President Obama once promised that negotiations over his health care overhaul would be carried out openly, in front of TV cameras and microphones. Tell that to the White House now. Republican congressional investigators got the brush-off this past week after pressing for details of meetings between White House officials and interest groups, including drug companies and hospitals that provided critical backing for Obama's health insurance expansion. Complying with the records request from the House Energy and Commerce Committee "would constitute a vast and expensive undertaking" and could "implicate longstanding executive branch confidentiality interests," White House lawyer Robert Bauer wrote the committee. Translation: Nice try. It's one more roadblock for Republicans who tapped into widespread anxiety about the scope and costs of the new health care law to regain control of the House in last fall's elections. . . .
The Dayton Police Department is lowering its testing standards for recruits.
It's a move required by the U.S. Department of Justice after it says not enough African-Americans passed the exam.
Dayton is in desperate need of officers to replace dozens of retirees. The hiring process was postponed for months because the D.O.J. rejected the original scores provided by the Dayton Civil Service Board, which administers the test.
Under the previous requirements, candidates had to get a 66% on part one of the exam and a 72% on part two.
The D.O.J. approved new scoring policy only requires potential police officers to get a 58% and a 63%. That's the equivalent of an ‘F’ and a ‘D’.
“It becomes a safety issue for the people of our community,” said Dayton Fraternal Order of Police President, Randy Beane. “It becomes a safety issue to have an incompetent officer next to you in a life and death situation."
“The NAACP does not support individuals failing a test and then having the opportunity to be gainfully employed,” agreed Dayton NAACP President Derrick Foward.
The D.O.J. and Civil Service Board declined Dayton’s News Source’s repeat requests for interviews. The lower standards mean 258 more people passed the test. The city won't say how many were minorities.
“If you lower the score for any group of people, you're not getting the best qualified people for the job,” Foward said. . . .
Is Wisconsin battle inspiring Right-to-Work nationally?
Should workers be forced to pay union dues even if they don't want to belong to a union? Republican US Senators are trying to make the same move nationally that is occurring in Wisconsin.
A group of conservative U.S. senators has introduced a bill to restrict unions from forcing workers to join and pay dues as a condition of employment. The move on Capitol Hill comes as several states consider what's known as "right-to-work" legislation -- proposals that have met stiff resistance. Indiana Republicans recently shelved their right-to-work bill after it sparked protests at the capital and after Democrats fled the state to block it, mimicking the tactic used by Wisconsin lawmakers holding up Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union proposal. But GOP senators in Washington said national legislation is needed to stop the "strong-arm political tactics" they claim labor bosses are using to compel new employees into joining their ranks. They introduced the National Right to Work Act Tuesday. . . .
Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed $12.5 billion in budget cuts won’t prevent California’s spending from increasing 31 percent during the next five years, according to figures from his budget office.
Expenditures would rise to $111 billion by 2015 from $84.6 billion in the fiscal year that begins July 1, under Brown’s plan. A third of the increase is required by the constitution to bolster education. Much of the rest is for projected growth in health care and welfare, and to make up for lost stimulus funds, Brown’s office said.
Republican opposition threatens to derail Brown’s plan to repair the financial strains that have left California with the biggest deficit among the U.S. states and the lowest credit rating. He wants to offset even deeper cuts to schools and the poor by retaining $9.3 billion a year in higher taxes and fees that are otherwise due to expire.
“While we must bridge this year’s budget gap, we must also rein-in future spending to fix the state’s chronic budget crisis," said Senate Republican Leader Bob Dutton. . . .
The bill is advancing in Idaho. Note how concealed carry used to be allowed in universities in Idaho.
Boise State officials testify against bill Before the House State Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Boise State's Executive Director of Campus Security (a former FBI agent) and a Boise Police Lieutenant testified against the bill. "We believe that adding weapons to a university environment would serve as an accelerant for conflict and violence, not a deterrent," Boise State University's Frank Zang said. BSU officials say guns on campus would be unsafe, especially considering the young population of students already in the stressful situations that come with college life. "When you add the potential of having guns on campus into that equation, it really does create a much more dangerous situation," Zang said. Some professors and students support bill Doctor Charlotte Twight, a professor of economics and an attorney, says campus would be less dangerous if some teachers, faculty, and students were armed.
"We're sitting ducks," Twight said. "If you do not have people able to carry on campus when they've got concealed carry permits, essentially you're announcing to the world that the people on the campus are defenseless." In supporting the bill, Twight points to research by another economist, John Lott, showing decreased crime rates where carrying concealed weapons is allowed. She also says those who have permits have to go through training to get certified. "Somebody with training is the last person that's going to ever pull a weapon or use a weapon inappropriately," Twight said. Twight has a concealed weapons permit, and she says in certain circumstances, if it were legal, she would bring her gun to class. She added weapons used to be allowed at BSU. "When I was first here and for some years after that, concealed carry was allowed. There was no rule against it, so it shouldn't be frightening. It's the way it always was," Twight said. . . .
The State Department of Justice confirms that it is investigating several death threats against a number of lawmakers in response to the legislature's move to strip employees of many collective bargaining rights. Among the threats the Justice Department is investigationg is one that was emailed to Republican Senators Wednesday night. Newsradio 620 WTMJ has obtained that email.
The following is the unedited email: Please put your things in order because you will be killed and your familes will also be killed due to your actions in the last 8 weeks. Please explain to them that this is because if we get rid of you and your families then it will save the rights of 300,000 people and also be able to close the deficit that you have created. I hope you have a good time in hell. Read below for more information on possible scenarios in which you will die.
WE want to make this perfectly clear. Because of your actions today and in the past couple of weeks I and the group of people that are working with me have decided that we've had enough. We feel that you and the people that support the dictator have to die. We have tried many other ways of dealing with your corruption but you have taken things too far and we will not stand for it any longer. So, this is how it's going to happen: I as well as many others know where you and your family live, it's a matter of public records. We have all planned to assult you by arriving at your house and putting a nice little bullet in your head. However, we decided that we wouldn't leave it there. We also have decided that this may not be enough to send the message to you since you are so "high" on Koch and have decided that you are now going to single handedly make this a dictatorship instead of a demorcratic process. So we have also built several bombs that we have placed in various locations around the areas in which we know that you frequent. This includes, your house, your car, the state capitol, and well I won't tell you all of them because that's just no fun. Since we know that you are not smart enough to figure out why this is happening to you we have decided to make it perfectly clear to you. If you and your goonies feel that it's necessary to strip the rights of 300,000 people and ruin their lives, making them unable to feed, clothe, and provide the necessities to their families and themselves then We Will "get rid of" (in which I mean kill) you. Please understand that this does not include the heroic Rep. Senator that risked everything to go aganist what you and your goonies wanted him to do. We feel that it's worth our lives to do this, because we would be saving the lives of 300,000 people. Please make your peace with God as soon as possible and say goodbye to your loved ones we will not wait any longer. YOU WILL DIE!!!! . . .
It was only a few minutes in the making but comments last week by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Capitol Hill have set off a firestorm of criticism around President Obamas health care law and how the law, when its finally implemented, will have double counted on Medicare -- and, therefore, does not have the savings once predicted by the White House.
The Affordable Care Act adds 12 years to the Medicare trust fund, according to every actuary, and the $500 billion represents a slowdown in the growth rate of Medicare over 10 years from what was projected at 8 percent to a growth rate, Sebelius said during questioning by Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill.
But, as Shimkus pushed the issue, asking for Sebelius to explain if the president was using the $500 billion to save Medicare or fund health care reform, Sebelius added one word both. And that word has made many more nervous than ever about the health care law, as they say it sounds like double counting, or using money from one program to count into another, which does not equal savings. . . .
The idea of complaining about a double count is not new to the White House. In March 2010, "Special Report" anchor Bret Baier specifically questioned Obama about the issue.
Obama at the time made it clear there was no robbing Peter to pay Paul in the health care legislation.
"You can't say that you are saving on Medicare, and then spend the money twice," Obama said.What you can say is that we are going to take the savings, put them back to make sure that seniors are getting help on the prescription drug bill instead of that money going to, for example, insurance reform. . . .
I have long been concerned that Romney's positions have changed on just about every position over the years. Michael Kinsley might have many problems, but he is right on this point:
We’re all for transparency these days, and if anything is transparently clear about American politics, it is that Mitt Romney will do or say anything to become president. The best guess is that at heart he is an old-fashioned, business-oriented Republican. But there’s no knowing for sure. He may have no sincere beliefs at all.
There was a piece about Romney on Page 1 of The New York Times on Sunday, and what amazes me is the deadpan frankness with which the article and the Romney aides and allies quoted in it accept the premise that, of course, he is a phony, that this reputation as a phony could be a bit of a problem if he runs in 2012. And then they go on to discuss what Romney might do to solve this problem. He was criticized last time for being a stiff, so this time he is not wearing a tie. Ever. Problem solved, as Romney sees it. . . .
Republicans only passed Wisconsin bill after Dems refused to negotiate
From John Fund at the WSJ's Political Diary.
. . . The bill was stripped of purely fiscal elements that required a quorum of 20 state senators to be present and was moved forward to break the impasse over the controversial provisions that made the payment of union dues by state employees voluntary and limited collective bargaining. After a filibuster, the Assembly is expected to pass the bill and send it to Republican Gov. Scott Walker's desk for signature. Left intact in the bill is the requirement that government employees contribute 5.8% of their salaries to their pensions and pay 12.6% toward their health-insurance premiums.
The move was prompted by a letter that Senate Democratic leader Mark Miller sent the governor yesterday indicating that Democrats were unwilling to return from their exile in Illinois unless all of the union dues and bargaining provisions were completely removed from the bill. Democrats are howling that the passage of the amended bill is an affront to democracy, but the procedure was cleared by three important nonpartisan state agencies -- the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the Legislative Council and the Legislative Reference Bureau.
Democrats had already been collecting signatures to recall key Republican legislators and now vow to redouble their efforts. "Everyone who is party to this travesty is writing their political obituary," Democratic State Sen. Chris Larson told reporters. A statement by the Wisconsin Democratic Party added that "we also begin counting the days remaining before Scott Walker is himself eligible for recall." Wisconsin law prohibits the recall of any official unless they have already served a year of their term.
That provision makes the Democratic game plan more difficult. Few doubt that public employee unions have the muscle and money to collect enough recall signatures despite the high threshold, which is 25% of the number of people who last voted for governor. But it's unclear if the anger against Gov. Walker and his fellow Republicans will be intense enough to actually remove any of them from office, since the earliest time a recall election targeting him would go before voters is May 2012. As for recalling GOP state senators, only eight of the 19 Republicans in that body are eligible for recall this year. Of those, only State Senator Dan Kapanke sits in a truly vulnerable district. The rest are all in districts where Governor Walker won at least 54% of the vote in November. . . .
An example of the unions rushing to get contracts done before the deadline.
Personally, I don't understand why they should be. There are so many news sources, and if the private companies didn't have to compete a government subsidized news outlet, there would be even more private sources. Anyway, here is a surprisingly useful discussion on the issue.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has offered to keep certain collective bargaining rights in place for state workers in a proposed compromise aimed at ending a nearly three-week standoff with absent Senate Democrats, according to e-mails released Tuesday by his office.
The e-mails, some dated as recently as Sunday, show a softened stance in Walker's talks with the 14 Democrats who fled to Illinois to block a vote on his original proposal that would strip nearly all collective bargaining rights for public workers and force concessions amounting to an average 8 percent pay cut.
Under the compromise floated by Walker and detailed in the e-mails, workers would be able to continue bargaining over their salaries with no limit, a change from his original plan that banned negotiated salary increases beyond inflation. He also proposed compromises allowing collective bargaining to stay in place on mandatory overtime, performance bonuses, hazardous duty pay and classroom size for teachers. . . .
White House refuses to answer any questions about BATF gun runner scandal
With all the focus on guns going to Mexico, how can it be credible that the Obama administration says that it knows anything about the BATF scandal? From CBS News:
White House press secretary Jay Carney did not shed any light Monday on the allegations uncovered by CBS News that ATF intentionally let thousands of assault rifles and other weapons fall into the hands of Mexico's drug cartels. Insiders call the controversial practice letting guns "walk."
In the wake of our CBS News investigation, Mexico has asked the U.S. for more information. Two AK-47 type variant assault rifles that ATF allegedly let "walk" were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry last December. Here's the excerpt from today's White House briefing:
CBS News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid: "Do you have any comment on the story and on these developments today?"
Carney: "I don't. Obviously, as the president pointed out when he spoke here with President Calderon, we take the issue of the flow of guns south very seriously, as we do the issue of the flow of drugs north. And -- but beyond that, I don't have any comment."
Reid: "Is he aware of this specific allegation..."
Carney: "I don't know."
Reid: "... that hundreds of guns went into Mexico with the knowledge of ATF?"
Should permitted faculty and students have the right to carry a concealed handgun on college campuses? Right now once someone qualifies for a permit they can carry a concealed handgun with them virtually anywhere in a state except for a few designated gun-free zones. Prominent among those "protected" areas are universities and schools. Yet, twelve states, including two large ones, Texas and Florida, are currentlly engaged in the debate over whether to end these bans.
Florida and Idaho have legislative hearings scheduled for Wednesday. The Idaho House should be voting on the bill by the end of the week. Legislative committees in Arizona and Oklahoma have already passed bills. Texas is planning votes during the week of March 21st.
But are these changes dangerous? Would faculty and students pose a danger to others? Wouldn't police accidentally shoot permit holders who are trying to stop an attacker? . . .
This isn't the first time that a right-to-carry law has gotten out of a committee in Illinois and it isn't the first time that there would be a majority in the legislature who would support the bill, but in the past the Democrat leaders have prevented a vote. Will they do the same this time? From the St Louis Post-Dispatch:
A measure that would allow Illinois residents to carry concealed handguns in public passed a legislative committee Tuesday, setting up what some proponents say will be a watershed debate on the Illinois House floor in the coming days. The bill, if eventually passed by the House and Senate and signed into law, would put Illinois in line with Missouri and 47 other states that allow "concealed carry." Wisconsin, the only other state that doesn't allow concealed carry, allows "open carry," making Illinois a prime target for gun advocates. "I believe we're behind the times," said state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, sponsor of the bill. "To me, it's embarrassing." In addition to the avalanche of states moving to concealed carry in recent years, proponents are bolstered by two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions in favor of gun rights. "The momentum has shifted," said National Rifle Association lobbyist Todd Vandermyde, after the 12-2 vote of the House Agriculture & Conservation Committee that advanced the bill. Vandermyde noted especially the fact that many major law enforcement organizations are now in favor of the change, which wasn't the case in the past. "The 'blue wall' is behind us now." . . .
How regulations can unintentionally drive up the costs of health care
Regulations so often assume that people won't change their behavior. The regulations in this case weren't done with the best of intention, the changes were done to reduce the attractiveness of flexible-spending accounts, something that Democrats have disliked for years. Here is one regulation that has clearly backfired. From the WSJ:
Sandy Chung is grappling with a new kind of request at her pediatrics office in Fairfax, Va.: prescriptions for aspirin and diaper-rash cream.
Patients are demanding doctors' orders for over-the-counter products because of a provision in the health-care overhaul that slipped past nearly everyone's radar. It says people who want a tax break to buy such items with what's known as flexible-spending accounts need to get a prescription first.
The result is that Americans are visiting their doctors before making a trip to the drugstore, hoping their physician will help them out by writing the prescription. The new requirements create not only an added burden for doctors, but also new complications for retailers and pharmacies.
"It drives up the cost of health care as opposed to reducing it," says Dr. Chung, who rejected much of a 10-item request from a mother of four that included pain relievers and children's cold medicine.
Though the new rules on over-the-counter drugs amount to a small part of the massive overhaul of the health-care system, the unintended side effects show how difficult it can be to predict how such game-changing legislation will play out in the real world. . . .
This time it was the intruder who called 911. A man who broke into a house in Portland, Oregon, called police -- afraid the homeowner may have a gun. The suspect, Timothy James Chapek, was in the bathroom taking a shower when the homeowner returned to the house Monday night, Portland police said in a statement. Accompanied by two German shepherds, the homeowner asked Chapek what he was doing in the house. Chapek locked himself in the bathroom and made an emergency call, police said. He said he had broken into the house, the owner had come home, and that he was concerned the owner might have a gun. The homeowner also called the police to report that he had found a man in the house. Police with dogs took Chapek, 24, into custody "without incident," they said. He was booked for criminal trespass. . . .
A group of Democrats complain Styrofoam cups in the House cafeteria could contain carcinogens.
In a letter to Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and other Republican leaders, the nine Democrats say the Styrofoam cups and other dining materials could hold chemical components that could cause cancer. The Democrats are upset with the switch to Styrofoam from recyclable materials put into place when Democrats ran the House.
The letter asks Boehner to reconsider the switch away from recyclable to polystyrene-based foam containers, and warns that the health of visitors to the Capitol could be compromised.
"The irresponsibility of the decision to use polystyrene foam without considering other options is all the more egregious because the cafeteria is not merely used by House members and our staffers," the lawmakers write. "The health of constituents and visitors to the Hill who eat in the cafeteria will be impacted by this short-sighted decision." . . .
Are a lot of people going to be locked into their homes? USA Today has this:
The number of Americans who owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth rose at the end of last year, preventing many people from selling their homes in an already weak housing market.
CoreLogic said Tuesday that about 11.1 million households, or 23% of mortgaged homes, were underwater in the October-December quarter. That's up from 22.5%, or 10.8 million households, in the July-September quarter.
The number of underwater mortgages had fallen in the previous three quarters. But that was mostly because more homes went into foreclosure.
Underwater mortgages typically rise when home prices fall. Home prices in December hit their lowest point of the housing bust in 11 of 20 major U.S. metro areas. In a healthy housing market, about 5% of homeowners are underwater.
About 2.4 million people have only 5% equity or less in their homes, putting them near the tipping point if prices in their area fall.
Roughly two-thirds of homeowners with a mortgage in Nevada had negative home equity, worst state in the country. Arizona, Florida, Michigan and California were next, with nearly half of homeowners with mortgages in those states underwater.
Oklahoma had the smallest percentage of underwater homeowners in the October-December quarter, at 5.8%. Only nine states recorded percentages less than 10%.
When a mortgage is underwater, the homeowner often can't qualify for mortgage refinancing and has little recourse but to continue making payments in hopes the property eventually regains its value. . . .
With major budget votes set for Tuesday, Senate Democrats spent the weekend dismissing House Republicans' plans to cut the budget as “ideological, extremist, reckless." President Obama advocated “a government that lives within its means,” but he also charged “there’s nothing responsible about the Republican budget cuts.
Following the same script, news headlines described the House Republicans cuts as "dramatic" and "outrageous."
The magnitude of this year’s deficit might be hard for many to appreciate. But the monthly budget deficit for February of $223 billion is larger than the $160.7 billion deficit for all of 2007, the last time we had a federal budget that was approved when Republicans controlled the House, Senate, and presidency.
Democrats say that they can only come up with one-thirteenth the deficit cuts that the Republicans have put forward – just $4.7 billion, though Obama claims that these cuts meet the Republicans “halfway.” Democrats assert that there is not even enough waste in the federal budget to cut it by two-tenths of one percentage point. . . .
And although Paris Hilton told us in 2009 that she would never get breast implants out of a fear of needles, a decade before that Strauss claims to have met the then18-year-old party princess (prior to her days in the limelight) and she allegedly told him quite a different story. “I had a breast job when I was 14, but my mother made me take them out,” Hilton apparently told Strauss, according to the book. “I’m thinking about posing for Playboy. They love famous people’s kids. And the only reason I’d do it is because when my dad finds out, he’ll pay me double the money not to do it.” . . .
Too many men top officers in the military?: The Obama administration independent panel seems to think so
I am sure that this will shock most people about the concern over too many males. Do women enjoy being in the military as much as men? Are they willing to make it their career as much as men?
The U.S. military is too white and too male at the top and needs to change recruiting and promotion policies and lift its ban on women in combat, an independent report for Congress said Monday.
Seventy-seven percent of senior officers in the active-duty military are white, while only 8 percent are black, 5 percent are Hispanic and 16 percent are women, the report by an independent panel said, quoting data from September 2008.
One barrier that keeps women from the highest ranks is their inability to serve in combat units. Promotion and job opportunities have favored those with battlefield leadership credentials.
The report ordered by Congress in 2009 calls for greater diversity in the military’s leadership so it will better reflect the racial, ethnic and gender mix in the armed forces and in American society.
Efforts over the years to develop a more equal opportunity military have increased the number of women and racial and ethnic minorities in the ranks of leadership. But, the report said, “despite undeniable successes ... the armed forces have not yet succeeded in developing a continuing stream of leaders who are as diverse as the nation they serve.” . . .
“The current Republican Party, particularly the Tea Party, is fanatically involved in people’s personal lives and very fundamental Christian – I wouldn’t even call it Christian. It’s this weird evangelical kind of move,” declared Schiller, the head of NPR’s nonprofit foundation, who last week announced his departure for the Aspen Institute.
In a new video released Tuesday morning by conservative filmmaker James O’Keefe, Schiller and Betsy Liley, NPR’s director of institutional giving, are seen meeting with two men who, unbeknownst to the NPR executives, are posing as members of a Muslim Brotherhood front group. The men, who identified themselves as Ibrahim Kasaam and Amir Malik from the fictitious Muslim Education Action Center (MEAC) Trust, met with Schiller and Liley at Café Milano, a well-known Georgetown restaurant, and explained their desire to give up to $5 million to NPR because, “the Zionist coverage is quite substantial elsewhere.”
On the tapes, Schiller wastes little time before attacking conservatives. The Republican Party, Schiller says, has been “hijacked by this group.” The man posing as Malik finishes the sentence by adding, “the radical, racist, Islamaphobic, Tea Party people.” Schiller agrees and intensifies the criticism, saying that the Tea Party people aren’t “just Islamaphobic, but really xenophobic, I mean basically they are, they believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it’s scary. They’re seriously racist, racist people.”
Schiller goes on to describe liberals as more intelligent and informed than conservatives. “In my personal opinion, liberals today might be more educated, fair and balanced than conservatives,” he said. . . .
Initially, NPR issued a brief statement that first condemned the "fraudulent" organization that staged the meeting and pointed out that NPR repeatedly refused to accept its donation. A spokeswoman also said NPR was "appalled" by the comments made by Mr. Schiller, and also noted that Mr. Schiller had announced last week he would soon leave NPR for another job.
Later in the day, however, NPR came down harder on Mr. Schiller, announcing it had put the executive on administrative leave while it reviewed the situation. On Tuesday night, Mr. Schiller released a statement saying he and NPR have agreed to make his resignation effective immediately.
"While the meeting I participated in turned out to be a ruse, I made statements during the course of the meeting that are counter to NPR's values and also not reflective of my own beliefs," Mr. Schiller said. "I offer my sincere apology to those I offended."
Tuesday night, Vivian Schiller, president and chief executive of NPR, released this statement: "Ron Schiller's remarks are contrary to what NPR stands for and are deeply distressing to reporters, editors and others who bring fairness, civility and respect for a wide variety of viewpoints to their work everyday. . . .
Here are some quotes: "they [the Tea Party] believe in sort of white, middle-America gun-toting. I mean, it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people."
"The Tea Party is fanatically involved in people's personal lives and very fundamental Christian — I wouldn't even call it Christian. It's this weird evangelical kind of move."
NPR "would be better off in the long run without federal funding."
Here is my question: What is going to happen to NPR institutional giving director Betsy Liley? She never corrects or contradicts anything that Schiller says during the discussion.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said a new video by a conservative provocateur underscored the need to cut funding for public broadcasting.
Cantor, the second-ranking Republican in the House, pointed to a new video by activist James O'Keefe featuring a conversation with an NPR executive, who calls the Tea Party movement "really xenophobic" and "racist, racist people."
"As we continue to identify ways to cut spending and save valuable resources, this disturbing video makes clear that taxpayer dollars should no longer be appropriated to NPR," Cantor said Tuesday in a statement. . . .
A year after Georgia lawmakers passed a sweeping gun-rights expansion that allowed permit-holders to carry guns into some bars and more parking lots, the Legislature is considering new changes that would allow them to carry their weapons into churches and make it easier for them to renew their licenses. A proposal unveiled Thursday would allow licensed gun owners to carry their weapons into churches, synagogues and other houses of worship with the approval of the congregation. It also would allow them to keep their weapons in locked boxes within school parking lots and safety zones. . . .
Departing members of the House of Representatives awarded millions of dollars in extra pay to aides as they closed down their offices, according to lawmakers' spending records.
The 96 lawmakers paid their employees $6.7 million, or 31%, more in the fourth quarter of 2010 than they did, on average, in the first three quarters of the year.
That's about twice as much as the 16% increase awarded by lawmakers who returned to the 112th Congress, according to LegiStorm, an organization that tracks congressional salaries.
The disparity suggests retiring or defeated members used remaining funds in their official expenses budgets to boost salaries for staffers before they left Washington, cash that might otherwise have been returned to the U.S. Treasury.
Lawmakers interviewed for this article say aides work hard for smaller salaries than they could earn elsewhere, and that modest bonuses are one way of offering a reward. Some said they wanted to help employees as they look for new jobs.
Because most of the departing members were Democrats, fourth-quarter salary increases in 2010 for Democratic staffers were the largest in the decade LegiStorm has been gathering such data. . . .
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton today suggested the state should start taxing the retirement income of senior citizens who are able to afford it.
The state does not currently tax pensions or retirement funds such as 401(k) plans, but Cullerton told a City Club of Chicago luncheon that should take place as part of an overall look at what he said was Illinois' "outdated" tax system. "It would just be a matter of fairness," said Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat.
Details are still being worked out, but Cullerton said the state could bring in could bring in upward of $1.6 billion a year. Cullerton said the money could be used to provide tax relief elsewhere, whether that be lowering the corporate income tax rate, reworking sales tax rates or some other idea. Cullerton also suggested a means-test to avoid taxing low-income seniors.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn today said he hadn’t seen details of Cullerton’s proposal, but indicated that it should be looked at as part of an effort to achieve tax “fairness.” . . .
Supposedly 2,000 guns a day crossing the border from the U.S. into Mexico
This claim seems no more believable than the 90 percent of Mexican crime guns coming from the US.
A November 2008 study by The Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank, stated that 2,000 American guns are smuggled into Mexico each day. Compiled by a commission including ex-Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo and Thomas Pickering, a former ambassador to Russia and a senior State Department official during the administration of President Bill Clinton, the report was the last comprehensive estimate on the subject, though it did not include information on how that figure was reached. . . .
That figure comes to 730,000 guns per year. If 14 million guns a year are sold in the US (the number of NICS checks in 2009 so this is obviously an underestimate, but it also includes background checks for concealed carry permits and sales of used guns), that means that roughly 5% of all U.S. guns manufactured each year were being smuggled illegally across the border.
Another broken promise by Obama. He broke his promise not to raise taxes. He broke his promise to cut the deficit. He broke his promise to cut government spending.
Obama to resume military commission trials for Guantánamo detainees By Sam Youngman - 03/07/11 03:07 PM ET President Obama on Monday ordered trials by military commission to resume at Guantánamo Bay.
The move signals another defeat for Obama, who pledged to close the terrorist detention facility in Cuba within one year of taking office.
In a fact sheet, the White House said Obama “remains committed” to closing the facility, but the president’s decision to lift the ban on military commissions signals the unlikelihood that Obama will successfully transfer all of the prisoners in Cuba.
Shortly after Obama came to office and announced his goal of closing the facility, the administration suspended new charges in military commissions in Cuba. . . .
This is a pretty bizarre story. A store owner who has recently been kidnapped by three criminals is denied the ability to get a concealed handgun permit in New Jersey because he "does not show justifiable need." I should also note that despite what the state police say, it is possible to learn the number of permits issued. The third edition of More Guns, Less Crime shows that in 2007 there were a little over 10,000 permits in New Jersey, half of those were to retired police.
A Newton pet food store owner kidnapped in front of his shop is appealing a judge's denial of his application to carry a handgun. . . .
State Police did a background check on Muller and initially approved his application. Permits to carry handguns in New Jersey need judicial approval, and last August, state Superior Court Judge Philip Maenza in Morristown denied the application. The judge determined that Muller's fear and his experience as a victim did not meet "the justifiable need" required by statute to carry a firearm.
Muller has now asked Superior Court Judge David Ironson in Morristown to reconsider the denial. A hearing was supposed to occur Monday but has been postponed. Neither Muller nor his attorney, Dave Jensen, could immediately be reached for comment.
State Police Sgt. Steve Jones said that, for security reasons, the numbers of people in New Jersey approved to purchase a handgun and/or carry a handgun are not publicly released. According to state law, judges use a two-prong test to evaluate handgun-carrying applications on a case-by-case basis.
The test requires the court to determine whether a person is subject to a substantial threat of bodily harm while performing duties authorized by statute, and whether a handgun is necessary to reduce the threat of unjustifiable serious bodily harm.
Maenza, in a written decision last August, said: "This crime, and the fact that Mr. Muller will be called upon to testify against his captors, is the reason he has filed this application for a permit to carry a handgun. Mr. Muller, however, does not show justifiable need. Allowing a victim of a crime to carry a handgun without showing a justifiable need to carry one would be contrary to case law and the legislative intent of the statute." . . .
Monthly deficit for February is greater than the entire year deficit the last year the Republicans controlled congress and the presidency
The preliminary numbers for February's budget deficit was $223 billion. As Table B-78 makes clear here, the deficit in 2007, the last year that the Republicans controlled the House, Senate and presidency, was just –160.7 billion.
So as the media attacks Palin inaccurately for causing the attack in Tucson, they ignore the constant threats against Palin and her family. From Politico:
In an interview with the BBC, Palin’s parents, Chuck and Sally Heath, said the Palin family has been targeted with numerous death threats since the former Alaska governor emerged on the national public stage. “As a mother I do have concerns about her safety and that of the kids,” Palin’s mother said. “She knows how I feel, that it's risky.”
Palin’s father told the network about a man who had recently sent the family a photocopied receipt of a gun he’d purchased. The man was later arrested by the FBI, but Chuck Heath says incidents like that have the family worried.
“We sleep with the guns,” Palin’s father said.
For her part, the former Alaska governor tried to dissuade notions that she faces serious harm when asked about the threats in the interview.” . . .
My son Roger has a new piece in The Dartmouth. It starts this way:
All the recent alarm about the resignations of three minority faculty members (See: “A Troubling Trifecta,” Feb. 18) has inevitably led to calls for special efforts to make certain racial groups feel welcome at Dartmouth. If the College really wants to foster a color-blind environment, however, it would be well advised not to treat minorities as though they need extra attention.
Unfortunately, minorities at Dartmouth are often encouraged to define themselves according to a special, “colored” status. Recent Martin Luther King, Jr. celebrations included a showing of the film “For Colored Girls” and an “Alliance for Children of Color Playdate” whose accompanying picture on Dartmouth’s website shows an all-black group of parents and youngsters. Events like these hardly lead to the kind of positive interracial interactions the College talks about so much. . . .
The Obama administration has fired another shot in the fight over the speed with which the Interior Department is — or isn’t — letting oil drillers resume work in the Gulf of Mexico after last year’s Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.
The administration late Friday appealed a judge’s orders directing the department to act on several pending Gulf Coast deep-water drilling permits.
Gulf state lawmakers and the oil industry have accused the department of dragging its feet on the permits, enacting a de facto moratorium against new drilling, while the department has said it needs to ensure that safety and environmental protections are in place.
Friday’s appeal challenges rulings by U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, who on Feb. 17 gave the department 30 days to make a verdict on five pending deep-water drilling permit applications. He later added two permits to that order.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar hinted at the appeal during a Senate hearing Wednesday.
Feldman “in my view is wrong,” Salazar said. “And we will argue the case because I don’t believe that the court has the jurisdiction to basically tell the Department of the Interior what my administrative responsibilities are.” . . .
U.S. gasoline prices increased nearly 33 cents in two weeks, the second-biggest two-week jump in the history of the gasoline market, according to a new survey of filling stations. The latest Lundberg Survey of cities in the continental United States was conducted Friday. It showed the national average for a price of self-serve unleaded gasoline at $3.51, an increase of 32.7 cents from the last survey two weeks earlier, survey publisher Trilby Lundberg said. The jump was the biggest since a 38-cent hike between August and September 2005. At the time, the price increase was driven by damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. . . .
The number of temporary healthcare reform waivers granted by the Obama administration to organizations climbed to more than 1,000, according to new numbers disclosed by the Department of Health and Human Services.
HHS posted 126 new waivers on Friday, bringing the total to 1,040 organizations that have been granted a one-year exemption from a new coverage requirement included in the healthcare reform law enacted almost a year ago. Waivers have become a hot-button issue for Republicans, eager to expose any vulnerabilities in the reform law.
In order to avoid disruption in the insurance market, the healthcare overhaul gives HHS the power to grant waivers to firms that cannot meet new annual coverage limits in 2011. The waivers have typically been granted to so-called "mini-med" plans that offer limited annual coverage — as low as $2,000 — that would fall short of meeting the new annual coverage floor of $750,000 in 2011. . . .
In one of the most brazen schemes in Nevada history, gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid’s campaign formed 91 shell political action committees that were used to funnel three quarters of a million dollars into his campaign, circumventing contribution limits and violating at least the spirit – and maybe the letter – of the laws governing elections.
Reid, who was fully aware of what was done, essentially received more than $750,000 from one PAC – 75 times the legal limit -- after his team created dozens of smaller PACS that had no other purpose other than to serve as conduits from a larger entity that the candidate funded by asking large donors for money. Indeed, the shell PACs were formed in the fall and dissolved on Dec. 31, after they had served their short-term function, which was to help the candidate evade campaign contribution laws. . . .
. . . This was a transparent attempt to find a loophole in the campaign contribution laws by a gubernatorial candidate apparently desperate for money to try to revive his moribund campaign. And it was specifically designed to be opaque — a master PAC created with a name that belied its true purpose and 91 phony entities with names concocted to mislead. . . .
But this was nothing short of a conspiracy to commit the equivalent of money laundering in a political campaign, where Reid solicited contributions in large amounts for a PAC ($850,000 during one reporting period) and then the money was washed through sham entities in smaller amounts ($10,000 increments) to appear in the candidate’s war chest.
Reid was abetted in this task by at least three people — his campaign manager, David Cohen, now a top aide to state Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford, who put his name on the umbrella PAC; Joanna Paul, who was on his campaign finance staff (in charge of compliance!) and whose name is on the phony PACs and whose home address was used for all 91; and Paul Larsen, his law partner who advised the candidate his scheme was legal.
Reid’s reaction to the scandal was the height of chutzpah, not only insisting on the transparency of the ploy, but to declare, “If this is a statement on anything, it is a statement on the failures of the campaign laws … If someone thinks it’s inappropriate, change the law.” . . .
Reid the Younger’s either real or practiced denial of responsibility for this highly dubious tactic reflects what was going on last summer in his campaign, a quixotic effort that never had much chance. Despite polls showing he was losing to Brian Sandoval by double-digit margins, Reid was confident he could win. His internal polls showed he was within single digits.
But he had a problem. Despite his prolific fundraising — he eventually would raise $2 million more than Sandoval — Reid knew he would need more for the home stretch. . . .
Republicans are fuming at a White House proposal to cut $6.5 billion in spending for the rest of the fiscal year, a fraction of the $61 billion the GOP in the House voted on last month.
On the Senate floor Friday morning, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called President Obama’s newly revealed plan “unserious.”
“The White House proposal, as outlined by the president’s economic adviser yesterday, is to cut another $6 billion and call it a day,” McConnell said. “Even more outrageous, they say, is the proposal meets us halfway.” . . .
Dan Coats, the Republican senator from Indiana, called the White House proposal “a drop in the ocean.”
“Just do the math,” Coats said on Fox News Friday afternoon. “1.6 trillion -- $6 billion of cuts isn’t going to begin to do the job.”
Coats also challenged Obama to “step up” and provide stronger leadership in making the necessary cuts. “We can’t get there without his leadership, [and] we’re not getting that right now.”