an experience that transforms astronauts’ perspective of the planet and mankind’s place upon it. Common features of the experience are a feeling of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for taking care of the environment.

‘Overview’ is a short film that explores this phenomenon through interviews with five astronauts who have experienced the Overview Effect. The film also features insights from commentators and thinkers on the wider implications and importance of this understanding for society, and our relationship to the environment.

I’ve embedded the video below…however if you want to see a larger screen image, click on that Vimeo link up top. Hope you enjoy this one too.

That is all I got for you this morning, should be a good start, right? What are you all reading and thinking about today?


Do Delusional Republicans Think They Won the Election?

John+Boehner+Mitch+McConnell+Boehner+McConnell+4a_pMeV_Vxkl

Honestly, I can’t recall ever seeing such childish behavior before in politics. The Republicans in Congress remind me of three-year-olds throwing tantrums because things aren’t going their way. Yesterday, the White House made a proposal for averting the so-called “fiscal cliff,” a fake crisis that the Republicans themselves created last year during the battle over raising the debt ceiling (which has never before been controversial).

CBS News reports on the Republicans hissy fits:

The White House made an offer to House Republicans today to avert the fiscal cliff that Republican aides familiar with the talks panned as “a joke”, “an insult” and “a complete break from reality.”

A Republican aide familiar with the offer that was presented to House Speaker John Boehner by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House congressional liason Rob Nabors confirmed that the $4 trillion package would raise $1.6 trillion in tax revenue up front. Republicans call that number too high and extreme to be offering two weeks into negotiations with a just a month left before the deadline.

The basics of the offer were an immediate return to the Clinton-era tax rates for income over $250,000; cuts in “entitlements, primarily Medicare sometime in the future; $50 billion in stimulus through infrastructure spending as well as extending unemployment insurance and the payroll tax holiday; and an agreement on raising the debt ceiling again. Mitch McConnell let it be known that he laughed out loud at Geithner’s proposal, and John Boehner and others whined about how mean Democrats are.

“Unfortunately many Democrats continue to rule out spending cuts that must be part of any significant agreement that will reduce our deficit” [....]

One Republican aide expressed outrage that the White House would ask for that with no reforms attached at all. Earlier today, Boehner said, that “there is a lot of things that I have wanted in my life but almost all of them had a price tag attached to them.

“If we’re going to talk about the debt limit in this, then there is going to be some price tag associated with it.”

So Republicans must be willing to pay a price too, right? Here’s what McConnell said about that to the Wall Street Journal:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wanted changes to safety-net programs that focus on altering eligibility requirements, and suggested that if Democrats agreed both sides could move closer to a budget deal to avert the fiscal cliff.

In an interview in his Capitol Hill office, Mr. McConnell (R., Ky.) said if the White House agrees to changes such as higher Medicare premiums for the wealthy, an increase in the Medicare eligibility age and a slowing of cost-of-living increases for programs like Social Security, Republicans would agree to include more tax revenue in the deal, though not from higher tax rates.

“Those are the kinds of things that would get Republicans interested in new revenue,” Mr. McConnell said.

So, let me get this straight. Republicans want to force senior citizens to wait longer to get Medicare–meaning many older Americans would have no health coverage, since Obamacare permits insurance companies to charge older people three times as much as younger people. They also want to change the COLA for Social Security, which would, in effect, be a cut in benefits.

In return Republicans would accept mythical, unspecified “revenues” but no rate increases on the richest Americans. That sounds like a pretty bad deal to me, especially since President Obama ran for reelection on increasing the top tax rates and Democratic, Independent, and even Republican voters made it clear that they did not want chances to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security.

Since Obama won reelection quite handily, it’s hardly surprising that he isn’t offering specific cuts to social safety net programs. Why should he? Whichever party is responsible for cutting these programs is going to pay a significant price in 2014 and beyond. The White House attitude is that if Boehner and McConnell want such cuts, they should damn well spell out what they have in mind–not expect the President to do it for them.

In response to the tantrums, Ezra Klein writes:

We’re seeing two things here. One is that the negotiations aren’t going well. When one side begins leaking the other side’s proposals, that’s typically a bad sign. The other is that Republicans are frustrated at the new Obama they’re facing: The Obama who refuses to negotiate with himself.

That’s what you’re really seeing in this “proposal.” Previously, Obama’s pattern had been to offer plans that roughly tracked where he thought the compromise should end up. The White House’s belief was that by being solicitous in their policy proposals, they would win goodwill on the other side, and even if they didn’t, the media would side with them, realizing they’d sought compromise and been rebuffed. They don’t believe that anymore.

Perhaps the key lesson the White House took from the last couple of years is this: Don’t negotiate with yourself. If Republicans want to cut Medicare, let them propose the cuts. If they want to raise revenue through tax reform, let them identify the deductions. If they want deeper cuts in discretionary spending, let them settle on a number. And, above all, if they don’t like the White House’s preferred policies, let them propose their own.

It’s looking more and more like Obama is willing to go over the fiscal cliff and leave the Republicans holding the bag. Polls show it’s Republicans who will be blamed for the consequences.

Peggy-Noonan

The funniest Republican whining today came from Peggy Noonan, who really should stop commenting on politics and become a romance novelist.

At a news conference Thursday, Mr. Boehner looked frustrated. In fact, he looked exactly the way he looked at the end of the debt ceiling crisis in the summer of 2011—like someone who wanted a deal, was willing to gamble to get it, and failed. There has been “no substantive progress” toward an agreement, he said. In a meeting with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and in a Wednesday night phone call with the president, he saw no willingness to reform or cut entitlement spending. What about an increase in tax rates? “Revenues are on the table.”

In fact the Democratic position on entitlements seems to have hardened.

Which makes all kinds of sense, because everyone knows that voters do not want changes to their “entitlements.” earned benefits. Obama has figured that out, and so have Republicans. Neither side wants to be the one to make proposals for specific cuts in what’s left of the New Deal programs.

But Noonan doesn’t get it anymore than Boehner and McConnell do.

You watch and wonder: Why does it always have to be cliffs with this president? Why is it always a high-stakes battle? Why doesn’t he shrewdly re-enact Ronald Reagan, meeting, arguing and negotiating in good faith with Speaker Tip O’Neill, who respected very little of what the president stood for and yet, at the end of the day and with the country in mind, could shake hands and get it done? Why is there never a sense with Mr. Obama that he understands the other guys’ real position?

Um….maybe because Tip O’Neill was actually willing and able to negotiate in good faith, which Boehner is in thrall to Tea Party crazies?

It’s not as if Mr. Boehner and the Republicans wouldn’t deal. They’ve been weakened and they know it. A year ago they hoped winning the Senate and the presidency would break the stasis. They won neither. Mr. Obama not only was re-elected, it wasn’t that close, it was a clean win. If the president was clear about anything throughout the campaign, it was that he wanted to raise taxes on those he calls the rich. So you might say that a majority of the American people just endorsed that move….

The president would only benefit from showing he has the command and capability to meet, argue, press and come to agreement. It would be heartening to the country to see this, and would impress the world. And the Republicans would like to get it done.

OMG, that’s hysterical! “Those he calls the rich” Peggy says. The rest of her piece is a complaint about how difficult it is to make ends meet with an income of *only* $250,000. She even claims that raising taxes on those she doesn’t think are rich will hurt the economy.

Mr. Obama wants to raise tax rates on those earning $250,000 or more, as we know, on the assumption that they are “the rich.” But if you are a man with a wife and two kids making that salary and living in Westfield, N.J., in no way do you experience yourself to be rich, because you’re not. You pay federal payroll and income taxes, state income and sales taxes and local property taxes, and after the mortgage, food and commuting costs you don’t have much to spare.

Tighten the squeeze on that couple, and they’ll change how they live. They’ll stop sending the struggling son to a neighborhood tutor, they’ll stop going out to dinner once a week, they’ll cut off the baby sitter, fire the guy who once a month does yard work, and hold back on new clothes. Also the guy will peruse employment ads in Florida and Texas, potentially removing from blue-state New Jersey his heartening, taxpaying presence.

Oh boo hoo hoo! I’m sick to death of this shit. You lost the fucking election. You spend four years refusing to cooperate with this president in an all-out effort to deny him reelection. Your plan failed. The people have spoken. Deal with it.