Before I get started, I want to thank Delphyne for posting the above photo on Facebook. I just couldn’t resist it. Now to the news of the day.
After his big win in the New Hampshire primary, Bernie Sanders is finally beginning to get some serious vetting from the media. It will be interesting to see how he handles the pressure.
Last night, this story popped up at The New York Times: FEC Tells Sanders Campaign That Some Donors May Have Given Too Much. The FEC found more than 100 “small contributors” had given more than the legal limit of $2,700 to Sanders’ campaign. It’s not a huge deal according to the Times, but to me it seems to be part of a pattern of dishonesty on the part of the Bernie’s campaign.
Here’s a more critical take on this story from the Daily News Bin: FEC launches inquiry into hundreds of “excessive” contributions to Bernie Sanders campaign.
In what the FEC has titled “Excessive, Prohibited, and Impermissible Contributions” to the Bernie Sanders campaign, it lists nearly a thousand contributions from hundreds of donors, some of them repeat offenders. Sanders is accused of failing to provide adequate detail on who the contributors are beyond their names, which campaigns are required to make their best effort to do under federal law. The FEC is also informing Sanders that he “may have to refund the excessive amount” if he can’t adequately explain where all the money came from….
The FEC report also accuses the Bernie Sanders campaign of widespread “incorrectly reported” reimbursements for travel purposes and other costs. Sanders has been warned that if he cannot explain the stunningly long laundry list of violations, “failure to adequately respond by the response date noted above could result in an audit or enforcement action.” Read the full FEC report.
Then there’s this from the Wall Street Journal: Sanders’s Record, Filings Show Benefits From Super PACs, Links to Wall Street Donors.
In nearly every speech, Bernie Sanders reminds voters that he doesn’t have a super PAC, doesn’t want money from Wall Street and rejects establishment politics.
Yet the Vermont senator has benefited from at least $1.5 million in backing from super PACs and from political groups that don’t have to fully disclose their donors, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission….
He may not have formed one of his own, but Mr. Sanders is getting help from National Nurses United for Patient Protection, a super PAC that gets its money from the nation’s largest nurses’ union, with nearly 185,000 members.
The union doesn’t have to disclose its donors, but a spokesman said the super PAC money comes exclusively from members’ dues. Representatives from the union have frequently joined the senator at events and this week launched a bus tour across South Carolina ahead of the state’s Feb. 27 primary. At an Iowa campaign stop, Mr. Sanders thanked the group for being “one of the sponsors” of his campaign.
In a five-minute video posted online by the nurses union in October, Mr. Sanders said he was “honored” to have the union’s support and highlighted his work on its members’ behalf.
The rest of the article provides details on Sanders’ fundraising from big donors to the DSCC, which has supported in his House and Senate campaigns.
“He was just like any other senator hobnobbing with lawyers and lobbyists from DC,” said Rebecca Geller, a Washington attorney who attended with her husband, a financial services lobbyist. Ms. Geller, who has donated to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, said Mr. Sanders was happy to take photos with her family. “My kids have fond memories of him hanging out by the hot tub.”
In addition, Sanders’ claims in debates and other forums are getting more fact checking and scrutiny. Here’s one example from The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler: Bernie Sanders’s claim that Hillary Clinton objected to meeting with ‘our enemies.’ This is refeering to the exchange in which Sanders claimed that Clinton said that Obama’s proposal to talk to Iran’s leaders without preconditions was troubling. Kessler:
Some arguments never die. For readers who may not recall a pivotal exchange between then-Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, here’s what Clinton and Sanders are arguing about.
In a debate on July 24, 2007 hosted by CNN, a question came to the candidates from YouTube:
In 1982, Anwar Sadat traveled to Israel, a trip that resulted in a peace agreement that has lasted ever since. In the spirit of that type of bold leadership, would you be willing to meet separately, without precondition, during the first year of your administration, in Washington or anywhere else, with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba and North Korea, in order to bridge the gap that divides our countries?
Obama took the question first and answered emphatically yes:
I would. And the reason is this, that the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration — is ridiculous.
Now, Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like JFK constantly spoke to Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. And the reason is because they understood that we may not trust them and they may pose an extraordinary danger to this country, but we had the obligation to find areas where we can potentially move forward.
And I think that it is a disgrace that we have not spoken to them. We’ve been talking about Iraq — one of the first things that I would do in terms of moving a diplomatic effort in the region forward is to send a signal that we need to talk to Iran and Syria because they’re going to have responsibilities if Iraq collapses.
They have been acting irresponsibly up until this point. But if we tell them that we are not going to be a permanent occupying force, we are in a position to say that they are going to have to carry some weight, in terms of stabilizing the region.
Then Clinton responded, saying that before any such high-level meetings, diplomatic groundwork first would be necessary:
Well, I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year. I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort because I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are.
I don’t want to be used for propaganda purposes. I don’t want to make a situation even worse. But I certainly agree that we need to get back to diplomacy, which has been turned into a bad word by this administration.
And I will purse very vigorous diplomacy.
And I will use a lot of high-level presidential envoys to test the waters, to feel the way. But certainly, we’re not going to just have our president meet with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez and, you know, the president of North Korea, Iran and Syria until we know better what the way forward would be.
As president, Obama took the path that Clinton had recommended.
During the PBS debate on Thursday night, Sanders tried to explain away his no vote on a comprehensive immigration bill that was sponsored by Ted Kennedy and supported by most Democrats. Matt Yglesias responded at Vox: What Bernie Sanders told Lou Dobbs in 2007 about why he opposed the Kennedy-McCain immigration bill.
In Thursday night’s debate, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders briefly exchanged words over his vote against the 2007 comprehensive immigration reform bill that John McCain and Ted Kennedy wrote and that both Clinton and Barack Obama supported, while Sanders and most Republicans plus some Democrats were opposed. Sanders cited as his motive opposition to the bill’s guest worker provisions, which he said were bad because a Southern Poverty Law Center investigation had likened conditions in existing agricultural guest worker programs to slavery.
It’s interesting to compare this with what he said about the bill at the time on Lou Dobbs’s show. Dobbs, for those who’ve forgotten, was a business news broadcaster who refashioned himself as a somewhat Trump-esque anti-immigration, anti–trade deal populist in the mid-aughts.
If you watch the interview you’ll see that Sanders isn’t particularly interested in working conditions for guest workers and he’s also not narrowly focused on the H2 programs the SPLC report was about — he also talks about H1 programs for skilled workers that, whatever their flaws, are clearly not slavery.
Dobbs is opposed to the whole idea of “amnesty,” which Sanders was not, but Sanders also doesn’t argue with Dobbs about it. Sanders doesn’t really say anything about the costs and benefits to immigrants themselves — whether that’s people who’ve been living illegally in the United States or potential future guest workers — one way or another. His focus is on the idea that “what happens in Congress is to a very significant degree dictated by big-money interests” and that “I don’t know why we need millions of people to be coming into this country as guest workers who will work for lower wages than American workers and drive wages down even lower than they are now.”
Finally, Sanders got himself in some hot water at the Black citizens’ forum in Minneapolis yesterday. Politico reported on the meeting and Twitter went nuts.
MINNEAPOLIS – A warm, welcoming African-American crowd grew increasingly frustrated with Sen. Bernie Sanders on Friday evening, complaining that he’s too scared to talk about specifically black issues.
Sanders was here for “A Community Forum on Black America,” introduced by the local congressman, Rep. Keith Ellison, one of Sanders’ only two endorsers in the House, But unlike many of the packed rallies that have greeted Sanders in other parts of the country, neither the folding chairs nor the bleachers in the gym here at Patrick Henry High School were full….
Questions from a panel and the crowd drilled down on felon voting rights — which Sanders said he strongly supported restoring — but turned to environmental racism and reparations for slavery, with demands for more exact answers about actions the candidate for the Democratic nomination would take if he was elected president.
The tension quickly rose over his 40-minute appearance, with moderator Anthony Newby repeatedly calling for “specific redress.”
“I know you’re scared to say ‘black,’ I know you’re scared to say ‘reparations,’” said Felicia Perry, a local entrepreneur and artist on the stage. “Can’t you please specifically talk about black people?”
“I said ‘black’ 50 times,” he said. “That’s the 51st time.”
But, Sanders said, the issues at hand are more about economics than race.
“It’s not just black,” he said. “It’s Latino. In some rural areas, it is white.”
WTF?! Could this guy be any more tone deaf? Even though he has to know he needs black voters to win Southern primaries, Sanders just can’t break away from his obsession with Wall Street billionaires and income inequality to see that racism is a separate though related issue that affects how people fare in our culture.
You can read about the exchange in a little more detail in this CNN article: Bernie Sanders faces frustrated crowd at race forum in Minneapolis. The story ends with this interesting description of the chaos:
The forum finished inconclusively when activist Clyde Bellecourt commandeered the microphone to talk about issues relating to Native Americans being what he called “completely forgotten” by the federal government.
His statement drew on for several heated and emotional minutes as moderators asked him to get to his question and Bellecourt declared, “If you have to carry me out of here, carry me out of here!”
Sanders rose from his chair, thanked the crowd and scurried offstage.
Sanders simply doesn’t understand racism. As a white person, I can’t claim a deep understanding either, but at least I get that racism is a powerful force keeping Black people down and the problem won’t be solved by breaking up big banks or raising taxes on the wealthy and middle class to pay for free college and single payer health care.
Sanders’ tunnel vision on the income inequality issue blinds him to the systemic effects of racism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice, which interact with economics but cannot be solely explained or remedied by economic policies.
This attitude goes along with Sanders’ odd statement at the debate when he was asked what he would do about systemic racism. From USA Today:
The African-American community lost half of their wealth as a result of the Wall Street collapse, says Sanders. When “you have unbelievable rates of incarceration,” which leaves children without their parents, “clearly we are looking at institutional racism” and an economy in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, he says. Race relations would be better under a Sanders presidency, he says, because he’d create millions of jobs for low-income kids “so they’re not hanging out on street corners.”
How does Bernie expect to pull in Black voters when he claims he would do better on this issue than the first Black American president and when he characterizes Black kids as “hanging out on street corners.” Good grief. Kids hang out on street corners in my middle class town and the even wealthier communities nearby. Kids in cities tend to do that.
Bernie just doesn’t get it, and he doesn’t even seem able to tailor his message to groups whose votes he desperately needs.
What stories are you following today? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a great weekend!
The day we’ve all be waiting for since June 2008 has finally arrived! Hillary Clinton will officially begin her campaign for the presidency this morning on New York City’s Roosevelt Island. Let’s watch her speech together!
I signed up to get an email when the live feed begins on Hillary’s website. There doesn’t seems to be any other way to get the link–if you find one, please let us know. I assume CNN and other media outlets will be covering the event as well.
I’ll put up a second live blog if we need it.
Hillary’s big campaign kickoff
Hillary’s speech will reportedly focus on income inequality and how she would deal with the problem as president. From the AP, via ABC News: Clinton Calling for New Era of Shared Economic Prosperity.
At an outdoor rally Saturday on New York City’s Roosevelt Island, Clinton will portray herself as a fierce advocate for those left behind in the post-recession economy, detailing a lifetime of work on behalf of struggling families. She says her mother’s difficult childhood inspired what she considers a calling….
“Her story, her life, is she is someone who has always been advocating and fighting for someone else,” said Jennifer Palmieri, the Clinton campaign’s communications director….
Clinton is not expected to roll out specific policy proposals in her address. Aides say that will come in the following weeks on issues that include college affordability, jobs and the economy. She plans to give a policy address almost every week during the summer and fall, Palmieri said.
The rest of the article is criticism of Hillary’s “divisiveness” and her decision not to specifically address the Keystone Pipeline and the TPP. Sigh . . .
Yesterday Beata posted Hillary’s kickoff video, “Fighter.” Here it is again:
At NPR, Mara Liasson writes: How Would Hillary Clinton ‘Reshuffle’ Economic Inequality?
Clinton does talk about the economy a lot on the campaign trail, but so far only in broad strokes. She says she wants everyone to have the same chances she had — and that, as she said visiting a brewery in May, “here in Washington we know that unfortunately the deck is still being stacked for those at the top.”
She says that her job is to take that deck and “reshuffle the cards” but what does that mean?
“Paramount is how we’re going to have an economy that grows for everyone, that’s inclusive, in which middle class families and people struggling to get into the middle class can get ahead as the economy grows,” said Neera Tanden, an informal advisor to Clinton and president of the left-leaning Center for American Progress….
She’ll start spelling it all out Saturday in her big kick off speech. Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta said that’s when Clinton will talk about the conditions of the country and “why people haven’t seen their wages rise even as we’ve seen private sector job growth come back in this country.”
He says she’ll also talk about “what she wants to do to make sure that people get ahead and stay ahead. She’ll lay out a template for that, and then through the course of the Summer and into the Fall she’ll get specific about what policies she thinks she’ can achieve to help people succeed in life,” he said.
In those Summer and Fall speeches, Clinton will lay out her plans for college affordability, early childhood education, Wall Street reform and paid family leave. At some point she will say exactly how high she wants the minimum wage to be, and how she’d finance big investments in infrastructure. And, her aides say, she’ll also eventually explain how she plans to solve one part of the income inequality puzzle — that even when profits and productivity go up, wages do not follow.
You can also listen to Liasson’s interview with Tanden at NPR: Hillary Clinton To Address Economic Issues In Campaign Speech.
ABC News reports that the FAA has declared a no-fly zone during this morning’s rally.
Federal officials today took the rare step of creating a “no-fly zone” around the site of Hillary Clinton’s campaign kickoff rally in New York City on Saturday.
The Federal Aviation Administration established the protective zone in the form of a so-called “Notice to Airmen” announcing that a section along Manhattan’s East Side will be temporarily transformed into “national defense airspace.”
The FAA website lists the reason as “Temporary flight restrictions for VIP Movement” and cites the federal law that the FAA employs to ban flights over events attended by the president, vice president or other key dignitaries.
“The United States government may use deadly force against the airborne aircraft if it is determined that the aircraft poses an imminent security threat,” according to the notice….
“This is highly unusual,” a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, told ABC News. The “no fly zones,” also known as “Temporary Flight Restrictions” are issued about 1,000 times a year, according to the association. But they usually are not issued for candidates for president….
City officials objected to the restriction because of the effect it is expected to have on popular sightseeing helicopters. The no-fly zone will not have any impact on commercial jets landing and taking off from nearby LaGuardia Airport.
Speaking of city officials, The New York Times emphasizes that while most of New York City’s political elite will attend the event, Mayor Bill De Blasio chose not to accept his invitation. He told the Times that
I’m waiting to hear, as I said, her larger vision for addressing income inequality, and I look forward to that.
He’s beginning to look like a real jerk, IMO. But his effort to be a wet blanket isn’t going to have any effect. Does anyone but the Hillary-hating Times really care? I seriously doubt it.
Later tonight, Hillary will make her first campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa. From the Sioux City Journal: Sioux City Democrats await Hillary Clinton visit Saturday.
Rick Mullin is excited to see Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Saturday evening, when she’s scheduled to make her first stop in Sioux City during the 2016 election cycle.
Mullin has met Clinton a few times, dating to 1996, when she was the nation’s first lady and Mullin was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
“One on one, she is exceptionally good. Very warm, she listens to you,” said Mullin, a former Woodbury County Democratic Party Chairman, from Sioux City.
Mullin will meet Clinton at an airport and follow that by attending her appearance at a Sioux City home.
Coming in her third swing of the Hawkeye state this year, it will be Clinton’s first event in Northwest Iowa. Saturday’s house party will be simulcast nationally. After having smaller stops in Iowa through Saturday, Clinton on Sunday will step up to larger events, with a town hall meeting planned for the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines.
More at the link.
Of course the media is dying to know what Bill Clinton’s role will be in Hillary’s campaign. CNN got an interview with the former president that is going to run on Sunday morning: Bill Clinton opens up about his relationship with Hillary.
Bill and Hillary Clinton rarely talk about their relationship with one another. But in an interview set to air Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” the former president opened up about the woman he said he trusts with his life.
“Whenever I had trouble, she was a rock in our family,” Clinton said during an emotional interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper in Denver.
“I trust her with my life, and have on more than one occasion,” he said, describing his wife as someone who helped him through some of the most trying times of his life.
Bill Clinton described how his wife helped him through years “plagued with self-doubt” in his late 20s and offered him someone to not only lean on, but to help guide him through perilous moments in his career.
“I was the youngest former governor in American history in 1980 on election night. I got killed in the Reagan landslide,” Clinton remembered. “People I had appointed to office would walk across the street, they were so afraid of the new regime in Arkansas, and would not shake hands with me. My career prospects were not particularly bright.”
“And she never blinked. She just said, ‘Hey. It’ll turn around. I believe in you. You’ve got this,'” he said.
Read more at the link.
Bustle compiled from various sources, including the CNN interview: 8 Bill Clinton Quotes On Hillary Clinton And How She Inspired Him During Hard Times.
A couple more lightweight articles on Hillary’s campaign:
News to discuss while we await Hillary’s big speech:
Jonathan Capehart: The damage Rachel Dolezal has done.
The Federalist: If Rachel Dolezal Isn’t Black, How Is Caitlyn Jenner A Woman?
Mary Beth Williams at Salon: Stop making excuses for Rachel Dolezal: The Spokane NAACP official’s fraud is unforgivable
Think Progress: Romney’s E2 Summit.
LOL story from Politico: Mark Halperin, Ann Romney to host ‘Sunrise Pilates’ for GOP megadonors.
Texas Observer: Federal Judges Disregard Impact of Abortion Law on Poor Women.
Reuters, via Raw Story: Newly-released records show CIA in-house feud over inability to prevent 9/11 attacks.
The Weather Channel: When the Weather Changes, So Does Your DNA.
This is an open thread. Please join in.
Well, Republicans feel empowered to up the crazy so they are certainly doing it. Boehner will be challenged by two of the more insane teabillies. Insane teabilly number one challenging Boehner for speaker is Texas Republican Louis Gohmert. Florida nutter Ted Yoho has also said he can’t support Boehner.
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) on Saturday announced that he would not support Boehner for Speaker.
“This is not a personal attack against Mr. Boehner, however, the people desire and deserve a choice,” Yoho said in a Facebook post. “In November, they resoundingly rejected the status quo.”
“Eventually, the goal is second, third, fourth round, we have enough people that say ‘you know what, it really is time for a change,’ ” Gohmert said Sunday. “’You deceived us when you went to Obama and Pelosi to get your votes for the cromnibus. You said you’d fight amnesty tooth an nail. You didn’t, you funded it.’ ”
Gohmert said, if elected, he would ”fight amnesty tooth and nail. We’ll use the powers of the purse. We’ll have better oversight. We’ll fight to defund ObamaCare.”
“In 2010, Boehner and other leaders said if you put us in the majority, we will have time to read the bills,” Gohmert said. “That hasn’t happened. We saw that with the cromnibus, again.”
“We’ll get back to appropriating and we will go through regular committee process, so every representative from both parties will have a chance to participate in the process and not have a dictator running things,” he added.
“With a growing Republican majority in the House and a historically high number of liberty-voting fiscal conservatives within it, there is an urgent need replace Speaker Boehner with fresh, bold leadership that better represents the views of the whole caucus,” FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said in a statement on Sunday.
“Speaker Boehner has kicked fiscal conservatives off committee positions for voting against his wishes, caved on numerous massive spending bills at the eleventh hour, and abused the legislative process to stomp out opposition by holding surprise votes and giving members little time to actually read the bills before they vote,” Kibbe added.
These are just two of the states that send representative after representative that really wants to destroy the country’s economy, not being satisfied with having their own crazy ass issues in their own crazy ass states. Every time I think Louisiana hits the low in politics, Texas and Florida always step up to take the title of bottom feeders away.
Utah seems out to prove a point these days as a black Republican woman seems to think that everything is just hunky-dory with Steve Scalise chatting up virulently anti-Semitic white supremacists. It is going to be an awful few years.
Incoming Rep. Mia Love (R-UT) on Sunday said that House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) should remain in Republican leadership despite recent reports that he spoke at an event for a white nationalist group in 2002.
“These groups are awful. And the last thing I want to do is give them any sort of publicity or credibility, and I can say, as far as I’m concerned, with Representative Scalise, he has been absolutely wonderful to work with,” Love said on ABC’s “This Week.”
When asked if Scalise should remain as GOP whip, Love indicated that his apology was enough.
“There’s one quality that he has that I think is very important in leadership and that’s humility. And he’s actually shown that in this case. And he’s apologized, and I think that we need to move on and get the work of the American people done,” she said.
As you can see, Love didn’t specify what “people” she and others were going to work for but then we know it’s pretty obviously going to be a few rich white christians who can’t seem to get past the Civil War and modern science and economics.
However, it seems even some folks at Fox News find Scalise’s story and apology to be outrageous. Greta Van Susteran joins Hannity in calling for Scalise’s resignation.
It’s rare for a Fox News employee to openly call out a Republican, but when it happens, it’s epic. And that’s exactly what Greta Van Susteran did on Sunday when she slammed GOP Rep. Steve Scalise.
During an appearance on ABC’s This Week, Van Susteran called out Scalise for not having the “moral courage” to resign after it was revealed that the Louisiana congressman had been the keynote speaker at a white supremacist convention in 2002. Scalise agreed to be the guest of honor after KKK Grand Wizard David Duke reached out to him through aides.
In response, Scalise feigned ignorance, claiming that he had no idea to whom he was speaking to at the event even though the convention was widely covered by local media because it was so controversial. Many Republicans, including Steve King and John Boehner, stood by Scalise. So far, he has refused to resign his post as House Majority Whip, and will be the third most powerful Republican in the House when the new Congress convenes this month. And this might make the KKK very happy.
But Van Susteran completely disagreed with the way Scalise and the Republican Party handled the damning revelations and not only skewered Scalise for being a coward, she also blasted the GOP for dropping the ball in their effort to appeal to minority voters ahead of 2016.
What’s amazing to me is that Democrats captured 20 million more votes in the 2014 election and still lost. What kind of democracy causes that? Why are Republican votes more valuable?
This one was shocking. It does not matter how one cuts it. The United States constitution is severely flawed when more often than not in the last few elections the majority of people voting for a particular party did not receive their relative representation. Democrats received 20 million more votes in the Senate than Republicans in 2014, yet Republicans won big.
The same occurred in the House of Representatives in 2012.
House Democrats out-earned their Republican counterparts by 1.17 million votes. Read another way, Democrats won 50.59 percent of the two-party vote. Still, they won just 46.21 percent of seats, leaving the Republicans with 234 seats and Democrats with 201.
There is nothing illegal here. There is simply a very designed undemocratic flaw in the US Constitution that must be fixed lest the legislative branch of the American government will continue to be disassociated from the real wants of society.
Fairvote.org reported the following relative to the 2014 Senate race.
As a body designed to represent states rather than citizens, the Senate’s partisan makeup tends to bear a fairly loose relationship to the raw numbers of votes that were cast to elect its members. With the final election results in hand, let’s take a look at how votes cast for Senate candidates translate to seats in the world’s greatest deliberative body.
In all, Americans cast 202.5 million votes to elect the current Senate, spread across three election cycles in 2010, 2012, and 2014. Of these, 49% were cast for Democratic candidates and 46.6% for Republicans. …
In the aggregate, Democratic voters are underrepresented in the Senate and Republican voters are overrepresented compared to their respective strengths in the electorate, although Democrats outperformed their raw vote totals in two of the past four individual elections.
As for the 46 Democratic caucus members in the 114th Congress received a total of 67.8 million votes in winning their seats, while the 54 Republican caucus members received 47.1 million votes.
It’s going to be hard for Democrats to regain the Senate even though far more people vote for Democratic Senators than Republicans. That’s because Republicans still get two senators from states that have less people than any of the country’slargest cities.
On Tuesday, 33 US senators elected in November will be sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden — including 12 who are new to the chamber. The class includes 22 Republicans and 11 Democrats, a big reason why the GOP has a 54-46 majority in the Senate overall.
But here’s a crazy fact: those 46 Democrats got more votes than the 54 Republicans across the 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections. According to Nathan Nicholson, a researcher at the voting reform advocacy group FairVote, “the 46 Democratic caucus members in the 114th Congress received a total of 67.8 million votes in winning their seats, while the 54 Republican caucus members received 47.1 million votes.”
There is something definitely wrong with the outcomes in governance, given that our ruling class appears to be severely crazy and greedy. For one, they make everyone believe that our money is spent on public welfare when it’s definitely corporate welfare that steals tax dollars. Robert Reich explains their priorities very well.
Some believe the central political issue of our era is the size of the government. They’re wrong. The central issue is whom the government is for.Consider the new spending bill Congress and the President agreed to a few weeks ago.
It’s not especially large by historic standards. Under the $1.1 trillion measure, government spending doesn’t rise as a percent of the total economy. In fact, if the economy grows as expected, government spending will actually shrink over the next year.
The problem with the legislation is who gets the goodies and who’s stuck with the tab.
For example, it repeals part of the Dodd-Frank Act designed to stop Wall Street from using other peoples’ money to support its gambling addiction, as the Street did before the near-meltdown of 2008.
Dodd-Frank had barred banks from using commercial deposits that belong to you and me and other people, and which are insured by the government, to make the kind of risky bets that got the Street into trouble and forced taxpayers to bail it out.
But Dodd-Frank put a crimp on Wall Street’s profits. So the Street’s lobbyists have been pushing to roll it back.
The new legislation, incorporating language drafted by lobbyists for Wall Street’s biggest bank, Citigroup, does just this.
It reopens the casino. This increases the likelihood you and I and other taxpayers will once again be left holding the bag.
Wall Street isn’t the only big winner from the new legislation. Health insurance companies get to keep their special tax breaks. Tourist destinations like Las Vegas get their travel promotion subsidies.
In a victory for food companies, the legislation even makes federally subsidized school lunches less healthy by allowing companies that provide them to include fewer whole grains. This boosts their profits because junkier food is less expensive to make.
Major defense contractors also win big. They get tens of billions of dollars for the new warplanes, missiles, and submarines they’ve been lobbying for.
Conservatives like to portray government as a welfare machine doling out benefits to the poor, some of whom are too lazy to work.
In reality, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, only about 12 percent of federal spending goes to individuals and families, most of whom are in dire need.
In a critique of Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty First Century” at Project Syndicate, Joseph Stiglitz explains how are productive capital gets sucked into speculative, financial capital and asset bubbles. This is something I’ve been writing about for years here. This section of his critique is particularly compelling.
Piketty also sheds new light on the “reforms” sold by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s as growth enhancers from which all would benefit. Their reforms were followed by slower growth and heightened global instability, and what growth did occur benefited mostly those at the top.
But Piketty’s work raises fundamental issues concerning both economic theory and the future of capitalism. He documents large increases in the wealth/output ratio. In standard theory, such increases would be associated with a fall in the return to capital and an increase in wages. But today the return to capital does not seem to have diminished, though wages have. (In the US, for example, average wages have stagnated over the past four decades.)
The most obvious explanation is that the increase in measured wealth does not correspond to an increase in productive capital – and the data seem consistent with this interpretation. Much of the increase in wealth stemmed from an increase in the value of real estate. Before the 2008 financial crisis, a real-estate bubble was evident in many countries; even now, there may not have been a full “correction.” The rise in value also can represent competition among the rich for “positional” goods – a house on the beach or an apartment on New York City’s Fifth Avenue.
Sometimes an increase in measured financial wealth corresponds to little more than a shift from “unmeasured” wealth to measured wealth – shifts that can actually reflect deterioration in overall economic performance. If monopoly power increases, or firms (like banks) develop better methods of exploiting ordinary consumers, it will show up as higher profits and, when capitalized, as an increase in financial wealth.
But when this happens, of course, societal wellbeing and economic efficiency fall, even as officially measured wealth rises. We simply do not take into account the corresponding diminution of the value of human capital – the wealth of workers.
Moreover, if banks succeed in using their political influence to socialize losses and retain more and more of their ill-gotten gains, the measured wealth in the financial sector increases. We do not measure the corresponding diminution of taxpayers’ wealth. Likewise, if corporations convince the government to overpay for their products (as the major drug companies have succeeded in doing), or are given access to public resources at below-market prices (as mining companies have succeeded in doing), reported financial wealth increases, though the wealth of ordinary citizens does not.
What we have been observing – wage stagnation and rising inequality, even as wealth increases – does not reflect the workings of a normal market economy, but of what I call “ersatz capitalism.” The problem may not be with how markets should or do work, but with our political system, which has failed to ensure that markets are competitive, and has designed rules that sustain distorted markets in which corporations and the rich can (and unfortunately do) exploit everyone else.
Markets, of course, do not exist in a vacuum. There have to be rules of the game, and these are established through political processes. High levels of economic inequality in countries like the US and, increasingly, those that have followed its economic model, lead to political inequality. In such a system, opportunities for economic advancement become unequal as well, reinforcing low levels of social mobility.
There are more warnings each year that we’ve traded our democracy for a plutocracy and that many of the folks that fall for these mistaken memes are the worst hurt by the changes. I’m never sure what we should do about it, but at least on social media there are many of us who can realize what’s going on and share our observations and discontent.
So this is the situation, we’re being ruled by a minority, extremist party that has managed to gerrymander its way into to controlling Congress and can have over-representation in the Senate by its very design. Since the Reagan years, they have managed to coalesce into a party of business interests, neoconfederates, and religious extremists. As a result, we have laws and programs that enrich the wealthiest at the cost of the rest of us. We have institutions where racism and sexism have been allowed to fester and where Supreme Court justices have allowed their ideology to trump the constitution and previous law to further the oppression of minorities–with the exception of the LGBT community, where some strides have been made. Undoubtedly, this has happened because some of the biggest business interests want it, not from any desire to do the right thing by the people. We’ve used a fake war to extend a police state where we’re all subjected to law enforcement officers that are out of control and institutionally encouraged to be so.
I have to say the challenges are huge. I’m just hoping that the dog and pony show that will start with this new Congress will scare the shit out of people. Given, some of this background information however, I doubt there’s much we can do about it short of a major increase in voter participation or a revolution. The fact that so many really poorly governed states have re-elected their Republicans and continue to suffer shows me that it’s not going to be over anytime soon.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
I thought I’d put the “morning reads” up a little later to give you time to check out JJ’s cartoon posts. So . . . let’s see what’s happening out there today.
Well . . . Paul Volker was in Boston on Thursday night, and he talked to some richie-rich guys about income inequality. From The Boston Globe:
Speaking to a room filled with hundreds of Boston investment executives, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker asked some tough questions about income inequality in America. He called the earnings gap one of the economy’s greatest challenges.
“What accounts for this? What justifies it?’’ an animated Volcker asked. He argued that the trend started in the 1980s and accelerated in the 1990s, with the spread of stock option compensation creating vast wealth and risk-taking.
During that period, he said, the link between pay and performance got “entirely out of whack.’’
The elder statesman of Fed watchers and author of the Volcker Rule — part of the Dodd-Frank reform package after the financial crisis — was speaking before the Boston Security Analysts Society’s annual market dinner…
Good for him. Whether it will do any good is questionable, but these people need to hear about what they are doing to 99% of Americans.
Just for the hell of it, I looked around for some more recent news articles about income inequality. There wasn’t a lot out there, but I did find a few interesting reads.
At the LA Times, Michael Hiltzik writes: Income inequality begins to hit business in the pocketbook. He argues that business is noticing that middle-class customers are disappearing.
The consumer market is beginning to look like a sandwich without meat in the middle–there are enough wealthy customers to keep the luxury market humming along, and a growing demand for cheap no-name and other bargain products.
The phenomenon has been reported by Matthew Yglesias of Slate.com and more recently by Nelson Schwartz of the New York Times. As we reported here and here, it’s been building for years. But it really picked up steam after the last recession, when the imbalance in income between the top 1% and everyone else has really taken off.
Most economists view the stranglehold of the wealthy on U.S. income and wealth as a problem–it leads to slower overall growth and more volatility. As economist Jared Bernstein has observed, it also promotes the creation of asset and credit bubbles, which have a tendency to burst, taking the rest of the economy with them.
The most important analysis of the economic impact of inequality has come from Barry Z. Cynamon and Steven M. Fazzari of Washington University in St. Louis. In a paper published last month, they ask two questions: “First, did rising inequality contribute in an important way to the unsustainable increase in household leverage that triggered the collapse in consumer demand and the Great Recession? Second, has the rise in inequality become a drag on demand growth…that has held back recovery?”
Their answer to both questions is yes. In simpler terms, rising inequality before the recession prompted U.S. households to borrow more to keep up their spending; when the debt frenzy ended (because of the bursting of the housing bubble) the economy crashed. Since then, the demand drag caused by the effect of inequality on the bottom 95% has held back recovery. The impact of inequality on the recovery, compared with previous recoveries, is shown in this stunning graph from their paper.
But Hiltzik notes that many oblivious pundits continue to deny the effects of the top 1% controlling most of the wealth.
At The News Virginian, Jason Stanford finds some “good news” in the fact that most Republicans now agree that income inequality is a problem.
Believe it or not, there is good news when it comes to income inequality. It turns out Republicans finally believe that the gap between rich and poor has become a problem. The bad news is, according to a new poll, is that Republicans think the best solution is cutting the taxes for the wealthy and big corporations so money and opportunity can rain down on the poor. Addressing poverty by ensuring that cash does not become lonely in the wallets of the wealthy is what passes for a Republican governing philosophy these days, and it is exactly why Barack Obama has decided to go it alone on income inequality.
The issue isn’t that income inequality exists but that the wealthiest 1 percent has achieved the financial equivalent of escape velocity, leaving us poor folk back here on Planet Broke. In 1982, the top 1 percent highest-earning families took home one out of every $10. Now they get more than twice that, leaving the other 99 percent of us to make do on less. The last time it was this bad was the Gilded Age, and majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents agree it’s time to do something about it.
OK, so Republicans see the problem, but they want to address it with the same old tired trickle-down non-solutions. I’m not really sure that qualifies as good news. Better than nothing, I guess.
At the Akron Beacon Journal, Rick Armon writes about “an American success story.” Thanks to government programs like Social Security and Medicare, not as many seniors are living in poverty as they did in the past.
Fifty years after President Lyndon Johnson declared the War on Poverty, at least one group of Americans is much better off today: senior citizens.
The percentage of seniors nationwide living below the poverty line has plummeted from 27 percent to 9 percent today, according to a Beacon Journal analysis of census data….
Today, there are 3.7 million seniors living in poverty, compared with 5.2 million in 1969, when the 1970 census was conducted.
The reasons are pretty simple, experts say: It’s a combination of Social Security, pensions, 401(k) programs and Medicare that has kept more elderly people from slipping into poverty.
Armon says those figures may be a little too optimistic (read the details at the link); but still, it’s progress.
Yesterday everyone was talking about Asst. Sec. of State Victoria Nuland’s bugged phone call with the US ambassador to Ukraine in which she uttered the words “fuck the EU,” apparently using an unencrypted cell phone. Someone posted portions of the call to Youtube, and the U.S. has accused Russia of tapping Nuland’s phone. Read all the gossipy details at BBC News.
Of course Russia is accusing the U.S. of “meddling” in the Ukraine crisis. From The New York Times:
KIEV, Ukraine — The tense Russian-American jockeying over the fate of Ukraine escalated on Thursday as a Kremlin official accused Washington of “crudely interfering” in the former Soviet republic, while the Obama administration blamed Moscow for spreading an intercepted private conversation between two American diplomats.
An audiotape of the conversation appeared on the Internet and opened a window into American handling of the political crisis here, as the two diplomats candidly discussed the composition of a possible new government to replace the pro-Russian cabinet of Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. It also turned the tables on the Obama administration, which has been under fire lately for spying on foreign leaders.
The developments on the eve of the Winter Olympics opening in Sochi, Russia, underscored the increasingly Cold War-style contest for influence here as East and West vie for the favor of a nation of 45 million with historic ties to Moscow but a deep yearning to join the rest of Europe. The tit for tat has been going on since November, when Mr. Yanukovych spurned a trade deal with Europe and accepted a $15 billion loan from Moscow. Months of street protests have threatened his government, and American officials are now trying to broker a settlement — an effort the Kremlin seems determined to block.
There’s a lot more background on the Ukraine situation in the NYT article.
If the problems in Ukraine weren’t enough, anti-government protests have now broken out in Bosnia-Hertzegovina. The Guardian reports:
Thousands of Bosnian protesters took to the streets in the centre of Sarajevo on Friday, setting fire to the presidency building and hurling rocks and stones at police as fury at the country’s political and economic stagnation spread rapidly around the country.
As many as 200 people were injured in protests that took place in about 20 towns and cities. Government buildings were set on fire in three of the largest centres – Sarajevo, Tuzla and Zenica.
At one point in the central Bosnian city of Tuzla, some of the 5,000-strong crowd stormed into a local government building and hurled furniture from the upper stories….
The scenes in Sarajevo were similarly fraught on Friday night, as fire raged through the presidency building and hundreds of people hurled stones, sticks and whatever else they could lay their hands on to feed the blaze. Police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon trying to disperse the crowd. Buildings and cars were also burning in downtown Sarajevo and riot police chased protesters….
The protests have bubbled up out of long-simmering discontent at a sluggish economy, mismanagement, corruption and unemployment, which is rising irresistibly towards 30%. Bosnia has been hamstrung by political infighting and deadlock between its three main ethnic groups – Bosniaks, Croats and Serbs – in the near 20 years since its three-year civil war ended in 1995. The economy has suffered as a result, and the population remains deeply sceptical of a political class widely believed to be ruling in the interests of the elite, not the people.
There continues to be plenty of surveillance news–both about NSA, and more recently about Russia’s intelligence agencies and their security measures activities around the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. This article from The Moscow Times by Andrei Soldatov provides a good overview: FSB Makes Eavesdropping an Olympic Event. In NSA news, Glenn Greenwald and friends have stepped up their publishing activities in the run-up to the unveiling of their First Look news site, planned for Monday. I’ll just share a couple of items with you.
A little more than a week ago Greenwald worked with CBC reporters to “break” a story about alleged spying by Canada’s equivalent of NSA on airport passengers that supposedly continued for days after they left the airport. As usual, the report was deeply flawed, as explained by Matthew Aid, author of The Secret Sentry: The Untold History of the National Security Agency: Analysis Indicates Recent CBC Story About Canadian SIGINT Agency Spying on Travellers Incorrect.
On January 30, the Canadian television channel CBC broke a story written by Greg Weston, Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher, saying that the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), which is Canada’s equivalent of NSA, used airport WiFi to track Canadian travellers – something which was claimed to be almost certainly illegal. This story was apperently based upon an internal CSEC presentation (pdf) from May 2012 which is titled “IP Profiling Analytics & Mission Impacts.”
However, as is often the case with many of the stories based on the Snowden-documents, it seems that the original CSEC presentation was incorrectly interpreted and presented by Canadian television.
Read all the gory details at the Aid’s blog.
Then yesterday, Greenwald–in collaboration with NBC News–released a truly bizarre article, Snowden Docs: British Spies Used Sex and ‘Dirty Tricks’, that reveals methods and sources for the GCHQ’s efforts to arrest malicious hackers, criminals, and terrorists, and to prevent nuclear proliferation. You have to wonder why NBC news thought those efforts were somehow wrong or illegal. I’m running out of space, so I’ll let Bob Cesca explain the problems with this story.
There’s one sentence in the new Glenn Greenwald revelation for NBC News that renders everything that follows mostly irrelevant. It’s the lede. And not even the entire lede — just the first part of it.
British spies have developed “dirty tricks” for use against nations, hackers, terror groups, suspected criminals and arms dealers…
The only sane reaction to this news should be, “Great!” We don’t really need to know anything else. But that didn’t stop Greenwald and NBC News from spilling the beans on operations that target such poor helpless victims as malicious hackers, the Taliban, Iran and, yes, terrorists dealing in loose nukes.
See more examples at The Daily Banter. Cesca sums up:
Regardless, what we’re looking at here is another leak from Greenwald & Company that tips off some of our most dangerous enemies including and especially the looming threat of nuclear proliferation and loose nukes. These leaks have been published yet again under the banner of the public interest, but it’s difficult to see any public interest in an operation expressly aimed at those who even the article admits are our “enemies.”
Greenwald has been publishing quite a few leaks about British spying lately. I have to assume that this is his threatened revenge for the Brits detaining David Miranda at Heathrow airport last year. Pretty childish, if you ask me.
Now it’s your turn. What have you been reading and blogging about? Please share your links in the comment thread, and have a terrific weekend!
Before I get started on today’ news, I want to say that I hope all the surgeries go well. Today RalphB is having surgery and then will have to go through rehab. In addition, JJ’s daughter just had hers on Tuesday and is home recovering. Please keep them in your thoughts. Hang in there JJ and RalphB! Remember you have friends at Sky Dancing Blog who care!
Now to the news…
As I’m sure you know by now, the House Republicans are again engaged in a fruitless but damaging effort to get rid of Obamacare. Speaker John Boehner is threatening to shut down the government by refusing to raise the debt limit unless the Affordable Care Act is killed. From the LA Times: ‘This is the line in the sand,’ House Republicans say.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) yielded to his right flank by agreeing to attach the healthcare law repeal to a must-pass bill to keep the government funded past Sept. 30. A vote is expected Friday on a bill that would allow the government to stay open for the next few months.
The measure is all but certain to pass the Republican-led House, but faces rejection in the Senate, where the Democratic majority has shown little interest in undoing Obama’s signature domestic achievement.
Without a resolution by Oct. 1, the start of the new federal fiscal year, the government will run out of money to keep federal workers on the job and provide basic services.
And so, after a quiet summer, the battle begins again. Honestly, sometimes I really feel as if I must be having a bad dream that I can’t wake up from. Some responses to the shutdown threat:
Gail Collins at the NYT: World War O
Seriously, people, why do you think the Republicans have gone so completely lunatic when it comes to this issue? Why do they behave as if, once the health law begins to roll out, it will be cemented in place like an amendment to the Constitution?
True, it would be a pain to repeal the whole thing if it doesn’t work out. But not a pain sufficient to wreak havoc on the global economy like, say, refusing to raise the debt ceiling. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has been leading the push to shut down the government unless Congress repeals Obamacare. But have you ever heard him vow that if Congress doesn’t repeal Obamacare there will be … elections and then a new Congress that will repeal Obamacare?
Actually, Ted Cruz has an answer for this. Once the law goes into effect, he told the Web site The Daily Caller, the public will be overwhelmed by its sugary sweetness — “hooked on the subsidies.” It’s the duty of Congress to take it back before people can taste it, just the way New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to whisk away high-calorie Big Gulps.
So, the message is clear. The new health care law is going to be terrible, wreaking havoc on American families, ruining their lives. And they are going to love it so much they will never have the self-control necessary to give it up.
Karl Rove, who used to be considered a far right wing nut is now trying to reason with the even farther right nuts who have succeed him. At the Wall Street Journal, Rove pleads for rationality:
A shutdown now would have much worse fallout than the one in 1995. Back then, seven of the government’s 13 appropriations bills had been signed into law, including the two that funded the military. So most of the government was untouched by the shutdown. Many of the unfunded agencies kept operating at a reduced level for the shutdown’s three weeks by using funds from past fiscal years.
But this time, no appropriations bills have been signed into law, so no discretionary spending is in place for any part of the federal government. Washington won’t be able to pay military families or any other federal employee. While conscientious FBI and Border Patrol agents, prison guards, air-traffic controllers and other federal employees may keep showing up for work, they won’t get paychecks, just IOUs.
The only agencies allowed to operate with unsalaried employees will be those that meet one or more of the following legal tests: They must be responding to “imminent” emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property, be funded by mandatory spending (such as Social Security), have funds from prior fiscal years that have already been obligated, or rely on the constitutional power of the president. Figuring out which agencies meet these tests will be tough, but much of the federal government will lack legal authority to function.
But won’t voters be swayed by the arguments for defunding? The GPS poll tested the key arguments put forward by advocates of defunding and Mr. Obama’s response. Independents went with Mr. Obama’s counterpunch 57% to 35%. Voters in Senate battleground states sided with him 59% to 33%. In lean-Republican congressional districts and in swing congressional districts, Mr. Obama won by 56% to 39% and 58% to 33%, respectively. On the other hand, independents support by 51% to 42% delaying ObamaCare’s mandate that individuals buy coverage or pay a fine.
EJ Dionne at the WaPo: Why Republicans are desperate for a shutdown:
To begin with, this is not just a fight between Republicans and Democrats. The GOP is clearly divided between those who take governing seriously — they still believe in government enough to accept responsibility for keeping it open — and those who see in every issue the “final conflict” that Marxists kept predicting. Stopping Obamacare, in their view, is necessary to prevent the country from reaching the end of the road to serfdom. Compared with this hellish prospect, who cares about shutdowns?
What’s fascinating, and this speaks to the perceived power of the tea party in primaries, is that it has taken only a small minority of House Republicans to push toward Armageddon. The Post’s Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane estimated thatroughly 40 conservatives revolted against their leadership’s efforts to keep the government open past Sept. 30. That’s 40 in a 435-member House of Representatives. What’s become of us when less than 10 percent of one chamber of Congress can unleash chaos? What does this say about the House Republican leadership gap?
But it’s also important to understand why the Republican right is so fixated on killing or delaying Obamacare before it goes into effect. Its central worry is not that the program will fail but that it will succeed.
So I guess the House Republicans believe it is worth it to destroy the economic recovery we’ve made so far and possibly crash the global economy to prevent millions of Americans from discovering what it would be like to have health care coverage. It’s unbelievable!
In other economic news, the Fed yesterday indicated that it will not taper of the stimulus as many were expecting them to do. Bloomberg:
The Federal Reserve unexpectedly refrained from reducing the $85 billion pace of monthly bond buying, saying it needs more evidence of lasting improvement in the economy and warning that an increase in interest rates threatened to curb the expansion.
“Conditions in the job market today are still far from what all of us would like to see,” Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said at a press conference today in Washington after a two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee. “The committee has concern that rapid tightening of financial conditions in recent months would have the effect of slowing growth.”
U.S. stocks rose, sending the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index to a record, while Treasuries and gold rallied as Bernanke stressed that the pace of bond buying would be dependent on economic data, and the Fed has no predetermined schedule for tapering the purchases that have pushed its balance sheet to $3.66 trillion.
“There is no fixed calendar schedule, I really have to emphasize that,” Bernanke said. “If the data confirm our basic outlook” for growth and the labor market, “then we could begin later this year.”
No kidding. Earth to the top 1 percent: most of us are still making zero progress. We’re essentially in the same boat as people like us in the days of the Robber Barons. Economic inequality is the highest in history, salaries are stuck at about 1980s levels, and we’re sick and tired of you 1 percenters hogging all the riches. It’s getting close to the time when ordinary people are going to break out the pitchforks and the tar and feathers.
Now here’s a sample of what the 1 percenters think from some moronic Ayn Rand fan at Fortune named Harry Binswanger: Give Back? Yes, It’s Time For The 99% To Give Back To The 1%. Here’s a taste, but you really need to go read the whole thing.
It’s time to gore another collectivist sacred cow. This time it’s the popular idea that the successful are obliged to “give back to the community.” That oft-heard claim assumes that the wealth of high-earners is taken away from “the community.” And beneath that lies the perverted Marxist notion that wealth is accumulated by “exploiting” people, not by creating value–as if Henry Ford was not necessary for Fords to roll off the (non-existent) assembly lines andSteve Jobs was not necessary for iPhones and iPads to spring into existence.
Let’s begin by stripping away the collectivism. “The community” never gave anyone anything. The “community,” the “society,” the “nation” is just a number of interacting individuals, not a mystical entity floating in a cloud above them. And when some individual person–a parent, a teacher, a customer–”gives” something to someone else, it is not an act of charity, but a trade for value received in return.
I’m running out of space and time, so here are the rest of my news items link-dump style:
Science Recorder: European scientists plan to free robot snakes on the Red Planet